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Cause and Effect – How You Can Control Workflow and Guide Your People

Cause and Effect – How You Can Control Workflow and Guide Your People

If you don’t know the difference between cause and effect, you’ll struggle to manage your people. Here, I cover the key differences and what you can do to guide your people.

Does this situation sound familiar to you?

You’ve got a fire that’s burning really brightly. Maybe you’re struggling to get an important report to a client on time. Or, you have someone in the agency who’s not hitting their deadlines and sets the whole team back.

That fire needs extinguishing. It’s a 911 situation that you need to resolve.

So you put all of your energy into that burning flame and think you’ve found a resolution. But as soon as you put out that fire, another one appears for you to deal with.

You and your team are under constant stress because you’re dealing with all of these emergency situations.

The big problem I’ve seen is that a lot of agencies don’t recognize the difference between cause and effect.

Those fires are usually the effects. They appear because there’s a root problem that’s not getting solved.

That’s why they keep cropping up again after you put one out. You’ve solved the immediate effect but you’re not sorting out the bigger cause.

In this article, I aim to help you distinguish between cause and effect. Plus, I’m going to share a few tips that will help you to guide your people so you’re dealing with the causes and improving your delivery.

What is an Effect?

Let’s deal with those fires first.

An effect is anything that appears due to a deeper cause lying behind it.

Fear is an effect. You generally find that fear only arises when you have other major problems to deal with. For example, you fear that you’re not going to get a report in on time or you fear having a conversation with a client.

It’s an attitude that shows up in a person’s behavior and it’s influenced by that person’s beliefs. There’s a stimulus behind fear and it’s going to be a different thing for each person in your team.

Poor retention is also an effect. If you’re losing more than 25% of your clients on a yearly basis, there’s a major problem somewhere that you’re not dealing with. The loss of the clients is the effect of that problem.

The same goes for results. Failing to deliver the results that your clients expect from you is another effect. It suggests that a process isn’t working right or you don’t have a framework in place to ensure successful delivery.

Other effects include owner freedom and client satisfaction. These are all things that are the results of the processes and frameworks that you’ve put in place in your agency.

So What is a Cause?

A cause is the deeper problem that lies behind the effects that you’re experiencing. The good news is that a cause is usually something that you can improve. And once you do, you’re going to have fewer fires to deal with.

Workflow productivity is a good example of a cause. This is something that you have direct control over because you can put processes in place to improve it.

The same goes for your management rhythm. You can change your rhythm and the changes that you make have a direct impact on the results your people produce.

Four Tips for Confronting the Causes

So we circle back to the original issue.

Your team’s struggling to deliver in one area or another and you’re putting out fires constantly.

Ideally, you want your people showing up on time and exhibiting the right sorts of behaviors. But if you don’t have a suitable coaching model, that’s not going to happen.

The effects result from that lack of coaching, which means you’ve got some causes to confront.

I’m going to give you a few quick tips that will help you.

Tip #1 – Establish Simple Workflow Rules

The only thing that we can control is how we get our people to behave in the way that we expect them to.

The goal is to put a structure in place so that this ends up happening.

This is where my Effective Work Week exercise comes into play. All you want from your people is to give you six productive hours of work per day. To get that, you can put some simple workflow rules in place.

Examples include not having meetings before noon as this ensures your people can get essential work finished early.

You can also focus their time with the creation of a day’s work plan. You need this in place at least the day before, though it’s ideal if you can create the day plan earlier. When your people have a plan they can jump right into things without trying to figure out what they should focus on.

Finally, ensure that each person has only three big things that they need to accomplish that day. That’s going to help people to actually finish up their work for clients instead of jumping between dozens of different clients during the day.

Tip #2 – Handle the Self-Imposed Pressure

Some of your people will put themselves under too much pressure.

I had an example of this in my agency. One of my people started working until 2am to get things done.

That’s unacceptable. It means that person’s going to get burned out and the work they deliver isn’t going to be of the highest quality.

They’re burning the candle at both ends so something’s going to slip. They may start coming in late or they’re so exhausted that they can’t focus.

That’s the effect. The cause is that you likely don’t have the processes in place to ensure they’re getting their work done in a timely manner.

There’s also a strange problem in that those who impose pressure on themselves wear it like a badge of honor. It’s almost an ego thing.

“If I wasn’t doing this, the work wouldn’t get done.”

And that might be the case with your current processes. If you have somebody like this in your agency, hold a meeting with them to let them know that this isn’t a behavior that you want to see.

Then, look at your processes to see what you can do to prevent this behavior.

Tip #3 – Create a Feedback Loop

Coming back to my first tip, I have that rule about only doing three big things per day.

You may get some push back on that. And you’ll also have people who love the fact that you’re helping them to take control of their calendar.

You’ll have to deal with this imbalance of attitudes to keep things running smoothly. A good feedback loop is always important.

I recommend pulling together groups of five people so you can talk about these calendar changes. This isn’t something that you want to do with the whole team all at once.

Look for the people who feel sorry for themselves because they’re not in charge of their calendars. These are the people who’ll need a little bit of guidance from you to get to where you need them to be.

Give them your feedback and revisit them after a week. If things haven’t improved, you can reference the fact that you gave them feedback and then you can ask them a simple question:

“Could you do that differently?”

This will get them thinking about the feedback you gave them before as well as thinking about their own workflow.

Tip #4 – Use the One-on-One Feedback Model

Following on from that point, I’m going to briefly describe my One-on-One Feedback Model.

The keys are that you set aside about 10 or 15 minutes for the chat and that you ask open-ended questions.

But you also need to structure those questions so you can close the feedback loop that you create.

Here’s an example:

You could ask: “So Jonathan, what are your priorities this week?”

That’s an open-ended question that gives Jonathan a chance to talk. He may say something like:

“I want to get to the gym at least twice this week and I want to button up all of my clients heading into the end of the week.”

Your response to that is something like:

“That’s awesome. Getting to the gym is really important. So you’re on track to do some chest workouts this week?”

That’s a more closed question that requires a yes or no answer.

After asking that question, you can move onto the topic that you want to cover next. Again, you use open questions to get the feedback you need before using a closed question to move onto the next topic.

For example, you might ask them for some thoughts on a landing page or an ad campaign that you’re working on. After they give their thoughts, you seize on something they said to close the loop and move on.

This is just a really brief look at the One-on-One Feedback Model. There’s a lot more information in my materials.

Fix the Cause to Get Rid of the Effect

All of my tips help you to solve the causes that create the negative effects and behaviors you want to get rid of.

It’s so important that you know the difference between the two. I see too many agency owners dealing with the effects without giving thought to the causes.

Don’t be one of them.

Dev “Cause Curer” Basu