The ‘Not Working Right’ list

When you don’t get your product out the door on time, your customers aren’t able to produce their product. In an extreme case, your failure could shut down a customer’s entire production line.

Now, imagine the prospect of your on-time delivery nose-diving over the course of 60 days. Finally, imagine the damage to your company’s reputation and credibility in the wake of such a disaster. This very thing happened five years ago at Roll-Kraft (where Singh at the time served as president). The memory of this disastrous time is still fresh in my mind today.

On the surface, the challenges that caused our on-time delivery issues seemed straightforward. Our operations team had a capacity issue and needed either more people or more overtime to get the job done. A mentor once told me that, “The stated problem is never the real problem.” How true that was for us. The corrective action process was grueling and filled with tension, anxiety, insecurity and too much ego. It took us about 90 days to identify the real issues and put the corrective actions in place.

Even then, several corrective actions had to be re-evaluated when the issues did not go away. While we tried to determine root causes, asking successively deeper “why” questions to understand what was wrong, we needed something more to turn these insights into action.

Our need for a problem-solving system led us to develop what we call the Not Working Right list. Rather than create an acronym or complex jargon, Not Working Right is relatable, commonsense and nonjudgmental. You do not have to overthink what’s not working right. It creates a sense of urgency among the team to solve the problem right now. After all, if we are going to admit that something is not working right or being neglected, isn’t it our responsibility to fix it as quickly as possible?

The Not Working Right list is a list of issues compiled by every functional leader on the management team. These are items that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Recent examples from the Not Working Right list include a low frequency of sales associate visits to customers, lower-than-expected orders for new products or an employee turnover rate that has become too high.

The issues, once identified, have to be solved within a given timeline, typically within 90 days. The discipline of identifying and then defining the real (not stated) problems every Monday and then solving them over the course of the week has enabled the company to be both focused and agile. It would have been hard to significantly scale the company over the last few years had we not added this tool to our arsenal. The effectiveness of this process lies in identifying the issues that need to be resolved immediately.

This effort requires a willingness to dig into the details, and that won’t always be easy. But as the proverb goes, “Success is sweet, but usually has the scent of sweat.”

Sanjay Singh is executive chairman of the board of directors of Mace Security International