Whacking the mole Featured

11:34am EDT April 22, 2005
Years ago, when I took my kids to game arcades, there was a game called Whack-a-Mole. The object is to whack the mole with a rubber mallet as it randomly pops out from one of a dozen or so mole holes on the board.

The game is hauntingly familiar if you're one of many CEOs who have ever spent a day chasing problems and, at the end of the day, felt you were no further ahead than you were when the day began.

Everyone has these days, but when they become the norm rather than the exception, it's time to re-examine your team and the company's focus.

Whack-a-Mole-type businesses result when the culture is to attack the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause. In these cultures, the "moles" (crises) continuously reappear because everyone is so busy whacking the symptom of the current crisis that they never have time to address the cause. Solving the problem on the surface just pushes the "mole" back into his hole. Then, just as you think things are running smoothly again, out he pops.

As long as the root cause of the problem is not addressed, the mole will continue to reappear and your job will become nothing more than chasing and whacking all day long.

One 150-employee firm had moles popping up throughout the day as customer issues, problems and complaints came in. Employees addressed the customers' problems and issues, and some customers were even happy again, but nothing was done to make tomorrow any different.

Finally, after losing clients and employees, as well as money, the CEO committed to stopping the cycle. He committed to the time and resources to implement a process that found and eliminated the moles one at a time. And in the process, the demeanor of everyone -- from employees to customers -- changed.

Today, the employees still have to whack a few moles, but it's become the exception rather than the rule.

Joel Strom (jstrom@cp-advisors.com) is the founder of Joel Strom Associates. His firm works with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve their growth objectives while maximizing their profitability and value. Reach him at (216) 831-2663.