Should You Create Systems for the 1%?

I don’t normally write or talk in “should’s” or “must’s”. I don’t often tell people I am working with what they should do. In the role of coach, what I’m generally trying to accomplish, after discussing some context, and maybe best practices, is to have the person I am working with come to their own conclusions, their own realizations. Usually, they already possess the knowledge, and often the skills, they need. Where they really need help is in gaining clarity and working through prioritizing around an issue in order to ask the right questions and form the right answers, to get to the optimal resolution of the issue.

But this 1% is an area I see far too often where people waste time and resources. By 1%, I mean the true outliers, and not GMC’s truck ads or the infamous MC patches. I mean that 1 out of 100 who will not get it.

Anytime you create a system or process, there will be people who do not understand, who complain, or who don’t bother to read and follow the directions. If that is happening with 20 or even 10 percent of the people you are working or communicating with, you have a problem that needs addressing. But 1%? How finely tuned does your process need to be? And just to be clear, I’m not talking about extreme issues, or around safety and security. There are areas where 1% failure is not acceptable or tenable. But in mundane processes, how finely tuned does your process need to be?

This came up today with a 5th Grade field trip and baseball tickets. The kids’ tickets are paid for. The parents pay for them months in advance and some are subsidized with donations to ensure all the kids get to go. A flyer then goes out a few weeks before the game for the parents who want to attend and chaperone. We’re talking a hundred kids and nearly two-hundred parents. The parents who want to go have to pay their own way. There are a limited number of tickets and it’s first come first served for the parents once that flyer goes out. And every year ONE parent sends a check along with the “parent flyer” for payment for their kid’s ticket. They have forgotten they already paid. They didn’t read the flyer. They misunderstood the flyer. For whatever reason one parent sends another payment for their kid and the teachers have to call and explain and refund them the money. This is the 1%.

And for this 1%, every year the teachers and organizing parents try to solve this problem. At least 5 people spend time trying to fix the flyer, discussing ways to avoid this problem and meeting to try and solve it. Every year! And for what ends up taking 20 minutes to fix once it happens.

The process, the flyer, is working for 99%. The 1% takes 20 minutes, at most, to deal with, and no harm is done. The parent gets their money back. The kid gets to go on the field trip. Really, it’s just a minor inconvenience for 1 teacher each year. So, instead of spending multiple people’s time, and what adds up to hours by the way, every year trying to head this off at the pass, why not anticipate that it will happen, and someone will have to spend 10-20 minutes writing a note and sending the check, note and flyer back home with the child who brought it in? Since it happens every year, it could even be a saved document that is quickly customized and printed to send home, taking even less than 10 minutes.

10 minutes. No harm no foul. Should they spend hours trying to fix this process?

This comes up in our physical therapist practice, too. At intake we ask for people’s email. We send a welcome email with directions and paperwork prior to their first appointment. We send a follow up thank you for coming after their initial visit inviting them to contact me if there is anything with which they are not happy or delighted. We send content periodically that we think they might be interested in, like ACL prevention information to adolescent athletes, and balance and falls prevention content to older adults. We do this for free and because we want to help people. We also send out the NPS question and follow up with anyone who is not happy to find out why and what we can do better. And, very occasionally, we send out information about events we are having or special offers that we hope provide value to our current and past patients. And about once per quarter, less frequently actually, one person will call or respond back with something along the lines of “I didn’t give you my email for marketing purposes!”. Of course we respond back with an apology for inconveniencing them and that we will remove them from future emails. And my staff gets worked up and begins brainstorming, meeting and discussing the changes we should make to our process to avoid this in future.

For the record, we are talking about 1 person out of about every 600. That’s 0.17%. And we apologize and correct the process for them so they will no longer be inconvenienced. It takes me about 3 minutes to handle this. Every 4 months, or so. 3 times a year. Nobody got hurt. Nobody lost money. And the last 2 times it happened, the people responding were marketers for their living. The time before that it was an attorney whose tone was markedly escalated from the marketers.

But is this something we should spend hours attempting to fix every 4 months? Can we expect better than 0.17%? What is an acceptable level?

This is, of course, for you to interpret and use as you will. Some will still spend hours trying to solve a 3 minute problem that is not illegal and doesn’t do any real harm. But what will you do? How will you spend your time and energy addressing and solving problems in your business? And what will you prioritize as worthy of your time and energy?

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