Improving Customer Service

Issue # 35 of 70 

John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self

Hindsight or Foresight

How many times have you caught yourself saying you would have done something else "in hindsight" or the old standby, "hindsight is 20/20"?

If you find yourself saying more than once-in-a-great-while, it is a clear sign that something is not right. You may want to review how you are preventing problems from occurring in the first place and, more importantly, whether there is importance placed on preventing, rather than putting out the fires of crises.

It is so easy to get lulled into putting out fires. It feels so good to run around, issuing orders, and making things happen. At first glance, or to an outsider, this type of manager is the kind that often gets rave compliments: appearing so active, so useful, so productive. But such activity is misleading.

Putting-out-the-fires-of-crisis management feels good. A problem appears and it is solved. But that is the myth about crisis management. Yes, it does feel good to be the cavalry and ride in to save the town from burning. But, as you were saving the town from burning, the bank was robbed and your horse was stolen.

Too much attention is paid to crisis management because it feels so good. Not enough emphasis is placed on preventing the crisis in the first place. The lesson should be that the more fires you have to put out, the worse job that management has done. Isn't the point of management to see, to anticipate and to prevent, rather than have tunnel vision and be oblivious to the future, waiting until the problem arises?

The "problem" with the preventing and anticipating style of management is that it is simply less glamorous when compared to the style of the crisis manager. But the payoff for a preventing manager is a smooth day. How boring compared to the hustle and feel-good activities of the crisis manager. But smooth days have the important side effect of allowing the preventive manager to accomplish more than the crisis manager: they simply have the time to do more, and are doing so in a much less stressful environment.

Long term example:
When faced with turnover, the preventivemanager asks "why?" Trends are explored and perhaps it is found that the majority of turnover is occurring with new managers that were promoted from within. This sends a message that the interviewing, orientation and training need to be changed to reduce turnover. The crisis manager will simply accept the turnover and continue status quo.

Short-term example:
Hot glasses are being served to customers in a restaurant. The preventive manager asks why and will deduce that the restaurant is running low on glasses because the glasses are being used just as they are coming out of the dishwasher and better order more ASAP. The crisis manager will not notice and simply wait until there is a shortage.

Crisis management can be especially problematic for new managers. If they are allowed to continue with crisis management behavior, they will be trapped into working with a lifelong habit that may feel good but will be counterproductive to their development.

The crisis manager uses hindsight while the preventive manager uses foresight. You decide which is the better to emphasize. I'll take the less glamorous path every time.

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.