The Workaround

By Wally Adamchik


A while back I noticed some standing water in the cabinet under my kitchen sink. I first thought the kids might have gotten carried away, doing something with water, so I dried it up and moved on. A few days later, the cabinet was wet again. Time to troubleshoot. I ran the faucet and discovered a leak coming from the disposal. I put a plastic container beneath the leak and moved on. I simply didn’t have time to deal with it. I wasn’t sure if I needed to call a plumber or an electrician or both to replace it. Whatever the real fix, it was going to take time and effort. I then emptied the container every weekend when I was home. This went on for several months. It was a classic workaround. We do it with people, too. I can’t tell you how many times I have had the following conversation:

Wally: So, what you’re telling me is that this guy isn’t getting the job done?
Client: Exactly. I have talked to him about it but he just doesn’t seem to get it.
Wally: Okay, and you’ve tried various solutions to help get this guy on track and none of them worked?
Client: Yup.
Wally: Then, why does he still work here?
Client: Good question.

Good question? The answers to this question are many. But upon further review, I find that they really aren’t answers; they are excuses. I fully understand the need to make certain compromises in business in order to accomplish the greater good. However, I don’t understand the creation of a work-around that ultimately hurts the business, stifles growth, and damages your credibility.

It might look like this: Several experienced project managers are responsible for ordering materials for a job. However, one of them is weak, so you remove from him the task and assign it to someone else. While this workaround may get you through the moment, it doesn’t help in the long run because that PM is not doing the job he is supposed to be doing.

He’s not pulling his weight, but is getting paid the same as other ones–who, by the way, see what’s going on and are getting ticked off about it. Now, you have a morale issue. Furthermore, the ordering of materials has become an additional task for another PM who wasn’t supposed to have to do it in the first place. So this might distract them from their primary duty–or it may simply tick them off, too.

I have witnessed the workaround at all levels of an organization. I’ve seen the owner of a firm put up with a weak president who was really more of a caretaker. I have seen an estimate-review process put in place for a weak estimator. I have seen dysfunction replace common sense all too often in the name of the workaround.

Back to my disposal. Late last year we bought a new washer and dryer, which required installation. We also got cable tv (yeah, it took me a while), and that required installation. I was on a roll. So, I bought a new disposal and arranged to have it installed, too. This new one is bigger and stronger than the old one. Oh yeah–and it doesn’t leak. It was not an inconvenience to solve the problem. In fact, it was an easy fix–once I committed to doing it.

Generally, if you have a workaround going on in your organization, you are fully aware of it. You may have forgotten about it, but more than likely, you have simply grown used to it. The workaround will enable you to avoid direct confrontation, and it may be convenient for awhile. But it is not a good business practice. My question is this: You have tried everything you know of to get this person to come around, but they haven’t. You know the right thing to for the rest of your employees, your business, and your reputation. What are you waiting for?