Prodrome Management

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The main water main under my street burst, this week. After calling Public Works (I was the first person to contact them) their trucks and backhoe and workers arrived in literally minutes. All told, it took less than 3 hours to turn off the water, dig the hole, patch the leak, fill the hole, and restore service.

Nicely done guys.

The Source of the Problem

A while back, my village installed a second water tower to help with low pressure in the western, unincorporated part of town. The engineers miscalculated, though, and that newfound water pressure started to systematically burst underground distribution pipes like popcorn after a minute or so in a microwave.

While it’s not that bad, suffice it to say that the Public Works crew had ample opportunity to practice their trade long before my street’s issue, including a similar problem a block or two further east that broke last month.

Funny thing when patching a weak link – while, yes, it solves the immediate problem, it can also inadvertently expose (or create) a new vulnerability point, up or down the line.

As with water mains, as at work.

Weak Links at Work

Many leaders choose (unwisely) to ignore the weak links at work and in their teams. They seem to hope that if they ignore them, they’ll go away.

But hope is not a strategy.

Which makes me wonder:

  • What weak links in your organization and staff might YOU be ignoring?
  • What weak links might be on the VERGE of bursting?
  • What’s your plan should one (or more of them) burst at a decidedly INCOVENIENT time?
  • What can you do, BEFOREHAND, to shore things up?
  • How do you even assess POTENTIAL vulnerabilities?

Look for the Prodromes

You know how farm animals can sense a tornado coming? That’s called recognizing the prodromes, early warnings that signals something of concern.

In medicine, a prodrome is a symptom, or set of symptoms, that precedes a more diagnosable set of symptoms: Like with COVID and how a headache or sore throat, may (or may not) be an early indicator of more serious symptoms, to come, like a fever, dry cough, and tiredness. (Source: WHO.)

(By the way, get vaccinated and boostered if you haven’t, yet. If not for your own health, then for your dearest friends and family members who you might unintentionally infect (and cause to become seriously ill or die.)

At work, prodromes exists, as well. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

And the way to do that is a fairly straightforward process:

Step 1 – Consider your organization’s biggest potential vulnerabilities – In other words, what are the things, that if they go wrong, could create a fairly big mess. Why? Because you want to know what vulnerabilities could exist in your organization before they exist, so you know what to do should they exist.

  • Maybe it’s a potential staffing or coverage issue, as it often is in operations-based organizations
  • Maybe it’s a potential follow-through issue, as it often is with high-profile projects or assignments
  • Maybe it’s a potential preparedness or agility issue, as it often is with sudden crises or priority changes
  • Maybe it’s a potential training issue, as it often is when new technologies or processes are being implemented
  • Maybe it’s a potential leadership bottleneck issue, as it often is when leaders aren’t as comfortable with delegating as they should be

So, spend some time thinking through such worse case scenarios. The more you identify, the better.

Step 2 – Understand, and watch for, the indicators of those potential vulnerabilities taking form – The idea, here, is that there are scenarios for these vulnerabilities that you want to recognize, and track, as early as possible.

  • With respect to staffing or coverage concerns, holiday and vacation scheduling are likely prodromes of potential disruption
  • With respect to follow-through concerns, missed/ignored deadlines and complaints from others about them are likely prodromes of potential disruption
  • With respect to preparedness or agility concerns, the ability to answer routine questions or increased employee stress levels are likely prodromes of potential disruption
  • With respect to training concerns, again, longer completion times and having to rework insufficient solutions are likely prodromes of potential disruption
  • With respect to leadership bottleneck concerns, missed due dates or lackluster employee productivity and engagement are likely prodromes of potential disruption

Long before a volcano erupts, spewing lava more than 400 meters into the sky (as the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands), there are rumblings. And even while dormant, volcanos, by their very nature, are still huge potential threats. As with volcanos, as at work.

Step 3 – Mitigate (or have a plan to mitigate) the potential risks – Now with your particular scenarios, the threats may not be particularly active – and they may be relatively easy to mitigate – but, again, it’s in your best interests to know what you’d do should they occur …or what you can do in advance of them occurring so they, more likely than not, don’t occur in the first place.

  • Staffing or coverage risks can often be easily mitigated by having some parameters for scheduling time off, along with an emergency coverage plan for when emergency coverage is needed
  • Follow-through risks can often be easily mitigated by implementing an unsolicited updates policy and tying it to one’s annual performance requirements
  • Preparedness or agility risks can often be easily mitigated through scheduled reporting, testing, scenario planning exercises or ‘deep dive’ discussions
  • Training risks can often be easily mitigated by ensuring staff is getting the training they need, before they need it
  • Leadership bottleneck risks can often be easily mitigated by having more meaningful conversations with your direct reports their performance and developmental needs

What Next?

Do that – or the version of that that’s most relevant to you – and you’ll be far more ready to not just respond to potential weak links, but you’ll be able to avoid many of them, entirely. Which is the point of the exercise.

Remember, though, that when patching weak links, you can also inadvertently expose (or create) new vulnerability points, up or down the line.

So don’t consider this a ‘one and done’ activity. Rather, integrate it into your ongoing processes. Monthly is good to start. Then quarter. Then semiannually.

But the key is to start.

So start!!

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