Lessons from the Electric Bill: Small Solutions to Big ProblemsMay 23, 2022 2022-05-23 18:28
Lessons from the Electric Bill: Small Solutions to Big Problems
For years my electric bill was almost twice as high as those of my neighbors and I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out why. When it finally occurred to me, I felt pretty sheepish — it was in front of me the whole time. This experience represents a good lesson for company decision-makers, so I’d like to share the story and what I learned from it.
While trying to unravel the mystery of the electric bill, I considered the fact that some neighbors have pools (as I do) and others don’t, and most have air conditioning. I had an extended family living with me for years, but when the kids moved out things didn’t really change. We invested in energy-smart home improvements like double-paned windows, but the bill only dropped by about 10%.
Throughout this process, my mind kept returning to the pool filter pump, as it runs constantly — otherwise your pool turns green. Every time I thought of it, I just couldn’t see how that small mechanism’s operation could cost so much. We had it refurbished several times, but that never made a difference. Until one day . . .
. . . The pump broke down completely and had to be replaced. Immediately the electric bill dropped by 70%. For years I had suspected the pump but always second-guessed myself. Replacing the pump cost about $800 — much less than our other energy-smart improvements — but it was a steal compared to the old pump, which must have cost us tens of thousands of dollars over the years. That’s money that could have been spent on the kids’ education, some nice vacations, or other things that aren’t a constantly operating background function.
In my book The Power of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build a Culture that Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits, I explore the dangers of cognitive bias. My failure to hone in on the pump may be the result of my own cognitive biases. These biases may include holding a fixed mindset about things and making inferences based on scant knowledge. The tricky thing about cognitive biases is that they don’t affect our ability to think clearly and thoroughly about issues; instead, they affect our will to do so. I just wasn’t willing to explore the possibility that the small pump was causing such a large problem.
Small Solutions to Big Problems in Business
One of the reasons I felt a bit sheepish is that I founded, and have been a senior executive at, PeopleG2 since 2001. I’m an executive coach, speaker, and recognized thought leader in company culture and remote work. I’ve led effective brainstorming sessions and troubleshooting efforts for decades. How did I miss a fix that simple? Maybe my faux pas can keep other business leaders from having a similarly embarrassing experience.
Take a few moments to ask yourself: Are there small things in my company that are causing bigger problems than I realize? Maybe there is a manager reporting to you whose team is struggling with both performance and engagement. You’ve looked at several potential issues:
- The manager was promoted from being a peer to the team, so they may be struggling to establish credibility.
- The manager is a subject matter expert but may not have the necessary leadership skills.
- The team manages the supply chain for an aspect of the business, and after dealing with pandemic-caused shortages for months, they may be burned out.
However, you also know that this manager has a newborn at home, but you don’t think that is a factor. After all, the manager’s spouse is on family leave to take care of the baby. The business-centric reasons in the bulleted list seem much more likely. But before you spend hundreds on management training, try giving the manager a week of family leave. Yes, you’ll have to oversee his team, but maybe what he needs is time to get himself, his spouse and the baby settled into as much of a routine as the baby will allow. Maybe he feels like he is missing out on an important time in his family’s life. I believe that, in this hypothetical example, if you tried the impactful solution first, you would see positive results.
People have been advocating the use of inclusive language for years now, but many have a hard time believing that a few words can have a significant impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. However, Textio research found that their client Expedia filled job openings eight days faster when the job posting used gender-neutral language, compared to postings with biased language (Hall, 2018). Of course, gender is just one aspect of DEI, and the context of language is as important as word choice. Just the same, if your DEI efforts aren’t delivering the results you want, this seemingly simple change may make a big difference, without incurring significant costs.
This sounds scary, I know. But maybe we could take a lesson from the iconic detective and master problem-solver, Sherlock Holmes: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (Doyle, 2016). As we evaluate situations and look for solutions, we need to take a conscious and conscientious approach to being aware of our biases and questioning our assumptions. This applies to business decisions as well as personal ones.
In Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, my coauthor Kim Shepherd and I argue that mistakes can be positive and result in knowledge that drives improvements (2021). The key, of course, is to learn from those mistakes. If I had trusted that little voice in my head that kept bringing up the pool filter pump, I would have solved the problem sooner and saved a lot of money. What is your intuition trying to tell you about an issue? Maybe it’s time to listen.
Doyle, A C (2016) The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY.
Dyer, C (2018) The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits. Kogan Page, London.
Dyer, C and Shepherd, K (2021) Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices and strategies to engage a remote workforce. Kogan Page, London.
Hall, A (2018) Can the words you use change the people you work with? Available from: https://textio.com/blog/can-the-words-you-use-change-the-people-you-work-with/13035166539 [Last accessed May 4, 2022]