Business Proverbs

Learning from Experience
by Steve Marr

A manufacturing plant in Kentucky had repeatedly been cited for safety violations. After each citation, some corrections were made, but the underlying causes were never dealt with. Conditions improved for a while, but then management allowed its safety standards to slip again, and more violations occurred. The result was an explosion that injured 28 workers.

The largest customer of a plastic injection parts manufacturer had complained several times about quality problems. Each time, the defective parts were replaced but nothing changed inside the manufacturing plant and quality continued to slip. Eventually, the customer found a more reliable vendor and the business was lost.

Bill was chronically late for work and was often reprimanded by his supervisor. After each incident, he would arrive on time for a while, but within a month his old habit of tardiness would return. After repeated warnings, he walked in late one day and was fired.

In each of these cases, a problem was identified, and the action to correct it was made clear, and improvement was noted-for a time. But the root cause of the problem was not addressed and the problem returned. Effective business leaders not only fix the immediate problem, they ensure that long-term corrections are also in place.

Moses repeatedly told Pharaoh, "Let my people go," and Pharaoh repeatedly said that the Israelites could leave, but then he "hardened his heart" and did not allow them to go. Consequently, the Egyptians suffered from plagues that increasingly became more intense and painful, until every firstborn child in the nation was killed and Pharaoh's army was destroyed. Later in the history of Israel, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "I have spoken to you again and again; yet you have not listened to Me" (Jeremiah 35:14, NASB). The apostle Peter quoted a proverb, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22, NASB).

It's human nature to react to the urgent demands of the moment and forget the long-term lessons we need to learn. In business, we need to establish procedures to fix the root problems if we want to keep our customers happy.

First, be certain that you understand the issue. Identify what went wrong-and why. Next, confirm with your customer, or the other party, what action is expected, and set a deadline for completion. Write down the action steps that you and your staff will take to correct the problem. Discuss the corrections with your staff, explain what needs to change, and spell out the consequences of noncompliance. If you could lose a major customer, make sure your staff understands that.

Next, demonstrate the importance of the change by following up personally to ensure that all improvements are implemented. Call your customers and obtain feedback. Determine whether additional action is needed. Just because an owner or a manager issues new instructions does not guarantee that those directives will be followed. Your direct follow-through to verify that changes are made-and that they become permanent-is the single biggest factor in affecting long-term improvement.

"Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5, NLT).

Steve Marr is a business/ministry consultant and author of the book Business Proverbs. His daily radio feature, "Business Proverbs" is heard on 1,000 radio stations. He is the former CEO of the fourth largest import-export firm in the United States. Website:

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