Braces

A female mouth with braces.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to the dentist last week for a cleaning. Despite having worn braces when I was a kid some of my lower teeth have shifted as I’ve aged and the dentist said I should think about having them straightened out (again). Having endured braces long ago, I told him that unless there was some reason beyond the need to be extra diligent as I brush and floss I would pass. It did, however, get me thinking about braces and I think there is a business lesson here.

Braces work by putting steady pressure on misaligned teeth. Over time, the pressure moves the teeth into the correct position. Orthodontists use rubber bands or springs to exert specific pressure to push the teeth in the proper direction. The trick is that there is constant pressure, and any of you who remember sleeping with the extra pressure of that contraption they had you wear at night will agree that while the pressure isn’t overwhelming it’s quite noticeable.

As managers, we need to act like braces. Organizations often have parts that are misaligned and which need to be moved back into place. As with teeth, one can’t just remove and replace the misaligned elements, at least not until all other options have been exhausted. It’s too traumatic. Figuring out how things ought to line up and applying steady pressure is what we ought to be doing.

The same goes for dealing with people. Really excellent people often have a flaw that can be fixed with time and patience. It’s identifying the problem, applying the corrective devices, increasing the pressure in a helpful but not painful way, and waiting that is the key.  The steel railroad ties of my youthful brace experience are long gone, replaced by barely noticeable orthodonture.  That’s how managers need to think as well – using a light, barely noticeable hand can be just as effective with the right pressure and design.

How are you fixing things today?

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