In Lessons from Private Equity Any Company Can Use (Harvard Business Press, 2008), authors Gadiesh and MacArthur introduce the term “at cause,” which they define as “an attitude that seeks solutions proactively rather than reacting to events.” In essence, we are “at cause” when we are doing everything we can to control our own destiny. Looking ahead, driving change, implementing business improvements, planning strategically, anticipating potential future business problems and then heading them off before they occur are all typical behaviors of an individual in an “at cause” mode.
The opposite of “at cause” is “at effect,” which is defined as a passive, take no risk, “it happened to us” culture. When we are “at effect” we are at the mercy of the events around us, blaming those events for poor performance or lack of achievement. One might define “at effect” as being reactive rather than proactive. When we feel as though we are frantically putting out a fire, only to move to the next fire we are “at effect.”
To make sure the concept is sinking in, take the following quiz and identify which of these are “at cause” activities:
1) Responding to a customer complaint
about a quality issue.
2) Implementing an employee bonus program.
3) Devising a plan to install a new production line.
4) Explaining last month’s unfavorable labor
variance to the owner.
5) Winning ISO Registration for your
6) Participating in an unemployment hearing.
7) Negotiating a cost reduction on your
8) Facilitating a Kaizen event.
9) Repairing a machine that went down
10) Responding to an OSHA citation.
If you answered correctly that 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8 are “at cause” activities, you get the picture.
To further illustrate the benefits of being “at cause,” I will use the example of the Work Hour Monger. This is the co-worker who feels obligated to say things like “I worked a 75-hour work-week last week,” or makes comments beginning with words like, “If he was working the kind of hours I work...” as if the hours he spends in the office are somehow more important that what he actually accomplishes while he is there.
What the Work Hour Monger doesn’t understand is that there is no direct correlation between time spent at work and the results we produce. Instead, our business success is determined by the amount of time we spend “at cause” since “at cause” efforts produce more revenue, reduce costs, improve morale and build our culture.
Moreover, the more time we invest “at cause” the less time we need to spend “at effect,” because our “at cause” efforts tend to prevent the occurrences that would otherwise put us in an “at effect” mode. Just as important as making sure that we are disciplining ourselves to engage in “at cause” activities is to ensure that our team members are spending their time “at cause.” Helping them to do so is, in effect, an “at cause” activity for us.
So it is that engaging in “at cause” activities becomes an ascending spiral. The more time we spend “at cause,” the less time we need to spend “at effect,” thus the more time we can spend “at cause,” and so on. In addition, the more time our people spend “at cause” the less time they and we will need to spend “at effect.”
The converse is also true. The more time we must spend “at effect” the less time we spend “at cause.” A shop supervisor I know well is fond of saying, “A lazy man works twice as hard.” This was his way of saying that, if we put off “at cause” activities today, we end up spending much more time “at effect” at some point in the future, making up for the time we could have spent “at cause” today.
Why not make a list of your most important “at cause” activities? Reaching out to new sales prospects, implementing a new lean initiative and considering a business expansion are just some examples. Once you have identified these activities, schedule at least one hour each day to engage in “at cause” tasks. Before long, your “at cause” efforts will reduce your necessary “at effect” time which in turn will create more time for you to be “at cause,” thereby producing the results you seek.