The Iceberg Syndrome

I was having a casual conversation with a client a few days ago and he shared with me a recently completed service request for one of his customers. After completing the service request, the customer was caught off-guard by the amount of time my client’s team had invested in providing a “Disney” moment (making their dreams come true). When he asked the customer why he was surprised, the customer replied, “When I talked to my team they told me that all you did was take a copy of an existing report and change the way it looked to make the new report”.

iceberg It occurred to me that he had experienced “The Iceberg Syndrome”. An obstacle of sorts that often leads to misunderstanding and dissatisfaction with our customers, our teammates, and our colleagues. Typically found when the person or people on the receiving side only see the 10% of the iceberg that is visible above the water, but are unaware, or perhaps don’t understand the other 90% hidden from sight below the water.

In my client’s case, the customer was seeing 1/10th of the iceberg (the new report) but was not aware of or understood the other 9/10ths (database changes, queries, code) of the iceberg that resulted in that “simple” change to create the new report. Luckily, with a little explanation of the “behind the scenes” effort the team had put in, the client understood why a “simple” change required the work it did and was happy to pay the bill.

So, the customer is happy, the work is done, my client got paid. Nothing more to see here, right? Not so fast. This may have worked out for the best and I am sure my client gets the importance of making sure his customer sees and understands the whole iceberg.

How about internally? Where inside his company, as well as yours’ and mine, does “The Iceberg Syndrome” play havoc? Everywhere, if we let it! Our culture, our vision, our strategy, our execution? They are all subject to “The Iceberg Syndrome”.

If your team doesn’t see and understand the entire iceberg, they are free to make their own assumptions – assumptions which are more often than not, way off course. By making certain everyone sees and understands the entire iceberg, you will create clarity and alignment.

Here are a few suggestions for creating clarity and alignment with our customers, our teammates, and our colleagues:

  1. Communicate early: Don’t wait until every minor detail has been worked out. Open the door for conversation and feedback by sharing the 1,000 foot view. You will be surprised what others have to offer in the way of perspective, ideas, and input.
  2. Communicate often:  Pat Lencioni shares that people need to hear something 7 times before they believe it. I think this also applies to understanding as well. Don’t get caught up in the idea that no one is listening and it is a waste of time. No one may respond, but rest assured, they are listening.
  3. Be honest and up front: Don’t be afraid to tell people things they may not want to hear. People will accept the truth, even if it isn’t great. They will not accept a lie, even when it sounds better than the truth.
  4. Don’t assume someone else has communicated for you: Hopefully you have a team that will is clearly aligned and will communicate the message down the line. Just don’t assume they have. It is your responsibility as a leader to make sure the message is clear, everyone is saying it the same way, and it is being said. Trust, but verify.
  5. Close the Loop: Encourage feedback and response by asking for it. This closes the loop by creating 2 way dialog. A simple change such as silence no longer equals agreement can be a great way to close the loop.

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