A COE is a correction of error mechanism. Its goal is to identify the real root cause of the issue so you can take action to prevent it from happening again. While COE’s at work often are an operational burden, when applied in a more simply way, they can really help you get unstuck with repeat challenges in life. Listen in this week and learn the 3 step COE process I use all the time to identify the root cause of problems and how to use it in your life. Listen and learn.
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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman. I worked almost 12 years at Amazon and saw so many brilliant and successful overachievers burn themselves out and leave their jobs because they’re so stressed and anxious. But guess what? Having a successful career does not have to be at the expense of your mental sanity and personal time. There’s an easier way, and I can show you how. Let’s do this.
Hey y’all, how’s it going? Okay, I don’t know if you like that I share personal tidbits at the beginning, but I like to know people as humans, so I like to share myself as a human. But someone tell me if it’s annoying, and I’ll stop. Anyhow, okay, this week I have to tell you, oh, you guys, I’m an idiot. I was in a dressing room. I went shopping with a friend, and the really large dressing room was open, so we went in there and shared a dressing room and were trying things on and anyways, we were done and I was getting dressed and I legitimately could not find my shirt, and I was going crazy. Like, I was so glad I was there with someone else because I really started to question myself because I hadn’t left the space, no one else had come in, but I was like, I was wearing a shirt when I walked in here, right? Anyhow, turns out it had slipped behind the bench in this dark corner, and it was a dark shirt, and I found it, and it all worked out. But let’s just say my friend and I almost wet our pants laughing so hard. So, you know, just a glimpse into my luxurious life.
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We’re going to talk about using a tool that I’ve used in my corporate experience but applying it to yourself personally. In my 12 years at Amazon, highs, lows, goods, bads, all of it, what I’ve really taken away is there’s a handful of mechanisms that I learned to really like. Usually kind of in a modified version. And I liked them because I was able to apply them to myself personally and got some great results from it. So, I want to share one of those things with you today.
So, one of the things that Amazon uses, that’s not proprietary, you can find lots of information out there on it, is a mechanism called a Coe. Now, a lot of folks at Amazon get nervous and anxious when they hear about a Coe. It stands for Correction of Error. You’ll hear people talk about it as Cause of Error, but really the purpose of it is to remove all of the drama and just look at the data of what happened. It’s not meant to shame people or to blame people. And so, “I really like that the purpose of it is to help prevent the issue from happening again or to help prioritize work. I know that before, I was leaving. I was trying to help kind of shift The Branding with my team of Coes. They are a lot of work. It takes a lot of documentation. This is where I think this mechanism has been over-engineered. Like, it used to have to get bar raised and all sorts of crazy things, and I’m like, no, no, no. The purpose of the mechanism is to learn what’s the root cause of the problem and how do we go solve that so it doesn’t happen again. But Coes are really helpful because they help identify issues and they help identify repeat issues. Because myself and my team, we’ve done so many Coes, we were able to prioritize some pretty big work projects through our yearly planning process. And without those Coes and that documentation, it wouldn’t have happened. So again, I like the overall concept of them. I don’t love the like busy work side of it. So as I mentioned, this is something that I like to apply to kind of my life, my career, things that are going on for me. And I would offer to you to do the same. And I want to kind of walk you through how I do it. If it works for you, great. Take or leave whatever you want from it. It’s just an interesting way to look at some of those problems that we’re having in a work setting. We don’t do a Coe on every problem. And as a person who uses this on myself, I don’t create a correction of error report for every problem that I have. We are human, we’re going to have problems in a work setting. You don’t do a Coe on everything. You do it on those things that are really big or had a really big customer-facing impact or are maybe like repeat problems. Okay, so kind of think of it the same for you. What are some of those things that you’re really struggling with that maybe are happening all the time or you’re just having a challenge getting over?
I want to walk you through the three-step process I use in doing a Coe for myself and give you specific examples so you could see how you can apply this to kind of your career and your current setting. So, the first step is you’ve got to define the problem, okay? If we don’t have a clear problem statement, the rest of this is going to be really hard. In a work Coe, you’ve got to have lots of data and timestamps. Again, like I’m just here to make this easy and fun and for it to help me identify what’s the root cause of the problem. The problem that surfaces to me and to you is not the root cause of the problem. And we want to help our brain get to the root cause so that it goes to work to solve that, not the initial problem. That’s just the fire that we keep kind of putting out. So, a problem statement, if you’re trying to apply this to yourself, might be, “I have to drag myself out of bed every morning.” Okay, that’s an example. A problem statement is not something like, “It’s not fair that we have to return to the office.” I’m not saying that’s not a problem, but what we want to understand is just take it a level deeper to get a clear problem statement.
Why is returning to the office not being fair a problem? That’s what we want to put as our problem statement. So, maybe your problem statement is, “I’m not as productive in the office as I am working from home.” Your answer could be, “I can’t focus because people keep stopping by my desk to ask questions. Why do people keep stopping by to ask questions?” Your answer might be, “My team needs answers to things to do their job. Why does your team need answers to things to do their job?” The answer to that could be, “They don’t know where else to get the information from, and it’s faster to get it from me.” My next why would be, “Why don’t they know where to get the information from?” Your answer could be, “They know I know the answers, so they just keep asking me.” My next question might be, “Why do they not know, and why do you know?” Your answer might be, “Because I’ve done it before and I taught myself, and no one’s taught them where to look.”
That’s such a more helpful, more achievable, more actionable root cause problem that we can go and address, instead of this big, high ambiguous, ‘I hate working in the office because I just have such low productivity.’ Okay, but let’s look at the true root cause of the problem. The root cause is your team doesn’t know where to get information aside from you, and you keep answering the questions for them. You’ve taught them to come to you, and that’s how they get the answers. Okay, that’s so much easier to solve.
Let’s look at one more example. If you’re struggling to know what your next career move should be and we’re applying these five why questions, your first why question might be, ‘Why don’t you know where you want your next career move to be?’ The answer could be, ‘Nothing sounds exciting or feasible without taking a pay cut.’ Why would you have to take a pay cut? The things you want to do don’t pay as much as my current line of work. Why do you need it to pay as much? I don’t want to give up my lifestyle. Why don’t you want to give up your lifestyle? I like the life I’ve created. Why do you want to change if you like the life you’ve created? I’m bored with my current job and not learning. That problem statement: I’m bored and not learning. So much easier to action. Then ‘I just don’t know what to do with my career next.’ You see how it gives your brain something to like go after and give you ideas with? Okay, so as we’re applying this correction of error mechanism to ourselves, first, you’ve got to define the problem statement, get a clear problem statement. Second, ask yourself and answer the five whys: Why did this thing happen? Why is it a problem?
And then the last thing you want to do now that you’ve got the root cause of the issue, go and make an action item list for yourself to address it, figure out some things you’re gonna do. I’ll give you some examples. Going back to the issue of getting up in the morning, we identified the root causes: you don’t feel like you can hit your goals and you can’t push back on it without getting fired. Maybe your action items are going to be to work on your self-confidence, to find some ways to hold your own boundaries at work. Maybe you’re going to hire a coach. Maybe you’re going to have an honest conversation with your leadership and lay out different options and ask them which one they want and let them know there are trade-offs either way. Maybe you’re going to ask more questions. Maybe you’re going to learn to be comfortable when leadership’s uncomfortable. Of course, they want everything faster and bigger and better and cheaper. Maybe you’re gonna choose the hard on purpose. Maybe you’re gonna choose the hard on purpose. Maybe you’re gonna go to bed earlier. Maybe you’re going to get clear with yourself on what success looks like daily and be proud of yourself daily.
There’s no wrong way or wrong action item to go and take, but when you’ve gotten clear on the root cause of the issue, it’s so much easier to know what you can do to keep moving forward. Let’s look at the next example.
If you’re struggling to feel productive at work because you’ve basically taught your team to ask all their questions to you, maybe when they come up to you and ask a question, you’re going to ask them some questions in return. You’re going to ask, “What did you try? Have you checked wikis? Have you checked the intranet? What answer do you think it is?” Maybe you’re going to tell them in your next team meeting, “Hey, new thing. If you have a question, you have to answer it and come to me, and I will give you feedback on your answer.” Maybe you’re gonna do office hours. Maybe you’re just not gonna give them the answer. Maybe you’re gonna tell them, “When I have headphones on, don’t talk to me,” and then you’re gonna wear headphones all day, every day, and they’re going to be forced to figure it out for themselves.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but now you know the root cause of the issue, and it’s so much easier to go and tackle it. Okay, last example. If you’re struggling to know kind of what to do in your career because the root cause of the issue is you’re bored with your job and you’re not learning, maybe you’re gonna go and make a list and identify what’s something you want to learn. Maybe you’re going to take on a new project at work. Maybe you’re going to sign up for a class. Maybe you’re going to go learn how to do someone else’s job and job shadow them for a little bit or see if you can go on a temporary rotation at work. Maybe you’re gonna learn how to be bored at work. Maybe you’re going to learn a new hobby. You’re gonna find some way to not be bored and be challenged and learning and engaged outside of work.
There’s no wrong way, but when you’ve identified that root cause issue, your brain will go to work and give you answers. So get to that root cause issue of the problem. If not, you’re just going to keep telling yourself the same thing over and over again and feeling frustrated and annoyed and stuck. Your brain would rather be right than feel good. Remind it what is actually true. The problem statement is not where you want your brain focused on. The truth is the root cause of the issue. That’s what you want your brain focused on and thinking about because your brain will go to work to find and give you action items and answers to that root cause issue. All right, my friends. I hope talking about Coes wasn’t triggering for any of you out there. But I know when I apply the concept of this mechanism to myself personally, it helps me get unstuck and gives me a way forward.
All right, you’re amazing. I can’t wait to talk to you. Sign up for some of that free coaching. You got this. We’ll talk soon.
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