I was once speaking with a group of aerospace executives and asked one what his firm did. “Oh,” he replied, “We make shims.”

I had no idea what a shim was, but he patiently explained that it is a piece of material that acts as a spacer between two surfaces. In simple terms, a folded piece of paper placed under the leg of a wobbly table is a shim. When it comes to aeroplane production, shims are highly engineered metal and non-metal components that improve the fit of two larger parts.

Shims are a recognition that it is impossible to build a plane without having many small gaps and spaces between the joins. There are literally thousands of shims in every aeroplane.

I see metaphorical shims in many situations where they shouldn’t exist, though. At a window manufacturer I worked with, for example, there was a quality review and fix team at the end of the production line to sort out errors made up the line. Having customers choose the type of music they want to listen to while waiting – endlessly – on hold on your customer service line is also an example of a ‘shim’.

When you’re faced with operational problems, it’s tempting to find ways to smooth and reduce the issue with a range of real or metaphorical shims. You’re likely to be far better off, however, by raising the bar on performance and finding new, more effective underlying solutions.

Where are you focused on managing and improving ‘shims’ when you could be developing a better, more productive solution?

Off The Record: Get It Right Next Time by Gerry Rafferty

You gotta grow, you gotta learn by your mistakes,

You gotta die a little every day, just to stay awake,

When you believe there’s no mountain you can climb,

And if you get it wrong you get it right next time.