How to Stop Small Leaks from Creating Bigger Messes

Nate Butki on May 28, 2019

As someone who has rehabbed a number of old houses, I felt completely in control when a toilet in an older bathroom broke. Sure, it had been awhile, and maybe my DIY home improvement game was a little rusty, but I knew I was more than capable of handling the repair. I could have called my best friend since kindergarten who runs the local, amazing plumbing company—but I didn’t want to bother him with such a simple problem. I already knew the valve in the tank was shot. It’s an easy fix. I got the necessary parts, took out the components from inside the tank and put in the new pieces. Bam. Done!

I even took a minute to check my work. No leaks! The toilet was working as it should, and I celebrated my success with a beer. I was so confident and proud that I didn’t give that toilet another thought. I left for a week-long business trip the next morning.

I came home to a kid who said, “Hey Dad, how ‘bout those plumbing skills? Have you looked in the bathroom?”

Of course I went immediately to the bathroom to check out the issue. The pieces in the tank I had replaced were in perfect shape. However, the pieces that were connected to the new valve had become stressed when I made the repair. One fitting had come ever so slightly loose, which caused a slow drip to form. The water dripped. And dripped. And dripped. This 24-hour drip over the past five days was enough to saturate the floor—buckling the wood, ruining the baseboard trim, and soaking the drywall in the area.

What Went Wrong

What’s the take-away? The ways that I screwed up during this “simple” toilet issue are all really obvious when you step back and look.

Misstep #1: Not Looking at the Whole

I changed the entire infrastructure of the toilet and at first glance, all seemed great. I bragged to my wife that it all worked, didn’t cost much, and was done fast! But I made a crucial error: I didn’t check the surrounding pieces and connections. I focused on the part that needed direct attention and gave it direct attention. When I was finished—or better yet, when I started—I should have looked closely at the related pieces and included them in the project. But nope, I didn’t actively check or inspect anything beyond the direct problem at hand.

Misstep #2: Not Leveraging an Experienced Expert

I felt so confident and capable—even though my expertise is in the business world, not the plumbing world—I didn’t ask for help or a second opinion. Despite the fact that I’m fortunate enough to have access to a true expert (my best friend), I didn’t even consider taking five minutes to call him for advice or insights on common mistakes.

Misstep #3: No Follow-Up

After I completed the fix, I moved on and headed out the next day. If I had circled back to check on things the next morning before I left, I would have noticed a small drip and come up with a solution—all while it was still just a small drip and before it completely destroyed floor.

What Might Organizational Change and DIY Home Improvement Have in Common?

Because I made these errors, my $42, 60-minute repair now requires nearly two, full days of work and will cost exponentially more. This experience made me think about all the times I may have made similar mistakes at work while either leading change or participating in change. Even faster than I screwed up the bathroom, I came up with a list of how this could have gone right instead of wrong—it’s simple and strikingly relevant to leading organizational change.

  1. Think holistically. Pay attention to the most visible aspects of the change, but then also look closely at the impact on others around the change. Assess what can go right and wrong for all areas and create an end-to-end plan.
  2. Ask for input. Involve experts and others with experience who will surely have insights and watch-outs to share.
  3. Inspect and check-in before moving on. Just because you’re ready to move on doesn’t mean the change has taken root. It only takes a minute to check and reinforce the change.

Don’t Let Your Change Project Get a Leak

Whether fixing a broken tank valve or developing a change initiative at work, moving too quickly often results in paying the price in rework, sub-optimized change, or outright failure. No one wants to deal with those outcomes.

P.S. If you’re looking for a silver lining, I have one! I’m using this mistake as an opportunity to go big. Since we have to rip up floors and break into walls, we’ve decided we might as well rehab the bathroom—replacing the wall, vanity, floor trim, and paint. It’s going way over my initial $42 repair but should be pretty sweet when it’s done. I’ve learned a few lessons, and you can bet the new bathroom won’t suffer the same demise as its predecessor. And I’m anticipating that my next post will be about scope creep.


Managing Change
Managing Change