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WORKAROUNDS THAT WORK
How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work
By RUSSELL BISHOP
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2011Russell Bishop
All rights reserved.
It All Starts with You
Organizations form when someone has a good idea, experiences early success, and then needs help in order to deliver on the promise. Somewhere between a good idea and market success, most businesses run into the challenge of setting up a system that helps move things forward more efficiently.
As the organization grows, a dilemma appears. Sooner or later we all discover the need for reliable, repeatable processes or systems lest the wheel becomes the constant reinvention. Systems and processes, however, can become overly engineered and eventually create more headaches than they solve, resulting in extra layers of approval and sign-off, thus delaying progress.
Employees often resist processes for reasons ranging from not wanting to be cramped in their style to fears of repeating the kind of bureaucratic nightmares they have experienced in past jobs.
Recently, I was working with two different companies, one in the technology security business and another in health care information automation. Both were successful, with a history of innovation and rapid growth, and yet both were frustrated by the lack of efficiency that had crept into their businesses.
The technology security CEO put it this way: "We're a billion dollar company with a 50-million-dollar infrastructure." This company manages by consensus. Pretty much everyone needs to be on board. When consensus is lacking, just about any project, market plan, or customer service initiative can easily be derailed. Even routine matters require meetings, study, revisions, more study, and then tentative exploration of the possibility.
Unless, of course, the CEO sees another "bright, shiny object," and off people go again down a track that will drastically redirect company energy and resources. The "bright, shiny object" phenomenon prevents them from thinking strategically beyond the latest and greatest idea, while also leaving a number of groups in the dust when directions change and they didn't get the memo.
The health care information company CEO had a markedly different take on things: "We hire the best and brightest, but still they lack common sense." In this culture, decisions of any consequence run through the CEO's office, because the CEO does not trust that even senior managers will make the right decisions. On the one hand, it's hard to argue with success—while not the largest in the field, the company is number one in its category and has been growing like crazy. On the other hand, it is now confronting the consequences of its rapid growth and success. Too much going on, too many people involved, and too many opportunities on the horizon—no one CEO can put that many fingers into that many pies.
How do these companies adopt processes that can be trusted and implemented without overwhelming the cultures they have built? Both CEOs recognized the need to improve the way they operate their companies, for reasons that include increasing efficiency as well as improving their ability to compete in broader markets. However, as we plumbed the issues and possible solutions, both became paralyzed with the fear of implementing new processes that would result in an overbureaucratization of their "fast, flexible, and nimble organizations."
In actuality, though, neither company is quite as fast, flexible, or nimble as it once was. The fact is that they now tend to stumble over what used to be simple things. Coordination among groups has become somewhere between difficult and nonexistent. Approvals either take forever or are granted swiftly only to be overturned a short time later.
Employees are beginning to express frustration with the roadblocks to getting things done. Middle managers are becoming increasingly fearful that their decisions will be second-guessed. The combination of frustration and fear leads people to slow things down even more in a multitude of ways. Some are forever looking for "buy-in" before moving; some simply dig in and focus on dozens of small tasks, enabling them to demonstrate productivity in terms of the number of things accomplished—not necessarily the important things, just ones that can be counted; some are taking their own initiative, finding ways to get things done despite the organization roadblocks.
This book will look at some of the sources of organizational roadblocks and offer suggestions that you can employ to get things moving, to overcome internal resistance, and to make a difference. Again, as you find yourself bumping into what appear to be roadblocks or resistance, it will be important to keep in mind that just about every hurdle initially showed up for an apparently good reason.
It's not as if a senior team of roadblock specialists convenes weekly to figure out what else it can do to make things more difficult. For example, lengthy decision processes often come into existence for reasons such as lowering risk or engaging multiple stakeholders. It's hard to argue with lowering risk or engaging employees, yet it's also hard to find the value in delays when something critical shows up.
Some workaround suggestions will be fairly low risk; others may require you to take a deep breath, make sure your résumé is in good shape, and forge ahead knowing that the outcome may not be what you hoped for. The larger, perhaps riskier suggestions involve big ideas, concepts, and philosophies, often centering on the roles of leadership and management. Some of these will be strategic in nature, addressing what you are doing and why you are doing it. The smaller, lower-risk suggestions will be mostly tactical, emphasizing how you go about getting things done, meeting milestones, or complying with internal process standards.
Some of the actions we will discuss will be individual in form, things that you can do on your own or that involve just you and one other person. Some may involve you and your team members, and others may involve coordination across multiple teams. I will address a range of issues, many of which will reflect the following paradox: nothing in this book works, and yet everything in the book can work. The real difference will be what you choose to make work, to apply, or to utilize. None of these are perfect ideas, but each can be perfected.
A particular paradox and challenge will appear over and over again: what works for you and what works for me may be different, even if the same basic concept is in play for both of us. What you can make work and what I can make work may depend on any number of variables. Rather than reading this book in search of perfect answers that work perfectly, look for ideas that you can apply in your own unique way, and perfect them in your own environment.
CONTROL, INFLUENCE, AND RESPOND
Let's start with a simple way of examining your work world, building on a form of strategic thinking popularized by Steven Covey.
Years ago, the leaders of a unit of our armed forces hired me to help them improve efficiency in their operations. As part of the background for the engagement, they cited a model featuring three concentric circles as a way of thinking about strategy (see Figure 1.1). The three circles represent everything in your environment: things you can directly control all on your own, things you may be able to change if you can influence the right folks, and those things that are truly external to you and to which you can only respond.
If you control what you can and influence where possible, then you are most likely to be as well equipped as possible to respond to external circumstances. Change, competitive threats, new technologies, and the like are just the way it is out there. The only
Excerpted from WORKAROUNDS THAT WORK by RUSSELL BISHOP. Copyright © 2011 by Russell Bishop. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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