Let me tell you about yourself. You’re a dedicated member of the team at work. You’re used to being busy and to solve problems quickly, as they occur, in an ad hoc manner. Get it done, move on. You’re using your creativity to the best of your ability and loving it. OK, so you work long hours. It’s hard work, and sometimes even very hard, but the result you achieve from that is what makes you tick. You’re your own man. If you can’t fix it, no one can. You’re in construction and couldn't be happier.
One day, you get called to a meeting where one or other of all the supervisors or CEOs or MDs and what have you tell you about this new gospel: systems building. We now have a system for everything. Processes. Standardisation. A way of doing things, period. You do what the Joneses do. Let us know if you think it should be improved. Here’s the manual, go home and study, see you Monday. Dismissed.
Sounds like someone just took a class in management, and should ask for their money back, right?
You go home and you do study. You give up halfway through because there are just too many pages. But you decide to give it a chance the way you’ve been trained. You try it out.
Of course, things went wrong initially. But as it turns out, it works OK. Some new stuff to learn (centralized purchasing, checklists, visual planning, that sort of thing) but over time you find that the pressure is letting up. Things seem to run just that little bit smoother so that you have time to breathe. And you do breathe. It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the important stuff, like actually building stuff. You start to recognize the things that you did in the last project. They get easier and you do them faster.
However. You’re used to being you own man, to be the key player in your area. You’re used to rolling up your sleeves in the face of unexpected problems. You’re used to planning every project, every week and every day after the unique situation you’re in at the time. That’s what gave you the energy to excel. That’s not happening anymore. The work has become predictable. You groan when you think about it. This can’t last. It is simply too boring.
The backbone of systems building is repetition, albeit on many different levels, but there is always the ambition to utilize the things we’ve learned and do them again. We came a long way on the learning curve in the last project, let’s reuse that. You’re not into repetition.
Both your clients and your managers seem to be happy with the new systems building concept but you’re not. So you start to feel bored and out of touch with the atmosphere of your company. You do have the opportunity to give suggestions for improvement of all the processes and checklists, but submitting email suggestions doesn’t bring out the best in you. There is no challenge. You start to consider leaving the company for some place where you can continue with the adventure that construction used to be.
At that précis moment, immaculately timed, that manager calls for a new meeting. During that meeting, He announces the company’s next step in systems building. That step is … what?
Today, that’s my question to you and to myself. Considering the drivers and character of yourself and your colleagues, is there a way for us to develop and/or implement systems building so that we keep the spark alive? We so desperately need to build on the commitment and energy of our colleagues. We need to retain and develop the everyday drivers for their best efforts. Not just because it is efficient and good business, it is also the right thing to do. Employees with drivers to improve do better work and stay longer. What are those drivers, and how can a system that builds on repetition be reconciled with an industry and workforce that build enthusiasm on the spur of the moment? Without such drivers present, our systems and fine diagrams of value-chains, gates and efficiency in deliveries will be worth exactly nothing.
At some point, when I have read a paper or two and have an idea for how we could make this happen, I’ll come back with a new post on it. That’s the kind of thing that makes ME tick.
Images, Flickr Creative Commons: Happy Golden by Muffet, and Bored dog by Benoit Dupont.