Most accidents in well-designed systems involve two or more events of low probability occurring in the worst possible combination (Titanic Coincidence).
Ik heb altijd het grootste respect gehad voor middenmanagers Het is af en toe onvoorstelbaar hoe zij moet opereren in een vaak chaotische en weerbarstige werkomgeving, waarin Murphy’s Law heer en meester is. Zo heb ik ooit eens de kans gehad om ploegbaas goed te leren kennen en te onderzoeken hoe hij het voor elkaar kreeg om in een ‘total out of control’- omgeving toch goede resultaten te bereiken en toch zeer relaxt de dag door te komen. A real master of time.
Om eerst een schets te geven van zijn werksituatie, even een paar dingen:
Het is volstrekt logisch hoe de meeste mensen/managers zullen reageren op zo’n werksituatie:
· Stoppen met proberen te begrijpen wat er gaande is.
· Je eigen gang gaan
· Ja zeggen/nee doen
· Cynisme, defaitisme, fatalisme
· Nauwelijks actieve betrokkenheid en participatie in besluitvorming.
· Alleen bezig zijn met eigen taken/toko
· Contact vermijden met de top/bottom en andere schakels in de keten.
Production=Hell: de meest (midden-)managers in deze organisatie kwamen dan ook ‘nogal’ gestrest, out of control of compleet afgehaakt over. Zo niet onze ploegbaas. Laten we hem Columbo noemen (qua stijl deed hij me altijd denken aan Peter Falk in de schitterende tv-serie Columbo):
If you had the opportunity to meet Columbo, you should immediately forget him. On first impression is an unpretending, quietly and sub-assertive type of person (age: 53). He doesn’t dominate in interaction nor does most of the talking. He seems to be quite reactive and even docile. Typically someone who operates in the background. If you should see him act as a shift-leader, seemingly the same pattern happens. He walks slowly in his unit, chats frequently with operators, technicians and others on a ‘ between you and me’-style. In meetings he doesn’t say much. Most of the times he just listens, on a seemingly disconnected way (some people think he is totally lost in thought).
If you should interview people in Columbo’s network, about ‘how ’s Columbo doing?’, the following observations would be made:
· First of all: almost everybody in the company knows Columbo. He is well-known person in all echelons and disciplines and departments of this company. He continuously moves throughout this organization, chats always with everybody in that special ‘ between you and me’-style.
· Related to this observation, it’s noticed that Columbo spends less than one-thirth of his working-hours on his own unit. Most of the times he his ‘off’, This has no measurable consequences for the performance of his unit. In contrary: although this is the Hell-zone, Columbo’s unit performs better then comparable production-units.
· Every observer stresses the unpretending and the ‘high degree of listening’ communication-style of Columbo. Most observers do make also remarks like: in the few times he makes a remark or suggestion, it’s always hits the mark. People appreciate his advises and suggestions, because they are right but also because of the way Columbo presents his message.
· Most of the time people experience Columbo as a very calm, serene personality, especially in (frequently) times of crisis and hectic. But it’s also noticed that once or two times a year also Columbo can become really biting. Those incidents are frequently memorized and are discussed in the company.
· Several observers criticize Columbo because of his non-conformistic and highly autonomous way of dealing with all types of issues. A well-known incident was the moment that the Sales Manager and the Quality Manager had an important meeting with a main customer (subject: severe deliverance issues). When these to managers arrived at the company of the customer, they saw Columbo leaving. This was quite unusual, because production-people were not allowed to have contacts with customers (without Quality or Sales). Surprisingly the meeting was successful. But also a little bit strange: the customer suggested several ideas to solve the issue. Both managers had strongly the impression that these ideas were based on inside information. Columbo denied everything, but the suspicion remains.
En wat is de visie van Columbo zelf? Hieronder een aantal interessante fragmenten uit een gesprek met hem.
The interview started like this: ‘you are working in a very hectic and chaotic environment. Nevertheless your unit performs excellently. Several people in the company have the opinion that your way of dealing with people and problems is the main success-factor. How do you succeed in doing this hell of a job?’ Predictably, Columbo started with producing nonsense! He mumbled about things as ‘ cooperation and communication’ and so on.
· In this case there was the luck of some clear observations of other people. These observations are nice triggers for deep probing. The interview proceeded with a question like this: ‘People say that you spend less than one-thirth of your time on your unit. The rest of the time you’re ‘on journey. Is this a fact?’. This was indeed an effective trigger. Columbo spontaneously starts to tell. He told a lot, but next statements were quite significant and clarifying.
· ‘........most of the time I don’t really understand what’s happening. You must know that in my opinion in this company a lot of curious and mysterious things happen. In the past I have made enormous bloopers because I was ordered to do things I didn’t understand. So I decided that I only do things if I understand what’s happening. I don’t think I very intelligent because sometimes I need a lot of time to figure this out. The additional effect of my decision is continuously listening, gathering information, contacting others and so on. My wife says I operate like a detective’
· ‘............I’m a little bit different from my colleague’s. They spent most of their time on troubleshooting in their own unit. I have experienced that most troubles are caused elsewhere, outside my unit. So I made a deal with my people: they try to solve the inside troubles and I try to prevent outside troubles. It’s a nice deal..............’
· ‘I hate orders. I hate well intentioned but unasked advises. I especially hate orders, messages and advises based on dilettantism and lack of know-how. If I hate this, then others will hate it too. That’s quite obvious. Therefore I’m quite reserved in giving orders, instructions and advice to other people. Good willingness is not enough. Having the position or authority is not enough. Really knowing what’s needed, is always a minimum condition in this type of matters.............’.
· ‘...........because I often don’t have the feeling of understanding what’s happening or what’s needed, I give a pieces of advice always in terms of’ I think I should do this, but you know better the situation’. Most of the times people know better and use my advice as a stepping-stone to better decisions of their own’.
· ‘Things happen so fast in this company and everything is continuously changing. I’ve also learned that the topdown-communication is very slowly and incomplete. To deal better with changes, new policies, systems and plans, I frequently visit all kinds of key-persons in this company. They tell me more and early what will happen, so I can anticipate.........’
· ‘Sometimes I am blamed because of not correctly executing the procedures and policies. Or that my interventions are not according the organizational manual and my responsibilities and so on. These people are right, but they forget that procedures, policies and job descriptions cover 70 at most of what’s happening. I love to act in unclear situations. Doing pioneer work is fun. Finding the 30% is fun. You must also understand that I’m fully committed to this company. I want it survive and flourish. If it’ s necessary to be disobedient, to serve this company I’ll do it without any hesitation....’
Wat kunnen we leren van Columbo?
It’s clear that Columbo has found it’s own unique approach to cope with this context:
Most significant in Columbo’s story is his drive to understand ‘what the hell is happening’. In his experience, misunderstanding leads to bloopers. To survive, he raised ‘wanting to understand’ as a personal credo or value. Most of his behaviour is directly related to this value (listening, chatting with everybody, his style of advice). This value prevents him to become in- or reactive. It drives him to pro-active, information-gathering behaviour.
Also significant in his story, is Columbo’s explicate diagnose about ‘what the hell is happening’: ‘I have experienced that most troubles are caused elsewhere, outside my unit’. This diagnosis has far-reaching consequences. It prevented him to fall in the pitfall of only focussing on own duties, avoiding contacts with plan/policy/system-makers and no discussion or active participation in decision-making processes. His diagnosis drives him out of his unit (my people try to solve the inside troubles), into the rest of the company.
A third interesting point of attention is his commitment. He’s not primary committed to his boss or CEO. He’s not primary committed to his unit or direct reports. He’s not primary committed to the strategy or plans. Apparently Columbo has experienced these are not the right primary commitments for survival and success. ”I’m fully committed to this company. I want it survive and flourish’. This special commitment gives him a special kind of intellectual autonomy and license to do what’s necessary to serve the company. And if serving the company’s interests is contrary to the interests of the top or his own unit, he will go his own way.
Columbo is een bijzondere man. Hij is in staat om op relaxte wijze goede resultaten te boeken in een totaal chaotische werkomgeving. En dat lukt hem omdat hij zich laat leiden door 3 unieke opvattingen:
En wat heeft dit alles te maken met timemanagement?
Columbo laat zien dat timemanagement heel weinig te maken heeft met al die ‘techniekjes’ op het gebied van planning en prioriteiten e.d. Volgens mij had hij zelfs geen agenda!
Columbo laat zien dat ‘management of time’ in je hoofd zit. Hij heeft blijkbaar een soort innerlijk kompas ontwikkeld die hem leidt door zijn werkdag. Waar besteedt hij aandacht aan? En waar besteedt hij geen aandacht aan? Waar wil hij zich mee bemoeien? En waar wil hij zich niet mee bemoeien? Zijn kompas zorgt ervoor dat hij niet richtingloos ronddobbert op de woelige baren van een gemiddelde werkdag van een manager.
Wat is uw kompas?
Waar wil u aandacht aan besteden?
En waar wilt u geen aandacht aan besteden?
Waar wilt u zich mee bemoeien?
En waar wilt u zich niet mee bemoeien?
Nb: fragmenten in dit artikel komen uit een Engelstalig manuscript (Murphyan Dynamics) van mij, welke nooit is gepubliceerd omdat proeflezers na lezing hiervan volledig van de leg raakten en ik hiervoor de verantwoording niet wilde dragen. Het verhaal van Columbo is gebaseerd op een echte ploegbaas.