Thursday, December 29, 2011

If you can keep your head

when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...
In a desperate attempt to get Sprog4 into the habit of writing, I am nagging him mercilessly to post a blog entry, however small, each day. So it's only fair that I should do the same. Sadly, I have got out of the habit of collecting nuggets through the day to tease out into some words of wisdom later in the week. And I never got into the habit of dashing off a Deep Insight in five minutes. So I find myself casting around for inspiration. It occurs to me that "If" covers just about everything a human being can aspire to: I should be able to hang a cogent observation or two off each couplet.

We begin with the memorable lines on grace under pressure. A mother needs to get the children to school on time: one has lost a shoe; one is wearing odd socks and the dog has diarrhea. A middle manager is struggling to pull together a dysfunctional process while his burnt out staff abandon him faster than he can replace them. An accounting manager is looking at implausible results on the last day of the monthly accounting close while the systems are crashing around him and the Board are questioning what is going on.

Of course good planning might have avoided the crisis. Which is one of the reasons why you can legitimately be blamed. But that is not the point. The point is, can you handle it when you have to?

What does it take to keep your head?

In the first place, you have to have a clear head to keep. That is, you need to know what you are trying to achieve and how you are trying to do that even before things go wrong. Like a sailing ship, you can only manoeuvre if you are moving forward. If you are simply reacting to whatever comes along, you will lose control when the pressure mounts.

Linked to this, you need to take responsibility rather than joining the chorus of people simply seeking to avoid the blame. This gives you a mandate and inspires the troops. Though of course, it also opens up the possibility of highly visible failure. Nevertheless, the failure is rarely as visible or as catastrophic as it seems at the time.

Finally, you have to make a decision and follow it through. Making the wrong decision is forgivable (if you don't make a habit of it). Making no decision is not.

So you grab a handful of bananas, dig out the lost shoe from behind the umbrella stand, accept the odd socks and bundle the children into the car while calling the cleaner to tell her to stay out of the kitchen today. And on the way to school, you make it very clear that everyone will be hounded mercilessly out of bed at 6:30 tomorrow.

You explain to your internal customers that the process is broken and they won't be able to get any more fixed assets until it is fixed.

You make your best assessment of the potential errors in the results and that this is acceptable for now. You tell the Board the position and commit to a full analysis in the next two weeks.

And your children weep bitterly, but they know that they are in safe hands.

And your internal customers bitch and moan, but they know they are in safe hands

And the Board is officially unimpressed, though they know unofficially that they are in safe hands.