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‘Leaving that to one side’ – Managing the too difficult

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travis_movement_2_adjI love horology, my passion is antique grandfather clocks. My pride and joy stands in the hallway of my home.  Lovingly restored, it makes me smile when it strikes on the hour.  Each strike reminds me of the time and effort I put into getting it to work.  I’m reminded of the trials and tribulations of having to understand how it worked, what was wrong with it and how to fix it.  I have become quite adept at fixing clocks, I understand them, I know them.  Each part of the clock has a specific job, each part is dependent on another, each part makes it a clock that works.  From the smallest cog to the largest, take any one of them away and the clock no longer functions.  It is the same for all time pieces, whether they are driven by weights, springs, or battery.  They all have intrinsic parts that make them function, that are inter dependent.

My clock, to anyone else, is a grand functioning timepiece. They would have little or no knowledge of the inner workings, save perhaps, they would know there were inner workings.  Perhaps too complicated to understand, the workings would have no significance to them unless they owned the clock and then only if the clock didn’t function, kept stopping or perhaps was running a little slow or a little fast owing to some fault.

Compare the clock to an organisation, the workings are the departments, units or what ever you want to call them.  The manager is the owner, the person that winds the clock up, occasionally ensures it is cleaned, even serviced, they make sure it works and works correctly.  The manager might decide they no longer wish the clock to chime and they have that part of the mechanism removed. Perhaps they no longer want the clock to have a second hand, that too can be removed, even the minute hand.  It would still be recognisable as a time piece.  Organisations go through such changes all the time. Who though would the manager call on to make these alterations?  Who would advise what is best? A specialist of course, someone who knows the inner workings of the clock, who understands how it works, who understands that some pieces can be removed and that others cannot.  Well not if it is still to function as a time piece rather than a useless lump of furniture in the corner.  Of course, if the inner workings of the clock could talk, each would be able to tell you what their function is.  If you want to make alterations to the clock, you need to understand how it functions, not just that it functions.

Understanding what the right thing to do is often difficult for managers in organisations particularly when dealing with change.  They pride themselves on seeing the bigger picture, sometimes they do, sometimes it’s simply a mirage.  And like departments in organisations, the chime, the second hand and the minute hand, with all their associated mechanisms would argue that they are needed, that somehow the clock would fail if they were not there.  The manager believes this is not the case and dismisses such protests.  But such are the intricacies of the inner workings that knowing what will cause something to fail and what won’t is often difficult to discern. When an expert tells you that a cog in the timepiece is failing do you leave it to one side or address it? Do you bury your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away?  A good manager listens, a good manager discerns what is important and what is not.  A good manager recognises that there are times when understanding the implications of a faulty cog are more important than the grand vision (or mirage).  But that means sometimes getting into the workings of the clock, being shown how it functions and understanding what the problem really is.  If you want to maintain some sort of time piece, as a manager, you cannot afford to simply ‘leave things to one side’. Ignoring issues because you don’t understand them or you only see the mirage will leave you in a void where time has stopped.


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