I shall be off site, for the next two days, watching a “Project Acceleration by Coaching and Teamwork” (PACT) workshop unfold. Don’t expect much WordPress activity from me.
I can’t remember who said that originally, but it should have been written in blood within my job description.
The lengths that people will go to, in order to preserve their established way of working, are breathtaking. It matters not how good the improvement you’re offering is, or that it makes everyone’s life easier. Folk defend the status quo like a scrapyard dog protects his bone. Count your fingers.
The trick is to engage with all stakeholders; identify promoters and detractors; sell the benefits and closely monitor the results. It’s also vital to keep everyone informed: folk soon jump ship if they can’t see anything happening. Work instructions, training manuals and process descriptions are just so much scrap paper if no-one reads or adheres to them. All too often, managers are like puppeteers: nothing happens unless they’re pulling the strings.
Unless everyone involved is committed to the change, life will be fraught.
I’d say I have a optimistic outlook at work and on life generally. My job title is Six Sigma Black Belt, which sounds exotic, but actually just means that I spend my time trying to find ways to improve the business. Most folk I work with recognise this and I get a positive response from them.
There are few objections to business improvement that I haven’t heard before. “We don’t have time”, “we’ve always done it this way”, “that’s the way we were told to do it”, “that’s what it says in the book”, “it’s not us you need to worry about; it’s those plonkers in buying/shipping/stores/engineering/sales/contracts/IT/HR/packing/accounts/
quality/production/logistics” (delete any that don’t apply). Because I’m seen as a neutral, i.e. not aligned to any of the warring departments, I can usually get people to work together to find a solution. Occasionally, however, I have a run-in with a dinosaur.
Fortunately, dinosaurs are few and far between. I don’t like to give them too much attention. I find that, if the rest of the team are all working to realise an improvement, dinosaur can very quickly find him/herself isolated. Dinosaur then has few options: either change attitude and join in or lose any relevance. Dinosaurs are often attention seekers, so isolation is anathema to them.
This week, I found a dinosaur so stubborn and disruptive, that his attitudes are not only undermining my efforts, but actually starting to rub off on me. I find myself thinking “we’ll do it his way, even though I know it’s wrong, and when it all goes to rat shit, I will be vindicated”. This is not a good place for me to go. If the process fails, or does not improve, inevitably folk will look in askance to me; even if I am not the prime mover of the failure. Bloody-minded is not a suitable attitude for a black belt. I’ve got to find a better way to smother my dinosaur.
I’m naked but I’m still hidden behind the half open door. Everyone else in the office is carrying on with their work regardless: they haven’t seen me. Somehow, I’ve got to get across the office and out the front door, so I can get home for some clothes, without anyone seeing me. My pal Jimmy is at his desk. If I can attract his attention without alerting anyone else, maybe he can help.
“Psst Jimmy!” Jimmy is still staring at his screen.
“Jimmy” I try a little louder. Carole looks over at me.
“Rob. Why are you hiding behind that door?” Now everyone is looking my way. Cynthia is laughing. “Are you naked in the office again?”
“No” I say, holding the door tightly against me.
“You are, aren’t you?” Carole is out of her seat and walking towards me. Cynthia and Sally follow her. I back out of the threshold, close the door behind me and hold on tight to the handle. They’re banging on the door and shouting variously “Come out” and “You’re disgusting” and “We’re coming to get you.”
Then someone starts to force the handle down. I’m fighting to hold it up but still it turns inexorably.
“No, no” I shout “no, no, no….”
“Rob wake up, you’re dreaming, wake up, it’s just a nightmare” I’m in bed and Maeve is kneeling beside me, shaking me by the shoulders “This is just a dream: you’re alright” she soothes.
“Oh God, that was horrible” I say and start to describe my dream to her, but she gently puts her finger to my lips to silence me.
“Shhhh” she says “you’re in a good dream now, forget about all that.” I laugh.
“I’m not dreaming now.”
“Yes, of course you are. This isn’t real. You just relax for a while and think about where you might have left your clothes.” Her words slap me out of any relax.
“What do you mean? That makes no sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. You went to work fully dressed but now you’re naked, so where are your clothes?”
“No, this is bullshit. I must be dreaming. I’ll wake up in a bit and everything will be fine.”
“Well, maybe, but you tried that once and look what happened.”
Kevin was enjoying his Thursday post-work wind-down in the spare bedroom, playing chess on the computer, when the doorbell rang. A glance out of the window revealed Preeti’s mother. Her unexpected appearance brought all of Monday’s events flooding back from his memory and he gave an involuntary shudder. He’d been driving his tedious commute to his office through morning rush hour, much as any other workday. His mind was barely on the road or traffic. Suddenly, a figure in red shot out from behind the bus shelter twenty metres ahead, bounced off the bonnet of the blue car that had just overtaken him, arced backwards through the air like a spring-board diver and landed centrally in the lane in front of him. Instinctively, he’d hit the brakes, felt the snatch of the seatbelt on his collar bone, heard the squeal of tyres from behind and beside him. Everything came to rest and he fell back into his seat.
A red coat in the road contained a very still little girl, arms and legs at strange angles, long black hair fanned out over the tarmac behind her, no sign of any blood. A prickle of fear gripped him. “She’s dead!” he whispered to himself.
He opened his door and forced leaden feet to carry him to the girl’s side where he knelt down. The driver of the blue car, was also knelt, but in the gutter beside the bus-stop, noisily retching his breakfast into the drain.
Kevin instinctively picked up the girl’s wrist and felt for a pulse: nothing. He was aware his hands were shaking. The waiting bus passengers were walking towards him in a line, like sheep zombies, shocked and staring. Kevin yelled at the young man leading them “Have you got a mobile?” He seemed incapable of speech but moved his hand towards his coat pocket “Phone for an ambulance, now!” He seemed grateful for the instruction.
The crowd of onlookers was steadily growing. Kevin shouted at them “Does anyone know first aid?” Blank looks; enquiring looks to and from other enquiring lookers but no positive response.
Kevin had never attended a first aid course. He only knew what he’d seen folk do on the telly. He had to do something. This girl was already dead. What harm could he do?
He raised himself up on his knees, placed the heels of his hands atop each other, to the left of where he judged her sternum to be and started to press down in a jerking rhythm. He was aware of the murmur of approval and concerned tones from the crowd. He could hear a woman sobbing. Mr Blue Car’s retching had stopped. He caught snatches of muffled conversation “no point”, “already dead”, “does he know what he’s doing?”, “when’s the ambulance coming?”, “who is she?”. This last question prompted him to inspect the girl’s face. She was pretty, dark lashes and eyebrows to match near ebony hair, Asian colouring, Indian he guessed.
Suddenly, a piercing scream behind him and someone fell over his back. A stout woman stepped in and pulled someone away from him saying “Let him work, he’s doing everything he can.” But the screaming didn’t stop. He glanced up at the woman, mother he guessed, barely restrained, struggling to get to her daughter. He scream slowly developed into a piteous keening interspersed with “Preeti, oh Preeti, not Preeti.”
Kevin, still in his car-coat, was sweating from the exertion and starting to wonder how much longer he could keep this up when Preeti gave a cough and spasm, as though she’d been punched in the guts. He found a pulse, checked she was breathing, then pulled wrist and knee over so she lolled onto her side. Mother was weeping “Is she OK? Oh thankyou. My Preeti. Will she be OK?” Someone in the crowd started a half-hearted round of applause, but not many joined in, though Kevin could feel the collective sigh of relief.
The ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, then the police. There was much scurrying around, moving Preeti, lots of questions from the police, taking down of details and statements, measuring the positions of the vehicles and their skid marks. Kevin didn’t see Preeti’s Mum leave though he guessed she went with her daughter in the ambulance. It was almost lunchtime when Kevin finally arrived at work and his boss was hopping mad.
Kevin opened the door and Preeti’s Mum beamed at him. “Mr Walton” she said and smiled some more.
“Kev, please” said Kevin, smiling back “I’m guessing Preeti is on the mend?”
“She’s doing really well, thanks to you. May I come in for a moment, please Kev?”
Kevin felt a sting of embarrassment “Oh yes, of course, please do”, stood aside, then wafted her into the lounge and into an armchair.
He took the opportunity to look her over as she walked through. He guessed she was about ten years younger than him and as pretty as her aptly-named daughter. She perched erect and prim on the edge of her seat in her bright summer frock, making him feel slovenly as he lounged on the sofa opposite.
She began in a very formal tone “My name is Simran and I’m Preeti’s mother, as I’m sure you guessed.” He nodded. “Preeti is everything I have in the world since the death of her father, six years ago. The debt I owe you for her life is beyond calculation.”
“Hey, I’m just glad she’s OK. I didn’t really know what I was doing. No-one else seemed to have a clue either. I was just the first one there. It could have been anyone….”
Simran held her long fingers erect to silence him. “That simply won’t do! Preeti was dead. You brought her back to me. No-one else offered any help or contributed in any way. I have quizzed the police on this. The doctor’s and ambulance crew have confirmed to me that Preeti owes you her life.”
“Well, if that’s true, then I’m very pleased I was able to help. She’s a very pretty little girl.” He added lamely, thinking how stupid it sounded: as if only pretty girls deserved to live.
“Thank you” she gave a slight bow “now to the debt….”
“No, really, there is no debt. You can’t pay me for helping her.”
Now Simran snapped at him “Are you suggesting my daughter is worthless? A debt is a debt: it is a matter of honour, but also, a personal desire of mine that you should be suitably rewarded.”
Kevin felt hurt “Of course I don’t think she’s worthless: that’s why I saved her! I just don’t feel right accepting money from you.”
Her formal demeanour seemed to soften at this “Well, I am pleased about that, because I am not a rich woman and I would not feel comfortable putting a monetary value to my daughter’s life.”
Now he was confused. Simran continued to look at him, waiting. “So, what did you have in mind?” he tried.
“Anything!” she said immediately, as though she anticipated his question.
Even more confused, he said “What do you mean by “anything”?”
Again, he thought she had her response prepared “Anything that is in my power to give is yours.”
“Well, “anything” is a very big word indeed. Don’t say “anything” unless you really mean anything.”
“I said “anything” and I meant “anything”. You only need to tell me what you want.”
Now he was annoyed. He knew she couldn’t possibly mean “anything”! That was just silly. He tried to think of something outrageous, just to call her bluff and show her how silly she was. He struggled for something for a moment but nothing sprang to his mind. Then suddenly he blurted out “How about if you become my sex slave?” then gasped. He couldn’t believe he’d said that out loud. He looked at her face in fear, expecting anger or tears or disgust. But none of those things: to his amazement, she just smiled, nodded and said “I shall be honoured to make you happy that way.”
He felt like he’d been slapped. Had he heard correctly? He could barely speak.
“You’re not….are you….you’re not serious?”
Suddenly, she was out of her chair and upon him, standing over him, grabbing at his hair, pulling his head back, then in a fierce whisper “What do I have to say to make you understand: you are my hero, I want you like I’ve never wanted anyone before. I AM YOURS!” Then she stepped back, took his hand, giggled at his still gaping jaw and said “Shall we go upstairs?”
I’ve applied for a job in Mumbai. I don’t suppose I shall get it. But I saw it advertised on our intranet, it’s in my field of expertise, and I couldn’t resist. Maeve was remarkably positive, considering how much she hates flying. Smudge didn’t seem perturbed, though the climate could be a problem for her. I don’t think she’s really considered the implications. Wait and see!
If you meet a colleague for the first time on any day, as you are leaving, do you say “hello” or “goodbye”? I’ve tried saying both but it’s not satisfactory.
Do you talk to strangers? I do but, generally speaking, only if they have some perceived affinity with my situation, some “we’re all in this together” quality. So it is customary for dog walkers to greet each other, for instance, or folk waiting together at the bus stop or the level crossing barrier. Now this may seem simple enough, but it is riven with pitfalls. What should I do if I meet an erstwhile dog-walker without a dog? I probably wouldn’t recognise him/her without a dog anyway: dogs are far more memorable than people. And do the folk waiting at the barrier, on the other side of the tracks, qualify or not? Tricky!
There’s a bloke who lives in the village, who walks past our house every working day, morning and evening, on his way to and from work. Many’s the time I’ve been in the front garden or climbing in or out of my car as he’s passing and we’ve, very sensibly, kept things at a nod and half a smile. Everyone is content and all is well. But last week I met him coming out of ASDA (Walmart) and the silly man said “Morning!” Well, obviously, I responded in kind but now we’re in a mess. What should I do next time he walks past my garden? Do we revert to nod/half smile status or are we now fettered in morning-hood for all time? But it got worse. I was about to leave for work the other day when I saw him strolling up the road. Because I hadn’t yet solved the morning versus nod conundrum, I hung back behind the curtain, waiting for him to pass. I realised this was ducking the issue rather but I thought discretion was better than valour, given the delicacy of the situation. But he saw me and, as if that was not bad enough, gave me a wave! So I was buggered: total zugzwang! I couldn’t convincingly emerge from behind the curtain and pretend that’s where I belonged. I couldn’t stay behind the curtain, peeking out: that would just be weird. I couldn’t ignore him and pretend I hadn’t seen the wave: he knew I’d seen him. Lives hang on split-second decisions and I was found wanting. I think I panicked, if I’m honest. So I waved back; knowing full well that I’m now doomed to wave for all time: what a mess!
This is a story in waiting: its denouement eludes me.
We’re having a clear out, because we’re due to move to new offices soon. Paul has unearthed a huge pile ancient quotations and is doing his “trip down memory lane” bit. So he plonks one of the dusty quotes down in front of one of the young lads in the office and says “This is how we used to do quotations before we all had computers.” Ray, another ancient stalwart of the office, says “Oh, yes, I remember those. What are you planning to do with them all?”.
“I’m going to put them through the shredder” says Paul.
“Oh no” says Ray “That will mean you’ll have nothing to bring out to wave under the noses of young boys”.
He should choose his words more carefully!