Slosh

Every employee in your organization has a bowl. Back in the '90's it was a plate, and everyone talked about how full their plate was. In the 21st Century, we've increased productivity, which is putting positive spin on the fact that we've eliminated a lot of positions but not their associated responsibilities. Instead, we've heaped those responsibilities on existing staff, who no longer talk about how full anything is because they don't have time - all of which brings us to the bowl.

It's a bowl because the plate wasn't big enough. If your workplace is like most, everyone you know now does the equivalent of three jobs. They come in early, eat at their desk, and don't leave until it's dark (or, for some poor souls, just getting light). All of which is fine, fine... hire 5, work them like 10, pay them like 8, right? Only we don't, we pay them like 3, or maybe 4 if they've been around long enough, because isn't being a good corporate steward all about increasing returns?

All of which is grand material for a book, or possibly a sea change in corporate culture, but what we've gathered here to talk about today is slosh.

Slosh is what happens when you try to add something to a bowl that's already full to the brim. As a famous fictional Scotsman once said, "you canna change the laws of physics". Every bright idea that you get and push down the chain of command means something is going to spill out the other end.

I know what your argument is going to be, and yes, it's going to be an argument: "But it's just 10 minutes," you'll say. "It will make us more efficient, which will actually save time," dances out of your mouth. "It will save time and money," you sing, and it sounds sweet, but it's all a lie, my dears - every syllable of it.

The old work doesn't go away when there is new work. It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't, and some parts of it can't go away without affecting other (madly important) bits down the line that you aren't even aware of. Slosh is the butterfly effect in motion, and the only way to prevent it is to study what the heck your people actually do before you even open your mouth.

I don't mean what you think they do, or what you think they should do, or what the books say they do. I mean what they actually do. And until you sit down with them for a day or two and watch, utterly silent and unobtrusive, I'll bet you a sandwich that your idea of what happens and what actually happens wouldn't recognize each other in a mirror.

The only way to prevent slosh is to make room first. There are a couple of ways to do this (the very last of which should be to hire more people).

Your first step, always, is to look at what we do now and determine if any part of it is redundant, inefficient, or flat-out insane (you know what I'm taking about). It's pointless to plant potatoes (although that's fun to say) until you get dirty and dig out the weeds. Once they're gone, there may be room for your new idea provided that:

a. It's cost-effective. (What do you mean you didn't write a business plan for your brilliant idea? This is business. In a business, we write business plans and do SWOT and whatnot. Look it up.)
b. There is genuine buy-in from the rank and file. Unless you've gone around and gathered their input, you've not only doomed your brilliant idea to a swift, largely ignored death, you've missed the opportunity to make your idea even better by throwing it up against their fiercest tire kicking and adopting their suggestions.
c. It's well planned and has a timeline, with deliverables that each person involved is responsible for.
d. You aren't responsible for more than half of the outcome.

Unless and until your process takes all of the above into account, your employees - even the ones that like you - will see your new idea as the enemy, and put into play the one defense they have at their disposal: Push back the launch, week by week, until you forget all about it and are on to the next shiny piece of tinfoil.

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