Wednesday, December 17, 2008

8: A Long Time Ago ...

The year end was also approaching when the learned travellers met. Each had gifts of great value, so the company set forth on a journey. A star was born; and the three wise men followed it.

History tells of their success ... The need was strong, their mission was pure, their roles were clear, and their trust was complete. Duly, the first customer looked upon their fruit and saw it was good. So they rested a while, exchanging water for wine; then journeying onward. Customer followed customer, yea even unto the Nth generation; miracle followed miracle, as they too looked and saw it was good. Soon the customers were legion and company numbered hundreds.

... Yet a great unease had settled about them, for a monster had emerged that consumed the heart and threatened their genesis. "It didn't used to be like this when we were a small team!"

Alas the story is too familiar. A small group of experts bring a new creation to the market and it is welcomed. Success breeds success and expansion follows. But then everything changes as The System takes over; destroying the well honed team, introducing a lumbering inefficient beast. Too often The System fails to support what needs to be done, and fixing it depends on the good will of de-motivated individuals!

What is going on here? ...

When a small company is formed, it is formed around the people; their specific skills and knowledge, but also their relationship. It is true to describe its function as the sum of the roles of the individuals in it. Each individual knows how to do or get-done whatever it is that they do; passing it on to the next, who knows how to do or get-done the next stage. Everybody is vital, each depends on the others, and everybody feels really involved. More important the way the company does something is the sum of the systems the individuals use ... "The Person Is The System".

From an individual perspective, these are fun times; but from a business perspective, vulnerable ones! If any individual falls under a four wheeled unit of public transport, then it inflicts a potentially mortal wound. A sensible company reduces this vulnerability by incorporating its system into the fabric of the business as quickly as it can, so that "The Company Is The System".

To achieve this the know-how must be taken from those who have been doing it and incorporated into the company fabric, such that its operators can be un-skilled and therefore interchangeable; So Corporate-Systems require Operators, not Innovators; and de-motivation will inevitably result if the innovators are re-cast as such.

... Further, if the corporate-system are set up without truly appreciating the knowledge and skills those individuals contributed, then it is likely to be operationally naive and thus break under pressure. At which time the business will once again depend on the knowledge of the (now de-motivated) individuals, to overcome the deficiencies of the system itself! A situation on the whole leaving the business just as exposed as it was before.

Clear a healthy company needs to keep its innovators and keep them motivated, so should evolve them into positions where they can operate in a "The Person is the Operation" mode. Where they can develop themselves and their skills whilst doing an important but less critical role. Further, as their motivation remains high they are available and motivated to help with problems in the Corporate-System when they occur, as occur they must.

... Easy really, and everybody is happy!

At this stage politic requires me to point out that no companies were actually harmed in the production of this work; and that any similarity between the situations described here and any company of my personal experience, is entirely coincidental.

And finally it remains to wish you all a Merry Christmas; and particularly important for this year, A Prosperous New Year.

Good Speed.ian