Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Everyday we create workarounds, conventions that help us get through the day by literally working around difficulties. Most of the time it's safe to assume that these adjustments we make are simply things we must do get through the day, to get our jobs done, to take care of our family and friends. "Everyone does it," we tell ourselves.

Workaround get tough when they become the default action, when we do them because it's easier to create workarounds than it is to fix the problem that's causing the workaround in the first place. May take a little more time, a little more money, but if we can avoid conflict, we'll do it. No matter how confrontational people may be, it's in our nature to avoid situations and actions that cause harm.

The problem with developing and fostering these conventions is that there is no progress in that. If a system is broken and we create a method to deal with what's busted rather than fixing it, we get stuck. It's as if we cannot move past this short-term solution. And then the system proceeds to get broken further until it's so bad that we need to develop a workaround for our workaround.

One of my past employers had board meetings several times a year, scheduled well in advance. There was no process in place for preparing for these meetings. Without fail each time it was absolute mayhem scraping it all together. Everyone would end up completely frazzled, hating each other, pointing fingers at who should have done this and who should have done that. Then a few weeks would go by, follow-up would fall through the cracks, and in a few months time, the vicious cycle would repeat itself. Everyone involved developed their own workarounds to just "get by" because there was no leadership anywhere in the line. No one owned outcomes, so no one owned the process.

This isn't just a workplace phenomena. We can apply it to our holiday shopping patterns, our summer vacation planning (or lack there of). School assignments. Our nagging to do lists. That home repair we keep meaning to make. Workaround have a nasty habit of making friends with passive aggressive behavior and procrastination, mounting into the perfect storm. Once we get used to doing workarounds, we feel we deserve some sort of recognition for our how hard we're working and the extra care we're taking to get our jobs done, despite the fact that the system we're compensating for is riddled with problems.

Now think about this - channel all of the energy and effort we put into workarounds into actually fixing the system, once, so we don't have to keep repeating the workaround and so that we can move forward. High anxiety. Discomfort. Short-term losses of some variety. Sure. Any system or process, in order to be designed right and function properly, has to take the long view.

I know that many times fixing what's broken is more difficult than just stepping over it for now. I know it's tough; I know you don't want to do it because you don't have enough time right now, nor enough money, energy, or patience. Get it done. Systems and processes don't fix themselves; they won't go away just because you ignore them. Eventually they will rear their ugly heads and better to deal with them while they're small and contained rather than have to fix them once they've created a gangly mess down the road. Daley Carnegie said "Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." Just make sure what the things you're doing will add value, real value, down the road.

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