You Can’t Sharpen a Saw You Don’t Have

As a consultant, I get to experience onboarding into organizations more times in a year than most people will do in their whole careers. Without fail, this process provides me with added insights into the organizations and their underlying issues.

If every new hire is required to wait about a week before getting access to all services they need, and there’s no checklist ready for them to find these out, I know that ramping up must be too slow. If every time I ask how to do something I get back answers wrapped in sighs, apologies, and excuses, I can be sure that this has been going on for some time and isn’t likely to be getting better.

As a whole, tooling and work processes are neglected more and more nowadays. There might be a champion or two in the organization who keep things running, or maybe even improve things, but often these are rare individuals who are actively pushing towards these goals. If it weren’t for them, nothing would get done. In matters pertaining to efficient work, we quickly lose sights of low hanging fruits as we slowly get accustomed to the way things are done.

It’s amazing what you can assess by spending a couple of hours as a fly-on-the-wall listening to people work. Is it “oh, the build failed again? If it’s the login error just restart it,” or is it “it broken again? I’ll look into it later today”? Are you hearing lots of “anyone up for coffee? I’ve got 20 minutes for this to finish running”? Does the team have a more oral tradition, passing along verbally and in Slack all the fixes and lore one should know to tackle common issues, or do you have the tooling to do it for you? Are the same problems rising again and again in production?

A learning and improving organization takes care of the above. Slowly but surely, you can make sure that these issues do not repeat themselves. As Josh Waitzkin says, imagine that you would never repeat the same error twice. Wouldn’t that make your team triple performance every year? Why aren’t you already working with that mindset? What’s the hindrance?

Set the proper role models and incentives. Align your team and process on your long term wins and unleash them to do excellent work. It all starts with you.