When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you may have replied, “Firefighter.” If you did, I’m sure you meant one of the awesome individuals who provide medical services, rescues and ride the fire trucks. While, most of us never realized that dream, there are days at the office where you probably feel that “Fire Fighter” should be your job title.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Cubicle Hero, where fighting fires is part of your job!
Perhaps you ask yourself at the end of each day, “How did I get here?” Many feel stuck in these roles without a way out and are puzzled as to how it happened. I talked about the True Cost of the Cubicle Hero in this previous article, so let’s look at how Cubicle Heroes form.
One reason Cubicle Heroes arise is due to a work environment that isn’t structured to respond well to chaos. If there are no processes for reacting to chaos in a controlled manner, the result is a crisis, which requires some brave person to step in to address. This person is caught in that role going forward, thus evolving into the Cubicle Hero. Chaos is ever present and needed for the organization to evolve and remain competitive. The organization is going to run out of Heroes unless a systemic way of reacting is created.
Internal efforts such as implementing a new HR system creates short-term chaos and long-term impact the organization. If your organization doesn’t have a formal project transition process to production, Cubicle Heroes usually form from the project’s team members who hold the detailed knowledge about the project’s deliverables . A problem related to the project arises. This leads to a project team member solving the issue and then becoming the Hero going forward.
Ad hoc project transformation process creates “human hard drives” out of the project team members, where they must store and retrieve organizational knowledge as needed. This restricts the ability of team members to grow their skills as letting go of that knowledge results in a loss to the organization. A formal transformation process ensures relevant information is captured so that it can be widely used within the organization, freeing the team members to move on.
External events such as a large client with a new, immediate need or a viral photo of a dress of indeterminate color are also chaos sources. Does your company treat these requests as fire drills or do they have a way to manage them?
The best companies have a deep respect for chaos and put practices in place to manage it and to learn from it. New products and services are sometimes rooted in chaos learnings. Successful chaos management becomes a source of positive change within an organization, as it provides opportunities for people to learn new skills and encounter new situations. As discussed in the earlier article, these new skills and experiences prepare these individuals to be the Explorers that we need.
If your company grows Cubicle Heroes, then the first step in the solution is to address the underlying cultural issues. Adding tools too soon will simply result in chaos at light speed. Addressing this issue is especially problematic in organizations where management has built their careers on their firefighting abilities. Cubicle Heroes tend to prosper in environments which lack visibility into cause and effect. One of my Project Management Office tool implementations came to a grinding halt when the sponsor, who was a master Cubicle Hero, realized the system would also show that he was also the company’s biggest fire starter .
Your company’s reaction to chaos is a key process necessary to maximizing your long term competiveness and productivity. One way to address chaos is to create processes for categories of chaos. Categories help keep the process manageable without having to address each specific and unique possibility.
One category should also be “other,” as the truly unexpected will happen. One example where this was successful is an organization who assigned a team member to work the “other” category, thereby sparing the rest of the team from being randomized by the unexpected.
I’ll write more on this topic in the weeks to come. For other articles, please visit my blog at http://www.tumbleroad.com/blog.