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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

12/11/2006

An Employee’s Worst Nightmare

Life in Caribbean companies can be chaotic. Employees take advantage of the chaos by trusting that managers will forget about half the things they ask for in a matter of minutes. Changing circumstances will render unnecessary a good number of the other requests, leaving employees required to keep track of perhaps only 10% of all the things a managers asks for.

The tricky part is to figure out which 10% is important.

I remember a US executive I once consulted with, who expressed some frustration with his direct reports. They apparently could get little done, leaving him feeling frustrated at their collective lack of progress.

I interviewed his direct reports, who admitted that they freely ignored his first few requests for any action, knowing that he would either forget the request, or resort to making the request of several people at once.

When I asked him about repeating his requests to different people, he freely admitted that he used this practice because “that was the only way to get stuff done around here.”

Did I mention that he was a Senior Vice President, and that his direct reports were all Vice Presidents?

Into this morass of confusion comes a product that a colleague of mine, Scott Hilton-Clarke, has been refining for the better part of the last 6 years.

Executive Slice has been through several iterations, and its latest test release is the most innovative and provocative, which tells me that Scottie is on the right track.

The new promise of the software (which is shared between executives, managers or professionals on the same team) is that it “Prevents Promises from Falling Through the Cracks” (or something quite similar.) It does an amazing job.

What Scottie has done is to imagine the conversational “space” between the members of a team, and the promises that keep things together, or allow them to drift apart.

His thesis (in my words) is that managers have no business trying to remember all the promises that they have made, and others have made of them. They world is moving too quickly, and situations are changing too frequently to even try.

It is no mistake that Scott is a Caribbean consultant, who led the Y2k implementation at Jamaica’s largest bank. He knows a thing or two about managing against a background of chaotic events.

Whereas a manager in North America and Europe might try to reduce the chaos, Scottie seems to understand intuitively that that approach is doomed. Instead of wasting energy in that direction, it seems that he has instead focused on managing the promises that fly around organizations un-managed, and unrecorded.

The chaos will never go away, but we can become highly effective in managing or thriving in spite of it. (From my point of view, this could become a company’s competitive advantage.)

His software offers a powerful way to shape the promisphere, that space of promises and commitments that exists between managers and their reports.

In Executive Slice, promises that are made are immediately captured in the programme, and then “remembered” by the system’s players all the way through completion. As useful as this feature set is, the real power of the system comes after the promise has been made.

The manager to whom the promise has been made has a variety of interesting ways to follow-up on progress, and ask for updates, information and clarification. The system automatically reminds him when promises are overdue, or in limbo.

At some point in the future, it will offer coaching on how to have difficult reporting conversation, and even coaching conversations so that a manager who has two minutes to prepare can do so effectively.

Over time, the effectiveness of both a manager and their reports can be tracked by simply measuring how well they are managing the promises they are making, and the ones they are receiving.

To go back to the example of the Senior Vice President and his hapless Vice Presidents, a reasonable performance review system would show who are the effective and ineffective players in the promisphere.

But let us not be fooled – this is an employee’s worst nightmare, regardless of level. The time is coming, through tools such as Executive Slice, where chaos and change will no longer be good excuses to not get work done.

The 10% game will be over, as will its cousin – the game of working ridiculous hours to fulfill unrealistic deadlines. In its place will come a level of rationality and communication that will help teams to deal with chaos more effectively, and this will be no small blessing for the Caribbean manager.


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