Sweeping Clean Damages Your Foundation

The corporate world has taken some very short-term views when it comes to results.

This is partly driven by investor demands and partly driven by the ever increasing change in consumer habits and needs.

Along with this insatiable need for change, we find the leaders of these same organisations are disposed of in similar short-term fashion. If the company does well the leader stays, if the company performs poorly, the leader is replaced. It even happens to football coaches!

broomA surprising downside to all this constant change is the erosion of organisational knowledge. The encumbered leader / coach cannot do what the last one did for fear of replacement and subsequently all the knowledge that could have been is apparently swept away in the change. This, in my opinion, is not by design but more due to lack of design.

In the engineering world, when something doesn’t work, the design is tackled, with or without it’s creators. This is what allows us to make quantum leaps in technology and discovery – we build on the successes AND failures of the previous engineers.

Sadly this does not happen as much in business, especially when things are going poorly. An assumption is made that EVERYTHING was wrong and we need to sweep clean and start again. In some metaphorical sense this is correct but a new broom does not fix old problems, it merely hides them and creates it’s own problems.

So how do we mimic the engineers and build on leadership knowledge? I believe the secret is in the way we record things. Administration and more specifically, accounting and legal compliance, have given documentation a bad name. In many cases we are just documenting things for the sake of record keeping – a task that conjures up the mundane and boring in many of us. Unlike engineering, where we have a common language, a common mode of representation and a common (although I’m sure the engineers would disagree) way of dealing with failure, leadership does not appear to have this discipline.

I call it discipline because if we took some time out daily and pondered our successful and not-so-successful activities of the day, made notes of these and investigated the reasoning behind both the successes and the failures, we would be designing and building our own language, mode of representation and ultimately designing a process for redesigning how we lead on a day-to-day basis.

Image being able to review all your predecessors mistakes, successes and thinking. Would you be more successful? Could you learn from someone else’s mistakes so that your leadership does not need to discover nor fail at the same things?

Putting aside our ego (and that is a whole course at university), it would be amazing to be able to build on our skills whilst enhancing the existing knowledge or process, knowing that even if you fail, your efforts are not going to be swept out of existence when you leave.