I Just Need a Stick !!

Life is complicated. We don’t want it to be but it is. If we had our way, we’d eliminate all of the challenges and obstacles we could. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

One of the areas of our lives that compounds this feeling of endless complications is work. Ironically, the place where we spend the most time during our waking hours is layered, convoluted, and nearly impossible to navigate. An additional impediment is people. Seriously. We are all carrying our own bundle of complexity. If you do the math and try to calculate just how intertwined work is, you’d need to use the following formula.

Take the number of people working in a department + the number of responsibilities they have + the distractions we all experience that keep us from our jobs + the infinite number of interruptions and unknowns and finally add the factor of everyone having different priorities. That comes out to one “normal” day.

It’s no wonder people feel frustrated and stuck. Honestly, it’s also fairly astonishing we get anything done. Thankfully, people have learned how to find a path that works most of the time and we’re good with that. In the midst of all of the activity occurring around us and the activity we’re trying to do, work happens (sort of). There’s another factor that aggravates this situation and all of the great people doing their best to perform. Instead of simplifying the work we have on our plate, we offer solutions which only add and add and add and . . .

I was having lunch this past week with a co-worker and we were talking about how we have people who are sinking in quicksand. Every time they try to address one situation it seems like ten more pop out of nowhere. It’s exponential and never-ending. We started our conversation like many that have happened before when we tried to assess what was happening when my co-worker just stopped. He paused, took a deep breath, and said the most astute thing I’ve heard in ages. “Steve, they just need a stick. They’re sinking and we keep coming up with multiple approaches and potential solutions when all they want is a stick to get them out of the quicksand.”

I sat there stunned. He was on point. It’s astonishing that the simple answers always seem to elude us. We’re as caught up in the many hairballs of work as anyone else. We should come up with the simple option, but we forget that simple is hard. So, here’s a way to offer a stick to our good folks who truly want to do good work.

S – Simplify. We don’t have to continually keep layering work. It takes more discipline to simplify work, but it is worth the time and effort. Strip away steps which pull people further into the weeds.

T – Talk to folks. You need to talk to your people about how they feel and where they feel stuck. Without assessing what they think they’re facing, you’re just going to come up with an approach that will be another burden to handle.

I – Intentionality. We often skirt around the edges of situations instead of being respectfully direct. We fool ourselves into thinking that people will arrive at conclusions if we just hint at what should be done. It has never worked. Be intentional to reach your people.

C- Change. At some point we need to get out of the cul-de-sac of coming up with the next best thing because someone will say, “Well, what if . . .” Change is a constant. Figure out when you’re close enough and then step into the change needed.

K – Keep at it. Work is a continuum and as soon as you get someone unstuck, there is sure to be someone else who has found their pit of quicksand. This is somewhat daunting, but being diligent and agile works against the trap of being stagnant.

This week take a look around and see who’s sinking. When you find them, fight the urge to create the next best system and procedure. Pause. Breathe. Then offer them a stick !!