Wednesday, 9 June 2010


A great note just came through on the Manager Tools mailing list the other day called ‘Everything Decays’ and I liked it because it explains something I’ve recently been wrestling with in my head much more eloquently than I could hope to put it.

Let me reproduce the first 2 paragraphs here so you can see what I mean (can’t find a link to the original work – will post when I do):

One of the things we've noticed is that managers like having a solution which solves their problem forever. We suspect you've felt this way. In the rare instance you've found the solution you thought would solve the problem forever, you've probably also discovered it's not true. The problem has come back because the situation changes. The people change. The knowledge changes. The need changes.

The fact is, everything decays. For our technical readers, it's just entropy. At work, every problem, every meeting and every relationship is decaying, right now. Now matter how good a meeting is now, in six months, left to its own devices, it won't exist (the ultimate decay) or it will be a lot less effective. The process that you've been working so hard on, and finally got just right, in six months will either be OBE (Overcome By Events) or will need significant rework. You may not have understood, up till now, why good processes that worked before begin not to work. The answer is, the situation, systems or people changed and the process didn't. Entropy. Everything decays. It's not just YOUR stuff that decays, because you're not a good manager. EVERYBODY'S stuff decays. Always.”

The message goes on to talk about how professionals need to continually assess relevancy; keep looking at what they’re doing and making sure it makes sense as circumstances change and the business and the people in it move on.  This resonates on a number of levels including – probably most acutely – the number of managers I still meet who believe there’s some kind of silver bullet out there for their troubles.

What isn’t touched on is the natural entropy you always get in any set of processes or practices even when the environment around them is stable – and the less ‘habitual’ the behaviours are (i.e. cemented through solid and continuous application), the quicker the decay kicks in and old habits creep back in.

tl;dr - there is no substitute for sustained attention and focus, especially during a period of change where some more dedicated coaching can make the difference between lasting change and a blip on the curve.

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