Go on, admit it, you’ve been dying to ask. What exactly is a ‘business plumber’? Do I come and fix the sink in the canteen when Mabel’s blocked it up with old tealeaves again? Do I discreetly sidle into the gents to deal with a faulty cistern? Do I, perhaps, check out the water supply in the boss’s office because his upmarket coffee machine is on the fritz?
Well, basically – no, no, and no.
So – you may reasonably ask – what’s all this stuff about plumbing, then?
Well… let me tell you a tale…
Business Plumber – the origin story
Origin story? You may be thinking radioactive spiders (or not). But as it happens the only radiation on that particular night came from my brow. Because I had a presentation to write. About my business. And I could not, for the very life of me, think how to describe it in a way people would understand.
Let me explain.
I can’t say that I ‘increase efficiency’. Because that makes it sound as if I deal with ‘people problems’. And clients start coming back with all the wrong questions. ‘Do my staff need more training? Do they need coaching? Do they need performance management? (For which read ‘very severe coaching’?) Do they need incentives, perhaps…?’
Well – possibly none of the above. Or some. But that’s not the point. Because I’m less worried about who is doing the work (and why) than how they are doing it, and with what.
The fact is, I’m all about the ‘how’. In other words, all about the process.
Which is tricky in a world where people who otherwise seem perfectly sensible can tell you to ‘just do it’ and actually expect something to happen.
And that was when I had a stroke of inspiration.
(Water) travels with my aunt
When I was young I liked to visit my aunt, who lived in a rather older house than ours. And I couldn’t help noticing that when – as I often did – I tried to run hot water for the washing up it seemed to take an eternity to get to a useful temperature.
Probably because her plumbing was only slightly less complicated than the map of the London Underground. (Making the whole operation rather like a game of Mornington Crescent…)
It was the perfect analogy. Because no special measures would have the slightest effect on the hot water tank. No amount of coaching was going to make that journey from tank to sink any faster. And no incentive of any kind would persuade the tangle of pipes between them to rearrange themselves more sensibly. In fact the only way to make things better was to rip out the plumbing and put back something a bit less reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction…
And that’s what I do with businesses. Because my focus isn’t on the people so much as on the processes they’re working with – the workflow. Or, if you like, the ‘business pipework’. And if that, too, is reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction then even the most motivated, determined, well-coached and super-efficient team won’t get it working any better than it does already.
Enter – the Business Plumber. Ready to disentangle the pipework in your operation. So if that sounds like something that would help you, just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free.
Giving instructions to other people can be a bit of a minefield.
Take ‘Boil the water’, for example. Simple enough, you’d think, even for a child. Except a child won’t know what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like.
So the (irritating) result is likely to be a series of interruptions by a small person saying ‘Is it boiling yet?’
The answer, of course, is to explain what ‘boiling water’ actually looks like. And give the necessary safety lecture at the same time. But you might not do the same if you’re giving instructions to an adult. And when they’re struggling, it’s all too easy to respond with disparaging comments on their commitment and their capabilities.
The truth is that if it’s a task you’re very familiar with, it’s blindingly obvious how to do it. To you. Others may see it differently…
When men didn’t cook…
I’m reminded of one of my earliest memories…
I was sitting with my Mum and my newborn baby sister. My Dad came in with a saucepan of peeled potatoes – and asked what to do next.
Mum told him to put the pan on the gas.
‘But – won’t that burn the pan?’ he asked, with a worried expression.
‘Not,’ said Mum, acidly, ‘if you put water in first.’
He looked, if anything, even more worried. ‘But… how much water?’
‘Enough!’ said Mum.
‘To cover the potatoes!’ she snapped.
She was annoyed, understandably. But the truth was that he’d never, in his life, cooked a meal before. So it was important, for him, to have someone giving instructions he could understand.
It’s all too easy to get annoyed when someone fails to understand apparently simple instructions. And the results, sadly, are predictable.
Option one: the experienced person will give up, and do the job themselves. In which case they are doomed to continue doing it for ever after.
Or option two: the inexperienced person will be left to struggle on as best they can. In which case the results may well be less than wonderful.
Either way, there are two additional and very predictable results. The experienced person will be left believing their colleague is ‘playing dumb’, perhaps to avoid doing the work. And the inexperienced person will feel inadequate, frustrated, and resentful. Because they haven’t received the support they need.
So – is there an alternative?
Of course there is!
The art of giving instructions…
- The two people (or the two teams, or the two businesses) need to get together.
- They then need to work through the list of tasks that have to be done.
- At each stage they should check that both understand a) what needs doing and b) how to do it.
That should, at very least, minimise the problems.
Does this take time? Yes.
Can you afford not to? Only you can decide.
One thing is certain – if you keep thinking that anything about a task, or a process, is ‘obvious’ then you won’t even see there’s a question to answer…
So if you’d like a simple set of instructions for – well – creating a simple set of instructions, then why not buy me a cup of coffee? And we’ll discuss what I can do and how I can help. Just call 01359 240717 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Is someone who struggles with change ‘resistant’ to it? Or are they simply not ready for change?
The difference is important, because ‘readiness for change’ is something you can gauge even before a change takes place.
By knowing how ready for change they are – and working to increase their readiness – you may never need to deal with ‘resistance’ at all.
Using the word ‘readiness’ also removes the rather judgemental associations of the word ‘resistance’. That will affect the attitudes and approach of the people who need to make change happen.
So – how can you determine someone’s readiness? (And let’s give the ‘someone’ a name – Hubert – to avoid complicated language. Apologies to anyone called Hubert, of course…)
There are two issues you need to think about:
- The drivers: How bad does Hubert believe that things now? How much – in Hubert’s view – will change improve them?
- The restraint: How secure does Hubert feel with things as they are?
Drivers for change
If Hubert’s unhappy then he’s far more likely to welcome change. And the more unhappy he is, the more willing he will be to try something new.
If Hubert is comfortable with things as they are it may be hard to persuade him to do things differently – let alone to do things that are different.
So – in essence – a successful change needs to be driven by at least a moderate level of dissatisfaction.
But it also needs to overcome…
Restraints on change
Good research suggests that Hubert’s own feelings of security may be a critical barrier to change. And (by definition) those feelings will be very difficult for anyone except Hubert to determine! That’s because we’re talking about subjective perception, not objective reality. So to truly understand Hubert’s position you’d need to be inside his head. And seeing the world exactly as he sees it.
This subject is tricky enough to deserve a post of its own. So, for the moment, let’s assume we have at least a rough idea about Hubert’s level of felt security.
What effect will this have on his readiness to accept change?
Suppose Hubert is feeling insecure at the moment. That means his anxiety levels are high, and he will be unwilling or even unable to cope with change.
If, on the other hand, he is feeling very secure then he won’t be interested in new information or new ideas.
Drivers and restraints – how they work together
That – as you can see – creates a fascinating picture.
The shaded area is where Hubert is fairly dissatisfied – but also feels reasonably secure. This is when he’s most likely to accept change.
To the right – where he feels almost completely secure – the chances of that become far smaller. If he feels both secure and satisfied (bottom right) then he will obviously be quite happy with things as they are. And If he feels completely secure he will probably become a contented and complacent ‘fat cat’. Even the boxes above, on the right, will be sparsely populated. That’s because new information and new ideas have little appeal to people who feel secure.
The left-hand column poses a different problem. If Hubert is here, even the strongest arguments will fail to cut much ice – because he is incapable of change. The very thought of change will induce the kind of panic that makes a rabbit freeze in the face of oncoming headlights!
So how can we find out where, on this diagram, Hubert feels he is?
And, more importantly, how can we move him to a position where he can and will change?