Crystal: a workplace story

Crystal liked to read management blogs. They were free, and all over the internet. There were more than she could keep track of, and each one she read revealed many others. The people who wrote them seemed confident and assured. Crystal always liked the certainty they exuded.

A phrase rattled around in Crystal’s head – “get out of the way”. She had read this a lot. It seemed to be a Big Thing. She related it to her own team management style – regular 1:1’s, SMART objectives, project tracking, and her number one rule – No Surprises.

Crystal wondered if she was stifling creativity, stunting innovation, discouraging failure, driving her people away, swishing her tail around like stegosaurus in a cupcake shop.

Getting out of the way was different. But the blogs also suggested feeling uncomfortable was good too.

So Crystal decided to get out of the way.

Tamara had been pushing a prototype idea for some months that seemed way out of kilter with the product development stream. Crystal stepped back while Tamara spent three months and £150K on an idea that was clear would never work after the first week. But she had got out of the way.

Rupert in Comms had been desperate to expand the firm’s social media coverage by openly interacting with customers on Twitter. Crystal wasn’t sure, but she stood aside. Rupert promptly released key product information in an emotional spat with a difficult customer that was seized on by the competition, and they were beaten to market. The cost was hard to estimate. But she had got out of the way.

Pierre in Finance had been researching some tax ideas that would save a pope’s ransom if successful. Crystal was uncomfortable, but after Tamara and Rupert had soured her First Quarter she needed some good news, so let Pierre pursue his strategy. She got out of the way, and after the first few months all seemed positive. It could happen, she assured herself. So she carried on.

Shelley and Eg believed they had found a lower cost way to source key components, buying in bulk from a new supplier who promised to undercut the market as long as they ordered well in advanced and stocked in bulk. Their charts and forecasts were compelling, so Crystal obliged and stood back. But having ditched the existing supply chain, the new supplier’s initial bulk batch failed the statutory QC check. They reverted to their original supplier, whose prices had increased 20%. But Crystal had got out of the way.

When Crystal allowed Marcus to set up a small “skunk works” team in an incubation centre that produced nothing but great career opportunities for Marcus and the team with fledgling competitor firms, she began to doubt the wisdom of getting out of the way, but struggled to consider that all those bloggers could be wrong.

That was, until the phone rang. It was the Inland Revenue. They were going to audit their tax structures, believing them to be illegal.

Crystal realised the bloggers were right.

Once you get out of the way, you have to stay out of the way. Right out of the way.

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