Just imagine for a moment that you are crazy enough to want to swim around Robben Island. I can’t for the life of me see why you would but anyway, how would you approach it?
Option 1 – You look from the beach at the direction you need to head in then dive in. Stroke after stroke you keep swimming, without looking up or checking direction, until you land on the island.
Option2 – You start in exactly the same manner but as you swim you periodically check your direction by lifting your head out of the water and looking for the island.
I assume you all wholeheartedly vote for Option 2 and scoff at those foolish enough to opt for the first. It’s a ‘no-brainer’. So is life or business that easy? I would argue that it is not.
Often the engineer or maintenance supervisor is under extreme pressure to deliver the asset performance demanded by the customer. Whether the customer is internal or external to the organisation doesn’t matter. When pressure is applied the first thing to be discarded in poorly performing organisations is the strategy or direction. ‘I don’t have time to worry about the correct process’; ‘Let’s get it fixed first and then do the right stuff later’; ‘Screw it just do it’ are some of the phrases heard in pressure situations. On a once-off basis there is no problem with this approach as long as by the end of the job all the relevant paperwork is completed. However, if this is the norm and it happens on every job and you never complete the paperwork then there are bigger issues waiting for you downstream.
This is what I refer to as ‘totally heads down’. It is high energy, high stress and often higher cost but it does yield a level of performance. The people who operate in this environment often enjoy the thrill of the work and are rewarded or commended for ’pulling out the stops’ and being ‘go-to’ employees. Yes the swimmer swims very hard, but all too often is heading for the open ocean and will probably miss Robben Island totally.
So what do we need to do? It’s simple. Stop and look up. What this means is that from time to time we all need to check our direction. This applies to both our professional and personal lives and even more importantly to the manner in which we are operating as a business or business unit. If you are running an engineering department you will want your strategy to complement and support the operational strategy. If you do not have checks and reviews to see whether you are both swimming in the same direction then you could quite easily miss each other, and that results in poor performance. It does not take days to look up, it takes control. If you are in control of your situation then you will make time to quickly look up and evaluate your direction as it is definitely more important than just swimming on.
So ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I stopped and looked up? When was the last time I checked my current position against where I thought I would be by now? Am I still on the right track?’
So next time you want to swim to Robben Island (assuming you are crazy enough to do it once let alone twice) will you be taking some ‘heads up’ time?