Change to be Situational-adaptive

In one of my first jobs, when I was in my early 20’s, because I was new (and naïve), people in the company who were more senior than me would order me to do work. “Hey, do this, ASAP!” an account executive, for example, would arm-twist me to craft a press release right away. (“I needed this YESTERDAY!!!”) Now, the company had a rule, all work done must be recorded by submitting a document entitled “Job Completion” form that you complete and pass to a dragon lady in charge of all that admin. I was aware of this rule, but no one told me about another rule, and that is, all work requests must first be accompanied by a “Job Order” form which is to be filled up by the person requesting the work.

Here’s how it is supposed to work: the account executive completes a “Job Order” and gives it to me, (with verbal instructions), and when I have done the work, (in this case, the press release), I would give the work to him, then submit a copy plus a “Job Completed” form (with his “Job Order”) to the said dragon lady. She would do her thing and I suppose the account executive would eventually be held accountable for incurring my time (his department would probably be billed, etc) and the dragon lady would also update another document somewhere that shows the head honchos of the company how my time was been utilized.

But, being new, I was being taken advantage of, and unware of it. Higher-ranking employees above my paygrade would order me and force me to do work without “Job Order” forms. Everything was either urgent or super urgent. Everyone wanted their work done ASAP or “by yesterday.” So stupid old me was going around doing all kinds of stuff for people, (how could I turn anyone down? – they were all my seniors) but the dragon lady would scream at me whenever I went to see her to submit the “Job Completion” forms (without accompanying “Job Order” forms.) At one stage, she even refused to see me and would scream at me to get out of her office. I was young at that time, not street-smart and utterly inexperienced and absolutely new in the workforce. Those moments literally gave me nightmares. I still shudder when I think of those exasperating days.

It was exasperating because on record, when management checked my name, there were no “Job Order” forms submitted, neither were there “Job Completed” forms. I was busy as hell, working till late at night, almost every night – with no overtime pay, mind you – but when the top dogs in the company looked at my time utilization, the picture they had was that I wasn’t doing anything at all. No sign of submitted forms meant no activity. So I must have been sleeping, they thought. No wonder all the strange looks, no wonder they all looked at me with disdain.

It took me a while to wise up and once I got smarter, I would not lift a finger to do anything unless the request comes with a “Job Order.” Even if the president and CEO of the company himself asked me to handle an assignment, I would insist on a “Job Order” first.

The company’s almost anal insistence on documentation and my persistence that I comply with company procedures – and nobody could fault me for being a compliant employee – protected me from being bullied into doing further “free” work for anyone again.

Documentation has its place and is important; having said that, if – like the case of another local (and rather renown) organization I am familiar with – people will only act if there is a piece of paper or a “business case” then I think the organization ought to question the caliber of its leaders.

The key is to act when the need is there, and not only because someone has filed a document requesting for work to be done. In many cases in real life, one has to act immediately to salvage a situation and then do the paperwork later. If leaders are so rigid, dogmatic and their behavior strictly by the book, they may be perfect adherents of procedures, the ultimate “company men” but is that always the right thing to do? Leaders ought to be situational-adaptive!

If everyone in an organization will only act when there is a piece of paper, or a business case, then, is initiative no longer relevant? Is there no longer a need to make on-the-spur or even life-or-death decisions? Will leaders lose the ability to make crucial decisions in nano-seconds?

Is this the reason why there seems to be a movement now to do away with human thinking completely? Is this the reason why we now have robots to fry our rice in restaurant kitchens? (Tung Lok’s fancily-named Artificial Intelligence Cooking Machines come to mind. One AICM can fry up to 100 kilograms or about 200 pounds of rice in half an hour, a feat no human can match.) Is this why we are now promoting the use of robots to serve customers in restaurants? (Budget 2016 has included a S$450 million expansion to the National Robotics Program.) Is this the reason why we are all hoping to own a driverless car in the near future? Is this why Nike has come up with a self-tying shoe recently?

We need to change the way we practice the art and science of leadership.

Essentially, leaders must lead and when I say lead, I don’t mean yelling at subordinates to get things done. Any idiot can shout. Any moron can press a button to get a machine going.

If everything can be made auto-pilot, aren’t leaders redundant? Taking the concept a few steps further, are we all working towards the ultimate elimination of the human race entirely?

So the next time you demand for a piece of paper or business case before you will act on anything, ask yourself, are you even necessary? Weren’t you hired for your brains? Have you lost your ability to think? If so, maybe you should be replaced by a robot!