Tales from the Pyramid – the Swiss cheese

TfP_swiss_cheeseSwiss cheese as most people imagine it is a holed one. The pyramid in this post looks much like a portion of Swiss cheese, with holes in its middle layer. These holes stand for rogue middle managers who don’t align to corporate objectives, resist change or passively sabotage improvement programs.

Their behavior have various backgrounds and reasons yet impair the dependent departments and/or organization-wide initiatives.

Not playing by the rules while being in charge of a department is like leaving holes in the organization.

They are expected to carry out or support projects but don’t. In most cases they resist change fearing to lose the prestige and advantages of their current position. This is usually the case with people having (unexpectedly?) reached a top position, given their background, career trail and competencies.

High potentials usually do not worry about changes and challenges, they’re ready or even longing for them..

In industry I often saw this with maintenance managers, once good techies or engineers, promoted because of their technical skills but poor managers.

While struggling with management chores, they gradually lost their keenness about technique. Younger newcomers with technical degrees are more up-to-date and eager to climb the promotion ladder.

For the outdated managers, survival is often granted by their long experience and withholding information and knowledge, faking their expertise. Few knowledge is usually captured in (IT) system and even basic standards are not set.

The same phenomenon can happen in any department*, letting the organization dependant upon very few people with the alleged** know-how and barely willing to change the situation.

*‘Holes’ and similar behaviors can be found in the lowest layer of the pyramid, either because of the people’s own attitude or because they must carry out orders from rogue managers. Fortunately, in the lowest layer such individuals generally have limited influence.

**Sometimes the know-how is nothing but a myth.

The Swiss cheese pyramid looks like the one with the ‘hole’, but in that case the hole is made by a consistent category of employees, while in this case, the cheese holes are as many individuals.

One big hole or many smaller ones lead to the same effect: the organization is weakened, dependant on few, most of the time not fully company-oriented people.

Compared to the BlessingWhite types of employees, I would say the holes are mostly made by ‘hamsters’ and ‘crash and burners’.

Mending the holes can be complicated, requires a mixture of psychology, training, coaching and if nothing helps, the ultimate replacement.


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