The Old Lady who swallowed a Fly

Have you swallowed a fly? 😖

⚠ Not literally

How do you handle those unforeseen issues that strike when you least expect them in the workplace?

There’s an old nursery rhyme called “the old lady who swallowed a fly.”

If you’re unfamiliar, (spoiler alert!), well, our protagonist accidently swallows a fly.

In hopes of fixing this, she swallows a spider, so that the spider will catch the fly – it just makes things worse and we escalate to ever-larger animals to a ridiculous extent…finally a whole cow is swallowed ultimately leading to her demise. Tragic. ⚰

In work, this may take the form of a process/practice/approach to something that, when looked at with fresh eyes, seems strange.

I’ll paint you a picture.

You’re a FC at a FMCG’s business. The new CEO complains that your monthly reporting “needs more data on Sales.”

You get someone on it right away.

They build a beautiful new template, it is succinct, kept to a clean, single, *digestible* A4.

Best let the CEO review/comment, they raised the concern.

But don’t stop there, procurement can add insight. And if they’re reviewing then better let all department heads sign off.

Consolidating everyone’s points, the project head presents the new report.

You stand back and look.

It’s hard to make sense of it; running to multiple pages, littered with footnotes, call-outs, x-refs and caveats.

So, Monthly reporting takes an extra two days now, and the sales team must find time to feed the new data into the monthly reporting cycle.

Sales start to dip. Morale seems to be moving in the same direction.

What a nightmare!

How can you arrest this narrative?

1.     Be pragmatic. Perfection can’t be the enemy of good.
2.     Keep perspective. A fee-earner’s pain in implementing change must be justified by the benefits they realise.
3.     Dissent – if you see what is being proposed as an overcorrection, then say it.

Internal affairs are typically a balancing act. It is tempting to “err on the side of caution”, avoid the fight, and tolerate more bells and whistles.

Incrementally, in isolation, your steps are reasonable.

To your people, in aggregate, it can look all wrong.

Its rare that your people will take issue with well-meaning individual steps taken, but it’s our cumulative approach that defines culture.

If that’s off, it can see your new people scratching their heads and your tenured people looking towards the door.

So, next time you come across this I hope you’ll preach the old lady who swallowed the fly.

Image credit: David Sym-Smith