New Job? Stop Meddling with Your Old One

Head in the Direction You Want to End Up

Promoted to a new role but can’t stop doing your old job? That was what Joseph Varascia found he was doing after he become Continuous Process Improvement Leader after 20+ years in areas of aeronautical maintenance. It can be hard to step away from an area you know so well – but here’s why it’s essential that you do for the sake of the business and yourself.

Aeronautical maintenance is an area that I know well - I have over five years experience as the Quality Control Manager, three years experience as the Maintenance/Production Manager, and over 20 years experience as a journeyman/craftsmen/master craftsmen. But I was recently promoted to Continuous Process Improvement leader and was finding it difficult to stay focused on my primary responsibilities when I could clearly see many opportunities for improvement in my familiar area of work.

For instance, I recently saw a problem in the area that schedules and monitors our maintenance production efforts – it was a problem that could result in an undesirable effect on our employees or customers and so I informed the current production manager. The manager was grateful for the input, however, I felt I couldn’t stop there…I need to follow up and make sure that the correct actions were put in place, acting like I had ownership of the process.

Proactive? Yes. Focused on what’s best for the organization? Yes. Best use of my time? No.

The trouble is that I was interrupting my real work responsibilities and wading into an area for which I had no formal responsibilities. While I may have extensive knowledge and experience and can readily identify dozen, if not hundreds, of opportunities for improvement in my old area, I am still being paid to perform a specific function. Not only was I distracting myself from my duties as Continuous Improvement Leader – a role which deserves my full attention – I was dooming myself to self-imposed overwork and taking on ownership where I had no formal accountability.

I had to step back, take a deep breath and realize that there is more than one way to do things; my way is not necessarily the better way! Carrying it one step further I must not only recognize but accept that my brief glimpse into that areas operations is just that a brief glimpse and that does not provide a complete picture for me to make the judgments that I have made.

One area where I must reflect even more is in examining the cost of productivity for me; where I am not applying effort in those areas that do not belong to me.

Is your attention focused where it shouldn’t be?

I must quickly realize that in order to be successful by meeting my goals in my work area that I must cease from being concerned with other’s issues. How they run their work area is their responsibility and I must apply the same amount of passion and focus to my own area as I have been spreading throughout those areas that are not mine.

I suppose that resounds into a theme of "You Can’t Change the Whole World" in terms of Process Improvement we have already learned the mistakes of what happens to us when we try to be "The Fixers" - sure, we get some results, but a soon as we turn our backs, they go right back to the way they have always done it. It is somewhat humorous to me that despite all of the training, coaching and mentoring we receive as process improvement professionals; we still make these types of mistakes in our own day-to-day operational execution. I do take solace in the fact that this is also a firm reminder that we are all human.

My new outlook as I am writing this is to apply a sense of reasoning to my endeavors. When I am tempted to take over someone else’s project, to look at myself and consider the other persons point of view. They must be thinking- who does this guy think he is- or here comes the "know it all" again…..very disheartening and humbling when I look at it that way.

It makes me think of Steven Covey with his example of the Glass jar, sand and rocks example and how one must learn to prioritize by urgency (Covey 2003) . If you put the sand in first (miniscule tasking; or in my case –other people’s issues) then I have little room left for the rocks (my real responsibilities) - even worse, I leave myself no reserve capacity in the event that the Boss has a hot new project he wants me to tackle. In the ultimate result, how is it affecting my personal and family life?

I can certainly attest that I shall no longer let what author Jim Lawless calls the "tiger" – effectively that inner voice that holds us back - write my story for me and take over my personal time with my health and my family.

My new ambition is to remember the 10 rules that I learned from Lawless’ book Taming Tigers, ( a book that I would recommend reading.

In particular, the rules that I think most resonate with me personally and as a Continuous Improvement Leader are rule 3 (head in the direction of where you want to arrive, every day), rule 8 (understand and control your time to create change), rule 9 (create disciplines - do the basics brilliantly) and rule 10 (never, never give up!).

Rule three has always seemed to have the biggest impact on me: "Head in the direction where I want to arrive-every day" (Lawless 2008). I am certainly not doing that when I concern myself with perceived short comings in areas that are the responsibility of other Mangers. Sure it would be of some benefit if I keep bringing issues to them, but I have to learn to let them take responsibility for it (unless of course it would result in someone getting hurt or a similar catastrophic failure).

I must also be conscious that my efforts could very well be creating "tigers" for the other manager to deal with, in addition to the ones that they already have of their own creation.

I will not completely abandon my approach to leadership; for I recognize that I am a leader who is passionate about achieving success for my organization and me, through the development and growth of my fellow employees. Instead, I will define where I want to end up and then schedule time on my calendar, everyday, for a moment of self-reflection to ensure that I am always "heading in the direction where I want to end up."


Works Cited:

1. Covey, S. (2003). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Fireside.

2. Lawless, J. (2008). Taming tigers. Great Britain: Taming Tigers Publishing.