How to “Manage” in Chaos

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I want to call people’s attention to the fact that in every story of a management fiasco, there are artifacts that you can point to—odd details that reflect the whole gestalt.

Here in Boston we are watching the spectacle of two new elected officials dealing with the chaos that has ensued after a historic bout with the weather. While the sheer numbers of inches of snowfall are awe inspiring, there has also been no break in the cold—so, no melting, and snow piles higher than anyone’s head. Games of cursing chicken, with cars going both ways on what are now treacherous one-way streets with seriously impeded visibility, and long lines of people waiting—sometimes in vain and in sub-zero temperatures—for public transportation, fights with shovels, small businesses with far fewer customers than they had expected this month, but also a lot of generous neighborliness and stoic plowing under ridiculous conditions all coexist in this surreal scene.

So, back to the elected officials. We have a new mayor and a new governor. Naming no names, one of them has apparently been elected to run a government in a place alien to him. He has chosen this moment to declare the performance of various colleagues in thankless and historically undercapitalized positions “unacceptable,” in a monotone—even before meeting with them to talk about how he might be able to help. He has also declared that the particular things they are responsible for are not his job, although these things affect everyone in the area he governs. Not a good look. The other elected official has settled in to getting creative and flattering everyone in sight for their good behavior. He is running good neighbor contests, using volunteers and social media liberally, and expecting the best from his colleagues.

Sure, some of it is style and personality, but some of it is also basic management philosophy, and everyone recognizes it for what it is even while delaying commentary and pointing fingers, because—well, because we have way too many other things to attend to.

My point is that you get what you pay for in terms of management technique. Today I wrote a newswire about yet another small clinic that has closed down, and I want to draw your attention to the way the chair of the board described what was going on. Are there similar markers waiting to expose themselves in your organization? Think about it.