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Flipping the Birds

Tippi and bird playgroundThe other night, I was at my older daughter's honor choir concert. While they were singing the folk song, "Risseldy Rosseldy," I felt myself getting uneasy, like I needed to look over my shoulder. Being an office politics consultant, I allow myself a healthy degree of paranoia, but this overwhelming urge at a music concert was odd. Then it hit me: this was the song the children were singing in the background during the iconic playground scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

If you've never seen the movie, shame on you. Hitchcock builds suspense like few can, and this movie is no exception. In the scene in question, Tippi Hedren's character, Melanie Daniels, is sitting outside the schoolhouse waiting to talk to the teacher and check on the well-being of the children after numerous bird attacks in the area. The children are inside singing a very repetitive song, the chorus being sung sweetly and innocently over and over again. Behind Melanie, birds are gathering on the playground equipment while she, impatient and oblivious, sits with her back to the impending danger. You, the spectator, want to scream, "WOULD YOU JUST TURN AROUND!?!?!?!"

In my career, I've seen a similar scenario played out often. I see individuals or departments who are sitting on the bench getting agitated, while doom flocks behind them just out of sight. Of course, they have the power to turn around and see the danger for what it is, but they're too absorbed in their own little "here and now." So they sit. And they wait. And they ignore.

What are some of the flocks gathering behind them?

  • Processes - Out-of-control processes seem to compound themselves. If a new input, like a novice employee or a software conversion, is introduced, it brings the flawed processes to light. However, most people tend to blame the new input for the problems rather than placing blame where it lies.
  • Toxic Employees - Amazing what one or two really toxic people can do to a workplace and how quickly their cancer can spread to others if left unchecked. Management may relegate it to a "coaching opportunity" or an "HR issue" but it doesn't make the morale improve for those who have to endure.
  • Policies and Procedures - I admire companies who have very small, finite sets of policies and procedures. They're able to hire bright, self-governing individuals who don't need a lot of direction. However, other companies weigh their otherwise high-performing employees down with ridiculous rules written to govern a select few who should just be fired.
  • Behavior - It's hard to look in the mirror sometimes and see how your own behaviors, decisions, and performance may be flocking together to undo all the good you think you've done in your career. Looking at the three above is relatively easy by comparison. It's somebody else's fault. This is one where a good self-reflection can prevent you from getting pecked to death when you least expect it.

Some people assume they are safe exactly where they are. They never feel the need to turn around. So... before it's too late, are you willing and able to turn around?


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Great post Tim! I don't comment a lot, but I am always looking forward to your next post.


Tim, great post, you always hit on relevant topics. Can you comment in more detail on what you mean by small, finite sets of policies and procedures? Or point me to a source? That's an intriguing area for me. Maybe we just need to do another lunch and that can be the topic du jour...

Timothy Johnson

Thanks, Phil

Sure thing, Jeff. Think about a company such as Starbucks, who provide their employees with a fold-up pocket-size book of policies and procedures (essentially boils down to "wear your uniform" and "make the customer happy" and "show up for your shift"). They don't have to layer down employees with numerous onerous rules and regulations. When I worked for the "big box" employers in town, their policies and procedures made great door stops and paper weights because they were laden with policies meant to govern the few who couldn't govern themselves.

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