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Monday, June 4, 2012

Journeymen and Women

Welcome back.
During the infancy of yet another year, I cannot help but be reminded that unless we do something different this year, we will inevitably end up with the same outcomes as before. 
We have another chance, although artificially induced by a calendar, to decide and consciously make a difference to ourselves and those we encounter.
I do not propose resolutions for this New Year. Surely, we are continuously setting goals for ourselves. Doing this at the start of the New Year is a strong founded tradition in our society. 
However, there is no special reason in principle, why setting goals at the beginning of the year will make any difference to the potential success of achieving it, compared with setting goals any other time of the year. 
Rather, I propose at this time of the year a more appropriate strategy: Let us thoroughly evaluate our method for achieving our objectives this year, instead of making yet another list of resolutions without a clear idea of how we intend its realization. 
We should start the year by judging how better we can reach our goals. Let us refine our “How” for the New Year. This should allow us more success in achieving or obtaining the “What” that we want.
Over the Christmas Holidays I always find that I have more time on hand to reflect. I have more time to consider the obstacles to achievement. The abundance of time inevitably makes me think about some of the more complex issues I identified during the preceding year. 
I am convinced that the minor irritations over the holidays, such as manipulative relatives, long shopping days, and an endless outflow of hard earned cash, contribute to a fertile imagination and breeding ground for considering the more elusive intricacies of our social game - this game of business. I find myself contemplating key issues that are more elusive during the day-to-day rush of the year. 
This year’s holidays brought me to a matter that should be very familiar to us all. It is the phenomenon of “Journeymen” and women. 
I will cover in this blog entry the impact these people have on the success of your I.T. organization’s delivery and the outcomes of your projects. I will show you how to recognize and avoid the trap of working with, or for the journeymen of this industry. Lastly, I hope to offer some help on how to liberate your business, organization, or project from the mediocrity disease of “Journeymen” and women.
“Journeymen” Defined

According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of “Journeyman” includes: “A skilled worker who is employed by another, or worker who is reliable but not outstanding.”
The word 'journeyman' comes from the French word journée, meaning the period of one day; this refers to his right to charge a fee for each day's work. He would normally be employed by a master craftsman, but would live apart and might have a family of his own. 
A journeyman could not employ others. In contrast, an apprentice would be bound to a master, usually for a fixed term of seven years, and lived with the master as a member of the household. 
“Journeymen (and woman)” are those qualified and able people that occupy positions in organizational structures (usually middle and senior management roles), but who lacks significant output or delivery. They collect their fees, but is not significant enough to demand opportunity. 
They have responsibilities. Somehow they succeed in creating the elusion that they fulfill these obligations. However, this happens while materially nothing changes for the better or worse from week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. 
In their active elusion they succeed in making everyone around them think they are barely coping with their work load. However, once they are removed or depart from their post, no one notices them to be missing. In fact, things actually go better with them not around. It is then that one realizes him or her, to have been a “Journeyman” or woman. 
“Journeymen” are capable people that appear to be remunerated for their mere presence. If they got paid for the value they add, they will probably not be around for long.
The best example of “Journeymen” or woman are found amongst middle managers. Middle managers usually have few direct reports. They’ve been around long enough to know the ropes, and also to navigate the system for their own personal gain. 
They thrive on crisis and confusion. They check boxes, complicate procedures, restructure and reorganize with frightful regularity. They constantly write emails and have endless meetings and meetings and meetings, to solve whatever pet problem they conjure up or manufacture, to prove the legitimacy of their tenure.
Another way to look at “Journeymen” is to identify what value an individual adds materially in the day-to-day business processes of an organization. If a person adds little to no value like merely checking other’s work, verifying output, signing approvals, etc., then these are the “Journeymen” and women of your company. 
They are the people getting paid for being there, instead of honestly earning a wage for making a constructive contribution. Another example is the regional manager that has only one job: Making sure everyone else does their job.
This is not to say that an individual is not able to add value. Rather, due to circumstances an organization develops a comfort equilibrium that allow these people to remain, thrive, survive and “play the game”. They draw out a culture of mediocrity in their process of eliminating everything and anything that can challenge their virtual value. 
Why is this a problem? They waste money, energy, time and opportunity for passionate innovators of, contributors, and clients in our industry. 
Many I.T. organizations and departments are being marginalized in their grip. The result is a systemic lack of performance based on their induced and ever increasing fictional complexity. They create a status quo that undermines innovators, unless they foresee benefit from tolerating the change.
What to Do

Chances are slim that you will be able to avoid working with these individuals. You will find them to be on your projects and in your teams. They may be your manager, your colleague or on your staff.
It is most important to recognize the “Journeymen” and women of an organization. If you know who they are, then you are well on your way dealing with them.
“Journeymen” are likely to be politically well connected (even as staff members). This is one reason why they seem to outlast most other useful staff. Therefore, merely following a tactic of exposing them will not get you very far. Chances are that you will end up being undermined, circumvented, vilified and eventually excommunicated from the inner circles of organizational power, if there is any inkling that you pose a threat to their very survival.
There is only one realistic strategy that prevails when dealing with “Journeymen”. Focus on delivery. 
There is one attribute that poses as the achilles heel of Journeymen: Clear and quantifiable delivery. No one can argue against measured value. No one can question performance if there is a measure for it.
Therefore, as Project, Program or I.T. Manager, be very clear on your expected outcomes, and also on how you intend to verify, quantify and measure these outcomes. Hopefully the outcomes are aligned with your business strategy and implemented business architecture.
Communicate the outcomes and how you will measure them upwards and down in your organization structure. It removes any later disputes and political campaigning when the going gets tuff. It will also help you to keep track of performance in, and of your team members. It should discourage any ambiguous (Journeyman) behavior. 
If the game is worth playing, then it is worth keeping score to know how well you are doing.
Where before a “likable” personality was enough for the “Journeyman” to survive and be promoted, or intimate knowledge of the system or client kept them in the structure. Now, when you measure value on a regular basis, there is no place to hide behind good behavior or intellectual property. 
No one can dispute measured performance, or lack thereof. If good behavior and client knowledge doesn’t deliver value, then it is clearly of no value.
All that remains is to address non performance. 
If the career “Journeyman” is caught out in this trap, then chances are good that you are ridding your company from a cancer. 
If you don’t address this as a matter of course, the organization will soon be overwhelmed by mediocrity, complexity and a continuing inability to respond to the always changing demands of its clients. Poor performance will become the norm, and it won’t bother anyone in the process.
Incidentally, I have also found that staff tenure is a direct indication of the existence of the “Journeyman” problem. Granted, a high staff turnover is not healthy. However, it is the staff that don’t seem to ever leave that may just be the foundation holding back your company’s future.

“Most of what we call ‘management’ consist of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.” (Peter Drucker)
Let us therefore question not only the value of the “Journeymen” and women in our organizations, but also the value we add as managers in these businesses.
There should be no illusion to what the role is we as managers are bound to play in the businesses we serve. It is not to ensure other people do their jobs. Rather, it is to ensure that other people have the means every day to do their jobs better.
As managers, we are co-creators of the future of our businesses. When we stop creating, and stop supporting the creation processes of our future organizations, we threaten the survival of these organisms we call companies. It is then that we ourselves become the “Journeyman” or woman of the day.
Your comments are always welcome.
Hendrik van Wyk

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