The True Cost of the Cubicle Hero
Heroes. Society loves them, honors them and exults them. Corporate offices are filled with a new breed of hero, the Cubicle Hero. These are the people who go beyond the norm and figure it out. They burn the midnight oil and they get it done. They overcome the chaos and reach the goal. All hail the hero!
However, heroes tend to overstay their welcome. In the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”, character Harvey Dent intones, “You either die the hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The Cubicle Hero’s individual victory is celebrated initially, but situations change and the need for the hero diminishes over time. Or so we hope.
Cubicle heroes can become process bottlenecks and productivity killers. Why? The organization’s reward structure doesn’t lead them to being mentors. The cubicle hero has great value to the organization but their way of working can’t scale and the lack of information sharing prevents the organization from truly benefiting from their victory. The hero then gets involved in every project that touches their area and becomes the bottleneck as the demand for their time is greater than what is available. Thus, the hero slowly becomes the villain, delaying projects.
Many years ago, I worked at a company where a core process of the company was dependent on a very skilled hero. He was a great employee and did his job earnestly. However, he also guarded his knowledge so that he was the only one who understood it completely. This became a serious company concern when he was involved in an accident, leaving him unable to work for several months. Several key projects were impacted.
Changing the perspective, expectations and language of what happens as part of these efforts can lead to a different outcome. We need to make it clear that we want and need Corporate Explorers rather than Cubicle Heroes. Leif Erickson, the Viking, may have been the first to reach North America on a heroic journey, but it was the explorer, Columbus, that opened up North America to the world.
Explorers and Heroes share many common traits. They can see the big picture. They can dig down into the details when needed. They put in the extra effort to get the job done. The real difference is in the aftermath. Explorers open new trails so that others may come behind them. Explorers become guides to help others make the same journey. Heroes, on the other hand, continue to hold onto their conquest.
Changing your company culture to encourage Explorers over Heroes creates a scalable culture of knowledge sharing. This organizational approach leads to greater productivity, higher quality collaboration and timelier project progress.
To summarize, I recommend reviewing the following in your organization.
- Provide a clear path to success for as many as possible to the rewards for exceptional effort, in a way that others and ultimately the organization can leverage
- Provide public recognition for knowledge sharing
- Structure rewards, within the process, so we can move from the mentality of one time hero-creation to our true goal of constant productivity improvement
- Provide the Explorer with opportunities to help facilitate and implement their achievement within the organization. This keeps the Explorer engaged and looking for additional ways to improve
- Provide collaborative tools like Office 365 and Yammer to help facilitate and support the Explorer’s journey
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