How to walk on broken glass

Written by Paul Matthews on 14 May 2015

Some people can walk on broken glass. Some can even make it seem effortless. Just looking at them, you wouldn’t realise how skilled they are, or how much glass is under their feet.

For those of us who can’t do it, the feat seems amazing. We think there must be something special about those people. Something different that enables them to do things that other people can’t do.

Have you ever noticed that at work? Some people can do jobs that others fail to do. They seem to have developed the knack of dealing with all those barriers that get in the way and thwart those who don’t have their special skills. It is almost as though the workplace is covered with broken glass that stops many people from moving about and getting the job done.

How often do you try and do a task on your list, only to find you cannot complete it on time or to the desired level of quality because of something that stops you? Sometimes you cannot do the job because you don’t have enough knowledge, or enough skill. However, more often than not, most people say it is because of something in their environment that is acting as a barrier, acting as an area of broken glass that stops them in their tracks.

If you want to get the job done, there seem to be three choices. One is to go on a training course to learn the guru-level skills required to walk over the barriers of broken glass. Second choice is to make adjustments to your outcomes and make allowances to give people time to deal with the glass, or add tools, like special safety boots. The third choice is to grab a broom and sweep up the glass.

I know which choice I would rather make. Even if I did become proficient at walking over broken glass, it takes effort and has risks. Much better to sweep up the glass.

The next time you see a situation where someone can do a job and someone else can’t, look beyond the skill set of the people involved and into the environment that surrounds them and surrounds the job.

Just because somebody can walk over broken glass does not mean that you should make them do so if there is no need. And just because you could train everyone else to walk over broken glass, does not mean that you should.

Which do think would be cheaper? Training everyone to guru level or grabbing a broom to sweep up the glass? And of course, if you leave the glass in place, you have to keep training people time and time again to overcome the glass as new people start in the job. Every bit of broken glass you leave on the floor has a compounding effect on the amount of training you have to do.

So look around; find the broken glass and sweep it up.


About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance support.

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