It was the opening line of the email that caught my attention.
I don’t want to throw a wrench in this, but…
The accepted definition of this phrase or idiom “Throwing a Wrench into the Works” means to damage or change (something) in a way that ruins it or prevents it from working properly.
But that is not what was happening here.
They were not trying to damage or ruin the project.
Their wrench was an idea to improve the situation.
But sometimes the project is already moving forward, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing delay or disruption.
Sometimes we have invested in a strategy or direction, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing us to move or admit we may have to accept a sunk cost.
Sometimes the world has changed from when we started the initiative, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing us to start over and change course.
How about a new definition of what it means to Throw the Wrench.
To Throw the Wrench is to speak up and offer an alternative.
To Throw the Wrench is to express your reservation or concerns.
To Throw the Wrench is to help an organization from making a mistake (or further mistakes).
Maybe more than ever, we need you to Throw the Wrench.
As organizations, we need to listen to, learn from, foster, and encourage the Wrench Throwers.
We need the Wrench Throwers to speak up, offer ideas and alternatives, and let us know before we make large mistakes.
One idea to foster the kind of organization that encourages people to Throw that Wrench is to create a contest for the best Wrench Throw. How about prizes and a celebration of speaking up and offering alternatives.
My closing advice to all of you: Throw the Wrench.
I was quick to answer the call. I assumed they needed something right away.
They only said two words.
I was not sure how to respond besides “you’re welcome” so I also asked if they needed anything.
Nope. We just wanted to say “thank you” for our call a few weeks ago. We were a little stuck and needed some direction and talking it through really helped. We also realized that we typically call when we need something but don’t really ever call afterwards, but it seemed important to say “thank you.”
After that call I felt more inspired. More energized.
They didn’t have to make that call, but they did. They didn’t have to say “thank you”, but they did. And it made an impact. My work felt more meaningful, more important.
Where can we make those calls, and use those words? Who is helping, guiding, or assisting us in our journey? Who needs to hear from us?
Try it out today, make at least one call. Be grateful, say “thank you” and imagine the impact we can make.
I used to give an assignment to leaders and supervisors at the end of a session.
“Go back to your organization and find a project to delegate down to someone else.”
The reason for the assignment was simple. We had discussed the importance of conveying trust in others and to build their capacity within the organization. We reviewed some some key points from Dan Pink’s book Drive and discussed how delegating projects would resonate with the key drivers for all employees: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Weeks or months later, I would check in with these leaders. Almost no one delegated a project.
I asked why.
“You don’t understand, I got back to the office and am so busy, I just couldn’t find the time to sit down with someone and explain it, it was easier to do it myself.”
“They wouldn’t do it right anyway, and when you think about it, I was saving them from failing.”
“I need this done a certain way, and don’t want to worry about if it is done right.”
The lists, and the excuses kept coming. For the few leaders that did delegate projects, many of them picked the worst project on their list and passed that down to someone.
Each excuse was almost a direct hit against the primary drivers for employees.
Autonomy – people want some self direction and control over their working environment which may mean taking on projects and doing it their way. Lack of delegation sends the message that you are in complete control and there is no room for others to develop their own way or style.
Mastery – people want to be good at things, and that means trying new things, working on new projects that develop and refine skills over time. Lack of delegation keeps their skills shallow, and maintains your expert status.
Purpose – people want to feel like their work matters, and their time is meaningful and makes a difference. Lack of delegation makes others feel unimportant, and worse conveys that you do not trust them or value them and their contribution.
I had to change the assignment.
“Within 2 weeks, find the project or assignment is BIG and IMPORTANT that would give you the most satisfaction, organizational recognition, and reward and delegate that one. AND find your partner here today and tell them about this project then call each other each week to ensure it is delegated.”
At first you could have heard a pin drop.
The big and important one? YES!
The one that would give the most rewards? YUP!
Now when I check in with these leaders I hear a different story.
“It was pretty scary to give up a big project like that, but I was surprised, they took it on and completed it. They seem more energized and are looking for the next project.”
“They went in a different direction then I expected and that made me worry, but the result was better than expected and frankly maybe better than I would have been able to do.”
“Not only are these employees taking on more projects and responsibilities, I find that I have more time to do my core job and I am less frantic and busy.”
So the choice as leaders is simple. You can keep everything to yourself (most likely out of fear and control) or you can learn to pass down important projects and assignments. When you choose to keep it, you convey a lack of trust and your work will continue to be hectic and busy. When you choose to pass projects to others, you convey trust and importance in others, and build their capacity.
One leader candidly expressed their fear in doing this.
“What if I delegate these important things down, and my employees become better at these things than me? Won’t I be working myself out of my job?”
My response was simple.
If you are the kind of leader that can build the capacity of teams in a way that you are no longer needed, you most likely have a much larger and more important career as companies will pay a lot to replicate that in their organization.
In the world of consulting, coaching, helping, serving, and assisting others you are going to be rejected.
People reach out, they need help.
You carefully craft a plan, program, event, or system.
You send that thing you created into the world.
You may or may not hear from them right away.
Sometimes they say No.
Sometimes they blame the price.
“It was too expensive. It was too costly.”
The first temptation is to lower your cost. “Did I charge too much?”
But your time, your talents, your efforts are valuable.
There is some truth to what they said.
It was going to cost them.
The cost of being accountable.
The cost of stretching beyond their normal pattern or rut.
The cost of doing the hard work, over and over again until they get results.
The cost of making sacrifices to change their current situation.
Maybe they were not ready because the cost was too high.
Rejection can be hard.
Don’t give up.
Keep consulting, coaching, helping, serving, and assisting others.
Keep creating plans, programs, events, and systems.
Your tribe, your group, and your people know that the change they desire will be expensive and it will be costly. They also recognize the true cost is their sacrifice and hard work, and they are willing to pay that price.
A few of us were talking about how to best prepare for an upcoming event.
You know the type of event: the one with lots of people getting together, both family and friends.
As fun as these events can be, stress and other pressures seem to also arrive whenever lot of people gather in one place.
Half joking, we developed a plan.
“What if we created an emotional baggage check. You know, when people arrive, we could have them check their emotional baggage at the door.”
We all laughed, but then it hit us. What if we really did this? What if this emotional baggage check worked?
How could it work?
When you arrive at the event, you are given a card, and numbered envelope, and a pen.
You write down on the card any difficult or hard emotions that you are carrying into the event.
You place the card in the envelope and exchange it for a corresponding numbered ticket.
You attend the event emotional baggage free.
When the event ends, you have the choice of claiming your emotional baggage, or leaving it behind. (Any envelopes left behind are burned and buried.)
Repeat steps one through three as many times as needed.
We are emotional creatures. Those emotions sometimes disrupt events and relationships, even when we try to keep these emotions to ourselves.
Instead of keeping those emotions bottled up, perhaps the physical act of writing down and checking the emotional baggage is enough to give us a needed break from those challenging or difficult emotions.
And who knows? Once we experience events without those emotional responses, it may feel good enough that we won’t pick them back up.