Heroes are people that come to the rescue in the face of seemingly unavoidable disaster. The customer was going to kill the account, but the hero works all day and night to meed the deadline no one thought could be met. There is much celebration, the hero rides on the shoulders of his colleagues
But what of the people who work hard to make sure the situations of impending doom don’t occur. They avoid the problem all together by taking action before the problem reaches critical mass. They keep things running smoothly, so others can focus on their jobs and not be worried. What kind of parties do we throw in their honor? Whose shoulders do they ride upon?
This is related to the previous post on taking a shower. We do not notice when things proceed as ususal. Ironically, we give more kudos to the guy who procrastinates until the problem is critical and then makes a dramatic recovery, than we do to the guy who never lets the problems be critical. We just don’t even notice it because it’s a non-event.
Bruce Schneier uses the story of a congressman who might have passed a law requiring cockpit doors to be reinforced, thereby avoiding the terrorist attacks on 9/11. At the end of his career, he looks back and has nothing to show for us work. The nightmare scenarios that never happened because of his diligence. Not only don’t we recognize others for their diligence, often we don’t even reward our own work to avoid these kinds of scenarios.
One of the men I work with has incredible attention to detail and works tirelessly to help make sure the the logistics of our business are taken care of, so that the rest of the company can focus on business part of the work. Most of these things are not fun (flipping through 50 page legal agreements of near infinite amounts of cross referencing to make sure that things were not snuck in that are not in the interst of the shareholders – often pointing them out to the lawyers, or dealing with benefits people who are not responding properly to an employee problem). These are not fun tasks, but he does them humbly. How many problems has he avoided? It’s impossible to tell, but it’s something we need to make sure we reward in our companies.
The only way we notice this is by consciously thinking about it. Don’t only reward the employees who make miraculous saves when things go wrong, make sure that you find the people who diligently do their job with enough forsight to avoid the need for saves to have to happen.