Efficient Ellie vs Placid Pat

EFFICIENT ELLIEThere was a bit of a hoohaa at work the other day.  One of my colleagues (let’s call her Efficient Ellie) was trying to get something done, on an urgent and really tight deadline, and needed input from a few other team members.  She’d emailed everyone beforehand to advise them of the imminent deadline, of what she needed to complete and of what information she would need from them, and when.  She asked everyone to email back if they thought there were likely to be any issues with providing the info.  She heard nothing from anyone.  She assumed all was well.

Imagine her surprise then when she found out that actually, none of the deadlines she’d given had been met.  She took a breath, walked over and I could hear her explaining exactly what she needed, why it was urgent and how it was affecting her work because they hadn’t delivered theirs.

We would all expect a few excuses to come our way at that point.  What shocked all of us in the vicinity at the time though was the explosion of  expletives that suddenly burst forth from one of our normally placid, warm and friendly workmates (let’s call her Placid Pat).  It was all very unexpected – and felt like a huge amount of steam being released in one sharp and excruciatingly painful burst.  From the non-expletive words we heard, we gathered it had been bubbling away under the surface for a while.

Now Efficient Ellie is a contractor, and was brought in to help manage the workload but also bring in some improvements and efficiencies – aka …change things.

Placid Pat is permanent and has been at the company for quite a while.  She’s always done things the way she’s always done things.  She’s a lovely person, she’s good at her job, and has a huge amount of knowledge.  But Placid Pat doesn’t like being pushed to think about change, she just wants to come in, do her job well, in the way she’s always done it, and then go home.  She’s not great at coping with pressure either, so pushing her to do something will push her buttons.  Pushing her to do it quickly when she’s got lots on will push even more buttons.  And I guess the final straw was asking her questions about why it wasn’t being done a different, more efficient way – that pushed the release button on the steam and the expletives.

As an observer, I can empathise with both sides.  Placid Pat has built herself a lovely comfortable role, and is happy with the way things are (even when she complains about them, it’s more for appearance sake, as she hasn’t changed any of the things that are in her power to change).  And that’s ok, if it’s all working well.  But the company has grown exponentially.  So what was ok a few years ago isn’t really ok now.

That’s where Efficient Ellie comes in.  She’s bright, sharp and a fast thinker.  She thrives on getting things done, on improving processes and …well, making efficiencies.  The problem is Efficient Ellie can come across as a bit of a tornado.  She kind of whirls in from nowhere, demands things, asks uncomfortable questions and can leave people feeling a bit dishevelled.  I don’t think Efficient Ellie realises quite the effect she has.

And so I guess the storm last week was inevitable.  I think there’s a third way though.  It take a little more time, and much more effort.  But I’ve used it myself and I’ve seen it work.  It’s about being a little more collaborative, about communicating much earlier, about taking smaller steps towards the bigger goal and then allowing the anti-change contingent to adjust their ideas.

What do you think?  Are you firmly in one camp or the other?  Have you seen this in action at your workplace?  Comment below if you have, I’d love to hear your stories.


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