When was the last time you were lost? Not momentarily
confused or a bit out of your comfort zone, but completely, totally lost? I
remember two times. One involved taking the wrong exit onto a long, dark road.
The other involved joining a new team whose members were too busy to write down
any decisions or processes that might make everyone's job easier. Both times, I
felt helpless, frustrated, and alone.
While driving down the long, dark road, I was relieved to
come upon a gas station. I remember smiling as I imagined the kind attendant
patiently explaining how I could get back on course. My hopes were dashed when
I found a teenaged clerk blowing a bubble as big as her head. Although she sincerely
wanted to help, she barely knew the name of the road from which I'd come. Luck
saved me when an 18-wheeler rumbled to a stop at the diesel pump outside. I
managed to wait patiently until the driver had paid before bombarding him with
my pleas for help. After laughing long and hard at how far I'd gotten off
track, he told me how to get back to the main road. Back in the rental car, my face
still red with embarrassment, I told myself that wayward travelers could not
afford the luxury of pride.
Years later, I joined a new team at work and spent several
weeks feeling like I'd somehow gotten lost again on that same dark road.
Everyone around me was racing toward a critical milestone and had little time
to help me find specific information or figure out complex processes that were
new to me. For my training, I'd been given the equivalent of a rudimentary map
drawn in sand. What few bread crumbs I found seemed cryptic, at best. But
because I wanted to prove I could find my own way, I followed them all. Some
led to insight and more clues, while others led to confusing dead ends.
Occasionally, a new colleague would see me struggling and offer to help me get
unstuck. As in that gas station years before, I eagerly asked questions only to
be met with blank stares or amused smirks. After several attempts, I learned
how to phrase my inquiries in ways that made sense and yielded results. Eventually,
I found my way to the main road, weary but wizened by the journey.
Confident now in my direction, I still remember how it felt
to be new, lost and alone. Although it feels like a deterrent to forward
momentum, I am committed to creating bread crumbs for new team members by
writing down the things that matter. When we find a better way to get things
done, I write down the steps. When we make decisions or find new reasons for
our strategies, I document the new guideposts. When we choose new templates and
ways to describe our goods, I archive the old formats and value statements so
they're no longer used.
It's not easy, this leaving of clues. It seems to make more
sense to keep marching forward toward ever-present deadlines. However, if we
look back and remember our frustrating journeys toward insight, it's easier to
see why tossing a bread crumb now and again is a good practice. It's the least
we can do to help those who soon will join us, lost, alone, and looking for
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