The office enabler

Posted by Chris on August 29th, 2009 filed in Uncategorized

It’s my firm belief that every office has – or desperately needs – an enabler.  Maybe you know the type.  There’s a steady line of people walking over to ask quick questions about tons of random things.  If there’s a problem, they’re (if not fixing it) just walking around, watching, listening.  The next time everyone is stumbling around in the dark, working on the broken a/c he’ll say “hey, they hid a light switch in here behind this panel.  That’s better”.  You know the svn repository directory called “include” or “handy” or “access” or something of the sort?  It has the “example.pl” file with an example of every cool, handy, awesome trick in the book and how to use the module to do all the irritating things you need to do constantly in one line?  That’s his.  When the new folks come around to meet everyone he gets up and says something to the point of “Hey, I’m the enabler.  I’ve been here a little while now, and if you need to know anything – just let me know.  Want some candy?”  When the old folks say “Hey, they moved the stapler!” he says “Yeah, it’s in the other room now by the stapling pool.  Let me show you.  Did you meet the new head of stapling?  They also moved the shiny copier here too, so if you need something in higher quality, come over to this one.”

Their production may be only average or above average, but everyone in the zone around them is way above average.  That’s because when they find some way to automate the widget approval application process, they get excited and share it.  Suddenly widget applications go from hours a day to seconds (this has actually happened to me) and everyone gets way more widgets out.   Meanwhile he’s been using his newfound time to try to find a way to get a chat room for everyone in the team so they don’t have to yell or call all day.

He’ll automate things to make not just his life easier, but everyone around’s life easier also.

How do you find your enabler?  I think it starts with being nice.  Having too much empathy for everyone else helps too.  Does someone not only order their drink  at the Tastes Burnt with a smile and say please, but pay attention to how they yell them to each other so they don’t have to translate it?  That fellow down the row who strangely requests a garbage can for a strategic spot in the middle?  Depends: did you find yourself (along with him) saving time and reducing hassle by having one in just the right place?

Why would you want to become one?  Well, there’s some drawbacks and some benefits.

Drawbacks:

  • Less time to get your stuff done
  • You look like a kissup
  • You look like you’re trying to involve yourself everwhere
  • You’ll get lots and lots of questions

On the plus side:

  • It’s genuinely helping people in that tiny way that makes a huge difference
  • The office is a more pleasant place for all involved
  • Your tools get used
  • Your brain gets used
  • That stuff you do for everyone else?   You get to do it for you, too.
  • You don’t have to learn to say “no”
  • You get to do more, and more interesting, things day to day

In short (too late!) – I think there’s someone who acts as the grease that makes any office run smoother – and that it’s important they’re there.


One Response to “The office enabler”

  1. Geoff Broadwell Says:

    People like this are an example of what the military calls “force multipliers” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_multiplication ) — something that does not *itself* fight the battles, but rather makes the group far more effective as a whole.

    Some companies are wise enough to seed teams with people who have this talent and inclination. Others even make teams entirely focused on this function; their job is generally to “grease the wheels” of everyday work so that little frictions don’t slow the company to a halt.

    Unfortunately, since these people don’t directly bring in revenues, they are often first on the chopping block in tough times. Sadly too few companies realize that by firing force multipliers, they have done *far* more damage to the company than firing the same number of individual earners, since the latter have only an additive effect on profits, rather than a multiplicative one.

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