Escapologists

Once upon a time, there was a stuck department, and nobody knew how to solve it. The person in charge, someone who has been trusted for years, introduced their managers to different ideas to improve the situation, moaned about his/her struggles to make this department work, pointed out eventual reasons or people who could be at the root of the issue, actions were taken … All without an outcome. It was very unlikely that the managers considered that the main reason why this department may be stuck is precisely because of the department leader. They thought so highly of him/her that the idea this person could be what I call an escapologist never crossed their minds.

An Escapologist is a profile I always bump into in all my projects, without exception. They always behave in the same way. As soon as I step into the company, they look as though they are being very supportive and ready to explain in full detail “what really happens in the company”. They showcase their communication problems with their managers, the several brilliant ideas they have been bringing up to solve the issues of their department, the lack of understanding and commitment from their peers. They show themselves as devoted professionals, ready to fight and protect their teams and real connoisseurs of the company culture and know-how (many of them have been there for years). Their speech might be convincing for an external partner who only works with a strategic or tactical perspective and whose interaction is very occasional. However, in my projects (unfortunately for the escapologists) most of my time is devoted to the operations (online, offline or both), which is the only scenario where you can clearly see the impact of people and their contribution to the business. Then, I am able to check if there is any truth within the escapologist’s welcome speech and to what extent the brilliant ideas of his/her PowerPoint are somehow real. It’s my chance to connect the dots between the escapologist’s version and the facts. And this is the very moment when the escapologist, who must face the truth, throws a smoke bomb and runs from me. I must confess that, at the beginning of my entrepreneurial life, I was kind of naive. I interpreted that those new findings in the operations would be very helpful for the person who, in principle, was struggling to resolve the situation. I never imagined he/she would be an escapologist and so I tried over and over again to involve this person in the project. Very soon I understood that my findings were far from making this person’s life easier: I could have found the solution to an operational problem, but I have also revealed the escapologist modus operandi.

Shielded by the motto “the best defence is a good offense” and surrounded by an aura of experience and trust, escapologists will spend their days letting problems get stuck and walking away unscathed. The way to deactivate them is very simple: just go and have a look by yourself (what my beloved Toyota Production System calls genchi genbutsu). What comes next is very evident. Sometimes, putting strategy and tactics aside for a while to get closer to operations has its rewards.

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