Broken Tool Or Broken User?

There’s a well-known parable in leadership that goes like this:

“A lumberjack applied for a job in the northwest, confident he was the best.

He was asked to cut a quota of trees on the first day, and fell short of the goal. The next day, more determined, he worked harder, and fell even shorter. Then on the third day, he tried with all his might, and cut the fewest trees of any of those days.

A fellow lumberjack came up to him and asked ‘Did you every consider at any time before the day started to sharpen your axe’?”

This proverbial anecdote helps us see many times we cast blame on the user, when it’s the tool that needed work. And yet sometimes it’s the user who fails to handle his tool properly.

Which give credence to the saying:

‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”

Here are the underlying truths:

  • Many times we blame or resist tools and systems because we don’t – or many times are not willing to – ¬†understand or use them properly.
  • And other times the tool is broken and we blame the individual for failure rather than check the tool (system. process) that they have been struggling to use.

Consider these questions as you identify if you’re addressing a broken tool or broken user:

  • Is the tool not widely used because it’s broken?
  • Is the user not adopting processes because they refuse to change?
  • Are there reasons within company culture that explain why certain processes are worked around?
  • Does leadership force a tool that does not self-work, or make more work? Do they even understand it fully?
  • Is a particular individual or team working within the tool but not getting support?
  • Do we need to run through the process, system, or tool and check for clunkiness, inefficiencies, poor user interface?
  • Do we blame the people when it’s the tools fault?
  • Do people blame the tool when it’s their own fault?
  • Is our hope in the tool or in our people? What type of organization do we want to be?

By being discerning, finding out facts by asking around and fully checking into people and processes, you can better fine tune your people and the systems and tools you provide to ensure your goals are met. When people and processes are aligned to work together seamlessly, each supporting the other, then you can avoid questions about what is or isn’t working in your organization.

(image: flickr)


About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on September.24.2017, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great reminder! We have a number of places where we’re asking team members to be productive with dull, worn out tools. I need to remember to help people consider sharpening what they have and finding better ways to use it until we can get better, tools and processes. Well written and challenging. Thanks!


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