Minimizing Shatterpoints

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Broken concreteOver the last month and change, we’ve talked about what shatterpoints are and how to measure them. They are key performance indicators in some cases. Once you know where your greatest risks are and can accurately measure them, it’s time to do something about them.

Generally speaking, there are three ways to handle shatterpoints: ignore them, reinforce them, or mitigate their impact.

Ignoring things is a very popular but woefully ineffective approach. It’s the approach that almost everyone from the Fortune 500 to the Mom & Pop shop takes, and it works as long as nothing goes wrong. However, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you want a little more insurance than just burying your head in the sand.

Reinforcing shatterpoints takes the approach of strengthening a weak area or making a strong area as durable as possible. In architecture, these are support beams. In human resources, these are administrative assistants and personal assistants who reduce some of the operational strain on a person. In marketing, these are the FUD principles: spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about other strong things at other companies so that your strength appears stronger. Reinforcing shatterpoints is especially important when you’re a one-trick pony, because until you can diversify, all your eggs are squarely in one basket for a competitor to kick over.

Mitigating shatterpoints takes a different approach. Instead of shoring things up or strengthening your existing strength, mitigation approaches organizational shatterpoints by reducing their impact on the organization. When we talked about Google Analytics pie, diversifying your traffic sources is mitigation. Yes, you still absolutely need to have organic search, but by bringing in other forms of traffic, you mitigate your dependence on just search traffic. Instead of focusing just on out-marketing your competitors in PPC bidding, you open up a social media marketing program. Mitigation comes with its own risks: it’s easy to get distracted and away from your core competency as you try to reduce reliance on any one shatterpoint.

Let’s tackle one of the most common shatterpoints that nearly every organization has: the one employee who knows too much. This person is an asset to the company, a great strength, a go-to person for everything and always delivers. You need this person in your organization and can’t imagine doing business without them. In Seth Godin’s terms, they’re a linchpin. They’re also a shatterpoint. What would happen to your organization if they left? Got hit by a bus? Quit? Would your organization survive and thrive or collapse?

Reinforcing the shatterpoint means making sure they’re well paid enough to never seriously consider leaving. It means making sure they’ve got as much support as they need so that they can continue to deliver maximum value. Mitigating the shatterpoint means making sure that you capture all of their knowledge, have multiple people who can do the job or at least provide coverage of all aspects of the job, and know all of the inputs and outputs of the position now so that you can ensure dependencies are met.

Ultimately, the goal of minimizing shatterpoints is to reduce your risk. As long as you have core strengths, core competencies, and areas of excellence, you will never remove risk entirely, nor should you.

One final thought: the concept of shatterpoints and linchpins as above indicates a fundamental conflict of interest between employee and employer. The employee’s goal is to become that shatterpoint on which the organization’s security rests, while the employer’s goal is to mitigate that as much as possible. How do you balance that conflict?

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2 responses to “Minimizing Shatterpoints”

  1. Excellent analysis, thank you.
    Another constructive potential available when a “shatterpoint” is recognized is recognition of a great opportunity for learning and innovation.

    When a shatterpoint is recognized, a yellow light is flashing – someone or something is performing in a different manner or toward a different result than the “norm” (“norm” may include, e.g., misconceptions, erroreous practice, naivete or blindness).
    The warning light is advising that “I have something to learn here”, and sometimes “danger, fatal error at hand without intervention”. Many innovative products, practices and ideas have emerged from the “I have something to learn” practice, in addition to avoidance of catastrophe.

    Merely strengthening the weak or failing edge (the beam or the finger in the leak at the dike) may in the long run be as destructive as ignoring the unraveling occuring at the shatterpoint.

  2. Having been referred to as a SPOF (Single Point Of Failure) for a large initiative in a meeting today this post is very timely for me.
    I wonder if I am succeeding by being overly valuable or failing by not growing the capabilities of those around me…
    …but maybe that is just me and my sense of customer service & passion to deliver

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