Making it Work – Killing the Snake Through Divergent R&R

Netscape has a policy for dealing with problems known as “killing snakes”.

The policy boils down to this: if a problem presents itself, in other words, if you spot a “snake”, you should use every means at your disposal to eliminate it. There’s no need for you to hang around the snake, report the snake, or even call a meeting around the snake. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot it with a gun or beat it to death with a stick. All you need to do is kill the snake.

Oftentimes, it’s easier to defer problems to a later time or to a co-worker when an issue arises in the office. These problems are usually pushed down to the bottom of our priority list unless they are explicitly assigned as tasks by a supervisor. We tend to think that if it does not directly impact our performance, then it’s not our responsibility. However, this does not necessarily mean that the problem is unimportant. Wounds tend to fester when left untreated. Likewise, problems also blow up when left unresolved for extended periods.

It’s important to cultivate an office culture where snakes are shot on sight to ensure things run smoothly.

At my company, we call this approach “divergent R&R”.

Let’s analyze the two words separately. The term R&R represents the roles and responsibilities of each position within the company.  While different businesses may use different terms like “segregation of duties” or “separation of functions,” the underlying concept is universal.

Many of you may be familiar with the term “divergent” from high school math when learning about limits.  From what I’ve seen, R&R can also have convergent/divergent characteristics. 

No matter how meticulously R&R is constructed, there is bound to be gray areas. Every little task and job in a company cannot be sorted and compartmentalized. Something new, something unexpected is always bound to happen.

I refer to the phenomenon where tasks that fall outside the defined roles and responsibilities and/or in the ambiguous gray area are deferred as ‘convergent R&R’. When roles and responsibilities are scattered about, it’s easy for unspecified tasks to fall through the cracks.

I see pre-defined R&R as a starting point and believe individuals should adopt a divergent mindset when taking on these roles. Actually taking the time to resolve an issue is much more productive than spending time arguing over whose problem it is.

The lack of divergent R&R is often attributed to the absence of incentives or rewards for taking up such tasks, or because it generates a negative response.

We’ll explore a more detailed answer to the question, “How can we activate divergent R&R?” In the next post.

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