Every office has one — the Carl. Now, I don’t mean every office has a guy named Carl, but the character type shows up everywhere. (Sorry to all the non-Carl Carls).
He, or she, has been there for 20 year. They set up the server system, or the project management system, or the billing system and are the only ones who understand the filing system because they set it up when they started. Carl panics at the words “Google doc” and doesn’t let anyone throw anything out because they remember this one time in 1993 when that random item was used. Suggestions for new technology are met with a stoic “this system works fine, and you’ll love it when you understand it.”
Carl rejects ideas with a sweeping “We tried that 10 years ago. It didn’t work.”
Even the boss is a bit afraid of these employees because, yes, their breadth of company knowelege is important and intimidating. New employees with fresh ideas resent these people because they can’t implement their ideas without offending the Carl.
Frankly, Carls are productivity killers.
Sure, Carls can turn out a lot of work. There is no doubt about it. They’ve been doing it for 20 years — they’d better be good at it and fast too. The problem is that new people not imtimately familiar with the non standardized or needlessly complex systems take longer to train and are consistently going to be slower at these rote tasks. Typically, there may be simpler ways of doing things — ways that didn’t exist 15 or 20 years ago — that would make non-Carls more effective.
Just because a system works doesn’t mean it’s the best system — but Carls resist change. Just because a person becomes accustomed to a system doesn’t make it the best system. Instead of being held captive by Carl, make it mandatory to review technology and workplace solutions every couple of years and make sure the company has the best, most effective systems in place. Productivity problems and solutions evolve over time and a new solution may solve an old problem.
There is nothing worse than the dismissive statement that something was tried in the past and rejected and therefore should never be tried again. This would only be true if the marketplace, staff and technology also never changed. If someone sees a way to make something more productive, and it sounds similar to something tried in the past, see how it may now be useful to overcome previous barriers.
The workplace can’t revolve around Carl just because he or she is able to perform well under the circumstances. Environments need to have processes and systems that support all staff.
Coming soon: What to do with a Carl who is preventing productivity improvement.