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Shit Rolls Downhill...

...WHat iF there was no shit and no hill?

I believe the “Shit rolls downhill” expression originally came from the army and was a warning (not an SOP) to all current and future officers and none-commissioned officers (NCO’s). It highlighted the fact that if they had an issue, they needed to take it upline to their superior and not pass it down to their team - see below.


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The shit rolls downhill might not be what you think it means

(Courtesy @millionaire_mentor)

I recently saw this picture on social media, regarding the shit rolls downhill, which got me thinking about old style leadership and a better way, a way that I read and studied about a few years ago and adopted as a leadership style for myself, the businesses I managed and the teams I lead.

I believe the “Shit rolls downhill” expression originally came from the army and was a warning (not an SOP) to all current and future officers and none-commissioned officers (NCO’s). It highlighted the fact that if they had an issue, they needed to take it upline to their superior and not pass it down to their team. The officers were classed as gatekeepers. They needed to decide what information they could pass down and what they needed to keep to themselves to keep the team motivated.

Of course, you look at the modern-day phrase associated with workplaces and it has become something different. It now means that all the crap jobs are passed down the line and completed by the most junior team member or the team member that can’t say no, what a waste of a resource. In our managing time and tasks workshop we talk about categorising tasks A – E, D standing for delegate and E standing for eradicate.

Delegation is not passing on the shit. Delegation is a systematic development tool used by true leaders to develop the future leaders (at all levels.

Over the years I have developed my own chain of command that’s miles away from the old-fashioned pyramid that existed in companies and unfortunately still does, no wonder the survey published by the Personal Group, shows that 56% of all people surveyed are not happy in the workplace!

In the picture below you can see where I sat, on the far left. The buck stopped with me, I was the Director ultimately responsible for the business and the 55 team members that worked for it.

The Shit Rolls Downhill, but it doesn't have to!

 “I’m crazy passionate about monthly one to one team meetings and allergic to excuses”!

I am crazy passionate about monthly one to one team meetings and allergic to excuses! There is no way that I can deliver 55 one to one meetings in a month, which is why I recruited four team managers (1 – 4 in the picture) who were responsible for around 10 people, I took responsibility for a team of 10 too.

Each manager was responsible for the performance management of their team and we had visible records to keep them (and me) accountable for the promises we made, like training. Each manager would have found it impossible to hold 10 one to one meetings per month which is why we developed a supervisor (S - marked in green), a team leader (TL - marked in blue) and a staff trainer (KST - marked in red) per team. The team leader, supervisor and staff trainer were all trained up to deliver one to one’s, so they had three each and the manager completed theirs and I did the managers – simple, efficient and effective and easier than you think to implement.

So where does the ‘shit’ come into play?

I’ve come across a lot of over-dependant teams in my travels and the model of management I use prevents this from happening.

If a team member has an issue, they first take it to their supervisor to manage. The supervisor, like the team leaders and managers are trained (as part of their own development) in team leadership, coaching, communication, and decision-making skills.

If the supervisor can’t solve the issue they go to the team leader and staff trainer for advice, it’s not a ‘pecking order’ it’s a chain of command. The whole team, me included are taught not to allow ego to get in the way of the team and the vision.

The whole team, me included, are taught not to allow ego to get in the way of the team and the vision

I was delivering a training session to a large hotel in London at the beginning of 2020 and had a great chat with the manager at lunchtime. He told me that time management was a huge concern and development need for him. As we chatted, he admitted that he received about 200 emails a day from his team, which is crazy. He only did this because that’s the way it’s always been.

I suggested that he start to think about implementing a chain of command into the business  so his supervisors and team leaders started to take responsibility for the teams they were employed to manage – he had to let go. And after a few months of coaching and tuition from me he was receiving about 30 emails from the team (and felt unloved ) but he had his time back to focus on company culture, strategic initiatives and supporting future plans (the reason he was employed) - Boom

Back to Chain of Command

If the team leader couldn’t solve the issue they went to the manager and if the manager couldn’t then that’s when they came to me. At every step the team member knew they had to bring possible solutions to the issue and not just the problem for someone else to solve. Someone once told me that this was a 1980’s mentality and deserved to stay there and I told them the following:

A friend of mine who is the director of a £multi-million company in the midlands contacted me because she had various issues that she thought I may be able to help with. I agreed to meet with her one day and told her that I’d hang around for the day in her office, in the canteen and around the business areas that I could have access to. Whilst in the office (sitting in the corner writing up some notes) there was a knock at the door (which was open). I don’t have an issue with an open-door policy, but part of that policy should include certain ‘the door is closed’ times so the manager can crack on with their tasks. 

Anyway the team member told my friend that they couldn’t work next Wednesday because… (whatever the reason) and my friend said “OK, don’t worry, leave it with me and I’ll get it sorted”.

The person I was telling the story to nodded and agreed that that is what they would do, they are a supportive manager, like my friend.

I then carried on with the story - A few hours later, after lunch, the same team member knocked on the door again and said, “Have you managed to sort out that problem yet, have you managed to cover my shift”. My friend looked a little fraught and responded that she hadn’t had time yet but will get it sorted. Once the team member left, I took the chance to have a quick chat, I asked my friend who is managing who? A team member with an issue with the rota they have been given or the director of such a large company.

Of course, it’s the team member managing the Director - “Have you managed to sort out that problem yet...”

She had managers, she had team leaders and she had excuses – but she didn’t have any time!

I build business, deliver training and offer advice from bloody nose experience not ivory tower philosophy.

The next time you hear the phrase “Shit rolls downhill” I hope you will remember this blog and if you are in a position to change the structure of your team I would suggest you do. The first time I implemented it I had a manager, I didn’t ask for their permission, a possible floor of mine is that I’d rather ask for forgiveness, not permission!

So, don’t come up with the excuse of that’s not what we do here – do it anyway. I did and the business I was managing became one of their most profitable. When they analysed why they appreciated that a major contributor was the model I implemented and they asked me to replicate it their other businesses, which I did and we became the fasted growth businesses  in the UK.

It takes some hard work, but I promise you it’s worth.

Let me what you think.  

Adrian Close - Learning and Development Director

The Shit Rolls Downhill, but it doesn't have to!

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The Shit Rolls Downhill, but it doesn't have to!

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Thanks for visiting our shit rolls downhill page here's a link to our home page. A book we recommend to develop leadership skills is will it make the boat go faster - Link

The Shit Rolls Downhill, but it doesn't have to!