For engineers out there, you may be familiar with multi-body dynamics. This is a calculation of how vehicles or other systems design under loads. It also is a great analogy for how a company runs.
If you run a multi-body dynamics tool to see how a car responds to bumps in the road, you’ll see that tires absorb small bumps, the kind that are produced by the texture of the rock in the asphalt. Shocks absorb bigger bumps, the kind caused by something like a change in level between roadway sections, or a pothole. Bushings absorb relative movement in the car and dissipate energy from repeated vibrations. Despite all this, huge bumps make the entire car take flight.
If you take this analogy to a company, the front line workers are doing the work of the tires. They absorb constant small issues all day and are responsible for the traction of the company. Managers, at least the good ones, they provide cover for the discontinuities like the shocks. People taking vacations, a change from a customer, an abrupt problem that was unexpected. They shift things around to soften the blow. Directors and Executives, at least the best of them, act like the bushings. They dissipate the energy of problems between marketing, engineering, sales, etc. They don’t let too much of the problem from one group, spill into the other. And at the very top, someone needs to be watching out for the huge bump that will launch the whole thing in the air. This is the competitive environment, the finance industry, the technological disruptions, the personnel and more.
No matter what work we do, we are responsible for absorbing the shocks, all that changes is the size of the bumps we cater to.