Monday, 13 July 2009

Time for a timeout

For six months I've been testing out a different management philosophy that is about as far from my old technique as you could get. Has it worked? I don't honestly know, you'd need to ask my teams. I believe that it's made me a better manager, but I'm not entirely sure how I'd measure that.

What I can measure is that I have less motivation now to write this blog. It's not a question of time, simply a question of desire. If the desire returns then I think the blog will come back too. In the meantime, I wish you all good luck in seeing through the confusion and insincerity of management babble and put your people right at the front, top, and peak of everything you do.

Good luck, and goodbye for now.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Management philosophy carnival (July '09 edition)

If you read my last post then you'll know that I'm a bit overstretched at the moment. Sadly that's having an impact on how much time I have to write this blog. Still, never fear, thanks to I still have some great articles for you to read this month. Enjoy:

Why wouldn't you invest heavily in the first few weeks of a new employee.. they're your future.

11 leadership tips. Either start doing these or pat yourself on the back for having done them already:

Along similar lines, this is one for new managers:

And finally...

Not all news needs to be good to lift your spirits. Read this and see if it doesn't raise a smile. What on earth?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Avoid overstretching yourself

So we've turned a corner, now new ideas are coming to the front again and we're actually implementing them. It's great to feel the pace of change. Great to see new people being given opportunities to strike out on their own, form their own roles, and improve the company. There really is very little more satisfying at work than making someone happy by giving them work they love and own. I'm actually smiling as I write this.

There is a word of caution here though. The more I've seen successful change starting, the more I've wanted to see it elsewhere. My hand is up like the excited school kid in the classroom. Me sir.. me sir! Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of people willing to hand tasks over to me to get the mtrlar treatment. I'm not saying that it's perfect, but I think that when someone stands up for something that's clearly defined and communicated, it almost comes second whether people agree it's the best idea, they're just happy that someone has a plan.

Thanks to my enthusiasm for taking on new tasks, I now have a quite considerably increased workload. In my head I thought it would be fine. On paper, the amount of work I've got is fine. The problem is that I didn't include on that paper all the unplanned issues and tasks that spring up daily. They take up lots of time and shunt other tasks to the back. Of course, I don't want my newly acquired tasks to suffer so it's my other roles that get delayed. What are they? Oh, nothing much... just pro-actively managing my teams. That's right, believe it or not, my appetite for spreading the gospel of good management has started to impact on my ability to implement good management!

Don't panic. I think I can still get it all done, I'll just need a little more sweat and some sensible delegation. There's no way I want my teams to suffer for my own hubris. Still, it's a problem I never considered. So beware, if you're successful at becoming an ambassador for change at your company, then make sure that the work required to do that doesn't stop you being the very thing you promote. Personally, I'm going to switch up a notch to catch up, and then work on delegation and training to help maintain the pace of change. My hand will still be going up... maybe only on the core issues... maybe.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Team hug!

There is no advice here today, no words of ‘wisdom’, no links to bloggers much better qualified than me. Today is just a little story of something that happened to me this week that made me smile.

This last two weeks or so have seen big changes at our place. They may not appear big from the outside, but we’re now working together so much better that the output of improvements has rocketed. I’ve been so enthused by this that I’ve taken on quite a bit of work. It’s good. I’m not complaining. But I do have more work than previously and that has meant a little extra pressure. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about crazy pressure… just remember I do spend a lot of time having barbeques on the beach, so pressure is relative.

So, here I am getting a little pressured and then we get broken into. Luckily there was nothing major stolen and the biggest expense was replacing the office doors, but still… an unexpected issue to deal with. More pressure.

Finally, this week, I came in to find that we had left a door open to the office. I couldn’t believe that this had happened given the recent break in. Nothing bad happened, but it really set me back. Of course it was just a simple mistake, and nobody was to blame, but it really knocked me. It shouldn’t have.

That morning I felt the pressure spilling over the rims of my tolerance cup and I could feel I was projecting unhappiness and was not being a good manager. I knew I needed to fix it but I just couldn’t shake it off. I couldn’t think my way out of the cul-de-sac of self pity, and it wasn’t even 9am yet.

Then, when one of my team arrived, a guy that is normally very dead pan and low key, he saw I wasn’t my usual self, and came and gave me a hug. Then another one of my team joined in and tried to cheer me up. Of course their actions helped, although there is always an awkward back slapping moment when two guys hug... but hey. More than that though, what immediately cheered me up was to realise that I have a team of people around me that care about how I feel. It isn’t just one way traffic where I’m giving to them – of course it isn’t. In fact, now I think about it, a few weeks previous to this, a member of one of my other teams said that I was always helping other people and that if they could ever help me then I should let them know. How had I missed this?

What’s the point of this post? I’m not sure really. All I can say is that something amazing exists in my teams. Something that I think I’ve been working to create all of the time without really knowing it. It’s the reward that I’ve secretly been working to create but have never acknowledged; a team that cares about their manager. Now there’s a thing of beauty.

Have a lovely day.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Management philosophy carnival (June '09 edition)

Hello all, and welcome to a sunny June edition of the ManageASmile blog carnival. I hope you find these articles as interesting as I did.

As a slight change to the carnival, I have added a word count to help you choose based on how much time you have, and I've also added an article that I read and made me smile. I'll try to find at least one article like this for future carnivals. If you're feeling low, then skip to the end and get your smile count up.

Consider how you communicate to get the maxmum results and improve your leadership (612 words):

I tweeted this it was so good, but hold on to your hats as Penelope Trunk doesn't pull her punches. This article is about how we pick people we work with (691 words):

There are many factors that make a great work place. This article describes some of the key factors to consider (391 words):

Ok, let's not get defensive, but here is some tips on avoiding work place sabotage... we've all had it (971 words):

....and finally, here is a little news article that made the hair on my neck stand up and kept me smiling all day (289 words):

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

What are job lovers?

"There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice".

When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote those words I very much doubt he was thinking about people loving their work. However, I've noticed that "love" has become a two tiered word these days, and now as well as the top tier of the love between two people, you also get a second tier of a love for things, for objects and also for experiences.

How often do you hear people say "I love my job" or "I love where I work". When I hear people say that (I'm going to call them "job lovers") I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside, but what do they mean?

I'm certain I'll never get a fully agreed definition of the word "love" here, so we'll go with my interpretation for now. That is, the second tier of "love" in the sense of "I love my work" or "I love my new phone", is to like something so much that you actively tell other people how much you like it. Not just when you're asked, but proactively go out there and start conversations about it, enthuse to others about it, become an advocate of it.

To have people at work who love their jobs is an amazing feeling. They are naturally more proactive, they will push harder, go further, and feel more connected than other people. You can't tell people to love their jobs, it happens because you've employed someone in something they enjoy, and then given them a structure to work within that fits their character. Oh and you also need a sprinkle of luck.

The only problem with people who love their jobs is that they, like two people in love, can be more sensitive to failure or change. If you fail an employee like this then it may have a much more significant effect on their performance, and you may find that they go from your best employee to your worst almost over night. What's the saying; "Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned"? Well, a team has nothing as demotivated as a job lover treated badly.

So, should you stop people becoming job lovers? Of course not! If you don't get a huge thrill from working with and around job lovers then you yourself are in the wrong job. If you don't want to spend your time helping to create job lovers then you've settled for second best from your teams. It won't always be easy, and the love will be strained from time to time, but take the risk, enjoy the feeling, and make sure that you're the biggest job lover of all.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Enjoy it!

Are you smiling right now? Were you smiling a minute ago? Going to smile in the next hour? I hope so.

I've spent the last few months writing about the different experiences I've had changing from a metrics manager to a people manager. I've explained what I think you should do... what I think you shouldn't do. I don't imagine I've got it all right, but it felt right at the time, and I definitely feel I'm improving as a manager and my teams are improving as a result. However, I did forget to mention one little point; enjoy it!

The great thing about treating people as human beings rather than numbers, is that it feels good. Treating and being treated as a person, an individual, with opinions, ideas and a future, feels right. Ok, sometimes we have to try a few different techniques to connect. Sometimes there is such a history of poor treatment that it takes a long time to restore trust. But ultimately, if your working relationships are good, and you treat people well, it will feel right, and you will feel happier.

Not sure? Well imagine turing up at a waiting room and being told to take a number and sit down. It doesn't feel great to be treated like that, and yet if you arrived in the same waiting room and were greeted by a smiling face who asked your name, how you were, and told you roughly how long the wait might be, you'd feel better; happier, right? Well the ridiculous thing is that it's not just you who'd feel happier, the receptionist would too.

We're force fed lots of images every day about what will make us happier, but you may have noticed that the ad men no longer resort to showing pictures of their products, they show images of people connecting, sharing, kissing, laughing. They sell their products by selling the idea that you will have great experiences with other people if you buy their widget cream. Unlucky for them then that you can get all of that for free, right in your place of work. No widget cream required

If you're not sure what I'm on about then strike out today and do something caring for a colleague or team member and see how you feel. For eveyone else, enjoy smiling today.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Instruct or inspire?

A couple of weeks ago some of our team were up at an event where they were fortunate enough to hear Will McInnes speak about social media. The people watching the speech had different backgrounds and roles but each one found the talk inspirational and were motivated to do something new as a result. This got me thinking about the process of management, and whether I had missed something important.

The bog standard management process is to get a task, assign it to an individual, train them on how to do it, and then monitor how they get on. I hope that my manifesto has encouraged a bit more dialogue in management than that, but essentially, the goals are the same. We try to ensure that the individual understands what they are doing, and I also try to ensure that they believe in what they are doing. This is quite an instructive method of management. It's about passing on knowledge (and motive) from the manager to the individual.

A draw back in using this management approach is that it doesn't have any method for getting tasks coming the other way. That is, it doesn't provide a framework within which we work to get the individual proposing new tasks and asking for new responsibilities. When I heard the reaction from Will's talk, it occurred to me that my manifesto was missing an important dimension; inspiration.

What is inspiration? I think that inspiration is like a pipe cleaner for the brain. I think our minds get blocked up sometimes and the blockages prevent us from achieving what we're capable of. The blockages can come from apathy, repetition, boredom or even just lack of interest. If we are inspired by something or someone, it's like the blockage is removed, and our energy and thoughts can flow again.

Inspiration is different from motivation. Motivation is the force that is applied to the individual to get them to do something. We often try to generate this force by using salaries, commission, bonuses, promotions, and other incentives. Some people even use punishments. Different motivations can have different levels of effect, or force. However, it's hard to keep this force applied. Hard to ensure that the force remains the same strength over time. For example, look at the motivational effects of a pay rise and how short that motivation lasts for.

The ideal situation is where the individual is producing this motivational force themselves. When this happens we see individuals not only reaching their goals, but going beyond them, pushing forward new ideas, thinking outside the immediate problem into new areas and solutions. When this happens, we get a little managerial magic, and our teams start making us look better than we are. It's no surprise that this would be popular, but the question is how to create this force, and I believe that inspiration is the ideal way of doing it.

The hard part in all of this of course is how to inspire people. I don't believe that it's essential to get inspiration from others in your field, I think we can all be inspired by many things. Imagine the incredible story of survival told in the film "Touching the void". That story is an inspiration to everyone about courage and determination, and I think it can have an effect on people in the work place too. The problem with this remote, detatched inspiration is that it can fade from our thoughts. If we can create inspiration within the work place, then it can provide a constant source for individuals to motivate themselves. Look around your office and ask yourselves whether you have people that could inspire. How could you harness that ability and then communicate it across your company? Why aren't you doing it already?

At our place, communication has been allowed to fall behind. We have an opportunity now to create a few inpirational speakers who can communicate our products, services and culture across the company and out to a wider audience. My primary focus when this happens will be to point this inwards and to re-kindle the fires of enthusiasm across the business. I've already been inspired by people at work and it's given me the boost I needed to progress. If we can generate the same effect in every person, then who knows what wonders we can achieve.

So instruct or inspire? Well, I doubt good management will ever move away from the need to instruct your teams. However, we can multiply the results if we also inspire our teams, and if we succeed in doing this at our place, then this will be a very good year. So, instruct and inspire.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Management philosophy carnival (May '09 edition)

Hello to one and all, and welcome to the latest blog carnival at ManageASmile. Today's carnival is a little different as I only have two posts for you. Why? Well mostly because the main post is so good, that I don't think you'll want to digest anything else after you've read it. It's also five pages long. The second post is a little snackette for anyone too busy to take time right now for the main meal. Enjoy.

"In a sense, management theory is what happens to philosophers when you pay them too much." This is just such a great post that you'd be crazy not to read it (in my humble opinion). It's a long one, but the pay-off is a three point management philosphy... no skipping to the end!

Ok, so you don't have time for five pages? Get a quick fix food for thought here on why promotion might not be all you hoped for:

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Statistics can lead to bad management

It's strange that I have so much difficulty explaining to people why statistics are dangerous. I wonder whether this has anything to do with how many of them we're bombarded with through all of the different news media every day; "people are now living to 70 years old", "one in three marriages is ending in divorce", "eating burnt toast will increase your cancer risk by 50%". I made 63% of those up by the way.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Excel, I studied accounting at University, and at almost every turn I like to crunch numbers and see what happens. However, with every number I see, and every spreadsheet I write, the numbers are there simply to provoke a discussion to find out what is happening in reality. I firmly believe that reality is held in the heads of the people affected by what you're measuring, and not in a set of numbers determined from whatever data was available to you.

I hear the sceptics out there saying that numbers are much more reliable than people's opinion, that you can't categorise opinions without numbers, and anyway, numbers do describe things. Well do they, really? I mean, "how many apples do I have on the table?", Oh, the answer is five. Excellent, we have a number that describes the number of apples on the table. Now try to make a decision, say, how many apples to take from the table and eat for lunch. You'll probably ask for some more numbers such as how many more days there are in the week or how many other people want an apple, but you'll be convinced that you can still use those numbers for the decision. Well, on paper (a very tiny bit) you might be right, but in reality life is much more complex. How ripe are the apples? Are some of the apples off? Do you like all of the variety of apples available on the table? Do you even like apples?

I see numbers as an approximation of real life. In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, he considers a scenario where slaves are locked up in a cave and unable to look anywhere except the back wall of the cave. On that wall are cast the shadows of the events and people happening outside the cave. The slaves can't see the real people outside the cave because they cannot turn their heads. If they were able to turn around, then they would see that the shadows were simply dull, flat representations of reality, and the true reality was rich in colour, depth and detail. It strikes me that people relying on statistics to describe real life are doing something similar. I don't want to make decisions based on shadows, I want to turn my head and see the real people, the real events, and then I'll make my decisions.

Some of you still waivering? Still want your statistics to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling when you point to a chart on a wall? Then consider this. Not only are we relying on statistics that are mere analogies of real life, but we're then performing agreggation on those statistics to reduce them even further to a single figure! I regularly see averages talked about at work. Averages are, in truth, an abomination of statistics if you intend to make any real decisions. What does an average of anything actually tell you? Since I know you all like charts so much, take a look at the chart on the right. This would provide you with the same average for all three series of data. Imagine what potential mistakes could be made by relying on the average.

Ok, the number crunchers amoung you would say that you just need standard deviation as well as the average. Well I would then point out that this is simply two dimensional and represents just a single set of numbers. We've already explained that a single set of numbers is misleading, so we'd need more numbers. Now you're into your multi-dimensional statistics. After three dimensions the graphs are going to get a bit tricky so we abandon them. Now we've lost a visual representation and are looking are reams of numbers, cross referenced and inter-linked. Stop! Surely you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble and got the people affected by whatever it is you want to measure, put them in a (metaphorical) room, and asked them. That includes customers. It doesn't need to be everyone, just a few of them. You even get to use statistics to choose the sample if you need to, that'll give your Excel fingers something to play with.

In all seriousness, statistics are a vital part of business, but they are only a very small part of management. People are way too complicated to be defined by a few numbers, and whilst you're looking at those numbers, those shadows of reality, you may miss the really important detail that could make the difference between an OK decision and a great decision. If all it would take is to ask a few questions, listen to a few people and then have a discussion, what are you afraid of?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Small problems cause unhappiness

When I lived in London, many moons ago, I was at a pub with my (then) girlfriend and having a chat with one of her friends about life, when he handed over to me a small, framed, ink blot painting and told me it was a gift for me.

On the back of the frame were two potential titles; the first "can I set fire to your poodle missus?" and the second "A voyage into the multidimensional integrity of nonduality (man)". He signed off in what I think is an Indian script, but I can't help thinking that it looks quite a lot like a boy's graffiti of breasts.

I have to confess I was just a little bit confused, and wondered how many of these things he carried around for just such an occasion. I was all for writing this guy off as a fruit loop or an artist (it's sometimes a fine line), when he said "the small problems eat away at you every day. You have to fix them quickly". He could see my slightly blank look and explained how he had a squeaky floorboard, and every day he could hear this little squeak when he walked through the corridor. Each time that squeak happened there was just enough to be heard, to cut through into his consciousness and, for a brief flash of a moment, remind him that there was something that needed to be fixed and he was too lazy to fix it, and then it was gone. Never enough of an impact to actually fix the squeak, but just enough to make sure he knew there was something he hadn't done. He told me that I we needed to recognise how these little things can have big effects on how we feel, but that the effect is slow to build up and hard to spot. That we need to see these little problems for what they are; big problems waiting to grow, and we should fix them as soon as we see them.

I've never forgotten this advice because it seems to ring true so often. I think that this advice is important for us individuals living our own lives at home, but imagine scaling this up to your company. Imagine these little problems that exist, impacting 10, 50, or 100 people every day. Think of all the hard won happiness that is being erroded by these drip feeds of unhappiness. The little problems can be any number of things; the hot water tap not working, cleaners not cleaning desks properly, or even an individual trying just a little less hard than those around them. None of these things may appear major to you, and none or them may appear serious enough to need fixing. However, try to imagine them multiplied by the number of people affected and the number of times they are affected and imagine it all happened at the same time on the same day to the same person. That should give you an idea of how much happiness you're losing. When you think about how hard you worked to get that happiness in the first place, maybe you'll think harder about fixing the problem.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Management philosophy carnival (April '09 edition)

Hi, and welcome to the April edition of the Manage A Smile blog carnival on management philosophy. I've got some great posts for you to read this month, although I have cheated slightly as I found a couple of great posts from 2007 and snuck them in.

I hope these posts help you along the path of enlightened management, or at least give you something to think about.

I'll start with the first of two posts from the Zealise blog in March. This article is about the benefits of being able to let go.

The second post on Zealise is a wise word on company principles. If you read this and think it's something you should be doing, then pop over to my manifesto for some ready-made people centric principles to get you started.

That last post linked to a previous contributor to the carnival at the Slow Leadership blog. Now, if even governments have decided that they need to focus more on people than profits, isn't it time you did?

It's a shame that this next blog is no longer updated. I managed to stumble across it on a link from Positive sharing (see inspiration list), and I couldn't leave them out even though they're old.

This last post was at least genuinely published in March, so I feel a little less bad. If you set goals, then have you considered all of the effects? They may not all be good.

I've saved one of the best 'til last. If you're not delegating work as a manager, then crikey. Read this now!

In case you're new to this blog or haven't kept up with life at Manage A Smile, then this March I posted on the following:

Happiness needs process, or just because I care about you being happy, doesn't mean that you don't use flow charts any more:

Ouch. This on hit a nerve, but I still stand my the idea that sacking people may be necessary in order to create happiness at work:

I love to recruit, it makes me feel like a football manager:

The first of two posts that mention poetry. I fear this may dent my credibility with some parts of the audience. I refer those people to my previous analogy of football manager:

That's it for this month's carnival. I hope you find these articles as useful as I did. I look forward to hearing any comments or suggestions for other bloggers.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The burden of change

There are often times when I trip and stumble along the path of the manifesto. Sometimes so much so that I wish I could get off the path and hide in the dark forests of stagnation and systemic discontent. There are times where my ego won't accept another's mistakes on my shoulders without saying it's so, times when I'm unable to absorb personal criticism and turn it to constructive advantage, and times where I allow the burden of other work to brush aside the pillars of manifesto thinking.

Whenever the melancholy from this difficult task looks to be winning the battle for my soul, I have to dig deep and re-find my conviction that the change I'm trying to make is a change that ultimately benefits everyone. I have to try to suppress the all too dominant ego and to absorb criticism, ridicule and blame, because I know that these are simply the pressures that have built up through neglect, and which burst free from the first outlet provided to them.

I've recently begun to contemplate whether any manager can have both the necessary emotional control to remain calm in all situations and also the emotional vigour to promote the cause of change. I know that I struggle continually to remain neutral in the face of criticism without losing the energy that created the need for change in the first place. In fact, I'd be ashamed to list the number of times I've told myself to just give up fighting for the manifesto because I've taken a hit or two.

As I considered what sort of person it would require, the words of the classic poem by Rudyard Kipling came to mind. I've always remembered the first two lines but that's about it. I looked up the poem and was shocked to find that the first two verses travelled so closely to the life of a manifesto manager that it could almost be a motivational sermon printed on the back of the managers' guide to manifesto life.

Here are the first two versus:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

Does this person exist? Can this person exist? I know that I wish a thousand times over that this person was me, and maybe if it was then the manifesto would be stronger and I would be a better manager. However, on the other hand, it could also be possible that the only way to be this person is to travel the journey of a manifesto manager, to be crushed almost flat by the pressure of failure and doubt only to pick yourself back up to take another step forwards. Maybe it's the journey towards this ultimately impossible goal that is the true purpose of the manifesto, and the resulting changes within the manifesto managers are the rewards.

Some say it's better to journey in hope than to arrive at a destination and if, after all, the journey turned me into a better manager with happier teams, then the scars picked up along the way will all have been worth while.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Investing in feeling

I recently bought a small book of Haiku poetry. I don't know much about Haiku, or poetry in general, but I was interested to find out. When I was in the shop, there were only three books on the subject. One was too specific, the other two were general introductions to Haiku, and both contained poems by the same authors.

Two books, very similar content, similar price, how to choose? One book was a paperback with plain pages and simple text. The cover was also plain. The other book was a hard back with glossy pages and photographs of wilderness scenes from Japan. Some of the pages that contained the poems were coloured red. In principle, I was buying a book of poems, and either book would be suitable. However, I found myself tending towards the hard back book with coloured pages, so I bought it.

I've had the book for a few days now, and I've noticed that I get huge amounts of pleasure opening it and reading a verse or two. Something about the design of the book affects me as I open the pages, before I've even read a single word. I thought about this, and I realise this effect could be linked to my manifesto, and even to the software I develop. I'll explain.

I've come to realise a little late in life that humans are a complicated bunch. When you try to manage them, if you only look on the surface, at the procedures they perform and the words they say to you, then you won't manage as effectively as you could. The number of different factors that affect how a person feels is huge. As managers, we'll never be able to see all of them, but we can extend our vision to include a few more than we currently do. Take the office environment for example. It's impossible to measure the effect it has on someone if they have spare parts or rubbish kept in their office. They may not complain about it, but that doesn't mean that it isn't eating a little happiness away.

Similarly, the noise, temperature and light in an office is a permanent factor affecting how people feel. Most employees simply put up with it, or don't notice the effect it's having. However, if you can improve it, then you may notice the odd extra smile, a slightly more relaxed posture, or even just a happier tone in the voice. These aren't miracles, but what we're talking about here are small increments of improvement which added together make a difference.

These ideas may all sound a little vague and soft. You may find yourself asking how you could even begin to identify these issues. My advice would be to do as I did with my Haiku book, and see if you can identify something in your life that is giving more than just utility. Try to identify that extra feeling it gives, and then hold on to that experience. That's what you're searching for in any changes you make at work, and you may need other people to do the same thing in order to help you. One thing is certain, you have to loosen the purse strings a little and invest in making this happen.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Enjoying recruitment

Some managers don't like recruitment. I find that amazing. I think a manager needs to enjoy recruitment to do it well, and good recruitment is essential for a happy team. To help managers to enjoy recruitment they might need to change the way they view it, and definitely need to have created enough time to manage it properly. If managers don't have enough time to recruit, then I would ask whether they have enough time to manage generally etc etc. Personally, I get excited about recruitment. I wonder what skills they will bring to the team? Will they boost existing members of the team? How much more will my team be able to achieve?

I guess there are a lot of different ways to recruit. I don't know the best way and I would imagine it depends on the role you're recruiting for. I see four main parts to recruitment; planning, reviewing, choosing, and training. The first part is planning. We've really fallen down in this area in the past, and I recently had to withdraw a role because I hadn't done enough planning and felt uneasy when the CVs started coming through. I should have known exactly what their role would be, what projects they'd work on, what the market value was, and how their role would grow. I didn't and it cost me time and money.

The next step is reviewing. We try to look through each CV in detail and select the dozen best ones for telephone interview. However if we're so inundated by CVs that we simply cannot work through them all in any reasonable fashion then we use objective measures, such as arbitrary educational requirements. We don't like using this type of criteria though and don't put these requirements onto the advert itself. We use the telephone interview to see how enthusiastic and communicative the candidates are, and pick six or so from this process. We then set them a task to complete such as some research or an online apptitude test. We don't expect more than an hour of work, but it really weeds out the time wasters. I mean, if they can't be bothered to spend an hour applying, then they probably aren't that committed. Finally, we invite the best from these for a face to face interview. This part of the process is only really used to check whether the candidate's personality is a good fit with the company. We're not looking for demographics, it's about enthusiasm, communication, and energy. This means that the face to face interviews need to have a very senior member of staff who truly understands the company culture.

When it comes to choosing one candidate, we're normally pretty clear on who is the most suitable before the face to face interview. If this is the case, then the interview just confirms that we think they'll be a good fit and we pick them. If there is more than one strong candidate, then we compare each candidate subjectively, and pick the one that offers the most to the company as a whole. This means that we may pick someone who's over qualified for the role, because we want them in the company, and we'll make it our job to find them the best role to be in. This is a really important point. I just want to be surrounded by the best possible people. Job roles can be discussed and changed if they need to be.

All of this is pretty straight forward, but the next step is something we've also done really badly in the past. When you've put so much time and energy into recruiting, it's crazy not to spend an equal amount of time preparing for their training. We used to just kind of sling the new starters into their chair and get them to shadow colleagues. These days we know the value of a training timetable and structured time over the first few weeks. It's also important to spend time getting the new person socialising with their team so that they can begin to know them as a person, and start building those all important relationships. A new starter is the most important person in our teams, if we don't acknowledge that then we'll pay the consequences later.

Where we've recruited well, we've created teams with a strong bond and are able to create a happy environment. Where we've recruited badly, we've had to spend time fixing teams and repairing relationships. I don't think it's much of a revelation to suggest that good recruitment makes the manifesto very easy to implement, and bad recruitment consumes time and can leave us with problems that need to be fixed (see my previous post). It's for this reason that I think that recruitment is the most important part of the manifesto: We only employ people who have the ability to do their job and ask for help if they need it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

When to fire

There must be thousands of posts on how to manage people. Most of them will rightly tell you to create a job summary, communicate goals and continually assess performance. If the people above you, below you or around you aren't able to achieve their agreed goals then you'd be right to expect them to be asked to leave. What I would like to consider here is what to do if they are achieving these individual goals, but are failing to apply the rules of the manifesto. What happens then? How serious should you take it?

Before I answer that question, let's make sure we're clear on the issue of management generally. Good management will involve communicating responsibilities and goals, regular reviews, and open and frank discussion when things aren't going to plan. I want to make it as clear as possible that you have to have strong, capable managers. If you don't have this, then don't try to get them to implement the manifesto. They'll screw it up! Instead, focus your efforts on training those managers. Get them to understand the importance of communication, and individual growth. Most of all, make sure they see a team of exciting individuals, not cost centres and numbers. When you have that sorted out, then you can get them to implement the manifesto.

So, assuming you are confident you have strong, capable management and you find the manifesto not being followed, what next? I have had this happen myself in some of my teams. The individuals are successfully completing their tasks, but they're losing focus on what is really important and what really matters; the relationships between colleagues. When individuals forget the importance of relationships, they can elevate stress (and volume) levels and damage the working relationships in teams. Is this important? You bet it is. For me, failure to consider team mates is as bad as failure to perform a role. Working with people is a vital part of every role. If you find individuals are well managed but they still aren't applying the manifesto, then you need to consider a few things:

Do they understand the manifesto?
Never forget the possibility that the manifesto hasn't beeen properly communicated. Make sure that you talk to the team to explain why the manifesto is important.

Do they agree with the manifesto?
So they understand it but they think it's rubbish. What are you going to do? Well, I'd repeat the issue above. I find it improbable that anyone wouldn't want to work under the manifesto, but maybe that's just me. Will you allow one person to work to a different set of rules? Of course not, if people don't want to sign up to the manifesto then they aren't right for your team. Explain that this is a requirement to work in the team and if they aren't able to join the movement then explain that you'll need to replace them with someone who can.

Do they have the ability to implement the manifesto?
Some people just don't have the ability to work well with others. If you have people like this and you think that they are still suitable to work in your team, then I would say that you're asking for trouble. I don't care how technically talented an individual is, if they aren't able to integrate into a team of people then they have no business working for you. They need to go and find a job that doesn't require interaction. Possibly working freelance from home or something similarly anti-social.

The point I hope I'm getting across in this post, albeit clumsily, is that the manifesto is really that important. Don't get the idea that if someone is doing their job then you can tolerate non-manifesto behaviour. If you find an individual or manager that is not following the manifesto then they are causing a drain on your team somewhere. If you like, you can investigate where this drain is happening, but if you're sensible you'll accept that anyone in your team that can't work to the manifesto has to go. They're bad news. Oh, and if I haven't made it clear already... anyone that can't do their job should already be gone!

Sorry that this might sound like a negative post, but I believe that the most important parts of any team are the relationships between people. That's why recruitment is the most important thing any manager will ever do. I hope to perk you all up by talking about the recruitment process next week. So stick with me and stay positive!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Why happiness still needs process

The first few years of our company could probably be described as a heady mix of optimism, wide eyed panic and frustration. I guess when you’re wrangling with that many extreme emotions, you almost don’t have time to think about whether you’re happy or not. Once the panic receded, the team grew and the cash started to roll in, everyone had a little more time to focus on themselves and whether they were actually happy – or not.

We focussed a lot of time on creating new processes to try to tackle problems. I think I’ll have to take a lot of the blame for that. If someone wasn’t getting their job done, then we’d create a process to remove free thought from the role. If two people were getting on each other’s nerves, we’d create a process so they didn’t need to speak to each other. Unfortunately, we didn’t involve everyone who was affected by the process and this often made people feel worse. I think this created a psychological link between unhappiness and process, and the cause and effect got blurred along the way.

Process is an essential part of business. It’s a way to remember conversations and agreements and to prevent solving the same problems over and over again. A company without process is like a person without a memory. It wouldn’t matter how clever or talented they were, without the ability to recall, without layering one experience over another, that person will never achieve their full potential.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone to hear that when a conflict over process emerges in our company, it most often occurs between the sales teams and operations. Operations of course reliant on process to perform their roles, and sales, like the free market, innovating and flexing to maximise their return and opportunity. These conflicts have dented our goal of increased happiness and undone some of the progress we've made.

As we dedicate time and energy attempting to create happiness in the work place, it is important to understand the structures and principles within the office that maintain happiness once it has been achieved. I believe that fully inclusive discussion and agreement on process is extremely important to maintaining happiness. The key though is to be inclusive and to make sure that employees and managers believe that a particular process is beneficial to them. It can't be dictated from above. The problem is that different people need persuading in different ways, and it’s the managers’ job to know what way works for their team. For as long as we fail to achieve this goal, our efforts to increase happiness will never fully succeed.

I can’t claim to have solved this problem yet, but I know with certainty that it’s imperative to future happiness. I plan to carry on with the policy of engagement. I’ll offer opportunity to be involved in all decisions we make and all processes we define. A process created through involvement must be more able to withstand disagreement. If this works and if we can successfully communicate the fundamental value of process to all our teams then I think we may stand a chance of keeping all the happiness we’re fighting so hard to create. What we can't do though is return to the days where process was created to avoid discussion and separate people. We've been there, done that, and don't want to get the T-shirt.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Management philosophy carnival (March '09 edition)

Hi there and welcome to the March edition of the Manage A Smile blog carnival. I hope you find these articles on management philosophy as interesting as I did.

If you’re looking for a new way to manage or be managed, or have your own views and want to share them, then please get in contact by adding a comment.

Ever seen the top employee get promoted to manager and then fall flat on their face or at least bumble and stumble their way through the first painful months and years? Well this detailed article provides a good review of research into this phenomenon.

There is little worse in management than to stifle natural energy and enthusiasm, so understand it, use it and love it.

The ManageASmile manifesto is a set of five principles to help managers manage better. This next article is a slightly longer set of pointers and essential reading for managers everywhere.

Here’s a quickie but it could help you see conflict at work in a very different way indeed.

This last article is a reminder to all thoughtful managers not to forget about maintaining happiness as well as creating it.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Being seen to be fair

I love how my mind replays things from my past, triggered by a smell or a sound or a thought. Sometimes it seems random, like a photo album on shuffle. Sometimes though it’s like a mentor, nudging me and advising me with lessons learned in the past. One piece of advice it keeps reminding me of is from my law A-level: “Justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done”. It’s a quote from a Law Lord about the process of fair trial, but in my opinion it applies everywhere. Not least, in the office.

A prime example of justice (fairness) is with employee benefits. Pay, bonuses, commission, holiday, maternity leave and sick pay. All these things and more, are given to employees in reward for the work they perform. Different people will receive different levels of reward based upon how long they have been at the company, the level of responsibility they undertake, the success with which they perform the role etc. That’s OK, because different reward for different people is normal. What’s not OK is where the principles used to calculate those rewards are changed to favour certain individuals without justification. If this happens, then employees will see that they are being treated unfairly and will be made unhappy.

Here are some warnings. When you allocate your time, make sure you don’t just allocate it to the loudest employees - Just because you’re in charge, doesn’t mean you can award yourself additional benefits - Think about people that don’t smoke when you’re writing policies for people who do - Consider people without kids when you’re giving benefits for people with kids. I know, it sounds like an impossible task. Well, getting it exactly right probably is an impossible task, but communicating clearly about why each decision has been made and how all parties have been considered, that is possible.

We have a Wiki at our company that holds all employment policies. This works well to keep things visible and fair. When we have to make a new decision for one employee, we do it by writing a policy for all employees. It doesn’t take long, but that little momentary pause for thought is just enough to ensure that the decision we finally make is seen to be fair.

It’s a difficult thing, fairness. It’s highly subjective, highly emotive, and the lack of it is often given as a reason for unhappiness. That’s why it needs to be at the front of a manager’s mind at all times, with all decisions, and all actions. On top of that, it’s not enough just to be fair, you must be seen to be fair. That means discussion, agreement, and communication. Do these things, and you should at least be able to argue that you were trying to be fair. What more can an employee ask from you?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Can you take a break?

As this post is published, I’ll be speeding down a snowy slope in the French Alps. Yep, I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but so what… I write software and I snowboard. At least it makes up for all the nerd jokes.

As many managers will know, although taking a holiday is obviously supposed to relax you, the stress of thinking about leaving your team to it for a week or so can leave you a gibbering wreck. In fact, the stress can get so bad that you need the first half of the holiday to recover. Worse still, when you get over that you can spend the last half of the holiday worrying about the state of the team when you get back.

So, here’s the question. How do you feel when you take holiday, and how do you feel on your first day back? If you feel relaxed and confident that your team have everything under control, but know they’ll be glad to see you get back, then I’d say you’ve got your management just about right. Me? I feel pretty relaxed as I write this post, but as for how my team feel, well… you’ll have to ask them :-)

You’ll have to forgive me for the fact that this is a short post – I do have to pack! Any requests for future posts? Fill in a comment below.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Why you don't want robots

When do you really know that you’ve changed? Well for me it’s when you look at someone else, see yourself in the past, and know it isn’t who you are now. I’m sure that sentence could have been neater – I’ll work on it – but my I’ll explain my point by example.

A few weeks into this project I was having a chat with a colleague of mine from another team. He pointed me in the direction of a website called I didn’t pay much attention to the site when I first visited it. I’ve been back since just to pinch myself and try to work out whether it’s a joke site or not; some of the advice on there is frightening. Anyway, this entry isn’t about the site, it’s about the effect the site had on a colleague.
The strap line of the site is “Paving the path of least resistance, so you don’t trip and fall” and the impact of the advice he had read was that he decided to stop fighting for things he believed in. He’d sit back and just do as he was told. He’d detach himself emotionally.

When he told me his plan, I knew immediately that it was the kind of decision I might have made in the past, and it was a mistake. What’s worse is that I can see how many managers would think that this was a good thing if their more vocal staff took the same approach. Let me explain why this is a bad idea.

Let’s start with what this means to the company and managers. The company has a person who was active, passionate and engaged in improving the work he does. Think about the value in that. Think how much you would pay to buy that type of commitment from people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s directed correctly or not right now because careful management can ensure that the energy is harnessed and directed. If someone who is this committed decides to shut up shop, then the company has lost out – big time.

Ok, so the company loses but the person’s happier right? Wrong. The kind of passion I’m talking about, isn’t controlled by the head, it’s controlled by the heart or gut. It’s a reaction not a plan. It’s nature not nurture. Think about how hard it is to suppress emotion. How much energy goes into it; planning not to get involved, keeping your cool and detachment in the conversation, thinking back afterwards and reminding yourself not to get involved. All that energy is directed at preventing them reacting, and for what? Because they think it’s going to make them feel better. Well I’ve got bad news. The stress of suppressing emotions may make them unhappier than when they were expressing an opinion but not being heard. At least then it’s out in the open, vented, and released.
So we have a loss to the company and we haven’t made the person happier. So what’s the solution? Well it starts with the managers. So many managers out there see vocal staff as an annoyance; a burden; “If only they would just get on with it”. I get the same feeling too some times. Especially when they’re venting and you’re trying to get something else done. But never lose sight of that energy. It’s power that can drive your team. You wouldn’t open your windows with the central heating on, so don’t let their energy go to waste either. Take time to understand it, direct it. Give them something to believe in, to own, to control. Listen to their ideas and give them the opportunity to put them into practice. Oh, and wear a seatbelt. With all that extra power pushing your team forward, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Management philosophy carnival (February '09 Edition)

If you’re looking to find new ways of working, reducing stress, working better and generally enjoying life between 9 and 5, then you're in the right place. This carnival provides a selection of some of the most inspirational posts that should get your juices over flowing and your mind crammed full of exciting new ideas. Good luck, and happy living! Oh, and don't forget to go to the bottom and read my manifesto of a happy work place.

Ever said "The customer is always right"? Well prepare to wipe that from your mind. Get started with Alexander Kjerulf’s inspirational post on why the old ways are out:

If you’ve ever doubted about spending money on your employees, then read this sobering piece by Joel Spolsky and imagine how valued his teams feel:

Ever wonder why you're always stressed and never reach your goals? Well read this post on and see if you might be setting your goals too high:

Think this stuff is just for tiny outfits who'll eventually grow up? Read some of Ram Charan's advice and then check out his biography:

Finally, if that’s all helped get your mind set, then give my manifesto a read and see if it springs you into action:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

How to react when people aren’t working

Are you sometimes like BigBrother? It’s so easy to do. Stroll past a screen and see Facebook quickly replaced by a spreadsheet, and you could be just a few words from creating an Orwellian micro-management hell. It happened to me the other day, and I was too slow to realise why reacting was a mistake. Let me explain, so maybe you can avoid making the same mistake.

Last week I asked a couple of my developers to do some research for a new project. Ok, it wasn't like asking if they wanted to spend the day on the beach eating ice cream, but I thought it might be enjoyable for them to get involved as it was part of a project they’d be working on in the future. I hadn’t given them much in the way of instructions, but the research needed to be done by the beginning of the next week so we could chat about it in a meeting.

Later that day, I was working at my station when I looked up and saw the guys watching a YouTube video. I had seen that they’d been browsing some other sites earlier in the day too, but I hadn’t said anything. This time I thought I’d give them a nudge. Up I got, walked over with hands in pockets, and asked how they were getting on with the research. Ever noticed how some people ask a question when they’re actually giving an instruction? My mum does it… She often asks my Dad “Do you want to make a cup of tea?” but quite clearly means “Make me a cup of tea”. On this occasion I asked “How are you getting on with your research?” but really meant "Get on with your research”.

As soon as I sat back down, it hit me like a tonne o' bricks. I knew that I was acting in the old style of micro-management. Thinking about it more, I knew that I should have asked myself why they weren’t working on that research. If I had, then I’d have realised that there were plenty of reasons; one of them was on their last day of work before going on holiday for a week, I hadn’t done a very good job of explaining the research I wanted, I hadn’t explained how this research would feed into their eventual development project.
The lesson I learned is that micro-management is a habit that is easy to pick up and hard, but important to break. If you’re going to ask people to do a job, and you want it done well, then make sure you’ve put the time in to define it and explain it, to create motivation and context. Do all these things and you’ll get great work, don’t do it and you’ll spend your days watching monitors and stressing out.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Manage-A-Smile Manifesto

So here it is: The Manifesto. My previous blog entry explained why I decide I needed one. It isn’t something I want to do, but I’m pretty sure it’s something I need to do. Anyway, it’s done now, and there’s no turning back.

I haven’t decided how to show the manifesto yet. Since I couldn’t design my way out of a toddlers drawing class, I think I’ll leave it to our super-duper design team to pretty it up. I think it’s the words and whether they make a difference that counts, but in truth, it’s a sales pitch and it needs to look the part.

I’m going to explain the five key principles now. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect, we’ll change it if we need to. Just getting the idea started and having some debate about it is enough to make it worth while. So, here it is:

We only employ people who have the ability to do their job and ask for help if they need it. We don't tell people how to do their jobs.

If we employ people who aren't up to the task then we’re just putting an unfair pressure on everyone else. Equally, if we employ people that won’t ask for help, then they’ll never learn and that creates problems too. If we employ the right people, then we have to trust them to do their jobs. They’ll ask for help if they need it – no micro-managing!

We get the best from people by making sure they are doing things they believe in. We don't ask or bribe people to do work that they don't want to do.

Nobody does their best work if they’re doing something that they don’t agree with, even if you pay them or offer other incentives. If you can’t find anyone to believe in the work then you’ll have to do it yourself or, better still, don’t do it.

We improve by getting the people doing the work to talk to the ones affected by it. We don't set arbitrary targets to try to improve performance.

Targets are a poor approximation for real performance. They are far too simple, and they can lead to bad decisions. Get people talking to each other instead. Ok, so you can’t put it in a spreadsheet and add it up, but you’ll get better results and fewer issues. Also, don’t forget that it’s often people inside the company that are affected by work being done, don’t just focus on customers.

We care about keeping ourselves and our colleagues happy. We don't spread unhappiness around our colleagues and the office. 

You won’t get the best from people who don’t respect each other as people. Equally, people are too keen to project their bad mood or problems around the office – they like people to know how hard their jobs are. Nip this in the bud, get people to understand the value of spreading happiness instead. We all know that problems happen, but getting stressed about it and passing that stress onto the guy next to you isn’t going to help.

We invest time and money to make sure these things happen. We don't put short-term profits before our investment in people.

Even if you recruit for free, you spend a lot of money employing people, training them, and giving them experience. Get used to it… they’re your most valuable asset – they are the company. Don’t scrimp on them or they’ll scrimp on you.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Why sales people aren’t different

I’ve had to delay the manifesto post. Don’t panic, the manifesto’s alive and kicking, it’s just that we’ve given the managers a week to fully digest it and comment, before we announce it to the rest of the company. In the mean time… here’s a nice contentious post for you to get your teeth into.

Ever heard the words “yes, but sales people are different”? I don’t know if it’s just where I’ve been working, but I am frequently being told that we can’t apply the same management logic to sales people because they’re different. Imagine if you’d never seen a sales person. What do you think they’d look like?

If you believed everything you were told, then I think they’d be a cross between a drill sergeant (loud), a butter cup (sensitive), an alligator (aggressive), and a prostitute (do anything for money). Let’s just take a moment to visualise that. No wonder we run scared at trying to apply the same rules to this bunch as we do to the rest of the company. They’re different – Oh boy and how!

Hold up a second. I stopped believing in Santa many years ago. Why? [**spoiler alert**] He doesn’t exist folks. Why am I allowing myself to believe in this mythical sales creature? What’s more, I’ve seen sales people. I have friends who are sales people. I don’t think any of them fit this description.

Let’s face it, some ideas are old and tired and need to be cleared out; office uniforms, clocking in, and micro-management to name a few. What if the Salespersonosaurus is one of these and needs to be eliminated, or at least declared extinct.

If you treat sales people as different, then you probably also only measure them by their sales. You do that because it seems easy and scientific. That’s great, well done. Now ask the marketing department how the sales people affect them. Ask the customer support and accounts departments how your sales people affect them. The way sales people work, the type of customers they bring in, and their reaction to being under pressure, all affect the rest of the company. All your hard work getting people to work together, help each other and manage happiness can be undone by a stray Salespersonosaurus. Just watch the joy flood out of people as the words “but sales people are different” leave your lips. If that isn’t proof enough that the Salespersonosaurus needs to go, then there’s no helping you.

So, sales people are… well, just people. How do we deal with them? We deal with them the same way you would others. I’m not saying to remove commission; you’d probably find it way too scary. But it should be seen as a performance bonus. What’s important is to make sure that the sales performance is assessed by everyone who’s affected by it, and not to forget that it includes your other teams; it’s not enough just to sell at all costs. If you do have a Salespersonosaurus who won’t change and only cares about their sales, then [please sit down before reading this] you need to let them go, even if they were hitting sales targets.

Yes, I know that this post will have you sales managers and Salespersonosauruses shouting, crying, banging your fists, or demanding more commission. Don’t panic, there will be thousands of soulless companies around that work to preserve and protect your kind. But, if you ever want to be where everyone feels like they’re working together with smiles on their faces and relationships built on trust and respect… then maybe, just maybe, you need to leave the dinosaurs in the museum.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Communicating philosophies

Imagine my surprise, three days into my new philosophy when I was confronted with this statement. Once I’d stopped thinking about the issues of working in a room filled with balloons (intolerable squeaking for example), I managed to regain enough composure to be taken aback. What the heck was he talking about? Balloons?

It turned out that he’d read the website that I’d recommended, and from the whole online book content, he’d come away with the one, slightly tongue in cheek, suggestion that you could fill a room with balloons to celebrate achieving a happy work place. What I was most shocked about, was how easy it was for a wide-ranging principle to be reduced to, and judged by, one tiny component. It’s like judging the career of a well respected Shakespearean actor by his one night of passion with a transgender lap dancer. Ok, that would be pretty big news, but you get my point.

I got to thinking how this happened, and I came to the conclusion that people like, or even need, to have something definable to latch on to. If you don’t provide them with something, then they’ll go looking for something themselves, and it’s quite possible that it’ll work against you. I decided to write a set of principles that defined the philosophy. I figured that if I put that in front of people, it’d be much harder to miss the point of what we were trying to achieve.

As with all my ideas, I roped in my trusted team mates (and even the MD) and got general approval that the list I’d created (I’m calling it our “manifesto”) was worth a go. It certainly wasn’t a “monkey chucks a stick” moment, but at least the questions everyone asked were answered, and the general mood was positive.

In my next post, I’ll publish the manifesto. We haven’t put it forward to the rest of the company yet so there’ll be more to update you with when I’ve seen the whites of their eyes. Until then, I still recommend the website for inspiration, but watch out that the balloons don’t… err… deflate you. Sorry, that’s the best I’ve got.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Measuring real performance

I’ve never been to a nudist beach, but I reckon that it’d be about as embarrassing as your mum holding up a pair of trousers in the coolest shop in town and saying “yep, plenty of room to grow in these” – Mum, I’m 35! I also reckon that if you could get past the embarrassment then the experience could be pretty liberating.

Now that I’m thinking about work and management in this new, happier way, I think I’m starting to see how my ideas, rules and policies could have looked to other people. Like nudism, it’s embarrassing but liberating. Here’s the latest example.

A few weeks before Christmas, we began the long and painful task of trying to establish targets for Gabby. The problem was that my managers and I weren’t really affected by the work that Gabby did. Only Dom and Frank saw the results, and they aren’t in my teams. How could I measure performance? I decided to work out what an average performance was, and then set targets from there. Yep, one thing you can say about us machines, if we’re wrong, we’re consistently wrong.

So there I was, setting targets I plucked out of the air and slapped down like an addicted gambler putting it all on black. Was it easy? Heck no, I had to completely disregard the reality of the roles and concentrate only on the numbers rolling through the systems we used. Were the numbers accurate? No, of course not, I had to plan to improve accuracy of the numbers and then measure them going forward before I could even attempt at a target. Still, the process helped them understand their job better though, right? No chance, we spent loads of time on software and process just so we could get the statistics.

Are you getting the point? All this work, measuring, checking and counting was for what? You know how sometimes you get upstairs and then forget why you went upstairs in the first place. We were getting so tied up in measurements that we forgot why we were doing it.

If the job Gabby was doing was important to the company, then someone in the company would be able to tell if it was getting done well or not. It would already have a measurable effect somewhere. If it had no effect then why were we even doing the work? What’s more, we didn’t employ a robot that needed programming, we employed a human being, skilled in the job, perfectly able to know how to do their job and work out how to do it better.

So, no more artificial targets plucked out of the air. We’ll get Dom, Frank and Gabby in a room to discuss what effect the work has and how the effect is measured. No discussion on how the work is done, that’s up to Gabby. We also know that things change over time, so this relationship will be kept fresh and they’ll react and respond to changes together.

Of course there are limitations. Businesses are made up of lots of complicated interactions. But hey, that’s how complex life is. Trying to define that complexity in a tiny series of statistics isn’t going to help. Our best hope is to put clever, motivated people together and trust them to do what we hired them to do. They won’t let us down.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The real problem of blame culture

“If Bob could do his job properly, then I would be much happier”. It’s the kind of thing I hear pretty frequently. In fact, I had this conversation just a few days ago with, let’s say, Peter. If someone else could just get their act together, then the world would be a better place and Peter could finally be happy.

The way I used to deal with this was pretty predictable. I’m a machine… bleep bleep, input problem… bleep, output solution… end. I figured that by fixing Bob I could stop Peter from complaining. Simple, elegant, and entirely useless!

We’ll never stop all mistakes. In fact we should accept it as a normal part of business. So it’s time that Peter accepts it too and even plans for it. It’s normal! Once he can do that, then he can work out what stuff he actually enjoys and focus on doing more of it so he’s as happy as a kid at Christmas.

So, do I fix Bob’s problems? Yes, of course I let Bob know if there are issues, work with him to resolve them, and make sure he isn’t getting stressed about it. What we can’t do is let fixing the problem become the main priority, as if it’ll make the whole world right, it’s the priorities that are broken.

I would probably make some quip about Bob the Builder right about now, but… oh what the heck… can we fix it? Yes we can.

Monday, 5 January 2009

The embarrassment of happiness

Today was day one of the new happiness agenda, and time to break the news to the teams. My plan was to get all of the teams together in one room so the sceptics had to sit further away from me – sceptics normally sit at the back. I also tried out my philosophy on my two managers to make sure that I hadn’t gone crazy over the holidays and was about to declare myself certifiably insane. Oh, I also emailed everyone so that they had a chance to read my first blog entry. I think I secretly hoped that they’d come running in waving their hands in the air clapping happy like the final scene in Grease. They didn’t.

Ok, not mental – check, team prepped – check, glass of water handy – check. The stage was set. I wanted everyone to understand the concepts and ideas I was trying to explain, so I resorted to the only management tool a non-communicative backward thinking manager can use; Powerpoint. At least I should be thankful that I didn’t use Excel. I considered it. I am a weak weak man.

There was a problem. I’d been like a management machine for the last few years. I even promoted the idea of thinking of people as machines. How was I going to stand up and tell my hard working colleagues and team mates that things were going to change? There was only one way. The first slide starts “There is a strong possibility that I was very very wrong”.

I started with the general principle that we should change from only thinking about the tasks we perform, and change to thinking about our happiness and our colleagues’ happiness. I then moved onto how we could use this when we deal with issues. I’ll explain that more in my next entry. I think it’s fair to say that there were a few blank stares looking back, but I’m convinced there were as many nods. Once I reached the stage where my voice was even annoying me, I asked for any comments.

There was a general nod of acceptance that this was a good idea. Sure there were some doubters, but they’d come on board in time. One thing we discovered was that we were so procedural; we were even trying to plan a procedure to ensure happiness. Luckily, one very bright spark pointed out that this was probably a bad idea, and we backed away slowly, closed the procedural door, locked it and swallowed the key. No, we’d be starting with small steps. Each person will think about how their actions make other people feel. We’ll talk to each other more, help each other more, and most of all, understand that we make good money and we make mistakes. If we can stop letting that stress us out, then we may even be happy.

The strangest thing I learnt today was from the uncomfortable faces whenever I used words like “happiness”. This might be hard to believe, but I think that they would actually have been less embarrassed if I’d told them all I had piles. Doesn’t that seem a little bit weird to anyone else. Is talking about emotions embarrassing? Hi, I work in IT and I’m happy. Oh, and for the record, I don’t have piles.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

How I knew my management philosophy was wrong

The dashboard of the new style Volkswagen Beetle has a glass test tube attached. People like to put a flower in it. Me? I’d like to pull the silly bit of plasti-glass off that shiny, smooth, well proportioned interior, and smash it into bits. I’ll explain.

I’m mid thirties, worked in tech companies and teams since ’95 and thought I knew a thing or two about building software and managing teams. I’m organised, logical, determined, and hard working. What more could I need to lead a team to the work nirvana of on-time developments, flawless process and bug free software? Turns out, I need a test-tube shaped flower holder.

Any clearer yet? No I guess not. Ok, I’m like a machine right. I get a task, I break it into bits, I work out how it’s going to get done, allocate the work, monitor time and effort, keep track of issues, punish a bit here, praise a bit there, etc. Out the end of this I get results. Do I get the perfection I’m after? Well no, of course not. Who could? There’s always something you could do better, right? You just need to keep on fixing the problems as you find them and not make the same mistake again. Keep fixing and you’ll get fewer and fewer problems, closer and closer to perfection. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been thinking all these years.

Oh how sweet the ignorance. I could have happily carried on. Fix here, tweak there. Get some new software… yes that’d help, maybe promote someone to err… something higher. Keep going and you’ll get to the end. Everything would have been fine.

Then my mid-tech-life crisis hit and I thought I’d better keep up to date with what the “kidz” were doing on the interweb. I installed twitter, signed up to facebook, updated my status every now and again, and life was good. Well, it was, until I stupidly started reading blogs from enlightened managers like Joel Spolsky and Alexander Kjerulf. Then the walls came tumbling down.

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

What did I find? Oh, nothing much. Just that nirvana, or at least as I saw it, doesn’t exist. There is no perfect process, and aiming for it will leave me perpetually dissatisfied, and stressed. I can tweak all I like, it won’t help. I’m aiming for the wrong target. I saw efficiency and accuracy as my goals, and I was using my teams like machines to achieve them. Pushing them, measuring them, and stressing them.

What I needed to do was to set goals that I really wanted to achieve. Not cold, numeric goals, but real, tangible, human goals. Let’s make sure that all my teams are happy. Let’s resolve conflict swiftly and positively. Let’s see my teams as people, with faces, goals, pride. Ok, now it’s starting to sound like a manifesto for the green party. I’ll stop there. I haven’t turned into a hippy… I’ve turned into a happy (sorry I couldn’t resist). I truly believe that the bloggers are right. A happy team can achieve more, and I’m going to prove it in 2009, and use this blog to keep track of my progress and what I learn from the experience.

So, why the flower holder? Well it’s because it represents the type of thinking that I’ve always reacted against. Superficially it seems illogical, superfluous and, well, a bit lame. The fact that it was the first thing most buyers talked about when they described their Beetle was just something I chose to ignore. Only now, I can see that they talked about it because it made them happy, and no computer can tell me why it worked. My new way of managing has to be able to accept and actually encourage that kind of thing. Can I do it? There’s only one way to find out.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Quick reference

I've provided this page for anyone to get to answers more quickly and for new comers to the blog to get started. Your comments are encouraged, no matter how old the post.


What am I doing and why? My first post explaining how and why I decided to change how I managed people... How I Knew My Management Philosophy Was Wrong

The manifesto I've created to define the management philosophy that will be behind everything I do as a manager and a worker... The Management Philosophy Manifesto

Top Tips

What to do if everyone is blaming each other for being the cause of their unhappiness... The Real Problem of Blame Culture

Why trying to set numeric targets alone is not going to help you achieve greatness... Measuring Real Performance

Why you might not be reacting the right way when you see Facebook or YouTube appearing on people's monitors at work... How to react when people aren't working

Ever find people detaching themselves to stop getting stressed. Ever do it yourself? Read this post to see why that could be a mistake... Why you don't want robots

Overcoming barriers

Why you're not alone, if you find people focussed management philosophies make you squeemish... The Embarrasment of Happiness

Dealing with scepticism to new ideas... Communicating Philosophies

Why you'll have problems including the sales teams in your changes and how to address it... Why Sales People Aren't Different