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.

1 comment:

  1. They were research videos! Well, maybe the South Park one wasn't..