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: