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.