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.