Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Can you remember the stress of doing?

This is about how managers can get separated from the art of doing, and that makes them less effective at the art of managing.

I'm working in a start-up at the moment, and that means you have to get your hands dirty.  One of the things I've noticed today is that actually doing stuff with real clients and real data can be quite a stressful thing.

It can be easy as a manager to spend your life hidden away in reports and statistics. If you get a report wrong you'll get some kind of pay-back, but it's unlikely a customer will see it.

What I remembered today was that if you're working on the front line, actually working with clients and their data, and you really care how it turns out, then life is pretty stressful. Everything you do has to be checked and double checked, and the less reliable the systems are that you use, the more stressful that activity becomes.

As managers we expect levels of quality from our staff, but it can be easy to forget just how stressful and difficult it is to achieve it. Today was a good reminder for me, but I know that I didn't get my hands involved very often in my last position.  As a result I don't think I really knew anymore how difficult it was to achieve the standards I set, and I think that was a mistake.

So, if you're a manager reading this, then maybe you could benefit from spending time on the front line and seeing how realistic your standards are. If you do, then don't play at it, care as much as you expect your staff to care, get as busy as your staff get, and then see what level of stress they are really under.

You may find that your systems are quite as reliable or useful as you'd thought, and understanding the normal levels of stress in your team can only help you to make better choices for them in the future.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sweet spot

This is about sweet spots and why we shouldn't ignore them

At 7:30pm yesterday, I met my best friend for a drink.  I'd just left work and felt tired, but in a happy way; that tiredness you feel after a long walk in the country, or after a game of football you just won.  As I sat waiting with my pint of Guinness, I started to think about why I felt this way.  I knew pretty quickly, it was because I'd been great that day, I'd hit a sweet spot.  I wish I was great every day, but I'm not. This time, I thought, I would try to work out why today had been so good, and see if I could recreate it.

If you're interested in what my day consisted of, I've put it below*, but knowing what made me hit my sweet spot is only going to help me.  What might help managers and workers alike is to think about when they last had a great day.  When did your team last hit a sweet spot? What did you do when it happened?

After a great holiday we have photographs and we reminisce about the great times we had.  Maybe at work we should do something similar.  Take time to reminisce about those sweet spots just after they've happened, and maybe the process of thinking about them will make them a little more likely to happen again.

p.s. if you haven't had any sweet spots... it's time to make a change.

* My "great" day had: a well prepared meeting, a quickly minuted and documented plan for change under time pressure, a creative idea outside of work that I didn't ignore, some consultancy that reminded me where I'd been, a productive creative process that had beautiful logic to it, and finally a slightly late finish so that I had documented that creative process and shared it.  My day didn't include any doubt over what work I should do next.