1. It wastes so much time. Every morning all hotdeskers have to unload the entire contents of a locker on to a desk space only to have to tidy it all away again every night. In a building with 1000 people that’s a lot of wasted hours. Every day. If we say, as a conservative estimate, it takes 5 minutes to pack up and tidy away and a similar time to unload and set up, thats 10 minutes a day per person. That’s 10,000 minutes in my mythical office of 1000. That’s 166.66 hours wasted every day. 833 every week, That’s over 100 8 hour days every single week. Wasted. Just because you can’t leave your stuff on your desk. Imagine what the company could do with that time.
  2. It wastes so much time. I can never find anyone as I can’t simply go to ‘their’ desk and see if they are in. As they might be sitting on an entirely different floor today. I can’t leave a small donut by way of thanks either.
  3. I don’t know anyone’s name. Now there aren’t nice little name plates by people’s desks I have no way of  cheating by having a sneaky look at their name plate when I’m talking to them.
  4. If you come in after 9 o’clock you have no chance of finding a seat in your area and you end up sitting miles away and eventually you realise you might as well be working from home. So you do and the company loses the benfit of your physical proximity and you lose the benefit of social interaction.
  5. Some people don’t actually hotdesk. They still have ‘their’ seat and no one dares to sit in it. And that just p*sses people off. If the company or going to make rules, we all need to follow them, or agree they’re not working and revert to all having our own desks.

Process process

March 4, 2014

I haven’t posted for a fortnight as have been so busy for the past few months that I’ve not had time to write. And I enjoy it so much I don’t want  it to become a chore. A necessity. So recent posts have often been ones I’ve drafted earlier and all I’ve had to do is press “Publish” and hey presto, a blog post.

However, this week I have been in a meeting which had been arranged with some difficulty to get everyone around the table. Time was precious as there was much to do and deadlines looming. This meeting was billed as a critical necessity. Everything else had stalled whilst we waited for the outputs of this meeting.

Did we maximise the use of our time? Did we buggery. The leader of the meeting was late. Then we spent the next 15 minutes deciding who would take on the various assigned roles – timekeeper, (self explanatory), snow patrol (stops people going off track), herder (brings them back from the toilet), observer (reports back at the end of the meeting how it went). In this particular company apparently this is the norm. And unlike school, there was no staring at feet when volunteers were asked for – people willingly assigned themselves roles.

So at last we are ready to start the meeting – only used up 25% of the allocated 2 hours so far – and then we get down to business. Or not. There is a discussion lasting a good ten minutes between two people about who is ‘accountable’ for this project. Versus who is ‘responsible’. The nuances are lost on me and frankly irrelevant to everyone else at the meeting apart from the two debating it. This is something that should be discussed ‘offline’ (*groan*). But surely the ‘snow patrol’ person will tell then to shut up and get on with the meeting? No, of course they don’t. They don’t want to interrupt the two most senior people there.

So of course I can’t hold myself in and suggest we focus on exactly what it is that we want to have decided within the next 80 minutes. I am looked at as if I have come from Mars. “Well we won’t know that until we’ve had the discussions.” I realise I am not going to get anywhere. I get it that you need to discuss stuff, but surely you have to ask yourself WHY? Why are we discussing this – what is the point of it? We don’t discuss which theatre show is best because we know it’s not relevant to our work. Surely, we only discuss things because they inform our decision making. There has to be a decision at the end of it. Even if that decision is “We can’t make a decision on this as we haven’t got enough information so XYZ will research this and report back so that we can make a decision.” It’s all about the decision making for me.

But it was all about the information sharing for them. And so we spent the next hour listening to presentations basically. On stuff I’d already read because it was all freely available. No valuable insights or reinterpretations, just the data. No actual discussion on what the data might mean. Or how it might be used. Just data. And when the meeting ‘wrapped up’ with 5 minutes still to go, the ‘observer’ fed back how useful it had been and how much ‘engagement’ and ‘energy about the project’ there was in the room. I nearly engaged some bicep energy and smacked him.

I thought that it had been a waste of time. Not completely because it was great to meet people who I have only seen on email, but in terms of outcomes. All that information could have been sent to us to read when it suited us (which would have meant we didn’t have to wait over a month to get everyone together), and then we could have met and discussed what we think it means and what we are going to do with it. Someone else I know who works in a different company warns everyone she is in ‘Driver’ mode at the beginning of meetings – I love it. She wants to get things done and in the nicest possible way she is alerting everyone this isn’t just information sharing – we have to actually get somewhere at the end of it. 

I know I am aged. I know I am not street. But this is about work communications. Not banter between friends. Not text speak. This is when one is trying to have a professional relationship. In these circumstances I cannot understand why one wouldn’t want to speak as plainly and clearly as possible. Why do people feel the need to overcomplicate things? And make up new words or new meanings for old words?

The 3 offenders that have annoyed me already today are:

  1. Ahead of:  As in “Ahead of our meeting today I wanted to …”Ahead is in front of in a physical sense, not on the time space continuum. What is wrong with ‘before’?
  2. Upskill.  As in “We need to upskill the team so they understand the core demographic.” What happened to train? Teach?Improve?
  3. Revert. As in “I will revert as soon as I know the answer”.  What  – they will return to a state that they used to be in? Become embryonic? Primordial? Revert means to return to a previous condition or state – it doesn’t mean “I will get back to you.”

You might have thought I had exhausted all my energies on hating the way language is used in previous posts. But I haven’t. Just as I was about to post this my blue touch paper has been lit by the suggestion to ‘reach out’ at the end of an email rather than straightforward suggestion to ‘contact’. “I’ll let you reach out to x directly.”
I don’t want to ‘reach out’ to colleagues. If I need them, I’ll email. Or call. “Reaching out” is overblown, emotive, nauseaous. It conjours up visions of the comfortably off opening their loving arms and hearts to touch the poor and needy.
If I get another one today, I might just revert to my previous neanderthal  self ,  ‘reach out’ and club someone.

There’s one sure fire way not to make any mistakes. And that’s not to do anything. It means no one can blame you when things go wrong, you never have to explain yourself to the powers that be, and you keep your slate clean. And seemingly your job safe. The key to this way of working is avoid making any decisions. You’ll be shocked to learn it drives me nuts.
Decision making is a binary process. On or Off. Yes or No. Stop or Go. Agree or Refuse. A decision is absolute. It doesn’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. It takes the information currently available, evaluates it and gives people a course of action. (Keyword alert – action!). Without a decision there is just talk and discussion. But no action. Of course there may need to be research and discussion to come to a consensus, but eventually someone has to say “STOP! We are not philosophers here to debate the ins and outs of every moral angle. We are here to do a JOB. To get things DONE.” And a decision has to be taken. Are we going to make this happen or are we just going to talk some more about it? And I vote for action nearly every time. Because for me it is better to have a decision, even if ultimately it turns out to be the wrong one, than to have no decision at all. Having a decision allows things to happen. Not having a decision simply leaves things in limbo.

The decision may be not to proceed after all, but at least we wont waste any more hours weeks and months debating whether we should do it or not. Without the decision we are paralysed.

There comes a time to draw a line. To think, I have enough information here to make a valid decision. Yes, i could spend more weeks finding out more things, talking to more people, having more meetings, but will the amount of time and money I spend doing that really be cost effective? Will the decision really be SO much better than it would be if I just took it now and we ran with it? Or  will  the moment have passed by the time you are ready to make your decision and so the decision will have been made for you? Sometimes I think that’s why people prevaricate – in the hope that something will happen so that they don’t have to make the decision after all.

Decisions aren’t always irreversible.  Obviously they sometimes are, but often the decision can be amended if critical information subsequently comes to light. That’s not the same as re-visiting the decision every fucking time we meet to discuss a project. That drives me mental too. Look, make a decision and stick to it unless there really is overwhelming reason to reconsider.  I just want to MOVE ON and DELIVER.

If we don’t make decisions, we don’t make anything happen, we just allow things to happen to us as we huddle around the meeting room, paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision.  I suggest that all these prevaricators, the wishy washy non-decision, paper-pushers just try making a decision. Practice it. Get the feel of it on their tongue and get a taste for it.

Just decide what you want to do. It’s not that hard. I think they’ll be surprised at how exhilarating it can be,  No more churning about in a muddle, drowning in more and more options with no idea where to go. Once they make a decision they will have opened up a clear line of sight to a goal. The end game. Where we all want to be. And it will feel good. And all their colleagues will be relieved that someone has made a decision at last, even if they don’t all agree with it.

And every time they make the wrong decision, and things go awry (and they will) they will learn form that and get better at weighing up the pros and cons and get better at making even better decisions.  And they might start to enjoy it.

I am a freelance Consultant to a number of different businesses and with holidays etc I am having to play catch up and working shedloads. Which I enjoy. And the other day was a day of ups and downs and headbanging frustration but a great rollercoaster ride nonetheless.

It started with reviewing materials on the computer – calm, quiet, introvert inspection. It moved to meeting to agree a position between three of us and was an enjoyable discussion and meeting of minds. It then moved on to the telecon from hell. Four of us on the line from the UK and half a dozen or so elsewhere. But obviously not all there at the start. No we have the usual revisiting of decisions already taken in the first 15 minutes, followed by a realisation that the key player isn’t actually on the phone so no decision can be taken.

But we all took a decision a few days ago, why can’t we stick with that? Nothing’s changed. Then someone else joins the call. And introduces a whole new, incoherent element to the proceedings. We discover this is actually someone very senior whose views we should listen to but I have got to the point of no return. I am trying to interrupt the ramblings but am not getting anywhere until he decides to draw breath. By which time I am seething with anger at what I see as lack of clarity and vision from someone so high up and that’s it. I’m on my feet and yelling in to the speakerphone. i am invoking company mission statements in a bid to get them to understand that what they are suggesting is unacceptable to their own company, not just me. I rail for a good minute. And there is complete silence at the other end.

It was a different silence to the one when you ask brightly”Does any one have any ideas?” and you can hear people shuffling, wriggling, metaphorically looking down at their feet. No, this silence was total. As if we’d been cut off. It was a void of shock and disbelief. I realised I had gone too far but it was too late. I felt my contract swinging in the breeze but felt vindicated by my righteousness. (Won’t feel so clever if I can’t pay the mortgage though!).

And then someone at the other end broke the ice and acknowledged that it was a blistering attack and I’d stung them in to silence. But then we moved on. To a degree. Until someone else joined the call and we had to start over. And then we moved on to the main reason for the call, Having used up half the time on a side issue. The person whose call it was was doing her best to retain control and in the end it came down to her apologising for “being brutal” but asking for an actual unequivocal yes or no from the two most senior people there. Everyone else had put their cards on the table, but at the end of the day, these two had to make the call. They are paid high salaries to make high level decisions. To be fair, one of them did step up to the plate and do it. But the other? He weasel-worded his agreement in such a way that it was clear he was only agreeing because everyone else was. Here he was, the most senior person on the call and yet presumably he had just floated in to that position, and has stayed there, resting on the shoulders of his subordinates. Leadership my arse.

We’ve all had bad days at work. Days when we are not at the top of our game. Days when we’ve missed stuff we should have spotted, been unneccessarily harsh, been unable to see the wood for the trees. But sometimes some people seem to have more off days tham on days. And some people don’t appear to have on days at all.
Sitting at the chef’s table in Maze a few months ago we were in the heart of the working kitchen watching people work whilst we enjoyed ourselves. Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly caught the head chef talking to one of his staff who was holding a tray of food. I do not know what the issue actually was or what had happened but what I could hear was a refreshing directness from the boss. “It’s not good enough. Exactly what have you done to sort it out?” He wasn’t shouting a la Gordon Ramsey (although it is his restaurant) but it was clear he was angry and what had happened was unacceptable and that this staff member now knew that he was utterly responsible for the cock up and had to ensure it was rectified.
During medical training there were numerous times that Consultants would indulge in ritual public humiliation when I didn’t know something or did something incorrectly. It was awful. Not all Consultants by any means, but enough. I used to feel sick in anticipation. And it made me sharpen my game. It was the last thing I wanted to happen and I knew I had to step up. Similarly, this underling in the restaurant could have been in no doubt he needed to improve if he was going to keep his job.
In contrast, I often see poor work performance allowed to pass by seemingly unnoticed. And I’m not talking in state run institutitons where people stereotypically think it is rife. No, successful private comapanies. Yet they let some people get away being shoddy and lazy. Repeatedly. Until people just shrug and say “Yes, he’s crap isn’t he?” but just accept it.
Is it because we don’t like confrontation? I do not manage anyone so don’t have these dilemmas, but I think it is often because bosses want their team to like them. I mean really like them. They don’t want to upset their team or make people think they are unreasonable or nasty. Which is commendable.
But as a boss surely you have to distinguish between being liked and being respected? Great if you can do both of course, but I think the respect is more vital to work relationships than being liked. Because whilst they are tippitoeing around the underperformer, the rest of the team are getting pissed off carrying this passenger and will start to resent the boss for not doing anything about them. It is demotivating to have a slacker as part of a team as others gradually start to question why they bother to pull their finger out if others get away with doing nothing and it becomes a vicious, lazy circle.
In contrast a high performing team engenders greater performance from each other as everyone strives not to be the weakest member. And the leader of that team will be not only be respected but worshipped for creating such a fantastic working environment.
The other possible fear that managers have is that there will be a complaint against them or the lazy worker will go off sick with stress and then sue them for unfair dismissal or somesuch. I agree complaints are stressful, but unless you have been a bully or completely unreasonable then you are likely to be able to show evidence of the incapability and poor performance. And if you cant then that reflects poorly on your capability as a manager.

Then let’s say they do sue the company. Firstly most people don’t and of those that do, many will not be found to have been unfairly dismissed. Then there is the money. I am not a lawyer but my understanding is an absolute max of about £85K. Worth it I’d’ve thouight not to have a drain on morale and performance. And if you don’t dismiss them you’ll be paying them the equivalent to do nothing well….

Written feedback

June 26, 2013

As a freelancer at various places, I often get asked to provide written feedback for people’s appraisals. They often seem to land in my inbox in clusters  and if I get too many all at the same time it becomes onerous. But an occasional one here and there can be a useful distraction.

I never do it anonymously and I always tick the box that I’m happy for it to be shared with the individual. Or I send it directly to them. Hopefully none of what I say will be a complete surprise, but of course seeing things in black and white can concentrate the mind. And thankfully most of it is affirmative – and a chance to give people that positive reinforcement that no one is immune to. But I don’t shy away from saying what I think.
Sometimes it is easy, other times I really have to rack my brains to illustrate my bletherings with real and recent examples. Because I don’t think it is fair to assert things without giving some kind of context – apart from my general introductory impressions – XYZ is a pleasure to work with; she is polite, punctual and positive in outlook. Kind of thing. But when I need to say XYZ has difficulty making decisions, or appears unable to understand the most basic of facts, or demonstrates a jaw dropping disregard for others’ feelings then I feel it only right that I back it up with some evidence.

It pisses me off no end when people don’t give honest feedback. It is a waste of everyone’s time, including your own (assuming you are writing it), if you just rattle off some bland, say-nothing rubbish. You have usually been chosen to feedback on this person because you do interact with them in some way and this is a chance to actually say how you think they are doing. It is only your opinion. You will only be one voice in a number, but if the same things crop up in others’ feedback, then perhaps it is an area worth exploring. Too often I hear everyone saying that someone is shit at their job and yet come feedback time, there is nothing negative recorded. “Oh, I didn’t want to be the one that made them lose their job”. That seems an incredibly negative view of the feedback process – surely the point of it is to help the individual determine how to get better at their job? (Or, in the case of many folk, even better.) And for the organisation to help them do that.

So it takes time. When  it is  to be written, I am sometimes given a template to work from, other times it is just freeform. But however it is asked for, I do try to take the time to give a constructive responsive if I have enough experience working with the individual to do so.

And I find it a good lesson to actually stop and assess someone over the last six months or whatever. Particularly if previously I have fed back a number of “areas for growth” or “development opportunities” (aka shortcomings) It is salutary to realise XYZ no longer does that and has taken on board the feedback and has developed. Not as a result of anything I’ve done, but because they have listened to the feedback and actually acted on it. Or got help to act on it. However they have done it matters not to me, but the very fact they have is energising. And proof that we can change if we put our mind to it. Sometimes we just don’t realise we need to and it takes a feedback session to point it out.
And then it makes them better at their job and I imagine happier in their work.

It’s a win for them, a win for me and a win for the business.

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