Saturday, 31 March 2007

Decisions... and golf

Sometimes, when I take a metaphorical step back and look at my own actions from another perspective they look extremely odd. Here's the example I'm currently thinking of:

I have a decision to make at the moment - can't say too much (for hopefully obvious reasons!) but basically it's an offer of a role I need to accept or decline. My decision making (or rather, not-making) process seems perfectly logical inside my own head but from any other point of view... well... a little less logical. I had a brief chat to my 'counsellor' about the role (where I work we all have a senior staff member assigned as a 'counsellor' with whom we meet up once a month and discuss career goals, it's great) and he was fairly adamant I should turn it down. His reasons all make sense and, in terms of my career as a whole, taking the new role is probably a fairly silly idea.

However, I really don't want to say no. I realised this while I was seriously considering finding another staff member who would want me to accept, explaining the reasons I shouldn't and waiting for them to convince me otherwise. Talk about taking the easy way out! So I made a list (This is typical behaviour for me: if in doubt, make a list. If still in doubt, make another list.) of why it was I felt I didn't want to say no. Basically, it came down to four things:

  1. I don't like to say no to anything, ever.
  2. I'm very fond of the project manager who's asking me to take on the role and I don't want to disappoint them.
  3. I want the title so I can feel important and useful.
  4. I think the role is important, and I want to see it done properly. (If you want something done properly do it yourself!)
Logically, as far as I can see, the only one of those things which should be taken into any consideration is the last. So the real question becomes: "Should I be putting my own career goals to the side for the sake of getting a particular job done well?"

That's interesting, because now I put it in those terms the answer, to me at least, seems extremely obvious - yes. If I believe something should be done well and that I am the best person to do it then I should do it without any consideration of whether it may be to my advantage. I'm now cringing at the thought of explaining that logic to either my counsellor or my mother, both of whom will probably berate me for being too much of a sentimentalist.

Or, am I just convincing myself that this is good logic so I can take my preferred way out and not have to say no? When I've finished second-third-and-fourth-guessing myself I'll let you know! I'm also going to need to decide if I really do think I'm the best person to do it...

Anyway, enough said about that before I say more than I should! We are having a team golf day this afternoon which will, I think, be something of an exercise in humility. Any kind of physical co-ordination has never been my strong point and I haven't played golf before... Should be good fun though :)

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Shouting at problems

I was sitting next to one of our technical services guys (lets call him Dave) releasing a website this morning when a senior manager (lets call him Warrick) came up and proceeded to suggest, in fairly strong terms, that a problem with another client's site needed solving. The suggesting then turned to ordering, blaming, complaining and swearing fairly quickly and with a lot of repetition along the way. Dave handled this well, attempting to explain what had happened while being talked over, nodding and agreeing, not raising his voice at all until Warrick at last went away promising to return "when you've finished helping Jo". I then had the fun of finishing a release with a fairly angry techie who informed his team members that "it might be a good idea to look at such-and-such, at some point today".

Before I go any further: this is a very unusual event where I work. As a general rule I am witness to some fantastic examples of leadership and professionalism from some truly awesome people who care deeply about not only what they do but also the people they do it with. Got that? Good, moving on.

The results of this morning's exhibition were, as far as I could see, two angry staff members (Dave and Warrick), one surprised and disappointed staff member (me) and a decreased motivation and likelihood of the job being done quickly. The latter is most notable since I'm sure this is precisely the opposite of what Warrick intended. In Warrick's defence he was obviously under a lot of pressure from a client who were understandably upset that something wasn't working, and it's always difficult to keep your cool when you're being yelled at and are dependent on someone else to solve the problem. But what a difference it could have made if he had. Perhaps, if the issue and its impact had been calmly and briefly explained Dave would have gone back to him for more detail and to resolve it immediately after finishing his current task... Perhaps he would have explained the problem to others whose co-operation he needed in the same calm clear way and they would also have responded... Perhaps no-one would have needed to raise their voice at all...

Key points I see here:

  • explain problems calmly no matter how much they are stressing you out - people will be more willing to help you if you keep them feeling positive about the work
  • explain the impact of the problem, not "the client is yelling at me" but "this is a big problem for this client because they need the system to order their morning coffee" - people, again, will be more willing to help if they understand why it's important
  • be aware of what else the person is doing at the time - you will later reap the benefits of the brownie points you earn for keeping your description brief and thus minimising your interruption of their current task. Not to mention that the less time you spend interrupting their current task is less time it will take to complete and they'll be able to work on resolving your problem all the sooner
Perhaps all of that is pretty obvious, but the next step in the morning's drama was also interesting: one of the first comments from Dave after Warrick left was "This has been managed so badly, Warrick just left things with people without telling anyone else about it." Two things stand out to me in that one sentence: problems can be avoided with careful management and communication is critical. Careful management is all about planning ahead and making sure the appropriate people have the appropriate information. How you give those people information is important too - if you spout some information at one person then walk away assuming they now know everything they need a number of things may happen:
  1. they forget all about it
  2. they write down most of it but miss one crucial point which results in everything going pear-shaped later
  3. they have perfect auditory recall but something happens to them and someone else who knows nothing has to pick up the job
  4. they have perfect auditory recall and manage to complete the job
Hopefully you noticed that only one of those options actually involved the problem being solved. Putting things in writing is great. The process of writing something down clarifies your thinking and may help you see something important you had missed. Written material can be picked up and read by someone else, ensuring that when Bob gets run over by a bus all your information is not dragged under the tyres with him. Writing also provides a basis for clarification, where both parties know what is being discussed, and it can be easily added to or corrected when something else comes up.

Incidentally, Dave said much of this to Warrick this morning but Warrick responded by emphasising again how important it was that Dave ring his colleague (whose first child recently arrived) to get the information about the issue. Sigh...

Monday, 26 March 2007

Hello world

Well, after much nagging by a variety of people, here it is: a blog.
The intention is for entries to be varied, ranging from technical issues encountered to thoughts on management to generic existential angst - basically anything I consider worthy of note and hopefully a little something for all tastes. Expect references to theoretical physics, epic fantasy and Winnie the Pooh to be thrown in wherever inappropriate.
If you visit, drop a comment - I'm looking forward to discovering what kind of people manage to find this :)