Work – Life – Balance

Hi there,

thank you for staying with me for a while.

Some 3 years ago my previous employer restructured and I moved to work for a local government agency. After more than 20 years in a commercial environment this hit me like a smash in the tummy!

Many things changed and not in a way you might expect – me included. People and Technology stayed fairly much the same. Good people, who work to make a difference, and some, who simply do their job. Technology, some leading edge and some that survived long after the vendor ceased support. Teams that push boundaries and teams that are grounded in the way things are done around here.

But the latter is a synonym of the real difference: processes and politics. I don’t mean the processes like how you apply for leave, how a customer requests something, or how a supplier is paid. No, these processes are fairly universal and some a well defined and technology supported while others are much more adhoc or manual. The processes, I found inherently different, are related to and about change.

These processes make the difference in culture between the organisations I’ve worked with. To start with there is an inherent organisational resistance to change. The way things are done here are proven over decades. Is there a legislation or regulation that requires a change? There is for sure one that is supporting what and how we do it.

Then we have frameworks on how we change things, why we would, could, or should not change. There are business unit interests, information technology aspects, strategic and annual plans, project and change management, and surely an overall business calendar of events to consider.

Clearly I had to learn navigating this new jungle that has nothing to do with what I still believe is a good thing:

 Trust people to do the right thing.

Because there surely is a regulation or framework, that I haven’t considered and don’t yet know about. And that’s not all, managing upwards and sidewards and downwards is an even more essential part of this new brave world. I needed friends and people who believe in what I wanted to propose. Now I’m spending more time in talking with people about that than actually doing it.

As a result I’m changing. My approach is changing. To achieve something needs time here. Like a seed that may become a tree.

And funnily enough the most positive aspect about the whole thing is I have a better work life balance. I’m much less worrying about tomorrow and things that need doing. Work needs a rest and ideas need to settle. Tomorrow is another day of sunshine or rain.

Today is a day for living. Be in the presence.

Enjoy your weekend, your evening, or whatever rocks your boat. Simply enjoy today. I won’t get it back.

cheers

Frank

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The Happy Employee

Happiness in 3 facesEarlier this week a friend posted an article about “Is it your fault when you are unhappy?” The original blog post is actually from James Adonis, one of Australia’s best-known people-management thinkers.

James presented two opposite opinions:

  • “Your employer is not responsible for your happiness. You are.”
  • “It’s not difficult at all for leaders to create happy employees. The only reason it doesn’t happen is if you work for a tool.”

“So, who’s right? Are employees ultimately responsible for the joy they feel at work? Or do their bosses have a moral obligation to make it a priority?

That leaders have a financial obligation is already clear. There are many credible studies demonstrating the benefits associated with happy employees or, more significantly, engaged employees. These reports, for example, outline some of the empirical findings that indicate the positive outcomes include better customer service, higher productivity, enhanced sales and fewer safety accidents.”

James favours the first opinion and continues outlining 4 traits that distinguishes happy employees:

  • A desire to work for the simple joy that arises from doing a good job.
  • A positive attitude comprising enthusiasm and cheerfulness.
  • A conscientious work ethic of hard work and resourcefulness.
  • A proactive approach that seeks opportunities to make a contribution.

He further discusses Unhappiness as a result of “waiting” and concludes:

“So, cheers to the leaders who make it a personal mission to create a happy and engaging workplace. But an even more emphatic cheer is in order for the employees who do it themselves.”

My Opinion

I agree happiness is not something leaders can give to people. That is inherently impossible. It is up to you personally what and how you live your life. That’s why I start every day with a smile and enjoy a beautiful Monday.

Although that doesn’t mean leaders can sit back and relax, knowing it’s not their fault if employees are being unhappy. They do have a responsibility to provide 5 things:

  • make sure employees do meaningful work
  • communicate open, honestly and share information
  • ensure employees have autonomy within their responsibilities
  • foster innovation, teamwork, and be the chief road block remover
  • provide fair compensation and possibilities to grow

If they don’t, people who take responsibility for their happiness will leave and those who wait for happiness to come to them will stay.

To your question, Greg, I don’t think leaders have a moral obligation to create happiness. They work in the same organisation as their team. So, it comes down in my opinion to

  1. What does the organisation stand for, what’s the purpose? Can I identify with that as an individual.
  2. What are the values of the organisation and are they demonstarted by the senior managers? Do those match to a large degree with my personal values.
  3. Do I feel I can make a difference and add value?

If those three questions line up, I can see happiness and meaningful work coming up 🙂

Succeeding on Purpose

I didn’t go to TechEd in Auckland last week, but a friend of mine did. He pointed me to the recording of one of the keynotes, saying if you watch one, make it this one.

Succeeding on Purpose

Succeeding on Purpose

It’s a 1 hour recording and if you have the time, it is well spend. If not, here’s my 5 minute summary:

In this talk James A. Whitaker tells his personal 7 traits that everybody can use to succeed in life. The talk is limited to outline 4 of those and James makes sure he advertises his book about it.

(1) Ambition

This is the only trait that is not optional. Having an aspirational goal is a must. Set your goals higher. Even if you miss it you still end up higher than the mediocre goal you were sure to achieve.

(2) Specialisation

Specialising on something gives you an identity. It is an opportunity to master the topic. Although, make sure you choose something that matters. Be passionate about it. Then comes the important part: Make an elevator pitch in 2 forms, one to tell others “that’s what I do” and the other for yourself, “that’s why I do it”. And don’t forget – specialisation does only work for a limited time. You may need to change 2 or 3 times along the way.

(3) Story telling

James tells us 3 stories that matter. The first is about your role and your speciality (see above), the second is about your project and why it matters (this tells other what you do is interesting), and the third talks about you and what makes you special. The latter is probably the hardest part for me, there are plenty of folks who do similar stuff – how do I compare?

(4) Learning

“We are who we learn from” – The sentence didn’t first make too much sense to me. However, when James continues talking about mentors, yes many mentors, it starts to resonate. Having access to an expert in the field makes learning so much more fun. The trick is to find the right one for you.

(5) Mimic / Imitation

He is an advocate of imitating the chosen expert in that field. The advantage, you learn more – you learn the little things, the things people do unconsciously. Although beware, don’t become a carbon copy. Mimic multiple mentors and become the blend that is you.

(6) Innovation’s long nose >>> Derivation

Re-invent the wheel is the credo! But make it better so that it matters. He talks about clairvoyance and creativity in this context. Clairvoyance is about the knowledge you have about your industry and your ability to predict what’s happening next. This goes back to specialisation. Don’t specialise in ‘dead’ things, specialise in things that are going to matter. Some tips about a creativity are added, where he briefly talks about rituals (or habits) that stimulate creativity, distractions that gives your brain a rest, and being centered – a place or places where you feel comfortable and have the greatest ideas.

(7) Leadership

He left that hanging. I have to read the book!

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

I missed the point …

Papal election result

For years my dear wife is telling me some businesses (companies, government agencies, etc) are just covering their butts. They are not interested in the well being of their staff, customers or populace. In fact they have been taught not to make mistakes. The same time I have been arguing the opposite being true for the majority. There are plenty of examples where innovation, technical or medical break throughs etc take place; there are managers and business owners who have the best interest of their people at heart.

Having worked now in the private and public sector I have changed my mind. It is sad but true, many people work to uphold the rules and regulations. You can call it standards, operating procedures, or even culture “that’s how we do tings around here”. The focus is on compliance, policing and governance.

We are missing what we have set out to do, for example:

  • service to the community or our customer base
  • providing solutions and results for the customer
  • develop and build tools / systems that last and do the job well
  • make and distribute healthy food

The common cause is often cited as the growth syndrom:

  • making money
  • gaining power
  • becoming famous

BUT, is that really the case?

How many dads or mums simply want to provide for their children to have it better (education, house, job, ..)?
How many of us simply would like to go on with their business without thinking about mortgage, tax, bills, regulations, … ?

Albert Camus once said, freedom is the freedom of others.

It took me long time to understand. My freedom to do what I want is impacting on the freedom of my neighbour. And here our governance approach started. Instead of common sense prevailing we rely on some authority who tells us what we can or can’t do. And while they are at it, they make it a rule and apply it across the country so a single instance is solved for eternity.

What a load of rubbish!

In Germany it takes months for some decisions to be made because so many committees and sub committees have a say and need to review all the rules, regulations and bylaws. In New Zealand we are getting closer by the minute to the same situation. The recent “super city” is a great example. And I don’t mention the stalemate in the US where some egocentrics in both big parties blame each other rather than sit together at a table and don’t get up until the issue is solved. The election method of the pope is a better example how to do it right.

None of this means the people working in such organisations are bad, stupid or ignorant. No, most are intelligent, focused and trying their best. But they have been taught – like all of us – in an institution called school that rules and regulations and compliance is what drives this world and keeps the order. Challenging the status quo is hard and in school we have been taught not to do so.

Asking questions in school is a sign of ?

(a) intelligence (because you actually thought about it and didn’t come to the same conclusion)

(b) lack of intelligence (because you should know this [by now] and probably haven’t paid attention)

 

Ask your children. Then wonder why I wrote this post and comment below or use the answer and go back to the start.

Ask the “why” question and find out the reason behind a process, rule or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, some are good, and some (most ?) are covering exceptions. Those are the ones slowing us down. Shouldn’t we go back to “Use good judgement?”

A leadership lesson in whey

reputationYou can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” – Henry Ford

Only if you live behind a rock you don’t know about the Fonterra milk powder scandal. I don’t want to analyse or discuss the potential or actual impact on the industry or New Zealand’s reputation with its international partners. There are sufficient of these in the media.

No, I want to look at the action or non-action between the incident itself that caused the contamination and the information of the public.

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Good Judgement

Last month I reviewed a few presentation on Slideshare and made a note about Hubspot‘s policy approach. I remembered that during a walk at the beach while thinking about management principles. This is the note:

We don’t have pages of policies, instead we have a 3 word policy on just everything:

judgement

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