Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Bedtime stories about the world of work - Chapter 1: The Rise and Fall of Gerald the Programmer

Once upon a time there was a lovely chap called Gerald. Gerald was a senior software developer and a very happy one at that. He had lots of friends and a nice wife. None of them actually understood what he did at work, but he seemed happy and they were pleased for him. His wife was particularly proud of him, as more and more often his work was recognised as being the best there was. He was the go to man for anyone with a problem - if anyone could fix it, and fast, it was Gerald.

Its true that Gerald's project management skills weren't too hot - but then they didn't need to be, there was someone else to take care of that bit. And occasionally he would scare people who inadvertently disturbed him while he was deep in a world of code. But everyone knows that programmers (like creatives) are just "a bit like that", so they forgave him. After all he was mostly a very nice guy, when you actually got some non-tecchie conversation out of him.

After a couple of years of this very happy situation, Gerald's boss decided it was time to move on. The company weren't sure how to replace him at first but then they looked at their superstar Gerald. They wanted to show him how really valued he was, so they decided to show some trust and promote him to Head of Department. After all, everyone liked him, and who knew more about software development than Gerald? Gerald's wife was so proud!

Soon though, Gerald's friends started to notice he really wasn't very happy anymore. You see Gerald didn't really get to do the things he was good at once he was promoted. He started out ok when he hired a really very good developer to replace himself. And for a while he was content in dreaming up new ways to make the department run better - but for all the same reasons as his predeccesor, he found them hard to implement. And all his time got taken up with meetings and people! People had never been Gerald's forte, and suddenly here they all were wanting time with him and expecting him to be a different person to who he was before.

It seemed that although developers and creatives were allowed to be "a bit like that", managers didn't really get any allowances made for them at all. As HoD people expected him to have answers, to be diplomatic, to have opinions on the department's place in the wider business.
Although he'd never been much good at project management (easier to hit the deadlines than plan them) Gerald was suddenly in charge of project resourcing - and no-one ever seemed to be totally happy with whatever plan he came up with. One girl actually came into his office and cried. Cried!

Gerald was lost. He didn't feel appreciated, or clever, or important - or any of the things he'd felt when he was the superstar programmer of the moment. He began to yearn for the days when he had time to be involved in projects.. in fact surely the new developer would benefit from his help wouldn't he? Perhaps he ought to ask for a project update and see what he could add. There were bound to be a few things the team had missed...

And then the team weren't very happy with Gerald either. They didn't need another developer - they had plenty of those. They needed Gerald to trust them and leave them to do their jobs, but to be there for advice if it was required. They needed him to know what to say if they went into his office and cried, and to fight the team's corner in HoD meetings. They needed him to be cool and diplomatic and to give their department a good name throughout the rest of the business. They needed a manager.

"Oh dear", thought Gerald, "I'm a brilliant software developer, but not a very good manager". "Why is it that there couldn't be two equal paths of career development? Where managers and tecchies were each rewarded and recognised for their own skills, and the top tecchie and the top manager had equal pay and status?"

Why indeed. Its a tricky one this, but time and time again I hear about managers who never really wanted to be in charge of a team ending up frustrated, and their teams more so. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them - its clearly not a simple problem to solve!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A room with a view

Being one of an experiential bent, it has been my long held opinion that a key factor in how happy and productive your employees are, is the environment in which they work. Or put another way: people like working in funky offices.

I was planning to write therefore, about how an inspiring environment can help you with:

creativity in the work place
talent attraction and retention
a strong employer brand

However I realised that Alex Kjerulf, the author of "Happy Hour is 9 to 5" and all round engagement guru has already done exactly that. Click here to read his post on 10 seeeeriously cool workplaces.

Want some ideas for your office? Have a look at This ain't no disco for inspiration.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Terminal 5: In the line of fire

I travelled back from Budapest through T5 yesterday and it wasn't a pleasant exercise. Aesthetically it is well designed, nice and quiet, and passport control is huge and well staffed so we were through in moments. Unfortunately that's where the good experience ended.

Against the backdrop of last weeks disaster, (and having been forced at the last minute to fly out of Gatwick to our destination), we were interested to see just how bad it would be. We got our answer in the baggage reclaim hall, where the tempers of all 25 of us started to fray pretty quickly as we looked up at the long list of flights coming in that said "please wait" next to them.

45 minutes later we were still standing there when a tired looking member of staff walked up to us and informed us that the luggage for the Budapest flight was on carousel 10. The electronic signage it seems, doesn't work - the luggage had clearly been going round for quite some time.

By this time we were of course desperate to just get out of there and go home. But when we emerged mole-like into the light, it was to face 30-strong queues for the lifts to the car park. I couldn't work out whether they were going too slowly or that there simply aren't enough of them; either way it was the staff again that provided the solution. This time there was a determined lady with a huge set of lungs bellowing instructions to the crowd. And another lady in the lift preventing too many people from getting in at once. They too looked rather tired, and as if they'd quite like someone to say something kind to them.

This made me wonder at the size of the employee motivation task BA and BAA have on their hands. The Terminal 5 brand currently stands for failure at worst, and naivety at best. The staff don't just have to deal with the frustration of not being able to do their jobs properly and the tempers of the customers who really aren't getting what they paid for. They ALSO have to deal with representing a company who are currently the world's laughing stock. Yet they are the only ones who can keep Terminal 5 from grinding to a halt and stop the public from removing their business from BA en masse.

I really hope that BA management are communicating daily with their staff at the moment. They need to give them enough information to pacify the general public, and to show employees themselves that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly though I hope they're saying, "well done" and "thank you" as often as they can manage it - because right now the staff is the only thing at Terminal 5 that's actually working.