Monday, 26 January 2009

In praise of project managers

A new day - I’m not frightened,
Though the budget has tightened
And the client is grating my nerves.
Black coffee and toast
Will prepare me for most
Of today’s little sidesteps and swerves.

First job, email reading
Oh God, hear me pleading
How can there be 32?
Left at ten, now it’s eight
I ALWAYS work late
Do you get this many too?

OK, now what’s next?
To-do list I guess,
My favourite part of the day!
So neatly ordered,
Coloured and bordered,
One could get carried away…

Profit and loss
Must please the boss
Did I mention the budget is less now?
Increase the margin
Give the client a bargain
That’s how we measure success now.

Oh no!

Here comes a chatter to stand at my desk
She wants to look busy while taking a rest
No time to chat
She’s a bit of a….

Phew. She’s gone.

But our designer is here, with a brilliant idea!
I love it! Fantastic! But wait…
Did you get my note on that new budget quote?
We need something a bit less ornate.

A brainstorm, a meeting
The day is fast-fleeting
It’s hectic but never mundane
I’ll laugh and I’ll cry,
Demand and supply,
And tomorrow I’ll do it again

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dangerous Engagement

Last week, French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati returned to work 5 days after the birth of her child by caesaerean section. Ouch! Lea Simpson - Feeling the Fear - sent me a note to ask, "is there such a thing as being dangerously engaged in your job?". Good question. I would say the answer was a big fat yes. And further that when an employee becomes over-engaged, obsessed, the benefit to employers drops off.

You'll have heard the expression 'married to the job' and it's never meant as a compliment. Long hours and narrow focus can mean this type of employee knows their job inside out, but they're not getting any fresh cultural input outside of the office. Strategic and creative thinking suffers. As the employee gets more and more frustrated and tired, their productivity and judgement declines and they start to affect the engagement of those around them.

This sort of cycle normally happens to people who are really good at their jobs, and who want to do everything that they do really well. They get caught in the cycle of decreasing effectiveness, and fall into the trap of thinking that putting in more and more hours is the only way to do what they do. I know because I was that person once.

Happily I can report from experience that there is a way back. Obsession with a job tends to come just before a huge engagement crash - at which point you either decide to quit, or you find a way to do the job differently. For me, it was the second option I chose. I went back to doing my job with medium engagement - I still loved my job and my company but decided that I could no longer compromise my quality of life for it. I changed my working hours thinking that my employers would just have to get me more help, but to my surprise they didn't need to. I became more productive, more creative and my new found sense of perspective made me a wiser and better manager. My engagement in the job was balanced, but my value to the company was far higher than when I'd been obsessive about it.

Which brings us back to Rachida Dati. At the risk of judging someone who's circumstances I know nothing about, I'd say that going back to work when you have a 5 day old baby could be described as obsessive - caesarean or no. On the other hand though, everyone is different, and Rachida Dati may well be the world's most fulfilled woman right now. I just hope there aren't any employers out there who will look at her example and decide that this is real commitment. It's not always good for business, to go beyond the call of duty.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Note from my boss - by Alexander Kjerulf

After my last post on the subject of fresh starts in 2009, I stumbled across this article by the brilliant Alexander Kjerulf. For all you leadership types the post is entitled "Note from my boss". It fashions itself as a letter of intent from a boss to a new employee stating the employer's commitment to the employee, and what they would like in return.

Interestingly if you read the comments, you'll see that this post caused a lot of controversy. Some people think this is an incredibly manipulative exercise designed to squeeze every last drop of energy out of your employees. Which is a bit sad really. I think the point is that you shouldn't actually send this note, but that any employer who has this two-way street attitude to management is going to end up with a lot of very happy, engaged people on his or her team.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Ten great tips for employee engagement in 2009

Woohoo! Its 2009! I am genuinely excited about the opportunity for businesses in the UK this year. Economically times have been hard and they may get harder, but now is the time to up your game. The companies who take this chance to excel will come out the other side of this recession head and shoulders above the competition. With that in mind, here are 10 great ideas to create energy and engagement in your place of work in 2009. In the spirit of the times, every suggestion is cheap to implement - or free!

1. Look after your Receptionist - the first person your employees see every morning. If he/she is smiling, interested and happy (not bored, ignored and glum), there's a much better chance that your other staff will start their day in the right frame of mind.

2. Environment. The surroundings that people work in have a huge effect on how they feel and behave. Take a look around with fresh eyes and see if there's anything you'd like to improve. Involve your staff and get their creative input before you make a change - it doesn't need to cost a fortune, the simplest things can make a difference.

3. CSR. Do you have a "Green" policy? Research shows that employees who feel positive about their company's CSR activity are far more likely to be engaged than those who do not. Start small and ask for input from your staff.

4. Fresh fruit. If you can afford to do it, providing your staff with a big bowl of fresh fruit once a week is a lovely idea and always appreciated.

5. Get people talking. It doesn't matter what people are talking about, it's relationship building that's important. Lead by example and get to know someone that you've previously had no relationship with. (Take this one slowly, or you'll freak people out!).

6. Social media - do you have a blog? If not, find out which of your employees do and ask them to help you make it a reality for your company. Nominate an editor and let it be known that anyone can contribute. Your blog is not the right channel for important announcements, but you can use it for the 'interesting stuff', design ideas, fun, events - anything that has relevance to your team.

7. Put vases of fresh flowers around the office sometimes, to make people smile. Once a month is enough and daffodils, gerberas and carnations are all cheap as chips.

8. Pay attention to birthdays. Forget a free holiday on your birthday - it'll be taken for granted and then resented if things get busy and the day can't be used. Instead make sure birthday at work is a great day. Experiential change agency Involve nominate a different 'birthday fairy' for each person, and brief them to make it special. The fuss making is public and puts smiles on everyone's faces. (This one's harder for big companies so if you're small, work your advantage!)

9. While around the office, ask people how their day is going. Stand still, focus your attention on them and listen to the answer. You'll be surprised how much more your employees start to open up to you, and how much more in touch with your own business you become.

10. Don't delay, get started. Think of one small, inexpensive thing that would be nice to do for your staff, and just do it. You'll be glad you did.