In the last 3-4 years I have noticed an increase in the speed of which things are done within companies. By that I do not mean that we produce things faster, I mean that we take decisions or share information faster. That may sound like a good thing, but as always when things are done fast the quality drops. What I see however is even worse and that is that people, often young people, are getting hurt.
Management is not an easy profession, regardless of position in an organization. There are important decisions to make, ton of information to absorb and people that need to be cared for. This is nothing new, but what is relatively new is a sense of urgency, that seem to spread to an almost frantic pace these days. In some cases it's more like full panic mode even.
I have seen organizations that spend more time in meetings than actually do anything on a management level. Some organization even take this to a whole new level. The lack of proper communication and a complete lack of trust within the organization lead to hundreds or even thousands of people who spend most of their days shuffling information back and forth in meetings.
This is a very, very dangerous situation because when managers process information with no context and little to no actual knowledge of the topic they process then poor decisions are taken. If you add a constant stress to that situation where managers spend 30+ hours in meetings with other managers then the decisions quickly become erratic and irrational.
I see this in many large organizations these days and I hear it from friends and colleagues in other organizations as well. Most agree that while this has always been the case in management to certain extent, it has never been as bad as it is today. No one seem to think that this is something that will change anytime soon either. Quite the opposite as we have seen this slowly escalate over the years and it has come to the point where people are getting hurt mentally and physically.
I have seen people pass out in meetings and more than one person that leave mid day to never come back to their work again. I see daily people in the development areas with dark rings below their eyes and tired eyes. I hear people almost weekly that ask to leave their assignment due to health issues or mental fatigue.
Everywhere I see the same tragic trend and that is that management is running frantically making poor decisions with little to no communication. People are frustrated, confused and more often than not they are becoming defensive as their managers mistrust everything they do. More often than not there will be control mechanisms that are implemented to control rather than improve the work.
This will make people feel like they are constantly being judged and mistrusted. With an increased pace from the managers demands that comes with unclear information and little to no access to clarification there is no wonder people are breaking down. In some companies there are even activity based offices as icing on the cake to make things even more stressful for the already battered employees.
People are getting hurt from this and you have most likely seen more than one employee cringe when you mention the Agile word or the Activity based Office. That is not because they are against these things, it's just that they are so abused by managers to avoid taking proper responsibility for making sure that communication and interaction are working.
There is still hope!
It is easy to blame the managers for the situation, but the fact is that most managers are really, really great people. They are also suffering from the situation of an increased pace and stress. I know more than one manager that have taken a time out in the bathroom where they silently cried over their hopeless situation. So the managers are not the problem, it is the collective sense of urgency and lack of control.
Step 1 - Reduce the meetings.
Meetings are the cause of many issues today. We have meetings for almost everything with little to no thought of why we have them. Many managers are easily in 20-30+ hours every week and most meetings include 10+ people where half is just there to make sure they do not miss information. If you want to measure something, then this is something to measure to reduce waste of resources and cost.
Make it mandatory with one full day with no meetings. This allow managers to process the information and make educated decisions what to do next. For best effect, make it the same day for everyone.
Also follow up on meeting statistics to make sure that no more than 15 hours each week can be allocated to meetings. That is 3 hours each day, which should be more than enough if you have the communication and information strategies in place.
Step 2 - Establish trust.
Control is a big problem if there is no trust in the organization. The reason for that is that no matter how well the development teams are doing it will not matter of the management chain can not feel sure about that. If all managers are always sitting in meetings, then how will they get the information they need and how will they have time to forward this information up the management chain? The first step is of course to free up time by reducing the time spent in meetings.
The second thing is to clarify responsibility. It is very difficult to provide the right information if you do not know what is expected from you. Once you know what information you need to provide, then the flow of information will improve with relevant information.
Once you clarify responsibility and expectations you will reduce confusion, which in turn will reduce frustration. Clarity also will make it possible to provide accurate information from the development teams when it comes to estimations. This will make it easier for manages to feel that they can trust the information from the development teams. This is done by having clear role definitions and a proper process for clarifying requirements for the development teams.
Step 3 - Establish proper communication channels.
The last "easy" fix is to make sure you have communication channels. One thing that I see often is that just to implement a documented decision process will improve the understanding in the organization a lot. If you can understand what a decision mean, why it was taken and who took the decision, then it is much, much easier to understand. Verbal decisions are easily misunderstand, easy to override and easy to ignore. So make sure that important decisions are clearly documented and easily accessed.
No common way of working is also a big problem. You should define a baseline for everyone to avoid that everyone in your organization create their own way of working. This is especially important in the handover points where you handover information between different groups. If this handover is done in dozens or hundreds of different ways, then that will not only cause confusion and frustration, it will cost thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Having a common way of working does not mean that you can not have different ways of working. It just mean that you can understand the reason for having a different process as there is some need that the common way of working can not fulfill. The changes are not arbitrary as they are when there are no common way of working.
Step 4 - Take care of your people
No matter where you are in the organization you have people around you that you work with every day. Make sure you take a moment on a regular basis and look at the people around you. If you see someone that does not seem to feel well, then make sure you act on that. You can support the person by talking to them and listen to their problems, you can tell your manager or your managers manager and you can contact HR.
If we fail to see the people around us that are slowly being broken down from stress, then that person could end up being sick. Some refer to this as "hitting the wall", others being "burned out". This is one of the most devastating events in a persons life and it is something that you never really get over.
So take care of yourself, the people around you and please, please....
stop running, because people are getting hurt.