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  • Jimi Wikman
    Jimi Wikman

    You need to stop running because people are getting hurt

    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.

     

    Edited by Jimi Wikman


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        Avoid meetings if you can - Some meetings you need to attend, but try to avoid meetings that are not necessary. The reason is that a meeting, even if it is just 30 minutes long, will completely content switch you from your work. Unlike a short interruption that cost around 10-15 minutes of lost time a meeting will cost at least double that. Some meetings may be even more disruptive causing fragmentaion of thought for hours afterwards as you try to focus on work, but have the new information or task in mind as well.
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      These are just a few small tips on how to reduce stress and what the cost is for stretching yourself thin by splitting your attention between multiple projects. Most of these may be most relevant to a certain group, but most of them are valid for all groups. Content switching and bad work processes cost billions every day and they cause health issues that should not be underestimated.
      Stress related illness is increasing and in many fields you can name at least one or two persons that you work with that have suffered from being burned out. In Japan there is even a specific word for working yourself to death: Karoshi. So be wary of the many ways that you can harm yourself unintentionally. One good start to protect yourself is to never accept working on multiple projects at the same time.
      If you have more tips, please share to help others avoid getting burned out.
    • By ©Jimi Wikman
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      For me this works wonders to renew my energy and I try to add something like this in once every 2-3 years or so. It's usually short assignments, but that is just the way I like it. I did this for Svenska Färghus Gruppen that was even more amazing since I had two colleagues that were design leads and I was just a simple designer for a change. I learned a ton and had an amazing time, much thanks to my awesome collegues Victor Werning and Camilla Romander that took me under their wings.
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      As a side effect of taking these design assignments I not only get to be creative for a change, I also stumble upon new tools and work processes which is going to benefit me greatly in future management assignments. It is truly a win-win situation as I get renewed energy, feel happier and also grow my knowledge and understanding of design with hands on experience.
      I also get much needed time to reflect and I recently wrote about being caught in my own mental trap. This is that feeling where you fear loosing income or position because it would somehow make me less successful. It's a silly thought because position or level of income does not define your worth or your level of success. It also paralyze you and make you afraid of failing. As failing is the basis of growth and learning that lock you in a self imposed vacuum, which makes you miserable.
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    • By ©Jimi Wikman
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      It is with a sad smile that I see the complete hysteria from middle and upper management when it comes to working from remote. It is as if the last 20 years of advancement in that area never actually reached this group. Their futile need for control and the withdrawal symptoms from not getting your daily meeting "fix" is in my eyes nothing new, but it becomes so very obvious in times of crisis.
      We see large organizations cutting away their workforce and while they try to trim away across the organization it is pretty obvious that it is people who are close to the consumers that suffer the most. Stores, restaurants, hotels and travel are all sadly on the brink of extinction. On the technical side of things we see less work as well, but not because the work is no longer needed, but because investments are more careful when the cash flow is less stable.
      We see an upswing for collaboration tools such as Miro and Trello while at least my daily feed is filled to the brink of articles on how to remain productive from remote. Most articles are so basic that I have to wonder who they are written for as most development teams have this as part of their daily work. Things like "focus on direct calls instead of chat" and "make sure your team know how to reach you" is utterly ridiculous however and in many articles I feel like I am being patronized and addressed like a five year old.
      Working from home is not something that should be strange or confusing in 2020. If you do not have work processes that work for that, then I would argue that you have been neglecting to evolve as an organization for a long time. To be a manager that are having problems functioning within a remote teamwork environment is not only a liability in this crisis, but for the foreseeable future. If you are having issues with that now, then I suggest you start looking into improving that right now. It is a skill that you must have in this day and age.
      The silver lining with this situation however is that many organizations now are forced to transform. We see it already that some larger organizations are reducing the middle management section for faster communication and more direct management. Meetings are heavily reduced, which is because many meetings at middle management levels are just to transfer information. In a remote workforce that is wasteful, so sharing information are done more efficiently.
      We also see how badly communication between business, IT and Operations are working. I don't think I have seen this many articles about DevOps or Incident Management in the last decade. I have seen a big upswing in Quality Assurance discussions, especially surrounding requirements and facilitating workshop on remote. Portfolio management is on the rise and I get more questions about Portfolio for Jira, BigPicture and Structure than I think I have ever had. Clearly people are in need of ways to get an overview of the work to satisfy their need for control.
      It is also interesting that I have not seen a single request for Jira Align...
      While business and management are in a bit of panic mode at the moment I see the opposite in the development and test areas. People are working well from home and I see productivity is skyrocketing. The pressure on management is increasing to get better requirements and improve communication, but as long as the development teams get the information they need, then they are golden it seems. I hear people are less stressed, better focused and I even hear that things like system stability and technical debt is getting a bit of focus lately.
      I hope that this crisis can lead to some change in management in the long run. Having more time to actually think and being forced to learn how to communicate more efficiently should benefit management greatly. Having the tools and processes to work from remote is a good way to future proof your organization. I also hope more managers will realize that working from home does not make you less productive. In fact it will greatly benefit some groups that not only can get more focused, but also can work when they are most productive.
      If you are a manager that are struggling with remote teamwork, then don't chase articles that give you platitudes and nonsense advice. Talk to your development teams instead. They most likely already have this in place for working from home or to collaborate with other teams or offshore. Take this opportunity to slow down, process the information and then communicate it clearly instead of just running all the time. If you lack the tools or infrastructure to work efficiently on remote, then invest in it now. It is a good investment, not just for a crisis like the current one, but also for meeting the future demands of the employees.
      Embrace Remote Teamwork, just like the rest of us did back in 2005. 😉
      DISCUSS REMOTE TEAMWORK IN THE FORUM
       
    • By ©Jimi Wikman
      So, one of your employees are leaving the company. Your first instinct is to kick them out as fast as possible and if something goes wrong you probably will not go out of your way to fix the situation. This is a terrible idea as you will make that person less inclined to talk well about you in the future!
      The employee have spent time in your company and they probably liked you when they started. Had hopes and dreams of what the time with you would be that either was not fulfilled or their dreams changed during the time with you.
      Unless you already screwed up your relation with the employee by being a bad company that care more about your spreadsheets than the heroes that work for you, then you have a great opportunity when someone leave. You can both learn how to be a better company and secure an ambassador that will work for you even after they leave the company!
      Leaving a company is usually done with relief if the time have been less than enjoyable or with guilt if it have been a great time. Regardless of what situation you can turn it to something good by simply being nice and support the employee. Just express that you are sorry that they are leaving and then go out of your way to make the transition as easy as possible for them.
      I am not saying that you should trip all over yourself to get rid of them, but take some time to sit down with them and go over what will happen next so they feel that you are there for them. Have lunch with them and have some laughs and reminisce about good times you hopefully have together.
      Ask them about the reason for moving on without trying to push the issue. Some people don't want to tell you their reasons so respect that. Most importantly if something during the transition to end the employment is causing issues for the employee, then fix it. Even if it is a cost involved and your instinct is to not spend money on someone that is leaving, take that cost because it is an investment!
      On that last day of the employment have a moment together with as many as you can to say goodbye to the employee. Show that you will miss the person and give a gift that really matter. Don't give them a book (unless they really like books), but give them something that is a little expensive, but still not to much.
      My favorite is an iPad mini in gold with an inscription on the back saying something like "We will miss you like crazy Name! - Company Name". It's a little pricy, but the value you get in return is worth a thousand times more. You can also add a little poster or something where everyone closest to the employee have written their names and a nice farewell message (personalized if possible).
      A former employee will talk about you, that is natural as you have been in their life for a while and work is the majority of our time after all. You can dictate how that conversation will go based on how the last few weeks are with your company.
      If you treat them well and go out of your way to show that they have been an important part of the company and that them leaving does not change your perception of them, then they leave with nothing but good will in their hearts.
      For as long as they can remember you they will speak well of you and if they should not be happy in their new workplace chances are that they will remember you and possibly ask to come back. Having that iPad means that every time they use it that feeling will be reinforced as well and most people do use the iPad quite a bit.
      There is an old saying that say that even if you have had the best vacation in your life with the best hotel, great weather and the best time of your life, all it takes is a bad experience on the flight home to ruin the experience. The last experience is what we remember most.
      So if you give an employee a bad experience leaving the company, or worse screw them over so they get mad they will speak of that forever. As they know inside information about your company they will speak loudly to anyone that listen about every little detail you make look bad and sooner or later that will cost you business for sure.
      So treat your employees well while they work for you so they don't want to leave and should they still want to leave, make it the best experience possible. In return you will have someone that will speak well of you and they will defend you long after they have left your company.
      It's the smart, and right, move to make.
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