Posts Tagged ‘management’

Perceptions

29/June/2009

Last saturday my elder son had a friend’s birthday party at a park outside the city limits. I drove him there and, having nothing to do the rest of the morning, I started my return to home enjoying the travel time. That is, going slowly for a highway standard. Suddenly, a truck  began getting very close to me, until there was no more than three or four feet, a distance too short for travelling at 50 or 55 mph. He also started to put the lights on and off, until there was space enough to go to the right and let him go his way to hell. He pissed me off, but he also gave me something to think about the rest of the trip.

As you know, I usually drop my kids at the school in the morning, and go to work after that. I am usually in a hurry because I want to get in my office’s building as soon as possible, and a lot of drivers seem to be going really slowly. And I discovered that a lot of times I start to blink my lights to them so they give me space to overpass them, much like the truck driver did, except for going so close to the other cars.

Is it a matter of perception of the time? I mean, if I am in a hurry, all of the other drivers seem to be going slow; if I have plenty of time, the other drivers seem to be insanely fast. The situation also reminded me about the famous size of the sun or the moon in the horizon, seeming bigger there than up in the sky. Or, and here is the point for today, the job of other people in the company: did you see how easy seem to be the other’s jobs?

A very good friend of mine told me about a nice experience he had with his team: he organized a “circus workshop” with them. One of the conclusions, among a lot of learning points, was that seeing someone do something gracefully gave the perception that it was easy to do, until the moment they try to do it. The “experiment” was seeing the workshop’s coach do some juggling with two or three balls. He was so good doing it that everyone thought it was easy, until they tried for themselves.

At the office, if we see someone that do his job with no evident effort, there is a tendency to qualify that job as easy, so the performer is immediately taken as lazy or one tend to think that he is overpaid. Really, have you ever try to do his job? As I mentioned before, reality and perceptions can go very different ways.

It is very difficult to experience the job of other person if you can not be in his shoes. Some companies have programs where the employees can do the work of other colleagues for a day; although it is not the same, since they are not seen as responsable, it can give a taste of the difficulties that we can’t see about other’s jobs, mainly because they are really good at what they do, so the work seem to flow around them.

The next time you think about a colleague being overpaid for what he does, think again, or try to juggle with the three or four balls he use to juggle everyday. You will be surprised about all the small, and not so small, things you overview about his expertise.

Regards,

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Blocking

28/April/2009

I am back. Maybe not for a long time, but I would like to share what I learn every day. And, again, my trigger was a driving experience.

I was driving along a very wide avenue. It was not new for me, but I started to note that some drivers were going not in between the lines that delimit the lanes, but exactly over the lines. What was their intention? After some blocks following their movements (with my eyes, not with the car), the behavior was obvious: they were “reserving” lanes. I mean, they were blocking the traffic from two lanes at the same time, waiting for a hole in the traffic that allows them to advance faster than the rest of the cars. And they succeeded and, really, they went faster. If this is really a method to accelerate traffic without modifying the max speeds, why not to use it broadly? Why not to erase the lines off the streets?

I am not such innocent. The answer is simple: they were faster than the rest just because they were only a few percentage of the drivers. They can go faster because almost all respect the rules and go along the lanes.

We see every day people at the enterprises that outstands over the rest of the employees. There are categories, but some of them belong to the one that break the rules and, because of that, achieve higher results, at least in some way. And they are seen almost as superheroes because of that attitudes.

If we analyze them in detail, we can spot some of the former drivers’ behaviors: they tend to “block” lanes, managing more than one matter at a time, waiting for one of them to become “high” in the top management’s mind, to fill the hole and advance faster than the rest. Probably they didn’t see it beforehand; they block the way to others so they can’t use the holes even if they saw it. But the “blockers” succeed. Is that a winning behavior?

Back to the driving example. Suppose all the street lines are erased so everybody can go wherever they want. I think that there will be a real mess and the whole traffic will become slower than before. Lot slower. The only reason to the success of the “blocking” strategy is that there is much more people that respect the rules than people that block lanes. In the enterprise example, what would happen if all of us do whatever we want, and do not follow the rules? That is, not to do our chores, our assigned tasks, just because we are doing a lot of things to block other’s lanes.

There will be always people that break the rules, people that prefer to excuse rather than asking for permission to do things. And sometimes it is a good strategy, not only for them but for the whole company; for example, when they “block” the way to someone that really prefer not to do his assigned task. But for the company, the best strategy is to have people assigned to every function that is needed, and to be the assigned person to do the assigned tasks. If everybody start to do what they want, the whole company will slow down.

Regards,

    Diego :D

Too big

30/August/2008

Having already left my kids at school, I was driving to my office. I wanted to avoid heavy traffic, so I choosed a secondary street. The traffic flow stopped and this time the cause was an accident about fifty meters ahead. After a couple of minutes and realising that this was not going to be solved quickly, I started to signal the cars behind me to go backwards, task that seemed easy given that there were only three cars to the last corner. I saw through the rear mirror that one of the drivers was having a very difficult moment going backwards: he could not maneuver his four wheel drive truck going backwards, turning and avoiding parked cars at the same time. After some minutes, I managed to left the traffic jam, while the truck driver was still trying to maneuver. He almost pissed me off.

Having left the problem behind, I realized about how nice and new was that truck. And big, surely big. I use to fantasize a lot about how nice would be to drive a car bigger and taller than mine in this streets, with a better view of the ahead traffic and without worrying about other drivers crossing their cars over mine. But I never imagine a thing about this problem: can I manage to drive that monster? And I mean really dominate the car.

It seems to be a fairly extended problem: seeing the benefits without taking into account the responsabilities, or simply the abilities, necesary to accomplish the task. It is very probable that the mentioned driver has been using his truck for weeks without a problem and, if not having this problem, going on for lot of weeks more, as far as he was driving forward or only parking on his private, jumbo size lot.

At work, lots of people try to get higher responsabilities, seeing that they can manage very well their jobs. And they probably can get those promotions they were after, and they can do it very well once promoted. Off course, as long as they are driving forward. The really suitable people is seen when the problems arise and this can happen in any moment, or never. So, there is even a possibility that a person is promoted a couple of times before that truth moment.

Sadly, it is very difficult to pretest this persons; there is no “test drive” available. You can do any kind of test or simulations, and not knowing how he will perform at that moment. And, most of the times, there is no chance to get back: it is kind of “up or out”, or more precisely, “solve it or out”. It is a one way trip: good performance, promotion, not good performance, out?

As middle managers, we are the company’s reps closest to the people who is trying to get a promotion; so, we know them better. It is our responsibility to advise our people if we think they are not ready, as is to help them if we think they are.

The same applied to ourselves: the grass of the neighbor is always greener; but we can be blind to all he does to his garden and the problems he solved to give it this England green.

It is part if the human kind to try to be better everyday, but trying to manage something bigger than we can could be, at the same time, stressing and frustrating for ourselves and for others who depend on us.

I have been offered a very cheap Scania 112H; should I give it a try?

Regards,
    Diego :D

Bringing down your image

13/July/2008

I was going to my parents home, using the highway, as I mentioned in other blog entry. I was ahead of my schedule, so I was not hurry as other times; that means I was on the second or third lane, out of six. A small truck started to get near me, and the driver did not slow down until he was at no more than about two meters from me. Going at more than 60 mph, this was too close, for me and for everyone. There was almost no traffic, but the driver decided that I must move to another lane, instead of he moving to the left lane to overpass me. He put my kids and myself on danger, and really pissed me off.

It was a high stress moment. I reacted very bad and cursed the driver even with the kids in the car. After a while, having left the highway, I calmed down and, strangely, I remembered the phone number written in the front of the truck. I called and described my point, and the company told me they would talk to the driver. And there is more: I remembered the name of the company. From that moment, a company I will never use or recomend, even after the promise they made to me.

The image is a powerful but ephemeral concept. You can be a model of good behavior for years, and a small mistake is enough to go back to square one.

Companies, specially those who address a big portion of the population, seek, and need, acceptance of the society. They use a lot of means to achieve it, but the one of the first ones is showing the people that they are also part of the society. That includes that they will not do to the others what they do not like done to them.

You can not buy image. Image is constructed around a lot of aspects, some very concise and some than can be seen in an indirect form, but the number of repetitions is far larger than the others. In the case I mentioned at the beginning, an action from an employee affected the image of that company so negatively in my mind, that I will hardly choose that company in the event I need their services. The act was an employee reaction in the street, or with a client, or with a future client, an act that repeats a lot of times per day per employee. It is named as the “truth moment” in the theory: the moment an employee meets a client.

It is not enough to advertise, demonstrate civic responsibility, do donations or implement social help plans; if your employees are not aligned with the social responsibility that the company is claiming for, the image is negatively affected. It is like a policeman dressed in his uniform not acting in a robbery because he is not in service; just because he is dressing the uniform, he is seen as a policeman and must act like it is expected. In terms of image, one must be completely coherent. If a person is associated with your company by his uniform or by the tools he is working with, including the car he is driving, being him or not your employee, being or not in working hours, can affect the image of the whole company. It can be a positive or negative effect, but we all know that is more easy to see and spread the word about a negative action than a positive one. Is a manager responsibility to teach the team how to behave if they are seen as employees of the company.

As you can see, it is not enough to train the “Customer care” employees in the way they must behave in the name of the company. In fact, anyone in the company that talks on behalf of his employer can be seen as a representant of the company, and his word can influence people to construct, or destroy, the image they have about the company. Every little act counts.

See you around. Regards,

    Diego :D

The godfather

21/May/2008

I was in a hurry while driving (very frequent for me, mainly because I hate driving), but going by the rules, as always. I was going on the lane next to the leftmost because I needed to follow straight, but a bus
made me stop: he wanted to turn right, and was left of me. I don’t want to discuss how he got there given that the buses must travel on the two rightmost lanes, but instead about his attitude: he started to turn right, and he didn’t care about anybody else. He has the most powerful weapon and knows that his liability was almost null; neither he must pay for the damages he could incurr in his vehicle nor mine, nor even worry about a trial, because the owners of those companies are very well connected and can threat anyone who try to get justice. He had power and know he can use it, and he did. He pissed me off.

Reading again my own words, I discover two of the main reasons why a person uses what he thinks is power: he assumes there is no risk (he is not paying for the consequences for the others and for the assets he is
managing) and there is a very small chance that anyone will start an action against him because he is sorrounded by people like himself that will protect him.

There is only one side on his equation: himself. The harm that can be done to the others doesn’t count. Regretfully, these people use to be seen as very succesful, since they usually get very good results to
the eyes of their peers.

Companies used to reward very high the results oriented people in the past. But times changed; some very important people loose their jobs or even went to jail in known cases of threatening, sexual harassment or
mobbing, because the companies and government started to understand that not only the results matters, but also the means by which they were obtained. You can’t go through life getting what you want from
your neighbours just because you wanted it. The governments started to write laws against some damages that were not taken into account before, like the time the damaged people loose to get justice or the
psicological consequences of the actions; the companies started almost the same kind of actions, and started to evaluate people based in a mix of attitudes (competencies) and not only on results.

I am not against powerful people or getting power, but in the way the power is used. It is very different to use the power to get knowledge than is to use it to force people to your will, as a leader is different than a dictator, even when a lot of people is under his command in both situations. Even the first situation is border to the law (for example, if you used privileged information obtained by means of your power position), but to manipulate people’s will is not only criminal, but also shameful.

One point for those who think are powerful enough to ignore the law aspects: there is a very big chance that someone have power because someone else gave him that power, and that means that person is more powerful than the former, so he can take the power away from him in any moment. Is like natural numbers: there is always a number bigger than the one you thought about.

What this “naked” people will have in that case, is what they have constructed, without the faked environment. Did them make friends or just accomplices in their “powerful” life?

Anyone has a Sherman tank to replace my car?

See you soon. Regards,

    Diego :D

Out for lunch

13/May/2008

Going home last night, the traffic was insanely congested. It was not very late, but it was not rush hour. After about 15 blocks, there is the reason: a public services company made a hole in the avenue, blocking more than half of it. I am sure the problem they have justify the hole, but there was nobody working, and it seemed that there would be no one working until the next day. And that, friends, pisses me off.

I know: everybody have the right to go to take lunch during work hours, and also have the right to rest, be it at night or when it was arranged with the employeer. And there would be no exceptions, but there is a phrase that characterizes the roman law principles: your rights are delimited by the rights of the others. This company, as a lot of others in the city, was causing a traffic congestion, very big traffic congestion, limiting my right to take rest. Should the workers of this company work all night? I think they should; not the same workers, but they shoud have shifts to work all night and all day to reduce the time to solve the problem, even during lunch hours.

Just picture in your mind a neural surgeon, in the middle of a surgery, saying all the people around ‘OK, i am going to take some lunch’ and leaving the surgical room. It is also wrong if that surgeon must work 10 or 12 hours without stopping. He must have a backup. It is very difficult to have that backup if you are the specialist, and that means that the situations where you are involved are not everyday. But the people that should fix the problem the public services company has at the beginning of this post are not specialist. They should have backup, or shifts, and that is a company responsability.

If you know the contribution you do to your company, I am sure you don’t regret working 12 or 14 hours in a row to solve a problem or an urgency. But it has to be an urgency. If everyday you have to work that much, there must be something else going on. We, the managers, have a responsability in that kind of situations. You ask one of your team leaders to prepare some kind of document and give him 3 days to do it. Pretty long time, right?  But that person have to choose between doing it by himself or delegate to his team. If he chooses the second, he must meet his team, give them the assignment and deadline, assure he will have time to review the resulting document before giving it to you, and even to have time to suggest changes. And, of course, to leave time to lunch and rest to his team. He will probably choose to solve it by himself. And he will probably do a wonderful work, surely delaying some other work he had planned. The next time you ask him for something you will think ‘Hey, he can do it in 3 days’. No, he can’t; at least, he can’t do it always.

So, the responsability of the manager is to really know how much time should take to solve the problem. And, if you have a deadline, to assign people to do it without hurting their rights, but also without missing the deadline. The public services company have a ‘deadline’: to disturb the citizens as few as possible. That means sizing their resources accordingly, so they can work, rest and go out for lunch, but without stopping the work.

There is another thing: the worker also has a very big responsability. He is paid for doing his best at the job. And that means that the “out for lunch” hour should be delayed if necessary, and he should not be so negligent to extend that time if he has work to do.

Do you want an open question? I like them, because they give me the opportunity to get feedback and to write another post. Does the government have a responsability in the traffic congestion caused by this company?

I am going out for lunch. See you in a couple of days.

Regards,

    Diego :D