The only thing I find more frustrating than doing work that shouldn’t have needed to be done is being thanked for doing that work. If anyone really wants to thank me for doing work, they could start by not creating mountains out of mouse turds. Stop making work where none needs to exist. Stop changing the slides three days after they were supposed to be sent out for printing. Stop changing the seating arrangement 85 minutes before an event starts. Just stop.
We talk a lot about holding people accountable, but it’s not something I see much of in practice. In fact I’m not sure I can point at so much of a single instance of whatever it is “accountability” is supposed to be. Maybe that’s why congratulations are so hard to accept – because if people were being held accountable and compliance was made mandatory, getting the simplest thing done wouldn’t seem to be a task of Herculean effort.
At this point, unless thanks and congratulations come along with a time off award, it’s just so much more paperwork to file.
In spite of myself I’ve become something of a convert to the concept of working from home. That one day a week is a reprieve from the never ending background noise that’s inevitable when you cram twenty or thirty people into a small space and then expect them to do work. My telework day, in fact, is the one day out of the week when I get to focus on whatever is in front of me to the exclusion of all other things. Even when the issue is vexing, addressing it without interruption or commentary is something of a pleasure. It seems there’s no limit to what you might be able to accomplish when you’re not being interrupted by something else every few minutes.
The most pressing issue with working from home in my experience thus far is that on at least half the days I should have been doing it, I’ve found myself getting dragged into the office for “something important.” That usually translates into flipping slides at some briefing or enduring a meeting that could just as easily have been a phone call. So far it looks like the week is so pock-marked with these “must attend” meetings that a day in the home office is in all likelihood lost.
We can say that we want employees to be “telework ready” all we want, but when the default setting is “you need to come to the office” instead of finding a way to get the job done remotely, we’re never ever going to get to a place where we’re not tethered to a quaint 19th century notion that work only happens when the bosses can look down a long row of desks and see people doing things. I suspect that method of “doing work” is too ingrained in the organization for it to change – which is a shame when the alternative is hiring grown ass adults, letting them display initiative, and holding them accountable if they don’t. Yeah, now I know I’m just talking crazy.
1. Atrophy. I’ll admit it, I’m not as good a driver as I use to be. I spent five years mastering the art of running nose-to-tail at 90 miles an hour on I-95 between DC and Baltimore. There’s not an every day call for that kind of driving in most other places. There wasn’t in West Tennessee and there certainly isn’t here in Ceciltucky. Every now and then, though, the situation presents itself where those long unused skills would prove useful. It’s only when you reach in to that old bag of tricks that you find out you’re not quite as quick at the wheel as you use to be. That’s disheartening… particularly when it leads to the inevitable question of whether it’s just a lack of practice time or if it’s a truly diminishing skill set.
2. Just Don’t Do It. Years ago I worked (indirectly) for a boss who’s philosophy was summed up by a Just Do It card that he passed around to employees at every opportunity. It read something like “If it’s ethical, legal, and you’re willing to be held accountable for it, don’t wait for permission, just do it.” It’s a pretty good rule to live by if you’re the kind of person who has any kind of reasonable judgement. I’m never going to argue that all decisions should be made at the lowest level, but I known damned well that all of them don’t need to be deferred to the highest levels, either. There’s a middle ground. More people should find it instead of deferring every decision for days and weeks in hopes that someone else will take responsibility for it.
3. The Cycle of Mediocrity. A wise old Warrant Officer once told me that “nobody does what the boss don’t check.” He was mostly right about that. In most offices the boss down’t check much – and the results are predictable. We all claim to want excellence – but in reality the objectives are usually targeted at achieving mediocrity. The rules are set up to achieve a minimum acceptable standard and performance tends towards achieving that standard. It’s what the bosses check so it’s what the people produce… and the cycle of mediocrity rolls on and on and on.