The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Handbag and briefcase management

It seems I’m developing a bit of a reputation for being super-organised. It’s totally undeserved, to be perfectly honest, but it’s a topic I know a bit about because, being basically disorganised,  I try very hard to be organised. If you follow. Anyway, that explains why, on a recent radio show, I was asked how I organise my handbag and briefcase. And here, basically is my answer.

First, don’t buy heavy bags or briefcases. When you can feel their weight when they’re empty, you’ll be sorry when they’re full. According to the American Chiropractic Association, handbags should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight. So if you’re a dainty 60 kilos, that’s only 6 kilos, which is lighter than my cat. I imagine the weight guideline holds true for briefcases.

(Gentlemen, at this point you may skip down to the Briefcase bit and I won’t be offended.)

Handbags
Buy a handbag with compartments. Then learn which compartments hold what. No compartments in your handbag? Use little make-up bags or jewellery bags to keep similar items together.

Have a separate card holder for your loyalty shopper cards and all those other seldom-used cards. No more unsightly bulging wallets.

Don’t carry every item you think you may need. You probably won’t need it and if by some miracle you do, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it in amongst the kitchen sink that’s also in there.

Carry shoulder bags cross-wise. If cross-wise sounds too daggy for you, call it ‘New York style’. If that’s still too daggy for you, at least switch shoulders every 10 minutes or so.

‘New York style’ is better, though. You don’t have to worry about it slipping off and you have two completely free hands, which is important for safety as well as for shopping. More importantly, it’s better for your back and shoulders. Years of carrying heavish-ish shoulder bags on only your shoulder, as opposed to cross-wise, really does a number on your back muscles, your spine and your ability to stand straight. Been there, done that. (I’m much better now, thank you.)

Briefcases
Most briefcases have a lot of compartments. Use them to store like items together and get to know what you’ve put where. If you need to, use pencil cases, make up or jewellery bags to stash any smaller items you need to carry.

When you’re meeting about several topics or with several people and you’re not carrying a laptop with the documents you need, coloured heavy paper folders or plastic folders are great. Label each one so you don’t have to over-tax your memory. Anyway, there’s no point in remembering your colour-coding unless you use the same colours all the time for the same subjects or people and even then, it’s a good idea to label them so that others who may help you in the office can locate them if they need to.

There we have it. It may not be rocket science but it’s one more tiny element in a polished professional image.

Are you working hard enough? (Trick question)

Consider these two situations:

A: You’re at work.

  1. You’re slogging through your usual 10-hour day answering phone calls and emails, trolling through paperwork, rushing to meetings… Are you working hard?
  2. You’ve been in your ‘flow zone’ for two hours of total, productive concentration. You feel energised and knock off early for a walk in the fresh air. Are you working hard?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to 1, you’re kidding yourself.

B. A joiner comes to re-hang a sliding door that sticks and is difficult to move.

  1. He gives it a tap and a whack and it’s in perfect working order. Be honest: Do you feel a bit cheated when you hand him his fee?
  2. The joiner toils and grunts and seems to work quite hard for quite a while before the door is in perfect working order. Do you feel his fee is worth it when you pay him?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to both 1 and 2 in situation B, you’ve fallen for the ‘labour illusion‘.

This same illusion leads people to answer ‘Yes’ to question 1 and ‘No’ to question 2 in situation A. We tend to equate effort, be it long hours or grunts, with hard work. But generally, what really counts is results, not time spent or sweat. The ‘labour illusion.’

When you apply the ‘labour illusion’ to your own work, you kid yourself that long hours and ‘busy’ (but non-productive) work are ‘real work’ and that you’re working hard.

And whether you’re a customer or a team leader, when someone else is working on your behalf, you probably like to see them putting in some effort. Most people prefer the ‘hard-working’ joiner to the expert, experienced joiner who completes a job quickly and proficiently. Many bosses would be rather miffed at a team member knocking off early, even though their work is done or they just cracked a difficult problem or made a break-through innovation. The ‘labour illusion.’ (Maybe that’s what’s at the core of toxic work cultures where you’re not committed and working hard enough when you go home on time?)

Even when the hours you or your team members put in are easier to measure than actual results, don’t let the ‘labour illusion’ fool you. It isn’t how tired you or they are at the end of the day that counts. Results count. (Of course, we aren’t talking about people learning a new job, here. That takes time and effort and results aren’t great straight away.)

Understanding the ‘labour illusion’ helps you to concentrate on what’s important, to do your best and to work as hard as you need to, in order to get the results. It teaches you to not kid yourself that busy work and long hours earn results.

 

 

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.

Even bees burn out

Anthropomorphising means giving a nonhuman being, particularly an animal, a supposedly human attribute. Anthropomorphising isn’t supposed to be sensible or logical, but ironically, science keeps coming up with examples that substantiate it.

Take, for instance, the humble honey bee. On a recent trip to Kangaroo Island (beautiful, by they way), I learned that the only colony of pure Ligurian honey bees in the world is in KI. They were originally from Liguria in the Alps, but a parasite killed them there and everywhere else they’d been moved to.

It seems that worldwide, other types of bees are dying out too, endangering food production because bees pollinate so many of our food crops. The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder (CDD) and KI is a bee sanctuary (no other types of bees are allowed on the island) and pivotal in fighting extinction of bee colonies and the preservation of our food supplies.

CDD can be caused by disease, parasites or — wait for it — overwork. What’s happening is bee keepers are forcing bees to work for longer hours and over the whole year than nature intended them to work. For instance, bee keepers move the bees from the Californian almond farms to the apple and pear orchards of the North in summer and then to the citrus plantations of the South in winter. All this unnatural moving around means the bees are being worked to death and the bee colony eventually collapses.

There’s a lesson there about sustainable agriculture and maybe a lesson for people who work long hours, too. Some organisations have a long-hours culture and people are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t put in lots of ‘voluntary’, unpaid overtime every week. Technology gives us the ability and flexibility to take work home with us and work all the hours we want to or feel obliged to work, especially in the global marketplace that never stops working. And when we’re not working, many of us have family and household responsibilities and all sorts of other pressures on our time.

And you have to wonder–how productive and efficient can over-worked people be? The answer is: not very.

People who regularly work more than 60 hours a week have a marked increase in the risk of depression, illness and injury than people who work more reasonable hours. In Japan, death from over-work is so common it has a name: karoshi, estimated to be responsible for up to 10,000 deaths a year in Japan.

To anthropomorphise a bit, people and bees are perhaps not so different. Work is good for people and it’s good for bees, but too much work doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it could also make Jill a widow.

What is your ideal working style?

Last week, we considered the plight of the humble bee. Bee colonies are dying out worldwide due to overwork, putting our food supplies in jeopardy since we depend on bees to pollinate so many of our food crops. Future food supplies aside, working too hard doesn’t do people much good, either.

At a lecture at the University of South Australia, Professor Ellen Kossoki from Michigan State University’s School of Law and Industrial Relations shed some light, based on her research, on how we can prevent our bodies and our productivity from collapsing from overwork. There are three physical and psychological ways we can manage the boundaries between work and family, pay most attention to what we most value, and our relationships. She calls them integrator, separator and volleyer.

But first, three questions. On a scale of one to five:

  • Do you attend to personal and family issues at work often, rarely or somewhere in between?
  • How often do you think about work at home?
  • Do you take work home by, for example, making work-related phone calls or attending to emails during the evenings, weekends and holidays?

Integrators mix their work and personal lives. Separators isolate work and personal tasks and commitments. Volleyers switch back and forth between integrating and separating; for example, they’re separators when travelling and integrators when at home. Academics, tax accountants and others whose work is cyclical are often volleyers.

To work optimally and achieve satisfaction, you need to work in the way that makes you most comfortable. Separators, for instance, need to guard against allowing technology to force them to integrate work and personal time.

Professor Kossoki also suggests keeping a time log tallying the time you spend on yourself, resting, working, exercising and so on. Turn it into a pie chart. Then make another pie chart showing how ideally you would divide your time between these activities. Then compare your two pie charts to see how well you align your values with how you spend your 168 hours a week and make any changes you need to so that you, not technology, careerism or anything else, prevents you from being the architect of your life.

Remember that your team members may not work the same way you do or as each other, either.

How to build a work team you can be proud of

‘You don’t win silver; you lose gold.’

Do you remember that controversial ad campaign from the 1996 Olympics summer games? (Before that, the phrase appeared in the 1988 rock ballad, Sweet Victory, by David Glen Eisley.)

The statement implies that there can be only one winner and everyone else is a loser. That’s a pretty destructive frame of mind and begs the question: How can you build a cooperative yet high-performing team culture in a sporty, competitive country?

First and foremost, you can have a clear and strong team purpose statement that explains how the team’s success contributes to the organisation and benefits its customers (whether those customers are internal or external). Your team purpose statement channels peoples’ attention and energies into activities that add maximum value.

Make sure everyone knows how the team as a whole, and how they individually, can measure success. Then support the team purpose with clear expectations about how people are to behave towards each other, their customers and suppliers.

Second, you can make sure that every team member knows how every other team member’s work contributes to the team’s success. This allows them to pass on helpful information and pitch in to help each other when necessary. You can cross-skill team members to facilitate this.

Linked to this, you can organise informal opportunities for team members get to know each other as people. This strengthens the bonds between them and builds empathy and shared values, helping them identify with the team and with each other.

Third, when you assign work, think about who is temperamentally suited to the work and interested in doing it or learning to do it. Give people variety in their work and as much control over how they do it as operations and technology allow and make sure they have access to the resources they need to do their jobs, including tools and equipment and enough time and information. Make sure the work systems smooth people’s progress and performance without providing unnecessary repetition, backtracking, waiting or effort. Train them when you need to and let them build their experience and confidence.

Finally, there is the all-important ‘You’ — the team leader-manager. Set high standards and hold high expectations of your team. When all of the above is in place, they won’t let you down.

Even an individual sport is a team event, with so many people helping, coaching and supporting the athlete. Even in teams where one or two individuals are more visible than the others because of the roles they perform, without the back-up of the entire team, they couldn’t succeed at their tasks. When one person wins gold, silver or bronze, lots of others win it with them.