Doing it right

I am reading a fantastic business book at the moment, which I heartily recommend: Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. He says a lot of brilliant things about business and no doubt I will keep coming back to this book in future posts.

One thing stands out in a chapter on management. Meyer talks about putting ‘a premium on outward and unequivocal messages of approval’, and cites Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, saying that it’s the manager’s job to

catch people in the act of doing things right

A less enlightened approach to people management would have it that the manager is there to make sure staff don’t mess things up, or don’t get away with a sub-standard performance. As if, when the boss is away, the mice will just slack off and do a rubbish job and then head to the pub for drinks and a moan about work.

I subscribe to the more ‘Theory Y’ idea of management, that people are inherently motivated to do a good job. We all have bad days, but no-one really gets up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to do a terrible job today.” That is, unless something has gone really wrong in their relationship with their workplace or all motivation has died a horrible death.

Deep-down, people want to do good work but above all they want to be recognised for it. The best feedback I ever received was from a senior manager at a Japanese firm who, on his way to a meeting, came up to my desk clutching a printed copy of an email I’d just sent him advising on a tricky employment issue, and, brandishing it in my face said: “This – is good.” In his rudimentary English, he had made my day. With only a few words, he had valued and recognised my work more than any at-length appraisal meeting could have done.

Danny Meyer’s take on this idea is to extend it by requiring his managers to not only catch somebody on their team doing something right, but to tell him about it so as the CEO of the company he can personally let that person know the work was noticed and provide encouragement himself. To be recognised for good work is great, but to be singled out by the boss’s boss as doing a great job, is a genuinely powerful motivator.

Quite often managers can stop at trying to ensure their own success, and will take praise for themselves when things go right. To truly enhance your staff motivation and secure genuine commitment, you need to outwardly demonstrate positive reinforcement. Don’t just expect your staff to do things right, make it your mission to catch them at it and let them know!



With today’s publication of the UK Equality & Human Rights Commission’s report on pregnancy and maternity in the world of work, comes a new online resource from the EHRC on managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace, as part of their #worksforme campaign.

Along with any news story that talks about discrimination and employment rights of pregnant women and new mothers come the usual below-the-line comments on how tough it is for small businesses to manage. I wouldn’t argue that it isn’t tough for small businesses for a lot of reasons, but when it comes to pregnancy and maternity (and, increasingly, paternity) in the workplace, this resource would be a good place to get up to speed with managing it all better. And it’s a fantastic resource for employees too.

EHRC infographic - are you a 21st C employer

EHRC infographic – are you a 21st C employer?


Working from home more productive?

FiveThirtyEight argue that People Working From Home In A Snowstorm May Be Producing More Than You Are, finding that in some cases home workers demonstrate a surge in productivity. I wish more companies would open their minds to the potential benefits of home working, rather than seeing it as an excuse to shirk off and lounge around in pyjamas. And I wish that (I assume) the minority of home workers who do shirk off and lounge around in pyjamas would stop doing that as it’s ruining it for the rest of us.

As stated before on this blog, these days ‘work’ is very much a state of mind, and being in the workplace does not necessarily mean being ‘at work’ in your mind. I long for the day when, on turning up at the office, my boss asks me what I’m doing there and tells me to ‘go home and do some work’.

The WHAT not the when or where of work

CIPD/ACAS have produced a report on the workplace trends for 2015  (summarised in this handy infographic). There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, but one point that stood out to me straightaway  is their advice that employers should:

focus on output rather than ‘when’ and ‘where’

That is, why not make the work itself the focus of management, and not the hours put in or the location?

Many managers assume that if we allow workers to choose their own hours, people would slack off and do the minimum possible. But I don’t believe that is true. If workers are given responsibility to choose their own start and finish times – rather than being kept to an one-size-fits-all 9 to 5 rule – they will end up working regular hours. People like regularity, but they don’t necessary like being told where to be or when. If managers stopped treating work like school and allowed employees the flexibility to work how and where suits them best, those employees would quite likely respond by doing just that: their best work.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones wrote in the Harvard Business Review in May 2013 on ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth‘ and one of their 6 imperatives was that people aren’t hindered by ‘stupid rules’. In many jobs established working hours are a necessary thing, but we could say that in a lot of office work, and many jobs in a city like London, the conventional workplace rules around attendance are quite outdated now we have the means to work anywhere and anytime.

Focusing on ‘output’ is how a company like Netflix can allow their people to take as much holiday as they like, or Automattic’s staff to work wherever they want.

If we could move away from the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of work we could do a lot more than satisfy workers. We could spread out commuting patterns and do away with crazy rush hours in cities where transport infrastructure is creaking under the strain of commuters moving altogether twice a day. We could do away with a long hours culture based on presenteeism in the workplace, and provide more time for workers to spend with their families or communities.


Bad meetings


Ah, meetings: the scourge of the productive, and friend only to time-wasters or lovers of biscuits. I used to work for an NGO, and I know only too well the havoc that can be wreaked by endless meetings leaving no time to do any actual work. Sometimes we would have meetings to talk about when to have meetings.

Yuki Noguchi writes for NPR this week on why the workday is so full of meetings and I can really relate: meetings taking too long, meetings with no real purpose, participants there in body but not in mind, notebooks full of doodles, etc etc.

I now work for a Japanese employer, and the meeting culture is very different. Meetings in Japan are held to confirm decisions already made elsewhere (by a process known as nemawashi – quietly getting approval by approaching decision-makers informally much earlier on). This can really confuse Westerners who generally turn up to meetings expecting to have a cup of tea and a chinwag about something, and not to mention bad for your career once you realise you’re only there to rubber-stamp something that has been agreed without you. But on the plus side it does mean you’re less likely to be stuck there for hours wondering what the meeting is about. The other good thing about Japanese meetings, at least those involving very senior managers, is the bento boxes.

I say those calling the meeting (in any culture) should be upfront about what the meeting is about. If you were told: ‘I have no goal in mind for calling this meeting, but I just feel the need to have a chat and a catch-up. Oh, and there will be biscuits and coffee.’ Then at least you would know what to expect on getting there. And you needn’t worry so much about making intelligent input. But in that instance you should be allowed to politely decline without any damage to your working relationships. And then go home on time for once.

Go Home On Time

Today is Go Home On Time Day, as part of National Work Life Week in the UK. Which begs the question, why do we need to be urged to go home on time? And why do we need just a day a year to do that? Why do we feel we need an excuse?

Your company probably isn’t paying you to work past your contracted hours, so why stay? For many of us there just happens to be an accepted work culture that if you leave at 5pm you are somehow slacking off or not a ‘team player’ (read: someone who is willing to sacrifice their time outside work to put in some extra work time to win favour with colleagues or their boss). Colleagues without families moan that those with kids are knocking off ‘early’, when the reality is that most are hammering away at their smartphones and firing off emails into the evening or after the kids have gone to bed to ‘catch up’. When did work expand to fill our home time too?

I’ve worked in Japan, and there the culture is very much you do not leave before your boss, and even when you do leave your should vehemently apologise. And most people are beavering away (or trying very hard to make it look like they are) way into the evening or night. Is that the way we’re going in the UK? Do we just resign ourselves to the long hours culture, even if that means we’re madly underpaid when you look at pay by the hour?

Surely the ones who are out the door at 5pm are just more organised to have finished what they need to do for the day. Or at least that should be the ideal we all aspire to. We would all be much more productive with more rest time anyway, and if we didn’t spend hours after 5pm still checking up on work emails and trying very hard to make it look like we’re still at work.

Rather than 1 day a year, I long for the time when we can all down tools at the right time for us without any sense of guilt that we’re letting the side down. When we can acknowledge that yes, we do have lives and families and pursuits outside of work time. And that work and life in general would be much better if we could strike a better balance between the two.

What is the point?

Ever have one of those days when your work seems to be utterly meaningless? Believe me, I’ve been through spates of those, caused by a myriad of reasons. But what to do when that feeling strikes? Isn’t it just the worse feeling when for one reason or another you’re sitting at work thinking ‘why am I here?’

Here’s a reminder of the importance of PURPOSE in motivation, a  video condensing Daniel Pink‘s book on motivational theory Drive down to a 10-minute animation.

I hope it provides some inspiration! If you’re a manager or supervise another, it may surprise you to know that you can have a lot of influence over how motivated your staff are, just by providing or encouraging a sense of purpose in your team. For the rest of us the question remains over how you can find purpose yourself in your work?

How do you motivate yourself when it all seems a bit meaningless?