Can our position or person be easily replaced in the office?
Look at this face. Would it be possible to replace Kevin with his excellent reflexes, sympathetic ear, and consistent routine? Perhaps if the neighbours house is more fun he may pack his litterbox and leave. We may get a new cat, or upgrade to a kitten. Or we may throw caution out-the-door and get a dog. Kevin's unique personality and big paws would be missed but we would carry-on. (Note: Kevin is a little more than a co-worker relationship but the analogy still has value.)
As with the office, when we leave, we can be replaced. Our position my change or someone new may come and continue our role, but the company will not go under because we left. Yes, when a hardworking and qualified individual does leave it can take time and money to get projects back-on-track, but the work will still get done somehow. The work may not get done as well as your performance on the project, or it may not be as efficient, however, a company will continue to operate.
Good leadership values teams that work hard and team members that produce good product. These leaders try to make individuals feel like they are bonafide contributors to projects and the firm so that they don't need to look elsewhere for employment. If you are disgruntled with your position and feeling undervalued - you are not alone. There is a lack of leadership in many companies which is difficult to change. Unfortunately, if you leave, it will not cause the company to collapse. It is best to converse with leadership about feeling undervalued and if they can't help you, or do not offer support for you to feel valued, then leave for your own self-recognition and not because you want to screw the company.
There are instances where a very valued individual does leave and the leadership at the top is not strong enough to keep the ship sailing. The downfall of the company can be slow and messy as new team members will not join the company or the company can't continually retain good quality staff.
The employee and employer relationship should be equal - you are helping the company by offering your talents and in exchange the employer is paying you for your skills. Both need to be treated fairly and ethically.
Do your job well for your own integrity, then the worry about being replaced is unnecessary!
When team members appear to threaten your position on the project.
Oddly, Kevin has been come quite protective of his house and yard. He doesn't share well with the neighbouring cats or dogs who pass-by and definitely not the rogue rabbit, (Harriett the Hare to be precise) who enjoys the occasional sleep by the shrubs in the front of the house.
Perhaps the fear or anxiety of new team members or another individual being added to the firm is primal for us. It may have taken Og and Zoga time to adjust to new members of the tribe. If the new member will contribute to the clan effectively, if the new member can hunt, cook, or draw on the cave, OR if the new member will be better at everything and make Og or Zoga look like lame game.
Being threatened by others we don't know or experiencing fear that our jobs are becoming redundant is a very normal human feeling. How we let the feelings take over our thoughts and job performance is what turns these feelings into abnormal behaviour that can cause chaos in our work and home life.
If you are working at your best capacity, and you are regularly performing positively on your team, an added individual could be there to assist as there is more work to do than you realize or as you are a steady worker, your talents may be needed elsewhere and someone needs to take-over your duties on the current project. If you are constantly confrontational and underwhelming, then you could certainly be tested by upper management to see if you are worth the aggravation - if you out-perform everyone.
Fear starts our defence engines. Senses become on high-alert and our focus turns to everything about the new member - what are they saying? how are they saying it? what did that mean? how do they dress? when did they arrive at work? are they staying overtime enough? The best defence against this fear is ignorance. Your performance and your work should be what you are concerned about. How do YOU behave to others around you? How do YOU contribute to your team? How can YOU be more effective? How can YOU be the best at what you do?
Worrying about the office politics can use valuable emotional energy. Sometimes decisions and actions are being made with knowledge that you should not be concerned about. There could be potential projects coming that require more staff, or there could be someone in another department leaving and they want to see if this new member can work on a team. A good leader will share enough information to ease the concerns of the team or firm so that fear doesn't run rampant and affect production. Understanding that you are ALWAYS replaceable should be your motivation to do your best at work on a regular basis. (Can Kevin be Replaced? will be the next blog...)
After Kevin saw Harriett laying in the front yard, he proceeded to sit in her spot after she left to "leave his scent".
I haven't seen her back for sometime. Maybe by proving he was doing his job as a cat she found another yard.
How to be a single soul on a project team.
For a cat, Kevin can be social. He doesn't need our human companionship, but he would get wet in the rain outside if he didn't have a house and he wouldn't have his food dish filled everyday. When he is warm and fed, is his behaviour being a loner or independent? Early humans needed to belong to the tribe so they wouldn't be outcast and eaten by the saber tooth. There was protection and food in being a part of the tribe. Fast forward a few hundred thousand years and we no longer need the tribe for protection and food. There are some individuals who do not want or need a tribe but have skills that can contribute to the greater good.
Our acceptance of individuals who do not require constant human contact has increased, however, there is still a social stigma for those who don't have coffee breaks with everyone else or do not attend office functions. It could mean that they have other things pressing in their schedule and have to use their time very wisely, not that they don't want to visit and chat with others (that is me), or it could mean that they really do not care for the companionship of others.
Pushing an individual to always join can make them seem even more of an outcast. Accepting that they are individual and like their time alone can make them feel like they are understood. This doesn't mean leaving them off company emails or group invites; it means not singling them out for their lack of attendance at functions in front of others.
If you are someone who doesn't require socializing, then you still need to at least say "hi" to your team everyday and on occasion ask how they are doing - if only to keep the project team happy for those who are social.
Individuals who are typically team oriented and like to be social who become withdrawn and quiet require conversation with other team members. This could mean something is seriously wrong and intervention is needed. This is the same for someone who is typically independent and become the life of the party. There can be a personal issue causing the dramatic behavioural change. It should be natural for us to watch and note these changes in others, but I am writing about this as it is incredible how many managers do not observe any behavioural changes in team members.
Individuals who are quiet are not necessarily unsocial. Many quiet folk are incredibly social. Another behaviour to be aware of - if someone is quiet, but attends team functions and builds relationships with team members, they are social.
Individuals who are the life-of-the-office can be very insecure and lonely. This too is a behaviour to be accepted
- within reason.
Kevin becomes incredibly attentive when we return from a short weekend get-away. Then, he returns to his independent or loner behaviour. Does it work for our household? Yes, yes it does. Is he happy? Yes, yes he is.
NOTE: The discussion between extrovert, introvert, ENTP, INFJ, etc.. character analysis was deliberately not a part of this blog. I will leave that to those the full-day workshops and HR teams - I am only giving the quick highlights of working with people for those who don't have time as they are busy socializing. ;)
Office contractions - decreasing team sizes and team members.
Every spring Kevin sheds some fur to keep cool in the heat and give him the aerodynamics he needs when playing "chasing squirrels". However, shedding team members to decrease team sizes or losing team members from the company can be anything but a positive experience.
Almost all shedding is profit driven as business is profit driven. Without profit, there is no business or it is a business generated by existing monies. If there is no work, there is no profit. The complexity is introduced when those higher-ups begin the conversations about keeping good people to attract more work. In theory, this should work, but how long can a companies reserves afford to pay a good team member? How long can a company generate internal work without acquiring new contracts and new clients? This is not a personal slight against an individual who has been a model employee. It is economics. Profit also determines how many members are required on a team to complete a project. It would be wonderful if all projects had adequate team members and were able to produce excellent, quick, quality work. As I was told when I first started working, you can have 2 of the 3: fast, cheap, good - not all three.
Technology has helped tremendously with innovation and productivity, however, as these elements increase, so does complexity. As projects become more complex, the work increases. Budgets do not often include the complexity factor. Some technology is changing so fast, that the complexity factor isn't even known yet and budgets do not align with additional costs of thinking and creating or using additional software, thus creating small stressed-out project teams.
Losing team members to another project can be stressful not only as you pick-up a little bit extra work sometimes, but also the emotional element. If you have relied on the team member or have created a good friendship, management should be aware of this connection and allow you the time to adjust by either giving you a lighter workload for a day or so or even treating your old team to a mini farewell lunch. Proper introductions and endings can help teams feel ready-to-start or ready-to-move-on.
Losing a team member from the firm can be very hard on the whole office, not just a team. There may be several reasons for a company to make the decision to let individuals move on. These reasons usually involve profit which create fear in the remaining workers that there isn't enough work and their exit will be next. This fear is real and can be extremely distracting for those trying to work toward deadlines. Again, something management should be sympathetic toward.
As fall approaches, Kevin will grow new fur back to be ready for our cold winters. Like Kevin, we all must grow new skin to deal with new roles and adventures.
Learning to be objective about our work performance.
Kevin doesn't see that giving himself a bath in front of everyone in the house as disturbing or even offensive. To him, he needs to be clean, so he will clean. We can't explain to him that our non-cat friendly friends think it is weird or gross he does this cleaning openly in public. However, as the bipedal species, we can take the observational comments from our visitors, and take our own opinion of the situation and make a choice. To change or improve our behaviour or do nothing and possibly face criticism or isolation. This is why we can struggle on teams and with upper management. We can be subjective and truly feel that we are doing nothing wrong and can't figure-out why we are not promoted, congratulated, or rewarded for our performance.
There are leaders who are not good. There are many in almost every firm or company who do not deserve to have the role they do. However, there are some qualities that they have which allow them to lead others. Mostly, these qualities have more to do with the ability to profit and deliver than people or inter-personal skills. From a companies objective view, profit and delivery equals a happy client or a client that will return even if they don't like the people. This does not mean everyone on the team agrees that they are a good leader or good person. What management should try to achieve is both. Good profit, deliverables, AND happy teams. Modern leadership workshops and training are trying to do this, but it takes time.
When you aren't moving in the direction that you feel you should with work, you need to take the time stand outside your self and really observe what is happening around you. Do you truly take initiative? Do you ask clear questions about what you want to be doing in your role? Do you ask, literally, to lead projects or meetings? Often, we think we are doing these things but we are not. What comments are you getting in your performance review? Can you put aside your own assumptions and hear what is being said without anger and frustration? It is very hard to look at yourself as an outsider, but it can be extremely beneficial for your self awareness and your career. Once you begin to look at your performance like the reviewer, the anger and frustration go away and you start to look at ways to improve and even surpass the person who gave you the review!
These comments are not written from a place of being completely objective about myself. It is a constant struggle to be honest with yourself(myself) and not always pretty. Yet, it has brought me success and good fortune at times. As for Kevin, we just tell our non-cat friends that we are "currently working with his present issues".
The anxiety of project deliverable dates.
Kevin has graciously allowed me to champion this post as deadlines are not his expertise. He only knows the deadline for when he has to use the litterbox. For me, everyday for the past few years have hosted a deadline in some fashion. Some of the deadlines heavy and serious, others were little items that could jeopardize the project later on. The need for the team and myself to produce quickly and efficiently is staggering when I take the time to reflect on my work history.
The adrenaline spikes, anxiety, snacking on treats to fuel the buzz of being "in-the-zone" of concentration and neuron connecting extravaganza, can be so fierce that you don't even have time to use the litterbox.
I am no expert in managing the pressure of a deadline unfortunately because I function better under pressure of time constraints. Responding to this pressure does not mean that I am always happy or performing with the attention to details to my satisfaction. If you are a high-performer under pressure, the upper management will notice and then you always have work and then more work which can cause work fatigue and burnout. If you are not a high-performer, but your quality is great, then there is a place for that too, but it should be on projects with larger budgets and fussy clients. However, if you are none of the above, then you are a seat-warmer then I hope that you are the office clown so there is a need to keep you around.
What I do know about the deadline and anxiety relationship is that the deadlines start from the very top or the leadership team. When these individuals do not understand or listen to issues about the project(s), there is always a less-than-acceptable deadline. Listening to staff and being aware of what can go wrong, team's workloads, and team vacation calendars, can keep deadlines in the realm of realistic. There are clients that pay their bills that you want to have or to keep, who will push and demand the unachievable. In this yes-person client kiss-@ss case, all project players must understand and agree that the requirements for the project exceeds normal. It can be hard to get this agreement of terms in a document signed by the client, but a constant reminder with examples by the project manager can help reinforce what is being expected for a deliverable.
Days upon days of deadlines can leave the team tired and resentful if the rest of the office does not have the same timelines to work towards. Asking team members if they are okay with the constant pressure or allowing for enough time-off to regain energy can help keep high-performers from becoming low-performers. If the high-performers see the rest of the office operate at a different level and they are being rewarded the same, they will loose motivation.
Deadlines are here to stay as long as the global economics maintain its intensity. The best we can do is to take the time to properly understand what the project constraints are and what issues will slow us down. If we can improve on the most time consuming tasks, then all the better.
My heartrate is almost at normal as I am almost finished my own deadline. However, I just realized why it is called a deadline...cause they can kill you if you don't manage them.
Schedules and budgets are only part of the project management process.
Kevin is enjoying "alone time" while I take my vacation somewhere warmer than our office. For lack of a furry companion in my desert paradise, I have looked to the locals to assist in my writing. The locals: Dinosaurs. Well, not real ones anymore. Their distant cousins offered a helping reptilian paw. Project Management is as old as the raptors who needed to organize the hunt for their prey somehow. Then much later, Zog and Oga had to organize the saber tooth hunt and find shelter. There would have been specific resources to be used and a timeline. Sticks, moss, pelts for shelter to be secured before the snow came. This is leadership, however, due to the complexity of current projects, smaller units of management are now required.
Creating a workplan to meet a schedule with the correct number of resources to stay on an internal budget, to mention nothing of a construction or implementation budget, are only bogus numbers if the project variables are constantly changing. Part of Project Management is anticipating what can and will happen and allowing for issues in the budget and timeline. Most projects are unique and require relevant skill sets and experience to achieve an accurate schedule and budget. If you don't have the skill set or experience then ask someone who does. This does not make you look like an idiot, rather it makes you appear aware of your shortcomings enough to find a solution.
The big project drivers, obviously, people. Happy, talented people. People who like to learn and contribute to the project. People who like to feel that they are just as respected and valued as anyone else. People who have lives, problems, mouths to feed. People who need to stay engaged. Books, seminars, and websites are devoted to managing people. For those who are not genuinely interested in others or care about them, how to engage and motivate may never be taught to them. There are basics that anyone can learn and it sounds something like this:
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Not good? Anything you want to discuss?"
"Worried about a deadline? Let's see what we can do.."
"Family member is sick? Then finish-up and leave early. Your attention will be focused elsewhere anyways."
These are examples of asking a simple question, listening, and performing an action. This could be five minutes of your day to check on your team. They can either help you make your schedule or blow your budget.
There is no switch in the brain easily accessible that can be turned-on to get people to understand people. Often, individuals with excellent skills get tossed into leadership that they don't want and vise versa. A simple question implying interest can show an attempt to connect and understand people. Eventually, it will become apparent what issues are going to arise with teams. One of the big project success issues is how to get the right people in the right roles.
The dinosaurs had extra insight into survival and organization or they would not have effectively roamed the Earth for millions of years. Maybe we will find the key to global organization too...that doesn't involve eating each other...
When to use office standards and when to use your own.
Kevin likes having not just 1, but 2 litterboxes. They are the exact same size and shape but they are on two different floors of the house. There is a number 1 box and a number 2 box. He likes a specific brand of cat litter that works for him and for us. If a litterbox gets too old, or we need new litter, we use the same products. They are our household standard.
Not to be complicated with change or learning a new system, the litterbox standards are about tradition and efficiency. Following basic office standards is like a tradition. They are simple acts intended to make life more pleasurable. There are protocols, systems, and tools that can be used to make work easier and with better efficiency, thus eliminating stress and generating Profit.
Letterheads, file storage locations, and project set-up templates, are all examples of basic office functions that can create havoc for others and become a buffet for billable time to snack upon. Some of the office standards suck and dually noted. These ridiculous standards should be the topic of office staff meetings so that a consensus can be achieved which works, on-average, for everyone.
Each time an team member stores a project file on their own hard drive it becomes extremely difficult for collaboration. If that team member is away, then no one can find the file, the project work is delayed or has to be done again, and Profit jumps out the window never to been seen or heard from again.
All the idealisms of business can't help an inefficient project set-up being badly managed into Profit without sacrifice or loss. Following project standards can give a badly managed project some girth to start a re-structuring plan or team members a sense of organization in chaos.
Following a standard procedure or using office software properly does not make you a conformist. It does not challenge your inner rebel or lower your office "coolness" factor. It makes you the hero as it will always be easy to work with you and you will make Profit happy. A happy Profit makes upper management happy and you have a win-win. You can still be Punk and follow an office standard. If you have the time to question the global value of how using the standard letterhead template affects you emotionally and challenges your values to the company....then there is another blog for you out there called "Shrimp and the Corporate Shrink".
Kevin and I have our standard writing template. It may not be flashy, or as exciting as an Instagram breakfast, but it gives us one less thing to worry about so we can spend time meeting our deadlines. Now we are going to take a break and buy Kevin his new spiked collar - that isn't his standard.
When agreements get broken.
One of the major differences between Kevin and I apart from his genetic ability to be completely self-sufficient- cleaning his own butt, keeping himself warm in the winter by growing his own coat, and hunting his own food that doesn't require cooking before eating - is that Kevin isn't affected by failed commitments, misdirected performance feedback, and broken promises. If I promise him cat treats tomorrow because I have no more, he really doesn't give a mouse's a$$. However, as humans, we can be deeply effected by promises made with clients, consultants, co-workers and family.
When management announces a promise for new equipment, better software, additional staff, or a new role, and they do not deliver in a timely fashion, distrust, frustration, and anger begin to seed.
A promise made to a client about a deliverable that you don't deliver will create a lack of trust with the ones who pay your bills, and can jeopardize your relationship with the client. Everyone involved with your project needs assurance that you follow-through on your promises and commitments. Showing the team that you are good for your word will give you the reputation you need to keep succeeding and possibly a "let-this-one-slide" when there is a situation where you can't fulfill your promise. Continuously failing deliverables allows the team to label you as the project joke. No one will take your word seriously and it becomes difficult to persuade and influence issues when required.
Delivering on unrealistic deadlines or responding to unachievable promises is a different animal. ( ;) ) If the client or upper management dump unattainable requests on you or your team, then this needs to be recognized by all parties. The client needs to be told what they will actually get and not over promised results. Discussions, emails, and meeting minutes can capture what the expectations are and will be. This is something the PM can use to show why specifics of a deliverable were not met.
For upper management, promising better roles, challenging work, or increased wages for years is a strange form of abuse. I believe always offering a promise and never acting on it is called a tease? This constant offer of promises to employees stagnates performance and kills character. Promises that can't be addressed at work are also probably not being kept at home either.
There are a few hours a week where I make the time to go through my list of promises. Even if I can't attend to every item on the list, my goal is to consistently re-visit what I promised and see what I can do. When you know that a promise isn't going to be achievable, tell someone. Hiding your failure just makes the outcome worse.
As for following-up on Kevin's promise of treats, I get in the car and buy some more. As stupid as it is, a promise is a promise and I am accountable.
The ups and downs of company trips.
Within minutes of opening the carry-on bag to pack for a work trip, Kevin hops in and settles down for a nap. If only traveling was simple and relaxing. The late or early flights, waiting in airports during delays, long hours in stuffy boardrooms or convention halls, solo hotel dinners, and awkward timing for checking work emails, makes traveling for work nothing to be envied.
Work travel can be productive and fun. However, regular weekly trips become tiresome and pre-functionary. The upside, the change of environment - not being in the office - is nice break on the company's dime. That leads to the issue of what to expense and not expense. Expensing adult films in the hotel rooms and your third double at the bar are excessive if not unethical. No company should pay for your extra curricular activities unless it is a part of a work incentive strategy. In some underground corporate craziness I am sure strip club attendance isn't unheard of, but in respect of decent work environments, expensing the lap dance is not acceptable. Only the basics should be expensed - food, shelter, and transportation.
If you are working away from the office weekly, using your time effectively is essential. Responding to emails as you are boarding the plane can lead to more issues as your concentration is divided between the person in front of you trying to shove their oversized carry-on bag with one hand into the overhead bin with their jacket hanging out to the side getting hooked on the arm rest and your client emailing for a breakdown of project resources. Only respond to emails that you can clearly and confidently answer without confusing results. Using your time at the airport to review documents or to project plan is productive if you are not constantly being interrupted. Working in your hotel room is also constructive. Although, the hours that you spend working during free time should be evaluated as after all-day workshops and flights can weaken your concentration leaving you unfocused.
Traveling solo is hard on relationships and family. Taking trips only when really necessary can help keep you at home for longer periods. Having someone understand the elements of projects and why your attention is needed away from the office can ease the frustration at home. Not all partners share the same profession, so educating them on key aspects of your role can offer insight as to why work can distract you and take you away to travel. One-on-one conversations are needed during critical times on a project and can save the project time and money by having workshops to resolve current and future issues.
When I travel, I look forward to the time to think on the plane or at the airport where I can contemplate my bucket list - which is why I work - to pay to remove items from my menu. There are also moments where I can sneak away on a trip and see something new or watch how another part of the world experiences their work day.
Travel is not going away. Perhaps travel times and connectivity will change - be enhanced or become more efficient. Until we can comfortably hologram into boardrooms, face-to-face interactions will be required.
Kevin will get booted from the carry-on bag at security, so I will have to take him out and de-fur the inside of my bag before I leave. When I return, Kevin will hop back into my bag while I try to unpack. As teleportation is a distant dream, removing cat hair from my travel bag now and then for work will have to do.
Fiona Warren - 17 years experience with large high-profile projects and teams.