Management by Blog Post

A technique for people in charge who can’t be bothered with change management.

A group of middle managers go into a room. This is almost like beginning of a really bad joke, except I really don’t think this is funny…

The middle managers have gone into the room to make decisions. Decisions on how the riffraff will have to work to improve efficiency. Of course, it takes more than one meeting to decide this, but at some point they will emerge victorious, having conquered this difficult task of making a decision.

The blog post

Any decision made is communicated to the rest of the company in a blog post. It might be slightly different in your organisation – a wiki, a forum – but the fact of the matter remains the same: once the blog post is out, that decision has been implemented.

I’ve seen it many times, that very little or no thought has gone into how this new initiative can be absorbed into our way of working. How can it be made real? How do we get it to land? What is the expected uptake? What support will be needed? Are there blockers or enablers to remove or take advantage of? Who can help and who will hinder?

The real concern is the decision itself. The implementation mechanism is a single instance, written communication. I call this Management by Blog Post.

Always being right

This is a really good management style if it’s more important to be ‘right’ about the decision than getting the benefits of actually implementing it. You might prefer a one-liner on your CV over the outcome of making the change.

When using Management by Blog Post you’ll always have solid evidence
a) of what you have shared exactly
b) when you shared it

This gives you the benefit of holding people accountable when they don’t do the thing you decided but without having to actually engage with them and support them.

Saving time

This can be such a time saver for middle management, who has lots of decisions to make about how to improve the working environment for the riffraff and therefore doesn’t have time to do change management the old fashioned, heavy-weight way.

You can implement organisational wide initiatives in as much time as it takes to write a blog post.

Taking responsibility

Another advantage of this method is that the riffraff can take full responsibility for the implementation – in a way that best suits their needs.

Middle management has been stepping further and further away from the riffraff over the past few years as Autonomous Teams have become the new orange (which I heard is the new black) – so it’s only right for them to allow those impacted the most the responsibility for the actual implementation.

The real message

The real message is, that I’m totally attempting sarcasm here – in case that wasn’t clear.

Don’t do Management by Blog Post! Ever!

I know that change management is hard and that communication is hard – but it’s not impossible.

If you are doing Management by Blog Post I implore you to stop and introspect:

  • are you and your fellow middle managers making decisions for others when others would actually be better placed to make the decisions?
  • is ‘making a decision’ more important than creating a good environment for the humans you work with?
  • have you got too many fingers in too many pies and consequently not enough time to do anything ‘good enough’?
  • are you able to clearly articulate what outcome you expect, so the humans working for you are able to take responsibility for finding the best solution and implementing it to their needs?

 

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The value of doing nothing

I won’t go as far as saying “I am a lazy person” but I definitely have lazy spells.

Sometimes I build up this mental list of things to do – chores, but also fun things. Ideas, if you will, on how to spend an evening or a weekend – with friends, with my husband or alone.

But then I turn on Netflix and I can’t remember any of the things on the list…

Then I turn Netflix off and start my evening routine. And guess what? All of the things I didn’t do start flooding back to me and I make a promise to myself I’ll do some of it tomorrow and next weekend.

Busy is not the same as productive

I don’t even think anyone is trying to keep it a secret; how busy you are doesn’t in the slightest predict how effective you are.

Having spent a portion of my career as a team leader I often had a fully booked calendar several days into the future. There are all the team ceremonies – and some of them required me to do some planning and/or gather some data – meetings with my peers and superiors, one-to-one meetings with everyone in my team. And something wonderful, which we called “10% time” – time for personal development and learning. This was also scheduled in my calendar – and although definitely the first thing any of us sacrificed to “get things done” – something many of us pretended to do every Friday afternoon.

And there was definitely a lot to do. In hindsight I don’t understand why I couldn’t see it was out of control. When someone asks you for 15 minutes of your time and you have to schedule it two days into the future (!) you should realise something ain’t right, right? And when your personal development time increases your stress levels? And when you’re basically okay with that just being “the way it is”?

Mostly stuff did get done. But that was actually the point: stuff got done.

It was easier to just continue with what’s right in front me – kinda like when I watch Netflix at home. Except with fewer dead Swedish people*. And when I turned off the computer, preparing to go home, I’d sometimes see the bigger picture – opportunities and challenges otherwise hidden behind piles and piles of post-its with tasks – and promise myself I’d look into that tomorrow, or definitely next week.

Just do nothing for awhile

At home, when I turn off Netflix well before bedtime (or don’t even turn it on at all!) I look at my house. And I see things. I see things I ought to do and things I want to do.

I notice that we have six guitars, a double bass, a drum, a microphone and an electrical keyboard. I could play some music – or at least I could practice so I will one day be able to play music.

I notice that we have two sewing machines, countless knitting needles, crochet hooks, needlepoint stuff, yarn, fabric and accessories – so I could finish one of the countless projects I’ve already started or I could start a new one.

I notice the flowers look thirsty and the photos of our families still in a pile on the floor rather than on the wall.

I see problems and opportunities.

And then I solve the problems and seize some of the opportunities.

At work, I had an opportunity to switch off the endless stream of busy-work. My Netflix equivalent to-do list. It was because I had a change in responsibilities and I ended up in one of those jobs where you have to be “self-lead” or whatever the term is nowadays. That meant I didn’t have a list. And on some days I actually just wondered around the office, looking for problems and opportunities. Not having a list of things to do made me able to see much more valuable things – things you can’t just write on a post-it – things, that will make a real difference.

And recently, standing before another career change, I’ve reflected on this and realised that the most valuable thing my colleagues can do now, is nothing.

 

* I’m quite partial to Scandinavian crime drama. I like Swedes. I love Wallander.

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I’m not a woman in tech

My name is Maria. I happily identify as female. I work as an Agile Coach for a tech company in Cambridge, UK. I am not a woman in tech.

I grew up in Pjedsted, a village in Denmark, with my mum and dad and my little sister. I climbed trees – sometimes I fell out of trees I had climbed, I built a soapbox car – and crashed the soapbox car, I cycled in the fields, ran in the woods, built fortresses out of snow and spent some time in A&E. I also dressed up, played with dolls and dressed up the cat (which could have led to another trip to A&E!)

Some of the activities I’ve described above, requires society to give me a label.

Tomboy

I thought that’s what you call “a child”?

I actually spent some time thinking about this when I was a kid. It meant I wasn’t a proper girl, but I wasn’t quite a boy either.

Luckily, I didn’t give a fuck…

Or… It’s possible that I just didn’t get it.

In any case, I went about life, thinking of myself as mainly a girl but also “one of the guys”.

I played Diablo II, LoD so much that I clicked an imaginary mouse in my sleep but I also loved (the concept of) my high heeled boots.

After discovering that I absolutely *hated* studying English at the university I decided to do software engineering at a business college. I *loved* that! I loved programming! I loved the Advanced Algorithms and Data Structures class! I loved lots of really technical, computery  things that only men know about… Teehee…

I got me a job as a programmer right out of school. Whoop!

The ignorance started to wear off…

I still loved being a woman and I really loved working in tech!

But I fucking hated being a Woman in Tech.

“Woman in tech” is just another label I don’t need. Like tomboy. I feel like I’m a rare species. For you to ogle. Like in a zoo. “This particular one has brightly coloured hair; not an uncommon trait for a ‘woman in tech’.”

Maybe I’m representative, maybe I’m not, but don’t ask me to represent!

I don’t want your ‘exclusively for women’ support groups

I want inclusivity, not exclusivity.

You’re victimising me when you do that. You’re indicating that it’s most likely I need special, extra support. Just because I’m female.

You’re also indicating that “this is a women’s problem, best solved by women” but that deepens the divide, creating an “us” and a “them”. Just based on gender…

(I can understand your argument if you say that sticking together makes an already marginalised group stronger, like gay pride for example. I also wish gay rights == human rights. If you throw a parade celebrating women who did awesome shit in STEMM and invite the world to join, I’m in and I’m bringing pom-poms!)

I don’t want your special award

What is it about tech awards specifically for women? Have new studies shown a correlation between technical abilities and Y chromosomes? Don’t we all, in theory, have the same possibilities for succeeding in tech?

By creating special awards for women I think you’re belittling the impact and effort a group of humans are having in their field – just because of their gender. It’s behaviour like this that leads to the news headline being that ‘a man nearly beat his own record’ and in smaller text or below the fold ‘a women totally smashed any previous record into the ground’.

If you actually wanna say “look, women can do this too” – inspect your unconscious biases and nominate the women who deserve it for the not-only-for-women awards! Because I know there are a shit tonne of deserving women too…

(And I don’t even know why it’s just women… Is there an award for each non-binary option, or do all non-binaries have to share? Are XY-ers, who identify as female, welcome at DevelopHER?)

I am not the problem you’re trying to solve

Is it a problem that of computer science degrees earned, only 28% are earned by women? Or that the rate of women in computing has been steadily in decline since 1991? Or that twice as many women quit the high tech industry as men?

Well, I certainly think so, and I assume you do too. Studies are showing that more diverse teams have higher collective intelligence – here is some research from 2011 and you should google for more: Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women

Assuming we can agree there is a problem, I’d say it’s something like this: the problem is, that the tech industry isn’t able to attract and retain enough women.

I’m already here, people. So I’m not the problem you’re trying to solve.

It’s hurtful when you say “we need to solve the problem of women in tech” and “Maria, you’re a woman in tech” in the same breath…

Lose the label

Inspired by my friend Michelle, I implore you to lose the label. Lose all the labels! That is an important step on the path to inclusivity.

lose the label maria

 

 

 

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Five minutes well spent

Make a positive impact on someone’s life today – and all it takes is five minutes!

This technique, “Five Minutes Well Spent”, turns all of us into motivational coaches, but without the need for incense and chanting. This blog is also short, because it only takes five minutes to describe what this is and how it works.

What to do in those 5 minutes…

When you bump into people and you’ve asked them about their weekend, spend a few minutes challenging them to think positively. Ask them questions that turn their minds to things they feel good about.

Here are some good examples:

  • What’s the coolest thing you did this week?
  • What’s the greatest achievement in your team last week?
  • What happened last week that made you feel proud?
  • What did you do yesterday that made you feel achieved?

Give people some time to think – don’t rush them. They’re hopefully genuinely examining recent activities and weighing up what made them feel most achieved or proud. This is already really positive!

Now your colleague will tell you about something that happened recently, that makes them feel great. Just listen to them. It’s not easy to perfect, but a relatively good job is better than not trying, and if you practice deliberately you can master this skill too.

Follow that up with more goodness

You should follow up with some supporting questions.

You’re trying to influence them to retrospect on “what went well” so it becomes easier to recognise when it happens again, and easier to replicate.

Here are some examples (practice to find which followups work better for different types of answers):

  • How did you do that?
  • That’s interesting, then what happened?
  • What are you planning to do next? Who did you share that with? What did they say?
  • How did you feel?

There are a few “don’ts” too

Notice that you shouldn’t say stuff like “wow, that’s clever” or “you’re so smart” – that has side effects you’re not interested in encouraging. What you want to do is remind people that the effort they put in and the learning they did on the way is what makes them genuinely feel good about it and also what makes them able to repeat success (“you’re smart” is not repeatable)

The gift that keeps on giving!

Do it because it has a longer lasting effect as well.

When we keep asking people about what problems they have and what’s wrong (even if we ask because we intend to help) it encourages them to keep a record in their mind of everything that bothers them and everything that went wrong – because they know someone is going to ask them about it soon.

Asking people about the good stuff will, over time, encourage them to keep track of good stuff – they’ll need to have that handy at the forefront of their mind, because you’ll ask them about it. And to point out the obvious: when we recognise that we have done something worthwhile, helped someone, achieved something, learned something – we feel good! And feeling good is good!

The first few times might be a bit different, though…

Of course it’s not as simple as “ask once and everyone starts thinking about positive stuff”.

The first few times you ask someone who’s not used to this, they’re likely to reply with something that’s more just “absence of bad” rather than “presence of good” – but that’s okay!

You can be a catalyst for them to rediscover that they have done worthwhile things they can be proud of.

When someone says “I did something and it didn’t cause the end of the world” as their proudest moments, say something like “phew, I’m very happy to hear that” then ask them what they intended to do (if their goal was to end the world they might have misheard your question ;-)) and how they went about it. Ask them what they’re going to do next or do differently next time.

What made you feel proud last week?

Share in the comments 🙂

Photo credit: James Billings Photography (https://www.facebook.com/JamesBillingsPhoto)

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What I’ve learned about ice cream

LOL!
*anxiety
DYAC!

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Sorry I had to lie to get you to click the link but you wouldn’t have clicked it if the title had the word ‘anxiety’ in it. (And if you know you would, this blog isn’t directed at you, but you’re welcome to still read it.) Let’s just call it ‘influencing skills’. For the rest of this blog, by the way, I’ve replaced the scary word ‘anxiety’ with yummy ‘ice cream’.

All ice creams are different, of course, so this is just a short blog about some ice cream I’ve been having recently. I still have some ice cream every now and then – actually I have generalised ice cream, so lots of little bites every day – yum! Everyone has ice cream occasionally, because it’s built into our brains, and I’d like to talk about ice cream when you know you’ve had a bit too much and it’s actually staring to affect you…

The symptoms of ice cream can probably be recalled from memory by everyone. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • exam questions containing words you’ve positively never seen before
  • your partner whispering ‘happy anniversary’ and you didn’t even get them a card
  • a letter from the tax man with a very big number in red

Some of the more common symptoms are elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing and a knot in your stomach. (If you’ve never felt any of this when having ice cream you might be having a different dessert and might want to talk to a pastry chef about that*) Ice cream usually sends me in a cold sweat and makes me unable to concentrate on what’s going on around me because all I can hear is my blood rushing and my jackhammer of a heart trying to pound its way through my ribcage.

And that is built in? Yes, because that came in really handy when facing a sabre tooth tiger and you needed to run really fast. It is your basic risk assessment skills turned up to 11. If you do see a sabre tooth tiger, or whatever the equivalent is in modern-day life – a violent attacker, oncoming traffic and so on –  you’ll be happy we have this built in. It’s only really ice cream when you’re perceiving sabre tooth tigers where there are none.

DYLS! Damn You, Limbic System – for doing such thorough risk assessment! The limbic system is old and it’s there to help you survive, not deal with exams, forgotten anniversaries and financial problems. And for good, old fashioned, caveman survival, the limbic system invokes the amygdala to release hormones and other lovely stuff into your blood stream so you can run really fast, or fight or even freeze – and that’s what causes the aforementioned symptoms…

I get ice cream all the time – especially when I don’t need it. But it isn’t a bug. My brain isn’t built wrong, there isn’t a rogue line of code in my operating system. It’s not a virus either, nothing has been injected into my brain to cause this undesired execution of my programmes. No, it’s actually a feature, like I said, it is built in.

It’s f#cking Clippy! Remember him? That little paper clip icon in Microsoft Word, popping up in the bottom right hand corner to ‘assist’ you with tasks at every inconvenient moment. He is a built in feature, which often breaks your flow and seems to keep nagging you until you at least acknowledge him – and even when he doesn’t spew text bubbles with suggestions he is still just sat there, looking at you, observing your every keystroke and mouse click (oh boy, I’m actually getting a bit of ice cream just from thinking about that!)

When Clippy is ‘on’ in the brain, causing ice cream, it makes every-day problem solving a lot harder. It actually takes 60% more energy just to get through a normal day, because you have to deal with Clippy all the time**. If you want to try what it’s like – without the sense of impending death from the symptoms that is – you can try saying the two-times-table out loud to yourself while you go about your normal business.

I’m glad you read this far. It shouldn’t be so taboo talking about ice cream. But paradoxically, as soon as you mention ice cream to someone they are at risk of also instantly having ice cream! Clippy starts reminding them that there is a ‘right’ thing to say and a ‘wrong’ thing to say – and they might recall an old infomercial where a colleague with mental health problems spontaneously combusted by the water cooler – and they don’t want that to happen to you. I hope we can at least talk about ice cream.

I’m learning to deal with my ice cream now. All I had to do was realise I had too much ice cream and then ask for help. A super-nice cognitive behavioural therapist called Rob is helping me only have ice cream when I really need it. Together, we’re adjusting my brain’s Clippy settings, turning it off when I don’t need it.

* Seriously though, you might want to see someone about that.

** Rob, my CBT guy told me that number, I didn’t look it up, it doesn’t matter to me.

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