First step to setting my goals for the recession

manchester airport
Image by rogerbarker2 via Flickr

The recession is like a plane journey

When I lived in New Zealand, I flew a lot.  Thirty-six hour journeys in the main.  After a while, it was possible to get it down to a fine art.  Everything was just where I needed it.  I knew the oddities of the airports en route, and the vagaries of a chain of flights through countries with their own distinctive cultures.

I walked into an aircraft, put my hand-luggage overhead, and sat down with exactly what I needed – book, hard case to protect my glasses, pen and passport if I anticipated filling in forms before we touched down.

And then someone sat down next to me and started bobbing up-and-down. First, they had forgotten this. Then they had forgotten that!  My heart would sink!

What can psychologists tell us about being cool, calm and collected?

Why is that some people cannot get their act together?  Why are others cool, calm, collected, and seemingly in control of every thing going on around them?

Action theory

Yesterday I listed three types of initiative described by Michael Frese of Giessen University.

Self-starters are quick to action and equally quick to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In an aircraft, they get their junk into an overhead locker quickly, clear the aisle, help other people, hold up no one, yet are comfortable and ready to go.

Proactive people think ahead.  They have what they need in the outer pockets of their hand luggage.  They are dressed for a wide range of cabin temperatures and take off a jacket or put on one without a fuss.  They know that alcohol will worsen the cabin-induced dehydration and they claim all the water they can see.

Persistent people are amazingly flexible.  They know that they are not in control and ‘read’ what is happening around them, less to join in, and more to help everyone else get settled.  They know they can get back to enjoying a quiet and peaceful flight when every one else is settled.

Can we be self-starting, proactive and persistent all at once?

Of course, we would like to be!  We all like to be in control, calm and dignified!  But can we be prompt to act, yet planful?  Can we be flexible, yet persistent?

The three styles of initiative are brought together with three key psychological concepts: goals, plans and feedback.

Goals are amazing.  When we decide what we really want to do, we become self-starters.   We jump into tasks and nothing can stop us.  Oddly everything becomes very easy too – or as we say, ‘the universe conspires to help us’!

Plans allow us to anticipate the various ways something can pan out.  So we learn to allow for other people’s needs and we budget a little time and energy to help them out.

Feedback tells us if we are on track.  If we have a realistic mental model of what will unfold, we can say to ourselves – my long term goal is to have a restful flight and my short term goal is to help my neighours get settled.  Then we can follow both plans simultaneously.

German and American psychology

The big difference between German and American psychology is the recognition of these three concepts.  American psychologists talk a lot about goals and to a lesser degree about feedback.  Germans place a lot more emphasis on plans.

We are able to make plans when we understand how the world works.  Hence, education is important.   So too is experience.  So is a good attitude to errors.  An error simply alerts us to the possibility that something needs to be understood.

For example, on several occasions as I stood exhausted and bleary-eyed in Australian passport queues, something went wrong with their computers and it took over an hour and a manager to sort it out.  The third time it happened, I stepped round the counter and watched how they resolved the problem.  To cut a long story short, it seemed that the clerk had entered the country code for my passport incorrectly.  I could see that this would happen again.  Thereafter, my passport proudly carried yellow stickies with the message “The code for xxxxx is yy!”  Understanding the objective world and the priorities of others is so important to maintaining our own bearings.

When I understand the “noise and whip of the whirlwind”, I find it so much easier to deal with the “noise and whip”, or to use another metaphor, to give unto Ceasar.  Dealing with distractions, interruptions and errors may take a little time, but I don’t muddle them up with a commentary on what I am doing.  I deal with the distractions on their own terms, and register as feedback solely whether or not I am free to pursue my own goals!

When I am aware of what is going on around me and I have dealt with the odd things that come up, then at last I can act more like a self-starter – pursuing goals, doing what needs to be done immediately, being more mindful, and finding flow.

All three – goals, plans and feedback – work together.  Sometimes I am on a learning curve.  And I need to get through up that curve to arrive at a point where I am self-starting, proactive and persistent – or to anyone else – cool, calm and collected!

So what should I do about my disorganized neighbours?

Well, neigbours on long-distance flights, as in life, can be interesting or dull.  They can genuinely require help, or just be the most feckless, disorganized wretches that it is possible to imagine.

It doesn’t matter which they are. They are. They simply ‘are’.  We take them as we find them.  I’ve found myself reading for hours to an 8 year old travelling alone and on another flight, moving seats to allow an engineer travelling from Melbourne to Rwanda to use my seat to sleep.  I’ve shared a beer with a fireman from 9/11 and translated for seamen determined to drink the bar dry as they flew from Cape Town to Beijing.

They each had their goals, their plans based on their understanding of their world, and their judgement of the situation.  They’ll settle soonest if they can explore the situation they find themselves in, learn what works, and balance up alternative plans.  The sooner they can do that without distraction from me, the sooner they will settle.

And talking about the recession?

Like most people, I am exasperated by the mess made by the banks.  I am not even sure why we continue to pay people who are manifestly not competent in the business they have chosen.

I am also looking forward to the point where more people around me are ‘up to speed’ on what is happening in the world of international finance.  I’ll even be happy when more people around me are actively trying to find out what is happening.

I would like to see people setting positive goals.   Too many goals seem to be persistent in the wrong way  – hanging on to what we thought would happen – and no longer relevant to what is happening.  As we learn about this new world, we must find goals that are attractive in spite or even because of the mess. We will still have to deal with the mess, but it won’t bother us half as much if we have our own goals on the horizon.

And then we will find ourselves more active – less inclined to groan when the alarm clock goes off.

The truth is achieving goals is simple – the universe really seems to help us.  Deciding on our goals is the hard part.


Come with me!

So I’ve begun.  Today, I flicked open my SEO notebook at the back and started jotting down key figures on the British economy as I found them in various articles.

How are you learning more about the financial system and the economy?

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How am I getting along with my one line job description?

Deal with work overload by writing a one line job description

Two weeks ago, I posted my system for dealing with overload. I wrote myself a one line job description “During 2009, I needed to achieve A, B, C, D and E, simultaneously”.

I wanted to stop today and tell you how this job description is working.

To refresh your memories – I began by taking all my goals for 2009 and putting them in a circle on a piece of scrap paper.   Amazingly, they clustered naturally into five groups.

Then I took the back of an old Christmas card, put 2009 in the centre, and drew five spokes.  I marked off ‘quarters’ for each spoke, and then months for the first quarter, and jotted down what I wanted to achieve.  I also labelled the spokes.  Then I propped the card up nicely below my second screen.

So how did it go?

Guess what?  I didn’t look at it again – for ten days.

When I did, my first thought was – oh, so you forgot about this pretty quickly!  Then I looked at the drawing more closely.

  1. Yes, on two spokes I am far ahead of my goals.  I am on target to achieve much of February too.
  2. On a third, I am doing fine and will achieve everything provided I don’t drop the ball.
  3. In the fourth, I am a little behind but there isn’t much too do.
  4. The fifth has been neglected but when I labeled the spoke, I had made it much clearer why I was doing this work.  With that in the back of my mind, I stumbled on a solution bye-the-bye in the course of other work.  I only expected to find the solution in months and months!  Now I can tackle the tasks on this spoke more efficiently and with more verve and energy.

Yes.  This works.  I’ve even redrawn the card and increased the goals somewhat.  I am my own worst boss.

I’m still busy.  And I will still  prune and prioritize.  But picturing has helped, a lot.

The next stage is to do this for another two fortnights, I think.

Come with me!

Anyone want to keep up with me and reduce their job to a 5×4 card?

UPDATE: As I tidy up this blog, I am also tidying up my office.  And I have lost my card.  I know one spoke is far ahead, one is very far behind but there is a clear way forward.   Two spokes have morphed into another project.  Can’t remember the fifth spoke.  It will be interesting when I find the card.

And then I will have the fun of seeing how far I have come – on each spoke and on reducing the feeling of being pulled in all directions!


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Complicated is horrible. Complexity is beautiful.

Oh, I am so irritated.  I’ve been doing tax returns all day.  They have to be one of the most irritating things in life, and not because someone is taking money off us.  They are irritating because they are convoluted, fiddly, and complicated.

There are plenty of other complicated things in life too.  Airports with signs that send you anywhere except where you want to go.  Bosses who change their minds quicker than change their socks.  And road signs!  Zemanta, the Firefox Addon which searches the web while you write your blog, found this humbdinger of signage from Toronto, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Nope‘.

The opposite of complicated is complex

Instead of the stop-start sensation we get when details are allowed to disrupt the flow of the whole, complexity is when the parts come together to make something bigger themselves – like the mexican wave in a home crowd.

Is eliminating complicatedness and creating complexity the essence of professional life?

Do architects create buildings where we flow, never having to stop and scratch our heads, or to backtrack?

Do brilliant writers grab attention our attention in the first line and take us with them into a world where we follow the story without distraction from out of place detail?

Do leaders describe our group accomplishment, and draw us into a collective adventure, to play our part without constant prodding and cajoling?

How do you create complexity in your work?

In what ways do you help us experience the whole where parts fit in without discord?

  • What is the ‘whole’ thing that you make?  If you can’t name it, can you visualize it, or hear it?
  • What are the essential parts of the whole, and the linkages between the parts that are essential to form the whole?
  • What are the signs that you look out for that the whole is ‘forming’, or ‘not forming’, as it should?
  • What are the extra bits of help that from time-to-time you add for the whole to come to fruition?

I’m interested in the complexity you manage, and the beautiful and satisfying experiences you add to the world.

Come with me

Share your experiences with us?

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3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill

 

Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.

Benefits

What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.

Relatedness

Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.

ROI

The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.

Collaboration

If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

Managing multiple and inter-dependent goals

For years, I’ve been looking for a way to lay out a set of goals that are inter-dependent and possibly conflicting. Yesterday, I stumbled a text to mindmap online program.

It’s great. You type in a list of topics and sub-topics and it generates a simple mind map for you. You can have a springy free-from map. Or, you can “fix” it and move the topics and sub-topics to where you want them. And you can download the map as a jpg file.

How do I use it for defining my goals?

1. I made the title and central concept “A great 2008”.

2. I added in my various projects, including planning 2009, and grouped them – in the text list. When I was done, I had it generate the mindmap (yeah, no fiddly graphics).

3. Then I fixed my map. I thought I would fix the map to show the progress of the projects bringing projects going well closer to the middle. But I decided rather to reflect their importance or priority.

4. And I can come back to the site whenever I want. It’s free. I am going to do this periodically to review how I am doing.

5. As events unfold, I can take note of what has surged ahead unexpectedly and what is lagging and needs more effort. I can also expand sections if that is what I need at the time.

Unfortunately, we can’t edit the goals except on the text list and we can’t save. So we have to retype each time.

What I really love is that there is no messing around with graphics.

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Reminding myself of the importance of recreation through Steve Pavlina’s personal development forum

I’ve just joined Steve Pavlina‘s personal development forum. The posts are a bit reminiscent of “Dear Auntie Jane” though the younger people in the group won’t remember the one-to-many days when people wrote in to a newspaper or magazine. This is truly many-to-many in 2.0 spirit and people who join are knowledgeable about personal development and willing to share their ideas.

I posted a few replies to youngsters who felt disoriented and benefited in 2.0 spirit from reflections on my own life. I moved countries last year having done so five years earlier (so fourth city in five years). I was well aware how much time I was spending networking professionally and attending to functional things.

It’s really important to lead a full life with relationships close and social, casual and professional. Everyone should be pursuing a good range of sport, cultural and social activity. It reminds me of David Whyte quoting Rainer Rilke’s poem about the fire and the night. We don’t want to concentrate on the fire. It ignores the night. We want to look at the night which holds everything including the fire.

Hard as it can be when we are under pressure of immediate things-to-do, we need to cherish our wider night of activities we hold dear. Mindtools has an database system for building goals in all areas of our lives – though you can do it on paper too. It is well worth an annual springclean to check through our appreciation of the fullness of life and let the mundane details and work take their place in the wider scheme of things.

Minutes after  I drafted this post, I discovered MindGym, a coaching site with a fresh approach.  Oddly, they think it is a good thing to be taking work home with you.  Sure, we all do – but a good thing?  Must take that up with them.  And folks, the MindGym is British! Yeah!  Must definitely get in touch with them.

Priorities and goals

Middle management sucks

I’ve always thought that one of the best kept secrets of management theory is that middle management sucks.  Have you every noticed that there are very few movies about middle management? And whenever there is a story about middle management, it is about a submarine or boat where the “business unit manager” is far enough away from the “strategic leaders” to do some leadership? Or we see the middle manager bailing out and rediscovering life as in Jerry Maguire.

Middle management sucks because it is all urgent and important

Middle management sucks because it is all management.  It is all about “to do” lists.  Being a housewife is similar.  “To do lists” take up too much of our attention.  It is a percentage thing.  While everything on the the list is important, we should never allow our lives to be overtaken by what is urgent and important.  Urgent and important should be allowed, how much do you think?  1%?  If you have a day of urgent and important tasks, don’t you think you really have another 99 days of tasks that you are not doing?

Can you live without a day of urgent and important tasks?

If we could live without urgent and important tasks, I wonder whether we would?

Isn’t it true, as David Whyte says, that we make another “to do list” because we are scared that we are nothing and nobody without one.

It becomes very interesting when our “to do” lists vanish.  If we are suddenly ill,  or when we change jobs and nobody knows who we are.  When we don’t get email and our phone doesn’t ring.  It is quite disconcerting.  We much prefer to be dominated by urgent and important tasks even if they are dreary. Don’t we prefer to have “to do” lists that are larger than ourselves and our dreams?

To do lists make us miserable

For the last 10 years, as a displaced person/migrant, I’ve oscillated between frenetic completion of lists of commercial tasks like residence permits, bank accounts, etc. etc. – things I hate to do at the best of times – and silence.  I think this is why migration is so miserable.  Not dealing with bankers and government officials – they are people too.  Not taking boring jobs.  The jobs are important in their own right.  Migration is miserable because we make the mistake of allowing the “to do list” and the silences that surround them be all that it is.

We have to allow the “to do” work and accompanying silences fit into space around our dreams, not be our only space.

We really have to resolve to re-engineer our lives around a dream, to live around what we love to do and to relax into doing what others love us to do because we do it so well.  We have to allow the “to do” work and silences fit in to that space, not be our only space. We are letting priorities become goals and constrict our spaces until we cannot breathe anymore – rather literally for some.

A hack to start the dreaming

Take a a piece of paper (or junk mail envelope).  Draw a little circle for our little life as a migrant, or as a housewife, or as a middle manager (those scare me more than being a migrant).  Around that little circle, draw a giant circle representing our horizons and dreams.  And stare at the empty space between the two.  Pretty scary.

I feel my chest constrict.  I want to walk away.  I mustn’t.   I must start defining the points on the horizon.  The points I love and I am drawn to.  And then start filling in any points between me and there, any point at all, useful or not.   I need to take the first step and to put down the first point.

Can we leave the tight center of tedium?

It is hard when immediate pressures are upon us.  We won’t start dreaming instantly.  We keep looking nervously at that tight center of tedium. How can we take our eye off all these pressures?

Crisscross over.  Promise yourself you will be back to watch that tight center like you watch a pot on the stove or a sick child.  But branch out in each direction to see how far you can see.  It is only a piece of paper after all. Just add a point.  See if you can.

See if you dare to live a full life even on the back of an envelope

See if you dare lie a life when priorities take up 1% of your existence and are priorities, not limits and constraints.