Noobes shouldn’t be on the front line until they can do it with ‘no hands’

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

Root out 4 time wasters. Modularize your job properly

Productivity is all the rage

We hear of drilling our inbox down to zero.  We hear about agile sprints and personal kan bans.

All these productivity systems have one thing in common.  Finish what you start and don’t start what you cannot finish.

Work cycles

Now some poor unfortunates have job cycles of 20 seconds.  These jobs are mindless.

Others have job cycles of between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.  They are called managers. (You didn’t know that?  Now, you do.  Professor Mintzberg of McGill University brought that to our attention a long time ago.  When you work with managers, break things into small pieces for them!)

Others have long job cycles.  University lecturers have “seasons” of 7 years – from sabbatical to sabbatical.  That is the time it takes to write a proposal, get funding, do the work, write it up and publish it.  They give lectures that are 50 minutes long.

If they are wise though, they remember that they are human and few of us can concentrate for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Hence, a university lecture is broken into five parts.

  • What this lecture is about.
  • First chunk of theory
  • Change-up – change pace, delivery style and activity of students
  • Second chunk of theory
  • Memorable conclusion

Design what goes in to your job cycle

The secret of any job, I think, is breaking it into parts that fit our ability to start-and-stop and link it to other parts.

3 components of jobs design

Job design is about modularization and all 3 things matter

  • Our attention span and the features of our “box” – the human body.
  • The size and shape of the piece that we are working on
  • The way we link one piece to another to make a coherent whole.

The 4 time wasters in badly designed jobs

When we get any of the 3 features of job design wrong, then we create 4 inefficiencies.

  • We spend the 15 minute chunk working out what we are supposed to be doing rather than doing it
  • We do the wrong task because the linking mechanisms are sending us the wrong messages
  • Our attention is split or frayed with fatigue and our work is poor and has to be re-done
  • Or the task we are doing isn’t bundled properly and we cannot start, finish and put it back in the pool in one pass.

The job of managers and job designers

Inefficient managers tend to think that problems with productivity are to do with the way the task itself is done.  Sometimes that is the case.  To play tennis well, I practice the same shot over and over again.  Training time is important.

Most times, we are wasting time because we cannot start and finish something completely.  And on big tasks, we haven’t broken the task into modules that can be started, finished and handed over.

There is a genius to managing work.  And there is an explanation about why some teams get done more than others.

They aren’t having to redo work.  Everything is handled once, by the first person who touches it. And never again.

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Reality is broken. Games are great. What do you dislike about games?

Game designers are better at psychology than psychologists

Jane McGonigal, games designer extraordinaire, has long pointed out that games are better designed than most jobs.   I agree with her, but oddly I still prefer work.

Nonetheless, agreeing that games designers make better use of work psychology than psychologists do, I’ve been deliberately playing games from beginning to end.

Orientation that gives control back to the audience

Getting into games, the autonomy dimension of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model is clear.  We need to be be able to see what to do at glance. We shouldn’t need elaborate instructions or encouragement.

Something for the audience to get their teeth into

I am stepping through the levels quite doggedly.  That should be the competence dimension of Ryan & Dec’s model.  In truth, games are quite fun while I am figuring out the rules – or when I think I can push myself to a new level.  But they also get boring quickly.  Dogged is the feeling I have!

A way for us to play together

I think I don’t use the social aspects of games sufficiently. Social or relationships, is the third component of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model.

I am probably not very sociable because my motives for playing games aren’t social.  But, equally, I probably get bored quickly because I am not being sociable.

Bringing our own rules to the game

What has interested me more has been the way my preconceptions affect my game play

In a game in which I played the role of explorer in Africa, it took me a long while to realize that I could deliberately kill people and even longer to do it.

In Mafia Wars running on Facebook, I am yet to start a fight. I am yet to invest in armor.  I only do jobs against an anonymous enemy.  When someone attacks me, I just clean up and take out some more insurance.

In Farmeville, I would like to share my tractor.

Does social mean more than sending gifts and energy bonuses? Are our ‘identities’ and ‘values’ also important to us?

Sometimes it is useful to have our values challenged.  Sometimes it is useful to see that we impose rules that other people don’t care about.

Then we have a choice.  Do we want to play by those rules?  Maybe we do.

Do you make any of these mistakes of job design and sabotage your organization?

Classical ideal feedback model. The feedback i...
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I’ve just been reading a post from an ambulance driver (woops, they don’t like that title).

It is a privilege, because I might not otherwise have the chance to observe the nuances of their job, and even if I did, to learn the same might take hours of interviews and hours of rewriting.

So we are lucky to have this blog.  It also teaches lessons for the general practice of job design – which it did today.

Briefly, feedback is a key idea in job design. Yet, it gets forgotten for procedures and targets.

This is what is critical.  For every task anyone does, they must get feedback on how well they have done before they begin that task again.

Experts often get feedback as they move from one part of a large task to another.  That’s what makes them expert.  The ability to detect feedback that will mean nothing to anyone else.

But at some point a task is handed over to someone else. When and how do they get feedback on how well their work fitted into the next process down the line?

If they don’t get feedback, what sense are the supposed to make of their work?   What sense will they make of their work?  And what of evidence-based practice, if the people doing the work do not get ‘knowledge of results’ before they start the same task again?

This is the story

The ambulance man and his colleague raced a severely dehydrated child to hospital rather than attempt to re-hydrate the child themselves. They drop off the child, but hear nothing more about what happened next.

There appears to be no mechanism to tell them if their decision was correct and whether equally trained people would have made the same decision.

The blog post talks about the decision points in the job.  It is worth reading in the original for the pattern of thinking that is typical in skilled people.  We are constantly on the look out for this thinking to inform our understanding of the information that experts use and need.   And indeed, who is an expert and who is not.

You will also see the confusion and overload that’s caused by not getting feedback quickly.

So what can the organization do to provide adequate feedback?

I don’t know what the NHS does. I’ve never worked with the NHS in a professional capacity and I don’t know any work psychologist who has.

What I would expect to be happening is a regular psychological audit of each and every job to look out for situations like this.

We want to know that in each and every situation, a skilled and experienced worker is able to set a goal, lay out a plan, and obtain feedback before they begin that task again.

Why might that feedback not be available?

1.  The task is handed over, and for some reason, the feedback loop is not in place.  It might have gone AWOL (in which case alert the line managers and check that they put it back).   It might never have existed (in which case which psychologist slipped up).  The job might have drifted (in which case re-analyse it and adjust the feedback system).

2.  There is one other scenario that is more tricky.  Managers have been known to hijack feedback because making people wait for information makes them feel powerful (and sometimes allows them to distort what is said).   An organization has to come down on such practices like the proverbial ‘ton of bricks.’   Withholding information causes stress and overload, delays learning, and potentially causes accidents, which in an organization, like the NHS, may lead to loss of life.   If managers are intercepting feedback, that has to be reversed.   In a hierarchical organization, usually we have one meeting with the manager concerned, and if that does not produce immediate redress, we have an urgent meeting with his or her manager.

Who guards the guards, so to speak?

The system does not stop with psychologists keeping jobs properly balanced.    The file on the job (not the person – the job) should have the internal auditor’s signature on it confirming they have checked that the psychological audits are taking place and are being conducted properly.

And there should be another file with copies of the report that the internal auditors routinely send to the Chief Psychologist to report on the quality of the psychological audits.

A lot of work?

Organizations are a lot of work.  That’s why we have to consider whether we want one at all.  But once we have one, we have to run them properly and ‘prevent rather than cure’.  Good systems reduce crises, problems and accidents.

I don’t know what the NHS does exactly but as the largest employer in the world, I imagine they have sophisticated management systems in place.  Feedback failures are one of the many things that ‘staff managers’ count, monitor and resolve.

Does anyone know how the NHS, or other large British employers, manage their feedback systems?

For further reading on the 3 tier system of

  • Doing
  • Directing
  • Reviewing

.

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The hidden tricks of high level HR

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Have you heard of Elliot Jaques?

I was on Brunel University campus on Monday and glimpsed the Elliot Jaques building.  Elliot Jaques was blazoned in large letters across the side.  Of course, in the grand tradition of prophets not being respected in their own land, Jaques’ work is barely know to British HR managers and occupational psychologists.

Jaques on organizations

Jaques wrote about large organizations and the role of each level of the hierarchy.  What does the Colonel do that is different from the Captain and what does the Captain do that is different from the Lieutenant?  And more to the point, are these differences also found in a hospital?  What does the Consultant do that is different from the Registrar and is that different from the Houseman does (what do they call housemen these days?).

Jaques in practice

Understanding these differences is useful to organization practitioners for three reasons.

1.  To design jobs so that we aren’t tripping over each other or talking over each others heads.

2.  For designing pay systems (I did say that British organizational gurus seem to have skipped Jacques).

3. For designing training & development programs and by implication assessing where people are on their development path.

The system was modified slightly by a fellow called Patterson to take into account very large organizations like the Royal Mail and Tesco’s who train their staff from absolutely basic level jobs.  Let me explain the expanded Patterson system because when I looked for a good link on the internet, nothing much came up in the first three pages.

Patterson job levels

  1. Unskilled work.  I can show you how to do the works in a few minutes and I can see “from the outside” whether you have done it.  British pay rates are about 6 pounds an hour – the minimum wage.
  2. Semi-skilled work.  You need to be trained, much like learning to drive, but once you can do the work, you do it without thinking.  Your work is checked more by quantity and usually checked at the end of an shift.  Much of work in the British public service seems to be in this category.  Check the box.  Unless the equivalent of a car-crash has happened, it is counted as done.  That’s not to say it is not important.  It’s very important.  It’s simply done at this level of complexity and is the big difference between the work done in a Japanese factory and an Anglo-American factory.  British pay rates are about 7 pounds an hour which you will notice is 1.16 or 16% more than the first level.
  3. Semi-skilled work with responsibility.  In this category, you may have slightly more complicated skills, like driving a long-distance goods truck.  You are on your own and the damage you can do if you don’t achieve minimum levels of performance is fairly considerable.  Alternatively, you might supervise people at levels 1 & 2.  You will dole out their work and check they have done it.  But you are unlikely to train them or be able to vary the system.   I’ve just looked up a driver who carries cash and the pay rate seems to be 9.50 an hour.  This is about 36% higher than the last level.  Interesting as it was the same organization as the first.  I’ll comment on that in another post.
  4. Skilled work.  All skilled workers fall in this group, be they nurses or doctors, mechanics or engineers, accountants or teachers.  Generally, it takes 3-5 years training to acquire the skill and in each and every situation we encounter, we have to work out logically what we have to do.  So the mechanic has to look at your car and decide how to service it (does this still apply?). The hairdresser looks at your hair and decides how to cut it.  The GP finds out your story and takes some readings and dispenses some advice.  British pay rates at the entry level are about 11.50 which is about 25% more than the last rate.
  5. Skilled work with responsibility. Yes, skilled work is responsible.  All work is responsible.  At this level, we have enough experience to work on our own and enough experience to supervise people at level 4.  Note well, there might be trainers and supervisors at level 4.  Lieutenants and sergeants fit into level 4 this category because their basic skill is supervising.  Lieutenants are trained to do this from the outset and sergeants have come up through the ranks.  At level 5, we include the trial balance bookkeeper who runs everything efficiently, the CEO’s PA, the ward sister, the Registrar who has ‘been there and done that’, and the Captains and Majors in the Army.  Pay rates in the UK are about 15 pounds an hour which is about 30% more than the previous level. (Note the Army pays more.)
  6. Middle management.  The middle manager coordinates the work of several skilled people.  Each person is experienced and used to reading the situation and applying their professional know-how.  And they are quite capable of supervising the novices at level 4.   The big question is how does the jigsaw puzzle of these jobs fit together and as this is not a jigsaw puzzle but more like air traffic control at Heathrow, what do the skilled controllers need to do their job well and what degrees of freedom do you have for altering circumstances under which they work?  Some factors like flights coming in are not under your control, for example.  Which factors vary and are under your control?
  7. And the roles after this include middle management with responsibility, senior management (2 levels) and top management (3 levels).  Another day, another post.

Why is it important to get these levels right?

Let’s take something we look out for in assessment centres.

What level are you communicating at and what level have you assumed the other person to be?

When a skilled person becomes competent, they are able to explain what they do.  When they work with a novice, they point out the features of the situation that are important, ask the novice for a plan to check they are using the right professional know-how and to relieve the novice’s anxiety that they have understood, and then set a time to review when the novice has had a chance to try out their plan and to see if their efforts work.

Let’s be clear.  If you haven’t had similar training, you will not understand what is being said.  If you have been around a while, you might be   able to ‘follow’ without doing, just as a pilot understands what an air traffic controller is doing without being able to do it ‘himself’, and vice versa.

Difficulty 1.

The 1st difficulty comes in when the senior person simply doesn’t have the experience themselves to communicate clearly how situational details and professional know-how comes together.  Hence the rules to young lieutenants – listen to you sergeants, listen to your sergeants, listen to your sergeants.   To take the air traffic control example, an air traffic controller who is not totally fluent shouldn’t be supervising someone who is in their first 1 to 2 years service.

Difficulty 2.

The 2nd difficulty comes when the senior person tries to communicate with someone who is not trained in their area.  They are in for a shock, aren’t they?  That is a whole new experience set and takes time to learn.  Imagine an air traffic controller talking to the cleaner.  It takes a little work to understand that, no, it is not obvious to the cleaner why they shouldn’t put the paper strips in the waste.

Difficulty 3.

The 3rd difficulty comes in when the skilled person is promoted to the next level up and they haven’t understood their new role.

They are now supervising skilled people who know what they are doing.  Contingent leadership theory covers this well.  Don’t give detailed instructions!  Don’t try to motivate!  Delegate!  Just indicate what needs to be done and how it fits in with other work going on in other sections. Your skilled staff will take it from there.  If you’ve explained the overall situation well (and believe you me, we all mess up from time-to-time), your staff will deliver.

The sign of the inexperienced manager is that they forget there are many different situations and they assume their interpretation of the situation is relevant and start instructing their staff as if they are novices.  Interpreting the situation is the skilled person’s job.  The skilled person is on the spot and has immediate information about the circumstances.  The manager does not have this information and is likely to make the wrong call.  Third, the manager’s job is to provide the resources for your staff to respond to situations as they arise.  That’s the manager’s job.  Don’t wander off the job and start doing someone elses job just because it is in your comfort zone!

Take air traffic control again as an example.  Imagine an air traffic controller manager hears the voice of an traffic controller become more urgent.  The worst thing in the world would be to take over.  If, to take an extreme example, it was clear the air traffic controller was having a heart attack, the manager would get another controller to take over the station.  If the manager takes over, he or she would not be doing thei job – which is to monitor the overall situation and the interconnections between the jobs. It there was some tension at a station, they might walk over, but not to interfere – but to be immediately available to receive requests for more resources.  The picture from Zemanta illustrates beautifully – two senior people are standing-by to take instructions from the skilled person on the job. They haven’t taken over and the next scene will be them turning away to organize what the air traffic controller and the pilot needs to resolve this crisis successfully.

In business settings, the relationships may not be so clear.  If you walk past someone who is doing something you don’t like, don’t interfere and don’t start to comment. To keep yourself oriented, ask yourself these questions.

  • How does this job fit into other jobs?
  • Does the person doing the work understand how the jobs fit together – or better still, have we forgotten to tell him or her something?
  • Ask yourself what you are reacting to – your inexperience, or a real danger that the jobs won’t fit together at the end of the day?

Can you maintain your role?

This is a tough one for people moving into management, especially if they haven’t had good role models in their own managers.

To judge where a manager is a on the learning curve,  psychologists get quite sneaky in assessment/development centres.  They’ll drip feed you ‘rumours’ that a skilled person is not working in a skilled way, and then see if you can maintain your role.

  • Can you maintain your focus on how the outputs of all your level 4 people fit together and work together to achieve a good collective result?
  • If not, why do you think that the situation is so alarming that you have to do the equivalent of interfering with an air traffic controller as they speak to an aircraft?
  • Is your reaction based on professional information at this level 7.  Or, is it based on panic because the skilled person has a different style from you?

I remember one superb candidate in an assessment center who disregarded the ‘dripfeed’ and began a performance review of a senior salesperson “how is the market, John?”

Brilliant question.  To state this in a general abstract way. Ask “how are you finding the situations that you were appointed to manage?”

This exceptional candidate received a full report from her ‘subordinate’, listened to it carefully, and responded to it in its own terms.  Then, once they were both oriented and playing their own roles without muddle, she attended to rumors that he had been using a company car for personal purposes.  She didn’t muddle the issues and she didn’t let him off either.  She made it clear in a cheerful but implacable way that the car was not to be used in that way and she didn’t get into the excuses.  When one of the excuses was dissatisfaction with pay, she put that aside to discuss that later.  That was important and very much her job.  But it had nothing to do with cars and cars had nothing to do (really) with how much work it was taking to achieve sales in that sector.

She was only able to achieve this clarity because she was clear at the outset about their respective roles and she didn’t fall for the temptation of giving her opinion on matters that were irrelevant.

Rehearsing for your middle management job

Finding the right question is qhard though.  I wonder how many psychologists serving assessment centres and HRManagers interviewing could phrase them.

So figure out your question.

Let’s imagine an air traffic control manager was following up a complaint about a skilled air traffic controller.  Yes, it is tempting to jump to the complaint.

  • Begin with the responsibility of the job.  How is sector ABC?  Find out what is going through the air traffic controller’s mind.
  • Then it is easy to begin with – I’ve had a complaint about this.  And wait to see how it all fits in.
  • It’s very likely you will learn a lot.  Keep the conversation at the level of managing sector ABC and how ABC sector fits in with DEF sector and GHI sector (and of course, with finance, marketing and HR).

Sometimes there is no issue except panic and the panic is yours. So deal with it.  And thank your stars you have a light day today!

Going back to Brunel and Jaques

Yes, I am surprised that local HR gurus don’t know their Jacques. He’s handy for structuring thinking about big organizations in all three areas – job design, pay and development.  We can take it as said the pay scandals wouldn’t have happened if HR had been reviewing their handiwork with his principles and those of his descendants.

I have another question though.

How do hierarchies fit into social media?

We know the old dinosaurs of large mechanistic companies have to change their ways.  GM is on life support.  The banks in Britain are alive mainly because of the massive ‘blood transfusion’ from the rest of economy that may kill us instead.  The organizations of the future will be smaller and networked but there aren’t enough around yet to see patterns – or are there?

Yes, in a sophisticated networked organization, most students join us around levels 2 and 3.   Graduates should be trained for level 4 (skilled) with the idea they will be at level 5 in 3-4 years (skilled and able to supervise novices).  I think this pattern will remain much the same.

Thereafter, do we have hierarchies?  Maybe – it’s possible to conceive managing networks the same way as managing hierarchies.  Or are we going to have to understand the complexity of organizational life differently?

Is the Elliot Jaques sign at Brunel University just a curiosity like the lace buildings in my town?  What do you think?

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Dream jobs during the slow recovery

Auckland waterfront at night

 

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During the last general election in New Zealand, the National Party (conservatives) made a spirited move for power by offering sizeable tax cuts. So keen we all were to find out our share, we crashed the Nats’ site within hours of their announcement.

My share was considerable: NZD2000 or in purchasing power parity terms, twice what I spent on clothes per year. The Nats didn’t win though. And the big question was why not? We were obviously interested. And the amount was significant.

So why didn’t the Nats win? And is this story relevant to the UK as we climb out of the credit crunch and the threatened recession in a slow recovery?

People don’t like the bashing of people who are unemployed or on the benefit

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. There but for the grace of God, etc. etc. Both NZ and UK are individualistic, masculine cultures (each to his own) but both countries dislike power differentials and huge disparities of wealth. We knew full well what would pay for those tax cuts and in my case, NZD2K was not enough to persuade me to take bread off the table of someone who is unemployed.

Voters understand that our economic policy requires a million or so people to be out-of-work

Voters are not economics experts but most of us know the basics. We know that if everyone has a job, inflation would take off. Both NZ and UK have policies of keeping inflation down to around 3%. Our economic prosperity depends on several percentage of the population being out-of-work.  So how can we take a blaming tone?

We have new attitudes to work and employment

Jane McGonigal, alternate reality games designer described games as “happiness engines”. And she asks an important question: why don’t we design work that is as compelling, engaging and as fun as games?

We do know how to design jobs that are enjoyable. Indeed the basic techniques have been in the textbooks on management and psychology for over 30 years. And games designers use these principles every day.

We want work that is so much fun we have to pay people NOT to work and to go home and play games! That is the doable demand from the citizenry of the 21st century!

Can politicians rise to the challenge of work that is more fun than games?

I think the first step is a social media solution: set up happiness surveys on the internet. When we feel so moved, we log on and say “I love this job”.

Then we will know which sectors are getting the thumbs-up from their employees, and as the saying goes, what gets measured gets done!

And we can worry about how much to pay people to stay at home!

What do you think?

Hat-tip to Sirona recruitment consultants  who inspired this post.

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

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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

 

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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.

How important is this employee to your business and how good is your follow-through?

There is a program about restaurants and casinos on Radio 4 at the minute.  It seems chefs in casinos are given every resource and facility to provide better food and service than their competitors.

I wonder how many industries could make the same claim?

 

May 2017:  How many businesses seriously consult their in-house experts about what they can do to advance the collective goal?  How many businesses are running a strategic-game at all?

To rephrase this in terms of contemporary work & organizational psychology research, how many jobs are the most pressing concerns felt by employees to be their specific contribution to the strategic effort?