What your manager (may have) learned on holiday...
It's summertime! Hooray! You know what that means! Sun, fun and middle managers reading business books that truly get them, like, you know, truly speak to them on a level they could not have imagined.
Yep, just like rich white kids with dreadlocks who bring guitars to sixth form parties because they've found that music really speaks to them, like, yeah, the manager who has read a self-help book and is now determined to shake up their team is something most people are inflicted with at some point in their lives. So what may they have learned and how do we deal with it?
We need a team culture! (Strive for Meritocracy, not mirrortocracy)
One thing that keeps coming up time and time again is looking for a positive culture fit. Will new members of your team fit in? Are existing team members a thorn in the side of another team? Well you know what buddy, you gotta identify those who don’t believe in your culture and ship them out. Except don’t. When people look at culture, ask what they’re actually meaning by that. Is it values? Is it understanding workflow patterns? Is it cultural ideology? Break it down and drag it out. Culture is a wide-ranging concept and what we need to do is understand what our actual intent is.
Do you want a lads mag culture where talk of fast cars, faster women and that time where Finch threw a kettle over a pub? How about a monoculture where the rule of the CTO is king, any questions will be handled with a swift dismissal, because after all, the CTO knows best? Perhaps a super-inclusive culture with weekly trips to the pub, pot-luck lunches and an encouraged friendship and socialising between staff? These are all cultures, but not everyone on your team will want to fit in to them, nor should you enforce it upon them.
What’s best for your customers and users is a team driven to do their best in delivering, working towards adding value, a culture of servant leadership. If you have a monoculture from fear where nobody feels they can speak out you’ll continue to do the same stuff. Have you been on a night out with friends and everyone has the same opinion? Imagine what a boring night out it would be, all just praising the same thing, critiquing the same people. That can happen, even if those who play along with the culture don’t agree with the opinions. Culture is important but perhaps break it down into a ‘ways of working’ and ‘values’ as opposed to striving for a monoculture.
So when your manager comes to the desk with a culture vision chart or some kind of mural, perhaps even a trapezium of talent, nudge some questions in. Break down what you’re looking for constructively, boil down the intent and truly get to what matters.
10,000 Hour Principle (Where and when)
Malcolm Gladwell popularised the notion that with 10,000 hours of applied practice anyone can become a phenom in their field. Gladwell uses examples such as Bobby Fisher and Bill Gates as experts who trained hard before truly reaching success. Their work is important and their effort should be appreciated, but I have heard many misappropriations of this in the workplace. There are some positions where someone should not be put in a role they have no understanding or training in and learn on the job, particularly when that can hurt people. You wouldn’t want to find out your surgeon was on their first day after moving career from being a butcher, nor would you want your pilot’s training to be a game on their phone where they guide flights in. This applies to softer project management skills too.
If a culture is negative or too strong, it may directly impact the feeling of trust and those willing to call out failings and toxicity.
Yes good leaders aren’t magically crafted in a factory and distributed fairly, nor are UX professionals hatched in a lab (as far as I know) learning and personal development should always be part of a role, but what about the potential negative impact of putting the wrong person in the place? There’s a meme going around Linkedin at the moment with the adage that people leave managers not jobs, if someone is promoted above their capability it's going to have a knock on effect. If you put a research team together that is unaware of how to conduct thorough user research without leading the participants, don't be surprised that all designs are golden whilst in development but flop when released.
So what is the best course of action with this one? A leader may well promote those beyond their capability, some may indeed soar. For those that don't, attempt to confront issues head on with positivity and constructive solutions. Help people including the person who has been misplaced, they likely know it themselves. A multi disciplinary team can work together, pulling forward all the while levelling up themselves individually.
#HUSTLE (during work hours)
From the wise words of Akon, Ne-Yo and David Guetta we learned that a hustler's work is never through. The feeling that comes with working all the time is a badge that many wear proudly. But, should they?
Being constantly busy is bullshit, it just shows poor time management. Your work should fit the job, either you can't do it, or you're doing it wrong.
However in what some believe to be a Machiavellian masterstroke on behalf of managers, there seems to be a culture dedicated to working ourselves to the bone for the reason of calling yourself a 'hustler'. Well what does a 'hustler' do? Hustle. To Urban Dictionary!
To have the courage, confidence, self belief, and self-determination to go out there and work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life.
“I need to hustle to make it as a musician. You gotta hustle to get that job you want.”
Great, you gotta work hard. Excellent, throw yourself into work, live for cause and effect. However remember what you work for. If you work for the thrill of getting a job done, do it, more power to you. Thrive in that environment, you’ve found a passion and vocation that you live for, cracking. If you don’t feel that way you need to set boundaries. Ensure that you ‘log off’. Work incredibly hard when you’re at work of course but be clear that you’re working to your contract. Sometimes you may need to go the extra mile, especially if you’re going for promotion, but you can’t maintain a caffeine protein manic state long term. It doesn’t end well.
Steve Freakin’ Jobs (Reality Distortion Reading)
Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography is a bestseller and seemingly perpetually available and on sale at WHSmith airport locations. Due to Jobs’ story of redemption, vision and success his narrative is enchanting and relatable in that we’ve all suffered failures and we believe we can achieve greatness. What we need to be careful of however is trying to directly emulate Jobs in the hope that mimicking his actions will yield the same results.
Jobs was an asshole. Dedicated to achieving his vision with design, attempting to will products directly into the world. He was difficult to work with but got solutions, being incredibly blunt with his ‘reality distortion field’. Now whilst he may be being canonised by Silicon Valley at the moment, it wasn’t due to being a blunt asshole who became so dedicated to an idea he ended up eating nothing but carrots for months on end. Also, do not eat only carrots.
If someone in your team has read Jobs’ biography and taken lessons from it all I can suggest is directly engage with them. Jobs’ most endearing creations came in his later years where he worked collaboratively with Jony Ive, set standards and was driven by a need to deliver value to users. The hot headed hippie had mellowed, but already had the reputation. Yes he was still ruthless, strived for perfection and a masterful tactician, but he didn’t create half as many enemies in his later years. Think, could you get all the record companies to work with you if you were a hot headed ball or carroty rage?
So there we go, with your senior leadership team ready to listen to new podcasts, read disruptive books and be whizzbang full of ideas hopefully we can steer their enthusiasm away from disaster and in to growing proactive and successful teams!
It really comes down to open and honest communication, alot of it always does really. Don't rain on their parade, but just make sure it doesn't disrupt what's important to your team and your users.
Shut up Lumbergh.