Is it time to reassess your office rules?
When I was in my twenties I went to visit my girlfriend Anne at her parents’ home on the Kilmarnock River. Once there, I found myself helping with their spring cleaning ritual, and a ritual it was! It included setting up their porch for outdoor summer relaxation. Down from the attic came bright chairs and tables, seat cushions, and a huge 1960s indoor-outdoor carpet. Trying to show initiative, I started to unroll it.
“Stop!” came a roar from their entire family. Startled, I froze. They explained, “We start unrolling from this corner, not that corner.” “Why?” I asked. The answer: Because that is the way it had always been done.
Now Anne’s family were loving and generous. They invited me to share their home and go out on their boat. They treated us to a crab feast and they lavished attention on us. They just had rules. Some made sense to me, and all made sense to them. I see the same phenomenon in many workplaces. Think about the rules that you have in your office. If you use the last of the paper in the copy machine, do you replace it or is it the job of the person who follows you? If the workday starts at 8:30, is it okay to arrive at 8:31 or even 8:51?
Of course we need rules, but problems arise when we don’t communicate and assess them. So ask yourself, “Are office rules serving you or are they getting in the way?” If you’re not sure, ask your colleagues — they will be happy to tell you if your rules are in their way!
Once you figure out the keepers, communicate them clearly and without judgment. I find starting with “I would appreciate it if…,” is a great way to get the conversation started.
Let me give you an example of a rule done right. In a workplace I frequent, there is a sign above the copier that reads, “Use the second tray and input this code, or the copier will jam.” I appreciate that clarity. I don’t want to be the one who jams the printer and creates a big hassle. And that is really the litmus test for good rules: Do they make the workplace a more efficient, friendly, and productive environment for everyone?
What are some of the rules in your workplace, written or unwritten?
One of the first questions I ask when I start working with a new client is, “Are you using performance appraisals well and how does performance management work in your organization?” I guess that’s more than one question, isn’t it?
Once in a while I hear that performance management is working well, that appraisals are written and discussed and that there’s a benefit to the dialogue. As I said, that’s once in a while. Unfortunately, too often there are cobwebs in the system.
A few years ago, when I was working for a community organization, I asked a similar question. I got answers like, “Oh yeah, we do them. I have my form.” When I asked what was learned from the performance review discussion, I received dark stares. As I probed deeper, Shannon, a brave employee told me. “The CEO takes a pen and just draws a line down the page and marks every standard as excellent.” I thought, now that’s scary!
I found what Shannon told me incredible, so I asked Thomas, the CEO, about it. He confirmed that it was true. Then, “What,” I asked, “Was the purpose of having performance appraisals?” Thomas told me that the board of directors asks about performance appraisals, so he does them. He said it’s simple – he uses the form that he inherited and just fills it out and puts it in each employee’s file. He didn’t even plan on discussing them. Oh my! There are some serious skeletons hanging out in that organization’s closet!
As I started talking more with Thomas, I found out he “just didn’t have time” to write appraisals. Hearing that made me batty. Still, he told me all about his direct reports. What each was doing well and what each one had trouble managing. He talked for a long time and in great detail. I returned to my office and I wrote drafts for him. Neither one of us realized it, but we were starting a process that lasted over a decade. Every year, I would ask Thomas questions, and he would answer. In the end he would have a draft performance appraisal for each of his direct reports. Someone told me that I was “ghost writing” but I wasn’t really; I was just capturing and organizing his thoughts.
As a result of our work together, Thomas’ senior leadership team has had performance appraisals for the past 11 years. They sit down and talk with their leader at least once a year about their goals, their accomplishments and their challenges. The courageous conversations are happening. And, as you would guess, once Thomas started, it spread throughout the organization. The culture of the organization shifted.
If the words, “performance management” are just words, it’s time to take action.
Do you find the performance appraisal process in your organization to be helpful? Do you learn from it?
Performance appraisals can be either a trick or a treat. I hope yours will be both sweet and helpful.
Back in the 1950’s stealing in the workplace was pretty black and white. If you worked on a production-line creating widgets and you took a widget home – you knew very well that you had stolen this physical property.
Nowadays however, not everything falls neatly into the category of a product or a service.
In the information age – many of our jobs depend on us processing just that – information. And it’s not like companies can simply put up a metal detector the way they could to see if a widget is in our pocket. – Information resides in our minds – invisible to others and not very useful to the organization if we keep it there.
You probably didn’t mean to steal it! – In fact you probably never even thought about it this way. But as technology changes so does our work. Once we understand the true nature of the materials that our jobs involve – be it physical materials, or in this case information – we can then understand our responsibility to help move ALL those materials along.
Think about it this way, when you are paid to gather, assimilate and pass along data, it is the same as if you were paid to gather materials, create a widget and pass that widget to the next person. In an information age, information and data is now the property that companies are processing and profiting from.
So – with new types of work existing, there also needs to be new boundaries to define an employee’s responsibility. Any information that you are paid to earn, gather and process is your responsibility. It’s your job to comment on the data, to give an opinion, to help translate it so it will be valuable to your colleagues and clients…and if you do not help this data or information to progress down the line – it leaves the building in your mind the same way that widget would have left in a pocket
Do you have colleagues who hold onto valuable information without sharing?
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