Office Speak: “I’ll give you 2 minutes back.”

You are sitting on a conference call that thankfully is nearing it’s long and bitter end. It’s the fifth or sixth of the day and your ears are the temperature of the inside of an oven underneath the plastic covers that they’ve had on for the last few hundred minutes. Your bladder has reached volume level 11 and is screaming for some relief. Your head is numb from the diversity of subjects that you’ve had to give your attention to and then the person who has been facilitating your torture for the last 58 minutes says, in a tone which suggests that it’s a special gift:

“We’ve reached the end of our agenda, so I’ll give you 2 minutes back.”

There are many variations of this line which may be 5 minutes, or even 10. It’s rarely more than that because it’s almost unheard of that someone who has booked an hour long meeting successfully expedites departure in 30 minutes. We all know, after all, that meetings generally grow to fill the available space.

There you sit, looking at your gift of a few minutes and think to yourself “what am I supposed to do with that?”

You take a quick trip to the toilet, but that doesn’t take you more than a minute and now you’ve only got a minute, or perhaps two, left. What are you going to do?

You don’t have any emails to look through because that’s what you were doing for much of the last 58 minutes and the few minutes you have aren’t going to make much difference to any backlog anyway.

Perhaps you have enough time to make a drink, but you’ve already had enough coffee and your bladder is still recovering.

There’s no point in trying to progress any of the actions that you’ve picked up in the previous calls because they all require you to think and you’re not capable of that type of thinking at this time in the day.

You haven’t seen any daylight yet so a walk outside would lift your spirits, but there’s barely enough time to get to the front door of the building before you need to be on another call. There’s not even enough time for a nap.

And so, you sit there, wondering what you are supposed to do with this gift that you have been given and watch it walk steadily and slowly out of the room.

 

“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it…

Six Laws of Technology

  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
  4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
  5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  6. Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology.

Melvin Kranzberg

“Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people…

“Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people think they think; and ninety-five percent of the people would rather die than think.”

George Bernard Shaw

(I don’t think that there is any scientific basis for this quote ūüôā )

Office Speak: Onboarding

The Very Short Version

The act of joining and integrating into an organisation, but also…

The Longer (More Interesting?) Version

There are certain words which I like and others that I don’t. My preference for a word often relates to its feel and aesthetic. I like word which are simple and elegant,¬†onboarding, to me, is neither of these things. I see it as a clumsy overweight word that doesn’t have a straightforward meaning or portray a complete concept. For onboarding this distaste is compounded by my common dislike of flipping a verb into a noun, particularly when the original word in this case was an adjective.

The concept that onboarding is trying to portray is one of someone joining a ship or a plane – getting on board. This concept was at some point in the late 1990s applied to people joining an organisation and thus was born the term onboarding, it was rarely used before then.¬†Wikipedia relates the term to organisational socialisation¬†and in what is quite a long article highlights the various approaches and challenges of onboarding. Whilst I, personally, don’t like the word it makes sense in this context and highlights an important challenge that many organisations experience as people join them and try to become productive. Onboarding as, if nothing else, easier to say than organisational socialisation.

This is where, for me, the more significant problem arises – term expansion and subsequent degradation. Sometimes it feels like every act of implementation or change has become onboarding:

“I’m just onboarding this application”

“Next week we will onboard our new facilities”

“We are in the process of onboarding several updated processes”

“We are looking forward to onboarding our new customer”

“The new cat is part way through the onboarding activities”

None of these are organisational socialisation, apart from, perhaps, the cat.

This is what happens in the modern world of corporate speak, people leap into using a term that they perceive everyone else is using without understanding its origin or original meaning. This leads to expansion of the term’s meaning and a degradation of its value. Eventually the meaning is so diverse that another term gets picked and the cycle continues.

We don’t appear to have reached peak onboarding yet, if the Google search trends are anything to go by, but I suspect that we will have found a replacement for it in the next few years. I wonder what the replacement will be?

Office Speak: The Tracker

The Very Short Version

A tracker is a list: Normally it’s a list of activities that need to be tracked and is often created in Microsoft Excel.

The Longer (More Interesting?) Version

A tracker is a list which is commonly a list of activities that someone has decided to put together for their own purposes which has sometimes been created from a template. The common purpose of a tracker is to place responsibility on other people for completion of the activities within it. The infection mechanism for trackers is simple, only requiring an individuals name or initials to be added to a line in a tracker at some point. Once added the individual is permanently infected by the tracker with limited chance of rehabilitation. Individuals do not need to be present to become infected.

Trackers are reproducing organisms that can multiply into plague inducing swarms if hygiene activities are not undertaken. There can be multiple trackers for each activity and multiple activities within a tracker, there are even organisations with trackers that track the number of trackers. Each tracker is commonly associated with a progress meeting which will require all of the infected members to attend for the entirety of the meeting even though they may only have limited exposure to the disease. A single record on a tracker is enough to mandate attendance at the progress meeting, some trackers have several hundred records associated with them and the expectation is that every line in the tracker is being worked on.

The common tracker is also likely to morph from a simple organism into a complex mind-bending organism that confuse everyone apart from the creator of the tracker.¬†The scope of a tracker is one of it’s primary morphing mechanisms, the scope is rarely limited which allows it to grow and shrink at any time.

The primary infection source for trackers is Microsoft Excel which, when combined with email can achieve impressive rates of disease amongst the standard workforce. This form of contagion is extremely difficult to monitor as it slips unseen into the normal operation of many businesses through the standard communication mechanisms. The multiplication effect of email communicated trackers produces a significant increase in repetitive data being sent across these mechanisms whilst at the same time making the creation of a comprehensive view of the works required almost impossible. The lack of a comprehensive view of activities is commonly managed through the use of another tracker.

Trackers are non-exclusive infectors with workers experiencing the combined effects from exposure to multiple trackers. The nature of these symptoms differ between the trackers with each tracker having morphed slightly from its previous incarnation and trackers themselves having no defined structure, other than being based on a list. Individuals with multiple tracker infections will be expected to attend the progress meeting for each infection, even if the infection relates to a single activity being undertaken.

One effect of trackers is to make people colour-blind, this has been concluded from a multi-year review of the contents of trackers and the formatting of the cells within these trackers. Particular favourites are red text-on-blue background and yellow text-on-green background.

It is very rare for a tracker to die, they nearly always become dormant before they can be completed. They then lie dormant until someone, generally the person who created them, revives them and reinvigorates the infection for the people named within the tracker.

Some trackers are able to slip under the attention radar and possess cloaking capabilities. If an individual has not noticed an infection by a particular tracker they are liable to be embarrassed in a progress meeting. If you are invited to a progress meeting it is likely that you have been infected even though that infection may not be evident.  Trackers do not actively alert those that have been infected, the disease lies cloaked until a meeting.

Other, more effective, mechanisms for tracking activity do exist and can be successfully deployed as a vaccine, but these are only partially successful and rarely eradicate the tracker infestation completely. This does not mean that attempts to do so are without merit because deployment of alternative mechanisms will allow workers to be effective in the parts of their life where the tracker has been eliminated.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with tracker infections, I am considering the creation of a support group for those impacted and would like to know whether you would be interested in attending. I will, of course, create a tracker for this.

Concept of the Day: The Law of the Instrument – “To the man with a hammer…”

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Abraham Maslow

More commonly expressed as:

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

(I’ve not attributed the common version to anyone because that appears to be up for debate)

The Law of the Instrument is another of those¬†cognitive biases, which appear to be fruitful ideas for these¬†Concept of the Day posts. I think that the reason I find biases so fascinating is that they reveal things about the way we think and provide explanations for why we behave in certain ways and certain situations. The Law of Instrument¬†highlights our tendency to place an over-reliance upon a familiar tool. I suspect that each of us has at least one example of situations we’ve encountered where this has been the case.

I used to have a colleague who would write documents in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets – which his Personal Assistant would then retype into a Microsoft Word document. He knew how to use a spreadsheet, so that’s what he used.

In a similar vein, many organisations send out corporate communications as Microsoft Word documents because that is what the corporate communications team are comfortable creating them in. This annoys everyone, especially the people on mobile devices.

We’ve covered Excel and Word, so I didn’t want to leave PowerPoint out :-). Not sure I need to give an example here though. we have the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” for a reason.

Most of the features of most applications are rarely used, because people don’t go looking for more effective ways of doing things. Once you’ve worked out how to create a table it’s likely that you’ll always create a table that way. I’ve seen several methods employed by applications to nudge us away from our ingrained behaviours, but we keep coming back to the hammer that we already have available to us.

Organisations are dependent upon the data analysis that people do in Microsoft Excel because that’s the tool they are familiar with, when far better tools exist.

The language used by many coding projects is defined by what the chosen developer knows. There’s rarely much discussion about finding the right language, and hence the right developer, for the project.

There’s a current trend to move people to Agile project management methods. In many cases organisations are moving from having one methodology for project management, which was only appropriate to some types of project, to another project management methodology which is only appropriate for a different set of projects. The thought of running two different project management methodologies is regarded as heresy. Agile has become the one-size-fits-all answer to project management.

The Abraham Maslow in the original quote is the same one who produced the Hierarchy of Needs. What better example of The Law of the Instrument could you wish for? The Hierarchy of Needs has, for many, become the universal tool for explaining people’s behaviour. Whilst The Hierarchy of Needs is a useful tool, it’s very unlikely that there is a universal tool for explaining all of human behaviour.

Like all biases, the first step in overcoming it is to recognise that it exists. What we all need in our lives is someone who is regulalrly asking us “why did you do it like that?” Our answer to that question will be a good guide to thye impact of The Law of Instrument in our lives. Another good question to ask is “is there a different way of doing this?” It’s unlikely there isn’t an alternative but if you can’t think of one then you need to challenge your bias.

Cognitive Bias Posts:

The 7 Personas of the Office Move – Which one are you? Which one am I?

I’ve seen more office moves than I care to count. They happen regularly in most organisations and ought to be quite straightforward, but they aren’t. All of those pesky people and their personalities get in the way. I’ve met a number of these personalities down the years and thinking they can be arranged into about 7 different personas:

1. Stephen Simple

Stephen is the basis of all office move plans. He is the person who has a few things on his desk that can be moved in a single go. He sometimes has a single drawer pedestal of other things that need to be moved, but sometimes he doesn;t even need to do that. Moving Stephen just requires the pedestal and the few items on his desk to be moved from one desk to the other.

On the day of Stephen’s move he moves in a few minutes with the minimum of fuss. Just tell him when and where and it will be done, most of the time he will move himself.

2. Cathy Clutter

Cathy’s desk is a wonderful assortment of personal trinkets, photos of family members and pets, internal process guides, corporate and cartoon mugs, tubs of pens, and management or technical books. Each of these items look to the uninformed randomly placed, but each one has its place and each one has its uses. Once placed each object will remain in that place, objects are never discarded.

The desk pedestal that Cathy uses is full of even more of the wonderful assortment. There will be more wonderful assortment under the desk, on top of the pedestal and on any flat surface that Cathy can claim as her own.

Moving Cathy is best left to Cathy. There’s no point in trying to move her, she’ll need to place everything in its place, even if you think it’s in the right place it won’t be.

Starting the move is a significant event for Cathy, she’ll need plenty of notice to prepare. Preparation will not involve moving anything, preparation is a state of mind. Once she’s started the move, she will complete it, but it will take a while, her challenge is starting.

3. Keith Cupboards

Keith’s desk is a tidy place without too much clutter, but start planning an office move and Keith will feature highly on your list of issues to be resolved. He may look a bit like Stephen Simple above the desk, but he is nothing like Simple away from the desk. As you look around the open office and ponder the ownership of various cupboards distributed around the answer will become clear once you engage with Keith.

There is no doubt in Keith’s mind that everything that is in a cupboard is still required. It’s all there for a reason and Keith needs to be able to get access to it at all times. He might not need regular access, but he needs all of it, in the office and not in long-term storage.

Planning Keith’s move will be a logistical challenge. All of the cupboards will need to move and all of the cupboards are full. Keith is unlikely to be prepared to move anything between cupboards so the whole thing is going to have to move, that may be easier said than done. Moving Keith’s desk is a relatively straightforward thing, moving Keith is significantly more complicated. Moving Keith may even involve a structural engineer.

There’s little point in discussing a reduction in cupboard space with Keith, if anything he wants more. Any suggestion of reduced capacity will make him intransigent, the skill is to understand what’s in it for Keith, but don’t ever trade more cupboard space for the move.

4. William Whiteboards

Similar to Keith, William’s desk is relatively clean and straightforward to move. William has a different challenge; William will only move where he has the required whiteboard space, furthermore, he would prefer to move with his whiteboards.

William’s whiteboards are a work of art with numerous diagrams, columns of writing, arrows, boxes and colour. William’s whiteboards have become an extension to his mind and any separation from them would cause significant psychological impact.

The reliance upon whiteboards will significantly restrict the locations where you can place William. the need for a wall to support the whiteboards will mandate that he is at the edge of any room. Please do not expect to reduce the size of his whiteboard or try to fool him into using an inferior whiteboard, this will have a significant impact upon his well-being. He will not “just get over it”.

5. Penny Precise

Penny is happy to move, but she wants to know what the move will entail. Will she be closer to, or further away from a window? Will she have a view out of the window? Will she still be next to her colleagues? Will she be closer to or further away from the water filter machine? Will she be sat next to a corridor? What distance will she be from the toilets? Will it be lighter or darker than her current location? How about heat? Or draughts? Or air conditioning?

On the day of the move what time will she be moving? Will she be moving her pedestal, or will someone else? Will she be taking her fan with her? Who will be moving the phone? Will she be moving her laptop? Who else will be moving at the same time as her? What should she do if she isn’t available on the day of the move? What’s the name of the person doing the move? Will she be moving her own chair or using the one that’s already there?

She’ll have even more questions on the actual day of the move.

Penny can be exhausting, each question is valid, many of the answers are unknown, others have obvious answers. The answer that you want to give to many of the questions is another question: “why do you care?” But Penny does care, that’s why she is asking. She doesn’t necessarily care about the answers, she cares about the questions.

6. Lesley Leaver

Lesley’s desk is a bit cluttered, but nothing like as bad as Cathy’s, she’s also got some items in various cupboards around the place. The truth is Lesley has no idea what she’s got and that’s fine for Lesley. When it’s time to move she’ll move the things that she thinks she wants and leave the rest behind.

The people doing the office move will then be left with a dilemma, do they assume that everything that has been left can go in a skip, or do they try to find the owner so that it can be returned to them? This isn’t as easy a decision as it sound, but Lesley isn’t worried about it, she’s already moved on.

As I write this there is a cupboard beside me of which one whole shelf has become orphaned from its owner. I think that it used to belong to someone who left the company over 3 years ago. There are all sorts of things in there including digital media and a laptop, but numerous attempts to dispose of these items have resulted in failure.

The Leavers create a snowball effect during most office moves. The person who moves into the place where a Leaver has been moves the left items onto another desk where other left items have already been deposited. The person moving into that desk then has the joy of moving two lots of left items onto a third desk, and on it goes until eventually a whole desk is full of the leavings of others.

Lesley is easy to move, dealing with the aftermath of her move can take weeks.

7. Ian Island

In every office move there is always an Ian, he has been sat at the same desk since he joined the company in 1982. Somehow every office move happens around him, they never require him to move. Ian is a mystery, it’s not clear what the impact on him would be, if he did have to move, because it’s never happened. No one knows whether he likes it where he sits, no one bothers asking because he has been their so long.

Ian sits amongst the world that is changing around him oblivious to the experience that others are having. Thankfully Ian can be pretty much ignored during an office move.

As I’ve sat amongst an office move over the last few weeks I think I’ve witnessed each of these personas at play, but have I missed any?

Do you identify as one of these? Do you have any recommendations on how to handle the various personas?