Monthly archives "January 2015"

The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

The grass is greener where you water itJanuary.  It’s been a long, long month – the excitement of Christmas is over, it’s dark when you leave the house for work in the morning and dark when you leave the office at the end of the day, and it feels like forever ago since your last pay-day.  Ah yes, the good ‘ole January blues!

I know that in my current contract, I’ve seen and heard a lot more work weary, disillusioned conversations recently.  Even if you’re a naturally positive, glass half full type, it can be difficult to avoid getting pulled into the vortex of the January blues.

With all that discontentment swirling around, you might start to wonder whether it’s your job or company that’s making you so miserable.  So you start thinking about the things that you’re not happy with – your boss is a micro-manager, your team don’t pull their weight, you have the workload of two people, and so it goes on.  Pretty soon your list is huge and you come to the conclusion that you need to look for another job.  I’ve heard of three official resignations in the last month, and I know of at least two other people who are unhappy and potentially would consider moving – that’s in a team of twelve.

And that brings me to a conversation I had with a colleague yesterday.  She was telling me that the girl before the girl (!) who had been in the role I was currently covering for had been with the company for almost nine months, had come in every day and got on with her role, had done the long hours, had seen the mess her predecessor had left her in, half-heartedly tried to deal with it, but given up fairly swiftly and finally moved on.  My immediate predecessor only stayed in the role a couple of months.  There is a lot to deal with and sort out, and it’s not particularly fun – I know, because I’ve been dealing with it.  In the six weeks I’ve been working on it I think I’ve made inroads.  That’s not to say I didn’t go through the same misery the two girls before me experienced – I definitely did.  But I can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.  I think within the next four weeks we’ll have weeded out all the old problems and dealt with them.  We won’t have a new slate, but the old one will be cleaner.  Which means whoever inherits the role from me should have a slightly easier time of it.

I guess my point is that I could have done the same thing – seen the weeds, become disheartened and left.  But who knows whether the next role would be any better.  It could quite conceivably be worse.  This role though, this patch of grass, this is mine (for now), so instead of looking across at a lush patch somewhere else and wondering how I get there, it might be just as easy to cultivate my own patch.  And if I weed, water and feed it diligently, there’s no reason for it not to grow lush and green in time.

The grass might be greener always appear greener on the other side, it’s true.  But you don’t know how green it really is until you get there (and what if you get there and it’s artificial, or just a clever trick of the light?).  Before you write off your current role, maybe look at it through gardener’s eyes – can you see any potential there?  Is it worth the effort of watering it?  If you spent some time clearing the weeds, what would it look like?

Because what is also true, and more importantly in your power to control is that the grass is greener where you water it.  Where will you choose to use your watering can?

Just Keep Going

JUST KEEP GOINGIt’s a bit of a clichéd phrase, one that you hear all the time.  But it struck me last week, as I was finalising the proof copy of Coping with the Horroffice, why people keep bandying this idea around.

I thought it might be easiest if I share an example with you.

I’ve been saying for years now that I want to be a writer.  Literally years.  I think it’s been over fifteen years since I first started writing – a short story about a dog – I’ve still got it somewhere I think.

Here is how my attempts at writing have gone, until last year anyway.  “I’m a writer” I would think, “I need to wait for inspiration to strike.”  So I duly waited for the aforementioned inspiration to strike.  I’d wait and wait.  I bought lots of shiny new stationery in preparation and invitation.  I waited some more.  I created a nice little work space.  Nothing.  Not one iota of ‘bestseller magic’ hit me.  I wondered if it was because I wasn’t focused enough.  When the chance came, I reduced my hours at work, going down to a four-day week, with the idea that my day off would be devoted to writing.  Inspiration was going to strike, regularly as clockwork, on my day off.  See – I wasn’t just waiting for it randomly, I was telling it when it was due.  So I would sit down on a Monday (my ‘writing’ day) and I’d straighten my stationery, sit and think, and wait for inspiration to hit.  Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t.  On the days it didn’t, I did other things (often involving going shopping or lounging around having coffee and reading magazines ‘for inspiration’).

And, although it’ll be no surprise to you, it was actually still a surprise to me when after all this effort I still hadn’t produced my masterpiece.

Then one weekend inspiration really did hit (or so I thought at the time) and I churned out a little children’s story in three days.  Without too much thinking, I sent it off to be discovered by an agent.  And in the meantime I waited, shopped and drank coffee.  After all there was no need to write anymore, I’d written my best-seller, I just needed everyone else to realise it.

But that didn’t quite work out, and although a few agents made some nice comments, and one agent in particular looked at it in detail, the book was a no-goer.

And then I sulked.  I gave up a bit.  I stopped sitting at my writing desk, waiting for inspiration.  I started doing other things – I retrained as a coach, I ran a jewellery business, and of course I read.

But I couldn’t shake off the writing bug completely, and eventually I started jotting down ideas for books, or great titles, or themes I wanted to explore.  The idea for Coping with the Horroffice came to me.  I still have the post-it note with the scribbled title, which I left pinned to the wall for about three months while things fermented, before I even started trying to write anything.  It wasn’t the book I’d imagined writing but it was the one that sparked something and I couldn’t let it go.  But I digress!

At the same time as that idea, I signed up to a course – the ‘Screw Work Let’s Play‘ 30 Day Challenge.  We had to pick a project to work on for 30 days and take it as far as we could.  I decided to pick Coping with the Horroffice, and for those thirty days, every single day, I did a little bit of work on the book.  Some days I did a huge amount, some days I only managed twenty minutes or half an hour.  But I did it, one step at a time, every day, for thirty days without fail.  And at the end of that thirty days I had the first draft of the book.

That challenge taught me a lesson I will never forget, something I think is a key ingredient in any success story, in any field, at any time.  You can’t wait for inspiration to strike, and only work if and when it does.  Yes, you need an idea, a spark.  But every single day after that, you have to feed that spark, fan the flames, a little or a lot, to build your fire, or your book or your gadget.

Every day you need to take a step towards your goal. One step at a time, one day at a time, one task at a time.  It’s not rocket science, nor is it particularly exciting, but it is an essential ingredient to any success story.  You need to remember your end goal, break it down, and then with dogged tenacity and fierce determination you need to keep going.  Even when it gets tough – just keep going.  Even when it gets boring – just keep going.  Even when things aren’t going your way – just keep going.

It will actually be about nine months of working at it, a little or a lot, every day, by the time I actually release Coping with the Horroffice.  And I know releasing it isn’t the end of the journey either, it’s just a new fork in the road.  What will I do when I get there?

Just Keep Going.

My ONE Tip for your Performance Appraisal

AppraisalOne the best things about being a contractor is the sheer joy (I’ll admit, it’s a very naughty joy!) in watching everyone around me moan and groan about their imminent appraisals, and the myriad forms that have to be filled in, knowing I don’t need to worry about it!

It’s such a relief and luxury not to have to do them – especially after thirteen years at a company that took them very seriously (and to be fair, is the best I’ve ever seen at the process, methodical, as fair as you can be at measuring other human beings, and with the grading actually showing some relevance to our bonuses).  Having had what I see now as the luxury of a top-notch appraisal system (and having seen it both as an appraisee and an appraiser) before I give you my one and only tip for your appraisal, here are a couple of gripes I’ve heard today, that you might also be feeling, and that I think are worth addressing:-

  • “Doh!  Why does the company bother with appraisals at all?  It’s a waste of our time.  My manager knows me – can’t we just talk?” – Well, yes, you could just talk.  But what happens when your manager moves on?  How will your new manager know what your issues were, or what you agreed on?  If nothing is formally documented, how will you know that the conversation you actually had with your manager is what ends up in your permanent records?  How will you know the promises they made about new training courses or a change in your role will be implemented?  You need something that formalises and records what you and your manager have agreed on – how well you did last year, and what you’re going to be doing this year.
  • “Why do I have to bother filling out all these self-assessment forms?  It’s all about what my manager thinks of me anyway, why do I need to assess anything?” – It IS about what your manager thinks of your performance, but it’s not JUST about that.  It’s also about how you think you did, and about how your manager and the company supported you (or didn’t) in achieving what you did.  AND your manager is not a super-human with amazing powers of recall.  They can’t remember everything you did or achieved or struggled with.  By filling in the self-assessment you’re giving them a gentle reminder, you’re helping them see the full picture, not just the most recent issues, but also where you’ve come from and how you’ve improved in the role, or streamlined a process, or found a smarter way to do something – they might not necessarily remember all of that, especially if they have a large team.  But YOU will, because they’re your achievements and struggles, it’s your experiences you’re talking about.

There have been, and will continue to be many debates on whether annual appraisals are a good thing or a bad thing, but if they exist in your current company, you may as well use them to your best advantage, right?

So here’s my number one, absolute gem, top tip for getting the most out of your appraisal.

PREPARE.

Yup – that’s it.  Sounds obvious, but in all my years as an appraising manager, I can literally count on one hand the number of employees who came prepared for their appraisals.

When I say prepare, I mean exactly that.  Review your year in detail.  Look over last year’s objectives and reflect on how closely you’ve achieved your goal.  Pull out any evidence that proves you’ve achieved what you had set out to – that might include emails from satisfied customers, or calculating some percentages to prove you’ve reduced the debtor balance you’re responsible for, a copy of slides of the presentation you did, or feedback forms you’ve received.  If you have the time and inclination you could request feedback, in advance, from people you have worked with – external or internal, and have this ready for your manager to look at too.  When you’re sitting there having your nice annual chat, it’s easy for your manager to forget exactly what you achieved, and even if you tell them, they may not necessarily agree with your viewpoint.  But they can’t argue with actual evidence.  So spend some time pulling it all together.  Yes, it’s time-consuming.  Yes, it’s a pain.  Yes, it’s worth it!

I once went into an appraisal with an employee expecting to give them a particular grading, based on what I’d seen of their performance.  They came in armed with emails, ratios to show how they’d improved each aspect of their job, as well as ideas for how they wanted to progress – I was genuinely surprised, and after reviewing their evidence (and checking it stacked up – I am an ex-auditor after all!), I felt that the grade I had originally assigned was not high enough, and upgraded them.  Because THEY CAME PREPARED.

There is so much more to appraisals, but seriously – my best tip for you, because it works – PREPARE.

 

Give What You Want To Get

Give What You Want to GetI had a blog post all lined up and almost ready to go today.  But then I had a conversation with a lovely colleague this afternoon which surprised and saddened me, and I think the message is worth sharing.

It’s always a difficult balance trying to juggle work and home life.  There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done at work, even at the most well-resourced companies.  And the same applies at home – there are always chores that need dealing with, daily bits and pieces to be sorted.  On top of all that, most of us quite enjoy a little bit of wind-down time too.

It’s even harder when you’ve decided to add a little bit of study to the mix.  You now have to find time when your brain isn’t completely exhausted from work problems, or completely overtaken by household lists to dedicate some time to learning and assimilating new information.

The lovely colleague I mentioned had exactly this dilemma.  Luckily, until a few months ago she also had a very understanding boss, who supported her decision to study further.  So sometimes, when the company really needed it, she put in some very very long hours.  At other times, when it was a bit more manageable, she took a little bit of time in lieu so she could study.  This arrangement worked for the company as well as for my colleague,  not least because the subject she was studying was also directly relevant to her working life and current role.  It also worked because she felt supported and valued by her manager.  A win-win, you might say.

Then things changed.  Well – only one thing changed but it had a huge impact.  Her lovely supportive boss moved on, and she had a new boss to deal with.  The new boss was outwardly just as supportive as the old one.  My colleague continued to put in huge amounts of overtime to get the company through some difficult month-end work.  She reasoned that it was alright, because the next month end she would be at home, studying hard for her exams.  She had put in her holiday request weeks ago, and it had all been agreed.

Out of the blue, and close to the time she was due to be away, she was called into a meeting and told that her holiday had been cancelled.  It was imperative that she be present at a critical time for the company.  She could of course have the actual day of the exam as time off, even though it would be a struggle for the company to report on time, but that really was all they could do.  There was no mention at all of the hours she had already put in, or how this would completely disrupt her planned study time and potentially impact on her results.  But it was clear she had no real choice, and at this late stage she felt there was not much she could do.  And to add salt to the freshly gouged wound, she was advised that if she wanted time off at month-end (which was also the time the examination board held the exams, so she didn’t have a choice) then she needed to provide a minimum of six months notice.  Even though that was not possible, as she wouldn’t have her results and know which exams she might be taking in six months time.

It should come as no surprise then, that my lovely colleague has since been searching for, and found, a new role in a company that will support her aim to study and gain a qualification.

In the meantime, her present company is now losing yet another significant member of the team.  They are losing her hard work, dedication and all the knowledge she has built up in her time here.

I’ve been here for about six weeks, and in that time three people have left or are leaving key roles, and every day I hear grumbles from the rest of the team about how unhappy they are.  People are starting to work to time, rather than staying a little later, because they’re fed up with what is expected from them.  From my slightly distanced viewpoint (one of the perks of being a contractor is knowing nothing is forever, especially comforting at times like this), it really does look as if the company have completely forgotten that old adage that you should Give What You Want To Get.

In this case (and many others), the company has given her a hard time and unfair treatment.   Her previous boss gave support and encouragement, and got back dedication and commitment.  What her current boss is about to get in return is a big gap in knowledge, increased costs to hire someone new, and more unhappiness from the rest of the team as they have to pick up her workload in the meantime.

I know it’s not easy to manage time off at critical reporting periods – I’ve been that manager, in that situation.  Out of a team of five, I once had two employees needing time off at the same reporting deadline.  I knew it would mean a lot of effort for the rest of us, and I genuinely wasn’t even sure it was possible.  So I held a team meeting and we worked out a plan.  We all wanted our students to do well, so there was a lot of goodwill there.  That goodwill worked both ways, as we also agreed that the other three team members would get a chance to take time off at month-end during the year, and the two students would commit to covering their work.  It wasn’t easy, but we all saw the benefits and it worked out in the end.

I’ve also experienced firsthand the shortsightedness of employers who are all about the ‘Get’ and never the ‘Give’.  And what I’ve seen, time and time again, is that as an employer, you can only do the ‘getting’ for so long before your employees give up on you altogether and move away.  Is it really worth that short-term gain for the long-term loss?

What do you think?  Have you seen or experienced this?

The Little Girl

little girl and puppyThere was this little girl, who worked at this office.  It looked like a nice office to work in.  On her first day there the little girl felt warm and glowy because of the little details her new little work family had prepared, like having her pass ready, and having a little laminated desk badge pinned to her new working home.  All around the little girl, her new office family whizzed and whirred, and buzzed and blitzed, and looked like they got things done.

Soon the little girl was also teaching herself (because no one else had time to teach her) how to whizz and whirr, and how to buzz and blitz.  But she wasn’t getting anything done.  All her whizzing and buzzing was leaving her head in a tizz!  And the more the little girl did, the more she saw that was undone, that was still to do, that had never been done at all.

But the little girl was a very conscientious little girl – and she didn’t want to give up, so she pulled out her extra tough thinking and doing cap, put it firmly on her tough little head and tried again.  It worked!  The little girl was so happy that she made a happy little noise.  And so she carried on like that, making happy little noises and feeling pretty pleased as a little bit of the undone work started to get done.  The little girl smiled.  It felt good to get things done.  And in no time at all the little girl was not just whizzing and whirring but she was doing and sorting too.  The little girl was so busy clearing all her piles of paper that she didn’t notice the little sets of eyes that had started to follow her as she was doing and sorting.

And then one day, when the little girl got to work, even though there had been no pile of paper on her desk the night before, there was a big pile of paper on her desk now.  She looked at the big pile of paper and her heart sank.  She would need to do a lot more doing and sorting to make this disappear.  And so, after what felt like a very very VERY long time, the little girl made the big pile of paper disappear, and went home to her little puppy, too tired to play with him, but happy that she had cleared the big pile of paper.

To the little girl’s horror, when she came in the next day, there was another big pile of paper.  A lot of the paper wasn’t hers, but it was on her desk anyway. The little girl tried to find the right home for the paper, so it could get sorted and done.  But no one wanted the paper.  Everyone told the little girl they didn’t know how to deal with the paper either.  And so the little girl wearily took the paper back to her desk.  She pulled out her extra tough working cap and did what she had to do.  And after a very very VERY long time the paper disappeared.  But slowly, after a few days of doing big piles of paper work the little girl’s smile was disappearing too.

So the little girl decided to change things again.  The next morning, the little girl took the new big pile of paper and pulled out the bits that belonged to her.  She whizzed and whirred and soon her undone papers were all nicely done.  She looked at the pile of undone papers that didn’t belong to her.  And very loudly, the little girl said ‘I don’t know whose papers these are, but they don’t belong to me.  My papers are all done.  I’m going home to my puppy. Good night.’

And she did.  And the puppy was overjoyed to see the little girl home and ready to play. And they played and played and the little girl forgot all about the papers and where they should be.

 

PS – If you fancy win some literary prizes AND getting your hands on my free Top Ten Tips to Coping with the Horroffice cheat sheet, then click here and check out my fab new competition!

 

Tunnel vision

tunnel visionI think I might have mentioned that I had a few late nights at the current day job last week.  During that time I noticed something I found quite interesting.

I noticed that my manager had a bad case of tunnel vision.  Let me set the scene and explain a bit more.

The start of a new month is actually month-end at the day job, and it’s always a busy time for us finance folk, as we’re closing down a whole month of financial data so we can see how we did in December.  But at the beginning of January it’s also year-end – yup, you guessed it, we’re also closing down the whole of 2014’s financial data.  So there’s a little bit of extra work  As well as that we have the auditors in, checking that what we’ve recorded is accurate and fair, and they ask for bits and pieces of info to help them do that.  So it really is very busy for us number crunchers.

Knowing all of this, I also knew I would have to put in a few extra hours helping the team cope with the extra work.  That’s to be expected and I was prepared to stay a couple of hours each day, or work through a couple of lunches to get things done.

What I wasn’t prepared for was a manager who expected me to work through lunch, right up until 8pm or 10pm with no break at all, do this for a whole week, stay just because she ‘might’ need me later in the evening even though I had no urgent work left and then act surprised when I asked how I would be compensated for the additional time I had done.  She felt that a few extra hours here and there were normal.  She’s right – a FEW extra hours are normal.  In every other company I’ve ever worked in though, it is also normal to agree upfront with your employees what kind of compensation there will be, and at what point – time off, overtime payments etc.  I would also expect a compassionate manager to make sure their team were adequately fed and watered if they were to work such long hours.

Unfortunately, on all the nights that I was there at dinner time or long past dinner time, there was no mention made of getting some food in for the troops.  Our (very thinly) veiled hints at how famished we were met with no response, except once when we were reminded that she couldn’t eat take-out as she was on a diet, and her dinner was getting cold at home.  Which is fair enough – for her.  But what about the rest of her team?  We were happy to ditch the diets for a day!

It was at that point that I realised she had extremely highly developed tunnel vision.  I started listening in to conversations and noticed that it didn’t register when her team complained about long-winded processes or unworkable deadlines – tunnel vision.  It didn’t register when she was enthusiastic about staying late but no one else in the team was – tunnel vision.  It didn’t register when everyone was hungry and fed-up but she wanted to carry on, and also wait for her dinner at home – tunnel vision.

So this week I’ve decided I am also going to develop a little tunnel vision.  Today, I got on with the tasks I needed to clear for the day, and then I put on my tunnel vision specs. I didn’t check in to see if there was anything else I could help with.  I wanted to go home.  My tunnel vision specs helped me focus on just getting the tasks done that would allow me to go home, and to ensure I didn’t even see any other tasks.  It;s a shame, because it goes against my natural instinct to want to help out.

But luckily, I also have the best possible source of tunnel vision – in the form of my excited, bouncy, ecstatic to have me at home pooch.

Work?  What work?  I’m loving my tunnel vision specs!

 

New Year New Rainbow

RainbowWe’re one week into 2015 – how has it turned out for you so far?

I’ve had an interesting few days. Like many of you (I hope), I was on holiday for the first bit, and I actually eased myself gently in to work, with a half day on Friday – bliss. So the New Year kicked off with some lovely family time. In fact, we were all saying what a wonderfully relaxed holiday it had been – we’d even managed to maintain relative family peace and harmony (not easy with five opinionated adults under one roof for over a week).

And I got a few niggles sorted out with the book proof, so I’m eagerly awaiting the second version (please keep your fingers crossed folks).

As well as all that, my wonderful brother resuscitated my little Netbook (which I’m using right now to write this post!), giving me back my all important Outlook – oh how I’ve missed my Outlook calendar and to-do lists!

But of course, as I’ve said in posts before, you can’t have a rainbow without rain.

I had some rain on Monday morning – my car broke down, first thing in the morning. It is now at the car hospital being tended to by experts. As there is no car NHS, I am anticipating the relief of being mobile again to be counteracted a little by the lightening of my bank balance.

And I had a hailstorm on Monday afternoon. I got told by a colleague that she was leaving that day, and had been told to hand over her work to me. This was at 2pm and she was leaving at 5.30pm.

My manager, who I’m guessing had known for a little longer than that, and who sits two desks away from me, and who had told my colleague to handover to me, hadn’t bothered to mention this to me herself, and has yet to say anything other than ask for information I don’t have on something I don’t know anything about.

So I am now attempting to complete financial month-end and year-end reporting on something I’ve had less than half a day to understand. The last two days have been somewhat painful…

I was wondering what the lesson was that I needed to learn to move on from this experience. I think maybe it’s resilience. I had a lot of rain last year. I got caught without an umbrella a few times, and got soaked. But I always dried off. And I was always alright in the end. So although it’s annoying (I’m not a “loves walking in the rain” kind of person), it’ll be fine.

I’m looking forward to seeing all the seeds sown last year turn into lush greenery (which I do love) this year, and enjoying the lovely rainbow I’m currently creating!

(ps – I’m running a lush little literary competition – check it out here!)