Friday, June 05, 2015

Whose standards are they anyway?

Many of us have lives dictated by rules telling us what we should be doing. Unconsciously, our inner demands flash through our minds as we struggle to live up to our own expectations about how the world should be. In so doing, we rob ourselves of freedom and choice, and we create unnecessary feelings of guilt or shame for falling short.

Some inner demands are necessary. They make up your value system - values like telling the truth, not stealing and not hurting other people. But other “shoulds and musts” create unneeded conflict such as the house must always be clean or I must never be late.

Think about it. Do you ever say to yourself things like “I can’t take a risk”, “I must lose weight”, “I should go to the gym”. Sounds familiar? We all have a set of self-imposed rules that we first learned from our parents, teachers, role models and peers who taught us what life requires. These became unconscious to us but have formed beliefs that dictate the way we behave.

In extreme cases, a person’s failure to live up to their own standards can set them on a downward spiral to lost self esteem, unhappiness and depression.

Look at the size zero trend today. Whilst external pressure is huge and the media and fashion industry have been named the “big bad boys”, it is in fact the girls themselves who have lost control of their priorities, giving in to the external pressures and their inner demands. Have you ever truly seen a fulfilled and happy size zero girl as she chomps on her lettuce, whilst sipping water?

The first step to changing your inner demands is to be aware of them.  Take some time to write a list of the demands you place on yourself, and then make a conscious decision as to which ones you will keep and which ones you will abandon.

Next, listen out for yourself saying things such as SHOULD, MUST, OUGHT TO, HAVE TO, then give yourself time to ask why?

Finally, give yourself the freedom to fail, to be less than perfect and a bit unsure.  Once you cut yourself some slack, you open yourself up to the possibility of becoming a person who doesn't know how things have to be and can begin to be relaxed about letting things be as they are.

I am now off to eat a chocolate bar, by choice – and I am going to enjoy it!

Rules vs Common Sense

Staff Sgts. Fred Hilliker and Robert O'Hair were boarding Delta Flight 1625 in Baltimore for the last leg of their trip home from Afghanistan with 32 others in their U.S. Army unit when their homecoming came to an abrupt halt. Delta personnel told the soldiers they needed to pay $200 for each person that had a fourth bag with them, even though their military orders stated that these bags were covered.

Unable to gain resolution with Delta, the two Staff Sgts filmed a YouTube video about the incident. The story generated considerable buzz for an obvious reason: the Delta employees were following the rules to the letter but failed to exercise any judgement or initiative. If they felt the fees were wrong, why didn’t they just waive the fees?

The Delta situation highlights a trend in management that favours the fulfilment of quantifiable, top-down metrics. Many of us have had a ‘computer says ‘no’’ experience. It is frustrating and pointless and seems to occur more and more. As psychologist Barry Schwartz has observed, many areas of life are increasingly bound up with rules that limit the ability of individuals to use judgment and make the best decision for the specific situation.

It would be wrong to place all the blame on workers for their failure to take initiative. Rather, the blame lies with management that sets rigid rules and metrics that disable employee judgment and makes employees jump through many hoops for mundane decisions, that the overworked employees say, "Why bother?"

It's not hard to see how we got here. Performance metrics are a critical tool for achieving excellence and motivating outcomes. But as important as performance metrics are, problems arise when performance metrics become overly dominant as a managerial principle, as they are in too many organisations.

Metrics earn an outsized role because managing by the numbers is easier than managing people. Employees make mistakes, their actions are difficult to predict, and the outcomes of their decisions are hard to measure. When employees make wrong judgements the resulting mess, in terms of customer satisfaction and legal liability, can often be difficult and expensive to clean up.

Rules are comfort food for management.

Yet customers need more judgement, not less, from the employees they come in contact with. When customers contact a call centre, it's because there is an exception within the existing process and they need judgement that only employees can provide. Corporations need to build guidelines and values — not absolute rules and measures. "Doing what's right for the customer" is a value that can drive appropriate action. Judgment requires coaching, practice and training.

There are many exceptions to these rules bound cultures. See our later email on Zappos, a highly successful, customer focused retailer who recruits solely on culture fit and then gives employees huge discretion to solve customer problems.

However, without investing in your front line staff you'll be managing a group of automatons who, when confronted with situations outside the rigid rules, will be virtually guaranteed to make the wrong judgement.

Metrics, policies and scorecards are not bad per se. There are many benefits when used appropriately. The pendulum seems to have swung too far away from employee judgment, though.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Apologies for my bad language

I must apologise to everyone who did not receive our last newsletter – this was entirely as a result of my own incompetence in including an item entitled ‘Don’t be a Tosser’, which referred to Northamptonshire County Councils anti-litter campaign of the same name.

Obviously the purpose of the campaign name is to gain attention through the use of a double entendre, although the dictionary (the proper one that is rather than the ‘urban dictionary) defines a tosser as ‘one who tosses something’, for example, a pancake-tosser.  It therefore appears that if I wrote an item detailing the antics of a typical Shrove Tuesday at our local primary school that the over-zealous puritans who produce spam filters and the such would block that too.

In a similar instance a few years ago I was struggling to get an email through to one of the Directors in a large UK company.  Eventually we determined that it was due to the use of the phrase ‘cross-pollination of ideas’.  Once the phrase was removed the email went through without any difficulty.  It appears that the smutty-minded authors of spam filters can even see sexual innuendo in a horticultural reference!

Wishing to clean up my act I thought I would investigate what words spam filters would deem inappropriate.  According to Mailup the list is huge and includes outrages words and phrases such as ‘stop snoring’, ‘free installation’ and ‘mortgage rates’.  According to Karen Ruben, author of The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words, the list even includes terms like ‘laser printer’, ‘terms and conditions’ and, most bizarrely of all, ‘stainless steel’.

Why would anyone want to filter out anything contain the words ‘stainless steel’?

However, the phrases that concerned me the most were; ‘win’, ‘winner’, ‘winning’, ‘won’ and ‘you’re a winner’.  This could explain why I am yet to receive my email from the National Lottery telling me I have won!  Better give them a call just in case.

PS – If you are not of an overly-sensitive nature and feel robust enough to have a look at our offending newsletter, click here.