Saturday, 30 November 2013

Go easy on the new guy

When you induct new employees or make a change to how current employees work, do you consider how safe or stressed they feel? Starting a new job can be a stressful enough time. We can feel under pressure to live up to our interview or CV, we might be anxious to impress a new boss or just fit in. The level of stress we feel in those type of situations could be important. There is some research from the academic world suggesting that stress and safety concerns impact negatively on students ability to learn while in school.

The same could be true in the work place. The idea is that stress makes it harder to learn, by reducing working memory and self-control. This could be particularly important in areas like induction into software development where new hires may only be hired because the current staff are very busy or there is a pre-existing product problem. Chances are their first project could be a busy one with tight deadlines.

As a software developer they may also need to learn new coding procedures, maybe a new language or use of some customised in-house development tools. This cocktail of new systems and pressure may result in induction not going as smoothly as envisaged. Productivity, quality and compliance could all take a dip and there may be a few more mistakes than expected.

The take away from this is that if you work in an area where learning new systems is a big part of induction, try to avoid dropping the new guy in the deep-end straight away. You might end up with a better trained, more productive and happier inductee. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Hope Springs Creativity

Do you hope that the weather will be fine for the weekend, that your favorite team will do well, that the government will treat you fairly in the budget? If you do and are generally the hopeful type you may also be pretty creative. 

A post by Professor Drew Boyd from the University of Cincinnati examines the research in this area and comes to the conclusion that hope predicts creativity. Professor Boyd looks at a 2009 study by Armenio Rego  which examines how employees' sense of hope explains their creative output at work. The study asked one hundred and twenty five employees to rate their personal sense of hope and happiness while their supervisors rated the employees' creativity. Based on the correlations, hope foretells creativity.

Boyd discusses how different types of hope are seen as important. Hope “requires some level of internal, sustaining force that pushes individuals to persevere in the face of challenges inherent to creative work."

So if you are hiring people for a creative role, discuss the level of hope candidates have when doing the interview. If you are hiring from a pool of current employees, look at the people you would rate as creative and then check their sense of personal hope. The correlation found by Armenio Rego may validate your initial opinion on peoples creativity. 

I hope you found this interesting.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The No Empathy Sandwich

Having worked in software for a number of years I often noticed how my workload seemed to accumulate almost from no where (I use that term deliberately). I’d find myself with multiple ‘mini’ projects on the go, tight deadlines and a fair amount of pressure. I’d sit back and wonder ‘how it came to this?’. The answer could usually be traced back to a conversation about a proposal, change request or upgrade where I agreed to take on something that in hindsight was not a good idea. It was driven by a reluctance to say ‘No’.

Where this reluctance came from, I’m not quite sure. I worked in a few start-ups where nothing was impossible, crazy deadlines and late nights were par for the course. Saying ‘No’ was not part of the culture in that environment and the customer was literally always right. Not saying ‘No’ and always acceding to customer demands, can lead to a situation where your customers run your business, not you. That is not a good thing, even in start-ups. Product road-maps get hi-jacked, innovation suffers at the expense of piecemeal tweaking and delivery.

So assuming saying ‘No’ needs to be done every now and again, is there a good or bad way of delivering the potentially bad news? Turns out there is.

I came across a neat article which explained it in an equation called the ‘Empathy Sandwich’ as “No= Empathize + Decline + Empathize Again”. For example a client says  ‘Can you add a new screen to report on XYZ?, it takes me ages to do it manually‘ . First comes a little bit of empathy ‘Ok , I see where you are coming from, it’s not easy to get time for that every week’. But then comes the Decline – ‘But I don’t have a project team I could put on that change‘. Followed up by some more empathy  ‘I hope your workload levels out, you guys do a really great job over there’.

That example might sound a touch contrived but you get the point. Saying ‘No’ in a way that shows some consideration and understanding beats a dismissive tone and helps keep the relationship going, despite the refusal.

By saying ‘No’ you will free up more time, finish more projects, deliver higher quality work and end up fire-fighting a lot less. That will make for happier customers in the long term as you can focus on innovative product development, meet the deadlines you do commit to and not get pulled between multiple piecemeal requests. You will be happier too. Who could say ‘No’ to that?