4 Approaches to Work-Life Balance

One of my earliest posts was about the work-life balance, and four ways to think of having it. At the time I was working for a financial institution in the middle of the financial crisis. It was epic. We were working long hours, on tough questions, in an environment of high uncertainty. I had a great team and a good boss – and I think that’s they only we all go through it.

Having come through it, I’m a big fan of setting limits. We all need to spend time with family and friends, we need time to eat well, to exercise, and to sleep properly. I’m better at discussing expectations and planning time ahead. I fill in my calendar to plan important tasks to protect that time and have fewer interruptions as a result. It also helps that I’m the only one of my team in the office I work in – that reduces the rate of interruptions. Once again, a supportive boss helps!

Here’s the original post in full.


The first thing I read this morning was an SMS from a friend who’d just finished work, at 5am. No she’s not a shift worker, she and a colleague had worked through the night. I could feel the words “she’s insane” scrolling through my head, but really I’m not much better having worked a couple of 12+ hour days this week.

So what happened to the work-life balance?

One definition of work-life balance says that you should find both achievement and enjoyment each day in each of four quadrants of your life; work, family, friends and self.  But people still place different priorities on each quadrant, and find a different pattern to balance their priorities.

picture-161: Working 9 to 5

No, nothing to do with Dolly Parton. The idea of turning up at 9, leaving at 5 has a certain simplistic appeal. But for many roles it’s just not realistic – even in regular office jobs people often need to be more flexible.

This choice can make it easier to manage commitments to family, friends, non-work interests and self. But there can also be a trade-off, if your manager needs more from you and sees that you place a much lower priority on work you’re unlikely get that juicy assignment.

As a manager it’s important to know that some people have this attitude to their work, they’ve sold their skills and attention to you for a certain number of hours per week and that’s how they manage their commitments to work and family. From the work perspective this shouldn’t be a problem provided the role doesn’t require undue flexibility, the work culture can accommodate it and the person has realistic expectations in relation to career progress.

picture-1712: Live to work

I’m sure you recognise the pattern, maybe you use this approach. Focusing on the job is the number one priority and all your energy goes into the work. No sacrifice is too great as long as the work gets done. This approach requires a lot of energy, but the rewards in the work sphere are really high.

One speaker at a recent training course was scornful of aiming for a work life balance saying that afterall it’s all part of life. He went on to talk about the measures he has in place to have time with his children but it was very clear that for him it was OK to put all his energy into work.

However the trade-of is the impact on relationships with family and friends. It’s hard to sustain a partnership if you never see each other. It’s also not really sustainable for the individual – leading on occasion to chronic illness.

picture-223: Set limits

There are lots of jobs; executives, managers, consultants where the “live to work” culture is endemic, apparently “setting limits” is an approach with growing appeal.

The idea is that you choose and publicise your personal limit. You might decide that you are not contactable during the weekends and switch off your blackberry. You might decide, as one colleague has,  that you will only schedule meetings in the morning. I’ve decided I will limit my schedule to no more than 4 meetings per day – I find if I have more meetings than that I’m not able to achieve what I need to each day. I’m also going to excuse myself from meetings that lack a purpose. It’s not going to be popular but it will be effective.

picture-234: A 4-Hour Work-Week

Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work-Week” has become enormously popular and has been featured on CNN, Fast company, USA today and Wired.

He takes a radical look at how we think about work and wealth, and says that our current philosophy of working for forty years, saving, and deferring all the fun stuff until retirement needs rethinking.

Instead he suggests that there is a new subculture, “the New Rich”, which has abandoned this work-life paradigm and instead have found a way to make enough money and free enough time to follow a luxury lifestyle now. The book provides tools to challenge your thinking on how you currently spend your time including a “Lifestyle Quotient” calculator.

I might never manage to fully automate my income, which would give me an LQ of 0, I might not even manage a 4 hour work day (this week’s was 40 hours in four days), but it did challenge me to think a little more in terms of what I really want to be spending my time on – and where I spend my best energy.  Well worth the read.

Image: balance 

Collaboration

Wikipedia gives a long winded definition of collaboration, Google’s dictionary comes up with something simple; the action of working with someone to produce something. Its use has grown in our lifetime.

That upward blip in the use of the word at the end of the 1940s is due to the second meaning of the word; traitorous cooperation with an enemy. Some of the recent growth is due to the rise of social media and the experiments in new ways of working.

What is the benefit of collaborating in a team?

Better solutions.

In the theory of the wisdom of the crowds, the more people contributing to an answer the more likely you are to get the right answer. In effective collaboration a team of diverse experts bring their perspectives to decision-making.

In every major project I’ve worked in the contributions of experts from different fields has been critical to the solution’s success. I will never know as much as the collective knowledge across the company; here are a few examples.

  • Implementing an enterprise social media platform; its use as a service channel by a business investment team became the best use case collaboration to provide a service. I was looking for use cases, but didn’t even know the team existed.
  • Developing social media guidelines; we had legal and risk experts in the room, they had the deep expertise we needed to get it right, but it was a new hire from a non-digital team who pushed us to simplify the guidelines and the language.
  • Social Media Publication Platform; we had experts from IT, business, legal, and digital involved in evaluating possible tools. It sounds a bit like that old trope of six blind men describing an elephant, but in fact we had good discussions and agreed on the solution to be chosen, while understanding the limits and compromises we were making.
  • Translation; we translated some internal messaging via the enterprise social network, with contributors all using their native language and delivering the translated versions back within 3 days.

Collaboration can also provide additional capacity, if you work collaboratively you can share resources and even provide coverage in the absence of a colleague. Non-profits have been finding ways to collaborate under cost cutting pressure for years, but it can work within organisations as well.

How can you make collaboration effective?

Collaboration isn’t easy, and there is a lot in current workplaces that goes against collaboration. A HBR study reports that when teams get above 20 members, have high levels of expertise, are highly diverse, virtual, or are addressing complex tasks, the chances of effective collaboration drop. Collaboration requires trust across a team and a willingness to share knowledge, it’s easy to see that virtual teams might struggle, but the high expertise seems counter-intuitive.

Here are some factors to consider when building a collaborative team.

  1. Executives model collaborative behaviour
    When executives a visible and demonstrating a particular behaviour they will be copied.
  2. Relationship focus in the company’s culture
    Company cultures often emphasise a task focus, but in companies that emphasise a relationship focus teams find it easier to collaborate along the lines created in the company’s human network.
  3. Clearly defined roles
    Collaborative teams work better with defined roles and responsibilities, usually the roles can be derived from the person’s expertise, but it pays to specify the responsibilities. You can use a form of a RACI to document responsibilities.
  4. Team results rewarded and celebrated
    When teams have a strong joint purpose and are rewarded for the results of the team’s work their motivation to collaborate rises, yet most companies focus on individual performance and results. If you can’t re-organise your company’s formal reward system look for other ways to reward and celebrate teams that have genuinely collaborated.
  5. Skills to collaborate
    We’re used to working as individuals, we need to learn new ways of working for the collaborative era. Two techniques that are worth checking are Work Out Loud (WOL) and appreciative enquiry.
  6. Tools to collaborate
    Whether you use a company enterprise social network, a project tool such as basecamp, or a SharePoint team site, you will need some way for a collaborating team to share their work. If the team is dispersed across locations the tools become vital.

I’ve discussed the benefits of collaboration to the company, there are also benefits for individual contributors. For many people working collaboratively is more engaging and more rewarding. It’s also an appealing way of working for tech-savvy employees and millennials. Two groups your company should be trying to attract and retain. It’s a win for everyone.

Image: Together |  geralt via pixaay |   CC0 1.0 

Leading a (Virtual) Team

Leading a team has been the most challenging, and the most fun, part of my job. At times I’ve had team members not actually in the same room as me – or even the same country, that makes it more challenging but the principles of managing a team remain the same. Here’s my take on it.

There’s a lot of discussion about working remotely particularly as Yahoo and IBM removed that option for their employees, however there’s research out there indicating that remote teams can be as productive or even more productive than co-located workers.

I’ve had remote workers in three different set-ups;

  •  remote, working from another location including one in another country (with a different time zone)
  • regular, working from home 1-2 days per week
  • occasional, working from a different location for an occasional short period, for one colleague it allowed him to be in Spain for the bachelor party and the wedding of his closest friend.

In all three cases there were good business reasons for the person’s choice of work pattern, and I always had a team who were mostly in the office together. In the case of the person working at home 1-2 days per week it saved a rather long commute.

In leading my teams I’ve always tried to provide; a clear purpose, clear work assignments, regular progress evaluations, a good relationship with me as the manager and a connection to the rest of the team.

Team in the Room Remote Team
A Clear Purpose -annual/quarterly conversation for whole team to discuss team purpose -annual/quarterly conversation for whole team to discuss team purpose
Clear Work Assignments -annual performance review sets high level deliverables
-project design sets short term deliverables
-annual performance review sets high level deliverables
-project design sets short term deliverables
-rolling email tally of tasks and progress
Evaluate Progress -1 on 1 meetings each week (or two weeks)
-publish project progress
-1 on 1 calls each week (or two weeks)
-publish project progress
Relationship with a Manager -1 on 1 meetings each week (or two weeks)  -1 on 1 call
-daily chat on messenger
Connection to Team -Bad music Friday
-Friday team lunch
-Team events
-virtual “watercooler”
-project with team
-bring remote worker into team events

As you can see it’s not much different to manage a remote worker, but as a manager, I needed to document things in more detail because I wasn’t seeing them each day, and I had to make a specific effort to have a chat for a social purpose, the chat could go into work territory but typically began with a mention of coffee.

HBR did some research into how to make virtual teams work that backs up my empirical conclusions, particularly the idea of having regular contact across the team and between team the manager and the remote colleague. Unsurprisingly communication is the key to making it work.

Personally, I like having the option of working remotely, it allows me to really focus on an assignment. It can also be convenient if I have a mid-day appointment. I know that the flexibility is appreciated by team members. I haven’t seen any change in the productivity of any individual.  As a manager I wouldn’t want to manage a team where everyone worked remotely all of the time. At some point it would be hard to maintain the connection with each team member and across the team. But with a team of motivated professionals the option to work remotely is positive for the team members and the team.

Image:  Teamwork  |  ThoroughlyReviewed  |   CC BY 2.0

Scandals and Company Culture

Years ago a court judge in New Zealand was convicted of expenses fraud, the judge’s defense was that he hadn’t understood what the forms required. The public reaction was disbelief; either he just thought he could get away with it or he was too stupid to be a judge.

Since that early example I’ve looked at company scandals and the explanations given with a suspicious eye. In every case there are signs of how the company culture has effectively colluded around the scandal – it’s never just one person, it’s people turning a blind eye, it’s fear of whistleblowing, it’s the company culture, it’s the CEO.

Following the Enron scandal I heard a story, possibly apocryphal, of a manager who joined the company. Shortly after joining he heard that the ambitious revenue targets had been sent out across the company, requiring a jump of 25% in sales from one quarter to the next. At the end of the next quarter, to his amazement, those sales targets had been met across the company. He smelt something rotten and decided to update his CV and move on, he was not surprised when the Enron scandal broke. At the time it was the biggest corporate bankruptcy the world had seen. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed to prevent scandals of this scale ever happening again (it didn’t).

In the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme his family members were involved in the company, including his brother who was appointed as Chief Compliance Officer. There are rules in many companies about potential conflict of interest when partners or family members work together.

More recently Wells Fargo came under fire for the cross-selling scandal where staff opened credit card accounts for non-exisiting clients in order to meet targets. In companies employees focus on what gets rewarded; and when enough pressure is applied from their bosses and their colleagues some will break rules to meet those targets. The company directors’ failure to halt the scheme was called “gutless” by Elizabeth Warren – the company maintains that the employees – all 5,600 of them (so far) acted alone. Either the bosses knew or they should have know, but so far none have taken responsibility.

John Oliver’s piece on the US police system exposes the myth of the “one bad apple” and looks at some of the systemic issues behind the fatal police shootings in the US. The failures of process and policy erode the public trust in the police, reducing their ability to their job.

The points John Oliver makes could equally apply to businesses.

  1.  Leadership
    Your leader must lead, her actions must demonstrate her high ethical standards and she should speak clearly and frequently about the company’s ethics.
  2. Monitor/Collect data
    We can now analyse data and patterns of performance, look at patterns and changing patterns. At a financial institute I worked at we were required to take a break of at least two weeks. HR sold it as being good for employees but my security colleagues gave another explanation, the two week break was long enough to highlight any odd activities.
  3. Avoid conflict of interests
    Keep review processes independent, external if possible. Don’t hire siblings or partners into the same field. Declare any outside interests that might raise a red flag – I wrote some columns for a (former) supplier. I had to declare this and I donated the income to charity to remove any potential conflict. Independent reviews make a difference
  4. Transparent Processes
    The more open you are, the more public you can be about your processes, the less opportunity there is for fraud or scandal. A very simple example; some universities are using blockchain to certify their qualifications, as that becomes a public record there is no chance to create a fake degree.
  5. Rewards
    Be careful what you reward, that will direct the employee’s focus and in extreme cases leads to unethical behaviour to reach stretch targets.
  6. Whistleblower procedure
    Even with all the best practices in place something could go wrong. Create a robust, independent whistleblower procedure.  Whistleblowers are generally punished for coming forward, be the exception.

Building a scandal resistant company culture is not easy; not doing so is expensive, even fatal.

Image: Shhh  |  philm1310 via Pixabay  |   CC0

Facebook Dilemma

CM2017_03_facebook.png

Scenario

Imagine you run a retail company. You find a Facebook account that is incredibly derogatory to your company. I think every company has unhappy customers but when you try to find out what caused the person to hate your company so much it turns out that the Facebook account holder is an employee. You have a policy in place to guide employees on using social media, which does state that employees should be respectful.

Options

What would you do?

Outcome

Well, this is based on a real event, at a real company. The manager of the webcare team who found this choose to contact the employee’s manager and ask them to have a discussion with their team member. The reasoning was that although the account was damaging to the company there was a bigger potential problem; a very unhappy employee.

It turned out that although the Facebook account used the person’s identity and a photo of them, they had never created the account and did not know it existed.  The webcare team then helped them contact Facebook and get the account removed.

In companies there is a temptation to look for a rule to solve anything negative. Managers often ask “what is our legal position?” or “what’s at risk?”, which leads to blame and punishment. By stepping back, thinking about what might be really happening and asking what would be lowest level of response to resolve the issue the company should a great deal of trust in their employee.

The course chosen to address the issue tried to use the “Most Respectful Interpretation” of the employees actions. The team thought that it could be a case of identity theft or that something terrible has happened at work and the employee is lashing out. The course of action chosen would lead to a swift resolution in the case of identity theft, or to the first step on resolving a serious issue if it had been the later case.

What would you have done?

Image;  Red pill/blue pill   |   tom_bullock   |   CC BY 2.0

Building Diversity

CM2017_02_diversity.pngThis video came up on the Facebook page of Clementine Ford, an Australian Feminist. It’s about “unconscious bias” the biases we all carry that affect decisions we make, including hiring decisions. It cites the orchestra that auditioned musicians from behind a curtain so that the judges could not determine their gender. Now an Australian film festival is doing something similar after noticing that only 5% of finalists were women, following blind judging that number rose to 50%.

Sexism is not the only bias judges and employers hold, there are reports from the US, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands that associations of race and nationality are made based on a person’s name, often to the disadvantage of non-white candidates. And we all remember the Academy awards a few years ago releasing #OscarsSoWhite.

We know that diversity is good for business, but we’re bad at it.  So how could we make our hiring or judging processes better for diversity?

Use Data

You need to make the unconscious bias visible. In the Tropfest case the organisation looked at their finalists and found that only 5% were female. I’d bet good money that was a lower percentage than anyone realised before doing the research.

Do some research in your own organisation; how many women and minorities are hired? How many are making it through to the highest decision-maker level? If you’re organising a conference do you have a diverse range of speakers? (if you have to try harder it’s your network at fault) If you’re an award giving organisation how many of your nominees are people of colour, LGBT+ or women? And how many of your judges… you get the idea.

Be aware of stereotypes associated with roles, I had a somewhat technical role in a communications department. The head of department congratulated me on helping the department’s diversity figures by hiring a man into a comms team. In reality I’d hired a guy into a slightly technical team – hardly striking a blow for equality. (For the record the gender split in my team was 40:60 women to men, while across the department the split was around 70:30)

Address the Gap

Make sure your company policies and practices encourage diversity – write new policies for your organisation if they don’t. Hint; do this with a diverse group for best results.

I wrote about other steps you can take in an earlier post called Diversity Works. This won’t get better just on good intentions, you will need to take action.

  • make your hiring process more open; from neutral job ads to diversity on the interview panel, can you remove gender and ethnicity signifiers from the CVs for the first round of assessment?
  • look for role models across the company from diverse groups, help them gain visibility across the company and outside the company. Think of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, their slogan is “if she can see it, she can be it”.
  • support groups set up to help minorities in your organisation
  • state your diversity practices on your website and in your job advertisements (Shell has a statement about women in leadership that it puts on every job vacancy)
  • make sure senior people in your company are able to speak about diversity, and do so comfortably – nothing will sink your diversity efforts more quickly than an insincere executive.
  • educate your leaders, your managers, your teams
  • build diversity into your personal network

Diversify Your Network

We all gravitate towards people who look like us, sound like us, share our values. Start building your network to be more inclusive; follow people on twitter who are not like you, read different perspectives, listen to speakers from radically different backgrounds. LISTEN to what they have to say. Resist the temptation to disagree, to put your point of view, to defend yourselves (this is the misstep made by all those well meaning #notallmen posters).

One of the best posts around on this is from Tin Geber, he’s talking about male privilege in relation to inviting women to speak at conferences, but the principles still apply. As he concludes;

It’s on me — and each person reading this — to actively strive to rebalance the playing field.

Measure Progress

The Australian Film Festival went to 5% women finalists to 50% women finalists. They measured their progress and then they talked about it. It must have given aspiring women film directors a boost.

Measure your progress, and talk about it only once you have seen specific improvements.

A lack of diversity won’t change without specific, sustained action. Starting with people of privilege listening and making room.

Image: Diversity  |  Nabeelah Is  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Holacracy

CM2016_10_holacracy

Holacracy is often linked to a boss free work environment, a flat organisation structure,  and having the freedom to choose what to work on. The same characteristics are cited by those in favour and against the concept of holacracy. To me those characteristics sound good, I like having autonomy at work. When I studied organisational design we talked about entrepreneurial organisations, machine bureaucracies and ad-hocracies according to Mintzberg’s model. At that point Holacracy hadn’t been invented, but some of the ideas around self-management were evolving.

What is Holacracy?

Holacracy is a system of company governance that enables colleagues to self-organise around the work. There is still an organisational structure, but now it’s based on circles of work rather than a hierarchy. Roles are defined, and a person may have be part of more than one circle and fulfil a different role in each. The specific system was developed by HolacracyOne, and has been adopted by around 300, mostly small, organisations.

As with any new idea there’s a fair amount of hype, with supporters and detractors talking about it in equal amounts. There are numerous articles, explaining how it works,

it gets a fair amount of hyper and an equal amount of detractors.

There is a decrease in the bureaucracy of planning and approvals that you see in a standard hierarchy, instead there are monthly governance meetings and processes specific to maintain the holacracy.

Who is it for?

Every company sits somewhere on a continuum from reliability to adaptability. Holacracy enables faster decisions to be made closer to the customer, as a system it is probably going to work best in younger, smaller, creative companies at the adaptability end of that scale. Of course older, larger, regulated companies can (and do) adapt the ideas of self-management into their teams but I think would struggle to deploy a full holacracy at scale.

Advantages and Disadvantages.

Companies have reported specific quantifiable benefits from using various systems of self-managed teams; FedEx cut service errors by 13% in 1989 for example. But strong results on holacracy are harder to find, that’s partly because it’s early days – we’ve had a hundred years or more of business hierarchies, it’ll take a while to figure this out. Even one of the founders, Brian Robertson, predicts that it will take a few years for a company to embed the Holacracy system and move into working within it in a stream-lined way.

Benefits cited are; increased employee engagement, increased adaptability, decreased office politics (although one article regarding Zappos casts some doubt), increased transparency, increased focus on organising around work.

It also sounds good, so what’s the downside?

Medium moved away from holacracy earlier this year, and while they still embrace the principles behind holacracy they found that “the system had begun to exert a small but persistent tax on both our effectiveness, and our sense of connection to each other.”

HBR published an excellent article “Beyond the Holacracy Hype“, and they point to downsides relating to increased complexity particularly around doing work – if an employee is in multiple roles each with a set of responsibilities then it becomes hard to know where to focus their effort, Zappos went some way to solve this by evolving a “marketplace” that assigned points for work allowing the company to set priorities via the Lead Links (team leads).

When someone has multiple roles compensation becomes more complex, as does hiring – including internal hiring.

It becomes hard to scale up to complete initiatives that would go across several circles – it’s also hard to do this across departments in a traditional organisation, but it seems the effort of co-ordinating this becomes even steeper in a fully self-managed environment.

Who is using it?

The Holacracy site claims that over three-hundred organisations currently use their system, of the four on the front page the largest is Zappos – and they are now moving on to become a Teal Organization.

Given that both Zappos and Medium have moved away from using Holacracy, but still maintain the principles of self-management, I wonder whether the full Holacracy model will be seen as a stepping stone in the future, a transition to go through as you redesign your company or whether companies will evolve their own systems of self-management without spending time in a rigid holacracy

What’s the future?

The principles of self-management are good; positive for employees which has to benefit customers and the company. Holacracy as a system embeds transparency and forces a focus on the work, but seems to place a burden on the company in terms of added complexity, and it may limit scaling – or need to evolve to enable scaling.

However even large, older, regulated, dinosaur companies have been borrowing what makes sense for them and creating hybrids of hierarchy and self-management. It may be a slower track to the company of the future but they’re benefitting from the experiment as well.

Image: I made it