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Before and After. Big and Small

I’m going to take a quick look at the love/hate aspect of work from my time in big corporate land and in micro business world too. Neither are perfect, both have their wonderful highs and frustrating lows, so here goes:

Big

I hated the way there were targets for everything. The trouble with targets is that people game them all the time. Set people a target, hook it up to the reward system and sit back and watch everyone screw the business and the customer and each other. So I loved trying to find pockets of enlightenment where we could experiment with doing the right thing because we believed it mattered, not because we were driven to it. The handy, overlooked thing about big business is that you can often play around and get things done differently. Everyone is watching the targets, so go play in the spaces in between. It helps if you don’t make a fuss about it, just go ahead and lay a few small bets around service improvement and watch some of them grow. Proceed until apprehended. I hated the games people played, and I love to play games.

I hated the way performance reviews were a) historic b) forced c) tied to reward and d) even existed. Good managers communicate with their people often enough that this old fashioned lack of trust has surely run its course, and yet it goes on. Big business learns very slowly sometimes. What I loved about performance reviews was trying to make them as flowing and continuous as possible, because that meant it was all about the conversation. Getting to know people, to understand what they are good at and then to get out of the way long enough to allow them to be good at it is an on-going process. I love that dialogue.

Small

I hate the way everything takes so long. I feel like I’m always waiting for decisions to get made. When I started my own business this used to rile me badly. I wasted ages wondering why people weren’t getting back to me, particularly when the discussion was started by them. And then I got to realising – for the time we are together, our discussion, the idea, the proposal, whatever – it has some immediacy. Then I depart and the often badly organised whirl of work just picks people up again and deposits them who knows where (how often do you hear a colleague exclaim – ‘I don’t know what day it is!’ I don’t know where I’m supposed to be next’). I manage this better now by having more things on the go, and looking for other reasons to be in touch – not about the proposal or the idea, but about work and life in a wider context. I believe these interactions add value to a relationship and that in time, they will come back around. I love the faith I have that this approach will work, and it simultaneously scares the crap out of me too.

Big or small it matters not. Game less, target less, worry less. Talk more, believe more, love more.

A version of this post originally appeared over at CostofWork run by Chris Fields.

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