Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Processes should make things easier for workers, not managers

I came across The Rands Test written late last year. This paragraph really resonated with me:
Are handwritten status reports delivered weekly via email? (-1) 
If so, you lose a point. This checklist is partly about evaluating how information moves around the company and this item is the second one that can actually remove points from your score. Why do I hate status so much? I don’t hate status; I hate status reports.
My belief is that email-based status reports are one of the clearest and best signs of managerial incompetence and laziness. There are always compelling reasons why you need to generate these weekly emails. We’re big enough that we need to cross-pollinate. It’s just 15 minutes of your time. 
Bullshit. The presence of rigid, email-based status reports comes down to control, a lack of imagination, and a lack of trust in the organization.
I couldn't agree more. When I was a Navy officer I was constantly having to write stuff like that, including writing my own fitness reports and end-of-tour awards (it was considered standard procedure to submit yourself for awards, which definitely took a lot of the specialness out of the occasion).

I've been thinking about how most managerial processes are about making things easier and more controllable for the managers. As I work to build new software organizations here in Baltimore I'm committed to flipping that on its head - what if we focus on building processes that make the people doing the work happier and more productive, instead of making the manager feel safe and in control?

It's easier said than done, I realize, but I have a feeling that such an organization would vastly outperform the more traditional form, more than enough to compensate for any errors that might occur due to a lack of all-pervasive oversight.

This Just Say No post by Angela Baldonero over at AVC definitely reenforces this opinion, that most companies are too focused on making managers feel good and not helping workers do good work:
A new world of work is being born around us. Most traditional HR practices are ineffective and irrelevant. The courage to say no to the status quo has given us the freedom to blaze a new path of freedom, flexibility and creativity.  And it’s a competitive advantage for us. Our turnover is lower than nearly any other company – in our industry or any other industry. Most of our new employees come in as referrals from existing employees. And our application to hire percentage is about 1.5% -- meaning Return Path is harder to get into than Princeton.  
My advice to you is to set your people free to focus on important, high impact work and solve challenging business problems. That’s how companies will win now.
I'm starting to lay the groundwork to recruit programmers for a new startup. If you're working somewhere that fails the Rands test, please get in touch!

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