Seek first to understand

Whilst mooching through social media this weekend I came across a fascinating thread. Someone within my network had posted a rather generic request for help on a pretty generic topic. It was one of those moments that we’ve all had where we ask, “does anyone know anyone who can xxx”.

What fascinated me was that despite the very generic nature, the thread was filled with responses, “I can” or “I recommend x”. It was only after about forty or so responses that someone answered, “I think I might be able to help, but I need a little bit more detail. What specifically are you looking for, who are the people you’re looking for this for and where and when would you need it?”

It reminded me of many of the conversations that we have at work. A problem is generically stated and immediately we all pile in with attempts to fix it. Suggestion after suggestion is made in the attempt to solve a problem that we haven’t even fully understood. From the limited data that’s presented we all form our own individual interpretation and yet we rarely take time to check that our understanding is the same.

The impact on the original requestor can be overwhelming as they are inundated with solutions that can often be contradictory to one another meanwhile the other participants can get frustrated as their “obvious” answer to the problem goes unheard. But what if instead of being at the end of the thread, those questions had been at the beginning? Would that have led to a better quality of response?

It would be easy to say that the originator of the question should have thought it through, but I disagree. The nature of collaboration is that we work together to try to find a solution and that is particularly true in the workplace. If we all take responsibility to ask questions and seek to understand all the aspects of a problem, rather than making assumptions, we not only help to achieve better answers, we save everyone time and effort in the process.


Meeting the productivity gap

I have a confession to make, I’ve become a little obsessed by meetings. I’m fascinated by the way in which we, in organisations, fill significant proportions of our time talking about the things that need to be done.

Which feels kind of weird.

I saw some data last week that showed that the higher up you go in an organisation, the higher proportion of your time is spent in meetings. Now assuming that people have succeeded in work because of a level of competence in doing “something”, to take them away from that to instead talk about “stuff” seems slightly counter intuitive.

And even accepting that the coming together of people within organisations is a valuable part of the working agenda (which I absolutely believe to be true). How often are meetings run by the most skilled most adept facilitator versus how often are they run by the most senior person?

What happens is that we are stuck in a historical model of business, where those on high would call together their underlings to convey, check, question or hold to account. And whilst so many aspects of our business life have changed, this one part still remains firmly planted in the past.

The much talked productivity gap that exists within UK business surely can’t be helped by the amount of unproductive time spent in unnecessary or badly run or defined meetings. Freeing people up to do rather than talk, to create rather than discuss.

When our lives become about meetings, we have to ask ourselves whether we are adding value, or simply taking resources away from the main purpose of our organisation.

Dogma eat Dogma

Let me state something very clearly, HR people do not like new legislation. Why do I say this? Because of a wonderful statement issued by the Institute of Directors Director General, Miles Templeman,

“The HR lobby is the biggest vested interest of all when it comes to the subject of employment law. When governments create complex regulation, employers are forced to increase their HR budgets to ensure compliance”

Really? As someone who has worked through the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, the Data Protection Act, the National Minimum Wage, the Fixed term Workers Regulations (to name but a few) and is currently struggling with the Agency Workers Regulations am I really enthused and excited about new legislation?

And if I spoke to my peers and contacts they would probably say the same. So why would Templeman say that? Because the CIPD had the temerity to suggest that productivity shortfalls in the UK economy, might not be due to “red tape” but might actually be due to,

“relatively low rates of capital investment, long-standing deficiencies in the supply and quality of work-related skills, poor management of available skills in the workplace”

Radical thinking………….

If the IoD calling anyone else a “vested interest” group in itself wasn’t ironic, the thing is that HR people are probably the LEAST likely to want new legislation. And the CIPD aren’t suggesting in any shape or form that there should be more. Instead they seem to be arguing that the problems might lie elsewhere – which sounds like a sensible conversation to have, whether you agree or not. And given that Templeman is a board member of Young Enterprise, you would have thought that he might have some sympathy.

Legislation isn’t introduced because people are already compliant.  The Minimum Wage was introduced because people were being paid ridiculously low hourly rates, the Working Time Directive was introduced to give employees some protection against excessive working hours. I could go on. What we really need to do is have a sensible debate about how to improve the UK economic performance AND improve social justice, free from sound bite and dogma. And that is going to take a whole lot more than chucking out the rule book.

Funny thing is, the IoD know that………..they just have a vested interest.