On Dying and Boxes

Everyone I know dreads annual staff appraisals – management and (especially) staff.

Source: davidsonmarbleand

Source: davidsonmarbleand

We’re just going through the process at the moment and it’s going pretty well.  Some robust discussions going on and issues raised (both ways) which have highlighted some things that I need to do to enable my crew to work more effectively and to remove some of the “speed humps” that interrupt the normal flow of things in and around the office.

On Thursday afternoon though I did realise that the most valuable thing we do with our crew is not put them into boxes.  We don’t classify them, we don’t worry too much at all about hierarchy and, where people extend themselves, we reward them on the growth an development they have demonstrated.  We challenge them and push them outside their comfort zones as it is only by doing this that we and they can fully appreciate the talents and skills that they have (Trimetrix helps in identifying these things – massively).

A fundamental part of our approach is actually to de-categorise people as much as possible.  This does present its own layer of challenges but, by allowing people to identify their preferred areas of work and the things they would like to do, we are removing the barriers that can hinder their development.  These barriers, when not addressed, develop into bigger issues which eventually become frustrations and lead to disengagement and significant negative influences on culture.

How many times have you heard people describe themselves and/or their roles as “I’m just a  …”?  This, in my opinion, is terribly sad.  The story behind this phrase is that they are unhappy and unfulfilled in their roles and would like to develop more but there are hurdles for them to overcome.  They might have tried for a number of years but, in the end, they’ve just given up.  What a waste.

The further indicator of the “… just a …” is that they have been and/or have seen themselves as being classified or placed into a particular sort of “box” within the organisation.  This smacks of the managers in an organisation not wanting to get to know their people as human beings.  They are treated as cogs in a machine that chugs along doing tasks and delivering outcomes without any great sense of purpose or meaning.  They probably do not see their contribution as being meaningful or valued.  How terribly sad.

I believe that people are inherently better than this.  I believe that, where you offer the opportunities and support for people, they can grow and excel beyond your expectations (and, more often than not, their own).  But this takes trust, courage and a willingness to be open to failure.  Things that can be an anathema to many managers and business owners!

The staff appraisal process is but one step in the development of people – feedback needs to be constant, encouragement needs to be genuine (and regular) and discussions about what, where and how your people want to go/be/become need to be the core of the communication with them about them.  In a lot of businesses that I have worked with, discussions like this happen rarely, and, in most cases, never happen.

One of the discussions we had was with Jane (our admin guru). She is an absolute star and contributes in many ways to the results the business achieves and the culture within the organisation.  We were talking about her role and where she sees it developing.  Did she want to go more down the accounting route (which she has been doing) or work back into the more admin side of things?  She wasn’t sure.  What we know is that she is incredibly capable of operating in either (or both) roles – at the end of the day, were trying to work out with her where she would ideally like to be – a spot that will allow her to use and develop her skills and give her the satisfaction that she likes (craves?).

So, after some really positive and open discussions about what was needed, where she would like to be and what was coming up that is going to require people to take ownership for some outcomes, we decided that we would make no decision. We would “suck it and see”.  In reality, we decided to make no decision as to do so would be to place  limitations and restrictions on Jane that wouldn’t be good for her and therefore, wouldn’t be good for anyone in the business.

No good squeezing someone into a box that they don’t want to be in.

And that’s when I realised: The only time you put people into boxes is when they’re dead.

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