By Sara Harrup
Deadlines! KPIs! Meetings! Projects! Paper piling up! Email box full! Targets to meet! Sound like a normal week at work? It is for many. There are so many targets, deadlines and must dos that more and more people are overwhelmed. I was thinking about this last week and I realise that work has been like this for as long as I can recall. It’s not a new thing. We are not busier than we were ten years ago. We really aren’t! So what has changed? I am wondering if it’s our approach that’s different!
In my late twenties I took over managing a team of about 30 people who had demanding roles. We worked in an environment that was heavily driven by deadlines, targets and measures. We had a bonus structure that rested upon our achievements. We all wanted that bonus!
Those 30 people were tying themselves up in knots trying to reach those targets and measures. A few interesting things had happened to them as they did this. Firstly, as they focused on one set of targets, another set would falter. Secondly, some of them worked to targets so much that they were shortcutting the quality of their work to get the numbers. Their peers were aware of this and were resentful that people doing poor quality work would be rewarded because they had effectively found a way to cheat the system.
What we did as a team was go right back to basics. I took a risk and told them to forget about all the targets and measures. I asked them to know their craft and do it well. We continually focused on what made a person doing their role good at what they did. They took the risk with me and got right back to the fundamental elements of doing a good job. Their heads stopped spinning, their morale improved and within 6 months they became the highest performing team in the division. They got their targets and measures and their bonus! At the end of six months the staff turnover was almost zero. They were happy and proud. We had team breakfasts. We had fun at work. We kept it light and entertaining where we could. We did a lot of training and up skilling. We did a lot of communication.
I’m not going to say it was without pain. We had some tough conversations. There were times when they felt I had let them down. There were some rogue team members who were disruptive and difficult. One or two moved on with encouragement. One or two stayed and kept their impact on others minimal. I randomly quality checked their work to look for people cheating the system.
All we did as a team was to reframe our work environment and our roles. We had the same amount of work, the same deadlines, and the same amount of hours in the day. This demonstrated to me how powerful reframing can be. It is a technique that can be used by anyone. So how do you do it?
- Sit down and define your craft! I choose to use this word because I believe it gives you proud ownership of a job role that becomes personal and meaningful to you.
- Explore and define what makes a person good at this craft? What are your strengths? Where could you improve?
- Create a picture of what you would look like if you were practicing your craft well!
- Write down what you need to do to look like that!
- As you go about your day, maintain a focus on “I am practicing my craft and doing it to the best of my ability”
All the deadlines, measures and targets, projects and everything else fit inside 1-5 above. The main difference is how you look at it and what your attitude towards it is. If a team of semi-skilled, very stressed people back in the 90’s could do it and become a winning team, so can you!
About Sara: Sara Harrup is a Cause & Effective Associate. She is a former not for profit CEO and has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and issues faced by organisations in the sector and the people who work in them. Sara brings this experience and insight to our Leadership Search team.