Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nicer But Less Effective. What Harvard Business School is definitely not teaching.

Find a Fake Busy Meme
OK, I'm making an assumption because I actually don't know what Harvard is teaching. 

But when I worked as a Project Manager in Los Angeles and my meetings ended for the day, I focused on tasks to move projects forward--summary reports, meeting minutes, follow up emails, and user acceptance tests--all artifacts of a project. When those were completed and I waited for responses and updates, there were 2 to 4 hours remaining in my day before I could turn off my computer at 6 to show an 8 hour work day. Not exactly the long American work day you hear so much about. 

So you might wonder why I have been laid off four times, twice as a Project Manager and twice as a Technical Writer, if I am so efficient. Because companies--especially management, and especially Big Companies--don't reward efficiency. They reward status quo. The cake is a lie and the work is not the work. 

And though it is easy to get jobs demonstrating efficiency, it is almost as easy to lose jobs demonstrating efficiency. Because when I was cannibalising my workload people noticed. In the first three months it got accolades from colleagues, managers, and managers' managers. But when you're still banging out widgets at a furious pace in month six, everyone starts to worry that their workload will be your next meal. I've been that person four times. 

If job preservation is your goal, busy work is your friend. Here is why:

  • The warm and fuzzy busy blanket. Though management complains of being slammed out from endless meetings and reports, they won't cancel the meetings or simplify reporting because they don't want to admit to spending time on unnecessary work. No manager who enjoys playing that crappy candy game on their phone during the Thursday conference call that they started is going to suggest that the call should go away. It feels good to pretend everything is of critical importance and it feels even better when those activities are added to the Done column of the TPS report. And the latte they drink while playing the crappy candy game during the Thursday call is the highlight of their week.
  • Management creates the clock watch culture of inefficiency. Emphasizing face time encourages managers to arbitrarily label problems as crises and then evaluate workers on long hours, which makes everyone inefficient. As Project Managers we joke that "If everything always went perfectly we wouldn't have jobs." [throat clear] How can you look like the hero if there is no dragon to slay? You can't. Until you find a dragon. And if you can make that call bragging about slaying the dragon from the comfort of the carpool lane, even better.
  • Asking for work at Big Company is asking to be laid off. Not that getting laid off is a bad thing! Sometimes it leads to a better job, more money, and a nice three month severance package. But if you are NOT looking for this, don't ask for more work. It signals that you cannot identify what needs to be done. Instead, identify the problem that additional work would solve for YOU (boredom, looking for a promotion or raise, curious to work with the new Drupal expert) and solve that problem. 
  • Presenteeism is the norm. Productivity in large companies dips by one third when people go to work with presenteeism (not physically or mentally productive due to real or imagined illness). I added the "imagined" illnesses part. Big Company culture rewards showing up. It doesn't care if you get anything done because it focuses on quarterly profits, budgets, and not getting sued. Make no mistake, you will get fired eventually. It just takes a really long time being useless before anybody can take action. 
  • Cultivate a fake busy portfolio. Fake busy is a thing, especially if you work for Big Company, which is why there is an entire fake busy movement. You are either creating the illusion that you are busy so you can dedicate time to things that actually matter (such as building the portal for Q3) instead of updating decks (which don't matter but executives love) to place blame explain why the portal for Q3 is behind schedule. Or you are creating the illusion that you are busy because there is so much demand for your skills that you cannot be part of the next layoff.
  • Find fake busy that makes you zen. After my fourth layoff, I learned that finishing projects on time was not nearly as important as making everyone around me feel good and feel busy. So I carved out small blocks of time that were enjoyable. I meditated in my car for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes walking up ten flights of stairs in the parking lot, took 30 minute walks around the neighborhood or wrote notecards to my nephew and then mailed them in the mailbox down the street instead of the one in the mailroom. Nobody noticed these little outings and they made me feel good. They made me more zen. People want to work with zen more than they want to work with productive. 

There's a popular quote floating around attributed to Paolo Coelho. "Do something besides killing time because time is killing you." I like that quote, so while being killed by time at least enjoy some perks. 

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