So it’s the start of a new year, typically a busy time for many. A lot of new work may be kicking off, strategizing and establishing business cases for new initiatives, or planning resources and schedules to get everyone moving on the projects that have already been approved.
On a personal side, many people have had holiday breaks - maybe you are one of them - and so you had a chance to decompress and, for a short time, forget about the day to day stresses of your job. But now you are back in the midst of it, and you are quickly remembering why you looked forward to that break so much.
Still others did not take that break, and are in the midst of last minute planning for a spring vacation - and they are soooooo ready to get out of the chaos and brain drain that work can bring.
The stress of pressing deadlines, of management asking for continuous updates, the frustrations with inefficiencies, and the constant need to influence others to keep their commitments - so that you can keep your efforts on track too.
For any person, times like this can bring a lot of stress, and everyone can feel it - tempers are short, and focus has been thrown out the door. Work can be anything but productive.
So, my thought was maybe there is a way to lift the lid on that simmering pot – a way to let off some steam. Perhaps it can relieve some stress, maybe improve some moods, and maybe it can open some communication channels too.
The Stage and the Trumpet
The reality is that your employees need a safe way to voice their frustrations. If you want things to improve or change, you need to know where the roots of the problems are. You need to know what barriers may be present, and where your stakeholders stand.
In essence, you need to give them a stage and a trumpet (but allow them to stand behind the curtain at the same time). So here is a way you might do this.
Pick a particular process or topic that requires some attention. Perhaps this will be something focused around a change initiative in motion that you are sensing, or hearing, frustration about.
Put up two white boards or fill a couple walls with poster paper, provide loads of colourful sticky notes and pens, and leave them up for a week or two. You may have seen these before at conferences or other events – a place for people to provide some plus/delta feedback.
Invite people to comment on two things:
The things that are going really well for them. The processes that make sense, the organizational structure, the team behaviours that might be present...anything, really.
The things that drive them crazy, the things that hold up their work, the processes they think need to change, the tasks that are redundant, and perhaps most importantly, the behaviours that slow things down or anger others. You know, all those things you go home and complain about to your partner…
Make sure, of course, that there are clear rules in place and monitor the board to catch notes that break them. Leaving unprofessional comments up can just cause more frustration, more chaos, anger even. After all, this is an anonymous wall and we’ve all heard of the broken window syndrome – we don’t want to go down that spiral!
A bit of engagement, and a bit of health and wellness, both tucked into an opportunity for making improvements, and perhaps some increased productivity?
On engagement, you’ve just opened a flood gate for people to have a voice in a secure way. It’s like gold. Most people, when they know it is anonymous, will come forth to “speak up”. Those boards at the conferences I mentioned? They've always been chock FULL of notes!
On wellness, this is a way for people to relieve a bit of stress, to get things off their chest. In my case, this has always made me feel better, and I’m sure it is for others. Haven’t you ever voiced something that has been on your mind for a while? It just relieves that burden, and you feel like you can move on.
People with lower stress levels often tend to be more productive, more thoughtful, so it does have some project and team benefits too.
On the process side, once complete, you have a whole list of things that you can start working on to make improvements – to whatever comes of it! The more comments on similar themes, the higher priority it should receive.
Wanna Try It?
Will you join me in a bit of griping? In a bit of indirect finger pointing, of just saying it like it is?
Let’s try it out using the comment box – it won’t be anonymous, I guess, but we are also not in a space where we are complaining about our co-worker’s habits or actions, about that team down the hall.
The theme of course, shall be project initiation, planning and execution.
I invite you to freely complain about anything that slows your project work down, that causes delays, or has made you adjust plans, repeat calculations, or revise a report or two. The ways that people treat each other, the actions that cause offence, or shut people down. Things that you would change in an instant if you could.
Think of those redundant processes, the ways that other teams do things, the misunderstandings that occur (and why), and anything more. Feel free to point fingers at “them” (because, you know, it’s never your fault).
Just let loose - keeping the rules in mind of course!
By all means, keep it professional, respectful, clean (aka, don’t let your inside, smart-remarking, profanity-fused voice out of the cage…)
Make no mention of names, specific teams or identify project specifics – focus on the processes, the behaviours, the actions that are an issue with respect to the posted theme.
Do NOT respond to others’ comments with your opinions of why something might be occurring or offer potential solutions to try (this isn’t the time for that!)
Comment as often as you’d like – perhaps reading another’s words will prompt you to think of another thing to write down.
Have fun. This is your chance to have an opinion on something without any retaliation, without anyone shutting you down.
(And honestly, if you really don’t want your name to show up beside your comments, feel free to PM me, and I can add them to the comments box for you!)