HR Learner in Development

Posts Tagged ‘Progress

To return next week

Thank you for being patient. I will return.

I would like to take a moment to express my joy in returning to my blog.  The past few months have taken a mental and emotional toll on me both at work and home, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to return to a more regular posting schedule, as was planned at the beginning of the year, and I hope those who have been interested in what I have had to say will pick up the pieces with me.

Over the past few months I have had to focus all of my energies on my work.  I have hit some hurdles and reached a stride.  I have some new ideas on posts I can use in the future, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned.

Until that point, thank you for sticking around.  I intend to have smoother sailing from now on.

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Peak periods are the ideal times to discover inefficiencies and revitalize the way you do the same old tasks.

One of the easiest ways to spot inefficiencies is to analyze peak time transactions.  During the busiest time of the year, it is especially noticeable what processes take the most time and perhaps what wastes the most time.  It is during these periods of extra work when it is crucial to take a step back and try to think of ways in which to complete the work better.

This of course is easier said then done.  Work done in peak times are not often accompanied with many periods for innovative thought or development.  However, managers can lead this innovative thought by making it a priority for the team, and insuring time for experimentation.

While it may not be prudent to implement widespread experimentation during the peak period, small-scale experimentation may lead to a vital change which could impact speed and accuracy of peak time processes.

Therefore, managers should make it a priority to give their team members the room for experimentation. I read recently in the Harvard Business Review about the function of the boss as a human shield.  I agreed wholeheartedly with the article (“The Boss as Human Shield” by Robert I. Sutton, Sept. 2010).  By limiting the demands of both the manager and outside leadership, customer demands, and other departmental distractions, the manager is in a key position to insure that his or her people can focus and experiment on these side projects, which can surely lead to the improved functioning of the department/organization.

Depending on the function of the department, managers can limit interruptions by sending calls to voice mail, turning off internet or email receiving functions, offering to close access to the public early or open it late so that staff can work in peace, and a number of other options.

Of course, innovation in peak time can not be completely separated from peak time responsibilities. One strategy that I have found useful is to set aside a certain amount of time over the course of the week just to focus on the special project at hand. Seeing as people will likely not be able to brainstorm, experiment, and implement in a short period of time in one session, breaking it up in short bursts not only accomplishes gradual progress on a large project, but it also insures time for breaks, allowing the experimenters to come back to the project with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, and potentially additional information about the problem that they may not have had before.

The busiest time of the year can be a time where people pound their heads against the wall, complaining about how lengthy, complicated, or stressful the overall tasks of the time can be, or it can be a time where people create strategies of ways to improve those tasks. In my humble opinion, encouraging the team to take those times as opportunities for improvement is definitely the path to take.

I was reading an article in the January-February 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review called “What Really Motivates Workers,” by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer when it struck me:  I know expressly what they mean when they say that progress is a motivator that has a force to be reckoned with.

How motivating must it have been for the early pioneers of America to see previously non-existing cities to be connected by previously non-existing railroads? Probably as de-motivating as the struggle it took to get there.

My team members just recently went through the information gathering stages of a new Rewards and Recognitions program for my Division as a means to inch closer to the strategic plans of the Division.  I unfortunately could not be involved due to scheduling issues.  Their research of the current literature has been showing them the importance of these goals, stressing the unlikely positive power of day-to-day recognition.  The research shows, in short, that it is motivating and fulfilling to know that one’s work is being recognized by the group, a superior or a co-worker.

However, Amabile and Kramer make a case for the “power of progress”.   They note that progress had the most noticable impact on mood and motivation over any other event during the course of the day.   Simply put, they write that supervisors can encourage motivation through progress by setting reasonable goals, providing the resources to complete these tasks, protecting employees from irrelevant demands, and allowing enough time.  The inverse indicates blocks to progress – indecisiveness, holding up resources, changing goals, and a short time limit. 

This research seems to correlate with my own experience with creating reports.  Now, part of the nature of my job is operating under certain time constraints.  Therefore, the perception of time in the following examples remains constant, where tight deadlines create the impression that small roadblocks are large setbacks. 

One week I was tasked with creating a report for my supervisor.  He told me to have it completed asap.  He told me what he wanted verbally, and then he ran off to a meeting.  I therefore was working under a tight timeframe, with unclear guidelines, and I had to wait on other people to get a clear picture of the scope of the project.  It was both frustrating and de-motivating when, after I had spent a good deal of time on it, was told that one aspect had been an inaccurate account due to information I was never given.  In the end, I had to stay late to get it up to standard.

On the other hand, I was also tasked with creating a report for an employee in another department which needed to be ready for a meeting she was having with the Dean, ie head honcho of the Division.  Information was requested through email.  I thought I had all the information I needed when I told my supervisor what I was spending my time on.  When he found out, he was upset that I had been given a report of this magnitude with very little resources.  He decided he would get clarification for the report, and while that resulted in me having to rework what I had done, it also meant I had him working with me, collaboratively, to reach a solution that worked.  He was able to provide me the right resources, protect me from the unwieldy demands of someone who I was not working directly under, and he was even able to push the deadline back  a little bit because he was aware of what the report would be used for. 

All in all, I felt much more motivated in the second instance, even though both reports required reworking and edits.  The elements of information sharing and collaboration really made a huge difference in the end result.  It made me more able, and more willing, to do similar reports.  The dread that followed the first instance melted away with the second. 

So if you are in a supervisory role, be aware of not just what you assign, but how you assign it and how you follow-up.  Make sure that the task is:

  1. Clear
  2. Supported
  3. Relevant
  4. Within reasonable time constraints

Positive experiences should follow.  When it does, be sure to recognize milestone worthy progress.  Recognition and progress combine to create a wonderful motivational trophy to carry into the future.