Monday, April 23, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: Where do you draw the line with time spent at work? Part 2 of 2

Last week, I answered T.'s email about drawing the line at work with having to stay late every afternoon because a manager hands you something at the last minute.  There's more to flesh out with his question, though, regarding how and when to draw that line.  

Where that line lives may be different for everyone--interns who have lots of family, spiritual, and extracurricular obligations may have less disposable time then interns who mainly go to the gym and then watch Hoarders on TLC while eating dinner.  (By the way, if you need motivation to clean your apartment, watch one of those extreme hoarding shows--you'll be emptying the trash and Swiffing during every commercial break before it's over.  Plus, seeing how nasty the houses are will help curb your appetite and help you lose weight.  It's a two-for-one deal...but I digress.)  If you're really busy outside of work, you may need to figure out how to schedule your overtime better, which means you'll need to be even more proactive with your manager(s) regarding asking when things are due and do they have something coming up.  I must caution you all against being too busy outside of work, however, because sudden deadlines and emergencies are going to happen, and you will need to stay late or come in early sometimes to help with them.  Careful planning and good communication with your boss can eliminate some if not many of these emergencies, but not all of them.

Some if not most bosses will be accepting of your limits, readily or grudgingly.  If they're grudgingly accepting, resist the urge to succumb to the guilt.  Some bosses (and some coworkers) will try to push on your boundaries--maybe they think it's crap that an intern dare "talk back" and say they're not willing to stay late every single day and time someone "needs" them to stay, or maybe they're mad with themselves for not setting that boundary for themselves long ago.  Here's the bottom line to remember when someone tries to push your boundary:

Is the work getting done on time and with quality?

It's a yes or no question.  If the answer is no, then you need to work with your boss to get things right so that you can do the work well and on time.  But if the answer is yes, then no apology or long, drawn-out explanation is needed.  This is a concept introduced by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson of the electronics retail giant Best Buy.  Ressler and Thompson created the ROWE, or Results-Only Work Environment.  Instead of being obsessed with time, they reasoned, why aren't we focusing on results?  If you're getting the task assigned done on time and with a high level of quality, who cares if you did it late last night or first thing this morning?  If it's good and done, then it's good...and done.

I could do two or three posts alone on how Ressler and Thompson's work would be best used in architecture (and where I take issue with their assertions--I don't fully accept their whole premise, but most of it feels solid to me).  For now, though, I'll pass on their approach to dealing with people who take shots at you.  When someone begins to hassle you about "oh, I guess now it's time for you to leave, huh?" or "oh, nice of you to show up", you simply and calmly ask them:

"What do you need?"

This questions stops the heckling and focuses on the result.  What do you need, and when do you need it by is what matters.  If the response is, "I need to to do these redlines for a meeting tomorrow, and I have to leave at 7am to get to that meeting", then you know that they either need your help right now or if you really really can't help them, you may be able to help them find someone who can.  If the response is, "I have some redlines that need to be done by end of day tomorrow," then you can glance at them and assess if you can handle them in a timely manner the next morning. And if the response is just more heckling, then you can repeat the question:

"Homer/Marge, did you need something?  If so, let me know.  I'm willing to work with you to get something done.  What's up?"

When this is done repeatedly and as calmly as possible, you show the heckler that you're not rising to the bait. The point of your "what do you need?" question is to find out if the emergency is real or in your boss' head.  Now, if this is a boss heckling you, it can be hard to hold the line and stay calm, but it's necessary.  You may decide to talk with them later about it:

"Homer/Marge, when you were saying all that stuff earlier about me leaving right at 5, was there something you needed?  I'm glad to help get things done, and I can do a better job of helping you when we plan a little ahead of time.  Can you help me with that?  Can we talk about this a little?"

Sometimes in order to get what you need at work, you have to manage up and take control of the situation.  You have to help your boss--or company--help you, and part of that involves showing or explaining to them how helping you helps the company and project.  When you can make that case, and when you stick to your guns, you can ultimately make everyone's lives easier: people are more organized and well-rested and the quality of work is higher.

No comments:

Post a Comment