Time, Time, Time

When I was a young boy growing up in England, our TV stations all closed down at 4pm on Sunday evenings therefore, that was the night my parents would play their records. They only had a few albums as I recall: ‘The Best of the Carpenters’; ‘The Best of Bread’; ‘The Best of Elton John’; ‘The Musical — Godspell’; ‘Tapestry’ by Carole King; ‘Saturday Night Fever’ by the Bee Gees and two albums of Simon and Garfunkel — ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ and ‘Bookends’. Whenever I hear any of the songs from these albums, I am transported back to 25 Overhill Road, like it was yesterday.

The lyric of one of the Simon and Garfunkel songs (‘Hazy Shade of Winter’), starts with the rather haunting line: “Time, time, time — see what’s become of me…”. I heard this recently and it set me thinking about the concept of time.

Time is such a vital resource, especially in the workplace. We often hear of people trying to “manage time” but it’s an oxymoron — we cannot manage time, as it marches on regardless, and waits for no-one. The best we can do — is to manage our priorities.

I’ve noticed in the workplace there are essentially two types of time management issues — process and people. Our goal with processes is to be as efficient as possible. No one ever starts processes, policies or procedures thinking: “I hope this takes me as long as possible.” Our goal with people is to build trust. Wouldn’t you agree with me, when you have effective relationships at work you get things done, and quicker?

Conversely, think about a work relationship where the trust is low — doesn’t everything slow down? See, when trust is low between people, there’s more double-checking; meetings about meetings; more email and more negativity — as a result we end up wasting time and losing time by spending time where we don’t need to.

I’ve also noticed how some people know where to invest time. I remember working for one leader called Nicholas. He was a people-centered leader. He prioritized his time to ensure he was building effective relationships with everyone he worked with, and was a very genuine person. He always worked hard but within a reasonable working week — I don’t ever seem to recall him working on the weekends or evenings. He always knew what was important right now.

Nicholas focused on being a man of high character and high competence. He extended trust to people. He would trust and then verify. If he had an issue with someone he would go straight to them — he wouldn’t gossip or talk negatively of others. He gave people the benefit of the doubt.

Nicholas focused on people. He knew it was people who made things happen and that effective people could solve inefficient processes any day of the week. As a result, he did get good results.

In preparation for this article I searched out Nicholas on LinkedIn. Although he’s now a little older, I can still see he’s married to his wonderful wife. His young children, (as I remember them) are all grown with children of their own. He seems fit and healthy — come to think of it, I do remember how he would always prioritize family time and invest time in his exercise, carefully watching what he ate. He’s now the Chief Executive Officer of a major hotel company in Europe, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

“Time, time, time — see what’s become of me while I look around for my possibilities”. See it’s the second stanza of that first line which I also believe is vitally important in this one precious life: we ultimately become that which we choose.

Each day we’re presented with possibilities and choices as employees — will we be positive or negative? Will we go the extra mile today or not? Will we be a peacemaker at work or a troublemaker? Will we lift our eyes up to people and look for their nobility as human beings or bury our heads in the process and talk bad of others? Will we invest in our own health by carving out time for exercise and watch what we eat or shall we not?

We’ve each been given this precious commodity called time — let us ensure we work well as employees and create the right conditions for people in which to thrive if we’re leaders or business owners. Let us ensure we invest time wisely and not waste it.

Don’t just phone it in

Even after living here for 14 years, I still hear American English phrases I don’t understand. Just this weekend I heard someone say: “Don’t just phone it in.” I’ve come to understand this translates into English English as: “Don’t be half-soaked”. See, being “half-soaked” is much clearer than “phoning something in”. The late Sir Winston Churchill once said: “We are two countries divided by a common language”.

I wonder why some people at work “phone it in” and some people “go the extra mile”. Why do some people do the bare minimum at work and others always give maximum effort? I’ve come to believe its because there are essentially three types of people at work.

Type 1 people have what I call a “strong personal constitution”. What do I mean by “strong personal constitution”? Well, rather like how organizations have a mission statement, (which is meant to be their “why” or as the French say, “raisen d’etre”); I’ve noticed effective individuals have their own reason to work well. It is as if there’s a compass — a true north you could say, guiding them throughout their day — regardless of what happens around them. I remember working with a Type 1, called Gordon. It was almost as if he was serving a higher purpose and wasn’t swayed by the ups and downs around him. Gordon was perhaps the most noble, honorable, and hard-working individual I’ve ever worked with. He was a superb direct report to me, and an outstanding supervisor of others.

Type 2 workers are tossed about by the winds of the workplace. Such individuals take their disappointments of yesterday into today and push them into their tomorrows. Type 2’s are reactive rather than proactive. They can be quite militant in the way they see their work — thinking everyone is against them and that management is out to get them. Type 2’s are in a constant state of worry and fear. They rarely if ever change their internal soundtrack or look out of a different window, through which to see their world. There’s an old phrase: “Misery likes company” and often Type 2 people will feel most comfortable with other Type 2’s — choosing to align with other negative people around the coffee pots and water coolers of the world. If leadership doesn’t step in, Type 2’s can poison the operating system of an organization.

Type 3’s do choose to “go the extra mile” but only when they’re treated well. They differ to Type 2’s because they will alter their behavior and level of engagement based on how they’re treated. Type 3’s will They work better when work is like a playground. When I think back about Gordon — I don’t think he would have changed his quantity or quality of work based on how nice the environment was around him. He didn’t strike me as a, “Ping-Pong” kind of guy and he preferred bringing in his own packed lunch as I recall.

Maybe I am looking at the workers of the world too simply but I do think there’s some truth in the paradigm that suggest we see three types of employees — Type 1’s such as Gordon; Type 2’s which in my opinion need to be replaced as soon as possible and Type 3’s that need constant stimuli to stay engaged.

As I think more about the compass that called Gordon, I do think that little French phrase “raisen d’etre” concisely summarizes his way of seeing life. See, “raisen d’etre” means: The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.” I came to know Gordon outside of work — funnily enough, a group of us once cycled from London to Paris together. During those five days of cycling I asked him in my schoolboy French about his “raisen d’etre” and I’m eternally grateful he shared it with me. It changed how I see the world.

The working world needs more Type 1’s to positively influence Type 2’s and to encourage Type 3’s to actually get stuff done.

Rules of the road

Awhile back, I picked up a ticket from a police officer in My crime? I drove over a STOP line at about 7 miles an hour. When one of Iowa’s finest came out from hiding to stop me, I was aghast that I’d committed the crime especially as there was no line on the road indicating the said, STOP sign. Having said that, I did have to admit, the BIG RED STOP sign on the street was fair indication. On the positive side, I did feel good about contributing to the Muscatine economy with the payment of my fine — as far as I could tell there wasn’t much else going on in Muscatine, Iowa that morning.

Rather like we have rules of the road to keep us and others safe — we have to have the same in the workplace. Just as vehicles can cause damage to property and potential loss of life, I can see how human beings can tremendously hurt each other in the workplace, if not governed by rules. What is it within the human condition that can cause so much damage on the highways and byways of the workplace?

After more than 12 years of doing what we do at Newleaf Training and Development, I am beginning to realize there are certain laws or you could say, principles that govern whether we have a good journey in the workplace or not, the rules of the road make sense to us — it’s wise to stick to your side of the road; not to drive while intoxicated; not to speed or to be distracted while driving, and to read directions given on signs to name just a few.

Likewise, there are rules or principles, which make sense to us in the workplace — we know for example, it’s best to treat people in a way we, ourselves would want to be treated (aka the Golden Rule). We understand that we reap what we sow (aka the Law of the Harvest). We prefer to work for leaders who see themselves as servants — they turn the traditional organizational pyramid upside-down (aka the Law of Servant Leadership).

So if we know the rules of the road, why are there still accidents? Why did I pick up a ticket from my new friend in Iowa? Likewise, why are most people unhappy at work? Why is “teamwork” an oxymoron in most places of work? If we understand the Law of the Harvest, why do most people want to get by on the bare minimum in today’s workplace? With so many experts calling out that servant leadership is the way to go, why do we still have so many bent-out-of-shape, workaholic managers who don’t listen to their people who want to micro-manage every minute detail? Just as our roadways show evidence of accidents, why do we see carnage between people, in most workplaces?

I am so grateful for the work we do and I can honestly say, if there weren’t bills to pay and kids to help through college I would do what we do for free. Having said that, I often think to myself that we shouldn’t be needed. You’d think if we were advancing as a people we’d have learned how to lead; how to manage ourselves; how to sustain work-life balance; how to serve customers and colleagues superbly well and how to steward our organizations resources as if they were our own.

But, nope, just as new drivers come on to the road every year who are very likely to make the same mistakes their fellow drivers do and those who went before them did; new employees start work every year and need to be directed on how to manage themselves and influence others.

So until we’re living in a perfect world, the Iowan police officer will continue to earn a living by helping to hold back evil, prevent crime and correct numbskulls like me from not adhering to the rules of the road. Likewise, at Newleaf Training and Development we will thankfully, continue to earn a living by reminding people of timeless principles of how to work with others on the highways and byways of the workplace — I just wish we could give out a ticket now and again for poor performance, as I’d be a zillionaire!

The most assured way we can positively reduce conflict in the workplace is to follows the ‘rules of the road’ which were laid out a long time before we traveled here.