Posts Tagged “work”

Have annual reviews had their day?

Yesterday I talked about annual reviews and how organisations can often get a simple process wrong, but are annual reviews immediately flawed due to their annual occurrence?

A year is a long time. A lot can happen in a year. I left a job, started a new job, got made redundant from the new job and then started freelancing all within a year. I hope you’re not as unlucky me to get made redundant, but maybe you move about a lot inside an organisation? What if you’re never in the same job for more than a couple of years. Does that make the annual review a redundant process?

In the UK there has been a rise in the last few years of self-employed workers and recently portfolio careers have proved to be popular with workers who want more of a variety in their career. The job for life is gone, so why are organisations still subjecting their workers to annual reviews?

Perhaps a more agile approach is needed with more frequent feedback. A year between reviews is too long, but what about quarterly reviews of your work with your line manager? How about monthly? At what point would your line manager know that you are enjoying your job and making a positive contribution to the company?

As a freelancer I have to continually look at my skill set and improve on areas that are rusty and also consider new programming languages and frameworks every few months. I have a core skill set that I am strong with but I also have to consider other skills if I want to make myself attractive to future clients. I give myself a review every month so that I know what work I have completed, whether I have completed it on time and what is in the pipeline ahead for me. I can afford to do this though as it is just me.

I’m just glad I don’t need to sit through anymore annual reviews for the foreseeable future.

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The Annual Review Done Right

It was my oldest son’s parents night at his school tonight. We had a fair idea what his teacher was going to say about him and his progress. We weren’t disappointed.

The format is simple. You get 10 minutes with the teacher in which time they will go over the your child’s progress (that you have already read the week before) and then you get to ask any questions about your child and identify any area where they can try and make improvements. Fortunately our son is doing great so there was just a couple of minor areas for him to improve on.

If you think the format is familiar then you would be right. Parents night is just the kiddie version of the annual review that many permanent workers go through. However, how is it that organisations can get this wrong when the basic format seems so simple?

I’ve experienced the annual review first hand in a number of companies. Very few of them actually did an annual review on a regular basis and even fewer followed through from the previous annual review.

A neighbour of mine worked in a really well known international bank where annual reviews were not done by your line manager but by someone even higher up. In an organisation such as this where the number of employees runs into thousands, there was a good chance that the person doing your annual review doesn’t even know you to look at. In this case our friend did indeed get their annual review done by a director who had only met him twice. Not exactly a good example of an annual review.

Twice a year my son’s school give a parents night without fail. They provide a report for your child that you get a week before parents night so that you can raise any questions during parents night. They give feedback on your child’s progress and give suggestions on areas where your child can improve. They do it for all the kids in the school. That’s hundreds of kids.

It’s not hard to do.

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Breathing space

When I worked for an ERP consultancy, I would frequently no sooner get my backside at my desk in the morning before the phone would start to ring. Customers looking for support, developers asking for tests to be done and the managing director looking for that new feature for the high profile client of the week. Some days I would simply keep working right from the moment I got to my desk through to home time without a thought about working on the right things. Then I would realize that the day has completely passed by and I’m not even sure if I had done what I originally set out to do that day.

It was at this point that I started giving myself 5 minutes each day of breathing space. At the start of each day I would block out some time to get my day into order. Just a chance to ask myself a couple of questions:

  • Did I leave anything undone from the previous day?
  • Are there any high priority issues that I need to resolve today?

Once I got into the habit of doing this I started to see where my day was going and the progress (or lack of) that I was making. Updates for customers were taking too long, support calls were being left for too long and most days I wasn’t doing the work that I wanted to do.

Once I spotted these recurring issues, I started to clear them off my backlog of work one at a time. Each day I was making this list smaller and smaller. I was starting to see some real progress.

I do this little routine every day now. It’s just a few minutes of my time, but the benefits are worth it. I’ll sit down with my notebook and review the previous day’s work and pull forward any outstanding tasks to today. I’ll then check my master list on TaskPaper and include any work that is scheduled for today or the current week.

Now that I am freelancing and working from home, it’s important that I continually measure my progress and ensure that I am always making progress on projects and products but more importantly on client work. I need to deliver good results for my clients and ensure they are getting value for money.

Having this little moment of breathing space is a great way to start the day. It’s just a few minutes of time reflecting on what you need to get done today, but it is time well spent.

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Dealing with redundancy

It’s been four weeks now since I was made redundant. In that time I’ve had a chance to reflect on this horrible position that many of us go through. It’s not my first redundancy either and probably won’t be my last, but there’s a number of things I would like to share that may help others get through a similar experience.

Being made redundant from a job is a painful experience to go through, but I think that level of pain relates to the size of the company you are being let go from.

Take for instance my job at a large payroll software and services provider at the start of my career. They were a large company at the time of my redundancy. My role was working on a payroll and personnel product. After nine months though, my development manager moved on to somewhere else and the product was shelved. Fast forward a few months and the company was bought over. I was deemed surplus to requirements by the new parent company and was made redundant.

When I found out I was being made redundant I acted calmly after hearing the news. I realised that even though my line manger was giving me the bad news it wasn’t his fault and there was nothing personal about it.When you work in a large company, chances are you are just another cog in the machine. There are multiple levels of management from the decision makers at the top to those at the bottom and it’s usually very rare that these two levels will mix on a daily basis.

From the way I see it, It was a decision made by others who either didn’t know me or knew very little of me. It wasn’t personal, and that’s an important perspective to take on it. Lots of people feel anger when they are made redunandant, but at the end of the day it’s sometimes just about the numbers.

Now my last two redundancies have been made at smaller companies. In each case there were less than ten employees in each company and each time I was made redundant I was more than just annoyed at the news of being let go. I had spent two and five years at each of the respective companies.

With small companies you end up knowing everyone on really good terms, well I do anyway, and you get to know everyone a lot better than you would have at a large company. In this case it can become boiling pot of emotions you feel when you are told by a colleague that you know really well that you are being let go.

In this case you need to handle things a bit differently. Redundancy in a small company is difficult to deal with.In both cases my redundancy came out of nowhere. I had assumed in each case that the company was performing well to that point. Experience has taught me though that in a small company, day to day duties can hide underlying problems the company is having.

In my first redundancy the company was entertaining prospective buyers for a number of months before myself and others were made redundant. It was kept from staff until the announcement that the company was being bought over. the company buy over was announced on the Friday and I was made redundant on the Monday. Pretty fast moving. I completely resented the company owner and the development manager for not at least giving the staff a heads up on the activity of the company. Looking back I wasted a lot of time in a negative place rather than focusing on moving myself onto another position. I did eventually find a new job, but I’ve always thought I was pushed into the job move rather than moving on for better reasons.

In my second redundancy I found myself in a better frame of mind after hearing the bad news.After being told that the company was going through financial problems and I was being let go, I simply gathered my things, said my goodbyes and left. Stepping out the office I was surprised by the swiftness of it starting as another day in a small company to not having a job. I learned from the past that dwelling on the negative and blaming others wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I simply picked myself up and moved on.

The experience of being made redundant from a small company has taught me to expect bad news at the drop of a hat. Working with a small company with people you know well doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be told of any pending bad news on the horizon. And if there is a bad news for the company then you are probably better off being somewhere else.

Also in a small company, you should accept the redundancy for what it is and move on. Regardless of what you think about the company or it’s remaining staff, it’s not going to have any positive input on your prospects for a new job. Accept the redundancy and move on.

A redundancy from a large company has been easier to manage from my experience. It’s largely a decision based on numbers. You get the bad news and then move on. It’s no-one’s fault.

My last piece of advice is to pay attention to the company you are working for regardless of its size. Watch out for news alerts on the company and pay attention to shifts in company size and locations.

When external office locations are shut down, services or products are removed or other departments are closed down, look towards your own department and question it’s viability within the company. Does your department still align with the companies overall objectives?Yes you might just be a line worker and not privvy to what’s going on in the board room, but you can observe how the company is performing. With that knowledge, a redundancy will then at least be expected and not a complete surprise.

Redundancy is sadly a part of the career world that many of us will face, but it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a largely negative affair. When you get the bad news, close the door on it and move on. I did and I feel a whole lot better for it.

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Stop using email for internal company communication

​I have a love hate relationship with email.I love having a medium that allows me to communicate effectively with others all over the world. Being able to send some thoughts to a family member in Canada, or thanking your mentor for that little motivational book they sent you in the post. Yip, it’s hard to beat email as a form of communication.

Until of course you get to your desk at work at 9am on a Monday morning and the deluge of email in your inbox makes you regret that you didn’t just phone in sick that day. Yes there are ways of dealing with your email on a daily basis that let you work smarter and more effectively by implementing filters and such, but that doesn’t stop people sending email to you.You see, when you work in a team, department or in a small company, email is often that go to tool that let’s one person tell everyone else about something. That’s great, but when email becomes the standard form of communication for ideas, discussions and projects, that’s when you’re going to wish you never opened that your inbox again.

From my experience, I have found that email in the work place is an invasive form of communication that tries to grab your attention from the pressing, but productive work that you are doing. It aims to break your concentration. When you have processed that ‘urgent’ email, you then need to reset your focus and get back to what you were working before you were interrupted. Personally I can do without that kind of distraction.

So what’s the solution? Well it’s easy. Non-invasive forms of communication that let you see with others want you to see without distracting them from their work. Project and task management, customer relationship management, and intranets are all greats ways of communicating with others in your company without interrupting what they are working on. They let your team see the information they need to see and they can act upon that information in their own time.

And don’t be under the impression that the digital world is the only place you can communicate.

The daily stand up is a great way of communicating with your team and shouldn’t be thought as being for developers only. Anyone in a team, should consider the daily stand up where you want a status update from the previous day and to quickly plan what’s going to happen today.

Kanban boards are another great trick I learned to use from my days working in an agile development team. An overview of the work in progress is a great way for everyone to see what’s going on. It also increases verbal communication over work rather than team members continually pinging emails back and forward.

As a rule, email should be the last form of communication in any team, department or small company. There are so many other ways of communicating that are more productive and will also let your colleagues get their work done.

So next time you want to update the team on a project or want to discuss idea, find an alternative to the evil that is email. 

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