All animals are equal
Remember George Orwell’s Animal Farm? There’s a line often cited in it: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Let’s risk being a bit rude about the people you work with and change that a little.
All colleagues are equal, but some colleagues are more equal than others.
Here’s a tip for those of us who are working in an environment where there’s a sometimes some fuzziness about what to do, when, for whom. If you’ve got multiple bosses, that probably you. If you’re working with in collaboration with other people in other teams, other buildings or other organisations, it’s almost certainly you. And if you’re working with complicated stakeholders where lots of people aren’t under your direct influence it’s definitely you! 😉
The thing is, we often start with a default assumption that all colleagues are equal. And by that I mean they need the same amount of tender loving care. As soon as I say that it’s obvious that they don’t – but unless we stop to think, it’s how we act. Everyone gets the same project report: the mailing list goes out to all the stakeholders on a project. You get the idea.
But not only do you clog up your own working time by thinking like that, you also clog up everyone else’s in-tray! So here’s a way of breaking out of what I’m going to all the Animal Farm Syndrome.
Step one – make a quick and dirty graph
Grab yourself a pen and paper and draw yourself a quick, two-dimensional graph. The horizontal axis is labelled ‘Interest’ and ranges from ‘Couldn’t care less’ up to ‘OMG I neeeeeed this in my life’. Okay?
The vertical axis is label “Influence” and ranges from “Utterly powerless” at the bottom to “Almost God” at the top.
I know real life isn’t like this, but for now, split each axis at the halfway point, which will give you a two-by-two matrix like this:
|Not interested but very powerful||Very interested and very powerful|
|Not interested and not influential||Very interested by not influential|
As soon as it’s laid out like this it becomes pretty obvious that you can save yourself (and them!) some time by treating those quadrants of the graph differently. I’m going to label them anti-clockwise from the top right, to make it easier to talk about each quadrant.
Step two – check how you’d treat each quadrant
This is where it starts to get a bit messy because it’s going to be different so all I can do here is talk about the broad ideas. You’ll have to do the detailed work on your own.
These are the people you can’t possibly let down. You should consider giving them plenty of information about what you’re doing and if you can, take the initiative so that you are providing it before they ask for it, so that you control the agenda.
If they say ‘jump’ you say ‘how high?’.
No surprises there – except for me to re-assert that this is what we assume everyone is… But they might not be!
Typically this quadrant is where funders or your boss’s boss might sit. The chances are that all they care about are the results and being confident that things are being done (and done right). If that’s the case you don’t need to bombard them with the full progress report you send to quadrant 1 every week! 😉
Not only do you waste time doing it, you waste their time making them read it!
Instead, how about considering something as simple as a tick-box approach for them. Find out what boxes they need ticking and tick ‘em! My experience is that they two boxes they need to know are ticked are:
- We aren’t over budget
- We aren’t behind timetable
- Nothing catastrophic has taken us by surprise
After their key boxes are ticked, everything you give them is just noise.
My experience is that these people are often end users, sadly! 🙂
As sure as grass is green you don’t need to spend time on the phone to them every day/week/whatever briefing them – they’re not important! Don’t allow their interest and enthusiasm to trick you into thinking you need to do anything other than keep them informed. To be brutal you don’t even need to keep them happy if you don’t want to!
Perhaps an occasional newsletter is all these people need. Honestly, I don’t know because, as I say the Devil is in the detail here but I’m sure you get the idea. All to often I see these people being included in meetings and decisions time and time again. Yes, it’s nice to include these people because they’re interested but if there are lots of them (and potentially their will be!) you end up with lots of different ideas that are often mutually competitive – and you end up spending a lonnnnnnnnnng time listening to all those views. In the end though, that’s all they are – views and opinions of people who aren’t important to your project!
You know what I’m going to say here, don’t you! All you need to do is monitor them to make sure they’ve not moved into another quadrant. If you’ve got the spare time do more then think about it, but if they’re not interested all you’re doing by involving them is annoying them and wasting everyone’s time!
Step three – who’s where
I’d suggest not doing this bit when you’re in the middle of things. And take a break after step two so you’ve got a clear head.
Put the list of all the people in your project on a set of post-it notes, one person per note, then cup of tea in hand, figure out where they go on your graph. Use post-it notes so you change your mind!
All that’s left now is to set up some kind of system of checking if people have moved – perhaps by doing this exercise at key milestones of the project and then act on whatever you decided to do in step two.
Yeah, I know, I’ve made life sound more straight-forward than it really is, but my point is really that we tend to assume everyone involved in the project is in quadrant one. Frankly, unless there’s a meteor coming to destroy all live on earth and your project is to stop it, that’s not likely is it!?
If you’re not sure where to put someone, why not ask them? Don’t put it as brutal as “Are you quadrant 1 or quadrant 3?” but at least ask them what level of input they really want – not what level of input they feel they should be seen to be saying they want!