All posts by Steve Willlis

Getting Things Done QA

One Simple Strategy to Improve Workplace Productivity

Dear Steve,

I am the Operations Manager for a small startup that produces caramels. I also wear many other hats, which include doing office administration, HR, and finance work. The business owner is very hands-on but is not clear about goals or priorities. Many projects are started but never completed. We have a young, inexperienced staff, including myself and the owner. I have asked for training courses, as well as clear goals and priorities, but nothing really changes. I’m starting to feel burned out. With the ever-changing goals and priorities, it seems like the work I do isn’t valuable. To top it all off, the owner is my brother, so I feel a deep responsibility to be truthful with him. I don’t own any of the company, so he has the final say. I just want to see us succeed and I’m concerned about our trajectory. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused,

Yep, you’re stuck—and not in the good way that comes from biting into a delicious caramel. You’re stuck in the way that keeps you up at night trying to figure out what to do.

Some years back, a young woman showed up in one of my training sessions. She approached me during a break and asked me how she could use some of the skills. First, she asked how she might apply the skills with her dad. Then she asked about using them with the CEO of her small company. We chatted strategy for a moment. Then she asked, “And what if my dad is the CEO?” Aha.

Addressing challenges with coworkers who are relatives becomes a little trickier because you can’t just leave problems and issues at work; dinner often turns into an impromptu work meeting, and disagreements at work can quickly turn personal. The woman in question, for example, perhaps like you, was also dealing with behavior patterns resulting from years of set roles, structures, and other familial interactions—things unrelated to work, but related to, well, being related. I’ll share with you the tips I shared with her. Consider them suggestions to chew on, if you will.

Establish a Weekly Meeting

Establish a standing weekly one-on-one meeting with your brother. If you already have one, great. If you don’t already have one, you may find it somewhat difficult to get time from a person who’s incredibly busy. You might suggest starting with a 30-minute weekly meeting or ask if he’d be willing to “just try it” to see how it goes. Once you get your meeting, turn your mind to what you’ll focus on in the meeting.

Introduce a Framework

An individual’s work style has a huge impact on those around him or her, especially when that person is the CEO. In your brother’s case, I think it would be helpful to introduce him to the Perspective vs Control matrix, found in David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

“For many years I have been teaching about the horizontal and vertical aspects of productivity. ‘Horizontal’ represents the ability to quiet distractions and maintain a complete and total inventory of things to do across the whole spectrum of our day-to-day engagements. ‘Vertical’ represents the ability to view what you’re doing from the appropriate horizon and to shift your focus as required.”

David says the “horizontal” axis relates to control—control of tasks, projects, and overall efforts—while the “vertical” axis relates to perspective—the ability to identify new opportunities, incorporate vision, and set priorities. People operate on both axes in either a high or low capacity. Thus, various work styles can be represented as a matrix. This matrix helps people see their operating styles, as well as how those styles impact others around them.

Low Control and Low Perspective: The Victim

A person here is driven by the latest and loudest, tossed about by every task or project that comes his or her way.

High Control and Low Perspective: The Micromanager

We can probably all think of someone that falls into this quadrant. This person focuses on details as the means and the ends.

Low Control and High Perspective: The Crazy Maker

Sounds like your brother may fit into this category. People in this quadrant have ideas—lots of them. They often dream up more than they’re able to do, so they often overcommit themselves and those around them.

High Control and High Perspective: The Master and Commander

As the name suggests, a person living in this quadrant is best positioned to meet new opportunities in a controlled and measured way.

So, step one is to share this with your brother. Create a matrix based on control and perspective, then discuss which quadrant(s) you and he fit into. Then discuss how your work styles affect each other, the team, and the organization. People often find that while they may move from quadrant to quadrant, they tend to work in a particular mode based on roles and responsibilities. I’m guessing this will be the case for both you and your brother.

Hopefully this process of making your operating styles visible will be useful as you discuss how things are compared to how they could or should be and what you can do about it.

Good luck,
Steve

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