Friday, May 30, 2008

Accountability (Part 2)

Welcome to the second installment of my series in the subject of accountability. Last week I spoke about office hours. This time I want to focus on office perks.

I don’t think it’s any secret that when you feel good, you do good work and when your employer provides the resources for you to enjoy your working environment as well as take care of some of your personal issues, it is more likely that it’ll be easier for you to focus, and to render your best results.

Remember the Swedish company I worked for? That company was an example of good working environment, awesome offices and office furniture and great culture, so I’ve experienced some of this.

There was another company I worked for where my boss used to say “We like people to not be worried about their financial situation, so that they can come here and be more productive” and their salaries were higher than the industry standard.

The other day I saw some blogs (See resources at the end) which posted pictures of Google offices and I was astonished at how cool they were and the kind of perks they enjoy!
(Pictures taken from Andrey Drozdov, Nice workplace looks like it.. Google offices in Zurich)

I’m a designer, so the actual office space is critical for my productivity and I really appreciate it when those details have been taken care of and if you look at the pictures of Google offices, you’ll see what I mean. It’s not only that they’re really cool, but they enjoy some additional perks such as day care for your children or beauty parlors.

So what am I actually saying here?

If you employ people (especially designers) take into consideration their working conditions and the balance you can help them achieve between their careers and their personal lives. Why? Because these factors deeply impact retention, commitment and productivity, that’s why. Ask the guys at Google!

See you next time for part 3!

Andrey Drozdov, Nice workplace looks like it.. Google offices in Zurich
Fresh Pics

Monday, May 19, 2008

Accountability (Part 1)

From Wikipedia: “Accountability is a concept in ethics with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as answerability, enforcement, responsibility, blameworthiness, liability and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in both the public and private (corporation) worlds. […]

In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions,
products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.”

A few years ago I worked for a Swedish company; one of its core values was “freedom with accountability” which meant that employees were free to act as they saw fit, considering the core values, mission and vision of the company.

So as long as the objectives were met, we were able to come and go from the office, to make our own decisions, to use the company’s resources and to assess situations based on our own principles.

The way most of us responded to this policy was to actually be more responsible, more committed. It taught us that we didn’t need a cop breathing down our necks for us to do better work, to strive for better results, to handle things in on time.

In other words, the company allowed us freedom to choose our courses of action, and in return it got better results from us.

I realize that not everybody will react to such policies in this manner, but rather try to take advantage of the situation to procrastinate and be lazy. Of course in the end, the consequences will be paid.

I am a full supporter of such policies. I believe that being clear about expectations with employees will make it easier to implement these proceedings and, if all goes well, most people will respond the way we did in the Swedish company.

I’m going to touch on three subjects related to accountability: office hours, office site perks and IM in the workplace.

Office hours

There’s usually some office hours policy, right? You’re supposed to go in at certain time in the morning and you’re supposed to leave at some other time in the evening. And you’re supposed to take a fixed amount of time at lunch. This generally applies to everybody except people in sales, or high level managers.

Whenever I’ve been forced to follow the office hours policy, I’ve found myself getting there on time and leaving on time. Not one minute extra. Why? Because it infuriates me that performance and results are measured on a how-long-are-you-at-your-seat basis.

However, whenever I’ve been free to handle my working hours I’ve found myself being more committed to the tasks, mainly because I feel more empowered to manage my time as I see fit, given of course, that I am clear about expectations.

But what exactly are we talking about here?

• Yes, there are office hours, but if you have a personal issue, you can go solve it before coming to the office (Provided this doesn’t cause any trauma on the operation) or leave early to do so.

• Projects and results are evaluated based on completion and quality, instead of how many hours you put into them.

• Weekends are sacred and only you can choose whether or not you go in the office on a weekend to finish something.

• The same goes for after work hours.

• It is expected for the employee to try to balance his working hours with his personal time, as it is vital that employees are rested and energetic to achieve top results in projects.

• It is understood that some personal issues are more important than work.

• People are entitled to take as many breaks as they feel necessary during the day.

Whenever I’ve used these concepts in my experience, employees have never disappointed me.
I leave it out to the community to share some comments about this and about their experiences.

Come back next time, to read Part 2, about office site perks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

In-house designers beware…

A few days ago I stumbled across this passage from “Pulling Your Own Strings” published in 1978 by Wayne Dyer.

(From Wikipedia: Dr. Wayne Walter Dyer is a popular American self-help advocate, author and lecturer. His 1976 book Your Erroneous Zones has sold over 30 million copies and is one of the best-selling books of all time).

I thought it would be useful to publish here, as a call to reality for all in-house designers. All comments are welcome.

"How Institutions Work

Business institutions exist for one reason: to make profits. They seek only to perpetuate themselves so as to return dollars to the people who have taken the risks of financing them and manufacturing the products or delivering the services.

They are not in business for charity, and they don’t pretend to be. Therefore, any victimizing you experience as a result of your connection to an institution has probably come about because you allowed it to happen.

If you believe a business institution owes you some kind of loyalty and ought to reward your long service with a lot of benefits to you as a person, then you are carrying around groundless illusions.

The institution will attempt to deal with you in as utilitarian a fashion as possible. It will pay you for your services until you can no longer deliver the services it needs, and then you will be dismissed in as inexpensive a manner as possible.

This is not a sour view of business in western culture; it is simply the way things are. Whenever you become an employee of an institution, this is the implied agreement. Even if it has such things as pension plans, profit sharing, incentive programs, or any other devices designed to hold on to employees, the fact remains that when it doesn’t need you any more, you will be replaced, and every effort will be made to get rid of you as cheaply as possible.

Institutions simply do what they’re designed to do, and there is no complaining about them being written in these pages. But you are not an institution. You are a human being who breathes and feels and experiences life.

You do not have to be upset about the way businesses operate, nor do you have to commit yourself slavishly to institutions just because you are encouraged to do so by institutional spokesmen who stand to gain by your self-victimizing loyalty.

The man who retires after devoting fifty years of unflagging service to a company, and receives a gold watch and a small pension for his lifetime of devotion, has not been victimized by the institution. It owes him nothing, so he should feel grateful for the watch. He did his job and received his paychecks, and the company received his services. That is the way it’s supposed to be.

But the retiree has been victimized if he has devoted himself beyond normal requirements and sacrificed his own personal goals and his family activities, because institutions do nothing but continue on, whether you kill yourself for them or simply see them as ways for you to make your living."

In my opinion, even though you must bring excellence and commitment to everything you do, it would be foolish to ignore the reality of how companies work and to regret the personal time that you sacrificed for them.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

To design or not to design?

That is the question, indeed. As I’ve said in my profile, I graduated as an industrial designer. However, in my career I’ve never worked with product design. What have I been doing all these years, then? Read on to find out.

When I graduated I landed a job as “designer” for a big multinational company. The job entitled working with digital files of packaging and doing prepress processes. I wasn’t too crazy about it, but I enjoyed the work.

A few months later, I was promoted to head of the department, with one person reporting to me. So now I was in charge not only of the technical aspect of the work, but also of the administrative aspect of the work. Budgets, deadlines, processes, procedures, policies, internal communications, suppliers, staff development, you name it.

And I loved it.

Was it stressful? Hell, yeah! But I really enjoyed that part of the business.

After that job I went on to work in several other companies, doing business or design process related things, but never actually designing. And there came a point when I just admitted that I enjoyed the business aspect of design, more than designing itself. Not only that, I didn’t miss industrial design per se, at all. It could be graphic design or branding.

Where am I going with this, you ask? Bear with me a bit more…

A couple of weeks ago Oprah Winfrey did a show on women who hated their jobs. The special guest was Marcus Buckingham, a career expert from England. Marcus designed a workshop to help people determine a plan to make the best of their professional lives, be it figuring out how to make your job match your strengths, or having the guts to quit it once and for all.

The workshop focuses on figuring out what your strengths and weaknesses are, but seeing these two concepts under a different light, which I thought was very interesting.

Strengths are defined as activities that you do, that invigorate you. How do you know? Because when you’re doing them you get really focused, it’s easy for you to concentrate and you look forward to doing them.

Weaknesses are defined as activities that you do, that drain you. How do you know? Because when you do them, it’s hard to concentrate, you’re always coming up with excuses not to do them, you dread going to work to do them and you feel like they take away your energy.

Pretty easy, huh?

Well, I took the workshop and came to realizations that I was reluctant to admit, but that will help me in the decisions I’m going to make about where I want to go with my career. Maybe I will tell you about those conclusions in another article sometime.

But my point is that just because you graduated from college with a certain degree, doesn’t mean that that’s who you are or what you’re supposed to do for a living. And as Wayne Dyer would say: “Who would trust a seventeen year old with career choices?”.

Maybe I don’t want to be a designer… maybe I want to move to other design related areas like management or teaching… Or maybe I want to try a different design discipline like graphic or interior design, who knows? The future is not written!

And only you can figure out what it is that strengthen or weaken you. I suggest you take the workshop . It’s free!

All the best!