Michelle’s Understanding

This is the second part of a post started yesterday.
Michelle was already busy working when Alex got into the office. Knowing she was having a freakout the day before, Alex had dropped by to see how she was today. “You’re in early!”

“As you know, there is too much to do.”

“I cancelled my yoga tonight. Thank goodness this only happens once in awhile.”

“Oh, hey, I tried your trick yesterday but it drove me crazy.”

“What drove you crazy?”

“Thinking about how this cohesive whole–this potentially amazing project–got reduced to little pieces by someone’s impatience.”

“Not impatience, aggressiveness. We don’t call an early bird impatient. He just wants the worm more.”

“Yes. She was a worm and she dug us right into the ground.”

Eee. Alex isn’t sure if clarification is a good idea. “Uh… in that analogy our boss is the bird, not the worm.”

“What. Ever. Can’t I just hate her?”

“Sure. I’ll save you some time. I’ll just put some poison in a bottle with her name on it.”

Michelle eyerolls. “It did not work. My thoughts were bouncing all over the place.”

“Okay, first off that’s not what I said I did. FedEx does not load a truck to go to the West End and then the North Side and then the South Side, and then back to the North Side and then back to the South SIde”

“Okay I get it.”

“Half their day is spent between where they really need to be. I didn’t mean spend all of your time between everything. Our fluid department was compressed by time and responsibility into a gas where all the molecules now have space between them. You just find the most important molecule and handle it. Then find the next most important and handle it. But yeah, bouncing between them and never actually settling in? That feels awful when I do it.”

“Well it felt awful yesterday.”

“At least that should keep you from doing it again today.” Michelle looks at her lamely. “Sorry.”

Michelle sits back in her chair and regards her friend. It’s a statement, not a question: “So instead of bouncing between all of these worries I pick the most important one and just deal with it.”

“That’s what I do, yes.”

“And that’ll make me feel better?”

“Why wouldn’t you  feel okay if you did that?”

“Because all of that stuff still needs to be done.”

“That’s just you drifting between different responsibilities with your thoughts. That’s the thing you said you wouldn’t do.”

“That’s it?”

Alex almost feels bad. As though she’s really let Michelle down. “Yeah.”

“So these responsibilities are just… ideas, and me thinking about one, then the other, then another–that is what I’m doing that you’re not? You’re just not drifting between the gaps? You’re just staying on your molecule? And then you go molecule to molecule. None of the worrying…” Michelle started to seem buoyed by the idea. “Hmmm.”

Alex looked like she’s about to say something, but when she looked at Michelle something subtle had changed. There was now a certainty to her, as though Michelle’s posture itself is some kind of highly balanced yoga movement. Her voice sounds less uncertain and more confident the longer her realisation lasted. It seemed that she has gotten what she wanted the day before. So Alex just stepped back and grabbed her briefcase. “Have a great day Michelle.”

Michelle looked up, looking entirely unperturbed. “Thanks Alex. You too. Why don’t you come over for dinner on next week, when this haze has all blown past?”

“That sounds good Michelle. That sounds really good.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Controller

He had done it again. They had their work day planned out, but once again their boss had other plans for them to do something far less useful. Robyn was angry as she slammed the box down onto the pile. “Why does he do this every single day? He knows we have all of those filings that have to be ready for Monday. It’s like he wants us to fail. This stuff can wait.”

Bodhi set down her box neatly on the pile. “Do you have fun plans for the weekend?” she asked, smiling.

“Don’t change the subject. You’re always smiling, always happy. He does this to us every day! We would get twice as much done if we didn’t have a boss.” Bodhi just smiled in agreement. “Why do you just take this and never complain?”

Bodhi stopped and looked at Robyn inquisitively. “Would complaining change it?”

Her tone was so genuine it ruffled Robyn. “That’s the only power we have. Maybe if his life is miserable enough he’ll actually considering doing something the smart way.”

“Arent you just torturing yourself? And I also think his life is not short of misery.”

“Good.” Robyn moves another box, but she likes the idea of her boss suffering. “Wait–why?”

Bodhi catches her look and answers, “Have you seen his wife drop him off in the morning?”

“The hag that’s always yelling?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Can you blame her? If he’s like this at home too it must drive her crazy.”

“I wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg?”

You can see the wheels turning in Robyn’s head as she tries to figure out what Bodhi meant. “You mean, did she get bitchy because he’s an idiot, or did he become an idiot because she’s bitchy?” Bodhi nods. “What difference does it make? We still have an idiot for a boss either way.”

“My father was very controlling of my mother. It caused a lot of battles between her and my brothers and sisters.”

“But let me guess; you took it just fine.”

“I noticed that after being controlled so badly, my mother needed to exercise some control. Almost to–I don’t know–get her equilibrium back.”

“So you’re saying after your Dad was a jerk your mother over-compensated and she was a jerk too?”

“I think that’s how my brothers and sisters saw it, but they saw me as spoiled because my mother was better with me.”

“Were you the baby?”

“No. But I was the only one who let her regain her balance.”

“What do you mean?”

Bodhi thought for a moment. “It’s like Mr. Dillon. He begins his day by feeling attacked and belittled but reacting will only make things worse. Once his wife is gone, Mr. Dillon is like my mother–he needs to regain his balance.”

“So he abuses us to feel more in control? Is that what you’re saying? Great. So we have a ten year old for a boss.” She slams down her box into the pile.

Bodhi stops, causing Robyn to pause as well. Bodhi points to a stress crease in the box Robyn just slammed down. “More human than child. Mr. Dillon treats you badly and you treat this box badly and it gets these lines; these bends in the corner that make the box less stable when we stack them.”

“So?”

“But you feel better when you slam them down…?” She doesn’t sound judgmental when she says it.

“It helps me work out my frustrations to pretend the box is his face.” They both laugh.

“Could we be Mr. Dillon’s boxes?”

Robyn pauses and gives that a serious think. “Wait. So you’re saying that the way he treats us after his wife is the way I treat these boxes after I deal with him?”  Bodhi nods, wondering. “Well if he is, then he’s definitely putting some wrinkles into my corners too.”

Bodhi laughs as Robyn slams down another box. “No offense Robyn, but I think you put those on yourself.”

“Yeah, well it made me feel better.”

“That’s why I never mind doing things like this.”

“You don’t mind that he distracts us from important work to do stupid grunt tasks?”

“My brothers and sisters thought I was sucking up to my mother by always making her tea after my father left.”

“Weren’t you?”

“I was helping her return to balance so that she and I could begin our day in peace. My brothers and sisters would fight with her for the rest of the day.”

Robyn throws the last one on top. She seems unconvinced. “So you’re saying that the reason stacking this crap doesn’t bother you is because to you it’s not stacking boxes, it’s returning Mr. Dillon to equilibrium?”

Bodhi smiles. “I must meet people where I find them.” They walk together to the coffee room and each pours a fresh cup.

“Is that why you have fewer wrinkles than me even though I’m half your age?”

“No. That’s just because I’m Asian.” They laugh together. Bodhi looks at the clock. “Only half an hour. And now we have the rest of the day to get important things done.”

“Fine. I’ll trade a dumb half hour to have peace the rest of the day. But I still want to sneak a dating app onto Dillon’s phone. Maybe if he had a nicer wife we’d have a nicer boss.”

Bodhi smiles, accusing, “Aren’t those apps where you get your dates Robyn…?”

“Uh, yeah, fat chance. That is one grenade I’m not willing to jump on for my coworkers.”

Bodhi laughs. “Enjoy the rest of your day Robyn.”

Robyn smiles. “Thanks Bodhi. You too.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Human Resource

105 Relax and Succeed - If you don't know where you're goingI work a lot with companies that want to improve their cultures. In general terms, they want to remove friction. Like in physics, friction is wasted energy. So I’m there to minimize the amount of energy expended in friction between employees or departments, or through confusion and complexity, so that the maximum amount of the employee’s energy is being used to propel either the business and/or the employee forward.

In the vast majority of cases all competing businesses generally have the same tools and resources, so the real difference will be in how the people are managed. We’ve all walked into fast food outlets and seen the difference between good and bad management. It can be the same overall company, and yet one location is clean, fast and friendly, and another is slow, dirty and disorganized. And virtually 100% of the difference will be in the management.

It’s funny to me how many times managers will assume I’m going to use some form of measurement to assess their ability. They think I’ll look at their sales, or their productivity, or their adherence to rules etc. But just because a manager has decent numbers doesn’t mean there isn’t headroom. Because he or she is number one doesn’t mean that there’s not loads of room to improve. But how do we find this headroom?

105 Relax and Succeed - Everyone you will ever meetThe answer is: we ask the people. Why would we only use the manager’s brain to develop solutions to challenges? That’s only one perspective. Only one set of experiences. Rather than a manager formulating an idea and then selling it to his staff, better that the many brains of the staff work out the solution with the manager leading the discussion.

It’s much like with training. 95% of training supposes. It imagines what the employees want to know rather than asking them. If you want to know what would allow your employees to be more successful at work, ask them. If they don’t know the answer to that question, then make sure the asking is being done well, and if you’re still not getting good answers then maybe that’s not an ideal employee because you want people who are enacting, rather than stifling, the natural desire to grow and expand.

Weaker managers often get quite concerned when they learn I’ll be letting their employees tell me know how well things are running. Stronger managers find the practice only makes sense for the precise reason noted above—the only real difference between one competing company and another is their employees. Steel will do what steel will do. The same with water or electricity or any other commodity. All of the flexibility exists within the people. If you want to know if there’s room to improve you have to consult the people.

105 Relax and Succeed - A boss creates fearPart of the problem is that some management strongly resists working so closely with employees because they have historically seen themselves as a higher echelon, further up the pyramid of employees. In reality, a better metaphor might be that the employees are the parts of an engine that do the work, and the managers are the mechanics that keeps it all running. They’re not there to tell the engine what to do. They’re there to make sure the engine is well lubricated with positive feelings, that it’s got all of the appropriate parts, that it’s tuned up with information and training, and finally that it is operated safely, responsibly and successfully.

In the end, the way to remove friction is easy. Create an environment where suggestions and frustrations are met with openness, and where dialogue can lead to change. With some exceptions, complaints by employees should be viewed as opportunities for the business to succeed even more.

Maybe it’s by helping the employee to understand that their legitimate frustration is there only because it prevents a much larger frustration, or maybe it’s through making changes that make the employee happier and the company more successful. Either way, less energy gets spent on friction and more gets spent on the creation of value. And that’s the real secret to success in business.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.