The P Word

I worked in an agency that was having a big issue with Process. Yep that’s the P Word.

"Quit talking Process," said the cat as he attempted to kill the AE.    Click on the image to go to  Managers Are Heroes  website. Good piece on self control when you want to strangle someone at the office.   I had to use the image. It has a cat doing what comes naturally. Amazing what you can find on a Google search. And I know the irony of  MAH  when I'm calling-out managers all the time on silly things they do...

"Quit talking Process," said the cat as he attempted to kill the AE.

Click on the image to go to Managers Are Heroes website. Good piece on self control when you want to strangle someone at the office.

I had to use the image. It has a cat doing what comes naturally. Amazing what you can find on a Google search. And I know the irony of MAH when I'm calling-out managers all the time on silly things they do...

I started there as a consultant, then, when they discovered how brilliant I was (or I was willing to do something that no one really wanted to take on) and couldn’t live without me, they offered me a full-time position. I couldn’t turn it down – solving issues is right up my alley.

In the process of evaluating everything that was going on – and going wrong – in the agency, I had a chat with one of the creative directors. I asked about process. He said, “If I ever hear that word again I’m going to kill someone.”

Process gets discussed To Death.

Why can’t anyone in a creative environment figure out process?

Because it’s so simple. Most agencies and marketing departments actually have a process. They just don’t know it.

Why? Because they think they have to have a big meeting, involve all the managers, sketch it out on a whiteboard, write a long-winded document, 50-slide PowerPoint, have creative do a Process Workflow Diagram to print out and post on a wall, hold a company-wide training session, avow lofty pronouncements and declarations, then roll it out.

Two reactions come from this: a) why are they doing this to us? b) hooray! What’s next?

Then everyone goes back to what they were doing. Before all of that hullabaloo.

And why is this? Because management, in their brilliance, didn’t include anyone actually doing the work on outlining the process; and this is a big one – they have no one to manage the roll-out, follow-up and make adjustments as needed.

That’s because it was perfect. From a management perspective.

I can outline your process in a couple hours.

You say, “Charlotte, you’re insane! You have no idea what our agency/department is like! We’re different! We have a Special Culture!”

Bet you do.

And another thing I’ll bet is that the people doing the work know what process is and practice a little bit every day. It’s just that when things go sideways – which they do in every agency – management decides they’re going to do a process survey and decide what’s best for everyone . . . else.

That is, after it’s been discussed To Death.

So, yes, you do need Process. You need to define it, outline it and everyone needs to follow it. There are exceptions because disaster can strike any time in an agency. In those cases, you take care of the client, get the work done, fix the mistake – then learn from it. Revise the process.

But the exception is not what this is about. This is about the 95 percent of the work in your agency – the routine stuff – that shouldn’t be a pain to manage. A workflow that is predictable. We don't need drama.

Routine isn’t a bad thing, and neither is a clear process that allows most of the work to happen in a routine manner. When it’s all in place and work is just humming along, you have time for the disasters . . . and even more time to spend on the real creative stuff.

Don’t hate Process. Just don’t discuss it to death. Get the folks doing the work to outline it; give them GOOD tools to manage their work (I advocate for agency management software – you should know that by now); and once in place, assign an individual (make allowances for this additional duty) to keep on top of evaluations and adjustments.

You need champions for Process to work. None better than the staff doing the work. They, after all, have all the responsibility and actually really care.

Process is easy – not a Death Threat.

I'm SURE It's DONE!

I have my fair share of self-doubt – or more precisely, I’ll give someone else the benefit of the doubt. I could be very sure about something, but perhaps in the context of something else, I could be wrong. And in my world, my goal is to just find out what went sideways and fix it. Then find ways to prevent a repeat of that particular error.

Memory is an interesting thing. I can remember details of events that are truly insignificant, and then forget that one thing I needed at the supermarket.

So in the course of a busy day at the agency, if I’m *sure* that something was this way or that, it happened, I’m sure I did it – but someone else says, ‘no way, I did not get X’; then I think – well, I could be wrong. And for me, the last thing I'll do is waste time arguing the point and say, ‘Prove it to me. Show me your work.'

I’d look like a total jerk.

Instead, I investigate. What went wrong, and if so, why? And then I want to figure out how to prevent that error – to ensure that it does not happen again. I’m not creating CYA, I’m refining process.

Where was the breakdown? Evaluate process, tools and people. Remind everyone we're in it together. To make the process of doing the day-to-day easier.

So, in the scenario, for a period of time, they did their job and I didn’t do mine.

Who is wrong? Is someone being a jerk because they never admit a mistake, or that they forgot to do something?

But...when I find that I was right - that the other person didn’t do their job, fix the error, pass it along, save it to the server. Perhaps, like me, they were sure they did X, but didn’t. They should fess-up. Yep. They should admit it, 'My bad.' 

Most often, that original declaration of ‘I did do X' is stated in the presence of others. When I confirm that I did my part, and the other person did not, the truth is usually revealed in private.

I look stupid. The other person looks brilliant. Together. Efficient.

So what do you do? Point out what a jerk they are?

Nope, that makes you look like a jerk yourself.

You have a conversation with that person and they say, ‘Oh, okay, I forgot to do X.’ And that’s it. Your reputation of not-having-it-together lives on in the minds of others.

I hate that. Because I’m smart, and I care about doing a Really. Good. Job.

So, processes and tools are put in place so everything gets done with a level of transparency – documentation with collaboration – then you don’t have to rely on your memory. Or someone else’s. And no one looks like a loser with bad habits and, even worse, a weak memory.

This is not CYA, by the way. This is good process to ensure everything gets done, everyone knows what they need to do and work moves along with minimal errors.

And no one looks like a jerk. Unless they are just jerks.

Now, does Target carry staple guns?

'Lean In' and All That...

I love this quote:
"Sure he [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" -- Bob Thaves

That’s right.

Well, with all this hullabaloo about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer – strong, executive women doing it all – it’s time to come back to reality.

There are a lot of women out there who ‘have it all’, are ‘doing it all’, and didn’t exactly plan it that way.

Careers, kids, a husband or partner, house, car, student loans, a dry bar appointment at 6:30am and a quick detour to grab Starbucks before work.

That’s one scenario and not the one that is relevant…

Job, kids, mom/sis/aunt/other relative/friend, apartment, bus, student loans, and a mad dash to get her hair kinda dry before she rushes off to work.

That’s the common scenario.

I don’t want to be a downer here. Instead, let’s be realistic – the fact of the matter is that I really don’t care about Sheryl or Marissa because they are so far from what the 99% (or insert your percentage here) do, that reading articles about them is just a waste of time.

I have been in the ‘business world’ for, let’s see…75% of my life. And I’ve been reading the same crap since the ‘60’s.

So listen here, if you want women to be empowered:
let’s get the REAL unemployment figures reduced (the media and government stats are simply a joke);
let’s have a REAL conversation – no scratch that – REAL solution to affordable, safe daycare (all this healthcare talk would be irrelevant if we had jobs);
let’s cut through the crap where the good ol’ boy network still thrives, and women managers (for some reason) stick it to their female subordinates;
and don’t mess with working women’s hours so they can’t manage the routine they have carefully carved-out.

I’m sure there’s more. A lot more.

I don’t know if Sheryl and Marissa wear high heels while dancing backwards, but my guess is that they have a lot of assistance if they do. That makes it look easy. And evidently makes them experts.

Yeah, I know. They are successful execs, but how many women are actually in powerful positions in their respective companies? I rest my case.

I’m glad women are getting (some) executive positions, but this ‘conversation’ just isn’t going away. Therefore, I will not read anything about those two women at all – because they are the only women we’re hearing about. Sad.

More than that, they just aren’t relevant to any woman I know.

Let’s get back to work.

Listen to Complaints

We know the adage that if you listen to a complaint you become part of the problem. The problem with that thinking is that complainers still complain. And make life difficult for those around them. And hold up progress.

But on the flip-side, they may have a valid complaint. Maybe there is something wrong, we’re not looking at it the right way (their way), or they actually have a suggestion for an improvement but no one is listening.

And then again, there are chronic complainers. That’s for another post.

When I work with a client, I like to get right into the complaint department. The fastest way to solve a problem is to find out what is wrong. Listen without preconceived ideas (such as – this person is NEVER happy), and get all that stuff out of the way. If there is something wrong, assess it and address it. It may be one of the Trifecta of Issues: process, tools or people.

Process can be modified (do get everyone compliant on the program). Most issues are with those who skirt process and cause others to have to either cover the gap or run around trying to figure out what’s going on.

Tools you use can be a huge issue. Just like process, get everyone using the same tools – the same way. Consistency is key to ensure everyone has access to ALL the information.  There could be issues with tools like software that isn’t configured right or hard to use – or staff was never properly trained to use it. (My pet peeve).

People is often the tough one. Once expectations are clear, training is done, and everyone understands what and how they should work – those who don’t want to work with the program will surface quickly. Those who don’t understand will surface as well. Not everyone is cut out to be a PM or producer. And as I truly believe, this is not a job for beginners.

In the end, experienced staff should be able to manage work without complaints (other than the minor daily crap). If complainers continue, check the top two items (process and tools), then address the third item. Hear them out, and provide them with an opportunity to fix their attitude.  Without the fix, they demoralize everyone around them. Keep in mind, there are a lot of great, experienced people who would love to work for you – without complaint.