How to not make your employees unhappy

Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.
Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.

It has become something of a cliché that people don’t leave their job, they leave their boss, and a recent article posted to Reddit corroborated this with a bit of research. I posted a comment stating that my own research supported this, insofar as I had found that management cannot make employees happy, but it can certainly contribute to unhappiness.

I received a lot of questions about the subject, so I thought I would write a brief blog post summarizing my thoughts. What it really comes down to, though, is that a really great boss can help keep someone motivated and happy who is already motivated and happy, but if someone is miserable, demotivated, and doesn’t want to be there, the greatest boss in the world isn’t going to make an unhappy person more happy.

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What to do when wandering around

Wandering around the office spaceManagement by wandering around is not a new concept. Some attributed its invention to Abraham Lincoln, and others to Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s. It has its own Wikipedia article, and who knows how many books written on the subject. Despite all of that, it often fails to yield benefits.

I really enjoy that Wikipedia states for management by wandering around that, “by random sampling of events or employee discussions, (it) is more likely to facilitate improvements to the morale, sense of organizational purpose, productivity and total quality management of the organization.” When was the last time your boss, by popping into your office or the floor space where you are working, suddenly improved your morale and sense of organizational purpose? Instead, I think we typically feel like somebody is trying to look over our shoulder, maybe wondering if are doing something wrong, and if nothing else it’s just distracting.

But there is a way to do this right. All we have to do is something other than just wandering around.

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Best Practice: When to create a new status in JIRA

JIRA Projects WorkflowJIRA’s workflow engine provides a powerful tool for managing and monitoring the work that you and your teams are doing. By tracking the status of tasks, stories, epics, and initiatives, you can improve certainty, reduce or eliminate status update meetings, and build in automation and controls at each status transition. But when a company begins using JIRA for the first time, they sometimes make the mistake of over-complicating their workflow. You want to get fine-grained visibility into the status of work, but building a workflow with twenty or thirty statuses results in a workflow nobody wants to use. A better approach is to start with a simple workflow, and add statuses when you need them.

But how do you know when you will need a new status? I have a couple of rules that help me make workflows that people like to use, and when people enjoy using them, they’re more likely to keep the ticket updated, which means your data is more accurate and actually useful.

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Reconsidering Facebook

I’ve been a lot less active online for the last couple of years, and in December 2011 I deleted my Facebook account. I had grown sick of the privacy problems, and Facebook changing their policies and how the application worked without notice or documentation, and I strongly had this perception that they were selling people’s data to third parties.

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Fear of Hugging

After Brooke’s intervention, I began to seek physical contact more and more from my friends. It was a balm, a blessing to my heart and soul, and something I desperately craved. In turn, hugging someone became a way for me to bless them—to lay on hands and whisper a prayer for their heart—and let them know that someone cared about them. When the concept of fear is introduced as a limit to physical contact, I wonder at the motivation behind that fear.

A girl with whom I was once acquainted shared the following concern with me: she hesitated to hug others because she feared they would get the wrong impression about her. Particularly if the contact would involve a guy, she was afraid that she would make them think she was romantically interested in them, and so she withheld. I can’t really fault her for this reasoning—it is a poor reflection on those who mistook her in the past, rather than on her personally—but it did sadden me. If people, particularly Christians, are interpreting the act of hugging as a romantic one, then we have a problem.

This problem, this fear of physical intimacy and openness with friends, has so many causes and so many impacts that it is difficult to discuss clearly. Allow me to resort to headings for the sake of clarity.

Problem 1: A fundamental understanding of what a hug is and is not

I tend to think of a hug as similar to the holy kiss mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian bible. It is a greeting, a connection, and an indication of a deeper relationship than a mere glance or smile can convey. We are part of a family, and therefore we should hug. Hugging helps communicate our familial relationship.

Hugging doesn’t just communicate relationship though–if that was its only purpose, we could just as easily wear name tags, or branded t-shirts, or just tell people, “Hey, you and I go to church together and therefore are part of the body of Christ and subsequently are similar to family.” Hugging communicates all this to the heart, to a person’s very soul, so they know it. It can be a means of communicating more clearly.

It is not, therefore, a sign of romantic intentions. A holy kiss is not a french kiss, just as a hug (even full body from the front–side hugs feel insincere and shallow and communicate nothing) is not like… I don’t know, giving someone a Valentine’s Day card, or sleeping together, or groping them. It is platonic, and we shouldn’t hug people intending it to be anything other than that, nor should it be interpreted otherwise.

Problem 2: A fear of conveying romantic intentions

If we fear physical contact because it may communicate a message we do not intend, then we need to learn how to communicate our intentions more clearly. You should already know whether you are romantically interested in someone or not. I tend to think that once you’ve made up your mind you are interested, you ought to come out and let them know (unless, of course, they are already in a relationship or have made it known they are not interested, in which case the point is moot–just treat them normally). Regardless, you control your own communication and means thereof, and hugging shouldn’t be a means of communicating romantic intent, as I’ll cover in the next section.

Problem 3: A fear of the interpretation of romantic intentions

Even if we do not intend to communicate romantic intent, the other person might interpret such. My friend, who was afraid to give the wrong impression to someone, ostensibly didn’t want to be a stumbling block to a member of the opposite sex, but I wonder if she really refused to engage for their sake or for her own.

Fear is never a worthwhile motivation, for it taints all that it touches, and in this case I think it was misplaced. You don’t fear that your brother or sister will interpret romantic and subsequently incestuous intentions from a hug, so why should your friend? The only reason is because that friend doesn’t know you well. If you have hidden away your true feelings so much that they might believe you have romantic intentions, then a problem exists in the relationship that must be dealt with openly and honestly. And if the problem has arisen through garbled communications (I have known many women who have no romantic interest in a man, but flirt nonetheless), then we need to re-examine our own words and actions to figure out where the misunderstanding originated.

We only have two choices: we can either let our fear keep us from blessing others, or we can share ourselves openly enough that the other person, in this case, knows that we only have pure intentions. Of course, that sentence is structured such to make the latter the only acceptable answer, which it is. We need to get over ourselves and build more intimate relationships.

The Purposeful Bottleneck

The term “bottleneck” is generally derogatory, referring to a person, bureaucratic process, or department that stifles the flow of communication or productivity. Bottlenecks stop up the flow, slowing things down, and are generally viewed as inefficient… but as I examined my own work, I found a positive side to bottleneck positions.

coca-cola-2-liter-botleLet’s take a look at the Coca-Cola 2-liter bottle. Really, any soda will do, but I drive past a billboard advertising this thing every day, so there you have it. When looking at an actual bottleneck, we can see it has a purpose. If there was no neck, just a huge 4-inch hole at the top of the bottle, liquid would flow too quickly. It’d dump out all over everything, causing a sticky, wasteful mess. By slowing things down and directing the coke to where you actually want it to be, things are done properly.

Some people, even my co-workers, have on occasion remarked about an aspect of our jobs ((Note the word “aspect,” because this is a relatively small portion of our job as Centralized User Support Specialist. We generally learn the answers so we can help people ourselves, but there will always be some things we need to pass on. And since we are User Support Specialists, we excel at communicating with users and making sure they get the service they deserve, so when we do pass their information on, it’s done well.)) they find puzzling at the least, and terrible at worse: that is, we act as a bottleneck on certain communications. We have people call us or email us and we then pass those phone calls or emails on to the next group of people. We act as a buffer so those other people aren’t bothered by the masses. “Wouldn’t it be faster if the customer just called the person who will actually fix their problem directly?” some wonder. Ah, but there’s the problem.

How will the customer know who to call? That’s where the bottleneck in communications becomes helpful. We can slow things down, analyze the situation, and figure out where it needs to go. People know they have a computer problem, but they don’t know who fixes it. We do, so when people call us, we can make sure it goes the right place. We have to know something about everything: a bit about how everything works, a bit about how to fix everything, and we have to know what everyone in our department does so we can route work efficiently.

A proper bottleneck doesn’t just slow things down, it directs the flow properly. If someone’s just causing inefficiency, they’re worthless, but if the action has a purpose and is beneficial to the workflow, that’s a good bottleneck. And as part of my job, it’s a skill I work to polish and perfect.

Why Twitter Getting You A Job Isn’t Awesome

I can’t type much without my left shoulder hurting tremendously, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

Twitter isn’t a miracle cure. It is a one-to-many messaging service that allows you to cheaply and easily connect with people. For those who invest in its use, it reduces barriers of entry in forming relationships or communicating, but it isn’t a golden egg or magic pill. If you take poor skills/knowledge/execution and introduce Twitter to the mix, you’re not going to suddenly get a great outcome.

I keep seeing news stories about people who got jobs through Twitter, and I see exponentially more people trying to get jobs (or start businesses, or relabel themselves as “marketing consultants”) through Twitter, but there’s something that the news coverage and mass hopefuls seem to be missing. Twitter is just a tool, and there’s nothing magic about it.

Connecting with a potential boss through Twitter to let him know about you is no different than calling, showing up at the office, turning in cover letter and resume over and over until you finally get the job. It is another avenue for communication and it certainly makes it easier, but just because you’re on Twitter doesn’t mean there will be a positive outcome.

If someone got a job through Twitter, it’s because they deserved the job, not because Twitter is fantabulous. Rather, it’s akin to cold calling, which is something a lot of people seeking work don’t seem to do anymore. They don’t work to find a job, instead passively putting out resumes and hoping someone will pick them up. Out-of-workers will post on Monster.com, reply to ads, and hope for the best, whereas the people using Twitter tend to be more forward. They actively contact executives and say, “Hey, I need a job!”

Twitter makes cold calling less intimidating by providing the foolishly false sense of anonymity and comfort that only the Internet or a dark room can provide. But if someone looking for a job were to start actively calling around, hammering at people, and more aggressively pursuing work (even though vacancies weren’t available at the time), they’d get a job more quickly. Twitter establishes that communication line, but it doesn’t do any good if you’ve got nothing to say.

The news hype of, “Sally Sue got a job by posting on Twitter!” is stupid. There’s no story there, other than that they used a suddenly popular tool to connect with an employer. The problem is that these stories make other people think, “Oh! If I use Twitter, I’ll get a job too!”

If you’re qualified and ambitious you’ll get a job, because when you get those two qualities together, you have a person who is willing to go out and push buttons to get results. They know they can do the job, they know they deserve the job, and so they’ll find a way to get it. Qualifications don’t come from being on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t get you a job.

It’s all about qualifications and connections. There’s nothing new or awesome about that–that’s just the way things work, and have for millennia.

Branding Emotionally

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. See that initial post for a table of contents of all articles in the series.

As I began to talk with Ryan about pursuing a new design for SilverPen Publishing, I lamented the fact that I have never really been satisfied with my website. This has resulted in changing its appearance and sometimes overall organization once or twice a year since I first set it up in 2004. I never quite knew what I wanted, and I’m not capable of designing it anyways, so I just found some pre-fabricated theme, slapped it on, and convinced myself that it’s good enough to use.

Of course, it never was good enough, and because my site’s design has never been how I truly wanted it to be, I have never been satisfied for long. This results in my changing the design after a few short months and, as Ryan pointed out, that prevents my readers from ever establishing a true connection with my site.

This connection, or at least what creates this connection, is referred to as “branding,” and the consideration of the subject is relatively new to me. As a writer, I continually hope that people will read what I write and continue visiting because they liked what they read. That might be the case eventually, but it takes a lot of work to get there.

Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover, but we also know that when we’re strolling down an aisle at Barnes & Noble, it’s the covers and the titles that catch our eyes more than anything. Unless we went in looking for a specific author, and even if we did, we’re often going to browse around and pick something up that is pretty and visually interesting.

The same goes for a website. Something that is visually appealing, well designed, and easy to use is going to attract repeat visitors far more than a plain black and white page. This is even more important when the primary content is text-based; webcomic artists can have a spartan page because their primary content is visually appealing, but writers have no recourse to ocular stimulation beyond the design of their site or the inclusion of a photograph with their article.

Branding is more than having a good design, though. Continuity is important to maintain that connection with your readers. If your site changes on a regular basis, repeat visitors may think they’ve stumbled upon a different site entirely, not realizing that you’re just spastic and can’t settle on something. Especially if they don’t visit often, or are returning months later to find a particular article, maintaining a consistent site design can make all the difference between frustrating and exciting them.

By way of example, I have trouble remembering exactly where something is when I’m reading, so when I return to look for a particular quote or page, my search is a contextual one. I try to locate what I’m looking for based on its relation to other things. This might include how far down a page I recall the quote being, or the series of steps I took to reach a particular article. But if everything looks different visually or has been moved around, there’s a decent chance I’ll never find it. And if I can’t find something the first time, I’ll likely never go back and look again.

As readers become more familiar with a look, they begin to recognize it as indicative of a site. It becomes comfortable and evocative, and the easy recognition of particular elements will allow you to communicate more clearly with your readers. Using the same logo on your site and business cards will help people relate the two and, in turn, relate them to you as a person. Connections are formed in the mind that will help people remember your work more clearly and with greater longevity.

The key is to find a design you really like, that really suits you, and with which you are really comfortable. All three of those are crucial because the second step is to hold onto it. You’ve got to remain steady for a while if you’re going to establish any sort of emotional connection with your readers. Otherwise, the next time they return and you’ve changed everything up on them yet again, there’s a decent chance they’ll surf away, never to return.

Design Speaks Directly to the Soul

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. See that initial post for a table of contents of all articles in the series.

As Ryan observed, design is more than making something look pretty. It is the first line of assault against your senses, charging in to make room for a deeper truth–for the greater message being communicated through the whole of a piece. Design is the underlying foundation of everything, and much like our own skeletons, it is likewise hidden and sometimes forgotten.

There are two things I understand decently well amongst all the things in the world, and so it is those two upon which I will focus in the context of this series. The first is architecture, with which I will begin because (of the two) I understand it least. The second is writing in general and poetry in specific.

Architectural design is not something with which many Americans (by which I am referring to the residents of the United States of America) are preoccupied. We might admire a fine building and snap a picture while on tour, but it isn’t something we study, stare at, and marvel. Yet architecture is one of the great fascinations of my life, and when I am in a distant city, I spend the vast majority of my time wandering the streets, eyes fixed to the walls, roofs, and doors of all the buildings I can see. I have spent hours lying on the lawn of Westminster Abbey so that I could look upon its vast facade and out across the square at its neighbours. Days beside the river Thames marveling at the wall that skirts the river, or wandering the streets and hills of San Francisco, or the wide sidewalks of Chicago. I derived a great deal of enjoyment from comparing German Switzerland to German Germany and the similarities and differences in how the walls meet the roofs, the materials used, and the arrangement of their towns. Architecture fascinates me in a way similar to the hypnotic stare of a dragon preparing to pounce on a meal.

The USA is very utilitarian in its construction, but once upon a time architecture was not just a pragmatic means of getting a building upright. Rather, it was an art designed to communicate something to the passerby. A non-Christian friend admitted to me once that she began to cry as she entered a cathedral in Europe simply due to its beauty. This is a design done right. This assails our senses, demanding entry to our heart because of its power and majesty.

And it is not unique to architecture. Though you may not admire buildings as I do, I imagine that you can sympathize with and understand what I have written above, because it is a very obvious example of the purpose, power, and presence of design. Less obvious is the placement and depth of a thumb scoop on a MacBook, the resistance and length of a switch on a coffee pot, or the arrangement of words in a poem.

I can communicate an idea to you with a straight-forward statement of fact in a simple, well organized sentence, and in so doing you will understand the words and potentially their implications. Yet such a statement will not touch your heart, nor will it influence your soul, for that is the purview of poetry. There are many who malign the ambiguity and obtuseness of poetry, wishing instead that the writers would be more direct with their intentions, but that directness is not of the greatest design.

There are times when communicating with your head is sufficient, such as at work or when figuring out where to go for lunch. But there are other times when that will not do, when I will need to build a bridge from my heart to yours if you are ever to truly understand what I mean. A simple sentence will not suffice. And it is in these instances that the power of design is made manifest in writing.

A good design not only joins our hearts and souls, but it satisfies something deep within our selves. No, the switch on a coffee pot is not a cathedral or a poem, but you will know it is right. You will flip that switch to turn the coffee pot on and think, “Ah, there we have it. This is good.” A good design is more than just functional, it is beautiful. It was created with love and an attention to detail that surpasses a mere statement and that goes beyond simple pragmatism.

Good design, like our skeletons, holds us up and drives us forward. It is a powerful charge we can only refuse by closing our eyes and ignoring the world.

When ZDNet Grasps For Legitimacy

I subscribe to the ZDNet newsletter, which is essentially an email I receive twice a day during the work week that has a bunch of headlines and excerpts from their various blogs. In general, I appreciate both the newsletter and their articles, and even though their discussion system sucks, they usually have some helpful or insightful blog entries.

But sometimes I wonder where they find these people. When you write for a tech site but have no connection to the real world, it becomes painfully obvious that you’re something of a hack. When reading The Allure of the Text by Christopher Dawson, I was stunned by both his shortsightedness and his ignorance.

Dawson essentially states that he has never texted before and, though he’s yelled at the kids on his lawn to go text somewhere else, he has trouble understanding why they’d bother typing into the tiny keyboards built into cell phones. Sure, maybe it’s more private than talking out loud, but it’s a pain and, besides, how can you see the screen without your bifocals on?

But then he has a revelation. Texting is similar to email! I can have multiple conversations going at once!

Dawson then laments the stupidity of kids, who are clearly just wasting time with texting when they could be using it for more glorious pursuits like collaboration.

I was stunned, because I don’t think I’ve ever read such a stupid piece of rubbish. The assumptions of this guy were mind-boggling, not just because they were derogatory but due to how ill-informed they were.

Texting is more prevalent with people younger than myself; I missed the cell-phone-boom by a couple of years. Yes, most of us had cell phones in high school, but not everyone did, and they were really intended only for emergencies. Now the devices are ubiquitous and a lot of people use them as their primary communication device. Students aren’t using texting to plan the next kegger, they’re using it to schedule tutoring sessions, get directions, and generally as a primary means of communication. It is replacing both email and instant messaging, powerfully influencing the way this generation will do business in the future.

If you want to connect with a younger person, you need to be texting. I can’t get my niece to even reply to messages within a week on MySpace, and forget about email, but she’ll get back with a text message in minutes. April tutors high school students, several of whom can only be reached through texting. And universities are beginning to realize the necessity for texting as prospective students request text communication over snail- or even e-mail.

Here’s a hint, Chris: the kids are way ahead of you, already doing ten times the communicating and collaborating you can imagine. And if you’re not careful, they’re going to overtake and replace you.