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Aren’t We Supposed to Be Working?

Joseph Fearn

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While working as branch manager for a large landscape contracting company one of the maxims I heard was “re-work kills us”.  I agree with this completely, but also know there are other production related issues that kill (diminish) my team’s ability to successfully complete our work. For this blog post I am not focusing on equipment failures, budgetary shortfalls, non-professional meddling, or even the weather. I want to start a discussion around how my team stops itself. For some actions, or lack of actions as it were, are frequently and consistently among the biggest impediments to team success. Fortunately, it is one area that the team itself has immense leeway to identify (if honestly self-aware and openly discussed) and self-correct. 

Mindset
Many factors influence the mindset of our team (individually and collectively). Worker’s diligence can be significantly influenced by peers but is also reliant on internal standards and self-expectations. Overall organizational strength plays a role. Mission/vision for the team/organization as well. Some other influences are motivation, on/off the job stressors, professional training, physical fitness, etc. All of these diverse and fluid factors come together to create a mindset for my team. Mindset ultimately manifests in three possible ways: Work-focused, non-work focused, or some combination thereof. The bad news about mindset is once formed it is powerful, persistent, and pervasive. The good news is it can be changed. 

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It is amazing what a motivated team member can do when they want to.

Why we stop working
I’ve asked my crew to list the reasons we stop working (we also examine obstacles/bottlenecks in our work, which is a related but different issue). Some common procedural issues are preparing the wrong tools or unforeseen need for different tools, miscommunication in any/all possible forms, weather, change in schedule/priorities, supply chain issues, etc. These issues and myriad others are relatively black and white. Most are fixed by improved planning and communication. Human reasons for not working are (in no order) fatigue, frustration/resentment, apathy, jealousy, stress, team interpersonal dynamics, lack of motivation, motivation for non-production, etc. These factors are hugely impactful, can be easily misdiagnosed, and may be much harder to rectify. But, again, they can be fixed.

Human reasons for not working are (in no order) fatigue, frustration/resentment, apathy, jealousy, stress, team interpersonal dynamics, lack of motivation, motivation for non-production...

We Achieve What We Want to Achieve
This management maxim may seem obvious, but it isn’t widely applied. If a person sets their mind to an objective, it is usually achieved. Unfortunately, too often, we don’t set our minds to work, we don’t set our minds to anything, or we set our minds to something that takes us away from work. No one has to be reminded about lunch, or at least very rarely. Lunch is a prevalent goal and is ingrained into our body clocks (and not just because our stomachs are rumbling). The crew doesn’t even need to look at their clocks. Many tasks that distract from work are deemed important (by the team or individually), then prioritized over performing our actual work. Countless times I’ve asked my team for a production account only to hear that they fell short of expectations. Yet, they managed to keep tabs on coworkers across campus, submit vacation requests, check the tires on their car, etc. Clearly, they wanted to perform these tasks, and they did. But they didn’t want to perform the work, and therefore it wasn’t completed.

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Hopefully what they want to do is work. But that is not always the case.

Cost/Benefits
Another reason work isn’t performed appropriately is a poor understanding/reckoning of the costs and benefits of performing our work. The production of work costs us something. Time, energy, opportunity to do something else, are all payments. What we derive in return is the benefit. Money, accomplishment, pride, job security, etc. are what we earn; the benefits of performing our work. If the benefit is satisfactory, work is gladly paid. If the benefit is not seen as equitable, work is not paid, or is done so poorly/grudgingly. Cost/benefit friction is very common in the workplace. Personal feelings on what is fair varies by position, personal situation, career path, etc. and can vary by person and day-to-day. Having frank and honest discussions about cost/benefit can help a team understand why someone is/isn’t motivated, or why a job is/isn’t getting performed acceptably.

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Sometimes valid work can look unproductive. Only through open, honest discussion can the truth be found. (Side note: When I saw this happening I almost blew a gasket. Three workers, one mower. Fortunately I asked what was happening. Senior Groundskeeper Leroy was instructing on proper usage of new Stihl battery mower.)

Much More to This Story
This blog post is in no way meant to be exhaustive. For as many variables as there are for workers personalities there are as many variables for explaining why we do or don’t work. What I hope to demonstrate is usually subpar performance is not as easy as declaring someone lazy or incompetent (although this does occur). Getting to the real reasons behind less than stellar job performance can be trying and time consuming. It is usually beneficial, but not always as sometimes it demonstrates that the situation is irretrievable, and a parting of ways is the only solution. But, in the interest of improving job performance it is worthwhile. 


Coming Next… “Let’s get To Work.”
 



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