Have you ever worked at a place that encouraged people to stop and think before they did any and all actions?
May 29, 2007 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever worked at a place that encouraged people to stop and think before they did any and all actions? Did it work? How was it encouraged?

We are dealing with a lot of brush fires at work that wouldn't exist if people had taken a minute to think things through before acting. It's ok of course, we can cope with it, but I'd like to encourage everyone to slow down and think a little first. Creating space to think is one facet of the problem, so ideas there would be wonderful as well.
posted by jwells to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing that comes to mind: are underlings allowed to freely criticize their superiors if they see something going awry?
posted by footnote at 7:20 AM on May 29, 2007

My former employer used to have these signs.
posted by MtDewd at 7:21 AM on May 29, 2007

It would help to know what you do and how it's measured now. For example, if your employees are evaluated by volume (whether they're paid as piecework, or simply have quotas to fill) that would discourage the stop and think mentality you're looking to promote, because it would interfere with the current goals.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:22 AM on May 29, 2007

Have you ever worked at a place that encouraged people to stop and think before they did any and all actions? Did it work? How was it encouraged?

All actions? No. But yes, this is generally how mature companies work. You do it by having good managers, who know when to micromanage because of stuff like this and when to ease off because their employees have figured out what's what. You also do it through set approval processes for changes, which ensure that customer-facing changes don't happen on a whim and make those who are in authority accountable.
posted by mkultra at 7:41 AM on May 29, 2007

Response by poster: It's an IT environment. I'm the project manager and sort of middle man between our server group and my group, which rolls out software to the campus to teach in new ways, etc. Time and time again we end up with tiny problems that could have easily been dealt with back when people did the work, such as setting up a server, if they didn't have to rush through things all the time.

It's a really bad feedback loop. The little fires take more and more time, which is less time for us to do things right in the first place, which creates more fires, and so on.

The org structure is very flat. Everyone has the right to criticize and offer suggestions.
posted by jwells at 7:41 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Given that, I'd suggest implementing a peer review process for project plans, implementation plans, code patches, etc. It's not enough to give people the right to criticize, you have to give them the opportunity, as well.

In my last job, peer reviews were widely seen as a waste of time, because they never caught anything. The secret reality of it was, though, that the formal peer review process was onerous enough that no one ever wanted to be handed a defect during that process--so they all got their stuff informally looked over by their peers before handing it up through the process.

If your teams are in a constant time crunch, however, someone with the budget and authority is going to have to authorize slipping timelines and less work getting done, at least initially. Eventually your team will be more productive, but immediately, new processes suck time and cycles .
posted by jacquilynne at 7:47 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

What you need is a written plan and checklist that is updated each time you do a deployment with what was learned during that project. A wiki might be good for this. Ideally you'd have a writer on staff to organize it and clean it up of confusing jargon (which might be clear when it's written, but not a year from now, and certainly not to a new hire).
posted by kindall at 8:22 AM on May 29, 2007

jwells, I work in an environment on a campus that's much like that. Honestly, the reason that we have the problem is that people aren't held accountable for the messes they leave behind them.

What we ended up doing was splitting the duties for systems up so that we didn't each have to handle so many brush fires. People were also busted out of bed at 2am and/or on vacation to fix their problems.
posted by SpecialK at 8:37 AM on May 29, 2007

jacquilynne: It's not enough to give people the right to criticize, you have to give them the opportunity, as well.

Couldn't agree with this more. There are lots of places that try to encourage constructive criticism and counteract groupthink, on paper, but fail to actually create an environment where people are comfortable speaking out.

Simple policymaking won't fix a broken process; you need to overhaul the process completely.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:42 AM on May 29, 2007

This careful approach can be camouflage for procrastination, so you have to be careful about companies that claim to have a "stop and think" policy.

I worked at a company where the managers always stopped and though and thought...and thought....and thought.

They kept right on "thinking" until some underling, aware that a looming deadline was about to crash down on their personal head went ahead and solved the problem quickly.

If the solution worked, and the crisis was averted, the managers would clap each other on the back and offer congratulations (to each other, not the underling).

If the solution failed, they punished the underling for not waiting for them to come up with a solution.

From managment's point of view, it was win-win.

Needless to say, underling turnover at that company was very high.
posted by Crosius at 9:35 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Well, we don't encourage it for ALL actions at my workplace, but we do have something called the mirror test for things we aren't sure of. It goes something like this:

1. Is it legal? If it's not legal, don't do it.

2. Is it defensable? Could you adequately defend your actions to your manager/District manager/Loss Prevention/your mom/your hero/your religious deity?

3. Is it right? Follow your instinct. If it doesn't feel right, contact a member of management or your district manager and ask for their input.

We do occasionally have people do stupid crap (like this recent debacle that's going to take 8 days to rectify, arrrrgh), but with 140-something people, there's a lot less stupid crap than there normally would be.
posted by Verdandi at 9:44 AM on May 29, 2007

You'll need to slow it down for a bit. If you're the manager, you'll have to get in there and micromanage for the short-term, checking everything before it goes out. That's what I find myself doing (and I work in ad production, which is very fast-paced & high volume work).

It won't make you popular, but that's what will turn things around. Hold people accountable and make sure that if you're seeing a lot of errors come from their workspace, it's sure to affect their yearly review.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:42 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Yes, in the Navy! We used a little thing in aviation called 'crew resource management'. The reason for such activities was successfully conveyed through the use of aviation accident videos, pictures, and stories. (In other words - focus on how to work as a team and identify strengths and weakness, however there's much more to CRM).
posted by matty at 10:48 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Yes! I am currently working at an Oil refinery, where safety is an obvious priority. Over the past five or so years they've made a concerted effort to change the entire culture of the workplace such that incidents are prevented before they ever occur. The cornerstone of the "Loss Prevention System" that they've introduced is the SPSA -- the Safe Performance Self Assessment. It's a surprisingly effective tool for its simplicity.

The SPSA card I have in front of me states:

Before Beginning any activity/task/job, after a loss or near loss, any unusual circumstances...
ASSESS the risk! (What could go wrong? What's the worst thing that could happen if something goes wrong?)
ANALYSE how to reduce the risk! (Do I have the necessary Training & KNowledge to do the job correctly?)
ACT to ensure safe operations! (Take necessary action to ensure job is done correctly! Follow written procedures! Ask for assistance, if needed.

Do it safely, or not at all.
There is always time to do it right
When in doubt, find out.

Obviously, this is part of their larger LPS implementation, but it has been useful across the board in reducing incidents and increasing quality of work (even in the IT department where I work!)
posted by coriolisdave at 4:55 PM on May 29, 2007

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