Right now we’re going to discuss work process — and specifically work process during the holidays. A few days ago, I wrote a little ditty about chest-pounding managerial moves during the holiday season. Basically, someone’s headed to a charity event or a family deal, and their manager is like “I need 28 analyses of that data by 9pm tonight.” If you’re a good little worker bee and hit that target, you know where the manager is reading the email with the data? Six deep at some Irish pub for a holiday event he subsequently attended. Welcome to the dichotomy of “end of the year” or “holiday season” in most white-collar hierarchies. In short: everyone claims to be working 95-hour weeks to “get everything done before year-end,” but listen … we all see you leaving at 3:48pm headed for Toys R’ Us or the margarita bar. No fooling us — and, honestly, this is the time of year where there’s no shame in it either. Family, friends, and community should supersede work from Dec. 1 – Dec. 19. That’s hard for a lot of people to “get.” But it is true.
Same deal with work process. Most companies love them some processes. In the course of all this, a lot of business process actually ends up meaning more than the results — which makes absolutely no sense. But, we’ve all had managers who assign something and then lecture you about the process for 27 minutes even though the desired goal was hit. Those people are rare joys. They are essentially telling you, “Hey, you achieved this, but you didn’t do it in the exact way I would have or I wanted it done, so I will punish you now.” When you have that type of manager, the very basic notion of “work” doesn’t even make sense. What are you working towards? A process? Or the actual outcome? Deep questions.
So, we all love us some “process for the sake of process,” and that’s a little bit limiting. I realize you need a good process in place to scale properly, but everything cannot be about process. That’s a huge factor in turnover, ultimately.
This whole complicated apple pie around work process is even more complicated during the holidays. Where do we go from here?
Work process and “the holiday season slump”
Here’s an article on Fast Company called “The Productive Manager’s Guide To The Holiday Season Slump.” Usually when Fast Company writes this type of stuff, it always ends with “Set clear priorities!” Most managers cannot do that — and wouldn’t even know where to begin doing it — so that advice largely won’t go anywhere. But this paragraph from the article nails it:
Maybe you have a rule that every team needs to have someone present during business hours in case of an inquiry—makes sense. But is your B2B sales team really going to generate any major leads between Christmas and New Year’s? Is anyone going to be contacting the internal auditors when other teams are down to skeleton crews? Maybe at this time of year, some teams can be let off the hook while vital services like IT keep someone on site.
They’re talking more about “rules,” but rules are a close cousin of work process. This year, Christmas is a Sunday. You think most offices will have people in there on 12/26? I’m guessing no. And in reality, most people probably don’t need to be in there. The people they need to contact? They’re out of pocket as is. Americans leave 430 million paid vacation days on the table annually. If we’re going to do that, at least let us have 12/26 to 12/30 without jamming work process up our posterior every 11 minutes.
The holiday work process hypocrisy
Alluded above, and we’ve all seen this. A manager basically lectures you on how committed you need to be during the holidays to get the team over the 2016 hump. So you work hard, but you can’t help but notice … the manager is never there. And his calendar doesn’t seem to have a lot of meetings. He’s answering most emails via mobile, per signature. What’s going on here? Is he really putting in 79 hours/week to close out the year?
Of course he’s not. It’s all bluster and bullshit. The thing is, hierarchy allows you to do bluster and bullshit with the expectation that no one will ever call you on it. That’s the great joy of hierarchy: you can make more money, be involved in less decisions (bureaucracy), and have no one call you on your shit. Who wants to replace this system with something that would be better for the peons? Not me, baby! (I’m kidding. I despise hierarchy.)
This work process/hierarchy stuff gets so much worse over the holidays. If you’re in a fiscal year close, there is usually a bunch of stuff to be done — but managers don’t want to do it themselves. They heap it on lessers, damning the holidays for those lessers. Managers rant and rave about work process, then hypocritically do whatever they want to do because somehow they “earned” that right.
So what’s the answer on work process around the holidays?
Understand what the season is and means to people, and loosen the reins on work process and standard managerial tricks for a few weeks. Not every project is urgent. Some things can wait. It’s OK to volunteer. It’s cool to go see your siblings. You can leave a little early. It doesn’t mean that work process will collapse like a depleted snowman come 2017. It just means you’re being a nice, rational human being while managing others.
Your take on work process around the holidays?