Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When to shout, the art of constructive destruction

I've always believed that sometimes teaching is about the stick as well as the carrot but there are very clear rules on when to use the stick and how to use it.

Its not good enough to start with shouting, that marks you down as an idiot and a prat.  If someone has done something that you don't want but have never explained to them then its your fault as the person in authority.

Rule 1: You have to have explained first before you shout

The stick therefore is something that should only be used when someone has deliberately gone against advice or guidance.  If people have followed what you said and it didn't work... its your fault.

Rule 2: It should be obvious to 'the average man on the Clapham Omnibus'

By which I mean that the fault should be obvious to a person of the given level and experience, if its a junior person who has made the mistake then shouting is not appropriate.  If its a self-proclaimed expert who has screwed up then a kicking is in order.

Rule 3: Pick on the leader not the team

If there is a team of people who have screwed up, don't share the blame equally, that person is accountable to you for the team so they have to take the responsibility for the failure.  Their team will know its a joint thing and that the leader has taken the heat for them and this should improve the situation if there are any team dynamic issues.  If you flame the whole team it basically says that you don't accept that they have a leader so you should be managing them all directly yourself.

Rule 4: Be specific, be constructive in your destruction

'You are a moron' is not a constructive statement.  'If you don't explain to me how what you are proposing addresses the two key use cases then I'm going to have to kill you' is constructive destruction.  The point here is not to hide the anger but to make clear that your challenge is very specific and targeted and gives them the opportunity to respond.

Rule 5: Make perfectly clear you are pissed off

You should only be doing this when its got really bad so you have to underline that it really is bad.  This doesn't mean you have to swear or throw chairs about but it does mean everyone should leave the room knowing that they are in your bad books and that if they don't buck their ideas up then chair throwing might be in their futures.

Rule 6: Give specific ways they can get back into favour
Before the team breaks up be specific, give them a short time frame on how they can recover the situation.  These need to be actions you can, and will, track of the next few hours or days on how the team can show you they are getting back on track.

Rule 7: Be honest when you get it wrong, congratulate
If it turns out that you were wrong and in fact the team had been going the right way but you didn't have all the information then apologise and congratulate them.  Shake the hand of the person who stands up and says 'you got it wrong, here is the proof' and deal with it as you should, with humility and possibly donuts.

Rule 8: If things don't change make a sacrifice
If the team keeps working badly and avoiding advice its time to make a public sacrifice, this could be kicking them off the project or even out of their job or it could be as simple as public humiliation.  Putting a small statue on their desk saying 'Crap Architect', check with HR first on what you are allowed to do.  Use your companies formal processes to underline it.  The key is that you want everyone to think 'fuck I don't want that to happen to me'.

Rule 9: Be inconsistently angry
The penultimate rule is to not use anger and shouting as a 'what happens at level 10' thing.  Sometimes use it as an opening gambit, sometimes use it as a final twist, sometimes use it through-out a process.  The point here is to use anger and shouting sparingly with the team.

Rule 10: shouting isn't about volume
'Talk quietly and carry a big stick', shouting for constructive destruction in a project is not about raising your voice, its about the impact that an attitude carries.  Talking more slowly, deliberately and quietly can be significantly more threatening than shouting loudly in many circumstances.  The key here is the effect, occasionally you want people to change their ideas and give them a jolt, don't think volume, think impact.

Lets be clear, I don't think that shouting and constructive destruction is a thing to use all the time, but sometimes the stick is required these rules help me ensure that I don't just shout like Shakespeare said 'Full of sound and fury signifying nothing' but direct that anger and use it to save the situation.

Constructive destruction is about tearing down bad behaviours and providing a way to rebuild them in a positive way.  There are lots of touchy feely ways to do that, but sometimes fear is the right way.

No comments: