Stop Complaining and Start Acting. A Framework for Change.


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We all love to complain. It's easy to see problems in our day to day work and ramble on with our friend about how this thing or that thing sucks. It can be smaller things fom lacking certain tools to attending yet another meeting we don't need all the way to big things like relationships between different departments.

When problems are repeated over and over, we come up with ideas. In a few rounds of beer (Or whatever beverage you prefer. Personally, I think a dark and stormy is so much better) we come up with "crazy" ideas to solve it. "Wouldn't it be great if we hired someone to do this?", "What if we stopped having meetings on Wednesdays?", "What if we had a robot to do this?", "If only we got X, we'd be so fast at this", "I wish I had time to look over Y, I think it'd be cool for us" are some of the things that pop-up in coversations. We think it's "crazy" because it will never happen.

Here's another "crazy" idea. What if you did something about it?

The Lazy Self

Most of us never act. I struggle with it. I think a lot of people do (reason why we have so many self-help books). We like to applaud go-getters We don't think of ourselves us one. We should be but we're lazy.

It's easy not to act. We just want to go on day to day and not worry about things. We wish things would be great and problems would be solved by themselves. It's easier to compain about issues.

A lot of problems outside of work that we consider hard are actually very simple. There is no secret. You want to lose weight? Stop eating garbage and hit the gym (not literally). You want more money? Get a higher-paying job or ask for a raise. You want to paint? Buy materials and practice. You won't change your weight if you don't change your lifestyle. You won't make a masterpiece artwork on the first try. You won't become a great athlete without trainiing. It's all logical and yet we like to remove the logic.

Going back to our problems at work, we complain and want to have our issues resolved. We do nothing about it. How will it get solved? Does that make any sense at all?

It's also no secret that acting on something feels really really difficult. If you even begin to think about solving it, does it seem so difficult? What makes it difficult? Is it talking to your manager? Is it talking to a group of people about it? Is it just you don't know where or how to solve it? Is it you don't care enough?

Let's tackle those one by one.

Fear

If the thought of raising your issues to your manager or a person who has reasonable power to solve your problem is scary the it's fear. "Will they fire me? Will they think I'm a problem? I don't know this person I can't talk to them!" are probably signs of fear. If it's fear, that's normal. We have to take it on to solve our problems.

I wrote a bit more about fear in a previous post: https://krisviceral.com/conquering-fear/

Care

"Solving my problem is too much work. I don't care about it that much.". This has been a usual response I get whenever I ask someone why don't they do something about an issue we're having a conversation about. My personal thoughts on it is that most people do care. If you spend enough evergy that you think about this issue and talk to one or multiple people about it then you do care. Most people just decide to spend more energy into complaining forever.

You should do something about the issues because you should care about yourself. These issues will eventualy take a toll on you. You spend more time on tasks. You spend more time at work doing repetative or unsatisfying work. You spend more energy dealing with the issue over and over. You complain. Complaining takes energy. You build negative thoughts. The negative thoughts drain you. You dread the issues. You dread coming into work. It can lead to burnout or feeling like you need an escape. You escape for a vacation and feel terrible once you're back to the same issues.

Aren't those issues worth solving now?

Difficulty

Solving issues are difficult. Acting on them doesn't have to be. We don't need to make it difficult or over-think it. We're lazy. I tried to come up with a simpler way to tackle them. See the section on below.


Acting on It

Once you've convinced yourself that the issues are worth solving, we want to have a plan on solving it. We don't want to just doing anything for the sake of saying we did something.

What is the issue?

Probably the easiest step out of them all. What is the complaint? Usually we complain because we think something is not valuable or unacceptable. Usually it boils down to a few general things.

X being the issue. Some examples of X can be meetings, requirements, tools, internal applications, processes, people or even teams.

  • X is wasting my time. It has no value.
  • X is too repetative. It's too repetative. Too many X
  • I don't know what X is. We need an expert.
  • We are dealing with X, nobody knows how to solve it.
  • We are doing X wrong. Why are we even doing it? We are not achieving what we aimed for.
  • X is too slow
  • X is not good enough.
  • X is broken
  • X is not high quality enough.

Why is it a problem?

This may seem difficult at first (requires some thinking) but it's actually pretty simple just add reverse or add some logic into what we did in Step 1.

X is wasting my time. It has no value.

We could use that time instead to do our tasks.
Business speak: I could deliver more value to our customers with this time

X is too repetative repetative.

I could be doing more high-value tasks.
Business speak: I can deliver more value to our customers with the time we save not doing this.

I don't know what X is, we need an expert.
We are dealing with X, nobody knows how to solve it.

This will haunt us in the future. It is hampering or blocking us.
Business speak: If we invest in this, we could deliver more value to our customers faster or solve some of their pain points. If we don't we're going to be outpaced by our competitors.

We are doing X wrong. Why are we even doing it? We are not achieving what we aimed for.

We should look into our current X. What is the industry doing? Are we doing it right? What value did we want out of it? Some examples could be testing, deployments, company meetings or announcements.

Business speak: This is not the industry standard. These are what Fortune 500 companies (or Google, Facebook, other company) are doing. If it's working for them, it will work for us! Do we want to be leaders in this area? What is success to us? Is this really delivering value?

X is too slow. X takes too much time.
X is not good enough.
X is broken.
X is not high quality enough.

Just repeat the other answers.

Effects

What are the effects to you or the company? This is expanding a bit on the previous section but giving more concrete effects. A lot of the effects can be generalized too. Some of the items you'll list here maybe specific to your company or work. Be as specific as you can. What are the things you are forced to do because of the issue?

  • I need to do X just because of this issue
  • I need to spend more time on it
  • I need to go back and fix it
  • I need to spend extra hours at work
  • I need to take a lot of time and research on it
  • I need to ask other people on it
  • I need to wait for it to finish (I don't usually like an answer of multi-tasking because there is a big cognitive load on multi-tasking).
  • It takes a lot of energy (time and/or effort) to do it
  • Morale (shouldn't be underrated)

Key Questions

Key questions asks the tough questions to evaluate the value in things your team or company does. Some of these maybe a very high level question that's meant to make everyone think instead of just keep repeating the things you do today. Some of these may also lead to sparking a change in people while the others may lead to the solutions.


Testing our approach

Below are some sample issues and our attempt at using the steps above.

Too Many Meetings

What is the issue: 
* I'm in the office from 9-5 but almost all of it is used up in meetings.

Why is it a problem?
* It takes too much time. We could use that time instead to do our tasks. I could be doing more high-value tasks. 

Effects: 
* I need to do overtime to get my tasks done.
* I need to multi-task and do work in my othere meetings (reducing my quality and focus)

Key Questions:
* Are all those meetings valuable?
* Instead of having meetings, can we just email people or communicate the message via slack?
* Are they effective? Do we achieve what we were supposed to do in those meetings?
* Do those meetings need to be an hour?

I Keep Having to Fix Mistakes

What is the issue: 
* Person or vendor's quality of work is not acceptable
* The output of a process is filled with mistakes

Why is it a problem?
* Takes time and energy to do a review
* Have to fix the mistakes myself (or someone else)

Effects: 
* It takes time away from my work and deliverables
* Repetative
* Morale, Frustration

Key Questions:
* Why is the quality poor?
* Can we train people?
* Can we invest in a different vendor?

Process is too Slow

Note: A more specific example is Deployments.

What is the issue: 
* It takes hours to do this!

Why is it a problem?
* We need to do this often as part of our work
* Error prone
* Lots of manual work that can be automated

Effects: 
* Manual work to fix the issues
* Manual work to trigger the process
* Waiting for the process to finish
* Manual work can be error prone if I'm not careful

Key Questions:
* What is the industry standard for this?
* Can we train people?
* Can we invest in some tooling?

Solution

What about the solution? I'll use a cop-out answer and say it depends.

It depends on your company, your team and yourself. Each company has a different culture and different set of people. What's effective solution in one organization maybe completely disastrous in another. Every situation is different and requires different approaches. Some workplaces have more people who are willing to change if there are shown a better way while others have a more resistant view.

What's important to do after you've raised the problem is to NOT attempt to solve or instigate change immediately. How do you know if it's the best solution? If you're attempting to have "No Meeting Every Wednesdays" as a solution, how does this solution work for engineers? What about sales people or support? Have other people affected be involved in the process. Make it a team effort. Brainstorm and come up with solutions together.

It's not a solo act
We need someone to lead the change but by no means is it a solo act.

How to introduce change in a team or organization is another humungous topic in itself but it digs deepers into the reasons and how to be more effective at it. The gist of it is that we want people to see the problem, see the benefits of the new ways, try it and have some feedback on it.

Making Sure It's Dead

Issues at work tend to be like viruses. We feel sick but we don't know why. We identify it as a virus. We try to kill it with antibiotics or what the doctor recommends. We check to see if things are better. Maybe we try something new if it doesn't work. At some point we get rid of the virus through one of these ways unless we didn't correctly do what the doctor instructs us to do.

Measure. Implement. Review. Iterate. Celebrate.

MIRIC because having acronyms makes it seem more legit.

It's important to understand that some problems or better ways for our team takes a while to resolve. Once we have an idea of what our solution is, first, we need to figure out what's our criteria for success. How will we know if our solution worked if we have no data to back it up?

In racing, there is a driver and a crew who configures a car. They take a measurement of each lap they run on the track. They change their car settings and see the effects of it. They measure the success by seeing the improvements in time for each lap and, also importantly, how the driver responds to the changes.

We should treat it similary. After we define what success means to us, we want to start small and test some of solutions. We want to get a dry run to see if it works or not. Do we need to tweak our solutions? Did it improve our situation? Do we need anything else? Do people feel more productive?

Don't forget to celebrate! It's not meant to be there just as a joke. It's often understated what a little celebration can do. Celebrate that the you started a change. Celebrate that the team came together and worked on a solution. We have to celebrate not just delivering value to our customers but also celebrating what we did to achieve it. We should celebrate how we are growing as a person, team and organization.


Conclusion.

If you complain about a problem, it means it's worth solving. It's not monumental task to solve a problem. Act on it. Ask these questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • Effects to you company
  • Ask Key Questions

Come up with a solution with your team. Then MIRIC: Measure. Implement. Review. Iterate. Celebrate.

Lead and become that person making change that helps everyone's life become slightly better. Do it not just for others but also for yourself.