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Carrots, Sticks and Buckets of Time Tricks

5 May 2022

One of the difficult jobs of any leader is to get people to do something differently or to get them to do what you need them to do.  If only a clear command, beautifully expressed, was enough.  If only you could click your fingers and ‘whoosh!’ the task was done! Alas … even the most respected and beloved leader is not capable of inspiring 100% adherence to task – people can be tricky like that, the pesky things. Of course, the lean textbook answer to this challenging question would be “involve people in the change, help them to see the problems and encourage them to come up with the solutions” ….  but what if you just need something done and fast? When there’s no time to coerce or influence, you just need the thing to be completed. What then?

When people are busy, when they are being bombarded by hundreds of emails, you do have to think of some kind of strategy to help them to get the task done. The obvious thing to think of here is the good old idiom of ‘carrots and sticks’.  What rewards could be offered to tempt people to get the job done and what woody, painful, branchy things could be used to thrash the potential recipient in case the carrot isn’t tempting enough?

Let’s take a live task that we have in the Business School at the moment.  Much work has been done to make sure that academics formally register any papers that they have successfully written and published to a centralised system. This must happen to satisfy the requirements of terrifically important, “Research Excellence Framework” exercise and our commitment to make our research “Open Access” i.e. making sure our research is freely available beyond publishing paywalls.  However, we also need to know about any of the positions of esteem that our academic faculty possess – are they Journal Editors, or Non Executive Directors of external organisations for example? How can we consistently and reliably help our academics to let us know of these appointments as and when they occur? This is an ongoing challenge in that we don’t just need everyone to complete the exercise once, we need to know about incidences of esteem on a rolling basis.

The Research Office set up a form to collect the information but how to get people to fill it out? Let’s share our approach so far:

  1. Our Dean mentions the Esteem Tracker in her weekly update email and asks staff to fill it out
  2. An ‘all staff email’ is sent out to ask people to fill out the Esteem Tracker
  3. Filling in the Esteem Tracker is one of the components of completing your annual Performance Development Review (PDR)

But these three actions alone probably won’t be enough. What carrot could be offered? What stick could be brandished? ‘If you fill out your Esteem Tracker you’ll get a latté? But how can you sustain that over a long period of time where we need to encourage people to do it regularly? One idea we have is that we will regularly go into the Esteem Tracker and make sure that we celebrate successes that we find out about more widely across the School, perhaps even organising an event or Breakfast Briefing around them, so people can tangibly see the benefit of inputting into the Tracker.  I am also a major fan of seizing the moment and, within all staff meetings, research committees and such like, a strategic post of the Esteem portal link in a Zoom Chat will be amazing in terms of encouraging staff to click the link and update information then and there. Regular touch points for key issues are key – I’ve written more on this here – The Power of Persistence – Sarah Lethbridge’s Lean Blog – Cardiff University

The stick is a bit harder to find, plus we don’t really agree with sticks in Cardiff Business School! There was a massive hard spiky stick (not of our making) when it came to submitting papers to our University portal for the REF – if you hadn’t registered your work, you couldn’t submit it into the Exercise .. but there’s no such threat for matters relating to esteem – other than, we hope, the annual ‘it’s part of your PDR’ activity i.e. ‘we expect you to do this’.

It’s critical to encourage ownership of course, and when it comes to information about your achievements, you’d hope that there was an automatic incentive to be clear about what these achievements are … so one point of entry, one self-orientated completion of task could be really helpful – this is where staff web profile pages could play a role.  Can the Esteem Tracker automatically update to their web profile page, or vice versa? Can we put the esteem tracker element on our web profile pages and extract the information we need from there?  To encourage confidence in the data collection task it is critical that the organisation isn’t asking multiple times for the same things, that we make it easy and it should be in the academic’s best interests to keep their publicly shared profile information as up to date and accurate as possible.

Will that still be enough however? What else could we turn to? As ever, the component of TIME, and how to be in command of time, is critically important I feel when trying to encourage people to do tasks, perhaps even more so than sticks and carrots. How can we encourage people to carve out and protect some time to doing this task?

Timer that looks like a tomato

My friend Dr Kerry Moore shared an approach that the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies have (informally) taken to carve out and protect time to do the very important task of writing. It’s called the Pomodoro method because it involves dedicating periods of time to different tasks, which could be organised by a Pomodoro (tomato in Italian) cooking timer (pictured above) being set at various intervals. Put simply, it requires a group of people getting together to proactively organise their time in a disciplined way. They write intensively for 20 minutes, have a 5 minute break, and then repeat 4 times.  You can listen to Kerry describe this approach excellently here: https://cardiff.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=1e2807a1-dd64-419b-bdef-ae8300d4edef

As she states at the end of the video the benefits of using the Pomodoro method for writing are:

“Productivity .. and because of that it’s rewarding. That sense of fulfilment that I have actually achieved something this week … it’s tangible and I think the protective time is really important ..it’s an easier way to .. discipline yourself to making sure that you do make time for things that are easily pushed aside when more immediate concerns .. come up .. the .. accountability / support of colleagues … there’s not many things where you can say – I look forward to it and it’s sociable .. it’s a fun part of the week, but also, I work really hard”.

We’re going to be trying the Pomodoro method in the Business School to encourage writing, but I also want to set up some Pomodoro type ‘Update your Profile Page and Esteem Tracker’ all staff sessions, to help academics carve out the time and space to do these important tasks, together.  To hopefully move them away from being a chore, to an opportunity to get together in a light, enjoyable way, and get the work done.

This sort of dedicated online time for working tasks can even be found on TikTok! I read an article today where Yehya Mougharbel, a 22-year-old University of Surrey business and marketing student has half a million people watch him study on TikTok – BBC News

“People just enjoy watching me study,” he says. “They study alongside me, and they feel less alone.”

“At first my main reason for doing those streams was for myself – for keeping me accountable and keeping me on track to get my work done. Once I saw people using it and finding it useful, then it just became a win-win situation,” he says.

So I want to organise more and more dedicated time and space activities where people come together in accountable, protected places to get the work done.  Standard Management Routines are a key part of lean, they keep things on track and encourage accountability of task. Let’s use the same approach for all manner of activities, carving up our calendars to maximise our productivity, together.