After Christmas I was in store helping remerchandise some stock ready for summer – yes, it will soon be here! We help in stores as much as we can, but especially at Christmas and into the New Year when there’s a teeny weeny tiny bit of an increase in workload!
While I was there I couldn’t help spotting things that could be improved or changed to make life better for our colleagues and customers –
– a warehouse sticker had stuck onto a product which ripped the label as it came off
– one shelf was smaller than the rest so the plastic strips that hold the product dividers didn’t fit
– the packaging of one self-tan brand was so similar on all it’s products that it was really hard to tell them apart (shimmer self tan, matt self tan, mouse, gel, light, medium, dark…!)
I was really keen to do something about these, talk to the right people back in the office who could have some influence over making these things better.
But the store colleague I was working with didn’t seem bothered. Not in a negative ‘whatever’ sort of way, just in an unphased ‘oh yeah, that stuff happens’ sort of way.
And it got me thinking about levels of engagement, levels of control over our work, and niggles.
This lady I was working with was very experienced, had worked in the same store for the last 20 years, and really knew her stuff. She really truly cared about providing a great service to her customers, knowing many of them well enough to have a meaningful chat. She also really truly cared about getting the stock looking its best, making sure the shelves were thoroughly cleaned before new stock went on, and had made sure we had all the kit we needed to do our job. And yet, she didn’t care enough to do anything or tell anybody about these things that weren’t quite right – these niggles.
Is that OK?
There was research undertaken last year about the positive effects on performance of people feeling they have high levels of control at work (as well as high levels of emotional support and low levels of job strain) http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/smd/117125.html
I wondered whether this lady felt she had high levels of control over her work.
If she could be given an even greater feeling of control, would she be even more engaged and want to do something about the niggles?
But then I thought about my own experiences……
When my husband and I were in our first house, doing lots of big diy stuff. The house was a tip, dust everywhere, tools everywhere, holes in the floorboards…I could go on! At first it bothered me. I definitely had no control over it! But then I just shut it out, switched off from it so I couldn’t ‘see’ it. It was either that or send myself completely crazy! I went into self-preservation mode over cleanliness! But that didn’t mean I cared any less about reaching our goal of a lovely house with no artex and no woodchip! I just learnt to focus on that end vision and ignore the niggles along the way.
And at work, everything isn’t perfect in the office – is work perfect for anybody? I’d love to hear about it if you work in an absolutely perfect place! So of course there are niggles that, if I allowed them, could get irritating, and could absorb all my time and energy. But that’s not how I feel because, rather than focus on the niggles all day, every day, I focus on the purpose for my work, the possibilities for things to be better, the opportunities that can be created.
So what really interested me was when I looked up the definition for ‘niggle’ –
1. To be preoccupied with trifles or petty details.
2. To find fault constantly and trivially; carp
Well, there’s some feedback for me about how I was being in store!! Never been called a carp before!
But seriously, not a great place to be if everyone at work is focusing on niggles all the time. Even worse if they’re focussing on niggles in a ‘isn’t this rubbish, someone [else] should sort it out!’ kind of way. What potential could be unleashed around the world by having everyone focused on the positive, the possible, the purpose.
And therefore do these niggles matter at all? I’d definitely argue that fundamentally broken hygiene factors are another situation entirely. But if it’s just little things, those things can usually be worked around, and they’re things that could be improved but which often aren’t the most effective use of time or effort to make the biggest difference to the success of an organisaiton. We all have restricted resources these days, operating in a tough economy and we must be challenging of ourselves about how we spend our time and money. What activity will make the biggest difference? Therefore fixing a small niggle that isn’t fundamentally breaking or stopping anything is unlikely to be a big priority.
And to keep those niggles out of focus…….step forward Ms/Mr Line Manager. This is where they are the crucial voice of the purpose. We all have our off-days when we’ve got out of bed the wrong side, and those niggles can become a bigger deal than they need to. That’s when you need a fantastic line manager who’s there to listen (http://helenamery.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/did-you-hear-the-one-about/) and then be the person who’s there to consistently talk about the greater good we’re aiming for (http://helenamery.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/some-other-musings-on-engagement-and-comms/). The ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Rather than allowing us to get bogged down in the weeds of the ‘what’.
So what about where you work?
How much time is spent on niggles?
How much time is spent looking up and forwards to focus time, energy and money on the stuff that will really make a difference?