Why you shouldn't do favors at work (or, please don't do my work for me)

There are two kinds of businesses: (A) the one where everyone pitches in to get everything done... usually this is a small business. And (B) the one where things have grown to where process is needed. And yeah, there's the third kind... the one where a company is transitioning from A to B.

This process, generally, sucks. Becuase suddenly, the next hire you make seems like they aren't really doing an actual work. They are managing work. It can become frustrating very quickly because you think you really don't need a project manager; you need another developer to get the work done. You don't need another person to make decisions on when to buy new paper for the copying machine - you just need the paper!

But what if what you really needed was a project manager, several hires ago. What if you actually did have someone watching your paper consumption, and they found out that buying you an iPad would save money over the long run. What if, instead of just getting business done you actually knew your business?

So, obviously, this isn't just a hypothetical post. In the past few weeks, I have had multiple situations come up where people were, simply put, too nice. By working aroud the system or by covering people's tracks, I was made unaware of the real situations that were going on. And, as a manager, being uninformed is the most dangerous position you can be in.

More importantly, there is nothing more dangerous to an organization than an uniformed manager.

I do my best to keep tabs on the workload of my employees. Why? Because there are times when they will need to work those extra hours - and times when they do deserve to go home early. But if they are working late every day and I don't know it... two very bad things happen:

(1) They get burned out and feel neglected. We, as employees, want to do our best in any situation. Often that means working the extra hours. But if no one knows... then there is no thanks given. Since no one knows you are working killer hours, the assumption is that they might have more capaticy... and the very viscious cycle stengthens. Eventually, the straw will break the camel's back.

(2) If I don't know, I can't fix it. Anytime something is done that's not a part of the process, your manager simply won't know. And sooner or later you have inherited a whole new job responsibility because you said yes one time, trying to help out. Eventually, work arounds become the norm. Once they become the norm, the real problem never gets fixed because it simply isn't known.

Sure, there are times when you do a favor and rush a project because that's the right thing to do. But if you become known as someone who "gets things done," that may not be a good thing. Suddenly, everyone is coming to you and now you can't get your real job done. Also, that kind of descriptor is a bad omen in general. If only one person in the company get "get things done," then what is the rest of the company doing?

Perhaps the process actually is broken. If you keep working around it, things will get done. No one will be anymore the wiser. Instead, there will be division. Those who are doing the work around and not understanding why management doesn't fix it (or find one specific person to blame) and those who are clueless and don't understand why the people who are doing the workaround can't get their real job done. If the process is broken, people need to see that it's broken. Not everything is about people... somtimes it's just about process and positions.

Maybe the issue isn't process but, instead, it's about resources. If you have 4 people doing an extra 10 hours a week, but no one knows or sees it... they are forever going to keep doing an extra 10 hours a week. But if work is piling up and there is no end in site via the schedule... well, sooner or later someone is going to take notice. Either they are going to have to decrease the work or increase the resources.

And hey! Decreasing work is neither scary nor bad. If forces the company to dive in and find out what they really should or should not be doing. It's a good thing you hired those people whose job it is to manage the work, right..?

The occasional favor is good. It shows you can push ahead for a few moments. It can help build relationships and trust. But, when that favor becomes a normal part of your job... you may have just hurt the company by working outside of the system. You may have just hurt someone else because now they aren't going to get the relief they needed. A short term fix is seldom a great long-term solution.

My former boss, James Jackson, would be simply shocked to see that I wrote this of my own free will. Coming into a professional environment right out of college, I simply knew that I had all the answers... and that all our processes were wrong. Maybe they aren't right... but maybe they're there for a reason. And maybe, just maybe, if we trust the process... we'll find out we can fix the process.

What seems like a 1,000 years aga, James suggested I read Orbitting the Giant Hairball. I suggest you do too.