Humans Around A Desk #2 - It's all small stuff and hard work

Sun, Mar 7, 2021       3-minute read

Safety has to be felt

The best workers are those who feel psychologically safe. A workplace filled with fear and intimidation is bad not only for employees' productivity, but also their mental health—that everyone loses in that scenario should not be a surprise.

Creating psychological safety in a team is hard. It may be the hardest thing you ever have to do. Unfortunately, you cannot simply tell people that they are safe; they have to feel it. Because the part of your brain that hears ‘you’re safe, trust us’ isn’t the same part of the brain that deals with actually keeping you safe (the limbic system).

For many, being out of work can mean intense financial pressure and strain on interpersonal relationships. So informing people that they are free to speak out and challenge the status quo that pays the salary that keeps a roof over their head and food in their mouths? As a species, we’re just not wired that way.

There are no shortcuts; you need to earn that trust the hard way.

Focus on the now

It’s tempting to get swept away with your goals. ‘This time next year we’ll have ten million customers and be our region’s first unicorn company.’

You have the goals because you need to aim for something, and in theory they’re all attainable. But you haven’t attained them yet.

To make your goals a reality, you have to put in a lot of hard work and make tough decisions. ‘Where do we spend our limited time and budget? Should we hire this person now, or wait until we’re really struggling? All the successful companies do this, so we should too, right?’

It’s tough to focus on the right things, but you can make those decisions easier by looking at what is causing you pain right now. Some fires are okay to leave burning.​

Timing is everything

A common anti-pattern in creative teams is that of premature optimisation—in short, ‘going overboard’ with attention to small details, when what is needed most is general foundational work (an author spending hours trying to find the perfect font before writing a single word, for example).

But sometimes it does pay to sweat the small stuff. I once worked for a retailer that did much of its business on eBay. Stock was listed as seven-day auctions with a 99p start price. This meant that everything sold. And one thing we did was to schedule every auction so that it ended at a very specific time in the evening.

That time was in the break of Coronation Street. Those who had bid on or were watching the auctions would receive notifications from eBay while Coronation Street was on, see them when the break started, and have just enough time to put in a final bid if they so wished.

Were the auctions to end ten minutes earlier, many of our customers would be preoccupied and not realise. The items would still sell, but with a significantly lower profit margin to us.

Sometimes, obsessing over tiny details is exactly what you need to do.