Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Good Thing Gone Bad: How to Tame Google Doc Sprawl

The Google platform is a fantastic and basically free option to use as a collaboration and productivity tool within a business. My company uses it. It's been key in enabling the flow of ideas, the sharing and storage of information, and collaboration. But, our mantra of "just throw it in google doc" is now becoming a tangled web of one-off information and difficult to find resources.

The first step to taming the beast is recognizing that this will happen. With so much freedom to spin up and share information it can quickly get out of hand. What good is a doc or spreadsheet if no one can find it? Here are two ways to get and keep your info organized:

Consolidate documents through a Google Site
At an enterprise level use the Google Sites feature to logically organize information and create a portal. Google Sites is an entire topic in and of it's own, but you can very quickly build a site that can simply serve as the launch pad for all of your information. The site ties all the random docs together and can be organized in a way that makes sense for your organization. We use a site as the foundation for our company intranet. The information architecture is organized by department. All the relevant google docs for a department are categorized as links within the portal. This has been a handy reference tool particularly in the on-boarding of new employees. We also leave the site permissions open so that anyone can add more links to docs. We've virtually eliminated the need for sophisticated system administration and content management. Although lightweight governance over the site is recommended so that we don't end up with another problem - a disjointed information architecture

Leverage Personalization Capabilities
At the individual level, you can create folders and labels to logically organize documents in a way that makes sense to you. This feature is called Collections. The google documents view allows each person to create their own filing system structure for finding docs. This personalized approach to managing info is more powerful than it may seem on the surface. Think about it, in traditional environment someone else manages the directory structure and naming convention of a shared drive or LAN. They've already decided how information should be organized in terms that make sense to them. We've got a company shared drive too for docs that are required to be static. And guess what, the biggest complaint is that people cant find what they are looking for. This nuisance actually creates a bigger issue when people take things into their own hands and start storing their own versions of documents locally or wasting time trying to find then emailing documents around to each other. Organizing our google docs in my own terms changed my world. While it's simple enough to just do a search to find the right document, categorizing docs keeps all related items together and let's you quickly locate information related together but kept in separate documents.

How are you using the google platform for your business? If you want to more about how to strategically use the Google platform, contact me.

Confessions of a Micromanager

It's been brought to my attention more than once over the past year that I am a micro manager. I am an incredibly introspective person, constantly self examining and analyzing my every action. Micromanagement is considered a negative trait so being my introspective self I am setting out to better understand this trait and how to turn it around.

Wikipedia defines micromanagement as "management especially with excessive control and attention to detail."

Controlling and attention to detail - yep, that's me.

Early in my career that "controlling" trait was celebrated by my managers as "drive" and a "take the bull by the horns" attitude. My managers liked it because they knew I'd get things done. And with my attention to detail it would be done thoroughly and polished. No matter how many hours I needed to put in, I got the job done. In the sea of entry-level green consultants I was able to differentiate and rise to the top quickly because I took control, thought through the minutiae, and the end result was polished.

So where did this all go wrong? How did my best trait become one of my worst?

In my mind it's easy to be confused with why this once positive trait is now being perceived as "a developmental opportunity" - I know how something needs to be done, I love getting into the details, and I don't want anything with my name associated to it to be less than perfect. Where's the flaw in that?

Well here's what I've come up with:

Expectations have changed - I'm not a green consultant anymore. I am a seasoned professional and executive within my company. Just being eager with great attention to detail isn't going to cut it anymore. Enthusiasm and quality are expected. As a company leader, it's about scaling that quality.

Scalability - to grow in your career means to move beyond the individual contributor status. An individual only has a limited amount of throughput. To grow as a leader means to scale yourself so that no single result is dependent on you. You need to inspire and teach teams of individual contributors to put the same level of thought and quality into a task as you would. Otherwise you'll burn out quickly trying to do everything.

Grow someone else to grow yourself - unless you are content to be a one-man show or pigeon-holed (which I am not), it's your duty to help someone else follow your lead. Constantly thinking of ways you can put yourself out of your current job so that you can keep moving is key. It can be unsettling. It's easy to be concerned about - what will I do if someone else is doing my job? That is rarely an issue for someone that likes to keep moving and is open to the next challenge. There's always something new to sink your teeth into and a new problem to solve. Teaching someone else helps a micro manager learn to let go of some of the control and figure out ways to put just enough structure in place that the job will get done well while allowing the individual to learn the ropes in their own way.

People crave structure - without some framework in place, the work that gets done becomes reactive and tactical without a strategic vision behind it. No one sets out to operate in a purely reactive manner but it happens without some set of guidelines for organizing and prioritizing what needs to get accomplished.

People find you annoying - the constant badgering will drive someone insane. The checking if it's done and pounding people with emails on how to do something usually stems from the fact that there wasn't well thought out plan put in place in the first place and there isn't enough transparency in place. A micro manager's gut is to take control by doing the work or badgering people in a very reactive way about what needs to be done. Don't punish your team for your own lack of planning leadership.

So here's my action plan:
1. Communicate desired outcomes, don't dictate how it gets done. Empower and trust others.
2. Put enough structure in place to help people prioritize what needs to be done in the short-term. Plan first, get alignment from the team on what needs to be done and what the definition of done is, then let them execute.
3. Focus my attention to detail on the big picture, analyzing results, and turning results into actions that are followed through
4. Manage through change - our priorities can change on a daily basis and anything worth doing takes time and persistence. A true leader with help the team course correct to adapt to the changing needs of the business, while being the biggest supporter in seeing the work through completion. A bunch of half done projects aren't nearly as good as one "done" project.
5. Listen more, talk less - I may think I know it all but listening to other people's ideas and perspective is a great way to drive innovation and creativity. Putting someone else's idea into action is a great way to build confidence in individual team members. A micro manager thinks only their way will work. And 9 times out of 10 you are probably wrong.

Fellow control freaks, I'd love to hear from you. What's your perspective and what are you doing to beat the urge to "just do it all yourself"?