Don’t Push, When You Can Pull

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Growing up, my mother had an “all at once, heavy duty effort” methodology with home tasks, so Saturdays were devoted to chores and projects. There was always something to be done and since we usually lived “out in the country” even the most basic of errands often took a long time. Quite honestly, I never liked this pattern, so I don’t do things the same way. I prefer to practice daily “tidy-tidy” and “resets.” (Now, in complete fairness to my mother, her day started very early, and she usually had a long commute, so the Saturday pattern made sense at that time.) My preference though, is to have things rarely get so far out of order that a massive effort would be needed to come back to center. This also applies to laundry. While some folks do a weekly laundry day, I prefer to do loads as needed. Considering we live in a rainy place and Quinn needs a lot of exercise (resulting in plenty of muddy paw prints on various surfaces) this means laundry is an almost daily affair.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a bit behind in the laundry and I found myself really dragging my feet about doing it. Now, based on what we established in the opening paragraph, this is not business as usual at Casa de Corona. So, I decided to investigate the situation and see what was causing delays.

For a bit of context, our laundry area is in our garage. It’s well lit, has shelves for supplies and other than getting a little extreme in temperature at times, it is a pleasant enough space. As I tried to determine the issue, I realized that the pathway to the washer and dryer had begun to shrink. A large box containing a yard cart in need of assembly, painting supplies, and the like had literally narrowed the space and it was now feeling a bit claustrophobic and slightly unsafe for me to navigate. With great clarity about what needed to be done (a reset!) and less than 30 minutes of effort later (a bit of the old tidy-tidy), the area was much closer to what it should have been, and laundry operations resumed as normal.

This situation reminded me about something that I heard on a decluttering podcast several months ago. They noted that when it comes to productivity and cultivating good habits, we must always be on the lookout for barriers to success. In the episode, they were specifically talking about spaces like laundry and storage areas having poor lighting, being hard to access, or any other issue that would cause it to feel unwelcome and uninviting.

This got me thinking about how often these kinds of things happen in the workplace. We want employees to be highly productive, but do we stay vigilant on conditions that might hinder that?

This includes things like unnecessary processes and procedures or overcomplicating simple tasks. Last summer, I took a management training where they referred to these kinds of conditions in the workplace as “pushes and pulls.” Pushes are things that “push” someone out the door, while “pulls” draw people in and keep them connected to the mission and their team. As managers, you want to handle pushes, which in turn, creates a pull.

Revisiting my laundry dilemma (and bringing these two ideas together) the barriers I had to success (reduced access and concerns about safety) were pushing me away from the goal (staying on top of the laundry so it didn’t snowball into an “all day Saturday” kind of project).

So, how do you recognize “pushes” in your organization?

  1. Look for situations where productivity slows or stops: as Kerri often says, this is almost always a “process problem.” Unfortunately, we tend to blame people when it’s actually a process issue. Examples include lack of clear roles and responsibilities or when there aren’t established “hard handoffs” to keep things from falling through the cracks. With the lack of systems and processes in place, a team frequently flounders, and backlogs ensue. Instead of clarity and sense of purpose, people end up feeling unfocused and confused and looking for someone to blame.
  2. Pay attention when people bring issues forward: Employees may try sounding the alarm on their concerns, but managers are often too busy to hear it. It’s critical to have regular opportunities for them to share problems and a system for resolving them. Without this, people will eventually stop communicating and likely disengage.
  3. Be aware when conditions change, but practices haven’t: this is often a holdover of the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. For example, not letting people work from home if the business needs support it, because a suspicious nature makes leadership think they won’t work as hard as they would in the office. These situations can lead to a “grass is greener somewhere else” mentality and have people looking for exit strategies.
  4. Notice seasonal (or other kinds of) patterns that might give way to frustration or poor staffing coverage: this is easily seen in scheduling. Spring break, summer vacations and end of year holidays are natural times for people to request leave. As a manager, it’s critical to talk about these times early and often, have a formal process for request and approvals, and clear notification for who will be available when staffing levels are reduced. Without proper procedures, people will have concerns about fairness and customers may suffer.

I am pleased to report that as of this writing, laundry operations continue to run smoothly (a definite “pull” for my engagement level on this highly repetitive task) and there is no backlog that would necessitate a major intervention. This whole situation has caused me to become much more aware of other areas in my life and work where barriers hinder success. I am finding that more often than not, the fixes tend to be pretty simple and sustainable, so productivity increases and frustration decreases.

Ultimately, a manager’s job is to deliver on organizational expectations. They can do this by reducing barriers and taking care of “pushes.” Because an environment with plenty of “pulls” is kind of like a soft blanket, warm from the dryer… and who doesn’t love that?