The Magic of Maintenance

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I was listening to a podcast recently where the host lamented that she always forgets that things that get done once, usually have to be done again and again. In this case, it was weeding. No matter how hard you work, those darn weeds will return. It can end up feeling like a never-ending battle.

As she talked about this issue, it occurred to me that management is very similar. It is a continuous loop of establishing expectations, providing feedback and coaching, solving problems, etc.

She continued to talk about these kinds of problems and proposed that the only real solution is to perform ongoing maintenance. You don’t wait until the weeds have completely taken over to attack them; you stay after them as part of your regular workflow.

As you might imagine, maintenance is also the key to good management. One of the most valuable assets a manager has, is the relationship with their employee. When there is regular connection, interaction and communication, issues are addressed early, trust stays high, and problems are solved when they are small.

We teach managers that the number one tool they have for developing and maintaining a relationship with their employees is the regular one on one. This is a dedicated time for both parties to check in about work, calibrate priorities and troubleshoot any concerns.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we tend to have to convince managers that these meetings are valuable. They tend to believe that it’s “one more thing” and they “don’t have the time.” But the truth is, if you are doing these regularly, they will actually free up time, since good communication goes a long way to preventing the need for rework and minimizing opportunities for confusion.

Ongoing maintenance is a valuable part of most areas of our lives. Where we want something to continue, we have to maintain it. But it doesn’t have to be something we dread.

So how to make ongoing maintenance more enjoyable?

  1. Do it at the time where it feels most effortless to you and the employee. When it comes to weeding, that could be after the rain since the wet ground more willingly relinquishes the stems. For one on ones, this could be the actual time of day or even, a particular day of the week or even around another commitment that you share. Talk with you employee to find out when their “power hours” are. If both of you are morning people, do it then. If your best time frames don’t overlap, negotiate a time that feels right for you both. Maybe you both like getting the week started with connection or prefer to bring the week to a close with your time together. There could even be another commitment you share that the one on one would provide great value to do, before or after. It might take a little trial and effort, but with a bit of work, you are certain to find something you can both look forward to.
  2. Mix it up – whether you have your one on one on a walk around your office building or you invite the employee to eat lunch with you over Zoom as you chat, try to find ways to keep it lively. Maybe you do an ice breaker type question or ask them what they are learning – you’d be surprised how much you likely don’t know about them in the work context. These are the kinds of nuggets that can lead to deeper connection and higher enjoyment for both of you.
  3. Remember it is an honor and a privilege to serve as a manager and leader for others. People really are your most valuable resource. They should never be an afterthought or “one more thing” you have on your plate; they are the best thing. And if you honor that responsibility, it makes it a lot easier for them to respect you.

The truth is, maintenance is good old fashioned hard work, done in small increments. But whether it’s weeding, management, or any other task that will need to be done more than once, remember that staying on top of things makes them so much easier. And when things seem easier, we want to do them… again and again.