Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Crazy Circles

I was going to write a post on child discipline, responsibility, and setting and observing boundaries. Things came up, but the idea stayed in my head. They lingered for so long, that additional stuff based on recent work experiences came to mind. So, the post now focuses on...


Why circles? Because they explain boundaries, discipline, and responsibility (for children and adults) so well. And, no, I'm not getting all loopy on you. Heh, heh.

Assigning responsibility
When it comes to assigning responsibility or setting boundaries, there are typically two philosophies that people consider. They are:

1. Inherently trust - in this philosophy, trust is granted before any proof is given for it. Boundaries are set out at a distance, and people are given freedom to do what they need to do. But, watch out! If the person who is to work within those boundaries fails regularly, then the boundaries start to restrict. "X" marks the spot, and the concentric circles mark increasing - or, in this case, decreasing - levels of trust and responsibility.2. Inherently distrust - in this philosophy, trust is earned. Boundaries are set tight, but those boundaries are loosened, and other responsibilities accumulated, when the person proves themself worthy. Again, "X" marks the spot.So, what is the best way to raise children? What is the best way to set expectations with employees? Those are difficult questions, and may vary by family and by personality.

In the Quipper household, we tend to use both methods; inherently distrust, but also pull back if we see backtracking for any reason. We give them assignments and other ways to prove that they are trustworthy given their age (i.e. physical and intellectual capabilities). If they pass the tests, then the boundaries expand. This expansion may be in the form of new freedoms or increased responsibility. If the children repeatedly prove that they can't handle existing responsibilities, even though they had succeeded before, we may pull back.

I have watched parents who inherently trust, and never pull back. This frustrates me because it looks more often as being done out of laziness than out of any plan on the part of the parents. With some parents, I never see an attempt to explain failure or disappointment to their kids, or to pull back (i.e. discipline) when repeated failure occurs.

At the office, though, an even different type of responsibility change can occur. Some core responsbilities may no longer fall into the expectations of an employee's current role. It looks something like this, where beginning responsibilities are replaced by newer responsibilities:I have seen this happen when senior programmers actually no longer do programming; instead, "programmer" is just part of the title, but the employee has different responsibilities. These responsibilities may include mentoring less accomplished programmers, reviewing their work, or designing new computer systems.

In the "job" of life, however, there are some responsibilities, or core values, that should never leave a child's or adult's area of responsibility. At least, I would hope not.

Taking care of business

The same two philosophies apply at the office, too. Recently, a new computer programmer was assigned to one of my projects. I am not his supervisor, but have to give him some direction relative to the tasks assigned to him. I quickly came to realize that his boss inherently trusted him on many fronts, and I found that the programmer was not as accomplished as was first thought.

I normally set expectations and grant trust first, but this scenario is making me rethink my position. Things aren't always as they appear, and it's better to play it safe than sorry. It's not that the "kid" is incapable; we expected too much of him, yet he hadn't been put in a position to prove himself. I have seen this in the past, and have even caused the situation a number of times. I've concluded that I'd rather put someone in a position to prove themself than set them up to fail.

Growing up and job promotions

How does this all apply to children that have been granted some freedoms and responsibilities, and to employees who believe they are ready to "move on" to a better job position? There are similarities here again, but there are also differences.

Promotions are a little more difficult to work with. Again, there are two philsophies: you promote someone into a position they've already proven they can do, or you promote into a position because there is nothing else for the person to prove in their current position. Trust me, they are not the same. Just because someone hits the ceiling in their current position does not mean they can handle things at the next level.

Promotions usually look like this:
You typically retain some of your current duties, but gain a whole new set of responsibilities. You also dispose of some of your prior responsibilities, as shown by the greyed and blacked out circles.

With our children, I don't see a "promotion" per se. As I mentioned earlier, there are some core responsibilities that never leave the child once they start growing up and earning more freedoms and responsibilities. So, with our children, I see more concentric circles emanating from the core, and not a situation where the center circle shifts.

I have learned valuable lessons in fatherhood, and recently during this employee situation. For me, at least, it is better for me to set solid expectations with my employees, start them on easily manageable responsibilities, and let them work up to more difficult responsibilities and greater freedoms. I expend more effort on a daily basis, but resolve problems quicker and give my staff a chance to succeed. At home, I start with tight boundaries, but expand them as my children pass those little tests that prove they are ready for more freedom and responsibility.

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