Your Worst Coworker Is Probably Not a Human
Difficult tools slow us down just like difficult coworkers.
You have a coworker who's inflexible, stuck in the past and constantly a nuisance. It feels like she is almost trying to sabotage the team's work. I've been there, too. Let's call the worst coworker I ever had Sally Forth.
Sally never changed, no matter how frustrated you got with her. She nagged me and everyone on the team all the time. It didn't stop after work or on weekends; she messaged everyone constantly. Eventually, we all got so fed up that we hired someone as a go-between, just to interface between Sally and everyone one else. My boss was convinced that Sally was a best-in-class asset to the team. If I couldn't work with her, he said, then I was the problem, not her.
You've probably worked with Sally, too, because her real name is Salesforce. She also goes by Microsoft Outlook, SAP, Peoplesoft and a bunch of names, but in every incarnation she's critical to the team, defended by leadership -- and an absolute pain in the neck.
There's so much discussion about how to build strong, effective relationships with coworkers, managers and peers. But, there's little to no discussion about our relationship with the systems we work most closely with, and how they affect our mindset, productivity and well-being. We spend much more time interacting with these platforms than we do with actual colleagues; as a former sales executive, I would check Salesforce about 50 times a day, which is roughly three times the number of conversations I'd have throughout the day with colleagues and customers.
Poor technology can impact your business in numerous ways: Your employees may end up spending less time with customers and more trying to cope with the inefficient technology, it hurts their productivity and morale, and it limits your ability to think big picture because it's a constant, nagging thorn in your side.
Difficult tools slow us down just like difficult coworkers. Fortunately, the strategies you develop to avoid a bad colleague can also help you avoid bad tools.
1. Interview them like you would a team member.
You wouldn't hire a critical member of your team just based on what he tells you about himself. You check his references. The same goes for technologies that you'll be using frequently. If you're dealing with a salesperson, ask to be put in contact with current customers. Talk to other entrepreneurs and do your legwork. What technologies did they find to be most flexible, most friendly and most effective?
When it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) software, there are around 25 choices. Don't just do what's easiest and pick the one that's most well-known (and most expensive) -- look at which types of software would work best for your unique company culture, sales cycle and business needs.
Enterprise platforms designed for large companies, like Salesforce and HipChat, camouflage the weaknesses of their products via talented, enterprise sales representatives. It's their job to sell into senior level executives who rarely actually use their products, or use them for totally different purposes than the team would. Just like it's critical to make sure that a new hire fits with the team, talk with the people that will use the software the most and ask them to test the products you are considering to discover which ones they like best.
2. Take the time to train them -- and turn negative reminders into positive ones.
If you've already bought into a platform that is distressing to your team, there are often ways to mold it more to your liking. Take the time to change the program's colors and fonts. Make sure the sales stages and names match your company lingo. These things may seem trivial, but the interface needs to reflect and align with your company culture, just like new employees do.
I've found that the default language of most tools emphasizes stress rather than the kind of positive thinking required for a team to enjoy their work. If dragging deals to the "Lost" stage in your CRM is making you feel defeated, swap out the traditional sales stages like "Discovery," "Won" and "Lost" and replace them with more helpful and positive language.
As a sales executive, I developed my "Seven Virtues of Sales Methodology" with my team, where I replaced the standard sales stages like "Quality" and "Lost" with positive emotions. In an effort to help breed a healthier, happier environment at my own company, we've leaned into aspects of our work that help lead to positive emotions, even when it comes to technology, which can often have distressing features that induce negative emotions.
Some old-school sales leaders dismiss these efforts as a waste of time. But, changing the language in our tools tangibly impacted our bottom line:17 percent more deals closed because we increased our focus on creating connection.
3. Don't take bad coworkers home with you.
Even with your favorite colleagues, it's healthy to create some divide between work and home life. Miro Kazakoff, senior lecturer in communications at MIT Sloan's School of Business, says the same principles should be applied to the platforms you use at work.
"I love Hubspot, I love Slack. But, that doesn't mean that spending all day on them makes you more productive," says Kazakoff. "Good tools, like good communication, should be invisible and let you focus on creating value. The best tools, like the best colleagues, free you up to spend more time on the activities that drive your business. It's not healthy in any relationship to spend all your time together."
Even the chief technology officer at Slack, Cal Henderson, takes a similar approach when working after hours.
"I try to avoid DMing people late at night," Henderson told Lifehacker last year. "The pressure for people to respond quickly can guilt people into thinking they need to be always on."
You can take steps to separate these worlds, for example, by only keeping your CRM or messaging apps downloaded on your work computer, and not on your personal phone -- eliminating the temptation to be "always on."
By creating this divide and investing in the relationship in order to change your outlook from one of defeat to that of hope and positivity -- you just might find that you have a new best friend at work.
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