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The Week in Pieces #15 - Why We Can't Remember The Future

I was asked last week to provide a reference for a former team member. I enjoy putting these together - when we work together every day our conversations tend to focus more on output and ‘performance’. Those themes also tend to dominate internal review processes in a lot of organisations. Writing a reference tends to focus a lot more on the relationship I had with that individual.
I have a standard process for putting them together - I start by writing down the first things that spring to mind when I think of that person. I search for the work they did in the systems we use to record and track workflow. Finally, I search for email conversations I had with them to see if anything stands out or jogs my memory.
While it’s important to consider whether that person was meeting expectations, the connection they establish with the rest of their team governs whether they will be successful in the future. The picture that reveals itself when I look back on someone’s time in our team is one of how they worked, rather than what they did. I can see how they supported other people, how they communicated, and how their motivation affected their work. It’s helpful in that it reminds me what my job is - to create and maintain an environment where motivated individuals come together and support each other.
There are occasions where I’m asked to provide a reference for someone where our experience was less than positive. I try very hard to produce something constructive - because an individual hasn’t been successful with us doesn’t mean they won’t be successful elsewhere. Someone who has issues with, say, timekeeping is not necessarily being disrespectful. Something has happened or is happening in that person’s life to create that behaviour, and this shouldn’t be the arbiter of their future opportunity.
No one works in a vacuum. The success of a team is the success of a collection of individuals, and positive working cultures go a long way to predicting and preventing individual failure. I am working in collaboration with that person to make them successful. If they are not successful, that’s on me as well. Whenever communicating about a difficult working experience a former employee has had, I make every effort to outline the circumstances and environment that may have contributed to that. If there are things that I should have done differently, I need to discuss that as well.
We come back to the idea of focussing on capability rather than performance. Not what this person did in the past, but what they will be able to do in the future. Not concealing the other factors that blocked their success, but indicating how to make them successful in the future.
Fortunately, having to communicate about negative experiences is a rare occurrence. There’s a bittersweet aspect to saying “This person was fantastic and I had a great time working with them, I’m sure you will as well”. Saying goodbye is hard but when someone is moving on to bigger and better things, it’s because we’ve all done our job well.
The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload
Maker vs. Manager: How Your Schedule Can Make or Break You - Farnam Street
Why you can't solve knowledge problems with information tools alone
The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers | Nature Human Behaviour
That’s it. I make no effort to market this newsletter at all but would really benefit from the additional feedback a few more subscribers would give me - if you have a moment to forward this to anyone who may be interested or share on your social channels I’d really appreciate it!
Hope there was something here for you this week, and see you next Monday.
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Piers Campbell

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