A user manual for Dan (2nd edition)

Put a rug under me or I’ll break.

This post is about me and my preferences in my working life.

I wrote my first one of these in March 2018, which seems like forever ago.

I’ve just started a new job in a new organisation¹ and thought it would be timely to review and publish an update. I’m in an unfamiliar place and I figure anything to help people understand ‘me at work’ is a good thing.

The headings are taken from Cassie Robinson’s template which is a great place to start if you want to do this exercise yourself. I recommend it, although I found it a bit uncomfortable.

Conditions I like to work in

  • I can manage in an open plan office, but I need variety. I also need quiet places to go to, and to get outside.
  • My tolerance for noise is pretty high, but I don’t like harsh lighting.
  • In the past couple of years I’ve really cut down on accumulated office stuff and can manage hot-desking.
  • I quite like a workshop now and then.
  • My favourite environment is sat on the edge of teams who are working well together to solve problems and build something good.

The times / hours I like to work

  • I prefer to start late due to a combination of personal circumstance and habit. However, I’m slowly turning over a new leaf and I try my best to start work by 09.30 unless I’m doing the school run.
  • I will work later two or three days a week.
  • One or two days a week I will stop work mid-afternoon to be with my children.
  • I don’t read or respond to emails if I’m not ‘in the office’.
  • I have most energy in the early evening.

The best ways to communicate with me

  • I don’t like answering the phone.
  • I don’t like email, particularly long threads with loads of people in them.
  • Direct messages are fine (whatever platform they’re on, as long as I’m on it and available).
  • I like it best when people come to me informally and ask to talk. I much prefer this to people booking meetings for something that could be resolved or discussed sooner, often in a fraction of the time.
  • Video is fine if the technology works, although it’s not something I’m particularly used to.
  • If I’m in an open plan office I’m always interruptible, even if I’ve got headphones on.

Note that these are just my preferences. Meetings are fine. I can read and write emails. I can talk on the phone. It’s also going to be interesting to work in an environment with more remote and home working happening as a matter of course.

The ways I like to receive feedback

  • I prefer feedback in person, with a further preference for one to one rather than in a group. Either way, if it’s positive feedback I will be embarrassed and downplay it. If it’s more constructive or critical feedback I will tend to reflect on it rather than react in the moment.
  • I do like written feedback too. If it’s something constructive or critical then it’s helpful to have something to refer to, and if it’s something positive I put it in my scrapbook of wins².
  • I like to receive feedback from whoever, which is to say not just limited to my boss or immediate team.

Things I need

  • I really need to feel trusted, and to be given autonomy.
  • I need to have open conversations, one to one and in a group.
  • I need to be given time to think. Having said that, when I’m working in a domain that I have worked through and understand well then I can be very quick and decisive, with confidence.
  • I need to have opportunities to coach people and help them develop. I think this is because I am fairly removed from detailed practical and technical aspects of work, so it’s a good way for me to feel like I’m making a difference despite that. I am a good coach.
  • I need big, messy problems to solve.
  • I need broad directions and goals rather than instructions.
  • I need to be stretched and to be learning new things.
  • I need to be running a few³ off-beat schemes on the side.

Things I struggle with

  • It can take me time to build up momentum. Once I’ve got some momentum it can be difficult for me to switch off from what I’m working on.
  • I could be more direct in situations that call for it.
  • I find conflict really draining. I try to resolve it and achieve consensus, but it can take me a while and it really brings me down when it isn’t working. I also realise that achieving consensus isn’t always appropriate or feasible, so I need to work on my approaches. I find it hard when people aren’t happy and I’m unable to do anything about it for whatever reason.
  • I have a fair bit going on in my head, with an long list of ‘things to do’ which isn’t really a ‘to do’ list — it’s more of a personal dialogue that helps me to fix things in my mind. I can forget things from the list, so I appreciate being reminded. It is good to hassle me rather than leaving me alone on the assumption I’m busy.
  • I have a really low tolerance for gossip, rumour and melodrama. I don’t like theatrical meetings when people aren’t being open and honest. I can’t stand working with people who have no integrity.
  • I struggle with unnecessary process and waste. I also struggle when things get too tribal or dogmatic.
  • I struggle when people won’t engage in the whole problem. I also assume that people understand things that I do, which is something I need to work at. Previously I said that I find it frustrating to explain the same things over and over again, but if the issue is on me not communicating clearly then having to different ways to explain things is actually really useful.
  • I am shy in environments like meetups, conferences and parties. I am bad at initiating conversations. In the first version of this manual I said I’m not very good at smalltalk but that’s not true. I just don’t like it. I’m pretty open though and I’m happy to get into more meaningful subjects straight away (if you like), or riff on absolute nonsense if that’s your thing.

Things I love

  • I love work that is top to bottom good. Well thought-through, well-executed, sustainable, that can be learned from, and with a journey that’s been eventful.
  • I love coming up with ideas and solving problems.
  • I love building teams, especially that moment when everything starts to click.
  • I love ‘looking sideways’ and meeting people from other organisations to learn and share experiences.
  • I enjoy being on stage and/or having a big audience, despite some recent problems with anxiety.
  • I really like writing and making things.
  • I like making people laugh.

Other things to know about me

  • I have a low tolerance when people haven’t done the absolute basics. In particular I will pick weak or flawed plans and processes apart.
  • I don’t panic about work.
  • I am good at listening. I am good at reading people and picking up on group dynamics.
  • I am good at keeping things in confidence.
  • My resting face is a rather serious-looking frown. Underneath I’m pretty goofy.
  • With the off-beat schemes and making people laugh, I think people might think I don’t take work entirely seriously, which isn’t the case. I’m very committed and I like to take responsibility.
  • I. Talk. Very. Slowly.

Footnotes

¹ I am the Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice.

² I still don’t have a scrapbook of wins, but I do have a cigar that I carry around with me for when a plan comes together.

³ Ok, many schemes.

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Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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Dan Barrett

Dan Barrett

Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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