hs_lim IN MY MANY years of working in the Public Service, one of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the management of my personal workspace. One adage: "You are as big (or small) as the office made you to be." In other words, the job defines you. The other adage: "A big man can grow a small job and make it big." You define the job! I found both to be equally true. It is certainly easier to do a "big' job than to grow a small job into a "big" one. How does one grow his job? Does one "shrink" in a big job? I would like to share some insights into managing your workspace.

We all work within the space circumscribed by our supervisor. The space is framed within the dimensions of trust, confidence and ability. Trust is the faith that our supervisor has in us for getting work done right. Confidence is our belief in ourselves to deliver what we have been assigned. Ability is our skill and competence to get things done. The more trust our supervisor has in us, the more confidence we have to deliver; and the greater our ability to do things right, the larger our space grows.

The size of the space is determined by the relationship we have with our supervisor. This relationship cannot be mandated nor conscripted. It has to be carefully nurtured and sustained. There is no prescribed way to get it right. Developing and sustaining the relationship is an art, not a science. Those with more EQ will do better in this area than those with lower EQ.

Our space is that we are accountable and within which we are deemed to have the competence. We all need to live up to the expectation our boss has of us. If we fail to do so, our space may be conquered and captured (by others or even by our boss). Once we lose the space that is rightfully ours, we lose the initiative. We then become reactive (instead of proactive). A space once conquered and captured is hard to win back!

To increase our space, we need to increase any or all three dimensions of trust, confidence and ability. The enlarged space may be earned or "leased" to us by our boss. Space is earned on the basis of our track record. "Leased" space belongs to our boss. We have right of use but the boss has the right to take back (when we fail to live up to his trust).

Enlarging our space involves the following:

1. Take the initiative! We must learn to take effective control of our work within the space assigned to us. We need to take the initiative within our space. If we prove to be worthy of our space, more space will be given to us, and the better control we have over our work. Taking the initiative on a sustained basis increases our boss' trust in us.

2. Embrace Personal Mastery (PM). PM is the foundation for personal effectiveness. It is about seeking to be the best we can be regardless of the situation or circumstances we find ourselves in. PM brings out the best of ourselves that resides deep within us. It helps us to exercise mastery over our destiny. Exercising PM builds up confidence in ourselves.

3. Seek training! Let us not be so busy that we do not have time to sharpen our skills. An axe that is often used will get blunt. Take time off to sharpen our axe so that we can fell more trees. Remember, we are measured not by our "busy-ness", which focuses on activity; we are measured by the results and outcome we bring about.

Training increases our ability. As we seek to increase our space, be mindful that our supervisees also seek to increase theirs. We seek to enlarge space from our boss through trust, confidence and ability.

As we enlarge our space, we ought to give space to the people we supervise. To give space, we need to have faith in our people; take the risk of our people doing things incorrectly and be willing to let go. With trust, confidence and ability, we enlarge space. With faith, risk and willingness, we give space to our people.

Giving space involves the following:

1. Match the skill to the job. Identify the strengths of our people and match their strengths to the job. While everyone is trainable, it is wiser to have them apply what they are already good at. When there is a good match between skills set and job, we have better assurance of our people producing consistently good output.

2. Take risks, manage it. When we assign work to our people, there is a risk that the work may not be correctly done. We can reduce the risk by coaching our people. We should also be ready to take recovery action when mistakes arise. It is an imperative for us to take risks, but we must manage it.

3. Let go!It is often easier to do a piece of work ourselves than to get someone else to do it. But such an approach denies the opportunity for our people to grow. In the same way parents wean out a child as he matures into teenage and then adulthood, we must be willing to let go so that our people may grow.

letterAt the end of it all, the space we operate in is not static. It is dynamic. It may grow or shrink. We win it one day and may lose it the next. How the space changes depends on how we manage the relationship. Managing space is all about nurturing, calibrating and sustaining a good healthy relationship with our boss and our people.

All that I have shared here are my personal empirical observations. They have helped me manage my own space. I hope they will be helpful to you in your own learning to manage and grow your space.

Mr Lim Hup Seng is the immediate past Deputy Secretary (Performance), Ministry of Finance. He retired from the Public Service on Nov 1, 2009. He is now Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Advisor to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and IDA International. He also conducts occasional programmes at the Civil Service College.

    Mar 1, 2010
    Lim Hup Seng
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