Friday, August 27, 2004

The Lost Meeting of IT Process Gaps

The other day I overheard a group of three IT workers (DBA's and Database Developers) candidly discussing their views of IT process problems that related to their jobs. They talked about responsibilities, gaps or shortcomings in roles and responsibilities, and the interdependencies between their group and the other groups of front-end developers, Quality Assurance and the Business Analysts. This was not a gripe session, nor these people complains. They are smart, hard workers and have good attitudes. They were discussing items such as why do we allow specs to come in late, rush critical process like promotion of code to production, continue to repeat mistakes, miss obvious gaps in roles and responsibilities. They cared about their work, wanted to be productive, and were thoughtful about how things are and how things could be.

I thought that their views would be valuable to management, but my guess is that management will never hear any of it. It feels as it as soon as there is an official meeting to discuss process problems, no one shares the views openly and honestly. For the most part, people don't want to appear mean, crititical or attacking, or hurt important interdepartment relationships, and certainly they do not want jeopardize their career future by commenting on management itself.

So how do we get insight from those closest to IT processes (and problems)? If meetings don't do it, perhaps lunch one-on-one's would. After 5 - 10 lunch meetings, a more clear and well-rounded view of issues might come into view. If any specific issues came up that needed to be dealt with, it would be more difficult for the group to feel that any one person was a whistle-blower. Additionally, issues with a manager might be approachable because the manager is not in front of a group and potentially embarrassed.

At the very least, one might get to know their workers better, and the workers would feel valued and appreciated for the time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

...You Need to Know, Pt. 3 - Leadership

For the past two posts, I have been reviewing Marcus Buckingham talk "One Thing You Need to Know." This is the final post on the session.

The job as a leader, according to Buckingham, is to rally people to a better future. One trait of leaders is that they are deeply, deeply optimistic. They are not naive, nor unaware of the dangers and difficulties. They have egos to lead. Some would say a leader should have strong ethics and integrity. We all should have that. But leaders have self-confidence and assurance above what most people, including managers, have. Leaders want to steer the boat, and believe in their hearts that they should be the one to do it.

Leaders find what is universal about their people and capitalize on it. One universal trait among people is fear of the unknown. And leaders traffic there.

The disciplines of leadership are:
1. Reflection, typically on excellence. Many people fail because they fail to understand what success means.
2. Picking the right heroes.
3. Practice - the words, stories to answer the universal fears and concerns of their people.
4. Clarity. Who do we serve? What is our core strength? What is our core score/metric? What actions can we take today? Why will we win? What is our competitive advantage?

Getting back to engaging workers, outstanding management and leadership engages people, not leaving 20% actively disengaged, wasted potential, like, as Buckingham said, "sundials in the shade."

More on Gallup's Q12 that lead to First, Break All the Rules here...
A summary of the strengths movement is here and related materials here.

Monday, August 23, 2004

...You Need to Know, Pt. 2 - Management

In my previous post I review the first part of Markus Buckingham's session, covering the value of engaging employees. In this post, I'll review how management and leadership does this through management (Leadership will be Part 3).

Management's chief responsibility, says Buckingham, is to take their talent (people) and turn it into performance. They are a catalyst, and genuinely believe in their people. Great managers find what is unique about each of the workers, and capitalize on it. Buckingham compared it to the difference between chess and checkers. Good chess players understand how to take advantage of the different moves the pieces can make. The managers do this by:
1. Knowing a person's strengths and weaknesses, and managing around the weaknesses.
2. Knowing a person's triggers (what motivates them). This could be what work week schedule works best for them, more face-time with their boss, more independence, having an audience, being praised in front of peers or praise from the customer, awards, certificates.
3. Knowing a person's optimal learning style:
a. Analyzer - leave them alone with the directions. They hate mistakes. Don't ever throw them into a situation where they must perform right from the start.
b. Doer - Throw 'em in the ring and let them have it. They learn doing it. Give them the task, state the expected result, and get out of the way. For them, work doesn't have meaning unless it is for a real situation (meeting, presentation, production).
c. Watcher - Learns by imitation, watching. Have them rides shotgun with your best employee.

How does a manager learn what motivates their employee and what the employee's optimal learning style is? Pay attention. Ask them questions such as:
1. What was your best day at work? Why? How can you repeat it?
2. What was your worst day at work? Why? How could you avoid it?
3. What was your best manager relationship?
4. What was the best recognition you ever had?
5. When in your career did you learn the most? Why?

More on my next post...

Friday, August 20, 2004

Marcus Buckingham - One Thing You Need to Know

It's been a week now since I heard Marcus Buckingham's session "Discovering your Leadership Strength." Marcus Buckingham is the coauthor of First, Break All the Rules, as well as other articles and books.

Marcus' talk was focused on management and leadership and the impact of engaging employees has on company performance. Gallup polls had asked employees around the world if they felt they had the tools and skills to do their job (competent), knew what was expected (focused), and believed in what the company's mission (confident/spirited). Gallup then categorized workers as being Engaged, Neutral, or Actively Disengaged, depending on how the questions were answered. Engaged workers are in their "sweet spot", but account for only 29% of the workforce in the US. Of the rest, 55% were neutral and 16% were actively disengaged (Marcus jokingly said "bitter"). A German paper had reported on this information, and translated actively disengaged as "quitting in the brain."

The difference of having engaged or actively disengaged is reflected in one nationwide chain that had employee turnover of 10-15% in one store and over 200% in another store in the same area. Same company, same area, same company policies, same job descriptions, same benefits. Another company measured part of its success via safety. One site had 0% of employee accidents for the year, while another had 25% in only two months. Once again, same company, same safety policies, but different local engaged or disengaged workers.

Per Marcus, a company creates:
  • Competent people by how the company picks and trades them
  • focused people based on how the manage them and
  • Spirited workers through how the company leads.
I'll review how management and leadership does these three things on my next post.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tim Sanders Session at The Leadership Summit

I attended several sessions of The Leadership Summit last week.

Tim Sanders , Leadership Coach for Yahoo!, shared that we often don't have faith in our people or ourselves. There are those that have an attitude of 'scarcity', driven by fear of competition and filled with a sense of lack, what they don't have. It's the difference between social networking for other's benefit and networking for personal gain (which he said is actually prospecting or brokering). He gave a good word picture by saying "It's the difference between being a gardener and a butcher."

Tim said that at Yahoo!, if you are driven by scarcity (nay-sayer, doom and gloom), they will literally stamp a piece of paper with "Chicken Little" and stick it to your back, to be left there all day.

Tim made me think how often I look to the negative side of a situation. In software development, we need to look at the possible concequences, but really only as risk analysis. Even then, the downside should perhaps only be considered, noted, and then everyone should move forward on the project focussing on the upside. This doesn't mean be unrealistic, niave, or wear rose-colored glasses, it only means that we decide to concentrate our energy on the possible positive outcomes, encourage others, and be a contributor to the solution. And an IT project, we could all agree, is much more than flowcharts and code.