Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers

In most of the employee engagement surveys you read that one of the top reasons why people leave their companies is their manager. It is not about money, it is not about work, it is not about team, it is about the boss.

Every now and then you run into someone on the management team or in leadership position that leaves you wondering how that person could get there. These individuals are often smart, they appear to be confident, and play nice with their managers. The real issue shows up when you see how they communicate with people who they deem unworthy, people with lower status, their teams, or people who may threaten their position. I’m talking about jerks in management.

Since this can be a rather broad term let’s go to Merriam-Webster dictionary that defines jerk as “an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded – a selfish jerk”. This is the type of boss I’m talking about.

So how do such people get into management? The question you have to ask, is about causality. Do people become jerks after being promoted? Or do they get promoted because they are jerks? Some research indicates that self-centered, narcissistic and confrontational personalities have bigger chance to become managers. Not necessarily good managers, but because of their ability to present themselves well they tend to be seen as confident and persuasive. If the company doesn’t screen carefully their management candidates it easily happens that these people get into management roles ahead of those who have more suitable qualities and actually lead people and are helpful.

The problem with a jerk is that he doesn’t know he is a jerk. These characters truly believe they are great because their egocentrism prevents self-reflection. It is only the surrounding people, the culture, the company who suffer. The only decent remedy is to limit the scope of interaction of these brilliant jerks or to remove them from the team altogether.

Aside of the ones who got to management because of their jerkiness you have a second type of management tyrants. Those who became one over time. They were completely fine individual contributors who got increasingly antisocial once they got to a management positions. The great thing is that these people are not inherently damaged. They are not jerks, they just act that way. For these people it is usually something that can be changed with feedback, training, and help from outside.

So what are the reason why good people turn bad when getting to management? And what can you do to prevent it?

Why managers become jerks:

  1. They follow a leader who is a jerk – this is leading by example at its worst. Because they work or worked for a jerk they emulate behavior that made their boss successful.
  2. They feel insecure – often because they feel they don’t have the skills to do the job. They are new to management but they want to appear strong and so they overdo it.
  3. They are part of a toxic company culture – if the company culture permits this behavior and even rewards it then very few people will have the strength to fight it. They will make decisions that goes even against their core values even without realizing it. They often end up with low ethical standards and can justify their jerkiness in the name of bigger good.
  4. They reached their state of incompetence – sometimes called as a Peter Principle as coined by Laurence J. Peter. The theory is that you are being awarded by promotions for a good work in your current role until you reach your level of incompetence and that is where you spend the rest of your life being miserable because you are way over your head and can’t succeed.
  5. They have low emotional intelligence – they never felt the need to exercise the emotional intelligence muscle. Often you see this with highly technical people who are experts in their fields and can win any dispute just by using technical knowledge itself. When they get to management they don’t understand how to communicate with others by any other means.
  6. They are managers for the status or money – they got to management for the wrong reasons. Not because they want to lead and help others. They reached the status they wanted and now will do whatever it takes to hold to it. They stopped caring about doing a good job or about other people and want to bask in the glory of being a boss.
  7. They sit on too many chairs – this is true especially for people who get promoted and still keep doing their individual contributor job. They have competing priorities, focusing on their old job, which they are good at, instead of trying to learn to be a good manager. They are bottleneck for their teams, have no time to grow and develop themselves as well as the people they are responsible for.
  8. They had no training – and thus don’t really know what to do. This is especially important in small companies and start-ups where new managers or founders have no one good to learn from. Because of that they often resort to a brute force since it seems like the easiest way to get things done if you don’t have any other tools in your management toolbox.

What can you do to change that? As you can see most of the items listed above are based on external circumstances that can be changed. You can mitigate most of them by following couple of basic rules:

  1. Understand well people’s motivation for wanting to get to management and when the reasons are not right, don’t let them. Even if it means they may leave the company.
  2. Promote people to management because they are ready, not because they are great at doing their current job.
  3. Don’t allow jerks to keep their jobs and deal with them quickly and decisively, otherwise you are implying that this sort of behavior is fine and others will imitate it.
  4. Provide enough training in how to communicate, manage, and lead before you ask people to do so.
  5. Make a clear cut between the former and new job. Don’t let them sit on too many chairs and make it easy for them to let go of the past responsibilities.

These are the very basic things that you can do to help others, especially new managers, to avoid the trap of turning from great employees to lousy bosses. But what if you are the one who just got promoted? What if you don’t want to rely on others to help you but want to make sure you don’t become a jerk? Let’s talk about this next week.

 

Do you think you can recognize when you are acting as a jerk? What are the signs in others that tell you they are being inconsiderate?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How To Manage Your Manager

Most of us are reporting to someone. We have a boss. It might be the first line manager, director, vice president, CEO, or a board of directors. One could even say that the customer is our ultimate boss but I won’t go that far in this article. Let’s stay with the person above you in the organizational structure of a company.

The common logic is that the manager manages the team. The less common view, but as much important, is that the employee also needs to manage his or her manager. Why? We are not slaves. We are all human beings with the same basic rights. Only we ourselves are responsible for taking care of our needs. The manager may have a positional power over us but that doesn’t mean we just follow orders. In this article, I will describe what you can do to manager your manager, why it is important, and how it can help both of you to be successful.

Managing up versus sucking up

Managing up has a certain negative connotation. Often confused with sucking up to your boss. However, these two terms couldn’t be more different. Sucking up really means that you are the “yes man”. You are doing everything in your power to please the boss, to appear in the best light, and earn some plus points. Your hope is that by being favorite “pet” you will gain some privileges not available to others who don’t suck up. This means that you don’t shy away from throwing others under the buss if it helps to improve your own image.

This is obviously unhealthy behavior. It may work in short term to advance your career but it will definitely destroy your reputation, kill your long-term prospects, make the team dysfunctional and ultimately make you entirely dependent on the good graces of your boss instead of on your own skills and effort.

In contrast, managing up is an ability to talk to your boss as an equal. He or she is your partner in getting the work done and in fulfilling company’s mission. Managing up is about setting boundaries and rules on how you and your manager work together. It is about agreement how you stay in dialog, how you set priorities, how you keep each other informed and how you hold each other accountable. It is about understanding the needs of the other person and helping them to achieve their goals.

Setting boundaries

The first thing to do is to sit with your new manager and talk about how you will work together. You want to understand how your boss works, what are his general expectations in terms of updates, reports, escalations. You should clarify the level of details he wants to be involved in. You should talk about whether he wants to be informed when you need to talk to his management or to other departments. You should agree on “no surprises” rule. Nothing is more embarrassing for your boss when he is being confronted by his manager with something you have done and he has no clue. You can read more on this topic in No Surprises In Management Please.

You should also talk about how you work and whether it is compatible with your manager’s expectations. Especially in today’s hectic environment, you should clarify what level of availability and responsiveness is expected.

The boundaries conversation also needs to tackle the topic of feedback. How you give each other feedback? Being it work related or developmental. This may be tough to do on the very first meeting but it is important to indicate that you appreciate any feedback your manager is willing to give you and that you are also available to provide feedback when asked.

Setting communication rules

Agreeing on how your manager expects to communicate with you is probably the most important conversation to have. Each of us is used to different communication channels, may have different way how we receive and process information, and may be used to different way of communication from previous job or even from other colleagues.

It is important to agree with your manager on what communication channel is preferred for what information. For example, you may agree that normal updates are best over emails to read at his or her own leisure, but any escalations or concerns should be communicated face to face or over the phone. This agreement is extremely important when you have a remote boss, and hyper important when he or she sits in a different time zone. You can read more on the topic in So You’ve Got A Remote Boss. Tricky.

You can be very flexible and adjust to the needs of your boss with one big exception. Never agree to not communicate! You need to build a solid relationship and that will not happen when you or your boss are avoiding interactions. If your manager says that there is no reason to talk regularly, insist on it anyway. You can appeal to his ego by asking for help, acknowledging you can learn from him, or just state plainly that it would help you grow and you feel a regular contact will help build good relationship between two of you. If you talk with your boss only when there are problems your relationship will have a significantly negative undertone. You need to take 100% responsibility for making the relationship work.

I personally have a tendency to over-communicate with my managers so the conversation I would have with any new boss is along the lines, “I’m used to copying my boss on all emails that may be eventually brought to your attention. I don’t necessarily expect you to read them, but I want to make sure you have them available if your manager or someone from other departments asks. If I need your help I will specifically indicate that in the subject of the email. Does this work for you?”

As you see I’m not asking “How do you want me to communicate?” since it would put me in a passive role of the one who needs to adjust. By proactively describing how the communication could look like you ensure your voice is heard and needs fulfilled. The boss can always say “no”. In my case, sometimes the answer was, “works for me.” Sometimes the answer was, “no need, just include me when you need help.” Regardless of the answer, it helped manage the expectations.

Setting goals, priorities and check-points

This is not article about goals and priorities setting so I’m listing it here just for completeness. Having clearly set goals, understood priorities, and agreed upon check-points is critical for healthy, surprise free, working relationship. You may check some of my thoughts on the topic in The Puzzle Of Performance Goals and How To Make SMART Goals Smarter.

Asking for help

One of the key things your boss can do for you is to remove obstacles. In fact, you will read this in almost every book about leadership that leaders are here to show vision and then get out of the way. The only time when they should step in is to remove roadblocks so you can achieve the agreed goals.

This means that you need to have a clear understanding with your boss about what level of issues he or she can help you with. It can be a very general statement along the lines of “when you run into something you can’t figure out let me know and I will help you.” It can be also something much more specific, “once you are ready to present the proposal to the CEO let me know so we review it together and then I can help you by pushing it from my side.”

The key is to have a clearly stated agreement with your manager that it is fine to ask for help and it won’t be held against you.

Offering help

To paraphrase JFK “don’t ask what your manager can do for you, ask what you can do for him”. Why? Good relationships are all about trust. How do you build trust? There are couple of ways to do it, but the basic one is to make sure that the other person sees that you have his wellbeing on top of your mind. If you accomplish that, chances are he will reciprocate.

When your boss sees that you are willing to help him solve his problems it dramatically increases the trust he has in you. He will trust your skills, your loyalty, and ultimately will find you indispensable. The common sense says that when you are indispensable you are in much better negotiation position to get what you need. When you can easily show the value you provide, it has a direct impact on your ability to get the next interesting project, the next promotion, the raise, or the freedom to work the way you want.

You don’t need to do much. Just asking whether there is anything you can help with, will do the trick. Even better approach may be to get clues from what was discussed or what you already know your manager is working on and ask if you can help with that specific problem. In long-term, the best approach is to ask about his or her priorities. Every now and then, I would ask my boss about what his top priorities for the next couple of months are and then see if I can bring some value and solve his problems for him, or at least contribute to the solution.

The beautiful side effect of this practice is that you are getting opportunities to do parts of your manager’s job and that allows you to learn new skills and expand your job. In simple terms, it allows you grow. You don’t need to wait on anyone to give you these opportunities. It is you, who is enabling this growth for yourself!

The next time you have a conversation with your manager don’t talk only about your needs and what you need from him. Before you end the conversation just ask a simple question “is there anything I can help you with?”

 

How important do you believe is managing your manager? How do you manage your manager? What tools are you giving your team so they can manage you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

100 Days In New Management Role

You just joined a new company in a senior management capacity. What to do? You want to make a mark. You want to show who is the boss. You want to show the team you are the right choice. You want to be seen as a decisive and fair leader. You want to show that you are bringing value. You want to justify to the other managers at the company that you being hired rather than them being promoted was the right thing. And you want to show to your boss that he made the right call hiring you.

So how do you do all of that? Have a plan! As the 6P rule goes (Perfect Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance), do your homework and have a clear plan on what you want to achieve over the first hundred days. Share this plan with your new boss and even with the team and follow through.

Day 0 (Before you even start)

The higher the position the more preparation is needed since you are expected to hit the ground running. You don’t want to show up on the first day and have no clue what the company culture looks like, what the major challenges are, what the expectations from you are, what the industry looks like, who the customers and main competitors are, and what questions you should ask. You don’t want to be seen as ignorant the very first day on the job. First impressions die hard. You don’t need to know every single detail, it would be too difficult for an outsider to discover anyway, but you need to understand the major themes. Before you even start you should:

  • Meet with your future boss to understand your mission, why you are being brought on board
  • You need to research the competitive landscape and understand the business at the level any outsider can
  • You need to know how the company is doing, what its mission is what it claims to stand for (you will have opportunity to verify these when you start)
  • If possible you should also ask around and research what the customers and former employees say about the company
  • And you need to prepare a couple of ready to deliver speeches about who you are, why you are here, what you believe in, and why people should listen to you since you need to be setting some expectations from day one

Day 1 – 40 (Listen & Understand)

The very first day is the day when your listening journey starts. The first weeks on the job needs to be for you to understand the company and the people you will work with. You already have some understanding from your previous research but now you can dig into details. So what are the key things to do in the first forty days?

  • Meet with your management team and every single team member (if the team is small enough) or at least with key employees (if you are heading a large organization), listen and understand various aspects of the company, its mission, culture, values, and who is on board
  • Meet with representatives from other departments to understand what their roles are, how your team fits the picture, and to start building relationships
  • Meet with key partners, vendors, 3rd parties and understand the relationships
  • Spend time with a person who formerly held the job, or someone who is at similar level in the company to understand the history and expected future
  • Clearly define the role with your boss and understand what are the boundaries and communication channels between various groups
  • Sit with your boss and agree on performance goals for the first year (or whatever timeframe makes sense for the company’s business model)
  • Build relationships with all key stakeholders (employees, management, partners, customers)
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of the organization that will help you formulate your next actions

Day 41 – 100 (Strategize & Set expectations)

You have a long list of meetings behind you. You have heard the points of view of all the key stakeholders. You have an understanding of how the company operates, what are the core values, and hopefully, have a good grasp on how things are being done. Now is the time to set up a plan:

  • Review the current performance plans and formulate strategy going forward
  • Identify the biggest opportunities both in the market as well as for internal improvement
  • Develop a SWOT analysis (or whatever framework you decide to use to clearly state your views of the company or department) and compare with current thinking of the management team
  • Decide what are we going to bet on and what are we going to cut (this is always the most difficult decision since most likely you wouldn’t be able to do everything and you need to keep yourself and the team focused on what matters the most)
  • Agree on values and culture we are trying to create and point out what values you believe the company lives based on the interviews you had with the employees (more on this in You Can’t Lead Without Values And Principles)
  • Start working on plugging holes in the team (if any) to support the strategy
  • Set the tone (leadership style) and clearly articulate the expectations you have from the team
  • Establish credibility and acceptance by the organization by leading by example and generally behaving in a trustworthy manner (more on this in Trust And Credibility Beats Vision And Strategy)

Day 100+ (Execute)

Your hundred days passed. Now you should be in full execution mode. But before you get to the day to day nitty gritty work you probably want to close the onboarding loop with couple more action items:

  • Review the 100 days with your boss
  • Review organizational structure, make changes as needed and put together developmental plans for the team aligned with strategy
  • Create sense of urgency (I know it is not a popular term, so call it whatever you wish but just make sure that everyone in the organization is focused on helping the company achieve its goals) and execute on the strategy agreed

I know that the list is hardly comprehensive and is prone to change due to specific circumstances related to the role in question and the company. I have originally put the list together when asked how the first hundred days as a CEO should look like. When I look at it now, I feel it is relevant enough for most of the management roles. What will differ is the depth and details into which you will want to dive. The key takeaway is that “listen and understand” is more important than “having a quick impact” unless you are being brought in for a turnaround situation.

 

What is your approach to getting oriented in a new role? What are the priorities for the first 100 days and how does it differ with seniority? Do you believe it is more important to “have a quick impact” or to “listen and understand”?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Open Door Policy Just Doesn’t Work

As more and more companies move to modern methods of management and words like empowerment, coaching, and meaning float around there is also a popular concept of “open door policy”. Many managers and HR departments would subscribe and even advertise the notion that the company is trying to create an open and transparent environment and everyone should always feel free to raise their voice and point out issues. But does it actually work? And what steps you as a leader need to take to make sure your team really comes to you with concerns and ideas?

Open door policy

In its essence, open door policy is a way of communication in which a manager leaves his virtual “office door” open to employees. The idea is to encourage informal, open, and transparent communication between the company and the employees. Anyone can at any point approach the manager and suggest improvement, come up with concern or provide feedback. It sounds great and something one should strive for but it has its downsides. How many of your employees actually do come to you on their own? Chances are that not too many. Why? There are numerous reasons. It can be that they don’t really trust you and are afraid to provide feedback. Doing it anonymously would be preferable. Or they feel that if you want to know something you will ask. Or they believe you probably thought of the idea yourself so why to bring it up. Or they are introverted. Or they simply don’t know how to breach the subject.

There are also other aspects of the open door policy that can create a rather messy working environment. If people cannot talk to their boss, he is not around or doesn’t care they may talk to others. That is what open door policy encourages. Go and talk to HR, or do a skip level meeting with your bosses boss, and since that person does not have enough context it is a great opportunity to play some politics.

In short, open door policy does not work unless the manager puts enough effort into making it work.

Management by walking around

It is your role and responsibility to reach out and build relationships. Some time ago, I wrote an article Management By Walking And Sitting Around where I talked about the importance of being “with the team”. It is a great way to start building relationships with your employees and to remove some of the worries they may have with approaching you. So let me sum up the basics as described in the article above:

  • Walk – be on the floor with your team every single day to create opportunities for people to talk to you and for them to know you are there for them.
  • Talk – talk about them, life, hobbies, family, business, what they work on, what issues they have, reinforce the goals and acknowledge the job well done.
  • Remember – get to know your team, remember the things important to them, or even the small things you can follow up on later on to show you care.
  • Follow up – if you promised to do something during your walk then make sure you follow up, do the action items and get back to the person with results.
  • Make a habit of it – do it and do it often since there is nothing more important than leading your team.
  • Sit – sit with the team to understand their daily problems and struggles. It is a great to understand how the work is being done and what you can do to help.
  • Show – when you sit with your team, you should be at your best behavior. This is a unique opportunity to show how you expect the team to work without even talking about it.

Open floor policy

Open floor policy goes a step beyond the management by walking around. It is not only about you being visible and having good relationship with your employees. It is about regularly seeking feedback and closing loops on any open issues.

So let us expand our management by walking around by three more steps:

  • Seek – seek feedback on what can be done better by you and by the team. It does not have to be a big conversation about huge issues the company has. If done on daily basis chances are that it will be small things that can be easily adjusted to and the team can quickly see results. If they see you are listening to what they are saying it will encourage them to say more.
  • Find – ask for problems even when no proposed solutions exists. It is a corporate mantra “bring me solutions, not problems” and there are situations where it really should work that way. It always looks better when you come to your boss pointing out a problem and at the same time propose a way to fix it. This is definitely true when the solutions to the problems are within your competence and sphere of influence. However, if you create environment like this then you are also saying “if you don’t have a solution don’t come to me at all”. And that is not particularly healthy situation and can lead to people not raising their concerns. In your walk around the office make sure people understand that they can bring you problems and you will work on solutions together.
  • Close – close loops and ensure that when feedback is provided to you the employees also see what actions were taken base on this feedback. When it comes to feedback the surest way to discourage it is to ignore it. People will tell you once, twice, maybe three times and then they just stop. If they believe you will ignore what they say, then why make the effort and say anything? It is the same as with any surveys. You may fill in the survey and answer bunch of questions but if you do not see any results of this effort. If no one communicates what was done with your feedback, then chances are you will not participate the second time.

When you do these things then you pretty much eliminate any negative aspects of the open door policy and only the good is left. The team simply has enough trust in you that they will come to you with any issues they may have and you have a truly open and transparent environment. And if the team does talk to people several levels above or to HR there are no surprises. You and your team are aligned.

Keep in mind that it will not work from day one. Since it is issue of trust you first need to show to the team that you are trustworthy. You can find some thoughts on this one in You Can’t Lead Without Values And Principles. Over time with some small wins the team will be more and more open, feedback will start flowing, and the truly open and transparent communication kicks in.

 

What are your thoughts on open door policy? Does it work? And what about management by walking around? Do you practice it and what is your experience with it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Management Rule Of 6F

A lot was written about what it means to be a good manager and a leader. I’m not going to talk about difference between a manager and a leader, though you can get my thoughts on the topic from my other posts. Instead, I will focus on the six attributes that a strong leader and a manager have in common. Regardless whether you work with people reporting to you, peers, or just a random group of people you will significantly increase your chance of being seen as a strong leader and you will improve the chances of project’s success if you follow what I would call the rule of 6F.

Fast

Be fast. To get things done you actually need to go and do them. Endless, planning and talking about what needs to be done just delays the inevitable. At some point you either do it or not. Why not to move fast and make decisions as soon as you have at least some basic data. No need to wait for all the data, all the opinions, and the right time. The right time is now! For more thoughts on decision making and moving fast check these posts Tough Choice: The Art Of Decision Making, Want To Be Seen As A Leader? Be Fast!

Focused

Focus on the activity at hand. Learning to be present in the moment and fully focus on the task you are doing is key in both, moving fast and getting things done with good quality. Don’t check emails every five minutes, don’t let your mind wander to what needs to be done tomorrow. Just eliminate distractions and fully live in the moment. One of the tricks you can try is to split your work into small tasks that require only short amount of time to complete. That way you don’t need to worry about missing out on what is happening around you. For more thoughts on this check Getting Stuff Done: The Right Tactics.

Flexible

Being fast and focused is good only as long as you complement it with enough flexibility to change direction when needed. If something doesn’t work you should recognize it fast and stop doing it. Routines are a great way to safe some decision making power but at the same time they bring a danger of being stuck in doing something that doesn’t have the priority right now. Being able to admit mistakes, flexibly react to changes in environment is a must for a good leader.

Fair

People will follow you only if they see that you have a vision, you know where you are going, and you have their good on top of your mind. Being fair (whatever it means) is a key. You should always strive to be inclusive, never discriminate or be biased towards others whatever the reasons. You also need to realize that the same action on your part can be seen by some as fair and by others as unfair so first you need to start with defining of what “fair” means to you and then be very clear with people around you what that definition is. For more on being fair check Life Is Not Fair! So What?

Friendly

Creativity is a cornerstone of knowledge based economy. And creativity strives in a relaxed atmosphere where people are not worried about voicing their thoughts and concerns, where they can build on each other’s ideas without worry of being ridiculed or their ideas stolen. As a leader you need to be friendly and approachable. Everyone on the team needs to be able to come and talk to you without worry of persecution. People need to trust you and being friendly is one of the ways how to ensure that. They of course it is a question of competence and integrity. Read more on being friendly versus being friends in Are You Friends Or Just Colleagues?

Firm

Be friendly but don’t try to be a friend. You need to be able to offer sympathetic ear and at the same time be able to make tough decisions. You need to be able to hold people accountable to achieve the team’s goals. It is you as a leader who sets the tone on what communication and work culture the team has. If you constantly give in to pressure, if you overlook others not doing their job, if you treat people differently only because they are friends, you will slowly create a pretty toxic culture. Being able to hold others accountable and focused and do it respectfully while maintaining positive atmosphere is one of the most useful skills you can learn. More on keeping people accountable in How To Deal With Broken Promises.

When you put it all together a strong leader is Fast to act, Focused on execution, Flexible in thinking, Fair in dealing with team members, Friendly to everyone around, and Firm in dealing with issues.

 

What are the attributes that help you being successful at leading others? Would you agree with the list, is anything missing? Is there anything that wouldn’t be too important in your culture?

Originally posted at LinkedIn. Follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

12 Principles Of Agile For HR Professionals

Are you a manager or an HR professional working for a software development organization that is moving towards agile way of developing software? Have you considered what you need to do not only to change your processes but also to change the minds and hearts of people on your team? Last week I talked about The Agile Manifesto and how does it translate to people management Agile Manifesto For HR Professionals. This week I will dig a bit deeper into practical details using The Twelve Principles of Agile Software as a guiding force:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software – for the purpose of people management you can translate “customer” into “employee”. So what are the needs your employees have that you should satisfy? It starts with fair salary and considerate treatment and leads to career opportunities and continuous development. When employee leaves your company she should be better than when she joined. More knowledgeable, with bigger value on the job market, and better equipped to deal with the world out there. This all means you need to lead by example, instill the right values and let (and encourage) people to grow. Consider what is written in Don’t Manage. Empower!, One Question You Should Never Ask and The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage – always be ready to challenge your team to do better and/or new work. At the same time be ready to adjust your HR practices in a way the business needs. This means that you cannot have too many heavyweight processes that are difficult to change and you cannot have everything documented. Just document the minimum required by law (keep in mind different labor laws in different countries) and then use (and encourage others to use) a common sense in dealing with daily problems.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale – what is the most critical work you as a manager or HR professional need to deliver to your team? Feedback! To enable your team to grow you need to continuously deliver feedback. Don’t wait for big yearly performance review but offer small pieces in a timely manner. This is the way you will help your employees growing. For some tips on how to deliver feedback check Now, How May I Help You?, and you can check what to do when you have to deal with underperformers The Art Of Giving Second Chances.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project – don’t pretend you know all the answers. If you want to introduce new policies or to change a strategy just talk to your team. Working together will ensure that you are not making rush decisions and will help you to introduce changes. By involving others and getting their buy-in you make any transition much smoother. There are many ways how to work with the team in such a way that at the end of the conversation you have a clarity and common understating of why something needs to be done, what is the ultimate goal and how to get there. Try to use tips described in What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done – you need to get the right people. You can always train skills but you cannot really teach attitude and motivation. These need to come from within and your job is to ensure the right people are joining the team. Once you have these people on board, give them a vision and tools they need and then just be there to listen, provide feedback and help removing obstacles. You can get some tips on how to hire great people in these articles Hire For Strengths, Not Lack Of Weaknesses, Getting The Perfect Hire, and Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation – spent us much time with your team as possible. It is not that you want to micromanage, it is that you need to be around to help. Your role is to serve the team by providing means to create value and help dealing with problems. Regardless whether you are located in one location or have the team spread geographically your job is to over-communicate. You can check some tips and follow some of the practices described in Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient and It Doesn’t Matter What You Say.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress – let’s translate this to people management speak as “working and motivated team is a primary measure of management/HR success”. The business goals will be delivered only by those who have a mission, understand the end goals, have the skills, are motivated and are able to work well together to reach these goals. If you are a manager who “manages processes” then you have no place in having any subordinates. The real managers and leaders don’t spend their time by managing processes but rather they spend majority of their time managing and helping the people they are responsible for. More on this in You Manage Things, You Lead People.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely – understand that even the most loyal and hardworking person will break eventually if not given chance to recuperate. You may ask your team to go above and beyond every now and then putting them under undue pressure every single day will just lead to their burn out, low morale and nonexistent productivity. Challenging the team to do a bit more than yesterday is fine since that is the way to grow but it needs to be done carefully and within reason. This goes to all aspects of managing teams. It is great to be flexible and change often but there is a threshold beyond which more changes and challenges are not sustainable and will just wear people down. Everyone needs time to recuperate by slowing down a bit and having some level of stability. You can find more thoughts on moving fast while maintaining your sanity in Want To Be Seen As A Leader? Be Fast!
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility – leading by example and promoting the right values by refusing mediocrity is the key. Once you start tolerating or even worse doing a sloppy work others will see it and consider it acceptable. Mediocrity is the ultimate enemy of greatness. If you want your teams to be great you need to show them what great means (lead by example). You also need to constantly work with the team members and identify those who are not buying into the vision, who don’t want to collaborate with the team, who don’t have the skills or who decided to they don’t really want to contribute. Once identified you need to deal with them quickly. Help them up level their skills, help them to understand the goals, help them to connect with the right people or if these don’t work help them out of the company. Even one bad apple can spoil the rest and it is your role as a manager or HR professional to act swiftly. Consider some of the thoughts in Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore and How Can You Motivate Others? You Can’t!
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential – as Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. When it comes to HR practices it teaches you to avoid micromanagement, to avoid unnecessary red tape and comprehensive regulations. Finding the minimum of things that should be documented to satisfy the law and the need of the organization is one of the most difficult tasks HR person can have. It is way too easy to succumb to the mindset “we should have a policy for this” every time a people problem comes up. Resist this and rather spend the effort of educating the teams on what fair treatment, open and honest communication, transparency, and collaboration actually means. If you spend all your time on writing and enforcing policies than you have no time to actually help others to learn, no time for providing feedback and helping to build the culture of getting things done. This is a very tricky proposition especially in distributed teams coming from various cultural backgrounds but everything is possible. You can check some tips in So You’ve Got A Remote Team. Tricky… part I., part II., and part III.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams – one of the most controversial (to some) and difficult aspects of the agile movement. Once you hire great people you need to let them do their job. Self-organizing teams are a way to prevent undue pressure from people who should have no say in what is being worked on. It doesn’t mean you need to introduce holacracy or similar concepts. It means you need to create a clarity around who is responsible for what and not mess with it every time a small issue comes up. To be able to let the teams run free and get the job done you need to have the right mix of people in the team. Building meshed organization where each cell contains all the skills necessary to get the work done is the key. Extensive reliance on collaboration across different departments who may have competing goals is not the way to go if you want to have highly agile environment. Some thoughts on how to build such a team are share in this article How To Build A Team And Not A Random Group Of People and How To Hire A Strong Software Development Team.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly – and we are back to feedback. One of the key services any manager or HR professional can provide to the organization is to provide or at least facilitate regular, frequent, and constructive feedback. This can mean helping to resolve any communication issues within the team, help people to grow or to help the team to act as a cohesive unit. For a healthy organization it is not only about feedback flowing from top to bottom but also about frequent feedback from the lower levels of the organization back to the top. Only by this you ensure that top management has good understanding of where the organization is and what to do to move it in the right direction. You can find some thoughts on dealing with communication issues and feedback in these articles How To Deal With Communication Issues, How To Deal With Broken Promises.

When you put it all together you will find that people management in agile environments is not about processes or a devote attention to a particular development and management ideology but rather about flexibility, trust, frequent feedback, transparency, and lots of communication between all the stakeholders.

 

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?

This may sound like a silly question but do you know who your team is? The answer is relatively simple if you are an individual contributor but gets rather tricky when you move to leadership role. I can hear you saying “my team are the people who work for me, who I lead”. Wrong. They are not your team, or at least not the primary one. They are their team. They may report to you but ultimately your team is someone else. Most often you would be part of a management team, or in case of special projects or global initiatives you may be part of some virtual team. Essentially, your team is a group of people where you are “one of the guys/girls”, the team where you act as individual contributor and not as a boss.

What’s wrong with a belief that your team are the people working for you?

Aside of the outdated paradigm that people work “for you” rather than “with you” the problem is that when you focus on the team reporting to you it inescapably leads to forming your focus, priorities and loyalties. You get into a habit of protecting your team from external forces (which is sort of fine as long as you do it in moderation), you spend your time with your subordinates rather than with your peers which leads to lack of alignment between different groups and different departments.

Most importantly this focus very often leads to what you can see in the work of George R.R. Martin A Game Of Thrones. Various fiefdoms warring with each other for power, resources, in the eternal struggle to have more land, bigger castle, and no opposition. In the corporate world this means that instead of various teams to be aligned, working for the same purpose, helping each other, and sharing rewards to move the business forward they don’t talk to each other. Or even worse, they actively sabotage each other’s effort to come up as winners. Ultimately, the business suffers and everyone loses.

What changes when you see your peers in management as your team?

So what happens if you change your paradigm and start looking at your peers from other departments as the primary team? What happens when the group of people who form management actually starts acting like a team? Well, it can have profound effects of the well-being of everyone in the “individual department teams” as well as overall success of the company.

I had the fortune to spend big portion of my management career being part of various “virtual teams”. For example, when building a brand new office in the Philippines I would be the only guy on the ground (employee number one, without any direct reports) but being part of a global company I definitely had a team, being it VPs of IT and HR in US, legal counsel in Singapore, VP of finance in Ireland, or HR manager in Australia. All these people were my team, some of them my peers, some even my superiors, but my purpose when it came to leadership was clear: Ensure that we have the same vision, work towards the same goals, keep each other informed about what individual departments are doing, keep each other honest and focused. In short it was about alignment, clarity and purpose. You can read some additional thoughts on this in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.

What can you do to form a true management team and not a group of warring kings?

Patrick M. Lencioni in his books The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks about why teams fail and how to form them. I would argue that even though the dysfunctions he describes are applicable to any team, they are most often visible in management teams where people have the mindset “my team are the people reporting to me, that is my powerbase, and that is where my loyalties are”.

So what Lencioni says the five dysfunctions are and what does it mean if you want to be a part of well-functioning management or virtual team?

  • Absence of trust – no trust among team members is the primary reason that leads to problems. People are unwilling to be vulnerable before each other because they are unsure about the agenda of the others. “If I show vulnerability someone else will use it and stab me in the back.” This then leads to unwillingness to discuss problems, ask questions, and most often to inability to share information and inability to communicate at all. So what can you do about it? I would suggest considering some thoughts from Coaching Approach To Leading People. Someone needs to be the first to extend the hand of peace. Trust will come when you trusting that others have good intention in mind, when you show vulnerability others might be willing to do the same, when you share information and ask non-threatening questions, and when you give credit to the other people on the team. It may be also a good idea to solicit help of external coach or mediator and spend couple of days as a team together to resolve the conflicts brewing in the background.
  • Fear of conflict – a natural extension of the trust problem. Because you don’t trust others and don’t know how they will react, you seek artificial harmony. At the outside it may look like you are the best pals but in reality there is very little of constructive debate and very often no communication at all. This leads to everyone on the team focusing on his or her own department and because of lack of communication at management level the whole organization is not aligned. What to do about it? Well, once you build the trust then it should be relatively easy to be willing to get into a conflict. Just make sure that before every possibly difficult conversation you have answers to the three basic questions “What do I want for me? What Do I want for the other party? What do I want for our relationship?” For more on fear and difficult conversations check 6 Fears Of Leadership, How To Deal With Communication Issues.
  • Lack of commitment – when people are afraid of conflict it leads to lack of commitment. Why? Instead of arguing when I disagree with something I would rather grudgingly comply and when no one is looking I wouldn’t even don’t act at all. This leads to organization where things are “being agreed on” but in reality because no one really buys-in they are not being executed. And when things are not being executed it creates environment of lots of activity, with lack of results and that ultimately means frustration of the best people. So how do you tackle that issue? It again builds on the previous bullet points. You need to fix the previous points and even try to create, and manage, conflict to clear the air and ensure that agreement actually really means agreement.
  • Avoidance of accountability – without clear commitment and unified vision people won’t feel accountable. And even if they do, they will not hold the rest of the team accountable since it would just create useless conflict and damage relationships within the team. Well, if you fix all the things above then calling people out if they don’t deliver on their promises should be again rather easy and won’t damage relationship between team members. When everyone is truly accountable the ability of the organization to execute and deliver on the vision will go through the roof. I would suggest you also check this article about How To Deal With Broken Promises.
  • Inattention to results – and this brings us to the last dysfunction as defined by Lencioni. Lack of accountability is a breeding ground for people focusing on their personal success, status, ego, or in better cases their departments but definitely not on the good of the virtual or management team. If you see this behavior in your organization it is a great way to realize that you indeed have a problem and that you need to get back to the basics and deal with all the dysfunctions as listed above one by one.

So after reading all this let me ask you? Who do you think your team is? Are you ready to shift your mindset and start paying attention also to the other teams you are part of and not only to the one you are formally in charge of? If yes, I wish you good luck and the energy and the personal courage necessary to deal with the basic dysfunctions of your team.

 

Who is your team? Do you live in the old paradigm of “my team are the people working for me” rather than “the people I work with”?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.