Saturday, May 31, 2008

Give honest and sincere appreciation.

I have been reading the book “How to Win Friends & Influence People” for the past several days. In a previous post I talked about the first of three principles the author considers fundamental in dealing with people.

The second fundamental principle is dealing with people is to “Give honest and sincere appreciation”. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well it may not be that simple. The key words in that principle are honest and sincere.

If it is not honest and sincere, the recipient will see through it like a cheap threadbare suit. You will not have the affect you wish, and you will have no credibility when you do mean it. A leader must be honest, and giving false appreciation (also known as flattery) will not get you anywhere. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Honest appreciation will often get results where criticism fails.

Why does honest and sincere appreciation have such a profound impact on people? It is because people want to feel appreciated, they want to feel important. The author argues that this is one of the key human wants, right up there with food and shelter.

This is why a good leader rewards (praises) their team members when they do good work and thanks (appreciates) them for all their efforts in helping the team achieve their objectives.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Overtime as an implied order

Every month the Macadamian Leadership team meets for some D&D. No, it's not Dungeons and Dragons, rather it is discussion and debate. Our topics are wide ranging, but always focused on one of Macadamian's core values, constant improvement.

Some of the topics we have covered in the past include:

  • Project tracking;
  • Software Development Process;
  • Estimation Process;
  • Usefulness of patch-a-day, and code reviews.

Today's meeting was about what strategies and lessons have we learned that can bring a project from red back to green.

We discussed a lot of different strategies, ranging from team member changes (addition and removal), to adjusting the forecasted dates and communicating the new delivery dates to the customer.

One of the Project Leader’s suggested that it might be better to do overtime rather then add a team member to the project. The PL argued that a new team member would distract the team during the ramp up period, and it would be awhile before the new team member was productive. Of course these are all true.

There is just one problem with asking for/requesting overtime, it is really easy for a team member to perceive that as an order.

Asking for overtime can be perceived as an implied order as it is a superior asking a subordinate for something, even when you preface it with “You don’t have to…” or “Feel free to say no...” etc. Most people want to please their manager, and will do what is asked for/requested even if they don’t want to.

Other examples of what could be perceived as implied orders include the manager saying something like "There is more work left then time", or if the Project Leader starts working overtime on his own when the team knows they are late.

If you need to ask for your team to work extra hours these simple suggestions will help:

  • be sure that you meet with them in person
  • ask them for feedback, and thank them when they give it;
  • make sure that there is a compensation plan in place for those extra hours;
  • reassure them that if they don’t work any extra hours, there will be no negative consequences (and mean it);
  • don't expect an answer on the spot;
  • thank them regardless of their decision.

Of course, a healthy work environment where the employee is trusted, respected, empowered, and overtime is the exception rather then the rule will also help alleviate the perception of an implied order.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What to do when you disagree with your lead

Today, one of the leads (I will call him Thomas) that works with me came into my office and asked for some advice. His manager at the customer was having a lot of issues with managing the whole team in their very hectic, fast paced environment.

Thomas' teammates had talked to him today to express their frustration on how things were going. There is obviously something that has to be done, but what? Thomas was very frustrated with his manager as well and wanted some advice on how deal with the situation.

This is always a difficult situation, and I wasn't sure how to handle this myself either, but asked him to do write me an email explaining the issues Thomas and his team were having. I asked him to outline what actions he thought was hurting the team. I mean actually causing confusion, wasted effort, regressions, resentment etc. Not just management styles that he disagreed with because they were different. Once I have this email, and Thomas' thoughts articulated on "paper" we can discuss the next actions.

I also told Thomas that you are smart, we trust you, and you are empowered to try and make changes at his level before I got involved. That being said, voice your disagreements in a courteous, professional manner, and don't get into a disagreement in front of the team. We don't want to diminish the manager in front of the team.

Sometimes being a good leader also means being a good follower.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Transparency, it's alpha blending for managers

A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune of having to tell a customer that we were going to deliver milestone 1 a few days late. As I am sure you are aware, it is never easy to tell the client this.

Undoubtedly, the following usually questions come up:
  • When will you deliver?
  • How confident are you on the new date?
  • What team changes (if any) are you going to make
  • etc
These questions usually lead to the question of "Why are you late?".

In this case, I had to pause before I answered this, I didn't think the answer was going to be one that they would like.

To provide a little background, this project was small in scope, the team was small, only one local developer and one global developer. Both of these developers were doing a great job. Productivity was greater then 100% and we were coming in under the estimates.

So how could we be late if we were doing better then the estimates?

Well, we were late as one of the developers ended up spending a significant amount of time at the start of the milestone finishing up some last minute tasks that popped up on his previous project, and hence didn't spend all of his time he was supposed to.

The decision was a simple one, fall back on our corporate (and personal) values and be transparent.

I told the customer that the developer had to spend some time on his previous project as a few last minute bugs came up. I told the customer that based on the metrics, we would be able to make up the time in the next milestones, and I also told him that we would do the same if required at the end of his project as we stand behind our work.

The client accepted all this without batting an eyelid, and thanked me for my honesty. It seems that honesty is the best policy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't criticize, condemn or complain.

I have started reading what has to be one of the oldest, most respected self-help books in the world, it was handed out to a few people at work by one of my co-workers.

How to Win Friends and Influence People was written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie, the book has more then 15 million copies in print, and has been on the bestsellers lists for years.

The first chapter talks about the first of three fundamental techniques for dealing with people, that being "Don't criticize, condemn or complain.".

I started to think about what this means, and how I can apply this to my work. I realized that it is very easy to criticize, or condemn, or complain. I mean really, its almost second nature to do all these things.

Just this morning, as I made my coffee, I felt the first criticisms of the morning brewing in my head. The cause? Once again, people in the office haven't put their dishes in the dishwasher.

I started to reach for my Blackberry, to take a picture of the mess, and post a nastygram on Confluence to express my annoyances and disgust. Instead, I stopped. I thought to myself, forget about it, what will this change? Nothing. It will only make people defensive, and provide excuses.

Instead, I decided to finish making my coffee, then resolved to do the dishes before heading back to my cubicle. Before I finished making my coffee, the resident office DJ walked into the kitchen, without a word, he filled the dishwasher and ran it. Just like that.

So instead of criticizing, I posted kudos on Confluence. Maybe sugar will inspire the desired behaviour instead of all that vinegar.