Category Archives: Career

Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

50 years after Douglas McGregor’s classic, The Human Side of Enterprise, too many managers still have not learned that using extrinsic motivation is not an effective way to manage complex human systems (organizations). The issue is important to me because their is a huge amount of poor management based on this thinking (focused on how people need to be fixed/motivated) instead of fixing what management really needs to fix.

You can succeed as a manager, and progress in your career, by viewing your role as helping people do their jobs well. As McGregor shows workers want to do a good job. He termed managing with this understanding theory y; and theory x is the idea that people should be motivated with carrots and sticks because they are not going to do work otherwise. Organizations have often so systemically de-motivated people they seem to have lost that desire. What you need to focus on is not motivating them with cheap tricks. Instead focus on eliminating the factors that de-motivate them.

Often simplistic motivation is seen as a replacement for fixing management performance (improving the management systems…). Instead managers should focus on eliminating the sources of de-motivation in the workplace. If you need hints, Dilbert does a good job of showing you what management does that de-motivates.

To succeed as a manager assume people wish to do a good job. If employees are not performing some task well, the manager needs to figure out what is wrong with the system that leads to this outcome (not what is wrong with the employees). When a manager views the problem as one of motivating workers that puts the problem within the worker. They need to be changed. That is the wrong strategy, most of the time. Instead you will have much more success if you seek to improve the system to improve performance.

I believe there is often a burden to overcome. As people have their intrinsic motivation crushed time after time day after day, week after week, year after year they try to protect themselves by shutting off their hope to achieve intrinsic motivation at work. You may have to show you really are serious before they will open up again. You have to make real changes and do so consistently that shows respect for people. Intrinsic motivation is a strong force and a few earlier adopters will quickly come along in all but the most broken organizations. You can build on that success (and eliminat more and more de-motivation) to grow intrinsic motivation in more and more people.
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Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement

I started out basically working on management improvement from the start of my career. My makeup (I am never satisfied and figure things should always be better) along with a few traits, experiences and probably even genes made this a natural fit for me. I tend to take the long view and find fire fighting a waste of time. Why fix some symptom, I want to fix the system so that problem doesn’t happen again. My father worked in statistics, engineering and business improvement and as I was growing up I had plenty of experience with process improvement, understanding variation, experimenting, measuring results

I came into the IT world as I had needs and found the best solution was to write some software to help me accomplish what I wanted to. One thing that better software tools allowed is this type of thing when organizations failed to use technology well, individuals could just do so themselves. Without these tools people had to rely on the organization, but today atrophied IT organizations can often be circumvented. Though the IT organizations often try to avoid this largely by bans (instead of by providing the tools people need), which is not a good sign, in my opinion.

I then spent more and more of my time working with technology but I always retained my focus on improving the management of the organization, with technology playing a supporting role in that effort. That is true even as where I sat changed. And I have become more convinced organizations would be served well by using the information technology staff as business process experts.

At one point I sat in the Office of Secretary of Defense, Quality Management Office where I was able to focus on management improvement and using technology to aid that effort. Then I went to the White House Military Office, Customer Support and Organizational Development office and focused largely on how to using technology to meet the mission. Then I was moved into the White House Military Office, Office of Information Technology Management.

And now I work for the American Society for Engineering Education in the Information Technology department. My role started as partially program management and partially software development and as we have grown and hired more software developers I am now nearly completely a program manager.

I believe technology is a central component of understanding business processes today. But the truth is, many business people don’t have as complete an understanding as I feel they should. Now I believe, most anyone interested in planning their management career needs to develop a facility with technology and specifically how to use software applications to improve performance. You don’t need to be an expert programmer but you need to understand the strengths, weakness, limits of technical solutions. You need to understand how technology can be used (and the risks of options).

At the same time I just don’t think it is likely management everywhere will get a decent understanding of application software development. I also believe that in many cases organizations should do software development in house. This is a issue that certainly can be argued (but I won’t do it here). Basically I don’t think organizations should cram their processes into designs required by off the shelf software. Instead I believe they should design processes optimal for their organization and using off the shelf software often does the opposite (forces the process decisions around what software someone decided to buy). There is plenty of use for off the shelf software that doesn’t force you to make your processes fit into them (and sometimes even if it does that is the business decision that has to be made – I just think far too often organizations look at short term costs and not the overall best solutions for the system).
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Improving the Recruitment Process

I have thought the recruiting process for hiring staff was very inefficient. I still think it is very inefficient. Not only do companies waste time or resources we also do not do a good job systemically placing the right people in the right jobs effectively. So there is waste is the process of hiring and also a huge amount of waste in not doing well at finding the best fits for people and jobs. So we have lots of jobs filled with people that are less suited to them than others that would love to be doing the job (and who would do very well) if they had only known about it.

[the broken video link has been removed]

The webcast shows an interview with Gerry Crispin. Interesting statistic he mentioned: without an employee referral a candidate had chances of 200-500 to 1 of being hired, with employee referrals they are about 10-15 to 1. He also said about 30% have employee referrals. Honestly the video doesn’t help me too much but I am desperate to have us improve in this area and maybe others can get more than I can from it. If staff are important to your organization, doing a great job getting the best people for your company should be a process you are proud of. I don’t see many examples of organizations that do this well.

via: Recruitment is a Commodity. Make it an Experience! [the broken link has been removed]

Related: Job Listings Online Filled with JargonInterviewing and Hiring ProgrammersIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Find management improvement jobsThe Software Developer Labor Market

Circle of Influence

In, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey discusses the circle of control, circle of influence and circle of concern. This provides a good framework from which to view issues as you look for improvement strategies.

Within your circle of control you have much more autonomy and have less need to win others over to your plan. However, in practice, even here, you benefit from winning over those who are involved (for example you are their boss).

Our circle of concern covers those things we worry about. Often, we believe because we worry we should find solutions. Problems that fall into this category (but outside our circle of influence) however often prove difficult to tackle. And often people don’t understand why they get frustrated in this case. You can save your energy for more productive activities by seeing some things are outside your influence and avoid wasting your energy on them.

A problem with this, I see in practice however, is that if you are creative many things that people think are beyond their influence are not. With some imagination you can find ways to have influence. Good ideas are powerful. And often that is all that is needed for influence is offering a good idea.

Understanding to what extent an issue is within your control or influence can help a great deal in determining good strategies. Where you have a good chance to influence the process you can focus on strategies that may require much more of your participation to be successfully adopted. As you have less influence such a strategy is likely a poor one.

You should remember, that there is a temporal component to your circle of influence. On some current issue, I may have a very low chance of success for getting the organization to adopt an improvement I think is best. But certain actions can build the understanding that will allow me later to have more influence. This can even be completely separate from how people normally think of circle of influence. By building an organization that moves toward data based decision making and therefore reduces HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decision making I increase my ability to influence decision making in the future.

Long term thinking is a very powerful, and much under-practiced, strategy. Your influence within an organization is limited today but has great potential to expand, if you act wisely.

Thinking about the extent a current issue falls within your sphere of influence is important it determining the best strategies. But the most valuable insight is to understand how import your sphere of influence is. It determines what strategies you can pursue. And building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.

By taking the long view you can put yourself in good positions to have influence on decisions. There are many ways to do this. My preferred method is fairly boring. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas. Provide people useful management tools and help them apply them successfully. Help get people, that you know are good, opportunities to succeed. Often this gains you two allies (the person you helped gain the opportunity for and the person that was looking for someone to step in). Work hard and deliver what is important. It isn’t some secret sauce for quick success but if you make those around you successful you grow your circle of influence.

Related: How to ImproveHelping Employees ImproveOperational ExcellenceManagement Advice FailuresManagement Improvement

Learn Lean by Doing Lean

In response to: Developing Your Lean Education Plan [the broken link was removed]

If you actually let the lean leaders practice lean management you are probably doing more to help them learn than anything else. Reading is great, but 10 times better when reading to find solutions you need to deal with issues you have in place. Same for going to conferences. Consultants can be a huge help, but if you just bring in consultants without allowing the changes needed to improve they are not much use.

Far more damaging than not approving training, or giving the lean leaders any time to learn, is not giving them freedom to adopt lean practices and actually make improvements in your organization. That is what kills learning, and the desire to learn.

A great lean education plan: give them opportunities to apply what they know. As they gain knowledge and have success give them more opportunities. I think often lean leaders (and management improvement leaders) have to spend so much effort fighting the resistance in the organization they don’t have the energy to seek out much new knowledge. If you can reduce the effort they have to spend on fighting the bureaucracy most lean leaders will naturally focus on learning what they need for the current and future challenges.

Related: Building Organizational CapacityHelping Employees ImprovePeople are Our Most Important AssetRespect People by Understanding Psychology

Job Listings Online Filled with Jargon

The job market is not great, 9.4% unemployment in the USA, and not efficient either. At my full time job, we hired a ruby on rails developer (web programmer) this month, and are looking to hire another.

Job listings online filled with jargon

With unemployment reaching historic levels, online job search traffic is heating up. Sites like Monster.com, Dice.com, and HotJobs.com are gaining steam with anywhere from a 20-90% increase in traffic in February. Somehow CareerBuilder.com managed to dip 3% but SimplyHired.com achieved a 290% increase in traffic, and other sites like Craigslist and LinkedIn are also gaining momentum.

Job search sites are gaining traffic and providing a great service to the unemployed and unhappily employed. Unfortunately, the inability of corporations and recruiters to provide prospective applicants with sensible job postings threatens to render these sites useless.

Filling the entire job posting with corporate and industry acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon – By filling the job posting with nonsensical jargon, a recruiter further inflates their false sense of importance and also avoids the issue that they know absolutely nothing about the job. The applicant is left wondering whether they just applied for a job responsible for fixing Boeing 747s or installing Kimberly-Clark toilet paper dispensers. Pretty much a toss up.

It’s scary to imagine what job postings might look like in 10 years if this trend continues. If anyone is interested in building a Google Translate with a “Recruiter to English” option, I can serve as your Subject Matter Expert.

In the information technology field the standard practice is to include a large number of basically irrelevant skills as requirements. And then managers wonder why they don’t get decent applicants. You need to include the knowledge, skills and experience you really need and not all sorts of details that an employee can easily pick up, if needed, once they are on the job.

Related: Hiring: Silicon Valley StyleInterviewing and Hiring ProgrammersIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Joy in Work: Software DevelopmentManagement Improvement Career Connections

Building a Great Workforce

How P&G Finds and Keeps a Prized Workforce by Roger O. Crockett

“We actually recruit for values,” says Chief Operating Officer Robert McDonald. “If you are not inspired to improve lives, this isn’t the company you want to work for.”

The P&G strategy starts on college campuses. The Cincinnati company dispatches line managers rather than human resource staffers to do much of its recruiting.

For the few who get hired, their work life becomes a career-long development process. At every level, P&G has a different “college” to train individuals, and every department has its own “university.” The general manager’s college, which McDonald leads, holds a week-long school term once a year when there are a handful of newly promoted managers. Further training—there are nearly 50 courses—helps managers with technical writing or financial analysis.

Career education takes place outside the classroom, too. P&G pushes every general manager to log at least one foreign assignment of three to five years. Even high-ranking employees visit the homes of consumers to watch how they cook, clean, and generally live, in a practice dubbed “live it, work it.” Managers also visit retail stores, occasionally even scanning and bagging items at checkout lanes, to learn more about customers.

Going to visit the gemba, the actual place is incredibly important, and far too often ignored by managers today.

The emphasis on life long learning (in practice, not just words) is also very wise. In my experience far to little emphasis is placed on continual improvement of what many companies will say is their most important asset: their people. If you don’t invest in education of your staff that is going to harm your long term success. The investment P&G makes shows a respect for people.

Related: Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterWorkplace Management by Taiichi OhnoRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyOhno Circle
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Build Your Business Slowly and Without Huge Cash Requirements

Get Rich Slow by Josh Quittner

At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company… These are Web-based businesses that cost almost nothing to get off the ground

The term ramen profitable was coined by Paul Graham, a Silicon Valley start-up investor, essayist and muse to LILO entrepreneurs. It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

“At this point, it would be hard for companies to get any cheaper,” Graham said. Since everyone already has an Internet-connected computer, “it’s gotten to the point that you can’t detect the cost of a company when added to a person’s living expenses. A company is no more expensive than a hobby these days.”

I see a great deal of truth to this and it provides interesting opportunities. Including being able to build a business slowly while still working full time. I have written about Y-combinator previously they have helped make this model popular. And the services these companies make seem to me to often be much more refreshing than ideas so watered down they lose much passion (so common from so many companies). Though some large companies provide great web sites.

Related: Some Good IT Business IdeasFind Joy and Success in BusinessOur Policy is to Stick Our Heads in the SandSmall Business Profit and Cash Flow

Out of the Crisis Seminar

I will be co-presenting an Out of the Crisis seminar for the W. Edwards Deming Institute next month, April 20-22, in Philadelphia.

Companies around the world are on the brink of destruction. When they get bailed out, or economies improve, they won’t survive if they continue to make products and provide services the same way as before, with the same style of management. They need to change.

It was the ideas of an American, W. Edwards Deming, that transformed Japanese industry after the devastation wrought by World War II. More than fifty years later, American businesses and much of the rest of the world find themselves in a somewhat similar position. Isn’t it time for American industry to wake up? Management practices need to change!

This seminar will help you work on transformation of management practices at your organization. It will show how current governance practice leads to the heaviest losses, how inconsistencies between policy and strategy create sub-optimal outcomes, how mismanagement of people leads to unethical and ineffective behavior. You will learn how to overcome these problems and focus on creating a system of continual improvement, just as Toyota and other Japanese firms did some fifty years ago.

You may find more information and register online. I hope to see you there.

Related: Deming Institute Conference: Tom NolanLouisville Slugger – Deming PracticesCurious Cat Management Improvement Calendar6 Leadership CompetenciesDeming Conference 2005

What to Wear to an Interview

Response to What to Wear for an IT Job Interview?. Is this just a huge bit stereotypical?

Who can blame them for not wanting to bother with their wardrobes? Fashion is fickle. Fashion is expensive. Fashion requires imagination and inspiration, and let’s face it, after a long day spent debugging code or trouble-shooting computer problems, there’s not a lot of creativity left for clothing.

But if there’s one professional occasion when a tech worker should think fashion first, it’s the job interview. CIOs says so. According to research conducted by Robert Half Technology, more than one-third (35 percent) of CIOs surveyed say that IT professionals should sport a suit for a job interview.

I don’t see any harm in wearing a suit and tie or such business attire if you have no other information to go on for IT, or other employees. That advice to candidates is perfectly fine. Asking what is appropriate attire when the interview is set is also a good idea. In fact, that is all you need to take from this post as an interviewee, in my opinion.

Is there any value in you wearing a suit? If so, then not doing so might be a negative. The psychology of what makes people uncomfortable is tricky. And dress is one of those factors that may seem trivial but to differing extents most people base opinions partial on dress (even if they claim they don’t). Some organization with casual dress codes may also look at being too dressed up as a bad sign (out of touch…). Basically they are experiencing the same discomfort with your dress even though most likely they would profess to find those making judgments based on dress to be superficial. The Manager FAQ does a good job of looking at the thought process behind some managers thinking on the topic.

My manager seems to dress funny. Is there any way to impress upon him the pointlessness of corporate appearance?

Your manager is probably aware that, in the abstract, the way she dresses changes nothing. However, part of her job is to interact with other people, and there are rules of etiquette for these dealings. Your manager’s clothing, even when she’s not dealing with other people, is selected in part as a way of telling you that she takes you seriously; it’s just like calling people “sir”. It’s a convention, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real convention, and your manager is honoring it.

Even if there is no value to doing so there are many people who make judgments on silly factors like clothing.

Now for the most important point for manager’s, from this post, if you evaluate software developers on how they dress please quit and go work in some other line of work. You really don’t have what is needed to manage software developers or system administrators. If you are hiring someone to sit in meetings with MBAs and translate technology to them, then maybe being comfortable in a suit is a valued trait. But if you are hiring someone to create code 90+% of the time the suit is a completely silly measurement of value.

Related: Curious Cat Management Improvement JobsIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Hiring the Right WorkersGoogle’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm
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