Tag Archives: tips

Helping Employees Improve

One aspect of managing people is to provide positive feedback and show appreciation. Doing so is important. People benefit from encouragement and reinforcement. In addition to just telling them, take action to show your appreciation.

The Dilbert workplace is alive and well. And even in above average management systems there is plenty of resistance faced by those looking to improve systems. For those employees that are making the attempt to improve the organization go beyond saying thanks: actually demonstrate your appreciation. Do what you can to help them achieve.

A manager should be enabling their employees to perform. That means taking positive steps that help them perform. This is even more appreciated than saying thanks. And has the added benefit of helping the organization by helping along their good idea. It is win, win, win. They win, you win and the organization wins.

Thoughts on: Rewards and Recognition

Related: Keeping Good EmployeesRespect for People Requires Understanding PsychologyPeople are Our Most Important AssetMotivationIncentive Programs are Ineffective

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
Continue reading

Managing Passionate Employees

Passion vs. Productive

There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees – even if they say they want them. That’s because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity. Productivity means you produce. That’s how you’re measured. Passion is difficult to quantify

Managers want passionate employees, but don’t always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who’s got the time to deal with that? Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.

if you align someone’s passion with their job description—you just might boost your department’s productivity.

Passionate employees are often not the easiest employees to manage. If a manager confuses ease of managing with best employee they discount the value of a passionate employee. And they often do confuse the two values. A passionate employee can seem like a bother, not willing to just go along but constantly challenging and pushing for new ideas.

One of the things that great managers do is to understand the value of passion and make the extra effort to cultivate and support those passionate employees. Even if occasionally they just want that person to just do their job and stop being so different. The great manager realizes that treating everyone the same is a very bad meme that somehow seems to have taken hold in many people’s mind. People are not the same. Managing a system of people is not the same as maintaining a machine.

A managers job is not to make their own job as easy as possible. When the system is best served by an extra passionate employee, then the manager needs to support that employee. And smooth out others that might get annoyed (often others find the passionate employee should just be like everyone else).

Related: Enhancing Passion of EmployeesDon’t ask employees to be passionate about the company!Signs You Have a Great Job … or NotJoy in Work – Software Development

6 Leadership Competencies

photo of George Box, John Hunter and Peter Scholtes

At the recent Annual W. Edwards Deming Institute Annual conference (this year held in Madison, Wisconsin) Peter Scholtes gave an excellent speech on the 6 Leadership Competencies from his book: The Leader’s Handbook. Those competencies are:

  • The ability to think in terms of systems, and knowing how to lead systems.
  • The ability to understand the variability of work in planning an problem solving
  • Understanding how we learn, develop and improve. Leading true learning and improvement.
  • Understanding people and why they behave as they do.
  • Understanding the interdependence and interaction between systems, variation, learning and human behavior. Knowing how each affects the other.
  • Giving visions, meaning, direction and focus to the organization.

As those familiar with Dr. Deming will immediately note those are very closely tied to Deming’s 4 areas of management. I am a friend (and manage Peter’s website so I am biased) but as I have said before anyone interested in management should read his book (the competencies are discussed in chapter 2).

The photo shows George Box, John Hunter and Peter Scholtes (from left to right) at the MAQIN reception the night before the conference. Two previous mayors of Madison introduced Peter’s talk: Paul Soglin and Joe Sensenbrenner.

Related: ASQ Deming Medal to Peter ScholtesUsing Books to Ignite ImprovementManagement Improvement LeadersPerformance Without Appraisal

Continue reading

Agile PDSA

Dr. Deming encouraged the use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle to improve. Agile Management encourages a similar mindset – to test out ideas in practice and adapt quickly. A key to both strategies is to quickly iterate over possible solutions. Tesco provides an example of this strategy:

This was our first opening since we took our 12 week pause, after we had opened 61 stores at breakneck speed. We used that time to reflect on what customers had told us they liked, and what they’d like to see improved – and then to improve the shopping trip for them.

For example, customers told us that they really liked our prepared meals, made fresh daily in our purpose-built kitchen, but they wanted a wider selection to choose from. So we’ve developed and introduced a number of new products for them.

Of course, you could argue that this is all a sign of weakness, that we had got things wrong. But that would be to misunderstand the way we do business.

Listening, and then acting on it, is in our view the way to build long-term relationships with customers. It means our shopping trip is always improving, and staying in tune with changing needs. It’s a simple win-win. Customers get a better and better shopping trip, and we become more successful.

At the time Tesco paused the expansion I mentioned it seemed to me they should have allowed more time for PDSA.

To me, it is enormously important to design management systems that support and encourage continual improvement. That is much more important than superior results today. Results today are also, important, but a choice between an inflexible system that produce good results today and a flexible system with results not quite as good is not a close choice. Good management improvement requires continual improvement and therefore systems must be designed to support and encourage continual improvement.

Related: Experiment Quickly and OftenI own Tesco stockmanagement improvement tipsTesco: Lean Provision

The Power of Small Teams

The power of small teams by Avi Muchnick

Choose a project that is simple to implement. Don’t try to create a complex suite of applications… Focus on solving a single problem. Philip Kaplan made email more efficient to use by stalling it instead of managing it. Dead simple approach and a great idea.Take the easier approach when possible.

Choose people that can wear multiple hats. Can your designer code? Can your programmer manage a community? Can your marketing guru fund raise? Can one guy do it all?

All documentation should be available via a central location. A wiki can work really well for this purpose. Good documentation lessens the loss from communication failures.

Arrange your workspace in common areas. Segregating your team in different offices is a recipe for lost communication data and with it, a need for additional people. You’d be surprised at how many roles can be shared by multiple people, so long as they have the ability to communicate instantly and unimpeded with each other. Put people between walls, and those shared tasks will need to be managed by additional team members.

Amazon and Google do a lot with small teams and I think they have it right. I have worked on small IT teams for several years now and find it great. Combine with agile management methods small teams allow for great focus (you are naturally guided toward appropriate project sizes instead of huge monster projects), great results and joy in work. I have no desire to work in large teams.

Related: Team HandbookMeasuring and Managing Performance in OrganizationsKeeping Track of Improvement OpportunitiesCurious Cat Management Articles

How to Develop Thinking People

Toyota’s Top Engineer on How to Develop Thinking People

Hayashi says, “Developing people requires physical endurance.” Frequent follow up is necessary, in person. It is not acceptable to give an assignment and follow up or scold only after three months, during a progress report meeting. Specific actions and detailed follow up are necessary.

Excellent advice.

Also, when we are required to deliver results with speed, we only give our subordinates small projects so that even if they fail they have time to recover. In the end, we give them the solution. We must firmly carry on the practice of developing thinking people. Mr. Ohno often said to us, “Don’t look with your, look with your feet. Don’t think with you head, think with your hands.” He also taught us, “People who can’t understand numbers are useless. The gemba where numbers are not visible is also bad. However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”

And more wisdom. Great stuff from Taiichi Ohno, Nanpachi Hayashi and Jon Miller’s translation and great blog.

Related: Respect for People and Taiichi OhnoToyota IT for KaizenManagement ImprovementWorkplace Management by Taiichi OhnoPosts on Respect for People

Do What You Say You Will

In Keeping Good Employees I talked about asking some simple questions. The biggest mistake I see managers make is to fail to deliver on what they say in such meetings.

There is the saying “It is better to be thought a fool than speak, and prove it.” Well it is better to be thought a pointy haired boss than to ask for feedback, then ignore it, and prove you are a PHB. This behavior is extremely common with a survey of employee satisfaction but can extend to any failure of management follow through. If you are not going to act on what good employees tell you – don’t ask.

If some of what they mention is something you disagree with, then explain that to them. Even bad decision making that is explained is better than no explanation and no action. If you end up explaining why no action can be taken on every suggestion then employees should rightfully (most likely) find you lacking. One aspect of the explanation is to educate them for future suggestions – there may well be factors they don’t think about that you must. But, even in such a case the best practice is normally to adjust the idea a bit to make it workable.

Related: Encourage Improvement Action by EveryoneBring Me Problems and Solutions if You Have ThemStandardized Work InstructionsHow to ImproveWrite it DownWhat Could be Improved?

Keeping Good Employees

Understanding Why Good Workers Quit

“What do you need to want to stay?” Most managers, she acknowledges, are afraid to ask this question and that is a reason why their companies have to do plenty of exit interviews. When stay interviews are part of the culture—and this is a practice in very few companies—attrition of the people you don’t want to lose plummets.

“Ask them directly: What can we do to keep you?,” urges Kaye. And don’t be shy or dishonest. If the employee asks for things you cannot deliver, be direct in acknowledging it but also indicate what you can do. Know, too, that just by talking to employees in this way you are scoring points because it’s something that just does not happen in most companies.

More concretely, Karen Fink, vice president of human resources for Edmunds.com, said that the glue her company uses to keep top IT workers is as simple as interesting work. “Technical workers tend to remain with an organization where they have the opportunity to contribute to interesting projects that stretch their skill sets and where they have the opportunity to be educated on the latest technologies.”

Good advice. I like direct, simple, questions. What can we do to keep you? What do you enjoy about your job? What do you dislike? What can I do to increase your joy in work? What one thing would you most like to see changed? What do you want to see continue? Would you like help in some aspect of your career development? What can I do better? Am I providing too much oversight, not enough?

Give honest straight forward answers to questions. If someone wants to move ahead and needs to work harder to advance their career tell them that. If they need to be more cooperative, develop certain skills… tell them. The idea is not just to make the person happy in that meeting. If they need to work on certain things to get where they want then help them do that. Give your best advice and say what they can do to improve.

Related: People are Our Most Important AssetWhat 1 Thing Can We Improve?IT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Silicon Valley Style HiringHow to ImproveRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyThe Joy of Work

Where to Start Improvement

Guest post by Dave Nave

The question of where to start improvement is not an ‘either/or’ choice of top-down or bottom-up approach. The place to start is both. Leading an organization requires both a long-term and a short-term focus. With changing management practices being long-term and improving operational efficiency being short-term. The organization is a system. Optimization of any single component (management practices or production operations) frequently detracts from the whole.

For many years I firmly believed (actually hoped) the bottom-up approach would be the most effective. Especially since I came from the shop floor. However, after watching several large companies try the bottom-up approach, I realized that it didn’t work. You can show management success, but they will not believe it. Especially when the management practices involves the underlying beliefs that workers are untrustworthy, and must be dominated and controlled. I saw one Fortune 20 company turn around their operations using a process improvement program. When the bottom line numbers drastically improved, upper management scrambled for years trying to find out why. Five years later, I don’t believe they still understand how it happened, or why.

To help clarify the various arguments of top-down or bottom-up approach to implementing improvement in my own mind, I wrote a paper. Most arguments focus on ‘success’ – however that is determined! What I though was missing, was the perspective of a leader who has a broad knowledge of business, the desire to help the long-term health of the organization, but did not the ability to hold off the financial dogs of short-term results. Once I started looking deeper, two key factors came to light, time to see results versus scope of influence throughout the organization. Bottom-up produces short-term improvement however it’s effects are limited to the local area. Top-down takes a long time to see results, but it effects the very foundation of the organization. The hybrid of a top-down support for a bottom-up improvement approach is not the answer. The Fortune 20 company mentioned above, tried a high level support approach to a bottom-up improvement methodology. Looking through the lens of speed and scope, suddenly product redesign (Value Engineering) became a viable option. Providing a balance of moderate returns with a moderate time delay.

I concluded that a three prong approach is needed. But, how do you manage that? By cooperation and collaboration between improving; management practices, product redesign, and process improvement.

If anyone is interested in reading my thought paper, you can download the paper – Improvement Triad: Processes, Products, and Management Practices. I would love to hear your feedback.

Related: Lean and Theory of ConstraintsHow to ImproveCurious Cat Management Improvement portal