It’s Business, Not Personal January 8, 2013Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, management, manager
add a comment
The line is from the movie “The Godfather.” Al Pacino as Michael Corleone insists that his plan to murder a New York City police captain and a rival mobster who tried to assassinate Michael’s father is motivated by business considerations, not revenge. As we watch Michael’s rise to power and systematic elimination of his enemies it becomes hard to see any difference between what is personal and what is business, and it hardly seems to matter anyway. But, at least in the beginning, the implication is that “making it personal” is a bad thing, leading to cloudy judgment and decisions that are not in the best long-term interest of the enterprise.
In the world of organizations not characterized as organized crime, “making it personal” is not necessarily a bad thing. When employees feel a passionate and visceral connection to the success or failure of the business, they are far more likely to give their best effort, particularly when they perceive alignment between business goals and values, and career goals and personal values. This linkage is even stronger when personal rewards (salary, bonus, stock, options, other perks) are tied to some measure of business performance.
Of course the wrong choice of performance measures can lead to decisions that are good for individual but bad for the organization, for example bonuses tied to sales and revenue targets that ignore the profitability of the new business. This is why we have laws and regulations governing insider trading.
Unfortunately there are many other potential conflicts of interest. When the reward pie is fixed in size, people will compete, sometimes in unethical or even dishonest ways. I’ve worked at companies where CEOs made strategic decisions that have been attributed to personal motives and perceived threats, although a CEO’s emotions are theoretically supposed to be held in check by the board of directors and major shareholders.
A manager’s job is generally easier when the team is energized, each person for their own reasons. The challenge for the manager is finding a way to “make it personal” without unwittingly undermining the business’s strategic objectives, by rewarding the wrong behaviors, or allowing personal achievement to become more important than business success.
2012 Year In Review: Lessons Learned December 23, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job search, leadership, networking
add a comment
It’s that time of year when many folks look back to review the events of the last twelve months. I’d like to believe that I’ve somehow improved myself, if only slightly, during my time traveling around the sun once more. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned, or re-learned, in 2012.
- In January the company I worked for filed for bankruptcy. That set in motion the chain of events that ultimately led to the end of our local division, but in the weeks immediately following the filing we had no idea what parts of the company would survive the restructuring. For the product development team I was managing the biggest immediate impact was to our planned expenses, which were essentially re-set to zero. Believe me, it’s not easy to do hardware design, prototyping, or testing when you can’t spend any money. What I learned: how to lead innovation and product development under a tight budget.
- From February through March I was one of many managers in our company trying to keep up the team’s morale while we waited to learn the fate of the division. Senior management did a great job keeping everyone informed about all the filings and proceedings, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise when the announcement was made that a workforce reduction plan would be implemented in early April. What I learned: how to maintain morale and communicate with honesty and integrity in tough times.
- Unfortunately my team was among those designated for the workforce reduction in April. I’ve been laid off before, but for many other folks this was their first experience. I’ve been in perpetual job-search mode, or at least “open to all possibilities,” since 2008, and I guess some people consider me to be a knowledgeable resource about effective strategies (even if those strategies haven’t necessarily worked for me). What I learned: the importance of helping your team, “paying it forward,” and maintaining professional networks after you’re no longer working together.
- I’ve been actively networking throughout the year, but that became even more important after being laid off earlier this year. I’ve met a lot of great people who have generously offered advice and connections, but what I’ll remember most about the networking events this year is an excellent presentation by Cita Walsh (http://citawalsh.com/) about applying traditional marketing techniques to job search. What I learned: why it’s necessary to create a personal brand and use social media in ways that reinforce that brand.
- This year I’ve had a number of phone screenings and job interviews across the country, including one with a company in China. It’s been a frustrating experience, especially for someone like me who’s interested in feedback to improve my performance. More often than not I don’t hear anything after the interview, much less constructive criticism. What I learned: I’m a unique collection of skills and experiences, a purple squirrel; and although I really need to be working right now, I’m going to stop wasting time applying for jobs that I don’t really want.
- I haven’t just been waiting for the phone to ring for the last few months. This blog has provided a great way to channel my thoughts about how I would start a new job in product development, quality engineering or program management (See for example my posts “Starting a Product Development Team,” and “Designing a Quality System.”). In September I decided to get certified as a PMI Project Management Professional (PMP), and I passed the exam in October. I’m scheduled to take the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt exam in March 2013. And, I’m in the interview process for a teaching position at a local campus of a nationally-known for-profit university. What I learned: it’s important to acquire new skills and maintain the old ones throughout your career. Continuous improvement applies to individuals as well as businesses.
Here’s hoping for a another year of learning in 2013.
The Work Team That Fights Over Who Gets Credit October 31, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in International management, Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, management, manager, power, retention
add a comment
Apparently there are companies that have structured their salary administration systems to emphasize and reward overall team performance instead of individual performance. I admire the effort. Collaboration and teamwork are obviously things we should encourage. I can’t imagine a business environment where some degree of cooperation isn’t necessary.
However, it’s been my experience that people are inherently competitive. Regardless of how well or how willingly they cooperate, people compare their performance to others in the team, and they hope (and expect?) to receive recognition and rewards consistent with their perceived performance. When those rewards come from a pool that’s fixed in size, that leads to in-fighting: de-valuing the work of others, claiming credit for the team’s successes, and finding scapegoats for the problems and failures.
What can managers do to minimize the toxicity of competitiveness within the organization?
1. Performance appraisal systems typically require managers to differentiate and value the specific contributions of each person. That means each person’s objectives should be written in a way that enables both the manager and the employee to evaluate the employee’s performance independently from the rest of the team.
2. Managers have to be actively engaged with the team to know what’s really going on, who’s doing what work, and who’s enabling team success. You can’t expect everyone in the team to be a reliable reporter of events, and you can’t wait until the annual appraisal to figure out what happened.
3. Managers need to reinforce the message that a mix of individual and collaborative work is required for team success, and therefore teamwork will be one of the performance characteristics that will be evaluated for each person. If it’s possible within the constraints of the organization’s compensation system, each person’s salary increase and/or annual bonus should be partially contingent on the team’s performance (i.e., achieving some goal).
Note that it’s still possible that a team will fail despite the selfless efforts of some or all of the individuals in the team. The seriousness of the team failure and impact to the business will determine whether rewards based on the collaborative effort still make sense.
Expecting More from Performance Appraisals October 29, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, leadership, management, manager, performance measures, power
add a comment
I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t trust a performance appraisal written by another manager. Appraisals are inherently objective and I have no idea how “well-calibrated” that manager is. In the world of metrology we would say that this process for measuring performance has serious issues with bias, stability, repeatability, and reproducibility. Yet the impact — positive or negative — on an employee’s salary, job security, and career growth within a company is huge. This is a lousy system that needs improvement. What can be done?
I think we have to start by asking: what are we trying to accomplish with a performance appraisal? On the surface this is a formal, written record of feedback given to the employee that ends up in their HR file. At minimum it includes the manager’s judgment about whether or not the employee achieved their assigned objectives, and usually some commentary about how those objectives were achieved. Note that despite encouragement to managers to provide informal performance feedback throughout the review period, the formal review may be the only time they’ve done so.
It’s not enough to report that the employee completed this task or failed to complete that one. Here are the questions I’d like to ask when I read about what an employee did during the review period:
- How challenging were those assigned objectives?
- Did the employee only meet expectations when they had an opportunity to exceed expectations?
- Did the employee have enough authority and positional power to personally influence the outcome?
- Were the performance measures granulated enough to enable the manager to judge individual accountability?
- Were there mitigating factors beyond the employee’s control that prevented them from achieving the objectives?
However, I think we’re trying to do something more than just provide a summary of the employee’s accomplishments. Organizations value certain behaviors and want to encourage employees to exhibit those behaviors. Unfortunately these are often not stated explicitly, and it may be left to individual managers to apply their own values and preferences. In my teams I value creativity, teamwork, persistence, adaptability, proactive “fire prevention,” eagerness-to-learn, and independent judgment. When I write performance reviews I look for examples of these behaviors that I can cite. When that information is missing from a review someone else has written, it’s a huge gap in my understanding of that employee.
Writing annual performance reviews is one of the most dreaded responsibilities for any manager, and we owe it to the employee to provide an assessment based on consistent and job-appropriate expectations. The process may be subjective and imprecise, but the long-term implications are significant.
Helping Engineers Become Leaders September 14, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, leadership, management, manager, performance measures
add a comment
This week I attended a panel discussion with a group of high-level managers from a local company who shared training and coaching strategies for developing the leadership skills of their engineering staff. Generally, leadership training assumes that leaders can be made (and aren’t just born), and there are some specific challenges associated with leadership training targeted for engineers.
Many engineers are not interested in leadership and consider management to be an unwelcome career path. I have a lot of respect for people who have the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to know that they aren’t “management material,” and can resist the usual financial or status rewards that go with the management track (see Happy Not to Be a Manager). However, engineers may find themselves attracted to leadership positions in order to have more control and influence over outcomes in their organization that have nothing to do with an individual’s technical knowledge or skills.
Leaders add value at all levels in a business, but even engineers who resist leadership or management can benefit from learning leadership skills and other soft skills that are outside their immediate technical domain. Engineers tend to be analytical, logical, and they rely on fact-based arguments. Effective collaboration typically requires a range of communication, alignment, and influencing strategies.
It’s hard to directly measure the success of leadership development in any organization, but two indicators were suggested during the panel discussion. One is the availability of qualified internal candidates for promotion to open positions in the business. At the company represented at this week’s meeting, managers are encouraged and supported to develop leaders within their teams, even though that could result in the transfer of talented people to other teams. They understand that it’s a win for the business, not a loss for their department.
Another indicator of a successful leadership development program is the performance of new leaders in their first efforts. If more-experienced managers or leaders are forced to intervene and take over from a struggling new leader, that’s a sign that the development program (which should include post-training coaching, mentoring and monitoring) has failed.
How I Became a Purple Squirrel August 29, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: career growth, job search, job security
add a comment
From Wikipedia: “Purple squirrel is a term used by employment recruiters to describe an unlikely job candidate with precisely the right education, experience, and qualifications that perfectly fits a job’s multifaceted requirements. In theory, this prized ‘purple squirrel’ could immediately handle all the expansive variety of responsibilities of a job description with no training and would allow businesses to function with fewer workers.”
Apparently I’ve become a purple squirrel, but (so far) not the one recruiters are looking for. It wasn’t what I planned. Here’s how it happened.
Throughout my career I tried to avoid specialization. I was always a little paranoid about the future and whether my technical expertise in one domain would translate to a different industry, rendering my skills obsolete. When I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1988 I worked in a division that was an internal supplier of printed circuit boards, part of HP’s vertical integration strategy. It was a great place to start because all of the HP product divisions were our customers and I had the opportunity to learn and network within the company. As the company shifted to an outsourcing strategy, my experience helped me move into a procurement engineering roles where I helped identify and qualify new suppliers to keep up with the technology needs of our product design teams.
By the late 1990s most of HP’s suppliers were located in Asia. To reduce overhead, the company centralized and consolidated many of the procurement organizations that were supporting individual product divisions and shifted responsibilities to HP teams that were closer to the supply base. The time was right for me to make a change, and I was fortunate to have a manager who recommended me for a job leading a software quality team. I hadn’t written code since I was in graduate school, but I was told that wasn’t what the team needed. As an outsider I was able to bring a fresh perspective, keeping the team focused on business objectives without getting personally bogged down by looking over everyone’s shoulders.
I was thrilled by the daily challenge and learning curve, and I occupied myself with developing strategy, improving processes, re-allocating resources, and growing the team during a time of rapid business expansion. Software felt like a more stable place to make a career, and when we started outsourcing testing and development I was able to apply my skills in supplier management to help ensure a seamless delivery model.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that my choice to focus on organizational effectiveness over technical expertise would seriously limit my mobility within the world of software. When the recession hit in late 2008, I discovered that I wasn’t a very attractive candidate for software management positions. I was quickly eliminated from the applicant pool, apparently because I didn’t have the hands-on development experience attached to every job description.
When I finally did land a job it was return to manufacturing, quality engineering, and supplier management, this time as a senior manager at a China-based contract manufacturer. I was once again working closely with our client’s design and customer satisfaction teams, engaged at all levels of the entire product development lifecycle. My ten-year detour in software helped to develop my skills in strategic planning and international management, and after almost two years in China I felt well-prepared to move into a engineering and product development leadership role at a large OEM back in the U.S.
Now I’m in-transition again, and I’m getting the feeling that my resume just confuses people. To some, my career to this point looks like a disjointed collection of diverse experiences. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know if I’m an animal, vegetable, or mineral. My generalized skills are apparently not enough to overcome a lack of experience and deep domain expertise in the industries that are currently growing and hiring. They’re trying to find a purple squirrel to fit their job description. I’m a purple squirrel working on being found.
Hired Because of Talents, Not Skills August 26, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, hiring, job search, job security, networking
add a comment
During my current job search I’ve been thinking a lot about the previous job transitions I’ve made during my career, looking for patterns and best practices that might be helpful this time around. There were times when I got a job by applying for a position after reading a job description and deciding that my experience and qualifications were a close match for the published requirements. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, applying for jobs that I’m highly qualified for, but there are a lot of qualified people looking for jobs these days and it has become hard to stand out in the crowd.
There were other times when I was recruited by people who found me, either from word-of-mouth referrals or, more recently, from my public profile. That’s the networking strategy for job search: leveraging your network of friends and former co-workers, and getting out there to make a good impression on new people who might introduce you to other people who know other people, eventually leading to a job offer from out of the blue.
And then there were a few times when I was offered a job that was completely different from anything I had ever done before, when my experience up to that point was clearly and objectively a poor match to the published requirements. I had never worked in marketing, and then I was hired to be a product marketing manager. I had never worked in software, and then I was hired to be a software quality manager. I had never worked in a factory, and then I was hired to be a factory quality director. How did that happen? And what, if anything, can be learned from those career discontinuities?
I can only guess the reasons why I was asked to take a job when I seemed so unqualified on paper, but I think it’s because in each case the hiring manager saw something that wouldn’t have been flagged by a keyword search on my resume. In First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999), Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman make this distinction between skills and talents: skills are things you can learn, talents are things you are born with. “A love of precision is not a skill. Nor is it knowledge. It is a talent. If you don’t possess it, you will never excel as an accountant.” (Page 85)
The people who hired me when I wasn’t qualified valued my talents, not my skills. They knew I would have to learn certain specialized skills in order to achieve success, but they also knew a person without certain talents would not succeed. Your talents may be visible and meaningful to those who have worked alongside you or know your reputation. Unfortunately they’re harder to discern and generally irrelevant to companies that are focused on hiring the best match to their job description. When there’s no allowance for a learning curve, there’s no tolerance for lack of knowledge or skills.
For job search, I think the lesson is that the people in your network who understand your talents might surprise you with a suggestion that seems inconsistent with your past experiences. I’ve had an interesting career, in-part because of the variety of jobs and experiences. My worry is that a career path with discontinuities that relies too much on “talent recognition” has turned me into a purple squirrel. More on that in a future post.
Professionals and Workers August 22, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, communication, job satisfaction, management, power, retention, software quality
1 comment so far
I’ve been going through some old files now that I have some (unwelcome) time on my hands, and I found a Powerpoint presentation from 1997. I had just taken a new position, managing a software test team that was suffering from low morale. There was a widespread feeling that the work was unimportant and unappreciated by the rest of the organization. That could have been the beginning of a downward spiral, especially if higher-performers were able to find more rewarding jobs elsewhere.
I can’t remember where I first saw this contrast between those who are workers and those who are professionals, but it inspired the team and instilled a new sense of pride when I turned it into a presentation for an all-hands meeting:
|A worker:||A professional:|
|… is a robot, operated by a manager under remote control||… is an independent human being|
|… is focused on boss, activity, and task||… is focused on customer, result, and process|
|… performs tasks and follows instructions||… is responsible for performing work and assuring its successful completion|
|… is characterized by obedience and predictability||… is characterized by intelligence and autonomy|
|… is trained||… learns|
|… has a job||… has a career|
|… inhabits a precisely defined job and operates under close supervision||… is constrained by neither|
- A professional sees themselves as responsible to the customer. Solve the problem and create value. If the problem is not solved or value is not created, the professional has not done their job.
- Once provided with knowledge and a clear understanding of the goal, a professional can be expected to get there on their own.
- A professional must be a problem solver able to cope with unanticipated and unusual situations without running to management for guidance.
- Professionals ignore petty differences and distinctions within an organization. When we are all focused on results, the distinction between my work and your work becomes insignificant.
- A professional career does not concentrate on position and power, but on knowledge, capability, and influence.
- The professional’s career goal is to become a better professional and thereby reap the rewards of better performance.
Why Get an MBA? August 8, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in International management, Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job security, leadership, management, organizational models
add a comment
I’ve often been asked why I got a Ph.D. in chemistry. What did I really gain after five years of graduate school? What was the value of the additional knowledge of chemistry that I acquired? I don’t think I was fully aware of it at the time, but looking back I can see that what I really learned was the ability to work independently without textbooks, manage research projects that I designed and was solely responsible for, and bring those projects to successful completion. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about when I first applied to graduate school. I was still uncertain about my career direction, and I saw graduate school as a way — albeit an expensive way — to postpone those decisions.
Fifteen years later I returned to graduate school to get an MBA. This time was different. I had worked in research & development, product marketing, and international supply chain management organizations, but I had come to realize that I needed more education in order to become a more effective manager and strategic leader. I wasn’t going to be more useful by learning more science and engineering. Technical knowledge is valuable, but businesses need well-rounded leaders who understand (or, at least appreciate) finance and accounting, international law, organizational design, operations management, corporate strategy, and even statistics.
I could have picked up a few tidbits along the way, but as anyone who has learned a foreign language will tell you, there’s nothing like an intensive, “total immersion” program. I probably learned more from my fellow students than from our professors. All of my classmates were experienced and successful professionals, either from local firms or self-employed. These were among my first connections to a broader personal network outside of my immediate work environment. We worked together on joint projects, and debated the differences between what we heard in the classroom and what we experienced in our daily jobs.
For me, getting an MBA was an opening to another world, and it confirmed my decision to pursue a career in senior leadership positions. I can’t say whether it opened doors or helped me secure jobs that I wouldn’t have been otherwise considered for. That wasn’t my objective.
The Teaching Manager August 1, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, communication, management, manager, training
add a comment
I think one of the most overlooked elements of a manager’s job description is the responsibility to teach. Managers should be measured on their ability to use the resources assigned to them, and anything a manager can do to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their team is obviously a good thing for the business. Certainly all employees are expected to have acquired the minimum skills and training required to achieve their individual and team objectives. A manager coaches to their team on how to apply those skills and training in the unique ecosystem of the business, consistent with strategic priorities and complementary to the roles of internal partners, suppliers, and customers. This coaching is based in-part on the insights that come from the manager’s experience with success and failure — what works, and what doesn’t work– but managers should also recognize and promote best practices that are outside their personal experience.
Three other teaching opportunities for a manager:
1. Identifying skill gaps and recommending plans to close those gaps. The manager may have the knowledge and ability to provide training themselves, but what’s more important is the recognition of the gap and prioritizing the whatever training may be necessary.
2. Developing and encouraging good judgment so their team can act independently without the need for close supervision. This increases team productivity and enables the manager to spend more of their time on higher value-added activities.
3. Identifying and developing the next generation of leaders. As I wrote in an earlier post: “Those who actively participate in helping new leaders are valued employees who understand their role in helping the business continue and grow.”
Companies who invest in their human resources realize concrete and sometimes unexpected benefits. Managers at all levels in the organization are critical to that investment through their daily opportunity to teach.