Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bonus Blog: The Hot Tub Hypothesis

The Hot Tub Hypothesis is a method of contemplating new and valuable resources or options and their cultivation.

First, the Hot Tub Hypothesis: imagine a scenario where everyone wants something awesome and cool (or access to it), but no one wants to maintain or be responsible for said cool thing.

You know, like a hot tub.

Imagine the hot tub. It's bubbling. Maybe it's made of wood. It smells like chlorine. Steam slowly rises off the top of it. It feels sensational on your limbs as the heat relaxes you. When you rise from the tub and towel off before going inside, you don't think twice about the tub, sitting there, bubbling happily. Except, of course, if the tub is yours. Then you might check the chemistry of the water, or verify the heater is turned off before you go in. When you aren't using it--say when it's over 80 degrees outside--you're still having to fish bugs and leaves out of it, or you have to empty it (over the course of a couple of hours), clean it, and then seal it, only to open it and clean it, just before you fill it up and start the whole thing again.

Basically, hot tubs are awesome...if they belong to your friends. Then you can visit that sweet, sweet haven and leave, and not think twice about it. Except you probably ought to, just a little; help your friends wipe up, for example, or turn off the heater for them. They'll still do all the truly ucky maintenance, but you want to stay in their good graces so you can use the hot tub again, so you should probably be willing to do a few "guest" chores, right?

Now, substitute "Hot Tub" for "Valuable inhouse resource" and lose the soothing water metaphor in order to stay out of the realm of HR's telepathy. In most jobs, there are resources--people or devices--that take a ton of upkeep.

You want to think carefully about the new server farm coming in, whether or not your dev team lives with them and loves them, or if you give up some of that awesome control so that the Information Technology specialists at your place of employment are prepared to sweep the bugs, poop, and leaves out of the proverbial project. You can volunteer to do things like monitor the servers during business hours or other tricks or options to make the immediate job of upkeep easier for your IT team, but you may not want to actually OWN the hot tub/server farm.

Thinking about any new resources in terms of both upkeep, maintenance, scheduling, and overall referee abilities (eg: how many people can be in the hot tub at once, who is using it exclusively at which times, etc.) is usually a really good idea when you are a manager. Hoarding all the resources is often a temptation, and does make you important in the way that those spikey things that will puncture your tires if you go backwards over them are important, except without the appropriate respect (I respect pointy things, not necessarily people who act like pointy things). Sometimes, letting go is the best way to truly enjoy a new resource.

However you do it the end lesson is don't romanticize new resources or options if you can avoid it, or you'll end up fishing bird pooh (or it's technological equivalent) out of the hot tub while your friends wait in line to use it. Examine the maintenance, the politics AND the utility of new resources or options as well as the resource or option itself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Transactional Communication -- What it Means to Me -- By The (Im)Perfect Manager, age 36 and a half

I have had a theory that communication is transactional since my first QA Manager gig. Effectively, people communicate to get something, whether that something is social contact, a trade of goods, vent of emotions, etc. Most people (I know better than to say all), don't just talk to hear their own voices.

A quick Google search shows that Transactional Communication is a) not in Wikipedia (Oh NOES--does it still exist if it's not represented accurately or inaccurately in Wikipedia?) and b) is a phrase associated with a child learning from an adult what conversation is supposed to be like as part of his/her development.

The reason that I use the phrase "Transactional Communication" is that, much like higher math skills elude me, the concept that someone other than the person talking is supposed to get something out of the communication eludes a lot of other well-meaning people. Aside: I can probably be bothered to figure out how tall a tree is from its shadow but if you ask me about the spin on a baseball I'm going to start whistling and pretend I cannot hear you.

This is, again, not to say that all people wander around declaring orders and expecting that they will be obeyed blindly; what it is to say is that people are often mistaken about the transaction in question, or about the way to get what they want to get out of the transaction while still making it possible for the other person to get SOMETHING, too.

For example: IS/IT has moved a development code creation to production. There is silence. Information Services/Technology assumes that you and the devs will know that if they contact you, there is a problem, and that otherwise, all is ok. You and the devs, however, are on pins and needles as there is severe disapproval (tm) in the future if this code change takes down the website.

Setting up a communication plan for releases can relieve this burden and set up the transactional part--where both parties get what they need. In this case, IS/IT learns to let the devs know immediately to let them monitor backend information which, in the long haul, saves them from having to do it and the devs are Johnny on the Spot in case something goes wrong. I could go on at length about release process, but I would bore even myself if I did so. The moral of the tale is that if they know they are getting something, they'll give something. That's a transaction. Communication is how you get to the right set of circumstances that everyone is equally unhappy happy.

Another example: this works when you're a project manager and you need information from a developer; the developer, no matter how gently you tell him his or her feet will not be held to the fire for their estimates, will be hesitant to provide them (even if you've been great about those estimates the last five times you've asked). But, if instead of just ASKING for something in the transaction, you GIVE something to them, and they're more comfortable giving you the estimates. You give them a promise to send them an email indicating that you are not setting these numbers in stone, that they are just preliminary, and that you will cc the people who want your estimates, the developer, and his/her boss on that email. Top that off with something the developer wants--anything from chocolate to an hour or two with a subject matter expert to get through a thorny problem--and all future transactions of the estimate nature will go far more smoothly.

Consciously or not, people are constantly considering these questions in a work place conversation: 1) What am I getting out of this? 2) Is it worth my time I might otherwise be using to do something else? 3) Is this going to get me in trouble if I do/don't pay attention? 4) Am I going to end up with more work/my favorite project taken away? 5) How reliable has this person I'm talking to been in the past?

You need to make answering those questions part of your every day conversations. It won't be seamless at first, but letting people know that working with you, giving you what you need, will not only spare them trouble, but will get them something they need (tangible or intangible) makes the transactional nature of communication work FOR you, instead of haphazardly or against you.

Now I want chocolate.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bonus Blog: Cheerleader Bum Rushing

When I took my first ever customer service job, my trainer was this beautiful older lady named Donna. Donna advised me that no matter how upset the customers got, you got nicer and nicer. "Not," she said, "Just because in customer service you should be nice. But because the nicer you are, the madder they get." Then she grinned with glee. I liked Donna.

Her point was a good one, though; people did not call my supervisor and complain that I was too nice to them. So my general philosophy for dealing with people and projects starts with nice (and typically ends there, too).

Nice, however, is not the only tool in my arsenal. I also have "annoyance." Ok, everyone, from the two year old having a tantrum on the floor to the guy next to you who wants the armrest has annoyance as a tool. My theory is "Don't be annoying unless you have to be." Basically, nice covers a lot of bases all by itself. However, nice + annoying = results.

Storming into the office of the developer who has dodged three meetings with you for information to finalize your release process so you can, you know, release your project, and then yelling at him might make you feel better. But it is unlikely to actually produce the information you're looking for, and he's not really going to respect your wishes about helping you the next time. In fact, the developer might not be very pleased with you at all depending on how creative you are and if you like to use existing or made-up swear words.

Walking into his office when he's there and being nice to him MIGHT get what you want; I like to bring some bribery with my to make things easier...chocolate, beer, Starbuck's card...I'm not proud. I want results.

However, if he takes your niceness and does nothing, well, that's when nice + annoying can help you. Typically after one or two simple "hey, how's going it, will you be showing up at my next meeting?" drop-ins, I only get nicer...and more persistent. I drop an email to the person in question that I can show up every hour as needed to provide any information required to get what I need to get done. And then I do. I am sweet as anything. I don't threaten. I just ask if he/she needs anything and offer candy or whatever. Then I go away. Only to return 45-60 minutes later. Repeat.

I have never met anyone that lasted longer than hour 4.

Now obviously the amount of times you do this, the amount of times between doing this, etc. depends on your relationship with the person in question; I have a PM friend who would bury herself and this was the only way to get her to remember she needed to give me stuff, whereas I've had testers that required 15 minute checks to make sure they were completing something I needed for the next day. Every person and position is different. The trick is to get nice, really, really, maddeningly nice, and to sustain it so that its easier to give me what I want rather than endure me any longer. It is a careful balance, of course, because some people who are onto your tactics may get piqued and just refuse to play ball at all.

At that point, you're moving away from nice, nice + annoying, and into escalation territory. I'll have a post about that later. Sufficing to say, I like to try every variant on nice I can manage before I escalate. Escalation is a land where repairing the damage is much harder than if you never did it in the first place. Use sparingly.

The title of this post comes from one of my "nice" techniques; I did not invent the "Cheerleader Bum Rush" approach, but I use it (as noted above, I'm not proud). It involves a lot of gratitude towards the intended victim, and lots of exclamation points! It also lays out the consequences of failing to achieve an action while you are absolutely certain that this person won't ever let you down! It sounds so happy that cc'ing that person's co-workers and/or boss isn't a blot on their reputation because you are praising them, and ends with the carrot (after the previous stick), that when they finish this thing you know they'll finish with flying colors, then something really good (like canceling a meeting) will happen!

Basically, you become a cheerleader for that person, someone that no excuse or previous lack of performance can destroy the belief of. It gives you an opportunity to bring in higher management because you are praising this person, not getting them in trouble, but it also points out to upper management expectations and when they should be met. Traditionally I use this technique if nice + annoying hasn't worked in the past, or in situations where I enter and I've never been there before, but I have an urgent deadline (such as, for example, the first week on the job when everyone's kicking the new manager's tires). This is a nice alternative to escalation.

This doesn't have to be used as sparingly as actual escalation, and traditionally can be used before trying nice + annoying (which is often a good idea to try to stick with my principle of being annoying only when necessary). People feel so, well, bum rushed by your positive attitude, they comply to avoid having to deflate your opinion of them...and having to deflate that opinion in writing, in front of their boss who is cc'd makes it a lot more palatable to them to just finish what they need to get done and get out with your sincere thanks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A little honest bribery can go a long way

Whenever I start a new job, I purchase a lot of chocolate in various varieties. Then I put it in an easy to see, easy to transport cup. Then I walk around the building and introduce myself, bestowing candy on anyone who wants it.

I trade people’s names and a hello for candy. I am always careful to visit the Help Desk people (which, for those of you not in the tech industry, are the folks who usually manage your email, passwords, computer issues, etc.), the receptionist, IS/IT (if they are separate from Help Desk), any executive assistants, and my immediate co-workers/team. I want my first interaction with these people to be pleasant, and I’m not ashamed to say so; as a matter of fact, many people smile and laugh when you tell them that you’re bribing them for good will in advance.

That’s the trick to bribery. It’s a blatant means of manipulation, and failing to acknowledge that blatancy can annoy or upset people. Being obvious about what you’re doing sets them at ease, and people who meet you with a smile and the association of a treat, are more likely to think of you fondly the next time you run into them.

For example, you meet Mary the receptionist. You’ve passed her desk and know she collects bears, so, when you’re out and about, bring her a bear. A non-creepy bear, btw. Nothing to inspire concerns you might want to date her or stalk her, and nothing so expensive she feels obligated for receiving it. The point is—bears, candy or good conversation—you are letting Mary know she is important because you thought about Mary even when she was not around; and that means a lot to people. It could also be things like, if Mary is busy, sign for the package for her if that’s possible. You get the gist; do something kind of a tangible nature. Feel free to tell her it’s a bribe if you’re doing it just to get on her good side (feel free to let her know you want to be on her good side), and you will be banking good fortune against a need in the future…and you might make a friend along the way.

A lot of techniques I suggest in this blog are methods of manipulation; the point that I try to keep clear, that I continue to strive for, is that you be upfront and transparent with people. It often makes them laugh, yes, but its a vital ingredient to the natural integrity on which they will base their opinions of you. You want them happy. You want to associate yourself with a good thing. But you also want to take those baby steps of good communication and connection to the next level, which is very hard to do if those people feel you're in it only for yourself, and are willing to manipulate people in negative ways to get what you want.

You do want to manipulate people, yes. But you want to do in positive ways, so people understand what you are doing and who you are. And it certainly doesn't hurt if the first thing they think of when they see you is tasty candy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bonus Blog: Safewords and Beer

Undercover agents use safewords to determine that they are in trouble/something is about to happen. Some couples (or groups, etc.) also use them in a more intimate setting.

The concept behind a safeword is that it is a word that means more than what it says. All parties agree on that word having the additional meaning, and, further, tend to agree on the importance/severity of that additional meaning. So, for example, two undercover agents come upon a box. The first agent can either say their safeword, "Mexico," which will cause the other one to immediately pause, or he can say "Stop! I've seen that type of box before, it's a bomb!"

A lot of people, you'd think, would hear "stop" and, well, stop. How many times have you heard "No" or "Wait!" but your body had already started in motion? Safewords, because their connotation is only one in case of emergency/urgency, tend to override whatever is going on in our heads--such as, for example, scanning for bad guys by agent 2 while he's reaching for the box--better than common, regular words, most of the time. This is because of the agreed upon additional meaning, and the fact that the word is really ONLY used in those cases; you might shout "stop" to get someone to come back for their phone, just as much as you might shout "stop" to persuade them to not be hit by a car they haven't seen as they try to cross the road.

Now people will occasionally say your safeword--traditionally they come up in random conversation eventually--but in addition to the word agreement itself, you are also agreeing to when it will be used and when you will pay attention to it. So, for example, both agents at their desks at the office talking about a trip to Mexico is unlikely to trigger either of them, as it is not the agreed upon scenario when that word triggers what it triggers.

Aside: If you've been paying close attention, I have avoided the more intimate connotation of safeword examples like the plague. This is not accidental."Professional Blog" starts with "Professional" and I have no idea how to make that sound managerially professional and not HR-is-coming-to-take-you-away professional.

In my very first blog post on this site, someone mentioned my very first safeword introduction.

I was working at a company in the tech industry that created websites to sell products for various companies. I was the quality assurance lead for a project, and there was a senior developer (SD) and a senior project manager (SP) on the project, too.

We all enjoyed the best type of problems to have on a team: we all wanted to do what was best for the project, from meeting customer expectations to designing the darn thing from a technical perspective. This, however, created conflicts. Traditionally I wasn't a primary operator in these conflicts; I'd hear the SD and SP bellowing at the top of their lungs in the next (very large) room, and wander over to see what could be done (this is not to say I never argued with them, as that would be untrue. But rarely did my co-workers get the other one of them when I was talking to one of them to sort things out before they came to blows, whereas I was frequently summoned to help "resolve" the situations with these two extremely passionate people).

We were a Silicon Valley start up in the 90's and I was on my way to the zillionth such conflict when I wandered past the breakroom. As we'd had a party earlier, and we were a freaking start up (and that's what you did back then), the fridge was full of beer. Knowing that both of them enjoyed beer, I grabbed the opener and two of them, heading directly to SD's cube where the throwdown was occurring.

Nothing has stopped those two from fighting faster than handing each of them a cold beer and not giving them the bottle opener. They immediately became civil, thanked me, and before I could reap the benefits of the sudden cooperation and happiness (and turn over the opener), SD provided one and opened SP's beer first, then his own. And thus a tradition was born.

While you might think providing beer to two people whenver they fight would train them to fight more, this was not the case; they both knew they got the reward for no longer fighting. It was also a bonding experience between all three of us (even though I don't actually drink beer).

When our company shut its doors, we were acquired by another company and the last 13 people came to work there. It was a warehouse place, so absolutely no alcohol was allowed on the premises. Through the genius of bad judgment, our boss had decided to place SD and SP's cubes right next to each other. We weren't there a day before it started, again.

Stuck, I rummaged around and wandered over with chocolate. This did not even pause the debate. I walked back to my desk dejected, then had what I hoped was a brilliant idea. A quick web search later, and I had emailed them both an image of a frothy mug with the simple subject "BEER!"

Both their machines pinged (well, SD's went "Doh" like Homer Simpson), and, in the middle of the fight, they both checked their mail. Then they busted up laughing. Our safeword was now set and everyone agreed on the meaning "Calm the heck down and laugh a moment."

Eventually, I would hear them going at it and then just send them an email with the single word "Beer" in it, hear them laugh, and then things would be back on track. Many a time I got silly email back. Our HR department might not have enjoyed the methodology, but it worked. And I'm a big fan of doing what works (provided it doesn't hurt anyone or make them uncomfortable).

Because I was able to reinforce the good emotions around the word "Beer," it could cut through bull-headedness and stubbornness because we all agreed to it. Sometimes, when you're working with people the normal things don't work; you have to get a little surreal, say things a little differently, name things differently than how they've been named to move forward.

The constraints of how you think about things constrain what you think about, so every once in a while, you want to stretch your legs and your mind and think of another way to get across your meaning.

In the interim, for SD and SP who read this blog, I say to you "Beer!" because you totally deserve the concept and the beverage.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Help People Even When It Doesn't Benefit You

In any seminary or social sciences class, this statement would put you well ahead of other people. In the work world, your managers would love it if you did this, but the reason I chose to explore it today is that most people don’t. It’s not that we’re surrounded by heartless self-centered assholes (although that is the case for some folks), its that we all have a job to do, and taking time away from doing your job not only doesn’t benefit you, but it could actually hurt you at review time or even within the hour if you have a close deadline.

Office life doesn’t support altruism very well. When I worked at Microsoft, no one was very forthcoming about helping me when I needed it. Not even, really, my boss. The attitude was that if you didn’t know it, then maybe you shouldn’t be here. Unfortunately, that also extended to say, passwords and where the bathroom was.

Now, this is not to say Microsoft is a bad place. Every group there is different, and I have several friends having a great time working there. The group where I worked, however, frowned upon altruism, valued Halo (and then later Halo 2) skills, and watched and dissected the TV show The Apprentice as part of their culture. I spent a lot of time dead in Halo (and Halo2) watching the other people run and strafe. I still shiver at first person shooters as a result. I also get a little freaky in June and January, because these were the months when emails stopped being returned, people avoided you in the halls, and everyone was out to be as successful as they could during the month preceding reviews and evaluations.

The point is, it was a competitive atmosphere. It’s an extreme example, because its likely that where you work the receptionist, Mary, who changes out the toner and transfers your phone calls is unlikely to be working directly against you for victory in a video game or to close you out from a percentage of bonus by being ineffectual close to review time. However, she does have to manage calls and handle toner, and if she’s going to take time away from her goals—the ones she’s paid for and judged on—she needs a really good reason. It either needs to be part of her job, or worth her while.

Hence this post. See, you could help Mary when you need help, and in the transactional nature of the thing, you’re going to be doing something kinda big, especially if what you want from her is kinda big. And maybe Mary doesn’t need a big favor just now? Asking exactly when you need help is going to happen—somethings are just unforeseen—but how cool would it be if Mary was willing to help you without you having to offer something immediate to her? How cool would it be if the Office Manager, the IT guy, or your boss felt the same way?

Now this technique isn’t going to change the entire culture, and it’s certainly not going to change the culture you can change overnight. But it will change some culture, and, used in conjunction with the concept of being an information nexus (discussed in future posts), can become viral…once people see the value of it, they often emulate it because they get what they want.

And here’s the big technique: do something nice for Mary weeks ago. Now you’re wondering where I include the blueprints for the time machine. If I had a time machine, I’d be on a beach somewhere with Einstein; I would imagine that you haven’t really experienced the universe like you would if Einstein was putting suntan lotion on your back. But I digress.

This isn’t something to do when you need something. This is not to say that you can’t ask when you need something, that would in fact be silly, and, oddly, a lot of people fail because they don’t. But that is another post about the transactional nature of communication and interaction, and that is for another day.

This is more about laying the groundwork so that future transactional communications favor your goals. In non-fancy language, do this now, even when you don’t have any need for it. For one thing, it’s just a nice thing to do. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind wasting 10 perfectly good minutes to make another human being happy, this is the right task for you. Secondly, however, for the investment of just 10 minutes (or less), when you’re really jammed up, Mary is going to come through for you, or help you find someone who can. It’s not altruism for the sake of altruism, although I suppose it could be if you felt that way about it. The important part is, if you’re doing something to effectively pay it forward, you should be honest about it with yourself and the other person, so that they don’t have that icky sense of being manipulated when you’re really in dire need of their help.

This doesn’t mean you need to become Mary’s best friend. It also doesn’t mean that if she bores you silly with talk of her many surgeries, boyfriends/girlfriends or cats that you have to stick around and take it. But it does mean that you have think about what Mary might want in the immediate time frame, when you don’t want anything, and work out a way to help Mary get what she wants in a fashion that a) doesn’t have you hamming it up that you did it but b) has Mary well aware you’re responsible and c) is honest in its endeavor.

If you really are, at this moment, being nice to Mary because you want to be, that will shine through. If you are, however, doing this to butter up Mary for later, this is just as likely to shine through. It’s not a bad thing if you’re buttering up Mary so long as you acknowledge what you’re doing with yourself and with Mary.

This leads nicely into my next post on the topic of bribery...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bonus Blog: Answering questions re: Student Workers

This question came in:

My position as a manager is somewhat limited by the fact that I must hire part-time student assistants who work on an average of one year for me. The people who work for me are working to support their school-- studies come first. They work between classes for me, an average of 3-5 hours a day.

1. How can I inspire people who work part-time, for a finite period, and don't expect to advance, to nonetheless do their best for me in the time that they spend with me? This is crucial, because even if they don't give their job their all, ultimately I, the full-time worker, am responsible for what they do.

2. Our college philosophy is on-the-job-training, even for student admin assistants. What are some techniques I can use to teach my student admin assistants how to be ready for the work force? Some of my assistants are engineering students who have never worked customer service, some have had a job or two (light admin, retail, cashiering).

There are lengthy answers for both questions. I'm going to try to sum up, and any themes I take a shine to I'll extrapolate on in a main post later.

As a person (as well as a manager), I believe in motivating people more by the carrot than the stick. As a manager there are some built in carrot and stick options: you can promote someone, advance their career in some other way (say by giving a reference), or give them a bonus, just to cite the most common examples. The stick is also easy: performance plan, least fun work assignments, and potentially firing.

I don't typically use this built in carrot and stick as a manager; my managerial style personalizes more than it formalizes. This is not to say that a formal environment doesn't work, just that I've tried, and a more informal one works for me (at least in dealing with my direct team).

Since I'm already into alternative methods of motivation, the situation in (1) can be handled using the ones I rely on most.

In this (as, let’s face it, I do in most cases) I like to provide my own Carrots and Sticks at a less managerial level and more at a social one. I'm going to talk about bribery in a future post, and that's a good way to get started; bribe them with treats. Talk to them. Find out their interests. Tell them your own. Treat them like humans. Tell them you value your contributions. When they do a task, thank them for it (doesn't have to be all gushy, just let them know you noticed).

Effectively, what I'm suggesting is a really good office environment to which they are interested and happy to go. I am also talking about operant conditioning, which sounds pretty bad but actually isn't as bad as it sounds. A side note here: a lot of my philosophy is about telling people what you are trying to do so that you do not end up coming across as fake or untowardly manipulative.

See, the initial Carrot develops in this relationship by associating a good reward--praise--with the behavior you want to see--good work. The secondary developing Carrot is that you get to know them and like them (always a benefit), and they get to know and like you. Them liking you gives you a "Stick" to use: the Stick is that they don't want to disappoint you or get you into trouble (say, by not doing their work).

Developing an environment where you encourage people to praise each other and work together will make them want to be with you everyday (a nice additional benefit), because college is usually a very lonely place; you spend a lot of time under mountains of work, and when you do have to collaborate with someone, its more of a burden than a help. You can't make stapling and customer service "fun," but you can provide a stable, appreciative and healthy environment they will want to go into. Flavor this with the occasional group activity (such as a potluck or taking 10 minutes to do a silly craft throughout the week) and you bond the group to yourself and each other. This enforces the good behavior both through their desire to make the group happy AND the norms and behaviors of group dynamics (making it less your job to make sure they stay on target and more the entire group's).

See, all of that is a lot less Machiavellian sounding than operant conditioning. But that is, at the core, what you are doing. You're just using your powers for good, here.

This fits neatly into (2) above; to work in the work force, you need to know how to work as a team. You need a safe place to make mistakes, and an environment that forgives them but discourages making the same mistake twice. Building a relationship around the environment being a good place is a good start to making them receptive to these skills.

An important part of (2) however, is what I think of as providing a running commentary. It's very easy to take for granted a good work culture, especially if you've never had a work culture before. Your job, as boss, is to point out to the employees (only after you have their buy in) what is good about the situation and to discuss with them why they find it good. You want to do this less on a group basis and more on a one on one, asking them questions about what they expect in the work force and then processing their answers in a friendly way, using your own environment for comparison.

What do you think working at an engineering firm will be like? "I don't know, I figured I'd sit at my desk and work on my computer a lot." Hmm. You'll probably have meetings, right? We have meetings here sometimes. You probably will have them a lot more than here, though and they will probably be different in X and such way...

These are my current best suggestions. If more occurs to me, I'll do another post. Thank you for asking!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

About me and my Managerial Positions (er, Thoughts)

I have had managers that:

1) Faked a brain tumor
2) Required a summary email for every conversation lest he ask me, at 5 pm, what I had been doing all day, after meeting with me at 9 am to determine what I was doing all day.
3) Taught me so much about managing up I actually think of his face when I'm working out how to manage another situation up
4) Swore at customers and got them to thank him for the privilege
5) Committed a murder suicide
6) Required me to break in after 10 minutes to find out if I still had a job or not, as he was rambling and all but two people in my dept had been laid off while I was on vacation
7) Entered a new company and brought flying monkeys for EVERYONE
8) Tried to grow my skills and succeeded
9) ...and many, many more.

I have been a manager that:

1) Saved a man's job at Christmas, on the day his dad died, not just because it was cruel to lay him off then, but because he had a lot to offer and we both needed him to be able to offer it
2) Terrified an entire team of new project managers by calling an emergency meeting and starting that email with "No one's in trouble..."
3) Got productive work out of a know-it-all developer who was brilliant but shy some social skills; he turned my team around (in a good way)
4) Wrote up a 9 page sexual harassment document with dates and times for five different people (2 of them male) regarding someone I was not managing
5) Did not run over the sexual harasser in #4 with my car despite ample desire to do so
6) Learned and utilized the fact that lots of caffeine will do when a good employee forgets his/her Attention Deficit Disorder medication for the day
7) Co-managed a bi-coastal effort where the other manager (and team) were literally undoing the work my team had done overnight...and I still finished on time and on budget
8) Failed spectacularly, and took what was coming to me rather than let it fall on my team
9) ...and many, many other things.

I think that, no matter what the job description reads, your first and primary job is to make sure the people beneath you succeed.

Being a manager is like being forced into those high school group projects, where if someone screws up, everyone gets hit for it. Sure, you can claim to the teacher that Billy played Nintendo rather than actually do his part of the project, but I have never met a teacher that would buy that. Thus, in my opinion, group projects are designed to fail because one person who wasn't going to do the work was assigned to each group. If you knew by the time of the first group project this was going to happen, you passed, and if you didn't, life sucked and you failed.

In my case, I grasped early that our version of Billy did not play well with others, and I worked with the rest of the team and we did not come up short despite "Billy." It was hard. It was annoying. And I had to share the credit. But I got an A, and I got to see a look on the faces of my teammates that I find addictive to this day: pride.

Being a manager means taking the blame for individual screw ups and letting the group accept the praise, confident that you are a member of that group. Being a manager means you are secure in the fact that you might not be the smartest person in the room, and that's a good thing. Being a manager means knowing when to shut the hell up and let your team run. Being a manager means making noise in the awkward pause, to get everything going again. Being a manager means trusting your instincts, but it also means trusting your people. Being a manager means you tell it like it is, all the hard edges and the occasional soft corner. Being a manager also means the hard decisions: who stays and who goes, keeping silent when you really don't want to, being noisy because its the right thing at that time, even if it doesn't seem so.

I love being a manager.

That's what this blog is about.