Are you listening?

Are you listening to your employees?

I find it fascinating how often the employees have great suggestions and ideas and how they are just as often ignored until a 3rd party comes in and repeats exactly what they had been saying for free. If you have a great team, maybe listening a little closer could pay some great dividends? And I bet employee satisfaction goes up too.

Side note: don’t ask for feedback or suggestions if you aren’t going to do anything with the data. Asking for the feedback and then ignoring it is not only disrespectful but it will also teach the team their opinion will be ignored. Don’t waste that trust.

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Does owning a camera make you a photographer?

Just because you own a camera, it does not make you a photographer.
Just because you know where Home Depot is located, it doesn’t make you a General Contractor.
Just because you own a car and you know where the hood release is located, it doesn’t make you a mechanic.
And just because you own a computer and set up your wireless network at home, it doesn’t make you an IT professional, much less a CIO.
There is a difference between a hobby and being an expert in something.  Novice vs professional.
Do you know how to do it right?  And why it’s “right?”
Do you know the dependencies and the trade offs?  The gotchas?
Have you spent the time to get the education and put in the hands-on the job time required? Have you put the time in to become an expert and are you ready to put your name (or more) on the line?  We all have opinions, depending on the subject at hand, some of those opinions mean more than others.
Let the professional do their job, watch, and see what you can learn.
And, for the argumentative out there, just because you own a camera, it does not make you a photographer, it means you can take a picture.  It doesn’t mean you know composition, lighting, depth of field, etc. – it means you can click the shutter.  And we’re proud of you, it’s a start, now go learn from an expert…

Interview questions

Some of my favorite interview questions.  It’s about logic and your thought process, less about a specific correct answer: 

– why do you want to join this team? this company?  (hint: a paycheck is not a good answer)
– what do you bring to our team that we don’t already have?
– tell me about the most difficult project you had to work on and how you prevailed? Or failed and how you would approach it different next time.  Either is fine.
– tell me about a time you worked on a project that failed.  What did you do?  What would you do differently?
– tell me about the best project you worked on.  What made it so great?
– tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult person.  What did you do?
– what would you do if a client keeps asking for more functionality on a project that is already in development?
– how would you estimate the height of a building if you didn’t know the height of the buildings near it?
– why are manhole covers round? 

I’d love to hear any great interview questions you use.  Please share them with me.

Hiring – recruiting and interviewing

Employees are normally one of the largest expenses for most businesses.  And just the hiring and training of new employees are a huge expense, both monetary and time invested. So, my question is, why don’t we invest more on recruiting and interviewing?

Too often job descriptions are done just because HR forces the manager to write it. Very little real thought is put into the skills and experience required to succeed at the job. Rarely is there training for managers on how to write a good job description. I’ve heard HR complain about how poor the job descriptions are that they have to work from, but then I don’t see them coaching the managers on how to improve them.

What is the saying? Garbage in, garbage out…

Interviewing is another area more investment could be made.  How many interviews turn into popularity tests? The interview ends up coming down to do they seem like a nice person? But this isn’t a first date. The question should be “do they have the skills and experience to do the job” (ok, and would they fit on the team)? If there is more than one candidate can you, in a unbiased way, truly compare their skills, especially if the interviews were done over a period of time? If you have different people talk to the different candidates could you compare the assessments?  Could you defend the hiring if you were sued?

If you need justification, just look at how painful is it if you end up hiring the wrong person.  Both for you and that poor person! And it hurts the business – if nothing else, the delay in building a high performing team. Not only does a bad hire (bad may be a strong word – how about a wrong hire) effect the employee but the rest of the team also.

So how much should we invest into the hiring process?  Are you investing enough?

Ready, Aim, Fire!

I wrote my last post about project management. How you should know what your targets (due dates and milestones) are before you start firing (start development).  But the same is true in business too.

How often are decisions made focused on the now, the immediate need? It may fix what is broken, or at least the visible symptoms, but does the solution fit into the larger picture?  Will it cause other issues later?

Many times, in this tight economy, this is driven by a perceived lack of resources, but as I have posted before (in my review of Rework) when resources are scarce is the time when you need to be more creative. Not enough money to keep up your MS Exchange infrastructure?  Dump it and move to Google Apps email (Enterprise level email).  Not enough money to expand you SAN for network drives for your users?  External hard drives are cheap now.  Not enough money for your DR plan for your production site?  Move test and staging to a different location and make that your hot swap (just make sure you built the infrastructure properly).

Sometimes a disjointed strategy, or one that not all the leaders have bought into, can also cause decisions to be made that are fine for the silo’ed department, but maybe isn’t the best decision for the entire company.  I have to believe that those VPs really do think they are making the best decision for the company.  I hope it isn’t just ego getting in the way.

And, it could just be the company has grown so big, or is spread out in multiple locations that it becomes real difficult to make the “right” decision that works for the entire company.  And finally, I will admit in certain cases there isn’t one “right” decision. Sometimes you have to pick the lesser of two not super solutions and make it work.

But in general, when making large IT purchases or fixing broken business processes it is so much better for the company long term to take the time to make the right decision now.  It isn’t easy to do the leg work and do the research.  It isn’t easy to get agreement across departments.  It isn’t easy to sacrifice your political capital.  But it is so much better than creating new problems for yourself because you didn’t do the work. And it is so much better than having to un-do it later and then put in the right (better) solution.

Does your company have too many people paid to say “No?”

Does your company have too many people paid to say “No?”

Is it harder then it should be to get simple things done?  Have employees been trained that it is impossible (or at least hard) to make change or to improve things so they have given up (think most Federal Government jobs)?  Talk about killing innovation!  When it is hard to even get your job done and to make incremental change, why would anyone be crazy enough to try to innovate?
Some companies just seem to slide into a culture of No.   “No” is safe.  It is easy to say “No, you can’t do that. Convince me why we should.”  They exert their power.  They may even get patted on the back for saving the company money (at least in the short term).  Good thing you shut down that crazy idea.
Soon everyone becomes a road block. The company is able to cut short term expenditures, but there is no growth.  Even if the leadership talks about grand vision and goals, if they don’t change the culture of No it will never happen. That vision will be killed by 100 little No’s from everyone “just doing their job.”  Then management will wonder why that grand idea didn’t come to fruition. Must have been a failing on how it was implemented, right?

Maybe it’s time to convert some of those “No” people into “How can we do that?” people?

Communication – it’s a two way street (even at work)

I have done a few postings on communication already.  But they have been on how a manager should communicate with their employees:
There is a reason I focused on the managers – one bad manager can ruin a high performance team in no time at all.

But I have run into situations where I was shocked at how little communication was going on among peers, inside teams, and up the chain.  I have tried to follow my own rules.  I have made sure:
  • I am trying to set a good example myself
  • I try to set expectations and make sure they're very clearly communicated
  • I am trying to make sure no one is in the wrong role or has been set up to fail
  • And I don't think anyone on the team truly is an a-hole
So, for the benefit of all employees out there, here are a few simple rules for you, too:
  • Treat others like you would like to be treated
  • It seems to be true, everything we need to know in life we learned in kindergarten – play well with others, share, use please and thank you, be on time, fess-up when you make a mistake, don't lie, etc.
  • Let me know as early as possible that there is a problem
  • Ignoring a problem or waiting to tell someone about it didn't work when you were 5, why do you think it is a good idea now?
  • Don't wait till you turn in the work to let me know you couldn't do part of the job (so you just ignored that part of the task)
  • It's even worse if you turn in the partly done work on the due date or late
  • And if you are going to go over budget (hours or dollars), bring it up as soon as you know it is going to happen. Don't wait till you have exceeded the budget to ask for more. 
  • If you have an idea that is better (simpler, faster, cheaper, etc.) bring it up! If it's not appropriate to bring it up in the meeting, then grab me later and tell me your idea
  • If you know something isn't going to work or will fail, let me know! Don't assume I know it didn't work the last time someone tried X
  • Don't ask someone else to do something you wouldn't do
  • If possible, come to me with a solution, not a problem (but don't use this as an excuse to not tell me about a problem)
  • If you are handing something off to the next person on the task don't assume they'll read the project notes and understand everything perfectly, take the time to walk them through the task and make sure they understand the due date and the scope of the task at hand 
  • Communicate with others like you would like to be communicated with
  • Don't say things in email to someone you wouldn't say to their face
  • The best rule to follow with email is to assume it will be read by everyone – don't write it if you don't want it published. How many times has a forward been sent to the wrong person or someone did a 'reply all' by accident? 
  • Don't hide the important information in an attachment, put it directly in the body of the email
  • And don't put the important information at the bottom of a 5 page declaration – you are lucky if most people read the 2 paragraph, bring it up early
  • Bullet points are awesome (as you can see from my over use of them)! But not all subjects should be addressed in bullet points, sometimes using big boy words and actual paragraphs is required!
  • MS Power Point can also be abused, don't fall into the trap of using Power Point to sketch out your thoughts, make sure you start with a fleshed out complete thought before you use the bullet list short hand for the thought or idea. It is hard to communicate what you haven't thought through…
  • Sometimes it is just a miscommunication.  If it seems wrong or odd don't just go with it, maybe one of you misunderstood the other. Make sure you understand what the other person is saying and that they understood you
  • An email at midnight letting me know about an 8 AM meeting isn't nearly as helpful as one sent a few days before or at least one sent before 5PM
  • Sometimes a phone call is 100 times better than an email, face to face can be 1,000 time better!
Ok I was torn about this one, because it seems harsh, but I have to say it:
  • It's not all about you – don't take it personally
  • That slightly harsh email sent out by the VP? It wasn't about anything you did. 
  • "Why did they ask me to do this? They know I don't like it!" – maybe they are in a rush to do 20 things also and you are their go to person

That seems like a huge list!  But what did I forget?  Anything I should add?