Leadership Pitfalls and the Technical Manager

Being in leadership today is challenging enough with the unrelenting pace of change, global competition, and a multi-generational workforce. But, there are some additional challenges that can derail the effectiveness of the technical manager. The fact is that most technical managers use a style of leadership known as the Analytical or Systematic Style. This style has many characteristics that are effective in leading teams—characteristics such as consistency, dependability, efficiency, thoroughness, depth of knowledge, and objectivity. However, there are also some characteristics associated with this style of leadership that may not serve the technical manager. This article addresses four specific pitfalls for those who are relying exclusively on the Analytical Style of leadership.

Pitfall #1: Working with Facts not Folks

Many Analytical Leaders love to get settled in their offices, get to work mining data, and not emerge for days, weeks, or months. All right, admittedly, this is an exaggeration. But, there is enough truth in it to make it one of the pitfalls. There is a tendency toward isolationism in Analytical Leaders. They are not usually walking around the office meeting, greeting, and chatting with their team members. If they need to communicate, it is most likely through email or texting. They would benefit from getting out of their offices more frequently and developing more personal interactions with their team members.

Pitfall #2: Finding the Flaws

It’s no secret that Analytical Leaders tend toward perfectionism. They expect flawless work from themselves and from others. So, they are always on the lookout for mistakes—and are exceptionally adept at finding them. There is nothing wrong in finding the flaws in others’ work, but it becomes a problem when that’s all you find. Analytical leaders often overlook all that’s right about a project, report, or presentation, and go immediately for the flaws. This can be demoralizing to team members and come across as overly critical. Balance your comments being sure to acknowledge those things that went well.

Pitfall #3: Disappearing When Conflicts Arise

Conflict is a natural part of life, and the work environment is certainly not immune to conflict. Differing opinions, personality clashes, competitiveness, and opposing goals are just a few of the reasons behind conflict in the workplace. But, the Analytical Leaders are not usually very comfortable with the emotional outbursts or the intensity that often comes with conflict. So, they either ignore it hoping it disappears, or hide out hoping that others will handle it. This is usually wishful thinking. Unresolved conflict can fester and grow which is damaging on many levels. Technical managers would do well to deal early and calmly with conflict.

About the Author: 

Davette La Bay has helped thousands of people around the country reach new levels of personal and professional success. Davette’s programs are specifically tailored to her audiences. Her programs are highly interactive, fast-paced and practical and her audiences consistently describe her as “a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker,” “a magnificent facilitator”, “highly knowledgeable”, and “perfect for our group.” Formerly a management consultant for two internationally recognized educational seminar firms, Davette is currently the Director of Leadership Development for a large government agency in South Florida.

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Hiring Manager

The Persistent Performance Review Process

Have performance reviews in your organization become a routine time waster? Are your performance reviews missing the mark of raising productivity and building loyalty? Do your performance reviews usually have a negative twist that is hard to resolve? Would you like to improve the process?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, keep reading.

The most effective performance review process is to make a conscious effort to give relevant feedback on a regular basis, be that daily, weekly or bi-weekly. Regular conversations between a manager and an employee should offer encouragement for the employee, adjust direction that has strayed off course, and correct inadvertent errors. I call this the Persistent Performance Review Process.

Employees seldom come to work with the intent to make mistakes but unintentional slipups happen because employees are human. Saving a conversation about mistakes, errors and slipups for performance review time is a serious blooper. Often the employee repeats the mistake or strays farther off course.

Drive-by Correction

Managers often think they can save time by giving a drive-by correction comment instead of stopping and giving relevant feedback. They mistakenly think the best time for a real conversation is at performance review time. A drive-by comment can have an unintended consequence: low productivity. The employee’s momentum is broken as they work to reconstruct their esteem and thought processes. A persistent and consistent performance review process keeps employees on the right track and focused on production goals.

It takes courage to initiate candid conversations in a Persistent Performance Review process but at formal performance review time, the payoff is astronomical. The Persistent Review Process eliminates the negative twists that often happen in a formal performance review and can be tough to resolve at one sitting.

Coaching and Mentoring Mode

Regular conversations about mistakes, performance, and behavior permits you to shed the disciplinarian, principal’s office syndrome at the formal performance review time and settle into a coaching and mentoring mode as you discuss the employee’s skill development, the behavior issues you have addressed consistently, their contributions to the team, and their anticipated future with the company. A discussion aimed specifically at the employee’s growth, needs and concerns builds loyalty and maintains retention.

If throughout the year in your persistent performance review mode, you have created a baseline of candid, straightforward conversations, you and your employee will feel free to express honest feelings and opinions in the formal performance review. The formal performance review can be non-threatening as it includes listening and acknowledging both persons’ viewpoint, exploring alternatives, and negotiating a pathway forward when there is disagreement.

Candid conversations throughout the year take the sting out of a typical performance review technique, the sandwich technique: “I really like what you did on the Telco account. BUT the XYZ account missed the mark. It was lousy, subpar work. Don’t let that happen again. However, I really like you.” What do employees remember? What you categorized as lousy.

Take the Prickle Out of Formal Review

The Persistent Performance Review Process with its regular employee conversations about performance — both good performance and performance that could be improved — not only takes the prickle out of the formal review, but reduces the possibility of high performance reviews for a mediocre employee or good remarks about an employee that should be terminated.

The subjects of candid conversations with employees throughout the year and the results of the conversation can be recorded in the employee’s file which should be reviewed during the formal performance review. The process also provides documentation of below average performance that could lead to termination.

The Persistent Performance Review process is a great tool to make the formal performance review an instrument to increase performance, move mediocre performers to high performers, and contribute to retention of your best and brightest employees.

About the Author: 

Karla Brandau is the CEO of Workplace Power Institute that specializes in the people aspects of leadership and team building. She provides programs in charismatic leadership, results driven teams, and no excuse professional development. Find out more about more about Karla by going to Workplace Power Institute.

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Hiring Manager

The Seven Deadly Myths of Mobile

Recently I had the chance to chat with Josh Clark, one of the biggest names in Mobile Web Design, and keynote speaker for The Atlanta Drupal Business Summit, on how companies can unlock mobile for online success.

In the interview, Josh answers questions about mobile strategy and design such as:

  • What are the biggest hurdles companies face when “going mobile”?
  • What new mobile standards and technologies will Drupal need to embrace to stay relevant?
  • What are the next phases of responsive design?

You can listen to the interview here.

Josh Clark will keynote The Atlanta Drupal Business Summit taking place at the Cobb Galleria on Friday, October 26, with The Seven Deadly Myths of Mobile. This Business Summit brings together business leaders and technology strategists to discuss business solutions built with Drupal and sharing real-world examples, lessons learned and best practices.

“Drupal is the leading open source content management platform for business benefits, rapid technology advancement and long-term ROI,” says Jim Caruso, CEO of MediaFirst and an avid Drupal Association member.

Georgia boasts impressive recent adoptions of Drupal. The metro-Atlanta area is home to Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. which has been gradually migrating their roster of sports web properties onto Drupal, including NBA.com. At the public sector, the State of Georgia is wrapping-up a highly successful migration of Drupal from a proprietary platform—by the way, they are saving about 5 million dollars a year in doing so. At the higher-ed sector, Drupal has exploded in Georgia—Georgia Tech utilizes Drupal on over 40 departmental sites, the University of Georgia, Emory University, and Kennesaw State are all leveraging Drupal.

You can view the full schedule for the Drupal Business Summit and register at: http://www.drupalsummit.com/city/atlanta

About the Author: 

Adam Waid is the Director of Marketing at Mediacurrrent, an industry-leader in helping organizations architect custom Drupal websites. Adam is also a MATRIX Alumnus, where he worked closely with the Sales and Recruiting organizations to develop differentiation strategies, create content, and drive CRM and social media initiatives with a single goal in mind - build stronger, more meaningful relationships with our clients. Leveraging new technology, the latest social media trends, and a good mix of traditional marketing, Adam grows online communities.  

Follow Adam on Twitter and Read his Social Media Blog.

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Crazy Counter Offers and the War for Technology Talent

We have all heard the saying many times. A quick web search returns countless articles and statistics thoroughly detailing why it is a horrible idea. Good recruiters will remind you early and often throughout the process of looking for a new job. “Never accept a counter offer!”

Despite the negative connotation and overload of data available, the number of counter offers being accepted by technology professionals has never been higher . So what is leading to these jaw dropping decisions that are leaving hiring managers and recruiters alike crying, deflated, and exasperated? Some insight from an insider as I explain what I see.

IT Employment at Record Levels

Simply put, the market is hot. According to the latest report from TechServe Alliance, the number of IT jobs in the United States continues to grow, reaching yet another monthly all-time high in August of 2012. The IT index is up 3.4% year over year which means more jobs are being filled. However, thousands upon thousands of skilled IT jobs remain open at some of the America’s most respected companies. Across the country the shortage of talent is causing project delays resulting in unexecuted strategies and lost market share. Companies are getting desperate and simply can’t afford to lose key technical talent. Where we once observed companies make counter offers to only the very top tier of talent, we now are seeing an “any means necessary” retention strategy used on much larger percentages of the IT department. This also has led to diminished fears of “If I accept the counter, they will let me go once they find a replacement.” Right or wrong, talented techies feel like they won’t be replaced. Last month a talented engineer who accepted a counter told me, “If they want to replace me good luck. If my skills are that easy to replace would I be getting multiple call from recruiters every day?”

Evolution of Sourcing- Increase of Unmotivated Candidates

A recruiter’s ability to identify and engage talent has drastically improved in recent years. As adoption of social media has increased by IT professionals, so has the candidate pool for recruiters. You may not be looking for a new job or in my database, but if you have a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook, send an occasional tweet, check in on Foursquare, or even register for local user groups on Meetup, any good recruiter can find and communicate with you. Today everyone is a candidate and almost everyone is open to listen. Ultimately, this leads to more candidates being sold on potential opportunities when they were not truly motivated to make a change prior to conversations with a recruiter. When they go to give notice and their employer responds with an even better counter, the decision to stay is not difficult.

Crazy Counter Offers

Everyone has read the insane stories on Techcrunch, including Neal Mohan turning down a key Product role at Twitter after Google gave him $100 million in stock to stay. Another article says 80% of Googlers agree to stay when offered a counter. Regardless, the phenomenon is no longer limited to Silicon Valley’s elite. When I recently polled MATRIX recruiters across the country I found that we have seen counters offers in excess of $10.00 per hour and 20K annually being offered in many markets. Recently in Dallas, we had a candidate accept a counter that included a Promotion, 30K raise, and full work from home flexibility.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in tight knit local IT communities. Eventually, the demand will settle, it always does. Will those who accept counter offers be viewed as flaky and bridge burners by their peers? Or will they simply be viewed as opportunists who maximized their market value?

About the Author: 

Justin Thomason is the Director of Recruiting for the MATRIX Western region.  His expertise includes hiring, training, and leading world class recruiting organizations.  With a focus on innovative delivery strategies, Justin's recruiting teams specialize in leveraging social media to develop lasting relationships with talented IT professionals.

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Job Seeker

The Agile Project Manager—Don’t Throw out the PMBOK!

I must admit that I’m a fairly rabid agilist. Part of the rationale for that is the pain I’ve experienced in leveraging traditional PM techniques in software projects. Another influence is my experience dealing with traditional leadership and the dysfunction relating to driving projects and teams towards unrealistic goals.

What’s interesting though is a conversation I had with our Scrum Master team the other day. I asked them to act more like “traditional project managers”. To begin to...

  • Be more prescriptive at times with their teams; demanding high quality, excellent software, and adherence to our agile principles.
  • Pay close attention to risks – planning, real-time surfacing and guiding team reactions.
  • Encourage the teams to improve at an accelerated rate; to set the bar high for improvemen.t
  • Become visible as leaders and spokespersons for their teams; to do a better job of socializing state & progress.
  • Take the role of impediment resolution to the next level; mining for impediments…and dependencies, then inspiring action.
  • Cheerlead for their teams; inspire and demand that the Product Owner does the same.

What I was trying to convey to them was the ‘mindset’ of a “good Project Manager”…or at least the ones I’ve seen and collaborated with in my journey. You see, many agilists use the role of Project Manager as a bit of a verbal “punching bag”—implying that there is no need for them in an agile context. By the way, you see these same folks trivializing other roles too—functional managers, testers, and business analysts to name a few.

I can’t disagree more with these folks and that position. I think solid Project Managers can find a place in agile teams…a place that makes a HUGE difference. Yes, they might need to reframe their style and behaviors for an agile context, but please, please, please don’t throw away all of your approaches. Your teams absolutely need and will appreciate your skills, as long as you reframe appropriately without throwing out your essence

The “Agile Way”?

An anti-pattern that often shows up in agile teams relates to managers and project managers losing their way when it comes to knowing when and where to engage their teams. Knowing how to effectively handle the fuzzy and scary notion of a “Self-Directed Team” it turns out can be quite challenging.

A common reaction is to treat the team as if walking on egg shells. If you see the team heading for a cliff, you can’t really say anything—as they’re “self-directed”. Of if you do say something, you must whisper…quietly…hoping that someone might hear you.

I once coached a team in Toronto. As is my typical practice, I gave them a quick Scrum overview, then planned and kicked off their first sprint. I stayed for a few days to ensure they were going in the right direction, and then I went home. I came back at the sprint transition just to see how things were going. In my first morning Scrum upon returning, one of the developers sort of “yelled at” their functional manager who was attending as a ‘Chicken’.

The team was stuck at a technical impasse and she said: “You better step in and tell us how to handle this, or I’m going to scream”. I was taken aback and after the stand-up I asked her what was up.

She said that ever since the sprint started that none of the functional managers were saying anything—nor providing any guidance whatsoever to their teams. And that she was sick and tired of it. She wanted help! I then asked the functional managers what was going on. They said that they were only doing what I’d told them—that the team was “self-directed” and that they were to keep quiet…being ‘Chickens’ if you will.

Ugh! I thought as I smiled a wry smile to myself. Yes, I had told them that respecting self-direction is important. But that doesn’t imply that you don’t have a role and responsibility as the teams’ functional manager. You certainly don’t let them crash into a wall without yelling and warning them. You see, the managers missed the nuance of leading within agile teams, as many roles do. They mistakenly behaved as if they were marginalized and didn’t matter…when nothing could be further from the truth!

 So—Which Way Do we Go George?.
It’s Situational & Skills Matter

Always remember that your agile PM role is situational. You’ll want to keep the values (Lean principles, Agile Manifesto Principles & Practices, Essence of your specific methods, Quality, and focus on Team) core in your thinking, but at the same time very much react to situations as you always have—with simply some ‘adjustments’.

As part of being situational, always remember that the teams’ skills & experience matter quite a bit in how you should react. If you have a brand spanking new team, then you probably want to provide more prescriptive guidance. If you have a master-level team, then your job is to softly guide & support them, but truly get out of their way. The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a good model to become familiar with to conceptualize the various team levels that you might encounter and to guide your adjustments.

Risk an Opinion
As in the above story, your teams still need leadership—leadership that provides clarity, vision, missions, and goal-setting. Leadership that is “in the game or trenches” with them. Leadership that endeavors to protect them and to shield them from major obstacles and mistakes. Leadership that is supportive and encouraging. Leadership that is in all cases, well, leading them…

In a word, you should evolve towards a more Servant-Leadership style. But you also need to share your thoughts with you team. Risk saying how you feel and what you’re concerned about, but then allow the team to take risks and chart their own paths. Risk telling the team ‘No’ if you feel they’re on a destructive path and be prepared to also tell them ‘Why’. Finally, risk ultimately becoming a part of the team and sharing their responsibilities.

Leverage your Instincts
As I’m writing this, my company iContact is making a fairly major release of our eMail Marketing software platform. We’ve been adding social capabilities for several months and are now exposing them via this release.

One of the things we struggled with was how we turn on our +70k customers. Do we do it all at once, or in a more measured way to mitigate risk and allow us to see how the new functionality ‘behaves’ under load. There were two schools of thought across the teams—release it ALL and release it incrementally. Most of the teams had an ALL perspective, as did our QA team members. However there were a few in the development organization that wanted a more controlled release and argued for that option. Initially they were considered naysayers, only reacting to FUD, but to our credit—we listened to them.

After much discussion, we opted for a controlled roll-out. While we didn’t encounter huge problems as we ramped-up, it allowed for us to better understand our usage metrics, plan for incremental use, and have time to fix a few lingering issues. In the end, it proved that our overall risk-handling instincts were the right way to go. I’m glad the few had the courage to “speak up” and that we trusted their instincts.

Ceremony & Reporting Matter
Remember that even agile teams still bear a responsibility to integrate back into the organization. They need to be transparent and communicative—and not simply in agile terms. It’s not sufficient to simply say “come review our burndown chart” or “just attend our Daily Scrum” if an executive or stakeholder asks you or the team for status.

Sure that is a mechanism or ceremony setup for this sort of communication. But what if that stakeholder doesn’t show up? Does that alleviate your communication responsibilities? Of course not! So beyond the information radiators, a PM can ensure the team is effectively communicating broadly across the organization.

Another important point is communicating in ‘terms’ that the business can understand. Whether it is reports, data, videos, or whatever it takes to represent the teams’ progress and efforts.

I’ll even go so far in this post to say that many of the ‘traditional’ principles and techniques from the PMBOK shouldn’t be “thrown away” from an agile perspective. Let’s take the notion of critical path for instance. In larger agile projects, with multiple teams, there still are plans that evolve. And within that framework keeping the critical path of work in-sight across teams can be a crucial visibility point.

As can asking the team to manage risks, or creating a project charter, or establishing effective milestones for cross-team integration. So please don’t throw away or ignore these skills if you “Go Agile”. Just transform them (and yourself) a bit and then trust your instincts in the situations that emerge.

Wrapping Up
I want to wrap-up this post with caution though—traditional Project Managers DO need to reframe themselves and their approaches in an agile context. Throw away your templates and checklists that prescribe a specific approach to all projects & teams. Instead you must become context-based and situational in your approaches.

You must also engage your teams, not as an execution monitor or policy cop, but as a true partner.

I’ll leave you with the following two charts that nicely illustrate some of the focus and tempo changes that occur between Traditional & Agile PM activities.


Agile Project management

Agile Integration Management

So, Project Managers—may you navigate these waters well and engage with your teams. They NEED YOU!

About the Author: 

Bob Galen is the Director, Agile Practices at iContact and founder of RGCG, LLC a technical consulting company focused towards increasing agility and pragmatism within software projects and teams. He has over 25 years of experience as a software developer, tester, project manager and leader. Bob regularly consults, writes and is a popular speaker on a wide variety of software topics. He is also the author of the book Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out. He can be reached at bob@rgalen.com

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