Book Recommendation: First Break All the Rules

This is a book on people management. I had tried reading this book about 4 years back, but stopped after the initial few chapters thinking that it was not relevant.  At that time I was in a managerial role and was trying to learn management desperately. At that time, I had a team which always obeyed what I said, there were rarely any objections, if there were any, I was able to convince my team members to take the direction I was showing.

3 years later I joined a team where I was in an indirect management role.  Zero direct control. My team members had no obligation to listen / follow anything I said.  In-fact this was the time first time that my team members were probably smarter / more assertive than me. Initially I found it hard to manage. There were 2 things that helped – this book and the concept of servant leadership ( will talk about this one on a separate post). I read the book again, and this time it made a LOT of sense !

It talks about how can one measure employee satisfaction / happiness. And then what should managers focus on. Difference between Talent, Knowledge and skill and then techniques for hiring and managing talent.

Highly recommended for all Managers ( direct or in-direct ) and HR people.  Especially for folks who are relatively new to people management & want to excel at it.

Go give it a shot !

( Also, do let me know if you have any recommendations on the topic).

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Book recommendation: Crucial Conversations

This is one of those books which you would want to read once, read again and keep with you to read  again later.

crucial-conversations-tools-for-talking-when-stakes-are-high-400x400-imad6qhfgkhnnmag

This a book which explains how we react under emotional stress. How we deal with conversational violence or silence and why we deal with it that way.

And then explains how to have these emotionally charged and difficult conversations without getting off track and make positive progress.

This has had a great positive impact for me and is a must read book for folks who live with their families. Would also be extremely useful in office for those who deal with senior stakeholders and drive direction/decisions.

Book recommendation for new and aspiring managers

Management In India

When I started my own career in Management I practically had no formal / in-formal training about the role. Also, I struggled to find books, other educational material which was relevant to my role especially in the IT industry.

This is the first book which focuses on new and aspiring managers in India in the knowledge industry.  I was one of the reviewers and thoroughly enjoyed reading and reviewing the book.

Highly Recommend –

Management In India

Packt Publishing:
http://www.packtpub.com/information-technology-management-in-india/book

Amazon link:

http://www.amazon.com/Management-India-Accidental-successful-knowledge/dp/1849682623/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341554743&sr=8-1&keywords=management+in+india

Why you should promote a Software Developer to a Senior Software Developer ?

Growing Up

Growing Up

In the world of IT, engineers usually grow into either 1) Technical managers with people management responsibilities OR  2) Technical Advisors / Architects working as  individual contributors.

Here the first set of roles do not necessarily need you to have a great technical prowess compared to an architect. Similarly, in an architect role, you need not have great people management / planning, delivery skills compared to a Technical Manager.

We must keep these distinctions in mind when looking at entry level / junior developers. Also, keep in mind the need for utilizing the strengths of your employees and making the weaknesses irrelevant.

Given the above, lets look at various scenarios that usually happen with developers:

  1. Core Technical Strength  of an individual sometimes is not good enough for a more senior role.  You may want to ignore this weak-ness for a while and look at the strengths of the individual.  Like ownership, planning delivery, people skills etc.
  2. Ownership and passion may be great. In this case, let this person  be the driving force for solving a critical problem, may not be solving them problem himself.
  3. Delivery and execution skills may be awesome. In this case, let this person use these skills to drive the planning and execution for a team of individuals. See how this plays.
  4. Some people are just good at their clarity of thought, their inclination towards customers, business etc. You may want to let these people work closely with Product Mgmt in understanding requirements and helping provide a Product Manager view  / proxy to the team and help in documentation for the features being built.
These are only few examples  to show that how one could facilitate a situation where an individual can make best use of his strengths.
After you have provide these opportunities and the employee has done a great job, use that as a business case to promote the employee to a slightly Senior role and reset the expectations that he/she may now have to improve on some of his weaknesses as well to be able to do justice to this new role.
And then see the magic! 
I personally did not use to like this approach, but it actually works like a charm !! If you as a manager show folks that you care a lot about their strengths, then they tend to pay a lot more of attention to their own weaknesses to make you / the company happy. Try this out ! 🙂
The only caveat here is the set straight expectations with other employees on the criteria of a promotion or having someone at a senior role. Spread awareness about the same, having a not-so-technically-solid person at a senior role should not de-motivate / dis-courage geeks / junior folks.
Not only the manager, but all the team members should appreciate and work with the mind-set of respecting people for their strengths.
These are just my thoughts – would love to hear yours in the comments section!

Three things that make an Employee a Superstar

superStar

First of all, apologize for the long hibernation. Have no solid excuse for the long absence apart from the lame reason  of having ‘a busy personal situation’ 😉 . Now getting back to the topic; I have been thinking about it for quite sometime.  This post is for managers who want to find potential superstars ( within the team or from outside) as well as for employees who want to become superstars.

superStar

I have worked with and seen a lot of people. A lot of people grow like anything. A lot of people who do not grow in spite of being extremely capable. A lot of people being stuck where they are in spite of having a rock solid ownership.

And so far the following is what I have come to realize.

  1. First and foremost – Ownership.  I could not find a better word which covers a lot of aspects like commitment, going beyond the areas of your direct responsibility just because you feel that a particular project/product/ is ‘owned’ by you. In a nutshell – this is something that makes an individual act like his employer is a company owned/run by him. Like his company is his very own venture. Like every penny spent by the company is going from his own pocket. Like every un-happy employee  in his team is a potential attrition risk for his company and he should do something to fix that.
  2. Values: (Sigh!) Another big fuzzy umbrella term !  This is something that makes an employee honest. That makes him a good person in general. That makes him respect his colleagues. That makes him loyal to his employer. Mostly importantly – that makes him value collective good more than individual good.
  3. Core Competencies / Capability: This is the most obvious one. But the most obvious things are the hardest to understand.  There are many scenarios in which individuals put their heart and soul into areas which are not their core job responsibilities and do really well in those areas. But unless he/she is really solid in the core competencies of the job, its very hard for him/her to be called a superstar.  Its hard to realize what wonders one could do if he /she gets the basics right.

This is no wisdom guide but just my own personal opinion.Please do share your  thoughts in the comments section.

Acheiving goals in a world of fools(including yourself)

I always keep talking about this with my friends.  About how I deal with the world and keep what assumptions in mind and how it has helped me avoid surprises.

(Thanks to http://www.foreveroutdoorvillage.com for the pic.)

There are two ways to look at the world (2 extremes) :
1) Assume everyone is innately good, everyone will give you expected results / deliveries in time.
2) Assume everyone is an innately lazy, poor memory fool (including yourself).

Of course these 2 are extremes and none of them is work-able in a practical world. But you need to know which one are you more bent towards. This also depends on what you can handle and what you cant.

I am one of those who hate unpleasant surprises which are caused by people around you. Either because they were lazy or they missed out certain things or because they were not diligent enough. I can’t tell you how much I hate such surprises. I am sure many of you would share similar emotions.

But there is a twist in this story. Sometimes, I myself catch the disease of laziness, lack of diligence or by missing out certain things and end up creating an un-pleasant surprise for my peers and myself. And I hate this the most!  And I am sure many of you have a similar story.

Okay…? So you realize that all of us are innate lazy fools.

Ok understood; how do you get stuff done then ? How do you still acheive your goals ?

And I am here to talk about a working style that will get you the best results in most of the real world situations. There is only 1 mantra – When you get a failure / surprise, which you would really hate getting again, don’t think its the people who are at fault or somebody is memory is poor. You should think its the process which is at fault and not people. Something must have gone wrong in the process.

So how can I fix the process ? 

  • KRAs (Incentives and Disincentives)
    • This one is the most powerful for long term fixes and more strategic tasks and deliverables.
    • Identify what exactly is critical for your business and create appropriate KRAs for different members of your organization.
    • Create incentives and disincentives both against the above defined KRAs.
    • Now be very careful with the incentives / disincentives. You might have to setup different ones for different roles or different individuals based on their needs, aspirations.
    • Example – lets say you want your team members to contribute towards hiring. Create a KRA in their appraisal process for contributions towards hiring and setup incentives for their contributions towards it.
  • Reviews
    • This is most effective in case of short term tasks / goals where high quality needs to be ensured.
    • I know it would take a lot of your cycles, but there is no other option. If high quality is critical for you and you don’t want to take a change, then you MUST NOT SKIP REVIEWS. Be very diligent about them.
    • Also, to save time for repetitive tasks – create best practice guidelines. So that people can go through the guidelines and fix things before they approach you for a review.
    • Example – a client sales pitch or a hiring pitch to your prospect employees. Setup a formal review everything thats critical to your business. Code reviews, design reviews are more formalized in today’s world but there are other subtle things which can make a big impact to your business but you have not reviewed or done quality control for it.
  • Reminders
    • This is very well understood and practiced as well. But whats not understood is that the reminders are not only for others.  You should setup reminders for yourself for anything thats critical.
    • You can setup calendar meetings for important items to remind you.
    • You can setup mobile alarms / email reminders.
    • You can ask your colleagues to remind you. Its not bad to ask your colleagues to remind you for things that are of utmost importance.
    • Setup reminders to remind other people.  This is extremely effective. Give it a shot.
  • Ownership with the right people
    • You might realize that many times that the people you are working with do not have the right expertise.  And your colleagues who does have that expertise is busy to take your task up.
    • In such a case – let the other not-so-expert guy take up the task but make the expert guy the “owner”. So that the expert can make sure that the right thing gets delivered through reviews, brainstorms and other quality control techniques.
    • This is extremely effective but needs the  expert’s band-width. You need to do your job to get him to “own” the task.  This would not be too hard in most of the scenarios.
  • Sharing success & failures in a public forum.
    • This is effective too. Most of us have a desire for fame and respect. This would utilize that part of psychology.
    • Sharing success in people motivates people like anything
    • Sharing a failure in public can be powerful but risky at the same time. You need to know how exactly this has to be done.  This can either motivate or demotivate people by a big degree. So be careful, share the failure but be positive in your tone. Your purpose to share the mistake is to share what you have learnt from it and not to defame your employee.  Again, very powerful but risky at the same time. Be careful with this atom bomb.
  • Tools
    • Last but not the least, tools can ease your problems to a great extent. Task management tools are already available in the market. So this one is very well identified. If you are not using one of these – I guess you need to adopt of lot of such productivity tools to make your operations, deliveries smoother.
    • Tools can be for anything – tracking anything (ideas,tasks, meetings etc), reviewing anything (docs, code, design etc), automating anything(like calculations, resume selections etc), sharing anything ( mind maps, docs etc)
    • But they have an overhead. You need to housekeep them.  So pick and choose the right ones which give you the convenience and the keep the overhead to the minimum.

While the above things are good. You should keep in mind that overdoing any of the above can affect your relationships with people, especially if they are not mature enough to keep business goals above their personal egos.   This is a big down-side of using this working style.   So you need to learn to present your ideas, your reminders in a positive way so that they express the positive intention behind it. The intention is NOT to call someone a fool. The intention is to understand that we are humans and not the best possible machines. Machines, tools, processes can help us deliver the best. 

The other down side of using this approach is that it would eat up a lot of your cycles.So be ready for it and try things out; see if they work for you.

All the best !

Mistakes that budding leaders keep making in tough situations

I would like to call myself  a bit of  ”behavior, psychology Analyst”.  I love studying my own and my peers’ behavior in tough situations. There are certain things I think I have learned after making a 100 mistakes. Would like to share some of those here.

Following are the kind of mistakes that I have myself made and learned from them:

  1. Not spending enough time thinking, reviewing, brainstorming on what should be done to make things better. Instead working all day, all night just to get things done. They call it the difference between leadership and management. Leadership is about doing the right things and management is doing things the right way. As you can see, leadership is what usually makes a big difference in what we can achieve. We all tend to get busy into the tasks at hand. You must understand that these tasks will never finish and they should not stop you from taking time to “think”.You can’t imagine what wonders you can do by taking a 30 minute break, thinking about what is happening and how you can innovate to find simple solutions to tough looking problems. For this to work, you need to believe that there is EXISTS a solution which make the current situation untangle. Keep doing this exercise every single day. Think about whats happening and see how you can make it better. I have personally achieved a lot by following this practice religiously.
  2. Taking so much on your own self that you end up working through many weekends and yet fail to finish off all the work. As a result, failing to meet expectations and this goes into a vicious loop. You need to realize that you can scale to only a limited extent un-less you start delegating, unless you get a team for you, un-less you start devoting more time thinking about bigger problems rather than small but important looking tactical tasks. This also means that you should know your limit beyond which you can certainly explore but do not want to make a commitment to other stakeholders. I have seen myself, many friends, colleagues of mine getting into this trap.
  3. Get frustrated when your peers, other stake-holders do not give their 100% and letting the situation get to your mind. Learn to smile :). Learn to smile when things don’t happen they way you wanted them to happen.  A member of another team is not meeting his commitments, someone from your team is making funny excuses and not finishing his task in time or with the right quality; don’t get bogged down. Relax. This project might be really close to your heart, but others do not really feel for it so much. That is all okay. You must know that there are only a few at the top and many many at the bottom. There is a reason why there a few at the top. Learn to handle your frustration if you want to become a great leader. You need to stay objective and motivated no matter what, only then you can give your best.
  4. Getting biased in your decision making, especially for the current project, task at hand. This is the worst consequence of #3.  Never let this happen. If you think you are not feeling good, take a break and delay the decision by a bit.
  5. Writing emotional emails, replying to negative looking emails with an emotional state of mind. Emotional, blaming emails are killers. They can trigger a really bad situation. They have the power to upset anyone and everyone and the worst part is that they are “written communication” so they can become of a piece of evidence against your bad temperament, also emails never seem to work in rectifying such situations.  To fix a messed up situation, talk over phone, talk face to face. NEVER use emotional, angry emails. If email is the only option, then be 100% OBJECTIVE, the emotional quotient of your email should be zero. Very bland, black and white.
  6. Expressing your discontent to your team members in a way which can bring everyone’s morale down. If you are in a resource crunch situation, then the worst thing you can do is demotivate your team members. Instead of working through the weekends, they ll end up leaving at 5pm on a weekday where as you would be burning your midnight oil every week day as well as weekends.  Your team members are your most valuable asset. Keep them super-motivated. Talk positive. Tell them how this project is going to help your team the most.
  7. Creating negative images of colleagues you cant get away from. I think this is kind of self-implicit. If you create a negative image, it would become hard for you to deal with them in your future engagements. This would limit your own capability.
  8. Not paying enough attention to your health. You know what I am talking about. Skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, eating too much junk. This way, you would not be able to scale for a long time. May be a month ( or more, less depending on ur stamina) and your health is down and your productivity is gone. Do you want your health getting in the way of your success? Take good care of yourself.