I was talking with a recruiter recently who was telling me about a job they had posted. They wanted to recruit someone with five years of experience with software that had only been around for 12 years, and someone with advanced knowledge in half a dozen different things. I told him that he would never be able to find somebody that met the requirements they had written.
A person on a management forum recently asked if we would rather manage an overachiever or an underachiever. It probably comes as no surprise that I would rather manage an overachiever, but I’ve worked with both and there are a few different things that we need to recognize.
The concepts of absenteeism and presenteeism are ones I encountered while working on the seminar paper for my master’s degree. It was a bit of a new concept for me, putting into words something I’d observed but hadn’t fully internalized, and I thought this might be valuable for you all.
When the concept of agile was first being established, a very simple set of statements was written to help define it. Of the 12 principles behind the agile manifesto, five are related to interacting with people.
Being agile means putting people first, and that includes our stakeholders, managers, coworkers, and ourselves. For me as a manager, I have a customer that my team is working for, but my employees are also my customers. In a similar manner, I am a customer of my employees, and we all need to keep each other in mind.
Several years ago, my team had made a series of small mistakes. These were relatively little things, like getting an inventory wrong, or failing to notice something in a facility, or messing up a software configuration. But when you added the half dozen or so small mistakes together, it meant that my team had produced nothing but failure for two weeks. We had been screwing up over and over again, and now my boss expected me to drop the hammer on my team.
It has become something of a cliché that people don’t leave their job, they leave their boss, and a recent article posted to Reddit corroborated this with a bit of research. I posted a comment stating that my own research supported this, insofar as I had found that management cannot make employees happy, but it can certainly contribute to unhappiness.
I received a lot of questions about the subject, so I thought I would write a brief blog post summarizing my thoughts. What it really comes down to, though, is that a really great boss can help keep someone motivated and happy who is already motivated and happy, but if someone is miserable, demotivated, and doesn’t want to be there, the greatest boss in the world isn’t going to make an unhappy person more happy.
Managers typically subscribe to one of two theories about their employees. Theory X is that employees are typically lazy, unmotivated, have little work ethic, and won’t do a good job on their own. Theory Y is that employees want to do a good job, want to do work they can be proud of, and are internally motivated.
Management by wandering around is not a new concept. Some attributed its invention to Abraham Lincoln, and others to Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s. It has its own Wikipedia article, and who knows how many books written on the subject. Despite all of that, it often fails to yield benefits.
I really enjoy that Wikipedia states for management by wandering around that, “by random sampling of events or employee discussions, (it) is more likely to facilitate improvements to the morale, sense of organizational purpose, productivity and total quality management of the organization.” When was the last time your boss, by popping into your office or the floor space where you are working, suddenly improved your morale and sense of organizational purpose? Instead, I think we typically feel like somebody is trying to look over our shoulder, maybe wondering if are doing something wrong, and if nothing else it’s just distracting.
But there is a way to do this right. All we have to do is something other than just wandering around.
To address the questions of whether larger or smaller teams are better and how happiness impacts employee productivity, a review of extant research was conducted and then analyzed. The research and paper begin with the recognition that there is disparity in the conclusions that have been reached over time, but final analysis found that smaller teams tend to be more productive; larger teams can overcome the lack of individual productivity through sheer size; and while happier employees are generally more productive, employers cannot necessarily make employees happy. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on organizing work into units that can be assigned to smaller teams, barriers to communication should be eliminated, and employers should try to minimize or eliminate unhappiness caused by the workplace.
I’m a firm believer that there is a science to a lot of management. The reason there are books that provide guidance for managing better is because following the strategies and suggestions contained therein are often helpful, and we are continually learning more about people and how they work and what motivates them. But I have begun to think that succession planning is more art than science. That doesn’t make it less important to prioritize, it just makes it harder and requires more deliberation and practice. There are some solid tips that can help, but you’ll need to think a lot about it and begin to hone your instincts on this subject.
Succession planning is necessary in two different instances: either you need to plan to replace a subordinate, or you need to plan to replace yourself. And you should have a plan in mind for every employee you have, even if the plan is relatively simplistic. As the axiom goes, plans are worthless, but planning is essential. The situation will change often, and your plans will need updated too, but if you fail to plan you’ll be caught with a gap in your staff’s capabilities that could be devastating.
With the bulk of my experience being in the United States, any cross-cultural comparison I make is based on hearsay, or what I’ve read, so take it with a grain of salt. But when I think about things like how many hours the typical professional in the US works versus their European counterparts, it seems that our colleagues across the pond tend to maintain a better work-life balance. I know for me, the bar is set pretty high: only working 40 hours a week feels like slacking, and there’s always more work to do. But I also recognize that working more than 40 results in poorer quality and productivity. And we all need to take into account what working more than 40 does to us both as managers and to our employees.