Weekly achievements

I work in the technical department. One of the biggest problems of my department is that people inside the company in general have not a real understanding of what we are doing and on the problems we are facing. The exception is when something is not working or there is a problem that requires a technical solution. In that case everybody is looking at us waiting for the solution. Of course they do not have a clue on what the solution is but they understand clearly what are the implications of not having yet this solution, simply because it’s their problem and someone as to fix it as soon as possible.

The implications of all of this is that the point of contact between technical department and our customer (the rest of the company) is only in moments of crisis, pressure and in bad moments in general. Moreover, the same is happening inside the department. If you do your job and you are doing it well nobody is focusing on you and what you are doing. If you are doing the job in a sufficient way or with outstanding solutions is something that very few colleagues will realize, not even your boss. Of course when later a problem comes out because of a poor performance there is an ex-post evaluation of all your previous works (obviously with a bad attitude).

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So, the problem is – how to have a good perception of what is going on in your department focusing more on the positive results than in the problems?

I have got an idea about this and I ask to everybody reading this post to share it, if you believe it is worth spreading it.

The idea is very simple, I have asked to the people working in my department to send me every Friday afternoon an e-mail with the subject “weekly achievements” (so will be easy to filter on your e-mail client). The content of the e-mail should be just few bullet points focused on the achievements that everybody has done during the week.

The results of this practice have been impressive in the results. The wonderful thing is that now people tells me why they are satisfied and for what reason. Basically I have understood much more about their capabilities, their problems, their concerns with the weekly achievements than asking directly what you are doing and how is going. The principle is very easy, everybody of us have a different perception of what it’s easy and what it’s difficult and according to that the sense of satisfaction is very dependent on the progress made and the results achieved more than on the final outcome itself. These facts have profound implications in terms of managing people. Not only you understand better your peers perspective on the task, but you could easily guess their difficulties, their preferences and their skills. It is true even the opposite. If there are no achievements to underline or they do not propose any convincing task to be satisfied of, probably it means that the job assigned it’s not stimulating at all and that the tasks to be performed are just routine jobs and the sense of initiative and satisfaction is really low (and probably final outcome will be just acceptable in the best case). Knowing exactly all these situations allows you as a manager to leverage on the people’s potential, you can better motivate them and at the same time you could help them to improve and to target new challenges with the right help at the right moment. You could adapt the tasks to the right people, you could assign the jobs stimulating the initiative of your employees and even make them improve the most boring tasks creating the right process of involvement and leveraging on their own creativity.

If you think that this is good idea, spread it, try to apply it and share your findings on this blog and on the web. I’m looking forward to know the potential improvements that a similar approach has on your particular situation.

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What is the main motivation driver

I have this feeling from a long time but I have never been able to make up my mind and to really understand it clearly. Then I read this HBR article on how to “Increase your team motivation” and everything seems so clear now.

When we manage a team of people we always think about what is the main driver to improve team performances, to increase reliability, to make people feel more satisfied about their own work,  how to reach objectives in the most effective way (effective for the people and for the objective). And we always think about the balance of the two “classical methods” the stick and the carrot. At the end of the day they are just two metaphors for two different approaches to the management of people – Push or Pull.

Push is much more “pushing” people when they need to be guided trough a new project, when they need assistance. An example of this is the fixing of milestones, scheduled meetings, planning of step by step targets, checking progress day by day and so on.

A pull strategy is much more leaving the people reach the target without interfering too much, giving them the picture of the objective and trusting on their own experience and skills in order to reach the target, checking only the final result.

Of course both approaches are useful and they have to be used very carefully and in the appropriate moment (Situational Leadership II model).

To these two basic approaches I would like to add a third one, maybe is just an extension of the Pull strategy, but I prefer to think of it as a separate approach. And this sounds like “let the people decide for themselves”. As the HBR article says when we choose for ourselves we are more committed to the outcome by a factor of 5 to 1.

This is a very important factor that a lot of managers forget. If the people is involved in the decisions or better is making their decisions according to the picture given, then the result is five times more efficient than without this self choice. Of course this approach is not easy at all because it means to share more information, to discuss more the projects before starting them and also to receive a lot of feedback on what’s going on (and feedback sometimes is not easy to be managed, especially for “Push” manager). But nevertheless this is the most effective approach and it is clearly demonstrated by results.

In nowadays competitive society, being able to leverage on people skills and let them be part of the decision process, to let them find the time to be part of decision itself is not an easy task at all but if managed in a good way could be the thing which makes the difference between an average organization and an outstanding one.

The most critical moment of a project: the release

Creating something is an emotional thing. And as all the emotional things your feeling changes according to the outcome of what you are doing.

When you are involved in a project your personal feelings and emotions will follow always the same pattern.

  • The project definition phase: At the beginning, when you don’t know exactly what the project will be, there is excitement, happiness, good expectations and so on. But unfortunately all this positive emotions are there because you have not yet a clear idea of what the difficulties will be during the project and normally at the beginning you look mainly at positive things with positive expectations.
  • The project development: Then during the evolution of the project you will start facing the problems and you will realize that nothing is really easy. But because you are a professional, you have all the necessary tools to find the solution. Or at least you are suppose to have them. So all the hard work starts and small piece by small piece you continue with the project, sometimes at fast speed (and so you are happy), sometimes at low speed or very very low speed (and your mood is going down and down). Anyway, first or later you will fix all the issues that you find during the way and you are ready to approach to the deadline.
  • The project release: And here starts the most critical phase of the project: the release. The release is something that everybody tries to avoid. You start thinking back and you start feeling that your skills haven’t been good enough. You start realizing how many expectations are involved in the project. You feel also the pressure of the managers and even worst of the customers. And you don’t want to be blamed for something that is not working as expected. If you could only have more time. And because you are a professional, you see also a lot of potential improvements. So why not improve the product? Why don’t try to increase the performances now, before releasing the project? Why don’t gain more time?

If you have enough experience on what the release of a product or a project feeling is, then you can keep it as short as possible, or at least at the limits of the acceptable. If not, then a good manager could help you trough the process. As I said at the beginning is an emotional process. You need to don’t fall in love with your “creature” (the project) and you need to be guided to the release phase (to let him go). But in order to do that in the best possible way it is important that the people that is putting some pressure on you is aware of it and is able to understand you and help you in this process. If the pressure is a pure pressure from the customer and so on, then the result will be that you will feel even more uncomfortable and the release of your product will be arranged at the last minute leaving for sure some issues. But on the other side your supervisor should be able to understand when the deadline is over and force you to “let the project go”.

During all the project is important to stress the importance of the deadline (project release) and use it as a way to force you to take it seriously, to face all the problems in the best possible and professional way. But when the main problems are fixed then the project have to be released, all the documents completed and the production should start.

When you think back on what you have done and on the fact that a lot of your customers are buying the product that you have created, then you will feel satisfied because you have really been part of a creation process.

Transparency into organizations

When I am put in charge of a project I normally start asking questions. I ask a lot of questions because the more I know the easier it is for me to understand what is expected the project to be. And sometimes the questions that I made seem to be not so much correlated with the project itself. This is typical of my style of doing things. I want to have clear in mind the full picture of the project, starting from the customer needs, the reasons for the request, the country where the product will be sold and so on. But I want to know more. I want to know the expectations of the customer, of the company management, of the potential customers and so on. Basically in mind I want to create the best picture as possible, like a Prezi presentation, a big picture where you can zoom in and see all the small details and even more. If you do not give me all the information I need, of course the result of my project will be less accurate, or let’s say, less effective.

The same is valid for all organizations in general. The more you know about the organization, the more efficient you could be in meeting the organization expectations, the more easily you will be integrated into the organization itself. Unfortunately I should say that in this case there is a big difference between the delivering of information for a technical project and the delivering of organization information in general.

In the case of a technical project when I ask questions the result is very simple – or I get the answer or I will not get the answer because the answer is still unknown (and sometimes is part of the project to find it out). In the case of information within organization, the situation is a little more “blurry” – sometimes you receive the answer, sometimes you will not because this information is “reserved”. Or even worst, sometimes it is better to don’t even ask questions on that subject.

All this comes to the tile of this post. The transparency into organizations. There is great post with title: “Transparency is the New Leadership Imperative” which speaks about the modern concept of leadership and transparency.

As I said before, if you want to be really effective and manage at best all the resources that you have you must know the full picture together with the small details. And your team and your employes are the most important resource that you have and should be put in the best possible condition to drive your company to the global competition. In order to do that the sharing of information between the organization, with no secrets and with complete transparency, is the key factor to be competitive. Of course the way that you deliver the information is very important and is the crucial factor for having excellent managers into the company.

The old style companies where the top level management knows the most, than the middle managers know less but have to report everything, and the low level employees know almost nothing is over. This model of business could still survive for a while. But in the nowadays society where there is an excess of information and the channels for delivering information are so diversified and easy to use the real challenge is not keep information for yourself but it is to be able to distribute the information as best as possible. An excellent manager today is not anymore the one with experience but is the one able to transfer experience, the one able to facilitate the delivering of information at all levels of the organization itself.

Are you trustable?

The title of this post is not new, is something that is bouncing in my head from some weeks ago. I remember that I read an article about that (“Do your people trust you?“) and what I clearly remember is the most important question that every manager should ask themselves: “Are you trustable?” The answer could seem easy or maybe silly, but probably could be not so easy if made like this: “Do your employees define you as a trustable person?” The answer probably in this case is not so easy and could sound like “I don’t know” or even worst “I don’t care”.

But let’s start from the beginning. What do I mean when I say trust? Well, trust for me is a very deep and important form of relationship. Trust means that you “believe” in someone else’s words, in its motivations and that despite a possible disagreement his words have a great value and impact on your behavior (in the positive sense). When you trust someone you are going to do things that you normally don’t do by yourself. That you are going to consider way of thinkings, aspect of your life and so on in a different way, only because you trust him! When you trust someone is because you believe that he owns your respect. Been trustable for me it means that I put something of myself, thoughts, expectations, williness, energy, professionalism, in your hands because I think that this is an investment. And this investment is paying back for the “trust” that I have invested on you. So “trust” is kind of investment, probably the most important and risky investment that we have at our disposal.

Coming back to the first question “Do your employees define you as a trustable person?” Because if the answer is not, then how could you pretend they believe in you and that they do what has been told them to do? And if the answer is “I don’t know” then I think you have to hurry up and start to “know”. It is not something that you could analyze later. It is absolutely fundamental for yourself, for your career and for the relationship with the others. Sometimes we are too much focused in our own improvement that we do not realize that the key point of our improvement is the relationships that we have with our colleagues, with our employees, with our customers.

If you want to have the maximum from the people working for you, you have to give them the maximum of yourself. And that maximum is to be trustable! Is something that you have to be, despite the difficulties, despite the changed situations, despite any kind of challenge that you are facing or obstacles to overcome. Been trustable is the most important investment that you could make in your life.

A book that changed my life part 2

Why some managers are so effective. And what are the best managers? The ones reaching the best results? And what is the best strategy to reach that results?
These were some of the questions that were running in my mind when I decided to accept the new job as an engineering manager. To my eyes, and by the examples that I had so far, the only important thing was the final result! And to achieve that “the others” are just an instrument to reach that goal and sometimes also a threat to that. Basically what the people around me was doing was only to squeeze people like lemons creating a lot of expectations but basically not caring at all about me and my colleagues. ‘If I believe you are useful for me then I show (just show…) some interest on you, if not then I’ll try to get rid of you!’
Do I want to be like this? Of course not! It’s not me, I can’t be like that! But the new job position was very challenging and also was something that I was looking for…
I accepted the job, but still I didn’t felt well, I was plenty of doubts…
So I started to read “If Harry Potter ran General Electric”. This book has opened for me a new world. It showed me trough a simple model (Harry Potter books) that the best leaders, the best people, the most successful people in the world have solid values, strong believes and an absolutely and incredible respect for the others.
I remember that I was in Paris airport and I read the following sentence (a quotation of Sirius Black): “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Is it so simple? YES IT IS. It opened my mind. I started thinking about how many people I know that acts like this. I realized immediately what was really making the difference between what I consider the outstanding people and the others. And it is just that simple. If you care about the others before than yourself, if you believe that everybody is important, that there is so much in everybody around yourself that you must respect every single human being.
So I decided to start my new adventure with this thing clearly painted in my mind!
Sometimes it is not easy, sometimes you have to be tough and sometimes people don’t understands you. But if you really care about others, then you will understand which is the best approach.
One thing that I do that really helps me in practice is the following: “never ask someone to do something that I don’t want to do”. Then there are roles and responsibilities. “If I was you and someone is going to ask me to do that, then I will do it, and so you have to do it too!”

A colleague of mine told me: “it is easier to run an entire plant by yourself than managing a single person.” And it is absolutely true. But when I go back home and I look in to my son’s eyes I feel in peace with myself. And this is what really matters!