Check this out - it's a very cool idea-sharing project run by Lisa Haneberg of Management Craft.
So bring out your best - and share.
Check this out - it's a very cool idea-sharing project run by Lisa Haneberg of Management Craft.
So bring out your best - and share.
I raised a good debate on the Never Work Alone Google Group with the question about gifts: "Is it acceptable for a manager to receive gifts from those that he or she manages?" In the discussion, another question came up: "Is it acceptable for a manager to only give gifts to some of their people?"
When I raised this question, I suspected that there would be two distinct camps - those that see no problem with it, and those that believe that gift giving and receiving could cause more harm than good. So, let's look at both sides of this coin.
Gifts are acceptable
Bren says sure. Unless your company has a policy prohibiting gift giving, why not? Of course, extravagant gifts ought not be acccepted. Though "extravagant" is a relative term. He had a "boss of a boss" once who gave expensive wine (~$100/bottle) as gifts. But only to his direct reports or those above him. All of whom could afford such luxuries. Bren didn't get no stinkin' wine. This year Bren didn't give any gifts, but he did receive a few. Some handmade jam, a box of mints, etc. Small, appropriate gifts. If someone had tried to give him something extravagant, he'd probably have found a way to gracefully decline it. Which brings me back to one of your questions. he'd probably say something like, "Thanks for this [whatever], but as much as I'd like to, I really can't accept it. Accepting such a gift would cause some hurt feelings within the department and we just can't afford that. I sure appreciate your generosity, though. Thank you."
Martin Spernau feels that accepting such a gift has it's problems, but not accepting does likewise. One thing he thinks is crucial in such a situation: The manager must make her position regarding the "strings attached" to such gifts absolutly clear. It must be crystal clear that giving and accepting a gift has null and nothing to do with anykind of benefits etc. A gift must be a purely personal thing. No strings attached, and no obligations. To prevent any kind of unease re gifts one team manager once started a nice tradition: For the team christmas party everybody (managers included) was to buy/make/bring a small gift. The gifts where all gift-wrapped, and there was a rough value-guideline (about 20$ max). Those gifts then were RANDOMLY drawn, so no one knew who recieved which
gift. And no one knew who the gift was from. That wprked nicely and was fun.
Dwayne doesn't have an issue with gifts. He gets a few gifts, and gives a (very) few gifts - not based on position, etc. Sometimes there is a reporting relationship, sometimes not. He doesn't expect "strings" for the giving the gift, and people get no strings for giving me gifts. Most of the time, when he gives someone a gift, it's an "I saw this and thought of you" sort of thing. He also tends to give things people whenever the mood strikes, not just around the end of year holidays.
Chris believes that if you're working in an organization where you might be set up for charges of favoritism, then he think it says more about the culture than about the action of giving a gift. For Christmas, he gave each of my employees a book (carefully selected based on their own self-created professional development needs) and he also gave a book to my CEO. Does that set him up for favoritism? Or does it show that he appreciates them and their work? He gets increasingly tired with the idea that, as a manager, you have to be "fair" to all. His experience is that transparency is more important than fairness. If your folks know the how and the why behind decisions, then that is enough. Managing with a "one-size-fits-all" philosophy doesn't reward anyone. If anything, those who put the best of their talents and skills on the line everyday get punished in order to keep those who prefer to do less happy through "fairness." Sorry, life isn't really fair and neither is management. Those who do great work deserve to be rewarded. Those who deserve our appreciation should be able to accept something more than a letter or a comment.
Chris also talks about culture in this decision. Culture is an accumulation of people. If a culture doesn't have enough trust and transparency involved then almost anything can be interpreted as favoritism. Ask one employee if they'd like a latte from Starbucks, but not another (because they don't like coffee)...could be favoritism. Share a particularly useful article with one employee but not another (because it is about marketing and not databases)...could be favoritism. If there's a person who takes things like gifts as favoritism, then he questions whether the culture in the organization is truly healthy. By your example, if that's all it takes for someone to get suspicious, then perhaps there are some larger troubles hanging out there unexplored.
Gifts are not acceptable
Eric Sohn was strongly in this camp. He goes on to say: In a word, no they shouldn't. It leaves you open to charges of favoritism. I would return this and say "while I appreciate the gesture, accepting your gift is inappropriate given our professional relationship." If it's something that could be shared (e.g. candy), you could further suggest that the sender re-gift it to the entire group, which would be viewed much more favorably by all concerned.
Eric also thinks that prefacing things with something on the lines of "that was really thoughtful of you" or "how nice!" is probably sufficient. But it's important not to sugarcoat things, either. A statement on the lines of "If I wasn't your manager, I'd be ripping the wrapping paper open right now. But, unfortunately, I'm in a tight spot here" helps show appreciation, while acknowledging that there is an issue. The direct report did commit a faux pas, however well-intentioned. I've never been at a company with a written policy on this. It's just considered bad form - and it is bad form. At some point in time, he or she might want to get a better understanding of corporate hierarchies and politics. It would do a world of good for their future career arc.
Eric thinks it's naive to think that things are always successfully done in private. It's not just between you and the other person - it's between the two of you and anyone else who might find out. While normally he is a risk taker, my take is that this is clearly a case of better safe than sorry. And, in some respects, it doesn't matter which way the gift flows. If it flows from the manager, unless he "brings something for everyone," there are potential problems. He suspects it's much easier to deal with in smaller, more informal, groups where the "manager" is more of a facilitator and team leader and whose title and status is more of a formality (i.e. someone has to be held accountable). The more status distance there is between manager and managed, the more my Magic 8 Ball says to be cautious. Cultures in which gift-giving raises eyebrows may have larger issues....but that's the real world. I'll bet there are pockets in Google or Yahoo! where gift-giving from staff to manager would raise eyebrows.
Eric also believes that gifts to your direct reports aren't the issue. Imagine if direct report X gives me a gift, which I accept, and direct report Y does not. During the next review cycle, X gets a promotion - or at some point, he or she gets a plum assignment. Might Y grumble about favoritism, legitimately or otherwise? It's not about what's right - it's about the impression. Taking gifts from those you manage is fraught with potential dangers. And, to be honest, it's not about company culture - it's about the people in those companies. All it takes is one person with a nose out of joint to start a minor ruckus. And, again, it doesn't matter about whether they're justified or not. The fact is, you're spending time and effort putting out a brushfire you didn't have to see start in the first place. And, unless you're really tight with the CEO, I'd probably leave him off the Christmas list. Rightly or wrongly, it could come back as an attempt to curry favor.
The only gifts that Eric gives to managers are ideas. If he saw an interesting article or newsletter, he will share it. If he read an interesting book, he will bring it in and offer to lend it out. Keeping the "gift" squarely focused on professional advancement deflects the charge of currying favor. It probably also depends on firm size - I've tended to work in large financial institutions, where rules, regulations and guidelines are king.
Cathy Goodwin agrees with Eric on several of these points and asks more questions. Why are these employees sending gifts? Was there a custom from their previous department? Are they your best or your worst employees? She wouldn't want hurt their feelings or make them feel bad. Instead of returning the gift, can you either share with the whole group (as Eric suggested) or donate to a charity? You could say, "I realize I should have clarified our policy on gift-giving." And send out a memo as soon as possible. When Cathy was a college professor, students (especially those from Asia) often gave her gifts. If the course was over and the student was from another country, she sometimes felt she had to accept. But she tried to educate students: the best gift to a professor is a nice letter of appreciation with copies to the dean and maybe VP-Academic Affairs. And a neighbor who's a police officer shared a funny story. In Seattle, cops pay for all their food and coffee. They do not accept freebies. A new officer from the South breezed through the Dunkin Donuts without paying, just waving a thank you. Her supervisor had to call to explain, "We don't do that here. You have to go back and pay." She wasn't being mean -- she just assumed that was the custom.
Did I get the answers I needed? Well, yes but not in the way I imagined. My conclusion is that there is much controversy on this topic, and I would suspect that no matter how you sell it to your organization it won't satisfy everybody's expectations. As a manager, you don't always (and can't) please everybody, so you need to determine what is right for your organization. If it is going to cause more harm than good, don't do it! Otherwise, make sure everybody understands where you stand on the issue of gifts and be consistent in that policy.
After a quiet spell here, let's kick of the new year with a new topic: Networking (the social kind).
In contrast to "super networkers" like Keith Ferrazzi (author of the best-seller "Never Eat Alone"), our old buddy Scott ("Screaminscott") kicked things off with the following plea:
I understand networking. I really do. It pays to know people, and have people know you.
But here's the thing. What if you don't LIKE people? What if dealing with people exhausts you? What if simple small talk is an effort, as you strain to feign an interest in the other side of the conversation, while simultaneously wracking your brain to come up with a relevant comment when the other person stops talking? What if "staying in touch" with someone make you break out in a cold sweat, because you have to make up a reason to call someone so it isn't completely obvious you are just keeping your network alive.
I just can't get around the feeling that networking is all about faking relationships, so you can keep in contact with people you might need something from in the future.
As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I can certainly identify with this perspective. Making small talk wears me out faster than just about anything. Luckily, I've found ways to compensate.
In a distributed team environment, it can be quite challenging to keep everyone on the same page, make people feel engaged, and promote continuity in a synchronized way. I recently asked for ideas on how to keep remote team members "connected" to the rest of the team, and I received some great suggestions from the NWA community.
While I fully agree that this issue is not a technology issue, I also feel that the right technology can help facilitate meaningful, productive interactions - and can even promote the development of better communication habit.
With that in mind, my "wish list" was for any technology suggested to meet the following criteria:
With that as a basis, helpfulness ensued.
My Question to NWA:
Here was the question I posed for the Never Work Alone Google Group:
"I was curious to hear from the group on how you do brainstorming. What tools or processes do you use and for what situations? What has worked for you and hasn't and why? I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve collaboration and decision-making. I am sure that others in the group would benefit from your feedback. I know there are plenty of things out there, I'm trying to weed down to those things that have worked for you and aren't just good "theories"."
What is brainstorming to you?
Karl Whealton thinks of brainstorming as something that is done over a continuous period of time, such as at a meeting. But in actuality, when he is brainstorming on his own, ideas don’t often roll for a several days until after he has some time to think about them. This isn't really the way brainstorming with a group is usually done. A lot of time has been spent studying the best way to brainstorm with a group over a short period of time, but maybe it's just as important to facilitate brainstorming over a period of a few days.
Chris associates brainstorming sessions like good improv. You can't do either completely in a vacuum; they both need a structure to hold the ideas in. And where brainstorming enters depends on the capacity of the group. For instance, he used to hold the brainstorming session at the front end of a process to help groups that were most unfamiliar with good brainstorming generate ideas for moving a project forward. He typically experienced problems getting folks to come up with truly wild, imaginative ideas. Now, for groups including more linear-types, he holds the brainstorm until later in the planning process where there are a few more structures to tie ideas to. This allows individuals who don't see themselves as creative types feel more free to enter into the process if they have something to hold on to.
Kris Olsen figures that techniques, like tools, are only as good as the person applying them. More important than applying this technique or that tool, find that person who has a basic instinct for framing a vision, profiling the audience, setting the table, and getting the discussion moving. Everything else is just accessories. She goes on to explain:
“It's like those dinner parties we've all heard about, never actually attended, but people would kill to be invited to. The host can't cook, clean, or decorate - he or she has people who do that. What the host really does is set the stage for dinner guests to hear, listen, and contribute to lively discussion on any topic under the sun. Everyone goes home with this great sense of having experienced something wonderful. That's all a successful brainstorming leader does (with a few more parameters). All the techniques and tools are just marketing nonsense to sell services.”
Dick Richards adds this: The person with the marker makes all the difference, and technique is secondary. Brainstorming can be powerful in the hands of someone who knows how to set a climate of openness, a free flow of ideas, withholding judgment, encouraging participation, trusting the wisdom of the group, etc.
How should you conduct brainstorming?
Here's what works for Stacy Brice when she facilitates brainstorming sessions:
Whether I'm coaching an individual or team, I prefer brainstorming that happens organically--based on how the person/'people do it most naturally. I see my role as that of facilitator... as the "holder" of the space in which the brainstorming happens; only when the people doing the brainstorming are stuck or headed off course do I make suggestions for moving forward.
Having said that, I always stipulate a few things from the get-go, regardless of how many people are in the session:
When they're stuck, I ask them to consider how they would handle the thing being brainstormed about under certain circumstances, such as, if:
Any questions that get people thinking about possibilities from angles other than the ones they most often use can be helpful in stimulating creative thinking. Knowing they're safe in the brainstorming space allows them to be open, vulnerable, and sometimes even silly.
Individuals have more ideas when brainstorming; groups have fewer ideas, but they develop them further more easily. In a group, if someone has an idea that seems to spark a bunch of people, I ask the originator to talk about it as far as s/he's able to see it, then "hand it off" to another, who adds to the idea as far as s/he can see it, then hands it off to another, and so on till each person who wants to add to the idea has had a chance to. This is especially good when there are both big picture and detail folks in the group, and a lot can be accomplished this way.
Chris Bower likes to use Post-it notes. The method:
The advantages of this approach include:
Martin Spernau adds this to Chris’ process of Post-its.
“I have found this approach very productive and quick. Key is that it works w/o debate and politics... A lot of people can come to a consensus on a topic quite quickly. Here are some additional things I would add or change:
- Writing down ideas: I let people talk to each other one-on-one. You ask the other person questions and write down on the Post-Its anything you catch as important. Do until everybody has interviewed everyone else. The important part is that persons write down ideas/concepts the pick up from others. Your own ideas get written up by others... this is an early collaborative filter and also helps open up associations etc
- When all Post-Its are on the board I have a session of 'storyselling'. Volunteers step up to the board and try to summarize / narrate what they read there”
Karl Whealton suggests setting up a collaborative website or just a single document on something like Writeboard could facilitate this. Maybe you can have an hour meeting and seed the page with the results of the meeting and keep it open for more input until a meeting the following week for next actions, etc. And of course, a collaborative page, especially one updated dynamically, would be incredibly useful for brainstorming with a distributed team.
How have others outside the group tackled brainstorming?
"Students were only asked to make two comments linked to the text and one comment on a classmate’s thoughts each week; however, engaged by the new technology, many went beyond the requirements. On Sunday nights before class, the wiki came alive as they went back and forth, linking to outside sources to illustrate their points. Students were cross-referencing multiple poems in a single entry, linking to specific lines in each. Some even uploaded pictures depicting the poems’ imagery."
The article is not written as nor intended to be a brainstorming technique, but her take on it is that it demonstrates how the approach evolved into a brainstorming approach. A 'Romance Poetry' professor sets up a wiki (a secure, online, collaborative website) each week with a classic poem for the students to contribute their thoughts and analysis. What started out as an effort to try and engage the students in a rather dry subject area, has apparently inspired them beyond the professor's expectations.
Kris Olsen points out that there are plenty of hosted wikis out there that are simple to use, provide secure space, and allow you to be up and running in a few minutes. I've used pbWiki, Seedwiki, wikispaces, etc. It really doesn't matter which one you use. Try a few out - all you have to do is create an account. Just do it. She also writes a blog about using wikis for any type of group or activity (like brainstorming).
Jason Che-han Yip has been on and off mind maps but finds himself going towards more of an “idea seeding” approach. Stole that way of describing it from OK/Cancel.
LLD and Kevin provide these additional resources:
· International Association of Facilitators has a database of methods.
· The basic ideas and tips in a nutshell can be found in The Facilitator's Pocketbook which is available at Amazon for $8.95.
· The Grove - the source of materials that work. Things like their wall templates can't be found anywhere else. Even if you can't afford them, you will have an idea of what to create on your own.
· The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation has put together a list of High Tech Tools.
· Technography includes some brainstorming techniques that use a computer.
Your sales staff wants new functionality or products to capture additional sales and beat the competitors. They want this functionality to use the latest technologies and have plenty of flexibility through user-configure options to support different customer needs. They also desire that any new or enhanced functionality be fully compatible with old functionality. However, they want this product to stay within the same sales margins and they cannot increase the price. Their goal is to get every customer.
Your support staff wants a product that will last forever, be backwards-compatible, highly usable, and rock solid stability. Their goal is to never impact the customer. If possible, to provide a product that can troubleshoot, fix, upgrade, backup and restore on its own without any intervention by the customer. Also, to have a product that meets everybody's needs but doesn't need our education through training or user manuals. Essentially, something that just works, never breaks, and continues to evolve as their business does. However, they want this product to not increase support fees, but also not reduce them as they sustain the profitability of the business. Their goal is to keep every customer.
Both of these goals are desirable. Who wouldn't want a product like this - we don't have to pay more, never needs replacement, makes sense to use and has all of the functionality we would ever desire. But aren't these goals not only conflicting (better technology, fully backwards compatible), but are all of these goals realistic for a business? Can a company support a product like this without changing its revenue and cost models? What kind of product development staff is needed to do this? Can you achieve the goal of getting and keeping every customer or are there acceptable risk of casualties along the way?
Just wondering if others that may be in software or product development have this kind of problem? If so, what have you done to make it more realistic and achievable?
Narrow your market focus
Dallas focused on three inputs to any software project:
1) Quality (innovation, backward-compatibility, no customer intervention, etc)
2) Time (can the product be sent to market before the competitor? before your customers give up on you?)
3) Resources (money, programmers, computers, etc)
If you want a quality project done in a short amount of time, it's going to take a lot of money, developers, etc. If you have limited resources but a lot of time, well you can still get quality. But what you can't have is a high-quality product, created on a short timeline, with limited resources. Some people will say it can be done, but I'm sure if you look at it, they probably have a very talented developer that is working some long hours, and that would lead back to being balanced by resources.
His advice would be to narrow your market focus. Don't be a good product for everybody, be the best product for a specific market. You'll find that you'll become a leader in that industry and your good name will allow you to charge a premium price for your must-have product.
Handling conflicting goals
Robert DiFalco compared software to people and what marketing needs to do to help the balance.
A jack of all trades is not going to be as skilled as a specialist in any one area. Sometimes you need the former, other times you need a specialist. So you have to look at many balancing factors and many of these are in the purview of marketing. Consider a traditional equation like the following:
Unit Sales = Market Share × Total Available Market × Product Life
As we all know, to increase Unit Sales you want to increase any or all three of these. Adding features is one way to increase market share. Other times there are more compelling ways to increase Market Share. The opposite of adding many features is adding fewer more directed features so that you get your product to market faster than the competition. Waiting longer to get in every feature that every customer could possibly want (without validating features for their fit in your specific Market segment) will actually reduce your Market Share. Competitors that aren't taking the Jack of All Trades approach will get to market sooner with fewer features that pack more punch (because they specialized to get as much of the Total Available Market as they could).
He agrees that goals are conflicting. Someone needs to own the strategy and to be the voice of the customer to arbitrate these conflicts. Are we more interested in product life right now or new features? Are we in a mode where we will be revamping (or even replacing) the current technology and so should we get to market ASAP with the current technology without as much attention to maintainability? Are we getting negative feedback from customers and should we slow down on features to improve reliability? Should we go with broad feature appeal or precisely deliver solutions to those customers that are in our chosen market segment(s)?
The good news is that data, direction, and purpose can help you choose between conflicting goals. For example, backwards computability may actually "not" be a good goal if you know your competitor will be coming to the market with feature "xyz" next week and that it will take you 9 mos of development to implement a backwards compatible version of feature "xyz". I think if a company has an inordinate amount of difficulty choosing between conflicting goals it could be that they have not collected enough customer/market/strategic data about the impact of each goal. Another thing I often see companies do (esp. in commercial software) is the "covering all bases" anti-pattern. They do not have a lot of confidence in any one specific direction so they attempt to service many directions at once. This lack of a clear and focused direction makes it impossible to choose between conflicting goals. If that is a problem, you may want to start discussing what your arrow really is and how to get all the wood behind it.
What kind of staff is needed?
Mike Sale provides his thoughts. The "answer" to this question is completely dependent upon the highest weighted variables and their relationships, and the capacity of the organization to deliver to affect those variables that they can, and knowledge of market conditions (e.g. your competitors, open source, etc) likely affect on those variables that you cannot affect (unless of course you have an aggressive M&A strategy factored in).
When he's interviewing product managers, he is typically looking for the style and experience that the candidate brings to the table. Are they able to communicate clearly how they would balance the current install base needs with the company needs to drive growth of the install base?
At a more strategic level, as a company, the better you can clarify what it is you are going to deliver when (i.e. the product roadmap), and then deliver on those promises, the more latitude you'll have in investing in those holes that were not or could not be foreseen (e.g. bug fixes, MS enters your market and gives the product away for free, etc).
Any characterization of the staff other then typical "ra-ra-ra" hyperbole is not going to address the range of possibilities here! More must be known about the company and its leadership, the market and, believe it or not, the technologies and architectures used to deliver the product (IF it already exists in some form). THEN you get together great marketing people, with great product management, and highly capable development operations management to develop your product strategy and roadmap.
Playing to your strengths while making money
Kevin stresses the importance of understanding the weaknesses in the market, and comparing that to the internal strengths that your company has. Often it comes down to the "Good to Great" basics - does your company have a passion for the product it is producing? Do you have the skill to produce it? And finally, will you make money doing it?
One of the toughest things in business is killing a product that you company is passionate about and has skillfully produced, but is longer profitable (or perhaps was never profitable). You may end up losing customers, but end up increasing your profits, as you turn to more lucrative markets with new products generated with those freed up resources.
Just as difficult is end a relationship (or choose not to begin a relationship) with a customer that is more costly than beneficial. There is often a lot of satisfaction that comes from meeting a difficult customer's requirements, but then there is a harsh realization that you just burned through your profit (and bonuses) making it happen.
Finally, the only constant is change. What ever your model is, it should be able to evaluate the changing market strengths and weaknesses, as well as your internal ones.
I've worked with IT people for a long time, so there was an air of familiarity as I read the dilemma Roger Canada related on the Never Work Alone Google group:
'I was in a meeting with my boss the other day and we got on an interesting topic, IT staff and their inability to relate to non-IT staff when tech issues arise. As you may hear, see and even do, it is common complaint in our line of work to hear, of IT staff members when explaining or demonstrating a situation to a non-IT staff members glossing over important steps or moving to quickly through material. So my question is this:
Do you have any suggestions on how - if possible - IT staff can be taught to more easily relate to non-IT staff? I work in a university and I find here the staff are broader in style and demographics than you would typically find in an organisation such as IBM which only compounds the situation between the two groups.
This resulted in a number of responses, which tended to cluster around two common themes:
This issue spurred a number of good ideas and observations about some possible factors that contribute to this kind of "communication gap."
Michael asked the Group the following question:
As a high school principal, I am constantly enamored of various business theory. In particular I have been reading Theory of Constraints.
However, I always have to make leaps of thinking to match the business world to a government run, heavily unionized, non-profit institution. I feel quite amateurish at this exercise.
How do I figure out the constraint or bottleneck in the "throughput" of a school?
Is "the goal" graduation or is there more? [we are in a struggling environment where less than 50% of students graduate in 4 years].
I know this question references particular readings. I'm hoping that some of you are familiar enough with it to point me in the right direction or at least ask questions that will stimulate my thinking.
There were a bunch of great responses. Dwayne got it started by asking some framing questions:
Is the goal of the educational system similar to a manufacturing system? If so, the goal might be to maximize throughput of finished goods that meet the market need while minimizing "scrap" and "rework." With that lens you'd want a high percentage of students to graduate with marketable skills, while minimizing the number of dropouts and repeated grades.
Is "throughput" the goal? It feels right, since you want to maximize the effective output of the whole system.
Even if we take that as true, the hard part is identifying the constraint.
He also provided a pointer to an online chapter of Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt, considered to be the father of TOC. Dwayne noted that Goldratt considers Critical Chain to be his most significant book.
Next, Karl noted that it's best not to equate the school system with a manufacturing system and he offered up some concrete pointers:
I think the most important questions up front are the problems you want to address. A manufacturing process is really a pretty simple problem compared to a High School. It sounds like graduation rate is a major goal. What about safety and order? College acceptance? Sports performance (cringe)? Alumni donations? Attendance?
The theory of constraints is a very rich field of thought that fits more than just manufacturing, but I would say the most important component of it is a checklist:
1. Identify the constraints
2. Decide how to exploit the constraints
3. Subordinate everything else to the above decision
4. Elevate the systems constraints
5. If in (4) a step was broken, go back to (1)
A couple things jump out at me here. First of all, you are definitely the best person to identify what is keeping your school from being more successful. And I don't really know what you would consider to be a measure of success, anyway. It is not important to relate it to manufacturing, though.
Second, this system does depend on feedback of information. If you are trying to increase graduation rate, do you only get feedback at the end of the year? Is there any way of improving this, by predictions based on grades, or a representative test every quarter, or something like that? I don't even know what the measure of success is, so I really shouldn't speculate, but this may be something you can improve.
Michael chimed back in to offer up additional context and followup questions:
We are an alternative type school that uses internships to engage students and connect academics to projects students do at sites and at school. So, if we connect successful internships ultimately to graduation AND we are having a hard time securing internships, I am thinking that "securing internships" is our bottleneck. That's the constraint.
Right now I have staff who do a number of different things that are not directly linked to getting kids on internships. About 20 teachers work on this with their students and about 8-10 others do administrative tasks and some ancillary instruction.
What exactly does "exploiting the constraint" mean in this situation? What about "subordinating everything to that constraint or decision?" Might it mean that I put a moratorium on all administrative and ancillary tasks and have all 30 staff do nothing else but work on securing internships?
David asked some clarifying questions:
Is the success (or to a degree) of your students dependent upon your staff successfully securing internships and then placing the student with the right organization? And are these internships dependant not only on the students input but also that of the participating company?
Michael replied that the answer to both questions was yes and offered up a link to The Big Picture Model which he and his staff follow.
You'll not see many references to bottlenecks on the site because they tend to focus on using the "Thinking processes", which were first mentioned in Goldratt's novel "It's not luck". They're incredibly powerful tools for uncovering and managing underlying systemic root causes.
Clarke has done a lot of work with these thinking processes within the field of software development and pointed to one of his weblogs as a resource for further study.
You have an employee that is highly skilled and is very valuable in his knowledge. When he is given tasks, he does it with high quality and gets it done as expected. So, what's the problem you ask?
This employee does not work well with teams. In fact, whenever he is involved in a team, it tends to be him against the team (especially if the team decides to go in a different direction). Therefore, though he gets his work done, he slows the team down. He also tends to play "devil's advocate" all of the time, which takes up time and hurts the team's innovation.
As a manager, you try to put him on projects that don't require teamwork but he can work by himself. However, those projects don't come around often, plus this individual would be very valuable to other projects -- if he just would be a team player.
What to do? Is it better for the team(s) if you go ahead and terminate this person? Or do you try to get him to appreciate and work as a team player? Or something else?
Has this person received feedback though “teamwork” coaching?
If not, EM Sky describes the process of getting him into coaching:
Let him know both how serious the problem is and that you find his knowledge and skills valuable enough that you are willing to give him a chance to accept teamwork coaching. Let it be his choice. If he doesn't value the job enough to undergo the coaching, then let him go. If he does value the job enough, then he will sign on for the coaching as a willing participant, which is necessary for the coaching to be successful.
Give him a day to make his choice, so that he doesn't feel he has to give an answer before being able to think things through, but I wouldn't give him much longer than that. A longer time period will
just prolong the stress. You might consider talking to him at the end of the day and then giving him the next day off to think about it, so that he doesn't bring the stress of that decision to work. Before he leaves, set up a meeting with him for the morning of the day following his day off, and let him know that you will expect an answer then. Be kind, and be firm. Knowing what to expect will minimize the stress of the situation for everyone.
If the problem has never been addressed directly, then he needs a chance to correct the problem on his own. Let him know that he can try on his own (over a definite time frame), or that you would be happy to provide him with a teamwork coaching program if he thinks it might be beneficial. Whichever route he chooses, meet with him on a regular schedule, at least once a week, over the course of that time frame, in order to check on his progress and to offer your support and encouragement. Try to have specific feedback prepared for those meetings, so that he will have a realistic view of his progress - both where he is succeeding and where he still needs improvement.
At the end of the given time frame, meet with him to discuss the results. If he is where he needs to be, great! If he is not where you'd like him to be but he's making considerable progress, you might consider allowing him to continue the process over a new time frame. Let him know that you think the problem still needs work but that you are pleased with his progress. If he's trying on his own and not making enough progress, then give him the choice between accepting coaching and resigning. If he has accepted coaching but is still not making enough progress, then you will know what the problem is and how to rectify it. This is an important aspect of the weekly progress meetings. They allow you to recognize early on whether there are attitude problems or personality clashes between the employee and the coach or what have you, and they allow you to adjust your methods as you go. If you're staying on top of the process, then by the end of the time period you'll know where you stand.
I recommend six-week time frames and weekly meetings because it allows the employee a chance to make real progress in between meetings without feeling constantly monitored, while giving the manager frequent enough check-in dates to allow him or her to stay updated on the change process. Six weeks is also enough time to allow new habits to "sink in," but if all goes well, I still recommend
follow-up meetings on a less frequent basis - maybe once every two weeks at first and then once a month, until the employee can maintain those new habits entirely on his own.
The most important key to the whole process is to approach it with the intention of helping the employee to become happier and to fit in better in his work environment (even if that
ultimately means letting him find a different workplace entirely). If the manager holds an attitude of annoyance and approaches the employee with the intention of "fixing" him, the manager's efforts will almost never be successful. But approach the employee with the desire to help him either to be happier in your organization or to be happier elsewhere, and you'll find him surprisingly open to that dialog.
Bren also mentions that while some folks adapt quickly to coaching, others never seem to without some explicit guidance. Marc mentions that a 360-degree feedback loop might uncover some issues. However, he warns that for it to be effective, it should be done for a number of people involved in the situation so that a clear picture of the dynamics emerges with somebody that knows how to use this technique.
Mike Sale also picked up on the “devil's advocate” role and had this to say: Don't EVER let this person play devils advocate! This is a total cop out and they clearly do not have the ability to provide value in this role. Slap it down quietly but hard. Make it abundantly clear that his job is no longer to find problems and solve them himself, but instead execute solutions as a team environment. Take no prisoners here! Find an opportunity where you have faith that either the team is "right" or both solutions will work and put him in a role of great reward and praise if he can make the team solution succeed. Break the cycle by changing his role from devil's advocate to the project's angel is critical.
If coaching techniques have been applied but ineffective, what next?
Everyone agrees that if he continues to subvert the team after effective coaching, he needs to go elsewhere in the company. Given this scenario, it doesn't seem likely this can happen without some level of teamwork involved so the likely next step is to terminate. Otherwise, John Richardson provides an example of what could happen: I've had a similar situation when I managed a small automotive repair shop. We had three technicians who worker well together and formed a great team. We found ourselves overwhelmed in the summer with work and had to hire a new mechanic. This new technician was a hard worker but not a team player. Within a few months he had setup his own "team" and had turned the rest of the guys in the shop into negative complainers. All of a sudden our productive team was a bitter mess. It's the old story of "one bad apple" ruins the rest.
In our first scenario on the Never Work Alone Google group, we grappled with the following scenario:
A customer comes into a business and asks to buy a product and bill them in a certain way. The person at the counter didn't know how to bill the customer for the product in that way. The customer got frustrated and took their business elsewhere.
The person posing the question felt that the request was reasonable, but questioned whether or not the clerk saw the "big picture" in all this. On the surface, this seems like a staff training issue. However, when you dig deeper it's much more than than - and it can apply to virtually any organization. This issue boils down to how you answer a few specific questions:
Evaluating and Responding To Customers' Requests
To effectively deal with unconventional customer requests, employees need context and rules. Above, I mention that the crux of this issue is deeper than training. Sure, training is important but it's more than process and procedure training. For employees to make appropriate decisions about handling unusual customer requests, they need to understand the rules, but the more they know about what makes the business 'tick' the better they'll be equipped to make the right call. This means training them on more "philosophical" aspects of the business, such as:
Skip pointed out another aspect of this that can be trained: Answering the request with a "can do" attitude instead of a "no, you're out of luck" kind of attitude makes a huge difference. Create employees that are willing to explore options.
Here, I'd like to build on Rosa's solid advice on how to empower employees to do what's right without fear of retribution:
Underpinning all of this, we need to understand these things only happen when our staff has high trust in us, feeling that we've provided a workplace where "fail safely, mistakes are cool when we learn from them, improve and adjust" is the walk of the talk.
Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reasons
With knowledge of the "why" of your business, the employee has a better idea what's good and bad for the business and is in a better position to do what Marc suggests by providing an informed response of "why not" when a customer's request just doesn't seem right for the business.
Then, by keeping track of all the requests, the business as a whole can learn from its customers over and over again. Success in business is all about relationships, which are all about communicating with - and especially listening to - your customers.
This is the first summary post of the Never Work Alone group, and thank you to everyone who helped promote this, participate in the lively discussion, and get this thing off the ground.
If you want to check out the raw materials that fed this post, head on over to the Never Work Alone Google group. And while you're there, pull up a chair around the conference table and join in the discussion!