Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard

In my consulting practice e-Newsletters I've talked about effective teamwork and “team killers” (see Are You Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?). In the lead-off "Herding Cats" blog post, I raised the topic of “managing” knowledge workers (see Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge Workers). This blog post is the first in a series of "Herding Cats" articles that will address some management challenges in the form of specific knowledge worker personality types, and approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them. This and each of the subsequent “Herding Cats” blog posts (see Herding Cats 3, Herding Cats 4, Herding Cats 5, and Herding Cats 6) will address two or more different personality types. Clearly, every knowledge worker is an individual, with characteristics that are unique. The personality types that will be described here are purposely more extreme than will normally be the case, and will emphasize one specific set of characteristics, whereas most people have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is unique, and should be treated in a unique fashion. Further, every manager has their own approach, and what I describe is just one person’s view, mine.

The Problem Child: 
The Challenge: The problem child seems to constantly lurk outside his/her manager’s office, and always has pressing problems that he/she needs to discuss with the manager that are “different” and “more important” than everyone else’s. He/she will ask if you have a moment so that he/she can explain what’s wrong, so you can help. Then, when you say, “Sure, I have a moment”, he/she will suck up your every waking minute, given the chance. Generally, when you get into it, you’ll hear that he/she doesn’t really have a problem; everyone else has a problem. The problem child is generally loaded up with problems, and is looking for other people to dump these problems on to (see Managing "Monkeys"). You almost reach the point where you’re afraid to look up, or where you want to close your door. You have to do something, or the problem child will consume your life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge Workers

I remember a Superbowl ad that ran a number of years ago that showed some cowboys on horseback riding the range trying to herd … cats! The ad was memorable, but I’d have to say it wasn’t terribly effective because I have no recollection of what product or service they were advertising. In any event, the cowboys were trying hard to get all of the cats moving in the same direction at the same time toward the same goal, but were having a lot of difficulty because, well, cats don’t really like to be herded. This reminds me a lot of managers attempting to “manage” "knowledge workers" (e.g. engineers) [see Knowledge Is Power!]. The desired intent is there, but the results are often not what was intended or desired. Like cats, knowledge workers don’t want to be “herded” or “managed”. In fact, they may simply refuse to be “managed”. There is really an art to “managing” knowledge workers, and if the proper approaches are not used, the results can be frustration and failure. If the “managing” is done right, the result can be positive almost beyond comprehension (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!).

Knowledge workers (especially engineers) are really different from other people. It’s not my intent to stereotype them, so please take the following with a grain of salt, but knowledge workers typically are highly trained, intelligent, technical, and independent minded. Many knowledge workers (and most engineers) are also very logical. Spock from StarTrek is more often their “ideal”; certainly far more so than Jack Welch or Warren Buffett. They are motivated by challenging work (generally far more so than by money, as long as the money is sufficient), and are resistant to being overtly managed. They respond far more favorably to logical reasoning than to emotional manipulation (see Pound the Facts, Not the Table). They see beauty in the logic of their ideas, and look with disdain on hype and sizzle with little real meat behind it (see Style Over Substance). It can be difficult to properly motivate them, but it is very easy to de-motivate them and turn them off.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Knowledge Is Power!

“Take this job and shove it!” is a well known refrain from a familiar country & western song. But it’s also a refrain that is far more applicable in today’s “Information Age” than was ever the case in the past. For anyone who is a “knowledge worker” (as will be defined below), it is a fact that today’s companies really need you far more than you need them. While you certainly shouldn’t abuse it, it is important that you recognize the power that your “knowledge” brings you in your companies. Knowledge is power!

In the “Pre-Industrial Age”, most production tasks were carried out by many people using simple implements, and much of the work was able to be performed by pretty much anyone. People were interchangeable, and if more products were required, more people were added to the production process. The term “man-month” was conceived, and implied that people were interchangeable with months. That is, if a job took 4 man-months, it could be performed equally well by 1 person working for 4 months, by 2 people working for 2 months, or by 4 people working for 1 month. The critical element of companies’ production efforts in those times were people, not equipment. This is still true today in certain areas, as demonstrated by much of the work performed by migrant workers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When It's Time 'To Walk Away', Don't Turn Back!

OK, you’ve done the analysis of your present job situation (see Know When To Fold ‘em) and determined it’s time “to walk away” (or “to fold ‘em” or “to run”). You’ve given full care and consideration in making your decision and carefully weighed the pros and cons, recognizing how truly critical a decision it is that you’re making, and the implications if your decision is wrong. You’ve updated your resume, contacted recruiters, potential companies, and other contacts. You’ve identified the best opportunities, contacted them, interviewed, have been offered a new job both verbally and in writing by what appears to be a great company, and have verbally accepted the new position. You notify your current company to give them your two weeks notice and, shortly after hearing of your decision to leave, they decide to make you a counteroffer, with a significant increase in salary, potential bonuses, potential promotion, and/or other enticements to stay. What do you do?

Walk away! Leave! What are you thinking? Don’t turn back, look forward!