Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Herding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star

This blog post is the fifth in my continuing “Herding Cats” series (see also Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge Workers, Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard, Herding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social Butterfly, and Herding Cats 4: The "Wally" & The Prima Donna) (see also Herding Cats 6) that addresses some management challenges in the form of specific knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, and approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them. Since not all personality types create problems, this blog post addresses three very positive types.  Clearly, every knowledge worker is an individual, with characteristics that are unique. The personality types that are 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 his or her own approach, and what I describe is just one person’s view, mine.

The Solid Citizen:
The Challenge: The Solid Citizen is not a flashy person, and will not likely set the world on fire, but he/she is someone you’d like to have on your side when you’ve got work to get done. The Solid Citizen does the work consistently and ably, and has solid skills that he/she employs in a dependable and trustworthy fashion. The Solid Citizen is generally content with his/her role in the organization, usually as a solid individual contributor, not looking to take on management or administrative responsibilities. He/she works well with others in a collaborative approach. When you give an assignment to a Solid Citizen, you have high confidence that it will be done on time, with high quality, and with little fuss. The Solid Citizen is the foot soldier that is essential to a successful organization; not everyone can or wants to be a superstar.

The Management Approach:  You should recognize the Solid Citizen for the good work he/she does, and this recognition should be in public in front of others. Let the Solid Citizen know that his/her efforts are appreciated and valued, and that others should emulate such efforts. Let this person know ways in which he/she can improve his/her performance, and ways that he/she can advance in the organization. Also let the Solid Citizen know that there will always be a place for him/her in the organization, regardless of whether or not he/she wants to move up in the organizational management chain. Treasure the Solid Citizens; much of your success depends on their success.

The Valued Expert:
The Challenge:  The Valued Expert is the person who understands all of the esoteric details about particular aspects of the products, programs, and/or projects you are managing. He/she may not be the person who understands the “broad picture”, but he/she is essential in understanding the deep knowledge of specific areas that are highly relevant to the development of a product, program, and/or project, and for getting the details right that can make the difference between success and failure. Often, the Valued Expert is not interested in managing or overseeing the work of others, but in honing his/her specialized skills.  A good Valued Expert is one who works well with those around him/her, and is also willing to share his/her knowledge and expertise and to educate others so that they can, with time, become valued experts as well. Where the Solid Citizen is the foot soldier, the Valued Expert is the specialist.

The Management Approach:  The skills and expertise of the Valued Expert are critical to the success of the products, programs, and/or projects and to your success. He/she should be encouraged and rewarded, and recognized publicly for the value he/she brings to the organization. A reward that will be truly appreciated by the Valued Expert is actively encouraging participation in additional courses, seminars, conferences, or committees in his/her area of expertise. These are activities that can enable him/her to continue to hone his/her skills, and can give recognition beyond the immediate organization. Monetary recognition is also appropriate, although this should be given in private. Also, encouraging the Valued Expert to train others, if this suits him/her, can be of value to both this person and to others in the organization. As with the Solid Citizen, the Valued Expert should be treasured and empowered to flourish.

The Rising Star:
The Challenge: The Rising Star is someone who stands out and quickly rises above the crowd in ways technical, managerial, or both. He/she rises to every occasion, and consistently exceeds expectations. The Rising Star may have started as simply a hard worker, a Solid Citizen, but quickly demonstrated that he/she wanted more than to simply do the job well. He/she has natural intelligence and leadership skills and takes every task and skill to a level above and beyond those of others. What’s more, a good Rising Star doesn’t flaunt his/her capabilities (as, for example, an Elitist Bastard (see Herding Cats 2) may), but uses them in productive ways to advance the group as a whole, and to help to advance the skills of other individuals in the group. It is generally very easy to spot a Rising Star; everyone in the organizations can easily recognize and appreciate him/her.

The Management Approach:  First, be very grateful if you have a Rising Star among your group. You are truly blessed. Second, publicly recognize the outstanding performance and contributions of the Rising Star and do whatever you can to both encourage the Rising Star to continue to contribute and flourish, and to encourage others to emulate the characteristics and behavior of this person. Let this person know how he/she can continue to grow and advance, and work to remove obstacles that may impede such growth and advancement. Recognize that there is a need for, and value in, spending the appropriate time at each level of advancement to gain the necessary skills; you don’t want to push this person to the next level prematurely. At the same time, you need to recognize when this person is ready to advance, and not hold him/her back. The Rising Star is a true asset to any organization, and should be recognized as such and coached in ways to maximize both his/her contributions and his/her opportunities to succeed and excel.

These are just three more of many personality types that you will come across in knowledge worker-based (and other) organizations. I will get into more in subsequent blog posts. The key is to recognize the various personality types as early as possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may bring. You don’t want to destroy individuality or mold everyone into an automaton.  At the same time, you want to encourage positive behaviors and contributions and don’t want certain negative individual behaviors to destroy team morale. You must walk a fine line, and find what works best for your organization using a style that fits you. 

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