Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Good Employee, Bad Employee

In a recent blog post, I discussed the characteristics of good bosses and bad bosses (see Good Boss, Bad Boss), primarily from an employee’s perspective. Since turnabout is fair play, it is only fair to discuss the characteristics of good and bad employees, from both a boss’ perspective, and from fellow employees’ perspectives. So let’s look at a variety of important employee attributes, and for each, the notable characteristics shown by good employees and bad employees associated with these attributes. 
[It may also be useful in this regard to take a look at my Herding Cats series of blog posts. These examine a wide variety of employee personality types. [See Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge Workers, Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard, Herding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social Butterfly, Herding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima Donna, Herding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole]

  A good employee has the capability to carry out assigned jobs and to complete them satisfactorily and completely.
  A bad employee does not have this capability, and won’t inform his boss of this fact. This wastes time to properly complete the activity, and requires additional competent people to be assigned, adversely affecting their assigned tasks. Therefore, a bad employee affects not only themselves, but others as well, jeopardizing the project.

Intellectual Curiosity
  A good employee has the intellectual curiosity to examine the job assigned, identify the work required, and to go beyond that to identify potential problems or issues that need to be addressed by them or others to properly and successfully complete the job. This employee proactively analyzes not only the job at hand, but helps to address observations or concerns beyond his/her immediate needs.
  A bad employee looks solely at the job assigned, doesn’t think about the issues it may raise or its impact on himself or others. This person may carry out the job assigned, but the impact on others or on the overall project may cause significant problems that could have been addressed much earlier and more effectively.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good Boss, Bad Boss

Throughout your career, you will undoubtedly have numerous bosses. Some will be good, some will be bad. Very few will be outstanding, and hopefully, very few will be outstandingly bad. I will discuss the characteristics that you should look for in a good boss, and those to look out for in a bad boss.

Early in my career at Bell Labs, lo those many years ago, I had the tremendous privilege of having the best boss I’ve ever had, John Sheehan. John was a strong manager with an outlook that has stuck with me throughout my life. His governing philosophy was, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do!” See the link for more. I’ve tried to emulate his approach throughout my career, generally to very positive effect. 

Shortly after working for John, I had the misfortune of working for the worst boss I’ve ever had, who I won’t name. This boss was a petty tyrant, mean, spiteful, vindictive, credit stealing (see Stolen Credit - It’s Not Just About Credit Cards!), and overall a terrible boss. I’m actually grateful for having had the experience (despite the living hell of working through it). It demonstrated so forcefully what I would strive to never become, particularly after working for John, who showed so positively what I absolutely wanted to become. This bad boss set a negative example so bad, that all my other bosses, and many other assorted managers I’ve known, all showed much better characteristics than this one bad boss ever did (see Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More From Bad!). 

Overall, the learning experience of working with such a variety of bosses and boss types has been truly educating, helping to learn what works, what doesn’t, what to emulate and expand on, what to reject and avoid, and how to be as effective as possible in doing your own work and in helping to successfully direct the efforts of others. What follows are some thoughts on the characteristics of good bosses and what they can do to improve the lives of their employees, and what bad bosses can look like and how they undermine the work of their employees (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Make a Decision!

You’re in a stressful situation where you, your group, your organization, and/or your company can proceed in a number of possible ways. The alternatives seem clear, but those in authority appear unable to make a decision on which way to go. They want yet another study, to gather yet more data (although the data seem clear), to bring in yet another specialist to review the situation, or myriad other delaying tactics. There reaches a clear point by when a decision must be made, and this point has passed. It is time for someone, anyone, to make a decision, so efforts can move forward! What’s wrong with these people!

This is an all too common situation in many organizations today. Those with the responsibility to make decisions seem reluctant to make them, adding delay to an already tight project plan and schedule. 

So why won’t people make decisions when such decisions are clearly required, when they are clearly the ones with the responsibility?

  • Fear of making the wrong decision:
    The person tasked with decision-making is concerned that he/she may make the wrong decision, forever branding him/her as a poor decision-maker, and as someone whose judgment cannot be trusted.

  • Fear of being viewed poorly by others:
    The person tasked with decision-making is truly uncertain, unwilling to say so, and is concerned that others will recognize his/her uncertainty and view it as a weakness.
  • Fear of adversely affecting their position in the organization and/or their potential for advancement:
    The person tasked with decision-making is more concerned with his/her own position in the company and with climbing the corporate ladder, and is afraid that this decision may limit his/her position or advancement opportunities (more so than whether the decision is right or wrong).
  • Fear of blame:
    The person tasked with decision-making is more concerned with being blamed for a poor decision than with making a well-reasoned decision and bearing the consequences of that decision. He/she would prefer that someone else make a decision than he/she get personally blamed for a poor decision.

I’m sure you can come up with a list of other reasons/excuses why people refuse to make timely decisions. The excuses don’t change the fact that a decision is needed, and can’t be delayed any further.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

You’re part of a team working on a critical project with a tight, but you think achievable, delivery date. In order to deliver on project commitments, each team member must deliver on their parts of the whole, and in the time-frames specified. Each team member has a role to play in the timely delivery of his or her parts for the project to come together properly. Each member’s role may change at different phases of the project. At some points, you may be tasked to lead specific efforts. At other points, you may be tasked to follow the lead of others. At yet other points, you may not have an assigned role, pending the delivery of others’ work efforts, and in such cases, it is often necessary that you simply get out of the way. What often dooms a project is when one or more members of the team do not carry out their assigned roles, whatever those roles may be. What can also doom a project is when team members inject themselves into roles they have not been assigned, adversely affecting the roles and delivery of others. It is critical that each team member, based on his or her role, needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way!

When a project plan is developed, one person or a small team is typically tasked with developing the project plan. This person or team usually has, through experience, an understanding of what is required to bring together all the many pieces necessary to complete the project, in the necessary and proper sequence, and with the necessary and proper resources (see Take the Time to Plan). It may be possible to have some team members work independently on some portions of the project while the project plan is being developed, but that, in itself, should be part of the project plan. Others may be able to do some background research on the project, but this should not influence the project plan development.

Once the project plan is complete and approved as necessary, it is up to those involved to carry out their roles through the various stages of the project. Specific people’s roles may vary throughout the various stages, or may remain the same. It is essential that people understand the various roles and what these mean in the various stages (see Leadership Is Not Just For ‘Leaders’).