People: Resilience Creators, Not Resources

I’ve been traveling, teaching, speaking and consulting all over the world. I keep encountering managers who talk about the “resources.” They mean people, and they say “resources.” That makes me nuts. I blogged about that in People Are Not Resources. (I have other posts about this, too, but that’s a good one.) I finally determined what we might call people. People are “resilience creators.” They are able to recognize challenges, concerns, or problems, and adjust their behavior. People solve problems so the project can continue and deliver the product. People fix problems so that customer support or sales can make the user experience useful. People deliver products and/or services (or support the people who do) so that the company can continue to employ other people, deliver the company’s work, and acquire/retain customers. We want resilient companies (and projects and environments). When we encounter a hiccup (or worse) we want the work to continue. Maybe not in the way it did before. Maybe we need to change something about what we do or how we do it. That’s fine. You hired great people, right? People can solve problems so that the company can be resilient. To me, that means that the people are resilience creators, not “resources.” People create resilience when they have the ability to solve problems because you asked them for results. People create resilience when they understand the goals of the work. People create resilience when they have the ability to work together, in a holistic way, not in competition with each other. What would you rather have in your organization: resources or resilience...

Management, Humanity and Expectations

There’s a twitter discussion of what people “should” do in certain situations. One of the participants believes that people “should” want to learn on their own time and work more than 40 hours per week. I believe in learning. I don’t believe in expecting people to work more than 40 hours/week. My experience is that when you ask people to work more than 40 hours, they get stupid. See  Management Myth 15: I Need People to Work Overtime. If you want people to learn, read Management Myth #9: We Have No Time for Training. One participant also said that people should leave their emotional baggage (my word) at home. Work supposedly isn’t for emotions. Well, I don’t understand how we can have people who work without their emotions. Emotions are how we explain how we feel about things. I want people to advocate for what they feel is useful and good. I want to know when they feel something is bad and damaging. I want that, as a manager. See Management Myth #4: I Don’t Need One-on-Ones. People are emotional. Let’s assume they are adults and can harness their emotions. If not, we can provide feedback about the situation. But, ignoring their emotions? That never works. It’s incongruent and can make the situation worse. I have a problem with “shoulds” for other people. I cannot know what is going on in other people’s lives. Nor, do I want to know all the details as a manager. I need to know enough to use my judgement as a manager to help the people and teams proceed. When managers build trust...

Change the Indispensable Employee Mindset

Years ago, I was the expert for two specific products in a small development organization. When it came time for my manager to divide up the work, I always got those products to add features to, or maintain. That was fine for a while, until I got bored. I went to my boss with a request for different work. “Who will do the work if you don’t?” My boss was concerned. “Steve or Dave will. They’re good. They can take over for me.” I knew my colleagues. They could do the work. “But, they’ll have to learn what you do.” “I know. I can take a few days to explain, if you want. I don’t think it will take a few days to explain. They’re smart. I’m still available if they have questions.” “I don’t know. You’re indispensable where you are.” I faced my boss and stood up. “No one is indispensable. And, if I am, you should replace me on those systems anyway. What are you going to do if I leave?” My boss paled, and asked, “Are you planning to leave?” “I don’t know. I’m bored. I want new work. I told you that. I don’t see why I can’t have new work. You need developers on these projects.” I named three of them. “Why do I have to stay doing work on the old stuff when I want to do new things. I don’t see why I should. Just because I’ve been doing it for a year is no reason to pigeon-hole me. No. I want new work. I’m not indispensable. You can hire someone and I can train that...

Team Competition is Not Friendly

I once worked in an organization where the senior managers thought they should motivate us, the team members. They decided to have a team competition, complete with prizes. I was working on a difficult software problem with a colleague on another team. We both needed to jointly design our pieces of the product to make the entire product work. After management announced the competition, he didn’t want to work with me. Why? There was prize money, worth hundreds of dollars to each person. He had a mortgage and three kids. That money made a big difference to him. I was still single. I would have stuck that money into either my savings or retirement fund, after buying something nice for myself. Management motivated us, alright. But not to collaborate. They motivated us to stop working together. They motivated us to compete. Our progress stopped. My boss wanted to know what happened. I explained. I couldn’t fault my colleague. He wanted the money. It made a big difference for him. I would have appreciated the money, but not nearly as much as he would have. (Later, when I was paying for childcare, I understood how much of a difference that money made.) I then had this conversation with my boss, ranting and raving the entire time: “Look, do you want the best product or the best competition?” “What?” “You can’t have both. You can have a great product or you can have a great competition. Choose. Because once you put money on the table, where only one team gets the money, we won’t collaborate anymore.” My boss got that “aha”...

Is Your Culture Working the Way You Think it Is?

Long ago, I was a project manager and senior engineer for a company undergoing a Change Transformation. You know the kind, where the culture changes, along with the process. The senior managers had bought into the changes. The middle managers were muddling through, implementing the changes as best they could. Us project managers and the technical staff, we were the ones doing the bulk of the changes. The changes weren’t as significant as an agile transformation, but they were big. One day, the Big Bosses, the CEO and the VP Engineering spoke at an all-hands meeting. “You are empowered,” they said. No, they didn’t say it as a duet. They each said it separately. They had choreographed speeches, with great slide shows, eight by ten color glossies, and pictures. They had a vision. They just knew what the future would hold. I managed to keep my big mouth shut. The company was not doing well. We had too many managers for not enough engineers or contracts. If you could count, you could see that. I was traveling back and forth to a client in the midwest. At one point, the company owed me four weeks of travel expenses. I quietly explained that no, I was not going to book any more airline travel or hotel nights until I was paid in full for my previous travel. “I’m empowered. I can refuse to get on a plane.” That did not go over well with anyone except my boss, who was in hysterics. He thought it was quite funny. My boss agreed I should be reimbursed before I racked up more...