Who Wants to be a Technical Lead?

In his comment, Rich explains, “I am directly managing 12 employees and 14 contractors doing application support and maintenance for something like 12 or 15 software products. I have most of my old team, and 6 other teams. I have been asked to develop a plan to cross train these individuals to build out a mega-support team.” He goes on to say, “Most of my staff are the “do-ers” hard-working salt-of-the-earth analysts but not interested in or obviously capable of leadership.”

The first action I would take is to ask each person in a one-on-one if he or she wants to take on technical leadership in an area (or two). Maybe Rich has already done that (since he left his comment a couple of weeks ago before I was caught up). He could be pleasantly surprised. One thing I’ve learned: don’t assume you know what people want to do with their careers. Each of his people could be waiting to be asked to take on more responsibility. And, before any of us slam people for waiting to be asked, remember, there are many organizations where sticking your head and asking for more work/different work is a great way to have no work.

Some of you are saying, “26 one-on-one’s! How the heck is he going to do that?” Not easily. I’d start with the employees, and see where I was. If none of the employees want lead positions, I’d move to the contractors and see if any of them want an employee position as a lead. If not, I would sit down with my current org chart and say, “What do I really need?” (The strategy chapter in the Hiring the Best… book talks about how to do this.) But remember, if we can assume all of these folks are performing well at the individual contributor level, it’s easier (and more effective and cheaper) to move them around a little, rather than hire more managers who don’t know the products. (It’s incredibly difficult to hire technical leads who need to be trained by their staff. Ouch.)

In conjunction with the one-on-ones, I’d also spend time with my boss and make sure I know what my boss wants out of the group. There may be service level agreements, there may be other demands for time-based response. I’d also make sure I have to support all the products Rich talks about. Sometimes, organizations want to keep supporting products when it makes no sense to do so.

So, Rich’s first actions are: understand what all the work is, and understand what people want to do. I suspect he knows what to do once he has the answers to those questions. But, he’ll want to make sure he doesn’t end up in a position like this again, which is why this blog entry talks about coaching and succession planning. As part of his new role, Rich has to groom a few people to take over his job eventually. Depending on his ambition and the company’s growth, that could be sooner rather than later. I’ll deal with coaching and succession planning in my next blog entries.

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