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Measuring quantitative vs. qualitative people metrics December 1, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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Regarding measuring the staff metrics, it’s relatively easy to measure quantitative performance indicators. I can measure how many rebel command ships a Captain of a Star Destroyer blows up, or how many rebels a Storm Trooper captures, and how many staff are fed to the panna monster for incompetence by my Sith Lords.

But measuring quality is hard. If someone puts in 50hrs/week and another puts in 80hrs/week, by sheer numbers the second person is putting in an enormous amount of extra effort. However, it’s really about results, so if the person at 50hrs/week gets more done in less time compared to the other person, should be rewarded more.

Technical work is a little bit easier to measure quality – if you can link back the amount of defects to a person, that’s one way to do it. However defects aren’t the only indicator of quality, if someone implements a “better” solution that allows for easier maintenance going forward… that’s a higher degree of quality.

Or for the Star Destroyer Captain, if he can take out a rebel command ship with the least amount of damage taken to the ship, that’s a statement of quality to his strategy.

But how do you quantify it in measurable terms… Sometimes you need to just start somewhere – in this case dollars spent on repairs would be a start.

 

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The Danger of Entitlement and Incentives March 10, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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One of the problems with salary increases, bonuses, and other incentives (ESPP, stock options, etc…) is that they quickly become viewed as entitlements. The first or second time you try it, you get a boost of appreciation as it’s unexpected, but from then on it’s just merely expected in return for existing levels of performance.

So what’s a Sith Lord to do? Well for starters be careful how often you use it – reduced and unexpected frequencies help, and the moment it becomes expected stop before employees become dependent on it (I’ve seen people base their personal finances on anticipated bonuses, ESPP, and stock options).

Also, try to rotate between incentives so that it doesn’t become the expected, routine, and periodic quarterly bonus check. But rather incentives targetted towards rewarding something specific (e.g. a thanks for completing Death Star #23 ahead of time and under budget).

You can be successful at periodic incentives, just make sure they reward very specific achievements (preferrably goals and expectations that were communicated early on). You don’t want employees to feel they’re getting it out of entitlement (e.g. for merely existing for a period of time), but because they completed and outstanding job on a certain task (and if they want another one, they’ll need to repeat the outstanding performance – because it’s not going to happen with status quo).

Darth Sidious

Causing a Crisis to alter behavior February 11, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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Back in 2007 we posted research that showed that not even the possiblity of death was enough to change people’s behaviors. Most humanoids are weak minded, they hate change, and love staying within their comfort zone. But the reality is that you can never just coast along for long, change is inevitable, so you either get on board with it or you die.

As a manager you don’t want your business to die, and you don’t want people to lose their jobs. The key to managing people is to recognize that there is no one size fits all solution, you have to personalize your approach with each individual – what works for one person may not work for another.

So in your manager’s toolkit you may have tried various reward mechanisms, recognition, compensation, ownership, etc.. You may have tried to subtly point out that jobs are at stake – but people may have assumed that their particular position is safe because they’re working hard, so it’ll probably be someone else.

Here’s something different to try – create a crisis on purpose to see if it causes people to change. It takes 20-45 days to modify behavior, so with a bit of luck, perhaps a good jolt will cause people to adapt. It’s a little bit risky because you’re taking a calculated risk by exposing the business to the consequence of instability, so you’ll want to plan it out and identify what indicators you’re going to measure to know when to pull the plug on your crisis experiment.

If people aren’t filling the need, and things are functioning, how is it that the crisis doesn’t occur normally? Probably because you’re having to jump in and constantly handle the burning ambers yourself before they blaze out of control. But you can’t grow an organization if you’re having to burn up your time dealing with these little things while the team itself isn’t growing.

So what kind of crisis’s can you incur? If you run a support team, how about you stop jumping in to save the day whenever the team isn’t picking up the slack? Let them get overloaded, throw out suggestions, but see if they’re able to adapt. Or if a deadline is coming up on a project and normally you would jump in to save the day… don’t save it. Or if an automated alert indicates an important system is out of disc space and no one responds because you’ve conditioned them to subconsciously knowing that it magically gets taken care of… let it go unresolved.

You need to be creative with this one, but this is just one of many things you can try to alter team or individual behavior. Good luck!

Darth Sidious

Could one person lower productivity? January 19, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types.
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I was recently listening to an Earth podcast from a public radio show called This American Life, and the subject was regarding a study of how one person could lower productivity (the full podcast can be heard here).

Standard management theory says that groups are powerful. Individuals (at the same level) tend to conform to the group’s values and norms, vs. the other way around. Especially to the point of lowering everyone’s productivity.

They found that to be true, but 3 character traits have the potential ability to buck that trend:

  • Someone who insults/attacks/embarrasses others
  • Makes statements that work performed by others is inadequate, but offers no constructive alternatives.
  • Declares that everyone should listen to them.
  • Slackers (those that don’t deliver on their end of the bargain)
  • Makes statements of: “Whatever”, “I really don’t care”, “Let’s just get this over with”
  • Depressive Pessimists
  • Perpetually negative people, everything is wrong.
  • Makes statements that they don’t like what they’re doing/un-enjoyable.
  • Makes statements doubting the group’s ability to succeed

The study found that groups with such people performed 30%-40% worse (on the exact same project) compared to groups that didn’t. Changes occurred in the way people treated each other:

  • Team members argued and fought more often; not just the bad apple but to each other.
  • Not share relevant information, hoard/control information.
  • Communicated less.

The team tended to take on their characteristics of those people. It wouldn’t be just in response to those people, but also to become like them. If that one bad apple believed that the work was unenjoyable, the others started thinking that too.

But teams with the exact same task that didn’t have the bad apple found the work to be challenging and interesting.

Initial theory was that the best predictor of how successful a team will be is based on good the best people in the team were. It turns out that it’s based on how bad the worst person in the team is.

Darth Sidious

Quick Quote on Talent vs. Skills September 12, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Inspirational Quotes, Managing Employees.
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You can’t coach talent, but you can develop skills.

Here’s something to think about when hiring. Although skills are important in filling a position with the right person, it may be more important to prioritize on talent. Talent is that unique power that resides within, and you either have it or you don’t. And for those that don’t have it, all the coaching in the world won’t make someone more talented.

But when it comes to skills, you can at least develop that through coaching, training, mentoring, and just hands on experience.

That’s exactly why I sought out Darth Vader. The guy has PURE talent, and at the time he wasn’t even ranked a Jedi Master – yet his talent was so great that I was willing to let go of Count Dooku, who was someone with a tremendous amount of skills (he knew how to use the Force to shoot electricity and levitate stuff). But if you got the right talent, adding those skills is easy.

The results that you measure drive action & behavior June 10, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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Excuse me, what does that mean?!

Glad you asked! Along the lines of unintended consequences, when you measure or monitor certain metrics or performance indicators, you’re affecting employee behavior. You may want staff to achieve Y, but are getting X, and it may not be their fault- it may be yours.

If the staff are hardworking people, but the results that you’re getting isn’t congruent with what you were expecting; take a step back and evaluate how and what you evaluate. For example if your compensation system is based on rewarding people for speed, but product or service quality is severely lacking for some reason – even though you’ve mandated quality, it doesn’t make a difference what you mandate if what you’re measuring doesn’t support that goal (or even worse, is opposite to it).

That may seem like an obvious example, but it’s more common than you think. For the Clone Wars we ordered 100M Clones, and we wanted them ready in time to trick Obi Wan, so the Clone factory sacrificed on quality and what we ended up getting was 35% of the Clones being totally useless.

Now here’s the real issue; you become aware of this nature of life, so you adjust your measurement to factor in quality aiming to improve that metric. What results is something unintended, where instead of improving how things work, you’ve distorted it.

Well as Management you need measurement, otherwise you have no idea what’s going on. So one solution is to use measurement to quantify results, but reward on the outcome. Track quantity and quality, but make the raises and bonuses based on what came as a result (customer satisfaction, reduced costs, etc…), not the measurement itself.

The cool thing, is you can use this to your advantage. You can alter people’s actions and their behaviors by simply changing what you’re measuring. Personally I like to electrocute people using The Force, but not everyone has this skill.

Difficult Developers? We understand you Mike… May 15, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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We aggregate a lot of blogs internally in the Galactic Empire – mostly to stay on top of various planets and their rumbling. It takes awhile to get a Death Star in place, so when we detect uprisings about to occur – instead of a long drawn out battle, it’s just easier to blow it up…

We came across a posting by Mike Britton, who writes about what’s important in hiring a software programmer. Skills play a role, but as Mike points out – with the wrong attitude, it’s all for naught. There’s a class of uber geek that is so incredibly talented that what they are CAPABLE of is VERY attractive – but if it comes with an enormous amount of management, are you really getting your values worth?

If you have to spend 40% of your time as a manager keeping things politically stable, or the team stable… you have to factor in that the cost of this guy is his salary plus 40% of yours. The uber geek doesn’t think in business terms – they don’t relate that there has to be a net return on investment, otherwise you’re losing money… and eventually will run out of it.

There are those that only want to win as an individual, but those who realize that winning as a team yields greater rewards. From a management perspective, whether it be your top coder, or top sales guy… if he/she is de-motivating the rest of the team, the price is too high.

The Sith have found that it’s far more productive to have a group of people with the right attitude, and generally high skill – and totally not worth the egocentric uber geek.

Quotes:

  • “You can be the most prolific blogger and consultant in your field, but if you fail to come through, people will understand and remember” – Results, Results, Results!
  • “Approach life with the assumption you are without knowledge and you’ll be far wiser than someone who thinks they know everything”
  • “Approach your work with an open mind, and ask questions of people you may feel are subordinate.  They’ll appreciate the feeling that their experience matters, and you’ll be more likely to learn something.” – Collaborate!
  • “Avoid gossiping and backstabbing.”
  • “Understand that your goals are not always going to be in line with those of your company.  Your job as a developer is to write code that addresses a problem domain.” – You’re paid to to support corporate objectives, not yours.

Attitude + Aptitude = Great Employees May 5, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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The formula for a great employee is actually quite simple, you need a positive and winning attitude, and you need the skills (aptitude) to go along with it.

If I’m taking on a new apprentice, he may be a really positive dude, but if he has no sense of The Force, then it’s game over. And vice versa, you can have someone who has strong powers with The Force, but with the wrong attitude it’s a management nightmare.

That doesn’t mean that these two things alone will equal success, it just means you’ve got someone with massive potential. It’s still up to you to provide an environment or framework to enable them to succeed.

The attitude is going to give you someone that’s open to constructive criticism, change, and self improvement. It’s going to give you someone that’s naturally into knowledge sharing and collaboration. They’re empathetic, care about other people, and know that there’s more success in winning as a team vs winning as an individual even though the team loses.

Having the right attitude paired with the skills to back it up is going to get you the results. Whether it’s hardcore skills in technology, or in the ways of the The Force… they’re innovative, fast, and at the top of their game. They can isolate and resolve issues, and have the intellect to absorb a lot of information and assess the situation. They have expert level skills in their areas of expertise, and are well known for it.

These are the types of employees you want to have, but they’re extremely difficult to find. It’s easy to find people with lots of positive attitude, but are technically weak or slow. And vice versa, you can find some extremely brilliant and talented folks within the Empire, but with a negative attitude… you’re constantly having to fight that and institute processes to work around it.

So, if you ever do come across one in your walks of life… steal them. Whether they’re in another Department, or from other Empires (including vendors, partners, etc…). Do what it takes to lure them over. If you’re interviewing, you do what it takes to make it happen.

How important is a degree? April 29, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Managing Employees.
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Many people view a degree as a worthless piece of paper that doesn’t prove anything, and that the true test of someone’s ability is their performance on the job. Sure I’ve seen Imperial Guards with little formal education who were just as proficient as those who went to Ivy League Imperial Guard schools. Real-world experiences trump academic any day.

But a degree is important in the sense that certain assumptions can be made by those who have one and those who do not. It’s true, a degree doesn’t guarantee any level of proficiency, but those who do have one have proven that the can stay committed to a goal long enough to complete it. They also tend to be more structured in their work and personal life, and took their career seriously from a young age.

Though those who have achieved a moderate level of success without a degree says something too. They’re passionate about what they do, and do what they do is out of passion (vs. just a job). Though because they don’t have the formal training, learning is done through hacking and a lot of trial and error – where as the educated person would approach it in a methodical manner.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other – but you’d be wise to make sure you have a good mix of both and not let yourself become overweighted with just one type.

The Imperfect Perfectionist April 28, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types, Managing Employees.
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The Imperfect Perfectionist Employee Type is often a subset of other negatively oriented types that carries this unique personality.

This type of person is obsessed with finding imperfections with everything, and their personal results work flawlessly. But, the work itself is imperfect, meaning that the flawless results are achieved through painstaking testing and regression analysis… They check, double check, and re-check the output, information, and requirements.

But they are often resistant to change, because change requires admitting to ones own imperfections. And to the Imperfect Perfectionist, your life is built on pointing out everyone else’s faults – so how could someone like this ever come to terms and deal with their own?

So even if change is good for them, for example if they adopted a new technology, process, architectural approach, or methodology they may be able to cut their testing time in half.

What’s interesting about this type of character is even though they’re resistant to change, they campaign for *DRASTIC* changes at the same time. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of definition, or a major inconsistency in the observation of this Employee Type?

There’s a good reason why they do this. They view everything and everyone around them as imperfect, so the reasons they’re not able to achieve perfection with parts of their craft is never their fault (in their eyes), but the fault of the technology, tools, people, etc… Therefore completely abandoning such faults is the only logical way (in their mind) to rid themselves of what causes the imperfection. But the reality is that it’s a subconscious move to deflect the inner realization of their own perfections.