These days the economy is very uncertain. I think that everyone, no matter how fortunate their financial situation is worried about what can happen. Companies are also facing these problems – just look at what were some of the most powerful companies in the country – in the world. The big 3 automakers are looking for a bailout of proportions that we never would have imagined just a few years ago. These are the companies that make the news. But what about the little companies? What are they going through?
If you’re in a little company, now’s the time to really watch those expenses. It’s also time to figure out how to deliver the best product possible to keep the customers you have and gain any foothold available in the market. Unless their pockets are much deeper than yours, your competitors are going through the same pain that you are right now. Take advantage of it. In fact, if your competitors have much deeper pockets, they might not be focusing on being as lean and effective as they possibly can be. That will hurt them even more as things get better – as they invariably will.
As a manager, it is hard to motivate employees to be their best if they are fearful. The worst part is that scared employees can create a self fulfilling prophecy of failure. Right now isn’t the time to lose focus. It’s the time to make sure that everyone knows that their contribution is CRITICAL to the success of the business. Now is the time to put in extra effort. This doesn’t necessarily mean extra hours. It means extra creativity. It means extra focus on what is important and the ability to ruthlessly cull what is not. It also means the ability to change quickly when a effort is not paying the dividends that were anticipated. The more agile your company is – the lower the likelihood of failure and the lower the probability of layoffs. Once people understand this it can be a terrific motivator. No one wants to lose their jobs.
Today I sit here in my warm home, with family near. Even my cats have bellies full of turkey today. It’s been a good day. Unlike many people in this world, I do not want for food, shelter, or safety. For that I am truly grateful. Unlike many people in this world I was able to pursue the education that I desired. My quest for knowledge is by no means over and I am thankful that I have the ability to continue learning about our wonderfully diverse world.
I hope that you also have many things to be thankful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving.
I guess I should come clean. Reviews are on my mind right now because I need to write the performance reviews of my team over the next week. I am procrastinating a little bit this year. Only one of my direct reports has been with me for the whole year – the rest are fairly new, less than 6 months. This first review is critical. I want to address things that I’ve seen, but I also am still gaining their trust. I’m not completely sure how anyone is going to react. I guess that I just need to do what has worked for me in the past.
One of the key things I have learned is that you have to put some work into these things to make them worthwhile. There’s nothing that I hated more than having a manager who would skimp on my review. I didn’t care if it was generally positive. What I cared about was content. If you aren’t spending the time on these things it is immediately obvious. There is nothing that tells an employee that you couldn’t care less about them than a vague review. Be specific. Be very specific. Examples are terrific. Using your intuition can also be rewarding.
You’ll know when you did a really outstanding job – when a crusty old veteran says “That was the best review I ever had. It was obvious that you put a lot of thought into it. I even agree with what you think I need to work on… thank you.”
Recently there was an article on Wall Street Journal online in which the author blasts the yearly performance review as a completely useless exercise. Get Rid of the Performance Review! I apologize if this link is for subscribers only.
I have to admit there are a few points in this article that I find compelling. Yes, if you’ve got a bad corporate culture reviews can kill morale and teamwork. Yes, reviews are subjective and can change dramatically depending on your manager. Yes employees think that their raises are tied to their reviews. (although this is rarely true in practice!)
However, I vehemently disagree that performance reviews should be killed altogether. I see the review as a way to capture the essence of all of the good things that happened over the year. I don’t care who you are or what you do, there are things that you did well in your job and your manager should recognize them. I am tickled pink every time one of my employees reads their review and finds something positive in there and tells me “I didn’t think that you even knew about/remembered that – I forgot about it myself”.
I also believe that the review is meant to provide constructive feedback. This is not sharp criticism, but examples of things that could be improved and the encouragement to change.
Maybe I am fortunate. I have only had two instances in my management career where reviews that I have given have greatly upset the receiver. In both cases the reviews were a surprise. One, because I inherited the person shortly before the review period and I gave the review based on the previous manager’s feedback and 360 peer feedback. The other because I failed as a manager and didn’t give any negative feedback prior to the review. Both were unfortunate. I learned a lot from this.
Reviews should never be a surprise.
This sounds stupidly obvious, but it is not to a lot of managers. If you aren’t communicating and connecting with your employees throughout the year you are bound to surprise them. Rarely is the surprise a “good” one. If you hide from delivering feedback your employee will NOT know that there is a problem. You need to make sure that everyone gets that chance to modify their behavior. This needs to be done as soon as possible. Don’t wait – the feedback should be fresh – within a day or so (sometimes you need to give yourself time to cool off to be constructive). The feedback also should be specific – this is not the time to be vague. Even waiting a week is too long, you will lose that specificity. Putting the feedback down on paper after months have passed is terrible. This makes the infraction is a concrete permanent failing. Working through issues on a day to day basis is a lot more forgiving. The best constructive feedback in a written review is one that details an issue, talks about what already has been done to address it, and suggests additional actions to take.
I hope that everyone has had at least one manager in their career who has really made a big difference to them. I’ve had 20 – yes 20 different managers over my career. A few of those were my managers more than once too. Of those, I’ve had 2, maybe 3 that I would put into this special class.That’s 10% – 15%. I’m not convinced that they were the best managers overall, each had their failings. However, when it came to really being present when it counted the most, they were there. Sometimes the best managers aren’t the ones with the best presentation abilities, or they certainly don’t have to be the most organized people. Typically the best aren’t afraid to be human, and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Looking back, I see three characteristics that they shared, and that I felt made them strong people managers.
First off, they empowered me to do my job. They provided me with the support that I needed to do my job to the best of my ability.
Second, they dealt with problems in their organization up front. This was one area where they definitely were proactive. They didn’t chicken out or hide from the issues.
Third, they were honest communicators.
As a manager I’ve found that doing these things can really make a difference between people that are engaged and stay with the company or the team and those that look to jump ship. These 3 items sound simple enough but at times they are very difficult to do well. Sometimes they are just plain uncomfortable for a manager.
Moving from an individual contributor position to one where you are leading a team is a very hard transition. One day you’re worrying about what you need to get done… the next thing you know a whole team of people is depending on you. You’re being pulled every which way. Your staff is looking to you for encouragement and direction. They are looking for you to empower them to do their jobs – to make sure they have the resources they need to be successful. Your manager is looking to you to drive forward the company objectives. If you also have technical responsibilities you also need to keep up your skills. There isn’t enough time in the day to do all of it. You’re feeling like a failure.
Get over it! Yes, your heard me. GET OVER IT.
First, you need to recognize that you are never going to be able to maintain the technical edge you had before. Well, maybe you can – but you’ll have to give up your life. I didn’t think you’d want to do that – do you? Ok. you need to learn to fake it. Yes I am serious. Learn how to ask the right questions to make people think about what they need to do.
Second, you need to figure out how to be comfortable making decisions quickly with limited information. This is part intuition and part depending on the expertise of the people who report to you.
Third. You’re doing fine. Please remember that it can take a couple of years before you are really comfortable in your new skin as a leader. Don’t expect to feel successful right away. All you need to do is learn from everything that goes wrong, as well as everything that goes right. Be genuine. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. You were put into this position because someone believed in you. Believe in yourself.
On the flight to California to pump myself up for the IGDA conference I reread one of my favorite books:
Mustang Sallies by Fawn P Germer (you can buy it on Amazon)
This is especially a great book for women who have always been told that they are too opinionated or too abrasive or maybe too aggressive. It has some really great interviews with some very influential women. These women share their stories about reaching high level leadership positions in politics, Fortune 500 companies etc.
I guess the thing that really stood out for me is this:
Hold out your arms parallel to the ground, outstretched about 4′ apart. This is range of acceptable behavior for men in business. This ranges from shedding a tear when times are tough to being a screaming asshole.
Hold your hands about 6″ apart. that is the range of acceptable behavior for women in business. Go outside of that and you’re either labeled weak or you are labeled a bitch.
Generally I think that this is true. Well, at least it has been for me in my career at times. I hope that times are changing. I have to say that the folks who have come out of college in the last 10 years seem to be a whole lot more enlightened. This makes me really happy. I just want to be myself.
Another key point which I have heard made over and over again is that women have to support each other as they progress. What is it with the cat fighting ladies? It isn’t helping things. It keeps both parties from really being successful. In some ways I am really happy that I work in a male dominated industry. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t run across these women. I surely have. What it does mean is that most of the women that I run across are used to dealing with men, and I believe that is the reason they actually treat each other better and with more respect. This isn’t a dump on men – not at all – it is a statement on treating everyone fairly and generally equally. Women in a man’s world tend to be a bit better at doing that.
Alright! Woo Hoo! I am still coming off of the high of giving my presentation “Reducing Turnover: Keeping Teams Intact Through Strong Leadership”. That was by far the best presentation that I have ever given in my career. I’ve had public speaking training, but that was a very long time ago and I was completely out of practice. I am really looking forward to getting a copy of the video and seeing how I actually did.
Well I learned something. It really DOES make a difference if you are speaking about a topic that you are passionate about. I had a great time. I also can’t tell you how many people came up to me yesterday afterwards, stopping me in the hallway, grabbing me at the bar to tell me how much they enjoyed my talk. It felt GREAT! I even had one of our competitors come up to me and he started off by saying that he went to my talk to “see what we are up to”. He really enjoyed the presentation and then he proceeded to ask me if I wanted to come work for them. <snort!> That was awesome, it never hurts to have supporters and friends at the competition.
One thing has become pretty clear to me, people in the game industry are still struggling with how to incorporate professional management into their companies. This is a group of very unique and creative individuals and a lot of them have some serious quirks. Take those people and promote them to management positions without training and it becomes a very difficult situation. I was lucky, I had management training . I had conflict management training. I went through personality type analysis. Looking back at it, I didn’t think a whole lot about it at the time, but geeesh it made a huge difference. There are some things that are good about working for big companies.
Count down… in a little over 48 hours I’ll be giving a presentation at the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco. For you non-gamers that is the International Game Developers Association. My talk will be about staff retention through strong leadership techniques. I am really excited to give this talk – and a little scared as well. It has been a long time since I’ve given speech at a conference. Probably 15 years to be exact. I’ve given other presentations, of course, but being in front of a large audience is always a unique experience. The thing that makes this presentation different for me is that I will be talking about my personal experiences in management. Things that I have seen and done that worked well, and things that really worked poorly.
Wish me luck! I’ll share parts of my talk when I return.
Ok, I started this blog with the intent of writing about elder care issues. When it came down to it, it was just too draining to keep up on a regular basis. There are lots of other things that I’d much rather write about. Stay tuned, it’s about to get much more interesting and fun.