Monday, March 29, 2010

Employee Retention: Managers Deliver on Promises

Business Strategies

If you’re new to this column, it is part of a continuing series on how to Insure Employee Retention.   We’ve so far explored how to mine for your employees’ goals, align them with the company’s, and show progress on a regular basis.

2010.03.29_Confident Today topic is on how to instill confidence in your team through your actions.  Once again, the idea seems simple at first, but can be time and mind-share consuming.  With each of your employees’ goals defined, you’ll setup regular meetings to get updates from them about their progress.  However, acting as a checkpoint guard or a task master is not enough.  You’ll need to actively search for means of finding the most efficient and effective way for the employees to reach their goals, while removing any blocks preventing their success or delaying them. 

That’s right.  It’s not just the employees who are working toward their goals, you are too!  Their goals become yours.  Once you understand their goals, you’ll need to keep a close eye for ways and means of accomplishing them more efficiently and effectively.  This may mean searching for and providing additional courses, in-house training, or brown-bag lunch events where team members teach each other about what they’re learning. 

2010.03.29_Detour For example, you may realize that an employee interested in management, but lacking verbal communication skills, can benefit from Toastmasters membership.  You’ll then need to approach him or her and provide this as an option with, where possible, funding for them to attend such clubs.  So that everyone in the organization benefits from it, you can propose that after completing a certification program with  Toastmasters, the lead start a company club and train others on the art of effective verbal communication.

2010.03.29_EndDetour Why would you do this? To demonstrate that you’re genuinely interested in the employee’s success.  There’s a wonderful side effect as well: so long as the employee and company goals are aligned, the faster they reach their goals, the sooner the company, you and the rest of the team will benefit from the rewards such as higher productivity, more efficiency, and overall improved employee satisfaction.  You’ll likely also get better customer satisfaction resulting from the better service your employees provide since they’re happier about their progress and they exude that vibrant force.

In summary, your goal as management is to instill confidence in your team that you too are fully invested in helping them achieve their goals.  You’ll be able to do this by continuously searching for ways of insuring your employees’ success in attaining their quarterly and annual goals, and removing any blocks that would prevent them from reaching them or delay their progress.

In the next post we’ll discuss how it’s necessary to end the pursuit of a goal, no matter what the results. 

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below on this or the related posts.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner
Employee Retention: Goals Alignment
Employee Retention: Goals Progress

Photo Credits: dbking, chrisdlugosz, aturkus

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Employee Retention: Goals Progress

Business Strategies

This week we’ll continue our discussion about employee retention by looking at how to help employees progress on their goals.

2010.03.23_RuningHurdles This subject may at first glance seem facile, and it can be if intermediary steps for each goal is well defined.  There lies the investment and labor.  Finding the intermediary steps aren’t necessarily difficult as much as they’re time consuming.  However, it’s an investment worth making since defining metrics and showing progress in shorter intervals boosts the overall employee motivation, satisfaction, and productivity as they realize how much closer they are to achieving their goals by completing the smaller, more palatable goals. 

To demonstrate progress, you’ll need to have already defined the employee’s goals and determined how to align them with the company vision, goals and profit motives.  During this definition, you’ll also need to determine milestones that are concrete, meaning measurable where you and the employee can determine whether they’ve been achieved or how much progress has been and what remains to mark it as complete.  They’ll also need to be achievable on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.  These more granular, regularly monitored and measurable goals are what I refer to as micro-goals.  The more detailed they are, the easier it’ll be to determine whether they’ve been completed.

 WORD OF CAUTION: Given this definition there is always the danger of entrapping yourself and the employee to a path that may seem unattainable or simply wrong for either the employee, the company or both.  Once you’ve created the micro-goals, some managers and employees may feel that there are no other paths to achieving the annual or lifetime goals EXCEPT for that defined.  This is simply wrong.  As a leader and manager, your role will be to use these micro-goals as guide posts to where the employee and the company see benefits, but not in how they are achieved.  The how can and should be adjusted during the regular intervals when the employees discuss their progress.  In fact, it’s quite common for the micro-goals, the annual or even the lifetime goals to change as 2010.03.23_RoadWithPebblesthe employee makes efforts towards achieving them.  So, please, please, please keep in mind that you should NOT feel entrapped by defining goals and micro-goals.  Go to the review sessions with the knowledge that life is not defined by straight and narrow paths, but by those filled with pot-holes, hills, and curves that require an open mind, agility and flexibility to insure its successful and enjoyable completion.

After the micro-goals are defined and agreed upon, you’ll need to schedule regular checkups with the employee based on when they were defined to be completed.  So, if the micro-goals were defined to be achieved on a weekly basis, then you schedule a three to five minute checkup each week on the same day of the week to determine whether the goal was completed, or, if it wasn’t, what prevented its full completion.  Your role at this stage becomes that of the mentor who provides guidance and resources for removing any blocks and insuring the employee’s success.

As with other posts on this subject, let’s elucidate the concept with an example.  One of the professionals I worked with a number of years back told me he wanted to become a project lead and, possibly, a project manager.  He was at that stage a senior developer with more than eight years of experience developing software.  For the sake of anonymity let’s call him Sam. 

I’d worked with Sam for a good part of his eight years of experience and knew he had the potential to lead, and he needed training in newer development paradigms (object oriented programming) as well as how to apply process and rigor to insure repeatable results.  What’s more, , he had to learn to lead teams, meaning he needed to learn to listen to other developers’ concerns, designs and help them learn how to work through them to become better developers, rather than simply do the work himself.  We knew his goal of becoming a lead and a project manager would be three to five years out. 

We agreed that his objectives for the coming year were to learn the new technology paradigm and apply it to the current list of projects under our control, as well as learn how to lead on tight timelines.  We came up with the following annual goals:

  1. Learn new technology (.NET Framework) syntax by attending a three-day course on the subject within a month
  2. Learn new technology paradigm and apply within six months by developing particular parts of the new solution with which he was completely familiar in the legacy system
  3. Learn to lead a team of two or more people to reduce to zero the total number of reported severe errors on production system within the year
  4. Attend and complete a time-management course immediately (Franklin Covey’s 7-Habits training)

You’ll notice all of these had a definite timeline and measurable result.  However, they were still not granular enough.  We had to back in to dates for when each one would be complete by either selecting course dates, where they applied, or creating project timelines with a breakdown of intermediary steps. 

Once these were defined, we checked in on a weekly basis in the hallways or in an office for a few minutes to determine if all was on track.  We also scheduled a regular quarterly review process when we looked at our timeline and what he was able to achieve. We agreed that whenever he felt he couldn’t complete a week’s or month’s goal, he would immediately ask for a meeting with me and determine how we could remove his block.

What was the result?

2010.03.23_ManOnWindyRoad As happens with many goals that are well defined and measurable, he was able to complete all but one of them.  What he wasn’t able to fully achieve was becoming a lead developer and project manager.  Nevertheless, his tenacity and perseverance, along with what he learned about goal setting, inspired him to go further.  Shortly after leaving our group and joining another in our company, he was promoted to lead a geographically dispersed team of five, not only as the lead developer, but also as the team’s project manager.

As you can see, the process of showing goals progress is really about granular definition of steps required, the micro-goals, to reach the larger annual and lifetime goals.  The initial time investment in defining these pays dividends as it streamlines the weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews.  As a result, your employees will be more satisfied with their progress, remain motivated in completing them, and become more productive, directly and positively affecting the company bottom line.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your thoughts about micro-goals and progress reviews below.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner
Employee Retention: Goals Alignment

Photo Credits: fdecomite, sburke2478, Shahram Sharif

Friday, March 12, 2010

Your Success is Inevitable

The Optimist’s Perspective

2010.03.12_PoleVault I started my consulting firm last year, though I’ve provided consulting services for years as a result of independent contracting and working for consulting firms.  Nevertheless, this is a new experience  for me.  I have to learn many things that were otherwise handled by others, even in a small company, including working on branding, financials, marketing,  and sales. 

I won’t lie and write that it’s easy.  It’s not, but it’s also not overwhelming, especially if you consider that how you react to circumstances is completely under your control. I spend time weekly taking the proverbial “business temperature” to see how well we’re progressing.  This is especially important since we need to quickly assess whether a tactic is paying off.  Often, the marketing approach or message we’re delivering doesn’t seem to stick, but that’s OK.  With every failed attempt, we learn something new and adjust our approach.

The question is never if we’ll succeed, but what path will get us to that inevitable success.  Notice that phrase “inevitable success.”  It’s never a question of whether we can do it or how difficult everyone else tells us it will be to get to our end goal.  We don’t much care what the pessimists tell us.  What we care about is trying or doing something, anything (within ethical and moral bounds), that gets us closer to our goal.  We know doing something is better than doing nothing, AKA, hypothesizing about doing something.  Certainly there’s a need to plan, but as a start up we also have the advantage of being very flexible and having short trial cycles that help us quickly adjust to the market needs and demands. 

The market has too many project managers and not enough developers? Fine, we’ll find the right people and offer web application, private portal or MS Office development services. 

The market can’t bear consulting fees of two years ago? No problem, let’s come up with more efficient management and delivery process and offer our services at lower fees. 

This should be important to you whether you’re an entrepreneur, a seasoned executive out of work, or any level employee seeking new opportunities.  Your mindset should be that your success is inevitable.  You have no option BUT to succeed!  Once you’ve gained this perspective, then you begin to think creatively of ways to get to your end goal, to meet the needs of your customers or meet your next employer.  It’s then that you begin to experiment, fail, take note of lessons learned, and repeat.  With time, the failures will become less and you’ll see how much closer you are to your goal by way of the results and feedback you get on your efforts.  The results are your guideposts, be they the number of people that contact you asking about your services, the press coverage you receive, or how many employers call you back after you send them an impromptu 30-day plan.

Take heed then and face your inevitable success by taking the first step: do something.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your optimist’s perspectives below.

Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland, Australia

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Motorola CLIQ Review – Part 5

Technology Review

It’s been almost three months since I wrote about the Motorola CLIQ.  I’ve so far written four reviews of this device.  You’ll find the links for them all below, under the Related Posts section.

Since the most recent review in January, I’ve had the pleasure of using many more applications on the CLIQ, as well as had some challenges with the device.  First note is that Motorola introduced an updated Moto Blur v1.3.18 recently that, per company reports, provides the following:

Improved Battery Life
Enhanced battery performance.

Improved Touch Screen Sensitivity
Improves the touch screen sensitivity and response of your device.

Better Audio Routing
Repairs audio routing to prevent spontaneous speakerphone activations during calls and the random occurrence of music playback through the earpiece instead of appropriate external speakers.

Improved Caller Notification
Improves user interface performance, consistently notifying you when a new call is coming in, reducing missed call notifications.

Faster GPS Performance
Provides faster GPS performance for applications like Google Maps, Geotagging of photos and other GPS functions (SUPL).

Support For Additional Windows Media Formats
Compatible with more media formats including .WMA and .WAV Windows media files.

Bluetooth Improvements
Allows a Bluetooth car kit to sync to your device so your car kit can display the names of incoming callers, download phone book contacts so calls can be made from the car kit display and allows you to view the call history list from the car kit display.

Listen to visual voicemail over Bluetooth.

SIM Card Management
Import, export or delete contacts individually or in groups.

Additional Stability
Additional device stability reduces occurrence of unresponsiveness and/or programs quitting unexpectedly.

The Latest Versions of Google Applications
Updated GMS application provides access to the latest versions of Google apps like Maps, Talk, YouTube, Market and more.

Updated Quickoffice
Adds ability to view documents in Microsoft® Office 2007 format.

I’ve noticed most of these are true.  However, my Google email is simply not as responsive and, at times, painfully slow to use.  Bluetooth has improved dramatically, especially when making calls from my car’s Bluetooth.

After searching through the Motorola Support site, I also found that many people have an issue with their devices crashing after the update installs.  Suffice it to note that the Motorola team has been responding to individuals with these issues on a case by case basis.  At least that’s how it seems based on responses from them posted on this same site. 

There’s also an issue with incorrect time display.  This latter I noticed on my device as well.  The phone clock was slow by about 7 minutes.  Unlike many others, mine worked fine after I reset the device by taking out the battery and restarting it.

All of this reminds me of Windows 3.  I remember how excited I was to get out of the DOS world and into a graphical user interface.  However, I also remember the pain of using a product that was at its infancy and full of bugs that resulted in numerous system crashes, incompatible device drivers, software applications that only sometimes worked as they should, and endless memory leaks.  I can’t speak to purely Android as I know the Moto Blur is an overlay to it, but I can tell you the pains are very similar. 

However, the excitement is the same too.  For every time I have an issue, I can name half a dozen other times when I’ve loved my Smartphone.  I can easily access the web.  I use my phone as a broadband modem when I’m at a location where the wireless is maxed out or at a location with no broadband.  I simply tether it via USB to my notebook and use PDANet to “dial-up” a connection.  I’ve even used my notebook and tethered phone as a passenger in a car while commuting to a client site. 

I’ve mentioned this before too, the applications is what sells these devices.  I use Calorie Counter by Fat Secret to keep track of my daily meal intake and help keep me on track with my nutrition goals.  I’ve used CardioTrainer with its GPS tracking to calculate my calories burned, distance and path travelled when I go for my evening walks.  When the standard Alarm application didn’t cut it, I downloaded Math Alarm clock that forces me to solve a math problem before the alarm can be shut off. Brilliant!  Meebo IM keeps me connected with my professional network when I’m on the road without my notebook, in a meeting, and in need of some answers. TimeDroid helps me connect to Freshbooks and track my billable hours, making client invoicing a breeze.  When in need of some mental stimulation, I turn to Mother TED to watch a recorded video at surprisingly high resolution from one of the TED talks.

I could go on, but you get what I’m telling you.  There’s a lot to love about Android and the applications available on the Android Market.  In the end, I don’t mind being the guinea pig in helping the OS, and its variants of supporting hardware, mature into the natural end product that will likely help us fully realize the Star Trek writers’ fantasy: a universal Communicator / Tricorder combo that does far more than what even those writers could’ve  imagined!

What Do You Think

Feel free to comment below about this post or any other experience with Smartphones.

Related Posts

Motorola CLIQ Review – Part 1
Motorola CLIQ Review – Part 2
How I almost Dumped the CLIQ: Review – Part 3
Motorola CLIQ Review – Part 4

Photo Credits: All photos are the property of Motorola

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Waterfall Management Methodology is Irrelevant

Business Tactics

2010.03.09_Waterfall With so many project management methodologies in the market and so few people versed in more than one, it seems difficult to choose a method over another.  There aren’t that many people that have put practical knowledge about multiple methodologies to critically assess any one against the other.

I don’t claim to know all or even a large number of them either.  However, what I can tell you is that anyone who prefers or pushes one over another without regard for an organization’s needs, politics, culture and state of current practices is likely inserting his or her own foot in mouth and being of disservice to their practice and company. 

In fact, anytime I hear a presenter or a manager start off a conversation with something like, “The waterfall management methodology is irrelevant,” or a similar comment about any other method or approach, I realize I’m dealing with an amateur or a zealot.  I then pull out my notebook or Smartphone and start reading through my emails, news, and daily plan.  I know I can find much better information there than by listening to the speaker.  The point is that any dismissive attitude espousing a silver bullet solution to problems is likely mistaken.

I can understand being passionate about a particular approach.  I certainly demonstrate my passion each time I write in this blog or speak with a customer, client, or coworker.  We should all practice this.  However, any perspective that refuses to see or consider another point of view is missing out on the benefits of continuous improvement as well as finding an alternate approach to solving problems.

This is one reason I’m thankful I’ve spent time as a consultant working under some great leaders.  In fact, I recommend working for and with zealots, but that you leave the moment you feel your approach is the only one.  That is the time you try another or start work for another zealot. 

Take project management for example.  By practicing Waterfall, XP, Scrum, Spiral, RUP, among others, when faced with new teams, departments, companies, cultures, or industries, you’ll be able to assess which practice best fits your circumstances and then use it.  Likely, you’ll begin to have a preference for one over another for particular circumstances and, by having practiced various methods, you’ll be able to describe the costs, benefits and risks of using one over another.  The main point is that you should consider all options and weigh your circumstances before recommending or choosing any one method over another.

What are you waiting for then?  Figure our which process you’re using today and either find how you can improve it or search for a new one to practice.  Start building your methodology toolset today!

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Photo Credits: ajagendorf25

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Employee Retention: Goals Alignment

Business Strategy

2010.03.07_Goals So far in this series, we’ve seen the importance of retaining employees in the post Insuring Employee Retention, where I also wrote about the multiple factors necessary to decrease, if not eliminate, your employee attrition.  The first of these was understanding your employees’ personal and professional goals, described in the posting  Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner. The idea there was to insure you understand the whole picture about the human behind the resource and his / her motivations.

Following that discussion, the natural question is how can you align a person’s goals with your company’s?  This is especially important if your employees entrust you with their personal goals that seem to diverge from your company’s.

Let’s look at an example in explaining how to address this issue.  I recall going through one of these goal mining sessions with an employee and learning that he wished to open a restaurant within 10 years.  At first glance, it seemed this person had no place in our organization.  After all, we both worked in a software development shop and he was a project manager.  We in no way provided food services to our customers.

However, we dug deeper and talked about the reason he wanted to start a restaurant.  He wanted what most entrepreneurs want: the freedom to make his own decisions, to take risks and be responsible for the consequences.  He also had a passion for food and the catering business.  He loved being a part of people’s celebrations and those intimate moments when they break bread with friends, family or coworkers. 

As a software development project manager, we needed him to focus on managing risks and timelines.  He needed to create project plans, help achieve project goals and, in the process, remove any project blocks. These skills were designed to increase our client satisfaction and create new direct and indirect business, while helping the company’s profitability through timely delivery of solutions.

How can these goals be aligned? I’m sure you’ve already guessed the answer.  The same project management skills necessary to think through and weigh risks, make critical decisions and benefit or suffer the consequences, find the path that insures customer satisfaction  and company profitability were the skills he needed as an entrepreneur. 

Knowing his goals and how they aligned with our company’s we agreed to give him increased autonomy and responsibility over time and with each success so that he could practice making critical decisions as he would in his own business.  At each quarterly review, we looked at how far along he was in achieving his learning objectives that would get him closer to starting his own company.  We also created incentives in the form of extra time off, to spend with family or planning his restaurant operation, and performance-based bonuses that were tightly coupled with how profitable each project turned out.

With every project, he learned how to become not just a better manager, but a critical thinker and leader, considering the overall profitability picture for our company and our customers.  In the process he also learned what it meant to find a mutually beneficial solution for a company and its customers.  He became customer-focused, rather than project-focused, and learned to automate where he could or find efficient processes for common problems.

The end result was that he was continuously motivated to be a diligent project manager since he knew what he was learning would benefit his long-term goals.  Simultaneously, we benefited from his efforts since he continuously searched for and found ways of improving our company profitability though better customer relationship management, team motivation, and process improvement techniques. 

What’s more, our willingness to invest time with him and other employees created a company buzz about how much we cared for each employee.  In turn, as more results came in, as we made and delivered on people’s growth goals, the organization’s morale, productivity, profitability, and overall customer and employee satisfaction grew.  It seemed, people loved coming to work at a place where the leadership wished and made efforts to make their lifelong dreams come true!

The lesson here is that even if an employee’s goals seem as divergent as starting their own business, you can form a plan that teaches that person the skills they seek while benefiting the company’s bottom line.  What’s required is patience and the willingness to forgo the urge to dismiss such initially perceived incompatibilities when discussing personal and professional goals with your employees.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below about this post or your ideas on employee retention, in general.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica

Monday, March 1, 2010

Twitter is Irrelevant

Technology Review

That’s right! I think Twitter is as relevant as a stock ticker symbol.  Soon there’ll be nothing left of Twitter and its services other than a background service that we all take for granted.  The likes of Facebook and Google, the big boys in technology, have already begun to encroach on the microblogging space.

What’s interesting is how many different services have bubbled up as a result of Twitter.  No doubt, Twitter has been the impetus for us to think different, to borrow a phrase from Apples’ marketing campaign from bygone years.  We’ve begun to rely on news and update sources other than the big media sources.  This is not the result of any one source of micro-blogging, but the consequence of democratic information dissemination that started long before with bulletin boards, the Internet, blogging, and their ilk.

Twitter will soon be as important as the stock ticker symbol on the bottom of the screen on the likes of MSNBC and CNN: a useful utility, but not worthy of any more attention or awe than sliced bread or electricity as they’ve become a part of our daily lives.  It’ll soon be a utility just like electricity, but living in the background and out of our immediate attention scope. 

Surely, they will hold their place in history as innovators, but I don’t foresee their continued existence as a destination site any more than how much mind cycles you spend on your electricity or cable service. 

What Do You Think?

Do you think I’m out of line?  Do I have my facts right?  Feel free to share your comments below.