Toxic employees – look at yourself first

I recently read an article that had been posted in LinkedIn from Inc. This particular article highlights 8 rules for spotting a toxic employee.

I am generally uncomfortable with frameworks like this. They give the lazy manager a way out of managing effectively. They make it easy to fire people when the focus should be on developing people.

Before any manager starts to use such rules they should look at themselves and their management colleagues to assess whether they have created the climate where “toxic employees” thrive. Are you, as a manager, taking responsibility for the working environment or are you finding scape-goats?

The rules in the article are useful for identifying problems with your teams but you should look both ways before you decide what the cause of the problems is.

Rule 1 is about gossip – do you have an open and transparent environment where there is no need to gossip? Do you have a blame culture or are mistakes welcomed and seen as opportunities for the team to learn?

Rule 2 discusses the meeting after the meeting – again do you have an open and transparent environment where your decisions can be challenged? Are you able to admit to your team that you make mistakes? Are you able to take advice from your team members? Do you allow open discussion of key issues? Do you let your team know in good time of the critical issues that are coming up so they can help you? Are you humble?

Rule 3 covers not working as a team member – do you get your hands dirty and help the team out? Do you have an appraisal system that encourages individuals to compete with each other? Do you micro-manage? Do you allow teams to organise their work among themselves?

Rule 4 relates to coasting – are you really appreciative in a tangible way? Does your organisation provide any real benefits to doing a good job over just getting by? Have you set stretch goals? Do you penalise staff for missing stretch goals even when they have over-achieved? Do you recognise the value of your employees? Is it clear and transparent why some staff are rewarded more than others?

Rule 5 talks about experience – are you identifying useful experience in your team? Are you giving experienced staff objectives and tasks to pass on their experience? Are you showing that you value learning? Do you ask your experienced staff for help?

Rule 6 focuses on peer pressure – have you built a set of objectives for your team where their interests are aligned with those of the organisations? Do they win when the organisation wins? Does their hard work result in benefits for the staff?

Rule 7 adds grabbing credit – do you give credit where it’s due? Have you created an environment where staff are competing with each other? Which do you praise more, team work or individual performance? Do you encourage the quieter team members to contribute? Do you know the team well enough to understand who is really doing the work?

Rule 8 finishes the article with blaming others – is there a blame culture? Do you praise and reward taking responsibility?

Management sets the culture of an organisation. Good managers recognise this and work hard to put in place practices that support team work. Good managers are followed by their teams. If the team is following a “toxic” employee then the management need to take a good hard look at the working environment that they have created.

SMART Objectives Redefined…

In many organisations there is an annual ritual, goal setting time. Time for that tired piece of management advice about SMART goals to be trotted out once more.

Everyone’s heart will sink… Staff will not want to over commit. Managers will push and cajole because there is pressure on them from above. The annual battle is on.

Can you get your bonus without effort? Will you know that, despite all your best efforts, your enthusiasm cannot get you there? Do your managers already know that they have missed their targets. Or have they managed to con their bosses into believing that the “stretch” target they have set has not already been achieved. Have they conned you into working hard for peanuts?

We need to get away from the counter productive nonsense of SMART goal setting. It looks good on paper but completely fails to take into account human nature. Emotion counts! Logic is virtually irrelevant!

Unfortunately it is not going away so let’s redefine it!

Stretch  -  be creative, be wacky, be different, change the rules for yourself and your organisation, be innovative, organisation want a step change, challenge everyone to be different, to take a different route, every organisation wants to improve, to make any significant change you have to do something different, forget incremental change, take a different direction.

Motivate – each day you should want to go a bit further towards your goals, you should want to meet and overcome any obstacle, your goals have got to be exciting, they inspire you, you should wake up in the night with fresh ideas on how to achieve them.

Alive – get excited, make sure your goals will keep you excited, infect others with your excitement, don’t worry if they look at you as if you are mad — you are! Your excitement will motivate others, it builds teams that endure and succeed.

Reach  -  set no limits, so what if it is impossible, the greats of this world didn’t settle for possible, why should you? If you get halfway to impossible, it will be 10 times further and more satisfying than your Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timebound goal.

Timeless — we have one life, lets keep on pushing, keep on going, keep on having fun, lets keep on driving to our great goals because we want to, never retire, never stop, just get another great goal.

Much SMARTer!

Technical Mastery is not a goal for an Enterprise Architect…

An enterprise architect is a true hybrid. You must be able to help business people of all disciplines work in problem spaces that cover the external eco-system, business models, operating models, processes, organisation, technology and information. The down side is that you almost certainly will not be an expert in any one area. 

You will be a jack of all trades, master of none. This leaves you open to accusations, particularly from IT architects, of being a lightweight, of lacking depth, of being technically weak and out of date. This can be painful for an enterprise architect with a background and reputation as a technology guru.

Business people tend to be kinder.  They appreciate someone who has come over to their side.  They need IT people who understand and view their problems as business issues.  They want an honest broker. But you are not one of them and you will be in deep trouble if you start to think that you are, but you are trying. 

Being a hybrid that has moved from IT, being a true enterprise architect, puts you in the middle. You are no longer in IT, but you can’t transition to the business.  You can add huge value by bridging the gap, you can also get lonely because you just don’t fit.

To remain valuable, you must be learning all the time. When a new technology arrives, you need to understand the key features. What business value can it add? What is just hype? Can you anticipate the gotchas? How does it supersede old solutions and address issues in older technologies?  What is the new language that goes with it, how does this relate to the old language?

Growing business capability is equally important.  This happens at several levels – what are industry trends, what is the latest thinking for improving business operations, who are the new entrants in the market, where are the threats, where are the opportunities, what is happening on the shop floor, how is technology changing the business?

You won’t have time to be an expert technologist but you will be able to engage in strategic decision making and set a technical direction that delivers business goals – and that is where an IT oriented enterprise architect can add value, not by indulging in technical mastery.

SMART Objectives Considered Harmful!

Introduction

Having been a member of staff, a manager and a consultant I have met SMART objectives many times and in many forms. Being faced with the need to create them for myself and help my team create once again, I feel the need to vent some frustration with the apparent obsession with something that I have finally come to conclude can be a harmful activity that is sometimes best avoided. This article explains why I consider SMART objectives should not be developed.

Apparently, the best order to consider your objectives is M-A-R-S-T: so let’s begin…

Measurable

Measurable is supposed to be the most important consideration. This allows you and everyone else know that you’ve achieved your objective.

But this creates a problem – not everything worth achieving is easily measurable.

Therefore you are left with the option of picking something easy to measure or you spend time creating a measurement scheme that accurately reflects what you are trying to achieve.

There are many tales of company activities being distorted by inappropriate measures. Staff changed their behaviour to reflect the measures that their performance was being judged by, “to hell with customer service, I’m measured on how many calls I complete inside 2 minutes”. The thing is that such measures seemed entirely reasonable when they were developed.

There are three basic approaches to measuring schemes that are often introduced when simple approaches fail. Measuring schemes that mimic balanced scorecards, those that have several measures that are in tension with each other, and surveys.

Balanced scorecard based approaches are often introduced without an understanding of how balanced scorecards drive performance. A complete set of objectives should be based on a strategy map i.e. a diagram showing the cause and effect relationships between the achievement of different objectives which ultimately result in the achievement of the financial objectives of the organisation. Without the understanding of cause and effect, the result is that objectives conflict and the individual’s contribution to the overall performance does not improve.

These strategy maps must be consistent throughout the organisation at all levels and across all functions to be effective. Without this consistency, all that results is a random set of activities that does not deliver improved business performance. My experience of getting this right is that is takes about 3 months at about 25% of managers time to get the scheme right, then it has to be updated every few months. The overhead is just not acceptable!

The tension approach requires that conflicting objectives (e.g. quality vs. timescale vs. cost) are formulated and the result is a creative balance. Again, such an approach requires significant management effort to deliver and, quite simply, most managers either are too busy or can’t be bothered!

The last resort of the manager required to measure the immeasurable is to “ask the customer”. On the basis that everyone has a “customer” and “customer service is a good thing” then it must be valid to “ask the customer”. Unfortunately, as the work of Kaplan and Norton on balanced scorecards and strategy maps shows, the customer is only one dimension in the equation. In addition, why is an internal customer’s subjective opinion of your service that is probably biased by politics a reasonable measure that drives corporate performance?

Inevitably, the measure becomes the managers gut feel back up with a reasoned argument based on some anecdotes.

Achievable

  • It’s measurable
  • Others have done it successfully before you
  • It’s theoretically possible
  • You have the necessary resources, or at least a realistic chance of getting them
  • You’ve assessed the limitations

This is pure cowardice, if you want to be successful, if you want to make an impact, you need guts. Making sure you can succeed before you start is for wimps! Leaders take risks, they attempt the impossible. Sometimes they succeed – and its fun to succeed. Sometimes they fail – where’s the next challenge?

As an interim manager I built a career taking on jobs that no-one thought could be achieved. In fact, no-one understood the jobs, they just knew something had to be done, and I was up for a challenge. My most satisfying and successful jobs have come by “going where angels fear to tread”.

Realistic

Apparently, you should be realistic because even if it’s achievable, it may not be realistic. You need to understand…

  • Who’s going to do it?
  • Do they have (or can they get) the skills to do a good job?
  • Where’s the money coming from
  • Who carries the can?

This is all about getting the resources to do the job. To me that’s just part of the job, you don’t start with the resources. You decide to do it, you get the resources, you deliver, simple!

The key is that what you are doing is important enough and that you can convince others of this.

Your conviction and passion are far more important than realism.

Specific

Apparently, the devil is in the detail. The guidelines say that you will know your objective is specific enough if:

  • Everyone who’s involved knows that they are involved – no, we’ll get going and win them over when we need to!
  • Everyone involved understands what we are trying to achieve – no, we’ll develop an understanding together as we progress.
  • Your objective is free from jargon – I’m all for writing it down, it becomes more real, but lets develop a language together that works for everyone.

In a dynamic environment, you start with an idea and only with an idea. Then you act on it and bring people along. Those that can help get involved and develop the idea further, it becomes a team thing, its not mine anymore, it belongs to all of us.

If we wait for the specific, then the enthusiasm goes and the best ideas, which are often the most difficult to conceive of as successful, never get started.

Timely

Timely means setting deadlines.

Time is money, so is quality – too many people get hung up on artificial deadlines that damage the business by riding roughshod over people’s private life and reducing the quality of delivery.

The only real deadline is one where someone dies if you don’t make it, so lets get the value of a timeframe into perspective.

This isn’t an excuse for procrastination or for delay, everything has an appropriate timescale. Often you can’t know it until after you start, if that’s the case then don’t create an artificial deadline.

There’s nothing wrong with having a hoped for timescale, a target can be useful to focus the mind, there’s nothing wrong with having review points, but if you don’t know when your objective will delivered that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

Conclusion

SMART objectives can create inertia and are sometimes an excuse for doing very little. They can damage businesses by stifling creativity, squashing enthusiasm and making mediocrity acceptable. They are a crutch for poor managers.

If you want to improve your bottom line, recruit leaders, encourage leaders, then give everyone the freedom to achieve.