(i) Know Everyone by Name
Incredible, but true. I have met too many managers who do not even know the names of their team members. Any corporate structure is like a pyramid. No matter what part of the pyramid you occupy, the strength of the pyramid depends on the bottommost layer and it becomes imperative that you know all the people who report to you directly or indirectly. At least, the best managers have an uncanny knack of remembering peoples’ names and making casual personal enquiries about the well being of anyone they meet. Since this kind of behavior is not always experienced, it makes the people realize that they are being given personal attention and builds loyalty in the team. It satisfies the basic human craving of being noticed.
In his classic book “Strategies for success”, Jim Dornan mentions this very principle in the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, and I quote “An excellent example of this from history can be seen in the way Napoleon Bonaparte interacted with his men, he knew every officer of his army by name. He liked to wander through his camp, meet an officer, greet him by name, and talk about a battle or maneuver in which he knew this officer had been involved. He never missed an opportunity to inquire about a soldier’s home town, wife and family. When he did, it always amazed the man to see how much detailed personal information about him his Emperor knew.
Since every officer felt Napoleon’s personal interest in him – proved by his statements and questions- it is easy to understand the devotion they all felt for him.”
(ii) Connect with Everyone
Tough one to explain but let’s consider an example. Archimedes discovered the lever concept wherein let’s say you wanted to move a heavy rock you would be better advised to use a long rod rather than trying to move it with your bare hands.
Similarly, when it comes to people, you are better advised to build relationships first and then steer people in the direction you want them to move. Moreover, in this case, people will follow you willingly. Learn to persuade, not dominate. There is a vast difference between the two phrases ‘Can you please ensure that this is done?’ and ‘You need to complete this work by EOD today.’ One is a slight nudge or a request while the other is a kick. No one likes to be kicked.
Unfortunately, most managers are guilty of using “positional authority” to achieve their ends. John Maxwell talks about the various levels of leadership in his book “Developing the leader within you” and it is clear that positional authority is the worst form of leadership.
One way to measure where you stand on the leadership scale is to check how many juniors come to you for career advice and advice in other areas of their life. If people do not approach you, it means that you are not approachable which is a sorry state of affairs. You simply cannot progress if you are unable to connect with people and you can connect with people only when you take a genuine interest in them, their careers, lives, etc.
(iii) Protect Your Team at all Costs
Protect your team from:
Overenthusiastic sales personnel who try to impose their sales targets on developers
Powerful stakeholders who impose deadline pressure
Prima donna developers who start dominating juniors
Have genuine concern and take true care of your team – the best leaders are the ones who go to extreme lengths to protect the interests of their team. Sometimes, this may mean that you need to lock horns with your immediate superiors and higher management.
Remember, your team is your 1st concern.
Address all team concerns proactively - a concern, like a bomb can be handled if detected early. The greater the delay, the worse it becomes.
The result – people will start recognizing you as a person in whom they can put their faith and trust and become fiercely loyal.
(iv) Solve Problems Even If it is Outside the Scope of the Project
One of your key responsibilities as a Project Manager is to clear all the obstacles which come in the way of your team members and prevent them from performing at the optimum level. While most PMs do handle all the nagging problems faced within the office premises, very few actually look beyond that.
Onsite projects, for example, are always plagued with problems. Adjusting to the local food, travelling and place of residence, are basic requirements which should be taken care of at the very outset. I recall an onsite project wherein I had to visit a foreign country where the employer provided some excellent facilities like:
1 free telephone call every week to keep in touch with the family
A video conference with family members once in 6 months
Occasional weekend trips to famous spots in the city
The buddy concept wherein one local staff whom the onsite person had to interact with regularly was also asked to help him during his stay for other nagging problems – in fact, this was a KRA for the year.
Small acts like these ensured that the employees were happy and there was negligible attrition in the project for almost 3 years. Funny, but treating every team member as if he is your biggest customer yields rich dividends in the long run.
(v) Be Absolutely Honest and Transparent
Trust is the foundation stone of all relationships. Break trust and invite disaster. Be it organizational changes, cost cutting, layoffs, or any other news which impacts the team, always be the first one to inform the team openly and accurately.
In “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Stephen Covey mentions the ‘Emotional Bank account’ and I quote “An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.”
Do all your team members feel safe when it concerns you – if not, you need to work towards building up the deposits in that emotional bank account with everyone.
The proposed solution will tell you a lot about the individual’s capability
Usually, the turnaround time for any POC is a couple of days – effectively, you do not lose too much time in trying to determine who the right candidate is.
Over a period of time, you will be able to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of each individual in your team are, but the POC method always works at the initial stage.
Sometimes, the weakest developers in your team can end up eating up your entire time and bring down the entire project over a period of time. The same applies to your core team as well – remember, your team is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes, the best developers end up spending most of their time in resolving problems faced by their weakest colleagues. Never allow this to happen.
The Pareto principle is beautifully illustrated in the book “Developing the Leader within you” by Dr. John Maxwell.
Excellent at analysis, design and finding solutions – needs to be in product development, should be assigned the most difficult modules. It’s a win-win situation, on the one hand, the module gets delivered and on the other, it also provides enough challenge for the developer and keeps him motivated.
Excellent at customer interaction and trouble-shooting. Understands the business impact well – needs to be in production support and over a period of time can occupy the team leader’s position in production support.
Excellent at co-ordination and customer interaction – can be assigned the role of an implementation expert. This role mainly involves interacting with other teams like DBAs, change managers, business users, testers, etc. It also demands that the person has the capability to understand an implemented solution entirely. Such a person may not necessarily be good at finding solutions but remember, his role as an implementer does not demand the same most of the time.
Make sure expectations and responsibilities of the assigned roles are made clear to everyone involved. This tells the top performers that their careers are being taken care of. At the same time, it also ensures that the right responsibilities are being delegated to the right people and will eventually result in the project manager having greater control over his time. Designations are limited but roles can always be created.
Sometimes, people may require counselling to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. More often than not, developers are only interested in coding new modules and do not realize where they can excel. This is where your powers of persuasion will be tested.
Delegation is a two-edged sword, do it right and it will allow you to take up more work and lead to an increase in responsibility, do it badly and you will end up answering escalation emails and attending damage-control meetings.
Career growth, i.e. growth in responsibility
Growth in income
Overall, the best people are mainly interested in knowing if the current job provides them enough opportunities to advance towards their long term career goals which might be of becoming an enterprise software architect, project manager, etc.
The following steps can be followed:
(i) Identify the Long Term Career Goals for Each Individual
Use one to one meetings to identify the long term goals of each individual. This will be possible only if you have connected well with each individual as detailed in the earlier steps – if not, you may not even be able to initiate this meeting. The key here is to identify what aspects of the job the individual likes and where he would eventually like to end up in the field. At the end of this discussion, both the individual and you should be clear about the following things about the individual:
Long term career goal, for e.g. becoming an enterprise architect
Current strengths – technical and personal
Current gaps – technical and personal
What should be the next step towards moving towards the role of enterprise architect?
What technology has the candidate not worked on till date and needs exposure?
What are his training needs which will help him move faster towards his goal?
Make sure all these points are documented well and kept confidential. This discussion becomes the basis of future discussions.
The candidate should start getting a vision and game plan as to what is required to achieve his long term goal and what is the next step. For example, a software engineer should first aspire to become a Senior Software Engineer followed by Tech lead and so on.
(ii) Map Individual Goals to Project Goals
This is an extremely powerful concept. If you have followed project management practices at some level and have a clear idea of the project deliverables and the different technologies which will be used, you will be in a position to do work allocation correctly. Before allocating any task, ask yourself:
Is the individual capable of completing this task?
Does it provide him “controlled stretch” which means whether the task will force the person to stretch his abilities and grow in the process?
Does it help him advance towards his long term goal?
Do this right and you will end up having a high-performing team which is also highly motivated.
Every assignment you allocate to an individual should help him move toward his next career goal. Between the decision to quit and the next job lies the quality of assignments given – it is the project manager who decides the team’s attrition rate to a great extent.
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
- Zig Ziglar
(iii) Create a Leadership Incubator
If you have done the earlier steps right, you will soon reach a point wherein you will have high-performing team members who will continuously take up new challenges. Over a period of time, the entire team environment will start reflecting the same.
(iv) Some Will Still Move On
Despite the best of opportunities, some people will still choose to move on due to various reasons.
Some will outgrow their immediate environment, i.e. your project and will move on – thank them for their contribution. They will always remember you for the role you played in mentoring them.
This is the point where the leadership incubator you have created will be put to good use – others will be ready to occupy the position of the person who has moved on. Succession planning needs to happen at all levels and not just at the topmost management levels.
(v) Believe in Everybody – Wait for Nobody
One word of caution – you can only help someone to rise higher if he himself is interested and committed towards the same. People can be divided into 2 types – types A are the moving cars (ambitious, career oriented people) which only need to be steered in the right direction. Type B are the parked cars (comfortable, stagnating people) which need to be started off or even pushed in some cases. Do not spend too much time on Type B – remember the 80/20 rule.
(vi) Replace Yourself Eventually
Remember, your influence as a person will grow only when your people grow. You cannot rise unless you replace yourself first. For insecure people, this will be hard to digest. You cannot occupy a new chair unless you vacate the chair which you currently occupy.
This principle is beautifully brought out in the book “The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership” by Dr. John Maxwell. 3 laws mentioned in the book are relevant in this context.
The Law of Empowerment – only secure leaders give power to others
The Law of Reproduction – it takes a leader to raise up a leader
The Law of Explosive growth – To add growth, add followers – to multiple, lead leaders
While it goes without saying that reaching this point will take time and effort – this is the only way to go forward and rise higher. The transformation happens within you first and the eventual handing over of higher responsibility to you is only an acknowledgement of what you have already become on the inside.
On the contrary, if a situation demands that some harsh words need to be spoken, then always ensure that this happens in a closed door meeting and never in public. Also, take particular care that you do not violate someone’s sense of self-respect but at the same time you make a person realize the gravity of his mistake.
The dictionary meaning of sympathy is “the feeling of being sorry for someone”,” support for or approval of something” and that of empathy is “understand and share the feelings of another”. There is a qualitative difference between both. When you show sympathy, you will allow a person to drag you into his well of woe whereas when you show empathy you will help or empower him to solve his problem or move on and find someone else to do the job.
Let’s face it, any real project will throw up countless problems at the project and at the individual level. Having empathy will ensure that you give everyone a fair chance but overdoing the same will only lead to a bad situation. This is a key factor to consider when a team member’s personal problems lead to failed deliverables or compromised deadlines.
On the other hand, all failures need to be handled internally. Never reprimand the team members responsible for any mistakes in public. Failure makes a person feel miserable anyway – and highlighting the same too much only adds to his woes. The Project Manager needs to play a key role here in shielding his people.
This is the hallmark of all great leaders. In “Wings of Fire: Autobiography of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam” an incident is mentioned wherein Dr. Kalam took total responsibility for the SLV-3 (Satellite Launch Vehicle) failure in front of a big group of scientists. The book also mentions another incident when he asked his team members to present their individual reports on the areas they were working on rather than he doing it himself thus giving the team an opportunity for recognition in front of the scientific community. No wonder he is considered one of the most successful scientists to have led India’s space and missile program.
Technical requirements of the project
Individual training requirements to boost career growth
Any gap in skills that needs to be addressed
Quite often it happens that a year passes by without the organizing of any proper training programs and the last quarter is packed with training programs of little value to the individuals involved and the organization itself. Never allow this to happen.
Internal training programs can also be conducted by the various individuals involved in the project on technologies used in the project itself or otherwise. This is an opportunity for personal growth for many individuals.
Trainings always give individuals a good release from project pressure and also helps to reinforce the conviction that the organization is serious about their future and increasing their skills.