Part 2–Integrating the Team

This is going to be another long post.  I’ve had this and other ideas rattling around in my head for several years now, so I have a lot of ground to cover.  If you’re just stopping in, you may want to check out Part 1 of this series and maybe the preamble too.

A while back, I was at a conference and the speaker referred to a management theory put forward by a psychologist named Frederick Herzberg in the 50s and 60s.  His premise (called Two Factory Theory) is that in order to motivate people, an organization must consider both job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction and that the two factors are independent of each other.

In Hezberg’s words:

“The factors that lead to job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction.  These two feelings are not opposites of each other.  The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction, but, rather no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction but no job dissatisfaction.”

As I was sitting in the conference, my mind was blown by this concept.  After doing some more reading, it started to really mesh with my experiences and even some things that I hadn’t even consciously considered. 

I had always believed that the best developers were not the ones that insisted on the highest salaries and that the best administrators and engineers were not the ones looking for the most solid retirement plan or health insurance.  The best folks that I have ever worked with are the ones that are looking for more than just a salary, a title, a name on a resume. 

So, if Herzberg was right (you already know my answer to that), then an organization must consider the following important factors:

  1. How Can We Eliminate Job Dissatisfaction? 
    I think of these things as extrinsic factors.  Things like management style, company culture, amount of self determination, status etc.  I don’t believe that there is a single utopian ideal of this.  One person’s work paradise could potentially be another person’s nightmare. 

    Certainly some of the factors can just be taken off the table.  Salary is one of them.  If you believe that you can’t afford to pay a competitive salary for technology employees, then you need to re-think your strategy.  I’m not talking about shoveling money out the door, but if technology is a key part of your business, you must pay your people enough to support their families.  If you disregard this advice, you will most definitely make up the difference paying for turnover.

    Think about your culture and how it might affect technology employees.  Is it conducive to this type of work?  Can your people have silence when they need it?  Can they meet together when they need to?  Do they have the tools they need to be as effective as they possibly can be?  It is the job of the team’s leader/manager/chieftain to facilitate, enable and block for the team as needed.  They will see every day how hard you are working for them and how committed you are to making them succeed and will absolutely reciprocate.

  2. How Can We Maximize Job Satisfaction?
    What does a technology worker consider satisfying?  I read a very funny (funny because it’s true) post titled “How to Keep Crappy Programmers”.  Most of the points he makes are extrinsic factors, but the last one is Make Them Build Crappy Software.  Wanting to build something they can be proud of is a very intrinsic motivation; one that is shared by every single technology employee I have ever worked with. 

    Technology people want to build great systems.  Why would you invest so much in them and then task them with anything less?  From a hard-boiled ROI standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever.  (For the record, so do the following:  not buying them decent equipment, not giving them at least dual monitors, and filtering their internet access.)

  3. How Much Value Does the Team Produce?
    A technology team costs a business a certain amount of money.  Think of it monthly, annually, or whatever.  You need to know what that number is at all times.  Make sure you factor in salaries, benefits, capital and operating expenses relating to all of the things we’ve talked about so far.  (Those second monitors aren’t free, you know.) 

    Armed with that number, you must insure that whatever your team is working on produces more than that amount of value somewhere in the chain.  Either reducing costs through efficiencies or directly increasing revenues, you can take your pick, but if you fail at this point, it won’t matter how great of a team you put together or how well you motivated them.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and I look forward to your comments.  Next up, we’ll discuss Strategy and Support of your team.

Part 1 – Finding The Right People

This is the first (actual) post in a series that I first mentioned a LONG time ago.  I even posted some assumptions that would go along with the rest of these posts.  The idea was (and is) to lay out some specific steps that can be taken to build and keep a great technology team, get that team aligned with what the business needs, and measure success along the way.  Sounds fun, right?

There’s a game called Wii Play which has a mini-game called Find the Mii.  The point of the game is to endlessly pick the right person out of a crowd according to ever-changing criteria.  Whoever finds the right character first, scores points.  It’s a low impact game that my kids really like to play. 

I am not such a fan.  Staring at monitors for the better part of 15 years has not been very kind to my eyes, so I kind of suck at seeing some of the fine details that distinguish the creepy little Mii guys.  Not only that but my brain seems to be much better at retaining the thing we were looking for in the last round as opposed to the round we’re currently playing.  My 11 year old daughter owns me at this game every time, it’s embarrassing.

Finding the right people for your technology team is a lot like this game.  The selection criteria changes because of corporate and industry shifts, it becomes hard to differentiate the candidates after just a few interviews, and you’re constantly racing against the clock.  So, here are my steps to finding the top notch people without the constant urge to throw the Wii Remote through the nearest plate glass window.

Know What You’re Looking For

Logical, right.  You’d be surprised at how many companies write up a 1 paragraph job responsibilities blurb and call it good.  I’m not saying that you need to write volumes, but you should have a VERY clear idea of what you need this (let’s be honest) very expensive person to do for your team.  Take the time to develop a list of Evaluation Criteria.

Within all of the disciplines of IT, the same rule holds true.  It is far easier (you business types can read:  cheaper) to change something on a whiteboard than it is after implementation.  In hiring someone, the same is true.  Figure it out before you even start looking at resumes.  What does the ideal developer look like for your team?  Is it a C# guy knows everything there is to know about the .NET framework with a little SQL thrown in?  Or how about a jQuery person who has Fine Arts training?  How about the analyst that you need on this project?  What types of businesses have they worked for in the past? 

Once you get a wish list going, don’t forget to add in the more intangible things like what type of personality would mesh well with the rest of the team, what kind of peripheral interests might be of interest to your longer term plans, and so forth.

Above all, make sure you absolutely define in black and white what this person NEEDS to contribute to the success of the team and the success of the business.  Don’t get bogged down in HR-speak or technical talk, either.  I think it needs to be no more than a few sentences and drop-dead easy to understand.  (This will come in handy when you go to get the position approved, trust me.) Here’s a sample:

We need to add a new IT administrator to our team to reduce the average time to resolve a help desk issue, provide backup for emergencies and outages on nights and weekends to provide the highest possible uptime, and to take charge of server patching and upgrading to better secure and stabilize our network. 

Don’t forget to add in the benefits to the business.  How do we hope this new person’s contribution will be seen through the eyes of the rest of the company?  Once you have your Evaluation Criteria, you’ll be in good shape to go shopping!

Participate in the Community

So none of these steps are going to be easy.  They require time and effort and genuine interest on your part.  As far as time and effort go, this one is the big one.  You must get involved with the community, possibly even more than one.  Finding the best people is all about relationships.  The best way that I have ever seen to form lasting and meaningful relationships is through Service.

You can’t fake this one.  You can’t just show up for the meeting, eat the pizza and hand out your business cards.  Generally, the best people in tech out there want to give back to their communities.  They want to be thought-leaders and share their experience and insight with others.  What better way to get to know them than by supporting the forums that enable them to do it? 

If your company won’t support you doing this kind of thing, then volunteer on your own time.  If you truly want to seek out (and eventually employ) the best people possible, you’re going to have to step up.  This type of service will come back to you in countless ways.  Trust me, you’ll be amazed.

Once you’re there, make sure you take the time to actually connect with people.  Everyone out there has something fascinating about them, you just have to listen attentively and sooner or later you will find out what it is.  Ask them about people they’ve worked with, projects they’ve been involved with and what they thought about them.  By paying attention to the things they liked and disliked about former teams and companies, you can learn a lifetime of lessons to apply to your own team.

Keep a List

You know what you’re looking for.  You have put in the time by volunteering and supporting the communities that you’re targeting.  Don’t waste all of this effort by not keeping track of people that you’d like to work with.  Even if you know they’re not looking, keep your Missionary List up to date.

LinkedIn is a great tool to support this.  Not only can you keep up with where all of your top choices are working now, you can check out all of the places they’ve ever worked.  This can be invaluable when interviewing people that you don’t know, but may have worked with one of them.  Remember that those top people generally try to pass along the things they’ve learned to their teammates, which can really help you to evaluate that candidate.

Use Recruiters Strategically

A good recruiter can actually be a shortcut on some of the steps I’ve recommended.  I’ve worked with some great recruiters over the years.  I’ve also worked with some really sorry ones.  The good ones will make your life so much easier by really getting to know what you’re looking for, what your company and team are like, and actually screening people instead of just burying you with resumes.  In my opinion, a good recruiter is a good connector.  They see connections that will be mutually beneficial and then make them gracefully. 

As much as I like to have a talented and honest recruiter in my corner, they are not cheap.  If you’re paying what they will ALL say is the “industry standard” of 25% of the first year’s salary (even though I never paid more than 18%), you’re looking at starting around $10,000.  That is a healthy chunk of change no matter how big your company is.  That is why we must use them strategically.

To me, using a recruiter when you’re in the market to fill a short-term need is a no-brainer.  Why would you spend your time and effort on someone who will not be a permanent member of the team?  That’s not to say you want to short-change any of the process.  If you screen them carefully, and you find that you MUST have that role filled permanently then you have the room to hire them. 

The rest of the strategy is a little more dependent on your situation.  Are you completely buried in work?  Is it hard to carve out 30 minutes for a status meeting, let alone the couple of hours that a good technical interview would take?  If you are already past the red-line as far as workload goes, you probably need to just bite the bullet and go with a recruiter.  Your time is better leveraged that way.

 

I hope these ideas will spark some thoughts of your own on how to find the right people for your team and not get caught up in the Find the Mii game.  Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!

Resurgam–It’s Alive!

So!  It’s been a while.  (I just spent the last 20 minutes entertaining myself coming up with cheesy back-from-the-dead titles for this post.)  Where to start?  It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted anything at all (even on my food blog, so sad).

I struggled along for a several months before I started consulting with a great company.  I went full time with them on January 1 of this year as their CTO and I have had a blast ever since.  We have all been hustling it ever since and it shows no sign of slowing down.  I am very grateful and very lucky to have fallen in with such a great group of people.

In spite of all the time that has passed, I haven’t forgotten the outrageous boast that I made way back when.  I have had even more thoughts on the subject of technology investments and personnel and ROI and all those lovely things that make my world go ‘round.  Enough with the teasing already!  Here is the roadmap of my thoughts:

Part 1 – Finding The People

Part 2 – Integrating the People

Part 3 – Strategy and Support

Part 4 – Measuring

Part 5 – Real World Examples

So stick with me as I (finally) put to paper all of the crazy ideas that have been rolling around in my head for all of this time.  It’s good to be back.  Thank you for playing along.

Free Software Friday 12

Recently I came across Intuit’s Billing Manager.  It is a VERY simple way to invoice your clients and keep track of payments.  Did I mention it was free?  It lets you send unlimited invoices to unlimited clients.  Seriously, you can sign up and have an invoice sent out in less time than it will take to you to read this post. 

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Billing Manager lets you (for a fee) make use of Inuit’s Merchant service to accept credit cards, and you can even seamlessly upgrade to Quickbooks online.  Pretty slick of them.

Seriously, if you need basic invoicing and payment tracking ability, you should check this out.

When two Posts Collide

Serendipity is an amazing thing.  I just happened to read these two blog posts back to back. I read both of these blogs regularly and I find myself nodding as I read them many times.  Today though, by some chance I read them sequentially and it really set off a firestorm of ideas.

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The first was by Seth Godin, speaking on getting referrals.  He postulates, “The only thing that will make you remarkable is being worth remarking about”.  So that’s on the front side.  Getting people to refer business to you is all about being worthy of their efforts on your behalf.

The second post was by Steve Curtin, speaking about customer retention.  He says (quoting from Exceptional Service Exceptional Profit) “Individual customers are irreplaceable”.  Once you lose a customer, he’s gone for good.  You have to know how much a customer is worth to you over a lifetime and then treat them accordingly.

This all came together in a very concrete way because DirecTV has been trying to get me to come back to them for months.  I switched to cable because I got lousy service.  Plain and simple.  Even before I ditched them, they continually tried to get me to sacrifice my friends and family to their vengeful god by offering me money and discounts.  Honestly, if they had just treated me fairly, I would still be with them.  (I’m lazy.  I don’t change unless I have to.)  If, heaven forbid, they had treated me well, I would have told other about them.  FOR FREE EVEN!

Don’t be DirecTV.  Be fair and you won’t lose irreplaceable customers.  Be excellent and your work will spread beyond your reach.

Get Real

A few days ago, I was talking to a person for whom I have the utmost respect.  I particularly respect his ability to sit with a client and make a solid connection in a very short amount of time.  If you have an angry client situation, this guy is the ultimate troubleshooter. 

 

File:Latex real numbers.svg

 

He told me about a situation where he was sitting with a client and talking about raising the rates that they were being charged.  Anyone who has ever had to do that knows that it’s not fun for either side.  He described how he showed them usage figures and told them about the increased costs based on the client’s growth.  He made a rational, intelligent case for the increase. 

The client didn’t get it.

In spite of my friend’s explanation and facts and figures and considerable powers of persuasion, they didn’t really understand.  All they heard was, you’re going to have to pay more.  They got to the end of the meeting and, being the perceptive person that he is, he knew they didn’t get it. 

He told me that he stopped just before they were about to get up to leave, and he said “Guys, I just want to say something before we leave.”  He proceeded to tell them in BASIC, REAL terms why he had to raise their rates and why he couldn’t continue to serve and maintain his high standards at the old rate.  He was sincere, he was direct, and they got it.

For me, knowing how superb a communicator my friend is, this was a wake-up call.  If this guy struggled in making his audience understand, how much harder do I need to work to get my point across?  How much effort do I need to expend in connecting with the people I need to communicate with?  How much more thought needs to go into reducing the noise and increasing the signal in my conversation?

</food for thought>

 

 

(In case you wonder, that’s the symbol for Real Numbers.  And no, I’m not a math geek…)

Trusted Advisor

A guy I knew years ago used to say, “What’s the difference between a consultant and a trusted advisor?”  The answer:  All of your money.  He almost always got a laugh with that one, but just last week I was reminded of just how true that can be. 

How can you tell the difference between a consultant, a hired gun, and a person that you can trust to give you the very best advice for your situation?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Time.  I’m sure everyone can think of a professional in their life that dings them for every second possible.  A lawyer, a mechanic, an accountant, maybe?  Not that there’s really a problem with that, after all everyone needs to earn a living.  The trusted advisor goes above and beyond the “billable hours” mentality and really takes the time to understand the business and its needs.   
  2. Perspective.  I think all consultants, both good and bad, want to deliver results.  It seems to me that their point of view can make all the difference.  If I look at a solution from the vantage point of the dollars that I will make first and the value for the client second, that makes me a consultant.  If I have truly taken the time to understand a business, its people and its goals, then I can really understand value first and worry about the money I will make second.
  3. Investment.  I’m talking about truly being (I hate this term because it gets abused so much) a partner.  I honestly feel that your success is my success, your challenges are my challenges and that your failure is my personal failure.  How well you do matters to me.
    I got to witness a great field tech who has achieved all of these things in action last week, and it was a thing of beauty.  That’s the bar to which all of us as service providers should be striving.  Thanks for the reminder, Will.

IT Workers = Rodney Dangerfield?

I tell you we get no respect, right?  I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.  (Rodney was great, btw.)

But seriously, I totally understand the feeling that seems to be common in IT workers.  These days we are being squeezed to do much more with far less resources.  Often we are totally focused on acquiring hard skills just so we can keep up with the avalanche of new tech that comes out daily.  And let’s be honest with ourselves for just a second, we’re always looking to beef up our resumes and make ourselves as marketable as possible.  These things have the very serious potential side effect of putting us out of sync with the needs of the business.

I spent some time with an IT department today that was a living example of this.  They were very determined on the course of action that they decided was the best one.  They were obviously passionate about technology and felt these investments would make a hugely positive impact on the business as a whole.  See if this sounds familiar:  “This is just what we need to do.  I don’t care how you pay for it, we just need to do it.  We CAN’T roll out in phases, we NEED it all.”  I hear things like this and I think: Danger, Will Robinson.

Let’s break this down a bit: 

  1. You the technology worker can’t (or won’t) be writing the checks personally to cover the cost of whatever you are proposing.
  2. You will NOT be the sole decision maker for any kind of large project.  (At least I never have been.)
  3. Whatever new thing you think is going to turn your network into rainbows and unicorns MUST bring MORE value (basically increased revenue or decreased costs) to the business than will be plunked down to make it happen.

Hopefully these three statements will put things into perspective that technology can relate to a little better.  What it boils down to is you must play nice with others. You must know what the business wants and what it needs (different lists sometimes).  If you want to have a project funded, take the acronym ridden quote that your vendors gave you and translate it into what your business stands to gain from it.  Bend over backwards to forge the strongest bonds possible between technology and the decision makers.  Make sure that you know what is important to them and always remember to align your proposals to their strategies.

PS.  If you’re not being invited to the meetings where they ultimately decide on these matters, that’s a bad sign.  Trust me.

The Customer Service Table is Turned on Me

As someone who works for a company that is typically in the role of a vendor, it was an interesting twist to find myself across the table from one of our vendors.  It actually was a great experience for me as it gave me a renewed perspective on what it’s like on the other side.  The timing was even better for me because right before the meeting, I happened to read this great post by Steve Curtain the customer service guru.

Steve talks about the good being the enemy of the best and how many companies are content to let good (or adequate) service be their standard.  This gets them lukewarm customers that jump ship at the drop of a hat.  Few companies, on the other hand, will go out of their way to consistently give the best customer service and this results in loyal customers that promote the company to others. 

I think that when the relationship is in trouble is one the best opportunities to show your customer what kind of service is your standard.  Maybe it will go down like this:

You:  I’m sorry to hear that you’re not happy with our product/service/As-Seen-On-TV Ab-cerciser, Mr. Soares.  Can you tell me about the problem?

Customer:  Yes, I’ve written out 41 points of why I’m not happy with your company.  Shall I read them to you?

You:  Sure let’s take them one by one, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong not to like us.  Ready go.

Have you ever had to witness something like this?  It’s painful.  How your customer feels is FAR more than the sum of the 41 points he has listed out.  It’s those feelings you have to address above all and make sure that the other person knows you GET them, really and truly understand where they are coming from, and that you will make it right.

What if the conversation started like this:

You:  I am glad that you let me know about your problems with our company, Mr. Soares.  Can you tell me some more details so we can decide on how we’re going to make the situation better?

Customer:  It boils down to the fact that I was expecting X and all I see is Y.  I really NEED it to be like X.

You:  I am very sorry about that.  I know that we can get you to where you need to be.  What if we…

Don’t believe me?  Try it on your next disgruntled customer.  If they don’t turn into a promoter for you, I’ll send you a full refund, no questions asked.

Free Tools Friday 5

This week’s roundup of free tools is dedicated to a good friend of mine who has jumped into the entrepreneurial deep end with both feet.  We were talking a while back about online strategy in general and I realized how often this kind of stuff comes up with small business folks.  Obviously I am biased here, but I really believe that a good web strategy can be a huge part of launching a successful venture.  So here are some great free tools that help you get more out of your online presence.

 Google Analytics – This is a really good place to get started with measuring your web site traffic.  You sign up for a free account, and they will give you a little piece of code to embed in your site so it can do it’s Google-riffic magic.  Once that’s there it will give you a sweet dashboard that will tell you where your traffic comes from, how much time people spend on your site, and how many pages they hit before they leave.  If you don’t know how much traffic you’re getting now, how can you possibly know what is working to increase it?

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WordPress – If you want to show your customer that you are committed to their success with whatever it is that you do, you should have a blog.  This is my favorite blogging software.  You can let them host it (free), or you can load it on your own site (also free).  It’s hugely customizable and yet is very capable right out of the box.  It is dead simple to get a great looking blog going in no time.

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Feedburner – Another great free Google product, Feedburner will give you insight into how well your blog is doing.  It will track your subscribers and give you insight into what you can do to optimize it.  It will also sort of guide you along with different things you can do with your blog and your feed. 

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