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Posts tagged ‘people management’

People managers may be the biggest impediment for increased performance

Image by tibchris

Since the introduction of the PC in the workplace, dramatic performance improvements have been few and far between. In an age where there are more jobs in services than in manufacturing in Canada and where the employees are highly educated, we can wonder why there isn’t any dramatic performance improvements. There certainly isn’t a lack of innovation in organizations, so could it be that something else needs to change?

It is true that the people entering the workforce refuse to be managed like their parents were. They expect to be treated fairly, be given a challenging position where they can learn and apply their skills, and manage their schedule. In this context, standardized work practices and traditional management styles no longer help increase employee performance, it can actually reduce the teams’ performance. Traditional work methods also have the negative impact of driving people away or making it difficult to attract new talent.

Very few people would debate that it takes time to develop highly performing teams and once you have the team on the road to success, you wish to retain your employees. It is these high performing teams that are often the source of innovation within an organization. As long as the organization creates the right environment for people to generate new ideas.

Ever since the 1900’s with Fayol‘s – Plan, Organize, Direct, and Control – managers have been following a traditional approach to people management and we believe that changing the leadership style – to become Agile leaders – is likely to deliver better results and performance.

Why Scrum increases team performance?

As I recently mentioned, traditional managers are used to

  • Assigning work to team members
  • Determining priorities of the tasks
  • Monitoring progress of the activities
  • Making decisions for the team

Whereas Scrum transfers the authority to the self-0rganized team. The underlying concept being that the best solutions will emerge from the team itself.

  • While the manager determines the objective to be reached (the WHAT?), the team determines the means to achieve it (the HOW?)
  • Once the goals is established, management (aka The Product Owner) determines a budget and time lines under which the team will operate
  • Management maintains responsibility to prioritize the activities but without assigning the work
  • Commitments are negotiated between the manager and the team, as opposed to being imposed by the manager – negotiated agreement greatly increases commitment
  • The team is responsible to deliver on its commitment and the Scrum Master is there to support the team in doing so
  • Peer pressure is more effective than authority at getting people to work collaboratively
  • The people closest to the work are in a better position to determine the best way to accomplish their tasks and to potentially introduce innovation in their work methods
  • Frequent inspection and retrospection of the work accomplished creates visibility on the deliverable and prevents faulty results from being delivered
  • The iterative process allows the team to learn from their experience and improve the process
  • People are more motivated when they manage their own work
  • People are more committed when they make their own commitments
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted
  • Teams are improving when they solve their problems by themselves
  • Productivity is compromised when changes are made to the team composition
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way for a team to work and exchange

Seeing how Scrum positively impact productivity and team performance, it becomes critical to determine how the managers must behave to support such progress. As such, managers must:

  • Transfer authority and responsibility to the team so it can do its work adequately
  • Avoid interference and micromanagement
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork
  • Support learning and not systematically penalize failures
  • Review best practices in order to adapt them to changing realities
  • Make adjustments to the facilities so the environment facilitates the execution of Agile projects
  • Adapt the management style to the context of the team

Instead of consequence delivery, managers should focus on making sure the team has learned from their mistakes and have taken appropriate means to fix the issues in the future. In addition, peer pressure is a much stronger motivator and intrinsic motivations are stronger than external motivators.

I believe there is still a lot of value with having managers as long as the new Agile Managers adapt their leadership style and activities to their team. What do you think?

Non-conventional salary review process

Picture by bookgrlAs within most organizations, the salary review process is an important one at Pyxis. The process is important for the employee-shareholders so they know there is a process, they understand it and deem it to be fair. It is also important for the organization as a whole to retain the talented employee-shareholders and provide a compensation that compares favorably to the market.

Most traditional organizations would agree that the process is very important but there is a distinction on how the process is handled within Pyxis. At most traditional organizations I worked for (and with), the salary review process is tied to the performance appraisal process and to the budget allocated by Human Resources. At the end of each year, the employee receives a performance rating which determines the percentage of salary increase – people receive an average increase for an average rating and an above-average increase for an above-average performance. The guidelines are clear and applied to everyone the same way. The salary review process takes place between an employee and his/her manager.

We like to do things differently. I have already described that Pyxis is organized in communities.

In a business context, communities are similar to functional departments with some fundamental distinctions. In traditional setting, members of a functional department or of a project team work together to achieve a goal. With some exceptions, team members share nothing but their common goal and a common boss. By comparison, in addition to sharing a common goal members within a community also share common values and culture and they operate within agreed upon self-defined norms. Analytical-Mind.

The employee-shareholders are offered a few options when it comes to their salary review:

  • They can use the process put in place within their community (in this case, my only responsibility is to ensure fairness across communities).
  • They can suggest an alternate approach that respects fairness (in this case, my only responsibility is to ensure the fairness of the proposed process).
  • They can follow the approach recently used by Tremeur Balbous and Jean-François Proulx for their salary review.

The “Tremeur and Jean-François” approach

  • The employee-shareholder must complete and document a self-evaluation (a 360-degree feedback similar to this one is often used). He must evaluate its contribution to Pyxis for the year ending and propose a new salary for the coming year.
  • The employee-shareholder must then submit his self-evaluation to at least 3 other employee-shareholders with whom he worked during the year that ended in order to obtain their feedback and determine if the salary requested is appropriate and fair.
  • If the employee-shareholders consulted do not belong to the same community as that to which the applicant belongs, the requester needs to validate his requested salary with at least 2 members of the community of belonging.
  • Ideally, the community leader should be involved in the process since he is responsible for the financial framework of his community.
  • At the end of this process, the applicant holds a meeting with me to discuss his findings and request salary.

Factors having a positive impact on salary determination

  • Performance in his role;
  • Contribution to the success of his community;
  • Contribution to the success of Pyxis as a whole;
  • Revenues generated directly;
  • Income generated indirectly;
  • A marked increase in responsibilities – in the case where an employee justifies a pay increase by the marked increase in his responsibilities, the excess (beyond the base increase) is considered an additional increase. The additional increase will be removed in the event the employee ceases to assume the responsibilities for which he had obtained a further increase.

Does your organization use a non-conventional salary review process?

911 – “I need help! I’m a people manager and my team is going Agile…”

Image by Michael RansburgIn line with a few posts I recently published (this one and this one) and following conversations with people (and managers) around me, I decided to take another stab at helping people managers transform into agile leaders. Contrary to popular beliefs, people managers in an agile context are not doomed to buy pizza for their team and getting out of their way…

One of the underlying principles of Agile is to help organizations become more adaptive and flexible in order to (more) quickly react to changes in their environment. In this context, the agile manager has an important role, despite the fact that his traditional responsibilities can greatly change.

In his new role the agile manager needs to acquire or develop these abilities:

  • Adapt your leadership style: Every team reaches a certain level of maturity and the agile manager’s leadership style needs to be adapted to the context of his group.
  • Make yourself available: Your team members will need help and they will need to turn to someone they trust. Make yourself available and keep an open mind when problems arise so you can actually do something useful for them.
  • Help your team remain focused: Well jelled teams tend to become enthusiastic about what they can accomplish and sometime lose focus and get distracted by shinny objects – this is especially true with software development teams. In his role, the agile manager can greatly help his team members keep their focus in order to achieve their objectives.
  • Secure resources: In every traditional organization, departments are typically assigned a budget to provide a certain level of service and as such, the self-organized team rarely has the maturity and visibility to obtain the budget it needs to protect and grow the unit. The manager remains the best spoke person for his team since he has developed the political abilities to influence people around him.
  • Become a consultant to the team: Develop your credibility as an expert in certain areas and make sure to bring that value to your team members. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t show up at their meetings unless you are invited.
  • Guard the team from disruption: Once the self-organized team demonstrates a high level of performance, others around will notice and are likely to request activities, tasks or special projects from the highly performing team. The manager must then block disruptions and maintain the team’s focus in order to remain productive.
  • Be a spoke-person and do marketing: The team will want to achieve a high level of performance and once it does, recognition from others is a likely contributor to their motivation. The manager is an position to promote the success of his team – and indirectly his own as the manager of a highly performing team. If you believe “marketing” to be inappropriate, think again. After all, the manager delegated some of his authority to the team and as such deserves to get recognition.
  • Increase communication and visibility: A lot happens outside the team. The manager has to bring the information about the organizational threats and opportunities back to his team. Sometime even gossips can be useful information for the team.
  • Prepare the team for the future: As the team undertakes some of the traditional management responsibilities, the manager can spend some time actually preparing the team members for the career development, especially if some of the members are interested in developing their management expertise.
  • Offer to help with retrospection: The team is typically very focused on their activities in order to achieve the objectives that were defined for them. As a consequence their retrospection are likely to focus on short term, immediate challenges they are facing and much less about the long term. The manager may offer to facilitate meetings geared toward the future.
  • Grow the team members: Observe the team in action. In collaboration with the individual team members, determine which area they wish to develop in order to achieve their career goals and support them by coaching them.

Overall, in such a context the agile manager needs to start focusing on a strategic perspective as opposed to a very tactical one which is often what managers do despite their many promotions over the years.

The change is likely to be positive not only for the team but also for the manager himself – only if he develops enough self-confidence and courage to start operating this way.

Ken Schwaber and the asphalt truck

Last week, I attended the breakfast conference presented in Montreal by Ken Schwaber.

As always, Ken gave a great presentation focusing on the “definition of done” in Scrum and the impact of incorrectly defining what done really means.

As I was listening to the presentation, I looked outside the window overseeing René-Levesque boulevard and noticed an asphalt truck and city workers filling a pothole – then it hit me… As interesting and valuable Ken’s presentation was, we need a systemic approach if we want Scrum to succeed in organizations. Let me explain…

Nobody likes to drive on a street with potholes. So what do cities do? Obviously, they fix them! If you live in Montreal, you realize that every year, the city fills thousands of potholes in an attempt to keep their streets in a good driving conditions but no matter how much efforts (and money) the city invests, the potholes keep appearing.

Isn’t this like implementing Scrum within an organization?

As attendees to Ken’s presentation, weren’t we simply like city workers attending an asphalt conference? It is as if an asphalt guru was explaining to us the right mix of tar and rocks to make the most resistant asphalt when in reality, the problem isn’t really with the asphalt itself but with the city’s traffic management approach.

Same goes for Scrum.

The definition of done is critical. The right people in the right roles is important. Dedicated teams members is crucial. But what about the managers in the organization? Are they supporting Scrum? I mean, are they really supporting the use of Scrum within their organization?

Don’t get me wrong. I truly believe doing Scrum the right way is critical but it is not sufficient to be successful. If your managers aren’t on board, you can try to implement as many of the Scrum best practices as you want – including the right definition of “done” – your teams will never reach the highest level of performance they could. Get the managers on board and your Scrum implementation will be greatly improved.

Why most managers need a leadership coach

If at any point while you read this post, you disagree with any of my statements, go ahead and click the “Leave a Comment” link. Express yourself!

Image provided by Dunechaser

While the original title of my post was “Why most software development managers need a leadership coach”, I changed it to “Why most managers need a leadership coach” because the situation I have witnessed in the software development industry is also present in many others specialized fields of expertise – at least that’s what many of the people I speak with confirm. Nonetheless, in order not to generalize my assumptions (yet!), I will share my assessment of the people management and leadership capabilities within the software development industry. Let’s begin…

Are you familiar with such problems?

These are only a handful of typical problems encountered by a manager and for most experienced managers, they may sound trivial. Considering that new leaders are not born with management abilities, how can we expect them to be successful in their role?

People managers lack the basic skills

Here’s why I believe most software development managers (and many others) need coaching to become successful in their role (and apparently, I am not the only one who believes this is a valid suggestion). My logic goes as follows:

  • Managers – including software development managers – are people;
  • There are 2 ways to become successful at something. Either you learn through education or you possess above average intuition and intelligence and can figure out how things need to be done;
  • Most software development managers have a technical training /education (examples can be seen here, here, here, and here);
  • In addition to their education background, most software development managers mostly played technical roles (software developers, business analysts, application architect, etc.) in their career prior to getting promoted to a management position;
  • Most people management positions are complex and require knowledge and experience outside of technology such as Business, Leadership, People Management, Organizational Development, or Psychology;
  • Very few people in people management positions have all the requirements (see previous bullet);
  • Without prior education and experience outside the software development sector, most managers are ill-equipped to successfully perform in their role.

Coaching is a solution

With an average salary1 of $85,000 to $125,000 depending on the number of years of experience and location, why wouldn’t an organization invest a few thousands of dollars to hire a coach in order to help develop the people management and leadership abilities? Despite the economic downturn, I still see organizations spend thousands of dollars on training or conferences. Although I don’t argue the value of such events, I doubt they support the development of people management and leadership abilities.

It seems to me that we need to help those in management position succeed. Otherwise, the performance of the entire team will suffer.

Not convinced?

Others seem to agree with this new trend…

1.- Sources:

What does “I have an open door policy” really mean?

Have you ever heard a people manager demonstrate his openness and receptivity toward his employees bragging “I have an open door policy“?

Open door policy

Open door policy

In theory, having an open door policy means that anyone can walk into their manager’s office to ask for advice, to request help, to bounce an idea, to propose a suggestion or simply to shoot the breeze.

In reality, I have rarely seen managers actually keep their door open – figuratively speaking. Once a people manager gets the opportunity to have his own office, he will implement obstacles along the way – close the door, hire an administrative assistant or pretend someone is about to come in for a meeting – to reduce to a minimum the number of disruptions.

Many managers with an open door policy would rather have their employees limit their number of visits and are certainly not interested in hearing suggestions that could increase their workload.

That behavior might be explained by the fact that people don’t realize the benefits of keep their door open. The importance of maintaining open, constant, and reliable channels of communication is a solid asset for any people manager.

Let’s push the open communication channel further and imagine what would happen if the manager was actually sitting with the employees. I’m not talking about a closed-office near the employees but a cubicle or a desk right there where the action is. If you wonder why someone would want to try this, you are probably working for an archaic organization and you are certainly not an agile manager.

Closed offices have become such a status symbol that most people couldn’t imagine moving up the rank without an appropriate office. Managers then start preferring their status symbol to obtaining reliable information quickly from their team members. Once the ego takes over, managers lose their strong information channels and then need to rely on other mechanism to remain efficient.

I personally believe that sitting with employees has some substantial benefits:

  • It brings the manager closer to the action – the manager will know quickly when something bad is happening or something good that needs to be recognized;
  • It brings the employees closer to the manager – information is more likely to move up and down the chain of command;
  • It includes the manager within the team – the perception of “the boss” versus “the employees” is lessened since the manager is physically part of the team;
  • It removes the psychological barrier of approaching the boss – there are no hurdles to cross, the boss is right there;
  • It immediately breaks the perception of classes – there are no evidence that some people are more important than others since nobody has obvious status symbols.

Granted, the manager’s attitude has a lot to do with the benefits obtained by this change but all things being equal, a manager that sits with his people is more likely to build a stronger team and implement strong communication channels.

A colleague of mine has actually pushed the concept further. Mathieu has come up with a more cleaver way of obtaining and disseminating information – he permanently sits in the company cafeteria. He uses an enclosed room for private conversations but most of the time he works in the cafeteria with his laptop where everyone can approach him.

Do you know how much valuable information Mathieu is getting?

Hierarchies aren’t evil… but people can be!

Hierarchies aren't evil... People are!

Hierarchies aren't evil... People are!

Do you ever say to yourself “I wish there was no hierarchy in our company“?

Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if there were no hierarchy in organizations? Everyone working in harmony, collaborating to achieve their goals with no annoying boss telling anyone what to do. In this hierarchy-free world there would be no supreme ruler over the teams, only happy people delivering their work with birds chirping in the background…

OK, I realize I’m pushing it a little but people who systematically oppose to specific organizational structures often have an idealistic perspective of the world. Fortunately, the world isn’t black or white, there are many nuances.

I have had discussions about hierarchy-free organizations with many people over the last few months. Repeatedly, people bring up the same reasons why they don’t like hierarchies. From their perspective, hierarchies are bad because:

  • they don’t let employees perform their work as they wish;
  • they allow authority over people;
  • they break communication channels;
  • they create a distinction between the boss and the employees;
  • they don’t treat people equitably;
  • they offer more benefits to people at the top;
  • etc.

What if hierarchies weren’t the problem? What if the cause of these issues was somewhere else? What if the organizational structure wasn’t the real problem? Not that I am a huge fan of hierarchies, but I do not believe the organizational structure is the real problem – people are!

Let me explain my perspective.

I feel that blaming hierarchies as the reason people hate their job and feel under-appreciated is short-sighted. Organizational structures have much less to do with how people feel than the management style and attitude of the leaders.

Let me repeat that statement. I believe that the attitude and behavior of the leader has greater impact on the team members’ performance and happiness in the workplace than the organizational structure under which they operate.

You are not convinced? You might want to try this exercise.

Can you think back of a time when you felt empowered to do your job and were happy to be at work? Can you recall a time when you would invest long hours working on a project and your energy level was going though the roof? If you answered yes to these questions, ask yourself this other question “was it because of the hierarchy-free structure or the leader’s attitude”?

If you have had the opportunity to work for a great leader – someone who gives you freedom to do your work, holds you accountable for the results, is always supportive and available for mentoring, and gives you credit for your work – you will immediately realize that the leader’s behavior and attitude were the underlying causes of your satisfaction. A bad leader in a hierarchy-free organization will make everyone’s life miserable while a good manager – even in a position of authority – will get amazing commitment from his people.

It might be that the people against hierarchies are ones that never had the opportunity to work for a great leader and so, assume that the organizational structure is the issue. I wish them to find a great leader to work with because in the end, the leader’s attitude has much more to do with a happy and productive work environment than the actual structure of the organization.

Helping employees grow without an HR department?

Our organization is using an innovative human resource management approach inspired by the “golfercaddy” relationship in golf. Although the approach isn’t fully matured and there are still adjustments to be made, I believe there is value in sharing the process.

Some background

During its early years, human resources management was done entirely by the management team. The communication was centralized and the company’s founders had relations with all employees. They were responsible for hiring, annual evaluations and taking decisions relating to salary revisions. The fast growth of the organization highlighted certain limitations:

  • Managing the relationships between employees and the founders was increasingly difficult to maintain as the organization grew;
  • The centralized communication channels weren’t efficient;
  • The willingness to develop a new process without hiring specialized HR specialists;
  • The management of special situations and salary determination lacked transparency and were perceived to be unfair.

To address these emerging issues, the organization developed the “Caddy” process, a model of decentralized community-based human resource management.

What is a Caddy?

In golf, the caddy is the person who carries the golf bag, gives advice and provides moral support. A good caddy is aware of the difficulties, obstacles and peculiarities of the course, as well as the best strategies to play the course. The caddy is not the one who plays the game, the golfer is!

Objectives of the process

The objective of the process is to support employees’ success and monitor their well-being. In addition, the caddy process is a way for all employees to participate in the management of the organization by helping their peers to receive the proper feedback and skills to be successful in their role. The caddy process is deemed more efficient than the traditional hierarchical model.

The process

When an employee joins the company, he/she is assigned a caddy for a period of six months. After that period, an employee may decide to change caddy any time. A discussion between the golfer and the new caddy is required to identify the expectations of each party and determine if the match is possible and desirable.

Role and responsibilities of the Caddy

The caddy has certain responsibilities to the employee. In a traditional organization, these responsibilities are held by the Human Resources Department:

  • Communication of the corporate strategy;
  • Keeping track of business objectives;
  • Accompanying the employee in his career development and providing the support to develop new skills;
  • Assisting the employee to set goals and support them in achieving these objectives by offering the means to do so;
  • Preparing the salary revisions and making recommendations.

Caddy Team Charter

“I am unwavering in the success of each of my players, my caddy and the caddy team”.


Because people are the most important asset of the organization. Their development is linked to the success of the organization.


The Caddy process is based on trust and respect. It is a relationship of support and coaching without direct authority.


The Caddy is a humble person with great listening capabilities. He has the courage to confront the person if necessary and the wisdom to do so in respect of the person. Above all, he shares a common goal with his golfers: the professional success and development of the latter.


The Caddying is one of the most important roles in the organization and he is recognized as such, encouraged and valued by the organization.


The Caddy process has a significant positive impact on the development of the golfer.

Why are my colleagues behaving strangely? 15 signs that people are insecure

Is one of your colleague behaving strangely? Has your manager’s attitude changed? Fear of getting fired, of losing a potential promotion or simply to look bad can trigger various reactions. You may not always understand where these behaviors are coming from so how can you tell the reason behind people’s behavior at the office. Below are 15 signs I frequently noticed that help me determine if people are insecure so that I can implement corrective measures to help them increase their performance and become more successful in their role.

  1. High need of recognition
  2. Amplifies their success
  3. Doesn’t share information
  4. Doesn’t give credit to others
  5. Makes every situation about them
  6. Wants to be in the spotlight
  7. Doesn’t accept feedback
  8. Worries he/she will miss out some critical information
  9. Surrounds himself/herself with weak individuals
  10. Puts down other people
  11. Doesn’t delegate
  12. Takes credit for other people’s accomplishments
  13. Wonders what others think of him/her or say about him/her
  14. Doesn’t trust others
  15. Acts as a victim

Next time you notice some of these signs, you may want to take a different approach to increase your chances of achieving your goal.