The Bad Boss Paradox, and an Idea for a Cure

Posted by Robert Merrill on September 10, 2014 under Office Relationships and Politics, uFunctional Values | Be the First to Comment

As an Upper Midwesterner born in Texas who found his way home as soon as he could, I love Garrison Keillor’s interesting, witty observations. “Norwegian bachelor farmers. They don’t reproduce. Why are there still so many of them?”

In Are You a Bad Boss? Here’s How to Know, Naomi Karten begins by saying that if reading articles about how to be a good boss were all it took, there would not be so many articles about how to survive a bad boss. Naomi goes on to cite what I have learned as the First Rule of HR; people do not quit jobs; they quit bosses.

Garrison Keillor might say, “Bad bosses. They’re easy to spot and do so much damage. Why are there still so many of them?” Call it, “The Paradox of the Bad Boss.”

Maybe it was Naomi’s article, or maybe it was just time, but tonight a penny dropped. Maybe there is a simple cure. Read more of this article »

7 Top Traits of Star Employers

Posted by Robert Merrill on August 25, 2014 under Office Relationships and Politics, Software teams | Be the First to Comment

I just read 7 Top Traits of Star Employees on inc.com.

They are:

  • Happiness
  • Creativity
  • Hustle
  • Honesty
  • Flexibility
  • Passion
  • Confidence

Hard to argue with these. But which is more important, that a candidate have them on interview day (assuming you can tell), or that an employee have them after a year working for you?

Every senior leader has beliefs about nature vs. nurture. If it’s nature, star employers hire stars. If it’s nurture, star employers develop them.

The author of the inc.com article writes as though it is more nature than nurture. Is Mr. Hendricks right?

Here’s a straightforward assignment for your HR people.

  1. Evaluate candidates for these traits.
  2. Evaluate employees for these traits after a month.
  3. Evaluate remaining employees for these traits after a year.

Here’s how to interpret the results:

No change or increase in first month Decrease in first month
No change from first month to first year You win!. It’s nature, and you’re good at hiring! You lose. It’s nature, and you’re seeing the traits when they’re not there.
Increase from first month to first year You win!. It’s nurture, and you’re developing (or rescuing) stars!
Decrease from first month to first year You lose. It’s nurture, and you’re dousing stars, even if you were hiring them to begin with.

Inconvenient Truths & Dirty Little Secrets, Part II: MABC Speaks

Posted by Robert Merrill on October 9, 2013 under Office Relationships and Politics, Software Development | Read the First Comment

I gave my presentation, “Inconvenient Truths & Dirty Little Secrets: What Suits and Geeks Wish the Other Knew (or Felt Safe to Say) about Software,” at Madison Area Business Consultants on 10/8/2013.

During my Q/A session and from my follow-up survey, I received the following. As I blog about them, I’ll add links. Subscribe to my newsletter and be notified.

Inconvenient Truths for Suits

Dear Suits,

  • IT won’t solve all problems—it’s a tool, among others; planning.
  • How can I help you, help me, to help you?
  • Scope needs to be managed, and all of the system needs to be tested even if we only changed a little bit of it.

Inconvenient Truths for Geeks

Dear Geeks,

  • The business process always has exceptions.
  • How can I help you, help me, to help you?
  • The business moves faster than you do.

Dirty Little Secrets of Suits

We Suits wish it was safe to say:

  • We don’t know everything.
  • We don’t really understand the business problem completely.
  • We generally ignore or work around things requested by people we don’t like.

Dirty Little Secrets of Geeks

We Geeks wish it was safe to say:

  • We really don’t know how the entire system works, or will work.
  • We generally ignore or work around things requested by people we don’t like.

Inconvenient Truths & Dirty Little Secrets

Posted by Robert Merrill on October 1, 2013 under Office Relationships and Politics, Software Development | Be the First to Comment

I’m giving a talk about software at Madison Area Business Consultants on Tuesday the 8th of October.

I believe that a lot of software projects get in trouble because both the producers (“Geeks”) and buyers (“Suits”) have mistaken beliefs about each other. There are Inconvenient Truths that are hard for both Geeks and Suits to face. Geeks and Suits also have their own Dirty Little Secrets—which they think they need to keep in order to stay safe.

I’ve listed all of them that I can think of, but I’d like to hear yours too.

Or, if you’re a Geek with a question about Suits, or vice versa, I’d like to hear it. Maybe I’ll try to answer it in my talk, and then on this blog.

Thanks!

Inconvenient Truths for Suits

You can’t tell what a computer, even a computer full of business software, does just by looking at it. You also can’t tell if it’s in a good state of repair or about to cease functioning. It’s not like a building, a backhoe, or a bass boat.

Geeks really don’t know how long something will take or how much it will cost, at least not with the level of accuracy you want or believe reasonable. They really don’t.

Most Geeks have a higher IQ and a lower EQ than you. That’s why they were attracted to computers. That’s also why the communication problems are your responsibility—you’re better equipped to figure them out.

Geeks interpret uncertainty as a problem to be solved.

If you can’t figure out how to speak a common language with Geeks, you need a translator. Fast, accurate translators are rare and expensive. Slow, inaccurate translators are easily found and even more expensive, just not right away.

Inconvenient Truths for Geeks

Suits really don’t know what they want, at least not at the level at which you want them to. They really don’t.

Suits have reasons for what they say they want and when they want it. They really do. It has to do with making money. If they fail at that, you will be out of a job. They just don’t know what’s possible or how to ask. They expect you to tell them, though they will act unhappy about it. It’s called “negotiation.” Many Suits think it’s kind of fun; some do it for a living. If a Suit has achieved significant rank, they are good at it—sometimes too good for their own good, and yours.

Suits interpret uncertainty as room for negotiation.

If you can’t figure out a common language to speak with Suits, you need a translator. Fast, accurate translators are rare and expensive. Slow, inaccurate translators are easily found and even more expensive, just not right away.

Your employer is primarily trying to make money, not provide you with employment or interesting information technologies to work with.

Inconvenient Truths for Everybody

Computers are extremely powerful, totally obedient in a way that seems outrageously passive-aggressive but isn’t, and they have extremely bad judgment.

There are no IT (Information Technology) projects. There are business-change projects with a major IT component. To get the benefits, the Geeks have to get the IT right enough, and the Suits have to get the business change right enough, too.

When people feel unsafe, they get angry or afraid, and that drains the blood out of their frontal cortices, making them stupid. This happens faster with Geeks than with Suits, because most Geeks have a higher IQ to begin with (and farther to fall), and Suits typically have a higher EQ and can better manage their emotions. Geeks don’t want stupid people setting their project schedules. Suits don’t want stupid people modifying their production website on Cyber Monday. So help each other feel safe.

People feel unsafe when they don’t share a mutual purpose and have mutual respect, they feel unsafe. So maintaining mutual purpose and mutual respect between Suits and Geeks is worth serious coin, as well as peace and happiness.

Dirty Little Secrets of Suits

Suits are even worse at estimating the benefits of IT projects than Geeks are at estimating the costs, but Suits are better at staying out of trouble over it.

Dirty Little Secrets of Geeks

Most software salespeople know surprisingly little about their products.

Geeks don’t actually know how to do most of what they do. They know where and how to ask the question, are able to understand the answer, and know how to try out the answer safely in case it’s wrong, and how to repeat this process until it’s right.

What’s Wrong with Business Analysts (or Agile / Lean coaches, or …)

Posted by Robert Merrill on September 14, 2013 under Business Analysis and Requirements, Change Leadership, Office Relationships and Politics | Read the First Comment

Julian Sammy, head of Research and Innovation at the IIBA® (International Institute for Business Analysis), compared finding a place to belong as a BA with romantic relationships. One of his conclusions from the latter was that the only common element in all of his unsatisfactory relationships was him. So he looked at himself and learned to be a better partner. He also found a good partner for himself in the process.

In “What’s Wrong With Us?” on LnkedIn, Sammy points to recurrent BA woes—not enough time, indifferent stakeholders, rank-pulling PMs, no time with sponsors, clients who won’t follow the process, etc., and asks, “What if it’s us?” Read more of this article »