Book Review: Motivating Employees

Employee motivation is an ever-present concern for most proactive managers.  Interestingly enough, motivation can come from both functional and dysfunctional sources.

I've seen employees motivated for many different reasons: recognition, financial incentive, empowerment, personal growth, tension release, fear, and finally there's that weird Lord of the Flies thing where employees get motivated together against another employee.

In their book, Motivating Employees, Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone describe the most effective ways to motivate a team.  They describe the three C's which are vital to functionally motivating employees:

1. Collaboration: Be sure to involve employees in decisions and discussions where their efforts are involved.

2. Content: As they produce suggestions, act on those suggestions immediately.

3. Choice: Be sure to offer choices to your employees--even if you can predict what they will decide.

These three techniques actually empower your employees.   Involving employees in decisions that affect them, or the outcome of what they are working on produces a level of buy-in that is hard to match any other way.

Bruce and Pepitone continue with an examination of Theory-X and Theory-Y motivation and management styles.  These styles were originally presented in the 1960's by Douglas McGregor.

McGregor states that Theory-X managers proceed from the assumption that their employees are uninformed, lazy, and needy of high-structure.

Theory-Y managers, however, proceed from the assumption that their employees are qualified, intelligent, and capable of making proper decisions provided they are given proper goals, accountability, authority, and resources to accomplish their tasks.

Although Theory-X is the most effective approach during some situations, if you consider the amount of college-educated employees in the workforce today, it's easy to see how Theory-Y, if applied properly, yields much higher performance.

The authors continue with a formula for encouraging Entrepreneurial Thinking.   Their five-step formula is:

1. Explain the organization
2. Demonstrate how the organization operates and generates income
3. Help your employees understand the competition
4. Encourage intelligent risk-taking
5. Inspire innovative thinking

Another great idea the authors present is to link motivation to performance.  They suggest you develop a written-list of performance standards for meeting and exceeding the expectations you've agreed upon during collaborative sessions with them.

The authors talk about how important it is to weave fun into everything your organization does.   This may sound like a unusual suggestion at first, but the authors point out that there is a direct correlation between fun on the job and employee productivity, moral, creativity, satisfaction, and most importantly--retention.

The final few chapters in the book discuss de-motivating factors (or individuals), and how to deal with them.  There is also a good chapter on conducting effective employee-reviews.

Overall I recommend this book to any manager.   It's a great book to re-read every so oft r/>
Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Reviews: Leadership and Self Deception

I can't remember where I first heard of the book Leadership and Self Deception, an international bestseller written by the Arbinger Institute.  It's a short book, only 175 or so pages cut in a 5 x 8.5 inch format.

The cover is strikingly attractive, a collission of two black and white surfaces with some red spilling out.

The book talks about being "in the box" versus "out of the box" with respect to how we interact with people around us.  As we create false impressions of reality around us, through our own rationalization, self-deception, lack of empathy, or fear, and communicate with others under these pretenses, we put ourselves "inside a box."

Being inside a box adversely affects our ability to maintain the trust, respect, and finally peace with those around us.  Being able to recognize when we are leading ourselves "into the box" and taking proactive measures to stay outside of the box raises our emotional intelligence and helps maintain trust, respect, and peace with those around us.

Now let me say that the concept is groudbreaking, but the book is not.  I could only get about half way through this book before I had enough of the watered-down leechy "you've turned one sentence into a whole chapter, again!" prose.

The book is written from a "corporate fairytale" perspective and I have to say I feel like I am being patronized like a seven year old at story time when I read this book.  Instead of being to-the-point, the authors create a long burdensome drawn-out fabrication of actors and problems in a fictitious business culture.  You are supposed to read the fairytale and apply it to your own reality.

I suppose nursery rhymes caught on well enough, so maybe that's why this book is an international bestseller.  I would recommend you have someone explain the concept in the book to you, rather than spend the time reading it.  If you do read this book, just read the first few chapters, then read the captions under t ick-figure drawings throughout the rest of the book to get the point.

Whiteboards for Everyone

Do you like designing on whiteboards?  I do.   Colorful markers against a clean, white surface inspire all kinds of creativity and fun.

Recently I came across a great tip.  Instead of going to your local OfficeBOX superstore and paying $200 for a 4x8 whiteboard, just hit HomeDepot instead and get a $12 piece of showerboard.  It works just as good and if you need a smaller size they will cut it for you on site for no additional charge!  At that price, you can line your walls with thinking space.  

Mike J. Berry  www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

Recently, while attending the '09 Agile Roots conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Alistair Cockburn--the keynote speaker--referenced Miyamoto Musashi's 16th-century book called The Book of Five Rings.

I like Asian philosophy (and swords and such) so I picked up the book and read it.  The book was written in 1643 by an undefeated Japanese samurai master who was so effective he was rumoured to have spent the latter part of his career entering sword-fights purposely without a weapon.  Although meant as a battlefield manual, the book has gained popularity as a handbook for conducting business in the 21st century.

The book was translated into English by Thomas Cleary at some point and the edition I read was published in 2005.   Improperly named "The Book of Five Rings," the book is actually a compilation of five scrolls.

The Earth Scroll: Musashi talks about how a straight path levels the contours of the Earth and how various occupations provide life-improving principles.  He talks about observing patterns and learning from them.  Certainly a great primer for any business trying to get across the chasm.

The Water Scroll: Here Musashi talks about how water conforms to the shape of its container.  He suggests a separation of one's inward mind against it's outward posture, maintaining that one's control over one's mind must not be relinquished to outward circumstances.  He translates these philosophies into about 80 pages of sword fighting techniques.  An interesting modern parallel is found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, where he talks about how the most successful companies are able to say 'No' and not be influenced by immediate but non-strategic opportunities.

The Fire Scroll: As with any book written by a 16th century samurai master, you'd expect a core discussion on combat strategy.   The fire scroll is full of combat strategies, positioning, and pre-emptive theory.  Very interesting.  Did anyone notice how Apple's announcement of the latest iPhone came about 1 day after the Palm Pre phone was officially launched--killing it's market blitz?  No coincidence there.

The Wind Scroll: The wind scroll contains a directive to study and be aware of your opponents techniques.  Translated into business speak, this means one should always study ones competitors.  Be aware of new offerings, partnerships, markets, etc. that they persue.  Emphasis is placed on observing rhythms and strategically harmonizing, or dis-harmonizing with them as appropriate.

Finally, The Emptiness Scroll:  This scroll discusses the value of escaping personal biases.  Emphasis is placed on not lingering on past situations and being able to adjust quickly to new scenarios.

Overall I found this book 'enlightening' to read.  If you like metaphors and inferences, or sword-fighting, then you will enjoy this book.

Mike J. Ber />www.RedRockResearch.com

Anatomy of an Execution Plan

Have you been challenged with performing a high-risk task like upgrading a prominent server, for example?

Here's an execution plan template that you can use to guide you.

I. Executive Summary
Brief overview of intended event.

II. Review of Discovery
Details of what efforts were made to research what is listed in the following sections.  Meetings, Vendor consultations,  Online Resources, and Conventional Wisdom can be included.

III. Pre-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken before the event.

IV. Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken during the event.

V. Post-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken after the event.

VI. Test Plan
Verification procedures to confirm the event was a success.  This section should define the success criteria.

VII. Rollback Plan
In case the worst happens, what to do.

IIX. Situational Awareness Plan
After-the-event steps to validate the success of the event with the system's business users.  This would include a two-way communication between your group and the business users, announcing the success, and providing contact information for them to contact you in case there is still a problem.

IX. Risk-Management plan
A plan listing risks associated with the steps above and recommendations as to how to lower those risks.

X. Schedule
If the event spans many hours or days, you may want to draft a schedule for the benefit of all involved.  Include on the schedule the 'rollback point,' which would be the latest time a rollback could be successfully performed.  Your success criteria whould have to be met by this point to avoid a rollback.

Be sure the Execution Plan is in a checklist format, not a bullet-list format.  Require participants in the event to 'check' completed checklist items and sign-off sections they are responsible for.

For critical areas of high-risk, (ie: setting up replication), for example, you may want to require two individuals to perform the checklist steps and sign their names when that section is complete.

If you like, add a 'lessons learned' section to be completed later, and ke copy of the execution plan for historical purposes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Improving Employee Morale

As a software development management consultant, I'm always looking for innovative ways to improve employee morale.

My friend and associate, Greg Wright, told me about an interesting process for improving morale that his company practices.

They have an appeasement committee and budget.   The appeasement committee is a group with one representative from each department.  Each month, a different member of each department is represented in the group.  If certain corporate goals are met, the committee plans an event for the company for that month.  The events are simple and not too expensive:  bowling, or mini-golf and pizza, etc.

What I find valuable about this example is that five important objectives are met:


  1. The individual employees are empowered by being able to participate in the suggestions to improve morale.  This personal involvement is more meaningful to them, and more appreciated.

  2. If a committee and a budget is in place, morale-building events won't take a backseat to unexpected fires, or brand new deadlines.

  3. The effort-vs-reward principal is set in motion, which is one of the foundations of capitalism.

  4. Corporate goals get communicated, and emphasized, and are constantly on everyone's minds.

  5. Team-building outside of the stressed work environment will occur.  This brings a fresh dimension to work-place teamwork.


Morale building is important because it separates the sweat-shop jobs from the career jobs.  This simple process can do wonders for your organization.

Mike rry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

'Excellence' can be defined as "the crisp execution of established procedures."  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company's reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo'd.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with 'Heriocs' is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike erry
www.RedRockResearch.com

What Does it Mean to Be a Professional?

Decades ago I had a friend tell me this question was posed to their High School class. I never found out what the class concluded.

Over the years I have thought often about the answer to this question.

My earlier conclusion was that professionalism meant a separation of work and personal life.  This is something that I think the older generation is better at.  The younger generation seems more transparent about personal matters in the workplace.

As the years go by, however, my experience doesn't support this conclusion as a definition of professionalism.  I find many professionals are actually quite personable.

This has caused me to re-evaluate the answer to this question.

I think the answer I would give now is that professionalism means ownership.  It means responsibility and accountability for producing the appropriate results.

I walked into a CostCo last week looking for a large household item.  I found a smiling attentive employee with whom I asked where I might find the item I was looking for.  He said "I'm new here," and shrugged his shoulders.

There was this moment of pregnant miscommunication.

No doubt he was unable to help me due to his present unfamiliarity with the store layout, but as a customer I felt neglected.

I thought to myself, "Well, are you going to get someone for me who knows where this item is?" And then I realized I had, perhaps, misaligned expectations for customer service from a new employee at a wholesale warehouse selling everything from car tires to margarine.

Then the light bulb went on---a more professional employee would have "owned" my problem.  They would have found someone who did know where my item was and would have walked with me until my problem was solved.

Suddenly I realized I had the answer to my decades-old question: Professionalism means ownership.   Ownership of issues.  Ownership of assignments.  Ownership of tasks.

My thanks go out to the anonymous clueless employee.  After several decades, I finally have my answer.

How would you answer this question?
Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

The Bat Phone

Do you have one of those executives that harasses you with status updates to projects, yet never attends the status update meetings?

Perhaps they call you, email you, stop in to your office, and want to know what the latest on project X is?

Is the behavior effecient?  What suggestions do you have about how to convey project status communication within your organization?

Mike J. Berry  www.RedRockResearch.com

Anti-Values

I was sitting in a KFC eating lunch, reading the slogans muraled on the wall.  This particular KFC is supposedly the first KFC in America.  Yes, it's in Utah.  Along with some chicken legs and a drink, you can enjoy a small exhibit showing Colonel Sander's original briefcase, white suite, shoes, etc.

One mural read, "Somehow we'll do it, by the principles of thrift, honor, integrity, and charity."

I thought for a moment.  Some of the financial service companies I've worked with would fail if they valued charity.  Then I thought about how trust is a wonderful interpersonal dynamic, but the companies I've worked with in the medical field allow no latitude for trust.  Everything must be written down and authorized by a credentialed physician.  Walk into a pharmacy and you'll need a signature on piece of paper to get a prescription filled.

Hmmm, just like charity is an anti-value in the financial services industry, trust is an anti-value in the medical industry.

I spent the day thinking about this new concept.  I owe the title of 'Anti-Value' to the Discovery-Channel documentary about Anti-Matter I was watching the night before.  I  guess I'm coining the phrase here, but it makes a lot of sense to me.  Normally, a value is something our society charish's, yet in a particular situation, or line of business--it becomes the wrong thing to do.

I started seeing how this concept can be applied all over to help clarify the decision making process.

I remembered taking third place instead of second in a Maryland school-district programming competition in high school because I let the guy from our rival high school cut in line in front of me to turn in his test.  When the results were announced we had both scored the same grade, but because he handed his paper in first, he won second place and I won third. (I beat him in the State programming competition the following month.)

I've never forgotten this experience, and actually now that I think about it, offering your competitor any leeway is an anti-value.

Some business meetings I've been involved in are a collage of participants cutting other participants off mid-sentence to make their point known.  Rude? Yes.  But, in fact, politeness may be considered an anti-value in these types of situations.

I think the concept is fascinating.  Just as a good value system should be in place to help an organization, department, team, or individual govern their decisions, an anti-value system can compliment a value-system by providing additional clarity for the decision making process.

One example of this is the U.S. government's policy on dealing with terrorists.  The government values having a "no negotiating with terrorists" policy.  As a disincentive to future terrorism, they have an additional policy to provide or produce exactly the opposite of what the terrorists are demanding.  The notion--to give them what they want--really becomes an anti-value, and is an additional input to the decision-making process.  So, in fact, their policy is set by values, and anti-values.

I hope you find this concept as fascinating as I do.  It was the best $7.79 I've spent on lunch in a while.

Mike J. Berry www.RedRockResearch.com