New Project: MillennialLeader.com

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Hello fellow Techies. I am excited to announce the go-live of my latest project (the reason I have not been providing new content).

MillennialLeader.com

I started Techie Takeover because I wanted to write about supervising a team of software developers. As an idea, it seemed pretty straight forward. However, I underestimated how much I really wanted to write about leadership. Specifically being a young professional and trying to lead members of the corporate community. That is why I am transitioning to this new site. I don’t know the future of Techie Takeover, but at this point, I am going to focus my efforts on Millennial Leader. I will always be a techie at heart, so I don’t plan on fully abandoning it. I just don’t know how far in the future it will be until I start updating this site again.

This has been a great first experience but I am ready for the next one. So if you would like to follow my efforts, become a leader, or understand young professionals, please check out my new site:MillennialLeader.com. I’m excited!

It’s been a good one!

-Shaun

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SMART Goals Work, You’re Just Doing Them Wrong

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The term “Two-Faced” is used to describe someone with two contrasting aspects. If you behave differently around one group of friends than you would another, you might be labeled as two-faced.

These days that term is viewed as an insult, but did you know that that wasn’t always the case? There was a time when two-faced was actually “Janus-Faced.” Janus, the god of doorways and gateways from ancient Roman times, can be seen as a man with one face looking forward, and one face looking backward. A symbol of looking to the future, and into the past.

Early Romans revered Janus so much that once per year, they would use sacrifices to thank the God for the year they had and made promises for the year the plan to have. This time of the year will later be named after the god. We now call it “January” and their promises are now called “resolutions,” a tradition that continues on today.

Similar to the Romans, people use January for setting both personal and professional goals. Since January is here, it’s time to start thinking of your goals, as well as the goals of your team.

But here’s something to think about, only 8% of goals make it past the first month. Most of the time personal goals are dropped due to a simple lack of conviction, but in the business world, it usually chalks up to volatility. Work happens, and by the time you formally write up your work plan, it is already off schedule. But we keep trying to tell the future hoping for success.

Last year, I facilitated a team exercise designed to answer one question: Where would we, as a team, like to be in one year? I reserved a couple of hours, bought my team lunch, and parked myself at the white board as I wanted this to be their exercise, not mine. The desired deliverable was to create meaningful progress in priority areas by empowering the front line team members to provide insight on the priority areas. Together we came up with 3 priorities that the team wanted to focus on for 2016.

After the exercise, I broke each priority into goals for the individual team member. The way I went about this was to think of the 3 priorities as Thematic Team Goals. The individual goals were designed to answer the question “what’s my part to play in this goal?”

Each individual goal clearly defined my expectation out of each member. As a team member, they each had a responsibility in every Thematic Goal. So I wanted to challenge them to do their part to make the team successful. A full example of an individual goal that’s tied to a themed goal can be found at the bottom of the article.

Walking into this exercise, I kept in mind several values:

Values

  1. Make the goals memorable – Most years, my team would only look at goals during midyear and end year review time. I always found this to be a pitfall for traditional goal setting processes, so I wanted to change things. I envisioned a world where team members had the goal in mind every day. Something that was commonly talked about on the floor without my interjection. This is why I wanted to go with the team creation exercise. They now feel more invested in the outcome because they created it.
  2. Make the goals Universal – For the same reason as above, I wanted to create goals that unified the team. Everyone had their individual goals, but since they were tied back to team goals, it changed the perspective from inward to outward. Everyone was working toward team success.
  3. No projects – When I first took Lead of the team, I found myself giving projects to individuals that I thought would be the perfect fit. The problem was priorities shift through the year, and I kept finding myself canceling goals or creating new ones based on the new information. I wanted to create goals that better-handled volatility, which wasn’t easy.
  4. Make the goals a priority – through this exercise, my team was able to tell me what they deemed as really important. So if it was important to them, I was going to make sure it stays front and center for the entire year. I added the three Thematic Goals to our weekly meeting to discuss first thing once per week. Usually only took about 5 mins but it reinforced the team’s values. This was the most powerful decision I made in the process and key for its success.

Wrap up

I think that people sometimes view SMART or CLEAR goals as busy work. Something that’s used for management and can be thrown away after the document is written up. This thought always bothered me. Goal setting is a tool in the leader’s toolbox.

I too fell into this school of thought, questioning the validity of this process. But after careful thought, I was able to try it from a different direction. It was like I was holding a hammer from the wrong end, and wondering why it won’t drive the nail as intended. Instead of blaming the hammer, I chose to hold it differently and try again.

So if you or your team looks down on your current goal setting process, I recommend you give this exercise a try. My team can now state all their goals on the fly, and they achieved every goal for the year with minimal push from their leader. The feedback was so positive; I am thinking of ways to build upon it for 2017. This exercise renewed my faith in goal setting and has been an extremely valuable tool as a young leader.

I hope everyone enjoyed the read. As always, please share your thoughts/comments/experiences about goal setting in the comments below. Let’s start 2017 off on a strong note!

 

Bonus Example of One of My Teams Smart Goals

Project Management Focus – Be remarkable project managers

SMART Goal: Projects are what we consider to be the method of bringing the state of the art forward. As a true project manager, I will need to balance and prioritize project work with support and meta to ensure that the EODT is pushing forward. As part of my focus on developing project management skills, I will

  • Recognize affected teams and involve them early
  • Schedule a project kickoff
  • Acquire requirements
  • Determine and document scope
  • Create a detailed project plan with accurate milestones and target dates
  • Perform thorough QA
  • Document project progression using OneNote and TFS
  • Communicate effectively to business partners and interested parties
  • Complete the project

As this is a team strategy, I will do this for every project I am assigned.

                Meets Expectations

At the start of a project, I will hold a “kick-off” meeting to signify the beginning stages of the project. This meeting should involve a representative from each team that has involvement in the project. A defined project scope will be created and from it, a project plan with time line will be determined. The project plan will be split into accurate milestones. All large to small projects will be completed within 80% of the estimated time. During implementation, an open line of communication will be facilitated and maintained via progress reports and updates to business partners and other interested parties. I will work with the end user to come up with a detailed testing criteria in which I can perform QA testing. The goal is to minimize the bugginess of software when we release it to production. Feedback loops should be a part of the project plan and will need target dates for the end.

 

I am able to coordinate several teams simultaneously to hit all project plan estimates. When I do, I am viewed as the authority and ring leader of the project effort by all effected parties. Unit testing will be worked into the project plan with a stated realistic goal for code coverage. Code reviews will be coordinated and thorough documentation of all decisions made during the project will be kept. All agreed upon deliverables will be delivered by project end unless previously negotiated otherwise. I am able to cast and sell a 3 year vision of the project effort that is in alignment with IS goals.

 

                Exceeds Expectations (may include but not limited to)

I will become an Expert at project management. I am able to coach all team members in proper project management and estimation practices and evangelize throughout AECI.

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The Rebel Leader

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My assumption is that everyone is aware that a new Star Wars movie is coming out this week. If you’re not…I am somewhat speechless, but either way ill briefly explain (don’t worry, no spoilers).

The movie appears to take place in the early stages of the rebellion (A precursor to Episode 4). In many of the trailers, you see the construction of the Deathstar and the new protagonist saying “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”

The trailer gets me amped up every time I watch it, but it does get me thinking about what it is to rebel. I mean, this person is going against an established order, yet I and others like me, automatically assume she is the hero of the story. But is that how rebels are always treated? In the stories…probably, but in the real world, it’s less likely.

Rebels don’t typically get the hero label because, in the real world, it’s in the form of someone initiating a change at the community or office level. It’s someone with the attitude of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” And even though they might have achieved their outcome, the act may not be recognized as a hero’s action.

So how can we increase our chance of success with this philosophy? When it comes to business, there is a practice known as rebel leadership. It’s a role that many people have tried to pull off, but much like other leadership styles, it’s an art that requires study and courage. If you don’t know what you are doing, you might not be a leader for long.

In my career, I have both followed and played the role of the rebel leader. I’m writing this to share my perspective on the style. It is a style that is not always necessary, but when it is, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. I hope to give you some guidelines and expectations from my experience that have helped me and those around me be successful in this role.

Guidelines

  • Being a rebel should not be your default option. Ever. This option should only be considered a last resort as it will be disruptive to your organization. Make sure you are 100 percent sure this is something you want to take on.
  • Being a rebel is not an attitude, it’s a movement. Rebel leaders walk a fine line when leading a rebellion, and attitude is usually the differentiator. Remember, if you are just complaining, you are not leading. Rebel actions attract followers; rebel attitudes deter them.
  • Don’t be forceful. The second word in rebel leader is “leader.” Make sure you are leading others. down the path you want them to go. Find what it would take for others to be your followers and capitalize on that.
  • Rebel leaders only sacrifice themselves. Any choice that is made in a rebellion can have serious consequences, and that should be at the forefront of a leader’s mind. Never force the risk you wish to take on others. A true leader accepts all responsibility for things that go wrong and passes acknowledgment for things that go right.
  • Don’t be reckless. Just as you don’t sacrifice others, you also need to be sure you are putting the company first. You want to maintain the strength of your professional relationship and pick your battles wisely. I recommend studying and practicing “Crucial Conversations” before you start the effort. There is no point in taking steps forward in an area if it’s at the expense of taking steps backward in either company standings or relationships.

Lessons Learned

  • Being a rebel is hard. It will be stressful, and you will more than likely engage in a lot of conflicts. Stay patient because the longer you keep forward motion, the more followers you will attract. And if you don’t attract enough followers, it might be time to pivot away from your initiative.
  • Be prepared for a negative perception. Challenging the status quo is never popular. If you are the face of the change, you will also be unpopular. Depending on the size of the change or the number of changes you have made, this perception could stay with you for some time.
  • Important: Understand that you are possibly slowing down your career progression. If you choose to rebel against higher-ups, regardless of the outcome, you are challenging an authority of some kind. With that comes the real possibility of damaging relationships with those responsible for recommending your promotions/raises along the way. This is something to be mindful of.

Wrap Up

After reading the lessons learned, it probably seems that I have painted a grim picture. My goal isn’t to deter anyone from doing what they think is in the best interest of their company. My goal is to prepare those for realistic outcomes of your choices. I don’t want anyone’s rebellion to turn into a regret.

Most rebellions are really small in nature. It might be changing an out of date process, or recommending a new software. If these are your initiatives, understand you have chosen something that is meant to be hard. You have replaced your path of least resistance, with a path of resistance. But don’t let that scare you. Great things are built upon movements and rebels can be the best change agents to an organization, whether it is ever recognized or not.

So, if you have a cause worth rebelling over, I hope this message helps achieve your desired outcome. If you have any thoughts/stories you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below. Keep making others around you successful, and may the force be with you. Watch the trailer below to get excited about the rebellion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frdj1zb9sMY

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4 Helpful Tips to Building Team Standards and Avoiding Fires

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Did you know that in 1904, the John E. Hurst & Company building in Baltimore Maryland broke out in flames? It consumed the entire building and began to spread to others causing what is now known as “The Great Baltimore Fire.”

Firefighters from the DC, New York, and Philadelphia areas responded to the fire but were unable to control it. This is because the fire took place before city safety standards had been created. There were no fire hydrants in the area. So despite the extra help, with no water, they were all but useless.

The fire burned for 30 hours and destroyed over 2,500 office buildings and homes before it was finally put out. Not long after, cities started creating safety standards that prevented this type of destruction in the future. Standards are important because they can sometimes save us in a fire. Both the physical and metaphorical ones.

This segues nicely into my main topic, creating team standards to avoid the metaphorical “office fires.”

I recently went through a team exercise to build out a set of standards. I wanted everyone to create the standard together but not fall into the trap of design by committee, which admittedly was a difficult balance to find. Below is the process I came up with to manage this dilemma.

The Process

The creation of team standards was actually something that the team wanted. At the beginning of the year, I worked with my group to determine three themed goals. It was an exercise facilitated by me but lead entirely by my team. Dozens of ideas were discussed, and it was discovered that a unified standard was unanimously voted on as a high enough priority to include into our year plan.

Now that my team decided on the direction, it was now up to me to make sure they were put in a position to be successful. I needed to make sure that Standards Creation was a priority by gaving time, focus, and guidance through the process. I wanted to create a recipe for success that we could use while developing standards into the future.

I did this by doing a couple of things:

  1. They chose the goal, so I made it official – I wanted to reinforce that everyone needs to be involved in the creation of standards. I assured them that for this to work, we would need to come together and form something that we could all get behind. I explicitly created a goal for every team member and included it on their annual HR forms. The goal described in detail my expectations for participation and development. I wanted it to be official to make sure it didn’t slip through the cracks or get reprioritized, as so many internal efforts do.
  2. I made everyone responsible but one person accountable – Because I wanted this to be a group effort, I made everyone on my team responsible for the success of these standards. But to make progress, there needed to be someone moving us along the path to success, and it shouldn’t be me. As I said, I look at my position as one of tapping into someone’s ability to be successful, not doing it for them. Therefore, I assigned someone to be accountable for the creation of a particular standard. They were responsible for organizing meetings, keeping track of questions that needed to be answered, and delegating writing duties (even to me) when they saw fit. I too was responsible for the success.
  3. I made myself clear on the arguments I wanted – When a meeting was set up, the person accountable for the project would send out topics ahead of time. I just required the team to come prepared to discuss. I asked that language be used in an objective manner. I explained that phrases like “I like doing it this way” or “this is how we have always done it” should only be used as a single bullet point and not the main argument. Because of this, each conversation was meaningful and near emotion free.
  4. This is not a democracy; I made the final call – I was walking a fine line with this tactic. Design by committee can be unproductive. Sometimes the best advice can be overlooked due to the group trying to compromise with one another. That’s where I came in. If there was a compelling argument to be made, even if it wasn’t the majority, it was always an option. I made sure to keep perspective on what’s best for the company when the team may be overlooking some key facts. This was not a frequent occurrence, but there were a few decisions that had to be made when it wasn’t part of the majority.

Wrap up

As a team, we were able to achieve success with this method with very few lessons learned moments. We created a recipe for success that we will be able to rinse and reuse. The one thing I would prepare you for is when a developer says “I want to have better team standards,” that they really mean “I want the team to standardize around how I do things.” This is a conflict area that you may have to navigate through, and it also may come as a morale hit when pushing through the process. However, if you prepare yourself for this eventuality, and make sure you are clear with the “why” of every decision, you should navigate it just fine.

I hope you enjoyed the read and good luck with implementing this yourself. If you have any questions for me or if you have your process you would like to share, please leave a comment below (or connect with me).

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We Can Lead Our Leaders, but We Can’t Do It Alone

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The election is finally over, and America is gearing up for new leaders in all areas of our government. For some, this is exciting, others scary, but one thing for sure is that things are going to change.

We as a nation have become divided, and to be honest, we have let this separation go too far. Over the last 16 years, the rhetoric has changed from opposing viewpoints to “us vs. them”. If you are not with us, you are against us. It almost like many have picked a home team and a rival, and through thick and thin you root for your home team and against your rival.

This seems to be the case with most hot topics these days. It’s just most obvious in the political world and became especially obvious during this election cycle.

I’ll give you a quick example of how casual it has become. I witnessed a race for a senate seat where both candidates ran attack ads against one another. In each, both used the association to the others “side” as an assault. The Democratic runner used the phrase “conservative values,” and the Republican runner used the word “liberal” as standalone bullet points when discussing their opponent. As if they were bad words or something they should be ashamed of.

The reason this is so messed up is that when they decided to run these ads, they did more than alienate their opponent. All of those who fell under the umbrella of having “conservative values” or being “liberal” also received the same insult. They publicly insulted and shamed the people they are trying to represent. As a voter, this is disheartening.

Diagnosis

People might say this is a result of the system, and it’s the responsibility of our newly elected officials to make the changes they promised. They’re our appointed leaders so they should be leading us down this path. Shouldn’t they?

While there are some truths to this thought, it completely omits acknowledgment of our own influence on the system. The system does influence our culture, but we influence our systems by voting. So what came first? Are we the chicken or the egg?

If you really need that answered, simply spend a little time on social media looking at “hot topic” discussions like Black Lives Matter or Election 2016. Read the comments on Youtube videos about the 2nd amendment. It will be pretty obvious that WE have created this divide, not our system. The system is simply a reflection of the way we treat one another. We have unknowingly, and effectively lead our leaders to represent us on a platform of separation, and we get surprised at the way they treat one another.

So what can we do?

Believe it or not, we have been influencing the system for some time now, so we can band together to bring positive change. We have to start dropping the home team vs. rival mentality and learn how to Respectfully disagree with one another.

This is no easy task. I’m talking about changing the culture of an entire country which doesn’t happen easily or quickly. However, there is good news. People are now talking about this “divide” more than ever. This election shined a light on the problem for everyone to see, and people are starting to care. They’re showing it by doing what I’m doing with this article. They’re finding ways to communicate the need for a change publicly. Why? Because change has to happen as a society before we can expect it to happen within our systems.

Wrap up

We have been leading our leaders for a long time, and we will continue to in the future. The opportunity we have in front of us is to lead by example. We can steer our leaders down a better path by striving to model the behavior we wish them to replicate. We have way more power than you think we simply need numbers.

So, I feel that it is my responsibility to lead by example in my little sphere of influence and try to minimize this divide within my tribe. I don’t know how far that sphere goes, but it isn’t very. I encourage everyone to communicate this message out within your sphere, so we stand a chance to promote change.

As always, please leave me a comment if you want to publicly share your insight. Connect with me on social media if you’re interested in discussing further. And let’s try to start being the leaders we want to see.

Thanks for your time!

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The Constitution…Is it Scalable?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

I have a fun fact for you: Did you know, there are spelling errors in The United States Constitution? It’s true, if you look at the States column, you will notice that Pennsylvania is spelled Pensylvania minus an “n.”

pensylvania

Here’s another one for you: Did you know that George Washington almost didn’t attend the creation of the constitution? At the time, he was busy with his estate, and quite frankly doubtful that a united constitution would work. His choice was voluntary.

Of course, he went and later became the 1st president of the United States, but think about how things would have been different if he would have accepted his inability to make time or shed doubt.

The US Constitution is a cultural pillar of our nation. It sets the tone for the present and is amendable for the future. It’s a great example of how you reach millions of people with standard messaging and values. This leads me to question, is it scalable? Can the idea of a constitution be used at the business or even a team level? In this article, I discuss the purpose of an organization constitution and what it could look like.

What is the purpose?

An organizational constitution should be the framework for your company to either move to or sustain a cultural existence. In his book, “The Culture Engine” Chris Edmonds goes into detail about this topic. He states that the purpose of an organization constitution is to clearly establish 1) Purpose 2) Values 3) Strategy and 4) Goals.

In other words, an organizational constitution is a leadership tool that leaders use to provide clarity. The goal being that any employee in the organization should be able to reference it when they have questions regarding company culture or value system.

How to organize it

At the company I work for, we do not have an organizational constitution at the top level. However, at the Division level (next tier down) we did create an organizational constitution. In an effort not to fall out of line with the company mission, we simply used our business’s Mission as a baseline for the document.

To create the document we had to answer the following questions:

1)    Who are we? – Through answering this question, we were able to come up with an internal mission that helps serve our global mission

2)    What do we do to fulfill our mission? – This exercise resulted in us creating 5 pillars of success that all helped us achieve our mission. These will vary for your team/company, but a few examples of our pillars are “Provide Reliable Infrastructure” and “Recruit, Train, Retain Talent.”

3)    How do we achieve excellence in each pillar? – This ties directly to the question above. It’s the “how” to the “what.” For each pillar, we created a strategy to achieve excellence and turned it into a 5-year perspective with achievable goals.

4)    What values do we want to instill into our work? – This resulted in a set of values that are now the foundation for cultural growth. We created a document that goes with the constitution that digs into these values. We call this document the 5C’s; Create, Craftsmanship, Community, Communication, and Change. This is how we set expectations for team members and provide insight into employee growth.

I made sure to point out that we did not have a top-level Constitution because you may not get company buy-in to create one. If that’s the case, that shouldn’t be a show-stopper. I believe you can do this at any level. Just start with your team if needed.

One thing to note would be to keep the overall mission in mind upon creation. A constitution is meant to be unifying, but if it conflicts with the company mission, it could be viewed as a revolt.

Wrap Up

I recognize that this exercise takes time, and starts with a reasonable amount of uncertainty of success. If these thoughts creep into your head, just think about George Washington in the intro. I’d say it worked out pretty well for him and I don’t see why you can’t do the same. You could basically be as big of a deal as the first president of the United States.

On a serious note, if you are concerned with company culture this is a fantastic way to steer the ship. It’s just like everything else and needs to be made a priority to work.

I recommend “The Culture Engine” by Chris Edmonds for further reading if you are interested. And as always, I would love to hear your experiences with company constitutions. If you have anything you would like to discuss, you can always contact me on social media or leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed the read!

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My Experience with OfficeVibe, and How It Addresses Employee Engagement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I feel like I should start this post out stating that I am in no way affiliated with the OfficeVibe product. I simply want to write a review because it’s a pretty cool tool that is currently helping me identify areas of improvement with my team morale. In this article, I go over what the OfficeVibe service is, how it works, and how my team is using it.

What is it?

OfficeVibe is a software service designed specifically for measuring employee engagement. It has all the functionality you would expect. The survey asks specific questions geared towards topics like Health, Economics, Camaraderie, Overall Happiness, etc. And once the data has been collected, the results are packaged up and delivered through customizable reports.

employee-engagement-report
Pulled from OfficeVibe Website

How Does it Work?

OfficeVibe can be used through email, but it also has a plugin for the communication platform Slack. If you are unfamiliar with Slack, that is another post for another time, but in a nutshell; Slack is a persistent messaging platform built for quick collaboration and efficient communication.

Slack also allows for Bots (Artificial Intelligence) to interface with it. This means independent software companies can program tools into the communication platform. That’s how OfficeVibe built their system. The bot they designed helps users take the quick survey by interacting with them inside the Slack platform. So, when I open Slack to interact with my team, I may see a message pending from the OfficeVibe bot containing my survey question. Having a native interface like this makes the survey questions easy to respond to.

slack-leo-landing-og-image

If you don’t have slack, the email version works similarly. Instead of reaching out through Slack, the questions are emailed to the employee with a link to respond.

What makes this service different from other engagement services, is that OfficeVibe is set up to track a persistent and near real-time pulse of your team. It’s designed to address one of the biggest pitfalls typical Engagement Surveys have: Time/Cost (See my previous posts about short comings).

It does this by giving smaller surveys (1-5 questions) on a more frequent basis (1-2 weeks). This helps the person responsible for team engagement know what the team engagement level is at any given time. You can now monitor your teams stress levels throughout the year.

An added benefit of the near real-time results is that you now get instant feedback on engagement efforts. Previously it was difficult for me to experiment because I was trying to answer questions like, are the changes we implemented having the desired outcome? Are they making things worse? With this style of feedback loop, I feel like I have more flexibility to experiment and make adjustments quicker.

How we use it

We have OfficeVibe set up to ask 5 questions to everyone each week. The results are anonymous, and the survey is always optional. The questions are given at random, meaning not everyone gets the same questions as their coworkers that week. This provides a healthy spread of engagement area results.

We also have it set up to allow for commented feedback. The anonymity on this section is optional. We have found that the commented feedback is one of the most helpful parts of the survey. So much so, that all team administrators have banned together to respond to every piece of feedback we get. Even if the feedback is short, one of us will reply through the OfficeVibe tool with either clarifying questions or appreciation for the feedback. It’s always good to reinforce positive behavior. The tool helps ensure anonymity throughout the process, so there is no conflict.

We have our custom reports broken out into teams, where we can compare our engagement against the benchmark of other OfficeVibe users. Trophies are given for the level of engagement at any point in time. This gamifies the process and welcomes goal setting. As an organization, we have decided that we are going for Champion status (Top 10%).

benchmark2

Wrap up

For me, OfficeVibe is the answer to the question, “how do I keep a pulse on the happiness and engagement of my team?” I have only been using it for 3 months, but the results have been awesome. Coming from a system where we received engagement results every 2 years, having daily feedback has made this process so much easier.

We are starting the process of experimenting with custom questions as well as going through OfficeVibe’s library of improvement resources. I believe this is going to help my team and me substantially.

I hope this has peaked your interest enough to at least check out the site. If you choose to try it out, I look forward to competing against your team in the benchmarking J. As I said, I’m aiming for their champion trophy, and I am currently at Diamond  (Top 20%).

If you have experience with OfficeVibe or have a different system you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Less Than 1/3 of American Employees are Engaged with Work…Where Do You Fall?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

You may be able to tell by now that I truly believe that a leader’s first responsibility is to put their employees in a position to be successful. However, being put in a position for success and being successful is a two-person job. It doesn’t matter the number of opportunities leaders give their people; it’s all for nothing if they lack the motivation to make the most of it. In this article, I plan to discuss the way you can achieve motivation through employee engagement. I also plan to leave you with a few pitfalls I have found with my experience.

Why This is Important

Earl Nightingale said “We are at our very best, and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.” Its hard to find a quote that could better sum up a “why” than this. Simply put, an engaged employee is a motivated employee. Even better, the motivation is intrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation can be way more powerful than motivation out of economics or fear. Intrinsic motivation is the reason why there are so many “it started in their garage” stories in the world. If you want a great example, read about a man named Samuel Pierpont Langley.

A short sum up of the story follows: Samuel Pierpont Langley was trying to build the first machine capable of attaining consistent flight. He was a renowned inventor with a large financial backing, and the best research team money could buy. His competition, two men working on a farm. They were not near as funded nor did they have the team Langley did. Their names were Wilbur and Orville Wright (the Wright Brothers).

The reason most of you know the Wright Brothers instead of Langley is because the Wright Brothers won. They defied the odds and beat out the “top dog” team. This story highlights the power intrinsic motivation has while in the arena against fame and money.

1903_first_flightThis is exactly the reason that companies are caring more about the engagement level of their employees. It’s even to the point that companies are hiring independent consultant groups to come in and conduct thorough Employee Engagement Surveys. They are taking the chance to invest in employee engagement because they know the potential benefits they will see in return.

Speaking on behalf of the employee for a second, my company conducts employee engagement surveys, and even the act itself is a motivating force. Just the display of caring gives me a small sense of happiness.

Some Problems I’ve Ran Into

Now that I have talked up Employee Engagement, I need to switch gears a bit and share a few pitfalls that I have seen with some employee engagement efforts.

There are two main problems that I have with standard Employee Engagement Surveys; Closed door action item lists, and the overall cost of the survey. So first, I’d like to explain what I mean by closed door action items.

When we have received these surveys in the past, the responsibilities have been separated by data submission (the employee) and data analysis (the supervisors/executives). When the results are published, the data analysis begins at the highest level to come up with an action plan to increase engagement across the workforce. Despite the best intentions of management, the resulting list will usually be a list of our most thoughtful guesses.

We sometimes think that since our employees took the time to give us the feedback we need to respond with a decisive plan to show that we are listening. The problem with this tactic is that we may have missed the mark. There is no guarantee that the correct diagnosis was made.

For this to work, we need to start building the action plan with the ground floor employees, to make sure we are on track. Otherwise, we put ourselves in a situation where we have to wait until the next survey to see if we were successful in increasing engagement at a significant level.

This brings me to the next issue, cost. Because these surveys require both time and money, they are typically only given annually, bi-annually, or even less frequently. So if you did your closed door session, it might take years for you to know if your actions worked. Because of the time and money needed for these surveys, it’s not practical to experiment. So it’s possible to have wasted years of effort because there is not a cheap way to get feedback along the way.

Wrap up

Despite these two problems we have run into, we are actively finding ways to build action plans by working with the ground and giving lighter weight engagement surveys at a faster rate. My next post will talk about the software we use and how it is helping in our effort. This is a very important topic and one that I hope keeps growing.

If you have any experience with employee engagement, please feel free to use the comments to share. I hope you enjoyed the content and make sure to look for my next post regarding some of the things I’m doing to increase my team’s engagement.

 

Further Reading:Top Eight Reasons Employee Engagement is Important

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4 Reasons I Recommend the DevIntersection Conference

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The big Dev Intersection conference is a few weeks away. If you’re not familiar, it’s a development conference sponsored by several large software companies. They bring industry experts together to conduct a 3-day learning session about mostly everything relevant in the development world today. The tracks range from Visual Studio, SQL, SharePoint, Azure, Office 365, etc. If you are considering the conference, I would like to share four things that I experienced when I attended.

1) The Keynotes

The 2016 Spring Conference keynotes were Scott Guthrie (Exec VP of Microsoft), Scott Hanselman (Microsoft Principal Architect), Douglas Crockford (Helped develop JavaScript), and Dan Holme (CEO of IT Utility). And this lineup was truly awesome. Each speaker was prepared and had something relevant to say. Almost everyone had a demo that was designed to inspire and excite. For example, Scott Hanselman installed the new Visual Studio on the computer of an attendee. It only took 60 seconds, and the entire room started cheering (If you’re not familiar with Visual Studio, it usually installs for hours). Each speaker brought something unique to the conference and truly represented as experts in their field.

2) The Dozens of Speakers

The conference is mostly breakout sessions, so aside from the Keynotes, there are a lot of speakers to talk about a wide variety of topics. I went to 10 different sessions and saw 7 speakers total. And I though each speaker was well prepared with great content. Each session was designed for the time slot, and all speakers left time for thorough QA. I was able to get contact information from each as they all welcomed follow-up questions. I felt the conference picked qualified professionals that were passionate about their topics.

 

3) The Workshops

Workshops are an extra expense to the conference, but if you can do these, I would recommend them. They are all day sessions where you get to dig deeply into a development practice. The teachers bring great examples as well as “code along with me” exercises for those who brought their development machines (which was everyone at the conference). I was able to attend two sessions, The Zen of Architecture by Juval Lowy and Making the Jump to Typescript by John Papa and Dan Wahlin. They were great, but they had more than a dozen to choose from. Some of my biggest takeaways came from these two workshops, so if you have the funds to go, I recommend spending the money. You won’t regret it.

 

4) The Sessions

I have spent a lot of time talking about the speakers and their ability to create good content, but I should mention that there are nearly 100 different sessions. The topics span from SQL development to new Angular 2 interfaces. In back to back sessions, I went from a Project Management topic to a UX session that not only talked about how to identify good UX, but how to convince your company to let you invest in it. It would be very surprising if you were unable to find something of interest at this conference.

Wrap Up

As I stated in the title, I completely recommend this conference. When you plan your yearly training, it’s easy to get seduced by the Microsoft Ignite or Build conferences, but Dev Intersection deserves consideration. Don’t get me wrong, Ignite and Build are great too, but there are differences in these conferences. One difference is that even though it isn’t a Microsoft event, it’s mainly geared towards developing on or within Microsoft tools. But I would say the biggest difference between Dev and Ignite/Build, is that everything Dev talked about can be done today. Where Ignite is more about the future, when you are learn something at Dev, you can go to your hotel and start programming that night.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

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CEOs…Please Read

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Normally when I write, I share topics that I have either read about or done myself. Today, I want to talk about something from the perspective of a front-line employee. This was something I witnessed from our new CEO, and how he interacted with a risky innovation that my boss (not the CEO) was involved in. This is an amazing real life example of how I hope to model my leadership, simply because I know how it made me feel as a follower.

Story

For context, the company I work for recently changed CEOs. It is going extremely well, yet everyone is still taking the necessary time to adjust to the new regime.

Earlier this year, my boss and several other colleagues started a community around a companywide initiative. At a high level, their goal was to start a monthly platform where employees could come together to share ideas (see Share Your Ideas for more info on what this looks like). This was an employee-driven effort, so the team didn’t have sponsorship from senior staff yet. Senior staff had awareness, but not all members bought into the idea. In fact, some were completely against it at both the senior staff and employee levels. So, the pressure for success was higher than usual.

Our CEO had very little knowledge about it. He asked my boss to schedule 30 mins of his time to talk more in depth. In that meeting, they discussed the history and what they plan to do with the idea moving forward.

Immediately following the meeting, the CEO wrote an email to my boss stating his stance on this particular initiative. He was in full support of the idea and in turn, encouraged more employee-driven initiatives. The most powerful part of the email, however, was the way he ended it. The last words before his signature were, “I’ve got your back.”

Something awesome happened following this email. That sentence meant so much to my boss that he decided to share it with his team and colleagues. They then went on to share it with their teams and so on. That sentence was obviously very powerful to have permeated through the company so quickly. I am three levels removed from the hierarchy, and I have shared that story on multiple occasions. The reason it was so powerful was that everyone believed it. He instilled trust in the platform team, and everyone gave it back.

Wrap up

I wanted to tell this story to highlight that actions matter. They ripple throughout the company, and when kept positive, you just might see positive results. I mean, look at what one sentence has provoked. He didn’t even say it to me, yet it meant so much that I wanted to blog about it. From the bottom looking up, CEOs set the tone of the company. Their words and their actions simply hit harder. When a CEO can show trust and positivity, their message has a deep motivating quality. As someone near the ground floor, I can vouch that it works.

Recognizing there are many ways to run a company, I only wanted to share my experience with our new CEO. If you would like to share your experience, similar or not, please leave them in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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