Browsing the archives for the Uncategorized category.

Smack-down: Scientists versus practitioners

Random, SIOP, Uncategorized

Geeks are people with deep technical expertise.  So most geek fields have a strong research and intellectual foundation.  This often results in having two general categories of people working in the same area – scientists and practitioners. 

The scientists work to advance the field through research and analysis.  Sometimes they work in universities and sometimes in research labs and think tanks.  Practitioners work to apply the knowledge in order to impact people and business and the world.

For example, a medical researcher might seek the cure for cancer by doing research in a university, medical school lab.   The physician in a hospital uses that research to treat patients.

Seems like a healthy, practical and symbiotic relationship.  Both add value.  Both need each other to be effective.

But it does not always seem to work that way.

I recently attended the professional conference for my field, Industrial-Organizational Psychology.  SIOP is about 2/3 academic researchers and about 1/3 practitioners.  There always seems to be an unhealthy competition and disrespect between the scientists and practitioners.

The scientists think the practitioners are sell-outs for going into business and sometimes having to sacrifice theoretical purity for practical reality.  Practitioners see the scientists as focused on minutiae (like obscure statistical measurement) instead of researching practical applications.

SIOP has even been professing for years that all I/O Psychologists should be Scientist-Practitioners.  That would mean that everyone has a theoretical orientation with practical focus – learn to do both.

It has not seemed to evolve that way. 

Is there a scientist versus practitioner divide in your geek field?

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Off at the Psychology Geek SIOP Fest

SIOP, Uncategorized

As this posts, I am hobnobbing with other geeks at the 25 annual SIOP (Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology) conference in Atlanta.  About 2/3 of SIOP members are academics who focus on research and teaching.  So there will be a lot of intellectual discourse.  Then there are the intrepid practitioners like myself.  We work on applying all of that good research to real life problems in the workplace.

SIOP will include presentations and panels and papers about selection, assessments, research, leadership, training, employee development, coaching, test validation, work life balance and much more.

The topics should be interesting.  Mostly, I’m looking forward to connecting with some old friends.

Have a good weekend!

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Do you have the cringe factor?

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

I’ve been learning all sorts of new terms lately.  Okay, they aren’t exactly intellectual, academic definitions, but they come from real people with real concerns.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the term “slime factor” was used in a succession meeting to describe someone who was borderline creepy.

This week, I heard another new talent management term – the cringe factor.  I was teaching Situational Leadership to a group of mid-level managers.  Sit Lead teaches that leaders must evaluate how competent an employee is at a task and then adapt their leadership style to match that level of competence.   It is a good training program for newer managers.  We’ll discuss it at some point in this blog.

The audience was managers from across the business – IT, Finance, HR, etc.  There were also some project managers who handle the big IT projects.  They asked a lot of questions about how to manage technical people (ie geeks) who were assigned to their projects, but were not formally direct reports.  They sometimes struggled to get the geeks to meet deadlines and do quality work, but they did not have direct authority over them.

One manager piped up and described the “cringe factor”.  The cringe factor is the unpleasant reaction that non-geeks can have when forced to talk with an uncooperative geek.  The non-geek knows he needs to go talk to the geek, but cringes at the thought.  He knows that the geek is a pain to work with and often hides behind technical jargon to make excuses.  The cringe factor often leads to excuses to avoid the problem and discussion until the problem escalates.

Does someone on your team cause the cringe factor in you or others?

If you are a manager, you need to address it.  Technical skills aren’t enough.  To be successful at work, your team also needs soft skills.  Part of avoiding the cringe factor is having good collaboration skills and being open to questions and concerns.

Keep an eye open for the cringe factor!

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Advice from the Top: Be the Rudder

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Uncategorized

Today’s Advice from the Top post comes from a senior leader in my current company. It relates to the Geek 5 risks of leadership skills and resistance to a broader role.

 The last Advice from the Top post was about treating your office like a prison and escaping it as often as you can.  That is a leadership technique for building relationships and connecting to your team.   

Be the Rudder is also a leadership technique.  It is based on an analogy to a boat.  Picture a large boat (like a Viking Boat) staffed with a dozen men with oars. 

Boat with rudder

Boat with rudder

Q:  How does the boat move? 

A: The men use the oars to row the boat.

Q:  How does the boat steer?

A: The boat is steered by the captain from the back of the boat using the rudder.

As the captain leader of your boat team are you steering from the rear as the rudder? 

As Geeks make the transition from an individual contributor role focused on their expertise to a broader leadership role, many struggle with this issue.  They try to move the boat by doing all of the rowing from the front of the boat and pulling the team along with them. 

Geek managers can often do the work faster and better than less experienced direct reports.  Plus the technical work is in their comfort zone.  So they try to do the work instead of guiding the team.

To be a rudder, the leader should:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Coach and mentor
  • Provide strategy and direction
  • Motivate the team
  • Allow others to carry their own load
  • Keep the team aligned and all rowing together

Are you the rudder for your team or are you hauling them along through the strength of your expertise?

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Rating the Slime Factor

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Part of leadership (Geek 5 risk) is developing talent in future leaders.  One key part of this process is succession planning.  I sat in a succession planning meeting the other day that introduced a whole new element of talent management – the slime factor. I’ve facilitated a lot of succession planning meetings. Generally we discuss the behaviors of the employee – with a focus on current performance and future potential. If performance is good and potential is strong, that employee is rated a being “high-potential”. That label can lead to special development opportunities and assignments and usually leads to a promotion.

Our conversation was moving along well. The group I was working with is composed of seasoned executives. We’ve been doing succession planning meetings for a few years and have got the rhythm down. Then we got stuck. We were discussing an employee who was a very strong performer – let’s call him Ted. Ted works out in the field – in an operational, metric-driven role. Operationally and metrically, he was strong. Even so, when his name was brought up, there was silence around the table.

Hmmmm…. As a facilitator, this is when the warning flag is raised. I asked the group to describe Ted’s working style. Was he using the right behaviors to get his strong results? It is a common scenario that some employees get strong results by destroying everyone and everything around them. In our company that behavior is not tolerated. We have a leadership competency model that requires employees to get results through collaboration and critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone in the room shook their heads – Ted wasn’t mean or difficult or cutting corners or sabotaging others. The group just couldn’t explain it.

Finally one of the few female leaders in the room blurted out – “He’s just slimy!” That broke the spell – everyone started talking and laughing – and agreeing. He is slimy. Slimy is hard to quantify, but there was strong agreement in the room about it.

Here is what slimy meant:

  • Ted made people feel uncomfortable – even if they could not explain why.
  • One leader described Ted as someone who would “check out all the women in the room”, but he never crossed the line into sexual harassment.
  • Ted always seemed close to crossing a line – in his jokes or attitude or touching.
  • In social situations he often seemed awkward and not part of the group.

Most of these descriptions are intangible.  I always try to push groups to focus on specific behaviors.  However, in this case, slimy seemed to fit. It was enough reason for the group to label him as “Correctly Placed” and plan to keep an eye on is behavior.

Slimy trumps strong performance.  Do you have Slimy Ted’s in your company?

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5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people, Uncategorized

In previous posts, we discussed some of the ins and outs of delivering effective performance reviews as a manager.  One of the Geek 5 risks is around managing people – and managers often fail at doing effective reviews.  Here are five tips that can help you be successful:

1.  Prepare – If done well, reviews can be very impactful.  They wrap up the previous year and set expectations for the future year.  To have an impact, you as the manager need to prepare – and that means doing more than filling out the forms.  You should: 

  • look back over the whole year for successes and opportunities
  • seek feedback from co-workers who interact with your direct report
  • consider “what” got done but also “how” the work got done
  • compare your direct report to expectations for his or her level and job description
  • think about the value or pain that the person brings to the team dynamics
  • come up with concrete examples of good and bad behavior
  • fill out the paperwork so it reflects the message you want to send

2.  Build off coaching in the moment – Remember, if you are coaching in the moment all year long, you should be continuing those conversations.  That means that there should not be any surprises in the final review.  If you haven’t been coaching all year, then this is the place to start.  Set firm expectations for the year and continue the conversation all year long.

3.  Have the difficult conversation – Remember, having the honesty to help someone improve areas of opportunity is kinder in the long-run than pretending everything is okay.  Have mercy by being tough but honest.  To prepare for a tough conversation: 

  • have concrete examples of behavior (instead of saying “you are not a team player” you can say “you were asked to assist Sally with a critical deadline last month, but you refused to help because it was not a normal part of your job”)
  • think about how you will phrase the feedback – having a script makes it easier if you are nervous
  • anticipate emotion – your direct report might get angry or cry – you should give them time to calm down and then continue
  • work with your HR Manager if you need some coaching on how to give tough feedback

4.  Remember the positive – These posts have focused a lot on having difficult conversations.  Many geek managers struggle with giving direct, negative feedback.  With that said, don’t forget the positive.  Reinforce the behaviors he or she does well.  Re-state your confidence that he/she will continue to improve and be a valuable member of the team.   Unless someone is in serious trouble, try to leave all reviews on a positive, future-focused note.

5. Follow-up – Remember to extend your conversations throughout the year.  This is especially important if someone is on an improvement plan.  One common mistake is that managers put a direct report on a plan and then never follow-up.  The performance does not improve or is not sustained, but the manager is not paying attention anymore.  Put a note on your calendar for check-in points.  If you don’t hold your direct reports accountable, you lose credibility as a leader.

Managing people is not always fun, but it can be rewarding as you help your direct reports develop and improve.  In any case, performance reviews and giving feedback are key parts of your role as a manager.  Do it well!

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