Browsing the archives for the geek tag.

Good Now Doesn’t Mean Great Later

Geek 5, Managing people, Talent Management

If you are a manager, or aspire to be a manager, you will probably be required at some point to evaluate the potential of your direct reports for a succession planning process.  It is part of the “Managing People” risk of the Geek 5.

One common point of confusion for managers is the difference between performance and potential.  Many managers assume that is an employee is a superstar at her job then she will be great for bigger roles and promotions.  Sometimes that is true, but just as often it is not true.

Performance and potential are not the same concept. 

Performance looks at the quality and quantity of what was done in the past.  It measures behaviors and actions and accomplishment of goals.  Performance is measured during performance reviews.

Potential looks at what an associate is capable of doing in the future.  Employees with high potential are also generally good performers.  They are good at their current job, but they also have the ability and drive and skills to take on bigger roles and to be successful at higher levels.

Some employees do outstanding work in their current jobs, but are best suited for staying in that role.  They are high performers in performance reviews but correctly placed for succession planning. 

Here are some possible scenarios with different performance and potential.

PAT:  Pat does well in the current job.  Pat’s does not exhibit any of the skills or competencies needed for future roles.  Pat is like a “Professional in Position”. Pat earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. In succession planning, Pat is rated as Correctly Placed.  He is best suited for his current role.

CHRIS:  Chris does well in the current job.  Chris also shows some of the skills and competencies needed to work at a higher level.  For example, Chris shows the ability to learn new information and is often seen as a “go-to” person.  Chris earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Chris shows long-term potential for promotion and is rated as Promotable in succession planning.  With development, Chris is expected to be ready in 1-3 years to move to a bigger role.

SAM: Sam was rated as Highly Promotable in previous succession planning.  Having strong potential and strong performance, Sam just got an exciting promotion into a challenging new role.  Sam earns a great performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Sam is learning the new position and working to adapt key skills to the new role.  Although all signs indicate success in the future, Sam is rated in the current succession planning as Correctly Placed.  In the new role, Sam has some growth and learning to do.

In all of these scenarios, the employees were strong performers and they were rewarded during performance reviews.  However, they were rated differently in succession planning.

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Changing the Game

Career Challenges, Org savvy

We’ve been talking about the dark side of the workplace. What happens when you make a performance mistake or ruin a key relationship?

Your reaction to a career set back can be summarized into three actions:

1. Change your situation – This is the direction of the previous advice about steps for active career bounce back and passive career bounce back. It is taking action to get back to solid footing in your existing job.

2. Change you – Another option is to change yourself. This could mean making a dramatic change to your work style. If you are perceived as being too aggressive, you work to become more collaborative. Or if you are disorganized, you set up a new organizational system.  It is always useful to continue your personal development and to learn to adapt to your situation. However, it is really tough to make dramatic changes and to sustain them.

Another way to change yourself is to change your expectations. Suffering a career set back can cause you to go from being a star to being average or from being average to being perceived as a problem. Can you live with that? Can you accept your new standing – at least until you have time to bounce back? For many formerly successful people, this would mean separating their sense of self from their jobs. Don’t let your job define who you are – you are also a parent, souse, sibling, child, volunteer, athlete, etc.

3. Change the game – The final solution is to change the game. By this I mean moving on. Leaving the job to pursue success somewhere else. Sometimes this is the best way to go. If you have determined that your career mistake is fatal, it is time to move on. Some situations are not worth the effort of fighting against the negative perception. If you stay in your current job, you face an uphill battle every day. If you move on, you can start fresh. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistakes in your new job!

Career set backs happen to everyone. How you deal with them is up to you.

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Calling all R&D geeks!

Broader role, Geek 5

Over at BNET Nancy Smith wrote an interesting article called R&D: Skilled, Well-educated Workers Wanted (and not just the science geeks)!   Research and development is one of the fields that will continue to grow over the next decade.   Companies need innovation in order to expand their revenue and to compete with up-and-coming businesses around the world.

The government is contributing to the increase in R&D as well.  The stimulus contributed $19B to R&D – and more is proposed for future budgets.

R&D applies to most technical areas – from engineering to medicine to technology to environmental sciences and more.  Making research happen requires a well-educated workforce with a focus on science, math and technology.

Check out the article.  It should make you feel confident that your geek skills will be even more strongly valued in the future.  Add some soft skills to the mix and overcome the Geek 5 risks (organizational savvy, leadership, management skills, business acumen and resistance to a broader role), and you’re on your way to having an unstoppable career.

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Geek Fun: No Whining with an iKid

Geek Fun

On the lighter side, consider a recent post from GeekDad about a new iPhone application.   You can create a kid and nurture him or her – and it is all virtual.  Just shut down the app when the whining  get out of control.  Just think – no work-life balance conflicts.  You can care for the kid when your Outlook schedule allows for it.  I’m not ready to trade in my 3-D kids yet, but you gotta admit, the iKid has its advantages.

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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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Advice from the Top: Escape your Office?

Advice from the Top, Leadership

You’ll start seeing a new topic here at Geeks Gone Pro called “Advice from the Top”.  This will be advice and thoughts from leaders who have already achieved success and moved to the top of their organizations.  Some of these leaders are ones I know personally, and others will be well-known business folks.  Their advice ties to the Geek 5 as related to leadership.

Today’s “Advice from the Top” comes from a senior leader at my current company.  He is a dynamic leader who tells stories to teach leadership.  Gracious with his time, he often speaks during our leadership training sessions. 

One phrase he uses is “Treat your office like a prison and escape it as often as you can!”

By this, he means that you cannot lead people from behind a desk.  You do tasks behind a desk, you practice leadership with other people.  The work you do in an office on a computer is not as important as the work you do when you are out interacting with direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, etc.  Here are some takeaways from this idea:

1.  Stay connected to your team – There used to be a popular management technique called “Management by Walking Around”.  This is the same concept.  Try to take a daily stroll around your workplace.  Check in with your direct reports.  It might be as simple as saying hello and briefly chatting – this builds ongoing rapport and trust.  Or you might ask about the status of projects or meetings.  If you are present and available, you’re more likely to hear of troubles before they escalate.  Be present as a leader. 

2.  Find out what is happening in the company – Visiting other groups and areas can keep you connected into the organization.  You will have casual opportunities to discuss the work you are doing, and you can hear what others are doing.  People love to talk about themselves.  If you drop in and ask a few questions, it is a great way to start a conversation.  A good listener is always appreciated – and you might pick up interesting infrormation.   If nothing else, you are building relationships and your network.

3.  Be visible – You are more likely to get noticed out of your office than sitting at your desk.  Visibility is critical to building your credibility and to make you seem like a broader leader.  You have to be visible to be considered for bigger opportunities.  Remember the posts about organizational savvy?

Getting out of your office can mean walking around to talk to folks, having lunch in the company cafeteria, seeking others out to congratulate them on successes, visiting branch offices or stores or other outlets, etc.  The point is that you learn more by getting out, asking questions and listening than you do by reading and writing reports. 

Remember, you always need to get your work done – and that usually involves sitting in your office.  If you don’t perform well, your leadership skills won’t matter.  Just make sure that you build in time to practice your leadership skills by getting out of your office when you can.  Good leaders lead in person, not through email.

How can you escape your office?

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As a manager, lack of coaching can take you down

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

In this last post, we covered how a lack of “coaching in the moment” can cause employees to be surprised by a bad performance review. One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. When you are in a leadership role, managing people is one of your most important and most visible responsibilities.

Another common problem I see with managers during performance reviews involves giving an employee a solid performance review score in order to avoid a difficult conversation. My company uses a 1-5 rating scale. You almost never see ones or fives, and most ratings cluster around 3.5. When we look at a distribution of the ratings, we see a big spike at 3.5 but we also see another spike at 3.0.

This second spike has a simple explanation. Any employee who gets an overall performance review score below 3.0 is not eligible for a bonus or merit increase. As a result, many managers with poor performers give the lowest possible score that they can give without having to have a “no bonus” conversation.

So, you might be thinking, what’s so wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that a needed conversation never happens. The employee gets the impression that everything is good or at least good enough. One of our senior leaders refers to a 3.0 as the coward’s review score. The manager is not acting as a manager and a leader. This avoids a short-term conversation, but usually leads to trouble down the road.

The employee keeps on doing what he or she has always done – after all, the review was okay. As poor performance continues (since it has never been addressed) the manager and company are usually growing more and more frustrated. At some point, an issue will tip the performance from poor to unacceptable.  The manager has had enough. He generally storms down to Human Resources saying that he wants to fire the poor performing employee right away.

As HR probes into the situation, it becomes obvious that there has never been a conversation about the problems and that there is no written documentation. In our company, that puts a hard stop to the conversation. Unless there is a serious policy violation, the manager is asked to go back, give feedback, do coaching in the moment and give the employee a chance to get back on track.

If the manager continues to avoid the conversation, the company starts seeing the manager as a performance problem. The manager’s boss starts giving feedback about poor management skills, and the manager is suddenly at risk. When you are a leader, you must act like a leader. Avoiding tough conversations shows a lack of leadership courage. Part of leadership and management is having tough conversations when you need to. Otherwise, it becomes your failure. And believe me, those failures get noticed. Next thing you know, you’ll get called in to your manager’s office to get some coaching about your poor performance as a leader.

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No Surprises in Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people

In my company, we are in the middle of performance review season. Part of my job is to run the process including developing procedures, creating forms, communicating steps and time lines and following up. Yes, I am THAT person from HR who keeps pestering you about your reviews. As such, I see reviews for people all over the company from senior leaders to hourly workers. I also hear a lot of feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

Folks in my company complain a lot about the process. We don’t have a system that runs the process, so everything is done manually. Our review forms are on Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Documents are shared via email and the final forms have to be printed out and signed and kept in central storage – otherwise we would not have a historical record. So obviously not a perfect process. We’re working on that and hope to have something better in the future. Believe me, the manual process is harder on my team than it is on other folks in the company.

With all of that said, the process should not matter. Performance reviews are not about the process, they should be about having the right conversations. Good processes and an automated system will not make up for weak conversations.

One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. Geeks often struggle with people management. An important skill to develop is having difficult conversations and giving appropriate feedback. One formal opportunity for giving feedback is the annual performance review. However, more often than not, performance reviews become a check the box activity and don’t provide real value.

I am a firm believer that there should never be any surprises in performance reviews. One responsibility of a manager should be to give regular, ongoing feedback. This is referred to as coaching in the moment and should happen virtually every day. Coaching in the moment means giving feedback and praise immediately after the behavior is done. If you witness a direct report doing something great, tell him or her. Be specific about the behavior you saw and explain why you appreciate it. Verbal praise and recognition go a long way to keeping your team engaged and productive. You are also reinforcing the behavior you value and want to see more of.

Coaching in the moment also means immediately giving corrective feedback when you see a behavior that is not appropriate. Don’t wait six months to tell someone that they were rude and abrupt in a meeting or that their presentation was poorly written. Do it immediately. Give them specific feedback about what was wrong – explain the behavior – and set expectations for the behavior you want to see. By giving immediate feedback, you help them correct the problem faster and they can easily remember what happened.

As a manager if you are coaching in the moment, there should be no surprises in the performance review. You have been giving feedback and guidance about good and poor behavior all year long. At the annual review, you can re-cap the year and discuss progress and additional needed progress.

If your direct report is surprised in an annual review, it is a reflection on your management style. Constant feedback means no surprises.

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Welcome!

Overview

Welcome to Geeks Gone Pro.  You’ve taken your first step to adding professional polish to your technical expertise.  I’m Geek Coach and I’ll be your guide on this journey.  This site came about as I recognized a need for professional development targeted at geeks.  I’m a business coach and I keep running in to a common theme.  I frequently work with very smart and talented technical folks who have hit a ceiling in their careers.  They want to advance but lack some of the professional savvy they need in order to move from a specialist role to a general management, executive or broader professional role. 

This site will help you figure out how to move to the next level in your career (or for some of you it will help smooth out issues in your current role).   I’m not going to help you with your technical development – you’ve aced that!  Instead, I’ll provide help and resources to make you a more effective professional who has both technical and soft skills.

This site is geared for:

  1. Smart, technical geeks
  2. Workers who have some experience but want to move to the next career level
  3. People with a learning orientation who are open to suggestions for improvement
  4. People who have “developmental opportunities” in terms of soft skills, leadership, political savvy and/ or professionalism.

 If some or all of these descriptions fit you, then you are in the right place.  You won’t find any overnight solutions or magic bullets here.  Professional development is a journey.  We’re getting ready to go, so buckle up and get ready for the ride.

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