Browsing the archives for the geeks tag.

Career Bounce Back

Career Challenges, Geek 5, Org savvy

Sometimes work just sucks! Pardon my language, but you know it’s true. You try to do all of the right things, but a situation still gets out of control. Or you make an error and suffer the consequences. Or the political winds shift and you end up on the losing team. Or the company hit’s a rough spot and everyone feels it. You get the idea – sometimes work just sucks.

So what do you do when you hit a career setback?

We all hit career setbacks. The difference between success and failure after the setback is how you deal with it. To survive and thrive, you must be resilient. You need Career Bounce Back.  Career Bounce Back is related to the Geek 5 risk of Organizational Savvy.

Career Bounce Back involves finding and executing a strategy to fix a career setback. To develop a Career Bounce Back strategy, consider whether you a dealing with a passive issue or an active issue.

An active career issue is one that is caused by a specific, negative incident. Maybe you made a serious performance mistake or you made an influence or relationship mistake. In any case, you are dealing with a hot issue and need to do damage control.

A passive career issue is not necessarily related to a specific trigger event. Passive issues are likely to be related to under-political organizational savvy behavior. Being under political often leads to being underestimated, losing credit for work and having limited visibility. A passive career issue might develop over time, but eventually gets recognized as a career setback.

In the next few posts, we’ll cover how to orchestrate a Career Bounce Back from active and passive career issues.

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Geek Fun: Superheros & Statistics

Geek Fun, Uncategorized

Wired Magazine has an amusing article about Geek superheros.  For a laugh, check it out.

The same issue of the magazine has an insightful article about statistics.  The article is called, Clive Thompson on Why We Should Learn the Language of Data.  It does a nice job of explaining how people need to understand data and statistics in order to understand claims about topics like global warming and the economic recovery.

The article reinforces a truth I learned in graduate school – statistics and data can be manipulated to prove almost any point desired.  To have truth in data and science, it is important to choose valid and reliable measures, justify the ones being used and  interpret them objectively.  If a statistical study does not explain the source of the data and any assumptions made about the data, you should interpret the results with suspicion.  Manipulated data should not outweigh other evidence and common sense.

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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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Advice from the Top: 3 easy steps for building relationships

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Managing people

I attended a meeting of my company’s PhD club the other day. That is not nearly as pretentious or high-brow as it sounds. Actually it is not even a club – after all, there are only two of us in the whole company. My fellow PhD, I’ll call him Sam, and I are friends and just go out to lunch every few months. We share the common bond of being PhDs in a business that does not really value PhDs or scientific thinking.

Sam and I don’t work directly together. I’m a psychologist in HR, and Sam is a technical expert who works in another area of the business. Sam is very specialized. His PhD is highly unique – only a handful of people in the country do what he does.

Sam and I both manage groups of people in addition to our technical, geek work. Like many geeks, Sam is naturally introverted and had to learn new skills to manage people. The Geek 5 risks include resistance to a broader role (often due to discomfort of being a leader) and also trouble managing people.

I asked Sam how he managed to be successful at being both a geek and a leader. He talked about how critical it is to overcome introverted tendencies and focus on building relationships in order to be perceived as a leader. He simplified that even further into three steps he does every day to build relationships:

1. Be intentional about your presence at work

2. Smile

3. Say hello to everyone

First, he clicks into an intentional, extrovert mindset every morning as he walks into the building. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to be “on” when he is at work and that everything he does is being watched. He’s careful about how he looks, what he does and general demeanor.

Second and third, he makes a point to smile and acknowledge everyone he meets in the building. He uses every opportunity outside his office to build relationships. People love being acknowledged and being greeted by the sweet sound of their own name. He even makes a point to greet people he does not know.

This seems like good advice and some actions that I need to start practicing. I’m a strong introvert. When I walk down the hall, I am often caught up in my own thoughts – making plans and solving problems. As a result, I’m more likely to be looking at the floor than the people.

Sam acknowledges that this is not easy to do. He psyches himself up for it every morning and it often has him exhausted by evening. But it is an effective way to build relationships and increase his visibility and credibility as a leader.

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Geek Power!

Org savvy

Last fall when I started this blog, there was a lot of press about the rise of geeks.  I linked to stories about geeks on TV and science geeks and more.  Since then, I have not seen as much until I came across a great article by Steve Tobak from the Corner Office at BNET.

It’s called Want to Get Ahead? Better Get your Geek On!  This article does a nice job of spelling out specific advantages to being a geek.  It covers 10 things you should know about geeks in the workplace – a perfect connection for this blog!

Like my definition of geek, he also says that not all geeks are techies.  He also discusses the ability of geeks to be very focused and opinionated.  That all ties into our discussions of organizational savvy.  Check out the Lego organizational savvy story – as Savvy Geek battles evil, sabotaging co-worker!

Tobak also says geeks are prone to believing conspiracy theories.  On that topic, I have no data or opinion.   No opinion at all…in case they are watching and listening, remember, I have no opinion at all…

Check out the article for a positive boost for the geek image!

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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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Friday Fun: Muppet Madness Tournament

Geek Fun

Calling all geeks!  For those not interested in March Madness basketball there is a site offering Muppet Madness

It is a knock down, drag out fight between the Muppet Show characters and Sesame Street muppets.  The second bracket is between The Rock and other muppets. 

I don’t know much about the Fraggle Rock team or the “others”.  But the Muppet Show versus Sesame Street showdown is intense.  Cast your vote to see if the Grouch beats Big Bird or if Ernie and Bert can take down The Count.  We’ll report back with the Final Four.

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Should geeks turn down promotions?

Broader role, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about resistance to taking on a role beyond a geek’s technical specialty.  It often moves a geek out of the comfort zone and demands new skills such as those around managing people.

Over at Businessweek.com, John Baldoni wrote an article called “Sure you want to move up the ladder?”  He covers the same topic and poses some interesting questions that you should ask yourself.

He encourages you to think about what type of leader you would be and what new skills you might need to be successful.  He also mentions the sacrifices that often come along with the perks of a promotion.

Check out his article for more details.

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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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