Management How to Lose Your Job, Pt. 2

Avoiding the Fez

Ed: This article assumes you’ve read Part #1.

The first article finished with the big Rands revelation that it’s the manager’s job to figure out how to give Fez a swift kick in the butt. Yes, Fez needs to have the brains to listen and react to constructive advice, but that’s his deal. If I’ve done everything I possibly can to illuminate a path of growth to an employee and they’ve chosen to hang out in the dark, well, ciao Fez… unemployment is a terrific motivator.

Let’s start with the bad news. There’s no silver bullet to solve the Fez issue. Solving Fez is going to involve strategy, effort, inspiration, luck, and, lastly, a bit of time. You won’t solve it in a moment and you won’t solve it in a meeting.

There is a convenient yearly inflection point where everyone panics about their careers. Annual reviews. I’m going to construct this article around annual reviews, but I don’t want you to think that performing an annual review will solve the Fez. If you worry about career development once a year, you’re screwed. As you’ll see below, avoiding the Fez is a full time job, but since you get actual allocated time to stress about employee development why not stress in a constructive manner?

A BRIEF SIDEBAR ABOUT ANNUAL REVIEWS

People do care about cash. When that annual review begins, your employee is hanging on every word… carefully listening to your tone wondering, good review or bad review? If it’s sounding good.. that must mean cash; and cash rocks. If it’s sounding bad, they stop listening and start pre-bittering themselves for hating you for the next month since you clearly have NO IDEA where they ADDED THEIR VALUE this year.

Compensation adjustments are the result everyone cares about, but does anyone actually know how they’re calculated? What happened over the previous 365 days to result in a BIG CASH WINDFALL or an INSIGNIFICANT PITTANCE?

If you don’t draw a concrete line between a coherent understanding of an employee’s performance and their reward/punishment, you are only adding more fuel to the argument that “Managers sit around doing nothing all day”.

Let’s begin…

FIRST, GATHER YOUR THOUGHTS, BUT DON’T THINK (YET)

Here’s the deal. If I asked you right this second to tell me about your particular local Fez, you’ve already got a strong opinion, but it’s an opinion of the moment. It’s the latest three interactions you’ve had with your Fez and while those are relevant, they hardly represent a complete picture of the past year.

When you’re assessing an employee, you need to assess against their job, not the work they’ve done over the past two months. This is hard because this is the Silicon Valley and no one knows what happened two months ago… GOOGLE IPO THEN IPOD PHOTO THEN CHRISTMAS, RIGHT? DID I MISS ANYTHING IMPORTANT? IS TIGER OUT YET?

You did. Every month, your team produced something and it’s your job to document that production. I do this by spending an hour a month jotting down reflections of the team for the past 30 days. What stands out in my mind… What’d we do? Who rocked? Don’t get hung up on documenting every single event or talking about every single person… just type. Even if you miss massive contributions by a team member, the act of capturing your thoughts at the time they were happening creates a handy mental bookmark. This bookmark captures not only what you wrote, but everything else hiding around it so that when you go back and read the last summer’s terribly small entry:

“This month blew. No time to write.”

You’ll not only remember that y’all were on a death march, but you’ll also remember that Eddie the QA guy was there with you that weekend and, oh hey, he’s been here every single weekend and, wow, why aren’t we promoting him?

Regular snapshots of your team’s work will construct an impression of your team that you are incapable of constructing in the moment because, in the moment, you’re cranky about not getting coffee this morning, stressed about your product review next week, and DON’T GET ME STARTED ABOUT THE 300 MAILS I HAVE YET TO READ. How can you create an objective opinion of someone’s performance with all this crap in your head? You gotta step back, take a deep breath, and reflect.

As you sit there staring at the ceiling chewing on a year of thoughts, an overall impression is going to form… you can’t avoid it, but I’m asking you to ignore it for now. I’m going to distract you by proposing a model that you could use to look at your employees and begin to understand what exactly are their career needs. The model is Skill versus Will.

SKILL VERSUS WILL PLUS EPIPHANIES

It’s a simple graph. One axis is skill — how much skill does the employee have to do their job? Are the qualified? Over qualified? How long have their been doing it? When is the last time you know they learned something new? How quickly do they handle tasks compared to their peers?

The other axis is will — this is where we measure the employee’s desire. Do they like their job? Really? Have they told you that? Are they viewed as energetic by their team? When is the last time they generated a great idea that blew your mind? Are they talking in meetings or listening? Are they EVER talking? Are they ALWAYS talking?

This graph is not a precision instrument. It’s a tool to better define the impression you’re constructing of your employee. Once you’ve placed someone on the Skill/Will graph, you can begin to consider what your full time job is… constantly and consistently pushing your employees to the upper right quadrant… high skill (I’M GOOD AT WHAT I DO) and high will (I LIKE WHAT I DO). This mental map is your first step in constructing a Fez avoidance insurance policy.

“Rands, um, what exactly am I pushing constantly and consistently?”

Great question.

Worst case scenario. You’ve ignored everything I’ve said so far. You’re spending fifteen rereading your Fez’s review from last year… spending another fifteen throwing together this year’s review by cutting and pasting the one and only review you wrote for all your employees… making it unique by inserting their full name and project name. Dear Lord. You’ve really blown it.

Yet, you haven’t fully blown it. A complete fuck up is when you take this pathetic excuse for a review and present it. You say, “Employee 629, here is your review. You did this well, you did this poorly. Here’s your 4% increase and here’s your indecipherable objectives for next year. BACK TO WORK.”

You deserve every single Fez that you get. Please stop reading and move to a Red State. Thank you very much.

If you’ve taken some time to reflect on the full year… if you’ve mapped your employee against Skill and Will, you’ve probably had some epiphany regarding the Fez. You’ve realized, “Wow, they’re bored” or “She really has no clue how to architect software”. Great, an epiphany… it’s a start, but it’s not a finish. You are not the one who needs to have the epiphany — it’s your employee who needs it.

I’ll explain via the real fictional Fez. Go back and think about where you’d put him on the Skill/Will graph.. Your gut might say, well, he’s worked a lot of years, so he’s high skill and he’s just bored, so he’s low will

Nice try, but you don’t have the 12 months of fictional notes that I have. See, Fez’s skill used to be high, but it’s fading… it’s middle of the road skill now and the slow reduction is also affecting his confidence… his will. His diminishing skill is diminishing his will which, in turn, further diminishes his skill because he has zero confidence to go gather new skills. Yikes. A Skill/Will negative feedback loop. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Here’s the upside. Just as Skill/Will fade together, they also rise together. If you focus on one, you often fix the other. It’s a brilliant management two-for-one.

Back to Fez. Let’s say your epiphany is to get Fez some technical training… send him to a C++ class and WHAM he’s going to be happy. HURRY, write that down as an objective because WOW you’ve really nailed that Fez problem.

Easy Eager Manager. Slow down.

ANOTHER BRIEF SIDEBAR — ASSERTIVENESS

I’ve got a a task for you and I’m going to ask you in two different ways. You tell me which request you’re going to actually do:

Request #1: You — go fix that bug.

Request #2: Hey, can you look into bug #1837?

The difference between these two requests is a management style which shows up in every personality test. You, Mr. Manager, are either ASK assertive meaning that you ASK in order to get stuff done or TELL assertive which means you TELL to make progress.

There are a great many charismatic leaders who’ve made billions by only telling folks what to do… I am not one of them. It’s not that I’m conflict adverse or that there are not times that I’m an incessant dictator, it’s merely I hate being told what to do, so I treat others like I’d prefer to be treated.

Telling your Fez what the problem is without belief on their part that a problem exists is tantamount to a personal attack. “You, Fez, are doing a poor job and I’ve decided that objectives x, y, and z are the only way that we’re going to save your job.”

I exaggerate for example, but I’ve had ten plus years of reviews and I’ve had some phenomenal managers turn a review into a speech about me… without involving me… and, well, I happen to be expert about me, so can I please be involved in the discussion?

An annual review is a discussion, not a speech. The goal of the discussion is to, first, agree that the review is in the ballpark. Remember, you’ve been thinking about the review for weeks because you’ve got a deadline… Fez is seeing it for the first time and he needs time to mentally digest. It’s very hard to be mentally nimble when you’re manager is staring you down asking, “Any questions?” It’s doubly hard when they’ve just told you you screwed up for the past year.

Rule of thumb. If you’re delivering big bad news, schedule TWO meetings. At the first meeting, you’re presenting the review… not the objectives. They’re going to want to know about compensation and you’re going to want to say it, but don’t. The moment you say “No increase”, the review is over, the employee is pissed and you’re going to be on the defensive. The meeting has become a mental fight and fights only prove who can punch harder.

It’s the second meeting where everyone involved has had time to digest the review. You can have a discussion about objectives because Fez drove home the prior night wondering, “My manager is telling me that I’m getting stale and I vehemently disagree with that… buuuuuuuut maybe there’s some truth in what he’s saying… Hmmmmmmm.”

With just a smidgen of agreement that the review is fair combined with you and your Fez agreeing about his place on Skill/Will, you can start talking objectives. What can do we to increase skill or will? New job? New tasks? Training? Maybe move him off that team of pessimists so they can spread their wings with some optimists?

Maybe get them out that the job of nay sayers so they can spread their wings with some optimists?

I don’t know what is up with your particular Fez, so I can’t advise specific objectives, but here are some high level thoughts about the extremes on the Skill/Will graph:

  • High skill, low will. Boredom is imminent — needs a change of scenery/responsibility. Stat.
  • High will, low skill. Needs training, needs mentorship. Needs management. The good news is they really really want it. Savor this because as soon as the skill kicks in, they’re going to start wanting your job.
  • Low will, low skill. Boy, did you screw up. It takes a fairly concerted effort to ignore the needs of your employee so long that a) they no longer have the skills necessary to do their job and b) they don’t want to do it. Roll those sleeves up, pal. You’ve got work to do.
  • High skill, high will. Great job, ummmmmm, guess what? No one stays here long.

BIG FINISH

Fez is career drift.

You’ve got some Fez in you right now. You may be the rockstar of your company right now, but you have no clue that three guys in a garage in San Jose are spending every waking hour working to make you irrelevant… they call it the New Whizbang and you’re going to hate the New Whizbang when it shows up because you know it replaces your corporate relevancy.

Your manager is not going to hate the New Whizbang because she doesn’t feel personally threatened by it. She is going to see you Fezzing out about it and, hopefully, she can figure out to trickle objectivity into your indignation.

I have a simple way of managing against Fez. I tell everyone I hire the same thing, “I hired you because you’ve got enough skill and enough will to have my job one day… whether you want it or not.” This statement tells those I work with that I expect them to succeed and reminds me to keep moving because there is nothing like having bright people nipping at your heels to keep you running.

7 Responses

  1. Mikey-San 12 years ago

    I was high skill/low will up until the beginning of this year. Overqualified for my job and bored as hell. Attempts to move me to another project which was more challenging, but not out of my grasp, were made. They failed. I got fed up quickly.

    “WHAT the FUCK? HOW can they not see I RULE?! Blahblahblah wasted talent lalala stupid management OMGWTF.”

    As it turns out, it was simply that the Man in Charge didn’t /know/ I had a second skillset; a simple lack of anyone knowing was what was preventing my migration to Hot Shot Nerd.

    The biggest thing (for my case) in avoiding Fezitude is a proper assessment of your team’s skillsets. It was clear that I was bored–my complaints to co-workers were perhaps too vocal at times, and that was my fault entirely–but no matter how to try to demonstrate your Extra Value, you have to make sure it’s /seen/ and not simply an aside in a conversation about how you tried to leave your job one day and was talked out of it by co-workers.

    In other words, if you /want/ to be more, outside of corporate sabotage (ROFLTINFOILHAT), you have to get off of your lazy ass and /make/ the change happen; no one’s going to promote someone who doesn’t clearly want to be promoted. Kicking ass and taking names says, “You’re missing out by not challenging me, Mr Boss Man.”

    Fez is dangerous, and I was lucky enough to see it before it my actions and abilities had no relevance anymore.

    And now, I’m off to be Hot Shot Nerd for the day.

  2. Very on target, except for the last bit – I don’t *want* your job, I *had* your job, and I’m very happy being back in the “Technical Hotshot” slot and not having to deal with People Problems…

  3. Antony Hill 12 years ago

    I definitely recognise the signs and portents mentioned. I guess I’m a Fez, high skill (but dwindling due to lack of training), low will, my last employee/boss one-to-one was over twelve months ago, and my yearly wage hike has been a steady 2% for the last two years, thank-you-for-your-efforts-to-the-business-have-a-nice-year. My plan was to give it till I am thirty (two more years exactly) to progress in the company, but I think I’ve left it too late to become a different person ‘here’. I still have respect for the company, and wish it well, but I don’t have much respect left for the people in the immediate management chain due to poorly handled lay-offs at the start of last year which left me providing 24/7 on-call 365 days a year. I have already had one negative reference from my manager when applying for higher positions in the company and am slowly being left out of new projects. I recognise that I have poor communications skills when it comes to fighting for what I want, and have a tendancy to just agree with situations I don’t think are correct just to get out of arguements. How do I leave the company in the best possible way that generates me a good reference but doesn’t leave me with a bitter taste in my attitude for a future job?

  4. Do you prefer our resumes in word, pdf or plain text?

  5. I have a hard time classifying myself. I would say I’m a medium skill w/ potential and varying will. Basically I WANT to be really good, I WANT to learn the newest stuff… I’m always reading about the next thing in my particular area of the industry (Java development, specifically). But my employer current provides exactly zero resources for training or instruction. No money for conferences/training courses (which are expensive out-of-pocket), and any time taken to attend on my own dime is unpaid. Coupled with the fact that I’ve been working on the exact same thing for THREE YEARS. An ERP system with a Swing client, WebLogic app server, and an old, slow implementation of web services.

    I desperately WANT to spread my wings, so to speak… to learn and utilize the newest stuff. But as mentioned there’s no encouragement or help for knowledge advancement, and they have no desire to integrate the new technologies into our project. And suggestion to that end is met with, paraphrasing: “Nope. Get back to building that screen.”

    On the rare, rare occasions I get to jump into something where my knowledge is being stretched, my will is VERY high… 16-hours-a-day-7-days-a-week high. But the vast majority of the time, it’s painful even getting in my 40 hours a week building yet ONE MORE screen with a table and a save button.

    Am I being too picky? I guess a job is a job…

  6. Peter da Silva 11 years ago

    As soon as I got to the end of this part I hit the comments link because I wanted to say exactly what Mark Eichin just said.

    What is it about some people who think *their* job is the only direction their subordinates should be driving for. Do you REALLY think that having 20 people working under you who really want to have your job instead of what they’re actually doing is a good thing? Not everyone is management material, and if Fez thinks you’re going to take him from a job where he’s bored but competant and put him into a slot where he’s pretty damn sure he can’t cope, do you think that’s going to motivate him? Hell no, he’s going to Fez out all the more because it’s the only thing he can think of to keep from getting promoted beyond his level of competance.

  7. Several years ago (at a now dead company) I was promoted from “hotshot product developer” position to the development team lead. I still got to write code, fix bugs, etc; but I was also in charge of the development team. Production & morale went through the roof. I loved what I was doing; and so did my team. The problem was, we (and therefore I) were so successful that upper management decided to promote me again, this time to the auspicous title of “Product Development Manager”. The promotion came with a really fat (40%) raise. The money was nice, but I was miserable. I was effective as a Manager, and my team seemed to enjoy working for me. However, my skills are not those of a manager, they are those of a (hotshot) developer. My new responsibilities precluded “touching the code”, that was for the developers to do. It sucked, a lot. Upper management (Directors and “C” level guys) didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the morale or conditions of the development team (March of Death Syndrome), and the development team was rapidly burning out. Eventually there came a time when a Director sent one of my junior employees to another (out of state) office that was suffering from even worse burnout / morale problems to “help out” -and I called him on it (privately of course). I was let go the next day. I have never been so relieved as I was on the drive home.