Archive for the 'Management' Category

Employee reviews

With the quarterly reviews at Terem coming up again I decided to take a moment to consider the way I do reviews when there are no serious issues with an employee (serious issues need a different tack).

To me the purpose of a review is to two-fold (1) for you to understand how someone feels they are going and what they want to achieve and  (2) for you to gain feedback in how you and the business can improve.  Goal and performance tracking

My experience at my first real job when it came to performance reviews taught me that a yearly review just isn’t often enough. It isn’t enough for one overwhelming reason: people are the most important ingredients in a business so you need to be as close to them as possible, provide as much assistance as you can and help them develop.

Another important consideration is that people are now more mobile than ever when it comes to jobs. So it is vitally important to ensure continued goal alignment and regular reviews are a great way to ensure this happens.

I understand why Jeff Bezo’s asks people to send him a memo

“Full sentences are harder to write,” Bezos says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.” (from CNN Money)

We have been debating taking two different approaches for implementing something with one of our clients. At the outset we were all favouring Option #2 but our client expressed a few concerns with it. Lucky they did.

I went to write them an email that was to describe the two options, weigh up the pros and cons and ultimately provide a recommendation. Secretly I wanted to convince them that the internally favoured Option #2 was the way to go.

Half way through the email I realised there was no point doing Option #2 at this stage and that in fact there weren’t two options, just a simple version and then an extended version of the same thing. Option #2 needed Option #1 to exist before it could be implemented.

As you can see my point of view completely changed, all because I took the time to write an email. It was all because I had to clearly articulate myself with the written word, full sentences, essay style.

This is the way to go.

As an aside, Option #2 was one of those slightly over complicated but very powerful but probably over engineered ideas common to software engineers.

Self evaluation using the Characteristics of Admired Leaders

Knowing that I’m always keen to devour anything related to personal development or business my wonderful wife Susie bought me “The Leadership Challenge” for Christmas.

Early on in the book Kouzes and Posner put forward the characteristics of admired leaders based on studies they’ve conducted asking leaders’ constituents to describe what they look for in a leader they would be most willing to follow. Over numerous studies four characteristics continue to stand out:

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-thinking
  3. Competent
  4. Inspiring

I think that this list is a great tool for self evaluation purposes. If you are reflecting on something that occurred and wondering whether you lead the situation well then you can quickly evaluate yourself against these four characteristics.

I caution against using it  as a list of “things that I must do to be a good leader” because it lists the symptoms or effects of  the character, passion, commitment, beliefs and understanding operating on a deeper level. For example, a reader could take this as “well if I just act forward-thinking then I can lead people.” I personally believe that you must be forward thinking and being forward thinking comes from a deep interest in and understanding of the area you are leading people through. Similarly, a reader of the book might be tempted to think “well if I just act inspiringly then people will follow me.” But you can’t inspire others if you aren’t inspired yourself; when you are inspired yourself, that will just rub off on others. If you are looking to exhibit the characteristics that people look for in a leader then you need to look under the covers.

John Cleese on How to be Creative

I haven’t posted in a while (read: looooooong while) so I should be spanked. Anyway, this will get the ball rolling again.

I watched John Cleese talk about how to be creative on Sunday and it was quite insightful. Encouraging creativity in myself, those that work with me and those that work for me is something I’ve always been very interested in. Cleese does a great job and, if I remember back to Uni correctly, the points he makes are very much in-line with current academic thinking.

You can watch the video here:

The 4 key take aways for me were:

  • You can’t be taught to be as creative as Mozart or Rembrandt but you can foster situations in which you are at your most creative.
  • People can operate in two modes: open and closed. In the open mode people are child-like and playful, this is when they are at their most creative. In a closed mode, people are focused on a task and getting things done. This usually comes with a slight anxiousness.
  • The 5 major things that lead to creativity (or getting you into that open mode) are:
    • Space – Create a space for yourself that is disconnected and a bit different.
    • Time – Set aside a block of time to ponder a problem and guard this with your life. Cleese says set aside no more than 1 hour 30 minutes. I’ve read elsewhere that this is the ideal amount of time to spend on anything and then you need a short break otherwise you won’t be working at an optimal level. Thinking back to a client meeting today, I spent 1 hour 45 minutes with a client today I could feel my brain wavering around the 1h 20m/1h 30m mark. (Theory in practice, amazing!)
    • Time – A bit of a laugh having a second time, but this second time is about time for your subconcious to mull something over. After g
    • Confidence – People need the confidence to believe that what ever they think up is possible. You can foster this by never saying “no” or “wrong” and instead building on what was said.
    • Humour – This is an essential element of that open, playful mode people need to be in.
  • Intermediate impossibles are important: if you can’t come up with something start with completely crazy ideas. For example, I was wondering how I might sell a new product Terem is considering, my mind was blank. So I wrote “donkeys use nachos to promote this service”. Sounds silly but it was amazing how quickly I crossed this out and wrote a creative answer. Edward de Bono calls these crazy ideas “intermediate impossibles.”

I also found his “Serious v Solemn” discussion intriguing, but that is a whole other post on its own.


Scott Middleton
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