Tag Archives: Leadership

How to reward your engineers

As a product manager, I take great pride in my work and getting the job done.  But let me be honest; I do not write the software products I manage.  My engineers do, and they do an awesome job of it.

These engineers do not directly report to me but I am one of their leaders.  I craft the stories they work on to deliver features to market that our customers love and pay us lots of money for.  Without them, I would not have a product to sell nor, a job to pay my bills.  So how do I show my appreciation?

Well, it starts with two very simple words.

Thank you.  

Pretty simple, I know, but it is powerful. James Kouzes‘ book The Leadership Challenge explains in detail how powerful these words can be, as I have stated before.

Often times, verbal appreciation is not enough.  I find I need to do more, simply because I cannot express how thankful I and the company are for the teams’ contribution.  My teams work hard for me and for our customers.  They pull all-nighters fixing important issues that jeopardize customers’ environments.  They sustain long days and nights, including weekends, to get a major feature or new product out.  Throughout it all, they put up with my incessant questions, minor changes in scope and constant feedback, validation and product acceptance processes.  They do, in fact, deserve more.

Pretty regularly, I take small groups of my teams out for lunch, coffee or dinner.  Sometimes we celebrate a particular milestone or accomplishment.  But often times, I am just spending time with the guys, getting to know them and to break some bread together.  I try to pick up the check more often than not, irrespective of whether the company will reimburse me for the team outing.  Part of the successful working relationship I have with my team, and the reason they are willing to work as hard as they do, is because we have a personal relationship founded in more than just “my function requires me to work with you Mr. Product Manager”.  We trust one another, and believe that we have each other’s back.

Some milestones warrant more than a meal.  For those really big feats that move the needle for the company, the words “go big” come to mind.  In the past, I have thrown a party in one instance, and taken the team go-carting in another.  The important part of these activities was to focus on having fun.  We laugh about the insanity of the last few weeks and months in getting our release out the door over food and drink.  At the race track, we had a great time competing with one another for bragging rights on who had the fastest course time.

Maybe it is obvious, but why should I bother rewarding my engineers?  For one, good behavior and actions deserve good things.  From a business perspective, there are compelling reasons to recognize and reward a job well done.  Spending company time and money on employee appreciation nets so many things.  It fosters healthier team dynamics, creating trust and respect.  It energizes employees to work harder knowing that their work means something to someone that they know and can talk to.  Finally, it has other soft benefits including promoting company loyalty and greater overall employee satisfaction.  I strongly recommend all product managers take the time to appreciate their teams’ efforts in building the product they manage.

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Leaders versus Managers

I recently read What is Authentic Leadership? and started thinking about the difference between a Leader and a Manager.  The article seems to assume that a Leader = Manager and uses a Leader’s followers interchangeably with employees.

In my view, they do not always mean the same things.  A good Leader is not always a manager but a good Manager is almost always a good Leader.  The same qualities that the article talks about – being genuine, self aware, and results-oriented while thinking long-term – are the same qualities I have found in my favorite managers and mentors.  What I thought the article missed though was a Leader must *care* about his employees to be an effective Manager.

If my Manager does not care about my well being, my professional development and my career advancement, what chance do I as an employee have of achieving my goals?  If my Manager won’t help me progress, who else at the company will?  Who becomes my champion for success?  I think good Managers is something a lot of companies, particularly young companies, lack.  I’ve been fortunate these last few companies or so in that my managers have connected with me and understood what makes me tick.  And they’ve fostered that while helping me get to where I want to be.  All the while, they continued to lead by example and show me, and the company, what needs to get done to get the company to where it needs to be.

Student Always

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A colleague recently pointed me to Sabrina Simmons‘ 2010 commencement address at Berkeley.  What she said about a principle called ‘Student Always’ really resonates with me, mostly because it’s advice I can’t help but ALWAYS give out myself! 🙂

If you love your job I truly believe it’s hard not to be successful. The hours will surely be long, but they’ll go by fast and they’ll be rewarding. It’s rewarding because you keep learning and growing both professionally and personally. And here’s another thing about doing what you love: your passion can’t help but come through. And the thing about passion is it’s contagious. Others will want to join and support you in the drive for results creating a virtuous cycle.

Check out the full transcript here, it’s a really good read.

So much work, so little time

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The last few weeks have flown by, literally.  I’ve spent time in 5 different cities while trying to balance time across my projects, both old and new, as well as collaborations on colleagues’ projects.  That may not sound like a lot in the abstract, but let’s just assume for a second that it’s an unbearable workload. 🙂

How do you avoid completely dropping the ball and not delivering on your work?  Here are some of the things I’m currently doing.

I. Work Harder

This is the easiest thing to do in the face of a mountain of work.  But it’s the hardest to sustain.  After a while, quality of life deteriorates and ultimately, so does your happiness.

However, working harder and longer does help alleviate the initial pain and unhappiness of not delivering all your work.  There’s something emotional about it.  Working 12-16 hour days and not finishing everything at least paints a picture of intent – “I want to do it, but there simply isn’t enough time in the day.”

Consider the impact that has on your superiors/colleagues/etc…positive.  “Hey, this guy is working hard and still producing a crap ton of stuff”.  Consider the impact on you…negative.  “Damn, still not finished and it’s 10pm.  Maybe I should get my 10th cup of coffee and plug away at this…oh crap, I forgot to eat dinner ’cause I got so caught up in this stuf”.  Let’s see what else we can do to make this more manageable.

II. Make lists of all the work I have to do and slowly chip away

Here, I’ve got multiple spreadsheets with tasks and projects that are ongoing.  I break them down by order of priority and make sure that week in and week out, I’m making progress or even completing the important stuff for the given week.

Marrying I. with this one helps achieve my objectives of delivering, but it certainly helps to make sure that what I’m working on is the right thing to be working on in a given instant.

Still, I’m not finishing everything and I can’t get rid of that.  Someone somewhere is saying “wow, that Shivan guy must be a slacker ’cause I’ve still waiting to hear back from him.”

III. Set expectations on what will not happen

Well the only thing left is to be upfront and honest about what it is you are not going to deliver in any reasonable amount of time.  Talk to your stakeholder or whomever you are supposed to deliver some work to and make it clear that it simply won’t happen anytime soon.  If there’s a reasonable objection, there’s probably a basis to move it up in priority to make sure it gets done.  You should then reset expectations around the stuff that got pushed down as a result.

I can’t say I’ve always been able to make this work all the time, but the combination of a little more work time, coupled with prioritization and expectation management has led me to a more focused work life and a better chance for success professionally.  It also helps me balance my work life with my personal life, which can always use more time.  🙂

So, how do you deal with vasts amount of work?

Get out of Dodge

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Get out of the office and smell the fresh air.

Go talk to people, inside and outside of your company.  Talk to your market.  Talk to the partners and ecosystem your company lives in.

It will remind you of the awesome things that your company does and is known for outside of office walls.  You’re too close to the details and can’t see the forest from the trees while inside your office.  Leave and let go.  See the big picture.  Get some perspective.

As a product manager especially, but really any professional, it is important to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.  To help, spend time understanding what the overall market says about what you do instead of focusing on the hard days at work grueling towards getting the job done.

Journey to your Future

Where are you headed?  Where are you today and where do you want to be in 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 years?  Are you on a path towards getting there?  How do you evaluate if you’re headed in the right direction?

Pretty often (I’d say once every year or so), I get jittery.  I wonder if I’m in the right place doing the right things to get where I ought to be.  Well, where I want to be based on my goals and professional achievements-to-be.

The conservative in me always says “Don’t stress…ride the current wave, you’re doing fine.  Keep working hard.”

Then I get passed up for promotion, don’t get the raise, get screwed in a company exit, or something else that makes me re-evaluate.

So what does one do?  In the past, I’ve jumped to a new company when things got too bad on an emotional level.  And I’ve had some success in moving the needle by making some lateral and vertical jumps.

What I’m realizing now is that the actual experience of getting to the future is more important than getting to the future.  When I ask myself “am I getting where I want to be in 3, 5, + years?”, I really should be considering “what am I doing now, is it helping towards my goals?”

In truth, I won’t be able to answer the question accurately, because I don’t know what it will take to get to my goals.  See the picture above which I think speaks volumes.  It comes from here, as does the following quote:

“So all I can say is that even when it seems like your life isn’t going according to plan, maybe it’s just nature taking its course and you just have to keep that in perspective.”

I think what I’m saying, and what I need to do more of myself is, trust the path you’re on.  Give it a chance and really work hard to take as much out of your current situation.  You made decisions that led you to where you are today.  Trust in them and yourself and keep getting the job done.

PS: Here’s another quote from the same article that Steve Jobs said at a Stanford Commencement:

“You can only connect [the dots] looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Control and the Art of Giving. It. Up.

How do you give up control to something you invest time, energy, blood, sweat and tears into?  Something that you consider you own?  Something that traditionally has been yours to drive and yours to move forward?

Well, the answer to this question can go a number of ways, depending on the topic.

For now, let’s focus on how this applies to the workplace.  Consider a new member is added to your team and that person is trying to find the boundaries of their role and responsibilities.  They might inadvertently (or advertently!) venture into ‘your territory’.  How about the case where you’re overworked and something is left on the floor?  Maybe someone else picks it up without you knowing and moves the ball forward.  There are other examples too, but I’m less concerned with the cause, and more concerned with the ability to let go, how to know when to do so, and how to facilitate it.

Here’re my thoughts on the matter.

Ability to let go:

Two things here that I think are the basis of what you’re really giving up, and they aren’t necessarily both required.

  • Decision Making <= who makes the decisions?
  • Delegation and Nurturing <= who ends up doing the work and how do you know if they are capable?

How to know when to give up control:

  • When you are too busy to notice that work is being done in an area that you typically work in.  That’s a sure sign of something on the floor that someone else thinks is important enough to spend their time working on it.  In fact, it’s probably for the best, because that’s less work for you in the future.
  • When you can’t hire fast enough – let other people from other departments help you out (if they are willing).
  • If you truly aren’t the owner of what you think you are.  That hard part there is probably recognizing and admitting that you’re not the owner, but this can be the case when you yourself overstep your bounds.

How to facilitate it:

  • Ask a good candidate to take something off your plate.  Don’t assume they will or can, ’cause everyone is busy with their own jobs.  But make a case for why you think they are the perfect person to do something that you can’t get to and see if you can get some help.  This is a clear case of, at a minimum, delegation, but also decision making power depending on how capable the individual is.  You don’t have to do both.  As an example, you can provide guidance around what you would do things.
  • Hire and grow your team.  Sounds easy enough, but actually quite hard to implement as it will push out the ability to give up control until that person is ‘up to speed’.  I think this applies firmly in the delegation and nurturing camp.  However, consider lengthy ramp up times and additional energy required in support.

Above all, when something happens for the best in your sphere, whether you were responsible or not, be sure to appreciate someone’s initiative for getting the job done.