Ignite Resources Management

Management is Not Parenting

7 Leading Mistakes Managers Make

Being a parent is the toughest thing a person could think of doing, but managing has to be the second most difficult thing any professional person could do. Many managers think managing staff is like parenting kids, but using this method can be hazardous.  Take two reasons: First, kids will rarely ever quit and leave; second, the relationship with most employees is usually only 3-5 years.

That’s just for starters. There are also some parallels between kids and staff. If treated poorly, they will refuse to do anything at all, and they hate being told exactly what to do. The bottom line is that staff and kids are endlessly complex.

What makes a manager’s job so extraordinarily difficult is that, in order to motivate and keep a staff member productive, the effective manager has to tailor-make every decision and task for that individual staff member in such a way that it perfectly fits that person’s entirely unique emotional, psychological, and intellectual needs.

1. Not Fully Delegating Work

Doing your staff’s work for them equates to you “working in the business” rather than “working on the business”. Managers should always be “working on the business”. There is no question that, in many cases, it is quicker and easier for you to do the work to ensure that in that instance it is completed and correct. The problem is, this teaches your staff dependence and little knowledge is transferred to them that would allow them to do the job correctly long-term. The result is that in 5 years, you will more than likely still be working like crazy, none of your staff will have learned how to do their job, and your company will have moved on. In today’s world, standing still is akin to moving backwards.

2. Poorly Defined Roles

Related to work delegation is a poorly defined role with no real job description. Positions in companies evolve and often will grow around a person and their own personal skill development. When that person leaves the role, filling that hole will be difficult if it is unclear what they did. A good manager will have each team member write their own job description and have them update it annually to keep track of the changes. If you don’t like some of the tasks they are doing, you can manage those right away.

3. Being a Friend

No question a sign of being a great manager is bonding with staff on a personal level. However, a manager who takes it to the extreme and become friends with those who report to him/her will cloud their own judgement. This results in decisions that are aligned to the staff and not the company.  Do not confuse them. If you act like a friend towards someone who works for you, they will naturally assume that you will not fire them, even if they mess up. That assumption is very unfair, both to them, and to your organization. That you cannot be a person’s boss and their friend is a tough lesson that every manager learns, sooner or later.

4. Small Rule Breaks

Allowing small rule breaks can turn into a slippery slope. A minor indiscretion could cause a significant impact through a long chain of relationships in an organization.  No one wants a rule nazi (politically incorrect?) for a manager; however, small rule bending may lead to more significant rules being challenged and/or broken. Remember, the greatest casualty from bending the rules is your reputation as a manager.  A house with one cockroach has hundreds unseen.

5. Ignoring Problems

If you are a driver who continues to drive 1000km after your engine light turns on, you many have an issue with ignoring problems.  Regular maintenance is the best risk avoidance strategy, and quickly addressing problems right when they are discovered will reduce the impact and ultimately the cost.

6. Accepting Excuses

If I eat fast food once because I am in a real hurry, “having no time” is the reason I ate high fat food. If I gain weight after repetitively eating fast food, then for me, “no time to eat healthy” becomes an excuse. Similarly, if I install a new script incorrectly while learning a new program,, the reason for my mistake is that I’m inexperienced with that software.  If several months later I’m still incorrectly loading scripts with the same program, then whatever reason I might give for doing that can only be an excuse. A temporary personal issue is a reason; an endless series of personal problems becomes an excuse and a case for counselling. Reasons should only be accepted for a short while if an employee is unable to do their job well.  If reasons are used repetitively,  they have in fact become excuses for poor performance. Learn to tell the difference between a temporary reason and enabling your staff’s excuses. The former, you’re helping; the latter, you’re not.

7. Managing Distractions

Managers are often stuck in firefighting mode, but that comes with the territory for any manager. However, when managers are continuously in firefighting mode, their decision making is all based on this view of reality. Protracted time in this management often leads to staff burnout. Unless a manager can pull themselves out of this trap, they will stay in this zone and never grow or get promoted.  Managers can also be distracted by external projects. For example, an organization rolling out a new ERP system can create many distractions for an organization. These can come in the form of either mental attention or financial constraints. Managers can often be so distracted with these external projects that management of their team can suffer. The results are often all kinds of issues.

Kids don’t want a manager and your staff do not want a parent. Remember which role you need to play as you juggle your time.

Here’s your desk & there’s the bathroom. Now get to work.

Here’s your desk & there’s the bathroom. Now get to work.

You just hire a new employee and have invested 2 months of your valuable time going through the selection and hiring process. There is a total of 100 hours invested in hiring your star programmer, costing your company $35,000 – $50,000. The team is super excited to get this person on on-board. Their skills are exactly what was missing and will take a lot of pressure of them because they have be understaffed for 3 ½ months.

The newest member of your team is very nervous about leaving their last company but came because the money was a little better and the projects seemed exciting. They arrive at the front lobby for their first day and you receive a call from the receptionist announcing their arrival. You are in a middle of a conference call with some executives.  You call your Lead Developer to get the newest staff member and, you say, “Peter, please get Sally from reception and show them around.”

An hour later, you make your way over to Sally and you find her on the internet looking at job postings.

90% of an employee’s decision to stay with a company happens within the first 6 months of joining! Yet, 60% of companies have no formal on-boarding process.

A proper on-boarding plan reduces this by 18%, reducing turnover and mistakes resulting from lack of training.  In addition, companies who have formal on-boarding plans reduce the time it takes to get to full productivity by 50%, down from 6-8 months to less than 100 days.

Companies have taken some interesting steps to amalgamate new staff into the fold. For example Facebook  tape a piece of paper on the monitor: “Welcome to Facebook!” Underneath, printed in big, bold, red letters, are slogans like: “We hack therefore we are,” or “Move fast and break things.” “Within days, your software code will be in front of more than 845 million users”.

The best companies have a clear plan and process. These companies have increased retention, increased moral, increased productivity, strong team bond and greater loyalty to the company and its brand.

Here are 10 innovative things companies are doing to help acclimatise new staff:

  1. WAP (Welcome Aboard Party): This is an event held by the company or department where all the staff celebrates the arrival of the newest team members. The party has music, food and drinks. Think of the bonds this would create for everyone involved!
  2. Start Buddy: The company has volunteers from the new employee’s department to partner with them for the first 4 weeks. The individuals give them tours, offer advice, answer basic questions, assist with training and provide reports to management.
  3. Friday Starts: Many companies like to have their new employees start on a Friday. This is the day most staff are open and relaxed. Also, this gives the new staff a rest before they start their training on Monday.
  4. Meeting with President: Every employee gets to meet the President of the company within their first 2 weeks. The larger the company the more impressive it is, with large companies, the President will meet the new hires in a large group, but still shaking their hands.
  5. Swag: Many companies provide new hires with a lot a company swag, including pens, clothing, mugs, note pads, key chains and other need items; this builds excitement of being part of the company and is a great branding opportunity.
  6. Welcome Sign: At the front entrance, there is a personalized welcome sign for each new employee.
  7. Deliverable Checklist: A road map of expectations and deliverables by the newest staff member, this enables them to check things off upon completion leaving the sense of accomplishment.
  8. Onboarding Feedback Survey: At the end of the first 3 months, an employee will receive a survey to critique the process and offer areas of improvement.
  9.  Everything ready for the first day: When a staff member joins they are lost looking for a home to settle into. If their space is set up with a fully functional computer, training manual and welcome package, they feel at home.
  10. Early Onboard: Providing materials for the employee before they officially start will allow them to become familiar with the company and their role.

Again, the employee retention statistics are horrifying and by themselves are reason enough to be upset with HR, but it takes a community to raise an employee. You have a great opportunity to improve the retention and performance numbers in your organization by rethinking how we design new hire training programs to consider the entire on-boarding experience.

What have you done to improve how your organization onboards new employees? 

Why do employees waste time & what can a manager do?

Why do employees waste time & what can a manager do?

Innovation is often seen as the mother of necessity. However, I believe laziness is the greater driving force. Humans by nature are lazy. Most inventions are designed to allow humans to perform the same task with less effort.  On the other hand, in theory we should produce more with the same energy. But, in many studies the expected theoretical production gains with innovation are rarely realized.

The consequence of having innovation is that people have more free time because their work is done quicker. However, few employees ask for more work. Since we as employers demand our staff work 8 hours a day, more idle time requires this gap to be filled by an endless array of time wasting activities.

Innovation is often the cause of wasting time at work and continues to become a bigger and bigger problem for companies all over the world. Good news is that the Great Recession has reduced the amount of time people are wasting on the job. Only 22% of those surveyed waste more than 2 hours from their work time each day, down from 24% in 2007. Still, over 1 in 5 employees waste more than 500 hours a year costing corporate Canada $6.5B alone! Many academics have attempted to understand this issue better. Here are some results from a variety of surveys:

  • Young employees waste the most time at work. The reason for this could be that most of the jobs young people are hired for are menial tasks and are not very rewarding, thus any distractions are better than doing the job. Generational differences in social media and texting usage are also contributors.
  • The correlation between education & time wasting. One would believe education would lead to more motivation. However, greater education leads to higher expectations and lower fulfilment.  Alternatively, more education could mean these individuals can get the work done quicker, yielding more idle time.
  • Blocking is not the answer. A study conducted at the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. According to Dr. Brent Coker, employees who can reward themselves between the completion of one task and the start of another with a visit to their Facebook or MySpace page are more invigorated and get more done. According to the study, they get 9 percent more accomplished than their blocked counterparts.
  • Social Media productivity killer. In fact, according to a new survey, a majority of American workers (51 percent) think using social media at work hurts productivity. The survey of nearly 23,000 workers, by staffing company Kelly Services, shows that even more of them — 57 percent — believe that social media can cause problems in the workplace when workers mix personal and professional
  • Not enough work – One third of employees spend their work-time for non-work related activities because they do not have enough work to do. At a first glance, the solution for this is very easy. Give your employees more tasks. Well, this is not quite the wiser decision. The key components in productivity, innovation and job satisfaction are personal and professional development. Thus, a solution for this issue could be to fill wasted time with developmental programs and resources. Provide opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally.
  • Feeling under paid – 34% of employees waste their time at work because they feel that they are not paid enough for their efforts. What could I say about this category of employees? My opinion: they shouldn’t be in that place. Every person is the only one responsible for their personal success and happiness. If they feel underpaid, they should get a better job! It’s up to them. As for the motivation, employees are actually more likely to be motivated by regular praise, respect in the office place, a sense of having a real voice in the business, and some level of job security. These things matter more to most people than high wages do.
  • Facebook is the number one destination, where 41% of self-professed time wasters admit to going.  The next most popular virtual stop is LinkedIn, which 37% say they visit. This might not be surprising, given that 46% of respondents say they use their work computers to look for new jobs.

Five ways to solve employee time wasting :

  1. Make people more accountable.  Have your employees build their action plans for the next 1 – 3 months. Have them build a timeline and milestone dates for weekly checkups. When your staff is defining their plans, they will be more like to buy into the deliverables and there is a greater chance they will achieve them on time.
  2. Implement an Internet policy. We have stated in earlier blogs that every company needs a policy. If you have one, it should be updated to include social media. The policy needs to be clear and consistent. Most workers say that if they know what is allowed and what is not, they will be more likely to adhere to those guidelines.
  3. Try tracking software. Time management and tracking software have been found to improve employee productivity by creating more structure and accountability as well as enabling employers to more effectively monitor employee time use.  Let them know that they are being monitored.
  4. Challenge employees. The main reason people are surfing is that they are bored.  More work is not the solution. Look for special projects or something that is different they can sink their teeth into. Challenge their initiative, decision-making and creative skills.
  5. Be more visible. Walk-abouts are helpful. Go visit your staff, surprise them. Ask them what they are working on. If you see non-work related sites quickly disappear, ask them to bring the page back.  It will be awkward, but will get your point across.

Barry Johnston

VP Operations

7 Ways To Trim Your IT Budget

The press loves to report on train wrecks , the European debt crisis being no exception. Pick-up a newspaper, and every money commentator and business program you listen to has the overwhelming message of doom and gloom in Europe.  Yet in Canada, specifically within IT, employment is stable. We see our unemployment rates inch upward only because more people are looking for work. Despite some signs of weakness in the overall job market, the IT sector is still a huge bright spot with unemployment at only 2.9%.  When you factor in the natural unemployment rate (those involved in job transitions) we are actually at a point of over-employment. (Economists often say the natural rate of unemployment should be no less than 4%). So what does a Manager do?  Some will push on with the status quo, others fight for talent, and some simply hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over.

The right answer probably lies somewhere in between. For those who are looking for ways to cut IT expenditure, we have come up with some ideas to achieve this:

#1: Delay Unnecessary Upgrades

Many organizations get in the habit of automatically upgrading to the latest version of software and hardware as soon as it is released. This strategy is an expensive one.  How many new features do your user groups really need or ultimately use?  In addition, if you are first to implement an upgrade or service pack, you should rethink that strategy since being an early adopter means you are the trail blazer for hitting bugs and issues first. These problems will be fixed, but at your expense.

#2: Review Old Vendor Pricing         

Vendors continuously review and change pricing models and plan. When new features or services are announced, many companies add these on to their customers’ existing plans – this can end up being more costly. Changing your billing structure to bundle services and features together may dramatically reduce costs, a notorious practice of Cell companies.  Also, vendors you have worked with for years may not be giving you their best price. New vendors may offer more aggressive pricing to get your business. So ask your existing vendors about new pricing options.

#3: Consider Selective Deployment of Open Source Software

Open Source software is often available free of charge, although it may come without warranties, formal training programs, or technical support and updates may or may not occur.

That being said, Open Source has a place in every organization if deployed carefully and selectively. Open Source server software could be appropriate for certain dedicated servers if you have the people with this expertise. Use the talents of your employees to save money. Another example is the use of Open Office.  This is a great option instead of using MS Office as this solution is compatible with most file formats of commercial applications. Some users like this. Especially those who only need to create documents occasionally, and therefore do not require the advanced features offered in other commercial programs. This could be the right solution.

A careful assessment of where Open Source software can and can’t be deployed in your organization without undue disruption can help you create a cost saving integration.

#4: Have Fewer, Smarter Meetings

Have you ever tried to estimate the cost per-hour of your meetings? Add up your hourly rate, that of the 3 consultants, 2 staff, the Project Manager, a few users and other IT people all attending. It could easily add up to $1,000 to $2,000 per hour. If you have 12 such meetings a month, this could cost over half a million dollars a year to your organization.

See our May 2011 CIO letter, https://ignitetechnical.com/blog/run-better-meetings, where we discussed ways to run better and more efficient meetings.

#5: Look At Different Training Strategies

Training is often one of the first items suffering from budget cutbacks, but arbitrarily slashing all training dollars can end up costing the company more in the long run. Training is necessary for IT personnel to keep current on the technologies they deploy and administer; minimizing mistakes resulting in expensive downtime or even loss of critical data.

Rather than sending staff to exotic locations for conferences and training, look into local alternatives. Consider starting a local user group. Then have trainers come to your city to train the group. Hire local consultants to provide one-on-one training. Build a structure where senior staff trains junior members or organize Lunch-n-Learns as a great forum for training.

#6: Outsource Some Services

Outsourcing is a sensitive subject. Many people hear the word and think only of personnel cuts and jobs going to foreign shores. But judicious outsourcing can allow you to utilize the personnel you have more efficiently towards better cost effectiveness running your IT operation, minimizing the risks of entrusting your data to people half a world away.

For example, as your business grows and your need for more servers expands, you might find that it’s less expensive and less of a hassle to use a hosting service for your Web servers or E-mail, rather than buying more hardware and hiring more personnel. As with other money-saving measures, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. First assess your specific needs, compare prices, and do a cost/benefits analysis to determine whether outsourcing really is the most cost effective option in both the short and long run.

#7: Consider Short-Term Contractors

Not to be too self serving, but contractors are a way to manage budgets. Many companies use large integration companies for large projects on fixed bids. This makes sense as they can deliver cost savings with flexibility. The problem with this approach is that the goal of integrators is to inject more of their own staff to work as Time & Materials contractors in your organization. Rather than just servicing the major projects they were brought on board for under a fixed bid, the integrator’s staff ends up working on smaller projects or one-offs on an hourly rate. Clearly this ends up costing far more than original cost savings projections.

To optimize your budget, use integrators only for fixed bids, and call on Resourcing Firms to provide resources for Time & Materials (this is typically half the rate of the hourly costs the large integrators will charge). Another secret your Integrator does not tell you is the T&M resources they are providing are often double marketed up as the Integrators turn to Resourcing Firms to fill short term roles. Going directly to Resourcing Firms will cut out this extra cost. We recommend reviewing the resources currently on-site from your Integrator and talking to a Resourcing Firm (i.e. Ignite).

There are no easy ways to trim a budget. It is easier to spend money than save it. Finding a 10% reduction in your budget will probably require some effort, but the impact of this effort to the health of your business could be immeasurable. Seek help.  Ask your staff what they would do if they had to cut 10% from company’s costs. You may be surprised at the ideas that appear.

Motivate Your Staff

Do you know what motivates your staff?

Most people in the technology industry are generally considered smart, and highly skilled in math, logic and problem solving. However, these highly developed technical skills usually come at the expense of their interpersonal skills. IT managers are not immune to this imbalance and spend little time to improve these underdeveloped skills. Making matters worse, we recognize and promote based on results and reward for performance. The consequence is that managers spend 95% of their time focusing on measurable items and pay little attention to the emotions of their staff. This is not because managers don’t like people or don’t care, but few of them have an idea of what employees really want from a boss.

“But that warm fuzzy is what HR does. I do delivery,” is the common retort.  True, but employees do not leave a job because HR did not give them enough hugs. The old adage holds true; people join companies but leave managers. Surveys show individuals quit for 5 main reasons: pay, management, career advancement, benefits and other. Many of these can be influenced by management. We can reduce turnover simply by understanding your staff’s desires.

The following CIO letter will shed some light on what matters most to workers.  The results from a survey of 500 employees by the Lore International Institute over a 2 year period shows some interesting insight and some pretty basic things we can all improve on.  Here are the findings:

More than 90% of employees want honesty and integrity from their managers. An equal number desire fairness across all staff and for management to hold everyone accountable to the same standards.  Furthermore, just over 75% indicated they sought after trust, respect, dependability, collaboration and appreciation.  But only 14% wanted interesting conversations from their manager and only 3% wanted them to be a friend.

These requirements seem easy to roll out but can be difficult to sustain. We, as managers, will revert to our natural personalities.  So what else can be done? Fortunately, Randstad surveyed 6000 people throughout North America giving more insight. What will make them happy?

Job Flexibility 72%
Liking the team they work with 71%
Pleasant work environment 68%
Workplace is an easy commute 68%
Challenging work 65%
Job security 65%
Ability to work independently 59%
Opportunity for advancement 55%

Based on these results, here are 6 suggestions to improve employee satisfaction and lower turn-over:

  1. Make the work space look better; get rid of office clutter (cables, computer equipment, books, files, etc.), get some plants, find local schools for art, replace lighting with full spectrum light bulbs and use creative ways to make the environment better.
  2. Try to hire local; the closer staff live to the office and the shorter the commute will increase loyalty and happiness.
  3. Find ways to allow people to work from home on occasion.
  4. Establish flexible work hours when possible, sometimes four day work weeks would make sense.
  5. Look for ways to give more self-direction to your staff.
  6. Have an off-site staff bonding session to promote team work; it can be as simple as a soccer or baseball game in the park.

Lastly, here are 4 things you should say on a regular basis:

“How can I help?” This statement will aid you in determining impediments your staff face in performing at their best.

  1. “Great job on…” Any praise is welcome by everyone. We all crave appreciation and receiving it can be more motivating to staff than anything else.
  2. “Can I have your thoughts on…?” Engaging your staff in decisions and discussion will make them feel part of the solution and not just a cog in the wheel.
  3. “Thank you.” Two words that can never be over used. Using them more often is not simply for common courtesy, but as a way of connecting and showing appreciation for a job well done.

Try some of these ten pointers; you may find them to be successful in helping you to reduce your turn-over. We advise not to try all of them since you might find some cynicism from your team, especially the younger members.