Posts filed under ‘Employee Development’
Oh it’s been a while since I’ve posted and so much has changed. I’ve recently taken on a new role with my existing employer to lead an organization that is focused on the full life-cycle of IT – IT projects and Application Support, plus corporate collaboration/knowledge management just for fun because I love it! It’s been 60 days in my new role, so it’s time to get back into writing….
In a recent team meeting, I introduced my new team of project managers, business analysts and quality assurance analysts to the practice of peer reviews. Their first question was “what is it” and then their fears of exposure came to light. Fair emotions as who likes to be judged? Like many teams, this team puts their heart into what they do. So yeah, who is going to enjoy the idea of being in front of their peers and judged for something they put their hearts into? Not me. As this was not my first time introducing this topic to a team, I was prepared. I believe it’s good to let the teams get this initial reaction out of their systems – then I move them towards the ultimate goal of peer reviews – learning.
Peer reviews are a great way to extend knowledge across your team members without the formality of training. Formal training is a must-have on many topics but there may be functions that you feel your team could come to alignment on without the expense of time or money related to training. I am also not a believer that every process should conform to a specific standard as sometimes creativity used to build deliverables can be a strength to the team. But how do you share these creative, superior deliverables with others on the team so they might learn or be inspired to try something similar on one of their future endeavors? And if you do have a situation where you do need 100% conformity to a standard, peer reviews can be a safer way to apply these policies than having an audit process (especially one done by a manager) defined.
Establishing a strong peer review process can be done with 3 guiding principles:
- No judging – by anyone
- Everyone plays
- Measure what counts
No Judging – By Anyone
Many groups in IT think about peer reviews and think of code reviews. This is a chance to make sure standards are applied and good design practices utilized. While this is definitely an option, you can also consider making peer reviews more about learning. My recommendation, if applicable for a team you are growing, you might want to consider asking the team to use the model for the presenter to gain insight from their peers about other areas of the business they might be more knowledgeable about than the presenter. The presenter can also look at the opportunity as a way to grow the business acumen of their peers and to share a technique they used that their peers may not have used before on a project. But in this model, there is no judging – no tracking the number of mistakes made by the presenter. No notes taken on the fixes made – unless the presenter wants to record them. An additional concern often raised is that the presenter feels exposed if their manager is in the room. Easy to solve – don’t be there. I have never sat in a peer review meeting for one of my teams. If not having me present eases the pressure on the presenter and perhaps reduces the desire of some of the audience to show off their knowledge, then it’s an easy thing for me to do for everyone. In reality, if I am managing this team, I have access to the deliverables and I can review them anytime. What is more important to me when growing a team is that the team feels supported by each other so they turn to each other in both the peer reviews but also through unstructured methods.
Participating in the peer review process should not become a burden for your team. I rarely make this a requirement before the finalization of a deliverable. Learning should be easy – not another hurdle for your team. But if learning is important, you need to know that it’s happening often enough for your team to be growing (both as a team and in their knowledge). So consider the frequency that peer reviews should occur, and how often you want to make it required for your team members. And depending on the size of your teams, it may not be feasible for everyone to participate in all reviews. This is a decision you have to make depending on the make-up and maturity of your team. I typically opt for optional engagement BUT each person has to participate in at least 1 peer review process per month, quarter, etc.
Measure What Counts
In my model, peer reviews are about building a sense of team, knowledge of methods that can be used in deliverables, and a start to alignment in some processes. If this is what counts, then this is what should be measured. Sense of team can be measured through how participation is occurring. I do ask teams to track who is participating in each meeting so I can look for trends. If your team members embrace this model, you’ll see that they are excited to join the meetings, and not avoiding them. You will have outliers but those might be addressed case-by-case to find out why they are not joining the discussion. Knowledge of methods can be explored in 1:1s by asking your team members as they produce deliverables if they are applying anything they have learned in a peer review session. This is a great way to introduce approach planning as well if you do not discuss this with your team members already (don’t just start a deliverable but what model/methods will you use as a first step). Finally, alignment which can be harder to measure. This may be something you have to analyze by reviewing several deliverables. You also have to wait for a period of time to let the peer review model work. You may also have to seek feedback from your team in regards to areas that are very out of alignment that they would like to work on. Once they have seen various approaches, they may be the first ones to speak up and mention that they feel a certain amount of alignment would benefit their audience. How great would this be versus having management require alignment? While I am not shy about requiring certain things, if I can let my team come to these concepts on their own without putting our audience/business at risk, this is method has a much higher and faster adoption rate than management telling them to do it. And in this case, since I am managing a set of PM/BA/QA team members, doing a role that I have done in the past, it may be seen as me forcing my way onto them, which is never popular. This way, they are finding their own way – as a team.
Peer reviews are nothing new though I have not seen them exercised across all areas of a business nor even all areas of IT. They are a great tool for building stronger teams, awareness to new methods, and better deliverables. If you take a very intentional approach to introducing this topic with your team, you are bound to get great results.
Does your team use any form of peer reviews? Are they known for being judgmental or do they facilitate positive experiences in learning and team building? Share your stories as I would love to hear about your experiences so we can all weave them into our next opportunities to introduce this topic!
Not many people have spare time at work. Shocking, I know. But I was recently asked by someone who wants to move into management how to best spend their working hours. I was lucky to have some great mentors in the past, and based on their feedback, I have found a few tricks for monitoring how I spend my time.
Key to measuring/monitoring anything is to have facts for tracking. If you are serious about this, you will have to log how you are spending your time. I use my Outlook calendar for everything – as do many people – so it’s fairly easy for me to reflect.
For a manager, I recommend that you consider People, Processes, and Projects when splitting your time. All three of these areas of focus are critical to your team’s overall success so I split my time with 33% in each area. This can vary week by week if something comes up, but overall, an even third to each area tends to keep things balanced.
People – 13+ hours per week
As a manager of people, your job to help them maximize their contributions to the company both in the short-term and long-term. If you are not having weekly 1:1s, reconsider. This is some of the most valuable time you will spend all week! By helping them work through options for how to tackle assignments, coaching them on overcoming a difficult situation, or talking about training that will help their long-term development goals, it is time well spent.
Under the area of people, I would also include relationships that you should be fostering with others such as internal clients, vendors, or peers. Spending time talking to your clients about their needs on a regular basis will pay off in fewer surprises and their support when issues arise. Vendors may not require weekly attention but I try to rotate the time I spend with each vendor based on the role they play in our organization. Peers are critical. There are not many things our teams deliver without the help of others. Scheduling time with your peer managers to discuss overlapping functions (Business Analysts & Project Managers, App Dev & DBAs, etc).
Processes – 13+ hours per week
In this area, I include both the processes that my team uses to perform their work as well as the tools. This is not work that you need to do alone. You can schedule time to consider the short-term effectiveness based on feedback, or you can use the time to elicit feedback from your team. Either way, evaluating how your team is working is critical to maximizing their productivity but also can help improve relationships with others or improve team morale if they are frustrated with an existing process.
Projects – 13+ hours per week
This area may not come as a big shock. You should spend time addressing projects that your team is supporting but also considering the long-term pipeline of work. Developing a forecast and schedule can help keep things running smoothly on your team. It is also a great tool to use when your boss swings by and drops a bomb on you about that new thing they need your team to undertake.
By looking at your calendar for the past weeks, you should be able to evaluate how you are spending your time amongst these 3 activities. You may not realize where an imbalance exists – or this may confirm a hunch that you already had. Consider how you can adjust your activities to help spread your time across all areas that are important to you so when you leave at 5pm on Friday, you know that you’ve given all that you can to help your team deliver their next win!
When I first started working, I worked at a major corporation with an extensive training and development program. I was exposed to the idea of building my annual career development goals, selecting from a catalog of training, and discussing it regularly with my manager. While this was a great experience, I look back on it now and am thankful that I was re-organized to a manager who could not have cared less about development. I could have been spoiled quickly and it could have caused lasting damage to my career.
Who Do You Think Owns Your Career Development?
It is not your boss or current employer. Some surveys show that a person could change jobs as much as 7 times in their career. If that is the case, do you really want to put your fate in the hands of at least 7 bosses? And that doesn’t even count the number of organizational changes you face with an employer. Your employer’s perspective is to develop the skills that they need to maximize their investment in you as an employee. Their job is not to keep you marketable in your career. That is your goal – and no one else’s.
To keep yourself marketable, you have to invest time. This is a small price to pay compared to the alternative of being stuck in the same job or finding yourself disconnected from technology or skills that you need to find your next position. Here are some ideas of things you might want to consider when keeping your skills sharp.
1. It will cost you money. Not all employers are going to pay for training to help you remain marketable. You may have to invest in yourself from time to time. Whether it’s a book, online class, or a formal training course, you may need to spend some money. Consider this an investment in yourself which should pay off if you gain a skill set or extend the life on one that you already have. Plus, what a great thing to share on a resume. Wouldn’t a potential employer be impressed if you were to show the initiative to keep your skills at their best?
2. You have to be honest. Be your own hardest critic. Yes, you should be getting feedback on your performance from your manager. You may also be able to gain feedback from peers. But be honest with yourself – you probably have a good sense of when you have screwed up. Or when you look back on a task and think “I could have done that better – or different”. Take the time to jot down a note and during a quiet moment, reflect on it. If you are comfortable, share your thoughts with your employer, and talk to them about what you are thinking about and how you would like to handle it differently next time. Perhaps your honest reflection will get you additional feedback from their perspective.
3. Look Outside of the Box. You may be a major player at your office but would you rank as “top dog” somewhere else? Use your professional network to gain insight on how your role is handled at other companies. This is a great way to also gain input on companies that you would like to work at one day. Knowing the capabilities expected of people in your role at other companies or through professional associations, can give you a way to measure yourself against a broader group. This will help you strengthen your areas of weakness so you can strongly compete for your next position. This can also help you talk with your manager about a potential promotion or career path.
No one is going to guarantee you a job for life (if you find someone, let me know). We all owe it to ourselves to consider our long-term professional goals and invest in ourselves to be the strongest we can be in our field. The time spent can help you in your current position and provide value to your employer (Win). This could lead to great work, sense of accomplishment, promotions, great performance ratings, raises, and more. It may also help you position yourself for a great opportunity down the road in your career. Either way, it’s worth taking the time to do because the alternative of neglecting your own development is the painful regret you may feel 5 years from now when you do not have the skills needed to move onto a new job.
It is a tough job market these days. For every open position, there are even more applicants. A hiring manager, and their HR department, has many obligations to fulfill within their organization to fill the position. While I understand their responsibilities, I feel they have one additional responsibility – timely, respectful communication to the job applicants.
I have a close friend who is unemployed. He has applied for position after position, and rarely hears a thing from the companies where he is applying. Not even a courtesy email that states “Thank you for applying but our assessment does not show that you meet the qualifications for this position.”
But what is worse, is that he has had a few face-to-face interviews and had absolutely no word back from the hiring manager or their HR department. When a person is told that they are within the top 3 candidates for a position, they are likely putting some effort into the interview. Why is it that a hiring manager cannot put forth a little effort to let the person know that while they were not selected for the position?
Now perhaps a mishap occurred and the need for communication fell off the radar somehow between the hiring manager and HR. That happens. Honestly – it happened to me once. I came across a friend of one of the candidates weeks later and heard that they had never been told that they were not selected for the position. I immediately reached out to the candidates personally and communicated the status of the position. It was the respectful thing to do – even if it was a little embarrassing for me.
What’s the risk of not communicating as a hiring manager? It reflects not only on you but also on the company. Will that candidate ever consider your company as a potential employer again? Maybe they were not right for your position but they might have been a perfect fit for a future opening. What story will they tell their friends & family? How you may not have selected them but the interview process was one of the best they have ever been through? Or that you dropped them like a hot rock when you decided to go with another candidate?
Communicating with someone you have not selected for a position might seem uncomfortable. It can be kept short & polite.Dear Bob, I appreciated the opportunity to talk to you about the open position on my team. We have finished our interview process and selected a candidate to fill the position. I hope that you will consider future opportunities with ABC, Inc as they become available.
3 sentences sent via an email or letter. Yes, the candidate might push harder by responding and asking about other openings, or asking why they were not selected. If they are professional, they will just take your note as closure. If they push for additional communication, you can either reply and refer them to your HR department or your corporate website where jobs are listed. No reason to get into a long string of emails.
There is nothing easy about looking for a job – just as it is not easy to fill a position. Why not make it as pleasant as possible by treating candidates as kindly as possible.I am sure there might be reasons why hiring managers do not follow-up and I’d love to gain that insight. And if you have been through an interview process and had a great or not-so-great experience with communication afterwards – please share that too.
I am finishing my first year of the MBA program at the University of Kansas. It has been an amazing year of hard-work, amazing educational opportunities, and a serious lack of sleep – but it has been a great opportunity for me to develop professionally.
It has really made me think about what an employer can do to support an employee who is returning to school. Tuition reimbursement always comes to mind, but there are other things managers can do and I think they are worth talking about. I am in a unique position to be both the team member who has become the student, but I am also a manager of teams, and looking for ways to encourage and develop them is something I think about often.
First things first – what do you do when an employee says “I’m thinking of going back to school.”
I would start by congratulating them. It’s a personal choice, and whether your company offers tuition reimbursement or not, there are many expenses not always covered and there is a huge sacrifice of time. One of the first questions to ask is what type of program they are considering. This will help you evaluate whether it is relevant to their current position or professional development or maybe a completely outside interest. Based on that, and your company’s policies, you will want to encourage them to talk to someone in HR or another organization to find out what the policies are for tuition reimbursement or other related programs. Finally, if you know of another employee who has undertaken an educational program while working at the company, you may encourage your team member to reach out to that person so they can learn more tips & tricks for navigating the path they are considering.
Once your team member has started school, there are things you can consider doing to help them – and your organization benefit.
In your 1:1s (you are having those, right?), a manager can easily ask about how classes are going or which classes they are taking. This is an easy answer with absolutely no pressure on either person. You could raise the stakes and ask what the student/employee has learned in a class that might be relevant in the workplace from a particular class. This is a simple set of questions to consider from time-to-time that shows that you do care about their development. And whether their program is directly related to their position or an outside interest, it just shows general encouragement.
Complimentary Books, Training and Assignments
You may want to consider reviewing their professional development plan for work, and talking to them about how it should be updated to take advantage of the outside education they are receiving. For instance, if they had planned to take a professional writing class as part of their professional development plan this year at work, and their education program outside of work also requires this type of class, then maybe you should consider replacing the work-sponsored course with something else that might help the team member. You may also want to see what other internal resources such as free training, books, subscriptions (online or magazine) might be available as a compliment to their education and development. You may need to note that “these are some great resources you may find helpful to review outside of work” – if you don’t want to risk the employee spending work hours reading through a magazine for their MBA program, for example.
Along the same lines, there may be assignments that the team member can be given that compliment their current classes or educational path. Taking the time to explore this idea can be worth it in benefits to both you & the team member. You would get a team member who is learning skills in class that would make them more successful or efficient in completing the task. You may also find that the team member has learned new ways to take the task than used previously in the company. The team member gets the chance to use their new knowledge from class or perhaps to use the work activity as a case study for an assignment in class (assuming proprietary information is protected).
This is a luxury that not many of us can afford. Even the best manager in the world cannot add hours to a 24-hour day but you may consider if you can offer some schedule flexibility to help encourage your team member’s external educational path. Now it’s a fine line to walk – because what about others in your organization who are not going to school? I’m not suggesting that you give “Susie” an extra day off per week – but you may ask Susie if it would help if she could work 7:30-4:30 instead of 8-5 on school days, or if it would be helpful to not be on-call during finals week. You may even just note that Susie could eat lunch in your office while you are out so she can study without distractions during her lunch hour. None of these add a lot of work on your plate, is unfair to other team members, but your sincerity may mean the world to Susie.
Chances are that your team member’s educational choice is going to help them move towards a new position in the company. That’s great as this means they are planning ahead and want to develop towards new, challenging positions. A great thing you can offer (again, minimal cost) is the chance for them to meet with someone who is in that role now. This may give the team member a chance to tailor their education plan based on real-world feedback from someone doing the job. The team member may also find that what they thought their dream job was, really isn’t what they thought. Good to know before they get too far into their education program. If you can afford for the team member to job shadow, and the person in the role is willing, what a great way for the team member to have a chance to apply what they are learning. It is much easier to learn and retain knowledge if you have a chance to apply it in a real-world situation, plus it gives you and others in the company a chance to see how the employee might perform in the role that they are working towards.
A Chance to Share
Another way to enhance learning is to have the chance to share with others. If it’s appropriate, you may ask your team member if there is something that they have learned in a class that they would like to share with the rest of your team or organization. THREE BONUS POINTS FOR THIS – #1 – the employee gets a chance to not only enhance their learning by sharing but also to work on their presentation skills, #2 – the audience gets a chance to learn more about a particular topic, and #3 – the audience gets a chance to see one of their peers taking on the challenge of an educational program, and might find it is something they are interested in pursuing.
I pointed this out earlier but tuition reimbursement is a great option for employees that many managers have no direct control over. If your company does not offer tuition reimbursement, find out what they do offer. You may also want to help share feedback with HR if the benefits are less than supportive of developing your employees. Educational assistance is a HUGE employee recruitment and retention benefit. It shows employees that you want them to grow with the company. If your HR team is worried about people taking advantage and then leaving the company, there are policies to consider to help avoid this.I will note at this point that my manager and organization have offered me some form of a few of the things that I mentioned. The greatest advantage to me as a working student has been the chance to apply what I am learning in classes immediately. My post on this topic is completely from my perspective only (as they all are) and should not be considered a “wish list” of things I wish my employer did. They are doing just fine – I still work there, don’t I? My hope with this post is that other managers who have team members going to school will consider how they can better support their team members while benefiting from the knowledge that is being gained.
Having a team member return to work can be a great opportunity for their professional development as well as a significant benefit to your organization. Taking time to encourage them in a variety of ways as they go down this path can not only enhance their learning experience, but also help in building a stronger relationship between you, the team member, and your organization.
What are some other ways a company can encourage a team member who returns to school? What have you observed that is discouraging?