Category Archives: coaching

Complaints!

Heads up! The Chief Happiness Officer is urging people to complain at work. His point is that complaining in a constructive way can make the workplace better. Fair enough, but what if you are a new manager and you are the one listening to all of these complaints?

I once had a direct report that was constantly finding things to complain about. He was well-intentioned, smart, and one of the most productive engineers on the team. The things that he was complaining about were all things that could, in fact, stand some improvement. He thought that by pointing out everything that could use fixing, he was doing his part.

Next time he came to me with a complaint, I asked him what he thought could be done to improve the situation, and specifically what could he do to help implement a fix. He happily went into problem solving mode and generated several potential solutions. We then discussed the merits of each and compared the costs to the benefits. We chose a course of action and each of us committed to taking some specific actions to improve the situation. After that session, he almost always came armed with potential fixes to go along with his complaints.

It’s OK to complain. It is often much more useful to propose a solution, especially one that you are willing to implement.

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Feedback

I just read this article at cio.com. It had some excellent advice about how to give, and how not to give, feedback to others in the workplace. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolbox. Use it early; use it often. It is far better to give regular feedback than to save it up for performance review time.

The author, Esther Derby, recommends a multi-step approach to giving feedback that is similar to that recommended by the guys over at Manager Tools, though a bit more flexible.

The steps include:

The Opening – Basically letting the person know that you want to give them some feedback and finding out if this is a good time. Of course, you should pick a time that you think is good for them before making your approach; check their calendar!

Sharing What You Observed – This is all about reporting the facts of the behavior that you are giving feedback on. Doing this without coloring it with judgment can be tricky, but is very important. At this stage it is better to say “Tom, I noticed you surfing the web during Bob’s presentation today.” than something like “You were disrespectful toward Bob this morning.” It is much easier for Tom to dispute whether or not he was being respectful than his web surfing. You really want to get agreement that the behavior occurred.

Describing the Impact – Here you might describe how others where distracted by his surfing, and that it undermines Bob and the information that was being presented. This step may not even be needed, as many people will quickly grasp the problem with their behavior. Tom might say, “Gee, I didn’t realize that other people would notice. I guess I was a bit of a distraction.” This may be as far as you need to go.

Request a Change – Tom may volunteer to change his behavior, or at least acknowledge the problem in a way that implies he will change. If he does not, then request some specific change such as leaving the laptop behind at these types of meetings.

Finally, it is worth noting that feedback can be positive as well as negative. Human nature being what it is, people tend to be more receptive to positive feedback. Use it! Reinforcing the good behaviors is just as important as changing the bad.

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Got a Career Plan?

I just ran across this article.

I was talking to a relatively young developer the other day. I asked him about his career plans. “Oh, I don’t do career planning myself. I wait until my manager talks to me.”

Oops. Your career is your responsibility.

The article then moves on to give some specific advice for growing your technical career.

I’m constantly surprised by how many people think that career planning is something that their manager will do. Oddly, when these same people become managers they very rarely help their reports with career planning. Maybe it’s because their manager didn’t help them? Maybe it’s because they don’t really know how to do it themselves?

What does this mean for you? First, take control of your own career plan. Second, if you are a manager, help your people with their career plans; it will make you stand out in their minds as an excellent manager.

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