Saturday, 21 July 2007

Three Questions ...

This is the English version of Cindy's "3 Questions" blog post, written from a different viewpoint. As a bit of background, Cindy and I are both managers in Exoweb and one of our responsibilities is to carry out weekly chats with the people in our teams. Both of us have been asked these questions before and we figured it would be of interest to Exoweb people in general. I'm writing this without having actually read her post, so it should be interesting to see how our viewpoints differ.

The questions are:

  • Does Exoweb give team members a chance to switch career paths?
  • Are personnel evaluations transparent?
  • If an employee makes a mistake, how will the company handle things?

Does Exoweb Give Team Members a Chance to Switch Career Paths?

Yes. We definitely prefer to use existing, proven and trusted team members to fill open positions, rather than taking a risk with hiring an unknown person from the outside. As long as the person appears to be competent and capable of taking the task, we are quite willing to take a chance.

We have had a few examples of these career changes so far, mostly people switching to project management positions. Two of our admin staff have switched over to project management roles in our software development teams. The admin team handles everything in Exoweb but actual software development, so is a lot more challenging than the name suggests. After battling with unreliable suppliers, organizing events for 40-50+ people and solving the problems that crop up in daily office life, they have proven that they are more than capable of getting the job done. That actually makes them very good project managers as they have the "get things done" attitude.

We had a software developer also try his hand at this a while back. He did a pretty good job at it, but after 6 months, found that it was really not something that he wanted to do and switched back to pure technology. This is also a learning experience that we are quite happy to allow our people to have within Exoweb - the chance to try new things out and discover if a certain path is for them. If it doesn't work out, such is life. You never know until you try and the experience typically makes you appreciate your chosen role more.

Are Personnel Evaluations Transparent?

Depends. We do our best to make obvious to the team member how they are perceived, both by team leaders and fellow team members. Depending on the team lead's management style and workload, we try to schedule chats between once a week to once every couple of months. During these chats, past accomplishments, challenges and issues are discussed, along with feedback on how the team member is doing. These chats are mostly informational and problem solving - for both sides to quickly identify and resolve issues that crop up. They also usually give team members a fairly clear idea of how they are doing.

Of course, not every team lead does things in the same way and there are large variances between each team. As a general rule we try to provide feedback, both positive and negative, as soon as possible and resolve problems before the grow too big.

However, we try to keep these evaluations as private discussions between team member and team lead. In this sense, personnel evaluations are very opaque. We usually do not make it obvious to others when someone is underperforming, even if the under performer knows very clearly that he/she is in trouble. Making this kind of information public while trying to resolve the problem is rarely helpful. We do share evaluations between team leads though, both for redundancy (in case one team lead has to take over for another) and also as knowledge sharing (e.g. how to handle situation x).

If An Employee Makes a Mistake, How Will the Company Handle Things?

In one of the management books I read many years ago, I came across a great story about making mistakes. Unfortunately, I no longer recall where it comes from (if anyone recognizes, please let me know!), but it goes something like this (heavily paraphrased):

There was a young man who had just joined Mega Corp, a huge organization with many capable and talented people. Being very eager to prove himself, the young man throws himself into his tasks and pushes himself to the limits of his abilities. Unfortunately, his eagerness results in him making a huge mistake, one that ultimately ends up costing the company USD10 million dollars.

This young man then walks into his manager's office, confesses to his mistake and finally ends with, "I guess you want my resignation now?"

His manager looks at the young man with a incredulous expression and replies, "are you crazy? We just spent 10 million dollars training you! How can you leave now? Now get back out there and apply your newly gained knowledge to earn us our 10 million dollars back!"

Everyone makes mistakes. As long as one honestly did their best and learns from it, we recognize that this is only natural and move on. We work together with each other to try to minimize mistakes and compensate for each other. We spend less time figuring out who is to blame and more on how to ensure it will never happen again.

For the most part, almost all first-time mistakes are forgiven. The rare exceptions we've encountered are when someone makes a mistake so bad that trust is irrevocably broken. As a highly trust based organization, once someone proves themselves untrustworthy, it is simply not possible to continue working in Exoweb, no matter how much we like the person. Fortunately, it is very hard to make this kind of mistake. It has only happened once in my memory.

No comments:

Post a Comment