Management

Managing your boss

Managing your boss means consciously working with higher level manager to obtain the best possible results for you in the traditional top-down organization. Effective managers not only take time and effort to manage subordinates, but also their bosses. An inability to manage upwards is usually costly.

Personality conflict is only a very small part of the problem. According to a Gallup study, half of all employees in the United States have quit jobs at some point in their careers in order to get away from their bosses. The bigger issue is people have made unrealistic assumptions and expectations about the nature of boss as in subordinate relationships. It involved mutual dependence between two people in order to be effective manage the relationship.

On the one hand, the boss needs help and cooperation from employee to do the job with honesty. Some managers see themselves as self-sufficient with little dependence on their boss. However, this view is damaging because the boss can help to link him/her to the rest of the company. Some managers make the wrong assumption about the boss would know what help their subordinates need and provide them. But this is not a reasonable expectation for another human beings. Effective managers accept this fact and talk primary responsibility for their own career development.

Managing a situation of mutual dependence requires good understanding of yourself and the other person in terms of strengths, weakness, work styles and needs. The information is then used to develop healthy working relationship that is compatible and meet the mutual needs of the other person. You need to gain an understanding of your boss’s goal, pressure, objective, blind spots in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts and misunderstanding. Effective managers seek out information about the boss’s goals and problems. They find opportunities to ask question to test their assumptions.

On the other hand, you can have a higher level of self-awareness by reflecting over past experience. Typically subordinate is more dependent on the boss than the other way around. This constraint results a negative feelings or even a rebellion. Escalation of the conflict for the sake of fighting against institution enemy hindering progress could be impulsive. This reaction is called counter-dependent behaviour by psychologists. According to a study, power imbalance in favor of the supervisor as a root cause of abusive supervision. There would be more trouble when the boss is authoritarian. The boss becomes the enemy and lost trust. Research shows that the experience of having a bad boss can be similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

On the other extreme, some subordinates swallow their anger when the boss made a poor decision and not to give any disagreement. It is damaging to view the boss as all-wise parent who should know best and protect them in their career. This unrealistic view of unlimited time, knowledge of everything is difficult to change as it is deeply rooted in personality. However an awareness of the extremes is useful to understand the implications on how you behave in relation to your boss. You can understand and even predict the reactions of counter-dependency or over-dependency relationship with the boss that making both of you less effective.

After a clear understanding of yourself and your boss, you can establish a working relationship that fits both of you. A research shows that higher engagement in its various forms tends to predict a range of positive organizational outcomes, such as individual job performance, team effectiveness and customer satisfaction rating. Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ prefer way to receive information between reading and listening. Other adjustments include decision-making style between ad hoc basis and delegation.

Creating a compatible relationship also involves each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The subordinates should not passively assume that the boss would explain his or her expectation very explicitly in great details. Instead the subordinate should find out what the boss’s expectations are. Effective managers find ways to get that information such as informal meetings depending on the boss’s style.

Developing a workable set of mutual expectations also require subordinate to communicate your own expectations to the boss. It is important to influence the boss to value your expectations and set a realistic standard.

The amount of information needs depending on different boss’s style. Effective managers recognize if they are underestimate what their boss need to know and find ways to keep them informed. Not only the good news, but also escalate problems even though the boss may not want to hear about it for the good of the organization.

A commitment to an optimistic delivery date may please a superior in the short term, but it would become a source of displeasure if not being honest. A boss can more trust on the subordinate if he is more consistent. The boss could work effectively if he or she can get fairly accurate data. Trust is required in order to delegate and not to check all of a subordinate’s decision.

It is wise to be selective to draw on boss’s time on important issues rather than trivial matters. Time and energy are required to manage the relationship and effective managers realise the importance of this activity to simplify their job by eliminate potential problems. After all, you are ultimately responsible for what you can achieve in an organization by knowing the need to establish and manage relationships, including the boss.

Leadership that gets results

Research found that six distinct leadership styles have a direct impact on the working atmosphere and financial results in terms of revenue growth and profitability. The six leadership styles include coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching. More importantly, it indicates that leaders with the best results do not rely on only one style, but depending on the business situation. To lead effective, manager should switch between different styles flexibly. All styles have a measurable effect on flexibility, sense of responsibility, level of standards, sense of accuracy of feedback, adaptedness of rewards, clarity people have about values and level of commitment to a common purpose.

First, coercive leaders demand immediate compliance. The top-down decision making is the least effective in most situation as it kills new ideas at early stage. The problem with this style is that the team may not able to act on their own initiatives with lost of their sense of ownership. However, this dominant power work best during turnaround as it can break failed business habits and change people to align new ways of working quickly in the same direction. For example, as one former Apple employee said about Steve Jobs, “When Steve was pissed off about something, it got fixed at pace I have never seen… people reacted that fast out of fear.

Second, authoritative leaders mobilize followers towards a vision. By making clear to people how their work fits into a larger vision for the organization, this is most effective style in most business situation. Followers understand why and what they do matters, thus maximizes commitment to common goals.. The standards that revolve around that vision is the singular criterion on the performance feedback. A quote from investor John Doerr, he likes to say “Classic entrepreneurs do more than anyone thinks possible with less than anyone thinks possible”. People also has freedom to innovate, experiment and take calculated risks. However, this approach fails when the team members are more experienced than the leader and regarding him as arrogant.

Third, affiliative leaders create emotional bond and harmony. It revolves around people by valuing individuals’ emotions more than tasks and goals. The leader manages by building strong emotional bonds and get the benefit from loyalty. It has a positive effect on communication as people like one another. They share ideas and inspiration, thus enable innovation and risk taking. The leader motivates by providing lots of positive feedback for recognition and rewards. They are also good at building a sense of belonging. This style should not be used alone as a focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. People can also feel lost if there is a lack of constructive advice on how to improve.

Fourth, democratic leaders build consensus through participation. By spending time to reach decision collectively, leader builds trust, respect and commitment, thus drives up flexibility and responsibility. From my personal experience, the mobile app project I am in, we have a leader who is willing to listen to followers’ concerns in order to keep the morale high and realistic about what can be accomplished. The drawback of this approach is no consensus after wasting time in long meetings, result in people feeling confused and leaderless, and escalate conflicts during crisis. However, this approach work best with able employees can provide guidance and generate fresh ideas.

Fifth, pacesetting leaders expect excellent and self-direction. The leader sets extremely high performance standards and exemplifies them himself. He is obsessed with doing things better and faster, thus demanding more from poor performers. This style destroys the morale of employee by overwhelming demands of excellent. The leaders did not explain clearly with the guidelines, while people often guessing what the leader wants as well as not feeling being trusted to work in their own way. Research shows that when employees do not feel trusted by their manage, workplace productivity suffer. People feel no feedback was given and directionless when leader is not present without knowing how personal effort can fit into bigger picture. However, the approach works well when all employees are self-motivated and highly competent with little need of coordination.

Sixth, coaching leaders develop people for the future. They have employee identify their unique strengths and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. They encourage employees to establish long-term development goals and help them to achieve with a plan. This style would provide many instructions and delegate employee challenging assignments. Coaching brings positive effect on business performance result, flexibility, responsibility and commitment. This style works best when the employee are already aware of their weaknesses and would like to improve. On the contractionary, it does not work if the employee are resistant to change their way.

The most successful leaders lead by excelling in the art of a variety approaches. Studies have shown that the more styles a leader exhibits, the better. Leaders who have master four, especially authoritative, democratic and coaching, have very best business performance. And the most effective leadership switch flexible among the leadership styles. They are sensitive to the impact they are having on others and adjust their style to get the best results.

Few leaders have all six styles and even fewer know when and how to use them. The leader can build a team with members who employ styles she lacks. An alternative approach is to expand their own styles. Leaders must understand each emotional intelligence competencies and work hard towards increasing the quotient of them. Enhancing emotional intelligence is possible with practice.

With the research, leaders can get a clear picture of what it takes to lead effectively and how they can make that happen. Since the business environment is constantly changing, leaders must play the styles with the right ones at the right time and in the right measure in order to get results.

How to motivate your problem people

In order to get people to follow your lead, the only way to succeed is by getting the people to motivate themselves. The common mistakes managers make on their attempts to motivate problem people is by using the sales pitch to push solution, hoping to get the employee to listen and agree with the logic of their position. However, different people has a different motivational drivers, values and bias, which result in a different ideas about what is reasonable. This mismatch of perceptions create unsatisfactory outcomes as the fundamental rule of management is that you cannot change people’s character. You cannot control people’s actions most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.

Instead of pushing solution on people with the force of argument, it is a better approach to pull solutions out of them. It prompts them to clear the obstacles that impeding their motivation. The leader needs to rethink what the problem employees can reasonably be motivated to do. This involves a shift in perspective and look at the employee not as a problem to be solved but as a person to be understood. An investment of time is required to create a resolution to the problem. Manager needs to understand what the employee are really care about from a series of informal conversations that will give you insight into. This includes seeing the world look from the employee eyes, understanding the expectation and desires molded by key past experience.

After the analysis, the managers need to break out of the narrow mind-set and not to limit the options for solving the problem. You should let go of your desire to bring one predetermined solution, but willing to switch to an array of possible outcomes. You should reframe goals so the employee can meet them by putting together a list of options of the possible outcomes. Your goal is to identify the unsatisfied feeling and offer new opportunities to help your employee’s driving passions.

On the application, some of the intrinsic motivation factors of myself in the IT consulting firm includes achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility and growth or advancement. I really enjoy programming and seeing many users to enjoy using the code I wrote in production for a mobile app for an airline in Hong Kong. Despite there were many dissatisfaction resulted from poor project management by senior levels, our team managed to work together with extra hours at night and weekends in order to successfully deliver the product without a tight schedule. However, at the end of the project, the team got really frustrated due to lack to recognition for all the hard work. Instead of appreciation, the senior managers was blaming for the quality drop and pushing to fix on the number of defects, despite the unreasonable deadline set by them was the root of all problems. Many team member resigned and look for other job opportunities which also give a better external motivations from earning more money.

After my resignation, the director of the company scheduled a meeting and asked me to stay. The tactics he used include listening to my concerns and understanding my interested direction for career growth, which is the in the area of big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. He then offered me with a project that would perfectly fits into my motivation and I was excited to work on this new challenging project about chatbot. The motivation problem was resolved and I get back to high performance.

After I made a decision to stay, then it became my challenge to get my team members to stay. Neuroscience suggests that when it comes to motivate action, reward may be more effective than punishment. The “go” signal is triggered by dopaminergic neurons deep in the midbrain that move up through the brain to the motor cortex, which controls action. Positive feedback was more successful at motivating people, therefore, I did one-on-one conversation with each team members to understand their own personal concerns and offer positive rewards, such as money for buying lunch and snack during office hours. According to research, conditional bonus were, on average, more than twice as effective as the unconditional bonus. It resulted in a sales increase of 24%. Another research shows that when employees are willing to go beyond their formal roles by helping out co workers, volunteering to take on special assignments, introducing new ideas and work practices, attending non-mandatory meetings etc, their companies are more efficient and effective. Therefore I need to adopt a servant leader’s mindset and try to prioritise my team’s work at the intersection of passion and contribution.

In 2014 Deloitte study found that “up to 87% of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential due to lack of passion for their work.” It becomes more important for leader today to apply the method to motivate individuals, and also help to motivate the entire work group. It can boosts everyone’s morale by dealing with poor performers in the team and send a strong message that poor performance does not always mean immediate dismissal. People will see the culture that prefer problem solving. It leads to a healthier and more productive organisation.

Evidence based management

Life is a series of decisions. From day to day business operations to critical decision for the future directions of a firm, managers are always demanded to make many decisions. It becomes more and more important for managers to know how to make good decisions. Imagine if you were the CEO of Amazon, what should you do to deal with the challenges from competitors? That is why you need to use evidence based management and get your own way of problem solving, so this approach enables managers to make rational, fact-based decisions, elevating conversations from preference and opinions to logic and insights.

Evidence based management is an emerging movement to use and analysed via multiple, high-quality experiments, and various other types of studies and has consistently yielded positive findings. These intervention is generally use of well-established facts with a high probability of effectiveness and low potential for harm.

Unfortunately, the challenge in the current business world is that many managers are not solving problems based on relevant evidence of best practices. Without measurable data, the success of any initiatives is based on nothing more that intuition and assumption. Numerous decisions are still driven by dogma and belief. They are not using creativity to make hypotheses and using innovation to solve problems. They are too afraid to try new ways, worry about failure and no original judgement. In that way, the situation is not going to change, plus the problems are not going to solve.

Nowadays, we live in a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world with too much information. Managers and entrepreneurs should think in empiricism like Sherlock Holmes to make hypotheses, then test and proof if it is right. Treat your organization like an unfinished prototype and encourage trial and error experimentations by applying the scientific method. Evidence-based practice is the applied science that contains the cleverest ideas from the past 200 years.

The movement to pay attention to evidence-based practice began when medical researchers discovered a lot of suboptimal treatments were being given, even after there was data indicating they should not be given. For example. It took almost 40 years for medical doctors and nurses to start washing their hands before surgery. Meanwhile, recent research shows doctors wash their hands only about 1/3 of the amount they should and only about 15% of physicians decisions are evidence based. Simply asking people to act in certain way does not work either, but need to influence them using proven psychology theories in order to make an impact.

Another example is in professional baseball field which has many myths about who are the best players and how to build winning teams. The book, moneyball by Michael Lewis, on the other hand shows evidence based way for selecting players, while facing resistance to innovation in the sports industry. The general manager demonstrated the use of strategic thinking to win the game.

Similarly, the same behavior holds true in business world with lots of old myths dominated. Ideology is to blame for the persistence of the first-mover-advantage myth. However, empirical evidence shows that it is more important to get it right than get it first. Amazon is not the first online bookseller while Google is not the first search engine either. The first product does not necessary to be the best in order to launch, but only needs to be good enough for the users.

Other myth includes what factors are the most important for a firm success. In fact, 25% is innovation and new venture, while 10% from good leader and CEO. Based on survey, it shows that 17% with no goal versus 75% has specific goals leads to good performance. Therefore it is a good practice to set goals in management. Organisations would perform better if leaders knew and applied the best evidence.

Furthermore, it is a common myth from boss in the old days that criticism, complaining and condemnation could push the staffs harder and get a better result. On the contrary, performance drops from bad emotions. Criticism demotivates people which makes employee afraid to make mistake. Intuitively, there is a correlation between smiling and sales. If you do not rely on study, then you would probably make a campaign to ensure every employee smiles, but this could leads to counterproductive result since during a good sales, the employee could be too busy to smile. Also, there is little evidence that equity incentives of any kind, including stock options, enhance organizational performance.

In conclusion, it is time for managers to change how they think and act by trust of science. Collect good data to avoid unexamined ideologies. It matters to your company, as the best practices adds to the performance and trump the competition. Decision-makers could look to technology to improve the use of data and analytics, measuring outcomes could provides a clearer lens through which to evaluate practices currently in use. This evidence is an opportunity for empirical analysis of change and initiatives through fact and insight.

Evidence-based management

Life is a series of decisions. From day to day business operations to critical decision for the future directions of a firm, managers are always demanded to make many decisions. It becomes more and more important for managers to know how to make good decisions. Imagine if you were the CEO of Amazon, what should you do to deal with the challenges from competitors? That is why you need to use evidence-based management and get your own way of problem-solving, so this approach enables managers to make rational, fact-based decisions, elevating conversations from preference and opinions to logic and insights.

Evidence-based management is an emerging movement to use and analysed via multiple, high-quality experiments, and various other types of studies and has consistently yielded positive findings. This intervention generally uses well-established facts with a high probability of effectiveness and low potential for harm.

Unfortunately, the challenge in the current business world is that many managers are not solving problems based on relevant evidence of best practices. Without measurable data, the success of any initiatives is based on nothing more than intuition and assumption. Numerous decisions are still driven by dogma and belief. They are not using creativity to make hypotheses and using innovation to solve problems. They are too afraid to try new ways, worry about failure and no original judgement. In that way, the situation is not going to change, plus the problems are not going to solve.

Nowadays, we live in a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world with too much information. Managers and entrepreneurs should think in empiricism like Sherlock Holmes to make hypotheses, then test and proof if it is right. Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype and encourage trial and error experimentations by applying the scientific method. Evidence-based practice is the applied science that contains the cleverest ideas from the past 200 years.

The movement to pay attention to evidence-based practice began when medical researchers discovered a lot of suboptimal treatments were being given, even after there was data indicating they should not be given. For example. It took almost 40 years for medical doctors and nurses to start washing their hands before surgery. Meanwhile, recent research shows doctors wash their hands only about 1/3 of the amount they should and only about 15% of physicians decisions are evidence-based. Simply asking people to act in a certain way does not work either, but need to influence them using proven psychology theories in order to make an impact.

Another example is in professional baseball field which has many myths about who are the best players and how to build winning teams. The book, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, on the other hand, shows the evidence-based way for selecting players, while facing resistance to innovation in the sports industry. The general manager demonstrated the use of strategic thinking to win the game.

Similarly, the same behaviour holds true in the business world with lots of old myths dominated. Ideology is to blame for the persistence of the first-mover-advantage myth. However, empirical evidence shows that it is more important to get it right than get it first. Amazon is not the first online bookseller while Google is not the first search engine either. The first product does not necessary to be the best in order to launch but only needs to be good enough for the users.

Other myth includes what factors are the most important for firm success. In fact, 25% is innovation and a new venture, while 10% from a good leader and CEO. Based on the survey, it shows that 17% with no goal versus 75% has specific goals leads to good performance. Therefore it is a good practice to set goals in management. Organisations would perform better if leaders knew and applied the best evidence.

Furthermore, it is a common myth from a boss in the old days that criticism, complaining and condemnation could push the staffs harder and get a better result. On the contrary, performance drops from bad emotions. Criticism demotivates people which makes employee afraid to make a mistake. Intuitively, there is a correlation between smiling and sales. If you do not rely on the study, then you would probably make a campaign to ensure every employee smiles, but this could lead to counterproductive result since, during a good sales, the employee could be too busy to smile. Also, there is little evidence that equity incentives of any kind, including stock options, enhance organizational performance.

In conclusion, it is time for managers to change how they think and act by trust of science. Collect good data to avoid unexamined ideologies. It matters to your company, as the best practices add to the performance and trump the competition. Decision-makers could look to technology to improve the use of data and analytics, measuring outcomes could provide a clearer lens through which to evaluate practices currently in use. This evidence is an opportunity for empirical analysis of change and initiatives through fact and insight.

The challenge of Nexus, Scaled Professional Scrum (SPS)

I am in a project running with scaled scrum using Nexus framework. Nexus means a relationship or connection between people, which is a unit of development in scaled scrum. Software development is complex, and it’s more challenging with multiple teams build on the same product with many dependencies during the integration. Other than more roles, artifacts and events, here are three main issues I found in day to day work:

  1. Nexus Sprint Planning with only one Product Owner

According to the scrum guide, there is only one single Product Owner who has the final say. After the nexus sprint planning, multiple teams run their individual sprint planning, then it becomes tricky logistically for Product Owner to join all of them. If the individual team’s sprint planning happens concurrently, then it is impossible for him/her to answer questions on domain knowledge and priority decisions at the same time. If the meetings are arranged asynchronously, then it would be quite time consuming for the Product Owner. Furthermore, some resources may be shared among different teams, such as the same Scrum Master, Senior architect and designer within the same product. Even worse, some organisation may assign a group of product owners to take the same role of maximising the value, which would leads to other problems in practice with nobody has the final say of the scaled product.

2. Visualising of the Product Backlog Refinement

New dependencies may emerge, which should be visualised and minimised. However, there are no great tools in the market existing yet to help easily visualise the dependency’s status, whether it is in progress or if it is resolved. JIRA and trello are lack of features for cross-team refinement board, and it could be frustrating to keep chasing up for status as well as finding the right person who has the technical skills to understand why it is an impediment. Due to the complexity, the scrum master may not have enough understanding of the full picture either on the details or the impacts to help manage the dependencies.

3. Nexus Sprint Review with drop of Velocity

There are integration related work to do, which could leads to a drop of velocity. However, which team should do the overlap work is a question, while different teams has a different estimation baseline and different agenda. Some integration work is time consuming, such as deployment of servers, setting up automated test and resolving git code merge conflicts. These are necessary but time consuming work, which could be benefits to both teams , while the values are not fully reflected in story points, but only lead to a drop of burn down velocity. Senior management would then cause a lot of troubles on addressing why the velocity decreases. Furthermore, even if each team completed their stories according to the Definition of done, some defects would be merge after integration in the empirical world, which requires further discussion across teams to resolve the issues.

Nexus Integration Team mindset is the solution

Overall, having the right mindset is the most important part to deal with complexity and unpredictability in software development. The three issues I mentioned above, including meetings, tools and shared work are only symptoms of a more fundamental problem, which is having everybody in the team to embraces changes. Not just the self organised development team, but also leaders of the organisation to understand agility.

Do you have experience in scaled scrum, such as SAFe or LeSS? Any feedback is welcome and I look forward to learning from your feedback.