keeping your rockstars (and other employees) happy

I’m pretty sensitive to worker happiness; hey, it’s an INFP thing for the most part. And I liked this article on Gigaom: 5 ways to keep your rockstars happy.

First, some sub-points to mention.

a. “…even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings…” – I like 1-on-1 meetings with my boss, if only to make sure I get face time, share my challenges and accomplishments, and just chat a bit. And this is coming from an introvert who hates “chatting.” If I ever move up to mgmt, 1-on-1s will be a staple. It also helps to foster less boss-employee relations and lets people be more formal and at ease with each other. Well, at least that’s always been my boss-employee relationship with strong 1-on-1 comm.

b. “…[help] people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers” – How do you best get someone to go what you want? Let them come to the conclusion you want on their own; just guide them. This also allows for better accountability (ownership) and pride and confidence. I also believe this helps foster better innovation, especially if you let them run with an idea that you might not initially think it better. This can be hard for me at times, as I (and I can’t say this without sound like a douche) for most of my life in school and work and personal am usually right in my judgements (see? I can’t say that without being an ass). It’s sometimes difficult to let someone else’s idea be the torch, especially if I don’t immediately believe it’s the best option. But sometimes allowing that helps, especially when a manager is a little further apart from the trenches. I think ultimately puzzling through problems can lead to more acceptance of innovation and even mistakes.

c. “…who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.” – This isn’t quite as important to me, which isn’t surprising since I keep to myself, am reserved, adore my privacy, and keep some things separated rather well (work vs online persona, e.g.). But I still do like when a boss knows some of my interests and hobbies, and vice versa, and they also have an interest in my career. That 1-on-1 point up above supports this.

So now the real points of the article!

1. Create a culture of education – Agreed, but managers can’t just shove learning down people’s throats. I don’t necessarily want to learn about how department 12 does their job, or take classes on Juniper routers when I’d rather have Cisco classes. Education has to match up with the desires, interests, and goals of each employee. But it needs to be made available and gently guided as well. This should also include actual useful training on technologies available, especially in IT and security. One of my beliefs is that IT ops learns the most when shit hits the fan and we’re in troubleshooting mode. That’s a reactive way to learn, which can be partially fixed with proactive learning and encouragement and value. And truly, the top 10% of your team will be interested in learning. I’m positive there’s a direct relationship there.

2. Provide regular, consistent feedback – Consistent is probably key here. No one likes to have a moving target or a friend (manager) who waffles constantly and flip flops more than a pendulum. The points in the article are excellent, though.

3. Set time aside for weekly 1:1 meetings – Oops, I covered this already. I personally don’t think you can manage people very well and keep them happy without this. Unless you’re a stupid or tyrannical manager that you people don’t actually want to talk to. Then I’d say skip this. 🙂 This also has a security aspect to it, as I strongly believe that the first line of defense against insider attacks and disgruntled employees is the managerial relationship.

4. Manage the grunt work properly – I hadn’t actually thought much on this, but I do like this idea. Managers should also know what tasks employees consider “grunt work,” and manage accordingly. Right now we’re looking to hire a more “juniorish” person on our operations team. This is a great opportunity for each of us to get a “grunt” task off our plates and onto someone less seasoned into their career.

5. Publicly acknowledge good work – Again, as an introvert, this isn’t usually a big deal to me. But it does get noticed when other people are praised and I get left off the list (which happens often when you’re infrastructure ops or security). I do, however, care what my immediate boss thinks of me, just like a parent-child relationship in the early years. And I do understand the more public acknowledgement serves the careers of both me and my manager, so I’ll totally ‘get it.’ If my CEO or other C-level knows my name and can greet me, that alone is a cool feeling, and it helps if there is some public or at least manager-level-back-room acknowledgement going on. For instance, thinking back to high school, some of the best praise and good feelings I got from my teachers was completely indirect, where I would find out that one or two would talk about me in their own circles (for better or worse). That sort of knowledge in their interest means a ton.

This can easily get a bit cheesy however, and I’ve seen awful examples of this in my career. For instance, don’t have a mandatory rotating award; it devalues the spontaneity of it, especially when someone undeserving gets it. When that happens, the entire purpose is destroyed, if not worse. Second, if you have a reward/recognition program internally where employees can send “good jobs” perks to others, don’t go making them mandatory or otherwise so devalued that friends just bounce them back and forth in a you-pat-my-back-I’ll-pat-your-back way. This also somewhat benefits more social people than those reserved introverts that probably only give praise when it truly is heartfelt.