Technical People Need Management And Leadership Too

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, October 19, 2012 at 03:14 PM with 1 comments

A recent article on the Kansas City Star’s Web site by Diane Stafford titled, “Why young achievers don’t stick around” caught my attention, in addition to the fact it was promoted in a weekly LinkedIn email. The topic of team building, motivating, mentoring and leading your team is one that means a lot to me. The article referenced a Harvard Business Review study and research on exit interviews, both of which talked about how young workers will only stay around a company as long as they have opportunities for growth, training and to receive mentorship. Otherwise, they will leave and go elsewhere.

When I read this, my reaction was, “duh!”

photo of train station entrance in Chicago

The same conclusions of these sources are something I have experienced numerous times in my own career in high technology – as an employee myself, as a manager and as a colleague of other managers who lament over the loss of people on their teams. After reading this, my own beliefs and philosophy in management and leadership were reaffirmed, and I am writing this to discuss this topic and observations I have made over my career.

You Hire A Person, Not Just Their Skillset

Allow me to repeat that, you hire a PERSON, not just their skillset. As obvious as this may seem to some, time and time again I see recruiters and hiring managers looking just at what skillset the person has and how immediate they can contribute to the company, team and bottom like. Of course this is important, however they often overlook the entire person – who they are, what types of experiences they have had in the past, what they do outside of work and what their goals and interests are. The individuals who overlook these important attributes often lack vision themselves, or the manager is more interested in their own goals rather than those of the team.

Many managers are looking to simply make their jobs easy for themselves, expecting their team to just “git ‘er dun” without any regard for their team’s wellbeing and growth. A perfect example of this is the job titles that are prevalent in many Web technology jobs, which include qualifiers like “rock star,” “guru,” and “ninja.” With labels like these employers are looking for the best, but are they also willing to give their best back to the employee, with a positive venue of personal and professional growth?

The True Cost Of Developing Your Team

When management looks at what it takes to give their employees what they need not only to succeed but to grow, they are always fixated on the dollar figure. Many companies have cut back on employee training and other growth opportunities with the justification that once the employee gets this benefit, they will just leave for a new job. Granted that can happen, but they may still leave if the opposite happens and they don’t get growth and mentorship in your company. Where you may have saved on training, conference and time taken for mentoring, you are now spending It on recruiting, recruiter fees and the time it takes to review, interview and vet the replacement employees. In many cases those costs are actually higher but not realized as such as they may be spread over several departments where staff development may only apply to the department they are in.

You Must Believe For It To Happen

In order for people who work for a company to get the growth and attention they crave, management must believe in it. Those managers who do are what I truly call leaders. Sure, some companies may say they do, but if it is not marked against a manager when his staff doesn’t get these opportunities, it truly it not a culture that believes its success is tied to the growth and success of its people.

Like Anything Growth And Mentorship Must Be Defined

In most businesses if it is not defined it will not happen. The same goes for developing your team. To whatever degree you want to do it, write it down, include it in the employee manual and promote the heck out if it. Even small teams can offer budgeted dollars for formal training classes or to attend seminars or conferences. This can include covering either the entry fees and/or the time off from the office. An added feature can be that this budget can be exceeded when the staff is presenting or speaking at such events, where they are a representative – and brand promoter – of your company.

When it comes to mentoring, it should be stated what and how the company looks out for its staff, and what defined meetings or metrics are in place. The challenge here is that not all managers may have it in them to be mentors. In that case, training for mentors can be implemented or mentors from outside the firm who have a vested interest in it (e.g. investors, board members) can be assigned to staff. What better way can there be to ensure of the company’s success than working with its people at all levels?

Strive For Action Not Perfection

If your company doesn’t have a growth or mentorship program or you are a new business, then just start one. Define, review it and refine it with 360 degree feedback from those on the giving and receiving end of the program.

Career Growth and mentorship have always been things I have strived for as a manager. As a small business of 1 person I admit I have not always been the best boss to my 1 employee – me. But if you are to grow, you need to consider the time and cost investment in your people along with everything else you do to bring the on-board your firm.

Agree? Not agree? Not sure? I welcome your comments and questions.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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