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Manager’s guide for a new manager: How to quickly learn the workings of your new team?


classic-booksOne of my friend headed the quality function at a medium-sized durable goods company. And once he got a job offer as a general manager in one of its largest plant, he jumped on the opportunity. After briefly examining the new plant, he declared it outdated and went on to rebuild it from ground up. But while doing this, he neglected the importance of understanding the current processes, and interpreted employee’s silence as agreement. No wonder, his idea was not accepted positively. And soon after the new plan was put in place, productivity plummeted and quality suffered.

In order for you to not repeat this mistake, you need to first try to learn the existing operations of the team, strengthen your relationships with the team members, and then try to make changes to the process. In this blog, I will provide you with few tips through which you can accelerate your learning process about the current processes/procedure of your team.

Ask your people: The simplest method to learn the workings of your new team is to ask your people. You would be surprised by knowing how much of the knowledge your new team has to share. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish, while asking very basic questions to your team. I would recommend you to ask these questions during your one-on-one session with your employees. In this way, you will still get the information that you need, without getting embarrassed in front of many people (if you ask any foolish questions).

Train yourself: Another method to quickly familiarize yourself with the existing processes of your new team is to treat yourself like a new employee. I would recommend you to have few days allocated solely to train yourself. During these days, you should work with your team as if you were a new employee joining the team, and tell them to run the show. By doing this, you will not only learn the existing processes of your team but you will also earn the trust of your team by showing them you care about them. Worst come worst, you will be in the position to define the training guide for the new employee joining your team.

Learn from documents: If I were you, I would invest some good amount of time going through all the documentation of the team before I ask someone. In this way, you can learn about the workings of your team without looking foolish in front of someone. This will also give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the document standards of your new team, so that you can follow these standards while changing the documentation, if you choose to change the existing process.

I hope, this blog helps you to accelerate your learning process while understanding the workings of your newly acquired team. If you were in the similar situation like my friend, what would you have done?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to provide coaching to your front line managers?


Coaching your line managersIf you are a Director or a Sr. Manager, who is involved in managing the front line managers, then this blog is for you. I agree that senior management’s role is very crucial and busy, and maybe that’s the reason why you can’t allocate enough time to coach your front line managers. But avoiding coaching/mentoring your front line mangers will create disastrous situations in the future. Your front line managers require more coaching than any other employees in the organization, since they define the culture of your company. In this blog, I will provide you with few pointers to coach your frontline managers effectively.

  1. Provide them training: If you are super busy with your day-to-day activities, and if you are unable to provide coaching to your managers, then please take the benefit of some external trainings. Most of the bigger companies (employees 1000+) have these kind training classes established in-house for their front line managers. So, make sure that your managers go through these training opportunities. While internal training is crucial for every company, not every company can afford to have internal training programs. In this case, you can partner up with few consulting companies to provide similar training opportunities to your front line managers. While selecting those external training programs, make sure that those programs match your company’s culture and working style.
  2. Help them build a network: In a senior management role, you should always encourage your front line managers to network with the key people from your company. By doing this, their area of influence will increase and they will become more independent to do their work. Thus, you should always help them to broaden their exposure within the company by visiting different areas of the company with them, or by introducing them to the new people within your organization. Your work doesn’t get done after an introduction, you need to help them to find opportunities to represent their part of the organization to others. In this way, they can be encouraged to discuss strategic issues and share the information with other management personnel.
  3. Reinforce your culture: Line managers are the one, who will define the culture of your organization. After all, they work at the root level. And hence, it becomes very important to ensure that they are embedded in your organizational culture. In order to reinforce your values, you need to teach them to respect and promote diversity in all areas and jobs in the company (if your company is diverse). You might want to have the discussion during your one-on-one session on how their behavior makes a difference in the organization. Sometimes, it is very important for you to provide them with ongoing information about the people, culture, and history of the organization. Reinforcing these values frequently through your one-on-one sessions or your interactions with them will ensure their growth with the company.
  4. Encourage them: I know, this sounds very simple, but this is very crucial part of the coaching. You need to help your line managers to learn how to deal with and manage ambiguity. Being in the senior leadership role, we always expect our line managers to get everything right. But that may not be the case always. And hence, you need to embrace their failure and provide them encouragement during those situations. I am not telling you to agree with their failures all the time, but have the behavior where they can come to you if they failed. You should also encourage them in their efforts to sponsor and develop potential leaders in the organization. After all, it will help your organization to become better. And yeah! When appropriate, offer feedback, support, and “push back”.

I hope, these tips will help you to better coach your front line managers in your team. So, what would you do to coach your front line managers in your team?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Did you get promoted to a management position for the first time? Then stop doing what you know. Find out why.


After seven years in software development at a San Francisco based e-commerce company, my friend (let’s call him Mr. X) was promoted to his first manager’s position as an Engineering Manager. Up to that point, his track record had been stellar. His intelligence, focus, and determination had won him recognition and various promotions in his organization.

When his company assigned him to be the engineering manager for one of the company’s hottest new products, he ran into trouble early on. Mr. X’s past successes were due to his extraordinary technical leadership and programming capabilities. Accustomed to programming, he was a control freak and had the tendency to micromanage. His efforts to micromanage the engineering team alienated them. And within few months, Mr. X was back as being a technical leader (sr. programmer) and someone else was leading the team.

Mr. X failed as an engineering manager because he was unable to make the transition from being a strong individual programmer to an engineering manager. He failed to grasp that the strengths which had made him successful during his sr. programmer role could be liabilities in a role that required him to lead an engineering team by trusting their programming skills instead of doing it yourself.

What might Mr. X have done differently? He should have focused on mentally promoting himself into the new position, a fundamental challenge for new leaders. The one thing to remember is…………..you can’t become successful in your new job as a manager by continuing to do what you did in your previous position as an individual contributor.

Since you might have been promoted due to your skills and accomplishments, it is only human to think that your senior management wants you to do what you were good at. Maybe that’s the only reason why you might live in the denial, and believe that you are being productive and efficient, if you continue your old behavior. But instead of continuing your responsibilities as an individual contributor, you need to prepare yourself mentally to move into your new role by letting go of the past and embracing the imperatives of the new situation to give yourself a running start. This can be hard work, but it is essential that you do it.

I hope, this blog comes to you as a reminder to forget what you knew, and try adapting yourself to the new management role that you have inherited. What would you do in this situation, if you were to be promoted to your first ever management job?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to clearly define the scope of your project?


ProjectScopeHave you ever wondered about …… What exactly does the ‘scope of a project’ mean? …..I have…. I kept on hearing this term from the time when I started my career. Though I have learned its meaning over the years; people around me still describe the term vaguely. Thus, I am  going to provide you with some simple tips, which can help you to clearly define the scope for your project.

The deliverables: Let’s say, you are one of those project managers whose projects are very complex, and you don’t know where exactly to start for defining the scope of your project. If you are not sure about how to move forward with this process then you should at least try to define the deliverables of the project. Don’t stress yourself too much. Ask your customers to provide you with tangible (I mean tangible) deliverables that they would like to see at the end of the project. Once, you figure out the final deliverables of the project, you can then go ahead and try to define the interim project deliverables. These defined deliverables will tremendously help you to better understand the project.

Project boundaries: Once you got some handle on how the project should look like through its deliverables, you should now define how it shouldn’t be looking. For example: Chris is going to look for a software third-party provider within the US. In this case, third-party software providers from China are out of scope. If Chris was considering the needs of the entire global company, this would not have been a good boundary statement since he could not have stated a good out-of-scope statement.

Project Features: Once you have described the deliverables and the boundaries, you have completed high-level scope. Now, it’s time to describe the physical characteristics of the deliverables, called features. If you were building a software framework, for instance, most of the functionalities would count as features. These might include the number of GUIs (graphical user interface), number of APIs (application interface), etc. So, follow the top-down approach and start defining project’s features from its well defined deliverables.

Project Functions: Once you finished describing project’s features, now you need to describe how people interact with a deliverable and how a deliverable interacts with other deliverables. For example, if you need to change invoicing and billing transactions, most of the requirements could end up being process oriented. This would include how billing transactions move from orders to invoicing to accounts receivable. Basically you are defining the information flow in this phase. Thus, make sure to involve all the stakeholders, who will be affected by this information.

I hope these simple tips will help you to better define the scope of your project. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can make this process simpler. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
 

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Reduce your employee turnover rate by hiring fresh graduates


In my last blog, I have discussed about how you can save some money and re-training costs by hiring a fresh graduate instead of an experienced professional. In this blog, I will provide you with few other reasons why you should prefer fresh graduates over an experienced person.

Flexibility: In my experience, I have found less experienced people more flexible as compared to very experienced professional. For example: I had this one intern, let’s call him Mr. X, who was very self-motivated to learn. Thus, Mr. X will come early every morning, and read all the required process documents and training documents before he started his work. He would still work his core hours with some of my other experienced team members, but he was always willing to put in some extra time to learn new things. His hunger for learning new things helped me a lot, as he would come on weekends sometime and finish some of the important tasks of my projects.

Happier workforce: I am not saying that fresh graduates are always happier at work. I am saying that……….. Since they don’t have any past experience to compare their existing job with, they wouldn’t complain as much as few experienced professionals would, who might have worked in different companies and have seen different company cultures and practices. For a fresh graduate, your culture and practices will become his primary bench mark, since he will grow with your company, and learn all the practices and procedures established by your company. Also, smaller incentives like free bagels, donuts or lunch will go a long way for him as compared to other people, who might have seen different (better) days.

More growth opportunities: Obviously, you can have various growth opportunities for your experienced professionals depending on your company’s policies. But trust me, you will have way more opportunities for your employee’s growth, if you hire a fresh graduate. For example: I work in a Software Industry. In my company, we have various job ranks for our engineers. Ranks go from 1 to 6 depending on their experience and capability. Let’s say, if I hire an experienced professional on “Engineer Level 5”. Unfortunately, after his promotion to the next level, “Engineer Level 6”, I might not have clear defined path for his growth. And that employee will feel stagnant in my company, and might try to leave for another job. Imagine, if I hire an “Engineer Level 1”, a fresh graduate, for the same position . I will have more opportunity to grow him within the company in a given hierarchical structure of the company. Thus, I would recommend you to hire a fresh graduate, if you already have few experienced people in your team to provide a direction.

I hope these tips will help understand the importance of hiring a fresh graduate in comparison of an experienced professional. Let me know, if you have any other reasons why you would prefer hiring a fresh graduate instead of an experienced professional. Please feel free to share your opinion here. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Why should you hire fresh graduates instead of experienced professionals? (Part 1)


I have seen many companies investing their millions of dollars in hiring experienced professionals for their company. Though I understand the need for hiring experienced professionals, I think that companies should invest more dollars in hiring fresh graduates. For example: if you already have few senior engineers in your team, you should not look for more senior engineers. You should instead think of hiring fresh talents. Following are few reasons, why I would hire fresh graduates over experienced professionals.

Lowering costs: This is one of the primary reasons why most of the companies hire fresh graduates. On an average, fresh graduates cost 20-40% less than an experienced individual. I am not saying to hire them just because they are cheap, there are various other cost benefits for hiring graduates. For example: You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in the talent search program. You can partner with some of the local universities in your areas, and take benefit of their career center, which will be more than happy to find out a talent match for you. Or you can participate in Career Fairs of few schools and interview people right there and then. This will also reduce all the traveling and lodging costs, which you might end up paying for inviting an experienced person for an interview.

Easy to train: Imagine, if you hire an experienced professional, who seems to provide you all the answers that you require. But have you ever considered the cost of re-teaching him your culture? Since the person is experienced, he would be familiar with the culture of the last company that he worked for. So, before even teaching him your culture, you need to make sure that he forgets some of the aspects of his old culture, and dwells in with your existing culture. On the other hand, if you hire a fresh graduate then you don’t have to reteach him anything. He will basically learn everything from the beginning, and grow with your company. It’s like writing something on an empty white board, you can write anything without rubbing off any previous prints. Thus, unless you are looking for someone from a different culture/company to come and change your existing team dynamics and your existing work practices, I would recommend you to hire someone fresh and new.

I hope these tips will help understand the importance of hiring a fresh graduate in comparison of an experienced professional. Let me know, if you have any other reasons why you would prefer hiring a fresh graduate instead of an experienced professional. Please feel free to share your opinion here. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to design an internship program that works for you and not for the intern?


InternshipHave you ever been in a situation, where you have invested so much time and money in hiring the cream interns, but they never chose to work for you after graduation? This is not true in today’s economy, where students are thankful to have any job. But still……..I am sure, most of you must have seen a situation where your intern accepted a job offer somewhere else, and your time invested in him/her didn’t pay off for you. Through this blog post, I will provide you some high level ideas through which you can design your internship program to help YOU.

Summer Interns: Don’t get me wrong, but I am a huge fan of pay offs when it comes to business. I understand that you want to help your interns to grow his skillsets. But at the end of the day, you should also be benefited from this relationship. After all, you are investing your time and money to train this intern. Thus, to take the best work out of a summer intern, I would advise you to provide him with few smaller standalone projects. For example: projects related to testing, nice to have projects, bug fixes, etc. This practice will ensure that your work gets done, while giving you an idea of work ethics, self-sustainability, and leadership skills of your intern. I would also go further by saying…..you should hire only those students, who have only one semester to go. This will give you an opportunity to hire that candidate without disrupting your work flow too much.

Full time Interns: Most of the companies don’t offer this program. But I would highly recommend to include this program in your internship. This kind of internship means…..hiring someone part-time, probably 20 hours a week, while he goes to school. I would prefer to hire a local candidates over out-of-state candidates for this kind of internship. This will not only improve your relationships with local Universities and help you to get better full time candidates in the future, but this will also give you an opportunity to get out of paying unnecessary relocation costs. For this kind of internship, I would hire anyone from senior to about to graduate. Since, their working hours need to flexible due to their school schedule, I would assign them projects which require minimal supervision and are of lower priority.

CO-Ops: This kind of program is neither famous nor talked about. But this is my favorite internship program. CO-OP, formally known as cooperative education program, gives an opportunity to the employee to hire someone for an entire year to work for full time. In short, this is like hiring an inexperienced contractor for an entire year. I would mostly hire this kind of interns for a specific projects, which requires medium supervision, and which can be done within a year, OR some manual effort like testing, data entry, etc. I would recommend you to target those schools, where they offer online classes. Thus, if you really like this person during his contract period, you can then keep him as your full time resource, while he simultaneously finishes his school. Try to hire a Master level candidate who is about to finish his school in the next semester. In this way, you will get a resource who is mature but flexible.

I hope these tips will help you in making your internship program work for you instead of working just for your interns. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can improve your internship program, so that you have a reasonable pay-back on your investments. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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