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From Fresh Graduate Trainee to Expert
This is my real story of getting extra-ordinary performance from ordinary people. A fresh graduate trainee was transformed to an expert in an
(supposedly) difficult technology
by reposing trust on the trainee and also by addressing his manager's
fear of failure.
When I took charge, one
attempt to create the CTI team in India had failed and the entire
project was in limbo. The manager told me that a person of the level of
team leader had been sent to USA office to get trained on CTI. He had
spent six months in US office. He came back to India and was to do the
team building and skill building for CTI in India under the overall
leadership of the manager. But this team leader
had quit the company after getting trained in US and the entire project had come to a screeching
As I was taking charge of the other active projects, I knew that the
CTI project was on hold. I kept reminding the manager to re-initiate
this activity, make a project plan. He enumerated several problems
because of which he could not make the plan. He said he had to recruit
trained CTI senior level person (team lead level), and he was facing
great difficulty in getting the right skills to recruit. The other team
members in the CTI team too had to be well trained
in C/C++ programming language, a skill which we did not have. As all
our projects were using ASP/VB, we did not have any C/C++ trained
staff, and my manager said he had to recruit fresh talent to create a
new CTI team. The entire project was stuck due to non-availability of
the right skills.
Best Alternative Solution
So one day, fed up of listening to the same old
story from my manager, I walked up along with him to the desks of his
team members, particularly the fresh graduate trainees. I asked the
manager what work they were doing. I picked up one of the fresh
graduate trainees and told my manager to free this trainee and relieve
him of his current assignment. I told my manager to give him a very
simple CTI project providing very basic functionality. (We decided on a
trial application to simply initiate and end a telephone
call through software commands alone, without touching the
phone buttons). I told the manager to give him that simple project, give
him the CTI manual (it was pretty fat book!) and give
him a timeframe to complete the project by
reading the manual and any other means of self-study. I said, "Just trust him to read, experiment and
find a solution". I told the manager to help wherever possible and to
keep adding more and more simple functionality to this project once the
previous was successfully delivered. In other words the strategy was to
start with extremely simple project, and gradually learn to add new features and
the trainee felt comfortable with (and very importantly, excited about)
delivering and seeing results.
Of course the manager whole
heartedly contributed in this experiment. He had to
be assured, explicitly and subtly, that he need not be too worried
about failure as no attempt would be made to find a scapegoat. I
had to convey my trust that the best effort would be made more out of
inherent motivation to do some technology innovation and something useful for the company.
Even a raw team can give excellent results given the right condition and motivation
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things with the right freedom, trust and motivation.
Even youngsters with low experience can do a good job. You only need to trust them and assign them a task.
You do not need special people to do special things.
Nothing is so difficult to learn and achieve.
Managers need to have the courage to take risk. Often it is not because the staff is not skilled, but because the managers are not capable to take the risk.
At the same time the managers themselves need to be given the right environment to take risks. They need enough freedom, particularly while experimenting with new technology, otherwise they are over-cautious and unwilling to take risk. In this case, it was my responsibility (as the Department Head) to make my manager comfortable by giving him the space to experiment and take risk. If I had put too much pressure to succeed, my manager would not be ready to take the risk.
Again, it was also my responsibility as the Department Head to give my Project Manager full confidence that he will not be made the scape-goat if he fails. My message was, "If we succeed, we all succeed and if we fail, we all fail". Not only I had to convey this message loud and clear, but I had to also ensure that I really meant it and that it was not just pep talk. The manager would take risks only when he/she felt very confident that I won't go witch hunting to find a scape-goat in case of failure.
It is often due to manager's lack of risk taking ability that we do not get the best out of people (or people do not perform to their potential) and not because of the potential of the subordinates
Managers can restrict the creativity of the subordinates because of their own fear that the team may fail.
For new technology projects, stiff targets enforced on the team do not work. You need to give just the right freedom to the manager.
Experts can be created. The problem is not of lack of talent but lack of trust on the part of the managers.
Technology Managers need to do a balancing act between technology and strategy. If they get too engrossed in technology they will never do justice to the strategic work that they are required to do.
In order to be able to concentrate on strategic issues and not get too bogged down by technology, I did two things. First, I created experts who I could bank on for technology deep dive whenever required. Secondly I was open to learn from these experts if required. Whenever there was a problem, I was comfortable to do a deep dive in technology with my technical experts, learn from them, together solve the problem and come out to keep my head above water, and eyes on strategic issues. A manager needs to be comfortable doing technology deep dive when required, and equally quick in coming out of 'water' to refocus on strategic issues.