Looking after your people

One of the fundamentals of military leadership is looking after your troops.  Its taught from an early on in the army and the air force that your NCO’s eat at the end of the line.  (Don’t get me started on the Navy who are the exception to this) but the goal is to promote the welfare of the people you are responsible for by putting them before yourself.  You take this approach right through and I’m sure anyone that’s had a good manager would typically agree that they took the time to see how you were doing, and find a way to help contribute to your success.

It’s a simple change in attitude for a tech, but regardless of the people in your team and what you think of them, if you take 5 minutes every now and then to see how they are doing you will get a good result.  I took the approach this year of taking the entertainment budget, and rather than spending it randomly using it to shout each of the team a birthday coffee with the whole department when it roles around.  It does mean November is surprisingly busy (Thanks Valentines day…) but it has meant a lot more to the team than a random acknowledgement.  I actually got HR to send me the list of birthdays for my calendar and when things are busy I will schedule time in my day to remind me to go and see whats going on. There’s probably a bunch of people out there who consider this a new concept (Pretty much the Navy in total at the bare minimum.)  You might be asking yourself, “Do I really care about these people?” but the question should be  “Do they care about you?”

I worked for a CIO once who did not know the names of his second level reports or what they did.  Come to think of it I’m not sure he knew what I did…  Now in all the IT department was about 50 people.  He had several reports and they have technical specialists and on meeting one of the senior technical specialists he took the rather ill advised option of asking ‘So what do you do?” to our Exchange expert.  I was told this story afterwards and was dissapointed because I knew this guy was excellent value and if he had worked for me directly I would have been promoting his efforts at every turn, being the sort of guy that likes to ‘look after his people.’ but rightly or wrongly I hadn’t and the outcome was that the CIO looked like an idiot and lost the respect of the majority of that team.  Word spread and when he was eventually made redundant he was fairly well universally hated within the IT team.  Part of me thinks that I should have probably done more to promote the CIO’s cause with the team and admittedly I did try this on a number of occasions, but my big challenge was perhaps that I knew they were right. Its a sad day when you realise you aren’t prepared to follow your manager. As a leader its my goal to make sure that my team don’t feel that way about me and that whether I feel that way about my boss or not, my team don’t know it.  Looking after your people works both ways.

But most of us already knew that, its hardly rocket science.  So the expansion I have found this year is to question ‘who exactly are my people?’ I used to think of my team as the people that reported to me, but the truth is my team is actually everyone I deal with from the people that pull out all the stops to ship me hardware when someone’s decided to start with 4 hours notice, to the vendor that’s dropping the ball on support, to the guys in marketing that come in with the last minute website updates (My current marketing team is actually pretty awesome, but I think that’s in part because of this principle.)

So I’m not saying don’t have boundaries, or let people walk all over you, but if you adopt the approach of anyone that works with you is probably interested in either making you succeed or making your cause succeed it helps give you perspective in dealing with them and does encourage you to make the extra effort to work with them.  Lets face it us IT people aren’t always known for making the extra effort with our personal interactions.

So my goal for the year is making sure that I extend my group of people to include my vendors and suppliers and my internal and external customers, especially the difficult ones.  I’ m going to make a specific effort with the difficult ones to identify if I can find a way to work with them.

So Looking after your people… It just makes good sense.


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