Talking it through

One of the main challenges about managing techs is that they don’t like to admit when they are wrong.  I call it “teenage boy syndrome” because the response I get when I have to point out an issue is a lot like the response I used to give when I was a teenager and I was getting told I stuffed up: Look at the floor mumble ‘I know I know, I won’t do it again” a lot and try and get out of there as quickly as possible.  Of course for a lot of techs looking at the floor and mumbling is pretty much a default.

At my last role we used to joke that the outgoing developers were the ones who looked at your shoes while they were speaking to you.  Of course it goes deeper for your standard Engineer than being an introvert.  We are the guys that people go to for a solution, the supermen of the corporate network, we’re never wrong and when we are we on’t like to talk about it. Awareness  of perception by the rest of the business doesn’t really factor into it, its more about awareness of yourself.  As a Tech you are often your own toughest critic and the last thing you need is someone thats ahead of you reminding you that you are not perfect, because chances are thats what you do to yourself everyday.

Of course this type of attitude isn’t conducive to corporate success. So what to do?  In the military we encouraged self assessment.  We have whole structured subjects on ‘Instructional Technique’ (The other I.T.) and part of that process is to ask yourself and your immediate team

“How did I do?”

“where could I improve?”

Its meant to encourage open and honest feedback.  Personally I think my friends in the military have taken that too far now and they spend all their time  omplaining about how they could do it better, but that’s for another discussion.  I have a friend at an airline that tells me about safety “When someone makes a mistake, we all try to learn from it.” It’s a no harm no foul approach.  If you don’t know don’t be afraid to ask.

Its a great idea where the safety of a large metal object I commit my life to is concerned, the last thing you want is to find the wing nuts aren’t attached because someone felt bad about asking how.  Its also something that I try and encourage in the office too.  I guess those of us that work in technology have seen the influx of new cultures over the last decade or two.  Its one of the things I love about IT, the department could literally be the bridge of the starship Enterprise.  We don’t tend to discriminate on where people are from or what their background is, we just like to get the job done.  Now some of those cultures do find admitting to a mistake a lot harder than others.  I guess those of you playing at home know who I’m talking about and the advantage is that if you do you can act on it.

The ideal I described above is one thing, but getting it into action is another.  I figured the best approach was to start with myself.  I make a point to actively seek feedback on our projects and communications to the business

‘What did you think of that?’

“How could we improve the next one”

The efficiency experts will tell you that getting your people at the coalface involved is fundamental to genuine process improvement, so why not get your help desk involved in helping to improve your customer communications.  It promotes an environment where they realise we value our response to the customer and more improtantly sets the stage for self assessment.  The trick is not to turn it into a self validation exercise.  Look for improvements and take them on board

The next step is to ask those same questions to your team.
‘What did you think of that?’

“What went well?”

“How could we improve the next one”

If you keep the process positive and remove the fear of retribution it gets easier and easier until you reach the point where people start to do it themselves, and better still do it with their reports.

When you can provide an environment that your team feel is worthwhile to promote then you have something that is worth being a part of.

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