8 Ways to Spot Untrustworthy People

2012/01/09

Another one on trust!!! As I said in a previous post, I’m a stickler for trust. Without that, I don’t think we can clearly distinguish ourselves from a carnivore that eats whatever it can when hungry. But still, we find untrustworthy people, who, in their late 20’s, think the best way to survive in “today’s world” is being manipulative.  I really feel the urge to ask them how many other worlds they know. I don’t, and before I digress, these are some traits I’ve noticed pretty consistently in untrustworthy people.

  • Not Sticking to Commitments – They don’t stick to their own commitments and find ways to the blame the meekest person, or the weather for that matter for not meeting them. Seriously, I had a team member who blamed sudden rains for not meeting deliverables, and he was in office that day.
  • Back Talking – They talk to you nicely, but talk about others in a, hmm, not so nice way. But if you catch them talking nicely to the same people whom they bitched about to you, don’t be surprised.
  • Seeing everyone as competition – They really can’t differentiate between a peer and a competitor. In their world, there is only one survivor at the end of each and every day, and as a result, it is imperative they should be the one. Many people can argue that is the case in reality, but it need not be – and I can write a 1500 words post on that alone.
  • Being politically right – Being nice is more important for them than being right. Such people just can’t talk anything on your face, nice or otherwise. There is always a hidden personal agenda. Sometimes, it can also be a result of the organization culture. I worked in a company that had an online training program titled Being Politically Savvy. I was not sure if it was a joke, but it reflected in the way most of the employees dealt with each other in that company.
  • Blab information – They pride in knowing information others don’t. Most times, the information might not even pertain to the conversation. It just does not matter. They know something, and even if they were not supposed to say it, they will, because they need to prove they know more than you.
  • Also, conceal information – This is also a typical trait. They believe in playing their cards close to their chest – which is not wrong – but many times, they conceal information to such extent that it even leads to failure of larger goals, if they don’t have major stakes on those results. If they do, they display traits of point 1. Sometimes, you can spot the same person showing this and the previous trait. They blab totally unrelated information, but conceal important information that leads to success of a common goal.
  • Flaunt a false sense of power – If such people are somewhere in the junior/middle management, they just don’t know what power is. Their only notion of power is – getting their subordinates to listen to them and not think. Well, do I really have to expand this further – I’m sure all of have had such bosses or even been one. Just a confession – I’ve had such bosses and also been one. But then, there are people who don’t have to be bosses to exhibit such traits.
  • Flaunt contacts they don’t have – If you know people who always know someone in anyplace, then you know what I’m talking about. The moment you utter some kind of problem or help you need, they fire all guns to tell you they know someone who can help you, but invariably that person would not be available just when you need them, though they had a conversation only the previous week. This might sound an innocuous trait, but please don’t depend on such people to get something done. And hey, I have done that many times over – to feel a false sense of pride.

These are some traits I have observed from my own experiences. I’m sure there are more, so how do you spot untrustworthy people?

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Why Good Leaders Fail…

2011/12/26

The internet and even book shelves are filled with numerous articles on the traits of bad managers, and some traits of good managers too. It might sound a bit ironic, but all my time spent on reading and searching has proven this – there are more bad managerial traits than there are the good ones available in any format.

But there are those that fall in-between, ones that were good managers, got excellent results for the business through people, created a thriving environment for everybody to grow, ensured individual motivators are leveraged to achieve key results, and in the process let a few of them grow, and if possible, even over grow themselves. I know these kind of idealistic phrases are generally associated with angels and some religious representations that cannot take a human form, but I have come across a few people (very few though!!!) who are capable of this. But the moment you put them in another environment or organization, they start to break down. All parts of the phrase above reflect the exact opposite now. They miserably fail in meeting the expectations of their direct reports and managers. They lose touch with reality and sometimes it also affects the lives of people around.

So why do such managers fail in one environment, while been wildly successful in another? These are some reasons that I have come across in my experience. Please do feel free to add your thoughts too.

  • The value systems are entirely different – Weather they move from a mature to an immature value system or vice versa, there is a natural tendency to under-perform. And if they move from a non-political (trust me, there are such for-profit organizations) to a highly political environment, it becomes a turmoil.
  • Parameters for trust are entirely different – If you read my posts even irregularly, you would have guessed it by now. I’m a stickler for trust. Some of my friends even call me an old-school person. Either way, I’ve been in situations where trust means different things for different people. In fact, I’ve been in situations where trust does not hold any meaning at all. So, if what we mean by trust is entirely different, between team members, peers and our supervisors, then this is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
  • The new manager is not as mature as you – This is again a sure-fire recipe for total disaster. You have gained experience the hard way, making terrible mistakes, embarrassing yourself, doing a few right things – basically the hard way. But your new manager is, hmm, political and raw. And then the conflict of interests starts. Either way, please remember, you are never going to win a battle with such a boss. Either work around them, or just work in a different place.
  • The manager is not able to establish credibility with the new team – This is entirely up to the manager. If the manager had been working with a team for a few years, then it is more like a known devil situation. But, direct and indirect reports don’t look at new manager as an unknown angel. The sooner the manager establishes credibility, the better. This is best done by exactly defining goals, guidelines to reach them and what will happen if those goals are not met or met. This will ensure people really don’t care about the person and concentrate on results. Not being popular is much better than making people chase shadows to be liked by a few people.
  • The Manger is probably too “good” – A lot of manager fall into this trap – in fact I’ve been there too when I started out as a first line manager almost 8 years back. They take management as a popularity contest and fail on their basic responsibilities – defining goals that directly impact the business, and helping the team achieve them too. This urge for being popular becomes all the more imperative when the manager takes charge of a new team.

So what do you think? Why do leaders fail sometimes, while being wildly successful elsewhere?


3 people who can benefit from Micromanaging…

2011/06/15

Micromanaging is often seen as a bad word and a bad habit – in many arguments, rightfully so too. People who micromanage are seen as terrible managers and people who are micromanaged rightfully lose their motivation. While all this is also backed by research results, I also feel one size does not fit all and sometimes, we also need to micromanage for the benefit of not only the system, but also the people themselves. Here are three kinds of people whom I think can benefit from micromanaging. The key though is, knowing when to stop. This is a result of some of the experiences I have had, and would love to hear your thoughts on the same.

People moving from unstructured environment to a process driven environment: As the organization moves from a start up to a mature one, it is critical that we set some processes that serve as principles of engagement and collaboration. A key trait of mature organizations is systems that are scalable. In a start-up, we might have worked day in and day out just to satisfy customers and help cash flow, but as the organization matures, I think it is critical to set some ground rules that serve as a basis of operation – a Standard Operating Procedure you might call. But these ground rules and processes can require a lot of re-iteration and hand holding initially. We cannot expect the entire organization to follow a process by just sending out mails to a few people. A new process also needs a lot of feedback to enhance it – thus making the system scalable. I don’t think it can happen fruitfully unless we micro-manage the process, and people who follow that process to an extent.

People who are under some kind of performance review: Periodically, many organizations put employees through some kind of performance review in case their performance does not meet certain levels of competency. While this is not done in a mature manner in many originations, I feel unless we micromanage these situations and people, we are actually doing injustice to them and the system. These are very sensitive situations that need some maturity to handle. We should neither be seen as tough task masters without humane considerations, nor weak managers who let bad performance pass by. Both will set employees for failure. For this to happen, I think we need to back the performance of the concerned employee with solid, authentic data. This quantification of performance is not possible unless we micro manage to an extent. If we just say an employee’s performance has been bad over let’s say, one year and they need to buckle up, we are actually putting the employee in wilderness. They neither know why their performance was bad, nor understand what is expected of them to scale their competence up. It’s a typical management jargon to say “feedback needs to be specific and action items followed through”, but can this be a justifiable exercise without micromanaging to an extent? I think it is gross injustice to the employee if we put them under performance review but not be specific enough on the plan of action and also not follow through them – in short periods that too. Without this, I feel a decision to either fire them, or retain them will both be subjective. And being 100% subjective in these situations is setting these people up for failure.

High performers who are groomed for the next level of responsibilities: Not just bad performers, but even high potential performers who are being groomed for the next level of responsibilities can benefit from a bit of micromanaging. Specifically, when people move from an individual contributor’s role to a leadership role, I feel it is vital they are hand held for some time to begin with. I feel one of the primary reasons for failure during this transition is expecting the team to do the same things we did – thinking it is the only right thing to do, given we have actually been promoted doing it – and benchmarking the team performance against our own as individual contributors. Guiding those people will only help them in the long run. But the key in this scenario is deciding what exactly we do to guide them. While in other cases, its simple micromanagement from the industrial era days, in this case, it’s more about giving those people tips, providing training tools, fixing accountability and escalation guidelines, etc.

As mentioned before, in all these instances, the key is, knowing when & where to stop. Understanding that and striking the right balance defines our own Leadership Maturity. What do you think? Is micromanaging bad irrespective of the situation or have I missed more kinds that can benefit from micromanaging?


When Am I a Successful Manager?

2011/03/28

Being a manager means so many things to so many people. And unfortunately, success for a manager is also defined in so many different ways that it’s a rare chance two people will always give the same answer if ever asked. These are something’s I see as success indicators for a manager, but then, these are my opinions and experiences, and could be right, wrong or even left. Looking forward for thoughts, comments and of course, criticism too.

Success for a manager can probably be seen in two ways, success in terms of business results and success in terms of team’s performance. When it comes to team’s performance:

  • Success is not about low turn around rates always. More than low turn around rates, success for a manager is also about where and how people from the team are placed once they move out. A team member sticking to a particular team or manager may not only be a result of his/her preference, but also the fact that the manager has not enabled the people he/she is responsible for enough to actually be successful beyond the particular job function. This is dicey for both the team and the manager. It could well be because the manager actually does not think beyond the current role for both the team and himself/herself.
  • Being popular need not mean being successful. This is probably the most clichéd quote, so I’m probably not going to explain this further. That being said, being unpopular with the team and popular with executives is not a sign of success either. A truly successful manager is popular with both the team and the management – and not for antics, but for results.
  • Another key success trait for a manager is when each and every reportee of him/her knows exactly what is expected of them. This could again sound clichéd, but more than knowing what is expected, I also feel it is important for a manager to share exactly what each of the performance standards mean and how a person will be rated during the dreaded performance cycles. I feel every reportee should know what each performance parameter means to the manager, what is the scale of rating, and what each point in the scale means.
  • Also important is the knowledge of what it takes to move to the next level. This sets a level playing field, and also shows that the manager is truly interested in the success of his/her people not just in the current job roles, but also larger ones.

Success from business results stand point of view is actually pretty simple. Whatever you do, please meet customer expectations!!! Sounds simple right? But this is probably the toughest thing for any manager to do. There is so much talk about “customer delight” in the Indian IT industry in particular, but honestly, customers would be more than happy if we just meet their expectations I guess. This was the success mantra of Flipkart.com, and boy have they grown!!! Reflecting on the instances when we were customers, I’m sure we will agree that we will be more than happy if Chinese food smelt and tasted like Chinese food, and being exquisite etc will only be over and above satisfying that primary need.

What do you think? These are just a set of thoughts I could think of, and would definitely add more when I think of them.


Why do you want to become a Manager?

2010/06/09

I see a lot of people who say they want to become managers, which is a good goal to have no doubt. But when I ask them why, most of the answers hover around more money and a better status symbol. Well, honestly, I don’t think we need to be managers for either. M.K.Gandhi was not a manager, but I guess he had both. So did Martin Luther King Jr, and the list can go on.

So for people who really want to be Managers for the above two reasons, here are some of the “harder things” nobody talks about:

  • Being a manager is a thankless job. All results you produce, is neither sufficient for the team nor your supervisors, and honestly, you too. Are you open to criticism? (Please note the usage of the word “criticism” over “feedback”).
  • The chances of failure are much more than the chances of success in our ventures. Are you prepared to take it in your stride?
  • We need to quantify our instincts to sell our point, again both to the team and our supervisors. Are you prepared to sit and work out formulas for the same?
  • Honestly, being a manager is hard work and can make one feel lonely. Are you prepared to deal with it?

I can go on, but I don’t want to convey a feeling that being a manager is a bad thing, and not a good goal to have. So, to remove any such impressions, here are the good things about being a manager:

  • We honestly have a responsibility over the direction the organization must take and no longer get to do what the boss says. It’s all about how we use it.
  • We have the liberty to promote or at least present in a positive light people who have the urge to perform and grow. Again, it’s about how we use it.
  • It is definitely more responsibility towards all the stakeholders and hence, increases our personal brand equity.
  • We will have the liberty to test our pet projects and ideas. But please see points 2, 3 from the previous list.

So a good question to ask ourselves could be, Why should I become a manager? Is being a manager my goal or my perception of a way to achieve my larger goals? Who knows, the right answers to these questions can even make one think being a manager is not the solution, and also help us arrive at better ways to achieve our goals!!!

The key then could be, WHAT IS OUR GOAL/AMBITION? More on that in the next post.

PS: I know this is a very sensitive subject and will like some honest feedback on my thoughts. I could pretty well be wrong, and like to know what you feel about this.


How can you motivate your manager

2010/02/11

We come across numerous articles on how to motivate team members and most of them typically revolve around some of the points listed below:

  • Working with a responsive boss
  • High levels of trust displayed by the direct supervisor
  • Having a proper reward systems in place
  • Interesting and challenging responsibilities
  • Working in a good work environment
  • Being paid on par with the other players in the industry
  • Etc…

A lot of people management training also focuses on many key parameters including some listed above. But at the other side of the spectrum, the manager is a human being too, who needs motivation to perform better and help the team perform better. I guess we all pretty much agree that any human relationship must be a mutually beneficial and conductive engagement, and in my opinion, a supervisor-subordinate relationship is (and should be) no different. As much as it is the responsibility of the manager to motivate team members, there are a few things we can also do to motivate our managers. These are not impossible things to do, but doing these would only keep us in the good books of the manager – without compromising our values that is.

Being a can-do team member – Agreed, it is the responsibility of manager to build a can-do team, but certain times, people are so judgmental that even honest intentions are taken otherwise. If we are approached by our manager for some “challenging assignment”, please understand that he/she has picked us among the lot because we have shown behavioral traits to overcome challenges. There is no reason to cringe additional responsibility, rather we can be proud of the fact that we are the chosen one. Its better to discuss and work around challenges, than being defensive. Honestly, do you believe your manager would respond to you positively if you don’t?

Trusting your manager – Like it or not, believe it or not, your manager has more challenges than you can imagine. Expecting our manager to disclose all information before starting off anything is not feasible. Yes, trust is a mutual thing, but once we see traits of trust in our manager, is it not our responsibility to respond appropriately? Do you expect the manager to unconditionally trust you without reciprocation?

Understanding the reward system and working with it – It is generally not uncommon to crib about the reward system when we see a peer being rewarded and not us. If there is a proper reward system in place, it is better to understand the parameters and work towards them. If we can’t figure it, just ASK!!! It is not right to brand a system/decision biased without understanding it properly.

Taking Initiatives – Responsibility is generally given to people who display traits of handling the the unknown. The best to way to do it is by taking initiatives – I mean “initiating” things on our own and seeing it to completion. Just completing the assigned responsibilities is not the ticket to promotions or bigger things – it just ensures our paycheck.

Not being the negative force of the team – We all want to work in a good, professional work environment. But isn’t the environment is made of & by people who are part of it? What have we done to make the environment better for our part? At least, what have we done to ensure we don’t make it worser? Being a cribber, pretender, back stabber, the greedy goon, the office bully are the best ways to ensure we get noticed for all the wrong reasons. Work life balance is one of the most discussed topics these days, but sometimes I get the feeling that having a good work life balance is all about having the ability to dump work to attend to personal things – please correct me if I’m wrong.

Not expecting unrealistic and undeserved salary hikes – We all need money to survive, but honestly, is that the only reason we work for? If yes, be rest assured that we cannot find peace even if we work for a peace mission. If no, ponder over (and give feedback) on the points suggested above.

This is just a suggestive list and I’m hoping for comments from everyone for a better understanding. And if you feel you perfectly fit the bill and still not getting your due, then the best advice you can get is to dump your current job and move on.

Note: I have a manager too!!


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