Managing people

The most valuable asset an ISP has today is not its facilities. It’s not the inventory of web and email servers, its software or its modem banks. It’s not the healthy bottom line the company achieved last year or your line of credit with the bank.

It’s people. It’s especially true in the Internet services where quality and quantity are in such short supply. Sometimes it feels as though everyone – customers, partners and competitors alike – all want the sales people, customer service/support representatives, network design and installation personnel and operations people you have hired and trained.

It’s an asset that is difficult to find, difficult to retain and difficult to manage. But if you manage the asset properly it can produce exceptional results for your organization…and for you.

Following are some simple guidelines you can follow to manage people more effectively, more easily and with better results.

Think of them as your 10 commandments to better management:
1. Don’t get into a rut thinking there’s only one right way to do a job.

Just because that’s the way it has always been done doesn’t make it more right or in fact better than what someone else might do. A fresh perspective can sometimes accomplish more in less time. Judge by results rather than how the task was accomplished.

You probably take the same route to work every morning. But there are probably dozen of routes you could take – some scenic, some very direct. A different route may help stimulate some new thinking when you get to the office. A new approach to handing a job may save your organization time and money.
2. Look for diversity in the people you hire in terms of talent, experience and temperament.

Don’t expect everyone to be the same. Don’t look for clones of yourself because it can only limit the organization’s — and your – growth potential.

Aggressively look for people who have the values you respect most but don’t expect them to be the same as yours. Surrounding you with people who think and perform like you may be a boost to the ego but diversity, and even chaos, can produce a more well rounded organization and a multi-dimensional, multi-facet firm people want to associate with…want to deal with.
3. Praise in public, criticize in private.

People honestly do want to do a good job. When they come in the morning it’s with the idea that they are going to accomplish something and be constructive. A little well placed praise said in a group of his or her peers not only boost the individual’s ego but also encourage them to accomplish more.

Very few people take criticism well. If the only inputs they receive from you are critical they soon stop trying to excel. This is especially true when the criticism is done in front of others – customers, suppliers or other employees. Suppliers and customers won’t say how brilliant you are but probably wonder why you’re so dumb to hire inept people. Members of your staff will see the criticism levied and will avoid thinking on their own or taking chances because they don’t want to be brought down in the eyes of their peers.

Expect people to do well. When they do praise them for their efforts and their performance. Soon you’ll have them producing results even beyond their own level of expectation.
4. Make yourself available.

You’re the manager. You can’t be effective at the job behind closed doors. You can’t do it by hiding behind voice mail, memos or email. Make yourself available to your people. Be accessible when they want your ideas, inputs, and thoughts.

Andy Grove, former president of Intel, had a cubicle in the center of the office area because he wanted to be “where the action is,” and wanted to make certain he received the news – good and bad – as early as possible.
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard of HP refined the technique known the world over of Management by Walking Around.
5. Don’t wait until the project is completed to give your feedback.

People don’t thrive in a vacuum. As you know in working with customers there are always three levels to a discussion – what they said, what you thought they said and what they thought they said. How often has a member of your team or you said, “why didn’t you tell me what you meant?”

As overstressed as most ISPs are today it is too easy to assign a project to someone in passing. Then finding out they had misinterpreted what was said or worse yet they were waiting for more guidance or more information.

It doesn’t mean you have to constantly look over the individual’s shoulder or check on what the team is doing but check in periodically. Get a snapshot update. It shows that you are interested in their work and that the project is important to the company and to you. Make certain the individual(s) is on the same wavelength as the company or organization and it’s goals/objectives.
6. Expect your staff to excel.

If you’ve done a thorough job of hand picking your team you should have the best ISP organization in the area if not the state or country. Now the difficult part comes in establishing the goals and stepping back to be the organization cheerleader and mentor.

Expect people to be equal to the task. Expect them to perform in an outstanding manner and to produce the target results. You’ll be surprised what happens when you believe they are competent. Most of the time trusting in their ability to deliver will produce the desired results.
7. Tell staff members about expectations, priorities and deadlines.

There are very few clairvoyants in the world. Everyone hates to be a mushroom. People don’t know if you don’t communicate. Spell out the entire task. Setting goals, priorities and deadlines in your mind is not the same as telling people.

Be open with your people by expressing your long-range and short-range objectives and concerns. It’s surprising how often people will step up and make your concerns their concerns and your goals their goals.
8. Do performance appraisals more than once a year.

In most organizations an annual appraisal is required by the firm’s HR guidelines. Forget the guidelines. Evaluate performance informally on a regular basis.

Talk to employees about what they’re doing, the problems they are experiencing, areas they need to focus on improving, their concerns and their priorities.

Managing people is a lot like driving a car. You don’t back out of your garage and do nothing until you pull into your office parking lot. You get from point A to point B successfully and safely by making a continuing series of minor adjustments based on an evaluation of the situation at hand. The same is true of managing people.
9. Don’t be an autocratic leader.

In yesterday’s assembly lines performance was mediocre, at best, because people were told to punch in, do a specific job and punch out at the end of the day. Because of this herd management approach, they settled into that mode producing very little value to the organization.

However, the minute people were told to make the job their own, the change in attitude and results were spectacular.

Ask employees for their inputs. Ask them for their suggestions. A number of organizations across the country have developed task teams to explore various parts of the company, its operation and its business. In many instances the recommendations produced greater savings and added profits for the company.

In addition, find out your employees concerns and difficulties. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that most people want to do not just a good job but a great job.
10. Don’t push people to their limit.

Don’t expect them to function well over a long period without ample resources.

People can give 150% when necessary and produce outstanding results. But even the best and the most dedicated individual — yourself included — can’t do it on a consistent day-in, day-out basis. When you first started your service organization you probably pulled more than your share of all nighters. Admit it. Launching the company was fun and exhilarating.

But after extended periods the mind shuts down…the body shuts down. It happened to you and it will happen to all of your dedicated, motivated staff. Resist the temptation of seeing how much “extra return” you can get out of your staff. Sometimes its necessary to force them out the door, ban them from coming into the office on the weekend and push them to take the vacation they have earned. It will probably give you greater returns than the few hours or days they took to recharge their batteries.

Sometimes your people need extra time, hands and minds. Give them the extra time, extra information, extra people they need to do the job properly. If they need newer or better tools…get them for them. It’s surprising how a little investment can make your staff a lot more productive.
Today we’re operating in what the Federal government calls a full employment mode. Generation Xers and Yers are encouraged to – and do – change jobs frequently. Frequent job changes are no longer a negative on a resume as long as they show a steady upward progression or show an expansion of the individual’s areas of expertise. Moving from network design, to network management to solutions sales makes an individual more valuable to your service organization…and more valuable to your competition

Following the 10 commandments of managing won’t ensure that you’ll get all the best people and retain them. It does mean though that you’ll have a better shot at developing a solid team of winners who will produce for your organization regardless of how long they stay with you.