Improve team performance… by breaking your team

You are leading a team of professionals, be it in online marketing, software development or in sales / operations and you get to that point where you either want to or have to improve team performance. Maybe your boss is telling you to or you realised it yourself.

If you’re a teamleader, chances are you have an analytical way of problem solving and probably an educational background that drives you towards analysing your team.

Another, less scientific approach could be: Make your team break down!

Why?

„A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.“

That saying is true in many ways: If you have a team of high performers and you bring in a low performer, then the team’s overall performance will tilt negatively. Example: If your buying team is composed of the best negotiators in the field but the guy who actually does the contracts is a corrupt asshole, then your overall buying performance will not be good.

It does not necessarily have to be about a person’s performance though, it could also be that your workflows are not optimal or that your processes are not well-defined. It could be because the compensation is not good enough to motivate for top performance or even that you as the manager have failed the team in leading the way.

How?

Define what you want to achieve. If you don’t know what your goal is, you’ll never get there.

Give your team assignments that can hardly be met, like double the deployment frequency, set a 50% lower max. price for buying, 100% more reach in advertising with 75% of the budget. Figure out some numbers, that even you think are basically impossible to meet and then: Lean back and watch closely.

With that I mean: Detach from the team. Be there for hard questions but do not join the team emotionally, do not struggle with them, don’t be empathic to their being overwhelmed. Focus on finding out, why that is the case: Is there too much private stuff involved in business cases? Are they struggling because they do not have a striving mindset anymore? Are they overwhelmed because you failed to be a good manager?

Example: I watched one of my teams struggle with being overwhelmed at one point. As much as I thought I could solve the problem with bringing in new tools, processes, motivational speeches and such, in the end I had to admit that I failed them as a manger: I had missed the point where the team had to be scaled up and then the workload was just too much.

(We managed to double the team size in a short time after that and got the team back on track.)

What you are looking for:

  • How is everybody dealing with the stress?
  • If the team finds an approach: Why does it succeed / fail?
  • What is the general attitude: Positive (Let’s do this!) or negative (We’ll never get there…)?
  • How is communication? Positive, negative? Does it change or stay the same?
  • Is the team willing to get out of their comfort zone, try new things?
  • Is the team willing to walk an extra mile?

When you decide to take this approach, give yourself some time before actually implementing it to study the team before. It’ll give you hints for comparison later.

What then?

„Twist the knife.“

If you have identified a specific problem within your team, then point it out, loud and clear. Like embarrassingly loud and unequivocally clear > Print it on a piece of paper, get the whole team into one room and put it on the wall. The enemy, the monster under the bed… for everyone to see!

Then you talk it through, you wrestle it down and you find a solution.

As soon as you have the solution, even if it is a very abstract one, you put it over the problem. Now the problem – something negative – has been replaced by a goal – something positive – and your team has something to strive towards. This is where your managing skills are required: Listen to your teams ideas, analyse what they need to achieve their goals and plan ahead how you can support them in doing so. This is where you can go ahead with what your work as a manager is really all about: Enable your team to achieve their goals! Fun!

Caution!

This is a harsh approach, please do not use it lightly! If you put your team on the edge, like you do here, it can easily lead to situations that are hard to handle. It can even lead to a team falling apart.

If you do want to approach it this way, work together with your HR department, closely! If there is even the slightest doubt, do not use this approach!

Don’t ever be an asshole about it, never refuse to help and never drag it to a personal or emotional level: All the goals have to be plain and simple and with a clear link towards business!

This is in no way an approach to develop your team in terms of team spirit, working surroundings or personal problems that your team members may be having: If on of the surounding factors is not in place, take care of that first!

Summary: Improve team performance

In a nutshell:

  1. Define goal of the attempt
  2. Set goals for the team, impossible to reach
  3. Detach and analyse
  4. Twist-the-knife workshop: Define the problem, find solution and set the path
  5. Be a good manager: Enable, motivate and support your team!
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3 ways how you do not attract talent with your job offer

During the last two years I have recruited for a few companies and have been on interviewing marathons for many weeks. I have tried to master the art of finding good employees and have been able to land some good hires, thanks to my amazing HR teams. During this course, I also came across many, many fatal errors in recruiting and HR management, here are some of them:

(Obviously) bulk-hire for quantity

An ex colleague of mine once posted a job offer in a private forum that was headlined:

We are searching for 50 developers (PHP, Ruby, Python)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an insult to everybody who is looking for a challenge. The only place where you will find excitment for a job offer like that is in a place where people are desperately searching for any job to pay their rent.

The way to destroy all excitement about any job offering is to make it look like your are just filling a gap, just searching for workforce. You take all the meaning out of a man’s or woman’s career if you make it look like something that just needs to be done. It is the single most unmotivating thing you can do in the long haul and it starts with job offers like that.

Ask the top dog to deliver quantity and do the dirty work

Programming – for example – is craftsmenship: You can learn it and almost everybody can do it, some way or the other. Software engineering is something different and has to do with creativity, experience and many forms of intelligence. To a developer, creating software is like creating a table for a carpenter: It can be done easily and you can do it in a few hours. You can make it look nice with a little more effort and you can even make it look amazing if you have a little bit of an artist in you.

Yet, if you want to create a masterpiece, you will go about it differently: You will research where to buy the finest wood. You will look at different techniques to handle it. You will talk to other people that work in your area of expertise and you will create a masterplan of a table and then you will either build it on your own or tell someone to do it for you, exactly the way you want it!

My point being: If you ask someone to build a table, just any table and he or she actually does it. Go on with your search!

Try to sell a job, that you don’t actually have

When the average person sees a job advert, they ask themselves:

Do I have what they want?

The approach that many companies go for is a different one: They look at what other companies that already hired excellent talent (Google, Faceook, etc.) can offer their employees and try to copy it. The assumption that will make this approach fail is, that the talents those companies hired were actually joining them because of those benefits. If you hire someone with the benefit of a kicker table in the office, fresh fruit every day and a coffee machine and you are successfull at it, then you are extremely lucky. Or the complete opposite, because that person was not very ambitious from the start.

Alongside that, many companie’s then try to create jobs that they actually do not have. They pretend to be searching for an IT architect when they really just want to hire a dozen developers. They say they are searching for someone ‚with analytical skills‘ when all they need is some poor schmuck to fill out speadsheets and do some adwords campaigning.

Talented people are not searching for a job, but they are looking for opportunities!

Summary

  1. Do not bulk hire, don’t search for  X developers or X writers
  2. Do not try to make smart people do boring or even stupid things
  3. Do not pretend to have a job opening for a postion that you actually don’t need to fill

Maybe in a few days there will be an article with some techniques that worked out quite well for me, so stay tuned!

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Four big mistakes when building an IT team

So you are building a company, right now. You chose to do E-Commerce,  social media or something else. But no matter what you are founding: You’re gonna need an IT team for that. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a startup from the ground up or if you have entered an incubator or accelerator program: You’re most likely in desperate need of an engineering team to build your product.

I have been doing that for about three years now and here’s the top three mistakes that I saw people make in that process…

Hire experts that are divas, assholes or idiots

It is the single biggest mistake you can make and it is not even dependent on IT: If you hire top-down and there is an asshole on top, there will be assholes in the middle and at the bottom very soon. Your company will be poisoned by an ego-driven or unfriendly genius that will mainly hire the kind of employees that can be pushed around easily and  are insecure. He or she will not hire the best people for the company but the best people for the purpose of making him or her seem even smarter.

When I assemble teams, I go for the humble, smart guy with an insecure look on their face when I do trick-questioning in the interview (even if they know their answer is right). I avoid the person that is arrogantly trying to deny answering simple questions, because it is beneath their ’superior knowledge‘. I would much rather work with someone who still wants to learn than someone who thinks they know it all. Don’t confuse this with going for the B candidate instead of triple A: You want the best man for the job but keep the big picture in mind!

Sometimes you will have the situation, where you have the experienced and smart asshole and the humble, smart but inexperienced guy in front of you. If you can, get the asshole as a consultant and hire the humble guy fulltime. It is much easier to gain knowledge than to unlearn being an idiot.

Start with too inexperienced people

Some of the time that I have seen companie’s IT teams implode was when the point in time came when everybody realized: We do not have what it takes to build this product. This can actually happen due to many reasons:

  • Missing expertise
  • Missing knowledge of tools and the stuff that you work with
  • Missing teamleading skills

If you hit that point, you only have one option: Learn how to do it. But you can go about this in two different ways, either you can learn slowly by self-teaching or you can buy knowledge. Self teaching can lead to deep knowledge over time, because you will make painfull mistakes and you will never forget what you learned the hard way. It can also be what breaks your neck because you run out of time and your time to market was just too long in the end. Hiring / buying knowledge can be very expensive and you run the risk of loosing core competencies to external people. On the other hand, it can save you time and trouble.

Missing trust

When the shit hits the fan – and that will happen during your first weeks of development – everything will go down the drain if the managing directors have no trust in their team. That goes for all business units, but since product is the most important one in the first days (prototyping –> demoing –> $$$), the tension is huge here. In the first days, IT has such direct business impact that every little failure is prominent and annoying.

You will have arguments like ‚That is not what I wanted‘ – ‚Well, then you should have said so!!!‘ and the like. Those can be mind-numbing and they can bring you to the absolute edge. The understanding of IT and business are normally far from each other and in small companies there is no translator like a product manager.

These discussions can be settled quickly, easily and without any further damages to the companies startup-spirit if the stakeholders (MDs, VCs, angels…) can put their trust into the professionals that they hired and recognize that they may have done great work, even if it’s not visible to them. The way they can do that is usually to get a third partie’s opinion and most likely this will be either

  • One of your business angels
  • A mentor or and advisor from your acceleration / incubation program
  • Someone else you completely trust in regards to IT (make them become one of the above!)

The one advise I can give to you in this situation: Calm down and get good advise! Do not argue with your IT team because you have no common ground at this moment and it will end in not being productive.

Means to create trust inside the development process are very clear communication, detailed specs and requirements, a well-structured development process with well-defined milestones and constant feedback all the time.

Miss a chance to get information

When you find someone who you think could be a great match for your company and who you think has the technical knowledge to build your product, then you should not hire them right away. What you want to have is as much feedback as possible on the person as you can get. The best sources of information are:

  • The IT crowd: Google the shit out of that person
  • Former colleagues / bosses: Maybe you have a connection on Xing / LinkedIN to them?
  • Advisors & mentors: They usually know some names in the business and if not, then they can do interviews for you

You never ever leave a piece of information on the road here. Even information from idiots can be validating that the person you are about to hire is not one of them!

Go through several rounds of interviews, make them as informal as possible, i.e. have lunch dates, coffee breaks, quick calls to brainstorm or chat sessions. Make them provide small proof of concepts for you. Get work examples from previous projects. Whatever you can get will be helpful and will increase the foundation of your decision. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to future employees of your IT team!

Summary

  1. Hire professionals that are able and willing to learn quickly, no assholes.
  2. If your team does not have expertise, get it from external experts and build knowledge inhouse.
  3. Trust your team, create means of trust and communicate well.
  4. Get all the information you can on people you’re about to hire.
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5 Tipps wie man gute Jobinterviews führt

Du startest gerade dein eigenes Unternehmen, die Finanzierung steht und die Pläne sind gemacht. Du hast vielleicht schon deine Führungskräfte zusammengesucht und nun geht es darum Mitarbeiter einzustellen.

Hier sind 5 einfache Tipps wie du ein gutes Bewerbungsgespräch leitest:

1. Dominiere das Gespräch

Es ist wichtig, dass du das Gespräch in der Hand hast. Du bist derjenige, welcher die Fragen stellt und auch bestimmt in welcher Art sie beantwortet werden. Du bist derjenige der einen Job in der Hand hat, der Bewerber will diesen von dir haben.

Insbesondere bei unerfahrenen Teamleitern ist es häufig zu beobachten, dass sie sich während eines Bewerbungsgesprächs von einem Kandidaten einschüchtern lassen, insbesondere wenn dieser eine starke performance zeigt. Man erkennt, wie die Gesprächsführung mehr und mehr vom Kandidaten übernommen wird und die Unsicherheit des Interviewers zunimmt.

Wenn ein Kandidat extrem starke Leistungen im Gespräch zeigt und eine hohe Selbstsicherheit ausstrahlt kann das ein sehr positives Signal sein und sollte einen nicht verunsichern, schließlich will man doch genau so einen Kandidaten! Wenn es zu viel ist, kann und sollte man das einfach äußern.

Kleine Tricks wie man die Gesprächsführung aufbauen und manifestieren kann sind:

  • Strahle Selbstsicherheit aus: Nimm eine gemütliche Sitzposition ein, biete ein Getränk an, lehne dich zurück, Smalltalk.
  • Bestimme den Gesprächsverlauf: Sage dem Kandidaten wie du das Interview führen willst, wie lang seine Antworten sein sollten, was du nicht hören willst
  • Unterbrich den Kandidaten, wenn er zu lange spricht oder zu weit vom Thema abschweift. Zeige klar, dass du nur an Informationen interessiert bist die dir sachdienlich sind!

2. Lass den Bewerber sprechen

Das Ziel eines Bewerbungsgesprächs ist die Ansammlung möglichst vieler Informationen zum jeweiligen Kandidaten. Auch wenn du durch seine Bewerbung formell einen markanten Informationsvosprung hast, kennst du ihn nicht. Hör dir an, was er zu berichten hat: Hobbies, private Umstände und familiärer Hintergrund. Versuche herauszufinden woher der Kandidat kommt, es wird dir helfen vorauszusehen wohin er gehen wird.

Stelle kurze, markante Fragen. Je weniger Zeit du mit sprechen verlierst, desto mehr Zeit gewinnst du zum Zuhören. Du kannst Fragen abkürzen, die meisten Leute verstehen was du wissen möchtest ohne die komplette Frage gehört zu haben. Außerdem hat dies den Nebeneffekt, dass der Kandidat einen gewissen Interpretationsspielraum hat. Wie er sich in diesem bewegt kann dir wertvolle Informationen liefern.

3. Sei authentisch

Wenn du keine Anzüge magst, dann erscheine nicht in einem zum Interview. Verwende keine Fachbegriffe die in deinem üblichen Sprachgebrauch nicht vorkommen. Trage eine kurze Hose wenn es warm ist, trinke Kaffee mit drei Päckchen Zucker wenn du ein Süßer bist und iss‘ eine Waffel wenn du hungrig bist (biete ihm/ihr ein Stückchen an, wenn genug da ist…)

Es lockert die Stimmung in einem Interview, wenn einem ein Mensch gegenübersitzt und kein Personalchef in Kostüm. Was hilft es dir, wenn sich dein Kandidat wohl fühlt und wohlmöglich zu selbstsicher wird? Wir erinnern uns, dass dein Ziel die Informationsgewinnung ist. Du willst ja authentische Informationen und kein gespieltes Bild von einem Kandidaten. Jeder Kandidat wird auf die Frage:“Was ist deine größte Schwäche?“ mit „Ich bin Perfektionist!“ antworten.  Aber willst du das hören, hilft dir das weiter? In einem lockeren Gespräch in dem er dir vom Fußballspielen nach Feierabend erzählt wirst du aber vielleicht herausfinden, dass der Kandidat ein exzellenter Teamplayer ist oder ein brutaler Alleingänger.

Erzähle deinem Kandidaten, dass du Schokolade nicht widerstehen kannst, deshalb alle Hemden im Schrank zwicken und du den Hoodie eigentlich deshalb trägst. Er wird es dir danken indem er dir Dinge erzählt die der Herr im Maßanzug niemals erfahren hätte.

4. Sei direkt

Bewerbungsgespräche sind eine teure Angelegenheit für dein Unternehmen. Sie stellen eine Fachkraft ab um eine fachfremde Arbeiten zu erledigen: HR. Das ist kurz gedacht, aber am Ende des Tages die Quintessenz für deinen Boss. Tu‘ ihm den Gefallen und führe die Gespräche möglichst effizient.

Auch wenn ein freies Umfeld hilfreich ist, achte darauf nicht zu sehr vom Thema abzuschweifen. Unterbrich den Kandidaten wenn er sich in einem Thema zu sehr in Details verheddert. Steuere das Gespräch in die Richtung, in der die Informationen zu Tage gefördert werden, die dir bei deiner Entscheidung tatsächlich helfen. Du kannst erkennen das etwas schief läuft, wenn du zu lange keine Notizen machen musstest.

Wenn es dir wichtig ist, versuche Emotionen bei ihm/ihr zu wecken: Frage was ihre/seine größte Passion im Leben ist und behaupte du glaubst kein Wort:“Das ist doch viel zu langweilig!“ Drehe ihm/ihr Aussagen im Moment herum, verfälsche sie dabei bis an den Rand der Sinnhaftigkeit und achte auf die Reaktion: Willst du einen Mitarbeiter der sich aus falschem Authoritätsbewusstsein zurückhält?

5. Lies zwischen den Zeilen

Berufseinsteiger sind oft durch Coachings und Bücher auf die ersten Bewebungsgespräche vorbereitet und haben massenhaft Standardantworten im Gepäck. Große Teile der Informationen zu den typischen Fragen wie:“Wo siehst du dich in 5 Jahren?“ sind dadurch oft gehaltlos. Stelle diese Fragen trotzdem. Versuche die eigentliche Information jedoch auf anderem Wege zu gewinnen:“Ich wollte ja in deinem Alter immer eine lange Weltreise machen…“

Versuche herauszufinden, was dein Gegenüber antreibt und begeistert. Es wird vielleicht nichts mit dem Berufsbild zu tun haben, vielleicht wird es fragwürdig oder absurd sein. Aber es wird dir helfen dein Gegenüber zu verstehen und als guter Teamleiter wirst du diese Informationen für dich zu nutzen wissen.

Fazit

Dies sind nur fünf kleine Tipps von vielen und für einen Großteil der Menschen die Bewerbungsgespräche führen werden sie entweder offensichtlich sein oder unsinning – Siemens Personalchef in kurzen Hosen?

In meiner, der Startupbranche sind diese Vorgehensweisen weit verbreitet und auch erprobt: Mit Methoden aus den 70er Jahren bekommen wir nicht die Leute mit dem Mindset das wir in den 00er Jahren haben wollen. Mit Anzug und Krawatte bekommen wir keine Hemdsärmeligen Anpacker.

Für diejenigen unter euch die in meiner Branche arbeiten und gerade zum ersten Mal Teams aufbauen könnten die Tipps vielleicht hilfreich sein und ich hoffe ihr könnt sie gewinnbringend ein- und umsetzen!

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