Thursday, March 09, 2006

Software career and forced rankings

As I spend time on this blog and using my computer, I think:

This is something you enjoy. Maybe you could make some money at this. Work with computers. Software. Perhaps train people to use software or work in some way to make the software better, more usable. Yes! That's it! I could work for a software company. And I'm good with people, so maybe I could be a manager. Help others to do their job well.

Uh, been, there, done that. For all the fun parts of the job (mostly the interacting with people part), corporate life can really suck the soul out of you. When my uncle was visiting, Rene and I talked to him about our careers working with software. We both agreed that in the older days (10-15 years ago), what made the job so much more interesting was the creativity involved. Perhaps it was a brave new world, perhaps it was the lack of software productivity tools available, but there was just a lot more creativity involved in those days. We worked longer hours, but there were problems that needed to be solved and we worked as teams to solve them. Then management philosophies took over. Implemented procedures, forced rankings, came up with plans to justify their existence. In some situations, a little control was probably necessary. In most areas that I saw, however, the creativity died. So it just became a job. And after a while it got boring.

The forced rankings were unproductive, motivation killers, and frankly just a management power play. You're a good manager, working with a good team. Maybe you had a low performer, so you steered them to another position, or they left, or you put them on a performance plan and they made it through or they didn't. Then annual review time rolls around. You must force rank your team, and someone has to be at the bottom. And, as part of a larger group, you have to rank your team with other folks who may or may not have comparable jobs.

If you've been doing your job as a manager, you took care of the issues as they occurred. If you've been doing your job as a manager, you've helped everyone to do a better job, contribute more. If you've been doing your job as a manager, you've made everyone feel good about contributing, even if that included working late or on some not so fun tasks. But with forced rankings, you've got to tell someone that they're at the bottom (even if it's not true). With forced rankings, maybe you "hold on" to a "problem child" until review time, so you can put them at the bottom, thereby keeping dead weight around. With forced rankings, good people, maybe not stellar people, leave. Good managers, who are great at managing teams, leave. People start to play the numbers game. I did x number of this, that, instead of coming up with creative solutions. If you're a good manager you let everyone know on a regular basis what they're doing well, what they need to improve on and if there's a problem you deal with it. You be honest, direct, and you do what's best for the person, team, and company. Not all managers did this, so I guess that's where forced rankings came in. Oh, and by the way, if you're a manager, talk to your employees once in a while. It helps you as a manager and it helps employees. And it's just common sense.

Today and tomorrow Erin is off from school for parent teacher conferences. Rene will be meeting with Erin's teacher this morning. Rene jokingly said this morning that we may have to force rank our children. (Which is what got me started on this topic). "I'm sorry, Erin. You write the number "9" backwards. We're going to have to let you go."

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