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If The Shoe Fits: Tech R People

Friday, August 18th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe top stories currently engaging the tech world and spilling over to the real world are the Google memo and Uber.

A major underlying point of the memo is how unnecessary soft skills, such as empathy are in tech, which has been soundly refuted.  

Tech is an umbrella term embraced by a wide range of industries; hence there is fintech, medtech, legaltech, etc.

The inclusion of the word indicates that companies within that industry, frequently startups, are revamping/revolutionizing the business using various kinds of technology.

But none of it happens in a vacuum.

No matter how large or small or how disruptive — from Uber to a solitary founder — they are still part of a larger community.

Consider Uber.

It’s ideal because it is a perfect microcosm of a disruptive startup, with the machinations, interactions and effects on its industry and society in general, since it includes all the elements — positive and negative.

Founders take note.

Uber’s storyline hasn’t moved in a straight line, nor will it in the future, because it involves people.

Companies are people.

Societies are people.

People are messy.

Technology is not an end in itself, but a means to many ends.

One way or another, all those ends are people.

Successfully navigating people requires empathy (keyword: successfully).

Image credit: HikingArtist

The Importance Of Soft Skills

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/11984559914/

I said yesterday that we would take a look at the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace and, more importantly, in the future.

You probably read Yonatan Zunger’s response to James Damore’s manifesto.

One of Damore’s arguments focused on the worthlessness of so-called “soft skills” in a tech company.

Zunger was emphatic in his disagreement.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers.

If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels…

Long ago tech more or less mastered the continued iterating of software and hardware, but when it comes to wetware not so much.

It’s soft skills that are crucial to when dealing with wetware, AKA, people.

Business Insider listed 16 skills that would pay off forever; the list was drawn from the responses to a question posted on Quora.

Empathy topped the list.

Empathy is the most important skill for understanding, relating, leading/managing and innovating.

These days, tech is enamored with life hacks and athleticism is all the rage.

Too bad more time isn’t spent developing and exercising what David Kelley, one of the founders of Stanford’s D School, calls the empathy muscle.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

Friday, August 4th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

What are the Most Important 21st Century Skills?

Monday, April 28th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8706352806

If you were asked what skills are in shortest supply in the workforce you would probably think first about computer and related skills.

While that is correct, some simple soft skills are just as difficult.

This year’s pair of April surveys confirmed that, as in previous years, employers are having trouble finding people with advanced computer and interpersonal skills, punctuality, and reliability.

Think about it.

Problems finding people who understand that they need to

  • consistently show up at the agreed upon time; and
  • always do what they say they will do.

Not exactly rocket science, but a substantial problem.

The first shows that 36% of businesses in the manufacturing sector that responded to the survey are having moderate difficulty finding workers who are punctual and reliable, while 11% report great difficulty in finding workers with those traits. In the services sector, it’s not as bad — 22% of respondents report moderate difficulty finding punctual, reliable workers, whereas only 3% report great difficulty.

The interpersonal skills are a far more significant concern.

In an age when face-to-face communications is giving way to texting, IMing and email, the ability to work in close proximity with people and not only get along, but bond to create high performing teams, is becoming more and more difficult.

Hard skills, from learning new programming languages or moving from technical work on a financial program to developing mobile apps are learnable, as are all hard skills.

Changing and redirecting the character traits that lead to being punctual and reliable or teaching interpersonal skills to a (probably) uninterested party are most often exercises in frustration.

These are the core reasons why attitude and aptitude are more important than current skills when hiring and a subject we’ll look at in more depth this week.

Image credit: Denise Krebs

Ducks in a Row: Cultural Fit

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Not every soil can bear all things.

–Virgil

ducks_in_a_rowVirgil’s wise words have deep meaning when it comes to hiring.

Typically, managers interview for skills and experience that are similar to what the person will be doing in their new job.

Yet none of that information really predicts success.

If the culture of past company and the style of the candidate’s direct manager aren’t synergistic at the new company or with that particular hiring manager success may be ephemeral.

Like plants, different people need different growing conditions—soil, acidity, moisture, light—in order to thrive and grow.

It is the responsibility of the hiring manager, not HR or another manager, to determine if the soil is right for a particular candidate and, if not, can it be conditioned to support that person’s success.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Seize Your Leadership Day: Advice For The Boss

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Today is about the boss, but the reasoning behind the ‘leadership’ advice can be used by anyone.

First is advice from Toddi Gutner in WSJ Online for what to do as an incoming CEO. The advice is well worth reading considering 1,484 CEOs turned over in 2008.

Next a look at CEOs from a different culture and with a different attitude. It’s not that the Japanese do everything right, but American CEOs could certainly use a dose of their humility.

Right up there with humility are the findings of the Center for Creative Leadership that found soft skills to be of major importance during harsh economic times.

The greatest challenges were identified as: motivating staff in uncertain times; being able to clearly communicate the rationale for changes; working within a leadership team format rather than alone; and developing staff for redeployment rather than layoffs.”

Finally, two great interviews, one with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and the other with Kevin Sharer, chief executive of Amgen. Amazing what you can learn from real pros who produce real value.

Enjoy and I hope that you’ll take a moment to share what you learn from these sources.

Your comments—priceless

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