Taking over from an Incompetent Leader

Becoming the leader of an existing team can be challenging, but taking over from an incompetent leader is more difficult. Incompetent leaders are not only ineffective at achieving the team’s goals. They think and act in ways that detract from and undermine the team’s performance, working relationships, and well-being. Consequently, in addition to forging agreement on the normal issues of mission, goals, and roles, incoming leaders often find their new team in disarray, dealing with conflict and stress. Building a stronger team means addressing these emotionally-laden issues.

There are several steps leaders facing this situation can take:

Tell team members what you know. Your new direct reports want to know what you understand about the leadership deficit they have faced and how it has affected the team. Your purpose isn’t to criticize the previous leader or to be omniscient; it’s to show the team that you have some understanding and appreciation – however limited – of the challenges they have faced and the effects it has had on the organization, the team and them. By telling people what you know, you also model transparency, a value that may have been lacking in the previous leader.

Be curious about what the team has experienced. If you know only a little about what the team has been through, say so. But even if you have worked with the team or been a team member, get curious and ask about the challenges they have faced and what concerns they have. Incompetent leaders leave behind disarray, conflict, and stress. By understanding what they have experienced, you develop a more complete picture of the issues that you and your team will need to address to move forward. Your curiosity also shows that you are interested in their well-being, another value that may have been lacking in the previous leader.

Temporarily suspend judgment about whether team members are resisting changes to improve team functioning and accountability. Teams that have been led by incompetent leaders often have insufficient or stifling structures, processes and accountability. Team members have received mixed messages about what is expected of them and they have often been treated poorly, without regard to their well-being. It’s easy to think that because you are increasing predictability and psychological safety, team members will quickly and enthusiastically embrace your changes. But team members may welcome the changes and have concerns about effects of the changes. They may worry that you will use the increased accountability punitively or that the changes in expectations will reveal their weaknesses, which will put their jobs at risk. As a result, they may not fully implement the changes. It’s easy to infer that these members are simply resisting change. If instead, if you get curious and understand they concerns, you can design team changes in a way that address the concerns at the same time it achieves the results the team needs.

Be careful about assessing team members’ knowledge and skills based on their initial performance. Similarly, if team members aren’t performing their jobs adequately, it’s easy to infer incorrectly that members can’t perform their jobs. But, sometimes it’s more complex than that. Team members’ knowledge and skills may be masked by the dysfunctional structures, processes, and expectations that the previous leader created and within which team members operate. Until you start to change these conditions, it can be difficult to tell if team members have what it takes to do the job.

Explain your behavior; don’t make team members guess. As you assess the current team’s functioning and work with the team to make changes, don’t assume that you can allay members’ concerns simply by acting effectively. Team members’ anxieties about the previous leader can easily lead them to misinterpret your comments and behaviors. To reduce this possibility, consistently explain why you are doing what you’re doing and why you are saying what you’re saying. This also enables you to share your leadership philosophy and set expectations for how you want others to lead.

You may be thinking that you don’t have the time to follow these steps; you need to get some team results fast. There is a paradox here. If you start by quickly changing team structures, overall it will take more time to get better team results than if you spend more time to understand, appreciate, and respond to team members’ needs and concerns before making changes. Smart leaders practice what systems thinkers long ago learned: Go slow to go fast.


Tips on creating Notes, Cautions and Warnings!!

There are three things in a technical document that you need to write carefully and present consistently: Notes, Cautions, and Warnings, in that order of severity.

A Note is the least severe of all prompts. There is no risk of system failure or any damage to the system. It’s helpful hint,
sometimes a tip, to help the user work more efficiently.

Without a note a user may lose precious time to understand why something is not working. You can prevent that by adding a note like the following:

“NOTE: make sure the system is turned on and running for at least 7 minutes before you slide Lever R4 from right to left.”

A Caution is a more serious prompt. It points at a POSSIBLE development that may or may not end up in system failure, business problem, or physical damage. It brings up an issue that the user would better pay attention to even if it is not a life-or-death matter. For example:
“CAUTION: if you do not obtain prior permission from the site manager to conduct an inspection you can be sued for trespassing and criminal conduct.”

A Warning is the highest level of alert. The stakes are much higher and it could be a matter of life-and-death. Any PROBABLE equipment or site damage deserves a clear warning. For example:

“WARNING: Removing the capacitor C125 without first grounding the motherboard may lead to electrocution and death!”

It is excellent practice to present these alerts with their own
ICONS so that at one look the reader can understand its level of severity.

Make sure you present these prompts always in the same format. If, for example, you present your first NOTE in the sidebar, present all other notes also in the sidebar. If you present your first WARNING in red letters accompanied by a skull and cross bones icon, all other warnings should also look like that.

Consistency creates trust and helps the comprehension and retention of your subject matter.

Before signing off…

NOTE: You are in the process of building yourself a great
future as a technical writer.

CAUTION: Just like I did, you may also kick yourself for not having tried it earlier.

WARNING: A well-paying secure technical writing job in high-demand can be habit forming!

Top 10 excuses why techies don’t give projects on time

When projects are not delivered on time, whom do we blame for that? Clients are known to be the most stubborn people on earth to get their job done. All they understand is that they pay for the service and find no reason for not being demanding. Some engineers do face genuine issues but some try to take advantage of the genuine situations and it would be hard to believe that such a situation might not have been faced by the engineers.
No matter, whatever changes are incorporated in the IT sector to make it more lean and adaptive, the delivery of projects would be delayed at some point of time and the techies know how to get away with it. With India being one of the fastest growing markets in IT and ITeS space, SiliconIndia conducted a small survey to see what are the excuses which techies in India normally bet upon. And here are the top 10 reasons that make them hunt for more time to get their projects done.

1) Requirement Slippage: “What can I do, if the client does not stick to his requirements?” Any techie you come across must have either made this excuse or must have come across it. Many times, when the team members in a particular project are about to complete the project keeping the client requirements in mind, they are insisted to either make certain changes in the project or bring in some addition to it. Requirement slippage is a genuine problem faced by team members in a project but many times it becomes the easiest excuse for any techie if the project is delayed. This excuse is often validated by the organization and the team members can easily prove themselves impeccable.

2) Wrong Project estimation: Project estimation is usually given by a module leader who is not deeply associated with the project. He or she is the one who builds relationship between the client and the project team and integrates the module’s findings into the broader project work. Usually when the project demands some more time to be delivered, the team members crib about the project not being estimated in an appropriate manner. At times, the requirement is underestimated, the time frame is not fixed in sync with the project and the entire project is not compatible with the engineers working on the project. This excuse has a broader dimension as any one part of the project estimation could become a reason for extending the time for project delivery.

3) Work Overload: Attrition is no big news in the IT industry. The software professionals deal with immense pressure in coding their programs correctly. In such a case, when one team member resigns, the existing team members are overloaded with the pending work of the ex-employee. And in such a case, the priorities of the project team members change and this becomes another excuse for team members.

4) Infrastructural issues: Well if nothing works out, then this is the excuse which everyone resorts to. Blame it on the company’s infrastructure. Indian IT infrastructure usually lacks with effective resources like availability of power and high bandwidth. So probably one could understand the frustration caused due to a technical snag. Each time there is an infrastructural slowdown, the efficiency of employees comes down.

5) Information does not get passed on, lack of understanding of processes: Communication of the project details seems to be another area for making an excuse. If the project is not delivered on time, the problem could be directed to the organizational processes. The discrepancy in understanding of a project requirement is one point which the techies pick on to make an excuse.

6) Health issues: This is the most common excuse which prevails in every sector. This is one area, where the employees can’t be questioned further. It has been widely seen that many IT professionals take sick leaves on Mondays because they are reluctant to work on Mondays after a relaxed weekend.

7) Unplanned Holidays: Take the recent verdict on Ayodhya. The fear of the consequences of the judgement led all the IT companies work for only half a day. Most of the holidays are granted to the IT professionals due to bandhs at both national and state level. The major development to the project comes to a halt when an organization remains closed for a day or half. And this is often a valid reason for the failure of delivery of project on time.

8) Lack of proper skill set in a team: The experienced team members often accountable to higher authorities blame it on the unavailability of skilled engineers in the project. The hiring of additional developers late in the software development cycle, after not meeting some deadline, is often the factor in delayed contributions from the newcomers as they take time to familiarize themselves with the project. This contributes to a great deal of time lost in coordinating their joining the group.

9) Poor planning or management: the role of project manager is not only to give the final word to the team members and to arrive at a particular timeline for the project. If the person taking on the role of project manager has poor planning and managerial skills, the team members could point this as a reason for the project fall over.

10) Quality control and documentation: The major problem of a late running project. Many engineers try to find an excuse for the sake of quality assurance. It is easy to get away with this excuse as the client is also willing to compromise with the deadline for the sake of quality.

Manage kids in a softer way!!

It was busy Tuesday, I had to finish my office work well within time; I was very eager to finish my tasks since my little one had an appointment with the children specialist. He was due for his vaccines. I managed to reach home within 25 minutes as opposed to 40 minutes because I left the office a bit early. On the doorstep stood my wife while the baby was settled in his granny’s house, he usually gets prepared by his grandmother.Finally he arrived with kajal on his eyelids, scented with Johnson baby powder allover his body; he was almost looking like a girl baby.
We three set out our way to the hospital, since it was a cold evening he was having a nap. We got into a packed BMTC bus but guy was courteous enough to offer his seat to my wife. Bangalore is best known for its traffic jams because it was a peak hour we were struck up in a grid locked traffic jam for almost 45 minutes.
When we reached the clinic it was 7:50 but our appointment was scheduled at 7:25 and so we were late, the receptionist asked us to wait for our turn.
I was taken away by the way kids were taking their parents for a ride, some kids were busy playing with the toys in the clinic while some managed to run around the clinic. One of the couple who visited the hospital had twin babies one boy and one girl so I was amazed to see the dad who from my first guess looked like a software engineer was not able to manage a single kid.

One of the mom was so furious that she almost beat her 3 years son black and blue.

Education – Birth right of every kid!

It’s a good initiative by our Prime Minister Manmohan Singhji to provide education for all and see India as a literate country. His profile definitely encourages anybody to learn regardless of one’s age. Even the education minister Kapil Sibal has introduced lot of good measures that are productive enough and it has changed the education sector in India.
Kapil’s move to remove class declaration in the matriculation level and class eleven and twelve is welcomed by many parents. The advantage of this move is that it has removed the undue pressure on the younger generation. We have seen a decrease in the suicide rates that happens during the result time.
Times of India had also introduced Teach India campaign where a reader can enroll as a Teach India member and take a voluntary measure to teach children between the age of 5 to 12 years.
It was during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rule that mid day meal scheme was introduced that motivated village kids to go to schools and attend the class. ISKCON started the initiative that was spread over the country.
There are lot of institutions that provide free education like Satya Sai Seva Trust and Sri Siddaganga Mutt. These institutions encourage kids to study right from kindergartens to Ph.D. They don’t take a single pie for this service. Of course the money is generated through the donations. Parents must realize the value of education and must provide that to their kids without fail.

Step mother treatment for our national game

Hockey, though started in Canada and improvised in the Sub continent has no takers now. There are many sophisticated versions of this sport like ice hockey. India’s national game is hockey but there are not many caretakers for this game.
Recently, following the debacle of Indian cricket team in the World T20 Championship, Indian team was condemned to hell. They were criticized to the core. Meanwhile, Indian hockey team had won the Azlan Shah Hockey Cup held at Malaysia. They were playing with opponents like Australia, Pakistan etc. When the team arrived in New Delhi there was nobody to greet them. In 2010 India hosted the World Hockey cup that was promoted by most of the cricket stars and Bollywood actor and actresses.
This situation has to change its high time that cricket has been given undue importance while sidelining other forms of sports. There are many badminton clubs, football clubs, athletic oriented sports clubs. These need to be supplied with required resources.
Even with a hundred crores population India has failed to deliver a single medal in the Olympics which stands as a testimony for our inability to accept other sport forms.

Harnessing traffic congestion in Bangalore

Bangalore being the IT hub or the Silicon Valley of India is flocked by vast amount of people. The cheap availability of two wheelers and four wheelers has created bedlam around this once termed Pensioners’ Paradise. There is hardly any space to move around. The state has being passing many resolutions to widen the road, but in vain. They have notified about 90 roads for widening. But, widening the roads is not the best alternative.
Alternate solutions have to be chalked out to get rid of the situation. Circular trains would be one of the idea to decrease traffic congestion. These trains would essentially run across the existing Ring road junctions and people using the buses or two wheelers could possibly utilize these trains to reach their work spots. If the distance is less than 5 kms then such commuters must be encouraged to travel or use a bicycle. An incentive package could be announced to those cyclists who use cycles for commutation for one month. This would promote more cyclists and reduce traffic bottleneck.
Metro trains will be available for Bangaloreans in the next 10 months time. Car pooling can also be a workaround. More oneway roads can be encouraged to plug the traffic issues.
State Government had a orientation about the Traffic controlling situations from China but to no avail.

Its high time that the state wakes up and look into this issue of traffic congestion.