This might sound really obvious, but not much can get done without human involvement somewhere along the line. Therefore people are important, and that is the same whatever industry you happen to be in.
Working in technology, we can be forgiven for believing that technology is king, and people are somewhat incidental. We are focussed on delivering changes to products and using technology to do so. Code is written, tested and released in regular cycles, to deliver benefits to an end-user – a person. But what about the people who are not those referred to in a User Story? Those actually involved in gathering requirements, writing the code, testing it, releasing it? Are they not important too?
Yes, I believe they are, and I also believe that too few companies genuinely believe this to be true. Thankfully the company I work for is very people focussed and personal and professional development is not just something we pay lip service to. Failure to invest in people just means that they will leave. A new study on how millennials see the world indicates that they are happy to just jump ship on regular intervals to get ahead. That contrasts with my belief in loyalty and that moving too often looks as though you lack staying power, but there is a generation gap here, so maybe the difference in outlook is not so surprising! In any case, it’s not just about Generation X, Y and millennials, but people in general. We all need to feel valued, that we are doing something worthwhile and appreciated, stretched so that we have learning opportunities, and trusted to do a good job. No-one wants to feel bored and undervalued, whatever year they were born in.
The problem is that managing people is hard work. Everyone is an individual, with different motivators and needs, and a good manager has to keep track of each person and deal with them in the way that works for them as individuals. When I first started managing, I believed in treating people the same – that’s fair isn’t it? And treating people how I would like to be treated. Both admirable ideas, but fundamentally flawed. Firstly I assumed everyone was motivated by the same thing, and that isn’t the case. And secondly, my preferences are not the same as others. So by trying to do the right thing, I missed out on looking at people as individuals.
Roll forward a number of years and as I matured into my role, attended training courses and benefitted from coaching by my line manager, I came to realise and appreciate the differences between each of my team members. I manage 9 testers now, all unique in their own ways, and I absolutely celebrate those differences. I love being able to find out what motivates someone, and give them opportunities in those areas. It’s great to see how they respond, and the passion with which they do their work when truly trusted and motivated. There is so much to be gained as their manager, as I get to celebrate their successes with them, and see them fired up and ready to tackle new things.
Whilst writing this, it strikes me just how much of a mind-shift I have had to make over the past 5 years, but it has been totally worth it. I would like to think that I am a good manager – not perfect, and still with a lot to learn – but no longer taking a lazy approach to managing people, and instead considering them as individuals, and treating them as such. I mentioned earlier about treating people fairly, and I can still do that by giving them all different opportunities, and not leaving anyone out. It isn’t about treating everyone as though they were clones of each other, and it isn’t about assuming that everyone is motivated by the same thing or has the same dreams and aspirations.
Yes, it takes effort and time to get to know every individual, but then if it isn’t about the people, what’s the point?