The gravity of kindness

Have you ever met a person who is so good at her/his job, that she/he seems to solve all your problems? In my line of profession these magic makers are of technical sort and usually titled as developers, sysadmins, testers, architects, etc. They can code you something, give you access to crucial places, provide valuable information, draw you a bigger picture, etc. in the crossfire of people who expect a heap of things from you. I couldn’t do my job without these people. And where as they are not only very skilled individuals, they are also often very helpful. Very kind. To a point.

When you combine enterprise matrix organisation and shortage of relevantly skilled people, you get something highly volatile. In a matrix organisation you can have many bosses. In enterprise context there are even more bosses, because the only way to have any career development is to climb the corporate ladder. This ultimately leads into inflated pool of middle management. Some of the people in this pool are actually capable of producing code, giving feedback by testing, providing system administration, etc, but majority unfortunately focuses on things that are either not that valuable or that require someone with relevant skills to actualise them. They tirelessly scan for that skilful person who could help them, and when from the endless chains of emails, Slack discussions and meetings they spot that one individual that in minutes solves their age old problem, they attack. They drink that milkshake up. Hallelujah!

The problem now is that there aren’t that many people available that have relevant skills. For example Finnish IT market needs 10000+ coders pretty much right now to fulfil business needs. Factory schools produce, but not enough. Not at least skilled enough. We import, but not enough. This has led us to a situation where tens of bosses ask, order or even threaten that one person who can to do their bidding. Those who can, are often kind enough to help. Everything gravitates into kindness. The only people who can actually do something about the problems are consumed until there’s nothing left from them. Some complain, some stay silent, but all will fade.

When people are occupied to the hilt, the don’t pull. They don’t actively seek the next thing the could help the company or the team. That pull is crucial to modern companies, because our work is often quite complex and even the sharpest leadership, which is another rarity, cannot pinpoint everything that happens in the trenches. Initiative. When we drag a professional to thousand directions, she/he loses the luxury of initiative and constant guidance is required. This has at least two possible outcomes: Skill turns into cannon fodder, or the skilful leaves the company for greener pastures.

There are some ways to remedy this madness:

  • Recognise relevant skills and even them out throughout the organisation. Middle management that focuses only on Powerpoint slides, Excel sheets, fiddling with ERP, CRM, whatnot systems, and does nothing to produce anything that could be sold or solve actual problems is useless. Not only useless, but fatal to the company.
  • Get more skilled people to balance the scale with the hungry middle management. Somehow. Hire, outsource, borrow, steal, kill. People in middle management may have some hidden value, which can be activated when they have people to help them. To actualise their vision. You should have more people doing the actual work than people doing the stuff that makes the actual work easier or even possible. Doers > enablers.
  • Protect your assets. A person is an asset, not a resource. Where as resources are consumed, assets are taken care of. You give them the salary they ask to maintain their living standards. You give them free food. Day care for their kids. A car perhaps. Whatever they need. But more importantly you give them peers. A group of their equals. A community where they can grow together as professionals, and produce wonderful things to help your business. As a manager you motivate them and make it your business to make their life as easy and productive as possible. By protecting them from the hyenas of middle management, if it goes to that. Then you’ll become valuable too.

I’m sorry for being so blunt, but the world isn’t saved by petting heads. If you started to feel bad after reading this post, have a glass of warm milk and look at this cute kitten:

Now, get to work. You have assets that need your help. Be kind to them.

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