A friend of mine has started up a sweet technology company all by himself. He's launched a few projects and soon expects serious university and corporate collaborations. In a sign of imminent success, he recently hired an engineer to write the grants.

Except it is not working that way. The engineer, a young man who comes from a prestigious background, is all over the place. Literally. As in, making appointments at the university, critiquing the corporate partners, attending meetings to which he was not invited.

My friend, the owner, has tried only one tactic: pleading. As in, "Please, I asked you not to interfere in outside projects!"

Underneath this, I suspect, the engineer harbors a profound immaturity that will be hard to deal with. But we must try.

It is almost as if the young man is looking for some sort of personal show-down. He just continues to walk outside the lines.

Wait a minute--here's a serious question: What lines? As tempting as it might be to wring the engineer's neck, perhaps it is easier at this point to blame the process, rather than the people.

The Blame Name

So what process can we blame?

It turns out, as I asked my friend what procedures he's used to control employee behavior, the answer is: none.

No job description. ("He knows what he has to do")

No quarterly goals. ("Build grant revenue. What else?")

No update meetings ("For two of us plus a couple of subcontractors?)

(This is without stating what is by now painfully obvious: thoughtless hiring never works out.)

Execution Needs

Here's how I would answer my friend's questions:

1. Write a simple job description.

Many people hate this phrase. OK, then call it a job expectation. What will your employee do on a day to day basis? (And, speaking of bright lines, what will he not do?) How will he report his progress formally and informally?

Discuss the job description with the engineer, and hand it to him in writing with due formality.

2. No goals? Then everything is good, right?

Oh, I see. Everything is not good, because you have not articulated, discussed and agreed on specific goals. What relationships will he foster? How many grants, yielding how much revenue? How many prospects?

Discuss the quarterly goals with the engineer, and hand it to him in writing with due formality.

3. No staff update meetings?

Let me get this straight. You have put your life into this venture, and you are not interested in learning how it is growing on a daily basis? Or how you can put your personal stamp on it?

Have a daily update meeting--the meeting itself can be informal, but the fact that your are having a daily meetup should be impressed--you got it--with due formality.

The Reaction

My purely technical reaction to my friend is: You're killin' me, Smalls. You are not using process tools to manage personality.

Which tools? I refer you to exhibits One through Three above.

These work as management tools because they help create clear expectations, clear deliverables and clear outcomes. If or when our people don't comply, the tools--and not precious brain space or risky personal conflict--provide the signal that something is wrong, and a clear indication of appropriate corrective action.

Remember that it is hard to manage personality with personality. That is, responding to a non-compliant person with a general coaching response ("please change") is not going to work. Much better to use a process that indicates what behaviors have to change, by whom, and by when.

Published on: May 30, 2017
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