So, what did Tim the CIO actually do? This story has a happy ending!
Before Tim met with Tracy, he spoke with other people in his cabal, what he referred to as his “HR superpower posse.” He chatted about Tracy with people who’d worked with her. And then he sat down with her privately.
Tim said, “Tracy, you really don’t like technology, do you?”
Of course, she responded, “No, I love tech!” (She wanted to keep her job, after all.)
He talked to her about the things she did well, that she clearly enjoyed. Tracy nodded; yes, she loved working on that Wellness program, and she especially liked those in-person projects, and it was fun to put together the posters for the running challenge.
“But, Tracy, when we talk about the help desk triage stuff, the bits and bytes, you go cold,” Tim pointed out. “You get perky when we talk about other things.”
“You have to think about what gives you energy and what takes away your energy,” Tim told her. “Bring me that list tomorrow morning.”
When she did: Sure enough, Tracy didn’t like IT. All the things that energized her had nothing to do with technology, and had everything to do with one-on-one, creative interactions.
Tim said, “Listen to me: You’ve got to get out of IT!”
She blanched. “Are you firing me?”
“No,” he said. “I’m giving you career feedback. You’re only a year in; it’s not too late to change your direction.”
The end result: Tim arranged for Tracy to interview for a position working in another department in the municipality, Parks & Recreation. At first the other department manager was skeptical – “Are you asking us to take out your trash?” – but Tim’s recommendation was honest. He explained what Tracy was good at (the things that had value to Parks & Rec), and what she wasn’t (tech skills they didn’t need). So she got another chance at a new career, doing things that she loved.
It’s now eight years later. Tracy is still on the job, and having a good time. “And I am sure I would get a hug!” added Tim.
The takeaways for project managers:
- Carolyn hired for energy and not for computer skills. A newbie help desk staffer doesn’t have to be tech-savvy, but she probably should like technology.
- Look at what the team member does well and joyfully. How can you strengthen that?
- The entire team needs to see that managers are trying to help team members, even the team members who are failing. “When you take disciplinary action, there is always a morale element,” said Tim. “If people don’t feel that you gave someone else a chance, they feel badly about your likelihood to support them when they’re in trouble.”
- To make this kind of change, you need someone who is not the team member’s supervisor but still has power over her – and a reputation as a nice person. “If they are in survival mode, they clam up,” said Tim.
Experienced project managers run into all sorts of Tracys. How have you handled your own? What would you do differently, knowing what you do now?
- You’re Interviewing Candidates for a Project Manager Job. What Do You Ask? - July 5, 2016
- 31 Ways to Know Your Project is Doomed - May 23, 2016
- Would You Fire This Person? - April 26, 2016