On Recognizing Good People

March 2, 2012

As a leader, recognizing good people for their work and effort is both the most important and most difficult things that you can do. I learned this during my time in the Army and have carried it through my life for the past ~16 years.

As a leader you must earn the trust of those who you entrust to do the day to day work. Trust must first be given before you can expect to receive trust in return. Gaining trust has a fairly simple formula:

  • Let your actions speak for themselves
  • Hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold those who work for you to
  • Never ask them to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself
  • Nurture them
  • Give honest feedback
  • Reward them

Rewarding your people starts with honest feedback. Congratulate them for a job well done. Words of praise go quite a long way. Rewarding your people, however, is an interesting double edged sword. Reward too much and you make it commonplace. Reward too little and they feel unappreciated.

I have struggled with rewards over the years. I expect a lot out of people who work for me. I hold them to high standards. Each and every person who works for me has met or exceeded my standards. They are some of the best people that I have ever had the honor of working with / for. With holding people to high standards, rewarding them becomes difficult. Even the amazing becomes commonplace and an expectation after a while.

When I returned from my hiatus in January I realized that I had a problem. It took me a while to see the root cause of the problem but the symptom was as plain as day:* I did not have a way to reward the people who worked for me*.  The problem, as I realized after a few weeks of working on the symptom, was that I now had a significant number of people working directly for me ~24.

As I worked to figure out the root cause of the problem I decided that I would address the symptom as a stopgap measure. The stopgap measure, which turned out to be the right answer, was to create a simple currency: Pieces of Charles™. (Not my choice on the name) They have a humorous design (see below) and aren’t really worth much other than the fact that they are a symbol of recognition. Recognition of greatness is a powerful thing.

I realized that I couldn’t reward people anymore because I could not see what they were doing to the same degree that I could before. I did not have that insight due to the sheer number of people that I was working with. So, I print-minted 70 of the Pieces of Charles™ and handed them out to the only people who really could see the day to day MOGs: the team leads. Pieces of Charles™ were to be given out as on-the-spot rewards for moments of greatness (MOGs).  I empowered the team leads to reward the extraordinary, and they have. I have also empowered the teams to let me know if there is someone going above and beyond so that I can recognize them as well. It has worked out surprisingly well.

Now, I know when people are doing great. I know the people who are exhibiting the behaviors we want to encourage. I know that my team leads are able to reward those who need it.

You may be curious as to what would warrant a Pieces of Charles™ and I will provide several instances where people have shined below but this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Trevon Sutton – He has worked tirelessly on making the client better and raising the bar for testing in general at the client site. He has put in a significant number of extra hours as well as his own free time to this effort. He is one of the clients main go-to guys now for testing.
  • Trevon Sutton & Chris Pierce – These gentlemen have created a testing framework which will help the client to handle internationalization issues for a product which already has several thousand tests written against it. The majority of this work was done on their own time.
  • Chris Pierce & Allen Cummings – These gentlemen have worked incredibly long hours with the client to fix a broken network over the past two months. They have done this in addition to their regular work, resulting in long hours and difficult product deliveries for the team.
  • Jen Dillon – She has helped the client to improve their traceability from requirements to test. In this effort she presented her findings, defended her results, and provided a good path forward to members of management at the client which were several levels above where we normally step. I was in the meetings and the questions directed to her were extremely direct and at times callous. She acquitted herself well as both an engineer and as a SEP employee.

Throughout all of this the teams have continued to do great and in fact may be doing a little bit better than before. The weather ahead looks good.