Do you have a manager of knowledge workers who cannot keep staff? Did this manager come from a technical field or do they have a business or finance background or MBA? There is 1 big thing that knowledge workers, especially Information Technology staff, need to have not only in their immediate superiors but also across several layers of the management chain. Smart, talented critical thinkers who perform have a great number of choices, and part of your job is to retain staff. Recruiting, hiring and training are expensive and time-consuming. What has research determined is the most critical factor? Hint: It is not compensation.
Today I read an article from Harvard Business Review entitled "If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You're More Likely to Be Happy at Work." To me, this seems obvious, but then again, many things are obvious once know the answer. When looking at the job market after exiting my last startup, I found many were confused by experience and could not? categorize me. With so many years managing a business unit at a public company, owning a P&L and SOX compliance, then successfully launching a startup, I must be an experienced executive. Any technical skills I list must have been from projects I managed or oversaw, not hands-on experience, and the position du jour needs someone with solid hands-on experience.
The other part of my résumé reads like an Enterprise or Infrastructure Architect, cloud expert, very experienced with distributed systems, high availability and disaster recovery design patterns and strategy. There is no way this person was performing a "real" management or executive function.
I feel old when I say this, yet I've been recruiting, hiring and managing knowledge workers since 1990. I had not completed university and was not studying leadership; I learned by watching successful managers and absorbed their lessons, whether through success or failure, then adapted my approach. The very first thing that I learned as a technical manager at an SI/VAR was that to be successful with recruiting, hiring, and management, I needed to know everything my staff knew plus more. At the time, that was easy, yet technological innovation happens faster than normal time. This seems contrary to General Relativity, which says that the faster one goes, the slower time flows. Then again, the speed of time is relative. Moore's law is still going strong.
When I took on turning around a load testing and consulting business unit at Keynote, 2003 had just happened. As I began to evaluate the state of the business to formulate a new strategy, I began retraining the existing consultants. The first thing I told them was that to be a consultant to software engineers at Enterprises, one had to think like an engineer, use engineering principles, but not forget to include the business side of our customer. As situations arose in consulting, as they always do, my team would come to me for answers. I would help them through their logjam, not by giving them an answer, but through asking thought questions or, if there were a time crunch, by doing the work myself.
There are many ways to measure the success of managing knowledge workers, and most are subjective and ambiguous. I grew the business by 30% CAGR, had almost no employee turnover in eight years, and had the highest revenue output per employee of any unit in the company. Those all sound like success but it is neither a ranking nor does it say what my staff thought about me that they may not have verbalized.
I like to believe that employees, especially knowledge workers, know that they have a safety net in their manager; instead of berating an employee for a mistake or logjam, a manager should challenge them and help them learn. I am a life-long learner and I become grumpy (no, not that grumpy) when I do not learn new things every day. Besides the myriad information and knowledge sources I get each day, I frequently learn from my staff and I coach and mentor them.