Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.” “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” they return, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.” “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the person says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
This is a story that Stephen Covey told in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is, if you remain sharp, you can be more productive and effective. It is one of those books that has so many maxims that I apply in business, and one of them is Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw—the principle of Balanced Self-Renewal.
As a practice manager, you not only need to keep your skills on the cutting edge in technology, but you also need to know how to run an effective, profitable business and grow your people. You are also responsible for creating room for your team to train and develop their skills formally—not as an afterthought, but a deliberate part of the way you run your practice. Ultimately, training is an investment, not a cost.
Microsoft is engaging and partnering with more and more companies that make our tool sets so much more complete. Hence, you need to make sure that the spread of skills across your team are in alignment with this. Are you implementing training in your team to address this constant change? Here is a partial list of skills that should be acquired in your practice:
- Salesforce Automation
- Customer Service
- Adobe Marketing Cloud
- Field Service
- Unified Service Desk
- Project Service Automation
- Relationships Insights
- Voice of the Customer
- Knowledge Management
- Office 365
- Cortana Analytics Suite (Machine Learning and Cognitive services)
- Microsoft Social Engagement
- Power BI
- Microsoft Flow
- Microsoft Portals
Make sure training is liberally applied inside your organisation. You always have customers, you always have projects, and there will always be somebody that wants your time, but it is critically important in developing a great team to put the training in place formally. Accordingly, training is a two-way thing with staff. Staff should be training on their own time as well as company time. There should be a balance between the two.
One of the crazy things that I heard so many people well into their career comment is that they fell into Dynamics because they got allocated on a project and they fell in love with the technology, but there's no formal way that they trained. I believe “you don't know what you don't know”. Moreover, unless you are consistently year-on-year training and keeping abreast on what the new things Microsoft is putting into the platform, you are never going to be able to offer the best solution to the customer.
To those that say they do not need to do formal training or to validate their skills, I say this: When I pay for professionals that work for me personally, I do not want professionals that have excuses as to why they are not trained and certified. I will never pay a Doctor, Accountant or Lawyer who is not trained and certified. Why should our customers suffer anything less if we are professional consultants?
Another thing to consider within your practice whether small or large is a mentoring program. The program needs to be sponsored by the practice leadership and encouraged across all levels of the organisation. People need to have a one-level-up, one-level-down mentor relationship. And this comes back to valuing people not just in their skill development but on a personal level. Are they going ok? Do they need additional support or resources?
You need to run it in a way wherein confidences can be kept, so it runs effectively. I found it is a great way to put checks in place, so we look out for each other, and encourage each other. Often, people talk to a mentor if they are unhappy or things are not working out as they expected. Sometimes just getting that out and being able to share that is enough for them. A burden shared is a burden halved. Often, a mentoring program will allow for that.
A mentoring program should include accountability, and the mentee needs to respect the value the mentor brings to their relationship. There needs to be compatibility between both parties. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor.
If you are not a mentor, why not? Also, if you do not have a mentor, why not?
I think a grad program is probably one of the most underinvested aspects of our industry. Within the next five years, I see that Dynamics will easily be the number one product in the space worldwide. What we are lacking is enough new people taking up careers in this technology. If you are going to create holistic graduates or a holistic business person in your organisation, you've got to look at all facets of the program.
- Formalise a program and look at how's it going to be funded.
- Put them through formal training.
- Get them up to speed in the e-learning provided by Microsoft, and get them across getting the certifications.
- Transition them on to projects where they play secondary roles.
- Consider what training you will implement to develop their consulting skillset.
- Look at what external programs and soft skills can make up a part of your graduate program and rotate them through these areas:
- Leadership (not management)
- EQ Training
- Unconscious Bias Training
- Human Centred Design
- Dynamics SureStep
- Professional writing skills
- Business Communication
- Sales Training
- Professional representation in Social Media such as LinkedIn
I have successfully implemented grad programs for school leavers and university graduates.
One of the things I have always tried to do in my career is replace myself. In other words, I do not want to be the choke point of the business. It is the last thing I want to be. I do not want people having to wait for me to make a decision. So, I encourage that next layer of leadership to make decisions. And they are going to be wrong sometimes, but that is fine as long as they continue to learn from it.
You need to systematically look at how that next level of leadership is coming through, and look at replacing yourself. You want to develop people that can make informed decisions and can back themselves. This is a real skill that needs to be taught and formalised within your team. Don’t create managers; instead, grow leaders that lead by examples, get their hands dirty when needed, can be trusted and are loyal, and above all else, are servant leaders. (If you do not know what that means, you may find it valuable to research it.)
I highly recommend that you put recognition programs in place, so staff can be recognised amongst their peers for going above and beyond what is expected of them. I have found this should be a monthly run program.
- Make it a formal part of your organisation.
- Create awards based on statistical data and based on peer nominations.
- Call out and recognise people for what they did or what their colleague nominated them for. (e.g. during a Town Hall meeting)
- Make sure the reward is something tangible:
- Money (show me the money)
- Certificate of recognition
- Recommendation on their LinkedIn profile
- Recognition on Yammer
- Personal note from you, the practice lead, thanking them
As a practice manager, you need to be tracking and monitoring who in your team is growing, who is moving forward, who is stagnating, and who needs encouragement and mentoring to continue to grow professionally. Keep in mind, if you want to cut down that tree… sharpen the saw.