How a B- environment is created

After reading David of 37Signals’ post on B- environment merits B- effort, I’ve decided to use my morning commute to write about what I believe is a B- environment and how it came to be.

Recently, I had the opportunity of working in a B- environment and experiencing it first hand. Let’s start this environment off with a self-proclaimed “results-oriented” manager. What this implies is a manager that wants to deliver value to the business, while giving employees freedom over the details (design, implementation, etc). What it really means is “help me accomplish what I said I would so I get a good multiplier on my bonus.” Of course, no one can be blamed for wanting a fat paycheck. Which is why I need to explain, but later.

Let’s also start off each year with a Learning Plan for each employee, where employees recognize the strengths and goals of the team, and develop skills (technical or soft) to further those goals. On paper, this is great, but while everyone can create a Learning Plan, there is no guidance or even support for this plan. The contents of this plan will never be brought up again throughout the year.

Now let’s add some favoritism. Blind favoritism. It is inevitable that there will be people you like and dislike in the workplace, but a manager should make a conscious effort to put aside any personal opinions, and push the team to work as one and accomplish great things. A B- or even C environment would be one where the manager picks his/her favorite employees, essentially allowing them to do what they want (less work, shift the objectives of the team completely, or worse) while never recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of others. Also, if you have interns or co-ops on the team, please, do not treat them as 2nd class citizens. They can be just as capable or even more capable, but you need to start by expecting that of them, and treating them as equals. Many people I know seem to say Google does this very well.

Vision, anyone? One of the biggest responsibilities a manager has is providing the team with a vision. More importantly, helping to shape the team’s personal goals around this vision, and allowing them to see the correlation and impact their work has in regard to the vision. The inability of achieving this, or neglecting this, will certainly help you create that B- environment.

Value to the company/business, not just you. The company pays your paychecks. Most employees would love to see their company succeed, and our work within the company makes that success a reality. If you want 15% of your team to work on upgrading an internal system that is over 2 years in upgrades behind, first recognize what those upgrades provide. I’m not saying we should let everything rot, but if you’re going to upgrade something, and get your employees to spend hundreds of man hours doing it, the reason should not be “because I want to upgrade it.” What value does this upgrade provide to the company, its employees, or its customers? Can we expect productivity increases? Will those upgrades introduce more ease in a critical piece of our workflow? Will it generate more revenue? Why have we not upgraded it for 2 years in the first place? When the only reason your manager can give your team to spend huge amounts of time doing something is “because we should” or “because I want to”, you are definitely not in an A+ environment.

Most importantly, if you want to create a B- environment, don’t respect your employees. Think poorly of them, expect them to work harder for you as a result, and they will come to work all happy and joyous. Even having great co-workers won’t help if your manager insists on creating a B- environment.