Stop bitching, do this instead…

I lift my eyes from the computer screen to see our programmer Jim standing at the door. He closes the door and says: “Hey, I need to talk to you about something”. My heart fills with dread – here it goes again….

This has been the third time he came in to complain. He doesn’t like to use JIRA, you see. He likes to use Hansoft because that’s what he used at his last job. He really wants me to switch to Hansoft. He wants me to switch the entire studio to Hansoft. The studio that has been running on JIRA for years.

After he leaves, more complainers take his place. An artist who wants the lights off in the shared office, an Assistant Producer who thinks our feature delivery process is flawed, and so on, and so on…

Complaints

Naively I was proud for a while that the team trusted me enough to come to me with their problems. In fact, I encouraged it. I thought I was creating an open atmosphere where people were free to express their frustrations without the fear of reprimand.

What I didn’t realize is that I was breeding an atmosphere of dependence. What was wrong?

  • The team became dependent on the manager to fix their problems. They came to expect it.  They got lazy in thinking through the solutions themselves.
  • It built a sense of entitlement. By listening to them and attempting to solve their problems I made them feel validated in their negative thinking and feel entitled to a fix.
  • It did a disservice to their career development by building bad habits. No boss ever likes to hear about the problems without also hearing about a proposed solution.
  • It made the team feel things are worse than they are. Rather than focusing on solutions, they focused on problems.
  • It discouraged team spirit. People get suspicious when they see their teammates talking to the manager behind closed doors.
  • It took a heavy toll on me. Listen to this complaining daily and you’ll start believing your team and your job sucks and everything is wrong. And since you can’t fix everything for everyone, you feel helpless at times. Hello, depression!

Once I realized what’s going on, I changed my approach.

No Complaining!

I now have zero tolerance for “empty” complaining. Instead, I promote the following.

  1. Understand the problem, its context, scope and history before bringing a problem to the manager. How many people is it a problem for? How did the problem come about? Were there attempts to solve it before? Why things work the way they work?
  2. Have a proposed solution.
  3. Think your proposed solution through. Are there any edge cases? Limitations (budget, time etc)?  How does it affect the rest of the team? What’s the cost (time, effort, money) of implementing it?
  4. Discuss the problem and the proposed solution with the team. Hear their ideas, have them beat on your solution and refine it until it “works” for everyone.
  5. Own the solution. There is a saying “initiative is punishable” 🙂 See the solution through, and enlist the manager to help facilitate it.

This approach has produced tremendous results so far. People on the team became more self-reliant and shown more initiative in finding and addressing problems. It brought the team closer as they solved problems together. It changed the outlook on their projects, job and teammates from negative to positive as they started focusing on solutions instead of problems. It built their confidence as they realized they had the power to change things. And finally, it helped restore my sanity as I no longer had to listen to “empty” complaints.

So my advice: discourage bitching and focus on solutions instead.

You’ll never hit your career goals (if you don’t have them)

Dream it - Do it!

I’ve worked with Jim (name changed to protect the innocent) for over a year when he asked me for a career advice.  He was fairly new to the industry, young and ambitious. I knew that he would go far because he was smart, showed initiative and was not afraid of hard work. I also knew that he had multiple career paths open to him – and depending on the path he chose my advice on how to get there would be different. So I asked him – what’s your “end game”? Where do you want to end up?

He looked at me puzzled, then he said he didn’t think about it. He just wanted to advance his career, but he didn’t know what that career might look like.

 

Step 1: Define your career vision

“Whether you believe you can do it, or you don’t – you are right” – Henry Ford

Ever since my discussion with Jim the very first thing I ask people to do in their personal development plan is to come up with a long-term goal, a vision for their career. It does not have to be precise and it is guaranteed to change over time, but it needs to give you a sense of direction. Let’s say you entered the industry as a QA tester. You feel you want to go into production. Well, what exactly do you want to do in production? Do you want to work with engineers (technical producer)? Do you want to oversee art production? Support live online game? How about PR and Marketing? Do you want to manage people? Small projects or large projects? Do you want to be in charge of budgets? Do you want to be an Executive Producer? A VP of Production overseeing multiple projects at once? Do you want to stay in development or have influence over strategy of the products you work on? Or even – do you want to own and run your own studio one day?

Don’t make the usual mistake of setting your goals too low because you don’t believe you have what it takes or that you’re not ready. One of my favorite sayings is “whether you believe you can do it, or you don’t – you are right” (by Henry Ford).  The only reason you can’t achieve something is because you allow yourself to give up. So your long-term career goal must be pretty high.

Step 2: Figure out how to get there

Once you have identified your career vision, it’s time to start analyzing what it takes to get there.  This step in itself will strongly propel you towards the goal before you even realize it – as long you you are pro-active about it. As you scour the internet and the books for information on the role, you gain knowledge needed to fulfill that role. As you ask your superiors  about it, you plant a seed in their minds that you are interested in that career track. Next time they are looking for a person to fulfill a role along that career track, guess who they will think of first?

 Step 3: Pursue the vision, don’t pass the opportunities

Step 2 should create some opportunities for you, and if not, you should start seeking out ways to create those opportunities for yourself. Vocalize your desire to go along that career path to your peers and your supervisors. Ask for tasks in your current position that align with your career vision. Take classes if needed, attend seminars and read books. Find mentors that have the ability to not only teach you the craft, but also help you in your career by either promoting you directly, pointing out good opportunities to you or by creating those opportunities  (s.a.  recommending you to someone in their network).

The next big mistake I see people do (after setting the goals low) is not taking an opportunity when it presents itself. Usually it’s because they don’t feel they are ready to handle it. Here’s the thing – you absolutely cannot grow personally and professionally if don’t step out of your comfort zone. That’s how you learn. Allow yourself room for mistakes, ask advice and help, and do your best. You will surprise yourself.

The first few times you take on new opportunities, you will feel sick to your stomach with fear of failing, anticipation of unknown, self-doubt and worry. Force yourself through it. As you do this more and more, you will learn to appreciate the feeling and love the adrenalin rush of a new challenge. Soon enough, you will start seeking it out.

At the same time try to avoid moves that go against your vision. For example, I’ve passed on higher paying job offers in the past because they were not aligned with my goals and passion, and I have no regrets.

Step 4: Refine the goals as you go

 As you grow and take on new challenges, you may find that you are no longer aligned with your original vision.  That’s perfectly normal and expected. Reevaluate and adjust your career vision continuously based on your experiences and opportunities that present themselves.

Professional and personal growth is a lifetime journey, and it will be much smoother for you if your first step is to define which direction you want to be walking in 🙂

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Laozi