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Motivating a Staff


August 27, 2012 by Mike Hillwig

I’ve been in my current job for about 13 months now. They brought me in as a contractor in July 2011 and then hired me as a full-time employee in May 2012. The woman who hired me is who I refer to as my boss. She’s technically my manager’s boss, but I still (and probably always will) refer to her as my boss. For the sake of this story, please don’t confuse my manager with my boss.

In the time I’ve been at this job, I’ve continued to say that my worst days here are better than my best days at the last place.

Last week was a particularly brutal week at work. I’m working on a data integration project that requires replicating a¬†sizable¬†amount of data across large distances over volatile network connections. We’re replicating dozens of large tables (millions of rows) between the client’s instance of our data warehouse product housed in a data center on the US east coast to a database server in the client’s data center on the US west coast. Oh, and did I mention that the source is Oracle while the target is SQL Server?

We purchased a product from a pretty well-known vendor to make this happen, and we thought things were going well in our testing. That’s when the consultant from the vendor came in to help us with a few of the challenges we were having. This didn’t go according to plan. Between the security limitations on our network, to a few quirks of being a hosting provider, and a few “challenges” in the vendor’s product, it just wasn’t going well. By the end of the day Thursday, I had already put in a 50 hour work week and I was drained, both physically and mentally.

And then Friday morning happened.

I guess I should mention that my boss doesn’t suffer fools well. She’s a zero bullshit type of person and expects a lot from her staff, especially her more senior staff. Our clients expect a lot from us, and we’re expected to deliver for them. I’m a pretty smart guy who works with and for smart people. We provide solutions to our clients, and we’re not used to failure.

I was sitting in my boss’ office Friday morning explaining what was going on and telling her about some of the things I needed to discuss with the client. She stopped me and said something to this effect: “I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I really appreciate the hard work you’ve put in this week. I know it’s been challenging and you’re frustrated, but you’re doing really good work.”

That was the moment when I wanted to dive in front of a bullet for my boss.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career to have worked for some great managers. This one is no exception. And I’ve had one or two that just shouldn’t be allowed to manage people. The last guy was of the latter, and it left me a little damaged.

When I told my boss that I was exhausted and just needed to bail out early on Friday, I expected a bit of resistance. That’s what the last guy would have done. She didn’t even blink.She told me what she needed me to get done and then to get lost.

It’s managers like her that make a staff want to excel and thrill the client. They know how to motivate a staff and know when to let them rest.

It should go without saying, but I really love my job right now. This is a great place, working with good people, and working for great managers. And this is exactly what I need right now.