Seven Steps for Helping Geeks Grow: Page 3

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3) Teach them to take risks. Geeks tend to be risk averse (despite what your Change Manager says), especially outside their technical space. They don’t like operating on imperfect information (“I can’t do that, I haven’t had the training”). Run some exercises, and no it doesn’t have to be white water rafting. Impromptu speaking is good. So is throwing unknown technologies at them under pressure. Or drama. Deep end them, get them out of the comfort zone.

4) Teach them to sell themselves. Geeks tend to be quiet achievers. Because they often have a certain level of contempt for management (that’s you), and for self-aggrandizement, they don’t always publicize their own successes. They don’t present well on first meeting. They don’t inspire confidence in internal or external customers they work with. Run another workshop: how not to get laid off. When the axe falls, the people who survive are:

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• The ones that management see contributing.

• The ones that the customers give good feedback on, and ask for again.

• The ones that the CEO liked when she met them.

Practice the “elevator sell”: they meet the CEO in the corridor, or they are taken in to see a client’s CEO “just to introduce you”: what do they say? Role play it one at a time in front of the group: shake hands, the “CEO” says “who are you?” and they are on. 10 seconds, go! If they blow it, sit down to ponder while someone else has a go, but they can try again.

Practice making a pitch. Everyone sells: the project manager seeking more resource, the architect delivering their solution, the manager addressing their team. So train them in sales skills and drill them.

5) Foster the growth plans they have made. Coach the career planning. Hopefully the plans have changed after steps 3 and 4. Fund as much training as the company can bear (and buffer them from the demands of the business while they are on training – don’t let the urgent ruin the important). Make it diverse, not just technology. Help them take opportunities to try something else: temporary assignments, projects, permanent transfers. A stifled and frustrated geek is of less value to you than a free one mentoring their replacement. Now you have two geeks; the new one doing the job and the one who can step back in in an emergency. Which leads to the most important step of all…

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