V Formation

How to get your Gurus to Fly in V-Formation

So you are lucky, and you have hired one or several top technical people in their field. You know that when it comes to technology, they know their stuff. Plus, they love doing the job. They are incredibly dependable, are nearly self-motivated when it comes to learning and tackling new problems, and they like to come up with the answers and show their stuff.

Gurus tend to have a highly skilled and technical personality with a bit of the artist inside which can make them seem as though they are lone wolfs or have egos that are hardcore making them difficult to reach at times. After all, they have been out in the world getting high salaries or hourly rates, speaking at conferences, writing blogs and articles so they kind of had that God/Doctor complex. This is where your personal management skills will need to be honed.

You Need the Guru To:

  • Be part of the Team
  • Be indoctrinated into your corporate values
  • Do the job according to your expectations not only by following technical guidelines but follow your processes and procedures (like closing tickets, status reports, communication processes, etc.).
  • Be allowed to think outside of your limited vision and come up with ingenious ideas to fix long-term company technical issues or to make everyone’s job easier by automating some tasks, processes, reports or improve the GUI or any slowness in your application.
  • Mentor the team
  • And again look at the big picture to share ideas that may improve any work effort or the culture of your corporate milieu (environment, ambiance, atmosphere)

Indoctrinate Them as a Team Member

How do you get your GURU the guy that walks into the room and either causes others to either be him or run away from him? The Guru should be a highly-respected member of the team, but he should not have higher regard. The Guru needs to be a part of your team and treated like any other of your valued employees. So yes, she may be paid at a higher scale, but she also needs to jump on your train and help keep it on the tracks. A Guru who tries to get out of formation and stay out of formation can break your current staff’s spirit. You have a lot of valuable hard work people, and you don’t want their spirit broken because in their eyes you value one team member over another.

The answer to how to get the GURU to be the problem-solving guy and not the bully or insecure guy is to indoctrinate him into your culture. Don’t set him apart from the others. Create the same expectations for the daily duties of his as you do for everyone else. Don’t allow his importance or brilliant technical problem-solving capabilities become more important than participating in the company like any other team member. You have many key team members. Some may not have the marketable skills but what happens when the maintenance person or mail person is out sick? Or worse your networking guy is out, and your monitor decides to be glitchy either of those things can cause you to have a bad day at the office if you need something done. So no link is less important than another some links may be more significant but if one is missing the chains is still broken.

The answer to this is to start at the beginning, create a job description that includes requirements that explicitly describe what expectations in all of the details of performing the job entail. In our job description, we include items such as proper and consistent communication, paperwork or ticketing processing that needs to occur to ensure that everyone knows who is doing what and when it is completed. GURUS sometimes hate these tasks; they find them demeaning. During our first few days of Onboarding an employee, we review the tasks, demonstrate why they are essential and insist that the processes and procedures are followed. We are willing to train and retrain, and answer questions and help resolve any issues that make their job difficult but we insist that the tasks be completed as written and as described in the training manuals.

The enculturation is a process, some people get it right away while others take nearly their entire 90 day probation period to understand that yes they are valuable, yes their time is precious but if specific procedures are not followed. Other people can’t do their job, and it may affect our relationship with clients and other departments within our company.

Step 1: Communicate

Be exact, descriptive include all even menial tasks in the job description, then communicate, train, verify and insist.

We have found that a team member, no matter how great of a technical person they are, is not willing to work within the rules and processes of all other members of the same department. This ends up causing resentment, and eventually, no one is in formation, because communications and processes fall apart throughout your workplace.

We had a Team Leader, who was hired as the team leader because of his experience and his skills that he already used to create applications for us but he didn’t do the reporting job we needed to be done for each customer. We lost a customer due to his failure to do the written “status,” report to prove the work was done. He felt that all of the report development was beneath him. Although at the time he was the only one that could share what work he had done and we had no way of communicating it to the client if he didn’t write his own report. We lost a customer he lost his job.

Many times the GURU will say I don’t have time to do the details I am too busy solving significant problems. My response is, “how do I prove you addressed these issues if you don’t provide me with the details?” I show them the reports and other business processes other people have to do to meet all corporate requirements and listen to their objections and time constraints, and we work through solving problems and making things easier.

Step 2: Give Space

The next step is to give the GURU or Highly skilled technician room to fly. The thing about GURUS is they tend to like challenges, to solve problems and be the hero. So you need to give them a little room to share their ingenuity. One of the best ways is if they find a problem or a way to make yours or their co-workers or client’s experience easier let them do it. I would still ask for a timeline with deadlines and have them follow all your design protocols, testing roll up, etc. Then when they have completed their magic let them show the team.

Also, many GURUS like to show their stuff by offering lunch and learns at your office or by internal webinars. If they have some information to share that adds to the corporate culture or new technology let them do it. GURUS tend to be innovators, and they like to be a part of building something bigger than themselves. They tend to be avid learners in many aspects of their lives and can help enlighten you sometimes as to how to improve many things within your department or business-wise.

In our company, we have many ways to share information. We share in emails, of course, anyone can hold a webinar or meet to share an idea or a problem they think needs to be discussed. We have an open forum to address all issues whether technical or cultural. Invite your staff to share ideas freely.

What Motivates a GURU

As we are helping the GURUs to get excited about their jobs we have to figure out what motivates them. Many like the money and the prestige of titles. Others want time off with their families and like to be recognized for overtime. Others you have to beg to take a vacation and seem to like working in the dungeon with no light and hardly regard their paycheck. As employees, these guys are terrific, but when they get burned out, they tend to just go without any inclination that they were thinking about leaving. So you need to take some time to get to know your technical people as people. Watch their workload, recognize the fact that they just helped your auditors get a report out on time by working all weekend. Sometimes they will barely give you a nod or a thank you when you do recognize their work. However, just like all humans, your graciousness does get internalized into their subconscious, and they do enjoy the accolades. They are just not always good at saying thanks for noticing.

We have a couple of people on staff that will not take a vacation. Our HR department nearly has to beg them to relax and to take some time off. It had gotten so bad with one employee we said you don’t have to take a vacation day take a Soaring Eagle Light day. Cancel your client meetings, assign tasks to someone else, and just take emergency calls. Then he agreed to take the day. We are trying to coax him to do a couple more, soon. This person is not motivated by giving him more vacation or comp days. Money is a bit of a motivator, but he is self-motivated because he has in his mind certain things he wants to do before he takes time off. We had to convince him the list will never get shorter but life is short, so he needs to enjoy it.

Other people might like a small gift to show gratitude something that lets them know that you listen and that you know them. By going to Amazon and picking out some fishing lures and sending them to someone you may have just helped build the bond of trust that allows you to suck him into your culture. Some GURUs have lived lonely lives on the road and just need to be reminded of how to build personal connections.

In the end, treat the GURUs just like anyone else but give them some extra trust to let them help resolve issues they see within your organization. One of our awesome people reads a lot of books on communication. He attends Toastmasters, reads many business management articles. He shared a great idea that we need to do not only with our clients but with each other. This idea is to make sure at every meeting that we connect with the person with sincerity. We should ask some light personal questions, How are you doing today? Waiting and listening is the key. If they say, “fine,” pause a moment in case they share more. Then if you know they are married have children, play golf connect with them on one of those topics for a few moments, don’t just jump into the business at hand. He is going to create a meeting template for us to use for our client account meetings to make sure all of us do the same thing each time. Then we are going to try to implement the same processes when we engage with each other. This idea does not have a lot to do with his job description. He is a technical guy who works with clients. He wanted to be sure he was able to create a relationship with his clients, so he read and implemented these ideas within his behaviors. Later he shared his thought with the management team, and now we have a new program to help us further define our culture. This GURU who once was a person that I had a hard time communicating with is now teaching me how to communicate better. He has already improved his skills so much that talking with him is now a pleasure and we have become work friends.

Remember GURUs are people too. They sometimes are full of bluster and bring a lot of energy and power into a room. That power and energy usually come from a lifetime of knowledge with experiences of the ups and downs in their industries that give them the authority that they command. However they also, in the end, tend to want to be on a winning team and if they can join the formation sometimes by leading and sometimes by following then you have a GURU person on your side as well. They will help you build more within your organization, and all will fly in V formation, taking turns leading.

Author Penny Garbus