Perspectives from the *other side* on Software, Management and Life

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Empowering Employees

Great companies have empowered employees, and they're trusted to make the right decisions. However often we come across cases where really smart employees make the dumbest of mistakes. It shakes up the whole notion of delegation and if indeed micromanagement is the way to go (not!).

I recently came across a three letter acronym that tied up a lot of loose ends of such thoughts. The magic acronym being FAE (Fundamental Attribution Error). In summary this means that when we observe the behavior of an individual, we overly attribute it to his/her personality traits rather than the environment or context.

As an example, software engineers might be writing extremely poor code not because they're bad engineers but because:
1. Timelines - the team manager might overly emphasize timelines and not enough on quality. This will cause many good engineers to unlearn their good practices for ones that get the job done in the eyes of their manager, and at least in the short term keeps things running.
2. Precedence - if a new engineer is added to a team where best practices are not implemented, but rather the only form of measurement is getting the task checked off in the project plan, then they'll do as 'When in Rome, do as the Romans!'
3. Extreme Pressure - too much pressure (such as regularly being threatened on loosing pay/job if ...) makes things worse then good. Under extreme pressure, the 'thinking' part of the brain for most individual stops working and the primitive one takes over. The goal is to just make it to the next day without concern for making the best decision, which relates to something that lasts, scales and all the other goodies!
4. Context - Logical decisions require understanding the context. If a developer does not understand the bigger picture, he/she is likely to make mistakes since the context does not exist for evaluation of the trade offs for the design decision. So each and everyone in the team should understand what the end goal for the team is.

So next time round, when dealing with a generally smart employee having made a poor judgement call, do think if it relates to the context/environment. And if it does, how to go about changing the environment to ensure it doesnt happen again to other employees.



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