Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Regular catch up meetings come full circle

In the IT department here at MaxSoft, we hold fortnightly catchups with the guys. Since there are currently ten guys involved in these regular catchups with me, I have one scheduled every day of the week. We cover three main points religiously:

  1. What have you done in the four hours a week we give you to develop your skills

  2. What are your priorities and work issues

  3. How are you going generally and what improvements can be made to your environment

We cover a lot of ground in these meetings. In a recent catch up, we covered the contrasts between other workplaces and the environment here. The discussion on other workplaces verged into toxic workplaces, and terrible management types.

I was reminded of a subject I had covered a few years ago, dragged out a book called “Mask of Sanity” by Hervey Cleckley. It is available as a free pdf download, and covers the pathological personality type. Get it from

A summary covered at describes this personality type as follows:

Imagine - if you can - not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.

You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

Around 4%, or 1 in 25 people will have this personality defect. There are a lot of sociopaths in jail and just as many in senior management.

My original motivation for reading this tome was to try to fathom the behaviour of a colleague of mine while working in a large organisation. He was charming, fearless and ruthless, and his superiors loved him. He also seemed not to care an iota about anyone, nor about getting the job done. His actions included borrowing a subordinate's laptop to test a program he found on the web. The install process included disabling the corporate virus and malware protection suite and led to the first ever major outbreak of a virus at this company. When it was obvious that the forensics clearly pointed to his employee's laptop, he loudly and publicly led the charge to have him sacked, while privately telling the employee to sit tight. The employee was saved from dismissal by a divisional general manager who intervened. When the employee confided in me six months later, it was because his boss had neither thanked him nor apologised for his behaviour.

I'm sure most of you with a few years under the belt have had experiences with personality types you never, ever want to be involved with again. There are some that you'd especially go to great lengths to make sure that you never had to work for again.

What I am particularly interested in is how to use this feedback about the negatives of other workplaces into something that can be used positively.

The impact management, and especially the direct manager has on employees is massive. Any manager potentially can create an environment that is going to drive away not only your best and brightest, but your best and brightest in training. And you may never know about this until it is far too late.

If you care about care about getting great results for your business, the quality of the code your team produces, and the team itself, you need to provide an environment which not only stops your guys worrying about your reaction to situations, but also has them telling recruiters to stop calling for anything other than another dream job that pays twice as much.

Regular catch up sessions are a vital component to ensure that your guys are not only happy and productive, but also that you are not making them ticked off and distracted.

Some useful tips for these regular sessions:

  • Have a predictable agenda of open questions designed to open up conversation rather than confine it.

  • It is a two way street - your performance should be discussed as well.

  • Don't cancel these meetings too often – if they are run well, there's not many things that are more important.

  • Personalise the meeting to the needs of the employee. Take notes if you do not have a good memory.

Run well, these meetings should be able to nip potential problems in the bud, fine tune your department's priorities, improve your management style and also help you establish a quality relationship with the people you should value most in your company.

Even better, your annual or six monthly review process should be easy, painless and contain no big surprises.

By the way, we are currently looking to increase my regular catchup meeting workload by hiring more .NET engineers wanting to work in an environment that cares about employee development and producing great code.

If you are interested, e-mail me, Kent Bolton. I can be contacted via kbolton with an at sign here Please only apply if you are able to work on the gold coast in Australia, and have a serious passion for coding.

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