Many companies have some kind of recognition awards that they give to employees on a quarterly basis. I’ve seen these in most companies I worked at. At one company, the winners were called “Stars”, and at another they were called “Wizards”. Regardless of the title, one thing I noticed at these companies was that the majority of the awards went to people who went to extraordinary lengths to handle burning fires.
For example: at one company, a developer flew to a customer site on the Friday before Thanksgiving weekend, and spent the weekend there, debugging product problems and fixing then (he took a full build environment with him), and left on Thanksgiving Sunday having addressed all the problems and leaving the customer with a working build of the product.
Here’s another example: the finance clerk, who stayed until almost midnight on New Year’s Eve, to ensure that all year end orders that came in were complete and could be properly processed so that revenue could be recognized that quarter.
Or how about the example of the Technical Support Engineer who spent days and many nights (of his own time) working with a key customer to pinpoint a very nasty bug in the software. The customer was 3 hours ahead of the time zone of the support engineer, so the engineer would get up early in the morning to be available when the customer came into work. Then he would stay up late and work with the offshore dev team in India to try to reproduce and diagnose the issue.
All of these people won awards for their work. And on one level rightly so…they went to extraordinary lengths to deal with extraordinary situations. Companies tend to reward those who “go the extra mile”, “above and beyond”, or who “exceed expectations.” But these words are usually reserved for those who take a nasty operational situation, and help alleviate the problem through significant personal sacrifice.
First question: What about the people who dropped the ball and let these fires begin in the first place? Are they penalized for that? Sometimes, but often not.
Second, what about the people who prevent these fires from starting in the first place and do their jobs WITHOUT having to get others to go through extraordinary efforts? Do they get rewarded for this? Have you ever heard this speech at a quarterly award ceremony?
The next award goes to Javier, who has been with us for 2 years. In those 2 years, Javier has never had to travel out of the office to deal with a customer issue. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any critical customer issues from Javier’s territory. Javier consistently comes into work between 9:00 and 9:15, focuses on his work and doesn’t chit chat too much. He does his job efficiently and effectively, and is out of the office, pretty much by 5:15 everyday.
I’ve never heard anything like this. The “Javiers” of the world usually don’t get recognized for the work that they do. If someone does their job well, they may get a bonus or something once in a while, but they are not seen as extraordinary — “going the extra mile” etc. When is anyone who doesn’t stay late, seen as going “above and beyond” anything.
So what does this have to do with Product Management? A lot.
A good Product Manager shouldn’t be a fire fighter. They are more like Smokey the Bear. The work they do should prevent fires from starting and keep things moving forward smoothly. Once in a while PMs get involved in fires, due to specific tactics by competitors or sales and customers problems, but to be honest, if a PM spends a lot of their time fighting fires, then they are not spending much time being a Product Manager.
And thus, like the example of Javier, a good product manager will not get recognized for heroic activities that have disrupted their lives, simply because, they probably aren’t being called on, or needed to stop the fire from spreading.
What do you think? Have you received recognition for your efforts? If so, what was it for?