Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Paranoia is critical in my profession, because we manage large-scale, multi-country projects where many things can go wrong if not carefully considered, prevented, and checked.  When mistakes happen, there are consequences, some repairable and less serious, others irrepairable and severe.  In the latter case, it could cost a lot of money, future business, and our reputation.  Paranoia?

I manage a team of 7, from juniors to senior manager.  I am the youngest in my family so my big-sisterly attitude to managing my team did not come naturally.  I have changed from being very hands-on, demanding, strict, and critical in my early years of being a manager, to my recent style of nagging, hands-off, supportive, and more approachable.  I don't like to nag, but if I don't nag, they forget.  Kids these days are forgetful and have very short attention span.  They can't visualize the severity of mistakes because they never had to be held responsible.

A few months ago, when traveling for work, supervising execution of a project, I already noticed some indications of quality issues with my team's work.  I ended up picking up all the mistakes and sending them email after email to remind them the importance of checking their own work, and their subordinate's work.  Paranoia?

In project meetings, I also reminded them again and again the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.  When designing the project flow, I also put in a number of procedures to ensure we would have enough checks in place to prevent mistakes.  Paranoia?

Today my worst nightmare came true.  The team told me they had left out two questions in one survey, and the fieldwork had completed already.  Two questions which could not be recalled (could not call back respondents to ask those questions again due to bias).  What?!  Apparently, they ignored all my previous warnings, bent rules and policies for greater flexibility - so the mistake was not spotted until very late.

I feel very disappointed and upset, but I had to keep my cool - for professional reasons and also kids these days don't take strong language / tone very well.  Of course, it is useless to scream at them now since the damage is done, all I can do is make them realize the severity of the mistake, make them think of remedial actions, and review what they have done wrong.  Sadly, only one of them - who wasn't responsible for the mistake - was able to suggest one possible remedial action to explore.

I was so upset I went to Pret and bought foods I had never picked from there before:  Tomato soup, Parmesan sandwich, Kettle chips.  I found my ex-boss from internal messaging tool, and vented to him.  I vented to him because he would understand, and also he knew how lucky he had been for having me support him all these years without ever causing him such headaches.

I think I am feeling so emotional about this because my team has failed, and being their leader, I feel like I have failed.  I worked so hard all these years avoiding such critical mistakes, and as a leader - even though I no longer had to run projects myself - I tried my best to pass on my knowledge and experience to the team, giving them directions and pointers to protect them from falling hard.  Yet, by being their security net, they took advantage of it, and never developed the paranoia critical to our profession.  There was never fear of failing, fear of making mistakes.

Please, can anyone share with me THE way to motivate the younger generation?  I don't want to give up on them, but I can't find a way to inspire them and encourage them to grow up, step up.


  1. My way of training my young team previously was to BREAK them & MOULD them.

  2. I have been trying to mould them, but obviously they didn't work out too well. To some extent it worked, but other times they forgot/ ignored my warnings.

    So likely I need to break them. Now how did you break them?