In 2016 I spoke at Microsoft Ignite about how to keep yourself under control when everything is out of control.
From that I stumbled upon this idea of teaching techies how to people. You see, everyone I spoke to said the same thing : “those techies, they need to learn how to people”. The idea I got from people was that because techies were introverted peeps who would rather spend hours in front of computer vs talking to people, they hadn't developed great people skills.
So began a project to figure out how to teach these techies “how to people”.
I interviewed 15 people across the globe. Mainly from NZ, US and Europe. From a mixture of large and small companies, startups and established businesses. I asked them a series of questions: how if at all a lack of people skills got in way of work, what had worked and not worked for them, and to tell me their own story of “peopleing”.
And as this went on I realised something important and surprising - I had been wrong the whole time. It wasn’t about teaching techies how to people - it was about how to people in technology. This is an important distinction.
It wasn't about teaching techies how to people - it was about how to people in technology. I realised that I was coming from a place of deficiency - that there was something “wrong” with techies that needed fixing. In fact, there is nothing wrong with techies. They are perfect just the way they are. The problem, challenge and opportunity actually lies in the challenges of communication when there are a mix of different types of people together.
Alert: you’re about to hear a series of generalisations.
Interviewing people and from my own experience in tech, techies tend to be a highly logical and rational bunch. For example, I was once coaching a techie in a leadership programme. Their 360 report highlighted strongly that they were a great leader. And yet, they weren’t able to accept this until they could figure out exactly what in their behaviour led to this outcome. Only through thoroughly understanding the behaviour that led to this could they feel comfortable with the result.
Techies tend to a highly logical and rational bunch.Techies are often drawn to code because they enjoy the challenge of thinking logically, and creating something new from it. And then, the more coding they do, they become even better at logic. One leader I interviewed likened it to a developer always being half way through the Tower of Hanoi.
If you interrupt their work to ask them a question, you have the effect of disrupting their logical flow, and then them applying that same logical analysis to the question you are asking.
Let's say about a third of workforce in a techie company are these highly logical rational types. One important characteristic I have uncovered is that they want to communicate in the most efficient way.
And then you have the rest of the business. In here we have sales, customer success, administration, marketing. On the whole, these people do not have as much of a logical approach - they are a mixed bunch. Of course this is a massive generalisation, and you have companies and individuals who do not fit the mould.
Therefore within a company, you have a situation of different personality and thinking types working together. We also have people working together who have different motivations and priorities.
Within a tech company, we have a mix of different people with diverse personalities, thinking and priorities all working together. Sales want to make the sale and get the commission. They want to know the product roadmap, and to have the latest feature yesterday. Marketing want to position the business in the best way possible. They want the features ready to go on a specific date to coincide with their planned activities. They want all the documentation ready to go. The customer success team is tuned into the customer and specifically their pain points. They want to deliver good news to customers regarding bugs and features. They want to know that their customers are being listened and attended to. Within a tech company, you have a melting pot of all these people working together.
As I said, the pain point isn’t around teaching techies how to people at all, it’s about enabling all of these different people with various behavioural preferences, thinking styles and priorities to “people” together well. i.e. How to People well in Technology.
In subsequent blogs I will outline some of the tools I uncovered to help this happen. If you want a sneak peek get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.