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Recognize the dependable people on your team

Behind-the-scenes capability is one of those things that is often taken for granted and frequently overlooked when it comes to recognition.

Do you have a closer on your team? I'm not using the term "closer" in the sense it's used in the sales biz -- as someone who can close a sale. Or as aggressively as it's addressed in the play and movie Glengarry Glen Ross ("Coffee is for closers!").

I'm referring to that someone you instinctively turn to when you need something done quickly and well, and from whom you'll hear no complaints. They're basically a boss's dream. You assign a duty and then bim bam-bang it's done, and you don't have to worry about tracking down straggling details or continuously checking in to see if things are moving along.

Now let me ask you this: Do you appreciate your closer? I know you think you do, but do you really?

Do you funnel all tasks big and small that you just don't want to do yourself through this person?

Do your actions make it seem like your closer is a bottomless pit of time and effort, no matter what you throw at her or him?

Unfortunately, it's the people who keep the wheels on the bus that are so often overlooked. Behind-the-scenes capability is one of those things that is often taken for granted and frequently overlooked when it comes to recognition. Part of that is because it's usually strategic heroics that get the attention, even though correct handling of tactical details can save a company a lot of money. Don't fall into this trap as a manager--make sure your closer knows his or her value to the organization.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

27 comments
RMSx32767
RMSx32767

he/she shines more brightly than the boss.

mandrake64
mandrake64

Rarely recognized. Often misused. The quiet achievers keep the wheels of the business turning, take up the tasks that no-one else dares to attempt, create innovative and efficient solutions, have a great breadth and depth of knowledge, detect the problems others overlook, are always there to recover from a crisis, and unfortunately leave a huge hole in the team when they leave. Dependable yes. This stems from honesty, loyalty and a solid work ethic. Some other team members simply abuse this dependability by dumping their own unsavory tasks to them. This is destructive to overall team harmony. Managers are often very uncreative in providing recognition. After all, money isn't everything. Recognition, when realized, often just creates resentment among those team members who fail to keep up but still think they deserve the same reward. This just makes the situation worse.

althelp
althelp

I tell my employes that if they want to get ahead they have to develop the ATTUTUDE that they will become more important to the company then the electric company. Without either they cant open the doors.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Honesty is hard to come by really and those who in fact are honest always get the short end of the stick. In my long carrier I have seen 2 good supervisors whom in turn never got any further because of their honesty. Recognition coms from an honest and non-abusive supervisor or manager which also are hard to come by and as a result honest and hard working people get more assignments than their counter parts ... the lazy ones and not to bright.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Any fool can close something. Making sure it's not going to get opened again is the real trick.

rbosgood
rbosgood

We have a great closer in our department. The guy is brilliant and can solve almost anything. Every staff meeting his name is prominent in the Kudos list. Here is the thing though, the reason he solves all the difficult stuff is that out of 6 of us, he gets about 90 percent of it. The rest of us do not normally get a shot at those high profile problems. I would advise managers to make sure they use all their talent and not rely solely on that one high achiever. Some times you need to let others accomplish things and see their name on the Kudos list, even if it gets done in a more subdued fashion.

rcornelia
rcornelia

There is a limit to the value and application of this philosophy. It applies if you're managing strictly task oriented worker bees. If "the boss" is anything above supervisor they should be trying to identify and develop leaders, people who will take ownership for projects or teams. I've seen CEOs who delegate tasks but not responsibility. You certainly wouldn't call that effective management for a CEO. It's highly likely "Mr Dependables" lose their jobs because they are less valuable in that they take on less responsibility and rely on appeasing the boss rather than doing a good job for the department and company. These go-to task people are less valuable and easier to replace than someone who takes on greater responsibility and has a sense of ownership of the big picture.

Mr. Special
Mr. Special

I am the unappreciated person noted within this article and live with it every day. No one notices the person that keeps the lights on. They only notice when it becomes dark. Being underappreciated eventually makes even the most loyal and hardworking individual morph into an apathetic person. Unfortunately by the time management realizes his/her mistake the individual has generally moved on.

RW17
RW17

That's way too narrow of the definition of a "dream" colleague on a team! I have one in mind: She does excellent work! If I ask her to do something, she does it very well, and in a very timely fashion. She closes tasks off with excellent quality! I tell her so, and I tell her so every time she does it! Her skill level is very high. The challenge: She is such a pain in the butt with back-stabbing, criticism of others on our team, and non-stop conniving to make herself look better than all others including me, that she is the farthest thing from a dream. Others in the company have stated, for the official record, that they will not work on a project with her ever again. They will quit before that happens. I have her on my permanent team. No matter who has talked to her about her social ways, from her direct boss to the company CEO, her social ways do not change. I love the results she delivers on tasks. I hate how she effects and interacts with the rest of the team. How does one handle this?

lyeardley
lyeardley

A salutory tale for managers reading this. I have an excellent closer who, as is often the case, was a junior member of the team. I recognised her talent and encouraged a career move, providing training and promotion into a new role. She is now highly motivated, excelling in a new field and has a long and successful career in Project Management ahead of her. I, on the other hand, am now drowning in all those tasks I used to be able to hand off in the confidence that they'd be completed to a high standard and my performance is degrading as a result. I certainly wouldn't have made a different decision but this very much underlines the value of closers that Terri outlines...it's very difficult to define that in a JD and to justify recruitment to fill that gap so make sure you appreciate those that you do have.

Ackros
Ackros

Yes I can definitely say from the perspective of being an "IT Guy Closer" that yes there are times it does feel like I'm being taken for granted. When I think back over all the previous roles/companies i worked for, some in particular truly did take advantage and didnt properly support/respect the resource they had . I seem to fall into the role of being the guy other IT people goto when they're stuck or need a hand , or the Project managers goto because from past dealings they realise I can validate their idea or project architecture submitted by a customer and find the problems before the "server builds" are started saving time later.

rafezetter
rafezetter

I was the closer in my last job, "the go to guy" but still lost it mainly because I wasn't the one bringing in the sales when redundancies came around (however that same company, according to some I'm still in contact with, has been one sale from folding in the four years since I left, which makes me smile just a little - the old "managers in a rowing team" adage). It's good to see that some at least recognize the quiet and unassuming guy in the back office who isn't hopping up and down trying to impress the bosses. I'd not call it the "closers" though, more like the "cleaners". I'm really pleased this has been floated on such an open forum because I have a related question on this topic - "How does a closer portray himself on a CV without sounding ridiculously self important; like he thinks he was the backbone of the company?" With so many CV's using buzz words and full of claims about sales targets, projects completed and all the stuff they think bosses are looking for - how does the "go to guy" who has no direct link to any of it sell himself?

rivernidd
rivernidd

Totally agree..these 'closers' were the most valuable members of my team...always got things done even if it was out of their area of responsibility, sometimes skill set. In our organisation the Sales Manager used to sell solutions based on a tender, our 'closers' always had to pick up the pieces where an item of kit had been missed off the contract or promised to be maintained without costing it for maintenance. They got the flack while the sales guy got his commission no questions asked...I can give £10 away for £1 all day long...needless to say I got out before they folded but it was the 'closers' who were fighting to keep the organisation in business and had the passion to do things right, they should be rewarded and recognised more often.

rafezetter
rafezetter

It wasn't closed in the first place; finisher, completer, cleaner (of messes) - whatever semantics you prefer, we are using those words to mean the same thing, to bring a situation to a permanent end. Having said that - there is no human alive or who has ever lived that did it right first time, so to call him or her foolish for such mistakes is in itself foolish. And that's still not the heart of this discussion anyway, we are talking about the value of (pick an adjective) being overlooked, not why they exist at all.

rafezetter
rafezetter

Have you ever approached this guy? I would venture that if you said you were more than willing to give him a hand with problems you know you can be constructive in, or even offer yourself as a sounding board... he'll bite your hand off. Do you know for a fact that he enjoys being swamped with work, or do you think it's possible he might like help so he can get home at some reasonable time and have a bit more of a life outside of work? Just because you were not offered it, doesn't mean you cannot risk a bite of the apple anyway; try asking him and see what he says, if he says yes; great, go do it (and DO NOT SKIMP!!!); ask for no recognition and see if he vocalizes it anyway. If he does, congrats; you're in; on and up. If he doesn't; just mention in passing to the manager who handed the problem out, but NOT at the Kudos meeting - you'll look like a glory hunter; that you were involved in the problem solution. Likely he'll ask the other guy and check, and make his own judgement from there (possibly giving you a solo shot next time - or at the very least noting that his go-to guy is a bit of a lone wolf willing to share workload but not the reward). If the other guy says no more than three times of asking, I'd also mention it in passing to the manager; it's likely he'll understand repeated offers to help a co-worker with a team problem and being refused has an underlying reason that isn't a good one. If I were the manager I'd be asking the go-to guy why he keeps refusing at my earliest opportunity. (self importance, unwilling to share the glory, disparaging thoughts of your ability, attempts to keep himself "indespensible" etc etc) However, If you really wanted to be seen as more valuable, and diversify your skillset, you'd have already done what I suggested. Sorry to be hardline but saying you don't get a shot is a cop out and an easy cover excuse. (and PLEASE do it - I'm very interested to hear the result)

rafezetter
rafezetter

^^ This. "identify and develop leaders, people who will take ownership for projects or teams." "These go-to task people are less valuable and easier to replace than someone who takes on greater responsibility and has a sense of ownership of the big picture." This mindset is what I seem to be battling on a daily basis. We are not discussing the quarterback, we are highlighting the ball boy who does the stuff other people rely on without even realising it. How many project bosses get removed, or an entire project tender sourced to a different company because of said project lead? How many project leads allow a massive and often extremely costly overrun? How many times has a project lead ended up at loggerheads with upper management because they want to add their personal flavour to a project that doesn't require it? Why has it become standard practice to build a clause in the tender contract to fine construction projects for overruns? Because everyone knows, if they did not, it would, and often it STILL does anyway. Why does western business practices still follow this sort of thinking? Because : "These go-to task people are less valuable and easier to replace than someone who takes on greater responsibility and has a sense of ownership of the big picture."

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Assuming she is truly gifted you should assign tasks which require only her. She continues to close, no one else quits because of her. If she truly is a back-stabbing conniver she should probably be gone, but is it possible she really is just better than everyone else including you?

tbostrup
tbostrup

You are doing your team a great disservice. With someone like you describe, you will never know what she actually did and what she just found a way to take credit for. You will never know if she has her own "closer(s)". "Stars" are often allowed unacceptable behavior, be it in sports, entertainment, or business. But these will often affect team performance and their "performance" creates other issues and deterioration of team performance. As long as you reward her by acknowledging her performance regardless of behavior, you are "feeding the monster". Focus on what needs to change. I have to agree with SArmst2547 response.

SArmst2547
SArmst2547

One model is: First teach, then advise, then counsel, then fire. Make it clear what changes will help her become a better team member. Then watch. If she still does it, then advise her. Then watch again. If she still does it, counsel her. Then watch again. If she still does it, then fire her. Keep notes of your process, to avoid a post-firing dispute or complaint. Make sure you have her sign the notes, to acknowledge receipt of them.

RW17
RW17

... would have been that she would have left long before! They all move on eventually... be thankful for the time you got, and be proud of your assistance that you provided that got her to where she is today. The alternative is a far poorer way to manage and live. In a way, they are like your kids... be proud of their successes and help them achieve the sky... anything less is you not doing your best for others.

RW17
RW17

on your CV... simple as that. It's not being a Resume-Kiss-Ass if you are simply and plainly honest. Use metrics specific to you and your results. Good future-bosses will see the value in this over buzzwords... bad ones - well, you don't want to work for them any way, correct? :-) As for your previous company, remember always that you are a great asset to any company and that if that company can't recognize that, then they don't deserve you! Simple as that! Their loss! Good riddance! Would you stay with a partner that does not appreciate the things you do? NO. So, don't ever stay with a company that does not appreciate you! Also, I have heard from too many superiors that I am supposed to manage up and tell them of my accomplishments. That's laughable. Where is the management in that from those people? A good general knows his "closers"... knows his key deliverers. If not, they are not the general who you want commanding your interests! Right?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I didn't say naff all about getting it right first time, that was your strawman. Plenty of people close issues despite them not being complete and not by mistake either. They do it deliberately to get a smiley on the dashbopard, to appear to meet a deadline, to deny that the work they've just done was never or is no longer sufficient. So case closed... See what I mean. Irritating isn't it? How do you identify a closer. The number of closed issues with their name against them? Make a metric like that popular and you encourage the behaviours I described and most often from people who deserve a very different adjective..

rcornelia
rcornelia

"It applies if you're managing strictly task oriented worker bees." That apparently applies to you. It sounds like your battling what you perceive to be ineffective project management. My comment was meant to help people reading this article to understand that just doing what you're told, when you're told isn't necessarily the best way to grow professionally and advance their careers. If you're a ball boy in an organization without opportunities to grow then you should find something better. Unless of course you enjoy being a ball boy, just don't expect to be highly valued. There are hundreds of ball-boys-in waiting.

rafezetter
rafezetter

While she may give excellent results she will not be the only one capable of doing so; there could be others in your team, who with a little extra from you, could be brought up to grade, but who may not be doing so in part because of this other person; "Why should I give my best work for this manager who keeps someone like that as a pet?" Protecting the ball buster, who seems to be almost universally reviled, could be seen to be justification from you for her actions and degrades you in the other co-workers eyes for several reasons up to and including you don't have the chutzpah to bounce her, and no-one likes a gutless manager. That's certainly what I would think in their shoes. It's also extremely likely to be affecting morale, another problem bound to indirectly drop performance. One good worker cannot make up for nine others underperforming. Any employee that is so widely disliked must either learn and adapt or learn by being fired - she'll get the message one way or another and to be frank, supporting her behaviour by allowing her to keep the job isn't doing her any favours in the long run; she will continue to do so up to the point she eventually gets fired, then she'll have a hell of a time keeping another job down, for any period of time with so many people in the job market now. She needs a wake up call and you need to get rid of her shadow.

rafezetter
rafezetter

The reality is somewhat different - If I say "I was the guy who fixed X,Y,Z because the project lead (or anyone else) hadn't factored that in and it got dropped on my desk because he had moved on"; or "I rearranged a shipment because the manager went on holiday and wouldn't deal with it and I refused to let it wait until he got back", or any one of a hundred others - it cannot help but come across as self righteous and aggrandizing, even if it IS the truth. It also makes me look like someone who constantly denigrates co-workers, and we are back to the ball-buster scenario. It also brings a question; if I am so good at so many things, how come I was not directly involved with any of them? Surely any project needs the best people on it, so why not me? The problem of being someone who has no specific skillset, but who is able to turn his hand to many, is that in most cases a specific skillset IS the driving parameter, and I don't have any qualifications for any of it. As an example I stripped and rebuilt the engine of my first motorbike 25 years ago which had seized and been left standing for several years when I bought it cheap. I did it (and other work on the bike) having never previously even looked at a bike engine, with no manual and no machine shop. I'm almost entirely self taught with everything, I seem to have been blessed with one of those sorts of minds. The jack of many trades, but master of none - with an addendum; but still pretty darn good anyway. The good manager who can see past this and recognize a "closer" type who has no specifics but a wider, more varied background of experience is also, from what I've seen by the lack of job offers, a rare beast indeed. Chances are my CV wouldn't even get as far as him / her anyway; more likely it'll get perused by a HR person with a limited mind who's looking for that specific skillset, ONLY and lacks the vision and experience to recognise a closer anyway. It's odd because the generally accepted thought is that someone who is widely travelled is a rounder, more experienced and interesting person than one who has gone to the same place every year for 20 years. In the job market it seems to be the direct opposite.

rafezetter
rafezetter

It wasn't a projection at you per-se, but apologies anyway, a knee-jerk. I took "Any fool can close something" to mean a first attempt, because a second attempt at closure would possibly include attached safeguards to ensure it didn't re-open a third time, therefore the "fool" would have learned and not be so... but then again, look at most Govt.s of the world to see numerous attempts at closing the same issues. Yes you are quite correct in that many people consider an issue "closed" knowing full well that it was incomplete or that down the line something about it could possibly re-appear demanding a solution. I was using the term "closed" to mean "completed with no known or foreseeable loose ends". Hence the semantic RTA. The only real way to identify a proper closer would be to ask those with the highest performance records how they came to the solutions that they did; what was the spark? Those that are genuine could rattle it off, even if the spark came from way left field; those that don't sound so convincing, well they probably had help somewhere. Most closers are "Macgyvers" of sorts and it'll show.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

and sporting a business degree and experience are supposed to be all the rage. Are they being hired though, and by whom?