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Building a quality organization with talent management

At STAREAST 2012, keynote speaker Keith Klain spoke about his success in leading cultural change by emphasizing leadership skills, talent management and empowerment.

For years, test and QA managers have been working toward building high-performing teams. At STAREAST 2012, keynote speaker Keith Klain, head of Barclays Capital Global Test Center, spoke about his success in leading cultural change by emphasizing leadership skills, talent management and empowerment.

Understand your values

Keith Klain started his keynote speaking about leadership and a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done – because he wants to do it.”

Klain spoke of motivation and understanding that leading change is accomplished by having others understand that that change is in their best interest. He talked of the importance of understanding test management priorities and getting visibility into non-test related activities. “What is the business and how do we support them?” He said a lot of people in testing don’t feel empowered to find that information. He challenged the audience to outline their values.

The leadership values the Global Test Center emphasizes include honesty, integrity and accountability.  In speaking about honesty, Klain emphasized the importance of being honest first with yourself and then with others. Self-reflection should include both strengths and weaknesses. Klain talked of setting a high bar, providing clear and consistent feedback and allowing people to fail. Finally, for accountability, Klain spoke of taking ownership, understanding business values and managing expectations.

What didn’t work

The next portion of Klain’s keynote talked of his experience with quality initiatives that were killed. The first effort was a Test Maturity Model in which teams worked to document their processes in an effort to align towards an industry standard. This effort proved to be a distraction and the team opted to end it.

The next effort was a metrics program in which 30 KPIs were identified and efforts were put in place to obtain the appropriate measures. However, that effort was killed as well. “As soon as you apply a number, they will only make that number. It's very difficult to aggregate those metrics into anything that's meaningful,” said Klain, who recommended the book, Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations as a good one for test managers to read.

The third initiative that didn’t work out as planned was one that was built off of a career framework. The “pyramid” approach and management focus on operational control and team size did not promote the values that the organization was ultimately looking for.

A focus on talent management

The quality initiative that did meet with success was one that focused on talent management. Klain described a culture in which leadership was ingrained throughout the organization. Top talent is attracted to the organization by setting a high bar, and ensuring that the GTC was viewed as a highly visible and “top project.” Like competitive universities, top talent is attracted to those organizations that are difficult to get into.

That talent is developed and retained by empowering the team to own the quality for the team. The staff develops training of testing and business skills, and includes a test management mentoring program. The career framework is horizontal, rather than vertical, allowing the staff to experience different domain areas as they continue to grow their skills.

Klain spoke of how the excitement of the team changed once they owned the responsibility for owning their own training and new information or a new course is available. "The first question people ask themselves now is 'how do we push this out?'”

Management principles

Some final principles that Klain emphasized included:

  • Speak the language of the programs. By learning the values and aligning yourself to the value of your business, you will never be ignored or called irrelevant. Take ownership of your organization and that value you provide.
  • Don’t be afraid to rock the boat. As long as you’re respectful and constructive, it’s your responsibility to give honest feedback that some people may not want to hear. “If you want a friend, buy a dog,” quipped Klain, met with chuckles from the audience.
  • Never stop asking, ‘why?’ Don’t go about doing your job mindlessly, but step back and understand the purpose of what you are doing.
  • Don’t take things personally. “You are not your ideas,” said Klain. Your ideas are made up of many things conspiring together. “Sometimes [your ideas will produce] a light bulb and sometimes, a scribble. If you're taking things too personally, you won't be able to change your behavior.”

Final thoughts

Klain said the biggest cultural change that was implemented was the GTC University. The training, mentoring, competition, and act of empowering the team to be responsibility for training proved extremely valuable.

His final thoughts reiterated three ideas:

  1. Stop thinking the value of the test team is in anyone else’s hands.
  2. Start telling the team exactly what is expected of them.
  3. Continue driving out fear of failure by creating an environment that enables innovation and rewards collaboration through strategic objectives and constant feedback.

For comprehensive conference coverage, see our Software Testing Analysis and Review conference page.

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