Lead from the front: Firstly, people will look to you for guidance. Having an answer is great, but being able to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” is also great. Secondly, take the blows. You’re responsible for what your team does, and if that’s shielding them from pressures they don’t need to know about, or taking responsibility for their actions, that’s all part of it.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Edom-Hodge.
Dan Edom-Hodge. Dan has worked in various flavours of IT support for over 15 years, culminating in his current role as Head of Technical Services at Epro, managing a team covering a variety of disciplines and experience levels.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
As is often typical in the technology world, I did not start out on a specifically technological career! I started studying Chemistry at university but quickly discovered that a completely different subject, Environmental Science, was far more aligned with my interests. I had no idea at school that you could study that at university, so after a year, I switched and really enjoyed my studies.
After graduation, while looking for environmental roles, I fell into a company where I stayed for ten years, becoming the Technical Support Matter expert in a few areas. I became the go-to contact for training and working on a number of applications, and I found that many of the skills I enjoyed in my degree could be used in the world of technology, such as at Epro.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most satisfying project or thing I have invented isn’t one of those stories with an ending — as far as I know, it’s still going on now!
Put simply, it is a method of refreshing a test environment. It sounds simple, but that single change saved a department of 50 people dozens of hours a month.
Of course, it wasn’t as quick as that. Someone asked me to look into it and it took several months of iterative improvements — but once I had finished, you could send an email, refresh the test server, and then between 20–60 mins later, it was done. It was a bulletproof solution, and saved everyone a huge amount of effort. I’ve actually popped it into my CV as one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done!
Of course, just because it worked well then, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been updated. Code like that is always changing; while I invented the basics and it worked, over time others have added to it to improve things. And that’s exactly how it should work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In a previous role, I was having a remote desktop session with a supplier who was trying to get to the bottom of an issue with overseas installation. They were messing about with Structured Query Language (SQL) and they accidentally deleted data from the live server, while I was watching!
There was then a ‘Noooo!’ moment!
We had a recent backup, and as it wasn’t fast moving data it was a fairly recent one, but both he and I learned a lesson that day: make sure which environment you’re on, and what you’re deleting and not deleting!
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?
I believe that managing somebody is a conversation: there are things that you would like to talk about, goals to be passed through the organisation, and tasks that need to be completed to enable smooth running of the team and of the product.
But of course, alongside talking, equally important is listening to the person you are asking these things of. Everyone at Epro has their own goals and requirements, and the discussion part means weighing up the best direction for all parties.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
If you are managing large teams, your role is that of conductor. That doesn’t mean you have to know what everyone is doing, because each part of the orchestra will have individual leads — for example, in the violin section, there will be someone there to listen to for their cues, as well as the conductor.
As the conductor, you are trying to ensure everyone is working together well because you are the only one with complete oversight. You don’t need to know how to play every instrument, but you know what they should sound like.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
- Lead from the front: Firstly, people will look to you for guidance. Having an answer is great, but being able to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” is also great. Secondly, take the blows. You’re responsible for what your team does, and if that’s shielding them from pressures they don’t need to know about, or taking responsibility for their actions, that’s all part of it.
- Listen to your team: They know their jobs probably better than you do! Trust their opinions.
- Stay positive: Keeping a positive tone to your communications and meetings sets the tone for the day. We have daily standups at 9:30am (now a video call), and I try to keep them positive with some jokes — and sometimes I fail! But trying to impart that levity, even if because people are shaking their heads at your Dad jokes, means people will work better with a positive frame of mind. That’s part of your job. It doesn’t matter if you have a terrible sense of humour — the fact you tried is also a positive message.
- Be open: Communication should travel in both directions. You should be letting your team know what’s going on at large (as long as it’s not sensitive information), and sharing what’s going on outside of the team and what’s ahead on the roadmap. Be open about what is happening — people can choose to pay attention or not, but no one wants to feel things are being hidden.
- Create a learning culture: People make mistakes. You have the choice to either ignore it, point a finger and say publicly, “You made this mistake!” or you can privately go and say it’s a mistake, let’s fix it. Can you fix it or do you need help? Have you learned from the error and can make sure it doesn’t happen in the future? Successes should be public, mistakes should be learned from quietly. Learn from mistakes, don’t hide them away.
What advice would you give to CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think the same thing as leading a team — it’s listening to your employees and team feedback. You can never do too much listening in a company, in all directions, but particularly when you’re at the top of the food chain and probably have a clearer idea of how things are going. It’s critical that leaders take on those thoughts, as that will make employees feel valued, that their opinion and time is valued.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Be nice to one another and appreciate the natural world, our Environment. In the modern fast paced technology driven world, there’s a degree of removal from one another and the world around you. Appreciate there are people on the other end of the screen, and appreciate that there’s a world of wildlife that lives without technology at all.
Even if you live in the middle of a very urban city, you can introduce moments of stillness and nature in your day. Wildlife doesn’t have to mean safari parks or ancient woodland. Even something as simple as having potted plants in your home, on your desk, notice the birds that fly past your window — that’s all part of it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
It’s an old one but a good one — when speaking to customers, employees or managers, I try to keep in mind how I would like to be spoken to if I were in their position.
Thank you for these great insights!