Tough Call: Real Officer Set-Ups In Cataclysm

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Welcome back for another issue of Tough Call, with me, Viktory.

Disclaimer: What follows is the summation of my opinion based upon the responses I received from over a dozen guild masters when I asked them about their officer corps. Given the content of my last two posts, I felt it would be relevant to take an honest look at how guilds are setting up their government structure these days. This does not mean you should change your guild structure right away.  It does mean, however, that if you were looking to make a change, you can perhaps derive some supporting arguments from a few successful GMs cited below.

A few weeks ago I put out a call for GMs to help me get an idea how their guilds are operating, and, more importantly, what sort of  hierarchy they have put in place to make their guild succeed.  Out of the numerous responses I received, two solid trends emerged:

  1. There are a LOT of different ways to set-up your guild hierarchy, each with their own respective success rates and ease of implementation.
  2. There are far fewer vanity positions in play these days. At least among the sample group at my disposal, it seems there are most GMs expect more output from their officers.

I am happy to see that the days of  “So-and-so has been with us for a long time, so they are an officer now” are largely over.  Only 2 of the GMs who responded to my survey said they had non-specific officer roles (as in “we all do a bit of everything”, which really leads to “everyone assumes someone else is doing the dirty work”).

To get my information, I asked each GM three quick questions, and let them tell me the rest (and believe me, guild managers love to tell you about their guild, its environment and their genius set-up to solve all problems.)

First Question: “What officer positions do you use, and do they report directly to you or is there a chain-of-command?”

Most Common Positions:

  • Raid Leader (separate from a role leader)
  • – Melee DPS / Tank / Ranged DPS / Healing role leaders
  • – Bank Officer
  • – Recruitment Officer

Some GMs also reported using Morale/Relations officers and an officer rank for Loot Council or Loot Master, separate from other officer duties.  I’m not sure that I’d classify these jobs are something that needs a full-time officer, but I’m also extremely hesitant with the idea of a part-time or “junior” officer.  If it wasn’t so prevalent, I’d lump “Bank Officer” in with this lot.

As for command structure, it’s fairly unanimous that members report to their respective role leaders, who then in turn report to the GM.  I do wish, however, that I had devised a way to get more information about how the recruitment, bank, and morale officers interact with this command structure.

To me this combo represents a stark contrast to the landscape I saw when I started raiding back in Karazhan.  Instead of a GM who ran every aspect and had a few cronies as officers (which is what typically gave loot council-style raids such a bad rep), we are seeing 25-man guilds shift into fully-fleshed organizations.  Positioning the GM as the Chairman of the Board seems to be the clearest way to define duties/responsibilities, and is an efficient way to make sure the various aspects of the guild function at peak performance.

Second Question: “Have you had to add any officer positions since the end of Icecrown Citadel?”

The answers to this question fell in two distinct patterns:

  • Organization increase: bank officer, recruiter, defined class leads.
  • Expansion increase: recruitment officer, 2nd raid leader, PVP leads.

This should tell you that if your guild isn’t growing or refining, you’re stagnating.  12-24 months from now you will be doing things differently; the faster you can figure out what that will be, the better the transition will go.  After all, these are guilds that had 4-5 years of experience and still found roles to add and needs to address after ICC.  Learn from their example and succeed.

Third Question: “If you had to cut one officer position (not person) today, who would it be?”

A few GMs refused to answer this one, or gave responses that never answered the question, but the consensus was either the bank officer or morale officer would be the first to go.

As I stated above, I’m not sure that these are full-time jobs anyways.  In my guilds we’ve always just defaulted to the most likable officer being de facto “HR guy.”  I am very interested to hear any feedback about ways that a bank or morale officer could contribute on-par with what a raid leader, role leader or PVP lead does.

As always, leave any question, comments or epic knitting patterns in the comments below. (I’m trying to get someone to knit me a bad-ass scarf to wear while podcasting).  Also, if you have a situation that you’d like to have me address in a future column, feel free to send it to viktory.wow@gmail.com.

Out with the Bads and in with the… Who?

As a long time avid follower of as many guild/raid leadership blogs and forums as I can fit into my schedule each week, there is one discussion topic that almost invariably makes me wince. Actually, that isn’t exactly accurate. There is one particular response to this particular topic that makes me want to punch something.

“How do I push my current guild to a higher or more serious level of progression?”

The response that inevitably pops up that makes me /facepalm IRL is: “You need to start replacing the bads and attracting the pros” or even worse (because it sounds so much more friendly somehow) “You need to explain to everyone that raid spots are competitive and people will be replaced as soon as something ‘better’ becomes available”

The overwhelming message that gets passed along whenever this topic comes out is a very clear mercenary-like outline that clearly advocates using fear of being kicked or replaced to snap your raiders into line and light a fire under them to keep them moving forward under the imminent risk of being replaced.

This is my public response to all advocates of raid management that involves any sort of emphasis on kicking or replacing people as soon as something better comes along: Eff that, you would never find me in a guild that treats its members like that.  Unless you believe that you are seriously intent on competing for World or US progression rankings, using an approach that emphasizes the action of replacing/removing people is an inherently unstable strategy.

I once posted that I believe sports analogies are by far the best way to view leading a raid or guild, as opposed to trying to compare it to running a business or a leading a group of soldiers.  I bring this up because something that always pops into my mind when people start trying to describe their plans for assembling the “Dream Team” of WoW raiding, it makes me remember how well it has worked long term when the U.S. did the same thing with our national basketball team.

Sure, the U.S. national basketball team has been more or less successful in the long term, but the only reason for our success has been the overwhelming pool of talent that we have to pull from in the NBA.  If you watch the games, the level of coordination and teamsmanship just doesn’t ever really manifest itself on the court, especially in the first couple of incarnations of the team.  Essentially it is a collection of basketball gods steamrolling over the competition through the sheer force of individual talent. How much fun could that be on a long term basis to be part of?  The only hope someone like me would have of answering how fun that might be would be to look at what kind of turnover the team has had since the first “Dream Team” (for those that don’t want to go look, essentially the turnover is nearly 100% between each big game until very recently when they instituted rules to try and force players to commit to more time to the team).

On the other hand, we could look at virtually every Hollywood sports movie ever made for a good counterexample of an underdog team that overcomes enormous odds through hard work and awesome teamwork.  My personal favorite for this analogy is “Miracle” by Disney,<link:  a true story based coincidently on another U.S. Olympic team.  The 1980 U.S. hockey team and their “Miracle on Ice.” It is a great movie if you’re into feel-good sports films, especially if you appreciate the ones based on real life stories.  I remember watching the final game between this team and the Russians on TV and the swell of national pride during those final seconds of the game. It isn’t hard to imagine why this is described as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

So what is the point? I’ll make an effort here to explain what it is exactly that goes through my head when I see this discussion pop up and my reaction when someone proposes trying to go the mercenary route in their approach to building a “successful” raid group. It usually centers around two questions:

Does this person honestly ever see themselves trying to break into the world progression rankings with their team? (Hint: if you are asking on a public forum for directions or help on how to motivate your team to do better, the answer is no)  I know that at least for me, the only measure of success I have for my raid team is whether or not we meet our raid goals each tier. I could care less if we are the 3rd raid group to do so or the 30,000th in the world, as long as we meet our own goals I am going to feel like we succeeded.

Then my mind goes on a rambling tangent involving sports analogies and nostalgia and I come to my second question:

Which Olympic winning sports team do I honestly think I would rather be a member of? And perhaps more importantly, which team would the person asking the question rather pbe a part of?  The U.S. National basketball team a.k.a. the “Dream Team” that get together every 4 years to ROFLStomp the rest of the world in basketball (and no, you don’t get an NBA contract or salary for being on the team) or would I/they want to be part of that “rag-tag group of college kids” who pulled off one of the greatest moments in sports history? I suppose both options are going to appeal to people in different ways.

Another thing to consider: From everything I have ever read about really high end raiding guilds, one of the most prevalent traits that they share is that the bulk of their members have been playing together for -years-.  Not a single one of them is stressed out over whether or not the next new applicant is going to cause them to take their raid spot and the turnover these teams have is extremely low.  Turnover for them has been extremely low for -years-, and I would guess that what turnover they had had nothing to do with someone failing to perform up to the group’s expectations but instead likely had to do with real life obligations that had nothing to do with the game.

If you don’t have the raw talent to be ROFLStomping your way through the content, then employing a revolving door strategy where you are constantly trying to replace your “worst” raiders is going to result in a turnover rate that will rival your local fast food joint with the creepy shift manager.

If your stated goal is to replace the lowest performing members of your raid team on a regular basis, what kind of message does that send to your team about the long term security of their raid spots?  Even more importantly, what does that say about the possibility of being replaced by some raiding super-star who happens to apply to the guild?

Next week I will share my alternatives to the idea of motivating your raiders through fear of being replaced.  In the meantime I would like to leave everyone with a question to ponder.  You are welcome to share your answers below in the comments, but I would be just as happy if you just spend a few minutes thinking about what your answer would be.

Question: If one of the world’s best <insert class/role here> players applied to your guild, assuming that they met all of your other requirements for a new recruit, which of your current players would you replace with the new applicant?  What if the person being replaced was already one of your stronger players?  Would your answer be any different if there were 4 of the world’s top players turning in applications at the same time? How about 9 applications that are clearly head and shoulders better than anything you currently have in your raid? 

I can tell you that I at least would almost undoubtedly turn the applicant down.  Unless they happened to stumble into one of the few periods of the year where we have opened recruitment.  Though to be honest, even then I would have to seriously question whether someone like that would really fit in with our raid group.

Tough Call: Are your officers carrying their weight?

tc-carryweight-480

Welcome back for another week of cupcakes and snugly puppies. 

Psych!

We both know we’re not here for that, so let’s get down to business. What follows will be Part 1 of an 18-part epic series.  When I am through, angels will descend from on high and carry the compiled works to the Vatican for safe-keeping.  Ages from now, historians will place this up there with The Illiad, Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Hitchhiker’s Guide. 

Hey, a guy can dream right?

Recently we discussed the important roles and differences between the GM and the Raid Leader.  In a 10-man strict guild, you may be able to get by with only have these two officers and some trusted guildies from whom you can expect honest answers.  However, I find that even 10-mans and almost certainly 25-man raiding guilds run better with multiple officers.

In my experience, and from what I’ve been told by other leaders, there often arises a situation where guilds have officers who seem to be the Deputy of Do Nothing.  (As opposed to my own favorite title: Deputy of Awesome.)  I have found that this unique problem can stem from three sources.

  1. Not a Leader – These are the officers who may be great players, may be long-term guildies, but once they become an officer, they don’t really do much other than give their opinion when prompted by the RL or GM.
  2. Fatigued Leader – They were great officers but are not just phoning it in, and are only around out of a sense of obligation.
  3. No-Confidence Leader – They would do a great job, if they thought they had the back-up and the RAA to do it.  As it stands, they feel that the average member has more say than them and may be tired of the squeaky wheel getting the oil.

The Deputy of Do Nothing is a drain on your raids efficiency and on the potency of your leadership team.  As the Captain of this ship, it’s up to you to diagnose this malaise before it spreads to the rest of the crew.*

(* unless, of course, they have no authority while in raid and everyone knows it.  In which case, carry on.)

Not too long ago, I read an article about someone who’s trying to have a “Guild Without Officers”.  While I don’t agree with this idea, I thought the insights below were especially suitable to this conversation:

“I look back on how it used to be, with too damn many officers, all of whom did very little to actually help the guild, preferring instead to treat officership like some sort of insiders club where they could talk amongst themselves in their little clique. I recall making rules and chivvying and cajoling and beating my head against the brick wall that was getting anyone else to step up and take responsibility for anything.”

How do I spot this before it’s too late?
Part of being the GM includes an unwritten commitment to your members that you will make sure the rest of your leadership team has the responsibility, authority and accountability to handle their respective areas.  Therefore, you MUST make sure that among your GM duties you include your due diligence.  Kick the tires, shake the branches and see what turns up.

  1. Talk to your members.  I’m sure you’re probably running heroics, or BGs or whiling away the hours getting that fishing feast while in Mumble with your teammates/members.
  2. Try to recall the last time you had an in-depth conversation with your officer.
    • Did they prompt the conversation or did you?
    • How many solutions did they present to the problems your team was encountering?
    • How many of those solutions have been implemented?
  3. Review how organized/engaged their part of the team is on your forums. If this is something that is important to you or your guild community, your officers should be on top of it.
  4. Lastly, think of what you would be doing if you were in their position.  Don’t think that just because you don’t play healer, you can’t tell a healing officer what to do.  Management skills are not class-specific, and chances are you were once doing their job.  At minimum, you will come up with some ideas to discuss next time you talk to them. At best you’ll see that there are opportunities that you both can capitalize upon.

How do I prevent this?

The first step in preventing anything, is to clearly state your expectations upfront.  After all, human nature dictates that people will operate to the level that is expected of them, and if you don’t set that bar, you’re asking them to decide how to run your guild.  You and I both know that the reason you promoted someone to a position of authority is because you trust their opinion, intelligence, communication skills and reliability.  So the only thing missing is your guidance/structure to tell them how you want these skills applied.

  • Rule #1: Do NOT promote all your friends.
  • Rule #2: DO promote everyone you can trust in your absence
  • If Rules 1 & 2 overlap, you should either make more friends are trust more people.
  • Clearly define the duties of each officer position
  • Grant them authority to do their job as they see fit. Nobody can do a job well if they think they have to ask permission.
  • Agree upon how often you expect feedback from them. Ex: Post-Raid Debriefings, Weekly Status Reports or End-of-Tier strategy sessions.
  • Make sure their position is easy enough for the rest of your team to understand. You don’t want anyone saying “what does he do again” or “he’s an officer just because he’s friends with XYZ, he doesn’t do anything”.  
  • Make sure they are NOT the type of person who settles for just doing their job description.  Good leaders appreciate new talent and new ideas.  Encourage those people who could probably do your job.  They will keep you fresh and your team will benefit.
  • Let them know that it’s acceptable to come to you for help BEFORE a fail.  
  • Establish a routine or set reminders for yourself to remember to review these steps and refine them where needed.

Next week we will continue and discuss what you can do once you’ve spotted the problem.

As always, comments, suggestions and questions are appreciated.  Also, the CD of my stand-up routine is available at the table by the door.  I’m here all week.  Tip your waitress!

Tough Call: Time vs Talent

803068_47829639aWelcome back for another episode of Tough Call with me, Viktory.  Today I want to discuss roster evaluation, and specifically, two factors to look at when examining your depth charts.

You do have a depth chart for your raid positions right?

… Please tell me you have a depth chart for your various raid roles and you’re not just bringing whoever shows up first …

(For anyone who doesn’t get the sport analogy, a depth chart basically lists each position and ranks the players have that position in order. You have your go-to guy/gal, the back-up, the back-back-up, etc.)

Editor’s Note: Before we go any further, if you are of the steadfast opinion that nobody deserves to be benched, or that your best friends deserve a spot in every raid, you will likely want to stop now.

Okay, so let’s say you’ve got your full raid roster in front of you and you’re trying to figure out who’s going to make the cut and get a stable spot in your 25-man raid. Obviously you have certain roles you need to fill (tanks, healers, melee, ranged) and certain skills you need players to possess in those roles (AoE heals, interrupts, soak tank, kiting, etc).  You’ve got a lot of criteria to look at when deciding who is THE BEST player for you to bring to your raid. 

(Remember, “take the player, not the class” implies “take the best possible player”.

One of the more common downfalls I’ve seen leaders suffer, and one of the worst traps I’ve seen players try to spring on their Raid Leader, is the substitution of Time for Talent/Aptitude.

A few weeks ago I told you that “preparation is king”, and while that still holds true, by now you should be seeing who actually knows what’s expected of them, and who’s just reading a script.  In fact, if we think of raiding like a foreign language, we can come up with three archetypes.

Native Speakers

Some players have a lot of natural talent.  These players are the mage who always does crazy DPS and makes it look easy, the guy who plays a utility spec and still manages to do competitive DPS, the healer who can instinctively spot issues with the raid and react in a clutch moment (see Matticus in his prime*).  Everyone loves to have these guys around, especially when they don’t act entitled or get lazy because they think they’re too good to need to put in the grunt work.

*Note: I said “see”, not “listen to”.  He’s a horrible story-teller.

Fluent Professionals

Other players have to work hard to produce the output you’re looking for.  Think Rudy here, the guy with a lot of heart who does his homework and gives you the results you’re looking for.  As a leader you know that he’s always reading up on the relevant websites, maybe talking to other progression raiders who play his spec, and is constantly seeking ways to improve.  Through their effort, they are just as good, or nearly as good as your top tier guys.  The key here is that you DO see them improving, carrying their load, and not causing wipes.

I think a “perfect raid” is filled with a solid mix of these two personalities.  However, we need to minimize or weed-out the last group:

Tourists

The personality to absolutely avoid is the “trained noob”, to borrow a term from Pure Pwnage.  These are players who bring sub-par skill, spend a lot of time logged on, but instead of learning and absorbing their class mechanics, they may have only learned the accepted boss strat.  These are the guys at the cafe with their French-to-English dictionary out, trying to look-up each word the waiter just said, because they were not expecting that response.

Players like this will present a liability to your raid anytime things deviate from the norm.  Get bad RNG on a boss, or timers that don’t line up with the abilities the boss is using, and you can bet that these players will be toast.  Customize the Tankspot strat to meet the capabilities of your raid, and you just may find these guys out of position and thoroughly confused.

Don’t be fooled by people who have a lot of time and very little aptitude.  It all comes down to who can get the job done. 

It is up to you, as part of raid management, to spot the player who may have raid knowledge, but not raid awareness, and figure out a solution.  Determining who’s a “fluent professional” and who’s just a “tourist” will help boost your raid output (and morale) immensely. 

If it’s my call, I’d put that person as far back on my depth chart as possible, only bringing them when I must class-stack, or when other players are missing, and I’d definitely keep recruitment open until I found a good core that was made up all “native speakers” and “fluent professionals”.

Please leave any questions or suggestions for future topics neatly stacked in the comments below.  Shoot, if you’re so inclined, leave details of your most epic knitting accomplishment, too. Those are always cool.

Tough Call: Is Preparation Enough?

683292_50743243Welcome to Tough Call with me, Viktory.  This column aims to answer some questions and start even more discussions about one of the trickier aspects of raiding, raid leadership.  Sometimes “raid leadership” will mean strictly talking about class composition, role management, benching policies and loot, and inevitably sometimes it will bleed over into overall guild leadership. 

Based on my own experiences and the conversations I have every week with current and past guild/raid leaders, I know that this is one area where there is almost no black and white, and everyone can use some help or constructive criticism at times. 

I can tell you now that my answers will not be the universally-applicable answer, nor will they be the happy/nice/”make everyone love me” solutions.  That simply is not effective; raid management isn’t a WordPress plug-in, it’s a graduate-level course in human relations and resource management and we’re all crazy for trying to do it. 

My aim is always to have the most efficient raid possible, so that we can get in, get the job done, then go have a beer and pat ourselves on the back afterwards. 
Bottom line, the intent of this column will be to discuss how to make the decisions that the 24 other people in your raid would hate to make.  After-all, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”; but hey, you get to wear a frickin’ crown!

Now let’s move on to this week’s topic.

Preparation is the bare minimum

This week, many of you will either be grouping together for your guild’s first serious raids this expansion, or will be seeing more of your guildies hitting the gear levels to be able to join your raiding ranks.  Either way, you should be in a position where you have to decide who you will take to raids and who will be coming in off the bench.

In order to field the best team possible as you roll into a brand new expansion, you cannot always rely on the players who were your all-stars in Wrath.  Some may have grown complacent.  Some may have life commitments that prevent them from gearing-up (or even leveling up) as the same pace as the rest of your guild.  Some may even be less interested in raiding than they were last go-round.  Regardless of the reason, you owe it to your group to take an honest look at every possible option and make the best decisions.

If your group is already 12/12, please accept this High-Five and check back with us next week.  If your group is exactly 10 people and you would never dream of raiding with anyone else regardless of how long you have to wait…  let’s agree to disagree

If you’re still with me, I assume you’re not in one of those first two groups, and you’re probably facing some of the same decisions I’ve had to make this week.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume you’re doing 25-man raiding and have a roster of 30-40 people to choose from.  Six months ago, you could have considered multiple factors: experience, achievements, badge-gear vs boss-drops, etc.

Today, preparation is king.

Preparation does not always mean gear.  Sometimes people can get lucky and every instance they run drops exactly what they need.  I’ve seen it.  That doesn’t mean that they are any more prepared to raid than they were the day before, it just means that they may have a larger margin for error.

  • Among your healers, who is most prepared to keep your team alive when you’re in those first raid encounters?  
  • Who has taken the time to watch the videos, read the boss breakdowns, and consider what parts of their class/spec are best suited for each fight mechanic?  
  • Which of your tanks knows what is expected of them on each fight and which one is just hoping you’ll point them towards a boss and let them button-mash?

It should be absolutely unacceptable for your raid members to expect you to give them boss breakdowns before each pull.  Efficient raids will already be slowed down by new class mechanics and everyone needing new loot, you absolutely cannot allow another 10-15 minutes per raid to explain the strat.  Certainly you may review how your implementation of the suggested strat may differ (where to group on Altramedes, which drake to focus first on Halfus, etc), but the concepts and fight mechanics should have been discussed on your guild forums well before raid day.  This includes making sure the vital roles (such as interrupts, counter-spells, DPS tranquilities, etc.) have been assigned, preferably including back-ups.  If someone cannot meet this minimum standard, then they are not prepared to meet the challenges of raiding in Cataclysm and have made your decision that much easier. 

Remember, your roster should be a living document, constantly changing to meet your needs, and hopefully constantly improving as time goes on.  If you bring in the player who is most prepared, the one who went through the beta, has cleared every heroic 20 times, did 10-man raids before your guild had 25 people ready and thinks they know exactly what to do on each fight; that player can still fail.  They might have learned all this to mask the fact that they suck as moving out of the fire.  Preparation doesn’t show skill, but it does show dedication to the ideal of efficient and knowledgeable raiding.

Preparation is king, but it is not a guarantee.  Pick the guys who know what is expected of them so that you stay alive longer and can get the best possible looks at the new content.  Then, after a few nights, go back and use this experience to help you pick out who your top performers are.