Tough Call: Handling the Churn

Tough Call: Handling the Churn

Note: Read the following italicized text in this voice.

In a world where bosses just don’t down themselves…

Cataclysm is crushing the souls of poor performers and now everyone is recruiting…

Top 100 US Guilds are looking for more players for this tier still….

Middle-of-the-Road Guilds are doing hard modes and need stronger players to progress…

Guilds that a year ago would have disbanded and now downshifting to 10-mans and are still recruiting to have a reliable 10…

All of this amounts to lots of homes and very few buyers with available credit. You may have never gotten that Guild House that you asked for at every Developer Q&A, but we sure are getting an equivalent to the housing-crunch. 

This month I’ve had conversations with multiple GM’s, recruiters and available raiders. Everyone agrees that the market for available raiders is shrinking as guilds stall out, disband, or stop fielding successful raid teams. On my server there used to be about 40+ functional 25-man raid teams during ICC. Last night I checked WoWProgress and there are only five 25-mans left (Edit: Many of the ones listed have become inactive or switched to 10s). Lots of teams shifted to 10-mans in January & February, largely because of less-dedicated raiders leaving the pool. It was easier for them to shift to 10-mans and keep their identity & guild perks. Even so, several guilds folded entirely as their best players gave up the ghost and left for Top 100 squads, and the remainders are scrambling.

This is called the Churn and it is an unavoidable fact of life in Cataclysm. 

churn

So where does this leave you and your team?

Between now and the next tier of raiding, a lot of your performance as a leader will be judged upon how well you handle the churn.

To be certain, even if you’ve decided to go the route of 10-man raiding instead of 25, attendance and turnover issues are still part of the territory. I’ve yet to speak to a “close-knit 10-man” that doesn’t have some issue with either cancelling raids due to sign-outs, or trouble balancing bench players who may be brought in only occasionally.

Of course, no matter what size your raid is, the best way to handle the Churn is to stay one step ahead of it.  The steps below, in no particular order, should help you stay well informed and ready to act appropriately.

Things you can do for the team

  1. Know your team.  Know when they are approaching burn-out and make adjustments to help them de-stress before they give up the raiding game.
  2. Know your weaknesses.  Cata raids are harder; that’s a fact.  Eventually you will have to make either a personnel decision or a social one. Are you willing to replace the weak-link, even if it means bringing in an “outsider”, or are you willing to get the rest of your team to be satisfied with stalled progression for the sake of not changing your roster?  Are you willing to make concessions to keep that irreplaceable clutch player satisfied?  Are parts of your team not on the same page?
  3. Know your strengths.  You’ll be under pressure to pull off a raid team that not only survives the churn, but gets better and downs more bosses each week.  Don’t let the pressure make you try to act outside your leadership style.  If you’ve built a successful team, your leadership style must be working thus far (unless it’s the Sheerluck Holmes style, of course) but make sure that acting on your terms doesn’t mean ignoring future problems, because that’s how you get pushed into a corner.  
  4. Act fast!  Machiavelli teaches us that to delay war only serves to aide your enemy.  In less aggressive terms, one could say “a stitch in time saves nine”. Handle problems quickly and definitively.  When operating in a world of scares resources, you cannot afford to let problems fester and spread. 

Things you can do for the team you want

  1. Promote, promote, promote.  Make everyone on your realm aware of your guild, because you never know when another team will call it quits and their good players will be looking for a new home.  There is no benefit to being an unknown or understated guild.  Be proud of your team’s accomplishments; success breeds success.  Guilds that look stable, welcoming, efficient and knowledgeable will all appear attractive to raiders who want to get on a new team and not stop raiding.  In business we learn that every interaction is a step towards your next sale, the same holds true here.
  2. Recruit early and often.  Be honest about how soon and how often new recruits will have a shot at raid time, but don’t think that just because you don’t need them today, that you won’t be glad you have them tomorrow. I can speak from experience that if you stop recruiting for even a fortnight, you will regret it. Once the apps dry up, you start losing flexibility and start losing ground on the war of attrition.
  3. Be in touch with other leaders on your realm.  While you may consider them your competition, they can also be a good source of info, and potentially a future teammate. With the number of guilds imploding, merging, or breaking up and reforming as “super-guilds”, it’s better to be aware of the goings on than to be the guy who’s wondering why he just missed out on potential recruits and/or lost a few of his own guys.  
  4. Have a plan, even if it’s one you never want to use.  During Wrath, the rule was that you’d lose about 30% of your members (and the gear you’ve given them) from the start of one tier to the start of the next.  Due to the spike in difficulty for entry-level raiding, we’ve yet to get a good idea what this loss-percentage will be in Cata, but I’m certain it will be well higher than 30%.  Therefore, while we all may prefer to raid with the same team for the next year, as a leader you must have a plan of action for the day you find yourself with a dwindling roster.

In the end, the roster you will have the night 4.2 drops is almost certainly not the roster you had on December 7th.  The same thing will happen again between 4.2 and 4.3, only this time you can be ready for it, and hopefully be the one controlling the changes.  

Tough Call: Fighting Progression Frustration

Image courtesy of leonardobc

This week the crew has been hitting our heads against a progression boss, and the talk around the campfire has a decided air of frustration to it. As a leader, you need to be aware of your team’s motivation levels when tackling new challenges. Encounters surpassing your raid team’s ability level can often turn frustration into futility.

But how do does a raid leader handle this precisely?

The same way we handle any problem – with planning and execution.  Sun Tzu, who probably would have been a Vodka/Paragon level raid leader, teaches us:

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

It sounds simple, and when you’re doing it well, it really is simple.  Knowing what needs to be done ahead of time and adjusting as you go along are the two key ingredients to successful raid progression no matter the size of the raid or the strategy being used.

Below are a few points I recommend keeping in mind when your raid team is approaching difficult content:

Planning For Raid Progression

  • Read, understand and analyze the intended boss strategies as dictated by your raid leaders well in advance of attempting the fight. This allows you to see mistakes as well as make changes easily.
  • Be honest with yourself about the capabilities of your team. Have an idea where your weaknesses and strengths lie. This could be include aspects ranging from movement, DPS, healer skill or people with high raid awareness.
  • Know when to call a wipe and when to extend an attempt to see the next phase. Part of your team being dead might still allow the rest of the raid to practice key mechanics of the fight.
  • Experimentation is good. Figure out what works and what doesn’t when you deviate from a typical boss strategy. It might just be easier for your team.
  • Ensure your team is on the same page. Present a united and focused front for your troops to follow.

Sometimes, though, even our best-laid plans… well, you know what happens.  So the question becomes, what next?  What do I do when my team is getting weary, my strategies are in question, and I need a win quickly?

First of all, do not ditch your plan just because it isn’t working.  A strategy can fall apart in a lot of places. It may be execution, it may be a certain raid composition due to attendance; it could be any number of factors.  Find out where the strategy is failing and decide which elements you can change.  Can you swap personnel?  Slight positioning adjustment?  Time your cooldowns better (this is often a fix in Cataclysm raiding)?
Whether your plan needs a complete overhaul or just some minor adjustments, it is still crucial to address the frustration of your raiders and regroup.

  • Do not avoid the tough conversations. When your members bring up their gripes, listen to them. Answer appropriately.
  • Know the difference between toxic negativity and someone just blowing off steam. Sometimes people just need to vent. However, there is line between getting out some frustration and poisoning the morale of your squad.
  • Give responses that are logical and concise. You need to lay out for your team exactly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it that way,  and why you don’t think it can be done in an alternative way.  The more details, the better.
  • Accept suggestions and give them their due consideration. After all, if the 9 or 24 other people in your raid aren’t intelligent enough to help you with their observations, then you probably shouldn’t be raiding. Applaud valuable and constructive criticism from your raid.
  • Kill the boss and go out for beer!

Remember, the future is brighter.  Your raid will down this boss and will continue downing bosses. Success breeds further success.  Get out there and prove you’re all winners.


Reader Question

Last week, regarding my post on Real Officer Set-Ups, Kalette asked:

“Do you have any comments on how to incorporate this into a 10 man guild with two separate 10 man teams?”

Recently I had a conversation with Matticus about different ways guilds could operate more than one progression-oriented raid team within the same guild. (See Matt’s post here for his thoughts.) My feeling on the idea is that when you’re setting up policies for your guild, (attendance, loot, recruiting, critique, etc) they should apply to everyone playing that portion of the game, not just your raid team.

Clearly each raid needs their own raid leader, both of whom will need to be equally trusted by the GM, and trusted to work alone, because at least one of them will likely be raiding in without you overseeing them.

Beyond that, I think you could pull off a two 10-man raid guild with the same positions mentioned before.  You may have to get creative about which officer raids with which team, but in theory your role officers could oversee recruiting, critique and mentoring for every raider under their domain.  Since we’re talking about smaller numbers, they would each be responsible for roughly the same amount of players as they would in a healthy 25-man team, they would probably just need to be better at analyzing WoL logs parses since they can’t see everyone first hand.

Another approach is to combine a few roles, and have those role leaders cooperate with each other.  Tanks and melee DPS can easily be combined, and you could put ranged DPS and healing in a group together.  Then each 10-man raid would have one officer over each of those pairs.  Outside of raid, you may naturally specialize and have one ranged/healing role leader who is more attuned to healing and another who is better at the pew-pew, but so long as they can learning from each other, you can benefit from both being specialized.

By the numbers:
1x GM
2x RL
1x each Role Leader

Alternative:
1x GM
2x RL
2x Tanks/Melee Leader
2x Ranged/Healing Leader

I think the key caveat I’d make is that recruiting should still be done on a scale of “does this person meet our guild’s standards”, not just will they meet the needs of Raid A or Raid B.  When you’re fielding two squads who are both responsible for pushing progression and increasing your guild’s standing, it’s important to make sure that every raider meets the criteria to deserve that guild’s name above their heads.
Kalette, great question; I hope this helps.  If not, call me dumb and I’ll give it another look.

As always, leave your questions/comments/paternity suits in the comments.  I’ll lovingly read them all.  Also, if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future episode of Tough Call, just let me know.

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.

Tough Call: How do I turn them around?

Tough Call: How do I turn them around?

ComputerRepair

The other day it occurred to me that as a leader, we are judged twice: Once by how we handle success, and once by how we handle problems.

So by now you’ve determined that one of your officers needs to step up their game and contribute more to your rampantly successful organization.  Presuming you still feel they can be a valuable part of your leadership team, this leaves you with two standard options:

  1. Ignore it and hope the situation fixes itself
  2. Violently strike, shake or punch them
  3. Coach them to success

Method 1: Ignore it

Let me know how this works. 

Actually, I’d bet that a fair amount of people are reading this because they’ve already tried this method and realized it never changes.

Method 2: Violence

“We have not yet developed the technology to punch someone over a standard TCP/IP connection.”

- Lodur

So unless you’re a Jedi and can Force Choke someone, this method is sort of a wash, too.

Method 3: Coaching/Wake-Up Call

Part of leadership is motivation, and that doesn’t start and stop with your members.  Your officers need back-up, direction, vision and support on a regular basis.  The only thing that changes is your tactics and means of implementation.

Of course, how this situation came to be and what path you choose from here is largely based on your leadership style.  What follows below likely fits best within an organized style of leadership.  If you run a more chaotic/organic guild, some of this could seem foreign. 

As with any relationship, the GM/Officer paradigm requires give and take.  You both need to know what is expected of each other, so there are no assumptions later on.  It really helps to lay these things out, and to write them down.  Do not presume you will remember all the details later, because you won’t. 

Re-Defining their Responsibilities

Their domain: Are they in charge of all melee, or just tanks?  Do they coach healers outside of the raid, or is that done by the Morale Officer?  In your head, who should be going to them before coming to you?

  • Expectations: What goals have you set for their area of responsibility?  Just “play well” isn’t really a goal.  Zero missed interrupts, DPS that ranks on WoL every night, better cooldown coordination between healers.  These are examples of things they can work on.  Remember, people derive comfort from achieving goals.  
  • Extra Duties: Are they expected to pitch-in on recruiting?  Are they expected to be the sole recruiter for their area?  Do they need to make sure they set aside time to assess your back-ups?  Do they need to contribute to strat development before raid?
  • Rules are there for a reason: Whether it’s your rule or a rule they made up, we are judged by how and when we implement our rules.  If an officer feels like a particular rule (such as talking to players before cutting them, or organising who sits out on which fight, or ensuring loot is distributed correctly) then the situation needs to be examined.
  • Assistance: Tell them what you can do to help them, and when you want/expect to be asked for help.
  • Clarity: Be clear about when and how often you want to update each other.  Some guilds can do this quickly each night, some prefer a weekly officer meeting.  Develop a routine.
  • Desire: Ask them if these are all things they want to do.  Perhaps they are good at some things and not yet ready for others.  If falls to you to decide what they should be handling and when you should be giving them more to do.

Hand-in-Hand with all that, comes your fair share of the culpability.  After-all, it’s your guild, and, even though a lot of GM tasks are intangible, everyone needs to know what you’re doing so they can follow with confidence.

Defining the GM’s Responsibility

  • Tell them what you do for them
  • Tell them what additional things you will do for them now
  • Be clear with what you expect to be a GM-level issue, and what you think is best handled by them
  • Be very clear that your job is to ask questions, and this is just something you will need to do. Nobody should be offended when you make your inquiries.  Afterall, “not checking is not managing”.

Hopefully these tips will give you some good ideas when you find yourself having to coach one of your officers.

Next week: How Cataclysm has changed Guild Structures

As always, please leave your questions/comments/feedback/marriage proposals below.  I love to read them on these rainy spring days while curl up in my official Matticus Snuggie*.

Note: No such product exists.
Tough Call: Are your officers carrying their weight?

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: When to Recruit

The answer is TODAY. 

(Actually, “yesterday” would have been a better answer, but I’m sure you had a good reason to take yesterday off.  “Today” is also an acceptable answer if you have a sizable nerd-crush on Ann Curry…not that I do or anything…)

As a raid officer, at some point it will come to you to bolster your ranks.  The first step to doing this right is to properly assess what you need and when you need it.  Even if you’re accomplishing all your goals currently, you need to plan for the next round.
As I see it, there are two schools of recruiting:

  1. Gap-Prevention Recruiting
  2. Roster-Improvement Recruiting

Gap-Prevention Recruiting

A wise boss of mine once taught me, “If you don’t have a Plan B, you don’t have a Plan.”. 

This means, of course, that:

  1. Things will go wrong, and
  2. Rarely will they go wrong when it’s convenient to you. 

In raiding, this most frequently means a loss, or temporary depletion, of players.  I’d wager that we’ve all been there at one night or another. 
For me, this used to happen at least once a month during Naxx.  I’d log in, and people who had signed up for raid ended up not being online.  It was Naxx, we ALL were burned out before Ulduar came out, so I can understand the lack of motivation, but I still had the job of fielding a viable raid for everyone who wanted to get the job done.  From those times spent using Trade Chat to fill out a raid, I learned a valuable lesson:

Recruit BEFORE you have a spot you need to fill

Since everyone is already reading Thespius’s Raiding 101 column, I know we don’t have to go over the pros and cons of having back-ups/part-timers.  They’re good; keep them around, be honest with them, and keep them satisfied. 

But what about scenarios where a back-up/part-timer just won’t do?  What about when your main tank has a baby, your invincible priest healer has to start taking night classes, or any of the other myriad reasons people can no longer raid?  Fact is, these situations can leave you in the lurch is you’re not prepared for them.  THAT is why a smart officer will never close recruiting, and will most certainly always look to improve their roster.

Consider this:  A business wouldn’t tolerate an inconsistent supplier, they would immediately find a supplier selling an identical product who can assure them of on-time delivery.  I’m pretty sure this is Fed-Ex’s bread-and-butter, actually.  The same should be true of your raid.  You may love the players you raid with.  I know I’m rather fond of a number of the people I’ve played with over the years.  That said, if one of them had to take off, stop playing, or just became overall unreliable, I would owe it to myself and the rest of the team to take actions to ensure the raid continued.  After all, the show must go on.\

TLDR Version: 

Have a plan in mind for who will take over your vital positions if someone has to depart/goes AWOL. 

Don’t turn away potential recruits just because you’re “full” today.  See what options you can provide them before you burn that bridge.

Roster-Improvement Recruiting

Parental Advisory: When I say “Roster-Improvement Recruiting”, I’m talking about doing what it takes (within your own best judgement) to see content and down some end bosses before they become passe.  This is the one that’s going to fill my inbox with hate mail, but it has to be said:

Not everyone you raid with today will be ready when your group wants/needs to move to the next level.

I would never call the environment I raid in hard-core, bleeding-edge, or anything like that.  What I would say is that we’re a results-driven team.  If you can do your job and do it well, and aren’t a complete dick, we’ll be glad to count you among our ranks.  Everyone competes for their spot and everyone has that much more faith in their team-mates because they know that every spot has been earned.

A team like this never “stops” recruiting.  There will certainly be times when you have a solid group and may not have a lot of NEED to recruit, but you should never flat-out deny someone on the basis that they would have to take a spot from someone you already have.

Example:  Let’s say you’re openly recruiting for a healer as gap-prevention recruiting, when along comes a deathknight asking about joining.  (Isn’t it always a DK when you don’t need DPS?) Assuming they are some-what as progressed as your current line-up, and understand that it’s a competitive environment they’re looking to join, take a moment to consider the opportunity in front of you.  Instead of turning them away, point them towards the logs for your current members and if they can beat that, encourage them to apply.

In an environment like this, a recruit should never be seen as a threat.  Your existing members should see recruits as a chance to improve the raid team in one way or another.

True Story: I intentionally recruit other priests to help push me and keep me competitive.  I know I can handle my assignments, but competition teaches me I can always do it better.  Also, the priest who comes in ready to beat me at my own game is surely a formidable ally to have.

Whether you establish rules that spur further recruitment, or simply keep a high profile for your guild and get applications that way, the key is to always ask yourself “will this player help us get through the next step”. 

Crossing the Finish Line

In the end, I say you should think of your raid team as a racecar.
A racecar can’t go anywhere without all four wheels.  That’s gap-prevention recruiting.
A racecar will go faster with performance parts.  That’s roster-improvement recruiting.
Now go finish the race.

Tough Call: Roles – RL vs GM

Tough Call: Roles – RL vs GM

superman-batman

Welcome back for another issue of Tough Call. This week I want to go over a topic that sets the baseline for a lot of what we do and how we can go about building the most efficient raid without imploding the guild.  Before we can get to that, however, I think I need to offer a fair bit of clarification on last week’s topic.

Stay with me, people

Classification is not “name calling”.  In my last post I discussed one set of archetypes (of which there are many) that could be used to sort out your raiders when determining who to take and what areas of your roster to shore up. The objective is never to belittle anyone, because honestly, putting people down takes too much time and energy that I would rather put towards being awesome myself.  As for the intended message, Calaban & Lument had some great points, and yes, X, you are Rudy.

For the sake of simplicity and efficiency, some topics need to be encapsulated.  This was the case last week.  I could certainly turn that 901 word post into 5,000+ words about how to evaluate, coach, refine, recruit, and even alter raid tactics/comps to support the players you have.  The fact that I omitted many of those elements does not mean that I am against them,or that I do not use them myself, just that they didn’t fit into the mold of that post.  Trust me, there’s plenty of ground to cover when it comes to raid management, and I don’t plan to blow my whole load in these T11 pants. 
One thing I will continue to believe in throughout this series is that no leader should ever “leave well enough alone”, or settle for what they already have. Every team needs to get stronger, better, faster, sexier, etc.  Sometimes this happens with teamwork & growth, sometimes a pep-talk is enough, and oftentimes improvement happens by recruiting new blood. For example, we recently got a new priest who’s giving me a run for my money, and my output has increased because of it. Regardless, there would be no point to me writing this column if either of us was willing to accept the idea that you should learn to suffer through the drawbacks of today without making a better plan for tomorrow. 

Lastly, every raider deserves feedback, and that feedback should be honest and constructive.  Some people do benefit from mentoring, some from competition, and some from caliber of shame-filled guilt trip my mother used to lay on me… you pick which works best and run with it.  Regardless, as I mentioned in the comments, your guild should have some mechanism in place to give your raiders this feedback.  I know our guild has a couple different systems that work, and in the future I’ll elaborate on some of this. 

Now, onto today’s topic:

Lessons in Dichotomy // Who runs this joint?

The person/people managing your raid should not be your Guild Leader.

I don’t care how awesome you are as a GM, how amazing your coordination and multi-tasking is, or how long you’ve been doing both roles.  As we continue, I will illustrate how maximum efficiency and stability dictates that the GM not wear the black hat in raid.

Before we break into a list of what each person should be doing, the key assumption here is that the raid leader/officer is a specialist, hired to do one thing and do it well: motivate the team, execute digital dragons and carry back the rewards. 

The job of Raid Management

  • Make the raid as successful as possible
  • Needs to be Honest, Unbiased, and always performance-oriented
  • Make the tough decisions / wear the black hat
  • Assess players based on what they bring to the raid and how well they are executing
  • Manage the PERFORMANCE of the raid
  • Be a clear and present leader at all times during the raid
  • Get progression, achievements, titles, mounts, fame, fortune, super-model girlfriends

The job of the Guild Leader

  • Be the public face of the guild
  • Mediate any issues between guild members (within reason)
  • Take responsibility for the guild’s reputation
  • Oversee / Initiate recruiting
  • Manage the PERSONALITY of the guild
  • Wear the crown, take the heat, buy the drinks at Blizzcon

I know some guilds may be small/close enough that the GM thinks he/she can handle doing both.  I disagree with this because these are two jobs that require different tactics and it’s human nature to have a tough time separating these and/or staying true to the goals of each position. 
Even in a 10-man environment, it is never more efficient to have one person run everything than it is to have separate guild & raid management. This will also decrease/prevent burn-out among leadership.

How the Other Half Lives

Now, this separation also requires a high level of trust/confidence between the two halves.  The raid officer has to trust that there are the right recruitment/retention mechanisms in place to give them the right components for a successful group.  Similarly, since he/she will be handling the fall-out, the Guild Leader has to trust that the raid officer is making the right calls when it comes to who gets benched, who gets invited, who can/can’t main switch, etc. 

Think of it like the relationship between Head Coach and General Manager in pro sports.  These two don’t need to see eye-to-eye on tactics or day-to-day operations, but they do need to have the same objectives and a plan on how to reach them.

Show me an example

A founding member of the guild has lost his drive to raid, but still likes to come and go more-or-less as he pleases.  Further, he uses his relationship with the GM as leverage to get what he wants.  For the Raid Leader, this person represents a liability, as no matter how skilled they are, the risk that they will abruptly stop raiding is ever-present.  If they were given a starting spot, any loot given to this player over another player could be functionally lost at a moment’s notice, and time spent learning a fight with them would have to be adapted or re-learned with their inevitable replacement.  Not to mention the way this would look to other players who may be fighting to prove themselves and break into the starting lineup.

A wise Raid Leader can still utilize this person as a back-up / call-up, borrowing on his skill & experience in the good times, while still prioritizing those players who consistently show up.  Bring the people who have a commitment to making your team succeed, but keep a Rolodex of viable call-ups just in case.

A wise Guild Master will remind the long-term member that the raid team is an ongoing campaign, not something that is won or lost the few times a month this person wants to show up.  The GM will be clear that he expects progression from his Raid Leader, and that not everyone is entitled to raid if they cannot commit. 

Another example

Recruiting!  Without delving into when/how/who to recruit, it’s a very common situation for a Raid Leader to find themself needing to recruit.  Good collaboration between the RL & GM requires that the RL would keep the GM abreast of the development of players within the raid, or at least give them access to any relevant information needed. 

Say you need more melee dps, so you go out and recruit for that spot.  The GM should know WHY the rogue on the bench isn’t being taken over new recruits, so that they can back-up the RL’s decision should the rogue come forward with complaints of favoritism/snubbing/etc.  Similarly, the RL should make reasonable effort to give the GM whatever information he needs to substantiate the roster moves.  Simply “he’s not good” won’t suffice, but “he missed 18 interrupts each of the last three raids” does.

Unfortunately, unlike pro sports, I’ve seen the GM fail the Coach more often than the other way around.  Sometimes this is just simple burn-out, sometimes it’s close-mindedness, sometimes it’s a loss of faith by one of the two people. 

The best advice I can give for longevity is for neither person to say “I can’t….”.  Whether it’s “I can’t recruit another healer” or “I can’t down progression bosses with what you’ve given me” or even “I can’t stand your face”, the only way to maintain success in an efficient raid environment is to always be looking for the next opportunity.  Once you’ve entered into an “I can’t” paradigm, you’re actually realizing that you should have taken action weeks ago, and are now suffering from that inaction/indecision (or worse yet, refusing to realize your responsibility in the matter).  It’s up to you two to always look beyond the current week and stick to your plan you started with.

You do have a plan right?

…please tell me you have a plan.

As always, please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions for future topics in the comments below.  Heck, feel free to leave your favorite bean dip recipes, too.  I need something to do after I’ve cleared the raid and logged off to go watch HIMYM.

Tough Call: Time vs Talent

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: Turning Down Epics

On this week’s issue of Tough Call, we’re going to discuss an idea that may seem counter-intuitive to some readers, especially at this point in the expansion;

Not taking epics!

Crazy, I know, but hear me out.

To be clear, I don’t mean that you should refuse to take epics, or that your gear doesn’t need to be upgraded.  Anyone who knows me knows that if the loot is on my must-have list, I will absolutely put in for it at the appropriate time.

No, what I’m talking about today is gear that is not BiS.  Your side-grades, your “better than what I have”, or that loot that’s a higher iLvl but not the ultimate piece you want.

Whether you’re running a Loot Council, a points-based system, or even some kind of Rochambeau craziness, you should still take into account the overall benefit that the loot is bringing to your guild. And that includes comparing it to the value gained by not equipping it.

My usual theory when it came to loot in Wrath and BC was “the loot will drop again”.  Nowadays I’m changing my outlook to “is this THE best loot”.  This is because, right now, most guilds should find themselves in a new position where there just aren’t enough epics being DE’d in order to get the maelstrom crystals needed for the best enchants available.

I know right now everyone should be hungry to preform better, and it’s easy to say “well, I’m under-geared” or “I need that upgrade and I can heal/tank/dps through this tough phase”.  Trust me, I really want to get rid of this 333 crap trinket I’ve been saddled with for a few weeks now.  That does not, however, mean that I will seek to equip any available epic tossed my way like a hungry hungry hippo.

Edit: Passed on 2x Jar of Ancient Remedies and used my Valor points on the Core of Ripeness instead.  Int rocks the body that rocks the party.

Let’s use a recent example, the other night we were in Bastion of Twilight and the boss dropped some cloth DPS pants.  Of course our warlocks were wearing iLvl 346 blue pants, yet none of them put in for the shiny new epic.  Their reasoning?  They were all within a few points of getting their tier pants and realized that the maelstrom crystal from disenchanting the pants would be worth more to the guild than giving them epic pants that they’d only wear for a week before they got their 2-piece.  Now that we’ve gotten the needed mats for Power Torrent, those warlocks are doing considerably more DPS than they would be with a pant upgrade that they were able to replace anyways.

Similarly we’ve had melee DPS players pass on their side-grades or off-spec gear in order to get the maelstrom crystals.  I’m certain that when they weighed the stats, the 1000 AP proc on a Landslide enchant that those crystals could get them looked a lot better than the marginal/temporary increase gotten though a non-BiS upgrade.

Of course, the exception to this rule is players with enchanting.  Toss them the non-BiS gear and they’ll reap the benefits of the stat increase while getting ready for the real loot, and you’ll still get your crystals when they’re done.

Please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions for future topics in the comments below.  Additionally, if you happen to know the answer to 10-down on the NY Times Crossword, that one’s been bugging me all day.

Tough Call: Is Preparation Enough?

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.