Archive for the ‘Expectation Setting’ category

A second opinion

November 17, 2011

I have no idea what the inside of my body looks like and I have only a vague notion of what each of the pieces-parts are doing at any given moment.  Like most of us, I do have suspicions about when something might be wrong, but that’s when I typically turn to a pro and his or her tools and knowledge (like MRI’s, stethoscopes, etc.) to help figure out what’s going on in there.   It’s the only body I have and I plan to put it to continued good use well into the future.

And if I suspected that something was seriously wrong, I might even get ‘a second opinion.’  Depending on my insurance, I might have to pay out of my own pocket for that opinion, and there’s also a good chance I might hear the same feedback I got from the first physician, but hey, this could be serious and I can’t afford to take chances!

I work with a lot of organizations who rely on software and information technology about as heavily as I rely on my body.   In many cases, software runs their business and gives them a competitive advantage.   And many of these business users know as much about their software’s inner workings as I do about my body’s.    After all, it’s not their field of expertise.  They have IT professionals who are working ‘under the covers’ to make their software do what it’s supposed to do.

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But I’ve noticed they rarely, if ever, seek a second opinion.  Sometimes that takes the form of a “software audit” or a “code review.”   Usually, it’s done by an independent third party who, like a medical second opinion, may completely agree with what their IT pros are telling them.  On the other hand, if something is not being done according to best practices or industry standards, that’s about the only way they are ever going to find out.

Health Care has second opinions.  Construction has building inspectors.  Even elevators have to be routinely inspected.  Isn’t it about time the software industry grew up and realized that even though you may not always get a ‘clean bill of health’ from your audit, that’s better than waiting til they break out the scalpels…?

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!

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I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…

If a tree falls…

October 28, 2011

This is perhaps a bit less of a blog post and more of a question to my avid reader…

I have been in several meetings in the last few weeks where I cannot help but notice that many attendees (and, I might add, often in meetings with less than 6 people) are emailing, texting on their phones, and generally and openly ignoring whoever happens to be speaking at the time.  Granted, most of the time it was me talking and therefore highly justified, but I swear at least 3 times it was someone else.

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In any case, my questions are these:

  1. have we reached a point where we are all so busy and “meeting overloaded” that we feel it is necessary to respond immediately to other demands on our time, even if it means that you’re openly disrespecting someone else in the room?
  2. Is this just the nature of multi-tasking?  So these folks really are listening intently and doing something else at the same time, because we are all just that good at it?
  3. Is it that this just turns out to be the best use of the attendees’  time?  Because whoever is speaking is doing it just to hear their own voice and there’s really little value in the perspective/opinion they’re sharing?

I am genuinely puzzled by this, because I still cherish the infrequent opportunities to be in the same room with others, where their body language, facial expressions, intonations, and gestures convey something that is completely lost on con calls and IM.  But I am also open to the fact that I may, yet again, be clueless.

What gives???

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.

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Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…

Put me in, coach!

September 1, 2011

One of the things I love about baseball is the subtle communication that is taking place all over the field.  The signs between the catcher and pitcher, silently communicating the type of pitch and its location.  The signs between the manager in the dugout, the third base coach and the batter, informing the batter whether to bunt, swing away, take the next pitch, or ask for more money in his next contract.  You can imagine that, if a new player showed up on the team and didn’t take the time to find out what all the signs were, he wouldn’t be very effective and would be on the bench, “riding the pine” as they used to say, pretty fast.

So I am always a bit amazed when a vendor that is being  paid handsomely for their efforts introduces a new “player” in a meeting or on a conference call, allegedly with some new expertise that is greatly needed for the project/endeavor to succeed, and the first words out of the new player’s mouth are, “I’m really not familiar with your project or environment.”

Really?  Did the person coordinating the resources from your end not take the time to fill you in on a few key details, like what we’re trying to accomplish, who the team is, what our milestone dates are and what your role will be??  Or did you not bother to ask??

imageWhen you play pickup baseball in a park or schoolyard, there are no signs.  That’s because everyone playing are a bunch of amateurs, not paid professionals.

How do you want YOUR team to be perceived…?

Virtue and Virtual

July 28, 2011

 

A long time ago, in a company far, far away, I was doing an employee’s annual review.   He was a pretty good worker.  Reasonably dedicated.  Got along with his co-workers.  Knew enough to do his job.

So I am in the midst of his review, and he “reminds” me that he’s in early every day.  And he was!  Our start time was 8 AM, and he was in by 7 almost every day.  Good for him!  Except…

  1. the employee parking lot tended to get crowded by around 7:45, so he liked to get in early and get the best spot available.
  2. After he got to his desk at 7 AM, he would go to the cafeteria, get coffee and a muffin, and read the local paper at his desk til a little before 8.

How do I know this?  Because every once in a while I needed to be in early as well, and I would walk past his cubicle and see him reading the paper and drinking coffee.  I had no problem with this whatsoever; it was his time to do with as he saw fit.  As long as he started work by 8, no problem.

Until he brought it up in his review as if it should somehow positively influence his scores and/or merit increase.

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My point is that a lot of managers these days are sweating their virtual (and perhaps not virtuous!) workers.  What are my workers doing?  Are they really putting in a full day?  How can I make sure they aren’t taking advantage of this rather honor system-based approach to getting work done?? 

Well you know what?  Not much has changed.  If someone is dedicated to their work and feels a certain responsibility to give a fair day’s effort for a fair day’s pay, they will do it at their desk, at home, or in Cancun.  (OK, maybe not Cancun…)   And the opposite is equally true.

I am pretty confident this is the case.  Because I go on a golf trip every year with several folks who own their own companies.   And they work quite a bit while they are “on vacation.”  Because they feel accountable for their customers, their revenue, and the reputation and responsiveness of the business.

So before you overreact to “where” your team is, why not spend some time contemplating “who” your team is…??

Gettin’ busy

July 15, 2011

Maybe it’s always been this way, but it seems like lately every time I ask someone how they are doing, they say, “good, busy…”  It appears that, perhaps without even being aware of it, we have all succumbed to the “busyness” bug.   You think you’re busy?  Look at me!  I’m three times as busy!!  I am late for all the meetings I am supposed to be at, and at least twice a week I tell people how I can’t make it to their meeting because I am already triple booked.   And if you are lucky enough to get me to attend your meeting, I will have my iPhone in my hands the whole time, checking email, texting other meeting attendees, and generally squeezing a few more messages into my already “busy” day.  And if you hadn’t noticed, if I am busier than you, I am also more important than you…  The busier, the better…

Admit it.  If you asked a colleague how it “was going?” and they said, “pretty good, not much happening, only have one meeting this week, kinda looking for a new project, you know, something to sink my teeth into, I have quite a bit of spare time right now…” you’d be aghast!  What?  You’re not crazy busy??  You must be, wait for it…  expendable.

But this approach does not end well.   I think I can safely introduce this sketch from the old I Love Lucy show to a new generation who may not have ever seen it. 

To continue to accumulate more and more work (or just say you have it) does not improve the quality of what you do, your ability to be attentive, or your stress level.  And I think that’s part of why unemployment is still at close to 10%.  If I hire someone to help with our workload, we might not be as busy.  That’s bad, right???  Or is it?

Nature v Nurture

May 26, 2011

I was hanging out in my friend Lori’s office a few weeks ago.  She had a magazine in her lobby – HR Magazine.  Who knew such a publication even existed??

The cover story?  “Slackers, Can they be saved?”  The byline?  “Most slackers can be turned into better performers by removing organizational conditions that create or enable loafing behavior.” 

Next, the definition:  “Slackers are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be.”

And finally, the requisite quadrants of slackers, who apparently fall into one of four quadrants:  Sandbaggers, Weasels, Parasites and Mercenaries.  I kid you not.

I would post a link to the article, but you have to “join” HR magazine first and I already re-upped my membership in the KKK this spring, and there are only so many hours in a day to stereotype people and then mistreat them…

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Let me just say a few quick things about this:  I understand that it can be challenging to get the most out of any team on any given day.   I also understand that a lack of motivation can cripple any undertaking.  But I suspect that many of these so called “slackers” are highly engaged parents, mountain bikers, runners, audiophiles, volunteers, or hobbyists.   Nowhere in the article, whoever its intended audience might be, does it suggest that the leader or senior executive might be the problem.    The article does seem to suggest that a manager’s job is to “catch them,” calls them “time bandits” and bemoans the fact that in this age of computers, slacking is “easier to mask.”

Maybe the organizations goals are not clear.  Maybe the slacker cannot relate what they do to the achievements of the team, department or company.  Maybe they think the company’s “mission statement” is a bunch of BS.  Maybe management’s actions and words are more misaligned than a Yugo that just jumped a 2 foot curb.  Maybe they showed up for their first day at a new job all those years ago, full of enthusiasm and optimism, and the management style, hypocrisy and bureaucracy drained them of their energy like a slow leak in an above ground pool.

As Rodney Dangerfield said long ago, when asked by his spouse to take the trash out, “You cooked it, you take it out…”

Newton was right

March 3, 2011

Newton’s Laws of Motion were a brilliant advance in the world of physics in the 17th century.  Groundbreaking stuff.  And who knew how broadly applicable they could be!

My favorite is Newton’s third law.  To summarize:  for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  How true, how true!!   He actually said it more elegantly than that but that’s the gist of how we non-physicists think of it these days.

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I was talking to a friend of mine this week.  Since I am not directly involved in sales these days, I didn’t realize Monday was “end of month.”  He, on the other hand, did.  He told me he had been getting calls from his sales manager for the past week or so, asking him if he could close one of the bigger deals in his “pipeline” before month-end.  From my buddy’s perspective, his manager was essentially pestering him.  He finally said to me, “I am not going to make my quota for this month anyway, so even if I could close the deal today, I won’t.”

I am sure there are many viewpoints out there on who’s right and who’s wrong in this little instructional tale.  Pile on!!!

But I don’t really think that’s the point.

The sales manager, for reasons that mattered only to him, decided to “push.”  And then, when he didn’t get what he wanted, he decided to push some more.  And I imagine he might actually be surprised to know that his salesman decided to “push back” even if it was done passively.  Did he really think that calling five times a day was going to help close the deal, motivate his salesman, or meet his monthly quota??

The moral of the story:  Even in sales, don’t mess with the Principia…

Well, what did you expect??

February 10, 2011

I got hit in the face with missed expectations this week courtesy of American Airlines.   I was flying home from Colorado after a quick but really fun mini-ski trip.  But, as with most trips, at least the ones where it’s as cold there as it is in Michigan, I was ready to come home.  I expected to be home around 8 PM on Monday.  I actually arrived home on Tuesday at 2 PM.

Here’s the interesting thing about this:  I realize weather affects flights.  I realize there are FAA limits on how many hours a pilot and crew can fly.  And I realize that it is not necessarily the airline’s “fault” that I got home much later than I had hoped, and had to deal with the delay on my own, since there is little compensation or assistance that the airline provides other than re-booking you on the next available flight.

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So what did they do “wrong” then?

I think they failed to set and then manage my expectations.  In fact, they did the opposite.  They told me my connecting flight was “on time” until an hour  before it was scheduled to leave.  Clearly that was not the case.  They told me I was booked on a later flight that day.  They had me wait at the airport for 5 hours, telling me the plane was on its way.  They never mentioned that there was a chance there wouldn’t be a crew.  They announced final cancellation due to a “lack of crew” at the last possible moment, after first saying they were looking for a new crew, as if pilots were lounging around O’Hare just hoping they got “picked” for an end of day jaunt to West Michigan.

But in reflecting on this, it seems that we as leaders all have a tendency to do the same.  How many times have you put off an uncomfortable conversation with an employee, a boss, or a client?  How many times have you promised that a project would go smoothly, ignoring the fact that there  is a roughly 100% chance that there will be “turbulence” along the way?  How many times have you set expectations too high and hoped that no one would compare those to outcomes?  And how many times were you shocked and defensive when someone called you on it and reminded you of what they were promised?

Well, what did you expect…?


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