Posted tagged ‘management’

Two tents

December 1, 2011

There’s a really, really bad old joke where a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doc, I am so confused.  Sometimes I think I am a wigwam and sometimes I think I am a teepee.”  The doctor says, “your problem is that you’re too tense…”   [get it, tents???]

So here’s something that I know I take for granted most of the time.  Springs.  But they are amazing devices and they are everywhere.  Watches, garage doors, shock absorbers and even my lawnmower’s ignition system.  And most of the time, they work perfectly.

imageOne time, though, a few years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night after hearing an enormous “BANG” sound downstairs.  It took a while to figure out what had happened, but one of the giant springs that helps the garage door go up and down (check them out next time you have a minute to kill) had snapped in two.  Yikes!   I didn’t even know that could happen!   Then I learned something else.  Try lifting a garage door without those springs.  It turns out that garage doors are REALLY heavy.  Who knew?

Here’s the thing:  springs work by creating just the right amount of tension.  If there’s no tension, you can’t lift the garage door.  If there’s too much, the springs snaps and goes recoiling everywhere.

I have noticed at several of my clients lately that there’s quite a bit of tension.  The political tension between perfecting finicky software and meeting promised deadlines.  The resource tension between getting things done and training new team members.  And the ever-present tension between wanting to innovate but being constrained by real budgets.

These are your organization’s springs.  I have come to appreciate that it’s not a bad thing that these tensions exist.  They help balance opposing forces.  That’s what springs do.  The question is:  do you know where the springs in your organization are, and are they too loose, too tight, or just right?  Because you don’t ever want to wake up to a loud bang…  trust me.

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…

Big Fish, Little Fish, smells the same

November 4, 2011

Sometimes I worry about running out of things to blog about.   Then I caught a few news stories this week and that fear just melted away…

The first news story I heard, which I am sure many of you did as well, was about the CEO of Nabors Industries, Eugene Isenberg, who stepped down as CEO to remain as only the Chairman of the Board, as I understand it.  For this magnanimous gesture, he was paid a lump sum of $100 million dollars.   Dr. Evil would be proud.

The second got a bit less notoriety, but is eerily similar in many ways except for the size of the payout.   Turkia Mullin was the Chief Development Officer of Wayne County in Michigan.  She left that job to take over as CEO of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which, no surprise, is in Wayne County.  For this shift in roles, she was paid a “severance” from her CDO job of $200,000.00.   As you can see from the article, once this payment came to light, she announced she would be returning the money.    Which only adds to the innate sense that the payment was completely unjustified in the first place.   Otherwise, you’d think she would have kept it.

imageI think we can all agree that executive compensation often feels completely out of line with performance, actual responsibilities, value to the company as a whole or other factors.  But it is even more disturbing to me that, now, executives are getting big payouts just to change jobs or titles within THE SAME COMPANY (or county, in Turkia’s case…)

CEO News flash:  Whether you support our current president or not, I think we’d all agree that Barack Obama probably makes more gut-wrenching decisions in a month than either of these folks made in their entire careers, including sending brave young women and men into harm’s way.   If you don’t believe me, do some reading about the marines in Dark Horse battalion.    I am pretty sure Barack’s salary is closer to Turkia’s “bonus” than to Eugene’s base pay, no less his “lump sum” payout.  So whatever contrived justification you CEO’s are creating inside your heads that help you believe you deserve this type of financial compensation for your efforts, I don’t think they have anything to do with leadership.

In the 1800’s, a term was coined for folks like this.  Robber barons.  Might be a good time to revive that catchy little label…

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…

Carbon footprint

August 25, 2011

When I was a kid and disputes were escalating among siblings, your “ace in the hole” often was, “I’m telling mom” or “I’m telling dad.”  You knew you ran the risk of being called a tattler or escalating things further, so you tended to only play that card in desperate times.

Fast forward a few years…

I always thought that CC in an email stood for “courtesy copy.”  According to the search I just conducted, it stands for “carbon copy” and is defined as:

Carbon Copy, it is for those that are not part of the main email but are just being informed of it

But that’s not what it’s used for in many organizations, is it???  It’s used to tell mom.

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I have a theory that I bet some really smart developer with access to an organization’s MS-Exchange data store could prove or disprove.  I submit that the level of bureaucracy in an organization can be measured by counting the number of emails that everyone cc’s their boss on in comparison with the total number of emails they send.   The higher the number, the more you have to tell mom to get a co-worker, peer or someone else who doesn’t “report to you” to actually take action and help you when there’s nothing in it for them.

It’s a sad state of affairs when two co-workers who allegedly work for the same organization and should have the same goals won’t collaborate unless it’s under the watchful eye of one of their bosses.

Why don’t you take a moment and ask what your “carbon footprint” is?  If it’s more than 5 to 10 percent, maybe it’s time to reduce your emissions…

There’s no I in “me” either

August 11, 2011

I suspect many of you will join me in condemning two little phrases that I just can’t stand:

  1. There’s no “I” in “team”
  2. Win, Win

As an aside, I might point out that, ironically, there are two “I”s in Win-Win, but that’s off topic…  So let’s tackle the first one.

The gist of “there’s no I in team” is that high performing teams put the interests and goals of the team in front of their own personal goals and interests.  And I am sure there are many examples of this, even in the business world.

But one thing I am equally sure of is that just telling someone that there’s no I in team and considering that “mission accomplished” and expecting some radical behavior change is completely misguided.  Why?

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Because in most work environments, there are a long collection of motivators that encourage many folks to behave as if they were just told there’s no “I” in Mississippi…  Some of my favorites, recently encountered, include:

  • ego
  • the need to be right
  • a distaste for acknowledging that a different approach that didn’t come from you might actually make more sense
  • your annual merit review, which rarely involves the rest of your team in a group session
  • fear of the unknown

I am sure many of you could add to the list (in fact, feel free to) but my point is really just that if you want to create and sustain a team that GENUINELY and CONSISTENTLY behaves with the team’s interests first and each person’s second, you need to recognize that there are powerful forces working against you and that significant and frequent reinforcement and recognition of team behaviors may become your top priority for the foreseeable future.

If not, I suspect you’ll wake up when it’s time to vote and find out that the “I’”s have it…


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