Posted tagged ‘strategy’

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.

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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…?

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???

Worth Repeating

October 21, 2011

I really do enjoy the “Corner Office” pieces in the NY Times Sunday Business section.  A lot of no-nonsense and inspiration leadership from CEO’s doing Q and A with Adam Bryant or another reporter.  So October 9th’s piece was no exception.  And I know I’ve written about root causes and understanding the real motivations of your teams before but this anecdote is absolutely worth repeating…  And if you can’t relate to this, you have never run a sales team.

Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, a BIG pharma company, was responding to the first question, right out of the gate.  The question was about important leadership lessons.  Allow me to summarize and paraphrase:

Joseph said he was appointed to head a division of another company and ‘turn it around.’   One serious problem was that the division missed their sales/revenue forecast every month.  He brought in a consultant and they concluded that they needed a better and more analytical sales process.

So they put the new process in place and the forecasts did not improve.  Hmmmm… 

Then he brought in a behavioral psychologist who reported, after several weeks of study, that the problem wasn’t process, it was “truth.”   Throughout the division, team members would assemble the forecast KNOWING they weren’t going to hit it and that it was, essentially, made up.  Joseph realized that, starting with him, the willingness to hear bad news as a means of getting to the truth was the right next step.

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This week, at the Berlin SharePoint Conference, I had an opportunity to spend some ‘face time’ with the CEO of a successful software company that I admire quite a bit.  He told me they were getting ready to do business reviews, and he had decided that he was going to kick off the meetings by asking everyone to list two or three mistakes they’d made in the last year, and he was going to go first.  Brilliant.

In your organization, would you be comfortable standing up in front of your peers and listing your mistakes from the past twelve months?   Because if you can, you will take a big step toward creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as learning opportunities.  That’s the  one time when mistakes are worth repeating…

Talk to me!

October 6, 2011

I turns out that the first Secretary General of the U.N. was a Norwegian named Trygve LieHe served from the inception of the U.N. in 1946 until 1952, when Dag Hammarskjold took over.  Given that subsequent SG’s have been named Banki, Kofi and Boutros, I am guessing that if your name is Bill, you have no shot at the post.  But that’s not the point.

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I can imagine that Trygve was pretty excited when he got the job.  Imagine!  Bringing representatives from all over the world to discuss world affairs in one, big forum!  I wonder what day he woke up and thought, “oh crap, they all speak different languages.  This is going to be awkward…”  To this day, I am still fascinated when I see pictures of the U.N. with all the reps wearing headphones so they can hear the translation of the speaker’s words into their own tongue.  Phew, the logistics!!

I am equally fascinated that many of the project stakeholders and sponsors I work with have no idea that the systems and applications that they have bought, built and installed throughout their enterprise over the past 20 years are essentially the nerd equivalent of the U.N.  They seem to have little appreciation for the fact that their HR System speaks Swahili, their Invoicing System speaks Russian, and their Point of Sales System is a mute who, if she could speak, would speak Farsi.

So let’s declare this week Language Appreciation Week.  If you are working with someone who is trying to get two systems to talk to each other and, in fact, have an intelligent conversation, cut them some slack and recognize that it’s harder than you may think.  Right, Trygve?

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…?