Tag: milestone

Single point of #failure, #programming and why a #CIO is important.

Single point of #failure, #programming and why a #CIO is important.

A few weeks ago we talked about, single points of failure.  We talked about power lines and data lines having more than one place of ingress to the building.  We spoke of multiple power sources, as well as multiple data paths; much like the internet has multiple data paths. See that post for more information about hardware single points of failure.

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Today the subject closely relates to this but it is “software.”

Some companies use off-the-shelf solutions and some decide to “roll their own.”

Today we are going to look at the pros and cons of this practice.

Off the shelf:

PRO—

Ready to go with a company to back you up.

A “normal” IT guy or gal can install it and most probably support it as most of these types of software companies have classes on their software.  They offer such classes because they want their product to be successful and they most probably offer some sort of certification for it as IT folk seems to be “gaga” over certifications!

If there is a problem there is a support path.

Depending upon the complexity of the software there may be add-on-modules for your particular needs.  That translates to a cost savings of only buying what you need.

IT personnel are much less expensive than in house programmers and unlike in house software, there is an end to the expense.

Canned software is also easier to find IT people who can work with it vs some home grown software that no one has ever seen before.

Hiring your own in house programmers is like hiring a carpenter to do some project for you that charges by the hour and the project that you want him to do is ill defined.

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There was a show not too many years ago called Murphy Brown who had Eldon the painter in her house.  Eldon was always doing something and was in her house for the entire show doing something.  While Eldon was a bit player and supposed to be there for this part, the analogy is that she left everything up to him and he had a job for life.

You don’t want an Eldon working for you, unless you really like his company.

With off the shelf or canned software you work within its limitations.

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Scope Creep:

Having managed programmers in the past and reporting their progress to the president and or board, it never ceased to amaze me that someone would ask the question, what would it take to make the software do X.

The way that this works is the decision makers come up with a defined set of expectations, which allow a budget to be created.  Once that process is done, so is the definition of the project.  It is then up to the manager to manage the project and make sure that certain milestones are met and in budget.

The danger of developing things in house is that inevitably someone modifies the definition after the budget has been blessed.  If you have no “extra” built in for unforeseen events, than you have to go back to the board and beg.

You can explain it is because they wanted something else but you still come off looking bad.  You should have foreseen that they were going to ask for that and put it into the budget.  (There is a little truth to that last statement.)

With canned software, the project is much more manageable as the cost is pretty much set in stone.  Support contracts are easily budgeted for as is training of your people.

Designing in house software has more risk than payback.

Most probably you keep your staff small so if one person does this part of the project and another that part of the project and then something happens to them, well, you have a single point of failure.

Documentation of the software developed in house must be meticulously managed and like a DR plan, it must be tested! If it is not done in this manner the software becomes worthless when that developer is no longer there.

Around 10% of development time is or should be documentation time.  Documentation should contain a version number much like the rev level of the software.  Outdated documentation is worthless.

Unlike the mindset among some IT people that do not document anything, the programmer must document their software in such a way that a future programmer can pick it up and run with it.  This documentation might include things like UML diagrams and key design features. Comments in the code are nice, but are not enough.

As with any DR, there is a “living document” as it also is with code.  The documentation is a live process and must be updated as the code is developed.

Programmers certainly know the best practice techniques of this process but the CEO may not.  Some people develop self documenting code.

The old adage “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.” Is salient, germane and just damned important!

There are no good surprises in business and if you keep with that as your mantra, you will be served well.

The Cons to off the shelf are that it is fixed.  Whatever you purchased is only as flexible as it was designed to be, “a one size fits all” solution.  For most companies this may be enough.

Most companies are generic enough that they can work with that.

Some projects are just foolish to try and roll your own as the cost will not justify the ends.

I know of one company who has someone in the upper echelon of the company that is a developer.  Instead of using canned software for such things as DNS, they wrote some scripts with pointers to a LMhost file.  Of course there was no documentation so as an engineer figuring out why there were duplicate IP addresses or why IP addresses did not match the device and so forth was a nightmare!  Wireshark to the rescue.

There are standards in the industry for a reason.

Canned software allows the CEO to get the best talent for the job and allows him a wider field to choose from.  If their set up is so unique that only a select few can manage it, he is paying way more for a system that dies when the creator of it dies or just gets upset and quits.  The golden handcuffs are than on the business owner as he must necessary play nice with his programmers.

Remember, no employee should be sacrosanct.  Everyone must necessarily be treated as expendable because of the “hit by a bus scenario.”

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In house code must be tested to make certain that it is supportable by outside people.  If it is not, it should be fixed, scrapped or replaced with something that is, or is off the shelf.

Canned software?
Canned software?

This is a very important reason to have a “good CIO!”  Any good CIO has the companies’ best interests at heart and knows better to save a penny here and waste thousands there.  The CIO must be incredibly technology savvy as well as possess business acumen.

I have worked for many over the years that were one or the other or neither, but they did go to school with the president so they were buds.

Failure to plan is planning to fail!

Hire a CIO that knows his or her stuff.

If you are uncertain, hire a DR consultant to come do an audit.

The consultant, if met with truculence on the part of the IT staff, would be a good indicator that your staff know that they have bones buried.

Plan to look carefully at your software needs and if you decide to develop in-house, make sure that your CIO knows what his or her programmers are doing.

Programmers make lousy CIO’s, just like a surgeon makes a lousy GP.

If you have a belly ache and go to a surgeon for advice, what do they do?  They cut flesh.  Their first thought is to open you up and see why you hurt!

You go to a GP who takes your history and discovers that you had sushi some time back, has you checked for the helicobacter virus; a few antibiotics later you are fine and you don’t have some scar on your belly, not to mention a long recovery time.

Bad decisions in business cost money and bad decisions with your health also cost money and could cost you your life.

Programmers not only make bad CIO’s, they make bad managers. Most programmers are very myopic. They have to be to code.  When you take someone with that skill set and throw them into management, they do not have the breadth of experience necessary to handle a wide variety of issues.  I have seen too many over my career that started out as programmers and made convoluted programmatic solutions for an easy fix situation.

There was an old cartoon many years ago where there were two computers in a room.  The Secretary and the exec, both on their computer.  The IT guy played as Goofy, or a Goofy look-a-like was asked to find a way to get the file on a diskette from this computer to that one.  Goofy takes the disk, scratches his head for a second and then like a Frisbee, tossed the disk to the secretary.  K.I.S.S.

The CIO must know enough about all things IT, to know when smoke is being blown up his or her southern most orifice.  The CIO must also have enough business savvy to be able to negotiate with the CFO who has a different skill set, as well as deal the CEO and those on the board of directors.

What you don’t want is some sycophant working for you and you don’t want a control freak either.  The CIO must be very well rounded with lots of experience.

Management must not become your single point of failure.

-Best

Copyright 2014 Timedok All Rights Reserved

The CIO

Frequently young people ask me what it takes to be in IT or even the CIO.

Over thirty years of OJT has taught me a thing or two about management.

When I was working in Corporate America, often times I would do things that were for the “good of the company,” that my subordinates may not have liked.

In one of my previous post I speak about documentation being the bane of IT people.  As a manager of this group, documentation is key.

Many times I go into a situation to “trouble-shoot” and when I ask for the network documentation, I am met with blank stares.  If I task you with driving from Baltimore to LA without a map or GPS, the odds are good that even with the occasional road sign to assist you, you would make a few wrong turns along the way. While this is a real simplistic metaphor for the problem, you get the point.

While I encourage the creation and continual update of a “run-book,” most IT people laugh. One of them even told me straight up “that will never happen.”  He was terminated soon after that remark.  Attitude is a key component of any employee, and crappy attitudes I can do without.  It happened, it just did not happen with him.

The data center and the associated infrastructure does not belong to you the geek; but the company.  You are entrusted with its care and feeding.  The direction of how, when, and why, comes from somewhere else. Understanding your role in this universe is salient advice, that I would give any techie that wants to stay employed.

While I have stepped on a few toes over the past 30 years; most of my previous employees would follow me to a new company if I asked; and have done so on many occasions over the years.

What does it take to be the “guy in charge?”

It takes a person who firstly loves technology.  Eating and breathing the newest technology I believe is a trait that is indicative of a successful CIO.

Second, it takes business acumen.  Technology is great; having the business prowess to realize that there is a bottom line and in order for the company to stay viable, purchases should be made with business objectives in mind.  I cannot tell you how many times I see things that were ill-advised purchases, which were no longer in use, and lost revenue.

Having a vision of where the company is headed is key to purchasing the correct hardware and software.

If you have read any of my other blogs you know that I believe in leading by example.  Gaining the mutual respect of your employees is paramount.  Sometimes a new broom must sweep clean, and that too has been the case on a few occasions.

Be smart enough to utilize a VAR.  The business case is simple…

Yes, they markup their products that they sell you however; you gain the expertise of their staff who see what works and what does not.  They are in multiple businesses and have the advantage of working with all of the latest and greatest. They stand behind what they sell you.  If it breaks, they deal with it.  They deal with all of the major vendors and know what is coming down the road.  Having access to their insight is invaluable.

Never buy from internet “cheapie” stores and here is why?  If they have it and it is discounted, there is a reason.  It may be buggy or is no longer supported or outdated.

If you want to take a chance for your home stuff, go for it.  Business applications are more traffic intensive than your home network or pc.  If you have routing issues or excessive collisions at home, the odds are good that you will never know it unless it becomes critical.  In business, you have possibly hundreds of computers hooked to the network thus stressing the networks ability to perform.  Do you really want to do that with cheap, no-name or outdated hardware?

If you want to shop your toner, go for it, other office supplies; have at it.  Networking equipment, do not be tempted.  The few dollars you “think you saved” will most probably cost you big time in the end.

Realize that there are things like hardware asset management and make sure you follow through.  Repairing and putting new software on old hardware is a fool’s mission in that the license most likely dies with the hardware.  Old hardware is already outdated and slower than what you would have today.  There is also S.A.M. or software asset management, which also is a key element to the bottom line.

  • Desktops last no longer than five years.
  • Laptops, around three years.
  • Smartphones about two.

Since the software cost much more than the hardware you can see how keeping that old boat anchor alive is probably not a good idea.  XP is dead, get over it and move on.

This is one reason why leasing for large companies might make good sense.

I once worked for a CIO who did not even have a PC at home.  He reminded me of the old guy that did not even want a cell phone as there was nobody he wanted to talk to bad enough to have one.  My point is that you must have a balance between the financial aspects of the business at hand, and the technological aspects.  This guy cost the company millions of dollars because he was so inept where technology counted.  While he did not have an abacus on his desk; he definitely was old school and inflexible.

Too many times I have been in companies where the CEO or owner wanted to play IT rather than run the company.  The CEO did not get there by being stupid but, IT is not his forte’; it is yours.  Unlike we “the nerds of the world” who eat breath and defecate this stuff on a daily basis; he or she may read something in some periodical and think, wow this looks good “do this!”

Your relationship with this person should be on a solid enough footing where you can tell them the truth of the matter.

Falling back to re-group and gather pricing, TCO and an ROI is always a crucial part of the decision, not to mention, does it make business sense to do it in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.  I have had a yes man working for me that I had to get rid of.  I depend upon my subordinates to debate with me if they think that I am wrong.  They might very well loose anyway but, differing opinions are necessary, and crucial to the process. Having the humility to listen to them is part of being a good CIO.

Project management is a key part of being an IT manager.  Yes, you can hire a project manager but let’s face it; it is really not all that difficult.  We have all of these certifications for everything in the world.  While a piece of paper gives the clueless hiring entity a metric of your ability, it is not the end all be all.

I have inherited “certified employees” that were academically sharp but, not able to do the job at hand. They can read and regurgitate information but could not turn a screwdriver. Book sense and practical; not one or the other.

I was a project manager before there were such things, at least certified project managers.

I ran as many projects as 30 at one time, most in a spreadsheet, well several spreadsheets.  I knew what it was going to cost and how much I was going to have spent on each and every milestone.  I knew who would be doing which task at what time and how long it should take.  If I can do that in Excel, do I really need to hire a PMP?

In order to be a good manager having the ability to do each and every job, makes life much simpler.  You cannot be “BS’ed.  Can you do it as fast as someone who does it day in and day out?  Probably not but, you could do it if needed which gives you a leg up and makes each and every employee under you “expendable.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh.  There is this attitude among most IT guys that if they are the only person who can do it, they are sacrosanct. So, they don’t document their job and of course they don’t let on their tricks or where the bones are buried. Nobody in any company should be untouchable.

This is dangerous for you the CIO and damned hazardous for the company.

This is why the owner or CEO of any company should have a disaster recovery plan and test that plan with people other than his or her employees.  If a technical group of people can bring your company back from the brink, in an offsite location, in a short amount of time, than your documentation is solid.  If not, than your guys have some “splainin to do.”

Plans such as these rarely work perfect the first time and I expect that.  That is the process by which the documentation is refined in such a way that it will work.  No one can get every detail the first time around but eventually you can nail it down in such a way that the company would survive if a disaster was declared.

These have been my precepts from day one of management.  There are lots of things that go with this but you can see the logic and of course you can see how this would intimidate the person who may be out of their comfort zone to start with.  This is one of the problems that I am forced to deal with when I am called in to do a DR plan.  The employees are seldom on board with giving me information, which means that I have to go and get it. This is where I end up stepping on toes.  If I have to go dig it up, it is much more costly and it extends the project time.  Nobody wants their “mess” exposed during the audit so it is seldom easy to get through this process.  Even though upper management is on board, the employees are most of the time, evasive if not truculent; and unwilling to share.

So my last thing that I would offer is patience.  Weekly meetings with upper management your progress will ferret out issues like, uncooperative employees.

-Best to you and those that you care about.

Life, Wealth and Happiness

I chose the title carefully as the three can me mutually exclusive.

Stuff and Reality

Most of us grow up seeing a pattern of “wealth = happy.”  In fact some of the poorest people that I know are some of the happiest.  How is that possible?

The world today tells us that we “need” an expensive car, or the largest flat screen TV or whatever the newest gadget is.  Apple is doing their part by providing a new version of their products about every 18 months or so.

A few years ago a “car phone” was for the most exclusive and wealthiest of us.  Today, kids in grade school have a much more sophisticated version than I would have dreamed possible just a few years ago.

A simple automobile that cost a few thousand not too many years ago now cost upwards or $40K.  Of course you can spend $24K for the same basic car but it does not have the “logo” that the $40K car has.  Will the less expensive car do the same as the expensive car, probably; but it will not have the social status of the $40k car?  I cannot envision spending $150K on a car but there are many on the roads.

If you are a churched person you no-doubt know that “God will provide.”  Does that mean that if you pray really hard and give money to the church that you will get the $40K  or $150K car?  No.  It means that you will have the necessities of life.  The trick of course is realizing what the “necessities are.”

This is where the poorest among us have the rest of us beat.  They are happy with what they have.  One of my favorite song writers penned the phrase, “it’s not about having what you want, it’s about wanting what you got.”  If you think about that, it is so true.

“Failure to plan is planning to fail!”

Am I telling you to settle for less than what you have or want?  No, I am telling you to set your expectations accordingly, set your goals a little higher than your expectations, and take the actions necessary to achieve those goals.

Much like project management, your goals need to be fully planned.  What do you want, what does the end goal look like, and what does it take to achieve it?  What milestones must you achieve to get to where you want to go or be?   Goals should be on some sort of timed deadline.  If you set dates to accomplish certain milestones you are more apt to succeed at the end goal. Start with prayer for wisdom.  Praying to win the lottery is probably not going to get you anywhere.  If it does; please keep me in mind.. J  Realistic goals are part of the prayer process.  Few grow up with the goal of being a garbage man.  If you did, “bless your heart.” Many end up there because they failed to plan.

Do I look down on those folks, not on your life!  It takes all kinds of folks to make the world go round.  If more folks planned better, I think that finding a ditch digger or garbage man might cost more money.   I make a point to know my garbage collection folks.  If I can, I go out and tell them good morning etc.  The same is true of the mail person and even the janitor at the office.  They are all people and disserve the respect that you yourself would want.  If you think that you are better than them you are in dangerous territory.

Wealth or the lack thereof.

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I would seriously recommend taking the Dave Ramsey course for you who are just starting out.  After listening to his radio show for several months, I am convinced that he should be a required course in high school.  Credit card companies would lobby against that but, that would be just too bad.  Our progeny need to understand the fundamentals of his wisdom, and the sooner the better.

The good news is that if you are a parent you can go through the course with your kids.  It does not need to be mandated from the Ivory towers of DC.   Many churches around the country offer this course.  Why?  A tenant of the course is to be generous, think there could be a connection?  Too Cynical? Only they and God know their motives.

His mantra goes against current trends in advertising and indeed the way that we spend money!   His philosophy and wisdom really came from making mistakes and learning from them.  These are mistakes he made many years ago.  So, why make the mistake if you can learn from those that have already done it?  Like history, if you don’t know it, you will repeat it.

The jobs that you take should reflect some part of the path that you are on in order to achieve your goals.  Jobs can be milestones.  Let’s say I want to be a geologist.  I would start out learning everything I could about the subject from books to social groups that are like minded.  I might take an internship at a company that studies core samples.  Even if I have to wash beakers or crush rocks, I would be part of the process and undoubtedly something I learned would stick that I could apply later.

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The society we are in today has kids out of college with no practical experience looking for the big paycheck and the corner office.  Bless their heart!

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Many out there just take anything to get some sort of income.  Folks, this is ludicrous.  Letting fate decide your future is a formula for a life filled with dead end jobs being someone’s slave.  If you can’t afford to leave the bedroom that you grew up in, you are on the wrong path!  If you are forced to return to the bedroom that you grew up in because you are not making enough money to live on your own and be investing money in your future, you are certainly on the wrong path, or making bad decisions.

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Briefly, fast food jobs are for kids in school.  Those jobs will allow them to earn some spending money, gasoline and insurance money and if they are strict with themselves, some savings for college.  They teach the fundamentals of the working world and truthfully make one appreciate a real job when they get one.  I am a firm believer that everyone should have a fast food job as a child.

 

Retail jobs in general are the same type of job.  Most retail jobs are not a career choice that should be anywhere in your decision making process.  If those jobs are part time they are for kids living at home.  Unless your end goal is to manage some high end retail establishment, you have no business working there unless of course, you are a teenager.

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There is definitely a difference between adult jobs and “youth” jobs.  “Youth jobs are training wheels for life.”

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One job does not fit all.

I see way too many older folks taking retail jobs in places where there should be kids.  I think this is a direct reflection of the times that we live in.  The sad fact is that these older folks in these jobs allow their attitude towards that job to come through while dealing with the customer.  It is not hard to tell that they are not happy and feel that the job is beneath them.  Guess what; it most definitely is!  Staying in that job is mistake of monumental proportions.  Stay in it long enough to retrain and re-invent yourself if necessary, and then leave it for the teenagers that it was originally designed for.

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Some older folks are taking these jobs to get out of the house.  If you need the money, at least shoot for management.  Leave the kid jobs for kids.  Of course if you had planned correctly you would not need the money and could be spending your time out of the house, volunteering somewhere.

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The last few years, entitlement spending is at an all time high.  We are paying people to stay home and live on the government tit.  That money that the government gives away comes from those of us who are working, not living on the ignorance of a government run amuck.   If the politicians that think that what they are doing is correct they need to revisit it.

 

Anyone taking money from the government that should be working should be “reinventing” themselves.  Currently if you are attending school you are not eligible for unemployment.  What kind of foolishness is this?  If you don’t find suitable employment in X months you should be required to take some classes and I would argue that those classes should be subsidized by the government.  If you get an “A” 100% re-imbursement and so forth.  It is almost as if we don’t want you to ever work again, we want you to live on some small amount of money taken from those that are working.  Folks this is crazy!

 

If you know a politician or someone that you can talk some sense into by all means lets push this initiative.  People need a hand up, not a handout!

 

Business is not ignorant of this fact.  To get skilled workers to work for peanuts on a part time basis vs. dealing with kids who often have not developed a good work ethic is a bargain.  If they get college graduates to slave away at minimum wage jobs, that too is a bargain for them!  Keeping them at part time so they don’t have to screw with benefits, another win!

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We see the argument to raise the minimum wage so people can make a living at these part time jobs that school kids should be doing.  The pay is not the issue, the issue is that adults should not be doing these jobs!

 

Slavery is not Dead!

 

The problem is that these kids need those jobs as that is the next part of their training to become good workers.  A part time retail or fast food job is not for anyone that is serious about making a living.  Managing these occupations is another story however; it is slavery at best as you are most undoubtedly salaried and will work 50 or 60 hours a week and “it will be expected.”

 

Raising the retirement age was another mistake on so many levels.  Companies are shoving you out the door when you are 50 and looking for the college kids fresh out of school to bring in and abuse.

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This guy still votes too.  That is another blog for another time.

Very few companies see the value in bringing in older Americans as they would have to pay them a decent wage.  On top of that, these folks have experience and to some degree that experience might be askance of the job requirements and or environment of that company.  The phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” certainly may play through their mind.  Mature workers are excellent employees most always as they are skilled professionals and are not the party animals that they once may have been.  Their children are most probably out of the house, so little will pull them away from their task.

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Mature workers indeed need a vocation as we were designed to work.  Those of us who linger in the couch or in front of the TV or video games all day are most probably going to expire way before our time.  “A body in motion stays in motion!”  Keeping a regular schedule, going to bed at a decent hour, getting up at a decent hour, greeting the morning sun for fifteen minutes in the morning will keep you healthy.  There is of course more to it but these fundamentals are all too often overlooked!

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If you take a look at the richest people in the world (which is out there on the internet) you will notice Bill Gates is number 1.  The Wallmart and Sam’s ilk are close to that and there are so many others.  What I would like to call to your attention is that none of these made it there because they are “nice people.”  They are shrewd business people.  One has to wonder if they are “happy!”

 

Some of you may try to extol the virtues of Mr. Gates as he gives money to different charities, “what a nice guy!”  When Bill was buying the first operating system from a guy for $4k and licensing it to IBM for millions, I was involved with computers.  When Mr. Jobs was a criminal, phone phreaking, making his first large sum of money, I knew about it and how he did it.  When Bill got the windows idea from Xerox who happily showed him their ideas and products and told him about it being open source he happily took it and ran with it.

 

I have kept up with Bill, not because I am angry with him, he is a shrewd business man. One has to wonder if they “the richest folks in the world” are “happy” and how much money is enough?  How do people get so rich?  I wish I could say it was by treating people right and practicing good “ethical” business practices…

 

Retail stores hire folks are minimum wage and then give them just enough hours so they don’t have to pay for benefits.  Some reward their slaves with a few more hours for extra effort while only giving a few to the people who are not really motivated to be there.  Folks, it is hard to be motivated for $8 and hour, especially when it takes more than that to get a hamburger.  If you are working for someone, even as a slave, do your best as you are gaining experience not just in folding clothing but in dealing with people, managers and situations out of your control.  This also should teach you the value of an education and setting goals!

 

What is your goal?  Money is not a goal, but a tool.  Like a hammer or saw, it is nothing more or less than a tool. Money is a common tool that everyone can use to pay for or gain enough of to obtain food, shelter and the other basics for life.  In some cases it can buy you an island or maybe a small country.. It is still a tool and a means to an end.

 

Your goal should be to be happy, that I would wish for you.  Deciding on what is (happy) is another story.  Some find happiness in stuff, and others find it in family and friends.  Some of the happiest people that I know find happiness in serving others and or taking care of the other creatures that live amongst us.

 

I think that happiness is nothing more than a state of mind and those that have little to worry about seem the happiest.  I guess if you’re rich enough to hire people to worry about things for you, so you can focus on being “happy” that might be one example of being one of the world’s richest folks might work for you.

 

Personal growth, understanding the person in the mirror, makes me happy.  Each and every time I learn something about me, I am a little happier. There are few things that are in “your control.”  Getting a good education, understanding that knowledge is power is a great foundation for being happy.  Using that knowledge in a way that is consistent with “enlightened people” to me is a mark of wisdom.  Serving others, in some way that is consistent with who you are is another way to become happy.  I find that helping others takes my mind off of “self.” Looking at the bigger picture, one can appreciate the complexities of life and sort out the small stuff that should be in the noise, and not artificially elevated to demand your full attention.

 

This is a lot to chew on.  Questions and thoughts are always welcome.

 

-Best to you and those that you care about!

 

Effectively communicating and succeeding as a Manager, using Speech and Non-Verbal Techniques

ImageWhen you see the word “speech” it may conjure up that heart stopping moment when we are ask to get up in front of the class, a group of peers, or perhaps in front of hundreds of people and give a talk.  Even if you are the SME (subject matter expert,) that does not make it easier to get up in front of a bunch of folks and talk.  (With lots of practice it gets easier.)

Today; that is not the topic of this particular blog.  Today I would like to address how we communicate as employers or managers to our subordinates.

I could not help but notice how some managers, “ask” their subordinates to accomplish some task.  Really? .. ASK?

If I were “asked” if I wanted to sweep the floor, or some other mundane task, my immediate response (possibly just in my head) would be “hell no!”  If I have a choice, the choice is “let someone else do it.”

If on the other hand, I am instructed to sweep the floor (not asked,) I will grab the broom and go about sweeping the floor.

My point is, not only in verbal communication do we “Weaken our speech” with seemingly innocuous phrases like “if you don’t mind, if it is ok with you, how would you feel about, when you have time to…” and the list goes on.  We in fact loose authority and run the risk of sabotaging our project, when we weaken our speech.

So when you speak as a manager, use that authority that you have been granted with that title.    Do not ask how someone would feel about this or that.  Tell them what and when you want this or that done, and do not give them the option of telling you how to run your department or business.  When they earn the title of boss, then they can tell their subordinates how they want things done, right now, it is your turn.  This of course comes with the understanding that you have done your due diligence. That you know what is going on with each part of whatever it is that you are working on; and know what each and every employee is doing.

We also do this in e-mail or other interoffice memos. The main difference with e-mail and memos is that once in writing, it is there forever, for anyone who may be copied in on it, or it gets forwarded to.

We are in fact judged by how we speak, or write.  Whether it is the politically correct thing to do or not, “we do it!”  We all do it!  Remember that old axiom “better to keep your mouth shut and people think you a fool lest you open your mouth and remove all doubt?”  Sometimes we are forced to open our mouths, so educate yourself before you reach that point.

While e-mail has become the norm as far as communication with peers and alike, many of us did not take English class too seriously, and it shows!  No time like the present to learn how to craft simple e-mails.  Once you “pen it” and hit that magic send button, you have no idea the life that it will take on, where it will go, and who all will read it.

I once authored a memo that went to a corporation of over 30,000 folks.  There was a typo in the memo (you instead of your) and while my supervisors were no literary geniuses, and took a screw-them if they can’t take a joke attitude, I was mortified. Treat e-mails and memo’s as if they are “IED’s or road side bombs with a hair trigger.”  Do not get in a hurry when writing an e-mail that may be seen by your boss, or potential boss. Spell check, read it out loud, and if you have a trusted friend, ask them to proof it.  One trick that I find that works is to print it, and read it from the paper.  I realize that on “earth week” that is probably not the most politically correct thing to say, but it is true!  I am not one for political correctness anyway; I think we have taken it way too far.  That is another topic for another blog.

When I first entered into the corporate world, which seems like yesterday; the executive dictated a letter to his secretary.  She wrote it down on a steno pad, in something called “greg shorthand” and then went about the task of typing it up.  She would then put the letter (draft) into his in box where he would read it, mark it up, make changes and then she would once again type it up.  This process could go on all day.  There was a study done once that concluded the average business letter cost about $100, back in the 70’s.

Today we have no secretary to “fix it” and make it pretty.  People from the board-room to the mail room have the same e-mail, which connects not only to everyone in the corporation, but to the outside world. We no longer write many formal letters, as e-mail, text (sms) and instant message is on our desktop.  Are you beginning to get a sense of how important that English class was that you slept through?

How many times have you read something that someone has written and found a typo, or a grammatical error?   I frequently find them in books that have reputable publicist.  What is the first thing that you do or think?  Yep, we judge them.  We either think that they are not very smart, or very clever, or we may even question where they went to school, or if they did.

“The pen is mightier than the sword” is not simply something for writers to gloat about (which they should not do, as most writers could probably not even lift a sword,) it is in fact a powerful tool.  Unfortunately, like Damocles sword it is double edged, and is indeed hanging by a thread. Be very careful and deliberate what you write; keeping the audience and secondary audiences in mind.

I heard an impressive lady the other day who said, she speaks her opinions like they are facts!  They are indeed “her facts!”  She claims that she is perceived as a bitch, and I can see that.  Is that wrong?  Should she care how she is perceived?  I for one was very impressed by her talk, and I am not easily impressed.  In management we are entrusted by our superiors to get the job done, and your employees become “your tools.” While I don’t use the phrase “tool” in the pejorative manner that we hear it used today, employees are in fact implements of and end to a means.  The manager uses the expertise of his or her employees, to reach an objective or several objectives.  If they start asking their subordinates to do this or that, their timelines may suffer as well as the project(s) as a whole.  When you give up that authority to your employees, (when you have time) you are no longer an effective manager.  Your employees usually don’t have the whole picture or the sense of commitment or urgency to the project or end goal which you do!  Clear task with authoritative language broken down into milestones and expectations set by you are mandatory, if you are to succeed as a manager.

If you think about it, you are actually leading and mentoring by example.  Employees (not just yours) watch you.  They observe more than you think, and that includes the two hour lunch, or the fact that you passed gas on your way to the bathroom.  You are held to a higher standard. It is probably not fair but it is the way of the hourly vs the salaried employee.  They are long gone by the time the managers day usually ends; but they are not there for that.

So instead of “how do you feel about coming to work on time” vs. “the office opens at 8, and I want you here.  If you can’t do that, I will find someone who can.”  Will the latter earn you the title of bitch or bastard? Who cares?  When they work for you, they play by your rules, not theirs.  If you worry about how your employees perceive you, than your are in the wrong line of work.

To be fair, if they have issues getting to work on time, you probably need to find someone else to do the job anyway.  Conversely, if you have good employees, as I have been blessed with on so many occasions, I will go out of my way to take care of them in compensation, training, bonuses etc. While there is no need to deliberately alienate your employees, they are not your friends; and you are not theirs.  At the office there is an expected decorum that must be adhered to; not only by them, but by you as well.  The phrase “it is lonely at the top is not just a phrase, but can be a way of life, at least from 8 to 5.

One last piece of advice that I will share that is a little off topic, “Never under any circumstance hire anyone that you cannot fire!” I want you to go back and read that again.  Read that until it sticks!  Make certain that you have no sacred cows working for you.  By that I simply mean, everyone; “including you” is replaceable.  If you own a company and you have certain employees that you cannot live without, change it fast!  No one should be held hostage by having to keep someone around because they are the boss’s kid, or they are the only one who knows this or that program or system; or they are “your friend!” The largest screw-up that I see constantly is that there is no documentation, anywhere on the systems, processes, key players, vendors etc.

If you want to see how survivable your business is, run a disaster recovery drill with non-key players or bring in temporary employees from a staffing firm that have the skill set, just not the experience with your company.  Then using your “living document,” re-create your business in a hot site.  If that does not go well for you, and you want to fix it, call me!  http://www.guard-protect.com

Hope this helps!

-Best to you and those that you care about!