Tag: task

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.

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!