Monthly Archives: May 2010

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the US, one of our major holidays. We celebrate and honor those who have fought for our country in this holiday. We have many friends and family who have served in the Armed Forces, , , including me.

I served in the US Marine Corps for 4 years and it was where I got introduced to the world of computer technology. The Marine Corps was also where I got my first taste of management responsibility. I’m convinced it is where I transformed my basic management approach from “authoritative” to “persuasive”. Most of us in IT have authoritative personalities – over 70% of us. This approach works fine when we are responsible only for ourselves in a technical role. It can get in our way and becomes a big obstacle when we become managers.

In the Marine Corps, I can give an order and it has to be carried out, , , there is a very strong structure of discipline. No time for “I don’f feel like it” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”. Orders are given and they are carried out – very simple.

Well, I didn’t know much about personality types and things of that nature early in my career, especially not when I was in the Marine Corps, , , but I’m convinced upon looking back that it must have been in this first IT management role that I began intuitively becoming a more persuasive manager.

For one reason!!

You get better results when you explain to your technical team the need to do something, why it’s important, and what’s in it for them. In other words, you communicate and sell the idea. When you do, I’ve found you get much better results and more commitment to the work.

What is an authoritative management personality?

Good question. In a nutshell, an authoritative manager’s approach is like this:

  • Let’s go do the work
  • Do it now
  • Do it my way
  • I don’t want to discuss it

This last part, “I don’t want to discuss it” is what can create problems for you, , , unless you are in the Marine Corps. Most people do not mind doing the work when they understand the importance and why the work needs to be done. If the work turns out to be good for them, that’s icing on the cake.

Over 70% of us in IT are shy and introverted, , , meaning we do not like to discuss these issues, , , we prefer to give the order , , , and for people who work for us to “just do their jobs”! In some work environments like the Marine Corps this works well, but in most it doesn’t.

My basic personality is an authoritative manager style just like most in IT, but I change when I go to work and transform my approach to a persuasive management style. I’ve learned the value in communicating what, why, and the benefits of doing things, , , i.e., I force myself to communicate. It’s not something I necessarily want to do, but I’ve learned that it’s a requirement for me to succeed in an IT manager role.

One last thought, , , today is a holiday for us in the US. You need to take time for yourself and do things with your family and friends – away from work. Many of us in IT can be somewhat workaholic types, , , work is good but you also need some downtime to re-energize and recharge the batteries, , , you will be more effective when you do.

I know, because I have a serious workaholic personality, , , but I’ve learned to take more time for myself. I planned to do a lot of writing over this long 3-day weekend, but I never got to it. Part of me wants to kick myself, but another part realizes it will help me be more productive in the days ahead.

Take care of yourself and spend some quality downtime from time to time – holidays, weekends, vacation, etc. Your family will appreciate it and so will those who work with you – you will find that you become a fresher person able to look at the positive things easier and more often.

Weekend fun

We jumped into the weekend in full force yesterday by making us up a picnic lunch and heading to Amber Falls Winery, , , about 10 miles from our Camp Liberty.

Jazz musicians sparked up the evening along with dance, good food, and some Amber Falls wine. We learned Judy and Tim (two of the owners who have become friends) were celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary, , , the same number of years Dorine and I have been married, , , we hit 39 years this past December. Dorine went up front and made a public announcement so Tim and Judy could celebrate with a 39th anniversary dance.

Met a couple who were making their first visit to Amber Falls. They are still trying to adjust after 11 years to living in middle Tennessee. When we moved “back home” in 2003, there was no real adjustment, , , we love it here.

The music was ok but not what I would call great. Good musicians, just no real personality to the group.

We had a good time.

Memorial Day weekend

This coming Monday is Memorial Day where we celebrate the commitments of those who have fought for our country’s freedom and liberty. Dorine, Eddie, and I will spend it on the Buffalo River at our Camp Liberty, , , appropriately named because we have a 9-foot Statue of Liberty in the yard looking up the river.

When we bought the camp, we initially thought the statue was, , , well, different. Very quickly she started to grow on us and now we wouldn’t move her for anything – part of the character of our camp.

See more photos of Camp Liberty at

In America, this is one of our major holiday weekends and the launch of summer time, , , swimming pools open, , , vacations begin, , , graduations, , , weddings, , , you name it.

We are thinking we will go have a picnic at Amber Falls, our favorite little winery nearby. If so, I’ll take a photo or two and post onto the BLOG.

Planning to do some work this weekend, , , in the middle of a major writing project and also planning to release an option for my self study program that many have been asking for. The nice thing about Camp Liberty is having wireless through satellite so I can work.

Looking forward to a great weekend with my family and a few friends. Started out right last night with a catfish dinner with Dorine, Eddie, and my 2nd Mom – Miss Sue. Great time.

Management requires special skills

Moving into management is tempting to many IT pros. But before jumping into a position you’re not ready for, there are a few issues you need to examine. Review these five steps and decide if you’re prepared to move successfully into management nirvana.

I’ve been fortunate to have managed thousands of employees in my 20-plus years of managing IT resources. One of the interesting things I’ve consistently noticed during that time is how many employees want to become managers.

I absolutely love managing IT organisations and the people within them, but it’s not all glory and accolades. There is also hard work, frustration, and tremendous challenges required to do the job right. So before you start applying for that open management role, you should take a closer look at the job.

Answering the “why?”
When interviewing or counseling employees, I’m often confronted with someone’s desire to become a manager, and the first question I ask is, “Why?”

The response can provide a useful perspective. Here are a few examples that I’ve gotten over the years:

  • “I want to be the boss.”
  • “I want the authority and prestige of the position.”
  • “I want to direct others on what they should do.”
  • “I don’t know; it just seems like the natural course for my career.”
  • “I want to attend management meetings and learn what the company is planning.”
  • I want to build a big organization

At the time, the staffers who provided these responses didn’t have a clue what an IT manager’s job involved. In fact, most IT professionals don’t, and too many get thrown into management positions with little or no real preparation to do the job effectively.

The answer to “Why do you want to be a manager?” reveals a great deal about what you want from a job and how you view the role of IT in the company. Many technicians see the role as one that defines the technology direction of the company and determines what tools to use. For them, the allure of a management position is the ability to make these decisions. To some extent, that’s true, but many don’t get the fact that what really drives those decisions is the company’s needs and not necessarily the technical knowledge that the manager may possess.

Current competency isn’t all that’s needed
Being good at what you do does not necessarily prepare you for a management position. Let me repeat that: Just because a person is an outstanding consultant or support pro doesn’t mean that the person will be a good, or even an average, manager.

The growth of technology in the last 20 years has created a large demand for more IT managers, and many have found themselves in the role without anything more to help them than what they knew in their former positions.

Certainly, knowing how to program can benefit you in a programming manager role, but it can also be a limiting factor. When you take the best programmers and make them managers, the company and CIO often lose their best productive resources, and a very green person is now placed in a management role that directly influences many others.

For far too many years, it was thought that the best resource in a technical area could effectively manage the rest of the team. That’s not only a false idea; it can also be a dangerous one for the company, the IT organisation, and employees touched by such a move.

The fact is that effectively managing employees and technology resources has very little to do with how technical you are and more to do with your ability to facilitate, persuade, plan, organize, motivate, and communicate. You don’t hear anything very technical in those terms.

Suddenly, what becomes more important is not what you can do yourself, but what you can get accomplished through others.

Management is like any other skill. You can learn it, but the key issue is that it’s a different skill set from what you have used as a technician. Of course, the fact that you have been successful as a technical resource does give you a head start, because it helps you relate to others who have technical roles.

When you become a manager, you have to let others do the technical part so you can focus your time and energy on doing the management part. With technology changing as rapidly as it is, you simply cannot continue to be the technical expert and expect to be an excellent manager.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take the message that when you decide to become an IT manager, you have to focus your time and full energy on issues that help you succeed as a manager. If you like solving problems, learning new technologies, and implementing new tools and technology, you may want to stay in your technical role. Managers don’t have time to become experts in the new technologies and do their management jobs well.

Positioning yourself for management
I’m not suggesting that you can’t become a manager if you truly want to. Take my insight as a message to prepare and understand what the job is really all about before taking the leap. It’s not about giving orders and telling others what to do as much as you might think. If that were the case, it would be a simple deal.

Here are five steps to take in your current role to prepare for a management position:

  • Learn how to manage projects and establish a successful track record of managing projects that are delivered on time and within budget. Developing sound project management skills is the best preparatory step, as the role requires many of the skills needed in a management position.
  • Observe successful managers managing and motivating employees. When you see something that’s effective, add it to your skills “toolkit.”
  • Find a mentor who has a successful management track record and is willing to help you develop management skills and offer you insight. Mentors are invaluable and can help you save time, avoid wasted effort, and reduce frustration because they know the shortcuts that are effective as a manager, just as you know the shortcuts in your technical role.
  • Tell your current supervisor that you’re looking to move into a management position and would like help preparing for the new challenge.
  • Ask for more responsibility so you can develop new management skills. Be sure you preface the request so that it’s clear that you want it to help you develop skills that will prepare you for a management role.

There’s no quick shortcut
Depending upon your background and experience, you may have a long road ahead in your preparation efforts. Don’t expect to be offered a management position the week after you ask for it. You need to realize that management roles require new skills, so you should be prepared to make the investment to develop those skills.

Over the years, I’ve turned down many management/promotion requests from staffers who were not ready to become managers. But for those who showed a genuine desire to become managers, I made an investment in that goal, and many turned out to be exceptional technology managers. If I had moved them into management roles, unprepared in both perspective and skill set, I would have been negligent as a manager myself and could have damaged their careers.

In every case, the first question I ask is, “Why do you want to be a manager?” In most cases, the initial answer is not the same answer given a year later when they better understand the role.

Raised floor

Be sure you know what they are asking, , ,

When I was an IBM Systems Engineer (SE) in the early 1980’s, I was asked to install a data collection system for time and attendance and other data collection activities in a large hospital.

I had installed several before so my Sales Rep partner asked me to conduct a walk through to plan for this hospital’s new technology installation.

As we enter the hospital, we head down the hallway to where the IT organization resides. We walked by one door with a ramp leading up into the room. The door had a sign that said, “IT Personnel Only” .

I guessed that this door led into the IT organization area and didn’t think too much of it. We continued down the hallway and around a corner to the CIO’s office.

We arrive at the CIO’s office and I meet him, the three of us chatted briefly, and then he asks the Sales Rep a strange question. He asked, “Jim, does Mike know?”

I had worked with Jim for two years and I always knew when he was up to something because of the mischievous chuckle and grin he made. When he laughed at the CIO’s question, I knew there was something going on.

Jim answered, “No, Mike doesn’t know.”

You guessed it, I asked both of them, “What is it that I don’t know?”

There was no response other than an indication I would find out soon enough.

The CIO asked if I wanted to take a tour for my installation planning needs, and we all set off to tour the hospital.

The first stop was to go into the Data Center which was just outside the CIO’s office. As we approach the secured door, I noticed another ramp just like the one I had seen in the hallway leading up into the Data Center.

When we entered, everything looked pretty normal, , , like many other Data Centers I had seen before. This is when the CIO proceeds to tell me , , , the rest of the story.

When the hospital purchased a new mainframe many years ago from a different company, the Sales Rep discussed the physical planning needs for the new mainframe with the former CIO who was there at the time.

One of the requirements was to install a raised floor.

The mistake he made was that he did not ask the former CIO of the hospital if he knew what a “raised floor” was.

Three weeks later the Sales Rep comes back in to check the physical planning progress as he and his company prepare to ship the new mainframe hardware to the hospital.

He was surprised at what he found. In fact, we were told that he didn’t know whether to laugh, be sorry, or disappointed in what had happened. He probably felt all three emotions.

You see, the former CIO not really knowing what a “raised floor” was, ordered a 2-foot slab of concrete to be poured into the Data Center.

He literally raised the Data Center floor, , , which is why they have to have ramps leading up and into the Data Center room.

So, what I learned about what had happened and what I was really seeing in the hospital’s Data Center was that there was a “raised floor” on top of a “raised floor”, , , a raised floor to hide the cables on top of a slab of concrete

The morale of the story, , , Be sure you confirm that the other person understands what you are asking!

a raised floor on top of a raised floor

Dead chicken award

Do you award the dumbest mistake of the month with a “dead chicken award”? This works well with a younger team.

You’ve seen the rubber chicken that’s all swiveled up and looks dead that they sell at novelty shops – right? They are inexpensive and make a great gag award to the person on your team who makes the dumbest mistake in a month.

The winner gets to hang this “dead chicken” above his cube or outside his office for all to see, , , for a month or until the award is passed onto someone else. No doubt who made the biggest blunder with this little prize floating around.

When I introduce it, I usually award it to myself first, , , for a couple of reasons:
1. I make mistakes just like everyone.
2. I’m part of the team and have to earn that membership.

I mention this award to most of my IT Manager Institute classes. So far, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they know about it.

One class had a little fun with it as you can see by the picture below. Ed O’Kelley from Tennessee awards the “dead chicken award” to Heitor Miguel from Angola AFRICA because he was having trouble understanding just exactly what the “dead chicken award” was all about.

We told Heitor that he might have some explaining to do as he went through airport security.

It’s true – a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Interviewing tips

Getting ready for an interview? Here are some interviewing tips that might help.

– Identify your accomplishments before you go on an interview.Think of the company benefits and results you have achieved.
– Don’t let your guard down.
– Answer the interviewer’s questions in a direct and concise manner.
– Dress in a manner that your position calls for.
– Maintain direct eye contact with the interviewer; this shows confidence.
– Develop questions that demonstrate interest in working with the company.
– Send a thank-you letter to all individuals with whom you interviewed.
– Be aware of your language. Avoid vocal fillers such as “you know” or “um”.
– Answer questions within 60 seconds or you will lose your listener.
– Be prepared, but don’t sound rehearsed.
– Expect to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.”
– Remember that you are interviewing the company as well.
– Be prepared to expand on the information you provided in the resume.
– Always show up on time.
– Be honest but careful of what you are saying.
– When filling out a job application, be sure to read and follow the instructions.
– Be polite and positive.
– Research interview techniques and prepare.
– Listen carefully to the questions that are asked and answer the question.
– Maintain a positive and upbeat demeanor.
– Don’t go off on tangents.
– Be aware of your tone and body language.
– Establish rapport with the interviewer.
– Don’t interrupt the interviewer when she or he is speaking.
– Expect to be nervous.
– At the end of the interview, ask the interviewer what the next step will be.
– Know the organization’s needs and culture before the interview.
– Be yourself.
– Don’t speak negatively about your present or past employer.
– Be prepared to answer, “Why did you leave your last company?”.
– Wait until you are offered a seat before you sit down.
– Interact with the interviewer; don’t react.
– Pace yourself; if you need extra time to think of an answer, take it.
– Write down your thoughts of the interview immediately after it is over.

We need well rounded professionals

I read an article yesterday that made me think. I know, , , those of you who actually know me are saying to yourselves, “It’s about time you started thinking.”

Well, anyway, , , the article was about mentoring your employees.

It made several good points, but the essence of the message was that you need to develop your people in more than one or two areas, , , not just technically. What you ultimately want in an organization is a staff of well rounded IT professionals.

What this says is that they need the following investments from their manager:
1. Technical knowledge expertise (goes without saying, I guess)
2. IT organization mission and expectations you have of them
3. Company knowledge and why our company is so good
4. Industry knowledge and the part our company plays in this industry
5. Communication skills (IT people need help here more than most)
6. Client needs and issues (after all, we have a job because clients need us)
7. Client service skills (traits that creates great client relationships)
8. Vendor insights and how to work with vendors
9. IT policies and procedures (the things that help us support the business)
10. New technology trends
11. Project management skills (successful projects lead to IT credibility)

This is just a list of 11 areas where you need to develop knowledge and understanding in your employees. Believe me, IT people are hungry for information, , , it is hard to give them too much.

Invest in your employees and develop their insights and you will see great things come from them, and remember, , , don’t just focus on one thing, , , you need well rounded professionals to be highly successful.

Teach your employees how to troubleshoot a problem

You may be surprised to learn that many of your employees may not know how to troubleshoot client problems.

Let me give you an example. Many years ago I inherited a new IT organization to manage. When I got the responsibility, I knew of one client account that apparently had problems every month, , , their problems were sort of a legend within our company.

Sure enough, at the end of my first month the client CFO calls and asks for the support manager (that’s now me). They were encountering another problem, , , something that seems to happen every month from what he told me.

I asked questions to try and understand what was happening, but couldn’t get any real insight as to what the issue was, , , so I ended the phone call and called in my senior IT people.

I asked them about the situation. In a similar fashion, I heard a lot of generalities but nothing of substance that helped me understand what the real issues were.

We visit the client and conduct a simple assessment at the end of the next month and the problems occur again, but this time we are able to see and understand the cause and effect of what is going on.

The result is that we are able to identify 4 key issues that contribute to the problems this client was having, make recommendations on how to prevent them from happening, and when the client implements these preventive measures it solves the problems from occurring in the future.

The point with this is that my staff was an experienced group of technical people, smart, and conscientious. The problem is that they weren’t using a process to troubleshoot the problems and get to the root issues.

You can’t deal with problems if you do not know what the issues are.

Once we understand the specific issues, we can usually solve or prevent the problems. So, , , observe your employees and verify if they are actually troubleshooting problems so they get to the issues. If not, you probably need to teach them how to get to the bottom of the circumstance.

Positive energy

I’m a firm believer that positive attitudes create positive energy and that those around you feel it. Likewise, I think negative attitudes create negative energy and people feel that as well.

I’ve always tried to look at the “glass half full” as opposed to “half empty”. It’s the same situation, the difference is just how you look at it.

When our son had his car accident in 1993 and we almost lost him, it was the most terrible experience a parent can go through, , , but Dorine and I kept looking and thinking about the potential, , , and not about the terrible challenges Eddie was facing.

Today, it’s 17 years after the accident and Eddie still has physical challenges and a significant short term memory loss, , , he can’t remember something that happened 30 minutes ago. But the upside is that his long term memory is intact and strong.

Eddie never has a bad day, , , something that is amazing to us considering his physical challenges and pain he deals with. But it’s true, he is the most positive person I know, , , maybe it has something to do with short term memory loss.

The point is that Dorine and I stayed positive and kept encouraging Eddie during the darkest of times. I could tell you hundreds of stories that still give me chills of joy and some that caused grave concern at the time.

We believe that our positive attitudes are what helped Eddie recover to the level he has and why he is such an inspiration to so many. Everyone who meets Eddie seems to be drawn to him because of his positive attitude, , , he truly has an aura of positive energy.

Positive attitudes really do work. We have seen it over and over again in our personal and professional lives.

As an IT manager, it’s important for you to stay positive and to encourage others. Your attitude sets the tone in your organization. If you are not positive and positive energy doesn’t come from you, it’s very hard, if not impossible, for your team to be positive.

Treat every day as a new day and a fresh start. Go into work with positive thoughts and look forward to the challenges that will come up today. Remember, if there weren’t challenges and problems, they probably wouldn’t need you and your position in the company.

Positive energy is a contagious thing, , , create positive energy and watch others respond to it.

Best of success.