Monthly Archives: June 2010

Brick walls are made to hurdle

Do you have challenges?

Are obstacles in your way?

If so, what are you doing about it?

I receive lots of inquiries from managers around the world who describe the “brick walls” they have in their situation that’s preventing their success. It’s anything from:

  • “How can I develop an IT strategy when our company doesn’t have a strategy?”
  • “We don’t have enough resources to do what’s required.”
  • “My career is blocked.”
  • “I have a problem employee and can’t get rid of him.”

Well, “brick walls” and life’s challenges are made to hurdle. To an extent, problems are just excuses. The reality of things is that we are in more control than we often think we are.

Do you remember when the 4-minute mile was broken, , , or the pole vaulter topped 18-feet?

The 4-minute mile was broken by Roger Bannister in 1954. Prior to that, scientists and athletes believed it was physically impossible for a man to run a mile faster than 4 minutes.

What happened after Bannister ran the mile in under 4 minutes?

You got it, , , it became common place for runners to run the mile in under 4 minutes because the mental barrier had finally been broken. In fact, the record time for the mile has been reduced by some 17 seconds since 1954, , , impossible, they said.

When you have a “brick wall” in your life, it makes your situation tough to be sure, , , but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Learn as much as you can about this “brick wall” obstacle, , , prepare yourself, , , develop a plan, , , seek outside help, , , and determine how to get over the wall.

You may not succeed the first time. I know from personal experience that I’ve skinned my knees and elbows, , , bloodied my nose a few times, , , and still have a few scars from trying to hurdle some of the “brick walls” in my career and life.

However, my belief is that most challenges can be overcome given the right motivation and preparation. In some cases, you may need to simply walk away from the wall because it is unrealistic to get over it, , , but have you tried bursting through the wall, , , going around it, , , digging under it, , , doing something different to get over it?

The objective is to get to the other side – right?

Before you walk away, take some time to “think out of the box” a bit and maybe even collaborate with someone who has dealt with these types of obstacles before, , , or possibly has some insight into.

If getting to the other side is worthwhile, don’t give up easily, even if at first you don’t succeed. Keep at it and whittle away at the obstacle, , , perseverance is a powerful attribute and trait of many successful people who dealt with their own “brick walls” before they achieved success, , , people like:

  • Colonel Harland Sanders, creator of Kentucky Fried Chicken – over 60 years old before he franchised his chicken recipe.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 8 elections, failed in two businesses, and had a nervous breakdown –  one of the most remarkable examples of perseverance who became one of the best Presidents in US history.
  • Thomas Edison reportedly failed over 10,000 times in his quest to develop a practical working light bulb – his comment, “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”.

“Brick walls” are made to hurdle. Take a hard look at the obstacles in your situation and tackle them with knowledge, a positive “can do” attitude, , , and persevere. You might be amazed at the result.

Managers earn respect; it doesn’t come with title

How many times have you heard a manager tell someone they have to do something because, “I’m the Manager.”?

I learned early in my management career as a young Marine that you can give an order and the troops will carry it out but when they respect you and understand why the order was given, it’s done with a whole lot more enthusiasm and quality.

A nice title gives you nothing more than to say you have a responsibility for something. Employees, especially bright technical employees, don’t just do what you ask because you are the “manager”. They take their cues and make their moves based upon how their leader motivates them and whether they have confidence in him or her.

Little things like showing respect for people, taking the “hit” when the organization or someone in it fails, stepping up to a difficult employee situation, and giving the team and individual staff members credit for successes are all subtle things that leaders do. It’s what makes people want to follow and go the extra mile for you.

Managers lead by example ever day of the week. Never forget that eyes are watching you to determine how they should react to situations and they are learning from you all the time, , , even when you don’t expect it.

I had a former employee share something with me many years after he had worked for me. There was an event to do with something I did in a staff meeting that I couldn’t even recall, but it had a profound impact on him and became something that he incorporated into his own management style years later.

They are watching, learning, and replicating your actions and behavior into their own approaches. Managers earn respect by action and successes, not words or foolish things called titles.

You owe it to every member of your staff to set the right tone and example in work ethic, treatment of others, and teamwork. It will repay you many times over.

Invest in yourself

Managers need to constantly learn and improve their skills just like all the rest of your staff. Big things can happen when you learn new concepts and techniques that improve your performance.

Some of the best lessons I have learned have been insights gained from watching and observing others. I have also gained a considerable amount of skill by attending formal classes. One of the quickest ways to improve your skill set is to get the “abridged” or condensed version from those who have already walked in the shoes you are walking in now.

The first time down any path can be confusing, vague, difficult, and especially challenging. How many times have you listened to someone explain an issue to you and the “light goes on”? There are all types of educational resources available to you if you want to take advantage of them, , , some formal and some not so formal.

Invest in yourself each year and you will see that the results of your efforts improve considerably over time.

Don’t underestimate the value of having a solid mentor, , , or two. A good coach can save you considerable time and frustration on any number of topics and situations. Good mentors are literally worth their weight in gold because of the differences they can make in your productivity and effectiveness by sharing their experiences that can help you in areas you are seeing for the first time.

Take the knowledgeable path with a mentor; you will have fewer bruises.

How do you pay top salaries to keep your best employees?

The short answer is, “You don’t.” The misconception is that money is the primary driver for employee satisfaction and it truly is not. If it were, you would see much more turnover than occurs in the technology world today.

Every study you will find lists money well down the priority list of issues that are important for employees to remain with their company, , , or why they leave a company. This doesn’t mean that compensation is not important. Certainly, your compensation packages need to be competitive in the local and regional market you are in. But competitive doesn’t mean “over paid” or “highest paid”.

Motivating an IT staff is somewhat an art in that “how you go about” your actions can be just as important as “what you do”. Employees pick up on sincerity (or insincere actions) very quickly. Try to introduce a motivational action and not be sincere about it and it can make things worse.

There are some key things employees want from their manager and their company that motivates them to work hard and stay with you:

  • Training and education – Technical employees have a big need to keep learning and to stay current.
  • Challenge – Motivated employees are busy and need to be challenged.
  • Success – Everyone needs to have successes. The more you can show the results of the work and how important it means to the company the more  your staff will be charged up to do more.
  • Confidence in their manager and company – People want to work with winners, both managers and companies.
  • Trust – Empower your employees to do their job and give them flexibility, tools, and support to get it done, , , then  watch the results, , ,  it might amaze you.
  • Being appreciated – This is a big one. Many IT employees do not feel they are appreciated for their hard work. It’s up to the manager to insure they are appreciated, , , and it starts with you.

Motivation doesn’t happen automatically. It’s up to the manager to do things that motivates your staff, , , you must lead them by doing some of the things listed above.

You want to pay your IT employees well, especially your best people, , , but there is a whole lot more than salary that motivates people to stay with you. Don’t overlook the intangibles such as challenge, respect, professional development, and appreciation, , , they are powerful components in building loyalty and in retaining your best people..

Be careful when cutting IT expenses you don’t cut “muscle”

The big movement in companies for well over a year now has been to cut expenses and reduce the cost of operations. The IT department has not been immune to this push from the top of companies nor should it be.

When revenues decline, stockholders still expect the companies they invest in to operate profitably and to keep the stock price up. What this means is that we have to find cost savings.

I’m a strong proponent of managing company expenses in line with revenues. I’m also a supporter of understanding the IT expense as a percent of company revenue and using it as a measurement guideline.

The problem comes into play when cost cutting initiatives cut into “muscle” as opposed to eliminating “fat”.  There are critical resource requirements to provide basic levels of technology support. In normal cases, a few areas need to have some amount of backup or depth in case a key member of the team leaves for some reason.

When you begin any cost cutting initiative, you should take a very close look at the support needs of the company and how you are organized to provide that support. Identify critical support requirements that must be in place to support core competencies of the company, i.e. the IT “muscle” that’s required.

You want to try to eliminate these key resources and expenses related to the support they provide from your list of potential cost cuts. By identifying the true “muscle” of your IT organization, you help ensure that the primary business support need will be taken care of. Be objective with this exercise and validate with senior management.

If you have “star” staff members in areas that are being looked at to be eliminated, consider shifting them to your core competency support areas, , , but when you do, you may still have to cut staff somewhere in the organization. The point is that the team you want to end up with should be the very best of the staff you have today and when you have to eliminate staff, you owe it to your team and the company to lose the weakest of the bunch.

You must stay objective when doing this – it is a tough assignment.

Always try to find business opportunities that allow you to make IT investments that will save the company much more than what will be saved by cutting IT expense. Most companies have these opportunities but if you wait until the “cost cutting” message comes down, it is too late.

One of your best assets is a track record of success and one that shows you constantly focus on things that provide business value to your company. The more you work in IT the more you will discover that the biggest cost saving opportunities are things you can do to help other departments in the company, , , not usually what you can save in IT. Don’t rule out technology cost savings, , , just be aware there may be bigger fish elsewhere in your company.

We are tops at IT Business Edge

Do you know who IT Business Edge is?

Maybe not, but I’ll bet you probably know TechRepublic, , , right?

Well, the same group of 4 people started both companies. They started TechRepublic from scratch in the 90’s and built it’s readership to one of the largest in the IT industry, , , then sold it to Gartner around 2002. They started IT Business Edge, I believe in 2003.

I’ve worked with both companies quite a bit. In 2001-2003, I wrote over 100 articles on IT management for TechRepublic, , , many of which are still published from time to time.

In 2004, I accidentally discovered IT Business Edge in a phone interview with a writer. We began a joint venture and they started promoting my IT Manager Development Series.

Today, I received an ITBE e-mail promotion and was excited to see that my IT Manager Development Series still tops their list of Premium Tools, , , they have done so since IT Business Edge (ITBE) began telling their readers about them, , ,  for 7 straight years.

Here is the excerpt from the e-mail message I received today:

“most popular Premium Tool we’ve ever offered”

“Our Best Value Ever — And Our Most Comprehensive IT Manager Training Package”

What a great feeling seeing comments like these from ITBE, , , but the best part is the thought of how many IT managers we reach through the efforts of ITBE and other partners like them. If you were to subscribe to one of ITBE’s newsletters, you receive a free copy of my e-book, IT Management-101, , , , just like you do when you subscribe to my newsletter. We know that ITBE has distributed well over 300,000 copies of IT Management-101 since 2004.

Interested in learning more about ITBE’s #1 Premium Product?

Go to ITBE’s web site —-  https://www.itbusinessedge.com/commerce/?c=168

Or go to my web site  —-  www.mde.net/cio

Interested in learning more about IT Business Edge?  Great resources for IT managers!!    Go to   www.itbe.com

Is age discrimination an issue for IT managers?

If you had asked me this a few years ago, I would have said, “probably”. The dot.com boom and the buzz about reengineering the corporation seemed to make senior executives believe that younger, entrepreneurial managers could make all their problems go away quickly and easily.

You know what, there aren’t too many shortcuts. Certainly there are things you can do to improve a business and if it’s in really bad shape, , , you can make big improvements fairly quickly, , , but ultimately, I don’t think there are any “silver bullets”.

All companies have challenges and always will. I have seen a few companies follow the lead of a “smooth talker” thinking that his/her ideas were innovative and that the company could take a major leap forward quickly by casting away all the “old ideas” that had been successful to that point but “slower than what we would like them to be”. We have all seen companies take this leap of faith and watch their stock price go from $50.00 per share to $2.00 because of the fall that occurs when reality sets in.

Since the dot.com blowout in 2000-2002 and this new depressed economy of the last couple of years, I would say that there is a renewed focus on company earnings. In many cases, companies are looking for the veteran CIO or IT Manager with solid credentials in managing IT initiatives cost effectively and a proven track record of achieving tangible results.

It’s now in fashion to have a credible track record and the “t-shirt” that says you have “been there and done that”.

I wouldn’t say there is not some prejudice against older managers but there is definitely more situations where a little gray hair is a benefit and not a liability.

The thing companies look for and need is someone who instills quick confidence and that they believe can come in and make a difference quickly. The better you are in articulating your capabilities and achievements that show you know how to align technology initiatives with business needs that are cost effective, the better your chances.

The real prejudice against an older manager is often that he or she normally costs more. That’s a legitimate concern. However, a solid manager of any age can be worth his weight in gold; and in most cases you get what you pay for.

How about the flip side, do you think there is age discrimination toward young managers? That’s a topic for a later day.

Is it a “bad employee” or something else?

I joined a small company many years ago as the new CIO and as I normally do began my own IT assessment. My approach in assessing a company’s technology situation is to begin with senior management, work my way through company departments that use the technologies supported by IT, and finally go to the IT organization to complete the assessment.

You need to understand what your client thinks about IT support before asking your IT people.

In this case, I heard several managers of the Corporate departments describe one of my IT employee as being unreliable, never sure where she was, slow to complete any project, and on and on. On the other hand, the operational staff in the remote offices had high praise for her.

Interesting, I thought, , ,  we had very different opinions from our client.

There was a big push from several of the corporate departments to fire the employee as she was just “no good”, had a bad attitude and could not do the job.

Be careful what you hear from your clients when you first start in a new management position.  What you hear may not be the facts.

Upon further review, it became clear that the problem was a management issue and not an employee issue. The problems the corporate departments were having stemmed from the fact that this one person was trying to do what three or four people would be required to accomplish. IT was considerably understaffed to meet the basic support needs of the company.

Because this had been an issue for some time, the IT employee simply got caught into a rut of doing all that she could do every day but finally realized it would never be enough so she “worked at it” every day as well as she could.

The employee wasn’t a manager and shouldn’t be expected to manage all the company’s department manager expectations. Her boss should have been doing that. A big part of the problem was that the former CIO wasn’t paying attention to the needs of the business.

My client was correct in expressing dissatisfaction about the lack of support they were receiving, , , they were just getting to the wrong reasons as to what was causing the problems. It wasn’t my employee, , , it was previous IT management not addressing the business support needs of the company.

When the support capacity was addressed to match the need, this employee flourished and users responded accordingly. My CEO even made it a point to mention to me the “turnaround in attitude” of this employee several times. That’s very funny, , , she had a great attitude and was very committed the entire time, , , there was just no way for her to succeed based upon how the previous manager had organized and focused the IT resources.

It would have been easy to get the wrong impression about this employee early on, but the additional due diligence paid off for us all.

Be careful what you hear from your client. Their frustration may be real but the cause of the problem may be entirely different than what they think it is.

Fail to plan, , , plan to fail

A key success factor for any IT Manager is the ability to plan for the future.

Most don’t !

Believe it or not, more IT managers fail to plan than do, , ,  because it’s hard work and much easier to react to issues rather than develop a concise plan of attack.

Executing well and being aligned with your business has a lot to do with how well you plan. Planning is the most significant part of high levels of achievement.

Planning literally puts you in the “driver’s seat”. It establishes clear expectations of  what you will do, when and how. Planning also sends the message to others around you that you are organized, decisive, and willing to make the effort to get the job done properly with minimal surprise and problems.

Many fail to plan because it is easier to “wing it”. When you “shoot from the hip”, surprise, problems, and ultimately failure are right around the corner.

It’s just a matter of time.

None of us are good enough to successfully execute projects and technology initiatives without a solid plan.

Can you imagine a construction company putting up a building without a plan? Or how about a heart surgeon replacing a heart valve without planning the operation thoroughly, , , down to having contingency procedures in place in case the operation doesn’t go well?

Managing an IT organization certainly isn’t heart surgery but the outcome of proper planning is just as predictable in the IT world as in surgery or building construction.

Key thoughts about planning:
–  Planning helps you anticipate major issues
–  Planning organizes your team for success
–  Planning is a leadership quality
–  Planning will enhance your career
–  Planning develops your management insight
–  Planning helps you create predictable results
–  Planning is a requirement and not a “nice to have”

The phrase at the top of this post is a truism, , , don’t allow yourself to fail by not planning. Do your planning work and success is much more achievable.

Great day – US Open and Father’s Day

Every year, my family and I celebrate Father’s Day by watching the US Open golf tournament. This year’s Open was held at Pebble Beach and brought back some very fond memories from 1992.

Our son, Eddie, was a pretty good golfer, , , a 3 handicapper at 15 and he was improving all the time. In 1992, Dorine, Eddie, and I took a trip to Pebble Beach to watch the ’92 US Open. Eddie was 15 and this trip was a very special time that I’ll never forget.

Just six months later, Eddie had a terrible automobile accident and we very nearly lost him. Fortunately, he survived but golf and the bright future he had were taken away. Eddie still likes to watch golf and I’m so thankful that he can understand what’s happening and can communicate about it, , , for a long time during his recovery, he couldn’t. Eddie had to learn everything all over again.

Eddie is one of the most positive people you will meet and he never has a bad day, , , although he deals with pain every day and many other challenges. He is truly thankful that he survived the accident, even though he misses out on so many of the things he would normally be able to participate in.

Eddie is 33 now and today was very special, , , watching the US Open, , , reminiscing about our trip to Pebble Beach in 1992, , , discussing what we thought about Tiger, or Ernie, or Phil’s good and bad shots.

Today was truly a special Father’s Day.

Why do I share this?

In life and in business, we all have ups and downs. How you handle the bad times and what you do about them tells people a lot about your character and your belief system.

Eddie has recovered about 60-70% from where he would be had the accident never happened, , , but the fact that he enjoys life and people he comes in contact with, , , and they enjoy him, , , is a profoundly good thing. Our lives changed forever on January 2nd, 1993 when Eddie had his accident, but because of it we have been blessed by so many things, , , people we have met, , , my career change, , , living back in middle Tennessee, , , so many things to count.

The point is that even though terrible things happen to us all from time to time, it is important to look at the positives that come from them rather than dwell on the negatives. Dorine and I always saw the positive steps Eddie was able to take when many could only see how terrible his situation was.  I don’t say this to suggest Dorine and I have any answers or that we are strong people, , , more appropriately, I think that Eddie’s progress (even though limited) in some part comes from the positive energy and encouragement we were able to create for him.

I remember when he was able to put a baseball cap onto his head by himself for the first time, , , it was an exciting day.

I remember running to the refrigerator when he asked if he could have some apple juice after not drinking any liquids for two years, , , an unbelievable step forward for him.

Life is what you make of it. Our life is different from what we thought it would be, , , but we are so grateful we are able to have the life we have with Eddie.

In business, look beyond the negative situations you may have and to the bigger picture. If your situation is bad, maybe even terrible, , , it will get better, , , plus you don’t have to look very far to find someone who has a much more difficult situation than yourself.

Stay positive and look to the future, , , and enjoy the special days with your family.

By the way, for Father’s Day, Eddie and Dorine gave me a hammock, , , planning to give it a trial run this week. I hope you had as special a Father’s Day as we did here at the Sisco’s.