Daily Archives: August 6, 2010

“Take time to smell the roses along the way”

This weekend starting today, I plan to take three days off from my business to play in the annual Hohenwald Golf Club Invitational golf tournament. It’s a 9-hole course where I grew up and learned to play golf. I have hundreds of great memories there including a double eagle on #9.

Four of us have played in this tournament together for many years (26 or 27 years we think), and we have a great time. It is one of the few times we can get together each year and the fun we have has some great benefits.

I work on most days including weekends because I truly enjoy what I’m doing at my company. Even so, it is important to find the time to “remove yourself” from the business and just get away for a few days. If you don’t you run the risk of “burn out”.

We all need to “recharge” our bodies and minds at times to keep ourselves positioned for maximum performance. All work and no play will ultimately become a burden and when that happens we start losing interest, our focus isn’t as good, and ultimately our productivity and results of our work are diminished.

It is vitally important for each of us to take some time to have fun in life if we are to be solid contributors over a long stretch of time. I must admit that it is easier for me to say this than to practice it at times. My office is in my home and unless I’m on the road teaching one of my classes, I’m usually in the office developing new content or taking care of business.

Having my office in my home has many benefits (no commute, flexibility, etc.), but it also has some drawbacks as well (the work is always right there). Unless I force the issue, you might find me in my office for days without ever leaving because I literally get so involved in what I’m doing. My wife jokes with me at times and suggests that she sees less of me now than when I used to commute to an office every day. I’m fairly certain she is exaggerating, but I do tend to put in a lot of hours.

Enough about me, but I hope you are starting to pick up the essence of my message.

There are two things you should always try to do when managing a staff of technology people:

  1. Require people to take at least two weeks off every year for vacation and get them out of the office.
  2. Create a “fun” atmosphere at work.

Getting people’s productivity to a high level is dependent upon them enjoying their work to a certain extent and definitely in their being able to enjoy their work environment. Create an unhappy, miserable work environment and productivity is going to be low.

Creating an enjoyable work environment doesn’t mean that you require less of your staff. It’s about how you go about the work, showing appreciation for individual and team efforts, and staying focused on issues that make a real difference for your company. Winning organizations do certain things very well:

  • Succeed in their objectives
  • Work as a team
  • Maintain positive attitudes
  • Deliver high levels of client service

An unhappy staff does not stay focused nor will they go “the extra mile” to support your client. A staff that is not motivated and does not work as a team essentially does only what it takes to get by. That type of attitude is a cancer that eats away at your team’s productivity and true potential.

In looking back at my 30-plus years of working in a technology environment, I can tell you that my fondest memories are when I was part of a winning team. Every one of those teams were focused and had fun together. Winning is contagious and helps promote teamwork and more successes.

The journey is just as important as reaching the destination.

What I mean by this is that when you can create a fun environment where people enjoy what they are doing, the process of achieving the result makes it much more worthwhile. It also creates a self sustaining environment where you position your team for more successes.

As you get older, you begin looking closer at the “quality of life” you have. At some point, most of us will simply not work in an environment if we don’t enjoy it. Life is simply too short to be miserable in our job, , , so we look elsewhere.

What can you do to create a “fun” environment?

1.  Define your targets –  Your employees need to know what the objectives are just as much as your clients need it.

2.  Communicate with your staff –  Your IT staff hungers to know what’s going on, how they are doing, , , and they look to their manager to keep them informed. Take every opportunity to communicate regularly with your employees. I use several methods and recommend all of them for you to use:

  • Monthly staff meetings
  • Team meetings
  • Project meetings
  • Individual coaching sessions
  • Employee performance planning and review sessions
  • Walking around and “visiting” your employees in their area

Not only will these sessions motivate your staff and gain their loyalty, it gives you such a great opportunity to stay close to what’s going on in the organization and stay in touch with your employees.

3.  Invest in your employees –  Technical people want to learn more and develop their skills. This is one of the strongest motivators you have, even more so than salary. Most of our technical employees respond well when they know you are investing in them and developing their skills to help improve their capabilities.

4.  Coach employees for better performance –  Help your employees achieve more success by coaching them on what it takes to be more successful. Be positive and constructive, never criticizing.

5.  Reward positive behavior –  Rewarding the behavior that leads to success will cause other employees to follow that lead. We all want to succeed and when we see what gets rewarded, we will try to make it happen for ourselves.

6.  Be a positive force –  Employees watch your actions and attitudes. Maintaining a positive outlook even under difficult circumstances helps your team stay positive.

7.  Appreciate your staff –  Be genuine in your appreciation of your IT staff’s efforts. They can sense whether you are sincere or not. Caring for people and their success is a strong element in creating loyalty. Loyal employees will go the extra mile for you and the team, but it’s a two-way street. Give true appreciation and you will receive much better efforts.

8.  Initiate “fun” activities –  Do things to break up the day to day grind and routine. One of the fun things I always liked to do was to bring in boxes of ice cream sandwiches or popsicles and pass them out in the afternoon. Little things like this are inexpensive, easy to do, and show that you care about your employees, , , plus if you like ice cream like I do it really is fun.

9.  Take your vacation and require employees to do the same –  Getting away recharges you and helps you maintain a positive focus. It is important for everyone to take time away from the office and the pressures of the job.

10.  Be your team’s advocate –  Telling others about the successes of your team and the progress the IT organization is making is vitally important. Employees appreciate a manager who promotes what they are doing and who works to see that others realize the hard work and effort that’s being put forth.

11.  Remind your team of their successes –  It’s very easy to forget the accomplishments and to focus on the problems. Positive things happen throughout the year. Track them and remind your employees of these successes. Remember, small successes lead to bigger successes. Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to create the right kind of momentum.

Working in an IT organization can be tough work and stressful for all of us at times. Help reduce the stress of your organization by making the environment more fun for your employees. Productivity will increase and everyone will enjoy the work more. It will also help you retain your good employees and will create loyalty among your staff like you’ve never seen before.

Best of success, , , and have some fun along the way, , , and wish me well in this weekend’s golf tournament.

Make budgeting a breeze by preparing now

In just a few weeks, many companies will begin their budgeting process for 2011. You can get a real jump on the effort to come by following a few preparation suggestions.

For most IT managers budgeting is an ordeal and one royal headache that fortunately only comes around once a year. Yes, it does take a certain amount of work, but when you have a simple process to follow and tools that truly help you in the effort it can be a breeze.

I go about my entire management process in a way that makes things easy for me. Call me lazy if you want to, but the bottom line is that I just don’t like to work hard to accomplish some of the things I know have to happen. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a very hard worker as anyone who has worked with me will attest. I just refuse to work hard on things that ought to be simple and easy to do. Budgeting an IT organization falls into that category.

The reason budgeting is hard for many IT managers is that they lack an understanding of how to go about it and don’t have the proper tools to help them. The first step of the process is to prepare, so let’s begin.

Start a Budget – 2011 file folder and begin collecting the following:

2009 and 2010 Profit and Loss (P&L) Trend Report – You want the report or reports that list the month by month trend of expenses your IT organization has incurred for the last 12 to 18 months. Trends will help you see your spending pattern for each expense category as well as major expense “spikes” incurred in the past that may relate to annual or semi-annual vendor payments. These “spikes” can be tangible.

Employee salary report –  You should maintain an employee roster with annual salary, bonus terms (if any), and expected new positions for the coming year. A tool is included in my IT Budgeting book just for this purpose. In general, if you budget your salary and benefits part adequately, you have over 70% of your budget completed. Maintaining an organization salary list  makes this part a simple and quick process.

Vendor contract log –  When you have a vendor list that includes contract terms, you can budget this part quickly plus be certain that you have anticipated any possible contract price increases that are built into a contract.

Telecom circuit log –  If you have several remote office connections, you will want to pull out your Telecom circuit list to quantify the ongoing monthly telecom costs. You can also list possible office openings which have estimated one-time implementation costs to get started and ongoing monthly telecom costs. Maintaining this list for a large set of remote offices makes budgeting this part easy and gives you the tool to reconcile your telecom vendor invoice each month as well.

2011 strategy & project initiatives list  – You can’t develop a comprehensive budget if you don’t have a good idea about the large projects you will be working on for next year. Large project initiatives have cost implications that need to be budgeted. One of the last things I will do when building my operational budget is to walk back through next year’s anticipated projects to determine if I have the major cost issues covered in my operational plan (budget). Your project initiatives may change in the actual year, but if you have included the big projects you believe will be worked on you will usually have changes covered in your plan.

Start asking questions –  Some of the “extra cost” efforts have to do with supporting your company’s operational units. For example, when a remote office moves to a new building because they have outgrown their existing building, there are IT expenses related to supporting such an effort. Now is the time to start getting inside your operational manager’s heads to get a feel for what they are planning to do in the coming year, , , many of their plans require IT support and you better know about them.

Employee training plan –  If you have not started developing an Employee Education & Training Plan, now is the time to start. Your IT staff loves to learn new things and to improve their professional skills. Training is one of the best motivators you have for keeping IT people committed to your company and motivating them to do more. It is an investment you can’t afford to miss out on and will reward your employees as well as your company.

New hire expectations –  You want to have a good assessment of all new hire positions planned in the company as it will affect supporting new hire startups and the purchase of equipment, license agreements, etc.

Major expense items analysis – In an IT organization budget, you may have 40 to 50 expense categories, , , but for most organizations there will 6 to 8, maybe 10 expense categories that make up 85-90% of your budget. Identify from past Profit and Loss Reports these major expense categories and be sure you understand the full implications of each of them, , , and anything that can impact the amount you spend in them the next year.

Budgeting is about anticipating future activities and estimating  the costs related to those activities.

Book_IT BudgetingPull this information together and budgeting becomes much easier. Learn how to apply appropriate “buffers” in the right places and you will always achieve your business plan.

Learn more in IT Budgeting: operational and capital budgeting made easy.