Monthly Archives: December 2010

In-house training the easy way

There are many areas where your company can benefit by having “canned” training classes. The tools that are available today are pretty awesome and so easy to use.

What type of training do you do in your company, , , or what would you consider doing if you had something you could provide to people in the company?

Examples might include most anything, such as:

  • New employee orientation from Human Resources
  • Benefits enrollment guides
  • Operations policies and procedures
  • Employee Handbook
  • Change management processes
  • Employee education and training program guide
  • Any number of employee development classes
  • Filling out expense reports
  • Virtually anything your people might need to know
  • Process to fulfill a PC order
  • How to deal with a difficult client
  • Management training

To deliver training by having someone deliver a class is time consuming and costly. But to provide training via an e-Learning class on your Intranet can help boost productivity and get the information to people who need it, , , regardless of where they are in the world.

Some training is pretty static in that it doesn’t change very often. For this type of training, I highly recommend using a PowerPoint plug-in called Articulate Presenter.  You can find it at

I used Articulate to develop our 20 Minute IT Manager training sessions as well as my IT Manager Institute Self Study. It’s a great tool with a very nice and flexible user interface. When installed, it becomes a plug-in option to your PowerPoint application and gives you lots more options than comes just with PowerPoint.

Your Sales and Marketing organizations along with Human Resources and Operations organizations have lots of opportunities to package training, sales collateral, and other information that’s useful for employees, clients, and prospects of your company. Articulate Presenter can be used for many types of projects and is worth taking a look at.

In addition, Articulate QuizMaker is excellent quiz and testing software and integrates into Articulate Presenter or you can run it standalone as you wish.

What will success look like in 2011?

Have you taken a little time to carve out what it will take for you and your team to be successful in 2011? If not, right now is a good time to do it. It’s never too late, you know.

You don’t have to spend hours on this, , , just spend 20-30 minutes of quiet time to define what you think your team should accomplish next year in order to have a successful year. 2011 starts tomorrow, you know.

Some call this developing New Year Resolutions. I tend to think of it as planning a bit about what you want the future to become. I’m a firm believer that we become what we choose to become, , , and we accomplish what we target to accomplish and put focus on.

That’s right, , , believe it or not, each of us is in more control of our own destiny than we think we are at times. I’ve been in some difficult situations in my career where I thought I had no control whatsoever over my career or what was going on around me. In hindsight, I know that I was in much more control than I thought I was, , , at least in control of what would take place for my career. Ultimately, we are always in control of this.

I sat down over the Christmas holidays to define my personal and professional objectives for next year. I had already given the professional side some thought in preparation for our quarterly strategy meeting we have with at the end of every quarter. Thinking about your personal objectives is just as important as I mentioned in my last post.

My company strategy is simple and straightforward and I work pretty hard to keep it that way.  In 2011, I expect to increase the business in key parts and to deliver a few new products that have been in the works. I also plan to begin delivering some online training to reach more managers who aren’t able to attend my classes.

And personally? Got to work more on the golf game to see if I can get it back in shape. The practice and enthusiasm is coming back and hopefully the results will be there this summer.

The point is that we all need to take time to define what we want to accomplish rather than simply drift along like a log floating down the river. We become much more in control of our destiny when we DECIDE what we want and begin planning to make it happen.

Take a few minutes and decide what you need to accomplish to have a successful year in 2011, , , write it down, , , review it weekly, , , and evaluate how much you accomplish at the end of next year. You might just surprise yourself.

Reflection time

About this time every year, I begin to reflect on the past year and have a little career discussion with myself, , , been doing this for as long as I can remember. Comments about me getting older and forgetful will not be necessary.

The question I ask myself is simple, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s also a question I ask most of my employees whenever I conduct a career discussion with them. It’s worth pondering from time to time.

During the holidays, I try to have some “down time” to relax, think about the past year, and to brain storm a bit about what the future might hold for me , , , and for my company, , , and for my family. You see, it’s important to focus on personal objectives as well as business objectives.

I’m a firm believer that you create your own destiny. That’s why I’ve been developing New Year Resolutions since the 1970’s. I even have a journal where I have collected all that I could find to give me somewhat of a historical perspective. I’m missing a few years of my resolutions, but I do have most of the years.

I try to develop two sets of resolutions every year at this time:

  1. Business goals and objectives
  2. Personal objectives

And what I can tell you is that many of the things I’ve accomplished are a result of making them an objective by writing them down in my New Year Resolutions.

Some may think this to be a waste of time. I don’t. Make something a priority, , , write it down, , , look at it every month, , , and you shouldn’t be surprised when you make it happen.

Got to go, , , need to go have some “think tank” time and consider next year’s goals.

Are you a good boss or a great one?

I just read an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, Are You a Good Boss – or a Great One?

The research behind this article suggests most organizations have a group of managers of different levels of competency:

  • a few great managers
  • some capable managers
  • most are mediocre
  • poor managers
  • some awful managers

It’s a classic bell curve as you might expect.

Authors Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback suggest that the primary reason the vast majority of managers becomes “stuck” at levels below GREAT is because they stop working on themselves.

I have to agree with their conclusions because I have seen the same thing in my career in working with thousands of managers. But, I think there is more to the issue:

  • In an IT manager’s case, we often do not know how to develop our management skills
  • In addition, most companies do not have anyone in the company who knows how to develop an IT manager’s management skills
  • If you look for training for an IT manager, good luck in finding something practical that works in a true operational management situation

Let me comment on this final point. In every IT Manager Institute program I deliver, I continue to hear managers say they have been looking for help but could not find anything until they stumbled upon my information.

It’s a big reason I devoted my life to developing practical tools and training to help IT managers achieve more success ten years ago.

How can a manager become “Good” or “Great”?

First of all, your objective should be to become a GREAT manager. The authors of the HBR article suggest you need to ask yourself, “How good am I?” or “Do I need to be better?”

Take a look at the bell curve above. Where would you place yourself? Most would rate themselves a bit better than their actual performance would indicate.

A better question, “Where would your clients (senior managers and Department managers of your company) rate your performance as a manager?”

The good news is that there is a path to becoming a GREAT IT manager. It’s available to you if you choose to invest in yourself, , , and investing in yourself and your career is something we should all be doing for our entire career. For example, I try to invest in at least two training programs a year that will help me become a better small business owner.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the HBR article, , , it is well worth your time.

Happy Holidays from ITLever

Take a look at our annual Christmas Letter and card sent to family and friends this year. We have included a letter with our card since 1994.

Our 2010 Christmas card

We hope your holidays are some of your very best.

Travel woes with a silver lining

The week in Tanzania went exceedingly well plus the travel to get there was non-eventful, , , just like you want your travel to be.

It would all change on my return trip.

Challenges began before I left the hotel for the Dar es Salaam airport.

The hotel notified me that my flight was delayed due to bad weather in Amsterdam so I held off leaving for the airport until 10:00pm. When I got there, we received a communication stating our flight would leave at 4:30am, , , 4 hours late due to the weather in Amsterdam where I was to make a connection to Detroit. Doesn’t look good to make the connection.

No worries. When you travel as much as I do (and have in my career), you learn to become flexible, , , sort of like managing IT resources. Panic and you are doomed.

This is only the beginning. I’ll give you the rest of the story in bullet form to describe the challenges of a 60+ hour trip home, , , a bit longer than the 27 hours it was planned to take.

  • Because of the poor weather in Amsterdam, the Dar airport staff would not check our bags all the way through to our final destination, , , makes sense because they want the bag to stay with the traveler. If we check baggage, we must pick it up in Amsterdam and book a new flight to our destination. I decide to check one bag. Here is where I make a big mistake as you will learn later. Hindsight is 20-20.
  • We are told all outbound flights from Amsterdam are canceled and the weather is getting worse. “If you go to Amsterdam, you are on your own.” I decide to take my chances, , , a lot more options from Amsterdam.
  • Flight from Dar to Amsterdam leaves at 4:30am (4 hours late). I have already been waiting for the flight 12 1/2 hours. The flight is only 50% full so I have an open seat beside me. It’s a very pleasant flight and I’m able to do some work, , , but the fun is still ahead.
  • We arrive in Amsterdam so I go through Customs and then to Baggage Claim to pick up my luggage, , , no problems at all. So far so good.
  • Having never been to this part of the Amsterdam Airport, I have to learn how to navigate and find the appropriate ticket agent(s) to reschedule a flight to somewhere in the US, , , not always so easy finding your way around a new airport, , , and this one has twenty times the people it should have in it. Learning where to go is one thing, , , getting there will be a challenge in itself.
  • I learn the KLM ticket agents are in Terminal 2 so I head that way. Quickly, it is obvious there are thousands of passengers trying to get to a ticket agent on the 2nd level of the building.
  • Being a logical guy, I decide to go downstairs and make my way to Terminal 2 area where I’ll go back upstairs to find a ticket agent. This works great, , , not a huge crowd on Level-1 and I make good time. No pushing or wiggling my way through the crowds, , , it is normal levels of people down here on Level-1. I think to myself, “Proud of you for figuring this out, Mike.”
  • I go up to the Terminals 2-3 area and there is a huge crowd. It is packed like sardines. After making several wrong moves I figure out there is construction work that prevents me from getting to the Terminal 2 area, , , where I need to be. It’s wall to wall people and we all are a bit lost.
  • Finally, I decide to go outside to walk around the crowd to get to Terminal 2 entrance, , , the problem is that all entrance doors to Terminal 2 are closed due to the construction, , , so I have to walk back down to Terminal 1 to get back in. I could go back in Terminal 3, , , but you simply cannot get to Terminal 2 from Terminal 3 due to the construction. It’s a real dilemma, so we are off to re-enter the building at Terminal 1 where I started from earlier.
  • In the meantime I have talked to my wife, Dorine, to explain my situation and she goes online to learn that my Detroit flight is flying after all, , , just postponed. The problem is that it leaves in about 30 minutes. Hindsight is 20-20, , , if I had kept my baggage, I would have already been in the gate area and it would be a short walk to the new gate, , , but because I checked a bag, I had to pick up my luggage in Baggage Claim and now have to try to work through hundreds and hundreds of people to get a boarding pass in order to reach the Gate area. Good lesson here if you have a similar situation, , , even though it is a hassle, keep your luggage with you if it can’t be sent all the way to your final destination, , , it might give you options that help you reach your destination.
  • I go back inside to Terminal 1 and start making my way to the Terminal 2 ticket agents. The hallway is wall to wall people, but because I’m a Delta Platinum flyer, I can go to a special ticketing area, , ,  so I work my way through the outside lane of the crowd to get there. It’s a struggle.
  • When I get there, there are 300 people waiting to see 8 agents in the Elite Boarding zone. It’s a lot, but there must be 3,000 waiting in line to see an agent in the lines I just passed. No way most of them get to an agent in less than 6 hours if they do at all today.
  • There is still hope. All the self check-in kiosks are open so I walk up to one to check in and print my boarding pass (I’ll take my bags with me, I’m thinking).
  • Check-in appears to be going well until I get the boarding pass. It says: Your flight is already loading and you do not have sufficient time to get to your gate. Please see a desk agent.
  • Great , , , only 300 people there and 15 minutes before my Detroit connection departs, , , we can rule out making the Detroit connection, so I call Dorine again as I get in the line to see an agent. She has become my unofficial ticket agent. We are working with Delta agents on the phone, , , we aren’t going to just wait until we can get up to see an agent with this crowd.
  • Dorine quickly finds another flight, , , one to Memphis in an hour. She also tells me that if we miss this one, it will be Monday (2 more days) before I can get out as all Sunday flights appear to be booked solid.
  • I make a calculated gamble to lose my place in line and go back to the kiosk to see if I can print a boarding pass for the Memphis flight.
  • Looks good until I get the boarding pass, , , same comment as the first one I received, , , See a desk agent.
  • Back in line, , , it’s de ja vu all over again and I begin singing in my head the Porky Pig rendition of, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
  • After some considerable time, I reach an agent. He thinks I have a chance to make the Memphis flight and he takes my luggage, , , but when he calls down to confirm I can get on the plane, they tell him they have already finished the loading process and won’t take anyone else. I just missed a 2nd outbound flight to the US.
  • Rats !!$#F^%*%# , , , but there is a possible light at the end of this tunnel. I just can’t tell if it is “light” or a train coming my way.
  • The agent books me on an Atlanta flight for Sunday morning at 10:20am (the next day), but he can’t confirm a seat, , , still some risk here.
  • Now, I settle into the fact I’m here in the airport for the night. It is now 3:00pm Saturday afternoon Amsterdam time. I have been waiting or flying for 25 hours already.  Have you seen the Tom Hanks movie, Terminal? I will meet a nice elderly lady who lives in the airport tonight. I was impressed with her generosity and how smart she seemed to be in the few conversations we would have.
  • Back downstairs where its a bit more normal, , , getting there is one royal pain squeezing through the crowd but I make it.
  • Exchange some dollars for Euros so I can eat and then it’s time to check the place out. What a nice airport, , , I mean it is one of the best I’ve been in, , , so I quickly decide things could be a lot worse and they certainly are upstairs. Turns out there are restaurants open all night and finding a seat to sit in down here is no problem on Level-1. Sure glad I have a sweatshirt and jacket as it’s quite cool in here.
  • I must have called Dorine 10 times during the night to keep her posted (daytime in Tennessee). She has been working hard to get me home, and I appreciate her so much.
  • Delta ticket agents will arrive at 6:00am. For some reason, I decide to go there at 5:00am and it’s a good thing, , , already 30 people in line and by 6:00am there must be 200 people waiting in essentially 3 lines although there are some 20 workstations for ticket agents. Another lesson, anticipate the challenges ahead and get a head start on everyone else. Had I gone there at 8:30 as suggested on my boarding pass, there is no way I would have made this flight.
  • At 6:00am, two agents come out, , , and you guessed it, they sit down at workstations where no one is lined up. Everyone leaves the three lines they were in and scramble to make two lines, , , it’s a bit chaotic to say the least but no punches were thrown.
  • I’m #7 in my line and after 45 minutes, I get checked in. No confirmed seat assignment, but I  have a boarding pass and I’m cleared to go to the gate, , , plenty of time to make the flight, , , only question is if I can get assigned a seat from the gate agent.
  • When they open the gate for security clearance, I’m one of the first and sure enough, I get a seat assignment, , , and it’s 1st class.
  • It’s a great flight to Atlanta and then to Nashville, , , after more than 60 hours of waiting for flights and flying, I finally arrive back home.

Had I not made the Sunday Atlanta flight, there is a good chance I would still be stuck in London’s Heathrow Airport right now as I was to go through Heathrow with the Monday flight we had scheduled as a back-up plan, , , I could easily still trying to get back home.

As it turned out, my Sunday flight to Atlanta was completely booked but only 70% full because people could not get past the huge bottleneck at the ticket agents desk. The gate areas and Level-1 had normal levels of people in them, but the Ticket Agent area was where most of the people were, , , and it was one huge log jam of people.

You would think the airlines would be able to learn from this and find a way to eliminate such a bottleneck, , , they lose millions in revenue when this happens.

After all the pain (and it certainly wasn’t as bad for me as many of the others who may still be standing in line), there is a silver lining to the story. Being marooned in the Amsterdam airport isn’t all that bad and getting bumped up to first class worked out well. Let’s wait and hold full judgment until we get next month’s phone bill, , , all those international cell phone calls to Dorine are going to add up to some big expense, , , but I think it is worth it to keep her posted. Another lesson, , , over communicate when there are problems, , , it reduces tension and worry.

I decided to document this series of events because it goes down as one of my memorable travel events, and there have been many in my career. 🙂  Plus, there are lessons worth knowing about if you find yourself in a similar situation.

When you have difficulties, it is imperative you use patience and keep positive thoughts , , , things will eventually work themselves out, but only if you develop a strategy and go make it happen.

It is also good to know you can and should use online resources and the phone to work with airline ticket agents to help you reroute. Standing in line and waiting to see someone takes time and you may find all the flights booked when you finally do reach a ticket agent. Take initiative and be proactive, , , it will get you home quicker.

Persevere, be patient, and use the resources available to you to reach your destination.

I am home for Christmas!!

My first trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar es Salaam is located on the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. I have been wanting to go there since holding my first IT Manager Institute in 2003. You see, one of the students in that very first class was from Dar.

Edward (Ted) Makwaia flew all the way to Nashville, Tennessee to attend my first Institute program. So did Kenneth Wakati who attended class #4 in 2004. It was Kenneth who worked for several years to bring the Institute to Tanzania so his Tanzania Revenue Authority management team could benefit from the program.

Tanzania was much like I thought it would be. The people are friendly, hospitable,  polite, and warm, , , they made me feel very welcome. The weather is also very warm. By 7:30am it is already in the high 70’s or around 25 Celsius. The sun is bright and warms you up quickly. Not bad when it is 20 degrees or -6 Celsius in my home.

I stayed at the Sea Cliff Hotel sitting on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Breakfast was a special event every morning, , , it’s always one of my favorite meals when I travel.

One of the views from the Sea Cliff Hotel

I enjoyed this class and found everyone to be very attentive and focused, , , pretty serious you might say, , , but aren’t most people in IT? To say they fit the personality type of an IT employee is putting it mildly. When I covered the personality traits of typical IT employees on the first day, you could see many in the room were recognizing it in themselves and others.

IT Manager Institute #43 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – December 2010

Here are a few more photos as we panned around the classroom and asked them to give us a wave.

It was a fun class and I’ll always have fond memories of my first trip to Tanzania. This makes my 3rd trip to Africa this year having delivered Institute classes in Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa earlier in the year.

I always think I’ll make several ITLever posts while on these trips, but the days simply rush by when I teach all day, , , and the old man of the sea is pretty tired when he gets back to the hotel at the end of the day.

This trip was a bit longer than planned as you will learn in my next post.

Take my quick IT Manager Evaluation Exam

Take this simple exam and identify how you stack up. Quick and easy, even some fun.

This exam was produced using a great product called QuizMaker, , , part of the Articulate family of products we used to develop our IT Manager Institute Self Study and the 20 Minute IT Manager courses. The Self Study allows you to achieve your IT Business Manager Certification (ITBMC) status when you pass the exams in the program.

Headed to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

On Friday, I fly to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the east coast of Africa. It will be my first visit there so I’m excited and anxious at the same time.

The Tanzania Revenue Authority is hosting the 5-day IT Manager Institute and I’ll be able to see several of my past students. It’s always good to reconnect with my “old friends”, , , one of many benefits of my job.

Looks like we have about 15 managers who will attend so this will be a good class. My hotel looks out over the Indian Ocean so I should get a few good photos and post them for all to see in a few days.

Look for my posts of the 43rd IT Manager Institute in Tanzania next week.

In my crystal ball I see, , ,

As a Senior Consultant for Cutter Consortium, I’m asked to forecast the future of technology. Take a look at my Blog Post on Cutter’s Blog at as I look into my crystal ball.