March 10, 2009

Collegial Apology

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 4:31 am by lindaslongview

The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports.  However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term.  The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success.  To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.

An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial.  When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken.  We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.

Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation.  This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction.  Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful:  A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.

Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”

March 3, 2009

Body like Business?

Posted in Business, Life tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:01 am by lindaslongview

Each of us only gets one body.  From an early age we are trained to care for ourselves — brush & floss our teeth, eat right, exercise regularly, and rest appropriately after illness or injury.  Although most of us do all of these things regularly, it is the last one that can be the most vexing. It is challenging because injury and illness are inherently unplanned, undesirable, and unintended.  Recovering from injury or illness requires expenditures of time and effort to recover that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.”  So there is opportunity to be bitter and angry.  The reality is that there is risk in sports (one cause of injury) and being around others (one cause of illness transmission). It is the payoff: fun in sports or the creation/nurturing of a social/professional connection, that makes the risk worthwhile.

In an analogy to business, routine care is required for operations  — develop products, purchase raw materials, manufacture products, sell products, account for the flow of money and products, and take time to recover from setbacks.  As in illness or injury, setbacks require expenditures of time and effort that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” Similarly, there is risk in business — if it was easy, it would not be a long-term business.  It is the payoff:  money (in a for-profit business), that makes the risk worthwhile.

In both cases (body or business), routine care requires planning, precautions, and prudence.  Yet these cannot prevent all setbacks; they minimize the severity, duration, and frequency.  Thus, in order to be truly successful, we need to take the long view and be disciplined in our recovery from setbacks.  We must expect setbacks, plan to expend time and effort to recover (relative to the risk of the payoff), and not be negative or rushed in our recovery execution.  One way is to buffer projects from uncertainty by realistic planning, disciplined tracking, and adequate resource deployment for recovery using Goldratt’s Critical Chain, all the while staying, persistent, passionate, and positive!

On a personal level, I am working hard to recover an ankle sprain (a moment’s inattention to a pothole in a running trail left my ankle discolored, swollen, and sore).  Since I want to enjoy the wind in my face (from running) for as long as I live (the long view), I am in rehab (toe-raises, gentle stretches, and swimming).  Only nine (9) more days until I can run on my ankle again!  But who is counting?!

March 1, 2009

Identity Matters

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , at 6:44 am by lindaslongview

As our social and professional networks grow larger with time, our human need for identity is ever more paramount.  I learned this lesson from my many colleagues in the technology workplace.

Even though technologists have been stereotyped as robotic (logical, rational, and devoid of emotion), the reality is that having a sense-of-purpose, a unique identity, and an ability to know how we are being measured is critical for our professional success.  These key attributes are summarized (albeit in the negative form) by Patrick Lencioni in his book, “Three Signs of a Miserable Job” as irrelevance, anonymity, and immeasurement.  Just like the employees in Lencioni’s tale, without a clear role in the organization, technologists are challenged to understand their future (the long view) and can readily become hyper-sensitive, wary, and less-productive.

Step #1 for success as a technology manager is creating the long view on behalf of staff and colleagues – providing and nurturing a sense-of-purpose, a unique identity for each technologist, and a measurement system that provides effective performance feedback.  It might seem too time consuming for busy professionals, but it is the single best predictor of managerial performance.

February 27, 2009

Short v. Long

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:34 pm by lindaslongview

Over the past many years, I have had the privilege of analyzing many significant management issues within the technology industry using Goldratt’s thinking process. Each time, I set out to discover the core conflict, I knew that the adventure would be both interesting and challenging to resolve.

What I did not expect was for all of those core conflicts to coalesce to a competition between meeting short-term organizational interests and meeting long-term organizational interests:  short v. long!  At first, I was surprised because the actual manifestations (what people complained about) seemed quite different each time.  However, with time and more examples, I began to realize that the common thread was essentially overly optimistic thinking:  a) if everything goes perfectly and we are lucky, we can meet our goals, or b) we are not sure of our priorities, so let’s just try and do everything.  I found myself asking, why would any rational business behave this way?

Not long after I decoded that common thread, a friend suggested that I read “Stumbling on Happiness” (it’s funny and enlightening; if you are a close personal friend of mine, you’ll probably get a copy for your birthday!)  The answer is we (humans) tend to be irrational!  This idea is not new, novel, or in any way original. In fact, there is an entire scientific domain devoted to these ideas: behavioral economics.

Although it’s not like I crawled out from under a rock without an understanding of the need for discipline in all aspects of life (my family instilled the importance of taking the long view and forgoing immediate gratification just like other families have done for millennia), I am simply taking it deeper.  This weblog chronicles my absorption and application of this increased knowledge and awareness to life, business, technology, and family → kissing immediacy goodbye.

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