October 4, 2011
It’s been awhile since I have had time to blog. First it was a new job and finding my way around, then the broken toe and the recovery process, and then just the usual drama when associated with raising teens…
I’m taking a break week between jobs. It wasn’t that I wasn’t satisfied in my last job; it was truly that a better opportunity found me. Because I believe that I will cultivate more positivity with the newer opportunity, I made the change. And I got a week to relax, rejuvenate, and blog…
Over the prior two weeks, I wanted to be sure that I had left my old gig well, completing technical reports, effectively transferring knowledge and information, and reinforcing the positives with my many wonderful colleagues. Although it probably looked “effortless” to those around me, it took time, effort and was quite stressful.
Being the data junkie that I am, I was delighted to see that the effects are measurable. When I reviewed my heart-rate (HR) results from my regular Sunday runs (which are essentially the same week-to-week, 6.8 miles in about 1 hour exactly), clear differences emerge when reviewing time spent in each HR zone over the duration of the run:
Three weeks before my last day –> Normal:
The week before my last day –> Redlined:
The week after my last day – Relaxed:
The more detailed data shows that normally, I am running about a 9:00/mile pace, and get near 7:00/mile pace at the end of the run when I sprint the last few hundred yards. Even though my heart was working harder when stressed, I was actually going SLOWER. When relaxed, my heart was working less and I was going FASTER (just a little).
It proves the point that too much stress is a very bad thing AND it shows that my normal isn’t actually that far from my relaxed. Isn’t that cool?
I am looking forward to my new job, but I hope I can find a little more time to blog.
February 12, 2010
I got one of my clients to use BaseCamp (very cool workplace networking and project dashboard platform). It was clear to me that they could benefit due to the geographic diversity of their team and their need to increase visibility of their project work. For this client, BaseCamp was instantly successful and they now collaborate more effectivley (than before) commercializing some very promising technology.
BaseCamp itself solves project visibility issues for team members, but instantly creates the proverbially “cannot see the forest for the trees” problem for project managers (PMs). It’s just not possible to get a top-level, Gantt view of projects, tasks (to-dos), and milestones inside BaseCamp. But….
I became a raving fan even before I spent a penny with them. Here’s why….
I noticed in the Trial IntelliGantt Add-In (FREE) that my BaseCamp imports of completed-tasks were not shown as complete yet associated Milestones indicated progress in MS Project. I wrote to John at TeamDirection and explained the problem. Over the course of a few days, we worked together by phone and by web – John even joined us at our BaseCamp until he understood and could resolve the problem.
The fix was dramatic – a wow moment, like putting glasses on for the first time! The quality of the data import was now high fidelity and aligned exactly as I would expect to see it in MS Project. I loved even more that he thanked Linda on the software update for helping them. :*)
- Build relationships with your users. Creating connection encourages honest, timely communication.
- If your customer calls you to complain or seek advice, THANK them, encourage narratives, and listen for information in the details.
- Fix what isn’t right without excuse and be grateful for the opportunity.
Thanks John and TeamDirection!
If you are BaseCamping, are you IntelliGantting? (I’m buying the Add-In!)
December 6, 2009
It’s easy to benchmark size when rating performance – it is visible and typically easy to measure. Yet other less accessible attributes can contribute importantly to success: agility, competence, experience, focus, knowledge, patience, skill, strategy, etc. Because these other attributes are less visible and are harder to assess, we often choose to measure on the basis of a simple benchmark like size.
In June, I got agitated about “how much playing time?” my son received at a tournament (see Applied to Soccer). Although my long view leadership advice in that post has merit, I now realize that on a systemic basis, I oversimplified my son’s soccer situation. There was more to learn and assess…
In the case of sports, bigger players benefit from their size on two counts: 1) they are physically more powerful and 2) youth coaches often select larger players over their smaller teammates on the reasoning “you cannot coach size,” and give them more opportunity early (for example, more playing time on game day).
However, having more diligently watched the dynamics of my son’s development as a soccer player a few more months, I now realize that being small (for a longer duration) is only a near-term disadvantage in terms of opportunity (passed over for the boys who have grown bigger earlier). In subtle ways, smaller boys, like my son, benefit from their size disadvantage over the long-term because they cultivate their game differently. For example, my son has impressive knowledge of the tactics and strategy of the game. His skill, agility, and speed are his primary tools for success (different emphasis than his larger teammates). When he finally achieves improved size parity within the next few years (he has more growth left than those who have grown early), perhaps like Lionel Messi, he will still be reasonably competitive due to his quiet mastery of the less visible attributes of the game?!
Today’s observation is simply a personal reminder to engage in long-view thinking everywhere when learning:
- Expand observations,
- Increase knowledge, and
- Cultivate more complex thinking for improved accuracy (include more attributes in mental models).
As a result of my agitation, I paid greater attention to the team dynamics, learned much, and now realize that it is all part of the beautiful game.
Nevertheless, I wish my son increased joy (and playing time) as he auditions for a different team in a slightly less competitive league. 🙂
Are you constantly expanding observations, increasing knowledge, and cultivating more complex thinking everywhere?
July 19, 2009
My husband is a wonderful guy, constantly giving back to the community in so many ways. One example, he donates blood – he knows that the community counts on him especially in the summer because there is always a shortage. Drip, drip, drip…yesterday morning, he got up early to donate blood.
When he returned from donating, he expressed frustration about the service. As he recounted a tale about the person who handled his “in-take” – they wasted his time, denigrated his offer of assistance to find his recent travel destination on the map, and was rude. I realized once again how lucky the world is that he is so calm, unflappable, and honorable. Had I been in the same situation, frustrated would not be the word choice to describe how I would have felt…
Considering the importance of keeping eligible donors returning at regular intervals to donate blood to create blood supply (the only source of raw material), it is simply shocking that the blood center does not ensure that donors have an amazing experience.
As my husband recounted his blood center tale, I recalled the advice I gave previously in Proverbial Zebra about the importance of knowing the organizational constraint and understanding the pivotalness of staff roles. That key advice came from Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad) and applies directly to a customer service organization like the blood center. In fact, the authors use two different customer service roles at Disneyland to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers.
At Disneyland, there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal. However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland. Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy. Pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.
In the bloody supply business that is in chronic shortage and in need of donors, the organizational constraint is recruiting eligible donors. So, if the Blood Center were to review staff roles relative to the constraint, there is not too much differentiation from a “donor” point-of-view” between the worst lab technician and the best lab technician (assuming baseline competence) – not pivotal. However, there is a significant difference between the worst “in-take” technician and the best “in-take” technician – very pivotal. “In-take” technicians that are knowledgeable of world geography (where has the donor visited in the last six months that might exclude them), charming (able to make comforting small talk through the finger-prick and blood pressure testing), and efficient (every donor minute wasted reduces the chance of return) make a big difference in the overall blood center experience and will affect the willingness of donors to continue to donate.
My long view advice to any blood center is that they need to be proactive about deploying excellence in “in-take” technicians. It is not an entry-level position that can be delegated to the lowest common denominator in the organization or the blood supply will suffer over the long-term. As noted before, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint — access to blood NOW and in the FUTURE. Do not count on a donor’s sense of duty or Oreo cookies to sustain donor returns. Select staff for “in-take” positions that are knowledgeable, charming, and efficient and then compensate them for doing these things well because it matters!
Do you know what staff positions are pivotal in your organization?
June 23, 2009
- Relativistic comparisons: “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.” (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
- Loss aversion: “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)
These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:
- Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team. Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
- Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters. Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer). Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
- Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance. (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)
This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development. I felt them as a soccer mom.
The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold: win games and develop players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury). The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players. Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games. This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.
My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials. During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback. At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?! Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games. Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…
Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys. He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible. He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time. With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.
This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…
My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament. Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team. The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games. My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final. Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.
It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final. Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.
From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):
- Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
- Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players. It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
- Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient. Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.
I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence. Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:
- Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
- Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).
I am not sure that will happen spontaneously. I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.
Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively? What is your perspective? Do you have advice?
March 28, 2009
As a process development specialist, measurement advice, admonitions, and charges are entirely imbedded in my psyche. As I think about measurement, the two adages that immediately surface in my mind are Goldratt’s observation: “Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave” (this is about the behavior of people in organizations) and Deming’s popularization of what has now become the Six Sigma mantra of “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control” (this is about improving inanimate processes).
The challenge with measurement is sometimes it is hard to figure out how to measure something or collect the data in real-time. I, for one, have developed some of the kookiest measurement schemes ever (if you are interested, ask). Yet some measurements do not lend themselves to monitoring over time – they do not become systems or processes. As such, I have always been a bit envious of internet based processes and marketing campaigns for which is almost trivial to collect data real-time.
As a hard-core data junkie, when I read Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, I was in awe and intensely jealous of the ease with which definitive process improvements were possible. However, I read a blog post yesterday that reminded me that even though it is may be easier to measure and improve (some?) marketing campaigns, organizations sometimes do not take the long view and measure performance!
So, even though it is well known that measurement is a key to success over the long view, organizations require constant reminders to measure their success. Consider this your reminder…plan your systems to include measurement and build them that way!
Do you have a measurement story?
March 19, 2009
When I speak to executive recruiters, they are often surprised by the breadth of my success, which includes serial cross-pollination across several industries (semiconductors, high performance materials, and biotechnology) bringing emerging technology to commercialization. However, this breadth makes me the proverbial zebra when technology leadership profiles are tilted toward acute technical demands and expertise, rather than sustainable (long view) technical organization development (technical challenges are heard as hoof beats connected to horses rather than zebras). Although it is unusual for technologists to seek adventure in uncharted territory, for me, the allure of mastering new technology and contributing to commercialization brings me joy.
How can one tell whether the organizational constraint* occurs in the specific technology or within the technology organization? An understanding of the needed roles (technical problem solving, organizational leadership, strategic planning) and the degree to which they are pivotal determine the profile of the desired candidate. In Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad), the authors use a Disneyland example to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers. It turns out, that there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal. However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland. Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy. In a sense, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.* In a technical organization, there is differing pivotalness for technical specificity and organizational leadership.
I will be most successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is sustainable development and can capitalize on my system strengths (generalizing core concepts to new environments) that enable fast forward execution. I will not be successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is an immediate technical issue for which I have no deep personal expertise and limited access to leveraging others’ expertise.
As I embark on seeking my next adventure, I am buoyed by the rise in sustainable (long view) advice for organization building. From Pfeffer, What Were They Thinking: Unconventional Wisdom About Management (pg.129): “In companies, particularly entrepreneurial companies, persistence and resilience are crucial for success. That’s because it is almost invariably the case that products will need to be redesigned and strategies and tactics changed on the path to market.” The zebra is the new high-value breed.
(*Note: The organizational constraint is the thing that prevents the organization from making more money now and in the future.)
March 1, 2009
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.