A few years ago before leaving the States for Asia, which was after the dot-bomb mushroom cloud was settling down, my good friend was repeatedly telling me that Asia was nothing like what the papers was telling me. Specifically, no matter what I was reading about the advancement of India or the so-called “Tiger economies”, the people were different and different from the ones I knew in the US. So this leads to the saying attributed to a friend of a friend was my indoctrination to the world of the Asian workplace – “I expect excuses and failures”.
And he was right, in a way you simply cannot imagine until you are here. Even now, I am still taken aback at times with the full impact of this simple truth.
This, creates major issues for me due to my personality style and my management style. One of my favorite bloggers, RandinRepose, wrote about this example (of me). He told a little story about a boss/mentor that he termed “The Leaper”. I’ve no doubt that some of my team members get this treatment unintentionally. Sometimes though, I use this style purposefully because it’s a bit like my law school socratic method (check out this great story of it in practice) – an excellent teaching methodology IMO.
But anyways, readng Rand’s illustration of his Leaper boss was like looking at myself in the mirror in ways I was uncomfortable (because I don’t like being “aggressive” in this manner) with but there I am/was – “Hello there!” Hmmm. Yup, definitely a thinking moment…because it’s a point where some action or plan is just soo needed. Hmmm.
While it makes me uncomfortable with this, I’m a bit at a loss in terms of how else to move people who are content – fat, dumb, and happy. The easy answer is to replace them, but the pool of talent is from the same pond. So, fishing will only get more of the same. Thus, it seems that the answer is to breed new species.
So how do you deliver this change? Wendy Mason’s “change management blog” has some good reads and this one – DELIVER THE CHANGE – A CHECK LIST FOR BEING A GOOD CHANGE AGENT – was pretty inspired. And the man in the mirror looks back and says, “who”?
If it is to be, it is up to me.
If it is up to me, it shall be.
On this note, theres many fantastic bloggers and writers out there that help those practicing management and leadership day-in-day-out can be better equipped. Some of them in my blogroll and RSS Feed. Here are two I’d like to share:
Seems the tide is getting bigger and bigger, nearly tsunami effect, threatening to wash away so much that’s been laid down. We’ll just have to prepare, hunker down, and dig just that much deeper inside. Still, the question remains in many people’s mind, when will these changes stop? As Bob Sutton says, change will never be over, but that begs the question I think which is, “Are the changes always necessary or need to be so interminably long? You can only remodel your home so much before you figure out that it’s time to just move out completely to a new home and stop with the tinkering! Change it and change it once and let the change take hold and bedded down. If you have to change so frequently, then I would say, that you probably screwed up.
An amazing opinion piece from ComputerWorld was recommended through one of my project management newslists – Newgrange: It’s titled “The unspoken truth about managing geeks“. It’s an even better piece than the one I blogged about here.
For sure, the amount of comments on and off the site is very strong. And I totally understand the bashing because it’s self-aggrandizing to the “Amen” responses. IT folks really are quite diverse but I like to think that there are much more similarities than not based on my limited experiences in different countries, industries, and technical/management teams.
My personal view is that the author Jeff Ello has got it totally right – not just the analysis but also where it starts: It’s all about respect. Just break down this analysis:
Few people notice this, but for IT groups respect is the currency of the realm. IT pros do not squander this currency. Those whom they do not believe are worthy of their respect might instead be treated to professional courtesy, a friendly demeanor or the acceptance of authority. Gaining respect is not a matter of being the boss and has nothing to do with being likeable or sociable; whether you talk, eat or smell right; or any measure that isn’t directly related to the work. The amount of respect an IT pro pays someone is a measure of how tolerable that person is when it comes to getting things done, including the elegance and practicality of his solutions and suggestions. IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.
1. For sure, when I was as tech grunt, that’s how I felt about the respect to others, especially managers. I also saw it, heard it from others. IT teams are pretty ruthless when it comes to people who can’t “fit in” with the rest of the team. “Fitting in” can mean many things but the social dynamics of IT teams can be pretty brutal.
2. As a manager of technical guys, I learned first hand about “earning your stripes” because there are always more technical guys than you. The process repeats itself at each stop along the IT management journey.
3. As part of the IT team, you always are building relationships with those who can get it done. Because the environment is so much about firefighting, it’s a totally Darwinian world. No one likes to burn during IT service outages, user problems etc and so the ones who can prevent fires and/or fight fires quickest are “the best”. These folks in my experience become the tight-knit high performing teams that makes IT a well-oiled machine we strive for.
4. The last statement that IT-pros “quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.” is the heart of what gives life to “Shadow IT”. Check out Mike Schaffner’s excellent commentary about the Shadow IT topic.
It’s a definite read for anyone curious about IT and get a wide spectrum of the views.
However, one part of the article Jeff wrote which bears repeating:
Users need to be reminded a few things, including:
* IT wants to help me.
* I should keep an open mind.
* IT is not my personal tech adviser, nor is my work computer my personal computer.
* IT people have lives and other interests.
I recently came across Mike Schaffner’s amazing blog, chock-full of Business and IT wisdom which he dispenses in a down to earth style that’s easy to read and understand. This true Pai Mei IT guy had words of wisdom in the area of IT competencies and skills which made re-think about my Building an IT Team post and (Successful) IT People’s Characteristics post.
In Critical Skills and Competencies for IT employees, Mike breaks it down into simpler parts and much easier to follow. Definitely keep it in mind as you go about building your own IT (or Project) team that will bring you fantastic success. If you think hard about it, the qualities identified as competencies are like personal characteristics important to any high-performing team. The one I like and often not have enough of is sense of humor/positive outlook in things.
On that front, no matter how bad things can get in the IT shop, sing or hum these two tunes (“official” IT theme songs) ;) …
…and be cheered! :)
The New York Times just profiled Jim Collins and his soon to be published book “How the Mighty Fall”. He is no stranger to any one who is a student of management. His ground-breaking books “Built to Last” and “Good to Great“* are mandatory reads on most book lists.
The article proved to be a nice afternoon read and a reminder of some pointed weaknesses that we in management are often prone to relax toward. Namely, “organizational empire building” and “creating management complexity”. In the former, creating armies and empires is simply ‘good’ organizational politics. And it leads to “creating management complexity” or “why I have a job” processes and work activities. The latter is more subtle and dangerous to the organization. Instead of creating efficiencies, it creates bureaucratic blackholes, “consensus” decision making, and little Dilbert worlds everywhere.
It also contributes mightily to the how company’s fall down or simply fail in the long term. This is like slow corporate death by poison or asphyxiation and is something that managers and leadership simply should not tolerate – at any point. Once you’ve built up this empire, it’s hard to take it apart unless there’s an overriding external factor (like our current economic crisis) that causes the organization to finally take it’s own bitter medicine. But maybe the cancer will prove fatal.
Hence, I really liked this blurb:
This orientation — a willingness to say no and focus on what not to do as much as what to do — stems from a conversation that Mr. Collins had with one of his mentors, the late Peter F. Drucker, the pioneer in social and management theories.
“Do you want to build ideas first and foremost?” he recalls Mr. Drucker asking him, trying to capture his mentor’s Austrian accent. “Zen you must not build a big organization, because zen you will end up managing zat organization.”
Therefore, in Jim Collins’s world, small is beautiful.
Most definitely. Business is better when you can make USD100M with 10 people than USD500M with 1500 people or USD 1B with 10,000 people. Now, perhaps size matters in the corporate world and in the capital markets and hence why I’m not in an meaningful leadership position to cause great shareholder damage…nevertheless, productivity, efficiencies, can allow for excellent corporate profits and provide cubicle monkeys everywhere an enjoyable existence making OPM (Other People’s Money). At the end of the day, management is not about managing organizational complexity – you’re not in the business of creating layers of mid-level managers to manage even more mid-level managers and more organizational chaos and complicated processes to do simple things: make profits, deliver projects, create corporate and social value, provide social growth etc.
Let’s keep organizational bloat to a minimum. As Peter Drucker said in his classic “The Effective Executive“, the following corporate diseases:
There is a fairly reliable symptom of overstaffing. If the senior people in the group…spend more than a small fraction of their time, maybe one tenth, on “problems of human relations,” on feuds and frictions, on jurisdictional disputes and questions of co-operation, and so on, then the work force is almost certainly too large. People get into each other’s way. People have become an impediment to performance, rather than the means thereto. In a lean organization people have room to move without colliding with one another and can do their work without having to explain it all the time.” (pp.43-44)
Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organizations. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time. In an ideally designed structure…there would be no meetings. We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. we meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the experience and knowledge of several people. (pp 44-46)
I fear that if we don’t do this then we will be fodder for Jim Collin’s “How the Mighty Fall”. Certainly there’s no shortage of exhibits in the recently 18-24 months and counting. And would avoid the unpleasant top-to-bottom reviews of current organizational structures by so many mid-level managers to make the difficult choices before, now, and in the future.
One would pay heed to this cartoon on survival and organizational effectiveness…or simply how complexity kills.
In case all this doesn’t make sense (trust me, so many people simply do not get it, let alone do it), read Eduardo Castro-Wright’s views on this – In a Word, He Wants Simplicity. Walmart isn’t such a bad example after all.
* See Good to Great’s critique by Business Pundit. I agree with many of his points and I too frankly was let down by the book – I read it as part of my corporate training. It’s just not that vigorous by way of clear thinking. Nevertheless, the book is/can be useful to frame a management’s thinking of common business problems when often management does not think enough. The criticism of Good to Great is a rather nice lead into his appropriately timed next book “How the Mighty Fall”.
Business & Leadership Blogs from Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog has some very excellent reads and links to other articles of the same topics. I also like to call attention to 9 tactics to effectively communicate your vision because it’s got a super suggestions for sharing one’s vision and ideas to those that are affected and need to know (it’s also great that the blogger is another IT guy, George Ambler).
With the on-going economic and corporate environment the way it is and within the foreseeable future, we will be pushed to the limit in terms of how to manage the change, manage our teams, manage our bosses, manage people and lives. My blog roll has many great thinkers in this space and I hope they’re helpful in your daily fight to making a difference wherever you are.
Sharing is caring!
And at the risk of sounding cliched, there’s no shortcuts in life, no free lunches, etc. You do need to eventually put in the hard time. Reap what you sow. This is where I suppose the difference between Generation Y and Generation X comes to play. In my limited experience, Gen Y’ers got the fast forward button clicking fast but (professional) life doesn’t quite work that way. Nothing against sharing one’s ideas, contributing different insights, looking at things differently (it’s not just Gen Y’ers who do out-of-the-box thinking), but there’s more in common with getting through in life regardless of one’s generation. Some things do stay the same no matter how much it seems to have changed.
This means that “time and place” is important. Smarts is not enough. Sweat (and tears) in liberal doses is also required. Grey-haired guys are not as out of touch with the new fangled things as it appears on the surface. Experience means hopefully that you don’t have to repeat the painful lessons your predecessors did (but grey-haired guys knows that history does repeat itself). Changing and bettering the world and making a difference are great intentions and should be applauded, but intentions never accomplished much of anything.
To this end, I’d like to quote one of my favorite historical figure, Thomas A. Edison:
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
What follows is going to be a mental dump of disjointed thoughts about IT and various other stuffs that came from reading:In-N-Out Burger: Professionalizing Fast-Food – BusinessWeek.
Life isn’t a drive-thru… drive-thru ATM, drive-thru king of the hill, drive-thru CLICK experience…. however, it’s appalling how seemingly so many here go through it as if it were, more so than even when I was years back. People have unfortunately gotten the idea that you can win in the game of life without paying the dues. Lunch is free!!!.
Needless to say, with what’s happened, it did appear so, but in a correction on par with Godly retribution, we find that indeed the normal world order is re-establishing itself and the emperor really does have no clothes! So no more fast tracking unless it’s to the bottom of the black hole and no, your career and professional development means you won’t be Director before you’re age 35. And yes, you do need to put in the hard effort and learn your craft as the tale of the legendary In-N-Out Burger story reminds us. It’s not surprising that it starts from the bottom up – the unsung front line troops who are responsible for the greatness of the In-N-Out Burger and franchise – learning the ropes, bit-by-bit because greatness wasn’t built overnight.
IT services also requires the same painstaking process and steps. Management trainees need to get on the service desk/helpdesk rotation and learn there first. You do not pass go and collect $200 without first taking the front line bullets. Graduating into IT management which so many people do without first-hand knowledge and experience of this, will doom the IT organization somewhere in its life with disastrous results.
This is what I preach — “Management by Touching the Fire”[tm]*. It’s basic – how do you know the fire is hot? You had to touch it, doh. How do you know your IT service – works, is of good quality, satisfies the customer etc? You had to do it yourself – step by painstaking step do it yourself to know through sheer pain of failure, task difficulty, long miserable hours in the effort to succeed for the customer…. and get the feedback that you succeeded and the customer is happy. Then and only then, can you move onward and (hopefully) upwards, only to repeat the unforgiving cycle again…and again…and again…
* Touching the Fire terminology as I mean it, seems to have first appeared in the blogosphere in Andrew Downard’s posting in iSixSigma Blog. I thought I could take credit for it… but I can’t so I agree with Andrew’s posting and message. Heed them, or be forever firefighting.
And for those who haven’t had the chance to taste such a great burger, here’s what one of them looks like (trust me, it taste a lot better than it looks):
A great short-primer of both the what and the how to leaderhip and management. These nuggets of wisdom particularly relevant in today’s difficult economic and corporate environments. The rubber meets the road here.
While there are many such ‘top 10 lists’ I like this more because they mention a few things that while seemingly common sensical are so very not in most organizations I know. Key areas that separates this ‘top 10 list’ from the others is:
1. Acknowledging that teamwork is one of the keys – training your people as a team.
2. Keeping your people informed – we all pay lip service to communication and communicating better but the bottom line is you need to communicate something useful – that’s what this point is about
3. Be technically proficient – how many managers and want-to-be leaders who don’t have a clue of what they are doing and what their people are doing? An army … too many General Custers in the management ranks. Sorry but I don’t want to be flying off the cliff.
Good luck out there!
Past couple of weeks, I’ve been busy with filling my own gas tank while also navigating the way forward. As my team likes to joke with me, for-better-or-for-worse, I’m now the captain of the ship… the Titanic ship to be exact.
Sometimes gallows humor can help ease the daily grind but it can also be as happy as a ice cold shower during the winter time (sorry, I’m not a polar bear!). Juggling the here and now with the there and after, I brought the team together for a couple of days and figure out what we have and what we want to do and how we want to go about doing it. The other part of it was getting key folks (re)acquainted with the ABCS of business financials – specifically, the business case.
While we struggle with the change management aspect of companies adjusting to harsh business challenges and other realities, we need to find an anchor point to tie it all together. Otherwise, the loss of focus and meaning for why we are here every day will take a huge toll on the organizational effectiveness and health. I decided to peg the anchor on understanding the business – namely what, why, when, how part of what we do – finding meaning through understanding the business case surrounding our BAU and Projects/Portfolios. Then as a team we can better prioritize and figure out what we are doing right and wrong (and even missing altogether).
So far, the impact was quite positive. One of the best part was listening to the troops, I actually had some of my perceptions shot down or seriously altered. That’s a good health check result for any manager or leader. As I’m fond of saying, 20 brains are better than 1 (see Francis Galton on his work that the wisdom of the masses is better than a single expert – Simon Kuper writes in FT Sept 5 2008).
It’s not so often that one has the opportunity to (re-)build an organization. It’s equally seldom that you have that chance to do it twice. Now you might be thinking that for me to post about this, some brown stuff has hit the proverbial fan. Eh, well, hmmm, sort of – FUBAR has become SNAFU and turned into BAU for quite some time now. Yet, I’m not drinking the ubiquitous management Kool-Aid here as I honestly view this as a golden opportunity to follow a famous Drucker maxim:
Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.
Yay! I get to kill two birds with one stone! (And try again not to screw it up big time, lucky me!).
So, if you have any self-awareness of the enormity of the situation, you might be like me at the present moment – experiencing a veritable “Extra-Strength Tylenol Moment”.
We’re in serious business (excuse the pun) here because if you don’t do it right, imagine the so-called “The Day After” scenario. (Ok, I grant you I’m spouting hyperbole here, but…) I’ve no doubt having lived through FUBAR’ed (re-)organizations to know that if you don’t get it right, the “total cost of implementation” is very real in minus territory (like most of the world’s stock markets at the moment) starting from the talent fleeing from the “tyranny” of a failed organizational change.
Where is the right starting point? Is it, as I wrote, “Balancing organizational sustainability is not about getting a team of “A-players” but a diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible.” quoted from here.
Or, is it following Drucker’s systems approach – Jim Stroup’s First things First blog post sums up nicely the three key starting questions:
Q1: “In what area is excellence required to obtain the company’s objectives?”
Q2: “In what areas would lack of performance endanger the results, if not the survival, of the enterprise?”
Q3: “What are the values that are truly important to us in this company?”
Alternatively, how about Vaughan Merlyn’s thought provoking blog post from itorganization2017 called Fresh Approaches to IT Leadership Competency Assessment on building the right business focused IT organization (which mine is)? He lists out 4 major points for the IT manager to carefully consider:
- In terms of leadership competencies, they are looking for leaders who are always sensing in anticipation of business needs and are able to identify and clearly articulate opportunities in and out of the function. They want people who are sensitive to how the organization functions, can position initiatives effectively, and are experienced leading organizational change on a broad basis. The breakout competencies revolve around demonstrating strategic agility and driving innovation.
- In terms of technical competencies, the focus is on taking the business partner relationship to a different level, proactively planning and creating new, innovative, even transformational ways to create business value through technology. Using their knowledge about the business, these leaders can leverage technology for revenue generation, not just automation and cost reduction. The breakout competency is clearly relationship management.
- In terms of personal competencies, collaboration takes on new meaning – it’s about developing networks and building alliances across boundaries; routinely contributing to and drawing from others to inform, influence, create, and leverage ideas and services. And traditional ‘management of others’ competencies give way to a competency that enables talent flexibility and engagement. It’s about creating a well supported process for assessing and developing talent to fill an ‘on demand’ pipeline; quickly and seamlessly moving talent in a ‘marketplace’ approach; and engaging talent in a way that enables them to deliver a signature customer experience. And the talent we are speaking about? Well, they may or may not be employees.
- The Importance of developing a global mindset amongst the IT talent.
Starting from Merlyn’s line of inquiry, there’s some obvious truths which to me aren’t just for IT folks’ benefit to adopt. Firstly, in leadership competencies, it’s certainly true that having good commercial or business sense is a must for today’s manager. Being a pure “functionalist” is just being another subject matter expert. Consulting might then be the better career track for those individuals. IT managers we know cannot survive relying on technology know-how. That know-how must serve the business interests and help achieve the business objectives in growing the top line or reducing the bottom line.
Secondly, technical competency is a question of which (1) information technologies and (2) technical technologies, the two components of Information Technology. Being a pure technology specialist is an IT manager masquerading as a CTO. By the same token, being an IT manager knowing only about information technologies is a management consultant by any other name. A true IT manager, the Career Is Over guy, is one who can utilize both sides of the same coin to enable business successs.
One can argue that purely speaking, IT competencies fall in either of those two components. The first one about leadership is more or less a management competency, not an IT competency per se – assuming that any manager must have business and commercial knowledge to effectively manage. I believe strongly this is fairly good assumption.
Third point on personal competencies – definitely need ability to work collaboratively as well as cross-functionally. Any employee, any manager, must have the “soft skills” to be effective. Having strong “soft skills” can one only be able to develop all management capabilities, especially in the area of leadership or the ability to influence others. Again, this isn’t an IT specific competency but a general one that is unfortunately all too lacking in many people.
Merlyn’s last point on having the global perspective, not sure. Depends on the organization. A true enterprise company, yes, I heartily agree that having this broad mind-set is a critical success factor because an enterprise employee must be able to empathize with his or her peer across a common enterprise culture. While having this however, the person must still have a solid footing in the “local” requirements of the business. In other words, think globally, but act locally with respect to IT capabilities only.
So then, the “right IT talent” are those who (1) got some business sense, (2) know their technical craft, both information and technology, (3) have strong soft-skills, or as Bob Sutton would say, “No Asshole Rule”, and (4) have the right broad mind-set to be effective across the enterprise organization.
But the inquiry doesn’t end here because we’ve established some of the qualities of the individual – albeit a general one. We still haven’t talked about the overall organizational needs – this is where in IT-speak we are talking about requirements gathering. It seems this is where Drucker’s guidance in establishing the right structure can help us focus on the right analytical path. My reading is that he would argue that the business strategy would dictate the appropriate build-out of the IT organization. I agree.
On the other hand, some colleagues I’ve heard would focus on the IT strategy as a first step, but often times, this IT strategy isn’t properly grounded in business fundamentals. On top of this, a functional strategy is meaningless in some sense because without the right people in place, the strategy simply cannot be achieved. In other words, translating into IT-speak, you need to know your constraints (and risks). Ah, you say, that’s where HR comes in and you go out and find those people to achieve the strategy. Excellent, sounds good! But for a simple fact… It’s %&*#!(@ hard to find the right people, talent wars and all that. I’d go so far and say, be thankful with what you have and do your best to maximize current IT talent (see Ben Simonton’s unique treatment of leadership and people management).
“In my organizational version of 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, I’ve had to operate with 1/3 of my managerial staffing levels. When do you bend/break your hiring rules just so that you can put a warm body in the seat before you lose it? That there is the crux of the matter.
I don’t know the answer to this conundrum, I was totally flying by the seat of my pants not knowing if I had a working parachute. And at this point in time, it’s almost moot and for a future post. I also still don’t know if I ejected in time and whether my parachute is working because the only question is whether I’m doing a Wind Beneath My Wings or Crash ‘N Burn.”**).
Continuing Drucker’s line of questioning, we get to see how it the team definition becomes clearer. Certain competencies are clearly defined by the company’s objectives (and needs). It is perhaps useful to note at this point of the analysis, Michael Watkin’s excellent organizational framework from his “The First 90 Days” to better understand where your company’s current-state is to know who should be recruited. However, for question three, the value question, here is where one needs to decide based on the previous analysis and conclusion, how much will you factor people’s moral and ethical values into your decision-making? For obvious cultural change scenarios, maybe this becomes much more important (above and beyond the yes, we need to hire people with working moral compasses – see Dilbert for his riotously funny treatment of the topic).
Now as we wind down or more like coming full circle (have you finished the Tylenol yet?) the journey, what have we learned? Maybe that I should’ve started out with my first statement – “Balancing organizational sustainability is … about getting … diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible.”
Maybe the blog post really should have been titled, “Building an
IT Team: What are the IT People Competencies?”
** Music Videos