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Lesson Learned: Document Readability

March 17th, 2009 No comments

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Tom Sant,  author of  “The Language of Success” and “Persuasive Business Proposals” today and he shared a real nugget.  It is actually a feature built into Microsoft Word, though I was totally oblivious to it.  The feature  evaluates the document and creates a report on the readability of the document.

The first trick is to enable this feature:

  • Open up Microsoft Word
  • Open Options – in Office 12 click on Office button and click on the Word Button
  • Click on the Proofing option from the menu on the left.

wordoptionsetting1

  • As indicated by the A – Ensure that the “Show readability statistics” checkbox is checked.
  • As indicated by the B – Ensure that these boxes NOT checked
  • Now execute the Spell checker as normal
  • Handle the notifications regarding spelling or grammar warnings.
  • At the end of the check a popup will be displayed similar to the following:

wordreadabilitystatistics

Check the Averages

  • Words per sentence should be 15 to 17
  • Characters per word – for best readability this should be less than 6

Check the Readability

  • Passive Sentences should be less than 10%
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level should less than 10

So as you can see, the first paragraph of this blog post does not rate very high for readability.  It must be the names of Tom’s books.

Managing Expenses Proactively

March 11th, 2009 No comments

Considering the recession that we find ourselves in, I guess it is not surprising that I find myself having many discussions about how to handle the situation where cuts needs to be made.  Unfortunately, I have watched many leaders take an overly optimistic view and totally underestimate the dip of the market and then over estimate their available resources to weather the storm.  For startups with limited resources, this can be fatal.

market-trend-2

In this graphic, I have used the blue line to denote the revenue coming into a company.  The red line denotes the expense reductions that the company is making with the exact points of reduction marked with the A, B, C and D markers.  The area marked in green between the two lines is the bad zone for companies without sufficient reserves to weather the downturn.  Unfortunately, I have also seen  the plug getting pulled because of insufficient funds.

Although this approach is fairly common, it tends to have a rather disastrous affect on the people in the company.  The people are under continuous threat of additional cuts and therefore some of them resort to some rather significant self preservation behaviors.  In these circumstances, the teamwork takes a backseat and as such the productivity also take a massive hit.  In addition, talent retention is an issue and in most cases the best people walk first, because they can, leaving the lower caliber folks behind.

market-investment

This graph shows a totally different behavior and the blue line shows the incoming revenue while the green line shows expenditure.  In this case the expenditure has been drastically reduced when the incoming revenue has declined.  In this graph, I have created the impression that there is very little between the incoming revenue and the expenditure but there are some very successful companies that follow this model but have a much healthier buffer between the the incoming revenue and the expenditure.  In this case, cuts in expenditure are made at points A and B and these cuts do mean job cuts.  Nothing should be spared from the cuts.  e.g. it is far better to sacrifice the free sodas instead of your office mate.

The purple area is where the company is doubling down and investing for the market upturn.  This investment, provides the company with a head start on their competitors.  This approach has some significant benefits because the people trust the management more because they are actively managing the situation.  In addition because a strategy is being followed, it creates an open environment that is predictable for the employees and leads to much less fear and uncertainty.  I have found this approach to be much more acceptable to the high performers and therefore allows you keep the staff that you want to keep.

Lesson Learned: Am I Behaving Like a Teenager?

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Let’s call this executive Steve, he is a  senior level executive, in his early 60’s.  He is very well respected by the people in his organization in a large part due to his extremely calm demeanor.

Steve’s directs are all VP’s in the company and they had been struggling with an issue for close on 7 weeks and were all frustrated.  To make matters worse, these execs had allowed the issue  to impact their interpersonal relationships with some of them having their little versions of the “cold war”.

So during a meeting in the boardroom, Steve watched with mounting displeasure as his directs expressed their frustration at not being able to solve the problem.  Each of them proceeded to provide excuses or point at some or other reason why they could not address the issue on hand.  Steve demonstrated his patience and calmness again by allowing each of them to express their opinions. He then asked them how they were working together on addressing the issue.  Again they behaved in like ducks with watertight backs.  Steve then asked them about what they would do if they were in his shoes?  Again they had many words and Steve slowly stood up.  Some of his directs paid attention but others did not.

However, when Steve slammed his hands down on the table, the loud clap drowning out the expletive that he had just uttered.  All of his directs stared at Steve, dumbfounded, and then he said something:  “If I wanted to hear reasons why this cannot be done, I would have asked my teenage son!  I am paying you significantly more to solve problems.  So why don’t you stop behaving like teenagers and act like the professionals that I am paying you to be!”

Needless to say, his directs had a solution ready for him four hours later.

So the Lesson that I Learned from this, has changed how I approach things.  Now, when I am moaning or bitching about something, I simply ask myself:  ” am I behaving like a teenager?”  If the answer is yes, then I modify my behavior and to ensure that I am adding value.

hire the best

February 24th, 2009 No comments

I recently had a conversation with some managers regarding their hiring criteria.  They were looking at candidates that could fulfill the role that was advertised. I presented them with a different perspective that has caused much followup discussion.

hire_the_best_iIn the graphic above, the yellow dot indicates the work capability of the team.  The blue dot is meant to indicate the expected contribution of candidate.

hire_the_best_iiIn this graphic, the green dot indicates another candidate with what we expect to be able to contribute more than the blue dot.  Bringing someone into the team that is capable of a higher level of work output also tends to raise the output level of the whole team.   One of the people that benefits significantly from this addition, is the team manager.  The higher the level of the people on the team, the more the manager can delegate, thereby allowing the team manager to expand into other areas.

Therefore simply by bringing in a more capable person into the team, the productivity of the team expands beyond the yellow to include both the yellow and the orange.  And over time, it will only increase.

learning from Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer

February 21st, 2009 No comments

I was watching the Tour of California this morning in the company of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, the best cycling commentators in the world.  They mentioned that Lance Armstrong analyzes his time-trial performances and makes changes to his training regime to ensure that he meets his season goals.  This got me thinking about the parallels between world-class competitive cycling and business.  The stage was the time-trial  to Solvang and was won by Levi in style with him crossing the line with three fingers extended, indicating his pursuit of his third win.  Go Levi!!  Here are my thoughts:

  • focus on the goals – set the goal(s) and stay focused on achieving the goal(s).  Successful sportsmen are great examples of this behavior and I find that this is a challenge for people in business.  Set the goal and evaluate your efforts to ensure that they are contributing to the goal.  Do not forget that it also takes sacrifices and it is not only what you do but also what you do not do.  For us in the business world, it mainly manifests itself with spending too much time on tasks that do not contribute to achieving the goals.  A good example is the water cooler talk.
  • preparation – During the post stage interview, Levi spoke about his experience of riding the stage in training and knowing how his body responds at the various points of the stage.  This is no different to us in the business because we also need to come to the table prepared.  For us it might mean doing our research, gathering data or something like socializing an idea to gather feedback from our colleagues.
  • confidence in your own abilities – you just have to believe in yourself!  Belief in yourself is key and it is contagious because everyone likes winners.  Just be careful of coming across as arrogant!
  • learning from feedback – top sportsmen are used to getting feedback from their coaches and management.  In the business world, I have seen this improve over the years with feedback from managers and peers now becoming more and more prevalent.  The key for us in the business world is to adjust our behavior based on that feedback.
  • self awareness – The ability to evaluate your behavior and performance objectively is key.  No matter what your chosen profession is, this step is required to get to the top.  It takes regular introspection and self evaluation, which for me is a less than pleasant experience.  A trick here is to do postmortems as part of the process, thereby depersonalizing the experience and making it less of an attack on our egos.

what can I do to keep my job?

February 21st, 2009 No comments

Considering the recession that we find ourselves in, it is not surprising that I am being asked the following question:  “what can I do to ensure that I do not lose my job?”   All I can offer regarding this questions is some suggestions and here they are:

Make peace with what you cannot change and influence the hell out of the rest.


So here are some examples of the things to make peace with:

  • company going out of business
  • Reduction in Force
  • elimination of the department/position

Now, here are some things to think about and to manage:

  • Return-On-Investment:  Ensure that the company is getting more than what they are investing in you.
  • Evidence of results: It is important to be able to demonstrate the results of your efforts.
  • Don’t be a pain: Do not make life hard for your boss or peers.  Please do not bitch and moan.
  • Solve the business need: In times like this, our role is to solve the business need in the best possible way.  Pushing back about tasks that you do not want to do, is the last behavior that should come to mind.
  • Add additional value: Do more than you have to do for your job but do not neglect your job.
  • Fiscal responsibility:  Resist the urge to spend money.
Categories: Behavior, People Tags: , ,

February 19th, 2009 No comments

don’t just stand there,

make it happen

– lee lacocca –

Categories: Quotes Tags:

writing presentations

January 30th, 2009 No comments

This week I watched people stress over an executive presentation.  Here are some of the simple guidelines that I follow when writing a PowerPoint presentation.  The key with writing a presentation is that the presentation is supporting the message that you are going to be deliver.  The presentation is not the messenger, you are!

use templates

general guidelines

  • keep the text on the lines short as possible
  • use spell check
  • no full sentences
  • no periods at the end of lines
  • don’t do repeats
    • if you are talking about toothpaste, don’t put it on each line, just put it in the page title
  • minimum font size = half the age of the oldest person in the room
    • do not do it by eye – use the font properties of the text box
  • communicate on three levels (data, emotion, me) as covered in this post

If you are concerned about people being able to use the slides for reference after the presentation, there are two simple options for this dilemma.

  1. create detailed notes for each slide – this does have the downside that people need to see that there are notes as part of the presentation bt it does work well for printouts.  Remember to spell check.
  2. create a separate slide deck that is specifically written for reference purposes

Book: The Leader’s Voice

January 28th, 2009 No comments

The Leader’s Voice: How Communication Can Inspire Action and Get Results!

1st edition
Authors: Boyd Clarke, Ron Crossland
ISBN: 1590790162

2nd edition
Authors: Ron Crossland
ISBN: 1590791525

A manager is only as good as their communication with people.  After all, managers need to achieve results through the actions of others and therefore communicate is critical to their success.  I give all of my directs this book and I have read it 4 times.  Hopefully one of these days I will be able implement the behavioral changes needed for me to master communication.  Here are the key messages that I took from the book.

data

I have been told numerous times that the numbers speak for themselves and if this statement was true everyone would be able to read a balance sheet….  That being said, the data is critical because it provides the quantitative information that is needed to convince people of your perspective.

emotion

We humans are emotional beings, even though some us like to deny it.  Think of messages delivered by people that you liked. Or disliked.  I ask this because I believe that how we feel emotionally affects how we receive the message.  If you do not know the person then the emotional connection needs to be created during the dialogue. This is why sales people try to connect with us emotionally by asking us questions about sports, kids weather, etc.

me

This one is simple.  What is in it for me?  There has to be some form of reward or value.

1st Edition

2nd Edition

   
Categories: Books, Communication Tags: ,

conflict

January 22nd, 2009 No comments

I recently had a discussion with one of the folks in my org regarding conflict and his perception was that conflict was negative.  During our conversation it became very apparent that we did not classify conflict the same.

To me, conflict is a necessary evil for a healthy environment and that it is necessary for success.  I believe that open and respectful communication about a point is good because this dialogue ensures that all of the various point of view are shared.   Often this respectful airing of opinions stimulates new perspectives that are superior to the ones originally brought to the discussion.

Back to my discussion, it turns out that he in fact did not have an issue with conflict, rather he had an issue with not being treated in a respectful manner.  In particular, he was perfectly happy with the decision as long as he felt that someone had listened to his opinion.

In his book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni defined conflict as “Conflict is nothing more than an anxious situation that needs to be resolved”.  He defined it far better than I every could have and therefore I have adopted that definition and added  “in a respectful manner” to create my own definition.

“Conflict is nothing more than an anxious situation that needs to be resolved in a respectful manner”

Categories: Emotions, People Tags: , , ,

moving into management

January 13th, 2009 No comments

One of the common questions I get about moving to the next level via the management road.  i.e.  should I move from an individual contributor role into management ?  Or should I move into a 2nd level management position from a 1st level management position?  To help highlight the difference, here is how I see the differences.

Individual Contributor

  • deliver the results
  • role skills – the skills are task related
  • communication skills definitely help
  • realistic work forecasting is a significant benefit

1st level manager

  • care about the people on the team
  • deliver the results as part of the team
  • still have the role skills – not only for IC deliverables but also for coaching employees
  • IC recruiting
  • communication skills
  • start to understand how to grow people
  • need to do work allocation for the team
  • responsible for the well being of the team
  • work forecasting needs to be done for the team
  • soft skills to deal with people (down, peer and up)
  • delegation – most difficult one – how to delegate work to the team

2nd level manager

  • people
  • deliver the results through the work of others
  • people growth
  • manager recruiting
  • succession planning
  • communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills
  • realistic work forecasting needs to be done for the team
  • need to deal across groups, ideally joint objectives
  • soft skills to deal with people
  • budgeting
  • manage team visibility

Please let me know if I missed anything.

Vinod Khosla talk

January 8th, 2009 No comments

I recently listened to a talk given by Vinod Khosla from Khosla Ventures I was struck by how frankly he answered questions and by the depth of his knowledge on the subject matter.  Very impressive.

Then he said something that really struck a cord with me, mainly because I have a similar opinion and therefore it is always good to get some personal reinforcement:

Try and fail but never fail to try

This is very similar to my personal mantra

you cannot win the race if you are not in the race

Overall, if you ever get the opportunity to hear him talk I would highly recommend it.

Categories: People, Quotes Tags: ,

change and stress

January 6th, 2009 No comments
change stress distress graphic

impact of change on us

Based on my experience of dealing with people across the globe, I believe that change always has an impact us.  The actual change event can be fairly small, the impact on us manifests itself as stress. In the change-stress-distress graphic, the black circle is the actual change.  The perceived impact of the change will cause stress, which is shown in green.  The stress level is still fine because it has not crossed our tolerance level, shown in red.  This is key because when the stress expands to more than our tolerance level, the stress becomes distress.

when the stress becomes distress

.

distress

As you can see in the graphic on the left, all that is visible is the red, which means distress.  For people in this situation, it is now a rescue situation where the first priority is to rescue the person from the distressful situation.

stress

..

.Unfortunately just because the person is no longer in distress, it does not mean that we can work on the change yet.  Looking at stress graphic on the right, we still cannot see the change and therefore we cannot work on the change.  We still need to get the stress under control and only then can the change be addressed.

lesson learned: always assume positive intent

January 1st, 2009 No comments

I had a manager that always told me –  “always assume positive intent”.   Normally this was when we were discussing an issue that was controversial or emotionally charged.

Implementing this lesson in my day-to-day dealings, I find that as long as I approach the situation with an “assume positive intent” mindset, I am generally able to overcome most challenges much quicker and with far less conflict.

September 24th, 2008 No comments

man must cease attributing his problems to his environment,

and learn again to exercise his will and his personal responsibility

– albert schwitzer –

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March 28th, 2008 No comments

don’t let what you cannot do

interfere with what you can do

– john wooden –

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what makes a great Program Manager (PgM)?

March 25th, 2008 No comments

Over the years I have been asked for my opinion on what makes it takes to be a great PgM? For some or other reason, I have been asked this again three times over the last two weeks. Considering that I have also been asked to start a blog, I am going to try and butter my bread on both sides. So here goes – what does it take to be a great PgM? – My perspective is forged 100% in the high-tech industry.

A high-level definition of a PgM is someone that can turn a challenge into an opportunity. They must be able to break down the challenge into bite size chunks and deliver it on time and on budget while communicating their intent and progress the whole journey. And they get to do this with no authority.

So, here are some key traits that I look for in a Pgm candidate.

values / beliefs

honesty & integrity – the basis of everything! No honesty & integrity – go home!

passion – you gotta care. If you don’t care about what you are doing, I would say that is a sure sign of either the wrong role / job or burn-out. I look at passion as a seesaw with too much on one side and too little on the other side. The key is the balancing act because when you lean too much towards one side or the other, you credibility tends to suffer.

leadership – this is the tough because the rougher the road the thicker your skin needs to be. I have the philosophy that most people will follow a leader when they believe in and trust that leader. So, lead and they will follow, one small step at a time.

work ethic – when at work; Work! Otherwise enjoy life and expand your horizons. I am going to quote Stephen King: “ Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” To me, this is a perfect summary because it takes a boatload of work and dedication to get things done and it takes even more work to get things done properly. I must point out this item is NOT work 100% of your life, just work hard when at work.

thirst – the pursuit of personal growth demonstrates your awareness that life is a journey. During one of my first promotions, I was told something that has stuck with me. “What got you this promotion will not get you the next promotion. The bar has moved higher and you need to jump higher!”

empathy – you must be able to relate to the issue/problem/challenge and understand fully the implications of the issue that customer/partner is experiencing. Being able to understand what the challenge / opportunity is one of the key elements of the PgM role. No matter type of PgM role you are providing, having a very good and accurate understanding of the problem is critical to leading the team to deliver a solution that not only meets but exceeds the need.

sharp – I am combining the ability not only to have the mental muscle but also how to use it. i.e. think on your feet. PM’s are parachuted into many, sometimes conflict ridden, situations and therefore they need to read the situation and respond appropriately.

discipline – engineering orgs are highly disciplined organizations 9OK(OK, so some of them aren’t so disciplined). Agile does not equal undisciplined, in fact I have found that doing agile well requires a much higher level of discipline than waterfall development. Fitting into a disciplined org takes a level of self-discipline, both to understand the disciplined environment. When dealing with a undisciplined individual, it requires an even higher level discipline because you will have to bring it to party when the other person does not.

accountability – I look for “the buck stops with me” attitude and mindset. Without this mindset, it becomes a spaghetti junction of someone else’s problem which is frustrating for all parties involved.

mandatory skills

communication – the ability to communicate successfully with all parties is critical and is the basis to be successful in the PgM role. Misinformation or incorrect information is far more damaging than little or no information! Getting things wrong means that efforts are misdirected, money is misspent, time is wasted and you lose credibility. Therefore the ability to ask pertinent questions in a clear and concise manner is imperative in keeping conversations focused on the topic and ensuring good information interchange.

technology base – it is impossible to know everything, but not understanding the basics of computers, computer & networking HW and networking is simply unacceptable. An hour a day of reading some key sources for a month or two is a good start. If you have the base, you are not off the hook. It takes a constant effort to be up-to-date with what is going on in the industry.

flexibility/agility – no I do not need you to touch your toes or do the splits. What I am referring to is the ability to adapt to the situation and to have the open mindset to listen. If you are talking, you aren’t listening! I admit that this item is mostly empathy to be able to listen to the user’s issue / feedback.

herding cats – getting a group of smart people to do something together is pretty much like herding cats. Sometimes it is going to be easy and other times you are going to bleed! Either way, it takes a lot of preparation and leadership for them to follow.

tools of the trade – duh, but I had to add this one after seeing it today. Gotta know how to use office productivity tools but also the various project management tools. Portfolio and financial management tools are a definite bonus.

March 11th, 2008 No comments

a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;

an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty

– Sir Winston Churchill  –

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