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Archive for June, 2009

Overcoming adversity

June 24th, 2009 No comments

During one of my mentor sessions, I was educated about a bit of American history, specifically about a lady called Harriet Tubman.  A short biography can be found here:  http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761567329/Harriet_Tubman.html and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

I was struck by how she overcame so many obstacles to make such a significant impact on the lives of so many others.

  • Born to slave parents and therefore she was destined to be a slave too.
  • She was a woman at a time when women had few rights.
  • She was African American at a time when racism was deemed acceptable in the South.
  • She was hired out as a slave while she was still a child.
  • She was beaten and whipped on numerous occasions.
  • She was illiterate.
  • As a teenager she was almost killed after being struck in head by a weight that was thrown at her by the overseer of an escaping slave.  She suffered from headaches, seizures and bouts of sleeping spells for the rest of her life because of this injury.
  • Despite numerous attempts, her poor health meant that she could not be sold.
  • Her family was split up because they were sold as slave to out-of-state masters.
  • She used to work as a domestic worker to make enough money so that she could head back to the South to help free slaves.
  • Despite working for the military for no pay, she was denied a military pension after the war too.
  • She struggled financially her whole life.

Despite these obstacles, her achievements are astounding!

  • She managed to escape from slavery in the South.
  • She worked as a domestic worker to raise funds that enabled her to return to the South to free more slaves.
  • She then returned to free her family from slavery.
  • Her military service started with her serving as a cook and nurse before she migrated to a more active roles as a spy and scout behind enemy lines.
  • She continued to return to the South and liberated a reported 70 to 300 slaves. (exact number is unclear)
  • Her nickname was “Moses”
  • She never lost a single slave on her many rescue missions.
  • After the war she cared for her parents.
  • She started a new career as a community activist, humanitarian, and suffragist.
Categories: Behavior, People Tags:

Business and/or team growth and how it can catch people unaware

June 11th, 2009 No comments

I am in the hi technology industry and therefore I am very comfortable working at companies that are growing and leading teams that are growing.  Now let’s take a look at this year-to-year growth where the ellipses show the needs of the business.  In this example our employee, which we will call Mo, is represented by a star.

Year 1

The blue ellipse shows the business needs for Year 1.  Mo is doing pretty well in Year 1 because his skills put him on the high end of the business needs.  Therefore he is well within his comfort zone to deliver against the needs of the business.

Year 2

The greenish ellipse shows the business needs for Year 2 have moved on from where they were in Year 1.  Mo is not doing very well here though because he barely has the skills needed to successfully meet the business needs.  Mo is going to have to have to step up and grow his skills.  Mo needs to either have the self awareness that the business needs are changing or he could be caught unawares that his skills not longer meeting the business needs.

Year 3

The orange ellipse shows the business needs for Year 3.  Mo is in serious trouble here because he does not have the skills needed to meet the business needs.

The disadvantages of this model

  • In Year 3 Mo might find himself unemployed or marginalized due to his skills not meeting the business needs.
  • In Year 3, the business might need to go through the expenses of recruiting someone that can meet the needs of the business.
  • Replacing Mo will not only disrupt the team dynamics but it will also take time for the new person to acclimatise to the business.

Improved Situation

Now let’s take look at another scenario where Mo is not stagnant and grows his skills in a similar direction to what the business is moving in.

Year 1

The blue ellipse shows the business needs for Year 1.  Mo is doing pretty well in Year 1 because his skills put him on the high end of the business needs.  Therefore he is well within his comfort zone to deliver against the needs of the business.

Years 2 & 3

The greenish ellipse shows the business needs for Year 2 have moved on from where they were in Year 1.  Mo’s skills have improved too and he is keeping track and staying aligned with the needs of the business.

The benefits

There are significant benefits to Mo growing his skills.

  • People that are growing tend to find their work roles to be much more rewarding and therefore are much happier employees.
  • If one person grows, they tend to drag the rest of the team along the road too, ultimately resulting in a team climate of growth.
  • Because Mo’s growth is parallel with the business needs, they both win because he can customize his growth to meet the needs of the business.  The business gets someone that is really closely aligned with the needs.
  • The team dynamics continue to improve and grow because people get to knw each other better and therefore they are able to work better as a more cohesive unit.

Categories: Behavior, People Tags: , ,

hire the best – a follow-up discussion

June 10th, 2009 No comments

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about my post on “hiring the best”.  Our conversation hinged on the implications on the manager of hiring less than the best.  Here are some of the key points from our discussion.

less overhead on the manager

Both of us were of the opinion that it is much easier on the manager to have more capable people on our teams.  Although both of us had many exceptions come to mind where some highly skilled people lacked certain soft skills.  We are of the opinion that well rounded and skilled people  need little to no guidance from their manager. These people are also able to offload work from us, thereby allowing to focus our time in other areas.

impact on the team

Will Smith’s interpretation of an old Confucius analect  is: “You are who you associate with” and this is definitely holds true.  In my experience, all it takes is for one person to raise the bar resulting in a positive impact on the team and those who deal with the team.

irritation factor

Then there is the irritation factor.  This is when the junior person is not able to meet the expectations, or  interrupts fellow team members to ask for guidance.  The irritation level can grow quickly if the person does not have the soft skills needed or the mental horse power needed to learn quickly and perform.

learning vs adaptation

A junior person requires time to learn and get up to speed.  They have to improve on multiple fronts:  They need to learn how to fulfill the role and also learn the skills needed to deliver the goods.  This takes time, drive and effort.  To contrast this where the more experienced/senior person can adapt to the new environment.  Because they already have the skills, they are able to simply slot into the role and start to deliver the goods.

financial impact

Having spent many years with startups; I am sensitive to the impact on the cash flow that a senior and experienced person can have.  I do believe that hiring the best that you can afford is the best option for all concerned.  The return-on-investment (ROI) for the more skilled person far outweighs costs and in most cases I believe that a skilled person with soft skills is worth way more than a more junior and less capable person.

time

For the most part, the more junior the person, the longer it takes for them to be fully productive.  The more senor people are able to be productive in days or weeks and not months or years.

flexibility

This can be a massive challenge and I have seen ot go both ways and therefore is one of my hiring requirements now.

capability

By hiring the person that is most capable also increases the team’s capability to deliver more and faster.  Because the team is more capable, they are able to achieve more and therefore win more.  Winning leads to more winning.

Categories: Behavior, Management, People Tags:

Lesson Learned: Promotions are not about you!

June 7th, 2009 No comments

Way, way back I was promoted to my first management position.  The conversation with my boss went something along the following lines.

Boss: It sounds like you were expecting the promotion?

Me: Yep, I worked my butt for this .  (rather smugly) (Looking back I was an arrogant little sh1t)

Boss: So you see this promotion as a reward?

Me:  Oh yes! (laughing)

Boss: I see it differently.  The promotion is not a reward for your hard work!  That is why I gave you a bonus.  I promoted you because the department needs someone who to lead the team and offload the day-to-day management tasks from me.  This promotion means that I need you to step up into this new role and perform.  It will be a stretch for you and you have a lot to learn but I think that you can do it.

Me: What do I need to learn?

Boss:  You will need to learn management skills, improve your project management skills to handle multiple simultaneous projects and people.  And of course budgeting too.

Me: No problem!  I will prove that I am worth the investment.

Boss:  I am investing in you and you are a high risk investment at that!  You have great technical skills but now you need to learn the additional skills to perform as a manager.  Basically you only have 25% of the skills to needed to perform as a manager!  I am prepared to take the risk for a limited time and you need to demonstrate progress week by week.  I can only give around 6 months to get up to speed and deliver.

Me:  No problem

—————————————————-

Wow, boy was that a boatload of work!  I learned a multitude of extremely valuable lessons from that promotion and the ensuing years of work.  Here are the top lessons that I learned in the those six months.

  • People are promoted into positions to meet the needs of the business.

  • The learning phase never ends but there is a limited amount of time that the business can wait for you to learn and gather the skills needed to perform at the level needed.

control what you can control

June 3rd, 2009 No comments

Earlier this week, I was a coach at a function that was targeted at managers.  The event provided a forum for the managers to share experiences on how they overcame the plethora of management challenges encountered in this recession.

During the discussions, it became extremely evident, to me, that some of the managers were worried about any cuts that the company have to make to survive. I provided them the following guidance:

“control what you can, know what you cannot control, and make peace with it”

control-what-you-can

control what you can (green)

This takes a significant amount of effort because it takes a constant level of vigilant awareness to look for new opportunities.

Here are some examples of what can be controlled:

  • your boss & peers
  • your actions, attitude and demeanor

I put boss & peers down as items that can be controlled because they can be influenced if you have the credibility and trust established.

know what you cannot control, and make peace with it (red)

The key here is know your limitations, the constraints that have been imposed on you and to make peace with it.  It just does not help to beat yourself up about the stuff that you cannot control.  Here are some examples of things that we cannot control:

  • the weather
  • the economy
  • senior management (assuming that they are more than 2 levels of separation)

So if you cannot control things like this, it just does not help to worry or beat yourself about things like this.  So make peace with things and focuss your efforts and energy on the things that you can control.

Categories: Behavior, Expectations Tags: