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    Entries in career (138)

    Tuesday
    May242016

    The most important relationship on any team

    The most important relationship on any team (work, school, sports - any of them), is the one between the leader (boss, coach, manager), and the best or most talented performer on said team.

    Want some context?

    Check the comments from a recent interview with former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt when asked about his relationship with the Cavs' top player, the legendary LeBron James:

    “The role of the coach is much larger as far as impact and persona,” Blatt said. “It’s much more of a coaches’ show. In the NBA, it’s a players’ show.”

    He also said: “You better be on the same page as your best player. If not, you’re going to be in trouble.”

    Pretty savvy observation from Blatt, who was actually hired by the Cavs prior to LeBron's decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown club. Once LeBron made his decision to re-join the Cavs, Blatt's job quickly changed from one of developing a young team for the future to one of molding a more veteran club to compete for a championship right now.

    And the key to all of this was LeBron, and how (or if), LeBron and the new to the NBA coach would be able to co-exist.

    Fast forward about 18 months later and we know how things turned out. Blatt, LeBron, and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals and midway through the current season, and despite a stellar won-loss record, Blatt was fired by the Cavs.

    Ultimately, Blatt's undoing was his inability to find the optimal common ground between himself and LeBron, the best, most talented, and most charismatic player on the team. On paper, Blatt was 'in charge', but in reality, and by virtue of his talent, track record, and sustained contribution, LeBron was and is the most important member of the Cavs organization. When the organization, (and LeBron), determined that the relationship between Blatt and LeBron was not salvageable, well, Blatt had to go.

    It is probably tempting for managers and leaders to take an approach of treating everyone on the team more or less the same. It seems logical and equitable to spend equal amounts of time and energy on all the team members - making sure no one feels slighted or left out. We are all one team after all, right?

    But as sports in general, and the Blatt - LeBron story in particular remind us, not everyone on the team is actually 'equal'. Some team members contribute to overall team success much more than others. Some team members would be much, much harder to replace should they leave than others. Some team members exert significant influence over the rest of the team, much more than the average team member.

    Any leader's role is at least in part to be fair and honest with every member of the team. But the best leaders also realize that some team members play an outsized role in the overall team's success. And the very best leaders recognize that their relationship with these star performers is likely the most important one that they will have in the organization. 

    That is if they want to succeed, and if they want to ensure they won't end up like our pal David Blatt, on the outside looking in while the Cavs chase the NBA Championship yet again.

    Monday
    May232016

    I'm comfortable not knowing

    Note: Re-running a post from the archive, not (completely) because I didn't have time to write anything this weekend, but rather the very thing I wanted to write about sounded so familiar to me that I had in fact written about it before. Hope you enjoy...

     

    About a thousand years ago I was a newbie consultant working for a large, (actually quite large), implementation services arm of a equally large software company. As the software products that our consulting and implementation services group were responsible for implementing numbered in the dozens (if not more), and they were each one reasonably complex technologies, the company enrolled all newly hired implementation consultants in an extensive 8-week training program that was affectionately known as 'bootcamp'.

    The bootcamp consisted of 8 hour days, for 8 weeks, taking all of the new consultants through the details and inner workings of the most commonly purchased of the company's applications, giving us a reasonable facsimile of 'real-world' problems that needed to be solved via case studies, and took us through what life as a traveling software consultant was actually all about. Aside - the job and lifestyle was equally better and worse than we all anticipated, but that is a topic for another time.

    But even over an 8-week period, the amount of technical, functional, business, process, and project management material that was presented to us was immense and fast-paced, and truly, there was almost no way to actually remember I'd estimate more than about half of it. The rest, and certainly the more important parts of the knowledge needed to become a good consultant would take more time to acquire, and work in the field with real customers to reinforce.

    All of this setup is to get to the point of this post. I don't really remember anything specifically from the content of the 8-week training bootcamp save for one sentence that was uttered not from one of the excellent instructors or experienced consultants that led our training, but rather from one of my fellow bootcampers.

    At the end of a long week of intensive work on some complex application and technology concepts, our instructor was making a final point about some detail or another, and she noticed a look of confusion on the face of a student in the front of the class. She paused, explained the point once more, and then asked him point blank, "Do you understand what I mean by configuring setting ABC in order to allow the customer to do XYZ?" , (the specifics don't matter, and I don't remember what they were anyway).

    The student thought about the question for a second then replied, "No, I really don't understand. But I'm comfortable not knowing."

    The instructor was a little taken aback, tried to re-state the concept, and hammer it home so that it clicked with the student, but she missed the real point of his response. It was not that he didn't care about understanding the point she was making, or that he would never understand it, but rather in that setting, with that specific point competing with about 3,000 other ones we'd all been exposed to in the last few weeks, that is was ok to not understand. He was comfortable (his word), with his ability to access reference material, draw on his network of colleagues, do some of his own testing, etc. in order to understand the key point when confronted with the problem in the future.

    He was comfortable not knowing because he was comfortable in his ability to think about the problem, access relevant resources, and apply what he'd learned more generally in order to solve this specific problem. He didn't need to know everything, Heck, no one needs to know everything.

    I like people that don't claim to have all the answers. I especially like people that are willing to admit that they don't have all the answers, but know how to find them. 

    And are comfortable with that.

    Friday
    May132016

    Nothing but our own fear

    I was at the Globoforce WorkHuman Conference earlier in the week, and one of the more interesting aspects of this conference from the many that I attend in the course of the year is Globoforce's willingness to showcase speakers and topics that are not necessarily 'on the nose' with their specific set of technologies and solutions.

    Most conference, especially vendor user conferences, tend to be super-focused on product - what's happening with the product, what new features are being developed, which companies are adopting the product, how can you learn to use the product better - you get the idea. And that makes perfect sense for vendor user conferences since the one unifying element that generally is the purpose and the binder for the event itself is the actual product. No products, no users, no user conferences. Pretty simple.

    And while there was certainly some of that product related content at the Globoforce event, it did not seem at all like the primary reason for the event, and the driver for most attendees to take the time to be there. Globoforce and the community of folks at the event did (mostly) seem to be there for a more general, conceptual, and different reason - the idea of making work more 'human.'

    What can make, or should make work more 'human' is at the same time a simple and kind of complex topic, (and not the same for everyone). I wrote about my ideas on this a couple of weeks back, so I won't go into them again here. But by making this non-product centric concept the central theme of your user conference, it frees up the organizers to make some interesting choices in terms of speakers and topics.

    For me, one of the highlights of the event was a wide ranging Q and A session with the legendary actor Michael J. Fox. In the Q and A, Fox shared really openly and passionately several stories from his long acting career as well as his well-known and continuing battle with Parkinson's disease.

    The conversation was full of gems, (like Fox lost out to Matthew Broderick for the lead role in one of my favorite films, 'War Games'), but the below quote, (which I tweeted of course, because that is what you do), was for me the idea that I am pretty sure I won't soon (if ever) forget.   

     

    For some context, Fox was asked about if was ever scared or afraid of his condition and the ongoing battle with Parkinson's when he made the observation about fear - his lack of fear and the fear he senses others see when they talk with him about his condition.

    This observation also reminded me of my single favorite Star Wars quote. Yes it is from Yoda, and no it's not the worn out 'There is no try' line.

    The one I am thinking of is from The Empire Strikes Back from the part of the film when Luke is on Dagobah to train with Yoda and learn about the Force. 

    Here's the setup and the line from Yoda (thanks IMBD).

    Luke: There's something not right here... I feel cold. Death.

    Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place... is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.

    Luke: What's in there?

    Yoda: Only what you take with you.

    The 'fear' Michael J. Fox talked about was our fear, not his.

    The 'evil' in the dark side cave wasn't really in there, rather it is carried in there by the seeker him or herself.

    I think we often forget that most of our fears are within us. Not a product of some scary, external circumstance.

    We choose what we see. We choose what we carry with us into that cave.

    And what is really remarkable that what led me to think about these things for the last two days was something I heard at an HR conference.

    Have a great weekend.

    Tuesday
    May102016

    Signs of the corporate death spiral #2 - no more free lunches for you

    Quick shot for a super-busy day where I am simultaneously juggle attending an event, sorting out numerous technical issues, (I know, no one cares), and trying to keep the content engines humming around here.

    Thought it would be time to resurrect my 'Signs of the corporate death spiral' series that has long been dormant. Although I could just write about Yahoo every day and that would cover things.

    No, this post is not about Yahoo, but rather another Silicon Valley tech company Dropbox, who you may know from their pretty large data and file storage business. What signal is there that Dropbox may be lurching towards the dreaded death spiral? Check an excerpt from a recent piece on Slashdot:

    Not everything is working out at Dropbox, popular cloud storage and sharing service, last valued at $10 billion. Business Insider is reporting a major cost cutting at the San Francisco-based company. As part of it, the publication reports, Dropbox has cancelled its free shuttle in San Francisco, its gym washing service, pushed back dinner time by an hour and curtailed the number of guests to five per month (previously it was unlimited). These cuttings will directly impact Dropbox's profitability. According to a leaked memo, obtained by BI, employee perks alone cost the company at least $25,000 a year for each employee. (Dropbox has nearly 1,500 employees.)

    Look, no doubt Dropbox's pretty lavish perks package would be considered incredibly excessive by the average organization. I mean, have you ever worked anywhere that let you bring in five friends each month to the open bar on Fridays? Have you ever even had an open bar at work? And I am not talking about that bottle you think is 'hidden' in your bottom drawer. Everyone knows about that by the way.

    But why this benefits/perks cut at Dropbox could potentially be more serious longer term to them than the average organization's occasional need to cut benefits (which can usually be survivable), is that Dropbox exists almost entirely in a world where 'excessive' benefits are not considered excessive at all, rather they are more or less expected components of their Employer Value Proposition.

    That's right, I went all EVP on you all. But it is the best, most concise way to describe what I think is going on here and the potential warning signal this kind of a benefit pull back might end up having at Dropbox.

    No workplace or employee needs free dry cleaning service at work in order to be considered fairly compensated, and (hopefully), happy with their organization. No one needs this for sure.

    But at Dropbox, and maybe 100 other companies in the Valley that are chasing similar pools of workers?

    The end of free dry cleaning and posh gym memberships and open bars?

    They might move towards the need category a lot faster than you think. For you and your organization? It would be good for you to know what is your version of free dry cleaning before the CFO decides to come down with the cost-cutting axe.

    Tuesday
    May032016

    Things you should never say at work #1 - "I'm not technical"

    New series on the blog launching today called 'Things you should never say at work' - hopefully that will focus on the non-obvious but still highly damaging things you should never say on the job.

    Here goes...

    (Slightly) edited for purposes of clarity and anonymity story from a former colleague of mine who has been talking to a potential client about a new (largely) technical project - the implementation of some new, pretty large enterprise systems for a mid-size manufacturing company.

    My former colleague walks into a 'discovery' kind of meeting with the two ostensible subject matter experts in charge of the two most critical process areas of the project - let's call them Inventory Management and Supply Chain Optimization.  The two client folks that run these functional areas are pretty experienced, my colleague guessed they had at least 10 or 15 years each inside the company.

    When my colleague asked them how the early pilots of the new enterprise tech had been going, what the main challenges were, how the systems were being set up in order to support the organization's workflows, etc., both client subject matter experts responded similarly. Something along the lines of: "I really don't know - I'm not technical." 

    A huge red flag for my colleague for sure, as the two primary customers of the upcoming tech implementation were not only pretty disengaged from the process, they were seemingly proud of their lack of expertise and interest in what was going on with the new technology.

    Maybe these two experts are able to get away with this open apathy towards the technology, due to years of accrued expertise and perhaps some organizational stagnation, but you can be sure their (and their kind) days are numbered.

    I would bet that almost no one reading this post today would be able to proudly declare out loud in your shop something along the lines of "That new headcount trends dashboard? No, i have not looked at it. I'm not technical'. Or, "What do I think the 10% bonus pool reduction will do to voluntary turnover? I don't know. I'm not technical.'

    It doesn't matter if you don't know about a specific technology. Tech moves so fast anyway that what specific skills that are in demand now probably won't be the same ones in demand in 2 or 3 years.

    But the approach, the attitude, the willingness to 'be' technical?

    It doesn't matter what kind of job you have now, the 'I'm not technical' card is one no one can afford to play today.

    So you should never say it. I mean it. 'Cause if I find out you did...