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Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

It seems that in a corporate environment, there are three outcomes to the many different management styles that result in training employees behavior.

Chaos ensues with a very loose management and lack of accountability. Employees march to their own drummer. All of them may mean well, but like a in a rowboat, rowing in different directions gets you nowhere. Standards are non-existent the problems run rampant. These employees need direction.

Fear is an obvious one to spot. These emloyees have been trained through painful experience that sticking your neck out gets it chopped off. Usually as a result of an authoritarian manager, these employees do not innovate or think outside the box because mistakes are not tolerated and you can’t be creative with new solutions without making a few mistakes. So things don’t improve and everyone spends most of their time making defensive or protective moves.

The middle ground here is where you want your employees to be, empowered. These employees have a clear direction and standards to follow, but aren’t afraid to question current practices. The mind set should be Continuous Improvement. No matter how things are done today, there is always a better way. These changes to process and standards have to be implemented using a very deliberate and documented approach, but pointing out issues should be rewarded. You can’t improve if you don’t identify the problems.

No company is just one of these, but a mixture. You can spot these traits in individual departments and the managers method of management is probably the root cause. Unfortunately, the higher you go up the management chain, the more political things become. Jockeying for advantage becomes the focus and the employees that do all the work, don’t get the support they need. These traits get embeded in the culture and are difficult to change because trust is earned over time and people don’t change behavior unless they can trust the response.

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I just read an article about integrating IT into the business units and dissolving IT as a stand-alone department. The article is at this URL:

http://www.itworldcanada.com/Pages/Docbase/ViewArticle.aspx?id=idgml-de79fbf7-5521-45c8&portal=e92e3ad5-e795-42e5-a1a7-2949dfb40789&sub=1535558

The problem with this stance is that it has a “one size fits all” mentality. The reason that IT’s role in an organization has flip-flopped through the years is that there are pros and cons to both if they are implemented as all or nothing choice. We must begin to mature our thinking about IT, especially in an economic downturn. There are cases where having some IT skill sets in the business departments makes sense, but completely dissolving IT loses the benefits of centralization. What really needs to change is not the organization, but the employees. We need Product Managers who also have a Business Analyst skillset. We need Project Managers who understand the business needs and the technical knowledge to bridge the communication gaps. Just having IT sit next to and report to business leaders is not enough. We need to start cross training employees to understand both worlds. Each will have their specialty, but they need a shared understanding of what the company needs to not only survive, but thrive.  Job descriptions need to be guidelines more than rules.  If a business employee has the interest and capacity to learn a technical new skill set, then they should be allowed to do so.  For that matter, IT skillsets should not be limited either.  The days of “I’m a DBA and that is all I do” need to be over.  DBA’s need to understand the data that they manage.  Server Admins need to understand the business applications that they impact.  Business leaders need to be involved in IT decisions, because if there is a risk to take in the implementation, they should be the one to take it.  Let’s call it “The Brave New World”!  Wait, that’s been taken.  How about just plain common sense.

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Do you ever feel that many Executives do not fully understand what Project Managers do?  They think the Project Manager and the Resource Manager have the same skill set?  Granted, that some characteristics of these jobs do overlap.  Both require good communication skills, the ability to build relationships in the organization, and the know-how to get things done.  But there are also some very distinct differences.  Resource Managers, by definition, manage the resources directly.  The resources work for them and as their boss, control their day-to-day activities.  Project Managers must try to manage a body of work with resources that do not work for them and have no control over their priorities.  This brings us to another difference, priorities.  The Project Manager’s (PM) main objective is to get the scope of the project completed within the timeline expected without compromising quality.  This objective is very defined and becomes their number one priority.  The PM gets rewarded for moving fast and checking things off the list.  The Resource Manager’s (RM) objective is much different.  Since they often own the support of a product once it is implemented, this project adds work onto their already busy plate.  Some RM’s may even resist a projects progress because of this fact.  At the very least, they want to ensure that the product is stable and supportable.  After all, it is their team that will be up in the middle of the night supporting a problem application after the PM has moved onto another project.  The RM is motivated by quality and this project may not be a top priority because their priorities change daily.  They are also managing support problems and maintenance tasks.  So there you have it, the PM focusing on schedule, the RM focusing on quality.  The PM must drive things forward with a single purpose, plan for every possible risk, and methodically overcome obstacles as they arise.  The RM must juggle constant issues that arise, react to the changing direction of the products they support, and respond to staffing problems like turnover and sick time.  These are very different jobs that require different backgrounds and skill sets.  To lump them together is an insult to both.  All levels of an organization need to be educated as to the nature of Project Management and what the job entails.  Only then can they give the PM’s the support they need to be successful.

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IBM recently announced the creation of a consulting services group that focuses on helping customers make better and faster business decisions, presumably using data to make decisions instead of instinct or “gut feel”.  This is not a new concept, although I do agree with the concept for the most part.  There are many business changes that can be made to save the company money and good metrics help you to realize those savings.  Things like reduced calls to a call center, call time reduction, and reduced truck rolls can easily be measured and improvements result in cost savings.  Using metrics to make decisions is just smart management and today’s data warehousing and CRM systems give us more and more data to analyze.  But let’s not forget the variable that never changes, the human factor.  Our employees, our customers, and our vendors are all human and because of that, there is an additional variable that is difficult to measure.  Things like customer satisfaction can be measured in surveys or sales volumes, but it is difficult to really know how loyal your customers are to your company.  Just because they are happy with their service, does not mean that they won’t jump to a competitor for the right promotion.  Can you really measure the overall satisfaction of employees?  Some employees are hesitant to be blunt  and you usually hear complaints from a few vocal employees, not the general population.  How about applying metrics to Project Management.  Sure, you can measure whether or not you met a deliverable date, but if the dates are renegotiated with a customer and the customer is happy with the change, how do you categorize that data point?  You missed the date, which is bad, but the customer is not upset about it, which is good.  My point is that some things in business can be easily measured and we should take advantage of that data.  Others are more difficult to measure and trying to shoe-horn a one-size-fits-all solution to all problems can be problem in itself.  Some things are best measured with experience.

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The concept of a “Servant Leader” has a long history going back thousands of years and is documented very similarly in many cultures, most notably in the Bible in Mark 10:42-45.  In modern times, it was made popular in the 70’s by Robert Greenleaf when he published an article called “The Servant as Leader”.  There are a multitude of books on the subject, but basically it deals with the motivation behind a leader.  Many leaders approach their position with a top-down hierarchical style of management.  They are in charge.  It’s their way or the highway.  Instead, servant leaders see it as their role to put the individuals in the organization first and choose to lead in order to serve, not to increase ones own power or title.  Servant leadership stresses collaboration, trust, and teamwork.  This is, however, a concept that has often gotten lost in the corporate world of politics and ladder-climbing.  A servant leader sees it as his/her responsibility to enable the success of his/her team by promoting the growth of the individuals on that team.  It is such as simple concept and has a centuries long track record of success, yet seems all too rare in today’s Corporate world.   The hurdle is over coming the one-up-manship that tends to drive trust out of a culture.   Organizations that promote teamwork and encourage collaboration will have teams of employees that trust one another, which in turn, work more efficiently.  In today’s economy, anything that improves efficiency warrants some attention.  A company that can develop this type of culture also has happier employees, which means less turn-over and the reduced cost of replacing those employees.   All in all, sounds like a no-brainer.

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I have worked at companies that were in start-up mode.  Describing the way they work would be “managed chaos” at best and everyone wears many hats.  Everyone works long hours and does whatever it takes to get the job done.  This is what it takes to be competitive.  When these companies start to grow and become successful, they get to a point when they need more structure.  After all, you can only survive working “without a net” for so long.  They build frameworks and processes and get more rigid about job responsibilities.  They introduce ITIL, Scrum and Six Sigma to measure process improvements and things do improve, at first.  Simply by paying attention to these things and making them important, things DO get better.  Then somewhere along the way, they stop focusing on the customer and start focusing on the charts or the procedures.  After all, when employees are penalized for bad data on charts or for breaking process, they do what their survival instinct tells them to do, manage to the data.  This is where the pendulum swings too far the other way.  Instead of employees focusing on innovation and adaptability, they focus on not getting in trouble.  They become trained NOT to stick their necks out or take chances, because risk breaks things.   Slowly the processes become bureaucratic and it is increasingly difficult to move projects forward.  They become victims of their own processes and everything has to be escalated to get things done.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of continuous process improvement and standard processes, but you must always keep perspective on your big picture goals.  Any good process should have an exception policy because there will always be exceptions and yes, there are appropriate times to break all the rules.  Process should be a tool to help you improve, not handcuff you.  Be careful when creating all this structure that you don’t stifle the things that enabled your success in the first place, agility, adaptability, and customer focus.

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Why does it seem like the answer to an organizations problems is always a reorganization of the staff? Granted that there are times when a company needs to change the structure of their staff to better align with business requiremenets or customer needs, but I’ve been in an organization that restructured every year for four years in a row. You have to keep in mind that a reorg only changes the reporting structure. It is worth very little unless something much more critical is addressed as well, responsibilities. Most reorgs I have witnessed address the org orgchartchart and give a high level description of the groups new vision, then expect the lower level managers to fill in the details. The problem is that there is generally no continuity when this happens. Each well meaning managers interprets their new vision as they see fit and takes on responsibilities that he wants. This often leaves gaps between the groups and disagreements on ownership of issues. It is imperative that the executives that defined the vision of each group stay enagaged in the detailed definition of each groups role to ensure that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. I believe that Executives underestimate their contribution and influence in changing times and too much communication is probably just right.

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