…and the pressure mounts

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

3 weeks to learn a new programming language, develop a fairly complex app and roll it out to site, all while fitting in a holiday to Perth! However, instead of feeling crushed I feel excited because this is the way I can move into the type of work I am longing to do.

That’s the funny thing with challenges. If you are passionate about the subject matter you have a much better chance of success, and I’m very passionate about moving my career onto a new path!

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How I am Solving the Problem of Hating My Job

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

My last post was a bit of a tirade into how I was bored and frustrated in my current job. OK, OK, I was having a bad day (week, month, year), sorry for the ranting! However, I started looking for new opportunities and there were a lot out there. I sent my CV to a couple of the more exciting ones. What I realised the next day, though, was that I hadn’t looked in the most obvious place, where I was currently working. Now I knew there wasn’t anything exactly along the lines of what I was aiming for, but I went to my boss and had a very open conversation around a business analyst/developer vacancy he has.

It’s as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I told him about my frustrations and how I felt that I had stagnated. I told him about how I wanted to move from process control to web/application development. I told him that I knew that I did not have tons of experience in that area but that if I was passionate I would easily catch up by teaching myself after hours and at home.

It was probably the most positive day I’ve had at work in a while. He liked the proposition. He liked the fact that I already knew the business, I knew the technical processes and I knew the people. He also liked it that it would be like a pilot project, using someone who knew the process control and manufacturing processes in the business analyst position. He is going to have the necessary discussions and we will see from there. It is as if a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am feeling positive and innovative again. I have started thinking about out of the box projects to propose to management; a simple change in my view on hope for the future and all the creative juices have started flowing again!

The funny thing is, he had an email that he was about to send to me and it contained the line “…we are masters of our own destiny…” I’m really lucky to have such a dynamic and flexible boss! I think the lesson I will take from this is that when it comes to getting the most out of people, money is a factor, but excitement, hope, flexibility, creativity and enjoyment of work are far more important motivating factors.

What Do You Do When You Hate Your Job?

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been ignoring my blog because I’ve been helping a friend set up his online infrastructure to reach his fans (he’s a Xhosa rapper from the Eastern Cape). I must say WordPress has got a great feature in “publicize”. It made integration with his Twitter and Facebook account so much simpler. Anyway that’s not really the point…

What I realised while doing all of this is that the world of Web 2.0 has changed business, relationships and interactions in ways that are so exciting! I also realised that I hate my traditional 8am to 5pm job! My company is so bogged down in red tape and traditional values that they don’t have a Facebook page, Twitter account, or even any good TV advertising. They are stale and outdated and the current leadership is unlikely to change this.

There is talk of 2012 being “The Year of Collaboration” in our organisation. So to stay ahead of the game I set up an internal social network (thanks to the awesomely simple Elgg!) and my department is busy playing with it. I can see, though, that when it comes to rolling something like that out, there are going to be requests for a whole lot of rules to be imposed (like you can only talk about work stuff!). I really feel that the power of Web 2.0 type technologies is that they are organic; they lead a life of their own and the power comes from the freedom. If rules are imposed they will suffocate and die.

What do you do when you are bored, frustrated and stagnating in your job?

The upshot is that I am at a place where I am so excited by the opportunities to do something amazing, not necessarily make any money, but connect with the world. I am reading “The Whuffie Factor” by Tara Hunt, helping my friend set up a usable social infastructure, starting to teach myself Drupal, but…and this is a big BUT (and I cannot lie!)…for 9 hours I am sitting in a job I hate, doing work that is now unchallenging, on technologies that I am bored with, for a company that I am losing faith in. Also, where I want to be is not where my skills currently are. I’m a fast learne,r but I have no solid experience with application and web development. Not sure those courses in C++ and Software Engineering are going to quite cut it!

What do I do? Do I just up and go? Do I find a new job first? In my field of expertise, where I am bored but can get a good salary? Or in something new and exciting, where I will have to take a huge cut? Do I chew through my meagre savings and try start something myself? It’s damn scary! What would you do, or what have you done?

Sweat the Small Stuff: Small Things make Big Impact

February 14, 2011 4 comments

With 100 000 pairs of eyes on you the small stuff needs to be sweated furiously!

I have just returned from the U2 concert held at South Africa’s flagship World Cup Stadium, Soccer City. It was an enormous event with just under 100 000 people. Everything ran smoothly from my point of view except for one small thing. There were no signs, guides or information staff showing the mad rush of people on the way out where they should go to catch their buses back to the various Park and Ride venues around Johannesburg. We were left to guess and “sheep syndrome” set in: we all just stumbled along after each other hoping we were on the right path. With the technicality of the show and the logistics of managing such an event some signposting would have been a minor addition.

This got me thinking while sitting on the bus that I was lucky if enough to chance upon!) of how many times a small detail has left a lasting negative impression. In my opinion, when it comes to interfacing with people one should “sweat the small stuff”, because the small stuff counts. For example, how many times have you arrived at training and some small incident, such as the PC or projector doesn’t work or the venue is double booked, makes the whole thing seem like a shambles regardless of the quality of what follows? In the service industries as well, one employee who doesn’t smile or say ‘thank you’ can lead to a customer leaving with a bad impression (and everyone has friends and contacts that this opinion will invariably filter down to).

My advice would be that if something will be seen by the customer or person of interest then sweat the small stuff, and furiously, because these small things can have a big impact, and it may not take too much to ensure that that impact is a positive one.

Jim Collins’ Strategy Bus

February 13, 2011 2 comments

I read a post by Peter Salmon entitled “Strategy in 3 Words” in which he defines a model for setting strategy as an “Aim” (where are we going), a “Target” (the endstate vision) and a “Path” (how will we get there). In general I agree with this approach and have used similar ones a couple of times when breaking down complex issues like a culture or behaviour change into a few simple, tangible things that can be implemented. I have found that spending time carefully defining the endstate vision with leadership groups pays good returns when it comes to identifying the actions that need to be taken. That being said I respectfully disagreed with him on the point that the people involved were not explicitly considered in this model, rather than being a precursor that is assumed as being in place .

I am a firm believer in what Jim Collins wrote in “Good to Great” about setting a strategy:

…they [the great organisations] first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then they figured out where to drive it.

What I have taken from this, and observed in the running of my organisation, is that no matter how well the Aim is communicated, the Target defined and bought into and the path identified and implemented, if the ‘bus’ is dragging dead wood the strategy becomes more and more difficult to deliver against. Companies seem to be quite poor at identifying where people can be placed to perform well (if there is no place then I do believe they should be gotten rid of). If someone consistently performs it seems that the next move is to put them in a management position. I have seen reputations go up in flames because of these moves. If we only took some time out when setting strategy to define which people we want to take along on the journey and how they will best aid the journey, then I feel we would have far fewer issues with under performance down the line.

Not everyone who under performs is a bad employee. It may be poor strategy that put them in the wrong position. However, the true ‘rotten fruit’ must be gotten rid of swiftly and decisively. 

I will leave you with an illustrative example. We were battling an enormous loss in one process area and knew exactly what was required to fix it (we had the path). However, due to the nature and behaviour of the manager in that area we kept failing at getting the team in that area to buy into the aim, and thus the target was always just out of reach. After much negotiation and coercion of senior management they finally moved the manager to a technical position with no direct reports. Within two weeks the target had been reached and we have sustained it for 6 months. The former manager, whose reputation was severely tarnished in the process, is thriving in his new position and performing very well. If only we had done a people evaluation first, we could have saved a good few million by ensuring a more rapid progression from Aim to Target. The bedrock of any strategy is the group of people on the bus.

A Coach and Mentor: Priceless

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

My first week on the job after graduation I was introduced to one of the older, more senior members on our site. He is a frantic, energetic, big thinking individual who looks like he just walked out of a “look alike” contest for Jim Carrey’s character in “Lemony Snickets”. He sees no boundaries, and “impossible”, “can’t” and “dumb idea” are not in his vocabulary. To marshall all these thoughts and ideas and get them crystallised he has an assistant, who I refer to as his organised half. She ensures everything gets typed up, graphed, scheduled, organised and rolled out. He has a lot of sway and influence over the leadership of our site and is held in very high esteem for his ability to engage with almost any audience and take them on a journey. He fulfils that ideal of making change feel like progress. Unfortunately, for many, he also has a manner in which he will give you one chance, if you blow it you are useless and should be fired.

 Looking like the runner up for the “Lemony Snickets” role, my coach is a frantic bundle of energy and ideas who catalyses change and influences everyone he comes in contact with!

By the end of that first week he had wrangled me into a project before I had even found my desk or logged on to a PC! We delivered results on the project (eventually it got rolled out divisionally as the benchmark), and from then on he became my coach and mentor. We have recently formalised the coaching sessions but even when it was informal I learnt so much from him. He is a guru at change management and organisational development, however, he never sprouts off theories and academic mumbo jumbo. Rather he will discuss real world situations and listen to what my views and experiences are. Throughout these discussions he will listen to the problems, what is going well, the behaviours described and sketch up a little model of the situation. Through this visualisation he leads me to define the way forward for myself. He has not once said “This is what you must do.” This approach is so powerful because it has taught me how to analyse systems and processes comprising technical aspects, people, behaviours and emotions and build little models against which to test things. It’s like a real-world, real-time design of experiments with instant feedback! We often stand in the middle of the corridor “drawing” out flowcharts, models and structures on the walls with our hands and then go out and just try whatever it is we want to try. 

He is also very good at stepping back and letting his students bounce ideas off each other, thereby build a collective understanding and network of coaching. This same sort of model is used very successfully by the Delancey Street Organisation (www.delanceystreetfoundation.org), where residents are made responsible for helping each other develop, battle challenges and overcome their previous failure points. The network that has developed between us students, and the learnings we share, have helped each of us grow into more effective and influential members of our site’s leadership team.

Put in the extra effort and get involved, if lucky you will get a behind the scenes look at how the great minds in your organisation work.

I am in the fortunate position that my mentor bounces new concepts and trials off of me. There is a running joke that I am the guinea pig on which he runs his experiments! I don’t mind at all because I have witnessed first hand how this change management guru thinks and gets things done behind the scenes with seemingly no effort, and I have taken on board these concepts to utilise when the opportunity arises.

Having a coach and mentor is priceless, and being a coach and mentor is a role that I am trying to move into. The benefits go both ways and the entire organisation prospers. So if you don’t have one, do your utmost to try and get the ball rolling. Just like with training, if done whole-heartedly and unselfishly, it is a surefire way to improve yourself, perceptions of you and your network of influence.

Ten Ways to Really Annoy Your Customers

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

This is not a suggestion for how to destroy your reputation (unless you really are tired of your job!), but a list of things I have observed in the work place first hand. Some of them I have done (oops!), some of them have been done to me and others I have seen my friends and coworkers do regularly. So if you really want to make your internal or external customers blow their tops, try the following:

  1. Don’t give due dates and be vague when asked when something will be done.

  2. Deliver only a half working solution/product.

  3. Don’t point out flaws in the specification and deliver it “as specified”, then blame them for not giving you the correct spec.

  4. Don’t hand over to anyone when you go on leave, let the customer figure out who can help them.

  5. Don’t communicate changes. Surprises are fun!

  6. Constantly be late or absent for meetings.

  7. Lie through your teeth when you make a mistake.

  8. Blame anyone rather than try and fix problems.

  9. Always have a reason why something can’t be done.

  10. Always promise diamonds and deliver coal!

These may seem like a big joke, a funny list that is so absurd, but  I’ve seen these problems plague my department and individuals in my company during my time there. They have crushed reputations and sunken careers. Ask yourself if you are guilty of following these absurdities and beware!

We are currently battling to overcome these issues because they become habits so quickly. The change management involved is staggering because it is not a technical change or a process change or even a work practice change, this is a change to our fundamental behaviours. The same ones we flee back to so quickly in times of stress despite all our good intentions. Today I was guilty of at least three of them!