Monday, December 20, 2010

What is the best way to spend your education time?

I recently had a conversation with a college about the value of post-secondary academic education for today’s IT leader. The discussion was cut all to short because we both had work to get back to. I really enjoy having a good honest thought provoking conversation about topics like this with someone I respect.
In retrospect I think our inability to finish the conversation due to other pressing needs was the basis for my side of the discussion. There are so many options for education and personal development out there, webinars, simulation software, blogs, podcasts, audio books, post-secondary academia, and on the job training.
It is not a matter of which one is good and which one is bad it is a matter of time management. Everyone has his or her own learning style and therefor will get a different ROI from each type of education. In addition the amount of work or personal spent on development needs to be balanced with all other pursuits in those areas.
I really want to apply a one size fits all educational approach to my team and personal development, because it’s easier to manage and understand. It’s just not that simple one person could gain more by listing to 20 audio books then they would from a year of academic study, yet another could get more out of a 2 year degree than 20 years of on the job training.
I think we need to keep an open mind when we are planning our education of evaluating someone’s credentials for a new position. All of these forms of education add something to the employee’s values in his or her role however we need to remember that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Am I a "Leader"

So I am by tittle a Manager, but what makes a “leader”, am I a leader.

I was once told:
Imagine you’re walking along with a group of people and, they have no orders to follow you. Then you turn and head off in a new direction without so much as a word, if the group turns to follow you, then you are a leader.

There are holes in that analogy but I think the base meaning is true. True leadership is trust

Trust by your team that you have the ability to lead them in a direction that is best for them even if you don’t tell they why. Do I advocate not telling your team why you go a direction, absolutely not, tell them everything at every opportunity you can explain it until they understand. The day will come when you need them to trust you, when you can’t tell them everything; you need have mental credits with them for when that day comes.

Keep in mind that if you think about this analogy and your team would not follow you, trust is a two Way Street you might not be giving them a reason to trust you, or one or two team members may have lost your trust.
There are many ways to build trust, team exercises, defending your team, getting them what they need to do their job, expressing empathy, rewarding good performance, and yes removing under performers. It comes down to, be engaged, be proactive, and don’t get bogged down with your “work”, your work IS your team.

What other things make a person a leader post a comment I want your feedback.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Managing to the Sick Calf“

This is a term used by dairy farmers in Wisconsin to describe a certain style of managing your animals.

Let me try to illustrate let’s say that you have 20 calves born in a year. Of that 20, one of them is very vigorous and will do great if you give her almost no attention, and one of them has major health issues, and requires allot of attention to survive. Someone that is “Managing to the Sick Calf“ will spend whatever time is necessary to try to save the sick animal.

The goal of most farmers in Wisconsin is to raise there 20 calves up to be 20 cows that produce good milk. One family quoted to me that it costs about $600 to get a calf up to its first milking, and the sale price of them at that age is about $500 to $2000. Let’s look back at our sick calf she will take us at least $600 dollars (if not more as that is an average and medicine costs money) and likely only be worth $500, so we would lose money based on her value.

So there is no logic in razing the animal but yet it’s done. I have seen it, a farmer enters a shed full of calves and spend an hour taking care of all the other animals and then an hour taking care of the one sick animal, and do that every day for months. Why?

Because they see that sick calf needs help so they do, if the calf wasn’t there they wouldn’t spend any more time with the other ones because they don’t need him. So they look at as they can have 19 or 20 animals, why not have 20.

Now what if you ignore or get rid of the sick calf and spend the extra hour taking care of your other 19, or even spend it all on your one vigorous animal. With 19 animals you only need to improve the value of them by 5% to make up for not having the sick calf in total value, and the calf then has no cost. For this to work you need to spend the same amount of time caring for your herd if you have a sick calf or not.

So I challenge you on your teams are you “Managing to the Sick Calf“ and if not, are you spending the same amount of time “care and feeding” your healthy and vigorous team members that you would if you had a sick calf.

Monday, June 28, 2010

IT Leadership Versions

As many of you who read my last posts know I am working on applying many standard IT thought processes and controls to the way I roll out changes to how I manage my staff.

What are the forces which drive changes to “software”? New features are mostly driven by customer demand, regulatory or compliance need, and attempts to increase overall value of the product.

Removal of features commonly come from lack of utilization, a function that is now core to the operating system or other commonly used product lines which can just be leveraged by the product.

Ministry Health care has embraced the Studer group principles, and I am embarrassed to say I was behind the curve on this. I am proud to say that most of the principles are at a functional level just a more detailed framework around the One Minute Manager principles I have already embraced. So this is both “regulatory” and “increase overall value” drivers are pushing my new version.

With most policies, procedures or documentation there long term value is a direct relationship to the governance established at the onset of the activity. Changing how you manage a team should be no different. So what will the governing rule to my leadership approach be?

I will allow a minor update to my management framework every quarter. Major changes that affect more than one area of my management framework can only be done every two years at most.

I find it critical that we provide time for our management framework to burn in for at least a year before we truly consider their effectiveness.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Consumption for implementation

Any of us who have had to read for comprehension in a class, or when studying understand that it takes a significant amount more time then reading.   How many times have you read an email, just to stop and say, wait a second I just read something that caught my eye, let me go back and read the whole thing again.
Without realizing it 3 years back I came upon the need to elevate my understanding for a set of information beyond retention, to implementation.  As a brand new IT leader I found I had a team and no structured idea how I was going to lead them.  My answer was to go back to the well of what had worked for me, the simple teachings in who moved my Cheese by Spencer Johnson.  So after reading that book again I found that Spencer Johnson had also written “The one Minute Manager”.

Well I would have gotten the book, but I was a new leader I had budgets to gather, ordering to understand, relationship to decipher and the whole concept of what each of my team members did to figure out. In addition I found myself driving to each of our locations in my first month of being a new leader to get “Face time” with my customer base.  This left me with no spare time but a lot of travel time. 

Answer: audio CD of The one Minute Manager I didn’t listen to it once, not twice, I have no idea how many times I listened to it, 3 times all the way though start to finish, then in chunks.  I would listen to 5 minutes, one section.  Then spend the next hour on the road thinking about how I would make this work on my team, how I would adapt what they were saying.  Then stop somewhere open my laptop and take some frantic notes.

After all of these drives I would come home and after the kids went to bed spend hours on devolving procedures, systems whatever I needed to make as much of the book a reality.  (A recent re listen reminded me I was only ever to incorporate about 75% of what was in the book into my day to day)

Over the last month I have found myself reading Hardwiring Excellence by Quint Studer.  This reading has taken the form for a ratio; one hour reading, two hour taking notes and ten more hours mulling it over and revising my thoughts.  I don’t feel like I can move on until I have gelled my thoughts into something resembling an actionable approach to the concepts, then I refine it more as I go.

Without thinking about it I have embarked on two major evolutions to how I manage and they are both driven by some new information, and trying to figure out how to implement it. 

One came from written text the other from an Audio CD and the next might very well come from a podcast, video, Blog, or physical presentation.   That is why I find the term consumption much more appropriate then reading, we don’t just read for information we consume it in many mediums.

This is also infinitely more challenging and time consuming then retention, this is taking new information and preparing it for implementation in line. 

To this end I want to propose a new phrase into our vernacular.  “Consumption for implementation” = the process of learning new information in any way, and at the same time developing a framework to turn the new ideas into action.

This is a skill we should all be willing to develop, what is the point of learning new ideas if we do nothing with them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Change Management, Versioning good for technical. ………… Good for managing?

In IT we tend to talk about Change Management as some sort of “holy grail”.  If we can just get Change Management implemented on all technical changes the system will run much smoother.

There is also common accepted logic that when you implement a change you should minimize variables or when multiple adjustments are needed you should roll them into one package / release version.  Isolating these changes allows you to see impact form that change in a direct relationship and roll it back if needed.

This all culminates in a methodical, staged approach to ongoing changes.  Thus allowing you to deliberately take moves and actions, see outcomes, advantages, and problems created by those changes.

You are all saying, so ya we have heard this before, it is a main tenant of many IT organizations.

I want to challenge us as IT leaders.   Are we setting a good example? 

The last time you implemented a new way of managing your staff, did you follow Change Management?
Did you have a version rollout, or minimize variables so you could test your before and after state of your change?
Did you document exactly what you were changing? 
Did you gather before and after metrics as to where you were and where you went?
Do you have a schedule for changes in how you manage your staff?
Do you allow for sufficient time between your changes to see impact and relate it to that change?

Being an IT leader should be a process of continual improvement in skills, and I feel we should have a framework around how we as leaders move this forward without causing chaos to our staff.

Please leave me comments.  Am I crazy?  Will this work?  What pitfalls can you see?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why a blog? Why Now?

This is the start of something new for me - a blog.

Why a blog?

I have found one of the best ways to have a good relationship with your staff is the theory of no surprises. Part of this is clear goals, expectations, and constant feedback as outlined in the One Minute Manager by Spenser Johnson (the incredibly small, bible I used for my first year as a leader). Another part to that theory I am coming to understand is full transparency in leadership decision making. Making not only information of what you decide available to staff, but a snapshot of how you think.

I take this as a self-realization from reading the blog of our CIO, following him on twitter, yammer, facebook, etc . I sometimes feel like I am cheating when I read his blog. Like I know some small secrets about how his brain works, and the neat part is - I do. I have found great value in this with my ability to predict which direction he might take in the near future and how he will react if I approach him.

By expanding my web presence, I am attempting to scoop out some of my thought process and put it on a plate for world to see. Hoping that, in time, if my team peers or others find this blog and my other forms of communication they will garnish some secrets about how my brain works, enabling us to work together with less surprises.

Why Now?

I have amazing respect for the knowledge of all the IT technical pros out there and had great pride in being a good one. When I went into management I found myself feeling like that hardware tech hauling his first monitor out to the floor to install, excited, happy, and scared, and overwhelmed. That was August 2007.

The first year I was paddling to keep my head above water. I still had more pride in what I had done as an admin then as a manager. I had no idea what I was accomplishing and felt I was at best just ‘ok’ at it. Another year or so passed, and then I found myself at a crossroads presented with an opportunity to attempt a return to my technical life during a recent reorg of our IT department. I struggled. Many a night I went to bed thinking to myself “That’s it! I’m going back to being a tech”.

In the end I did no such thing. I just stayed where I am and realized that I still have way too much to learn about being a great manager. But I have found my pride - harking back to the One Minute Manager to quote “How on earth can I get results if it's not through people?”. My pride is in the success, development growth and accomplishments of my team.

So that is it. I am an IT leader for as long as the cards will let me. I hope this blog will help me continue my efforts to make everyone around me successful. At the end of the day, my job is not to produce but to enable.