November 9, 2008

Credibility - Building It Over Time

Careful now!
How to Make it Happen in 2008
You made a commitment, didn't follow through and nothing happened. Whew - how lucky that no one noticed.

Wrong! It is noticed and tracked. Because it is about credibility. A big word with profound implications. The less you deliver on your commitments – the less credible you become. And for a leader – credibility is what defines you. Credibility means trust, courage and smarts.

If you don’t understand your environment, underestimate your competition, commit what you cannot deliver – it all adds up to an ineffective leader. It is cumulative and adds up. People notice and they may ignore some hiccups but not for long. A history of misses leads to a lack of trust and questioning of motives.

As one of my managers always stressed “Do what you say and say what you do”. I takes time to build credibility and not a whole lot to lose it.

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October 13, 2008

Mandating or Negotiating – Which is Better?

First we talk ...
Negotiate mandate change
The short answer is – it depends!

The easy option is the top-down approach. Leadership creates a vision, they back it up by investing in that idea/strategy. The rest is a matter of change trickling down and being accepted by the rest of the organization. It takes time but it happens.

Unless the vision is revolutionary and drastic. Consider the challenges facing a new leader who is brought in to shake things up and get the organization moving to a different tune. Vikram Pandit at Citibank, Alan Mulally at Ford and Mark Hurd at HP are some examples of leaders that need to affect change from the top. They have to make alliances, influence managers, goad the organization to change and inflict some level of pain to change the organization. In such situations, there is significant resistance to change and leadership courage and persistence is required for success.

Negotiation and influence are a big part of any change effort. Human beings are emotional beings and especially in a 'knowledge worker' environment – dictating a strategy is not the most effective way to align your team behind you. The team has to be sold the vision, cajoled into changing, influenced with projected benefits and engaged in making the shift.

If you are frustrated with the speed of change on your team – rethink your change strategy. Hopefully your approach it is a prudent mix of leadership vision, partnership and active negotiations.

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September 26, 2008

Who Is Your Master?

Ready to communicate?
organization meeting communication
The easy answer is - the person above you in the organizational chart. But organizations are unfortunately more complicated than straight forward 1-1 relationships. There are dotted lines, peer groups, interface points, stakeholders, steering committees, client, customers – you get the picture.

In this web of relationships the challenge becomes prioritization. Who is relevant, influential and critical for your project success? Everyone cannot be dealt with in the same way, given the same information and expected to react in a predictable fashion. People are different, their roles are different and their expectations are different.

Your immediate manager can be your best ally if you have the right relationship with him. He will defend you, coach you, and help you succeed – because your success means his success. If you ignore, sideline, undermine or surprise your manager – you walk on dangerous ground.

Other relationships need to be scoped out and put in perspective. Some are “required but useless” ventures – you need to meet the requirements but not invest too much time in such activities. Some relationships may look superfluous but could be important. Participation of upper management in your project (steering committee) needs to be managed carefully and proactively.

The requirements are plentiful and time is limited. Understand your reporting priorities and leverage your relationships to be successful.

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September 11, 2008

Keep It Simple!

Get it?
complex complicate simple real
Are you ever struck by the complications and complexities you encounter at work? Thousand task workplans, super-complicated organizational structures, a partnership agreement documented in multiple folders, a vision statement that takes a whole day offsite meeting to articulate …

I don’t get it. New PMs will insist on creating a plan with dependencies, milestones and tasks that will confound even a seasoned project manager. Participants in a meeting will get entangled in the details of a situation which gets them no closer to solving the issue at hand. Issues will get exaggerated with history, personality and vested interest to make it almost impossible to solve.

My advise - keep it simple! Most things in life are not complicated – we make them so. Over complicating something does not make is more important or more glamorous – it just makes it harder. And harder makes it more expensive and risky.

We all get caught in the frenzy to create more and more – but pause for a moment and think. Is it required, does it add value, does it address any objectives, does it get the job does faster – question the reason to add more. Keep it simple, keep it doable and keep it real!

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August 24, 2008

Do You Buy Your Leader’s Vision?

It is almost a rite of passage. The new incumbent starts his tenure by articulating his vision. It is grandiose, glamorous and catchy. After all the objective is to establish yourself as a credible leader and leadership without vision is almost an oxymoron.

But I am frequently disappointed because the vision unfortunately remains a vision. When the dust settles, I often find no perceptible change in how things operate and it makes me wonder. Is this vision thing a sham?

In some cases it is a sham. It is a political exercise to present yourself, garner support, make some connections and move on. The leader presumably had a different objective in mind, but used the vision thing to get what he wanted.

In some cases constraints get the better of intention. You cannot affect the change you want because of culture, financial or organization constraints.

And in some cases it is just a disconnect between vision and reality. You bite off more than you can chew. New Year resolutions are a good example of this syndrome. You aim too high and due to lack of progress lose interest.

There are leaders who can talk and then there are leaders who can deliver. I am biased towards the one that under promise and over deliver.

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August 17, 2008

ROI – Thinking Like a Business Owner

Can you measure it?
ROI Measure Quantify

When investing or making a deal – you have to worry about the return on your investment. ROI defines what you expect from the deal or transaction. Without a good understanding of the expected return – the question becomes – why make the deal?

The same question gets posed when you initiate or embark on a new project. What is the ROI of this project? And usually the concept is sold with subjective articulation of perceived benefits like increased efficiency, more productivity, reduced defects and higher morale. Great but can you prove (factually) the validity of these claims.

If you were an astute businessman you would be always asking – what is the ROI? And no businessman (like a bank) will give you money if you provide subjective benefits. The problem with subjective definition is lack of measurability. And if you can’t measure something – how do you know if you are getting better or worse, getting more or less, deriving value or throwing away money.

An objective ROI analysis for any project or venture forces you to quantify and clarify benefits of this investment. We will reduce defects by x%, we will increase output by x% or we will reduce headcount by x% are all discrete and measurable attributes. You present a more robust and valid business case when you back-up your analysis by facts and objectivity.

Invest the time upfront to understand the ROI of your project. If you cannot quantify the benefits – do you really want to move forward?

(Photo courtesy Flickr/Nick Sayers)

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August 6, 2008

A Gantt Chart and A Project Plan

Part of the solution
How to Make it Happen in 2008
There is an infatuation new PMs have with timelines or specifically Gantt charts. I guess they are visually appealing and easy to draw. Often when I review project plans – I am presented with only a Gantt or a timeline. And I always wonder – what about the rest of the plan?

What is the rest of the plan? Well – it is everything needed to draw the Gantt. The Gantt is basically stating a timeline requirement to accomplish something. So the plan should address this something or in other words the scope of the project.

Scope – what exactly is included in this project? The more detailed the better because this is the reason why this project is being initiated – to accomplish this objective. Next comes the question – how will this scope be accomplished?

That leads to metholdology, WBS, steps or tasks. The Gantt may show these steps, but any assumptions, constraints, dependencies or milestones need to be clarified and spelled out as part of the planning process.

The Gantt may show resource assignment but what is needed is the organizational structure for this project. Reporting structure, roles and expectations need to be explicitly defined. Any assumptions about skills, availability, critical resources or training need to be defined.

And finally the cost of the project in terms of hours and dollars needed to be articulated. Cost components like contingency management, resource costs, assumptions, locations, and hw/sw should be defined.

A Gantt is defendable and viable when it is backed up by core project planning attributes. Without these – a Gantt is little more than a pretty picture.

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July 16, 2008

Meetings - Speak Up & Move Up!

Where are you?
Meeting business speak
Do you love meetings or hate them? Meetings have got a bad rep as time wastage and bureaucratic exercise that yeild limited value. Badly structured or conducted meetings may be unproductive but meetings in general play an important role in one's brand development and eventually career growth.

Meetings are an opportunity to verbalize and socialize your opinions, suggestions and insight. It is a social occasion where your image is substantiated and people get an opportunity to size you up. How you interact in a meeting therefore can help or undermine your career growth.

Consider the following meeting practices

  • Don't be invisible: That is the most common symptom I see when people are uncomfortable in a meeting. They try to make themselves invisible by taking the back seat, never speaking and generally keeping a low profile. What message does this send to the rest of the group? Passive, lacking ideas, not a team player, lacking confidence are some of the behavior attributes that get associated with such individuals. Hardly the kind of image you want to foster if you are seeking to establish yourself as a key team member.

  • Speak ... but: It is important to chime in as needed and make your presence be felt but don't overdo it. There is always someone who just won't quit speaking or has an opinion about everything. Speak to add value, to be constructive or to contribute in a meaningful way.

  • Be prepared: Meetings also require preparation. Read the agenda, the meeting objectives and understand the context. If you are unfamiliar with the meeting objective - do some legwork to come up to speed. The more prepared you, the more you can contribute in the meeting. If you have no idea what is going on - keep quite and stay invisible!

Use meetings to your advantage - showcase what you have to offer by being visible, constructive and vocal.

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July 9, 2008

Is career management an acquired skill?

My contention is that career management is a set of skills & competencies which one intentionally needs to get good at. At least what I have seen makes me believe that not enough is done to educate and prepare folks for active career management. Many people lack the tools & understanding of how to evolve their career. They work hard, stumble along, wondering why they are stuck while others are moving ahead.

Active career management leads to career progression. The key word here is ‘management’. Management indicates intentional thought and effort to achieve a desired result.

Some components of career management include -

  • Foresight: Where do you want to be in the long-term? If you don’t know where you are going – why bother!

  • Planning: How will you get to that objective needs to be planned out and executed. Constantly revisited, revised, realigned and re-planned to ensure success.

  • People: Who you know, how you forge relationships and who do you need to know has a huge impact on your career.

  • Brand: Who you are and what your brand says about you is part of the equation. Brands are not established in a day – they need time, effort and commitment.

  • Change: When to change, how to change and how to be a step ahead of impending events. It is always better to make your own decisions rather than react to changes.

  • Game: How to play the game and excel at it is the bottom-line. Fortune 50, stogy corporate, hip Silicon Valley company, start-up, partnership – all come with a set of rules and nuances that you need to master. Social awareness, emotional maturity and adaptability are mandatory for success. Working hard is fine – working smart is better.

Check out UnStuck – a roadmap for proactive career management and corporate success. You can download a free online version here or buy the book at Amazon.

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July 7, 2008

Drama Queen - Not Welcome!

Are you opinionated, moody, verbose, emotional and sensitive ... at work? Hopefully the answer is no, except for an occasional bout of 'losing it'. Being professional at work is the anti-thesis of the above personality. Professional behavior entails the following

  • Leave your baggage at home: Please don't bring your personal issues to work. Work is a place of business, where above all you have an obligation to perform your assigned duties. Socialization and personal interaction is fine - as long as it does not impact your or your co-workers output.

  • Manage your image: Your professional image is different from your personal life. Blurring the boundary between personal and professional is never a good idea. You should strive to put your best foot forward at work - everyday.

  • Expectations management: Yes there are implicit and explicit professional expectations. What you can wear to work is explicit. How you behave and interact should meet certain implicit norms - courtesy, politeness, demeanor and attention are some of them.

Pleasant, polite and assertive team members are always in demand. The drama queen or the blow-up artist are barely tolerated and mostly not welcome. It is your choice!

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June 30, 2008

Opportunity Knocks!

Opportunity Preparation Ambition Focus
It is a rare occurence but sometimes opportunity does knock on your door. The question is – what do you do when opportunity comes knocking?

Ignore It
Happens all the time. You are not expecting, thinking or even contemplating a change in your routine. You have your blinders on and blissfully ignore what could be an opportunity of a lifetime.

Avoid It
Sometimes we shy away from that opportunity. Some fear, some laziness and some just lack of foresight but in the end we choose not to participate in that venture. A job opening, a business venture, maybe investing in a promising company, meeting someone special, participating in an event – we just let it slide by.

Embrace It
That happens when you are ready. Ready to make it happen. You have been waiting eagerly, in anticipation and here it is. This situation entails preparation, willingness, ambition and an open mind. When you do your due diligence and focus on you next venture – the opportunity will present itself. And pursuing that opportunity will not be an option but a certainty. That is the hallmark of success.

Opportunities will pass the oblivious and timid but not the prepared.

(Photo courtesy Flickr/idg)

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June 26, 2008

5 Tips from the CEO of

Find your job! Jobs
Sal Iannuzzi, CEO of was recently interviewed by WSJ. You can read the full interview here, but here are 5 tips Mr.Iannuzzi suggested for finding a job in a tough market.

  1. Stay focused on what you want to do and the type of position you are looking for.

    Instead of jumping at the first opportunity, you should be selective in your job hunt. Focus comes from preparation and anticipation.

  2. Seek jobs that are relevant and build onto your long-term goals.

    If you have a long-term plan, make sure your next step gets you closer to that goal.

  3. Cast a wide net; your dream job may be hiding in a company or industry you never considered.

    Why not - leverage the internet and the options it offers you to extend your search.

  4. Be diverse, as jobs with different responsibilities provide valuable experiences.

    Remember - growth does not always have to be vertical. There is merit in horizontal growth to expand your horizons.

  5. Keep building on those experiences. Eventually, you'll be able to apply what you've learned to just about anything and be successful.

    Don't be stuck in a rut. If you are learning and expanding your skill set - there are no limits.

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June 19, 2008

Should You Keep Your Manager in the Dark?

No skipping ahead allowed
Manage The Chain of Command
I am a big proponent of solid lines. Dotted lines confuse me and probably dilute the organizational structure. A solid line based organization creates a strong reporting hierarchy. A hierarchy ideally supported by well defined roles and responsibilities. Everyone knows that is expected of them, they understand who they report to, who reports to them and everything is perfect.

But we don’t live or work in a perfect world. One way to create that imperfection is to break the chain of command. It happens both ways.

Top Down Breakdown
When my manager’s manager decides to interact directly with me – it could be a break in the hierarchy chain. What constitutes a break? A directive from my manager’s manager that impacts my corporate role (what I produce, who I interact with, what I do etc.) is cause for alarm. It is an even bigger cause for alarm when my manager is unaware of this intervention. And huge red flags go up when my manager is kept in the dark intentionally.

Outside of creating angst and confusion I don’t think this situation ever accomplishes anything positive. The only appropriate reaction in this situation for an employee is to update his manager so the manager can address the issue with his boss. After all it is the manager who is being marginalized by his boss and that is a situation the manager should actively resolve.

Bottom Up Breakdown
When the employee decides to jump the hierarchy by circumventing his boss and addresses a situation directly with his manager’s manager – the outcome can be messy. Smart managers force the issue back to where it belongs and reaffirm the hierarchy. This does not mean ignoring valid problems or issues (whistle blowers) but the emphasis is on giving the right people an opportunity to rectify the issue and escalate if needed.

If I have an issue that needs to be addressed – I need to escalate and seek resolution by first working with my manager. If my manager is unable or unwilling to address the issue, then I should escalate the issue to the next level. The key is to inform the current level of your need to escalate the issue to the next level. No ones likes surprises (especially the bad kind) and proactive communication is the way to minimize surprises.

Everyone has a role in an organization and when someone is intentionally circumvented – problems arise. Backdoor shenanigans create more pain instead of solve any problems. So think again before you consider skipping a level.

(Photo courtesy Flickr/Pardesi*)

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June 12, 2008

From Super Star to Shooting Star

From Super Star to Shooting Star
Not Too Long Ago -
Six months into one of investment banking's toughest jobs, the 42-year-old Ms. Callan is emerging as a galvanizing force at Lehman and a finance chief who topples much of the conventional wisdom about CFOs. She also is the highest-ranking woman on Wall Street. Many Lehman insiders consider her among the contenders to become the firm's president someday.
And Today -
Lehman Brothers Holdings has pushed out its chief financial officer, Erin Callan, and chief operating officer, Joseph Gregory, amid a persistent clamor over the company's weak performance.
The Lesson -
  • When you are in the limelight, your performance will be scrutinized. No slacking on the job allowed.

  • Beware the scapegoat syndrome. If the mob wants a head - one will be provided. Avoid being the headless one.

  • A large part of being at the top is being politically savvy (remember the scapegoat situation).

  • If you cannot delivery – you are toast. Focus on flawless execution.

  • Sometimes it is circumstantial – the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong company. It is only sometimes and mostly avoidable.

  • Can you “wing it”? There are consequences (toast) if you mess up.

  • Always have an exit strategy (i.e. golden parachute, marketable skills, active network). This too will end.

  • Super stardom is ephemeral – enjoy it while it lasts!

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June 2, 2008

Quit Your Whining!

How to Make it Happen in 2008
I keep coming across these characters often – the whiners and complainers. This is broke, this doesn’t work, this is not right, this is bad, this sucks – blah blah blah! We all are guilty to some degree of letting off some steam every once in a while about our jobs, the economy, politics – just stuff. Occasional venting is different than constant whining at work. Why? One is normal human temperament; the other is a career limiting personality trait.

At work you have the ability to fix things. Granted not everything but there are possibilities. Far more possibilities if you willing to take the attitude of 'solve a problem'. And trust me – everyone loves a problem solver. A person with a positive attitude who is willing to invest his time and energy to put things right is always a positive addition to any team.

So next time before you email a complaint to your manager or team – consider putting some appropriate solutions in that email. Follow-up on your ideas, work with your team and solve the issue. Getting things done is much more satisfying than just talking about them.

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May 28, 2008

Getting Smarter – Everyday

I recently watched an interview with Warren Buffett. Mr.Buffett is an astute investor and it is great to listen to him talk about investing. In this interview he said something which I think applies to all of us. His point was that everyday we have an opportunity to become a little smarter. And if we are not becoming smarter – that is a problem.

So the question is – are you becoming a little smarter everyday? If you are stuck, consider the following options

- Take a training course
- Teach a course
- Read a book
- Read a trade journal
- Learn a new tool or technology
- Use the help feature to learn more about the tools you use
- Learn about the business
- Start a blog
- Write an article
- Attend a conference
- Apply for a franchise
- Write a business plan
- Create a website

Don't kill yourself - just become a little smarter - everyday!

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May 20, 2008

What You Do Today - You Reap Tomorrow

Start marketing early
What You Do Today - You Reap Tomorrow
I keep running into examples of how choices people made early in their careers impact them later in life. Obviously hindsight is 20/20 but there is something to be said about long-term vision. Here are some examples -

The business world works on relationships. Who you know matters - big time! And sales is all about making connections. You are making connections to sell, to find other customers and to just be plugged in. Do those relationships pay out? Absolutely! If you want to start your own business, move up or out - relationships will make a difference.

Marketable Competency
You may be great at what you do but does that translate into marketable skills. If you are in IT - do you understand the online space - Web 2.0, web services, graphic design, site setup, web architecture, web analytics? The web is a known technology interface and competency in this space can be leveraged to start a business, seek career growth or move across industries (everyone needs a website). Conversely - if you are the SME on the backend/legacy application - how do you translate that into a marketable competency? Think about it.

You may have the greatest product or the best service but if you can't market it - you will probably not sell it. Marketing is evident in every aspect of life. You are a brand and you have to market yourself at work everyday. To seek a better or different job - you have to market yourself to a new customer. To get your business venture off the ground - you have to market it. If you have an opportunity, learn marketing. It will serve you well - again and again.

If you have a vision for where you want to be tomorrow - great. If not - it may be worthwhile to ponder where you want to be and how today will help you get there.

(Photo courtesy - Flickr)

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May 10, 2008

Burnout by Boredom!

Burnout by Boredom!
Usually burnout is associated with an excess of long hours, stress and high-pressure situations. But what about the reverse? If your job is dull and boring, expectations are low and stress unheard of – does that also cause burnout?

If you let it get to you – you will have burnout by boredom.

If this lull at work is temporary – fear not. Use it to your advantage. Take some CBTs, revise your resume, network, get involved with corporate events, get certified – some options that will help you come out ahead at the end of the rest period.

If you want to be more aggressive, this lull can be the opportunity to jumpstart a second career or side business. If you have always thought about starting something new – now is the time to explore your options. Leverage this time to read, meet and learn about your new venture. Maybe even launch something part-time to get it started.

If the lull is long-term or endemic of your role, culture or organization – you have to wonder – how long will this situation last? Once the honeymoon ends and you are in the market with a stagnant set of skills and a laid-back work ethic – expect the going to be tough.

Dull and boring comes in various flavors – make sure you handle your downtime judiciously.

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May 5, 2008

A Bad Chair Day - Come' on Grow Up!

I miss my massage
A Bad Chair Day - Come' on Grow Up!
I've been out of the office on a three-day seminar and have got back to find my chair has been replaced with a less comfortable one. I suspect a colleague who started his job while I was away. His cubicle is right across from mine and every time I see him I feel cross. Should I get in early one morning and swap the chair over again? But what if it wasn't him? Should I confront him, or would that look petty? Or do I just put up with a chair that is uncomfortable and is not mine?
Query posted to FT's Lucy Kellaway

I agree with Lucy that we spend enough time at work or specifically we spend almost as much time in our chair at work as much as we do in bed so there is abound to be attachment. And therein lies the problem.

Sometimes that attachment can become rather obsessive. Although I am not against personalizing your cube or workspace - there is a line you have to draw. After all work is work and lest we forget everything at work is owned by our employer - the cube, the computer, the files on the computer, the office supplies, the printer paper, our time ...

And the more attached you become to your desk and your chair and your application and your job - the harder it becomes to let go. Let go may happen because you want to or you are asked to. Attachment is directly proportional to separation pain so be careful when the urge to really settle down starts to tap you on the shoulder.

To the hapless office worker in the above story - get another chair and get to work. At least you have a chair!

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April 29, 2008

Should You Ever Call Your Client Stupid?

What did you call me?
Should You Ever Call Your Client Stupid?
Recently I was at the receiving end of this situation. When seeking clarity on a business requirement - the consultant responded via email and stated rather emphatically that I don't know what I was talking about and this is how it is done. Wow! It took some time for my blood pressure to return to normal and fortunately I did not respond in a huff, which would have lead to more unpleasantness.

Tactfulness should be high in the consultant's skill repertoire. Yes - people can be stupid or naive but to call them that leads to an acrimonious end to the relationship. Educating, negotiating and explaining are preferred options when it comes to dealing with disagreement or a difficult customer.

Some communication is always better conducted face to face. Resolving issues, disagreeing or debating a scenario are some situations that fall in this category. Sensitive subjects require the ability to change strategy contingent on how the discussion is progressing. Email is a static medium - devoid of flexibility, best avoided when you want to call your customer a nitwit.

Win Win
It's a business - not a personal vendetta session. Leave your baggage at home or better still at the gym or the yoga class. Patience, respect and humility lead to a productive engagement, which is the desired goal - for everyone.

When you show disrespect towards your client, no one wins. I don't know about you but for me winning is always a better option.

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