Tag Archives: management

30 Days of Aspirin for your Ailing Management Headaches

Take Two & Call Me In the Morning

I like a book like Gerry Czarnecki’s even if I can’t pronounce his name. He’s laid out things for readers, a very busy bunch who are going to have trouble finding time in their day to read, but can sorely use the advice. Organized into 30 daily bites of probably 15-20 minutes, you can dig through on your commute to work, or on your lunch break.

Also check out Who Moved My Cheese a business self-help classic.

Czarnecki should know. As a 2nd Army Lieutenant then later heading up board of directors at organizations large and small he’s seen a lot. He digs up the best stories, and offers up lessons straight out of his experiences.

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On interviews – Be careful that you do not let the resume dominate your conversation. You will gain better insight if you listen to what the candidates want to talk about or what they think you want to talk about. – Gerry Czarnecki
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Some of the topics you’ll touch on…

o dealing with mistaken hires that don’t work out
o finding a mentor
o career moves & pivots
o setting expectations with new hires
o hitting peak performance
o filling your bus with rock stars

For startups an all-time favorite of mine is REWORK – 37 Signals guys. These guys have taken the lean methodology and built a real business by being efficient. The pages resonate for me as a small business owner. I’ve found many of the same lessons work in the real world for me.

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Also read
Thank you for arguing by Jay Heinrichs
. With some of the best advice on rhetoric, sales, presentations & persuasion, I re-read bits of the book often.

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Consulting essentials: Managing & Completing Engagements

This is the second in a series of three articles on Consulting Essentials.
Read the previous post, Consulting essentials: Getting the business

Communicating well and knowing when to step in or stand back is the linchpin of successful consulting.
Some people have natural charm. If you’re one of these people you’ll find consulting is definitely for you. You’ll use that skill all the time as each new client brings a half dozen or a dozen new people to interact with.

If it doesn’t come easily, practice practice practice. Try to get out of your own head space, and hear what troubles your client, and what big business challenges worry them.

Be ready to help but don’t try to be the hero


A decade ago I worked for an Internet startup. They were having serious performance problems which was slowing down the site, and turning users away. When digging into the systems I found serious security issues besides the performance ones, and got distracted trying to wrap up those lest someone break in and destroy or steal their business assets. Communicating the situation to the client, they looked aghast. After explaining the situation to them, they understood the risks and explained that the current priorities were to get users back online.

The technical problems I saw may not have been aligned with the business priorities. Your job is to make your client happy. Provide your professional opinion and advice whenever and wherever your skills come into play, but let them run their own business.

If you’re focusing on one area, and you discover other problems or things that may need resolving going forward, bring this to the attention of the client. Allow them to prioritize for themselves. It’s their business not yours. Your job is to give your professional opinion, raise concerns that you see, but most importantly solve problems they want you to solve.

Project Your Personality

Smile a lot and listen to people. Make sure you’re talking less than half the time. When you first engage with a client, they should be speaking more like two-thirds of the time. You want to get in the habit of listening, and stepping in your clients shoes. You want to understand their pain, their business concerns and how to satisfy them.

Manage Time Efficiently

Get things done. Everybody talks about it, but not everyone does it. I personally avoid all the faddish tools for this, and use a simple checklist. Focus on the task at hand. Give yourself a doable list of tasks each day, and check them off as you go. Try hard to avoid working on things not on that list. The last point relates back to the principle of solving only the problems that you’ve been asked to solve.

Communicate Successes & Progress

In many engagements you’ll come upon struggles and get blocked by situations that seem intransigent. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to communicate with the client during these situations. Don’t get stuck thinking it will make you look weak. Communicating with the client has a number of surprising advantages.

For one sometimes they’ll have a solution, such as a different angle on the business problem, or insight and details that just simplify the problem you think you thought needed to be solved.

Second, it allows the client to adjust schedules in advance if something will take a little longer. You’d be surprised how often a client will sympathize with a difficult problem.

Lastly, involving the client intimately allows them to enjoy the triumph when you solve the problem. This helps morale, communicates more about what it is you do day-to-day and how you work through a problem. And overall it helps them appreciate the intrinsic value you’re providing.

Don't be that guy–Social tips for geeks

Sheldon CooperAs a tech consultant one of the most interesting parts of the job is being able to observe human relations at work. I’ve learned through the years that because tech people and non-tech people speak different ‘languages’, bridging the communication gap is a critical part of my role as a consultant.

Sometimes the relationship between tech and other business units is less sweet. The typical complaints are that IT guys are always denying requests, aloof and even downright unhelpful.

On the other side, the geeks feel frustrated that people “just don’t listen”. We remind people to always use strong passwords, and people still make “password” their password. We train end-users and give specific guidance and instructions but they still commit the fundamental mistakes. Meanwhile, the managers expect IT staff to perform miracles.

So who can be blamed when this animosity exists? Geeks for their arrogance? Or end-users for not making an effort to improve their understanding of tech concepts? Perhaps both sides can share the blame. But as tech folks we can try to make things better by working on our communication skills. Sliding into aloofness will not only make people resentful but suspicious of our motives too. Don’t be that guy!

If you’ve found yourself slipping up in the people-skills department, here are a few tips that can help you along. Think of understanding and persuading other people as a puzzle equally complex as the biggest engineering challenge. In that light you can look at it as an ongoing project to improve your communication and charm.

  1. Please Speak My Language
  2. Martha Stewart said “the biggest mistake people make is they expect that others know stuff…”. Amen Martha. In my experience a lot of folks fall into this category. Ever been at a meeting where financial folks are waxing on about the business bottom line, margins, and shareholder value? If talk of capex, opex and other financial terms confound you, then you know the feeling. So why subject others to this when we talk tech? There’s no reason to, and people will love you for using a language that everyone can understand. Use analogies and stories to emphasize an idea or point so it resonates with your audience.

  3. Listen to me
  4. Everyone wants to be listened to; hopefully that’s obvious. But sometimes we get stuck on our own ideas, and focus more on people hearing us. It may sound counterintuitive, but psychologically speaking, listening more to the other person makes them listen to your ideas more. Start by giving plenty of time to speak, and try to repeat the other persons ideas in your own words. You’ll set the tone for a more reasoned dialogue and find your own thoughts heard more too.

  5. Be more positive
  6. Perhaps it is our engineering backgrounds, and the discipline that the scientific method ingrains in us. You may think that being critical is a common way to approach a discussion on issues. However this may come across as negative and stand-offish depending on how you communicate. What’s more if your audience doesn’t see things from your perspective, you may find yourself complaining and condemning proposals.

    Better to find the positive as a common starting point. Speak about all the things that work well first, before working your way around to points of difference.

  7. Speak slowly
  8. Psychologists have found that people sense more confidence and listen more to people who speak slowly. It may seem counterintuitive, after all if you speak quicker, you may be able to get that complicated idea out into the world before you are ever interrupted! What’s more speaking slowly allows you to think about what might come next, anticipating reactions, or even changing direction slightly in mid-stream. It also allows you more time to catch what might be a … or a slip of the tongue.

  9. A few more ideas to chew on…
    1. Smile more
    2. You may not be aware of how often you’re smiling or not. What’s more you may think it insincere to try to smile. But a frown, or other negative face can criticize your audience as much as actual words can. And it can set people off on the wrong foot, so they won’t listen to you either. Better to stay positive, and convey that with a smile.

    3. Remember & use people’s names
    4. People love to hear their own names. Remembering and using someone’s name improves the chances that they will listen to you and your ideas.

    5. Repeat what others say in your own words
    6. This one is really crucial. By repeating someone’s ideas in your own words you do a few things all at once. First you improve communication, as it is so often the case that we misunderstand someone else’s ideas, repeating them in your own words allows them to hear how you’ve digested their point, and allows them to comment or adjust if you missed something. It also shows them you are really listening. If you’re going to critique someone, and they feel you didn’t really get their idea, they’ll be very unlikely to listen.

    7. Try not to say “you’re wrong”
    8. Even in the cases where the other person is completely wrong, this statement may not have the intended affect. It may simple cause them to wall off and not listen to you. Better to point out the sides of what they are saying that you can agree with first, then come around to some differences.

    9. Read Dale Carnegie
    10. The classic book “How to Win Friends & Influence People” should really be required reading for the geek set. Being personable and charming may not be natural to all of us, but a lot of it can be learned with practice. Dale Carnegie has written a sort of bible on the topic, and it’s definitely worth a read.