Archive for category Change

Back to School for a Lesson in Failure

I recently completed a 3 year project which – according to client requirements – should have been done 2 years ago. Hey, I’d like to say that good things take time! But the truth is that sometimes life – and IT project execution – is just unpredictable. And painful. But – ever the optimist – throughout the three years, I tried to find the sunny spot in the gloom of our basement project room. And today I’m asking myself “what did I learn?”

You cannot deliver on something you do not know.
Seek out experts, get training for yourself and your team. Classroom training is not enough. For me, I learned the most from my network of connections I had built over the years through my engagement in a professional community – the Americas SAP Users Group (ASUG). Collaboration with others outside of my own usual comfort zone – across companies and within my own company – helps me to shift paradigms, and, in this case, helped me to question my own design and to rethink the possibilities.

Expectations are sneaky.
Expectation – noun – a belief that someone will or should achieve something. We IT people like things that are concrete – you know, “If x, then y, else z…”. As Project Managers and Business Analysts, we follow plans and processes, carefully sequenced and timed. We define scope and lock it down. What is impossible to manage are the expectations of a variety of stakeholders – each with different concerns. In my case, Legal wanted the solution delivered fast. Business areas didn’t want productivity disrupted. Administration wanted something that would require little manual intervention (add time to the project plan here!). Human Resources wanted a solution that employees would like (add more time to the project plan). IT, of course, wanted us to stay on time and within budget. I understood all these expectations. What we missed was how difficult it would be to keep those expectations from creeping back into the project even after we had all agreed some things would simply not be done within the parameters of this project. There’s only one way (in my humble opinion) to prevent being sidetracked by expectations: that is, have one single person as the ultimate decision maker.

“Failure is delay, not defeat.” – Denis Waitley.
Despite your best laid plans and past successes, sometimes you simply fail to meet everyone’s expectations, the timeline or the budget. But I refused to admit defeat.  We missed the two scheduled release dates. We went over our original budget by a significant number. Despite the pressure from management on those two points, our team persevered in finding the right solutions. With my sense of integrity intact, I suggested a redesign of the solution – thereby removing many of the hurdles that were getting in the way of expectations — some of which were pretty important expectations. No one applauded or sent bonuses my way when we were done. But I have the satisfaction of knowing I did the very best I could and that what I delivered really did remove potential issues for our buisness.

Denis Waitly said “Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” I don’t think I can be accused of any of that. The entrepreneurial spirit in me still prefers to challenge the status quo, longs to innovate, and is okay with taking a calculated risk. I have raised two daughters who were at times scared to fail. And everyday, with every new decision they faced, I would say, “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen if you try that?” I have never received an answer to that question from either one of them. And so now I am going to take a page from my daughter’s playbook at Blondes Have More Run  and leave us all with the following.

Excuse me now, but i have to keep going!

fearspartan

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Seriously Perfect

In my early 20’s, I was incredibly serious about how others viewed me and whether or not I was being taken seriously. At a friend’s picnic, someone sprayed me with a hose and I was upset because my hair was ruined and my cute outfit had to be taken off to dry. Seriously.

I have been taking that perfectionist attitude to work too. EXCELLENCE demands getting it all absolutely 100% right – right? I mean, you agree, don’t you?

Here’s the thing that working in technology taught me: the 80/20 rule. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get to the bigger picture. If your budget is tight and timeline is short and only 80% of the business requirements will be met, can the 20% be handled in another manner?

For those of us who are perfectionists, this is difficult to accept. You have to step back and see the entire view. How much more money will it cost to do it “the right way?” And – as rapidly as things change in today’s world – how long will your “right” design be relevant? What are you really trying to fix? Really dig deep and work together to understand the core issue. Sometimes the answer to the problem is much simpler than you initially thought. Sometimes, there really isn’t an issue at all – but a perceived issue or a misguided process.

Most days I still dress pretty impeccably for work, believing in the mantra dress for the job you want, not the job you have. As I raised my two daughters, however, I cannot always afford to be as impeccably dressed as I would like. But, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter what my hair or clothing look like if I am not bringing quality and productive results to the table.

In a large organization, we’re all in it to make money — and not just for ourselves, but for the company. When the company we work for wins, we all win.

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Leader of the “Band” *

He was man of average build with calloused and greased-stained hands and a weathered face.  I feared his anger with a respect that needed no explanation.  When he smiled, his eyes smiled first.  He was a self-taught carpenter and electrician and car mechanic and small appliance repairman and construction foreman and a steel laborer – simultaneously.  He was bilingual, conversing easily in German  and English.  He didn’t go to college.  He didn’t graduate high school.  But he taught me everything I know about life and how to live it.   On Father’s Day, here are five tips from Dad.
LifeLessons

#1 – Good enough is not good enough.  Dad was a perfectionist of sorts who frequently complained about lackluster workmanship done by others.  He built our house.  And when it was done there was not one single thing that was left to finish – no unfinished floors, or half painted windows or pieces of trim were left to be done later.

#2 – You catch more bees with honey.  Dad frequently reminded us that it served no purpose to be rude in return to someone we thought didn’t like us or who was rude to us.  During one summer college break my brother, Steve, held a job at a nursing home where he swabbed floors and cleaned toilets.  This was the 1970s; and my brother’s hair, just brushing his shirt collar, was considered long and “hippy-like” at the time.  One of the other custodians was frequently snide with Steve.  Steve would complain at home that this man was making his life miserable.  Dad would say, “nevermind – you just keep being nice to him.”  Steve listened.  By the end of the summer, Steve’s custodian colleage was a firm supporter and friend. 

#3 – It’s okay to stand up for what you believe in – even if it causes disruption.  My older brother Jim  marched in a peace demonstration during college.  A newspaper photographer caught Jim in his lens and Jim’s photograph, protesting the Vietnam war, was front and center in our local newspaper.  This was the 1970s, remember.  The neighbors were all abuzz quickly jumping to criticism about my brother.  I think it’s fair to say that Mom and Dad were somewhat embarrassed.  There may have been some words about my brother’s behavior protesting our government – although I do not recall the exact context.  What I do know is that when Dad died in 1993 we found that newspaper photograph safely hidden in my father’s important papers drawer.  All along, he was secretly smiling at my brother’s will to be heard.

#4 – Nothing, No One is Disposable.  At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my brother Jim gave a toast that summed up their marriage like this:  Mom and Dad threw NOTHING away.  Dad would repair anything, would save pieces of broken electrical cords for re-use and had a garage stuffed with left over wood, nails, screws and car parts – enough to build or rebuild nearly anything.  We never ran out and bought something new.  He fixed it.  This, as my brother noted, was a good metaphor for marriage.  Through unexpected births and steel layoffs and strikes, through raising five children and putting them through college, Dad never gave up.  And today I cringe at the items I dispose – thinking that Dad would try to fix them.

#5 – What makes us different makes life and work special.  My dad worked in the melting pot of the Bethlehem Steel beam yard.  His coworkers were from every country, every region of Pennsylvania, every ethnic background.  He spoke of them in stories and jokes that were filled with respect and fondness for each of them.  He saw the differences – including his own – as interesting, sometimes amusing and, in general, something that made the workday worthwhile.  As a child, I don’t recall ever hearing a racial slur at home.  Later, when my brothers would bring home their college friends — whom other parents of the time might regard as pot-smoking, too-free-spirited hippies — Dad and Mom would sit in the kitchen and talk with them.  And although they both heard things they never thought they would hear in their house (about sex and birth control and how these young people intended to live), they never flinched, they never made anyone feel unwelcome.  In fact, they taught me – the impressionable younger sister — to be accepting of all.

 

Ignatius Joseph Hoffman.  He was born in the U.S. in 1919, grew up thru the Depression, made his own way teaching himself to design and build and create and labor, and became my Dad.  Thanks Dad, for the best lessons in life.

 

*Dan Fogelberg wrote the song “Leader of the Band” for his father.  In 2003 he said of the song, “If I would have been able to write only one song in my life, it would have been this one.” 

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Outsourced in Stilettos

The image of stilettos often conjures up the image of a femme fatale – a woman whose charms can ensnare others.  I was not that woman.  I ensnared no one.  I was more like Gracie Hart, tough FBI agent, walking cooly down the street – only to trip over her own heels.  Repeatedly.

To say I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change that left me managing everything almost overnight would be an understatement.  Before we started our application maintenance program (aka “outsourcing”) I was a supervisor of nine system architects – mostly focused on our solutions in the Americas – and managing a team that all sat in the same country, the same time zone, the same office building and floor where I sat.  Progress on issues or new solutions seemed – well – seamless.  We could yell over our cubicle walls to each other for a quick answer or walk down the hall a bit for a more in-depth technical answer from the guys who managed our middleware.   We learned constantly from each other.  And we had reached a level of technical and functional comptence that allowed us to execute flawlessly and fairly quickly without the burden of layers of procesess and handoffs.

Post outsourcing, I was the manager of the global team – the one in charge of 27 countries,  three remaining in-house team members and twelve outsourced staff members.  Post outsourcing, we all had to move from being collaborative learners to effective teachers.  Post outsourcing, we had to tune our ears to different accents, work to understand a different culture, and – with sensitivity and grace – make a team of outsourced workers feel at home with us — whether they would be working onshore in our U.S. offices or offshore in India.

Nothing could have prepared me for this adventure.  Most days were fraught with fear of the unknown.  We feared losing our own jobs next.  We were uncertain how to execute without the individuals that we knew would know what to do.  We were tired from stress and working longer hours to cover Europe and Asia.

In time, each of us – the four who remained — would all rise to the call of leadership.  I know I “played by ear” many days – unsure what to do or how to handle things. I made mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  At the end of the workday, I’d abandon my stilettos for bedroom slippers and pajamas – and continue working at home.  If I just worked a little harder, a little longer, things would get better.  And in many ways they did.  It took a village. . . and the courage to be knocked off my stilettos more than once.

 

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Outsourcing: Identity Crisis….

Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Fear. Anger. These are some of the words I would use to describe emotions as it became clear that a large number of our positions would change or disappear. Our financial livelihoods were at stake. But, more, there was something profoundly personal in the emotions we confronted when a move to right-source our work turned to the word “outsource”. The word “outsource” carried with it a stigma that the day-to-day activities with which we all identified ourselves are no longer valued.

Not true.

The truth was that our knowledge was so valued that we created vast quantities of documentation for our the team at the outsourcing firm. The truth was that the change to an outsourced application maintenance program was difficult for everyone involved – including the new IT staff (from the outsourcing firm) that would take over of our work. The truth was outsourcing was a competitive business decision.

Here’s what I learned when I opened my eyes to the change that was coming. I needed to bump up my own knowledge. I needed to understand the economics of change. I needed to draw upon leadership skills that I did not to date have to summon — both to cull skills from the team that remained as well as to develop skills in a new resource pool that was thousands of miles away. And throughout it all, we could not lose productivity.

I like to think of the stages of change as an upward arrow – not an endless cycle.

Change

To say that outsourcing was not an upward climb would be a lie. But to say that there were no benefits to outsourcing, to say that the personal and professional challenges did not make me grow, would be totally inaccurate.

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Does Outsourcing Open or Close Doors?

Many of my colleagues across the U.S. in a variety of corporations have lost their jobs when their employer “outsourced” or “right-sourced” Information Technology jobs. It is difficult to lose a job to which you have had connections, some sense of ownership, and – moreover – a steady paycheck. It is also difficult to be the employee left behind who keeps your job, but has lost colleagues and is suddenly confronted with a new way to get the work done. Bitternes can be rampant. Morale takes a nosedive. It is possibly the single greatest career challenge. For me, it has also been the greatest learning opportunity.

Outsourcing services challenged me personally and professionally. There were keen benefits to the corporation to outsource our work. There were extreme losses in knowledge and skill. But the drastic loss, forced me and my colleagues who remained in the organization to step up as leaders. An oft quoted axiom is “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Outsourcing forced change. It’s not always good to force change. Over the next few weeks, I will share my experiences with this type of change. I welcome your feedback. I welcome your expeirences. In the meantime – Happy Friday!

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Political “Parties”

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato

Awareness of office politics is essential to navigating an organization – and he who navigates well is hardly an inferior. When politics turns into something that is less than “fun” for those involved, what do you do? As leaders, we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure a respectful workplace exists. As leaders, we have a duty to acknowledge diversity of thought. As leaders, we build teams when we recognize and make attempts to subvert attempts to play out strategies that are at the expense of others There will always be disagreements in thought, process and speech. Workers – all human – will undoubtedly make mistakes. We build strong teams, however, when we can bring diverse parties to the table together to discuss the issues, understand what is driving the strategy of one group or person over another and work together to a resolution that benefits the organization.


For an insightful discussion on the importance of office politics, read “Dealing with Office Politics – Navigating the Minefield” on Mindtools.com.

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Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Much is written about change and resistance to change and how to overcome or reduce resistance. How about this: realize that resistance is positive. Employees’ resistance to change in an organization means that they care. Resistance means there is passion, pride and a sense of ownership in the way things are done. I would rather hear negative feedback than none at all. Feedback tells me someone trusts me enough to discuss the subject. Feedback tells me that this organization that is going thru change is important to others. Feedback tells me that people want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. If you acknowledge that one simple fact – that people care – you are less likely to lose what’s great about the organization in the process of influencing change.

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Lean In . . . to a movie

The golden girl of the decade – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer –  has just achieved another coup.  Sony Pictures has obtained the rights to turn Sheryl’s best seller self-help book, Lean In, into a movie.  My life, my blog could be a movie too.  (Notice the similarity in our first names:  Sheryl, Sherry.)  Except I think my story might be titled something more like “Leaned On” and billed more as a Lifetime movie.   

I’m not complaining.  I have had a much richer life and more experiences than I ever dreamed were possible growing up as a first generation Czechoslovakian on my mother’s side and second generation German courtesy of Dad.  It’s just that – well ….I wish I had Sheryl’s book and advice 30 years ago. 

Timing is everything.  

Born too soon – and now thirty years into my career –  is it too late to hope that I can achieve even a small modicum of Sheryl’s success?   At 21, I did not know I could be something or someone.  At 21, I was in the workforce as a secretary (before the term “Administrative Assistant took root) and working in an organization where name tags on offices signficantly spoke the LAST name of each worker led by first and middle initials.  In the early 1980s this perpetuated the archaic practice of addressing all the engineers and accountants (who were, in fact, all men) as “Mr. So-and-So.” 

Maybe Sheryl could not find a Ladies Room when visiting a New York office.  But I worked with women who called their bosses “Mr.” and whose careers had been interrupted by mandatory child care leave.  That’s right, in the latter half of the 20th century, it was still common in some American firms to force a woman to resign once she was pregnant.  

These women were my role models. 

Understand – I had parents who gave me a wonderful life and tremendous opportunities – and choices that they never had.  But in all that, there was little either my mom or dad could do to create a vision of Leadership or Management for me – let alone one that would have a female in the lead role. 

Nevertheless, I did have a sort of natural instinct that told me most gender differences were poppycock.  When my mother would hover over my brother’s dinner asking if he wanted mustard with his hot dog – and instructing ME to go get the mustard for him – I would very kindly (risking a slap across the mouth from Mom) state: “He can get it himself.”

Now….try to translate that behavior into the workplace.  When Mr. Smith stopped me to announce that Mr. Jones wanted a cup of coffee in the 1980s, I handed him a quarter for Mr. Jones to go to the coffee machine himself and get said coffee.  My – ahem – “sense of humor” was not well received.

Fast forward to 2014, and I have worked my way up into a legitimate IT Manager position.  (Pats on the back here, if you don’t mind.)    The world has come a long way.  And still has a LONG way to go.

You can agree or disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s notion of “leaning in.”  You can take apart her words and dice them and mince them into something she likely did not mean.  The important thing is that she said it.

Sheryl said what few people anywhere have been able to say, and that is simply this:  men and women are different. 

This does not mean that a woman cannot hold the same job a man had.  As I often mentally remind myself, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. . . backwards. . . and in high heels.  Thing is, Ginger did not think she had to act like the men or be someone she wasn’t.  And neither do I.

In my life, in my career, I strive to be authentic.  And what I ask of others is that the be authentic with me.  Yes, it hurts sometimes.  And, yes, I have gone into the Ladies’ Room to cry at times.  But my honest co-workers have made me a better team member, a better manager, and a better person. 

So, let’s have the discussion.  And bring on the movie, Sheryl!  The more that is said, the more that the floor is open to discussion of the issues that are holding women back from leadership positions, the more we have to gain as a society, as an economy, as a community. 

I am not the only working female that did not have role models.  I am not the only woman that still struggles against perceptions and constraints of who and what I should be.   But I’m not so sure that all the other women out there – and all the men who could be partnering shoulder to shoulder with women – will read the book.  MAYBE they’ll watch the movie.  MAYBE the movie will keep the conversation, the Tweets, the Vines, the SnapChats going and going like ripples on the water, forever changing the shape of the working world we know. 

It could happen.

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46 Steps

I started a new job this week.  At the same company.  I just started an entirely new job in an entirely new area that I know nothing about.
Big deal.
Well, it is.  For 15 years I was building expertise in IT applications and HR processes. This week, I started to learn a whole new area — how to manage the IT concerns of Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures.
In the combined spaces of IT for Human Resources, I’m a go-to person.  I go to people for answers.  People come to me for answers — but they come to me because I also ask a lot of questions.  What do you do with all that expertise when you change jobs?  Lock in a dark recess of your brain where perhaps it will gather cobwebs??  No.  That’s not for me.  My brain is wired to make more connections than the New York City transit system.  Some days I seem to be processing faster than my PC can spit out the words in type.  That’s right, I process things better than the Google Search engine.  So all my past and all my present gets wired together in thoughts about the future.
So, when you’ve got a lot of knowledge, you just don’t stop there with it because you’re the label you’re are given at your job changes.
You pass it on.  You pay it forward.  You add it to the pot of stew you’re stirring and make a better broth.  (or for those of you who prefer a sports analogy, you add it to the playbook to pull out as a Hail Mary when needed).
I’m not my job title.  I’m a thought leader.   I’m a valued asset. . . an encyclopedia of ideas.  And the irony of this is that I’m just one large melting pot of knowledge, thoughts, ideas that I get from interacting with you, my readers, my colleagues, my friends.
46 steps takes me to the third floor office of my new job.  I have a lot of thoughts while I’m climbing those stairs.  I’ll be paying forward every little thing you ever I’ve learned on the climb.  And I’ll be asking some new questions too.  Ready?

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