Make Yourself

Remember when you were young and asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  At that age, you saw no boundaries: you could be anything! But something happened on the journey of growing up.  For most, interesting distractions occurred that captured your attention and led to habits (or more likely, lack of habits) that seemed valuable in the moment, but ultimately led nowhere: watching TV, hanging out with friends, chasing after a romantic interest, etc.  Don’t get me wrong – all those things are have their place, but the habits (and time spent) pursuing them was likely all encompassing instead of balanced.  If it’s fun to watch TV one night, why not watch it every night?  If it’s fun to party two nights a week, wouldn’t five be better?  And the process of falling in love is so all-encompassing that you can’t think of anything else.

To feed these habits, we discovered we needed money.  Early in life (for most of us) our parents provided for our needs and many of our wants.  But there was a point where they stopped supplying all of our needs or wants… so we had to earn it some other way. Because our distractions were all encompassing, we usually jumped on the first opportunity to earn a buck that presented itself.  And rest of life settled into place from there.

Are you doing what you wanted to do? Are you the person you want to be? I am not asking if you are happy, or if you are successful… Are you who/where you want to be? For virtually everyone, the answer is no. For some of the more fortunate, your “no” is the recognition that the journey never ends, but at least you are on the path you chose. For those off track, you need to realize that it’s only you who can Make Yourself.

From vision to action

Great!  Now you know who you want to be. What’s next?  Invite me to wave my magic wand?  No!  Make yourself.

Make yourself get up early to exercise.  Make yourself refrain from dessert.  Make yourself refresh your resume.  Make yourself read instead of watch TV.  Make yourself apologize. Make yourself save the extra raise you received.  Make yourself delay gratification. Make yourself take a stand. Make yourself…

Get it?  The road to be who you want to be is made up of little steps and little decisions where you make yourself choose the right decision on the right path to be who you want to be.  I know you want it to be harder than that, so that you can blame someone else, circumstances, or the creator for not being who you dreamt you could be.  Sorry, that’s not how it works.  You have to Make Yourself.

The four IT personalities: part 1, the technology administrator

This is the first of a four-part series describing the main IT personalities. The intent of this series is to assist organizations in defining and hiring the right IT staff for their needs. In categorizing the personalities I will be making generalizations. In fact, many individuals will demonstrate traits of several of the personalities I define. In many cases, a person may be shifting from one role to another. However, I think there is always a dominant personality that an IT worker innately possesses and it’s a rare instance when they completely change to a different one.

A passion for technology

The most common personality is the technology administrator. How did they get here and where did they come from? Almost all IT staff begin their career in the help desk, a typical IT entry level role. The interests of techies are generally in system or network administration (I would guess 50-60% of all IT staff). Most IT staff go into IT to play with technology, so by default they want to learn how technology works.  Once they figure out one piece, their interests shift to the next piece of equipment. From one candy bar to the next.

Ambiguity in IT titles

As they increase their breadth of knowledge amongst the tech equipment, some begin to pick up ambiguous titles from their organizations. Microsoft and Cisco (and others) create certification programs that bestow new credentials that the IT person can proudly boast. However, these certifications are not equally viewed or recognized. What accolades are there for a competent COBOL programmer?  When did I become a certified IT strategist? While there is nothing wrong with these certifications, just remember that the titles are directed at an IT person’s ability to solve technical problems, not business problems.

While there exists a variety of these ambiguous titles, the majority of IT management candidates can be described as technology administrators. It’s the natural progression after years of experience and good work. However, many organizations don’t understand this and promote IT individuals from within, or the IT person grows into higher roles as the company grows.  The problem that arises here is that many business leaders are not technology savvy, so when they go to hire or promote a new IT leader, the natural assumption is that the most technologically competent individual will be the best fit. Any business leader lacking an education in technology can be easily awed by tech speak and promote the person versed in this foreign language to a position they might not be competent to fulfill.

Understanding the limitations of the IT administrator

What is the risk with promoting an IT individual to a higher role? These individuals do not help solve business problems. They were trained to solve technical problems and there’s a place for that. However, business problems are messier, and usually don’t have a manual you can refer to. These people in IT leadership roles will always focus on infrastructure; most do not understand the difference between reporting to a CFO or COO. Almost all their initiatives will include building and controlling more IT equipment.  In many cases, they won’t take ownership for the applications that reside on the servers and their selection and support fall to the business units themselves. Their IT departments are almost always reactive and not proactive.

So, let system admins run systems; let network admins run networks. Find a technology leader that understands that technology is there to enable and change the business.

The dual role of IT: Transforming businesses and processes

I meet with a lot of companies and still the two most-asked questions I hear are: “What is the value of IT?” and “How come my IT group can’t offer strategic value?” The nature of these questions can almost always be traced back to the perspective that IT is an Infrastructure Provider (equipment, network and applications).

The first question usually comes from an organization’s underlying desire to keep costs as low as possible. The second question usually arises when the IT group sees themselves as merely the infrastructure providers while company leadership looks to them for more.

The beginnings of IT

Historically, IT was solely focused on infrastructure. In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, the department was commonly called Data Processing and reported to the CFO. The mission was to automate accounting processes to reduce accounting costs. The focus on automation for cost reduction remained a primary focus into the late ‘90’s and it remains an important mission of IT today.

However, with the emergence of the Internet, a clear awakening occurred with the recognition that technology can leapfrog competitors and introduce new businesses. A strong strategic IT leader was offered a seat at the table and is now valued equally alongside other company leadership.

(Mis)understanding the role of IT

While standard business functions have been around for centuries, accounting, payroll, operations, etc., IT is new, barely 50 years (if you’re being generous). We’re barely into the second generation of business leaders with this function. Is it any wonder many companies don’t really know what do with or what to get from Information Technology? Developing the role of IT has also suffered from constantly changing leadership due to the nature of how IT staff mature in their career (but that’s for a future post).

So how do we blend the ever growing need for IT’s skills with an organization’s need for technology direction and leadership? Information Technology needs to retain its job of optimizing systems and processes in the most cost effective and efficient manner. At the same time, the department also has the job of evaluating and advocating for how technology can be used to transform the business so that it survives and thrives into the future. I believe the Information Technology department is responsible for change: promoting it, accessing it and implementing it. If not IT, then who?

This does not restrict innovation to IT but it does place responsibility for change on the entity that is best equipped to carry it forward.

It’s time to call a spade a spade and expect and hold accountable IT organizations for this mandate. In order to be successful, IT leadership has to thoroughly know and understand the business. Only then can they accurately discuss what changes will be useful. The department tasked with changing your organization should have a seat at the leadership table.

Sitting by the pool: A practice in mental retreat

Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen, twicepix

I wanted each of these posts to provide my readers with a unique insight or call to action. I hope that through my writings I can motivate some of you to make a small change that improves your business or life.

I wrote the title for this post before I had the content. I liked this title because everyone can immediately visualize the scene. You can see yourself lounging by the pool or dangling your legs in the water. You can feel the sunshine against your face. You can hear the water splashing against the pool wall or trickling from a waterfall. You can smell the fresh air and floral fragrances of the flowers flanking you.

This is a place where there is little stress and it is a place to recharge. It doesn’t matter what you do by the pool: swim, sunbathe, drink colorful beverages, read, people watch, sleep or think. From all this, you come away recharged. Even if you’re physically tired or exhausted at the end of the day, you’re mentally recharged.

Take a minute to think about or imagine your favorite poolside experience. Maybe it includes a poolside pedicure or the cute wait staff never letting your glass get empty. Was there a little cabana with a big screen TV? Did you have the right tunes or the perfect book? I see myself playfully splashing water on my friends.

Whatever you did, I’m sure you felt relaxed.

That’s my point. It’s great to go to the pool. I encourage you to do this, or anything else that recharges you, as often as you can. And if the pool is several miles or several months away, you can bring the pool to you. Give yourself a ten-minute “pool” break everyday to recharge. Put it on your calendar. Relive your favorite recharge moments or preview the moments to come. See how it changes your stress level.


Seeking freedom from intrusion

Ding. Ding. Another text. Another e-mail. Oops – there goes the phone. Even if ignored there’s still the nagging buzzing of a voicemail left behind. All of these intrusions impact our ability to stay focused on one task. Rather than you managing your time, they manage your time.

It’s funny how we easily allow our priorities to get thrown out of whack. Intrusions in our daily routine should be planned, and if not planned, then an emergency. Remember the “office hours” of your professors in college? They set aside a specific period of the day to be pestered by their students. Perhaps we should follow this same idea.

Let’s put a new plan into action, one that reclaims control over our lives.

Forced separation

Part 1: Allow yourself to be disconnected for set periods of the day. I know it may seem hard, but aren’t you disconnected when you sleep, or fly on a plane? During these moments it feels okay to relinquish the hold technology intrusions have because they’re out of your control. New flash: it’s also alright to block out intrusions during other periods as well. Exert a little control.

Consistent expectations

Part 2: Do not expect others to be instantly available for your intrusions. Accept that others may not respond to you immediately. I know, shocker. The sad truth of it is that we are humans, not machines. If we don’t want to be slaves of our technology, we shouldn’t hold that expectation of others.

As managers, we should do our best to promote forms of information distribution that are unobtrusive. A well-run meeting and information-packed Intranet can answer a lot of questions that make the intrusive-ready internet unnecessary.

Independent answer-seeking

The hard part is setting expectations of your team about getting their information from these sources, especially a team that is quick to find easy answers from online networks or interpersonal communication. But isn’t that your job as the leader/manager? If I know the information is available on the Intranet, I don’t shy from telling my staff to look it up versus expecting an answer from me. How else can I help them to change their habits? Having a specific location your team can draw from ensures that the information provided is always consistent. Utilize both office meetings and your business’s intranet to make sure your team is connected with answers to their questions. In meetings, everyone hears the same information, and a good question and answer section helps clarify anything confusing. Additionally, have someone take notes and post them on the Intranet for everyone to follow up with.

Try making communication blackout times in the office. Dedicate one to two hours a day in which communication, both in-office and through external means, is restricted. You could train your receptionist or assistant to be an intrusion gatekeeper, taking messages rather than redirecting phone calls during this blackout period. This way everyone can give 100% focus to their most demanding tasks and not fear the constant interruption so integrated into our lives.

I’m a technologist and love all the modern methods of staying in touch but let’s keep them in their place, or at least train ourselves not to be their slaves.

If only I could teach my kids this concept…