Tag Archives: management

Leadership Lessons I Learned at Day Camp

I volunteered recently at a day camp for boys ages 7-10 and learned a lot more than just how to be a kid again. I created an obstacle course that presented challenges for each boy. As the boys came through my station and worked through the challenges, I saw some important management principles emerge. I want to share those unexpected lessons with you.

Ownership is King

I set up the obstacle course ahead of time and it included things such as a rope bridge, a rope swing, tires to crawl through and various other obstacles. This was my design and the boys enjoyed it. After the first couple of days I allowed them to make modifications to my design. Of course, some of the modifications would have caused great injury had I allowed them but such is the nature of a young boy.

I realized that as they changed the design to fit their tastes, they became more invested in the obstacle course. Comments changed from “great course” to “best obstacle course ever!” because it was now their course and not mine. As managers, are we guilty of handing down a vision or a scripted playbook for employees to carry out without giving them ownership of their work? Would they be more motivated if they had a hand in designing their own processes? Would they feel more invested if they contributed to the vision rather than simply executing it? Perhaps stronger ownership would lead to comments such as “this is the greatest workplace ever.”

The Suggestion Box

I told the boys early on that I would welcome suggestions for improving the course. I am not sure they took me seriously but they did offer several suggestions. Some were simple changes that I could make overnight and some were incredibly complicated and would have required super powers. I made the changes I could and the boys were surprised and delighted to find their ideas incorporated into the course. As they saw the changes they pointed out their ideas. One boy even suggested water balloons throughout the course and went so far as to bring some balloons to fill. He was totally invested in the outcome. In short, I took the ideas in the suggestion box seriously. As managers, do we welcome suggestions and try to implement them as we can? Extra effort in this area could result in more motivated employees.

Cooperation Increases Productivity

I allowed groups of boys to modify the course to fit their interests. I found the groups fell into two categories, those who agreed and executed the plan and those who were fractured and could not get beyond arguing about who was right. Those who agreed to work together had a lot more time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but some groups never even got off the starting line. They split into factions that each tried to implement their own vision. I realized that while it is important to create and execute a shared long-term vision, it has a definite impact on short-term productivity. The longer it takes to agree on the future, the more it impacts current work. Does your team have a solid vision and is everyone working toward that future or do you still have factions trying to move in a different direction?

Thoughts

I never thought I would relate day camp to management principles but the parallels I found while observing the boys were unmistakable. I thought I was going to enjoy a week of sunshine and interacting with youth, and I did, but I also came away with new leadership and management insights.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Lessons in Workplace Civility: Simple Things We Learned In Kindergarten

Photo of kindergarteners working together.In our hectic lives we sometimes forget some of the basic lessons we learned in kindergarten. In an article last year titled “How Lessons From Kindergarten Can Help Office Civility” the author highlights some areas that can improve workplace productivity and overall happiness. These are simple, often overlooked lessons that when not practiced can leave us stressed and frustrated. As we approach the new year, it is a good time to commit to be more civil and open with coworkers. Here are some simple reminders that are just as important now as when we were kids.

Smile

In the article mentioned above, some of the reasons for incivility include increased workload, stress, and being distracted when we should be paying attention to others. We may not even notice each other even though we exchange e-mails and texts and chats all day. I submit that a simple smile and a “good morning” would go far in creating a less stressful workplace. Those few seconds of interaction can open doors to authentic dialogue and better relationships and maybe even higher productivity. We often turn to technology to improve efficiency, but perhaps this simple step can contribute just as much.

Pay Attention

The urge to multitask can be great in our overloaded workdays, but when you are in a meeting or a presentation, it is polite to pay attention. We learned this lesson from our kindergarten teacher as well. A number of years ago I attended a meeting of coworkers in Texas. Most of us were teleworkers from various parts of the world so it was a genuine treat to get together and share ideas face-to-face. There was a  jumble of LAN cables strung out on the conference room table so we could each connect to the internet while in the meeting. This was in the days before wireless connections and smartphones. I thought at the time of the absurdity of these internet connections when we had all spent so much time and effort to come together to work through issues. It did cause a distraction for some and we did not listen to the presenter as deeply as we could or should have. Let’s make a point of giving the speaker our full attention.

Extend a Kind Word

I challenge you this week to reach out and extend a kind word to at least one coworker every day. Compliment them on the fine work that they do or something else you appreciate about them. For some, this may be standard practice but for others it may be difficult. If it is hard at first, work at it! It will become easier and it will improve your office environment. Once you start it, others will want to join in. Initiate a “kind word” movement at your workplace today.

Culture

Every company and organization has a different culture and different set of values. I would be surprised if any of them actually valued incivility. Intel, for example, practices “constructive confrontation” which may actually appear as negative to an outsider. This is a problem solving method that encourages frank dialogue about any ideas or issues. Intel employees recognize feedback as a gift and get to problem resolution quicker through honest and sometimes blunt discussion. While the communication may be direct they still have respect for each other and individual opinions. This blend of constructive confrontation and respect has kept them at the top of the processor game for many years. No matter your organization’s culture, the lessons we learned in kindergarten still apply.

Thoughts

These are simple ideas but they are as important today as when we first learned them. Be polite, pay attention, and extend a kind word or a hand to your colleagues. Put down the technology once in awhile and notice and appreciate the great people you work with. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Why You Need to be a 5 Tool Player to be Successful

MultitaskingThe following guest blog is provided by alumni Thomas Failor, who is speaking from the perspective of an IT practitioner. AIM graduates practice in a wide variety of disciplines, both technical and non-technical.

You might think that when you graduate with your AIM degree, you’ll be working in a purely IT role, either in engineering, IT development or service delivery, or otherwise focused on a single thread type of task. You also might think that you’ll only work in a technical role or never have to talk to pesky customers again. But that’s not always the case.

With the professional baseball season just underway, I am reminded of an analogy between sports and business that I’ve found valuable. Most companies, even very large ones, expect a knowledge worker with an advanced degree to be what in baseball is referred to as a “5 Tool Player.” In the big leagues, a 5 Tool Player can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw for distance, and field the ball. The broad technology field is no different. Here’s my take on the 5 Tools you need to thrive on the technical side of business.

To be a 5 Tool Player in IT or elsewhere, you must be able to listen with intent, advocate for your customer, consult, collaborate, and communicate, both internally and externally, to be effective.

Listen with Intent

This is pure Steven Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t listen with the intent only to reply. Stop trying to think up your next reply while your associate is still speaking. It’s a challenge, but it’s so much more effective to listen with the intent to understand than just to come up with an answer quickly. Try counting to five before you answer, and preface your response with a validation of the other party’s statement, like “You bring up a good point” or, “That’s a great question.”

Advocate for the Customer

Some people refer to this as the “Voice of the Customer” or VOC in Six Sigma. After you listen with intent, you need to express the VOC or advocate for your customer to get your project done, solution approved, capital expenditures funded, or what have you. Promoting understanding and empathy by advocating for the customer makes you much more effective, (especially in the eyes of the customer), but also demonstrates to the teams you collaborate with your understanding of requirements when it comes time to dig deep into a project. If you fail to listen, you really can’t advocate and you waste business cycles trying to get things like requirements approved and your project moving forward.

Consult

Flex your technical muscles, and provide advice and solutions sets. This is usually the part of our work that we love the most but get to do the least. The truth is that the other 5 Tools get you to your consultation role more effectively. Consulting isn’t all about what you know. Often it’s about providing a range of solutions as a set of choices to your customer. In general, I’ve found that customers hate to be “sold” but they love to “choose.” (Credit: Jeffrey Gitomer)

In offering multiple consultative choices, you increase the likelihood that your customer will choose one of them and thus move your project/process/program forward without delay.

Collaborate

Play nicely with others. One of the pitfalls encountered by some brilliant technical people is that they’ve spent much of their career “heads down” perfecting their craft. Surely that’s important, but if you aren’t able to work with diverse groups with widely ranging technical skills, you only make more work for yourself. Project managers and program managers who may not have a technical background likely depend on you to translate and communicate with your friends on the development/engineering team and drive issues to resolution. I do this type of work every day. If you are able to gather stakeholders, project managers, and solution providers in a room and act as a collaboration facilitator, your work gets done more quickly and you’ve made allies for next time.

Communicate

This is the Achilles heel of many technical practitioners. If we can’t convey our analyses in writing, pitch an idea to an audience without reading 20 slides of PowerPoint word-for-word, or expectations with a customer, you’ll likely be less effective. Don’t depend on your manager or the department extrovert to communicate for you. Speaking and writing effectively are learned skills. Being able to communicate an idea clearly gets your budget approved, a new headcount, more servers, etc.

I have to use the 5 Tools every day to be effective in my work as the liaison between IT and the many needs of the business. It’s all very good to be a highly technical player, and if you work specifically within software development, networking, or security you may be able to get by without work days like mine, but it’s not very likely. Businesses depend on technology leaders to deliver technology solutions, but they also depend on you to be a 5 Tool Player.

 

Thomas Failor photograph.Guest blogger Thomas Failor (’14) is a senior program manager with T-Mobile in the In-Store Technology and Front Line Systems group, part of the Sales Operations Center of Excellence.

Leadership in a Connected World

Key figures in a connected crowd.In the AIM Program’s Information Systems and Management course, we talk about leadership and management. Are they the same thing? Can someone be a good leader but a terrible manager, or vice versa? These are good questions. I have been studying how leadership has changed in the last 100 years as we shifted from leaders who oversee one or more factories in a region to leaders who command large global enterprises. In the past, a manager could walk down to the factory floor and talk with each employee, but modern telecommunications have allowed us to create large businesses and to manage those businesses from a distance. What original principles of leadership remain the same and which have changed?

The Personal Touch

I have read autobiographies of Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, Harland Sanders, also known as Colonel Sanders, and Dave Packard of Hewlett-Packard. As they recount the early days of their businesses they all talk about knowing and interacting with the employees. Part of their leadership style was personal contact, which allowed adjustments to the business model based on employee feedback. According to the Wal-Mart website, the company now employs 2.2 million associates worldwide. How does a leader manage so many people in a geographically dispersed firm?

Networking

One of the answers is focused networking through the use of technology. Even though large organizations still use traditional organizational charts, it takes a long time for a complaint to make it through 10–12 layers of management to be heard and acted upon. This is the explicit organization as depicted on the chart. In reality, there is often a parallel, implicit organization that everyone knows about but which is seldom put into writing or a visual. There are touchstones in the organization who “know the right people” and can bypass the traditional structure to get things done. Author Malcolm Gladwell refers to these people as “connectors.” Employees quickly identify touchstones and rally their support in championing new ideas or settling a grievance. Think about how long it takes to disseminate information in your organization and how long it takes to make a low-level decision that for some reason requires multiple signatures. Could you employ this implicit structure for sharing information or collecting feedback quicker?

Leadership in The 21st Century

I believe it is important to recognize this alternate organization and utilize it for disseminating information. We can always do a one-to-many announcement but it is not always effective, nor is it well-received. Touchstones are likely to relay messages quicker. Marrying this network approach with social media channels allows us to still be effective leaders even though we are now steering an ocean liner instead of a bicycle. Such methods are not meant to subvert the traditional organizational structure but to provide a quicker and more effective means of communication through modern technology and networking. Those leaders recognize that it is not enough to have a large number of connections but they also need to be linked to the right people to institute change and move the organization forward.

Thoughts

Do you know the connectors in your organization? Are they in your network? Are you someone others turn to? It is important for leaders to make use of the implicit network just as we work the traditional structure. It is getting harder to effectively lead thousands, if not millions of employees and we need all the advantages we can get. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Cyber-Terrorism: Real or Imagined?

In a recent report on National Public Radio (NPR), the reporter reminisced about the big power outage in the Northeast ten years ago this week. While that outage was brought about by a weak line in Ohio, experts wonder if we don’t have a more imminent threat posed by cyber criminals hacking into the power grid and triggering outages.

History

In reality, there are three different power grids in the US, shown in map form on geni.org. The Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection can supply power to each other, but they also have fail-safe mechanisms as well. Despite the separation, each of them is still very much vulnerable to a breach of their computer systems. This was first highlighted during the Year 2000 or “Y2K” issue where there was concern that incorrect date entries could cause local or widespread outages. The problem at that time was mitigated but did bring to light other vulnerabilities.

Computer Use In Power Generation

When coal-fired plants, hydroelectric facilities, and nuclear facilities were first built, the use of computers was minimal because frankly, they were simple and added little to no value. A large number of operators were needed to monitor switches and relays to keep the facility running. Later, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) allowed facilities to monitor, collect, and process data from one central location instead of having multiple operators monitoring each switch and each piece of equipment.

Internet

With the spread of the Internet, a power plant could now take the SCADA concept one step further and monitor everything REMOTELY. Since everything is now connected to everything else, why not consolidate all of the data collected by the SCADA systems and process it at one time and in one place? Big data meets big power. But, there’s the risk. To do this, you need to have many computers and many controllers all connected to some form of the Internet, be it public or private. Hackers or cyber criminals also have access to that same Internet and, potentially, to your computers and controllers. Whether they access your systems for notoriety or for political purposes, the threat of bringing down parts of the power grid is very real.

Thoughts

As noted in the NPR report, there is legislation in the works to order public utilities to mount a counteroffensive, but the utilities object to these measures. Power companies are already working to thwart any potential threat that may arise, but it is really going to take a partnership between power distribution engineers and computer experts. They each know their specialty, and together they can develop measures to prevent attacks or, at least, monitor and deal with threats.

Do you think the threat of cyber attacks on the electrical grid is real? Should power companies take their equipment off of the Internet to prevent attacks? Can we find a middle ground between attack readiness and returning to the time of manual operators? Let me know your thoughts.

 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.