Monthly Archives: June 2007

//June

Planning for the inevitable events in projects

This blog will be published from the middle of a desert in south eastern Spain. I say ‘it will’ because right now I am still in Belgium, completing my last minute planning for a holiday in Spain.

The objective for the holiday is to get away to find some relaxation and inner peace, to live the experience of driving my motorbike through nothingness (or as close as I can get to it in Europe) day after day for ten days. The trip was prepared like any typical project with a scope and milestones etc. and just like other projects, one needs to plan for the inevitable. This is something that I find many managers forget. It can only come out from experience. At the beginning of any project the interim or project manager should sit and consider what ‘inevitables’ they might expect to face.

Right here (on a fast train to Brussels) and right now, I can foresee some inevitables for my holiday. I do not mean the blatantly obvious such as; the need for hotels and meals etc, but more the side effects of the project, such as; at times I may get hopelessly lost, will certainly become overheated, tired and irritable, possibly even bored and most likely sick (headaches, upset stomachs, insect bites, muscle pain etc.). For the medical stuff I have the best contingency plan anyone can have, in that my only travel companion is a fully qualified and highly experienced doctor who just happens to speak very good Spanish.

In business projects it is important to try and anticipate the inevitable and to be sure that only actual unforseens, are just that and not something you could or should have anticipated. For example you should know in advance that there will be moments of extreme anxiety, moments where your client’s happy appreciative face will turn to disappointment or even anger. Your team will become bored (especially when everything is going smoothly) and suppliers will deliver late when they feel that the pressure is easing off. It is these inevitables that are never written down into any plan but yet, if planned for, can make a tremendous difference. (Any parent who has taken young children on a long car journey in the middle of summer will know what planning for the inevitable means).

So now I am busy planning for my inevitables; the hopeless search for a petrol station, a hotel receptionist who has never heard of the name ‘Lovegrove’ and can not remember any booking in my name, or dropping my bike on a remote road somewhere, or possibly a flat tyre. Of course I do not know exactly when and where these things will occur, but they will occur of that I am sure (if not on this holiday, then certainly the next) and when they do I will have a strategy for them. Now I am not suggesting that you can and should plan for everything but because good project managers and interim managers are often very optimistic people they need to take a few ‘sanity checks’ here and there. They need to think ahead and anticipate, without becoming bogged down with contingencies and risk analyses for absolutely everything. Life should be spontaneous, and within this contradiction lies the balance between megalomaniac management and the cool ‘everything’s going to be alright, just chill’ approach. The closer you are to the cool spectrum the more adaptive you can be, but on the other hand, you will need to be adaptive, because the cool approach will ‘ipso facto’ require on the spot constant planning because you will be dealing with the unplanned variances that this type of management brings.

I’ll let you know how it goes! If there is no blog next Monday, it might be that there is one inevitable that I missed….

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Dress code for interim & project managers

In the last two weeks I have covered the naming of our private businesses, the types of car we should drive and now I want to finish this lighthearted triptych with what an interim manager should wear. The article below is based for men mainly, because when it comes to what female interim managers should wear, the subject is mighty tricky! (If I pluck up enough courage by the time I make it to the end of the article, I’ll give my opinion on that too)!

Now I am of the belief that all interim managers should wear a white shirt, tie, and a dark suit – good quality, nothing cheap and badly fitting. Quality is everything, like the Audi A6, it needs to be quietly stylish. None of these flashy shiny Italian silk pajama suits that might look great in a yacht club, but frankly silly in a board room in Brussels, or any other European capital for that matter. With a suit, you really should have them tailor made, or at least ensure they fit perfectly. An ill fitting suit is far worse than no suit at all. Find yourself an Asian peripatetic tailor, who will fly over to measure you up twice a year. He will get to know you, your tastes and preferences. Whether you want a custom made mobile phone pocket in your trousers or jacket. He can balance your wishes with your partner’s expectations. It can be very tricky. The great thing about tailor made is that for a little extra fee they will sew your name into the label, very useful after a champagne reception, that somehow drifted on a little longer than expected and the last remaining jacket hanging over the back of the bar room stool is not yours!

Never have colored shirts. First thing in the morning when you are preparing for the day, you should be thinking about the meetings ahead of you, your clients worries and how best to tackle them, not whether this tie goes with that shirt, or whether the trousers you want are back from the dry cleaners or not. I knew of a blind person who always looked great. He was single, and as far as I knew had no one at home to help him out. So how did he do it? Simple, he had his sister label all his clothes with a simple numbering system. As long as the numbers fell into the right sequence, he knew the colors and styles would look good. Stray away from the sequence and he immediately risked ridicule (although, I guess no one would ever be that insensitive)? It’s the same for me, if I stray away from the usual combinations (and if my wife is suitably awake) I am likely to get something like “not going to work today”? or “are you going to work looking like that”? The truth is, she is always right, what might look ok in the dull, tungsten lit bedroom, does not always stand up to the judgment of harsh sunlight.

So here’s the dress code. Always a suit (or at worst, a smart jacket and trousers), white shirt tie, black (or possibly brown shoes, as long as they are not with a grey or black suit). Two clean handkerchiefs, one neatly ironed in the left or right trouser pocket, the other in the right hand pocket of jacket. The one in the jacket, is for unplanned accidents, emotional staff or other unforeseens.

Unfortunately, however, not everyone follows my code. Where I am working now, some project managers, look like they have stepped out of the shower and walked directly into the office! I guess it’s the style, but some of them have hair styles that look like they have been electrocuted. This is normally accompanied with shirts hanging out of their trousers and color combinations and clothing styles that one might like to risk over breakfast on Sunday, or by the pool in a holiday hotel, but never in a situation where your client might expect to take what you say seriously!

Some companies adopt a rule that on Fridays you can (read should) wear ‘casual’ clothes. I hate this. It takes me five times as long to get dressed on a Friday morning than on any other day. I really struggle, trying to select the right combination from a collection of clothes that I inwardly feel were designed for someone else other than me. I guess I am just not interested enough in clothes, I don’t like shopping for them and I don’t like selecting them either. I have a few favorites that I would happily wear every day but that is not acceptable either.

However, I can honestly say that my career began to take off, when I realized that how I dressed and looked had a direct effect on those choosing to do business with me. My idealistic, student notions of ‘people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ was scrapped and replaced by a brand new look, after some wise advice from someone far older and more successful than me.

Now for women’s clothing. As I write this my hands are shaking out of trepidation at the possible wrath I might face from my female colleagues, especially from the delightful variety of women that I find myself working with! As Robert Palmer sang “you’re a distraction to a man” and so it is for many of us men when confronted by attractive women wearing revealing clothes in the workplace. At a party, or on holiday, revealing clothing can be a very welcome diversion, but in the workplace it simply gets in the way of the message.

There are two ways of looking at the dilemma. Blending in, trying to be seen as equal among men or standing out to be noticed. In my view, if a woman wants to be taken seriously in what she says in a meeting, she needs to use the same tools as men, i.e. to communicate with her eyes, face and hands. She needs to pull her colleagues into her debate. Eye to eye contact is extremely important and this can be difficult if a man’s attention is being constantly drawn in another direction!

I have noticed that most women who have worked their way into higher levels of management, seem to dress in similar ways i.e. roll neck sweaters, or shirts and or jackets with collars that rise very high to just under the chin. This brings the attention directly to their face, which is exactly where they want it during a serious debate.

The English Victorian women with their high collars and long dresses made them look very formidable indeed, and you only have to look at images from the Victoria and Albert museum’s incredible collection of clothes in London to see what I mean. On the other hand there are also women who bring color and life into the board room, that the men’s dull white shits and micky mouse ties, simply can not replace. (By the way male interim managers should never wear comical ties, this is an absolute no, it does not matter who bought it for you)!

Today fashion is so varied that women can, more or less, wear anything, and that is exactly what they do! There is a trend (especially with younger staff) to wear more than one T shirt and jumpers; multiple layers straddled over one another. I find these a distraction because I wonder what the thought process is that goes into the selection of each layer. I am a classical person, I like simple shapes and forms, blouses with jackets and trousers or skirts, clothes that don’t shout out ‘look who I am’ but allow the woman to stand alongside her male companions and be taken seriously as an equal and not an outsider trying to attract attention.

Although in some parts of the world it is getting better, for many women in business, life is still tough in comparison with men. A woman who feels the need to get their male colleagues to take them more seriously should do what I did twenty years ago, step into the mainstream business fashion way of life. They should realize that how you look is how you are perceived, and there is no way around it. At home or on holiday is one thing, work is something different entirely. For female interim and project managers, no jeans, no combat trousers, no gothic beads, no low cut T shirts with, or without, meaningless slogans. In fact nothing too original apart from colors, fabrics and shapes. It may sound dull, but it is what we do as professional managers that matters, not trying to show glimpses of who we prefer to be, outside in our private lives.

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What kind of car should an interim Manager drive?

Following on from last weeks blog on the naming of your business, I thought this week it might be a good idea to take a look at the other aspect that fills our mind when we move away from being an employee and take the plunge into a self employed interim management world. Suddenly the restrictive company car list has disappeared and every car you may have ever wanted to own is suddenly an option – or is it?

Many years ago I was working for a marketing department in central London, when a freelance photographer drove up to the office in his brand new Range Rover. He didn’t park it in the car park, or even at a parking meter, he simply parked it half on the pavement, right outside the main entrance.

He was making a deliberate statement, ‘see what kind of car I drive.’ and ‘I don’t care if I break the law, after all it’s only a fine.’ What he may not have reckoned on is the amount of jealousy he stirred up. The marketing manager, who actually commissioned him, drove a 2 liter company Opel. The photographers’ Range Rover was the last straw. So when it happened that the photographs turned out to be not so spectacular, the photographer was dumped immediately.

It was an important lesson for me (I was still a junior marketing assistant), I never forgot how quickly my boss’ opinion of the man turned when he saw the photographers car. The fact that they had been laughing and joking together, only a few weeks earlier, you could be excused for thinking that they were the best of friends.

So the rule is, always drive a car to your client that is not going to upset anyone. And certainly not one that says this guy is a show off. Choose one that says ‘this person is careful with their money yet they obviously appreciate quality.’ For an interim manager there is only one car in the world that suits this purpose, an Audi A6, anything else just won’t do! Make sure you go for the 2.0L version. If you want a bigger engine, then pay more and ask the garage to put a 2.0L badge on the back. You’ll get the car you want and your clients won’t get upset.

A BMW is too brash and a Jaguar too flash. A Mercedes might be ok, but somehow they have gone off the boil and there is always the risk (especially in the UK) that they might be seen as more expensive than they really are. For the family man a five door Audi A6 brake (estate car), is acceptable. But no people transporters, they need to be reserved for young family managers, perhaps for project managers and engineers, but an interim manager does not want to radiate the fact that there is anything in the world that is important, apart from the needs of their clients. So no baby seats or any other signs of domesticity!

I once knew a guy who, when he left home in the morning, parked his car around the corner and took out the child seats and hid them under a blanket in the boot, just because he didn’t want his client knowing he had children! Now this maybe going way too far, but I hope you get the gist of what I am talking about?

If you fancy an Audi A8 or even a TT, keep it in the garage at home and only take it out when your client is not looking.

This may seem silly but cars and clothes say much about a person and clients pick up on them. On an ending note, never ever have a more expensive, flashier car than the Chairman, otherwise you are doomed. After all, life is tough enough as it is, why make it harder for yourself?

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