Monthly Archives: September 2009

//September

When was the last time you made a serious decision?

Some say that the most important decision anyone must take is that of buying a house, others say it’s choosing a partner, while others say choosing a career.  The truth, in my opinion, is that in most of these things (apart from maybe the house) we don’t really ‘take a decision’ at all, it just seems to happen.

 

It was my nephew’s 21st. birthday last week and I wanted to give him some advice so I made a quick calculation:

Assuming he finishes full time studies at the age of 25 he will have (God willing) approximately 72,000 working hours to fill until society is likely to suggest that he step aside to make way for someone else.  (I told him not to be depressed by this number but to rejoice in the enormity of it). 

 

I suggested that he asks himself the question:  How would I like to fill all those hours?  (Forget holidays and weekends etc, these have already been deducted).  I encouraged him to see filling the hours as a matter of personal choice and not as a ‘career’.  Because searching for a job with good pay and promotional prospects is not as important as the content of how he fills his time.

 

Nothing in our careers is certain and planning ahead based upon one company is too unpredictable, especially these days.   As long as my nephew makes choices that utilize his natural gifts and passion, everything he needs will come to him all by itself.

 

I offered him some key questions to consider:

 

What do I enjoy doing?

What am I good at?

What can I do that might be useful to others?

How do I want to fill the time ahead of me?

 

For his birthday present, I bought him a watch, not necessarily to wear (what uncle can possibly know what kind a watch his nephew would like?) but to remind him that when he meets difficult times, when serious matters confront him, to remember that he always has a choice.  How he decides to fill the hours ahead is down to him. 

 

Once decided, there is no going back but decisions can always be re-considered, re-evaluated or even re-made.  The moment we stop deciding, we become automatons that have little passion, vision or life.  And what use is that to anyone? 

 

Every day I decide how best to fill my time.  Mostly it is focused around how I can be most useful to others, but not always.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I say ‘what the heck’ and take a day off – but that last happened a long time ago, because my ‘off days’ are really just working days filled with other types of work, like writing or mowing the lawn!  (Luckily the autumn is here and winter is coming so soon I won’t even need to cut the grass anymore – at least not until the late spring).

 

Have a good week,

 

Harley

 

 

0 Comments

Coping with imperfect employees

This week someone drove a truck into the back of my car. What was once a perfect piece of German design and engineering is no more. Although I am told by the garage that they can make it ‘as good as new’ I know that it never will be.  This got me thinking about coping with imperfection in general and in employees in particular.

When someone joins the team they are always perfect until they inevitably slip up. It can be an extremely minor thing; possibly missing a non urgent milestone or sending an email to the wrong person. Even if you are completely unaware of their error, you can be sure that others will be very quick to point it out. “You’ll never guess what the new guy’s just gone and done?”

Even the best football managers sometimes stick with what might at first appear to be very bad signings, keeping the player on the pitch long after many others would have dropped them.  Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Fergusson is a good example of this technique. If he believes in someone he gives them plenty of room for error and somehow manages to reassure their team mates to support them through what can be a very long settling in period.

Evolution has taught us to make decisions about others very quickly and I, for one, know that sometimes I can be too quick at drawing conclusions. I put this bad habit partly down to my time as a crisis interim manager when it was not unusual to be given as little as three months to restructure a company. Reducing a workforce by half, or more, in such a short timeframe forces you to weigh the end result over the short term risk of not making the right choice every time.

However, with experience and a little more time, focusing on an under performing employee's strong points and nurturing their confidence level can deliver surprising results. The satisfaction of seeing a great piece of work from someone that was previously almost at the point of being written off is proof enough of the worth of the invested effort.

In Western Europe, human resources are the most precious commodity of any business. Winning companies are often those that find creative ways of ensuring that every one of their employees are focused on activities that suit them best. This week nearly saw the end of the Cadbury era. Cadbury is a giant of a successful company with its roots in Quaker philosophy and that of ‘finding something of good in everyone’.

Perhaps it is a worthwhile exercise to make a mental list of those that you have written off and revaluate what hidden strengths and talents might be found within them?

Have a good week,

1 Comment

Belief is a powerful tool for success

I am not one of those that is into group hugs and evangelical ‘I believe’ motivational team moments, far from it. But I do, however, think that belief in itself is very important.

This does not include the naive, over optimistic belief (the kind seen in world cup football squads, such as Scotland, when they make chart topping records proclaiming how they are going to bring home the world cup to Edinburgh or Glasgow) this type of inane belief is more likely to bring about failure than to encourage success.

The belief that I like to witness and encourage reassures that something is possible. It is a belief that supports a plausible vision. 

Belief in the right measure can:

Motivate a naturally lazy person into putting in the extra effort required to support their fellow team players

Encourage people to learn new skills, enabling them to play a more active team role

Inspire open minded debate in an atmosphere of ‘there must be a way’

Encourage doubting bystanders into offering support and sponsorship

Supply the energy needed to see the team through the darkest moments of a tough program

But where does belief come from?

Philosophers and theologians have debated this question since time began. For me ‘belief’ is the acceptance of vision. It is what you feel when you have looked through a crack in a door and glimpsed a possible future or outcome. It is the understanding that through our actions and thoughts we can make a difference. In a team, it is the conviction that the collective is stronger than the individual. That what may seem impossible on our own, together somehow begins to make sense.

Some say there is no ‘I’ in team, but they are wrong – there is the most important ‘I’ of all:

“I believe that together we can do this” - “I believe that I can play a useful part” - “I believe that I am respected by my colleagues” - “I believe that despite what may confront us, the result is more important than the pain we may face” - “I believe that failure is not an option, that the vision of why we need to succeed is the fuel we need to deliver success”.

Forgive me if I sound like a preacher but I believe this more than ever.

Anyone who has played team sports knows that the arrogant team is often the one that fails. It underestimates the obstacles that it faces. It does not imagine the pitfalls or anticipate how it will need to behave to overcome them. Whereas the team that simply believes that winning is possible, is often the team that works together to do whatever it can to make it happen. It’s belief is not just based upon the glory of success but also upon the reality of failure and their determination to not let it happen. Consequently the team remains open to new ideas and learning from the failures of others.

Have a good week,

Harley

0 Comments

Why the boring stuff is so important

A new project is always exciting; a new challenge, a new problem to be solved, new complexities to discover and to unravel. But after the initial discussions and debates someone has to pull all the details together and formulate a cohesive plan. This is usually where many managers back off and leave it to the ‘professional’ project manager to do his or her stuff.

I don’t know why so many people do not have the patience or desire to make a detailed planning in Microsoft Project. After all it’s not that difficult, you just need to think logically and try and imagine all the tasks that will need to be done to achieve your objective. Later on you can begin to group them into either types or sequence and then both. The great thing about MS Project is that you do not have to put everything in sequence, at least not in the beginning. You can link any tasks together, regardless of where they are on the page.

I am amazed at the number of projects that start and end without decent planning. Good will and lots of guess work sometimes gets them through, somehow. But I am equally not amazed at the number of projects that never really deliver and waste precious company resources that could otherwise have been spent of something much more beneficial.

I was discussing the budget of a project with a colleague this week and he didn't’ even blink an eye when I told him it would be over 150 million EUR over eighteen months. Sometimes people get so used to big numbers that they forget just how big they are.

For 150 MEUR you can build a shopping centre with car parks and health suite. You can buy a sizeable company with a very sound future, if you choose wisely.

The boring stuff needs to get done and it is best done by the project manager him (or her) self. There is no one better. PM’s that delegate the high level planning, never really get in touch with their project. They never have a firm grip on it or understand the beauty of seemingly pulling something together that at first glance is impossible.

Projects can be compared to physical human feats but, at the end of the day – it’s not the man on the moon that enriches our society, but the technologies developed to get him there that do. And without the boring stuff, none of it would ever get realized.

Have a good week,

Harley

0 Comments