Teaching is Learning

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Do you really want to learn something quickly? Try teaching it to someone else. Consulting work often puts you in the position of augmenting the expertise you may have in a one particular area with deep knowledge of a subject matter you may be relatively new to working in. Our team is often in the position of building applications in the cloud to support all different types of organizational requirements from inspections and facilities management to capital planning and portfolio management.

 

Over time we have developed expertise in a variety of different types of systems but their is always a new wrinkle or new angle. For clients, who are pinning the modernization of an application whose business rules and execution they depend on, it can be nerve wracking if you are stammering through the basics of their business.

 

I never try to pretend I know more than I do, but I do try to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can so I can be more effective and put the clients mind at ease. One trick I’ve learned over time is to teach the client’s business to someone on staff prior to a project kickoff. You may wonder how much benefit you can get from one person who is admittedly not an expert teaching another who knows nothing about a subject.

 

In my experience the act of attempting to teach someone else forces you down a deeper learning path. The simple act of thinking through how to teach something to someone forces you to find ways to map the new material to the world you know so you can express it to someone else. It forces you to begin to chunk and categorize the information as well as making it easier to identify gaps in your own understanding.

 

It usually takes me a couple of attempts to complete my teaching assignment with a colleague, but at the end I inevitably find myself with a deeper understanding of the subject matter and a deeper confidence in speaking about it. At the end of the day this better understanding not only puts the clients mind at ease but it positions me to be better prepared to service their requirements.

 

So if you really want learn something fast…maybe you should start by figuring out how to teach it to someone else.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Just change the name already and start working forward

I grew up a Raiders fan. My Mom’s side of the family is from El Segundo, California where the team practiced for years and it was just a natural thing for a kid to grow up love Marcus Allen and the Raiders. When we moved to DC, I tried to hold out and stay true to the Raiders but eventually the home team won out. I converted to the burgundy and gold and never looked back…until now.

I’m a sixteenth Blackfoot which isn’t enough to become an official member, but my opinion on this has nothing to do with my tiny drop of Indian heritage and everything to do with something most people learn in kindergarten. Step one to getting along with people and being successful is just being nice. My mom would always say “Just start by being nice and think will generally be ok.” I’m pretty sure the team didn’t choose the name to be hurtful. So why should they change it? Because if a large group of people are hurt by something you should stop doing that thing if you can.

Rather than debating who is in charge of who’s feelings or talking about the “storied” history of the franchise. Just change the name. This isn’t going away and eventually the name is going to change. The question is when and how gracefully.

For management this is an opportunity to do make the right decision. I guarantee there are people in the organization that know this is going to happen and will be relieved when it does. There are also those thinking that changing now is an admission they were wrong to not change the name before. That changing is an admission of previous guilt and wrong thinking. There may even be a few who think the name is ok and don’t understand why choosing a name for their team that a large number of people find offensive is ok.

I think its the first two groups of people that need to think hard about what the future holds. The third group missed the just be nice lesson in kindergarten and probably isn’t going to change their minds anytime soon. In business there is the concept of sunk cost and I think that applies here. While the team’s management has expended resources both real and emotional on keeping their tradition and their name, that time has passed. It is now simply a matter of when the name change is going to occur. The sooner it happens the sooner you can begin the process of building new traditions and focusing on the game and their on the field product. Instead of spending precious time and resources fighting change and maintaining this link to the past the team should be working to move forward.

In management clinging to the past and tradition can often hide a fear about the path forward or how to change. I’m not saying there aren’t people in the organization that believe that keeping the name is ok or that don’t understand why anyone cares. I’m just saying that I don’t believe the team will be called what it is today in five years and rather than focusing efforts on pushing that date out further management should embrace the inevitable and begin working towards a new era. I think that the team’s focus on maintaining its name shows an unwillingness to understand that this is unwinnable fight and a lack of thinking about the opportunities a name change might bring. Great managers know what battles to fight and find opportunity in challenging circumstances.

Until this team figures out how to move forward I’ll be putting the silver and black on and trying to stay up late enough to re-discover my Raider roots.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard…

Be better, not just bigger

Be better, not just bigger

I never missed a meal growing up…ever. As the oldest of six kids you can tell who made the dinner table a priority. Our family has five skinny kids and me, the guy who never met a menu item he didn’t like. Along with it came all the stupid big kid nicknames like Moose, Big Poppa, and BigUn. One thing you get told over and over again when you are always the biggest kid is to be careful not to hurt the other kids. Of course it wasn’t all bad and being a bit bigger helped me get recruited by schools and pay for college, something that was otherwise going to be a challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and taken up jiu jitsu as a means of staying in shape I’m still often the biggest guy which still means being careful not to hurt people. It also means focusing harder on technique and the proper way of doing things. One thing that is easy to do when you have a 100 pounds on the guy you are working out with is to become focused on the outcome and use size to ensure you win. This may make you feel a little better about yourself in the near term but it is a surefire way to slow your development. In fact it completely ruins any feedback loop you may be trying to establish that would enable you to measure your progress. One thing I have done because of this is to really try to focus on proper execution over results and ensuring that I’m doing things correctly so that I can compensate for some of the natural advantages that size and strength bring, so that I’m prepared should the day come when I don’t have those advantages. I’ve also made it a habit of finding people who are better than me that can expose my weaknesses despite any physical advantage.

These are the same challenges that many of us face in developing new skills as managers and executives. Its sometimes hard to tell if we are getting better because the power of the position makes the feedback loop a bit more fuzzy. Nobody really wants to tell their boss that the new skill they are working on really isn’t hitting on all cylinders. Because of this is is critical to focus on your execution and really try to build your own ability to gauge your progress. It is also critical to identify and encourage those that are willing to provide you with constructive feedback to be forthcoming. As we move through our careers and advance it becomes harder and harder to get feedback on our performance because there are fewer opportunities and individuals that can provide that feedback. Contrary to the popular belief that things get easier as you advance in your career, increasing your skills often actually gets harder. Figuring out ways to ensure that you continue to progress means improving your internal capability to critique your performances and cultivating relationships with others that are willing and capable of providing this feedback to you becomes more and more critical as you refine your skills and advance in your career.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 things to keep in mind during negotiations

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

One thing the government shutdown has made me think about is the need for some better core negotiating skills. I know there’s lots of different opinions and many different ways to make things work but I just speak for myself and say that anytime I’m trying to get something accomplished with somebody else and we’re working through how this is going to play out; there needs to be a little give and take. I have three big things that I try to be conscious of. They are as follows:

  1. Big picture.  You need to be able to take a step back from the minutiae of all that you’re working through and understand how those details affect the big picture. That way you can understand if those details are worth scuttling the big picture progress.
  2. You have to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. First of all, this helps you to understand how they can make such wildly outrageous demands. If you take a step into their shoes, you can oftentimes understand why they’re asking for such outrageous things and they begin to see just a little less outrageous. It can also help you do some creative deal making. If you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you can sometimes come up with something that is maybe not quite so wild and outrageous from your standpoint and something that you can live with that maybe they hadn’t considered before.  It oftentimes opens the door for a creative solution.
  3. The third thing is that you have to be focused on the outcomes.  One of the things that you see all the time when you’re trying to get through a deal or negotiate something out is that as the tenure of the deal making gets to be a little bit more competitive or there gets to be more posturing on the other side, the focus strays from what you’re trying to accomplish into becoming focused on the individual actions that have occurred during the negotiations. That really should have no bearing on the actual negotiating of an outcome. The deal making process itself shouldn’t become a hindrance to the outcome of the negotiation. Unfortunately, a lot of times people let the competitive nature of it carry them away. They become less concerned with am I getting what I need to out of this and more with am I going to win.

So that’s the last piece and the real killer of so many negotiations that could be successfully concluded; the fact that people get carried away in the wind and less focused on the outcome.  I’m curious what other folks think.  I’m sure there are many more things that could be added to this list but those are just my big three.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

You can’t fix apathy

You can't Fix Apathy

One of the most frustrating things that you’ll ever find when you’re working with your team or with people from your organization is apathy or a lack of work ethic.  There’s nothing more frustrating then watching somebody perform at a subpar level. Actually it doesn’t even matter if they’re performing up to standard but if they’re operating beneath where you believe they can perform its incredibly frustrating; particularly when that apathy is sort of written all over their faces.  When someone is less than engaged when you’re sitting in a meeting, they’re checking their phone, or clearly have other things that are of greater interest to them; that to me is the quickest ticket out of the organization.

I feel that an apathetic attitude is the sort of thing that catches. It only takes a few of those types of folks to ruin the spirit and fight of the team. You can cure a lack of training. You can address that. There are many other failings on a team that you can have that you can address in a fairly straight forward fashion either through training, educational opportunities, or helping someone through an area where they’re having difficulty, but it’s hard to cure a lack of desire, broken work ethic, or just a lack of caring.

I’ve found turn for turn that you can address just about anything else on a team. If you care and you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, you can overcome just about anything and I think that is true in your work a day world and just about every aspect of your life.  There are very few things that can’t be cured through training, education, and effort.  When the problem is someone doesn’t care or they exhibit a lack of effort, that’s the type of thing that as an employer or a team leader you have to identify that and root it out immediately. Whether that means getting that person off of your team or out of your organization, I think it’s something that if you don’t address it; it catches.  People see that and they go, “Well why do I care, why am I trying so hard when this person is not.” It’s unfair when you’ve got people that are pushing as hard as they can possibly push to achieve something.

There’s nothing that drives me over the edge faster than a lack of effort. I think, as with many things, you have to address it with the person directly first. I think, as with many things in the office place, you owe it to the people that work for you and with you to address things head on and ask. Maybe there is something that is correctible that’s causing it or maybe you’re misinterpreting something. Either way I think that once you’ve addressed it on that level, if there’s not a change then you have to find a way to move that person out of your organization or off your team. Otherwise they will absolutely cripple your ability over time to achieve things. Eventually they’ll end up poisoning the rest of your team and the rest of your organization.

I’m not sure how other people feel about this but it’s something that I feel incredibly strongly about. When I see this happening, it’s almost painful to watch. I try to address it immediately and it’s something where I’ve don’t have a lot of tolerance. I’ll take a lot more time trying to help somebody through an issue on delivery then I will on apathy.  You can hand me things that have mistakes in them a lot more times if I feel like you’re really trying, you’re pushing, you’re just maybe not getting it, or maybe you’re struggling with how to put the pieces together. I’m ok with that if you’re working hard or if I can see that you’re working hard and you’re trying to take advantage of what you’ve got around you. I am willing to accept that and work with that, but you can’t fix not caring.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The buck stops here: Increasing accountability in the office

buck stops here

Accountability is one of the key ingredients to creating a high performing organization.  Being able to count on people doing the things that they say they’re going to do is critical for organizations to be able to improve and perform.  As a leader it is your job to create a team that can be counted on to execute.  If a team member fails to perform the fault ultimately isn’t with the team; it will fall on the leader’s shoulders who is responsible for their actions. I’ve made a list of some tips to help increase accountability around the office space.

  1. Remember at the close of every meeting to assign action items to specific people.
  2. When you send an email, specifically include your ask in the form a request to that person. Don’t just expect them to take the next step.
  3. Hold to deadlines and calendar dates.  If it was important enough to put a deadline on it, it’s important enough to keep to it.
  4. The flip side of that is also true. Make sure that you don’t arbitrarily assign deadlines and dates to things that don’t require it because then it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not.
  5. As a leader, manager, or team member, make sure you hold yourself to the same standard that you want everyone else held to.

As always I’m curious what everyone else thinks.  If you have any suggestions to add to this list I’d love to hear them.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Every once in a while I find myself disregarding advice, even though I know that it’s good advice.  I have to stop myself, take a step back, and remember that there are other people that are worth listening to. I was thinking about that this morning. I was having a conversation yesterday where somebody was talking me through an approach to something and I found myself kind of shaking my head. When the person finished and walked out, I thought about it a little bit more and realized I had fallen into the classic “not invented here” trap.  You should never be so smart that you can’t take somebody else’s advice and I’ve really made an effort to over time, make sure that I listen to other people. I am always trying to focus in on the fact that it’s hard to learn while you’re talking.

I have a tendency to want to be the person that comes up with the solution. I have to work to remember that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and sometimes the best solutions come from outside. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling among managers and executives. A lot of times you got to the management position you’re in because you were the one with the good ideas and the ability to come up with things quickly. I know at least for me it was a big part of the advancement of my career and so as a manager and executive, I’ve become a little bit less technically focused and have had to grudgingly learn to rely more on the people around me to supply solutions and ideas.  If you don’t embrace that approach, you won’t be nearly as effective at managing people, working together in teams, functioning as a communications coordinator, and all the other things that are important to managing people. You can’t do that and have the monopoly on good ideas too.  It’s definitely a hard transition to make and it’s something that I think most people struggle with for their whole career in management.

Everyone wants to be the person with the good ideas because that’s the person who gets the biggest pat on the back. Probably one of the most exciting parts of being on a team is when you come up with that good idea that everyone on the team gets behind and adopts.  There’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment in that and as a manager, those moments seem to get farther and farther apart. Even if you’re sometimes able to have unique insight into a problem because of your experience in a similar situation, a lot of times you just don’t have enough to supply much beyond the kernel of an idea because technology and capabilities are changing so rapidly. With this fast paced change going on you have to be more reliant of people on staff to supply the real nuts and bolts of how anything will actually work.  It’s been a really big challenge for me and I’m curious to know how other people have dealt with that. Has it come easily or did you struggle in making the transition from a subject matter expert or a technical resource into a management resource?

Photo By _Max-B

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.