A Business Technology Place

Take this job and love it

Johnny Paycheck didn’t talk to me

I’m blessed to say I’ve never been in a job I hated.  I’ve been challenged and grown professionally in each position I’ve held because I positioned myself in a career field I enjoy. But I’ve also developed a few routines over the years to enhance my work experience.

  1.    Engage with people

I’ve learned cube hermits rarely enjoy their job or surroundings. I believe collaboration is more successful when I can see and/or hear my customers and team partners. So I increase my engagement with work by getting away from email and visiting others in-person or calling them on the phone.

  1. Go to the Gemba

The phrase gemba is a Japanese term meaning the place where value is created. Before I was introduced to the word in Lean teachings, I discovered the power of the concept. When I was a product manager, I noticed I was spending as much or more time with the business unit owners as my peer group. I moved my desk inside their business unit and not within the IT area. This move increased my understanding of the business and made collaboration with my customers easier.

  1. Take pride in your work

A wise man told me in college that every piece of work I turn in has my signature and approval. It left a mark on me. My work output reflects how much I care about the customer, my company, and my work. My work is my signature, so do it right and take pride in it.

  1. Seek to align with other departments

Aligning with other departments means actively listening to understand their needs and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. It means aligning to common goals in the business and not thinking my goals trump others. Isolationism within the company will ultimately leads to frustration, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies.  

That’s my recipe for loving your job. What’s yours?

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via creative commons

Can you feel the business?

Can you feel it?

One of the aspects of my job that I love to describe and that motivates me is that I “feel the business”. I feel the impact of administrative dollars to the financial income statement. I feel the impact of delivered services by talking to sales executives and customer service management. I read customer requirements and customer complaints. I look for opportunities to talk to positive minded employees that are making an impact in the organization and to our customers.Just Feel It

Feeling the business means understanding how customer requests are turned into finished product. It means understanding how my specific job impacts the bottom line. It means understanding how a colleague’s job impacts the bottom line.

I use the imagery of ‘feeling’ with employees during coaching sessions and reviews. Feeling the business transforms a job to a new level. It involves the employee, creates commitment, and influences better performance. I used to think of it as a featured aspect for select jobs. But now, I see that it’s much larger. We all have an opportunity to feel the business. I believe, that it is an unstated factor that distinguishes the high performers from the average employee.

Serving notice to technology professionals.

I don’t advocate a culture where technology professionals are hidden from the business. IT shouldn’t be just a cost center on the income statement with team members that do their job in a bubble. Technology professionals need to step-up and understand how their work impacts the success of the company and the customers who buy the products and services.

But listen. This isn’t any easy thing. IT professionals are put into cultures where the goal is to follow a process. The goal is to check-off all the boxes and the procedures list. When this happens, it’s easy to lose site of the reasons the processes exist. It’s easy to lose site of the customer. It’s easy to not feel the business because IT is feeling the task and the process.

Create the culture to feel the business.

If we want everyone to feel the business then we have to create a culture that encourages others to see it, accept it, and value it. Here’s some specific examples how I encourage others to get a feel:

  • Get out of email and pick up the phone – Email has a place in our communications. But an effective way to feel the business is to hear a customer speak about a need or complaint. We had a service incident this past week that affected the ERP for a division of our organization. After the dust settled, I called the organizational leader. I wanted her to hear my voice when I spoke about the problem rather than me writing an email response. I wanted to hear her response rather than read it.
  • Share the financial results of the company – Help employees feel the business by sharing financial results with them. I pass down financial metrics like company revenue, profit, and expenses to employees. It sends the message that they are participants in the financial results of the company. Employees are concerned about the health of an organization, and they should be encouraged to exhibit behaviors that influence positive results.
  • Tour operations and understand the flow of work – Operations is where customer requests turn into products and services. If employees want to feel the business they need to understand this. Last year, I contacted a plant operations manager and arranged a plant tour for our entire IT group. The results were spectacular. IT employees were making comments to me like, “I had no idea this is what was happening” and “this really helps me understand a few things.”
  • Measure results after a project completes – A few months ago, we completed a project that automated a manual purchase order process to an electronic workflow. After the project completion, I asked the manager of the group that was processing the purchase orders to list all of the tasks that were eliminated. We put an approximate time by each task as well. It was a powerful statement. We had used a similar list as part of the ROI for the project. But reading through it post-production release allowed us to truly understand the impact the programming had to the business. We certainly could feel it.

Feeling pigeonholed at work?

Have you been pigeonholed at work?
Getting pigeonholed in my career is something I work hard to avoid. Unfortunately, it’s a tough condition to shake and my experience is that I have to initiate the shaking-and-moving to stay get out of the hole. This is an important topic for professional workers that don’t want to grow stagnant and that continuously seek new challenges.

Pigeonholed is an expression with various meanings depending on context. For this writing, I’m referring to it as a verb meaning “to assign to a definite place or to definite places in some orderly system”. We use the term to refer to people in the workplace that are locked into a position or a set of responsibilities based on past achievements. Colleagues, management, and others place a label on the person which makes changes in positions or responsibilities difficult.

One of the reasons workers get pigeonholed is they perform well and there is no one else in the organization that knows how to do what they are doing. Often there is not a sense of priority to make sure the person has a back-fill or that that work rotates among people. Organizations get caught up in managing the day-to-day operations of the business and personnel matters are often pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

Cheryl Dahle captures this thought in an article in Fast Company entitled Escape Your Pigeonhole.  Dahle explains the conundrum as “How do you develop the expertise to be known as the go-to guy or gal for certain projects or jobs without getting so tightly defined that you’re stuck working on the same project (or in the same industry) year after year?”

The remainder of Dahle’s article gives four areas of practical advice that professionals can use to escape and avoid the pigeonhole. A common theme in her recommendations is that we are responsible for moving our own careers towards paths that interest us and that match with our skills and strengths. We can’t rely on our managers, human resources, or anyone else to take us there.

What are you doing about it?
A former colleague once told me that “everyone should be fired or reassigned from their current jobs every three years.” His idea may seem a bit extreme, but his point was that companies benefit more from fresh ideas this way. It keeps workers motivated and challenged and allows them to grow. His thought follows the same mindset as executive leadership programs within some companies where they identify employees with “leadership potential” and change their job function and responsibility every 24 months.  It’s a form of job rotation.

But there is only so much an individual has control over in their workplace. Even if they are doing things to avoid a pigeonhole and to advance to other areas, there is no guarantee they’ll change perceptions of others. Which is exactly why this is a difficult condition to avoid. Just how do you change someone’s perception of you?

I’ve been pigeonholed.
In my personal career I’ve had success and failure getting locked into a position. I know of two times that I have been boxed-in by a pigeonhole. In both cases I had to leave the situation to escape the hole.

The first time was after I entered the organization as a college cooperative student (similar to intern). I stayed with the company after I graduated because they offered me full-time employment. After a couple of years however, it became apparent that management still thought of me as a college co-op student. There really wasn’t any opportunities to continue personal growth. To get out of that pigeonhole I had to leave the company.

The second time was with an employer that no longer exists (due to acquisition). I worked in the IT group as a product manager for many years and sought to advance within IT leadership by moving into management and gaining a broader breadth of responsibility. I felt I was a good fit because I had previously been in roles of analyst, project manager, and network engineer which gave me knowledge of systems, networks, and programming. I knew the business side more than most because of exposure to clients and Sales. But management went through a time of hiring outside people into the positions I was interested in serving. I was told at one point “Just keep doing what you are doing. You are good at it” (AKA – pigeonhole). To escape this pigeonhole I finished a MBA and applied for a position in eCommerce Marketing. It worked and I moved on to new challenges and opportunities for service and learning outside of IT.

Why does it matter?
Getting pigeonholed limits our experiences. It cuts down on the skills we could develop. It reduces the breadth of opportunities which directly influences career choices. This isn’t a power-play to climb the traditional “corporate ladder”. It’s about personal satisfaction with our work and output. It’s about serving others by staying motivated. It’s about learning and growing.

I’d love to hear your experience on this topic. Have you avoided being pigeonholed? Have you escaped a pigeonhole?

Book Review – Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Poke the Box by Seth Godin is a quick and easy read. While some may confuse it with a motivational type book, Godin’s points are a bit deeper. The two word summary is

Start Something.

Godin says “I’m merely encouraging you to start. Often. Forever. Be the one who starts things.” Starting things is like poking the box to see what will happen.The manifesto is a call for people to shed excuses, fear, and procrastination and to pursue their ideas. That’s certainly not a new principle. But Godin states his ideas in a clear, concise, and easy to understand format that worth your time to read.

He gives examples of individuals and organizations to backup his statements that people need to push forward with their ideas. One such example was the first Starbucks didn’t sell coffee and wasn’t the company we have come to know today. It sold coffee beans. But Jerry Baldwin’s idea to get started led to the suggestions from Howard Schultz to offer traditional espresso beverages. Godin’s point is that “Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action”.

This leads to the argument that one of the top reasons that people don’t initiate work is fear of failure. People and organizations let the fear of failure paralyze them because failure is viewed as a negative event. Again, not a new idea, but tolerating failures because we can learn from them, because it makes us better, or because we can adjust and move forward is usually just given lip service in our society.

Godin goes deeper into the idea of initiating work by touching on cultural norms of conformity. From schools, to churches, to corporate america, we are trained, encouraged, and rewarded for staying within set boundaries. I could directly relate to this concept and previously wrote about it in a post entitled are you crazy enough to create change?

I recommend this book for your library. It’s a simple concept, yet can be so difficult to master.  If you are a manager of people, encourage them to poke the box. If you are an team member then start your ideas. Godin says “soon is not as good as now.” Go!

Book Review: Your Career Game

I recently read Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals by Nathan Bennett and Stephen A. Miles. Based on the title and reference to game theory, I expected the book would be a technical read and perhaps one that I only scanned for practical insights. What I found, was an easy to read book filled with many pages of interviews and practical straight talk about career progression. It was a definite value-add to my career journey and I found myself wishing I had read something like this in my twenties.

The interviews in the book are conducted with a diverse set of leaders from multiple industries. They are insightful as they dig deep into topics like mentoring, education, influence, political skill, and social intelligence. The business leaders reveal how they approach their career and the decisions they make. I found a few common themes within their responses. Most of them looked to expand the breadth of their experiences across different functional areas of a business. Many of them worked internationally, or saw international experience as a good opportunity to learn the core workings of a business. All of them had a close network of mentors to assist them with guidance in their maturation process.

Additionally, the authors go through several success factors for your career:

Understand the game better

If you consider the model that your career is a game, you need to seek to understand the game better. Just like a sports player must seek to understand the rules of their game to become a better player, professionals must  understand rules of the career game to better navigate its progression. This includes elements of self-knowledge, people skills, motivations, and intentions. There are are more players in the game than just yourself and there are rules from within and external to the organization that could effect the game.

Understand how different moves will affect your career

In game theory, the premise is to first understand all of the players in the game which may include co-workers, executives, your boss, and even your family. What are the interests of each of the players in the game? What do they hope to achieve? Once you understand the different players in the game then you can simulate the game based on the types of moves you believe they will make. As with a chess game, the best players think and simulate moves into the future rounds.

Improve you career agility

Your career agility is based on elements of your core make-up that allow you to react, plan, and make decisions based on your career. As I understood the author’s points in this section, you need to be agile in order to react to unseen circumstances and game elements that you didn’t anticipate.  Elements of your make-up that comprise your career agility include emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, self-monitoring, influencing-up, resilience, empathy, authenticity, decision making, and political skill.  The bottom line is you need to understand yourself and you need to understand how to relate to others.