Category Archives: management

Roadblocks and gatekeepers on the road to success

Faster access to our computers from home made all the sense in the world. One man was standing against my recommendation. Everyone else loved it. The big boss hid from the debate, citing Jim and the cost as reasons to not go forward with it. It seemed like spite, but we had been friends. Why was Jim sabotaging me? Why wouldn’t he listen to reason?

A year later, as technology advanced, a much cheaper and faster access method was installed. I also gained some perspective. Jim wasn’t an SOB, he was a guy with an opinion. I watched him turn out to be right every single time he took an unpopular stand. It might take a couple of years to be vindicated, but he was always right. Management had learned to ignore Jim at their peril.

Jim was a gatekeeper. He could be reasoned with. He would accept proof. He changed his mind when it made sense. Jim only seemed like a roadblock when you were wrong.

The roadblocks are the folks who are mean and spiteful. They can stop a project by getting in the way or going slow. They literally may kill a plan just because they don’t like someone on the team. They stay in place because they know enough of the right people that they can help advance or hinder careers. They help their friends and shaft their enemies. 

Be careful who you define as a gatekeeper and as a roadblock. Ask around. What do your coworkers think of the person in your way? I was wrong about Jim when I thought he was a roadblock. He was a smart guy who was a very respected gatekeeper. 

Something to do today

Is someone getting in your way? Ask around. Are they gatekeepers or roadblocks?

How to know your company might be in danger

Some signs of trouble in your company are easy to ignore. They aren’t obvious signs of trouble. They can even look like progress.

In the great Indian Ocean tsunami some people survived because they knew the signs of a tidal wave of disaster waiting to happen. They learned, “When the sea retreats far past the beach, run for the high ground. It will soon come roaring back.” It is a natural occurrence before a tsunami.

Job disasters have signs of impending doom like the tsunami causing water to retreat from the shore. Think about it. What happens before a car plant closes down entirely? Work is cut back. Minor layoffs occur. Sales are obviously dropping. Cars stay on dealer lots for longer and longer. Rebates and special incentives are used to sell cars. Managers, supervisors and foreman are laid off. Finally the plant closing is announced.

An old Thai proverb says, 

At high tide fish eat ants. At low tide ants eat fish.

A healthy company succeeds by doing effectively what a dying company struggles to do over and over without success. 

Signs of doom I have seen where I worked included: 

  • A new quality program annually 
  • No more flowers sent to funerals of workers and their family members 
  • Business travel is cut back 
  • On-the-job training is cut back to “just in time” training 
  • Payments for outside tuition is cut back 
  • Technology innovation specialists moved back into production jobs 
  • Promised bonuses cut back or not paid 
  • Refusal to let employees transfer to other areas in the company 
  • Relocation expense reimbursement eliminated 
  • Sudden personal interest in the workers by the company president and chairman. 
  • Empowerment training during declining markets. 
  • Not replacing people who quit. 
  • Reorganizing more and more often. 
  • Stock price dropping. 
  • Replacement of salespeople at a quick clip. 
  • A frenzy of competitor acquisitions.
  • A sudden focus on getting “good press” or being in trade publications.

When you see the signs of impending problems, you may still have years to prepare. Or you may have days. The important thing is to start preparing without being part of the problem. Take positive steps in your own sphere of influence.

When the water retreats from the shoreline, it may look like a great time to go out and pick up the fish left behind. When your boss is sacked, it may seem like the perfect time to get into management. And it may be true. But be careful and look for signs that a tsunami is coming to wash your whole company away.

Later I will talk about how businessmen in India cope with far worse problems than Americans can even begin to understand, and do it with a smile.

Something to do today

Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On the left side write signs of company strength, reasons for optimism. On the right put a list of troubling signs of decline. Now pick how you can help accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative. Not only will your actions help your company, they will insulate you from layoffs and prepare you for a new job if disaster strikes.

Picking up a hundred dollar bill can halt your career

Do you pick up money you see on the ground? Do you stop your career in order to do a menial project or take a job someone else should do?

Bending over to pick up a hundred dollar bill is a bad investment of your time if you are Bill Gates. He has averaged earning more than that every two seconds since Microsoft started. I did the math.

Imagine you’re the fastest pizza maker in the world and make the best pizzas ever. However, your name is also Tom Monaghan, and you founded Domino’s Pizza. Is the best use of your time to make pizzas and sell them? No. Not even close. No matter how good your pizzas are, or how many you can make, if you focus on making pizzas instead of making a corporate empire, you will be wasting your time. 

Just because you are the best person for the job, doesn’t mean the job is the best opportunity for you. 

Something to do today

What are you doing that keeps you from tackling more important projects? Who can you get to do that job for you?

How to tell if you should be a CEO

Woman on a ladder of success

Is your ladder to success helping you climb the right wall?

Too many people climb the ladder of success, only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall. (unkn)

Should you be a CEO?

Jim just took a job as a manager of a small company.  He’s been a CEO before.  He took the lowly manager’s job because he likes it better than being CEO.  He didn’t even put his CEO experience on his resume. He got the “lowly” job he really wants because he left the word CEO off his resume.

I can tell you the same story, with the exact opposite twist, of technicians and engineers who worked their way up the technical ladder, only to finally figure out that they should have quit and gone to work as the CEO of a small company.  These are guys making $150,000+ as technicians.  Not bad money at all.

There’s a way to find out if you really, truly, in your gut would like to be a CEO.  Get a couple of practice jobs.  First, become a team leader or manager where you are. Also get involved in your local or national trade association.  While you are at it, volunteer to head a charity organization.  Your local school has a PTO, swim team boosters, band boosters, etc.  The YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and Scouts all need people who are leaders. Another great way is to run for the school board, town council or state legislature.

Leading any of these organizations will help you see if you like management.  In them you need to set your own goals and agenda.  You need to persuade people to work with you.  Selling others on your ideas is essential. You’ll also build a network of people who can help you become a CEO.  You’ll get to show true executive leadership.

If you talk to CEO’s, you’ll find that many of them evaluate executives in their own and in supplier companies by how they perform in volunteer posts.  Being a CEO isn’t just telling people what to do.  It also includes creating a network that will draw talent and contracts to your company.

If you want to be a CEO, get started now.  There are teams, associations, charitable organizations and political organizations looking for leaders.

And pay attention.  Being CEO may not be for you.

Something To Do Today

If you have any desire to be a manager or a leader, make a list of places where your leadership

could have an effect.  Go out and get started in those organizations.  You could easily be the “CEO” in 2 years.

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Later:                          3 critical words on your resume

email exploitation

Absolute proof it is time to leave your job

How to heal a project or job search before it breaks: Dr. No

Doctor No can heal a case of pebbles. It can fix a project or job search before it breaks. How?  You make the people giving you a pebble, one more little thing to do, fix the problem they create.  They become Dr. No.

stacked rocks

Is your to-do list impossibly tall?

The team leader I disliked personally the most was a good project manager. I loved working for him. One redeeming social skill was that he knew about Dr No.  When he was asked to add just a little more to a project he would agree and then ask what he got to drop to make up for adding that little bit.  He did it religiously. He didn’t just say, “No,” he used the Doctor No approach. He asked the person adding work to heal the problem he was causing. He asked the manager, boss team leader, or project manager, “What can I now say “No” to? My team can’t do it all, so help me say “No” to another project, specification, or task. He turned the person giving him the work into Doctor No, a healer.

I hate firefighters–people who commit a project to disaster.  The most difficult problem for firefighters is to say, “NO!”  It is hard to refuse to carry a mountain as it is thrust upon you one pebble at a time by smiling friends.  Still, you MUST gently refuse the pebbles.  The best way I have found to refuse pebbles of additional work is to require the person handing you the pebble to tell you which other pebble you can drop. They become Doctor No and fix your time and resource problems.

The velvet glove on the steel fist comes in handy here. As the person trying to hand you the pebble tells you how small it is, you have to clearly tell them it will not get done unless they tell you what else to drop. When they say, “You decide,” tell them, “I won’t do your task unless YOU tell me what to drop.” If you absolutely can’t get them to let you drop something, you then decide to drop something.  Tell everyone by voice AND memo what will not get done due to the specific additional burdens placed on you by this specific person.  Then “don’t do” what you said you wouldn’t do.

Circulate a list of unfinishable projects. Put them in order of importance. Let everyone else fight for the priorities on the list. Make it clear they will probably not get done. When you or your team gets lucky and finishes something unexpectedly early, you look like a wizard.  Remember Scotty in the original Star Trek series?  That was his management style.

The best defense against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off. (unkn)

Does this apply to job hunting?  Absolutely.  My blog and books can give you more information on job hunting than they can possibly apply in a day, week or month.  Doctor No is about prioritizing.  If you ask me what order to do things in, I’ll tell you.  Otherwise I expect you to figure out what is most important and drop the rest. For your job search, demand that you, yourself be Dr. No.

The team leader I disliked the most personally, was the best manager, and I really appreciated it.  He could get me to go the extra mile because he used Dr. No.

Dr. No is about setting priorities.  It is a nice way to get the people overloading you to help unload some of the burden.  Turn those people into Doctor No. Let them be the healer.

Something To Do Today

Most people are afraid to try the Doctor No approach.  Try it out the first time with a smaller project, something thrust on you that really is not that significant.  Don’t say, I’ll try to get that done and then stay late to finish it.  Ask the person to help you figure out what to drop instead.  If they won’t tell you what to drop, tell them it won’t get done until they open up a hole in your schedule for you to do it.  Then don’t do it.  Your pebble pushers need to find out you are serious.

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Later:               Dead fish

Poisons

Liars

How to work a convention

The Mythical Man Month

sand sculpture of a sphinx

The mythical man month is another impossible beast.

I hate firefighters–people who commit a project to disaster.  “Leaders” sometimes think that if one woman can have a baby in 9 months, then surely 9 women can have a baby in one month. Those leaders/firefighters create career death marches for their subordinates and coworkers.  Too often they are rewarded for being able to get so many hours out of their team.

The Mythical Man Month is a great book about the fallacy that projects can be infinitely divided and finished sooner.

To increase productivity on a 2 person project by 50%, you have to add 2 more people.  Adding one more person does little.  More time is spent communicating and coordinating than the person adds to the project.

A 9 month project with 7 solid, committed, experienced programmers will take as long to complete as the same project with 25 engineers, a manager and 4 team leaders.  Why?  Because communication becomes a major burden in a large project.

One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. (Elbert Hubbard)

In any complex project, adding people in the last month rarely speeds things up.  The folks who can finish the project have to train the new people, supervise them, and check their work.  The experienced people lose all productivity and the new workers are marginal no matter how strong their background.

In your job do you know how people really work together?  Do you know the cost to productivity of adding more people to a project?

For your job search

Are you making your job search more complicated than it needs to be?  Are you dooming your search with lots of undirected activity?

Are you spreading your search efforts so broadly that you are depending on luck?  Contacting 500 recruiters is rarely as productive as closely working with one or two or ten.  Spamming 1000 companies is not as effective as calling 10 managers who may be able to use you or refer you.  Networking with 5 CEO’s or Directors beats lunch with 50 production line workers.

What really gets more done?

Something To Do Today

Find a copy of The Mythical Man Month.  It is a classic.

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More firefighting problems:    The Elmer Fudd job hunt

Doctor No

Dead fish

Poisons

Liars

The incredible strength of weak connections

And later:        How to work a convention

Make your job search 50% more effective

The first step to making your job search 50% more effective, is to really know what is happening.  Yes, get a job in half the time. Let me give you an example that changed my life that applies to your job search.

I was overspending by 20% every month. I had an absolutely fixed income.  So I bought a notepad and kept track of every expense.  In one week it was obvious where the money went.  In a month it was unavoidable.  The truth? 20% of my very limited income was going for lemonade from cozy little shops in Murcia, Spain.

Your time is very limited.  You only get 24 hours a day.  You can’t buy more time. Do you really know how you use it?

Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace. (Sawyer)

Buy a small notebook.  Exert incredible discipline for one day each month.  Every time you shift tasks, write it down.  A phone call is a shifted task.  An internet link can be a shifted task.  Write it down.

It may help to create 15 minute intervals on the paper and write down what you did for each 15 minute period.

Now get out the chainsaw.  What was really REALLY productive?  Do you spend 2 hours daily trying to avoid offending people by chatting amiably or reading their useless emails.  Cut out the unproductive stuff.

Make sure you do what is important.  Education is essential. Networking is critical.  Talk about the NCAA tournament with Larry—don’t kid yourself.  That email of funny things kids do—delete it.

I tried it. I found I was spending hours each day with candidate email that wouldn’t do any good.  I did a 2 month experiment.  I took all my job openings off the internet. Instead I started calling up people.  In the recruiting business that is taking a chainsaw to your daily schedule.  Nothing neat and clean, I just cut 25% of my time wasted.  I have since added back some job ads, but not where everyone else advertises.  Now I get better candidates and less time wasters.

Create the log.  Keep it for a day or a week.  Get your chainsaw out.  Cut off the termite riddled, least productive part of the log.  Use the time you save to get the most useful things possible done.

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Something To Do Today

Create a time log.  Use it for your job or your job hunting.  Keep it. Analyze it.  Chainsaw it.

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Next:      Unbelievable networking facts.

Later:               Take unfair advantage of those networking facts.

Your job search is mortal combat: win every time

If you job hunt (or go to work) expecting mortal combat, where the other guy must lose, you will fail.  If you have a strong attitude that, “The company, my manager and I are going to win big,“ you will succeed.  In job search mortal combat you must defeat the real enemy every time. You will lose every time if you fight your allies.

I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly combat.  (Plato)

Are companies idiots for not hiring you?  Is every interviewer prejudiced?  Let’s look at your job.  Do you assume that your workplace is run by fools?  Do you know more than your boss?  Do you hang around the complainers and whiners at work?  Are you the ringleader?  Are people out to get you?

People really may be out to get you if you have a bad attitude.  A hiring manager wants someone who will help and support him.  Promotions come to people who help raise team spirits and achieve goals.  Raises are given when a person is worth more than they are being paid.  The manager interviewing you for a job will get a feeling how you treat your current boss.  Your attitude will come through in the interview.

So how should you treat your current boss?

She should be your ally.  In mortal combat, you help your allies.

Often you have to train your manager.  She doesn’t have your perspective on problems.  You need to constantly bring things to her attention that she may not know. You need to train her patiently, the way you would like to be trained.

Would you like to get pats on the back for the good things you do along with the occasional pointer on how to correct a mistake?  Do the same with your boss.  Positive reinforcement sets the stage for your negative comments to be heard.  Take an attitude check today.  Are you saying 5 positive things for every negative you voice?  Keep track.

Are you job hunting?

Can the interviewer tell how you engage in destructive mortal combat?  Is that why they are avoiding you?  Do you treat your current manager as your best ally?  If the right attitude shines through, they will hire you.

Business really is mortal combat.  You have to plan on winning every time.  Are you going to defeat stupidity with perfect logic and rapier sharp attacks?  No, you will lose.  Do you plan on patiently helping everyone learn, grow and win?  Your victory is assured.

An attitude of constant improvement will win. Constant carping criticism loses every time.

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Something To Do Today

Keep a notepad with you.  Make two columns.  Put a check in one column for every positive thing you say.  Put a check in the other column for every negative thing you say.  Do the positives outstrip the negatives by 5 to 1?

Every Friday document your week at work in your job journal.  What are your quantifiable achievements and failures?  Make an upbeat report for your manager in a format she can use.  Turn it in whether she asked for it or not.

The first step towards networking – leadership

Networking?  It is leadership.  Some of the best connected network creators I know have never been managers, but they all have been leaders. Here is how I learned the most critical lesson in leadership.

I was 19 years old and clueless.  I was sitting in a chair and told my roommate, “We’ve got to get going.” 

He just sat in his chair and looked at me.

“Come on, get up.  We’ve got to get that done now,” I said from my chair.

He stared at me a little more wide eyed and offended.

“Look.  You have to get up.  We agreed I’d lead this project.”

“Bryan,” he finally said, “there is no way I am getting up out of my seat before you do.  If you are going to be the leader, you’ve got to get up first and start acting like you really mean what you say.”

That was one of the best lessons in leadership I ever had.

Leaders show by what they do that they mean what they say.  They invest themselves in a decision before they expect others to follow. 

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Something To Do Today

Take the lead or watch a leader take charge of a group.

Starting tomorrow I will be giving at least one suggestion each day for networking.

For a few days:         How to network at the top.

Creating networks

How to be sure of your career direction. Can you?

It can be difficult if not impossible to know where your career should go.  It’s not that you can’t pick a direction, it is making sure it is the right direction.  You may climb the career ladder of success, only to find out it is leaning against the wrong wall.

Here is a great article on how to figure out where you should go.