Cutting Expenses

March 31, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Business | Leave a comment
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With the economic crunch in full swing, nearly everyone I talk to is going through some form of expense control. That’s a nice way to say, “Stop spending so much money.” Cost containment can come in a variety of forms, and much like the dynamics of the market itself, it’s not all bad. During good times, expenses can get out of hand in a hurry. This is true for individual households, companies, and even governments. It appears it’s just human nature to spend what you make.

The trouble is, when what you make begins to shrink, there is often a lag between the corresponding cut in expenses that must take place. Sooner or later, the lag becomes great and they turn the reigns over to the accountants to get things under control. Edicts are issues, expenses are cut, and margins fall back into place, but there is a hidden cost. That of morale.

What I’ve been trying to think about lately is how things would be different if we could push cost-cutting mostly from the bottom-up. I think there are some good ways to creatively energize folks to start saving one person at a time. I’m not talking about revolutionary stuff here. It could be something as simple as eating fast food while on the road instead of sit-down steak places. Little things add up quickly. But if you put the power to change things in the hands of the soldiers in the field, you may get the results your after while actually *increasing* morale.

People love to feel like they’re part of the solution. Top-down cost-cutting edicts can make them feel almost exclusively like their part of the problem. Like most good things, this doesn’t come without some difficulty. It’s more time consuming to explain everything to them. It requires more trust that they will actually buy into it. And it isn’t nearly as easy as plugging a number into a spreadsheet and being done with it. However, if people are truly your most valuable asset (as nearly everyone says) might it be worth the extra effort to give it a try? At least test it out on a team or two and see how it goes. See what ideas they come up with if you present them with the problem. People can be amazingly creative. If it works, a small reward would be nice. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, maybe half a day off, or a small amount of what they saved back in the form of a bonus, or let them tell you what they would like.

If something like this worked, you get a leaner organization, long-term buy-in to understanding why cost containment is important, and a group of people who are energized because they feel like they are empowered to affect *their* company.

Might be worth a try?

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Is your head in the Cloud? (an intro to Cloud computing)

March 30, 2008 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | 2 Comments
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Cloud Computing appears to be the talk of the town lately. It’s sure a hot topic at my company, and in talking to some other colleagues around the tech world, we’re not alone. Folks are looking at it in a variety of ways from personal use (gotta put all those pictures and home videos somewhere, right?), to a quick and solid development platform for new applications, to an infrastructure strategy for entire data centers, to building tools to support it. With so many people talking about it, you might be embarrassed to stop the conversation and ask, “What the heck are you talking about?” So let’s get some context so that you can more effectively engage in the discussions, and there’s no better place to start than talking about what exactly this Cloud thing is.

In its simplest form, “the cloud” is a concept that allows you to use computing resources (storage, processing, etc.) as dynamically accessible utilities somewhere “out there”, rather than running local physical machines. That means that you basically use only what you need, when you need it; kinda like the way you use electricity today. When you need more juice, you just plug into an outlet, then you pay for what you use later. At this point you may say, “That sounds like a Grid”, and you would be right. It is — in a way. It’s a certain kind of grid, but grids can be local. The cloud is like a grid in the sky. Clear as mud?

Part of the problem with clarity on the subject is that terms get hijacked. Take the term “grid.” The concept and implementations of grid computing have been around for a long time. But in the last several years, Oracle has done a masterful job of coining the term to be synonymous with their proprietary software that enables aspects of grid computing. Most notably is their database solution called “RAC“, which stands for Real Application Cluster — even though it’s a database. Many Oracle RAC/Grid customers today, and I mean some really sharp ones, still get confused when I ask them: “What is an Oracle grid?” I get all sorts of answers. Then if you ask a pure techie… look out. They will go on for days about why it is blasphemy to call Oracle’s solution a true grid.

Let’s try to distill this into some general definitions so that more fruitful business discussions can be had.

Grid is an architecture that allows multiple physical devices to act as one. Resources can be shared in some form or fashion to gain better utilization and sometimes higher availability of your systems.

A Cloud is a Grid that seems to just magically work. You don’t know what is on the back end. You don’t know how it is linked together. You don’t know where things specifically are located. All you know is that you get what you want, when you want it, and you only pay for what you use.

With that basic understanding, we are now ready to discuss what now seems to be an inevitable “cloudy” forecast in our future.

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Doom and Gloom Economy

March 30, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Posted in Business | Leave a comment
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As bad as the economic news has been recently, if a newscaster came on and said “A 10-mile wide meteor is going to hit earth within the hour” I think most people would sigh and wryly add: “It figures.”In the midst of a general malaise such as this, lots of folks start to feel they have a right to expect nothing but the worst. Budgets are shrinking. People are far more judicious about their corporate and retail purchases. The belt is tightening everywhere. The outlook is gloomy. Times like these will definitely expose the metal of a company and how we all plow through it will have a lot to do with how strong we are on the other side.

One of the first things that gets exposed is how much a company really knows about itself. It’s similar to a football team that cruises through the first half of its season winning every game against inferior opponents. They neglect the fundamentals and never dedicate to a particular strategy. Instead, they just try lots of different things, and because the competition is weak, things work and they win. This leads to a false sense of security that quickly becomes exposed when they start playing better teams. When they heat is on, they find that they have become a jack of all trades, but master of none. They have no roots. No fundamental anchor. Sounds simple and overly obvious, but if you don’t know EXACTLY who you are to your customers, to the market, and to yourselves, don’t wait another day to figure it out.

Once you’ve made sure your executing internally, dive into empathy mode with your customers. Focus on the customer’s customer. I recently spent a day with one of our new customers learning about their business. I tried not to pitch any of our products until I first understood how they do business, what their fears and concerns are, and how do they help their customers to succeed. Only then am I able to become a consultant who is seen as someone trying to help them succeed during a difficult time. As a consultant, help them understand how your products and services will help them through these challenging times. Find ways to convey ROI (Return on Investment), whether it be in terms of hard or soft dollars. Position yourself as a tool to help them through this, not as an expense they need to avoid.

This stuff may sound like “Sales 101” but I believe they are things the whole organization needs to understand. Too often during good times, most folks in the company can simply do their job and not see the big picture. That is bad for a whole slew of reasons. Take this time to get everyone on the same page with confidence in your company. It’s now more important than ever, and confidence is contagious.

These are tough times, indeed. But if taken as a opportunity to refocus on you and your customers, chances are that you will come out way ahead of the game when things turn back around. Good luck to us all.

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Authority vs Leadership

March 30, 2008 at 5:55 am | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments
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There is one universal truism in football practice. Coaches will make players run. A lot. It’s just part of what needs to happen to get into shape, and near as I can tell, no player is very excited about it. When I was playing college football, we had a coach who was “old school” and believed in intense conditioning, so we ran. And ran. And ran. Then ran some more. In defense to what we clearly saw as oppression, we had a saying:

“You can run me long, but you can’t run me hard.”

That is one of the clearest ways I know to illustrate the interplay (or lackthereof) between Authority and Leadership. The first part of the saying, “You can run me long”, was an admission that we were, in fact, under their authority. They controlled our scholarships and had the power to kick us off the team if we ever became too insubordinate. But the last part of the saying, “but you can’t run me hard”, was a pledge that they could not break our will. We would find a way to adhere to the letter of the law, but never allow them to get out of it what they really wanted, which was to run us HARD, as well as long.

This is about the best (or the worst, depending on how you look at it) example of Authority without Leadership. Many times in our careers, we long for authority. Most people believe if they just had the authority to do things they way they wanted, success would surely follow. But not so fast. Just because you can tell someone what to do, doesn’t mean they will do it they way that you intend. While you may get someone to follow you to the letter of your law, you will likely none of what you expect in terms of commitment, creativity, energy, and passion.

That is the cold world of Authority when it is absent its compliment: Leadership.

If I had to pick between the two, I would choose to be a Leader rather than one in Authority. First of all, I believe that’s simply the way you should treat people. Second, I think it’s more rewarding. Third, and maybe most important, I believe it is tons more effective. And in terms of career aspirations, true Leaders rarely are out looking for a job. I’ve seen those in Authority get cut at the drop of a hat during a budget crunch. Leaders are usually far too valuable to let go.

When I became a football coach, like all coaches before me, I had to run my kids. But I never forgot the saying we carried around with us when I was a player, and I never wanted my players to feel that way. Unless they were insane, they would never *enjoy* running, but I wanted them to trust me that it was for a reason that would ultimately lead to their benefit. I wanted their hearts as well as their obedience. It takes time and a lot of work to build that kind of relationship. But that is the kind of relationship every leader should strive for, whether in the locker room or the executive meeting room.

How we can work toward building those kinds of relationships will be the subject of many discussions in this forum.

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