found a problem? fix it.

July 30, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments
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Was listening to an interview with Michael Dell the other day (can’t find the link now) where he was asked about the best advice he had ever received since starting his business in high school.  He said that it was from a college professor who told him, “When you find a problem, fix it right away.”

Sounds pretty simple.  Almost too simple.  But I know from personal experience how difficult it can be.  Recently I’ve had a couple of situations in my personal and professional life that caused me to wonder how things might have been differently had I acted to fix the problems I found immediately.  Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but all things considered, I think I will win more than I lose by following the advice.

It’s not always easy though, because sometimes fixing problems have ramifications.  Sometimes serious ones.  Fixing a broken door handle and fixing a situation where, say, you know that a friend is being dishonest at work, come with very different sets of baggage.  That’s what makes the choices hard.

In coaching, I fell prey to delayed action many times.  Maybe I liked a kid and didn’t want to yank him from a starting role.  Maybe I didn’t want to hear the gripes of a parent.  Maybe I didn’t want to fight the red tape of the school administration.  There were plenty of things that delayed what I knew deep down to be right.  I’ve recently had to remind myself that they rarely, if ever, end well — in coaching, business, or life.  Take ’em on as early as possible.

shot of humility

July 25, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 4 Comments
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I love it when people who have never been in sales hear about how much some reps make and decide, “That’s crazy! They make all that money when someone else does all the work! They don’t build the product, they don’t do support, they don’t even demo the product… they just buy lunches, get blind drunk at parties, and collect fat commission checks.”

A word to those who feel that way. Try it for a while.

I’ve been a bit under the weather, but dragged myself out earlier this week to do a sales call with a rep. We get there a few minutes early and wait. and wait. and wait. Finally, through a long series of efforts, the rep contacts one of the underling DBA’s who was supposed to be in the meeting. The guy says, “You want what I’m supposed to tell you, or the truth?”

My rep says, “Oh, how about both.” The DBA responds, “well, he either had a family emergency or he took his team to go see the new Batman movie. I’ll let you pick.” Nice. Reps go through this kind of crap all the time. They usually clear this kind of debris for most of us “business folks” to attend meetings. But on that day, I guess the customer’s didn’t care what “big wig” was coming, what with the Joker on the loose and all. Holy take-you-down-a-few-notches, Batman! It was a good reminder that some things are just wrong to do to people. Period. At least pick up the phone and call. Or shoot up the bat signal. Or something!

if a tree CHANGES in the forest…?

July 24, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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we’ve all heard the question: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Today I was in a discussion with a colleague around some strategic changes we made that reminded me of that old question. (OK, the analogy is going to be a stretch, but it did remind me of it, and it’s a catchy title.) We knew during our planning that the changes made at the start of the year would make year-over-year comparisons pointless on a particular set of metrics — but we all get used to seeing data in patterns and love those tried and true metrics. Especially executives.

Predictably, our metric is down YoY (as planned) but we were challenged: “if the metric is down, you must be doing something worse.” My colleague is frustrated and tired of trying to educate, and reeducate, everyone on the fact that the YoY metrics are NOT going to be meaningful, and oh by the way, that trusted metric might be, in fact, down a lot MORE had we not made a change. And there’s the rub.

Proving what something *would* have done (for better or worse) had a change not been made is an impossible task because it’s too easy to throw one hypothetical after another to either support or refute any reason for the change. How should we prepare for that? What challenges should we be prepared to answer? Sounds like a few good topics for future posts.

does bottom-up leadership work?

July 23, 2008 at 10:52 am | Posted in Professional Development | 5 Comments
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Over lunch today, I read an interesting story that talks about how former college football powers Florida State and Miami are both trying to recapture their dominance, and how both are doing it with player-led committees.  The idea is to get players to take responsbility and become an active part of the plan for success.  All sounds great.  But from my personal experience as a college player and a high school coach, it doesn’t seem to work.

When things get to the point where players are forming committees, there is an underlying message there, which is “our leadership is no longer relevant.”  I wish it wasn’t the case, but again, from 5 years of college ball and 13 years of coaching, it almost always seems to fall short of the goal.  Something — and it’s hard to put my finger on just what — but something has gone wrong with the leadership when things like this happen in a way that appears to be a REPLACEMENT FOR, not an COMPLIMENT TO, strong leadership from the top.

The strongest teams I’ve been on, coached, or played against, have had a combination of both, but in every case, it was FAR more tilted to the top-down leadership being the stronger pull of the two.  Within that framework of strong top-down leadership, it was a privilege to be allowed to form a smaller, sub-leadership team to help the cause.  That’s the “compliment to”.  But you never doubted the ultimate source of your teams strength.  Paradoxically, acknowledging that strength actually strengthened the individual players. 

This one has caused me a moment of pause to think about how (if) this concept applies to the business world.  Would be interested in any comments here, publically on the blog, or emailed to me privately.

another good primer on cloud databases

July 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | Leave a comment
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If you’re interested, another good resource, this one by Tony Bain.

the software supermarket

July 22, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Business, Technology Trends | 1 Comment

I was discussing with a colleague the other day some of the trials and tribulations of modern-day software sales folks. Basically, it ain’t like it was 15 years ago. As my grandmother said — and she has been quoted by so many — the Internet has changed everything!

Years ago selling groceries was much like selling anything else. It was about relationships. You walked into a store and were met by the grocer who then took you around the place and helped fill your basket. He was a consultant as much as a grocer. “Mable, this syrup here is made from some mighty fine ingredients…” and the fact that it might be 15 cents higher disappears. And, there was probably only one or two other syrups to choose from. Then came the revolution. Folks started shopping BY THEMSELVES. Shelves had the selections lined up right against each other. Decision making was largely relegated to outside the store via branding and advertising. The “grocer” now just checked you out at the cash register.

Sound familiar? About 10 years ago, you could see the barrier to entry starting to fall rapidly in the software market. Infrastructures and frameworks took dev times from years to months.  eStores made buying simple and brought every product known to man into one tidy search results screen. Then the “try before you buy” model kicked in, and just like that, the “traditional” role of the sales rep disappeared.

Software is getting much, much harder to “sell.” It has to be “pulled” by the customer in many respects, not “pushed” from the vendor. And, nowadays, even large, complicated software systems once thought too large to be touched are falling prey to the same problems due to SaaS and (soon to be very popular) Cloud computing. Software sales reps are still vital to the equation, but in my opinion, their job is now harder than ever. The best ones will become consultants as much as sales reps, or they will gravitate to selling “services,” which for now at least, still maintains the characteristics of relationship selling.

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Guy Harrison’s cloud databases article part 2

July 16, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | 1 Comment
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As promised in my first note on this topic, here is part 2 of Guy’s article on cloud databases, which include simple introductions into C-Store and H-Store technology. It’s a quick read and a great primer if you’re looking for a place to start.

another saas challenge – traditional sales models

July 15, 2008 at 6:57 pm | Posted in Business, Technology Trends | Leave a comment
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It may seem like it, but I’m really not picking on saas. Rather, I’m just trying to wrap my head around it from all angles, and in particular, in how one would “transition” to it from more traditional business models. Here I talked about the challenge of how customers think about their budgets. Another challenge comes up in terms of traditional sales model, as talked about here by Rod Drury, the New Zealand dynamo. It’s short, and worth a quick read if you are curious about what a company faces moving to saas offerings.

give me internet or give me death (or at least no job)

July 14, 2008 at 7:38 am | Posted in Technology Trends | 1 Comment
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About a year ago, my cousin who is a junior in college, wasn’t returning my emails. I got frustrated and sent her a text message. Within a minute, I had a response. After further dialog (we did actually “talk”) I found that email was “so 90’s” and that to keep up with her, I would need to social network. This led to a discussion at work where I predicted that this generation will not tolerate what we currently call “collaboration” in today’s workforce.

Fast forward to today. Had a conversation with a customer who had a really sharp intern they wanted to hire. Kid politely says, “no thanks.” They ask him why and he said, “Everything’s great, but I can’t facebook.” This led the guy to poll his audience at a major college where he talks to Freshman classes about choosing a major. (he’s trying to spawn interest in IT). It was a class of about 450.

Question: How many of you have email accounts? Everyone.

Question: How many use their email accounts for social communication. Nobody.

Question: How many of you would turn down a job offer if you didn’t have free access to the Internet? Half.

The times, they are a changin’.

surface simplicity

July 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 4 Comments
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Final thought on my recent simplicity posts.

I came upon the following quote in a book I’m reading called An Intellectual History of Liberalism.  (BTW, it’s a very interesting read on the history and evolution of geopolitical movements and frameworks such as empires, city-states, oligarchies, monarchies, democracies, etc.) The (relatively small) book is itself a great example of simplicity, given the extremely tedious and voluminous subject. But one quote in particular really hit me as the author was talking about Machiavelli:

I shall confine myself to the idea that everyone, even those who have not read him, has of Machiavelli — that is, to the surface of his work, because it is this surface that influenced men’s minds. With an author of Machiavelli’s rank, the surface contains, so to speak, the depth. (p.13) [emphasis mine]

Take some time to absorb that.  “it is this surface that influenced men’s minds.” I think that is every bit as true today, but it’s not limited to Machiavelli!  It happens to you and to me.  And, likely, we do the same “surface” reading of others.  The real genius is to achieve what he credits to Machiavelli, which is that “the surface contains, so to speak, the depth.”  THAT should be our goal.  That our simple surface — presented through simple, clear, concise communication — is the same as the depth of what we’re trying to communicate.

That is no small challenge.

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