it’s not what you know… it’s what they know

August 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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There is a great temptation in coaching to come up with a dream playbook.  You sit for hours and hours and hours that turn into weeks that turn into months, pouring over the perfect strategies.  And in the end, you come up with some humdingers.  You put it all in the playbook, then you go to camp and intro to the kids.

The kids are talking about their girlfriends, classes, summer jobs, girlfriends, cards, and girlfriends.  And suddenly you realize that two weeks into practice, they haven’t mastered the first couple of pages. Sigh.

Over the years I started to realize I needed to spend more time figuring out what the kids could grasp versus what perfect strategies I could create.  I spent time thinking about where and why they struggle with learning certain things.  I spent a lot of time cutting and cutting and cutting anything that I didn’t think would help them win games within their physical and mental capabilities.

Just past this midyear mark, I’m starting to realize business is no different.  I need to spend more time figuring out what our teams can absorb, what they care about, why they care about it, and tailor as much strategy to fit their capabilities as possible.

video conferencing

August 27, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | Leave a comment
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Like most folks nowadays, we’re tightening up our travel expenses at my company, and heck, even in our own family for that matter!  So a week or so ago a few of us started talking about the need for an all-day meeting.  We just had too much to cover for a series of short meetings as we needed to really keep our train of thought going through a variety of related issues.

I currently use Skype for 1-on-1 calls, but today there were 3 of us and that presents a problem for Skype at the moment.  AFter some digging, I stumbled on a product called oovoo. It is free for up to three simultaneous users, then you can pay for up to 6 after that.  They have PC and Mac (beta) versions available.

The only issue we had today was audio feedback, which is more a fault of not using headsets than the application itself. So, we opted to dial into our conference call line for the audio, and just use the video.  Turns out the latency was minimal and it was a fantastic solution.  We had a 6 hour meeting that was far, far more productive than if we were just on the phone and we saved airfare, hotels, etc., in the process.

Oh, one other advantage… today we were all three in remote offices, i.e. not on the corporate network.  I do not think we would get passed firewalls if we were on the corporate network, which I know is a challenging issue for a lot of organizations right now.

CEO compensation — another perspective

August 19, 2008 at 9:49 am | Posted in Business | 1 Comment
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In a recent post, I talked about how high CEO pay looks to most non-CEOs.  But what about another point of view (though several commenters have already given some insights on the last post)?

After 5 years of coaching high school football, I knew I wanted to be a head coach someday.  I couldn’t get around the thoughts of what I would do different if it were my team.  Three seasons later, that became a reality.  A good friend who coached with me once commented, “I wouldn’t do your job for 10x the salary I get now.”  To him, the thought of parent calls, meetings, administration, legal responsibilities, mean-spirited attacks, physical threats, etc., etc., just wasn’t even remotely appealing.  To me, they were just prices that needed to be paid to perform a role that I loved.

How much more so in business, often with millions of dollars on the line?  Yes, we read about all the posh sides of the compensation, but we rarely read of the pressure, loneliness, isolation, and constant scrutiny that comes with the job.  A couple of those may surprise you, but I know from coaching and from business, that you can’t confuse phony “friendships” with real relationships, and often trying to distinguish between the two is a full-time job when you’re in power.  It is draining and full of disappointments.  After a point, the money is a way to keep score more than a means to live, so “real life” sneaks in regardless of the size of your bank account.

I know enough wealthy people, several from playing in the NFL or coaching at high levels of college or pros, to know that the old saying is true: money can’t buy happiness.  So they still face tons of pressures associated with being held ultimately responsible.  Maybe some get golden parachutes that leave them fat, dumb, and happy regardless of the companies success, but I think most do not.  And a good one — a REALLY good one — how much are they worth?  I believe it’s a mighty big number.

That said, I think the biggest concern today is that too many, effective or not, are collecting mighty big numbers without mighty big results and without having truly earned it with a proven track record.

CEO compensation

August 18, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Business | 3 Comments
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You read an article like this, and it likely will cause some sort of strong reaction. I mean, if you are not a CEO, then it is really hard to not feel a big of anger and righteous indignation creeping in. But here’s the thing, what if you ARE a CEO, or about to be a CEO? My guess is that you will feel things are just fine. And, once you are in that circle, most everyone else thinks that way as well because, by and large, they are all generally in the same tax bracket. And CEO’s are hired by boards, who are likely comprised of former or current CEOs, or at least those that run in the same circles

Mark Cuban, the iconoclastic owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has some interesting thoughts on this one. Most business folks I know think Cuban is an idiot, and liken him to a spoiled kid who fell bass ackwards into a lot of money. Even if that’s true, we should not commit the logical fallacy of Argumentum ad Hominem, which is basically a rejection of an argument by assaulting someone’s character. As I read his post, I think he has an interesting take when he basically says the gap in compensation exists between CEO and “regular worker” because they are of a different type altogether.

The problem is, the self-feeding machine is now running and many companies have CEO’s with almost no tie to corporate disaster (as seen in the mortgage industry collapse where many CEO’s walked away with 10’s of millions while shareholders and employee 401K’s became worthless). But how do you stop it? Which Board of a high profile company is going to say, “Nah, we’ll go hire on the cheap” and not pay the going rate with the same conditions? Are we going to try and legislate it? I sure hope not, because I just don’t think that has ever worked well in a free-market economy.

More thoughts on this one later, with maybe some perspective from the other side.

now you see it… now you don’t

August 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | 1 Comment
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Fascinating technology on the horizon.  Live long, and prosper.

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time they were able to cloak three-dimensional objects using artificially engineered materials that redirect light around the objects.

be ready to walk alone

August 14, 2008 at 7:33 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 2 Comments
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Having friends and a support network is great. The benefits are too many to list in simple blog post. But today I was thinking about the opposite situation. The times when you simply need to be prepared to walk alone.

I’ve often heard folks get very disappointed when nobody “has their back” during a controversial decision or discussion. Just recently, I sent out an email in response to something from our CEO. He initially sent it to about 20 people. I responded to the entire list with my thoughts, and five people supported me. Privately. That is, they responded to me directly with things like, “Way to go, big man!” or “I couldn’t agree more” but nobody posted that to the group. Within a day, I had the exact same thing happen to me again.

My first thoughts on them not backing me publicly were probably pretty typical, but then I realized, hey, it’s OK. In fact, it’s an opportunity. Along with the 1,304,102 other cliche’s coaches use is the one that says “Great accomplishments never come without great adversity.” It is risky to walk alone sometimes, but like most things, that risk can bring great reward — or great failure. Either way, if your convictions are strong, sometimes you can’t worry about who’s willing to do step out there with you.

one bad apple

August 12, 2008 at 9:09 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment
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About five years ago I was coaching against a guy who, quite frankly, I just flat out disliked. I thought he had no class, was living vicariously through his kids, and was teaching his team things that were antithetical to what I wanted to teach our high schoolers. Over time, I projected that same attitude towards his players and fellow coaches. I learned how wrong this was when a week after the game I got a letter from one of their players. He wrote to say that he wished he could play on a team like ours and what a struggle it was to play under his current coach, and that he wasn’t alone. It was humbling. And it was a good lesson.

My three daughters are from China. Through the course of their adoptions, we’ve gotten to know dozens and dozens of Chinese people on a fairly personal level. Trust me when I say that I have my issues with China’s governmental policies on many levels. Some more personal than others. Yet when I got to know the people, I realized again how wrong it was to lump the masses in with the leadership.

I know from experience the same is true in business. It’s easy to label someone as “the same” as their departmental stereotype or their leadership.  Evaluating each person, as a person, and on their own merits is very time consuming and painstaking, but I have been reminded in many times, and many ways, that it is the right thing to do.

5 tips for the dreaded teleconference presentation

August 11, 2008 at 9:24 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 2 Comments
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I hate teleconferences because I can’t visually read the audience. Recently we opted for a teleconference on an important meeting. One of my coworkers (who also had to present) IM’d me during the call and said, “I think this is great… keeps us focused.” Good thing he wasn’t in smacking distance.

For me, telepresentations are just about the worst-case scenario. But, as I thought it about it more, he had fairly easy news to deliver, whereas mine involved far more challenging topics. Had the roles been reversed, perhaps our reactions would have been as well.

Regardless, sometimes phone presentations are unavoidable. Here are some tactics I have used in the past that seem to be helpful.

1) Pause. A lot. Give folks time to respond. You can’t believe how often you pause in a normal conversation because of visual cues. Without them, you have to force yourself to do it.

2) Use a headset, or handset, if possible. Speakerphones are a nightmare for presentations. I probably don’t even need to elaborate on this one.

3) Don’t ask “can you hear me OK?” Here’s a better approach. Take a minute up front to talk on your handset, and then use the alternative (headset, speaker, whatever) Let them know what you’re doing, then ask them if it’s OK to use your preferred method. They may say, “oh, dude, you NEED to use the handset.” or they’ll say, “nah, you’re fine either way.” I hate handsets too, but bad audio can KILL your presentation.

4) Use personal names. Jot them down and use them often. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense?”, try saying, “Christian, does that make sense to you?” Hearing your name zaps you back into the conversation (and away from email, or blackberry, or Olympic results on the Internet, or whatever). Do it enough, and folks start paying attention.

5) Ask questions that require a thoughtful response (and use someone’s name!). “Everyone OK with that?” is too vague and can be processed way on the back burner by the listener. But, “Andy, do you prefer we do A, or would you like to try B?” Or, you could say, “Andy, what possible downside do you see if we do A?” That requires the person to focus.

By using some of these techniques, you’ll quickly be able to tell how engaged your audience is, and then adapt accordingly.

two magazines

August 7, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment
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I received two magazines in the mail today. The first one I thumbed through was one of those trendy, “modern living” type magazines that was largely one big advertorial. In it I saw ads of people with teeth that were whiter than white, with a promise that mine could look that way too. Tummy tucks and yoga for golfers. Younger skin and harder abs. I didn’t think too much of it one way or the other.

Then I picked up the second magazine. It was from an organization that we support that helps impoverished children and families. Pictures there showed the inexhaustible smile of a child … with AIDS. Another showed a family rebuilding what was left of their “house” after an earthquake. Famines. Pestilence. Disease.

I put the two magazines next to each other on the table and it reminded me that once in a while I need to think beyond my work problems, career development, raises, and getting ahead. This isn’t a guilt trip or meant to try and thrust my values on anyone else. This entry is entirely a reminder for me.

Note to self: When I get down and frustrated and upset with my work problems, pick my head up a little higher and get some perspective… then come back to the problem in its proper context. Odds are I’ll find a better solution that way.

when the boss parachutes in

August 6, 2008 at 7:35 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Here is something that I both do, and hate, depending on which side of the org chart I happen to be on at the time: the parachute mission. I haven’t been involved with the details of a product for several months and then suddenly, for any number of reasons, I want to use it so I download it and dive in. I immediately have about 500 things I would like to see done differently and I can hear the collective sigh of my team from around the globe. Everyone from developers to PM’s to marketing folks are likely muttering, “here we go again.” Why do I think that? Because I often have that same initial reaction when our CEO packs his chute and descends into something I’m working on!

Here is a great one that you may have already seen by Bill Gates. I’ve tried over the last year especially to not let my first reaction be defensive. I try to look at as if it was direct user feedback, but a user who is not in our typical profile. I find that more often than not, there is something really valuable in the parachute mission.

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