Monday, March 31, 2008

Questions I Ask Myself

All of us want to be fulfilled, to contribute, and to be rewarded. And, I am certain all of us enter our jobs with these things in mind. Sometimes, however, the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ overwhelms us and things get out of balance. Or, maybe it is something as simple as shifting priorities that causes us to wonder if we’re in the right place and doing the right thing.

Every year I take a couple of days to myself near the beginning of the year. I like to go somewhere quiet and peaceful for a bit of introspection. Usually, I have some overall theme in mind but it doesn’t always happen that way. The intent of this time is to step back and take a strategic view of life. Where is it going well and not so well? Why? What do I need to change? What will that change cost me? Am I willing to pay the price? During this time away I evaluate the current status and future of all areas of life, including family, financial, career, and spiritual. Never have I come away from one of these retreats feeling anything less than renewed, re-energized, and focused.

There are three main questions I ask myself each year regarding my career.

Do I enjoy what I am doing? This may seem simplistic, but it is a meaningful question. I have learned that enjoyment is a byproduct of the life process and is a clear sign that what I am doing is either in alignment with my purpose and personality, or it is not. I never set a goal to ‘enjoy’ my job, but I know that if I am not something is wrong. This is the first question I ask because the answer guides the thoughts that follow. It is important to note that it is unlikely that everything about your job or career is enjoyable, so when you ask yourself this question be careful to take the big picture perspective and not let little annoyances steer you down the wrong path.

Is the work we do important? Notice that I said “we.” None of us is an island and trying to evaluate yourself and your situation as if you are can be a mistake. You are no doubt part of a team in one fashion or another. This question is really about the work you and your group are doing. It challenges the worth of what you do. Is the effort contributing in some way to the greater good? Are you, your services, your products, improving life for someone in some tangible way? When I worked for a global financial services company I could answer “yes” to this because I knew we were helping people secure their financial future, educations for their children, allowing them to invest in new technologies, etc. When working on staff at a large ministry I could see the positive affects of our work on a minute by minute basis. And now while working with a public policy non-profit think tank I can see the value of our contributions to society on a wide range of issues. Yes, I am a facilities guy. But I am a facilities guy supporting real work that is making a real difference in the world.

Am I making a difference? This last question is the one that challenges me the most. Oh sure, I can point to project A and project B that have recently been accomplished any time I stop to ask this question, but most of those could have been done by many others. Where is it, how is it, why is it that I am able to make unique contributions? Is it in mentoring other staff? Is it in providing vision? Is it in better execution? Is it as an encourager? Is it in holding someone accountable? Somewhere, somehow, each of us makes a difference. This question challenges me more than the others because it is personal. Am I part of a problem or part of the solution? Is the difference I am making worthwhile, is it significant enough? Does it matter? What do I need to change in order to improve my impact?

You may be thinking that you don’t have the time for an exercise like this, or that the answers are obvious, or that you won’t benefit from it. I challenge you on each of these fronts. You don’t have the time because you don’t make the time – meaning that you don’t think it important enough. It is. The answers are obvious only at the start. As you delve deeper into the questions you will discover things that will surprise you. By definition, recognizing, understanding, and acting on these discoveries will provide immense benefit.

Go on. Take the challenge. Ask yourself.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Developing Your Leadership Account

Just like your 401k account, compounding interest works wonders for your Leadership Account. This is an account you establish when your career first begins and follows you throughout, unlike some corporate pension plans I could name. And, there is the opportunity to make ongoing deposits to your account as you progress through your career. Think about the following milestones and investment opportunities and put them to work for you.

When you are recruited

  • Why are you being hired? Is this just a job, or a career opportunity?
  • Is this a company where talented people stay a long time? If not, will the experience you gain be attractive to future employers?
  • How will the company help you grow? What kind of assignments can you expect? Will you have time to continue your education or learn with the company?
  • What kind of mentoring program do they have?
  • What kind of formal training program do they have?
  • How soon can you be running a part of the business? OJT in smaller leadership roles is key to the future.
  • Are work methods set in stone, or are you given the freedom to try new ideas?

As a new employee

  • Do you meet your goals?
  • Do you help others?
  • What do you do for your peers?
  • When you take problems to the boss, do you take solutions as well?
  • Are you transparent?
  • Are you developing a group of senior manager friends who will mentor and back you?

Developing yourself

  • Is your network expanding outside your division or company?
  • Do you know people in your community who aren’t businesspeople?
  • Are you a member of professional associations and do you actively participate in them?
  • Do you attend seminars about things a more senior person would be focused on?
  • Are you contributing to your community in some way?
Keeping life in balance

  • Are you there for your family? If not, why should they be there for you when you need them?
  • Have you cultivated a close friendship with someone who will be honest with you when others won’t?
  • Have you formed an inner circle of friends to be your advisors on important matters?

My favorite author on leadership is John Maxwell. He is a prolific writer and speaks to complex business and life issues in simple terms. I encourage you to check out his website and books.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two Keys to Sustaining Successful Outsourcing

The typical outsourcing relationship scenario runs something like this. Provider courts Client, Provider and Client enter into a relationship, followed immediately by a period of blissful harmony. Over time, however, Client and Provider become used to each other and the monotony of routine sets in. Then, one or the other wakes up one day to the realization that it just isn’t what it used to be. Dissatisfaction sets in and before you know it, Client is in the market again.

All those wonderful CRM strategies aside, I submit there are two strategies on the Client side of the relationship that are fundamental to a long lasting success experience for both sides.

Develop tight KPI’s and use them religiously. Defining and designing your metrics system is absolutely key. These metrics should support top level KPI’s that measure the things that matter most. Okay, we know that and, presumably, most of us do that. Where I see people begin to fail is in sustaining their attention on these indices. If you are looking at your KPI’s quarterly then you are not managing your business in a proactive fashion. Service providers have invested heavily in information systems and protocols that report out reams of data. As the Client, your job is to look at it frequently, understand it, and react to it in short order. Staying focused on the numbers keeps you alert to emerging problems, and keeps your provider alert as well. Also, make sure you are getting what you really need in these reports. Some providers will balk at customizing their canned data feeds to meet your particular requirements. If it’s really important, then don’t compromise for the sake of the relationship. If they are not willing to make sure you are getting what you really need, then the relationship isn’t balanced.

Major in non-exclusive agreements. The service provider community is growing smaller with continuing M&A activity, a trend that shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. Some suggest that we may end up with three or four mega providers. Maybe so, but we’re not there yet. While a “one provider” strategy does give you leveraged buying power and a simpler supply chain to manage, it can also lead to a sense of entitlement. One tactic to use is holding back portions of the work for competing separately where you can. Another common tactic is to keep the initial contract term short in order to keep the provider focused on the value proposition in anticipation of an early re-compete. This is easier to do in contracts where capital investments being amortized through the contract are relatively small, but work-out strategies can be crafted regardless of the size of risk being accommodated.

One final comment: The suppliers will major in CRM. The Client should be just as focused on Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). Frequent contact, candid talk, and staying focused on the business and interpersonal dynamics will bring balance to the relationship. And balance is ALWAYS a good thing.