Leaders Stand Alone

Technology is a thankless service.

Let’s try maintenance and support – the part most of us would rather be done by someone else. If we do our job correctly, we make it look far too easy and people rarely know it is happening. The business result of these efforts? Uptime and lots of it.  Stability and reliability – how often do you think about breathing? The cultural results of these efforts? Well it would not be the first time that some CFO wonders what “all of those people” do down there all day.

Let’s try new functionality. Time to market is always longer than what someone wants it to be. Additionally, as soon as it makes production (70% of IT projects never make it to production) its resulting impact is typically not managed and measured thus its overall impact to the organization is typically not understood or realized.  No wonder some organizations deliver the exact same functionality with 32 developers what other organizations deliver with 12.  Who knows the difference?

You do. 

Let’s not play the victim here.  And please, let’s keep our professional immaturity in check.  We are paid well for this “miserable plight” we are forced to contend with and we ought not need a pat on the back every day or exhaustive training to go along with our high salaries.  70% of the nation makes less than your average technician with just 3 years of experience. 

The top and the best and the greatest are often led by an internal drive and driven by a force not clearly understood by others.  Whatever you may want to call it (that in and of itself could raise a 3 hour debate with IS folks) re-capture, renew and re-energize more of it within yourself because you are going to need it.  Don’t expect your boss to get what you do and don’t expect the CEO to value your contribution over the contributory efforts of the most average (defined here as the median not the emotional lexicon of average) salesperson.

Evidentiary Culture

What are the most important keys to success in your organization?

I was in a discussion with a few colleagues surrounding the hierarchy of key performance indicators and someone introduced the KPI’s of culture. In this Six Sigma, management by metrics era we live in – one does not think of the KPI’s of culture. But, as my statistics professor used to say, just because you do not interpret the statistics does not mean they do not have meaning (if a tree falls …).

So lets try on a few just to hear the tree fall. Average length of tenure. If the average length of tenure is high it could mean a high degree of loyalty [great!]. It could mean a low degree of experience [1 year 10 times versus 10 years – bad!]. It could very well mean corporate leadership and HR are doing a fantastic job on the retain portion of “attract and retain” great talent [good!]. Or, it could mean leadership is resistant to change, prune or improve [GE bottom 10% – bad!].

And how about average training hours per employee per year? If this number is low it could mean people are repeating the same efforts over and over and expecting different results. It could be an indication that some much needed outside training and experience could increase the overall competency of the department or organization.

There are a number of weird and interesting data points that could really provide objective non-biased insight into the true culture of the organization as opposed to the stated culture of the organization – number of internal emails versus number of external emails, number of BCC emails, percentage of clients who answer feedback questionnaires, etc.  If you really want to look into the mirror, a quick analysis of numbers could provide the evidence-based answers you are looking for.  But be careful, many a man has stared into the abyss and left wanting!

Room To Become Remarkable

Some great quotes from Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) are circulating on the web and one in particular struck me surrounding the room that great people need to become remarkable.

I was discussing the characteristics of “greatness” with a CEO last night and the two concepts collided as a reminder to me the importance of harvesting intellectual horsepower.

He shared with me his thoughts on the “strive for greatness” as something that could not be contained or isolated into a singular area. That the desire to be great makes one desire to be great at everything. That these individuals yearn to be a great friend and a great father and a great husband. That these people long to be a great worker and a great ball player and the best dishwasher ever seen. He thought that this drive for greatness could not be isolated to a relentless quest to be the great developer and share the same space as the sloth at home. It stands as a contradiction to the very fiber of greatness.

Now I don’t mean the arrogance of “look what I did greatness”. And I am not speaking of the greedy “pay me what I am worth” greatness. I am talking about the “up late at night and no one knows it” greatness. These talents and the intellectual horsepower they harness are not the gas that makes the engines go but the nitro that changes the game.

It is tough – no doubt – to manage these talents as they do not walk the normal path. The last thing you want to do with these guys and girls is treat them “different”. Moreover, they require the feel of the scorching earth the rest of us walk on to stay grounded. But grounded should not be confused with restricted in as much as risk taking should not be confused with recklessness.

Finding the best mechanism to attract and retain grey matter ought to be a priority. Freeing this talent of corporate politics and cultural anomalies should be a part of the daily process of providing the adequate structure, properly balanced with the freedom to become remarkable.