Archive for August 2010

I Heard Something Remarkable the Other Day…

August 26, 2010

I’ll admit, at the outset, that I have very high standards.  During the past 20 years, I’ve worked with more than 100 CIO’s, including some of the best in the business, and I’ve read more than my share of management books.

Imagine my surprise (delight) to hear a new word, one that I have not ever heard from a CIO when describing what makes his/her organization unique: empathy.


This is beyond “partnership,” deeper than good “customer service,” much more meaningful than “alignment with the business,” all of which are good, but not sufficient.  By driving his organization toward an empathetic response to each and every person they serve, Todd Pierce at Genentech Informatics asks for the deepest kind of connection between IT and the world it serves: true understanding of needs, sincere interest in problem resolution, a genuine bond.

While his department helps fight cancer, and is perhaps a higher order of social good than merely improving shareholder return or simply selling more widgets, we can all borrow from the sentiment; whether it is a desktop upgrade, a custom BI report, or yet another new logo for the website, we need to aspire to that higher standard of an empathetic IT.

Why Don’t We Train our Managers to be Managers? Part Three: Listening

August 13, 2010

Easy advice to give others, not so easy to actually follow yourself.

I had a harsh lesson in this topic when, after years of executive-level consulting in which I taught managers how to listen to their teams (even purchased stethoscopes for one group to be prominently displayed in their offices, provoking their employees to ask Why The Stethoscope, and inviting a conversation about listening skills) one of my dearest colleagues stopped a meeting and told me to get my stethoscope.  I wasn’t listening.

Metaphors abound, all telling the same story.

I once met a truck driver in Pennsylvania who always rolled his window down when his rig entered one of the Fort Pitt tunnels.  They were an echo chamber, he said, for how well the truck’s engine is doing.  He claimed that he could hear an emergent transmission problem weeks before a mechanic could find it.

Good listening skills are more than important tools in your organizational relationships.  They help us hear the emergent problems in the mechanism of our departments.  As any first year Mechanical Engineering student knows, it is critical to recognize (and compensate for) the smallest vibrations in the construction of (for example) a suspension bridge, rather than waiting until the entire bridge fails from increasingly strong resonant vibrations.

Executives are so accustomed to fire-fighting (shifts in the market, unhappy customers, competitive risk) that they can lose sight of the too-small-to-be-noticed-until-there-are-flames problems.  They presume that their employees will attend to them, but the absence of listening skills (no one wants to hear bad news) replicates itself through the hierarchy.  Have you been surprised by the sudden departure of a key staff member?  Missed project milestones?

Here are a few (of the many) things you can do to encourage the information flow in your organization:

  • Town Hall meetings:  Bring everyone together with the sole purpose of answering anyone’s questions, and do this regularly.
  • Skip-level Lunches:  Invite 4-5 randomly selected individuals to lunch and listen to the conversation rather than dominating it.
  • Cross-attendance of Team Meetings:  Encourage (or even insist upon) “outsiders” in each departmental meeting where the visitors are tasked with taking news back to their teams.
  • Walk the Halls:  Don’t wait in your office for people to come to you with an issue (classic open door policy) but take the time to roam, and engage.
  • Check-in with your colleagues, visit your remote offices, launch an employee satisfaction survey, give an award for the Best Question of the Week.

We know how to monitor the health of our servers and can respond to email notifications alerting administrators when a server is a 95% capacity and on the verge of failure, but what methods do you use to learn that an employee is at 95% capacity?