The Naked Truth

Let’s get naked!

OK, so the title is a shameless way for me to get more hits on the blog now that I’ve decided I have some free time to write again.  While I feel guilty for not having more regular articles here, I also don’t want to become one of those people who use their blogs as therapy or for some reason think that most of the people out there really care what they had for dinner (oh wait, that’s twitter).  So let’s bust into a new topic related to getting naked in more of a business sense.

You’ve probably heard the term “the naked truth” or “the unvarnished truth”.  Basically when someone is using terms like that they are saying that you’re hearing only the truth and it’s not covered by varnish or other things to make it look prettier than it is.  Said another way it can also be called transparency.

Imagine you were out buying a used car and you found one that looked great (clean, nice paint, no dents) but when you asked to pop the hood to look at the engine the seller refused.  Would you buy the car?  I mean why not?  It ‘looks great’ doesn’t it?  Of course you wouldn’t buy it because you can’t know what’s under the hood and there may be some serious mechanical problems they are obviously trying to hide.  The car has a job.  It’s likely to include transporting you reliably to places and not just looking pretty in your driveway.  But how can you trust that the car is going to get the job done and you’re not getting cheated?  Well, by looking under the hood for starters.  Also perhaps putting it on a lift as well and looking underneath.  What about checking the brakes, taking a test drive/etc?  While it’s not likely to be perfect, you can make an informed decision about the risks you are taking if you know the naked truth about the car (its history, maintenance, and issues/etc.).

What it really boils down to is trust.  If you worked with a dealer on purchasing one of their cars and they provided a car fax, let you take it for a drive, opened the hood, put it on a lift and walked through all the good, and not so good about the car and overall it was a nice car, you’d feel great about buying it because you could trust that you knew what you were getting.  People are good with making informed decisions.  It’s when you hide some of the truth (purposeful omission is pretty much like a lie) that you are seeking to fool the buyer into making a bad decision (buying the wrong car for them or paying too much).  This will eventually catch up with you as a seller and you won’t see repeat business.

In your professional/work life you and your team are there, like the car, to do a job.  While we all may want to be perfect, most rational people would realize we are not.  Yet fear of looking less than perfect or fear of exposing your faults and weaknesses (or those of your team) can cause you to be less than truthful or transparent about the performance you are putting forth.  When this occurs, people typically either avoid the naked truth or mask it with other objects.  You can mask shortcomings of a project or team by blocking the view of the poor performing areas with less meaningful stats instead of the ones that matter, or by drawing attention to only the good parts.  While I think it is fine to put your best foot forward when showing the performance of a team or project, if you are trying to avoid telling the whole story then you are not being transparent.  Your customer or your boss (or both) and your peers will likely sense this even if they can’t quite see the problem.  You may get away with it (perhaps the issue you were hoping to avoid was addressed and fixed before you went to market), you may not.  And later when the truth comes out people will wonder how much you knew but didn’t share.  This will erode their trust in you or your team.  Without that trust, people will be less likely to turn to you to help them solve critical business problems because they can’t be sure that they know what they are getting or how well you will deliver.

So how do you earn that trust?  It’s easy!  Get naked!  Start by learning what’s important to the customer of the product or project or service that you provide.  Ask them if they were running it, what would they measure to determine that it was working as intended?  What values should the measurements take or in other words, ‘what does good look like’?  Ask your manager and any other key stakeholders the same types of questions.  Also find out what their concerns are for such a project or service.

Once you understand what good looks like (or great for that matter), here’s where getting naked comes in.  Report on all of it and publish it.  The good, the bad, and the indifferent.  If your job (or the job of your team) is to improve performance on a service or product, then by putting it all out there you are giving all the stakeholders the honest truth.  It won’t be perfect, but they will know what they are getting.  Also, it puts you into a situation where you can’t skate by.  If something isn’t working right, it’s right there in everyone’s face.  It will force you to face it and deal with the challenge of correcting the problem.  You will also get more input from others on ideas for correction as well as what you can let slide in order to focus additional resources on more of the larger/key issues facing the team.

As you continue to manage the product or project or service, report publically at regular intervals showing performance.  As things improve you will earn additional trust.  As you earn more trust, people will turn naturally to you and/or your team to solve problems because they are comfortable that with you or your team they will know exactly where they stand and count on things improving or being fixed.  This is what drives success.  You just have to be willing to put it all out there.  Get over the fear of not looking as good as you like and take the energy you would have put into hiding the blemishes and put it into making a product or service that looks good, even when naked.

 

The Optimal Human Experience

I’m sorry for the gap in posting. I’m almost to the point of proving the statistics of most blogs being 6 or more months out of date…

In December 2008 I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Infosys customer forum called Confluence. I enjoyed the time interacting with others and got to meet some neat people who were facing similar challenges in outsourcing and share experiences. As much as I enjoyed it, I hadn’t given it much thought until recently. That’s because recently I started to remember what it’s like to be having a blast and to truly enjoy yourself at what you do. It’s a state many of us would like to be in all the time. However, it seems few of us actually achieve it frequently. As I start to settle into my new role at Amazon I have found that even in a short period of time I’m seeing all the right ingredients of what it is to have a great time and truly enjoy your work. This got me thinking about what makes for an optimal human experience in one’s life which brings me back to my time at the customer forum.

At Confluence, like any decent customer forum, they had speakers brought in to speak on the themes in the conference. One of those speakers was an engaging lady by the name of Jane McGonigal. Jane was there to talk about collaboration. As she reminded people, you need to collaborate or perish. While this in itself is great advice and pertinent to her area of expertise (Game Theory), it was not the gem that I took away from her talk. As she talked about collaboration she covered how gamers collaborate better in order to achieve a common goal. As part of this they frequently are having fun and that’s where she dove in to highlight why they were having a good time.

This is where it gets good. As a manager and someone who has been fortunate enough to experience this (and perhaps arrange for my teams to experience the same thing) it resonated a lot and had me jotting down the 4 key ingredients to the Optimal Human Experience . Jane was able to put into simple terms what makes us generally happy as human beings. As managers of people this is something worth remembering since if you can put these 4 ingredients into your team experience, I believe you will have a team that not only functions better, but is truly having a great time while doing so. If you can put these 4 ingredients into your career, I would probably argue that you’re not working but instead having a great time and getting paid while you are at it. I don’t know about you but these are the kinds of jobs I like (and look for).

So what makes an Optimal Human Experience?

Something to do

Or more specifically, “satisfying work”. Most people enjoy work that is satisfying and engaging. Work that allows you to engage and perhaps lose yourself in it. If the day is dragging on for you at work, I would argue it’s probably not very satisfying. If the day seems to fly by because you felt challenged and energized by the work, then you are experiencing what I would consider satisfying work.

The experience of being good at something

Most people get incredible personal satisfaction and joy at doing something they are good at. This may seem obvious, but I’m not always sure we take it into account when working with others or assigning work. When you know you’ve done well it makes you happy. If you are managing a team and can find a way to play to people’s strengths, you are providing more opportunity for them to experience being good at something. If you’ve done a job and know that you “nailed it” (and you’re not just a carpenter) then you get a great feeling from a job well done.

Time spent with people we like

If you’ve read my prior blog posts I cover a variant of this in “don’t be that guy”. It stands to reason if we don’t like being around negative people, we probably enjoy being around positive ones. We can like folks for more than just being positive, but regardless of why you like someone, if you like them, then you enjoy spending time with them. Are you surrounded by people you like? Are you building teams where people are likable? Or are you willing to put up with unpleasant people in order to get a job done? I would argue that if you want to enjoy yourself then you should be spending time with people you like. As an individual, if you feel surrounded by people you don’t like, then you should consider leaving because you will be miserable otherwise. If you are a manager and you are overlooking unlikable behavior just to get some hard to find expertise I would argue that what you are losing in team dynamics may outweigh the gain you get from keeping an arrogant expert.

The chance to be part of something bigger than yourself.

There’s an old adage of 3 masons who are working on the same site. When asked what they were doing, the first responded “I’m laying bricks”. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? The second responded “I’m building a wall”. Perhaps it was satisfying but was it a big deal? The third responded “I’m building a Cathedral”. Now THAT is exciting and certainly bigger than he was. That’s the type of opportunity we want to be a part of and that is the kind of opportunity you want to engage your teams in. Get them to see the bigger picture. Show them the hill, then go climb it with them and put a flag on it. When they look down with you at what they accomplished they’ll get incredible satisfaction. So will you. Go build something bigger than yourself.

In my new role, I’m finding I’m not very efficient yet. So I don’t yet feel like I’m truly “good at something”. However, I expect that will change with each week as I get more familiar with my surroundings and the resources at my disposal. I can already see that I have engaging and satisfying work. I’m surrounded by a lot of people I like, and I’m definitely part of something much bigger than me. If I could tell you in concrete terms the immensity of the AWS platform and just how cool it is it would blow your mind. Hmmm….  3 of 4 ingredients that make an optimal human experience and I can fix the 4th myself. How cool is that?

So as a manager if you want to build a legendary team be sure to keep those 4 ingredients in your mix. As an individual, if you want to have an awesome time, go find those 4 things and make them part of your life/career.

What optimal human experiences have you had? Did they have the same ingredients that I’ve listed above? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

– Yeti.

The Right Stuff

I’m sorry for the time between posts.  Our family has been very busy over the last few weeks with one daughter graduating high school and another getting married.  It was a lot of fun and we also had a tremendous amount of family and friends that stayed for awhile after the festivities and we had some tremendous fun in and around the Rockies.  Everyone else has gone back to their homes now and the house is a lot more quiet leaving me time to think.  Recently my thoughts have turned to hiring quality talent or people with “the right stuff”.

Some time ago I worked as a manager at a start-up that had been acquired by EDS.  As you might expect with a company like EDS, they had a well defined program for training new managers that I was fortunate to attend.  I had already been managing small teams and had done some hiring.  We were still growing at a good clip and adding new people so part of the training was devoted to hiring the right people for the company.  Up to that point when hiring new people for the team my focus had always been on their technical ability and experience with the systems and networks that we had in use.   Interviews were peppered with questions that helped determine if the candidate understood Cisco’s IOS or could program in C.  Did they have wireless/cellular experience and if so what platforms.  While I am certainly glad we asked a lot of those questions (because we did weed out some folks who claimed to be expert in those areas and did not come close), we were only covering a small portion of what mattered.

At the managers course I was asked a series of questions that helped change the way I view bringing in good talent.  For example I was asked if someone demonstrated a strong knowledge of FORTRAN (OK, this was a while ago) could they learn C?  Or if someone knew how to troubleshoot a T1 could they learn to manage DS3’s?  Basically if someone was demonstrating great proficiency in a technical area that was of similar complexity could they learn what they needed to master the technology we were using?  While I know that this needs a standard disclaimer that past performance is not necessarily a guarantee of future performance, it’s fair to say it’s a good indicator.  My thoughts were that most people who were good at other complex systems could quickly come up to speed on new systems of similar complexity given the right amount of training (investment in their skills).

Then the questions turned to things that were about as far from technical as you could get.  If a candidate was a dishonest person, could they be taught to be honest?  If they were lazy, could you teach them a good work ethic?  If they had a negative attitude, could you teach them to be a more positive person?  The list went on but I think you can get the picture from here.  Basically, while we know people can change and we all do change and grow even in later years, ethically speaking, a lot of what makes you who you are is fairly well set by the time you are in your early 20’s and entering the job market.  If you did not have the benefit of being taught the importance of integrity by your parents how well can a hiring manager fix that?  If you weren’t taught a strong work ethic, how easy is that for the company to train?  Would you prefer to teach an employee who demonstrated proficiency in Ethernet how a switch works or would you prefer to teach an employee who likes to call in sick all the time the value of a good work ethic?  Which one do you think would be more successful?

As I talk with candidates lately about their experiences in the market I’ve noticed what appears to be a fair amount of companies focusing more on very specific skills or market experience and less on figuring out if the candidate is the right kind of person for the culture of the company.  Or at least that is the way it seems.  Over the years while working with candidates applying for jobs I have split my energy between hard skills and the more subjective soft skills and I feel that I have made much better hires when I know someone who would be truly passionate about their new role and quickly adapt to their new surroundings.

In a difficult job market like the current one, I think it’s good for a company to be choosy (actually it’s smart to be choosy in any job market).  Hiring smartly is something that pays dividends for years and years as you stock up on great employees that can help move your company forward.   I would be curious for feedback from the readers of this blog.  Do you think companies are valuing the ethics and attitude of candidates or do you think people are stuck on whether or not you are a god with Java?  Please give it some thought and leave your feedback!

– Yeti

P.S.

If you are looking for good leaders who also happen to blog, there are two in particular I enjoy that you might want to check out:

Dan Caruso who is the CEO of the Zayo Group and he has a blog at Bear on Business.

Brady Rafuse who is the CEO of euNetworks and he has a blog at BradyRafuse.com.