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You Are a Professional, So Speak Up Expand / Collapse
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Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 6:20 AM


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blandry (7/31/2008)

...With a DBA quitting, and things amiss before an important compliance activity, clealry this is a company with staff problems. Solve those, inspire, motivate, and then formulate your plan to bring things back in line.


Good view of the 'big picture'... I think that sums it up, although in this day and age, people move around alot in IT (at least in my area).
Post #544315
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 6:36 AM
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Other than flogging the due-diligence team, what DID you end up doing?


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Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 6:51 AM


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Tim OPry (7/31/2008)
Other than flogging the due-diligence team, what DID you end up doing?


I think the hardest part of this is getting over all of the immediate thoughts like:

*******
OK. So the bean-counters sat down with some other bean-counters and decided that there were enough beans here to make some money.
To them, all of the staff there (and here for that matter) are "beans".
They don't really understand what's going on internally in the aquired company (or again, at their own company, but let's not get into that); things have been going wrong there for some time now.
The DBA is probably one of many people who saw the handwriting on the wall and jumped ship. The ones who are left are the less-valuable staff who didn't think they could find work elsewhere.
The vice-president has given you no warning whatsoever - a competent manager would have pulled key IT staff aside before the meeting and warned them rather than having them shoot from the hip at a big meeting. You're dealing with a total moron. Unfortunately, a powerful one...
********

Once you've flushed all of that from the queue of items to come out of your mouth, you ask for the chance to get in there and do some analysis. The people suggesting that the human element needs to be addressed definitely get my nod, although understand that you're dealing with upper-level managers who don't understand anything about that, so be careful.


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Post #544337
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:07 AM
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blandry (7/31/2008)
Although I didnt intend it, I have spent my exec management career as something of a "digital janitor", cleaning up messes that is, and I can tell you point blank that of the replies posted thus far, I was surprised to find that only Ian Massi hit the nail on the head. Ian, you have executive management potential!

What did Ian hit that others missed? People! Businesses are made up of people, not just machines and software, and you dont solve problems by doing "this plan or that plan" if you dont have the people all moving in the same direction.

As Ian pointed out, you meet with the staff and find out what the problem is in the trenches. THEN you formulate a plan around that information. Why? Because NO plan you formulate matters one wick if the folks who have to implement it are not inspired and driven to do so.

With a DBA quitting, and things amiss before an important compliance activity, clealry this is a company with staff problems. Solve those, inspire, motivate, and then formulate your plan to bring things back in line.



Thank you for the enthusiastic response! That certainly made my morning. The sense I got from the editorial was that the VP didn't have the know-how to handle this piece and didn't want to. There were likely a dozen other critical things he had to deal with for this project. He was looking for someone to delegate it this chunk to. It doesn't even matter if you can take it all on yourself, if it's that important, you can always rope others into it with his approval. Building trust with people is very important and something like this would build a lot of trust. Working in a high-trust environment is much more fun than a low-trust one.

I work in a small company now (~15 people) and report to the CEO. He's the type who'll say something like the VP in this scenario does (but without blind-siding people with something as big). He's not looking for a project plan, specific questions that'll waste the time of the other 18 people in the meeting off the top of your head. Just someone to step up, say they can do it with confidence and get it done. Mind you if I start doubting my abilities he'll say, "Ian, you're a smart guy - you'll figure it out.". Then I'll either figure it out or find someone who can. In this scenario, dealing with the people was very important, but in other challenges I've had lately, it was figuring out some Active Directory stuff or coordinating changes with someone in our Australian office (dealing with people again).

I too am interested in the response given in this scenario and what the VP's advice was later on.
Post #544353
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:42 AM
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As for speaking up in a meeting, addressing the dead silence -- sometimes you just have to put the ball into play. "Perhaps the first thing we should do is ..." Then, ask a question of someone else in the room who has knowledge of your suggestion. "Couldn't we..." Get up and start writing ideas on a board. Once the ball starts rolling, others will join in.

And, if I can't think of a good suggestion to start off with, I'll ask a question to get more info. I am not afraid of looking dumb to get things started!
Post #544374
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:47 AM


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Technical personnel are not always invited to help solve a mission-critical business problem during the initial brainstorming stage. They're often involved later when they can be assigned specific tasks and responsibilities. So this is a unique opportunity. It's a litmus test to see if a technical person can relate to business decision-makers in a constructive way using both soft skills (communication and interpersonal) and technical skills.

Let's assume you can contribute technically, but due to lack of opportunity and experience, you're not especially strong on those soft skills. What are some general principles that can help you make a contribution? Let's break the scenario apart into two stages - the brainstorming stage and the proposal stage.

The brainstorming stage:

1. It's brainstorming session is a collection of equals - so be mindful of this point of etiquette. Technical personnel, due to lack of tact, can come across as patronizing, condescending, egotistical or demeaning. On the other side, there's no reason to act shy, apologetic or self-depricating. The chemistry you're after is friendly, helpful equality. Remove competing interests, politics and competition.

2. Try one helpful idea at a time. One doesn't have to worry about constructing a formal proposal right away that covers all aspects of the project. For instance, one might suggest: "I think I can help simplify the project by running a documentation tool against the databases. I can deliver a descriptive audit for us to work with in a short period of time."

3. Try suggesting an action item rather than just questions. In the scenario proposed, there are hundreds of obvious questions swirling around the air. They need to be asked and answered at some point. But the project moves forward toward completion from action items. Demonstrate that you're a person of action.

The proposal stage:

1. Set up a basic structure for your ideas. Good speeches and good essays have a basic structure. There's a beginning, middle and end. There's an introduction, a body of details and a conclusion. There's a thesis or a specific topic. For the body, consider making three main points. Sure you could make more points - but who's going to remember them? The basic structure is for the benefit of your audience. It's rude not to cater to the needs of your audience.

2. Help manage complexity. As technical personnel, one of our supposed strengths is that we're able to manage complexity. We can break apart complicated projects into simple, manageable pieces. So help do that right away. One mistake to avoid is to try to list off all the complexities of the project and then suggest you're the salvation - as if to say, "This could be a nightmare. Look at all the nightmarish aspects that could haunt our dreams and ruin our timelines! Look at all the unanswered questions! Good thing you have me around to save you. So be prepared to put up with me whether you like it or not." People don't respond positively to anxiety or resentment.

3. Act like a stakeholder. You might not have an equity interest in the company - but you do invest a good portion of your life by working for/with these people. In the end, along with compensation, you're also after satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. What if you conveyed this attitude: "I think we'll all be very gratified once we meet this challenge together successfully." The opposite of the stakeholder is the incentivized subordinate who plays "hot potato" with projects. If you think you're getting too much dumped in your lap, learn to manage expectations, ask for the resources and help needed to succeed in a positive way. For more on this, see http://www.newfave.com/?p=37.

In short, the proposed scenario is a challenge for a techie to exercise soft skills and business acumen. You'll only get better with practice. So speak up in a way that is helpful, respectful and positive. If you're going to throw humor into the mix, watch the sarcasm. There's always truth in sarcasm.

Yours,

Bill







Bill Nicolich: www.SQLFave.com.
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Post #544383
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 8:08 AM


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I believe the key thing here is to respond to VP with questions and not half-baked suggestions. The questions to the VP are a start to the problem-analysis process. Making suggestions from the hip, without knowing the details of the problem, are a sure way of having them rejected. It may show you are responsive, which is a good thing, but it also could show you as an impulsive reactionary which is not so good.

Ron K.

"Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand." -- Martin Fowler
Post #544402
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 8:19 AM
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One question: am I working for the VP or am I working for a manager under the VP? That makes a big difference.
I once worked for this company and I was not afraid to ask question or answer question when my VP asked for suggestion. However my manager was not too happy about my action. It was because the VP liked me because I was not afraid to ask and answer question but my manager hated me because he thought I was trying to get his job !!!! I did not intend to get any credit or anything but everyone could interpret differently.
Or I still think he has a big male ego and he could not stand a woman speaking up !!!!
Post #544412
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 8:31 AM


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Bill,

I'm somewhat torn by your reply. On the one hand, I want to thank you for a thoughtful, detailed response which in many cases would be very wise. Each of us should 'bloom where we are planted', and that involves proactively meeting challenges.

On the other hand, we often have discussions on this forum about quality of life. I've been in organizations run like this VP runs his. The key phrase is usually something like "rise to the challenge" or "step up to the plate". In fact, a small group of upper managers make a decisions that they really haven't throught through very well or done the hard work of due-diligence for their shareholders. They often make a lot of money, or lose a lot of money. The way they make money is to surround themselves with people who "step up" and fill in the very large holes that they've left in their "business critical" decisions. This means people who will choose to get on a plane and fly to the new aquisition on short notice to do analysis or at least put in a lot of extra hours, choosing to miss their kid's ball game that week. If their sacrifice for "the team" results in a win, sometimes the VP will choose to credit them with a promotion or bonus. Not always. If the decision results in a loss, sometimes the hammer can fall hard on "the team". The VPs have a funny way of either suriving the hammer, or going elsewhere where they can follow the same practices. Win or lose, sometimes our kids notice that there seems to be a lot of things more important than their ball games.

The key in this article was the mention of a few minutes of silence following the news. The people in that room are afraid. They have not been coached to offer of suggestions even if they might sound silly. Maybe they shouldn't be? Maybe they should boldly offer up a suggestion? I hope that the organization will reward them in some way if they do.

Personally, my decision has been to avoid places that practice this style of leadership. I'm afraid my personal constitution if not up to "swimming with the sharks". I prefer an organization where managers take the time to mentor people and keep them informed of important decisions so that you're not forced to "shoot from the hip" at critical meetings that would not be emergencies if there was better planning on the part of upper management. The organizations that lead this way end up being much stronger and stable.

Of course, organizations run this way are not always as nimble and ready for special opportunaties, so I realise that this is my choice - I'm not being critical of those who choose to stay in the kind of organizations described by this article.


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Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 8:31 AM
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Bill Nicolich,
Wow! What a great write-up! Well said!
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