Posts Tagged 'management'

Finding “The One”

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog recently, but for good reason. In two short weeks I’ll be packing up my belongings, leaving Menlo (and, in fact, leaving California), and taking on a new CIO position at St. Norbert College. Yep, that’s right — I’m changing jobs.

My job search started late last year, and ended in May when St. Norbert and I found each other. Along the way I’ve wanted to reflect on the process here, on my blog, but for obvious reasons I couldn’t…until now.

This was my first experience going through the full executive-level interview process — where the entire campus was involved with, and had a stake in, the process. I’ve held a number of jobs in my life, and been interviewed countless times. But none of my experiences compared to this. I imagine it’s what speed dating must feel like, but instead of picking who you want to date at the end of a 2-minute conversation, you decide who you want to marry at the end of a one-to-two day campus visit.

A visit which, in my case, generally went something like this:

  • wake up at 3 a.m. PST to catch a plane, travel all day, and arrive just in time to have dinner with members of the search committee (luggage arrival at the same time – optional, apparently);
  • wake up at 5:30 a.m. EST to be ready for a 7 a.m. start time (seriously…many of my meetings started before 8 a.m., east coast time, which translates to 5 a.m. or earlier for me!);
  • spend 30 minutes to 1 hour with person after person, or group after group, from the aforementioned start time until dinner (also with members of the search committee), with a presentation for 15-50 people thrown in there somewhere, for good measure;
  • pass out in hotel room before 9 p.m., then…
  • wash, rinse, and repeat.

The whole process was arguably the most exhausting activity I’ve been a part of, but the most exhilarating and enlightening too. There are the highs of getting the initial interview, and the lows of the subsequent wait — did they like me, should I have said something different to question “x”? It can be an emotional roller coaster. An exercise in “what if’s”. It can test your preparation skills, not to mention your interpersonal ones. And it can help you reflect — about the future (for you and for IT), your core values, what’s important.

I learned some things along the way. Well, actually, a lot of things. Among them…I learned that strengths and weaknesses are relative — what one institution sees as a weakness, another sees as a strength. That working for a values-based, mission-driven institution is critically important to me. Where, of course, those values align with my own. I learned to listen to my inner voice (and Frye colleagues, and friends). And that everything happens for a reason.

Along the way, I found some institutions that I wanted to work for, and some that wanted me to work for them. But not at the same time. Then I found a match made in, well…Wisconsin. I came home from my two day “speed date” positively beaming (or so folks tell me).

And in the end, I knew, that I had found “the one”.

Empowerment (A Lesson in Customer Service)

I took a really short business trip recently –fly in one day, meetings the second day, and back out again on the morning of the third day.

My flights were perfect — no turbulence, on time — and I arrived at my destination energized and ready to work. Sadly, the airline had other plans for my luggage — it was “delayed”. Some dozen phone calls later, each with a different (and sometimes conflicting) response about where my luggage was, and an unexpected trip to the shopping mall to secure some clothes to wear for my meetings, my luggage turned up. By that time it was late afternoon on my meeting day, and of no use. I didn’t even open it…I simply turned right around and headed to the airport for my return flight.

Right around the time my luggage did arrive, the airline sent me a notice that my flight had been canceled, and I needed to rebook. So my connecting flight turned into two connections. Then when I got to the airport there was a separate delay in my departing flight, and I was going to have to rebook, again. This time my arrival home would be delayed by 10 hours. Uugh. And then, just when I couldn’t take anything more, the question came: “And how would you like to pay for your bag?”

My bag? The one that you lost, and I called a dozen times about, and that you only returned to me a few hours before I had to leave today? If it had been “delayed” any longer, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, I said. I’m not paying for that! You need to waive the luggage fee.

“I would if I could,” replied the ticket agent.

Really?!? In a giant, multi-billion dollar corporation, the front line customer service staff are not empowered to make a $25 decision to preserve customer satisfaction? Unbelievable.

Of course, the airlines aren’t exactly known for their exceptional customer service. But, sadly, some of our IT departments aren’t, either.

If your front line staff are saying “I would if I could” to customers, ask yourself why. Most people want to help (thus, the saying). *You* need to break down barriers to doing so, and reward proactive decision-making in support of customer satisfaction. In other words, empower them.

More “I can and I will” just may be the result — and how great would that be?

First 2012 Action — Fire Yourself?

Over the holidays I had a chance to catch up on some reading (thanks not only to a week off of work, but sadly, to a terrible winter cold) on everything from important leadership skills, the changing role of the CIO, and effective metrics; to considerations for cloud computing, virtualization, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Expect more on many of these topics, soon. 🙂

Among my reading, one article that really stood out was “Fire yourself this Christmas” by Joel Dobbs. Dobbs takes the idea of year-end reflection to a new level — by firing yourself (and then hiring *you* as your replacement), you have the unique opportunity to see your organization as you once did…from a fresh perspective.

Every organization has an institutional “way”, a history of decisions and their rationale, and established relationships and politics. And it’s immensely helpful to know, understand, and be able to work within these. But there’s nothing quite like your first few months at a new institution, when you have an “outsider’s” perspective, and, as Dobbs suggests:

No ownership of previous failures, no credit for prior successes, no investment in prior decisions- just a mandate to set things right.

As we enter 2012—and soon, the 12-13 budget planning season—recapturing that “newly hired” perspective might just change how we establish priorities, focus our initiatives, and identify new opportunities for improvement and growth. Oh yeah — it might also serve to remind us about what we’ve done right thus far. Dobbs doesn’t focus on this as much, but I believe there’s value in recognizing your strengths, too.

So here’s to an early 2012 “firing”…and developing a fresh perspective for the rest of the New Year.

More Time for My Job

So…a mea culpa. I know it’s been about a billion years — or at least a few months — since I’ve last posted. And I know because one of my colleagues and friends tells me at least once a week that I need to post again. (Thanks, David, for being such a faithful reader!) I haven’t posted because I don’t have anything to say, but more because I don’t have enough time to think through what I *do* want to say, and post it.

It seems I haven’t had enough time for a lot of things, lately. Being here at the EDUCAUSE national conference has reminded me of that. I’ve run into colleagues who have asked if I’m tweeting at this conference as voraciously as I have at others. I’m not, and haven’t tweeted at all in months (sigh). Others have noted my relative lack of silence on one listserv or another. I’ve had discussions about the speaking proposals I’ve submitted to conferences lately. Um, none? And learned what others are reading to develop their leadership skills and stay on top of the latest in technology and professional trends. Do I get any credit for the year’s worth of unread magazines on my desk and stack of leadership books on my nightstand that I’ve been meaning to get to? Probably not.

I come to EDUCAUSE because it’s the most relevant conference in my profession and an enjoyable part of my job. It’s fun to be here to talk to vendors, listen to presenters, and learn from colleagues at institutions across the country — and around the world– in ad-hoc conversations that crop up in the hallways, over drinks or dinner, and at conference events. But making time for these activities a couple of times per year at a conference is simply not enough. Being here has helped me remember that this is not a *part* of my job that I need to make more time for — it *is* my job.

Reading…tweeting…working on speaking proposals…attending conferences…talking to and collaborating with colleagues…looking at and thinking about future IT trends. Not just allocating *more* time to these activities but actually *focusing* on them…is…my…job. And yet doing this sometimes makes me feel more than a little bit guilty. But that’s a topic for another post.

‘Tis the Season for Budgets

A good friend and colleague pointed out this morning that it’s been nearly a month since my last post. This last month has just flown by, working on our ERP implementation and everyone’s favorite…the budget.

Less than a week ago I submitted the IT budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and in doing so, felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I don’t know why — there will be some amount of review and revision, I would presume, and we won’t actually have an approved budget until, well, I’m not really sure when. But just thinking through (hopefully) every aspect of IT for next year, from the “base” costs to those associated with the projects we want to accomplish to support our strategic plan, was physically and mentally draining.

See, I actually started from a zero base budget and built the budget from the ground up. It really was needed, since I took over mid-budget year and needed to rationalize expenses in all categories. But our budgeting process *really* is not designed for “starting from scratch,” which made fitting my zero base budget into it somewhat challenging. Silly me, for thinking outside the box. 🙂

This is not an indictment of my current institution. Many (most? all?) institutions utilize an incremental budgeting process. Take what you did last year, adjust line items up or down, and resubmit. Our process asked for adjustments to be submitted in a separate document, with each line item detailed out and the added expense justified. The implication? Your needs don’t change much year-to-year, so adjust and go.

Maybe this works for some institutions or in some departments. I don’t really know. But it seems to me that it discourages truly innovative thinking about, and potential restructuring of, one’s area. In my area it’s a must — we have to dramatically rethink how we deliver services and support to meet the needs of the institution. But it’s dangerous to submit a zero based budget proposal into an incremental process. Budget dependencies and, quite frankly, value provided can get lost in this type of planning.

Of course, zero base budgeting has its own issues and pitfalls. It’s time consuming, for one, and there’s always more need than funds. So how does one decide who to fund, and for what?

Perhaps the best budgeting process is a combination of the two — every “x” years a department reviews itself, its mission, and its cost centers and budgets from the ground up, and then operates incrementally for the next period of time. This doesn’t resolve the potential problem of available funding, but would at least provide a mechanism for a dramatic re-budgeting into the existing process.

Or, you can do what I did, and shoehorn it in, anyway. 🙂

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I’ve been at my new job six months, as of this week. Hardly able to call it new, anymore. Much like with any new relationship, there’s a “honeymoon” phase to jobs — where everything is fantastic, all challenges are opportunities, and experiences are enveloped by that happy, glowing, “new relationship” feeling.

Well, the honeymoon’s over, and I’m firmly entrenched in the reality of the situation. And you know what? It *is* fantastic, and the challenges *are* opportunities. I know it sounds very Pollyanna of me, but it happens to be true.

Of course, for the last couple of weeks anyone who knows me well (and even some who don’t), knows that I haven’t felt as optimistic. The things that make me good at what I do can also be my greatest weaknesses. I’m a type-A personality, classic overachiever, perfectionist. I want results, and I want them now. And a few weeks ago I got so bogged down in the details that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

There are a LOT of trees that need attending to in my forest, but I wouldn’t have it any other way (I mean, really, who wants to oversee a perfectly groomed forest? Boooooring.). But on the whole, my forest is *significantly* better maintained and healthier than it was just six months ago. Just today, the help desk ticket queue hit “0”, for the first time since my arrival. Projects are getting planned, and done. Our ERP implementation is on track, and under control. And all anecdotal evidence points to a happier customer base (we’ll know for sure when we do our satisfaction survey next month).

While I was writing this post I saw an ad for The Rachel Maddow Show, in which host Rachel said, “it’s a really great privilege to have a job like this…and I love it.” Plus one, Rachel — I know *exactly* how you feel.

“It’s Because I’m a Woman” (Going *There*)

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with someone at work lately. I work in a small school, so I won’t go into the details…and they’re not that important, anyway. I was discussing it with another colleague, who, as it turns out, has had some similar interactions with this same person. Both of us had the same reaction – it’s because we’re women.

I cringe as I type this, and cringed when I admitted to my colleague that I thought that was the reason. I personally hate to go there, and am concerned when others do – automatically pointing the finger at gender (or age, race, sexual orientation, or other differentiating status that may be discriminated against) as the reason for someone’s behavior. What if it’s just a reaction to me – not *female* me, but manager, techie, smart-alecky me? Or what if it’s just his personality, and he would act the same way even if I were a white male?

I don’t believe that gender is an issue in most of my interactions with people, pleasant or otherwise. Occasionally, however, I can’t help but feel that it is. It’s not anything that I can point to specifically – it’s a subtle difference in how I’m treated versus a (male) colleague, or a patronizing attitude; it’s an undermining comment, or sometimes, an outright dismissal of my opinions and expertise. It’s all of these things, combined with that certain “je ne se quoi” that makes me *feel* like gender is a factor.

At the end of the day, I suppose gender discrimination, for me, is sort of like obscenity for Justice Stewart – “I know it when I see it,” or, well, experience it. So I’ve experienced it, and I’ve gone *there*. Now where do I go from here?

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