I’m Writing My Last “Mandatory” Blog:

As I mentioned a couple of blogs ago, I’m in an MBA program and my blogging has been mandated by one of those classes. This program has been a difficult two years, not so much from a class point of view but mostly from a “life happens” aspect. Some of the classes were difficult, most where as expected and burdened my time more so than my abilities, but all were educational and interesting.

I’ve met some good friends and several of them I think will be life long. I have also been really fortunate that several of our learning concepts were things I was already doing or just beginning to take on. This provided me both work in progress examples for my studies and valuable knowledge about other projects similar to my own.

I bring this up because if your reading my blog I want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and take on some different challenges. Five years ago I thought riding a bike to work was a silly idea based on the uphill climb to get there. Now I ride almost 100 miles a week and find the ride to work not enough of a workout to bother suiting up, but still do it to remind myself that mindsets change.

Testing yourself is one reason to find new challenges. A better reason is to find out things about the people around you and where your worlds collide. My wife tolerated me for last two years, and I cannot imagine a better person to go through this process with. My job encouraged me, gave me time and even funding to travel this road, this helped clarify who believed in my abilities and trusted my judgments.

If you have been working in the real world for years, I challenge you to go back to an academic environment and get graded in six-week intervals again by a professor you barely know if your like me. It will make the hair on your neck stand up in ways you’ve probably forgotten for years.

I was constantly surprised how many of my friends and family approached me to understand why I started blogging, and that they like following me. Remarkably rewarding has also been my friends and some strangers finding me and expressing that they like my blog.

The bottom line for me is that friends and family are different from co-workers, and should be treated as such. Conversely, for both friends and co-workers, entrust and empower them to be better and both groups will live up to the hype. I’ve said it throughout these blogs, find good people (friends or co-workers), empower them to be the best they can be (ditto) and get out of their way. You will be happy you did on all levels and may end up with some friends you happen to work with.

What Does Your Office Say About You

I’ll need to admit this right up front; I’m a neat freak. My office is immaculate and rarely will you find parts of it out of place. When something is out of place I find relaxation in “making my world right” and tidying it up. When things are out of place for any long periods it because I’m way to busy to put it away, and when I do get around to it, I feel it’s a signal that a stressful time has passed.

I did not marry a tidy human being. My wife operates in a completely different universe than I feel I have ever lived. Our home office built around a desk that I have owned for years, I think, I have not physically seen it for a while. When I help my wife with her technical needs in that office (and you know all of us technical employees get to do this at home), I cringe at moving stacks of paper to get to a router or printer.

Here’s the thing. If you ask either my wife or I to produce a critical document in our respective offices it would be a tie. Her ratio of getting things paid on time and knowing what is where in that office is very similar if not possibly better to mine. Today’s blog is not about neat vs. tidy, or how people operate in both, it’s about the perceptions of what those environments say about us as managers.

My recommendation is to make your office your own, regardless of your tidiness style or outside influences. I know it sounds like I’m advocating a tidy environment, and god knows for me that’s all I can work in, but I think honesty is better than making other people happy. I would know a lot about my wife by walking in to meet her for the first time, and while some of it would be wrong (cluttered mind, unorganized) some of it would be on point (busy, energetic and knowledgeable).

I won’t guess what people think walking into my office but the point is I would feel dishonest if my office was neat because my work said it had be, or because I was trying to promote a false image of myself. When you walk into my office, you get what you get, and if you think I’m structured and freakishly neat at home, you’re right. If my wife allowed me to straighten out her work space, the next person to meet her in that environment would be robbed of the experience of realizing that she’s amazingly efficient and similarly amazing at finding things in her office in seconds, something that I find insane but fascinating.

Be who you are, let your employees know they are in your environment by making it your own, and respect the workspace habits of others because you learn a lot about people and yourself when you do.

Teambuilding Does Not Need to be a Huge Thing to be Effective

 

Team-building had been perceived as a long getaway involving a series of rope climbing, trust falling or other sports based events. I’ve attended versions of these and their effectiveness varied depending on the people involved or the events planned, or both. But this blog is not about the good or the bad of these traditional methods.

Most good managers I know use team building in much smaller ways to be really effective. That building takes subtle weekly or even daily forms that helps both the managers keep in touch with their people and gives the employees a direct path to information and ideals on projects the manager is overseeing.

Here are a couple of ways to promote team building in more manageable and consistent ways:

 

Take your team to lunch:

If not for your team, that paycheck would probably be very different. Take your entire team to lunch periodically and give them both the thanks of a meal and a direct path to talking about problems or successes. Better yet, take subsets of your team to lunch once a week and get much more personal with smaller groups.

 

After a big success, acknowledge and reward with some time:

Millennials are haunted by the perceptions that they are lazy and feel entitled. Early on in my MBA we talked about managing different age groups and one generalization that seemed mostly correct is that what millennials truly value is time, away from work and in acknowledgement of a good effort. I take some of my groups to a newly released movie that we all want to see as a reward for a big job well done and over a long lunch hour. They get paid for time that they are watching a movie, and feel rewarded as well as thanked, which brings them backed energized to do more work.

 

Give them some undeserved (but deserved) time off:

The nature of our work requires most of my employees to be salaried. Most of my teams have to come in early and leave late during very busy periods. When I know an employee has had to come in early for some days to help on a project, pull them aside and guide them out the door early for a day or two. This shows them that you pay attention to the needs of the projects but also the subtle things like time tracking per employee. Just acknowledging their efforts is great; giving them time off because of it empowers them to trust in your relationship and abilities.

 

Nothing here is that cutting edge, and when I pull my wallet out to pay for lunches or movies for employees I remind myself that their work is providing some of my personal funding. It’s an easy leap to make, and I encourage all of you to try it.

Stop Reading This And Book Your Vacation Right Now

I keep writing about how to keep your employees engaged, empowered and at their productive peak. While this state of high output is great from a work point of view, it’s never been one that should be continued year round. Current Bureau of Labor Statics show that only 86% of private workers have access to paid time off. Of those, only 1 in 4 actually use all their time off.

The downside to this hard working ethic is that we get burned out, and technical employees are on the bottom end of that 1 in 4 ratio. It seems to be a cornerstone in the technical employees mind that survival at work without them is not possible or at worst could cause them to loose their jobs.

Money comes into play when considering vacations, not having enough to get away is a real problem for employees. However, a recent gallop pole showed that people who make less than $24,000 a year and took regular time off were HAPPIER than those making $120,000 and taking infrequent vacations. The point being, despite the money situation time off is critical for employees to feel valued and productive while at work and away from it.

I’m guilty; I have not taken a significant vacation in years. I tend to take long weekend vacations by adding a Friday off to a Monday holiday. This is a great way to get a much-needed shot in the arm of relaxation, but it is a poor substitute for a real getaway.

I’m taking my own advice and recently booked a great vacation for a couple of weeks. I’m also actively encouraging my employees to do the same whenever possible, and just encouraging them to take this time is a powerful way to prove you care about their well being.

Your work will survive and be better off when you return with a fully recharged and engaged employee. Your employees will thank you for encouraging their getaway and you will get better employees in return. Your families will be happier that you all got away and improve your home life when your home at night.

There are so many upsides to this that I beg you all to stop reading my blog and book some time away right now.  You will be happier and I will have more for you to read when you get back.

Challenge Your People, Challenge Yourself More:

I would love to take this opportunity to thank all the readers of my blog. I’m surprised almost daily by someone at work or a family member who mentions they are reading it and what they like (or not).

Full disclosure, I did not decide to just start blogging one day. I’m currently wrapping an MBA with the University of Nevada, and this final course is on personal branding. I bring this up because I joined the MBA program in order to challenge my skills and continue an education that started more than 40 years ago.

The real reason to take on this challenge, and put myself in positions like blogging and tweeting, is because I don’t believe you can ask your employees to be better if your not attempting to make yourself better as well. Furthermore, managing people is a privilege that if your not trying to get better at your probably getting worse at.

Truth be told, I actually have really enjoyed almost every class in my program (except for that stats class…different blog). This personal branding class has pushed me to be far more cyber social than I would have ever been on my own; I do have to say that I have really enjoyed it. I also started this adventure at the encouragement of an employee who understands that when one of us is better, all of us are better.

Bottom line, I’m proud that a fellow employee thought enough of me to encourage my self-improvement. I’m proud that I accomplished this and proud of the friends I have made during the process. I’m so proud that my wife mustered the courage to put up with me for this time. There are so many reasons to be happy that I took this on, but the best result is found in the added ideas and tools for managing people this program has given me.

Will I continue to blog? You bet. I will be LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebooked and WordPressed till the end. Will I keep up with the friends I made while getting this education? Without a doubt, all of us depending on each other and have become great friends. But most importantly, will I use these tools to further my management skills. I already have and will push further after this MBA. I’m not sure what that adventure will look like at this point, but it’s right around the corner.

A much needed vacation for my wife and myself is first, followed by a first rate blow out celebration and a graduation. And now that I’ve spilled the beans, all my extended work friends can stop assuming that I’ve been blogging to get a different job.

Managing Data Centers and People is Different, Right?

The heat of summer reminds me that the critical infrastructures that we rely on to move data are fragile and require levels of management. But these systems stored in our data centers are just machines and the people that we have to manage them are very different than the systems themselves, requiring diffent styles of management.

Well, yes and no. Interestingly there are some parallels found between managing technical people and managing the systems that empower technical people. Listed here are some that seem relevant.

 

Data Centers control environments:

For those that have never been in a data center, imagine rows of refrigerator sized racks that house computers. This concentration of computing moves a lot of data, but it also produces heat. Data centers are cooled by large systems that distribute cooling directly to the front of the racks and whisks the heat away from the back of the racks. This controlled environment is similar to a good managers role for his people.

Your employees should be shielded from the heat of the administrative pressures found in the offices. Your job is to control this heat and steer your data center resources towards effectively computing ways out of the trouble spots. If your employees are taking heat from other areas without support from you, they will fail.

 

Data Centers are monitored and provide metrics:

Ensuring that power, heat and in most cases humidity are controlled, any good data center constantly monitors these variables and notifies managers when variations are out of the norm. Good employees will tell you when they need support, but only when they supported enough to do so. Your job as a manager is to open the door and walk through it, not just hope that your employees will find you.

Walking into your data center will also provide you with metrics that you cannot get via monitoring, which is identical to reaching out and engaging your people. Be present, if a cooling fan has is starting to make noise before failure or a member of your staff needs to blow off steam regarding a problem, get involved or the problem may grow much bigger without your knowledge.

 

Data Centers are the heart of a cyber infrastructure

And so are your employees. Help them help the people that need them instead of imposing meaningless meetings or go nowhere projects that drag them down. Computing time is expensive, but it’s cheap compared to non-supported people.

Great Employees Move On, Get Over It

Doing everything you can for the promotion of your employees in their work environment, well-being and satisfaction comes with great rewards. Mentoring and fostering good people always comes with investment and often you wont see the depth of that investment while your making it. Eventually, whether you expected it or not, that investment will be felt.

Great employees get poached, head hunted, sought after or integrated to other departments frequently, and it’s how you handle this move that sets the tone for the rest of your people. Some managers I know take the movement of employees very personally, assigning the loss of that investment as detrimental. And I would agree, the investment loss can be hard to take.

However, as a manager that helped develop that talent your true feeling should be and needs to be one of pride and support. If you’re a reader/believer in this blog you have empowered your people and got out of their way while they did great things. Despite the effort involved in this process great employees need to be challenged, and sometimes despite your best efforts that challenge needs to come from other arenas.

Now is your time to prove your mentoring was not a part time affair, instead, encourage and promote the growth. I recently told an employee, one of my best, I would gladly recommend him for a job outside of the company he was seeking if he felt that was something he needed to investigate. I know of another manager that would have done everything to get rid of this employee before the move, fearing that one of the messages her employees leaving sends is the sign of her inadequacies.

Instead, and with my help and encouragement this employee has been shifted to another area within the organization and we still work together daily. He’s an amazing talent and a friend, neither of which you want to alienate by being someone who encouraged great work and then demanded less of them in their career arc. If he had left I would talk with him regularly and encourage any other growth thoughts that he would entrust to me.

It’s honestly a win-win if you support the people that you have worked with, encouraged and mentored regardless of what the destination is. If it’s growth they seek and you know they will flourish in other settings, do all you can to help them get there and then fill the position with more amazing people. It’s hard, but I encourage you to prop them up and never tear them down, you will get friends and foster mentorship in them, and that is one of the best gifts you can give.

Get out of your employees way, but don’t loose touch with them.

I’m regularly talk about clearing the path and getting out of your employees way to better manage them, but it can have some downsides that need to be addressed. Getting out of their way should always be viewed as an empowering action and never as an autopilot replacement for management.

Here are a couple of the pitfalls that can happen to a new manager after they empower their people.

 

Forget the metrics, their great people:

It does not matter how good the people are or how underwhelmed your employees are during down time, if your not keeping up with verifying their work with metrics your failing both yourself and them. Design your metrics correctly and they will show you where you can improve with them, and they can improve what they provide.

Losing touch with employees:

Autopilot syndrome eventually cripples your relationship with your employees. Avoid this by being present, stopping in, meeting when necessary and engaging them at every level possible. We are all busy, but if you fully embrace this step your employees will be there for you when times are really tough.

Not touching in with remote people:

Forgetting to engage the people outside of your door is bad enough, easier to forget and more disastrous is putting remote employees on cruise control. They already feel as if they are not part of the collective, and not engaging them ensures more resentment.

Maintaining innovation status quo:

When everything is working, it’s easy to keep systems the way they are and sail in easy waters. That’s fine for a break, but staying non-innovated for extended times invites mediocrity and complacency into your work force. Use the quite times to investigate with your team new directions and begin the process for trying out new things.

 

I have fallen into each of these traps over the years, and they all can cause problems at work. I encourage you to approach each problem early as they all are so much easier to fix if found early.

Why can’t your technology be smart enough to manage itself?

In many ways, it is. A wide array of tools exists to streamline your technology solutions and make management of these devices and the people that use them easier.

Here are a couple of my favorite fixes for some difficult technical solutions. Depending on the size of your needs most of these are scalable.

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol).

It’s hard to believe I need to pitch this very old solution, but honestly its usefulness is almost without parallel. Several premade and cloud based solutions use this protocol to manage all of your network devices including switching, routing, servers, drive space, temperature monitoring and more. Some management consoles that I have used and liked:

 

MDM (Mobile Device Management)

This one is a gem, and greatly helps with managing mobile devices in a workplace. These cloud-based systems use the network capabilities of your smart phones, tablets, laptops and desk systems to enforce policies, connectivity, inventory control and remote management (lock, wipe, etc). Depending on size, this solution can actually be free!

Of course, all of these solutions require someone to setup and manage these systems, but the payoff is found when one or two people can manage and monitor hundreds or even thousands of devices. Alerting, available on all these systems, will tell the manager when anything is acting out of the norm or needs attention.

Write me back with some of the solutions you have found to streamline your work environment.  I would also point out that I use Evernote, Asana, Wunderlist and others for project management, more on those in a later blog.

Play to Your Teams’ Strengths; or, Another Biking/Management Blog

In my last blog I talked about doing things outside of work that can make you a better manager. Keeping your mind clear and your health up is not only good for you but also necessary to manage well and keep a team motivated. While biking I tend to do a lot of thinking about my next couple of blogs, and this one came to mind this morning.

I’m not a great climber when it comes to biking. I’m not horrible, but when it comes to the long climb on a mountain or road bike, I need to be in the middle of my training year before I can keep up with the guys I usually ride with. I need to be really prepared to keep up with more accomplished climbers, and even then if the climb is long I’m generally doomed.

I ride with a couple of my employees, and one of them is a climber, the other is an all around good rider. The climber is young, thin as a whip, a runner and a generally good athlete.   However, put him on a bike and he always climbs mountains like he’s competing in France.

I’m a downhiller; I like the speed and technical challenges of keeping it all together under pressure and with quick decision making (weird that I’m a manager).   Here’s the funny part, no matter how hard my climbing bike friend tries, he can never keep up with me on a downhill, but he always gets it back when we start to climb. It’s a running joke among us.

It could be (and a large part is) that I weigh 80 pounds more than he does, which works to both of our respective advantages. It’s also the technique we use to ride in each setting that gives us further gains on each other. My point is when we all get to work; our riding roles mirror our workdays.

My steady rider is dependable and smart, a solid climber and a pusher of the limits by which we all ride to (lets go a little further today than planned). My climber is amazing at a select number of jobs here at work, and learning others that he absorbs like a sponge. He’s getting better and is aggressively expanding his knowledge and opportunities.

I know what each is capable of, both on a bike and at work. The biking together reinforces our team values but also helps us define our personalities and roles during our careers. Improving my climbing friend at work is like showing him the better execution of the stroke necessary to catch me downhill. He will get there, and I hope by then I will be climbing better. But we all there to push each other, to rely on one another during flats or problems, and we all know when to work harder and when to get out of the way for a stronger member of the team.

Use your teams strengths and help develop them in areas where they are not so strong. The reward is strong friendships and more efficient working teams.