WANTED: People Who Speak Business and Technology Fluently

wantedMost businesses are in desperate need of employees and consultants that can speak both business and technology fluently. There are tremendous opportunities for people who understand technology and can apply it to the business the right way. At CTS, we used to call these people “Triathletes,” as they were technical gurus, had great business acumen, and possessed excellent communication skills. Since technology is now mission critical to all businesses, it’s key for businesses to start focusing on acquiring talent that are skilled technology liaisons. Businesses don’t need super technical resources – they can partner with firms that have this level of talent. Instead, businesses need people that can make solid technology decisions that align with the business and are able to manage technology projects and initiatives effectively.  We’ll always be able to find cheaper, better technology solutions (and resources). The hard part is choosing the right solutions,  implementing them properly, and dealing with all the tough business decisions.

Here are a few tips to make the transition from technology guru to technology liaison.

  • Learn to thrive in the gray areas.  In the business world, you have to make hard decisions with limited information.  It’s okay to be wrong.  Learn to fail fast and minimize risks.
  • Talk less, listen more.  Deliver the right level of information.  Understand your audience.  Don’t tell them how the watch was built when they ask what time it is.
  • Communicate the way the business communicates.  Speak their language and stop using technical speak.
  • Be an advocate – offer solutions.  Be a problem solver.  It’s okay to play devil’s advocate.  However, your job is not to kill every idea or project.  Instead, ensure everyone understands the risks and develop solutions to mitigate as many risks as possible.  Change your mentality from “why” to “why not.”
  • Be proactive.  Don’t let the business run red lights.  Don’t let the business fail so you can be right.  Nobody wins when this happens.  Instead, help the business navigate around difficult issues and keep the business leaders from making major mistakes.  Pick your battles – win the war not every battle.  It’s not about being right.  It’s not about you.
  • Make sure the entire business is properly aligned both strategically and operationally.  Your job is to make sure the business is setup to win.  Make sure technology and operations are setup to deliver the value proposition of the business.
  • Spend most of your time building relationships with the business and your team.  Being a liaison is hard work.  You must focus a lot of your time building strong relationships with both the business and your team.  Most technologists hate doing this, but it’s so critical.  Promote and advertise your value.
  • Over communicate.  No response is bad news.  You have to repeat yourself over and over again.  Be consistent with your communication and try to keep it as simple as possible.
  • Make deposits.  Be the most reliable resource in the company.  At some point, you’ll need to make some withdrawals because something will go wrong.  Make sure you are making a lot of deposits so you have a lot of relational equity built up to withdraw from.
  • Learn the business better than the business, but remember to stay humble.  As technologists, we are used to learning new things all of the time.  Use this skill to your advantage.  Invest time in really learning and understanding the business.  Put yourself in other people’s shoes.  Business is hard.  However, the more you know about the business, the more value you will add.
  • Study emotional intelligence.  This is the touchy feely stuff most technologists hate.  However, it’s not just about your IQ anymore.  You need to learn how to relate to others and build relational equity.  Learn to manage the individual.  This isn’t about being fake.  It’s about being genuine and real, but learning that humans are emotional and you need to relate to people the right way.
  • Always deliver.  Never miss a deadline.  Under promise and over deliver.  Be known as someone who always gets the job done the right way and on time.  Learn how to manage expectations and projects.
  • Learn to delegate and outsource.  Yes, you can do it better than someone else.  However, you need to learn to multiply and scale yourself.  You have to learn to delegate and manage other people.  Likewise, you need to learn to outsource to other firms.  If you don’t learn this, the business will go around you and do it themselves.  Position yourself as the expert in outsourcing.

Business leaders are sick of having to deal with technologists that are difficult to manage, don’t communicate, and demand high salaries.  Become a technology liaison.  Learn to speak both business and technology fluently.

The Importance of Why

why_400I recently re-watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  It reminded me how often we forget the importance of the question “Why.”   Why did we start this business?  Why do we do what we do?  Why did I choose this career?  Why do I work so hard everyday?  WHY?

Take a few minutes and watch Simon’s talk:

Starting and running a business is one of the most difficult, yet most fulfilling, adventures in the world.  It’s a roller coaster ride of high highs and very low lows.  If you don’t know your purpose, you’ll quickly get lost and likely fail.  It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the “What” or “How,” and neglect the “Why.”  The “Why” is our foundation.  It is our moral compass.  It should be the basis of all decisions.  Companies without an understanding of “Why” aren’t sustainable businesses.  Leaders that don’t have a purpose aren’t leaders – they are followers.

Most of us get lost along the way.  We get distracted with the day-to-day.  We start existing instead of living.  The same thing happens in business.  We get caught up in the motions and stop fulfilling our purpose.  If the business doesn’t know its purpose, it’s impossible for the employees to fulfill its mission.  Instead, the business meanders and never reaches its potential.  Don’t fall into this trap.  Today you can decide to reset.  Re-establish your “Why.”  Make the “Why” the focus of your business.  Make decisions based on your “Why.”  Be intentional about your company and don’t compromise.

There’s tremendous freedom in understanding your “Why.”  You will have a clear purpose and reason for existing.  Build your company with intention.  Otherwise, you’ll end up building an organization that you despise, that has no purpose, and is doomed for eventual failure.  Focus on the “Why” each an every day.  Ingrain it in your culture.  Constantly remind your employees, customers, and partners why you do what you do.  Companies that understand their purpose and live it out daily create real market value and make a true impact on everyone they interact with.  These unique companies are the ones we remember.  They make a long-term impact in the lives of their employees and customers.  These companies truly enjoy the ride and don’t need to reach the next destination in order to receive fulfillment.  Build a “Why” company, not a “What” company.

A Cure for Emailoholism

checkingemail_400I’m addicted to constantly checking my email.  I want to stop, but I can’t.  I think it’s mostly driven by fear.  I’m afraid of missing something important.  I’m afraid of missing out on an opportunity.  I justify my condition by telling myself that I am known for being responsive and available.  Responsiveness is one of my differentiators.  Being available and responsive goes a long way in today’s business world.  My clients and colleagues know that I’m always available and they appreciate it.  However, I take it way too far.

Constantly checking email is killing my productivity, increasing my stress level, and preventing me from ever having true downtime.  I can’t live in the moment because I’m constantly thinking about what I’m potentially missing.  A major side effect is that I can’t focus on one activity for more than a few minutes without being distracted.

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one out there with this same problem.  Just take a moment and look around.  You’ll see that everyone has their head down checking email, looking at social media, browsing the web, or texting.  Most of us can’t take a 10 minute drive without checking our phone every time we come to a stop.  Next time you eat out, look at how many people are looking at their phone instead of interacting with the person in front of them.

I’ve tried to stop constantly checking email in the past, especially after re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (it’s a great book that I highly recommend you read).  It would work for a few days, but I always fell back into my old habits.  What’s different this time?

  1. I predecided that I’m going to change my behavior and live with the consequences.  If  I miss out on something, then so be it.  To me, the consequences of the path I’m on now are far worse than potentially missing out on a business opportunity because I responded within 8 hours instead of 8 minutes.  I’d rather enjoy my life and the people that matter most than constantly worrying about what’s going on in the world of email or social media.
  2. I started using a tool called Batched Inbox.  I highly recommend it.  It’s free and easy to setup.  It prevents me from seeing new emails in real-time by batching my emails to me 3 times a day (the intervals and times are configurable).  Since I don’t see new emails in real time (or the notifications), I can focus on getting real work done and dedicating my attention to more important things.  I can see old emails and send new emails without the distraction of emails that are coming in.  I’ve tried solutions in the past that simply hide email notifications and alerts.  Yes, I can sneak a peek at the emails when I’m at my computer (they are stored in a hidden folder and are moved to the Inbox via the schedule you setup), but I predecided I wanted to change so I’m not very tempted.  It’s just a tool, but seems to work well for me.  I’m really enjoying all the extra time I have now to focus on getting meaningful work done so I’m motivated not to cheat the system.
  3. I wrote this post to help others with the same problem and provide another level of accountability for me as well.  Next time you see me, ask how I’m doing.  Hopefully, I’ll still only be checking email 3 times per day.

I haven’t told anyone, until now, that I’m not checking email all of the time.  Guess what?  Nobody has noticed yet.  So far, I feel like everyone still thinks I’m very responsive and easily accessible.  I’m still very responsive as I’m able to reply to all emails within a 4 to 12 hour period (which is more than acceptable).  I’m also training people how to interact with me in a way that works best for me.  They’ll learn that they can’t email me for urgent issues.  Instead, they will call or text when they need something urgent.  I’m finding that most things aren’t really urgent and I provide better responses when I’m not constantly trying to keep my inbox clean.

Predecide

predecide_400Life, for most of us, is hectic and crazy.  There’s constant pressure at work and at home.  It seems impossible to catch up.  We all wear multiple hats, constantly multitask, and live with little margin.  From time to time, we try to address the problem by resetting, de-cluttering, and re-prioritizing.  While this works for a short time, we often find ourselves back where we were – dominated by busyness, stressed to the max, and suffering from lack of joy and peace.

Want to stop being a slave to life?  One helpful solution lies in the power of predecision.  John Wooden put it best, “When the opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.”

You have to predecide how you will respond before you are in the middle of a circumstance.  This principle applies not only to business, but to all aspects of your life.  You can’t wait until you are faced with a tough decision whether or not you’re going to tell that little innocuous white lie.  It’s too easy to compromise when your stress level is high and things aren’t going as planned.  You can’t make the decision whether or not to cut out early to catch your son’s ballgame 30 minutes before the game.  Something will inevitably come up and you’ll miss the game (again).  You have to predecide beforehand when you are thinking clearly with wisdom.  You have to live life intentionally.  You have to set the standards and rules you want to live by before the situation arises.

The lack of predecision is a massive problem in our society.  It’s how smart, good people end up making really bad decisions.  It’s how fathers wake up one day and realize they missed their kids growing up.  It’s why most marriages fail.  It’s why many of us are in debt.  It’s why most businesses suffer.

Predecide how you are going to respond when difficult situations arise.  Predecide the type of person you are going to be.  Predecide the type of business you are going to build.  Predecide that your marriage is worth more than your business.  Predecide that having a meaningful relationship with your kids is more important than your career.  Predecide that your employees are more important than closing that lucrative deal with a business partner you know is not the right fit.  Predecide so you make wise decisions and have no regrets!

Andy Stanley does a great job of outlining this concept in one of his Leadership Podcasts called A New You Resolution.

Predecide what you want your legacy to be.  Take the next step.  Predecide now.

Tips for Managing People

canstockphoto6904844-636x453Managing people is one of the biggest challenges of any business.  Your employees can make or break you.  The people problem is even more important for early stage businesses.  You can’t make a hiring mistake when you are just getting started – period.  However, as you grow, you must add people.  You will greatly limit your ability to scale if you don’t know how to manage people properly.  Managing people is a complex problem that’s hard to replicate successfully.  Here’s a few tips to help you manage people more effectively:

  1. Manage processes, not people.  You should never manage people.  Never!  If you have to manage someone, you have one of two problems.  Either you don’t have good processes in place which means the employee can’t work without your help or the employee needs to be micro-managed which means you need to fire them.  You’re not a baby-sitter, you’re a mentor.  You work for your employees.  They don’t work for you.  Your job is to setup good processes with good expectations then get out of their way.  Your job is to empower, remove roadblocks, and mentor.
  2. Mentor the individual.  People are people – not robots or machines.  You can’t treat everyone the same so don’t try.  Each person is wired differently with different strengths and weaknesses.  For some people you need to be blunt; for others, you need to constantly encourage.  It’s your job to understand what makes each one of your employees tick so you can relate to them in a way they understand and respect.  Always be consistent – just vary the way you interact with each of your employees based on what is most effective for the individual.
  3. Lead by example.  Servant leadership is the only real form of leadership.  You must walk the walk and talk the talk.  Don’t let your employees out work you.  You should always be available and willing to help.  You want  your employees to be brutally honest with you and know that it’s okay to vent.  Shut up and listen.  Be there for them.  Their job is tough.  Help them by mentoring them through the situation.  Have their backs at all costs.  If they fail, it’s your fault.  If they succeed, it’s because of them.  Be a real leader.  Never ask your employee to do a task you wouldn’t do yourself.  The best leaders actually invest time doing the work their employees do, so they can relate to their employees better.  If you’ve done the work, you will be a better mentor and help improve the processes.  It’s always nice to start a conversation with “I used to hate when that happened.  Here’s how I used to handle it…”  Respect and trust are earned!
  4. Delegate.  Yes, you can do the job better than most, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.  You’re not scaling your business if you can’t delegate the core business tasks to your employees.  Nobody wants to buy (or inherit) a business that’s all about you.  Coach, mentor, and train your employees.  It’s a process to get them where they need to be.  Don’t be short-sighted.  Build a system of processes that your employees can follow and improve upon.  Otherwise, you’re not building a real business.
  5. Employees should help improve the processes.  You’re not better – you’re just responsible.  Make sure your employees help you and the company get better.  Make it part of their job to improve processes and make suggestions.  If everyone participates in creating great processes, everyone will buy-in and it will be ingrained into your culture.  When issues arise, people won’t point fingers at other people, they will focus on fixing the process that allowed the issue to occur.
  6. Protect your employees.  Your job is to remove any roadblocks and hindrances for your employees.  Set them up for success.  This often means fighting battles for them and having the foresight to prevent issues from occurring.
  7. Really care.  You have to care about your employees and you must be genuine.  Your job is to help them grow and succeed.  You must always have their best interest in mind.  Sometimes this means helping them find another job.  You can’t be protective and short-sighted.  If you help them succeed, you and the business will succeed.  Caring means you have to make hard decisions.  You don’t have to be liked, but you better be respected.  If they know you care, they will trust your decisions even if they disagree with you.  Also, don’t be greedy!  Share the wealth with your employees.  Pay them more than they are worth.
  8. Critique and praise in real-time.  If there’s an issue, deal with it immediately (always in private).  If they did something well, praise them immediately (praise is often better done in public, but it depends on the individual).  Don’t wait to provide feedback in employee reviews.  There should never be surprises, especially in employee reviews.
  9. Fit is everything.  If the employee isn’t the right fit, deal will it immediately.  Help them find another role or job.  The more you put it off, the worse it will get.  If you’ve taken the advice in this post, you’ll find solace in the fact that you did the right thing for the employee in the long-term.  Even if they don’t like your decision now, they will thank you later.  Great leaders focus their time and energy on their best employees.  The squeaky wheel shouldn’t get the grease.  Weed out the poor performers quickly so you can invest your time with the future leaders.