Does this sound familiar?
Someone is newly hired into a position of influence or leadership at an organization. One of the first things they do is propose investing considerable resources into making a big change.
The organization says "yes!" because it's new and different, instead of evaluating the proposal on its merits. Time and money is spent, things are changed. And then the new hire moves on to another organization, leaving things in turmoil. Maybe someone else is hired and the process repeats. Oh no!
Maybe you've seen it play out in these ways:
- A new director of marketing wants to change the logo, tagline and reprint all promotional assets.
- A new website manager wants to change the underlying Content Management System.
- A new lead back-end developer wants to change the underlying software framework or database system.
- A new lead front-end developer wants to redesign the website from the ground up.
- A new CEO wants to change the company from distributed to centralized, or vice versa.
- A new HR manager wants to switch to a new payroll system.
- A new customer support manager wants to switch to a new support ticketing system.
- A new office manager wants to install a new phone system.
- A new finance director wants to switch accounting systems.
And so on.
Sometimes these changes are absolutely the best and most important things to happen at an organization. If it's been avoiding switching to better tools or processes because of apathy or fear, having a new voice in the mix can be just the thing needed to push everyone in a better direction.
But I suspect many times these kinds of changes are being used by the new hire as way to establish their value and power. They want everyone to know that there was how things were done before they arrived, and how things will be done moving forward. And if the new way is derived solely from their personality or preferences, everyone will need to depend on them to figure out best practices.
When these unhealthy dynamics are the driving force behind a big change it can be at best a huge disruption and waste, and maybe even an existential threat to the organization's work, services or products.
Continue reading I'm new here, let's change everything
Not every person can do every job or thrive in every role they end up in.
Sometimes people lose interest in their work, get promoted beyond their capabilities, or didn't have the skills/experience to be a good fit in the first place. That this happens at all may speak to some area for improvement in the way people are hired, trained, reviewed or promoted in a given business or organization, but it's also an inevitable part of how companies and not-for-profits made up of humans change and grow.
When someone isn't a good fit for a role, the important thing is how the organization handles it.
Unfortunately, I've seen all too often that some organizations don't handle it at all. Instead, they leave everyone else to work around the mismatched role or problematic behavior. At best this wastes an opportunity for helping someone improve and rearranging "human resources" to better fit the needs of the business or organization. At worst it saps morale, leads to otherwise high-performing people leaving, costs a lot of money and significantly decreases the effectiveness of the organization overall. Working around someone who isn't right for the job does a disservice to them and can be toxic to the life of a business or organization.
So how can you tell if that's what is happening? Here's a list of signs I've seen in my experiences that might mean you're working around someone:
Continue reading Are you working around someone?
Within any given business or organization, the ideal is (probably) that everyone working or volunteering there will not only take on all of the tasks and projects that are clearly a part of their recognized role, but that they'll also work on things not necessarily assigned to them but that are still useful to the overall goals of that organization.
If everyone shares the same vision and goals, and everyone participating is sufficiently empowered and inspired to work toward those goals, this ideal can be easy to realize. There is almost certainly always something else that can be done to support or further the mission of the places we work and volunteer; if there's someone who regularly ends up having some "down time" with "nothing to do" then there's probably something else wrong - with the person's mindset, the structure they are working within, or the organizational culture overall.
In practice, I've found that people have different personalities and personal/work backgrounds that lead them to respond differently to this idea of "working on things that weren't necessarily assigned to me." For some, it's a no-brainer and they can jump right into that mentality. For others, it represents a threshold of riskiness and potential for failure that they may not be willing to cross: "If it wasn't assigned to me and I do it wrong, I don't want to be responsible for the outcome." For still others, it can just be the challenge of imagining tasks or projects outside their job description or previously assigned duties; the inertia of working within familiar problem spaces is hard to overcome.
Continue reading An odd jobs list for staff and volunteer engagement
Over the weekend Jon Bischke made the interesting comparison of a start-up company to city government in A City Is A Startup: The Rise Of The Mayor-Entrepreneur. Bischke notes that the factors that go into a successful entrepreneurial effort are similar to the ones that make for a successful city:
- Build stuff people want, offer products and services people want to buy
- Attract and retain quality talent
- Raise capital to get fledgling ideas to the point of sustainability, create a density of "investors"
- Create a world class culture that encourages people to stick around even when times get tough
These may not be comprehensive factors, but they could be useful metrics to view your city with.
If I had to rate my own city of Richmond, Indiana, I'd say we have plenty of room to grow in each area:
Continue reading A City is a Startup
It's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way. For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first. I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:
Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering. Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own. As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.
Continue reading Summer reading mini book reviews
I see a surprising number of organizations and businesses that suffer from the malady of reinventing basic business processes and rediscovering tools and resources they already had, at the expense of using up valuable staff time and straining relationships with their customers and constituents.
Sometimes this reinventing and rediscovering happens because there's been a change in staffing, sometimes it happens because people just don't bother to write things down. But I'm amazed at the "shortcuts" people think they're taking to work around those cases:
- We couldn't find our username and password to manage our website domain name, so we just registered a new one and re-printed our business cards. Problem solved!
- We forgot that our last IT person already had a Facebook page setup, so we setup a new one and then asked everyone to like the new page. Problem solved!
- We're not sure where the source design files are for our marketing brochure, so we'll just design a new one. Problem solved!
Meanwhile you've lost a bunch of would-be visitors to your website who still have your old business cards, halved your population of Facebook followers, and wasted someone's week on solving a problem that was already solved.
Continue reading Rediscovering what you already know
I'm fortunate to have had time to read some actual books cover-to-cover in the last few weeks. Other than some novels that made for decent beach reading, a notable theme of business, communication and politics emerged. A few reviews are below; I've linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your local bookseller or visiting your local library first.
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Published in 2010, Game Change recounts the stories of the 2008 Presidential election with a behind-the-scenes perspective unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. The book reads like a novel (think Joe Klein's Primary Colors or even a John Grisham work) and is simply fascinating to take in. Chapter after chapter paint a nuanced picture of what Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, John McCain and other candidates were experiencing from the time they decided to run until the election itself - it's a narrative that the media simply couldn't have assembled along the way. Knowing of the extensive research and interviewing that the authors did to assemble it together made it all the more impressive.
Continue reading Book reviews: Game Change, Public Speaking, Rework