Showing posts with label Performance Measurement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Performance Measurement. Show all posts

February 26, 2018

What's Free And What's Not

I like this saying and wanted to share it:
"The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately."

Yes, this is the home of the free. 

And we are all able to dream BIG dreams.

However, without the hard work and hustle, dream are not made, but rather they die on the vine. 

So dream big--imagine the very best.

Reach for the stars...

And then work your butt off to make it happen.

Choose carefully. 

No one can have it all.

You have to prioritize.

Also, you need to balance. 

In the end:
Dreams + Hard Work + Blessing From G-d

That's success by whatever standards you measure. 

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 18, 2017

Sleepy Education USA

Education is fundamental to learning, development and preparation for career and life. 

We've always believed that if you invest in anything, invest in education!

However, despite initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Every Child Succeeds Act, scores in the fundamentals like reading, math, and science all lag behind other advanced industrialized nations.



However, the comparison is flawed because university rankings are based not on student academic performance, but rather on research performance, including things like journal articles published and Noble Prize winners. 

When academic proficiency is tested for American adults, the rankings again lag and are at best mediocre. 

While there are many dedicated and good teachers, still too many teachers and unions continue to fight testing and reform so that progress of our education system continues to fail our children and our nation.

We need to end education by memorization, and focus instead on hands-on learning (by doing), critical thinking and problem-solving.

Sleeping through a lecture may not mean a student is missing squat in the current failed education system. 

(Source Photo: The Blumenthals)

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December 18, 2016

Survey The Performance

So I was in the Apple store recently and made a purchase to upgrade some technology.

Afterwards, I got an email asking:

"How was your experience with Beverly?

When I opened this my wife saw this and was like, "What the heck is that?!"

We should be surveying the work performance and not the experience with the person.

I can't imagine that super smart Apple didn't see this sort of double entendre about sweet Beverly.

All Apple needed to do was add in the word(s) at the top, shopping and/or at Apple, as in "How was your shopping experience with Beverly at Apple? (rather than burying it in the subtext later)"

But then their customer satisfaction survey maybe wouldn't get as much attention.

Sexualizing the customer experience shouldn't be part of marketing, unless maybe your purposely visiting a shady part of town for unscrupulous reasons. 

Anyway, I did respond that Beverly was a definite 5!

Thank you for the wonderful technology Apple and for the experience with Beverly--it was great! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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August 14, 2015

Mankind's Endless And Elusive Pursuit Of Happiness

So I took this photo yesterday of a lady on the Metro reading The Happiness Project.

The book is a multi-year bestseller about the pursuit of happiness and how the author, Grethen Rubin, took a year and made a project of getting happy.

She did this through a "methodical" project with "measurable goals" and working to "build on them cumulatively."

Now happiness is being described not as a goal or project, but as a "movement."

Why is happiness such an elusive pursuit to so many throughout the times?

In fact, in looking for how to achieve happiness throughout the ages, we can't even agree on what it is or how to do it.

Carl Cederstrom in the New York Times provides an overview where the how-to for achieving happiness has changed more times than some people change their underwear.

Here's to the rainbow of finding happiness:

- The Greeks/Aristotle - Be a good person, live ethically, cultivate one's virtues. 

- Hedonists/Epicureans - Pursuit whatever brings you pleasure

- Stoics - Happiness is achievable even when experiencing hardship, suffering, and pain

- Christianity - Happiness is not achieved on Earth, but rather in the afterlife/in divine union.

- Renaissance/Enlightenment/Thomas Jefferson - Happiness is an unalienable right, and related to property rights.

- Today - Achieve authenticity and be narcissistic, express true inner selves, get in touch with inner feeling, worship our bodies, and productivity through work

I believe that the relentless pursuit of happiness is due to man's inability to truly reconcile being/feeling happy with what he experiences on an almost daily basis on a spectrum of unhappiness:

- Disappointment

- Failure

- Unacceptance

- Rejection

- Bullying

- Abuse

- Injustice

- Suffering

- Poverty

- War

- Disability

- Disease

The result of man's expectation of happiness yet its continued elusiveness to him manifests in people running around like a chicken with their heads cut off (something my mom told me about that she saw as a little girl):

- Changing, leaving, coming back, or clinging to religion.

- Disenfranchisement with government, politics, political parties, and politicians.

- Entering into and dissolving marriages and relationships.

- Migration to different parts of the country or even moving abroad and traveling here, there, and everywhere.

- Cycling your money and investments in real estate, material goods, and a host of investments (stocks, bonds, hedge funds, etc.).

- Trying out a series of different educational pursuits, careers, and hobbies--surely one will be my passion, provide some meaning, or make me happy!

- Trying to squeeze more and more "things" into and out of a 24-hour day. 

- Looking for a quick fix through partying, pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, and rock & roll. 

What's the trend in happiness now?

A relentless pursuit of innovation and transformation through technology, robotics, everything autonomous, self-healing, self-reproducing, searching for new (and perhaps better) worlds, and even time travel. 

Oh, and let's not forget pursuing a longer life (or the holy grail of immortality), so we have more time to try and be happy. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 8, 2014

Amazing Amazon

So Amazon should be renamed Amazing, because they are.

They are the best online retailer--love 'em!

SELECTION: Amazon has everything. 

PRICE: Amazon is reasonably priced.

SPEED: Amazon Prime gets you your goodies delivered in under 48 hours. 

RETURNS: Amazon takes returns easily; virtually no questions asked. 

Amazon is so customer focused that you can even email Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO himself, at Jeff@Amazon.com. 

Aside from their highly successful retail operation, they have the Kindle tablets, Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cloud computing, Kiva Robots for warehouse operations, and more. 

So what's the secret of their success?

One thing, according to the Wall Street Journal, is their tough hiring practices. 

Amazon has "several hundred" interviewers called "Bar Raisers" that give candidates extremely thorough interviews.

Bar Raisers typically have conducted "dozens or hundreds of interviews and gained a reputation for asking tough questions and identifying candidates who go on to become stars."

Typically, it "takes five or six employees at least two hours each" to evaluate and vet an applicant. 

Amazon makes all this effort in recruiting to weed out people who are the wrong fit for the company. 

They believe that it's better to invest in a sophisticated recruiting process than to make costly hiring mistakes. 

While this certainly sounds like a well thought out and vigorous hiring process, the article makes little to no mention of performance measures showing that their hires really are better matches, have superior performance, or stay with the company longer. 

The one anecdote given was of a Bar Raiser who found a candidate for a programming job that "didn't know much about the specific programming language."

Barring some real statistics though, either you could conclude that Amazon's hiring process is truly superior or perhaps question why it takes them 5 to 6 interviews to do what other successful companies do in 1 or 2. 

Either way though, Amazon is a amazingly great company. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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October 24, 2013

Performance and Transparency - 2gether 4ever

Really liked this performance measurement and transparency at Home Depot.

Here are their store performance measures prominently displayed.

Not a high-tech solution, but every measure has its place and metrics. 

- Looks at friendly customer service.

- Tracks speed of checkout.

- Measures accuracy of transactions.

This lines up well with the management adage that "you can't manage what you don't measure."

Some pointers:

- Identify, collaboratively, your key drivers of performance

- Determine whether/how you can measure them efficiently (i.e. qualitatively, quantitatively)

- Set realistic, stretch targets for the organization

- Communicate the goals and measures, 360 degrees

- Regularly capture the measures and make the metrics transparent

- Recognize and reward success and course correct when necessary

- Reevaluate measures and goals over time to ensure they are still relevant 

Wash, rinse, repeat for continuous improvement. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)
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March 28, 2013

Perfect, In An Imperfect World

I have a new article in Public CIO Magazine about working to perfect ourselves in an imperfect world.

Please read the article here online.

"Recognize the importance of the journey over that of the goal--and accept the task of working to perfect ourselves, rather than of truly being perfect, or as I learned in Jewish day school, there are no angels here on Earth, only in heaven."

Hope you enjoy! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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June 24, 2011

Feedback, Can't Live Without It

Whether you call it feedback or performance measurement, we all need information on how we are doing in order to keep doing better over time.

Wired (July 2011) reports that there are 4 basic stages to feedback:

1. Evidence--"behavior is measured, captured, and stored."

2. Relevance--information is conveyed in a way that is "emotionally resonant."

3. Consequence--we are provided with the results of our (mis)deeds.

4. Action--individuals have the opportunity to"recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act."

The new action (in step 4) is also subject to measurement and the the feedback loop begins again.

Feedback plays a critical role in helping us achieve our goals; according to psychologist Albert Bandura, if we can identify our goals and measure our progress to them, we greatly increase the likelihood that we will achieve them.

Thus, feedback is the way that we continually are able to course correct in order hit our targets: if we veer too much to the right, we course correct left; if we veer too much to the left, we course correct right.

Feedback loops "can help people change bad behavior...[and] can encourage good habits."

From obesity to smoking, carbon emissions to criminal behavior, and energy use to employee performance, if we get feedback as to where we are going wrong and what negative effects it is having on us, we have the opportunity to improve.

And the way we generate improvement in people is not by trying to control them--since no one can really be controlled, they just rebel--instead we give them the feedback they need to gain self-control.

These days, feedback is not limited to having that heart-to-heart with somebody, but technology plays a critical role.

From sensors and monitors that capture and store information, to business intelligence that makes it meaningful in terms of trends, patterns, and graphs, to alerting and notification systems that let you know when some sort of anomaly occurs, we rely on technology to help us control our often chaotic environments.

While feedback can be scary and painful--no one wants to get a negative reaction, criticized, or even "punished"--in the end, we are better off knowing than not knowing, so we have the opportunity to evaluate the veracity and sincerity of the feedback and reflect on what to do next.

There are many obstacles to self-improvement including disbelief, obstinance, arrogance, as well as pure unadulterated laziness. All these can get in the way of making necessary changes in our lives; however, feedback has a way of continuing to come back and hit you over the head in life until you pay attention and act accordingly.

There is no escaping valid feedback.

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February 3, 2011

Leading With Business Intelligence

Check out this great video on Mobile Business Intelligence (BI) put out by MicroStrategy (Note: this is not an endorsement of any particular vendor or product).

Watch the user fly through touchscreen tables, charts, graphs, maps, and more on an iPhone and iPad-- Can it really be this easy?

This fits in with my firm belief that we've got to use business analytics, dashboarding, and everything "information visualization" (when done in a user-centric way) to drive better decision-making.

This is also ultimately a big part of what knowledge management is all about--we turn data into actionable insight!

What is so cool about this Mobile BI is that you can now access scorecards, data mining, slicing and dicing (Online Analytical Processing--OLAP), alerting, and reporting all from a smartphone or tablet.

This integrates with Google maps, and is being used by major organizations such as U.S. Postal Service and eBay.

Running a business, I would want this type of capability...wouldn't you?

As Federal Judge John E. Jones said: "What gets measured get's done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, and what gets rewarded, gets repeated."

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October 9, 2010

Is Technology Measured by Progress or Unrealized Potential?

Is technology progress measured by how far we've come or by what remains to be achieved?

The Wall Street Journal (9-10, October 2010) ran an interview with Peter Thiel, who in ranked #377 in Forbes 400 (2008) with a net worth of $1.3 billion. Thiel was a co-founder of Paypal. In 2004, Thiel made a $500,000 investment in Facebook for 25.2% of the company. Nice!

Remarkable for someone who has made a fortune in technology, Thiel now believes, as the Journal puts it, that “American ingenuity has hit a dead end.”

According to Thiel, “people don’t want to believe that technology is broken…Pharmaceuticals, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology—all (of) these (are) areas where the progress has been a lot more limited than people think.”

Thiel bemoans our inability to achieve the vision of The Jetsons, as he states: “We don’t have flying cars. Space exploration is stalled. There are no undersea cities. Household robots do not cater to our needs…” According to Thiel, we have reached and are stuck in a long-term stagnation.

Thiel’s theory of technology stagnation is completely contrary, I believe, to the reality that most, if not all, of us are living each and every day, where technology is constantly on the move and if anything, we as organizations and individual struggle to keep pace.

For me personally, the refresh rate for technology is 2 years or less, depending on available cash flow for all the new stuff constantly hitting the market.

In my experience, technology is as dynamic as ever, if not more so. In fact, I have seen no evidence that Moore’s Law has been overcome by events (OBE).

Across government, I am seeing the interest and rate of adoption of new technologies steady or on the rise in areas as diverse as cloud computing, mobile computing, social computing, green computing, knowledge management, business intelligence, and geospatial information systems, and more.

There is no shortage of technology investments to make, IT projects to work on, and new technical capabilities to bring to the business.

While we may not have achieved the full vision set out by Hollywood and other technology visionaries, yet—rest assured, we are well are on way and barring unforeseen events, we most certainly will!

I don’t know about Spacely Sprockets’, but I’d place a few good investments bets around on a future that looks pretty darn close to The Jetsons, along with a good dose of Star Trek ingenuity for measure.

Perhaps Mr. Thiel’s views are a result of frustration that we have not achieved all that we can, rather than a reflection that we have not gotten anywhere. In any case, I enjoyed reading his views and look forward to learning more.


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June 11, 2010

Simplifying IT Performance Measures

There is the old adage that you can only manage what you measure.

The problem is that most IT organizations either aren’t measuring much, aren’t measuring meaningful indicators, or aren’t measuring in a way that is aligned to the business.

Hence, we have organizations that can’t articulate, get their arms around, or seem to improve their IT performance—because they don’t really even know what their performance is—can anyone even spell p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e? While other organizations, turn out 32 page weekly performance reports in 10 point font that brings no true sense of “are we hitting or missing the mark” to anyone.

There is an interesting article in InformationWeek on a simple method for doing performance metrics for IT called “A Simple Scoring System for Complex Times.”

Obviously nothing is so simple, but the basic premise is that the IT organizations uses a scoring system of -1, 0, and +1 to capture the following:

- Screw-ups(-1)—This includes systems or network that goes down, projects that go bad, etc. While we want to minimize these, we don’t necessarily want to drive this category to nothing, since the cost for eliminating every possible error likely outweighs the benefits.

- Doing the expected(0)—This means keeping operations running or delivery projects on time and within budget. While this does not usually win the IT department lots of kudos, this category of operations is critical because it is about “keeping everything working smoothly.”

- The wins (+1)—This is where we innovate for the organization and encompasses adding new functionality and enhancements that create tangible business improvement. “+1 are what it’s all about. They’re why most of us got into this profession in the first place.” Clearly, not everything we do can be +1’s, since we have to maintain basic IT operational functions and not just add the new proverbial “cool stuff”, and also practically speaking because, the organization “can’t absorb the pace of change.”

So to some extent there is a healthy balance between making some mistakes from which we learn and grow (-1), creating an environment of operational excellence (0), and driving innovation for true business impact (+1).

In addition to measuring the indicators that IT organizations set out in their IT strategic and operational plans, this high-level scoring method could add a summary perspective for a straightforward CIO dashboard.


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January 15, 2010

Transformation That Can Succeed

Many organizations seek transformation. They are mired in paper even though we as a society have long moved to a digital age. They are organized around silos, despite the revelation that enterprise can function more effectively as one. They are overcome by day-to-day operational issues and are busy fighting fires, instead of focused on long-term strategy and execution. These are just some of the dysfunctions organizations seek to transform from.

But many transformations fail and they do so big time, leaving dispirited employees, disgruntled managers saying I told you so, and organizations hobbled in outmoded processes and legacy technologies, with the rest of the world seemingly passing them by. If they do nothing, they risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant, and a mere artifact of history.

Why do so many transformations fail and how can we help to convert these failures to successes is the topic of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled “Accelerating Corporate Transformations (Don’t Lose Your Nerve)” by Robert H. Miles in January-February 2010.

Here are some of the major hurdles and what we need to do to overcome them:

· Self Interest (or the “I” factor): Those who control the most resources or institutional assets tend to monopolize discussions, trump new ideas, and strong-arm decision-making, thereby reinforcing the status quo” and the security of their own corporate kingdom. I personally think this is one of the most difficult challenges to organizational change, because you have managers (i.e. they are not genuine leaders!) whose self-interest trumps organizational progress. The author calls for compelling all executives to confront reality and work together, but this isn’t a prescriptive answer, rather it is more of a wish. In my opinion, the mandate for change must come from the very top and everyone needs to be held accountable for genuinely helping the organization changes succeed.

· Organizational capacity to change—“In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity…there isn’t room within the established systems to plan and launch a transformation.” The author calls for a parallel launch with small visible victories. While, small victories are good, this doesn’t really address how the organization can carve out the time, resources and commitment in the face of already stressed people, processes, and systems. I believe that you must make the investment distinct from your regular operations (this is not a collateral duty!) and form a high-level transformation office that reports to the senior executive. The transformation office is elevated from the organizational silos and works horizontally to make change happen. This means that traditional organization boundaries become transparent for process improvement and technology enablement. However, this cannot be a proverbial, ivory tower effort, but it must be well thought out, focused, and inclusive. The transformation office must engage all stakeholders across the organization in visioning, planning, and executing change initiatives.

· Change gridlock—“Workers capacity to execute will become a choke point if the programs are not prioritized and sequenced.” The author calls for limiting change initiatives to 3 or 4. This creates organizational focus. While I agree that you do not want to overwhelm the organization with too much change too fast, I find this somewhat at odds with the authors notion of “launches must be bold and rapid to succeed.” In my mind, it is not the launches that must be bold and rapid, but rather the goals that must be bold and the transformation should be allowed to proceed in a logical sequenced phases so that the organization can achieve learning, proficiency, and sustainability. Last thing we want to do is build a house of cards. At the same time, I don’t believe there is a magic number of initiatives, but rather that this is dependent on the resources available, the size and complexity of the change initiatives, and the organizational readiness and capacity for change.

· Sustaining transformation—“The more intensive and engaging the transformation launch, the harder it is to sustain the heightened levels of energy, focus, and performance.” The author recommends a “launch redux” to continue the transformation. I’m not convinced you need an annual or periodic revival of the initiative, but rather I believe that’s what’s called for is the following: leadership continuity and commitment, the continued development and nurturing of a shared vision of what transformation means, and ongoing performance management and measurement to see the change through. I believe that people will support the change process if they can see that it is purposeful, reasonable, inclusive, and that the commitment is real and sustained.

The truth is that no major and meaningful change in our personal or organizational life is short or easy. If it were fast and easy, it probably wouldn’t be so darn pivotal to our future.

Transformation is a risky, but necessary endeavor. We should not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from these. The greatest change and growth comes from the striving itself. As others have noted, it is the journey—to the destination—that is truly critical.


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November 14, 2009

Delivering Obsolete and Broken IT Projects, No More

NextGov reported on 9 Nov 2009, that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that “forecasts $3 billion in cost overruns on 16 major projects.”

What’s so of baffling is that these overruns occurred despite the agency’s use of earned value management.

According to Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, “Every one of the agencies had major problems in determining earned value management…as a result the agencies were unable to accurately identify the progress contractors had made on IT projects.”

These finding are expected to drive the 2009 Information Technology Oversight and Waste Prevention Act to increase oversight of IT investments.

This bill calls for “a Web site to publish information on the status of federal IT investments, similar to the Federal IT Dashboard,” but with more accurate data and with explanations on why projects are over budget.

Certainly, the use of measurements and dashboards to display and track these are helpful in understanding how we are doing in managing our IT investments—so they are on schedule, within budget, and to customer specification.

Clearly, we can only begin to better manage that which we measure and track. Our IT investments and their execution are no longer a black box or so it’s supposed to work.

However, to make these metrics and dashboard effective to improve IT execution, there are a number of critical success factors:

  1. Transparency—This is a concept that is in common use these days, and we need to continue to put it in action. All IT investments need to be measured, not just the “major” ones, and their success and failures need to be visible. The purpose must not to scrutinize or shame project managers, but to be able to genuinely guide projects to successful conclusions. This is what the control phase of capital planning and investment control is all about. We need to course correct projects early and often, if necessary, before they are billions of dollars out of control.
  2. Honesty in Reporting—Projects need to be reported accurately—no gaming the system. If the facts are sugarcoated or whitewashed, then no dashboard in the world is going to catch the problems that are misreported to begin with. Unfortunately with project management, the elements of scope, schedule, and cost can be manipulated to make it seem as if a project is okay, when it isn’t. One example is de-scoping the project to enable a delivery on schedule and on cost, even though what’s being delivered is not what was asked for or agreed upon.
  3. Skills Enhancement—With better measurement of IT investments, we need to provide more training to our project managers. We can’t just expect perfection day 1. We need to work with people and grow them to be better project managers. We can do this with training, mentoring, coaching, and so on. Remember, it’s generally the people that make the IT project a success or failure, not the technology—so let’s invest in our people to make them better project managers.
  4. Accountability—We shouldn’t be looking to exact a pound of flesh for genuine human foibles—mistakes do happen. But at the same time, people must be held accountable for fraud, waste, and abuse. Sometimes, people get complacent and they need a reminder that there are real implications to an IT project’s success or failure—mission and people are depending on you to do your job, so you had better do it responsibly and to the best of your ability.
  5. Continuous Improvement—Ever since business school, I’ve always loved the Japanese management practice of Kaizen—continuous improvement. This concept is right on the mark with our IT investment and project execution. We are not going to magically put up a dashboard and whoola—better IT projects. It’s going to be a process, a transformation over time. We need to incrementally improve our IT project success rate through learning measurement, and best practices implementation. Of course, time is money, and we need to move quickly, but we do not want to artificially create the appearance of short-term performance improvement at the expense of genuine long-term success.

All the power to IT performance measurement and dashboarding, but with the absolute commitment to not only track and measure, but also grow and improve our customer results. It’s not a gotcha that we need, but a how can we help you succeed.


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October 6, 2009

Constructive Truth Hurts, But Helps

It is pretty hard to give and to get honest feedback.

It is often acknowledged that performance reviews are one of the most difficult task for managers to perform. Managers don’t like to “get into it” with the employees, and employees often can’t deal with a straightforward evaluation from their supervisors. Plenty of sugarcoating seems to go on to make the process more digestible for all.

Similarly, people tend not to say what they “really think” in many situations at work. Either, they feel that saying what they mean would be “politically incorrect” or would be frowned upon, ignored, or may even get them in trouble. So people generally “toe the line” and “try not to rock the boat,” because the “nail that stands up, gets hammered down hard.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2009, reports a similar pattern of behavior with ratings on the Internet. “One of the Web’s little secrets is that when consumers write online reviews, they tend to be positive ratings: The average grade for things online is about 4.3 stars out of five.” On Youtube, the average review for videos is even higher at 4.6.

Ed Keller, the chief executive of Bazaarvoice, says that on average he finds that 65% of the word-of-mouth reviews are positive and only 8% are negative. Likewise, Andy Chen, the chief executive of Power Reviews, says “It’s like gambling. Most people remember the times they win and don’t realize that in aggregate they’ve lost money.”

Some people say that ratings are inflated because negative reviews are deleted, negative reviewers are given flak for their “brutal honesty,” or the reviews are tainted with overly positive self-aggrandizing reviews done on themselves.

With product reviews or performance reviews, “it’s kind of meaningless if every one is great.”

I remember when I was in the private sector, as managers we had to do a “forced rankings” of our employees regardless of their performance rating, in an effort to “get to truth” across the organization.

Generally speaking, performance systems have been lambasted for years for not recognizing and rewarding high performers or for dealing with performance problems.

Whether it products, people, or workplace issues, if we are not honest in measuring and reporting on what’s working and what's not—fairly and constructively—then we will continue to delude ourselves and each other and hurt future performance. We cannot improve the status quo, if we don’t face up to real problems. We cannot take concrete, constructive action to learn and grow and apply innovate solutions, if we don’t know or can’t acknowledge our fundamental weaknesses.

“Being nice” with reviews may avert a confrontation in the short-term, but it causes more problems in the long-term.

Being honest, empathetic, and offering constructive suggestions for improvement with a genuine desire to see the person succeed or product/service improve—and not because the manager is "going after" someone—can be a thousand times more helpful than giving the nod, wink, and look-away to another opportunity for learning, growth, and personal and professional success.
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May 1, 2009

Customer Service Will Always Be Goal #1

Too many organizations espouse good service, but very few actually excel and deliver on the promise.

However, one company is so good at it that it serves as the role model for just about all others--that company is The Four Seasons.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 April 2009 reviewed the book “Four Seasons” by Isadore Sharp, the luxury hotel’s founder.

Here are some things that I learned about customer service from this:

- Customer Service means reliability—“a policy of consistently high standards.” At Four Seasons, anyone who has visited the chain around the world [83 hotels in 35 countries]…can attest to its reliability. To be reliable, customer service is not just raising and holding the bar high-- having high standards for quality service--but this must be institutionalized through policy and delivered consistently—over and over again. You can’t have a bad day when executing on customer service. Fantastic customer service has to always be there, period!

For The Total CIO, this type of reliability means that we don’t focus on technology per se, but rather on the customer’s mission requirements and how we can consistently deliver on those in a sound, secure, and cost-effective manner. CIO leaders establish high standards for customer service through regular performance plans, measures and service level agreements. Reliable customer service is more than a concept; it’s a way of relating to the customer in every interaction to consistently exceed expectations.

- Customer Service means innovation—“The things we take for granted now during our hotel stays-comfortable beds, fluffy towels, lighted make-up mirrors, fancy toiletries, and hair dryers-made their first appearances at the Four Seasons…likewise for European-style concierge and Japanese-style breakfast menus, in-hotel spas, and the possibility of residence and time-share units.”

For The Total CIO, technology changes so fast, that innovation is basically our middle name. We never rest on our laurels. We are always on the lookout for the next great thing to deliver on the mission, to achieve strategic competitive, to perform more cost effectively and efficiently.  Advantage. Moreover, we reward and recognize customer service excellence and innovation.

- Customer Service means valuing people—“Follow the golden rule. Workers are vital assets who should be treated accordingly…at the Four Seasons, those who might otherwise be considered the most expendable ‘had to come first,’ because they were the ones who could make or break a five-star service reputation.”

For The Total CIO, people are at the center of technology delivery. We plan, design, develop, and deploy technologies with people always in mind—front and center. If a technology is not “user-centric”, we can’t employ it and don’t want it—it’s a waste of time and money and generally speaking a bad IT investment. Moreover, we deliver technology through a highly trained, motivated, empowered and accountable workforce. We establish a culture of customer service and we reward and recognize people for excellence.

- Customer Service means solving problems—“Turning the top-down management philosophy on its head, Mr. Sharp authorized every Four Seasons employee to solve service problems as they arose to remedy failures on the spot.”

For The Total CIO, leadership is fundamental, management is important, and staff execution is vital. It is the frontline staff that knows the customer pain points and can often come up with the best suggestions to solve them. Even more importantly, the IT customer service representatives (help desk, desktop support, application developers, project managers, and so on) need to “own the customer” and see every customer problem through to resolution. Yes, it’s nice to empathize with the customer, but the customers need to have their problems fixed, their issues resolved and their requirements met.

The Total CIO will make these customer service definitions his and his organization’s modus operandi.


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November 11, 2008

Improving Project Management and The Total CIO

IT projects are notorious for coming in late, over cost, and not meeting the customer’s needs.

CIO.com has an excellent article on ways to improve project management in an article entitled, “When Failure is Not an Option,” by Meredith Levinson (3 July 2008).

For organizations, good project management is a critical success factor!

“Project management is the number-one success factor for getting anything done in the organization. A firm’s ability to execute its strategy lies with its ability to manage projects,” according to Sam Lawler, the director of GlassHouse Technologies’ project management practice.

Yet, for years, organizations have faulted CIOs and IT departments with failed IT projects. As recently as 2004, a study by The Standish Group found that only 29% of IT projects “were completed on time, on budget, and with all features and functions originally specified.”

Project management methodologies work when business and IT work together as a team.

There are various methodologies being employed to try to improve project’s success, such as PMBOK and ITIL. However, IT projects’ success depends on IT and business people working together to achieve results; if this partnership and collaboration doesn’t happen, then no PM framework will bring us the project success we desire. Our organization’s business people are critical to ensuring project success—they develop the business case, identify requirements/functional specifications, realign and improve business processes, and test technical solutions to ensure they meet mission and business needs.

No longer is it about tossing the proverbial hot potato to IT and then pointing fingers and assigning blame when something doesn’t work right. Instead, the business and IT people are on the same team, sharing accountability, and working toward the success of the project and the enterprise.

Performance measurement is a must:

Improved project management needs to be accompanied by measurement of project success and reporting on these to executive management. We can’t manage what we don’t measure. And we need transparency to senior management to ensure that everyone—business and IT—have “skin in the game.”

Further, there are trade-offs in project management between cost, schedule, and scope/performance. Changing one affects the others, so we need to manage projects harmoniously in this triad. If for example, a project is delayed or costs more, but delivers on added functionality requested by the business, then the project can still be a success. At the end of the project, success is defined by the business!
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October 25, 2008

Talent, Determination, and The Total CIO

To become a great CIO or a great anything, what is the driving factor—talent or determination?
Fortune Magazine, 27 October 2008, has a book excerpt from Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.
Often, as individuals we’re afraid that if we don’t have the inborn talent then we can’t really compete and certainly won’t succeed. But that isn’t true!
Here’s an interesting anecdote about Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Balmer. “One of them recalls, ‘we were voted two guys probably least likely to succeed.’” They played waste-pin basketball with waded-up memos at P&G before becoming CEOs of General Electric and Microsoft.
Research shows talent is not the decisive factor:
“In studies of accomplished individuals, researchers have found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started intensive training…Such findings do not prove that talent doesn’t exist. But they do suggest an intriguing possibility: that if it does, it may be irrelevant.”
So if innate talent is what makes for high achievement, what does?
The answer is…”deliberate practice” characterized by the following:
  • Stretch goals—“continually stretching an individual just beyond his ir her current abilities.”
  • Repetition—“top performers repeat their practice activities to a stultifying extent.”
  • Feedback—“in many important situations, a teacher, a coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.”
  • No pain, no gain—“we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over…if the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them.”
So what do you do if you want to be a great CIO or successful in any professional endeavor?
  • Set goals.
  • Plan how to reach them.
  • Observe yourself/self-regulate.
  • Self-evaluate.
  • Adapt to perform better.
  • Repeat.
This is where determination comes in and makes the difference between success and failure.
What you want—really, deeply want—is fundamental because deliberate practice is an investment. The costs come now, the benefits later. The more you want something, the easier it will be for you to sustain the needed effort.”
In any case, “the evidence…shows that the price of top level achievement is extraordinarily high…by understanding how a few become great, all can become better.”

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