Posts Tagged ‘clients’

“Honey, do I look fat in this dress?” That is a question any wise man approaches carefully – very carefully. It is prescient when it comes to change management. Why? Well, we all say we prize honesty but upon closer examination there is a desire to get by which comes in direct conflict with the need to be honest.

Everyone loves to clean house and get rid of the bad guy(s) and girl(s). After the euphoria the sweeping out creates dies down something surprising happens. It is the fear created by the need for those remaining to be honest in a piercing manner. Why is that?

As mentioned in previous blogs, having the bad guy around supports the creation of bad habits. For example, there is the opportunity to fudge billable time and expenses. A while back there was the infamous $500 coffee pot charged to the U.S. Air Force. (I got to talk with one of the lead accountants on that issue and it turns out dishonesty wasn’t present but let’s assume for this blog it was a blatant rip off.) In the every day world of projects how can that occur? All that is needed is a leader out to get as much money as possible and will gouge the client to the extent the client is blind, naive or both. When an engineer has worked under such a person for a long enough period of time it becomes easy to get sloppy and gradually expand what “honesty means right along with “cheating.”

Sociologically, it is well established that we all like to leave ourselves some space, some wiggle room. Let’s say 15 minutes a day of billable time. So, if we only charge for 15 non-productive minutes we can claim we are honest. After a while under a disreputable boss that 15 minutes becomes an hour. The process continues until all hell breaks loose and then all sorts of time is charged simply because we can do it. So what happens when you clean house?

For the housecleaning to be complete there is a need to return to honesty. This is the point at which panic sets in. If your situation is typical a flood of requests start coming in to explain exactly what you mean when you say, “In order to bill for one hour you have to do one hour’s worth of work.” All sorts of lawyering begins. It is accompanied by confusion and more than a slight degree of hysteria. Remember, people have been let go for not being honest. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I next?” (For what it is worth, I am championed for bringing the light of day and a breath of fresh air to the organization when getting rid of the bad guy. That quickly turns to pitchforks, tar, and feathers once the issue of accountability is brought to the masses.) What to do? Answer: State the obvious.

“The only way out of the mess you are in is through frank discussions as to what it means to bill an hour of time. This isn’t free-floating. It needs to reference a sound business case.

In other words, know what will work in your industry. Find standards that are reliable. Then add that to a solid business case. Determine what “serving the customer” means in terms of billable hours, expenses, and productivity. By all means, stay away from witch-hunts. Tell the troops you will be out of business if the sloppiness continues. The best way to keep one’s job is to work to acceptable standards. Have them participate in the defining of standards as it applies to their discipline, keeping in mind that who ever is responsible for the business case will have the final say.

What this all amounts to is a focus on emotional honesty rather than a Salem witch trial. When done in a respectful tone those who want to work and feel significant appreciate it. As to the others…well…the human resource changes must continue. The challenges will continue and people will wonder if the housekeeping was worth it. In the long run, though, there will be an appreciation of getting back on track and billing one hour for an hour’s worth of work.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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The Soul of a Project #24: The Peter Principle and YOU!

by Gary Monti on September 4, 2012

The Peter Principle states, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetency.” From a psychological perspective there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Ever wonder why it occurs? Let’s explore based on depth psychology (Carl Jung) and the concept of temperament. Some background will help.

In depth psychology we have 8 function attitudes. These are ways in which we gather and process information. We all have them. Where we vary is in the preferred order in which we use them.

There are two major ways we can gather information: Sensing and Intuiting. These break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Likewise, there are two major ways we can process information: Feeling and Thinking. These, too, break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Combining this information we end up with the following table:

GATHERING INFORMATION

PROCESSING INFORMATION

Sensing – extroverted Feeling – extroverted
Sensing – introverted Feeling – introverted
Intuiting – extroverted Thinking – extroverted
Intuiting – introverted Thinking – introverted

 

We all have all eight. Where we vary as individuals is in the rank order. Also, for each of us, our number 1 gets the highest amount of brainpower while our number 8 is the most difficult to work use. This leads to an interesting dictum.

“For as strong as you are in one part of life there is a corresponding Achilles heel…and there’s no getting around this.”

For example, someone who has Thinking – extroverted as number one has Feeling – extroverted as number eight. What does this mean?

The Thinking – extroverted part means this is a take-charge type of person. She can give orders and take command. Think of an entrepreneur starting a business. There can be a gruffness present that is somewhat abrasive, but things get done! The business grows. It runs like a clock. In fact, it grows to the point that how it is organized (or should I say “disorganized”) is becoming increasingly important. The number of squabbles between employees is increasing and it is showing in terms of how customers are serviced and outsiders view the business.

This is where Peter Principle comes into play. The very strength that grew the business, Thinking – extroverted, has led to a problem that is the most difficult for the founder to solve. Barking more orders only makes things worse.

Feeling – extroverted has been studiously avoided. People are told to suck it up and get the job done. This may sound macho but the reality is the leader is avoiding it because she is at a loss as to how to deal with the issue. In fact, she’s probably afraid of it. There is an important reason as to why this occurs:

Addressing the weaker functions requires putting the strong one aside.

You can probably hear the entrepreneur saying, “Are you crazy! I built this business based on my commanding attitude and now you want me to listen to their feelings! We don’t have time for that! This is a BUSINESS!” At this moment the Peter Principle surfaces in all its flaming glory and if not addressed trouble occurs. That trouble starts with the leader looking foolish and needing to be “understood” and progresses to a tragedy in which clients aren’t getting served, costs go up due to inefficiencies, and the competition starts eating your lunch.

Don’t despair. In the next blog we’ll go a little deeper and see if anything positive can come of this.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Leader driven Harmony #38: ACE Your Life

by Mack McKinney on August 19, 2011

ACE stands for Always Control Expectations and we teach it in all our classes.  It means no surprises for your colleagues, friends and family:  If you say you’ll do something, then be certain that you make it happen.  Senior people sometimes use the old saying “Mean what you say and say what you mean”.  Lots of wisdom there.

In buying or selling services or products, treat people like you would like to be treated (the old Golden Rule).  And be sure you understand your organization’s internal processes so you can over deliver (and under-promise).  If you promise a signature or a delivery in one week, do it in 3 days.

In negotiations, don’t strive to win at all costs.  Build the relationship first and subsequent business will go much smoother.  Securing a tough, one-sided deal that costs the other party most of its profit is guaranteed to cause ill feelings and will get the relationship off to a rocky start. It might get you that deal, but won’t get you another from the same customer.

Worldwide, I have found that people do business with people they like, all else being equal.  Or maybe not  even equal . . . heck, I’ll pay a little more for insurance if Eddie Fields at State Farm sells it, because I trust him.  I’ll pay a little more for construction work if Ronnie Cooper does it, because he is fair and detail- oriented.  I’ll pay more for sushi at Sakura’s in Moyock, NC because it is fresh, the staff is super friendly and Wing and Wing Ha are great chefs.

In the end it isn’t about the money.  It’s about the friendships, the trust, and the people whose paths you can make just a little smoother as we all take this trip through life together.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Resilience Engineering #1: Robust Vs. Resilient

by Gary Monti on June 7, 2011

Sustaining success in complex situations presents challenges where classic approaches to projects, programs, and processes may fall short. This series of blogs will present a tool for dealing with those challenges, resilience engineering (RE). I’d like to start with two terms from RE: robust and resilient. Why? In a word, Relevance. These terms will give a taste of RE and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Robust Systems

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

An example of robustness may help. Company XYZ is an early entrant into a new market with Product Line A. In supporting Product Line A, a series of integrated databases are built in the back office and end-user operations are superb. As time goes by the industry morphs and there is opportunity for introducing Product Line B. The database requirements for Product Line B are a mix: 60% can be handled with the current systems and the remaining 40% present new requirements.

Time-to-market can be reduced if a commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), stand-alone product is purchased to cover the new requirements. The problem is it does not integrate with the existing system and double entry in both systems is required. Specifically, products and services for Product Line B clients will be tracked in the COTS system while accounting will be done separately in the original system.

While an integrated solution is desirable it will take 6-9 months and is decided against. Another reason for deciding against the integrated solution is Company XYZ is in a recession in their market and keeping costs down is a “must.” Those in functional operations, the end-users, are told they will have to figure out a way to handle the double entry and insure problems don’t arise. The database end-users absorb the changes, create new policies and procedures, and the entry into the new market achieves sales and margin projections.

This is an example of robustness, i.e., the organizational system responded to a challenge and met its functional requirements while the original database systems are not modified. People absorbed the changes. This absorption comes at a cost, though. The stress level of the end-users rises and they are a little less masters of the database system and a little more victims of double entry.

Resilient Systems

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

With a resilient approach the integrative change would be adaptive in nature. Database operations would morph to reflect and environment comprising a composite of Product Line A and Product Line B. This is in stark contrast to the robust solution, which is still Product A-centric.

In its simplest form with the resilient solution, the end-users would focus on serving the customers and be free of the clunkiness and increased potential for failure associated with the double entry system.

Robust or Resilient: What’s the Difference?

Is the robust decision a bad one? Not necessarily. It just comes at a cost; a cost incurred while deciding on trade-offs, a cost that may be invisible to the culture. This issue of trade-offs is at the core of RE.

In the next blog we will look more at the accrued costs associated with trade-offs and a rather scary element that can be associated with robust solutions – drift. As the series progresses more innovative ways to approach trade-offs will be presented.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Project Reality Check #21: Acknowledgement

by Gary Monti on May 10, 2011

Acknowledgement can increase the speed and accuracy of your project and business interactions. Being grounded in honesty it has an added bonus of creating an atmosphere where people can risk being spontaneous and open. This is especially important when discussing difficult matters, not just the “high five” accomplishments. In contrast, lack of acknowledgement leaves people wondering where they stand causing a waste of energy and destabilization of the relationship.

Acknowledgement shows others they are worth the time and effort it takes to think about them. It has proved invaluable when having to evaluate team members, stakeholders, or vendors whose performance has not been up to par…well at least the ones who value the relationship. It keeps the focus on behaviors important for successful continuation of ongoing work.

Providing acknowledgement says,

“Working interdependently with you is important to me.” That open recognition goes a long way towards potentially deepening the relationship by the development of trust, which in turn can increase commitment. Loyalty is promoted.

For those who don’t care about the relationship, the effort spent acknowledging them still has a benefit by bringing into clear focus the need to modify or end the relationship.

Nuances and Weak Signals

Acknowledgement promotes the sharing of nuances, important when building success. It is like an added bonus. Let me explain. Nuance is about the little things; the little things that can make all the difference in the world. In complex situations nuances go by another name: Weak signals.

Successful weak signal analysis (WSA) is one of the holy grails associated with complex projects. WSA is essential on any complex project since it helps determine as early as possible signs of pending success or failure. This information helps the PM change approach in order to enhance the former and dampen the latter and do it in a cost effective way.

The hunt for and analysis of weak signals can keep a project manager up at night causing loss of focus and the development of tunnel vision. The loyalty and trust promoted by acknowledgement encourages others to help the PM stay on track with eyes wide open. The odds of success go up accordingly.

Think of the trusting clerk with whom you’ve built a relationship. How do you feel when they steer you in the right direction regarding a product with which you have little familiarity but need to work correctly right out of the box? That feeling is the payoff, or should I say one of the payoffs. After all, it just feels good to treat people right.

A Challenge to you!

I’d like to put a challenge out to the reader. How much time are you willing to spend acknowledging others? Who would you pick? Why? Keep your thoughts and associated actions in mind for the next blog where we’ll go deeper into the benefits of acknowledgement along with the damage that occurs when it is absent.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Project Reality Check #16: The Folly of Audits

by Gary Monti on April 5, 2011

“No good deed shall go unpunished,” is crazy but commonly experienced. Why is that? Why would an audit trigger punitive measures? After all, when doing one’s best it would seem safe to assume the value of the work would be recognized and would show in the numbers. This could be considered especially true with this series of blogs since earned value has been trumpeted as the heart of project management. So what is the problem? The purpose and value of reports is a good place to start.

Reports And The Meaning of Numbers

Why have reports? Simple, they sustain communications in a relationship especially when everyone can’t be together at the same time. Consequently, numbers are abstracts – distillates – of a relationship. And now the plot thickens! Communications are complex, multi-channeled, multi-contextual activities. Look at the simple joke:

Take my wife…please!

How many layers (contexts) does that joke have? It has at least two. The joke is in the collision of those contexts. Unfortunately, when that collision of contexts occurs on the job it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. The folly occurs in this collision. It puts very sharp teeth in the bite of “no good deed shall go unpunished.” So, what does this have to do with audits and reports? Plenty. It has to do with context and expectations.

Context and Expectations

So when do audits and reports go haywire?

Audits and reports go haywire when they are laden with expectations that fail to map to the reality of what it takes to get the job done or the reports project an inaccurate balance between all the contexts present.

Looking at the cause of all this will help.

The Devil Is In The Dynamics

There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” There is truth in it. However, it doesn’t cover all situations.

For complex projects the devil is in the dynamics. The failures and flaws are not with the individual person or component. Rather, they exist in the dynamics between the organization and operations.

Most reports are designed to address what senior management believes are the policies and procedures, which are based on management’s expectations. Typically, this is all laid out at the concept and design phase. When a system goes into operations, though, a new element comes into play – reality. Think of the Mars rovers and all that has been done to keep them operational. Unforeseen problems had to be solved. This has led to a much longer life expectancy for the rovers than was ever anticipated. No one is going around blaming scientists and engineers for the problems encountered per the original plan. Instead they are being recognized for throwing themselves into the problems and coming up with solutions. Some work, some don’t. Looks like one rover is down for the count. Overall, though, the program has been a great success.

Listen For The Solution

A chapter can be taken from the Mars situation in generating a solution to poor audits.

The solution to poor audits is in listening; listening for how people work to get things done in spite of the system.

Again, reports are distillates of relationships. This means communication, which is a two-way street. Yes, senior management needs to determine the direction the company needs to go but this should be tempered by and informed from the wisdom and experience of those in the trenches, unless, of course, the managers are clairvoyant. My recollection, though, is years ago Madam Cleo tried that on her cable channel and went bankrupt.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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I’ve spent many years as a consultant helping companies analyze their business to improve performance and reduce costs, Clients large and small often ask questions regarding outsourcing/managed-sourcing. They’ve often read case study after case study showing how companies of their size/in their industry have shown real cost savings from their IT outsourcing programs, but their own initiative seems to be lacking in some fashion, often experiencing cost overruns and sub-par service levels.

I always come back with the same answer – A question:  Did you have the right information to make this business changing decision, and did you enter into your agreement from a position of strength?  The prospective client’s answer is usually slightly defensive, wondering why I’m questioning that company’s decision-making ability.  Which essentially I am – clearly something is amiss. At this point, the wheels are in motion and a serious conversation about how the agreement was entered into can take place.  This conversation is meant to figure out what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed.

Here are the main points where an outsourcing agreement can go wrong:

  1. Is the true cost of IT known and understood?
  2. Was proper due diligence performed and a business case developed?
  3. Did you open negotiations to multiple companies so as to get the best deal for your enterprise?
  4. Are you enforcing the contract?
  5. Has your company had any changes that would affect your agreement.

If these five questions can be answered, your company will be well ahead of the game and can facilitate changes that will help resolve the issues you may be experiencing. Lets look at these a bit more:

Understanding the true cost of IT

Many companies think they understand the true cost of IT, but most don’t.  It’s not just what is in the budget, it’s what isn’t as well.  Since every employee is part of the larger family, things are often done in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be the case with an outsource company.  For example, IT support staff would likely service a broken computer while they happen to be in that particular location to fix something else; an outsource company won’t (and unless on-site, can’t) do that.  There are hundreds of other “off book” examples (an ad-hoc server repair in the datacenter without a ticket being called into the help desk, perhaps) that, once outsourced, will no longer occur.  These are true costs of doing business that are challenging to foresee and don’t always get accounted for internally, however with an outsourced vendor these types of activities become chargeable events. In a large organization, this can lead to millions of dollars in additional outsourcing costs.

Performing Due Diligence to get the best deal possible

Knowing the true cost is the first step in the due diligence process.  Other things need to occur, including:

  • Prioritizing which functions should be run internally and which should be run by experts that can drive costs out of the equation
  • An understanding of which parts of the labor force will be affected either by being re-tasked to the outsourced vendor running the operations or being relieved of their positions entirely
  • Service levels need to be agreed to internally; and
  • Building a business case that supports the initiative, this includes noting all assumptions so as to be able to go back and audit.  By doing this, the company knows what is expected and then study the agreement forensically to uncover why the initiative is not proceeding as planned.

Handling Negotiations to Secure the “best” deal possible

Each company has their own process by which they procure goods and services.  The key questions to ask here are:

  • Were your company’s policies and procedures followed?
  • Were RFI’s and RFP’s constructed properly and submitted to all viable vendors?
  • Did your company negotiate purely on price, and were factors such as the Service Levels (mentioned above) taken into consideration?
  • Did you do research on the providers, talk to their current clients, etc to make sure they were the right fit for your needs?

All of these questions need to be given consideration up front, or you’ll risk the likelihood of compromised service down the road.

Enforcing the agreement with the selected vendor

This is key. Your company, when entering an outsource agreement, must establish a structure to allow for monitoring of the agreement and related SLAs. Is the vendor living up to their end of the agreement? If no, are steps being taken to alleviate the issues?  If you are not monitoring your agreement, you are as much at fault as the vendor for any perceived failures.  The agreement and the activity associated with it need to be continually monitored, and analyzed.

Knowing the changes in business conditions that might affect your outsourcing agreement

These business conditions can take many forms, and some affect all business – the current downturn in the economy, for example.  Perhaps your company may not have grown at the rate assumed in your business case and therefore in your negotiations with your chosen outsource vendor.  Other condition changes to consider include mergers and acquisitions, perhaps you are using more computing power then you estimated and did not take into consideration when purchasing another company.  Have you come out with an incredible new product that has driven growth within your organization? This is a good affect, but one that may not have been included in the portion of the new products business case that deals with internal costs such as IT, manufacturing and supply chain management.  All of these reasons and many others can affect the actual agreement, therefore it’s a must that your agreement be continually monitored as I noted earlier.

Conclusion

Several reasons can result in your company essentially leaving dollars and services on the table with respect to outsourcing.  There’s no such thing as too much thought when evaluating an outsourcing initiative.  If you need help, there are many experts available to you who can provide guidance and help develop a sound strategy tailored to your organization. Whatever your size or complexity of project, we’re here to help.

Matthew Carmen launched Datacenter Trust along with Marc Watley in February, 2010 and serves as Co-Founder & COO as well as Managing Partner of their Financial Intelligence practice. Datacenter Trust is a recently-launched consulting and services delivery firm, providing outsourced server hosting, bandwidth, cloud services, and IT financial intelligence and analysis services to growing businesses. Follow Datacenter Trust on Twitter @datacentertrust
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Leader driven harmony #1: Communication by Handshake

by Mack McKinney on December 3, 2010

Introduction to This Series

This Series is about life and business.  We will discuss tips and techniques to enhance your business; reduce your stress level; simplify and strengthen your relationships with work colleagues, family and friends; in short we are going to show you ways to smooth out your business life.

Our family has lived and worked in a lot of places in the US and Europe.  In the US we have lived in the northeast, the mid-Atlantic and the south. We have also lived in Germany and I have spent lots of time in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  I have done business with people from the US, Europe (western and eastern), Asia, South and Central America and the Middle East.  We have worked in small villages, medium towns and large cities.  From these places and the people I’ve known and worked with, I will be bringing you world class, time-tested, practical business tips and techniques.  We have cherry picked only proven, best-of-breed techniques from successful business and government professionals.  And we will concentrate on timeless lessons and tips that span multiple cultures and are applicable now and for many years to come.  Our first topic should be of interest to anyone doing business anywhere – – – the business handshake.

Communication by Handshake

Studies have shown that people decide how they feel about you – – – basically what kind of person you are and whether they will trust you – – – within the first fifteen seconds of your first meeting.  One study found that this decision is often made within the first eight seconds!  Wow.  Think about that.  In less time than it takes to read this sentence, a person you have only just met will judge your trustworthiness and character, based on . . .  well . . . what?  On the flimsiest of “evidence” that’s what.  Let’s see what information you are “telling” people about yourself during those initial seconds.  What can they possibly experience about you in those few seconds?

Studies of interpersonal dynamics estimate that communication between individuals is 70% non-verbal and only 30% verbal.  Humans have extremely heightened senses when first meeting other people.  We primarily use four organs to stream information to the brain:  Our eyes, ears, nose and skin.  What decisions are people making in those first few seconds?  In addition to the trustworthiness decision mentioned above, people often reach almost instantaneous conclusions about your personal hygiene, general health and level of fitness, honesty, self-confidence and friendliness.  What gives a person the cues they use to make these decisions about you?

  • Handshake
  • Body posture
  • Body odor
  • Personal appearance (clothing, shoes, appearance of teeth, breath, hair, make-up, skin condition, facial hair)
  • Eye contact (or lack thereof)
  • Smile (or lack thereof)
  • Your spoken words (content, delivery, accent, pitch and grammar)
  • Physical distance you put between people

We’ll discuss each of the above “messages”, what each communicates and how to manage them all, in upcoming weeks.  But let’s start with one incredibly important “transmission” that you can change, if needed, right away – – – your handshake.  Once you know what you are communicating with your handshake you can easily change what it says about you.  In fact, the handshake is probably one of the easiest impression-makers to change.

But first let’s dispense with two common myths especially rampant among Generation Y-ers (aka Millennials):

  1. “Handshakes are for old guys.  They don’t really matter these days, not like they used to anyway.” Wrong.  They matter very much in the business world, especially in the US and Western Europe.  It is true that handshakes were recorded in ancient Egypt but even today business is still based upon trust.  And handshakes can communicate trust.  Gen-X-ers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists take handshakes very seriously, many of them without even realizing they do so.  If you don’t think your handshake matters to others, it probably won’t.  Because YOU won’t matter much to others.
  2. “My handshake is _______ [fill in the blank yourself - strong, quick, etc.] but it is just my style. And I like it that way. It reflects my unique personality and sets me apart from others.” Wrong.  If your handshake is odd in any way, YOU will be seen as being odd and odd people don’t get much cooperation in the business world, which is still based fundamentally on trust.  Let your excellent work or your conversational skill or something else set you apart, not an odd handshake.

A predictable, firm handshake is an important tool in business, in fact, in life, in general.  A handshake is over in a few seconds yet it helps us reach a number of conclusions about the other person.  We tend to take our own personal handshake style for granted, not giving it much thought.  Yet surveys of thousands students attending Solid Thinking’s Concept Development and Project Dominance courses over the years paint a very different story:  About a third of the handshakes we have experienced from course attendees since 2004 are … well… odd.  They are memorable, which is not good.  You do not want your handshake to be remembered by the people you meet.  Your handshake is part of the entire impression that others get when you meet them.  It is part of a person’s overall impression of you and you do not want it to be remembered any more than your teeth, body odor, hairstyle, tie color, cut of your suit or anything else.  In our courses we critique each attendee’s handshake style, what it “says” about them, and then we correct it as needed.  (And we do it in such a way as to be non-threatening and without causing embarrassment).

People draw several conclusions about you just from a brief handshake:

  • Too strong a grip is often interpreted as you trying to prove your strength.  Savvy business people also recognize that a too-strong grip can mean just the opposite as well: a weak person disguising their weakness behind an artificially strong grip in a handshake.  So a weak handshake can signal either of two things, both opposites and both bad.
  • Too weak a grip (offering the limp-fingered “fish” handshake or not wrapping your fingers completely around the other person’s hand) indicates you are a weak person.  In the US, Western Europe and the Middle East, this weakness can be perceived of men or women, young or old, from any culture.  And don’t think that appearing weak is just a good negotiating ploy, encouraging the other person to underestimate you.  It doesn’t work – – – the impressions a handshake provides are often subliminal.  People don’t even realize why they have a certain impression of a person after the handshake, just that they do.  Don’t risk being labeled weak or ineffectual from a limp handshake.  (More on the woman’s handshake, both giving and receiving, a bit later).
  • A handshake that lasts too long is interpreted as a sign the person will be “clingy” in any upcoming relationship (business or personal).  When you feel the other person let go, let go.
  • A handshake that is too brief often says the person isn’t interested in a relationship with me (wants out of here).  People expect a handshake to last a minimum of 3 seconds unless there are several people shaking hands in which case 2-3 seconds is acceptable.
  • A person who rotates his hand over mine, with both our hands going from vertical to horizontal, is saying that he is probably going to be difficult to deal with (at best overly dominant and aggressive and at worst pathological)

We want a “normal”, predictable handshake because that tells others they will be dealing with a normal, predictable person:  a firm handshake is perceived as belonging to a reliable person who “offers no surprises”; the right duration (3-5 seconds) tells us the person is interested in us but not overly so; direct eye contact means the person is more likely than not to be honest and sincere; and a sincere smile indicates a friendly person.

In the next post we will describe the eight simple parts of a solid, professional handshake and how to fine-tune yours.  We will also talk about hugging and cheek-kissing in place of handshakes, including when (and how) to do them without embarrassing yourself; the special rules for shaking hands with ladies and much more.  After reading the upcoming second half of this article you will have much greater confidence when meeting people and, with just a little practice, you’ll have a new tool in your social skills toolbox!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Should you satisfy your customers?

by Vijay Peduru on November 24, 2010

Almost every business book talks about satisfying the customer.  Every business guru touts this.  But no one seems to be asking the question – If we satisfy the customer, how will he keep coming back? He may be satisfied at that moment and you are happy that he is ecstatic about your service and it ends there.

Satisfied Customer – A Problem?

Everyone knows that it is easier to have recurring revenue (an existing customer) than generate a new revenue stream (from a new customer). The question though is – How do we handle this if the customer is already satisfied? One might wonder why this is a problem. Think about it – A customer who is satisfied over a long period of time slowly loses the value of what s/he is getting as it starts appearing like anyone can do it – in other words, the bar that you set becomes the standard and hence, the value erodes.

Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction Cycle

Great marketers have known this for a long time. Just like in a good movie, the director cycles through a satisfaction/dissatisfaction cycle working with our emotions – one needs to take the customer through cycles of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the product and/or service. And yes, the honesty of this post makes it edgy!

Humans naturally crave for new and scarce things.  If we look at Apple, they release a new product with some features which  are not so great… like the  camera in iPhone 3G. People are a little dissatisfied with these features and start to talk about these and eagerly await for improved features.  When apple release a newer product, they surpass the expectations like the camera in iPhone 4G.  Lot of iPhone 3G users will naturally buy the new iPhone 4G.

The cycle continues…

Listen to the Customer

Sometimes, when we release new models or new software, the customer is already satisfied with the product and does not want the new product. Lots of sales people work on convincing the customer by telling them the new features. They somehow want to convince the customer to buy the product. Instead, they should sit and listen to the customer and should discover  pain points for the customer. Most of the times the customer does not see it as a pain, but if you can see it and show him how bad it is (make him dissatisfied) and then show him how the new product will alleviate this pain – he is most likely to buy it.  The key is to know… that the customer is sometimes blind to the pain and we have to bring it forth for him. In the case of IPhone 3G, a lot of people are satisfied with the camera, but when they see other people telling how bad it is compared to the iPhone 4G, they realize that what they have is not good enough and want to get the new iPhone 4G!

Vijay Peduru is an entrepreneur in the bay area and is the co-founder of a bootstrapped startup. His interests are bootstrapping, leadership and spirituality.
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Project Leadership #1: 7 Ways to have a kickass kickoff!

by Himanshu Jhamb on October 4, 2010

“I promise that I will produce a kickass kickoff for the client”.

Repeat this to yourself at least a hundred times before you go for the next project kickoff meeting.

I have been through many projects – some of them as a team member and some as a project manager (please picture me as ashamed and trying to hide behind my chair at this very moment) – where the kickoffs were either for namesake or worse, were non-existent. The projects just started automatically – no memo, that’s it. I just found myself in the midst of a project already underway. PS> These projects did not do well.

For a long time I tried to demystify why my projects got delayed, got derailed (had enough of the de’s?). I would lock myself in my office (it was a cubicle, really) and try to figure out what was going on – why I could not control my schedules and how come I found myself struggling with just organizing the project in manageable chunks of work.

This post is my humble attempt at sharing what I found I was doing wrong (or not doing) to find myself in this position time and again.

The problem, it turned out, was that I was trying very hard to be a good project manager. In doing so, I was missing out on the fact that what the project really needed was a leader to guide everyone through the project with CLARITY. This last word is perhaps the most important… It is the project leaders’ job to continuously be in the quest for CLARITY on the project. Clarity comes when everyone involved in doing a particular task as well as everyone impacted by the task are in agreement over a number of attributes. The project kickoff meeting is a golden opportunity to get this CLARITY and champion the project. A well organized, planned and delivered kickoff meeting gives huge returns whereas a poor one (or none) haunts the project right till the end of the project (and beyond).

Here are a few tips on how to have kickass kickoffs!

  1. Say No to Remote kickoffs: There is yet to be a technology that replaces the handshake. Put yourself in front of the client – it is a future declaration that you are approachable and reachable and goes a long way in building a relationship with the client, and it will come handy when things are not going as planned on the project (and they won’t!).
  2. Prepare relentlessly for the kickoff: Know your audience. Know the material and make sure it speaks to their concerns, not only to what you are offering. You might be ready to promise them the stars and the moon whilst they might just be looking for a way to look at the stars and the moon.
  3. Declare (through a presentation or whatever suits your purpose) what you stand for in the project & how you will run the project: This is not for the weak of heart. You need to state what you stand for, what you expect from them as much as what you commit to. The presentation is not fluff for killing time & checking off a task in the kickoff meeting with pretty bulleted slides; it should set you up for delivering very important messages, in your meetings after the presentation.
  4. Meet with the stakeholders: The fun part begins here! Make sure all stakeholders are there. This includes people who will lead the team from the client side as well as the people who are impacted by the project.
  5. Ask lots of questions & listen for agreements: Firstly, you don’t have to know the answers. This is really important (It took me about 2-3 years to learn this one). You just have to ask the right questions & listen the people in the room arrive at agreements on stuff like goals, roles, responsibilities, success criteria, processes (and many other things that I cannot put here lest I will be writing a book instead of an article!).
  6. Jot down agreements and follow-up with confirmations by exchanging notes.
  7. Clearly communicate next steps to keep things moving forward and in the direction of the project goals.

How do you know if you have had a kickass kickoff meeting? Don’t worry about that part… your project will tell you that!

Have fun!

PS> Both Guy & I were recently interviewed for our book, #PROJECT MANAGEMENT Tweet on Blog Business World by Wayne Hurlbert. Wayne asked a number of thought provoking questions on Project Management that both Guy & I did our best to answer… for those interested, you can find the interview here. Disclaimer - it is a 1 hour interview… you have been forewarned.

Himanshu JhambThis article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.
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