Monday, April 26, 2010

Beyond the ID number is a person....

I get asked often about why I got into consulting and started my own business. I can give you many cliché's and other random comments. What it really boils down to is two things: my family and my father.

First and foremost is my family. The only way that I knew how to protect the work/life balance that I want and provide for them was to do it on my own. I did become cynical of the corporate world though because of the example that I had from my father.

In 1978 three men, Ken Fisher, Gordon Mann, and my dad Dudley Morris started a company called USSI. They wrote automation software for insurance companies and were pioneers in their industry. USSI is still thriving and is privately held. I am not sure of the practice today, but when I was growing up, I could always remember the "Corporate Cruise" and the stories of the Christmas parties. The cruise was a reward to the entire company for hitting their goals. The company would take everyone and a significant other on a three day cruise to the Bahamas as a reward for hitting their sales and profitability goals. I never got to go on a cruise, but I loved hearing the stories about it. The other thing I remember was the Christmas party. Every year Mr. Mann would play "Let's Make A Deal" (which is funny since my high school friend Wayne Brady hosts that show now). I remembered how the company was a family. These days, everyone seems more focused on corporate liability than rewards. Christmas parties or gatherings like that are also a thing of the past.

I lost my father in 1992. A few months ago, I stopped by the office of USSI. Keith Fisher (Ken's son) is now running the company. He called in a couple of people that were still there that worked with my father. It was a special moment for me. I never knew how much growing up in the midst of my father's company impacted me until a few years ago.

My whole career, I had been searching for that "family" feeling. I had been on a search to be able to share those war stories and wear where I worked as a badge of honor on my sleeve. I believe I was born into the wrong generation for that. I fear that we have become just numbers, not people in many organizations. I came close to those family feelings only to have them not live up to my expectations in the end. I had several instances in my career that shaped who I am:

• One of my first real professional jobs pitched that family feeling. It turned out to be one of the most demanding and abusive environments. I remember being written up two days before my wedding for leaving the office 10 minutes before 9PM to pick up my tux before the tux shop closed. The quote that always stuck was, "I thought you were a team player."

• A colleague of mine had made a huge mistake. It was blamed on me. I thought it would pass and I was protecting my colleague, so I took the heat for it. I was forced to apologize in front of the whole branch office as to what I did. I also was subjected to what amounts to purgatory for the next 4 months until I eventually had to quit.

• I was 180% of my plan at a position. My colleague was 30% of plan. The company was forced to downsize. I was eliminated over my colleague because it would be more expensive on paper for the company to keep me because I had over-achieved and my bonus was more.

• I was running a team. Our first year, we had exceeded all expectations. When it came review time, I had rated them all as such. I was told that I could only have one person, maybe two exceed my expectations. If they all exceeded my expectations, then the problem was my expectations. I then had to find ways to score them so they fell below the grade. I had huge problems with that one.

• I was running a company that was really on the way up. The company had to shut down due to financial issues beyond my control. I felt like my family was ripped from me and my eternal optimism was almost completely shattered.

I am sure that many of you have had war stories like these. I think that this can change. I think that this economy and the recent difficulties can push us into a new era. The financial crisis that we have all faced has exposed quite a bit. We have been able to discuss "Too big to fail," executive bonuses, and how the corruption of so few can lead to the destruction of so many. I think it is time that we look beyond the employee ID and start valuing people again.

This can start with you. Find someone on your team that has really gone above and beyond. Stop by their cube and tell them how much they are appreciated. Do not use terms like productivity, focus, or other corporate jargon. Thank them for being who they are. Thank them for their contribution. Show them real appreciation. Make sure that when decisions are being made that we think of them as individuals, not as numbers on paper.

I recently watched an organization who was utilizing their staff at an average of 123% be told to cut 10% of their staff due to budget concerns. Any time there is an arbitrary number, that is just paper pushing and numbers games. It is easy to look at a spreadsheet and come up with those decisions. It is much more difficult to look others in the eye and come up with those decisions. I see companies make lump sum cuts to their staff, yet never cut projects or initiatives. They feel that the work will just become "absorbed." This means that those that are left are now working 150% of their time and are "thankful" just to have the position. I fear that the financial bubble is about to cause an employee bubble. If we keep seeing them as numbers, that is what will happen.

As for me, I know that my greatest impact is to have my own business so I can work with the executives of other companies and have frank conversations. It is what it is. I am seeing great strides out there. We are collecting data that shows it is time to invest in people again. We are seeing data right now that shows if you focus on the work/life balance of your employees, the numbers actually improve, not decline. Take time to talk to your employees, team members, or colleagues. Remember that beyond the ID number is a person and you can't go wrong!

If you have similar war stories or comments, please share!

This day is THE day,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Payment terms......sheesh!

I have been dealing with quite a bit of issues lately with payment terms.  This is something that I find kind of funny.  It appears that the only dates that are truly flexible is when one company owes another company money.  It is even something that you are really not supposed to discuss.  Many companies have payment terms on their invoices.  Usually it is a net 30 days or net 45 days and almost always there is a penalty clause.  However, the clauses are almost impossible to enforce.

This is not the same for the consumer credit world.  If you are one second late paying a credit card or a bill, there are late fees, percentage increases, etc.  There is no grace period for an overdrawn bank account.  The consumer has no choice but to pay.  If they do not pay, then there are collection agencies and other means to recover their money.  I once received a notice in the mail that I owed $0.04 to a company.  It took them $1.35 in supplies and fees to send me the notice!  When I disregarded the notice, they threatened to send me to collections.  I stopped it there, but I did kind of want to see if someone would actually call me for it.  But then again, I knew that there would be $100.00 worth of fees put on top of the collection activity, so I just taped 4 pennies to an index card and mailed it in.

However, businesses are not the same.  I just watched a thriving business go bankrupt because their primary customer withheld payment for no apparent reason to the point that the company missed a payroll.  If you try to enforce penalties, then many companies refuse to pay it.  Also, collections seems to cost more than the recovery of the money.  It is just weird.

It is interesting to watch a business fight for longer payment terms while never honoring the original terms.  They will ask for a change from Net 30 to Net 45 and have payment averages of Net 70.  As a small business, I often have to make phone calls or inquire about payment.  I normally get a very polite response, but it is also very nonchalant.  I will call and say something like, "I am inquiring about invoice X that is 15 days past due.  Can you let me know when this will be paid?"  The answer is, "Oh yes sir, we are cutting a check a week from Friday and will put that in the mail."  You are so happy it is going to be paid that you generally accept the terms.

I know as consumers, we can act the same way, but there is also consequences that come as matter of fact as the behavior.  If businesses try to enforce it in the same terms, it strains the relationship or ends it.  For many companies, late payments are an honest mistake or are late by a few days due to process.  There are other organizations that pay late as a strategy.  I have personally seen a memo of one organization that outlines how to string their vendors along maximizing the "use" of their funds.

I also worked for a company that incented us on making sure that we ran a 45 day services to cash metric.  This meant we had 45 days from the day that we performed the service to collect payment.  We were incented on invoice on a monthly basis on good faith.  If we had an invoice go over 45 days services to cash, the company would pull back the incentive amount on your next check.  If you collected the money after the 45 days, then the company would give 50% of your incentive back.  There were many times that I was on my client's site at 44 days begging for a check with a FedEx envelope in my hand!

As a project manager, we are to ensure that contracts that we oversee and manage are compliant to the terms.  For most, this means to ensure the deliverables are complete to the specifications provided.  It usually ends there.  As responsible project managers, we should make sure that all terms are being adhered to.  As PMI states, the project manager is responsible for the relationship with the vendors and that both parties are treated fairly.  This should include payment terms as well.  What are your experiences?


Friday, April 9, 2010

My Blog is one of the Top 50!

I received this note today:

"I’m just writing this to let you know about a new featured post we just made over here at Mr. Manager entitled, “Top 50 Project Management Blogs.” I thought that both you and your readers at Project Management That Works! might find it to be an interesting article. Please do let me know if you have any feedback --'

I am very honored!!!  Thanks!!!!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It is all in how you take it......

One of the most overlooked options for most of us is the option to choose. In every situation and interaction, knowingly or unknowingly, we choose to feel how we feel. This is a very powerful concept once you understand how to harness the power. Let's look at some examples:

Someone just yelled to you, "Hey...idiot!" We turn around to see who shouted at us....and then we choose how we will react. If it is a long lost friend, the insult may have been a joke or term of endearment. We just laugh and shout back, "Who you calling idiot?" It is all a big laugh. What if when you turned around, you didn't know the person. This is where the choosing comes in. We may react by shouting the same thing that we did at our friend, "Who you calling idiot?" This time, it is not a big laugh but an escalating confrontation. The point is that we affix connotation to almost every situation in life. Many times, we unknowingly choose a negative connotation. Why is that?

I have been doing a tremendous amount of public speaking lately and I see all kinds of things from the front of the room:

• A guy is nodding off
• Someone just left the room
• Two people are whispering

I could take this as:

• A guy is nodding off - "Man, I am boring him to death!!!"
• Someone just left the room - "I have offended her. She doesn't like me."
• Two people are whispering - "They have lost interest in my message."

Or, I could take each situation as:

• A guy is nodding off - "He had a really late night, but he is trying to make it through because he really wants to be here"
• Someone just left the room - "There is an emergency she needs to deal with."
• Two people are whispering - "They are sharing how they will use the concepts tomorrow."

The truth is that I really do not know any of the reasons for this behavior. However, I can choose what connotation I want to place on the event. Since ultimately we can choose to affix the connotation, then it doesn't have to be negative.

This is applicable to personal relationships as well. There are so many fights and disagreements because of how we chose to take something versus what the intent was. For instance, I have a person in my life that seems to always want to one-up the situation. They try to affect my spouse. If they can't get to her, then they try to get to me. If they can't get to me then they try to get to my family members and so on. It is almost an obsessive compulsive behavior. It is as if their joy in life is putting down me or my family. However, that is me choosing a negative connotation to the behavior. Who knows the reason for the behavior, I really don't. So why should I attach a negative feeling to it? The answer is that I won't! When I observe the behavior, I just shake my head and say, "That's odd," and move on.

In business, I found out that I was a fantastic motivator and project manager. I also found out that I was not good at being a HR manager. My entire career had been spent influencing people that did not report to me on an organization chart. When I did have people report to me, I was awful at some of the key skill sets. I had a person that worked for me that no matter what I did, in their mind I was out to get them. There was a negative connotation placed on every action that I performed. Some of it was warranted and some of it was just plain unfair. I tried everything to build a relationship, but just could not do it. That bothered me for a very long time until I chose the connotation that I would affix to the situation. I looked at my efforts to rebuild the relationship and then came to the realization that I had done enough. I could look at myself in the mirror and honestly state that I tried everything I could to make the relationship work. After that point, the negativity and hurt feelings I had simply melted away.

Choosing how you take something is a very powerful technique. People will see somebody really happy and state, "I wonder why they are so happy!" The answer is that they choose to be. Making the decision to find the good in situations can have a transforming effect. If you don't believe me, just try it! If you think I am crazy, I will just choose a positive way to feel about it! ;)

It is all in how you take it.......

Choose to have a great day,