How NOT To Interview For A Job

How NOT To Interview For A Job

So I am at this place of business this evening, and I overhear someone trying to apply for a job.

Note, I feel bad for the guy who is looking for extra work, but the interview just is going all wrong.

– Easy-Smeasy – He asks “What is the easiest part of the job?” Ugh, didn’t sound exactly like he was looking for a challenge.

– Keep your head down – He exclaims, “And never do someone’s else’s job!” What about helping where the help is needed?

– Great facilities you got here – He ends with, “And when I work here, my kids are really going to love coming to use the facilities here all the time!” Not exactly, a what will I do for you strong ending.

I didn’t get to hear the whole interview dialogue, but this was enough to get the idea about some things not to do in an interview.

The funny/sad thing was, I think this gentleman really thought that he was going to get the job after all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Corporate Dictators Gone Wild

Corporate Dictators Gone Wild

Interesting book review in the Wall Street Journal on Moments of Impact–corporate strategy meetings.

The authors, Ertel and Solomon, see strategy meetings as critical for “to confront radical challenges” “cope with fast-changing threats”, and confront competition.

It is an opportunity to:

– Look at the big picture, including industry trends.

– Hear different points of view from as broad array of perspectives as possible (instead of the usual “fences and silos” that prevail in corporate life).

– Decide to change (“Creative Adaptation”) or to stay with tried and true strategies (“stick to their knitting”).

The book reviewer, Adrian Woolridge, though has a much more skeptical view of these strategy sessions calling them “dull, unstructured time-sucks” and “more often than not, [they’re] a huge waste of time”:

Why?

– They produce “airy-fairy nonsense.”

– Rather than abandoning the corporate hierarchy, the sessions anchor in “status hierarchy.”

– Outside strategy “experts” brought in “are nothing more than cliche-mongers.”

– The “games” are silly and non-impactful.

– Often rather than strategic conversations, we get “lazy consensus,” where decisions are driven by senior managers with a bone to pick or a reorganization in mind.

What the truth…as usual, somewhere in between these 2 states of idealism and cynicism.

We can choose to take planning seriously to bring people together to solve problems creatively and gain consensus and commitment or we can use strategy as bogus cheerleading sessions and to manipulate the sheep to do what the seniors already know they want.

If we really work as a team to press forward then we can accomplish great things through our diversity and strength, but if strategy is nothing but corporate dictators gone wild, then the cause is already lost to the competition.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Where The Biggest Nuts Rise To The Top

According to an article in Mental Floss (November/December 2011) engineers at the Advanced Dynamics Laboratory in Australia in 1996 researched how to mitigate The Muesli Effect, which describes the paradox of how, for example, cereral in boxes tend to separate with the smaller stuff lingering on the bottom and the large chunks rising to the top. This is the opposite of what you’d expect in terms of the larger, heavier pieices falling to the bottom–but they don’t.This is also known as The Brazil Nuts Effect, because the largest nuts (the Brazil Nuts) can rise to the top. While in physics, this may be good, in leadership it is not.With leadership, the Muesli Effect can led to situations where cut-throat, unethical, workplace operators push their way to the top, on the backs of the masses of hardworking individuals. Unfortunately, these workplace “bullies,” may stop at nothing to get ahead, whether it means manipulating the system through nepotism, favoritism, outright descrimination, or political shinanigans. They may lie, steal, kiss up, or kick down shamelessly disparaging and marginalizing coworkers and staff–solidying their position and personal gain, which unfortunately comes at expense of the organization and it’s true mission.Some really do deserve their fortune by being smarter, more talented, innovative, or hardworking. In other cases, you have those who take unjustifiably and ridiculously disproportionately at the expense of the others (hence the type of movements such as 99% or Occupy currently underway). This corruption of leadership begs the question who have they “brown-nosed,” what various schemes (Ponzi or otherwise) have they been running, how many workers have they exploited, suppliers squeezed, partners shafted, and customers and investors have they taken advantage of.

Countless such ingenious leaders (both corporate and individual) rise by being the organizations false prophets” and taking advantage of the “little guy”–some examples whether from Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Tyco, MF Global, and Bernie Madoff are just a few that come to mind. These and other examples can be found as well in government, non-profit, as well as educational institutions.

Interestingly, the Museli Effect occurs when you shake a box vertically. However, if you rock it side-to-side, then you reverse the effect and larger and heavier pieces of chaff fall to the bottom letting the precious kernels rise to the top.

This is similar to organizations, where if you focus on working horizontally across your organization and marketplace–on who you serve, your partners, suppliers, investors, and customers in terms of breaking down barriers, building bridges, and solving customer problems–then the real gems of leadership have the opportunity to shine and rise.

In the age of social networking, information sharing, collaboration, and transparency, the reverse Muesli Effect can help organizations succeed. It is time to stop promoting those leaders who build empires by shaking the organization up and down in silos that are self-serving, and instead move to rewarding those that break down stovepipes to solve problems and add real value.

(Source Photo: here)

>Civic Commons-A Lesson In Sharing

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Love this concept on Civic Commons that was presented at the Gov 2.0 Summit (2010) and is now becoming a reality.

Presented by Bryan Sivak the CTO for DC–Civic Commons is about governments collaborating and building technology once and reusing multiple times, rather than reinventing the wheel over and over again–a critical enterprise architecture principle.

Governments have similar needs and can share common solutions–products and projects–for these.

A number of successful examples:

1) DC and San Francisco building Open 311 (which I wrote about in a prior blog).
2) Minnesota building a $50 Million Unemployment Insurance System and then sharing it with Iowa who implemented it at less than 1/2 that.

Some initial products that have been committed:

1) White House IT Federal Dashboard
2) Track DC (Operational Dashboard)
3) San Francisco Master Address Database Geocoder
4) New York Senate’s Open Legislation Application

And more will be coming…all of which can be used and improved upon.

It is great to see so many state governments collaborating–across the Nation–from Seattle to LA, Boston, San Francisco, NY, and Chicago. Moreover, they are coordinating with the Federal Government, as well as with supporting organizations, such as OpenPlans, Code For America, O’Reilly Media, and more that are helping with coordination, facilitation, and support.

This is another great step in breaking down the silos that separate us and becoming more efficient in working together and learning to share what can benefit many.

>TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More

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People are selfish; they think in terms of win-lose, not win-win. The cost of this kind of thinking is increasingly unacceptable in a world where teamwork matters more than ever.

Today, the problems we face are sufficiently complex that it takes a great deal more collaboration than ever to yield results. For example, consider the recent oil spill in the Gulf, not to mention the ongoing crises of our time (deadly diseases, world hunger, sustainable energy, terrorism).

When we don’t work together, the results can be catastrophic. Look at the lead-up to 9-11, the poster child for what can happen if when we fail to connect the dots.

A relay race is a good metaphor for the consequences of poor teamwork. As Fast Company (“Blowing the Baton Pass,” July/August 2010) reports, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the USA’s Darvis Patton was on the third leg of the race, running neck and neck with a runner from Trinidad when he and his relay partner, Tyson Gay, blew it:

“Patton rounded the final turn, approaching…Gay, who was picking up speed to match Patton. Patton extended the baton, Gay reached back, and the baton hit his palm. Then, somehow it fell. The team was disqualified.”

Patton and Gay were each world-class runners on their own, but the lack of coordination between them resulted in crushing defeat.

In the business realm, we saw coordination breakdown happen to JetBlue in February 2007, when “snowstorms had paralyzed New York airports, and rather than cancel flights en masse, Jet Blue loaded up its planes…and some passengers were trapped for hours.”

Why do people in organizations bicker instead of team? According to FC, it’s because we “underestimate the amount of effort needed to coordinate.” I believe it’s really more than that – we don’t underestimate it, but rather we are too busy competing with each other (individually, as teams, as departments, etc.) to recognize the overarching importance of collaboration.

This is partly because we see don’t see others as helping us. Instead we (often erroneously) see them as potential threats to be weakened or eliminated. We have blinders on and these blinders are facilitated and encouraged by a reward system in our organizations that promotes individualism rather than teamwork. (In fact, all along the way, we are taught that we must compete for scarce resources – educational slots, marriage partners, jobs, promotions, bonuses and so on.)

So we think we are hiring the best and the brightest. Polished resume, substantial accomplishments, nice interview, solid references, etc. And of course, we all have the highest expectations for them. But then even the best employees are challenged by organizational cultures where functional silos, “turf wars”, and politicking prevail. Given all of the above, why are we surprised by their failure to collaborate?

Accordingly, in an IT context, project failure has unfortunately become the norm rather than an exception. We can have individuals putting out the best widgets, but if the widgets don’t neatly fit together, aren’t synchronized for delivery on schedule and within budget, don’t meet the intent of the overall customer requirements, and don’t integrate with the rest of the enterprise—then voilá, another failure!

So what do we need to become better at teamwork?

  • Realize that to survive we need to rely on each other and work together rather than bickering and infighting amongst ourselves.
  • Develop a strong, shared vision and a strategy/plan to achieve it—so that we all understand the goals and are marching toward it together.
  • Institute a process to ensure that the contributions of each person are coordinated— the outputs need to fit together and the outcomes need to meet the overarching objectives.
  • Reward true teamwork and disincentivize people who act selfishly, i.e. not in the interest of the team and not for the sake of mission.

Teamwork has become very cliché, and we all pay lip service to it in our performance appraisals. But if we don’t put aside our competitiveness and focus on the common good soon, then we will find ourselves sinking because we refused to swim as a team.

>How To Brainstorm and Not Tempest

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Thinking “out of the box” is fundamental to free us from the prevailing status quo. Brainstorming can enable us to tackle problems creatively and open up new possibilities for the future.

An Insight piece from Psychology Today (February 12010) called “[How To] Brainstorm” by ChiChi Madu points to some of the typical challenges with brainstorming and offers a new approach to it.

The challenge: “A typical brainstorming session can involve clashing personalities, uneven contributions, hurt egos, and hours of precious work-time wasted.”

When people come together to brainstorm, there are two things going on—one is the brainstorming and the other is the interaction between the people. And if the interaction is not collaborative and is dysfunctional because of the pervasiveness of functional silos, groupthink, competitiveness, or power politics, then the brainstorming and overall problem solving is going to suffer as a result.

Let’s face it, productivity is in large part of function of people’s ability to pull together rather than push apart!

A new approach: One way to work more collaboratively comes from an approach called “brainwriting,” by Peter Heslin. Brainwriting works as follows:

  • Write—Everyone writes an idea, in a different color pen on a piece of paper and passes to the next person.
  • React—Each person reacts to the idea they received and adds their own idea—“feeding off the others.”
  • Review—Once the slips of paper have about five ideas, they move to the center of the table for “systematic consideration of each.”
  • Select—Everybody lists their favorite ideas and the most popular ones are selected.

What is great about brainwriting is that everyone has a chance to contribute ideas, to have their ideas considered by others, and for them to consider the ideas of their peers carefully and thoughtfully. Moreover, brainwriting actually facilitates ideas to be incrementally built and improved on by having group members feed-off of the idea they received, rather than just hastily dismissing them or talking over others. Finally, since everyone has to put ideas and reactions to ideas down on paper, no one can just “sit it out” and not participate—and the more earnest the participation, the better the brainstorm will be.

People can innovate amazing things, solve problems, and really work together constructively when: the underlying process facilitates information exchange, collaboration, and the freedom to say what they really think. If we encourage and facilitate more brainwriting activity and other constructive engagement between people, we will be able to take on and resolve the ever larger and more challenging issues facing our organizations and society.

>Why The Customer Should Be The Center Of Our Professional World

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It’s intuitive that organizations should manage oriented to serve their customers, because it’s the customers who keep them in business. Yet, in the name of “shareholder value,” many organizations continue to put short-term results at the forefront of their decision-making and this ends up damaging the long-term success of the organization to the detriment of its owners.

Harvard Business Review, January-February 2010, in an article called “The Age of Customer Capitalism” by Roger Martin states that “for three decades, executives have made maximizing shareholder value their top priority. But evidence suggest that shareholders actually do better when firms put the customer first.”

The author continues: “Peter Drucker had it right when he said the primary purpose of a business is to acquire and keep customers.”

Clearly, we serve our customers in the service of our mission. Our mission is why we exist as an organization. Our mission is to provide our customers with products and/or services that satisfy some intrinsic need.

The equation is simple:

Shareholder Returns = f (Customer Satisfaction)

Shareholder returns is a function of and positively correlated with customer satisfaction, as HBR notes. If we serve our customers well, the organization will thrive–and so will the owners—and if we do this poorly, the organization will die—and the owners will “lose their shirts”.

The problem with concentrating exclusively on stock price is that we then tend to focus on short-term returns versus long-term results, and the shareholder ends up worse off in the end.

“The harder a CEO is pushed to increase shareholder value, the more the CEO will be tempted to make moves that actually hurt the shareholders…short-term rewards encourage CEOs to manage short-term expectation rather than push for real progress.”

The article cites companies like Johnson & Johnson and P&G that “get it.” They put the customer first and their shareholders have been rewarded handsomely—“at least as high as, if not higher than, those of leading shareholder-focused companies.”

One good example of how J&J put customers first is when in the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, in which seven Chicago-area residents died, J&J recalled every capsule in the nation, “even though the government had not demanded it.”

Another good example in the article is Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry. They recognized the importance of the customer versus the focus on the shareholder and already “in 1997, just after the firms IPO, the founders made a rule that any manager who talked about the share price at work had to buy a doughnut for every person in the company.” The last infraction by the COO had him delivering more than 800 doughnuts—the message was heard loud and clear.

These examples are in seemingly stark contrast to the recent handling by Toyota of its brake problems, in which there has been delayed recalls and the government is now investigating. As The New York Times (8 February 2010) reported: “The fact that Toyota knew about accelerator deficiencies as far back as December 2008 “raises serious questions about whether car manufacturers should be more forthcoming when they identify a problem, even before a recall,” said Robert Gifford, the executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a nonprofit group that seeks to advise British legislators on air, rail and road safety issues.” Note: this is out of character for Toyota, which historically has been a car company known for its quality and safety.

As a long advocate for User-centric Enterprise Architecture, I applaud the organizations and the people that put the customer first—and by this, I mean not by words alone, but in deeds. It is easy to put the customer into our mission and vision statements, but it is another to manage our organization with a true service creed.

While the HBR article emphasizes short-term shareholder value as main culprit diverting us from a positive customer-focus, there are really numerous distractions to realizing the vision of a customer service organization. Some examples include: organizational politics that hinder our ability to accomplish our mission; functional silos that are self-serving instead of seeking the best for the enterprise; certain egocentric employees (a minority) that put personal gain or a lack of strain above a service ethos; and of course, greedy and corrupt individuals that seek to profit at the expense of the customer, perhaps even skimping on product quality and customer service, thereby even endangering health and safety.

While most people are essentially good and seek to do the right thing, the organization must put in place controls to ensure that our focus is never distracted or diminished from our customers. These controls include everything from establishing values, policies, processes, requirements management, product development, training, testing, measurement and reporting, and best practices implementation in order to ensure our finest delivery to the customers, always.

>Decoding Decision-Making

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Decision-making is something we have to do every day as individuals and as organizations, yet often we end up making some very bad decisions and thus some costly mistakes.

Improving the decision-making process is critical to keeping us safe, sound, and stably advancing toward the achievement of our goals.

All too often decisions are made based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim. This is almost as good as flipping a coin or rolling a pair of dice.

Disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance attempt to improve on the decision-making process by establishing a strategic roadmap and then guiding the organization toward the target architecture through governance boards that vet and validate decisions based on return on investment, risk mitigation, alignment to strategic business goals, and compliance to technical standards and architecture.

In essence, decisions are taken out of the realm of the “I think” or “I feel” phenomenon and into the order of larger group analysis and toward true information-based decision-making.

While no decision process is perfect, the mere presence of an orderly process with “quality gates” and gatekeepers helps to mitigate reckless decisions.

“Make Better Decisions,” an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), November 2009, states, “In recent years, decision makers in both the public and private sectors have made an astounding number of poor calls.”

This is attributed to two major drivers:

Individuals going it alone: “Decisions have generally been viewed as the prerogative of individuals-usually senior executives. The process employed, the information used, the logic relied on, have been left up to them, in something of a black box. Information goes in [quantity and quality vary], decisions come out—and who knows what happens in between.”

A non-structured decision-making processes: “Decision-making has rarely been the focus of systematic analysis inside the firm. Very few organizations have ‘reengineered’ the decision. Yet there are just as many opportunities to improve decision making as to improve other processes.”

The article’s author, Thomas Davenport, who has a forthcoming book on decision-making, proposes four steps (four I’s) organizations can take to improve this process:

Identification—What decision needs to be made and which are most important?

Inventory—What are the factors or attributes for making each decision?

Intervention—What is the process, roles, and systems for decision-making?

Institutionalization—How do we establish sound decision-making ongoingly through training, measurement, and process improvement?

He acknowledges that “better processes won’t guarantee better decisions, of course, but they can make them more likely.”

It is interesting that Davenport’s business management approach is so closely aligned with IT management best practices such as enterprise architecture and capital planning and investment control (CPIC). Is shows that the two disciplines are in sync and moving together toward optimized decision-making.

One other point I’d like to make is that even with the best processes and intentions, organizations may stumble when it comes to decision making because they fail into various decision traps based on things like: groupthink, silo-thinking and turf battles, analysis paralysis, autocratic leadership, cultures where employees fear making mistakes or where innovation is discouraged or even frowned upon, and various other dysfunctional impediments to sound decision-making.

Each of these areas could easily be a discourse in and of themselves. The point however is that getting to better decision-making is not a simple thing that can be achieved through articulating a new processes or standing up a new governance board alone.

We cannot delegate good decision-making or write a cursory business case and voila the decision is a good one. Rather optimizing decision-making processes is an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event. It requires genuine commitment, participation, transparency, and plenty of information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise.

>Business Process Reengineering and Enterprise Architecture

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User-centric EA analyzes problem areas in the organization and uncovers gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and opportunities; EA uses this information to drive business process reengineering and improvement as well as to introduce new technologies to the enterprise.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, Management of Federal Information Resources, business process reengineering needs to take place to achieve the benefits of new information technology: “Moreover, business process reengineering should accompany all attempts to facilitate a transaction through information technology. Often the full benefits will be realized only by restructuring the process to take advantage of the technology. Merely moving an existing paper based process to an electronic one is unlikely to reap the maximum benefits from the electronic system.”

In the book The 21st Century Organization by Bennis and Mische the authors explain how organizations can reinvent themselves through reengineering.

What exactly is reengineering?

Reengineering is reinventing the enterprise by challenging its existing doctrines, practices, and activities and then innovatively redeploying its capital and human resources into cross-functional processes. This reinvention is intended to optimize the organization’s competitive position, it value to shareholders, and its contribution to society.”

What are the essential elements of reengineering?

There are five:

  1. A bold vision
  2. A systemic approach
  3. A clear intent and mandate
  4. A specific methodology
  5. Effective and visible leadership”

What activities are involved in reengineering?

  • “Innovating
  • Listening to customers
  • Learning
  • Generating ideas
  • Designing new paradigms
  • Anticipating and eclipsing competitors
  • Contributing to the quality of the workplace and the community
  • Constructively challenging established management doctrines”

“Reengineering the enterprise is difficult. It means permanently transforming the entire orientation and direction of the organization. It means challenging and discarding traditional values, historical precedents, tried-and-true processes, and conventional wisdom and replacing them with entirely different concepts and practices. It means redirecting and retraining workers with those new concepts and practices…The very cultural fiber of the enterprise must be interrogated and redefined. Traditional work flows must be examined and redesigned. Technology must be redirected from supporting individual users and departments to enabling cross-functional processes.”

What are the goals of reengineering?

  • “Increasing productivity
  • Optimizing value to shareholders
  • Achieving quantum results
  • Consolidating functions
  • Eliminating unnecessary levels of work”

Reengineering seeks to increase productivity by creating innovative and seamless processes…the paradigms of vertical ‘silo’ tasks and responsibilities is broken down and replaced with a cross-functional, flatter, networked structure. The classical, top-down approach to control is replaced with an approach that is organized around core processes, is characterized by empowerment, and is closer to the customer….Reengineering constructively challenges and analyzes the organization’s hierarchy and activities in terms of their value, purpose, and content. Organizational levels and activities that represent little value to shareholders or contribute little to competitiveness are either restructured or eliminated.”

What is the role of EA?

EA is the discipline that synthesizes key business and technology information across the organization to support better decision-making. EA develops and maintains the current and target architectures and transition plan for the organization. As OMB recommends, in setting enterprise targets, EA should focus first and foremost on business process reengineering and then on technology enablement. If the organization does not do process reengineering first, the organization risks not only failing to achieve the benefits of introducing new IT, but also causing actual harm to the organizations existing processes and results. For example, adding a new technology without reengineering process can add additional layers of staff and management to implement, maintain, and operate the technology instead of creating a net resource savings to the organization, from more efficient operations. Similarly, without doing reengineering before IT implementation, the enterprise may actually implement IT that conflicts with existing process and thus either require timely and costly system customization or end up adversely impacting process cycle time, delaying shipments, harming customer satisfaction, and creating bloated inventories, and so on.

Bennis and Mische predict that in the 21st century “to be competitive, an organization will have to be technology enabled…the specific types of technology and vendors will be unimportant, as most organizations will have access to or actually have similar technologies. However, how the organization deploys its technological assets and resources to achieve differentiation will make the difference in whether it is competitive.”

>Organizational Politics and Enterprise Architecture

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Organizations are intrinsically political systems, “in the sense that ways must be found to create order and direction among people with potentially diverse and conflicting interests.”

“All organizational activity is interest-based…an organization is simultaneously a system of competition and a system of collaboration.” Because of the diversity of interests… [the organization] always has a latent tendency to move in diverse directions, and sometimes to fall apart.

Organizational politics is founded in Aristotle’s idea “that diversity of interests gives rise to the ‘wheeling and dealing’, negotiation, and other processes of coalition building and mutual influence that shape so much of organizational life.”

“Organizational politics arise when people think differently and want to act differently. This diversity creates a tension that must be resolved through political means…there are many ways in which this can be done: aristocratically (‘We’ll do it this way’); bureaucratically (‘We’re supposed to do it this way”), technocratically (‘It’s best to do it this way’), or democratically (‘How shall we do it?’). In each case the choice between alternative paths of action usually hinges on the power relations between the actors involved.”

Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when, and how.” Organizational power is derived from formal authority, control of scarce resources, control of information, use of structure, policies, and rules, and so on.

(Adapted from Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan)

Recognizing the importance of organizational politics—individual, group, and special interests, as well as the resulting conflict, and resolution through the levers of power is critical in User-centric Enterprise Architecture.

EA works within a diverse organization, takes competing interests and organizational conflicts, and turns it into common objectives and goals and the striving towards their achievement.

Enterprise architects work across organizational boundaries to synthesize business and technology to create interoperability, standardization, efficiencies, enterprise and common solutions, and integration.

Through the target architecture and transition plan, EA seeks to transform the organization from its intrinsic conflicts into a force with unity of purpose and mind to achieve ever greater accomplishments.