Sunday 11 December 2005

Don't ask that question

Managerial Integrity is tops
The last week had me in two interviews prospecting for permanent employment once again.
However, with some hindsight, I realize that I have gain knowledge about a lot of things in terms of experience and lessons but may have failed in the application of those ideas to subsequent circumstances.
In the last fourteen years of employment in Europe 8 have been permanent contracts which exuded promise at the onset and ended in disappointment at the conclusion.
Having participated in an employee satisfaction which was part of a dissertation project of a fellow graduate student on an MBA degree, it was interesting to note the options that mattered to me.
In the end, it transpired that the one core reason why I left those jobs boiled down to the simple lack of integrity of my managers.
Untruthfulness, concealment, cajoling, threatening, blatant lying, dishonest dealing and dirty politicking were some of the traits of the managers who in their minds thought they were being good managers.
They have lead many of a feeble disposition to mental and health problems without any consideration that lives and livelihoods might be at stake.
In one case, it was about a manager who substituted himself for my training place, another tried to persuade of opportunities he could not offer to maintain interest and loyalty, even one had mastered the art of lying such that one was embarrassed for oneself and him too.
Potential over abilities
Anyway, I have had one manager who made an amazing difference to the work-life of his team.
Whilst he was well aware of everyone’s capability he did well to exploit potential, placing challenges in ways that not only developed the individual but gelled the team.
Alas! At times management is perhaps more congenital than contagious, who knows, some people might really strive to manage their team than herd them in a bull run.
Two interviews cross purposes
The first interview was conducted with such candour and honesty, they had a lot to offer those who sought or had little and could not offer much to self-starters who have done that work of really charting out their careers.
That could easily be a foible, I learnt with some discouragement.
The other interview ended on the note of being asked to commit to employment when there were clear indication of when the process would be completed or if it would be successful.
Biting my lips with restraint that failed woefully one could only remonstrate at what was seemingly bullying or a basic lack of decent interviewing skill. In fact, it was like interviewing a doctor from the perspective of the hospital cleaner.
10 years after the 5 year question
Where I however failed to carry over a lesson from times past was with the question of what I saw myself doing in 5 years time.
It is probably one of the worst questions to ask anyone at interview, but I am learning and still learning of how to deal with it.
This is the new perspective – layout what you see yourself doing in 5 years in the context of that job and organisation.
Then offer to ask the same question – Does the organization have the kind of career development that would view what I have said as achievable in less than that time and offer even more challenging opportunities that I have not yet considered or thought of?
Basically, this exerts the same level of soul-searching in the person, the organisation and that person’s relationship in that organisation.
The talk on interviews has only just begun…

Thursday 29 September 2005

Of Chief Insolence Officers

Before we proceed
Let me conclude before I start, these are the lessons from my story.
When you have resigned, strive to maintain your professional integrity but not at the expense of your well-being.
No matter who is your mentor, do not become a clone just in case you also clone the terrible traits.
You can be a good manager without having to subsume your integrity for the purpose of fulfilling your role, honest definitely garners more respect.
You have every right to be different and act differently but beware of the universe of stupidity bordering on the utterly absurd from which you will never recover once you have arrived.
Honestly aspiring to great things is noble, pretending to be great when you are not is not an aspiration.
Learn from history and move on to make a productive future.
Always seek the light of knowledge in all your circumstances, knowing where you are at is the most important part of knowing where you are going.
Just move on when you are done
You might be well acquainted with the saga of my career progress in the summer months of last year where one encountered the unusual phenomenon of the resigning party being on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
It transpired that on learning that my then boss (Mr Tragedian) had nothing to offer but more of the same, the only option left to me was to seek more productive prospects for my career.
This was coupled with the complete lack of support for my decision to undertake a post-graduate programme in Information Technology.
One has moved on, though it is with amusement and incredulity that Mr Tragedian lack of foresight has left my role unfilled and that function in complete disarray within that organisation.
As it goes, the systems one used are still quarantined in the concern that information contained therein might still be relevant; the same systems still hold a pride of place even after an office move.
Door signs of hopeful excess
One notes with interest the fact that the department one worked was named CIO where the O inferred Office and not Officer. Mr Tragedian was beaming when an old colleague from another placement visited and could have thought the sign on the door to his office meant Mr Tragedian was the CIO.
Mr Tragedian was Chief indeed and obviously some kind of Officer in the organisation; but spare me the Information part.
Indolent, Insolent, Idiot, Irresponsible, Irreverent, Irritable, Indiscrete and Insulting would read better for the "I" part. He was most of that to many but that trait was literally Invisible to his bosses or he had something on them such that he had it all sewn up. The mind boggles.
Situations vacant filled from without
Most recently, the CIO retired, fine lady she was, considering anytime we met in the elevators we talked about hats, being a wearer of hats myself.
There is something about the sophistication of ladies in executive positions that sets them apart from ladies who are not in the fast track. [Just an observation, corroborated by a few.]
The way things were last year, there was the fear that the CIO would be replaced by Mr Tragedian who somehow exuded the schizophrenic ability of being able to smell like roses to his superiors and like dog-shit to those below him.
Mushrooms would be more content with their culture of farming than staff that had to report to him. [Mushroom farming is a euphemism indicating the act of keeping ones staff uninformed, de-motivated, treating them dishonestly, disrespectfully and with disdain - expressed as "keep them in the dark and feed them shit" - just how mushrooms are cultivated.]
As good fortune would have it, someone else was brought in to fill that post and rightly so. Mr Tragedian had so clogged up every progressive function that helped the enterprise that the attrition rate could beat world records. His promotion would have just promoted the range of his damaging influence.
Protégés of shame
Even more word comes out of the grapevine of how protégés of Mr Tragedian who have mastered the art of management by utter insolence have been read the Riot-Act by the new CIO.
The whole culture of terminological inexactitudes [lies] to embellish untenable situations [failures] as problems created by others have been busted; big time.
Those managers now live in the same terror that they have to-date unleashed on the others they manage. One cannot complain; what goes around comes around - that is good enough for anyone.
It is rumoured that Mr Tragedian probably has the fattest complaint file in the toothless and ineffective HR department that seems to be so efficient in handling holiday requests but not resolve weightier matters of employee conflict.
It is even a greater shame that one of the managers who had a good case on the Mr Tragedian's incompetence did not have the bottle to pursue it to a conclusion; he is now on his way out. Well, a manager without balls will not fit in any ball game. Anyway, lessons might be learnt from this situation.
Ridicule beyond expression
Mr Tragedian once had as part of his quite generous remuneration a well-appointed Mercedes Benz car befitting of his status in the company. He then negotiated a settlement in that allowed him acquired a mobile home truck which has replaced his car.
That truck is now his working vehicle that it elicited the most unkind of comments from the new CIO to ensure that the truck is parked not only appropriately but out-of-sight.
The joke in town however is the warning parents should give their kids when it ends up in a caravan park - whilst some may say "Don't play with that man", the better command is "Don't even as much as look at that man and run like hell if he as much as steps in your direction screaming at the top of your lungs"
As one just has an indifferent view of the whole matter, ones unconcerned distraction is diverted by the question - How ridiculous can one get? With Mr Tragedian, he has only just begun.

Monday 28 February 2005

Presence without essence - Internet

Snail mail, no call

I just received mail in the post from a renowned retail and catalogue services concern in the Netherlands with an Internet presence [1]. The contents suggested that I call to arrange when I would be available to receive my order.

Such communication should not be strange; it does have an element of customer service which until quite recently was not to be expected in the Netherlands.

It can only mean that organisations are implicitly working on some other aspect of their business model and fabric that allows for their employees in the customer-facing departments to feel a little more involved as representatives of their organisation and a very interesting touch of shared responsibilities.

However, this mail came about when I was shopping around for some exercise equipment, this time, an exercise bicycle having already acquired the Total Gym XL and the Ab Burner which is usually advertised as the Ab King Pro.

The history of my desires for a perfect body over the laid-back approach of easy-living without the complications and vain-glorious hedonism is not too well documented, but work is apace at getting fitter and looking better. Suffice it to say, the gym on the second floor of my apartment block has been visited thrice, however, not in any attempt to break any sweat, even though aerobics presents an interesting spectacle.

Left in the pre-history of e-Commerce

The issue on view here is the number of companies that have an Internet presence but have not fully inculcated the essence of being on the Internet, having a web present and offering opportunities to transact business with them.

The first observation was months ago when having observed what the Ab King Pro does for working on the abdominal muscles on one of those ubiquitous and at times utterly loathsome shopping channels [2], I went to their web site and placed an order.

Having been an Internet user since 1994, I have been rather confident of Internet transactions since 1996 when I could book flights on the British Midland site then called - it was awfully nice to be able to eliminate completely the middleman and enjoy the convenience of seeing all the options and making your own choices to your particular convenience. The foray into e-commerce in its infancy encouraged my subsequent activities of conveniently preferring the Internet ordering system to the calling the customer service or sales desk.

I had inadvertently mistyped my credit card details, which eventually turned out to be convenient, because having placed the order, it offered no record of the transaction on screen or by email, even though that transaction had successfully registered an email message to their sales department. Basically, on the tip-off of a friend the gym kit was obtained for about a quarter of the price at a retail outlet [3] having done the requisite research on the Internet.

Premium call deterrent

In fact, the charges for calling the premium rate number are outrageous; where the possibility of keeping you connected for over 30 minutes is likely, with 20 of those minutes being on a waiting queue because all sales people are engaged. When you finally get connected to the "friendly" sales person, just hope that you can both agree on a language for your dialogue and that what you are ordering is what is being offered. Once before after waiting over two and a half hours, I was put back in the queue because he spoke Dutch, I spoke English - How is that for communication breakdown?

Unreasonable form options

Anyway, I made this order on the company's web site, only to find out that there was no means of payment, rather someone was going to call me to arrange delivery. There was a restriction of only allowing fixed line phone numbers rather than mobile numbers which offer a sense of contactable ubiquity. Eventually, a letter arrived rather than the call a good seven working days after.

What is most irksome about this is I now take the cost of the phone call they were supposed to make and probably for all their Internet presence; I would have to pay at the doorstep when the goods are delivered. In arranging a window for delivery which at times is based of a 4-hour morning or afternoon, I am prepared to be surprised if they offer evening deliveries at no additional cost.

Aspiring but despairing

The most amusing of these Internet presences without essence firms was a personal computer firm; it took the best part of 2 weeks to adequately shop around for a laptop. What was quite striking about it was the fact that it was nigh on impossible to walk out of over 8 PC shops with a ready-built computer, everything required a waiting period of days in some instances.

I then decided on the convenience of Internet-shopping for a laptop and did get one of the best specifications I could find. As I placed the order I suddenly realised the order had been confirmed without a means of payment. Then I called the firm only to be told I could pay at the door. That was plainly and utterly inconvenient for the risks and circumstances.

With much persuasion we agreed on making a bank transfer, and then the parcel arrived through the regular parcel delivery service. Having gotten the impression that a company courier would deliver the laptop and collect the payment at the doorstep, they used the regular post.

Ideas should fit in your strategy

In conclusion, it is evident that those who have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon, did so without securing a think-through of what they intend to achieve by having a web presence. The concept of basic web presence is now Internet pre-history, the Ice Age of thawing of innovation just before the dawn of the DotComs.

If a company is interested in engaging customers in an interactive choice-driven environment that allows them to make quality decisions on products of interest, then they should complete the process by offering the full experience of convincingly ordering, knowingly paying and confidently expecting service of those orders or requests.

Just being a supermarket style trolley which never gets to the check-out till is no fun to either the buyer or the seller. The start-up of an e-commerce business could incur large initial costs, but once the audience and marketplace is established, it is still no operation for the faint hearted.


[1] Wehkamp [2] Telsell [3] Perry Sport [4] Computerland 

Wednesday 23 February 2005

A full circle of consequence

To the present
I have been ruminating about how to tie up the loose ends that made the year 2004 such an eventful, turbulent, interesting and ground-breaking year.
If you have been a follower of my blogs, the year started on both a cynical and anxious note.
Cynical by reason of the fact my manager exhibited every trait of management except one that included responsibility, integrity and leadership, the event are quite vividly played through the months starting from May to when I finally left the employ of that company at the end of July.
Anxious as a result of what I read out of Tom Peter's book Re-Imagine! [1]. Getting close to 40 and after working 15 years in all manner of Information Technology roles was I up for the COBOL graveyard and ready for a new lease of innovative influence?
The real question being; how do I avoid the former and attain the latter?
My life at work had become a sordid tale exemplified in this major rant by Tom Peters.
My overall rant, in brief: People … in enterprise and government … are by large well intentioned. They’d like to get things done. To be of service to others. But they are thwarted … at every step of the way … by absurd organizational barriers … and by egos of petty tyrants (be they corporate middle managers, or army colonels, or school superintendents).[2]
Even you might begin to nod your head to that.
The youth are coming to make you irrelevant
The realities that present themselves signify that a younger generation is picking up these skills faster, better, snappier and cheaper and it appears that the only thing one can leverage is a wealth of experience and an appreciation of corporate politics in the face of unscrupulous middle management tyrants [2] who have done well to lose every ounce of humanity for the excellence in acquiring filthy lucre and demonic influence at whatever cost.
The first quarter represented a time of serious searching for inspiration especially after it appeared that my vision had been obscured and ambition seriously curtailed by the fact that the section that brought my manager fame was now a minuscule entity in his grand empire.
When I finally decided in the next game plan, my boss would by none of it, not only was he hostile he was consummately against the notion that I had the ability to pursue a Masters of Science degree in Information Technology and recommended vendor certifications the equivalent of doing evening courses in knitting and embroidery rather than dressing up supermodels for catwalks in Paris, Milan and New York. One is not given to hyperbole but this comes close.
From that point it was clear that following that path was a dead-end job.
Get out and look out
Having placed my marketing literature online prospecting for new opportunities, an agent who has handled my affairs came across my resume and was on the phone promising to get me a job, which he did in 4 weeks; however, it took 7 weeks of unnecessary pain, aggravation and outright malice to take up that position.
In that time I had begun my orientation with the Online University curriculum of the University of Liverpool undertaking a self-sponsored Masters in Science degree in Information Technology. [3]
I first heard about this course in November 2003 when a good friend of 17 years asked me to provide him a character reference as part of his assessment for eligibility for the course, it was a short note of just 3 paragraphs, which in some way may the Admissions Officer think that I was just as eligible for the course on the strength of my recommendation.
I am enjoying this
At that time, I was of the view that a Masters degree can only add prestige and nothing else, however, in the 6 months before I finally committed to undertaking the venture, I realised that a masters degree is really a stepping-stone to a research degree and work is apace on attaining that goal.
Having completed 2 modules and reflected on my ability to excel at a programming module at a later time rather than now, my next module includes an exciting read on e-Commerce, an opportunity for prose, philosophy and ideas such that one can get carried away.
A wonderful life
The year ended on a rather poignant note having been battered by a couple of drunk and drugged kids, but I got up and walked away to the poor service of replacement glasses that had an unfitting frame.
Meanwhile, one argues what all the fuss about security is when a crime committed in Amsterdam cannot be reported at just any police station in Amsterdam, especially the one outside the hospital where one received treatment.
But Hey! As long as there is life, there is life, there is love, there is faith, there is hope, there is a future so bright and a healthy dose of cynicism - perfection is accentuated by its flaws.
[3] University of Liverpool Lifelong Learning - Distance learning with Laureate Online Education