All posts by Krisss

Kris Shenk is an Information Technology professional specializing in business process outsourcing for the Direct Selling industry.

A Mentor…Me?

It might sound strange, but I fell into mentoring out of pure frustration.

I’m a technology geek.  I just get it.  I understand computer systems, programming, infrastructure, troubleshooting, the whole works.  (I can bet some of you are already glazing over at the thought, but stick with me here.)

I inherited an interesting mix of staffers on my first official information technology job.  There was a tattooed uncontrollable systems engineer, a very young girl (she looked 12) that worked the night shift in the call center, a helpdesk technician that spoke massively broken English and 600 beleaguered and belligerent users.

Despite it all, I was ecstatic.  This was my first team and I was determined to help drive the most fabulous technology into the organization, show off my genius to the (male dominated) executive management team  and make everyone’s life just a “push button” dream.

Uhhh….well.   Reality check please!  This was a fortune 50 company, and that my friends, comes with all the bureaucracy and political back stabbing, in-fighting and ladder climbing you could ever want.  Instead of the “push button” dream I had created in my head, we were more like the Three Stooges, running frantically from place to place, bumping into each other and falling over our own feet.

One of our first major failures was when our phone switch went down.  When a phone switch goes down for a large customer service call center, it’s a M-A-J-O-R event.  Our technology was old, we didn’t have a contract and we were inexperienced.

Armed with the enormous phone switch technical manual, and a six-pack of diet Pepsi, I grabbed the call center girl, Lisa, shoved her into the switch room and locked the door.  (I locked the door so the restless natives couldn’t get in, not so Lisa couldn’t get out!)  I looked at the terrified Lisa and she looked at me.  I said….”We can do this.”

We cracked open the book and went from page to page.  I showed her how to troubleshoot.  How to take the information you know and keep refining and adding on until we hit the issue.   In the comfort of that switch room, she engaged.  She was sharp and got it.  She kept asking questions, making me think and I asked her questions, making her think.  Together, we narrowed in, found the problem and solved it.

When we walked out of the switch room exhausted but pleased,  Lisa was standing tall.  That was the day I knew she had a spark and a burning intelligence that needed a comfortable environment in which to light the fire.  She needed confidence.

For 5 years, I worked with Lisa to help her with systems administration, troubleshooting, switch programming and even switch installation.  With every project, she gained confidence and was able to stand on her own a little more.   She went from shy self-proclaimed “worker bee”   to strategic project manager and engineer.  I watched her go from hiding in the back of a room for a meeting to sitting at the table next to the big boys and holding her own in technology discussions.

Admittedly, there were a few moments along the way that I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her screaming “You are SMART, You are CAPABLE, you can DO THIS!”  I would wonder why I would have to say it over and over again.  Even though she knew it on the inside, she needed to hear it out loud.

Lisa is a professional Telecommunications Engineer today.  She didn’t KNOW she could understand switch technology.  She never thought she could.  That’s where I was able to help.  I showed her something she never thought she could do.

I never specifically set out to mentor Lisa, but just fell into it.  In our male dominated environment I certainly never HAD a mentor so never really considered that it might be a good idea to BE one.  But since my experience with Lisa, I truly value helping provide the confidence that allows someone to step into their zone of genius a little faster than they may have done otherwise.

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Consultant Survivor

An old post….considered an “oldie, but a goodie!”   😉

So, you know how the show Survivor works??  Well… I got voted off the island last night.

The company that I was consulting for, in a bold but not unexpected move,  fired their CIO three weeks ago.  They immediately followed up with assessing and letting go of the myriad of high priced consultants one by one.  To set the stage appropriately, the now former CIO believed in a bizarre brand of “healthy competition” and hired multiple consulting firms to support (aka “fight over”)  the same projects.    There were at least 9 consulting and professional services organizations and no less than 20 consultants engaged in 3 projects for a $300m company.  That doesn’t include the 30 or so full time staffers.  (If anyone in the industry is interested, email me and I’ll tell you who all the firms were.  It’s good for a chuckle.)

In the first couple of days after the Chief made his unceremonious exit,  2 consultants from the LT tribe got cut and happily ran like hell to get on the next plane home.   The ones left behind were silently relieved and openly envious.  A few more days went by and DB and Associates got cut….a few more days after that and the TC tribe went home…..then a couple of the Q tribe just left on their own, knowing it was only a matter of time for them…. and then SS got tossed….. one by one….until only one consulting firm and two lowly consultants were left.

In the final hours….it was down to just John and I.   I pondered the irony.  I had previously begged and pleaded with my bosses to get me off the account and send me anywhere else….yes, even New Jersey.  But they wouldn’t budge.  There was much unnecessary laughter and comments about how I had to “take one for the team”.   (I never forgave them for that by the way.)   But now it was all different.  I wanted to be the last one standing triumphantly hoisting my 60 page IT Strategic Roadmap in the air.  I was relatively confident and knew I had the better skill set and experience for what they needed ….but alas, I also knew I was weak in the “relationship” department.  I tried to remember who I had pissed off last and how that might impact my chances.  Who did I need to take to lunch to atone?

In the final moments, John (brilliant in his own right) won out with better alliances and relationships.  I was overjoyed and pissed off in equal doses.  “Be careful what you wish for John!” was my final taunt as the elevator door closed on my last trip to that crazy building (which I swear was built to signal alien spaceships).

Despite it being a completely miserable 9 month experience, I guess I should be happy that I made it to the final tribal council.  Maybe I’ll get to do the talk-show circuit and then come back as the nemesis on the final challenge or as a judge in the next season.

Oh, the joys of consulting!

Paying the Bills (not.)

Paying the Bills (not.)

The Process

1.  Sat down to pay bills (ugh.)

2. Opened the computer and scanned email.

3. Saw some interesting Linkedin updates and clicked over to check.

4. Saw an interesting Twitter from an interesting person on Linkedin so clicked over to check that.

5. Twitter had an interesting reference to a cool iPad app… of course now have to go check that.

6. Open iPad and download the app. (Flipboard)

7. Read an article on Flipboard about the top ranked iPad apps for the week.  (All games…blah….)

8. Read an article on top ranked Android apps for the week.  (AHA!)

9. Find a new “must have” Android app.

10.  Use Google Goggles on the Android to take a picture of the bar code from the article on the iPad (yes…using Android to take a pic of the iPad screen.  Feels deliciously sacrilegious.)

11.  App immediately is found and directly downloaded to the Android (COOL!)

12. Now running the app (Antennas) on the phone to identify the location of all cell towers in my vicinity.

Summary: 

That was the COOLEST PROCESS EVER!!! 

But…..  was all that necessarily a good thing?  What did I really accomplish other than getting distracted from my original goal of paying the bills?   Will I ever get that wasted time back?  Will I actually pay my bills before I run out of time?  Does this speak to my inability to focus on a task at hand and the easy way I am compelled to participate in and to even relish any distraction?  I seriously have to consider whether this is a perfect example of what causes my younger staff members to be so constantly distracted and unable to accomplish even some of the simplest things.  And if that’s really the case, how do you harness the power of this multi-tasking, distracted behavior and use it for being productive and generally creating “good” in the world?  

So coming back around, it just begs the philosophical question…is this “technical gadgetry and social media” stuff, really such a good thing in our lives?  Does it improve productivity in any way?

Thinking long and hard.  My bills are on autopay.  So yes.  This is DEFINITELY THE COOLEST THING EVER!!  😉

A Practical Guide to Dealing with A “Crazy Person”

Let’s set the stage:  The “Crazy Person” (or CP) is a business owner.  He/She grew the business from nothing and built it into what it is today.  No denying it.  They did something majorly right to get them where they are.

You?  You are a lowly consultant or employee tasked with the job of improving the performance of the business in some particular way.  Well…wait a minute….You THINK you are tasked with improving the performance of the business in some particular way.  A CP might not see it that way.  …and thus….the problem begins.

There are some basic and common threads to CP’s behavior.  Here is a collection of them along with some recommendations.   I do not guarantee these suggestions will work or that they’re the right answers.  They are, fortunately or unfortunately, focused more along the lines of self-protection.  I also do not claim that these are healthy solutions either.  They just happen to have worked a little for me in a “path of least resistance” kind of way.

 These approaches are also targeted to a person who has managed to acquire a position on the “bad side” of a CP and aren’t recommended for anyone on the CP’s good side (like “PET 1” or “PET 2”).  They, (“PET 1” and “PET 2”) GENERALLY can do as they please.  No one is safe, however, and once you’re on the “bad side” you must realize that you’ll never come back.

 These recommendations deal with:

  1. The “Triple A”
  2. Living in the Weeds
  3. Line Level is the Right Level
  4. Herd Mentality
  5. Email is the enemy
  6. Battered Wives Syndrome

 

The “Triple A” Situation:  Audience, Arbitrary and the Argument

 The battleground is a meeting.  The comment or suggestion was a good one.  It might be yours or it might be someone else’s.  The conversation bursts into unproductive flames.   CP dives into a tirade that makes no sense, is random in nature and just won’t stop.

Why does this happen??  Simple:  He’s the smartest guy in the room and he must demonstrate it.  He’s built this company from scratch…not you.  When he has an audience, he has to say something shocking to get everyone’s attention.  He’s the Howard Stern of the corporate meeting.  He loves it when everyone roles their eyes and groans.    It’s a form of attention.  He will go on and on and will target you to make you seem small, insignificant and stupid. 

He also LOVES the art of argument….especially with that audience.  He will argue for arguments sake and not because he doesn’t like your idea.  He LOVES the heat of it all.  He just feels like arguing with someone and damn, if you just didn’t walk right into the trap.

What do you do?  For Pete’s Sake SHUT UP!!!!  Don’t engage when he is in this mood.  Don’t express your opinion.  Don’t comment.  Just put your head down.  Don’t make eye contact.  Let the tirade run its course. (This can take a long time….)  Then get the hell out of the room as fast as you can. 

If it’s your idea or a decision that was being presented, wait for another day and use the “Herd Mentality” approach outlined below.

And remember….24-48 hours from now what he was railing against in this meeting could be the greatest suggestion since sliced bread.

 

Living in the weeds…

A CP loves the details and tactical execution and is not so interested in the strategy.  Strategy didn’t get him where he is today so he doesn’t want some punk telling him he needs to have one now.  Don’t try to engage on this level.  By doing so, he ASSUMES that you have not done your homework on the tactical elements of the plan and he contents himself that you don’t know what you’re talking about as a result.

Discuss strategy with “PET 1”  and “PET 2”.  Lay out the plan with them and only expose the tactical details to CP.

If he wants to do something tactically that doesn’t make sense, let him.  It’s his company.  He doesn’t want to hear your opinion or listen to your expertise. If it’s important, let “PET 1” and “PET 2” figure out how to change his mind because you won’t.

 

Line Level is the Right Level

Don’t answer questions….even if you know the answer.  It’s a setup.  He is setting you up for an argument.  He thinks he knows what you are going to say and is already angry about it before you ever open your mouth.  No win situation. 

When you’re on the bad side of CP, he just simply won’t listen to you.  Doesn’t matter how brilliant you are…you have been dismissed.  Bring in the line staff.  He wants to hear from them and not you.

While exposing the line staff to a CP goes against everything I believe in, it’s what he wants and will keep him happy.  You have to figure out a way to position it with the staff so that they aren’t 1)  freaked out and 2) learn the associated bad behavior.  (Good luck with this part….its a tough go.)

Another variation on this theme is that he will go around you directly to the line staff himself.  Just let him.  Try not to let it bother you.  Don’t question him and just manage the staff perception as best you can.  Be prepared that he will find something in what they are doing that he doesn’t like, will assume it was your idea and will be angry about it or change it without telling you. 

 

Herd Mentality

Don’t ever present an idea or a thought that you haven’t gotten consensus from everyone on the executive team for.  Before presenting in a meeting, make sure everyone is on-board and backs you up.  Get their agreement to back you up.  If you get into a Triple A situation like above, rely on “PET 1” or “PET 2” to take over.  Get their commitment to doing so up front.  You’re always safer in a herd.  (Don’t forget however, that “PET 1” and “PET 2″will also protect themselves if it gets too hot….don’t assume they will have or keep your back all the way through.)  If it gets too hot, get out….regroup with the herd and come back at it another time.

 

Email is the enemy…and other communication concerns

 Do not EVER respond to a CP in email.  I don’t think I need to explain this one.  Face to face is the only way with him.  Let him write 6 page emails, but just don’t get sucked in to doing the same.

If possible, don’t take a CP’s cell phone calls.  Let him leave a message and then call “PET 1” or “PET 2” to find out what is really going on first.  Always know the situation before you walk into it. 

Set up regularly scheduled off-site meetings with a CP.  He likes this, particularly at a restaurant or Starbucks.  Let him spend the hour telling you what he wants you to work on.  Take notes and take action.  This might even need to happen two or three times a week to start out with. 

 

Battered Wives Syndrome

Do not under ANY circumstances allow a CP’s behavior to effect you personally.  It is easy to get sucked into feeling as stupid and worthless as he makes you feel.  It’s not reality.  This will have negative impact on every aspect of your life…work, home and health.  Have confidence in yourself, stay strong and do not ALLOW him to drag you down.

The Client Bill of Rights (Something Every Outsourcer Should Have)

As a client of a service bureau for most of my professional life, I was constantly tortured by my vendors with things that I think they (as a matter of course) take for granted.  As a vendor now, It’s time to articulate and repeatedly reinforce these things with my organization and emphasize the need to put common sense practices into place. 

Here are my top items:

1.      Just say NO to production environment updates:  No production updates, EVER, EVER, EVER without partner approval in advance.  No one is even allowed to “BREATHE” on the production environment……Not (EVER)….Say it with me…. E-V-E-R!!! 

  • No applications changes without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!
  • No database changes without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!
  • No changes to production reports without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!

2.      Provide regular status updates:  Partners are only going to bug you, call you or hunt you down if you don’t communicate (and they won’t be happy doing it either).  If they know what’s going on, they can fend off their angry users and will not have to bite our heads off later.  Status update means 5 bullet points in email….it does NOT mean ‘War and Peace’ on a special 50 page status form.

3.      Check the integrations:  It’s technology…. if you touch one thing, everything else breaks.  Make sure you are talking to all the other developers that code could impact.  Consider all the other touch points in the system as you code.

4.     Test it first:  Unit test and integration test before handing it over.  If it doesn’t successfully take a sales order or enrollment, put it in the database and it shows up on the internal and field facing reporting in all account classes…. DON’T SEND IT TO THE PARTNER FOR TESTING.

5.      It’s not done until there’s a report and a UI:  There isn’t a piece of code that will be written that doesn’t require or impact a report either for internal use or for the field.  Factor this into development every single time.

6.     Partners “heart” SQL:  When analyzing or auditting, send the partner raw SQL to show how it was done.  If we don’t have a report written, just send the SQL to the partner who can turn it into a report themselves.  Watch out for over-writing any existing reports.   

7.      We “heart” questions:  If you don’t know something or have a question about how to do something…. ASK!!!!  Don’t assume you know what the partner wants (that would be just too scary!!)

Mike. (As described by Kris.)

About me:

I control the TV/Stereo. Don’t even THINK about touching that remote….or that one…or that other one over there….or those 6 sitting on the coffee table. (I have made the entertainment system so complex that the mere mortal couldn’t figure it out if they tried….hehehehe!!!)

Oh yeah…I also control the kitchen….the garage…the patio and yes…the driveway too…

I do things in excess and don’t believe in moderation or limiting indulgences.

I love politics and anyone who can’t keep up with my political knowledge is a moron. That distinction allows me to talk down to you or to be as sarcastic as possible…. so beware.

I am a FABULOUS cook….particularly with chocolate souffle….so back off jack!

I can control people. They ALWAYS do what I want, when I want. They don’t always start out that way. If they don’t, I throw a tantrum and they give in.

I’m in love with my stupid dog. (Sometimes, I like him more than Kris….but not in THAT creepy PETA way….)

I do NOT enjoy the absurd….I just don’t think its funny…certainly not as funny as Kris finds it. Case and point. Stephen Colbert’s book title is “I Am America, and So Can You”. I don’t get it. Kris thinks it’s HILARIOUS and laughs whenever she see’s it.

I find traffic exceedingly annoying…Especially those people who talk on their cell phones while driving…(Of course…I do that too…but so what?)…and those people who put on their makeup while talking on the cell phone and driving…I’m convinced…somewhat like my brother-in-law Greg… that those people left their house with the specific intention of annoying me personally. (And yes…I drive, talk on the cell phone, change my CD’s and eat a big mac all at the same time…what’s your point??)

I find Costco somehow strangely compelling…

Kris thinks I am a total grouch and joy killer most of the time….but she also thinks I am HILARIOUS (when I want to be). And that I am CHARMING (when I want to be). And that I’m completely thoughtful and caring (when I want to be.) UGH. 

Who I’d like to meet:

Someone who’s been to as many concerts or has as much music as I do.

The power of outsourcing

Here is outsourcing at it’s finest. 

I have 10 Visio drawings to do for an executive presentation.  I hate doing Visio.  I don’t have time to do Visio.  I don’t WANT to do Visio.  So….go to the internet…look up Visio help….find a site called “Rent a Coder”.  (It’s essentially Ebay for programming services.)  I post my request for 10 Visio drawings and within an hour I have 10 people bidding on my job.  They are from around the world, offer ridiculously low rates and send fabulous samples of their work.

Hmmm….I think I’m going to post a job for someone to do my expense reports.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Kris-the-Lazy