Category Archives: Professional

Keeping DS Technology Relevant

On 10/8 I had the pleasure of speaking at the first Fragmob Technology Convention for Direct Selling companies.  Fun event with great information and networking in beautiful San Diego.  A couple of very kind folks have asked for my slides, so here they are!

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Information Technology….According to Kris

Philosophy

  • Technology is not there for IT’s sake….it’s there to support the business
  • In any IT decision, provide 3 options and the cost/benefit of each.  Let the business decide
  • High quality customer service is MANDATORY from IT at all times
  • Use the right tool for the right job.  ALWAYS.
  • Making a mistake is better than not making a decision
  • In making a mistake, fix it, move on and don’t do it again
  • It’s okay to change your mind.  Revisit and re-assess often
  • Have a strategy
  • Always have a plan….short term, long term and always, ALWAYS have a plan B!
  • Study your user community; how much do they know, how do they work, how do they learn, how do they communicate
  • Like it or not, you’re in sales
  • Roll up your sleeves and get dirty when necessary
  • Wear a lot of hats
  • IT requires more creativity than you think
  • The devil is in the details

People

  • Put 100% trust in your staff and  hire very carefully
  • You can teach people technology, but you can’t teach them to have a good attitude and work ethic (well at least I can’t)
  • Require and cultivate a “right hand man” or a trusted “go to” person from your team.  This person can do everything you can do (in most cases better)
  • Multiple brains are always better than a  single brain
  • If there is a mistake made, it’s my responsibility, if there’s a job well done, it was the team
  • Put a good organizational structure in place where everyone has a backup and everyone has a growth path
  • Believe in a matrix organization….everyone is cross trained and everyone has a back-up (DON’T use matrix style as an excuse for a bad organizational structure)
  • Problem solving is a key skill in the IT department and the organization.  It’s IT’s job to teach these skills to the organization
  • Don’t expect anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do
  • Sometimes qualified expertise will get paid more than you do.  Deal with it.
  • IT people work 24×7.  Deal with that too.

Environment

  • It’s nice to have the biggest and best technology, but it’s not a requirement to be successful
  • Cost IS an object!
  • Pretty is nice….but functional is better
  • Buy vs. build is an analysis process that HAS to be done.  Assuming one or the other is wrong
  • Outsourcing is a viable strategy and needs to be applied wherever possible and appropriate
  • Vendor management is critical.  Create partnerships, not vendor/supplier relationships
  • Negotiate hard but do not squeeze every last dime out of deal.  Both sides have to have benefit from the relationship
  • Centralize IT management and systems control (can you say “control freak”?)
  • Don’t go anywhere without a white board (or two)
  • Establish and follow hardware and software standards
  • Have easy to follow request procedures for your users
  • IT is responsible for anything with a power cord
  • Use AUTOMATION wherever possible and reasonable
  • In a vendor relationship, the system may belong to the vendor but the data always (ALWAYS) belongs to the customer

Communications

  • Over communicate with your clients and user community
  • Study your users and communicate the way they want you to
  • Training and teaching people how to help themselves is a value in any organization (particularly when it comes to IT)
  • Companies require collaborative tools that allow them to work from wherever they are
  • Be accessible and provide escalations for technical issues

Data

  • ALL companies should have a master data warehouse or data repository.  You can’t run a business without it.  This is a HUGE priority!
  • Data should be EASILY accessible by all groups and divisions within an organization…not just IT
  • Data should be protected with all the appropriate business rules, security and strategies
  • Data grows with the organization….data management can start small but there must be a strategy in place to handle it as it grows
  • Robust Integration and data management is CRITICAL.  Dedicated resources need to be assigned to manage both.
  • STRONGLY believe in data warehousing, business intelligence and/or decision support

Technology

  • I believe Microsoft is a successful standard for business software
  • Open source is appropriate for some applications, use the right tool for the job
  • Systems integrations, systems auditing and reconciliation are key priorities in any transaction oriented business
  • Technology should be a corresponding size and scale for the business size and scale
  • Have a collaboration server and central document library with check in and check out
  • Always get the maintenance agreement
  • Always read the book
  • Someone has solved the same problem you have already.  Don’t recreate the wheel
  • Keep up

Policy and Procedures

  • Put IT Governance in place.  Make it efficient.  Make it understandable
  • I believe in correctly licensing all software
  • Security should be appropriate to the organization and not overwhelming
  • Contracts are there for a reason
  • Stay up to date with regulatory compliance

What’s wrong with my technology team… and how did they get this way??

I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker on the Women’s Power Circle call last night.  (Thank you Michele!)

There are so many really good topics of conversation for the use of technology in a direct selling business, but I chose to talk about how to improve communications with your internal technology team or with your vendor.   I tried to put a good business spin on the subject so no one glazed over with too much “geek speak”.  Hope I hit the mark.

Thanks for the great reception ladies!

Here is the presentation….

(The Women’s Power Circle is a networking group of women executives in the Direct Selling industry.  Leveraging their combined experience, they work together to build stronger and more successful companies.  Once a month they have a guest speaker on various topics of current or critical interest for the industry.  (If you would like to join, please email Michele McDonough at mmcdon4946@aol.com or request membership on Facebook.)

Virtual Training….A Modern Day “Must Have”

Here’s a brief article I wrote on training platforms for my friends at Direct Selling Mastery Group.  Check them out at http://www.directsellingmasterygroup.com.   (Unfortunately I was limited to 250 words.  As most of you know, that’s a near impossibility for me.  May be unfortunate for me, but the better for YOU!)

Virtual Training…A Modern Day “Must Have”

You wouldn’t treat a seasoned veteran consultant the same way you would a new recruit and vice-versa, right?  Strategic technology is a great way to meet the needs of the field at every major milestone in their development and for enhancing the growth of each individual team member.  The right technology recognizes and adapts to the consultant based on their longevity, activity level, training level and even information consumption rate.

A successful training delivery platform supports recruiting, retention and leader development through each stage in a consultant’s life cycle   It uses a more modern and consistent approach, replacing systems that often consist of disconnected emails, collections of PDFs and piecemeal videos.  The right training technology allows for the use of your content but delivered sequentially, successively and in a multi-media manner best suited to the user’s style.  Interactive assessments and accountability trackers instantly reward progress.   Tying results to an incentive or recognition program to enhance visibility and encourage participants via social media has big impact.

When you put a new consultant into a training system immediately, they not only learn the product, the selling system and the business opportunity but they learn that your company cares enough to provide the tools necessary to be successful.  They are much more connected, confident and likely to have earlier personal and economic success which naturally leads to obtaining that next level in the consultant life cycle.

Direct Selling Mastery Group
http://www.directsellingmasterygroup.com

Please take a quick survey and let me know how you are using training in your organization.  I’ll post the results here in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks!


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.

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!

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.