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Microsoft Office kills productivity (part 1)

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment

The future of productivity

In addition to my day job (as the CISO of a large multinational manufacturer), I do a tone of pro-bono work with startups. My goal is to share my knowledge and expertise and hopefully help these crazy entrepreneurs start something that becomes massively successful.

Even though many of these startups are on the cutting edge of technology, most still rely on old productivity paradigms that have plagued us for the last 30 years.


Microsoft Office kills productivity

Reflect on your current productivity workflow. Take the time to list the tools you use most 

  • Write down why you use it
  • Write down what you expect that tool to deliver
  • Write down how that tool falls short of being the perfect tool
You'll very quickly realize that the tools you though were perfect may not actually be fit for purpose. 

One example I love sharing with people is the fact that Microsoft Office launched in 1983. Office was created during a very different time when users where transitioning from paper to computers. In order to make the transition as painless as possible, the Microsoft Office interface was designed in a very specific way to feel comfortable and familiar. 

When you open Microsoft Word, you are greeted with a "paper imitating" interface. As we think about Microsoft Office and the reason it is designed the way it is, I want you to think about your current workflow. How often do you print documents these days (on paper)? Most of our information is prepared, stored and transmitted digitally. So why then are you working with a tool that forces you to think about elements that may no longer be relevant like:

  • margins
  • line spacing
  • etc

Most modern companies prize efficiency and these antiquated elements are irrelevant and thinking about them is a waste of time. 

Another product I want to pick on (and pick on really bad) is Microsoft Powerpoint. The entire Microsoft Powerpoint paradigm is based on the concept of slides. Most employees in the workforce today haven't worked with physical slides or transparencies. So why then are we using "productivity" tools that perpetuate this antiquated presentation model? 

In order to become truly productive, we need to give up on these antiquated concepts of efficiency that are actually holding us back and making us less productive.

Anytime you are faced with choosing a tool, you need to take a step back and remember that the only important concept in modern productivity is powering the free-flow of ideas and sharing of those ideas. Anything else that slows down this simple 2 step model should be shunned. 

Most of us are knowledge workers and we are paid to come up with great ideas not do the work of a graphic artist and waste time on layouts (which we do badly anyway).

How are you going to get your work done in the most effective and efficient way?

Part 2 coming shortly...

Do honesty and integrity have place in today's workplace?

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Marilyn Peddle  used under creative commons license

Image by Marilyn Peddle used under creative commons license

Spend enough time working with board level executives and the question you will see the most often is "what defines a leader?" What are the qualities organizations should look for when choosing a leader or develop in their rising stars?

The simple answer is that a leader must:

  1. Be a visionary
  2. Have integrity, honesty and values in line with the company
  3. Have the ability to motivate employees even when times are though
  4. Be a change agent (and create a culture where constant change is rewarded)

Trust is job one

A leader must quickly and without any doubt be trusted by his/her people. Employees must truly believe that the leader is acting in the best interest of the company, of the team and of its members. 

Trust can only happen in an environment of integrity, honesty and shared values.

In values we trust

Anytime you take over a new team, you should quickly have a discussion with your team about your values. These are your personal values not some mumbo jumbo you read on the internet. Once you share your values, you need to act consistently using them. This act of being congruent with your declared values is the start of integrity and honesty.

It is by understanding your personal values that your employees will understand how you make decisions and why. It is also how your employees can themselves make decisions congruent with your directions and plans. 

It is easy for me to write about values but I have found it is another things for leaders to truly determine their actual values. It takes a lot of honest introspection. The main question is "what is most important to you about..." using this approach will help you to uncover your values. As yourself:

  1. What is most important to you about work ethics
  2. What is most important to you about employees
  3. What is most important to you about success
  4. etc

Think in terms of Key Goal Indicators. What is the desired outcome for each of these values and how do you measure them using SMART. For those hidden under a rock for the last 20 years, SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Don't just tell  your team, colleagues or boss that one of your values is team work. Explain what team work really means and how you will verify it. It could mean that you want people to non play "politics", not gossip, be inclusive of all team members, be honest, not backstab, etc.

The other aspect of the values discussion is explaining how it will impact the organization. How will your value of honesty impact the organization? If you are a manufacturing manager, maybe it means providing accurate production information to supply chain and finance so their predictions are more accurate thus leading to lower costs and better organizational decisions.

You should also explain how your values will be used to make decisions. If your employees know how you will react to different situations, they can often make the right decision before you even get involved. And when you do get involved, your decision shouldn't surprise anyone. 

You should explain how your values will be used to evaluate your employees. You've  talked about your values. You've explained your values and you've given clear understable examples pertinent in your work setting. Now explain how these values will be used to evaluate your employees at performance review time. Here you convey your expectations of the employees and it is a final validation that they understand your values. 

What about honesty and integrity?

I spent a good portion of this article talking about values when it wasn't even in the title of this article. Why? Because it is the criteria against which your integrity and honesty will be evaluated everyday. 

Don't believe me that Integrity, honesty and trust are important? Here's an interesting tidbit:

Ten years ago, we at DDI released a monograph, The Psychological Contract of Trust, on the
trust levels in the workplace for the 1990s. In the monograph, we reviewed how the psychological contract of trust that had existed for years during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s had been decimated by greed, short-term focus, global competition, and, at times, the unethical behavior of leaders; the 1980s brought a rampant “merger mania”; then there was the inflation and subsequent bursting of the Internet-fueled technology bubble over the course of the 1990s and into the new millennium.

As these phenomena unfolded, employee commitment, enthusiasm, and passion declined
precipitously. No longer did employees believe that their current employers represented long-term career options
— https://www.ddiworld.com/DDIWorld/media/white-papers/trustmonograph_mg_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf

DDI World defines the relationship between integrity and values as:

Integrity means adhering to a code of ethics or a set of values, and it is a vital aspect of every personal and professional endeavor. It means matching our actions with our beliefs across a variety of situations
— DDI World

There are literally hundreds of surveys available discussing the important of trust, integrity and honesty. Here are some stats to wet your palate:

  • 66% of highly engaged employees have no plans to leave their current employer, versus 12% of disengaged employees have no plans to leave their company
  • According to a survey conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in late 2007, 77% of Americans lack confidence in their leaders
  • According to Warwick Business School in the UK, outsourcing contracts that are managed based on trust rather than on stringent Service Level Agreements and penalties are more likely to lead to Trust Dividends for both parties—as much as 40% of the total value of a contract
  • A 2002 study by Watson Wyatt showed that total return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organizations
  • With regard to trust, Gallup’s research shows that 96% of engaged employees, but only 46% of disengaged employees, trust management. Without getting into a chicken or the egg discussion, clearly trust has an impact on employee engagement which has an impact on their on the job performance

Honesty & Integrity..... and of course values

I cannot overstate how important the content of this article is. The impact of leading with honesty and integrity against clearly defined values is huge to employees, customers and suppliers. It impacts every aspect of your business and will directly impact the long term viability of your company.

Replacing employees that quit because they don't trust you costs 2-3 times the annual salary of an employee. How would a client react if they were convinced you lead with honesty and integrity with everything you did? How likely are they to continue shopping around or nickle and diming you.

Amazon.ca is a good example of a company lead by honesty and integrity. In Canada, their pricing isn't always the most competitive but often times I shop there anyway because I know that if I experience any issues, I will be taken care of quickly and fairly. Trust, a novel concept.

 

Build an efficient self managing team

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Uitleg & tekst  used under creative commons license

Image by Uitleg & tekst used under creative commons license

Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.
— Mary Tyler Moore
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
— Yogi Berra
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
— Mahatma Gandhi

 

What do these 3 quotes mean? Thinks take practice and every new skill has a learning curve. You don't pick up the violin and instantly become a virtuoso. You don't throw a 3 point shot the very first time you pickup a basketball. 

Like a person developing new skills, a team needs to work on developing its own productivity, Too many managers or executives are upset when a newly formed team of highly skilled and motivated individuals isn't performing immediately at a high performance level. 

You should read a 2010 article I wrote called How to build a top performing team. Remember that a team is made up of people and people  need to figure out their societal role in order to become productive contributors. What is each persons job, what are the responsibilities (individual and shared). Who is the untitled spiritual team leader? 

As a manager you should let the team work through 3 stages of team development until they get to the performing level. But this doesn't mean you just wait on the sidelines and hope. As a leader, you can guide the process to speed up the blossoming of your group.

Storming

In the storming stage, teams learn how to resolve internal conflicts amongst themselves. This chaos control mechanism is a must if the team is to become a high performing team. Disagreements amongst group members should be encouraged (to prevent group think) but it should be done with mutual respect and for the benefit of the organization.

When you are brought into an existing team, these standards and conflict resolution agreements are already in place. The tribe elders will socialize you in the ways of the tribe. 

 

If the team leader doesn't initialize the creation of the tribes conflict resolution process then you may have to step in as an elder statesman (or woman) and gently guide the team towards developing one. 

Although you can digitally create this list and print it, I recommend it becomes a more information generally accepted set of principles that are allowed to live and evolve with the team. 

 

Spend time when creating the team to discuss the roles of each person, how people should interact, how people should treat each other and how the group will work through different opinions or conflicts.

Respect should be at the top of the list. Respecting someone means you allow them to fully express their opinions without fear of attack or reprimand. It means even if opinions are geometrically opposed, members of the team will always be civil and remember that (as a team) they are working towards a common goal.

There should be an agreement that if you disagree with an idea or proposal then you can only publicly state your position if you have a valid workable alternative to propose. Disagreement with someone just to disagree should be frowned upon. 

Nothing burns bridges faster than when someone takes credit for your work. If a colleagues shares an idea with you as a sounding board, he/she should be able to do it without fear that you will rush to take credit for it. Again, respect goes a long way.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Regardless of religious beliefs, the above quote is a powerful one that ensures everyone is moving in the right direction.

Define an arbiter of last resort. This is typically a role played by a senior leader and it is a process called upon only when all other avenues have been unsuccessful. 

Of course this is not an exhaustive list but some general ideas to get you started. 

The leader must step up

The leader must must must ensure these tribe principles are understood by everyone and followed. Controlled conflict can be healthy but like an uncontrolled explosion can get out of hand if not handled with care. 

As a team leader, your communication must be frank, open and fair. 

Down the river we go as a team

The core belief every member of the team must believe in is that the team either succeeds together or fails together. People should understand that this is not a way to advance their personal agendas.

If everyone in the team truly understands this mantra then your life just got a lot easier. If someone can't accept this then they should be replaced. I don't care how "good" they are at their job, if their attitude is not aligned with the tribe, they have to go. 

 

Reward as a team

Understand what your reward model will be and ensure it is team based and fair. If people are feel their personal performance will not impact their (or the teams) reward structure then you may encourage laziness. Explain how each team members work contributes to the teams success and thus results in everyone getting rewarded.

You just got laid off. Now what?

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Keoni Cabral  used under creative commons license

Image by Keoni Cabral used under creative commons license

In most companies, layoffs are seen as an "easy" way to cut costs. The process for the terminated employee and HR is anything but easy.  In this article I will be discussing what to do if you are laid off. 

The truth is that most employees that get laid off are caught off guard. Very few of them actually expected it and the immediate feeling most will experience is a feeling of losing control. As an employee that just got laid off, you feel powerless. 

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
— Epictetus

Your emotions are normal

As mentioned above, most terminated employees are flooded with an immediate sense of losing control. They feel weak and powerless. Every emotion you feel is normal and you should allow yourself to feel these emotions and work through them.

You may feel extremely upset. You may feel betrayed. You may feel wronged. All of these are perfectly normal reaction but you should control them when still at work. Remember that others may misinterpret your emotions and over-react. You don't want to burn any bridges. Remember that often times your manager or director may not have been the ones making the final termination decisions and they may be able to help you find another job. You may need their reference. 

Once the axe has come down, try to temporarily contain your emotions (while in the office). Try to stay calm, cool and collected. Collect personal email addresses from friends and colleagues. Collect your personal belonging and walk out. Everything you do will be closely scrutinized for taking that stappler may not be a good idea.

Many companies will make external consultants available to help employees cope with the grief of job loss. I strongly recommend you use these services if available to you. You will be working on some very strong and often new emotions. Everything you feel is ok but eventually you have to come to grip with them which is the only way to move on. 

Information is king

During the termination process, your HR rep will likely provide a wealth of important information. It is important to actively listen and write down any information not already provided in printed format. I'll say this again. Write down anything important not already provided in printed format. During times of shock, your memory will not be the most reliable tool.

What is the severance you are being given. How do you claim it? What is happening to your insurance (medical and life)? Will the company provide any assistance with your job search. As hard as it may be to sit still and listen, try. This is vitally important information you need.

It is also acceptable to tell the HR rep that you are too preoccupied right now and ask if you can call him/her at a later date to discuss this information. Just remember that some benefits have expiry dates so don't wait too long.

Having laid off employees in the past, the most common question people have is "How do I tell my significant other?" In some cases companies will help by providing grief counselors onsite. Other times they will make support services available via appointment at your convenience. 

It's all dependent on your attitude

You are allowed to be sad and feel sorry for yourself. You should allow yourself to grieve and move on. But you will need to move on if your life is to continue. Sadness shouldn't be allowed to turn into depression. 

There is a technique called reframing that most therapists will play with. It is a technique to change your perspective on the situation.

Imagine you are a young man or woman and you start dating this absolutely fantastic person. You believe this is the one. The perfect person to spend the rest of your life with. Then all of a sudden you wake up one morning to find out they are gone. You can sulk and drink yourself to death or you can can reframe the situation and say "Obviously this wasn't the perfect person for me. Now that he/she is gone, there is room for the right person to enter my life".

Try to see the positive in the situation. During a layoff, you are sad and concerned about how you will provide for your family. It is also an opportunity to take stock of your life, decide if you are on the right path and maybe make a course correction. See it as an opportunity to ensure you are heading in the right direction.

I know many tech employees that completely switched careers after being laid off. I still stay in touch with many of them and most are extremely overjoyed that they used this as an opportunity to pivot their careers and their lives.

Use your network

I have written about the importance of having a strong and healthy professional network. This is a good time to use it. Let everyone know you are looking for a  new opportunity. Be clear and concise on what type of opportunity you are looking for. Remember that a good percentage of jobs aren't publicly advertised and one of your contacts may be the key to unlocking that next amazing opportunity for you.

Tell friends and family you are looking. You never know where the next opportunity will come from.

Learn something new

As time passes, you may start to feel powerless and pessimistic again. Some people find new jobs immediately while others unfortunately struggle a little bit longer. The longer it takes the more likely you are to feel sorry for yourself. 

I recommend you use this time to build (or strengthen) your skillset. I have discovered that people who learn new skills stay positive and optimistic longer. These new skills may help you get a better (higher paying job). If the local economy if down because of massive layoffs, these new skills may make you more marketable than the others you are competing against.

Remember that you are not your job. Your value isn't measured in dollars or titles.

Being laid off isn't easy

Nothing I say will make being laid off easy. It may make things easier though. Ultimately you will need a strong network of supporters to help push you through this difficult time. Make sure you are surrounded by people that have unconditional love towards you and that will stand by you when you need them most.

  • Remember that your value is not defined by your job, your pay or your title.
  • Asking contacts for help isn't begging or a show of weakness. today someone helps you, tomorrow you help someone. It is the circle of life.
  • Be honest about your situation. Don't go out and buy that new car just to (temporarily feel better).
  • Trust that the universe has a plan for you, even if you don't see it right now. 

The era of title inflation is upon us

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  William Tun  used under Creative Commons License

Image by William Tun used under Creative Commons License

When creating a new position, my management team spends a lot of time thinking about the position, the responsibilities and expectations. We turn these thoughts into a clear and detailed job description and then at the very end tag it with an appropriate title.  I firmly believe, job titles should accurately reflect your position, role and responsibilities. 


Titles have become important for most professionals as they convey your position during your career. Stay with the same title too long and people may think your career stalled. Jump titles too quickly and it may seem like you are missing some important foundational experiences. 

I recently interacted with an organization that seemed to disregards common accepted standards for titles and gave everyone a title that seems more senior than they should be. In most organizations, the responsibility chain goes something like this: employee, team lead, manager, director, VP, SVP, EVP. Some organizations give out senior positional titles like VP (Vice President) for positions that would be considered manager level everywhere else. 


Can this be real? Actually it is. During an internal disagreement with a Goldman Sachs employee that quit, Lloyd Blankfein (CEO) wrote an OpEd (link) where he referred to the 12,000 VPs at Goldman Sachs. Keep in mind they have a total of 34,000 employees. They also have 2,400 Managing Directors. 


The company I met was in the banking and investment space. Goldman Sachs is in the banking and investment space. It seems this is common practice in that sphere of activity[ but it isn't limited to just this industry]  I spoke to some trusted HR experts and learned that in many companies (particularly in banking), these titles are related to seniority and not the actual work an employee is performing. Think of it like a title you are allowed to use on business cards to look “more important” when dealing with external parties (customers, suppliers, regulators, etc.)

In some cases these titles are used to draw in difficult to find talent and in rare cases as a means to compensate a candidate when pay or benefits may not be enough.

The age of job title inflation

Economic inflation is typically defined as “a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money.” This happens when governments print money making it more easily accessible without relying on a strengthening economy. Basically you cut more pieces of the same pie. 


We are living in the age of flattening org structures with the hope of making organizations more fair and efficient, yet employees still want to feel important (like they are progressing up the chain).  This is the environment where title wackiness is allowed and encouraged to happen. 

Tech is not immune to title inflation. Steve Jobs called himself “Chief know it all”. I meet people every week with titles like guru, evangelist, futurist and ninja. New top level domains have even been created to cater to peoples growing egos: .nina , .expert, .guru and many more.

This explosion of "useless" titles isn't limited to western companies and we see it in the developing world. Countries like India, where hierarchical standing carries a lot of weight, are also jumping on the bandwagon. With increasing demand and limited supply of qualified employees, companies are willing to “play ball” and give recruits that incredibly important sounding title that he/she can use to impress all of his friends and family. 

Years ago, you had a president and a very limited number of Vice-Presidents. Today you can find companies where 40% of the employees are VPs. We see all kinds of strange new age titles. Without picking on anyone, here are a few examples of titles you wouldn't have seen 5 years ago.

Names You Need to Know in 2011: Chief Listening Officer, Forbes

Names You Need to Know in 2011: Chief Listening Officer, Forbes

You read right. Kodak had a Chief Listening Officer. We all know what happened to Kodak. 

We are seeing Chief Twitter Officers, Chief customer advocate, Digital Overlord (website manager), chief chatter (call center manager), chief inspiration officer, etc. 

Do these titles matter?

New technologies sometimes justify the creation of a new C-level executive (think Chief Digital officer) but companies have become too liberal with new titles.

With economic inflation, the effect is that the new "free" money has a very short positive effect, but soon everything costs more. This increase in prices hurts everyone medium to long term. 

The same will happen with title inflation. At first you feel important. You are a VP in a prestigiously large and respected organization. You are better than your friends. Then everyone starts to get these kinds of wacky titles and the value drops to zero. The effect is even worse when the title was used to draw you into a position where the actual compensation may have been sub-par. 

Inflation, in all its forms, devalues everything it touches. 

What should we do?

On the hiring front, it is your job to perform a thorough due diligence on every candidate. Don't automatically favour a candidate with a senior sounding title and don't disqualify a candidate because the title sounds too junior. Remember that titles rarely represent the actual responsibilities, capabilities and level of many candidates. 

When creating titles for your jobs, be honest and logical. Don't use the title as a mechanism for non monetary compensation. Make sure the titles (for the jobs you are hiring for) are clear, descriptive and adequate.