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Is Your Life Full of Clutter? Organize Your Life With Evernote!

The trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they’re organized for.

     — Laura Ingalls Wilder

My daughter, Emma, kills what seems like an entire forest each year writing things down to try and keep herself organized for school. Her desk is littered with papers, notes,  index cards, lists, and reminders that she is constantly misplacing.

Her problem is similar to that of many adults I know, who have trouble organizing themselves at work or at home.

Spending twenty minutes trying to find that note that you’re Pretty Sure Was Really Important by hand is frustrating to say the least.  Fortunately, a host of technology options are available to stay organized and assist with all of the consolidating, categorizing, and arranging that we just do not have time to do.

One of the best and most user-friendly programs that I have found is Evernote.

Continue reading Is Your Life Full of Clutter? Organize Your Life With Evernote!

Find Your Sense of Urgency

How to Find Your Sense of Urgency!

“Real urgency … is an emotion. It’s a gut-level determination to get up every day, every single day, and to do something, no matter how small, to push along your capacity to grab the big opportunities or to avoid the big hazards.”  — John Kotter, Change Management Expert

This quote, from Kotter’s book A Sense of Urgency, helps to explain the importance of urgency in the workplace.   Urgency is characterized by a tangible ambition, rather than a feeling about a task you may or may not accomplish someday.Sense of Urgency

Most consultants understand the meaning of urgency when they start a project because their compensation as well as their reputation depend on being able to deliver faster and more efficiently than in-house resources (in other words, the company’s own employees).

But just knowing the definition of urgency doesn’t explain how to achieve it.

Continue reading How to Find Your Sense of Urgency!

Leaping Into the Future

Imagine that you were put in charge of a company with 55,000 employees and $750 mil in net revenues. The company has a long history of being successful, but you know that the industry is changing rapidly and the competition is growing faster than you. How do you implement revolutionary changes in your business model without tearing the company apart?

In 2005, this was the mission given to Vineet Nayar as the new CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services firm based in Noida, India. He pioneered a unique management culture that he calls Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) that is detailed in an article in the Harvard Business Review (June 2010).

Mirror Mirror Process

Vineet created a methodology for the company to analyze itself from the inside out. He codified the process and decided to call it Mirror Mirror. He had held up a mirror to the company in a new way, forcing people to see the reality of their situation.

Vineet illustrated the movement towards their goal using two points. Point A was the company’s current situation, which Vineet believed required significant structural changes. Point B was where they should land. Finding the exact location of Point B required talking to customers in order to discover where they perceived the company’s value zone to be. Was it their products, services, technologies or employees?

Employee responses to the message could be divided into three groups: 1) Those that sensed no danger and could see only their successful track record, the booming IT services market, and past successes. 2) Those that had no opinion; they wanted to wait and see. 3) Those that believed that the situation was dire and HCL should have changed a long time ago.

Turn the traditional pyramid structure on its head so that senior management- the heads of enabling functions such as human resources and finance and even the CEO- could become accountable to employees.

Collaboratively Develop a Strategy

A series of company-wide meetings were then scheduled in order to facilitate questions, conversation, and discussion. Vineet believes that employee caveats and concerns must be addressed. These are often expressed with sentences that start with “Yes, but..:” These objections are at the very heart of collaboration. If you don’t respond to them, Vineet cautioned, you’ll never get the people who have questions or doubts to play with the team.

The goal of these meetings wasn’t for Vineet to provide answers, offer justifications, or make new suggestions; He wanted alignment to emerge on its own.

Droplets for Change

Transformation requires action, not just words, but Vineet doesn’t believe in large-scale technology initiatives or massive reorganizations. So he decided to use small-scale catalysts, referred to as blue ocean droplets (BODs). This is a phrase he borrowed from the ideas in W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy. He used four BODs at HCL:

1. Sharing financial data extensively, within and across groups. enables employee teams to compare their performance to that of others. goal was to help people better see where we stood and to increase trust by greatly increasing transparency.
2. Online Suggestion Box – allows anyone in the organization to lodge a complaint or make a suggestion. a manager has to respond to every ticket, and the employee who opened the ticket determines whether its resolution is satisfactory. Not only does the system help resolve issues, but it effectively puts managers in the service of frontline employees.
3. The comprehensive 360-degree – I posted the results of my 360-degree appraisal on the intranet for all the company to see. Most managers followed suit. If they didn’t,suggested they had something to hide.
4. Planning via YouTube – managers to make video recordings summarizing their plans and post them on an online portal, where other managers could review them, share feedback, and discuss changes. This made a difference in how managers formulated and communicated ideas. Consequently, plans became more specific and executable.

The approach taken by Vineet relies on convincing employees and bringing them onboard using consensus building and transparency. Research supports his approach and has shown that “successful organizational adaption is increasingly reliant on generating employee support and enthusiasm for proposed changes rather than merely overcoming resistance.” (Academy of Management Review: Rethinking Resistance and Recognizing Ambivalence by Sandy Piderit)

Take the Leap

According to Vineet, many CEOs today are standing on a virtual ledge, unaware or unwilling to admit that their building is on fire. Some are banging at windows, trying to summon help. Others have frozen in place. Only a few are thinking about boldly moving toward the edge and taking that leap out into the unknown.

Vineet Nayar is the CEO of HCl Technologies and the author of Employees First. Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down (Harvard Business Press 2010).

How Not to Get Fired

“If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”
— Vince Lombardi quotes (American Football Coach, 1913-1970)

What if you were told that based on your job performance on a single day, a decision was being made on whether or not you should stay in your present job?

And what if you were found out that today was that day? What would you do differently? How much harder would you work? Would you finally get around to writing up a few of the new ideas you’ve been sitting on? Would you try to get some face time with your manager to let her know how hard you’ve been working?

While this is only a hypothetical scenario, I’ve found that it can be an excellent tool for focusing your mind and helping you to get back your sense of urgency.

It’s easy to become complacent at work, with your efficiency slowly degrading over time, especially if you’ve been at the same company and in the same position for a number of years. Not to mention all of the everyday distractions, like the Internet, water cooler discussions and outside errands, which steal your time away from productive tasks.

Try this. Every couple weeks or so, take a step back and think to yourself, “what can I do today so that I don’t get fired? If you take this concept seriously, all of your thoughts will coalesce around your most important activities and you will naturally avoid diversions.

This is not something you should be doing every day. The stress alone could probably kill you. But as a regular gut check, it can work wonders for your career.

Save the Planet: Start a Work Diary

“Time is the wisest counselor of all.”
–Pericles, Greek statesman (c. 495 – 429 BC)

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
— Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (c. 1952 – 2001)

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to with saving the planet.  I just needed a catchy title.  But there are some great time management tips in here, so please read on…

One advantage of being a consultant is that you always have to keep track of how you’re spending your time.  Now, that might not necessarily seem to be a positive aspect of consulting life, but I’m going to make the case to you that it is.

Ask yourself the following questions.  What did you accomplish today at work?  How about during the past week?  Month?  Year?  I’ll bet you would have to sit down and seriously think about this.  Even then, you would probably miss a fair amount due to the sheer volume of different activities at most companies (that is, unless you work on an assembly line).

Knowing your accomplishments is important when annual review time comes around.  Managers can’t keep track of what all of their direct reports have done over a twelve month period.  If you don’t have the details then your salary increase could hinge on what your manager can remember from the past few months.

Keeping a work diary (activity record, time log, or whatever you want to call it) is easy to begin, but requires increasing amounts of discipline to maintain, depending on how often you want to update it.  I would recommend a minimum of monthly updates for the long term, but weekly is better since you have less information to forget.

Besides noting your accomplishments for the week, you should also include issues that came up that you couldn’t resolve and your plans for next week.  Link everything according which of  your annual goals to which they best relate.  Reviewing this over time will provide great perspective on your progress towards meeting your goals.

A time log is just one tool to help you to Think Like a Consultant.  Try it for a few months and share your results with us.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Non-Compete Agreements

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be [your] only sustainable competitive advantage.”

— Arie de Geus, Author, “The Living Company”

If you’re working for any company bigger than the local flower shop, you’ve most likely had to sign Non-Compete Agreement before starting a project. While these types of contracts are a form of insurance for an employer/client, they can be potential cement shoes for you if you’re not careful.

A Non-Compete Agreements can be a standalone document or combined with a Non-Disclosure or a General Consulting Services Contract. No matter how it’s packaged, you should remember the most important rule of contracts:

ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE CONTRACT BEFORE SIGNING.

It’s too late to complain about a contract AFTER you’ve signed it. Lawyers get paid to write contracts that are to their client’s advantage, not yours. Make sure you read and understand everything in the contract BEFORE you sign it.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you should always remember the second most important rule of contracts:

ALWAYS TRY TO NEGOTIATE THE CONTRACT TERMS BEFORE SIGNING.

A contract is always open for negotiation. No matter how big the potential client is or how many lawyers they have on staff or how many employees/consultants have signed it verbatim before you. I’ll talk a little about counter-offers here, but I promise to write more about how to negotiate contracts terms in future posts.

Most non-compete agreements have three main sections:

  • Types of work covered – programming, business analysis, product strategy, etc.
  • Timeframe – in months or years from the end of the project
  • Don’t Steal Our Customers – defines who you’re not allowed to work for

Now I’ll discuss each section and tell you what to watch out for.

Types of Work Covered

A standard contract may say that ANY work you do is covered. You should avoid agreeing to such generic terms since it would be very restrictive to your future endeavors. Counter-offer with only the specific types of work that you’re doing on this project.  The more specific, the better, since it will be less restrictive on your future projects.  For example, “software development in Business Objects XI v3.1 for reporting on manufacturing of ball bearings.”  This is the contractual equivalent of microsurgery since it wouldn’t have any implications for you after v3.2 came out.

Timeframe

A standard contract may have a timeframe as long as two years. There are very few situations where this makes sense, such as where you have access to information about future product plans or trade secrets. However, you can counter that the Non-Disclosure Agreement (which always is included) should keep this information from being transmitted or used in any way by you. Counter-offer with a six month time period, which is much more reasonable.

Who You’re Not Allowed to Work For

Agreeing to the standard language in this section could be a DISASTER for your future work prospects. This is because it is often so broadly worded that you could be violating the agreement if you took almost any job in the same industry.

For example, they might say something like this:

“CONSULTANT agrees not to solicit, work for or engage for employment with any customers of OUR COMPANY, which shall include customers for whom OUR COMPANY performed services at any time before or during the term of this agreement and potential customers in any state of bid and/or negotiations with OUR COMPANY.”

If you’re talking to a Fortune 500 company, then ‘all current and former customers’ probably covers a lot of territory. But it’s the “potential customers” part that is the most dangerous since it means you probably couldn’t work for anybody, anywhere in your industry until the agreement expires.

Never, ever sign an agreement with this kind of restriction unless you’re desperate for work or your father-in-law owns the company.