Friday, November 23, 2012

Becoming an effortless leader

A wise person once told me that great leaders have great mentors or coaches.  I am currently on a journey with my Leadership coach to become an 'effortless leader'.  The though of what this might be sends tingles down my spine!  I can't imagine what this might mean.

My view of an effortless leader is dreaming of coming to work and things just 'happen' around me as I have lead my team so well, they know the goals they need to achieve, these align with the company and their own personal goals and beliefs.  We have trained them at the right time, given them the chance to both fail and succeed and created an environment where they are able to grow and prosper and feel safe to ask the unstructured questions.

My own personal journey with my Leadership coach is removing effortful barriers and taping into 'insights' and recognising as a leader, when we do our best thinking.  Mind power is an interesting thought in itself and the approach of trying to tap into a different area of the brain and recognising it through out the day has been an interesting challenge in itself.

I'm not sure how many leaders out there currently take the time to recognise that 'light-bulb' moment.  For me, its when I have a lot going on.  On holiday I turn into a cabbage and my brain goes to mush.  I have learnt however when I go to Microsoft HQ in Redmond, USA every-year, although I am still running my business via my iPad and phone, and sit through meeting after meeting and session after session, something special happens.  I am stimulated with new thoughts- I am in a different place and time, with different people and different perspectives from leaders in other countries.  Being a Leader in a global environment is significantly different to just leading your own team or company.

This year, we were recognised as a company for our Global Leadership in this area and became a finalist for Worldwide Public Sector- Education, picked out over 3,000 other companies in over 100 countries.  I think I have only just come to realise the enormity of this achievement.  Our team have achieved more than they even realise and as a leader, I have taken them there.

My journey to becoming effortless is a new challenge for me and I'm sure other leaders or managers would love to feel the same.  So 4 weeks in, how do I feel?

Bruce, my Leadership Coach has stated he feels I am speaking slower and pausing more and I am taking more time to reflect, this is a great achievement for me, over-coming 'foot and mouth' disease is something I have been aware of for many years and have always been wary of!  One of my goals is to also remove the level of 20% frustration that I hold each day- this will be an interesting one to remove as I also feel that perhaps its 'ok' to run with a small amount of this each day.

Ironically just before my last coaching session, I opened a fortune cookie given to me by the famous 'Wah Lee' on Hobson street I visited yesterday.  It simply said "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials".  I am sure this is what my constant levels of frustration is all about!

Leadership reflecting and tapping into insights has already helped me 'take the pause' and reflect on a situation as its unfolding and using the questioning technique of 'asking questions' of me team, rather than reverting to my old style which would simply have been to 'tell them' how to fix a problem has been a mammoth shift in my style.  I discovered the 'questioning' technique from Jo Healey, Managing Director at Fujitsu.  I was the Keynote at a Woman in IT Conference in Christchurch a few weeks ago and Jo was on an IT Leaders  panel after my talk, she was asked about her own style of leadership and she stated her Mentor was getting her to walk through the 'questioning approach' with her team and she also mentioned how she was using this approach. 

I challenge other Leaders out there- were you are in a meeting or discussion with your teams, instead of 'telling them' the way something will be done, simply ask them things like "why do you think that might work?", "what could you have done differently?", "How might you approach this next time?", "What will you do to make sure you achieve the/ result or goal"?.

As leaders, I believe it is out moral responsibility to create succession plans for those beneath us, we have an obligation as leaders to share our knowledge and to teach others how to lead.  I welcome any thoughts, comments or feedback on this topic...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Expose yourself- it feels great!

Usually its Labour Weekend when I bare my white pins and throw my tights in the draw for a few months, but this year, its taken me an additional month to get there.  I saw a post last week from my Wellington cousin saying she had done it, so I figure being in Auckland I no longer had an excuse.
Rummaging through the back of the cupboard to find the fake tan did bring a smile to my face too, although not so much when in my haste to apply it, I had some rather interesting new designs on my thigh that I had not intended- someone needs to invent a fake-tan eraser pen.

So coming into work with bare legs made me feel slightly exposed, but also super good as I was able to wear a stunning dress I had not been able to all winter.  Exposing yourself does feel good!

A further dilemma was met this morning about exposing myself .This evening Wayne and I are to meet his step brothers new fiance.  This is a dilemma mainly in one area- not that we have never met her, but more that she owns a major woman's clothing label in NZ with stores all over NZ.  So what does one wear to work that will be suitable to go right out to dinner afterwards that can be scrutinised by a fashionisita?

Tearing madly through my wardrobe, I decided exposing my now blotchy legs from fake tan is no longer a good idea, this means trousers are a must.  I ran around trying to decide on what to wear with it and finally decided on my skinny black pants with a fitted jacket and Super High Heels purchased in Oz, this conclusion was reached after about 7 costume changes which has now left me running late for work...arrggh.

So now I am left with a further dilemma- and I have to expose myself in a work sense.
I've be having leadership coaching recently which has been a fascinating journey so far.  Bruce from Ignite is putting me through my paces.  Its quite odd to have someone to account to for homework, certainly not something I'm used to or have had to do for a while!

I have to come clean on this one and expose my self further.  I was given a Reflection Journal in last weeks session, I am supposed to sit quietly at the end of each day and write in it to reflect on the day and how it went.  Its been an odd sensation, firstly, writing on paper is not something I do much of these days, so this was an odd experience.  The second was to find a quiet space to do the reflection.  This has been rather challenging as we have an open plan office as I am a firm believer in this style of open and approachable leadership.

This means two choices- in the car or in the loo.  The later did not really seam that appealing and given by the time I have reached into my handbag this morning for my keys to see my Red Reflection Journal poking out, it has reminded me I have not done it and I am now in my car, running late for work.

So realising this dilemma I did what any intelligent multi-tasking girl would do- drove off down the driveway and realised that I could not drive properly in Super High-Heels selected for this evenings dinner, darn.  My super skinny pants have also restricted me from taking off my shoes- I can only reach to take one off while sitting in the traffic.  I am now driving with one shoe- at least no one can see.  So here I am sitting in the traffic waiting at the lights, I search for the Reflection Journal amongst the piles of tissues in my bag (paranoid I won't have one from being ill last few weeks).  I find my pen and start Reflecting and noting down my thoughts about the prior day.  I managed to get almost to the end when the light changed.   Darn.

I had to drive one shoed all the way across the harbour bridge until the lights in Union Street where I could have another go at updating.  Managed to get the last bit finished and turned the page over- shoot- Fridays has not been done!

Now at work I am sitting in the car park 'Reflecting'.  I am writing down how I felt about how the day went and what thoughts I had during the day.  I think people think I am weird, but I don't care, I am going to get this done!  What I have neglected to tell you is that our neighbours are renovating their building and there are a pile of builders cutting concrete just meters away.  So much for my quiet space!

I race through Friday's reflection, and felling pretty good, I grab my little red book and then realise I have to put my shoe back on while in my super skinny pants for my evening out.  I unfold as graciously as I am able and put on my Super High Heel with all of the buckles on, holding the car for support.  Once I start walking away and push the remote to lock the car, I hear a wolf whistle from the building site next door.

I just smiled when the builder (who I have not met) next door actually came over about 30 mins later to speak to me after receiving an email yesterday from Wayne about building safety concerns we were having after I rolled my ankle on some building rubble sprayed from out their windows yesterday. 

The odd thing was he seamed to have no idea I was about to grill him about the safety issues his workers were causing to our staff and property from the glowing hot re-bar sprayed over our car-park.  I think he thinks I must have been a wolf in sheep's clothing!  He did apologise at least 8 times in the conversation. 

Yes, I wore the correct outfit today- I have Reflected on this and how I felt.  Exposing myself more than I would normally with my Leadership Reflection journal and my dress today has been a positive experience.  I am still to have the dinner this evening and my Leadership coach will be 'checking my homework' so lets see how the day ends and what Reflections I may have after the days wraps up!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My technology has the flu

I think I have man-flu.  Given I am one of only 2 females in our office and 1 has been away on leave, I have been to Dr Google and apparently my symptoms show I have the man-flu, so this is what it must be.  I have tried the process of lying on the couch and ensuring both the cat and husband know I am on my death bed, but that did not work and I am still dragging myself up to the stove to cook dinner and dish out cat food. 

My voice has finally found me again after going on holiday for the long weekend to somewhere I was not.  I have found my sign-language and recently acquired gesture skills to be most useful when testing our new ASLO technology, however on the down side have found testing the Te Reo Maori Voice Controlled language teacher to have rather interesting results.  It seams I still have issues with the word 'Whare' no matter which way I pronounce things, voice or no voice!  I do find however I am able to still show-off the Back-Assessment module, thankfully I can use gesture control instead of voice only which I normally use to say "next and back!"

I've found an odd thing happen to me this week, my technology has the sympathy flu with me.  I went to a presentation 2 weeks ago and the presenter said 'when was the last time you had a blue screen'.  I had 2 that week on two different machines!  So in the last week, I've had 4 different laptops, yup four!  My technology has definitely got the flu like me.

So on machine 1, I managed to fry the hard-drive- this was the cause of the first set of blue screens.  So that got taken away.  The second machine was actually a rebuilt lightweight 1kg laptop I'd been given back.  Somehow, I've managed to destroy the graphics driver and now I have blue screens about twice a day on this.  So this prompted fast action.  I went out and purchased machine number three.  I don't normally purchase the technology in our office as its not my area, but with no machine and presentations in two days time, I needed to do something fast.  I was so proud of me, I think it may actually be the first laptop I have ever purchased from memory, as they have always been purchased for me.

So I did the usual thing, checked the processor requirement- I needed 2.66ghz to run ASLO and a dedicated graphics card- check (it was a dual processor 2.5ghz with turbo boost to 3.1 each- (I didn't actually know what turbo boost meant and decided anything I've ever driven with a turbo was worthwhile so why not?).  Memory- 8GB- check.  HDD- 750GB- check.  And the price....under $1000.  Oh my gosh, did I get the best deal.  I was so excited that I actually ordered two, one for someone else in the office.

The next day the machines turned up.  One of the technical services team walked up with the new laptop and said, "here's your new laptop, I've set it up for you, where would you like it?"  I turned around to see it perched on the edge of my desk.  My heart sank.

The laptop actually took up 1/3 of my desk.  It is possibly the largest laptop I have ever seen.  It reminded me of the laptops I saw in the late 80's or early 90's.  Huge.  My good deal suddenly took on a new meaning.  I looked longingly across at my dead 1kg laptop and looked back at 'the beast'.  Firstly, it was NEVER going to fit in my hand bag, or for that matter my laptop bag.  Not only did it have the flu, it had taken growth hormones!  I lifted it and it was more like 3kg.  I am a personal trainer and I think I could use it for training my clients for weighted squats- it would be a perfect size and weight.

Needless to say, the laptop was used the following day for a demo in Palmerston North.  I almost had to purchase an extra seat just for my laptop to sit on, but thankfully AirNZ fast bag meant I did not have to work out how the heck to fit a massive bag into a ridiculously small overhead airplane locker or somehow wedge the thing under the even smaller seat cavity.  I assure you, neither would have happened.

So this has now prompted laptop number 4.  After surviving 2 days with laptop number 3, my man-flu and I were begrudgingly dragged along to a computer shop in the weekend.  Don't get me wrong about this next piece as I do love technology, but I cannot think of any worse way of spending my weekend, especially with man-flu.

So as I entered geekdom, I was prayed upon before I'd even walked 2 steps into the shop.  This reminded me why I shop online!  I was surrounded by what seamed like a bunch of people who spend most of their life indoors and not in the garden or out cycling.  Most of them were in the gaming aisle so I guess this explains things.  Down the back of the shop in the laptop division were a bunch of parents and their kids.  Mainly kids taking pictures of themselves using the web cams and morphing their images- fills in time I guess.

So I'm starting to get head spins at this point, my man-flu is worsening and I now have to make a decision.  I ask the nice man in the shop to 'log me in'.  I said to him, all I want to use is email, office and browser mainly and Kinect for Windows to demo our new ASLO software to customers.  He said "Sorry Madam, we don;t have office on these machines, and we don't have them connected to the Internet so you'll be unable to use browsing".  So with my basic requirements not met, he then proceeded to ask me if I would like to purchase one.    

At this stage, my head is thumping and for some reason I heard my voice and had an out of body experience.  I was quite odd as I recall myself saying "Yes please" and then  turning to my husband saying- can you please pay the man.  And I then left the shop.

The odd thing was, I came home and sitting on the coffee table was a brand new Apple Mac Book Pro.  It was the oddest experience and I still think it may not have occurred as on my desk is my lightweight 1kg laptop with the blue-screen tendency.  Lets see what happens when I get rid of my man-flu with machine number 4!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The 60's have the money and the 20s the ideas?

Over the past week I've been exhibiting at a conference in Christchurch.  Our stand was positioned under a glass like conservatory area.  Isn't it odd how your inner wimp comes out and takes over and before you know it, you've made 20 trips to the little girls room.  Glass in an earthquake zone does make me nervous, more so when I was shown the place where the building had dropped heights compared to the one it used to be adjoined to.  If no one had shown me, I would have thought it was just a ramp!

What a sad sight the city is, we drove right around Christchurch over the week we stayed, thankfully we had a 4x4 as we needed it.  The roads are still very damaged and although there are signs of rebuilding, there are still suburbs which are now like ghost towns, a very empty and sad feeling for those having to drive by all day.  It also upset me to see the vast amounts of tagging and graffiti around these condemned houses.  These graffiti artists should be locked up, the city has already gone through enough without visual garbage being added to the city for no reason! Who-ever they are- shame on them. At least the container artists have found a better outlet for their creative skill and have added beautiful images to what is normally a huge eyesore. Kia kaha Christchurch.

So last week I heard an interesting comment which I don't totally agree with.  It was someone who had spent a great deal of time in the public sector and said, "The problem is, the 60- something-year-olds have all the money but the 20-something-year-olds have all of the ideas".

My first thought was how very brave to say this comment out loud to a nearly 40 year old ideas person who runs a technology company, who also has the money to make the decisions!

My second thought was, there was actually some truth in what they said.
Yes, in many traditional cases, management or the approvers, the people who sign the checks are sometimes older and yes, the new, younger, recently graduated talent coming through have a different way of looking at the world.  But isn't this just about risk taking?  The older you get, the less you want to take risks as you are older and wiser and know the consequences.  The younger you are, the more willing you are to take a risk as you have no clue what is around the corner.
I am still inspired by people like my father-in-law.  He came around to watch the rugby last weekend and we asked- how was your week? He replied 'good, had great Peking duck in China last week'.  So there he is, gold card in hand, yet still young enough to drop everything and fly to China with 1 days notice for a business meeting!  He knows about risk, gain, globalisation and ideas.  Who said you can't have both the ideas and hold the purse strings??

Myself, I like to think I sit in the middle of that sea-saw.  Old enough to know better, young enough to still take risks, and purse strings.....oh, I forgot to mention I have a great bank manager!

I did have an odd set of circumstances last week which relates to our bank which made me smile.  We launched our new 'ASLO' brand last week which is primarily a blue logo.  Our Business Mechanix colours have a lot of green.  I smiled to myself as we started the conference wearing our green shirts and for the ASLO launch put on our blue shirts.  The last day back to green.  The same but different?

It did remind me of the call from the National Bank, our manager saying- 'we're still the same- just changing from Green to Blue'.  I thought it was awesome that he gave us a personal phone call to take us through what was happening and to re-assure us the changes were not going to be an impact.  I did take the chance to ask for a discount in rates as a customer loyalty bonus, but I don't think that one got through for approval in this case!

So coming back to the original comment about the 20s having the ideas and the 60s with the cash, to be fair, I must add some context around the comment. The conversation was about public sector funding and how innovative ideas and products often got stomped on by those in power who had been in the same organisation nearly all of there life and had not been exposed to new ways of thinking. This then forced those in the organisation to do other, cheaper, easier things as it was just too hard to do what they originally proposed.

I came to the conclusion that what I learnt from the originator of the comment is that he ended up solving his own problem.  Isn't this what we all do? When times are tough, we innovate more.  No time to build a new website?  Just create a blog using a free blogging tool?  Need a CRM system but can't afford the hardware- go to CRM in the cloud.  Sometimes those who won't take risks encourage a deeper level on innovation and creativity.  So think about the next proposal you have there a way to innovate more with what you have or smarter ways of doing things?  Using technology to solve your problems?  I'm sure there is!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Productivity through desk jumping- it works!

My work life balance has definitely been out of whack in the past few weeks.  
I have turned into a pumpkin on at least 7 of the past 10 working days. 

Its pretty sad when you get home and your cat has taken pride of place in your side of the bed as she has given up waiting for you to come home (insert guilty 'pang' sound here!).

 And I don't just have any cat.  Nope.  I had to have the 'gadget cat'.  Pedigree with high intelligence.  Shes a Bombay- one of the smartest cats around.  This also means, when I do finally fall into bed, she decides it is actually morning, which sadly she is technically correct and she knows it.  This also means its 'play fetch time' with her favourite toy. However at 1.00am in the morning on a school night I have "Angry,Annoyed, where-have-you-been-cat, I-want-to play-now cat".  It still manages to somehow be 'cutsey' and does at least leave me drifting off with a smile on my face, even though what I really need is sleep!

This morning however, I was woken up by kisses, I woke up smiling thinking how lovely the thought was from my beloved husband.  I opened my eyes...darn that cat.....again!  I'm not sure how I feel about being woken up by cat kisses to be honest.  I look over- and realised, my husband was already gone- had to get up to go to Hamilton earlier than even I was getting up. Yup, he is also working hard.

So how does one become more productive when already juggling so many balls at once, working ever hour you can and getting home at un-godly hours?  I think I have found the secret formula...I call it Desk Jumping.

Yesterday was crunch day for us at work. We are launching an exciting new service line as well as being extremely busy with a great deal of work on with our existing customers and some excellent new prospects coming along. I have also been asked to keynote a conference the week after next in Christchurch and will be launching our new products nationally next week.
The new technology we are working on is dependant on space for testing. 

This meant sitting at my desk was not an option.  Myself and one of our consultants had the job of polishing the technology so its ready for market.  We both spent the day in our boardroom, its amazing when all you have is your laptop, and a wireless mouse and a totally clear desk how much more productive you become in a space that is simply empty of all things paper related.  No checks to sign, no invoices to approve, no job descriptions to review or mail to open and of course emails that constantly come through. 

Needless to say, working in the boardroom I still go distracted, I think my count was up to 12 interruptions from staff by the end of the day, however it did not feel like as much of a disruption when there are less things going on. I normally work in an open-plan office. It certainly has its benefits, but its disadvantages also. Concentration can sometimes be difficult and there are always things happening and people moving around, but you tend to be able to keep your finger on the pulse.

At a guess, working in the boardroom yesterday, I would say I was at least 25% more productive than normal. I achieved things I have not been able to get through for weeks. We have polished off our new products and today will put the final touches on the last one, ready for show-off day on Monday in Hamilton.

We used to have a consultant who worked for us about 7 years ago who is now in Canada, I'll never forget him as many days when I'd  be at work, I'd look up and see him sitting at a different desk and could never understand why as he did have a fixed desk.  Now I'm really starting to get it after all of these years. 

Clear you mind, clear you space, focus on the same problem in a different way.  Our boardroom is the classic all white walls, big board room table (also white) and lots of chairs and not too much else.  From my seat yesterday if I look out the window right in front, is simply the building next door, with a solid white brick wall, no signage, nothing.
So having a totally clear room seams to equate to a clear mind, hence the productivity improvements.

I sometimes hibernate and working from home .  This has its advantages, but its still distracting.  First there is the said cat who I have discussed in previous blogs.  She just has to be part of your day if you are at home, then there is the office desk.  Its hard not to look at the filing to do, the things still to be listed on Trademe and the whiteboard full of things like 'replace broken tile in laundry' or 'fix roofing membrane'.  Or when I look out the window there are constantly cars going past or people walking along the road.  Visual and physical noise everywhere.

My suggestion is to at least try my desk jumping idea if you really want to get some serious gains in a project, new product, or simply finish something off.  

So here is the secret method- Productivity through Desk Jumping:-

1/ Find the blandest room you can- preferably white walls with not much on them. 
2/ The room must have nothing else in it- no phone, no papers, nothing, just a desk or table and a comfortable chair (you may want to move the one from your desk for this purpose).
3/ Grab your laptop and preferably a second screen (yes, stats are 2nd screens make you more productive).
4/ Grab you colleague if needed.
5/ Clear your schedule for the day (easier said than done, but its only 1 day- just try it)
6/ Get set to work.  Stay in the room all day and only leave for lunch, toilet stops etc.  Do not get distracted or dragged back into your main space. 
7/ Have someone take messages for you for in coming calls.
8/ Review your work at the end of the day- progress?  More productive?

9/ And.... If you have a cat, lock them in the laundry for the night to guarantee a good nights sleep!

I look forward to hearing from those of you who have given this a go.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Leading is not just a state of mind- its a way of life

Today I was thinking of the phrase 'born leader' and wondering if genetics really do play a part in leadership skills.  If my mother was asked about how I was as a child, I was definitely not a born leader! 

Not only was I hopeless at most sports (except table-tennis, but don't hold that against me!), I was generally bad enough to never be chosen as the 'team captain'. (Ironically, I am now a fully qualified Personal Trainer who leads Group Fitness classes and has another business specialising in Personal Training for people with back problems!).

My mother was a Deputy Principal of a school before she retired.  My father used to call her a 'born organiser'.  I think this is why they divorced in later years, perhaps she was too organised for him?  I believe I do possess a number of traits from my mother, but these only developed in later years.  Sometimes we clash because of it, but as I have gotten older, I appreciate the reasons why.  Two headstrong leaders with a 'thruster organiser' style are always going to butt heads at some-point!  Yes, I am a true "D' style, for those of you who know DISC profiling. 

I am proud of this fact.  I love being a leader- it is the most satisfying, rewarding, frustrating and mind boggling thing I think I will ever have to do, but I wouldn't change a thing.  Actually, I'd probably just change the disappointment of not being a leader when I was younger, knowing how rewarding it has been later in my life.

Even my Grandmother (my mothers mother), was a leader- she used to run the hospital auxiliary for many years and was always leading new drives for charity events and spurring people on.  So my guess is that perhaps you can be a born leader...or at least pick up some of these traits from your up-bringing.

Being an average student with average grades also never saw me as 'head girl' material, although in my later years I excelled, ironically in English and Computing.  I used to think that successful people were always only the smart people with straight A's.  How wrong i was! 

So, after studying leadership and management and learning all about different leadership and management styles, at the prime old age of 20, I was ready to now be a leader.  I had my qualification and I really thought that was it...isn't that all there is to it?

Strangely enough I soon realised that Leadership is a way of thinking, a way of life.  If you are a good leader, people will follow you.  Can you inspire others to come on the journey with you? 

I am in the middle of leading the launch to market of a brand new technology service line.  One of my responsibilities also falls to Sales and Marketing and product and brand development.  I am so excited to see the impact Leadership can make on a team of committed individuals and the trust they have in me that we can all make it by the 1 October deadline.

One comment I heard this week from one of the team about this new technology line was "That looks good enough to eat"!  probably not what I expected to hear while sitting in a review session looking at the products design, but he was so pleased with the look and feel, I don't blame him!

Leadership is about inspiring others, getting people to believe in themselves, but also  and perhaps most critically, communicating the message, good or bad and dealing with those who are perhaps not playing as part of the team. 

So 'cheers' to those reading this blog in leadership roles, even though it can be tough at the top, just remember to keep inspiring others to follow you and that leadership is not just a state of mind, it should be a way of life.  Leaders are not born, they are made, it is a skill that is learnt, with hard knocks, disappointments, triumphs, tribulations and a general learning about yourself as a person.   So go out and lead, the world needs more people like you!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NZ - the worlds fastest most disconnected intranet?

Last week I was working from home for a day and cursed like mad when I could not do three simple things accessing international cloud: booking exams for staff, taking a screen shot of a Customer Portal and provisioning a new CRM cloud for a customer.

After must frustration and opening an closing of the browser and patiently waiting for things to happen, my cat then decided to walk across the keyboard and swipe itself across my touch-screen(oh the joys of working from home).  Now I have ultra magnified, slow browsers on my screen with no menu bars.  The odd thing is when I want to find those short-cuts myself, I can never find them.....!

I had to find away to vent my frustration, so I simply emailed Wayne about the fact our home Internet is just too slow and unreliable to use anymore....and of course its his fault, not mine!

So after a frustrating afternoon trying to get things sorted, I find out a few days later that there was an outage on some cloud services...including the ones I happened to be accessing.  How frustrating.  Would have been nice to see some sort of page "due to some odd weather conditions in Albania were are experiencing temporary intermittent problems with our clouds currently, we expect the outage to be...oh, 8 hours or so".  At least then I would not have sent the harsh email to my husband asking for an instant Internet upgrade to happen yesterday to our home Internet connection. ....and the cat wouldn't have been told off for trying to help...!

I even had it a few nights later on on-line banking when I went to pay for the awesome Trade-me purchase I convinced myself I had scored.  I really was convinced that using a pillow case to line the inside of an old draw would be enough to trick the cat into thinking it was her new cat bed - it was a cunning plan that failed terribly. 

Wayne thought it was hilarious when she simply curled up on the floor NEXT to the draw and went to sleep.  Yet another Trade-me purchase gone wrong.  Wayne thinks it's funny as I have no time to shop during the day so I shop online, but 50% of what I buy is either the wrong colour, size, breaks or simply never works from the start.  We now have a pile of these failed Trade-me purchases in our office....waiting to be re-listed in the on-going Trade-me life-cycle.  It's just annoying that when Wayne uses Trade-me, it's for selling things.  The last thing he sold was Rugby Tickets and he made $350 dollars on them......but I had the last laugh as the Men-in Tutus ballet we went to instead of the rugby cost about that amount.  Thanks to his iPhone and the guy in the row behind us constantly asking for the score, meant he didn't miss much anyway!  Needless to say, he was not very impressed to see guys with make-up in Tutus prancing around on the stage...especially when he got the best tickets and they were front row seats!  Every little detail could be seen, perhaps not such a great thing for him with guys in pink Lycra and tights...he'll get over it, one day!

So don't get me wrong, I love the cloud, in fact I have been moving more and more things to it- I love its mobility, the applications that run in it like CRM that make it so seamless to access via multiple devices in multiple why is it that when there are cloud issues, its like "did you see that"  or  "...are you having problems"?  You get nothing back or 'its all good on our end'.  I think providers need to man-up.  Put outage notices up when there are problems so innocent people can get on with other work.  Isn't this how it worked in the olden days?  I know one of the teams I used to run used to have migration evenings- every Wednesday night between 6-10pm.  We had a special page we would put up to let people know what was happening and when things would be back.  Food for thought?

So back to my Internet issues and frustrations.  Why is it that nothing is ever fast enough or well enough connected for me?  In my last post, I discussed the fact our work cars just instantly connect our phones simultaneously to bluetooth- both driver and passenger, yet just a plain old browser over an even plainer Internet connection, connecting to a few plain old clouds still does not seem to work.

So to today, it's odd where twice in one day you hear about major broadband and fibre issues....or is it?

Today, one of the fibre providers were out in south Auckland doing work where we had some of our team at a client.  There was a site wide internet outage, it would have affected around 5,000 people, it lasted for hours.  Then, this afternoon I met with a CRM prospect in Albany, only to find out that they can't even get hooked into Ultra-Fast Broad-band because they are in a multi-tenanted building!

Seriously, how connected are we really?  Slow international speeds, constant outages due to fibre being laid in the ground causing hours of in-business hours down-time....and of course our clouds just disappearing for a few hours and re-appearing on the occasional whim.....

I think I expect too much, and I agree, I am highly connected.  In fact, when I was compiling this blog I actually had a minor freak out.  I am ALWAYS connected, except on a plane.  So here is how that works- Laptop at work- wireless or wired.  Windows Phone in bag- wireless and/ or 3G.  iPod Touch in Bag- Wireless- work and home.  iPod Nano- Wireless at home, iPad- Wireless and 3G.  I have my phone, iPods (x2) and iPad next to my bed in the evening.  How terrible.  I have FOUR devices that are always connected, right next to me at all times.  At work I have THREE.  This is a sad but true fact, I need to be connected, always and I expect it.

So is it really that bad having NZ as the worlds fastest Intranet?  I just want to be connected and getting NZ sorted goes a long way to getting us prepared for when that fantastic International connection day in the distant ...or near future...who knows?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Our work cars talk to me...or I may be losing it

I'm sure this is simply an indication of getting older.  Or perhaps trying to dig my heels in rather than embrace the simple fact that just around the corner one of those 'birthdays with a naught on the end" is staring back at me.

So today, coming back from a client meeting, I had one of those scary moment.  The technology confronted me, and it won...again! 

Thankfully I was in the passenger seat and not driving, although I did manage to scare one of our other managers so much that he ended up in completely the wrong lane entering the motorway.

I'm not sure why I always expect technology to behave in a certain way.  Wayne says I expect too much.  I just think I'm surprised when an advanced feature actually works when you haven't spent 45 minutes shouting the word 'call' in as many different accents as possible to make the call (I now have a fabulous way to do this as American accents always sound best- its more like 'caaaaooooll') to get the darn thing to make a call using voice dialing.

So here I am, manager in the drivers seat of one of our new fleet cars and me in the passenger seat.  As usual, ever second of my time is productive time to me, so I grab my phone and start checking emails and then see the time.  I am going to be late for my 5.45 appointment back in town.  Darn. So I pick up the phone to dial the customer I am meeting with ....and then it happened.

"Dialing......".  I could have sworn the sound was amplified and it was the car.  I tried to act cool to the manager driving the car, like I knew what was going on.  Then it suddenly got even worse.  "Ring....ring...ring"  I'm looking at my phone, its not on speaker.  I am going insane, but still play it cool.  The driver is now looking at me oddly.  This all feels like it is happening in slow motion, but it all happened within about 5-10 seconds.  The I hear a voice.  Its not the radio and its not him and my phone is not on speaker but it supposedly had called someone. 

Now I am now not acting cool.  I hear voices and its not him and its not me and my phone is not on speaker.  Its the car.  I am losing it.   I fumble and look right at the phones screen.

He looks at his phone- not on... or ringing....still screen locked.

So I turn my phone off.

Weird.  The manager I am with is now checking the stereo and playing with the volume.  Its not just me, he heard it too.  He simply said- "what the heck was that?"

Right.  So now things appear normal, I will try and call my client again.
Phone on.  Dialing......And there it goes again!  "ring...ring...amplified.
Yes. It was the car talking to me!  I was right, not losing it!

OMG.  How totally embarrassing.  I have just worked out what has happened.  I am NOT telling the said manager at all costs.  He will simply nominate me for Dick of the Month in this weeks staff meeting....this is not an award I want to win!

So this is what happened....  About 4 months ago, one of our staff wrote off one of our company cars- one of the very few autos in the fleet.  Insurance paid out and we had to replace it.  We could not find any more Suzuki Swift's in the same price bracket so had to go for another type of car.  Introducing the Hyundai Getz.  (These are great little cars by the way!).  Wayne and I went out the weekend after the write-off to a fleet dealer yard and they must of had 50 of these little Getz cars.  We of course test drove a number of them.  As I was again in the passenger seat (what is it about males and driving??), I thought I would check out all of the other features the car had to offer.  Glove box, stereo and owners manual.  I read from cover to cover and said to Wayne- 'check this out'.  "These cars have blue tooth kits built into the stereo".   I need to check this out.  So spent the next few minutes trying to work out the connection code (even had to call Hyundai on the test drive to work out how to do it). 

My inner geek is now shining through, my phone is now connected through the stereo- how cool.  So I call Wayne's phone (very odd thing to do given he is sitting right next to me).  Cool.  It worked. (Admittedly though,  we had one of those weird awkward conversations you have when you can see the person you are talking to- definately not normal, or cool.)  Time to hang-up!

So I call my Mum, have a chat on the hands free during the test drive.  Its very clear, no echos on her end or mine- very cool.  So then I get Wayne's phone and try connecting that.  Connected. I now call my phone from his phone.  I'm like a kid in a candy shop- 2 phones connected simultaneously.  I'm on a roll.  I now call my brother in Sydney (I have no idea why I did not call anyone in NZ, but I guess sibling rivalry could be a reason).   

I'm now in my show off voice "guess what- just test driving this car and you can have TWO phones connected at once and it will simply cut over to which ever phone the incoming call is for, or which ever phone dials- cool...I bet that's better than your custom car-kit!"

I have no idea why I act like a 12 year old around my brother.  I think we have always been competitive.

At this point, I do have to mention that when he first showed off his voice dialing car kit to me, he managed to over-right the word "call" with "Lyndal".  From then on for a long time later to make a call he would have to say "Lyndal... Dennis, or Lyndal Fred".  When I heard him do this, I laughed like mad.... he just told me to shut-up and that it was my fault in the first place...nice!.  Personally, I think it serves him right for trying to show off.  Needless to say he did eventually work out how to fix it, but I still find it amusing, and still take every opportunity I can to point out his error!

So, after playing with the blue tooth on the Hyundai's, we asked a few more questions of the dealer about the cars and told him we'd get back to him about the purchase once he supplied us more details around the warranties.

Wayne then contacted him a week or so later to say that we would take two white ones. 
I thought no more of this until today.

How freaky.  I actually managed to scare the heck out of myself due to this one oversight. 

Four months or so earlier, I had been playing with the blue tooth in this very car! 
I had connected my phone and simply thought no more of it, walked away from the car yard and that was that.  Now by total co-incidence, of the 50 Hyundai's on the yard is now ours. 
I was in the very car I had connected my phone to, AND IT WORKED!  My phone had simply connected and dialed out as it should have through the radio in the car and used its speakers to amplify the dialing.  It was my brain that had malfunctioned, not the technology this time.

Yes, technology continues to amaze me.  Love it or hate it, its awesome when it works!
I'm still embarassed, but I'm sure my secrets safe with you lot!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Does technology ignite passion...or vice versa?

Today is my 8th birthday at Business Mechanix.  When I went to work this morning, Wayne asked me if i was going to do anything special.  I didn't think I would, but I decided to do something to celebrate.  Today I went back to the first emails I ever sent when I started 8 years ago.  I simply smiled.  Here is an extract:-  It was sent at 8.49am in the morning:-
Hey Steve,
Good to hear from you- sounds like you are having a really good time.
I'm currently suffering from e-mail withdrawal at the moment- I only had 2 e-mails yesterday and yours is the only one in my in-box today!......
Stephen Brown- (ex PeopleSoft) this is a shout out to you- thanks for keeping me busy on my first few days at work with Business Mechanix, 8 years ago!
I fast forward to the present day, things feel like they move at the speed of light.  My social media updates constantly reminding me that other people are already out at dinner somewhere divine because they have posted an update from their smart-phone to facebook.  And then there is the constant barrage of emails from the automation of our CRM system, keeping us totally up to date with what is going on with almost every aspect of our business.  We didn't even have a filing cabinet with customer files when I started 8 years ago, and now we have one of the most sophisticated CRM systems I have ever seen!
So I have to smile this evening. I'm still sitting here still at work at 8.00pm in the evening with 3 others trying to work out how we remove the penis off a robot.  Yes, you read it correctly.  We are trying to work out the best way to graphically gender neutralise an image our Graphic Designer has been creating for us.  Does that sound slightly odd to you?  It was at my request actually. 
We are working on a new logo and brand we are creating for a new product line we are launching next month.  I said that any logo we have needs to be gender neutral.  Why is it that everyone assumes robots are male?  Perhaps its all the movies we have watched about them, they all seam to have male specific names, like Wall-E, CHIP, Otis or something similar.  I even looked up Wikipedia and went through the entire list of fictional robots.
Did you know the only girl robot I could find in this Wikipedia Reference was from 2012!!!! Little girl robot Molly in "Metal Molly" by Ariadne Tampion (2012)!  Now, no offence to the creator of Metal Mollie, but seriously, that is not the staunchest female robot I have ever seen.  I must admit, I had to look pretty hard as on first glance I actually though it was a girl with braces on her legs, not a robot.  I'm sure in this day and age, its time we had a staunch female robot. Now that I've just determined this useful fact, there are no well-known famous female robots, I must add this to my bucket list, come up with one, perhaps with a little more....attitude!
So I then come to the point at why I am still working at this time of the evening on my 8th anniversary, shouldn't I be out celebrating?.  I am here working on our new product line, with the others in the team dedicated to this cause.  It is a highly technical project and very futuristic.  The reason I am here is that I am passionate and technology excites me....and looking at it from the outside, I must admit I do find it very odd that I end up working on projects removing genitalia on robots late into the evening with the team, but this is probably the reason I do what I do.  I love running a technology company, its fresh, exciting and new.  What a brilliant industry to be in!
So for those of you reading this, this is what I'm trying to work out is this- Is it technology that ignites passion, or the other way around- passion ignites technology?  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When technology t-shirts should not be used as night-shirts

Last night Wayne and I attended the keynote at the Microsoft TechEd in Auckland and the welcome event afterwards.  As a female in technology I have become used to being given primarily male targeted vendor gifts over the years, I have a draw full of t-shirts which has everything on them from Office 2000 (too embarrassing to now be worn out in public- now used as a garden weeding shirt), to PeopleSoft t-shirts, which now of course the company no longer exists in that form and is now Oracle.  Needless to say I just can't bear to throw them out, a constant reminder of the glory days!

I do remember when I look at my PeopleSoft t-shirt with number 9050 emblazoned on the back, I will never forget the day I was given it. I was told anyone with a number under 1,000 was officially an instant millionaire through the Peoplesoft shares they held. 

With the shares I had, I was able to purchase my first BMW and my ownership of Business Mechanix, I was still one of the fortunate ones to get at least get a reasonable amount out while the going was good!  However was 8,000 people to late to be an instant Millionaire through my PeopleSoft shares!

So this brings me to the fits of laughter that Wayne and I were in last night when we pulled out our t-shirts we were gifted from Microsoft.  Before I looked at them I knew they were massive sizing, mainly men's.  I looked at the tag and said to Wayne- "Mine is a Men's Large, it will probably only be good as a night-shirt for me as its too big for me, but too small for you". 
Wayne then looked at his, and as he already uses T-Shirts as nightwear anyway, was rather happy that his actually would fit him and that he could wear them to bed.

And then we held them up. It was an OMG moment
I sometimes love technology marketers for their acronyms and single words to describe something technical, but I had to laugh at this lot.  Yes, it was taken completely out of context, but you must remember these shirts were to be worn as night-shirts.

Wayne held his shirt up and it was a totally plain black t-shirt and in bold white writing on the front it simply said:- "Electrify".

I then held mine up, same style shirt, plain black with bold white font.  It simply said "Begin".

We both burst out laughing, how completely in-appropriate!
I do have to admit in small font on the back collar there is an "office" logo for Microsoft Office, however would not be seen from the front.

Still in fits of laughter, I thought back to another shirt I saw at the Teched event on someone demonstrating the Microsoft Kinect games and it said "I am the controller". 
I just told Wayne he was very lucky that I did not get that shirt in my pack!

Microsoft- at the end of the day, I do appreciate your gifts and I know its always about the thought that counts as I am potentially one of the lucky ones to have probably a limted edition t-shirt- thanks!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Enthusiasm IS infectious!

Riding into the headwind over the weekend with winds gusting 35km on my ultra-light 7kg road bike certainly did not fill me with enthusiasm, especially when my somewhat heavier husband proved that he was a great deal faster than me by taking off, yes,up a hill into the head-wind! 

The fact I also have a sinus condition which also causes serious "nose drip" (this is the actual term from the doctor) where my nose opens up like the huka falls and runs faster than Usain Bolt also does not inspire enthusiasm.  In saying this, I was still inspired by my somewhat faster husband.  (Actually, I just wanted to over-take him to prove a point, but that is simply a side issue!)  I was inspired to actually hit my target- a training ride of 20km and a burn rate of more than 35 Min's in zone.  I finished with a smile when I read my heart rate monitor- 44 minutes in zone, 50 Min's and completing my 20km's and I had even managed to overtake the husband in several parts of the ride!  Mission accomplished!

The photo in this blog shows another cycling accomplishment- cycling over the Auckland Harbour Bridge with Wayne (beloved faster husband)and Warren (our fleet manager)  from work.  We all loved it and have our medals proudly around our neck as proof we actually finished.  I remember on the start line, I was so nervous I had to get Wayne to hold my bike so I could find a porta-a-loo to do a mad dash to the loo!.  I was so worried and clearly nervous about cycling over that bridge as I did not think I was going to do very well up the steep bit.  It actually was so easy, I found the people in front of me going to slow and I nearly fell-off due to the slow pace.  Oh the irony!

Although some things don't provoke enthusiasm for me, I must admit, when it comes to business, I know how to harness this skill and to share it with others I come into contact with.

Attached to my monitor is a post-it note- it simply reads "Your Enthusiasm is Infectious".
Underneath it, it reads, "Bank Manager, National Bank".  This is what my bank manager said to me when I was describing my current start-up business- Back2Fit last in 2011.

Its strange, as people have always talked about my 'energy' but never in this way. 
Its so great to sit down at my desk and look over at the post-it note as such a simple thing can really fire you up to rev on all cylinders!

I have this post-it on my monitor as a constant reminder about how important it is to stay focused on the end goal, just as I did in the weekend with my road cycling. It may take a while, in this case years, but I know it will happen. I also have near the entry to my bedroom a small plaque that says "Believe in yourself". Something else I think is vitally important in business and in life.

I think of the time I was rehabilitating from Spinal surgery, here I was thinking I could master anything...well, that slowed me down!  I even had to cancel the meetings I had booked 3 days after my surgery as I realised fairly quickly that I was not going to be able to walk or even sit down for some period of time!  What kept me focused was simply a sheet of paper stuck to the glass window where I marked off how many times I had managed to walk up and down the stairs.  I told myself when I got to 20, I'd be ready to walk outside.  It took me a week to walk up and down a flight of stairs 20 times in one go.  But I still did it and never lost sight of the goal, despite the fact that some days I could barely make it up and down 4 times.

So back to the topic of enthusiasm....last week, had one of those multi-meeting days when I had back-to-backs, I got back to my desk to see around 100 unread messages.  I started digging my way through them and started to smile as 2 of the people I had meetings with had already gotten back to me, both meeting about different things, but both started the same way "I was really excited after our meeting today..."  Not long after I read these, I got a text (yes, it still talks to me (see my other post about Technology getting the better of you!).  It read "Hey CRMFriend (yes, they are a CRM customer!!), good job today- the team very excited...). 

It reminded me of how important encouragement is- take it from anywhere and use it.  I once even had someone who worked for me that used to have an Outlook folder called "Encouragement".  In this folder he had emails from customers and other staff where he had been praised for something.  He kept them clearly as a reminder that he was doing a good job, despite the days where he felt he might not have been.  We can all learn from this.

So the trick really is- harness the encouragement- take it from anywhere you can get it.  Bottle it, keep it close and use it as a secret weapon.  Stay focused on your end goal, excite others so you can harness their excitement to keep you moving forward. 
Just image how different the world would be if we all worked this way!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's the worst mistake you've ever made...

Mistakes- love 'em, hate 'em, we all make 'em!

This week I am doing final interviews for new additions into our Graduate Consultant programme.  Our Service Delivery Manager has screened over 45 applicants to get to a shortlist of 7 for me to interview.

For years I've had a toolkit of questions I've used to look at character and personality when interviewing, but my favourite question to ask new staff is "What's the worst mistake you've ever made?".  This is usually followed with "How many people did it impact and what did you learn from it?".  

I will simply not hire people if they answer "I don't make mistakes" or "I can't think of anything".  I am looking for people who can recognise mistakes are part of life.  We all make them and we should all learn from them, if we cannot recognise and share our mistakes with others, it will certainly slow a new graduates growth in their role.

There is however a funny side to this story.  Today in an interview, it reminded me of a few of the answers I've had in the past, normally we'd expect someone to give a relevant business example such as - sending an email to the wrong person or not meeting a deadline.  Here are some of the goodies I can recall:-

"Getting Married"
(I did not really feel I could ask the later part of the question- and what did you learn from this!).

"Going into business with my husband"
(not such a great thing to say to a husband and wife owned business when you are being interviewed by the wife!)

"Getting Divorced"
(see above- also another hard one to follow-up with

"Going off my anti-depressant medication"- they then went on to explain the result of the after-math of what happened. 

One of the better ones I remember was a few years ago when someone told me when they were developing and working for a Bank, they released something into production and shut down a Bank in the UK.  When I asked how many people were impacted, he just said, "thousands and thousands of people".  He was also rather pale even having to think about the incident.

When I was discussing this in the office about "what's your worst mistake", I was reminded of a recent incident which is certainly one of our teams "Dick of the month" awards also.

We had to move furniture out of a house we rented in Hamilton for a project we were working on.  It was fully furnished and we decided to move the extra beds and furniture into a meeting room in our Hamilton office for temp storage.  Our offices are on the 15th Floor of the Tower Building in Hamilton.  In the bottom of the building is Centre Place Shopping Mall- the largest CBD shopping mall in Hamilton.  We have basement access to service lifts to move things up and down the floors.  So Wayne and another manager from work, hired a truck and went about collecting the furniture to move the 3 or 4 kms to the office. 

On arrival into the basement car-park, the boys (note - who's day jobs are working in an office) swung around into a car-park and in the process completely broke off a fire sprinkler.  Water was coming out at a rapid rate....and the fire-alarms were automatically activated.

What happened from here was the following:- total evacuation of one of Hamilton's largest shopping malls, including ALL retail stores (the likes of Pascoes Jewellers, Jeans West, Meccano, Stevens). 

This also followed by a full evacuation of the Food Court.  This was then followed by the evacuation of the Movie Theatre (yes people were at the movies!).  Not only this, it also evacuated the 15 stories of office floors above.  In addition, 4 Fire Engines were called out and the Sprinkler service Company, the Fire System Company and of course, the land-lord.  Yes, they CLOSED down a shopping centre!

The odd thing was that the story I was given was "Oh, we had a few problems with the truck today- we knocked a sprinkler off in the basement".  It took a number of weeks and a rather large bill to discover the real story, needless to say, the story is now out and all I can say is thanks for insurance!

So the lesson learnt from this mistake- when driving a truck into a basement, just because it fits under the height sign, does not mean that it will clear everything.  The second lesson, always fess up, the boss WILL find out somehow- it's just a matter of time!

So you are probably wondering- what's my worst mistake?

Updating a customers entire General Ledger balance for all accounts to -.03 cents.  I still remember that sick sinking feeling when I did it to this day! (I did fix it later on with help from a friend- who is also a friend still to this day!)

However, this would have to be closely followed by dropping every index on a consulting assignment for New Zealand Customs PeopleSoft Finance System when I was trying to fix a performance problem.  I then had to sit in the same area where the team was working and hear their horrified comments when screens started taking 20 minutes to load.  It took me 2 days to recover the system and I have never felt so bad in my life as it was 2 days of constant complaints and I could not hide anywhere! 

The worst thing was that I also made a further mistake while I was there- I had to take a call and was on the phone outside the building where there were two sets of almost identical sliding doors.  When I came back in and up the lift, I was horrified to see my handbag was not at my desk and my notepad appear to be moved.  When I walked around further into the office, I had that sinking feeling and then a rather burning red face.  I was not even at my desk.  Nor was I in the right floor or even the right building.  I looked up and saw the sign "Department of Corrections".  Brilliant- I had managed to walk in the wrong door, get in the wrong lift and sit at a desk in the wrong company...and it was the Department of Corrections- could I have picked anywhere worse!!

So how does one exit such an awkward situation after you have just made an outburst about where you things had been moved??

You just walk at a normal pace, like you know everyone there, smile as you pass their desks.  Wait at the lift, get in and then hold your hands to your face and turn purple. 
Then, walk back into New Zealand Customs like nothing ever happened!

So what did I learn- NEVER exit a building you do not know when you are on your mobile- cellphones are distracting at the best of time and can potentially put you in jail, if you walk into the wrong place!