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Secrets of the Hiring Process: How to Hire

I’ve hired hundreds of people during my career, and my process has been pretty consistent for all of those hires: 1. Decide on the need for a person in a job. Maybe it’s a replacement for someone who left, or maybe it’s a new position that I need for a project or for an expansion […] Read More

Failed First-Time Managers: 2 Case Studies

I’ve promoted 20 or 30 people into their first manager jobs during my career. Two of those promotions were failures — they did so badly that I had to take them back out of the positions. Here’s what I learned from that experience. Background In both cases there was ample evidence that the people were […] Read More

4 Advantages of a Portable Expert

In my previous post I defined the term “Portable Expert” and I described the two secrets that make portable expertise possible. In this post I’ll give you some examples of portable expertise from my own experience, I’ll list four advantages of hiring a portable expert, and I’ll give you some tips on how to create […] Read More

2 Secrets of a Portable Expert

The traditional view of expertise is that you become an expert by spending many years working in a broad area.  In gardening, for example, you gain expertise by working with different plants, experimenting with different nutrients and soils, and by making mistakes and then learning from your mistakes.  Under this traditional view you are then […] Read More

When I interview prospective candidates, I look for four key attributes: enthusiasm, curiosity, insight, and perspective. Here’s why: Enthusiasm Motivation is probably one of the most important attributes of a good employee, and the best kind of motivation comes from enthusiasm. Enthusiastic employees are eager to work. They volunteer for assignments. They work longer hours […] Read More

Never Stop Questioning

There’s a certain age that kids go through when they seem to have an endless supply of questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do cows make a moo sound?” “Why don’t planes fall out of the sky?” “Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green and not purple, orange and pink?” And then, as […] Read More

Why I Never Hire the Best Person for the Job

I never hire the best person for the job, but I always try to hire the best person for my company’s future. Here’s my reasoning: A job is a task-oriented view of the business. Jobs are constantly changing because business needs are constantly changing. The best person for a job is the person who can […] Read More

Does a Higher GPA Make You A Better Employee?

Someone tweeted me a question yesterday, “Is GPA [Grade Point Average] an accurate summary of how someone will be as an employee?” I checked the source of the tweet and — no surprise — it seems to be coming from a student. I don’t know the person but my guess is that he is either […] Read More

8 Techniques for Dealing with Grief

In a previous article I talked about the loss of my wife and some of the things I’m going through. Since that time I’ve gotten a little better at dealing with my loss. In this article I’ll share some of the techniques I’ve been using. I think they’re applicable in dealing with any loss, whether […] Read More

Grief and Disentangling

My wife Sharon passed away July 31st, and I would like to describe some of the thought process I’ve been going through for the last month. My wife’s death wasn’t sudden. She was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, and she’s been through a progressive loss of muscle control over various parts of her body. […] Read More

My friend Derek Cheshire made an interesting observation yesterday: Tell me if I’m being stupid but after reading about the Greek austerity measures I do wonder why we have to try and make hundreds of public sector employees redundant. Why not just trim pay by say 10%? At least there would be more people with […] Read More

Listening is one of the most important traits of a good manager. Good managers spend most of their time listening: listening to their employees describe the problems they’ve encountered, listening to what their bosses tell them to do, listening to what customers have to say about products and services. Beginning managers listen It’s easy to […] Read More

Future IT = Cloud + Mobile + Enterprise App Store

There’s been a lot of talk about cloud computing, and mobility has been in the news for years.  But apps and an enterprise app store are going to bring it all together to remake the face of IT. Cloud Computing Cloud computing is a method for delivering computing resource.  Its principal attributes are outsourced management, […] Read More

I’ve talked about the changing nature of IT in a previous article, but it’s amazing to me how fast some of the changes are taking place. Ten or twenty years ago the key skills for someone in IT were systems analysis and programming — mostly technical skills. But more recently the need for those skills […] Read More

A Model of Job Performance

Back in 1979 I put together a model of job performance to help with some process improvements we were doing at Digital Equipment Corporation.  Here’s the model: I ran across the model when was going through some old papers, and I thought you’d like to see it.  Here’s the explanation of the model that accompanied […] Read More

A Job A job is an exchange of work for money: for every hour you work, you get an hour of pay. Although you might derive some satisfaction from doing the job, and you might enjoy the people you work with, the reason you do the job is for the money.  If you win the […] Read More

The question about the pros and cons of using a business/IT liaison person came up at a meeting I attended last week. I’ve got to admit some bias on this issue. Long ago I tried using a business/IT liaison person for one of my software development groups, and I wasn’t happy with the result. The […] Read More

A lot of people tend to confuse these two words. We work hard, focus on our goals, and figure that happiness will come once we achieve success. Don’t fall for this deception. Happiness Happiness is a feeling. It can be triggered by external factors — a friend, a lover, a place, an event, a food […] Read More

How to Deal with Complainers — 2 Approaches

People who complain fall into two categories: those who complain because they want help in resolving a problem, and those who complain because they want sympathy. Often the complainers themselves don’t understand why they’re complaining, so it’s up to you to figure it out for yourself. The Complainer as Problem Solver The first category of […] Read More

I’ll let you in on a secret: Most companies have used the bad economy as an excuse for laying off people who the company wanted to get rid of anyway. Now I’m not saying that these companies haven’t had financial issues — most companies have experienced a loss of revenue as a result of a […] Read More

How to Deal with a Bad Boss — 3 Approaches

You’ve got a bad boss. Maybe it was a surprise — he seemed nice during the interview. Or maybe it was a gift from higher-up in the organization — she was brought in to replace your previous boss. Whatever the reason, now you’re stuck with a bad boss, and you have to do something. There […] Read More

The 7 Biggest Challenges of a Manager

I’ve previously written about why you might want to be a manager and the 13 skills needed by a manager. This article explains the seven biggest challenges faced by a manager. 1. Achieving a Stretch Goal The organization you’re managing is responsible for something — whether it’s performing a business process, supporting some other organization, […] Read More

We’re All Biased — Learn from It

Last week I posted an article about whether younger “digital natives” or older “digital immigrants” are better at IT. In responses I saw on Reddit or that I received directly, I noticed a pattern: 1. A lot of people were disappointed (to put it mildly) that I didn’t draw a conclusion in favor of one […] Read More

I was asked this question at a recent speaking engagement in Utah, and I’ve thought about it a bit more since then. “Digital natives” are people who grew up using digital technology; they used computers as children and so they never lived in a non-computer world. “Digital immigrants” grew up in a world that didn’t […] Read More

10 Ways to Find the Truth

In my previous post I talked about the problem of determining the truth in current events (and in other areas) when we’re faced with conflicting views from thousands of media and Internet sources. In this post I’ll offer some advice for dealing with the problem: 1. Become more conscious of the assumptions that you’ve been […] Read More

You’re trying to get a new project approved, and you’re having trouble. Or you’re trying to get an employee to do things your way, and the employee keeps fighting you. Both these situations are disagreements, and the process to deal with them is similar. Why Do We Disagree? Let’s start with individual disagreements. When two […] Read More

I Believe … The best businesses are honest with their customers and their employees. The best companies have a win-win relationship with their customers and with their employees. Management is about focusing the work of the employees by assigning tasks which best align the company’s interests with the employees’ interests. Executive management is about focusing […] Read More

I’ve promoted scores of people into first-time manager positions. Some did well and some didn’t. Here are a few of their stories, with names changed and a few relevant facts altered to protect the individuals involved. Fred This was early in my career, and I didn’t have any experience in promoting people into management. But […] Read More

In a recent article I wrote about why you might want to be a manager. If that’s what you want, here’s my list of the 13 skills you’ll need: 1. Communication There’s a lot of communication when you’re a manager. You have to communicate with each of your employees. You have to communicate “sideways” with […] Read More

Why Do You Want to Be a Manager?

There are a lot of bad stereotypes associated with management — the TV show “The Office” illustrates many of the stereotypes on a weekly basis. But there are advantages to being in management, so I thought I would write a bit about management for those of you who are still in individual contributor roles. And […] Read More

How a New CEO Affects the CIO A few weeks ago I ran into a CIO I hadn’t seen in a few months.  The last time I had seen him we talked about his job situation.  The CEO he worked for had just been replaced, and the CIO and the new CEO were butting heads. […] Read More

I went to my grandson’s piano recital last weekend.  He’s just seven (almost eight) and he’s really good for his age.  His part of the recital was only a few minutes, but the entire recital lasted two hours so we listened to a lot of other kids before and after my grandson. What struck me […] Read More

I was having dinner with a CIO who had retired after a long and distinguished career. The conversation had been mostly small talk, but suddenly a thought occurred to him, and he sat up straight in his chair. “Why is it,” he asked vehemently, “that CIOs have to work so much harder than every other […] Read More

9 Ways to Reduce Business IT Expense

Last month I got a lot of positive feedback about the timeliness of my newsletter topic, “The Right Span of Control Isn’t a Number,” so this month I’ve written another newsletter article dealing with today’s problems. In our current economy there is a high likelihood that you’ve been asked to “tighten your belt” and cut […] Read More

The Right Span of Control Isn’t a Number

In my June, 2007 newsletter article I talked about how to organize IT, but I didn’t address one of the questions that keeps coming up during a bad economic climate: how do we deal with executives who want to cut the number of IT managers by increasing the span of control for each manager? Span of […] Read More

15 Career Mistakes

I’ve written other newsletter articles about careers (see the links throughout this article as well as at the end of the article), but until now I’ve never specifically written an article about career mistakes. I think the subject has been too personal – I’ve made a lot of these career mistakes myself, and it’s hard […] Read More

Information Technology is like the Stock Market

Success in IT is a lot like success in the stock market. People who don’t understand the stock market sometimes think that there’s a “right” price for a stock based on some elaborate and mystical formula. Similarly, people who don’t understand IT sometimes think there’s an objective way to measure an IT organization that will […] Read More

In 2004 I wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called “Harwell’s Unfortunate Laws of Human Organizational Behavior.” I put it on my web site, but I just sent the link to a few close friends. Frankly, I thought the content of the essay was too different from my normal, more up-beat type of article. But I was […] Read More

You’ve Got to Specialize

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that being “well-rounded” is a sure path to mediocrity. You’re much more likely to achieve career success if you get really good in one area than if you achieve moderate mastery in a number of different areas. That’s true even for managers and executives. You may not think […] Read More

A few weeks ago BusinessWeek had an interesting article on firing people, pointing out the legal risks associated with terminating employees. Here are the things you need to know about firing that BusinessWeek didn’t mention. 5 Kinds of Firings Let’s start at the beginning. In my experience, there are five kinds of firings: Firing someone […] Read More

How to Fail as a CIO

Success in any job is measured by the alignment of expectations and performance. If the company expects “X” and you deliver “Y” then you fail, no matter whether or not “X” is achievable and no matter whether or not “Y” is actually better for the company. If it’s impossible to deliver “X” in the desired […] Read More

8 Attributes of an Ideal Boss

The first part of January is time for the annual introspection exercise known as resolution making. Many of us will take a hard look at ourselves and try to focus on ways in which we can improve our lives. Some of us will take a particularly hard look at our jobs: Are we happy in […] Read More

The Politics of Information Technology

I’m writing this on November 7, 2006. That’s election day in the United States. During the last few months we’ve been besieged with television and radio advertising for candidates, and even recorded messages sent to our telephones. Now it’s time for all of the campaigning to end as we go to the polls to vote. […] Read More

Achievement is Not the Absence of Failure

There are some jobs where achievement is the absence – or maybe the avoidance – of failure. Driving a bus is one of those jobs; if you make it through the day without an accident, without hurting or annoying anyone, and without falling behind your schedule, then you’re successful. There are other jobs where carrying […] Read More

10 Rules for IT Job Success

I got a call last month from a newsletter reader in India who wanted help in making a career decision. He was a bit vague about the details, but it seems that he impetuously quit his previous job over a difference of opinion with his manager. Now he wasn’t sure whether to try to patch […] Read More

5 Reasons Why IT People Love Lists

Ok, admit it. You’re reading this because you want to know the 5 reasons. That means that you’re probably like most IT people and you love lists yourself. Of course it’s not just IT people who love lists; it’s almost anyone who falls into the Myers-Briggs category called “Judging” which describes people who need structure […] Read More

The Blind Men and Information Technology

A recent article in ComputerWorld by Curt Monash reminded me of the poem about the Blind Men and the Elephant. The Computerworld article talked about different points of view from leading technology vendors. According to the article, Oracle and IBM view IT as data-centric, Microsoft views IT as people-centric, and SAP views IT as business-process-centric. […] Read More

I don’t usually like to talk about stereotypes, but it occurred to me that the stereotype about men not asking for directions applies equally well to CIOs of both genders. So let me talk about why men don’t ask for directions, and I think we’ll find some lessons that will apply to senior executives as […] Read More

How to Become a CIO

I’m a bit concerned that aspiring CIOs are looking for a “silver bullet,” a magic solution that they can easily apply and thereby instantly qualify to be a highly paid CIO. The real world isn’t like that. Many years ago I had an employee who wanted to be promoted to a higher level position, and […] Read More

Creating Wildly Successful Projects

I saw a shooting star the other day, a meteor streaking across the sky as it burned up in the atmosphere. A lot of IT projects are like that meteor: they briefly get a lot of attention, they brighten the lives of the people who observe them, but then they fade into oblivion when they’re […] Read More

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