Sync or Sink

“Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

The image of the crew team, usually at dawn, rowing in sync as the scull cuts through the water, is often used to symbolize the harmonious teamwork required to make progress.

But in order to sync (rather than sink), certain elements need to be present.

Training: Can’t just toss people in metaphorical boats, throw them oars and expect them to cross the finish line in record time. In higher education institutions, we should have no excuse to have ill-trained staff; educating is the business we’re in…..

Talent: Who’s going to be in the bow or the stern? Who’s going to be the coxswain? Who’s going to maintain the boat, the oars? And not only who is going to do that now, but who’s going to do it in a few years when the talent retires, gets promoted, or gets a better offer from the team down the road? See also: Succession planning….

Tools: Best team in the world can’t perform if the boat has holes. Equip your team properly. I’m a fan of ITIL and PMBOK, but in order to have these be effective, you’ve got to provide the processes and systems to the team.

Planning: Many failed projects suffer from lack of upfront planning. Recently I was in a discussion where we were outlining a high level approach on a large project, and it was clear that while well-intentioned, the time-frames put forth were not well-informed. Better to put “TBD” and schedule the (hard) work of planning the work and working the plan than “make s*** up.”

Row in sync, or sink.


The deal between Arizona State and Starbucks is fascinating. Encourage all to read about it. Here’s one article:

Well worth the ~ 15 minutes to watch “Frozen” director Jennifer Lee’s @UofNH commencement speech:

Recommend this post on big data & small data by Daniel Gutierrez:  Here’s an quote: “BIG data is just data. Yes, types, size, velocity, etc. categorize BIG data, but it is still data and must be handled and managed as such.”

And last but not least; how about that Game of Thrones finale…. and the US soccer team win over Ghana. Both thrilling.

The Everything Agent

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strange) …” David Bowie

What exactly is a change agent, as it applies to leaders?

Station agent: Like a railway worker switching the tracks, the leader must anticipate conflicting priorities and direct traffic so that resources are focused in the right direction. Trains won’t run on time if they are constantly derailed.

Travel agent: Where do we want to go? Uncharted territory or well-known destination? When should we go? How should we get there? First class or economy? Carry on or checked luggage? Rapid gathering of the right inputs to make quick decisions is critical.

Secret agent: Transparency and collaboration is important; defaulting to over-communication is often the norm. But there are times when it’s not OK to share; breaking confidences is a trust-killer. Also, often timing of sharing information is important, either internally or externally.

Talent agent: The importance of quality workforce cannot be underestimated. Recruitment, performance management and retention are table stakes. Coaching and feedback are not an annual event; they must be constant and at the forefront.

And why is change “strange,” at least according to Bowie. The only person who truly likes change is a baby with a messy diaper. Almost everyone else is cautious if not downright resistant. As leaders, we must steel ourselves and ‘face the strange,’ so that we can help others deal with change.

Keep the trains on the track, the luggage tied down safely, send the right signals at the right time, and all the passengers on board.


Great slideshare on digital transformation by Dion Hinchcliffe (@dhinchcliffe) at

The words “big data” are thrown around …. well, too much. It’s important to define what that means. Here’s a good start:

Am I the only one who is upset that “Revolution” got cancelled? I guess it’s the geek in me that was enthralled about what happens when the power goes out (and then apparently starts to take over). Well, on to “Falling Skies” ……

Questions? Comments? I look forward to hearing from you.

In Leadership, We Trust

“You’re watching your back, like you can’t relax.” – Avril Lavigne

Employee engagement is a lagging and leading indicator of productivity. The Gallup 2013 “State of the American Workplace” indicated that 70 percent of employees in the U.S. are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.”

Poor employee engagement is not a symptom, it’s an outcome. Trust is necessary for positive engagement levels. Therefore lack of trust is a likely root cause when engagement levels, and ergo productivity, are low.

Leaders need to actively focus on trusting others and being trustworthy themselves. Here’s some trust-habits.

1. Watch colleague’s backs, don’t stab them. When back-stabbing happens, the stabber and the stabbee are immediately viewed with suspicion. “Cinderella betrayed Snow White? I guess I can’t trust Cinderella, so I won’t volunteer to work on her project like I planned.” “Snow White did what? I think I’ll look around for another person to make the apple pies?” Betrayal disrupts like a big rock thrown in a small pond.

2. Give the benefit of the doubt. We all have bad days. You can’t know what might be going on in someone’s life. Delayed tasks and mistakes – we all make them; cut the co-worker some slack, especially if this behavior is atypical. If you know the person well enough, perhaps pick a casual moment to say ‘everything OK?’ or offer help. (If it becomes typical, that’s another story; a performance management story.) Being known for someone who doesn’t judge or leap to conclusions, but is open to learning from mistakes, not blaming for them, will build trust.

3. Be honest when someone appears to have caused a problem, but give them a chance to explain. “Prince Eric, it seems the widget you built may have caused a major customer service outage. Can you review for me what happened?” Looking to cast blame, rather than understanding what happened and offering advice, make people trust you won’t “throw them under the bus.”

4. Be approachable. Be known for someone who can listen to difficult situations, stay calm, and handle appropriately. I’m Type A myself, and it can be tough to hear startling news and control my reaction. Difficult circumstances are the ones where it is most important to summon control. People will trust you more if they feel you won’t freak out.

5. Avoid knee-jerk e-mails. All the emoticons in the world don’t substitute for face-face or even a phone call. An upset or angry frame of mind leads to communications you may regret. Write want you want to say in a document (close e-mail so the Send button isn’t even in sight), and let it sit for a night or a day or even a week. If you still want to send, perhaps have a trusted co-worker read it first. Once you click Send, you can’t take it back, and you could damage trust.

Going back to Avril’s song lyric, employees who experience or witness betrayal and lack of trust are distracted by watching their own backs. Heads down, “just-get-me-through-the-week” attitudes prevail over collaboration, transparency and contribution.

Building trust takes time and focus. Damaging takes a split second. Protect the trust.


OK, I only have one aside this Friday, but it’s a big one! @UofNH student @RealAlexPreston is a top 3 contestant in American Idol! All of us in Durham are rooting for this talented young man.

Well, maybe I do have one more. Happy Mother’s Day, and on Sunday May 11, whether you are a parent or not, send a thought to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria and their families. May the situation result in their safe return.







The Differentiation Scale

Brands can be made or broken by how an organization establishes itself in the marketplace. Technology establishes its value to an organization, and its customers, in a similar fashion.

As CIOs work with their internal partners and IT teams on strategic planning and the daily operational blocking & tackling, they should consider where current technology stands as to negative, neutral, or positive differentiation. Customers no longer just use technology, they experience your organization via technology.

Negative differentiation: Technology that is absent, broken or limited. The most prevalent example is poor reliability > networks or applications that are down, degraded or insecure will create poor perceptions not just of the technology, but of the organization. Response time expectations are getting shorter and shorter, even split-second delays can cause customers go elsewhere. Ignore gaps in the technology portfolio that are negative differentiators at your organization’s peril.

Neutral differentiation: Technology in this space doesn’t particularly differentiate your organization, but if you don’t have it, you are disadvantaged. Technology moves from innovative to ’5 minutes ago’ at an escalating pace. CIOs don’t want to wake up one day and find that the competition has implemented technology to such an extent that it is expected – and their organization is lacking. It wasn’t long ago that the existence of mobile application was considered bleeding edge. Not any more; people expect to go to their mobile device and interact with your organization. People also expect that when approaching (or being approached by) your organization, whether in person, via phone, or digitally, you know who they are and can customize their experience (also known as ‘delighting the customer’). For most organizations, the bulk of the technology portfolio is probably in this space.

Positive differentiation: Innovation lives here, but not for long. Wearable technology, ultra-fast broadband, home automation are a few examples. CIOs should be thinking about which of the plethora of innovations could be positive differentiators for their organization; and move to implement swiftly, before the competition applies it to such a great extent that it moves into the neutral zone. The challenge here is to prioritize; avoid the trap of trying everything but not implementing anything.


CIOs and their teams need to partner with their business counterparts to correctly identify where technology sits along the differentiation scale, to ensure  enhancement of, not damage to, the customer experience and ergo the brand.


FCC adjusts stance on net neutrality. All consumers of internet services (so I guess that’s everyone) should pay attention to this topic.

Mark your calendar for New Hampshire Broadband Conference on May 16.

Mobile addicts are apparently include middle-aged parents. Interesting insights as to who (other than CIOs, of course) are the most heavy mobile users.[The+Rise+of+the+Mobi]

Speaking of mobile addiction, check out UNH’s mobile application suite.

Comments? Questions? I look forward to hearing from you.