The Question is the Answer

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2 “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

The question is the thing, whereby you’ll catch the information from your colleague or customer.

1. How can I help? A good starting or early question in any conversation. It signals positive intent to the person or group, while encouraging them to state what they need.

2. Could you tell me more? The more information the better. It also signals your interest in fully understanding the topic at hand.

3. What do you think? In a group setting, direct this to the person(s) who have been quiet. It tells the quiet people you care about their input and opinion. It tells the talkative people that all voices are welcome.

4. Can I talk this back to you? Paraphrase the messages, actions, or requirements. It signals that you were actively listening, and gives the person or group a chance to clarify. Even the most active listener may have missed something.

5. What would you like to have happen? Particularly useful in difficult situations. Getting someone to state directly what they want enables you to be able to respond directly in kind.

6. Would it be OK to ask [insert name here] to join us? Asking if someone else can join, instead of saying “I need so-and-so in this meeting” shows consideration. Be prepared however, to add “the reason that would be helpful is….” with the reason, so that people understand what can and can’t be accomplished without the additional person.

7. Silence. OK, not a question, but a useful tool in multiple situations if you need a moment to gather your thoughts, or in difficult situations to help others gather theirs.

8. Would it be OK if we took this offline? Twists & turns, the inevitable rat-hole of a loose thread. However, usually only advisable to use if you are leading or a leader of the meeting.

9. Let’s go over the next steps, OK? Sort of not a question, but if I had a nickel for each time that next steps weren’t covered and then misunderstandings arose, I’d have a pile of nickels.

You will have more & better answers if you ask more questions.

Asides:

- If you are interested in informatics, big data, econometrics, infonomics (and almost all of us should be) then check out the Information Is Beautiful (@infobeautiful) site. http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/ The “Million LInes of Code” infographic is one of my favorites.

- Following with interest the news that the MU-MIMO (multi-user – multi-input, multi-output) could greatly improve WiFi speeds. Here’s some initial information: http://bit.ly/1e0CvAQ

- April 8, 2014 is the official end of Windows XP, first introduced in August 2001. I’d say 13 years of life is pretty good for any technology. Check out http://signals.unh.edu/2014/03/11/windows-xp-technical-support-ends-on-april-8-2014/ for more information.

- I’ve fallen in like with the French term “apercu,” meaning “a comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point.” It reminds me that often the smallest comments or passing phrases are rich with meaning, and supports the need for active listening.

Questions? Comments? Post them below.

 

The Underestimated Value of Readiness

Once upon a time, there was a squirrel called Veep who had an idea for a new line of acorns. Veep had worked very hard on a proposal to get 1 million dollars from a benefactor called Board. To his delight, Board agreed, provided the product was delivered in six months. Veep hadn’t discussed this with his colleagues, but thought surely $1MM was enough to deliver in that time. He then went back to his team and delivered the wonderful news.

They looked at him in varying degrees of anxiety and dismay.

Finance Squirrel said: “The one million will pay for the start-up costs, but you need to complete a five-year business plan,”  tossed some spreadsheet templates at Veep and scampered off to an audit meeting.

Technology Squirrel, participating over high definition video conferencing, put Veep on mute, built a new mobile app called Acorn, put it on the App Store, and sent a text to Veep’s phone saying “Dude, check this out.”

Marketing Squirrel looked up from curating her Twitter feed and said: “My @SquirrelMarketing resources are already focused on your priority campaign for the #PineConeProject.”

Operations Squirrel said “I’ve got over 50 trees to repair because of this lousy winter, we can’t start on the new infrastructure for a couple of months” and trudged off to a deal with the latest lumber shortage.

Project Squirrel felt badly for Veep, who had turned a sickly shade of green. Project kindly said: “I will set up a kickoff meeting with Finance, Technology, Marketing and Operations. How does a month from next Tuesday sound?”

Moral of the story: Readiness is more important than money. (With apologies to Aesop.)

Money is not a magic wand that makes expert resources appear. Sponsorship, even at a very high level, does not substitute for subject matter expertise and change management. Your colleagues, no matter how much they believe in your project, are unlikely to have idle resources that can be instantaneously applied. Vendors, even if beating down your door, need contracts, requirements, and access to subject matter expertise.

Leaders should be looking at the gap between high-value projects and organizational readiness to start and implement those projects very early on, to increase success of time-to-market. Are you ready?

Asides:

- The #SXSW conference was rich with innovation and networking was extremely high, and my panel with @philkomarny, @mkrigsman and @davewaldron had super audience interaction. However, my quest for good WiFi at conferences continues. #SXSW had lots of free WiFi in the conference venue and nearby hotels, but it was S-L-O-W. (Best WiFi found was at a local coffee house on Congress.) Slow WiFi is as bad as no wifi.

- “29% of Americans say their phone is the first and last thing they look at every day.” See more technology mega-trends via @ValaAfshar’s slide share at http://www.slideshare.net/ValaAfshar/6297-top50megatrends-v3

- #GotBroadband? Save the date for NH Broadband Conference in Concord. http://www.iwantbroadbandnh.org/broadband-conference-2014

- I want to impeach the Polar Vortex. Who’s with me?

To Connect, CIOs Need To Unplug

When looking at descriptions of successful IT executives (whether the word in between Chief & Officer is Information, Digital, Technology), key words found include ‘collaborative,’ ‘business-savvy,’ ‘influencer,’ ‘social.’  (For the purposes of this article, I’m using CIO to mean the executive(s) with primary accountability for technology.) Even if there are technology challenges in these organizations, there is trust and comfort that the leader will fix them.

When talking to organizations who are having technology challenges, I often hear that the CIO knows a lot about technology but 1) didn’t establish relationships with their peer executives, 2) didn’t understand the business, 3) couldn’t develop the right workforce, 4) couldn’t manage our vendors …. and so on. These aren’t technology issues. These are leadership issues.

CIOs must be Chief Officers before they are technology executives.

Know the business. Deep understanding of the business(es) of your organization is a must. It’s more important for me to understand how UNH runs than it is to know the details of fiber channel backups. I’ve got an skilled technology team, for me to know everything they know would be a) impossible and b) redundant.

Get out of your box. Have conversations with business leaders and key personnel (like a top product manager or sales person) that aren’t part of your slate of regularly scheduled meetings.  They’ll appreciate your time, and you’ll learn a ton.

Go to where people stand. Literally and figuratively. What’s going well? What are they worried about? What are the top things they are working on? What’s their favorite mobile app?

Give without getting. Help people without expecting anything in return. While internal charge backs for IT service is de rigeur for most organizations, it can be a barrier. If someone needs a small mobile app or an extra wireless access point, just do it or buy it and don’t worry about the money. Call these small expenditures “loss leaders” and move on.

The only technology point I’m going to make here: Move towards a mobile-first or mobile-only strategy. If you haven’t already done this, you’re behind. There are ~ 7 billion mobile phones in the world, compared to 7 billion people (sadly this is not a 1-1 ratio, which is a topic for another day). How often are you connected to wired ethernet? Thought so…..

You cannot deliver innovation that makes a positive contribution to your organization unless you connect. And you can’t connect unless you unplug.

I’ll be at SXSW in Austin TX, as part of a panel on “CIOs: Catalysts for Innovation” with my colleagues @philkomarny and @davewaldron. Moderated by notable IT analyst and consultant @mkrigsman, join us on March 6 at 10:30 a.m., and follow us using Twitter hashtag #SXSWCIO.

Asides:

I heard a disturbing anecdote about someone thinking that when using the in-car navigation system, they don’t need to use turn signals because the car puts on the directionals automatically. This might explain the near-misses I’ve seen recently. (Are there cars that do this?)

The Team USA v Team Russia game on February 15 was one of the best Olympic hockey games I’ve ever seen (the Miracle of 1980 being of course the penultimate). Oshie, Kessel, and of course former @UofNH player James Van Riemsdyk and the team showed persistence and perseverance through a full game, overtime and shoot out.

(Im)patience is a virtue

After fifteen years, a few of my kitchen appliances decided to abruptly retire. The dishwasher sort of fell out of the wall, and the oven burst into flames during a self-cleaning cycle (nobody was hurt during this domestic revolt). I think they were trying to tell me something. So I found myself at a large retailer on the Saturday before the Super Bowl; a well-known national chain. The customer experience was so appalling I can barely bring myself to write about it.

1. The salesperson did not know how to use the iPad application with the makes, models and inventory information. Lesson: Don’t deploy technology without adequate education. If an employee can’t use the technology, either the training or the employee are insufficient.

2. The attractive binder-type books located prominently amongst the appliance displays, with (supposedly) all the information the salesperson was unable to retrieve via the iPad was two years out of date. The sales person said “oh, those are useless, they have old information.” Lesson: If the material is out of date, don’t put it out. (Ditto web site content.)

3. The salesperson did not know how to use the desktop computer (see #1). I brought up information faster on my iPhone using the store’s retail portal. He blamed it on the ‘network being down.’ (CIOs reading this right now just let out a primal scream. CEOs, you should scream louder.) Lesson: The new normal is the customer standing in front of you is likely equally or more technically savvy than you. If the customer whips out their smart phone and starts tapping away, you’re losing them.

4. When discussing installation time frames, was told something along the lines “well, hopefully Monday, but given it’s the Super Bowl tomorrow, there may not be any techs available.” (wink, wink). Lesson: Really? You are indicating to me, a paying customer, that I should expect an unreliable, possibly hungover person to come to my house and install equipment that involves electricity and water?

5. Throughout all this, the salesperson was amiable and pleasant – signalling to me that they thought their words and actions were OK. Was this how they were trained? Lesson: I think you get it.

I had to leave my better half to deal with the transaction. I went over and looked at HD televisions playing football clips to sooth myself. I will never, ever, EVER buy anything at this store again.

The managers and executives of this store should be bursting with impatience to fix the myriad of failures that led to my experience. Sadly, they may never know (though I will be scouring my e-mail and paper mail for a customer survey).

When a failure occurs in one of my areas of responsibility, such as a bad customer experience or a project snafu, am relentlessly impatient to find out what happened, why and what the h&$$ we’re going to do to make sure it never happens again. And that’s what I should be doing. It’s not about placing blame, it’s about being relentless about quality, and understanding that every time you ‘touch’ a customer, it’s got to be a positive experience. Impatience, in this instance, is a virtue.

Aside: I’ve only got one aside ….  #SB48 > Tide should have been declared the honorary winners of the Super Bowl for their savvy, engaging use of Vine and Twitter to post short clips after major ads that married Tide’s cleaning powers with various products ranging from cars to snack foods. And close behind is #EsuranceSave30 campaign – smart, social, digital marketing.

Questions? Comments? I’m @unhcio or use the comment feature on this site.