Is An Innovation Contest What Your IT Team Needs Now?

images (43)How’s everything going for your team right now? I suspect that like most IT managers you’d say that everything is going “OK”. Yeah, yeah, things could be better, but they are not too bad. You and I both know that that’s an acceptable state to be in; however, you could be doing better. What you really want is for your team to be working together with a great deal of both energy and enthusiasm. What you need is a contest!

Why Contests Matter To Your Team

Contests are not easy. When you are able to use your IT manager skills to find a contest that you think that your team could compete in, you are going to have to have a discussion with your team. The heart of this discussion should be the difficulty level of the contest. Does the team think that they might have a shot at winning the contest? Expect the range of opinions on your team to vary from member to member.

One of the most powerful parts of participating in a contest is that they generally have very tight deadlines. Things that if left up to your team to complete on their normal schedule could end up taking months if not years generally have to get done in a very narrow window as a part of a contest. 90 days seems to be the norm. You are going to need to use this tight schedule to set time lines and deliverables that will allow the team to quickly get something out the door.

What’s going to be the most important to your team is your level of motivation. If you are highly motivated, then very quickly this will start to drift down into your team. What you are going to want to use your IT manager training in order to see is that everyone’s moral is running high. It’s going to have to. In order to successfully compete in the contest, the members of your team are going to have to get up early, stay late, and even work on weekends. However, this is going to be easy to do if the members of your team are motivated and really want to be involved.

How To Use Contests To Make Your Team Better

Just entering the contest can have the effect of bringing your team together. This is good news. However, what you really want to do is to win the contest! No, you won’t always win but there will be times that you do. When this happens one of the decisions that you’ll have to make is what to do with the prize money. Your company may have rules regarding this; however, as an IT manager you want to make sure that at least some of it gets spent on your team. A very nice party is a great way to celebrate everyone’s involvement and efforts.

Your team’s participating in the contest means that you’ll have publicity. You’ll need to come up with a plan to make the most of that publicity once the contest wraps up. If you are the winner, then it should be easy to get interviews with the various news outlets. However, you’ll need to make some decisions about what you’ll be talking about. You need to discuss the contest, your team, what they did, and what this means. You’ll not want to leave anything out.

No, your team won’t win every contest that you may enter. What this means for you as an IT manager that you need to have a Plan B created. If the team doesn’t win, then there will be the expense of participating, the loss of moral, etc. You’ll need to take action to point out to the team what they were able to accomplish and the successes that they achieved. Make sure that they understand that they did a great job working together as a team and that you think that they they’ll probably win the NEXT contest that they enter!

What All Of This Means For You

What every IT manager wants is for their IT team to be working together like a high performance racing engine. However, what most of us have is a group of people who pretty much get along and who can get things done eventually. In order to motivate our team and ramp up their energy level, what we need to do is to accomplish some IT team building and get them involved in a contest!

There are a lot of different contests out there sponsored by everyone from private organizations like the X Prize Foundation and the government’s DARPA. Find a contest that requires the skills and talents that your team has. In a perfect world, what your team would be working on would relate to what your company does. This means that the work that they pour into the contest can be reused back at the office once the contest is over. Getting your team involved in a contest can help to create team spirit, speed product development, and just might generate some free publicity for everyone who is involved.

I wish that I could offer you a big bag of raises that you could distribute within your team. Or even better than that, how about fancy new titles for everyone? At most companies both of these types of motivational rewards are always in short supply. As an IT manager you are going to need to get creative as you search for ways to keep your team motivated and working at high energy levels. Finding a contest that they can enter can be a great way to bring the team together while both benefiting themselves and the company as a whole.


I Gotta Know

images (42)I love to learn. I read voraciously, always have since I was a little girl. I pay attention to people, to things in the world, to what is happening. I was raised by parents who valued learning, and I adopted their philosophy. You might be thinking- that is great, so what? Here is the thing, the drive to know can also be limiting.

I am so driven to know that when I make a mistake, I get upset with myself. I am much better about it after years of practice but it is still an unconscious automatic reaction to my mistakes (I am OK with other’s mistakes, as long as they fess up and fix them!). I am limited because I don’t like open-ended questions, and I stop discovering as soon as I have ‘the’ answer.

I am really committed to empowering people and especially women. I have this notion that we, together, can end the gender gap both in pay and influence, in my lifetime. Everything seems aligned for this- it is a hot topic. And I am still committed to that.

However, when I start asking a question, without answering it-the question of ‘What is really possible if women everywhere are empowered?” the playing field gets much bigger. Just imagine what IS possible. I have no idea, and most of us don’t. What I do know is if we are willing to keep asking the question and then taking action as we see the actions there are to take, we will end the gender gap and probably so much more. I am really excited and… a bit intimidated, but I figure I am not alone and together, we can do so much.

Is there something that is important to you, where you have stopped imagining what is possible? If that is the case for you, I invite you to start asking new questions, start having conversations, start taking action and see what happens!

Why Aren’t Our Networks Staying Up?

images (41)Does anyone besides me remember the phone system? You could be just about anywhere in the world at any time and you could pick up a phone, call someone, and your call would go right through. The Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) just worked. Now nothing is ever perfect and the POTS wasn’t perfect either, but it was 99.999% perfect which meant that it only didn’t work for about 5 minutes per year. Clearly, despite the importance of information technology, the networks that we’re designing and building today don’t work anywhere this reliably. Why not?

Network Outages Seem To Be A Part Of Life

Back in the day, when the phone network was “the network”, an outage was a big deal. It got stories written about it in papers and people talked about it on TV. The reason that it was such a big deal was because it didn’t happen very often. Things have certainly changed. In the first half of 2015 alone the NYSE halted trading because of a technical glitch and United Airlines had to ground all of their airlines because of problems with a program that scheduled pilots.

I think that there are a few things that have probably lead us to where we find ourselves today. First off, as any person with the CIO job can tell you, we have a lot more networks that we are using to run things. In any given company there are the networks that deal with creating the products and services that the company sells and then there are the networks that are used to actually run the company. Just to make things a little bit more difficult, each of these networks is now more complex. They have more boxes and software and other components that make them up.

One of the other reasons that network outages seem to occur more frequently these days is simply because CIOs don’t staff their IT departments to deal with outages like the phone company used to. For regulatory reasons, the phone company was under the gun when they had a network outage. They needed to fix it fast. This meant that they hired and trained an army of skilled technicians who would spring into action any time there was a network outage. People in the CIO position don’t do this today and so our outages tend to last much longer.

It’s All About Managing Change

As a CIO you would prefer that your corporate networks not experience any downtime. However, of course, this will never be possible. What we need to do is to take some time and try to get to the root cause of just exactly why we and our peers are seeing so many high profile network outages.

I sorta hate to say this, but the answer to this question is actually pretty obvious. The reason that so many of us CIOs have been experiencing network outages is because of the high rate of change that is occurring within our networks. Just when we get our network stable and configured the way that it has to be in order to work with and for our company, along comes yet another change. The change can be either hardware or software but because it changes our network into a partially upgraded beast for a while, bad things can easily happen.

As a CIO we can’t always prevent outages from happening. However, what we can do is to take steps to minimize the probability that they will occur. What we need to do within our IT departments is to make sure that we are using solid well-documented and automated processes as much as possible in order to test, build, upgrade and configure our networks. It’s only by doing this that we’ll start to drive some of human error out of these processes and reduce the possibility of having yet another network outage.

What All Of This Means For You

I believe that most of us can remember a time when there were things that just seemed to always work. Now we find ourselves living in an age where a computer failure seems to take down the NYSE every month or so, Internet providers experience massive outages, etc. Why do today’s modern networks seem to work so much worse than the phone network of yesterday?

It turns out that there are a lot of different reasons that are all contributing to our current lack of network reliability. Many firms prefer to invest in other things until they experience an infrastructure problem. In the past firms maintained army’s of technicians to fix issues, today’s lean organizations can take much longer to clear errors. Today’s networks are more complex, carry more data, and change more rapidly than ever before. The result is that we’ll keep seeing more network outages.

As CIOs we need to understand the situation that we find ourselves in. Our IT departments have created some wonderfully functional networks that because of the great deal of change that is always going on in IT may at times experience outages. What we need to do is to take the time to develop contingency plans that determine what action we’ll take when, not if, our networks go down. Being ready for bad things is what being a CIO is all about.


5 Steps To Better Relationships With Your Subordinates

images (40)How can you make your business team more productive? Today’s employees aren’t drones stuck in cubicles like a Dilbert cartoon. Your subordinates live in a social media world and expect personal engagement. Here are 5 ways to better relationships with your subordinates:

Know Yourself

The first step is to connect more deeply with your inner self and to use that self-realization as the basis for your leadership. Connecting to your callings, and learning to love and trust your intuition gives you confidence. When you act from fear and doubt, you won’t motivate anyone else to support organizational change; however, when you are sure of yourself, you inspire your subordinates to trust you.

Know Your Subordinates

Research shows that the most effective leaders have a high emotional intelligence, meaning they understand people and can read their thoughts and feelings. One way to become better at emotional intuition is to get to know your subordinates. Spend time with them and find out about their families, their interests outside of work, and their particular fears, strengths, and dreams. As you build personal relationships with subordinates they will develop trust in you and will be willing to trust your leadership even when it requires extra perseverance and dedication to a project.

Pay Attention to Emotional Needs

How someone feels about the ups and downs of a project or assignment can greatly affect how hard they will work to overcome problems. Asking employees about their feelings about their work can help. Allowing them to safely express how they feel can help you recognize aspects of a business project that cause stress on your subordinates and ways that you as a leader can help to reassure them and keep them motivated and on the right track.

Be Positive and Confident

The people under you want to know that the goals you set are achievable and important. You set the tone for how they feel about their work. When you present your goals confidently, you set a positive tone for meetings and personal dealings with employees.

Keep Your Cool

Inevitably, problems will arise in your business plans and employees will deal with stress and anger at each other and at whoever is in charge. Modeling the behavior you want from your employees is important. Keeping your cool and remaining in control of the situation helps your subordinates have confidence in your leadership and goals and can prevent the members of the project from getting off track.

In these days of continual change in business through globalization, social media feedback and integration, business leaders need more than talent and good ideas, they need to have the emotional intelligence that helps them have good relationships with subordinates so that goals can be accomplished.