Generalist or Specialist

Generalist or Specialist

In my days in the British Army, we had a large pool of generalists called Infantry. I can say that now, because I can look at the subject with the benefit of hindsight and with the fact of being rather more detracted than I was when I was in.  Even then we had specialists for doing specific tasks  such as Engineers and Signals and more recently, Aviation and specialists combat operations teams.  Even in the Army, a specialism is recognised and pays more because of the additional training involved and the added value such a specialism brings.

As with all things, successful specialisms form the basis for future evolution, an example being  at the turn of the twentieth century we still used line formations in the British Army, our experiences against the highly motivated volunteer South African Boer Commandos, who used specialist tactics that subsequently influenced the way we dressed and the way the British Army conducted it’s business on the battle fields.  There have always been elements of any organisation that have required specialisation such as cooking, rations accounting (logistics) and in Cavalry units a Farrier to shoe the horses (now mainly ceremonial) . The introduction of technology has also had an impact that has resulted in evolution – machine guns and artillery along with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons has meant that battlefield tactics are completely different now to what they were a hundred years ago, and that’s my point.

With the changing aspects of any battlefield, the commanders have to make erudite decisions that take into account natural factors such as whether it is daylight or night-time, the weather and the topology of the ground, but they must also take into account friendly forces and their expected contributions, as well as enemy numbers, morale and technology as well as trying to determine the enemies intent.

I am not saying businesses are in a battle, but our own business commanders are similarly juggling lots of information, some of which may not be correct and their strategic decisions will have an impact on the outcome of our future careers and even on the existence of the business organisation we are currently working with.

As an Executive Business Coach in Bahrain, I often have to deal with the “loneliness of command” and the subject of specialisation or generalisation often crops up. Using my experience in the British Army, I usually explain that the title Captain Generale was used in many of the private armies across Europe to mean Captain of that Army. In subsequent years as the system evolved, the rank of General was one applied to any senior officer who commanded more than a Regiment, so taking a leaf from the history books of such a long lived organisation, we can surmise that at a certain level one has to become a generalist and focus on one’s organisational strategy and command.

Following on from this, I should point out that decision making should not be done in isolation and neither should anyone expected it to be. All the great generals had large teams of advisers helping them to make the right decisions and when we view many of those decisions with the benefit of hindsight, the clarity and long term soundness of the information used in the decision making process is hugely important. The ancient battle of Salamis where the Persian Sea fleet suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Greeks based upon subterfuge by Thermistocles has led a number of historians to claim that a Persian victory would have significantly hampered the development of ancient Greece and therefore by extension, western civilization, which leads them to claim that Salamis is one of the most significant battles in human history. I can also go on about Napoleon’s advance into Russia which Hitler subsequently copied and my personal favourite which is the classic Charge of the Light Brigade where Lord Cardigan’s original orders were misinterpreted by the chain of command which resulted in the heroic frontal assault onto the well prepared gun positions of the Russian artillery. I am sure you all have your own cases where advice has led to a different outcome because the advice was predicated on information that was not reliable, but that is a whole topic for a different day.

     So, How can we influence and help our commanders?

By working hard to provide the best information possible to enable them to make the best decisions. This means becoming an expert in your area of responsibility – a specialist in the organisation. By being well-trained and ready to react and able to take decisive action when called upon to do so. This doesn’t just mean you, but the whole team needs to be ready for action! By developing risk analysis plans and reviewing these with the team and identifying and agreeing mitigating courses of action to reduce or neutralise the risk. You should also train your team to be a team, ask them to be better at what they do and help them develop an understanding of the other roles in the team, so should anybody be experiencing difficulties, others can step in and support. Use mistakes or failure as a teaching opportunity and make the most as a team to analyse the issue and to work out a strategy that provides a better process for addressing the same issue in future. This enables the team to learn from their mistakes and to move forwards with the benefit of experience as one of their guiding principles. Remember, your commander and his commander are making decision that affect you based on the integrity of the information you provide – so make sure it is as true and correct as possible and trust your specialism to support your generalist!

 

Executive coaching is available by special arrangement.  Thank you for taking the time with me today – I hope it made you think!

Mike Jackson – Executive Leadership Coach and Action Effect-u-ator.

Together WE will make it happen!

 

Should my Project Manager be Contract or Permanent?

Should my Project Manager be Contract or Permanent?

Dreamstime Stock Photo

“Do I use permanent or contractor project managers?”

As somebody who has spent the last twenty five years working as an Independent Contractor (IC) in IT Project management / Quality management, I am often asked, “Should Project Managers be permanent staff or contractors?”

I usually respond with the question, “How do you define a project? – If the word temporary or short term comes to mind, then the resources used on the project will also be temporary and that should also include the PM.”

Base load vs Peak load

I think a neat way to look at it is this: We all understand simple power consumption, especially here in the Middle East where keeping the AC on has become a significant factor in any power company’s role. When you consider any power provision, there is the base load, the level that its supply provision typically doesn’t go below, and then there is a peak load which are the periodic fluctuations in consumer usage. The classic example usually cited is the extra thousands of kettles put on at half –time during a big football or rugby match.

Applying this analogy to our business, there is the ongoing operational effort required to keep the business running – the base load and there are the strategic transformational programmes and projects that will introduce new products and services to our business – the peak loads or increased demand.

How do we best supply this increased demand?

Utility companies deal with it by using additional standby power generating plants or by buying in additional power as required from independent suppliers.

The same applies to your project management requirements. You don’t need an office full of permanent project managers. There is a requirement to have some permanent staff to maintain continuity and to assist the PMO with day to day project management tasks and any ongoing projects. However, there are some aspects that should be considered when planning your project resourcing using permanent staff.

Costs should be grossed up to include tax, pension and NI contributions that the company makes on their behalf. One should also apply a contingent weighting cost for office space, expenses, holiday pay, sick pay, training costs, maternity pay, end of service benefits payments, stock sharing and in some cases, redundancy payments.

When planning, book permanent staff at 50% utilisation since they invariably have day jobs to attend to as well as personal admin, company meetings, time off, and company or compliance initiatives and personal development training.

When defining the project deliverables, remember that permanent staff leave too, so it pays to make knowledge transfer a clearly defined project deliverable.

Companies generally employ IC Project Managers because they are experienced they have proven project management skills and importantly, as an IC, they are easy to get rid of at the end of the project. From an accounting perspective, the whole budget can be tidied up during project closure including any bonus to the team and manager. No end of service benefits calculations, no ongoing accrual of pension rights and no ongoing social security or other tax liabilities.

“But what about technical knowledge?” I hear you say! Project Managers don’t need to be technically qualified to manage a project. In fact PM’s who lack technical knowledge generally do a better job because they don’t get dragged into developing technically elegant solutions, but remain focussed on their job…delivering the project.

Some considerations should you be considering using Independent Contractors

  1. An IC Project Manager will usually try to avoid the company politics, but they do need support from senior managers to ensure that they are empowered and this must be clear to the team. It is a good idea that a significant stakeholder is also the project champion and is seen to be supportive of the PM.
  2. IC’s are in it for the money and they will have a vested interest in extending their contract. That said, they should not deliberately extend a project, otherwise their reputation will be ruined. It’s a small world these days and word travels quickly.
  3. If you are presented with an hourly rate, also agree the working hours and ensure any process for agreeing extended hours working is included in the contract and adhered to.
  4. Ensure that knowledge transfer is a defined project deliverable and time is scheduled for it.
  5. Pay the IC for the work that they do – don’t quibble and penny pinch. You expect them to perform professionally – pay them the same courtesy. If somebody doesn’t pay you on time how quickly do you seek out the reason why? Pay on time according to the contract.
  6. IC’s are businesses. They have to pay expenses and pay wages the same as a larger enterprise, so negotiate a fair rate. Don’t beat them into the ground. You need a PM who is happy to work, not one who is worried how he is going to make ends meet.

If you are considering becoming an Independent Contractor

  1. Don’t do it if you want stability and security and a job title with a hierarchical growth path.
  2. Acquaint yourself with marketing yourself and personal branding.
  3. If you are like me, you can use contracting roles to facilitate travelling and working around the world.
  4. Like any good Project Manager, conduct a risk assessment and be comfortable with the risks and mitigating strategies.

Conclusion

I have been blessed to work with some incredible characters and I have also had my share of the worst. If you are hiring an IC, don’t buy the cheap one, do some research – I have learned that experience is a price that is still very much well worth paying for!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any company that I am associated with.

 

Who employs a coach? ….Winners do!!

We are not so different!

We are not so different!

In the many years I have worked as a Project manager and a Change manager, I have worked with many people of different race and religions. Recently I was re-united with an Indian friend I worked with years ago in Delhi whilst doing a Software Factory Acceptance Test contract for J P Morgan who had commissioned Tata Consulting to develop a new asset management product for them back at the turn of the century.

My Sikh, Tata counterpart Project Manager remains a good friend to this day. During my stay in Delhi he told me about how Jainism preceded Sikhism and how many of the stories that he grew up with had some been adopted from Jainsim and other Indian religions.

One such story was the blind men and the elephant.

The blind men and the elephant.

The story goes, Once upon a time, a king summoned six blind men to his court to tell the court about an elephant he had in the great hall.

None of them had any idea what an elephant was, so they decided that even though they would not be able to see it, they would go and feel it anyway. All of them went to where the elephant was and they all touched the elephant.

The first man who touched the animal’s tail said, “Hey, the Elephant is like a rope,”

“Oh, no! It is a tree trunk,” said the second man who was touching the Elephants leg.

“It is like a great big hand fan,” said the third man who was touching the Elephant’s ear.

“Rubbish! It is just a big snake,” said the fourth man who touched the trunk of the Elephant.

The fifth man who touched the side of the Elephant said, “Don’t be silly, it is like a huge wall,”

“No, no, the Elephant is like a spear,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They all began to argue about the elephant and each one of them insisted that he was correct and so they started to become agitated. The Kings wise man stopped them and asked, “Why are you arguing?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

After some consideration, they agreed that the wise man was indeed correct and that they were also correct.

Moral – A little understanding may not be such a bad thing

The moral of the story is that there is some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes we cannot because they may have different perspective which we may not agree with. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” In this way Janism works to encourage avoiding arguments and it accepts that a truth can be stated in several different ways.

I am not suggesting that we all rush off and become Jainists, but I do suggest that we all try to be a little more tolerant towards others and their viewpoints. Ask yourself, “How much does this person really know or see?” I am not condoning anyone who perpetrates violence as a solution to someone holding alternative beliefs, but with a little understanding and a bit of curiosity – we may see the world from a slightly different perspective and that little bit of understanding may not be such a bad thing.

From a PM perspective

Applying this to Project Management, One should not be too quick to make plans and assumptions until you have heard all the various stakeholders’ opinions. Think of them as your team of blind men telling you about your Elephant project. The more views you have to work with, the better the solution.

From a personal perspective

I can’t help but think the blind men were rather too quick to come to a conclusion and if you have somebody saying that it is something else, surely you should seek to find out a more balanced and objective truth.

Are we a society that has become all too accepting of the truth as it is presented? Would a more robust line of enquiry meet with more objective reality? Should you blindly believe what professor Google or Dr. Wikipedia tells you?

My Challenge to you…

Go out today and learn something new about somebody from a different race or religion. Don’t look it up on the internet! Get off your chair and go and talk to somebody of a different nationality or race or creed or religion. Try and learn something about them that is different from you and establish something that is similar to you. You are not asking to argue, you want to better understand the world you live in!

You never know, you could be surprised at how similar we are and how much we all want similar or the same things.

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Who employs a coach?     Winners do!!

“One small step for a man, but……”

“One small step for a man, but……”

Courtesy of NASA

It’s nearly fifty years ago that Neil Armstrong left his boot print in the surface of the moon. What an amazing feat of courage! imagine his enormous sense of achievement, coupled with the continual nagging doubts that if anything went wrong, he and the rest of the crew were a quarter of a million miles from the nearest help!

In 1981, Astronaut John Young summed it up when asked if he was nervous making the first Space Shuttle Flight, he replied, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest Hydrogen-Oxygen fuelled system in the world, knowing they are going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

And yet they still stepped up, overcame their fear and went on to make history and their successors continue to do so.

The Fear of the unknown

In this article, I want to pick up on the fear element, that fear of the unknown, because many of us face it too. Every day, executives, managers, parents and workers have a conversation with that little voice inside their head – nagging them to, “Stay in the light”, “Don’t do it because it will turn into a disaster”, or, “You’ll be sorry!”.

How many people do you know who do something and then say afterwards, “I don’t know why I just didn’t do it earlier?”

Often our biggest fear is the fear of being judged and found unworthy, being shunned by a peer group, being labelled as stupid or just simply being excluded.

These days, we live in a busy society – and our roles are frequently described as being high pressure which contributes to understandable feelings of alienation, inadequacy and loneliness. Such feelings can lead to withdrawal and even depression. These symptoms are often observed in combat roles – the British military have talked about the loneliness of command since before Admiral Nelson’s day.

Their solution is the provision of a solid organisational support structure right down to pairing individuals as buddies in the form of a buddy-buddy system. The idea being that whenever you get into a tough situation, you have a buddy and you look out for each other, egging each other on to achieve the mission. Pilots have a wingman, snipers have their spotter and senior officers have their aide-de-camp.

How do you overcome such fears?

When we view the world through the lens of fear, we develop protective habits which turn us away from others rather than seeking support from them. The act of interaction with others, the sharing of thoughts, concerns and ideas stimulates responses. Try to focus on the positive elements and set clear positive objectives which you should share with your team.

If you are a manager or an executive with doubts and concerns about your performance and how it will be received by your teams, build a positive support structure and find yourself an executive coach.

Don’t procrastinate, take action – remember, No action means nothing changes and you will remain where you are while the rest of the world moves on.

Want more?

If you want to know more, give me a call. I am Mike Jackson, Director of Coaching for ELEV8.

 

Who employs a coach?     Winners do!!

                  

Nothing Changes

Nothing Changes

A few days ago, Andy Murray lifted the All England Tennis Clubs singles championship cup and banked Two Million pounds. Interestingly, his coach Ivan Lendl was with him the last time he won Wimbledon in 2013. They separated in 2014 and only recently got back together again – seems Andy Murray responds well to Lendl’s coaching for the Wimbledon tournament.

My point is that this talented young Scotsman didn’t do it entirely on his own. There is a whole backroom team of fitness coaches, tennis coaches and business coaches who all support and develop the Murray protégé and they don’t just focus on his physical game, they also work on his mind game. His previous female coach Amelie Mauresmo has been attributed with bringing a significant degree of calm into his game. This has enabled him to control his temper and get over issues both on and off court whilst remaining focussed on the job in hand. But, it is Lendl as coach that brings out the overpowering desire to win for Murray.

Coaching is not telling people what to do.

Coaching is about building a relationship based on trust. The coach enables the individual or team to reflect and review goals and priorities and determine what they want to achieve. This creates desire and the coach will help the coachees to understand what the current situation is and to explore what they can do to move towards the desired outcome. Then comes the part where the coachee must make a choice of what they will do and how they will do it. They will discuss how the success can be celebrated and sustained going forwards and finally, they create a plan of action.

If you change nothing – nothing will change

Coaching is not just about addressing performance, a 2011 Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) study on Coaching Culture stated, ““Not a remedial tool: Many organisations still view coaching as a tool for correcting poor performance. However, good coaching is about achieving a high performance culture, not managing a low-performance one, and should not be seen primarily as a remedial tool.”

Coaching is a really great way of enabling people to develop their own thoughts and ideas, which in turn develops their own confidence which empowers them to undertake more challenging tasks and to seek greater fulfilment. All the great inventions of the world have been developed by people seeking answers, as part of a journey to fulfilment.

There are many documented direct correlations between happiness and the perceived levels of performance in the workplace. An executive or a manager who has been coached, who feels more positive and confident, will pass this onto his/her team, who will in turn perform better. Happier people generally lead to less stressful working environments and lower staff attrition.

HR are the “Go to” people for Coaching

A more recent Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) report published in 2014 stated, “As this report and others have noted, the popularity of coaching has grown significantly since 2001 in the UK, reflecting similar growth across the world. As demand for coaching has risen, so has the supply of coaches. This has brought the challenge for organisations and individuals of which coach to appoint.”

The Human Resources team are responsible for introducing coaching to an organisation. FME solutions provides advisory and consultative facilities to assist HR departments in understanding and developing their coaching needs and can provide assistance with coach selection and employment.

Contact our Director of Coaching services – Michael.Jackson@FME.Solution

Feeling Stuck?

Feeling Stuck?

Coping with change

A couple of weeks back on a coaching call, my client related a lovely story that she had shared with some of her school children and I want to share it with you.

A monkey was walking through the Jungle, when it came upon a hole in the ground. When he looked into the hole he saw a juicy ripe Marula fruit at the bottom of the hole. The sides of the hole were quite narrow and it took a little while to wriggle his hand down into the hole far enough to reach the fruit. At last he grabbed onto it and when he tried to withdraw his hand, he found that he couldn’t because his clenched fist prevented him from being able to extract his hand along with the Marula fruit.

He struggled for ages to get his hand out. Eventually a passing porcupine stopped and asked him, “Why do you have your hand down that hole?” – “Are you stuck?” The monkey explained he had spotted the Marula fruit and how he had grasped it, but now he was unable to remove his hand whilst holding the fruit. The porcupine thought for a minute and then asked the monkey, “What else is there around you that could help you get what you want?”

The monkey looked around and suddenly realised the whole forest floor was littered with Marula fruits in abundance, just there for the taking. Because he had been so focused on the one in the hole, he had completely missed all the other opportunities.

True to life?

How true to life is this? How many people do you know who cling desperately to outmoded thinking like survivors cling to the flotsam of a sinking ship?

In her book Death and Dying published in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross produced a model which has subsequently been found to be useful in the majority of situations relating to change. According to Kubler-Ross, there are FIVE distinct stages, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance and these are transferable and can vary in intensity from person to person.

Real example

Following a bit of research on the internet, I found a great example in a grief web-site – thank you Windstream.net.

Imagine you are late for work, you rush out of the house get in the car, drop your keys, curse as you fumble for them, insert the key and turn it and ….. whhaa whaaaa whhaaaahh –

The battery is flat!

  1. DENIAL— What’s the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then…, well, you try again!
  2. ANGER — “%$@^##& car!”, “I should have junked you years ago.” You slam your hand on the steering wheel and shout. “I should just leave you out in the rain and let you rust.”
  3. BARGAINING— (realizing that you’re going to be late for work)…, “Oh please car, if you will just start ONE MORE TIME I promise I’ll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, belts and hoses, and keep you in perfect working condition….please start..”
  4. DEPRESSION— “Oh God, what am I going to do? I’m going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don’t really care anymore. What’s the use?”
  5. ACCEPTANCE — “Ok. It’s dead. Guess I had better call the garage guy or find another way to work. Time to get on with my day; I’ll deal with this later.”

This is not a trivial example. We often all go through this process several times a day. A dead battery, the loss of a parking space, a wrong number, the friend who doesn’t pick up your call, a job you missed, an overdrawn bank account, supermarkets out of stock of your favourite muffins or the cashier close just as you get to them!

Sometimes (more often than you would think), people get stuck like the monkey, holding onto a precious item that prevents them from moving forwards, like the old girl down the way who refuses to have a mobile phone, a hearing aid or glasses because she doesn’t like ‘em or the way they make her look.

Like the porcupine in our story, Coaches are trained to ask deep pertinent questions that empower people to reflect and seek alternative views of their current situation. They help people to focus on fixing the things they can fix and not on things they cannot!

I was moaning about the state of the educational system and the flagrant inequities that exist between universities based in the East and the West when my Mentor Coach, Dr. Clare Beckett McInroy, stopped me and asked, “Mike, it appears to me that you have two choices; either you can expend more energy moaning about the problem as you see it; or you can do something to fix it!, Which one is it going to be?”

This is why I am a coach, because like Dr. Clare, I am about solving problems for people.

One last thing, please don’t just call me if your car battery is flat or you find a monkey with his hand down a hole – okay?

Who employs a coach? Winners do!!

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