Category Archives: Career

Lessons From Comcast Your People are the Company

I found it interesting that Comcast is publicly saying that they are “embarrassed” by the behavior of one of their custom support reps.

I mean, yeah, what else were they going to say?

But it does teach us something important about front line service employees. When Ryan Block and his wife dialed the toll free number in order to cancel their account, they weren’t calling the individual who answered the phone. They were calling Comcast, and to them, the person on the other end of the phone was Comcast. In looking at the various commentaries about the story, and the comments left by readers, you see the same assumption, this is Comcast acting this way. This is the way Comcast teaches it’s employees to act, this is official policy, and so on.

Now I have no idea if it is official policy at Comcast or not. I’ve never been a Comcast customer, (Although I will be when I get to Oregon, so much for having any choice!) but from what I’ve read and heard, it would really not be surprising if it was the policy. On the other hand, that doesn’t matter. In this instance, the customer service rep is acting as Comcast, so it is Comcast doing this.

I think we tend to forget this, and it doesn’t just apply to customer service jobs. As the guys at Manager Tools are fond of saying about bosses and their directs, to them, you are the company. When you share information, and maybe more importantly when you choose not to share information, to your directs it is the company doing that, not one individual. If you choose to not tell them something, it is the company deciding not to tell them something.

Stop and think about that. No really, stop and think about it.

That day some important news was coming down the pipeline from senior management but you put off sharing that information with your team because you wanted to get home early? They found out about it from somewhere else, and probably assumed that they were being left out of the announcement on purpose. That time you made a flippant remark about budgets being tightened = company is in trouble. You are the company. You are the source of information about the company to your directs.

Now think about the comments you make when you’re customer or partner facing? Yeah, you are the company to these folks, and if you run a company, those folks are the company to your customers. Look around at the people who work for you, how does that make you feel? If those aren’t the people you want representing your company, or if you’re not sure how well they are representing the company, you should probably spend some time doing something about that.

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Depression Stigma in IT?

Closeup fireI’ve been struggling with writing this for a couple of weeks now, but ever since I saw the article over on TechCrunch entitled We Need To Talk About Depression it has been on my mind.

The article talks about some of the stigma associated with depression and mental health in a startup company.

Building a startup is like climbing a mountain and being told you’ll only get the gear you need–harnesses, helmets, bottled oxygen–as you struggle toward the peak. Long hours away from family, responsibility to investors and users, and the fear of failure are extremely stressful and they sometimes coalesce into something more severe.
I’m not a startup founder, but as a TechCrunch writer I’ve gotten to know many, some quite well, and I’ve seen how entrepreneurship can put even the most optimistic people at risk for depression.

It got me thinking about the tech world in general. There are certain stereotypes about tech workers; we work long hours, have no social life, deal with highly stressful situations putting out all of the technical fires that happen within our organizations, etc. Those stereotypes, unfortunately, also turn into expectations. I have always thought that was one of the bigger problems with attracting females to an IT career, this sense that they would be expected to work long hours, be on call for emergencies, and non-emergencies, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, etc. (Granted, there are many other reasons why there are a lack of females in the tech world, but this is not an article about that)

Those expectations would make it difficult for someone dealing with depression as well. As John Grohol stated in response to the above article:

 Indeed. When you’re young and feel like you have endless energy, working 80 hours a week (and getting paid for 40) seems like a good idea. But it’s not. It eventually catches up to you, stresses you out, and throws your entire life out of balance.

Some of the articles written around this topic sound like thinly-veiled excuses for the discrimination and prejudice that many have experienced in startup cultures. That because these environments are stressful and demanding, it somehow excuses discrimination and stigma of mental illness.

Here’s where it gets personal to me. I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve attempted suicide before. Sure it’s been years, but this is something that I know I have to be on the lookout for every single day of my life. It’s also something that, while I freely discuss it on my other site, I don’t often discuss professionally. Continue reading

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One Week On My Own

Empty Chairs and Empty Tables

Officially, it’ll be a week tomorrow, since Angela did leave for Oregon on Sunday, but for me, it was the work week that was the hardest adjustment. You might not expect that, after all shouldn’t work have kept me busy and not thinking about being apart? Well yes, but when you work from home, not having anyone else in the household is where it gets weird.

Look, one of the biggest challenges with working from home is knowing where to draw the line between work and your personal time. When you leave the office, generally, you are done working. Oh yeah in this day and age you still check email and do quite a lot of work outside the office, but there is a well-defined event that differentiates between being at work, and at home. For the last couple of years, that event was having dinner with my wife. When she doesn’t come home after work, there’s no event to indicate to me that I should stop working, and at least this week, I haven’t!

I’ve read many an article that talks about having the discipline to draw a line between work and your personal life when “work” is in the same location. I’ve always paid attention to that and attempted to draw that line, but now I’m realizing that living by yourself, even temporarily as I am, requires a whole other level of discipline. You really have to make an active choice to stop working and go do something else, or you find yourself sitting at your desk, responding to emails at 8-9PM without having eaten dinner or had any non-phone or Webex contact with the world!

So if you’ve been in this situation, got any advice?

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Firing Network Admins

New office

Last week, during our user conference, I was doing a training session, one of the many I presented, on dealing with with confidential data within our platform. One of the points I made was that, at the end of the day someone with the proper skills needed to be the administrator of that platform, and as the administrator, they would have access to anything and everything. Much like a network administrator in any business, you either had to trust that person to do the job, and obey all of the proper policies regarding confidential information, or you had to do the job yourself.

On the other hand, while you certainly have to trust, you can also verify, so I showed the class how to run an audit log, which would show you if your admin had gone into a confidential project and looked at the data. I then opined that if I were in charge of a company and saw that my admin had been accessing confidential information, I would fire them right then and there, because I could no longer trust them.

That might sound harsh but at the end of the day, the folks with admin rights have so much responsibility that having one you don’t trust, isn’t worth it.

Today, I read something that made me want to go back and amend what I said about firing them. You might also want to make double sure and disable their access immediately too!

Ricky Joe Mitchell, 35, admitted that in June 2012, shortly after he learned he was going to be fired, remotely accessed EnerVest’s computer system and reset the company’s network servers to factory settings, essentially eliminating access to all of the company’s data and applications for the eastern US operations.

Before his access to EnerVest was terminated, Mitchell went to the office after business hours, disconnected critical pieces of computer-network equipment and disabled the equipment’s cooling system. EnerVest was unable to fully communicate or conduct business operations for nearly 30 days.

The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to recover historical data from its network servers. Some data was lost forever.

Yikes…

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Next Stop Oregon!

oregonAs if to prove that old axiom about mice and men, roughly 3 years after moving to South Carolina because we wanted to be in the South, we now find ourselves on the verge of moving about as far away from the South as we can without leaving the country.

Yes, my wife has accepted a job at the Oregon State Alumni Association. You can read more about her thoughts over on her own blog, I won’t try and speak for her.

What I do want to say about it is two fold. First and foremost, a bit of career advice. When you build good relationships with your co-workers, or other contacts, opportunities tend to find you. In this case, her former boss in Ohio wound up out in Oregon and approached her about applying for this job. When you combine that with my own experience of being recruited to my last two jobs by people I had met at conferences, the importance of relationships cannot be overstated. Continue reading

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Watch How You Treat Everyone

If you don’t treat everyone well just because it’s the right thing to do, maybe this story from Inc. will motivate you?

“I felt bad for them,” he said. “They tried hard to do a good job, and everyone blew them off. How bad would that feel? So it was the least I could do.

“Maybe my staff thought they were too busy,” he continued. “Or maybe they thought they were too important. But maybe they are too self-absorbed to notice they hurt other people’s feelings.”

He thought for a few seconds. “And maybe they’re the wrong people for the job, ” he said.*

….

* Six months later, only three of the original 22 remained.

Look, it’s simple. You are either the kind of person who notices what other people do, values it, and notices all of the details, or you aren’t. Which one makes a better executive?

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Thoughts From Vacation – Some Customers Will Never be Happy

Another random thought I had on vacation back in November.
Watching our fellow cruise passengers on group excursions or at
meals was an interesting experience. Most, like us, were simply
excited to have some time away and saw the whole thing as a big
adventure, but there were a few who simply seemed to find something
to complain about at every turn. Some of the time it was something
that one of the crew could fix for them, but they typically only
complained to themselves instead of asking for help, or refused
offers to make it better, and sometimes they would complain to the
staff and expect them to fix things that were well beyond their
control.

Fog
- Sure it’d be
great if every time to you took a trip to photograph nature the
weather cooperated, but sometimes you have to make do, and
complaining about it won’t make the sun shine
.

Continue reading

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Thoughts from Vacation – Everyone is in Customer Service

As part of the on going series of things I took the time to notice while away from work and computers for a couple of weeks, I want to talk about cruise ships. Namely, I want to talk about the people who work on cruise ships, because no matter what your job title might be on a cruise ship, your number one priority is making sure your passengers have everything they need. That means that, even if you’re “just” doing laundry or stocking one of the bars, or any number of other behind the scenes types of duties, you should always be aware of what passengers are around you, and make sure you greet them in a friendly manner, and are responsive to any requests that they have.

I found this to be an interesting dynamic. Cruising in a highly competitive industry. I mean if you want to take a cruise in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, for example, there are a ton of options for you.  It’s not like only one cruise line can take you there, and it’s not like you don’t have a ton of different options for your itinerary. There’s a high probability that aside from schedule and ports, the deciding factor for which cruise line you choose is going to be which one you trust to give you a good experience. And, once you do have a good experience on one cruise line, you’re very likely to stick with them. So, there is a lot of pressure to make sure passengers are having a good experience, and the responsibility for that goes all the way through to every member of the crew.

I’m not sure that other industries quite understand that they are, as well, in the business of making sure their customers come away with a good experience. Far too often I’ve heard people who work behind the scenes in law firms, or technology companies, who really don’t have any idea who their customers are, or what kind of experience they are getting. That’s someone else’s responsibility. I’m here to fix the computers, deliver the mail, write the code, I’m not responsible for customer service.

Yet, you are. If you write code that doesn’t work the way a customer expects it to, you’ve just failed at providing customer service. If you are unorganized about getting the mail to the proper person who can get your mail and handle it correctly, or you’re lax in keeping technology running, thus preventing your attorney from responding to an email you are responsible for a lack of customer service.

Heck, if you just aren’t providing a friendly greeting to customers in the hallways or meeting rooms of your office, you’re missing out on the chance to improve their customer experience. Your organization exists to give your customers an experience that makes them want to pay you. If you don’t see providing customer service something that every single person is responsible for, someone else will be giving them a better experience very soon.

 

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Do We Travel Wrong?

According to William Chalmers, yes we do.

Truthfully, as I read through his list of ways that Americans are taking vacations wrong, I found myself thinking that I’m guilty of some of them, even though I agreed with much of what he said.

His ways we travel wrong:

1. We are addicted to mini-vacations.

2. We travel at the worst times.

3. We take Groundhog Day vacations.

4. We want Champagne vacations on beer prices.

5. We vacation like we work with lists of things to do.

Again, I don’t know that I totally agree with everything he says, but there’s definitely some truth to the fact that we tend to take long weekends instead of actual vacations, only leading to more stress, and we do tend to travel at the worst times, but I also think that is a product of our workplace environment more than anything we actually choose to do.

Let’s take an example from my own life. We did take a two week vacation this year, off season, and traveled to some really cool new places. The price for that, beyond dollars and cents, was using just about all of my paid time off for the year at once. That means there was no long weekend in Ohio visiting family and friends this year, no taking some time off to recover when I got sick after a trip to Norway this Winter, and a built in excuse for every recruiter that I talked to because I couldn’t possibly switch jobs and start over accumulating paid time off! ;-)

In my case, that last reason worked out to not really be a negative, but it’s easy to see where that would be very limiting to others. We had booked this trip about a year before we took it, and that was a year of being very careful with PTO, to make sure it was still there when it came time, and now dealing with a pretty much depleted PTO account.

Luckily, I work for people who encouraged me to actually be offline and unavailable during this time. Not everyone’s workplace would be that understanding, nor would they be all that understanding about taking time in November, which is traditionally the last chance to get a lot done before the holiday season sets in.

So, to recap; we take short vacations due to very limited time off, which leaves us fewer options on location and a need to cram things in more than we would normally, during peak travel times because it’s more convenient to our employers, who expect us to still be available to them without paying us for that level of importance, which forces us to travel on the cheap.

Maybe it’s not so much that we travel wrong as we do the whole idea of employment wrong?

 

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Thoughts From Vacation – Cruising For a Career

This will be part of a series of posts over the next week or so about some thoughts I had while on vacation the last couple of weeks. Today, I want to talk about the nature of cruises, and how it made me wish I had some different options when choosing a career.

For the first 45 years of my life, I had somehow never managed to take a cruise anywhere. After my first one, 10 days spent cruising from Spain to Italy and France and back, one thing was very clear to me. It’s different than any other type of travel. Oh sure, it’s different in lots of ways, but the one thing that stood out to me is that the goal of a cruise is different than other types of travel. Typically, you travel to a place, and that place becomes the center point of your stay, and maybe you wander out from that spot, but you don’t typically travel from place to place, because of the logistics involved in getting to and from. With a cruise, obviously, the logistics are taken care of for you, so you are traveling in such a way that you are in a new place nearly every day. That means that you don’t get to spend a lot of time in any one place, but you really get a small sample of many different places, and get to decide which ones you might be interested in going back to for a longer stay. Let me give you an example. We left from Barcelona, but really didn’t get to see much of it, so I would love to go back and see more. I’d love to go back to Tuscany and spend more time, I didn’t get to do everything I would want to in Rome, so I would go back to spend the day at the Vatican, but also know enough to know I don’t want to spend weeks in Rome. I also feel like I saw everything I wanted to on Mallorca, so I’m not in a big hurry to go back there, though I did enjoy it very much.

The more I thought about this, I thought about what a wonderful way this is to sample a variety of places in order to decide where I might want to invest more of my vacation time. How I wish we could treat careers the same way. Let me try out a job for a day or two before deciding whether I want to really do that for a long time, or let me shadow someone in an industry before I spend 4 years of college studying to enter into it. How cool would it be to actually get a small taste of a place, or a career, before investing so much of your future in it?

The question is, how can we give this opportunity to cruise around a bunch of career options to people? What do we have to do? Is it a question of an educational system? Is it something we should be encouraging young people to do, network with people across various careers so they can get a feel for it? Should companies allow potential employees to sample the job for a day or two? What do you think?

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