The Wednesday Words

by Graham Email

From Eileen Shapiro's excellent book "Fad Surfing in the Boardroom", I offer this collection of Wednesday definitions for aspiring managers, leaders and sage observers of corporate life:

Accountability A characteristic of which everybody else in this organization needs far more. Not to be confused with Authority, which is what I need more of.

Bad News That which the other guy should tell.

Change 1: That which will not happen until the expected pain of of the old ways is perceived to be greater than the expected pain of the new ways; 2: For other people in the organization, something they need to get on with; 3: For oneself, something that needs Due Consideration.

Fact 1: Ammunition used to argue an already established position; 2: Pesky data that violates one's expectations or preferences but can usually be gotten rid of by lack of attention, temper tantrums, and other expressions of displeasure.

Grapevine An all-season perennial that cannot be killed and that grows stronger and more twisted with repeated prunings or attempts at uprooting; only known antidote is candour, which won't kill it but at least will keep it more accurate.

Insights into human behaviour...

by Graham Email


...from this study done in Europe at the University of Bonn. It is written in research-speak, so it may be a bit difficult to wade through. It is about the results of game experiments where differing modes of motivation were tried on work teams.
In a study of 144 Swiss students asked to a play a game that mimics the manager-employee relationship, the researchers found that the "employees" acted more selfishly when given a quota by their "bosses" than when given free rein to work as they please. When the employees were asked about their behavior afterward, many said they resented the feeling of distrust that the quota suggested, and rebelled accordingly, suggesting that managers who try to exert control by enforcing performance targets may, in fact, end up being punished with poorer performance levels.
Here is the succinct summary:

"The game shows the traits of a self-fulfilling prophecy," wrote lead researcher Armin Falk, an economist at the university, in a summary of the study. "Anyone who is suspicious of the willingness to work of their employees is in fact punished by poor work levels; whoever is optimistic and gives them free rein is rewarded."

Another way of putting it: if you treat your team members as if they are untrustworthy shysters, they will start to behave like untrustworthy shysters.
I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of my own to back up what this study demonstrates. The best anecdote is that in my first I.T. job in the UK, I once saw a manager chew out a subordinate for being 30 minutes late one morning (he missed the train), while overlooking the fact that the subordinate habitually stayed way past normal going-home time. You know the rest of the story...the subordinate thereafter made sure that he came into work at 09.00 on the dot, and he left at 17.00 on the dot. He also started looking for another job...
I suspect that this basic trait of human behaviour shown in the study is widely applicable. This begs all sorts of questions in a wider societal context (example: how do we expect to reform prisoners if we treat them as untrustworthy morons by locking them up and making them do menial tasks?), but I think that's enough for this post before I trip into dangerous territory...

Emotional Vampires

by Graham Email

One of the more interesting (and intractable) issues which we all encounter from time to time is working with people who for some reason, seem to be sources of negative energy. Worse still, working with them seems to drain the life from you.
An excellent commentary on this phenomenon is available from Albert Bernstein, who authored (among other gems) "Dinosaur Brains" (which is well worth the $7.00 or so for the paperback version from your local bookstore) and "Neanderthals At Work". One of Bernstein's newer books is called "Emotional Vampires" and deals with the "negative energy" phenomenon (or as he puts it, " People who drain you dry").
This really is an excellent book; although the personality types it describes are archetypes, and real people may have a combination of one or more of the described personality types, reading it helped my wife Marsha Harner to make sense of a particularly nasty work situation she found herself in about 18 months ago, when for a while she was having to deal with a personality who was primarily Obsessive/Compulsive. Having worked in the past with people displaying many of the personality traits defined in the Narcissist archetype, the book also resonated with me. The book offers some help in trying to decide how to interact with people displaying clear traits of the archetypes.
The book is not a silver bullet, and, frankly, I've been on the planet long enough to be very leery of any book whose cover contains phrases like "this book will change your life" or "become successful in 1 minute a day". However, the book is a useful field manual on dealing with defective humans, written in punchy, pithy language, and it is now in the well-thumbed zone of our office bookshelves.

Email Destroys your IQ...

by Graham Email


Operating in an environment based solely on interruption-response may be bad for people's IQ over a long period of time...

To which my response is "D'oh!"

Personal Introduction

by Graham Email

Welcome! I'm Graham Shevlin, an I.T. solution delivery practitioner with 28 years of I.T. experience in a wide variety of industries, delivery process contexts and cultures.
I currently reside in Irving, Texas. I relocated here in 1998 from the UK, and to prove that I have put down roots, I married a Texan (see here for her consulting business) and acquired 2 stepkids. I am a partner in Centerface and its parent, Magean LLC. I function as the CFO, sounding board and occasional whipping-boy for that corporate entity.
My main area of expertise is I.T. Solution Delivery methods and model-driven tools consulting. I was a consultant on IEF/Cool:Gen/Advantage Gen/AllFusion Gen for a number of year, and I still peripherally support delivery and evolution of solutions built using that toolset.
My current role is that of architect/process SME/tools/futures guru for a solution delivery group here in Dallas, supporting a major airline. Recently, I worked on a number of process and procedural changes to the group's delivery and support activities in order to allow us to achieve CMMI Level 3 certfication by the end of Calendar 2005.
This blog will contain my thoughts and musings on several subjects that I have a deep interest in, principally the often-broken relationship between project team members and corporate leadership, and the continuing inability of the software industry to make the much-needed jump to a higher level of abstraction when conceptualizing, architecting, building and delivering solutions.
In my spare time (I seem to still have some), I also maintain a Current Affairs blog, an aviation blog where I discuss my plane ownership and piloting activities, and a music blog where I discuss and gather information and insight about music.
Those of you looking for juicy titbits and rumours about my current employers can give up digging right now. Professional discretion and courtesy requires me to be more than circumspect when discussing details of my current employment and my current employer. Names may have been changed to protect the guilty, the innocent and the wrongly accused.

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