I have always been a believer in resolutions.  Looking at how I’ve approached my projects and assignments in the corporate world, I usually go into each new project with at least one or two things I resolve to do differently.  It could be something as simple as “doing a better job of documenting my accomplishments” to things more complex like “learning to better manage coworkers who have different collaboration styles”.  Either way, I think it is good to approach new situations with renewed spirit while keeping your eyes on the prize.

One caution though…  Make sure when you set goals or resolve to do things differently, that the stated objective (i.e. new behavior, added skill, altered approach) is attainable and realistic.  If you are setting yourself up to fail right out of the gate, it will do nothing but put a damper on your morale and ultimately have significant negative impact in the long run.  Nobody likes losing, and the moment you see that you are trailing on the scoreboard, that can psychologically create a scenario where you are racing to try and catch up or throwing Hail Mary’s to try and win the game.  And people that are operating under that umbrella or playing the catchup game are often cutting corners or not putting forward their best product.  If you’re a football fan, I am sure you’ve noticed how most of those plays end up.  Not well.  I’m not trying to say “Don’t reach for the stars”, but I think it is most fair to dream big while also giving yourself the shot at quick wins or more near-term success by carefully setting reasonable goals or making sound resolutions that can actually be achieved.

So – as we wrap up 2013 – what are you resolving to do differently personally or professionally?  Here is a light-hearted take on resolutions via Deadspin (CAUTION: beware of some rather foul language used for extra comedic effect though which is likely not safe for your work browsing unless you’re self-employed and roll like that) that I found rather humorous which may help you clear your mind and approach the activity with a bit more of an open mind.  And, whatever it is that you choose to do, best of luck!

Til Next Time,


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!  It is my hope that you have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday.  May you also find some time to reflect on the year and identify opportunities and growth areas heading into 2014.  Most importantly though, cherish the time you have with your family and try to put some of the typical daily noise on hold.

Best wishes!

Til Next Time,


Differentiating Yourself in the Workplace

I polled my friends last week asking for a topic to blog about to kill some spare time over the holidays, and one of my close colleagues actually had a great idea for a piece on how to differentiate yourself in the workplace (whether you are fresh out of school entering your first job or perhaps heading to a new company or project).

If you think about it, people stand out in the workplace for many reasons.  There are physical attributes that may catch the eye as well as personality traits, work behaviors, collaboration profiles, among others.  At the end of the day, though, it is tremendously important to have self-awareness of these areas of uniqueness among us, as each of them generally pushes our needle in one way or the other among our colleagues: either more in their favor, or further away from them.

So what’s the right way to ensure you differentiate yourself as quickly and effectively as possible, without rocking the boat too much or creating a closet full of skeletons or enemies?  Well, I will be honest with you and say that I have nowhere near all the answers (or at least necessarily the right ones), but I’ll put down a few behaviors that I think may at least drive useful discussion or provide opportunities for self-reflection on the issue.

Good Behaviors for Differentiation in the Workplace:

  • Networking Downward in Addition to Upward: Often times, the people who are shaking hands and rubbing elbows up the food chain are the people who the rest of the workforce resents or considers “brown nosers”.  That is why I like to make the distinction that networking “downward” is equally as important as networking upward.  I have long held that the single most important person to be friends with in any organization is the administrative support staff.  They are really the people who run the business.  They are responsible for scheduling time on the higher-ups’ calendars, often times have shortcuts to navigate tedious or difficult procurement processes, and are generally nicer people to bounce ideas off of because they typically don’t have any sort of personal agenda or thoughts on deep functional matters over which they have zero responsibility or investment.  Building rapport with everyone throughout the organization is paramount to making a name for yourself, and often times lets you have a better attitude when roaming the halls because you always have someone to chat with.
  • Composing Polished Communications (EVERY Time): I thought about rephrasing this to be “…polished, concise communications…” but then realized I would be pointing a loaded gun at my own foot.  Either way (long or short), communications of all types must come across as polished, well-thought-out, and appropriate for the audience in order for the message to be received in the best possible manner.  Emotions like stress, pressure, bitterness, apathy, or even hatred stick out like a sore thumb in communications, as much make-up as you try to apply.  That is why it is really important to always think before you speak (or write) and proofread/polish often.  Whether it’s your spoken word, written notes, emails, or phone conversations, it is entirely too easy to be misunderstood.  So – take the time to eliminate that threat – and be sure to compose polished communications at all times.
  • Participating in Extra-Curriculars: Programs outside of your day-to-day 9 to 5 responsibilities are a great way to add character to the volume of work that would otherwise adorn your internal resume.  Joining charitable causes, assisting with internal initiatives, or scheduling and participating in work (or non-work) functions such as subject matter expert societies will not only increase your own competency, but it will expand your network and reach as well.  Pick something you are otherwise passionate about (e.g. helping children, feeding the homeless, caring for animals) and use it as a springboard to engage the support of your colleges by spearheading an activity for your coworkers.  You will be surprised at what the power of positive actions will do not only for your psyche, but also for your personal brand in the workplace
  • Dressing Properly: As I have mentioned before, dressing the part is critical to ensuring you are well-regarded in the workplace.  Even if you work in a dress casual work environment, taking the extra time to look just a bit better than the rest of the workplace will cause people to look at you and assume you are prepared, polished, and ready to work each and every day.  Doing the little things like dry-cleaning or ironing also help with coming across put together.  I will stress again, though, that it is not beneficial to take it too far.  Wearing a suit in an office place where jeans and button ups are the norm will make you look overdressed and out of place.
  • Selectively Opting in to Fire Drills: I am certain I will revisit the topic of fire drills in the future, but suffice it to say I generally make a habit out of avoiding them at all costs.  I think that they largely are created by people who are unprepared or indifferent towards doing real work, or onset by people who have the propensity to procrastinate (no offense to those people – I have been known to put myself under extraneous pressure by intentionally waiting until a moment’s notice sometimes as well…).  However – there are circumstances where stepping in to help in these situations will make you look like a great team player and give you the opportunity to provide leadership in order to help achieve a required outcome.  Stepping in to help on high profile projects that are critical to your business or functional area is something your colleagues and superiors will remember for a long time to come – especially if you made a significant contribution to arriving at something great.  Just don’t make a habit out of it – people will form a dependency on people like you and ultimately take you for granted.  And that’s the quickest way to ruin work-life-balance: always being the person going the “extra mile”, working the weekends, and maintaining late nights just to help someone who didn’t do an effective job of planning their project in the first place.  We should all agree to stop rewarding poor planning when it becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Just remember that in everything you do in and around the office (or even outside of it), you are adding to your work profile in one way or another.  If you don’t want to be adversely judged for your actions – think about doing something different.  It may not always seem “fair” to be judged for some of the things you think are petty or inconsequential, but I’ve always believed one thing to be true: life’s not fair.  Not trying to be pessimistic – just realistic.  Welcome to Corporate America.  Knowing and playing by the rules is a huge part of your success, and the ability to act appropriately within those confines is something that will leave you prepared for the next level in any endeavor you choose.

Til Next Time,


Managing Time

Time Management

How you manage your day is paramount in your ability to have a long a fruitful career.  That being said, we can often get clouded on a daily basis by distractions such as continuously checking email, double and triple threading ourselves on meetings, and generally using work time to accomplish anything other than work (Facebook anyone?).  So how can we take steps to more effectively manage our time?  What tips or tricks are available for increasing productivity while also allowing ourselves time to breathe?  Is Work/Life Balance really possible?  That’s up to you.

I found a good article today that tackles the concept of time management and wanted to share it with you all.  Michael Wolfe (serial entrepreneur) takes the opportunity to share some of his secrets on managing his day, week, year, and even decade in this piece and gives some great feedback for pursuing the ever-evasive sense of accomplishment.  While it is written from more of the entrepreneurialism lens, I think it provides a good framework for looking at your life and your career through defined lenses and keeping your attention focused on your main goals.

I’m sure I will revisit the topics of Work Life Balance and managing your time from the professional services industry point of view in many posts to come, but thought this was noteworthy enough to at least drive some candid conversation and reflection.

Til Next Time,


Teaching Kids to Code

A new non-profit called has recently completed an “Hour of Code” benefit as part of the Computer Science Education Week (CSEW), whereby they attempt to engage as many students as possible to take a 1 hour tutorial on coding.  Endorsed by big names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Chris Bosh, this is the first year that the CSEW has really hit the mainstream media with such big names thanks to the sponsored coding tutorial.  Big props to everyone involved for taking this step as I continue to believe this should be our single greatest priority for all education platforms of the future: continuing technical education for today’s youth.

So, apparently there are a few other people out there that believe the same way I do from my previous post on Technology in Society!  It  was actually really cool to see around 15 million students learn 1 hour of code.  Let’s hope that this may have captured even a small portion of those kids to pursue studies and careers in coding and technology.

Here’s the full story.

Til Next Time,




A wise person once told me to eliminate “I don’t have time for _______” from my vocabulary and replace it with “_______ has not yet become a priority for me”.  And if you think about it, they’re right.  Every time we say things like this, it’s usually as a crutch to hide the real truth.  If I say “I don’t have time for going to the gym”, what am I really saying?  I am saying “Going to the gym has not yet become a priority for me”.  We have time to do anything we want – it may just mean foregoing other opportunities or planned activities.

Bringing it back to the workplace, let’s talk for a minute about how we fill up our calendar and spend our time via prioritization.  Prioritization sounds like something extremely simple and straight-forward.  If I have a list of ten things, I simply need to put them in order or sequence for completion and start knocking them out.  Some of them may be big, some small, but all in all – they have to get done in a certain order in a certain amount of time to satisfy a colleague, a boss, a project, or some other external factor.  And that’s how I prioritize them (or, often times, how I let someone else prioritize them for me).

But, I have found that prioritization always seems to be a lot more difficult than that or yields a poorly prioritized set of tasks.  At a minimum, in my experience, the ability to effectively prioritize things (whether they are projects themselves, tasks, or effort/focus as a whole) is something that is widely lacking across the majority of Corporate America.  Everyone likes to think that they are masters of prioritization, but they usually land on prioritizing the wrong things at the wrong time to drive expected results.  And, once you start chasing your tail, it’s really hard to course correct or reset the clock.

So what’s the answer?  How should prioritization be approached in order to ensure, at a minimum, a greater chance of prioritization occurring accurately enough to fulfill originally stated objectives/mission in a relatively appropriate timeframe?  As with most things, I don’t claim to have all the answers.  But, in my overly-logical and methodical approach to life (at some point I’ll reveal my Myers-Briggs/DiSC/etc profiles and my wider thoughts on those programs – it will be wildly anti-climactic, trust me), I think I can provide at least a blueprint or skeleton of things to consider in your own quest to reach an accurate prioritization:

  • Consider the size, schedule, cost, and complexity of initiatives: Sure, it may sound great to do the hardest, most expensive, longest project first because it has the greatest return – but is there opportunity to knock out a few shorter-term or easier projects to give quick wins back to the organization/team in parallel to kicking off a wider effort with the massive project?
  • Consider your senior leadership and the organizational landscape: What will make the senior team happiest?  What will have the best benefit for the business as a whole?  Asking these types of questions ensures you are keeping your leadership happy and likewise considering yourself and your efforts in the context of the larger group, which may very well already have corporate strategic goals in place that make certain efforts of yours more important (at least on the perception side) than others.
  • Consider your peers and business partners: What types of projects are they completing or taking on sooner which may have synergies or ties to your efforts?  Does sequencing your projects in a certain way make more sense to align efforts and consolidate integration/change management/rollout efforts?  Killing two birds with one stone is always preferable to reinventing the wheel in my experiences.
  • Consider seasonality and planned downtime: Does your organization typically have lots of down time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?  Will it be really difficult to hit a January 1 launch given all that time off?  Are other people thinking the same as you and trying to cram everything to hit a specific date in which case it might not make sense to have everyone launch their new projects/processes at the same time?  Are there scheduled events which need to be considered prior to developing a roadmap/implementation strategy/plan
  • Consider the existing pipeline: Similarly, it is extremely rare that we get to prioritize new initiatives or develop roadmaps in a silo.  There is almost always already some set of planned activities that are non-negotiable (or, at a minimum, will need to be a lens while reviewing your own priorities), and those have to be taken into account when embarking on any new greenfield set of priorities.
  • Consider the morale of the team: Lastly, and (in my opinion) most importantly, how will the people who are directly (or indirectly) impacted by this event or effort receive the project/task?  Change for the sake of change is never a good thing – people need to know WIIFM (What’s In It For Me – another topic I will revisit many times I’m sure in the not so distant future).  There are projects that boost morale, and those that drain it; be sure you aren’t piling on too many of the draining ones in your sequence, and ensure your prioritization is manageable on the people side.  If you’re unsure of how your project or task may be received – ASK!  People love the opportunity to spill their own ink on plans; it creates a sense of ownership in them (and I have found that people will work much harder if they know they had a hand in the recipe).

Again, I know these may seem to be basic and largely common sense tips, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen prioritization fail even with the brightest of teams.  So, next time you go to roadmap or prioritize a set of efforts, please have some consideration.

Til Next Time,



No, not the cool stuff you get at beer festivals or vendor conferences.  Rather, the “Scientific Wild A** Guesses” we all make sometimes in order to provide a somewhat-reasonable estimate when asked a seemingly difficult question about something’s progress, cost, or effort.

I am not fearful to admit: I’m a big proponent of SWAG (see my post on BS).  Not because I think it’s usually highly accurate within a great percentage of confidence, but because it starts to draw a line in the sand.  It gives a baseline to work from.  It gets everyone talking in similar terms.

I fear that far too often, everyone is afraid to quantize things in a manner that allows for healthy conversation.  People’s reluctance to SWAG (believe me, in the professional services industry, it’s practically a four-letter word…  wait…  bad #UnintendedPun?) leaves us talking in generalities, with no real sight on the prize or the end goal.  As long as you set the expectation that what you are providing is only an educated guess at best, clients and colleagues will (for the most part) be receptive of your guess.  Because, guess what?  You’ve been there before.  You know it.  They know it.  That’s all they are after: your professional opinion based upon year(s) of experience dealing with similar situations at similar clients in similar organizational circumstances.  The elephant in the room should be revealed – we all know there will be roadblocks.  We know there are setbacks.  It’s on us all collectively to manage through those and figure out ways to mitigate risks and work through issues.  That’s what we are all paid for.

So – next time someone asks you something that may be difficult to forecast – please don’t give them a traditional “Well, uh, you see, uh, it depends on a lot of things” (my least favorite consulting jargon ever).  It doesn’t help anyone.  You are losing credibility with your boss/coworker/whomever, and you aren’t helping set expectations and drive forward progress.  Just do it (apologies to Nike?).  Take a SWAG.

Til Next Time,


Year End Reviews

It’s that time of year again!  The time when most of us look forward to haphazardly rewording all of this year’s accomplishments to fulfill our obligation to perform our annual reviews.  It’s always a bit of a race (for me at least) and generally something we all resolve to do a better job of throughout the year (and, subsequently fail to deliver on by the time February rolls around).  But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

A very good friend of mine works at a startup.  They don’t have a formal performance appraisal process.  No year-end reviews, calibrations, roundtables, or personnel profile edits to make.  No application to update with highlights and no dashboard with their personal Key Performance Indicator results.  I don’t even think they have KPI’s; they have “Total Sales”.  On one hand, they have made a conscious effort as a company not to bog their employees down with these sorts of reviews and deemed it as something they manage on a recurring basis throughout the year (i.e. rewarding success and reprimanding failure).  On the other hand, the employees don’t have much to look back on in terms of a “year in review” unless they complete it in silo.

I, conversely, work at a massive company with over 100,000 global employees.  We have applications and processes to manage our annual performance reviews.  We have a timeline of year end review activities to complete with our mentors and our management, and a multi-layered evaluation form we are called to complete which aims to provide a holistic view of our accomplishments and progress across the full spectrum of defined functional areas our company has designated as relevant for assessment purposes.  We have KPI targets; our scores are tracked against the goals.  Each year, I PDF my annual review and archive it so I can more easily update my resume so I am not losing sight of everything I have accomplished.  But, truth be told, the process is largely extremely painful and the last thing I look forward to doing heading into the holidays (let alone the fact that I am responsible for presenting my counselees reviews in roundtables as well – an added layer of accountability and yet another speedbump in the race to the New Year).

So – which company is doing it right?  What if I told you it was neither?

I honestly think it’s time to completely scrap the traditional performance appraisal process.  And, time to get anyone who isn’t managing performance more proactively on board with a new school of performance management thought.  I firmly believe performance management is something that should be done on a rolling cycle.  Don’t wait til the end of the year – reward people for positive performance WHEN IT HAPPENS.  Also – take the opportunity to coach and learn from mistakes in real time (again, not waiting to align it with a formal review cycles).

I have helped develop performance management systems for clients in the past, and the one thing I have found to be “stickiest” is giving an employee ability to see their metrics in real time.  Coupling that with a holistic set of accurate and meaningful KPI’s that are within an employee’s control is the perfect potion to drive the needle in key functional and technical business measures.  I think often times, though, senior leadership focuses on the wrong metrics to drive results, and they are largely unable to clearly identify for employees how their individual contributions bubble up to drive top-line corporate initiatives (if they even relate at all in the first place).

I wish I had the right answers in terms of which metrics work in which industries at which sizes of companies.  I don’t have that though.  But there is one thing I know for sure – if members of the senior leadership teams are not all on board and don’t believe in performance management as a tool to make employees feel more valued and drive results, it’s a waste of time.  Strict performance management protocols, when they become a chore rather than an activity everyone enjoys doing (i.e. ongoing rewards and recognition programs, spot bonuses, appropriate celebrations of successes), they will garner much resentment from the front-line and never ultimately yield the originally intended result.

Til Next Time,


Twitter Insights

I know Twitter isn’t for everyone, but I think we all owe it to ourselves to at least see what people are saying in this vehicle as it is really a powerful platform which many industry leaders, visionaries, and highly intellectual people go to for their most personal, unabridged, and raw thoughts.

That being said, I would like to offer a couple great follows on Twitter:

  • Tim Ferris: the man behind the 40 hour workweek and all things productivity-centric
  • Richard Branson: the CEO of Virgin Air and a true visionary in technology and society
  • Mark Suster: a technology entrepreneur-turned-venture capital guru who has authored a very popular blog Both Sides of the Table
  • Cindy Ratzlaff: a marketing expert with great insights on creating buzz for your brand (perhaps I should heed her advice more?)
  • Jason Fried: Co-Founder of 37 Signals (a Small Business software) and author of one of my favorite books: Rework, for which I, sadly, don’t get commissions upon referrals 🙂
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook COO and visionary for the advancement of women in the professional environment
  • Malcolm Gladwell: best-selling author of several of my other favorite books including The Tipping Point, Outliers, Blink, and his newest – David and Goliath among other professional accomplishments (and, lesser known fact, he’s a big sports enthusiast)
  • Mark Cuban: a professional idol and consummate businessman/entrepreneur (and owner of a sports franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, another profession on my to-do list)
  • Steven Colbert: talk show host and all-around funny guy; hey, we need someone to add humor to life events every once in a while right?

Anybody you follow that’s worth paying attention to?  Drop me a line, would love to hear!

Til Next Time,

Michael (clearly I am more of a follower than a poster on Twitter, unless pushed 4square checkins count!)

Business Cards

Funny Workplace Ecard: I need to get some business cards so I seem like the kind of person who has business cards.

So a quick blurb about business cards.  You know, those things your company helps you get in your first couple weeks on the job, mostly so they can teach you how to use your internal procurement systems (which, by the way, will definitely have their own rant at some point – promise)?  The 500-pack that you swear you’ll never use, and laugh about a few years from now when it’s still unopened?  Those pieces of ancient history which are no longer relevant because everyone has embraced the digital age, wants to reduce our carbon footprint, and hates the thought of killing trees?  Don’t shoot the messenger, but…

I actually think they are wildly useful.  And have formed the basis of many key relationships for both myself and many of my close colleagues.  And you should never leave home without them.

Think about it: when you first meet someone, 99% of that interaction is going to be words spoken between you, your ability to engage with that person, and the common interests, products, needs, or skills which you are able to discuss.  I am not going to debate that.  And, whether or not you choose to follow up with someone is definitely up to you and will likely be influenced by the mutual perceived value of that interaction and your ability to help each other later on down the line.

But I cannot tell you how many times I have met someone, really enjoyed their presence, and then totally forgotten their name or moved on to something else requiring more focus 5 minutes later.  Hence, no ability to add them on Linked In, shoot them a follow up note, or do deeper research into their role, company, or industry.  And, you know what?  Shame on me for that.  But the bigger “shame on me” in my opinion is not at least giving them my business card.  I have zero excuse.  I should have them on me at all times.  Because even if they don’t carry theirs with them – I should be confident that my interaction with them was engaging enough that, when they go to clean out their pockets that day (or later that week, the next month when they finally do dry-cleaning, whatever – I don’t judge!), odds are that seeing my business card will make them recall that interaction.  And, in the event that I am able to get one of theirs in return – I am going to do the exact same thing.  I may not follow up immediately, maybe not even in the next month.  But when I stumble upon that business card later or add that person to a professional network/contact list of mine, I have provided some form of cement, something tangible, to that relationship which may not have been there without the trusty business card.

Listen, I know they aren’t for everyone and some people are anti-business cards.  I get that. But for those of the rest of us that still need some traditional crutches or subtle reminders over time to connect with someone, look someone up, or add someone to our professional records – they are a fantastic way to ensure there is something physical to back up a relationship besides the memory of a great chat.  I am a huge advocate and invite you to reassess whether or not it may be time for you to issue your next order for a fresh set.

Editor’s note: Sorry for all the continued someecards images alongside the articles.  To be honest, I was really just aiming to get some color behind the blog.  And – I’ll admit – I think they are generally wildly entertaining and provide witty commentary on issues facing us all.

Til Next Time,