The Unicorn Club

Remember all of that talk about the 1%?  Here’s a fascinating piece on the 0.07%…  I have always had an affinity for technology and venture capital.  Probably because when I was growing up, my father did venture capital, and I was interested in technology.  I think deep down, most of us are allured to one of our parents’ professions by nature just because we often idolize our parents and want to grow up to be like them (until we get old enough to realize the traits of theirs that we absolutely do not want to mimic – alas I digress again).  Regardless, I am fascinated to this day by technology venture capital and hope one day to be in a position in my career where I can contribute to this exciting community.  Maybe even one day consider myself part of the “unicorn club”.

Hope you enjoy the article!

http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/02/welcome-to-the-unicorn-club/

Til Next Time,

Michael

Career Progression

So we’ve hit the promotions and laddering topic.  But that doesn’t help us automatically draw the roadmap for our career.  I fundamentally believe that career progression is something that must be analyzed independent of straight line promotional activity within any one corporate confine.  I personally am a huge proponent of advancing your career whenever and wherever possible, especially outside of the typical performance review cycles. So, dovetailing off my previous post on promotions and laddering, I figured it made sense to take the next step and chat for a minute about career progression. When to stay, when to go, and what the implications of money, rank, and culture mean to the equation…  And, most of all, how you can add color to your career roadmap in both large and small ways.  Those sorts of things.

But first, a bit of background on me… I am incredibly logical and calculated. Almost to a fault. I weigh the pro’s and con’s of something as simple as whether or not to make myself dinner or go out and eat.  To my credit, I think this ability to analyze situations, problems, and people has enabled me to do things and make decisions in my career that others might have shied away from.  But I do realize that this means I will never be the kind of person that can immediately pick up their life and their belongings to chase a narrow window of opportunity at some obscure startup in some faraway land.  But I’m fine with that – every person’s career roadmap is unique and should be assessed independent of societal, economic, or cultural pressures that may exist.

Back to the point, though. In terms of career progression, there are a few fundamental questions I keep in mind when considering any sort of move or decision in the career progression space:

  • How can I evolve my habits and traits in order to be more like the person I want to become?
  • What types of behaviors are indicative of the people I deem as “successful” or who model the type of career I want to hold?
  • How is my company, my role, or my client enabling me to grow and take on more responsibilities or develop new competencies?
  • What are the people around me doing to ensure I am supported in my endeavor to further myself and my career?
  • What kinds of opportunities am I afforded (or not afforded) in my current position that would be different in another environment, functional area, or company altogether?
  • What threats exist in my current situation that I need to consider when looking at myself and my career progression?
  • Where have I prioritized compensation for my job with respect to the other intangibles that exist (non-monetary factors such as self-worth, long-term investment, ability to network or build high-profile relationships)?
  • Would I ultimately be happier doing something else somewhere else?
  • Have I appropriately prioritized “work life balance” (another topic for another time) and does my role put me in a comfortable spot along that spectrum?

These questions don’t have right or wrong answers.  They just provide other lenses through which to view one’s position along the continuum of their career.  And, please know that you don’t always move in the “right direction”.  Movement of any kind, even in the wrong direction, will ultimately leave you more wise for the wear.  Some of the greatest leaders have been complete failures for large portions of their career.  It is their ability to learn from those mistakes and return to the fight with a better strategy and greater sense of purpose that have left them in the winner’s circle.

So don’t be scared to take action relative to your own career path.  You will look back someday and have greater appreciation for the times you chose to act rather than sit on the sidelines.  The times you were proactive rather than reactive.  The times you took that “stretch role”.  As long as you are continuing to engage formative experiences (i.e. not stagnating as we discussed in our last post), you will ultimately reap the rewards of having those experiences.

As always, hope the read was worth your time.

Til Next Time,
Michael

Laddering and Promotions

So you’re ready to get to the next level?  Prepared to climb the next rung in that corporate ladder?  That’s fantastic.  Let me caution you, though.  There are a host of things to consider when preparing for this kind of step.

Without beating the point to death (and ultimately trying to make an argument that rank progression is not in anyone’s best interest), here are a few of the key questions I’ve asked myself when moving forward with any rank progression:

  • Are you ready for the increased responsibility?
  • Do you have a solid case for promotion?
  • Are you going to be compensated appropriately?
  • Is this progression in line with your personal and professional goals long-term?

Everyone gets ready for these kind of moves at different rates.  That’s why I have never liked the companies with hard line “up or out” policies.  You can’t brainwash personal advancement and readiness for next level of leadership into someone.  And, for those who may fall behind the proverbial curve, that doesn’t mean that they are poor resources or should be fired off.  Everyone has a place, from the janitor to the CEO.  We just have to instill more awareness to everyone’s contributions while at the same time making sure that everyone is avoiding stagnation.

As usual, hope you enjoyed it…

Til Next Time,

Michael

Expense Forecasting

Happy Friday!!!  Just returning from a business trip to the Northeast (specifically, Boston and Rhode Island) and had some plane time to compose a few thoughts around an area that has been a hot topic for me for quite some time.

Expense forecasting has always bothered me. Being responsible for things like predicting the ever-changing game of flight pricing is nearly as impossible as placing a round peg through a square hole (side note – I generally dislike a lot of the consulting jargon but sometimes the similes just roll off the tongue better when you embrace it). It just doesn’t make sense, and having your project financials hinge on it seems to me as a fairly large gamble that the original forecaster was doing a judicious and thorough job. I always error on the side of caution, of course, but there are simply some forecasts to which clients or internal audits will scream “Too high!”.  It’s even worse when expenses are billed as revenue, because it will ultimately impact the perceived delivery bottom-line when you assume your delivery contribution spread to be basically equal to (total project revenue) – (total project direct costs). Because, in this case, every additional dollar billed to the project code as a direct cost (even if it is reimbursed as paid expenses by a client) lowers the effective contribution margin % (even if it does nothing to impact total dollars profit). I have worked for a company that has accounting practices similar to this and it is always an exhausting fight to justify the increase in expenses (e.g. Client demanded I travel there one additional week that was originally meant to be working remote). And before you scream “Change Order!!” just know that my personal opinion on doing something like writing an additional CR to cover unexpected travel expenses per an SOW is childish aside from extreme cases where your company stands to lose substantial money (e.g. Fixed Fee engagements).

I don’t mean for this to be a diatribe on the nature of project accounting or expense policy, but I do feel like it is worth mentioning that I think the way we have course-corrected from the prior days (no budgets, free will travel, thousand dollar dinners) has really handicapped the very people that have to dedicate an already-enormous amount of their time worrying about “real world” problems they face.  Cranky clients, long hours, scope creep, overselling/underdelivering are the real things that should keep able-bodied managers and employees up at night.  Not whether Mark spent $30 or $35 on his dinner one night.  Or the fact that he tipped 19% as opposed to the policy of 18%.

So what is one to do? I personally don’t have the silver bullet, but do have certain rules and tips I follow whenever pricing out or estimating expenses at the outset of a project:

  • Look up flights to the city you’ll be traveling to one week, one month, and six months out to get a feeling for the rack rate and the rate that the flight bears when you start to enter airline flight/hotel price increase windows (~3 weeks out, ~1 week out, etc); this will give you a feel as well in case there is any seasonality for the route (e.g. people may fly a lot more to New Orleans during festival season or around Mardi Gras versus December)
  • Expect that your flights will typically run at 50% greater than the six month out rate; this will give you a buffer for all the flights you have to either reschedule or book last minute (or for which you have to travel during a seasonal peak)
  • Look up hotels to the city according to the same process followed for flights; hotels usually have a little less variability, and with some smooth talking you can usually negotiate a corporate rate (or piggy back another company’s or your client’s) that will typically allow you to normalize the rate you get and avoid any peak increases due to seasonal or surge traffic to a given location
  • Do research on your destination to try and get a feel for seasonality or big events (Festivals, Sporting Events, Vacation Windows); this isn’t only helpful for the flight/hotel research mentioned previously, but also lets you plan ahead in case you can get the opportunity to enjoy any of the marquee events in a destination city (if you’re going to be there anyway – why not plan ahead and get good rates and enjoy your time there?)
  • Be sure to plan for rental cars; they can have great variability depending upon the city and traffic/time of year, and always be sure to check the mileage from your expected hotel(s) to the office(s) as gas and mileage can impact the budget greatly
  • Check out typical taxi or car service prices as you can expect to have these costs every once in a while either for airport transfers or nights out drinking (public service announcement: ALWAYS choose a designated driver, especially when cabs are cheap and easy in a city like New York)
  • Look for opportunities to use public transit; not because it saves money but because it generally saves LOADS of time (e.g. MARTA to the airport in Atlanta saves about an hour versus trying to drive from the city to the airport at 4 PM on a Thursday)
  • Identify ways, if more accessible, at your home base to park cheaply that gain you rewards because they 1) typically save money on the budget and 2) offer you flexibility and rewards that you may otherwise miss; I started driving myself to the airport several years ago and it has been not only more convenient upon my return, but has allowed me to accumulate airport “offsite parking” rewards that I can then use for personal travel

Yes, I realize that I am probably being entirely too cautious with most of these rules, but I’ve been burned too many times (e.g. traveling to Boston during the week of the World Series which the Red Sox were playing in) by unexpected surges in prices to random areas at random times to adjust my conservative estimating.

One last thing that I’m sure I’ll revisit in another post – if you’re traveling on expenses, ENJOY IT. Don’t let anyone try to force you into anything other than the expense policy of your company/client. You are the ones doing your company and your client a favor by putting yourself on a plane/train/automobile every week to go somewhere you don’t call “home”, so you owe it to yourself to maximize your opportunities to see new places. After all, that’s probably part of why you took the “traveling job”, right?

Til Next Time,

Michael

The “Art” of BS

After much reflection, I decided it would only be right to start my blogging career (on this site) with an early topic that is extremely near and dear to my heart: BS.  While on the surface, this can be a hotly-contested topic (some love it, some hate it), you can’t deny the fact that it is a huge part of the business landscape, in 2013 now more than ever.  And I’m not just talking about the “good ol boys clubs” or the brown-nosers at work.  I’m talking about everything from providing an executive level status readout to a water cooler conversation with the maintenance man.

So what exactly do I have to say about it?  In short, I love it.  I wouldn’t say this is because I’m particularly good at it, or that I think it helps organizations or people accomplish a lot of critical tasks (in reality, many times it may do just the opposite).    The reason I believe in it is because it calls us all to be on our toes at all times.  It forces you to be mindful of the tasks that you’re completing on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  It helps you establish perspective and context for your placement in the “bigger picture”.  And it is these sorts of behaviors and reflections that will ultimately make you feel more valuable and help you determine your optimal career progression.

Still disagree?  Let me offer an illustrative situation where BS has played a huge role for me (or for others):

The Executive Elevator Pitch: Scenario – you get on an elevator to go down and grab lunch.  One floor later, your boss’ boss’ boss hops on the elevator.  Uh Oh.  Quick – what do you do?  “Hey Michael, what have you been up to lately?” she asks.  I can tell you that I’ve honestly never had much care for the people that say “Uhh, not much, just the usual – working for the weekend”.  Rather, you should always be prepared to list three to five things that you are actively engaged in and/or a few anecdotes about special things you’ve done (even if in your heart you know they’re not that special).  Why?  Because otherwise, your position and your role seem irrelevant or unnecessary to people.  Corporate America is driven by the perception of the value of someone’s work.  Hence, you should defend your corner of the business to the grave.  Or, if you really don’t feel invested or valued in your area – find somewhere else (within the company or externally) to work!  Also, working on something meaningful and being able to spout off a couple quick and (hopefully) at least partial truths, even if it feels like BS, helps you be more confident and ultimately happy with what you’re doing.

Hopefully this resonates with you or at least you can see where I’m coming from.  While many work environments may appear on the outside to be more casual, all bosses at the end of the day like to know that their employees:

  • feel valued as people
  • have enough work to do
  • are valuable to the organization
  • can articulate personal and professional activities

And I firmly believe BS helps reassure bosses that the aforementioned criteria hold true.  Listen, I’m not trying to paint myself as the ultimate con artist or admit some severe case of brown-nosing.  I understand that even publishing something like this may be taboo or reflect negatively on myself and my career, as if I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today without the proverbial BS.  But – I felt compelled to put this topic out there as it is something we cannot avoid.  So maybe it’s time we started the dialogue on it so we can all start to better understand the pros and cons of it all.

At the end of the day, the ability and desire to BS is totally up to you.  In lots of situations in my life, I consider it to be an important skill.  In others, I find it annoying.  Just some things to consider.

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Train Travel in the Northeast

This post comes to you from the comfort of an AMTRAK Acela Express train somewhere between New York and Boston. Just checking in to brag and do a quick piece on the joys of overland travel in rural New England in the autumn time. I think often times this part of the country gets a bad reputation for having absolutely horrific weather (which is definitely true), but there are actually times and seasons where this corner of the country is fantastic and picturesque. This is definitely that time of year. If you haven’t had a chance to make it up to this part of the country, I really do recommend it. I have spent significant time in New York, Boston, and Portland (Maine) and really have nothing but great things to say about it. Sure, you inevitably encounter a rude or aggressive person every now and again, but I have yet to find anywhere that you can avoid those outliers alltogether.

Today’s 4 hour train from NYP>BOS really is a subtle reminder of how comfortable travel can be. I landed in one of the “quiet cars” which is a calm respite compared to the otherwise obnoxious MD88 that would have taken me from Laguardia to Logan (i.e. crying children, cramped space, limited room to walk in the aisle). Boarding the train couldn’t have been easier – no security line, no luggage check, just a couple honest hardworking Americans (read: not “that” type of TSA) that wanted to make sure I had a ticket. The only way it could have been better is if I didn’t have to depart from Penn Station. That place seriously leaves a lot to be desired, especially when viewed in comparison to its classier relatives like the palatial Grand Central Station.

Alas, I digress. The train itself is spacious and comfortable. And, checking in at right around $100 for a last minute one-way from New York to Boston, the price really can’t be beat. Much more convenient than the airport cluster. Even though this trip is on business so the price wasn’t a huge factor, I am really pleased I decided to go the train route for this leg of the trip.

So, if you haven’t had the chance, make a trip up here for business or pleasure. And, give the trains a chance. They really are quite comfortable and convenient. I’ll check back in soon, hopefully with something halfway intelligent or somewhat worth your time.

Til Next Time,

Michael

What To Expect?

Hey Team!

Before I get too far down the road sharing life’s lessons, reflecting on positive and negative experiences, and generally blabbering much more than I should on topics you may never care about – I figured it would be appropriate to set expectations on where I see this blog going in terms of content and ideas.

After brainstorming for some time, engaging a couple colleagues and friends, I have come up with a quick list of topics I hope to tackle in the coming months and years. It is your job to keep me honest and let me know if I’ve missed anything (or not gone deep enough) in certain areas.

Strawman Topics:

  • Interpersonal Behavior (Developing Executive Presence, Collaboration with Teammates, Leadership, Sucking Up, Dealing with Status Monkeys, etc)
  • Meeting/Communication Etiquette (Effective Meeting Facilitation/Techniques, How to Compose Great E-Mails, Presentations/Powerpoint Decks, Status Reporting Essentials, etc)
  • Company Processes (Internal HR, Red Tape Rodeo, Operations Management, Performance Management and Reviews Processes, etc)
  • Company Policies (Time and Expenses, Technology and Device Management, Paid Time Off, Leaves Of Absence, etc)
  • Company Politics (Ability to Schmooze, Laddering, Career Progression, Understanding Organizational Design, What-To-Do vs What-Not-To-Do, etc)
  • Compensation (Salary, Variable Compensation, Commissions, 401k/Roth IRA & Employer Match, Raises, Negotiations, etc)
  • Travel (Air, Car, Hotel, Mileage, Dining, Points Optimization, etc)
  • Clients (Types, Locations, Industries, Cultures, etc)
  • Tools/Competencies (Microsoft Office, Collaboration Tools, Project Management, etc)
  • Technology (Functional, Technical, Certifications, etc)

As always, feel free to chime in or sound off – I’d love to hear your feedback!

Til Next Time,
Michael

Hello There!

October 24th, 2013 marks the successful launch of michael-wiggins.com! We look forward to continuing to bring you a fresh perspective on consulting and all forms of professional services, through a lens that is shaped by experiences from both sides of the desk. Feel free to drop us a note anytime you agree, disagree, or feel otherwise compelled to reach out. The content will largely be an accumulation of original works, pertinent industry articles, and thought leadership around innovation and technology in society.

Without further adieu, welcome and enjoy!

-Michael