Proudest moment

I had a phone interview a few weeks back and the interviewer asked my to tell him about my proudest accomplishment. I know I should be ready for all these types of questions – but I was not well prepared for this one. Greatest strengths, weaknesses, favorite past position, etc. – but what was I most proud of? This was work related – so the whole “I’m most proud of my children . . .” did not work. So, I answered something about saving a big account after big quality problems, blah, blah, blah . . .
Since then, I have really thought about this question.

Chinese symbol for pride

Chinese symbol for pride


I think I have finally come up with an answer for this – and it is not a moment or a single event. I am most proud of the legacy I have left with some companies. I always have my ‘quality’ hat on and I make decisions with that in mind. I always push to do what is right – not what is necessarily easy. The moment that made me realize that others noticed this was when I was leaving a job back in 2002 and having a discussion with the VP of Finance. I told him that I was sorry to be leaving with so many things up in the air relative to the future of this company. He replied that I should leave with my head held high because I was leaving a changed culture. He told me that I had made a difference in how people looked at things there. By pushing back, stopping product from going out the door, training everyone in what it means to do things right and leading by example, I had changed a company culture. It may not be perfect, but this company was no longer known for having poor quality products, and I should be proud. His comments made me feel very proud.
Someone at work the other day said to me that they wished I had come there sooner – as I pushed back on what I felt was a poor personnel judgement call. I incited a little ‘do the right thing’ philosophy in a colleage and he was feeling a bit like a hero that day. I don’t accept the “we have to do it this way” (if I truly feel it is not right), so I always try to present an alternate view to at least re-open discussion. I’m often amazed at how easy it is to have someone change their mind if they made a poor decision. Sometimes you just have to point it out, ask them to reconsider, and they realize it and do the right thing. Of course, sometimes they don’t!
So, I can now answer this question with confidence. My proudest moment is not a single moment at all. It is leaving a legacy – a philosophy that we should all do the right thing and take responsibility to move that attitude forward.
What have you done at work that makes you proud?

Back from vacation.

I have been out of commission for a while, relative to writing. Work has been busy, I have been looking and interviewing for a new job (I can say this out loud because my current client knows I want more hours and he cannot give them to me) and I actually took a 9 day vacation! Yes, my husband and I left our youngest at home and went away to celebrate our anniversary. It was great, by the way.
I always come back from vacation with mixed emotions. I am a bit of a homebody, so I actually get to a point where I am excited about getting home. On the other hand, I love the easy days of vacation and can dread getting back to all the things I missed at the office.
As a contract employee, I always come back with the hope I was sorely missed! There would be nothing worse than to be away and have everything continue without a glitch while you are gone. Fortunately, I came back to a well managed list of issues – I was needed and missed, but the sky had not fallen. This is the best thing I could hope for.
Now, onward with projects and making things happen – to make sure I am missed, at least a little bit, the next time I take a vacation!

Politics and business don’t mix

Do you add quotes or funny things to the bottom of your email signature? Do you know people who do? I’m not talking about personal emails – I mean your business account. I know some people who wear their politics, religion or opinions on their sleeve and include things in their business emails that are, in my opinion, not appropriate.
It is just a bad idea to tout your personal beliefs in anything related to your employer. Of course, I’m assuming that your employer is not the Democratic National Committee or anything like that!
So, please take a look at the info in your signature. Is it just the basics? Could anything be misconstrued or seem offensive? When in doubt – take it out. It’s not good for your company or your own career.
If you have seen an example of this or think this is not a big deal – leave a comment – I would like to know what others think.
Lee Kellett
“Political opinions do not belong in your email signatures at work.” ūüėČ

Choosing a Consultant/Contractor

As a long-time Consultant/Contractor, I have had the opportunity to see the pros and cons for companies, when considering contracted help. Whether you call us Consultants, Contractors, Freelancers, . . . we are generally temporary, short-term help brought into a company to address, or help to address, a specific need. I have met many consultants over the years and I have to admit, I have mixed emotions about many of them. There are some people out there who are very talented – no doubt about that. Then there are a some who are very good at one thing – but don’t have a clue about the big picture. Finally, there are those who just don’t have a clue!
dogbert-consultant_cartoon1

So, the first issue is to find someone who can help you with what you need. I offer up this observation though – don’t get too caught up in finding someone with every item you have listed in your requirements document. Take a look at the bigger picture. Think about hiring someone who might be able to do more than one thing for you as well.

For instance, you may think you need someone with more than 5 years of internet marketing with a focus on B to C. The person who looks good from that standpoint may have that as their only Marketing experience – which may be ok. But, there may be someone who has 10 years of total experience in a variety of things including Product Marketing, MarCom, maybe a little customer support and has been doing internet marketing for the last 2 years only. I would bet that this person might bring a more interesting skill set and a better frame of reference to your company.

The same goes for industry knowledge. I find many companies get caught up with requiring that you have several years doing a specific job in a specific industry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad thing – I just think it is a good idea to sometimes look ‘outside the box’. Many of us have a strong enough background to be able to come up to speed on a different product or technology very quickly. It is the skill set and the ability to generate ideas and implement improvements that is really key to a successful consultant. Bringing in someone from a different industry can sometimes bring in a whole new batch of ideas, processes, systems, etc. that could very well be exactly what your business needs in order to improve. I can’t tell you how often I have walked into a company and heard the same answer to so many of my questions – “That’s just the way it’s done in this business”. That is never the right answer in my book! Many businesses/technologies are quite incestuous. The same people move from one company to another and soon many of these companies are all functioning in similar ways. After a while they stop looking for new and better ways to do things because their way is all they know. Fresh eyes, with a diverse background, can be just the medicine for a company looking to break away from the pack. The right consultant can often become that catalyst for positive change.

April Fools at work?

It’s April 1st – April Fools’ Day. This morning, my 11 year took out the blue painter’s tape and proceeded to tape my husband’s socks to the many surfaces in our bedroom. I think his toothbrush is taped to the bathroom wall and I’m not sure what else is taped where. I am happy she was smart enough to use the blue tape – she really is a good kid you know. I’m fairly certain that everyone who lives in my house will pass up any urges to play a practical joke on me today. I won’t say I’m a bad sport – but I’m not a good sport!

So, that brings me to the workplace and what is and is not appropriate to do at work today. I have always been on the serious side and would not generally consider it appropriate to play practical jokes on someone at work. Today, in the very small company that I am working with right now, practical jokes were played on a couple of people and I was cringing a bit. I have to say though, in the end, it was good, clean fun. Everyone ended up laughing a lot and the stories we told to the one guy who was at lunch when this happened, had us almost rolling on the floor.

That being said, I can think of some other things that might be fun and taken well – depending on the atmosphere and the personalities involved at any given business. I can also think of many things that would not be funny or could backfire with unintended consequences.

I thought about this stuff today and tried to reach into my memory bank (a very small bank it seems to be these days) – have I been the victim of workplace pranks over the years? Have I seen many played on others? Have I taken part in a few myself? Well, here’s the rub . . .

Way back – and I mean way back, when I worked for Corning, the first department I worked in was filled with jokesters. As the nubbie of the group, the first female ever to work in the group and being the youngest by far – let’s just say I saw my share of jokes. I think the first one was the pedal blocks on my desk. You see, I am just 4’11” tall and when I took my very first business trip with a colleague, I plopped into the driver’s seat of our rental car and could not reach the gas pedal – no matter how much I adjusted the seat. I had to get out and let him drive. When we got back from this trip, there, on my desk, sat a brand new pair of pedal blocks that generally attach to the pedals of a tricycle for 3-4 year olds to be able to ride their 1st bike more comfortably. Not comfortable for me – but a little funny!

Next came the bicycle flag. You see, at 4’11” tall, I could not be seen well with our 5′ cubicle walls. I was constantly running into people as I cam around the corners of our maze, I mean offices. One day, 3 of my co-workers came into my cube with a bike flag and a rope – you probably can get the picture. Again, a little mortifying – but a little funny too.

I was not the only one who was subjected to these jokes. The gentleman in the cube next to me was a draftsman, and 1 day I was working at my desk and kept hearing his electric eraser humming – for minutes on end. (yes, I am old enough to have worked with real drafting tables and real pencils and erasers) When I went to see what was happening, he was grumbling (code for low volume swearing) and erasing about 50 little footprints on his very large drawing – all made with a shaped eraser dipped in graphite and painstakingly placed in any open areas of his drawing.

I could go on with quite a few more stories from a few different companies – some of which were not as cute and innocent as these. I have also worked in some places where I can’t think of a single fun story to tell from my time there. So, what is better for the work environment and for employee morale? A few practical jokes and something to talk about? Or, keep it serious and just get the work done? The biggest problem with choosing the first option is that inevitably, someone goes a little too far or someone just takes things a little more personally than it was meant – something goes wrong. It’s not hard – it happened to me and I’ll just say that it was my birthday and a male stripper was involved while on a business trip to a trade show. You don’t need the details – just know – that was too far!

So, in the end, I’m still torn. I can’t say I am in favor of a busy April Fools’ Day in the workplace – but maybe it’s not the worse thing . . .

The Art of Product Management

I have held the position of Product Manager at several different companies and I have to say that having the same title did not mean I was doing the same thing at each of those companies.  There is a fine line between Product Management, Product Marketing and sometimes Project Management and at many companies, the titles are sometimes interchageable and the roles are often blurred.

I first became a PM at a fairly small but fast growing company РTelco Systems.  If I remember correctly, we grew from $7 million to $70 million in sales in just 3 years. It was a crazy place for a while.  I was young Рjust 27 years old and I had a lot to learn.  I was fortunate to learn about what it really meant to be a PM from a great boss (thanks, Art!).  This company had a fairly traditional take on PM and I was able to see how PM is supposed to work.  I have sinced worked for companies that had less traditional roles for their PMs and have experienced the struggle of making things happen when a company does not understand the PM role. 

When you first enter the role of a PM, I think the most striking thing is the amount of resposibility and objectives heaped upon you – without having any direct reports to help you get these things done.¬†¬†It does not mean that people don’t do work for you.¬† It means you have to get them to do work for you while they are doing work for their real boss and possibly on other projects.¬† It means that you have to meet deadlines, hit targets and make things happen around you without the benefit of being able to give other employees their reviews, salary increases and promotions.

Here is where the ‘art’ comes in.¬† I firmly believe that Product Management is not for everyone.¬† It is a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary, high stress, multi-tasking job.¬† The entire product life cycle, from product¬†development through introduction through¬†end of life planning is managed by the PM.¬† That means you need to work with people from every department within the organization at some point.¬† You work with customers and get to know what they want and what your competitors have.¬† You have to define all the pieces of the puzzle, communicate it to the appropriate individuals, get¬†Engineering to comply with their portion, get testing done when needed, get someone to source and cost what you will need, develop marketing plans and actual collateral materials (or get someone to do that for you too), have Quality come up with their requirements for verification or inspection, get manufacturing ready to make it (or determine to outsource it), educate the Sales people so that they can sell it, train customer service so they can support it . . .¬† Oh yeah, don’t forget to set pricing and make sure that margin targets are going to be met.¬†¬† Along the way, you will be called upon to make critical decisions when things go wrong, when trade-offs between features and costs or time to market need to be made, to shorten the time to market due to competitive pressures . . .¬† Aaaahhhh – the stress,¬† I mean, art of it all!!

So, for anyone out there who is thinking about moving into Product Management Рare you ready for a wild and crazy ride?  It is a fantastic job in my opinion Рbut it takes a strong personality and a tenacious spirit.  It also helps to have some experience in other functional departments.  Having been in Engineering or Software development, Manufacturing or Marketing is a big help for understanding the roles of those individuals and knowing what can and cannot be done within those functions.  Some of the best PMs I know have a good background in one or 2 other disciplines and can understand the tasks involved for the majority of the team.

When all is said and done, I would say that the most important things a PM can do to be successful is to earn the respect of others in the organization by: 1.¬†taking the time to learn about each team member – what they do and what they know; 2. prove early on that you can contribute and not just delegate; 3. get to know your customers well – they are what makes everything else possible; 4. make decisions – ask questions, evaluate information and make the hard decisions¬†and 5. Take responsibility – you are the PM and¬†the buck stops there.¬† If¬†people respect you, they will do good work for you.¬† Remember,¬†that is what Product Management is¬†– getting people who don’t report to you to do work directed by you – quite an art!

Treat your people well.

boss_cartoonThere are many different types of bosses out there.¬† The micro-manager, the worry wart, hands-off guy, ‘never know where she stands’ gal, ‘mad about everything’ man, boss trying to be a friend, boss trying to keep a distance, easy goin’ boss man, the generous one or the cheap one¬†– I could go on and on.¬† Well, whatever your style of managing people, I implore you to be good to those who work for you.¬† For those of you who have the power to directly affect your employees in some way, let me offer the following thoughts.

People work harder for people they like and when they feel appreciated.¬† No rocket science in this statement, but we sometimes loose site of the basic principals that motivate people.¬† This does not mean you have to become your employees’ best friend.¬† It means you have to treat people fairly and with respect.¬† It’s hard to get excited about doing extra work or coming up with new ideas when you don’t feel like you will benefit or be acknowledged.¬† At some point, people will just stop trying to go the extra mile and just do the basics.¬† They will fall into the category of the employee that just does what has to get done – no more.¬† They will be less productive and your business will suffer – all because you did not do right by them.¬†

For those of you who want a little reminder about defining the boss/employee relationship, here is an overview article that I thought was pretty good: http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/workforce-management/11242-1.html  It does not cover the treatment of employees particularly, but it is a good overview to help managers define their roles.

I wrote¬† a blog post on my business web site (www.lkconsulting.weebly.com) about “Angry Management” and I have since observed more unfriendly behavior from managers and company owners.¬† Greed seems to come to mind when I think about what I see.¬† I’m not talking about big corporate greed – with fat paychecks and huge bonus structures.¬† I’m talking about penny pinching – not sharing the wealth – ‘oh woe is me’¬† kinds of selfishness.¬† Hey out there, your employees feed their families, pay their mortgages/rents, need a car, have kids who want to go to college, get sick – just like you.¬† Only, they may not have the income that you do,¬†and¬†paying those bills is not always easy.¬†

So, think about the whole picture when you decide to layoff people when sales drop a bit Рmaybe you can make due a little bit longer and save someone from financial peril.  Pause a bit before deciding whether increased sales should turn into raises for your workers Рor a new BMW for you.  Try to find some satisfaction in sharing the wealth Рsmall or large Рand I guarantee the payback will be sweet.

Thoughts on Quality Management . . .

¬†I thought I would¬†share my perspective on “Quality”.¬† I have¬†helped many companies with their¬†Quality Management activities – from updating procedures through ISO9000 audits and registration.

¬† I was introduced to the idea of Quality Management way back in my days with Corning.¬† They put a big push on making TQM (total quality management) a part of their corporate culture in the early 1980s.¬† When I was with Telco Systems in the mid ’80s, I was tapped to implement a TQM program there and train every employee.¬† We used Philip Crosby Associates as our model and several of us went to their training programs for managers.¬†I also attended a “train the trainer” program since¬†I was charged to bring that knowledge and philosophy to the entire organization.¬† I have to admit, I was hooked on the concepts.¬† “Quality is free”, “Do it right the first time” really seemed like the right path and I became a preacher.

  I have spent a lot of time in and out of Quality organizations since my training.  I have realized several things that seem to be widespread Рat least among the companies that I have worked with. 

  The first is that Quality must be driven from the top down.  Without total buy-in from top management, it can never become part of a company culture. This is true no matter how much time and money you spend on it.

  Next is that just saying it is so does not work.  Top management must live it every day through their own decisions and business dealings Рnot by mandating it to others.

  Finally, I have realized that Quality is just not a powerful place to sit.  I apologize to all the Quality professionals out there, but the truth is that a Quality Manager has very little power within an organization.  Power comes from Marketing in a market driven company and from Engineering in a product/technology driven company.  Unfortunately, my experience has taught me that most businesses see Quality as a necessary function that is best left to the Q manager.

¬† That being said, the philosophy that I try to bring to every company I work with is that Q is a function to be performed by everyone.¬† A QM may formalize it and document it, but each employee must live it for it to truly work.¬† I felt it and saw that philosophy work at Corning.¬†I find it harder to convince smaller companies to take it as seriously as they¬†should – it is harder to do things right sometimes. ¬†I’m still with you Phil Crosby – still trying to convince everyone to simply do the right thing.

The new working woman.

Now, I know many women out there will not like this post.¬† I am going to say this out loud – ok, I’m going to write it down – ladies, you cannot have it all!¬† There, I’m still here – I have not been struck down by the feminist lightning bolt.

Now that I have your attention, what I really want to say is that many working women have changed¬†their priorities over the years.¬† They¬†have determined that having that big corporate job and the good marriage and the well behaved kids and a social life is not all that easy – or even that desirable.¬† I’m not going to get into the working mom vs. stay at home mom debate, because I don’t think there should be a debate.¬† Do what works for you – it’s none of my business.cartoon

For those of us who really do want to work, I’m saying that there are options.¬† Work full time if that makes sense for you, but I want to talk about the large group of women who are well educated, smart, talented, resourceful – and work part time.¬† We are out there and in larger numbers than many people may think.¬† I continue to be amazed at how many of my friends and acquaintances are now back to working part time.¬† Many had taken a few years off when the kids were young and are now getting into the work force during school hours.¬† They are not all¬†teachers either.

I, for one, currently work 20 hours/week with a long term contract and do some writing and looking for future projects on the side.¬† My friend Kelly is an accountant and is now working every day until 2:00ish so she can get home for the kids after school.¬† I ran into Ellen today, she has picked up a 15 hour/wk office manager’s job while her 3 kids are in school.¬† I can go on and on, but I really want to tell you a little more about these and other women – and why businesses should hire them.

The bottom line is that we are a great value.¬† We come into a part-time job with full-time skills.¬† Many of us have had some of the ‘bigger’ jobs and all that knowledge¬†comes along for the ride¬†– even if that is not what we are being paid to do.¬† We also are appreciative.¬† Yes, we think it is great that you have given us an opportunity to work and¬†keep some flexibility in our busy lives.¬† So, when we are at work, we tend to work hard and work fast and work smart – we don’t want to mess this up!

Finally, we tend to be a very cost effective solution for your business.¬† Many of us don’t command the big salaries in part time positions.¬† Many of us bill by the hour and save you hundreds of dollars each month on benefits.¬† You pay only when we work – many of these jobs don’t come with paid vacation time.¬† It’s good for us, because we don’t have to feel guilty about taking days when we need them.¬†

So, let’s hear it for the new working woman – part-time is the new full-time!

The start of LKConsulting!

The life of a “consultant” is quite interesting.¬†It certainly has it’s ups and downs – especially in this economy.¬† With the current downturn, there are many more “consultants” out there looking for work.¬† You don’t just get a job by asking around anymore – and¬†it takes a lot more than just being good at what you do.

I know what you are thinking.¬† “Consultant” is a code word for “Out of work and looking to make some money until the next job comes along”.¬† I get it – it’s true in many cases – but not for me.¬†

What I can tell you is that, in my case, consulting came to me.  I walked away from a job in the fall of 1994 (for reasons too complicated to get into here) and immediately received a call from a company that I had worked with as a vendor.  They wanted to know if I was available to do a project for them Рput together a study that I had the knowledge base to complete fairly easily.  This was the beginning of the first round of LKConsulting.  I then worked with a few more companies, thanks to contacts that I had made over the years and a reputation for getting things done.

As has happened several times since, a client¬†wanted to hire me as a regular¬†employee instead of a contracted one – putting¬†me back into the more traditional workforce.¬† After moving around a bit more – thanks to companies merging and¬†re-structuring – I¬†went back to working for myself in 2002.¬† Since then, I have taken some time off, done a lot of volunteer work and even ran a small antiques business for a while – but I always miss the challenges of helping small businesses.¬† So now I’m back, working hard for clients, but keeping my independence as a “consultant”.