Job titles for problem solvers

I saw this question come up on a forum.  mocking ferris Beyond the judging and mocking from several who said every job is about solving problems, this question triggered a thought process in my head about hiring.

interviewYou have the standard questions you can ask.

  • Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.
  • Tell me about a time when you came up with a new approach to a problem.
  • Describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle to succeeding with an important work project or activity.

With I am sure 101 or more other versions.  101

I like to warm up with one or two of these and then work back to this specifically when hiring roles that will directly impact business optimization with this scenario.scenario

At one of your previous roles, you are given unlimited funds for technology, education, people – employees and contractors, whatever you can spend money on, but only 90 days to solve what you believe would be a huge impacting business issue.

What would have been that business issue?

How would you have gone about creating a new solution?

I have gotten everything from downright confusion of what I wanted confusionto boundless excitement about what they would do.  excitement

The one thing I noticed is this got some candidates who were not very verbose to open up as they sat back, looked up and you could see them envisioning what they are about to start explaining to you.

Yes, ever job has some problem solving part of it.  But, in today’s IT roles they are ALL about problem solving.  Not just the how to squeeze more disk space or performance out of legacy equipment.  But how to deliver more value to the business whether that be through improving profit on process optimization or creating a new revenue generating service for your clients.




IBM rolls back remote working – does this mean collaboration solutions don’t work

Back in May it was reported how IBM chose to implement moving workers back to offices. Media reports had it due to IBM executives struggling to be agile and thus stay competitive. AWS is kicking their ass in the cloud.

IBM’s thinking that physical proximity will improve agility through collaboration.  Media pointed to the fact this did not work for Yahoo.


Collaboration is critical to agility, but collaboration was ‘improved’ by all the tools, many sold by IBM, right? 

For me collaboration tools requires 3 things.

  1. Combination of meeting, voice, visual, calendar, task and document sharing for scheduled activities
  2. Combination of voice, chat and presence capability for unscheduled activities
  3. Collaborative search – not just for the two combinations above, but all data sources

Clearly all of the above is readily available.    

So, IBM and pretty much everyone else has all the tools to have FANTASTIC collaboration regardless of whether you are in the next cube or country.



Like those not so good Fantastic 4 movies (don’t get me started) –








something is missing.   

Is it this ‘NEW’ work type that IBM states requires a higher degree of collaboration and thus “forcing” them to require workers back to offices so these teams would be more effective?   

Or is it that the tools DO NOT WORK.?  The tools are fine.  Though the missing component is how to lead and manage using the tools.  I see that as a failure of IBM and Yahoo amongst others versus any NEW type of work.

Challenging your workers to both reach and exceed their potential.  Manage the coordinated efforts of teams dealing with emotional ups and downs, unseen obstacles that come with working on tasks/projects over time.  These are fully possible with remote teams.

When a team is physically together the manager can observe body language, overhear conversations (tone, content and frequency of interaction) and get the ‘feel’ of how the team is performing.  A good manager knows when to push, pull or just let things be by seeing, hearing and feeling all of the team interaction.  

This is what IBM wants back.  I won’t go into whether they have ‘good’ managers.  IBM and other companies not effectively using collaboration tools are like pilots who can only fly during day light and in good weather.

Nothing wrong with that – I don’t like flying in storms.  But, REALLY good pilots can fly by instruments and today’s instruments are very good.      


Collaboration tools are just as good as a plane’s instruments.  They can easily show the content and frequency of interaction to give part of the feel needed.  Newer tools provide deeper analytics on tone, measure task effective/efficiency against collaboration metrics.  Is it the same as being physically all together, no.  Not better or worse, just not the same.

As a leader you need to adapt your management style and fully enable the power of the tools to maximize remote teams.  Blaming remote working for your failure is weak.

Rule #9 Manage your energy, instead of your time

In truth you cannot manage time. We can get into that debate here, but that would take a series of books for me to win the debate, so this blog entry will have to do.  Image

Read Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman and then get back to me about being able to manage time.

However, managing your energy is possible, practical and necessary for any successful person.  If you have taken a Myers-Briggs or a DISC test you will know something about what interactions give and take energy from you.  Highly extroverted people actually gain energy from people interactions and the reverse for introverts.  Not exactly, but I have seen it so I will let that statement just be.

I am a hybrid.  I find that I get juiced from certain interactions like my presenting to a group, meeting new people, going somewhere new, but get drained after about 2 hours mingling at a party or a trade show.  Sit me down at a poker table and I will play all night, but have me sit in a meeting room reviewing business performance and I need enough caffeine to power a small college campus to stay awake.   Image

So, as a leader in your organization recognize that time management is a myth.  Not that there are not efficiencies that can be gained with creating a daily task list driving to your personal and corporate goals, but realize that if you have your team attend a 4 hour training session on a new technology or process, they will not be highly effective for a couple of hours after the training.   

However, if you let half that team take a long walk (those who are prone to exercise and group activities) and the other half (those who like to be alone) let them sit quietly reading and/or listening to music without having to answer the phone, email or IM for say two hours, you will see an amazing amount of activity both in quality and quantity in the last two hours of the day.   

Yes, there are Harvard Business articles and books on managing  your energy and not your time.  They cover the topic much better than I from a technical perspective.  Here we will take a departure from the managing your individual energy for my mini rant about the USA’s time allotment to work each year and European countries.

Simple put – the US is just nuts and dumb having both a culture and in most workplaces an expectation that 50 to 80 hours of work per week, 16 holiday’s and 10 days personal time is a good idea.   

Yes, we are nuts and dumb.  Stupid and crazy for thinking in any way that this is in any way effective, never mind efficient.

Putting it into context of managing your energy, instead of your time.

In comparison, an average European country will have a work week of 35 to 45 hours, 29 holidays and 15 to 20 days personal time per year.  If the US’s method was superior we should be just outpacing Europe at 1.5 to 1 at minimum in productions, innovation, and average business and economic performance.

It is not happening.

The only result is shorter and less happy life spans – purely my anecdotal evaluation.

Mini rant is over.

In the end, you have to think of how best your energy flows through a day and plan your work accordingly.

I am best first thing early in the morning, just after noon and then between 4pm and 6pm most days.  So, I plan most of my work on those hours and put breaks of exercise and relaxation activities in between.

Rule #8 There are no bad ideas, some just need more time to age

I owe this rule to my time at 3M.

Innovative Culture

Their culture of innovation was based on several things, but the one that resonated with me was how conceptual failures by 3M’s engineering and science areas (so-called bad ideas) were not tossed away.


Of course there is the famous Post It Note story.     


There are many more were an idea that was first, second or even longer a failure. But, thanks to good process of documenting the idea and the failures, with the most important part of having the ‘failure’ reviewed occasionally to give it another shot.


The innovative companies understand that you should never give up on any idea.

Some ideas are just not ready due to –


  • the organization is not ready for that large a leap
  • the technology is not available to make it a reality
  • the solution to make it successful is not present


Regardless of your organizations industry or role, you can have it be highly innovative, by being fostering an atmosphere of tolerating failure and reviewing your failures for future successes.

The more innovative you want to be the higher level of failure you need to be able to tolerate.

Rule #7 Laughter is a sign of a well performing team, not slackers

Sure, if all that is done is people hanging out in each other’s desks chatting up and exchanging the latest jokes, fantasy sports picks and recaps of the weekend well your problem is not your staff, but you. But, that is handled much better by smarter people than I, like –

Stephen Covey – too many books to mention

Tom Rath – Strength Based Leadership

Patrick Lecioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Marty Wolff – a plug for my favorite emotional intelligence/change management guy

My point is that during my 20 plus years in small to large organizations I have seen various reactions from management when they see/hear a group of employee’s gathered and laughing together.    

The ‘what the hell’ reaction – manager either looks over disapprovingly like a hawkish librarian or walks over and directly “Let’s break this up” or indirectly “Excuse me everyone, I need to talk to one of you”.    


The ‘this is a place of business’ reaction – manager explains that we are serious here and all are working hard and there is no cause for this banter and frivolity. Okay, that is a bit of Oliver Twist style management.


 The ‘can I join in’ reaction – manager scampers over to the group to be part of the team.

There are others. Each of the above are wrong reactions. The response versus a knee jerk reaction should be a simple smile at the group and perhaps nodding up and down to show you approve.


Okay, breath – woooosh. I am okay now. Most of the time organizations place groups of people at odds with each other as one tries to feed the other information, forms, and so on. Pushing down or up the line requests or orders. They need to work well together and that starts with them having a relationship that will help them communicate and understand each other when problems arise. And problems will arise, damn shooting they will.

Therefore, you want to smooth out the problems.

Get the focus on the solutions and not on who caused what to happen.

Well, let them laugh and show them it is okay.

This is a touchy subject for me on two counts.

  1. That I as the employee were talked to about spending too much time having fun and not being ‘serious’ about his work.
    • Trust me I was never involved with any busy that you should be that serious about – not curing cancer, defending the country or ensuring that playcall was correct upon review.
  1. As a manager in several roles including executive, I had to respond to it being brought to my attention that members of my team were seen gathering and laughing and that I should be aware that the ‘perception’ that activity projects.
    • I would listen and express to them that the perception is countered by their successful execution what we do, the laughter is not a by product, but the fuel for that success.





Build a culture of fun, hard work, and no fear of failure. It will breed success.

Start with the fun part.         

Rule #6 Spend more time in other people’s offices and cubicles than your own

Spend more time in other people’s offices and cubicles than your own, especially between 9 and 4pm.

This is a simple rule that we all get caught up in when we have in our mind a ‘major’

  • report
  • presentation
  • budget
  • performance reviews
  • contract to review
  • project plan
  • etc…

to do and we virtually lock ourselves in our office for the entire day.



The door may be open to comply with your open door policy, but your body language indicates to those people who come to you for     

  • advice
  • help
  • direction
  • approval
  • etc…

that the door may be open, but you are closed for business today.

We have that work to do that requires focus, but it should not be for the entire day.

Use good time management practices of working on that ‘major’ thing first thing in the morning for 15, 30, or 60 minutes and then stop.

Meet with the people you need to collaborate with, but out of your office. Your team needs to see you each and every day you are in the office.

  • Check on that project status.
  • Give a high five for that customer who was satisfied because that person went above and beyond
  • Give a head slap to that person who has falling behind or not giving the effort needed
  • Take the temperature of the group
  • Check in with a peer on how that trip they just returned from went

Then, get back to the office for another 15, 30, or 60 minutes on the ‘major’ effort.

Your are part of a team, you need to be with the team (your area, your peers area, the company as a whole).

Rule #5 – The 3 Shares

As a customer, I would categorize my vendors into those two segments right off.

A commodity vendor (ex. Paper, toner, etc…) were valued based on price and delivery. Therefore, I could minimize their impact to my bottom line only.

A strategic partner (ex. Developer, marketer, etc…) were valued based on their direct contribution to my top and bottom lines.

As such, the strategic partner is called into a meeting to discuss the 3 shares.

Shared values – partner understands your goals, their role in achieving your goals and their overall mission is to support their customers goals.

This goes beyond just going, ‘yep sure, we want the stuff we work on with you to help you grow or save you money’. The vendor’s own mission or value system must be to directly support their customers growth plans.  It not be prepared to walk away.     

  • Not a supporting value statement – Our vision is to be recognized as a global services innovator, helping customers realize the best results.
  • Supporting value statement – we focus on superb delivery of solutions that achieve business result

Shared benefits – As that partner, if I am impacting their growth the effort I am engaged with the customer must delivery 10 times or more the expenditure my customer is paying out. If it is impacting the profit line, then at minimum 2 times that expenditure. If both, well you all can do the math.

As a customer, I can breakeven on these projects, engagements, initiatives by using my internal employees. The direct benefits must be measurable impact on my growth and/or profit.

On the other side of that coin, I as the customer must understand that you are NOT a commodity vendor. You are a partner and as such price is not the top priority in our relationship. Impact is, right!. Therefore, I as a customer should acknowledge that I need to be a profitable customer to my strategic vendor partner.

This provides two direct benefits.

  1. No other way of saying it. As a vendor, I know which customers drive my profit and whether I state it or not, those are preferred when I have to decide between satisfying one of two customers.
  2. Also, you want your partner to be healthy with a strong bottom line. If they are pinching penny’s (okay dollars now) they will be distracted from you and if they suddenly close up shop that can be very painful if you are in the middle of projects.

* tip – not safe for work if you search for bottom line images on Google.

Shared riskcustomer and partner share the risk of an endeavor.

This is where the vendor partner has to put money in the game. Often in an engagement, project or other activity once you move past 25 to 33% of the project, the customer now has all the risk.

However, if you balance the risk, by contractually agreeing that payments will be based on deliveries and tie the project plans to ensure that at each project gate there is a deliverable that is valued by the customer to be worth 75% of the current payments to that gate.

And of course, the big part of this is the hold back at the end of the contract, to ensure that the deliverable delivers a measurable impact which is normally 30 to 90 days after completion. The hold back should be substantial enough to have the partner in the game through the end gate and not just up to it.