Don Khouri Blog

How Asking for Help Makes Effective Technology Leaders

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Mar 24, 2010

Ask for Help and Be More Productive

I was sitting in a Starbucks the other day, having a cup of coffee, and processing email until my next appointment.  There was a young woman, perhaps in her early 20s, struggling to get her coat off.  As it was zipped up almost to her neck; it was difficult for her to even see the zipper.  She asked the girl sitting next to her to help her unzip the coat.  She tried for perhaps 5 minutes and could not solve the problem.  The whole section of the store was engaged with this process, thinking they could help with their hope.  So, I offered to help thinking a good tug would be the right solution.  You know the situation when the zipper catches the fabric on the other side and gets jammed.  I also failed to get it unzipped, partly concerned I may rip or damage the coat.  So, off she went to the ladies room to try herself.  A short time later, she came back with coat in hand.  ask for help

This got me thinking about the leadership lesson here -- Know when to ask for help.  She was probably sitting alone for less than two minutes before she reached out and asked for help.  She could have sat there in agony, sweating, and uncomfortable.  The problem would have stayed on her mind, distracted her from what she was trying to do, and ultimately negatively impacted her productivity for a much longer period of time.

Why ask for help?  There are three key reasons why you should ask for help at the right time.  (1) You will solve the problem more quickly.  There is only so much you will be able to do on your own.  (2) Asking for help makes you feel better knowing that you have people that you trust and can rely on for help.  (3) You will build stronger relationships when you ask others to help you.  People feel better when they can offer their help.

When to ask for help?  Technology leaders deal with a great deal of complexity in their work -- all the normal complexities of leadership, productivity, and high performing teams along with the complexities and speed of technology.  So, knowing when to ask for thelp can be a challenge.  Here are a few signs that you are ready to ask:

  • You have tried a number of solutions on your own without success
  • The situation will get worse if you wait
  • You are frustrated with the lack of solution

Who to ask?  Don't discriminate -- you can ask your team, your peers, your managers, your coach.  A good coach will help you think about the problem in a way that you have not thought about it before.  A good coach is a good thinking partner.  It is wise to identify two or three key partners from the groups above to start with.

You never know who may have some insights or experience to help you, or may know someone that does. 

How to ask for help?  The way you bring the problem forward can influence the help you get.  You have an opportunity to increase credibility with the way you ask for help.  So first, frame the problem in such a way that it is clear what you are talking about.  Next, describe what you have already done.  This will show your creativity and commitment to solving the problem, and avoid re-covering ground you already have.  Third, be very clear about what you are asking.  For example, it would be better to ask, "what are some ways you have dealt with similar situations," or "who do you know that has some experience with this".  Finally, listen and accept the suggestions without trying to filter or responding, "yeah, but". 

This is such an empowering act, to have the confidence in yourself to reach out and get others involved in your struggle, build strong relationships, and improve your productivity as a result. 

To finish the coat story, I asked, "how did you get the coat off?"  The young woman responded that she gave it a good strong tug and the zipper released.  She ended up resolving it herself, largely due to the help had she already received.

Don's Coaching Questions

help button
  • What problem do you need help with?
  • Who can you ask to help you?
  • How can you frame the problem and ask for specific help?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology

What the CEOs Think About Productivity AND My Comments

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Mar 18, 2010

Inc Magazine recently published an article with lessons from 15 American CEOs about productivity.  Just so we are absolutely clear about this, I wanted to separate these in to three categories for you: bulls eye, on target, and missing the mark.

Bulls eyebullseye, productivity

These productivity ideas are right on the mark, and I like the insights of these executives.

The idea:  Answer the phone
The Executive:  Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising
My take:  Communication is key.  The richest form of communication is face-to-face and next to that is the phone.  Choose your communication medium based on the context.  Email, online is not always the right answer.  Keep in touch with your customers, your team, your partners.

The idea:  Organize Your Daily Interruptions
The Executive:  Danny Meyer, CEO Union Square Hospitality Group
My Take:  This is a unique idea which is to have your assistant or someone capture all of the potential interruptions and summarize them at the end of the day.  Now, part of being effective is making conscious decisions in the moment about the importance of an interruption relative to what you are working on.  This helps compartmentalize it a bit.  If you don't have an assistant, you could emulate this in some other way.

The idea:  Use a Wiki to Capture Ideas
The Executive:  Garrett Camp, founder of StumbleUpon
My Take:  Your job is knowledge. Capturing information and ideas from your team in a structured way that team members can refer to as needed is a big productivity boost.  A wiki is great technology to do that.

The idea:  Schedule time to focus on the big picture
The Executive:  Scott Lang, CEO Silver Spring Networks
My Take:  It is easy to get bogged down in the day to day demands of you job, and react to the latest and loudest.  It takes discipline to block time to think -- about strategy, vision, goals.

The idea:  Avoid multitasking
The Executive:  Douglas Merrill, former CIO of Google
My Take:  The simple truth is, and the research supports this, that we get more done when we are focused on one thing than we are when we try to do multiple things simultaneously. 

The idea:  Always be interviewing
The Executive:  Kevin P. Ryan, Double-Click and AlleyCorp
My Take:  The spirit of this idea is very good which is to stay in touch with your team, your extended team, and your entire team as appropriate.  Keep looking for and assessing talent.  As Jim Collins says, "people are not your greatest asset, good people are your greatest asset."

On Target

These ideas are good but need a clarification to make sure you are making the most of them. 

The idea:  Skip meetings
The Executive:  Mark Cuban,  Dallas Mavericks owner and CEO, HDNet
My Take:  Yes, some meetings are worth skipping.  And meetings 8-10 hours / day every day do not make sense.  In the spirit of face-to-face communication, meetings are worthwhile.  Face-to-face communication is important.  To make sure meetings are worthwhile, the planner should invite the right people, communicate an agenda 24 hours ahead of time, and be clear about the successful outcome.

The idea: Live by the "two-pizza" rule which is that project teams should be small enough to feed with two pizzas
The Executive:  Caterina Fake, co-founder Flickr
My Take:  Artificial team sizes and random meeting end times can actually hurt your productivity.  I would rather see the spirit of the rule followed to keep teams small and use your judgement.  Again, make sure meeting agendas are clear, and use the time necessary to get done what you need to, even if it is less time than scheduled.

The idea:  Hire for flexibility
The Executive:  Julie Ruvolo, co-founder and COO of Solvate.
My Take:  Nothing really new here, businesses have been hiring contractors for years. 

The idea:  Use email to document
The Executive:  Karl Hoagland, founder of Larkspur Hotels and Restaurants
My take:  Again, nothing really new here.  Yes, email is a great documentation tool, and you should use it to schedule meetings and confirm appointments.  It just wouldn't make my top 15 productivity concepts.

The idea:  Always save time to exerice
The Executive:  Mike Cassidy, CEO Ruba
My Take:  Yes, in fact schedule time to exercise.  If you save time, it will never happen.  Schedule around it like you would any other appointment.

Missing the Mark

These next few items are just not good productivity best practices.  I am sure they work for those executives, just be cautious about accepting them broadly.

The idea:  Rank items on your to-do list
The Executive:  Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank panelist
My take:  David Allen, productivity guru, says that priority is actually the fourth criterion to look at when deciding what to do.  Number one is context (where you are and what tools you have available), number two is time available, and number three is your energy.  Then priority.  Your number one priority may require two hours and if you only have ten minutes right now, then do something else.

The idea:  Be extra-productive during off hours.  Choose work over social life.
The Executive:  Seth Priebatsch, CEO SCVNGR
My Take:  I know the lines between work and personal are blurring and they have been for a number of years.  We are doing personal business at work and vice versa. I advocate keeping an all-life to do list, and working on it at the appropriate times.  The bottom line is be productive when it makes sense, not more or less during off hours as Mr. Priebatsch suggests.  And make time for social, fun, family, and whatever else is important to you.  Balance.

The idea:  Shrink your mental deadlines
The Executive:  Krissi Barr, founder of Barr Corporate Success
My Take:  Generally, we underestimate how long things take to complete, proven by research called the planning fallacy.  So this concept of working faster to complete something is less time than you think it will take is unrealistic and will put unnecessary pressure on yourself.  It seems to be prone to mistakes.

The idea:  Review your productivity at the end of the day
The Executive:  Bob Compton, CEO Vontoo
My take:  A daily review of your schedule and actions is critical to help you stay focused on the right things for the day.  A weekly review of your full inventory of actions, schedule, and important to keeping it all up to date.  Othwerwise, your actions get stale and you don't trust your lists.  Adding yet another review to see how you did at the end of the day is superfluous and is not the best use of time.

Don's coaching questions:

  • Which of these can you implement immediately to be more productive?
  • What is your personal most productive time of the day that you can plan to get your most challenging actions complete?
  • How can you use technology to support your productivity practices?

I would love to hear your ideas on productivity, and how they help you and your teams.  productivity, technology


Please click here to take my
Free Productivity Assessment.

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, multi-tasking

Develop Your Team Members and Develop Yourself

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 08, 2010

Develop Your Team Members.  Bob Reynolds, the former Vice Chairman of Fidelity, in an address to senior executives said, "I see it as a failure of our company when we need to hire leaders from outside."  It was a message to all of us in the room that part of our job was developing the next generation of leaders.  As a leader, a big part of your job is doing exactly that.  Block the time to do it!

Here is a five step process you can follow with your team members to begin the leadership development process.

  1. Identify with each person their strengths, and one specific area for improvement. 
  2. Look for assignments that will leverage the strengths and help stretch the improvement opportunity.
  3. Help them find the right resources to support those areas -- training, articles, other mentors.
  4. Be a coaching leader.  Provide timely positive and constructive feedback, be supportive, and spend time with them to encourage their growth.
  5. Monitor by discussing progress in your 1:1s and observing yourself.

Develop Yourself.  "Of all the things thapersonal development can have an effect on your future, I believe personal growth is the greatest. We can talk about sales growth, profit growth, asset growth, but all of this probably will not happen without personal growth." -- Jim Rohn.

So here is a process you can follow to work on your own self development:

  1. Clarify and fully understand the organization objectives so that whatever you do aligns with those objectives.
  2. Gather information.  Ask for feedback (manager, peers, associates) on what is going well, and what you can do to improve.
  3. Based on the feedback, set 1-2 goals for improvement -- leverage your strengths, improve your weaknesses.
  4. Get a team in place that you can rely on to help you monitor progress on your own goals. 

A good executive coach can help you with this process.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How much time are you spending weekly on staff development?
  • How much time do you spend relfecting and on personal development?
  • How can you ask for feedback on how you are doing as a leader?

leadership development


For a complimentary leadership development review, please click here

Tags: productivity, leadership, Fidelity, technology

Be Productive -- Get Better Every Day

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 01, 2010

Produce results, and get better every day -- I would like to cover part 7 and 8 in this article.

The first, "produce results" is simple and straight forward.  At Fidelity and elsewhere, working hard is not enough.  You have to produce results and show the benefits of those results.  You want this attitude to be pervasive in everything you do, from running a meeting, to completing a project, to building your team.  Make sure you are getting results.  Make sure you are delivering the business value you committed to.  This is not just about delivering on time and on budget.  In fact, one project team I know actually measures their success based on how widely used the solution is.  You accomplish this by making sure you delivery the features identified up front.

Second, there is a productivity concept called Kaizen.  It is actually made up of two words.  "Kai" which means change, and "Zen" which means better.  Change for the better.Kaizen

This is a Japanese concept that was introduced during their quality revolution that took place in the 1950s.  The idea is this:  that you make small incremental improvements every day, get better every day.  This idea was built into the Fidelity culture from the top down.  After a trip to Japan in the 1980s, Mr. Johnson, came back so excited about it, that he started sharing with Fidelity associates any opportunity he got.

For example, after every software development project, successful or not, mission critical or not, big or small, the project team would have a project closure meeting with all the key players and ask two simple questions:  What worked well that we should continue doing?  What can we do differently next time that will make this better?

In one particular case, the project team questioned the reason for having two sequential requirement steps -- a business requirement process and a systems requirement process which created overlap and redundancy.  The result was to combine the requirement process which saved effort, time and money.  Fidelity does not settle for the status quo, there is always room for improvement, there is always a way to do it better, faster, cheaper. 

Another example, from my coaching work relates to what I have done with the agreement process.   I have improved my agreement process to include a coule of additional steps including building an alliance with the client around our interactions.

When the idea of continuous improvement is built into a culture, it can be very effective.  Kaizen is something you can use as a leader in your work and in your daily life. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How close is your current project to producing the results you committed to?
  • What are you doing today to get better?
  • How can you best share the concept of Kaizen with your team?

Tags: productivity