This is another one of those non-business related posts, so feel free to tune out ūüôā

I actually find writing a blog to be very cathartic, so share a bit more of my feelings in the virtual world than I do in person. It’s actually very enjoyable and I get to say things the way I want to, without being hamstrung by inflection, or tone or anything like that – it’s a great way to share.

I wrote a few weeks ago on legacy – now I’d like to write a little bit on life. I’ve recently had to front up to exactly how fragile life is and it’s left an indelible mark on me.

I probably should frame up the back story, so bear with me – I’m¬†not overly close with my parents or my sister, I never really have been – in my mind they’re deeply flawed people¬†(even more so than myself)¬†that don’t reflect who I am or what I’m about. In saying that, I am (or was) very close to my maternal grandparents

My grandfather was a large, physically imposing man – even in his older age he always had a certain presence about him – the “I’m not a man to be messed with” presence. He was never violent, or certainly not that I’d ever seen, but you could tell that he possessed the ability to be ferociously so. In any case, pretty much everything that I learnt about being a man I’d learnt from my grandfather, from the right way to shake a hand (firm while looking in a man’s eyes) to where to walk when you were walking on the street with a lady (the¬†side closest to the road just in case a car mounted the footpath and you had to push her out of the way)¬†. He was a man who’d had his own business, sold that, bought a cab and spent 20 some years driving that cab all around Sydney until he retired to spend his days with my grandmother. When my parents divorced when I was 12, I spent even more time with my grandfather and I’m eternally grateful for that time and the lessons I’d learnt – even just hanging out down in his garage ‘helping’ him do some handiwork.

I learnt¬†different¬†life skills¬†from my grandmother,¬†I learnt exactly what it was to have simple fun without complications or requiring electricity. We used to walk home from the shopping centre and then every now and then break out into a skip and sing along while we were doing it. I’m sure a 13 year old boy and his 60 something year old grandmother doing that looked quite weird, but it’s as happy as I can ever remember being doing anything. No more than a year ago I was taking my grandmother to bingo as often as I could and I’d still hold her hand while walking through the bingo hall and she’d proudly introduce me as “her number 1 grandson”¬†to everyone and no-one in particular. Even at 29 years old it still made my heart sing hearing her say that about me.

I also used to stay several weeks at my grandparents during the December school holidays – every morning my nan and pop used to get up at 6am and walk probably 5 kilometres to pick up the days paper, bread and probably a cake and head back to read those papers. I used to get up at 545am when I was staying there just to make sure I wouldn’t miss them and be in the lounge room patiently waiting for them to go, I used to hold both of their hands and talk about everything and nothing and again, I can’t remember being that happy before or since.

Unfortunately old age and Alzheimers robbed my grandfather of his strength, first his¬†physical, then his mental strength, then his character¬†until he was feeble of body and mind¬†and¬†this proud, strong¬†man required someone to help him go to the toilet. I used to go and see him as much as I¬†could and I would weep as soon as I left for hours¬†from seeing the dignity robbed from someone I loved so much.¬†Time is a cruel, cruel mistress and I was almost thankful to see him go after everything else was taken from him. I’ll never forget the life lessons I learnt from him and I’ll forever be disappointed that I didn’t make it back from living overseas¬†to say goodbye to him before he went.

Unfortunately – my grandmother is headed down the same path – a woman who lived in the same street ALL of her life, over 80 years (she moved from number 23 when living with her parents to number 3 with her new husband – my grandfather) had to be moved into a nursing home about 12 months ago because she’d become too much for my mother to look after. Initially she was just frail of body but over the last few months she’s become increasingly frail of mind and the prompt for this blog was a visit to her this past Sunday which was the first time that she had no idea who I was – I was just another stranger to her, just another face in her day, I wasn’t her “number one grandson” anymore. Those of you who have had loved ones in this state know what I’m talking about, those of you who have been fortunate enough to have not had loved ones in this state can only imagine the personal pain you feel by having someone who is such a big part of your life be there in person, but not know who you are. It’s a unique kind of feeling that is maybe more devastating than losing someone altogether, at least in my opinion.

What’s my point for today? Well.. I guess the point is this – I remember when my grandparents were the vibrant people that skipped, ran, played cricket with me, fixed things around the house, cooked, had jobs – basically what my parents do today and all of those things feel like yesterday, but today I’m faced with a grandfather who’s gone and a grandmother who has no idea who the loved ones in her life is – life is terribly fleeting, more so when you think in those terms, so maybe I should make more of an effort with my parents? Will it take them becoming ill, or being in a nursing home for me to realise that I should have spent more time with them?

I’m reminded of the Mike and the Mechanics song – “In the Living Years” – which has always resonated with me, even when I was young – cherishing the time you have with loved ones is one of the most important things you can do because time is something you can’t get back.

I have to go and make some phone calls to my parents now – If you haven’t done so today and are lucky enough to have them around still, may I respectfully suggest that you do too?

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I have a pug named Floyd (after Floyd Mayweather the boxer). I don’t care what anyone says –¬†Pugs are hands down¬†the cutest and most adorable dogs in the world. He gives me so much joy with his silliness and playfulness that I can’t imagine life without him and I’m scared that day will come one day and I will be absolutely devastated. Pugs are not the sort of dogs who will sit away from you, or play on their own really – if you’re around they need to be touching you, on you, even if it’s just sitting with you with their paw on you, they must be close – it’s an adorable trait that makes them the perfect companion dog.

This isn’t my first Pug, I adopted a 10 year old Pug from a Pug rescue several years ago and it was an amazing and joyous experience. Whilst he was older, he gave so much love in the year and a bit¬†until he passed away (which was devastating)¬†that I was bitten by the Pug bug and absolutely had to have another one. I had to wait until I got back from Beijing, but as soon as I returned I went out and got myself a Pug from a reputable breeder.

Which brings me to the point of my post today; because Pugs are indeed so cute and been brought to the wider public attention by movies like Men in Black and Milo and Otis, unfortunately they are the target for puppy farmers who take Pugs and breed them incessantly in small cages where they never get to play, or run in the grass, or be social with people or other dogs and this makes me unspeakably angry.

I was talking to a pug rescue place that I donate to today and they recently rescued a pug from a ‘breeder’ who has 400 dogs stored in a old piggery shed and breeds them for sale in pet stores. One of the pugs they couldn’t rescue because the ‘breeder’ wouldn’t part with them was a 10 year old Pug who was currently pregnant – this is incredibly dangerous for the mother and is just heartbreaking.¬†Apart from the absolutely disgusting conditions the dogs are stored in, they are quite literally used as a ‘farm’ for puppies and dogs are bred again and again and again until the end of their life then they are put down while never knowing any sort of kindness from a human. Just writing that sentence is enough to bring tears to my eyes and it’s despicable that we let this continue in a civilised society.

So, aside from getting sad and angry – what can you do to help?

Well, I do a few things, I donate money and time to a few pug rescue organisations so they may continue their noble work. You can choose the breed or type of organisation you work with (e.g RSPCA or something like that) but I urge you to help, a little applied judiciously can go a long way, time or money.

You can also ensure that you and your friends NEVER buy puppies from pet stores – they are the main clients of these puppy farms and keep them in business, if there was no demand the puppy farms wouldn’t operate and they would cease this barbaric business.

The other thing you could do is to support Oscars Law Рhttp://www.oscarslaw.org/ *beware, there is some confronting images on this link*

A direct quote from this webpage: “Factory farmed dogs get no veterinary intervention when they need respite from their pain and suffering. They live in filth, sometimes without adequate food or water. Their coats are often matted with faeces and stained with urine. Ear infections and ear mite infestations are common as is painful dental and gum disease.

Many dogs slowly go insane. They spin in circles or pace back and forth in their cells, some never see daylight, and the outside world is a foreign place to them. Should any dogs be lucky enough to be rescued once outside in the open they still circle and pace as if they are still incarcerated. They shy away from human hands as they have never known kindness. The dogs are deprived of even their basic needs as the current law is only concerned with food shelter and water. The dog‚Äôs psychological and social needs are ignored on factory farms”

Cruelty to any animals is one of the most abhorrent things a person can do in my opinion – the blight on human civilisation of puppy farms¬†must cease and to quote¬†Burke “All that is needed for evil to¬†triumph is for good men to do nothing” – ignoring suffering of any type – human or animal allows this evil to flourish – I implore you to help.

Before I start on a review of this product, I just want to make something clear – I’m not a shill for any product – if I’m writing about it, it’s because we use it and¬†either my customers or I¬†like it (or loathe it).

So, in the interests of full disclosure, Anittel recently purchased 10000 agents of Webroot SecureAnywhere for our clients and internal use. This was after an exhaustive review process and many, many vendors input and sales pitches.

To preface why this was an important decision and one in which a lot of diligence was undertaken is because the two things that cause the most problems for any MSP is Malware and Backup issues. The amount of time burnt on these two issues the world over must be enormous because just internally here at Anittel I have worked out that we spent between 400 and 500 hours in any given month on these two issues, that’s a lost revenue opportunity of $50-60k which is straight off the bottom line.

Traditional issues are malware infections including ones created through zero-day exploits, clients not updating through traditional signature based updates, issues caused by AV installations (particularly ones that include a firewall) and other simple and niggling issues. It’s a running joke that the second something goes wrong with a PC or server, after you’ve rebooted it just uninstall the AV package and it’ll probably fix it.

So, to say it’s a pain is an understatement – when we were looking for something to replace our existing AVG/Kaspersky implementation through Kaseya we wanted to address these issues, not lock ourselves into another nightmare scenario.

I was fortunate enough to come across Webroot as part of our reviews and I was very impressed with a few things in theory with their product, namely:

  • It isn’t signature based, no need to ensure machines get signature updates every day
  • It has a very small install footprint
  • It has a very small scanning footprint
  • It retains a cloud based library of processes/applications that are allowed and not and if it doesn’t fall into one of these two categories it journals the changes made by that process/application and allows you to roll back if it becomes a known bad process/application.
  • It can be installed alongside other AV implementations without conflict (which was key, given we were going to be migrating from an existing AV installation for clients and wanted no lapse in protection)

I got talking to some guys there about the fact that I liked the product, but didn’t like the fact it was yet ANOTHER portal, something I talk about in an earlier blog. They were keen to work with us and Labtech to¬†integrate¬†it into our RMM tool which was a great outcome for all.

Anyway, we’ve been running it in beta internally and with some selected customers now for about¬†3 months and it’s been a stellar success, I’ve been very happy with the rollout and we’re now planning a schedule to cut all customers over to this platform in the immediate future.

There’s a few bad things, so on balance, I’m going to share them as well

  • It’s not great on a machine that’s already infected, it doesn’t have a clean up tool like McAfee Stinger that is good on pre-infected machines, you really want this out there before a breakout (obviously) then it’s very effective
  • The web portal, if you have to use it, is annoying – I don’t like it’s authentication mediums (although I understand why) and I think it’s clunky and not easy to understand. We’ve limited access internally to a few super users of the platform and setup standard packages for customers, this has worked well, I’d caution against rolling this portal out for 30 engineers – you’ll spend more time resetting passwords than having them working.
  • The integration to Labtech is in it’s infancy, it’s basically deploy/remove from Labtech using scripts, I’m working with Webroot on further integration such as logging tickets when a virus is found and remediating them/closing the ticket but that’s a while away

Otherwise, I can highly recommend Webroot to MSPs and in fact to corporates as well who are looking for a excellent anti-malware solution.

I’m getting a demo of their web security product as well this week, which looks to be interesting too and based on the same model (lightweight client and cloud based ‘definitions’) – I’ll let you know how it looks next week

 

Understanding the total value of your clients to your business is an important process to undertake. It’s essentially to know who is “keeping the lights on” so to speak so that you can give them the love and attention that they deserve. Not all clients are created equal and they don’t expect to and¬†shouldn’t be treated the same – know where your bread is buttered and ensure that it’s continuing to be buttered!

But in saying that, total value¬†from a net $ perspective can be misleading and some simple calculations can show why. If you have an unprofitable Managed Services agreement it can undo all of the¬†margin you’ve built in other parts of the business.¬†¬†

It‚Äôs been said to me with relation to Managed IT¬†agreements ‚ÄúWhy don‚Äôt you consider the ad-hoc work they do or the server refresh we‚Äôre going to do in 6 months when you calculate their ‚Äėvalue‚Äô as a customer‚ÄĚ and whether we’d be better off keeping them on the books or politely suggesting they may be better served elsewhere. There are a few problems with this logic delivered quite elegantly on a sum basis – these sums¬†are based on a fully loaded labour cost of $75 per hour per engineer which I think is reasonably accurate.

 

1.            Ad-hoc work is not guaranteed and fluctuates month to month; infrastructure upgrades by the same token are not guaranteed and you could look after a customer for 12 months on agreements that are costing you money only for them to leave you before they undertake the server upgrade component because they are unhappy with your service due to you spending hours on their network and never fixing the core issues

2.            Notwithstanding this, assuming they stay with you and do an infrastructure upgrade in year 1 Рlet’s do some quick calculations:

If a customer has an MIT agreement on which the monthly fee is $2000 and the effective hourly rate is $50ph (40 hours worked)¬†at a fully loaded labour rate of $75ph you’d¬†actually lose EVERY month on this customer $25ph or $1000pm – assuming this¬†a business would¬†waste $12000 per annum on that particular¬†customer

If that customer chooses to do a infrastructure refresh for $30000 ($20000 hardware and $10000 labour) of which gross margin is 15% on hardware and all project labour is billed at $120ph the sums look like this:

(-$10000 + ((15% of $20000=$3000) + (83 hours of labour *$45=$3735)) = -$3265                                 

$45 = difference between labour cost of $75 and billing rate of $120

For the whole year that customer is STILL MINUS $3265 for you to look after them and they don’t do infrastructure upgrades every year!

If you were to improve the MIT rate to $75ph  the customer turn-around is $10000 (from a negative of $3265 to a profit of $6735)

 

This is just working with some round figures for ease of calculation, however it’s pretty easy to demonstrate how tolerating a low average hourly rate does not lead to pay-offs in the longer term.

 

3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The other discussion point¬† that¬†can be predicated¬†is ‚ÄúThis customer does another 20 hours of additional ad-hoc work per month, so they HAVE to be profitable‚ÄĚ.

 

Taking the same customer from above with a MIT effective hourly rate of $50ph on a $2000 agreement and assuming they do another 20 hours of Professional Services work per month at this rate of $120)

(-$1000 + (20 hours x $45)) =$0¬† ‚Äď again bearing in mind the $45 figure is the difference between the cost and revenue of the additional professional services work)

 

At BEST a business would break even (on a 0% Gross Margin) with this customer assuming this work occurs every month, but you would be doing 60 hours of work for $0 profit and it’s very easy to see how this could go sideways quickly and become a massive loss.

So, what’s the most important metric in your Managed Services business? The one I keep an eye on the most – Average Effective Hourly Rate by location on a rolling 3 basis.

I’m fortunate enough to own the Managed Services product portfolio at one of the worlds biggest MSPs – that’s not a brag by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that I have a bit of an insight into the Managed Services industry, pricing¬†and delivery of those products – http://www.mspmentor.net/mspmentor-100-global-edition-2012-companies-20-to-1/

With that comes a lot of pain, believe me, but also an incredibly amount of challenge on a day to day to basis. One of the key challenges is how to price a managed services agreement so that it’s both profitable to the company and seen to be good value in the marketplace.

That’s about as hard as it sounds and leads to some very interesting conversations with finance people, executives,¬†industry peers¬†and customers around price and value. These conversations are, by necessity, hard for a few reasons.

Firstly, not everyone sees value in Managed Services – their opinion is that if something is broken, we’ll have it fixed, but ensuring it doesn’t get broken doesn’t have a value attached in their mind. While I’ve tried very hard to educate some of these people around lost time and opportunity¬†but in the end you can’t change someone’s opinions and those people will never perceive value no matter what you do – UNTIL they’re offline for 4 days with a server issue, then there is a value perceived but unfortunately that’s usually followed by a “Well, it’s happened once in 3 years, I won’t need to worry about it again statistically for 3 years!” – I do wish computers were linear like this, but unfortunately that’s not the case!!

It’s not just customers who don’t necessarily see value in it, a lot of risk averse C-Level execs of IT companies see it as a risk which they’d rather not undertake as, especially in a ‘all you can eat’ model it is an unquantifiable risk.

I’m a bit pragmatic around the risk and partially agree with the risk averse around ‘all you can eat’ agreements, it’s very difficult to price risk (just ask any of the major re-insurance firms that struggled through Hurricane Katrina) and if you do it’s always a high price so you end up pricing yourself out of the market, or not being able to demonstrate value.

Which brings me to my next point, price – how do you price an agreement so that you maintain a respectable bottom line in a business and wether the ebbs and flows of agreements being less and more profitable.

There is an interesting survey done each year by Kaseya on Managed Services pricing available at: http://www.kaseya.com/lps/en/lp/2012/MSPGlobalPricingSurvey_Q4.aspx

It has a raft of intriguing information on how our peers in industry price their agreements and is well worth a read.

Anittel price their agreements on a per device basis, with added value services included depending on the plan chosen. We don’t put the line item pricing out there because we don’t see a reason to do so, but publish a calculator for our sales team to punch things like PCs, thin clients, servers etc into and a price is delivered at the end of this. This works really well for up to about 75 clients, but above that the pricing becomes difficult to compete with ‘tender based’ business – we deal with clients above that size based on the calculator but look to add in services, or discount other services to make the proposition more attractive.

That’s all good and well with regards to price and value, but then how do you know that your MSP business is profitable based on that pricing and value – if you sign up a whole lot of customers on agreements that aren’t profitable for a long period you’re going to struggle financially.

As a business we measure a predominant metric which is around Managed IT Average Hourly Rate which is a report ran monthly and at it’s basis is a calculation like this:

($ValuePaidByClient Рsoftware costs such as RMM/Backup) / Hours Worked on Agreement

For Anittel Рan effective hourly rate of >$100 hour on average across a location is good, anything lower than that is bad. Some agreements will go up and down in a given month, but one needs to establish a trend rather than a point in time measurement and an average of a location or business is the best metric.

I’m pretty sure it was Drucker that said “What you can’t measure you can’t manage” or something like that – Once you have this data on how profitable or not your MIT agreements are, what do you do with it to actually MANAGE an outcome.

What we’ve found is that if customers have a persistently low MIT average hourly rate, they have one of these problems:

1. You’ve discounted your agreements too much or priced them incorrectly to start with

2. They’re on a legacy, incorrectly priced agreement

3. The customers¬†has an underlying infrastructure problem which is causing a lot of support and either hasn’t been clearly explained to a customer¬†what the fix is¬†or the customer is choosing not to do anything about it because there is a cost associated with fixing it

4. You have a skills issue with your employees (ie they aren’t fixing things as quickly as they should be, or are padding time out)

And the outcome of any one of those issues is unprofitable agreements, unhappy clients and unhappy staff. Bear with me while I explain why the latter two occur.

If a customer is constantly seeing an engineer because of an underlying infrastructure problem, they’re going to think you’re pretty silly and be not happy with your performance and leave you for someone else. In fairness, that might not be a bad thing because if you’re not making any money on the agreement it’s not a bad thing to not have them – but in the meantime you’ve burnt a lot of time and your reputation on someone who is going to leave as they are unhappy.

You’ll also get unhappy staff, because they’ll constantly be hearing from the same client(s), who will become increasingly angry at them and they will be unable to help.

The last problem is probably the biggest, you’re essentially throwing money away on customers who will leave you because you’re not fixing their underlying issues!!

It’s a strange corollary that the happiest managed services customers are always the ones with the highest average hourly rate, they’re paying to avoid problems and are avoiding them so are happy. Regardless of how charming/good looking¬†your IT people are, very few of your customers ever want to see them! Managed¬†services is a partnership, clients pay for you to avoid problems and the business case is that you’re incented to do so because you’re more profitable if you’re doing less work for them.

So, back to pricing, if you know what your resources cost you, you can very quickly understand why pricing MIT agreements properly is essential – get it wrong at your (contractual term length) peril!

 

 

 

Life and Legacy

February 1, 2013 — 3 Comments

Apologies from the diversion from business and managed services, I’m going to talk on something personal, feel free to tune out if you’re not interested!

So – as part of getting older (although not too old yet despite the lack of hair!) things happen which make you consider both your life and your legacy.

For me, I have a pending operation coming up on the 15th of February, nothing serious, a routine operation performed millions of times before me and will be performed millions of times after me, but it does involve being in an operating theatre under anaesthetic for 4-5 hours as well as some pre and post care. In reading about this operation and the risks of course the big one that jumps out is RISK OF DEATH!!!!! or at least that’s how my hypochondriac mind reads it.

I guess I’ve always kind of thought that I wouldn’t be around on Earth for long, it’s something I’ve thought often about¬†since I was a little kid – morbid, I know, but real nonetheless. So when stuff like this happens, I always tend to think the worst – what if I never come out? what will happen to me? How will others around me take it? Stuff like that.

It takes a lot to explore those thoughts, mostly because people just don’t want to think them – lots of us go by in life thinking we’re invincible, particularly when you’re younger, and it takes something like this, or something happening to someone you know or love to realise that life is precious and is very, very fleeting.

I was fortunate enough to hear Arlin Sorensen (http://www.htgpeergroups.com/blog.html)¬†talk about life, legacy and being responsible for both when he was in Australia for a Connectwise user group. Some of the points he raised were uncomfortable for most –¬†I could tell looking around the room and all too familiar for everyone in the room. He spoke of someone that he knew that owned a MSP business that passed away and had literally left no information, or instructions on where things were, where the money was, who was owed, how the business worked, etc – I think it was such an unexpected death and such a surprise there was no information left over that whilst his widow was grieving there was a business to run that required input that no-one had – what a terrible situation to be placed in with the departure of a loved one.

After that talk, I ran right out and got life insurance, income protection insurance, got all my documentation together on where money and owned property is¬†and wrote a will – Arlin should probably get a cut from my financial advisor for the speed with which I acquired the above! From Arlin’s talk I took it as a matter of being a responsible family member, friend, manager and person¬†and this sharp focus on what constitutes being responsible if you were to pass away led me to take those steps quickly! If I was to pass away and my family had to deal with those issues as well as grieving me it would be terribly irresponsible of me and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case.

The second part is a bit more existential and a little more¬†concerning to me than matters of money and deals with your personal legacy, what will people think of me when I’m gone? What have I left on this earth that I can be proud of? I think it’s every person’s wish to leave the world¬†a better place than you entered it, but really what tangibly says that you have?

Anyone that knows me outside of this blog, knows I’m not a believer in any sort of fate, destiny or religious deity – I’m a¬†man of science and a¬†live and let live guy, so if you’re a believer that’s your business and I’m good with that, but I do appreciate people not trying to make me a believer if you know what I mean? So I’m not tied to the idea of ‘living on’ in one form or another or being able to ‘look down’ on my achievements and loved ones and conversely I’m unable to take some solace in a belief.

In any case, what have I done that will really make the world a better place when I’m gone, or leave an indelible positive mark on the world? If I’m honest, not a lot that would have any great sort of lasting effect. That is indeed troubling for me when I consider that I’ve had ample opportunity to do so by the age of 30 and I don’t know how long this ride will last –¬†even if I do get to 60 will I be looking back at 60 thinking the same sort of thing and trying to make that mark before I’m 90? Time rushes by even quicker than most of us think..

I’ve thought a lot about what I could do to make the world a better place, or have something that lives on and I’m honestly fresh out of ideas of things of consequence, sure I give money to a number of charities, I volunteer as and where I can and I’d like to think I’m a decent guy but is that enough? I have a feeling it isn’t. I’m going to keep searching for something that I can define as my ‘offering’ to the world and try my best to make sure I get it done before the sands of time slip away – unfortunately I’m not likely to get it done before Friday the 15th so here’s hoping all goes well and I get a chance to build a personal legacy I can be proud of!!

Leadership

January 31, 2013 — 7 Comments

Well.. I guess my initial post was on something I’m pretty familiar with, my next one is on something that I’m familiar with through the harsh fire of experience, but consider myself far from an expert on.

Leadership – such a big and often misused word¬†– what is it to me? what is it that I can bring to deliver¬†leadership? what does it mean to the people I’m to be ‘leading’?¬†

I’ve been managing staff for quite a few years now in some reasonably difficult scenarios, managing staff for whom English isn’t their first language, managing staff who are located in entirely different countries than where you are¬†with entirely different cultures and practices, managing staff through a significant amount of change, managing staff in¬†the reasonably harsh glaring light of a listed and reasonably famous locally company, managing a large¬†staff across several geographic regions,¬†managing staff in the transition from other companies as part of M&As – and I¬†honestly¬†believe that I’ve learnt more from them that I have been able to impart from my side.

So – basically, I’ve made a TON of mistakes along the way, hundreds and hundreds of mistakes that have sometimes caused people significant pain and myself a lot of anguish. I’m not someone who can turn off their emotional feelings and manage like a robot, nor am I someone who doesn’t feel a great amount of injustice on behalf of people that I’ve actually made poor leadership decisions for.

What are those mistakes I hear the big wide internet saying (or at least that’s what I imagine you’re all saying) – well, let me count the ways I’ve messed up or things I think I still need to think about every day:

  • Not understanding that things that aren’t important to you, really mean a lot to those you lead – This one took me a LONG time to work out, you’re busy doing all the stuff you do and snowed under as most people managers are so when staff come to you with things that you think are quite petty that issue they are raising can literally be the biggest thing in that persons life right now and if you treat it like it’s petty you are essentially invalidating their existence and being a poor leader. Yep – I’ve done this one plenty – someone comes and complains about an interaction they had with a sales guy that they didn’t like, sounds like work politics and you ignore it, or even really fail to listen and hear that person – this can make the difference between that staff member being a happy, productive worker, or basically despising you. This is a hard lesson to learn, so I’d counsel anyone who is taking on a management position to keep this in the front of your mind.
  • Leading Up – Oh man, this one took me FOREVER to work out and I’m still not great at it. When I first started out as a na√Įve farm boy, I just assumed that hard work, dedication and loyalty would be rewarded with money, fame and an endless supply of hot women (kidding!) but your ability to lead up directly influences your ability to lead, full stop. If you can’t clearly manage the people who manage you and understand their motivations, expectations and vision, how will you ever convince the people you’re leading to follow you? I’m terrible at this, I’m blunt and plain speaking which doesn’t help me finesse my way through this landmine area but I’m working really hard on it. Getting across what you want, how you want to your leaders is the only way you’ll be a truly effective leader yourself. Understand the politics and use them to you and your teams advantage, don’t damage your team (or yourself!) through political tone deafness.
  • Not taking counsel from those who know better – Another one I’m terrible at but I’m working on – I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some very great leaders (shout out to Mark,¬†Per and Tim!) and if I’d just removed my head from my butt and stopped assuming I knew everything I’d have learnt a lot more from those leaders who’d taken¬†the¬†time to work with me even if I hadn’t always been receptive to their comments or direction. I know now¬†I’m difficult to manage and lead, but it’s taken me a long time to come to that conclusion. I think what I’m trying to say is that when you’re leading understand that others are trying to lead you – at the bare minimum respect their time and knowledge, take the advice under consideration and act accordingly.
  • Communicate – Wow Rob, you’re so brilliant, telling me I should communicate with those I lead – so insightful /endsarcasm – but in all seriousness,¬†HOW you communicate has more to do with the effectiveness of your leading than WHAT you communicate. Given the geographical, time difference and pure busyness that I face on any given day, I unfortunately do the majority of my managing and communicating via email, which, take it from me, is a TERRIBLE way to lead. Seriously – pick the phone up if you want to get something across, fly and see someone, send a carrier pigeon, but don’t expect that your finessed email as much as you read and re-read it will get across exactly what you’re saying and how you’re trying to say it. Email is read through the eyes of that person, NOT through your eyes, so is subject to their preconceptions, their mood, their biases and feelings so cannot possibly hope to get across the nuances of what you’re trying to say. Further, email is kind of a one sided – “I’m talking, you listen” medium – a phone call is collaborative, you can judge someones reaction as you deliver whatever communication you need to deliver and it’s just flat out more personal. If you’re solely managing by email – you’re just not leading – I’ve tried to move away from this by at a minimum scheduling fortnightly 15 minute¬†catch up phone calls with my staff where we shoot the breeze and talk about what they (and I) need to discuss but I could get a LOT better at this with just one step –¬†when you’re angry, or frustrated or someone has ticked you off with an email DO NOT reply (and especially don’t reply all!!), pick up the phone and call – this should maybe be higher in the list, it’s very important and I’m still learning this.
  • Be real, authentic¬†and credible – Another one that’s straight out of a management text book, I’ve never really had a problem with this, I’m a say what I mean kind of guy, but the issue that I’ve had is that you can be a say what you mean kind of leader but you have to consider the above points (particularly around leading up) before you communicate your thoughts and visions to your staff – the thing that will destroy credibility is communicating something that you believe to be the case but potentially not understanding that those above you aren’t on the same page and therefore being unable to deliver on your promises. You’re only as good as your LAST WORD – so if your last word wasn’t credible even if everything else previous was, don’t expect anyone to think you’ll be credible for your NEXT word – credibility can be destroyed in seconds and take a lifetime to rebuild, if ever.

My friend Tim (www.timbrewer.com.au) has a view around servant leadership, that is to say that the pyramid of leadership (where the boss is on top) should really be flipped around the other way and essentially you’re a servant of those that you lead – I’ll be honest, I don’t much go in for those thoughts but he did¬†lead me to a¬†epiphany the other day and actually what prompted me to start this blog¬†– basically, imagine an upside down pyramid where you’re on the bottom – got it? – now, you’re essentially the foundation and also carrying the entire load on a very small point (essentially your set of shoulders) – you’ll need to¬†be strong, stable, measured, hold up those below you until you can bring others up to share the load and spread out the base of the pyramid – until you’re no longer the person carrying the pyramid but everyone around you is sharing the load (and the fresh air!), then if you remove one person, the pyramid doesn’t fall over. I’m committed to growing my pyramid – how about you?

I’m committed to continuing my journey to be better at what I do every day, whether that be as a leader, a technologist or a business manager – but the above is just a small list of all of the mistakes I’ve made, so hopefully you won’t have to!