Archive for March, 2008

{Heroes} Happen Here: Leadership Lessons from a Microsoft Product Launch

This entry has been pending for a week but it is still worth posting. Last week was the Server Wave Launch 2008 event here in Singapore where Microsoft released their very new products, namely, Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008. This launch’s theme focuses on celebrating the people behind the technology who make things happen in their organizations. It may sound like a marketing hype from the consumers’ point of view but I think it is a worthwhile initiative by Microsoft to really recognize the most valuable asset in any organization: people.

I’ve had my shares of attending Microsoft product launches and being the tech guy as I am, I look forward to seeing what these new technologies are capable of. Not during this event. As Bill Hiff, General Manager, Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy, talked about the new features of the products, I was listening for non-technology-related insights he was sharing. What struck me the most was his statement on how each one of us can become change agents in our organizations – “be the change you want to be.” We want processes, management, initiatives to change and his challenge is painstakingly practical and that is if you want to have something changed, start from within yourself. Then, there was this round table discussion between executives from Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. As always, they talked about what makes their organizations stay ahead in their industry and the typical CxO pitch when it comes to doing public appearances. The HP executive highlighted the PPT in their success – People, Processes and Technology, again, having people as the forerunners of their success. When it came to the Sun Microssystems executive being interviewed, one of the things highlighted was the collaboration between them and Microsoft as they were perceived off as rivals in the industry. What the Sun executive said was really striking and if I may quote,”Microsoft and Sun Microsystems love the customers more than they love each other which comples them to work together to provide excellent solutions.” This highlights the value of co-opetition in the global economy today. Having two rival companies setting aside their own selfish ambitions for the good of the customers, therefore benefitting the customers and themselves in the process. Quoting from a CNET News published in 1998, “Some people see business entirely as competition. They think doing business is waging war and assume they can’t win unless somebody else loses. Other people see business entirely as cooperative teams and partnerships. But business is both cooperation and competition. It’s coopetition.

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The Power of Resurrection (The Power of Hope)

This was initially posted in a private newsgroup sometime April of 2006 and I decided to simply post it publicly.

We only look at Easter Sunday as the day when Christ resurrected from the grave. After a grueling experience at Golgotha in the hands of the brutal Roman soldiers and being left alone by followers and disciples, a triumphant Christ came back to life as He promised and, right before the very eyes of the people who despised Him, ascended to heaven with a promise. How we love the story. The underdog who was mistreated – beaten to death, died the most humiliating death one could ever have – came back as a superhero. It is no different from any typical superhero story you might say. But what does Easter Sunday really mean to us? We may all have our own meaning for this wonderful day. But one thing God wants us to realize is that there is more to it than simply overcoming death. The grave represents so many things – your broken dreams, an unfulfilled promise,a hopeless case, etc. I know you have your own. In fact, you might have been thinking of one right now.”My spouse’s not going to change. My career’s way out of hand. The economy is getting worse. I can’t get rid of this bad habit. The doctor says there is no cure. I have failed so many times.” Hopelessness.This is what the grave represents. And this is what God wants us to realize. Jesus was able to conquer the worst there is – death. What is God teaching us here? He simply wants us to dream again, to realize that there is ALWAYS hope.I was reading the story about Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome walking down the grave to anoint the body of Jesus, when something really hit me. Have you ever had that experience where you read something (even memorized it) for a couple of times and on the nth time, something unusual pops up. You might have thought to yourself, “was this really there all along?” On the way to the tomb, they might have been very sober; thinking of what happened the Friday before that. Not expecting anything except a dead body, they were surprised to see an opened tomb.Why were they there in the first place? Why waste time and effort going to the tomb – the tomb of the one who called himself God, now dead for three days.He was the hope of everybody who believed, until every hope collapsed when they saw him up on a cross – dead.If there’s anybody who should be there, it should be the disciples. Or probably they, too, lost all hope. But the ladies were there, for no apparent reason.And God was probably thinking to Himself, “let me give them the surprise of their life.” When they reached the tomb, an angel of the Lord told them of the good news. And what’s surprising is that the angel specifically mentioned Peter, you know, the guy who said he’ll go down with the Master no matter what but denied him thrice before the rooster crows. This is the part I like the most. You might have lost hope about yourself, failed a lot of times and disappointed a lot of people, even God Himself. Just like Peter, you may say. But Jesus was so concerned about Peter that He made special mentions – “and especially Peter.” Talk about giving hope. He doesn’t care whether you failed Him a lot of times but He still wants you to have hope. I just couldn’t imagine what Peter could have felt if he were there and heard his name. But I know one thing for sure, it turned Peter’s life around, enough to change the world in his lifetime.

There’s always hope. It’s alright to dream again.And that’s what resurrection Sunday brings to us.The God who conquered death is the God who brings us hope. And He dares you to prove it!

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Leadership Lessons from a Relational Database

March 14, 2008 1 comment

As a database professional, I get to work with databases every single day of my life (that doesn’t count all the other stuff I work on). Databases have to maintain files in the file system to store data. Initially, a fixed size is allocated to the database files. The databases are either configured to have the file size to grow when the need arise to accommodate more records to be stored, or sized up to a certain limit. There’s some leadership lesons to be learned from this behavior of relational databases. First, we need to grow. Personal growth is very important in a fast-changing world. Everything else is changing and the only thing that’s constant in life is change itself. But growing is painful. It takes a certain amount of dedication, commitment and discipline to grow. In the case of the database, the database administrator has to decide whether or not to configure database file growth or not. But that in itself is a choice. The decision to grow is the first step in the process. But that is not the most difficult phase. Once you have made the decision to grow, you need to take the necessary steps to move towards your decision to grow. If you need to grow in the area of communication, you need to take communication lessons and practice what you have learned. That is the most difficult part of the process – the growth process itself. When growth happens, you feel stretched to your limit, exhausted, discouraged, and even helpless. In a relational database, when file growth happens, performance of the database engine slows down a bit because it caters to the increase in file size while at the same time having to do what it is intended to do. Not only that, the operating system also experiences certain levels of performance degradation since it hosts the database file which is currently growing. From a human perspective, when we start to grow, our performance sometimes degrades because we are doing both our regular, normal, day-to-day tasks while at the same time pursuing activities towards our goal. Imagine having to work during the day while studying for a degree at night. Even the environment that surrounds us sometimes feels a bit absurd. The company you work for suddenly demands so much of you since they know you are studying and that you should be applying the skills you have learned immediately at work. Like I said, this is the most difficult part of the process. This is the part where we feel like giving up. But once the growth process is finished, you will never be the same again. When the database file is configured to grow for say 10%, once the file growth is done, it is no longer the same as it was before. A 10 megabyte-file size will now be 11 megabytes. The bigger the growth rate, the more difficult the process becomes. But the end results are way beyond we can imagine. You are no longer the person you used to be. You are stronger, wiser, more confident and better equipped. You’ll also feel the satisfaction that you managed to accomplish something. You have become a different person than what you used to be. And you feel the urge to tackle another bigger challenge. And the growth process repeats itself. And as leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell says, “for you to be a leader, you have to keep growing.”

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The F2P=P2F Equation

Didn’t I say this blog will be full of those acronyms?

I’ve seen such equations during my high school algebra days when properties of equations are being discussed. I used to think that mathematics is way too boring if not applied in our daily walks of life (which is the main reason I shifted from pure mathematics to applied mathematics – engineering to be specific – during my college days). As I’ve learned about leadership principles, this is one equation that really stuck to my head: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. It applies to just about any aspects of our lives whether it’s business, personal, emotional, economic or even spiritual. I just finished working with a project manager on a certain project. Project managers are supposed to plan, execute and manage projects (which is why they are called project managers in the first place). I highlighted the first one, which is plan, because without it the other two won’t be there at all. Planning is key to a successful project. And if not done properly, anything else will fail. Let me illustrate my point. When building a house, you need to talk to the architect and designer to articulate what you want in your house. Once that is taken cared of, the architect needs to have a look at all aspects of building the house – mechanical, electrical, piping, etc. This is where all the detailed drawings included in the blueprints come in. Then, the builders come and build the house according to the blueprint. A lot of people think that once the house is built, it is now ready to be occupied. Not at all. If you didn’t plan to buy the furnitures and the fixings for the house, there’s no way you can spend a comortable night of sleep. Now, think about the potential loss of not being able to plan properly. Let’s do some risk assessment. If you need to move in to the house immediately after it has been built and you haven’t included in your plan to buy the furnitures, you might end up sleeping some place else until you manage to have the essentials for your house. Or, you’ll probably end up buying at that particular instance. In both cases, your cost will definitely go up. What’s more, you’ll have increased anxiety which may be difficult to quantify. But if you planned well enough to consider buying those furnitures even before the house is finished, you may even have time to go around and looking for cheap yet elegant ones or even go around and scout for really good bargains.

Businesses lose a lot of money because of lack of planning. Imagine having to delay a project because the key person got sick and a replacement was not planned well ahead of time. Let’s place some numbers to quantify these cases. If you are making US$1,000 per day and you need to finish a project in 5 days, you’ll make US$5,000. If the key person got sick and have not planned for a replacement, that’s an opportunity loss of US$1,000 a day because you not just have to pay for the leave that the sick person is entitled to but also for the extra day or days that he has to spend to continue working on the project. Whereas if a replacement is already available as planned, the project goes as scheduled with the replacement taking over until the key person gets back to work. Efficiency, of course, is a different story. But still, you’ve managed to save time – and money – lost because of proper planning.

Imagine how much we can save if we just plan what we do in our lives – that vacation you’ve always wanted, your career path, your retirement, your next project, your family, etc. I’m not saying you should plan everything as rigid as you can as this would probably limit your creativity and imagination. But it really helps a lot planning way ahead.

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Running with the giants:An MBA lesson for 90 cents

I was on my way home after dinner when I happen to bump into my former boss. He used to be a Microsoft MVP and a Director for Training and Technology for a Microsoft training partner. A great guy that he is, he joined Microsoft Singapore earlier this year as a Solutions Specialist for the Information Worker. This covers the Microsoft Office product range which also includes Office SharePoint Server. He’s a very busy guy and everytime I can get a chance to spend some time with him. I grab that opportunity. He was on his way to get some tea after a stressful day at work. I asked him about what he has been busy with and he started telling stories – lots of them. I’ve always learned something new everytime I talk to him. This time it was sales techniques and a few new acronyms in sales – the M.A.N in the MAN. M stands for Money. Does the person you are dealing with have a budget? A stands for Authority. Does he have the authority or even influence to make decisions about the transaction? N stands for NEED. Does he or his organization have a need for what you are offering? If any of these is not present in a sales engagement, then, it might be a waste of time.

My point here is that when we run with the right crowd, we tend to be like them. In this particular case, I instantly became a student of sales and everything that he can share with me during that span of time. That’s also the same when we hang around with the wrong crowd. Imagine trying to be with the top corporate executives just for dinner at an event. You’ll pick up a thing or two about how they think, how they act, and their perspectives. In the long run, you’ll eventually be like them. So, ask yourself today. How and where would you like to be in a year’s time? It’s time to consider realigning your goal to who you hang around with. And, by the way, that was a cheap lesson on sales strategy. A cup of Starbucks coffee is even more expensive

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ATMs for your employees and staff

In my previous blog post, I talked about overinvesting in people. As a follow-up post to that, I would like to highlight the need for ATMs for your employees and staff. ATM stands for ATTRACT, TRAIN and MOTIVATE. First, attract the best people. We expect our organizations to grow and become globally competitive in the marketplace. We compete on the basis of performance and productivity. Or products and services have to be as excellent as we can make them. But we need the best people fit for the job to make sure we get the results that we want. In most cases, organizations wanted to get the best but do not want to pay the price. It’s just like wanting to get a Ferrari at the price of a Toyota. I amo not saying Toyota is a low-class brand but performance for both are different. Which is why there is a very big difference in the price. I like what a friend of mine usually says when asked abuot compensation,”I deliver what is expected of me and I expect top management todo the same.” That being said, I believe there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to the best and the excellent. Next, train your staff. We all need to grow and the only way for us to grow is to go beyond our confort zones. The best people will always be willing to take just about any challenge given to them. But in order for them to do so, they need to be equipped. Giving them the proper training will enable them to do their jobs as effective and as efficient as possible. It’s just like giving them the tools they need to do their jobs well. Lastly, motivate your staff. Motivation fuels an individual. A simple tap on the back telling them about how good they do at work, appreciating them on simple things and motivating them to strive harder. It’s a classic example of over-investing in emotional currency. With the ATM-approach, your organization will create a workforce that is at the cutting edge of today’s challenging demands. Bottom line is, the life blod of any organization is the human resource

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Overinvest in People

I was listening to the audio abridged version of How to Become CEO: The Rules for Rising to the Top of Any Organization by Jeffrey J. Fox on my way to work. I have managed to read the book version of the audio MP3 a couple of years before but didn’t have a chance to get a copy. In it, he emphasized something really important about people and employees which I really believe in: Overinvest in People. Think about it. If you are investing in something that you know would have a marginal return on your investments – whether it’s that blue chip stock, real estate or your own business – wouldn’t you be investing more? The human capital is far better than any of these investment portfolios as anybody has the capacity create and produce – they make things happen. Fox highlighted it in a way that companies should hire the best people and that they should pay for their employees’ worth. He states that companies who save money on hiring only the people they can afford are headed for mediocrity. I always take the Asian culture in perspective every time I cite examples as we do not really believe in this principle. The result is a high turn-over rate causing a lot money in hiring, re-training and loss of morale among staff because a key team player “jumps boat.” What would happen if your favourite NBA or NFL team suddenly thinks that their best player is not worth every cent of their pay? I doubt that the team will make it even in the initial round of eliminations. Same goes for organizations. Fox also mentioned about overpaying the employees. He states that if an employee gets paid about $20 an hour, he or she knows it. If an employee receives anything less than his or her worth, he or she will feel cheated. A savings of say $1 an hour will amount to $8 per day. But that is not worth saving compared to the loss that will result in the employee’s behavior knowing that he or she is being cheated. There’s just no way to quantify the amount of loss as an effect of low morale – drop in productivity, sabotage, theft, etc. But paying your employees more than what is expected of them results in high morale and increased productivity. This again highlights the concept on overinvesting in people. Try it out and see what happens. I’ve done my share of overinvesting in people in small, simple ways and have gotten some very good results.

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