Fourth in the Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice too Simple Not to Know

Be Billable

When I was a Partner at Accenture people knew that if I saw them take a newspaper into the bathroom it would show up on their “permanent record” – at least in my mind. Newspaper in the bathroom seems to be a guy thing but there was no gender discrimination here. Let the record show (and what I always declared in public) that my intent was not to inhibit fantasy football player picks. Newspapers and bathrooms are all about time, not discrimination. My message was very clear:

Treat your time like someone is paying for it – someone is.

Much has been written about the tyranny of a billable time environment. Stanford Professor Jeff Pfeffer’s research suggests that working in a billable time environment can wreak havoc in one’s personal and professional life. But there is one element of filling out time sheets that is useful. That is the notion that someone is paying for your time so you should be productive and fulfill your responsibilities.

In some professions the concept of time and billing is obvious: consulting, law, prostitution, automobile repair, accounting, and services in general. Although the rates by-the-hour or by-the-day will vary considerably, the concept is the same: someone pays for a service rendered based on the time it takes to perform that service. Not a bad concept in general but as Pfeffer points out, when the demands to be “billable” are too onerous, that’s when pressure builds and bad things can happen.

On the other side of the ledger are many other professions and workers who have forgotten that someone is paying for their time. In all those millions of jobs where the concept of billable time is not a key to success, remember that time and productivity/results are still important.

Just thinking about billable time conjures up lots of variables that can lead to fairness questions. Like, “Why am I getting billed-out at $200/hr. but I only get paid $40/hr.?” If you think you can make $200/hr on your own, you should quit that job and do it. Chances are, you cannot.

How can you tell if someone you are working with is a billable person?

Constant watch gazing and incomprehensible scratches on note paper
Endless discussions comparing 6 to 15 minute increments
Irritable behavior toward office gossips, because if you listen, you have to subtract; if you ignore them, you lose out on all the good stuff
No perceivable lunch hour; either you can scarf a sandwich in less than a minute, or you graze on the sandwich for hours.
Multi-tasking pros and speakerphone addicts; and Bluetooth headset as you wander the office.
Billing time may be tedious and lead to strange behavior but it does make one think about the most important thing to do in that hour or day or week because someone has to pay for it. That billable time mentality may help you meet deadlines, finish projects, hit goals and all the other behaviors that will help you get the job or the deal. It’s not a bad approach.

Third in the Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Whatever It Takes

It was a coffee break during a strategy planning session and I was standing up looking out the window. The CEO came over to join me and with glazed eyes was taking in the scene. He spotted a roofer and said, “I wish I had a job like that.” While I was hoping that the share holders didn’t hear him, I knew that while we were stuck in process, he was longing for closure.

Closure is a highly undervalued element of the world. One reason why we like sports so much is that the game ends and there is an outcome. A reason we like college so much is that the semester has a clear ending and we know when we will be able to throw that calculus book away. People enjoy project oriented work because there is an end and one can move on to the next thing. And maybe the next project will be even better.

Think about areas where there is very little closure and how frustrated it makes us. How about health care reform? Progress in Iraq? Public school reform? Improving the Sarbanes Oxley legislation? The Jersey diner and Tony Soprano? If there is any closure there it is, at best, in the form of an ambiguous victory or a nebulous defeat.

I think because of the current frustrations about closure, the buzz words out there today are all about implementation and simply, getting things done.

The ability to get things done or to convince people that you will get things done is a bankable proposition. The appreciation that goes along with getting things done captures both closure and progress; it should never be under estimated. Getting things done requires the “whatever it takes” aura.

Whatever it takes means you will:

Stay up all night to meet the deadline.
Be on a first name basis with every shift at Kinko’s.
Induce your team to do things they thought they couldn’t do.
Take a shower in the sinks at Logan or JFK airports and be ready for an 8am meeting.
Continue the night classes to earn the promotion
Understand the expectations and over-deliver
Last minute reschedule of the dinner date and celebrate the new account with a weekend in Napa
An entrepreneur should convince any funding source that you are willing to drag your body across burning coals to make the idea successful, whatever it takes.

A job seeker should convince the hiring manager that life will be better when you join because stuff will get done, whatever it takes.

A project manager will get promoted if the project is completed, on-time, on-budget, whatever it takes.

This blog entry will get completed and posted on time, whatever it takes.

Second in the Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Pay Attention People! Listen.

Too often I see smart people ignoring what is right in front of them and it costs them.

It was a meeting with a bunch of “luminary” speakers when I started to wonder why smart people don’t pay attention to what could be literally under the nose. There were lots of microphones and spotlights for a speaker who is a CEO of a pretty big company. He was wearing a lavaliere mike on the pocket of his starched blue shirt and a blue blazer. On the inside pocket of that jacket was a tag or a piece of paper and every time he moved his left arm the tag scraped the mike and a noise like a clucking quail soon hit the speakers. As I sat there I wondered, “Doesn’t he hear that noise? As an experienced speaker, why doesn’t he stop and say, ‘What the hell is that noise?’” Instead he droned on but had lost the audience.

Another guy was giving a pitch to ask for money from the venture world. After more than a few pages of telling the group that the internet is changing the world one of the listeners chimed in helpfully, “We know that, tell us what you have and what you are trying to build…” Instead of skipping ahead, the entrepreneur went back to his too long presentation and continued to tell the group that India or China could be a big market. By now, some of the audience was checking their blackberries. As someone trying to raise millions of dollars from the people who were in the room, why didn’t he stop the PowerPoint and say, “Hey, I can tell I am not getting through to you, let me tell you what this is, how big it can be and why I need money.” Instead, at the end of the hour, everyone was polite but everyone knew there would be no company funded.

Yet another guy showed up for an interview a little early so he hung around in the parking lot in his car. To kill time he decided to handle a few personal hygiene chores. First he flossed his teeth then started yanking out nose hairs and other unwanteds. The problem was that his interviewer and others were twenty feet away behind blackened glass sitting in their offices. Unbeknownst to our poor candidate, he had an audience who was watching his moves and giggling like a scene out of “The Office.” Even though they had no idea who he was. When he showed up for the interview with the people who had been watching him, the snickers and glances were everywhere. He didn’t get the job and probably never knew what happened. Why do people think that what they do in their car is private? Who would hire someone with that kind of judgment?

Everyone can tell similar stories where someone made mistakes that hurt them. The mistakes are not about arbitrage methodologies or sophisticated modeling. Mistakes can often be avoided with two simple pearls of wisdom:

1. Pay attention to what is going on around you and adjust accordingly. Use your judgment.

2. Listen to all the inner voices that tell you what to do. It could be your own voice, your mentor’s voice or that of your Mother.

That’s it. Not complicated. A batch of research has shown that, in general, people know how they perform. Why is this so difficult to understand? In the middle of a presentation, you know how it is going. In the middle of an interview, you know how it is going. Adjust accordingly.

The advice continues as simple as possible. The first piece of wisdom was to learn how to tell a story. The second is to pay attention. Is this sounding a little like your first grade teacher? That’s probably right.