CXO

Implementing resolutions: Learning new aspects of the business

Not everybody has the time to learn the basics of marketing. What else can you do to learn new aspects of your business?

Late January to February: The resolution begins to fade as the hum-drum of everyday business practice claws it's way back into your life. But it doesn't have to.

Patrick Gray wrote an article at the beginning of January discussing five New Years resolutions IT leaders should take into consideration. Now that we're into the end of January/beginning of February, I thought it would be ideal to revisit the resolutions. I'd like to discuss them one-by-one, giving you some tips and inspiration on how to follow through on each resolution.

The first resolution is to "learn a new aspect of your business." Patrick's suggestion is to get out into the business once in a while. Work on the call center floor or in another department. His suggestion is right on; what better way to gain perspective? But I also think it's a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity. Not everybody has the time to learn the basics of marketing. So what else can you do to learn new aspects of your business?

Read another department's workflow documentation

IT is more engrained in every part of the company than any other department. So choose one of those departments and learn about their workflow. Where do your two departments intersect? How can you help them do their job better, and vise-versa? Understanding how another department operates in relation to yours will teach you more about your job and the company as a whole, and allow your team to be more effective when it works with that department.

Ask your reports to walk you through their job...

then verify with data. This one requires some explanation, so hang with me.

Employees always have some sort of a routine, even if they don't think of it that way. Routines are great. After all, that's why the industry invented ITIL back in the '80s (a great piece of history you should read about if you haven't already). But routines don't always get the best results.

I like to take two of my direct reports and compare their productivity data. Which one was more productive? Why? What need does the more productive employee serve that the less productive doesn't? For example, if one employee has a radically better customer service approach (better call times, better reviews, etc.) what is that employee doing exactly?

This information reveals something unique about your business and your customer base. Once you understand this data and how it affects your business, you can use it to improve your team (and thus the business) overall.

Walk around and solve problems

If you'r an IT leader, you probably spend a lot of time planning - looking at big-picture stuff. Get out on the floor and see what's going on. Walk around for 20 or 30 minutes. Ask people how their day is coming along, and if you can do anything to help.

Two things to consider:

  1. What's "the floor"?
  2. Should you really be solving their problems?

"The floor" can be anywhere. It can be where your direct reports work. Or it can be another department that your team serves. This means you'll be looking at two different sets of problems. Those problems from your direct reports will be more process-oriented. For example, they'll describe a situational problem and ask for your help solving it. Those from a different department will be more technology oriented. They'll need something fixed or need a new piece of technology.

Should you solve these? No, but you should empower the person to solve their own problems.

Dave Ramsey, writer of Entreleadership, says that he treats problems like monkeys. His direct reports can't leave the monkey in his lap. So he requests that they offer a solution to the problem (or three possible solutions), and then he approves the solution. This will work great for situational problems, but what about technology-oriented ones?

I suggest walking people through the solution. Talk them through how to map the network drive. Or how to find a certain file. It's time consuming up front, but in time you'll have to answer less questions because they can answer it themselves (or Google the answer and recognize the solution when they find it).

These are just three suggestions, but notice the common thread: They are designed to get you out of "big picture planning mode" long enough to see the intricacies of the company. They help get you in the trenches. So if these suggestions don't fit your day, just think of an idea that does. Then do it once a week.

And don't forget to share your idea in the comments. We want to know: How do you go about learning new aspects of your business?

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