Remembering What Matters, One Step at a Time

Peter Quinn is my best friend.  We met at the University of St. Thomas during a karate class.  From day one, he was a joker.   He’d line up next to me in karate and do a funny sounding kiya (the sound you make as you finish a punch or kick).  I’d laugh.  The instructor would stop class to ask me what was so funny.  That was the start of a 25-year friendship.

After graduation, Pete moved to Chicago, got married and had three kids.  I remained in Minnesota, also got married, and adopted two kids.  Though in different cities, we’ve stayed close.  We talk most days usually to share a funny story or chat about our kids (we’re each godparents to the other’s youngest child).

Something happened a year and a half ago that fundamentally changed his life (and, obviously, the lives of his family).  While training for a marathon, Pete was struck by a driver who ran a red light.  It left Pete paralyzed.  His commitment to walk again is inspiring and, given he was a runner and the Twin Cities Marathon is less than a week away, I wrote an article the Star Tribune was kind enough to print in on its business OpEd page.  You can read The power of Pete here.

For me, as I shared in the Star Tribune article, I’ve gained tremendous perspective on what matters in life and what’s a real problem vs. just a nuisance.  If, after reading the article, you feel fortunate, I’d encourage you to visit his video blog and make a donation to offset his medical expenses. (As my article explains, Pete was between employers when he was struck, leaving him without a job, without disability insurance, and healthcare insurance limited to the COBRA required time limit).

As thanks for anyone who makes a donation, I’ll mail you a copy of my book Building a Winning Business: 70 Takeaways for Creating a Strong Company during Good and Bad Economic Times.  Just fire me an email at: tsalonek @ with your address.

Time on the Couch… Counseling IT and Business

Know anyone who feels their IT department is too quick, too cost effective, or delivers too much?  If the answer is yes, they’re part of an exclusive group.

A quote from a presentation I’ve delivered on software development from Jim McCarthy is “More people have ascended bodily into heaven than have shipped great software on time.” While funny, the inability and disconnect between business and IT creates disappointment, “just O.K.” results and, frustration.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Dr. George Westerman, a research scientist at the MIT writes about the disconnect between IT and the rest of the organization.  In it, he states transparency (in decisions, communication, etc.) is the best way for a business to work with IT.

His article and my thoughts will be the focus of my next five posts.

Leadership as a Conversation: Intentionality

The last element in leadership as a conversation is intentionality.  Authors of the book Talk, Inc. Groysberg and Slind state, “(intentionality) enables leaders and employees to derive strategically relevant action from the push and pull of discussion and debate.”

Further, they note, “One way to help employees understand the company’s strategy is to let them have a part in creating it.” Years ago, I attended Dale Carnegie leadership training.  There the instructor echoed this same idea, “People want to live in a world they help create.”

So how does a leader involve everyone in the company’s strategy?  At Intertech, we do a “Town Hall.” Once a year, all employees take part in the half-day Town Hall session.  At the Town Hall, leadership isn’t present.  Employees share ideas and provide feedback.  This information is used in the leadership team’s SWOT analysis at our yearly strategic planning session.  Three of my favorite questions Town Hall questions are:

  • What’s one thing we should stop doing?
  • What’s one thing we should start doing?
  • What’s one thing we should always continue doing?

Well that’s it… this is the final post in leadership as a conversation.

Up Next:  How to get IT and the overall business working effectively together.

Dialogue and Roles in Leadership as a Conversation

The second element of leadership communication is interactivity.  In the book Talk, the authors note, “The pursuit of interactivity reinforces and builds upon intimacy, but employees need tools and institutional support to speak up and talk back.”

At Intertech, we’ve institutionalized “speaking up” thru:

A yearly town hall where employees share insights on the business without leadership present

  • A yearly survey, via a “Best Places” to work competition, where employees rank the firm on the major areas of engagement including benefits, job satisfaction, feeling valued, trust in senior leaders, manager effectiveness, trust with coworkers, individual contribution, alignment with goals, retention risk, and teamwork
  • Quarterly review of an employee’s Key Result Areas where they can note tools or training needed
  • Yearly reviews
  • Informal conversations at social events

We also encourage inclusion.  Inclusion in the sense of leadership as a conversation means expanding employees’ roles as industry leaders.  At Intertech, this has means members of our firm are:

  • working with Microsoft’s product groups to give them feedback on our use of their products in the field;
  • starting user groups at the forefront of technologies like Java and Windows Azure;
  • participating on sites like StackOverflow, DevX, and CodeProject;
  • being named a Microsoft Valuable Professional (MVP) for their elite thought leadership;
  • speaking at conferences and user groups.

Up next, the final post in this series: The Agenda