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Thought leadership from SAI to accelerate your performance
 

Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Date: Jan 2016

No job imageOn a number of organizational design and CIO advisory projects, I’ve had the opportunity to help screen and evaluate candidates for jobs ranging from entry level support to IT Directors. When I am in the office, I am occasionally able to participate in screening candidates for open positions here at SAI. (Shameless plug: We are hiring.)

In the recruiting world, candidates are divided into two separate, yet equally important groups: the well-qualified and thoughtful who are ready to bring value to the team and. . .the others who leave interviewers confused and whose bizarre behavior always comes up at happy hour.

These are their stories as shared by members of our team:

  1. During a phone interview, one of our VPs was put on hold by a candidate so she could take a personal call. After a long pause, she came back on the line to continue the interview. There was no second phone screen.
  2. A candidate for a client showed up 20 minutes late, started banging on the glass door instead of using the courtesy phone, and followed it up by being rude to our office manager. This hat trick of bad decisions led to a very, very short interview.
  3. Following an interview that clearly went off the rails, a candidate invited our CEO and me out for drinks the next time we were in town. The offer was declined but we did check one bar out on yelp.
  4. While screening for a client, one candidate spent 10 minutes explaining how terrible all of his former employers were. If that red flag wasn’t enough for us, the liberal use of F-bombs throughout the call was.
  5. One of our VPs had a candidate fail to show up on time for an interview. After calling her and sending an email, she showed up out of the blue two hours later. No explanation was given and she still expected to be interviewed.
  6. We tend to “Google” candidates to get some info on them before they come in. One candidate, fairly junior, had a pretty open social media profile which included lots of drunken party photos and posts about getting high.
  7. When asked what his technical interests were, a candidate struggled to explain what he’d written on his application. He did however spend 10 minutes talking about how much he likes playing in a mariachi band. I am still unclear if this was an episode of Punk’d.

Got a horror story of your own? E-mail me at mstirling@systemsalliance.com. We’ve got enough material to make this a recurring blog post series but would love to get more gems!

Job Interview Prep ImageOur software business is booming, our consulting practices are growing and our team is rapidly expanding. We’re planning to hire about two dozen new team members in 2016. What could be better?

At SAI, we’re laser-focused on identifying high potential candidates who are interested in learning, growing and earning more. We recruit candidates who have just graduated with computer science, design and business degrees, and we recruit experienced hires who bring with them the skills and expertise to help us grow fast. The common denominator on our team is the inner drive to be something more: more capable, more competent, more comfortable, more effective in helping our clients be successful. . .more.

I have interviewed thousands of candidates over the past 35 years and I am seeing more and more folks show up for interviews unprepared. We see the recruiting process as bi-directional. Will this candidate perform well in the current role and can they grow with us? And, just as importantly, is SAI a great fit from the candidate’s point of view?

Unfortunately, we’re not getting to those meaty interview discussions frequently these days, because candidates are coming in unprepared for the interview. Deciding where you want to spend a large chunk of your work day is a momentous decision. Shouldn’t you spend at least as much time prepping for an interview as you do investigating new car options?

We want you to bring your “game winning” persona to your interviews at SAI. In that spirit, here are some suggestions:

Do your homework. Would you fly to another country on vacation without doing any research? Go to our websites (www.systemsalliance.com, www.acadia-software.com); learn more about what we do, how we work with clients. Come with questions! You will undoubtedly be asked to describe what you think we do at some point in the interview process (there are no right or wrong answers) and not being able to respond will indicate that you didn’t care enough about the interview to do some research.

If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, we’ve already done some research on you. We’ve studied your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and other social networking or media sites you’ve used. Invest time in ensuring that your resume is in great shape, and that your LinkedIn profile and other online information provides enough detail for us to understand how your skills and experience line up against the position description.

Early is on time; on time is late; late is. . .unprofessional. Late without a phone call is disrespectful. Arrive early and have a cup of coffee across the street at Wegmans or Panera. It’s less stressful and you’ll have time to look around a bit and decide if this is an area where you would like to work.

Bring samples of your work with you. Samples of your code, design work, writing, client deliverables and examples of your successes (and failures) are a great way to show off your capabilities, discuss past experiences and lessons learned. If you are a recent graduate, bring along samples or documentation of your favorite college project.

Be prepared to discuss how your capabilities and experience maps to the position. Checklists are a great way to organize your thoughts ahead of the interview. Clearly articulating how you line up with the position and acknowledging any gaps will make the process easier for all of us. On more than one occasion, we’ve interviewed a candidate who didn’t necessarily fit the position description and we’ve been able to refer the candidate to someone else in our network who has subsequently extended an offer.

Ask questions! We are extremely proud of our team and our culture. Ask about how we work with clients, how we work with one another. You’ll know quickly whether SAI is a place where you’ll be happy for years to come.

We all benefit from lining up the best candidates with the right roles. Happier team members, better service to our clients and community; it’s all good. Let’s work together on this and see what we can accomplish together.

I look forward to meeting you soon in an interview at SAI.

Self-operating Napkin CartoonStandard operating procedures (SOPs), work instructions and other process documentation can have a significant impact on your business—either positive or negative. An organization’s documentation forms a baseline for procedures or practices that can be reviewed and improved, and they are an important form of communicating an organization’s requirements to employees. This should not be a “set it and forget it” chore. Most should be living documents that are kept up-to-date to be useful for employees. Good documentation makes training easier, reduces errors and adds value to the business.

Creating great procedure documentation requires some thought and attention, but great documents are achievable. Follow these steps to produce documents that are relevant, accurate and available—when and where you need them most.

1. Make them simple and understandable. Poorly worded procedure documents only serve to make tasks more complex.  Here are some tips to keep your employees focused on the task at hand, and not on deciphering complex commands.

  • Use an active voice
  • Use clear and concise language
  • Use headings to convey a fundamental action, with supporting details in the body of the step

2. Use multimedia to reinforce instructions. Even with well-worded instructions, nothing beats imagery and video to demonstrate how to complete a task. Incorporate images and videos to reinforce your instructions. 

3. Use a consistent format. Use templates to ensure that your documents are formatted in a consistent manner. By sticking to a consistent format, your employees will spend more time focused on work and less time digesting document content.

4. Use task lists to ensure accurate execution. You've spent considerable effort defining the "one best way" to do a particular task, now put it in to practice! Leveraging checklists ensures that important steps aren't missed.

5. Solicit feedback. Just because you're an expert in a particular procedure doesn't mean you don't have more to learn. Solicit feedback from the folks putting your procedures into practice. Getting feedback from practitioners leads to better outcomes by:

  • Capturing valuable tacit information
  • Uncovering inefficiencies in existing processes
  • Instilling a sense of ownership throughout the business

6. Implement an appropriate approval process. Inaccurate procedures can lead to disastrous outcomes. Ensure that your procedure documents are accurate by establishing a review and approval process prior to making them available to your workforce.

7. Determine a review schedule. Process documentation isn't meant to be static. Technologies, techniques and knowledge all evolve over time. Make sure your process documentation is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it is accurate and up to date.

8. Make them available. What good is a procedure document if it's collecting dust on a bookshelf, or locked away on a workstation? Here are some tips to ensure your documents are available in the right place, at the right time—and on the right device.

  • Leverage the web for content delivery anywhere it's needed
  • Leverage Search and metadata tagging for document discovery
  • Format documents so they look great on any device

General Alfred M Gray Jr., Former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps once said, “Communications without intelligence is noise; intelligence without communications is irrelevant.” Software can make the job of creating, managing and distributing documented policies, procedures and work instructions easier. These tools help organizations stay up to date and organized. Acadia Performance Platform™ is a cloud-based SaaS solution that is workplace tested and continuously improved with features that directly impact performance and results.

Visit us at PEX Week 2016, booth 17. 

businesswoman slipping It happens to the best of us. We set a date for something and, for reasons unanticipated, that date comes and goes like MySpace. However, there are some things we can do to minimize the risk of missing that date (which, in some cases, can decide a project’s success. . .or failure). If your new website has to launch in time for that annual conference, or publication or board meeting, then it’s vital to make sure communication is clear and prompt, procedures are followed and risks are identified throughout the project. Don’t be the next victim of a lapsed deadline! Here are six things you can do to make sure you meet that all important date.

1. Respond to email.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes something as simple as a pending email response can push a delivery date back. Failure to respond to emails quickly can cause a domino effect that can delay a website from launching. For example, if a firm is waiting on approval or feedback on a deliverable, they often cannot move onto the next phase of the project without official signoff from a main project point of contact (POC).  If one of my clients is slow to respond, I’ll follow up with phone calls, but swift replies on both sides of the fence will help reduce risk and keep the project running smoothly. So, don’t forget to check your “nagging from my PM” folder for important questions and requests!

2. Don’t ignore the content Goliath.

We’ve heard it a thousand times: content is king. All of my clients know this, and we emphasize the importance of content planning from day one of any website project. However, failure to establish a feasible content writing, editing and approval schedule is one of the most common reasons why websites don’t go live for weeks—and even months—after the desired launch date. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work required to identify, write and enter website content, so start early! I work with my clients to establish a content schedule that coincides with the main project schedule, but it’s up to the client to see it through. Waiting until development is complete to start thinking about content never ends well!

3. Get it approved.

A horror story I’ve heard from several clients is finding out at the last minute that a previously unknown stakeholder has to approve a website before it goes live. For example, a university may elect a committee to oversee a website redesign and, at the eleventh hour, finds out the president wants to weigh in before the switch is flipped. This could amount to hours of rework and long delays. Seems like a longshot, but it happens more than you think. To avoid this, make sure all stakeholders are identified at the beginning of the project. Even if day to day contacts are involved in 99% of project activities, make sure you know what has to happen before a website goes live, and who has to give the thumbs up to make it happen. If the president/CEO wants to be hands off until there is a finished product, account for this in the project plan and identify the risk early on. You can never be too prepared!

4. Document everything.

We all like to think our team members will be with us forever, but as we all know, people leave. This can sometimes be unavoidable, but if a main player leaves at a critical point in the project, this could cause major delays as we wait for a replacement to be identified and brought up to speed. It’s always tough when stakeholders change midway through a project, but thorough documentation can help ease the transition. Don’t rely solely on your vendor to do the knowledge transfer. (We’ll do our best, but, you know your organization better than we do!) Setting the new person up with documents, notes, designs and other resources they can review can keep the project on track and minimize delay.

5. Know your infrastructure.

Picture this: you’ve spent the past 12 months redesigning your website. It’s approved and ready to go - and then you realize. . .you need a domain. Also, you need a place to host the site. These are things I address with my clients early on, but you’d be surprised how often a website sits on a development server as a client figures out where it’s going to live when it launches. Or, sometimes you discover the server you thought it was going to live on does not have the proper storage, database or infrastructure to support your fancy new site. This snafu is easily avoidable. Make sure server requirements are identified well before launch!

6. Redundancy is your friend.

When it comes to a website project, the Highlander approach is not ideal. For small organizations, it may make sense to have one person act as the main contact to coordinate activities, but if that person leaves, great documentation alone will not ensure a smooth transition. Keeping at least one other person in the loop can be hugely beneficial in this situation, and even if the project team remains intact, having another person to take point on a busy day or over a vacation can help keep the project moving. Unlike the Highlander, there does not have to be only one!

These are by no means the only reasons websites are delayed. But, considering the sea of other unanticipated reasons outside of our control (procurement delays, alien invasion, nuclear winter), if we can limit any potential issues we can anticipate, we will increase the likelihood a website will launch on time! 

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