On Delegating

I’ve had the strange experience of being thrust into leadership roles almost my entire life. I haven’t asked for it, most of the time. It just sorta shows up, because when things aren’t getting done I have a tendency to make them happen. Or if people are being complacent and aren’t moving forward, I prefer to step up, figure out what needs to be done and I just do it.

One of the challenges as I transitioned to life as an office (as opposed to say, working in retail as a teen or being in the military) was learning to delegate.

I grown used to to just doing everything I needed to do and doing it my own way. It’s similar to why I’ve always been a better singles player than a doubles player. I’d rather be responsible for my own mistakes, rather than having to compensate for someone else’s errors all of the time. And for a long time, I viewed working with people like a lot of student view working in groups — as more hassle than it’s worth.

When I was afforded the opportunity to have a student worker in my first professional web job, it changed the game a bit for me. I learned that he could actually be useful and that I didn’t need to feel bad when I gave him “busywork” because it was 1) still work and 2) it needed to be done. I went almost instantly from feeling bad about it, to feeling like a big weight had been lifted off me and felt free to start to explore other projects.

One of the other parts of working with people who are just starting out is mentoring. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work with some outstanding supervisors and leaders and I feel like, melding what I’ve learned from watching them with my own leadership style, makes me a good mentor and someone who tells it straight and helps people grow.

Once I ended up in a role where I had a full-time staff member reporting to me, as well as a few students, that changed things even more. I was (and still am) learning about the best way to handle dividing work and figuring out the best way to use those people at my disposal. But it’s such an interesting situation when someone you almost have to double take and realize how much your individual actions control a given situation, process or function in an institutional setting.

Maybe it’s just my penchant for focusing on macro-level things, that makes me even consider it from that perspective, but it’s been interesting to watch my own evolution as a manager. I’ve still got a lot to learn about delegating in entrepreneurial situations. The nature of wanting to “do it all” is more evident there than in almost any other circumstance and so, it can be hard to know when to let go and what to let go of. Especially in the beginning of the project.

I’ve learned to surround myself with good people, to communicate well and to listen more and talk less. Every day is a new part of my learning process, but it’s a great feeling when you start to witness your own growth and can demonstrate that through doing your work a little better today than you did it before.

Web site redesigns: Lessons Learned

I’ve had the unique opportunity over the past half-decade now to work on web site redesigns at a number of colleges & universities in some form or fashion. What’s been most interesting to me over that time, is realizing how different each project is.

Despite that, the nuts and bolts are the same, by and large. It’s figuring out how to lead people the way you want they want the project to go, that can be interesting. I’ve learned there is no one-size, fits all way of going about it.

While there are things I’ve done the same at some schools, other places need you to go off the map and pursue the challenges in other ways. Those opportunities to do something you might have done before differently is what make doing web site redesigns an exciting process.

There are a few of the things that come up often in my thoughts during the redesign stages:

1. Long after the design is approved, some key stakeholder will start to get tired of looking at it and want to change it.
Even if that stakeholder is you. It’s important not too worked up about that. At the end of the day, unless you have limitless time, money and staff at your disposal, no design will be perfect. But if it’s an improvement over what you have and it’s been approved by your redesign team, you have other things to worry about.

2. Content migration probably won’t be your friend.
Obviously, the more pages you have, the harder it is to move it all. In some situations, we’ve gone through and actually cut pages before a redesign. This is usually at colleges where we were transitioning from a static HTML site to a content management system. In one particular instance, we had pages from 6-9 years old on the site that were still around, so when you can cut out old content that’s being dredged up in search, etc., it can save you a lot of trouble off the bat.

That being said, more portability between tools will make data transfer a lot better in the future. I understand all the barriers to transferring content, etc., but I’ve maintained for years now that companies should be less concerned with trying to “trap” people onto their software platforms and find better way to serve them. Gaining and preserving loyalty ought to be more important than trying to squeeze as much money as you can from a client. Data portability has to be must going forward as people continue to create their newest, hottest “CMS to end all CMS.”

Seems simple to me, but given the marketplace, you’d almost think there was some secret that prevented such common sense.

3. Communicate.

While it’s more likely at bigger schools to have lots of hands in the pie, some smaller schools have a skeleton crew managing entire projects. While it can be great to be left alone to solve all of the problems and to stretch the boundaries of your expertise, it’s also important to keep people in the loop all of the time. Not just when things are going well, but when you need help, too.

4. Excite your audiences.
Seems to be a delicate balance between creating anticipation and having people nagging about a new site. It takes balance and some level of internal marketing to find that “sweet spot.” But it’s a worthwhile thing to do, as there are so many parties interested in these sorts of redesigns, that simply keeping people informed along the way, can bolster the image of being a forward-thinking institution.

5. Be slow to hand over the keys
I’ve gone through a few redesigns where we went from one person (usually me) managing all of the content to a CMS where we handed out those responsibilities across the campus. I’ve always believed in going about it in a deliberate way — from training to implementation — because once you hand over the reins, you’ll have a devil of a time reining in the content development process and your role changes considerably. Providing lots of education to people, preparing them well in advance for what’s to come and being an accessible, helpful shepherd of their web content experience can make your job easier and improves relations across the campus.

Nothing is worse than a bunch of territorial silos across the campus aiming at each other, to ensure what they have to say is more important than everyone else. It distracts from the institutional mission and makes the job of the web manager much more difficult.

Make no mistake, that a web redesign can be a boon and make your life a lot easier. But you have to think through every step of what you’re doing, because while you can’t predict everything, being proactive can save you a ton of headaches as you push to complete the project on time.

When I realized that turning 30 wasn’t the end of the world…

30 represented some magical threshold from which I would never again return from. A time after which I would transformed into something resembling that which I had never seen before and would never see again.

Ok, so it’s not that bad. But I’ve been thinking of stuff and dredging up things that I thought I’d long forgotten about or relegated to the back bench of my mind. Couple that with a newfound desire to weed out “friends” from Facebook after I kept looking at people’s updates and thinking to myself, “Why am I talking to this person. We didn’t talk in HS/College/Air Force, so why do I care about their new pet/wife/child/job?”

More than anything, I’ve been trying hard to tie up loose ends on projects and clean up things I felt like were lingering for years. (I still have 5 months…)

I don’t really know when it “hit me” that it’d be okay to turn 30 and that it wasn’t truly the end of the world. But the prospect is one that I can’t say I’ve fully wrapped my mind around. It’s not just one thing that spurred the anxiety, either. I think it’s largely about symbolism and perhaps feeling I hadn’t “done enough” or reached the point I wanted to be.

Expectations are funny, because I don’t recall having expectations about being anywhere at 30 and so, it’s strange that caused me so much grief. But that’s precisely what happened.

I’m not over it yet. But I’m coping with it better, because the more I started reading articles about people who went through this thing or that thing in their 20s to discover themselves later on or think about the context of someone saying “17 years ago” when they are in their 40s, it starts to mean something. Then you realize that while seizing the day is important and trying to “have it all now” is probably something that afflicts many of us young ones, that patience is a real virtue and not only that, but you’ll eventually get where you want to be. Or maybe you discover that you’ll change your mind.

What occurred to me is the fact that I recognized how much I’ve continued to change. The more people I meet, the more I grow and evolve, the easier it becomes to realize that things are just getting started. I realize how much my own expectations get in the way of allowing me to thrive, as we can sometimes spend so much time being annoyed, frustrated or downright impatient about what wanting what we want, only to realize things come in due time.

It’s not about being petulant, though. When you’ve had the will your entire life to do things to make the lives of those important to you better and desire to impact the world positively through your work and activities, you can’t help but seek to constantly up the ante even as you continue to succeed.

Workplace 2.0: Managing and Motivating Millennials

Workplace 2.0: Motivating and Managing Millennials, a manifesto I wrote was published on ChangeThis today.

What motivates young people isn’t the promise of a distant retirement check thirty or forty years after they’ve given all they have to a company that doesn’t let them have a piece of the pie. The first thing you need to keep in mind is the fundamental idea of ownership.

You don’t have to give up stock in your company, to give a young worker a feeling that s(he) is contributing to themselves, as well as the firm’s bottom line. But you do need to invest in their sense of desire to contribute in meaningful ways to institutions that matter. To them, coming to work is an exercise in mutual benefit.

You should download it and let me know what you think.

Realizing you don’t have to live in the city…

This article got me to thinking about my existence in the big bad city and how this year has been for me.

I think I had the expectation when I still lived in the micropolitan West that being in a big city area would be just the trick for me to start to do more of the things that I wanted to do. You know, branching out and meeting people. Networking and all sorts of other things that being isolated from a big metropolitan area (though admittedly, on the outskirts of one) make more difficult or challenging.

But piggybacking on an earlier post (or maybe, a future post..I don’t remember) about my company, its future and my future, the whole idea was borne out of a simple notion. I could assemble a group of really sharp people together to make something interesting happen. That’s probably too simplistic an idea in retrospect, but honestly, it worked precisely how I hoped it would. Maybe even better than I hoped, since the quality of people who rose above the fray were out of this world.

Anyway, on the whole living in the city versus not thing. I started this blog after I left Wyoming and began networking and doing more things online because I felt like it was important. The response has been great, but what I learned pretty early on is that all of the things I’ve done this year — the blog, Synonym — all of it, has been stuff I could’ve done had I stayed there.

The opportunities I was seeking to branch out and “put myself out there” in meaningful ways were right at my fingertips. Moreover, I already have a bevy of contacts there within the small, but (slowly) growing tech sector. The state is begging for people with ideas to decamp there and make things happen. Young people graduate the state’s only university and are looking for ways to stay at home after graduation.

There is something alluring about being a pioneer. About starting something in a place where other folks don’t tread or choose not to go. Now I’m not painting a skewed picture here at all. I have friends there and other links that make it a slightly more desirable place for me, but I hate the winter and I’m not really an “outdoorsy” guy. And playing tennis at 7,000 feet just does awful things for my game.

But the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s not all cut and dry after all. That there is more appeal to a place where you’re one of 500,000 as opposed to be an anonymous set of millions. Now the logistics of doing such things, requires you to be invested in a project that’s meaningful and actually doing something that works. It’s not Silicon Valley and even in the most prosperous of times, folks aren’t going to be opening their wallets to help you do much.

That said, there is a hunger to make something happen
. And I’ve been saying for years that there has to be something for going to a place where it hasn’t been done before, so you have to make it for yourself.

It’s alluring…and I never imagined it’d be calling me back.

Shifting gears

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the whirlwind year this has been for me and how the changes keep coming. It’s been insightful and the three goals I set at the beginning of the year I’ve met. So now, it’s a process of figuring out “what’s next” and starting to get settled in some ways and get a gameplan in others.

So now that I’ve found a place to land professionally, I’ve been writing more than I had in past years and other projects are moving along I’m trying to get a foothold on something meaningful in relation to the company I started.

I hate to be all candid and stuff, but I might as well. Fact of the matter is, it hasn’t really gone the way I anticipated. Ok, that’s not true. I expected the whole thing to come tumbling down like a house of cards early on. But I started it almost solely to lineup with people who I thought had the skills to complement my strengths. I thought together we could do some pretty interesting things.

All in all, it’s been a delightful experience. But it’s not really turning out to be what I’d hoped. And that’s completely my fault.

I expected to build something robust based off my experience. One thing I’ve learned from past entrepreneurial pursuits is the right time to throw in the towel or to shift gears. The other thing I thought about is the one adage from The Dip that I came to adopt as a mantra to follow always, “If you can’t be best in the world in it, don’t waste your time.” I’m fine with a good tennis coach or an adequate golfer. But when it comes to side projects that you hope to turn into real life activities, I’m just not as comfortable with operating in fields where I just don’t have the chops or the material goods to take down the competition.

So where does that lead? I’ve got a few ideas. One of the best things about this blog (thanks, readers) has been the ability to branch out more, to read what others are talking about, to learn trends and just become generally more informed. It’s astounding to me how much I picked up this year and even with how hectic it’s been, I’ve still come to wonder how I managed to get through the first few years of my professional career without a forum like this to put my ideas out there, to solicit feedback and more.

I’m winding up a major project over the next few weeks and starting a new position that I’ll announce once the details are more clear. But on the side project front, Synonym is going to evolve with me. I think the potential to develop something that lets me work with audiences that I’ve been connecting with for years is the right direction to head in.

It’s obvious to me that I want to do more interact with people on ideas that I feel like I have some authority to speak about. Not that I feel like my web knowledge isn’t useful or pertinent or meaningful. In fact, I feel like I bring a great deal insight to the table. But it’s something I do, not really my passion and it’s often daunting to watch the antics of my colleagues in the field who ply their trade at conferences around the country. I’ll be out in the field next year joining the fray more readily now that I’ve found a place to perch that’s a good fit.

But I’m excited about the idea of pursuing the other things that I’m passionate about, too. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I miss traveling the country and meeting different kinds of people. That I’ve discovered a real passion for communicating life tips, ideas and thoughts to all sorts of folks, through the interactions I’ve had over the past few years in far flung parts of the country.

It’s funny when I think about the fact that I spent far more time in front of audiences in the earlier part of my 20s than I have in recent years. You almost forget how big a part of your life it is and well, after a few forays this year, I want it back…and I know what sorts of things I want to talk about.

It’s a process, but it’s one that I’m looking for to, among other things.