Author Archives: Joe Sabado

Getting Caught Up in Our Own Worlds

It’s easy to get caught up in our own world and the challenges we face which could lead to thinking we are the only ones who are going through difficult times. Sometimes, we might think we’re the only ones who are working after hours and the only ones who must face so much work for the inadequate resources we have. This could lead to thinking we are unfairly being asked to take on the burdens of our organization on our own. This kind of thinking happens when we don’t take the time to connect with other folks in other parts of our organization. In IT, we are often asked to work after hours and weekends because that’s the only time when we are given the opportunity to do some maintenance work  and not disrupt the work of our customers during business hours. I personally don’t do much technical work anymore given my management role but for years, I worked after hours and weekends to complete parts of my job. There were times when I got frustrated but there was one thing I did that gave me perspective about my situation. It’s a practice I still do today – talk to other folks in other units in my organization about the challenges they are going through.

Admittedly, there have been times in the past when I have over-valued the importance of my role in IT when it comes to providing services to the students and to the campus community. As an IT organization, we’ve been able to create significant systems that have been able to improve the efficiency/effectiveness in how the staff do their work. We’ve also created systems that helped students learn and assist them in their lives outside the classrooms. As the dependency for technology grew the last few years, so did the demands on IT. At the same time, the resources to meet the demands have not been able to keep up. This is the daily challenge I face now as the director of my IT organization. It’s daunting, indeed.

However daunting my challenges are, it’s when I speak with other colleagues in our student affairs organization that I gain perspective on how my challenges compare with others. As I am reminded, we are all facing a not-so-unique challenge of too much work, having to deal with much more complicated situations but with not enough resources. But, on the other hand, I am also reminded that I don’t have to deal with the aftermath of tragedies, not at the personal level at least. When I speak with my colleagues, I am reminded that they are the ones that must make the calls to parents to inform them their child just committed suicide, or they must be the ones the campus community must look up to as the strong ones to lead them through a crisis when they themselves are suffering at the same time. It is during these conversations when I am reminded that as challenging as my job is, I cannot even imagine the impact of my colleagues’ jobs must be on them. I am dealing with computers, they are at times must deal with human tragedies.

 

 

 

How I Lost 20 Pounds in 3 Months

For the last three months, I committed myself to losing weight towards better fitness and as a challenge. In the past, I had gone through two separate personal challenges when I ate at least 1 salad for a meal/day for 100 as well as 40 consecutive days. I had set out to lose 20 pounds by the July 31st when I started on April 28th. I did meet that goal one day later than I had planned, but nevertheless, I consider it a successful attempt. This post is about some lessons I’ve learned the last three months that contributed to meeting my goal of losing weight. Overall, I needed to have the motivation and attitude to want to lose weight. I also needed some support, strategies, and tools to lose weight. Wanting to lose weight without the tools and strategies to go through the process and vice versa would not have worked.  What I will share below seem to be common sense and they are. The key is to actually committing through the process. Here are some lessons learned:

Find motivations/inspirations that will drive you to start and maintain your effort. Why are you trying to lose weight in the first place? For me, it’s because I hated hearing my doctor tell me I have to lose weight every time I went for a visit. He warned me about potential health issues if I maintain or increase my weight. I also got tired of not being able to find clothes that fit me. I just didn’t like the way I see when I looked in the mirror.I remember Anthony Robbins, the author, write something like “people will only change  because their situation is so painful they want to change or the perceived benefit of the change is so great they want to change.” In my case, I found my situation “painful” enough for me to change.

Find supporters. My wife’s support was key in my weight loss. She and I love to eat and try new food. She can also cook some amazing dishes I request. These dishes are not always healthy but nevertheless, she accommodated my requests. We both committed to changing our eating habits which involved some extra work and opting not to eat what we had enjoyed. For one, she prepared fruits and vegetables which I brought to work for snacks. She also prepared breakfast (scrambled egg white with spinach) I ate before leaving home. This was in place of donuts and pastries I bought at work. While we both enjoyed eating rice and desserts, we chose to minimize the portions we ate or just stopped eating them altogether. During the last three months, we rarely ate rice and even if we did, it was measured so that it was no more than 1 cup per meal.

Develop strategy. Maintaining a sustained effort, which includes daily routines, in the last three months was key. As mentioned above, I was mindful of what I chose to eat and it required some preparations. When my wife and I wanted to eat at restaurants, we looked at their menu online first to plan what to order. Also noted above is the preparation of healthier food to snack on throughout the day. I also found opportunities throughout my work day (and weekends) to have some physical activities. For example, instead of sitting at my desk during my lunch break, I would walk around the campus and go to the beach. Instead of driving to meetings across campus, I opted to walk instead. I also went to the golf course, either just by hitting some balls at the range or playing a couple rounds of golf with some friends. In short, I ate more of the right food at lesser portions and committed to more physical activities.

Use tools to support your effort. I also used Weight Watchers system and its mobile app.  Weight Watchers assigns a number of daily points to use and different foods have corresponding values based on their nutritional values. For example, fruits and vegetables are worth 0 points while meat, pastries, and processed food are worth more. To me, Weight Watchers is more than being aware of what I ate but rather, it was a behavior modification system. By keeping track of what I ate and also guiding me towards food that are healthier (and smaller portions), this changed how I viewed food in general. Another app similar to Weight Watchers is LoseIt! This app doesn’t assign points but it does count calories for the food you eat as well as calories lost from activities.I also use my iWatch and MapMyWalk mobile apps to monitor my daily activities.

Don’t expect results overnight. I didn’t see much result the first week or so and I almost gave up. I didn’t lose any weight that first week and I became discouraged but my wife kept on encouraging me to not give up. After the second week, I lost a couple of pounds and that gave me some hope and motivation to continue.

Have fun doing it/Don’t suffer (too much). To be able to sustain an effort that is not easy to do for an extended period of time without having fun along the way probably doesn’t work. In my case, I made a game out of the process. If I knew I had a planned big dinner, I planned what I could eat during the day so I don’t go hungry and still save my points for dinner. I do have to mention one significant change I made is that I began to snack between meals. When I felt hungry, I ate fruits, vegetables, or cinnamon rice cakes. I’m not sure if this change resulted in how my metabolism works.I also kept track of my activities, such as number of steps for the day, and I tried to meet the goals I had set for the day. As mentioned above, I also started playing golf more or just walking around the campus more often as I knew these activities contributed to my weight loss. A side benefit to these activities was that I felt mentally better. I used the time to relax and think about ideas and dream about the ideal future for my wife and me.

My motivations and the methods I used worked for me though it may not work for you reading this post. So, find what works for you using the general advice I shared.

 

 

 

Employees’ Sense of Ownership for Better Customer Service

chinois_2My wife and I had lunch at Chinois in Santa Monica last week for my birthday. The food was as delicious and the portions were definitely served for family style. We were very impressed indeed! More impressive was the customer service and the sense of teamwork I observed amongst the staff. Frankly, I’ve been to some fancy restaurants and I really don’t mind paying a lot of money for quality food but it’s the experience and customer service that determine whether we go back to the place.

As one who leads a higher ed IT department and one who is always looking on ways to provide better customer service, I observe and try to learn from watching how staff works at restaurants and other business establishments. Here are some of my observations:

  • The staff worked as a team. We initially had a server take our order and she was very enthusiastic and very welcoming. Other staff delivered our food, water, and whatever we needed. Nothing unique about this observation from other restaurants but it was the way they all seemed to treat us as their customer, not the “other staff” that stood out. They were conversing with us and there was a sense of continuity of service, not disjointed as I’ve experienced with other restaurants.
  • The staff were cheerful and took the time to talk with us. Even though the restaurant was busy, the staff took the time to talk with us. They didn’t seem rushed nor did they feel like they were forced to talk with us.
  • The hostess and most of the staff seem to know many of the customers who came in that lunch. As soon as the customers walked through the door, they were greeted with hugs and/or pleasant greetings as if they’ve known each other for some period of time. The hostess was particularly nice and welcoming. Very cheerful and seemed to enjoy what she was doing.

After our lunch, my wife and I spoke with the hostess, Natalie, complimenting her and the other staff on how well they treat their customers, including us. She was gracious and we spoke for a bit about why was it that the staff seem to work well together and the reason behind the good customer service. Here’s what she told us:

  • Most of the staff have worked there for years, including her. She mentioned she was in her mid 30′s and she started working there when she was 19. She also mentioned she wrote her thesis on the restaurant for her grad school.
  • The attitude comes from the top, Wolfgang Puck. The hostess also mentioned Puck oftentimes visits the restaurant in the late hours before closing and he genuinely interacts with the customers. As she told us, he enjoys talking with the customers and it’s not a chore for him to do so. Puck sets a tone and example for his staff to follow.

From our conversation, one thing that stood out to me was the following:

  • The staff feels a sense of ownership. For the hostess, she feels as if this is her restaurant, even though it’s owned by the famous chef Wolfgang Puck. She says the staff has a strong sense of pride in their work and with the restaurant. This was their place.

I was thinking about this sense of ownership the hostess shared with us and how it relates to my work. Looking back at my experience and from my observation of my colleagues through the years, I do feel employees contribute more to towards their work if they have a sense of ownership in what they do and even better, of their organization. Part of that sense of ownership is the idea that their voices are valued and what they say matter in how their organization is managed as well as its future direction. They are also given the opportunity to take action as trusted employees. This also means they are given the leeway to make decisions without having to always wait for management approval.

Based on the good experience we had at Chinois, we will definitely go back again to try the other dishes. We are also looking forward to dining at Spago in Beverly Hills, another restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck.

IT Organizational Management & Leadership

 

IMG_2201I have learned a lot in my role as the acting Executive Director for my IT organization, a role I’ve held for the last 7 months. While I’ve held management positions for more than a decade, I have learned more in this position when it comes to organizational change dynamics as well as leadership/management because of the significant scope/depth of the responsibilities and the challenges of the position.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that to be an effective organizational leader you need to be an effective manager and to be an effective manager, you need to be an effective leader. In short, leadership and management go hand in hand when it comes to delivering results. I’ve seen quotes on the web that goes something like this “culture eats strategy for breakfast/lunch” or some variation of that as if one is more important than the other. I get the sentiment that an organization can implement strategies and processes all day long but it won’t work without a culture that supports these strategies. One thing I’ve come to learn though is that ultimately, what people want from their leaders/managers are results. As reminded to me by a few staff after our initial department retreat soon after I took on this position, I can talk all I want but the only way I can prove my merit and effectiveness is by following through and delivering on what I/we had intended to accomplish. I was speaking with a colleague of mine who said “Joe, you’re doing a great job setting the culture of collaboration and transparency, but we do need you to provide clearer strategy towards the things you want us to accomplish as a department.”  That conversation reminded me that as a leader, I need to influence and shape the culture of the organization and at the same time to provide a sense of direction, clear direction, for folks to follow especially when going to a place that is unfamiliar to them.

A mentor of mine once said “manage constraints and lead towards possibilities” and I also read somewhere that “you manage things and you lead people”.  I’ve led enough projects to understand that scope, time, and cost are variables that need to be managed when delivering projects. These are all constraints that need to be managed. But I’ve seen too often when project managers treat people as merely project resources and sometimes like factory robots just expected to follow orders. Any effective project manager would recognize the need to treat people as more than units of resources but rather human beings whose motivations and personal satisfactions cannot be ignored. Treat people as robots and they will give you the bare minimum, treat them with respect and as human beings and you’ll get more productivity out of them. That’s from personal experience any way.

The credibility of an organization’s leader are based on the consistency between their actions and their words and their ability to deliver results. To be able to deliver results require that they have the skills to manage constraints and leadership competencies to get the maximum effort out of people towards the achievement of intended goals.

image credit: http://www.torbenrick.eu/blog/strategy/the-importance-of-organizational-alignment/

 

Feedback: The Motivation Behind Them Matters

There are a couple of mentors I have come to trust in my career. That I trust them is based on the many interactions when they’ve shown me that when they provide me feedback, they come from a right place.  What I mean by “a right place” is that the feedback are genuine and they are to help me become a better professional and as a person. My mentors are honest with me and they can offer their observations about myself I may not want to hear, but nevertheless I readily accept them.  What I’ve come to realize is that the intent (perceived or real) behind the feedback from others do matter in terms of how well they are accepted. If one is to be effective in providing feedback to others, we must earn the trust of those we are seeking to provide feedback to.

While feedback about my performance/behaviors sometimes do hurt, I still seek them as I think in my role as a leader, it’s important for me to understand how I am perceived by those I lead and I serve. Just recently, as a part of a departmental survey about my department’s organizational health, I included a couple of questions about my areas of strengths and improvements. I presented the result at our department meeting and I thanked my staff for providing me helpful recommendations on how I can be better.

I’ve received feedback in the past when I’ve had to question the motivations behind them. There have been times when I find out the “friendly criticisms” were based on professional jealousy and less than noble intentions on those providing them. It’s unfortunate that I became skeptical about the feedback I receive from these individuals who broke my trust. I’m still open to them and I do consider them, but not to the extent I do with my trusted mentors.

Trust is a key component that must be considered as part of an effective professional relationship. The effectiveness of the messages we provide to others and the actions we take not only depend on the manner we express them, but also on how others perceive our level of trustworthiness.