Christmas Vacation

The week between Christmas and New Years is the worst time to use vacation, but that’s not stopping me.

Santa on beach vacationThis year, I’ll be taking some much-needed vacation between Christmas and New Years. The timing wasn’t my first choice, but due to circumstances beyond my control there was no summer vacation this year. Author Scott Burkun says that I’m taking vacation at the worst possible time. And I couldn’t agree more.

The week between Christmas and New Years is the worst time to use vacation. It’s when everyone else is on holiday, turning even the most stressful workplaces into calm zones of highly independent and low interruption work time. Spending your vacation dollars to avoid a paid vacation in the office, is the worst bet in the vacation world: sometimes it’s a forced bet, as family plans force your hand, but it’s still a lousy value.

Scott Berkun
When Should You Take Vacation? A Strategy

Early on in my career— while lamenting my junior status and lack of vacation days— I quickly noticed many of the same observations as Mr. Berkun. In most US organizations, senior management- the people in the organization with the most vacation time- disappear at random intervals between the Thanksgiving holiday (the fourth Thursday in November), Christmas (December 25) and New Year’s Day. The lack of corporate activity can be further aided by the “year-end IT freeze” that attempts to guarantee system availability for busy holiday shopping or year-end financial closing.

If you’re “stuck” at work having a “staycation”, make the most of it. Pick a small number of new technical skills to master. Install the latest version of your BI software on a sandbox. Most BI organizations have a number of outstanding tasks that never get done. Now is the perfect time to cross a few off your to-do list (be sure to add these to your list of accomplishments on your upcoming annual performance review). And don’t ignore the softer skills. Plan some lunch dates with your immediate co-workers as well as your support teams like system administrators and database administrators. Listen to their war stories as well as the corporate rumors for the upcoming year.

As for me, I’ll be enjoying some down-time with my family this week. And planning next summer’s vacation!

Against the Grain

The New York Times, responding to Nate Silver’s move to ESPN.

Man walking through field

There’s an interesting post on the New York Times web site about the departure of Nate Silver to ESPN. And as usual, some succinct and sassy commentary from John Gruber on his Daring Fireball blog. But the New York Times’ editor Margaret Sullivan had this to say about Nate Silver.

He was, in a word, disruptive.

Nate Silver is an American statistician who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2012 United States presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. His Five Thirty Eight blog has become a popular feature of the New York Times web site and his recent book, The Signal and the Noise, became an instant best-seller after the presidential election.

There are some clear parallels in his story to our own stories in the field of analytics and BI. Fact-based decision making from business intelligence frequently goes against the grain of The Established Way of How We Do Things Around Here. Wayne Eckerson captures this maverick spirit, seen in the seven people profiled in his latest book Secrets of Analytic Leaders. Administering a business intelligence platform or even a corporate analytics program pales in complexity to the challenges- both with people and technology- in changing organizational culture to a fact-based, data-saturated culture. The process is frequently disruptive. It takes guts, an even temperament, and a long-term focus.

But as Nate Silver apparently discovered, sometimes it also requires a career move.

Running the Race

What I learned from my first 5k race.

On May 12, 2012, on the eve of SAP SAPPHIRE, I ran my first 5k race with my 11-year-old daughter Emily. Emily participated in Girls On the Run, a 12-week program that combines “training for a 3.1 mile running event with self-esteem enhancing, uplifting workouts. The goals of the programs are to encourage positive emotional, social, mental, spiritual and physical development.” I’m really proud of my daughter and her accomplishments.

We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

If you can’t tell from the above photograph, I’m not a natural athlete. Last year, I couldn’t run from my house down to the first stop sign without being out of breath. But in September, I downloaded Active Network’s Couch-to-5k app and started running. The goal of the app is to take you from walking to running a 5k in just 9 weeks.

I’d like to tell you that I charged through the workout plan in 9 weeks.  But I didn’t.

I’d like to tell you that I ran faithfully during the cold winter months. But I didn’t.

I’d like to tell you that I figured out how to work a long day at the office then bee-line to the hotel treadmill.  But I didn’t.

I’d like to tell you that I ran a flawless 5k with my daughter. But I didn’t.

But here is what I can tell you.

I no longer stop at the stop sign.  I keep running. Much farther and faster than I could last September. And even though my first 5k race is now a memory, I am still running. I’ve put away the Couch to 5k app and started using RunKeeper. I bought a FitBit, just like Greg Myers. And some bright red Nike running shoes. I’m determined to enter another 5k this summer.

What does this story have to do with business intelligence? Everything.

Real life is messy. Maybe you meant to retire your Desktop Intelligence reports months ago, but they’re still lurking around. Maybe your dreams of creating a Business Intelligence Competency Center were shattered by management. Maybe that big career move… wasn’t that big after all.

You ran out of breath at the first stop sign.

We can’t obtain perfection. We can only strive towards it.

Keep running.

Don’t give up.

Learn More

What I learned about being an SAP rock star from Van Halen

What I learned from David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen at ASUG/SAP SAPPHIRE 2012.

Last week, I was one of the 16,000 attendees dancing the night away at the Van Halen concert that concluded the combined ASUG  and SAP SAPPHIRE 2012 events in Orlando, Florida. While the lifestyle of an SAP professional is quite different than that of a rock star, there are five things that aspiring SAP rock stars can learn from real ones like Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, and David Lee Roth. Here’s my thoughts, which I also shared on the SAP Community blog.

Van Halen performs at SAP SAPPHIRE 2012

1. Deliver Your Best Performance With a Smile

The first thing we can learn from a real rock star like Eddie Van Halen is to always deliver your best performance with a smile. Prior to the concert, I was highly skeptical that a fifty seven year old artist could perform with the same virtuosity he had shown 30 years earlier. But not only did Eddie create a fantastic guitar performance, he did it with a smile.  He seemed to be fully engaged, catching the magic moment.  An SAP rock star should always maintain a positive and even temperament, even when dealing with loud-mouthed annoying co-workers like David Lee Roth.

2. Keep Your Skills Up to Date

During the concert, vintage album covers and photographs scrolled across the large video screen behind the band. They were a reminder of past rock-and-roll glories and made even this blogger reminisce fondly back to the year 1984. A real rock star can continue to have a successful career reliving past glories, performing 30-year-old hits, and recreating their guitar solos note for note. But sadly, an SAP rock star cannot rely on his or her past technology skills. Instead of dreaming about yesterday, an SAP rock star makes future plans, leaving older products and product names behind with an emotional detachment. SAP professionals that cling to the past and refuse to adapt will look as out of place as a fifty seven year old David Lee Roth in sparkly party pants.

And they’ll sound out of place, too. Thirty years ago, DLR’s on-stage banter shaped his bad boy image and no doubt helped him score backstage with groupies. But today, the same comments reveal a different kind of truth – a creepy, dirty old man that no good father would want around his daughter. Can you see what I mean?

3. Acknowledge Positive Contributions Regardless of Their Source

Sammy Who? Although you couldn’t tell by their omission from the set list, songs from the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen actually sold more albums and yielded more #1 hits than those from David Lee Roth. But band members and many fans alike consider the original DLR days as “the good stuff”. So although a real rock star can ignore some of their biggest hits to placate the ego of their current lead singer, an SAP rock star always acknowledges positive contributions regardless of their source.

4. Create Clear and Detailed Project Plans and Deliverables

Van Halen’s “no brown M&M’s” requirement in their concert rider is an oft-quoted legend that is actually true (see Snopes or even Wikipedia). Trashed dressing rooms aside, the brown M&M requirement was placed in the concert rider as a simple test of whether the concert venue had read and followed the more important safety requirements of the rider (although Xcelsius Guru Mico Yuk would argue that David Lee Roth should have paid more attention to the red M&M’s). Detailed project plans and well-written documentation is a must for any SAP rock star. Real rock stars can get away with trashing their dressing rooms. But SAP rock stars never trash their cubicles over unmet project requirements or less than stellar implementations.

SAP supply chain fanatics will also enjoy the article Alice in Supply Chains that I found while researching Van Halen’s M&M tale.

5. Mentor the Next Generation

As somebody who hasn’t closely followed the personnel changes in the band, it was very obvious to me that the bass player was much younger than anyone else on stage.  Indeed, Van Halen’s current bassist is twenty-one year old Wolfgang Van Halen, son of Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli (yes, I was checking Wikipedia during the concert). I have no doubt that both father and son take great pride in performing together. Hopefully Wolfgang will improve on his father’s career and avoid the substance abuse pitfall that beset his dad and so many others in the music industry. Both real rock stars and SAP rock stars can (and should) pass along wisdom and skills to the next generation.

What did you think of Van Halen’s SAP SAPPHIRE performance? And what tips do you have for aspiring SAP rock stars?

My StrengthsFinder 2.0 Results

Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

Generated with Wordle http://www.wordle.net/

At my organization’s last annual company meeting, the human resources manager gave each employee a copy of StrenghtsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, whose inside cover asks “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” [emphasis theirs].  As I took the 30-minute assessment, I found myself thinking “How the heck does my answer to this question explain anything?”  Yet here are my top five talent themes identified by the Clifton StrengthFinder 2.0 assessment test: Input, Learner, Ideation, Communication, and Significance.

  • Input – People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
  • Learner – People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  • Ideation – People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  • Communication – People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
  • Significance – People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.

Those descriptions are standard, meaning that anyone else who takes the assessment sees the same descriptions that I did.  However, the assessment also offers personalized recommendations based on analyzing the responses of thousands of other people who have taken the assessment.  There are also 10-step action plans for each theme.  Here are some highlights from my action plans – emphasis is mine.

From Input:

Look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information each day, such as teaching, research, or journalism.

From Learner

As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up.

From Ideation

Seek a career in which you will be given credit for and paid for your ideas, such as marketing, advertising, journalism, design, or new product development.

From Communication

You will always do well in roles that require you to capture people’s attention. Think about a career in teaching, sales, marketing, ministry, or the media. Your Communication talents are likely to flourish in these areas… If you enjoy writing, consider publishing your work. If you enjoy public speaking, make a presentation at a professional meeting or convention. In either case, your Communication talents will serve to assist you in finding just the right way to frame your ideas and state your purpose. You delight in sharing your thoughts with others, so find the medium that best fits your voice and message… Volunteer for opportunities to present. You can become known as someone who helps people express their thoughts and ambitions in a captivating way.

From Significance

Choose jobs or positions in which you can determine your own tasks and actions. You will enjoy the exposure that comes with independence.

I’ve never taken the Myers-Briggs assessment but did take the DISC assessment many years ago.  Honestly, I did not expect this much alignment between my career and the five talent themes identified by StrengthsFinder 2.0.

I’m grateful for how my career has developed, thankful for the friends I’ve made on the journey, and am looking forward to the future, focusing even more intensely on these strengths.

Achiever, Activator, Adaptability, Analytical, Arranger, Belief, Command, Communication, Competition, Connectedness, Consistency, Context, Deliberative, Developer, Discipline, Empathy, Focus, Futuristic, Harmony, Ideation, Includer, Individualization, Input, Intellection, Learner, Maximizer, Positivity, Relator, Responsibility, Restorative, Self-Assurance, Significance, Strategic, and Woo.  Which five talent themes best describe you?  I hope the StrenthsFinder 2.0 book gives clarity to your career path.

StrengthsFinder 2.0

Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?

At my organization’s last annual company meeting, the human resources manager gave each employee a copy of StrenghtsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, whose inside cover asks “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” [emphasis theirs].  This thin, 183-page career book includes an access code for the online Clifton StrengthFinder 2.0 assessment test.  The first 31 pages articulate the central thesis of the book – that “you cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”  Instead of focusing a majority of personal self-improvement time on weakness, the book asserts that we should instead focus on developing strength.  The remainder of the book describes 34 talent themes.  The online assessment, which takes only about 30 minutes to complete, generates a personalized profile of your top five talents in Adobe PDF format (I keep mine on Dropbox).  Not only does the assessment describe your talents, but it provides a customized action plan based on the results thousands of other people who have taken the assessment (statistical analysis, anyone?).  Once you have your test results, you can finish the book quickly by only reading about your five talents.  Or if you’re like me, you’ll read about the other 29 talents to see if the assessment “got it all wrong”.

I’ll share the results of my assessment in a future post so you can decide.

 

 

Used copies can be found cheaply at bookstores like Half Price Books. But beware – the access code in the back of the book can only be used once.  If the seal is broken, the book isn’t worth purchasing. Thankfully, the book is relatively inexpensive from online booksellers like Amazon.

Highly Recommended.

Have you taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment?  What did you think of the results?

My Monster Data Quality Problem

Last week, I experienced a Monster data quality problem.

Last week, I experienced a Monster data quality problem.

I received a panicked phone call from Monster, the career web site, letting me know that I had a rogue profile with an incorrect phone number.  That number now belonged to another person that was so besieged by recruiter calls that they changed their voice mail message telling callers that they weren’t me.

So I logged into Monster’s web site for the first time in years.  Years!  Ditto for Dice. Not only was my profile “up to date” with correct information, but all of my resumes were in a “private” state. So why was anybody getting deluged with recruiter calls? And why did Monster need my approval before being helpful?

I was able to get answers once I returned the call to Monster customer service. Turns out that I had flirted with using Yahoo Hot Jobs many years ago. Monster acquired Hot Jobs in 2010 but only recently integrated its resumes into its master database. The offending profile had my correct name and home address, but an incorrect phone number and obsolete email address. So I apparently ended up with two profiles, not one, because the profiles were integrated using only the email address. I’m highly skeptical that my original Hot Jobs profile was “live” before it was integrated, so I can only assume that my Hot Jobs profile was erroneously set to active during the integration process.

Monster could have done a better job of integrating resume profiles. If I were Monster, I would have sent an email to each Hot Jobs member telling them to “opt-in” to integrating their profiles. In my case, Monster would have learned that my Hot Jobs email was invalid and could have chosen to not integrate my Hot Jobs profile. If I were part of Monster’s integration team, I would have recommended making a second pass through the Hot Jobs database looking for profiles that matched on physical address, not just email address.

My old profile? Deleted by a helpful Monster customer service representative. And my old phone number? Hasn’t been mine in over five years. While I’m sorry that somebody else is getting recruiter calls, I’m thankful that I don’t have to talk to people desperate enough to call me about a six-year-old resume.

Monster recently announced a layoff of 7-percent of their full-time work force, stating “”We are in a very confused period in terms of whether the economy will stay status-quo or improve or deteriorate further.” But I wonder if sites like LinkedIn are more directly responsible for their woes.

Do you have a Monster/Hot Jobs data quality problem? Are sites like Monster and Dice still relevant to job seekers? Has LinkedIn pushed them over the edge?