Over the years, I’ve observed that there is a common set of behaviors that is part of what makes people successful in business that I think of as the rules of service. The most successful companies actual incorporate these rules into their corporate culture.

Here they are:

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network (business)

These are very much part of the western culture, and parts of these are taught to us as we are growing up. For me though, there were subtleties in these rules that took me years to learn, and I’m still learning to apply.

Let’s look at the rules in more detail, starting with the last one.

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network

This one is a subtle part of the golden rule that I misunderstood for a long time. There is a great deal of teaching about sacrifice and serving others, which can be mistakenly incorporated into our values as putting others ahead of ourselves.

Large organizations instill self-improvement into their workers as a way to make them more valuable, and therefore make the organization more successful (e.g. – “Be all that you can be” – U.S. Army).

The problem with this approach of being completely selfless, is that we are missing out on the opportunity to give the greatest gift we have: ourselves.

What I mean by this rule, is that you need to care for yourself before you can care for others. If you don’t remember to breathe, eat, and sleep, you will have nothing to give. If you truly want to be of service, you must instead be the best that you can be.

God grants us all special gifts, our gift back to God is what we do with those gifts. By making yourself the most important customer, you make the choice to make sure your needs are met in order to share those gifts with the world. This is not being selfish, this is the truest way to be of service.

This is so eloquently expressed in the following quote by Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Look at that last line again: As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

By becoming all that we can be, we liberate others to do the same, thereby improving the universe in ways we cannot imagine. We not only serve ourselves, we give others the ability to serve, and to find their true selves.

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

As people, we need help from others in order to do most things of importance in our lives. First we became tribes, banding together in small groups to survive. Then we formed communities, which allowed for a people to begin to explore their special skills. Eventually, we formed companies, which were in essence a more specialized community: join together people with different skills in order to accomplish a common goal.

You’ll notice that I changed this rule to say “network” and placed “business” in parentheses, because I fell we’re in the midst of a return to a more community based way of interacting. People band together in a network, which allows them to accomplish things in a much broader way than simply being members of the same town or company would.

Many of the most successful corporations have incorporated this rule into how they do business. They educate their employees on the importance of treating co-workers as the most important customer.

Why do they do this ? For the same reason that you put yourself first: if the company can’t function well, they cannot serve their customers, and they will go out of business.

By understanding that the people in your network are your most important customers, you strengthen that network. By helping people in that network, you effectively serve not only that network, but all of the people served by that network.

I may have a hundred customers that I can serve one at a time. If I come up with a way to better serve those customers, I can do so one at a time. But imagine if I share that same method with my network. Now not only do I serve my hundred customers, I multiply that by serving their customers too.

From my experience this is an accelerating process: the stronger my network becomes, the more valuable it becomes to everybody in it, and the more effective we all become. Finally lessons on sharing from kindergarten really pay off !

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

This is the one we all know and is the most obvious. It doesn’t mean that we should do whatever the customer wants at the expense of the network/company or ourselves. It means, that in order to provide a service, we need somebody to provide that service to.

You have to have a customer, and by following the rules, you will be able to serve them with your unique talents coupled with the strength, skills and support of your network. This is also a twist on the golden rule: in order to put the customer first, you have to treat them as you would treat yourself (remember rule #3?).

By helping the customer be successful, you not only help them to continue to be your customer, you also allow them to help you be more successful. Their success improves the success of your network, and helps your network’s to improve their ability to make their own customers successful.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” – I am the Walrus, The Beatles

Last night I went to an event hosted by Redhat, Infogain and Azul Systems as a networking opportunity and to learn a bit from the vendors with my friend George Ross. It was held at Tesla Motors in Menlo Park, and the door prize was a ride in the new Tesla Roadster.

After the presentations, they had the drawing, and I was thinking it would be cool if George or I got picked. Right about then, they called out “Rob Weaver of AccuWeaver LLC” … I was the first pick to get a ride (they gave 5 people the thrill ride).

Naturally I’d been admiring the car the whole night, it’s a very cool looking sports car that is entirely electric. Does 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and has a range of 240 miles on a charge.

So the guy pulls the car up (no noise at all) and I get in. Well actually, it was more like I fell in. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the seat of the car sits below the frame rails, so you sit only a few inches off the ground. I was very excited and anxious to see how the car felt as they snapped this picture:

 

Then we pulled out onto the street with a smooth quiet glide. When he finally hit the accelerator, I was pushed back in my seat at with at least as much acceleration as you’d feel in one of the old muscle cars we all used to covet, and no jerks as the gear shifts (because the car only has one gear).

The other thing that impressed me was that there was no apparent drop off in power. As we approached 60, the force pushing me back in my seat was the same as it had been when we started off from a stop. The only noise was the wind through the top, and the whine of the electric motor.
On the way back, there was an empty stretch of road, and the car easily hit 80 and felt like it could be over a hundred in the blink of an eye. It was definitely a thrill ride, and I would have loved to drive it myself (although I probably would have been more conservative with it).

We pulled back in, and I’m sure my smile in the “after” picture tells it all:

 

I’m definitely impressed.  Just slightly cooler than my Prius, and way better gas mileage, I only need three jobs at about twice my normal rate and a loan on my house and it’s mine….

Since I’ve been blogging for a couple of months now, I have friends who are asking me “how do you blog?”.

Seems like a simple enough question, so I figured I’d blog about it (seems a little redundant blogging about blogging, but here goes).

The first step of course is to set up your blog.

This for me was very simple, since my hosting provider (1and1.com) includes a Blog widget in their web site tools.  This seems like a straightforward approach if you have a hosting service since most of them have blog software already setup, and you don’t need to worry about any installation or maintenance issues. So in the case of a provider like mine, you just find the website application on their control panel, and walk through a few steps to set it up.

Setting up the blog on 1and1 (at least on my package) you get a control panel page that shows you what blogs you have set up. You click the button “New Blog”, and you get sent to a screen that asks you to name the blog, and choose a domain.

This was my first gotcha in setting up the blog: I chose my accuweaver.com domain, and instantly my home page became an empty blog.

Apparently the wizard just changes the virtual host to point to the blog software, which would be OK for a brand new web site, but wasn’t what I wanted.

After that stumble, I created what 1and1 calls a subdomain of blog.accuweaver.com to point to. This let me keep my existing site, and created a separate URL for the blog. The blog setup also lets you create the admin user, and decide which email notifications should go to.  Then all you have to do is choose your template, and start blogging.

Now I need to point out that there are lots of other ways to blog. My parents have both been blogging longer than I have, and they use one of the free blogging services (See my Dad’s blog at http://www.virtualbob35.blogspot.com and my Mom at http://closeknitweave.blogspot.com/).

Google hosts this service, and it works pretty much the same way as the WordPress version that I use, but it isn’t tied to a hosting provider. This is probably the best approach for most people, and it also has the same flexibility of hosting on your own web server if you  want to.

If you really want to do your due diligence, you can go to http://www.weblogmatrix.org/and compare all the hundreds of blogging software options, but based on sheer name recognition, it really boils down to WordPress, TypePad and Blogger.

Anyway, that’s enough for this post, there are lots of other blogs out there with information about how to start blogging that do a more step by step sort of guide (I like the one by Paul Stamatiou at http://paulstamatiou.com/2006/05/14/how-to-start-blogging, it’s very thorough and easy to read)

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One of the things I always struggle with as a project manager is how to communicate availability. If I’m using a corporate email system like Exchange, it is extremely easy to set up calendars to be shared, and everybody using that system has the ability to at least see your free/busy status which helps in setting up meetings.But when you’re dealing with a disparate group, who don’t have access to the same information, figuring out meetings can be difficult. I manage some of this complexity with tools like Plaxo and MobileMe, which allow you to keep calendars in synch across a variety of calendar systems, including Google, Yahoo and even the local calendar application.

This doesn’t solve the problem of how to check on availability however. What I’ve always found most effective inside the corporate firewall is to make my calendar public, and to ask my team members to share their calendars as well. This allows me not only to quickly schedule meetings, but gives me insight into what sorts of meetings my team is scheduling, and how they are managing their time.

So, on the outside of the firewall, I have started using Google Groups and Google Calendar to acheive some of the same effect. First I set up a Google Group to give me an alias for the team. It also gives us some basic collaboration tools, web access to messages, and a place share files. Then I set up a Google Calendar with the same name as the Group. There’s no requirement to do this, but it’s convenient to have a calendar where you can put group events, and keeping the name consistent makes life easier.

Once you have a group calendar created, it will show up in your calendars list along with any other calendars you have created. If you added the group email alias to the sharing list during creation, then everybody in your group will have been notified that they have access to the calendar. Alternatively you could simply email all of the individuals in the group.

Once you have the members in the group, you can share your calendar with them by using the “Share Calendar” by choosing it from the menu that pops up when you click on the little inverted triangle next to your calendar (in this case I’m sharing my personal calendar, you would do the same for the group calendar):

Share Calendar menu item

Once you choose this option, you will be taken to the “Share this Calendar” tab of the settings for that calendar:

sharethiscalendar.png

First thing that I do is to make sure the “Make this calendar public” check box is ticked, this allows your calendar to be seen by others. You can also set the “Share only my free/busy information (Hide details)” tick mark if you want to hide the specifics of your calendar.  Once that is done, everybody can see my calendar.

Even if you don’t make your calendar public, you can send an invitation to share your calendar, by typing in an email address. So to notify your group that they can access your calendar, you can either invite them individually, or type in the email address of the group.

They should then get a nice invite from Google Groups that tells them your calendar is available, and can add it to their “Other Calendars” list.

other calendars

The calendars in this list get added to your calendar with different colors, so at a glance you can see what events go with which calendar. You can toggle which calendar events display by clicking on the name of each calendar (when the background is white, the events are not show). Below is a shot of my calendar with the group and Laura’s calendar showing:

calendar display

As you can see, Laura chose to share only her free/busy time, so all I see is that she’s busy between 5 and 6:30

The last step is to ask for access to your team member’s calendars. To do this you click on the “Add” link at the bottom of the “Other Calendars”.

addafriend.png

This takes you to the screen where you enter the email address of the person that you’d like to ask for access to their calendar. If the address isn’t a GMail address, it will also prompt you to invite them.

enteremail.png invitefriend.png

Once they have accepted, you will have access to their calendar, and it will appear in your “Other Calendars” list (as Laura’s does in mine).

Because the group and calendar are not integrated, you will have to add any new members (or change or delete) in both places, but in essence this gives you access to what you need to help make meeting scheduling easier.

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After many conversations with the support people at Rita Mulcahy, I got an email telling me that they would extend me a special offer to extend my license for an additional 90 days for $75.

While I still have a problem with the whole idea of software license expiring, I understand the idea, and have politely suggested that they increase the visibility of this in their sales literature and product packaging. Software as a service is becoming more common, but extending that to shrink wrapped software is by no means normal (at least in my experience as a software professional).

If I still had a copy of Windows 3.x, I could install it.  In fact, if I took inventory, I’d bet way over half of the software I use is many years old, and far from the latest version. Anyway, I may pony up the $75 next week to get the license for long enough for me to get through my PMP certification.

I just had an interesting experience with some exam preparation software that I bought a couple years ago for the PMP certification from Rita Mulcahy. According to the installer, the software license had expired !

I took a class to prepare for a certification exam, and bought a bundle that included an exam simulation called PM FastTrack for PMP.

I was only slightly annoyed that I had to be connected to the internet to install it: lots of software has started following the annoying activation model. The license says the software can be installed on (1) work computer and (1) home computer, so they have to manage the count some how.

Anyway, at the end of my class, I got on one of those gigs that sucks all of your free time out, and didn’t have a chance to finish my studying and simply didn’t think about the software. Top that off with the fact that I’ve been running it all in virtual machines that I tend to have to rebuild, and I end up not uninstalling the software from somewhere I don’t have access to any more.

Time goes by, and here it is almost two years later, and I try to install the software (I’ve long since reimaged my machine, so it’s time to try again). First I get several annoying messages that tell me to change things that make no sense (control panel change to get the date format right) and another that says to download a new version of the software.

Finally I get to a screen that tells me to contact support. This ends up with me downloading a new version of the software, which then tells me that the license key has been installed too many times, so I call support (which of course is closed) and leave a message.

I get back this email that says:

Rob,
I received your voicemail. You first installed the software on January 28, 2006. There is a one year term of use from the date of the first installation according to the license agreement. Your license has expired. If you would like to use the FASTrack software, you would need to purchase a new license.

Well, first I was surprised it had been that long, but second I was more than a little irritated. I looked all over the CD case, and could find nowhere that it said the software was only good for a year, only that it is limited to two computers (I even scanned the case and sent that to them).

It feels a bit like my experience with renting a movie from the iTunes store: I rented the movie, started watching it on the plane, and then by the time I got to watch the end of it, it had expired. They gave me a one time refund on the transaction so with the exception of my having to rent the movie a second time to see the end, it was a positive experience.

Now I understand that for software that helps you pass an exam, they want to make sure you’re using a new copy, but shouldn’t I be able to use it regardless of whether it is outdated or not?

I’ve recommended this software to others in the past, and probably generated more than a few sales for them. From a sales perspective, it seems like they should want me to continue that, and perhaps buy the next version of the software when it comes out.

But repeated phone calls, and emails, and no response. If I had to guess, I’d say they feel they have a locked in market, so they don’t have to try to be good about this.

Guess maybe it’s time to build a competitor product, I’m sure I could build a web based Q&A that would do as well for less than $299 a year.

And now I find the license info on their web site (not on my CD) which does have the notice about only working for a year after initial install here. They even have some verbiage about paying $75 to extend the license for three additional months, but that apparently doesn’t apply except for the 3 months immediately following the install.

So apparently, my choices are to either buy a new copy of the software (which will be no good in a couple of months since the test is changing), wait for the new software (which won’t be out until the end of this quarter), simply do without.

I’m just glad they didn’t print the book and flash cards with ink that fades away over time. Not a great way to operate a business if you ask me, but I guess I never had that sort of monopoly.

I think a lot about how negative thinking affects the world, even more so recently with all of the depressing news reports.

Take the example of a financial advisor telling people to cut back on their weekly coffee in order to put more money into their savings as a hedge against hard times. A well intentioned attempt to educate people on being fiscally responsible.

But there’s no thought to the down side of this act: When everybody stops going to their local coffee place, the coffee place goes out of business, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom. What if instead that report recommended you go meet a friend at that same coffee shop? The coffee shop stays in business, and people are socializing, networking and creating new opportunities that definitely will not be discovered by staying home.

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