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March 26, 2010 [ More archived home pages here ]
A Pebble In Someone's Shoe
Earlier this week I was listening to the the Harvard iTunes U interview, A Conversation with Yo-Yo Ma and John Lithgow. The title of today's message is from a John Lithgow's comment during that session.
Fortunately I was endowed with that titled trait, ready to actively confront issues when they arise. To be sure, I've been threatened for speaking out, told my days were numbered (figuratively) only to hang around far longer than anyone would have expected--still making my influence felt. I'm a pebble in someone's shoe.
Now to be an effective pebble and not just an obstacle, there needs to be good reason. It serves no useful purpose to be confrontational just for that sake alone. It requires logic and a strong conviction in being valid in argument. The rest of this message helps explain that principle.
Back in early 1990 I was working in Chicago at the global headquarters of a large organization. One of their many offices was in Alexandria, Virginia. One day my associate, Rick was told by our boss he had to immediately leave to go provide network support in that Alexandria office. Now Rick was an expert in server systems but not as good in supporting Macs that were being affected there. I immediately informed my boss that Rick needed my assistance along because otherwise he was being sent into a maelstrom of discontent. I explain why next.
That particular office was the company's next largest office in the states. Like most of the other offices, they felt short-changed by global headquarters when it came to proper technical support. They were correct in that appraisal leading to much hostile political angst towards any support person arriving from Chicago's Ivy Tower. The immediate technical problem was a virus attack that left all the Macs inoperable and corrupted documents on those machines and stored on the server. The office manager was understandably very upset and demanded someone be sent down to their office that day to resolve the issues.
My boss agreed and Rick and I immediately left for the airport with the equipment we needed, headed for our respective homes to pack and then meet at the airport for the trip.
We arrived in the late afternoon in Alexandria. Upon arrival at that office we were immediately confronted by the openly hostile office manager and production services supervisor demanding we fix the problem! After letting them vent, I informed the office manager that Rick and I had discussed the problems on the plane, had devised a plan and were ready to get to work throughout the night if needed. They then asked us to start work immediatly.
Rick went off to the server room where he started to work his magic on the problems there. Both the office manager and production supervisor stood behind me as I first tackled the the production supervisor's Mac. As I worked, I explained what the proper diagnosis was to discern the problem and then to apply the virus software to eradicate the problems. It took about 20 minutes to examine and restore the computer, during that time I answered their questions, mostly that started to turn to why didn't their office have adequate technical support resources. It was a chance to exercise my diplomatic skills to keep from making them unrealistic promises.
When the production services Mac was restored to proper working order the office manager content that I knew what I was doing, left us to return to her other duties. I assured her that regardless of the political problems between her office and Chicago, neither Rick nor I concurred with the reasons for the lack of technical support. Further while we were there we would do our best once we restored the computers and network, to help a few folks understand how to help themselves once we left. She left with a smile of satisfaction on her face. The production services supervisor was at ease now too. She began to trust me and that was an important initial step in building the proper rapport for the next several years I occasionally worked with her during my visits to Alexandria.
Rick and I worked through the night and into the early next morning restoring all the computers and the network to tiptop shape. We recovered all the documents intact for them. The last thing we did was teach a few basic skills of tech support to some of the production services staff, they now liked us too.
When we left that office both Rick and I had changed a few minds about us. We had arrived at an tense emotional moment, viewed as the enemy, now we left as new friends. It was great feeling, the way employees should work together instead of being put into useless competitive positions that serve no purpose at all.
Upon our return to the Chicago office our boss wanted a trip report written by each of us. I wrote our support group needed to be more proactive nationally, perhaps more globally in scope. That the problems we faced in Alexandria was a microcosm of what was to come if we didn't adapt to a wider role. I became a pebble in his shoe with that memo. It was helpful the office manager also wrote a glowing memo to him on behalf of the work both Rick and I performed advocating for essentially the same services I had urged.
As a strategist it was the start of a fundamental shift in my role as an employee with the firm. Through that trip I discovered discordence existed in remote offices. I recognized that an opportunity existed for me because I knew how to turn opposition into alliances. I proceeded to do that from that point onward.
In the months and years ahead there I carved out a better position for me as a solutions provider. My programming, database, and systems analysis skills came to the attention of other officers in the company including at the European headquarters in Duesseldorf, Germany. I was allowed to develop some of my ideas into fruition, culminating in my client-server and automatic workflow processing work for the company's efforts on the Board of Directors Malcome Baldrige Quality Award Program.
Towards the latter stage of my career there, I proposed the idea of heading up a Research & Development group for the company. In that group we would develop new technologies to assist the employees of the firm. Unfortunetly that suggestion was rejected. After all, who ever heard of an ultra-conservative global corporation having an internal R & D group to decrease the operational costs to the corporation while increasing employee productivity, right? ;-)
When I left the company as an employee after nearly six years, I was retained as a highly paid consultant for the next three years enabling my wife and I to relocate here to the San Diego California region. In any case, I was the founding partner for EveryDay Objects, Inc., and we partners made our mark in other ways. That innovative work continues in my current partnership at Newbound, Inc.
Sometimes being pebbles in shoes serves a purpose. When you have the opportunity for the right and valid need--become one in someone's shoe too.
I can relate to this, Kids who lose parents still grieve as adults.
My friend, Jeff Rutan, sent me two links about his Dad's latest achievements:
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