The Profesional Web Site Of Landon Blake

The latest HBR Management Tip of the day has good advice on helping your remote workers. This basically involves regular communication and monitoring. Here is an excerpt from the tip:

One of the challenges of managing people from afar is having a good sense of how they’re performing. Virtual workers may be more prone to loneliness and loss of motivation, which can result in compromised performance. Since you don’t usually get the opportunity to pick up visual cues or have impromptu conversations with remote employees, make an extra effort to see how they’re doing. Stay alert for signs of burnout by checking in regularly.

I've personally experienced the challenges that come with managing remote workers. In my experience these, remote workers suffer more frequently than your on-site team members from a few specific problems. These problems are :

  1. Feeling left out of important programs or activities.
  2. Feeling like their contributions go unnoticed.
  3. Feeling like they aren't a valued part of the team.

Managers can also mistakenly underestimate the work being done by remote workers. I tell my remote workers to prevent this by sending a regular e-mail to their team at the beginning of each week that outlines what they will be working on for that week. This helps the remote worker show regular progress on tasks, opens the door for collaboration, and reminds the team of their contributions.

Landon

The November 2015 Issue of Inc Magazine has a couple of interesting observations about the relationship between employees and employers in our modern economy.

The first observation is this: "Odds are, you started your company because you wanted to drive your own destiny, or because you had an idea you just had to try, or because you saw an opportunity for financial success and grabbed it. It wasn't because you wanted to be responsible for a bunch of other people's well-being. But like it or not, that's what you've become."

This observation touches on a powerful truth: It is very hard to run a successful business in our modern economy without accepting a serious responsibility to care for the needs of the people that work for you. Time and again I see business owners who fail to accept this responsibility, to the detriment of their organizations and their communities.

The article goes on to mention an argument of Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford. He says that a willingness to be a good steward of other people's lives" out to be recognized as an essential trait of true leaders.

I couldn't agree more.

Landon

I'm pleased to announce the release of Melon Slides. Melon Slides is a free SVG slide template created in (and designed for editing in) Inkscape. (Inkscape is an open source vector graphics program for the desktop.) Melon Slides is based on a simple grid layout and contains 8 slide examples in SVG. The supporting images used in the slide examples are also provided.

Melon Slides is released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. That means you are free to modify the work and use it for commercial purposes.

There is an online folder where you can download all of the SVG files for Melon Slides.

There is an online folder with the supporting images used in the slide examples.

There is an online folder with images of each slide examples in Melon Slides.

You can also view Melon Slides on my Behance Profile and on Pinterest.

I hope you enjoy the template. If you have suggestions to improve it, or examples of how it has been used, please contact me!

Landon

The September/October 2015 Issue of ACEC's Engineering Magazine has an article entitled "Successful Firm Growth Starts With Cultivating Leadership". (The article was written by Douglas Reed.) The article offered what I thought were some key insights into securing the future growth of an engineering company, and what makes growing and engineering company different from growing a business like a manufacturer. Here are a couple of quotes from the article I wanted to share:

"When looking to expand their operations, many firms immediately seek out acquisitions...An acquisition is risky since a firm is essentially purchasing intellectual capital, as opposed to a manufacturing plant. Since these are people, not machines, many acquisitions fail or under perform because firms are not ready for the people adaption needed."

I've personally seen the truth of this quote demonstrated over and over again. I'll watch one of my large competitors gobble up one of my smaller competitors. After the merger, I see the top talent at the acquired company leave because of a clash in company cultures or a failure on the part of the purchasing firm to really take care of their new employees. The purchasing company is left with some desktop computers and a storeroom of old project files that are cataloged or indexed. Everyone loses in this scenario.

Because acquisitions are so tricky in the engineering industry, organic growth becomes even more important. The article continues with this important concept:

"The key to a firm's successful growth starts with growing its leadership...This can be particularly challenging in an engineering environment. Leaders typically began their careers as engineers and worked their way up the corporate ladder. While many go to business school to learn to be more effective leaders, the vast majority learn as they go, imitating their superiors, who themselves are often not students of business science. This approach is limiting and doesn't necessarily foster excellence. It requires leaders to have natural leadership skills rather than providing an ongoing opportunity to develop them...Too many firms struggle because, while their leaders are excellent engineers, they have a difficult time handling balance sheets, developing market strategies, or mentoring the next generation of leaders."

This quote almost brings me to tears. Finally another individual recognizes the painful truth about many surveyors and engineers that own (or like me: help to run) surveying or engineering companies. We may be people with great technical skills, but our people skills and business skills often stink. This is another pattern I've seen over and over again during my career. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a good employees walk out the door of a company led by a civil engineer or surveyor who doesn't know how to lead or motivate their team. Once again, everyone in this situation suffers. The company, the company's clients, and the employee.

I'm trying not to make this same mistake myself. I've been reading (and listening) to everything I can about business strategy, business management, and the leadership of talented professionals. I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned in the last 3 or 4 years that has helped me be a better manager and land surveyor. I want to talk more about this topic in the future, and in the next few days I'll try to post a list of free online learning resources that have helped me be a better businessman.

Landon

I've always strongly believed that the people my organization hires are the most important element of our business success. This may be even more true in a technology intensive consulting industry like the one my company competes in. One of my greatest challenges as a manager and small business owner is finding (and keeping) smart people for my team.

The September 2015 Issue of Inc Magazine has a great short article entitled “Grow Your Business, Know Your People” that talks about one way to keep smart people on your team. The article highlights the need to know your team members personally, and to make them feel like they work with their friends and family. Here are a couple of powerful quotes from the article, which I encourage you to read in its entirety:

"Engaged, enthusiastic, and loyal employees are pivotal drivers of growth and health in any organization. The key to creating such workers in your business is as simple and cost free as it is overlooked. It comes in the form of giving them what they want, need, and deserve more than anything else: to be known."

What does it mean to “be known”. Patrick Lencioni, the author of the article, explains:

“Known in the way that all people want to be known, by family and friends. Who they are. Where they come from. What makes them tick. How there life is going.”

Why is this so important? Patrick tells us that too:

When employees feel anonymous in the eyes of their managers, they simply cannot love their work, no matter how much money the make or how wonderful there job seems to be.”

This is great advice for business owners and managers. In the near future I want to write more on this topic.

Landon

The October 2015 Issue of Inc Magazine has an article entitled “Built To Last” about a different type of start-up company. This type of start-up is called an “evergreen company” because its founders don't intend to sell it to another company. Instead, they intent to own (and run) the company for the long-term. This idea appealed to me as the owner of Redefined Horizons, a small publishing and education business for land surveyors and GIS professionals. Inside the article was a list of 7 characteristics of “evergreen companies”. Here is the list from the article:

Purpose: Being passionately druven by a compelling vision and mission.

Perserverance: Having the ambition to overcome obstacles and keep pursuing the mission indefinitely into the future.

People First: Engaging a work force of talented associates who excel as a team and are motivated by the mission and the culture (as well as compensation). Taking care of that team in the belief that, in doing so, the team will take care of the business, the customers, the suppliers and the community.

Private: Taking advantage of the ability of closely held private companies to have a longer view and more operating flexibility than public or exit-oriented businesses.

Profit: Measuring success by the number that provides the most accurate measure of customer value delivered.

Paced Growth: Having the discipline to focus on long-term growth strategy and steady growth.

Pragmatic Innovation: Embracing a continuous improvemtn process built around taking calculated risks to innovate creatively within the constraints of the business.

This is an excellent list! I'll have to consider how each of these 7 characteristics is displayed by my own small business.

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