Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Every Sigma Knows

The military can train a man to react without thinking when he is under enemy fire. A good accounting course can teach any businessman how to read a spreadsheet with absolute ease. A seasoned quarterback can know what play to call, almost instinctively, in the heat of even the closest game. But the sight of a would-be love interest, the prospect of a dinner party, or the presence of a bereaved coworker can reduce even the bravest hero to mumbling gibberish. Even though he has the best of intentions, a Sigma oftentimes finds himself fumbling for words. He means well, but for the life of him he can't think of what he means to say at the moment. When he should be taking a deep breath and composing his thoughts, he finds himself blurting out something he would never intentionally say.

Of course a Sigma knows what fork touse, he opens the door for others, and he always puts the toilet lid back down. But the true mark of a Sigma man goes deeper than mere nice manners. A Sigma man can do his part to make the world a much nicer place in which to live. Because he knows that a thoughtless comment can forever diminish the way others view a person, a Sigma does not open his mouth without thinking ahead. Oftentimes a Sigma is put to the test when he is least expecting it. He is introduced to a new friend at a party, and he can think of nothing except the ungainliness of the new friend's shirt. A longtime acquaintance strides up,extends his hand, and the Sigma's mind goes blank. A coworker has just had a miscarriage, and the Sigma wants to saysomething, but he does not know, precisely, the right thing to say. These awkward moments, and others like them, come to a Sigma far too regularly over the course of his life.

If a Sigma is prepared, he can handle almost any awkward social situation. The basic rule is to say as little as possible, and to choose those few words with the utmost care. A Sigma knows that when he expresses his sympathy, he is not expected to heal the pain of parents who have lost a child in a horrible automobile accident. At the same time, he knows that even in lighter moments he is not perfect. If he forgets a name, he can admit the gaffe and be forgiven. He knows, too, that he must stand up for himself and whenever possible say what he thinks. If a friend asks him to lie, he declines to participate in the deception. If he is treated rudely in a restaurant, he knows how to lodge his complaint as well as how to determine the person with whom it should be lodged. If he has strong feelings about politics or religion, he knows when and where those opinions should be voiced. In matters of love and friendship, saying the right thing is of vital importance. But a real Sigma knows that sometimes, when words seem to have lost all usefulness, being silent can be the right thing too.

Knowing what to say, and more importantly what not to say, in life's important situations, is a priceless skill. The drill sergeant trains his soldiers to react without thinking under enemy fire; the professor teaches the businessman to read a spreadsheet; the coach prepares his quarterback to know what play to call. The following examples can help prepare a Sigma for those moments when he, too, will have to spring to action. It provides the ammunition and the strategies he will need to survive even the most embarrassing encounters.

A Sigma knows that saying the right thing is not about being quick and clever. Instead he has higher priorities. A Sigma makes others feel better about themselves. He wants to put himself in the other person's place. He wants life to run more smoothly not just for himself, but for the people he encounters in the normal course of life. He wants to be part of the solution to life's problems — especially the ones over which he has some small amount of control. At the very least, he does not add to the unavoidable awkwardness that is an all-too-common part of human existence. That, he knows, is what being a Sigma is all about.

A Sigma knows how to begin a conversation.

A Sigma always thinks before he speaks.
He also thinks after he speaks, in order to build upon the rightness,
or correct the wrongness, of what he might have said.

If a Sigma is subjected to a rude remark or rude behavior,
he does not offer rudeness in return.

A Sigma allows others to finish their sentences.
Even in his most brilliant moments, he does not interrupt others,
no matter how dull their opinions might be.

A Sigma is slow to judge the actions of others,
either in their public or private affairs.

A Sigma does not take part in major arguments over minor issues.

When a Sigma learns that two friends are to be married,
he tellsthe groom-to-be, "Congratulations,"and
says, "Best wishes" to the soon-to-be bride.

A Sigma makes a conscious effort to use correct grammar,
but he resists all temptation to sound stuffy and overly grand.

A Sigma does not correct another person's grammar,
unless he is teaching an English class.

A Sigma does not use foreign phrases, unless he is absolutely
sure of their meaning and their pronunciation.

A Sigma does not pretend to speak languages that he has not made his own.

A Sigma is careful of what he says in the presence of people speaking foreign languages.
They may understand what he is saying eventhough he might not understand them.

A Sigma does not use words that he can define only by looking them up in a dictionary.

A Sigma never asks a woman if she is pregnant.

A Sigma avoids raising his voice,even in the most heated discussion.
He does not shout others down. Often the most important person in the room speaks the softest.

A Sigma never says, "I'm sorry," unless he has given offense.

When a Sigma inconveniences another person by asking him or her to shift so that he can move through a crowded room, he says, "Excuse me." He does not say, "I'm sorry," since there is no reason for him to apologize.

A Sigma never begins a statement with "I don't mean to embarrass you but . . ."

A Sigma does not ask anyone, male or female, to divulge his or her age.

When a Sigma initiates a telephone conversation, he knows it is his responsibility to end that conversation.

A Sigma does not use his cell phone when he is at a table with others.

A Sigma does not engage in arguments, of any sort, at the dinner table.

When a Sigma is confronted by arguments that he considers foolish,
he does not attempt to refute them with reason. Instead, he keeps silent,
knowing that logic is useless in the war against irrationality.

A Sigma gives direct answers, especially to controversial questions.
Being direct, however, is not the same thing as being rude.

A Sigma never claims to have seen a movie he has not seen or to have read a book about which he has only read reviews. He knows how to say, "I haven't read (or seen) that yet, but from what I hear about it, it sounds very interesting. What do you think?"

A Sigma asks the question, 'What do you think?" as often as possible.

A Sigma does not brag, especially about his own accomplishments.

A Sigma knows that the best kind of small talk consists of asking questions,
not volunteering information about himself.

A Sigma never says, "I told you so."

A Sigma knows how to make an apology, and how to accept one.

A Sigma knows how to extend a compliment, and how to receive one.

A Sigma does not spread rumors.

A Sigma always remembers to say, "Please." And he is quick to say, "Thank you."

A Sigma understands the meaning of the word no.

A Sigma knows how to listen.

A Sigma knows that listening is a skill that improves when it is regularly practiced.

When a Sigma feels that he has been subjected to an insult, he immediately knows the right response: He responds by saying nothing at all.

A Sigma has definite beliefs, but he thinks before voicing his opinions.
He recognizes that other people's beliefs are valid. He argues only over an issue that could save a life.

A Sigma does not openly attempt to correct the behavior of his friends. Instead he teaches by example.

A Sigma takes no part in petty arguments over unimportant topics.
Instead, he takes action to bring about change that is lasting and momumental.

When a Sigma speaks, he hopes to sound wise, or — at the very least, he hopes to bring a smile to someones face. He never uses words to harm or demean another person. Even when he is silent, he can be eloquent, offering a listening ear, or a shoulder for a brother to lean upon.

adapated from "As A Gentleman Would Say" by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TARP accountability ?

H.R.384 would require all financial institutions receiving TARP funds to report quarterly on how they are using their funds and whether they have increased their lending. H.R. 384 also prohibits institutions from paying executive bonuses, providing "golden parachutes," purchasing other companies, purchasing corporate airplanes, or paying dividends before their TARP funds are paid back.
Follow its progress to become law:

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Send a heartbeat to
The void that cries through you
Relive the pictures that have come to pass
For now we stand alone
The world is lost and blown
And we are flesh and blood disintegrate
With no more to hate

Is it bright where you are
And Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
Now all secrets fade
We can watch the world devoured in its pain

Delivered from the blast
The last of a line of lasts
The pale princess of a palace cracked
And now the kingdom comes
Crashing down undone
And I am a master of a nothing place
Of recoil and grace

Is it bright where you are
And Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
Now all secrets fade
We can watch the world devoured in its pain

Time has stopped before us
The sky cannot ignore us
No one can separate us
For we are all that is left
The echo bounces off me
The shadow lost beside me
There's no more need to pretend
Cause now I can begin again

Is it bright where you are
And Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
Now all secrets fade
We can watch the world devoured in its pain

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

5 Recession Survival Skills

It's a scary, but IT leaders who adjust can still prosper

Money issues now require much more of CIO Diana Melick's attention than they did in the past. The faltering economy has her forecasting costs and slashing budgets just like her peers, but Melick went a step further. She had her staff scrutinize infrastructure costs, the largest area of IT spending. "In good times, no one looks at their phone bills," she says, but when things get tough, "it's time to start looking at the details. "And once you see those costs, you can ask whether there is a better way to manage them," she adds. That includes confronting vendors and asking for their own ideas on reducing costs. Melick did all of the above, and as a result, the vice president and CIO at Alpharetta, Ga.-based Siemens Energy and Automation, a division of Siemens AG, cut some costs by 15% to 20%. Melick identifies such fiscal finesse as one of the top skills needed to run IT today. In fact, the economy is shaking up CIOs' skill sets and lowering the premium on some traditionally valued traits while putting others in the spotlight. Here's a look at five skills that are vital to those leading IT right now.

1. Penny-pinching
Like Melick, Guy J. Russo, the CIO at CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Lenexa, Kan., says he's focused on finding efficiencies anywhere he can. "We're trying to make it fun to save costs, and we're trying to get people to think about it and demonstrate to the business how the IS organization gets it -- that we know life is tough, and here's the plan for how we can save," he says. He motivates workers by displaying their successes. A bulletin board at the door leading to the IT department holds a thermometer-style bar chart that tracks the savings realized through tech initiatives. Russo is also setting new financial expectations. For example, he says his staffers know that coming in on budget isn't enough to earn kudos anymore; they have to come in under budget -- but still deliver the expected high-quality services and products.

2. Inspiring Calm
Workers can't influence the corporate decisions that could determine whether they'll keep their current schedules, pay grades or jobs, and as a result, they can feel powerless and panicked. But while these times are tumultuous, your leadership shouldn't be, says Peter Whatnell, CIO at Sunoco Inc. and president of the Society for Information Management. "Right now, your leadership counts more than it has for the past 10 years. And you have to be a leader for your staff and a leader for your company," he explains. "You have to let them know that you're going to keep them up to date. You have to maintain a positive but honest communication with your staff, deal with issues as they come up, and if you have to make cuts, make them humanely and decisively." Even those who tend to get flustered under pressure can learn to have a calm demeanor, says Susan J. Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa Leadership Inc., a San Francisco-based leadership coaching service. "You have to be able to find what your hot buttons are and make sure that when you feel [panic] coming, you take a breath. And when you're assessing other people's fears and emotions, ask a lot of questions and give them opportunities to express their concerns," she says. The key, says Bethanis, is to turn your own or others' concerns away from panic by developing action plans. "Go from a victim mentality to 'What's the goal? What should we do?' " she says. "It's not denial. It's being realistic, but it's also being positive. It's calming."

3. Motivating Workers
"Even in this downturn, strong performers and good IT professionals are still very much in demand, so retention of top talent continues to be one of the main worries of an IT leader," says Raji Arasu, vice president of product development at eBay Inc. in San Jose. That means executives need to connect with junior-level workers now more than ever. Unfortunately, most companies don't have the cash to put staffers into cutting-edge assignments that might motivate them, Bethanis says. Given that, IT leaders need to create low-cost ways to keep their best employees engaged, she says. Give them new responsibilities and assign them to different types of projects. "You need to be talking to them on a regular basis, asking 'How is it going? What help do you need? How can I blaze a trail for you?' " she adds.

4. Driving Innovation
Many companies are so focused on survival right now that they're ignoring innovation, but, ironically, those that innovate will likely emerge the strongest, says Preeta M. Banerjee, an assistant professor of strategy at Brandeis University's International Business School in Waltham, Mass. "You need to recognize innovation as a source of value, and formalize your approaches," says Bob Zukis, a partner in the PricewaterhouseCoopers advisory practice in New York. As an example, he points out that the companies that are better at weathering today's economic storm are using cloud computing and social networking technologies to develop creative, cost-effective ways to deliver services. You don't have to budget money for innovation to get results, Bethanis says. "You need to develop an innovation team. You be the sponsor, get them together and ask how they can brainstorm, collect and vet ideas better. And make some rules -- like the ideas have to be revenue-enhancing," she says. "It doesn't cost much in time or money to do that." Moreover, involving your best employees in this kind of initiative will not only enhance innovation but also motivate and engage your people.

5. Marketing IT's Value
CIOs have to demonstrate -- even trumpet -- the value they add, says Dan Roberts, president of Ouellette & Associates Consulting Inc. in Bedford, N.H., and a contributing author to
Leading IT Transformation: The Roadmap to Success (Kendall Hunt Professional, 2008). "Marketing is so critical today, and we need to understand that everyone from the CIO to our individual contributors is marketing the IT organization and creating perceptions of our value," he says. Shouvik Dutta, CIO at Hart Schaffner Marx, a Chicago-based clothing manufacturer, says he believes his staffers and their successes have to be visible in order for IT to demonstrate its value. So he has his direct reports spend a half-day every two weeks working in the business units that they serve. This gives them insight into business needs while heightening IT's visibility, making others aware of its contributions. For example, his workers recently recognized through this practice that the sales group needed better insight into the manufacturing side to do better forecasting. So IT delivered new applications that allowed sales to pull up the productivity data it needed.

CIOs who can refocus their skills to fit the current challenges can survive today’s difficult environment and come out stronger when it's over.

authored by Mary Pratt
Contact her at

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

“Why Should I Hire You?” and Other Favorite Interview Questions

IT managers share their favorite interview questions and the thinking behind them. We asked some IT executives to share their favorite interview questions. Here are their responses.

Describe your toughest assignment so far. "You get an immediate feel for their weaknesses as they're telling a story," Shadman Zafar, CIO for the telecommunications line of business at Verizon Communications Inc. says. "You can also tell how they counter their weaknesses."

Share with me a conversation you had with your boss or others in your life where some feedback you heard was tough to take. "I think that shows a lot about someone's willingness to listen well and act on that feedback," Young says. In response to this question, a woman once told him that her boss said she needed to learn when to abandon e-mail and communicate in person. She said she then went around to friends to get their feedback so she could find ways to improve. She also said she was hoping to take a public speaking course to help her communicate better. Good answer.

What will you do if you don't get this job? Responses to this question show how seriously candidates take their career paths, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT staffing company. Individuals who are also applying for other jobs or planning to further their qualifications in a specific field demonstrate a commitment to their aspirations. That's a plus. But those who can't articulate a plan might just be trying something new on a whim. Moreover, Lee says a candidate's response tells her how fast she has to move: If someone says he has other interviews, Lee knows she has to act fast. One of the more interesting responses she has had to this question is, "You can't afford not to hire me because I'll go work for your competitor." Lee says she has hired candidates who have given that response, but it has to be delivered right. It needs to sound confident, not arrogant.

Why should I hire you? "It's the opportunity to see if the individual wants the job," says Sherry Aaholm, executive vice president of IT at Memphis-based FedEx Corp. "I want to see if they're passionate and if they've done their research into that position." One interviewee gave a classic wrong answer: "Because you already know me." A previous relationship won't get a candidate the job, Aaholm says, nor will such an uninspired answer.

Have you ever had to terminate someone? Aaholm says responses give her insight into how well candidates work with their teams, whether they're willing to help develop and train people who are struggling, and whether they can make the tough decision to let someone go when it's just not working out.

Tell me about a problem your company had and how you used technology to solve it. "You want to see how they use the knowledge, not just that they have the knowledge," says Robert Rosen, CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Md. Rosen says he slightly alters that question for candidates applying for more customer-oriented IT positions, asking, "What business problem were you trying to solve, and how did you bring value to the customer using technology?"

What are your long-term goals? "I want people who have a vision and a goal," says Robert Moon, senior vice president and CIO at LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., a developer of technology-based learning products in Emeryville, Calif. Moon says he can also determine, based on the candidate's response, whether he can mentor or move the person through the organization to help him reach those goals. "My favorite answer is, I want your job,'" Moon says.

What book is currently on your nightstand? "It gives me an idea about the type of person they are. Are they readers? Because that means they tend to be learners," says Brian L. Abeyta, second vice president in the project management office of the IT department at insurance provider Aflac Inc. in Columbus, Ga. Abeyta says he's not looking for specific reading material, but rather sincere answers. He says he suspects that people who tell him they're reading a project management methodology book are just trying to impress him. "I've had a few people say they don't have time to read, or they read magazines," Abeyta says, adding that he puts a premium on getting honest answers.

How close are you to the technology, and how important is that to you? "I've found that most often, [the answer] I get is what's important to them as opposed to what they think I want to hear. It's a broad enough question that people start talking," says Joel D. Jacobs, acting CIO at The Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit company that provides research and development support to the government. Jacobs says he usually hires high-level IT workers, not hands-on developers. Yet various positions still require different levels of in-depth technical know-how. This question helps guarantee the right fit between the candidate and the position. Jacobs says one candidate initially responded with a "deer in the headlights" look and said he hadn't thought through a question like that. He then explained that he sometimes dug deep down into particular technologies to develop better understandings, although he didn't want to spend all his time working at that level. Jacobs says the candidate's ability to so clearly articulate a response to the surprise question impressed him. Moreover, the candidate's response was consistent with the open position's work requirements, another bonus. Jacobs offered the candidate the job.

article authored by Mary K. Pratt
Mary Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at