Category: Entrepreneurial
International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day 2016.

 

 

One of the greatest issues facing the IT industry today is the declining number of women entering and remaining in the industry.  The development and retention of  high performance female staff is critical to the longer-term diversity of the IT industry.

At IMA, we support the career aspirations of our female staff without expecting them to sacrifice or compromise other priorities.  The IT industry is traditionally a male-dominated workforce and at IMA, women make up close to 30% of our team (according to VIC ICT for Women, women only make up 16% of ICT roles in Australia).  We have a strong focus to enhance our workforce to better represent society as a whole, and are striving to ensure that women within IMA are fairly represented in all technical, leadership and professional roles.

Our HR General Manager, Shelley Brown says, “We have a solid number of strong, professional women at all levels of our organisation.  From Consulting to Sales to the Management team, women are an integral part of our continued success. People tell us it is a high percentage for the industry, but we just hire the best people we can for the work that we do, and do what we can to encourage, support and engage the people that choose to work with us.”

Archana Patel who has recently taken up an Account Manager (September 2013 when her client engagement concluded and as of April 2015 as General Manager of our NSW branch!) role with IMA adds that her experience with IMA “has been refreshing”.  She further says “A few months ago I was offered a position as an Account Manager within the organisation, something I am really looking forward to, and a great opportunity for me to work with IMA to put both our clients and consultants first, to ensure the best fit and exceptional client delivery.  As a woman, a minority, in the world of IT – I can’t wait for the challenge.”

4 steps to failing your way to success

After one of those awkward lift conversations with a stranger, one of IMA’s Engagement Managers, Marty told me that I “experiment with everything”. In an attempt to improve my ad hoc conversation skills he’d seen me have a series of lift conversations, some awkward and some not, and noticed my endless fascination with giving things a go, seeing what works, changing something and trying again.

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

I’m applying scientific method to my life.

I’ve applied it to a huge range of things, including work, sport, holidays, friendships, dating, family relationships as well as awkward lift conversations. The results have been mixed, but I seem to always end up in a much better place than where I started.

I typically follow a pretty simple process.

What result did I want?

The first thing I do is that before every “measured event” is defining what success is. Funnily enough this is harder than you would expect. Why? Because you can’t expect a home run in every encounter.

In the consulting world (my business) it’s unrealistic to set a goal of winning work in a first meeting with a potential client. Do they have work? Are you even a fit for their business? Expecting a home run is focusing on things beyond your control. A better target is to find out if they have work, if you are suited to them, and if it all matches then building the relationship and scheduling a second meeting. Or in other endeavours, not everyone I meet in the lift is going to be my BFF (Best Friend Forever for those older folks), but perhaps I can make them smile and find out a little about them.

Setting realistic, progressive and measurable goals and doing it consistently is the key.

What result did I get?

Reflecting on your attempt is the next part. Once I’ve set a goal and tried to achieve it, I take a clear eyed, hard nosed, and honest assessment of the success or otherwise of my attempt.

Craig Horne (@craigthebold) used to ask me “What result did you want?” and then “What result did you get?”.

I love those two questions. They strip away excuses. You wanted result A you got result B. Nowhere to hide.

What do I need to do to get the result I want?

With the hard part done, the easiest is working out what you need to do to get a better result.

It’s easy because it’s OK not to know what to do.

In that case I usually just try something different that seems like it could work. And if I’ve run out of ideas I try something I think won’t work, but I always make sure I try something different if the result isn’t there.

The glue

What’s the glue that holds this process together? It’s you don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone is expected to be bad at first, second and third try in fact every time anyone learns a new skill.

I hate to fail, you might be that person too. Allowing myself to fail, or better yet, expecting to fail and being OK when it happens is the glue that holds this process together. It allows me to realistically assess what went wrong without making excuses. As the easiest way not to fail is not to try, expecting failure stops me avoiding failure by avoiding the situation, allowing me to jump back into the fray immediately and try again. And volume is often the best method of improving at anything (see my post on working harder not smarter).

So that’s how I am failing my way to success one awkward lift conversation at a time.



“That gut wrenching feeling” – decision making from the top.

I’ve come to appreciate feeling nauseous at work.

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

I’m talking about the kind of nausea that doesn’t come from being sick but that gut wrenching, internal conflict when you believe a course of action is the right one but it pushes new boundaries and makes you uncomfortable, unsettled and dreading the consequences.

I had that feeling when I decided to stop consulting and to work on growing the business. When I interviewed a candidate who was well outside our price range, only to realise that I had to redefine our business model because we couldn’t let him go. When your stars have performance issues and you need to have a confronting conversation.

It’s not comfortable but growth never is.

I was reading a post on the fog creek blog when I had this feeling. Dan Ostlund was describing how Fogcreek stopped paying their salespeople commission. It hurt to read it.

It hurt because I knew that commissions didn’t help sales. I’d seen Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation.

It hurt because I knew that once you removed salary as a factor the people just got on and did the job.

It hurt because I’d seen it countless times.

The people who complained, “If you pay me I’ll do it”, never did.

I’d seen sales people who reaped the rewards of the good times but stopped selling to complain about their commission during the bad times.

It was way to risky to do though.

Every salesperson worth their salt wanted commission, you couldn’t possibly not do it.

Because, because, well … everybody did it.

Well not everyone, Fogcreek didn’t.

They’d seen the research and removed commission from their sales team.

And it hadn’t hurt them, their team collaborated more, the admin overhead was gone, the conflicting incentives were gone.

The move made sense for us as a company. Removing commission would mean that our sales team had no incentive to put the wrong people in the wrong roles. Our team had always looked after their clients but removing conflicting incentives encouraged them to be completely on their clients side, which I love. Without commission a failed engagement didn’t help their pay packet, but it damaged their relationship with the client and forced them to clean up the mess, which no one likes doing.

The end result was a closer and more trusting engagement with our clients. Our clients loved it too, the changes were subtle but they enjoyed having someone to talk to who wasn’t going to make a dollar if they took their people. I loved the response when I told them we didn’t pay commission anywhere in the company. The reaction was usually a combination of surprise, a little puzzlement and appreciation. It wasn’t expected, it was unusual, but they liked it.

During the time we made the change our consulting staff retention has improved, there are a lot of factors that go into this and the market is the biggest one, however we’ve noticed a general improvement in engagement and moral in our company, having a sales team that cares about the consultants, our clients and how we are delivering to our clients has a positive influence on that. Rewarding our sales team for putting consultants in roles they didn’t want to be in got in the way of staff retention.

When implementing the change I took the path of least resistance. This allowed me to dip my toe in the water and see how the change went. At first I did it with our Account Managers, the team that looks after existing clients. As our personnel changed, the new team members were all taken on without commission, both the internal and external hires. This was also the change had the greatest affect on our clients as they handled all the day to day interactions with them. It’s hard to measure but tensions in teamwork within our sales team appeared to go down. That may have been the change in personalities but removing an incentive that encouraged division certainly didn’t hurt.

We still had a few salespeople who were on commission. These were the ones that concentrated on finding new clients. One by one I sat them down and walked them through the changes. We proposed to increase their base and remove the commission. They’d end up with more in the bad times and less in the good times but would have no surprises. They’d know what they’d have in the bank every single week and could plan around it.

To my surprise they didn’t have a problem with it, there were some initial questions and a few discussions early on, however the predictability was reassuring and over the Christmas period where revenue and commissions are down, when our consultants are on holiday they’re not earning us money, it was particularly valued as there was no holiday season penalty.

Even our new hires didn’t balk at the system, but appreciated the consistency of income and the level of trust we’d placed in them to perform when hired.

The big concern about the change was how do you motivate the team without a financial incentive.

It’s strange but that is one problem that hasn’t changed.

Motivation of our team was a problem when we paid commission and it’s a problem now we don’t. I had expected expect commission to resolve the motivation problem, but really it doesn’t change it one iota and so you have to deal with in the same way as usual, through good management.

Paradoxically removing commissions has had a significant impact on my role. It has taken away my excuse that I didn’t have to get the team motivated because their commission should do it. Fittingly the responsibility is back on me to do my job properly, not to shirk the difficult conversations and take a more active and aware, but not necessarily overt, role in their performance.

Implementing the change went significantly smoother than I expect and it’s had a more widespread impact than I predicted, affecting our sales team, consultants and even our client engagement.

That sickly feeling of having to actually deliver something that was counter to established norms turned out to be unwarranted and removing commissions is one of the changes I’ve made to IMA that I’m most proud of.


Anything worthwhile can’t be done alone
Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

One of my team had called me buzzing about the wins she’d had that day. Her excitement was infectious. I left the call smiling, only to get another call telling me about another banner day.

I was reminded, yet again, about the importance of surrounding yourself with great people.

Both were relatively recent additions to the team. One had come aboard after we’d been trying to hire her for a long time. The other was an internal promotion, a star who I’d been grooming for the role for over a year.

It highlighted the reason we spend so much time and effort finding talent and then getting them into the right roles. At IMA our whole business relies on our people. That’s probably true for every company, but we work incredibly hard to make sure we find, hire and retain talented people.

A significant portion of my and Archana’s (my peer in Sydney) time is spent on the recruitment process. We meet fortnightly with Dan our GM of recruitment (check out his twitter feed), keep abreast of the pipeline of talent and personally interview everyone before they get a job offer.

We also realise our limitations. Dan is far better at his job than Archana or I. So he has the ability to overrule us when he needs to. Usually we agree, but occasionally we don’t and some of our best people come from Dan’s “Captains picks”.

Dan is also constantly experimenting on our six step recruitment process. He has a dedicated budget for his experiments.

If we are particularly excited about someone will hire them without a role and then work to make one for them. Dan was hired in that way and now he does it with others.

The final piece of the recruitment puzzle is making sure that people are in the right role. This often means hard decisions about people who are struggling, or even performing well but not to the level of excellence required, into a role where they will excel. On occasion that means they leave IMA to find a company where they’re a better fit.

Moving people into the right roles is an area where I’m still working on my own management skills. Over time we have lost some talented people because I didn’t, or couldn’t, move them into the right spot. Sometimes it works out, but I can get better at this.

Too much of today’s society ascribes success to one person. My experience is the opposite. It can’t be done alone and finding great people to share the journey is the best way to make it happen. 



10 years! It’s time to celebrate

anniversary_01s_ai8-1113vv-vWe have had a sensational start to 2014, yeah I know, we’re almost half way through it now, it being June next week and everything.  But time really has flown.  We’ve engaged some new great clients and hired some amazing people to help meet our ever increasing demand. So yes, it’s been fun.

With all this constant activity, we’ve been a little remiss about our social sharing.  Sorry about that.  I’m on a mission to change that, starting today!

The proof that we’ve been too busy to say too much is that this weekend heralds our 10 year Anniversary dinner.  Normally this would be something that you would get sick of me talking about, but seriously, I look at my diary and see something booked in on Saturday and am thinking, is that on already? (followed by a fist pump and a “cool! a night out without the kids!” and a panic as to whether or not we’ve booked the babysitters or not)

10 years is a pretty impressive thing.  I know Ian will say, “it’s not him it’s the team.”  But as part of that team, I’ll agree and disagree with him.  Essentially Management 101 dictates he has to say that, but he really means it.  He’s right in a lot of ways, without the team he has built around him, both past and present, IMA would not be the same, as it is a reflection of the whole.  Those who have come and gone over the journey have all played a big part in who we are today.  But (I’ve just re-read this and there are lots of “buts” in it, sorry) without Ian’s vision, without his drive, without his passion, without his stubbornness, without his competitive nature to just not lose, IMA just would not have survived, let alone succeeded.

Yes, I will say “we” have succeeded as Ian would want me to write that, however please read as the “Royal we” as I actually mean Ian).  We are a success, we were built out of an idea, a dream, a want to make something.  10 years down the track, we are still going strong.  Sure we’ve hit some speed humps along the way.  We’ve stumbled, probably made a poor decision or 2 in hindsight, but we got up, dusted ourselves off, learned from it and kept moving forward.  We haven’t shirked the hard decisions, but have not made them lightly.  We can reflect on our decisions and actions with clarity and criticality.  We will continue to craft ourselves to make ourselves better, once we stop doing that, then I think it’ll be time to call it stumps.

For those who have been part of the journey, as a client, a supplier or an employer, “Thank you!” and feel free to join me in leaving Ian and IMA a comment here, it would be most appreciated

I am really excited about the well deserved celebration taking place this weekend.  I am super proud of where we’ve come from and the journey we’ve undertaken.  The real excitement however is looking at where we are going, 10 years is a great start, the journey ahead promises to be even more exciting.

 



HOW TO TELL YOUR BOSS HE HAS FAILED
Koen is a Senior Business Analyst at IMA, with a diverse background both in type of clients and in roles. He likes to immerse himself in new environments. He is a bit quirky, but usually quickly embedded and pivotal in the team. "In my first role in Australia the Program Director appreciated my candor and did not shoot the messenger when I brought bad news. And I've decided to run with that and stay honest and open to my clients and my colleagues alike." This blog reflects that attitude well.

Koen is a Senior Business Analyst at IMA, with a diverse background both in type of clients and in roles. He likes to immerse himself in new environments. He is a bit quirky, but usually quickly embedded and pivotal in the team. “In my first role in Australia the Program Director appreciated my candor and did not shoot the messenger when I brought bad news. And I’ve decided to run with that and stay honest and open to my clients and my colleagues alike.” This blog reflects that attitude well.

At our recent company Christmas event, I was given the opportunity to give a speech. The speech went down well with the audience, so I thought I’d share it with you.

“As IMA people, one of our core values is excellence every day.

We are a bunch of achievers. We conceive new ideas, we examine options, we plan, we do, we succeed. Every day. That’s why they pay us the big bucks.

So when we do all that, and the outcome is NOT success, it is a shock. And it is more of a shock than for normal people. It’s an affront. It hurts.

But after that shock, we pick ourselves up again. We examine our reasoning for having done what we did, we examine the cause for the lack of success, we re-examine the various routes to success we did not take.

Sometimes we find that we made a crucial mistake. Yes, that is possible. We are human.
Sometimes we find we did the right things, based on the best available data, but the best available data was not good enough.

And sometimes we find we just had bad luck.

Most of us get hired to provide clients with a safe route to a successful outcome.


But one of us is in a different position. Whilst he has to provide safe outcomes, he also has to take risks. More risks than the rest of us. Because as an entrepreneur that is what you do.
As an entrepreneur you conceive new ideas, you examine options, you plan… but you don’t wait for certainty of success. If you did that, you’d never get a new venture off the ground.

You can’t always get to success in small steps. At measured times, you have to Swing for the Fences. Take that baseball bat and swing out with full force, aiming to get the ball over the fence, or, in this case, aiming to get that ball into the next city.”

At this point, I asked our MD, and founder of the company, Ian Metzke, to come forward. (You should know that last year, also at our Christmas party, I was awarded the Swing for the Fences award. This award was newly created that year, for someone who has put a lot of effort in an ambitious plan, but who has failed, through circumstances beyond their control, to achieve success.

That year, I had done a perfect – and somewhat ballsy – piece of Business Analysis work for the internal HR system we were developing, which was shot down in sight of the finish by our MD and our CEO. It turned out they trumped my sponsor and key stakeholder, the head of HR.

This year, when we were asked to nominate a potential recipient, I could not help but think of our MD, Ian, and his bad luck earlier in the year… cont….)

“Ian, you have set up and built out IMA successfully in Victoria. You then followed your vision of an IMA office in every major city, and set up the Sydney office.

And when that was up and running, you set your next target.

With the best available data, and the best planning, you made a big leap, and set out to conquer Canberra with a local office.

Only this time it wasn’t a home run. Somehow we did not get a good foothold in Canberra, so unfortunately it wasn’t a success.  And you had to pull up stumps in Canberra.

For now.

Ian, you plan, you do, you succeed. And when you don’t succeed, you shake off the shock, and you pick up that bat again. Always striving for excellence. Sometimes stumbling, but never quitting.

Ian, I’d like to award you tonight with the Swing for the Fences award, for your valiant attempt to repeat the success of Melbourne and Sydney in Canberra.”

Here is Ian’s (surprisingly short) acceptance speech.

Ian Metzke receiving his "swing for the fences award" as nominated by Koen. Nov 2012

Ian Metzke receiving his “swing for the fences award” as nominated by Koen. Nov 2012

Ian Metzke receiving his “swing for the fences award” as nominated by Koen. Nov 2012“Thank you Koen, this award means a lot to me. The Swing for the Fences award is my favourite award, because success is built from trying, failing, learning and trying again, so to be the recipient of it is something I value highly.”

So that is how you tell people, such as your boss, that they have failed. By praising their efforts, by helping them re-examine potential routes to success, and by encouraging them to pick up the bat and try again, with more knowledge and more wisdom.  Giving them the support and confidence to, as they say… try, try again.

Entrepreneur’s disease, Management lessons for start-ups
Ian is the Managing Director and founder of IMA Management & Technology. He has over 19 years experience in the IT industry, working in programming, consulting and leadership roles. Ian has an BSc from Monash University and an MBA from Melbourne Business School. His time outside of work is dominated by his kids and family with any time left spent on cycling, skiing and fencing.

Ian is the Managing Director and founder of IMA Management & Technology. He has over 19 years experience in the IT industry, working in programming, consulting and leadership roles. Ian has an BSc from Monash University and an MBA from Melbourne Business School. His time outside of work is dominated by his kids and family with any time left spent on cycling, skiing and fencing.

I know a few company founders and they often have something I call entrepreneur’s disease.

Entrepreneur’s disease is where the founder thinks that he or she is bigger than the business and all the success is due to them.

You all know someone like this. Every piece of credit goes to them, all the blame goes to someone else.

Before IMA I subscribed to the concept of the lone genius who bucks the trend to start a business and has some sort of mystical knowledge. I had bought into the entrepreneur mythology.

Starting my own business has given me a sharp dose of reality.

I’ve made more mistakes than anyone else in IMA: bigger ones, more significant ones, ones that have caused real pain to the company.

It was quite humbling to discover that it’s not about me – at all. Success comes through the team of people we have working together.

The best consultant in the world won’t produce much unless she gets an engagement that can show her skills. The best business development manager won’t be effective if the consultants can’t deliver what he’s been promising. The best recruitment team can’t recruit talent unless they have a company people want to join and peers they want to work with.

It takes many people to achieve anything in business.

I’d go as far as to say that nothing worthwhile can be achieved alone. It is always a collaborative effort.

So how can you avoid entrepreneur’s disease and make it not about you?

There is always someone to thank when something goes right. Success has a thousand fathers and it’s important to recognise the people who’ve made it happen.

The more encouragement and recognition you give the more likely your team will repeat the success.

* Build a great team

If you can’t do it alone, then make sure you have great people around you. In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus. Your team will drive your success. So don’t cut corners. It’s often very tempting to recruit to fill an immediate need. Don’t do it.

The long term pain of a short term decision means it’s always the wrong thing to do. If you can’t find the right person, keep looking and look in different places, and don’t compromise.

* Hire people who are better than you are

This sounds like the first point again, but really it’s not.

There is a temptation to think that you can’t possibly find someone as good as yourself to do a role. In a previous life I’ve actually hired someone that I thought wouldn’t be as good as I was to avoid being challenged.

I’ve learnt my lesson.

I’m a firm believer in getting someone better than you at the task. There is always someone better at a specific job than you are. Getting them into the role can be challenging when you have to confront your limitations, however it is incredibly liberating to have a team where each person takes responsibility for their area and enables you to focus on new horizons and goals without worrying about their ability to do their job.

At IMA we’ve found this is one of the key drivers of growth.

I think that entrepreneurs disease isn’t restricted just to company founders, although it’s often more obvious when someone is given free reign in a company. Exhibiting “it’s all about me” behaviours are detrimental to your company and your career. While sticking to the rules above not only help your company but they will also help your career – but perhaps that’s another post.