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silicon valley observations, trends, and warnings: articles on stuff we have noticed.

E-Manners: Cleaning Up for a More Professional Image

LinkedIn claims 3400 execs tap into them every day. Dice and the other employment boards claim they have the best talent available. And yet, the majority of us still make connections the old-fashioned way: by knowing good people, and by those people thinking well of us. As a recruiter in High-Tech for nearly 25 years now, I have been privy to the "off the record" comments made by executive and middle management about the pros and cons of certain employees, and I have come to some conclusions as to why some people are kept during layoffs, promoted over their peers, and recommended to headhunters. Some of it is talent, brains, or technical genius. But an awful lot of it is simply being liked. And in some scenarios, it is good enough if you just don't make too much trouble. You can stand out from the crowd in tough times by simply being dependable, punctual, and easy going; especially if your peers are impolite, brash prima donnas. But more specifically...

I would like to pass along some concrete examples of things you can do to improve your image in the work place. Following a poll I conducted in 2001, I started keeping track of the changing conventions in business etiquette, specifically with regard to gadgets, cell phones, etc. Much of your professional image today is derived from your emails, text messages, and cell phone usage, and there are some pet peeves that executives and middle management consider deal breakers. Like it or not, there is a generation gap when it comes to "e-manners" and work style, and from my chair, I have noticed some fairly universal pitfalls.

Let's start with email— We are all drowning in it. Don't become the name they dread in their in-box.

  1. Originate only necessary emails and offer multiple choice answers in order to receive prompt replies.
  2. When you are responding to an email, reply with original text, and place your responses in the appropriate context.
  3. When an email string has changed direction, rename the subject line appropriately.
  4. Customize the distribution list on a need-to-know basis, especially as a string goes on a tangent.
  5. Answer questions from emails in your return subject line when possible (especially helpful for scheduling).
  6. Avoid sabotage: being aggressive or catty with the cc, bcc or 'reply to all' functions, hoping to draw another's failings to management's attention is just not cool. It is transparent to all involved, below the belt, and deeply frowned on.
  7. Avoid forwarding all "save the world," "sign this petition," "send this on to 10 people you love and prosperity will be yours" messages . And unless you are 115% sure it will be welcome, avoid sending any political stuff, humorous or otherwise.
  8. As for humor, send it sparingly. If you send too many, it looks like you don't work. Customize your distribution list specifically for each joke (especially political and religious jokes). And watch your boss and the corporate culture for social cues on humorous emails, and keep in mind it's the company's equipment you are sending it on. (Another hint: never use your current work email address on your resume when job hunting externally. Tacky.)
  9. Casual is fine, and an occasional typo happens to everybody, but you still want to appear educated, so watch your spelling and grammar. Especially when tired, we are all capable of mixing these common words: there, their, and they're; two, to, and too; are, or, our, and hour. its and it's; whether and weather; acquisitioned versus acquired; dear and deer; right and write and occasionally wright; break and brake, etc. As I said, everyone slips here and there, but if you repeatedly make the same mistakes, you will appear to be uneducated and unsuitable for promotion. You don't have to go to college to do well in the Valley, but you need to look like you did.
  10. Never use all caps in your email unless you want the reader to see red.
  11. Try to have some sort of salutation; it doesn't have to be formal, but a little "Hi Dan-" is more respectful than just jumping in. If you marched down to Dan's office to tell him something, would you just turn the corner and launch into it? Or would you at least nod an acknowledgment and ask if he had a minute? Okay, so address the email equivalently. But mostly, send fewer emails! Don't be seen as a pest.

Second Issue— Blackberries, Laptops and Texting in Meetings

This year I heard of a few company-wide policies banning laptops and Blackberries from meetings. The reasons are obvious. I know meetings can really drag, but it's just obnoxious to be surfing for travel deals, checking Ebay, or even writing the report due in three hours. Some of these activities are fine while waiting for a meeting to start, but after that, put it away, pay attention, and appear to be on board. Avoid the appearance of playing with any new toy. If the presenter is over 50 years of age, bring a pad of paper and a pen: you will seem respectful. And different.

Third Issue— Cell phones

These are the overwhelmingly consistent complaints:

  1. People who constantly answering cell phones in meetings, while in another conversation, even during interviews! And never saying "excuse me" to the person you are speaking to in person as you answer. In any other conversational mode, we typically don't interrupt each other, we don't jump into the middle of a discussion where we're not invited. To consistently answer your cell while in a meeting or conference is just as rude as walking out of the room.
  2. Weird, attention-getting rings that distract all listeners and make them wonder about your taste and maturity. Choose wisely.
  3. Calling cell phones for anything less than important or timely. If it is not urgent, communicate another way. Then, when it truly is urgent, they are more likely to take you seriously. And answer you.

Fourth Issue— Voicemail recommendations:

  1. Make it shorter, shorter, shorter! The #1 complaint is rambling.
  2. Repeat your return number twice and a good time to reach you.

Mostly, with regard to all e-communication: there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation, where people can share facial expressions and other crucial ways of communicating. Get some face time every once in a while, even if it's three minutes in the hall. Failing that, at least get on a landline every once in a while to make a stronger impression.


  1. Do I need to say anything about porn in the office?
  2. Also, watch your use of social networks while at work; they make you look lazy, and they may be a security risk.

And finally— some basics your mother taught you, but you would be surprised how many of your peers and competitors forget:

  1. Be on time. For conference calls, meetings, everything.
  2. Brush your teeth.
  3. Shower. (I'm not kidding.)
  4. Don't chew with your mouth open.
  5. Casual dress is fine: torn, worn, dirty, or baggy is not.
  6. Socialize sometimes. You don't have to be liked by everyone, but you can't be a total mystery either.
  7. If you have done something wrong, say you are sorry.

In conclusion— An Updated 10 Commandments for High Tech Etiquette:

  1. Thou shalt not substitute informality for reasonable business courtesy.
  2. Thou shalt mimic thy master's style, and respond with voice mail when the person appears to loathe e-mail, etc.
  3. Thou shalt avoid the temptation to cc everyone who could conceivably have some interest in an e-mail message; we are drowning in well-intended e-mails.
  4. Thou shalt not let E-mail and texting replace all face to face communications.
  5. Thou shalt not engage in "hit and run" sabotage and political manipulation via e-mail.
  6. Thou shalt never answer a cell phone in the bathroom.
  7. Thou shalt not call at unreasonable times (after 9PM, before 8 AM).
  8. Thou shalt never take a call in an interview.
  9. Thou shalt not ramble on voice mail.
  10. Thou shalt appear interested and focused in meetings, avoiding the appearance of "playing" with any new toy.

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Human Side of Large Scale ERP Implementations

Tips for Success with Vendors, Executives, the Big Four and other large consulting groups; Staff Retention and Incentives

Disclaimer: It is hoped that the information provided on these web pages will be helpful to readers. We assume that readers understand that any advice must be weighed against an individual's situation. Some of the information on these pages may be inappropriate for your circumstances. So use your head! Neither Jim Thomas nor Linda Tuerk nor John Barry can be held responsible for an individual's particular use of these suggestions.

Those of us observing large ERP implementaions have noticed some disturbing problems for at least the past 15 years. Cost overruns of 100-300%, delays of one to five years, and staggering performance problems are common. Owing to the astronomical price of conversions, a hostile environment of finger-pointing and scapegoating has developed at corporations of all sizes, often at IT Management's expense.

Is the vendor going to make you look bad? Are the executives really behind you? How are you going to get and keep your staff to keep the project afloat? This article is intended to warn you of common political problems arising during the sales process and the executive buy-in phase. It will also include a discussion of staffing difficulties and retention nightmares. It is my hope that this information prepares you for setting expectations you are able to deliver, thereby preserving your professional reputation and enhancing your career.

First, let's look at some assumptions many of us remember from the "good old days." In a perfect world (or at least 10 years ago), there were several expectations you could count on:

  1. When a system implementation was late, it was weeks late. (Now it's months or years.)
  2. When software didn't work, everyone knew about it. And though it wasn't perfect, it didn't cost so much.
  3. MIS Management and Executives shared with each other candidly regarding their software problems.
  4. When a company was "up" on its software, it actually closed its books on it.
  5. When consultants were needed, they were rarely needed, and only the excellent survived.
  6. When a project was over budget, it was 5-20% over budget. (Now we hear of 100-300%+ cost overruns)
  7. Hardware and software companies worked well together; if you planned on buying three servers, you didn't end up buying six.
  8. If you were talented, and had decent time management skills, you worked an average 50 hour week.

Unfortunately, most of these assumptions are outdated. There are dozens of large, sophisticated, manufacturing companies who have failed, in various degrees, to implement new ERP replacement systems on time, or anywhere near budget.

Common Myths

  1. "This is a user-driven project." ......But I have yet to see the user community fired or outsourced because they couldn't implement a system. This is usually golf course-driven, and a bit of a contest.
  2. "He just wasn't a 'can do' kind of guy." ......I know several CIOs and directors who have been driven out for not going along with Big 6 recommendations. I have personally been called in to find their replacements; the vague complaint about the predecessor is often that "he wasn't a 'can do' kinda guy." Scapegoating is at an all-time high. And IT management is at the top of the list.

Information Gathering

Press: When it comes to software products, don't trust everything printed. Be a critical reader. The press is often way behind in getting the real scoop. Additionally, many publications have an obvious conflict of interest. Consider their advertisers and consider their sources.

References from Software and HardwareVendors: Make the software vendors prove to you that this is workable. If the vendors or their partners can't give you enough references of the specific version you are looking at, drop them or negotiate to be a beta site.

Hardware: as one client put it: "Whatever they tell you, double it, and it still won't be enough." I hear this a lot. Some blame the hardware vendors. Some blame the software company. Some say it's an honest mistake. Some say it's a ruse. Some say it is a crime. Clearly, the jury's not in. What is clear is that Software and Hardware companies are not as coordinated as they once were. When checking references, make sure to include a discussion on hardware. Negotiate with hardware and software vendors early; and build into your contracts a contingency that makes them share part of the financial burden if their estimates are wrong.

References of Customers: The earlier the better. Many clients have told me they were promised references "soon", and they never materialized as promised. Also, check out upgrade costs; they can be astronomical! References aren't as candid as they used to be, so you will need to scratch beneath the surface to get beyond the "official" reports. Be aware of spin-control. When the costs start getting really high, everyone shuts up, and there is virtual non-disclosure. Make sure to interview several levels.

Some demonstrations are being held before a successful month-end, let alone quarter. So be tough, be a good interviewer. Ask them if they have closed a quarter without consultants yet. Ask about their time-lines and budget, including hardware and consultants. What do they mean when they say they're "UP"? All divisions? Any patches back to legacy? Bolt-ons as final user interface? PDM? Sales? Service? I know of "successful conversions" that are also fixing legacy systems for Year 2000. Why?

Negotiating with Large Consulting firms, Independent Consultants and Contractors

Here are several suggestions for success, or at the very least, damage control:

  1. Hire 1st string only; their output is double.
  2. Don't let them charge you $200/hr for a recent graduate.
  3. Build in increasing financial incentives (retention bonuses) tied to definite milestones to secure until go-live. Make sure retention bonuses are filtering down appropriately.
  4. Ask the consulting group or firm for their staff turnover rates. Insist on meeting the team. Find out if they are outsourcing to another consulting group for the team. Beware of the phrase: "We have the talent and the expertise to make this a success." Make them show you.
  5. Reference, reference, reference!!!!!
  6. If the consulting group is new in this particular game, negotiate appropriately for mutual benefit.
  7. Require regular status reports--produced on their time. Do not accept billing for time used to pitch extra projects.

Managing Corporate Executives' Expectations

You can't necessarily control the executives at your company, but you can be aware of the warning signs suggesting a potential disaster (and perhaps get out of the way). Certainly before accepting a position to lead a conversion, you want to know your risks.

  1. Are the VP's realistic? What are their motives? Do they know anything about this outside of reading magazines?
  2. Have any done a conversion of this scope elsewhere? Do they know how much it costs?
  3. What sort of executive turnover do you have? Buy-in is relative at turnover rates over 30% annually.
  4. What is the company's track record at completing large corporate-wide projects?
  5. Do the execs have contempt for IT, or really see its value? Are they likely to work with you, or outsource at the first sign of trouble?
  6. Suggestion: ask management to tie all VP's bonuses to a successful and on-time conversion.


Not training your own people may be the biggest mistake companies make amidst conversions. In some companies, the decision has been made not to train the IT staff in the new software, because then they'll be too expensive to keep. This is the fastest way to drop employee morale. As a recruiter, I can tell you for sure, if you train your people, treat them well and involve them in the project, you will keep most of them. If you don't, you will lose all of them.

Remember that turnover is costly. The national average replacement cost per employee is reported to be $10-20K in all segments of the economy (not high tech). I believe in certain markets it can be as much as 40% of the salary. Some companies counter the retention problems with retention contracts. They should be aware that the most highly regarded accounting and consulting firms rarely do this; taking hostages is not the way to go. Most people are ethical. They know you have invested in them, and as a headhunter I can promise you, most do not relish changing companies. It takes a lot for an employee to be disgruntled enough to walk. If you treat them decently, you will come out ahead.

The key motivations for hiring and retention can be grouped in three categories: Technology, Money, and Lifestyle (including benefits and the "good guy" factor). Most people combine these factors when making career choices, but usually one is more significant than the others.

For the technology motivated, it's simple: train them in new technologies. Be prepared to take someone with only 50% of the requirements, and commit significant dollars to training. Advertise a healthy training budget. And keep the projects coming as significant ones are wrapping up.

If you plan to use monetary incentives, prepare to pay enormous salaries, sign-on bonuses, and escalating retention bonuses. You get what you paid for, and you need to be aware that someone else can get them at anytime by waving more money in their face. Personally, I won't work a search where this is the only incentive. It attracts the least desirable in many ways. For those candidates motivated by big money, remember that big money means huge sacrifices. There is reason for suspicion when you are offering 25-50% increases.

However, everyone cares about money to some extent, and you will need to be competitive. However, it is feeling underappreciated that makes people leave. At the very least, reviews must be on time or early.

Lifestyle incentives can be very powerful. They include great benefits like day-care, telecommuting, job sharing, extra vacation days, and true flex-time. Tap into the alternative work force. Treat people better than they have been elsewhere. Likewise, good corporate citizenship inspires loyalty. Sharing corporate wealth amongst all levels creates goodwill. Substantial charitable giving and corporate community projects will raise morale and influence retention.

Just being a "nice place" can work for you too, but you will have to highlight and advertise it. Pleasant corporate environments have some pull, as do convenient locations, stable management, low executive turnover, 40-45 hour weeks, a history of few layoffs every time the stock dips, and a strong record of corporate funding for IT projects.

Your best people are receiving recruiting calls every month. The good news for you is that very few are interested in what recruiters have to say. People do not take to random change. The recruits that return our calls are those who feel taken advantage of, who no longer trust their company, or department, or executives. Building trust can keep your staff stable, and your job secure.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2008 by Linda J. Tuerk. All rights reserved.