5150 Business Strategy

Life in the Corporate Fast Lane and Still Remaining Intelligent

Archive for the category “Swimming Against the Tide”

Vindication – ERP Nirvana

Vindication

Life has a funny way of making things right in the long run. Heading up a consortium of the largest architectural firms my final recommendation was at odds with the eventual failed choice – Lawson Software. WTF, how could anyone believe that software that, at the time, was predominantly in grocery stores could fit in the engineering/architecture space. I have expounded on this lunacy in previous posts so will not belabor the points again.

My choice was JD Edwards as it was a Tier 1 ERP system that was heads and tails above the competition, this was circa 2000 . Dial forward to 2015 and, lo and behold, the ERP system of choice being installed is JD Edwards. Granted this is the “new” Oracle JD Edwards but it still retains functionality that is above the competition for this market.

JDE2

I harken back to the days of doing a site visit to London in order to see JDE in an installed environment and how everyone was totally satisfied with the selection. Another site visit to St. Louis to see Lawson installed in a live environment where everyone was lamenting the need for a multitude of workarounds. Can you say cluster fu*k? Then coming back reporting the results to “senior” management who turned a blind eye to reality. JDE is not for us but this Lawson software is the cats meow. Who are you to come here telling us otherwise. This on the way to pissing $5.0 million down a failed implementation drain. LOL.

 Yes, things do have a way of working out………… and, yes, I believe in Karma.

karma

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I am Positive it Won’t Work or the Power of Groupthink

A long and tortured tale of a failed ERP implementation at a large architectural firm headquartered in San Francisco.

pospiss1The best moments are only available upon reflection as at the time it was a period of total lunacy in my career. Dominated by a culture so dysfunctional that it allowed $5.0 million plus to be pissed down a hole. Of course, I was painted as the dysfunctional one since, as the SF Regional manager, so astutely told me during one discussion, “You need to be positive about the ERP implementation!”, in her chirpy upbeat way. To which I replied, “OK, I am POSITIVE this implementation will fail”. How is that for being positive. This was several months into an implementation that saw us christening the project management module of the software as “Project Uranus”. Very appropriate, given that you could stick this software up “your anus” since it was never going to work.

Talk about swimming upstream, every person on the project team fell in line behind the founders son in proclaiming that the software implementation was going to be a success. This against every single indication that it was failing. A countdown clock to the “go live” date was established so everyone could eagerly await the dawning of the new day for the firm. It was a joke of huge magnitude which only I could see.

Everything was done according to the book to insure success – a focused evaluation and implementation team was formed that included outside consultants, outside accounting firm, and representatives of other firms. The consortium of outside keefe031607firms was a who’s who of the architecture industry in the United States. It was impossible to fail, or so some in upper management thought. With so much brain power, and I use the term lightly, there was no way that we could go down the wrong path. The problem was that, to a person, everyone on the implementation “team” had no facility for independent thought and/or it was not in their vested interest to buck the trend if it would be perceived negatively. The prodigal son made it clear that what he wanted is what would be chosen and implemented, regardless of whether it would work – everyone was to MAKE it work, or else. That was the environment which caused everyone to fall in line and follow each other over the cliff even though it became a forgone conclusion that the implementation was going to fail. Questioning the decision was a career limiting move or it would cost the outside consultants their fees.

I recall one meeting held in a large conference room when things were already going sideways in which everyone formed a circle to encourage openness and unity, LOL. Did I mention this firm bought into, and probably still does, buy into every management craze that happens to be in vogue. Doesn’t matter whether the latest trend works, just that we did them so we showed our intellectual prowess, again LOL. They were high on appearance but low on execution – they had not figured out that without execution the latest theories are nothing more than opiates for the masses – we are doing OK because we are doing what everyone says is right!! I digress, we are in this room in a circle and the prodigal son goes around the room one by one and asks each person to give their impression of where the project stands. Remember, this was to be his way of getting to the truth of the situation, whether his belief that things were OK could be validated by the assembled “experts”. I am standing next to one of the founders of the accounting firm we utilized at White-liesthe time, he leans over and whispers, “..this is a cluster fuck”. I nod my affirmation that, indeed, this is an exercise in stupidity as not one person uttered what was overwhelmingly the only conclusion a sane person could come to – the ERP system chosen was a complete failure and would never work. It was as clear as the nose on everyone’s face but no one wanted that nose cut off by the prodigal son, easier to go with the flow over the cliff and over they all went. All telling little white lies to keep their positions within the firm intact. Several went on to become principals in the firm when they rightly should have been terminated for gross negligence. Nothing so harsh – they were “team” players, no matter they cost the firm $5.0 million as the culture of this firm was better to go along with the dysfunctional behavior because that was part of our culture, and our culture is what got us here. Whacked.

To this day I gag every time I see quotes from senior managers of this firm, or in particular the ex-CEO, who speak authoritatively on management theory or techniques. Unless they have somehow pulled their heads out of their asses, which I doubt, their words of wisdom fall on deaf ears as experience has shown they lack the ability to execute.

Lesson Learned: without execution all the management theories are not worth the paper they are written on. Groups who are not empowered to speak freely are capable of tremendously stupid decisions. When the overpowering emphasis is on going with the flow there is real danger in going over the cliff.

Raider Nation – Brand Identity Part 2

cheer4bEarly on I scored several major coups by enlisting the aid of various Raiderettes to the cause of Raider Nation. This drove the competition bonkers as they were driven insane by the very real speed by which Raider Nation was becoming the acknowledged leader for Raider fans on the Internet, and beyond. First they lost the coveted Raider Locker Room outlet by which the image and name of Raider Nation could be advertised daily through a brick and mortar outlet. Then they lost the battle for the very hearts of Raider fans when the Raider Nation moniker started to appear on the backs of cheerleaders – WTF, this is adding insult to injury. It was a brilliant execution of strategy aimed at making the Raider Nation brand well known and adopted as a symbol of Raider fans worldwide.

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Raider Nation – Brand Identity Part 1

vellakat3OK, there may be several teasers to the real lesson of building brand identity. What is undeniable is that a product or service can fail or succeed based upon the image that consumers have in their minds.

In 1996 the internet was secondary to the traditional marketing channels that existed at the time – meet and greets with the cheerleaders!! What was becoming clear, however, is that the internet could spread news and photos on current events much faster and across a much more diverse geographical base. Instead of only fans in the San Francisco Bay Area being able to see the latest news in the local rags there was now the ability to spread this info across the globe. No one appreciated the impact of the internet in this area more than I did when it came to formulating a strategy which would propel Raider Nation to the pinnacle of success.

The photos shown here were all published on the Raider Nation website exclusively and I, in effect, became the official photographer for events that were taking place at John Vella’s Raider Locker Room. The Raider Locker Room and Raider Nation became strategic partners in spreading the Raider Nation brand. Traditional brick and mortar retail was still the predominant method of sales in 1996 but to sell to a global fan base the internet was becoming the preferred marketing and sales channel. The symbiotic relationship between most retail outlets and the internet is taken for granted now, in 1996 Raider Nation was on the cutting edge.

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Raider Nation – The Concept in 1996

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Think back to 1996…… The internet was in its infancy and no one had yet fully tapped the true potential in the area of internet commerce. Netscape, anyone remember them?, was the dominant player in internet browsers. They spun off multiple firms that hoped to capitalize on the internet – from hosting solutions to content creation. Digital cameras were archaic and the size of a shoe box if you could afford one – think about cell phones or portable computers as a comparison for how they developed. Going from big and expensive to small and cheap in a span of ten years or less. Hard to believe but in 1996 the wave known as the internet had not yet started to crest, but all the signs were there. Internet commerce was just a glimmer in various enterprenuers minds and how to truly capitalize in this area was also on a scale of small to large – the individual with some HTML skills all the way up to those implementing grand shopping schemes. Some were spectacular failures – does anyone remember Webvan?

Now think back to 1996 as the year after the Raiders had returned from Los Angeles. Oakland Raider fans from the days of Kenny Stabler, Freddie Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, etc. were riding a surge of adrenaline from their beloved team returning to where they should never have left. I happened to be one of those “old” Raider fans who looked to rekindle the glory of the Oakland Raiders but little did I know that I was about to catch the wave of the internet at just the right moment in time.  A time when fan pages were popping up anytime a fan wanted to post pictures or comments regarding the team. The majority of the sites at that time were primarily sites designed to talk about the team, the games, and trash talk with the other fans. No one had a concrete vision to combine the fan page with a concept such as Raider Nation – it did not exist.  The plethora of “Nation” sites you see now were all given birth by the success of Raider Nation. There would be no Red Sox Nation, Bachelor Nation, Niner Nation, etc. without the first website designed to capitalize on the internet and fanaticism – Raider Nation.

The official filing with the US Patent and Trademark office:

USPTO

Many have come forward after the success of Raider Nation claiming to be the originators but none have the conclusive documentation being presented here to substantiate their claims. What I am presenting here is the history and origins that fueled the success of the concept known as Raider Nation. I will present the original graphics that were used to develop the Raider Nation website for which, of course, I owned the domain RaiderNation.com. Intertwined in the history will be the business lessons learned along the way.

I will take you on a journey that validated many things taught in business schools and the journey itself was an education in business that many never receive in an entire lifetime. Are you ready to rumble………..

Raider Nation – A Case Study

Coming soon – the genesis of a Nation, from concept to implementation. Below is original mock up design for t-shirt.

 

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Mas Tequila

What drives me to drinking…….

Those who can influence the success or failure of a business but have never run a business on their own. Generally, these folks make decisions based upon book learning where everything fits into nice little boxes. They have no clue what the true business drivers are behind the financial ratios they learned. They pontificate about debt to equity and cash flow but can’t relate that to real life outside what they have been told is acceptable. Mas Tequila.

You would be surprised that some of the worst offenders of this are in the banking or surety industry where decisions are critical to the ongoing success of a business. Too many times I have seen knee jerk decisions made based upon sterile financial analysis with no consideration given to the surrounding circumstances. According to one bank and one surety my current company should not be in business. What they failed to take into account is the environment in which the company operates. All they know is that debt to equity over 3.0 is bad and having a balance in the line of credit is equally bad. Why, you ask? They would not have a clue as to why this is bad except that someone told them it was. Mas Tequila.

Same for the auditor in Lafayette who was so convinced that management needed a wake up call regarding the accounting function of the company even though he had no clue about what really drives a business. According to him the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and he was hell bent on spreading the message. At the end of the day I fired him and we are still here better than ever. Mas Tequila.

Ask yourself why we as a country are where we are. I would put forth that one reason is that we have allowed those with limited intelligence to exert undue influence on who succeeds and who fails. In my experience there are simply too many people in positions of great power who have no clue about what they are charged with managing. It is easier to say you are the problem and deflect responsibility for their own shortcomings. To the extent everyone believes them they continue to cause businesses to fail that might have otherwise succeeded. They would have gotten the the line of credit they needed, the bonding for the big project, or the credibility needed from an intelligent audit. Mas Tequila.

Lesson learned: stand up against those of limited intelligence and expose them for what they are – those who have truly risen to their highest level of incompetence. Unfortunately, some have gotten into positions that influence the lives of others.

I Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass 2

The partner of an accounting firm we utilized for the annual audit turned out to personify all that is bad in the public accounting world. He had his head up his ass and turned out to be a member of the whack pack. The bank that referred him to us turned out to be official members of the whack pack as well. This audit partner barely knew what work in process was all about but he pontificated as if he originated the term – can you say bullshitter.

I can only assume that the audit partner and the banker involved did not realize that accounting and finance required an affinity for understanding, not only numbers, but what drives the numbers. Neither could find their way out of a paper bag if it involved understanding what financial ratios were about or what they meant to a business in reality. To them the numbers were just numbers and the underlying processes were lost on them. Trying to work with them was a losing proposition. So, we showed them the door.

I was told by the auditor who we hired to replace the whack packer that it was the first time he had heard of an auditor being fired prior to finishing the audit engagement. In retrospect I should have seen it coming since the audit team was staffed with what appeared to be foreign nationals where english was a second language, along with contract auditors who were brought in to supplement this firms thinly experienced staff. In the interest of keeping peace I allowed the incompetence to go on for way too long. By the time I pulled the plug this whack packer had already done all his damage, or so I thought.

Enter the whack pack banker who chose to contact the newly fired auditor. Of course, if you fire an auditor there must be something wrong with the company versus something wrong with how the auditor is performing, right? Ignore the fact that we, as the banks client, had provided copious amounts of data to the bank and kept them in the loop throughout the entire relationship. Another example of supposed professionals not understanding the parameters they are charged with monitoring. The extent of their understanding was that debt to equity should not exceed 3.0. Ask them what might drive debt to equity and their eyes would glaze over and the response was ,”..we only know it should not exceed 3.0, don’t question our requirements”. Head up ass syndrome.Completely clueless.

According to the auditor and the banker we were on the edge of failure, had no future, and the doors would be closing. Funny, three years down the road and the business is thriving. What gives? What gives is that nothing these whack packers predicted through their great expertise came to pass because they were wrong, wrong, wrong. Wow, what a surprise – auditors and bankers who are clueless. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident – incompetence in critical positions which influence the future of businesses is far too common.

I still remember the whack pack auditor and our last meeting where he declared that, “.. your charts and tracking are bullshit” when it came to identifying financial trends. Well, Einstein he was not as the benchmarks we utilize have proved to be invaluable despite this whack packers pronouncements. He was so convinced that all the accounting processes we had in place were deficient – funny, seems like his skills were the only thing deficient as the auditors we brought in to replace this numb nut found no deficiencies. Say what!! Of course this is the same numb nut who refused to work on the account because we had not paid his firm as per the terms. I pointed out that he should review the executed contract and, guess what, we were in compliance. This was typical of his incompetence. Adios, dipshit.

Similarly, the bankers thought we were too deficient to be granted lines of credit. We were schmucks that would be destitute in very short order. WTF, we not only got a larger line of credit but better loan covenants as well when we kicked them to the curb. Tell me it ain’t so Joe DiMaggio. How can this be?? It can be because incompetence appears to know no bounds, it pervades organizations at every level and can be devastating to a business. Luckily the “I don’t give a rat’s ass attitude” allowed us to persevere and rise above the whack packers.

Note: a good audit firm works with you to get the job done, not against you. They understand the inherent limits in working in the real world that prevent following accounting rules to the “T”. The same goes for a good banker, they work with you and understand that the world businesses operate in is not perfect – not everything happens as scheduled.

Lesson learned: don’t let the whack packers get you down. Make changes as necessary until you find the relationship that works for all parties involved. Jettison those who lack the intelligence to understand the realities of the environment your business operates in.

I Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass

Looking back this phrase was a turning point in my career. The architectural firm I was working for had fallen so far into anarchy that the staff dictated what was acceptable direction for management. After evaluating processes I made a decision to change the vendor the firm was utilizing to process payroll.

This international firm was utilizing bush league vendors that were ill prepared to meet the needs of the firm. However, the payroll manager felt she knew better than I what was best for the firm and opposed any change. Of course this was the same payroll manager who committed to keying payroll data into several systems, not once but three times. Think about it – actually keying in daily information for a firm approaching 1,000 plus employees three times. Her claim to being state of the art was the color coding of the spreadsheet to highlight anomalies! Can you say – REDUNDANT, or to be less politically correct – dumb ass.

So, a meeting is arranged to meet with the payroll vendor in order to inform them of the decision moving forward. Things had gotten so bass ackwards at this firm, however, that immediately upon telling the sales rep that we had decided to make a change he replied, “Well, from discussions with your payroll manager we have decided that moving from us would be the wrong thing to do..”. After the shock of the sheer audacity of this vendor to think he could overrule a decision,  I made the now infamous statement – “I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you think is the right decision for this firm. This meeting is over and you can pick your things up and get out!”.

The payroll manager in attendance went pale from shock and the vendor stammered his surprise at what he obviously took to be an inappropriate response. The staff at this firm had grown so accustomed to having their way on every issue due to weak and ineffective management that this turn of events indicated an unwelcome shift in the power structure. So much so that the payroll manager went straight to the human resource manager reporting my disgusting use of language and that she could not work with “that man”, meaning me. Remember this is San Francisco where liberalism rules and trampling upon the rights of vendors and not allowing for socialism in the decision making process is akin to being the second coming of Rush Limbaugh.

The immediate impacts were not evident but over time it became apparent that the human resource manager, as well as my payroll manager, saw me as the antichrist. Let me say that human resource managers are a valuable and indispensable resource in any firm unless……  the human resource manager is the source of dysfunctionality. In that case they become an impediment to needed change as they enforce the status quo and can essentially blackball anyone in the organization that they find fault with – that was clearly the case here. Not only was the human resource manager dysfunctional but it could be argued that she should have been on a heavy dose of antidepressants – pass her the bottle of zoloft, please!!!! Ditto the payroll manager in question.

It was OK for her to question my judgement in an open meeting attended by staff. When I responded in kind, however, she would reprimand me for not being a “team player” and lecture me on the inappropriatness of raising issues in a public forum. What was good for the goose was not good for the gander – can you say double standard?  Of course, as the human resource manager she carried so much more credibility for understanding the inner working of the human psyche and what motivated people. In reality she understood nothing about human nature except on how to deflect criticism from her own shortcomings by painting others as deficient. Truly an unbelievable display of the ability of someone being mediocre at what they do running amok in an organization.

This is the same person who at one meeting asked me to step outside to settle a dispute – not to discuss the differences mind you, but to fight it out. I would have done so except I was in a no win situation – if I step outside to settle the dispute she would claim I initiated the transgression whether it was verbal or physical. If it became physical, which I am sure she would claim, I for sure would lose as she would have kicked my ass being the little spark plug she was. Actually, I think I could have fought her to a draw but it would be a close decision.

The payroll manager had written her ticket out of the organization and I replaced her shortly after this incident. The human resource manager lingered on for my tenure at the firm continuing to cause innumerable bad decisions to be made and was quite instrumental in several large scale disasters – a failed ERP implementation being one that cost the firm $5.0 million. Can you say OOPS…………..my bad.

As you may have surmised by now, many of the most dysfunctional situations I have experienced occurred at this large prestigious architecture firm. Contrary to what most may think, I look back on these as good experiences as they not only tested my professional skills in ways that no other organization could, but also the personal fortitude needed to survive the experiences and come out stronger. They laid the groundwork for future successes. As I have always said, if you can survive in the worst most unpleasurable business environment then anything less than that is a cake walk.

Lesson learned: I don’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks about a situation they have no business being involved in and/or for which they lack the credentials to offer valuable insight or knowledge. Many business decisions must be made which will not please everybody, it is the nature of the beast.

MTV Real World

Entitlements, that is what MTV, and various other bad girl/boy shows, message to everyone is. You are entitled to sit on your ass all day and party all night in a luxurious house with all amenities paid for. Feel free to go out and get drunk, act bad, and come home to have sex freely and with whomever you want, no consequences since it is always party time.

Is it any wonder that when the “real” real world collides with the MTV Real World that people find out that life is a little more complicated? That in the real world you must take responsibility for your actions and only you can change the course of your life. That no one owes you a job, a house on the beach of your choice, or that going to Clubs 24/7 is a god given right.

It is sad that we have made what people see on the worst of these reality TV shows as something to aspire to. Audition to be on the Real World, Big Brother, The Batchelor, Bad Girls Club, Pregnant at 16, or any number of “reality” shows to demonstrate just how really more dysfunctional you can be. This is what we have come to – let’s all compete to show how desperate and ill-mannered we can be!!! Hey, count me in on this lifestyle – where do I sign up?

What is even worse is the effect it has on the business world. I am not so sure, however, which came first – our knee jerk reaction to preserve individual rights or the reality shows. Terminating an employee nowadays is a major undertaking which many times puts managers in the same place as someone who has been raped.

The insinuation is almost always that the manager doing the firing either 1.) did something wrong during the termination process or 2.)was incorrect in their assessment of the employee being terminated. The manager is put into a position of having to defend their actions no matter how well the process is handled. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Much like the person being raped being put on trial versus the rapist.

Why is this the case? One reason is because entitlement makes it OK for an employee to underperform. Why should they be any different from the miscreants they see on TV who are able to get by on minimal effort and still vacation in Cabo San Lucas for what appears to be 365 days a year. It is a sad reflection on current societal trends that work is seen as an entitlement, something which you have a right to even though you don’t perform.

I can count on less than two hands the number of employees I have had to terminate for cause. Without exception every one of those employees deserved to be terminated and for every one of them the spotlight was on me as the terminating manager. Every step and decision was analyzed and critiqued to the point of questioning the final decision. These were slam dunk cases – sleeping on the job, inability to perform job requirements, near assault and battery on another employee, and dishonesty in the hiring process. Yet, the entire process was not one of supporting the decision to terminate but one of questioning the grounds for termination. How many times do you need to find an employee asleep at their desk before it is safe to fire them??

The safeguards we have in place to protect employees has swung so far the other way that to say a job is an entitlement is not an overstatement. Every employee I have terminated truly believed they were entitled to the job and, therefore, saw no reason to change their behavior. They all had a history of being terminated from other positions, which points up another effect of this entitlement attitude. That being, if you don’t recognize you have a problem you are unlikely to change how you behave. Guess what – that means you get terminated over and over again.

We send ambiguous signals to employees being terminated much like breaking up a relationship – hey, it is not you it is me that is the problem. They move on and repeat the same mistakes because they never acknowledge they are the problem. Are we really doing them a favor by muting the responsiblity they bear for their actions?? I don’t think so.

Lesson learned: “Reality Show” is a poor definition for what airs on television these days. “Alternate Reality for a Short Period of Time Show” would be more apropos.

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