High Five Your Neighbor……It’s Time for a New Bus

by Onyeka Nchege on August 23, 2016

Friends on the bus ride to travel. give five,A bus armed with explosives and passengers is traveling down a busy city street. The bus cannot be slowed down or accelerated or the bomb will detonate. The only way to save the passengers is to pull up a new bus alongside the old bus and transfer passengers one by one.”

Most people will recognize this description as the movie “Speed.” What most people will not recognize is that this is also the strategy of IT professionals who are tasked with keeping the company running on an old IT platform while transferring employees to a new system one by one.

In today’s world of talented, well-educated IT professionals, leaders are constantly having to seek out new and innovative solutions to keep our team members growing and motivated, while also adhering to our primary objective of keeping the business progressive and competitive. In doing so, we must continue to actively pursue a plan for the “new bus” while avoiding disaster. In an IT organization, the “old bus” to “new bus” transfer takes the form of modernizing our outdated systems while standardizing on industry specific platforms. In addition to transferring our systems to the “new bus”, we must also transition our team members to building and supporting our “new bus” systems and upgrade our stakeholders from our current systems on the “old bus” to our more extensible and scalable solutions on the “new bus”.

Leaders are expected to drive change within an organization; for lack of a better term, they’re change agents. Yet, as technology continues to evolve and work styles continue to diversify, more and more leaders in the IT space are looked upon by their stakeholders to first, keep things running, and second drive change. This pattern of behavior is driven by the “keeping the lights on” mentality, meaning our organizations need the business to keep running as is, while innovative solutions are explored and implemented.

Currently at Interstate Batteries, the leadership team and I are working to transfer our team members from our “old bus” of current systems to a “new bus” of updated, scalable platforms. We understand the criticality of sustaining our business by keeping our old systems running and working well, while slowly integrating everyone on board the new system. This means not just training employees, but establishing and investing in the necessary infrastructure, working to develop and implement long-term solutions instead of relying on quick fixes that just prolong inefficiencies. It’s a system, and the system needs to be trusted. But how do we keep our teams motivated to do the slow transition from old to new.

There are three ways we can help our team stay motivated while moving from the “old bus” to the “new bus”:

    Communicate with Consistency – Whenever you are undergoing change, it’s imperative that you communicate with your team at regular intervals. However you decide to do that, do it consistently.

    Create Space for Conversation – Create opportunities and the forum for team members to ask questions and allow them to ask the hard questions. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer, but allow for transparency.

    Back Your Words with Action – Being able to follow through by doing what it is you say you are going to do will go a long way in creating trust. If your message is to tell your team that everyone is vital to the success, show them they matter.

As IT leaders, we understand that everyone wants off the “old bus,” but also that the overall will fail without both the old and new running in parallel. Together, we’re better, and trust me, in the end, there’s enough room on the “new bus” for those willing to make the transition.

Take Action: Ask yourself, how are you contributing to the delicate balance of keeping your organization’s “old bus” running while transitioning to the “new bus”?

Leadership on the GO…..It’s ON!


Perception is Reality, and Reality isn’t Always Kind

by Onyeka Nchege on June 15, 2016

Perception Vs Reality Fact Fiction Proving Truth Versus MythYou were not open to feedback. Not only did you come across disinterested in receiving any feedback at all, but you seemed disinterested in any clarity surrounding the feedback you were provided with. In fact, you came across quite strong, you came across as if you were ready for war.” I can still remember those very words, and I’ve had to reflect on them quite a lot lately. When I heard them, my first instinct was to defend myself and respond with, “No, that’s not how I came across!” And, while I didn’t quite give in to that instinct, that very notion was certainly projected through various nonverbal cues. But, like I said, I’ve had to reflect on those words a lot lately, and there’s always a silver lining of revelation within reflection.

I’ve since had opportunities to sit back and really reflect on that entire day- not just the feedback I received, but the way in which I responded to that feedback. I asked myself, “Is there anything, anything at all I could have done differently?” The short answer is yes, but what?  In hindsight, I should’ve “set the table” for that feedback to be more appetizing both for myself – the one who will “consume” the feedback – and the one preparing and “serving” that feedback to me. After all, as Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” After days of reflection with that in mind, I was able to identify three things I could’ve done differently to ensure I was prepared to “consume” that feedback, and, equally as important, ensure that the person “serving” that feedback was encouraged and comfortable in doing so.

Set the table: In order to make the most of any feedback session, it’s important to set the table so as to make it more inviting. For example, on that day, I asked for feedback as I was leaning forward from the edge of my chair. It’s important to remember that in business, as in life, our nonverbal cues are almost more important than our verbal ones. Nonverbal cues are often subtle, unconscious behavior patterns. These are very difficult to control and therefore, are typically the most accurate representation of our emotions and thoughts. So, as I leaned forward and asked for feedback from the edge of my chair, the other person in the room was hearing “I want your feedback,” but they were really seeing, “I don’t really want your feedback,” which left that person to question whether or not I was truly open to any feedback at all. That wasn’t my intention at all, but perception is reality and that’s how I was perceived to be feeling. Next time, I will make a conscious effort to align my thoughts with my body language, in order to set the table for an open, productive and inviting feedback session.

Sound that dinner bell: When it’s time to eat at home, I always call for everyone to make their way to the table. This gesture is a warm invitation for everyone to join the meal. On the day of that feedback session, my tone of voice and my choice of words did not resemble the same warm, inviting sound my family hears before dinner. That’s a problem. In fact, “strong,” “assertive,” and “uninviting” were all words used to describe my tone of voice that day, in regards to how I sounded when asking for clarity around certain parts of feedback. This is a prime example of, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” The fact of that matter is I was genuinely interested in that clarity; I really wanted to know. But, between my tone and the accompanying nonverbal cues, that is not how it came across. Next time, I will make sure to soften my tone to portray a more receptive, warm and inviting one. After all, you’d never want to eat with someone who doesn’t sound interested in eating with you.

Mmm, that’s delicious: Words matter, and that’s the truth. For example, when you’re eating and someone serves you something that tastes delicious, your subtle words of affirmation – like “Mmm” and “That’s yummy!” – encourage the server to keep up the good work, to keep coming back to the table. Have you ever told someone you enjoyed their food when you really didn’t? We all have, and it’s not because we want to lie, but rather, we want to acknowledge and respect the effort that person put in to prepare and serve that food. As I look back and reflect on the day of my feedback session, I realize I didn’t say anything to acknowledge or encourage the other person’s efforts. Nobody is entitled to feedback. It’s a gift given to those who are willing to receive it, and its sole purpose is to help you continue to grow and develop. But, in that situation, I offered nothing that resembled affirmation or encouragement. Instead, I responded with “Got it,” which undoubtedly came across as short, and possibly for cold or dismissive. Though I may not have liked the feedback or “food” I was served, it is my responsibility to acknowledge and show respect to the one serving it and to encourage that person to keep coming back to the table. After all, it takes a lot of effort for them to do so in the first place.

And so, though I continue to reflect on recent my feedback session, I haven’t lost sight of the positive feedback. There were a ton of high points throughout the session, as I was commended several times for my strengths and my skills. Positive affirmation aside though, there truly was a silver lining within. Perhaps it was even a blessing in disguise, because I have learned to value and cherish feedback, and perhaps more importantly, I have learned how to receive it. Perception is reality, and although I may not have agreed with every point, I must acknowledge the fact that someone feels that way; someone perceives those observations to be true. That’s what matters.

The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” and that’s what this is all about. Set the table beforehand, and when you ring that dinner bell, ring it with warmth and compassion. Lastly, when it’s finally time to eat, acknowledge the effort put into the “food” you’re about to consume. You may not always like the taste, but taste isn’t a direct reflection of the effort one had to put in to prepare it and serve it. After all, nobody wants to eat alone….and if you aren’t able to take feedback well, that’s exactly what you’ll will end up doing. 

Take Action: Take some time to reflect on the last time you received feedback. Did you set the table properly? When you rang the bell, how did it sound? Did you offer any words or nonverbal cues of affirmation and encouragement to those offering the less positive feedback? Think about it, and think about how you can work to ensure you do all of the above next time.

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N.


Failure Is Not the Opposite of Success, It’s Part of It.

June 1, 2016

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time,” said Thomas Edison. Just over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled,“Life Beyond an Epic Fail,” in which I talked about three leadership principles you can engage to overcome a failure, ensuring it […]

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Innovation – 24 Hours of Undiluted Autonomy 

May 18, 2016

We often find ourselves saying, “If only I had the time, I’d fix this!” Though we create work-arounds for those items, or find ways to cope, we rarely take the time to implement true solutions to drive long-term change. This isn’t always as simple as it seems, but it’s important for any successful team to […]

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The Valuation of Value

May 3, 2016

As a CIO, it is often that I have to present the value-add entities that our IT organization is providing to the overall company. I talk about things like the amount of continuous connectivity the network team provides to our employees, the efficiencies provided through our software releases and the unremitting support our helpdesk provides. […]

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