Catching and Throwing

For a guy who leads a 75-person consulting firm in a challenging business climate, coaching a youth softball team ( ages 7 and 8 ) this Spring should be a piece of cake, right? I mean, how hard could it be? I have played and followed baseball all my life and coached older boys’ and girls’ teams for several years.

I was fairly well-prepared for most of the differences between 7 year-olds and 16 year-olds, but one thing surprised me: I started the season with 3 girls out of 11 who could catch and throw. Not a typo… 3 girls. Needless to say it has been an exciting and funny adventure. The girls are getting better and the coach is being humbled by the challenge.

The fundamental building blocks of success in softball and baseball are catching and throwing. Kids who do not learn to consistently, dependably catch and throw will eventually not be able to play the game. The “catching and throwing” of the game of business is making and keeping commitments. We often focus on other aspects of the sport at the expense of these fundamentals. At Keller Schroeder, our clients want to know one thing more than anything else: “If you tell me what you are going to do, and by when you will have it done, can I depend on you to do what you say?”

Making and keeping commitments builds trust and credibility. Those who are most trustworthy and credible are the ones to whom we give the most important assignments. Those who we trust most are the ones whose leadership we are most willing to follow. This is simple stuff. Why then do we experience such chronic underperformance in business when it comes to budget attainment, deadlines, and other unmet expectations?

There are several reasons, but some of the most important ones are:

(1) making commitments that cannot be kept,
(2) procrastinating about sharing the bad news when circumstances require that a commitment be revoked or changed, and
(3) simply not placing a high enough value on these fundamentals.

The foundational requirement of meeting commitments is that we do not accept ones that can’t be met. This seems simple. But it requires discipline and courage to say “no” when the marketplace is screaming “yes” to a combination of time, resources, and requirements that is impossible. Effective leaders will say “no” to the impossible and then do the hard work of negotiation to arrive at an agreeable and achievable goal.

Everyone makes a commitment at some point that turns out to be unattainable, due to changing circumstances or mistaken assumptions. It may seem more heroic to “amp up” the hours and effort in the face of an impossible commitment, but the wise choice is to communicate early and transparently when it looks as though a commitment is not going to be met. This affords all parties the best opportunity to construct a viable alternative to the original plan.

The “catching and throwing” equivalency in business of making and meeting commitments cannot be adequately developed if these fundamentals are only applied during high-stakes, big-game situations. Effective leaders are practicing the fundamentals every day. If the boss is always 10 minutes late to staff meetings, why should he be surprised if the team is 10 days late with their project deliverable? If cross-department communication standards are ignored internally, is it any surprise when one of these departments falls short of customers’ demands for timely order status updates?

Like most of the important building blocks of success in business, making and meeting commitments is not a skill-centered exercise. It is an attitude, a discipline, and a decision on how an individual or an organization will choose to do business. How well these fundamentals are stressed, developed, and modeled by leaders will determine in large part the final score for your team in the game of business.

Larry May
President


Are These the Droids You’re Looking for?

– Jill Epperson, Business Unit Director

“There’s an app for that!” Remember that fun little phrase? There was a time when mobile strategy gurus believed that the only way to win big with mobile devices was to find your way into the iPhone App Store. But times are changing. Androids sales are surging, and a recent Gartner press release predicts that Androids will have nearly half the worldwide smartphone market by the end of 2012. This same press release also predicts that Microsoft’s mobile platform will outpace Apple by 2015. Yes, the times, they are a changin’!

Building a mobile app can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and for best user experience, may require device-specific applications (which means you’re building separate applications for iPhone vs. Android vs. Blackberry vs. Windows Phone). Some app stores charge fees and/or have screening processes for determining whether or not you can publish your app to their store. Maintainability can be cumbersome, since new releases and bug fixes must be published to the app store and downloaded to each device again. With all the confusion over mobile apps (not to mention the new skills required by developers to build them), as well as advancements in mobile browser capabilities, many companies are now opting for mobile websites instead.

But is this the right choice for your company? A few minor tweaks to your existing site might make it possible to navigate on a smartphone, but if you want a truly mobile optimized site providing a good user experience, more is often required. Creating a mobile website means designing pages that load fast; fit nicely within the smartphone browser real estate; offer the most frequently needed information quickly (trim out all the fluff); and are easy to navigate, with navigation and interactive elements placed in such a way as to make them easy to use in a “touch” interface.

Realistically, there is some investment either way. So what is the best strategy for your company? To determine the answer, you need to set aside all the hype on both sides of this debate and consider the basics:

  • Who is your target audience?
    (Employees, business partners, customer base, general public)
  • When and how will the app/site be used?
    (To perform a job task, to buy your product, etc.)
  • How often will they come to your app/site?
    (Some research suggests that less than 5% of downloaded apps continue to be used 20 days after download. Is there a compelling reason for the target audience to download an app vs. bookmark a site?)
  • How many different devices, with what capabilities, will your target audience use?

Answering these questions is a good starting point. Keller Schroeder can help you define your mobile strategy and work with you to implement a plan that meets your needs, whether that strategy includes mobile apps, mobile web sites, or a combination of both.

Contact your Keller Schroeder Senior Account Manager to learn more or discuss the benefits of implementing this technology within your environment.


Mind the Gap

– Susie Mattingly, Business Unit Director

Technical-Skills-GapWith businesses increasingly turning to more sophisticated automation to drive efficiencies, many are worried they won’t be able to find enough technically-skilled workers over the next decade according to CFO magazine. Almost any company is a candidate to feel the pinch as demand for skilled IT workers, researchers and other positions outstrips the supply. Companies may need to look at a mix of strategies such as higher wages, paying or providing bonuses as an incentive for extra work hours, and supplementing their permanent workforce with consultants.

The shortage of technically skilled workers was first identified in the early 1990s but many observers expect it to worsen over the next several years due to two converging factors: (1) the big wave of baby-boomer retirements, and (2) fewer students pursuing technically-oriented career paths. “Our young people love technology,” says Edward Gordon, an author and former college professor who consults with companies on workforce issues, particularly concerning the skilled-labor shortage. “But they don’t want to design, manufacture, repair, or manage it. They consider these jobs inferior and socially uncool.”

Research by Gordon, who has written two books on the topic, estimates that by 2020 there will be 123 million high-skilled, high-pay jobs available in the U.S., but only 50 million Americans with the right education to fill them. U.S. companies are already turning to other countries to supplement the local talent, and they will surely do more of that in the next few years.

Your company can participate in bridging this gap by taking an active role in our community’s education initiatives. Partner with schools to introduce younger students to various occupations before they have to decide on a major for college. Show them how cool technology is by inviting them to your company to demonstrate technical equipment and link that to their need to learn math, science and technology. Take steps to partner with local trade or community colleges. Offer scholarships in vocations where the need is greatest.

A way to cope with the talent loss from retirees is to negotiate a gradual exit for them. Many would like to remain involved but no longer want to work 40 hours. Currently several retirees from our community have returned to work through Keller Schroeder’s Staffing Solutions Group and are working on projects for our clients. It has been the perfect solution with reduced hours, occasional time off and some winters off for an extended vacation in other areas. Our clients have had the benefit of their vast knowledge and experience. A great win-win for all involved.

Ultimately, the skills gap has to be dealt with so be a part of the solution to help your company survive and thrive in what is predicted to be a tight labor market in the years ahead.

To determine whether Keller Schroeder’s Staffing Services might be of assistance in locating technically skilled candidates for your organization, contact our Staffing Group to start the discussion.


What’s Lurking Around Your Network?

– Brad Mathis, Sr. Consultant

Have you ever walked into a dark house late at night and had a feeling that someone was lurking behind a door or waiting silently around the corner? How about when you go swimming at the beach? Have you ever drifted out too far and then felt you were about to become the tasty treat of a carnivorous ocean dweller? Why do we have these feelings of apprehension and fear? Could it be that awareness of true happenings such as these help us keep our guard up in order to prevent ourselves from becoming a statistic?

So why is it that we so often overlook intruders and attackers in our computer systems and networks? The news stories are there and the intrusions and attacks are very real. People often think it only happens to large organizations like Heartland Payment Systems (over 130,000,000 compromised records) or Sony (over 77,000,000 compromised records) and think it will never happen to them. Over the past 25 years, I have too frequently seen this pattern of thought. Security is overlooked and seen as either overhead or something that has to be done for an audit, only to be taken seriously after they become the victim of a security breach.

“So, what do I need to do to better protect my systems?”, you may be wondering. Ultimately, it is the data that is at risk. Compromised data is the equivalent of money to cybercriminals and those seeking to defraud you or your business. In the early days, the simple solution was to install a firewall. As Bob Dylan once sang, “Times They Are a Changin’.” There is no longer a definitive border to your network environment. No longer is there truly an “inside” and an “outside.” With advancements in technology and increased intelligence at the endpoint, every network attached device, whether it is a PC, laptop, printer, or even a PDA, is an entry point into the corporate network. Hackers no longer need to break in through your firewall if they can easily hitch a ride in malicious software that can attack your network’s weak spots from the inside.

If you want to be prepared for the cyber boogiemen and cyber sharks, proactive security practices are imperative. Security can no longer be an afterthought if you want to conduct business in today’s environment. Layered security and ongoing diligence will help you be better prepared and better protected. Effective layered security is not only antivirus, firewalls, internet content filtering, and intrusion detection. It is not only software patching and spam filtering. It includes information security policies and standards. It includes ongoing security assessments and monitoring. It includes ongoing security awareness. Most importantly, it includes focusing on and preparing for tomorrow’s threats while continuing to identify and protect against the threats of today.

The cost of a data breach has now been estimated to be $214 per record according to Dr. Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute. How many records is your business responsible for?

To learn how the various services within Keller Schroeder’s Security Practice can benefit your organization, including demonstrations of several tools, contact your Keller Schroeder Sr. Account Manager.


Spotlight On…

Employee Owner: Brock Henning

BrockHenning Brock’s professional experience spans over 20 years across a broad array of network environments including healthcare, banking, education, government/military, and most recently restaurant services with Colorado-based Boston Market Corporation, where he was the lead Network Architect for their 500+ location VPN and VSAT hybrid network.

His certifications include Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and A.A.S. Information Systems Technology.

Brock’s roles have encompassed network engineering and support for organizations on a national scale, including Enterprise multi-site Wide Area Networks, Datacenter and Local Area Networks, multi-homed Internet Access technologies, Cisco Firewall & VPN implementations, Network Analysis and Benchmarking, PCI Network Security & Vulnerability Assessments, Network Intrusion & Threat Prevention, and Disaster Recovery Design and Testing.

Prior to joining Boston Market, he was the lead Network Architect for a multi-state financial institution where he designed, implemented and supported over 75+ branches with a variety of key technologies including Cisco voice and data solutions. While in the healthcare industry, he supported a multi-protocol multi-carrier Wide Area Network for the largest Catholic health system in the United States, handling voice, video, and data applications for over 100,000 employees.

Brock is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, serving our country during the early 1990’s as a Security and Communications Specialist for NORAD and the U.S. Space Command at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado. He and his wife Sarah will be celebrating 16 years of marriage in 2011. Brock has been a native of Evansville since 1973 and after a brief 5 year stay in Golden, Colorado, his family, including daughter Morgan and sons Jared and Braden, are returning to the Evansville area.

Contact your Keller Schroeder Sr. Account Manager to learn more about Brock and how you can leverage his experience and skills to the benefit of your organization.