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LA ON Fire – Part II
Jul 6th, 2016 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

Blake Glenn’s Looney thoughts, perspectives, adventures, and insights on the world of business!

— By Blake Glenn

 

Upon my arrival in LA, as always the tall palm trees, bright sunshine, and pollutant-infused smog embraced me with open arms. But, unfortunately, for the next week I wouldn’t see much of them. My immediate destiny was to be holed up deep within the bowels of the GAO office, leading efforts to turn around our fast disintegrating hopes for the $5,000,000 tech project.

When I got to the office I hit the ground running. I immediately set up a meeting with the client staff to hear their grievances. We held the meeting in the large conference room. It was windowless, barren, cold, grey, lacking in anything approaching personality, completely soulless.  It was an appropriate scene for the hellish torture I was set to endure.

All of the client stakeholders were present. Having all of them present was critical. Some of these people may have had their careers tied to this project. And even the least powerful among them still had influence and could make our team’s life miserable with their discontent and dozens of small complaints, a death by a thousand tiny cuts.

I should have put on my toxic substance defense suit because the shit began flying immediately. While I wasn’t the reason for their travails, I was now the onsite representative of the enemy. And as such, I was now the one bright red target upon which to vent their unending anger.

 

………………..

 

The grievances were many. That the new network installation wasn’t going well was an epic understatement. There were lots of bugs. That happens all the time of course. Things never go the way you expect. And like roaches in real life, you could quash a few here and there, but you could also rest assured that they would pop up somewhere else. Again. And again.

The situation was exacerbated by the engineers and technicians whose poor attitudes angered the GAO staff . The techies didn’t communicate well about problem resolutions. They didn’t respond quickly to information requests. And most damaging of all, they were simply rude to the customers, treating them like uninformed idiots that didn’t deserve the tech’s time.

My employer had made a big mistake too. They had left a hard core network engineer named Terry in charge of the onsite team. They could not have chosen a worse candidate. He was a very good network engineer, maybe even superb. But his people and management skills were non-existent. He was rude, short-tempered, and thin-skinned.

He was the Donald Trump of the geek world. But this was my employer’s fault more than Terry’s. They knew about his “personality flaws”. He should have never been the onsite team lead in the first place. But, in a moment of weakness, they acquiesced to his desire to be the man.

The other techs followed behind him because, well, he was in charge. But they weren’t happy. The customers were haranguing them relentlessly, not due to their own ineptitude but due to his. And the team recognized Terry’s inadequacies. They were ready for a change. When I arrived, the GAO villagers were so incensed with Terry that they were gathering torches and pitch-forks and descending upon the tech castle to drive him out of the building. And I think each and every one of our team members was ready to join them!

I acted quickly to take control and try to put things on the right track. Here’s what I did:

  • Immediately met with client staff as a means for them to vent their anger, frustration, and grievances. I mostly listened, and listened, and listened
  • Inserted myself between all tech personnel and client staff. There needed to be a buffer or cushion between these two groups and I had to be it
  • Immediately removed Terry from his position and made sure the other team members knew who was in charge … Me. The boss had already made everyone aware that I was now in charge. But that was a mandate from almost 3,000 miles away. I reinforced that mandate upon my arrival and included the boss in our meetings via conference call
  • Set up war room complete with crisis board to manage each problem
  • Enacted an emergency project management plan
  • Set up hierarchy to prioritize each problem
  • As a public relations move, had tech’s quickly fix a handful of small but lingering problems to show progress and ease tensions, i.e., killed several roaches quickly
  • Set up morning, mid-afternoon, and end-of-day progress briefings with client staff as a means to keep the client close to the activity. Only included techies that were necessary for updates and answering technical questions. Kept their client interaction time to a minimum.
  • Held tech staff briefings three times daily … about 30 minutes to 1 hour before client briefings
  • Threatened to drive Terry to the high open desert and remove his man-parts, Game-of-Thrones style, and feed them to the rattlesnakes if he came close enough to even breath the same air as any member of the client staff

 

Of course none of these items were rocket science. They weren’t that innovative. They weren’t going to change the world. They were all mostly just practical common sense actions needed to turn around this failing project, especially the Game-of-Thrones technique.

 

………………..

 

The primary requirements to do my job were pretty simple:

  1. Organization and project management;
  2. Thick skin to take all of the heat from the client … and my team members;
  3. Great communications skills;
  4. Ability to seamlessly transform at a moment’s notice between being a soothing “crisis whisperer” to a tough but fair ass-kicking leader;
  5. Sense of humor – seriously, some things you just gotta laugh at;
  6. Ability to combine individual profane words and phrases into new semi-lucid profanity strings targeted at non-compliant members of my team. This was a last resort of course, but proved unusually effective when used sparingly and with precision. As effective in many cases also was the strategic use of profane hand and finger movements and gestures.

 

And, while not flawless, the tactics worked. Within a week we had saved the LA project, which helped to renew confidence in my employer, which helped save the other regional GAO installations, which means we rescued about $5,000,000 in revenue for my employer. I was proud of the team coming together under my leadership to make this happen. But it was a team effort. They just needed the right leader. I didn’t have to Game-of-Thrones Terry’s man parts … unfortunately. And my boss was able to maintain his golf privileges.

The trip wasn’t all work though. One upside of that adventure was that my girlfriend-of-the-time lived in the Los Angeles area. Though we amicably went our separate ways soon after this trip, it was certainly good to see her.

Frankly though, I couldn’t understand why she brought her good male friend with her each time we met. It was good to see that she had a friend out there. Who says men and women can’t just be friends. I guess he needed her support. Going through a difficult time according to her. And he was strong. Lots of muscles. I knew she was safe. She later got married and had kids. I never met her husband. But the kids kind of looked like that guy. What a coincidence. I wonder if they’re still friends.

 

Want to catch up on Part I? Just click here!

 

………………..

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?

 

If you dare, I can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

P.S.  I’m actively recruiting test contestants for my business game show experiment. Interested? Please contact me so I can add you to the player pool!

 

 

LA On Fire – Part I!
Jun 30th, 2016 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

Blake Glenn’s Looney thoughts, perspectives, adventures, and insights on the world of business!

— By Blake Glenn

 

In mid-June, 1995 at approximately 8:29 am EST, on a typical sunny-hazy day, a major fire broke out in downtown Los Angeles, California. The sparks from this blue-hot blaze had been smoldering at a low level for about 10 days and now threatened to burst into an inferno and engulf the U.S. GAO building. The GAO was the Government Accounting Office.

 

An aside … As a result of a brilliant and strategically considered rebranding effort, in 2004 the “A” was changed from Accounting to Accountability. Yay!

 

This was not one of the ubiquitous 100-times-a-year forest fires indigenous to Southern California. No. This one was special. It was entirely contained within the GAO building. But if not contained, it threatened to leap-frog across the U.S. and spread to Atlanta, Washington, DC and other regional offices of the GAO.

Let me set the stage for this story.

You see I was working on-site as a contractor at the U.S. GAO Washington, DC headquarters. Our mission was to maintain the information technology system at the HQ as well as several field office locations around the country. Our services included installation, help desk support, repairs, maintenance, disaster recovery, and training. In total, the contract was worth about $5,000,000.

In 1995 the contractor I worked for was in discussions with the GAO for renewal and expansion of said contract. When you’re in a contract renewal year it’s like being a professional athlete in your last contract year. You want to have a great year. Be on your best behavior. Do a great job to try to ensure another big contract to keep the money rolling in. Those titanium golf clubs don’t buy themselves you know.

Needless to say, the higher-level, and by default, mid-level managers were all in a tizzy, as would be expected. The prospect of losing country-club memberships would panic even the most fearless individual. My employer implemented a secret plan send a specialist with a particular set of skills to address the situation.

Me.

And after conducting a bit of clandestine research, putting myself and those I love in dire danger, I was able to uncover the original transcript from the top-secret 1-on-1 crisis meeting with my boss, the project manager at U.S. GAO HQ in Washington, DC. Below I’ve provided a complete un-redacted original transcript.

………………..

 

8:47 am EST: Boss called into office of GAO division director in Washington, DC to get an earful on a critical situation developing in Los Angeles, CA

9:17 am EST: Boss asks to meet me in large GAO conference room … alone

9:23 am EST (I had to make a bathroom stop): Boss provides overview of the critical situation in Los Angeles

 

Full Transcript (un-redacted):

 

Boss: I need you Blake.

Me: Of course. How can I help sir?

 

Boss: We have a major situation in LA. A raging fire has broken out at the GAO regional office there. And I’m not so sure we can contain it. It’s bad. Real bad. Our entire tech contract is in deep shit. That’s $5,000,000 ready to go poof!

Me: Hmm. I see sir. How did this happen?

 

Boss: The geeks. Those damned geeks. No people skills. They ran wild. Talking to the customers like they were idiots. Not fixing problems in a timely fashion. They’re utterly out of control. They’ve fucked it all up! Damnit. Damn. It!

Me: I agree. That’s a bad situation sir. And by geeks I assume you primarily mean Terry, the onsite project manager.

 

Boss: Yes, Terry. Blake you’re our best hope. Hell you’re our only hope at this point. You’re the sole individual that can drag us out of that quagmire. Without you I’m afraid this contract will be lost. It’s worth $5,000,000 you know. We can’t lose it. You have to save it for us. It funds my country club membership. We have to focus on the real important things in life right?

Me: What? That’s a lot of pressure sir. By myself I don’t know if I can …

 

Boss (interrupting): We’re depending on you Blake. I mean TOTALLY. DEPENDING. ON. YOU. We really are. I need you to fly into LA and fix this freakin’ mess.

Me: Of course sir. I’ll do my best. But …

 

Boss (interrupting): No buts. I mean butts are fine. I like butts a lot, just not as part of this conversation. Just make this happen. And here may be a pony in it for you if you can pull off this miracle. You like ponies don’t you?

Me: Silence. Bewilderment. Staring. Mouth open.

 

Boss: Well don’t you?

Me: Uh. I don’t know. I never …

 

Boss (interrupting): Of course you do. What a stupid question. We all like ponies.

Me: Ok sir. I can see you’re under a lot of pressure. Are you ok?

 

Boss: How about a pink one. I think I can make that happen. You like pink do you?

Me: Pink? What?

 

Boss: Pressure! You have no freakin’ idea. I picked a helluva day to stop taking my pain killers recreationally.

Me: Ok. Ok. I’ll go to LA and do my best sir.

 

Boss: Of course. Your best is all I can ask for. That and fixing this mess of course. And saving my golf privileges. We can’t forget what’s important here. Am I right?

Me: No. I’m not promising …

 

Boss (interrupting): So that’s it then. It’s settled. You’ll fly out and deal with it. I already have you booked on a flight.

Me: What? When?

 

Boss: Two hours . You better get moving.

Me: Two hours! Sir what the fu…

 

Boss (interrupting): Excellent! I knew you’d be excited and want to leave right away. You’re my main man. By the way, does my golf swing look correct? Look at this.

Me: You son of a …

 

Boss (interrupting): No reason to thank me! You know I’m an unsentimental fool. When you reach LA be sure to check in straight away. Now off you go. You’re the man!

 

………………..

 

And with that I raced home, quickly packed, and caught a taxi to Washington National Airport. The 8-hour trip to Los Angeles, including the layover, flew by (no pun intended … ok it really was) rather quickly. I had a little time to prep myself for the hellish, toxic environment I was about to walk into – angry clients, battered tech staff, low morale on both sides, and the prospect of losing a $5,000,000 contract.

After a good night’s sleep, the last one I’d have for several days, I stepped onto pavement directly in front ofthe downtown Los Angeles GAO office. It was 8:00 am sharp. I quickly glanced the bright yellow shape in the sky, adjusted my red power tie, took a deep breath, opened the glass door, and walked head-first into the raging inferno inside.

 

For the rest of the story please read part II of LA On Fire!

 

………………..

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?

 

If you dare, I can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

P.S.  I’m actively recruiting test contestants for my business game show experiment. Interested? Please contact me so I can add you to the player pool!

 

 

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