Professional Services Tech Leadership

“You’ll have leftovers!”

There were two elderly women sitting near me during lunch at Whole Foods today talking in an upbeat, spirited way about this and that. We were outside. Between the almost perfect weather and their amazing attitude, it felt great to share this moment with them.

Mostly they talked about the soup that one of them was making tonight.

It must have been a lot of soup because at some point during the discussion, one exclaimed, “You’re going to have leftovers!” Her friend nodded and smiled, something almost imperceptible crossed her face. Something about her eyes were far away for a moment. This comment, which I would never in a million years have thought to say let alone put an exclamation mark upon, clearly left an impact.

Maybe she was thinking about saving some money on future meals. Maybe she was imagining having not just one experience with this epic soup but more. Maybe it was just a feeling of abundance. It was a fleeting thought, but seemed to connect.

It was such a factual, technical comment about leftovers, yet it somehow demonstrated so much empathy and landed so well. Magical.

Actually it’s not magic. It’s totally within your capability here at work. You have it within you to make these kinds of comments, to build relationships through these small things, even in our technical field. You just need to commit to being there with people.

If leftover soup can a put sparkle in an old woman’s eye, your observant comment about a team member’s pull requests can make an impact too.

In fact, I’d argue these tiny comments are far more valuable than some big, coordinated offsite or manufactured “happy hour” ever can be. And they don’t cost a dime.

Professional Services Tech Leadership

Happiness is hard work

“You cannot buy or win happiness. You must choose it.” -John Maxwell

Humans, as I understand them, are hard wired to look for negativity. Just a few hundred generations ago, your grandparents spent their days scanning the horizon looking for threats while gathering berries. You know, like a saber-toothed tiger or something.

If fact, we actually got a dopamine hit when we spotted the threat we were expecting, which is interesting, isn’t it? Think about it: you’re out there in the field, and you catch a whiff of something that smells like a tiger. All of a sudden you get anxiety so you start looking around carefully, and there it is. You found the threat, and your body rewarded you for it. The anxiety turns into a real fear, and now it’s time to run to safety.

Survival has always been more important that happiness, so seeking happiness is not how we’re natively wired. Hunter gatherers were not concerned about aligning their chakras.

Even though it’s not in my nature or yours, if you have a team, especially in consulting, and you lead it, then it is incumbent upon you to make the team a happy, safe space where they can run from the saber toothed tigers in those corporate hallways. I don’t mean a party atmosphere. I mean optimistic, hopeful, positive, safe.

When your team is together, they should feel safe for the next time it’s time to go back and face the world “out there.” And then when they’re in the field, give them hope. Remind them that they make a difference and they can fight tiger if they need to.

When your team is working on code or doing hard analytical work, there’s something to be said for being just as negative as they are. It stimulates intellectual thinking. But when they’re back “home,” during the downtime, keep it happy and safe. It’s hard because you have to override your own natural circuitry even when you don’t feel like it. But your team needs it. You do too.

You’re human, so you’re not always going to be happy either. But remember, a single Slack positive message can make a huge difference in someone’s day, including yours.

Choose happiness leaders!

Professional Services

Day 1, Hour 1

You touched down in St. Louis around 12:45 a.m., having taken the last flight out of LAX Sunday afternoon so you could make your kid’s soccer game and spend as much time with your family as possible.

The deplaning passengers are rushing, sprinting almost, in the direction of “Ground Transportation” signs, so you follow the herd while you fumble with the Uber app in one hand while dragging your roller bag over the carpet with the other.

Yours was one of the last flights in, so it’s quiet in STL. The air is damp and cold. Storms. That explains the turbulence on final approach.

You’ve never been to St. Louis before. You aren’t sure where to go, but after a little awkward coordination your Uber showed up pretty quickly. Gratefully, it was only a twenty minute ride to the Marriott near your customer’s headquarters. Still, by the time you get checked in and in bed, it’s after 2:00 a.m.

As you settle in, you think about what time to set your iPhone’s alarm. “Let’s see,” you say, “if they want to start at 9:00 a.m, then I probably need to be out the door by 8:15, and, oh yeah, I need to grab some breakfast in the cafe downstairs, so, should probably get up no later than 6:30.” Then it dawns on you:

Holy crap, that’s only about four hours from now, and it’s going to be 4:30 a.m. California time when I get up!

As you lie there, staring at the ceiling, it doesn’t help you fall asleep when you start thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow morning. In just a few hours, you’re going to be meeting with a new customer who needs your help with your company’s products.

The issues could be easy, they could be hard, but no matter what, they are looking to you to be the expert on your company’s product. You’re in professional services, and this is what you do. It’s both tiring and exhilarating.

That first hour of the first day (I call it “D1H1”) is a critical moment where everything that happens in professional services comes together—all the training, enablement, engineering, and sales. But we don’t talk about professional services very often.

Since we rarely talk about it, I thought I’d write a short book introducing people to the industry, the job of a consultant, and how to succeed in that moment (as well as get some sleep the night before) and beyond.

It’s called Day 1, Hour 1: An Introduction to Professional Services in Software Companies. Some of the topics covered include:

  1. An introduction to professional services, the roles, and where projects (“engagements”) come from
  2. Then I explore how to get the hard, technical skills you need to be successful as well as some of the soft skills mindsets that will serve you well on the ground
  3. Then we explore some of the practicalities of how to navigate day 1, hour 1 as well as the hours that follow

I feel like it’s a complete overview, if a bit brief. But it could have some typos or things that don’t make sense.

Please give it a read for free, and let me know! Use coupon code michaels-blog through this link:

Would love to know what you think!

(Photo by Matt Hardy from Pexels)