Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Being Prepared at Work and Home

Imagine going to the bank and not being able to withdraw funds because the teller could not confirm the balance on your account. This was the very real scenario presented to me once when I was working as a support analyst. What turned out to be interesting about this incident had nothing at all to do with the solution for this particular problem.

Actually, I’m sure the solution was exactly what mattered most to the bank people and ultimately we did get that squared away. For me, though, what was interesting was the side comment that had been made when the customer was sharing with me how grave a matter this was. It turns out, that during this period of time there were still some banks working through paper processes but the computerized processes worked so much better and so much more quickly that the paper processes had been abandoned completely… so completely, in fact, that no one knew anymore how to manage the process other than by computer even though this was still technically possible at that time. This was fine, of course, until the network communications went down, or power in general was lost, taking down computer access to the ifnormation they needed. Then it wasn’t so fine because no one knew how to deal with such situations.

Fast forward to my years as a manager… Although my own experiences with power outages in the workplace have been a rarity, they have occurred. Funny thing about power outages in a contact center – the phone usually still rings! Of course, there are many things one cannot do when there is no computer access: changes cannot be made to accounts, software patches cannot be sent, and knowledge management solutions cannot be researched, to name but a few. We can, however, still talk to customers and often we can provide them with at least some answers. Moreover, if we take down all of the appropriate information, we can even handle their requests later, once power is restored. The trick, of course, is to know what information is needed and to capture it in a way that can be used later.

It takes knowledgeable people to respond intelligently to requests for help – this is largely true even when the knowledgebase is accessible and is particularly true when it’s not. And good customer service is good customer service, no matter what else is happening. That part is simple. When we prepare for emergencies, however, how often do we think in terms of what capabilities and responsibilities remain and how we will conduct ourselves under diminished capacity? Do you have paper data entry forms that can substitute for the real thing under mildly difficult conditions that diminish your capabilities as a contact center (or whatever it is that you do) but don't completely inhibit your ability to work? Will your agents have light to work with? What else can you do and not do if you lose power or lose phone service? What is the best way to respond to your customers and let them know what is happening and that you are still available – and to what extent?

Disaster preparedness is important at home too. Have you thought about the sorts of emergencies, large and small that are predictable enough to prepare for and how you would meet those challenges? One realization that has dawned on me recently is how important communication will be. The one serious earthquake I’ve experienced made it quite clear to me that ensuring each other’s safety is one of the first things on anyone’s mind. First there was my staff – in my case, there were thirteen at the time and having been their manager for just shy of a week, I didn’t even know all their names yet so the effort of tracking everyone down and ensuring they were all okay kept me occupied for a bit.

Once I was reasonably assured of their safety, my next thoughts went to my family. This was when reality truly struck – everyone else in the region had the exact same thoughts as mine and while cell phone towers may have been mostly intact, the many calls for service had completely jammed the network. For all practical purposes, no one was reaching anyone by cell phone. As one person put it to me recently, there are only so many dial tones to go around.

All of which brings me to present day – communication is how work gets done, it’s how communities and cultures are formed and preserved and it’s how service is provided, whether that service is business related, or health and safety related. It occurs to me that whether we’re talking business or neighbor-to-neighbor, the ability to communicate with one another is one of the most important capabilities worth preserving. To that end, I was glad to see that my city recently sent out an all-call to licensed ham radio operators to come participate as volunteers assisting in communications support. Feeling as I do about communication and disaster preparedness, I enthusiastically responded even though I have yet to actually go on the air with my own license. In fact, I’m starting to get rather excited about participating to some extent in the upcoming Field Day. Maybe the small person in my life would even be interested in joining me. It seems to me that anything we can do to spark and preserve an interest in Amateur Radio with the newer generations is a good thing.

During my first meeting with my mentor, I also found out about his efforts to organize his neighborhood to help look out after each other using the handheld radios so many of us use for camping trips, amusement parks, and skiing. His theory is that if they can all talk to each other, they can help each other out where needed and if they can talk to him, he can coordinate any necessary communications outside the immediate area with his ham radio gear.

I would need to get my own gear set up to take it that far but my family does have a pair of the FRS radios we could start using and I’ve decided to start forming a neighborhood NET in my area. Small person has most definitely been enjoying learning to use the radios and I like the idea that he’ll know how to use them responsibly as well as having fun.

Quite frankly, I’d never thought before of how important these handheld two-way radios could be in an emergency. And in not thinking of them as a resource, it also never occurred to me what preparation might be necessary to maximize their usefulness in such situations. Fortunately, there are a few resources out there on the internet.

Some best practices I’ve gleaned so far with regard to emergency communications:

  • Agree on a channel with your family to use in the event of an emergency – it has been recommended that we all set aside FRS channel 1 for emergency use only; a secondary channel to move to for extended conversations would probably be a good idea as well to keep channel 1 as open as possible.
  • Keep your rechargeable batteries recharged and fresh non-rechargeable batteries on hand in the event your radios are needed for extended periods of time.
  • Know how you will reach emergency services should you need them and know how you will ‘make do’ until they are available.
  • Know how you will use your radio in an emergency situation.
  • Include your neighbors in your emergency planning so that you can all help look after each other should the need arise.
  • Keep your radio with you (even in the car) in the event disaster strikes when you are somewhere other than at home.
  • Test your plans periodically.

Of course it’s also important to be prepared in other respects beyond communications. I favor building up supplies a bit at a time. If the effort is so scary and overwhelming that we never even begin, it won't serve its purpose. I encourage everyone to do one thing today to be more prepared for whatever emergencies concern you most; even if it’s a small thing, it means you’ll be better off should some emergency situation arise than you were yesterday. And if you keep building on that, your chances (of surviving, thriving, etc.) will be that much better.

If you have emergency preparedness tips for home or business, it would be nice to share these around. Send them to me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and I'll post what's useful for everyone.

What can I do that increases my likelihood of success?

Friday, May 20, 2005

KFS - Plain As the Nose on Your Face... NOT!

It is possible, through good navigation, to know you are directly over an airport... and still not be able to see it.

-- Kimm Viebrock
Soaring Mountains: Piloting tips applicable to everyday living

This was one of the earlier entries in the original Kimm's Flying School (you didn't think I was going to mention heading off this direction and not deliver, did you? Consider it a bonus, two-for-one day to make up for some of the delayed postings!). A lot of the entries come from the old sayings we used to toss around on the flight line back when I was a student and again later when I was an instructor. Pilots do a lot of hangar flying. I always understood that it was one way to learn and to pass on knowledge. Re-hash a flight - your own or somebody else's - often enough with enough heads on the matter and everyone will probably come out of the conversations with ideas for how to better handle similar situations in the future.

There's another component to hangar flying too that I may not have properly understood back then - by sorting out and categorizing all the "what if"'s, by identifying mistakes that somebody else made that we'd never make, by generally pulling it all to pieces and putting them back together again to find some other result than a bad landing, near-miss, or worse... we find in all of that some source of solace in dealing with the sometimes unpredictable nature and inherent riskiness of aviation. It is a way of dealing with ambiguity, something that geeks by nature tend to know a bit about too. We all have a need to feel in control of the sometimes uncontrollable.

This particular KFS entry comes from something along those lines - trying to understand my own experience. In flight school, navigation was one of the things I was good at. I still am flabbergasted that anyone could be in professional flight training, make a straight out departure from a runway and not be able to say (five minutes & no turns later) that the airport was directly behind them. I wouldn't believe it today if I hadn't been in the plane at the time.

I'm the complete opposite (for those navigationally impaired, that's a 180, not a 360!). One of the few people I know with a better sense of direction than mine - my father (two of the others are my spousal unit and my son; I'm getting the impression it could be genetic) - can be spun around blindfolded in a basement and still tell you which way is north. I'm not that good... but I am good enough that on one flight, I far exceeded any expectations in figuring out where I was after being blindfolded and flown around the countryside for a while.

Within five seconds of removing the blindfold, I was able to tell the instructor where we were. I picked it up so quickly because he had managed to fly me directly over my grandfather's ranch by mistake. That in itself was quite a feat given that it was a good 80 miles or so from where we'd started but I figured maybe it wasn't a fair test.

He said he was impressed anyway with my ability to figure out where I was given that I'd never seen that area from the air before. Although it did look a bit different from what I see when I'm on the ground there, what I think made it so much easier for me than it would have been for most people is that my sense of a place (even when I'm on the ground) is more than two dimensional. I actually do have at least some sense of what a place would look like from the air so that when I am up above it for real, it's still recognizable to me.

Having seen me do this made the instructor all the more amused the time we went looking for a small strip I hadn't yet been to. I navigated straight to it, told him (correctly) that we were right over it... but for some reason could not see the darned thing. He made me keep circling until I could point it out to him - how embarrassing!

I'm still not exactly certain why I couldn't find the airport. There were trees, yes, and a road nearby that kept drawing my eye. But the unmistakable strip of pavement with a windsock, a hangar and a plane or two... somehow I couldn't spot it. After many years in puzzlement over the matter I've decided that it's more useful to understand that this phenomenon occurs than it is to work out why that is. I've learned to expect it and that's been what's been helpful to me and more than once.

There are times when I do all the right things, take all the right steps and then sometimes I have to trust the process and the fact that the answer is right there in front of me, even if I don't see it. When I find myself there, I take a deep breath and resolve to spend some time shifting my perspective before I rush off to scrap the work that's already been done & start from scratch.

Trust the process, and the results will take care of themselves - providing of course that you carry enough fuel to keep you going while you work out that result part!

What is in front of you now that you're missing?

Use What's Good

In all our twists and turns throughout our lives and our work, sometimes it takes going back to your roots to rediscover a branch worth nurturing again. Long before blogging was made easy and in fact, back when it was more common to write all your own html code in putting together a web page, I started writing what I called Kimm's Flying School. I was rather surprised at how popular it became but there you are - the mystique of aviation is a pull for a lot of people. I know I'm still drawn to it even if the manner of that draw has shifted over the years.

Anyway, the idea at the time was to come up with aviation-related truisms, tales, jokes, or general knowledge that could also be applied to everyday life. Hey, sounds a lot like the theme I still use today, doesn't it?

Back then, I did pull my punches a bit, not always spelling out for people how or why I thought whatever I'd written was applicable to anything besides a good laugh. I was afraid I'd sound too preachy. Okay, so I do sometimes even now seem to preach a bit. I hope you'll chalk it up to bad writing more than any kind of 'better than you' arrogance... of course, if it was the latter, I'd fit right in, wouldn't I?

Given that I do keep striving to find non-preachy ways to share my thoughts and learning and that others don't seem to be complaining too much about it, I'm learning to deal with the old concerns. I'm thinking now is a good time to bring back the KFS on occasion and see if it's still as interesting to people as it was 'back in the day'.

Send your favorite aviation jokes to me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and let me know if you want to be mentioned if I use one of them. My collection is pretty substantial by now & of course I can always use more!

What have you done in the past that brought you and others joy that warrants resurrecting?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It Was SO Worth It

We're still not any of us caught up on rest, I'm sure - at least not at our house - and there are a few tight muscles from all the work on and off the stage... but even before we calculate net receipts (heck, I'm not sure if we know gross receipts yet!), Lawyerpalooza 3 was definitely a success and all the hard work was most certainly worthwhile.

People had fun. I made a fool of myself dancing (I take my job as professional groupie rather seriously). The music was great. Spike O'Neill, Anne Bremner, Gene Stout, and Alan White were all tremendously helpful, gracious and engaging as MC and judges. The Premier Club worked out really well as a venue. I'm certain that we raised some decent money again (even though we don't yet know how much that is) for music education in Seattle schools. And people seemed to be having fun. Oh - I said that already.

Even better, the concept of what we're doing seems to be gathering momentum. People are building off of each other's energies and ideas. As much as the buzzword 'synergy' has become such a cliche, this is the sort of thing it was meant to express - when the whole really does become bigger than the sum of the parts. When great things begin happening because of a clarity of vision and the involvement of people committed to holding that clarity and seeing it to fruition. More than one person came up afterword to share ideas or to let us know that they were interested in being further involved. It was great to see and it's something we want to harness and keep building upon.

Never mind that I wanted to be a rock star myself when I was a teenager. Well, maybe not a 'star' - but I did really want to have my own band. Moving to rural southwestern Washington sort of made that part more difficult. Not that it stopped Kurt Cobain at the time but then he probably wanted it even more than I did and didn't have the added challenge of being a chick. It was tough enough to convince anyone that I was capable of driving a tractor. Fortunately for me, my parents were the only ones who really had to be convinced and they never had a doubt.

Never mind too that as a spouse, rather than a formal volunteer, there is a lot I have no involvement in whatsoever. I try to be careful to be helpful but not push my way in - it's not my gig and I really do want to leave it to those whose it is. I am able to provide some level of technical assistance with regard to the aspects that require computers and that seems to be good enough. There are other people who do way more than I do and as a result, there's nothing I do that warrants any particular recognition for it. Just as when I was a manager though and doing my best to ensure the team members who did all the real work got the recognition, I find myself not at all concerned about what I get out of it myself. That actually surprises me in some ways and yet it's true all the same. I just loved that I have even a small part in making something that's bigger than me a success.

How many of us are missing that kind of feeling throughout most of our lives and our work? What's it take to find it and what are we willing to do or give up for it? Me, I was happy to give up most of a night's rest. It didn't feel at all strange to take a bit of a nap in my car just to try to catch up. And I mind not one small bit that my calves would really rather not be trying to walk today from all the pogo-sticking I did Thursday. Laugh at my antics all you want - I had fun & I felt (however misguided I may have been!) that I was helping out in some small way anyway. Fun was had. Money was raised. That's all that really matters to me. Not any of the other stuff I might be giving up.

And what about you - what's truly worthwhile to you? If someone handed you a whole bunch of money and said, "Here, go accomplish something worthwhile" - what would you choose? It might be cool to share your ideas with me here at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and see what sort of networking we could build around it. Face it, there are plenty of things we don't even attempt because we assume that it would take far more of whatever it is we feel we don't have to make it happen. That can be changed if we feel like it's something really "worth it".

What action could you take that would get you at least one step closer to feeling fully engaged in something?