Intermezzo: Business Analysis Tools and training for a runing event

…in a week and half, I will be running the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Not to worry, I will not ask you for money as I am not running this one for charity. It is more of a personal challenge and the route looks nice going through the parks and parts of Central London. It is a closed road race as well which I quite like. 
Thinking about my runs, I always set myself little targets to achieve just to challenge me that little bit more. Every time, I run a 5k, 10k, half marathon or OCR, I think to myself: What can I do better or differently?
This then made me think of using business analysis tools to get to the targets I want to achieve.
Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:
Using MoSCoW as a prioritisation technique helps me to define top targets I want achieve. 
Must have: Finish the race. 

Should have: Finish the race in the same time as the previous one.

Could have: Finish the race a little bit quicker than PB. 

Would like to have: Smash the PB.
That’s a good starting point and I can take it from there to refine this a bit more and look into what a Critical Success Factor (CSF) and KPI (Key Performance Indicator) could look like. 
Obviously, CSF is to finish the race with the KPI being the time I want to achieve. 
Therefore, CSF = finish race + KPI = time = successful run. 
Originally, I was aiming to shave 10 minutes off my PB for this half marathon which was quite achievable as the course if flat and closed road. However, this will most likely not be possible as the build up and training for this race has been severely hampered by injury. 
Therefore, my CSF is more likely to revolve around just finishing and maybe dropping the KPI entirely… i.e. just finish and do it for the fun of it and don’t worry about the time. 
However, I have some core principles when running and these are: 
Finish

Don’t stop

Don’t walk

Hydrate

Enjoy yourself.
This works really well for me and although these might not sound very sophisticated, if you stick to them they provide you with that little bit of extra motivation. 
Another business analysis technique that works quite well in a running scenario is the Business Activity Model (BAM) followed by the gap analysis. 
Translated this means that I look at my current PB (Personal Best) time for a half marathon and look at where I want to be, what the external and internal factors are that influence this and the training to achieve this. Any gaps to that will be analysed and then a plan made to work towards this. 
As I said above, my preparation was riddled by injury. I know what happened, I know what to do to mitigate it and I am taking the appropriate steps to get there (physio treatment, followed by strength training in the gym, followed by a measured running regime).
This is achieved by a gap analysis. 
Quite fascinating if you look at it like that.

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The start and end of a dream job

Hey, 
I am back with a new part of the story on how I started out in the corporate world. The whole story spans a period of around 17 years from the year 2000 all the way to the present day. 

Part III

As I was enjoying my new job and everything was going to plan news of an advance in technology made the rounds: The processing of authorisations of card transactions was going to be automated. 

Automation is the fear of many workers worldwide. The disdain of old school industries like car manufacturing and textiles. You would never think that something like this would affect you personally and when it does you are in shock. It is inevitable. 

To explain it all, I need to also outline how this authorisation process actually works and then conclude with how the automation part affected me and the team I was working in. I will try to keep it as simple as possible but bear with me. 

When you have a debit or credit card and you go shopping you tend to stick your card into a terminal, enter your PIN and then you have paid. What you probably don’t know is that there is a rather large process behind the payment. It consist of a string of processes that are connected from the moment you put your card into the terminal to you receiving your bank invoice. 

As soon as you enter your PIN a data set is submitted to your bank. This data set is stored on your card and are things like the long cardnumber, the expiry date of the card and some security features. 

Your bank then checks all these details against risk parameters they have set up. These parameters are dependent on your shopping history and what type of merchant you are and if the PIN entered is correct (it is much more rudimentary than you think. Banks don’t tend to collect as much data on you as Google or Apple…). If everything checks out, your bank says “OK, you can go ahead with the transaction” and sends an authorisation code to the merchants’ terminal and the transaction will happen, you take your goods and go home. All good, everybody is happy. By the way, this happens within less than 5 seconds. The whole process is ultra fast. 

However, if one of the things the bank looks up on you does not check out, the transaction may either be declined (when the bank has tough risk parameters in place) or the transaction will be referred. 

Let’s say you just got your brand new debit card with a brand new bank you’re new to and you take that card and want to make a £1000 purchase at a jewelry shop. It will be very likely that your bank is going to stop that from happening. At least in the first instance. 

When a transaction is referred, the display of the terminal would show a number to the merchant to call your bank (me in that case). I would then talk to the customer and ask some basic questions like “Are you on holiday?”, “what are you buying and why?” (Mind you this is not intrusive. If it is a new customer you need to verify these things) “Are you on holiday?” If you are talking to a customer who has been with the bank a bit longer you would ask “are you on holiday?”, “what were your last 5 purchases?”. Something along those lines and after you have asked them what their DOB and address were. 

You would then make a manual decision on the referred transaction and the merchant you are with would use the manual authorisation code to advance the transaction and you can get your goods and leave. 

The whole process would take 5-10 minutes maximum. No longer. 

Cue the automated system or AVR (Automated Voice Recognition) how it was called at the time. This systems was a direct replacement for us, the human element talking to the customer and meant that if a referral took place, the customer would talk to a machine to get the transaction through. You would enter your cardnumber and then answer a series of YES/NO questions and based on that the AVR would decide to go ahead, or not. 

Nowadays, card transaction referrals are all but eliminated and you either get an approval (YES) or a decline (NO).

We were done. 

All the good work we were doing was to become undone as the bank prepared to shut down the team. A part of the area was supposed to survive and move to Spain. We were told that we could apply for roles there but personally, I felt I wasn’t ready to move abroad just yet. I was just about to leave home and going away to Spain, not speaking the language or knowing anything about the country seemed too daunting to me at the time. 

The transition period was rather weird in that when the automated system was switched on we were kept on pay roll with the requirement to be in the office. That meant: Card and board games for four weeks straight with management approval. No calls came in. None whatsoever. It was dull. 

Then, the actual cut happened and we were asked where in the business we wanted to move to. No one thought about redundancy at all and it was clear that we would all stay on in the business in some capacity. 

This was the first time I had a proper corporate HR experience. They tried to push me into the Customer Support Team which no one wanted to really work in as the general opinion was: Once you are in Customer Support you can never get out and your career was pretty much over. Besides, we heard horrific stories of the evil customers that team had to deal with. 

My meeting with HR at the time was pretty strange. I had already my mind up in that I definitely didn’t want to go into Customer Support and therefore chose, in my mind, the lesser evil: Collections. 

As I will describe later, it was one of the worst decisions of my life but also one that got me where I am now which is also a paradox. 

More on that in a later chapter. 

For now, I will leave you with this part and next time I will share with you what it was like working in Collections and what would turn out to be some of the most grueling years of my life. 

The beginning

Hello,
Welcome back to another blog post of mine in which I am sharing some of my experiences in the corporate world. In the first part, I wrote a little bit about personalities and how my preferences have changed over the years. In this second part I will got right back to my beginnings in corporate life and how I started out.
I have decided that I will write longer posts like this one in more of an autobiographical, storytelling style to cover the past and once I have caught up to the present maybe share what the future could hold and my opinions on things.
In the interim, I am planning to write shorter posts to get a few real time stories out. I say stories but they will be all real…
Part 2 –
The year 2000 was quite a significant one. Not only for the whole world as we would all be witness of a new millennium being born but also for me personally as I would start life in the workforce in the office of a major bank.
I am from a mid sized town in Germany and typical for the country you would finish school and then have the choice to either go to university or you would do an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are very common in Germany and you would generally do one if you wanted to learn a job and not do something academically. This means, if you wanted to become a nurse, you would do an apprenticeship for that. The same applies to bankers who work in a branch (once a very reputable apprenticeship to have done, nowadays, not so much), builders, electricians, secretaries, shop attendants, sales people, chefs… the list goes on.
In the year of 1999 when I finished school and had to make that choice, I chose to do a rather silly, school based apprenticeship. I always had a talent for languages so I did that: On the beheft of my parents (“Son, you need to figure out what you’re going to do! You need a solid job!”) I signed up for an apprenticeship that focussed on languages. I am not sure what it’s called in English but I would call it a secretary with language skills (in German: Kaufmannischer Assistent fur Fremdsprachen und Korrespondenz). I chose English and French as my languages as I spoke English fluently and used to be proficient in French too so thought I could do this as a refresher which, in hindsight was a big mistake.
The course was two years long and frankly quite gruelling. They taught us all sorts of things that were never really in the realm of my interest: Short hand writing, economics, business maths and touch typing (!). Of course the main subjects were the languages which were business English and business French. The English bit was okay and you learned a lot of interesting things on how to communicate in a business setting. French was horrible. Really horrible. I think no one understood anything at all and the teacher got very frustrated with us. He was a bit of an arse as well, expecting nothing but high performance from us. He rubbed all of us up the wrong way and we were all annoyed with him and he with us.
In the second year we talked about pretty much nothing but French wines. That’s how resigned he was.
During the two year apprenticeship we would have to a four week placement in an office so we could see what the real deal was.
The biggest employer in town was an obvious target so I applied and managed to get my foot in the door. The first time in a big office, the first time having real colleagues and the first time experiencing the awkwardness of employed life of a large bank.
It was fun actually. At the time it all felt quite innocent and you felt like you could not do a lot wrong as you were only an intern. These four weeks flew past like they were not really happening. The people in the team were nice and very welcoming.
I made a decision: I wanted to work there once I got through the apprenticeship.
Luck was on my side. Towards, the end of the apprenticeship the bank was hosting an open day and I got to meet my colleagues from the internship again. The HR department gave an introduction too. I came prepared and gave them my CV with a cover letter.
I finally finished my apprenticeship and was hired by the bank as a temp.
I was now part of the corporate world.
I can’t exactly remember how long my temp job was… Maybe 1 or 2 months. However, they ended up hiring me full time and my first proper job commenced.
As I mentioned earlier the bank was the largest employer in town this specific branch was part of the back office for their credit card operations. My job was as part of the Card Acceptance division working in the authorizations team. The main part of the role involved taking calls from merchants to authorize their transactions either in bulk for mail order transactions This kind of job is extinct nowadays as the authorizations process has completely changed since the early 00s and it is all automated now.
As a beginner in the life of banks and credit cards in particular, the job was immensely exciting. I got to meet new people in my new team (they were all really nice by the way!) and life was pretty good. The first year was just good. I haven’t got anything bad to say and I had a fun time.
The team had been together for a while and I was the new guy. You could tell. Part of the job was to do shift work during the week and at weekends which meant you sometimes had to work either on Saturday or Sunday morning or evening. The morning shift started at 7.15 am and the evening shift started at noon. So, if you are the new guy on an early morning shift you would have to do the McDonald’s run.
By around 8am the first of the guys would say “Who’s doing the McDonald’s run?”. Of course I was one who had to do the run… I was the new guy after all.
Now, I wasn’t that hardcore at the time and the thought of eating a BigMac or a Quarter Pounder with cheese (or Hamburger Royal as we call them in Germany… cue the Pulp Fiction, Amsterdam analogy.) so I negotiated them down to 11am. I know… not hardcore enough.
The weekends were actually quite fun: On a Sunday not many calls would come in and we could do a lot of fun stuff.
Open plan offices are just made for frisbee. Sadly, management got wind of it and they banned the frisbee.
You could witness all sorts of things on a weekend though. With the early morning shift starting at 7am it would not be unheard of, of a couple of team members coming to shift on a Sunday morning straight out of the nightclub across the road.
Once, one of the guys had a nap under the senior managers desk, using said managers’ spare jacket as a blanket. What nobody knew was that the manager was actually coming in that day to check on us as a courtesy visit.
If he did notice our team member lying under his desk with his spare jacket as a blanket, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t go to his desk.
Later in the year, when it was appraisal time he did pick up on it though and the told the napper that if he wanted to take a nap that’s fine but he should ask first if he wanted to use his spare jacket. Class.
That senior manager had the respect of most of us as we was good, protective, knew his stuff and was overall likable. He had been with the company for ages and has done a lot for it. I like him and when it all went to pot as I will explain later, he did well. Got a nice redundancy package and changed careers entirely going into retail. I think his shop selling printer cartridges is still going. Nothing I would like to do but good on him.
As for me, I was quite enthusiastic about my job. I liked it and I learned a lot although, sometimes, I found it quite difficult to get used to intricacies of office life. Who can blame me? I just came out of school and having a properly paid job is miles away from going to school having to listen to teachers. When you start a job, you actually have to show some common sense and be a bit more grown up which takes some time adjusting to. It was quite an advantage that I didn’t have to listen to a teacher anymore and could pretty much make my own decisions. I was still living at home at the time but on the brink of moving out. Everything was going well… or so I thought.
End of part II
In the next part I will share my first experience with bad office politics and corporate malfunction. Stay tuned.

…oh dear!

I think I have bitten off more than I can chew!

 

I have started writing blog posts for this site as I wanted to share my stories in the corporate world. I noticed that I was going way back and it all turned out to be really autobiographical which is cool but I have too much material swirling around in my head and there are so many current events and things I want to put out and share with you on here.

However, I got so tangled up that I couldn’t post anything at all… I am rethinking my approach now and will hopefully publish something more meaningful soon.

I am not after followers or likes. I just have an urge to get some things off my chest but it has proven to be a bigger challenge than I thought it would be… Ouch.

Anyway, watch this space!

 

From robot to artist…

Hello,

I am sharing some insights of my life in the corporate world and how personalities are perceived and how external pressure shapes you. The focus of this little series will not be the psychology of things but more the things I observed in past and my long time in the corporate world. I have never been in a very high management position so my views are mostly from the “front line”. 
Please enjoy but please note that everything I write is based on my personal experiences and opinions.

– Part 1 –  

When you work full time in a corporate environment like I do, then the need for people to compartmentalize you as a person (i.e. put you in a box), is quite strong. Especially if you work for team leads and managers who do not really know a lot about people management or just don’t care and want to get by or look good in front of more senior managers. 

In my personal experience this is true for 95% of all team leaders and lower level to middle managers.

Cue the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator: The test many of the corporate types will do at some point. Around 6 years ago I did my first test. I didn’t believe in it at first and thought it was all a bit rubbish. I just didn’t like being put into a box so some manager can talk to me in a specific way and put me in a box. I thought “How can they just not talk to us and form their own opinions and why do they need some test to understand us”.

Mentally, I was resisting.

However, at the time, the pressure of the workplace and the fact that this was a big deal with an offsite and all, I felt I had no choice but to take the test.

So, I answered all these questions on how I interact with people and what my preferences in a social setting such as a party are. As with most things I tried to be honest and besides: I love filling out forms. 

After a while, we were given our results based on the questions we answered and the result for me was ISTJ – which in effect means I am an emotionless robot who hates people, is incredibly shy and loves to count numbers. In other words: A thoroughbred analyst. I would need facts and nothing but facts and everything has to be decided in the most rational way. 

Now, at the time it was probably, partially true. It was a long time before I started to rediscover myself and I was still under the influence of years of people telling me what I can’t do (emphasis on can’t) and what is expected of me. At the time it was clear that I was thought of as an analytical guy and because I am German I was also told that I must love rules a lot. On top of that I am an introvert. All this together means, I am seen as an analytical guy who can’t handle people and who struggles in a social setting. This was driven into me so hard that I started to believe it all. This of course informed my decisions further down the line. 

I did apply for roles involving people management but did so half heartedly thinking I won’t have a chance anyway (more on that in a later blog post). I looked at other people in their leadership roles and felt jealous as I thought: I could do this! Why am I not allowed to do it? But the reality is that we are all responsible for our own luck in that regard. We, and myself in particular, seem to forget that sometimes. 

What has changed since then? A lot actually. I have been feeling quite disgruntled at work for a while now. Some time ago I have been betrayed by a manager. Mind you, I had been betrayed before but this was different. I don’t want to go into all the details just now but it involved something I really liked and wanted to do but was taken away from me in a manner I cannot forgive. I was also blamed for it and told off for “not being happy enough” in the aftermath. 

This resulted in me leaving a job I loved and started something else which I didn’t love so much but kind of knew how to do. I got bored really quickly and even more disgruntled and I decided to leave. The leaving bit is very hard as I have worked for that company for a long time. My mind has to be ready and I needed/need to rediscover myself. This is an ongoing process and brings me back to the above mentioned Meyer-Briggs test. 

A few weeks ago, I took the test again and surprise, surprise, my profile is not ISTJ but INFP! 

This is a very different proposition to the previous result. Mind you, these profiles are a little bit similar but it turns out my preferences are that I need to be much more emotionally bought into the work I do and I care a lot about people. And reading my detailed profile I kept on saying to myself “well, if you actually think about it, this is quite true for me”. It was scary how accurate the profile turned out to be. 

I can’t go into all the ins and outs of the profile but what I did was, I completed the test on http://www.16personalities.com and then paid them for a detailed workbook and description for my personality type. Reading through the workbook a lot of things became a lot clearer and the job paths I could take were really helpful to me. 

INFP means I am a mediator personality type who seeks harmony and is interested in people. I become emotionally attached to most of the things I do and especially work has to have a meaning to me. 

What struck me the most was that, at several points within the workbook it was mentioned that I do not really thrive in a corporate setting and that I should steer clear of that. 

Amazing.

I am really looking forward to exploring this in more detail and I hope I can find a new job within the next few months as I would really like to do something different and I am pretty much done, doing things I don’t like. 

You only live once right?

– End of Part 1 –

…and another blog. LOL.

Hey there,

I get it. You think: “Jeez, another blog? Ugh. Whatever. Not interested.”

I get you.

There are thousands if not millions of blogs out there crying for attention and love. I like attention as well. I have recently found that out on my journey of self discovery (more on that in the next blog).

However, I will never force you to read my blog nor will I ever ask for your attention by sharing my blog posts all over social media. I do that with other things such as my photography which is my single biggest passion, vocation and hopefully soon profession in life. Just to be clear: This blog is not about photography. It’s just about me, my experiences, some advice, my life lessons learnt, stories and topics that interest me and maybe even some fictional stuff. I want to keep this blog as easy going as possible and I have not yet decided how frequently I am going to write.

Either way, should you come across this blog, don’t be shy and drop me a note be it to offer feedback, start a discussion or to just say “hello”. I don’t bite.

All the best

Ben