It's the fourth quarter: the heat is on!

It's that time of the year again, the famous fourth quarter, when the long knives come out, when the pundits hit the road with their prognostications, and when the industry big mouths run out their business models for next year and try to crucify the competition. It's also a time when IT executives wonder what will my title be tomorrow?

The vogue seems to be, become as lean and mean as possible. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks this is dumb. I think a goal like this isn't just ill advised rhetoric but is also downright sinister. The word (mean) to me describes an assortment of qualities, none of which seems to be very desirable. Talking mean is often a prelude to a company acting mean!

In the mind

Fresh thinking is always required to enable companies to retain their most precious assets and to sustain innovation and wealth creation, not to mention bringing a little more social justice into their working environments.

The new world that IT vendors operate in today is totally different from the old in a number of vital respects.

Service(s) has become more important than products.

Web pages now deliver customised services to help customers in making their choice or stock management for business partners.

Organisations now collaborate as and when needed to provide instant availability.

Demand now is driving production via the extended supply chain, and Fixed prices are giving way to prices that reflect market conditions and are able to treat different kinds of customers differently.

If you're feeling some heat in the market right now you must be near a point of conflict or friction in one or several of these areas. The most common flash point these days is where "down pressure" from those "up there" and stockholder's demands meets "up pressure" from the evolving needs of the "new generation" of employees and the needs of your own personal lifestyle.

Everyone, from the individual entrepreneur to the head of a multinational, experiences heat in the IT world regardless of whether the market is up or down.

The heat is on

When you start smelling the smoke you are experiencing friction. When movements meet resistance, the resulting friction produces heat. Most dictionaries will list "conflict of opinions" or differences in temperament as definitions of friction.

When management finds itself at "flash point" it's likely that outside pressure is meeting "inside pressure" or "down pressure" (do more with less) is rubbing against "up pressure" (we need more to do less). At times all four forces are in collision and the staff are caught in the middle.

That's when things really get hot. Whether it's pressure from above versus pressure from below or pressure from everywhere at once, the person in the middle feels the temperature rising.

Knowing how to tap-dance in these tight spots can be a life-saving technique. Some of the so-called leaders of the IT world have often been more vaudevillians than IT executivesLeadership materialLeaders are responsible for getting the best performance possible out of their people, but leaders must also be leaders of hope.

I've worked with many managers who are stars, but some of those stars have also faded quickly. The key that distinguished the more popular stars is that they were charmed by the most exasperating aspects of individuals. Great managers are the ones who deal most gleefully with prima donnas. I recall one who said to one guy "you're so inflexible; I love it!" And he meant it. There is always something about great managers that made them gleeful even in the presence of the extraordinary craziness that characterised their people.

You couldn't be too crazy or too weird in this business. Weirdness is often understood to be a capital asset because weird people are clones; they often give companies the edge.

Great managers are mostly born, not made; it's largely charisma. I don't think you can acquire these skills if you aren't naturally a leader, a people person.

There's often this strange attitude that work at the lower levels is intrinsically noble but management isn't. So if you need to trim costs go for the middle level. But the middle is where we often invent the company and enable it to go into the future. At the bottom, there isn't enough power, while at the top they've often lost track of what's involved. At the middle the feeling seems to be you can make changes that can cause a company to still grow -- the warning is beware.

The sporting paradigm

Like most of you who have been in this industry for sometime, I find that going through a heated fourth quarter is generally accepted as par for the course.

Following the Olympics and various commentators' penchants for sports metaphors, it did occur to me that -- as we grapple with meeting our 2000 targets over the next few weeks -- beside sponsorships, IT and golf have a lot in common.

Most people outside of IT don't understand why we find our profession so fascinating and they have absolutely no idea why it is so complicated..

But then non-golfers, have no idea why golfers hit a small white ball around a field with sticks, let alone why the ball usually curves out of the fairway. In golf most of us can get the ball in the air and out there somewhere after many lessons and years of practice, but we all know people who have shot par when they were 12 years old!!!

Both pursuits have the same favorite phrase "Oh %#^/". It's happened again.

With technology, no matter what new snazzy products or services are available, someone will offer a better one right after the announcement. That's true of golf clubs, too.

In IT we often work in politically charged environments, and then keeping ones head down is important as it is in golf.

The rumour mill at The Rust Report never runs idle for very long and lately has been in overdrive, leading up to this infamous fourth Quarter. Of course, there are always some problems with industry chatter -- it often comes from the wrong side of the hiring and/or firing equation, for starters, and these are serious questions whether the fit is good for either company -- but keep the rumours and speculation flowing.

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