Folk Legends of Consulting

PCGSiliconValley_frontpage.jpgI am proud to be a business and technology consultant. There is nothing more satisfying than to be able to help a client solve a knotty business problem or achieve a new opportunity. And I am not alone. I am part of a large and vibrant consulting community that is integral to the economic health of the global business community.

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One of the little-known facts is that our profession has a rich historical tradition, one that dates back to before the early Wild West days of the great silicon rush. Many figures loom large in our folklore as spiritual founding fathers, giants, and pioneers of our industry. I thought that it would be a refreshing change to look back at some of our seminal folk legends and take inspiration from their examples. I have chosen three from the pantheon of immortals for your pleasure and edification.
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Buffalo Bill Coder
William “Buffalo Bill” Coder was born of humble roots in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. He began writing software at eleven, shortly after the death of his father, in order to help feed the family. He had to work on old computers borrowed from friends and relations. At seventeen, he lied about his age in order to book passage at the Windows Company, where he worked his way up from Intern to Senior Analyst. His rapid rise was attributed to an arcane subroutine he wrote that he called the Borgia Function. Bored with learning, he jumped ship at nineteen and made his way to the Silicon Valley where he took a series of brief jobs with large companies.

It was during this part of his life that he earned the nickname “Buffalo Bill.” Coder wrote programs and procedures of great complexity, frequently departing from established rules and practices. When his colleagues questioned him on it, pitched battles would erupt but Coder would always gain the upper hand by pistol-whipping his opponents with the phrase, “I couldn’t possibly expect you to comprehend.” As often as not, though, this would make the town too hot for him and he would move on once again.

Eventually, Coder opened up his own Wild West Show, traveling throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Captains of industry and seats of governments welcomed him with open arms, paying huge fees for his work. His audiences became dependent on him, commanding repeat engagements for years. Coder was one of the first to cash in on the Monumental Health Law, securing the contract for several of the mandated web sites. His celebrity was stellar.

It was only a fluke that his career came to a bizarre and untimely end. While visiting his safe deposit box, the time lock on the bank vault malfunctioned, causing the vault door to close prematurely. Ironically, Coder himself had written the software some years earlier, and the Borgia Function, a feature of all Coder’s implementations, had executed unexpectedly. It took a team of eleven programmers more than a week to open the vault. When they finally succeeded, they found Coder alive but hopelessly insane. He died in an asylum several years later. But to this day, software professionals around the world are still trying to unravel the Byzantine secrets of Buffalo Bill Coder.

 

Paul Bunion
It is said that Paul Bunion was larger than life even from the cradle. Bunion’s mother was wont to say that he was so full of hot air as a baby that they could heat the entire fifteen-room house during the coldest of Minnesota winters. Throughout his school years it was clear that he was destined to become someone of monumental proportions. Gregarious and companionable, he made friends easily, but his hearty back slap left scores of his playmates in traction.

Bunion’s gift for talking was profound. If a teacher made the mistake of calling on him in class, Paul would still be talking when everyone else had gone home to dinner. Legend has it that a hapless tutor committed such a blunder early on a Friday afternoon. When Monday morning rolled around and everyone returned, Paul was still there at the front of the room, blathering away.

Bunion’s parents began to worry that their son might not be able to make it in the world. There seemed to be few honest professions (which excluded politics) where a person could make a living from mere yakking. Salvation came in the form of a mail order catalog, on the back of which a correspondence course in consulting was advertised. No experience was necessary and the entire course took place by mail. It was ideal. They enrolled Bunion the next day.

Three weeks later, Bunion was a consultant. Instead of a diploma, the correspondence school shipped him a box of business cards. Bunion packed up his clothes, wished his parents farewell, and headed for the Golden State. And while business was slow at first, he began to pick up clients rapidly once he realized that he could talk them into submission. Nonstop jibber jabber and a hearty handshake were all that he needed.

Bunion was most famous for his two big contests. A man once bet him that he couldn’t out-talk ten different people. Bunion smiled from ear to ear and shook the man’s hand, accepting the bet. On the day of the contest, Paul started talking along with the first of his ten contestants. When the first contestant tired, the second took over and so forth until they started all over again. Paul just kept chattering away, holding his own against all ten of them until they had gone through their rotation some twenty times. They finally conceded. Paul had won hands down, blathering nonstop for thirty-three straight days and nights without stopping for a breath or saying anything worth paying attention to.

Another time, a man bet him that if enough people talked at him all at once, that Bunion would have to stop and listen. He just shook his head again, smiled, and accepted the bet. They held this contest in an arena and they say over a thousand people paid to go up against Bunion. The louder the contestants talked, the louder Bunion talked. The more people joined in, the bigger Bunion’s smile. No sir, he did not hear a word of it. He might as well have had his ears stuffed with ground mackerel.

Paul Bunion is still out there talking, and people are still paying to listen. I don’t know where he is today, but it is comforting to know that there is still a living legend among us. I look forward to the day I can shake his hand and listen too.

 

Wild Bill Hiclock
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hiclock was a trailblazing consultant and gambler from the heyday of the industry. The young James was bright and had an entrepreneurial mind. He discovered early on that he had a gift for appearing useful without doing anything particular. When he was thirteen, he started a lawn mowing service in which he employed two of his buddies. They could spend an entire day on one lawn, looking for all the world like a swarm of bees, and only get the bare minimum accomplished by sundown. “Tough lawn, Ma’am,” he would reply when questioned about his fee. “Dangest thing. We had to work extra hard just to get it this far.”

Like many things in his life, Hiclock never finished college. Instead, he began a consulting firm, rounding up his childhood friends to help. They specialized in long-term technology projects requiring months for discovery and design. Hiclock and his team would disappear into a closed conference room for days at a time. At the end of each week, Hiclock would present a detailed progress report that had all the transparency of a Chinese puzzle box. He began to be called “Wild Bill” soon after his first clients received their invoices.

What transpired in those conference rooms was never revealed, but as Hiclock’s firm gained new clients, the list of his employee’s technical certifications burgeoned inexplicably. Hiclock’s legend grew even larger when it began to be whispered that the same consultant team could keep three clients on full time billing simultaneously. Their apparent productivity was almost magical.

The firm closed its doors shortly after Hiclock’s mysterious disappearance. Hiclock was only thirty-nine at the time. It was during a late night poker game with his partners. Hiclock had just dealt himself a full house of aces and eights when a man appeared from the darkness behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. We have only the word of his confederates as to what happened next. Their story is that Hiclock and the mysterious visitor simply vanished. Poof!

To this day, nobody knows what actually happened. Of course, his partners were suspected in the beginning of being the instruments of Hiclock’s destruction. Everyone soon realized, however, that they had no actual skills and would be unable to run a consulting firm by themselves, much less mastermind their benefactor’s disappearance. They were totally dependent on his ability to bend time. That leads us to the most likely explanation. “Wild Bill” Hiclock had been whisked away to oblivion by a Time Lord, enraged by the man’s meddling in affairs of the clock. I wonder if he went well with “catch up?”
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I hope you have enjoyed my three tall tales. There is no real message here or lesson to be learned. We have all met these gentlemen in one form or another during our travels, and if we squint we may also see a little piece of ourselves as well. I had hoped to share with you the legends of P.T. Blarney and Paul Severe, but that will have to wait due to constraints of space and time. And on that latter constraint, given Wild Bill Hiclock’s unceremonious departure from this plane of existence, it is prudent to simply leave it there.

 

Would any of you care to try your hand at spinning a yarn about your favorite consulting folk hero?  Submit your manuscripts to me and if you are lucky, you may become a guest blogger on Parnassus Musings!

 

Commitment

Commitment_HeaderI do a lot of work with teams. Teams and working groups are an important part of my personal as well as my professional life. I work on project teams as part of my consulting and I participate on boards and commissions as part of my community service. For me, the quality of the team determines the quality of the result no matter the context. A strong team is a joy to be a part of; a weak team means misery. I have had cause of late to reflect on the characteristics of a strong team and how they enable success.

Six Characteristics of a Strong Team
There are six essential characteristics that I look for in a robust and successful team. While it is not reasonable to expect that all team members will have these attributes in equal measure, recognizing how individuals and their personalities align with these aspects makes assembling a high quality team more likely.

  • Diversity: There is nothing worse than being on a team where everyone thinks alike. The greater the diversity of background and viewpoint the healthier the team. Not only does diversity expand the available idea pool, it also increases the likelihood that some arcane aspect or lurking issue won’t be overlooked.
  • Skill: Having the appropriate skills on your team is a no-brainer. More important is having team members with the capacity to pick up new skills quickly. Situations arise frequently where unforeseen circumstances demand new or enhanced skills. This also has the benefit of creating cross-trained teams.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility allows a team to adapt to change, which is at the heart of every endeavor we undertake. Flexibility makes it possible for teams to harness their egos and consider alternative or conflicting perspectives. It enables a team to adapt templates to fit new and unique situations. It empowers teams to improve and mature.
  • Integrity: A good team has integrity on both the personal and group level. Personal integrity assures the team that each member will put forward his/her highest quality effort for the team and the project. The collective integrity is the team’s bond with the stakeholders.
  • Motivation: Hand in hand with integrity is motivation. The members of a strong team are motivated to do the best possible job, whatever it takes. This might mean long hours or extra effort, but the shared objectives of the team are paramount.
  • Respect: Respect builds trust both within the team and without. Respect for fellow team members fosters strong and trusting relationships. Similarly, respect for stakeholders fosters rapport between team and customer. Disrespect is a disease in any team.

In many ways, these characteristics are interrelated. There is overlap between them and the boundaries are indistinct. Nevertheless, all six are necessary for a team to be successful whether it is a project team, a civic commission, or a nonprofit board. There is, however, one essential element without which none of these characteristics really matter. That element is commitment. Team members must have skin in the game.

Commitment
Commitment is the spark that ignites the six characteristics. It is the catalyst that brings the team together in action. Team members without commitment drag the team down. Team members without commitment can seldom be counted on when the going gets tough. Commitment is more than a mere promise. Commitment is doing. Commitment requires management.

Commitment requires management because very few of us – that is, very few who truly commit – commit to merely one interest or pursuit. Because of the deep commitment, they rapidly find themselves a commodity; someone sought after by teams and enterprises. All too soon if they are not careful, they become overcommitted.

I wish to differentiate commitment from a mere promise or agreement. Agreement without commitment is just the occupation of space (and not always even that). Commitment (or the lack of it) drives the quality of the actions we take.

  • Preparation: committed team members come to meetings prepared. They have read any pre-read materials and are ready for scheduled discussions.
  • Follow-through: committed team members complete their assigned tasks on time and follow through on action items they have taken.
  • Ownership: committed team members take ownership of their ideas. It is not enough to raise the problem or offer a solution during a meeting. The team member is not committed if he/she expects someone else to pick the idea up and run with it.
  • Respect: committed team members respect the time and effort of the others. By way of example, if there is important business to be transacted at a scheduled meeting and one of the team has a conflict, the committed team member calls this out in time to change the meeting to accommodate everyone’s availability.
  • Engagement: committed team members are engaged. They work continually to achieve the purpose and objectives of the team/board/commission. Their membership in that body is not passive.

Individuals with multiple commitments will invariably encounter conflicts that can affect their engagement in one or another commitment. Of course they will need to set priorities. But if it is the case that they cease to add value to one or more of their lower priority commitments, it is best that they should step down and help the group find a replacement who can meet the commitment. Otherwise, they should do what they must to remain engaged and involved.

Skin in the Game
Commitment, understandably, is difficult. Sometimes we don’t know how much work a commitment will require. We do not know how our personal priorities may change or need to change in the future. We certainly never know in advance what new challenges life may set in our path. At most, we must be ready to assess whether or not we have the bandwidth to truly commit each time we are faced with a new opportunity to make the world a better place. Sometimes it is difficult to say “No.”

I mentioned earlier about having “skin in the game.” Strictly speaking, the phrase refers to having a financial stake in an enterprise, which means that we have something to lose if the enterprise should fail. This represents an incentive to do everything possible to ensure success. It has also come to mean having a strong commitment in an endeavor even if a financial stake is not specifically involved. Personally, I do not like to see the original meaning of a good word or phrase diluted. So what is the “stake” in this usage if it is not monetary? It is personal integrity. One’s integrity is one’s gold. Personal integrity is our stake in commitment.

What are other characteristics of a strong team? How do you and your teams manage commitment?

The Seven-Generation Perspective

Foundation_HeadingI had the good fortune recently to hear the Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe speak to the local Chamber of Commerce.  The tribe is big business in our area with a recently-enlarged casino east of town, a golf course and activities center on the west end, a medical center directly in town, and more.  In addition, they have an expansion of the activities center in the works as well as plans for a resort to go with the casino.  The Chairman is a passionate man.  He is passionate about the tribe and their welfare.  He is passionate about the community.  He is passionate about education.  He is passionate about the environment.  And he is passionate about the future.

What resonated most for me was his passion for the financial foundation the tribe has laid over the past twenty years.  They have managed to do this extremely well, making them much less dependent on Federal funding.  This was particularly fortuitous during the recent government shutdown.  The goal continues to be to make the tribe self-sufficient, but not at any cost.  All decisions and everything they do must be from a seven-generation perspective.

This concept is profound.  Instead of focusing on short-term profits, the tribal leaders are concerned with both the welfare and the perspective of their descendants.  Will our descendants be able to look back and thank us for a job well done or will they curse us for a horrible legacy resulting from our greed and arrogance?  It is a concept that goes against corporate practice.  Many companies have long-term business plans, some as long as five years.  But the focus is usually quarterly performance.  There seems to be no place for a seven-generation perspective.

On the one hand, this is perhaps understandable.  Most companies are more about profits and shareholder equity than families and descendants. Unquestionably that was a provocative statement, but allow me to defer qualification for a bit.  I will return to it later in this article.  Nevertheless, the statement also bears a certain truth.  Decisions are made routinely on the basis of profitability as opposed to people, on the basis of financial value as opposed to human values. Downsizing is just one prevalent example.  It is good business.  Well, maybe.

Given the fact that companies come and go, perhaps a long-term perspective isn’t useful.  Think of all the big companies of the twentieth Century that are no longer with us for reasons of merger, acquisition, or simple failure to remain relevant.  These would include DEC, Studebaker, Gimbals, Arthur Anderson, Pan Am, Woolworth, American Motors Corporation, Standard Oil, Enron, and Bethlehem Steel. How would a seven-generation perspective have helped any of these?

I think the answer is in the nature of the questions that the seven-generation perspective forces one to ask.  These are questions that drive right to the foundation of value and values.

  • How does this decision increase value for my customers and employees?
  • What does “value” mean?
  • Does this decision make the world a better place or a worse place?  How?
  • What are the possible implications of this decision a year from now?  A decade from now?
  • What are the economic and human implications if this company were to fail because of this decision?
  • What would my descendants think of this decision?  How could it affect them?

I am by no means an expert on corporate failures, but certainly two of the now defunct companies listed above might still exist if questions like these had been asked routinely. The concept is by no means fool proof because we as human beings cannot guess the future.  But we can use due diligence and judgment in making decisions that satisfy the seven-generation questions.  Using core values to steer our actions provides the best possible defense against an uncertain future.  Could it have saved Studebaker or Bethlehem Steel?  I don’t know, but how about Arthur Anderson and Enron?

The most compelling argument in favor of the seven-generation perspective is that a successful businessman advocated it.  The chairman is the CEO of the entire operation.  He is university-educated and a member of countless business and advocacy organizations.  All of the tribe’s business concerns are thriving and employ hundreds of local people, which benefits not only the tribe but also the community at large as well.  Clearly there must be something in it.

It is also clear that this is not just a leadership philosophy.  It is too well grounded for that.  It is a life philosophy that permeates the organization.  It exhorts that everyone think long-term even when acting short-term. This means that everything we do is, in some form or another, foundational.  Everything we do, every act we take, and every decision we make has the potential to ripple effects into the future. Indeed, some of these effects could easily ripple into the seventh generation.

I was discussing this idea with a colleague whose initial reaction was that thinking about our business decisions in the light of consequences two hundred years from now is unrealistic.  And yet one simple example comes immediately to mind.  Right here in Sequim, we are experiencing an increase in instances of Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning in our local shellfish.  This is caused by naturally occurring bacteria in the algae upon which the shellfish feed.  But two external factors are causing huge increases in the amount of algae, and thus the bacteria.  One is the increase of agriculture in the area, resulting in the runoff of fertilizers and other nutrients that feed the algae.  The other is the gradual increase in the water temperature that is a consequence of global warming.  Both of these factors are the results of decisions and actions that go back more than a hundred years.  Some are local and some are global.  And while the case can be made that knowledge of these consequences was not possible a century ago, it is today.  I argue that thinking about the consequences of our decisions with a long-term point of view is both realistic and beneficial.  In the case of the shellfish, the negative impact is to health, the economy of the area, and the environment.

But what about the dynamic new businesses that must pivot their game plan every few months in order to remain relevant and ahead of the curve? I think the answer still lies in the concept of foundation.  If every decision is considered in terms of enhancing a foundation that is robust, extensible, and flexible then an enterprise should be able to remain nimble and vibrant.  As in all things, though, it is no guarantee.  From a technology standpoint, we have no idea what the look of computing, data, and analytics will be in five years let alone two hundred.  As my shuttle driver Pete said on a recent trip, “Life is messy.”

So what value is there in adopting a seven-generation viewpoint?  What is the practical application?

  • Foundation:  Foundational thinking delivers solutions that are built to last.  Foundational thinking is interested in something that contributes to lasting value in some form or another.  Even if the enterprise should fail, if the effort contributed materially to an industry, community, or body of knowledge then something foundational has been delivered.
  • Integrity:  The questions raised by a seven-generation perspective enforce integrity in our thinking and actions.  They force us to examine material and human consequences outside our immediate sphere of interest, and to take responsibility for decisions and actions.
  • Value:  The seven-generation perspective asks us to examine our notions of value and values.  What is the nature of value itself, and how do our values affect the value we deliver to our customers, our colleagues, our families, and our communities?  This perspective exhorts us to view value as a continuum that we each have the power to increase or decrease.
  • Legacy:  Why ever should I care about what the seventh generation might think of me two hundred years from now?  As a genealogist my perspective is naturally biased, because I care deeply how my ancestors paved the way for me and I see an obligation to continue their effort.  As a citizen of the United States, I am grateful for many of the decisions and actions of countless fellow citizens who came before me.  The seven-generation perspective only serves to prove this viewpoint.

I took a pretty broad swipe at companies and profit earlier in this article. I recognize that there are companies that do put their employees, their customers, and their communities high on the agenda. Many companies today are expanding the range of benefits and services available to employees and their families.  This is an enlightened viewpoint and while it is tied directly to the retention of top flight, experienced, and well-trained employees, it demonstrates a longer-term perspective. Many other companies contribute generously and materially to their communities and the world. But imagine the value that could be accumulated if these actions could be adjusted to a seven-generation perspective?

For me, the concept of the seven-generation perspective has coalesced several key personal threads or themes that have been a part of me most of my life.  It connects with my innate antipathy – bordering on disgust – for leaving a mess behind for someone else to clean up be it at home, in a hotel room, or a public landfill. As mentioned, the genealogist in me bonds as much to my unknown descendants as it does to my great great grandfather Samuel Ayers Annin (to name but one) who serves as a role model not unlike the Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman.  Perhaps this perspective explains why I eschew consumerism and prefer to buy (or make) things that endure.  The perspective ties to the values that I hope I have given my children.  Lastly, it aligns with a seminal piece of wisdom, and one of the better ones actually, that I took away with me from my years in Scouting.  “Leave the campground better than you found it.”  That’s foundational.

Do you think the seven-generation perspective can transform business?  How do you see the past and its effect on us today?

It is not your Grandma’s Quilt

Quilt

One of the blogs I follow is Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak.  Dan posts almost daily in a pithy, near bullet-point style.  It is all good stuff, although a little like trying to drink from a fire hose if you try to consume it every day.  Nevertheless, one of his articles especially resonated for me recently.  It was entitled “How Hard Work got Chris Fired.”  I will let you read it for yourself, but it started me thinking about how essential relationships are for those of us in Business Intelligence.

Consider for a moment the integrated nature of BI within an enterprise.  Even if the BI program is departmental in scope, the reach of the relationships is necessarily broader.  Not only are there executives, managers, and analysts within the department with whom you will be working, but also the managers and coders in the IT department as well.  And rarely does just one department own the requisite data, so there are executives and managers and analysts in other departments who become stakeholders and participants in the program.  They may also become your customers.  If you are a consultant, multiply this by the number of clients you have.

In any case, there is a complex fabric of relationships to be developed and maintained.  And in my experience, maintaining relationships is as difficult as developing them.  Each individual in this fabric has a different point of view, a different set of motivations, a different set of problems, a different work/life balance, and different experience upon which to draw. Some enter into relationships readily; others resist.  Some trust first and adjust later while others are skeptical until trust has been developed.  Some will never trust at all.

Trust is the foundation of building and maintaining relationships, and comes at the intersection of three vectors of personal action.  These are capability, delivery, and integrity. It is essential to foster all three if you are to engender trust.

  • Capability:  I am qualified to perform my work, and to communicate with you about it.  That includes an ability to listen to your needs.  I demonstrate competence.
  • Delivery:  I routinely deliver what I say I will deliver on time and on budget.  I communicate issues early and invoke change management in a timely manner.  I deliver quality.
  • Integrity:  My word is my bond.  I demonstrate the same honesty toward everyone that you demand from me.  I can be trusted.

Quilt2

Developing trust along these three lines is neither easy nor is it necessarily the same from person to person.  Here are some ideas that have worked for me.

  • Capability:  Capability comes first.  You are not going to get hired either as an employee or a consultant unless you can prove capability.  It is more than just a resume.  Resumes lie.  The most important tool you have is the set of relationships you have developed, in other words your references.  If others are willing to stand behind you and testify on all three vectors, it is a powerful advantage.  Nevertheless, you need to do more.  You need to speak, write, and listen well because all three telegraph capability.  If you write well, I recommend blogging. Being able to demonstrate facility on a variety of related topics in an articulate manner demonstrates capability.
  • Delivery:  It is not enough for me to say “deliver everything on time.”  For one thing, that is not always possible.  It is possible to deliver most things on time.  But there is more.  Delivery is about providing value habitually.  If it is a project proposal, it needs to be complete and clear.  If it is your weekly project report, it needs to be thorough and on time.  If it is the BI solution itself, it needs to be exhaustively tested, documented, and meet the required specifications.  Deadline management begins during project estimation, and presumes sufficient familiarity with the business requirements to draft a project plan.  Unfortunately, we are often handed arbitrary deadlines that we know to be impossible.  Articulate the risks ahead of time and manage change.
  • Integrity:  Integrity is a way of life.  You can’t turn it on and off.  You cannot appear to be honest in one situation and not in another.  You can never appear to be accepting a conflict of interest situation.  And you can never appear to be going behind someone else’s back, even if it is actually necessary. A good approach might be,  “I am coming to you because I believe you to be the person best qualified to advise me on my next steps.”

There is much to manage here, and much to lose if you don’t.  You can spend years building relationships with your clients, and destroy them in a week or a moment.  Integrity is the most volatile because you may never get a second chance.  You can have a terrific track record, but two major goofs in a row can cause a client or a boss to question your capability.  It is similar with delivery.  If you allow other factors to affect the quality or timeliness of your deliverables, you can lose a client quickly.

I referred above to the fabric of relationships.  I think that relationships should not be treated in the manner of a patchwork quilt where there is Bob and Dora and Ted and Sarah as distinct entities, but rather in the manner of an integrated single fabric.  A relationship with one person depends intrinsically on that person’s relationships with others.  My relationship with Ted may need adjustment because his boss Sarah doesn’t trust him completely.  I may need to manage my integrity vector differently with Bob and Dora because their office romance ended badly.  I may need to answer a question from my supervisor that could negatively impact a co-worker who also happens to be a close friend.  These situations all demonstrate how much of a fabric relationships are, and how important it is to remain aware of the personal nuances.

I think I have been pretty lucky over time.  I have managed the fabric of my business relationships largely by the seat of my pants (okay, right, by the seat of my kilt), but I have been able to maintain some of these connections for over twenty years.  I have drawn on some of the principles above without giving them much thought. But after reading Dan’s blog, my understanding has coalesced around the factors that have worked for me.  I believe I can credit the successes I have enjoyed to having the talents of so many terrific people working with me.

It is difficult to stay in touch with everyone, but I do try to reach out now and again.  So hey!  If you have not heard from me in awhile, feel free to poke me any time.  Good relationships are two-way.  Happy networking!

Do you have some good relationship building techniques or tactics to add to the discussion?  Have you had an “uh oh!” moment where you realized that you had damaged a relationship?  How did you repair it?