Learning to Adjust Your Sail

Learning to Adjust Your Sail

I took up sailing late in life and my sailing life was rather short, only 10 years start to end.  There is nothing like moving to the desert to get in the way of sailing. Nevertheless, learning to sail will always sit high on my list of major accomplishments with lifelong lessons embedded in my soul.   
I was 45 when I took my first sailing lesson. I had recently lost my husband to a massive coronary heart attack and was crushed by a broken heart. My husband had passed away on a chartered sailboat while we were on vacation in Aruba. I had never sailed before that day. We were there because I had gotten it into my head it would be fun to learn to sail together. We both loved the ocean so very much.
It was during a grief group session that I found my way to sailing. A fellow grieving widow who was also a Commander in the Navy informed me that as a surviving spouse of a retired Marine, I had access to sailing lessons at the Newport Naval College. I lived just 45 minutes from Newport. I drove down later that week and signed up.  
I successfully passed the Naval sailing lessons, sailed all that I could, and continued to take additional sailing courses. I bought a sailboat – a Beneteau 331. She was named “Je T’aime” – French for “I Love You.”  She was a beauty that I fell in love with immediately. Many thought I had lost my mind. Perhaps I did. But I also know sailing saved me. Sailing allowed me to heal my soul and find myself again. Eventually, someone came into my life and started to learn alongside me. We married and spent time at sea every spare day possible until my job moved us one time too many.  
The accomplishment of learning to sail and the lessons learned will always be the highlight of my life.  The lessons came back to me this past week in conversation with a coaching client when he asked, “Will we ever find our way out of this mess?” referring to the pandemic and its impact. My reply came out intuitively, “Sure, we will need to adjust our sails.”  
With that simple statement, the lessons learned across the ten or so years of my sailing life came flooding back. I was astonished to realize how close these lessons apply to life and certainly in this time of our COVID-19 life. Let me share a few experiences that apply. 

You are never really in full control. 

When you are sailing, you can’t control the wind, the best you can do is manage the situation you are in.  Sometimes there isn’t any. Sometimes there is far too much. Storms occur, equipment breaks regularly, you learn patience is a necessity. Things don’t always go as planned, and you deal with it. That is sailing, and that is life. Sailing requires you to prepare for the worst because when you do, the rest is easy.  
Learning coping skills to work through unexpected situations and building the skills to adapt and thrive regardless of what life throws at you, is my favorite lesson learned. We did not plan for COVID-19. Most of us (myself included) could not have imagined the impact it has had on our lives. We don’t know what life will look like in a month or in a year or two. We only know there will be a tomorrow and a day after that. Yet, we are coping; we are adjusting, we are managing the situation as the best we can. 

Small details make big things happen. 

One of the first lessons that I learned from sailing is that the details matter the most if you expect to arrive at your destination at all. You learn to read the wind, the waves, the clouds, and the sun and to come to “feel” the boat under your feet. A sailor’s earliest lesson is to learn to continually watch for shifts in the wind by watching small thin strips of yarn blowing on the halyards (the line used to raise the sail). The lay of the delicate little line would indicate a change in the wind. Failure to accurately judge the wind and adjust the sail could result in the boom (the bottom of the sail) violently swinging across the bow damaging the boat or worse knocking into your crew.    
In sailing, tying the right knot for the correct application makes all the difference in the world. There are many different knots used for many reasons. For instance, the bowline may be the most important of any knot, is not complicated, and has been used by sailors for over 500 years. It is most useful because it is used to tie a line around a post or any fixed object, and under pressure, it tightens and will not give away. Knowing how to tie this knot and do it quickly can make the difference between your boat unintendedly breaking away from a cleat or your jib sheet breaking away.
Just as in sailing, we are required to pay attention to the details while living under the threat of this pandemic. Wearing masks, keeping distance, paying attention to washing our hands, and keeping our hands away from our faces are little things in the scheme of life. These little things matter in the care for us, our loved ones, our customers, and our businesses. 

It takes a crew. 

Looking back at the few times I attempted to sail single-handed (that means alone) as an inexperienced new sailor could be thought of as comical. But it was not. It was scary and downright dangerous. It became a whole lot more fun when my someday to be husband joined me in learning to sail and manage the boat.
Just like in life, sailing demonstrates the power of working together. Life without support can be just as scary. No matter what your status in life is, you need to build a crew, a team to share the burden, come along for the adventures and to toast the celebrations. It is essential to build relationships, nurture them, and contribute to a broader community. I never took for granted the tight bond amongst sailors and their willingness to help each other without expectation. 
A beautiful life is all about people. Not everyone has what they need or the skills to maneuver under the weight of COVID. That is why we must focus on helping each other and ignore the noise of those who prefer us divided.  

We will persevere. 

One of the greatest lessons I learned from sailing is that we will persevere by working together. Like life, it is easy to give up in the face of unforeseen obstacles or what looks to be impossible challenges. Like a sailor, we do not have control of the way the wind is blowing, or where our life is heading. There is still too much to be learned about the COVID-19 virus to let our guard down. It is important to keep moving forward, ready to adjust our sails if we see signs that we are moving too fast or moving too broad. We can do this together. 
Stay safe as we continue this journey together, 

Mary Patry
IT Executive Advisor and Leadership Coach  
 480.393.0722 (AZ)
 [email protected]
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/mleonardopatry 

Let’s Talk sponsored by ITeffectivity.com an IT Executive Coaching and Advisory practice targeting CIO’s challenge of leading and delivering business solutions with a focus on effective people and process capabilities. Discover the possibilities by scheduling a complimentary strategy session with Mary Patry. 

4 Steps to Safe Cost Cutting

4 Steps to Safe Cost Cutting

It is no secret that many industries and market’s bottom line profits are being walloped by the COVID-19 impacts. The impact is real. You have been asked to cut a substantial portion of the IT budget and fast. Your challenge is to deliver the reductions needed while maintaining services. Join me in exploring an approach to tackling the challenge as safely as possible.  
Let us begin. 


1. Start with a solid understanding of the current state of IT Spend:  How much and in what places 

Let me share an analogy…You need surgery! Can you imagine allowing a surgeon to start cutting without diagnostic tests identifying the root of your health issue? As scary as that concept might be, you must perform the same diagnostics before you start a cost-cutting initiative.
How do you know where to cut unless you know the costs and drivers?
I am not talking about the need for a Total Cost of Ownership analysis. I am advocating that you understand your spending from a high level. It is most useful to sort spend into three different views: 

IT Spend by Strategic Category 

Most IT costs sit in the Run category of spend (average of 65-70% percent of the total budget). Run costs are typically committed contract costs. Unfortunately, we see these costs rising each year unless there has been a continuous program to control run costs. The Grow category focuses on enhancing business processes with new IT-based capabilities, whereas Transform is in support of new business activities. 
The first opportunity here is in the creation of a center of excellence comprised of IT, Finance, and Key business operational representatives tasked with ensuring the continuous improvement in the efficiency of IT services. The need for business representation is strategic. It is also an excellent opportunity to solicit their input into the reduction of Run service delivery expectations.  
More important, it is an excellent time to educate the business on the operational impact of IT investment decisions. Without this education and attention, trailing maintenance costs increase the run costs of the business by 15-20% year over year as illustrated in the chart below.   

IT Spend by Cost Component

These days, the most substantial portion of IT costs for most organizations is associated with internal staff and outsourcing. Improving cost-effectiveness and enabling cost reductions will require a detailed look at services by category and identification of duplication of services while exploring alternative delivery models.  

The opportunity here is to look deep into each cost component to understand the opportunities to renegotiate, extend, or eliminate contracts or services. This is also the time to take a deep look, often for the first time, at the organizational design and staff skills inventory in preparation of a likely call to reduce staff or headcount.  

Do you know who your essential team members are?  

IT Spend by Technology Domain  

IT spending is spread across a combination of infrastructure, application, service desk, and IT management workload areas.
Experience shows us that there are real opportunities for significant cost savings and service improvements in each of these areas. Areas of cost reduction opportunities might include renegotiating service contracts, extending service life, consolidating data centers, or reducing the number of applications.  

2. Next, look for opportunities to cut costs.   

  • Quick cost-saving “WINS”: Scrutinize in-flight or planned Grow or Transform initiatives to eliminate or defer anything that does not contribute to immediate cost reductions or profit margin increase.
  • One-time hard savings (current spending or next budget cycle}: Reduce fixed costs by a set amount in the present or future budget cycle/quarter.  
  • Recurring hard savings (current spending or next budget cycle): Reduce variable costs regularly, proportionate to volume, in the present, or next budget cycle/quarter.
  • Reduced future costs: Savings on what would have been spent during out years. For example, renegotiating a three to five-year maintenance contract reduces savings in out years, which should be captured and tracked, but don’t have the same cash-flow impact as savings in the current or next budget cycle.
  • Expense deferral: Taking an action that will result in an expense being due and payable at a future date, rather than during the current time period. Many cost optimization efforts make the mistake of not differentiating between putting off a cost into the future and making structural changes that will reduce the long-term run rate. 
  • Staff/Headcount reductions: Reduction in force is never easy and often results in significant lost productivity. Analyze your skills inventory against critical functions and talk in detail. Without this level of scrutiny, staff reductions represent the highest risk of cutting to the bone. It is essential to have a clear understanding of the functions of every team member.
 As you list your opportunities for cost cutting, keep in mind that not all cost cutting efforts are helpful. There is a downside to attempting the wrong kind of cuts. Some can be quite dangerous to the intended outcome as well as IT’s reputation. Here are a few to consider:

3. Finally, inform and negotiate cost-cutting targets

Most often, IT cost reduction goals are dictated by the CEO or CFO with directives such as “Cut your total cost by X%.” This is understood. At the same time, the CIO will demonstrate managerial courage in clearly articulating and informing the business of both the positive and negative impact of that directive.  When opportunities and risks are articulated in clear business terms, the CIO can earn the right to negotiate the goal in partnership with the business leadership.  

4. Last, execute against the plan  

Seriously, this is hard stuff. By putting the extra effort in the analysis, you will be better positioned to manage costs and be prepared for the next time. There is always a next time. 
Feel free to contact us with questions we left unanswered or if you could use help in getting started.   
Stay Safe, 
Mary Patry and Martha Hein

Mary Patry
IT Executive Advisor and Leadership Coach  
 480.393.0722 (AZ)
 [email protected]
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/mleonardopatry 

Let’s Talk sponsored by ITeffectivity.com an IT Executive Coaching and Advisory practice targeting CIO’s challenge of leading and delivering business solutions with a focus on effective people and process capabilities. Discover the possibilities by scheduling a complimentary strategy session with Mary Patry.