Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The "Grow Your Own" Approach to Team Development

Isn't it depressing when the organisation you work for recruits externally for key senior posts? The best people in jobs a level down get the message that you need to go elsewhere to move up and this expectation filters down the organisation. The organisations that do this often minimise expense on staff development - that's why they don't have lots of good internal candidates. Lots of energy is given to the appointment of the "right person". Sometimes (depending on the level) headhunters are used at vast expense and with doubtful value. Recruitment of staff on lower grades receives little attention and is entirely delegated to the least experienced managers.

Take heart, there's another way! The team I lead has massively increased training and brings in a bunch of amazing trainees every year (mostly graduates.) We invest heavily in the whole team, but particularly in our trainees. We're very picky with our trainees too. We advertise widely and run whole day assessment centres followed by further interviews. Lots of managers get involved. It's expensive. However the amazing thing is that we spend less on recruitment than we did a few years ago when we mostly hired experienced staff. The majority of senior posts are filled internally. This gives people a real sense that they have a career path and many work hard to develop themselves and show that they can do more. It also means that our best people are more likely to hang around. We don't worry too much bringing in those hard to find skills - we grow our own experts. The only downside is that when a senior post is filled internally, that usually creates another vacancy and so on. This makes lots of work for our nice HR people.

The outcome of this is a happy team with excellent staff retention, constantly refreshed by intakes of keen and energetic trainees (who are also very good value.) The money also seems to work out well!

This strategy prepares the organisation well for a downturn. A mild crunch means that when folk leave naturally you can simply lose the headcount. Some stuff ultimately doesn't get done, but you are much less likely to be paralysed by the loss of key people that in many organisations could only be replaced externally. In worse times you have the benefit of a strong and motivated team to meet the challenges.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Dell Precision M2400: First Thoughts

After a wait of about three weeks my new Dell Precision M2400 finally appeared. With the bag, dock and other bits there was a total of five boxes. The slice battery didn't turn up, I guess it will appear later. Dell boxes are all unbleached card and there is an absolute minimum of paper (good.)

The great thing about the Dell order process is that you can configure the system exactly the way you want and track the whole order and delivery process very easily online.

Physical Design and Component Quality

Let me start by saying that I'm impressed with the machine and very glad to exchange it for my old Latitude D820. It's powerful, light and secure - and it's looks good without attracting attention. The wave effect on the lid is eye catching, but doesn't look out of place.

The machine feels very solid. The screen doesn't bend and you can grab the open machine by one corner and wave it about without anything bad happenning.

Component quality is excellent. The hard drive is a super fast Seagate Momentus 7200.3 and the 1440x900 LED backlit screen is incredibly bright and clear - the best laptop screen I've ever used. The trackpad works very well and the keyboard feels good. The Intel wireless connects incredibly quickly.

My only other grouch in this area is the optical drive. It's quiet and fast, but seems to spin the whole time there's a disk in it and it's too easy to open by just brushing the side of the chassis.

There seems to be a fan running much of the time, but it's pretty quiet and given the speed of the CPU and the graphics, I guess that can be forgiven.

I ordered the keyboard backlight. As I often worked in a fairly dark lounge this is great. It comes on when triggered by an ambient light sensor and this works well.

One nice thing I've never seen before: Most laptops have several little panels you open with a tiny screwdrive to replace various bits. This new Precision has one big panel that comes off with one screw and gives you access to all the gubbins - excellent.

TPM / Embassy Security Center / Fingerprint Reader

Embassy seems to have improved a little (I completely removed the whole thing on my D820 after about a week.) Finger enrollment worked well, and using the reader for pre-boot authentication worked very smoothly. However my idea that this would provide a very quick and secure way of logging in and unlocking the screen proved optimistic. "Secure Windows Login" spends many extra seconds doing mysterious things and pretty often would not accept a finger, making it necessary to type in the password. The "Private Information Manager" is both buggy and clunky.

Reinstalling Vista

Once the machine was up and running I set about installing my usual range of tools (GroupWise, Firefox, Thunderbird, iTunes and Dropbox). I like GroupWise, but the installer is rubbish. On this occasion I installed while Windows Updates were quietly installing in the background - I should have known better. This resulted in the GroupWise install failing part way through (and Windows Update failing.) Windows Update sorted itself out just fine, but the general consensus on the web seemed to be that you recover from a failed GroupWise install by reinstalling Vista from scratch. After trying various less drastic approaches this is exactly what I did.

The plus side was that Dell provide a "real" Vista install disk along with a driver disk. No key is needed and the install is fast. This leaves you with a mostly working machine and the full driver package is very, very easy to download from the Dell website. Unlike many consumer machines, Dell do not load piles of unwanted software on to Precisions and Latitudes.


With the new Latitude E6400 / Precision M2400 Dell have a machine that will be very attractive for businesses and individual users. There's nothing in the HP or Lenovo range that I'd swap mine for.