3 must-know table tips for Word users

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll share three tips for using tables in Microsoft Word that every Word user in your organization must know.  Feel free to pass these productivity and formatting tips around to your users, your help desk staff, and technical trainers. These tips work the same way in every version of Word.

Tip #1: Repeat header rows on every page, please

If you have a table that spans more than one page, guess what? Your document looks pretty ragged if you don’t repeat the header rows on every page. The steps are simple:  Right-click on the top row (the row that contains the headings you want to repeat on every page), choose Table Properties, click the Row tab, and check the box for the option labeled “Repeat row on every page” and click OK.

Reminder: Click on the screen shots to enlarge them and fully enjoy their lustrous beauty!

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Figure 1: This is what your Word doc looks like if you don’t repeat the header row in your table on all pages. Yucky!

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Figure 2: Right-click on the first table row and choose Table Properties, then click the Row tab to turn on “Repeat as header row at the top of each page,” then click OK.

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Figure 3: This is what your Word doc looks like with the header row repeated on every page. Very professional!

#2 Doctors without Borders are great, Tables without Borders are not

If you have a lot of data in your table, and if you want people to be able to make sense of the information in your table without having to lay a ruler on top of the printed page (or worse, up against the screen!), all you have to do is select the entire table, then click on the Borders tool in the Formatting toolbar and select the All Borders option, and voilà! It’s obvious to the most casual observer where each row begins and ends.

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Figure 4: To select the entire table, click the “Select all” icon that appears above the top-left corner of the table when you mouse over it.

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Figure 5: On the Formatting toolbar, click the Borders icon and choose All Borders.

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Figure 6: Borders make the document easier to read.

#3 When you paste from Excel into Word and the columns go off the page, use “Auto fit to Window”

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve got a bunch of data in Excel. You copy and paste that data into Word as a table, and ka-blam! It doesn’t fit. It runs off the right margin and into oblivion. What do you do, hot shot? Well, if you’re smart, you don’t try to change the width of the table columns manually.  If you’re smart, you right-click on the table, choose Auto Fit and Auto Fit to Window, and bada-boom, it fits! You may have to fine-tune the width of some of the columns, but it’s much, much easier to clean up those column widths after Word has auto-fit the table to the existing margins.

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Figure 7: Here’s what my sample Word document looked like when I pasted in four wide columns from an Excel worksheet.

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Figure 8: Right-click anywhere in the table and choose AutoFit | AutoFit to Window.

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Figure 9: Here’s how my document looks after using AutoFit. It’s MUCH easier than trying to tweak the column widths manually.

How do you like these quick tips?

To share your feedback on these tips, please post a comment below or send a note to the editor.

Take ToolKit Cafe’s IT Management Knowledge Quiz

Are you smarter than the average IT manager? If you think so, we invite you to take ToolKitCafe.com’s  IT Management Knowledge Quiz. IT management coach Mike Sisco designed this quiz to test your IT management mettle.  It takes just a few short minutes to answer 10 questions.  Your answers will be graded and results displayed immediately after you finish the quiz. We’ve designed the quiz so you have to answer 7 out of 10 questions correctly in order to pass.

Thanks in advance for taking the IT Management Knowledge Quiz.  Keep an eye out on your ToolTalk Weekly e-newsletter for a link to our analysis of the results.

Tell us what you think of the quiz!

After you take the IT Management Knowledge Quiz, please come back to this thread and post a comment to tell us what you thought of it or email the editor.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs From the Help desk manager

Good support techs are hard to find and even harder to keep. It’s a tough and often thankless job. Callers often abuse them, other IT employees take them for granted and the hours can be terrible. More importantly, the combination of being able to understand the technology and work with people is exceptional.  There isn’t much a help desk manager can do about those things. What a manger can do is ensure the analysts have everything they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

     1. The right tools

No job is easy without the right tools. Whether the job is to repair plumbing, cook a great meal or diagnose a computer problem, having the right tools is essential. For a help desk the right tools are;

a)      Schematics on all supported hardware

b)      Good remote control tool

c)       Documentation on all supported software

d)      Admin rights to every supported system

  1. Appreciation for a job well done

Award ceremonies can be fun but giving out the same plaques every year or month isn’t true appreciation. The way appreciation is properly shown is to personally thank the employee. Managers should occasionally stop by the desk of someone who has done well, maybe even invite that employee out to lunch. While there the manager should thank the employee and be specific about why that employee is appreciated. A follow up email that can be kept for their records is a nice touch but the personal visit will stay with the employee for weeks.

  1. Training

Nothing changes faster than technology and the Help Desk analyst must be at least one step ahead of callers every day. Whether in a classroom, book or computer based. Training for the Help Desk analyst is essential. Of course time and money are always an issue. Anticipate and plan for slow periods by keeping up to date training programs available. Even if only for an hour, taking advantage of low call volume to increase skills is the best possible use of a Help Desk analysts time.

  1. Help in the trenches

Most Help Desk managers spent quite enough time on the phone, before they were promoted, and have no intention of going back. This is a mistake. While a manager’s time is best spent managing, the occasional foray back to the trenches not only keeps him or her sharp and in the game. More importantly, the extra help on a really busy day will be greatly appreciated by the analysts. It’s always good to know the boss can do the job and not just boss.

  1. Trust

Trust can be the toughest thing for any manager to give. For one thing, some employees just don’t deserve it. Most do and they should be left alone to do their job. Whenever possible a manager should deliver the requirements and then let the analysts figure out the best way to deliver. Micromanaging by scripting or insisting information be gathered in specific order are indications of mistrust and make an analysts job, more difficult, not less. New employees or those who aren’t performing need those things. Give the rest the room they need to do their jobs.

  1. Reasonable Requirements.

Reasonable requirements vary from office to office, depending on what is supported and the sophistication level of the users. It’s impossible for anyone outside to say what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Looking at history and working with trusted employees is the only way set the parameters. Once those parameters are set the expectations shouldn’t be raised, without serious reevaluation. In other words, once an employee has reached a productivity level considered excellent, stop raising the bar. Doing so just forces the employee to have a bad month, in order to start all over again.

  1. Occasional off the phone work

A help desk analyst should spend the vast majority of work time, on the phone.  The most important tasks on any help desk are answering the calls and helping the callers. Everything else is secondary. There are some tasks that are not phone related and giving analysts time on those tasks, when call volume permits, is a great way to recharge batteries. Examples are giving training as well as receiving it, documenting procedures and testing new software and hardware.

These seven things are important, doable and make a difference. There is more though. Tell us what you need from your manager and why?

For more great information on how to manage your IT employees check out The Practical IT Manager Gold Series by Mike Sisco. It’s an great resource.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat introduces the Worst Help Desk Manager…EVER

When I was hired as a contractor by a fortune 500 company to help start up a small Help Desk, I was excited about being in on the beginning of a project and couldn’t wait to get started. My excitement was quickly turned to dread as I soon realized I was working for The Worst Help Desk Manager, Ever!

King Percy

To protect the innocent, and the guilty and me, OK it’s really to protect me, I’ll call this manager Percy. Percy was young and ambitious. From the beginning it was obvious that he liked being in charge. Most of his days were spent leaning way back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk tossing a football up in the air and catching it. If he got a call he took it on speaker, so as not to interrupt the tossing.

He kept the speaker volume loud so the entire team could hear his calls. This saved time. If anyone asked Percy to do anything he would happily agree and point at one his techs. He usually pointed at me when the request was to write new technical documents. If someone wanted something heavy moved he pointed to John, the big guy. Undesirable tasks fell to whoever was out of favor.  It was good to be king.

Well-deserved Credit

I discovered the hard way that Percy didn’t like to read. After completing a first draft of the first technical document I was asked to write I emailed it to Percy with a note explaining I had thoroughly checked it yet for errors and that I had to guess in a few areas but wanted his input on the direction I had taken. In the meantime, I assured him, I would research the areas I guessed on.  A few days later I told Percy I had a second draft and it had changed a lot. He said not to worry, the first was fine. Turned out he had not read my email, or the draft. He just printed it and sent it on.  The good news was Percy had taken full credit for the document.  The bad news was I had to inventory the stock room.

Beware of Bad Managers Bearing Gifts

The worst came a few weeks later.  After successful completion of a project Percy gave everyone half a day off, with pay, on a Friday. What a treat. As a contractor I knew I couldn’t get paid for the time but I was happy to be off at noon on a Friday.

The next week, when I turned in my time sheet Percy noticed that I had only recorded 4 hours for the Friday before. He reminded me that he was giving us the rest of the day with pay. I told Percy I really appreciated the gesture but reminded him that I was a contractor, not a salary employee and it would be illegal for me to report hours that I didn’t really work.  Percy insisted that I change the 4 to an 8. I refused. He finally admitted that he told his manager that we all worked until the last minute to complete the project and if my time record was different than the rest of theirs, it would look bad. I refused to change my time sheet which made Percy so angry I was placed permanently on the newly deployed night shift.

Fortunately as a contractor my jobs were never permanent and I soon moved on to other if not greener pastures.  I don’t know what happened to Percy. I suppose he went on to torture many a poor help desk analyst. I would like to think that eventually one of the analysts snatched his football out of the air and … well you get the picture.

Policies to Pre-empt Percy

Those of us who are not Percy’s need to do everything we can to free the world of them.  The best way to do that is put in place IT policies to which all managers must adhere. That can be daunting but the Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit makes it a lot easier. With templates and charters that will guide you through creating an extremely effective set of policies and procedures.

Have you ever work for a Percy?

Tell us about it. Post a comment below or email the editor.

How to Implement an IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule

In my last post, I showed you how a simple Project Schedule Template can save time and headaches for IT managers. If you are in IT, sooner or later you are going to need to convert some technology, install new hardware and software to replace some old equipment and software, or maybe install new equipment and software for a totally new application. In this post, I’ll show you how to use my time-tested Systems Conversion Project Schedule.

Schedule the work, work the schedule

In most system conversions or new system installations, there are a few key groups of tasks required to do the job. One thing you can to do  help organize your project schedule is to group the detail tasks by category.

In the sample I’ll discuss, I identified  six major categories of tasks:

  1. Assessment – Identifying everything required to complete the project.
  2. Order and organize – Ordering equipment, software and other items as needed plus organizing components of the project.
  3. Infrastructure – Infrastructure and desktop support tasks.
  4. Setup/Installation – Software installations, etc. File build tasks would also be in this category.
  5. Programming – Programming and Business Analyst work.
  6. Training – Training and testing tasks.

You may need other category groups, depending upon the nature of your project. Most system conversion or installation projects will have at least the six that I’ve listed above.

Organizing the tasks by category group will also help you when you run weekly status meetings to determine the status of the project as it organizes the discussion into logical work groupings.

“X” marks the spot!

What I like to do for each task is to put a “/” in the cell for the week the task needs to be completed by. When the task is completed, I change the slash (/) to an “X”. This way, it is very easy to walk through a status meeting quickly by just focusing on this week’s tasks that have not been marked as completed. It also makes it easy to visually see the status of the project.

Another thing to consider for your project is that there will be tasks that are critical to the project.  In fact, those “critical tasks” may turn into  bottlenecks that can jeopardize a successful delivery of the project. It’s easy to highlight these tasks for the team by shading the cell that shows the scheduled completion date for the task. By doing so, that shading will trigger you to ask about the status of the task weeks in advance of its scheduled completion date, and you can  instill a sense of urgency on the parts of the people responsible for getting the work done.

Project success is much more likely when you organize your project into a solid schedule, assign appropriate responsibility, and check on the status every week.

In the sample there is a generic project schedule along with an actual project schedule sample used for a past systems conversion. Feel free to use these to help you in your next systems conversion or installation.

Sisco6

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things Your Users Want From You (and Your Help Desk)

Whether you’re providing computer support to fellow employees, consumers or other  companies your user all want something from you and your help desk operation. Obviously they want their hardware and  software to work properly but that’s not all. Knowing what callers want and how to give it to them makes the job easier and more enjoyable. It also makes for a great Help Desk analyst.

1. Respect
Respect is probably the number one thing everyone wants from everyone else. We
all want it from our friends, family, bosses and the kid behind the counter. Given the universal desire for respect, it’s amazing how often we forget to give it. Treat your callers with respect and expect it in return. Respect means recognizing that a lack of technical prowess does not equate to stupidity or laziness. It also requires you to remember when computer systems were not part of your knowledge base. Let your caller know you respect their contribution, whether that is sales, purchase or just that they are trying.

2. The solution
We usually hear from our users when there is some sort of problem. We are counted upon to provide the solution. While you can’t always give an immediate solution you can let user know that you understand the problem and are working toward a solution. Do this by restating their problem, using somewhat different wording. Then tell them what you are doing to find the solution. It takes only a few seconds and not only eases your users’ the minds but verifies, for you, that you really do understand the situation.

3. Less Jargon
Other computer professionals like it when you talk geek. No one else does. Unless they are in the business your spouse, your children, your friends and family hate it. Your users hate it more than anyone. They already feel inadequate for having to reach out to you for help. Not being able to follow the conversation just makes them feel worse.

4. Honesty
When you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know the answer but you will find it. The honesty is always appreciated and you look like an even bigger hero for all of your efforts when you do find the answer.

5. To get back to work
All anyone wants from the Help Desk is to get their work done. Your users come to you because there is something they need to do, usually for their job. They can’t do whatever it is and for some reason they believe you can correct that situation. That seems obvious but it’s important to keep in mind when talking with your users. They just want to get their work done.

6. To let off steam
No one wants to be yelled at and it’s not part of the support analyst’s job to accept that kind of treatment. Still, sometimes people just need to let off steam. When you hear the frustration start to build in your users’ voices, preempt the situation by acknowledging how frustrating it must be for them and that you know they probably need to vent. Hearing that will most likely be all the vent they need and yelling will not be necessary.

7. To be told they are not the problem
One reason user frustration gets to an explosive level is they fear the problem is their fault and is shining a light on their inadequacies. Computers are confusing and difficult. Even the most astute users and analysts sometimes delete a file they didn’t mean to or fat finger a password, one too many times. Let your users know that the system is supposed to compensate for human error and sometimes it fails. If that wasn’t true, the company wouldn’t have hired you.

Obviously these seven items don’t cover everything callers want or need.  What do your callers want from you and how do you provide it? Let us know by posting a comment below.

If you like this column, check out “7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs from the Help Desk Manager.”

Mentally Tough Rules for IT Managers

As an IT manager, are you “living the dream?” Or do you find yourself frequently wondering how different your life would be if you were selling shoes or painting houses for a living?  It isn’t easy being a good IT manager.  In this column, I’ll share with you seven “mentally tough” rules for technology managers that can help you get through those days when it feels like you’re “living the nightmare.”

Being “Mentally Tough” Takes Practice

I first read the “Mentally Tough Rules for Racquetball Players” in an issue of National Racquetball magazine from the 1980s. I’ve saved the page for over 20 years and referred to the rules many, many times when I needed to keep my cool, both on the racquetball court and in the corporate IT world.

Here are the rules as originally written for racquetball players. These rules aren’t just for racquetball players, though. They’re awesome for people who play any other competitive sport.

“MENTALLY TOUGH” RULES FOR RACQUETBALL PLAYERS

I will not turn against myself during tough times.
I will come prepared to compete every day.
I will put myself on the line when I compete.
I never surrender.
When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.
The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.
 I love to compete more than winning.

I love these rules, and it occurred to me that it only takes a few tweaks to customize them for IT professionals:

“MENTALLY TOUGH” RULES FOR TECHNOLOGY MANAGERS

I will not turn against myself (or my team) during tough times.
I will come prepared to compute every day.
I will put myself on the line when I compute.
I never surrender.
When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.
The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.
I love getting it right more than being right.

 How do the rules apply to you as a technology manager? Let’s count the ways.

1. I will not turn against myself (or my team) during tough times.

“Tough times” refers to any time deadlines are looming, stress levels are high, and you’re tempted to get mad at yourself or the people who work for you. If you’re having a day on the racquetball court, it won’t help your shot-making to yell at yourself or smash your racquet against the wall. By the same token, if you’re having a bad day at work, it’s counterproductive to get angry at yourself or at the people on the team you manage.

 2. I will come prepared to compute every day.

I changed “compete” to “compute” in this rule because that’s what we as technology managers do, right? We compute. We help other people compute. The demand for computing never rests in our work lives, so we have to be on the ball and on top of our games every single day.

 3. I will put myself on the line when I compute.

This rule supplements rule #2.  It isn’t enough to merely show up prepared for work – you have put yourself on the line. On the racquetball court, “putting yourself on the line” means pushing yourself to your physical limits and chasing down every single ball. In the IT Department, it means taking responsibility for making sure you and your team members are meeting your users’ expectations.  It means pushing yourself to be as smart and effective as you can be as a manager.

4. I never surrender.

This rule reminds me of the tag line in the movie Galaxy Quest, “Never give up! Never surrender!” On the racquetball court, it means never throwing in the towel just because you’re losing the game or the match. In the IT Department, it means not settling for a half-baked solution or a half-truth explanation about why something isn’t working as designed. It means never clocking out mentally just because it’s been a long, difficult day, week, or month.

5. When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.

This rule is the hardest one for me to follow.  If you’re like me, and you can become a bit of a hot-head when you’re under pressure, use this rule to remind yourself to lighten up, Francis! When I’m on the verge of losing my cool on the racquetball court, I have a couple of jokes and images I think about that always make me smile. I use those momentary distractions in my head to re-focus my thinking on what needs to be done.

6. The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.

You know why this rule is important? Because you have to be a little bit crazy to go into the information technology field in the first place! I pity the fools who went into IT thinking that their work lives would never be crazy. Systems and routers go down. Code breaks. Users do stupid things. Vendors fail to meet their SLAs. And the worst things always happen at the worst possible times. That’s life in IT. Love it or leave it, baby!

7. I love getting it right more than being right.

The point of this mentally-tough rule for racquetball players, “I love to compete more than winning,” is to remind players not to be bad sports when they lose. That’s easier said than done, of course. Most people who play competitive sports, especially individual sports like racquetball or tennis, hate to lose. But you can’t win them all, so you have to enjoy the competition.

My rewrite of this rule is aimed at IT managers who think they always have to be right, and that their way is the only right way to get something done.  If you truly love “getting it right” more than “being right,” you and the people you manage will benefit from your lack of ego.

Are YOU mentally tough?

To share your thoughts on being “mentally tough,” please post your comments below or send a Letter to the Editor at [email protected]

Are the people on your team mentally tough? Download a sample Skills Matrix for free!

This skills matrix was developed by Toolkitcafe.com contributing writer Mike Sisco to help IT managers take an inventory the skills for each person on your team.  You may be surprised to find out how many skills you have at your disposal that you didn’t know you had!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs From the Help Desk Manager

Good support techs are hard to find and even harder to keep. It’s a tough and often thankless job. Callers often abuse them, other IT employees take them for granted and the hours can be terrible. More importantly, the combination of being able to understand the technology and work with people is exceptional.  There isn’t much a help desk manager can do about those things. What a manger can do is ensure the analysts have everything they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

1. The right tools

No job is easy without the right tools. Whether the job is to repair plumbing, cook a great meal or diagnose a computer problem, having the right tools is essential. For a help desk the right tools are:

a)      Schematics on all supported hardware

b)      Good remote control tool

c)       Documentation on all supported software

d)      Admin rights to every supported system

2. Appreciation for a job well done

Award ceremonies can be fun but giving out the same plaques every year or month isn’t true appreciation. The way appreciation is properly shows is to personally thank the employee. Managers should occasionally stop by the desk of someone who has done well, maybe even invite that employee out to lunch. While there the manager should thank the employee and be specific about why that employee is appreciated. A follow up email that can be kept for their records is a nice touch but the personal visit will stay with the employee for weeks.

3. Training

Nothing changes faster than technology and the Help Desk analyst must be at least one step ahead of callers every day. Whether in a classroom, book or computer based. Training for the Help Desk analyst is essential. Of course time and money are always an issue. Anticipate and plan for slow periods by keeping up to date training programs available. Even if only for an hour, taking advantage of low call volume to increase skills is the best possible use of a Help Desk analysts time.

4. Help in the trenches

Most Help Desk managers spent quite enough time on the phone, before they were promoted, and have no intention of going back. This is a mistake. While a manager’s time is best spent managing, the occasional foray back to the trenches not only keeps him or her sharp and in the game. More importantly, the extra help on a really busy day will be greatly appreciated by the analysts. It’s always good to know the boss can do the job and not just boss.

5. Trust

Trust can be the toughest thing for any manager to give. For one thing, some employees just don’t deserve it. Most do and they should be left alone to do their job. Whenever possible a manager should deliver the requirements and then let the analysts figure out the best way to deliver. Micromanaging by scripting or insisting information be gathered in specific order are indications of mistrust and make an analysts job, more difficult, not less. New employees or those who aren’t performing need those things. Give the rest the room they need to do their jobs.

6. Reasonable Requirements

Reasonable requirements vary from office to office, depending on what is supported and the sophistication level of the users. It’s impossible for anyone outside to say what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Looking at history and working with trusted employees is the only way set the parameters. Once those parameters are set the expectations shouldn’t be raised, without serious reevaluation. In other words, once an employee has reached a productivity level considered excellent, stop raising the bar. Doing so just forces the employee to have a bad month, in order to start all over again.

7. Occasional work off the phone

A help desk analyst should spend the vast majority of work time, on the phone.  The most important tasks on any help desk are answering the calls and helping the callers. Everything else is secondary. There are some tasks that are not phone related and giving analysts time on those tasks, when call volume permits, is a great way to recharge batteries. Examples are giving training as well as receiving it, documenting procedures and testing new software and hardware.

These seven things are important, doable and make a difference. There is more though. Please post a comment below and tell us what you need from your manager and why

For more great information on how to manage your IT employees check out The Practical IT Manager Gold Series by Mike Sisco. It’s a great resource.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing People: Introducing A Great IT Boss

One of my first jobs was a low level employee on a phone support team. It was a good job for a twenty one year old college drop out. The pay wasn’t bad. The surroundings were pleasant. I worked nights so I was able to go back to school during the day and eventually earn my degree. The company even paid for it. In some ways it was a tough job though. We were rated on the number of calls we took. More was always better. On busy days calls could exceed 100. We were often monitored then critiqued. It could get pretty stressful.

The art of Critiquing

Some of the managers seemed to think their job was to find out what the employees were doing wrong and make them stop. The guy I worked for, I’ll call him Rob, seemed to think his job was to encourage employees. Sure he monitored our calls from time to time, as was required but when he talked to us about them it was more about what the did right than what we did wrong. In the end he would mention what we could have done better but his critiques usually made us feel better about ourselves and our work instead of worse.

The Problem Employee

I remember a specific support analyst on my team that first year than none of us thought would make it. Chris was passed from team to team and always seemed to be on probation for being late, leaving early and just generally not doing a very good job. Finally she was put on our team under Rob.

Chris told me about their first meeting. Rob started out by asking her if she wanted to be on his team. She said she was OK with it. He said he asked because she didn’t seem like someone who particularly liked her job. Chris agreed. She did not like her job. Rob said that was OK. Liking the job was not required. He told Chris that not everyone was cut out for phone support and there was no shame in quitting. Chris asked if Rob was firing her. He assured her he was not. If she wanted the job it was already hers and all she had to do to keep it was be decent at it, show up on time and do her share of the work, but if she did not want the job she was not doing herself any favors by staying and doing the job badly. Rob asked Chris to think about it and let him know what she wanted to do.

Learn From the Best

I heard the story a year later. Chris had been off probation for more than 9 months and was one of the better employees. She told me that she still didn’t care for the job but it was the best that she could get at the time and Rob was right. Doing the job well did make her feel better about herself and her work.

What I learned from that conversation is that no manager can make an employee do a good job. We can’t micromanage them into or even threaten them into it, but we can treat them as intelligent adults and accept no less from them. Rob didn’t bother to list Chris’s short comings. She knew them. He just asked her to be honest with herself and him and to make a choice. That method doesn’t always work. Some employees never learn and have to be fired. But in that case Rob prevailed and both he and Chris were better off for it.

For more tips on being a great manager you can have a great role model like Rob but you can also get what you need from the Practical IT Manager Gold Series, a fantastic tool kit by Mike Sisco, containing tools and templates designed to make you the best manager you can be.

Add your two cents

Do you know a great IT manager? Please tell us about that person or share your thoughts by posting a comment below. Follow this link to read about a couple of really bad IT managers:

Introducing the Worst IT Managers Ever

 

Choosing report criteria from a dropdown list in Microsoft Access

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll show you how to create a form in Microsoft Access that lets an end user choose a value from a dropdown list and how to use the value selected as the criteria for a report. The best part about this approach is that it doesn’t require any programming skills.

Why this tip is too cool for school

When you run most Access reports, they’re  designed to include “all records” by default. Users  come along and say, “I want to run the report with only some of the records.” The fast, easy, low-tech way to prompt the user to enter a value to filter the records is to type a prompt string (enclosed in square brackets) in the Criteria row of your query. When you run the query, Access will display a rudimentary dialog box like the one shown below.

000EntersomethingThat solution isn’t bad, but there’s one big shortcoming: Your user has to know what value to type! Your user has to spell the value exactly as it’s stored in the underlying data. A misspelled word will result in a query with no data and a report that has no records. Instead of depending on the end user to type the correct value, you can make sure that the query always has a “good” value by making the user choose from a dropdown list.

Quick Summary

If you’re an experienced Access user, you can use these step-by-step instructions to create the dropdown that lets your users select the criteria for their reports. Less  experienced Access uses can follow along using the detailed instructions and screen shots in the Detailed Instructions below.

1. Create a form to use as the Reports Menu and put a button on it labeled with your report name.

2. Create a second form that contains a combo box that displays the possible values for your report criteria.

3. Put a button on the second form that launches the report itself.

4. Give the combo box a unique name. By unique, I mean a name that isn’t the same as any other c0ntrol in the database.

5. In the criteria for the query that populates your report, enter the expression [Forms]![form name]![combo box name]. The keyword [Forms] tells Access “Look on [form name] and fetch the value named [combo box name].

Detailed Instructions

Here are a few screen shots to illustrate how this technique works. Let’s start with a form named Demo Reports from which your users can launch their reports. In this sample, we’ve put a button on form labeled with the name of our report, “Business Unit Demo.”  (Click on the screen shot to see a bigger version.)

001ReportsHome

 

When your user clicks the Business Unit Demo button, it opens a new form like this one, which displays a blank field with a dropdown arrow that will let the user select the Business Unit to be used as the criteria for the report.

002SelectBusinessUnit

 

In this example, our universe of possible values is Collections, Human Resources, and Marketing.

003Dropdown

 

Here’s what the header of our final report looks like after we selected Human Resources from the dropdown list and clicked the “Run Business Unit Demo Report” button. We put the [Business Unit] field in the report header and in the page header so that it’s obvious to every casual observer that this Business Unit Demo report has been filtered for the Human Resources business unit.

004ReportFinal

 

Behind the scenes: The combo box

Here’s what the property sheet for our combo box looks like. Notice that we gave the combo box the name BusinessUnitName.

005Combobox

 

Behind the scenes: The query that populates the reports

Like most good Access developers, I use queries to pull the data for my reports. In the Criteria row, I entered the expression

[Forms]![frm_BusinessUnitReportParameter]![BusinessUnitName]

 006QueryReference

 

This expression tells Access: Look on the form named frm_BusinessUnitReportParameter and return the value assigned to BusinessUnitName. Notice that the name of the underlying field is [Business Unit ID].

Summing up

If you design Access reports or support end users who do, this tip gives you the ability to create a report interface that lets your users select criteria (set parameters) for their reports without the burden of knowing how to correctly spell and data-enter the report criteria. Your users can simply click on the dropdown arrow, select a parameter, and then run the report!

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