Virtual presentations: some tips to help you get your message across.

Nov 15, 2020

As the Covid 19 pandemic continues across the globe, more and more countries are returning to a lock down similar to the lock down of March 2020 and remote working is becoming more and more the new norm. As a result, more and more employees are finding themselves having to make more and more virtual presentations on virtual meeting platforms like Teams, Go to meeting, Webex, Zoom, Google meetings, to name but a few. Indeed, even when the pandemic ends, which it will very soon hopefully, remote working seems to be here to stay and mastering virtual presentations will be a key skill for many, just like making physical presentations to audiences was a key skill prior to C19.

Virtual presentations can indeed be quite challenging even for an experienced presenter. Many more employees are suddenly finding themselves having to make virtual presentations without the experience of having already delivered presentations in classic meetings. And of course, with virtual meetings, remote audiences have more opportunities to stray, removed as they are from their “normative” office environment and now located remotely where everyone is vulnerable to a whole host of different distractions and interruptions.

Focus on the goal of the virtual meeting and not the potential obstacles.

Having organized, presented, participated in numerous virtual meetings over the years, having read through a lot of literature on the subject and having learned the hard way, here are some of my tips for making these virtual presentations work for you. What is most important is to remember to focus on the meeting goal and not on the possible obstacles and I hope the following tips will help prevent the most common glitches.

1.Check your technology beforehand

Lots of things can of course go wrong and often do go wrong: you’re locked out of the meeting room, your microphone or your camera doesn’t work, you’re not familiar with the meeting room control interface, you don’t have the meeting code, your network is down or slow, etc.

Take time to prepare.
Check your technology before each virtual meeting.

To avoid some of these issues, do a check of your technology before the meeting. If possible, do a dry run with a colleague or family member, just to check that your system works and you are able to familiarize yourself with the meeting room environment. But remember, it’s never that complicated and generally speaking, most, if not all, problems can be resolved quickly, if you give yourself the time beforehand.

Don’t wait until the meeting starts to discover a problem you won’t have time to fix, especially under pressure. Get technical support if necessary from your IT department or colleagues. But don’t wait until the meeting to discover the problem.

2. Choose your virtual meeting background

We may be lucky and enjoy a remote environment already set up for virtual meetings: well lit, spacious, neutral walls. However, most of us working from home may find it difficult to find a neutral space for our virtual meetings. Book cases, plants, family photos, ornaments, decorations, furniture, cabinets, wardrobes, paintings, heirlooms, etc. can all get in the way and cause unnecessary distractions for your audience.

Try to choose a setting that reflects neutrality and professionalism and doesn’t distract from the message you want to get across. Choose as neutral a background as possible. Alternatively, choose a virtual background or blur your background if the meeting application allows it. It’s always advisable to choose a location free from as much external distractions (traffic, neighbours, machines, music, etc.) as possible and always remember to invite participants to mute their phones and speakers until they want to speak in the meeting.

3. Pay attention to your lighting

Pay attention to lighting

Many of us have sat through virtual meetings looking at a darkened screen as the presenter at the other end does his/her best to capture and keep our attention. Rememeber to pay attention to lighting. Let natural light in if that is possible so you can be clearly seen. If you are in a box room or space without access to natural light, invest in a lamp that can light up your face. Put some light if you want your participants to “see the light”.

4. Practise your presentation beforehand

Take some time to rehearse your virtual presentation beforehand

As for any presentation, “practise makes perfect” and this is all the more true when delivering a virtual presentation to numerous participants spread remotely. Even if you can see them on your screen, it is always difficult to evaluate their engagement and attention compared to a physical presentation when everyone is in the same room. During the course of your virtual presentation, many potential distractions may pop up: participants disconnecting and reconnecting, traffic noises, police sirens, dogs barking, children playing, neighbours chatting, machines running, etc. and these are all potential distractors for both you and your audience.

So the more you prepare, the less you will be vulnerable to these distractions during the course of your presentation, whenever one or more suddenly intervenes in the middle of an important point. As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail“.

5) Keep your message short and simple

Keep your presentation as simple as possible

Virtual meetings require a great deal of focus and concentration. So it’s important to keep the meetings as short as possible and to keep your presentation as short as possible. Keep the message simple. Keep your visuals as simple as possible centred on some key messages. Break your message up into sections and invite participation every ten minutes or so by asking for questions. Address participants by their first name. A break in your presentation can be a time to review and reply to the comments raised on the chat. Better still, have a colleague/participant track the chats and summarize them for you so that you are not distracted during your presentation.

6) Present to the camera, not to the computer screen

In a normal physical presentation, good presenters talk to the audience and not to the powerpoint or paperboard. It’s even more important to do so when you are delivering a virtual presentation. We have all sat through virtual meetings where the presenter is staring down from above or too far away from the camera, has a double chin or we are looking up their nostrils.

Try to look at the PC Camera
and not at the screen

The best way to talk to your audience in a virtual meeting to capture their attention is to look at the camera rather than your screen. This will help you maintain eye contact and hold the attention of your audience. It’s not easy to look at the camera and this takes practice but it helps to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Position your computer so that the camera is at eye level at it frames your face, neck and shoulders. Practice your positioning so that you are close enough to the camera but not too close. You don’t want to be too far away or alternatively your face is staring into the screen.

Remember, when you are testing your computer set up, pay attention to how you look and the positioning of your camera and you will avoid most of the above pitfalls.

7) Present Standing up if possible. If not, sit up straight

Pay attention to your posture.

If you can, use a standing desk or position your computer so that you can stand an eye level with your computer. Standing up is always better because it increases our energy levels, puts us in presentation mode and help keep the attention of our audience.

If you can’t stand up, sit square in a good solid chair with feet planted on the floor at eye level to camera. Slouching over your screen or leaning backwards will disengage your audience and distract from your message and of course lead to possible back problems later on.

8) Follow some virtual meeting etiquette ground rules

Virtual meetings require more focus and attention than ordinary office meetings. If you are participating in a meeting either as presenter or participant, set yourself some etiquette ground rules to help keep and maintain concentration of all participants.

  • Work from a dedicated space and not from your sofa or kitchen.
  • Don’t multitask during virtual meetings, avoid reading your emails, preparing another meeting or presentation. Turn off your email alerts and mute your mobile phone. Remain present and focused on the meeting at hand. Be present.
  • Don’t jump straight to the agenda: Allow participants a few minutes to reconnect with one another by exchanging small talk. If you are leading the presentation, ask team members how they are and how things are going. Start with a participant who is the most junior or who doesn’t speak so much and move around the table. Share how you are doing as well to set the tone.
  • Follow up your meeting: don’t forget to send out to all participants a summary of what was discussed and agreed either by email or other internal platform.
  • Be on time, follow the agenda and don’t overrun: show up on time, especially if you are the presenter. Follow the agenda and end the meeting on time. Virtual meetings require much more discipline than physical meetings.
  • Don’t systematically ask participants to mute their microphones: the general rule seems to be to ask participants to mute their microphones unless they want to speak. This is understandable in meetings that have large numbers of participants. However, in small meetings, it is perhaps better not to mute so that any participant can speak when he/or she wants. This also means that participants have to give their undivided attention to the meeting instead of multitasking when muted.
  • Dress for the job: It’s not because the meeting is virtual that you should negelect your appearance. Indeed, audiences are more attentive to appearance when they are looking at you on a screen. Pay attention to your appearance, grooming and dress for the part. It will make you feel positive and reinforce your message.
  • Use a headset: if you don’t mute, use a headset which allows you to take notes with pen and paper and excludes background noise.
  • No eating or drinking: we have all been at meetings where we or others arrive with cups of coffees and/or snacks. This is of course is not advisable when you are in a virtual meeting with twenty other persons. Save eating for afterwards.
  • Spread your virtual meetings: try not to have back-to-back virtual meetings as you deprive yourself of time to prepare. Schedule them during periods that fall during work hours. Remember to take into account time differences for international teams.
  • Show you are present: If you are not presenting and if you arrive late and someone is speaking, wait until the person finishes and announce your presence. Participants joining without announcing themselves is always unsettling for any presenter. Speak up from time to time. Ask questions. Make comments. Point out some key points. Help the presenter out. Make your presence felt.

9) Have a plan B in case of a technical problem

You have done all the testing and your system worked 5 minutes before the meeting. But Murphy’s law kicks in and you can’t get access to your virtual meeting room and have to connect up by phone. What about your presentation? Thankfully, foresight led you to share your slide deck with a participants before the meeting. Always have a Plan B which allows you to use the dial in option.

10) Engage your audience as if they are in the same room

When making a presentation physically, we usually bring lots of energy to capture the attention of the audience. We look at the audience, make some jokes, gesticulate, move perhaps around the podium. This all helps to engage the audience but becomes more challenging when delivering virtually, especially if the presentation is being delivered sitting at a desk over the internet.

But all the more reason to be energetic and to deliver the presentation at a good pace. Speak clearly and do your best to adapt your speed to your audience. Don’t use slang or coloquialisms, especially if you are delivering to an international audience, with different nationalities whose mother tingue is not the language of the presentation. Above all, enjoy the experience. The more you enjoy it, the more you will engage with your audience.

Hope the above tips help to make your virtual meetings more effective, more risk free and above all more enjoyable. Happy virtual meetings.

Some tips to help make “remote working” work for you

Oct 12, 2020

Due to the ongoing Covid19 pandemic, more and more employees are being asked by their employers to work from home. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more home office/remote working is becoming the “new normal” way of working. However, while home office/remote working has many avantages, it also has many pitfalls, especially for new remote workers.

Remote working can indeed represent quite a challenge for those workers who have rarely if ever worked from home and represents even a challenge for those more experienced remote workers who before the pandemic relied on office workers to support them.

Many new remote workers may not have been ready to transform a bedroom, garage, kitchen or unused corner of living space into a work space. Not to mention the sudden need to show up for video conference calls with background noises from spouses, kids, neighbours, traffic, etc.

If that is the case, here are hopefully some useful tips to make “remote working” work for you.

1. CREATE A DEDICATED WORK SPACE

All the remote working experts agree that the first thing to do is create a dedicated work space for yourself, however small. It is much easier to stay mentally focused if you have a specific area set aside for work, offering privacy and which you don’t have to recreate every time.

Once you sit down in your dedicated work space, you know it is time to work and when you get up, you have finished or you are having a break. As video conferencing is becoming more and more prevalent, try to have a background that you are happy to show others or if this is not possible, use the company video conferencing tool functionalities to provide a virtual background. If you are not comfortable with video conférences, don’t use a camera. Don’t forget to protect your privacy. Your home is your home first before it is your office.

2. Create a comfortable (but not too comfortable) environment

Try to create as comfortable a work space as possible, but not too comfortable. Avoid the sofas, rocking chairs, beds, couches, etc. that won’t help you focus. You will need a table and good ergonomic chair, a computer, printer and of course high speed internet access. Your employer should provide you with the basic tools needed to get your work done remotely. Many companies are now paying a “remote workers’ allowance to help subsidize remote office workers. Your manager of course should be attentive to your needs and help you get yourself set up. Make sure you have good lighting and if possible access to natural light. Surround yourself with some plants, paintings, decorations to help you stay positive during the course of the day.

Concerning how to dress, while it could be tempting to abandon dress code and personal grooming, to be most productive, dress for work because that is what you are doing. Don’t neglect your persona grooming for teh same reasons. Wearing work clothes will put you in productive mode immediately and help you focus on the day ahead. And when you have finished your day, change into casual clothes. It will help you keep a good separation between home life and work life.

3. Plan your day and week

Plan your day and week and write things down
Use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritize:
1)Do 2) Plan 3) Delegate 4) Eliminate

As the Roman Statesmen Seneca said, “no wind is favorable to he who knows not where he is going” and planning your daily and weekly work is even more important for remote workers. Working remotely means you have less immediate access to your manager, co-workers and organization and this makes managing priorities even more important. To know where you are going, plan your day and week and ensure your Outlook calendar is updated, including the back office tasks you normally do without necessarily putting in your schedule. Build a to-do list and update it regularly. Write things down to help you remember what you need to do urgently and what you need to plan. Share your calendar with your manager and colleagues so that they know what you are working on.

4. Build a routine

Build and maintain a daily routine as if you are in the office

To keep your motivation, treat your week the same way as if you were in the office. Start and finish at about the same time, have lunch at the same time. If you start earlier or finish later, take time off the next day to compensate. Try to keep the same rituals you had when you worked in your office. The closer you are to your office routine, the more comfortable you will feel. Once you have prioritized your work to fit around your routine, set aside the same periods for tackling the important and urgent tasks. Organize your team meetings and video conférences/telephone calls in batches, preferably in the afternoon so that you can have more free time to do analysis or work on presentations, preferably in the morning. Good Routines are powerful in helping you get things done in an effective and timely manner.

5. Act decisively

In an office context, when an issue arises, it is always easier to go to speak to a person directly to find a solution. In a remote context, this is more difficult. When any such issues arise, you should be ready to respond immediately. If you think there is a misunderstanding, pick up the phone and call your colleague, rather than rely on emails. As remote workers are even more acutely aware of time when working remote, return emails, calls and voice mails quickly. If you can’t provide the required answer immediately, discuss a deadline for doing so with the requester. Co-workers and your manager will be reassured that you are working on their requests.

6. Build in breaks in your daily routine

Working longer is not necessarily smarter
Use a Pomodoro Timer to break big tasks down into manageable smaller tasks achievable in 25 minutes and then take a break

Without the presence of co-workers and the often pleasant interruptions that come with office life, when remote working, it is easy to fall into the trap of losing track of time. Faced with a myriad of emails from co-workers and customers looking for immediate responses, it is even easier to want to try to reply to all the urgent messages immediately and remain glued to one’s computer screen all day long. Taking breaks becomes even more critical to help you maintain a better work-life balance. Know your company policy on remote working and taking breaks and apply it. If you have big tasks to perform, divide each talk into smaller, more manageable ones. Try out the Pomodoro technique to help you focus on specific tasks. Divide the day up into segments and try to work in short bursts of 25 minutes before taking a short break. The Pomodoro technique helps you keep fresh and helps you be more productive by managing your time and work more effectively.

7. Set aside time for physical and creative activities

All work and no play makes Jack and Jill a dull boy and girl. Set aside time for some physical or creative activities. If possible, go out for a walk or run. Use the garden if you have one for some exercise. Work out. Start a hobby. Do something that will help you discover new avenues of interest, get you away from the computer for a while and keep you mentally fresh. And C19 confirment rules permitting, if your remote office is becoming a bit stuffy, go outside to a café or a library if possible for a while.

8. Managers: adapt your management to meet the needs of your remote workers

Working remote is not the same obviously as working on site and requires particular management skills and effort. Remote working brings new and different challenges for managers who need to understand and take on board the specific needs of their remote workers.

The lack of face-to-face interaction may lead some supervisors to worry that their employees are not working as hard or as efficient. Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with the reduced access to management support and communication. In some instances, employees may feel managers are out of touch and neither supportive or helpful in getting their work done.

What’s more, working remote quite often requires more effort and longer lead times as vital information required in the decision making process is no longer immediately available to remote workers. And of course, without the ties that were being reinforced constantly through day-to-day physical interaction in an office environment, tensions may arise between team members who no longer have the context to interpret certain replies, comments and/or reactions of co-workers. Maintaining team cohesion and focus requires considerable effort and as a remote manager, you should do several key things:

Trust your team members working remotely. Focus on results and not activities.
  • establish regular check-ins with team members by phone or video. These can be on a daily basis if necessary, less frequent if the employee is more independent or team calls if the work is highly collaborative. What is important is that the calls should be regular and predictable and take place in a trusting environment so that team members know they can consult with you and that their concerns are heard and understood.
  • Don’t rely only on emails. Email alone is not enough. Vary the means of communication. Of course, video conferencing tools such as Team, Zoom, Skype are very useful, especially for sensitive subjects where face to face discussions are important. But even a quick telephone call can be beneficial and appreciated by the employee.
  • Clarify remote working rules of engagement: above all, as a manager, you should clarify the rules of engagement and set expectations for the frequency, means and ideal timing of communications for team members.
    • Agree with team members when and how team meetings take place, how the team will share information and how often
    • Share the bigger picture: keep the team updated with the overall goals. Review short term goals frequently and adjust if necessary.
    • Set clear expectations and trust your team to perform. Focus on results and not activity and avoid micro managing.
    • Ensure your team members have the tools to do their job remotely
    • Inform team members when they can contact you if they need to and agree with them how and when you can contact your them.
    • Set clear limits as to when they should be available for work together. Meetings outside office hours should be exceptions to the rule. Allow also for lunch breaks.
    • You should pay attention to communication between team members to ensure they are sharing information as required and be ready to step in if necessary to ensure all information is shared effectively within the team.
    • Remember to allow for some spontaneous social interaction between co-workers before virtual meetings and even organize virtual office parties if possible. That five minute exchange before a meeting is really important for team members and not just small talk.
    • Finally, you should be even more ready to offer encouragement and emotional support to remote workers who may be struggling to adapt to remote working. Check up on your team membres regularly, check how they are managing remote working and discuss ways of improving the situation. Remain mindful that your team members expect support in dealing with the new way of working and you shouldn’t take for granted the transition from office to remote working.

9. Remote workers: check in regularly with your co-workers AND MANAGER

As a remote worker, rememeber to keep in contact with your fellow co-workers and management. Besides the frequent team video conferences, take time to call a colleague just to check up on how he/she is doing. If you normally check in with the dept. assistant before starting work at the office, do the same when working remote. Don’t forget to acknowledge emails and voice mails and if you can’t reply immediately, let people know you will get back to them. Remember to “show up” in all team meetings, chats, emails by asking questions, sharing what your working on and enquiring about what collagues are working on. Even a simple hello and goodbye is ok. “Showing up” will help you stay in conversation and keep you on the team radar.

10. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Finally, because you are not in the office where people can see and talk to you when they want, communication is even more important when working remotely. Seek out regular feedback from your boss and colleagues. Show up for all meetings and video conferences. Keep everyone updated as much as possible on what you are working on and if you need help, don’t hesitate to speak to your manager and/or colleagues. If you are not sure whether your colleagues should be informed, inform them anyway as “more is better than less” when remote working. Again, set aside some time each day to contact a colleague or co-worker and just chat about things in general. If you are new to remote working, ask for feedback from more experienced employees on how things are going and how you can improve and be more effective.

trust circle hand drawn on whiteboard

This is indeed a very stressful time for everyone. As the Covid pandemic stretches on, remote working seems here to stay and what seemed yesterday a work organization reserved for sales people and software developers is now becoming a way of working for whole organizations.

So it’s important to step back and keep an eye on the bigger picture, have fun and if you are new to remote working, go easy on yourself. It takes time to switch over from a full office environment to a remote working environment and in many cases, organizations will be focusing on a mix between remote work and office work. The challenge will be for managers and co-workers to work together around shared remote working rules but as recent months have shown, the tools now exist to enable this to happen. But it is above all people that will not only make it happen but sustain it effectively if the above pitfalls are skillfully avoided. The key ingredient for effective remote working is “trust”. Avoiding micro managing, managing for results and not around activities will be the critical attitude for managers to adopt.

So happy remote working.

But please remember, whether you are working remote part-time or full-time, keep up the good work and keep applying the social distancing rules and especially:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • Use hydro-alcoholic gel
  • Above all, wear a mask when you are outdoors, if you share an office or when you are moving around in your office.

We’re all in this together and things will work out if we all follow the same simple rules.

Keep safe, keep well, Keep going!

Business Transformation: Key “hard factors” that influence success!

Jun 21, 2016

I wrote in a previous post about why many change management initiative fail and made some suggestions as to what to do to swing the balance in favor of success.

If according to research, many transformation initiatives fail, operationally and from experience, I know that many do indeed succeed!

Reflecting on all the good practices I witnessed over the years at different organizations that contributed to transformation success, I started thinking about how to summarize all those best practices in a short post and in doing so, I came across an article first published in the HBR in 2005 on the subject and entitled « The Hard Side of Change Management » by Harold Sirkin, Perry Keenan and Alan Jackson (see HBR The Hard Side of Change Management).

In this article, the authors highlight some key « hard factors » that must be taken into account if change is to be managed successfully and I thought it useful to review the authors ideas here as a pragmatic way of summarizing many of the good practices I have used or come across in the past and that have helped me achieve success in the transformation projects I managed or was associated with in recent years.

Indeed, in their article, Sirkin et al. focus only on the “hard factors” contributing to change management success because in their opinion, if “Soft” issues are important for success, managing these aspects alone isn’t sufficient to implement transformation projects. For them, “Soft” factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programs”.

The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Create It sign on desert roadFor Sirkin et al, we should focus first on the “hard factors” because as they say, “if companies don’t pay attention to the “hard issues” first, transformation programs will break down before the soft elements come into play”. Whether you agree our not, it seems to me obvious that it is indeed critical to be alert to the importance of these hard factors as a “sine qua non” for leading change successfully.

Hard factors have three distinct characteristics:

  • First, companies are able to measure them in direct or indirect ways.
  • Second, companies can easily communicate their importance, both within and outside organizations.
  • Third, businesses are capable of influencing those elements quickly.

On the basis of research they performed on a panel of 225 companies, the authors established a consistent correlation between the outcomes of change programs and four specific hard factors:

  1. Duration
  2. Integrity
  3. Commitment
  4. Effort

They called these variables the DICE variables as they “could load them in favor of project success”.

The way organizations combine these four factors creates a continuum – from projects that are set up to succeed to those that are set up to fail. Let’s look at those four factors briefly and the different success drivers that these four factors generate if organizations focus sufficiently on them before project launch.

1.Duration

We are all anxious for projects that take too long to implement and we have all felt the pressure placed on trying to complete projects rapidly, the assumption being that the longer the project goes on, the more likely it is to fail.

Lots of reasons are given: possible loss of momentum, the window of opportunity may close, objectives may be forgotten, key supporters may leave, problems may accumulate. These indeed are very real risks and very good reasons for moving fast.

However, according to the authors’ research, a long project reviewed frequently is more likely to succeed than a short project that isn’t reviewed frequently and it really is the case of “Hurrying slowly”!

What is critical for project success indeed is not project life span but in fact the time between reviews!

What does this mean in terms of actionable success drivers?

D1: Companies must set formal project milestones reviews with clearly definedDemingkreis deliverables for each milestone and the project cannot move on to the next milestone if all the deliverables for that milestone have not been met.

If this is the case, the project team must work with the project sponsor to understand why, take the necessary corrective actions and learn from the experience to prevent problems from recurring later on.

D2: These milestone reviews must be formal meetings and the project team must provide in advance to the project review team (that includes the sponsor) a concise report of its progress and evidence that the deliverables have been met. Reviews should happen at least every 8 weeks and even more frequently for critical projects.

D3: Sponsors and project teams must have authority to address any issues blocking progress and must be empowered to take corrective actions, add extra or different resources or suggest a new direction.

So at least 3 key drivers that act on project duration in a positive way.

2.Integrity

By performance integrity is meant the extent to which companies can rely on teams of managers, supervisors and staff to execute change projects successfully. Execution of course is key.

Change management projects are particularly complex and challenging and of course require highly skilled project leaders and team members capable of executing the plan.

Often, companies either don’t have enough “star performers” or senior managers don’t want to sacrifice their “stars” to change projects because they fear regular work will suffer. But success depends on allocating the best talent to the project and companies have to convince senior managers to free up their stars. So what can we do?

D4: Companies must accept to free up their “stars” while making sure that day-to-day operations don’t falter.

D5: Change initiatives need to be well led. Managing change means dealing with a wide range of activities, resources, pressures, unforeseen events and ensuring team cohesion

Initiative Definition Button Showing Leadership Resourcefulness And Action

and meeting deadlines. This means choosing carefully not only a “star performer” but that “star” must have the right project management skills.

Senior management must therefore choose carefully the project leader and the key members of the project team and a precondition for successful selection is defining in advance and publishing the criteria by which candidates will be evaluated.

Good project leaders should have the following skills:

  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • Results focused
  • Methodical while tolerating ambiguity
  • Possess organizational savvy
  • Accept accountability for decisions
  • Be highly motivated and self starting
  • Possess humility and not crave the limelight

D6: The project sponsor should take personal responsibility for selecting candidates based on these criteria and the senior executive team should agree the candidate selected. Senior managers demonstrate their commitment to the project by involving themselves directly in the recruitment of the project manager and team members.

I have often seen CEOs and senior executives become very involved in the recruitment process and each time, it has had a strong impact on project success.

Do What Is Right Not What Is Easy card with sky backgroundD7: Project leaders and key team members should have a clear mandate and this should be defined in a project mission statement and their objectives of course should be included in the annual appraisal process. Roles and responsibilities should be clear, expectations and deliverables should be clear and shared within the organization as quite often, the project will cut across organizational and functional responsibilities and therefore potential for conflict and resistance to change.

D8: Of course, it is not enough to recruit and appoint your project team. Companies must reward and recognize project leaders and teams when the project is successfully completed and ensure that the success feeds into the career management process of all concerned so that taking on the role of project leader is seen as a stepping stone to success and encourages “star performers” to see the role as one that will further their careers and not as a burden.

So at least 5 actionable drivers that impact positively on Performance Integrity and on project execution.

3.Commitment

For Sirkin et al., companies need to obtain the commitment of two different groups of people if they want their change projects to take root:

  • the most influential executives (not necessarily the top titles)
  • The grass roots: people who must deal with the new systems, processes or ways of working.

D9: Concerning influential executives, senior managers must be seen to “walk the talk” and even when the senior managers feel they are doing so, quite often, this is not perceived so by the grass roots. So senior managers must communicate again, again and again and do three times as much as they would think is necessary.

Of course, senior managers must not only support the project but they must constantly explain the “Why” of the proposed change. There can be very many good reasons why senior managers don’t want to do this but it is always vital to communicate clearly on the reason for change and what it means for employees. So Communicate the “Why” constantly and it is always better to communicate too much than not enough.

Having said that, problems are often caused by inconsistent or confusing or contradictory messages coming from management and especially in tense situations, employees perceive these confusing messages as indicative of something hidden.

D10: So a lot of effort must be dedicated to preparing and sharing the communication with

Change Management Strategy

top and middle managers so that management from top to bottom can speak with one voice and align their messages so that one consistent message is delivered throughout the organization.

The authors stress that companies often underestimate the importance of middle managers and staff in driving change and often postpone communicating with them until very late. Delaying communication can create confusion and even alienate staff and so it is always vital to communicate early and involve middle managers and key staff.

D11: Companies should seek the support of middle managers and key staff by communicating early to them on the “Why” of the change and ensure the same message is understood and shared by all.

Finally, organizations often underestimate their ability to build staff support. Reaching out to staff can in fact turn them into change champions.

D12: Don’t hesitate to reach out to key staff early in the project if you want to offer them the chance to become change champions. Quite often, even if the change requires sacrifices and even los of jobs, staff can react positively if the changes are presented clearly and they are given a chance to voice their concerns.

So at least 4 key drivers that impact on the Commitment of middle managers and staff in a positive way.

4.Effort

One important aspect too frequently neglected by organizations is that staff are already busy with their day to day tasks and if they are have to deal not only with their daily work but also with changes to systems or processes or tools, they will quite often not be able to cope and resistance to change ensues.

So an important effort must be made by project teams to calculate the extra work beyond existing responsibilities to introduce the change. The authors offer a figure of 10% as being an acceptable limit but of course this is only a guideline.

D13: Project leadership must be conscious of the impact of the extra work on staff, calculate the extra workload and limit the extra work to no more than10%.

Time management diagram

However, for employees already fully-loaded, companies must decide whether to take away some of the regular work from key employees participating in the transformation project or rid them of the discretionary or non-essential tasks. 

D14: Senior management should ensure key employees can offload unnecessary or non-essential tasks. This can be done by outsourcing non-essential tasks, bringing in interims or even postponing or cancelling such tasks.

In addition, companies can also review all the projects in the operating plan and assess which ones are critical for the transformation. This can mean delaying or rescheduling some projects to free up stars and key resources to focus on priority projects. If this happens, senior management should be mindful to explain clearly to the project teams impacted on the reasons for the change so that they remain committed and motivated.

D15: Senior management must be ready to look again at all the projects in the plan, reprioritize according to the critical impact of each project and reallocate key resources to the most critical projects if necessary.

So at least 3 actionable drivers that impact positively employee work load.

The authors go on to outline how they created a scoring system based on these 4 factors and that allows managers to predict the chances of project success.

This scoring system allows managers to categorize projects into one of three categories:

  • Win (the project statistically seem likely to succeed)
  • Worry (the project’s outcome is hard to predict)
  • Woe (the project outcome is totally unpredictable or fated for mediocrity or failure.

We won’t discuss here the details of the DICE scoring system. However, the authors tell us that the DICE Framework and scoring system has been used by the Boston Consulting Group to predict the outcomes and guide the execution of more than 1000 projects worldwide and they indicate three key advantages that I think are important in building the foundations of change management success:

  • Track projects: A scoring framework (DICE or any other) provides executives with an early warning system of potential problems in a transformation project because it gets senior management to review each project according to these four criteria and evaluate how effectively it has “allocated people, senior management time and other resources” to each project. As soon as a project shows poor scores, senior management is obligated to intervene and take the necessary steps to put the project back on course. It seems to me vital to build in to the change management process such an early warning system because it is always better to prevent than to cure and it’s no good closing the stable door if the horse has already bolted!!
  • Manage portfolio of projects: large transformation programs can often contain many different projects and if the portfolio of projects is not managed well, these tasks can end up competing for attention and resources. By deploying the DICE framework (or a similar framework) from the outset, senior management can identify problem projects in the portfolio, focus execution expertise and senior management attention where it is most needed rather than allow certain projects capture all the resources. In other words, senior executives can set certain critical projects up for success and work on the less critical projects in the “Worry” zone progressively to get them into the “Win” zone. Indeed, as the authors point out, “when companies are trying to overhaul themselves, they shouldn’t have all their projects in the Win zone. If they do, they are not ambitious enough and transformations should entail fundamental changes that stretch the organization.
  • Force Conversations: The authors point out that it is already difficult to get consensus from senior managers on what factors contribute most to ensuring transformation success and this applies even in an organization using the DICE Framework or some other similar way of predicting the outcomes of a transformation project. The real value of DICE is that it provides senior managers with a common framework to debate questions such as “Why do we see the project in different ways?” and “What can we agree to do to ensure the project will succeed?” Simply put, DICE provides senior managers with a common language and forces the right discussions to take place.

D16: So it seems to me important to define and implement a project portfolio scoring system (DICE or a similar system) that allows senior management to predict project success proactively as well as build a consensus through strong discussions on what actions are required to optimize the chances of those projects in the “Worry” or “Woe” zones.

These are some very practical and actionable items that lay the foundations for change management success because not only do they ensure the main building blocks are in place but also because they contribute to helping senior management and project transformation teams have the necessary discussions that help them predict success rather than simply focusing on what went wrong.

It could be said that these drivers don’t necessarily guarantee success. In my view, they may not guarantee success but success is certainly inhibited if they are not implemented at project launch.

In my view, it is clear that every transformation project needs to be founded on “hard factors” that include:

  • A strong senior management sponsor that communicates constantly on the reason and goals of the change project.
  • A competent, results focused project manager.
  • A competent, motivated and engaged team.
  • Reward and recognition for successful projects teams.
  • Middle managers and staff that understand the reasons for change and have the opportunity to participate in the decision making phase and not only in the execution phase.
  • A project schedule, milestones and defined deliverables at each milestone.
  • A formal review for each milestone by senior executives.
  • Project managers empowered to take corrective action when things go wrong.
  • A limit on the extra work expected of key players who have the possibility to offload or even postpone unnecessary tasks.
  • A “project success predictability” scoring system (DICE or other such system) that forces discussions amongst senior management on how to predict future success (rather than focusing on what went wrong) and on what actions to take to manage projects from “Woe” to “Worry” to “Win”.

And as JFK once said,“all of this doesn’t happen, it has to be made to happen”.

make it happen text write on paper

What do you think?

Why Change Initiatives fail and what we can do about it.

Jun 6, 2016

According to a study back in 2013 by Towers Watson, only 25% of change initiatives are successful in the long term! (See Victor Lipman, Forbes, Why Change Management Fails)

Quite dismal results when you think of the huge investment made by many corporations to implement change initiatives in their organizations, even more so when you consider that such initiatives are almost always announced as critical for future business success!

Highlights of the study involving approx. 280 large and middle size organizations from North America, Europe and Asia showed that:

  • Employers felt 55% of change management initiatives met initial objectives but only 25% felt gains were sustained over time
  • 87% of respondents trained their managers to manage change but only 22% felt the training was effective.
  • 68% of senior managers said they got the message for change but this fell to 53% for middle managers and 40% for front-line supervisors.

 

These are quite dispiriting figures and seem to show, unsurprisingly, that the lower down you go in the organization, the less informed and therefore less engaged employees are.

Why do these change initiatives fail? More importantly, what can we do about it?

Commentators suggest the following reasons why change initiatives fail:

  • The change initiative goals are not realistically attainable
  • The CEO is not at the forefront of driving the change
  • Senior managers talk the talk but don’t walk the talk.
  • Middle managers and supervisors are not sufficiently informed and don’t really understand the reasons why the changes are needed
  • Management wants a quick fix and doesn’t understand that implementing change is a long-term effort.

These are certainly very understandable reasons and the following solutions would seem the very least we should do:

  • Look at the territory and not the map. Set SMART change objectives.
  • Make sure the CEO is at the forefront and leads the way!
  • Make sure senior managers not only talk the talk but walk the talk by demonstrating the behaviors required to drive the change down into the organization
  • Prepare for the long term. Lead, plan and budget accordingly.

But what about the crew down in the hold rowing hard to the corporate drum beat?

Doing all the things listed above will certainly increase our chances of getting more buy in from grassroots employees but what more can we do?

How can we get grass roots employees to engage more directly and more often in supporting and implementing enduring and sustainable change? How can we harness the power of the grass roots employees to deliver extraordinary results long-term?

This is really the question at the heart of “The Open Organization, Igniting Passion and Performance”, Jim Whitehurst’s account of his leadership journey when he became CEO of Red Hat, a world leader in open source solutions.

open orgThe starting point of Jim’s leadership journey was his realization that the traditional top down, command and control, classical hierarchical organization that he was used to at Delta Airlines could not work for the Open Source culture of Red Hat.

For Jim joined an “Open Organization”, an organization that is not led in the traditional top-down way and that depends on ever-growing collaboration between internal and external communities of contributors who update and improve software (essentially Linux based) by working together, an organization where decisions are taken not top down but bottom up or even from edge to edge of the organization to respond to business opportunities. If Linux is open source and supposedly free, Red Hat is in the business of adding value to free code and providing customers with peace of mind that “their entire system based on Linux is the most stable and secure system on the planet”. And to do that, openness, transparency, participation and cooperation inside and outside the organization is critical.

Moreover, as Jim explains, not only do they need the inputs of more and more employees

Think Outside The Box Tic Tac Toe Concept

further and further away from the centre or from partners and customers if they are to innovate and gain competitive advantage but decisions have to be taken faster and faster. For such organizations, the traditional hierarchical chain of command no longer works because it takes too long, consumes too many resources and because they don’t own the code on which their solutions are based. As he says himself, “you can’t command initiative, creativity or passion”. These are gifts and every day, employees choose whether to bring them to work or leave them at home. Suppliers and customers likewise.

So leading such an Open Organization requires a new management paradigm where decision-making is no longer the prerogative of hierarchy and where decision making is top down but one where decision making is bottom up, where employees are trusted to do the right thing and where management is hands off enough to allow the people in the organization to direct them and make their own decisions.

open org management model

 

I would highlight 7 key leadership principles that are key to managing change successfully in Open Organizations and indeed in all 21st century High Tech, innovative organizations.

  1. Start with Why!

For Jim Whitehurst, you must start with “Why” because starting with “Why” and building a compelling sense of Purpose creates an extraordinary degree of engagement among all stakeholders and catalyzes creativity, innovation and organizational commitment. Jim Whitehurst quotes Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Babson College Professor Raj Sisodia:

PURPOSE concept

“People are most fulfilled and happiest when their work is aligned with their own inner passions. Personal passion, corporate purpose and business performance all go together”. If you can create a compelling reason for people to participate, they will.

So a compelling Purpose is the first driver of engagement and if your change initiative doesn’t have a clear compelling Purpose that employees identify with, you won’t get the levels of engagement from employees required to drive change successfully.

 

  1. Ignite Passion!

But a compelling Purpose is not enough. Today’s workers want their work to mean something and they want to be part of something that makes a difference. So organizations must activate passion amongst employees to really achieve great performance.

An employee who feels passionately about his company’s purpose will be engaged and

Wherever you go, go with all your heart

motivated to deliver extraordinary performance and go that extra mile. And to get that passion, organizations must be prepared to challenge their people to take initiatives, find ways to innovate and of working together to gain an edge on the competition. As Jim Whitehurst says, if you don’t want passionate people, you can always use robots but robots won’t deliver innovative solutions to unforeseen or new complex challenges!

So the second ingredient in managing change: encourage passion in your employees and give them opportunities to express their passion from Day 1!

  1. Engage your employees from Day One!

As employees today need to understand “Why”, leaders need to engage with their workforce in a much more direct, continuous and positive way. Expecting employees to behave proactively and assume accountability for their decisions means that leaders have to provide much more information and context than ever before and this means much more than simply pushing information down the organization through the usual internal communication channels.

This means constant and ongoing dialogue between leaders and employees at all levels. So in an Open Organization, the leadership role is not undermined or abandoned. Rather, the leader’s role becomes one where he/she constantly provides context and meaning and constantly supports employees in their decision making by “determining the appropriate amount of latitude that each individual is capable of handling, plus develops, coaches and stretches their capabilities along the way”.

This third element of successful change management requires leaders to engage constantly with employees and not only when some change management initiative needs to be implemented. If leaders haven’t been busy building the engagement of their team members from day one, don’t expect to get it when you need to launch an urgent organizational change. It’s too late!!!

  1. Develop Accountability!

In conventional, top-down command and control organizations, Accountability is simple. I am accountable to my boss who is accountable to his/her boss who in turn is accountable to his boss, etc. But as Jim Whitehurst points out, real Accountability is not asking permission to do something or saying “May I” all the time.

It’s about being accountable for a set of outputs after the fact! And if you want employees to accept real accountability, you need to foster a culture that encourages initiative, trust, transparency, information sharing and all the things that allow employees to feel that they have the means and the support from leaders to take reasonable decisions at their level and are willing to be therefore accountable for the results.

 

AccountabilityAbove all, the best way for leaders to develop Accountability is to demonstrate it themselves and walk the talk by actively seeking feedback from all levels of the organization on whatever issues concern team members. Leaders have to listen to and engage with employees on how to resolve the issues raised rather than simply telling them to shut up or accuse them of being obstructionist. One very frequently used way of getting feedback is the annual employee survey and one equally important way of walking the talk is by acting on the employee feedback obtained in the annual survey in a positive way.

As Jim Whitehurst says, feedback is a gift so take the feedback at face value, don’t shoot the messenger or risk disengaging your employees!

It’s all about trust. Employees who trust their managers are more productive and trust comes from open dialogue and from leaders walking the talk!

So real accountability is a 4th element in ensuring successful change management and again, this has to be from Day One and not only when circumstances require it.

  1. Enroll your thought leaders, not just your managers!

In classical top down organizations, decision-making is simple. The Boss decides ultimately and the hierarchy dictates who gets heard. In Open organizations like Red Hat, this can’t work.

Those closest to the issue rather than those responsible for overall direction of the organization or team, tend to make the decisions. This of course requires collaboration and mutual respect between employees and their managers in a complimentary relationship. Decisions are made on merit. In other words, they are made on the best case put forward and excellence, not position, prejudice, titles, politics or privilege is the criterion of choice.

So the role of leaders is to ensure decisions based on merit can be made by the right people working together on the right things. And how do leaders do this?

They can do this by building an organization that listens to all employees and allows Hand writing the text: Be a Voice Not An Echoeveryone to voice their opinions openly so that gradually, real thought leaders can rise to the top. Organizations of course usually know who their key influencers are (the thermostats as Jim Whitehurst calls them), those thought leaders within the organization who are generally recognized by their peers for their achievements and expertise and whose contribution is vital for the success of any change initiative. But such thought leaders are unlikely to contribute positively if they are being stifled by a command and control type manager or if they witness colleagues being gagged or not being listended to. If you want your thought leaders to participate willingly and if you want to avoid groupthink conformity, proactively encouraging a culture of open expression where everyone’s voice is heard is a (small) price to pay!

So to ensure the success of your change initiatives, listen to everyone from day one!

  1. Nurture creative abrasion!

It’s not enough to show you listen. In conventional organizations, everyone is expected to fall in line and conflict is seen as a threat and usually repressed. But as Jim says, you can’t get the best creativity, initiative or efforts from members of an Open Organization, indeed any organization, by saying “Go do this”. The best ideas happen when teams “hash things out”! Open organizations therefore encourage and accept not only bottom up feedback but also organize and develop strong, energetic internal debates which may even occasion conflict and opposing points of view.

What Jim Whitehouse calls “creative abrasion”, something that involves some level of conflict – a disagreement, contention or argument – works best when it is practiced in a community that has a shared purpose, shared values and rules of engagement that help keep the conflict productive rather than destructive”.

If you don’t encourage such debate, you may well end up with what Jim calls a “terminally nice” culture that ends up in real trouble because you never initiated the difficult conversations required to challenge the status quo and get the meaningful inputs required to turn things around.

And the role of leaders in these Open Organizations is even more important: encourage and manage these abrasively creative discussions where everyone is free to exchange their points of view in a candid, positive way. Jim quotes the former CEO of Xerox PARC who

Disrupt Change Innovate New Business Product Concept Word Collag

said: “you want an organization that argues with you. And so you want to nurture the bottom up but you’ve got to be careful that you don’t degenerate into chaos”. In a way, leaders have to disrupt the conventional way of getting things done if they want to avoid falling in to the “terminally nice” culture that suffocates successful change management!

 

Lots of tools now exist to orchestrate such internal debates and in implementing them, you can use the wisdom of the crowd to police discussions. Indeed, peers themselves will step in themselves if discussions become too virulent, if you really have a community of like-minded employees who share a common goal.

So 6th element in managing change, accept being challenged and proactively promote a creatively abrasive, bottom up feedback culture and do it from Day One!

  1. Involve employees directly in decision-making!

Managing change is fundamentally about decision-making and getting decisions implemented operationally. So change management is not only about big transformational projects but is at the heart of what leaders need to do every day: get their team members to adapt with agility to change and execute effectively.

In a typical command and control organization, the manager says and the employee does but we all know that it doesn’t work like that in real life, especially in Open Organizations, indeed in most 21st century high tech organizations. Leaders need the buy in of employees to execute effectively.

But as Jim Whitehurst points out, classical change management approaches usually focus on the “execution” phase and huge effort is spent on “explaining and selling the changes” top-down to employees, once decisions are made by management at the top.

At Red Hat, they do it differently. Rather than focus on “selling” the execution plan to employees once the plan is hatched, they have moved most of the change management activities into the decision-making process itself and using a host of different feedback mechanisms, get inputs from all levels in the organization before any significant decision is made or implemented. The drawbacks are numerous: the feedback process is time consuming, objectives needs to be explained and understood, leaders have to be prepared to listen and even ready to alter their plans according to the concerns raised and this can be threatening for many managers.

But as Jim Whitehurst points out, the results are worth the effort because the time you

pride acronym concept

lose in preparing your change is gained back in the adoption phase because you have more employees on board and they will follow you “because they trust you and not because you ordered them to”. As we all know, employees feel more ownership in the changes needed when they are involved in the decision behind them!

This doesn’t mean that a company is a democracy. leaders still remain the ultimate decision makers and may have to make difficult decisions despite all the efforts to listen and engage teams. But if you take the time to explain why and can back it up with a rationale, you can still drive progress and get things done.

So the 7TH element in managing change successfully is in switching the change management from the execution phase to the decision making phase and really making the effort to involve employees in the decision making process on an ongoing basis.

Hurry slowly. It’s worth it!

So 7 simple principles for leading change in Open Organizations.

And they obviously work for Red Hat as they have grown from an organization with revenues of $400 million to one with revenues of $1.5 billion. A great achievement.

But in my view, these 7 essential principles of leading an Open Organization can be applied in any organization, Open Source or otherwise, that seeks to foster initiative and creativity rather than running operations on HiPPO – the “highest paid person’s opinion”.

And if they are applied, they will help to build a really collaborative culture where employees are engaged from Day One and change doesn’t need to be “managed” but is an integral part of the leadership and collaborative team work process on a daily basis.

Remember the 7 Principles of leading in change in an Open Organizations:

  • Start with Why
  • Ignite Passion
  • Engage with your employees from Day One!
  • Develop Accountability at all levels
  • Enroll your thought leaders as well as your managers!
  • Nurture creative abrasive bottom up feedback
  • Involve employees proactively in the decision-making process

 

What do you think?

 

What’s killing Employee Engagement and how to deal with it?

May 23, 2016

JFK once said « Things do not happen, they are made to happen » and Mark Hurd, CEO of Oracle may have been thinking of JFK when he chose Employee Engagement as the topic for his address at the opening keynote session of Oracle HCM world in Chicago recently (see The Compelling Case for Employee Engagement).

Employee engagement deals of course with how deeply an employee connects with his/her company and how willing he/she is to « go the extra mile » to get the job done well.

make it happen text write on paperWhen employees are engaged, they think not just “what’s in it for me?” but “what’s in it for us?”.

Employee engagement is of course a “hot potato” for all organizations the world over as between 30% and 50% of employees declare themselves to be disengaged to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the Survey and the region.

So why did the CEO of a global High Tech company chose to handle such a “hot potato” in such a public way?

Engagement: a Productivity driver!

The reason is simple. Mark Hurd chose to discuss engagement, because he considers the topic as not just a noble gesture but a real « productivity » mechanism that contributes directly to the company’s bottom line. And Mark Hurd was ready to admit that increasing engagement from 70% to 80% at Oracle would deliver around 2 Billion USD in savings! That’s a huge impact!

«The team with the best help for their business model usually wins », Hurd continued and we all know that to win outside, you have to win inside. Of course, over the past few

Employee Engagement

years, due to the economic downturn, many companies have compensated for sluggish growth by cutting costs. But as Hurd reminded his audience, there is another way to cut expenses: “raise employees’ productivity and get more output for the same investment”. As Hurd said, “more highly engaged employees do more work, do better work, care more about your customers, they perform better and so does the whole entity”.

Not just a Millennial issue!

What’s more, it is not a generation thing with millennials being somehow more disengaged than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers. As Hurd pointed out, all generations seek more or less the same things, have more or less the same expectations and are more or less engaged.

So what drives Engagement?

So what do employees expect? What drives higher engagement and what can we do to influence these drivers positively?

Research on Employee Engagement identifies many key drivers of employee engagement. Below are a few of those key drivers and some suggestions on what we can do to live up to JFK’s words and make things really happen rather than wait for them to happen! Some of these actions may well be on the Oracle Engagement Action Plan!

1)Company Purpose

Not surprisingly, engagement is not only about money!

Today, employees want to be paid fairly but they also want to work towards a greater

Do work worth doing

purpose and to do work that really matters. At its core, a company’s purpose is a bold affirmation of its reason for being in business. It conveys what the organization stands for in historical, ethical, emotional and practical terms. No matter how it’s communicated to employees and customers, a company’s purpose is the driving force that enables a company to define its true brand and create its desired culture. Quite often however, companies don’t formulate their purpose very well and fail to communicate it from top to bottom of the organization.

More importantly, often, there may be a disconnect between the company’s Purpose and the behaviors demonstrated lower down in the organization. Action speaks louder than words and a bold company purpose has to be backed up by coherent behaviors within the organization. Not only Talk the talk. Walk the talk!

Some key suggestions:

  • Clearly formulate the Company Purpose and communicate it to the organization top down.
  • Start at the Top! Express the Purpose in terms of some key top-level business and management behaviors expected of senior leaders and encourage them to walk the talk!
  • Organizing round tables throughout the organization between managers and employees to define simple meaningful behaviors that express the Company Purpose at local level.
  • Include these behaviors in leadership and employee learning and development programs.
  • Build these behaviors into the annual appraisal process and indeed in the ongoing discussions between managers and employees.
  • Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate these behaviors in positive ways and share with the organization as a whole.

 

2) Company Strategy and Direction

If you don’t know where you are going, you may end up somewhere you don’t want to be and most research shows that employees need to have a clear appreciation of where the company is going and how their own actions are contributing to business results.

This means cascading strategy in a simple, pragmatic way and ensuring that employees’ operational objectives are connected to overall strategy.

Some key suggestions:

  • Make Employee Engagement a strategic objective and define the key KPIs to measure improvements to employee engagement. Hold managers and HR accountable for reaching Engagement targets and monitor on a regular basis.
  • Of course, use all the classical methods to share and update the company strategy: Annual Kick Offs, monthly All Hands, newsletters, intranet, etc.
  • Use the annual appraisal process as a tool to translate the strategy into actionable SMART goals at operational level and to ensure employees connect what they are doing to overall strategy and goals with the help of their managers.

 

3) Leadership

Employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers!

Most research shows a clear and critical link between an employee’s level of engagement

Leadership diagram

and his/her relationship with his/her manager. The better the relationship, the higher the engagement. Employees expect today a positive, mentoring type relationship with their managers and more importantly, expect more autonomy, more opportunity to express their opinions and contribute to decision making more frequently and directly.

Some key suggestions for leaders:

  • Today, employees expect to have a voice! Empower your team members. Explain the strategy and how it translates for your unit in operational terms, encourage your team members to propose their own objectives and discuss with them as and when these objectives need to be aligned.
  • Employees expect regular feedback so meet your team members regularly. Discuss whatever needs to be discussed and position yourself as a coach who wants to help team members achieve their goals. Be hard on the issues, not on the people.
  • Employees need to feel trusted so be transparent and share wherever possible information that helps them understand the business.
  • Delegate and control: delegate responsibility but always control and hold team members accountable. More empowerment means more accountability.
  • Lead by example and walk the talk.
  • Seek first to understand before being understood!
  • Invite your team members to offer solutions and you will find they will have a lot of ideas.
  • Promote a no-blame, continuous improvement approach. If team members can express opinions, admit mistakes and seek to improve, they will be more confident and engage more readily.
  • Say thanks regularly and not necessarily with money.

 

4) Relationship with peers

Most research suggests that a positive work atmosphere and good relationship with peers is critical to employee engagement.

The better and stronger these relationships are, the higher the level of engagement. And the best way to promote great relationships is to develop great teamwork!

Some key suggestions:

  • Ensure clarity of purpose – Employees must know what they are trying to accomplish, why, how well, and with what priorities and constraints both as a team and individually and where the two intersect.
  • Ensure clarity of roles – Talent and responsibilities must be well-matched so employees feel challenged but with a fair shot at excellence.
  • Ensure clarity of process – Employees must understand how the game is played, know where things stand, know how they can best contribute, believe decision-TEAM - Together We Can Manage, acronym business conceptmakers are informed and fair, and believe they can influence the process if things are going awry.
  • Recruit eagles and teach them to fly in formation! On boarding is critical and engage with new starters as of day One!
  • Use the annual performance review as a way of updating on roles and responsibilities and on monitoring skills required to do the job on an ongoing basis.
  • Encourage Cooperation and not Competition. Reward cooperation as much as possible because effective teamwork delivers exponential results above anything star performers can do!
  • Keep things simple and put people first.
  • Defend your team in times of trouble. It’s a great way to build trust. All for one and one for all! When things go wrong, examine first the process and see how the team can improve together.

 

5) Continuous Improvement

Research consistently shows that engaged employees not only want to do a great job today but want to improve continuously and expect their organization to promote a continuous improvement culture.

One concrete way of promoting a continuous improvement mindset is by constantly seeking employee feedback and involving employees not only in identifying the problems but also in offering the solutions.

Some key suggestions:

  • Promote a culture positive to feedback. Deploy an annual survey of course but don’t wait for the once in the year audit results to find out what employees think. Seek feedback frequently and multiply the channels for obtaining feedback.
  • Feedback is a gift. Engaged employees want to contribute and care about what they are doing so accept the feedback, however critical it may seem. Don’t seek to punish or reprimand and don’t prejudge why employees respond the way they do. Take the feedback as it is.
  • Involve managers, team members and HR not only in analyzing the results but also in defining the action plans together so that all parties are part of the solution not the problem.
  • Recognize and reward teams for continuous improvement suggestions that are implemented successfully and share throughout the organization.

 

6) Career development

Engaged employees have high expectations with regard to how their careers are being developed and want to believe they can grow with the organization.

Some key suggestions:

  • Use the Annual Performance Appraisal as a Career Plan for each employee and to discuss strengths and development needs, roles and responsibilities, how to stretch the employee in his/her current role, what roles the employee can target as a career step and what skills are needed to succeed the move. Set loose career goals with each employee and discuss progress year on year.
  • Promote a learning and development culture. The annual performance review is the best place to set some SMART learning objectives for each team member to help him/her progress on his/her career plan.
  • Learning doesn’t only need to be classroom based and can also involve coaching, new assignments and responsibilities, special projects, etc.

 

7) Compensation & Benefits

Most research shows that employees expect to be treated fairly compared to their

Equity theory business diagram illustration

colleagues in terms of compensation and benefits and expect decisions concerning compensation and benefits to be taken as objectively as possible.

However, research also suggests that while compensation is a contributing factor in employee disengagement, it is rarely a critical factor, especially when it comes to deciding whether to go or stay!

Some key suggestions:

  • Be transparent on the process. Explain the rules upfront to all employees concerning how compensation & benefits plans are built, how salary increases and bonus awards are decided, by whom and with whom, when and where and give employees the opportunity to share their expectations early with their managers before decisions are finalized.
  • Train managers of course in the fundamentals of Comp & Ben and how to discuss with employees the salary review process.
  • Promote a “Total Compensation” approach which highlights all the different components of the employee’s compensation and not just base and variable.
  • Don’t forget other Benefits because Base pay is not everything and research often shows that employees are ready to forego a raise for a good perk such as a health plan or retirement plan! Research also shows that for most employees, pay and benefits do not pay a significant role in decisions to change job. Culture and values, career opportunities and senior leadership have a more direct impact on employee satisfaction and therefore on employee retention! Food for thought.

So lots to do and great challenges indeed to reinforce employee engagement from a leadership and organizational point of view.

Of course, employees have their own part to play in developing their engagement levels and we’ll discuss in a later blog.

Like the painting of the Eiffel Tower, it’s a never-ending battle but one that is worth the effort and investment!

What do you think?

What makes a Great Team? How to go from Good to Great!

May 7, 2016

 

So Leicester City has won the English Premier League!

If you are not an avid soccer or sports fan, this piece of news will probably leave you cold.

But for all the crazy sports fanatics around the Globe, this is a truly astonishing result.

Here is a team that has absolutely no recognized « A » players in its first team, has one of the smallest budgets in the Premier League, that was almost relegated to the lower league last year, has a manager who had never before won anything and that was given 5000/1 odds to win the League at the start of the championship!

Yet, Leicester managed to beat some of the richest teams in Europe, all staffed with high profile “A” players. A victory indeed for the underdog!

leicester

Leicester City: Soccer Scrum Champions?

So how did the 5000/1 underdogs do it? They undoubtedly had good players at the start of the season but how did they go from Good to Great?

Of course, there are many reasons but one key reason has got to be great teamwork!

 

 

And what are some of the success factors that contributed to achieving this great teamwork?

I guess Jeff Sutherland, the father of “Agile Management” and co-creator of the “Scrum Software Development Framework” would probably have some more very interesting ideas on this subject.

 

This is the question he sets out to answer in

Capture d’écran 2016-05-06 à 11.37.01

Why do some teams achieve greatness when  other teams languish in mediocrity?

Indeed, after some years of working in various senior management positions managing software development projects, Sutherland came to two very simple conclusions:

  • The traditional command and control « Waterfall » method of software development where projects were completed in distinct stages and moved step by step towards ultimate release to consumers and software users just didn’t work. Projects were often late, overran on budget and quite often were even abandoned because they no longer corresponded to the customer’s needs.
  • Worse, from a people point of view, this traditional “Waterfall” approach was a nightmare for those who had to apply it, made life miserable for all and more or less encouraged mediocrity, poor teamwork and failure.

Inspired by the Toyota Total Quality System (TQM) in automotive manufacturing,

Women hand writing element of TQM concept.for business concept and use in manufacturing

Sutherland gradually came to define an alternative way of managing software development projects, which he called “Scrum” and which has become globally recognized as one of the most effective way of developing software projects.

How does Scrum work?

To simplify, rather than trying to implement the inefficient “Waterfall method”, whenever you start a project, you regularly check in with your team members, see if what you’re doing is going in the right direction and if it’s actually what people want. And at the same time check if there are ways to improve how you are doing what you are doing and if there are any ways of doing it better and faster and what obstacles may be getting in your way. Simple really!

This dynamic process follows a few simple steps:

  • Build an initial plan and rough cost estimate good enough to start;Concept of Scrum Development Life cycle and Agile Methodology, Each change go through different phases and Release
  • Gather a small, competent and empowered and cross-functional team to execute;
  • Prioritize the work around the initial tasks that will deliver some value very quickly for the customer and use demos to show to all at the end of each work cycle;
  • Organize the teamwork around short work cycles of 2 to 4 weeks called Sprints;
  • At the end of the Sprint, check what has been done, what remains to be done, what was done well, what can be improved and move on to the next cycle.

 

But what has Scrum and Software Development to do with the success of our 5000/1 Leicester City sporting underdogs?

 

For Scrum to work, it involves not only a whole new way of working but more importantly, a whole new mindset to managing projects and teams.

As Jeff Sutherland says, Scrum is a simple idea but executing it requires thought, introspection, honesty and discipline and Leicester City certainly showed all of these qualities throughout the season.

But when we look closer at some of the Success Factors behind Scrum which help teams go from Good to Great, I would highlight at least 7 key success factors I suspect helped Leicester City transform themselves from Good to Great.

 

1. Great teams have a goal but build the road as they go!

Scrum teaches us that while it is important to have a clear idea of the final objective, great teams build the road as they go and it is better to refine the plan throughout the project rather than do it all up front. You can never plan everything up front. The real world doesn’t work like that. People don’t work like that.

Plan in just enough detail to deliver the next increment in value and estimate the rest of the project in large chunks. This of course means having confidence in the team to work closely together as they go so that the plan is constantly adapted to the changing environment and customer needs.

Key takeaway: Promote an agile organization that doesn’t over obsess with Gantt charts and exhaustive planning and accepts that what seems like a bad decision now is better than a decision delayed taken too late. Progress slowly towards the goal, Sprint after Sprint, match after match!

 

2. Great teams plan and prioritize…just enough!

If Jeff Sutherland reminds us of the trap of trying to plan exhaustively everything that has to be done before acting, he never suggests that we should work in an ad hoc way.

If you want to go fast, you nevertheless need to plan sufficiently to ensure you attack the key challenges that really add value for the customer.

For any software development program, as Jeff Sutherland points out, 80% of the value is delivered by 20% of the functionalities. So Scrum insists on defining that 20% of essential work that needs to be done, prioritizing that work in terms of value for the customer and then attacking those tasks delivering highest value first in the Scrum work cycle called a Sprint, usually of a duration of 2 to 4 weeks.

Sutherland reminds us of some simple quality tools that are very useful for planning and Demingkreisnotably, the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle created by Prof. W. Edwards Deming and
adopted by Toyota. This simple tool helps to plan and prioritize work from Sprint to Sprint so that you define what you want to do, you do it, you check what you have done, and you correct what you did not do or did wrong.

A simple but effective way of escaping the ad hoc, day-to-day execution of tasks!

Great teams plan simply and prioritize so that they deliver 80% of the results by doing the key 20% tasks first from cycle to cycle.

Key Takeaway: Train all employees in all functions to use continuous improvement tools such as PDCA and Pareto. It will help teams plan, do, check and act on the key 20% of tasks adding 80% of value. Above all, you will drive improvements everywhere.

 

3. Great teams focus on Systems! Hire Eagles and teach them to fly in formation!

All companies want to recruit the best person for any job but as Jeff Sutherland points out, modern business has perhaps become too focused on finding “A” players and star individuals when the real exponential value is generated through building effective systems which allow great teams to flourish.

Scrum teaches us to focus above all on the System and not the person because an efficient system will always deliver exponentially more value. It is really a case of 1+1 = 3n rather than 1+1 =2. As Aristotle said more than 2000 years ago:

whole is more print

And Leicester City surely demonstrated this more than 2000 years later by putting the system first!

Key takeaway: Great teams focus on effective systems. Seek to develop and optimize high performance systems that allow great teams to flourish! Hire Eagles and teach them to fly in formation!

 

4. Great teams promote a no-blame culture!

If improving the system can deliver much more than blaming any one individual, it is important to understand this and promote a no-blame culture that encourages everyone to participate in perfecting the system.

As an example of why this is important, Jeff relates the case of General Motor’s NUMMI automotive plant in Fremont, California that was closed 1982 by GM who considered the workforce the worst in America.

When Toyota wanted to reopen the plant in 1984 with GM in a JV, GM recommended hiring the management but not the workforce!

Toyota did the exact opposite and rehired the workforce but not the management!

Very soon, NUMMI was producing cars with the same precision and as few defects as those made in Japan. As Sutherland says, same people, different system, different management methods, different outcomes!

NUMMI

This is what I like to think happened at Leicester City. They focused on the system just as Toyota did at NUMMI, forgot about the poor results of previous years and set about building a system that would eventually deliver outstanding success.

Key takeaway: rather than blame individuals, always promote a no-blame culture. Team members will be more ready to cooperate, participate proactively and contribute to improving the system. Blame the people and you sap the team spirit and morale, you tackle the wrong problem and you allow a failing system to continue. It’s as simple as that.

 

5. Great Teams build Trust

Trust is the glue that holds great teams together.

Diagram of trust

If you have a goal and you work to that goal and fight to continuously improve so that you can accelerate and deliver more, this means focusing on how to improve the process as you go.

This means team members must take responsibility for their own share of the work and how to improve it and they will only do so if they trust their team. Team members have to be able to give honest and straight feedback to one another that helps every one to improve and this will only happen in a climate of trust. If there is no trust, team members may adopt all sorts of deviant behavior such as hoarding information, ignoring errors, silo mentality, blaming others, all the behaviors that inevitably inhibit greatness.

 

6. Great teams share Purpose, Autonomy & Skills

To achieve team greatness, as Jeff Sutherland points out, all teams must have 3 key characteristics:

  • A higher sense of purpose which unites and motivates them to overcome difficulties and achieve success together
  • A sense of empowerment to take the decisions they need to take at their level to move fast. The more a team has to defer to an external authority to get things done, the less chance they have of success.
  • Finally, each team should have all the skills it needs within the team to deliver the expected results. The more a team has to defer to an external resource to get something done, the less likely it will succeed.

Key takeaway: Instill in the workforce a sense of higher purpose; Build a system that empowers them to act effectively towards that purpose and constantly track and provide the skills needed by that team to become Great.

 

7. Great teams seek to improve continuously!

At the heart of Scrum and the Toyota Total Quality System is a constant quest for continuous improvement.CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT Vector Sketch Notes

Scrum encourages teams not only to ask what they have done but how they can improve on what they have done so that in the next work cycle or Sprint, they can go even faster.

Continuously improving the process accelerates the productivity from Sprint to Sprint so teams can work smarter without having to work harder!

 

 

Indeed, at the end of each Sprint, team members perform a ”Sprint Retrospective” where they look at:

  • What was done during the Sprint?
  • What went right?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What can be improved during the next Sprint?

These simple questions can be asked everywhere throughout any organization for any project or task.

This continuous improvement mindset must of course be shared by the whole organization, from top to bottom and not only those on any given project. If senior managers don’t believe this, employees lower down won’t either.

As everyone in the organization must not only “talk the talk” but “walk the talk”, this involves the company culture and values and everyone needs to understand and buy into this continuous improvement culture and values.

All employees can be educated to understand and adopt this mindset in many ways: from on boarding, to the annual objective setting process, to rewards and recognition, to work methods and processes, to internal communications, to training and development, to Succession Planning, even to the internal Annual Survey and the types of questions you ask, how you ask them and how you act on employee feedback.

And every function should have its own continuous improvement goals and agenda.

Key takeaway: Actively seek to promote a continuous improvement culture throughout the organization and train and educate employees at all levels to adopt a continuous improvement mindset that seeks not only to “do” but also to improve “how” to do.

 

To conclude, these 7 key success factors contribute to building Great teams:

  1. Have a goal but build the road as you go
  2. Plan and prioritize…just enough
  3. Focus on effective systems. Hire eagles and teach them to fly in formation!
  4. Build a no blame culture
  5. Promote Trust
  6. Develop Purpose, Autonomy and Skills
  7. Seek to improve continuously

 

Great teams of course do much more than this but you will have to read Scrum: The Art of doing Twice the Work in Half the Time to discover more “Success factors” on how to help teams go from Good to truly Great.

 

And well done to Leicester City who, like real champions, show us how the “Whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts” and that good players can become a Great Team when some Scrum success factors are added into the mix in a disciplined and honest way!

 

What do you think?

 

PS: I’m a Munster fan myself. That’s Rugby Scrum and not Soccer Scrum…but that’s another story!!!

 

Unveiling the Tesla Model 3 – Answering the question Why?

Apr 8, 2016

On March 31, 2016 last, Elon Musk unveiled the new Tesla model 3 and from a Leadership point of view, what is really compelling is the way he chose to  do it.

Rather than  trying to sell the Model 3 to his audience by  answering the question “What” and focusing in detail on the car’s technical specifications as a traditional car maker would have done, Elon Musk chose first to answer the question “Why” Tesla are doing what they are doing.

For Tesla is about much more than just making good cars. Tesla has indeed a much more compelling mission which is expressed through 2 key goals:

  1. Accelerate the transition to sustainable transport by building an affordable and attractive 100% electric car;
  2. Save lives by building a car which emits no toxic gases. As Musk reminds his audience, 53000 people die each year in the US alone due to toxic gas emissions from combustion cars and Tesla are helping to attack this urgent public health issue in a direct and concrete way.

These are indeed compelling goals that speak to everyone and I am sure Elon Musk and his management team have no problem motivating their employees to engage with this compelling higher purpose which is so impactful on people’s lives and on the planet.

Indeed,  Elon Musk wastes no time reminding us that “it is really important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport for the future of the world“, given the increase in CO2 levels and that it doesn’t make sense to continue to produce cars that emit poisonous gases!

So Tesla’s mission is  not simply to make cars. Tesla’s mission is to address these very TESLA LOGO
serious issues of climate warming due to excessive CO2 levels and alarming death rates due to car pollution by making cars that are good for the climate and safe for people. By buying a Tesla electric car, customers are of course not simply buying a car but they are also saving the planet and saving lives. What a powerful mission statement!

These are fantastic and great reasons for buying a Tesla and certainly much more compelling than the traditional arguments used by the established car makers! What’s more, any fears future Tesla users may harbor linked to battery range or recharge times are significantly reduced when compared with the idea that buying a Tesla will save lives and save the Planet.

Elon Musk also reminds us that Tesla started off as a small team with few resources and this adds to the sense of a highly united band of pioneers who have beaten the odds through a clever strategy of starting out small and building gradually towards the final objective of producing the first great 100% high volume, affordable electric car. This is a very convincing argument for all the early adopters who want to participate in a truly great  endeavor that goes beyond simply buying a product.

And of course, Tesla is disrupting the car industry and forcing the traditional car makers to  play catch up. As Musk says, Tesla is breaking the mould and car makers like Chevrolet and Nissan have since launched similar programs in pursuit of Tesla, even though Tesla has not been producing high volumes up to now. Small in volume but big in impact! David is beating Goliath!

Elon Musk remembers to thank his customers for buying the initial  Tesla models: the Roadster, Model S and Model X and these initial customers have provided the resources to fund the design and development of the Model 3. So Tesla users are not simply customers but are above all pioneering champions who are helping to make the Tesla dream a reality and by doing so, help solve very serious global  issues. Really powerful reasons for switching to Tesla!

Musk suggests future Tesla customers needn’t worry about order availability because the factory in Fremont has huge spare capacity to meet increased demand, having produced 500 thousand + cars in the past!

Concerning batteries, the Tesla Giga factory being built is the biggest such factory in the world where more lithium ion batteries will be produced than in all the other factories in the world combined!! Astonishing!

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Tesla Giga Factory will produce more Lithium Ion batteries than all other factories combined worldwide!

Finally, Musk describes the key features such as acceleration speed, range, autopilot hardware, interior space, head room, leg room, cargo room, interior roominess, etc using simple words that speak to all. You can even fit a  7ft surf board inside! How different to the traditional technical vocabulary quite often used by traditional car makers.

And of course, the Tesla service network is growing fast and the Tesla network of supercharging and destination charging points will increase significantly by end 2017 when the first Tesla Model 3 will be delivered, guaranteeing customers the freedom to go wherever they want to go.

For Musk, cars are about Freedom and that is indeed a very contrarian message when you think how cars in recent years have become synonymous with traffic jams, gridlock, pollution and illness and to such an extent that they are increasingly being locked out of most large urban centres.

So the dream is becoming reality and Tesla is showing that it is possible to produce a great electric car despite all the obstacles from a technology, industrial, consumer, infrastructure, ecological point of view.

An extraordinary and fascinating example of how to drive change, disrupt a seemingly inertia ridden, highly conservative industry and indeed transform an every-day object that is seen as expensive, dangerous, technical, dirty, highly constraining,  etc. into one which is attractive, easy to use, simple, beautiful, exciting, user-friendly and delivers freedom.

And the 300,000 + customers who have ordered a model 3 since the unveil representing more than 11 billion USD in future sales would certainly seem to agree.

Brilliant! Fascinating vision! Putting the passion back in manufacturing. A great example of how visionaries like Elon Musk are helping to widen the cone of innovation and disrupting industries which up to now have seemed impervious to change!

Go Tesla!

 

A Contrarian’s view to start-up success -from Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Mar 3, 2016

It could seem quite contrarian indeed  to question generally accepted conventional wisdom that competition is synonymous with capitalism. Ever since Adam Smith, we have been educated to believe that free competition is the foundation of economic prosperity and every entrepreneur should willingly and gladly accept that competing for market share is the rule of the game.

Nor would you expect such a contrarian point of view to come from someone who studied at Stanford law school before going on to co-create a successful start-up like Paypal before selling it off to eBay for 1.2 Billion USD.

But this is what Peter Thiel precisely does in his very provocative and contrarian minded book “Zero to One: notes on startups or how to build the futurethielbinb. In his presentation to the Chicago Ideas week in 2015 on the subject of entrepreneurship,   he touches of some of the key ideas and themes that run through “Zero to One…“. In his speech below, he underlines three key points that he believes entrepreneurs should bear in mind which are nevertheless contrary to conventional wisdom on how to get a startup to succeed.

1. Aim for a monopoly in a niche market to escape competition!

To succeed, businesses need to be unique and so differentiated from their competitors that they are no longer even competing. Why? Because as Peter Thiel points out, a world of perfect competition “competes away” all profits. The more companies compete over the same finite piece of cake, the less cake there is, the more their profits are squeezed and the less cash flow they have, the less they can invest in long term growth. Successful start ups create their own market through discovering and growing a unique value proposition and executing fast before any possible competition has time to react. In other words, they escape the competition trap by creating a monopoly in a niche market!

 

Peter Thiel cites Google as a good example of a company which has managed to “escape the competition trap” by acquiring more or less a monopoly of the internet search market thereby guaranteeing itself huge cash flows for years to come. Happy companies like Google found a way to radically differentiate themselves from the competition early and escape the competition trap. Unhappy companies however are all alike because they failed to escape the essential sameness of competition. So the goal for any start up is to build a technology or a solution or an answer to a market need that is so unique that it allows the startup to escape from this competition trap. As Peter Thiel provocatively asserts,  “competition is for losers”.

2. Find a secret that nobody else can see!

For Thiel, the “cone of progress” has become too narrow and technological innovation seems to have been restricted to the IT space in the last decade or so. The IT space will continue to innovate but there are other realms which are worthy of exploration, such as bio-tech and space. We seem to have stopped exploring  these other realms for many reasons but we need to seek out the secrets that these areas are hiding. Secrets are unique opportunities that others don’t see. There are still many secrets to be discovered in the world of medicine, space exploration, bio-technology and it takes effort, dedication, hard work and investment to uncover the secrets these realms still contain. Above all, whether it is iT or bio-tech, to succeed, we  need to see a unique problem nobody else has tried to solve and solve it rather than simply compete with others in the same market.

3. Globalize horizontally  and innovate vertically!

Finally, Peter Thiel distinguishes between Globalization on the one hand and Technological innovation on the other and while he believes we must do both, he asserts that we must make a careful distinction between Globalization on the one hand and Technological Innovation on the other. For Thiel, Globalization means spreading existing technology horizontally on a massive scale. He cites China as an example of horizontal growth where the Chinese are copying on a large scale technologies invented elsewhere in order to close the gap as fast as possible with the developed world. This we need to continue to do of course.

On the other hand, Technological Innovation or vertical innovation as he calls it brings new and radically different step changes in existing technologies and this technological innovation can only be achieved through focusing on widening the cone of progress beyond IT into other neglected realms of technological exploration.

As Peter Thiel says, we need to “develop the developed world” because the very idea of a “developed” world implies that we no longer need to progress. If so, we will gradually slip into a state of sclerosis. So the good news is that there are still new frontiers to be discovered and conquered in medicine, space, aeronautics, science,..and Thiel invites all would be entrepreneurs to seek out the secret path and unique idea that will set them on the way to success, with a lot of hard work, risk and investment of course.

In “Zero to One”, it is worth recalling  7 core questions Thiel says all businesses should answer before launching any new venture:

  1. The Engineering Question: can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: is now the right time to start your business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way not just to create but to deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: will your market position be defensible in 10 and 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

 

Very hard questions of course. Very contrarian and provocative and food for thought for all entrepreneurs big and small!

Enjoy “Zero to One”, a great overview of the forces driving innovation in  the IT sector and why we need to widen the cone of progress if we want to launch a new age of entrepreneurialship. Elon Musk is showing the way!

JN

 

The Power of Purpose

Feb 22, 2016

Check out this very enjoyable and thought-provoking speech by Robert E. Quinn from the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan  in which Robert reveals very simply how we can all bring positive change around us. The secret lies in discovering our sense of a higher purpose!

As Robert Quinn explains, “when we embrace a sense of a higher purpose, meaning increases in our lives. When we increase meaning in our lives, we increase our sense of empowerment. When we feel more empowered, we take more actions and when we take more actions, our positivity goes up.

Increased positivity allows us to see things in new ways, make new associations, build more positive, enriching  relationships around us. More enriching relationships helps free up untapped potential. When we have sense of a higher purpose, we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and do things we didn’t want to do before, take those difficult decisions and face those conflicts we avoided before”. Empowering!

Managing paradoxes – The Competing Values leadership framework

Jan 31, 2016

Organizations today are more and more complex and it is very challenging indeed for managers to understand how to deal with this complexity in an effective way. Quite often, managers are torn between what would seem to be “competing” and even “conflicting” requests pulling them in opposite directions simultaneously. At the same time, their surroundings seem more and more complex, inhibiting effective action. They understand that simplicity is required but such simplicity would seem hard to reach.

The “Competing Values” leadership Framework, first conceived at the University of Michigan business school is a very simple leadership model which provides managers and team members alike with a very simple and coherent tool, allowing all  to “see” through the apparent complexity of their organizations to the underlying simplicity driving their business, thereby offering an insight into the apparently contradictory but inevitably positive and complimentary  tensions and constraints acting on them, tensions that can be harnessed to work effectively and positively in a constructive way.

How does the “Competing Values” leadership Framework work?

As Jeff deGraff explains in the Video below, the “Competing Values” model looks at two positive tensions found in all organizations:

Tension 1: On a vertical axis, there is a necessary tension between the organization/person seeking “flexibility” and the organization/person seeking “stability“;

Tension 2: On a horizontal axis, there is a necessary  tension between the “internally facing” organization/person and the “externally” facing organization/person.

Capture d’écran 2016-01-31 à 17.02.28

These two positive tensions create 4 specific profiles  that occur at the individual level, the organizational level and of course at the outcome level.

  • Profile 1: the “Create” profile. In the top right quadrant, the “Create” profile seeks high flexibility and is focused on the external world. When we think of this profile, we think of the person who likes to “do things first“, the “innovator“, “pioneer“, “inventor“, the “artist“, the “visionary“. Steve Jobs would be a good example of this “Create” profile. The upside of this profile is that he/she is most likely to come up with the right solution. The downside, there is a lot of risk involved. Organizations with a “Create” profile run high risk and rely on radical innovation to progress quickly. All will remember the ad campaign run by Apple which even had as a banner “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” which illustrates the “rebel” nature of the “Create” profile.

  • Profile 2: The “Control” profile. Opposite in the bottom left quadrant, is the internal, stability focused profile. This profile seeks to “do things right” through robust processes, procedures and lots of metrics. This is a profile operating in a highly complex environment requiring large amounts of data with a lot of scalability where risk and failure is not an option (engineers, surgeons, doctors, pilots,…). Such organizations seek incremental innovation with little risk and seek to avoid radical transformation at all costs.

The interplay of these two profiles “Create versus Control” creates a tension around innovation and “how much” innovation a company needs.

  • Profile 3: The “Competitor” profile. In the bottom right quadrant, we have the individuals/organizations that are “externally and stability” focused and who seek to “do things fast“. These profiles are strongly goal oriented and seek to win “at all costs“. These profiles are focused very short-term. The down-side of this group is that they are not very good at building sustainability because their sole concern is “winning the game today“.
  • Profile 4: The “Collaborator” profile. In the top left quadrant is the Collaborator profile who is inwardly and flexibility focused, who wants to do “things together that last” and is held together by very strong values that he/she is trying to instill in the organizations he/she serves. These profiles are great at building “sustainable, long-term” organizations but they don’t always move so fast (relatively speaking) as they are focused on relationship building which necessarily takes time.

The interplay of these two opposing profiles “Competitor versus Collaborator” creates a second tension in any organization concerning “How fast the organization should innovate”. Do we go really fast to obtain the short-term goals or do we go a little less fast so that we can develop the culture and competencies that will make the organization more sustainable in the long term?

Jeff deGraff reminds us that there are 3 key points to be remembered when applying the “Competing Values” framework to any organization:

  1. Any organization is only as good as the “weakest” quadrant. To develop, grow and succeed, you need all 4 quadrants to play an integral part. For example, if we are great at the “Create” quadrant but not great at the “Control” quadrant, we won’t be able to take that radical new idea and turn it into a really big idea that will work everywhere because we won’t be systematic enough. So all 4 quadrants are necessary and they have to work in sync.
  2. We must build a management “portfolio” because one style of management won’t work everywhere. We may start a project in the “Compete” mode with a strongly goal focused project manager but at a certain moment in time, we may want to transition to a “cooperator” profile if we want to make the project sustainable in the long term.
  3. Most importantly, “how we create” is “what we create”. In other words, define your processes to the outcome you expect. If you want a radical new idea, select a “Create” profile and not a “Control” profile, pick the right kind of processes which encourage a “radical” outcome and don’t burden the project with excessive processes and procedures which will inhibit action and the generation of a radical outcome expected.

To summarize, as Jeff de Graff points out, rather than being counter productive and to be eliminated at all costs, the tensions generated by the interplay and competition of these four profiles : “Create versus Control” and “Compete versus Cooperate”  through “constructive conflict” can produce the hybrids and types of innovations today’s complex organizations are looking for.

Above all, as Jeff de Graff’s fellow academics Cameron and Quinn point out in their book entitled “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture” (2011), “the highest-performing leaders…have developed capabilities and skills that allow them to succeed in each of the four quadrants. That is, they are self-contradictory, behaviorally complex leaders in the sense that they can be simultaneously hard and soft, entrepreneurial and controlled….Managerial effectiveness is inherently tied to paradoxical attributes, just as organizational effectiveness is. Effective managers and effective organizations are paradoxical! 

Food for thought!

Check out  Jeff de Graff’s website for more information on the Competing Values framework at Competing Values Leadership

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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