Archive for February, 2009

Personal Success Factors: some golden rules

February 20, 2009

Work is more and more stressful and leaders have a responsibility to do all they can to reduce the impact of stress on themselves and their team members. Key is maintaining a good work/personal life balance. Also critical is the relationships a leader creates and maintains at work with team members,his/her managers and internal customers. Here are some simple golden rules and suggestions to help you get the human relationships right both on the personal and professional level. This list is not comprehensive and is open to debate.

Look after yourself
• Don’t forget your family is your number 1 customer.
• Keep in shape: keep fit!
• Don’t smoke! Keep well.
• Always take your holidays. All work and no play makes Tom a dull boy!
• Dress well! Look the part. Pay attention to your appearance.
• Practice a sport and/or a hobby regularly.
• Reinvent yourself every year: learn something new or do something new. Develop your creativity. Be a work in progress and not a finished article.
• Read and study continuously. Keep on learning.
• Laugh, enjoy yourself.

Set your course
• Accept to do the difficult job nobody else wants to do: develop your willpower and determination.
• No goal, no medal. Give yourself SMART objectives.
• Always keep within budget.
• Build your internal and external client base and take care of it.

Manage your communication
• Ban all irony, sarcasm and bitterness from internal memos, mails, communications: always be positive. Never badmouth or criticize others, no matter what!
• Always call people by their first name.
• Send hand written letters whenever possible. A personal touch is appreciated.
• Be careful of your image and appearance: smile!
• Don’t use bad language.
• Be direct: say it as it is while remaining correct.
• Never speak in anger. If angry, hold your fire.
• Never put in writing offensive or negative comments. What’s said is quickly forgotten, what’s written sticks.
• Don’t overuse emails. If you can give the message directly to the person, do so.

Manage your work
• Set aside 30 minutes a day for thinking and planning
• Note down your ideas systematically
• Isolate yourself once a month to plan ahead and organize yourself
• The idea may be imperfect, not the implementation. Execution is everything. Don’t be half-hearted. Do it well or not at all.
• Practice the 6P rule: Personal prior planning prevents poor performance!
• Insist on the company products, not on the paperwork
• Don’t try to build an empire. Focus on getting the job done.
• If it works, keep it. Don’t change for change’s sake.

Manage yourself
• Always be prepared to go the extra mile: always say yes and figure out how to deliver the expected results.
• Always keep your door open.
• Don’t bury your head in the sand: deal with problems immediately.
• Always be ready to do a favour.
• Reduce your business knowledge gap: constantly learn the business
• Do your homework and close out open tasks. Get the fundamentals right.
• Don’t panic, don’t get angry. Practice keeping calm.
• Learn to speak and write well.
• Be a lender, not a borrower: give other people credit for success
• Hard work comes before glory
• Search, correct, try again. Be creative and don’t be afraid to fail.
• Hurry up at your own pace. Decide in haste, regret at leisure!
• Stand back, observe, listen. Seek to understand before being understood.
• Collect your errors carefully and proudly. 7 times down, 8 times up! Only those who have never tried anything have never failed!
• Live the present moment to the full. Plan tomorrow, forget yesterday. I’m better than I was yesterday, not as good as I will be tomorrow!
• Keep out of power struggles.
• Refuse to join the club of the forever regretful: join the club of the forever optimistic and persevering.
• Never underestimate an opponent.
• Don’t be discouraged by those who try to kill ideas.
• Look on work with the eyes of a sales rep. Don’t forget to sell your ideas.
• Be a super sales man, whatever your role.
• Support your company fervently.
• Arrive at work 45 minutes before everyone else and leave 15 minutes later than everyone else.
• Don’t make staying late a habit.
• Don’t bring work home.
• When you travel on business, wherever you are, in a train or plane, use the time and work!
• When away from home for work and if alone, don’t waste time in the hotel restaurant. Have dinner in your hotel room and work.

Manage your boss
• Trust your manager
• Be loyal. Don’t bite the hand that feeds.
• Don’t buddy up with your boss(es). Business is business. Build a professional relationship.
• Give all the credit for success to your boss and the boss of your boss. They’ll reciprocate.
• Never surprise your boss. Always keep him/her informed.
• Never let your boss make a mistake.
• Imitate, study and take care of good bosses
• Get your boss to visit the team to thank team members regularly and personally.

Manage others
• Trust your team members.
• Recruit the best according to 3 criteria- integrity, determination, intelligence.
• Pay your employees more than their market value: Pay more and you’ll get more
• Give surprise bonuses for work well done and vary the method.
• Treat each person individually.
• Be polite and say thank you.
• 10 things to say to make people feel at ease
– please
– thanks
– Introduce a team member to your boss by “you remember Mr X…”
– you did a great job
– I appreciate the effort you made
– I keep hearing lots of good things about you
– I’m delighted to have you in the team
– I need your help
– Well done, congratulations
• Don’t spread rumours and don’t tolerate people who spread rumours
• Point the spotlight on the good idea, not on the person
• Never forget the spouses & families of your subordinates
• Teaching others means continuously studying and leading. Accept roles which allow you to train others.
• Let people know where they stand. Be clear and direct.
• Set SMART objectives and follow up regularly on progress
• Don’t use bad language and don’t tolerate bad language in others.
• Never take things personally.

Manage your network
• Get yourself recommended by senior managers in the organization.
• Keep a file “connections/relations” and update regularly.
• Every Friday: have lunch with someone outside your service.
• Build a network of allies within your organization
• Keep in touch with your network and help out when you can.

Manage your Career
• If you have a choice, always choose the best paid job
• Avoid if possible functional work, always seek operational responsibility
• Don’t wait for HR to plan your career. You are responsible for your own career development

What principles would you add or subtract from the list above?

Jeffrey Fox: The 75 laws
Stephen J. Covey: The 7 Habits of highly effective people

The Finnish model: 8 recommendations to deal with the current crisis

February 12, 2009

In a recent article in the French business newspaper, Les Echos, Jacques Hubert-Rodier explains how Finland can be a model for other countries struggling to deal with the current financial, economic and industrial crisis. As some may remember, Finland already experienced a melt down of its banking sector in the early 90s and the Finnish government was forced to take some very radical steps to save the Finnish banking sector & economy. In the article, the author quotes the former Finnish prime minister, Esko Aho, who makes 8 recommendations as a result of the experience:

1) Adopt a “worst case” scenario. In other words, prepare for the worst.
2) Define an appropriate strategy to deal with this worse case scenario
3) Fight to improve education and research & development because education is the foundation of future success and the basis of innovation
4) Consider the crisis as an opportunity to reform and improve and not only as a threat.
5) Expect higher employee mobility and plan accordingly.
6) Be patient because results will only show long term. There’s no quick fix.
7) State intervention in the banking sector must be short and sharp.
8) Governments adopting points 1 to 7 must prepare to lose the next elections.

What is striking is that learning and education remains one of the key drivers of progress even in a downturn as demonstrated by the consistent high performance attained by Finnish young people in the OECD’s Pisa studies on education levels throughout the developed world.

So all European leaders must drive the message home that life long learning and continuous education has never been more relevant than today and this represents a huge opportunity for all, provided that educational systems and organizations are willing to hear the message. Why lay off workers from industry and pay them to do nothing when you can train them to adopt new processes and techniques, using existing infrastructure and corporate facilities?

The martial art of getting things done

February 9, 2009

We’re all confronted with the daily challenge of getting things done, not only in our professional lives but also in our private lives. Getting things done is not always so easy but throw in a constantly changing environment and this becomes very challenging indeed. Quite often, our environment seems to conspire against us and countless “unforeseen events”, interruptions, sudden requirements spring upon us to dislocate our plans and throw our system into a spin.

Our managers change, our teams change, company strategy changes, objectives change, business partners change, the environment changes, customers change, technology changes, everything around us seems to be in a constant state of change. We’re constantly being interrupted by some sudden cause or problem which requires our attention and disrupts our schedule and/or plans. The only thing that seems permanent is change itself and we may often feel we spend our day firefighting and dealing with only current and immediate tasks, short-term tasks.

It’s easy to understand why so many people may experience anxiety when they look around and see how fast their world is constantly evolving and/or how often they are interrupted. This constant and increasingly rapid change and rate of interruption conspires against action because it’s difficult to act if the world around you changes quicker than your ability to implement and embed your actions to deal with that change. Why fight to follow up on objectives if the changes to the business environment make those objectives redundant? But failing to act increases anxiety because it creates a sense of lack of control, organization and preparation to act.

Even more ironically, the very tools we use to organize and track our work and commitments seem to conspire to add to the disorder through information overload and we risk getting bogged down with what seem to be sometimes very non-added value tasks: cleaning our email inbox, sorting our voice mails, sifting through the huge pile of brochures and booklets of all sorts that wash up on our desks on a daily basis, dealing with correspondence and admin tasks, etc.

So how can we deal with this constant change and overcome this feeling of anxiety which is an obstacle to effective action and getting things done?

How can we get above the clouds and plan long term? How can we improve our personal productivity and that of our teams so that we all feel we are not only getting things done but getting the right things done? Peter Drucker teaches us that efficiency means doing thing the right way and effectiveness means doing the right things. How can we spend more and more time doing the right things which add value and which give us more control over our changing environment?

This is the challenge that David Allen explores in his study on “Getting things done” and the very interesting thing about this book is that while it presents many tricks and tips that we all may use spontaneously and/or instinctively to organize our work more productively , its great merit in our view is that it is systematic in its approach and defines a comprehensive system for managing all the multiple inputs into our professional and private lives and structuring them into an operation system which allows us to sort out the essential from the secondary, prioritize all our actions and decide on the key next actions which will move us forward.

Indeed, one key message that can be taken from David Allen’s work is that the faster the change, the more we need to build a structured and comprehensive system to manage all the various inputs because if we don’t manage change, change will manage us!

Here are some key points summarizing David Allen’s approach to getting things done:

Collect all the “stuff” on your mind and write it down. Anxiety is caused by a feeling of lack of control due to a failure to meet commitments or a feeling that you need to do something but you don’t know what. The first step to alleviate this anxiety involves collecting everything on your mind and putting it into a clear system. You can only manage what you have identified so you need to write all your “stuff” down and classify all the different items in different actions lists. This of course requires discipline and method.

Process what all this stuff means and decide what to do with each item and how to organize all your decisions into one system. David Allen defines a basic system with the following components:

If you decide NO:
you have 3 possibilities:
* Trash: delete an item that has no value
* Incubate: put the item on hold in a “Someday/Maybe” box or “Tickler” bow
* Store for review at a later date in a Reference box

If you decide Yes:

Decide which actions can be taken and closed immediately and which need more planning:

You have 5 possibilities:
*list of long term projects: is the item a project you wish to undertake?
*list of project plans and materials. Is the item a plan or a change to a plan?
*calendar. I sit an event you need to put in your calendar?
*list of reminders for next actions. Is it a next action that needs to be implemented in the very short term?
*list of reminders of things you are waiting for from others. Is it something you need to receive from someone else?

– Do :Once you’ve decided on your immediate actions and sorted all other actions in the appropriate boxes, implement the actions.

– Discipline yourself to review all your “stuff” on a weekly basis and update your system and different lists.

We all perform these 8 phases of workflow management more or less: collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing but not perhaps so systematically as David Allen advocates.

Above all, we may not always apply systematically the question “what’s the next action?” to each open item in the yes category above.

It’s only when all open items have been identified, processed, organized, reviewed and a concrete next action has been defined for each item that the workflow management process is really operational.

Even if David Allen encourages the reader to classify actions in the short, medium and long term, his approach is nevertheless very pragmatic and urges the reader to adopt a bottom up approach which begins with immediate next actions.

His advice is clear: to get things done, seek to employ next action decision-making because next-action decision making rooted in the short term contributes to increased productivity, clarity, accountability and empowerment. Because if you ask the question “what’s the next action?”, you immediately decide what needs to be done, by whom, when, how, where and why. The longest march begins with one small step and one small next action decision.

To conclude, David Allen in turn quotes a certain Sidney J. Harris:

An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short term determines the long run“. Don’t allow things not done now undermine your long term.

Check out David Allen and “Getting things done“and read more about the “martial art” of getting things done and the power of the next-action decision.

View the video of David Allen giving a presentation on getting things done to Google team members.

Trust: your leadership compass in the perfect storm!

February 5, 2009

Business is more global. Teams are more diverse. Organizations are more and more flexible. Technologies change more and more rapidly. Roles and responsibilities change almost daily at all levels. Objectives change. Strategies change. People change. The manager who sets the strategy moves on and someone else has to live with the consequences. Or a new manager arrives and doesn’t have the history which led to where you are today.

The only thing that seems permanent is the relentless change that we all face on a daily basis.

In such a storm, leaders and team members may be tempted to hold their hand up and say “how can we function effectively in such a storm? How on earth can we get things done? How can we decide on a course of action when everything is changing around us?”.

Paradoxically, in this storm of change, the biggest danger facing leaders and team members is….no change! Or rather, not deciding what to do for fear of making an error.

Work is basically a decision-making process. Leaders and team members are constantly confronted with having to make decisions. Decision making is difficult at the best of times but becomes more and more difficult in fast-changing environments. Decisions are of course based on data and as data is often incomplete, the temptation is to wait for perfect data before deciding. However, as change is always ahead of the organization, the information collected by the organization is always out of date and the temptation is always to wait for “better”, “fresher” data before deciding. And so the vicious circle goes on.

The biggest danger is therefore paralysis of decision-making & we suspect that there is a direct causal link between the amount of change in an organization and the speed at which an organization decides.

The speed at which an organization decides is inversely proportional to the speed of change and the ability of the organization to digest that change. and in fast-changing, matrix organizations, it is indeed not uncommon to hear leaders and team members complain on the one hand of the speed of change and on the other hand, complain that decisions are taking longer and longer and that more and more people need to be consulted, thereby slowing down the decision-making process.

So the faster the change, the slower the decision-making process and the slower the decision-making process, the faster the change imposed by external factors (global business, partners, suppliers, markets, technologies, etc…).

And yet, we all have to get things done and deliver results.

So how can leaders work with team members to set a direction and hold to it? What compass can be used to plot a course to safety? How can we all deliver the expected results when even it is not always clear what we are expected to deliver?

In our opinion, the key is TRUST. With trust, you still have a lot to do; without trust, you are sure to fail.

When everything else is uncertain and unclear, the key to setting direction and bonding the team around that direction is TRUST. Leaders have to build TRUST with team members so that all believe that they can rely on one another when times get tough or when the storm breaks. When all the basic inputs to the decision-making process are fuzzy: strategy, partners, budgets, objectives, resources, the environment, etc., and you still have to set a direction, then only TRUST will allow you to set out with your team and your team will only get on board and stay on board if you trust them and they trust you.

What is trust based on? Trust depends on consistency of behavior.

To gain trust, you have to say what you do & do what you say and be seen to do it. In other words, you have to walk the talk. If you don’t walk the talk but say one thing and do the opposite, your team will lose confidence in you as a leader and will be less inclined to stick with you, especially in such a stormy environment. Either they won’t get on board at the outset or they’ll jump ship at the first opportunity.

TRUST is therefore the compass that helps the leader set direction but also the glue that will keep the team together, whatever the conditions.

The world-renowned leadership expert, Ken Blanchard, makes a very interesting distinction between TRUST & RESPECT.

– If you respect someone, you face them to listen to what they have to say.
– If you trust them, you can turn your back on them because you know they will not harm you.

However,

– if you don’t respect someone, you show this by turning your back on them because you don’t want to listen to them.
– if you don’t trust someone, you must always face them because you’re afraid they will harm you otherwise.

Leaders must be able to establish TRUST with team members so that he/she doesn’t always have to be facing them as the ship moves along and must show respect by always facing them when things get difficult and they need support.

We said above that the speed of decision-making is inversely proportional to the speed of change. We can also consider that the speed of decision-making is inversely proportional to the level of trust within an organisation. The less trust, the longer it takes to decide, the more trust, the quicker it is to decide.

So build the TRUST by saying what you do and doing what you say and prove it day-in, day-out.

Build up the TRUST and you will speed up decision-making. Speed up decision-making and you will increase your ability to manage change.

View Ken Blanchard’s discussion of TRUST as a key to leadership performance.

Ken Blanchard on Trust

The 6Cs of managing a virtual team

February 2, 2009

In the old-style Taylorized work environment, managers were able to cut up the work and distributed the tasks efficiently to team members who were close at hand and whose performance could be measured scientifically to ensure targets were reached.

These teams very, very real as they were most of the time organized in shifts, which meant that they arrived in the same place at the same time, worked the same period throughout the day and finished together. This unity of time, place and action allowed team members to build a team identity and culture which contributed to producing results, by generating a common bond, work identity and sense of one for all, all for one.

In today’s virtual workplace, where teams are no longer “real” but “virtual”, spread across different regional, national and/or international geographies and where work is more and more “intellectual”, this shared team culture is more and more difficult to build and results are obviously harder to guarantee.

Leaders leading such virtual teams have therefore to meet a greater challenge than their colleagues managing “real” or “on-site” teams because they can’t rely on the day-to-day routine of office or workshop life to build up the team identity and shared values which enhances effectiveness.

So what can leaders of virtual teams do to build this virtual team culture? How can they replace what mother nature has omitted?

In his book, “Where in the world is my team“, Terry Brake identifies 3 key risks that leaders of virtual teams must confront and help team members to confront:

1) Isolation: team members are not very often together and so therefore are more isolated than team members working in the same location/office;
2) Fragmentation: teams that are spread geographically are more at risk of becoming even more fragmented in their efforts because the distance will tend to increase over time and managers are there to put team members back on track imediately;
3) Confusion: teams spread geographically will be more at risk of confusion and chaos because the magnet that draws real teams together, the team identity born from shared experience, does not have the same force of attraction in virtual teams.

Isolation, fragmentation and confusion are the three key centrifugal forces which risk dislocating virtual teams.

Brake defines 6 forces of attraction which a virtual team leader must develop for and with his team. He calls these forces the 6Cs.

1) Cooperation: virtual teams must develop even stronger levels of trust in one another and in their leader than “real” teams;
2) Convergence: leaders of virtual teams must be even more coherent and rigorous in setting individual and team objectives to ensure greater convergence;
3) Coordination: leaders must invest more time and energy in coordinating efforts to ensure that distance doesn’t impede workflow;
4) Capability: virtual team leaders need to know their team members in more depth so that they know what skills they have in their team and how they can use them most effectively;
5) Communication: effectiveness depends on shared understanding of goals and expected outcomes and this means communicating more and more to ensure the message crosses all frontiers;
6) Cultural intelligence: virtual leaders have to develop a skill of getting outside their own culture, helping team members get out of their cultures to build a common team culture. A journey has to be made from I to you to we as a team.

Each of these attractors can be developed in specific pragmatic ways according to the environment and the team member profiles.

However, applying the 6 Cs to counter the effects of the 3 centrifugal forces of Isolation, Fragmentation and Confusion which risk dislocating your virtual team seems to be a powerful remedy.

Having said all this, when you think about it, whether you are the leader of a team sitting in the next room to you or the leader of a team spread across the globe, it’s only a question of degree. The forces pulling your team apart are the same. So “real” team leaders should remember to focus also on the 6Cs to ensure that they also help their teams to be more effective.

Check out Terry Brake’s presentation of his book

Terry Brake discusses \”Where in the world is my team?\”


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