Author Archives: mimin

A Disappearing Art: Surfacing and Testing Assumptions

download (31)ASSUMPTIONS: WHAT ARE THEY?

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary describes an assumption as: The act of taking for granted, or supposing a thing without proof; supposition

Assumptions are sometimes a little difficult to understand, but they’re a daily part of every person’s life.

WHERE DO WE MAKE ASSUMPTIONS?

Every decision made by a human being is bedded in assumptions, it has to be. Here are some common, everyday decision areas with their assumptions:

Machinery: We assume that the coffee maker will work, the car will start, the airplane will actually leave the ground – you get the idea.

Travel: To most of us travel is a part of any normal day. We assume that a certain route will be the shortest, that traffic will be at certain levels, that travel times can be predicted. Our decision on our route is based on assumptions from these areas.

Situations: Things get sticky here. We make assumptions about how situations will unfold or continue to unfold based on the decision facing us. Business and organizational strategies are heavily grounded in assumptions made here.

Relationships: Assumptions made within relationships will have drastic results on the ongoing health of that relationship, whether business or personal. Assumptions here relate to the future of income, training and education, attitudes, conflict, and the expected actions of the other following the decision.

People Groups: Both serious benefits and serious problems arise when we make assumptions about people groups, and these assumptions are made all the time.

Political: Political assumptions tend to be particularly deadly, because they affect lives, living, and money in large groups of people. In this area, major facts arising from research can be either missed – or even ignored – because they conflict with other assumptions that are more acceptable to those doing the research. The founding fathers of the United States had this in mind when they touted moral character as being the single most important thing to seek out in a prospective leader. Why? Because such character was an accurate predictor of the assumptions under which that leader would live and operate.

In this article, we’ll look at assumptions regarding people.

HOW ASSUMPTIONS AFFECT OUR ACTIONS

Assumptions are important, because they allow life to move forward quickly and hopefully in a productive way.

When we assume certain characteristics of people, we tend to look for actions on their parts that will bear out our assumptions. If we stop there and don’t go further, we can make grave mistakes that will affect our reactions to both individuals and groups who are in our “assumption focus”.

So how should a great leader routinely go about making good assumptions?

SURFACING ASSUMPTIONS

The first thing leaders should do is to surface their own assumptions. This is nothing more than selecting an area, either with people or within a situation, and then taking the time to figure out what assumptions are being made there. Where to start?

Where are the biggest area of conflict in the decision I’m considering? What actions are likely to result from my decision?

What good might come out of my decision? What bad?!

Will my decision add extra work to the daily life of those affected by my decision? How much and how often?

Will my decision add costs to the business? Are those costs offset by other benefits? Will it cost my employees?

Are my assumptions based on selfishness on my part, or am I honestly looking for the good of the people involved? Am I looking for the long term good of the organization?

Are my assumptions arising from fears I have? Are those fears accurate, and arising from responsible consideration on my part, or are they purely selfish fears?

TESTING ASSUMPTIONS

Once assumptions have been surfaced, testing assumptions involves digging down and finding out if our assumptions are correct. This process takes work, and most people don’t really care to do it. But a leader HAS to do it, because his or her decision will affect the future of the organization and the people within it.

The questions I use to surface assumptions will lead directly to the research I must do to test my assumptions. If my questions are good ones, research will be fairly straightforward and effective. BUT, it’s a wise leader who makes written notes on research done, as such notes will prove invaluable later when second thoughts occur OR when others want to know how I came to that decision!

SUMMARY

Whether related to my own plans, plans regarding my marriage and family, or plans relative to the business I lead, surfacing and testing assumptions is one of the most powerful tools a great leader uses to make solid, long-lasting-for-good decisions!

Why Are Organisations So Bad At This?

download (32)One of the key points which comes out from a lot of research about learning (and from my own experience) is that people’s attitude towards what they are meant to learn makes a huge difference to how well they learn it.

If people are in a positive state of mind, if they are:

  • curious
  • interested
  • excited
  • energised

and if they can see the personal benefits of learning, then they will learn far more easily. For a start, they will pay more attention, which is a crucial first step towards learning and remembering anything.

On the other hand, if they turn up for a training course feeling:

  • tired
  • indifferent
  • resistant
  • unclear
  • sceptical
  • anxious

and doubtful about the purpose of being there, they will be less likely to listen, learn and remember.

And yet, that’s exactly how many people feel when they come to a training session.

Because their organisations have put virtually no effort into getting them into a positive state. Organisations often spend huge amounts of money providing training for people but put virtually no time or effort into getting them into a state where they can make the most of that training.

It doesn’t take a lot to get people in a more receptive state of mind about training. You just have to make it clear what the training is going to cover and how the learner (not the organisation) will benefit from it.

You have to answer any questions they might have about it, including some of the basic logistics (what time will it finish, will there be lunch provided, etc.).

You can also build up positive expectations by sending out colourful and attractive materials, information about the trainers (including photos), some pictures (or videos) of people from previous courses engaged in activities, perhaps some testimonials about how good the training was.

And you can start to build a connection with the learners by sending them short questionnaires to find out what they want to learn and then responding to these.

Instead of this, most organisations still just send out basic Joining Instructions and sometimes a list of the topics and objectives.

Do the steps I’ve suggested involve more work for the people organising and delivering the training? Yes, a little. But how much work goes into designing and organising training events in the first place?

Secrets of Adaptable Leaders

download (30)Why do some companies consistently outperform their peers? When companies that face identical circumstances are compared, one variable stands out among the winners- leadership quality. The best leaders are able to effectively influence three determinants of organizational performance-adaptation, efficiency, and human resources.

Adaptation involves changes made to cope with external threats and to exploit opportunities created by new technology, changing markets, and the shifting needs and expectations of customers. The ability to adapt becomes even more important when the external environment is turbulent and uncertain, yet it’s often more difficult the larger the size of an organization.

Here are seven things leaders can do to better manage change and ensure their companies are able to adapt amid uncertainty.

Start With a Culture That Rewards Change

The many difficulties involved in fostering adaptation in large organizations make it essential to have a culture with firmly embedded values and beliefs that support innovation and change. Relevant values include flexibility, continuous improvement, initiative, and a quest for excellence.

Instead of viewing adaptation as an infrequent reaction to dramatic, one- time events, it is better to view it as a continuous process that involves a combination of many and frequent incremental improvements and occasional major changes. In organizations with this type of culture, new ideas are nurtured and promoted, information is widely and freely shared, and people and systems are flexible and ready to respond to changes when they occur..

Monitor the Environment

Monitoring the environment involves collecting and analyzing information about opportunities and threats in the external environment and identifying trends and opportunities to enhance business performance.

External monitoring is often assumed to be the province of senior leaders, but it is the people in direct contact with customers, such as sales and service representatives, who often first get wind of changes in customer needs or competitor actions. Thus environmental scanning and interpretation of events should not be left entirely to the CEO and other top executives.

External monitoring in organizations is more effective when people at all levels are involved and relevant information is recognized and used to improve strategic decisions.

Use Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is the process of determining where you are, where you want to be in the future, and how you will get from here to there. The process includes setting strategic objectives, identifying tactics and actions for attaining them, and deter- mining the resources and actions needed to implement the strategies.

Although senior management has the ultimate responsibility for strategic decisions, the most successful leaders find ways to involve people through- out the organization in the strategic planning process.

Help Employees Envision Change

Painting a vivid, appealing picture of what your organization wants to accomplish or become helps to communicate the desired outcomes of a change initiative in a way that is understandable, meaningful, and inspiring. Envisioning change is about putting opportunities and threats in context and clarifying how the organization needs to respond. A variety of elements may be included in the vision, such as strategic objectives, key values for the company, general approaches for attaining the vision, slogans and symbols, and a description of what the vision will mean to people when it is attained.

Build Support for Change

Although most people would agree that change is essential if an organization is to adapt, grow, and remain competitive, change often produces anxiety and resistance. For people to support change, they must see it as necessary and feasible. Leaders can build such support by explaining the urgent need for change, building a broad coalition of supporters, identifying likely opponents and reasons for their resistance, and taking action to deal with resistance.

They must also be prepared to answer five critical question employees are bound to ask: Why is this change necessary? How will we manage the transition, Where are we in the process, What will I be expected to do, and Will I be able to do it?

Implement Change

It is impossible to anticipate all the potential problems created by a major change or to prepare detailed plans for carrying out every aspect of the change. A change program is less likely to be successful if a top- level leader tries to dictate in detail how it will be implemented in each part of the organization. Authority to make decisions and deal with problems should be delegated to the leaders who are responsible for implementing change in their sub- units.

Facilitate Collective Learning

It is important for leaders to create an appreciation for flexibility and learning among people at all levels of the organization. Major change will be more acceptable and less disruptive once people develop pride and confidence in their capacity to adapt and learn. To encourage an appreciation for learning, all practices should be considered temporary and examined regularly to see if they can be improved or eliminated.

Leaders also need to encourage an active sharing of ideas and new knowledge in the organization. Secrecy is the enemy of learning. Leaders should encourage employees who are facing difficult problems to reach out to other people in the organization to find out how they might have handled similar challenges in the past.

When innovations are developed in one part of the organization, leaders can facilitate diffusion of this knowledge to other parts of the organization in several ways. When it is not feasible for people to attend formal training, a team of experts can be dispatched to different sites to demonstrate how to use new procedures. Webinars and self-guided e-learning can also be used to promote broad idea sharing in a cost- and time-efficient manner.

Putting It Together

The most effective leaders recognize when major change is needed and know how to develop support from the people who can make change happen.

Because many innovations in large organizations result from a bottom-up process, effective leaders understand how important it is to inspire and empower all members of the organization to learn from experience, develop creative ideas, and share new knowledge across subunit boundaries.

They understand that implementing major change is a slow and difficult process that requires their consistent attention to succeed. And they use programs, systems, and structural arrangements that are designed to encourage and facilitate innovation and collective learning.

 

5 Ways to Boost Accountability In Your Organization

images (9)“By making your employees more accountable, you make your organization more productive.”

Those words from famed General Electric CEO Jack Welch still ring true today.

Holding people accountable for results is the foundation of an organization’s performance; it’s management 101. Yet it appears there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Why do some organizations succeed at instilling accountability as a core element of their culture and others fall short? What can leaders do to create a culture of accountability? Our research on top performing companies identified five actions that have the greatest impact on an organization’s ability to build a culture of accountability and achieve results.

1. Translate Strategy into Specific Objectives.

Beyond developing a shared picture of the company’s strategic direction it is necessary to clarify priorities and translate these into specific department goals. This increases the likelihood that implementation plans will be targeted toward high impact outcomes. In addition, clear department goals facilitate goal-setting at the individual level, which enhances accountability.

2. Coordinate Actions Across Levels and Work Units and Follow Up on Progress.

Coordinating and monitoring activity is a critical aspect of execution and is an essential ingredient for building a culture of accountability. It’s how companies keep people focused on high-priority goals and actions. The most effective leaders are ruthless in monitoring goals and reinforcing appropriate actions and behaviors.

3. Provide Accurate and Timely Information to Employees.

This involves clear communication about strategic priorities, as well as ongoing dialogue between managers and their direct reports. Goal setting and coaching are key elements of most organizations’ performance management systems, yet too often, this is viewed as an administrative, HR-driven activity, rather than a tool to help achieve results. When managers view performance management as a tool to drive business results they are more successful in creating a culture of accountability.

4. Ensure Your Actions are Consistent with Company Objectives, Values, and Priorities.

Leaders can’t expect people to trust or follow them if they are not willing to live by the same values and support the same priorities that they require of others. If leaders expect people to be accountable, they must model this behavior and take swift action when people fail to deliver results.

5. Clarify Expectations and Head off Potential Problems.

Effective managers use three simple techniques to drive accountability:

– Clarify exactly what needs to be done
– Establish a specific date for when the task needs to be completed
– Agree on checkpoints to review progress

These actions are based on three fundamental premises:

– Never assume people know what’s expected of them. Even experienced employees may not know what to focus on unless these expectations are clearly articulated.
– Don’t just talk about ideas. Avoid the pitfall of talking about an idea, but not agreeing to actions and accountability.
– Don’t ignore when someone has dropped the ball. It is critical to provide timely feedback and help people understand what caused them to miss a commitment and, even more importantly, identify what they will do differently next time.

While it is not easy to create a culture of accountability, it is critical for business success.

Like any other essential leadership skill, managing accountability is a competency leaders can learn and improve upon. OnPoint offers training programs to help leaders develop this skill and many others.

 

A Good Quality Management System Can Help an Organisation Immensely

download (26)One of the primary things that help an organisation to become better and more effective is having a good quality management system in place. It is a process that helps to review and keep in check all the operations that are being carried out in the organisation. These include the likes of keeping a tab on the products and services of the business, reviewing the various ongoing activities, etc.

Therefore, it can be understood that a quality management system is quite important for any business – especially if it is a medium sized enterprise, as it paves the way for growth and development of the organisation.

Ways in which it can help

Here are some of the ways in which QMS can prove to be quite helpful for your organisation.

• Increase in the level of efficiency – QMS aims to increase the efficiency of a business enterprise by reducing meaningless or redundant activities. Thus, it helps a great deal in laying down guidelines for all employees to follow, helping the employees to keep their activities in check, providing proper actions when dealing with training and development problems, etc. We can say that such a system helps in making the organisation even more productive and efficient in its processes.

• Boosting employee morale – Human resources is probably the most important asset of a company. So, it is highly important that the employees of a company stay motivated, in order to perform their work better. Proper management systems can help in keeping employees motivated, in the sense that it shows them how their work brings about the organisation’s success. Thus, employees are motivated to perform even better.

• Helps to get recognition internationally – Companies that use a proper management system get ISO accreditation. Getting an ISO accreditation for a business enterprise is extremely important, as it helps build trust with clients and also in garnering better trade relations. So, this will not only help in reviewing business activities better but will also aid in fostering better trade relations.

• Improving the process of the organisation – With the help of a proper quality management system, you can find out the loopholes that are there in your organisation, and through proper planning and analysis, you can plug those loopholes as well. This will help you in increasing the efficiency of the various processes in your organisation.

Thus, now that you have read the advantages of adopting a quality management system do use this in your company and see your business grow and develop better.

What’s Got Your Goat?

download (29)Some time back my son and I participated in a service project to help a young family clean out a back yard. At one time the yard was a wonderful oasis with a swimming pool, lush garden, and beautiful walkways. The once beautiful oasis was neglected over time and became an overgrown jungle of northwest foliage with its prime resident being thorny blackberry bushes. The blackberry bushes were six feet tall and covered most of the yard. What a prickly mess!

Fortunate for my son and I the homeowner had already cleared out the blackberry bushes prior to us participating in the service project. I asked the homeowner if he hired some goats to do the job. For those of you who may not know, goats are voracious herbivores and can clear out even the toughest blackberry bushes. The homeowner replied that he didn’t use goats but rather used pesticides and lots of manual labor to clear the yard of the blackberry bushes. The job got done, but it took the homeowner a lot of time and energy to clear the yard. This situation got me to thinking about the lesson that goats can teach us about leadership.

In my 30-plus years, I unfortunately can recall plenty of times where my leadership style was not about empowerment, but about micro-management and errand running. When you treat your team as errand runners, they not only will feel less empowered to do their jobs but will also likely not take the opportunity to learn how to do things the next time. This is not only bad for the team member but also makes life harder for you.

When goats clear blackberry bushes their mission is crystal clear to them. They eat until the job is done. They don’t take direction on how to do a job nor do they ask permission to do what needs to be done. They’re brought to the problem, given boundaries to work within, and then they solve the problem. The goats are empowered to do what they do best.

As leaders we can learn something from goats. When there is a problem, be crystal clear with the team as to what the problem is, ensure they know the parameters of what “done” looks like, then get the heck out of the way and let them solve the problem. Don’t micro-manage, insist something is done your way, or frustrate the team with random about-faces. Let them clear the fields and bask in the glow of knowing they did a great job solving a thorny issue.

 

How to Drive Company Growth Part 2: Strategy

download (28)In the last article, we discussed situations that may result in a failure to move the company forward. Even if the business is currently thriving, if you lose sight of the long-term, it may end up causing more harm in the future. Burning through resources will not lead to successful company and a lost leader will not lead to a successful team.

The solution to this problem: small business management. First, let us quickly define small business management as the organization and direction of the different activities that occur within a company. The two aspects of small business management include: strategy and implementation. This article will focus on strategy- what it means and how to develop a successful one for your company. The next article will focus more on implementation.

What is strategy? Strategy is the big picture that your company has developed and is striving towards. As the leader of your company and as such, you want to create an effective strategy and also be able to see it through. A strong leader is able to take action and implement the plans.

The steps to developing a strong strategy are as follows:

1) Allocating time to focus on the strategy

2) Outlining the problems you are facing.

3) Writing down what you’d like to accomplish within a set timeframe

4) Identifying all the resources- and their strengths- that you have available to you

5) Partnering with a small business consulting firm and a business coach

Each of these steps is crucial to understanding the gaps between where you want to be and where you currently are. Without a strong strategy and management, your business may run out of steam, even if it looks like it is currently doing well. What you want, overall, is to be able to drive this company forward and see it grow. And thus, your strategy must honestly address all your strengths and weaknesses- and the plan above is a great way to start thinking about them.

So why do you need a business coach? To put it simply, if you could have solved the problem yourself, you already would have. A business coach is a great investment because s/he can help you become a great leader. S/he can help you see through a strategy that truly fits your company by identifying real causes that may have been holding you back. With the help of the right coach, the first four steps can result in drastic changes for your company and develop your potential as the leader and manager.

For more in-depth information about each of the steps listed above, visit our blog and the article, From Business Strategy to Implementation with Executive Coaching.

How to Become a Project Manager: Can You Learn by Watching?

download (27)Going on a formal project management course is a must for an aspiring project manager. However, there are a number of additional approaches you can use to develop your project management skills. Direct experience is often cited as the ultimate teacher and most would agree that this is undoubtedly true. The problem is though, that you may not always be in the ideal position to be gaining direct experience. In this case, a secondary approach can be taken. I call it the ‘watch, analyse and learn’ strategy.

For this approach to be effective, you need to be in a situation where you have the opportunity to observe a project or a number of projects. Typically, there are always projects going on in any business today. This is essentially due to the fast pace at which the business environment is changing. I find that the most ideal situation requires that you are sitting among or very close to where the project activity is occurring. Because of the modern trend of open plan offices, you get to hear some of the chatter between project team members. There is also the opportunity to have conversations over a cup of coffee.

There are a number of specific things you can look for while observing. Does the chatter sound as if things are going well or not? In each case, see if the success or failure can be attributed to specific ways of operating. Watch how the project team members work together. Are they co-operative or otherwise? If not, why do you think this is? Could anything be done to improve relationships? Are there issues external to the project team members that are affecting their ability to do their work? All of this information is valuable to you as you learn to become a project manager. However, it is only useful, if you are able to come up with alternative approaches that overcome any issues you may be seeing. Always ask yourself how you would do ‘it’ if you were the project manager. Think about what you’ve learned in your project management studies and how some of the theory may apply in practice.

There are some ‘DON’Ts’ that you need to pay attention to. Remember you’ve got your own job to do and you must not compromise this. Your reputation has to be intact if you are to get an opportunity to try out your own project management skills. Don’t get involved in ‘gossip’. Simply listen and observe and draw conclusions that are useful for your own learning experience.

What if you feel you can contribute an improvement? Tread very carefully. Remember, you are an outsider, not involved in the project at all. While you may have an interest, you have not been employed to contribute at all. If your suggestion relates directly to the work of someone you get on well with, then potentially broach the topic carefully. Otherwise, you might try talking with your own supervisor and getting some advice before diving in headlong. When looking for project team members, the ability to work well with others is always a requirement. Hence, be careful to always demonstrate that you are a team player.

In the final analysis, look for things you can learn even if you are not on a project. Some projects work well, some don’t and there is a lot of variation in between. Watching projects can therefore be an excellent way to see the different ways in which the theory behind project management can be implemented.

From this article, you can see that studying a formal project management course is not the only activity that will support your desire to become a project manager.

 

How Simple Is Your Vision? Great! Now Make It Simpler!

download (24)The leader is frustrated. “I don’t know why I’m having such trouble getting the team to buy-in to the company vision! It couldn’t be simpler!”

Then he shows me the company vision. It’s five paragraphs long. It contains sentences like, “To enhance the long-term value of the investment dollars entrusted to us by our shareholders,” and “To consistently strive to improve efficiency and productivity through learning, sharing, and implementing best practices.” It reeks of having been written by a committee-a committee that probably included at least three lawyers.

He wonders why he’s not getting buy-in to the vision? It’s because, contrary to his assertion, it could be simpler. It should be simpler. In fact, it must be simpler. Much, much, much simpler.

I’m going to take you into the deep, dark past. I’m going to take you to the 1960s, and then to the 1980s.

In the 60s, there was a musical group known as the Beatles. You can look them up-they’re on Wikipedia. When they were first starting out, one of the things that drove them was a shared vision, and it was this:

They were going to be bigger than Elvis. (As in Elvis Presley. He’s also on Wikipedia.)

Bigger than Elvis! That’s not five paragraphs-it’s three words. It wasn’t written by lawyers. In fact, it wasn’t written at all. It didn’t have to be. The four Beatles didn’t have to read their vision-they lived it. It fired up their emotions, it excited them, it drove them. There was no “buy-in” problem with the Beatles.

In the 80s there was a software company known as Microsoft. When they were first starting out, one of the things that drove them was a shared vision, and it was this:

A computer on every desk.

Not five paragraphs; five words. And everyone at Microsoft knew it. Not because it was written on a document hanging in the break room. Because they lived it. It fired up their emotions, it excited them, it drove them. There was no “buy-in” problem with Microsoft.

If you’re having trouble getting your team to “buy in” to your vision, I’d like to suggest that you haven’t made it simple enough. You’re mired in the forest, in the “how to.” Take a step back. A big step back. What’s the big picture? The one that gets you excited? The one that’ll get them excited?

And here’s a tip: If it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, it’s too long.

A computer on every desk.

How simple is your vision? Great! Now make it simpler!

 

How to Become a Project Manager – Do You Really Need to Do Formal Training?

download (23)Looking around, I am sure that you have observed good managers and leaders who have little or no formal training. You may feel that you have an inherent ability and have seen others manage in a variety of ways and so are prepared for the job without having to go to project management school.

To some extent, you may be right. After all, isn’t project management or management of any kind just common sense? It’s about organising such that specific outcomes are achieved either operationally or for a specific project and then leading the troops to success. Surely, anyone can organise themselves so as to achieve outcomes. We do it all the time e.g. organise a dinner party, a family holiday or a house move. You know what budget you have for entertaining, holidaying or moving house. You also know what the deadlines are and are able to have the dinner party ready on time or get your family to the airport before the flight.

While there is an element of truth in the fact that some individuals may have an inherent ability, this alone is unlikely to give you much visibility when looking for your first (or even a later) job. There is an expectation in this day and age that you have some formal training. Looking at job advertisements, you will find that employers list project management training as a requirement for many project management positions. The specific requirement may vary e.g. some may want a formal tertiary qualification while others may be looking for training in a specific methodology. In any event, if you decide not to do formal training, you will be limiting your opportunities.

If this is not sufficient to persuade you to sign up for a course, then consider the value you personally will get from the study. We are most fortunate to live in an age with a vast amount of available training. If you are hoping for your first project management job, then it is likely you will find a course of study most beneficial. You will be able to analyse whatever it is you think you already know against the backdrop of the structure of the project management discipline. It will help you put things in perspective and perhaps begin to understand at a deeper level why some projects fail. The experience will allow you to develop your own ideas into a roadmap that you can take with you into your first job as a project manager.

Even if you have some experience, I find that formal study is useful. Studying a generic approach or researching specific approaches can provide a background against which beneficial reflection can take place. Projects are often hard work and intense. Taking time out to analyse and reflect on how you and your teams have operated can provide you with fresh ideas as to how you could do something differently next time. The activity can be likened to the formal process of assembling and analysing ‘lessons learned’ at the end of a project.

If you still don’t think a study activity is worthwhile, then think about the value of meeting other project managers and discussing various challenges with them. Project management can be a lonely occupation; it can be that you are the only individual in an organisation who has a full picture of what is involved, how to get to the end and where you are up to right now. Meeting others and developing a network of like-minded people can be a valuable exercise.

In the final analysis, consider the value of taking a formal course of study, whether you are starting out or have already done some project management work. Use the time to reflect and strengthen your own approach to project management. Consider some specific things that you would like to get out of a course and aim to achieve this through class discussion or coffee break chatting.