February 28, 2010

Are Feds Less Creative?

Contrary to the stereotype, in my observation government employees are just as creative as those in the private sector. The reason they may not seem this way is that they typically think very long and hard about the consequences of any proposed change.

Once an agency has tentatively decided on a course of action, it still takes some time to “go to market” with new ideas, for a few (to my mind) solid reasons:

  • We are motivated by public service. One of the key elements of that is our national security and so we must balance change with maintaining stability, order, and safety for our citizens. In contrast, the motivation in the private sector is financial, and that is why companies are willing to take greater risks and move more quickly. If they don’t they will be out of business, period.
  • We have many diverse stakeholders and we encourage them to provide their perspectives with us. We engage in significant deliberation based on their input to balance their needs against each other. In the private sector, that kind of deliberation is not always required or even necessarily even desired because the marketplace demands speed.

The fact that process is so critical in government explains why IT disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance are so important to enabling innovation. These frameworks enable a process-driven bureaucracy to actually look at what’s possible and come up with ways to get there, versus just resting on our laurels and maintaining the “perpetual status quo.”

Aside from individual employees, there are a number of organizational factors to consider in terms of government innovation:

  • Sheer size—you’re not turning around a canoe, you’re turning around an aircraft carrier.
  • Culture—a preference for being “safe rather than sorry” because if you make a mistake, it can be disastrous to millions of people—in terms of life, liberty, and property. The risk equation is vastly different.

Although it may sometimes seem like government is moving slowly, in reality we are moving forward all the time in terms of ideation, innovation, and modernization. As an example, the role of the CTO in government is all about discovering innovative ways to perform the mission.

Some other prominent examples of this forward momentum are currently underway—social media, cloud computing, mobility solutions, green computing, and more.

Here are three things we can do to be more innovative:

  • From the people perspective, we need to move from being silo based to enterprise based (or what some people called Enterprise 2.0). We need to change a culture from where information is power and currency and where people hoard it, to where we share information freely and openly. And this is what the Open Government Directive is all about. The idea is that when we share, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • In terms of process, we need to move from a culture of day-to-day tactical firefighting, to more strategic formulation and execution. Instead of short-term results, we need to focus on intermediate and long-term outcomes for the organization. If we’re so caught up in the issue of the day, then we’ll never get there.
  • And from a technology perspective, we need to continue to move increasingly toward digital-based solutions versus paper. That means that we embrace technologies to get our information online, shared, and accessible.

Innovation is something that we all must embrace—particularly in the public sector, where the implications of positive change are so vast. Thankfully, we have a system of checks and balances in our government that can help to guide us along the way.

Note: I’ll be talking about innovation this week in D.C. at Meritalk’s “Innovation Nation 2010” – the “Edge Warriors” panel.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 27, 2010

Why Reputation Is The Foundation For Innovation

Toyota is a technology company with some of the most high-tech and “green” cars on the planet. But right now Totoya’s leaders seem to lack integrity, and they haven’t proactively handled the current crisis. As a result, everything they have built is in danger.

Too often, IT leaders think that their technical competency is sufficient. However, these days it takes far more to succeed. Of course, profitability is a key measure of achievement and sustainability. But if basic integrity, accountability, and open and skillful communication are absent, then no amount of innovation in the world can save you.

Looking back, no one would have thought that Toyota would go down in a flaming debacle of credibility lost. For years, Toyota ate the lunch of the largest American car manufacturers—and two of the three were driven to bankruptcy just last year. Moreover, they had a great reputation built on quality – and that rocketed Toyota to be the #1 car company in the world.

A reputation for quality gave Toyota a significant edge among potential buyers. Purchasing a Toyota meant investing in a car that would last years and years without defect or trouble—it was an investment in reliability and it was well worth the extra expense. Other car companies were discounting and incenting sales with low or zero interest rates, cash back, and extended warranties, and so on. But Toyota held firm and at times their cars even sold for above sticker price. In short, their brand elicited a price premium. Toyota had credibility and that credibility translated into an incredibly successful company.

Now Toyota has suffered a serious setback by failing to disclose and fix brake problems so serious that they have allegedly resulted in loss of life. Just today, the Boston Globe reports that Toyota has been sued in Boston by an individual who alleges that “unintended acceleration (of his Toyota vehicle) caused a single-car crash that killed his wife and left him seriously injured.” The Globe goes on to report that “dozens of people reportedly have been killed in accidents involving unwanted acceleration.”

While nothing is perfect, not even Toyota engineering, in my opinion the key to recovering from mistakes is to be honest, admit them, be accountable, and take immediate action to rectify. These are critical leadership must do’s! Had Toyota taken responsibility in those ways, I believe their reputation would have been enhanced rather than grossly tarnished as it is now, because ultimately people respect integrity above all else, and they will forgive mistakes when they are honest mistakes and quickly rectified.

Unfortunately, this has not occurred with Toyota, and the brake problems appear to be mistakes that were known and then not rectified—essentially, Toyota’s transgression may have been one of commission rather than simply omission. For example, this past week, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, testified before Congress that “we didn’t listen as carefully as we should—or respond as quickly as we must—to our customer’s concerns.” However, in reality, company executives not only didn’t respond, but also actually apparently stalled a response and celebrated their success in limiting recalls in recent years. As Congressman Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, stated: “Toyota's own internal documents indicate that a premium was placed on delaying or closing NHTSA investigations, delaying new safety rules and blocking the discovery of safety defects.” (Bloomberg News via the Austin American Statesman)

In other words, Toyota strayed from its promise to customers to put safety center stage. Rather, profit took over and became the benchmark of success.

Even the company’s own managers acknowledge the deep wound that this scandal has inflicted on the company, and have doubts about its leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, a midlevel manager stated, “Mr. Toyoda cannot spell out how he plans to alleviate consumer worries….it is a recall after another, and every time Mr. Toyoda utters the phrase ‘customer first,’ it has the opposite effect. His words sound just hollow.’” Said another, “The only way we find out anything about the crisis is through the media….Does Mr. Toyoda have the ability to lead? That’s on every employee’s mind.”

Indeed, the Journal echoes these sentiments, noting that under Toyoda’s leadership, there was a focus on “getting the company back to profitability, after the company last year suffered it first loss in 70 years.” In other words, in an attempt to “reinstate frugality,” it appears that CEO Toyoda went too far and skimped on quality—becoming, as the saying goes, “penny wise and dollar foolish.” We will see if this debacle costs Toyota market share and hurts the bottom line over the intermediate to longer-term.

In recent times, we have seen a shift away from quality and credibility in favor of a fast, cheap buck in many sectors of the economy. For example, I have heard that some homebuyers actually prefer hundred-year-old homes to new construction due to their perception that the quality was better back then and that builders take shortcuts now. But somehow Toyota always stood out as a bulwark against this trend. It is therefore deeply disappointing to see that even they succumbed. While the company has a long road ahead to reestablish their credibility and rebuild their brand, I, for one, sincerely hope that they rediscover their roots and “do the right thing.”


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 21, 2010

Life Isn't Always What You Expect

A big part of leadership and of life is understanding that things are not always what we expect. We have to be prepared to deal with strange and unusual circumstances. This is where emotional intelligence and a sense of humor come into play. So be careful the next time, you decide to look "under the covers". Have a look at this one.

video
Share/Save/Bookmark

Common Language for Enterprise Architecture

What happens when one set of enterprise architects can’t read another’s enterprise architecture “artifacts”?

This may sound ridiculous, but this is a very real problem at the Department of Defense (DoD) and at many other agencies.

Government Computer News, 1 February 2010, has an article on “Primitives and the Future of SOA” about how “DoD looks to develop a common vocabulary to improve system design.”

Dennis Wisnosky, the chief technical officer at the DoD Business Transformation Agency came face-to-face with this problem:

“We were building a business enterprise architecture when the whole team changed because the contract [that the work was being performed under] was won by different people…The new company came in and, all of a sudden, their people had different ideas for how the architecture should be built…Their way might have been a good way, but we had already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in another way, and it seemed to be a wiser course of business action to get these new people to learn the old way.”

Mr. Wisnosky tackled the problem head-on:

Like the periodic table of 117 core elements that make up everything in our world, Mr. Wisnosky set out to build the DoD architecture using a set of primitives or basic building blocks. “Primitives are a standard set of viewing elements and associated symbols” based in DoD’s case on the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)”—a graphical representation for processes in a workflow. Armed with the set of primitives, DoD was able to get “the business process architecture, so that they are described in a way that the meaning of this architecture…is absolutely clear to everyone.”

Wisnosky aptly compared using a common language (or set of primitives) for EA, so everyone could read and understand it, regardless of their particular EA methodology to how musicians anywhere in the world can read standard music notation and similarly how electrical engineers can read electrical diagrams based on standards symbols.

This is a big step for EA, where traditional architecture artifacts are not as user-centric as they should be and often leave their readers/audience questioning the purpose and message intended. In contrast, the use of a common EA vocabulary and set of symbols is right in line with developing a user-centric enterprise architecture that is easy for users to understand and apply, because once you know the standard set of primitives you can read and understand the architecture better than an architecture based on a proprietary or ever changing vocabulary.

As Wisnosky points out, primitives are also a nice fit with Service Oriented Architecture, because you can use primitives or patterns of primitives to represent standard business processes and these can be used over and over again for the same services that are needed throughout the business.

This use of primitives for business process notation is consistent with the use of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) for information notation. “NIEM enables information sharing, focusing on information exchanged among organizations as part of their current or intended business practices. The NIEM exchange development methodology results in a common semantic understanding among participating organizations and data formatted in a semantically consistent manner. NIEM will standardize content (actual data exchange standards), provide tools, and managed processes.”

While, we need to leave a certain amount of flexibility in EA for architects to apply their trade to meet specific agency requirements, there is a huge benefit to standardizing on a common vocabulary, so architects can speak the same language. This concept is all the better when the language and design methodology selected for EA is simple and clear so that even non-EA’s (our regular business and IT people) can read and understand the architecture.

Building EA with primitives and clear and simple vocabulary and design represents a user-centric EA moment that I for one, applaud loudly. Another way to say this is that an EA without primitives is a primitive EA.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 20, 2010

Bringing Back The Passion

Typically, success is attributed to nature, nurture, hard work, persistence; plain old luck, and of course, Divine intervention—always. But another, often overlooked, critical determinant of organizational and personal success is passion.

Passion is the deep desire, compelling feeling, and driving force that motivates us. It is our call to action that we are compelled to heed.

An undertaking done without passion is often mere mental or physical drudgery and considered time killed until we can extricate ourselves and do what we really want to be doing. In contrast, when we have passion for what we are doing it is a “labor of love” and is considered “time well spent”—an investment that we make with joy in our hearts and the feeling that we are engaged in what we are meant to be doing.

I remember growing up as a kid and being advised to chose a career that “you feel passionate about.” “Remember,” they used to say, “this is what you are going to be doing for the next 30 or 40 years!”

Too bad, that in the beginning of my career, I didn’t exactly listen. Fortunately, I found my true passion in leadership, innovation, and technology and was able to course correct.

Over time, I have learned that those who are passionate for their work have a huge “leg up” over those who don’t, and that it is a tangible differentiator in performance. Organizations and people that are truly passionate for what they do are simply more engaged, committed, and willing to do what it takes—because they love it!

In light of how important passion is, I read with great interest an editorial in ComputerWorld, 8 February 2010 by Thornton A. May, titled “Where Has IT’s Passion Gone?”

The article provides alarming statistics from the Corporate Executive Board that in 2009 only 4% of IT employees were considered “highly engaged” in their work.

The author questions: Can “IT [workers] crawl out from under the ambition-crushing, innovation sucking, soul-destroying minutiae of just keeping the digital lights on?”

“Trance-walking zombies” just go to work to keep the proverbial “lights on,” but passionate employees come to work to enhance the mission, delight their customers, and innovatively solve problems.

While IT leaders cannot waive a magic wand and make their employees feel passionate about their work, from my experience, when IT leaders themselves are passionate, the passion is often contagious! When we are truly “feeling it,” others start to feel it too.

Now, it’s unrealistic to take it upon ourselves to make everyone happy, but we can certainly do our part by putting leaders in charge that are passionate, letting them lead by example, and allowing them to create a culture of productivity and engagement that everyone can get excited about and be proud of.

One of the big challenges that leaders face when they try to motivate employees is that often there are many good people who were once passionate, but who have lost their inner-drive because of various set-backs, prior poor leadership, or even burn-out. One way to help bring the spark back is to empower these people to lead their own initiatives and to help them succeed where once they were thwarted.

Without passion, what are we all really doing except taking up space?


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 14, 2010

No Ego Leadership

It’s funny that we get so used to the way things are in our country and culture that it becomes difficult to think there is any other workable way of doing things.

The New York Times, 14 February 2010, has an interview with Vineet Nayar the CEO of HCL Technologies, a global services 100 IT company based in India and ranked by Hewitt Associates in the 30 best employers in Asia.

However, reading the interview from the CEO of this Indian company opens up broad new possibilities for the way we can conduct our organizational affairs and perhaps become more competitive in the 21st century, global market-place.

No single country, industry, company, or person has a monopoly on innovation, and we can learn from some of the outside the box thinking at HCL.

Here are some of Mr. Nayar’s thought-provoking leadership ideas:

Subject

Key Idea

Role of CEO

“My job is to make sure everybody is enabled to what they do well. It’s part of our ‘Employees First’ philosophy.”

Delegation

We “make sure everybody understands that the CEO is the most incompetent person to answer questions, and I say this to all my employees openly.”

Transparency

“All HCL’s financial information is on our internal Web. We are completely open. We put all our dirty linen on the table, and we answer everyone’s questions.”

Hierarchy

“We’ve inverted the pyramid of the organization and made reverse accountability a reality.”

Performance

My [the CEO’s] 360 degree feedback is open to 50,000 employees—the results are published on the internal Web for everybody to see. And 3,800 managers participate in an open 360-degree and the results—they’re anonymous so that people are candid—are available in the internal Web [as well].”

Information-sharing

We started having people make their presentations and record them for our internal Web site. We open that for review to a 360-degree workshop, which mean yours subordinates will review it. You managers will read it. Your peers will read it and everybody will comment on it.”

Feedback

Prospective employees will say “I completely disagree. And they will have a fight with me… I want people who will kick my butt on points where we disagree.

Learning

I want people to say they want to learn. I don’t want teachers.”

At first glance, the ideas of Mr. Nayar seem almost crazy, because they are so different from what we are used to. But upon deeper reflection, we can see value in much of his leadership style.

To me, this seems a testament that when a leader has no ego and is willing to think innovatively and behave with integrity, the possibilities for positive change is not bound by any box or paradigm. We need to realize that we can learn from everybody, everywhere, and with an open mind and of course some discretion, we can progress our thinking and ways of doing business in ways we may never have even imagined.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 13, 2010

Fire In The Belly

Recently I read a classic article in Harvard Business Review (March-April 1992) called “Managers and Leaders,” by Abraham Zaleznik, in which he differentiates between these two frequently confused types of people.

Some highlights:

Leaders

Managers

Personality

Shape the goals

Solve the problems

Decision-making

Open up new options

“Limit choices” to execute

Relationships

Emotion-driven

Process-oriented

Risks

Prudent risk-takers

Conservative risk-avoidance

Sense of self

Strong and separate

Based on the organization

In my experience, Zaleznik was correct in observing that leaders and managers are very different. In particular, I have seen the following.

· Discipline: Leadership is more of an art, and management is more of a science.

· Orientation: Leaders focus on “the what,” (i.e. effectiveness) and managers on “the how” (i.e. efficiency).

· Aptitude: Leaders are visionaries and motivators, and managers are skilled at execution and organization.

· Ambitions: Leaders seek to be transformational catalysts for change, and managers (as Zaleznik points out) seek perpetuation of the institution.

Given that leaders and managers are inherently dissimilar, advancement from management to leadership is not an absolute, nor is it necessarily a good thing. However, many managers aspire to be leaders, and with training, coaching, and mentoring, some can make this leap. Those who can make their mark as leaders are incredibly valuable to organizations because they know how to transform, shape, and illuminate the way forward. Of course, the role that managers play is incredibly valuable as well (probably undervalued), but nevertheless, they support and execute on the vision of the leader and as such a leader commands a premium.

What I think we can take away from Zaleznik’s work, then, is that a leader should never be thought of as just a manager “on steroids.” Instead, leaders and managers are distinct, and the synergy between them is healthy, as they each fulfill a different set of needs. In this vein, when organizations seek to recruit from within the ranks for leadership positions, it would be wise for them to look at candidates more discriminatingly than just looking at their managerial experience. (In fact, counter to the conventional wisdom, the best leader may never have been a manager at all, or may have been a mediocre or even a horrible one!) We cannot just expect that good managers will necessarily make good leaders (although to some extent success may breed success), but must look for what fundamentally makes a leader and ensure that we are getting what is needed and unique.

So what can a person do if they want to be a leader? In my view, it starts with believing in yourself, then genuinely wanting to achieve a leadership position, and after that being willing to do what it takes to get there. Baseline efforts include advancing your education, hard work, building relationships and credibility, and so forth, but this is only part of the equation.

The truth of the matter is, you can go to an Ivy League school and leadership boot camp for twenty years, but if you don’t have passion, determination, and a sense of mission or cause that comes from deep inside, then you are not yet a leader. These things cannot be taught or handed over to a person like a baton in a relay race. Rather, they are fundamental to who you are as a person, what drives you, and what you have to give to others and to the organization.

Regardless of what role we play, each of us has a unique gift to share with the world. We need only to find the courage to look inside, discover what it is, value its inherent worth (no matter what the dollar value placed on it), and pursue it.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 12, 2010

The Do It Yourself Future

Technology is the great emancipator. With it we can do things ourselves that we needed others to do for us before.

Of course, the examples are endless. As we approach tax season, just think how many people do their own taxes online with TurboTax or other online programs when before they needed an accountant to do it for them. Similarly, it was common to have secretaries supporting various office tasks and now we pretty much have all become our own desktop publishers and office productivity mavens. I remember having a graphics department years ago for creating presentations and a research department for investigating issues, events, people, and causes, now with all the productivity tools and the Internet, it’s all at our fingertips.

Wired Magazine, February 2010 in an article called “Atoms Are The New Bits” by Chris Anderson states that “the Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of participation and participants in everything digital.”

With technology, we are free to help ourselves. We are independent, self-sufficient, and that’s typically how we like it. And not only are we able to do for ourselves, but the barriers to entrance for entrepreneurs and small companies have come way down.

The author states: “In the age of democratized industry, every garage is a potential micro-factory, every citizen a potential entrepreneur.” Similarly, Cory Doctorow wrote in The Makers that “The days of General Electric, and General Mills, and General Motors are over. The money on the table…can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.”

We all know how Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, working out of a garage building computers, started Apple. Similarly, how Michael Dell started operations out of his dorm room. Nowadays, we see more and more people going out on their own as contract workers and as teleworkers, not tied to particular companies or work locations. They have been freed by technology to work for whom they want and where they want.

At the extreme and in certain cases, there is a perception that “working with a company often imposes higher transaction costs then running a project online…Companies are full of bureaucracy, procedures, and approval processes, a structure designed to defend the integrity of the organization...[instead] the new industrial organizational model [is] built around small pieces loosely joined. Companies are small virtual, and informal. Most participants are not employees. They form and re-form on the fly driven by ability and need rather than affiliation and obligation.”

While I do not believe that companies will be disadvantaged for large and complex projects like building a bridge or designing a new commercial airline, there is no doubt that technology is changing not only what we can do ourselves, but also how and when we associate ourselves with others. We can do work for ourselves or for others practically on the fly. We can communicate immediately and over long distances with ease. We can form relationships on social networks for specific tasks or as desired and then reorient for the next. There is a new flexibility brought about by a do it yourself culture facilitated with simple, affordable, and readily available technology, and this DIY phenomenon is only going to increase and accelerate as the technology advances further and further.

Some important implications are as follows:

  • One, we need to constantly look for cost-savings in the organization and at home from the new technologies that we are bringing online enabling us to do more ourselves—there are cost offsets for the support we needed before and no longer require.
  • Secondly, we need to encourage our employees to take advantage of the new technologies, to learn them, and use them to their utmost and not to fear them.
  • Thirdly, the next generation of workers is going to demand more flexibility, empowerment, and continued work-life balance based on their increasing ability to go it alone, if necessary.
  • Finally, new technologies that are user-centric—easy to use and useful—will outperform technologies that are overly complex and not intuitive; the new normal is do it yourself and technologies that don’t simply enable that will be finished.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 10, 2010

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

Frequently employees face double-bind message in the workplace and these not only impair morale, but also can result in poor decision-making.

One example has to do with whether we should apply tried and true, best practices or be creative and innovative. This manifests when employees bring innovative approaches to the table to solve problems are told, “there’s no reason to recreate the wheel on this.” And then when the employees take the opposing track and try to bring established best practices to bear on problems, they are told disparagingly “ah, that’s just a cookie cutter approach.”

Another example has to do with when and how much to analyze and when to decide, such that when employees are evaluating solutions and they hustle to get a proposal on the table, only to be told they haven’t done enough work or its superficial and they need to go back, “do due diligence, and conduct a more thorough evaluation.” Then when the employees go back to conduct a thorough analysis of alternatives, business case, concept of operations and so on, only to be told, “what is taking you so long? You’re just getting bogged down in analysis paralysis—move on!”

I am sure there are many more examples of this where employees feel like they are in a catch 22, between a rock and a hard place, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The point is that creating contradictions, throwing nifty clichés at employees, and using that to win points or get your way in the decision process, hurts the organization and the employees that work there.

What the organization needs is not arbitrary decision-making and double-bind messages that shut employees down. Rather, organizations need clearly defined, authoritative, and accountable governance structure, policy, process and roles and responsibilities that open it up to healthy and informed debate and timely decisions. When everyone is working off of the “same sheet of music” and they know what is professionally expected and appropriate to the decision-making process, then using clichés arbitrarily and manipulating the decision-process no longer has a place or is organizationally acceptable.

We can’t rush through decisions just to get what we want, and we can’t bog down decisions with obstacles, just because we’re looking for a different answer.

Sound governance will help resolve this, but also necessary is a leadership committed to changing the game from the traditional power politics and subjective management whim to an organization driven by integrity, truth, and genuine progress based on objective facts, figures, and reason. Of course, changing an organization is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but think how proud we can be of our organizations that make this leap to well-founded governance.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 9, 2010

Why The Customer Should Be The Center Of Our Professional World

It’s intuitive that organizations should manage oriented to serve their customers, because it’s the customers who keep them in business. Yet, in the name of “shareholder value,” many organizations continue to put short-term results at the forefront of their decision-making and this ends up damaging the long-term success of the organization to the detriment of its owners.

Harvard Business Review, January-February 2010, in an article called “The Age of Customer Capitalism” by Roger Martin states that “for three decades, executives have made maximizing shareholder value their top priority. But evidence suggest that shareholders actually do better when firms put the customer first.”

The author continues: “Peter Drucker had it right when he said the primary purpose of a business is to acquire and keep customers.”

Clearly, we serve our customers in the service of our mission. Our mission is why we exist as an organization. Our mission is to provide our customers with products and/or services that satisfy some intrinsic need.

The equation is simple:

Shareholder Returns = f (Customer Satisfaction)

Shareholder returns is a function of and positively correlated with customer satisfaction, as HBR notes. If we serve our customers well, the organization will thrive--and so will the owners—and if we do this poorly, the organization will die—and the owners will “lose their shirts”.

The problem with concentrating exclusively on stock price is that we then tend to focus on short-term returns versus long-term results, and the shareholder ends up worse off in the end.

“The harder a CEO is pushed to increase shareholder value, the more the CEO will be tempted to make moves that actually hurt the shareholders…short-term rewards encourage CEOs to manage short-term expectation rather than push for real progress.”

The article cites companies like Johnson & Johnson and P&G that “get it.” They put the customer first and their shareholders have been rewarded handsomely—“at least as high as, if not higher than, those of leading shareholder-focused companies.”

One good example of how J&J put customers first is when in the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, in which seven Chicago-area residents died, J&J recalled every capsule in the nation, “even though the government had not demanded it.”

Another good example in the article is Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry. They recognized the importance of the customer versus the focus on the shareholder and already “in 1997, just after the firms IPO, the founders made a rule that any manager who talked about the share price at work had to buy a doughnut for every person in the company.” The last infraction by the COO had him delivering more than 800 doughnuts—the message was heard loud and clear.

These examples are in seemingly stark contrast to the recent handling by Toyota of its brake problems, in which there has been delayed recalls and the government is now investigating. As The New York Times (8 February 2010) reported: “The fact that Toyota knew about accelerator deficiencies as far back as December 2008 “raises serious questions about whether car manufacturers should be more forthcoming when they identify a problem, even before a recall,” said Robert Gifford, the executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a nonprofit group that seeks to advise British legislators on air, rail and road safety issues.” Note: this is out of character for Toyota, which historically has been a car company known for its quality and safety.

As a long advocate for User-centric Enterprise Architecture, I applaud the organizations and the people that put the customer first—and by this, I mean not by words alone, but in deeds. It is easy to put the customer into our mission and vision statements, but it is another to manage our organization with a true service creed.

While the HBR article emphasizes short-term shareholder value as main culprit diverting us from a positive customer-focus, there are really numerous distractions to realizing the vision of a customer service organization. Some examples include: organizational politics that hinder our ability to accomplish our mission; functional silos that are self-serving instead of seeking the best for the enterprise; certain egocentric employees (a minority) that put personal gain or a lack of strain above a service ethos; and of course, greedy and corrupt individuals that seek to profit at the expense of the customer, perhaps even skimping on product quality and customer service, thereby even endangering health and safety.

While most people are essentially good and seek to do the right thing, the organization must put in place controls to ensure that our focus is never distracted or diminished from our customers. These controls include everything from establishing values, policies, processes, requirements management, product development, training, testing, measurement and reporting, and best practices implementation in order to ensure our finest delivery to the customers, always.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 8, 2010

From Planning to Practice

Real planning is hard work. I’m not talking about the traditional—get the management team together, offsite for a few hours or days and spell out a modified mission and vision statement and some basic goals and objectives—this is the typical approach. Rather, I am referring to thinking and planning about the future with a sense of urgency, realism, and genuine impact to the way we do our jobs.

In the traditional approach, the management team is focused on the planning session. They are engaged in the planning for a short duration, but when back in the office, they don’t go back in any meaningful way to either refer to or apply the plan in what they or their employees actually do. The plan in essence defaults to simply a paperwork exercise, an alignment mechanism, a check box for the next audit.

In contrast, in a comprehensive planning approach, the focus is not on the planning session itself, but on the existential threats and opportunities that we can envision that can impact on the organization and what we are going to do about it. We need to look at for example: What are our competitors doing? Are there new product innovations emerging? Are there social and economic trends that will affect how we do business? How is the political and regulatory environment changing? And so on. The important thing is to think through/ work through, the impact analysis and plan accordingly to meet these head-on.

This is similar to a SWOT analysis—where we evaluate our Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, but it differs in that it extends that analysis portion to story planning (my term), where the results of SWOT are used to imagine and create multifaceted stories or scenarios of what we anticipate will happen and then identify how we will capitalize on the new situation or counter any threats. In other words, we play out the scenario —similar to simulation and modeling—in a safe environment, and evaluate our best course of action, by seeing where the story goes, how the actors behave and react, and introducing new layers of complexity and subtext.

Harvard Business Review (HBR), Jan-Feb 2010, has an article called “Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape” by Michael Jacobides that states “in an age when nothing is constant, strategy should be defined by narrative—plots, subplots, and characters---rather than by maps, graphs, and numbers.”

The author proposes the use of “playscripts” (his term), a scenario-based approach for planning, in which—“a narrative that sets out the cast of characters in a business, the way in which they are connected, the rules they observe, the plots and subplots in which they are a part, and how companies create and retain value as the business and the cast changes.

While I too believe in using a qualitative type of planning to help think out and flesh out strategy, I do not agree that we should discard the quantitative and visual analysis—in fact, I think we should embrace it and expand upon it by integrating it into planning itself. This way we optimize the best from both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

While numbers, trends, graphics, and other visuals are important information elements in planning, they are even more potent when added to the “what if” scenarios in a more narrative type of planning. For example, based on recent accident statistics with the car accelerators (a quantifiable and graphical analysis), we may anticipate that a major foreign car company will be conducting a major recall and that the government will be conducting investigations into this company. How will we respond—perhaps, we will we increase our marketing emphasizing our own car safety record and increase production in anticipation of picking up sales from our competitor?

Aside from being robust and plausible, the article recommends that playscripts be:

· Imaginative—“exploring all the opportunities that exist.” I would also extend this to the other relevant element of SWOT and include envisioning possible threats as well.

· Outward-facing—“focus on the links a company has with other entities, the way it connects with them and how others perceive it in the market.” This is critical to take ourselves out of our insular environments and look outside at what is going on and how it will affect us. Of course, we cannot ignore the inner dynamics of our organization, but we must temper it with a realization that we function within a larger eco-system.

To me, the key to planning is to free the employees to explore what is happening in their environment and how they will behave. It is not to regurgitate their functions and what they are working on, but rather to see beyond themselves and their current capabilities and attitudes. Life today is not life tomorrow, and we had better be prepared with open minds, sharpened skills and a broad arsenal to deal with the future that is soon upon us.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 7, 2010

Nothing Stops A "Govie"





(Generic picture of brave soul, 2010 snowstorm)


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 6, 2010

Why Be Led By You?

To be a great leader, you have to have the qualities that make others want to be led by you. Obviously, a leader without followers can’t lead anything.

A classic article in Harvard Business Review called “Why should Anyone Be Led By You?” by Goffee and Jones starts this way: “If you want to silence a room of executives try this small trick. Ask them, ‘why would anyone want to be led by you?’”…without fail, the response is a sudden hush. All you can hear are knees knocking.”

It’s humorous, but also right on. There are lots of people out there who are appointed, anointed, or otherwise advanced to positions of responsibility over others, but this does not make them leaders. To be a leader, a person must not ‘rule’ by authority alone, but by their ability to move people and organizations to greatness.

Most people say that what makes a leader is vision. And yes that is a vital trait, but there is a lot more—here are some others that differentiate the real leaders from the frauds:

· Wisdom—having the knowledge as well as ability to apply it to the specific situation. A leader knows what to do and when to do it. There is an implication of timely and relevant action. Finally, wisdom implies openness to new ideas and ways of doing things—innovation—and the customer-centric application of those.

· Integrity—a leader is reasonable, upright and equitable in his dealing with others. In contrast, corruption, dishonesty, greed, and nepotism undermine the very fabric of leading by example and preclude the possibility of creating a better world. Following a leader with integrity of being and of purpose is inherently meaningful and just.

· Compassion—some people call it empathy, but it is really more than just feeling for others, it is feeling altogether. It includes having the passion and determination to help the people and the organization innovate, modernize, and transform while being sensitive and responsive to all stakeholders affected.

· Humaneness—a leader is human being subject to frailties and failures, and is not to be confused with G-d (although some seem to think themselves almost nothing short of divine). Understanding that we all have weakness and vulnerabilities is critical to accepting risks, mistakes, and learning from these and growing past them. While we should demand and strive for excellence, we cannot expect perfection at every turn.

· Harmony—leading people means creating harmony between competing and conflicting people and points of view, so the organization can move forward in unity of purpose and the strength the comes with it. Often the biggest obstacle to success is not the competition, but the division or fighting from within. A leader brings people together and synergizes them so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

· Communication—While people are sensitive to non-verbal cues, they are not telepathic, so clear, consistent, and compelling communication is essential to building the common vision and action plans to achieve the goals set out upon. A gifted, articulate leader can move people to action with urgency, purpose, and undying belief that neither reward nor retribution alone could rouse.

A leader with these six traits does not need to worry next time someone asks them “why should anyone be led by you?” The answer for them is clear.


Share/Save/Bookmark

February 5, 2010

When Commitment is Just a Crowd-Pleaser

In the organization, you can’t really do anything without management commitment and a certain degree of consensus. In fact, management commitment is usually at the top of the list when it comes to a project’s critical success factors.

But when is commitment real and when is it just lip service?

Sometimes, when the boss tells you to do something, he means it and gives you the authority and resources to make it happen. Other times, “go do” is superficial and denotes more of a “this isn’t really important”, but we need to make a good show of it for political, compliance, or other reasons. In the latter case, there is usually no real authority implied or resources committed to getting the job done. But at least we gave it our best (not!).

As an employee, you have to be smart enough to know the difference in what you’re being asked to do (and not do), so you don’t end up stepping in the muck—trying to do something that no one really wants anyway or the opposite, not delivering on a project that others are depending on.

Knowing the difference between what’s real and what isn’t can mean the difference between a successful and rewarding career (i.e. “you get it”) or one that is disappointing and frustrating (because you’re sort of clueless).

It was interesting for me to read in the Wall Street Journal, 5 February 2010, about how looks can be deceiving when it comes to support for someone or some cause: apparently, in certain European countries, such as Ukraine, it is common place for rallies to be attended not by genuine supporters, but by people paid to show up. In other countries, you may not be paid to show up, but instead be punished for not doing so.

The Journal reports that “rent-a-crowd entrepreneurs find people fast to cheer or jeer for $4 an hour…[and] if you place an order for a rally, you can have it the next day.”

So what looks like thousands of people turning out to support someone or something is really just a sham. This is similar to leaders who turn out to support a program or project, but really they are just paying lip service with no intention of actually helping the project make an inch of progress. Their superficial support is paid for by goodwill generated by their apparent support or what one of my friends used to call by “brownie points” (for brown-nosing their boss or peers)—but of course, they aren’t really behind the initiative.

The article summarizes it this way: “For now, people see the same old politicians and hear the same old ideas. If someone fresh brings a new idea, people will come out and listen for free.”

Good leaders need to actually say what they mean and mean what they say, so employees are able to focus on the work that’s really important and get the results the organization needs. This contrasts with ineffectively telling employees to “go do”, but no one is standing with or behind them—not even for 4 dollars an hour.

Of course, leaders must get on board with the direction that the overall organization is going. That is just part of being a team player and accepting that first of all, we are not always right as individuals, and second of all that we live in an imperfect world where sometimes our choices are not ideal.

However, when employees are required to rally for causes they truly don’t believe in or leadership feels compelled to pay lip service to initiatives they will not ultimately fund or commit to, the result is a dysfunctional organization. The outward reality does not match the actual feelings or thoughts of its people. (Sort of like having a diversity initiative headed by all white males over the age of 50.)

Let us commit to a spirit of honesty in all our dealings. If a conflict needs to be addressed, let’s address it directly rather than avoiding or glossing over it. One very basic and simple step toward this end is to recognize and reward the people who are brave enough to say when the emperor has no clothes and who are able to provide alternatives that make sense.

And finally—when we do commit to something—let’s see it through.


Share/Save/Bookmark