Monday, July 25, 2011

Seeing is believing... and birds might fly!

The reason I am putting this video from TED up this week is because I believe that this is a brilliant and effective example where actions speak louder than words. How many times have you tried to make a persuasive argument only to have it knocked back.

Typically a successful argument, suggestion etc requires persuading the audience that "perceiving is believing". However this is clearly not the same as "seeing is believing", which I find to be far more successful when trying to get various parties on side. 

To illustrate my point I often refer to the example John Kotter describes in his book The Heart of Change. John describes a process he calls See, Feel and Change using the "Gloves on the Boardroom Table" illustration.

"A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization's factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a "business case" for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn't feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time. So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed! The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money."

And now for the TED video (below). Just imagine for one second that the speaker was doing the presentation WITHOUT the bird and only had visuals on a PowerPoint (or other like medium) to get across his invention. Would you be left with the same WOW factor as you get when you "see and believe". 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How talented are you really?

We are forever being bombarded with literature on People Excellence (click here for examples). Personally I have worked with literally hundreds of people over my career and to be honest I think employees (people) are, in the main, all average. In other words I believe the majority of us have similar abilities. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that:

  1. Most people go to work and want to do a good job 
  2. Most people enjoy being recognised for doing their job 
  3. There are superstars out there in particular fields and by the nature of their job they are easy to identify i.e.  Programmers, Surgeons, Athletes 
  4. The majority of people in “general management” type roles i.e. Marketing, Sales, Operations, HR  have similar ability (however unpalatable that may sound).
  5. There is a big difference between working hard and being a "superstar". NOTE: This is a big distinction for me. There are people whose hard work and determination are what makes them rise above the rest. However this is a considerable difference to natural ability.

What prompted me to think and write about this was a fascinating article on the HBR blog titled Great People Are Overrated. In particular the reference to the research by Boris Groysberg (see Chasing Stars) - "After examining the careers of more than 1,000 star analysts at Wall Street investment banks, and conducting more than two hundred frank interviews, Groysberg comes to a striking conclusion: star analysts who change firms suffer an immediate and lasting decline in performance. Their earlier excellence appears to have depended heavily on their former firms' general and proprietary resources, organizational cultures, networks, and colleagues. There are a few exceptions, such as stars that move with their teams and stars that switch to better firms. Female stars also perform better after changing jobs than their male counterparts do. But most stars who switch firms turn out to be meteors, quickly losing luster in their new settings."

Often “people” are blamed or praised regarding the unsuccessful or successful outcome (execution) of a new strategy. However if we are, in the main, average (similar ability) then the truth is that the outcome of any corporate function, strategic or not, comes from the sum of its parts, as well as external factors, and not simply people. Yet how many more times do I need to be told that without great people, failure is imminent. Perhaps a more apt description to articulate the statement would be – the outcome will be dependent on people trying there best to do a good job plus a multitude of other factors that may or may not be in your control (Global Financial Crisis anyone!).

Perhaps the 30th President of the USA, (John) Calvin Coolidge (1872 - 1933) was on to something when he said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meet a true revolutionary

Whilst the Khan Academy may be USA curriculum centric its potential benefits are potentially revolutionary on a global scale. I am in awe of what 1 person (Sal Khan) has been able to achieve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you know what a paradigm shift is....Really?

The following is an excerpt from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced on Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm and peaceful scene.

Then suddenly a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing.

And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive a to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see everyone else on the subway felt irritated.

So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to consciousness of the situation tor the first time and said softly,” Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about that. We just came back from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t how to handle it either.”

WOW. Very powerful!

Only problem is that is not scientific. Why scientific? Well “a paradigm shift (or revolutionary science) is, according to Thomas Kuhn in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science.” (see Wikipedia for explanation).

I actually have no issue with Covey calling his example a paradigm shift. Personally I think it is more powerful than say simply “a different perspective”. However it does illustrate how easy a specific terminology can be turned into buzzwords. In the same Wikipedia article the following appears, “In his book, Mind The Gaffe, author Larry Trask advises readers to refrain from using it, and to use caution when reading anything that contains the phrase. It is referred to in several articles and books as abused and overused to the point of becoming meaningless.

Like many of you I often read documents, papers, articles and books that are filled with vomitous amounts of jargon and buzz words. Whilst I do not have a fact base on the correlation of jargon related strategic papers and the successful execution of the given strategies it would be nice to, just one day, read a document written in basic coherent English. Now that would be a paradigm shift J

Friday, July 1, 2011

Accountabilities - How are you measured?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Accountability as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions"

I have seen many organisations often bundle together high level generic organisation Accountabilities with individual Accountabilities into generic KPI’s that are then imposed on almost all employees. This methodology fails to hold individuals accountable for their role.

A simplistic example:
Hypothetically imagine you or I were to go to have a surgical procedure. From the moment we entered the hospital it is the “hospital” and all staff involved responsibility to ensure my health is looked after. HOWEVER we do not hold the person at the administration desk accountable for my surgery. Likewise we do not hold the Theatre Nurse accountable for the actual procedure. We hold the Theatre Nurse accountable for ensuring the Doctor has all appropriate surgical instruments etc. Likewise we do not hold the Surgeon accountable for changing my bed pan.

Now imagine if everyone’s KPI at the hospital was the same e.g. “Ensure the health of all our patients.” How would you know who is doing a good job or a great job? How do you know when something goes wrong where the accountabilities lie?

This example can be applied across organisations today. How many of you have a Sales, Margin or Profit number next to your name but your accountabilities are not directly related to impacting the financials? Of course everyone plays a role in the organisations ability to meet its financial objectives however if the metrics are not aligned with Accountabilities then there will forever be lack of role clarity, poor communication and finger pointing i.e. it was someone else’s “responsibility”!