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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Achievers are never laying bricks, they are building a cathedral

As we have seen in the earlier blog, many senior managers slip because they try to score a goal on their own without ensuring that the team is aligned and ready. They tend to strike before the 'iron is hot' and naturally fail. Do you wonder why?



Because they are too focused on their individual job/role. They tend to ignore the final work-output. They tend to forget that their first work-objective is to score a goal. They are like the bricklayer, when asked what he was doing, replied ' I am laying the bricks'

Every professional knows the result areas -what results are required - in one's job. But very few are aware of their role in producing the final work-output. For instance, every sales officer knows that he must meet his sales target, but very few are aware that their primary work-output is to satisfy the customer so that he comes back again or he refers others. One can achieve achieve job-results sometimes at the cost of work-results. But not for long. Soon, they lack the skills to focus on the whole. On the other hand, one cannot pursue work-output while ignoring one's personal output. Achievers strike this balance. How? 

Achievers see their jobs as 'part' of whole. For them, scoring a goal is more important. They are like a bricklayer, when asked what he was doing, replied " I am building cathedral"Although they may not be responsible for the entire work-output, they view their role/job as contributing to the final work-output. Being able to see the end result, they see their bottlenecks in advance, and are more motivated in tackling them. To do this, they adopt 4 rules of achievement that average achievers do not follow.

One, they define problems ( in achieving results) not from the job they are doing, but from what is preventing them to score a goal.  Like a detective, they keep on probing until they find the real problem that is hampering the delivery of results. Two, they strive to find real solution for this bigger problem, even if they cannot implement it immediately. Once they understand the bigger picture, they can see their roles differently. These two rules help them focus on the 'whole' before they start looking at their 'part'.

Three, they do not twiddle their thumbs and wait to implement the 'real' solution. Instead they implement 'smaller' solutions to achieve personal outputs. Simultaneously, they keep on getting ready to implement their best solution.They do not rush. Big solutions require lot of elements to be tied together. So they wait until the time is ripe. And four, they spend time in 'tinkering' with solution to ensure its acceptance. This implies that solutions in an organisation always require more than one person to readjust. 

Rule 1: Achievers find the 'real problem' that is hampering results


Achievers do not accept the problem as given. Identifying the real problem from the available problems requires an approach of a detective. Achievers find the real problem in delivering results by investigating the entire value-chain of which they are part. For instance, imagine a boss asking the marketing officer of an automobile company to change the marketing program because sales revenue of automobiles has dropped in the last quarter. Before altering the marketing program, Achiever pauses. Instead of assuming the marketing program as the 'real problem' that is causing low sales, he investigates.
  • Check with the upstream participants:  He gets data from the upstream participants of his value chain because upstream impacts the quality of downstream. A value chain of 'Marketing executive' includes Marketing, Sales, Delivery and After sales services. For a marketing officer, the upstream participants are external agents such as competitors, Financial institutions like banks which changes finance rates and other external regulatory agencies. If, while investigating, he finds out that sales revenue of all the competing car companies has dropped, it helps him conclude that 'marketing program' is not the real problem. Or if he finds that his sales revenue has dropped while the competitor has increased, he will investigate further. Upon further investigation he finds competitor has a introduced a new car in the market. He discovers a different 'real problem'. Despite all the efforts, information of external agents is never complete and accurate. Marketing officer, like all the environment-facing functions, is forced to deal with incomplete information.
  • Check with the downstream participants: Achievers also ask questions to downstream functions to find the real problem that is preventing the results. For instance, to find the reasons of less sales revenue, Marketing officer will get more information from Sales team, such as the 'footfalls' of customers in his sales showroom in the last six months. If the footfall have not decreased, it would  mean that marketing program cannot be blamed for lower sales revenue. Or it may mean that the marketing program is good but is bringing in 'wrong' customers in the showroom. To find if wrong customers are visiting, he will further probe: get information on the profile of visiting customers, profile of customers who are not buying the cars, the queries they are asking. Only when he is sure of the 'problem' that is causing the loss in sale revenue, the marketing officer will take the next step of finding a solution for that problem.
The above investigation requires understanding of value chains in an organisation, something that can be acquired in a day or two of training. Many researchers in the decision-making field believe that spending time on defining a problem is better than spending time in solving a wrong problem. To solve a problem, they spend their time in 50-20-30 ratio. They spend 50% in defining the problem, 20% in finding the best solution, and 30% in tinkering with the solution so that solution is modified suitably for acceptance. On the other hand, average achievers spend their time in the ratio of 10-60-30.  They spend small time in defining a problem, 60% on finding a politically-acceptable solution, and 30% of the time in implementing the solution with fan-fare, with no latitude for tinkering the solution. 

Rule 2: Achievers find best possible solution by scanning the entire value chain 

The first rule enables the Marketing officer to find the right problem. Instead of beating around the bush to solve the problem of less sales revenue, he identifies the real problem as 'bringing in wrong customers'. Once the problem is defined, the Achiever can concentrate on finding the best possible solution, not the acceptable solution, to the given problem.

Why is this a better approach? Like the renowned Management Guru Peter Drucker advised managers 30 years ago, 'Before finding what can be done, one should list down what should be done'. Before deciding on what can be done, one should explore all the possibilities. Even if one decides to use less-than-best solution, one is fully aware of the trade-off one is making.

Further, by finding solution that is not restricted to any one function - marketing or sales- they increase their chances of finding the best solution. For instance, the solution for 'bringing in right customers' may require the change in 'product design' of the car, or it could be 're-positioning' of another car, or it could be 'identifying the right profile of customers in the sales showroom from the available customers'. This approach helps find 'real solution' to solve 'real' problems, not boss-determined problems. At this stage, it is not prudent to become 'realistic' and prune the list of solutions in advance. Instead it is better to list all the solutions, even if one cannot implement it immediately.

What is the advantage in listing down all the solutions? It sensitises the organisation to the possibility of big changes happening in the 'car market'. Many times, when such big solutions are to be implemented, the organisation requires far more information to invest in the 'solution' and therefore require further investigation In short, when one problem is being solved, the company may discover other new problems that require attention.

Rule 3: Achiever becomes practical and chose the mix of solutions that suits him the best

Once they have the list of solutions, Achievers prioritise the solutions based on 4 factors: Time impact, Feasibility of implementation, One's readiness to implement and Visibility of the solutions.

Quick impact solutions are like low lying grapes that can be plucked easily. Visible solutions are visible to at least three participants in the system: team members, colleagues in other teams, and Boss. Quick impact and visible solutions are prioritised ahead of others, because that helps Achievers gain trust of the organisational system.

On the other hand Long impact solutions should be delayed, because it generally involves buy-in of many participants. Although such solutions are good, they are not feasible, especially if one is new to the system and one has not gained enough trust of boss. But some solutions are not feasible because the colleagues in the team are not ready. For instance, if the sales manager wants to sell more cars in the showroom by 'spotting the right customers', he may not be able to implement the solution because his team is not trained on this.

On the other hand, some solutions cannot be implemented because one is not ready at an individual level. You may want more budget , say to implement a digital marketing program. But your boss is not convinced. You need to gain his trust before he can give you the freedom to implement the solution.

But trust takes time to build. One cannot build trust by taking one action, or producing result once, or helping someone once. If you think of a friend you can trust, you will remember the countless experiences you share with him, the times when he helped you without asking, the events where he stood behind you even when you were at fault, the time-emergencies you shared and supported each other. In the same way, gaining trust in an organisational system depends on four variables: Being Competent in doing the task, Being Credible in what you say, Being cooperative with everyone, and Being reliable in times of crunch. We shall see later see the ways of building trust step by step.

Rule 4: Improvise the solutions while implementing it 

It is very rare that a solution can be implemented by individual alone. A solution in organisational setting always require more than a person to readjust its work. Achiever never forgets that an organisation is a socio-technical system, not just a technical system. Therefore improvisation is mandatory.

Improvising a solution is required for two reasons. One, no solution is perfect to address the different scenarios. Therefore a solution has to be tinkered ( not overhauled) before it is workable for many different situations.

For instance, if the sales manager concludes that marketing function is bringing in 'wrong customers' in the showroom, what solutions does he have to increase his sales revenue ? Either Sales manager can focus on 'spotting' the right customer by developing new criteria. Or he can find other way to increase sales revenue, say by using referral customers. These may be short term solutions until he finds a way to address the problem of wrong customers.

For instance, the long term solution for tackling wrong customer may be to convince his sales team in the showroom the need to spot the right customers. But convincing the team to change is not enough. He may also have to train his team to spot the right customers. The solution has to be made feasible.

For doing all this, he has to gain trust of his sales team first. His sales team should trust him to believe that he will not 'favor' one member over another. That he is competent enough to deal with different issues. That he is credible enough to do what he says. That he is reliable enough to be supported when the targets are not met for a month. If a person produces results without gaining trust of his team, he is derailed from the achievement train like Rajneesh.

And two, the solution has to be implemented by people. Therefore, only when the solution is 'accepted', people remain committed and keep on 'modifying' the solution to face the exigencies. If the solution is pushed too hard, the people will implement the solution out of compliance. When they are complying, they do not share all the difficulties in implementing the solution; instead they wait for the solution to 'bomb', and sometimes actively take part in 'bombing' the solution.

Summary

Average Achievers are in hurry to solve problems by making up the numbers. They listen to the problem-definition as given by their boss or by someone else. They want to implement the ready-made solutions and keep everyone satisfied. Even if the problem is not really solved, they can safely claim " I did what i was told". This approach works in keeping others happy. But for a professional, who wants to achieve his goals through work, this approach is damaging. Because, with this approach, he never learns to produce results. He never learns to identify real problems. He never learns to find real 'real' solution to 'good solution'. He never learns to build trust with his colleagues. His experience of 10 years is 1 year repeated 10 times. 

In the next blog, we shall see how this method of viewing one's job as building the cathedral helps an Achiever achieve big goals in life.  

Friday, October 02, 2015

Root problem of mis-achievers: They do not know what they don't know

This has been a paradox for me. Despite brilliant credentials at the start of their life, why do some professionals fail to achieve enough in their lives.

I have found one very simple reason. They do not know what they don't know. They make assumptions and work on those assumptions, little knowing that they are barking at the wrong tree. They keep on searching for the key where the lamp is, instead of searching it where it is lost. 

Work life achievement 

For instance, in their work-life, most of the professionals do not know 'How to produce results in a current job'.  Please read these 3 steps which most of the professionals cannot take because they are completely ignorant. Not knowing what to do, they feel that they should produce the results asked by 'boss'. They develop the skills to 'appease' the boss, but they fail to develop other skills to achieve. 

Or unable to measure their organisation's readiness to implement what they want, they spend huge amount of efforts in launching big initiatives, but cannot implement them because their team or system is not ready.

Unable to produce results in a job, they sacrifice their 'long term achievement'.  They fail because they do not know what they do not know

Achieving Relationship results 

I see the same problem in work-relationships ( as well as in deep relationships with their friends and spouse)

For instance, take the example of boss-relationship. They get a difficult boss. They are unaware of the methods of dealing with the difficult boss. Instead, they make assumptions. They either become too stubborn, or become too compliant. When that does not work, they take a easy route: they resign. They move to a new employer, where the new boss is even more difficult. 

Or they presume that they must contribute their 'part' and leave the rest to others. These professionals prefer to play football and hope to score the goal based on their individual ability to attack. These professionals blame rest of the team for 'non-performance' and never learn to develop the skills to draw boundaries with other team members. Unable to build their reputation amongst the team members, they  fail to produce sustained results.

Once again, they sacrifice their long term achievement, because they do not use the opportunities to develop the requisite skills . They fail because they do not know what they do not know.   

What can you do?

I can give you many examples of this root problem. Professionals do not achieve because they do not know what they do not know. When they know what they do not know, they can at least learn it. Because of widespread ignorance, many consultants start blaming the professionals, saying that they lack willpower or Courage or Persistence. It is easy to blame the professional. But when the ignorance is so deep, what can one do? 

Only one person can help you: Your Mentor.  Because a mentor has gone on the same path ahead of you, he can point you to things that you do not know. And because you trust him, you will 'listen' to him even though you may not agree with him. Mentor will open your eyes to unknown questions and force you to think. A mentor may not know the answer of a problem, but a good mentor will help you ask the 'right question'. Asking the right question is the half-way to finding the answer. 

You may find it almost impossible to find a common pattern in the success of Achievers. But you will almost always find that every Achiever has had a Mentor at different stages of life. Sometimes the Mentor is a friend of father or Mother. Sometimes, a teacher or professor. Sometimes a senior professional in the same field, such as when start-up companies are mentored by a senior veteran. Sometimes , professional in the same path such as in the field of Music, Sports, or Dancing. Sometimes a distance relative in the family.

And once you find a mentor, even if that mentor is a well-wisher. you can 'define' the problem. After 'defining' the problem, you can find a 'coach' to help you out. Or find help from another 'mentor' in your work-area who can you help more specifically?


Do you have a mentor to help you see which is beyond your lens? 

Source of the image: Lesswrong.com

Friday, September 11, 2015

Does study of 150 top achievers help me achieve my career goals?

Recently, I read a very interesting work done by Linked in team. They culled out the list of 150 top achievers out of some 380 million network of Linked in profiles. The list describes the people who are doing some wonderful work. The work listed by the people is indeed inspiring.  But does this alone help us in achieving our goals in our careers? 


The unfortunate but realistic answer is NO. Any coach will tell you that each of us is unique. The path of these 150 work-achievers is unique ( like us). Their backgrounds are dissimilar. The challenges faced in their lives are 'not same' as us. Infact, some of the challenges may not be even a small hurdle for you. Neither are their blind spots same like yours. So knowing the patterns of their work-achievement is not enough.

If we wish to 'learn' from their career achievements, though, then we must do something more. We must have our own explicit 'framework' to guide our actions in our lives. We need a framework because we must take actions 'today' that will help us achieve results in a distant future. We need to ensure that actions today are consistent with actions taken tomorrow without committing ourselves too early.We need a framework because we must tie our personal life (values) with work-life achievement. We need a framework so that we can focus long enough to produce sustained 'results', not one-time results.

More importantly, an explicit 'framework' of sustained achievement helps us learn from other's achievements. That is the real benefit of a framework. With a framework, we can meaningfully compare our actions with others. By asking intelligent questions to these 150 achievers, based on some similarity that is relevant to our career, we can get help that we need. The similarity could be the path of achievement, background of education, a blind spot that we share or even similarity of values.The learning from these 150 achievers may be 'small', but very useful.  

To learn from other achievers' work-achievement, though, we must have an explicit framework of sustained work-achievement ( let us call it career framework) that should satisfy at least four conditions: 

1. Our explicit framework should explain the 'confusing' varieties that we observe in achievers: We observe different achievers. Some are rich, some poor. Some are educated, some uneducated. Some achieve at early age, some achieve at later age. Some have high IQ, some barely scratch through. These achievers also have different personality traits. Some are introvert, some extrovert. Some are givers, some takers. Some are passionate, some are happy-go lucky. Some are lucky, some are less lucky. 

The framework should be able to explain the work-achievement of these various individuals who have 'utilised' their background and personality traits ( even if it looked negative) in negotiating the hurdles in their career. For example, our explicit framework should help us understand the importance of luck in achievement. Most of the currently available frameworks, in books or in talks, instead advocate changing oneself, for instance, from becoming introvert to extrovert, or becoming giver to taker and so on. Some even invoke faith and claim that 'If one wants something intensely, Universe makes it happen for you'.  

2. Our framework should help us derive 'strategic options' that suit our situation: The biggest problem in implementing any 'suggestion or idea' is its applicability to a specific individual given the situation he is facing. For instance, my strategic options to get a promotion in my job are different than your options in your job. Morever, my ability to utilise those options may be more limited than yours, because of my specific personality trait, say humility. 

The framework should offer me a method to generate all the possible options so that I can chose the one that suits me the most. Most of the explicit frameworks in career achievement, instead, are based on one dimensional rules such as "Work hard and you will achieve anything' or " If you fail many times, you will achieve success". We know what results we want to achieve, but we do not know 'how to achieve them'

3. Our framework should adhere to the basic principles of achievement: We all wish to produce 'results' in our work. But only a 'System' ( of interacting people, resources, practices and goals) produces 'results'. In other words, my ability to produce 'results' depends on the Systems state of readiness as much as on my effort to influence the 'system'. Morever, results can produce 'monetary' benefits only when certain conditions of market , related to work, are satisfied. That is why, I may produce extraordinary result by performing at the best, but may have to wait for the 'system' to be ready for monetisation.

In other words, I should be able to assess a situation and then chose to have the courage to 'change the situation' if the timing is right' or chose to 'accept the situation as it is' if the timing is not right. Current frameworks of work achievement  which are based on Willpower only advocate the approach of 'changing the situation' irrespective of whether the time is right or not. Instead, I need a framework to help me choose an appropriate approach in a given situation. 

4. Our career framework ( of sustained work achievement) should be simple to implement without simplifying the actual problem:
On the one hand, any framework should be complex enough to accommodate different backgrounds, work paths ( domains) and type of achievements ( individual versus team oriented). It should also be holistic because I am not just a rational person, but I am also an emotional person. I must achieve enough in work-life, but I must also have good relationships.

All the actions and strategies to achieve our work goals should address all the above complexity. But a normal person cannot be expected to 'remember' all these inter-relationships to take his career actions. It is like expecting a person to understand the science of medicine to take actions to prevent health problems. In other words, the framework should be simple enough for a normal layman to implement, but it should not simplify the problems of career complexity.

We need a framework which is simple enough, but at the same time, should be robust enough to deal with underlying complexity of work-related actions and results. The complexity should be hidden, not ignored.

Conclusion

Einstein said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not too simple". Traditional rules of sustained achievement are one-dimensional and simple.

For instance, they advocate that If you have enough willpower you can achieve anything; Or If you persist long enough, success will knock at your door; Or If your intentions are honest, Universe will conspire to make it happen; Or If you follow 10 rules of success, you will achieve anything in life; Or If you develop emotional intelligence, you will have satisfied relationships; Or If you trust others, others will trust you; Or If have spiritual outlook, you will always be helped. And worse still, we treat these Rules as 'final gospel'. So we unwittingly pick them in making our own career framework. And that is why they have stopped us in helping achieve anything meaningful.

It is time we respect the complex reality of sustained work-achievement. Any achiever will tell you that sustained achievement is not about seeking equilibrium, because achievement is both growing and shrinking. That a small initial advantage ( as well as disadvantage) in the work-path makes a 'big impact' on achievement and locks you in for years ( yes, some individuals also get locked in past achievement) until you make a special kind of effort to extricate from it. We 'chose' to do tasks not just rationally, but also because we are forced by others expectations. We are not just rational and calculative as experts tell us, but we are also unpredictable , imperfect and inefficient.

And like untended ecosystems such as garden, if we do not 'tend' our career-actions consciously, we face the consequences of it sooner or later.

Source of Image: Funmozar.com

Sunday, July 05, 2015

How will career Intelligence (CIQ) help you ...

Career intelligence is a mindset of looking at achievement : a different style of behaviour arising out of an entirely different set of attitudes or from a different view of life. 


A signature of high CIQ individual can be defined by this maxim: " I can do what I want to do". Without succumbing to the urge of hasty action, he can also wait actively to do what he wants to do, be it in work-life, relationships, or in personal life. 

View of work-life: High CIQ individual sees work-life as a means to an end, as a means to achieve something in our life. He does not look at his job as a mechanism of earning money, prestige or security. For him work is an achievement. Money is just a byproduct.  He is curious about what he can do in work-life because it helps him express his capability. Because a high CIQ is mindful of his 'small' capacity to influence the 'results' in work-life, both work-life success and failure do not 'go in his head'. High CIQ individual understands both the advantages and disadvantages of working in a ' ready-made output system' like a company and can therefore adopt 'appropriate' practices to achieve his ends without 'sacrificing' anything.

View of relationships:  People are not means to an end. Low CIQ individuals use relationships to validate or to prove their worth. High CIQ individuals appreciate that not every relationship has the same objective. Some relationships are meant to produce happiness and 'Self-understanding', while some are meant to satisfy transactions. Low CIQ individuals seek good relations with people, high CIQ individuals seek good understanding of people. High CIQ individuals are 'sensitive' to timing, context, role and trust in a people-interactions while low CIQ individual will be sensitive only to the 'results' of interactions.

View of Personal life : High CIQ individual knows that a man's aspirations are not dug underneath 1000 feet, waiting to be 'dug out', but they in the open, constantly changing as he engages with the outside world. His 'needs and wants' change both due to success and failure in producing the desired results. High CIQ individuals know both the power of their Mind, as well as the weakness of their Mind. They therefore are aware of when to listen to their mind, when to overrule it. Even though Mind is inside him, a high CIQ individual is aware of the mystery of 'discovering' his Mind and uses all his options to fathom it.  

We are not born with low CIQ. Watch any baby and you will see the extraordinary learning capacity of a child. But something happens in the student life when we start fearing mistakes; where we are flooded with so much of nonsense, that we either start believing that world is unintelligible or that we are stupid; where we start doubting ourselves; where we chase higher marks and forget that we must be learning something.

Therefore despite having good IQ, we fare badly in CIQ because our learning is dissociated from reality. We learn to talk about problem of motivation without knowing why we are not motivated to go on the job on Monday, or change companies without being able to change ourselves, or urge oneself to take initiative while simultaneously penalising oneself for making mistakes.

The true test of CIQ is not how much we know what to do, but by how we behave when we we don't know what to do. High CIQ individuals may not necessarily earn higher income, win trophies, or break records. But they will definitely have a way of figuring out what they want and being able to go for it. They succeed in life, because they actively 'define' success. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Achievers take these 3 steps to produce sustained results



To perform well in a current job, you must achieve three objectives. First objective is to deliver the desired job results.This is basic requirement. Only after we produce the desired results in a current job, we can aspire to achieve big tasks in life. 

Average professionals only take these two steps 

Every professional takes these two steps to achieve results in their job.

Identify the KRA in their jobs

First method to identify their roles in the job: There are basically five roles in a job: Doer who does the work, Manager who synthesises the work of doers, Trainer who teaches a skill, mindset or knowledge, Researcher who develops new basic knowledge or application knowledge and Advisor who advises and consults like doctors. Each of these roles have different outputs.

So if you are Doer, you do different tasks. For instance, if you are a programmer in a programming team, your role is to write the program. In you are a doer in sales team, you sell in x territory. If you are working in telemarketing, you task is to call customers in the x territory. You must first understand your prescribed role ( both explicit as well as implicit) in the team.

Second method is to list down the KRA's given by your company. Some companies list down KRA's. For instance, programmer's performance may be evaluated by KRAs such as Writing programs in time, Writing programs with less errors and so on. Or Sales officer's performance may be evaluated by sales calls, sales revenue, sales quantity, new product sales and so on. 

To produce desired results, they make an action plan based on their tasks alone 

Actions have to be taken in one's work area, in the job.

For instance, as programmers have to perform five tasks - Understand the User requirements, Understand the technical design of the software, Write your module programs, Unit test those programs, and Deliver it to Tester - they take actions on these five fronts.

Or if they work as Sales executive, they focus on 4 selling tasks - Understand the technical nature of your product, Prepare to call the customers, Make a call to the customer to understand his requirements and sell, Make a proposal, Close the order - to produce the results.

They assume that doing these tasks better and faster will help them produce the desired results. So they take further training. For instance, Programmers take the training on 'How to code better" or " How to test in a better way". Sales executives take training on 'How to Negotiate' the order.

They assume that if they know something more about their tasks, they will be able to perform their tasks more efficiently. For them producing results is only about doing the task better, faster and easier.

Most of the professionals however stop at this step.

Achievers go ahead and take the next three steps 

Achievers increase their possibilities of adding value in the job by understanding the value chain in which they are performing the job. They take these three steps:

Step 1: They discover the rules of the value-chain in which they function 

Achievers do not restrict their options to the tasks they perform in their job. They look at the value chain of which they are part of. A value chain starts from the understanding what the outside customer requires and ends with fulfilling that customer requirements.

For instance, a programmer is part of value chain which starts with, say, Understanding the business requirement of a customer to delivering the 'software program' to the customer. So typically, a software value chain includes Business Analyst who drafts customer requirement, while designer designs the modules of program, programmers who write the program, and Tester who tests the program, and Go-live team which makes the program functional in the customer's site.

A value chain of  'Sales executive' includes Marketing, Sales, Production and delivery, Commercial transaction, and After sales services.

They investigate and understand the 4 rules of value chain ( at least).

Rule 1: Upstream function impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of the downstream function in the value chain.

For instance, if the Business Analyst is good in listing down all the requirements of a customer, it will increase an efficiency of the programmer. In software, for instance, although business analyst's task may be a very very small fraction of the total output, it is very critical in determining the quality of the total output of the team. If the customer requirements are not understood well by business analyst, the final program will not satisfy the customer irrespective of the quantity and quality of work the programmer. In such a scenario, a programmer has to take extra care before he starts writing his program. In other words, programmer's job  alone ( program) does not determine the quality of final satisfaction of the customer.

Rule 2: Allocation of resources within the functions impacts the results of 'total' work.

If more budget and time, for instance, is spent on 'business analysis', the programmer gets better results in programming, because upstream quality is improved. On the other hand, even if high quality programmers are put in the team, results will improve marginally. Distribution of resources between the functions is a decision that is taken outside the team. If , for instance, your company is more keen on 'selling' and bagging new customer without understanding the business requirements, which often happens, it will directly hamper results of a programmer. 

Rule 3:  Environment-facing functions in the value chain often get incomplete 'information' to produce desired results.

Sales or Marketing function face this difficulty. Staff in these functions often have to spend lot of time in 'sifting' data from the huge pile of data. I had coached a MBA executive working in a new bank. The bank had set up a 'Loan selling' department to increase its 'loan basket'. While the bank was trying to improve its results, executives in loan-selling department could not produce 'desired results' because the ' the company' mistakenly was trying to solve a wrong problem.    

Rule 4: Power structure of the different functions in the value chain impacts a professional's results.

If , for instance, 'testing' function is the 'blue-eyed' function in a software  company, a programmer will struggle to make the company listen to his suggestions. On the other hand, if 'design' is a blue eyed function, a programmer will find it very difficult to 'point out errors' in the design, even if has detected them.

Step 2: Understand the nature of team that is involved in the various stages of value chain 

In the entire value chain, many team members are working. So they investigate the nature of the team and how it functions: who automatically help each other, who help in specific situations, whose help is more critical, and how to ask for their help.

Understand the 'proximity' of team members involved

In the programming team, the team generally sits together in one location. However, as companies try to reduce cost, on-shore and off shore teams sit at different locations. In sales case, the team is sitting at different places, not at one place.

As a rule, when the team members sit at different locations, you will have to spend much more time and effort to gain 'trust' with them. And that will reduce your options in producing your desired results in a job.

Understand the nature of resource dedication in the team

Sometime the team members are dedicated to your value-chain. That helps. Because all team members are working together to produce the 'final result', it is more easy to get cooperation from them.

On the other hand, for making it cost-effective, some team members work in multiple teams. For instance, if you are working in sales, marketing team often works for multiple products and geographies. In such situations, the team members have different 'interest' in producing results in your value chain. This will make it difficult for you to convince them in 'helping you'.

Step 3: Understand the task-interdependency of the team members 

Sometimes the tasks of team members are tightly woven. The interdependency is high. In such situations, the coordination required is very high. Further, when the interdependency is high, it is difficult to spot errors and even to correct them.

This is playing cricket versus playing football. Cricket game has less inter-dependency, while football game has very high. That is why, when something goes wrong in cricket, it is easy to correct. For instance, if you fail as a batsman, it is your failure. But in football, it is very difficult to spot the error. If you are an attacker, did you not score the goal, because you received a wrong ball pass, or was it because you failed to respond to the pass at the right time?

The same is true in corporate teams. When task-interdependency is less, the task boundaries between team members are distinct. I can 'evaluate' if you have done the task well before I take it over from you. For instance, in jobs like programming, it is easier to spot a mistake (and their causes), because the task interdependency between members is less. The task boundaries are distinct. If i am a programmer, I can see the 'Business Analysis' requirement document and evaluate if he has done his 'part' of the overall task.

But if you are in sales job, and not meeting your targets, it is very difficult to diagnose the cause because sales job has much more fluid boundary. Did your sales decrease because the product development function designed a poor product/ Or did it decrease because the policies set by marketing function were inappropriate? It is very difficult to 'identify the cause' and do the correction in one's activities where task boundaries are fluid.

Coordinating not only means cooperating with others to produce better output but also pointing out errors that are hindering the team output. Because value chain is producing the final output, coordinating is more important than focusing on individual contribution in a company, or in playing a sport. And between cooperating and conflict resolution, professionals find it very difficult to resolve conflicts. Cooperating is easier than sitting and identifying the conflicts.

For instance, if a programmer recognises the mistakes of the work done by upstream member (like Business analyst or Designer), he must have the ability to communicate it to the Business Analyst without blaming them. He must also bring it to the notice of all, without sounding like a whistle-blower, and even help correct it.  That is why, in jobs with fluid boundaries like sales, it is important to gain the right reputation within your team and align with your team boss.  

Summary

As you would have observed from the above, by undertaking these 3 steps, Achievers generate many more options in their job. More importantly, they can sustain their achievement for a longer period. They are not playing to win the next match. They are playing to win many more matches. By increasing their coverage of their 'net', they hope to carry more fish. Simply because they have 'wide-scoped' their vision, they can see more opportunities to improve their results.  

But is this enough? It is not enough to know the options. It is also important to exercise those options. Achievers therefore take another step to cash those options. They track the 'System's readiness'. Only if the system is ready, they exercise those options. If the system is not ready, they wait for the 'system to get ready'. They don't just wait. They actively wait. Let us how they actively wait.

Image courtesy:  Chris Shine and Associates

Saturday, April 18, 2015

C-level executives make the same elementary error as junior executives


I recently read a survey report of C-level executives. The report commented that nearly half of the top executives weren't effective at earning support for their new ideas when they moved into C-suite roles. I was not surprised at the 'system ignorance' of C-level executives, but i got shocked by the % of C-level executives who faced this problem.

If you have learnt systems thinking at a basic level, you will not make this elementary error. When i started coaching, i used to believe that this 'problem' of disregarding system state happens only when junior executives change their 'employers' ( not jobs). But later, i found even senior executives like Vikas suffer from this ignorance of systems state.

What is systems state of readiness ( also called as tipping point) ?

Imagine you are trying to learn swimming at the age of 30. You manage to fire yourself up, meet friends, and finally join a swimming class. Initial learning of swimming with inflatable tube is pleasant, say till Day 5. But as you move ahead, you start drowning.Water flows in your mouth and nose. You still continue to practice every day. And slowly you reach a level where you can 'float' on Day 30. You have reached a 'threshold level of skill', where you can be on your own. After this threshold, difficulties are easier to negotiate. Systems readiness has changed.

Why is it important to understand Systems Readiness state ( the tipping point)? Because it helps you understand what you must do when you are developing a skill like swimming.
  • Before tipping point ( Day 30), you have to find motivation every day to come to the swimming pool, after Day 30 you do not need any motivation. 
  • Before Day 30, mistakes demotivate you. After the system has reached tipping point, you use mistakes to find what is wrong and overcome it. 
  • Before Day 30, every small distraction is an obstruction. For instance, if you do not like another swimmer, who tends to swim better than you, you avoid him. After threshold of tipping point is crossed, you find a way to 'learn' from him. 
  • Before Day 30, if you discontinue swimming even for a day or two, it is difficult to re-start it. After Day-30, you can easily re-start from where you left. 
  • Before Day 30, hard effort produces very little result. After Day 30, small effort produces big result. And on and on. 
Our actions, conclusions, and assumptions change completely as the Systems State (Threshold level) changes. It is therefore important to understand the system and the tipping point where the system state has changed.

How can C-level executives use this 'tipping point' when they transition to their C-level role? 

As C-level executive impacts the policies and methods in an organisation to a wider and deeper extent, he must wait until his reputation has changed in both the systems: One with his 'system owner' and second, with his functioning team.

Notice the tipping point in the alignment with the system owner ( boss and metasystem)

We have seen how important it is to align with the system owner. If a professional is joining another company at a C-level, he will take considerable time to align with the system owner, because he is new.

Only after his alignment has reached the 'threshold', he can take the initiative to make a major impact in the organisation. Even though he may be perceived as competent, he has still not earned the 'trust' and 'credibility' of his boss. If he has changed many jobs before the current job, he may find it even more difficult to earn this 'trust. MBAs, for instance, find it tough to align because of this. On the one hand, they are seen with 'biased lenses' by their colleagues and on the other, they also act as 'star performers' who need no help.

Notice the 'tipping point' in the reputation within his close team

As we have seen in the earlier blog, a C-level executive must earn 4 distinct type of reputations within his team , if he wants to make a difference in an organisation

- reputation of being a trustworthy member ( you can be relied without any doubt), 
- reputation of being credible (what you say is accurate and right ), 
- reputation of being competent ( please remember that being competent and having the reputation of being competent are two different propositions) and 
- reputation of being cooperative (you understand the team protocols and adhere to them).

If a professional is being promoted to C-level in the same company, his reputation with system owner (who is part of metasystem) may be 'high'. But he has to earn the reputation in his new ' working team' to see that his ideas and policies get executed. 

Generally, C-level executive feels that he has no need to earn the reputation of his working team, because he is the boss. But, being a boss, he can demand compliance, not commitment. Even though some 'changes' can be implemented with compliance, in today's knowledge-based organisations, such cases are few. I have observed many well-meaning changes being seriously compromised by the  employees which is uncovered much later after the damage is deep and wide. 

In short, the C-level executive has to notice the tipping point when his reputation has changed for better. 

Not all 4 reputations are required in the same measure. Importance of a reputation depends on the changes one is trying to make. If one is trying to make 'financial policy' changes, the reputation of 'competence' could be more important. If one is trying to 'shake the boat' by re-allocating responsibilities, the reputation of being credible and trustworthy is important.

Deal with problems of past 

Because the changes made by C-level executive have wider and deeper impact, his execution of decisions is impacted by what has happened in the tenure of earlier C-level incumbent. If the track record of his company has been poor in not delivering the 'promises', then he may have to spend lots of time to overcome the huge resistance that is already present in the system. Further, if earlier incumbent has garnered 'ill reputation', he has to make additional efforts.

Summary 

C-level executives face a tougher problem than junior executives when they are changing jobs. But at a system level, both face the same problem. Although he has the power to 'make policies' and take decisions that have wider impact, he is constrained by the system similar to that of a junior executive. He also has to take the same effort in satisfying system owner ( boss and metasystem) as well as earn the reputation within his team to help him implement his ideas and suggestions. Many C-level executives ignore this because they are 'system-blind'.

Image : Courtesy www.dfma.com

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Negotiating corporate system is as difficult as negotiating Government Bureaucratic system

Recently I read an article about an IAS officer of Mr Narayanaswamy on the facebook , who had 'decided' to leave his job for UN posting, because he was not supported by his bosses - both political and bureaucrats. The author of the article asked a question " If honest bureaucrats cannot survive in a system, who will want to do IAS and work for Government?". One reader opined that 'Negotiating Government system is very difficult for normal people'.


However, after coaching for several years, I have met large ( very large) number of corporate professionals who are simply ignorant of the principles of negotiating 'corporate system'. Why? Because the system is invisible. Both corporate and government systems are equally invisible. I have met professionals of the age of 50 who still cannot yet see the invisible 'corporate system'.

We have already seen how the reputation of a person in a system affects his job performance in earlier blog. In this blog we shall see how his 'misalignment' of systems owner affects his job performance.

Align with the ' System owner' who is involved in taking crucial decisions about your future.

In any job of a company, a professional contributes a small 'part' of the total output of the group. Boss on the other hand contributes to the bigger company through the output of entire team. Therefore, it is often the boss who 'determines' how much a professional has contributed. And because this 'evaluation' is done by a person, it is often influenced by subjective elements. No 'objective' method can be designed to evaluate your contribution.That is intrinsic part of any system. Many professionals are very uncomfortable in 'satisfying' the boss. But Boss alone is not alone in the metasystem, Boss's boss also influences boss.

As most of the employees are system-blind, they often miss this task. Many brilliant individuals do their assigned work competently and believe that they have done their duty. When the output is not produced by the team, they blame their boss, claiming that 'he is covering incompetent members in the team'. Some professionals even refuse to do extra work by justifying that ' I am not paid for taking this responsibility'. While some blame boss's dictatorship because 'boss keeps on changing targets all the time'.

On the other hand, a professional who can see the invisible metasystem keeps his ears and eyes open to the system's changing priorities. It may be different than what is 'written' in the job description. If you are a programmer, metasystem may expect you, at some time, to supervise other junior programmers and guide them. Or if you are in sales job, the system owner may expect you to collect the money from existing customers, besides selling them other products, although it is not written in your role description.

Because of this task of negotiating the system owner, you will often observe an interesting paradox in a company. Some employees like Paras, to compensate for their lesser ability, tend to be sensitive to the changing priorities of their boss. Boss therefore perceives them as 'system-friendly' and rewards them liberally. On the other hand, high IQ employees like Mike over-focus on the task-related output ignoring the requirements of the business system, and get penalised by the boss who evaluates them as ' Selfish'. Have you noticed such cases in your company?

What is the difference of system owner in Government and corporate job?

Basically, there are various pros and cons of working in Government versus Corporate job. Job security is high in Government versus Corporate. Public scrutiny is also high in Government job which offers some negotiability to Government officers. On the other hand, there are some 'commonalities' within Government and Corporate jobs.

As the political boss in the Government job can 'demand' impossible things because he is an elected representative, the professional has to be 'smart' enough to 'negotiate' those demands using the framework of Government rules. I have seen many Government offices negotiating these demands smartly. One day I plan to convert these 'tips' into a workshop or seminar for aspiring government officers.

Summary

We must appreciate that Systems produce result, not individuals. Whether it is Government system, or corporate system, the nature of system does not change, although some of the rules can change.

Because systems produce result, boss ( system owner) will always remain a crucial cog that can help or hinder the employee. One cannot avoid this truth. One can only negotiate this reality.

Negotiating corporate system is one of the horse that a professional has to ride to succeed in work-life. A professional also has to ride the other three horses to succeed in work-life.

However, system owner is just part of a metasystem. There are other system owners in a company who can also be utilised. Here are six steps to manage a metasystem.