Sunday, 30 August 2015

Our processes should not be rocket science

Dennis Crommentuijn-Marsh
This morning on BBC Radio 4, RBS boss, Ross McEwan, outlined a 3-tier strategy for getting back in profit after he does his first presentation (on third quarter results) to the city as the boss of RBS.

These are the three points he made, and I quote;

1. Let’s ensure our financial position is rock solid, so nobody worries about our capital
2. Turn this into the most customer focused bank in the UK
3. Let’s get things simple; we are just too complicated for our people and customers to deal with
His reasoning for the 3rd one was: “we do things too complex”
The last one reminded me of a meeting I had with the CEO of a retailer earlier this year.
We buy things and then we sell things, however, when you look at our internal processes, you would think we design and build rocket ships… Please make our processes as simple as possible.
Because they had these complicated processes they were completely internally focused. They had lost sight of their true end-customer and required very complicated internal reporting mechanisms, exception management and lengthy meetings to just keep the work on track.
Thus, after an initial study, PMI worked on the simplification of their internal processes.
Part of that simplification was understanding what has happening today.
What we discovered was amazing.
We found that:
  • Nothing was written down
  • Every single member of staff in that team did it a slightly different way
  • Two departments effectively did the same job, but for two slightly different reasons
  • Their meetings were not formalised, too many people attended that were not required, no agenda, no preparation, absence of meeting management
  • Every single procurement decision went through the same rigorous review process whether it was a single unit or a million units
  • Decision making had to be approved at the highest level within the organisation
  • Things just took a very, very long time, thus their highly motivated staff worked 60 hours per week, which was considered the norm rather than the exception
No wonder they had a few challenges…
When I was writing my thesis for my first degree, I put on the first page a quote I still hold true to this day;
“keep things simple, as simple as possible, no simpler.” A. Einstein.
People forget that to make things really simple is actually hard work, but once you arrive at that point and you have internalised how to make things simple, you can then explain it simply to others, which, in turn, leads to them having a better understanding of how to deal with a certain situation.
The organisation has now implemented the simplifications and, using PDSA, I am looking forward to studying whether the change has been an improvement.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Lately, we’ve received a raft of questions on how to use new technologies to make the organization more appealing to a “younger generation” of workers. The implication is that the current workforce – today consisting largely of traditionalists and boomers – is satisfied with the mind-numbing and hard-to-use applications that have been thrust upon them over the years.
Speaking as one of “them” I can verify that the desire for technologies that are natural, helpful, and universal applies to me, too. The rising tide of expectations – that the applications we use at work will be as simple and intuitive as those we use for our personal business activities – appeals to employees of all ages. What’s more, I’m excited about the prospect of having help from smart machines so I can more easily find relevant people and information and ignore the stuff that doesn’t matter. Even better if my virtual assistant colleague can watch how I work and proactively determine what is useful for me based on my actions. That’s helpful.
Natural technologies will understand me, instead of me needing to figure out how an app work before I can get value from it. Apps that talk and can interpret voice commands are not so novel anymore. Where the real advances will come from are apps that can listen, interpret and learn. They will have to be able to understand non-verbal communication, too. Gestures and body language, for example. Instead of people interfacing with computers, the computers will interface with people.
These technologies will also need to be universal and ambient – there all the time but not so invasive that I feel like my privacy is violated. That’s a tricky sea to navigate since privacy is such a personal thing. I have a Fitbit that I credit for keeping me on the go but I’m not ready to share my stats with the rest of the company just quite yet.
There are hints that this vision is already unfolding. I will be satisfying when more capability is commonplace. It will be nice to have technologies that make me more effective at the most important work I do rather than just hanging around the edges of utility.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Time For A Mid-year Review – How Well Have You Addressed The Impact of Digital Technologies?

It is almost the end of June and time for leaders at technology and service providers to take stock of the first 6 months, see what worked and plan any adjustments for the remainder of the year. I wanted to add a few questions to help you evaluate how you have addressed the impact of digital business and technologies. A wave of these technologies call into question industry boundaries, their products or substitutes, the competitors and their business models. Hence we need to review this broadly beyond tactical measures. While companies attempt to make goals tangible, measurable and ones that could be cascaded to teams, it is important to assess how well you are preparing for the long-term.
  1. Markets – Has your definition of the markets you serve improved to address fluidity across industries? If the industry you serve experiences entrants from other industries or start-ups, what is your strategy for this transforming market? Alternatively, if the industry you serve is expanding beyond its boundaries, have you decided if this creates market opportunities and how to address it?
  2. Customers – What have you done to improve your relationship with non-IT buyers? If you plan to serve new entrants to the industries you serve, do you have a clearer image today of their needs, priorities and constraints?
  3. Products – Do you have a better idea on how digital technologies can affect the products or services of your customers and hence what impact it will have on your offerings and/or operations? Also, do you have a better picture of new substitute products that you might have to compete with?
  4. People – How much of the above has led to preparing and equipping your people? Do you have a better idea of what your remaining gaps in skills and capabilities are and are you working actively enough to address them?
These 4 questions are broad and quick, but more than a static check. The idea is to help you think more along those dimensions that could lead you to add activities to your plans. Can you share how you incorporate such planning for the future in your goals and reviews, especially when future, by definition, is not known? What are some ways that have worked well?

2 tips for developing good management skills | London Business School

Friday, 28 August 2015

Ethics Feeds Innovation

Ethics brings to mind dusty volumes of impenetrable text, heated arguments that go nowhere, and an overbearing concern with political correctness. But my thirty years as an ethics consultant has taught me something different. Ethics is really about releasing the forces of innovation in an organization. The reason for this is simple. To have ethics in an organization is to have ways in which employees can jump the line of command without fear of reprisal. And this same jump-the-line-of-command philosophy can make innovation a powerful organizational force.
I think everyone wonders how General Motors came to sell thousands of cars that had a known (to GM), life-threatening ignition switch problem. When you think about things this way, you are really thinking of GM as if it were a single person of a single mind. That is not how these things happen. What happens is that individuals, perhaps many individuals, in the organization know something is wrong and let their supervisors know about it.  But their supervisors, often fearing blame for the error, don't act. They may even retaliate against the reporting employee for "making trouble."  And even if the immediate supervisor raises the concern to his/her own supervisor, the chances of the concern reaching a high enough organizational level are slim.
This is a familiar problem in ethics. Most of the wrong-doing in which organizations engage is known to be wrong by a number of employees. But the information does not get where it needs to go, to the top of the organization or even to its board, because employees fear reporting the wrong-doing up the chain of command. Employees especially fear reprisals if they go over their supervisor's head. This is often a reasonable fear. The net result is that the organization itself is not aware of its own wrong-doing until someone outside makes an issue of it. As GM knows, this is a painful way to learn about your misdeeds.
In both ethics and innovation, the line of command is the enemy. There is always  talk about overcoming the line of command, managing the organization from the bottom up, and even eliminating management. It is just a lot of talk. The line of command is the most enduring feature of organizations, from the Catholic Church to Apple. Some CEOs have pledged to banish management. But these CEOs do not plan to cede their own positions. And having employees report to committees is hardly a recipe for innovation. So while the line of command is the enemy of ethics and innovation, don't expect it to go away.
In ethics, we use various techniques to overcome line-of-command blindness. For example, the ethics hotline is a familiar feature of organizations today. This is a toll free number that employees can call on an anonymous basis with ethics questions and concerns. The hotline only works if it is backed by a firmly enforced policy that prohibits retaliation against reporting employees. Additionally, managers are required to periodically attest as to whether or not they are aware of any acts of corporate wrong doing. This forces managers to own up to ethical issues or face the consequences of a false attestation. This system is hardly perfect but it does short circuit the line of command when it comes to ethics.
A funny thing happens in organizations with effective ethics reporting systems. Employees begin to "abuse" the ethics reporting process by suggesting all sorts improvements to processes, practices and even products and services. Once they are released from the restrictions imposed by the line of command, good ideas begin to flow. It is too bad that these ideas are often ignored as not relevant to ethics.
This tells us something we already know and something we do not already know. We know that the line of command stifles innovation, especially when innovators are caught behind managers who became managers because they themselves were not innovators. What ethics teaches us is that we can short circuit the line of command for special purposes and we can do it effectively. This is what we need to release the forces of innovation - methods of communicating upward in an organization to a resource that is intelligent and open to good ideas. This approach has the great advantage of not requiring what isn't going to happen - ending the line of command.

The Cognitive Computing Era is Here: Are You Ready?

Based on excerpts from the new book Cognitive Computing: A Brief Guide for Game Changers
Artificial Intelligence is likely to change our civilization as much as, or more than, any technology that’s come before, even writing. 
--Miles Brundage and Joanna Bryson, Future Tense
The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.
-- Gartner “The Disruptive Era of Smart Machines is Upon Us.”
Without question, Cognitive Computing is a game-changer for businesses across every industry. 
--Accenture, “Turning Cognitive Computing into Business Value, Today!”
The Cognitive Computing Era will change what it means to be a business as much or more than the introduction of modern Management by Taylor, Sloan and Drucker in the early 20th century. 
--Peter Fingar, Cognitive Computing: A Brief Guide for Game Changers
The era of cognitive systems is dawning and building on today’s computer programming era. All machines, for now, require programming, and by definition programming does not allow for alternate scenarios that have not been programmed. To allow alternating outcomes would require going up a level, creating a self-learning Artificial Intelligence (AI) system. Via biomimicry and neuroscience, Cognitive Computing does this, taking computing concepts to a whole new level. Once-futuristic capabilities are becoming mainstream. Let’s take a peek at the three eras of computing.
Three Eras

Fast forward to 2011 when IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy! Google recently made a $500 million acquisition of DeepMind. Facebook recently hired NYU professor Yann LeCun, a respected pioneer in AI. Microsoft has more than 65 PhD-level researchers working on deep learning. China’s Baidu search company hired Stanford University’s AI Professor Andrew Ng. All this has a lot of people talking about deep learning. While artificial intelligence has been around for years (John McCarthy coined the term in 1955), “deep learning” is now considered cutting-edge AI that represents an evolution over primitive neural networks.
Taking a step back to set the foundation for this discussion, let me review a few of these terms. As human beings, we have complex neural networks in our brains that allow most of us to master rudimentary language and motor skills within the first 24 months of our lives with only minimal guidance from our caregivers. Our senses provide the data to our brains that allows this learning to take place. As we become adults, our learning capacity grows while the speed at which we learn decreases. We have learned to adapt to this limitation by creating assistive machines. For over 100 years machines have been programmed with instructions for tabulating and calculating to assist us with better speed and accuracy. Today, machines can be taught to learn much faster than humans, such as in the field of machine learning, that can learn from data (much like we humans do). This learning takes place in Artificial Neural Networks that are designed based on studies of the human neurological and sensory systems. Artificial neural nets make computations based on inputted data, then adapt and learn. In machine learning research, when high-level data abstraction meets non-linear processes it is said to be engaged in deep learning, the prime directive of current advances in AI. Cognitive computing, or self-learning AI, combines the best of human and machine learning and essentially augments us.
When we associate names with current computer technology, no doubt “Steve Jobs” or “Bill Gates” come to mind. But the new name will likely be a guy from the University of Toronto, the hotbed of deep learning scientists. Meet Geoffrey Everest Hinton, great-great-grandson of George Boole, the guy who gave us the mathematics that underpin computers.
Hinton is a British-born computer scientist and psychologist, most noted for his work on artificial neural networks. He is now working for Google part time, joining AI pioneer and futurist Ray Kurzweil, and Andrew Ng, the Stanford University professor who set up Google’s neural network team in 2011. He is the co-inventor of the back propagation, the Boltzmann machine, and contrastive divergence training algorithms and is an important figure in the deep learning movement. Hinton’s research has implications for areas such as speech recognition, computer vision and language understanding. Unlike past neural networks, newer ones can have many layers and are called “deep neural networks.”
As reported in Wired magazine, “In Hinton’s world, a neural network is essentially software that operates at multiple levels. He and his cohorts build artificial neurons from interconnected layers of software modeled after the columns of neurons you find in the brain’s cortex—the part of the brain that deals with complex tasks like vision and language.
“These artificial neural nets can gather information, and they can react to it. They can build up an understanding of what something looks or sounds like. They’re getting better at determining what a group of words mean when you put them together. And they can do all that without asking a human to provide labels for objects and ideas and words, as is often the case with traditional machine learning tools.
“As far as artificial intelligence goes, these neural nets are fast, nimble, and efficient. They scale extremely well across a growing number of machines, able to tackle more and more complex tasks as time goes on. And they’re about 30 years in the making.”

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What Do William Shatner, Conan O’Brien and Process Improvement have in Common?

How simple stories can teach profound lessons about continuous improvement
Want to make process improvement change stick? PEX Network advisor Michael Marx describes how to use the power of story telling to teach continuous improvement principles to others.
Children love stories. Bedtime in my home is a flurry of bathing and pajama finding, teeth brushing and tears…then comes storytime. Stories are magical. They soothe the temperamental and inspire the dreamer. Not surprisingly, not only do children love stories, adults do too.
Stories have been used throughout human history to entertain, engage, and educate people of all ages. Fables, parables, myths, legends, epics, tragedies, and comedies. Many styles and forms all with a common thread: convey ideas.
According to Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Made to Stick, storytelling is one of the six attributes of making an idea stick. “Sticky” ideas are those that people understand, remember, and that have the power to change opinion or behavior. Isn’t that the goal of the continuous improvement practitioner? To communicate improvement ideas that are easily understood, remembered, and act as a catalyst for behavior change. Here is one way to make continuous improvement ideas stick: Tell stories. 
The classic Ten Commandments of Continuous Improvement lend themselves quite well to telling tales from business, pop culture, and day-to-day life. Here are two that I use to illustrate different continuous improvement principles.
“Problems are opportunities in disguise” – the Conan O’Brien Story
Once upon a time there was a wild red haired, tap dancing, kooky kid named Conan. He liked to tell jokes. Little Conan spent his entire life preparing himself for his dream job: hosting the Tonight Show (a wildly popular late-night talk show). And do you know what? He got it. He loved it. But less than 8 months later, he lost it all 
Little Conan wasn’t so little anymore, and he had a big problem. What did he do? He lived out the principle of continuous improvement: “Problems are opportunities in disguise.” He turned this career ending development into a huge opportunity. “How did he do it?” you may ask. He grew an ugly beard, started tweeting, played guitar, wore a skin tight blue leather suit, and went on tour (among many other random things). He was signed later that same year to host his own show on the television network TBS.
To what did he attribute this turnaround? In June of 2011, Conan O’Brien addressed the graduating class at Dartmouth, “It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention.” Conan has arguably achieved more success in his new career than had he stayed the course and filled Carson’s and Leno’s shoes. 
As continuous improvement practitioners we teach others to do the same with their business problems. Turn those sour lemons into sweet lemonade. There was once a hotel chain that set out to remove all the lemons their customers were finding with a brand new Six Sigma initiative. Their goal was to give their patrons a defect-free stay. That sounds like a great plan, right? Well, do you know what happened when they started chopping down lemon trees in the customer experience? Their customers weren’t quite as happy with a hassle-free stay as they were when they had minor hassles! This may sound counterintuitive but customers who experienced a problem that was swiftly remedied were more likely to recommend the hotel than those customers who did not experience any problems at all. The hotel had turned  problems into opportunities to go the extra mile and delight their customers. (For more on this story see this article.)
“Say yes we can if…not, no we can’t, because…” – the story of William Shatner’s success
It is important to know your audience when selecting stories to tell. I started teaching continuous improvement awareness to groups of call center technical service agents recently. Stories from the life of John Wooden and Zappos can set the stage teaching what continuous improvement is (sports and shoe shopping are fodder for all) but when teaching tech agents it doesn't hurt to bring up a legendary sci-fi captain or two.
I like to tell a story from the life of William Shatner. (For those of you who do not know who William Shatner is, pat yourselves on the back for not being a sci-fi geek.). No, I do not compare and contrast between the leadership lessons  of Captain Kirk vs. Captain Picard…(although that one is a good one in its own space and time). I let William Shatner set the stage for the principle, “Say yes we can if…not, no we can’t, because…”
Bill has learned one thing in life, and that is to say “yes.” As continuous improvement practitioners we advocate to say “yes,” too. Back in 1968, Bill said “yes” to making an experimental album called theTransformed Man (this is where he introduced his infamous speak-sing style singing). Many ridiculed the work.
A young boy named Ben, saw the album and said, “That’s Captain Kirk! I’ve got to buy this!” That boy grew up to be Ben Folds, of Ben Fold Five fame. Ben really enjoyed the work of William Shatner and said “yes” to collaborating with him on several musical endeavors over the years, including the Priceline commercial Bust a Move. (Bill speak-sings while Ben rocks the cowbell in the background.)
David Kelley, producer of The Practice, saw Bill in that Priceline commercial and exclaimed, “That’s Denny Crane!” Bill was then cast in the final season of The Practice which spun off into Boston Legal. Two Emmy’s later, as well as a Broadway show (where Bill once again performs in his signature style), William Shatner attributes his success in life to saying “yes.” From the Transformed Man to Broadway, Bill says, “No closes doors. Yes kicks them wide open.”
Stories such as these have a tremendous impact when teaching continuous improvement awareness to those just beginning their improvement journey. Awareness training is fertile ground for teaching through story.
Simple stories can teach profound lessons if we ground the ideas we are teaching in a real world example that everyone can understand. I then like to bring in a business story followed by a discussion among the students, exploring their own personal stories related to the principles you teach. Whether you’re teaching them to ask why, use creativity over capital, or attack process not people, pulling stories from everyday life will personally connect the students to the principles you teach. Let Abraham Lincoln, MacGyver, and In-n-Out do the talking. Exploring the world of process improvement through stories makes them stick in the hearts and minds of learners.
Even as the teacher, I learn through the stories my students tell. After a full day on the job teaching and inspiring others to continually strive for improvement, when I come home and tuck my kids in bed they want to hear new “work stories.” Stories stick, just ask my kids

Maintaining The Competitive Advantage [Warren Buffett]

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies

Managers want employees to put in long days, respond to their emails at all hours, and willingly donate their off-hours — nights, weekends, vacation — without complaining. The underlings in this equation have little control; overwork cascades from the top of the organizational pyramid to the bottom. At least, that’s one narrative of overwork. In this version, we work long hours because our bosses tell us to. (That’s the version most on display in the recent New York Times opus on Amazon.)
But there are other explanations out there. There’s another that says all of us, including senior managers, are basically flotsam buffeted about by the eddies of economic incentive, corporate culture, and technologies that keep the office just a tap away. In this version, there’s no one really dictating the norms; we’re all just reacting to macro forces beyond our control.
Then there’s the version that looks at our psychology. In this one, we log too many hours because of a mix of inner drivers, like ambition, machismo, greed, anxiety, guilt, enjoyment, pride, the pull of short-term rewards, a desire to prove we’re important, or an overdeveloped sense of duty. Some of these are negative (see: guilt, anxiety) but many are positive. In fact, multiple researchers have actually found thatwork is less stressful than our home lives. For some, work can be a haven, a place to feel confident and in control.
Basically, if you think of the story of overwork as Moby-Dick, the first explanation focuses on Ahab and the Pequod; the second on the ocean itself; and the last on the whale. And although looking at the story from all of those different perspectives is certainly more illuminating than choosing only one, it won’t tell you whether Moby-Dick is a good book or just a 700-page doorstop.
So the bigger question we have to ask ourselves about overwork is not just, “Who’s to blame?” but a more basic one: “Does it work?” Is overwork actually doing what we assume it does — resulting in more and better output? Are we actually getting more done?
There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us. For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output. In a study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. While managers did penalize employees who were transparent about working less, Reid was not able to find any evidence that those employees actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more.
Considerable evidence shows that overwork is not just neutral — it hurts us and the companies we work for. Numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her colleagues (as well as other studies) have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. Of course, those are bad on their own. But they’re also terrible for a company’s bottom line, showing up as absenteeism, turnover, and rising health insurance costs. Even the Scroogiest of employers, who cared nothing for his employees’ well-being, should find strong evidence here that there are real, balance-sheet costs incurred when employees log crazy hours.
If your job relies on interpersonal communication, making judgment calls, reading other people’s faces, or managing your own emotional reactions — pretty much all things that the modern office requires — I have more bad news. Researchers have found that overwork (and its accompanying stress and exhaustion) can make all of these things more difficult.
Even if you enjoy your job and work long hours voluntarily, you’re simply more likely to make mistakes when you’re tired — and most of us tire more easily than we think we do. Only 1-3% of the population can sleep five or six hours a night without suffering some performance drop-off. Moreover, for every 100 people who think they’re a member of this sleepless elite, only five actually are. The research on the performance-destroying effects of sleeplessness alone should make everyone see the folly of the all-nighter.
Work too hard and you also lose sight of the bigger picture. Research has suggested that as we burn out, we have a greater tendency to get lost in the weeds.
In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.
This is something business first learned a long time ago. In the 19th century, when organized labor first compelled factory owners to limit workdays to 10 (and then eight) hours, management was surprised to discover that output actually increased – and that expensive mistakes and accidents decreased. This is an experiment that Harvard Business School’s Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter repeated over a century later with knowledge workers. It still held true. Predictable, required time off (like nights and weekends) actually made teams of consultants more productive.
Now, this is not to say we can never pull a long day. We just can’t do it routinely. Most of the research I’ve seen suggests that people can put in a week or two of 60 hours to resolve a true crisis. But that’s different from chronic overwork.
So why do we keep doing it? Why can’t we put the book down?
It could be ignorance. Maybe most people just don’t know how bad overwork is, objectively speaking.
It could be skepticism. Maybe they’ve seen the research, but just don’t buy it (or choose to act on it).
Or it could be something stronger. Maybe when you combine economic incentives, authority figures, and deep-seated psychological needs, you produce a cocktail that is simply too intoxicating to overcome.

Leadership and Compassion - A Powerful Combination

Compassion is a fundamental pillar for highly effective leadership, however, it may not always enjoy the level of importance it deserves! Let's explore some basics and the related implications...
What is compassion in practical terms?
I found an appealing explanation of the term compassion at the "Greater Good" website and they state it as the following:
"Compassion literally means "to suffer together." Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn't always motivated by compassion.
While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the "bonding hormone" oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people."
Another interpretation of compassion I like comes from a distinguished Tibetan scholar Thupten Jinpa who has a long standing collaboration with the Dalai Lama. Jinpa describes compassion as follows: "Compassion is a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved."
He points out compassion as having three elements:
  1. cognitive component: "I understand you"
  2. An affective component: "I feel for you"
  3. motivational component: "I want to help you"
How does this relate to leadership?
To begin with, a persuasive contribution of compassion in an organizational environment is that it creates high leadership effectiveness. Highly effective leaders have managed a crucial transformation which Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, defined as shifting from "I to We". Embracing this transition is a key element for leaders in becoming truly authentic.
Uncompromising authenticity is a basic requirement for leaders to enable them to unleash the power of their organizations and create an environment where people can find the motivation to reach their full potential. When associates are merely following the leader their efforts are limited to the leaders vision, guidelines and instructions. Another important task of leadership is the development of leaders which requires from the leader to avoid the focus on personal ego needs. In reality the emphasis must not be on the leader but always on those being lead.
Practicing compassion actually results into shifting the focus from self to others, hence compassion is about going from "I" to "We." If we accept the fact that transitioning from "I" to "We" is possibly the most important process of becoming an authentic leader, those who already practice compassion will know how and appreciate the confound impact on their leadership effectiveness.
Jim Collins identified in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't the fundamental connection between compassion and effective leadership very eloquently. Collins attempted to identify what makes companies and organizations move from good to great. He and his team analyzed a great amount of data going through a set of information of every company that has appeared on Fortune 500 between 1965 and 1995. They recognized companies that started out as "good" organizations which ultimately became "great" companies (by their definition as outperforming the general market by a factor of three or more) for an extended period of fifteen years or more. That way short-term successes were excluded from the analysis. The process lead them to a group of eleven "good to great" companies which they compared to a set of "comparison companies" to identify what helped the good companies become great ones.
The initial and possibly most important finding turned out to be the role of leadership. It requires a very special type of leader to transform a company from being good to being great and Collins named them "Level 5" leaders. These are leaders who, aside of being very capable in many aspects, also demonstrate an unusual combination of two important and seemingly contradictory qualities of "great ambition" and "personal humility". These leaders, while highly ambitious, focus their ambition not necessarily on themselves but are ambitious for the greater good of the organization as a whole. As their attention is focused on the greater good of the company the natural tendency to highlight their own egos eliminates itself which makes them highly effective, authentic and inspiring.
While Collins's book persuasively validates the importance of Level 5 leaders, it does not offer insight into a structure of developing them. However, it can be deducted with certainty that compassion plays an essential role in being a Level 5 leader.
Considering the two distinguishing qualities of Level 5 leaders, ambition and personal humility, in the context of the three earlier indicated components of compassion, cognitive, affective and motivational, one can conclude that the cognitive and affective components of compassion representing understanding people and empathizing with them minimize self-centeredness, consequently establishing the conditions for humility. The motivational component of compassion of wanting to help people generates ambition for others or the greater good. Maybe, those three components of compassion can be effectively utilized in developing these two distinguishing qualities of Level 5 leadership.
It might be very rewarding to consider the important contribution of compassion towards leadership excellence - it is a very potent and powerful combination!
Manfred Gollent, Business Coach, QLI International -; phone: (864)245-2324; E-mail: Manfred Gollent is an Improvement Architect and Change Agent helping clients ranging from individual professionals to Fortune 500 organizations to improve results, expand their potential and reach their goals more consistently. Manfred has 30 years of international Fortune 500 company experience where he has lead corporations as a turn-around executive in Europe, USA and Asia. Now, Manfred is consulting to principals of companies of different sizes as well as individuals in entrepreneurial roles with a focus on strategy, efficiency management, as well as people development in the areas of leadership, sales, time strategies and customer loyalty. In addition to his engagement with organizations and open enrollment workshops, he is coaching individuals to help them maximize their potential and achieve their goals more consistently.

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The digital effect on the BPM lifecycle

Business process management (BPM) in the digital age is a whole new deal.Not sure if this is just more techno-geek industry hype (TGIH) or an important reality to be embraced and reckoned with? Actually, it's a hefty measure of both.
With that briefest of descriptions of digital business, I will now, rephrase my opening statement as a question: Is business process management in the digital age a whole new deal? For the next 1,000 words or so I will make a provocative point: the "whole new deal" is really about moving from traditional to digital business and operating models. While the subject matter (the digital business processes) is changing radically, the fundamentals of good business process management remain, by comparison, relatively unchanged. No one with a pulse would deny the fact that business as we have known it in our lifetime, or even within the last 10 to 15 years, has undergone radical change. Social media is no longer something that teenage kids obsess about instead of doing their homework. In a recent report published by theSocial Media Examiner, 97% of marketers surveyed said they use social media in their business and 92% affirmed that it was important to their business. Mobility is clearly ubiquitous -- very few of us would argue with the premise that doing business without a smartphone, tablet and/or laptop would be unimaginable. Analytics are just about everywhere and, where they are not yet present, the Internet of Things will ensure that your toaster remembers precisely how you like your bagel done and how firm you like your mattress. Then there is cloud -- the fabric of silicon life forms that brings all of this good stuff together in a context generally referred to as digital business.
Business process management lifecycle
According to Gartner, "Business process management (BPM) is the discipline of managing processes (rather than tasks) as the means for improving business performance outcomes and operational agility. Processes span organizational boundaries, linking together people, information flows, systems and other assets to create and deliver value to customers and constituents."
Here is a typical BPM lifecycle diagramBPM Life Cycle diagram
Note that whether we talk about an enterprise, a department or an individual process, a product or a service, the automotive sector or healthcare, the fundamental stages of the BPM lifecycle endure.  I am quite confident that the operations researchers who designed BPM had that level of applicability and persistence in mind when the discipline was created and introduced.
In fairness to those readers who may take exception to what may seem to them to be a gross over-simplification of the subject in question, the digital era has certainly had meaningful impact upon BPM in many important ways, for example:
  • Cloud availability and pricing models for BPM suites that make the technologies available to a much broader marketplace
  • Visual design and collaboration tools, including integration with familiar end-user applications, e.g. Sharepoint, Visual Studio, etc.
  • Separation of business rules from process logic flow, greatly simplifying changes when the business needs to change
  • Event reporting, to notify administrators of critical event incidents in ways that streamline and simplify process monitoring and optimization
  • Content Management, including support for unstructured data and rich media (video, audio), additional document types, e.g. project, and case management, etc.
  • Social media integration, as above
  • Easier integration with other third party software through standard APIs, middleware, etc.
Mea culpa if I have omitted anything significant from this list. That said, as impressive as the list is, many if not all of these advances within BPM's underlying technologies can be considered incremental improvements. The "whole new deal" as they say (whomever they are) can more readily be seen in the evolution towards digital business and in the underlying assets and processes that the BPM lifecycle manages.
Digital business imperatives
In contrast to the changes described above, the shift from traditional to digital business goes well beyond incremental improvement. In metaphorical terms, moving from the railroad to the automobile would be incremental change; the transition from traditional to digital business would be more like moving from the automobile to the space shuttle, i.e. whole new game, new players, new rules, new stakeholders, and importantly, new risks and new rewards. The major characteristics of this shift include:
  • Business focus, which is now much more external, e.g. on customers and partners, compared with traditional models which focus much more on internal operationally oriented business drivers, e.g. products and services.
  • Organizational structure, which is now much more based upon collaboration across communities of interest (which often include customers and partners), compared with more traditional hierarchical organizational structures built around governance models based upon command and control.
  • Supply chain management, which now concentrates on the just-in-time availability of commoditized resources that allow the enterprise to increase its focus on its core competencies and competitive differentiators, compared with more traditional "customer-to-cash" supply chain ownership and management hierarchies.
  • Self-service, which now allows customers and partners to perform many functions in a connected self-directed manner from inquiry, to purchase, to on-going relationship/account maintenance compared to handling customer and partner interactions through more traditional brick-and-mortar stores and/or back office operations centers.
  • Balance of power, which now places customers and partners in a much more empowered context by enabling them to become much more educated consumers during the purchasing stage. These customers and partners also have a voice that can be heard across social media as they describe their experiences with companies and products to potentially millions of interested parties around the world simultaneously. More traditional models typically empowered enterprises and sales people as the main source of product information (for better or for worse) in a world where individual customers could make only minor impact upon a company's brand or reputation.
  • Information technology focus, which now concentrates on usability, intuitiveness, simplicity and product/service integration (service brokerage), compared with more traditional models focused upon large development efforts, and product/service features, functions and architectures.
Mea culpa once again if I have omitted your favorite digital business imperative from the list; however, I think that the point is sufficiently made. This is definitely not your father's Oldsmobile. The shift from traditional to digital business models changes everything -- from how enterprises are organized, to what products and services they deliver, to how they make money and manage risk, and, importantly, to whom has the power. Needless to say we are certainly going to need and make very good use of all those digitally-enabled BPM tools to reimagine, reinvent and continue to manage and refine the business processes required by these digital businesses and whatever may come next.

Digital business CIO imperatives
While the subject matter (the digital business processes) is changing radically, the fundamentals of good business process management remain, by comparison, relatively unchanged.
It is a marvelous instantiation of the chicken and the egg: does the business enable the technology or does the technology enable the business? I will, for now, be comfortable with the simple answer: YES. Let the philosophers amongst us continue to impress their cocktail party friends with the more verbose answers and profound wisdom that can only be found in the third glass of wine. In the meantime, here are a few things that digital business CIOs should be thinking about.
  • Create and foster a shared vision.  If your enterprise has not already created a shared vision around evolving into a digital business organization and culture, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership abilities by initiating and nurturing the conversation. Once created, the vision should be widely and frequently communicated and reinforced with the enactment of each major digital initiative.
  • Adapt your organization.  If you have not already done so, ensure that you have the right skills within your organization to support the technologies required by the digital business.  Social, mobile, analytics and cloud skills are a good start.  Ensure that you also have people in your organization that can work in relatively unstructured environments and still produce results both as individuals and as team members.  If your organization has many layers of hierarchical reporting, seriously consider creating a much more flat structure.
  • Adapt your management and decision making style.  If you have not already done so, consider empowering a wider base of your community (including stakeholders) to share in more collaborative decision-making activities.  Augment the traditional hierarchical command and control style of management with more bottom-up communication, conversation and direction setting, consistent with a flatter organization structure.
  • Become a convener.  If you have not already done so, enhance your leadership abilities and style to include the skills of a convener -- the organizational equivalent of the technology service broker role.  Bring the right people from inside and outside the organization together in the right place at the right time for the right discussion and good things happen.
  • Instill core values.  If you haven't already done so, ensure that the core values of your organization are well defined and frequently articulated. Include trust and respect for all as top cultural priorities and ensure that end-users and partners are a key component of the definition of "all".

Understanding DevOps

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Risks and Rewards of Brand Personification Using Social Media

Social media can increase customer interest in your brand — if used wisely.

In this era of economic uncertainty, buyer apathy and product
businesses need to take a fresh look at how consumers
view the company’s brands and what makes a brand compete better
in the marketplace. For the average company, it is quite hard to
achieve the level of brand differentiation that the recognizable business
icons like Apple and Nike enjoy.
The key problem, according to academic researchers and industry
practitioners, is that many companies have become too disengaged from
their customers by relying on cost-saving, self-service technology
solutions. These tend to dehumanize the customer experience and
distance the firm from its buyers, causing them confusion and
frustration, as happens when a call placed to a company’s toll-free
line is answered by an automated voice offering a relentless sequence
of vague or impersonal options.
Fortunately, technology, often seen as the bane of customer relationship
marketing, may also be its savior. The rapid advent of social media tools
provides a ready mechanism to engage customers, talk to them, soften a
brand’s image, and present a friendly and accessible “face” to the public.
Research shows that when brands are given an emotional identity through
advertising and social media tactics, consumers tend to attribute human
traits to them in a phenomenon known as anthropomorphism. They may
view a given brand rather like a person and describe one as “cool” and
“fun,” another as “kind” and “sensitive,” and yet another as “snobbish”
and “aloof.” Brands that have been anthropomorphized in a positive way
have been empirically found to enjoy more favorable consumer attitudes
and command higher loyalty than those that do not.
Consider the upmarket hospitality chain Kimpton Hotels. To portray a
warm, friendly and empathetic brand image, Kimpton created a social
listening desk, which is a panel of employees whose principal job is
listen to what customers are saying on social media and find novel
ways of attending to their needs. When customers post queries or
comments on these platforms, the desk promptly responds to them
with careful, considerate actions. Recently, when one guest tweeted
that she was enjoying the Kimpton experience but was feeling under
the weather, the desk routed the tweet immediately to the hotel’s local
team. They in turn delivered a bowl of soup, warm tea and a get-well
card to her r
Yet when it comes to brand anthropomorphism, some inadvertent and
negative consequences are possible. An organization that conducts its
business in a highly methodical and clinical manner can develop a brand
image of being cold, impersonal or even ruthless. Another brand’s
personality may be stodgy, boring and colorless, as the company may
not have made the necessary investment in its marketing communications
and customer engagement practices. The negative brand connotations
may persist and actually accumulate over time, which then creates a
tactical opportunity for competitors. The company’s management may
be oblivious to these problems until it’s too late.
Firms can improve their brand perceptions and engage customers on
social media by making a personal connection with them through upbeat,
light-hearted posts, direct replies and witty remarks. Taco Bell once
seemed a faceless, even dour brand, but now it is perceived as positively
cool on social media and has garnered a large, youthful following. It
projects a carefree, fun personality by using short, funny tweets and
doesn’t shy away from engaging in friendly banter with followers.
Similarly, Lush, the U.K.-based cosmetics company, uses an informal
tone on all its social media pages, where it’s made clear that each
customer’s feedback is valued and appreciated. That helps foster the
“neighborhood feel” that Lush is known for and creates a strong sense
of community.
The tactic of culture-jacking (also, newsjacking) can be employed to
personify a brand as current, topical and in tune with the times.
executed seamlessly, as Oreo did during the power outage on the
2013 Super Bowl
, a company may connect its brand with the trending
topic of the day, appear clever and witty, and have the message become
viral. But it can also backfire quite easily and bring unwanted negative
attention toward the brand. This is what happened when
 Gap sought to
drive traffic to its website through an indiscreet tweet during Hurricane
. Clearly, tactics such as these are potentially risky and need to
be conducted with extreme caution and sensitivity.
How do you avoid the risks and capture the opportunities from brand
personification? Here are three key considerations:
  1. Use social media to articulate your brand’s personality and core values
    (its DNA), which are often most effective in influencing prospective
    customers and converting them from casual to loyal buyers.
  2. Create attention-grabbing content using visuals, wit and humor
    engage brand followers, but be careful about treading the boundary
    between what seems clever and funny and what can be deemed as
    controversial and insensitive.
  3. Understand that even on social media, less is more. Too much content
    and too-frequent updating can be off-putting and devolve into noise,
    so it is best to strike a balance and develop a positive and engaging
    image for the brand.