18 June 2006

The Implementation Question

An appointment with the Director of Finance to document his responsibilities, daily tasks, objectives, and purpose of his job for the value he creates for his company. He started talking with preconceived notions of "nothing will ever work here because everything in the past has just gotten filed away" and "what will all this accomplish for me personally?". Very genuine questions from an individual who's worked in the same company for 30 years.

So what is the answer to the million dollar question of how best to implement a new system? Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1.Each individual's support is essential, but beyond that the input of each individual while the system is being created is what would make the implementation challenge that much easier. Involve everyone who will be affected by any decisions to share their input in a structured way. Do not make the mistake of creating a system without adequate input to save time and announcing it in a memo.

2. Select an implementation team/panel/force comprising of individuals who possess high levels of organizational committment and personal values of work ethic, accountability, and personal responsibility. If you do not have members with these qualities, implementation will fail and get filed away. So start building these qualities in the culture of your organization, where every employee thinks like a leader and is not conscious of hierachical structure and titles. Nothing works magic like genuinity does.

3. Communicate your implementation plan to everyone involved in a group interactive process. This is so essential. Do it in an offsite 3-day meeting if necessary, in order to invite buy-in and total support fot the new system. The most important aspect of this is that the group needs to know that the system operates like a democracy and is subject to the people's receptivity. Nail down who is responsible for what actions by what time and hold the group accountable as a group instead of individuals. The group needs to be self-correcting.

4. If things slip during implementation, go back to basics with the group. The implementation team must connect with everyone as individuals and create a way to instill motivation by linking the new system with personal benefits. As the Director of Finance asks, "What's in it for me?" The answer lies in what he values as a person in the first place. Once you find that out, make sure you create that personal link in your rewards scheme.

5. Reward the group for success in all phases of the implementation process. I'm not just talking about overtime. I'm talking about real benefits for the person individually. Think about unique ways to compensate them for their efforts. Pleasant surprises always work. The key is to be unpredictable in your rewarding structure.

I have been asked whether penalizing individuals for failing to do their part is an effective method. In all honesty, it is not a good idea because it can lead to more resentment that is sure to surface and affect your process negatively. The world-class organization of today is positive and inspiring, driving individuals to want to complete the job by their own free volition. So select self-motivators, nurture their personal goals, and offer them a platform in your department/team/organization to carry them out.

10 June 2006

Leadership Philosophy

I am halfway into one of the most profound business books I have ever read. Authored by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum, his book titled 'Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness' is about true leadership beliefs and behavior that could make an organization distinctively stand out in our far too competitive world.

Apart from touching me personally on a philosophical level (will talk about this in my personal philosophy blog), the ideas in this book are beautiful, but challenging for the average employee. Koestenbaum hit the nail on the head when he says "Leaders are condemned to Philosophy" even if they might not be interested in this discipline on the surface.

Here are some of the most incredible leadership ideas I've read about in this book so far which I'm trying to internalize in my work with organizations. You need to read this book to grasp their full meanings, so these points may seem abstract and esoteric upon reading them for the first time:

1. Leaders think whole and think specific at the same time. Their minds have been trained to exist outside of realms that have been created by man and place themselves on entirely universal laws of nature. They have mastered the art of parallel processing where multi-thinking becomes second nature.

2. Leaders know the purpose of their life. They fight for a cause they believe in, and manifest this cause in their chosen field of work. The cause of a true leader is always for the benefit of others, and is dedicated to the success of the customer. The purpose of a leader's work is tied to welfare and profits are a natural result.

3. Leaders have a different concept of time. They "make" time in the true sense of the word. They take themselves out of normal time and are not controlled by the clock. Time always passes by quickly for them due to the fulfillment in their work. In fact if there is no personal fulfillment in your work, you will never solve your perpetual time-management and scheduling problem.

4. Leaders subscribe to deontological philosophy of "doing what is right". They follow the highest standards of ethics possible, and seek to grow on their own merits rather than comparing themselves to competitors. They do things because it is the right thing to do, which usually translates into higher levels of quality for optimal customer loyalty to you and your company.

How can these principles be practically applied in organizations?

As a top-level manager: you can create your organization's culture based on these tenets, which your competitors can never copy (they can copy your products but not your culture).

As a line manager: you are the most important link between organization strategy and effective execution for the company. In your position, these principles might get you motivated to train your subordinates to increase awareness in quality of your products and remind them of why they have the job they do. You also have the intuitive power to affect your organization's strategy and bring it to new heights using these leadership ideas.

As a young employee: you are a leader in your own right. Your individuality can be effectively enhanced by adopting a leadership mindset from a very young stage in your career. It will surely improve your chances of receiving opportunities in higher positions when your management starts to take notice of how your behavior oozes of wanting to make that all-important difference.

At the start of his book, Koestenbaum says that you would be cheating the world and yourself if you don't live up to the potential you have been gifted with. Deep thought and integrated action are essential to moving yourself and your organization forward to the place it needs to reach.

03 June 2006

A Traditionally Modern Challenge

I have just completed individual job descriptions for 80 employees, part of the organization's Trading Business Division, using a structured interview process.

The company is one of the oldest in the region, and many if not most of its employees are middle to elderly aged males who have provided service for 30 odd years or more. Most of them have a highly traditional view of the world with statements such as, "The Managers might not notice, but God notices", "What sort of ideas do you expect from a man who has spent his whole life doing the same thing?", "I am happy even though my pay packet is extremely low, because this company always pays on time so I feel secure." The question that boggles my mind is that how do these people manage to love their management, have the most high levels of organizational committment I've ever seen, despite the fact that they have had absolutely no career or financial growth in the company?

The laws of this land are geared more towards the employer rather than the employee. I found that in my conversations with these employees, observing their body language, and listening to their unflinching loyalty toward the company's stakeholders, was deep-seated fear. Fear of the law turning against them if they decided to wake up and leave for a higher pay. Upon probing, the very people who have served the company for 30 years have succumbed to "guilt-based" retention tactic on the part of the organization, specifically about what would happen if the company put a visa ban on them. However, more than the legal irriatations of leaving, they feel they wouldn't have opportunities outside of their company because of their age. This puts me in an ethically charged situation, because they are depending on my report to the Management. This position is also a very positive one to be in. A chance to promote positive change in a traditional organizational culture is why I choose to do this work.

I need to paint a realistic picture to the Management about what their employees have been going throughout the last 30 years. The Job Description Interviews were an obvious starting point to capture the realism behind the paperwork. Now some of these employees are about ready to retire, and have no interest and aspirations for further career growth. For those in the organization who are looking to grow in their competence and contribution, I need to help the Management surface a culture where that is encouraged. The only way for them to encourage this, is to link it with bottom-line results for the company.

Times are changing, and so will the laws. As employees go on their way to get more legal protection for themselves, employers will have to create ways for employee retention beyond the threat of a visa ban. Visionaries must be aware of what the reputation of their companies would be in the future looking back at the track record of how they treat employees now. The survivors and thrivers in the global scale will be those companies who are taking adequate steps to satisfy their employees' needs based on the high standard of living in this city, and develop employee competencies that serve organization-specific goals... and they'd better do it now rather than wait for times to change.