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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Innovation is super fragile. It’s very easy to kill

This is my 150th post in nearly two years of blogging - never thought I'd have so much to put down in this blog - but the world moves and I like to capture peoples ideas and add my own thoughts.

Reading through one of the blogs from Luke Naismith, he has asked people to come up with known innovation killers.

I do recognise that managers are busy people who have time and budgetary constraints to deal with and don’t always have the time to consider the good idea that some one in their team has worked on.

I’m fortunate as a lot of my ideas in my working life have been taken up though not always immediately, though I’ve been though my career all the stages in the cartoon above.

I was reading an interesting article by one of my old professors Michael West at Aston University in Birmingham.

He highlighted what Machiavelli wrote in ‘Il Principe’ that innovators face a perilous journey because they face opposition from those that have a vested interest in the status quo and only lukewarm support until it has been proved by people experiencing the innovation. The danger of being a pioneer sometimes is that you end up like in the Wild west with a lot of arrows in your back.

He also highlights research that there is a large body of research shows’ that individuals alone generate more ideas at least as good as groups working together. The best way rather than having a brainstorm session is 'to have individuals work silently on this for a few moment and then to have everyone share their ideas together – with the leader speaking last’ This avoids the leader framing the issue for the rest of the group especially subordinates.

Marshall McLuhan once said: “In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses.”

The usual idea killers that I’ve heard are

  • ‘It’s an interesting idea but…… then with 5 compelling and plausible reasons why one should delay in a manner that would make Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister fame purr with pleasure.
  • We don’t think that our clients will think this is something our firm should be doing
and my personal favourite
  • ‘Haven’t you got enough to do in the day’

Perhaps one day we can change the discipline when an innovation is discussed to say Yes and….. and build up the idea so that it is explored and developed before approval or rejection. Another useful technique is to use ‘ How to’ questions.

Ideas are fragile creatures and managers need to work to find ways to allow people to explore either individually (or if they feel the need a team) but also to provide a platform so that that idea can be exploited. People too are fragile and need to feel that if an idea has been rejected they need to know the rationale why, not to give up, and that future ideas are welcome.

Otherwise they tend not to use what you have employed them for – their brains, vision and skill and can become de-motivated individuals.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Facebook for the Enterprise

One of the things that I've been interestingly watching for is a company that can deliver a Face book style system behind the enterprise firewall. 

Well I was reading Macworld Uk on the net this evening - click on the title of the is post for the link to the article.

The article highlights work undertaken by a company called Work Light in the US in delivering this for a price of 10 Euros per user per month. 

WorkLight said that the application would allow employees to use Facebook to find colleagues by name, location, department, project and area of expertise, while allowing them to collaborate securely with peers using familiar Facebook capabilities. According to the company, WorkBook would also allow users see general and personalised company news direct from a Facebook news feed, and lets users create groups around shared interest areas and work-related projects.

More importantly, WorkBook provides compliance with existing security policies - enterprise security integration authenticates WorkBook users via corporate authentication facilities, enforces access control policies and supports Single Sign-On (SSO).

From my experience a number of firms intranet sites offer a lot of these so it will be interesting to see what the USP apart from a Facebook style interface it can offer an organisation. If it allows people to create these very easily with one click and also get involved in a talent market like Linkedin for the Enterprise, then this could be very interesting. Something for me to browse over and have a look at to see whether there is anything of interest to take this issue forward. 

I do think that intranets do need to change to match the flexibility of some Web 2.0 applications otherwise their end users will find other applications that help them do their work easier and with minimum set up time.  My consideration is that widgets iGoogle and NetVibes will all leach into the organisation.  

When I first started looking at the Internet in 1997 employers saw it as a danger - but in the end they saw the benefits - at the end of the day, this revolution will occur and the question is do you start to ride the wave now or wait until it overwhelms you. 

Yes there will be internet goofing - but there will also be the opportunities to develop communities of interest that might coalesce people about a range of interests and bring them into the spheres of people they might never have talked to across the organisation be it UK based or global.

The 6 minute approach to Knowledge Management!!

I knew that I needed a new approach to knowledge management and now German Scientists at the University of Dusseldorf have given me one - looking at the BBC web site this morning.

It highlights that a 6 minute cat nap can launch memory processing in the brain. Apparently they did a test on students to remember a set of words then given a hours break before testing – some were allowed to sleep for six minutes the rest kept awake.

So if you pass my desk and I’m sitting there with my eyes shut – just think I could be trying out a new form of knowledge management and not really asleep – but can you tell the difference……

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The talent powered organisation

This is quite a long post to make up for my recent lack of posting

An interesting little hand out by Accenture about the talent powered organisation which highlighted that the key to winning on talent is multiplication and not addition. I have been interested in this area of talent management hence my reading of posts that cover this subject.

Accenture like everyone else has recognised that talent in the future will become an organisations most important competitive asset.. They consider that companies who truly seek to become talent powered organisations will need to build a capability called talent multiplication.

I always love it when consulting firms consider that they have re-invented the wheel and sell an idea to companies at of course reasonable fees. If managers aren’t already doing this talent management and acting as T shaped managers i.e. driving the business forward and meeting their financial targets as well as acting as coaches of growth and learning, then I’d worry about the state of management development.

It highlights 4 specific capabilities

Defining talent

Defining your talent needs based on a clear understanding of key performance jobs and skills to meet the needs of the organisations future goals.

Leaders that articulate how talent creates value for the organisation

Then look to define these in to key competencies to help with either the development or recruitment of the talent needed.

Discovering talent

I do agree that companies need to be more innovative in the ways that they harness talent pools and may have to look outside their traditional local market to bring people in with the skills they have. Some people will look at the developing number of graduates being pumped out of especially India and China – but there has been some articles highlighting that further training is still required locally to bring them up to the required standard.

What is interesting is that HR departments (more on this later) should look at themselves as part of a value chain and look how they can improve their processes so that recruitment is a more speedy process.

Developing talent

Nothing new here – but the usual comment about the need to developing the capabilities of the employee linked in to the firms business needs. The interesting element is the speeding up of the process. I’ve been reading a paper last night by Chatti and Jarke on the future of e-learning and the failures of current learning management tools delivered via the PC or laptop – mainly because of the focus on content and technology. Though they consider that the use of Web 2.0 technologies might be the answer especially with the rise of social software which crucially as I’ve said for some time links people to people and especially through the use of wikis and blogs and the use of RSS allied to intelligent social search engines that build on user recommendations, reviews and filtering to locate quality resources.

I’d also like to see the option some time in the future to capture phone and video conferences so that these can be posted and utilised a la You Tube – basically little nuggets of information in a rich media format (something I was talking about in 1998 – but now a little closer to reality)

From having developed talent we move to

Deploying talent

No surprise here and it mentions the usual words about engaging the workforce to the organisations goals and it recognises as I have previously identified that these need to buy into peoples own personal & professional aspirations. Managers will have to become increasingly smart in the way that they develop systems that support talent markets. Line Managers and Supervisors will need to work harder in the appraisal process to ensure that agreed actions for improvement are followed through and ensuring that challenges that employees want to undertake are realised. I also consider that there will be a global internal organisational talent market where people identify projects they want to work on and will be rated on the skills experience and people management skills that they have bought to the team and receive ratings from the team leader on the spot rather than at an appraisal and even client comment.

Interestingly enough I was reading a post by Seth Godin on changing the name of Human Resources. A bit like Patrick McGoohan in ‘The Prisoner’ I am a man not a number and increasingly professional people will resent being known as a resource and some fungible commodity – I like to be seen as someone who is a professional and looks to add value to the process I’m not a natural resource like a tree.

He makes a suggestion that ties in with my earlier element of this post - i.e. Change the name of the department to Talent – some people might be cynical about this i.e. when this department went from personnel to HR.

However would the change of name to Talent change anything – possibly if you were the head of talent in your office, you understand that talent is becoming hard to find, difficult to manage and to retain. You may then look at the ways that you run your department and look at ways of reducing bureaucracy and liberating life for the talented knowledge workers that you have. As Godin concludes and I concur ‘Great companies want and need talent, but they have to work for it.’

Monday, February 11, 2008

Great questions at the end of a major project or bid

Thank you to Matthew Homann at the non billable hour for capturing some of the great questions that you should try to capture at the end of every project.

I have made some alterations in respect of my own experiences but direct quotes via Matthew are in italics. 

These are as follows:-
  • What was the outcome of this project?
  • What was good for our client about the outcome of this project?
  • What were the areas of improvement for myself and the team
  • What was the best part of the project? 
  • What was the biggest pinch point in delivering this project?
  • What new abilities or knowledge have we learned from doing this project? (though see my point later in this post.)
  • What do we wish we had known when we started this project?
  • Briefly what were the 3 lessons of this project that other colleagues need to know?  (I suggest taking 5 good lessons and 5 areas for improvement. - but don't make that an inflexible rule)
The important element to do is not to just file it away as part of some closed file but to share it  - this could either be via a blog but ideally with a wiki style approach - so that people can add additional comments especially if you are doing a number of projects for the same client and want to capture points say about a clients preferences or key areas of concern or praise expressed on an issue.

I think though that it time is pressing then you can use these four steps which tries to cover all the points earlier - but still does not obviate the need to capture these in a electronically searchable format.
  • What were our intended results?
  • What were our actual results?
  • What caused our results?
  • What will we sustain/improve?
Interestingly though this article neglects the need for people to carry out a before taking action review which covers the following points that people should ideally carry out before carrying out a major project and to some extent a bid

 This might then deliver an answer before the need to say - what things did we wish we had known before starting.
  • What are our intended results and measures?
  • What challenges can we anticipate?
  • What did we/others learn in similar situations? (hence searching a wiki)
  • What do we think will make the biggest difference to success ?

Friday, February 08, 2008

20 thoughts for a successful meeting

I was reading the latest edition of Management Today last night and they had written down 10 ways to have a successful meeting.

I thought that I'd write down some of my thoughts just as a reminder to ensure that a meeting serves its purpose and runs smoothly.

Some of it is a bit Archangel Gabriel in desire - but if you aspire and do things in small chunks eventually you can eat an elephant......

  1. Do your homework - read all position papers in advance of the meeting.
  2. Write a bullet proof agenda. Don't be over ambitious - I've seen some agendas with 20 minutes to discuss a major strategic initiative. (See point 11 it may help) Stick to your agenda.
  3. Know who your allies are.
  4. Rehearse answers to awkward questions in advance.
  5. Take the sado masochists approach to meetings - give everyone a fair crack of the whip.
  6. If someone is quiet - ask them specifically for their view - especially if you know that they are an expert.
  7. Keep your meeting moving.
  8. Someone to take minutes.
  9. Agree and be clear about the next steps
  10. You are the ring meister - keep the lions in check.
  11. Get people to do position papers and then invite comment - it tends to speed up the process.
  12. When people come up with objections invite them to come up with two solutions.
  13. Build on what people say - don't be an idea killer.
  14. Leave people with a call to arms to take the matters forward.
  15. Remember the curse of Yes - you may need to check in with people to ensure they are positively acting on decisions reached in the meeting.
  16. People will agree a position in a meeting to conform to the will of the group - but all ready before they have walked out of the meeting they have already decided whether they will actively or passively support the initiative. (Have a look at my posts on the passive/aggressive organisation)
  17. Be a person of character - execute what you have agreed to deliver on in the meetings - ensure you can pass the shaving mirror test every morning.
  18. Ask what are we missing here - encourage people to take a deep dive at an issue.
  19. In a teleconference - ask people to say their name first before starting a point or joining the discussion.
  20. In a teleconference as for all meetings - people should be on time. (Punctuality is the politeness of princes my grandmother used to say).
One senior manager of my acquaintance allowed one minute for lateness and then locked the door and asked people to vote whether to let the late attendee enter. They tended to only do this once.

He felt that if they had to be at the Town Hall to collect a £1m cheque and had to be there by 10.00 they would break down doors - and felt that it was highly disrespectful to your work colleagues to keep them waiting more than a minute.

I think though that this is probably a bit draconian in terms of locking people out of a room even though it made the point somewhat vividly.

I'm sure that people have a number of tips that they might want to add to this post. Remember you may not be able to do these immediately - it is something to aspire to - remember Rome wasn't built in a day but it was built.

Monday, February 04, 2008

It's the end user!!

I saw this post by Gaping Void (Image © Hugh McLeod - 2007.) and thought of this when talking about new technology and introducing into an enterprise.

The software has to help the user and it has to match what they want to help them achieve their day to day work. It is why I like to use wikis because they are easy to use and easy to set up as are blogs. However all the technology in the world is like Ozymandias's legs - useless unless people want to share with their colleagues which is a social and cultural way of life.

It’s about recognising that we now live in a world where we use knowledge and information on a daily basis and that sharing it should be front of mind — that is:
  1. sharing ways of doing things
  2. sharing best-practice and better practice
  3. sharing information and where we found it
  4. being collaborative rather than secretive
The main problem I've found is that most intranet's that I've seen are too top down and also aren't very easy to utilise on a day to day basis and from experience, if people want to use the technology, they will find a way to do it to help them achieve the four objectives above and will by pass technology that does not assist them.

Intranets as they are currently formulated don't seem to be the way forward to foster collaborative work especially if it is of a multi office approach.

When I was trialling an extranet back in 1999, it was sold to sceptical partners because it took me 45 minutes to set one up from scratch and it could be deployed in an emergency - quicker than going through an overly formal approach. At the end of the day any system should deliver on the following points to help the earlier 4 points be realised:-
  • serve the end user and deliver benefits to the business
  • be simple to set up.
  • take no more than 15 minutes to train someone to use the system.
  • be simple to use.
  • the ability to preview.
  • a three step process - write, preview and post.
Does your intranet or any other system that you are using in your enterprise deliver this and if not should you be working with your IT team to deliver systems that achieve this aim. Just some thoughts based on some experience.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Genchi Genbestsu Chinese Sages and Communities of practice

A friend of mine sent in a piece that they picked up off another blog (sorry no link provided - but thank you Jim)

It relates to a chinese saying and as it approaches the Chinese new year, i thought that this was quite apposite.

Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them,
Love them.

Start with what they know,
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
the task is accomplished
The people will say,
‘We have done this ourselves.’

This is a good thought to how an internal community of practice should work. Provide people with the tools either through a wiki or a blog, help them set it up provide them with a framework to capture knowledge, through storytelling etc, but also empower them to self explore and to come to realisations themselves and to internalise it.

I wass thinking about this and what I call the curious cat approach to management (yes I know what happens to curious cats) or as the Japanese call it genchi genbetsu which is to go and talk to people and go and observe the situation at first hand which helps you to define the problem and to hopefully refine the solution. It's not always possible but within COP's they are because they are closer to the problem and then able to design a solution.

i've always beleived that people when they have been involved and have a handle in designing the solution can reach that last line.

I'm planning to listen over the weekend to some recent downloads of podcasts from a few of the business schools so I plan to post some comments next week.

Gung Hei Fat Choy