Why IT Needs to Produce Chief Transformation Officers

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Why is the average Jamaican company stuck in a rut, 5-20 years behind the best global firms? It’s partly because their IT professionals are locked into junior levels in their companies, unable (and incapable) of adding the value needed at the Executive Level.

Product development. Employee engagement. Customer service. Business process improvement. New prospect acquisition.

This is just a short list of the activities which are changing faster than managers of these areas can track. As a result, there’s a growing gap between their departments and those found in best-in-class companies.

Arguably, this is one reason why Cable and Wireless lost control of the mobile market, dropping from a 100% share to less than 50% in just a few years. My podcast interview with Steve Toomey (a former leader in their cellular unit who tried to warn others) reveals that key managers were overly focused on their day-to-day jobs. The busier they became in routine concerns, the further the firm slipped behind, and into trouble.

Individually, they lost the script. Collectively, the company incurred a disaster it still hasn’t recovered from almost two decades later.

What should your firm do to make sure it stays abreast of disruptive technologies in all areas? In most companies, people immediately think of the role of the IT unit. They are the most tech savvy, after all, and Chief Information/Technology Officers should be taking care of these matters. Presumably, they can fit these high-level concerns between hours spent fixing laptops, adjusting printers and resetting passwords.

They can’t. For any number of reasons, most IT Professionals aren’t providing the leadership companies need. Here are some ways to solve the problem.

Fix #1 – Appoint a Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) Armed with Emotional Intelligence

These technologists a rare breed. They have spent hours developing their interpersonal and change management skills, possessing an ability to take projects from concept to completion in agile sprints.

However, their role is more than that of a highly skilled executioner. As strategists, they must help create a culture which tracks every single technology the company can use to transform itself. As such, they can sit down with the board, HR, Operations or Marketing and lay out the future unfolding in industries, organizations, and pertinent functions.

They should help colleagues see the big, global forces which are independent of any company or country. Strong CTO’s go past mere technology and study demographic trends, among others.

This isn’t altogether new. Historically, board members have played a similar role. However, the pace of change combined with their high average age puts them at a significant disadvantage. They need a CTO to translate the emerging world for them.

Fix #2 – Create a Strategic Road-Map

Many successful companies in Jamaica were launched according to a simple formula. A new way of doing business perfected in a developed country was introduced to the island by a foreign company or a returning citizen. The entrepreneur gave birth to a fresh method or technology, successfully implementing the idea within Jamaican culture.

This formula allowed them to leapfrog over older, more established competitors who were unable to react. For example, imagine the first company to bring automobiles to Jamaica. The providers of transportation at the time (i.e. horse and buggies, tram-cars) were inevitably displaced.

Fortunately, your company can take a shortcut. Instead of waiting for a sharp competitor to reveal itself,  empower a CTO. This professional can seek out these changes and help each functional area develop its own 10-20 year road-map. Truth be told, the path to follow already exists in other countries.

For example, a VP of Human Resources must be able to predict what employee engagement will look like in the future. He/she should also understand what happens if a competitor solves this problem first.

Fix #3 – Carve Out Time

Foolishly, many CEO’s simply throw the role of CTO to someone who is already busy. Furthermore, they’ll expect their managers to develop these futuristic skills on their own time, in the “spare moments” between their daily responsibilities.

This approach never works.

Instead, they should use techniques like time-blocking on an individual and group level to dedicate the hours needed. This is just one powerful method executives need to raise the priority of this activity to its game-changing, company-protecting status.

After all, it’s only a matter of time before an entrant armed with new technology enters your industry and disrupts everything. Don’t sit back and watch. Prepare your company now by putting in place the right technologist, at the right level, with the right skills.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180729/francis-wade-making-case-chief-transformation-officers

How to Forge a Breakthrough Using Cockpit-Quality Communication

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After you spend precious time fixing a basic issue of miscommunication, how do you prevent it from recurring? Try borrowing the high standard of dialog used in the aviation industry.

Mistakes take place between executives, managers and staff every day. For example, after a chat with a colleague, you think she understands what you are asking for, only to discover (after the fact) that you were on different pages. The miscue retards progress, dashes expectations, and ruins deadlines.

You can prevent these problems by employing the high-performance communication used by pilots to keep airplanes from crashing.

Cockpit-Quality Communication

Experts have known for some time that most air accidents result from human error. Among the causes are poor-quality conversations between members of the cockpit. For example, flight data recorders show that junior officers frequently defer to their seniors, tempting them into withholding critical requests. To overcome the same kind of “humble” deference we Jamaicans value and practice every day, these aviators must be specially trained. They learn techniques for speaking and listening that overrides their cultural programming. These lessons ultimately translate into better safety.

While, as a manager, you may not be in the business of saving lives, the quality of communication in your firm is enough to separate profits from losses. How can you be proactive to overcome the deference, withholding and confusion that ruins your organization’s culture? One approach is to implement “Razor-Sharp Requests” and “Solid Promises.”

This kind of interaction was first introduced by John Searle, author of “Speech Acts”. He linked conversations with action, talking with doing, in an easy-to-learn way. When firms enact his principles in daily discussions via meetings and email, breakthroughs occur.

Razor-Sharp Requests

In essence, Searle discovered that successful conversations which lead to effective action follow a set process. They start with a spoken or written request, the kind that’s intended to elicit the completion of a task by another. You probably initiate many each day.

Unfortunately, for historical reasons, we Jamaicans frequently make obtuse requests. Whether you blame British colonialism or our history of slavery, the result is the same: we feel as if we’re being rude, brash and “out of order” when we ask for what we want in a manner that’s blunt, clear and direct. To overcome our internal unease, we introduce a lot of noise – unnecessary embellishments and vague hints. While we may think we’re being polite, we actually obscure matters.

However, there’s good news. When stripped to its essentials, all requests are alike.  They are 1) made to another individual, 2) always describe a task, 3) include a deadline, and 4) imply a “condition of satisfaction”, a clear definition of success.

For example: “As a reader of this newspaper column, I ask that you download a copy of my past articles by following the instructions below… within an hour of reading these words.” It’s brash, but transparent.

Now imagine training staff to make such requests in every direction, especially up the chain of command. It could reduce time spent wasted in meetings and on email.

Solid Promises

While you may think you are good at asking for what you want, the proof of the pudding is revealed by your recipient’s response, which should occur in the following three ways.

– Reply #1 is a clear “Yes”, matched by non-verbal behavior.

– Reply #2 is a “No”, or a half-hearted/reluctant response.

– Reply #3 is a counter-offer by the respondent, asking you (the initiator) to accept a variation of your original request. Examples include a change in the task, due date or condition of satisfaction which leads to a new agreement.

Everything else apart from these solid promises is just more noise. Indulging them obscures understanding and fosters errors.

Unfortunately, some Jamaican managers mistakenly believe that once they make a clear request of a subordinate, it must be accepted. They neither listen for one of the above three replies nor notice non-verbal signals.

This habit gets them in trouble, especially when coupled with wishful, optimistic thinking. Their lack of skill leads to the recipient either executing the wrong task or failing to respond altogether.

Multiply these errors across the company’s ranks and the result is a culture of talk, but little action.

Competency Development

The good news is your company can easily attain Cockpit-Quality Communication. When I joined an organization steeped in these methods, I felt clumsy at first. However, I soon learned to look for it in every meeting, coaching discussion or feedback session I attended.

In high-stakes occupations such as aviation and surgery, such “conversations for action” are a must. The cost of not using the technique is simply catastrophic. In like manner, if you are serious about achieving top results, adopt a blend of quality requests and promises to realize your company’s goals.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180715/francis-wade-cockpit-quality-communication

How CEO’s Optimize Their Time Budgets

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If you are a top executive, you face a unique challenge: The weekly demands on your time regularly outstrip 168 hours. Yet, as you know, most CEO’s receive little formal training in time management on their journey to the C-Suite. Fortunately, new research can help close this gap.

Harvard’s Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria recently published the results of a multi-year study of CEO time usage. Their findings can help you allocate time more efficiently, even despite variations by industry, nationality, and tenure.

Four Major Findings

  1. CEO’s schedule a whopping 75% of their working hours. Most of their day is occupied with meetings, translating into precious little time spent alone in blocks of uninterrupted time. Recommended: use your calendar as a tool to carve out quality solo efforts.
  2. CEO’s work, on average, 62.5 hours per week, which include 3.9 hours per day on weekends, and 2.4 hours per day on vacations. They also spend about half their non-working, awake time with family. For many, this pace isn’t sustainable. Given their long days (9.7 hours per weekday) they must be strict to meet their own minimum standards. Recommended: Follow a set schedule on both off-hours, and off-days. Include time-slots to do “nothing.”
  3. CEO’s spend some 43% of their time on their core agenda, and the rest on routine items or unplanned surprises. Recommended: Use your administrative assistant as your partner to ensure that your schedule continually reflects your priorities.
  4. On average, few CEO’s track their time. Sadly, they have no idea how they’re really doing against these average numbers. While they know much about their financial budget, its time equivalent remains a mystery or at best, a vague gut feeling. Recommended: Commit yourself to this commonsense habit, via the use of suitable tracking software.

The CEO’s Two Social Problems

However, applying the researchers’ recommendations isn’t enough. Every CEO I have met faces two ripe areas for improvement which are difficult to tackle: They spend too much of their precious time processing email and attending meetings. Fortunately, these twin problems have a common root.

Case 1: The CEO who replies to every email within five minutes may seem, at first blush, to be “on top of things”. To wiser heads, it’s a clear sign that he’s doing little else but playing an elaborate, wasteful game of email ping pong.

Case 2: The CEO who avoids calling meetings, may think she’s making the most of her time by working on tough problems behind a closed door. However, her lack of communication leaves people guessing about her true priorities, causing a level of infighting she pointedly ignores.

Both of these practices are typically hard to solve. Anyone who has rolled their eyes while suffering through a pointless meeting or email message knows the feeling. The demand on your psyche it creates slowly creeps up, robbing you blind of time and energy. Before you realize it, you have become trapped in a sticky web of social waste.

Furthermore, this all takes place on an open stage. People watch what executives do in meetings and email for hidden cues as to their true, unspoken intentions. As such, they represent far more than personal logistical challenges. They are public performances undertaken by actors who are mostly unaware of their platform. It’s why their unwitting, mixed signals quickly become other people’s marching orders.

Where is the escape?

Launch Improvement Projects

Fact: The average employee spends two hours per day processing email. She also devotes four hours per week preparing for status updates meetings, 67% of which are failures.

However, individual employees who try to solve email or meeting problems frequently fail. There’s just not much a person can do on his/her own if they are part of a wider culture.

Fortunately, the CEO is in a unique place. As the sole person who unifies all employees, he is in a position to affect this kind of change. Therefore, a CEO who fails to launch campaigns to improve these twin evils is allowing productivity to erode.

While specific causes and remedies to these two complex challenges are beyond the scope of this article, there’s a mindset every CEO can initiate immediately. It starts by declaring the truth about this rampant loss of productivity. It continues by creating a series of company-wide games to “Achieve the same results, using far fewer emails and less meeting time.”

As the CEO, if you engage a critical mass of your staff in such a goal, it should provide an immediate, positive impact on your time usage. Instead of losing steam in email and meetings, you should be able to create more long blocks of solo, creative problem-solving, plus more time with your family. This should be a welcome start, but it requires all employees to cut away the wasted time and effort inherent in these two practices.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180701/francis-wade-how-ceos-optimise-their-time-budgets