Why Boards Need Their Own HR

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Recent headlines are rife with reports of board members in trouble. Via poor actions or inaction, they have made deadly mistakes with awful consequences to themselves, sponsors and stakeholders. With their reputations in tatters, they resign, hoping to survive a scandal they helped to create. But are they always guilty of wrongdoing?

In fact, most organizations put board members in a precarious position. While the average staff member benefits from the nearby presence of human resource expertise, the same can’t be said of boards. Unfortunately, most people believe HR is only needed at lower levels. The implicit premise? “You shouldn’t be on a board if you don’t have the requisite skills.”

Perhaps, at some point in the past this was a safe assumption. Today, boards which are made up of (mostly) men in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who have known each other for years are anachronisms. The fact is, research shows that they are more likely to make bad decisions.

Recently, California passed a law requiring all public corporate boards to include women. This is no idle requirement as numerous studies show that diversity at this level improves performance.

In like manner, boards picked from the Old Boys Network will probably bring obsolete knowledge and stale skills. They just haven’t kept up with the times, exemplified by the 2018 guidelines for selecting boards issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. The document enumerates best practices that would, if ever implemented, produce an unforeseen high quality of governance.

This solves one problem but leaves another begging. What should Jamaican private sector companies do about dysfunctional boards?  The odds are high that the kind of trouble they face isn‘t technical, but human. What can be done?

  1. Get a critical mass to agree an issue exists

The initial challenge may be the hardest. Many board members have had little or no recent soft-skills training and it shows in the way they go about tackling issues. For example, most prefer to jump immediately into problem-solving activities, even when that approach has failed them in the past.

If a single member points out this fact and suggests that a new process be used, she is often ignored in the heat of the moment. “Navel-gazing – we don’t have time for that!” Yet, with the right perspective, it’s easy to see such an intervention for what it is: an appeal to enter a “meta-conversation”.

Aware individuals use this tactic to step outside the “What” (or content) of a discussion to examine the “How”: the way the conversation is being undertaken. As a tool for improvement, this soft skill is a critical one for boards to learn. It should be triggered whenever there‘s an impasse.

Unfortunately, being able to see the value of this particular suggestion is just a tiny step. In real-life meetings, people who try to intervene in this manner are rarely successful because they are acting alone. Furthermore, board members often use the same words to mean different things. When the discrepancy isn‘t clarified with a timely meta-conversation, conversations go in circles. Participants get tired and frustrated, eventually believing that the board’s failure is enduring.

It‘s not. A day of sound training would give them the keys to shorter meetings and quicker problem-solving.

  1. Getting help

Even after clarifying the problem at this level, some boards resist the idea of recruiting a trained, neutral party. They are embarrassed, thinking that a group of “Big Men” should be able to solve its own problems.

Once they get over their egos, an invited outsider can perform a transparent diagnosis that raises everyone’s understanding. This helps boards define additional skill and knowledge gaps the future is guaranteed to exacerbate. With gaps identified, board members can consciously place themselves in states of discomfort to learn these missing skills.

For example, most boards rely on voting. They see the technique as a time-saving way to make decisions, compared to trying for total agreement.

However, there is another alternative which can be used: “alignment”. It’s defined as a willingness to support a proposal even with doubts and misgivings. Some characterize it as a decision to move forward with an option which generates the fewest objections.

Picking up this practice isn‘t easy, although it’s shown to produce better outcomes. Expect an immediate struggle to ensue if your board decides to invest in this technique for its own good.

These simple examples point to a state of continuous and aggressive learning board members must assume if they hope to stay relevant. Unfortunately, when they lapse into prolonged periods of comfort around soft skills they invite the worst: the failure of companies and a major loss to stakeholders.

 

 

 

 

How Your Company Should Address Staff Engagement Questions

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With regards to employee engagement, what do you do if your executive team can‘t agree?  Some see symptoms of deep disengagement, while others don’t. Suggestions for how to intervene go nowhere, stuff that used to work in the past no longer succeeds and other companies’ case studies seem not to apply.

As Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

My experience supports the notion that each company experiencing disengaged, disempowered employees is different from its counterparts. Here’s a way to find a unique approach for your firm.

  1. A Custom Definition

Unfortunately, most people explain disengagement using soft, psychological objects such as “motivation,” “mindset” or “vibes”. While these constructs are better than nothing, they aren’t quantifiable by the average business.

Instead, it’s much easier to focus on behavior which passes the Video Tape Test. That is, it can be captured by a movie camera.

With this new definition, bring your executives together to agree that a core set of behaviors (such as arriving late or being absent) should be taken as components of disengagement. This helps separate agreed-upon-fact from interpretation.

However, even after this definition has been created for your company, pause to explore an extra question: “Has a critical mass of employees always been disengaged?”

  1. Custom Interventions

If you can find the precise moment when engagement fell, immediately search for broken promises. As I have shared in prior columns, they pollute your company’s culture, causing even new employees to become disengaged in a matter of weeks.

While this task may be painful to undertake, the only remedy is to take responsibility for all violations of trust. Owning them publicly on behalf of executive teams past and present is the best way to make amends.

But it’s just the beginning. Construct a cause-and-effect diagram to list all the possible causes of disengagement. Once they are enumerated, conduct tests to see which ones are at play.

Use anecdotal, non-quantifiable data if you must. While your analysis may not reach an academic standard, it will work for business purposes.

Based on these analytic results, custom-design interventions to change behavior. But don’t be surprised if most of them fail. That’s just your way of weeding out false causes in your hunt for the few that yield the best results.

Don‘t stop there. Now, look for ways to embed new habits and practices in employees’ lives at scale.

  1. Custom Communities

Back in the 1970’s, Tea Parties and Fashion Shows were accepted ways of building communities around specific interests. Today, these anachronisms are stale.

By the same token, there are new channels and technologies being used to connect staff today, but many companies see these changes as one-time shifts, rather than permanent trends.

For example, the technologies most of us use every day to message others (i.e. email, Facebook and Whatsapp) didn’t exist in 1995, 2005 and 2010 respectively. They have changed the way we join with each other at scale, allowing us to reach far more people than we ever imagined possible.

However, most companies struggle and never catch up. Why? First, there’s an age gap. Most executives are in their fifties and sixties while their employees are in their twenties. They only have a superficial experience of the latest technologies, because the communities to which they belong don’t use them.

As a result, they don’t know how to build the kind of communities required to engage employees. Their ignorance is costly.

A few years ago, I worked in Trinidad and noticed every professional using Whatsapp. When I returned to Jamaica two years later, our professionals had caught up.

During that time, my year-group at Wolmers started a Whatsapp group. Prior to its existence, there was little individual contact and no communal activity.

Momentum built quickly and today the Class of 82 group includes over 50% of our colleagues from around the world. More importantly, this month we had our first reunion and donated a million dollars to the school. In summary, a community which was recently formed is now making a tangible contribution where none was expected.

Without the appropriate channels none of this would have happened. Does the same apply to your company? Unfortunately, if you aren’t using technology to bring together employee communities in just the right way, it’s unlikely that your custom interventions will amount to much.

Furthermore, building communities in the modern age is a moving target. You must be prepared to keep adapting the latest tools, thereby empowering people to maintain behavior changes. It’s the only way to get ahead of a disengagement problem which isn’t likely to fade away. If you use the right approach, you may be able to stay ahead, applying fresh custom solutions that produce sustainable results.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180923/how-your-company-should-address-staff-engagement-questions 

Easy First Steps to Become an Enlightened Leader

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Do the skills required to be a great leader spring from an inborn set of traits? Or can they be developed over time? Here’s a surprising answer – not only can they be grown, but they all come down to a single, rarely talked about ability that isn’t taught but certainly can be learned.

There are lots of articles with “Top-Ten-Skills-for-Leaders” floating around. They promise to answer a simple question – “How are leaders made?” – with a simple answer.

You may already reject the notion that there are one-size-fits-all solutions. No leader is complete, or perfect. They are all works-in-progress, even if they appear to already know everything and have the ability to accomplish anything.

Yet, few of us are deceived by such shows of bravado. Instead, most understand that professionals who manage, lead, captain or champion others can always improve their skills. If leadership is defined as “the production of desired results through the efforts of groups of people”, then it’s easy to see gaps. Everyone who steps up to this higher level of accountability is imperfect.

However, there is a way to be almost perfect.

In my book Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I quote Winston Churchill who said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” If he is to be believed, then we could say that the best leaders see themselves in an ongoing process of growth. They consciously put themselves in situations where they must “change often” using the following three techniques.

  1. Repeated Discomfort

The few professionals who decide to lead and grow at the same time eventually realize that their next stretch goal is more than an obligation – it’s an opportunity to expand their skills. Consequently, they willingly sign up for the next plateau to conquer.

You may find them picking up optional challenges like marathons or part-time graduate degrees. While the rest of us struggle to keep up with everyday life, they invite added complications by committing to new, harder, more demanding goals.

They are restless: unable to sit on their laurels.

For example, a colleague of mine left his local degree program in mid-stream to go abroad to study. He switched majors, losing a year in the process. Why? He yearned for a new challenge, one that he found at MIT, where he was surrounded by others who were even more hungry. His switch worked, as they tend to, even when there were significant setbacks along the way.

  1. Finding a Coach

However, setting bigger goals isn’t the only method.

Few professionals see the value in paying someone else (a coach) to point out their weaknesses and push them out of their comfort zone. They have no problem seeing the benefit of sports coaching. But few have colleagues in the professional world who would do the same. Most are caught up in old thinking: “Anyone who needs such help is weak.”

I often answer by sharing that for over a decade, I benefited from the services of paid, trained coaches. On a weekly basis, they pointed out my flaws as a business-person.

As you may imagine, I gained the most when I set aside my ego, ignored defensive feelings and followed the expert advice. Being “coachable” was a proficiency in its own right I was pushed to improve in each conversation.

  1. The Best Skill of All

While setting challenging goals and having a coach are powerful methods, they are limited in their value if a third, overarching skill is missing.

If you can’t assess your performance ruthlessly, using insights into your blind spots gained from the initial two steps, you won’t get very far.

When I was lucky to do my first, structured self-assessment as a teenager, the tools were crude and paper-based. Today, they are better designed and available free online, but only the rare local professional does them on their own.

The one I did as a teen (the DiSC) gave me great initial insight into my preferred personality selected from four archetypes. Later on, in my early twenties, I did the more elaborate Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This assessment consists of 16 styles and offers more depth.

Consider both of these tests to be a first step in becoming a student of yourself. But not in the narcissistic sense. Instead, it’s possible to systematically look for faults, gaps in skill and flaws in character that get in the way of accomplishing what you want in life.

There’s even a second step; ask everyone you know to do these assessments also.  As you share and compare your preferences, your insights will deepen dramatically.

Together, these skills enhance your ability to drive your own growth via self-learning. It’s a powerful combination that can’t fail to improve your performance, no matter what your aspirations might be.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180909/francis-wade-easy-first-steps-become-enlightened-leader

How Examining Core Assumptions Can Save Your Company

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Why do disruptions drive companies out of business? While it’s easy to blame “innovative technology” or “tough competitors”, most firms hurt themselves by not following early warning signs which challenge core assumptions. Jamaican firms are particularly vulnerable.

Why? As mentioned in prior articles, our companies are overly leader-centric. While this is sometimes a benefit, it’s more often a weakness, especially when the big boss is the sole strategic planner. In such firms there are no real, bottom-up planning retreats – just ad-hoc announcements of the leader’s intent.

While the downsides of this approach are easy to imagine, specific blind spots are hard to detect.

For example, when I lived abroad I used to be a customer of Kodak, Blockbuster, and Blackberry. These were all dominant players, but today, it’s hard to find a trace of these firms or their products. When their industries were disrupted, they just disappeared.

While some point fingers at their aggressive competitors, that’s only a part of the story. In retrospect, they could have anticipated the changes that eventually wiped them out. Their blind spots prevented them from noticing what was happening.

This may be taking place in your industry, to your company.

Fortunately, research shows that in each firm there are usually a few mavericks who see such disruptions coming quite clearly. However, their insights often make little difference. They aren’t invited to retreats, sit-downs with the CEO or board meetings. Without their input, companies fail to see their blind-spots, and don’t tackle underlying business assumptions which are slow-moving, but inexorable. If your company is vulnerable to this mistake, here is an approach which will reduce the risk.

  1. Uncover Core Assumptions

Conduct an exercise in your next retreat to make a list of assumptions that are tightly held, but are not being discussed. They should be pre-requisites for your current strategy to succeed.

Unfortunately, there is no static set of assumptions sitting in an MBA textbook waiting to be copied. You will get better results if you allow your team to flounder as it struggles to uncover them.

I often suggest that teams find companies in their industry worldwide which are using the latest disruptive technology or business model. Look for the ones showing some early success.

Then, conduct a quick poll of your middle managers. Ask “Until what year is our company safe from this particular disruption?” Use the responses to see whether or not there is a wide range of opinions.

Now, perform the same survey, but restrict it to attendees at the last strategic planning retreat. If you don’t find consensus, question the validity of all your firm’s current plans. Furthermore, if your company is leader-centric, and has never conducted a real, participatory retreat, you should be even more concerned. You may be facing a battle for the future.

Use the answers to these questions to come up with a timeline, carrying forward either the average or the median year for planning purposes.

  1. Agree Upon the Timing

Conduct an open discussion with the help of a neutral facilitator, asking: “How will the events leading up to this disruption, according to this timeline, play out?” Allow the sparks to fly as different assumptions arise.

It may be a contentious affair, but it’s better to have this conversation now, when the stakes are low. Even if you fail to achieve perfect agreement due to a lack of data, the disparity in viewpoints will point to the need for a further step.

  1. Name Someone to Monitor or Track Assumptions

If your firm faces a complex set of data, don’t rely on “buck up” methods. Appoint someone with the right background to scan the horizon for breaking information. Better yet, give him/her a budget to do proper research. Empower the individual to sound an alarm as soon as a shift is detected in the data they are collecting.

In other words, look for the early indicators that your intended strategy or business model is in danger of failing. And do whatever it takes to bring this data to the planning team so they can do a rethink. After all, they are the ones who developed the original hypotheses and are in the best position to determine the size of the correction that’s needed.

Following these steps should give you the kind of early warning signs that your strategy and/or business model are likely to fail. It’s not necessarily bad news – just an indication that swift action is required.

This is especially true in leader-centric firms which have relied on the instincts of a single, stubborn individual. Help these strong bosses recognize that their original brilliance needs a dramatic, team-based upgrade if the company is to survive a potentially disruptive future.

 

 

 

On Making Workers Matter

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In my line of work, I meet lots of employees who aren’t sure they matter. Logically, they say they should be valuable due to their role, background, responsibilities, pay, etc. Yet, in terms of their emotional experience, they draw a disturbing blank.

It’s no surprise.

For the most part, our society reserves overt acknowledgement for funerals. However, before then, we try to be careful not to “spoil” people with too much praise. “After all”, we argue, “we don’t want it to go their heads.”

While we are busy protecting them from this imaginary affliction, we rob staff of essential facts. They never know whether or not they matter: their presence, performance, attitude, body language, dress, etc. And in the void, they assume the absolute worst.

The Default – “I Don’t Matter”

Slavery relied on the forced acceptance of a lie.  Workers were sub-human, and owners acted to “de-matter” them daily.

Arguably, Jamaica’s history is driven by challenges to this rank, outrageous falsehood. Consider the labor strikes led by protagonists ranging from Sam Sharpe in 1831 to Alexander Bustamante a century later. These protests to overturn the de-mattering of people’s work were powerful enough to catalyse self-rule and independence.

Today, de-mattering continues, according to Dr. Kenneth Carter, author of “Why Workers Won’t Work – A Case Study of Jamaica”. Some 65% of employees consider their jobs to be unimportant in relation to the objectives of their organization. Also, 80% of workers report that they are rarely consulted about changes that affect their work.

Most leaders severely underestimate the depth of this sentiment. As a result, they treat subordinates just as they would their management colleagues, arguing “Those people know they matter.” Why does this mistake happen, based on Carter’s research?

The Challenge – New Supervisory Amnesia

Studies show that employees and managers alike give the same high priority to human morale factors: recognition, appreciation, feeling involved, promotion and growth. However, a switch occurs when someone is promoted to become a first-time supervisor.

Now, suddenly, the individual reports a change: workers (i.e. their former colleagues) only want tangible wages, fringe benefits and job security.

How and why this shift happens may be debated, but this new mindset is a definite downgrade. As it occurs, workers are de-humanized and de-mattered. Instead of friendly peers, comrades-in-arms or fellow strugglers, they become the opposition, merely assets or resources.

Furthermore, if you are a new manager, there is a benefit: de-mattering lets you off the hook, relieving you of the obligation to motivate employees.  After all, if there’s no money to give “dem people” what they really want, then you are powerless to make a difference.

Unfortunately, as pervasive as this mindset appears to be, I’m unaware of any training that makes use of this finding. De-mattering is never distinguished as the blight it is on the mindsets of new managers, so it continues to shape behavior, albeit in the background.

The Answer – New Skills

However, there are the exceptions.

The most effective leaders in all spheres of life go out of their way to interact with their people in ways that produce a feeling of “mattering”.

Some hug and kiss their employees or followers. They spend quality time with them, sharing personal details while asking about their families. A handful excels at remembering faces, names, and personal anecdotes. This rare skill gives others the impression of being connected, even after only a brief introduction. (Some use social media to cement this technique.)

Others apply honorifics: “Mr. Plumber”, “Boss-Lady”, “Run Tings”, “Super” or “Captain.” This Jamaican habit is a way of letting ordinary people know they matter. It broadcasts their importance publicly.

Finally, a few give “Brawta” –  inexpensive, thoughtful extras which build relationships beyond transactions. For example, I make a point to encourage clients to be bold in making additional requests of me. I explain that we don’t charge them by the half-hour like lawyers, so added time (within reason) doesn’t create a fresh bill.

Although these are individual tactics which don’t work for everyone, they all have the same effect: they leave other people with a feeling of mattering. The answer for you, a manager, isn’t to copy them blindly but to ask the following questions.

What can I do to grant the experience of mattering to others in my company? What experiments could I try to produce this effect? What personal habits do I need to eliminate which frequently de-matter others?

Don’t be like the majority who under-estimate their power. Compared to other cultures I have worked in, Jamaica is a highly leader-centric society. (It’s a feature expatriates notice quickly.)

The fact that you are being scrutinized grants you an opportunity to alter the way people see themselves. Use it wisely to empower and engage staff by using your daily actions to show people they matter.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180812/francis-wade-making-workers-matter-leadership-guide

 

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

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How to Scale Up a New Innovation

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Sometimes, good ideas for new products and services include the seeds of their own destruction. How can this problem be discovered and prevented, thereby ensuring the success of your latest, greatest idea?

As a company innovator you are excited. Your original concept has taken off with higher-than-expected sales or conversions. Customers are buying because you uncovered an unmet need before anyone else.

While congratulations are in order, it’s also a dangerous moment because you are entering uncharted waters filled with new obstacles.

They are not coincidental. Your success has bred them. Being ready for them takes real ingenuity, and you must use your imagination to deal with this unique situation. Here is a useful framework.

The Five-Part Model

The Balanced Scorecard is built on the notion that a company’s strategy can be viewed through four distinct perspectives: Financial, Customer, Process and People. While your firm is actually an interconnected
whole, there’s value in viewing it in-depth from these separate angles.

In addition, the PESTER Model offers a fifth “External” perspective. It’s shorthand for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory/Legal forces which affect every company.

Here’s a way for your planners to use all five dimensions to examine your company’s existing state, and future dangers.

Step 1 – Create a current day snapshot

Together the team develops a joint view of the performance of the business via the five perspectives. This involves far more than looking at a few numbers. It means finding the drivers of today’s successes and failures in a group discussion which includes every stakeholder.

While it’s a challenge to bring all members of your team to common agreement, the effort is necessary for subsequent steps and shouldn’t be rushed. In both technical and emotional dimensions, there must be a meeting
of the minds.

Tip: use layman’s language.

Step 2 – Simulate Future Growth Scenarios

Here, you imagine different kinds of success. For example, contrast hyper and moderate sales increases and their impact. What if the market were to grow in response to your product as it did when Digicel first offered mobile phone service?

As you detail these scenarios find one you are most willing to realize. Then, carefully assign it a future year which takes you just beyond the moment when the current burst of sales is projected to end.

Step 3 – Look for Hurdles in the 5 Dimensions

Now for the creative part. As customers respond where is your system likely to fail first within the five perspectives?

– Financial: Will cash-flow problems develop? Many companies who experience rapid growth wind up with high receivables that run them straight into bankruptcy.

– Customer: Can success bring new competitors into the market offering fresh discounts or features?

– Process: Where would you run into a lack of capacity? Will ad hoc processes begin to break down once volumes increase? The fact is, most new products and services are developed by small, informal teams. They work well in the early days, putting in extra hours at little cost to them and their families. It’s a sacrifice that’s not sustainable.

– People: Where will you see a lack of talent? To develop the initial offering, you probably used well qualified, trusted individuals with a depth of experience. Now, to match new sales volumes, you must hire from the second and third tiers. By definition, they aren’t as productive and need to be trained.

– External: In a highly regulated industry, is it likely that the regulatory rules may change in response to your product? Could the authorities react by limiting the market, reducing your profit-making potential?

While taking these five perspectives are a beginning, my experience tells me that the most difficult topic to discuss is that of leadership. Founders, CEO’s and Chairpersons are often reluctant to craft plans for succession, putting off such uncomfortable issues for others to suffer through. They neither train their replacements, nor make provisions for catastrophes which may render them unable to lead.

There’s also an unwillingness for companies which belong to conglomerates to consider changes driven by their ownership. It’s easy to overlook the fact that in these groups, other people can decide to use a company’s profits (or surpluses in the public sector.) The owners, in the absence of compelling counter-arguments, may simply choose to invest elsewhere, pay dividends or reimburse the group office for the original risk.

Companies which don’t properly consider all these factors expose themselves to rude surprises, thereby jeopardising the enterprise. Fortunately, it’s not expensive to make plans to meet these challenges – they
represent a critical investment that’s well worth the value.

 

 

 

 

How New Managers Prevent Email Overwhelm

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When the excitement of a promotion wears off, newly elevated managers sometimes struggle. Often, they blame their new responsibilities, but this limited view dooms them to failure. Instead, success comes from expanding specific skills which were once suitable but are now inadequate.

Email is a case in point. All of a sudden, as a newly promoted manager, you need to stay late or work on weekends just to keep up with a mountain of discussion threads. When you don’t stay on top of them all, your competence and readiness are quietly questioned.

Given the fact that email takes up 20% of the average manager’s day, the sad truth is that you weren’t trained to analyse your email practices with a view to making improvements. Today, the prevailing notion is that you can learn just as fast as Millennials. They change apps faster than they change their clothing.

However, even these twenty-somethings struggle when they experience a boom in email volume. Like everyone else, they blame their circumstances, a grave mistake.

It leads companies to launch projects to cut the number of messages people are receiving. Unfortunately, this rarely makes a difference as two recent, counter-intuitive studies explain: overwhelm isn’t caused by the number of messages we receive.

The first research, by Mary Czerwinski and her team at Microsoft show that the more time you spend checking messages, the less productive and more stressed you feel. Some firms have noticed this effect, leading them to curtail email in favour of other channels such as Instant Messaging or Whatsapp.

The second study shows why these efforts are in vain.

A paper by Victoria Bellotti and her XEROX research colleagues shows that it’s not the volume of email that makes us anxious and ineffective, but the number of unresolved tasks that are buried in these messages.  For example, if you routinely receive 1000 messages per day and a high percentage are newsletters or spam which require no action on your part, your peace of mind isn’t affected. On the other hand, if you receive five high-impact emails per day which spur 30 new tasks, you are more likely to feel pressured.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Zeigarnik Effect: the mental weight of these incomplete tasks. You can’t complete them all at once – that would be impossible to do as a newly promoted manager. Instead, you must manage them effectively, thereby relieving your subconscious mind of its role as Reminder-in-Chief, disrupting sleep, conversations, and quiet moments of prayer or meditation.

How do you take care of these unwanted disruptions, keep your peace of mind and avoid overwhelm in your new position?

  1. Handle email as an all-out sprint

In this paradigm, you must think of email differently. Instead of fitting it in between meetings or other activities at your leisure, do the opposite. Schedule two or three times each day to get through your Inbox as fast as possible in standalone, focused efforts. These sprints need total concentration. Execute them ruthlessly, punting protracted responses until later – you are in “emptying mode”, not “execution mode”.

This is also no space for distractions. Cut them all out and ignore the smartphone. Treat this time slot as the single most important recurring activity you perform each day that should only be interrupted if there’s a bonafide emergency.

  1. Get your own training

Unfortunately, few Human Resource departments are bastions of high tech efficiency. Most have little to do with employee productivity in its modern sense and therefore don’t offer new managers the kind of training required to manage email overwhelm.

On your own, cobble together the fresh skills you need, using a combination of resources such my past columns.

  1. Manage other people’s deliverables as your own

Complicated email threads involving several people, plus weeks of going back and forth, reveal that you are totally dependent on others to do their part. Unfortunately, some of them can’t be trusted.

While most new managers continue to store email in their Inbox, highlighting important ones for later, you shouldn’t. Eventually, you will be buried by unresolved tasks which require a follow-up, but get lost in these threads.

Instead, you must strip out these tasks and manage them elsewhere. This usually means picking up a task management software and learning the self-taught behaviours required to make them work.

The good news is that if you follow these prescriptions, your subconscious mind may reward you. Its endless pinging should stop and overwhelm will disappear.

But be vigilant: your next promotion may cause you to revisit all your methods just to maintain your peace of mind. Consider it to be the price of success in the modern workplace.

 

 

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