Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Every once in a while I find myself disregarding advice, even though I know that it’s good advice.  I have to stop myself, take a step back, and remember that there are other people that are worth listening to. I was thinking about that this morning. I was having a conversation yesterday where somebody was talking me through an approach to something and I found myself kind of shaking my head. When the person finished and walked out, I thought about it a little bit more and realized I had fallen into the classic “not invented here” trap.  You should never be so smart that you can’t take somebody else’s advice and I’ve really made an effort to over time, make sure that I listen to other people. I am always trying to focus in on the fact that it’s hard to learn while you’re talking.

I have a tendency to want to be the person that comes up with the solution. I have to work to remember that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and sometimes the best solutions come from outside. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling among managers and executives. A lot of times you got to the management position you’re in because you were the one with the good ideas and the ability to come up with things quickly. I know at least for me it was a big part of the advancement of my career and so as a manager and executive, I’ve become a little bit less technically focused and have had to grudgingly learn to rely more on the people around me to supply solutions and ideas.  If you don’t embrace that approach, you won’t be nearly as effective at managing people, working together in teams, functioning as a communications coordinator, and all the other things that are important to managing people. You can’t do that and have the monopoly on good ideas too.  It’s definitely a hard transition to make and it’s something that I think most people struggle with for their whole career in management.

Everyone wants to be the person with the good ideas because that’s the person who gets the biggest pat on the back. Probably one of the most exciting parts of being on a team is when you come up with that good idea that everyone on the team gets behind and adopts.  There’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment in that and as a manager, those moments seem to get farther and farther apart. Even if you’re sometimes able to have unique insight into a problem because of your experience in a similar situation, a lot of times you just don’t have enough to supply much beyond the kernel of an idea because technology and capabilities are changing so rapidly. With this fast paced change going on you have to be more reliant of people on staff to supply the real nuts and bolts of how anything will actually work.  It’s been a really big challenge for me and I’m curious to know how other people have dealt with that. Has it come easily or did you struggle in making the transition from a subject matter expert or a technical resource into a management resource?

Photo By _Max-B

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Incentives: Making the world go round

Incentives

I think most managers are familiar with the phrase, “what gets measured gets done,” and I think our  common sense tells us that we ought to be careful about the things that we incentivize because it will affect the types of behavior that occur.  A lot of people will wonder why it doesn’t always work so well, why the performance management structure that they’ve set up isn’t getting them to the results that they want as quickly as they want. I think it’s because while the things I said previously are true to a large degree, people do the things they are incentivized to do and if you measure specific activities you’ll generally end up with better performance. When there are incentives, people are focused on getting them accomplished. On the flip side, I think you have to be careful about the general application of that rule. You have to identify some smaller steps to getting you to that big picture goal.

One of the problems that organizations have is that the goals may be set at such a high level that people don’t have insight into what activities they need to do to help the larger organization get there. Or they may not understand what the connection is between them and that goal so they lose the ability to correlate their day to day activities with advancing the organization towards that goal.  So it’s important for incentive structures and those types of large organizational goals to be decomposed enough so that the people that most effect change are able to do what they are incentivized to do.  An easy example of this is if you look within a sales organization, or if you are a company that incentivize on the biggest corporate wide revenue targets.  Those types of goals are great and most organizations target some amount of growth across the top line, but it may be worth looking at incenting specific behaviors among customers and basic activities that you, as a management team, believe are going to drive that sales team forward to success. A similar approach can be applied to anything, for instance, if you have a help desk, or really any activity that you have in your organization. If you haven’t created a tiered structure, you may be providing all the big picture guidance in the world of what you want to happen and have a line of how you’re measuring the things that you want done in your organization, but if you haven’t decomposed them enough to enable people to see how it applies to them, you probably won’t get the type of performance that you had hoped for.

I’m also aware that on the other side of that is this desire to break things down to such a level that so much time has been spent measuring that there’s no time left to spend performing. So there is a fine line there between breaking it down so much that the measurement activity gets in the way of achieving the measurement, but in general, you need to make sure that your incentive and measurement structure reaches far enough down so people can see how they’re connected to it.  I’m curious to know what other people think about this. If you’ve had experience designing incentive structures or performance management structures, please weigh in.  I want to how people try to make that tie back, or even if they do at all.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Buy outcomes, not output

Outcomes vs output

There a couple of things you need to think about before you buy consulting services, management consulting, or any of the types of services where you’re looking for a unique perspective or insight, the benefit of experience,  and a fresh view on things.  Anytime you’re looking for something that’s going to end in real change for your organization, it’s important to make sure the original purpose doesn’t get lost in the current economic climate’s push to make sure that you’re making the most of your dollars and spending appropriately.  I know that a lot of organizations are much more cost conscious than they have ever been previously but I think that focusing on value, especially when you’re looking at management consulting type engagements where small changes have huge consequences, is vital.  You need to be really careful about how you judge value there.  More people at a lower rate does not necessarily mean better value.  I’ve had some interesting conversations with people over the years as they look to maximize individual rates on personnel, or in this case minimize.  They try to maximize their perception of value so they focus on driving down individual rates or sometimes total cost, but a lot of times it means using people with lower individual rates, and in turn that sometimes means quality.  It’s just part of the problem with contracting things on a time and material basis.

I would really like to see a shift away from that. I know that it’s an easy way to measure what you’re getting sort of situation, but I think what it tends to make vendors do is beef up the amount of paper that they deliver; and to deliver more paper they put more junior people on tasking because those are the paper creators.   They slim down the time that senior staff spend on the engagement and you end with maybe one person who’s been there and done it before.  Then you end up with five or six people other people that are no doubt smart and have been to the right schools and know lots of things but probably aren’t maybe necessary to get the job done in the first place. They’re extra; they’re part of the extra value that the client is getting but in reality they are not necessarily solving the problem that you went in there to fix.  I think it’s why so many organizations, when you initially start talking to them, they point to the failures of the past and the failures of the past are monstrous SharePoint sites that are full of documents.  You know they’ve got an entire library of things that have been created on their behalf but they haven’t really moved the ball forward.  You know why that is?  I think it’s because they focused on the output not the outcome.

So I think that as you go into to acquire something, be careful about what you’re really trying to get on the other side.  Now I’m not sure what the exact answer is but I know that at MB&A we try to position things in terms of here’s the value of that you’re going to get and less in terms of here’s how many hours you’re going to get of somebody’s time and what it’s going to cost you per hour because I just don’t find it to be very valuable.  I know that by using a times and materials basis it’s easier to explain as a vendor talking to a client, but I don’t think it gets the client anything and it tends to encourage the wrong kind of behavior which is: lower rates, more hours, neither or which has to do with more outcomes.  So I’d be interested to hear how others have solved this problem for their organization or times when they’ve run into this problem.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Voice Memos: Capturing thoughts faster than you can think them

Voice memo

Over the years I have gone around and searched for different ways to get things out of my head, on paper, and in front of the right people quickly.  The solution I’ve found to be most effective and efficient is the voice memo in terms of getting the ideas out and to other people to collaborate on the quickest. I use Apple’s voice memo on the iphone on an almost a daily basis.  In fact, this blog is being dictated into my voice memo and will be transcribed and edited by one of our team members tomorrow to get posted. I really have come to depend on the voice memo as a way to remind myself of things, to capture ad hoc thoughts, because what I’ve found is that its not always convenient to write something down like when I spend time in transit to meetings and on the way to and from work. So when I’m in the car driving by myself and I have a great thought, or at least what I think is a great thought, I pull out my phone and dictate into it a little bit. In that way I can instantly capture something that would otherwise get lost. I think for a great many people, the pace of modern work life is such that if you don’t capture something right as it happens you may never get second chance at it. I mean how many great ideas do you miss by virtue of the fact that you forgot that you had a great idea? Most of us will never know. So I’ve become very aware of just how important it is to make sure that you capture these thoughts as they happen and by using this simple tool I can make sure I don’t fall victim to that.

A lot of times in the evening when I may be too tired or just not feel like taking out a notepad and writing down what I have to do the next day, I can take three minutes and just run through five or six things that I know have to happen and listen to them on the way into work the next morning. During a lunch break, if I’ve been thinking about a topic that I want to write a blog about or that I want to hash out later, I’ll dictate it into a voice memo. Then I’ll either send it on to be transcribed and then edit it after the fact or just send it on to the next person to get their input. Lately I’ve actually, as opposed to composing a email, talked through something into a voice memo which gives me the opportunity to talk myself through a problem and really see my idea stream. If that results in something too all over the place, I’ll usually go back through, listen to it, transcribe it myself, put down the salient points, and pass it on to the next person. Or if I do a halfway decent job and its something that I think the other person can get I just send it along, share it,  or pass it forward. I think it’s been a pretty simple and valuable for me. In the cases where I’ve sent on the actual voice memos themselves to team members I try to take care to make it short enough that it will get played through and I try not to send anything that is so all over the map that it would take extensive note taking skills, followed by extensive deconstruction in order to make sense of it.

It’s interesting as I’ve done more blogs via voice memo dictation how different you talk to an idea as opposed to how you write to an idea.  I don’t know if it’s making me better at speaking or better at writing but it’s certainly making me more a lot more aware of the differences.  But in the end, it’s just an incredibly powerful tool.  Part of what makes it so powerful is its availability. The one thing that almost everyone always has with them in the modern age is a mobile phone.  It never leaves your side, its always on, you’ve got a record of all the voice memos that you have previously, and if you take a little time you can categorize them fairly well.  I know that I’ve gone back and played back certain memos and it’s been a good way to hang on to ideas and again it makes it very very easy to share with other people.  So in the era of voice to text and so many advances with regard to how we collaborate, I’m curious how many other people are out there still using voice memo? Whether its on an iphone like I use, a dictatophone, or even dictating to some type of a scribe, how many people are regularly using that to communicate ideas, to condense their thoughts,  or just get things out of their head and out to other people?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Battle Royale: Talent vs. Determination

Battle Royale

I think everyone has heard the saying, “Hard work will always beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  In my experience, this statement holds true.  I know that personally, I’ve always felt confident that I could outwork the other side through sheer force of determination and will alone. Whether it is athletics, academics, or work, there is almost always a way to get through a problem.  As I look back at the times when I was hiring somebody, especially when I first started looking at different people, I was hiring a lot of people based on talent and potential alone which hasn’t always worked out as well as it seemingly should have.  I recently addressed this conundrum in a blog post after I read a great interview in the New York Times with Kon Leong. He mentions that one of the things he most tries to identify in the interview process is not only smarts, but drive too.  He wanted people that were going to work hard because with those two things you could solve almost everything else.   It really changed the way I think about things.  Have you spent a lot of time being frustrated with people who you just know better than their performance shows? You know how talented they are, how smart they are, but you just aren’t seeing the results you expect from them.  I’ve sat there and wondered why this is.  Maybe they just don’t have the tools you thought they did, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the tools are there and maybe it’s just a lack of drive. Maybe it’s my failure to motivate or find the right way to get through to them but either way, as a manager you should position yourself to recruit for drive as well as intelligence in hopes of alleviating this problem.

I know that this may seem obvious but I think the part that we often miss is asking the questions that let you evaluate their drive.  That’s something that I’ve changed a lot and is going to be a much bigger focus in terms of trying to determine how to elicit those responses that give insight into whether people are truly driven.  I don’t know if everyone has a general drive to succeed.  Ideally, you want to find people that are passionate about solving problems and the things that you do at a minimum.  So it’s important to figure out what the right questions are and how do you make that determination early.  It’s never going to be a perfect evaluation. You have to recognize that you’re going to end up with some folks in your organization that are really smart and really talented but no matter what, you’re just not going to be able to get them to perform the way that you feel they should.  At some point you’re going to have to move those people out because if you’ve got a collection of people that have that drive and that ambition and you have a couple folks that aren’t on the program, you will not reach your potential as an organization.

This is just like being on a team when you’re a kid and your coach would say things like, “Everyone is a team here and we need to pull together,” or “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” and I think these clichés among others are just as applicable in your work life as they were in athletics as a kid.  If you have somebody that doesn’t have the desire or the drive to push, they’re not there for the same reasons, or they’re detracting from everybody else’s efforts then you need to really question how long you want to wait for that drive or ambition to appear; and how many times are you going to attempt to motivate them before you make a decision that you are going have to part ways. If someone isn’t living up to the set standard and you can’t get them there fairly quickly, I think you need to make a decision about their future in your organization.  You can be as kind as you possibly can be about it but after I’ve tried a few things such as having a discussion with them about level of effort and it’s still not working out, it’s time to let go or otherwise you’re jeopardizing your whole team.

I’ve also come to the belief over time that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skill or soft skill, or interacting with the client than it is to teach drive.  So if you get somebody and you start to wonder if the effort just isn’t there or maybe something is distracting and it persists over a long period of time, you are never going to get that person out of that behavior.  At least that’s my general belief with the rare case that is the exception to the rule, but that type of behavior casts a pall over the rest of your organization and is just not worth whatever talent that one person may have.  I’d be very curious to hear what other people’s experiences are.  Have you had a happy ending to a story where you had somebody with a lot of talent but you just couldn’t get them to work and you found a way to motivate them?  I certainly don’t want to discount a manger’s ability to motivate or find the right way to get somebody to do things but I sometimes think there is too much emphasis on mangers and leadership getting people to excel.  Sometimes you just need to understand that you will not be able to motivate that person and you have to just cut them loose, but I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this issue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

NY Times: Interview of Kon Leong: Interviewing for Brains and Drive

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Brains and drive are the real prerequisites of future successful hires

The New York Times had a great interview with Kon Leong co-founder, president, and chief executive of ZL Technologies, an e-mail and file archiving company. One of the things that really struck me in the interview was the way that he spoke to his interviewing process. I know that in my line of work we spend a lot of time trying to identify people who are “great fits” for the job. In our case, this often means Systems Engineering and other technical backgrounds. I thought it was interesting that he never once mentioned this in his coverage of his interview process. He was truly focused on what that person wanted and where they wanted to be. Basically, he said he was looking for people with “brains and drive” because those are the real prerequisites for the job. I don’t know that we will completely do away with our vetting for technical skills but the interview definitely made me re-think some of what we emphasize.

We have lucked into some great people that only made it onto our team because they came recommended by someone we respected or we had a chance to work with them before hiring them. It makes me wonder how many great candidates we miss because they don’t fit the precise technical background we are looking for in most of our positions. In fact some of our positions do require very specific technical skills. However, we look for these technical skills across a far broader number of roles than we probably need to and for every role in our company the most important skills or prerequisites are really those he mentions, drive and brains. As long as you have those we can probably teach you the rest, without them it doesn’t matter what type of technical chops you have—you won’t be successful.

In short he asks a lot of soft skill questions, which makes me think of the blog post I wrote about the “5 skill areas needed to transform your organization,” which includes personal productivity as one of those areas of focus. Kon Leong broadens the lens to focus in on the core beliefs, work ethic, and raw materials a person is bringing to the job. He also focuses on their ability to think outside the box and make their own judgments. These are critical skills in today’s business world because so much of the work that we do is fluid in nature. Technical experts and other specialists are becoming rarer except in the largest organizations as middle management shrinks and the day-to-day business of doing business changes to accommodate the rapid pace of innovation and evolving operating environments. Kon Leong seems very focused on getting people who can evolve, scale, and make their own decisions—perfect for the rapidly changing environment I describe in Why do I need to “Transform” my organization?

Here are some of the specific questions Kon Leong mentions using in the NYT article in interviews:

  • I would want to know your goals for the job. Is it money? Learning? Fulfillment?
  • How willingly do you accept stuff, and how willing are you to question things?
  • How creative are you in finding your own answers?
  • Are you willing to learn from your mistakes? Do you do that automatically?
  • Are you willing to set the bar higher?
  • Are you able to deal with failure? Can you bounce back from it?

What do you think about this sort of open ended approach to interviewing? Where do you focus your questions within interviews?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

how to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

Small steps can be just as important as the big ones

Business process re-engineering doesn’t have to be a boil the ocean approach to transforming your business. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this but I believe that the most missed opportunities to improve are the little ones we have in front of us everyday. I’m not advocating against “Thinking Big,” I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so focused on enterprise transformation that you miss the 1% improvements that add up over time. I believe that many managers miss out on maximizing their value proposition to the organization because they aren’t able to execute on small change initiatives in a meaningful way. These smaller 30, 60 or 90 day initiatives include re-engineering internal workflows, automating internal processes, and course corrections to major programs. The dollars are generally small and the rewards for any one won’t get you an award at the annual holiday party, but over time these are the types of improvements that move the needle for an organization as a whole. Here are 5 things to think about before you decide to move out on that small change effort you’ve been thinking about.

  1. Take the big picture or system view: I know this post is all about little improvements—just remember the big picture and try not to work against it. Thinking big picture helps you ensure you don’t miss the really important thing that happens just before the process you are focusing on.
  2. Think about the data: In most organizations, everything else changes faster than the data. People, technology, and processes—they all change fairly quickly. Understanding information requirements around a process improvement opportunity often gives you a chance to think about it without the confusion of technology and other factors. In the end, many of the improvement opportunities you will find in any organization center on more effectively moving, manipulating, or otherwise acting on information that has been used for years to support the business.
  3. Remember the human factor: Ever sat in a place and wondered how it was possible that nobody had fixed problem “x” yet? You’ve been on site for five minutes and you can tell right away what’s wrong. Most of the time there is a reason that obvious improvement opportunities go unexploited. Many times it’s a people issue. Many times an unwillingness to change comes from a fear or uncertainty about the effect of change. People are often the biggest obstacle to change and you often need to be prepared to sell people on why they should change, even when the existing process seems so obviously broken to you.
  4. Beware scope creep: Little improvements have a way of morphing into massive programs over the course of a cup of coffee. The temptation to keep pulling on the thread of an improvement opportunity until you have completely re-organized the company is hard to resist.
  5. Remember you still need to manage change: Little improvements can go a long way, but one of the downsides to smaller improvement efforts is the costs of change management isn’t anticipated and the effort falls short because there is no money to update the SOP, provide training, etc. The bells and whistles that get included with major transformation efforts often get left out. Informal or small programs still need planning to ensure that there is documentation, training, etc. Without these, the value of these small changes is severely limited.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.