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.

Nothing succeeds like success

Nothing succeds like success

Winning breeds winning

I admit it, I like to win. There is something about success that just makes me feel good. Maybe it’s just the endorphins talking, but sometimes that win or success seems to feed into the next. It turns out I’m not the only one. “The winner effect” describes a biochemical change that occurs after someone “gets a win.” This is explored in Ian H. Robertson’s The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failurewhere he states, “Success changes the chemistry of the brain, making you more focused, smarter, more confident, and more aggressive.” I’m not sure that I’ve gotten smarter, but I do know that I’ve gotten on the types of rolls he describes in the book where I’ve been able to do the right thing at the right time and it seems like the sky is the limit.  This effect is real and worth paying attention to as you set goals and develop milestones for yourself and your organization.

 I was often told as a kid to be careful about setting my sights too low because by aiming too low, I might miss my ultimate potential. I’m not sure now how helpful this was in helping me build towards success. I’m all for having a grand vision, but I try to separate aspirational states for myself and organizational transformations from near term goals and milestones. In fact, this is one of the reasons in “The Path to Value” that I am so focused on near term goals. I believe that attaining these has a spillover effect that enables the larger success of the effort over time.

I certainly don’t have the same credentials that Dr. Robertson does with regard to neuroscience but I think the winner effect is broader than just each person’s individual experience. When project teams are hitting milestones and succeeding, there is a perception of success that I believe makes others in the organization more willing to help, buy in, and engage. This in turn helps the project become more successful in its own right. In essence, you can help build the overall success of your project by setting and meeting milestones; as well as ensuring that those outside the project see the value of those successes.

Have you experienced the winner’s effect? Have you ever run a project that seemed to snowball on the basis of early success? Do you try to set attainable goals early in order to build confidence to make stretch goals later?

 

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.

What do leadership, writing, and charity have to do with performance?

I had the opportunity last night to attend an event put on by 826DC. In their own words “826 centers offer a variety of inventive programs that provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. We also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” As someone who has spent years 6-to now aspiring to be a writer, it was a powerful event; and one that made me think about the many people both real and literary that inspired me and shaped me into the person I am today. One of the readings was done by a 16 year old student at the Duke Ellington School in Washington, DC. The student commented on the dramatic improvement the program has made not just in her literary skills, but across all her subjects and in her life in general. Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian writer whose works include “Beneath the Lion’s Gate,” also spoke of the power of literature in shaping not just her world view, but her own character.

826DC Event

One of the great things that programs like these do for kids is inspire them to imagine themselves in a different light or see themselves as able to transform into something else. Tapping into this creative side of ourselves can be a powerful mechanism for personal transformation. I have written in 3 Ps to Meeting Success about the power of visualization in setting the stage for successful meetings, but I think more generally that this is a skill that is critical to success in daily life. One of the most powerful ways that 826DC touches under privileged children is by engaging them in using their imagination and thinking of the world as something that can be shaped. These skills are just as applicable in later life as they are with the 6-18 year olds engaged in this program.
One of the best things you can do for the people within your organization as a leader or executive is encourage them to see themselves as the next and better version of themselves. It is very hard to become the person you want to be if you can’t imagine yourself in that light. I don’t know if people often make that connection despite how often visualization has come up in recent literature regarding performance improvement. Visualization skills depend in large part  on our imaginations. Fostering creativity and imagination not only helps helps people to visualize themselves in a positive manner moving forward, but bleeds over into many other areas of our professional and organizational performance. Wonder why your organization isn’t as innovative as the next? You may want to ask yourself what you are doing to foster creativity and imagination. These are tools that will help you and those within your organization move towards their organizational, career and life goals. I think you can really begin to understand the power of this when you pair it with one of my favorite quotes from Dale Carnegie, “There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” (How to Win Friends & Influence People) As an executive, manager, or leader a big part of your job is getting others to get things done. This is made a great deal easier if those who are charged with doing the doing actually want to get those things done. Part of getting people to want to do those things can be facilitated by working to understand who they imagine they will be in the future and helping shape that image to be something that is both achievable and desirable for the organization.
What last night hammered home for me was just how important creativity and imagination are to me as an executive. It’s something I hadn’t really thought through before, but as we drove home I couldn’t help but think about how important these things are to every organization and the many ways that what 826DC does ties directly to what most organizations want from their employees. I know that my wife and I were inspired by the evening and we will be working to help make this service available to more students in our area by donating here. Please join us in helping to inspire children to imagine themselves in a better light and remember that the journey doesn’t stop when you enter adulthood.

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.

Enterprise Architecture and the Road to Enterprise Intelligence

Executives and managers are always looking for ways to increase organizational performance with regard to the effectiveness (How well am I achieving the mission?) and efficiency (Have I optimized my approach to achieving the mission?). In the course of trying to get there they have looked at many different disciplines and approaches including Enterprise Architecture. Enterprise Architecture is an alluring approach because the logic is solid; by understanding the blueprint of the organization from the context of the business architecture, data architecture, etc., you gain a deep understanding of organizational inter-relationships. This will identify the ripple effect of actions, and enable complex analysis thereby unlocking new levels of organizational performance.
Understanding Complex Relationships to Help Deliver Value
Not only should executives be able to use this body of knowledge to support a multitude of decisions, but the execution of the discipline should create a virtuous cycle whereby, better information, leads to better decision making, which leads to better processes and so on. The organization as a whole should become inherently more agile by virtue of its understanding of itself. Unfortunately, for most organizations it has been very hard to close the distance between reality and this vision of the future state. Many organizations have continued to soldier on in search of this promised to-be state because the logic behind the concept is so powerful and the return on investment, if the organization is able to achieve even a hint of the promise, is so great.
The discipline as a whole has been plagued by this reputation of over promising and under delivering almost from its inception. I think that this stems in no small part from the grand scale of the undertaking as it is often envisioned and then methodically trudged towards. Other contributing factors include the dogmatic adherence to specific methodologies and processes as well as a tendency on the part of the practitioners to over emphasize the exercise over the end state. I think this last part, the end state is the where the real disconnect occurs. The problem is that for executives and the managers, the desired end state is a higher performing organization because of the impact of getting the right information, at the right time, to make the right decision.  Unfortunately, the desired end state of the architecture program to often appears to be a complete architecture, adherence to architectural process, the evolution of architectural process and/or the perfection of the PowerPoint presentation. I have no doubt that there is real virtue in the application of many of those concepts and capabilities in order to achieve real and lasting value from your Enterprise Architecture, however I think that it is important to first start by ensuring that your organization is approaching Enterprise Architecture as a means to achieve Enterprise Intelligence.
What is Enterprise Intelligence? Enterprise Intelligence is the decision making capability that enterprise architecture should be leading you to deliver to your stakeholders. Executives, managers and other stakeholders should be able to intelligently query an organizational service that can provide answers to questions that lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness like:

  • Are we efficiently purchasing software/hardware in order to deliver organizational capabilities?
  • How are the services we provide externally and internally performing?
  • How does information flow within the organization?
  • How are the services that we provide supported with regard to resources (IT/HR/Physical Assets)?
Develop Resources that Enable Stakeholders to Improve Performance
Most importantly the questions and answers need to resonate with your organization. It is critical that the outcomes of the processes and activities you perform be things that your stakeholders will use. One of the great failures of many Enterprise Architecture efforts is the failure to make this connection to service provision. It is absolutely critical that your end users be engaged and that your products are used in the decision making process. Otherwise, someone will inevitably come around to question why the effort is being undertaken at all. Nothing, I’ve said above should come as a surprise to anyone who has been engaged in these efforts for any length of time. The temptation to refine the HOW of the EA program is simply too great, and an entire industry of software products, methodologies and consulting services have grown up around it. However ignoring the WHY, is in my opinion, the single greatest cause of the failure of EA to live up to its promise. EA programs need to be run as a service organization to succeed and a major part of that is focusing on the customer experience. The EA team must be in the business of providing UNIQUE insight into the organization, and they must show that they value and are responsive to their customers. That is in large part to say that the value EA provides should be in linking together information in disparate systems within the organization. Tying it to some context provided by the EA organization and making that combined information available to executives and managers in a way that facilitates decision making, prompts further investigation and provides feedback on performance.

Getting from Information to Outcomes Requires Unique Insight
How do you do that? I think understanding the process required to deliver on that promise within a particular organization can only be done by starting from the stakeholders and working backwards in the process for deriving it. I am not saying their is no place for best practice and methodology, but I think an organization is better suited to make a determination on methodology by starting from an evaluation of the decisions it does make (and should make) first. Do not forget the “should” in the last sentence, one of the things that EA as a discipline has gotten better at is in providing examples of reports and artifacts that can be used to support different aspects of the architecture. Some of these are quite useful and one of the real benefits of the extensive promulgation of best practice and methodology-related documentation within the discipline has been the ever increasing number of example reports, dashboards, models and analytic artifacts that are available online. Looking at what others have developed as an end state should help you and your stakeholders identify things that you could use for your own purposes. This is also an area where looking at the various tools on the market can be of assistance as well. Tool vendors often have some unique insight and experience by virtue of working with many programs in a relatively compressed time period, however it should be noted that this can also be a limitation because their job success in large part is predicated on how well they are able to get the software in the door; not on the long term success of the program.  Obviously, real success for these companies comes when their clients succeed, so they will be motivated to position your team to succeed, especially in the run up to the sale.
Without diverting this discussion into an extensive look at EA tooling, I think one of the things that must be recognized is that tooling choices are important because of the way in which they can accelerate the path to value for a program. This will enable the mangement of this complex organizational decision support tool, and enable the type of ongoing analysis and reporting that drives the customer’s experience of EA products. If your tooling is only available to a select stakeholder community you will need to ensure that the value of your teams work makes it into the hands of your customers (executives, managers, etc). If the tooling interface is too complex or if the tool cannot be configured to sustain high data quality, again your stakeholders will suffer.
The tooling should also enable your program to combat another EA program killer, which is stale data. A real Enterprise Intelligence capability requires that the data being analyzed be correct. The user (customer) community will need only find stale data a few times before deciding to get information from other sources. For the architects developing this informational service, it is critical to understand where information comes from, the process that creates it (manual, automated, etc), the refresh requirement in order to maintain accuracy, and the precision/accuracy of the data. This enables the team to provide stakeholders an explicit understanding of the level of confidence they should have in the information they are using to make decisions. One of the issues I often see in the use of EA information to support decision making is the hesitancy of stakeholder to use data to underpin important decisions because the EA team has failed to provide a mechanism for the user community to gain confidence in the information. One thing that programs should do in order to ensure customer trust is to make sure that they have made it easy for stakeholders to develop confidence by providing clear labels, open discussion of informational flows and appropriate messaging during training sessions and service desk calls.

Establish a Clear Line of Site from Inputs to Reporting
Additionally, achieving the benefits of Enterprise Intelligence requires a real focus on strategic communications, training and support. Far too often the focus of an EA effort is on process and content, and while I agree that without these your EA program will certainly fail, these alone are not enough to sustain a program. The stakeholder community cannot leverage any of your good work without an understanding of what information is available, how to access it and an understanding of who to call in order to ensure they get value from it. The point has been made often with regard to the corporate use of big data, analytics, and statistical information that these capabilities often under deliver on their promised return of investment because of a lack of organizational readiness to leverage them. The same is true for Enterprise Architecture. A commitment must be made on behalf of the program to not just develop the information and processes needed to succeed, but to mentor those that are supposed to be receiving value from them and how to get that value. A successful EA program invariably includes someone that is focused on strategic communications and marketing in order to ensure that the organization is aware of the value available from the program. This messaging is further developed and enhanced by ensuring that training is available across the stakeholder spectrum. Too often these types of programs inappropriately skew towards a “Let me tell you about how to do EA” approach. This is not productive for those whose job it is to use EA products to get organizational value. I recommend that one starts the process by understanding the stakeholder community and their individual use cases for EA. Then develop a training curriculum that specifically helps them  get the results they need from EA. Another approach is to stack training in order to meet specific organizational transformation objectives. For example, the success of a particular program may be enhanced by ensuring that training is available to help architects understand how to better use a specific tool that will be used to meet an objective, this may be followed by a workshop to meld training with organization specific content to drive a specific outcome while building skills. This may also be combined with executive brown bags that ensure that the people who need to use the information that is being developed are ready to leverage it for the greater good of the organization when it becomes available. In this way, great training programs not only increase the ability of the organization to achieve performance targets, but they also serve as another outlet for strategic communications.
Remember that Different Stakeholders Need Different Training
Finally, great EA programs make sure they deliver a top notch service experience for their customers including making sure someone is there to pick up the phone and support the user community. When you think about the dollars that have been invested to get the right information, in the hands of the right people, so they can make the right decision it is critical that the program is there to support its customers in getting the best value. So often I find that executives and mangers have essentially opted out of their EA programs because “It’s too hard to get real information” or because “I don’t know where to start.” Even after you have done the training, held your “Lunch and Learns” and provided workshops you still need to be there when your customer needs help. Every support or service request is a critical opportunity for the EA program to shine. I highly recommend that a  single e-mail address for support be used, and have a single phone number for people to call. It goes without saying that this service needs to be RESPONSIVE.  Being a part of a business or mission success is the start of an ongoing relationship that will sustain the EA organization in lean times and ensure that there are vocal champions outside the EA organization. That’s it. This is all you need to succeed in turning your Enterprise Architecture program into an Enterprise Intelligence program, and winning the hearts and minds of your customers.

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.

3 ways to go from Compliance to Transformation

I think that organizational compliance efforts represent one of the biggest untapped opportunities to increase organizational performance and/or leverage these required activities in the service of organizational transformation. In both the public and private sector, compliance is often spoken of derisively as something to be done only to the degree that is required to check the box and as an impediment to achieving the performance goals of  the organization. Things like Sarbanes–Oxley in the private sector and Clinger-Cohen in the public sector are viewed as an organizational tax with limited benefits, most of them are for external stakeholders and few pertain to (OUR) organization. This small minded view is wrong minded for three reasons.  First and foremost it sets a poor tone for the compliance effort as a whole. Whether you agree or disagree with the objectives, implementation, or impact of the legislation, the fact is that not complying will have negative consequences for your organization that run far beyond the costs associated with compliance. Secondly, most of these mandates were developed by smart people with good intentions who may have a broader view of performance than simply your organization. Finally, a well run organization should be able to handle most of these initiatives on the basis of being well architected. If you aren’t able to easily identify and prove controls within your financial system as required by law, then perhaps deeper problems exist within your organization than the costs associated with compliance. Compliance initiatives simply should not present enormous difficulties to the well run organization. Here are three keys to getting your response to compliance initiatives right:

  1. Take a step back and look at the big picture. One of the biggest drivers of cost with regard to compliance initiatives is that they are often handled separately from the execution of normal planning and reporting activities, even where the information required is significantly similar to other information requirements. Part of reducing the cost of compliance is in ensuring that the requirement is put into the proper organizational context and making sure, to the best of your ability, that the requirement is fitted into a appropriate organizational context.
  2. Avoid the Compliance Silo
  3. Find the right organizational owner. Once you have an understanding of where the compliance activity fits in the big picture of the organization, it is time to find a home for the requirement within the organization. This is a critical success factor because choosing the right organizational home will have an enormous impact on the overall cost profile of meeting the requirement, as well as determine how much re-use of any informational requirements occurs. Drivers for organizational ownership include ability to meet the requirement, familiarity with the data required, ability to provide appropriate executive buy-in, and capabilities required for execution.
  4. Get the Req to the Right Person
  5. Figure out if any of the data can help drive performance. This is critical to lowering the actual cost of compliance to the organization. If the organization is able to lower the cost to be compliant and therefore increase its relative performance to the competition, it will drive performance. If the organization is able to leverage the compliance requirement to better understand their organization or facilitate transformation objectives, it will drive performance. The same business process models that show how an organization ensures internal controls can be used as a mechanism to drive organizational performance.
Find Opportunities to Drive Performance

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.

3 ways to ensure your process isn’t the enemy of organizational improvement

The world is becoming a more process-centric place and to a large degree, rightfully so.  The wide acceptance of standards around processes for organizations, specific types of interaction, and data exchanges has, in general, lifted the quality of the goods and services we receive from most organizations on a daily basis, while reducing the cost.  Within many of these organizations, the ones that have grown and matured are the ones focused on the care and feeding of these processes, and the services they support. Unfortunately, in some cases the pendulum has swung too far.  The focus on process has become an anchor dragging on organizational agility and performance.  Is your organization too focused on process and not enough on performance? Here are 3 quick ways to check the pulse of your process-oriented organization:
Check your outcomes: Performance management systems are critical to understanding how your organization drives performance and spotting areas for improvement. Make sure that your performance management system is truly measuring the performance of the system, including outcomes. Knowing that 99% of transactions were completed within a service specification is great.  Knowing that 99% of the customers of that service were happy with it is even better.

Check your peers: Having a mature and well understood process is great.  However, as time moves on you need to keep an eye on innovations within your peer, and near peer organizations. Nobody wants to be sitting on top of a process that is repeatedly, accurately, and steadily increasing the lag between your performance and that of your peers. Understanding where other organizations are succeeding, and developing an ongoing process for accommodating process innovation is critical to maintaining organizational performance while you maintain your process orientation.

Check with your people: One of the first places you will find out about a lagging or underperforming process is at the water cooler. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the conversation happens, you may miss a great opportunity to change course and intercept a failing process before it impacts organizational performance. It is critical that an internal feedback loop for processes be in place and that process innovation be a part of organizational culture. Don’t be afraid to allow employees to provide input into your processes. After all, hopefully these are your foremost experts in these processes.

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.

Mentors: Identifying & Leveraging Mentors

Most of us don’t have all the answers, particularly when it comes to how to advance ourselves within our chosen career. Most of us know generally where we want to end up, but whether our goal is to be the next CEO or just the next rung up the ladder, most people are confused as to how to make the jump. If you are confused about what to do, don’t think you are alone. While the modern world has transformed how we keep in touch with friends, find information, and listen to music, it still hasn’t come up with a great solution for providing tailored advice that is specific to us and where we want to go as people and professionals. That is the role of the mentor.  The good ones are really hard to find, worth their weight in gold, and may be just the thing you need to get from the corner cube to the corner office. That isn’t to say that modern tools like LinkedIn and Facebook can’t help you along your path.  It’s just that they haven’t quite been able to replace the advice a person who has once walked in your shoes and is perhaps wearing the ones you want to wear’s advice.
The term mentor comes from Greek mythology.  Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his son when he left for the Trojan War. The goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor when she visited Odysseus’s son and provided him with advice on overcoming the obstacles in front of him. So many years later we still depend on mentors to help us develop ourselves both personally and professionally. Chosen wisely and properly cultivated, mentors can be game changing relationships that help remove barriers, show the right path to progress, and help you make the right connections you need to succeed. It is for this reason that simply choosing somebody with a few more years of experience isn’t the right way to choose a mentor. In fact, most people do not go to the trouble at all of formally choosing their mentors. They simply go with the flow and if they run into someone that they get along with, has a few more grey hairs, and is a few more rungs up the ladder, they take their advice. This is the absolute wrong way to go about something that can be one of the most valuable resources you will find within your personal and professional career. I believe there is a real process that should be followed to ensure that you find a mentor that compliments your unique requirements and goals.

Step1: Decide that having the right mentor is important and treat it that way, find the right person. 
Most people don’t spend $50 anymore without extensive online research, but they are willing to take advice from somebody whose primary qualification was being born in the typewriter era. Choosing a mentor represents at a minimum, a major investment of time, which is everybody’s most valuable resource. At some point in the not too distance future you will be the result of what you have spent your time doing, so invest it wisely. Finding the right mentor is very much about who you are and what you need to grow. This doesn’t always mean focusing in on specific weaknesses and then finding someone who has strengths in those areas. For one, a laser-like focus on specific issues is usually not the role of a mentor, although a mentor may raise some specific issues that need to be addressed. Your mentor should be looking at the whole you and help you work through larger “path issues.”  Path issues essentially are how to get from where you are now, to your ideal end state. Finding people who can help you navigate the path between your present and desired future means finding people who are close to where you one day want to be, have advised those in that role, or who have spent a long time studying or watching those in that role. Ideally, this means finding people who embody where you want to be one day AND who have characteristics that you aspire to emulate.


However, finding an introverted CEO at a Fortune 500 firm may be a tall order. You may have to get a bit creative when where you want to go is a long way from where you are now. Maybe you can find someone who once held the right position, who has written about the person, studied them, or simply set your sights a bit lower.  You could find a mentor that is a little closer to where you are now, but is on the path to where you want to go. Besides, choosing a mentor simply based on their success in achieving similar goals to yours isn’t enough to be successful anyway. Having a shared value system is critical not only because it will increase the likelihood that you will have a rapport with that person, but also because it increases the likelihood that you will want to embrace the approaches they put forward. You may also want to take a look at the personality traits of the person you are evaluating as a mentor. If you are essentially a reserved and quiet person it may not pay to choose a gregarious person. Their strategies, insights, and strengths may be too different to be applicable. In short, you are looking for the you that you want to be in N years. Just don’t be afraid to look outside your immediate circle. You will be amazed at the interest people have in being a mentor and not knowing “the right person” shouldn’t stop you from approaching them.

Step 2: Close the deal and get the most out of your mentor. Make it official. 
Sure it’s a little cheesy and embarrassing to ask somebody to mentor you, but it is critical for both parties to make it official. There is something about saying “yes” to mentoring somebody that makes you feel kind of responsible for how things turn out. Maybe it is the flattery of having somebody think highly enough of you to ask you to mentor them. Maybe it’s because over time you start to feel like a parent or older sibling.  Whatever it is, the end result is usually a real bond between mentor and mentee.  This drives the mentor to put the mentee in position to succeed. Whether it’s setting up a meeting you could never get on your own, or putting in a good word for you with a friend, it comes more naturally once the mentor has overtly agreed to the role. As for the mentee, making it official means that you now have an obligation to succeed, a personal cheering section, and someone to help you work through the problems along the way. Closing the deal also means setting realistic expectations on both sides. You don’t have to get the following in writing, but it does help to have a good understanding on the part of both parties of what is expected with regard to meeting frequency, topics covered, and level of effort (time). This could range anywhere from telling your potential mentor that you are hoping to have lunch once a month for about an hour to a weekly meeting or phone call. Think about and explain what the format of the meeting will be. Do you expect this to normally be a casual conversation, or will you have a formal format. Give your potential mentor some insight into the types of topics you plan on covering.  This way they have an idea of what they are potentially in for and can politely decline if they are uncomfortable working with you or set boundaries in advance in some areas. Setting these mutual expectations in advance is critical because it sets up the entire execution of the mentoring process for success or failure. If you have spent the time in step one to have identified a really great mentor that you believe can help you get where you want to go, spend the time working with them to come to some type of reasonable agreement about what your mutual expectations are for the effort. This is also a critical first step in developing the framework, rapport, and working relationship that will exist for the duration of your mentorship. Like any other self-improvement program, mentoring requires dedication, discipline, and patience on both sides.  Getting a schedule and expectations out in public is sort of like announcing you are quitting smoking. The announcement itself increases the likelihood of success by formally and publicly setting the goal and creating personal and peer pressure to meet your goal.

Step 3: Make your own decisions and do your own work. 
A mentor isn’t a personal assistant, sales associate or a surrogate parent. If you chose wisely, they are probably somebody that could be spending their time more profitably by continuing to do all of the things that made them successful enough to be your mentor. They chose to help you along your path, not carry you. The more you can do for yourself, the more inclined your potential mentor will be to work hard on your behalf.  Too often people expect the world to be handed to them and there is no more sure way to kill a mentoring relationship than to push your mentor beyond their comfort zone. I do not personally believe in asking a mentor to make calls on your behalf, make introductions, or otherwise positively affect your growth beyond helping you develop personally and professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for advice on how to approach someone, but try to firmly separate the advice from asking for a service. In the end you will only stunt your own development if you allow your mentor to do the doing for you, rather than asking for help in developing the appropriate approach and doing the work yourself. In many cases the mentor probably can do a specific thing better than you can at this point in your career and if you let them do it for you, they always will. A more appropriate approach would be to ask the mentor to listen to the approach you plan to take and then get feedback. I’ve often found that the simple act of framing the problem statement to someone else helps me get my arms around the situation a little bit better.  If the person that is listening to you can provide some advice and feedback, then so much the better. One of the most critical roles a mentor can play is as a sounding board. They are someone who has played through similar scenarios on a multitude of occasions and can perhaps give you some insight into a potential outcome that you might not otherwise have anticipated. This can be particularly critical with issues like complex organizational politics.  Someone who has seen a similar situation play out dozens of times may have insight into the range of potential responses to a particular action. In the end, it is critical that you try to shape your interaction with your mentor to help you frame your decisions and not to make your decisions. There is a fine line between developing a mentor relationship that becomes a career accelerator by helping you choose the right paths and a crutch that advances your career but not your personal and professional development.


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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.

Executive Privilege: Get your hands dirty to get results

One of the greatest parts about becoming an executive is getting to delegate down some of the parts of the job that are boring, cumbersome, or just plain irritating. However, it pays to remember that part of being an executive is leading by example. One of the hardest parts of being a successful leader is realizing that the spotlight is always on you. Your actions and reactions will be seen and replicated at meetings, on phone calls and when it comes time to put in work. If you are always late to meetings it will bleed into the culture. Can’t put down your blackberry in meetings? It will become part of the culture. One of the hardest things to do in any organization is to bring in change, particularly if the thing you are bringing in is hard, tedious, or unfamiliar. This is the perfect time to flex your leadership skills and get your hands dirty. Sometimes, leading people through a difficult change is about more than just making sure people are doing what you are asking to – it is about leading from the front.

I never ask people to do anything I wouldn’t do and to the degree practical I like to show that I can do the doing. If you read any article published in the last 20 years about organizational transformation they will tell you that “executive buy in” is critical to success. I think too many executives read this as “I need to make sure the people below me are doing what they are supposed to do” as opposed to “I need to be out in front of this and show my team how to get this done.” There is more to this than simply showing that you are part of the team, or that you can do it to. Hopefully you became an executive based on your ability to overcome challenges just like the one facing your organization now. Who better to spot opportunities for improvement or tailoring? Maybe there is a better mousetrap that can be built. If you just pass down a prescriptive order to do something, the value of the activity may be diminished. Often the transformational activity is something totally foreign to your team hence the term “transformational.” If it is important, and usually transformational activities are, then you need to be a part of it. Usually transformations are only undertaken when the results are important. This is because according to basic organizational algebra the transformational activities are being done in lieu of other duties, so you are sacrificing the performance of some other task that had up to this point been deemed important enough to be part of your team’s regular duties. If this is the case then you owe it to the organization to lead, because otherwise you risk sacrificing that performance for nothing.

The fact is that most organizations are not able to successfully engage on transformation initiatives. As a consultant I have been involved in many engagements where we are the fourth or fifth group to tackle the same problem. Not to sell us short, but more often than not the culprit is not some small detail that the last set of consultants failed to see. The problem often stems from a lack of executive engagement or guidance. The consultants were brought in and the process was handed off to a team of consultants and in house staff with weekly reporting to the executive counting as the “buy-in.” This model often fails unless one of the in-house staff members is strong enough to be a substitute for the executive participation that should be supporting and driving the effort. I believe that if it was important enough to bring in outside consultants it is probably important enough to participate in the process of even if only enough to be seen and felt as an executive presence. As an executive your presence is the signal that the team is committed to succeeding and that failure is not an option.

When we come into these types of engagements on the heels of multiple failures one of the first things we address is the lack of involvement. The most often heard response is that the executive simply has not had time. As a consultant this is a difficult thing to address because the executive is essentially putting the engagement into play by positioning our participation requirement vs. firm time constraints. However, as a consultant in this situation you have to push for the executive engagement because otherwise the organization will be bringing someone else in on the heels of your failure. If the executive does not have enough time to be a part of the engagement then the organization probably does not have the bandwidth to succeed at the transformation program. At that point it may be useful to look at the portfolio of activities the executive is engaged in and try to explicitly identify the areas where executive leadership is required vs. where a trusted deputy can be successful. It has been my experience that many of the important steady state activities that take up the majority of an executives time are much better candidates for delegation instead of delegating the transformation activities.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

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.

Avoiding the common pitfalls of enterprise architecture

The history of enterprise architecture as a management discipline has been marked by failure to live up to the promise it showed as a concept. The idea of an enterprise architecture and the explicit understanding of the relationships between the most critical forces, resources, and processes involved in the execution of  an organization’s business is powerful.  People can grasp on an intuitive level how powerful the reality of that concept would be if it could be put into practice and harnessed on behalf of the enterprise. Unfortunately, the conceptual enterprise architecture that enables the agile enterprise and informs executives in the midst of critical portfolio and execution decisions has given way to a morass of additional bureaucracy and expensive efforts to create enterprise models that are more often significant as records of organizational history than as blueprints for the future. The problems lie in three areas.  The first of which is a lack of clear performance objectives for the EA effort. This early effort to understand what the organization is attempting to achieve through its EA efforts is critical, to the point so that not having this in place almost certainly dooms whatever effort occurs in its absence to failure. It is simply impossible to get value from any effort so potentially broad as an EA effort without determining in advance what success will look like in order to focus the effort around areas where the EA can benefit the organization meta-model as a whole. The second major failure stems from the belief that EA is somehow all about the process for developing content; although it seems that almost 90% of the material you read regarding the discipline is related to eliciting information from the enterprise, modeling the information, or frameworks. I am a big believer in the fact that having the right information is critical to the success of the EA effort by and large, but I know from extensive experience on client sites that too much focus on methods and models leads to a low return on investment for the organization as a whole. Finally, there is far too little attention paid to helping the consumers of EA information. This last one is really simply the end product of the first two, but I have almost never had a project where I felt the funding allocated towards stakeholder communication, marketing, support and documentation was commensurate with the dollars spent to develop the content. In the following sections I will provide a few tips for refocusing your EA effort to avoid these common pitfalls or refocus efforts that have gone astray.

Lack of EA Performance Objectives

Establishing performance objectives is a good idea when it comes to executing any change initiative and EA really should be a major factor in effectively managing organizational change. With that said, EA is also often set up as a program with no defined end date and not particularly tied to any specific initiative within the organization. Where a supply chain management modernization effort may be able to easily show a return on investment and meet key performance indicators regarding cost containment or increased organizational capacity, EA efforts are often not as easily measured on the surface. However, I think that by setting forth both high level measurements that an EA program should influence like ratios of IT spending to operational spending and total cost savings, as well as more internally focused measures like percentage of compliance with EA/IT Governance or Common Services Usage the program sets itself up to be able to meaningfully advocate for itself on the basis of providing value to the organization as a whole. One of the most critical things establishing EA performance objectives does is force the team and sponsoring executives to really hone what they are hoping to gain from their EA efforts. In addition to establishing explicit performance objectives like those mentioned above it provides an opportunity to discuss and align the EA efforts with particular organizational main points like portfolio management, meta data management, or other critical organizational initiatives.

Over Emphasis on EA Content and Process

EA efforts are often said to be focused on the organization’s to-be state. Unfortunately, too many EA efforts spend so much time focusing on the to-be state of the EA effort that they never deliver value to the organization. Successful EA efforts get to business value as rapidly as possible.  That’s not to say that there is not a place for well thought out processes or that thinking about the meta-model isn’t valuable. Simply collecting a bunch of information by any means is not what I am advocating for, what I am trying to advocate against is the endless evaluation and tailoring of methodology, framework and meta model that seems to dog so many EA efforts. Perhaps it is simply in the nature of architects to sweat these details, but leadership needs to temper this desire to rigorously hone the processes and models that will be used to carry out the EA effort with a focus on addressing real business issues. I like to think of every EA effort as having two tracts.  One is the strategic tract where long term organizational value is built via the rigorous application of EA techniques and methodology to managing the enterprise, and the second is the tactical tract that applies the techniques and talents of the EA staff to deliver near term value to the enterprise. I believe that these shorter term objectives, while possibly falling outside the purview of traditional EA, build the organization’s faith in the longer term value of the effort, ensure communication with the business, and guarantee that EA always has an answer when the value question is asked.

Under Emphasis on EA Consumers 

A byproduct of the lack of performance metrics and over emphasis on EA content and process is a lack of focus on the EA consumers. So much attention is paid to the information that needs to be brought in and the process by which to bring it in that the return of this information in usable form to the content consumers is an after thought at best and often simply does not happen. The fact is that the structured models and techniques so often used to elicit information from the enterprise are often not the best mechanisms for returning that information to decision makers. For EA to have a positive impact on organizational performance it is critical that attention be paid to the consumers to this demographic before going out and harvesting the organizations information. Understanding where EA information can play a role in enhancing stakeholder decision making and working in coordination with these stakeholders to develop meaningful information collections in formats designed to support the decision making activity are critical to transitioning the organization to the type of data driven agility that is supposed to be the hallmark of the architectural organization. Working from the decision backwards can be of enormous value in these types of efforts and can help focus EA efforts on informational gaps in the enterprise that can show the value of EA as a discipline in a way that simply focusing on the macro EA effort cannot.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

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.

HBR on Softscaling

There is an exceptional article on the Center for Information Systems Research site at the MIT Sloan School called Softscaling: Combining Emotion, Optimization, and Data by Ritu Agarwal. The article focuses on research performed on companies in India and included more than 60 interviews with CxO level personnel with regard to their overarching approach to business. Across industries the top performers had a similar strategy termed “Softscaling” by the author. The idea that by blending capabilities along three areas (emotion, optimization, and empathetic use of data) that significant performance gains could be made. “Softscaling combines the best features of optimization (e.g., low cost and reliability via Six Sigma approaches, metrics, and rationality) and emotion (e.g., connection to the customer and firm with passion, commitment, and con- cern). The actions in optimization and emotion are linked together by an evidence-based empa- thy grounded in data analytics.” (need citation). This emotional focus is strikingly different from traditional western style corporate execution, but it has produced striking results even outside of India as evidenced by the turnaround of Jaguar by Tata Motors.

The focus on emotion in soft scaling is intended to cut across the corporate operating environment and include stakeholders across the value chain from vendors and workers through to the customers. I think the closest western management approach would be Management by Wandering but with a focus on employee engagement. The vendor engagement seems to be a bit similar to what companies like Walmart have done by pulling their vendors and partners in more closely and engaging them more directly in support of initiatives like their supply chain management, however again I think that the level of emotional engagement and the dynamic is much different than what is put forward under Softscaling. The Softscaling approach described in the article appears to be much more intimately tied to being together followed by winning together than is traditionally seen in western business culture.  

The optimization discussed under the Softscaling approach also appears to be just a slight variation on the optimization models that have become prevalent in western business including the use of tools like six sigma. The take away from the research in this case is the use of these tools to optimize business processes without underestimating the human factors that may come into play in business. The example given of empowering bank employees to forgive missed loan payments under the right circumstances works because the company has also committed itself to having personnel that that stay within communities are charged with knowing individual customers and provided with the flexibility to step in as appropriate.

Combining this optimization of business process, in combination with a focus on building an emotional connection across the stakeholders in the value chain can be even more efficient if these two things are linked to data in order to understand the effects of optimization and emotion on the business. This enables the companies to deeply understand their customers, vendors and workers unique connection to the companies products, the results of business experiments, and engage in decision making much more closely to the activities that are driving performance.

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.