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Sunday, 23 February 2014

CREATING AND LEADING A SUPER TEAM: PART 2


People are known to achieve exceeding levels of success when faced with adversity. The Helots, a subjugated group of people in ancient Greece, caused the collapse of the revered Spartan nation when they eventually rose up against their masters who habitually tortured and slaughtered them. 
Creating and managing a super team, can be a daunting task that requires extreme patience. In pursuit of the best, there is need to define what great means and who an ideal team member should be.  Steve Jobs famously quipped "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players....A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players. From the onset what this means is ensure that all the required skills are known, and have a blend in the team of different backgrounds, perspectives and personalities. Not everyone should be modeled in the leader’s image.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule that can elevate a person to excellence. For any team to reach a pinnacle of success they have to understand that excellence is a habit; no team becomes better without practicing together.  This can best be demonstrated in Formula One racing where speed and attention to detail differentiates the first and last position. The pit stop is a location where the driver has to stop during racing for no longer than six seconds, during which time mechanics will replace the wheels and add more fuel. This process is done by 20 mechanics and is evidence of constant measurement, refinement and repeated practice in bringing co-ordination and choreography to the pit stop using team dynamics. For this to work there can only be one team mind and body.  The essential step is to define a shared approach for the team to work together and then practice it over and over again beyond perfection. Super teams follow the maxim of investing the time upfront in preparation, with the return on that investment coming from speed and effectiveness in execution.
Lack of role clarity or ill-defined roles and responsibilities is the reason why individuals in teams end up having increased stress and job dissatisfaction. To avoid this scenario, from the onset define roles clearly, stating who is performing what task and what skills they need to have. Individual roles need to fit into the bigger team picture.
For teams to make decisions effectively they need to be of a certain size beyond which productivity begins to deteriorate. After five, you will tend to have diminishing returns from each individual despite the fact that group output increases.
Trust is the cog that runs the team engine. Teams build trust by members displaying competence, reliability and showing that they care about each other. In Israel’s example, compulsory conscription creates breeding ground for people to trust each other because they train, patrol the nation’s borders and fight in wars together. This ultimately ensures that there is a high level of trust among the people in the Israeli state. In fact so much so that being in the military is a sure way of getting a job due to the networks created while serving.   
In any team always get rid of the detractors, those who go against the vision and the intents of the team, those with bad team attitudes. 
According to Khoi Tu’s Superteams, encourage creative abrasion; the goal is not to build a team without conflict, but rather channel conflict effectively.  Harness the energy and creativity that comes from the combination of push and pull between the diverse members of your team. Business meetings in Israel are normally heated discussions illustrated by raised voices. In these meetings there is no distinction between boss and underling. After such meetings are dispensed with, everyone is guaranteed that the best idea was taken up and there is no backstabbing. Counter to this culture is an environment where everyone listens and adheres to what the boss has to say and there is no free-flow of ideas. In such an environment toxic backstabbing and politicking is chronic. Be alert that your team is not too cohesive, particularly watch out for the team’s desire for harmony and consensus against creative abrasion.

As a leader, remember the change you desire starts with you, embody it, be the best example that the team can emulate. Be open to learning and obsess about improvements that the team can adopt. Nurture a spirit of experimentation and excellence; teams that aim to make no mistakes end up making nothing of consequence. Failure can teach as much as success. Finally always design the future you want as a team.

Article written for CIO East Africa October 2013 

CREATING AND LEADING A SUPER TEAM: PART 1

Adversity has a sure way of bringing about progress and advancement. The UK SAS regiment recruits its members exclusively from the UK military and takes candidates through such a dire selection process, that only 15% succeed and transfer to the regiment. The result is that the SAS regiment is arguably the best in world.
UK SAS
The Jewish State of Israel has 95% of its landmass termed as arid or semi-arid; it has no natural resources and is surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. The result; it has extensive inventions in agro-technology that have transformed its arid areas into fertile sources of food for both Israel and the rest of the world. Israel, one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial country in the world, has more companies listed in the NASDAQ than Korea, Japan, Singapore, India and all of Europe combined.   
There are lessons to be learned from both Israel and the UK SAS regiment that can be used by any CIO who wishes to create and lead super teams that display stellar performances. Let us delve into some.
The power of common purpose and vision is so paramount to any institution that no team can survive without it. Israel exists to guarantee the survival of Jews, simple and clear. This basic tenet has attracted emigrating Jews from all over the world for the last 60 years to a point where it is both personal to each Jew while adequate to create the glue that keeps the Jewish nation going forward into the future.  Do you have such a clear and simple vision and purpose for your team?
It is no small matter that a vision has to move both hearts and minds of team members; to achieve this you have to connect your team’s work to an exciting and meaningful outcome. A result that is worthwhile to them individually and as a team. Examples that come to mind include the invention of a technology or process, being the first to introduce a product or service in the market or being the best in a particular field in a region and so forth.

In certain instances common purpose and vision can be borne from adversity, when the team goes through a crisis and is forced to either rise to the occasion or disband and scatter. A good example is the Pixar team in the early 90s when they were about to lose critical funding for their first animation feature Toy Story, which would have resulted in mass layoffs. By asking for a two-week reprieve, they broke down barriers that existed previously and galvanized into a super team facing a common threat to everything they had done over the years. The result was outstanding, laying ground for future creative successes. 
All teams need leadership and the best teams are well led. This doesn’t mean that the leader takes a draconian stance. Rather there is need to empower all team members to be leaders in their own right. By letting them inspire, support, challenge and hold each other accountable. A good extreme example of this approach is found in a comparison done between the Apollo 13 and the Columbia Space Shuttle mission crises. While the Apollo 13 mission was saved in the end, the Columbia mission was a disaster and killed all on board. Why? Because during the Apollo 13 era of 1970 cross functional teams at NASA had sufficient interaction and creative space to express their ideas and argue over them, thus the best solutions were arrived at without bureaucratic blockages. But, in the Columbia Crisis era of 2003 things had shifted to the other extreme at NASA, with a hierarchical chain of command, and no room for the voice of mid-level engineers to be heard by NASA managers. This is despite the fact that the issue that caused the crash had been diagnosed and noted way before even the flight took off. Management countered the practitioners a number of times and simply said that the risk was acceptable.
In leading a super team the leader has the imperative duty of knowing when to control, when to coach, when to consult and when to collaborate rather than have a dominant immovable style of leadership.

Next month we build up on other elements critical in creating and leading a super team. 

Article written for CIO East Africa September 2013 

BECOMING A RAINMAKER

In ancient times a man who could call upon the rain and turn the sun-scorched ground into a haven of water was considered a man of supreme abilities. This man was seen as a negotiator between man and God. Looked upon as a sage; full of wisdom and able to bring solutions to every foreseeable problem. This assumption was arrived at primarily because he could save lives when death seemed inevitable. In other words, if he could solve this conundrum that faced their livelihood, what could he not solve?

While the traditional definition has changed dramatically over time the principle of a rainmaker still survives in today’s organizations. Today he is the person who brings in revenues to the organization, be it a profit or a not-for profit organization.
Rain Maker in an organization

For the purpose of this article let us widen this definition to encompass a person who is able to offer solutions that strengthen or advance the firm he works for in ways that directly or indirectly bring in revenues for the organization.

What make the dream of being a rainmaker accessible to a technology professional? What actions do we need to undertake in retrospect in order to advance in our careers as rainmakers?

Of primary importance is a well-known fact that you should cherish and empathize with your clients; your primary reason for being in the position you are in is to serve them. If you do not acknowledge, understand or appreciate them, then you will never be a rainmaker. You might masquerade as one for a while but eventually you will fail. Treat them the same way you would want to be treated; is it with decorum and respect? Display those qualities too.  Find the issues that afflict them and face them head on, aiming to find a long lasting and definitive solution. Essentially, treat your clients like you would a best friend.

After you have done all the above, please note that your clients don’t care about you. In reality they don’t care if the applications you run are malfunctioning, or there was a power surge that roasted your servers yesterday, all they are concerned about is that their issues and problems are your main concern and that you are resolving them. 

Therefore to save you the heartache, don’t give excuses, don’t expect anyone to understand the predicament you are in. Build structures to ensure you never have to give an excuse. If it is resiliency or redundancies you need to put in place, invest in them.  In all aspects resolve to ensure that your function exists primarily to serve your clients. Remember this, rainmakers don’t have excuses; come earthquakes or floods they deliver. Your second name should be “Reliable”.

“Show your clients the money”. Without fail, show them what value they will accrue from a solution you aim to deploy in monetary terms. This value needs to be in a manner that is dear to them. For example “if the sales department spend $1000 in solution A, they will accrue a 10% increase in revenue generation”. Simply monetize their expectations.  This approach forces you to dig deeper and understand better your client’s needs, so that you are able to relate a solution to a certain revenue benefit, or in the public sector an efficiency or efficacy benefit.

Another key principle is learning how to turn client objections to mutual objectives.

Clients have concerns and issues that need to be resolved, before they can make an investment decision. They may be concerned about pricing, affordability, delivery, reliability and so forth. The rainmaker needs to know that objections are simply ways in which clients express their desires. Your aim should be to turn an objection into a mutual objective. A price “too high” could possibly mean there is lack of understanding on the true value of the solution and more awareness needs to be created around how the solution ties in with the client needs.
Always plan in advance before you engage a client about a solution. Prepare adequately before engaging. Do your homework incisively making sure you know the ins and outs of the solution you have and the needs of your client.

Remember that asking the right questions and learning the art of listening is not a weakness, but an asset. Through this you will understand the heart of your client and their desires and come to an appreciation of their mindset. And like a doctor, you need to know, you can only give the right prescription based on a proper diagnosis.  


In conclusion, remember to thank the client, sincerely and often.Without them, there is no you.

Article done for CIO East Africa November 2013

REMARKABLE IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE

  
How do you stand apart? How do you raise your own voice in a stadium of fanatics? How do you become remarkable, unique and indispensable in the world today? 

One of the most inspiring speeches of all time was less than 300 words and was delivered to a crowd that scarcely heard it due to the resounding noise all around. It went on to inspire millions around the world over the last 150 years. This was the stuff of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.    
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

I dare say that to be remarkable, simplicity and focus are key components. 

Very few people know Kia Silverbrook, the most prolific inventor in the world today. But all of us know about Thomas Edison, because of the centrality of his innovations to our everyday life.

Unless in their industry hardly many people know BASF the largest chemical company in the world, but all of us instinctively know the BMW marque. Why?  

Because being remarkable is not about competing with other people and fighting for scarce supremacy in a given field of operation.

Now more than ever, it is becoming evident that the senior management culture in modern organizations where cutthroat strategies aim to capture and dominate a market was an invention of the two world wars that infiltrated the business world.  While this approach, which ultimately awarded senior management with an “officer” at the end of one’s title, served us well in the last century. The competition pool has become a bloody red, with intense competition, and there is need for a new approach, a new way of strategizing. Being the best in a field is no longer good enough.

According to Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim et al, the way to get clarity and achieve focus in such a situation is through a process of asking pertinent questions, as a person and as a business, around what you need to create, raise (amplify), reduce or eliminate (i.e. C.A.R.E.) to make what you do remarkable and very different from what others are doing.

To go through this process calls for a lot of soul searching and self discovery, but it also calls for you to truly comprehend your clients. At the end of this process, you should be able to test if your strategy is both divergent from what others in your field are doing and also focused. After this process you should be able to summarize your strategy in less than 20 words.

In Purple Cow, Seth Gordin alludes to a focus and clarity needed in being remarkable, whereby instead of trying to please everyone, you focus your marketing effort on a niche market of those who will best understand and appreciate your effort.

Infuse the marketing effort in your product, by making sure that your niche market instinctively loves it to a point of wanting to evangelize it to their network of friends and associates. Let a word of mouth campaign; in today’s world of social media be the best tool for your remarkable product to a larger populace.   

A word of caution, being very good and being remarkable are totally different elements. As we speak, Google’s glass technology is remarkable, Apple’s most current iteration of an iPhone is very good. Remarkable is something worth noticing and different. To be outstanding in today’s world, to reach levels necessary for products coming out of our East African economies to be considered world class, we have to be remarkable.

Lionel Poilane
I conclude with a case study from Seth Gordin’s, Purple Cow that mentions the best baker in the world to illustrate the steps to being remarkable in your field of choice. The late Lionel Poilane, a second-generation French baker became obsessed with being remarkable. He extensively researched and interviewed thousands of French bakers about their techniques. He pioneered the use of organic flour in France.  He also refused to bake baguettes, terming them tasteless. He acquired the largest collection of bread cookbooks in the world and studied them extensively. He refused to hire established bakers, since they had too many bad habits to unlearn, he instead hired young men who were willing to apprentice with him for years. His acclaimed sourdough bread is simply made with just flour, water, starter and sea salts and is baked in a wooden-fired oven.  At first he was rejected and ridiculed by the French establishment. But the overwhelming quality of his sourdough loaves and his desire to do it right finally won them over. Now his establishment ships his bread all over the world, including all fancy restaurants in France, and makes millions of dollars in the process.

Article done for CIO East Africa December  2013 issue