Monday, December 13, 2010

20 Business Truisms That Can Change Your Life

Once in a great while, experience teaches us a lesson that that can only be described as an axiom or a truism. It just is. You can try to understand its origins or debate its basis in theory, but if you ask me, that’s just a waste of time. You’re better off just taking it for what it is - an empirical observation - and benefiting from its implications.

Now, I know some of this stuff straddles philosophy and psychology, but there’s a good reason for that. While they are indeed “real world” observations, they were perceived through a subjective filter - my brain - which, for better or worse, includes all kinds of strange and diverse influences.

So, while you will find elements of Taoism, Freudian theory, Ayn Rand, and What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, make no mistake: they’re all practical lessons that can help your career … or even change your life:

1. If you don’t know, say so. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, stop talking.
2. Whether negotiation is strong or weak depends entirely on your goals.
3. Don’t jump ship before you hit the iceberg.
4. Anger is never about what you think you’re angry about.
5. Confidence comes from success, knowledge comes from failure.
6. A**hole is a subjective noun.
7. If you are miserable, quit and do something else. If you’re still miserable, it’s you.

8. Success is based on current behavior, not past performance.
9. If you protect your domain or CYA, that’s all you’ll accomplish.
10. Thin-skinned people are actually thick-headed.
11. People won’t perform for those they don’t respect.
12. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you won’t be successful at it.
13. When you have problems with others, look inside yourself for answers.
14. The workplace is about business, not you.
15. Conflict is healthy; anger is not. Get some help for that.
16. No matter how smart you are, wisdom only comes from experience.
17. Whine and complain all you want; nobody gives a crap.
18. You can BS others but you really can’t BS yourself.
19. The boss isn’t always right, but she’s still the boss.
20. The customer isn’t always right, but he’s still the customer.

If any of this comes across as sort of preachy, just so you know, that’s not my intent. I’m not interested in indoctrinating anyone, just helping you to navigate a complex and challenging working world.

Come to think of it, while I think their meanings should be self-evident - at least after some reflection - I’m probably not the best judge of that. So if you don’t get it, ask and I’ll provide additional color in the comment section. By Steve Tobak

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Open Book Management

In 1992, when The Great Game of Business was originally published, only a few hundred companies practiced open-book management (OBM). Today thousands do. The word has spread. CEOs have seen the payoffs. OBM is now considered an essential alternative to the conventional, top-down way of running a company.

Advice: Just plunge in, ignore the tired management myths and discover the truth for yourself.

Myth: Don’t tell people the truth about the financials.

Truth: If you open the books, your leadership team has to establish credibility. You do that by telling the truth. You just can’t operate well unless people believe their managers and peers. And what’s the downside if your numbers land in the wrong hands? Competitors could never replicate your best practices, corporate spirit or the collective know-how of your employees.

Myth: Managers are paid to figure out all the answers.

Truth: First, no one has all the answers. Second, we need new job descriptions for managers in open-book workplaces. Managers teach, coach and give pep talks. When they ask team members for solutions they create a shared learning experience. That way everyone learns faster. Managers also have to learn to cope with failure. That’s where contingency planning comes in.

Myth: It’s a bad idea to promote people too quickly.

Truth: Employees should prove themselves, sure. But it’s smart to get your best people moving around so they don’t get stale or develop tunnel vision. New, exciting challenges and some cross-training expands their horizons. Suddenly, they appreciate the needs and goals of a larger chunk of the organization. And what happens next? Walls come down, communication improves, things start happening.

Myth: Never mind the big picture, just do your job.

: The big picture is all about motivation, giving employees a common purpose. The broader the picture you paint, the fewer obstacles they see. If people have big goals, they blow right by the little obstacles. But those obstacles can seem huge if you don’t move people beyond the daily grind or appeal to something they really want to do. Show them the fact and figures. Explain the challenges and opportunities. When you share the big picture, you define winning.
The rest is all details ...

Friday, November 12, 2010

How to Hone Your BS Detecting Skills

Succeeding in business is all about accurately analyzing information and then making smart decisions. Falling for BS is antithetical to both. But with the world awash in half-truths, partial distortions, aggrandizing exaggerations and out-and-out lies you’ll have plenty of opportunities to fall prey to other people’s bull. How can you protect yourself from being led astray by their nonsense?

Washington, DC based venture capitalist Don Rainey has penned a post for Business Insider’s War Room offering six suggestions to help you hone you BS detecting abilities. The piece is well worth a read in its entirety, but the basic suggestions are as follows:

1. Determine what serves the speaker’s self-interest. Whenever someone is presenting a point of view, you owe it to yourself to consider how their opinion might correlate to their own self-interest. After all, there must be some reason they have to make the argument to you in the first place. And that reason more likely correlates with their own self-interest than with yours.

2. Question the data. We live in a world of pseudo science, skewed sample sets and anonymous experts. Don’t accept anything as an important truth without first examining the source.

3. Watch for truth qualifying statements. “To tell you the truth” or “Let’s be frank” or “I have to be honest…” are all statements that beg the question – “Are we starting to be honest just now?”

4. Listen for name dropping. Credibility should always be derived from the strength of the argument, known facts and/or the reputation of the person present. If absent prominent people are the backbone of an argument, you should be suspect.

5. Notice confusion in response to logical counterpoints. This type of response is meant to undermine your confidence in the soundness of your counter argument without seeking to specifically or factually oppose the point itself. Watch out for confusion when there should be none.

6. Beware of the obvious. If a conversation provides you with one obvious thought after another, wait for the end of the train of thoughts as it is typically an illogical conclusion. After getting into a “yes…yes… yes…” rhythm, you may easily accept a well placed random conclusion or mistruth. by Jessica Stillman

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ten New Rules for Project Managers

"An amazing thing, the human brain. Capable of understanding incredibly complex and intricate concepts. Yet at times unable to recognize the obvious and simple." Jay Abraham

These ten ideas will dramatically improve your projects. Are these ten rules the top ten … You decide.

But don't take too long … Share these rules with your team …Your team members are sure to help you carry them out!

Adopt practices for exploring a variety of perspectives. We think we see what we see, but we don't. We really see what we think. Remember the blind men and the elephant. Make it your habit to inquire what others see. You'll see more together.

Stay close to your customer. Clients' concerns evolve over the life of a project. Take advantage of that to over-deliver. Stay in a conversation with your client to adjust what you are doing.

Take care of your project team. We've come to accept that the customer comes first…the customer is always right. We can't take care of the customer if we first aren't taking care of our project team. It's a challenge. While there are some things we can do for the whole team, it comes down to taking care of each team member as the individual that he or she is. And to make it more difficult, then we must bring their various interests into coherence.

Keep your eye on the overall project promises. Project work can be difficult. It is easy to loose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Remind your team and yourself of the overall promises and how you are doing fulfilling those promises.

Build relationships intentionally. Project teams come together as strangers. To do great work…innovation, learning, and collaboration…all take people who like and care for each other.
Don't leave that to chance. Start your projects by building relationships among team members.

Tightly couple learning with action. Projects are wonderful opportunities to learn. Don't put that off for the after project lessons learned. Make it your habit to incorporate learning loops in all your project activities. Your team will appreciate it. Your customer will benefit from it. And best of all, it will make your job easier.

Coordinate meticulously. A project is an ever-evolving network of commitment. Keep that network activated by tending to the critical conversations. See that people are making clear requests, promises that have completion dates, and share opinions that advance the purposes of the project. Without attention to those critical conversations the project will drift.

Collaborate. Really collaborate. Make it your rule to plan with those people who will be the performers of the plan. Don't wait 'til the project has gone south to get their help. Start out that way. Continue collaborating as the usual way you work through the project.

Listen generously. People are able to say what they can in the moment. For the most part, people are well-intended. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to listen. Ask questions. Seek others' opinions. And while you're at it, don't be so harsh on yourself.

Embrace uncertainty. Expect the unexpected. There is far more that we don't know and can't know than what we can anticipate. Be resilient to what life throws at you. Anticipate that your team will learn something along the way that can and should change what you have promised and how you can deliver on your promises. And when you take a set-back — we all do sometime or another — review the other nine rules for how you can work your way out of it. © 2004 Hal Macomber. Reforming Project Management

Good luck ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beyond Techniques ...

I am a big fan of the book The Art of War and Taoism ... I truly believe that there is alot of excellent philosophical ideas within both concepts.

I recently came across the a post from the The Tao of Project Management blog which I thought was excellent and bore repeating.

Beyond Techniques

People who blindly follow PRINCE, PM-BOK or any other technique or methodology to the letter are not usually wise project managers. The wise project manager needs no guidelines or methodology to do the right things and steer the project successfully towards completion. Those guidelines and methodologies exist to teach and instruct the less experienced, for whom they were intended. However the good project manager should also set an example and therefore should be seen to follow those guidelines and methodologies where they are appropriate.

The Way

The poor project manager may recognise that he needs members of the team to do the work on the project but he fails to recognise that he also need to serve these people. If there is no mutual need and mutual respect he is missing the whole point and will not see how things happen.

The wise project manager has an awareness of everything that needs taking care of on the project; he misses nothing. In return the members of the project team need the project manager to steer them in the right direction and facilitate their work. I know this for this is the way of the project manager.

The Tao
Lao Tsu tells us:

A good walker leaves no tracks;
A good speaker makes no slips;
A good reckoner needs no tally.
A good door needs no lock,
Yet no one can open it.
Good binding requires no knots,
Yet no one can loosen it.

Therefore the sage takes care of all men
And abandons no one.
He takes care of all things
And abandons nothing.

This is called “following the light.”

What is a good man?
A teacher of a bad man.
What is a bad man?
A good man’s charge.
If the teacher is not respected,
And the student not cared for,
Confusion will arise, however clever one is.
This is the crux of mystery.

I hope it is helpful ...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Making the Right Decision ...

I just finished making a VERY difficult decision in my life and it started me to thinking ... how many times a day do we, as Project Managers, sit and consider whether or not we have made the correct decision ... one, two ... seven, eight ... more ?

Decision making is a key role for any manager or leader.

Surprisingly many people struggle when it comes to taking decisions. This might be due to:
o Fear of failure
o Lack of a structured approach
o Procrastinating
o Lack of clarity

Whatever the barriers, there are 6 steps that you can follow when taking any decision.

1. Problem Definition
Before you can start to take any decisions, you need to be absolutely clear the problem you are trying to reach a decision on. One simple technique is just to write out in a sentence what the problem is that you need to take a decision on.

2. Assess the Implications
All decisions have implications. If it is a decision at work, it has implications for you, your peers, your team and your superiors. Depending on the decision (e.g. a promotion at work) it may even have implications for your family, especially if it involves relocation.

3. Explore Different Perspectives
Perspectives are simply different lenses through which you look at the problem. By exploring different perspectives you start to get a feel for those that you are most attracted to.

4. Get Clear on Your Ideal Outcome
When you are faced with a big decision, it is easy to get lost in the detail and circumstances. An alternative is to get clear on your ideal outcome and use this ideal outcome to inform your choices. Imagine you aspire to be a CFO of a Top 100 company. By having clarity on your outcome, you can make choices on promotions and experience linked to this ideal outcome.

5. Weigh up Pros and Cons
Another way of looking at a decision is to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of the options open to you. Simply listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option is a powerful way of moving forward on decisions.

6. Decide and Act
Once you have gone through the previous 5 steps, commit to a choice or course of action and start to make it happen. To avoid procrastination, give yourself permission to be okay with any failings that might arise.

At the end of the day there is no magic formula for decision making. Following some simple steps and acting can however move you into the realm of effective decision maker. By Duncan Brodie

I am happy and comfortable with my decision ... are you ??

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ostrich Management ...

How many of you have experienced or are currently experiencing 'Ostrich Management' (A Watercooler Phrase ... Meaning when someone in a leadership position sticks their head in the sand, hoping a problem will just go away) ?
What are your thoughts and/or solutions to this problem ??

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback

I am always on the lookout for interest ideas and approaches to different problems or situations, recently I read an article by Marshall Goldsmith that discussed the idea of Feedforward. Here is the article for your review (and comment if you like) ...

Giving and receiving feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need to know how they are doing. They need to know if their performance is what their leaders expect from them and, if not, they need suggestions on how to improve it. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of feedback from leaders to their employees. And, leaders themselves need feedback from their employees, in the form of suggestions for how to improve procedures and processes, innovative ideas for new products and services, and input on their own leadership styles. This has become increasingly common with the advent of 360ยบ feedback.

But there is a fundamental problem with feedback: it focuses on that past, on what has already occurred—not on the infinite variety of things that can be in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.

Over the past several years, I have observed more than five thousand leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles. In one role, they are asked provide feedforward —that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward—that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has 6-7 dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:

• Pick one behavior that they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.• Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”
• Ask for feedforward—for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.
• Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such as, “That’s a good idea.”
• Thank the other participants for their suggestions.
• Ask the other persons what they would like to change.
• Provide feedforward - two suggestions aimed at helping them change.
• Say, “You are welcome.” when thanked for the suggestions. The entire process of both giving and receiving feedforward usually takes about two minutes.
• Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.

When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, “This exercise was …”. The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as “great”, “energizing”, “useful” or “helpful.” The most common word mentioned is “fun!”

What is the last word that most of us think about when we receive coaching and developmental ideas? Fun!

Ten Reasons to Try Feedforward

Participants are then asked why this exercise is seen as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing or uncomfortable. Their answers provide a great explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback.

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Athletes are often trained using feedforward. Racecar drivers are taught to, “look at the road, not the wall.” Basketball players are taught to envision the ball going in the hoop and to imagine the perfect shot. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

2. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were “wrong.” Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” This tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative as it necessarily involves a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls, and problems. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions.

3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment. We all tend to accept feedback that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. We also tend to reject or deny feedback that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. Successful people tend to have a very positive self-image. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.

4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don’t know! For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow leader can give you ideas on how you can improve. They don’t have to know you. Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.

5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”. In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally (no matter how it is delivered). Successful people’s sense of identity is highly connected with their work. The more successful people are, the more this tends to be true. It is hard to give a dedicated professional feedback that is not taken personally. Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened!

6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. How many of us have been “helped” by a spouse, significant other or friend, who seems to have a near-photographic memory of our previous “sins” that they share with us in order to point out the history of our shortcomings. Negative feedback can be used to reinforce the message, “this is just the way you are”. Feedforward is based on the assumption that people can make positive changes in the future.

7. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it feedback reports for°. I have reviewed summary 360 over 50 companies. The items, “provides developmental feedback in a timely manner” and “encourages and accepts constructive criticism” almost always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were “improved”, most should be perfect by now! Leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future.

8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback. Imagine that you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you “relive” this humiliating experience, your manager might help you prepare for future presentations by giving you suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way your manager can “cover the same points” without feeling as embarrassed and without making you feel even more humiliated.

9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.” With this approach almost no time gets wasted on judging the quality of the ideas or “proving that the ideas are wrong”. This “debate” time is usually negative; it can take up a lot of time, and it is often not very productive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender, as well as the receiver. Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination and will tend to accept ideas that they “buy” while rejecting ideas that feel “forced” upon them.

10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative unintended consequences when applied to managers or peers. Feedforward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful “fellow traveler” than an “expert”. As such it can be easier to hear from a person who is not in a position of power or authority. An excellent team building exercise is to have each team member ask, “How can I better help our team in the future?” and listen to feedforward from fellow team members (in one-on-one dialogues.)

In summary, the intent of this article is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When managers are asked, “How did you feel the last time you received feedback?” their most common responses are very negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving feedforward, they reply that feedforward was not only useful, it was also fun!

Quality communication—between and among people at all levels and every department and division—is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
Adapted from "Leader to Leader" Magazine, Summer, 2002© Marshall Goldsmith 2002

Like I said ... I like interesting ideas and new approaches to everyday situations/problems.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The WOW Project

One of the motivational speakers/writers that I really enjoy is Tom Peters and he has published many related articles regarding different aspects of "The WOW Project". The following is an excerpt from one of those articles ...

After decades of wholesale neglect, companies are finally facing the fact of pathetic white-collar productivity and realizing that they need to organize work in a fundamentally new way. The old ways of working are too slow, too convoluted, too hard to grab hold of -- and the value is too hard to capture. At the same time, white-collar workers themselves are catching on: They need to rethink the very nature of work. If they're going to have work in the future, they must be able to demonstrate clearly, precisely, and convincingly how they can add value. The answer -- the only answer -- is the project. And not just any project, no matter how droning, boring, and dull, but rather what my colleagues and I have come to call "Wow Projects": projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy -- and, yes, projects that make you a star. Distinguished project work is the future of work -- for the simple reason that more than 90% of white-collar jobs are in jeopardy today. They are in the process of being transformed beyond identification -- or completely eliminated.

Architects, accountants, graphic designers, lawyers, consultants, and all other workers in "official" professional-services firms understand life in the projects. As a professional, age 56, I can honestly say that I live the new formula: I = My Projects. Yet this idea is fairly new for the typical white-collar "staffers" in the human-resources departments, the IT departments, the finance departments, and all of the other departments in standard-issue manufacturing, production, and operations companies of the United States. All work of economic value is project work.

And because project work is becoming that important, a few rules are needed for thinking about projects the right way:

1. Project work is the vehicle by which the powerless gain power. Forget about "empowerment programs." Instead, volunteer for every lousy project that comes along: Organize the office Christmas party. (Turn that dreadful holiday party into an event that says, "Thanks for a terrific year!" to all employees.) Here's a dirty little secret from my professional career: The research that became "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies" (with Robert H. Waterman, Harper & Row, 1982) was a McKinsey project that virtually no one in the firm cared two hoots about.

2. Project work is the future of the company waiting to be discovered. Somewhere, in the belly of every company, someone is working away in obscurity on the project that 10 years from now everyone will acknowledge as the company's proudest moment. Someone is creating Java, designing the iMac, reviving the VW Beetle, engineering the Mach3. Why isn't that someone you?

3. Never let a project go dreary on you. Your goal should be to work in perpetuity with Wow people, on Wow Projects, for Wowable clients. How do you know when your project measures up? Each week, ask yourself and your teammates, "Will we be bragging about this project five years from now? If the odds of success are low, what can we do -- right now! -- to turn up the heat?"

4. When it comes to life in the projects, draft people as if you were a GM and invest as if you were a VC. Work today is about two things: talent and projects. If you're in charge of a project, you ought to think like the general manager of an NBA franchise: You've got to fill 12 chairs with the hottest people you can draft. And when it comes to picking your projects, you need to think like a venture capitalist: You bet on cool people who have demonstrated their capacity to deliver cool projects. Tom Peters Dec 2007