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Thursday, January 29, 2009

What the Heck is Namawashi

Want to get a decision made quickly and avoid countless debate in your next meeting? In Japan they have a term called Namawashi that essentially means do preliminary work to involve others before holding a meeting. In Japan there is the concept of not wanting to publicly embarrass someone you may think that you achieved agreement in a meeting only to find out later there may be even more dissension than before. What does this mean? In the US it is referred to as management by walking around; talk to your meeting attendees before pitching your proposal to the broader group.

Why would someone not doing business in Japan care about the concept of namawashi? Have you ever noticed that not everyone speaks up in meetings? Have you ever noticed that some attendees visibly do not agree with what is being discussed but say nothing? A Congressmen friend of mine once said, "don't call a vote unless you already know the outcome". This is good advice that applies outside of politics. Any amount of change whether personal or organizational starts with the individual, see my post
book review: change management. One person can easily be pushed aside but a number of people united toward a common goal are much harder to push aside. Working one-on-one to build grass roots support will ensure that staff have a chance to air their ideas as well as concerns will provide insight into what others are thinking and enable you to tailor your presentation improving the opportunities for agreement.

In the west we expect to be invited to meetings to get the update or provide our opinion, in Japan it is namawashi that keeps people informed. If we, as western managers, adopted namawashi we would see much better staff engagement. Using namawashi you are selling your ideas one on one and allowing each individual to work through change in their own way allowing organizational change to be achieved. I have found that the team will be immensely more aggressive toward achieving the organizational goals when each individual has discussed her ideas, concerns and observations from their perspective. Meetings are more effective because all members are able to look around the room and see the level of engagement.

Share your thoughts about namawashi and how it might be effective in your organization.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keep Your Measure of Project Success Simple

I was listening to the Accidental Creative Podcast where he was talking about setting aside personal creative time. What stood out in the podcast was the importance of defining success criteria even for personal projects. Why did that one piece resonate with me? As a business professional I have observed so many projects drag on to ultimate failure for any number of stated reasons; when in actuality there was no measure or definition of success before the project started. Now I know the technology professionals will tell you to look at their scope document it will state the success measures. I am going to argue that is not really the truth. the definition of project success needs to be so simple everyone can easily see that it was achieved.

Large projects should be broken down into smaller sub projects that can be measured with clear success. I think creative, technical, and operational professionals some times spend far to much time over complicating their projects and lose site of their objectives.
Occam's Razor says if you are confronted with multiple solutions it is best to pick the simplest one. Warren Buffet is identified as saying, "if you can't explain what you do in easy to understand terms then you are either hiding something or have no clue what you are doing". Both are right. It is better to keep things simplistic to enable better operational control but also so you can apply your efforts effectively and to good result. It's no good if you give up because you just can't achieve "success" define it up front and you can succeed.

What are your thoughts about defining success up front in simple terms?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship

Want to build a learning organization or are you looking to accelerate your career? Then you need a mentor. Mentoring provides a powerful resource for personal and professional growth through sharing expertise, skills, perspectives, experience, and knowledge. If a mentee takes ownership of the relationship, as they should, they will receive tremendous benefits in the following areas:

Improve your self awareness. Mentors are a third person who can give you that all important perspective on the issues you are seeking to solve. Have a team member that is just driving you crazy? Don't get into a fight on the floor (yes I did have this scenario happen). A good mentor will help you to think through your challenges and come to your own conclusions. Being able to understand who you are and the role you are playing in the particular situation will take a you a long way toward your goals.

A opportunity to expand your network. A mentor does not always have all of the answers you are looking for, however, they do have a network and someone they know may have those answers. An opportunity to meet experts who can provide advice is very powerful; not to mention the chance to enhance potential future opportunities. Often my mentor does not have the answer but after carefully questioning I can point me to someone who does. I know of several occasions that I did not have the answer the to the issue being presented by the mentee and I was able to refer them to someone in my network who did. Don't focus on picking mentors for their expertise rather for their position and experience; then you can learn how to achieve similar goals.

Exposure to senior leaders. Make sure that when you are looking for potential mentors identify individuals that are in roles you hope to achieve during your career journey. Senior level people can provide a clear perspective for you and it will be much easier to evaluate their feedback when you recognize that your mentor has probably been there and done that. This is not about perfection and setting mentors that are to high up in senior management won't work. Mentoring is about active dialog and not always having your problems solved. Don’t ask your friends or peers to be your mentor. You want a third person's point of view. I am not saying don’t develop friendships with your peers; I am saying seek out advice from those in the next level or higher.

Mentors are a sounding board for your ideas and plans. If you are planning a new project or looking at potential employers a mentor will be able to actively listen to what you are considering and help you to draw effective conclusions. For discussion and guidance the opportunity to test approaches, ideas, or other activates is important and being able to do so without it being a part of your annual review is an unique opportunity to you as a mentee.

Opportunity to view issues from another perspective. Having someone to give you that important third person's perspective. How many times have you been told that you are too close to a situation to make the best decisions? Our decision making ability can easily be clouded by the events that are affecting our daily lives. Getting a chance to review the situation and explain what we are doing and how things are evolving around you in terms a third person can understand will enable you to get outside of the situation. I have had several situations when, after reviewing them with my mentor, I was able to handle in a much more effective manner than had a taken the original action I was pondering. Again having someone to bounce your ideas off of will enable you to make the right decision for the situation.

Constructive feedback. Getting the constructive feedback on your strengths and weakness is so much easier when the person providing this feedback is not your boss or someone with an influence on your year end review or your compensation. A forum for constructive feedback, will give a foundation to build upon, don't expect the feedback to always be positive. A good mentor will tell you when you need to get your head together.

Don't expect a perfect relationship. Mentorship is a growing process and a mentee can build skills and knowledge while attaining her development goals in this safe environment. Effective relationships happen when the mentee is actually initiating the driving the relationship with a set of personal goals in mind. I will explain more in a later post.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Out Sick

One of my biggest pet peeves is when staff think they are doing the right thing by coming into the office sick. It is nice to know that you are dedicated to your job but please don't come to work when you are sick. The reality is you are much less productive than you think you are and the rest of us get sick too. We don't want to get sick because of your dedication.

After delivering this lecture to my team late last week, when several of the team came to work sick, I end up catching a flu bug. I can't stand being sick, spending the day laying around resting because my brain is so fogged up from the congestion that I can't concentrate. I am going back to bed to sleep this off.

Take care of yourself and don't go to work sick!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Next Next Promotion

I had an employee resign the other day, which is part of life in an organization. He was in a non-titled role and gave his reason for leaving that the promotions were not coming fast enough for him to meet his career goals. He shared that the job he was offered came with a bigger title, though no increase in pay, and within a year he would be eligible for a bigger title. On the surface this seems like a reasonable argument to take another job; after all it is all about the the next next promotion? This individual was very excited about the prospect that he will be up for another promotion within a year of joining his new firm, however, he didn't spend much time assessing the work he will be doing.

This was an immature reason for leaving a firm. Before signing on to the notion that you can get a promotion in a year think through what the interviewer said. It is easy to tell someone you will be up for promotion if you are a top performer, capable, good or competent. However, great as this sounds there is no commitment in the statement and there is no definition of what you will need to do to be eligible. The burden is on the candidate to figure out what it is that drives the next next promotion. The interviewer dangled the opportunity and the interviewee took the bait hook, line, and sinker and like most young professionals he never asked about the details of the job he will be performing.

The unfortunate reality is he took a role supporting legacy technology that is most often relegated to the staff interested in long term stability and consistency. This was not the type of role an young ambitious professional would normally choose. In his quest for title he sacrificed the opportunity for valuable skills that would improve his resume and future marketability. When you are evaluating an opportunity focus on the type of projects and technologies you will be working with; not the title being offered. Every company and industry looks at corporate and functional titles differently, however, when we are looking to fill a role we are looking at the skills and experience of the candidate (not the cool sounding title).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shoganai: Forgive, Let Go, Move On

Everywhere I look I see the signs that the economy is in dire straights, even our president elect Barack Obama is saying he needs TARP funds released before he gets into office. Just the other day I read in Penelope Trunk's blog that she has run out of funding for her start up company. A good friend shared that his company will run out of funds at the end of the January and any he is talking to investors in terms of months of payroll. With all of this bad news it becomes very difficult to focus and believe that we will come out of this. Yes, things are difficult but you or I cannot change the macro environment, however, we can change ourselves and our outlook.

The Japanese have a saying, Shoganai ‘shoga-nai‘, It literally means “there’s nothing we can do about it.” The word implies: “It’s no-body's fault, it’s just nature’s course, we can’t do anything about it, so let’s forgive, let go, and move on.” To effectively apply Shoganai to your life, focus on the following ten things you can control:

1) Control what you think. Christina Merkley, The Shift-it coach, recommends in her post Tell a New Story in 2009 that you, "Make the effort to change your internal programming – even just cleaning up one little degree of resistance can have a huge impact on your overall trajectory" One technique Christina recommends is to FLIP IT, where you take your current thought and FLIP IT around to a positive. Do this with the US unemployment rate published at 7.2% and FLIP IT to the opposite and you have 92.8% of people are employed. Set a personal agreement to flip all of your negative thoughts.

2) Exercise More. I know this one is beating a dead horse but it really worked for me. There are numerous studies that show exercise provides better stress management, builds your immunity, and improves your sleep. I personally was able to drop 50 pounds and as an added benefit reduce my blood pressure, cholesterol, and manage stress much better with my regular exercise regimen. Taking care off your body will take care of your mind.

3) Learn Something New. Take a class a your local college that will add to your professional skills. Sign up for Toastmasters and improve your presentation and selling skills. This will make you more marketable and desirable to potential employers. Continuous learning and growth will exercise the mind and expand your creative ideas not to mention positive contributions to your current job.

4) Implement a 15 minute per day reading plan. See my post about reading daily. Spending 15 minutes of reading something positive can make immediate improvement in your personal outlook. Your subconscious mind processes the activities of the day and inserting a positive influence right before your sleep will channel this processing down the path of enlightenment.

5) Turn off the news. There is very little that you as an individual can do at this moment to make a change to what has already happened. The news is always reporting events after the fact. Listening to bad things that have already happened is depressing your outlook unnecessarily. Take the advice of Michael Hyatt and take a media break. This is not a recommendation to ignore what is happening or to hide from the truth, rather this is a recommendation to intentionally limit the amount and volume of bad news you are taking in. There are plenty of opportunities to be told about how the economy is doing by friends and associates; these conversations will happen whether you are watching the news or not. So reduce the negative inputs.

6) Spend more time with friends and family. If you stop watching TV you will have more time to spend with your friends and family. Take the time and renew your friendships and enjoy time spent together. If you enjoyed the time you spent idle then it was time not wasted. Living abroad as I do I find the times that I am most homesick are during the Holiday events that included big get together with friends and family: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Fourth of July. Spending time connecting with others is one of life's definitions of an individual.

Start a new project. Todd Henry from the accidental creative asks, "you DO have built-in unnecessary creating time, right?" One of the best uses of your time is to start a new project, whether it be a personal creative project that allows you to explore your talents outside of the office or a project within the office. Exploring your own creative side with breakthrough barriers that are holding you back spawning the discovery of new and interesting solutions and maybe even your next venture. Write a proposal and present it to your boss on how to improve office efficiency or a new market for your company's products. Even if it is rejected you will have gained valuable experience and practice for your next idea as well is valuable credibility within your organization.

8) Give back. I am an advocate for having a calling that drives who you are (A Job or a Calling ). I am not suggesting that we spend money to give back, rather it is about donating your time. There will always be people or organizations in need that cannot afford to pay for the skills they are in need of. By finding a way that you can use your considerable talent outside of the office contributing to the greater good you will find the ultimate satisfaction. Look at your job as a means to an end and that end is the opportunity to donate your time to helping others. You will find tremendous satisfaction and this satisfaction will empower you, your job does not define you, your calling will. Use your considerable talents for a greater good outside of the office.

9) Write a daily journal. The most powerful thing I did in late 2008 was to start writing in my journal on a daily basis. My aunt, and author of Daily Paintings, Elin Pendleton made this recommendation to me when I was 12 years old and some many years later, after reading the book,"Write it Down Make it Happen" I started this practice. This daily exercise of writing for a minimum of 20 uninterrupted minutes allows me to dump all the thoughts out of my brain, clearing up my thoughts and then improving my focus. This allows me to review all that is there and realize that much of what I was thinking was not focused on the priorities of the day; I write about goals, ambitions, letters to family, and even notes to others. Taking the time each day to write will clarify your ideas; this single activity has proven to be powerful therapy.

10) Appreciate the moment. Times may be difficult and there is no easy way to say this but feel the experience. You are more alive today than you have ever been, feel alive and appreciate this very moment. Once the moment has passed it will be gone for ever so appreciate what you do have. Then look to the future; opportunities are available and no matter what will happen in 2009; the economy will recover.

Shoganai, "It’s no-body's fault, it’s just nature’s course, we can’t do anything about it, so let’s forgive, let go, and move on.” You are defined by the people you meet, the places you have been, and the books you have read. Focus on what you can control, let go and take back your life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Human Resourcs your Business Partner

I just had the opportunity to write a recommendation for a Human Resources colleague I have worked with here in Asia when we were assessing, acquiring, building, and even shutting down businesses and while I was having a think about what I looked for in my HR team.

Human Resources is, like all corporate functions, often referred to as unavoidable; employees believe HR is only looking out for the company and the managers believe HR is only looking out for the employees. Both are right in the minimalist's view, however, there are many government-mandated activities they perform also so we have to include that they are also only looking out for the Government. I of course say this with "tongue and cheek" as I have found that a solid HR team is the cornerstone to a successful organization. All corporate functions are established to support the various business functions in the effort to grow revenue. To see HR as a trusted advisor and valued partner look to the following areas:

- Recruiting
- Staff development
- Discipline
- Understanding the people impact of decisions
- Interacting with staff and feeding this information to management

Each team leader and manager cannot act as an expert in these areas they need to focus on the aspects of running their business. The HR team is the partner to assist in understanding, how as leaders, our actions will affect our most important resources...our employees. It was straight forward writing a recommendation for my colleague because he excelled in these areas and I do view him as a business partner.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

15 Minutes a Day Can Change Your Life

One simple trick applied for 15 minutes a day can change your life. That simple trick is reading something positive or uplifting 15 minutes right before you go to bed. Turn off the TV set a timer and read. That is all there is to it. So why is something so simple so difficult to do? Well to be effective you need to apply the rule everyday regardless of how tired you are, this is a commitment to yourself and you will need to work at it to keep up even when you are so tired all you want to do is go to bed.

I have a regular queue of books that are lined up for reading rotating then in the order listed:

- An uplifting book. Usually in the self help genre that will provide some tool set that I can apply to my life right away.
- An industry book. part of my personal commitment to continuous learning requires that I spend time building my industry specific skills and new skills
- A fiction book for pleasure, I do stay away from the horror genre.

According to the REM sleep or dream sleep is the stage that is associated with processing emotions, retaining memories and relieving stress. Giving your mind something positive to think about all night long will leverage this processing period during your sleep. Michael Hyatt has a great post on taking a break from the news that essentially comes down to what you are putting into your head impacts your view of the world.

Loren taught this 15 minute reading technique to me over ten years ago and he explained that if he is too tired to read he actually stood up and read until the 15 minute timer went off. The level of commitment to the goal is as important as material you are reading. If you want to see a change happen that will open a new world of opportunities and ideas make a daily 15 minute commitment to yourself.

I have applied this tool for years with excellent results and when, like Oprah, I do revert backward it is a simple step to get back on track. This simple solution allows me to keep my goals for continuous learning, an escape from the world, and positive reinforcement. A simple 15 minutes a day plan can change your life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Negotiate for Time to Market Advantage

Negotiation is about knowing your limits, your opponents limits, and being willing to walk away without a deal. But what if you can't walk away? The two most often cited reasons for not being able to walk away are:

- The opportunity that you are working on is so great and the window so small that you have to have all components in place very quickly or miss it.
- The number of viable options in the marketplace is limited, essentially this is the only option

I have encountered both of these situations with one big project in late 2005. We had a unique opportunity to be a first mover in the marketplace and that the competition would be able to match us within a year of our start. Our initial assessment was to attempt to be up and running in 90 days from approval, a very optimistic goal. The first thing we did was address the market window, only to discover the challenge from our competitors would have been limited initially so we had a much larger window. We also new that given our superior position in the space and the pent up demand opportunity that a scalable organization was more important than rushing into the space. After several adjustments to the plan we knew our first customer should be acquired within ten months. So we set out to find a technology vendor that could deliver a complete solution in 6 months or less. unfortunately there wasn't any vendors in the space that had a viable product. So we set out to find a vendor with a similar product that we could work with to modify to meet the specific opportunity.

We identified a single vendor that had a flexible system and the talent to develop to our needs; given that there was only one vendor in available it appeared on the surface that our negotiation position was limited. However, we used the following techniques for great success:

- Leverage Quarter end and Year end targets to our advantage
- Let the vendor know you are willing to go without them (build internal if they won't play)
- Write a commercial as well as legal contract with tight service levels and compensation when not met
- Agreed to co-develop and co-own the intellectual property for reduced pricing
- Used cooling off periods and a "most favored nation" clause to ensure best pricing

The end result was the vendor believed that we could walk away without completing the deal, raising their fear of not completing the negotiation before year-end and potentially losing the sale. After several rounds and a forced cooling off period from our last negotiation we were able to get a solid contract that ensured we had the best pricing with the "most favored nation" clause. The vendor was able to work closely with our specialists and we delivered a successful business within 10 months and leveraging a window of opportunity well before our competition was able to enter the marketplace.

I would like to hear about other stories of negotiations, if you have some that you would like to share send me your comments.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: 4 Hour Work Week

I just completed the 4 hour work week by Timothy Ferris not because as a senior manager I believe I could actually achieve a 4 hour work week, rather it was after reading Tim’s blog that I became intrigued with many of his ideas and having a 14 hour flight to the US ahead of me I figured this would pass the time quickly. I am pleased say that I was impressed and the flight did go quickly. Being a bit of a self help junkie I have read many books in the genre because I recognize that there is always a chance to have a sliver of a take away that can be applied into my daily life with an immediate impact. For me it was his advice on email and interruptions, which I tweaked slightly to fit my work environment, gibing me an additional two hours of productivity per day!

Timothy Ferris is a 29 year old who through exploitation of flaws in the system became a Tango champion and a Chinese Kickboxing champion. If you take a serious look at how he accomplished both it can only be defined as “going ugly”; which isn’t necessarily bad because it worked. I really enjoyed this book and if you effectively applied any one of the following approaches he espouses in your daily life you will recoup the cost of the book a thousand times over:

  • Time manage that focuses only on high value tasks
  • Avoiding busy work for the sake of working
  • Mini sabbaticals rather than the standard two week vacation
  • Setting up a self operating business
  • Outsourcing your life

There are plenty of examples of Tim’s advice being applied for real success and if you can apply them in whole to your life there is an amazing new world that will open up to you. Most of his techniques have little downside risk to your current job and one of the more salient pieces of advice is that you can always get another one.

Get the book and apply it where it makes sense.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Job or a Calling

I just read the December 10th article by Michael Lewis on Bloomberg, “A Wall Street Job Can’t Match a Calling in Life”. The statement that most resonated with me was, "The distinction is artificial but worth drawing. A job will never satisfy you all by itself, but it will afford you security and the chance to pursue an exciting and fulfilling life outside of your work. A calling is an activity you find so compelling that you wind up organizing your entire self around it -- often to the detriment of your life outside of it. There’s no shame in either. Each has costs and benefits. There is no reason to make a fetish of your career. There are activities other than work in which to find meaning and pleasure and even a sense of self-importance -- you just need to learn how to look.”

Michael is right, a Wall Street job can’t match a calling in life for that matter most jobs don't match a calling. but I was not content to let it rest at that. There is a section on every annual review and goal setting form for personal development goals. Often these are populated with some form of guess work to what management may find impressive or what the company training department is offering from their stock list of classes; which this year will be very limited. It was after reading this article that I realized the opportunity presented by this classically underutilized area of the goal setting form. I am challenging every one of my staff to literally think outside of the box and identify goals that will allow opportunity to find meaning and pleasure that may or may not be directly tied to the work they are doing. The objective is to write goals that will enhance the employee’s value and that should include self esteem as part of the development process.

Positive well rounded thinkers will enhance the overall team performance and deliver fresh perspectives to the 2009 projects. The ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to the challenges in the marketplace without spending additional funds will be the mantra. Creativity in addressing potential threats and more importantly see the opportunities as others are dwindling in the market. Often it is not about investing more capital in seizing an opportunity, rather it is seeing the opportunity that others have missed.

Thus if it is one day a week that a staff member leaves the office a little early to work in an orphanage, feed the hungry, or other pursuit (my goal is not to pass judgment on their choice for you cannot predict were the opportunities will come from) it will be the opportunity for them to leave their mark on the world and the organization will benefit from the differing perspectives they return to work with.