A German saying goes like that: that the way of doing things would be the prime objective.
Some organisations have taken this to the very heart of their Portfolio and Project management culture. Nothing wrong with this one could say. Yes and no, I would say, it depends, as always how you handle this frame of mind.
Here a story which somebody in my network has told me recently: The R&D organisation in a fairly larger company was applying the principles of innovation portfolio management reasonably well. They used the whole spectre staring with project management, portfolio management with the well know funnel and risk management processes. Sounds all great I thought when I first heard this part of the story. However, in the daily practice a culture of process reliance emerged. “Everything is ok as long as we have a clear plan” was the kind of credo that had emerged.
Here a specific case in time: It was a strict rule that every major project had to produce a risk management plan. In this case the very eager project leader produces a risk management plan which realistically looked at was missing any solid foundation. The bosses were happy as the plan showed that all risks were under control and the timing was achievable. Suffering chronically from time shortage none of the bosses questioned the plan in any way. However, when the big crash in that project happened the bosses, in total surprise, were wondering how such a thing could happened considering all the measures in place. Believing that a strict observation of all the process would automatically lead to meeting the objective, the organisation lost its focus on achieving primarily the content related objectives. Hence the way of doing things became the primary objective.
An isolated case? Perhaps in such extreme form. However, I have observed such tendencies more than once in my daily work with R&D organisations.
I certainly don't want to demonize processes here and have no intention to put good practice Innovation Management in a bad light. If they are managed well, seen as a tool to achieve the primary objectives, they can be very useful.
Considering today’s highly complex business and environments we are working we would probably not be successful at all without them.
• Innovation portfolio management, one can not imagine to work without it. The process helps to plan and use resources effectively and strategically, to pursue (if the marketing strategy is being implemented logically) a clearer line and to create more transparency across functions.
• Professional project-management is an absolute necessity for bigger projects. It creates clarity and helps structuring activities in order to achieve the goal of the project. It becomes especially important if it is about cross functional activities or if it is used to identify time or resource-bottlenecks.
• Risk-management, done professionally is an excellent early-warning-system that helps to make financial or business-risks transparent and to handle them early on in a constructive way. It forces those who are responsible for critical activities to develop alternatives which reduce risks.
It becomes critical with all these processes if one must show to senior management that is everything is going well and bosses do not wish to hear any other messages (explicitly or only implicitly). In such situations an elevated risk exists if the process is admittedly pursued to the letter but its original purpose does not matter anymore. If such situations arise and an organisation has not a built in mechanism or committee which is challenging the content of the individual process-steps critically it might only be one matter of time until a catastrophe hits the organisation. The most important step in these processes is a reality check, a scrutinising the analysis conducted and challenging the effectiveness of the plans derived from the analysis. In such cases often simple logical questioning helps a long way. Is what somebody proposes really meaningfully and feasible? In my opinion one does not always have to be the absolute expert in the field in order to be able to question something.
In one of my first jobs, my boss told me in the introductory conversation that he had no notion about specialist area; however, he would always be available as a discussion partner. The astonishing point about working with him was that he succeeded again and again in challenging some of my approaches very well. He wanted to know alternatives and asked me to explain my pros and cons of the respective options. He could uncover logical breaks very well on such occasions. This of course took time but helped me to do my work better and become more professional.
Those who trust processes because of lack of time may not follow the best counsel. Thus, whatever happens, it is paramount that any process is only a means to gain the best result. To get away from such a reliance on processes (or to never even let it arise in the first place) it is important to always make plans a subject of critical reality checks. The most suitable people to conduct such a reality check might be the ones who are not directly involved but have sufficient expertise. It will certainly facilitate the approach if the organisation culture offers room for open discussions. Subjecting processes a critical and regular scrutiny will help to develop them further and ensure that they are the best means for the purpose for which they are employed.
Do you have something like a ‘Challenger-Team’? Its task would be to ask openly critical questions in project and portfolio reviews in your organisation. I have observed this in a very successful organisation. Of course such a scrutiny might not always be the most pleasant experience is for project-leaders or portfolio-managers. However, if this questioning puts the focus really on content and results it can be very effective and increase the quality of the results markedly.
Are you part of a team or do you have teams working for you? I am sure that you can at least answers one of the two questions with ‘yes’, may be even both.
In most companies teamwork has become a thing of everyday’s life some time ago. Going one step further: In large and complex organisations you won’t be able to create successful innovations without cross-functional teams. Unfortunately quite often every grouping of people calls themselves a team even though only a few of these groups are real teams. The difference becomes really important when you want to increase a team's capability effectively. By definition in a real team all members are interdependent and it talked each and everybody’s coordinated effort to achieve success and deliver top results.
This interdependency is the kernel in considerations about how to best approach team development. It requires very good cooperation and deep-rooted trust in order to produce really excellent results. In many cases this aspect does not get as much attention as it deserves.
How well is trust developed in your team? Here are three statements to evaluate the situation in your team:
• Members of my team have good relationships with each other and talk also openly about personal issues amongst themselves.
• Members of my team talk openly about their weaknesses and admit mistakes directly.
• Members of my teams apologize immediately to one another if they said something unreasonable or something that did harm an individual or the team.
If the described behaviour occurs frequently rate it with a 3. If they happen sometimes give it a 2 and if they take place only rarely rate it with a 1.
If your team reaches less than 5 points, appears to have a serious problem with trust. Congratulations, if it adds up to 8 or 9 points. If the number of points lies in-between you may want to discuss your assessment with your team openly.
What can you do in order to develop the trust in your team further?
You and your team members need 4 things:
1. Courage to interact openly with each other
2. Time to get to know each other better and to reduce distance
3. Will to lend mutual support to each other
4. Respect and attention for each other
If you intend to build more trust in your team, you should plan sufficient time for it and make your intentions very clear to all members. Otherwise it could happen that one or others who do not have the overview dismiss your initiative a waste of time and disengage.
The best way to develop in the team courage to interact openly with each other is through leading by example. For example you could talk openly about experiences which you would not disclose in a wider public audience. It might reveal a part of who you are and your personality. This works usually like a catalyst and others will also start talking more openly about themselves.
Even though you may have created a good starting point of course each individual has still to show willingness to develop the relationships among each other in the team. It goes without saying that non-judgemental, active listening is one of the behaviours which is necessary to make this work. However, if you have the feeling that this is a weak spot in the team you should discuss this openly. In doing so you would also develop the team’s ability to deal with critical feedback. In some stubborn cases, it might take quite long until an individual starts to open up. Take your time with this and avoid peer pressure it may create further demarcation with more restrained personalities.
You could plan also short activities which are designed to promote trust development in a slightly subconscious way. Here is an example (for 8 to 12 people): “The inverted pendulum”. Position all members in a circle of circa 2 meters diameter. One person steps into the middle. She/he closes the eyes and starts tilting (in stiff posture) into different directions. The members surrounding the centre person gently stop the movement and push him/her back into the centre. Everyone should have been in the pendulum position for at least one minute. I can imagine that many of you dismiss this as foolish and children's game. The first time I heard about this I had that kind of reaction until I had participated myself. You should not underestimate the effect in the subconscious of all participants. In the debrief participants talk about astonishing experiences. Simply try it out. With more advanced and adventurous teams, you can also the “Free Fall” exercise. (Send me sends you the information an e-mail and I)
Another way of building trust and openness is to agree on a set of team rules. For example on how criticism is expressed, how mistakes are being handled and which stages of the confidentiality you have in your team. With this you create a space in which the team can exchange views openly among each other.
Interestingly a survey, conducted recently, showed that teams which had a distinctively weak trust-relationship, made statistically fewer mistakes than those teams, whose members had very well developed trust amongst each other. More detailed research, however, showed that more mistakes happened in teams with low trust. In those mistakes were more often brushed under the carpet than in team with higher levels of trust. A team can only learn from its mistakes if they are admitted openly. This takes courage and trust.
Some of the readers may remember the survey I had conducted in 2006. One competency many R&D-leaders wanted to develop further was strategic influencing. Therefore, I would like to give that subject some thoughts today.
Before going into the process of effective influencing let me start with the definition: Already more than 2300 years ago, in his book on rhetoric Aristotle wrote about the skills one needs to be a successful influencer. He defined influencing as the ability to convince others to adopt ones own ideas. He considered a good influencer as one who is able to speak logically, fluently and confidently. Key for Aristotle was that one is able to motivate and inspire others and to appeal to their hidden interests. Sounds easy. So, why do a lot of people struggle with it then? In my experience, a number of factors play a role. We are all under pressure and try to get things done as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we forget that some basics steps in the planning and preparation phase of influencing others could make life easier and would save us a lot of energy and time when we subsequently try to get our ideas accepted and implemented.
Effective influencing has a number of key aspects which will help tremendously if they are all taken into account when we try to influence others.
The main points are: to be clear about the purpose, to plan the process, to develop and maintain necessary relationships and to know yourself and have the right attitude
Be clear about the purpose: When you want to influence someone or a group of people you should start by asking yourself whether you have a clear picture of what you want from this influencing activity. Assuming you know exactly what you want to get out of it, consider the point of view of the others. Is it as clear for them as it is for you what your goal is? Would they share any aspect of your own purpose?
With this you lay the foundation for a successful strategy to influence others.
Plan the process: It would be fairly useless to prescribe one process for effective influencing. Instead I want to trigger specific thoughts which will allow you to reflect on a plan and to choose your best solution in order to achieve your objectives.
• As soon as you have started with the end in mind (your purpose) change your perspective and consider the point of view of the others who you wish to influence.
A lot of people start struggling here because they don’t spend enough time on it or skip it with the argument ‘How should I know what their point of view is?’ If you have no idea you may try to find out directly by asking or indirectly through inquiries.
• Discuss your thoughts with the other to make them familiar with your thinking. In doing so you will also get a feel for what is key for them and which points are sensitive for the others. Of course this takes time but it will save you a lot later on.
I once had a client with whom I worked on developing influencing skills. When he tested for the first time this approach, in a modified version fitting his style, he was actually disappointed because he didn’t have to fight. There were no big arguments and he got immediate approval. He had collected all the arguments people would throw in and tailored his presentation in such a way that all points were covered and people were pleased to see that they had been heard and did not make additional or controversial points.
• When you put your presentation or arguments together keep the KISS principle in mind. Keep it simple and stick to the key points.
Technically minded people tend to pile all details into their presentation in order to guarantee that nothing is left unsaid. The effect is that you most likely lose the others before you get to your point.
• Any key issues you are aware of should be listed to strengthen your position.
Leaving them out (which seems the easier way to get by) most of the time provokes at least one to point them out and weaken your position by starting an argument.
• Bring solutions to the key issues.
In a lot cases it might be useful to use ‘We’ or ‘Us’ rather than ‘I’ or ‘me’ when you talk.
• If what you trying to get agreement for is on a long term basis consider to project the future situation and draw a mental picture of it for the audience.
Develop and maintain necessary relationships: Although planning and preparation is important you won’t be effective if you did nothing around the subject of relationship and networking in the context of your influencing activity.
The better you network in the organisation (up, down and laterally) the more effective you could be when trying to influence people. And yet this is not always enough. Creating trust over a longer period with key people gives you a bonus which you want to draw on when things are less easy. Sharpen your awareness of other people’s state of minds; recognise what they get exited about. This gives you the opportunity to align your intentions more with theirs.
The better your relationships and the more trust you have with the key opinion leaders the higher your chances to achieve your objective.
Know yourself and have the right attitude: However, no matter what you do you won’t have a 100% success rate. To be prepared for any situation you should know yourself extremely well. Do you know your hot button(s)? When ‘pressed’ you ‘launch your self into orbit’. Although it might never be that extreme, being prepared to deal with high stress moments can be very useful at times? Have you asked yourself how you manage a moment of critique and set back? A way to develop this could be to open the challenge in situations which are relatively safe and less critical. How often do you ask for feedback from close colleagues and friends?
When influencing gets tough it is paramount to listen very carefully to what others contribute to the discussion. In doing so you can respond much better to concerns raised by others rather than just being defensive about your own point of view. Taking on board what has been raised creates a better atmosphere most of the time and paves the way to an agreement of support.
What other ways could you go to get better in you approach to influence others? A well used but still valuable recipe is to observe those in the organisation which you consider excellent in influencing others. Quite often you will see elements you can easily adapt to your style to increase your own effectiveness.
If you consider a book about management as weird, because it is filled with words like inspiration, care and love, you are better off not even opening it. If you dislike the American way of repeating a particular message over and over again you might get irritated with this book. However, if you are not afraid to pause for a moment and reflect on your work and life, then Lance Secretan gives you plenty of opportunity to think about your situation in professional and private life.
It starts with the definition of a new type of leader: The one who is inspired himself, does not motivate others but inspires them, and sees his role in serving others. Not really that new as does the rest of the book sounds familiar in many places. So, why did I still enjoy reading it? Because Secretan takes the reader through a journey with six clearly laid out steps. Step by step you get the opportunity to a better understand your own work and leadership. While reading, you are constantly ask to compare and reflect your situation with the examples he writes about. Here are the six steps in a short summary:
1. To find your own purpose in life. How you do that? He triggers the reader to ask for his reason to be on earth. When you are able to describe that you will roughly understand your purpose (and with that may be even the one of your company).
2. To find your task in life. Others may call this vision. No matter what you call it, it is about defining your very own task in life and in this world. An interesting point to keep in mind: Visions cannot be “sold”. If you are inspired by it yourself others will be inspired as well.
3. To find your own calling. This makes it more tangible. It is about what you are really good at, abilities in which you have reached real mastery. With these you can turn your task, your vision, into reality.
4. To create congruence between purpose, task and calling. Does what you have defined really fit together? Some questions help you to do a reality check. Let the results settle and see whether you are happy with the results.
5. To serve subordinates. This is where Secretan hits the leadership theme. A leader of the new type asks others how he could serve them. Most frequently mentioned words are: Listening and being friendly. You think you would struggle with that? Understandable …
6. To evoke brilliance in your surrounding - the keys are courage, authenticity, serving, truthfulness, care and efficiency.
7. To inspire a team that inspires you - a magical apex. We are all leaders who can and should inspire each other.
All chapters are filled with examples of leaders and companies who follow their purpose and inspire others.
(Republished with permission form MW-Online)
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