Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Best Mexican Restaurant in Prague!

Several years ago I had the opportunity to present an address at WorldWorkplace Europe, IFMA’s annual conference on the continent. Naturally I took full advantage of the trip to get in as much sightseeing as I could. Prague is a marvelous place. St. Vitus’ Cathedral, the Charles Bridge, the Clock Tower, and the Old City are all reasons enough to make the trip. Imagine our surprise, however, when we discovered a prototypical Mexican restaurant. Actually, I think it discovered us. As we walked the old town square we were drawn to an old man dressed in complete Mexican attire, serape and all, advertising for the restaurant. My friend and I took the bait and walked a couple of side streets, finding it just as advertised. It would have looked perfectly at home here in southern California and beckoned to us with promises of the familiar. When we entered we found the right graphics on the walls, the right furniture and lighting, and trinkets everywhere that signaled this was for real. The menu bespoke familiar and beloved dishes. Our mouths began to water as we anticipated burritos, enchiladas and the like. But, remembering where we were we were careful to quiz the waiter. Was this really Mexican food in Prague? Tell me about the burrito, what is that like? And on and on. Finally we placed our orders…..and waited.

Our waiter proudly served our dishes to us. We looked at each other and then took our first tentative bites as our waiter stood waiting for our endorsement. Not wanting to seem like “the ugly American,” we told him just what he wanted to hear. It was wonderful! How did they pull this off? He beamed and then left, leaving us to figure out what to do next. The food wasn’t what we had expected at all, despite the earlier assurances. A burrito was an enchilada, an enchilada a torta. And the contents inside were nothing like we expected. Boiled meat, vegetables and potatoes in virtually everything, and we weren’t quite sure what they were boiled in. Needless to say, we did the graceful thing as quickly as we could and then left, laughing all the way (mostly at ourselves) and planning our next adventure.

OK, that may be a silly story, but it is also a metaphor for the experiences many have when doing business globally. Sometimes, it seems, nothing is as you expect. It looks good and all the signals are the right ones. You’ve done your validation checking and still….it isn’t what you expected it would be. When dining it may be okay to graciously look the other way and move on to the next restaurant, but when something goes sideways in a business venture it is another story. Now you have to find out what when wrong, redress the issue, and do so in a manner (hopefully) that restores the business relationship so that all can walk away from the experience looking forward to the next. Take a look at the restaurant story again. We were na├»ve and bought into the prospect that we would get something we liked and did not expect to get originally. We were excited because it was something common in our culture. We saw all the signals, thought we asked the right questions, and were still surprised at the outcome.

When dealing internationally understand that you are on someone else’s home turf. Their culture is different than yours. Words may have different meaning(s), culture may dictate a response you interpret incorrectly or naively. All of which add up to one piece of critical advice. Don’t assume anything, don’t take anything at face value. There is an old rule of thumb in the conduct of foreign relations between governments that applies directly in this circumstance. Trust, but verify. As any good project manager will tell you, “I know it’s true when I see it with my own eyes, smell it with my own nose, and touch it with my own fingers.”

If my friend and I had simply asked to see the kitchen we would have known. Take a lesson from us and make sure you don’t just talk to the cook. Watch him cook first and then decide.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Simple Roadmap to FM Excellence

Over the course of my career I have been a part of FM groups large and small. When I finally had opportunities to lead I leaned heavily upon the best experiences in my past. I have never been able to “copy and paste” from one experience to another, but I have learned that there are key values that are beneficial in all. In my view I have boiled them down to a very short list.

Focus on quality of people first

Everything begins here. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have if the people on your team are not capable of using it. It doesn’t matter how good they are technically if you can’t trust them. It doesn’t matter how energetic they are if they can’t make good decisions. Get my point? The quality of the people you select is the very foundation of everything that follows. Choosing wisely will make your life easier, choosing poorly will burden you and limit what you are able to accomplish. My cardinal rule when selecting people is “never settle.” I will, and have, left critical positions open for long periods of time until the right candidate came along. I am not suggesting you set the bar at perfection, I am stating that a bad hire is worse than no hire, every time. I would much rather hire an excellent person even if they are not an exact fit for the position than hire someone of lesser quality. I would much rather morph the organization based on the talent I have been able to acquire than force round pegs into square holes.

Be a learning organization

Once I have the best talent I can find I challenge them to continue learning, increasing their value to the organization and themselves. My number one job as a leader is to remove obstacles to success for my team. One of the ways I do that is by making sure their self development plan (a requirement, by the way) is well thought out and routinely monitored. I challenge my staff to think about where they are going, to plan the path, and to execute the plan. Because I understand the importance of balance I also ask that they do the same in personal areas of their lives, although I obviously do not monitor those areas. I know from experience, however, that the personal side of life has a tremendous influence on the work side. A healthy balance in all areas is good for them, good for me, and good for the organization. Where I work now we are very intentional about maintaining the learning culture we have established. If you are a frequent reader of this blog you have no doubt read previously how we taught basic statistics to all FM staff and statistical analysis to all of our management staff. The dividends to our Metrics and Continuous Improvement programs is stunning.

Use technology aggressively

FM technology now surrounds us and its complexity continues to grow every day. CAFM, CMMS, BMS, BIM, CRM and a host of other alphabet combinations are now part and parcel of every day, not to mention legacy systems and other corporate databases that we must work with seamlessly. These technologies are expensive to acquire and operationalize, making it important that you get the most you can out of them. Being on the technology curve today means you are treading water. Being behind it means you are losing the game. Being ahead of it means you have a distinct competitive advantage in your ability to execute quicker and with higher quality, allowing you to contribute directly to the bottom line. Technology is a force multiplier – use it that way.

Demand and deliver excellence

Your customers demand service excellence from you, and you should do the same of those who provide products and services to you. Supply Chain Management we call it these days. Sounds like good old “do the job right the first time” to me. Oh, I know there are new tools and techniques, new alliances and levers, and new relationships. But when you cut to the heart of the matter it is really about being unwilling to deliver, or accept, anything but the best. This is all the more relevant today when our industry is consolidating and many are under pressure to reduce costs and overhead. Those are certainly good things to do and I work hard at doing them myself - but not at the cost of quality. Quality is all that really matters.

Okay, there you have it, my list of core FM values. Hire the best people you can possibly find, expect them to continue growing, use technology as a force multiplier, and demand excellence. Can it really be that simple?

Yes, it can.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Five Key Ingredients of Change and the “Power of FM”

Like most of us I am a real fan of change. It mixes things up, forces me to develop new relationships, puts me outside my comfort zone, and energizes me.

Well, let’s be truthful about this. I am a big fan of change that I envision and create. I am not always a fan of change that happens “to” me.

FM’s are often in the difficult position of being the voice of change when they are, in fact, simply doing their job. You may be restacking a building or implementing a new office reservation technology, but in the process you become the focal point of the change that is occurring. You are the one who must deal with staff who are upset, with unforeseen complications and mid-plan changes.

That makes it critically important that you understand the elements of successful change initiatives and the probable outcome when one of these key pieces is missing. Knowing this allows you to preview the project at the very beginning and validate that all required elements are in place. Understanding the symptoms of a missing or poorly performing element can also be important during damage control and revitalization efforts. If you must repair an element then make sure you repair the correct one.

The five key ingredients are Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resources, and Plan. When all five are in place and strong then there is a very high probability of success. Projects are successful, customers are happy, and people get rewarded.

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = CHANGE

But take any one element out of the equation and see what happens:

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = CONFUSION

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = ANXIETY

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = SLOW CHANGE

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = FRUSTRATION

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = FALSE STARTS

It makes sense, doesn’t it? You can look at each one of the equations above and immediately validate that the missing element will produce the stated outcome. We all know this to be true because we’ve all “been there and done that.”

There is another element that should be in the equation, however, one which I refer to as “the Power of FM.” You are that missing element. You have the ability and capacity to understand change management from a leadership perspective, and to be a force multiplier. Further, you have an obligation to your organization, your staff, your constituents, and yourself to do just that. You have a responsibility to speak up when you see symptoms that others may not recognize or are unwilling to articulate. Be informed, objective, and stay on point…..and exercise the “Power of FM.”

Don’t talk about leadership. Lead.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It’s That “Age of Ambiguity” Thing Again

In my January 27, 2008 post I discussed how to manage and lead teams in an era of ambiguity. In this week’s post I revisit the topic from a slightly different tack. The previous post focused on leadership skills, this will deal more with a methodology for navigating uncertain waters.

I now take it as a given that there isn’t a whole lot we can take for certain anymore. I do know that the love of my wife and children is unshakeable, that the sun will always rise in the east, and that I am unlikely to ever acquire a taste for broccoli. Beyond that, much of life seems to be like the proverbial bowl of jelly that I keep trying to nail to the wall. But the fact that I cannot foretell the future and therefore prepare for it perfectly, does not mean that I cannot be prepared for the future.

Much of life is based upon assumptions. Some of the assumptions I make are good ones and some are not so good. The same can be said for assumptions we use every day in business planning. More importantly, for this discussion, some are critical to the success of any given proposition, and some are more vulnerable to failure. I think understanding which assumptions fall into those two categories is important in shaping strategy and actions during an endeavor. So important, in fact, that identifying these two categories of assumptions is critical to the success of any initiative or project undertaken in an environment of uncertainty.

Those assumptions that are most critical to success must be supported. Actions should be ordered with this intent so as to ensure that these critical assumptions are borne out. Likewise, those assumptions most vulnerable to failure should be identified and then watched very closely. It is critical to keep the pulse of these two categories of assumptions because knowing their health allows you to act and react appropriately. The question then becomes how to do so.

One answer is to look into the future and define what kind of occurrences or scenarios will indicate that an assumption has succeeded or failed. These signposts, if you will, then become your trail guides. You can pre-plan shaping and hedging actions so that once you recognize success or failure you can react accordingly to either support the success of the assumption, redirect actions to improve a faltering assumption, or take actions required to limit the damage of a failed assumption. Shaping and hedging actions then, become critical elements in your execution of strategic and tactical plans.