Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Changing the Education Paradigm

I'm a new fan of RSA Animate.  If you haven't seen their stuff then start with this video.  Compelling, insightful, thought provoking analysis of our broken education system - done in an entertaining and enjoyable fashion.  Brilliant, I say!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Discovering Differences in Doha

For the last week I have been in Doha, Qatar, a return visit from my first eight years ago.  Boy, have things changed.  What was largely a barren peninsula has been transformed into a vibrant, energetic, and beautiful gem by the sea.  Then it was just a few isolated buildings surrounded by flat desert, now parts of Doha look like a new Manhattan.  The contrasts between old and new, between wealth and working class are obvious but the people are uniformly friendly.

West Bay from the Corniche
The architecture in Doha is as varied as you might expect.  As a metaphor for all societies in general, outward appearance is not the whole story and Doha is no different.  Underneath the fa├žade lies a rich and diverse culture that is much different than what I am used to, and in many ways very appealing.  Not necessarily in all ways, however.  I will take LA traffic and drivers any day.   Just sayin.’

Islamic Museum of Art from Dhow Harbor along the Corniche
For those construction folks among you, concrete and CMU are the materials of choice here.  I am not certain why these materials are the standard but suspect a strong combination of familiarity and availability.  Observing multiple construction sites gives one appreciation for advanced technology and equipment.  Looking at the finished product from the 
outside and experiencing it from the inside of the buildings, however, one would never suspect or wonder what is underneath.

Dhow Harbor
Qatari’s are taking good advantage of a unique opportunity.  The growth they are experiencing is multi-dimensional, not just in the built environment.  The government is aggressively funding large infrastructure projects and leap frogging the country with the aid of private investment. Great attention is being paid to the development of institutions that will underpin and sustain the maturation of society on a broad scale.   It is a country of great contrasts but also one of great promise, energy and enthusiasm. 

Even the streetlights look like cranes
There is a lot going on here and it feels a bit like the Old West of American lore at times.  Entrepreneurship is the driving force.  If you’re looking for energy and opportunity it would be hard to find a better place to hitch your horse….or camel.

You can see my other Doha photos here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How Can You Lead When You Don’t Agree With Your Leader?

Leading can be messy business.  It has its rewards but challenges are never in short supply it seems.  Partly I think leading is complicated because it is relationship based and relationships are always in flux. It is easy when the person you look to for leadership is aligned perfectly with you and the same is true of your relationship with those you lead.  But that doesn’t happen very often.  In a large sense, successful leadership is defined in our ability to be effective in spite of these mis-alignments.  Yes, one of a leader’s most important functions is to improve alignment, but when alignment is a goal and not the reality a leader and those he or she leads must still be effective.

Understanding the other person’s perspective is a key for me when I am in this misaligned state.  To understand I must listen, pay attention, synthesize, evaluate and reach conclusions on why the other person has the perspective they do, its validity and importantly its motivation. 

An interesting thing happens here.  I cannot understand without information.  In order to get the information I need to ask open questions and listen honestly.  I must probe to find out what the other leader believes, why he or she believes it, what experiences or data has led them in this particular direction, and I must be willing to accept that they may be correct.  I must engage our relationship in open dialogue which in turn engenders mutual respect, transparency, and trust.  In the end I may not necessarily agree with their conclusions or they with mine, but if I can understand their process and reasoning I can make an informed decision to support them anyway or continue the dialogue to press my perspective. 

It’s that relationship thing again.  By nurturing it through rough spots I help strengthen it.  By abandoning the effort I weaken it.  By leaving it I lose my voice.

This is not an unimportant point.  People sometimes flee positions because of misalignment conflict, robbing themselves of an opportunity to contribute and mature.  These are conditions that will be repeated often throughout a career.  Fleeing such a situation now does nothing to prepare you for the next.

The value of visible conflict resolution should not be underestimated in its effect on others.  When these types of leadership conflicts exist in organizations it makes people nervous.  There will probably those who are aligned with each side for a variety of reasons, but everyone will know that the leadership tension exists, and that will make people nervous.  Some may even begin postulating negative repercussions of the conflict and then begin to act on those concerns, creating another set of issues that must be overcome.  But, just as everyone will know there is a conflict among leadership they will also know how it is being processed.  They will see when you are honestly looking for ways to make it work, and that fact alone will build their trust in your leadership.  Why?  Because they will see that you take it seriously, are willing to listen and learn, and that you conduct yourself respectfully – all traits that people value in leaders.

Asking yourself what you need to learn about a particular conflict is possibly the most important step when beginning to face a conflict in leadership.  This internal question sets the tone for how you will engage the other leader.  Often you will find that the most important things you have to learn are about yourself.  What is this situation trying to teach me?  What deficiencies do I have in dealing with this situation and how can I improve them?  How can I approach the other leader in a way that encourages transparency?  What is my responsibility to those I lead and the larger organization in this circumstance?  What is really at stake here?  All of these are important questions to ask as you begin to seek information that will contribute to resolution.

Leading really is a relationship thing.  Paying attention to your relationship with other leaders should be a purposed and principled behavior.  Expecting that you will be in perfect alignment with them at all times is not reasonable.  Seeking to fairly understand, communicating and leading effectively as you work to resolve misalignment issues is absolutely expected of you – by those you lead, other leaders, and I hope by you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why Philosophy in Prison Matters

Can you be wrong about "Wrong?"  Listen as Damon Horowitz describes an unlikely encounter in an unlikely place.  Inspiring and challenging. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Improving Space Perfomance: Yet Another Cubicle Farm Bites the Dust

The design consulting firm DEWG helped pharma firm Lilly redesign a 470Ksf space housing 3,300 employees, converting it from a 20th century cubicle farm to a more flexible 21st century model, focusing more on work tasks and style and less on "turf ownership."  We are seeing more of these transitions as organizations look to increase efficiency and productivity, including optimizing the real estate portfolio.  The Lilly project offers compelling evidence that when done right these projects are true levers to organizational performance.

In this case, both employees and ROI numbers speak rather loudly.  Thirty-seven percent of employees said that their satisfaction with office appearance improved and twenty-seven percent said it was more stimulating.  Overall employee satisfaction with the workspace improved by thirty percent.

As impressive as that is, executives are likely more impressed with bottom line efficiency gains.  GSF/employee was reduced from 212 square feet to 156 square feet, furniture cost was decreased $4,200 per capita, and the overall capital cost per employee was nearly halved.

The goal of Alternative Workplace Strategies (AWS) is to maximize real estate leverage while at the same time improving employee productivity and satisfaction, and contributing to recruiting and retention efforts.  Lilly's project is not unique in its accomplishments, rather it is further evidence that AWS has long since moved past  "growing trend" status to being a favored tool of those responsible for corporate real estate.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prime Directives of Leadership

If you have even a passing interest in the subject of leadership then your bookshelves are probably full of volumes on the subject.  New books appear monthly, not to mention journal articles and other forms of publication.  That is all well and good.  I am not here to suggest that all the attention devoted to the topic of leadership is unwarranted or unhelpful.

I do suggest, however, that the prime directives of leadership - the very core things that it seeks to accomplish, are well known.  There may be new concepts and techniques on how to successfully lead, but the key goals remain largely the same.

Leadership is personal.  It is a matter of substance but style is important as well, sometimes fundamentally so.  Since it is personal each leader must walk his or her own path.  That makes a leader’s understanding of who they are, who they are engaged with, and the environment in which they lead a most critical function.  In order to come to a point of clarity on these issues one must be thoughtful and intentional.  Leadership doesn’t just happen.

At the end of this evaluation process you will have reached conclusions about the organization and people you lead, and yourself.  What is it that makes you the right leader for this group at this time?  How does your style support or hinder what you are trying to accomplish?  Where does it need to be strengthened or changed?  With the answers to these and other questions you will be prepared to think about how to set about accomplishing your own prime directives of leadership. 

What are your leadership prime directives?  Where have all those books you’ve read, the challenges, failures and successes you have experienced, your observations about the environment around you…where has all of that led you to in terms of your own Prime Directives of Leadership?  Here are mine.

Leadership Directive 1:  Lead with Integrity
Integrity is at the top of my list because I believe effective leadership without it is impossible.  People must be able to trust those they follow or they will not do so willingly, enthusiastically, or when the going gets tough.  To me, integrity is about that earned trust.  Leading with integrity requires that you have a set of principles, goals and strategies which are transparent, worthy, and consistently applied. Leadership is not about smoke and mirrors.  It is about honesty, directness, focus and attention to detail; all applied in a way that moves individuals and organizations forward.

Leadership Directive 2:  Envision, Energize, Empower
Leaders must articulate a vision that will energize others towards a better future.  The “vision thing” is so big that without it one is not a leader.  The vision should challenge people and inspire them help create its reality.  Leaders cannot accomplish big things alone, they must have the active and enthusiastic support of others.  To gain that kind of engagement the leader’s vision must be released.  People must feel they have permission to adopt it as their own, morph it where needed, and activate it through their own creativity and energy.  One of a leader’s biggest accomplishments is the adoption of his or her vision by others.  Instead of trying to control it, release it and watch what happens.

Leadership Directive 3:  Recruit Intelligence, Curiosity, Energy
To use a sports analogy, I generally prefer to draft the best available talent instead of the best available position player.  Only when a key specialty skill or knowledge is missing from the mix do I shift to a positional focus.  Otherwise, I want the best and brightest, period.  I want their intelligence to challenge me and to create breakthroughs, their curiosity to help discover new opportunities and solutions, and their energy to see it through and energize those around them.  When you have a group like this; intelligent, curious and enthusiastic, work becomes fun, problems become stimulating, and success becomes all the more enjoyable.

Leadership Directive 4:  Serve
If I have clearly articulated a sound and achievable vision, recruited the right team and gained their trust, then all of the requirements for success are in place.  Now my most important function is to do everything I can to remove the obstacles to their success.  As a leader I should be mentoring, coaching, teaching and challenging the team.  I should also be anticipating and searching for the things that impede their progress and doing everything I can to eliminate them.  By releasing the vision to others and then prioritizing my efforts towards their success I multiply myself many times over and increase the leverage I have on any particular problem.

Successful leadership is an intentional art.  It projects the leader and the organization forward in a way that enables a better future.  It is not accidental and requires a purposeful focus, and the ability to define oneself through the success of others.  I’ve shared a few of my personal “Prime Directives of Leadership.”  Do you know what yours are?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Roger McNamee on How to Save the Internet

Interesting perspective on the technology future now coming into view. I love the "the Internet is like a digital Detroit. You can find stuff there and you can get mugged there" line, but I don't agree that we will be set free when our beliefs give way to facts, as he suggests near the end. That little detail aside, I think his six concepts are largely right on. The technology shifts already underway are fundamental and powerful in nature. TED scores another win with this one. And BTW.... who says 55+ 'ers can't keep up?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Procurement Diligence Pays Dividends - Part 2

Requirements planning is a key first step.  It is important to be forward leaning, anticipating organizational and key customer requirements ahead of initial requests.  This proactive behavior is built upon two foundations; relationships that enable anecdotal and hard data information sharing as needs first begin to emerge (long before they are normally translated into a requirements request), and strategic alignment of the FM operation with enterprise goals and activities.  Having the advantage of these two perspectives allows the FM leader to forecast properly and bring creative contributions to bear.  Importantly, requirements planning improves the quality of investments made, thereby contributing to capital preservation which in turn improves leverage.  Optimizing the requirement minimizes unproductive expenses and helps optimize the supply chain, both of which improve the overall value of any given requirement.
The specification process establishes criteria for successful outcomes.  Whether you are looking for a new robotic manufacturing system, land for a new headquarters building, a new maintenance or service provider, or an improved contract for office supplies; the specification you approve establishes your expectation of what is acceptable.  As such it warrants diligence and serious consideration.  You may consider the specification to be the floor against which you will evaluate options, whereas providers may consider it the ceiling as well.  This is an important distinction and demands clear articulation in the resulting specification.  Further, the specification process should include in collaboration and consensus among the full range of stakeholders for any important product or service.

Market assessments inform acquisition strategies.  Consider the assessment as your opportunity to understand the full breadth of requirement fulfillment options.  A formal and standardized assessment will yield market forecasts for any product or service, including relative competitive alignment among providers, their strengths and weaknesses, and how well their offerings align with your needs.  Do not under appreciate cultural alignment as a learning outcome of this effort, especially if the products or services you will procure from them are of strategic importance.  It is often valuable for the internal team that has conducted the assessment to come together at the back end and share individual learnings and questions.  What can we do different than we normally do?  What is now possible that we didn’t realize when we started this process?  These are important questions that should be answered and provide feedback to the requirements and specifications processes.
Investigation should include analysis of metrics that predict likelihood of instability.  This type of investigation looks at performance quantification in areas that highlight unstable operations or high risk potential.  Think of this as identifying and then quantifying Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for a provider’s overall business.  If dealing with a commodities contract for example, one might evaluate the supplier’s performance against their production plan, the number of delayed shipments, the volume of product returns, how often the supplier must be expedited, and how accurate their marketing forecast is.  This information will tell you how accurate their internal business processes are and where there may be hidden stress in their systems.  If the contract you are considering is of high strategic importance to your own operations then these information points are especially important.  These are not the kinds of questions FM’s normally ask in a sourcing exercise but they can be illuminating, revealing hidden risks that no marketing department or account representative is going to share.
FM’s spend a lot of money, one reason why the function was traditionally thought of primarily as an expense line item in the purest form.  The profession has increased its sophistication and strategic visibility largely because it is now recognized as a valuable contributor to corporate direction and health. Attention to detail has always been a hallmark of the FM activity and that is not changing as the profession elevates its profile.  It is, in fact, because we have been successful in marrying the boiler room with the board room that we have been able to achieve this.  Both elements are critical in our evolution.  The kind of diligence and rigor toward the purchasing activity so important to the FM and suggested here is the same diligence that drives our increasing recognition as a value add function. 

Strategy and goals are one thing, execution is everything.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

With a Nod to Top Gear...No One Should Have This Much Fun

I'm not sure if this post is about fast cars, sightseeing in Abu Dhabi, or just wondering what $1.3M could buy. Doesn't matter does it? It's definitely not about work!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Procurement Diligence Pays Dividends

In today’s business world it is important that FM’s get the maximum value for investment while minimizing risk.  Being a smart customer is a good way to improve both domains.  Many of the business partners you depend upon daily remain under economic duress, which may affect their ability to perform successfully.  When the video store on the corner closes its doors it’s an inconvenience, when your outsourced maintenance provider or sub-leased tenant goes dark it’s a whole different issue.

An informed customer has a much greater probability of making smart decisions.  I am sure you do a lot of research when you prepare for a major personal purchase, such as a car.  You investigate quality and true cost of ownership, and read reviews from experts and other owners.  It is only when you feel fully informed and armed with the best information that you proceed to the dealer’s lot.  Making a major business purchase is no different – information is king. 

Who does the research is also important.  Abdicating this responsibility to your Purchasing group is not a good strategy.  You know the industries, issues and players.  You are prepared to ask telling questions that will reveal a potential partner’s true viability.  And it is you to whom leadership will look should a business partner’s performance jeopardize your operation because they are cutting corners or have failed.

Basic investigation should include a comprehensive evaluation of financial health and risk.  If a major financial or mission dependent decision is at hand then rigorous investigation is needed.  This should include a review of financial health including how well the company is capitalized, a review of their stock price history, independent conversations with clients of your choosing (ask for a full list and make your own judgment on who to call – don’t just call the three or four they recommend), and a SWOT analysis to understand their market vulnerabilities.  At the bottom line it’s about the bottom line.  Capital is the lifeblood of business.  Make sure they have it and know how to use it wisely.

Take advantage of leverage but maintain balance.  There are lots of ways to gain pricing advantage when dealing in a buyer’s market, but it is possible to damage future performance and the relationship by being too aggressive.  Unsustainable terms may look good now but can cause the provider to fail if they are not able to support operations in an acceptable manner due to cost pressures.  While you are busy figuring out how to get the best possible deal, turn the coin over and consider what provides the best possible value.  Aggressive but fair economics combined with performance measurements and penalities/incentives that compensate the provider based on true value enhancements to the customer will help set a win-win environment.

It’s all in the contract.  All the good intentions in the world aside, it is the contract that rules.  For important commitments contract negotiation should be an FM responsibility with Purchasing and Legal in a support role.  It is fair to include penalties and often it is smart to include incentives, as mentioned above.  Importantly, however, there must be a basis for understanding and interpreting performance in a way that minimizes ambiguity.  Performance data, metrics, SLA’s and KPI’s offer essential legal protection but must be well thought out and agreed to, as should the processes for collecting and reporting.  Another key clause is the right to re-bid and/or renegotiate the contract at any point at the customer’s sole discretion, with an appropriate notification period.  This will allow you to take advantage of economic shifts in the customer’s favor should they occur mid-cycle before you would normally have a chance to re-compete, or to replace the provider should performance fail to meet requirements.