Tag Archives: Strategy

10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

Over the past couple of days we have been locked away in a workshop with Mike Harris. [For those that don’t know of him, Mike was the founder / CEO / Chairman of Mercury Telecommunications, First Direct (the first telephone bank) and Egg (the first internet bank); he has been coach and adviser to various telecom and technology giants and startups; and a lecturer on “disruptive innovation” at MIT. Though he has now retired, he’s been persuaded to continue coaching 3 firms, one of which is Redington.]

Here are the 10 best ideas I took away from Mike over the past couple of days (interspersed with my own reflections and lessons):

Continue reading 10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

AltMBA: Reinventing the MBA

It all began just 4  weeks ago when I received this email from Seth Godin’s blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/05/a-different-way-to-move-forward.html).

Seth has been often quoted saying:

The traditional top-tier MBA takes two years, you usually need to move and it costs more than $125,000. The best business school experience is transformative. It exposes students to a new way of thinking as well as a cohort of fellow travelers, motivated, smart people in a hurry to change things. What’s changed is that access to information is no longer the reason to go to business school. The information is everywhere. Our goal with the altMBA is to assemble leaders (corporate executives, non-profit linchpins, founders, managers and people in a hurry) and to connect them and amplify their work. Without leaving home. In just a month of intense effort. Instead, we’re organized around action, around publishing, around sharing your work and learning from it.

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In his blog on 12th May 2015 he announced that he is finally launching the inaugural class of altMBA. It was going to be a real-time, month-long intensive program. This was going to be a small-group process that works online as well as through hands-on projects. The focus of the program was going to be on group work, leveraging the power of collaboration, both by learning from and teaching others.

As soon as I read it I knew I had to apply. I consulted my wife, my friends, my team and my bosses to check I wasn’t being impulsive; but all were supportive. Redington encouraged me to use my current strategic projects for the assignments (as appropriate) and to do the course at work and around my work.

So I applied. It was a very different type of application form and there was a video bio to record too (my first!). 100 people were chosen for the inaugural group beginning in June. I got in. I felt excited, daunted and terrified all at the same time.

Now that it’s really happening, there is a lot of planning and scheduling to do:

  • I will find out tomorrow (on Sunday) from my coach Paul Jun who my learning group of 4 is for the first week.
  • On Monday at 11am (6am EST) I get a prompt with the first 3 projects for week 1.
  • On Tuesday and Thursday I have online study meetings with my learning team from 6pm – 9pm. Sunday we are booked for the all day.
  • We need to submit each project by midnight on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. These are all online and public.
  • We review other people’s projects and give feedback by 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Saturday appears to be the only day off.
  • That repeats again next week and the week after … Until the 13th assignment is handed in on 15th July.

Last week I got a box in the post at work, filled with books. I also received a reading list by email with over 70 books/blogs/articles on it … I am in heaven!

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These are the commitments we have all signed up to:

  • I will do the hard part first.
  • I will embrace emotional labor.
  • I will think of myself as the type of person who can and does.
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will have a posture of generosity. Giving without hope of getting.
  • I will care about people and the world around me…
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will dance with fear.
  • I promise I will continue to keep making change (‘ruckus’).
  • And then I’ll teach someone else to do so, too.

This is a course of the future, for the future. We are using a whole bunch of online tools, many of which I have never used before – Disqus, Zoom, Slack, Feedly, Digg, etc. Other than what I’ve described above we have no idea what to expect, what the assignments are, how exactly we will work together, how exactly we will do them …

This is not for everyone. These first 100 appear to be a diverse and interesting group of people. As it gets closer many people on the course are feeling anxious, frustrated and stressed at the sheer uncertainty. I also feel like that at some level though the experience has made me realise that I am ok with uncertainty, I can handle change and I quite like being thrown in the deep end. This process is about feeling your fears, acknowledging them and facing them. It’s early days though, I’ll keep you posted on our adventures.

Here we go: 4 weeks, 5 coaches, 13 projects, 100 people, 175 concepts.

All our work is public and will be available for review and comment here – https://altmba.com/blog/

My work will be shared here – https://altmba.com/student/miteshsheth/

Wish me luck! See you in a month.

The Inaugural Class of AltMBA 2015 runs till 15th July.

15 top tips for a successful 2015

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I have jotted down my top tips for 2015 to help me remember the most important lessons from last year. If you are running a project, managing a team, leading a business unit, company or charity you might also find some of these tips useful.

1. Focus
2. Address conflicts
3. Consult widely
4. Be decisive
5. Don’t wait for perfect
6. Find brightspots
7. Challenge convention
8. Create new routines
9. Be prepared
10. Don’t underestimate people
11. Live by your strategy
12. Periodically step away
13. Zoom in / zoom out
14. Be flexible
15. Create assets

1. Focus: Don’t diffuse your attention over a dozen things.

As I have grown in age, roles and responsibilities I have had to take on an increasing number of goals, roles and jobs. In 2014, I found the power of focus. I decided not to diffuse my attention over a dozen things but pick one thing at a time to put all my energy into. When you apply all your energy, passion and intellect to solving one problem at a time, to delivering one outcome or achieving one goal, the results are incredible. There’s another benefit too that, with clear focus, others know what you’re working on, they can get involved, support and help you; they can also see when not to distract you; and it’s much easier to say ‘no’.

2. Address conflicts: to avoid confusion, loss of credibility and wider organisational disfunction.

Too often we are left to resolve issues that really should have been addressed at the top. So many things are left unsaid, unresolved and unaddressed despite people spending more and more time in internal meetings. Most of us would rather have polite meetings than have to face the discomfort of conflict. It feels difficult, destructive and disruptive to address the elephant in the room, even when everyone is aware of it. As Patrick Lencioni explains in The Advantage – What we often don’t realise though is that when leaders avoid conflict amongst themselves, they transfer it in far greater quantities onto the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to get better at addressing difficult issues, having difficult conversations and addressing conflicts to create momentum, clarity and loyalty.

3. Consult widely: but don’t wait for consensus.

It’s quite natural to wait for consensus before taking any action, in order to get proper support and buy-in. All too often though we end up with decisions that are too late and too mediocre. I have found that waiting for confirmation that a decision is right before making it is a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 I learnt that consulting widely and socializing an idea broadly is even more impactful than trying to get consensus. Most people will not actively commit to a decision that they haven’t had the chance to provide input to. However, they can rally around an idea that wasn’t their own as long as they’ve had a chance to debate and understand it.

4. Be decisive: overcome inertia and boldly deal with the consequences.

In the absence of clear decision making; confusion reigns, credibility is lost and the organisation suffers. It’s so easy to wait for others to make decisions or to avoid difficult decisions. We all hear people complaining about a lack of clear decision making. What I find incredible is how long people will continue to work in the absence of any clear guidance or direction, with little faith that the important decisions will ever be made. Often in these situations more than getting the right answer, it’s important to simply have an answer – one that is broadly correct and around which everyone can commit. In 2014 I learnt the value of being decisive – I still consult, test and socialise my thoughts – but I’m not afraid of making decisions and am happy to deal with the consequences.

5. Don’t wait for perfect: The pursuit of perfection is the real enemy of progress.

Whenever we are designing, writing, developing or changing something it is natural to seek perfection. We want to do the best. We want to hold on sending the document till it is perfect; we review and re-review our presentation and publications; we don’t communicate the strategy because it still has holes in it; we don’t share our values because it is always work-in-progress. I have found that striving for perfection causes huge inertia and ultimately frustrates everybody. We all know that we learn by making mistakes, even bad ones. By making decisions we allow ourselves to get clear, immediate and frequent data from our actions. We need to lead by example and foster a culture that encourages this.

6. Find brightspots: don’t just look at what’s going wrong.

In our day to day business of finding incremental improvements it is really easy to only look at problems, or what is wrong. Good teams try to analyse their mistakes so that they can learn from them. This is true and important. In 2014 I learnt that it just as important, if not more important, to also look for brightspots, to identify what going well, really well, and study the secret of those successes, in order to share them and replicate those successes again and again.

7. Challenge convention: just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always should.

A culture is a way of working together that has been followed so frequently that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. There is real power, speed and scale in having tried and tested habits. A culture is set through hundreds of everyday interactions. Once it is set it’s almost impossible to change. That’s no surprise given we all like the comfort of what we know and what we have always done. It only really becomes a problem when these old habits become outdated. We need a mechanism for periodically asking ourselves and each other whether our culture is fit-for-purpose, facilitating natural opportunities for challenge and creating mechanisms for change. Great teams and companies often disrupt themselves before others can come along and disrupt them.

8. Create new routines: it’s the most direct route to changing a culture.

In my experience if you have identified a problem, consulted widely, provided an opportunity to debate and found brightspots, then all that is left is to create new routines or rituals. These new routines, however small, can appear insignificant but can play a huge role in facilitating broader changes. There is no getting round the fact that change is hard and to succeed you have to persist. Our daily decisions about where we invest our time and how we respond to issues will reinforce this. Small and well thought out changes in routine are the first steps to facilitating bigger shifts.

9. Be prepared: failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.

We all know that with pitches and presentations just taking the time to prepare, to script, to rehearse and seek feedback can lead to a tremendous improvement in success rates. Great speakers and presenters don’t just ‘wing it’, they prepare till its spot on. This year I have learnt to take the importance of preparation in all aspects of my professional, charitable and personal life. My boss (Robert Gardner) comes prepared to every meeting; he has a mind map ahead of every conversation we have. Working with him has taught me to prepare for every meeting I have with him. It’s not long before you see the benefit of thinking ahead and I have started to apply it to every meeting and every conversation I have.

10. Don’t underestimate people: take time to understand them and to develop them.

The ‘right stuff’ that most companies look for is not a superior set of skills that someone is born with but skills people have honed through life’s experiences. Companies focus too much on the grades, trophies and accolades someone has. Over the years I have found that lots of people that have become ineffective or perform poorly are in the wrong role, are not understood, or not well managed. I truly believe that everyone needs to be given a chance to shine in their area of mastery, skill or expertise. In recent years I have learnt not to accept other people’s perceptions and judgements; but to understand people better myself, to look carefully for whether a person has wrestled with the problems you need them to tackle and to create these learning opportunities. As Clayton Christensen says “management is amongst the most noble professions as it offers more ways to help others learn and grow”.

11. Live by your strategy: Carefully choose how you will spend your valuable time, effort and money.

A strategy is not just a one-off, high level plan, created in board rooms and then forgotten till the next year. A good strategy is created through dozens of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money (how you allocate your limited resources). With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us. We need to avoid giving our limited resources to whoever shouts the loudest for our attention or wherever the need is most urgent. If your team are important to you then invest in their development; if learning is important then make time to learn; If your family are important to you, ask yourself how often family comes out top in all the choices you have made in the past week. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

12. Periodically step away: don’t overestimate your impact, allow others lead the way.

Over the past 12 months I have tried to be home for most of the school holidays. Initially I worried that this would make it hard to manage my workload, team, clients and deliverables. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing. Having to be away for a longer period of time forces you to train and coach others. It also gives others the space to fill your shoes and to step-up. I have found that getting some space, stepping away periodically critical to developing a team of leaders.

13. Zoom in & zoom out: we need to check we’re going in the right direction

Our first accomplishments as professionals are usually rooted in our skill in getting things done. We’re fast, we’re efficient, and we do high-quality work. However, to lead effectively often we need to do less. We need to go from being firefighters to being fire marshals, taking a more strategic approach to the business, and solving problems before they become crises. Whilst we all need to be able to get our head down to make sure we get stuff done, we equally need to periodically lift our head up to keep checking were going in the right direction. We need to learn how to both zoom in and zoom out regularly.

14. Be flexible: Work does not need to happen between 9-5pm at the desk.

There are times you need to be in the office from 7am – 9pm and there are times you are better off at home. In the concept/strategic phases of any project I find it’s better to not be in the office. In the socialization/implementation you absolutely have to be in the office. In the insights/feedback phase you need to get out of the office and speak to clients/stakeholders. I think the idea of working 9-5pm in the office everyday is out-of-date. We need to have shared goals and work towards them sincerely and above all flexibly to get things done best in the most sustainable way.

15. Create assets: Don’t just do a job, build process and turn them into assets.

Our teams need our time and attention but above all they need processes. All businesses and teams need ‘processes’, habits and routines to convert scarce resources into something useful. They need to learn routines for how to solve problems themselves, how to deal with mistakes, how to build client relationships, etc. They also need values and ‘priorities’. This defines how they will make decisions, what they will invest their time and resources in and what not. The best way of developing processes and priorities is by helping them solve hard problems for themselves. When we do this systematically we create assets, that are not dependent on us, that make the company or team more productive and more valuable.

2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ for me – listening to my calling, having faith, being bold. 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ – I made a conscious choice about where, when and how I was going to devote myself, my time and my energy.

As I look forward to 2015 I don’t yet know what it holds for me. It has started as a year of sacrifice and giving. I feel excited by the possibilities as I am a whole year older and wiser. The best part of starting a New Year is that it is still unwritten and it is full of potential waiting to be released. I wish you all the best in maintaining focus to stick to your goals and resolutions, in learning from previous mistakes, in building upon previous successes, to create new routines, build new processes and to make 2015 a fantastic year.

Best wishes for the New Year.

P.S.

Now that the year is over I wanted to look back, review and reflect on my top 15 from 2015:

1. Focus — We all know that if you spread yourself too thinly you don’t progress anything properly. This year I learnt that though you may focus on one major thing at work (you can juggle various smaller things too). Also you still have capacity to focus on one major thing at home, one in your leisure time, etc.

2. Address conflicts head on — I tend to deal with the most difficult problem first and this year was no exception. What I learnt this year though was that most of our brains’ natural tendency is to put off or avoid difficult situations. Acknowledging this is a powerful first step.

3. Consult widely — I knew people want to have an input, contribute and be consulted, even if you don’t end up taking their suggestions on board. What I’ve realised this year is that actually many brains are better than one, and people will highlight things you would never have considered.

4. Be decisive — It’s so easy to procrastinate over a difficult decision. I’ve really learnt the value this year of “shipping”.

5. Don’t wait for perfect — I am not a perfectionist, but I definitely spend too long thinking about and working on presentations and reports. I’ve learnt it’s better to just get out a version 1, so you can get feedback and iterate on versions 2, 3, 4…

6. Find brightspots — I still need to work on this. I find it much easier to identify problems, point out shortcomings and criticise. I need to make it a habit to praise and acknowledge successes and brightspots daily.

7. Challenge convention — there’s a balance to challenging the norm. At one extreme you become a troublemaker, at the other end you’re too compliant. Like everything I’ve realised this is a matter of picking your battles.

8. Create new routines — I’ve struggled. I’ve allowed old routines that I really value to fall away. I haven’t been able to make new routines stick. This will need overhauling in the New Year.

9. Be prepared — I have been preparing a lot more for presentations, meetings and even conversations rather than just ‘winging it’ this year. It’s a really valuable habit.

10. Don’t underestimate people — the most unlikely people have surprised me when given the opportunity. What I’ve realised though is that they may need some support and coaching to really succeed.

11. Live by your word — it’s no good saying something is important to you if your actions don’t demonstrate it. I’m very conscious of this.

12. Periodically step away — the value of this has been really clear this year. Every time I stepped away, or went on holiday, my team really stepped up and shone. We need to do this systematically. It’s is the key to delegation.

13. Zoom in / zoom out — when faced with a problem it’s easy to dive further into the details but it’s a combination of stepping back to get perspective, alongside diving in that creates new solutions.

14. Create Assets — I have caught myself every time I get too consumed in delivery. I have consciously stepped back and tried to create processes, routines and assets for my team. We could all be even better at this, even at home with our children.

15. Work flexibly — I’ve been awful at this in the past 6 months working every hour I can. I want to plan my time better and work more flexibly next year. Moreover, I want to leave at 5pm at least 3 times a week so I can have dinner and do bedtime with my family.

I look forward to starting fresh in the New Year, with new lessons learnt, with new resolutions and new habits to create. Change is the only constant.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

Innovation Communities: Turn the hierarchy upside down!

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It should come as no surprise that employee loyalty has been deteriorating over the past few years given companies’ responses to the economic downturn. Ongoing layoffs, pay freezes and limited development opportunities have compounded employee disengagement. Meanwhile, firms are desperate to reenergise, reengage and motivate staff. In this blog I explain how to foster ‘communities’ at work to build engagement with your employees, whilst aligning them with your strategic goals and fostering a culture of innovation.

Crowd-source ideas from your employees 

The way we design and organise our companies by specialised roles, distinct titles, functions and layers of management is very effective for delivering consistency, quality, precision with good process and governance. However, it is not a very good system for co-ordination, idea generation, problem solving, motivation, communication or innovation. Most organisations struggle with silos and have developed matrix structures to try and overcome these limitations but often end up becoming gridlocked.

A ‘community’ on the other hand is a group of people that share a passion, skill or interest. Most organisations will have numerous informal communities based on interests, social events, faith, etc. People get a tremendous sense of belonging, support and energy from their communities both within and outside of work.

“In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness”. – Wikipedia.

However, very few companies use communities formally as part of their organisational design. There is a tremendous power in communities to bring employees together, to draw out skills, to generate ideas and to solve problems. A small group of leading edge companies are experimenting with communities as cross-functional think tanks, bringing employees together to work on strategic problems motivated by their own passions and skills, creating natural centres of innovation.

Where good ideas come from

Research suggests that best ideas emerge over time and spend most of their time percolating as partial ideas and hunches. The catalyst to developing them into fully formed commercial ideas is to have your hunches collide with others. Ideally you want lots of different people with different partly formed ideas of their own to collide with frequently.

It’s no surprise that a lot of innovative companies think about the design of their physical space carefully given that tea and coffee rooms, libraries, book clubs and pubs have been big idea labs through history. These days social media brings diverse minds together to collaborate, share ideas and find new solutions. In my experience organisations need both physical communities and online virtual communities.

Diversity beyond box ticking & quotas

Many companies fail to meet their potential or capture opportunities because of a failure of imagination. Developing scenarios for the future, thinking about what might happen, developing multiple futures are important methods for being prepared for change within and without. To do this effectively we need different brains with different approaches and experiences. Each of us is limited by our own mental models that need to be questioned in order to help us see things differently.

To change mindsets we need visibility of our expectations, we need to stir our underlying assumptions of what is/is not acceptable to us. We need to be challenged. Whenever you find yourself or those around you lacking perspective or unable to appreciate alternative approaches, ask yourself:
– What assumptions and truths underly your idea of best/ideal?
– What can it not be and not do? What is ruled out?
– What ‘good’ is there in what you have rejected/dismissed?

By surrounding ourselves with diverse people in a culture that encourages debate and questioning we become open-minded, extend our imagination, generate new ideas and gain humility.

Removing the stigma from failure

“If we are too scared to make mistakes we will never learn anything new.”

Leaders need to encourage managers and employees to dare, to try and to take risks knowing that if they get it wrong they will not be hanged. In these difficult economic times when the world is in desparate need for new ideas, new products and new businesses, employees are most fearful of losing their jobs which inevitably crushes risk-appetite, innovation and creativity.

Leaders have to show vulnerability and create an environment that doesn’t look down on failure. Ideally, leaders should show they can make mistakes too and emphasise what they have learnt from failures rather than presenting themselves as infallible. Leaders need to define a safe space where employees can make mistakes and reflect on lessons learned. Communities at work can offer such safe spaces where employees freely explore new ideas without the fear of failure or judgement.

The reason that so many organisations fail to create a sustainable innovation culture is:

  1. Innovation does not have top table sponsorship
  2. Innovation is often everyone’s concern and no-ones responsibility
  3. Ideas from senior people always get more representation

The role of ‘ Innovation Communities’ in Business

The best people to generate new ideas are those that are frustrated, that want to agitate for change and struggle with bureaucracy. Communities offer flexible structures where different people come together regularly to share and debate topics of passion.

Leading organisations regularly harvest the best ideas once or twice a year into a different mode for testing, delivery and implementation. Communities allow companies to draw upon different people, with different skills and different ideas for lots of different strategic problems, selecting only the best ideas to get budget, authority and focus for implementation each year.

Companies that are experienced in creating innovation communities know that creativity comes in seasons. There’s a time to harvest your ideas and there’s a time to let the field sit fallow.

Foster innovation communities in your company if you want to:

  • bring people across the business together
  • achieve something significant that cannot be done incrementally within business units
  • engage and motivate employees at all levels within the company
  • tap into client and employee insights
  • help people to do the best work of their careers
Further reading:
1. Upside Down and Inside Out: Reinventing Management for a Networked World by Gary Hamel, Founder M. Lab, Consultant and Management Educator, Author – Future of Management, Faculty of the London Business School
2. www.managementexchange.com
3. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, & William Snyder,  (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002). 

 

Get in touch: If you want to know more about fostering communities at work – [email protected]

Share your thoughts: How do you/your company engage employees in coming up with new ideas?

What lies ahead? Looking beyond the horizon

How will the world evolve over the next 5-10 years?

2012 is almost over. We will no doubt be bombarded by dozens of articles and research pieces with their predictions for 2013. I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring (I don’t think anybody else does either).

We have been in a volatile uncertain market, muddling through the economic challenges we have created over the past few decades. Most forecasters predict it will remain this way for a couple of years. This is the consensus view.

It’s hard to find much research on what lies beyond the next couple of years. What lies beyond the horizon? The timeframe that I am interested in is 5-10 years.

I think whether you’re a CEO, a pension fund trustee or an individual 5-10 years is the time horizon you’re interested in order to make sensible medium term investment and business decisions.

I was inspired to create this presentation by the dearth of quality research and analysis on this valuable time horizon.

In this presentation I consider various scenarios for how economies and markets might evolve over the next 5-10 years and identify investment strategies for those scenarios.

Enjoy the Prezi!

Get in touch if you would like to hear more: [email protected]