Sunday, January 17, 2016

Accomplish your Goals in 2016

Leaders, new year celebrations are over and so is the excitement over new year resolutions. It's time for the grind. Without a good plan and implementation strategy they will remain just resolutions. Since it is also time for some of us to set our annual individual and organizational goals let us walk through the process of setting up ourselves for success.

In order to accomplish the goals you need to first establish SMART Goals; where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. It is not just enough to write a goal that you want to reduce your weight or you want to earn a million dollars. You need to specify how much weight you want to lose and examine if it is achievable, is it relevant for your body structure and age and by when you want to do it. More the clarity on the goal more is the likelihood of accomplishing it.

Once the goals are established, next break them down into specific tasks. Determine which tasks need to be completed sequentially and put them in order. For each task determine measurable outcome. Determine what resources are needed to carry out each task and make sure that you have them available. Establish timeframe for completion of each task. Set up milestones to review task completion and its impact. Consider any obstacles that may impede your progress and map out possible solutions to each obstacle.

Finally assess your progress. Work from your daily and weekly schedules. As you reach milestones review next tasks and required resources. As you progress, update everyone involved in achieving your goal. Step back quarterly to see if your goals are still achievable and relevant. If the goal no longer creates value revise it. When you feel  or think you have achieved a goal, confirm from others that they agree that the goal has been accomplished and the desired impact achieved.

Most literature on the subject does not go beyond this point however there is one more important thing that keeps you motivated. In order to achieve your goals successfully you also need an accountability partner. The accountability partner is the one who will not let you rest when you feel lethargic and will be your cheerleader when you are on course. Hence it is important to choose an accountability partner. It could be someone from your own organization or from your neighbourhood. And if you cannot find one you could look for that support from The Freedom Journal which will take you step by step to your #1 goal in 100 days.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Communicating with Clarity

Recently a truck was allowed in our plant with serious gaps in safety requirements. The root cause - Clarity in communication. The concerned Manager had asked to change priority for loading a truck. The security sent the vehicle even with the gaps in safety assuming the instruction from the manager could not be questioned. In another organization, at a different time, the same root cause led to charging of a wrong material in a batch resulting in an off-grade.

In the first case, the concerned security person was called and counselled. The incident was shared with all other security people to ensure that learning was not confined to a single person. It was stressed that the safety superseded everything else.

In the second case, the organization incorporated a long clarifying statement in all of their product SOPs. The Panel operator would confirm from the Field operator if he had charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z and the Field operator was required to reconfirm verbatim that he has charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z. This action successfully eliminated the charging of wrong material in any future batches.

Both the organizations learnt from their mistakes and moved on. Many organizations today find themselves spending time on conducting root cause analysis for similar incidents and trying to find corrective ways to seemingly insurmountable problem.

We have very clear understanding of our ideas in our own minds and we think that other person has understood what we have said or what we want. However it is like the game of Tappers and Guessers. 

In this game the tappers are asked to tap a tune of a well-known song and Guessers are supposed to guess it. Since the tappers know the song, as they tap they can clearly hear it in their heads complete with rhythm and lyrics. When asked about their thinking on the probability of Guessers guessing the correct the song and they would respond "Ninety five percent". However the average score of this game is only "Three percent". What is clear as a bell to the tappers is just disconnected dots of sound to Guessers. You need to connect the dots.

One method, that I have found useful in this situation is to confirm the understanding of the other person.

Simply ask “What’s your understanding of what was just discussed?”

Some people resist this idea of asking. They think this displays lack of trust or raises the question on another person’s understanding. It can be easily dealt with if you think that you are actually checking your own ability to explain rather than other person’s ability to understand.

This goes a long way in making our communication clear. It will also take you closer to the art and science of leadership.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Create Sense of Urgency

John Kotter in his book “Leading Change” calls creating a sense of urgency the first step in the change process. Many organizations fail in implementation stage as they have not created enough buy-in among the stakeholders for the need for change. The change could be initiated either to take advantage of an identified opportunity or to overcome a threat. Without urgency, the organization becomes complacent. As the people do not see the need to change, projects take unreasonable amount of time to complete, and at times could lose their relevance by the time they get to see the light of the day.

To motivate people to take immediate action, people need to see the need for change. Having an honest dialogue with all the stakeholders in the organization about the opportunities and issues that need to be addressed in the early stages provides initial understanding for the need to change and can provide solid foundation for it.

A SWOT analysis at this stage is vital to assess the current situation. It will answer the questions related to:

1.       Current organizational performance.
2.       Organization’s strengths and how it can capitalize on them.
3.       Organization’s weakness and how it can improve.
4.       The external and internal factors affect organization in future.

Since any change will impact individuals, it is important to consider how it will impact individuals and to engage both minds and the hearts of the people. Change could initiate an emotional response from the people and therefore must be addressed early on in the process.

It is equally important to understand why status quo is not an option, what will happen if the organization does not change and what will be the benefits of the change.

To create sense of urgency, the leaders need to paint an inspiring picture of how the future could look like.  Communicate the benefits at all levels. Once sense of urgency is established, the organization can move on to next stages of the change.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Changing Behaviors

How behaviors change

In this ever changing world, change is the only constant. When we as leaders identify development plan for our reports, giving them tools to achieve it is equally important. Most of the leaders include antecedents like providing standard operating procedures and training to achieve results. Research has found that these methods yield results but are effective only up to 20%. The 80% of effectiveness comes from the consequences following the behavior. 

Designing an effective consequence requires hard work. Once a specific behavior is pinpointed, consequences that are encouraging or discouraging, delivered immediately, are important and are highly likely to occur will increase or decrease likelihood of that behavior repeating in future. However if the consequences are either delayed, or are not important or is unlikely to occur will not change the behavior.

Like all other processes the behavior change has four stages. The four stages are:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

1      Unconscious Incompetence – The Enthusiastic Beginner

This is a stage when you don’t know what you don’t know. The most often quoted example in literature is that of learning driving. The first time you get on to the driver’s seat, there is lot of excitement but it is extremely difficult to manage hand and leg coordination. The competence level is low but the commitment level is high. This stage is also called The Enthusiastic Beginner. At this stage the leader needs to provide high level of direction but low level of support. It does not take much time for this enthusiastic to get to the next stage.

2      Conscious Incompetence – The Disillusioned Learner

In this stage, you know what you don’t know. You realize how bad you are at driving. You start creating self-doubt if you will ever be able to learn driving. With sustained practice, you start developing some competence but the commitment level drops to low. The leader needs to provide coaching - both high level of direction as well as support. With practice you start getting results and then it is time to move on to next stage.

3      Conscious Competence – An Emerging Contributor

This is the time when you start replacing old behaviors with new behaviors. However you have to think about them. In the driving example you start acquiring skills like talking while driving. If you do not think, you fall back to old behavior. At this stage you have developed moderate level of competence but commitment is variable. Sometimes you would feel like quitting. Another day you would start with renewed vigor. Leaders at this stage should turn down direction but continue to provide high level of support.

4      Unconscious Competence – A High Performer

You are now a professional. You don’t have to think about what you are doing. You can drive and listen to songs. You can talk to your co-passenger. You have acquired high level of competence as well as commitment. The leaders should turn down both direction as well as support. The new behavior is now a habit. The job can now be delegated.

One small advice. You do not want to overwhelm the person. Start small. Focus on a very specific behavior and you are well on your way to getting better at the Art and Science of Leadership.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Asking Questions

We had made an off-specification batch. The team was conducting the root cause analysis. The discussion had been going well until I came in and started inquiring about the incident. Suddenly the atmosphere changed. People were no longer open. They became defensive. This sudden change in atmosphere would have fascinated behaviour scientists, unfortunately I was no behaviour scientist. I could not even sense the change. I had stifled the discussion which was proceeding so well before I entered that room.

What is wrong here?

Over several years I have learnt that being an engineer I have tendency to ask lot of “why” questions to satisfy my curiosity. A “why” question elicits defensive response. After four back to back questions one finds oneself against a wall. After that people stop answering your questions. This seriously derails the communication process. Then, what is the alternative?

The alternative is surprisingly simple. When I first read it, I was amazed at the elegance of the solution. The “why” questions can be substituted with “what” questions or just a phrase that encourages the other person to continue. For example, if you want to ask a person “Why did you do that?” you could instead ask, “That’s interesting, what was the thinking behind that?” or “Tell me more about that”. Or you could further encourage explanation by saying “I am sorry, I still do not understand, could you please elaborate”.

Another type of questions that stifle discussion are closed ended questions. Closed ended questions are those questions that elicit yes-no or fill-in-the-blanks type response. They do not give chance to the responder to expound. A typical example of this type of question is “Is this approved?”

You guessed this right. The simple alternative to this is to ask an open ended question. That sounds simple. However, it is not. People struggle to come up with open ended questions. The good news is that it is not rocket science and can be learnt with some practice. The phrase, “Tell me more about that” could be a life saver. To benefit from people’s thinking you need to learn to listen as well.

It’s always good to conclude a discussion with asking the other person’s understanding on the discussion. This may not sound like a good idea but will help bring all involved on the same page.

Learning to ask right questions will move you closer to the Art and Science of Leadership.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Delivering Feedback

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates." said Thomas S Monson. It is not without reason that most of the midsize and large organizations establish elaborate Performance appraisal systems. However, in most of the organizations, this becomes an annual ritual instead of becoming a tool to continually accelerate performance improvement.

Many experienced leaders avoid delivering feedback to their employees till the mandatory annual performance review. In general, the employees know how they are doing but at times, the feedback comes as a surprise. 

Why do these experienced leaders avoid giving feedback?

The primary reason is that most leaders think feedback only in terms of negative feedback and they avoid upsetting the employees and they themselves are uncomfortable delivering it. The employee gets no feedback when doing his job as per expectation and is confused about how his performance is viewed by his leader.

Feedback is your gift to your employee. It should not be just once a year but should be all year long in small packets. In her book, "Unlock Behaviour Unleash Profits", Leslie Braksick mentions that the effective leaders maintain a ratio of 4:1 for positive feedback to constructive feedback. When the employee is accustomed to hearing both positive as well as constructive/developmental feedback he is more likely to accept it and will not be surprised when it comes up in annual review. 

To be able to deliver meaningful feedback to their employees leaders need to ask themselves for each of their employees, what should this person continue to do, what should he start doing and what should he stop doing to make him more effective in his job.

This also helps them identify both the strengths as well as developmental needs of their employees. 

To overcome their own discomfort in delivering feedback they need to ask themselves following three questions:

1. Who helped them grow in their own career? Were they leaders who appreciated their work and gave constructive feedback or the ones who micromanaged them constantly fearing that they would fail.
2.  What is their real intention? If their real intention is for the good of the employee then why should they hesitate to provide feedback and finally
3.     Would their feedback help employee achieve what they want him to achieve.

Once they have answers to these questions they will be comfortable delivering both type of feedback: positive as well as constructive and they will be well on their way to skillful display of the Art and Science of Leadership.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Perseverance and Leadership

I recently received a quote by Napolean Hill on Whatsapp "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits" that got me thinking. It is like a person who is digging for gold and does not know when to stop. Who knows, he may strike gold in the next hit or he may continue to labor for indefinite length of time.

When faced with repeated learning experiences or failures, the person starts to have doubt in his own capability. This causes stress. This stress can consume significant part of the person's capability to perform and the performance will usually suffer resulting in reinforcing of the self doubt. This is a downward spiral. Once a person gets caught in this it is difficult to get off this spiral. It is like getting off a speeding bullet train running at 300 km/h. The only way to get off is to slow down this train and wait till it stops. 

I have failed many a times. We all fail. There is nothing wrong in failing. It is just a feedback. However keeping oneself focused during such times is hard. How does one keep oneself focussed at task without worrying about outcome of one's efforts. I read a transforming mental image that one of my favourite  executive coaches had developed. Imagine you are on edge of a large pond and you are next to a large pile of nice round stones. Your job is to throw one stone at a time in the center of the pond so that they will accumulate in the center of the pond till one of the stones will finally appear on the surface. You do not know how many stones will it take to accomplish the job for you do not know the depth of the pond or the height of the pile that you have formed under the water. Any stone that appears above the surface is job well done.

Each stone is important. Every stone has the possibility of breaking the surface but since you do not know which one, you have to focus all your effort on throwing the stone in hand. You cannot be distracted by the stones already thrown or the ones that will be thrown later. Nor could you be distracted by the thoughts related to the rewards that you will reap or disappointments you will have if the stone happens to appear or not appear on the surface. You have to believe that every stone made a difference and that they were accumulating  under water even though you could not see them. 

It is easy to get in self doubt. Your capability in accomplishing the task. The time it will take to accomplish the task. Just keep throwing.

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