Sunday, August 19, 2012

‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ – The 3 Words Managers should use Only when stuck in mud of Failure, Not when standing on Victory Podium

My last post touched on the painful reality of how Managers, just to score brownie points with their bosses, are getting trapped into the race of “let’s play Innovation” and downplaying importance of efficient execution. This post addresses a similar issue of how, in the aggressive pursuit of recognition, many Managers today are clamoring for their self-promotion. The most classic symptom of this issue is the management who routinely states, “I did this” or “I did that” rather than “We did this or that”. The fact these managers must come to terms with is that for them to be effective and successful they need to take a journey from Illness (‘I’) to Wellness (‘We’).

According to Jim Collins in his groundbreaking book “Good to Great”, Level 5 leaders look out of the window to credit others for success and look in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things don't go as planned. One of the key factors that differentiate a great ‘Leader’ from a charismatic ‘Bragger’ is personal humility. Great leaders credit others for their success and blame themselves for small bumps along the road to greatness.

Now the question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I a Leader or a Bragger?” As a Manager, do you tend to hog the limelight when things run smoothly but point fingers as soon as the ball drops? Do you take the majority of credit for your team’s accomplishments to impress the higher ups? Or, do you take less credit and accept more of the blame?

Leaders understand the value of timely and periodic recognition, appreciation and admiration. They always give their team their due credit, acknowledge and celebrate their achievements (Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone), and own the blame in case of failure. They give their team enough protection and encourage the failure – following the ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. This creates a fear-free environment in the team and encourages team members to take calculated risks to try new things (innovation). On the other hand, failing to do so not only fosters resentment and demotivates team, but also makes you seem selfish and untrustworthy.

‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ – These are the 3 magic words that Managers should use Only when stuck in mud of Failure, Not when standing on the Victory Podium. It shows your humility admitting personal responsibility for your team’s errors, and demonstrates your self-confidence when highlighting your team’s role in triumphs.

Scared? Scared that if you do not constantly tout how great you are, it’ll slow down your growth? Scared because since childhood you've been taught to be competitive and always been pitted against one other, from scoring marks to excelling in a competition? Scared because you always have been expected to get appreciated by your Teachers and everyone else in your locality? Scared because you unintentionally started believing that if you appreciate someone then she may grow faster (or be more popular) than you? Don’t worry. You are NOT competing against your team. A good Manager is considered the one who influences his team to attain desired objectives. He is the one who can get things done (through his team) today and tomorrow. He encourages his people to excel but doesn’t shirk from dealing with low performers. As a Manager, your success (or failure) is measured in terms of your team’s success (or failure). Remember that in the game of Chess, the King is the most important piece but is not one of the strongest. It can win the war only with the help of other pieces.

All “great” organizations embrace collaborative Managers more than “lone wolf” Managers. Managers are measured on their leadership skills, not solely on their personal achievements or how boastful they are. If you do the right things, in the end it’s your team who’ll be bragging about you loud and proud. You'd automatically get awarded not only for the overall success but also for being a great leader.

All “great” organizations cultivate culture of appreciation. Managers with maximum ‘Appreciation Index’ in their teams reach to the top the soonest. The old adage goes - History remembers Kings, not Soldiers.  
And more than Kings, it remembers Kingmakers. So, next time you are standing on the Victory Podium remember that being Appreciative is highly Appreciated

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Execuvation: “Execution in Innovation” + “Innovation in Execution”

These days, it's become almost fashionable for Managers to talk about Innovation. But for many of them this is just a way to score brownie points with their bosses. They aren’t actually implementing Innovation, nor do they have any insight into what they mean by Innovation. And in this race of “let’s play Innovation” they unnecessarily start downplaying importance of Execution and stop rewarding good Executors.

On the other hand, Managers accountable for deliveries always need to live with limited resources. These constraints always cause a conflict between Execution and Innovation, making many of them biased towards Execution and treat Innovation as a step child.

What both these kinds fail to understand is that Innovation and Execution are not co-wives. Nor there can be any dichotomy between the two. Innovation and Execution actually complement each other. As much as a great idea with poor Execution is a sure failure, so too is a bad idea with great Execution. Effective Managers understand that both Execution and Innovation are of the utmost importance and both have the same weightage. Rather than swamping themselves with the traditional aspects of management, they consciously allocate some time for themselves to lead the Innovation process. Project Management is no longer just Execution Management these days. It is now about Execuvation Management: “Execution in Innovation” +Innovation in Execution”.

Execution in Innovation

An idea without proper implementation and application is just an idea or an empty promise. Implementation and application is nothing but Execution. So, “Idea + Execution = Innovation”. Successfully taking an idea from thought or concept level quickly to a solid 1.0 product stage is Innovation. Just conceiving a baby is not enough. Unless you just want to end up becoming a sperm donor (or womb lender), you must put planned and dedicated effort to nourish the developing life and effectively execute the 9 months of delivery period to see birth of your healthy baby. Similarly just thinking a big idea is not enough. Baking the idea, coming up with quick proof of concepts, pretotyping, building prototypes, successive prototypes, and making revisions in the idea/concept along the way – this iterative process leads to the real Innovation.

Innovation in Execution

Embedded in every step of Execution is Innovation. Big ideas are not born every day. It is small ideas that make the big difference. Ideas that lead to better plans, improved processes and more efficient Execution – each iteration getting better results and productivity, requiring lesser cost, lesser resources and lesser time. Using Jugaad to overcome constraints is Innovation. Any move that improves time management, task prioritization and scoping, and maximizes RoI is Innovation. Understanding need of the hour and taking calculated risk - Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap - is Innovation. Failing to Plan is planning to fail. So, proper planning is Innovation. When something precious is at risk (your life, your money, your growth, or your reputation), you innovate to save it. So, surviving in adverse surroundings is Innovation. Point I am trying to make here is that we all have been innovating on daily basis all our life without even realizing this. It’s because all our life we’ve been taught that innovation means coming up with big ideas that can win Nobel Prize or generate Patents or make Publications or convert into game changing Businesses. While true this is an incomplete definition of Innovation. This doesn’t include Day to Day Innovation, used by people working on real problems in their day-to-day work.

An effective Execuvation Manager needs to find a fine balance between Execution and Innovation. Remember that Innovation cannot be forced - it can only be encouraged and facilitated. Motivate Innovation but do not demotivate smart and efficient Execution. Encourage your team to use Innovation in their day to day Execution. If your team is master in Execution, you can afford to pull out some handfuls to try Blue Ocean Innovation.

Every team has great thinkers, great architects/designers and great coders/implementers. Compose a team of one or two engineers each with these qualities/skills. If you have big team, include more. Don’t be surprised if in doing this you find that some of your most talented, capable, and passionate employees always had been deep buried in routine tasks and day-to-day firefighting. Tap the invisible resource of these core team members and challenge them with stretched goals. Give them enough time (from their routine project tasks), opportunity and platform to play their strengths, and provide them with necessary tools, guidance and assistance. Give them freedom and flexibility, but be specific in terms of goals, outcomes and constraints. Move away from fear-based approach, give them enough protection and encourage the failure – follow ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable...