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Archive for June, 2011

Work-life Lesson 5: Understand the Skills and Abilities that Differentiate You From everyone Else. Whenever You Have an Opportunity, Use Them.

by Glenn Remoreras, in collaboration with Ira Fialkow and Ivy Remoreras

It is common in business that companies conduct SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to assess themselves in the current environment. However, it’s rarely that you see individuals regularly pursue similar SWOT analysis to assess their own skills, talents and opportunities. Uncertainties created by ever changing economic conditions and shifting technology  means companies must continually adjust to meet the needs of their markets and insure they have the skilled resources to innovate and deliver more value than their competitors or risk extinction..  It thus becomes imperative for you to know the skills and abilities that set you above the rest.  Not only does it help place you above your competition but it also enables you to know what other skill sets you can fall back on if and when necessary.

When creating your personal SWOT analysis, be sure to include all your skills and talents. This means even those that may not be directly related to your current job description. This lesson is actually the flip side of Lesson 3 – “Be your own toughest critic”.  You can’t forget the areas where you already excel.  You need to use those skills often, develop them and create an outlet for them.  At the same time, you need to be able to develop new skills.  This is especially true for dynamic fields that are impacted daily by changing technology.  The technology (and the skills related to it) available when you were in university could be years away from today’s technology.  If you didn’t keep abreast of current trends and skills, you would be obsolete.

It is especially critical for yourself and your organization to avoid a scarcity mentality, where you tend to protect the skills and talents you have in an effort to “stay employed”.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of rationalizing “I have been doing it this way for twenty years, we’ve been successful and it works; so why change?”  They will soon have a rude awakening when they find themselves and their skills obsolete, and possibly their entire organization.

A healthy innovative perspective is that of an abundance mentality, where the thinking is – “We need to share our skills; there’s more for everybody because when we collaborate we are creating something new and different, something better.”  Think of shareware and how people not only learn from one another but also build on each other’s work, knowledge, and experience.  The end product is as Ira used to say “ideas that build on each other” which is always better and more useful than the original product ever can be…and the collaboration brought a sense of ownership and pride to all involved. Which then leads to another benefit; the pride of ownership and the culture of caring that comes along with it. 

Take advantage of skills you are good at but not necessarily expected of you

For example, while you may think organizing community events has nothing to do with your job as an administrative assistant, you are wrong. Skills do not always have to be work-related. As long as your skills are beneficial to the company and to your group in some way, it becomes advantageous to you.  However, it is not enough that you know what you’re capable of. You need to let other people, most especially upper management, know about your other skills and how they can add value. What’s the best way to do this? Just like extracurricular activities in school were important, so it is at work.  If there are opportunities for you to use or exhibit your talents, then volunteer. For example, if you are naturally community minded, offer to be part of the committee for the company’s annual food bank drive for the local church or volunteer to organize a fun and healthy community benefiting activity like the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon.

Some people consider joining committees or groups outside of their job description as a waste of time.  Instead, think of it as an opportunity to showcase and develop your other skills.  This helps management get a broader sense of who you are and what you are capable of.  In addition, these committees or groups help you connect and work with other people in the company you would otherwise not be able to. This is especially true of large projects where you tend to get more exposure.

Part of accountability is continuous self-improvement.  Not only do you look at what you’re already good at but also what else you can develop. For example, if you have an affinity for languages, why not learn a new language (especially one relevant to your company).  I know of some friends whose careers opened up because they could speak a third (and even fourth) language. You should always seek to develop new skills. In this way, you and your skills will always be relevant and up-to-date.

As a manager, encourage your people to use and develop their skills

If you want your company to take advantage of your people’s talents and abilities, you need to develop a company culture allows people to leverage their skills and benefit the company.  This means getting to know the people you work with – beyond job descriptions.  It makes sense to find out what your employees enjoy doing in their spare time. Are they involved in community projects? What sort of activities or hobbies do they enjoy? You need to learn what people’s talents are and help develop them.  People need to feel comfortable in speaking up about their talents and creating opportunities to develop them.  If the boss is not open to seeing his subordinates beyond job descriptions, many talents and skills that could be beneficial to the company will go to waste.

Work-life Lesson 5 Takeaways: 

  • Do not forget things you’re already good at – use it, develop it and find an outlet for it. It is important not only to know your strengths but also to create opportunities to use and expose them.
  • Develop an abundance mentality versus scarcity mentality.  Skills can become obsolete so you need to learn how to adapt and develop new and more relevant skills.
  • Take advantage of the skills you are good at but not necessarily part of your current job description.
  • As a manager, you need to develop a holistic approach to a person. There needs to be a company culture where the people are encouraged to hone and develop their skills.

Link to Previous Lesson: Business Lesson 4: Learn how to give first-rate presentations so that the message you’re trying to deliver is the same one the audience receives


About the collaborators:

Ira Fialkow is the SVP of Member Services at Peeriosity. Peeriosity is a confidential network of leading companies from across the world committed to collaborating openly with each other in a completely secure environment with interactions free of consultants and vendors. Prior to Peeriosity, Ira was EVP of Shared Services at CEMEX and Rinker Group (acquired by CEMEX is 2007) from 1990 through joining Peeriosity in October 2010. Rinker Group was the initial recipient of the Best Mature Shared Services Award in 2003. Ira lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and has been the champion of his fantasy football league in three of the past five years.

Glenn Remoreras is an IT Manager at CEMEX. He brings over 12 years of experience as an IT director, business processes manager, project leader, and consultant. He has focused on enabling business solutions through the use of IT capabilities. Glenn has been involved with various international post merger integration projects.

Ivy Remoreras is a marketing professional with eight years of extensive experience, particularly in product management, communications and promotions as a manager, university instructor and consultant. She believes in constant learning and has a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). Having resided in Europe, Asia and North America, she speaks four languages.

Photos courtesy of Vlado and Master Isolated Images.

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Strengthening IT Accountability – Lack of Accountability, a Symptom of Lack of Organizational Clarity

A very insightful comment in my blog from a well respected IT management consultant, Vaughan Merlyn, motivated me to write this follow up article. IT Accountability is an interesting topic and there is a lot to uncover and delve into. In Part One, I wrote about accountability as something that does not only happen when things go wrong — it is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than something that has an end point. There are three important areas where IT accountability comes into play: (1) IT Accountability in Operative Teams; (2) IT Accountability Cost Management; and (3) IT Accountability to improve service delivery. These are just three of the many facets of IT organizations where accountability is an important driver for success. They are meant to illustrate the meaning of IT accountability and to provide examples.

Part Two aims to tackle the challenges on how to deal with the problem of lack of IT accountability. According to Mr. Merlyn, lack of accountability is a symptom of a lack of organizational clarity. I agree withVaughan. The main reason why IT leaders fail to address the accountability issue is a lack of clarity on what the team is accountable for in the first place. Accountability matters as much as any other IT capabilities. The key to directing individuals and teams towards success is to clarify the organizational purpose up front. The organizational purpose is a declaration of what the organization wants to be and, in broader terms, what it wants to achieve. It provides meaning to the day-to-day tasks, triumphs and setbacks that make up the daily operative grind. A lack of purpose will create disconnection among the different levels of the IT organization. Teams and individuals will not know why their effort matters. They cannot connect their work to a larger story. Their work becomes a matter of going through the motions. When that happens, team members lose accountability.

The following statement is Vaughan Merlyn’s assertion on this subject:

“If organizational purpose is not clear (i.e., the goals, values desired business outcomes and guiding principles for a given capability are defined and well understood?) then organizational commitment (i.e., sponsorship and accountabilities) will be lacking or confused. With weak organizational commitment, ability (i.e., clear processes, well-defined roles, competent resources filling those roles, appropriate tools and technologies supporting the processes) will be deficient. And with deficient ability, there is virtually no way accountability (i.e., criteria for success and related performance requirements) can be meaningful.”

Root Cause: Lack of Organizational Clarity

When there is a lack of organizational clarity, it will be harder for IT managers to inspire people because they don’t have a clear direction, performance measures and objectives to follow and to communicate to their teams. This disconnect will open the door for individual managers to interpret directions, formulate objectives and determine their own priorities. On the other hand, for IT team members, it will lead to inconsistent performance of day-to-day operations that will cause low morale and productivity. It will be impossible to expect accountability from team members who may ask themselves the question—“How do we know if we are doing a good job? How do we know if we are fulfilling our obligations to the team and we are achieving results for the company?” Without organizational clarity, chances are you will have a lack of accountability from your people.

Creating the culture of accountabilty starts with the IT leaders – to me this process is always top-down. They define the IT strategy and vision based on the desired results and business strategy of the company (IT to Business Alignment). The desired objective of IT or the entire company could be to: become the easiest to conduct business with, be the most innovative organization in the industry, have technological excellence, increase profitability, or create the best sales and distribution network. IT leaders must clearly understand the business strategy of the firm which it provides services to. They must also work to provide the right IT strategy, platform, experiences and actions to achieve these results. The role of IT leaders is to communicate this organizational purpose clearly to the whole team. It requires persistent effort and a clear message to get the right commitment. By doing this, they can be certain that their subordinates know or are reminded what they are accountable for. This is where IT leaders make all the difference. Leadership is about reminding people what it is that we are trying to achieve—and why it matters.

Photos courtesy of Renjith Krishnan and Sheelamohan

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Strengthening IT Accountability

Unfortunately, accountability in some IT organizations has become something that happens only when they are dealing with major problems. What you have is a working environment with members taking responsibility only when things go wrong. That is, when someone or some group has to own and be answerable for the consequences that impacted the business operations and later on work on reactive solutions. This kind of accountability seldom works because it is founded on the wrong principles.

Accountability in IT happens when IT team members or teams take responsibility in performing functions and work to achieve objectives. Here they take ownership of the services they provide to the business. This kind of accountability impacts both IT services delivery and ultimately, the company’s results.  This kind of accountability makes things go right and far from being a punishment for failures. This kind of accountability develops the culture that produces people with the right attitude and managers that execute the right IT strategy. Highly accountable IT organizations have that commitment at all levels — from top management to IT operators that manage day-to-day functions.

IT Accountability in Operative Teams

In my current occupation, I am fortunate to lead a team of professionals with a strong sense of pride in what they do and with the goal of contributing to the organization. That sense of pride translates into a positive attitude and best practices that govern how we work to provide the best service to our internal customers. I once told my team that what I admired most about their work is their culture of shared responsibility. I like that each one has a sense of ownership of the team’s overall performance. They have the initiative to perform certain functions within the scope of their responsibility — very mindful that they are accountable for keeping business operations running efficiently. In our team, doing things above and beyond for the sake of customer service is daily routine. To me, that’s accountability in every sense of the word. The way we hold ourselves accountable defines the very nature of our working relationships, how we provide support to the business, how we work in projects, how we respond to problems and how we interact.

IT Accountability in Cost Management

Accountability in cost management practices is one of the most important areas where IT can really impact the business’ bottom-line. IT leaders need to start by responding to the following questions: What are my cost drivers? What business objective is driving spending? Is spending aligned to the business strategy? Is IT cost transparent and does business understand the value? Accountable IT confronts these tough questions together with their business counterparts. The practice of shifting the focus from IT cost to one of business value no longer works, especially during these tough economic times. It has to be a balance of both. IT needs to be accountable for the business cases that go with its project portfolio. I think that the biggest challenges in IT are those that deal with the intersection of both technology and business — how the cost of investment in certain technologies translates to business value. IT management needs to be at the forefront in taking responsibility for cost efficiency and value creation of their products and services. IT management needs to understand what drives IT cost. The basis for effective cost management is understanding cost structure and analyzing the costs flowing through that structure. 

IT Accountability for Improved Service Delivery

Better accountability improves service delivery performance. But how does this work? IT accountability for improving IT services delivery is not simply a question of providing the technology needed to run its business or ensuring service availability. It is also about its service culture as well as better partnership and alignment with the business. In short, the challenge is as much about partnership and customer relationship as it is about providing the right IT business solutions. Service culture is one of the softer elements of the IT organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to have a strong sense of accountability in delivering excellent services. Essential to improving partnership with the business is a deeper understanding of the business strategy, objectives and the service levels that are required. How do we engage business leaders? What is the current and evolving business strategy of the company? How can IT be leveraged to gain competitive advantage? How do we manage ongoing innovation and process improvements? Does the business understand our capabilities to maximize our value? How do we communicate and manage perception about IT services? These are some of the difficult questions and challenges that must be addressed head on by IT leaders. There must be a structure used to allow learning from business engagement about strategies, core elements and innovations to improve service culture.

Although the concept of accountability is often reduced to ‘answerability’ or ‘enforceability’, a more complete understanding includes the actions that take place at every level and every internal customer touch points. Again, accountability does not only happen when things go wrong—accountability is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than having an end point.

Photos courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Michal Marcol.

Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.

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