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BRM and Virtuous Cycle of Trust Between Business & IT

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. ― Stephen R. Covey

I have been working in the field of Information Technology for 17 years. I remember that a decade ago, when I showed my business partners simple tricks, shortcuts, and cool functionalities in systems or devices – I was able to impress them. Those interactions were engagement starters for me that somehow lead to long-term relationships and multiple joint business-IT ventures. This approach will rarely work in today’s world, where our business partners, like us, are tech savvy users. On many occasions, business users are the ones approaching me about apps they are probing, about cloud-based solutions on trial they are analyzing or new devices and tools they have seen in conferences they just attended.

Technology is developing at a much faster pace. This exponential development makes technology easier to use and more accessible. We have gone from an era where only a few people have access to information and technology, to one where it is virtually in everything we do.

In business, this results in IT capabilities becoming more embedded into business capabilities. Organizations seeking competitive advantage need to learn how to harness that potential. Business leaders who want to compete in today’s market, and well into the future, have to lead their companies toward a true business and technology convergence. IT-business alignment is no longer adequate where business formulates strategies and IT aligns later. In today’s world, this is a reactive process. Business and IT need to work together to bring engagement upstream and convert solution based conversation into value and business based conversation. Business technology convergence is a journey that will take time and after a repetitive positive cycle of engagement between IT and business. The strategic speed of this convergence depends on three drivers: clarity, unity, and value creation. These are the components of the virtuous cycle of trust.

BRM Virtuous Cycle

Clarity

Senior managers in business and IT should spend time improving the clarity of their strategies, purpose, and operating model in order to achieve a shared direction. Clarity means being able to answer the question: “Where are we going and why?” We should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who does what, when? – Role Clarity
  • How do we drive responsible, value creating behaviors around the use of products services? – Clarity of business outcomes
  • How do we engage each other? – Clarity of rules of engagement
  • How do we develop needed competencies – Clarity of talent development and continuous learning
  • What is our operating model? – Clarity of the level of business integration and standardization

Unity

Strategic success is going be tough to achieve if leaders and work teams won’t cooperate for the greater good. You’re dreaming if you expect this cooperation to happen all by itself; patterns of conflict amongst people and organizations occur naturally but aren’t eliminated naturally. There must be a concerted effort to achieve unity. Unity means that once business and IT are clear on where they are headed, they agree wholeheartedly on the merits of that direction and the need to work together to move ahead. The emphasis should be on openness, alignment, and collaboration. If these are the main drivers of unity, leaders need to foster a culture where internal competition, mistrust and turf wars are discouraged. Organizations can achieve unity of effort through (1) shared common objectives and vision, (2) a coordination effort to ensure coherency and common measures of progress and (3) ability to change course if necessary.

Value Creation

Value creation is about business performance and results from a dynamic balance between business demand and IT supply. To succeed, IT organizations need to cultivate a culture of value management. Start by engaging your business partners in clarifying how you can contribute value. Being a good BRM means that you have an intimate knowledge of how your company creates value. How does you company make money? What does your company value? How does your company compete? The virtuous cycle of trust between business and IT spins faster when value is being realized and intended outcomes are met. The best way to measure value is combination of two metrics “time to value” and “value over time.”

For example, one belief that I try to dispel many times at work is that a comprehensive platform of services is a prerequisite for creating value. I don’t believe it is necessary to “go big” in order to achieve anything of value all the time. Sometimes, depending on the business initiative, it can be smarter to start small and act fast. On the other hand, you also have to look at sustainable value over time and have to balance both. Especially in large investments, value over a long period of time has to be expected.

BRM Levers

In summary, I believe Business Relationship Management is the key lever of strategic speed for Information Technology organizations and the business. Business Relationship Managers are “the oil to the machine” that reduces organizational friction. Fast is not always about pace. It is about people and shared perspectives. When all areas or teams are working harmoniously, because rules and directions are clear, it is amazing how much potential value it can create. In faster and successful IT groups, the emphasis is on strategic partnership, flexibility, openness, innovation and continuous improvement as well as taking the time to reflect and learn. These are functions BRMs are expected to do in both the business and IT sides.

How Leadership is Personal

December 13, 2013 2 comments

I attended a manager’s training program this week that my company organized. To be honest, I thought I would not encounter many new things, as I have participated in similar programs in the past already. I was wrong. One of the modules centered on leadership. I learned about improving leadership skills and effectiveness by focusing on specific leadership aspects. What resonated to me personally were the personal, relational and inspirational aspects of leadership that I often overlook. It helped that one of our program facilitators who shared about leadership, a seasoned HR director leader himself, gave personal stories from his own experiences that allowed me to see leadership through those aspects and ponder my own realization.

Personal Leadership

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Leadership is personal”, our facilitator passionately said and repeated. He took his statement to heart when he shared a lot of personal accounts about himself in the office and at home (about family) to demonstrate the personal dimension of leadership. I thought it was brilliant and the only way to bring the message across with effectiveness. What I learned is that— leadership is personal. It starts and ends with people following you because you are credible and you gained their trust. I have worked with the same boss since 2004, when I was assigned to participate in a business integration project in Europe. It is kind of strange how I call my boss and how he calls me—“my friend”. Because of working together for so long, you gained that level of trust and relationship.  I see him as my personal leader and probably one of the reasons why I have been working in the same company for about 15 years now.  Personal Leadership is about developing and projecting your leadership capability; being real; and demonstrating dedication. He embodies that. Personal leadership is the best way to gain credibility, loyalty and trust. As a leader you gain trust by demonstrating concern and understanding.

Ralational and Inspirational Leadership

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

“Leadership is like a contact sport”, our HR Director facilitator asserted in one of our discussions. He gave a lot of references to professional and collegiate sports, as to how coaches, as leaders, motivate and inspire their players and teams to achieve the best. I learned that leadership aspiration is not always about winning that championship trophy at the end of a tournament. It is about the inspiration and the motivation to have given the best effort possible—to leave every sweat and blood on the court. Our instructor showed us a 10 year old video, where NBA coach Mo Cheeks, then coach of the Portland Trailblazer, gave Natalie Gilbert a little help singing the national anthem. There is an American awareness for great performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. But for sheer inspirational impact, it’s hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003. This is a story of leadership, an example of humility, compassion and humanity. A tale of how one man, who decided in a few seconds, to help a girl sing the national anthem and inspiring millions by doing so.

What Mo Cheeks did expressed sentiments in the kind of message about leadership sports like basketball conveys. I think leadership has less to do with authority, punishment, rewards, and more to do with credibility, trust, empathy and love. If you think about it, if you have a professional career spanning 15 years or more (like me), the leaders who have motivated and inspired you, are the ones who made the most personal connection with you.  There is vast untapped potential within organizations and communities to collectively perform at a level substantially greater when they have the right leadership. How can I consistently bring the best in my people? The answer is having an engaged team. How can you have an engaged team? Start with personal leadership.

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.

Learning IT Organizations

November 18, 2010 3 comments

We’ve all heard the saying that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership. But ironically, it’s often the most overlooked. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said.

The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. The most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions.  IT leaders should not limit their engagement with their employees with discussions about operation work. They should engage their subordinates in other meaningful ways so as to help them develop themselves.

The best IT teams must have a culture of continuous learning.  In IT organizations, developing employees is not optional, it is a necessity. Development is necessary to acquire the skills and learn the knowledge needed to keep up with new technology and processes in order to achieve business goals. Additionally, development programs in volatile and competitive organizations like IT are important in attracting and retaining employees. 

Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and most innovative area of the company. If the CIO is not forward-looking, IT will most likely neither be as competitive nor at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs should always be looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, searching for new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future.  

  • How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization?
  • How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training?
  • In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face?

Photo coutesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Architecture of Performance Measures – When Are There Enough Performance Indicators?

If you are running a business, having a big set of performance measures is a good thing. But a set of measures by itself isn’t enough. Having performance measures is one side of the coin.  The other side (and what counts) is the application of those measures for its fundamental purpose — that is, to improve business performance. 

Technological advancements in business analytics makes it much easier to collect and report data. This causes a tendency for business users to demand excessive numbers of performance indicators— in some cases, even more than needed to monitor, control and manage their business. Performance measures are worthless and counter productive unless used for a specific purpose such as to track work and achieve better results. 

When are there enough performance measures?

This question can be answered only by you as users of information. Review what you have and analyze each performance measure. You’ll never know.  You might have in excess of some types of measures and lacking others. Let’s understand the different types of performance measures. 

Performance measurement is the regular collection and reporting of data to track work produced and results achieved. Performance measures can be applied in any organization, regardless of size, type and structure.

To illustrate the different types of performance measures and how they are used in different levels of the organization, please refer to the figure below. 

Architecture of Performance Measures

I like to use the Deming circle based on the principles of W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician who argued that supplying products or services require activities, and the quality of a service depends upon the way activities are organized. The Deming circle demonstrates a system of continuous improvement, with the appropriate levels of quality delivered by adhering to the following steps: 

  • PLAN: Design or revise components to improve results.
  • DO: Ensure the plan is implemented
  • CHECK: Determine if the activities achieved the expected results
  • ACT: Adjust the plan based on results gathered during the check phase. 

When you talk about performance measurement, the most important element of the Deming circle is the “check” element. That’s where you apply performance measures,  “check” or measure in order to “act” and change the “plan”.  Consequently, you adjust what you “do” in execution. 

The nested Deming circles represent the levels of the organization and the different types of measures used at every level. The first circle denotes the corporate or strategic cycle. The performance measures in the “check” component in the strategic cycle are composed of strategic performance indicators. They are usually a high level aggregate of data consolidated in summary, graphs and dashboards. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by top management.

The second circle represents the business unit or tactical cycle. The measures in the “check’ component of the tactical cycle are composed of tactical performance indicators. They are usually a drill-down of the strategic measures and used to manage and control the business operations. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by business unit management. Tactical measures are an important link to strategic and operative measures.   

The last level is made of the process indicators or operative measures. They are measures that are embedded in each of the end-to-end processes, within or across departmental boundaries. These are the lowest level measure use to track work on a daily basis to improve process efficiency and performance. 

Now that you know the different types of performance measures depending on different levels of the organization, examine your existing metrics.  Do you think you have the right quantity and quality of performance measures at every level?  

Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.

Stories and Leaders

September 28, 2010 1 comment

The senior vice president of the shared service organization that I work with is retiring after 25 years of service to the company. In a farewell gathering last week to honor his years of service and great accomplishments, 25 selected employees (old and new) took turns to share 25 business lessons learned from our retiring boss. Many of those 25 employees who stood and spoke about the 25 business lessons accompanied them with remarkable stories. They were stories that in many ways embodied the values and meaning of each of the business lessons. Being relatively new to the organization, I felt that the hour and a half of stories and messages provided me a glimpse of the organization’s founding stories, its key tenets, culture and identity. I felt a stronger sense of belongingness and understanding that I know will only help me in how I interact and collaborate with my colleagues.

Stories are powerful messages that shape the organization’s understandings of relationships and of how members deal with the mix of harmony, successes and failures that are always present in the workplace. These are past events that people talk about internally—and even externally. In some cases, leaders choose what stories to tell and immortalize. They are stories that best represent the organization’s values and culture.

Stories can also be critical experiences, major incidents, conflicts and problems that the members of the organization experienced together. The way leaders and members approached, worked through and solved critical experiences help shape the group’s dynamics. The daily actions and decisions of leaders and managers signal appropriate responses to wide-ranging issues. Because of social influence, leaders are the single most important factors and determiners of organizational culture.

Organizational culture is influenced by the leadership style. In other words, the personality, philosophy and experience of the leaders get embodied in its group’s culture. Leaders facilitate the development of organizational culture through different embedding mechanisms that align culture with the organization’s common goal and strategy.

Seven Business Lessons from 7-Eleven

September 21, 2010 8 comments

I have long been intrigued by the series Undercover Boss (currently shown in CBS) but never got the chance to watch it— until last Sunday. I am so happy I did. I learned a lot of business insights from the one and only episode that I have watched so far. I just saw a replay of an episode that was first aired in February 2010. It’s the one where Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven, goes undercover in his own company by working in different operations jobs. Among DePinto’s responsibilities were: working the night shift, making donuts, and driving a delivery truck.

DePinto tells his executive team before embarking on his temporary assignments:

“I’ll be focusing on spending time in the field, where the rubber meets the road. I’m going to see what we’re not doing well, and that’s only going to make us better in the long run.”

In the end, Joe DePinto witnessed a lot of great and inspiring things from ordinary employees of varying backgrounds and at the same time he saw some areas of opportunity. I think his undercover stint was a worthwhile learning experience for him and will only improved the way he manages 7-Eleven. Here are seven management lessons that I learned from this Undercover Boss episode: 

1. Know your customers 

DePinto’s first stint as undercover boss was in Shirley, NY where he worked the early morning shift at the store that sells the most coffee among all the 7-Eleven stores. He wanted to understand the secret as to why this branch was selling more coffee than other stores. Here DePinto met Dolores — 7-Eleven employee for 18 years. He saw her passion and dedication despite her sickness; she has only one kidney and has to undergo dialysis every single day. What’s amazing was how Dolores knew all the customers by name and greeted them affectionately. She showed an up-beat and positive attitude all the time. DePinto quickly realized that the reason why that store was selling 2,500 cups of coffee per day was because of Dolores and her relationship with her customers — definitely not just because of their coffee. 

2. Replicate what works

By going undercover, DePinto discovered what he set out to discover. He learned and observed first hand how Dolores’ personal relationship with her customers brought them back to her store again and again. DePinto wanted to replicate the success of Dolores’ store in order to improve 7-Eleven’s business in coffee sales. Duplicating what Dolores does is not an easy task, but if 7-Eleven can develop a customer service culture patterned after how Dolores treats her customers, it could work! 

3. Know your employees 

DePinto’s next stint was working at 7-Eleven’s largest bakery in Baltimore, Maryland.  Here he was trained by Phil, the shift supervisor and aspiring artist. DePinto was visibly impressed byPhil’s talent as he was shown a sketch pad-full of great drawings inspired by, what else, donuts. This casual encounter in the break room led DePinto to spot a talent that could be harnessed by the company’s marketing department. Just like DePinto, I think managers should seek to know more about their employees and discover their other talents and capabilities. They must be open to harness these talents if it creates mutual value for the employee and the company. Providing employees the training and opportunities to showcase their other talents is a win-win situation for the company and its people. 

4. Employees can inspire management 

The last day of Undercover Boss finds DePinto working with Igor on a delivery truck. Igor, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, inspired DePinto with his humble story. DePinto affirmed Igor for his hard work, can-do attitude, and passion for the job during their meeting at the company’s headquarters when he finally revealed himself as the CEO. Igor replied, “I can’t say anything, I’m just doing my job.” Igor talked passionately about his “American Dream” and how grateful he is to be living it. He told DePinto how he and his wife work only see each other during the weekends because of Igor’s night shifts. Igor’s inspiration and dedication was rewarded— he is now managing one franchise for 7 Eleven.  

5. Communication is key 

Remote operations and thousands of franchisees makes the communication of programs and messages challenging for companies like 7-Eleven. During the show, DePinto was surprised to find out that one store routinely trashed day-old bakery items which were supposed to go to charity. He was visibly disappointed that these items — that should have been sent to charities as per company policy — were being thrown into the trash. It showed his real concern for the homeless and hungry.  However, he understood that it was a case of miscommunication and it something that can surely be improved through better coordination and communication from the head office. 

6. Support your frontline 

In addition, the episode showed one store that needed to replace many of its lights in the store area and in the storage area.  It was one of the chain’s highest grossing stores and its lights had been out for some time. It  not only negatively affected 7-Eleven’s image to its customers (the store did not seem well-maintained due) but was also a potential safety hazard for the employees. DePinto, as “Danny” the entry level employee, was actually tasked to call maintenance and request for the lights to be changed.  As “Danny”, he was told that it was a low priority request and the store’s lights can only be fixed in 30 days during the monthly maintenance visit. DePinto had to call his chief operations officer to prioritize the maintenance job. How we support our frontline is important to our business. They are the people that serve our customers directly. Managers need to know the reality of what’s happening in the field in order to make more sensible decisions according to the situation in the frontline.

7. Great people make great companies 

While working on the donut production line, DePinto couldn’t keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt.  This was until his trainer, Phil, showed him the trick to doing it more efficiently. That’s the case with every task in business, no matter how big or small and strategic or operational. In another segment, DePinto asked Waqas — a young Pakistani who served as boss for the night — about career plans and discovered that Waqas doesn’t consider his job at 7-Eleven to be a “career.” Waqas works the night shift in order to finish his college education during the day. Despite earning a college degree, Waqas views his position in 7-Eleven as a dead-end job because there are no opportunities for him to move up in the company. DePinto was saddened to hear this.  The CEO felt that an employee who has already worked four years for the company and is working for higher education should feel that they have other possibilities and opportunities within the company. DePinto went to say, “Great people make great companies; we can’t let them think their jobs are dead-end, we can’t win without our great soldiers.”

Image courtesy of 7-Eleven.

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