It is better to do something and learn from mistakes than live the inertia of paralysis of analysis. – Ira Fialkow
It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to do a series of extensive analyses before making a decision. You forget to directionally see the action that you want to take because you are too focused on the analysis. Others are just afraid of making mistakes and face the embarrassment that may come with it. Some simply over-analyze because they aspire things to be perfect and expect to do everything right.
Let’s start this lesson with a very simple premise— Mistakes are not only the result of simply not thinking before doing or doing things by impulse, but are also often the byproduct of serious analytic thinking about the right course of action. Yes, logically you would reduce the likelihood of mistakes or failure if you subject your idea to a series of analyses. That is perfectly fine and most of the time—if you want to make not only the right decision but also better decisions, you have to use analytics; it is what is expected and proper in the business environment to mitigate risk. However, you have to also caution yourself from going into “paralysis of analysis.” You could end up doing nothing. We live in a fast-paced and ultra competitive world. Sometimes, when you are a step slower in making things happen, opportunity passes you by. Over-analysis is a common cause that slows people down when it comes to making things happen or taking actions. In some extreme cases, it confines them to a cycle of continuous analysis and internal debates about the assumptions used in the analysis. This results in the actual output of the analysis being the focus rather than the action to be taken certainly, doing the right amount of analysis is important, but balancing it with action guarantees results.
Enjoy the Fun of Failure
Most people have used those little self-stick notepapers more commonly known as Post-it notes. But few know that this very successful 3M product was not a planned innovation. It did not come from a group who researched, got the idea, and followed an organized process of product development. Spencer Silver from 3M was trying to develop a strong adhesive in the 3M research laboratories in the 1970s. Silver successfully developed a new adhesive but it was weaker than what 3M already had in the market. The adhesive was weak; it stuck to objects, but could easily be lifted off. From the point of view of product development given the original specifications, the exercise was a failure; but Silver did not discard it. Four years later, Arthur Fry (another 3M employee) was using paper as a bookmarker, but it kept falling out. Fry remembered Silver’s adhesive and he used it to coat the markers. With the weak adhesive, the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the pages. Today, these sticky notes are one of the most popular office products available.
The Post-it case exemplifies a culture in 3M that encourages employees to create new products and take action without fear of failure. Spencer Silver failed to develop the product he originally intended. This failure or unexpected outcome created a better opportunity for the right kind of invention that happened years later. You want people to be willing to take action. It’s better to “do something” and learn from mistakes than live in the inertia of paralysis of analysis. “Doing something” means start making something happen. “Just Do It”, as the famous Nike brand tagline advocates. Failure doesn’t always lead to success, like in the case of the invention of Post-it — but you can’t succeed if you are not willing to fail.
Increasing Innovation Speed
Speed is an attribute that companies need in today’s competitive business environment. A company’s ability to innovate is a direct driver of its capability to increase revenue and economic value. Leaders can increase innovation speed by changing the culture associated with making mistakes. Companies have to create an organizational culture whereby mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of innovation and learning. Increasing innovation speed means faster product development — to be in the marketplace first with the goods and services customers want as well as to constantly innovate with new services and features that give the customers what they desire. Another kind of speed is the speed of processing everything through the organization. This means having end-to-end processes superior than those of competitors that translate to excellent customer services. Google exemplifies this today by allowing employees to spend up to 20% of their work time in personal projects related to the company’s business. Several of Google’s successful services were created by employees in their personal project work time—Gmail and Adsense for example. If you are going to innovate, you have to be willing to listen, make mistakes, and try new things. Innovation speed is the kind of speed that can only be achieved by making things happen with a bias to action, not by being afraid of failure.
Work-life Lesson 6 Takeaways:
- Mistakes are not only the result of simply not thinking before doing, but are also often the byproduct of serious analytic thinking about the right course of action.
- Failure doesn’t always lead to success, such as the invention of Post-it — but you can’t succeed if you are not willing to fail.
- Companies have to create an organizational culture where making mistakes is seen as an inevitable part of innovation and learning.
- Innovation speed is the kind of speed which can only be achieved by making things happen with a bias to action, not by being afraid of failure.
Photo by Maple
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.
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.
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:
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.
The group’s culture provides structure and meaning to its members—in many ways it controls members’ interactions with one another and with external parties. In this post, this concept is applied in the Information Technology (IT) group setting. The IT group culture can influence the success of the IT organization. Culture is socially constructed through leaders that embed their beliefs, values and assumptions upon the group that it leads. The culture of any IT organization is formulated and impacted by several variables. The strongest and the most obvious is the influence of its leader. According to E. H. Schein, leader’s primary embedding mechanism is seen in how they pay attention to, measure and control aspects of organization’s operations and decision making. They initiate great conversations that tie cultural norms to the organization’s goals. If the current culture is not aligned with the new realities, leaders need to be the catalyst to create new understanding and help individuals select new behaviors and, eventually, beliefs. Leaders must also define, clarify and reinforce understanding of the actions and beliefs that build the desired culture.
To examine how IT leaders influence the IT organizational culture and IT branding let’s use some of E. H. Schein primary embedding mechanisms and apply it in the IT perspective. Each one comes with a set of questions you can use to assess the impact of such embedding mechanism in your IT organization right now:
What Leaders Pay Attention To, Measure, and Control on a Regular Basis
Although performance measures presented in the leader’s reporting dashboard change from time to time, most of the leaders that I know only pay attention to a small set of key performance indicators. IT leaders rely on a subset of key measures that they believe is the best indicator of the overall performance of the organization. As an IT manager, you know what your CIO is looking at and controlling most of time. Your CIO gets your attention and tracks certain aspects of operations based on these key performance indicators. In some instances, the CIO will try to drill down and find more information about a perceived problem and base his request for action on this. The performance measures that IT leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis dictate the importance given by the organization to a service, a problem or a project.
It is but a natural tendency for managers, staff and different groups within IT to keep track of the performance measures that IT leaders are more attentive to. More likely, these people discuss these controls in daily IT operations meetings. Some will even set alarms so as to act swiftly on incidents before they become major problems. Performance measures and controls are powerful mechanisms that IT leaders use to forge a working culture based on what they think is important. How current are your departmental metrics? Do they measure against your current organizational objectives? Do they reflect the coming changes and help prepare your team for new ways of working?
How Leaders React to Critical Incidents and Organizational Crises
Companies in this day and age rely on an integrated set of digitized platforms and infrastructure to run and manage its business operations. When a critical IT incident occurs, it often impacts mission-critical systems and processes that affect business operations. These days, it is not hard to imagine how something like this can directly impair the ability of the company to serve its customers. These kinds of problems could unfavorably hurt the company’s profits and reputation in the short term. When a major IT incident disrupts most critical processes of the company, the credibility and reputation of the IT organization is heavily dependent on their perceived preparedness and responses during the situation. The CIO is at the forefront of disaster recovery measures and business continuity management and continues to work hand-in-hand with business managers. For mature IT groups, the planning, work and infrastructure that that is used to run disaster and business continuity situations are completed way before major incidents occur.
Business continuity and disaster recovery is part of an organizational learning process. In the wake of a crisis, IT leaders adopt a learning orientation and use prior experience to develop new routines and behaviors that ultimately change the way the organization prepares and responds to crisis. The best leaders recognize this and are purposeful and skillful in finding the learning opportunities inherent in every crisis situation. Is your organization proactive about problem management, disaster recovery, and business continuity preparedness? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities to manage critical incidents and crisis situations?
How Leaders Allocate Resources
IT leaders have control on the allocation of resources in the organization. This applies to operational and projects resource assignments. The CIO controls the budget allocation to key projects, resource assignment to operations areas, and the time IT members spend on certain initiatives. On the other hand, the CIO also controls how and where to slash resources during budget optimization. How leaders allocate the resources of the organization creates a natural signal to its members about their priorities and what they think creates more value to the company. His or her interpretation of the business strategy and the expectations of the company’s shareholders impact the leader’s decision making process. Resources mean money and time. Therefore, when the CIO decides on the operating and capital budget portfolio allotment, this provides managers an indication of where in the organization best efforts and priorities are expected.
Another strong indication of the CIO’s priorities can be observed on how he spends time. To better understand the job of the CIO, Peter Weill, MIT profession and co-author of the book IT Savvy, examined how CIOs allocate their time. CIOs allocate time in four major areas: managing IT Services, working with non-IT colleagues, working with customers, and managing enterprise processes. Time allocation varies a lot because of individual management style but in most cases, where the CIO spends the most time sends a strong message. As an IT leader, examine how you spend your time. How do you think it impacts the desired cultural values of your organization? In what ways should you change your managerial regimens to better present, explain, and reinforce the desired culture?
Deliberate Role Modeling, Teaching, and Coaching
We all naturally know that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership, but ironically it’s often the most overlooked. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. I think the most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions. Leaders should be engaged with IT operations but their engagement in it should not be limited to supervising and running operations but also guiding, teaching and coaching managers.
Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and fast innovating area of the company. If the CIO is not forward looking, it can’t provide the business with a platform to continue to be competitive and 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 are always looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, looking for ways of plotting a course of 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? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities for participating in transformative conversations? Is learning embraced at all levels?
The values and priorities of the IT leader- may it be the CIO, CTO, IT VP or IT Director— are reflected in the culture of the information technology (IT) organization. This is true also for other organizations, big or small, that has its members working together for some time. A positive organizational culture reinforces the core beliefs and behaviors that a leader desires while weakening the values and actions the leader rejects (Kaufman 2002). A negative culture becomes toxic, poisoning the life of the organization and hindering any future potential for growth. Obviously, there is an inevitable bridge joining organizational culture and the level of success it enjoys (Peters and Waterman 1982).
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
Branding IT Organization Part I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. This time, I will further define the concept of IT branding and how it relates to team culture. Jose Rivas, a colleague of mine, posted this as a comment in my last article:
“Branding is something that everyone in IT does every day– it is how the user community perceives you. I believe that branding is a reflection of the culture that drives the IT organization, or any other group for that matter. Purposely branding IT takes a lot of thought and effort. It requires a clear vision, effective communications within as well as outside IT, strong executive sponsorship and a well-motivated organization.”
I couldn’t agree more with this opinion of Jose Rivas on IT branding as a reflection of the team’s culture. Branding has a lot to do with human perspective and the forces that are created in social and organizational interactions. It has a lot to do with your group’s identity and culture.
IT Brand Identity and IT Branding
IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style. It is what you stand for. IT brand identify is the set of values that exists in your customers and employees’ mind as a result of interaction and associations with your IT organization.
IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity. This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company. It is the value you create that gets reinforced every time your internal customers interact with anyone in your team and any facet of your service.
Improving your IT brand: Why bother?
Below are just some of the rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand.
- IT will run more efficient operations because they align all decisions with the mission, vision and values that underpin their promise.
- Internal customers (business) are willing to invest more in IT because they believe it will deliver outstanding benefits.
- Quality of IT services concretes internal customer loyalty.
- Business supports IT projects because they know that IT creates value in the company.
- It is easier for IT to communicate new service offers.
- IT will find it easier to attract and retain good employees because applicants believe in the quality of the workplace based on the advance knowledge of the caliber of the brand.
- IT will increase its value and management support
The bottom line for IT managers and employees is that if they do not become conscious of the team culture in which they are embedded – those cultures will control them. This process is complex and multifaceted. Every IT team must learn how to become a team. They have to find their identity and use it to their advantage.
Photo courtesy of advanceweb.com.