Leadership: Assessing Organizational Health

Leadership in a business context is challenging because its effectiveness depends not just on a leader’s key traits but also on organizational decision making, competitive forces and constantly changing external situation.

On the other hand, people want to work in healthier organization cultures where they can maximize their chances of adding value – both to their own selves as well as to their organizations.

Beyond visible numbers, how do we assess the health of an organization?

I read 2016-1 edition of McKinsey Quarterly with great interest. It is a rich resource with insights on theme “Organizing for the Future”. In one of the sections on putting leadership in context, authors point to an interesting 2009 research from McKinsey’s Alice Breeden, Aaron De Smet, Helena Karlinder-Ostlundh, Colin Price, Bill Schaninger, and Eilidh Weir on “Building healthy organizations to drive performance: The evidence”.

To be sure, certain normative qualities, such as demonstrating a concern for people and offering a critical perspective, will always be part of what it takes to be a leader. But the importance of other elements, such as keeping groups on task and bringing out the best in others, vary in importance depending upon an organization’s circumstances. Organizational health changes over time. Effective situational leadership adapts to these changes by identifying and marshaling the kinds of behavior needed to transition a company from its present state to a stronger, healthier one.

The exhibit offers 9 rules of thumb to assess health of an organization beyond numbers. Whether you are a leader responsible for organizational health or someone responsible for building leadership culture within organization, these rules of thumb for assessing organizational health will certainly help you clarify behaviors that lead to better health.

Please read the full report here for more context and insights. Meanwhile, here is a quick sketch note version of the exhibit.

Related Posts/Visual Notes at QAspire.com

Organization Culture is a Reflection

You cannot change your reflection in the mirror if you want to change how you look and feel about yourself. YOU have to change and the reflection changes accordingly.

And to enable that change, you have to do all the right things based on what you wish to achieve.

Trying to change an organization’s culture is much like that too. Culture of an organization is a reflection – a by-product – of what people within the organization do.

If you want culture to change, you have to first change your intent, behavior, systems, processes, mindset and then narrative. Trying to change an organization’s culture only through narratives (tall mission statements, values on the wall and lip service) is like trying to change the reflection in the mirror. It doesn’t happen.

As Euan Semple so succintly puts it –

You can change things that affect people in the hope that doing so gives them a good reason to adapt their behaviour, but culture emerges from the collective behaviours of the people in your organisation over time.

Culture itself cannot be created – it just happens as a result of doing the right things.

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In the Photo: Mountains at the Dawn, Jhadol, Rajasthan, India (2013)

Critical Competencies for Effective Coaching (And a Book) by Lisa Haneberg

Great coaching is at the heart of meaningful accomplishments. In an organizational and team context, being able to coach people means helping them overcome their own resistance, get unstuck and move forward in the direction of their goals. Great coaching catalyzes great results.

But too often, we see managers and leaders getting so busy on the treadmill of getting things done that they lose focus on how those results are achieved. A leader’s constant job is to strike a balance between getting things done and developing people. Doing one at the cost of the other can be a great disservice to organization and its people.

I recently read revised edition of my friend Lisa Haneberg’s book “Coaching Basics” published by Association for Talent Development (ATD). It is a wonderful resource for organizational leaders, HR professionals and managers if they want to understand the nuances of how to coach others for greatness. I strongly recommend this book.

I was also fortunate to be able to write a blurb in this book where I say,

Companies often tell their leaders to ‘coach’ people without giving any guidance on the ‘how.’ Lisa Haneberg fills this important gap by offering a very useful handbook that clarifies the foundation of good coaching and offers actionable insights and tools for effective coaching.

– Tanmay Vora, Director, Product Development R&D, Basware

But when I read this book, I was instantly reminded of a wonderful post that Lisa wrote in 2014 where she outlined critical competencies of a great coach.

Here are a couple of excellent quotes from Lisa’s post:

“Coaching is a service and we cannot be successful if the learner perceives that we are helping to satisfy OUR needs or wants.”

“Great coaches are able to help learners adopt a more helpful perspective of the situations about which they are struggling.”

And here is a sketch note summary of coaching competencies that Lisa’s post outlines.

Get the book at: TD.org | Amazon

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Also read at QAspire.com:

Leadership and Change: Build These Three Muscles

There is no real leadership without change.

If you are simply “sustaining” what already exists, you are not a leader because real leadership is about change – moving people, processes, outcomes and culture to a better place.

In an organizational context, there is no change without some leadership.

Without any leadership, things still change but often, in a southwards direction. Any change in a positive direction means channeling collective energy of people, overcoming resistance, building consensus and involving others – none of which is possible without some leadership.

As Esther Derby so rightly says in “6 Rules of Change”,

Leaders don’t drive, install or evangelize change. They NURTURE it. 

Explicit details of change (the gross part) is never as difficult as the soft side it it (the subtle) – how leaders enable and empower others during the change process.

In this post at Rebels at Work blog, Lois Kelly emphasizes on three change muscles that leaders need in order to nurture change – Appreciation, Understanding of character strengths and Creating Psychologically safe environment.

Rebels at Work is an excellent movement and I strongly recommend that you read the post “Build these three change muscles”. Meanwhile, here are my visual notes when I read the article.

Related Sketchnotes/Posts at QAspire.com

Insights on Becoming an Effective Learner

We learn the most from that which challenges us the most.

I remember having learned server side scripting many years back completely on my own. I had no special resources, no advanced tools and no external guidance – just a lot of willingness to pick up the skill. It wasn’t easy and that made it all the more interesting.

But as we grow in our career and life, we avoid the discomfort involved in learning new things, which eventually slows down the process of learning.

I recently came across interesting insights on “How to Become a More Effective Learner” by Laura Entis at Entrepreneur.

The article presents interesting findings on how we learn. The article reports that we learn the most when:

  • We embrace the discomfort of learning (we learn more when we struggle)
  • We space out our learning events such that we have an opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn
  • Contextualize our learning and map it to as many contexts as possible

Here is a quick sketchnote version of what I learned about learning from insights presented in the article.

Craftsman Spirit

Do you consider yourself as an artist and your work as art?

Art isn’t just about doing fancy stuff or indulging into painting, dancing etc. Your work becomes art when it changes others for better. When your ideas and insights change the conversations. When you overcome resistance to start, execute and most importantly, finish what you start. When you have the humility to accept what needs to improve and change. When you have the courage to truly ship your work, let it intersect with the context and make a difference. When you bring your humanity into everything you do. When you refine, improvise and evolve your art.

I learned a great deal of this from Seth’ Godin’s life changing book “Linchpin” which I also reviewed on this blog (with one question interview with Seth Godin).

In Japanese, the word “Shokunin” means artisan or craftsman. Shokunin Kishitshu means “craftsman spirit”. I read an interesting post on some of the key elements of Shokunin spirit.

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the post by Karri R. at Warrior Life. When I created this sketchnote, I was prompted to ask three questions:

  • Are you doing the work you can be truly proud of? Do you take pride in whatever you are currently doing knowing that the way you do it makes a difference?
  •  Are you raising the bar for yourself? Do you always try to refine your ways of working and elevate the level of your work? Do you constantly look for newer ideas and insights that can help you in your work – directly or indirectly?
  • Is your work making a difference to others? In what ways? Are you aware of the impact of your work and do you try to maximize the impact to bring about a positive difference around you?

BONUS: Read this 100 word story “In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden” that captures the second element of craftsman spirit so well.

Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.

Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.

In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,

“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”

The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.

And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.

46_cusp

5 Timeless Qualities of True Leaders

Before leadership be effective, it has to be true. And the truth of leadership is essentially human. If we have to raise the bar of leadership, we need to first cultivate truer leadership at the core.

In his article “Why The World Needs Truer Leaders (And How to Be One)”, Umair Haque defines eudaimonic leadership as,

leaders who expand human potential to its very highest, so everyone can live a life that matters

In the same post, he offers 5 timeless qualities of true leadership. I recommend that you read the entire series that Umair is writing at Medium.

Here is a sketch note version of qualities of truer leadership.

BONUS:

Shut up and Sit Down” is an excellent post by Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker which talks about our dangerous obsession with leadership and how leadership industry rules.

In the conclusion, he writes,

When we’re swept up in the romance of leadership, we admire leaders who radiate authenticity and authority; we respect and enjoy our “real” leaders. At other times, though, we want leaders who see themselves objectively, who resist the pull of their own charisma, who doubt the story they’ve been rewarded for telling. “If a man who thinks he is a king is mad,” Jacques Lacan wrote, “a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.” A sense of perspective may be among the most critical leadership qualities.

True leadership stems from the heart, yet most leaders (and many we see in political arena today) operate with an outdated view of leadership. When leaders have to show that they are powerful, they are not.

Here is a quick sketch of Jacques Lacan’s quote:

Leadership, Connection and Power of Storytelling

If the job of a leader is to take people to a better place, they first need to take people’s imagination to that better place.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when communicating about the future is to show future in form of data, numbers and charts. They are good to capture the mind of people, but people will only endeavor to go there when their hearts are engaged.

Storytelling has been one of the most powerful tools to drive imagination of people first before people decide to take actions towards the future. The historic “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King or the narrative of non-violent movement for India’s independence by Mahatma Gandhi are powerful examples of story telling that led to massive change, first in the minds and hearts of people and then in reality.

If you are a leader who is facilitating a large scale change or transformation effort, paint a compelling picture of the future before you show the data. Ability to tell stories that foster change is a critical leadership skill.

In his classic HBR article titled “Telling Tales”, Steve Denning outlines seven aims of a good narrative. The article also provides an excellent context of leadership storytelling and offers practical ways to frame your narrative depending on your goals. I recommend that you read the original article.

Here is a quick sketch note of seven aims of leadership storytelling:

 

Additional Resources:

What Business Transformation Really Means

Change does not always mean transformation, but transformation by itself changes everything fundamentally. At a time when a lot of people use terms “change” and “transformation” interchangeably, it helps to know the difference  between the two (and my sketch note on the same topic may be helpful).

I have seen people in process improvement use the word transformation quite often (in fact, I have been guilty of using the word “transformation” when I was only tweaking or improving the ways of working).

What do real business transformations look like? Scott Anthony’s post “What Do You Really Mean by Business Transformation” at Harvard Business Review may help you understand different kinds of transformation efforts. After I read the post, I was able to put different transformation initiatives going around me into the right frame.

I attempted to make sense of three kinds of transformation effort described in Scott’s post through a sketch note. Do read the original article at HBR.

Natural Laws of Organizational Transformation

Organizational transformation initiatives come in many forms – restructuring, cultural transformation, service transitions, rapid innovation, process overhauls, turnarounds and acquisitions to name a few. Studies by universities and consulting firms suggest that 70% or more of transformation initiatives fail.

I have been a part of systems that were transformed, companies that were acquired, companies that could not pull of a successful transformation and the ones that did. My observation is – a majority of transformation initiatives fail because of lack of system thinking.

With discrete initiatives across the organization, you may get change. Transformation requires systems thinking.”

As you think across the connected components of a system, you see interconnections that you did not even know existed. Taking time to map these interconnections is vital to create a well defined transformation context.

Natural Laws 

I stumbled upon a 1993 McKinsey article titled “Leading Organization Transformations” which offers some timeless lessons and approach on how to lead organization transformations. I particularly liked the section “Natural Laws of Organization Transformation” which provides a broad guidance on the underlying principles. I feel that these natural laws are as relevant today as it were in 1993.

The authors say,

“Effective management “conversation” about performance improvement achieved through transformational efforts reveals that the specific techniques employed matter less than does adherence to a set of underlying principles.”

If you are planning an organizational transformation or undergoing one (which is very likely), I recommend you read this classic McKinsey article.

While reading the article, I create a quick sketch note to make the sense of these principles.

Enhancing Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness – An Interview with Jacqueline Carter

Research says that the rapid pace of work is taking a huge toll on our ability to focus, be productive, remain engaged and be creative. A majority of people at workplace today seem to be struggling to cope with severe stress resulting from conflicting work priorities, hyper-connectedness, onslaught of notifications and information overload. How do we cope up with this stress? How do we address our lack of attention so that we can not only complete the things we start without getting too anxious, but also enjoy the process of doing so?

With these questions in my mind, I picked up the book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness” written by Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts. I loved the simplicity with which the authors have been able to demystify mindfulness by providing tools and techniques we can all start using to be more effective.

I caught up a conversation with Jacqueline Carter, one of the co-authors, a partner at The Potential Project and a contributor at Huffington Post on how mindfulness can help us perform better. Here is the interview:

[Tanmay Vora] Jacqueline, Thank you for agreeing to share your insights here. I read your new book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance At Work with Mindfulness” with great interest. The first thing that intrigued me was the title of your book. What does “One Second Ahead” mean with respect to mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] One Second Ahead, both the book and the concept, is about applying mindfulness techniques to daily work life. From a cognitive perspective, being one second ahead provides a clear edge in effectiveness and productivity. It offers the space and freedom to choose your distractions and direct your mental energy, no matter what you are facing.

[Tanmay Vora] We certainly are in middle of a productivity crisis at work. Pressure, information overload and always-on culture inhibits our ability to truly focus on work. What makes mindfulness, a potent response to the crisis?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s not hard to see how work life has changed radically over the past few decades. It is common for people to attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of distractions and data, impacting their focus and performance. But it is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness.

Simply put, mindfulness means trained attention. Mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen focus and clarity. We need to learn to work differently so we are more focused, calm and have less clutter in our mind to be able to succeed at the things that matter most to us.

[Tanmay Vora] One of the first victims of stress resulting from our “always-on” culture is sleep and lack of proper sleep only adds to the stress we experience. How can mindfulness be used for enhancing the quality of sleep and what are your three tips for better sleep?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s true that sleep deprivation is reaching near epidemic proportions all over the world. Studies are showing that even light sleep deprivation has been proven to negatively impact logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood. Unfortunately, as a result of our busy lifestyles, sleep is regularly pushed toward the bottom of our list of priorities. However, research has shown that regular mindfulness training improves the ability to fall asleep as well as improve our sleep quality significantly. Some simple guidelines for better sleep include:

1. Catching the Melatonin Wave—Melatonin, when released from the pineal gland inside your brain, makes us relaxed, drowsy and ultimately fall asleep in a natural way. The key to catching the melatonin wave is to be mindful; have awareness of the natural drowsiness and relaxation that occur toward the end of the evening and maintain that awareness as you prepare for bed. Getting in synch with your body’s natural rhythms and your own cycle of melatonin is a simple avenue to a better night’s sleep.

2. Turn off All Screens 60 Minutes before Sleep—Your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, your television all stand in the way of you catching the Melatonin wave. Because of the blue-light waves that are emitted, production of melatonin is suppressed in the pineal gland. Your brain reads blue-light as if the sun is still up, when in reality, the sun is most-likely down and you should be sleeping. It might sound difficult to some, but turning off all screens 60 minutes before you go to sleep works. The impact it has on sleep quality—and therefore mental and physical performance—speaks for itself.

3. Only Perceptual Activities 60 Minutes Before Bed—Too much thinking is an enemy of late evening natural relaxation and drowsiness. Conceptual activities, like intense conversions, replying to e-mails, working, or reading, can arose your attention and suppress your natural sleepiness. However, perceptual activities, like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music, can help you to catch the wave of melatonin as it rises. Just a small adjustment to your evening routine can go a long way toward enabling you to prepare for bed with a calmer mind that’s more in tune with the natural rhythms of your body. So save the dishes, walking the dog, or taking out the trash for the last hour of the evening. Sometimes procrastination can pay off.

[Tanmay Vora] How does mindfulness enhance our mental effectiveness in understanding complex problems, synthesizing experiences and addressing challenges?

[Jacqueline Carter] According to scientists, our mind is wandering over half of our waking hours. We are constantly thinking about events that happened in the past, or might happen in the future, rather than attending to what’s happening in the now. This limits our ability to address everyday challenges and accomplish meaningful results.

Yet, our thoughts are the foundation for everything we want to achieve in life. Thus, our ability to manage our mind becomes critically important. We are best able to manage complex problems when our mind is clear, calm and focused. This is true in all aspects of life, but especially in a work context. With a calm, clear mind, we are able to greatly enhance performance, effectiveness, creativity and innovation, which is foundational to business success. Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

[Tanmay Vora] One common observation is that our openness to new learning and experiences decline as we mature in our practice and gather more experience. How can mindfulness help is break the shackles of our past experiences and make us more receptive to new learning?

[Jacqueline Carter] When we are exposed to the same experiences over and over again, there is a tendency to become complacent, to default to our pre-conceived notion of what should happen or may occur. We feel we’ve seen it all before, and we close ourselves off to being fully present. This can be problematic, and lead to what’s called cognitive rigidity—the inflexibility created by automatically relying on our habitual perceptions and past experiences.

Thankfully, mindfulness training shows us that we don’t have to give in to our habitual perceptions. When we allow ourselves to see things with a Beginner’s Mind—the ability to face reality as it is—we liberate ourselves from our habitual perception and approach all situations with fresh eyes and an open mind. Cultivating a beginner’s mind can be a wonderful way to change how you experience life. Regardless of your work environment, daily life can be filled with more wonders and possibilities when you see things with a fresh perspective.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top three recommendations on mindfulness to those readers who are new to the concept of mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] First, I would say to consider why mindfulness would be beneficial for you and be specific. The more clear you are on why you want to try mindfulness the more likely you are to be successful in incorporating it into your daily life.

Second, make a commitment to do 10 minutes of mindfulness training every day for the next 14 days and see what impact it has on you. I recommend downloading an app that has simple, easy instructions. Readers can download our app by searching for The Potential Project in their app store. Alternatively, there are many other great tools, just be sure to pick something that will work for you.

Third, I would say look for ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Notice times when it is difficult for you to pay attention and ask yourself what you could do about it. For example, if you find that you are constantly distracted by notifications try turning them off for an hour a day and see what happens!

[Tanmay Vora] These were really helpful insights! Thank you so much for sharing your lessons through the book and in this interview. I am sure readers will find these ideas very valuable.

[Jacqueline Carter] Thank you very much, Tanmay! It was a pleasure to connect with you and your readers on the topic of organizational mindfulness.

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You can get the book at – Amazon (IN) | Amazon Worldwide

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BONUS: When you have an hour free, check out this amazing video of Jacqueline Carter speaking at Microsoft on the topic of Mindfulness at work.

Pitfalls To Avoid During Organizational Transformation

Disruptive forces compel organizations to undertake large scale transformation initiatives to stay relevant. The speed of executing these transformations is as crucial as the initiatives itself and a lot is at stake. In such situations, it is easy to get carried away by the enormity of task at hand and lose the sight of what could go wrong.

If you are undergoing a large scale transformation or planning for one, I highly recommend ThoughtWorks article titled “Seven Pitfalls to Avoid During Organizational Transformation” with insights from Anupam Kundu and Tarang Baxi. This article also features my sketch note summarizing the ideas presented.

When I read this post, it instantly reminded me of a post that I wrote back in 2010 titled “Change Management Essentials – 5 Things To Avoid” where I presented common pitfalls in change management from process implementation perspective and I believe that a lot of transformation initiatives comprise of multiple and overlapping change initiatives and process overhauls. You may find it useful to revisit the article.

Please click here to read the insightful article at ThoughtWorks Insights and here is the sketch note summary which can also be found in the original article)

Related Posts at QAspire

Ideation and Entrepreneurship: Interview with Liz Alexander and Naveen Lakkur

Dr. Liz Alexander (who I interviewed in 2013 on the topic of thought leadership) and Naveen Lakkur (Director, Founder Institute, India) wrote a new book titled “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business. The book is short but powerful enough to help entrepreneurs and ideators in bringing their ideas to life by following a proven five part framework. I loved the simplicity of the framework and real-life case studies which complement the insights.

 

I interviewed Dr. Liz and Naveen Lakkur to learn more about the book and how it can help ideators and entrepreneurs.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you Liz and Naveen, for sharing your insights here. I read your new book “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business” with great interest. I was curious to know what prompted you to write this book?

Thank you, Tanmay, for your interest in FOUND, which was a labor of love for us both. We always intended that this contribution be a catalyst that increases the success rate of entrepreneurship, not just remain a book. Especially since there seemed to be such a waste of time, energy and financial resources by many entrepreneurs in pursuing ideas that could not support sustainable businesses. You may have seen the statistic quoted by Adeo Ressi, the CEO and founder of Founder Institute in the Foreword to our book, that only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate, which I think you will agree is shockingly low. We sincerely hope that by following the proven, five-part process outlined in our book, we will see a considerable improvement in this figure in the months and years to come.

only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate

[Tanmay Vora] What is the number one thing according to you that keeps people from acting on their ideas?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it, when you have what you believe to be a winning idea? You imagine that executing on it will be fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s only when you have to take action that you are thrust back into the world of reality. So we would say “fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas. Because then they have to face up to the fact that their desired outcomes may or may not come about. You have to have a strong heart and a huge amount of commitment to succeed as an entrepreneur—in fact, any kind of ideator. Which is why, for many people, it’s more comfortable for them to say, “I could have gone ahead with this idea, but….” and find excuses for not taking action. Despite the fact that there is always a huge amount of learning and benefit that comes out of seeing whether that idea could have become a viable business or a new product or service within an organisation.

“fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas.

[Tanmay Vora] Ideas are cheap, they say, execution is everything. But executing on an idea that is not viable is even worse. Is there an approach to guide us when assessing the business viability of our ideas?

You’ve hit the nail on the head of what the FOUND process is all about, Tanmay. The five-part framework we make available to readers reduces the time, money, and effort they may have otherwise expended on an idea that couldn’t become a business.

Let us offer a story from the book to illustrate what we mean. One of mentees that worked with Naveen through the Founder Institute, Bangalore had a background in Human Resources. He had a concept he called “Experience Zones” that he believed would boost employee engagement in large organizations. This, as we know, is a major issue to be solved. So you would expect that there would be no end of companies all vying to back this HR executive’s idea, right?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When he had visited 25 different companies to ask them what they thought of his idea, everyone said it was great and he should move ahead with it. But the “N” within the acronym FOUND stands for Negotiation. By that we mean getting more than tacit agreement. This ideator’s assignment was to get at least three letters from companies prepared to financially back his idea. But none of the 25 people who had been so enthusiastic about the overall idea were willing to put money into it.

That’s just one of the five parts of the FOUND process and all of them are essential as a discipline to follow if an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur) wants to confirm they have a market that will pay for their solution.

[Tanmay Vora] What are the top three things that an entrepreneur should do before they start acting on their idea?

What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

We’re going to offer three things that should only come after the five things entrepreneurs need to go through when reading FOUND. And they are all to do with creating a community that truly supports the business:

1. Co-founders who can bring different skills and experience to the business, perhaps through a background in marketing or sales or different technical competencies.

2. Customers who, early on in the development of the business, are willing to pay for the solution and prove there is a ready market for it.

3. Catalysts, such as ideation specialists and intellectual property lawyers whose expertise can help guide the start up through some of the stormy waters that lie ahead.

By engaging with all three of these groups, the business can truly accelerate. What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

[Tanmay Vora] My last question stems from Naveen’s introduction in the book which says “Converting Creative Concepts into Commerce with Compassion”. People believe that in most cases, commerce and compassion don’t go well together in a world of cut-throat competition. What does compassionate commerce really mean?

Thanks for this question, Tanmay. I (Naveen) has always believed that these two concepts can co-exist. If you take the definition of compassion it means having a deep awareness and sensitivity for others, especially when it comes to their misfortune. In the Free-Flow chapter of our book we point to how so many successful ventures have been the result of different emotions experienced by the founders.

It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises

Take redBus in India, for example. The whole idea came from the fact that one of the co-founders, Phanindra Sama, wasn’t able to buy a ticket to travel back to his home town during a major festival. It wasn’t just his disappointment that caused him to take action and create redBus but his recognition of how much distress this kind of lack of organization causes others.

In fact, we quote his co-founder, Charan Padmaraju in the same chapter who said, “It was all about building something that would be useful to someone.” It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises, in my view.

My specialization is to play the role of a catalyst to help these creative concepts become commercial realities, with compassion built in. Otherwise all we have is cutthroat competition.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you so much for sharing your views here, Naveen and Dr. Liz. I am sure readers of this blog will find these ideas and your book, useful in bringing their creative concepts to life.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspectives on the ideation process, Tanmay. We’d like to close by pointing out that by following a similarly disciplined process to the one outlined in our book, the Founder Institute has achieved a 91% success rate in terms of ideas that survive, a 70% success rate of entrepreneurs that execute on their plans, and close to 45% success rate of ventures that have attracted external funding. By any measure, all of those statistics are considerable improvements on the 0.4% figure we mentioned in our first response.

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Leadership: Start With Trust

Leadership starts with influence and influence starts with trust. Ability to truly connect with others is vital for leaders to build an environment where a leader is trusted for the intentions before being respected for competence.

I once worked with a new CEO who came on-board, took charge and immediately got into action. I remember when he first met a group of senior folks, he started with his introduction and talked at length about his past experience, competence and all the great things he had accomplished. Soon after requesting a short template introduction from all of us, he started off with his grand plans about the organization. He clearly failed to build a non-threatening space for other leaders and came across as someone who was ego-centric and hard-nosed.

Our first instinct as human beings when we assume a leadership role is to show our strength, competence and skills and prove a point about our fitment to the role.

I was reminded of the CEO (and many other leaders I worked with) when I read the classic Harvard Business Review article titled “Connect, Then Lead” which says,

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

I think of the CEO again who was, through his aggressive show of strength, able to generate dispassionate compliance to his decisions. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to create an ecosystem where people exercise their discretion (tapping into intrinsic motivations). Trust is a good place to start.

I strongly recommend that you read the HBR article “Connect, Then Lead” by Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger for rich insights on this topic.

Here is a short summary of key insights that stood out for me from the article in a sketch note form.

Related Resources at QAspire

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  • Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

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  • When Does Real Learning Happen?

    Learning, the real learning, happens…

    • When you are intentional about learning
    • When you are driven by an intrinsic need to advance and not only by external triggers and rewards.
    • When you ask more questions to get to the WHY of things (and then to what and how)
    • When you carry an open frame of mind that is receptive
    • When you look for process and patterns even in discrete situations
    • And when you use your understanding to connect the dots and look at a larger picture
    • When you enjoy the process of learning without getting too anxious about the results and goals.
    • When you are self-aware (of your own beliefs, thoughts, values and perceptions)
    • When you experience, execute, iterate and test your hypothesis
    • When you reflect deeply on your experiences
    • And when you share your lessons (and process) with others generously so that they can learn (and also contribute)
    • When you surround yourself with passionate learners, mentors and coaches (and be a part of a learning community)
    • And engage others (community) meaningfully in collaborative problem solving
    • When you are able to collect, synthesize and process information from varied sources
    • When you solve interesting problems
    • And be able to create a map on the go (rather than relying on tried and tested methods)
    • When you overcome the fear of making mistakes
    • When you think critically
    • When you execute in short bursts, fail small and realign your approaches
    • When you Unlearn (let go of the old ways of thinking and doing)
    • When you apply lessons in line with unique needs of the context
    • When you synthesize your lessons and apply meta-lessons in across disciplines
    • When you are generous enough to share what you know, teach, coach and mentor others
    • When you are comfortable with inherently ambiguous nature of learning (and ability to hold two contrasting thoughts without being judgmental)
    • When you are comfortable also with the emergent nature of learning
    • When you don’t allow your learning to crystallize but keep it fluid and evolving.
    • When you truly start believing that self-directed and self-initiated learning is the best way to learn (for a lifetime).

    Leaders Need Three Kinds of Focus

    I once worked with a CEO who was paranoid about results, so much so that he never cared for relationships with those who delivered the results. The end results weren’t surprising – the intended results were never delivered because people either stopped caring or moved on. The loss was almost irreparable. Leading in a complex world is almost like a tight rope walk and leaders cannot afford to have singular focus on either task or relationship. They have to constantly strike a balance between needs of the context, their own needs and the needs of others.

    In this 2013 HBR video (6.42 mins), Daniel Goleman explains why leaders need to cultivate their awareness at three levels and what they can do to improve upon these three areas of focus.

    Here is the sketchnote version I created to capture the essence while seeing the video:

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    12 Critical Competencies For Leadership in the Future

    The rate of change in the business world today is greater than our ability to respond. In a world that is often described as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and ambiguous), there are major tectonic shifts that demand a new mindset of leadership. First, let us look at these shifts.

    In recent years, we have seen disruption of market leaders like Kodak and Nokia amongst many others. The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has gone down from 67 years in 1937 to 18 years in 2011. With advances in technology, mobiles are becoming more of a convergence device that replaces so many utilities (calculators, alarm clocks, small digital cameras etc.) that we used otherwise. Generations at workplace are changing and new generations bring different values, expectations and mindsets at work. Rise in automation is resulting in heavy disruption. Right from purchasing stuff to booking taxies and filing tax returns, everything is increasingly being automated. The agents, middlemen and the whole supply chain related to these services is being disrupted. And, we are not even talking about automated cars yet – the next big frontier for the technology battle!

    With a hyper connected workforce, organization cultures have become transparent. With opportunities abound, employees are “volunteers” who have global choices. In this world, having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. The cumulative impact of these forces demands a new mindset and competences for leaders to be able to stay relevant and make a positive difference to people and hence, business. 

    Having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow

    If you are a leader at any level in a modern organization or aspiring to be one, here are some of the critical competencies and skills you need to thrive in a VUCA world.

    1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: To navigate successfully through the maze of VUCA, leaders will need to be comfortable with unclear situations and travel into unexplored paths. This means leaders will encounter “first time” situations more often and they need to build their muscle to still deliver results. With “rapid prototyping” approach, leaders will need to constantly experiment to get early and frequent feedback that enables constant realignment.

    2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. With a younger workforce that is purpose driven, having a compelling vision for the future is also a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members. In fact, a compelling vision is an important pre-requisite for any community or network to succeed. Leaders who will thrive in future are the ones who have a clear vision of where they want their organizations and teams to be. 

    3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges. A leader’s ability to spot the white spaces, unique problems and interdisciplinary intersections is as critical in the new world as their ability to “do something about it.” In VUCA world, leaders have to listen to the future by virtue of constantly scanning the horizon, being future minded and having strategic foresight without losing the sight of the current reality. When they do this, leaders build a unique ability to see through contradictions towards a future others cannot see. 

    4. Weave Ecosystems for Human Engagement: One of the biggest leadership challenges is to create an environment that taps into intrinsic motivation of people. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2015 reports that softer areas such as culture, engagement, leadership and development have become urgent priorities on a CEO’s desk. An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic drivers of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have a hope, the need to feel a sense of worth and the need to feel competent. At a time when most “engagement initiatives” are aimed at providing external motivation, we need leaders who can build trust through integrity and results, who can mentor and coach others, who can clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence. 

    5. Anticipate and Create Change: When changes around us are constant and rapid, leaders have to use the wisdom from their future mindedness and strategic foresight to “create change” before an external change forces them to react. When leaders ride the wave of changes, they have to involve people in the change process, prioritize what’s important and execute changes in smaller iterations. Leaders nurture change by maintaining balance between the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs. 

    6. Self-Awareness: Leaders cannot succeed unless their personal vision and values overlap with organization’s vision and values. It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and possible blind spots that they can really bring their true authentic selves into the game and bring about a significant difference to the team, organization and hence the industry. 

    7. Be an Agile Learner: Rapidly changing context is like a treadmill that compels leaders to learn constantly in a self-directed mode. Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up on familiar approaches (unlearning). Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture. When thrown into unfamiliar situations, leaders need to learn immersively from those experiences.

    8. Network and Collaborate: To make the sense of changing trends, practices and expectations, leaders in today’s world need to collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization. A social mindset enables leaders to create, engage with and nurture purposeful business and social networks through social media and in-person communication. 

    9. Relentlessly Focus on Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Helping customers navigate through the changes is as critical for leaders as it is to steer their own organizations effectively. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to the voice of their customers, engage deeply and build long term relationship by adding substantial value to the customers. 

    10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond external tags and titles. It is about serving effectively to the needs of the stakeholders – the most important ones being the people who make things work. Leaders, in this world, have to model the behaviors they seek, help people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly, lead through their influence and not through their authority. The primary task (and an obligation) of a leader is to build more leaders. 

    11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the systems for the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organization structures, methods and processes. If organizations are purposeful networks of people, leaders need a compelling purpose that people in the organization share. Leaders will have to pay equal attention to leveraging diversity and draw on multiple points of views and experiences.

    12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: When working with global work force, leaders will need an ability to communicate effectively across cultures. Like a location pointer on a GPS map, leaders have to constantly clarify the current situation with respect to changing external demands. Equally important for leaders is to re-iterate and reinforce vision, values and strategies. Finally, leaders have to help others in clarifying the meaning of their work. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership.

     

    The hallmark of VUCA world is that there are no silver bullets. Successful leaders have always been adaptive to the context they find themselves in. The future is not a distant dream, it is here and now. Leadership today is all about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

    (This article originally appeared in People Matters Magazine, Dec 2015 issue)

    Consume Less, Create More

    That was my mantra in 2015 and beyond. As we start a new year, I revisited this mantra and a few additional thoughts came to the fore.

    Consume Less

    Consumption is a critical element in one’s ability to create anything. So, consumption, by itself, is not all that bad. The problem of our times is  consumption by default. We first consume and then think if we really needed it. This is true for almost everything – from stuff we buy to the content we read, from events we attend to conversations we engage in. Unfortunately, technology has made consumption all the more easier which only adds to the problem. Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

    The goal, then, is to consume mindfully and there seem to be two ways to do it:

    1) Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more. When you have better filters, you gain that which is relevant. Consuming mindfully also means being in the moment while you consume and not rush through the process.

    2) Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.

    “Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus” – Source

    Create more

    Most of us, I assume, long to create stuff that changes us and others for better – whether it is a radical new product or a one-on-one conversation with a colleague. Mindful consumption increases our capacity to create.

    “Create what?” – you may ask.

    When we exercise mindfully, we create health. When we consume food mindfully, we create wellness. When we travel mindfully, we create enriching experiences. When we converse mindfully, we create relationships. When we create what we truly love, we create joy and meaning. When we share generously, we create connections and conversations. When we connect mindfully, we create learning. When we work mindfully, we create remarkable results. When we prioritize mindfully, we create focus. When we serve mindfully, we create contentment. When we meditate, we create wellness. And we make a positive difference to ourselves and others through our creations.

    To be mindful is to be present in the moment, immersed in doing whatever you choose to do. The fact that individually, we can only do so much, we have to choose our battles carefully and subtract the rest!

    The time saved through mindful consumption is the time spared for engaging in creative pursuits.

    So my mantra for 2016 (and beyond) is the same as it was in 2015 – Consume Less, Create More. I look forward to doing better and raising the bar for myself.

    – – – – –

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    Real Influence is a By-Product

    The world today reveres influence and this leads people to chase influence. When influence becomes a goal, you can easily lose focus on what truly builds influence.

    Influence – real influence that changes people and their behaviors for better – is a by-product of:

    1. Clarifying your values to yourself and hence to others
    2. Living those values and setting the right example (being authentic and integral)
    3. Making a meaningful contribution to community (yes, business IS a community)
    4. Being super-generous about sharing your work, insights, art and gifts
    5. And being a champion at listening to others (listening is a way to respect others)
    6. Building trust one contribution, one conversation and one result at a time
    7. Truly connecting with others (technology is just a medium)
    8. Believing in your insights and ideas (strength of belief feeds passion)
    9. And still being flexible and open minded about letting the beliefs and learning evolve
    10. Sharing stories that move people to better position (in thinking and in actions)
    11. Providing a lens to people to see things from your unique point of view
    12. Taking the conversations forward by “adding” meaningful perspectives
    13. Being intentional about being generous
    14. Always being constructive in thinking and ways of working
    15. Being consistent in your pursuits

    What do you think?

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