Disciplines of a Learning Organization: Peter Senge

If there is one book that has influenced my business thinking the most, it is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” and I have referred to it many times over past years on this blog. Written in 1990, the insights contained in this book are even more relevant today when the rate of change has only accelerated – probably a reason why HBR identified this book as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.

A couple weeks ago, I posted a sketch note on Why Organizations Don’t Learn? based on an HBR article by the same title and someone ended up asking me,

“How do organization’s learn?”

This question immediately reminded me of five disciplines of learning organizations that Peter Senge outlines in this book.  They are:

  • Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
  • Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.
  • Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.
  • Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together.
  • Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

Source: Wikipedia

In the book, Peter Senge offers a wonderful analogy to introduce systems thinking:

A cloud masses, the sky darkens, leaves twist upward, and we know that it will rain. We also know that after the storm, the runoff will feed into groundwater miles away, and the sky will grow clear by tomorrow. All of these events are distant in time and space, if they’re all connected within the same pattern. Each has an influence on the rest, and influence that is usually hidden from view. You can only understand the system of rainstorm by contemplating the whole not any part of the pattern.

Businesses and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other. Since we are part of that lacework ourselves, it’s doubly hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get resolved.

While the book is a must-read if you want to gather better understanding and context behind these disciplines, here is a short summary of five disciplines of a learning organization in form of a sketch note. 

Hopefully, this will help others in acknowledging the foundation of what it takes to create a learning organization.

Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

Why Organizations Don’t Learn? #Sketchnote

Organizations that don’t learn constantly, adapt continuously and execute relentlessly are more likely to be disrupted by constant change and competition.

Peter Senge, in his book defined a learning organization as:

“where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

We have to go beyond formal learning methods if we have to truly build learning organizations in a rapidly changing world. A learning organization is not possible without learning individuals and individuals learn the most with each other in a network and  and through their work in an culture that promotes informal learning.

I emphasized culture because it can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in how organizations learn and apply what they learn to create meaningful results. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in formal learning, tools and methods, if you do not have a culture where people are encouraged to share without any fear, learning may not come to the fore.

Why do companies struggle to become and remain learning organizations? In November 2015 issue of HBR, I came across an article by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats titled “Why Organizations Don’t Learn” where they outline the cultural and individual biases that don’t allow organizations to learn. They also provide useful tips to overcome those biases.

Here is a sketch note I created to distill key biases that prevent organizations from learning. To know what you can do to overcome these biases, I recommend you read the full article at HBR. 

Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone: An Interview with Diane K. Adams

 

Diane K. Adams is Chief People Officer at Qlik (NASDAQ: QLIK), one of the fastest-growing high-tech companies worldwide with nearly 2,300 employees in 30 countries. She has spent her career leading teams in Fortune 500 Human Resources organizations. Chief executives of smaller companies and international and national organizations and leaders also regularly tap her expertise as coach, consultant, and/or lecturer to help them hone their positive cultures. More than a ‘Human Resources’ executive, Adams is a ‘Culture and Talent’ expert. She specializes in helping companies recognize what’s required to energize their people and to achieve long-term success at the bottom line.

Diane recently published her new book “It Takes More Than Casual Fridays and Free Coffee – Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone” which I read recently. Being a student of organization excellence, I caught up with Diane on a conversation about building high performance cultures. Here is what she shared:

[Tanmay Vora] Hi Diane, Congratulations for the new book. Culture of an organization always exists – either it is designed consciously or it happens by default. How can organizations be more deliberate about their culture?

[Diane K. Adams] Thanks Tanmay. You’re so right about culture. Every organization does have its own culture. Your company, your favorite sports team, a college or university, even a church, mosque or synagogue has its own culture.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people. One of my favorite definitions: culture is what you do when no one is looking.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people.

At successful companies, the culture is positive and values-based. It’s pervasive and intentional, and is reflected in everything the organization and its people say and do, in every action and every process internally and externally. In turn, team members, along with their companies, achieve excellence personally and professionally.

Whatever the culture, though, it’s important to remember that culture comes from the top. That means that to intentionally mold a culture starts with the leadership deciding those values that are important, and then modeling them in everything that’s said and done. Too often lofty values end up simply rhetoric. If a company’s leaders decide honesty and integrity is an essential value, they must act accordingly. Everyone, every action—from hiring and firing, to decisions, discussions, and more–must reflect honesty and integrity. For example, how someone’s employment is terminated says everything about a company’s culture. This is a time when everyone is watching. Too often terminations lack respect for the individual.

When it comes to reinforcing positive behaviors, top companies may reward team members who demonstrate excellence in terms of a specific value. The “reward” often is in the form of recognition—a note of praise from the leader or a mention of job-well-done at a peer meeting.

My personal approach to deliberately creating a successful culture adheres to the 7 Points to Culture Success outlined in my book. They include:

  1. Define Your Cultural Values and Behaviors
  2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  3. Integrate Your Values into All Aspects of Your Company
  4. Drive Culture through Leadership
  5. Show You Care: Engage and Invest in Your Team
  6. Give Back: Make a Difference beyond the Workplace
  7. Make It Fun: Reward, Recognize, and Celebrate

[Tanmay Vora] Corporations have vision, mission and values that are propagated across the company through various programs. But culture is built around actions by people at all levels. How can organizations bridge the gap between values and behaviors?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s an excellent question. Again, it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it. Also keep in mind that reward and recognition drive behaviors. Therefore, the primary way to bridge the gap between values and behaviors is to reward and recognize employees who demonstrate the positive behavior.

it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it.

For example, consider the value social responsibility, so important to energize your teams and foster long-term loyalty internally and among your customers. As a leader, you help cement the value in your people with your behavior. You act in ways that give back to the community—volunteering your time, your efforts, your expertise in ways to help others.

At my employer, Qlik, for example, on our internal website we highlight givebacks by our team members. Recently we ran an internal campaign–How Was Your Day?–and each day highlighted how a different individual used his or her volunteer day to give back to the community.

[Tanmay Vora] The book has a chapter on building culture of innovation. What advice would you share with a CEO who is struggling to build a culture of innovation?

[Diane K. Adams] First, kudos for recognizing the importance of innovation. After all, if you’re not constantly innovating, you’re falling behind your competition.

It’s not enough to say innovation matters. Companies and their leaders must instill a mindset of innovation across the entire company, not just in the product or research and development organizations. Every leader and every employee must continually ask the question, what’s the newest and best way to accomplish a goal–whatever that goal might be.

As I mentioned above, you can encourage this innovative behavior by highlighting individuals who have creative and innovative ideas. That means a recognition program and often a rewards one, too, for the best of the best.

The additional advice I would offer a CEO is also to strive for a culture of collaboration. That’s because collaboration fosters teamwork, brainstorming, and ultimately generates the best ideas. Remember, success is a team effort. No matter your company, industry, or competition, it’s important to constantly ask each other and yourself the question, how can something be accomplished better, faster, and more efficiently.

[Tanmay Vora] How helpful are cultural assessments (based on standard models) in culture building initiatives?

[Diane K. Adams] Very. At Qlik we regularly do full-blown culture assessments with the help of metrics and organizations like the Great Place to Work® Institute. The results provide us a measure of our progress and lay the foundation for developing very thorough action plans so that we can continually be at our best.

In addition, we do interim assessments of various aspects of our culture. For example, we might use an assessment tool to measure our progress in maintaining two-way communications. We also use in-house surveys from organizations like Survey Monkey.

After all, to accomplish a goal, you first have to know where you are in order to develop the right strategies to get there.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top 3 tips for creating a culture of learning and development?

[Diane K. Adams] 1. First, it’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan (ILP). The plan sets goals, lays out strategies for achieving those goals, and helps each individual see clearly how he or she will learn, grow, and succeed along with the company. The best companies with true learning and development cultures view ILP goals with the same importance as annual performance goals.

It’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan

To achieve the highest performance rating, for example, an individual must excel in his or her performance as well as with his or her personal learning goals.

2. Leverage your talent. Learning and development doesn’t have to cost lots of money. Everyone contributes in his or her own way, so capitalize on this broad expertise that’s already available to you. First, identify individual talents (often utilizing a StrengthsFinder assessment tool), and then be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Some ways to do that include holding internal webinars on specific topics that are led by team members who excel in that area. For example, someone with outstanding presentation skills could share his or her expertise with other team members. Another example could be holding monthly “lunch and learn” meetings with your team. Everyone gets together for lunch and a team member leads the training. The “teacher” could alternate depending on the topic and the person’s area of expertise. The company could pick up the lunch tab, or it could even be a pitch-in lunch with the company providing the drinks and the facility space.

Another way to leverage your talent is with a simple mentoring plan. Again, it starts with identifying the strengths of individuals throughout the company, and then making those talents known and available to others. That way if someone needs improvement in a specific area, he or she can then reach out to the right person.

3. Conduct annual talent reviews to identify and understand the strengths of your individual team members and their career goals. In turn, leadership then can be intentional with developmental career moves for its team members.

Research indicates that 70 percent of our learning comes through experience, which is why career development job moves are so important.

[Tanmay Vora] There are a lot of assessments, theories and best practices for building a culture of excellence. How does one “make it all happen”?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s another great question, and it’s what inspired me to write this book. The answer goes back to the basic definition of culture. Remember, creating a positive values-based culture is about being intentional and pervasive about each of the 7 Points to Culture Success.

So, the secret to a successful culture lies in intentionally defining your values and integrating them into every part of your organization.

For example, are your values incorporated into your performance review process? Do you have a recognition process for individuals who excel at the core values? Are your leaders rewarded for building a positive-based culture? Those are just a few of the ways you incorporate your values into and make your positive culture happen. It all ties back to the 7 Points to Culture.

[Tanmay Vora] If there is only ONE advice from your book that you would like to share with companies and start-ups, what would that be?

[Diane K. Adams] Every person and every company has the potential to be extraordinary. Creating a positive values-based culture provides an environment to do just that.

[Tanmay Vora] Diane, thank you for writing this book and for sharing your valuable insights here. I am sure readers of this blog will find your book and ideas very helpful in their own journeys of building excellent culture within their teams and organizations.

[Diane K. Adams] Thank you Tanmay. One last thought for your readers: Creating that great culture doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. But it does take a recognition of those positive values that matter to you and your company, and then the commitment and courage to live those values in everything the company and its people say and do.

If you would like to learn more about how you can build a positive culture in your organization, please check out the FREE online workbook that accompanies my book at my website, www.DianeKAdams.com.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

Change and Transformation – How Are They Related?

I have seen executives using the word “transformation” when they are really referring to “change”. Transformations are more deep rooted than change and it is critical to understand the difference between the two. Here are a few insightful resources that I found useful.

Earlier this year, Ron Ashkenas said, “We Still Don’t Know the Difference Between Change and Transformation” at Harvard Business Review. Here is a snippet from that post:

Transformation is another animal altogether. Unlike change management, it doesn’t focus on a few discrete, well-defined shifts, but rather on a portfolio of initiatives, which are interdependent or intersecting. More importantly, the overall goal of transformation is not just to execute a defined change — but to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future.

At Quality and Innovation blog, Nicole Radziwill also explored this critical difference between change and transformation. She says,

Change is required for transformation, and all transformation involves change, but not all change is transformational.

In many ways, change is a subset of transformation but change alone cannot lead to transformation.

Closer home, Harlina Sodhi, Sr. Vice President at Reliance Industries recently wrote an excellent post with examples of change and transformation and demystifies the perceptions about change and transformation with respect to the constantly changing world of work that we live in. She says two things in her post that are noteworthy:

“Change is the consequence of Transformation”

“Transformation prescribes vision and Change subscribes to vision”

I created a sketch note based on best ideas from these three posts for an easy reference.

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Also Visit: Sketch Note: 6 Rules of Change by Esther Derby

#Sketchnote: Bold #HR by Josh Bersin

For anyone working in HR, learning and leadership space, the Global Human Capital Trends Report 2015 by Deloitte University Press is a must read. It outlines the key challenges faced by businesses today and confirms that it is the soft stuff (culture, engagement, leadership and learning) that is actually hard for most businesses, large and small.

The report ends with a note,

Make 2015 a year of bold leadership in helping your organization thrive in this new world of work.

In his related post titled “The Four Keys to Bold HR: Lessons for the Year Ahead”, Josh Bersin defines what BOLD really means to leaders in HR space (and elsewhere).

Here is a sketch note version of key ideas from the post:

Also read:

The Future of HR – Evolving HR Function to create significant value for the business given current and future business trends – a research by Accenture.

Sketch Note: 6 Rules of Change by Esther Derby

Esther Derby is a highly respected voice in building up agile environments, organizations and teams for success. As a quality consultant and organization development enthusiast, I have been following her work since last many years.

Recently, Esther shared her insights (video) on the topic “Six Rules of Change” at LeanUX2015 and offered practical wisdom on driving large scale changes in the organization.

Here is a sketch note version that covers the essence of the talk. I highly recommend seeing the video for a full context on these 6 rules.

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A Note of Gratitude:

  • Thanks to Sunder Ramachandran for using my sketch note on Leadership in one of his team meetings.
  • Thanks to Jesse Lyn Stoner for sharing the sketch note version of her post “How to Influence without Authority” on her blog.
  • Thanks t many friends and followers on Twitter who encouraged by sharing and using these sketch notes in various ways. I remain grateful.
  • Thanks to Mike Rohde, author of “The Sketchnote Handbook” for encouragement on Twitter. Special thanks to Abhijit Bhaduri for getting me started through his post on Sketch Notes.

7 Pointers to Build a Strong Company Culture

Much like electricity which cannot be seen but empowers the devices, culture is an invisible force that drives beliefs, habits, rituals and outcomes of an organization. In fact, culture is a sum total of an organization’s shared values, behaviors, rituals, beliefs, attitudes, goals and practices.

It exerts a powerful influence on day to day behaviors and choices of people. Yet, the truth is that most organizations are not aware about the current state of their culture.

The thing about culture is – even when you are not consciously building a culture, it is still being formed by default based on your actions and decisions on a day to day basis. And it impacts your bottom line.

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will take care of itself.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

If culture is anyway being formed, why not work to build it consciously? Here are some good starting points to build a strong culture.

  • Clarify your motives: The goal of building a strong culture is not to merely extend a “feel good” factor to your people. The goal of building a great culture is to empower, enable and network your people through values, beliefs, rituals, systems and practices so that they can create real business value.
  • Understand the drivers of great culture: Many leaders associate culture with external perks like free lunches, vacation policies and such. Culture is driven by combination of internal and external forces and most importantly, understanding of what your business really needs.
  •  Define your values: Once you know what kind of culture you want to build, you need to establish values – guiding principles that should dictate the behaviors and actions and help people differentiate between right and the wrong. Involve your people in defining values for better buy-in and collective discovery of associated behaviors. 
  • Live them: Values defined, posters created,communication done and office space is decorated with new values – great! But culture, real culture, is built one action and one decision at a time. Your values will mean nothing unless they are lived at every level within the organization.  Reward what you want more of.
  • Assess your culture: Take time to periodically assess the culture. Are we living our values? What do people think about our culture? What are our strengths and opportunities for improvements? Assessments can vary from simple internal surveys to sophisticated external assessment tools. The key is to know where you stand and what needs improvement.
  • Take Actions: People make sense of an organization’s culture not by written words but by real actions. If building a strong culture is your priority, act on the feedback you receive from the culture assessment. Talk to your people, involve them in the change process and make real progress in areas that matter. Strong cultures are shaped largely by how leaders act.
  • Communicate Relentlessly: It helps to communicate about your culture and values continuously and explicitly. Your internal and external stakeholders need to understand your culture. Communicate through words and through your actions. Reward people who demonstrate right behaviors and live your values. Provide feedback to those who don’t.  Encourage open and honest dialogue about your culture whenever you can.

Yes, your product or service is the starting point of organization building activity. But unless you build a great culture, it is incredibly difficult to accelerate growth.

So, there is a reason why Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is created in boardroom but culture determines how people on the floor actually implement the strategy – and how well!

#2014in5Words: Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

I came across the hash tag #2014in5Words on Twitter and that prompted me to write more about it. It is interesting how 5 discrete words can describe the core themes of a year gone by. On Twitter, I wrote:

#2014in5Words Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

Opportunities.

In 2014, I got plenty of opportunities to make a positive difference to individuals and businesses. Opportunities came in all sizes – from small help requests to large scale consulting assignments and everything in between. I am grateful for all opportunities I encountered to help others, share my lessons and learn a great deal in return. My big lesson?

Opportunity never comes across labeled as opportunity. It comes in form of a problem or situation. Apply your skills, experience and competence to solve the problem without anyone asking you to do so and you increase your chances of getting more opportunities.

Change.

2014 was really a year of transition. Taking up a senior leadership role at a large financial services product company was a leap of faith in many ways. It required me to move to a different city (with family) and experience a completely new culture/people.  I had so many reasons to resist this change, and yet, I just went in head first. This was not merely a change, but a transition. Change is everything that happens externally – outside of us. Change is gross. Transition happen within us, and is subtle. My big lesson?

In change, we grow. In transitions, we evolve!

Learning.

I have been a huge fan of self-initiated, self-directed learning. Everything I have learned so far has been self driven. To continue that streak, I took up a few MOOC courses, read so many good business books, hundreds of blogs and participated/contributed in various Twitter Chats. My big lesson?

Learning agility – ability to learn (and unlearn) constantly and apply those lessons to a specific business context is a critical career (and life) competency.

Serendipity.

I like to plan things in advance and execute those plans with zeal. But after everything experienced in 2014, I learned that serendipity can take you to places you never imagined. It is not the same thing as getting lucky. It is about doing great work and creating the dots. Serendipity connects those dots in mysterious ways and brings forward an opportunity. I was fortunate to be at the right place at a right time on my occasions – not because I planned for it but because I constantly focused on creating the dots by doing, contributing and sharing. My big lesson?

In a networked world, you increase your chances of serendipity if you share your skills, learning and expertise generously to add value; even when the fruits of your efforts are not tangible or visible. 

Love.

“To be excellent at anything we must first love our work”, they say. Like everyone else, I love my family and friends – the foundation on which I can stand tall. But I am also grateful to have work that I really love doing and knowing that it makes a difference. My big lesson?

Love is an ultimate leadership tool – it is about how much care about your people and their well being. Leadership love is about creating an environment and establishing a context where people shine. This ecosystem is the key driver of engagement.

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Over to you! If you were to describe your #2014in5Words, what would those words be? Share them in the comment or via Twitter.

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Stay tuned to QAspire Blog: Subscribe via RSS or Email, Join our Facebook community or Follow us on Twitter.

Leadership in VUCA World: Perspectives on #IndiaHRChat

Today’s business environment is best described as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. VUCA is, quite simply, the expression of the fact that the rate of change is outpacing our ability to adapt. As a result of this, businesses, industries and careers are disrupted faster than ever before. We have to seriously rethink about how we lead ourselves, others and our organizations. Old ways of leadership have to give way to newer mental models based on agility in decision making, critical thinking, adaptable learning, people orientation and responsiveness to change.

What challenges does VUCA world pose to us as professionals, leaders and learners? This was the topic of June Edition of #IndiaHRChat in presence of special guest Faisal Hoque – an entrepreneur, author of Everything Connects – How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014) and contributor to FastCompany and Huffington Post.

The vibrant and thriving community members of #IndiaHRChat from all across the globe jumped into this conversation and added nuggets of their wisdom to enrich the collective lessons of all participants.

Here is a snapshot of the chat with a few selected tweets that capture the essence of ideas to lead in the VUCA world.

Is VUCA more hype than reality? How have you experienced it in your work?

The world was always VUCA. Accelerated rate of change has just made it more prominent. ~ @tnvora

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We can call it whatever we want — overcoming #adversity is what work and life is about. ~ @faisal_hoque

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VUCA is real. Business models are being challenged and disrupted. Pace of change is increasing. Its crazy! ~ @siddharthnagpal

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High level of adaptability and flexibility with agile mind that is buoyant is necessary for survival today ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Speed and breadth of change only increases the potential of disruption and makes it overwhelming. ~ @tnvora

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It’s about #mindfulness, #devotion, and #authentic path to find our true callings. That’s where #inspiration come from. ~ @faisal_hoque

What is the biggest challenge of living in a VUCA world as an individual/organization?

Creative destruction is the essence! Fuelled by choice! ~ @_Kavi

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@_Kavi absolutely! And building one’s learning agility :) http://bit.ly/1ji1EV6 ~ @GautamGhosh

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There are no prototypes to fall back on. No check lists. No maps. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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CHALLENGE IS IN HAVING A VISION. Challenge is in evolving road map every day to reach what’s planned. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Staying positivity, building resiliency, and be focused on impact while balancing the short term and the long term. ~ @faisal_hoque

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From local to global to now social, the time to adapt has crunched, can be volatile and complex to deal with for many ~ @pujakohli2

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Agility – tuning and shifting technology, processes, people and structure constantly for adapting to change. ~ @tnvora

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Every day/ every moment is unique, no historical data, no road map on guidelines. Look for answer within, adapt. ~ @paraskhatri

How should learning journeys shift to adapt to a VUCA world?

The ‘building your plane as you’re flying it’ analogy describes the challenges of the VUCA world ~ @sundertrg

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Orgs must learn at the speed of the business. In a VUCA world, Learning Now > Retrospect ~ @sundertrg

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The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it. ~ @faisal_hoque

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Learning must move from a rail road (fixed path) model to a sail boat (responsive to winds of change) model. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Leadership development focused on learning agility, self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity, & strategic thinking ~ @vivekparanjpe

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VUCA is about on-the-go. Contextual.Dynamic. If learning isn’t readying you for this, it isn’t learning ~ @_Kavi

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Constant learning, re-learning (in line with given context) and unlearning is vital. ~ @tnvora

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Learning in a VUCA world is experiential. All about experiencing and developing responses ~ @JoyAndLife

How are VUCA world careers different from the old economy careers?

Portfolio careers: One person, many careers are here to stay! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA careers of the future will be like that of film stars, you play different roles in every second movie :-) ~ @ideabound

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Never say I am specialized in this or that. Careers are about saying I open to do what is needed. I am open to learn ~ @vivekparanjpe

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A VUCA resume isn’t about a set of companies worked in. But about a bag of expertise picked up! ~ @_Kavi

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The only way that we can deal with our blind spots is to find people who have different ones ~ @faisal_hoque

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Careers are being built on – I CAN rather than IQ ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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You have to craft your own career. It is not the responsibility of HR, your boss, your company. Wake up ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Inclusion, diversity and collaborating through an inter-generational workforce would be the hallmark of success ~ @nohrgyan

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"Portable skills" combined with powerful big-picture view is the key to succeed in VUCA world. ~ @tnvora

What skills enable one to survive & thrive in a VUCA world ?

First – Learning agility. Everything else after that. If you don’t have Learning Agility, it’s game over. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adaptability & buoyancy ~ @sandeepcen

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Lean into the challenges and be energized with change ~ @tnvora

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Sense making from ambiguity, social intelligence, novel thinking, cross culture competency, design, digital. ~ @yagiwal

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"Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong." ~ @faisal_hoque

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Compassion for self and others would be a great need in the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

Willingness to reconfigure plans in a short notice. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Critical thinking dealing with complexity ambiguity and speed will be critical in #VUCA world. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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The ability to visualize our dreams creates a mindset that makes our ambitions possible. ~ @faisal_hoque

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A mindset of collaboration not competition.Fluidity not fixatedness.Fundamentals not formulas. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Ability to turn on a dime.To destory your own plans and adopt another’s.To quickly tweak or reinvent. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adversity inherently invokes pain. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In a VUCA world must learn to “color outside the lines” recognizing the artificial boundaries that keep us from progress ~ @SusanMazza

What is the ideal profile of a VUCA world leader?

The ideal profile is a person of opposites. Humble but self-assured. Decisive but seeks opinion. Analytical but intuitive.~ @JoyAndLife

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To read much from a few words.to distill. To disrupt.To demand. And of course to design the future ~ @_Kavi

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Is True to the vision.Communicates clearly. Has Deep understanding of business. Agile.Empathetic. People oriented. ~ @tnvora

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A6 to realize that he/she is not a leader :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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They Curate Talents ~ @faisal_hoque

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They Power Innovation ~ @faisal_hoque

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The leader who leads from the BACK of the crowd & harnesses the power of diversity.~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA is not build for ideal. Stereotypes won’t work & we don’t know what will. It’s the process of figuring out & adapting ~ @sundertrg

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Vision Understanding Clarity Agility – (VUCA) are few key Leadership skills ~ @shweta_hr

 

What is the opportunity presented by living in a VUCA world ?

Appreciating, Accepting and Adjusting are the three A’s to cope up in a VUCA world ~ @khushbootanna21

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To create your own sliver of the world :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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The opportunity to renew.To serve. To relearn & most importantly – To stay young! ~ @_Kavi

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Opportunity to be learning constantly and meeting so many fine people is the greatest personal gift of the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

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The gift of VUCA – learners for life.Appreciation for the here and now.Interdependence of goals. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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In VUCA world – Ideas are winners. Not people, not lineage & certainly not experience ~ @sundertrg

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Forces us to connect with ourselves and others — as result we have better opportunity to create and impact. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In VUCA world – Opportunities end where the imagination does ~ @sundertrg

 

That’s it from this edition of #IndiaHRChat. In just about one hours time, 1153 bite sized ideas were posted by 95 contributors reaching more than 400000 people. Amazing, isn’t it?

Happy Leading!

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Also Read at QAspire:

Fostering Emergent Leadership: Bite Sized Insights on #IndiaHRChat

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

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Leadership Development Carnival: June 2014 Edition

 


Namaste!
Welcome to the June 02nd 2014 Carnival of Leadership Development.

I am thankful to carnival leader Dan McCarthy for allowing me to host this event -  a wonderful collection of very practical insights on Leadership Development. It is always a great privilege to host a Leadership Development Carnival because it allows us to explore so many different facets of leadership at one go. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment where technology is constantly changing how people collaborate and work, the paradigms of leadership are changing.

In this edition of Carnival, we have a solid collection of posts that explores the changing face of leadership in the new world. Continuing the tradition, I have also included Twitter handles of the contributors.

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Beth Miller of Executive Velocity asks “Does Your Leadership Fear Transparency?” and says “With the increasing lack of transparency that Washington DC has displayed, it is more important than ever for business leaders to step up and adopt the characteristics of transparency. Your employees crave and want leaders they can trust.” (@SrExecAdvisor)

Dan Oestreich from Unfolding Leadership says, "We think of the system as ‘out there,’ but the most important system to change is the one within.”  You can read more in this his powerful post titled “Having Tea with the Dragon”. (@DanOestreich)

Jesse Lyn Stoner of the Seapoint Center emphasizes on the importance of creating a team charter through her post “Create a Team Charter to Go Faster and Smarter”. She says, “Taking the time to get clear agreements among team members can slow things down in the beginning, but will help you go faster in the long run. It’s a paradox: Go slow in order to go fast.” (@JesseLynStoner)

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership presents an insightful post “10 Things Your Employees May Not be Telling You.” In this post at About.com, Dan writes, “In the absence of a solid foundation of trust and open two-way communication, here are ten things that you’re not going to hear from your employees.”  (@greatleadership)

Dr. Anne Perschel from Germane Insights shares “The Secret Ingredient of Great Leadership”. We have all read 10 tips, 5 steps, and 4 actions of successful leaders, but we have to look closer to find the secret ingredient of great leadership and outstanding results. (@bizshrink)

Julie Winkle Giulioni  asks “How Well-Populated is Your Pipeline?” She suggests, “Perhaps it’s time to evaluate leaders by the most crucial output for which they’re responsible: the quality of their followers.” (@Julie_WG)

Joel Garfinkle on his Career Advancement Blog shares “7 Competencies Successful HR Executive MUST Know” to be successful. (@workcoach4you)

Jim Taggart at Changing Winds blog submits his recent post “Why Arrogance Leads to Eventual Failure”. In this post he says, “I profile two very well-known companies, which happen to be Canadian (as I am) to illustrate how arrogance by top corporate leaders brought down one company (Nortel) and almost brought down the other (Blackberry), whose new CEO is working very hard to reposition the company to compete in the global telecom market.” (@72keys)

John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog presents his post “A Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving” and says, “An organization succeeds because of the efforts of many great people. But the management system has to be created for an organization to prosper as what we all know will happen, happens: people will leave and need to be replaced.”  (@curiouscat_com)

Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders says, “Micromanaging is a dysfunctional behavior that most leaders fall into from time to time. So how do you know if you’re slipping into the micro management trap?” and presents her post “The Insiders Guide to Micromanagement”. (@LetsGrowLeaders)

Jane Perdue of LeadBig presents “You know you’re not a leader when…” and says “Sometimes leaders need to take a moment, reflect on what they’re doing, and perhaps recalibrate if their actions are leadership material….or not.” (@thehrgoddess)

Mary Jo Asmus at Aspire-CS presents the post “Give them something of value” and says, “Relationships are foundational to great leadership, and value is the common currency that flows between healthy relationships.” (@mjasmus)

Nicholas Bate of Strategic Edge reflects on Leadership in his post “Leadership Reflections Seven”. In this crisp post, he provides useful reminders about fundamentals of great leadership.

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results Through Culture says, “GM’s recall delays indicate a corporate culture more concerned with profits than with people. These recall delays are a failure of internal systems, of engineering, and, most critically, a failure of the heart.” Read more in his post “GM’s Heart Failure” (@scedmonds)

Bruce Watt Ph.D of Development Dimensions International presents “Who Would Really Want to be a Leader?” and says, “Is negativity about leadership discouraging future generations from stepping up? In this post, I address our responsibility to select and prepare better leaders, hold them accountable and (very importantly) encourage future generations to pursue leadership.”

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference presents an interesting take on VUCA world through his post “VUCA Times Call for DURT Leaders”. He says, “We work in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous times. To lead effectively through VUCA, we need to be Direct, Understandable, Reliable, and Trustworthy. Five leadership practices will enable our DURT approach.” (@ThinDifference)

Alan Robinson, Ph.D of The Idea Driven Blog shows how leaders can prepare for uncertainty by embracing flexibility through his post “A High-Performing System Helps You Face an Uncertain Future with More Confidence.” (@alangrobinson)

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership blog presents “Looking for a leader?” and says, “If you’re looking for someone who will make a good leader, here are some things to look for.” A very interesting list. (@wallybock)

Frank Sonnenberg of Frank Sonnenberg Online suggests, “It’s better to learn from the mistakes that other companies make, than from your own.” and presents “50 Insane Mistakes Companies Make”. (@FSonnenberg)

Susan Mazza of Random Acts Of Leadership says, “Most "to do" lists are often more a compilation of "should do" lists rather than "must do" lists – and the difference between the two determines whether you are clear about your goals and able to achieve them.” Read more in her post “3 Steps to Transform Your To-Do List” (@SusanMazza)

Lisa Kohn of Chatsworth Consulting Group, presents Managing yourself out of the picture on The Thoughtful Leaders™ Blog where she shares why leaders should make themselves dispensable in order that their teams can survive without them. (@ThoughtfulLdrs)

Randy Conley of Leading With Trust presents “After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality” and says, “Suffering a breach of trust can be a traumatic experience that sends you into a tailspin of self-pity and victimization. This practical article offers five concrete steps you can take to avoid a victim mentality.”  (@RandyConley)

Neal Burgis, Ph.D. Practical Solutions presents “Can You Lead Through Your Discomfort?” and says, “When leaders normalize discomfort, you invite your work culture to embrace feedback and change.” (@Exec_Solutions)

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares "Leading Change-It’s Not about You" on The Lead Change Group blog and says, “This post serves as a great reminder of the humble leadership that ought to happen, where leaders are the first to admit to their employees that they don’t have all the answers, they don’t have all the ideas, and that they need everyone to be engaged and feel valued in order for there to be true success.” (@paul_larue)

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS Blog gives detailed, thoughtful instruction that will help all leaders develop more effective, productive, and meaningful relationships with their direct reports. Read more in this post “Do You Bail Your People Out? Rescue Management Diminishes Employee Accountability” (@DialogueWORKS)

Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand says, “Stress is down to two things – control these two factors and you can conquer the world!” and shares the post “How The Best Leaders Deal With Stress” (@Engagingbrand)

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace asks a question, “What does your CEO consider important when discussing talent?” The answer, in his post, “Tell The Truth About Talent” is thought-provoking.(@steveroesler)

Dana Theus of InPower Blog says, “Leadership is all about being able to see success, and help others see it and find their motivation to pursue it. But what happens when leaders see things differently? We don’t often take the time to think about the leadership gifts our gender gives us, but take a few moments to learn how others view success.” and shares the post “Do Men & Women Vision Success Differently?” (@DanaTheus)

Mary Ila Ward of The Point Blog shares “I’m spending a lot of money on this: Getting and Measuring Bang for your Buck through Leadership Coaching” and says, “Thinking about getting a leadership or executive coach or have one? Coaching has been cited to be both effective and efficient for certain organizations, but how do you know if coaching will pay off for your organization?  Read this post to learn how to measure for efficiency and effectiveness of coaching.” (@maryilaward)

Bill Bliss of Bills Blog breaks down the art of delegation into its value-added parts. Readers will never question the benefits (and bottom line impact) of delegation again after reading this post. Find more in the post “Delegation is the Killer App for Leaders” (@coachwmbliss)

Dr. Dean Schroeder of Dean M. Schroeder Blog demonstrates how leaders can realize a sustainable, substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace – and create a more engaged workforce in the process. Find out more in the post “Organizational Improvement: It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Journey” (@deanmschroeder)

Miki Saxon of MAPping Company Success shares “Ducks in a Row: Robert Sutton—Scale Means People” and says, “It’s important to understand that a company has no existence beyond its people who are united in a shared vision and their efforts to reach a common goal—to scale a company you must scale its people.(@OptionSanity)

That’s it for this month’s edition. Thank you to all the bloggers who submitted their posts this month and I hope you enjoy reading/learning from these brilliant posts!

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The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

In an industrial age, people went to factories and worked together to produce the outcomes. When required, they collaborated in person. Supervisors commanded and controlled others and leadership was often equated with “taking power”. Factories depended heavily on rigid top-down hierarchies and people were viewed simply as dispensable workers.

With technological advances, our world of work changed dramatically. Today, we seldom do anything alone. With rise in knowledge oriented work, people in small and geographically distributed groups work together to create value through their expertise and creativity. There is no raw material, there are only people.

In this world of work, collaboration is not optional. In fact, effective collaboration is the backbone of how work gets done today. Most successful projects and teams I have seen have one thing in common – effective collaboration. They had one more thing in common – that one person with vision who believed in collaboration – a collaborative leader.

In this series of posts, we will look at what goes in to make collaborative leaders and their indispensable traits. Mary Parker Follett defined management as “the art of getting things done through people” and collaborative leadership embodies and extends this belief. It is about bringing diverse group of people together, have them share a common vision and provide them an eco-system where they effectively work with each other to produce desired outcomes optimally.

At the very foundation of collaborative leadership are respect for people, individual competence and engaging communication. Let us take a closer look at these.

Respect for People:

Effective collaboration starts with a simple belief that people are not “resources” or “capital” – they are not just a variable cost to your company. They are essentially humans who bring their self-esteem, emotional skills and intellectual capabilities to accomplish their work. That they want to be trusted, communicated with and inspired. Karen Martin, my friend and author of the recent book “The Outstanding Organization” says, “Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.” Respect for people imply that a leader is interested in (and enjoys) dealing with people, listening to them, help them navigate through challenges of work, solve their problems and invest time in developing their skills. Respect for people also means that a leader is able to provide the required space to people without compromising on the accountability. It means that a leader looks at conflicts as a way to improve.

Competence:

Collaboration is almost never a substitute of competence. At an individual level, a leader cannot foster collaboration and solve team’s problems without having the necessary skills and capabilities. For a leader, competence does not necessarily mean only technical skills. It also means higher visibility into work and how it fits into larger scheme of things. It means knowing how to communicate effectively and deal with problems. Competence also equates with an individual’s integrity – the extent to which thoughts, words and deeds of a leader are uniform. An integral leader quickly builds trust which is the currency of a collaborative team.

Engaging Communication:

If trust is the currency of a collaborative team, communication is the way to build it. It is only when a team frequently communicates, provides clarity, clarifies vision, shares ideas, extends their lessons and outlines problems clearly that they can really collaborate. Leaders in a collaborative environment need to be transparent and conscious about cultural aspects of communication. They need to offer a compelling view of the future (vision) to engage the energies of people. Along the way, they need to reiterate the vision, keep the team focused and resolve conflicts. They also need to be aware that communication is not just about what they speak, but also about what their actions speak.

With these fundamental elements in perspective, we will explore essential traits of collaborative leaders and related examples in the subsequent posts.

Join in the conversation: How would you define collaborative leader? What are your thoughts on how people are treated within organizations today?

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, A Family of Darters, Khijadia Bird Sanctuary

In 100 Words: No Strength Without Struggle

The caterpillar was turning into a butterfly. In that biology lab, the teacher explained how butterfly struggles to break the cocoon as students curiously observed this metamorphosis. Before leaving the class, she urged students to just observe and not help the butterfly.

After a while, one of the students took pity on the struggling butterfly and broke the cocoon to help. But shortly afterwards, the butterfly died.

When the teacher returned, she saw what had happened. “Your help killed the butterfly. Struggle helps butterfly in developing and strengthening its wings,” she said.

“Our struggles are the source of our strength.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Butterfly in the Park

Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

Consulting, Content and Context: A Fable

contentcontext

It was the first day of his job as a consultant with this large consulting house. The consultant entered the office and walked across the corridor confidently, armed with his knowledge about methodologies, tools and best practices.

In next few weeks of his induction, the challenge was to apply his knowledge on several simulated situations that consultants usually face during their real assignments. He provided solutions that were in tune with some or the other best practice but impractical to implement in a given situation.

The boss was observing this from a distance since a few weeks and his disappointment grew with each passing day.

It is said that when only thing you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Consultant was trying to nail the problems with the only hammer he had – the best practices .

Knowing that things were not heading in a right direction, boss called the consultant for a counseling session over a cup of coffee.

It was clear that the consultant was loaded with content but did not do enough to understand the context of the problem – the culture, people, business model, root causes of problems and specific situations.

The boss explained, “Unless you put your lessons in a frame of reference, those lessons mean a little. You can endlessly talk about your knowledge, but unless mapped to a context, it has no meaning.”

The consultant was curious to know more about the context.

The boss continued, “Context is a powerful thing. It is a perspective you form based on a situation. A freedom fighter of one country may be considered as a terrorist by the other. One man and two different ways to look at him based on the context he is into.”

He explained further, “Your success as a consultant (and professional) is less about knowledge of best practices and more about your ability to map them to a specific business context. Context provides meaning to content. If you think of your knowledge content as water, context is the glass that holds it, gives it a shape; an identity. Our knowledge is static and defined whereas situations are dynamic and uncertain.”

As the wisdom unfolded, consultant felt as if he was beginning a new chapter in his consulting career. He realized that context always trumps content.

The lessons he learned from this short counseling session would stay with him throughout his career!

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BONUS: I recently had an interesting Twitter conversation on Quality, Process and Culture in a Complex Business World with Tom Peters, Mark Graban, John Kordyback, Sunil Malhotra, Jatin Jhala and others. Read the storified version of the conversation here.

Why Managers are Catalysts in Managing and Developing Talent?

 

Most businesses today are talent driven businesses – skills and competence of people developing products and providing services is at the core of an organization’s differentiation strategy. Talent management and people development should be at the top of an organization’s strategic agenda given the need to improve productivity and effectiveness. Everyone agrees that people development is important, yet clear ownership of doing so is often missing.

Why is this a challenge?

Because managers look at people on their team as tools to get their tasks done. Because managers are only made accountable for generating business results only and not for developing people. Because managers excessively rely on some “training and development” department that is far away from day to day realities of how a business operates. Because leaders think that training and/or certification is the only way to develop skills of people.

The truth is: managers are the ones who communicate with people every single day, assign work in line with capabilities of people, provide the resources that people need to get the job done and guide the performance of people. This proximity with people (and their skills) makes a manager, an ideal owner for development of people within an organization. This is also true because people learn the most by working and experiencing, and less by training alone. But a 2008 research by Hewitt and Human Capital Institute reveals that less than 10% of managers are held accountable for development of people and less than 5% are competent enough to develop others.

What can be done?

I think, the first step towards building a managerial culture around people development is to start at the top. If top leadership takes active interest in developing managers at various levels, that drives one expectation clearly: that we are all responsible for developing people we lead.

The second step is to make managers accountable for people development. Developing people should be an integral part of every manager’s KRA and managers should be given the required space to develop others.

The third step is to help managers in developing people. This is where HR/Training teams can provide interventions. This can include critical areas like assigning right people to right tasks, building a team with complementary skills, improving collaboration, building trust through mentoring, providing feedback and build environment of learning and growth for everyone on the team. In fact, managers should be hired based on demonstrated skills in these areas.

The deliverable of a manager, in my view, is two sided: one is the business results and other is developing people while they deliver these results. The only way to thrive in a competitive environment is to constantly expand people’s capability to deliver and innovate. A manager’s ability to build a culture of continuous learning and develop people equals better bottom line results and higher employee engagement and retention.

Join in the conversation: Do you agree that managers should be responsible for developing people? Have you seen an exceptional manager who focused on growing others? What did you learn from that manager?

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Great Quotes: Luc de Brabandere on Change, Innovation and Perceptions

When we encounter a change, we first perceive ourselves in a changed situation. So, our perception of the changed situation actually precedes the actual change and shapes our response.

In the same context, I read two quotes by Luc de Brabandere. The first quote comes from Forbes India article by NS Ramnath about N. R. Narayana Murthy being re-instated as Infosys Executive Chairman, where he quotes Luc:

“We believe that to really make change happen, changing the reality is of course necessary – this involves developing novel ideas for change, and the implementation of those ideas via project management and measurement, templates and the like. But changing reality is not sufficient – we must also change peoples’ perceptions .

This happens on much more of an individual basis; each stakeholder’s needs and biases must be taken into account. This can only be done through careful preparation and communication. So to really make change happen, we must change twice – reality and perception.”

Second quote comes from Luc’s 2011 interview with Boston Consulting Group, where he shares story of how Philips, a traditional electronics company,  executed “new box” thinking to realize a new world of possibilities. He concludes the interview with this thought:

That’s why I have completely changed my mind about brainstorming. I don’t think a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which a new concept suddenly arises. Rather, a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which an existing concept suddenly makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

This really boils down to what Peter Senge defines as a mental model – our thought process about how something works in real world. When we change our perceptions, we may end up realizing that most of the constraints that we see may not be existent in the real world, except in our minds.

In 100 Words: Catch That Ostrich

Photo Courtesy: National Geographic

It is easy for us to get into denial mode when faced with a change, challenge or impending danger. People call this “ostrich effect” because there is a common (and false) legend about ostriches burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger.

We often see humans behaving like ostriches in families, teams and in leadership positions. They lack courage to address apparent problems or do important work. When they are driven by fear, they expose their weaker side even more.

Here’s the catch: You blind yourself as much to the opportunity as to the fear of confronting the problem.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Interesting Stuff: There is a new magazine on personal branding titled “Me Inc.” and I am glad to have contributed to the first edition in form of my article “The Passion Equation” (read web version or read full article in magazine, page 24).

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Photo Courtesy: National Geographic

Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

20 Signs of Leadership Indifference

One of my consistent observation is: “Indifference is the enemy of great leadership.” Indifferent leaders make a statement, “I don’t care” through their thoughts, words and actions.

Indifference in leadership can manifest itself in one (or many) of the following ways:

1. They are unable to decide: In difficult situations, people look for leaders to take decisions. Indifferent leaders rely too much on external validation before they decide. Sometimes, they also fall in trap on not deciding on purpose or delaying decisions.

2. They may have a vision but lack execution: Leaders are judged by just two factors: Productivity of a leader’s team (what they deliver and how qualitatively?) and by their people (are they learning, growing and becoming more valuable?). No execution = No results = No leadership.

3. They operate out of fear: They take decisions with an objective of covering all their bases to avoid blame and criticism. Fear paralyzes them and keeps them away from taking action.

4. They are not intentional about helping others: Helping others in getting stuff done starts with an intent. Leaders who try to help others without this intention, required knowledge and courage create more roadblocks than eliminating them.

5. They don’t accept what they don’t know: Indifferent leaders are unaware of where they can really add value and things they don’t know anything about. They reveal their indifference when they try hard to show that they do know.

6. Worst yet, they don’t attempt to learn: Not knowing is one thing and that is fine. We all take up higher roles when we may not be capable at some point. But we only grow when we try hard to learn quickly and be aware.

7. They don’t get into details: When leaders care about work, they also care about details that make up the work. Indifferent leaders talk broad but fail to get into details when required. They operate at a superfluous level.

8. They fail to ask: Questions reveal a leader. Indifferent leaders simply don’t ask; or if they do; they don’t ask right questions.

9. They don’t keep their promises: They say they will do something and then don’t do it. They care more about giving tall promises without worrying about keeping them. This alienates people more quickly than anything else.

10. They ignore the context: They constantly carry pride of their past accomplishments and keep harping about it. They fail to understand the current context of their work.

11. They focus on process more than people: For an indifferent leader, process is a great tool to hide behind. They will go by the books and push compliance at the cost of motivation.  

12. They don’t get results, or get them in a wrong way: When a leader operates with an indifferent attitude, their value addition is not clearly visible. Even if they do achieve results, they adopt wrong ways to get to those results.

13. They excessively use their positional power: A leader’s position only shows that they have higher visibility (and ability) to get things done. Indifferent leaders use their positions to push their priorities without empathizing with others. When you have to show that you are powerful, you are not.

14. They look at people through their position in the pecking order: They treat people differently based on their position in a top-down pyramid. They treat those who they fear differently than those who fall under them.

15. They take credit for the hard work done by someone else: Great leaders share credits generously because they care for people. Indifferent people do exactly the opposite.

16. They fail at basics of communication: They don’t listen; interrupt when others are talking. They don’t talk enough when they are required to. They come to meetings unprepared. They fail to set the context and build perspectives. Their body language shows that they don’t care. They talk too much on things that don’t really matter to others.

17. They tolerate low performance: and when they do that, they undermine those who really perform. This is the highest form of indifference that leads to lower morale and active disengagement.

18. They force change: They initiate changes often without thinking through the immediate implications of change. On top of that, they force change and expect people to adapt at very short notices. They often associate penalties for not adapting quickly.

19. They blindly push the priorities given to them by their bosses: Instead of explaining the rationale’ behind a certain decision or priority, they end up saying, “Boss wants it, so we have to do it.” They lack courage to question their bosses and then fail to command respect from their team members.

20. They keep denying reality: Denying the reality does not change it. Indifferent leaders don’t care for feedback from their peers. They don’t share feedback often. They use their self-derived versions of reality to hide from the real.

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Also Read:

Great Leadership: Beware of These Nine I’s
Nine I’s and Great Leadership
Nine Roles for Great Leadership