Making Work More Effective

Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.

Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.

Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.

If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!

Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!

Related Reading at QAspire

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.

On Simplifying Through Subtraction

I am on a mission to minimize. It started with this website which went minimal a few months back. It was hard to give up on all those fancy pages, content and images that I had created before. I kept adding more pages to this website till it started feeling like a burden. Now that clutter is gone, it feels so much better. I am now extending the same fundamentals in other areas of work and life.

Outside of mathematics, it is easy to add but far more difficult to subtract.

Adding more stuff at the home, more thoughts in the mind, more pages on the website, more services in business, more features in the product, more property assets, more tasks in the day and more everything else. That’s easy.

Try eliminating what you accumulated and it is way more harder. In a world that is getting more and more complex, we seek more and more simplicity. It seems to me that subtraction is at the heart of simplicity and hence effectiveness. Lao Tzu really got it when he said,

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day”

This may sound paradoxical but the act of subtraction is actually the act of addition in some other form. When I eliminated graphics, I added focus to the content. When we stop doing many things at a time, we create a room for more effort/focus on a few important things.

Methodologies like Kanban promote the idea of limiting the work-in-progress items. When you limit the “stuff on your plate”, you decrease distractions and increase the possibility of finishing what you started without compromising on quality.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

This applies in almost every aspect of business and life. I have seen senior leaders spending days (and nights) doing meetings to frame a grand strategy when it is really the small and basic things that they are really missing. What would happen if they trade grandeur of strategy with simplicity?

Further, what would happen if we simplify the meeting agendas and subtract the number of meetings from our work day? If we reduce the slack in each and every process to get the work done? If we stop trying to load up our teams for doing more work in less time and set them up to focus more on less number of active tasks?

These are all possibilities. To realize these possibilities, we have to actively pursue simplicity through subtraction.

You can’t juggle too many balls for long. What balls are you ready to drop? What will you subtract?

Note: I have learned a great deal about simplicity and subtraction from Matthew E. May’s blog and his book “The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything” is definitely on my reading list.

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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The Promise of Gemba

In an organization, work flows horizontally but organizations are structured vertically in hierarchies. With seniority and promotions up the order, a person tends to drift away from the place where real business value is created; the place where real action happens; where problems are clearly visible. They end up expecting results without caring about the process and its purpose.

That’s where the promise of “Gemba” kicks in. “Gemba” is a Japanese word which means ‘the real place’. If senior leaders demonstrate understanding of how work is actually done by going to Gemba regularly, engaging people and noticing things, a lot of business inefficiencies can be identified and improved. Tom Peters defined this as “Management by Wandering Around”. Gemba allows leaders and improvement managers to appreciate what people really do on the floor and more importantly, how they do it.

You cannot take any meaningful decisions about work unless you know how the work is actually performed. 

We talk endlessly about engaging our teams and the starting point of engaging others is to engage yourself with the real. When people see you interested in how value is created, they start engaging actively too. You build trust that is vital for building a high performance organization. You may be surprised by how much potential your people have to contribute.

We have fallen in trap of meetings. In face of crisis or problems, things like meetings and brainstorming can be comforting, but unless you go to the floor, you will never understand the context of the problem. Going to Gemba also requires leaders to give up on their ego.

W. Edwards Deming said,

“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

Bottom line: Spending some time every day to see the action with the intention of learning is invaluable for a business leader. So, go out there and see the real.

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Also download:The Quality Manifesto – Getting the Basics of Quality Right in a Knowledge World” [PDF]

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Check out the collection of great leadership posts in November 2012 Edition of Carnival of Leadership Development at Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership Blog.

9 (More) Ideas for Effective Trainings

Trainings are at the core of most knowledge-oriented organizations and often considered to be key driver of employee behaviors, and hence culture. It is a lot of hard work, a lot of time, effort and energy spent. It better be effective. Here are 9 (more) ideas to ensure that trainings are effective (related ideas in links below):

  1. Training is not a silver bullet. Sometimes, business leaders over emphasize on trainings when other things are not working. One example: Providing a detailed training on roles and responsibilities to a team member may not work when the problem is how people are being managed.
  2. Often, we end up imparting detailed trainings on processes that are faulty. Even if people religiously follow the process, it may not yield desired business results. Before imparting training, ensure that your processes/content is accurate enough to yield desired business outcomes.
  3. Given our shrinking attention spans, long, detailed and tedious trainings will never help people. Good trainings that are poorly designed will also take a toll. Trainings are change agents and for that to happen, map training to real time actions. Show them how to do something, stir their imagination, raise important questions and then provide answers. Better yet, let them participate in finding answers and then reinforce lessons.
  4. Timing of the training is crucial. If you impart training on something which people may not use for next two months, the lessons will soon fade away. Impart training when it is most needed and can be used readily.
  5. Trainings that are done just because some external standard (like ISO) demands is a huge waste. Standards never tell us to conduct trainings at the cost of effectiveness.
  6. We don’t need trainers who speak like robots. We need humans, who bring their emotion to the training, share their personal stories, provide us perspectives and drive our imagination. If training is repetitive by nature, create a recorded version instead.
  7. The #1 job of a trainer is to focus on them – the participants. It’s not an opportunity to show how much you know about the subject, but how they can use that in their unique context.
  8. Manage the energy in room. People think training is about “flow” – continuity of ideas and speech. Yes, it is. In fact, it is also about "engaging change”. If a trainer speaks continuously for more than 5-7 minutes, the energy in the room loses to monotony. To add an element of change, throw up a question, show a video, share a story, ask audience to share their story, outline their challenges or let them do something. It re-aligns the energy in room.
  9. While you may not have a best sense of humor, it helps to lighten up things a bit during the training. Formal trainings have a bad reputation of being serious, and hence boring. If you (as a trainer) are not having fun, you cannot expect the audience to have it either!

Other Training Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

5 Ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value

Training: The Change Agent

Training Middle Managers On People Management Basics

Training and Development – A Holistic View

Effective Meetings: A Round Up

I love SCRUM methodology because it focuses on making meetings effective. Focus is on decisions and actions. A quick stand-up meeting everyday to track progress.

One of the biggest wastes in any organization are ineffective meetings. I have always believed that meetings (specially with the team) are a great forum to inspire action, instill a sense of urgency and get things done. I have written earlier about effective meetings and there are other great authors who have written about it. Here’s a round-up:

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Mary Jo Asmus offers ideas on conducting compelling meetings and get rid of boring, one-way meetings. Here’s an excerpt:

The unsaid gets surfaced without consequences. Most people at the meeting know where the unsaid is hidden; none of them will hold back on coaxing it out in the conversation because that’s how the team pulls together and creates a safe platform for moving ahead.

Infact, Al Pittampalli wrote a book titled “The Modern Meeting Standard”. On the book page, he writes:

If an operating room were as sloppily run as our meetings patients would die. If a restaurant kitchen put as little planning into the meal as we put into our meetings, dinner would never be served.  Worst of all, our meeting culture is changing how we focus, what we focus on, and what decisions we make.

Tom Peters has put up a special presentation on meetings in which he says:

Every meeting that does not stir the imagination and curiosity of attendees and increase bonding and co-operation and engagement and sense of worth and motivate rapid action and enhance enthusiasm is a permanently lost opportunity.

Prepare for a meeting, every meeting as if your professional life and legacy depended on it. It does.

Jesse Lyn Stoner wants no more boring meetings and provides some tips on validating the need of a meeting.

Build your agenda after you identify the purpose and desired outcomes. Make sure that each agenda item supports the purpose and drives one of your desired outcomes. If it doesn’t, take it off the agenda.

Janine Popick at provides 8 Pet Peeves on Business Meeting Etiquettes. Here’s one:

Don’t repeat what someone else in the meeting has already said and take credit for it: a) it’s a time-waster, and b) everyone in the room knows what you’re doing.

If you are interested in best practices for daily stand-up meetings (SCRUM style), don’t miss Jason Yip’s article. Some great tips, including this one:

The goals of the daily stand-up are GIFTS. Good Start, Improvement, Focus, Team, Status.

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Here’s what I suggest: Before you go to your next meeting, read this post (and posts included here). Take just one idea and make sure you implement it in the meeting. If you find a difference in your meeting effectiveness, leave a comment and share your experience.

Join in the conversation: What are your best tips for running effective meetings? Have you been conducting daily stand-up meetings? How does it help you?

A Steve Jobs Story on Simplicity and Focus

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is on my reading list and I was curious to have some initial reviews about the book. Matthew E. May recently reviewed the book on his blog.

In a post titled “The Zen Master of Subtraction: Steve Jobs”, Matt shares some very interesting stories/snippets about how Steve Jobs generated extreme focus by virtue of elimination.

I borrow the following story from his blog:

Once a year Jobs took his most valuable employees on a retreat, which he called “The Top 100.” They were picked based on a simple guideline: the people you would bring with you if you could only take a hundred people with you on a lifeboat to your next company. At the end of the retreat, Jobs would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”

With all the clutter around us, thinking about simplicity is hard. As individuals and organizations, we can do so many things with our abilities that we end up running in different directions to attempt all of them, spreading ourselves thin.

Most people (and organizations) do more on more. More work on more number of priorities. The key is to do more on less – more focus and better execution on a fewer set of priorities. That is what “being lean” is all about – focus on being effective, eliminate clutter, clarify your priorities and then execute like hell.

Check out Matt’s review. I now look forward to reading the book and peek into the life of Jobs.

Productivity Reminders…

… For Managers

  1. In knowledge world, productivity is hard to quantify. If you try to adopt old “command and control” style of management to drive knowledge workers, they get even less productive. Don’t command, empower. Don’t control, but lead them instead.
  2. Understand that knowledge workers cannot always be productive between 9 to 5. They have their creative zones and routines when they are most productive. Give them a mental space, when they can concentrate.
  3. Equate productivity, not with how much work is done, but how well.
  4. Give them autonomy and challenge them through work. Clarify what is expected out of them and set them free. Facilitate and support, but don’t spoon feed and micro-manage. Enrich their job by allowing them to focus on the core aspect of their work. Eliminate waste from their routines. Define what performance means.
  5. Provide them constant feedback. Feedback is the compass they use to drive their performance. Recognize their efforts.

… For Individuals

  1. “Busy-ness” is not equal to progress. Passing/pushing papers, constantly responding to emails, constantly checking social media and attending endless meetings is NOT productivity.
  2. Understand the context. You can work better when the bigger picture is clear to you. Understand clearly what needs to be done, why it needs to be done and then figure out how it needs to be done.
  3. It also means identifying what should *not* be done. Eliminate busy work and additional activities that add no or little value. E.g. A sales person should focus on sales/customer service more than she focuses on filling out reports and doing logistical activities involved in sales.
  4. When working, be ‘with’ work. Social media can wait. That new email notification screaming for your attention can wait. Other low priority items can wait. Multi-tasking kills concentration – one of the key elements of personal productivity.
  5. Learn continuously – the more you learn, the more you know, the more productive you get. Seek training, read blogs (better yet, write one), read at least one book in your area of work in a month, meet people, attend conferences/webinars. Learn.

In his book “Managing For The Future (1992)”, Peter Drucker said that raising productivity of knowledge and service workers must be an economic and social priority in twenty first century. Almost twenty years after that was written, it is a truth that we cannot afford to ignore.

Being productive at work is not just an organizational, economic or social priority, but a personal one too.

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Related Post at QAspire: Getting Work Done: Flow and Distractions

Diversity, Group Think and Few Ideas

Group dynamics in a team is a strong force. People on the team are used to work in a certain way. They always encounter/expect some specific/known behaviors from their colleagues. They have a fortified belief system about how things should be done in the team. There is a specific way of communication and often the one that pleases people higher up in the order.

Group dynamics kick in when someone in the team dares to think differently. When the new member exhibits better skills or a different way of communication. Team members go on a back foot and critically analyse the difference. Often, they end up preaching about how things should be done. The fear of getting criticized/ridiculed keeps the team members from expressing themselves fully and completely. The group tries to convert fresh thinking into compliant thinking, and the spark of fresh thinking just fades into this group that we call team.

This force limits the ability of team members to openly acknowledge differences – therefore undermining a team’s capacity to learn about and improve on its strategies, processes and practices. Group think stalls improvement and keeps people from identifying strongly with their work.

So, what can YOU do?

If you are a manager, make conflicts constructive, value different perspectives and approaches, ensure that team learns/unlearns constantly through experiences, expect high standards from your team, stimulate/encourage personal development, value people who think differently and be open in communication. Reduce bureaucracies so that team has direct access to the senior folks. Have formal brainstorming sessions with the team, and moderate the discussion to ensure that ideas are openly assessed.

If you are a team member, don’t let group thinking conquer your unique opinion. Identify first with your work, and then with the team. Be polite and firm while presenting your viewpoint. When you think your opinion is important, take due care in how you present it. Have humility to accept if your viewpoint is negated with reasonable justifications and don’t let it keep you from expressing yourself next time.

In lean terms, group think is another waste. Diversity is the key to success, and building a culture where diversity is valued has never been as important as it is today.

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Join in the conversation: Would you like to add any more ideas to help managers and/or individuals foster a culture where diversity in thinking leads to improvements?

Better Execution With ‘No-Follow Up’ Culture

The primary focus of lean organizations/teams is to “eliminate waste”. In an increasingly complex work environment where execution is distributed between teams and geographies, one of the biggest wastes I have seen is “following-up on things”.

A typical manager’s task list will feature about 30% (or even more) tasks which are simply following up (read ‘pushing”) with others on status. I think this is a huge waste for a few reasons.

The need to constantly follow-up only means that people in the team are not clear of their priorities (or priorities are not clearly communicated). It also means they are not disciplined and accountable.

Time spent on following up is never estimated when you delegate the work. It is not accounted for, and hence results in further delays. The act of following up negatively impacts both parties – the one who is following up and the one being followed up.

When things only happen after follow-up, it gradually results in a culture where nothing is completed unless someone chases it.

So, how do you build a culture of “no follow-up” in your team? Here are a few things that I have seen working:

  1. Set expectation: When you delegate a task, define the expectations clearly and establish a “no follow-up rule”.
  2. Establish rituals: For time critical assignments/projects, set up a checkpoint ritual periodically, where you schedule a fixed time for seeking status update on different tasks. Program your team to feed you with progress details at a regular intervals.
  3. Be disciplined: Set the right example by delivering your own work without the need to follow up. Do not follow up unless absolutely required. Be persistent in your approach.

Bottom line:

Once-in-a-while is fine, but otherwise, a culture of constant follow-ups is a huge waste. When you continuously strive to build a culture of no follow-ups, you will have more accountability and empowerment in your team. Time saved for both managers and team members is a bonus!

Join in the conversation: What methods do you employ to ensure that you and your team do not require any follow-up to get things done?

In Communication, Substance Comes First

Services world revolves around communication. In projects/initiatives, knowledge has to be transferred, issues have to discussed and expectations have to be managed.

A lot of young professionals I meet want to improve upon their communication skills. A few of them also think that good communication is all about having a great style, good language, impressive vocabulary and so on.

I tell them: In effective communication, substance comes first. Style without substance is just fluff, because it may impress others but can never change them for better. This means a few things:

Communication (written or verbal) is transfer of energy. If your communication does not transfer any positive energy (or worst yet, sucks energy from the other party), it is not going to work.

Substance comes first. Great communication has power to change others – but they only change when they are able to relate and find a deeper meaning.

Be yourself. Effective communication demands that you need to be yourself first. Ability to express your thoughts and ideas most meaningfully is a critical skill. You have to come out through your communication.

Style is a by-product. When you consistently deliver substance through your communication, have a positive impact and be yourself, style evolves. Style is not the goal, but a by-product.

Purpose strengthens communication. People express themselves on many things that don’t matter. When you have a strong purpose, your communication gains focus and becomes more effective. Goal of our communication is to serve a purpose and have a stronger impact.

These are important lessons I have learned from people I have worked with. These are the same lessons I share with people I work with.

Whether you are into sales, technology, project management, teaching, training or mentoring – remember, in effective communication, substance comes first!

Join in the conversation: What important lessons you have learned in effective communication? What advice would you like to share with young professionals who want to become better communicators? Tell us in the comments.

On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

In corporate setting, a lot of people depend a great deal on their employers for their own growth. When it comes to consolidating the skill-set or acquiring a new skill in their area of work, they wait for someone to come and train (read ‘spoonfeed’) them.

During a recent interview I conducted, I asked the candidate about specific/basic skills to which the candidate responded, “I never got a chance/opportunity to work on that in my current job” or “I was never given training on that”.  Such statements tell a lot about a person’s commitment to their work.

Here are a few important reminders:

  • The pursuit of personal mastery is a personal one. It is nice that your employer supports and pays for some of those trainings. But ultimately, it is your responsibility to put those lessons into practice. Your growth is about you, and it is personal.
  • It starts with commitment. Unless you are committed to learn, no learning can happen. Training doesn’t guarantee learning unless you are committed. Commitment also means that you have a deep sense of responsibility for your work and knowing that constant learning will help you do it better.
  • Initiative is important. Once the training is done, how much do you experiment with the subject? To put lessons into practice, ability to move beyond the fear and initiate is vital. You don’t need anyone’s permission to grow.
  • So is choice. As a mature professional, what career path you select, what will you study/learn, who will you learn from, where will you learn from are all important choices. Leaving these choices to someone else may be a risky affair in the long term. No one knows you as well as you do.
  • Resources are abundant. Fortunately, we are living in a world where a lot of high quality learning material can be accessed for free. Online conferences, blogs, free events, high quality technical resources, eBooks are all free. So, access to quality material is no longer a competitive advantage. What you do with them is.
  • It is worth the investment. Instead of waiting for anybody else to pay for your training, pay it yourself. It is a worthy investment, not only because you increase your value as a professional, but it also helps in building a high self esteem. Constant learning helps you remain focused, positive, optimistic and hence, happy.

W. Edwards Deming nailed it when he said:  “Learning is not compulsory – neither is survival.”

So, here are a few critical questions that we can (and should) ask ourselves periodically:

– What did I learn in past week/month/quarter/year?
– How did I evolve as a professional?
– Has my learning helped me in expanding my own capacity to contribute?

Join in the conversation: Have you encountered people who rely on their employers for their growth? What have you learned from people around you who take complete responsibility of their professional growth?

Related Posts:

5 Ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value

I heard this statement a few years back from one of my colleagues – “Training is a waste of time, people just don’t engage.” This statement sparked some intense debate that shaped my own thoughts on training. (I wrote earlier about taking a holistic view of training).

To ensure that employee training is NOT a waste of everybody’s time, training managers, HR folks, business leaders and trainers should consider the following:

  1. Align training to business goals: Training is a tool to generate better business results (better delivery, shorter delivery cycle, improved productivity etc.) through new skills. Making business goals explicitly clear to all before training always helps. What do you want this training to do?
  2. Don’t just impart instructions: Training is not about imparting instructions and having great set of slides. Training is about co-relating, exercising, enabling/stimulating thinking and changing the behavior of people. Remember, you are “teaching” human beings, not “programming” machines through instructions.
  3. Have right trainers: A trainer is not someone who is merely good at presenting. Trainer should be super-passionate about the subject matter, have deep expertise, understanding of how humans learn and most importantly, have a vision. Having hands-on experience is a must. When you have not done it yourself, you cannot train others effectively (because you cannot relate the “concepts” with “nuts-and-bolts” of the work). Trainers are leaders.
  4. Let them practice: People learn the most while “doing”. Make sure that your training program is not an overdose of theoretical concepts by having hands-on practicing sessions at regular intervals. Better yet, avoid having a continuous training session. Train in bursts – short and focused. Let them go back to their work and apply the lessons. Makes sense?
  5. Training SERVES trainees: Trainees are the customers of training process – it is about making “them” better. Focus should be on the trainees. As a trainer, it is easy to avoid questions and skip the detailing. But does that help? Consider every question as an opportunity to elaborate, relate and make meaning. Treat them well.

Training is an opportunity – to add value, to deliver an experience and to make a difference. How you use this opportunity makes all the difference!

P.S: Carnival of Leadership Development featuring my post “Building a Culture to Promote Differential Thinking” is up at Maximizing Possibility blog. If you are a leader at any level (or the one aspiring to be a leader), this compilation of 34 excellent posts will surely add a lot of value to your work. Go, check it out!

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Focus on Effectiveness and Tale of Two Managers

Consider the following tale of two managers who wanted to be effective.

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In quest of being effective, Peter tried doing too many things at a time. He jumped into every crisis and in the process, spread himself too thin. His priorities kept on changing in line with changing demands of workplace. He also tried delegating things down, but since he did not have time to communicate enough while delegating, all problems eventually stopped at his desk. He got dragged and could hardly find time to do his own work. Working 12+ hours a day became a norm – for him effectiveness meant constant rush of adrenalin while putting out fires.

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Jack wanted to be effective too. He began with an end in mind. He wrote down the answer to a question, “What are three critical areas of work that I focus my energies on, and that if done well in next one year, will bring about a big difference?” He created three broad task categories in his Outlook Task Manager and ensured that each task he undertakes falls in either of these three categories. For all other tasks, he used delegation by communicating effectively. He learned to said ‘No’ and to explain the rationale’ behind it. He focused his energies on few critical areas and did really well.

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Needless to say, Peter lived in an illusion of being effective (and did more harm to his physical and mental health) where as Jack was really effective. The difference between Peter and Jack was that of focus, of clarity in purpose, of results they generated and of their understanding of what effectiveness really means.

From ‘Knowing’ to ‘Doing’ and Execution as Your Best Strategy

I am fond of meaningful quotes and read this one a few days back – “Half of our problems can be solved by bridging the gap between what we know and what we do.”

My experience suggests that excellent execution of simple ideas will yield better results than great ideas executed poorly. Similarly, having good intentions for your team does not help unless you act on those intentions.

When an organization grows, one of the fundamental challenge is to bridge the gap between intentions at the top and actions taken by people who operationalize those intentions/ideas. For example, a CEO knows the importance of great customer service, but a lot still depends on how much the front-line managers and teams actually do something about it. The process of ideating is a creative one, and also common-sensical. But for implementing those ideas  you require a process. Unless supported by a strong process that enables teams to persist, ideas fade away like meteors – bright in the beginning and invisible after some time. They seldom hit the ground.

(Bonus: Read this GREAT piece from my friend Lisa Haneberg on importance of following through). Lisa explains the structure needed to effectively follow through.

In this context, I wanted to share a powerful story of how “die-hard focus on execution” can be your best strategy to create a differential value. Thanks to David Witt at Blanchard LeaderChat for sharing this excellent story:

Colleen Barrett, past president of Southwest Airlines, was asked about some of the techniques she used to keep morale high at her company. One of the things she shared was how she spent time every day writing personal notes to employees recognizing them for accomplishments, noting milestones achieved, or just saying thank you. After she had shared some of her “secrets” she was asked if she was worried about competitors finding out what she was doing and copying it.

Colleen wasn’t worried. Why? Because she knew that the power of what she was doing wasn’t in the concept—it was in the execution. In Barrett’s case, she knew that most executives wouldn’t take the time to write 4,000 personal notes a year to employees like she did. And that was why she wasn’t worried that they would duplicate the culture.

The idea of writing notes wasn’t the magic. Actually doing it was. What’s waiting in your idea queue? Make the shift from knowing to doing. That’s where the power is.


So, important questions as you start a new week:

  • What are those top 2 ideas that you think can make a big difference to your work/project/business? (Write them down)
  • Have you planned execution/communication structure for those ideas? (Remember, what gets scheduled/planned gets done)
  • How and when will you measure progress and results? (Measuring is important to maintain momentum)

Have a great start into the week!

P.S: You might also like reading my older posts that address this topic in a different perspective.

Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints


In my experience, constraints can boost creativity. I get more creative when I operate out of constraints. E.g. “Get X done in Y months else penalty of Z% per week” or “Get this huge proposal out by/before 5:00 PM tomorrow to remain eligible“. Constraints pushes us to be creative, to find easier or more effective ways of doing things and getting more done with limited resources available.

Recently I was in meeting with the Product Director and Product Manager of an organization. At the end of a technical discussion, the Director asked me to describe our services in 30 seconds. Before I started speaking he said, “Your time starts now!”.

Knowing that I only had 30 seconds to speak (constraint), I was able to elevate my thinking to a level where I described the very core of the organization. I was surprised to know how my thinking changed in light of constraints. I was able to do a different level of abstraction. Probably if I had 30 minutes to describe the same, I would have spoken a lot, but with little substance and much less effectiveness.

As a leader, it helps to create reasonble constraints for team members – to fire their creativity and effectiveness. Our brain has tendency to tag items that have constraints and pay special attention to them. In absence of such reasonble constraints, we tend to procrastinate and get into an easy mindset where little gets accomplished.

This is also a reason why I love Twitter. Whatever you want to express, you only have 140 characters. This constraint helps me to do concentrated thinking, extract the core and put the best possible representation of thought in less than 140 characters.

Probably this is also why people get more creative during recession. Recession or difficult career situation throws a set of constraints and organizations/individuals have to get things done within these constraints.

Another idea is to have a set of self-imposed constraints. I know a sales manager who imposed a constraint that he would respond to the incoming leads within 45 minutes. If he is not able to respond back in 45 minutes, he would consider it as a personal failure. This rule helped him become extremely responsive to prospects.

Do you think constraints are good? Does it help you get more creative? Do you have self-imposed constraints (rules)  for managing your work/time? I would love to hear your side of the story.

P.S: Just found a fantastic Business Week article on creativity and constraints. It adds another perspective – “While we need them (constraints) to spur passion and insight, we also need a sense of hopefulness to keep us engaged and unwavering in our search for the right idea. Innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.”

Being effective is a personal choice

Being effective is a personal choice. You cannot make someone effective by just documenting his/her role and responsibilities. It has a lot to do with personal choice. You can only be effective when you choose to be effective. If spending 8-9 hours in office meant being effective, world would have been a different place – isn’t it?

A few things I have learnt on being effective:

  • When you choose to be effective, you steer your priorities. When you just flow along, your priorities steer you. If you are a leader/manager, being effective is not optional.
  • Being effective does not mean getting glued to your desk for 8 hours. Being effective means being with your task when you are doing it. This means avoiding all possible distractions when you are with your task.
  • A good performance is a series of small tasks done very effectively.
  • You can only be effective if you love your work. Work is love made visible. Anyone who treats work as means to an end (getting a paycheck at the end of month) cannot be very effective.
  • Being effective means maintaining a fine balance between work and your other interests. You cannot be effective and burning out at the same time.
  • Effectiveness means saying no to a few things namely: distractions, people (at times), urge to check emails every 5 minutes, phone calls (at times), Twitter, Facebook, Messengers and stock updates. Do all of this at leisure, but not when on a critical task which demands your full attention.

On a lighter note, effectiveness has something to do with timing. Ever seen someone being ultra-effective when appraisals are near 🙂

So let me ask you thisWhen you get into the office each morning, what choices do you make about the way you will do your work? Do you choose to be effective?

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend ahead!

P.S. : “7 Habits of Highly Effective Peoiple” by Stephen Covey is a must read for every worker, manager and leader.

Image Courtesy: IdeaMaps Flickr Photostream