Great Leaders Teach

Leadership is today’s buzz word akin to management in the 1980’s. You probably have been asked at least once, “Are you a leader or manager?”. Of course the right answer is “leader” because it is incumbent that all of us must be one, at least to be relevant in today’s organization. But how to become great leader?

Robin Sharma once in his book said that a leader decides which mountains to climb and a manager decides how to climb it efficiently. I think that analogy makes it easier to distinguish the function of leader v. manager. I juggle both most of the time and I believe most of us do the same. Right?

I was at a client’s office late afternoon last week. I was waiting for the Chairman long enough to strike a conversation with one of the managers, whom happened to be the Human Resource Manager. She is leading the organization’s academy and we exchanged smiles – and we talk. Replying to her question, I said my coaching is targeted to top talent – making top talents even better and hopefully they stay longer. Besides, my leadership program for managers and leaders is to enable them learn how to teach. She shared her stories of going through a particular coaching program, NLP programs, EQ and so on. She is a very prolific manager and hungry for new knowledge. She is quick to share her coaching experiences with talents around her but except these talents are not internal but external to her organization. According to her it is not possible to share her knowledge internally because no one would appreciate – she hasn’t tried yet. She hasn’t got over the feeling yet to drive the coaching initiative for her organization. She doesn’t know where to start. What a waste.

Large organizations are endowed with this wealth of experienced managers and leaders at all areas. They are groomed from ground up (most of them), defended the organizations through thick and thin and possess deep knowledge of the organization trade secrets. Unfortunately they don’t have the platform to showcase and transfer this latent and tacit knowledge embedded in them for years. So much knowledge sedimented in the same body and brain for years. These are not top leaders and senior management that may come and go – I am referring to prolific managers and leaders that are on the ground; servicing the customers and take the brickbats from their direct reports. We must do something.

One of the ways to scoop out this deep seated knowledge is through making these managers and leaders learn how to teach. This “teaching approach” has been used by General Electric, PepsiCo, Southwest Airline, Home Depot, Cisco, DARPA and many global organizations. Just look at yourself, someone must have taught you well. So it worked! Hence, we need to make our organizations teach and learn from each other. Best if the top management learn how to teach their experiences and the rest will ultimately follow.

You can start by getting the managers and leaders go deep down themselves to truly understand what is it they are very good at. This is call Teachable Point Of View (TPOV). Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) in his own words said, “As a great leader, you need to have teachable point of view.” TPOV helps managers to focus on their ultimate strengths and dissect them into learning curriculum. Say for example a Marketing Manager may be good at product launching. So he will create his TPOV based on product launching. He will gather all his experiences related to product launch (its successes and failures) and organize it to match his organization needs – and the best part he is doing this to teach his engineering department about product launching! This applies to all other managers and leaders from various department.

Coming back to the Human Resource Manager, her eyes lit up when I shared that with her. She now plan to make 2015 as her experimental year from just a manager to becoming a great leader through teaching. Wish her good luck!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Fifty Productivity Strategy Secrets For 2015

Hi all, I have been on hiatus (*again) and now I am back. It must be the intense review of my goals that I had with my mentors and fellow coaches. Every year I will meet my mentors and coaches friends to discuss things that matter to us. So by end December 2014 where we had reviewed that I failed to produce 3 articles per month since April 2014. I sit on several unpublished articles and gave priorities to other things. That is about to change because this time around I am far more committed because I have better clarity of what I want to achieve in 2015.

Let's Make 2015 Our Single Best Year!

I begin this post with my Leadership Beliefs which I review every 6 months, hence twice a year. I stumbled on the latest edition of Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and my own Joker’s Guide Personal Effectiveness list which helped to kick off the year with zest! Here are some Productivity Strategy Secrets shared by the movers and shakers, entrepreneurs, technocrats, top chefs, brand advisors, CEOs and top people. I believe you will gain miles from applying any of this strategy. Some you have may have heard, whilst some push you to repeat even more because the ultimate secret is about mastery. Here’s for you.

Productivity Strategy Secrets For 2015

1. Think and write about what you want to achieve in 2015.

2. Own productivity, make effort to schedule what matters to you on daily basis.

3. Prepare RTDL – Real To Do List each night before bedtime or early morning. It helps you plan the day effectively and efficiently.

4. If you come very early in the office, don’t check emails or read news online. Rather spend on thinking of your vision or do uninterrupted work that needs your brain.

5. Start your day with positive thoughts. Think of something really positive.

6. Manage your time insanely because you gotta manage your time.

7. Focus while you are doing something. If you are at work, focus. If you are with your kids and spouse, focus.

8. Scrutinize your calendar for the day. Prioritize and compress if you need to.

9. Delegate and follow up the tasks you ask someone to do for you. They could be struggling to execute and it doesn’t help when you abdicate the tasks.

10. Pray or meditate in between your hectic day. It has calming effects to the brain.

11. Use Post-It notes when you remember something out of your main RTDL / schedule. Don’t ignore it or don’t jump into it immediately (unless its extremely urgent).

12. Compile the Post-It notes by the end of the day and schedule them in your calendar and RTDL.

13. Use alarm clock to wake you up. Your biological body needs 66 days to stabilize and register – chances are you may have variations of biological clock in 30 days so use alarm clock.

14. Ditch the alarm clock and wake up fast head to the bathroom.

15. Take a nap in somewhere during lunch of slightly before lunch. 10-15 minutes is enough – use alarm clock to wake you up. Make a sign on your door or close it completely – uninterrupted.

16. Charge your devices. Don’t let the fear of dying batteries take your energy.

17. Avoid unnecessary phone calls or meetings that you can get someone else do for you.

18. Have a drink eg. coffee, tea, water or juices between 2-3 hours in between.

19. Make sure you drink enough water per day – preferably plain water. How much? Mayo Clinic’s advise is 3 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women. More is fine.

20. Hunker down when you need to complete very important work. Allocate 90-120 minutes uninterrupted for this.

21. Play some sports during the weekdays or find ways to walk the stairs. It helps you think better and it is good for the body.

22. Make team discussions and meetings interesting by removing the chairs. Get everyone a Sharpie and Post-It notes for further engagement. Boring meetings suck more energy than anything else!

23. Ask everyone participates in the meeting why are they present at the 1st place. If they don’t have the answer you are looking for they shouldn’t be in the meeting.

24. Go to bed with a question that you are working in your head – you might get the answer when you wake up!

25. Go somewhere for short travelling – it helps to clean up your thoughts and reenergize your body.

26. Cave in and have private light moment for yourself away from kids and spouse. Do this very privately. It doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway, sometimes a half day by yourself fortnightly is enough.

27. Don’t delegate your motivation to anyone else including best friends, spouse, children, neighbours, parents or anyone. Your motivation is your’s. Own it.

28. Do some art work eg painting, playing music, gardening, crafts, tinkering or singing. It rejuvenates your body and mind.

29. Make time for the people that matters to you personally. It could be your loved ones, parents and besties!

30. Eat same thing everyday helps to improve productivity. Once awhile, it is ok to change the menu.

31. Use productivity apps on your smart devices. Games are not productivity apps. 🙂

32. Turn off your television in your busy day. Throw if you can afford to live without it.

33. Set a dedicated time to reply emails. You can try LIFO method – Last In First Out to handle emails.

34. Build a network of friends that see you as who you are. Friends that you can laugh at and laugh at you – freely. It’s fun really!

35. Have a walk once awhile, either early in the morning or evenings. It’s a good distress method.

36. Have breakfast – eat something healthy to start the day.

37. During meeting or discussion, if it is not in the agenda don’t bother to talk about it.

38. Capture your random thoughts when you browse social media or roam around the internet. Some people use Evernote, Mashable, Pinterest.

39. When you are tired, pick the most interesting task and that require not much effort.

40. Have the habit to ask people around you these questions: What next? What else? How so? So what? What if?

41. Make time to read heavy stuffs related to your work and career. It helps you progress further and make more money to feed your passion.

42. If you think to job hop – put your economic needs as number one priority. Unfortunately, some passionate thing you do may not generate enough to get you further. Give it some time to develop. Meanwhile, try to love your career and what you do.

43. Keep promises so you don’t have to spend time remembering what you said.

44. Once a while, bend the rules and make big change for creativity and innovation sake. You don’t know your limits until you push them.

45. Keep some really nice, inspiring, motivating, captivating or whatever that will make you light up again during your down time. It could videos, music, letter, photos, mementos, books, lectures, articles etc..

46. Look your best when you are at work. Wear make-ups, spray perfume and dress well. It matters on how other perceives you at work place.

47. Stick to deadlines – earlier is better but don’t screw up your deadlines.

48. Discipline your emotion, nonetheless be direct in your comments.

49. Reframe your lost opportunities and do it at your own time, privately. Seize the right opportunity when you see it. Don’t play the waiting game.

50. Always stay hungry and stay foolish. Keep learning and adopt action bias. Do Think Leap.

Good luck and let’s make 2015 our single best year!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Talent Development Program For High Potential Employees

In Malaysia, talent development program for the high potential is on the rise right now. In a forum Talent Development and Succession Planning that I attended recently (April 2014), it was clear that many organizations and companies are now revving up talent program for the high potentials. But why? The obvious reason is to make sure their organizations possess the right people  and at the right place to continue what the present leaders do and take it steps ahead. For business organization it is for growth and for the government for national development.

 

Most organizations (businesses and government) do this program either through retaining the existing talents by providing them developmental “wings” so that they can fly or by attracting external talents to meet the business needs. In general, most organizations use a hybrid of the two methods to ensure steady talent pipelines. Most organizations also noticed the limited information about high potentials program locally. Each organization rely heavily on international external expertise for some ideas. Slowly we generate our own variation of high potentials program to meet our business needs. That’s what I saw recently that the time is ripe for the next trajectory to truly understand what’s best for the talents here and based on what we already know from our past experiences in high potentials programs, what should we do next? We should have a good reference from a comprehensive research of what have been done and implemented, what are their impact, what is the link to the business, how could we do it better and how much did we spend for high potentials program.

High potentials program = Corporate athletes. They need to be identified, nurtured and supported to achieve better performance.

In a 2013 report by a survey done University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill, around 56% organizations now have a formal process to identify high potential employees, whilst almost 40% have no formal process and the rest discontinued their high potential talent development programs. Let me share a little bit more about the findings in this report. Somehow I could related some of it to the forum. In the talent forum where I attended (April 2014), I could see that there are many program of variations on how organizations implement high potentials development program. In most companies, high potential talent makes about 10% of the employees’ populations. The largest employee population is the average (fort holders) around 80% and the remaining 10% is the low performers. Some companies with deeper pocket have luxurious high potentials program, whilst some have rule of thumbs and empower the managers to engage the talents continuously as part of the overall high potentials programs. Each method has its own merit.

 

More about UNC report. The report from UNC highlighted that as many as 83% companies identify the high potentials to meet the increased demand for leaders as well as to retain key talents. Additional reason to identify high potentials are to improve overall organizational performance (76%) and to adapt to changing business conditions (57%). Whilst we could see the strong and valid for organization to find out their high potentials, only 2% of the organizations are extremely satisfied with their current process of talents identification, very satisfied (27%) and moderately satisfied (52%). This is an interesting insight because more than 50% think there is a better way to do it. This is what I mean of sharing best practices among the companies could help all of make better talent decision in the future.

 

Another interesting insight is almost half (47%) of the current talent pool doesn’t meet anticipated future needs of the organization. This is similar to the quote by someone in marketing, “I know that I lose 50% of my budget in marketing, but I don’t know which half.” On the other hand, as many as 84% organization admitted that the demand for high potentials has changed in the past 5 years.

Internal employees should be given opportunity to be identified as high potentials. Some are reluctant leaders for various reasons including access and educational qualification. Strong sense of purpose is key in a thriving organizations for a successful talent development program.

The same report also indicated several key reasons and key drivers of high potentials. They are growth (74%), competitive pressure (61%), dynamic business models (50%), globalization (44%), attrition/turnover (39%) and technological advancement (36%). On the other hand, organizations also conveyed that the primary reasons why the decrease of high potentials programs are lack of attrition/turnover (61%) and lack of business growth (50%). I could infer that whilst organizations agreed that ideally growth, competitive pressures and dynamic business model would inject better needs for them to embark on high potential programs, however, the lack of staffs turnover and slowed growth can’t afford them to go full swing as it involves huge investment.

 

In conclusion, there are several contradiction answers from the organizations participating in this survey but it certainly provide a good baseline information for further understanding of high potential programs. You could see the constraint of organizations, bearish business conditions, highly demanded talents but not enough resources to bring them in as well as challenges of high potentials to be integrated in the current company culture.

 

I would like to offer some suggestions that could help business leaders and their HR leaders to make better decision when it comes to high potentials program. These suggestions are my personal view from what I know and I observe.

 

1. Have a good baseline study through a comprehensive internal data collection on all talent development and leadership initiatives and the impact to the business. They can do this by bringing in good researcher with adequate business experiences that can talk “business sense”. Let the organization and HR do what they do best and work with the researcher by providing data.

 

2. Have a good chat with the business leaders to get a good sense of where the business is heading and what are the challenges they see coming in 3-5 years. With hyper-competition and long tail economy, things are likely to change faster than expected.

 

3. Develop a good and integrated identification program to get internal employees offer themselves as part of high potentials. This provide opportunity for current employees to get full understanding of high potentials program and they would understand better if you need to bring in external talents to be part of the team later.

 

4. For internal employees that become high potentials, you must design and develop a strong program to renovate the way they think and redesign their job roles to fit in the high potentials track. After some time in the previous, they need a strong program to undo certain departmental beliefs and increased expectations.

 

5. Demand performance in all areas for all high potentials and at the same time show sincerity and authenticity to support their personal development. Try to get independent counselor or coach once a while and let them have a private chat. This helps the high potentials to have a different “talks” and get different views on matters that is important to them and the organizations they serve.

Business leaders and HR leaders should be transparent of their future needs and pain points. These leaders must be honest with each other in fair minded discussion with shared interest of the organizations.

I will be sharing more in my next post on types of programs that are currently being done in some organizations and what are the top competencies needed from high potentials. Stay tune.

 

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Top Leaders Essentials to Build Connected Team

It is tough being a leader, it gets even tougher when you stumble in the first few months your new leadership role. I know I did. Typically new leaders take about 3-6 months to warm up and get on the zone as top leaders. Top leaders mean C-suite, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Vice Chancellor or anyone that lead at least 500 and more people in their organization. Leaders can’t choose how others perceived them but they can choose how they want to perceive and treat others.

For those who aren’t leaders, probably you need to understand that it is not easy being a leader.

Take for example for someone who just assumed a CEO role. The person could be the 1st person as a CEO because it is a new company that was set up to undertake larger operation eg. spin-off from a business unit. Another example would be an Executive Vice President (EVP) who took over because the previous person was imprisoned for bribery. Therefore, his new role as EVP was unplanned but he doesn’t have much choice when he was appointed or elected. Or maybe a person who took over a vice chancellor role in a thriving public university and has a vision to take it even to higher level.

You will find that all these leaders have to live up to higher expectation and make those fixes while the “engine is still running”.

It is tough and can be really unreasonable. For those incoming leaders, if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen! Fast! If you want to stay on, read up.

Top leaders can’t do much without teams. Leaders that go around the company or organization without enough preparation to become top team player sooner or later will be exposed of his incompetence. Leaders that travel the divisions and blow his own trumpet can only talk but fail to deliver after his warming up period will be brought to chopping block in a matter of time. Leaders that is unable to take feedback and refuse to seek help outside the homogeneity of his surrounding will beat path to hellish resistance for the very same people. Leaders that negate the force of multigenerational workforce and social media will soon realize that his fear is no longer fearful and resentment sometimes can be very objective. Therefore, what can be done? I will highlight some guides that top leaders can follow to build connected team. The original article was published in Harvard Business Review, July 2011, “Are You A Collaborative Leader”. The perspectives are mine.

1. PLAY A CONNECTOR ROLE

Top leaders must realize that the age of everything under one-roof to command and control has gone.

It’s over. It is impossible for top leaders to take stock of everything, evaluate then move on. Simply because they are so many things running at the same time and you need a great reset button if only you want to stop everything to really understand the business of your business. This is impossible to do because while you are transitioning because you are being measured and accounted for the results and performance of that year.

You need to learn to come in just at any point or stage of the business then lean in and show up to lead further. It is no longer hide and seek from your top office where you scavenge information secretly and make closed door decisions.

Worse if your top lieutenants get stuck because you refuse to make decisions for unclear reasons. You are already a top leader and the authorized person to do the job.

Identifying the right people to connect be a daunting task. Just show up to everyone first.

What you need to do next is to connect yourself to as many people in the organization as possible. First you size up your direct reports and then your direct report’s direct reports. This is where social media can help you connect with more people on the go. Where sometimes top leaders use social media to update past events and photos, you can use social media to engage live interaction. For example CEO of Salesforce.com used Chatter as a mean to have all the 5,000 staffs engaged in the 200 top talents company retreat. While it could be easily a closed door “strategy” meeting, with 5,000 all staffs interaction virtually online, it bolster the communication and a lot of things sorted out. It becomes integrated in the overall strategy of the company. Plus, the conversation and activities last for the next few months compare to just few weeks had it was done in a four walled room.

2. TALENT AT THE PERIPHERY

In today’s world, talents are not being developed just in the company. Most talents have some exposure from somewhere else before being brought in to be developed further for the organization. This an important observation because these talents previous experience can be utilized as ingredients for future innovation. Research consistently shown that diverse teams produce better results. It is by taking into account all those learning curves. Top leaders must learn to recognize this because each talent goes through a cycle where sometimes when you meet them they may be at the lowest point of their life, hence they may not look attractive to you. But by connecting and have deep believe in talent top leaders could stimulate the environment where talents can flourish in difficult times.

In multinational, some talents are sidelined because they talk less English, for example. Communication can become a big hindrance where these talents passed from promotions even when they are operating in their home country that don’t require them to master English. France’s Danone for example spend fortunes to hire interpreters where they go to other business units that is less articulate in English.

This is a magnetic strategy when top talents from other companies could be attracted to Danone because of this efforts from top leaders. Afterall, English can be taught quite easily. The same hindrance applies when talents that may have different learning abilities such as dyslexic, autistic or gifted. I will discuss more on these special talents in other article.

There is not talents shortage, talents don’t show up. Top leaders have to reach and find them.

Reckitt Beckinser for example quoted that this diversity in talents and ability to cope with these differences partly help the company to register 17% net income growth on yearly basis from 1999-2000. They are operating in many countries where talents are from Pakistan, China, Britain and Turkey could be very well performed in their home country and line up for next promotions. While there is always possibility of conflict and communication breakdown, they are always open to it and provide constructive feedback to move things forward.

Top leaders need to recognize this and do not always expect the very best from what they see as “very best”. They are differences which may be unpleasant to them but incumbent to talents surroundings that need encouragement. Top leaders broadmindedness is sought when it comes to assessing development potentials.

3. COLLABORATE AT THE TOP FIRST

Top leaders must show good examples. It is expected. To encourage collaboration, they must be good collaborators as well.

They need to show their authenticity of being an effective and efficient productive collaborator. It is common where top leaders came from a particular unit before they were promoted to their current job. Usually when this happen, the previous unit they came from are very likely to get most of his attention and support. Part of the problem is because he ha

Showing good examples are motivating. Guess what, people are watching you!

It is always been with the current members. In this case, top leaders seen as having a personal journey rather than integrated and collective journey of everyone.

It is the job of top leaders to foster everyone into large single team.

Sometimes the direct reports composed his own team and has different personal journey. Very territorial, turf defending and roof top fiefdoms. They know that they have problems in terms of their function, region, product or service but no one asks the hard question to align all these. Therefore it is top leaders job to bring all these into a coherent organization through engagement process. Top leaders need to arrest politics especially from the senior management group. There should be more rewards when they collaborate rather than promoting their own agendas. CEO of Reckitt Beckinser, Bart Becht said that

“We go out of our way to make sure that politics get eradicated. I think they are bad for organization and they’re poisonous.”

Another observation in terms of goals setting for organizational performance is to set learning goals compared to typical performance goals. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, people are driven to do tasks by either performance or learning goals. When performance goals dominate, people are motivated to show others that they have valued attributes such as intelligence and leadership. When learning goals dominate, they are motivated to develop the attribute. Performance goals induce people to favor tasks that will make them look good over tasks that will help them learn. A shift toward learning goals will make managers more open to exploring opportunities to acquire knowledge from others.

4. SHOW STRONG HAND

New top leaders will always find it difficult when to make the call. They will usually take their time to the point when they couldn’t find any other excuses or any more time to make that decision call. While it is understandable adjusting can take time, but fear for not being liked after a decision made is partly a life of top leaders. It could be just a self-thinking from those tiny voices in your brain. Some top leaders wait trying to get the “big picture” and understand them clearly before making any forward decision. Top leaders can do it better. They can learn and break away from this by making small decisions with big impact to build confidence and personal power for bigger decision. It’s a great feeling once your feel powerful and confidence.

Leaders have to exercise the power assigned to them to move things, not to stop them.

When leaders foster good collaboration, they have tendencies to get everyone on board and getting consensus before going ahead. Not every decision requires this. Some decision is unpopular and off limit by normal standard. If everything is debatable and need a committee to decide, top leaders will struggle to make decision. Collaboration now become not oil greasing the wheel but the sand grinding to a halt. Top leaders must be effective in enforcing strong leadership and decisions down to direct reports because it is expected. Maybe to 3 levels below them as well. Top leaders should be comfortable playing key role in forming and disbanding teams and collaborators when they see opportunities. It should be very fluid but must be clearly explained to all collaborators. Although constructive feedbacks are encouraged, battles aren’t left raging on. It is ok to have a culture where a person can propose or oppose an idea in open meetings. If there is no decision made after a meeting, then the person chairing the meeting is expected to make one. As Cyrus the Great once said, “Diversity in counsel, unity in command.”

5. LOOSENING CONTROL WITHOUT LOOSING CONTROL

Top leaders used to know every nook and cranny of things in the organization. Sometimes they demand to know and put their foot down.

But with technology top leaders are caught up with so many other things especially if they are running global business and interactions. The world has become extremely interconnected, integrated and if top leaders don’t know how to tap into the power of those connections, they are risking of being left behind. People might have heard of them but unable to follow.

Harnessing WE is crucial. Let’s get going!

Leaders today must learn how to harness ideas, talents, and resources from all areas of the organizations and all kinds. To do this top leaders may require retooling talent strategies, revamp communication channels to build strong connections with both inside and outside the organizations. They can do this by collaborating authentically to wield influencers rather than authoritatively stomp down to move forward. Top leaders also must learn quickly how to promote productive discussions, squash politicking and make final calls for things that matter. Recent appointment of Nadella to Microsoft as a CEO a good case in point. He quickly seized the opportunity to declare the next path for Microsoft and to do that they need to behave like a hungry start up. Only time will tell whether he did the right thing but he took charge and lead. In this way they probably can spur innovations faster than competition and it is more valuable given the complexity of collaboration. Getting that value is the heart of collaborative leadership.

In summary, top leaders of today’s organization should consider applying and adjusting themselves to use this guide in their daily practices. These essentials are the non-negotiables in running today’s organizations and enterprise. However as top leaders, your intuition will make a difference to what degree your application of these essentials work in your organization. Wish you all the best!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Innovation Lessons Worth Heeding

“The culture of innovation is across the globe is more robust than ever. We think that’s worth celebrating.” –

Robert Safian, Editor Fast Company

 

Fast Company Magazine, March 2014

I received Fast Company March 2014 edition on high note because it is packed with ideas on innovation and innovative companies list from around the world. I feel extremely motivated and inspired. I love innovation and I’d one day dream of getting into innovation in education. Well I am working on it block by block.

In this edition, Fast Company covers a list of 50 Most Innovative Companies together with 10 companies from 10 sectors and loaded with things these companies did, do and going to do on innovation front. Most of these companies are tech-based ranging from apps (Dropbox), medical (Medivation), communication (Google), tech centre (iHub), smart phone (Xiaomi), engineering (GE), elelctrical (Tesla and Philips) and genomics (Beijing Genomics Institute). A long list indeed and I bet some of the companies were unheard of. But I rather attracted to the innovation lessons in Fast Company March 2014 edition and there are truly motivating for me to share. There are 12 altogether, but for relevance I cut it short.

LESSON 1 – EXCEPTIONAL IS EXPECTED

This is about focus, focus and focus. Google tops the list for this one for its ability to focus in Search business. You can refer to Google company website and they will say the same thing. While it is extremely difficult to apply focus when you are a start-up, many people think it is easier for the big companies. Trust me it is equally difficult or worse. Focus breeds exceptional quality and mastery. In the world where “innovation” is ubiquitous, exceptional product will stand out. It is those that holds the red umbrella among the blacks will be seen and that’s truly exceptional. We need to really think through our product so it becomes exceptional before we launch it. Once launched and spotted as red umbrella, it has to deliver promises. It is expected these days. If you think you don’t cant make it exceptional yet, communicate that to your customers. They are more than happy to oblige and help you achieve your next goal.

LESSON 2 – INNOVATION IS EPISODIC

I had experience this 1st hand and unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasant one but good learning. When developing product, speed is the name of the game. Sometimes, too much information is not a good thing. My advise is to keep some nascent stage innovation on stealth mode (under the radar). Only people that need to know knows. To announce it big at nascent stage will kill every idea even before it starts. Next is to develop basic product fast enough and learn from it and make adjustment as we go along (with a strict timeline). We call it prototype and prototype is for testing. However non-product developers may not understand this and always use labeling like lousy product even during at prototyping stage. It is incomplete product and it has to evolve. It is episodic but it certainly has continuity. In education for example, there’s already matured science in learning but if you force down the teachers throat to change you can backlash. Pick your right beta-testers and launch it stealth mode.

LESSON 3 – MAKING MONEY MATTERS

When you talk to hard core product developers, money isn’t a big thing. I know how it feels because I have been there once and I learn my lessons. Product developers love their product sacredly. But we have to pay bills to survive the company and the idea, and therefore when you think you want to launch a nicely packaged product but you cant sell, that’s bad news. Try to get something that you can sell even for small amount because money matters. Get up and grow it further.

LESSON 4 – UNLOCKING GLOBAL TALENT UNLOCKS POSSIBILITY

I have a friend who is doing code programming using talents around the world where specifications are mostly done online through email, skype and chat. When the prototype is ready for test and they test a few rounds online then towards the final stage they meet to fix it. Client is rope in during prototyping stage and collaboratively enhance product effectiveness. There is also services right now for product testers (these are talents too!). This efficiency can be emulate but human touch is critical in this kind of relationship. In education this is not a distant future because technology enabled education is already a big opportunity, check MOOC. Technology has allowed most of us to get connected and magic happens on daily basis.

LESSON 5 – PASSION IS UNDERRATED

There is a saying that “do what you love”. But I am in the opinion that at the beginning you have to try to love what you are doing because you are starting out. Not many people get to do what they love at first, slowly they understand themselves better and make a choice to do what they love later in life. If you are not passionate with what you are doing right now, take a step back and evaluate. If you have been doing it for 20-30 years and it is killing you inside, time to make a good judgment. If you decide to stay, contribute rather than isolate yourself. If you really have found what you love doing, jump in. You never know where it will take you, sometimes to happier places. 🙂

LESSON 6 – HAPPY CUSTOMERS MAKE YOU HAPPY

Aligning your team to customer centric and market driven can help innovation thrives in difficult time.

Customer is king. In education, the students are the customers and they have a say. In some schools, the students get to rate their teachers and hold the key for the teacher’s job and promotion. With the democratization of information through online, print and social media people have a good sense of what is good experience and what is bad in education. Yes some businesses get away with it but they don’t last long and most of the time they are non-committal to making customers happy. This applies to other businesses as well and other parts of your company. There are many opportunities to make customers happy, it is whether you think it is going to make any economic sense or not. If yes, start investing small and grow. If not, in time someone will pick it up.

LESSON 7 – DREAMING BIG ISN’T FOLLY; IT’S REQUIRED

Day dreaming can be a good thing.

Science has proofs that day dreaming in the day has positive effects on your productivity and creativity. In innovation the feeling of trying to get something up and make it possible like something big coming out of your chest and brain motivate us to keep working on our prototypes and innovative ideas. The sensation of dreaming is exhilarating and rewarding when you successfully deliver what was at first in your brain. To start something small or thrive something big requires all of us to dream and dream big. I usually start by talking about my dream to other people about it and accept their frown as learning opportunities. You will soon realize that they are like minded people that have the same dream. Geez dreaming is contagious and we can dream big together!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Democratization of Education Through MOOC

In the education world it is called Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC). I have been following the movement of open courses and instruction for some years already. My journey with MOOC is rather unique because I stumbled upon it by chance when I was looking for free e-books on the internet. It was 6 years ago where I was looking for Toyota Production System book I stumbled into Khan Academy and several other video portals. I don’t quite remember those portals but they were mainly university lectures made into video format. All these videos (the full length) are available online. I used to be able to download this from iTunes some years ago, I don’t think you can do the same now.

Some trivia on MOOC; many people mistaken it with online videos. It is not. You can find thousands of good quality videos on YouTube or TED Talks. MOOC has online tools that help you to know what you want out of the course (normally there’s a pre course survey). I found the survey help me think through my commitment level. There was a time in the middle of the survey I decided to drop that course because of my overwhelming schedule at that time. MOOC also provides you with online access to several open source tools that you are not aware of but it is only available while you are taking the course. For example there is this online tool that help me create a table of innovation using graphic format. MOOC also has quizzes instead of rudimentary examination. In those quizzes I was given 10 questions and I can answer them as many times until I receive the passing mark to get ahead and earn point. I wasn’t penalized and I learn better. For example rock music consists of drum, guitar and bass. It was in the 1970s where electric guitar was born when rock music morphed into a new beast!

MOOC is not just videos, they are instructional courses that’s made online. MIT has its Open Course Ware where it adopted Creative Common License some time in 2002. From 50 courses published in 2002, now MIT OCW (open courseware) has more than 2000 courses; some with Turkish and Korean translation. It was complicated to register and go through MIT OCW back then. However with better adoption from global citizens, MOOC took better shape with the establishment of another provider, Khan Academy. Variety of disciplines are offered in most MOOC ranging from mathematics, history, language, education, humanities, sciences, astronomy, business, entrepreneurship, music and many more.

Khan Academy founded in 2006, where as a not for profit organization and funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, its uniqueness will blow your mind. I love Khan Academy for its content simplification and differentiated teaching using technology. I used to download loads of them on my iPhone. I listen to the lecture while driving and when I have time to look at the screen, I watch how the instructor show me techniques to answer question on trigonometry on his interactive whiteboard. Some special schools adopted Khan Academy as part of its enrichment content. A brilliant strategy, to my opinion.

This democratization of knowledge excites me because I believe education should be customized to personal level. In other words, we can choose what we want to learn and based on our need at that time. It is not necessary for us to go to school or university to get those papers and get stuck by the time it ends. However the very reason that we go to the university is for the accreditation and recognition of our education because without it whatever we do to obtain our real education will not be recognized by the employer or clients. This is where the gap in MOOC at the early stage, where students just learn for his or her own knowledge but unable to demonstrate their knowledge prowess and skills beyond intellectual level; the least they can show it while they do their work if ever they were given chance. The next development of MOOC is something that I truly admire and support.

It was around 5 years I learned about Coursera and much less than that on eDX. These two are providers of high quality university courses especially from American universities. It was when eDX decided to invest several millions into its MOOC development, it creates a new wave of open courses for the global citizens. eDX main founders are Harvard University and MIT. Now they have partners including Cornell, UC Berkeley, Boston University, Dartmouth, Davidson, HKUST (Hong Kong), ANU (Australia) and few more. This is a great development. You should consider visiting their website and enroll in some of the courses. I have enrolled in Innovation and Commercialization from

On the other hand, Coursera started in 2012 founded by Stanford University professors. It is a for profit organization and currently working with Stanford University, Princeton, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania. There are more than 6 million students on Coursera today and growing. I am currently taking a course on History of Rock Music (University of Florida) and University Teaching 101 (Johns Hopkins University) from Coursera. You should also visit Coursera and have a jam!

"Can MOOC finds a viable business model?"
“Can MOOC find a viable business model?”

What I like most about MOOC today is the convergence of ideas and history has shown us that the moment convergence happens, a big shift is coming soon. I believe other than banking, education is next on the line to experience tectonic shift. It probably take another 5 years or less for Malaysia to see something big coming. It may be a bit late but it is better late than never. Because if change doesn’t happen, there will be serious fall out of competitiveness of the universities and revenue will be impacted as well.

In The Economist, February 2014, says that “online course is its rock-bottom marginal cost: teaching additional students is virtually free. The fixed cost of creating an online course is relatively high, however. Getting started means putting together a curriculum, producing written and recorded material to explain it, and creating an interactive site that facilitates discussion and feedback.” This so true especially for public university. The same article pointed out the obvious that adding another student means adding another block of facility and the need to prepare another accommodation. Besides, to raise the productivity of tenured professors and teaching faculty is already difficult for bigger class means poorer quality. With the perennial concern on graduate quality, best to keep the class at optimum level (depending on courses).

While this may threaten the existing business model, especially for public universities, it doesn’t leave them with much choices nowadays. There is already major financial cut (from 20-30% annually) from the government coffers to finance public universities and it doesn’t seem to slow down. Other than financial savings (maximum 10-15%) from key activities- still not enough to offset the cut; public universities should consider paving the way for MOOC to become the next revenue stream. This could start for students abroad especially from developing countries where it has strong presence. It can be a good brand building before the students make their way to the physical university. I could attest to this when I take courses from Coursera and eDX where I could remember the name of the professors and earn certificate for the classes from the universities.

"University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape."
“University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape.”

In my Rock class from Coursera, there are  15,000 students registered for the course. In my University Teaching 101, there are more than 10,000 students. They come from around the world and with various backgrounds. I read a story of a teenage girl in South Africa where she completed around 15 courses on MOOC and now become the smartest girl in her village. Despite the fact that she never been to school, she is now a village teacher teaching and inspiring other children. She is blessed with her literacy in English and internet connection. This is classic education. A quote from Mark Twain, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” I think public universities in Malaysia should seriously do something about this and start small.

There are many ways to start MOOC because as public university they have many resources at their disposal. What they need a strong will and deterministic vision of the university management to leap forward. I will try to cover more information and ideas on how MOOC could benefit the university and how to go about doing it in my next post.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

The Case for Corporate College

In my previous article, “Reviving Youth Unemployment”, I brought up a new development in global education called corporate college. Here I would like to provide a snapshot of corporate college and how it can be game changing solution for government, corporate and university.

If you Google keyword “corporate college”, you will see a long list of corporate colleges around the world. Predominantly in the United States where each state has at least one bearing the state’s name, while other name such as Corporate College LLC, Global Corporate College which may have different customers appeal. In summation, this is indeed a remarkable improvement and advancement since I first researched about it 2 years ago and brought this idea to my board meeting early this year. This is awesome – at least the quantity of corporate colleges blossoming and lets hope competition will weed the weakest and nourish the quality ones.

Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.
Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.

In Malaysia, the corporate college term is new and foreign. Even as I speak about it to people around the university, they don’t quite like the idea because it will definitely mixing the academic and industry resources in this melting pot called corporate college. Well, I couldn’t argue further because I could see the reasons for such apprehensive gesture. Nonetheless, by not doing anything it is equally if not more harmful to the nation. I just hope in that kindred spirit to build Malaysia’s talent pool and remedy future’s talent pipeline and marketability, something has to be done NOW NOW NOW.

Corporate college can be easily a misleading concept of training centre or academy. I have seen it many places and work with corporate training centres. In training centres normally they are human resource executives, training executives and administrators. These people coordinate training programs for the organization by engaging external training providers, once a while they call in industry experts to give pep talks and seminars. In training centres they also conduct psychometric assessment to gauge their employees emotional state and when the new top management come, the people in the training centre will also tasked to look for vendors to formulate new workforce development program. They sometimes do this by working collaboratively with the HQ human resource team. On top of that, they are also required to become a business centre where they need to “sell” their internal expertise from the organization (usually technical expertise) to other small medium enterprises or provide some consultancy to other sister companies and so on. This could be a simplistic example but my point is this is not a corporate college and I am sorry to say this is not even a properly run training or knowledge development centre. Sometimes, in the desperate need for us to become “entrepreneurial” and “business savvy”, we forget that we should only sell good stuffs to our customers, not half-baked or questionable solutions that we ourselves are not convinced. If you only let the industry run a training centre, knowledge is for trading. 🙂

On the other hand, in the university not less glaring where its always about research; endless research. Recent article in The Economist, “How Science Goes Wrong”, September 2013; was an eye opener that as much as 50% of publications are almost impossible to be replicated or scale up for mass production. We are talking about billion of dollars down the drain and it is an on-going squandering frenzy unaddressed. On the positive side, university research could provide groundbreaking evidence, clearer direction and profound examples that many industry organizations yet to capitalize. Presently, there is very poor collaboration between the university and industry players because one party requires a lot of money and the other wishes to spend the least possible. Interestingly, both are aiming at the same objectives; building this nation.

Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don't let pilot programs fool you.
Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don’t let pilot programs fool you.

Corporate college can help to become the middle path solution, at least it helps by converging resources and most importantly the thinking behind how to grow this nation through properly run talent development. In corporate college, there will be academician that could help in the research and act as the knowledge bank of the program. If you have hang around with academicians, you would understand what I mean. They are very knowledgeable, dedicated, smart and they are givers. They like to contribute and they want to make a difference. Most academicians I have met always willing to support nation building cause with small fees to them. The academicians from education could help in developing the program structure, designing the assessment and examination, deciding the path for professional development and act as student guide.

In corporate college, the industry player could help in providing critical information about the direction of the business and what kind of people and skills required to achieve its goals. Since industry players meet a lot of clients, they could also share what the customers want and how is it possible to do it by asking the academicians. I am certain there will be some arguments and debates, and it only takes an objective mind and sincere heart to make the arguments work both ways and benefit both parties. The industry top management and middle managers could also share and teach the young workers. They could learn “how to teach” from the academicians and they will become better teacher very quickly. In the process, the researchers would observe and take note of the opportunities to uncover certain issues or make improvement on current manufacturing practice that could help the company more productive and efficient in the next few years. On teaching, I have this Chinese proverb to quote, “If you plan for a year sow rice, if you plan for a decade plan trees, if you plan for a lifetime educate people.”

In Malaysia, there is a need to have some regulation on the programs offered otherwise the students only get junks and binge-studying. The involvement of government should be considered in the area of evaluating and accrediting the right program that meet the objectives. The Malaysian Quality Assurance (MQA) should be roped in and engaged actively to ensure it is not just paper exercise. In several research university (RU), there’s self accreditation authority that would speed up the process. I strongly believe the university in Malaysia should learn how to use this self accreditation more to enable and boost the development of professional program. Currently, most professional development programs are from other international universities. From what I know, Malaysian researchers are very good and dedicated. I believe we already have many powerful researches that could be scale up or perhaps be given the space to become national exports especially in service related research.

"Your actions express your priorities."
“Your actions express your priorities.”

In conclusion, I believe with an open mindset to work things out, all parties including government, industry and university could work things out; perhaps to do something game changing like corporate college. There’s always opportunity to discuss the business model around it and making it a success. From my observation, the private universities are also making moves into the development of solid professional development and certifications. I have yet to see more involvement of public universities and other smaller private colleges in this space. I always give this silly but true example of a multi-level marketing company (MLM) set up their own academy and dish out a diploma in multi-level marketing, apparently it was widely accepted as the de-facto standard of MLM industry. Jaw-drop if you like but sometimes reality hurts. I would like to end this article with a quote, “The problem with this world is the wise is full of doubts and the fool is full of confident.”

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Reviving Youth Unemployment

“The number of young people out of work globally is nearly as big as the population of the United States”. This headline certainly will make you wonder whether the youth unemployment is really that bad, the answer is YES. This report was published in The Economist back in April 2013, “Generation Jobless”.

It takes at least 20 years for any country to produce a generation that can take up jobs and employment. Some employees had an early start because they dropped from the main stream education and started working or build their own business. In a developed world, employees with lack of education like this are twice likely to be in unemployment compare to employee with university qualification. Interestingly, in a less developed world for example in Africa, it is the opposite. Whereby those with university graduates are twice likely to be in unemployment than the other.

This proves the point that employment is very closely related to local practice and acceptance of the local employers. A graduate can have all the qualifications in the world but if there’s little value emphasized by the local employers, he stands to be unemployed. This is also true for a more globally accepted education because if locally the graduate wont stand a chance to fully utilize his qualification, he should be allowed to improve his employment mobility to other more developed countries. That explains the brain drain phenomenon in the long run.

Employment requires strong economy and better educated population.
Employment requires strong economy and better educated population.

Two factors for this huge unemployment problem or famously termed as “arc of unemployment”; firstly slowdown in the economy hence reducing demand for labour where it is easier to fire young people than the old one. Secondly the emerging economies population growth is fastest in countries with dysfunctional labour markets such as India and Egypt. Apparently in India there are 200 laws on work and pay which make it difficult to hire and fire the right workforce. In South Africa, they posses one of the most powerful trade unions which make firing unproductive workers or right-sizing difficult. I was in Germany last year, they have tough laws as well but because their education system and employers acceptance are high, they face little labour problems. I will touch more on Germany workforce shortly.

The answer lies in economic growth, but not just an ordinary but only  double digit growth could stimulate huge demand for labours. However, only China manage to achieve double digit growth consistently the last few years (China has to deal with big piles of employees suicide cases!) With most economies plagued by debt, it is a far reaching goals to ignite growth of such size. Interestingly, on the employer side they complain of labour shortage! The employers felt the young workforce lack the right skills to perform modern jobs and highly specialized technology-related job. Of course this award-winning blamed goes to the universities and education system that failed to provide sufficient reform in making the young relevant to the job market.

My visit to Germany last year attempted to learn how they improved their labour unemployment by working very closely with the employer markets. Recently South Korea adopted similar strategy through their chaebols by introducing “meister” program. This is widely practiced in Germany where the three stakeholders work together in making the “economy work for them”. This is an important thinking and a breakthrough solution in Germany because the government (policy maker), industry (market maker) and university (talent developer). The participation of these three parties including the syllabus, labs set up, access to equipment, labour policy, re-skilling, up-skilling, wages and many more. This helps every party on the same page and “slowly” ignite the labour market and making them relevant. You also probably know that a German labour is highly mobile across Europe with high pay because of their skills. They are even more marketable when they can speak English very well. 🙂

As Germany is technologically advanced country, the university syllabus is somewhat close to what the industry practices. The labour market also allow the industry managers or practitioners teach at least 2 hours a day on weekdays (which is not allowed in Malaysia and subject to further inquiry). Another problem, the university may not fully recognized your industry experience if you decided to lecture or teach, because they only recognize your academic work. The latest requirement is to require all lecturers in the university to possess PhD for teaching position. Nonetheless, in Malaysia there is already some change with Industrial PhD introduced especially for the industry practitioners, but there’s no clear path where this PhD is taking them to.

"Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them." - Margaret Thatcher
“Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them.” – Margaret Thatcher

Another interesting development in global education, which is fairly interesting and should be taken into serious consideration is the development of corporate college. Corporate college is an initiative whereby the company set up its own training college/academy partnering with the university around them to help build and retain talents for their own business. This is not an ordinary training centres, where in Malaysia the training centres act as another outsource company and somewhat unstructured; corporate college is designed to use internal resources such as the top management and middle managers to teach the young employees. Corporate college also invest in learning how to properly run a holistic education initiative from the university with access to advanced researches and professors that will benefit the company’s own productivity and performance. The university also help the managers to learn how to teach effectively (most practitioners and managers only share their own experience when they teach. It has to be substantiated and verified for teaching purpose, in my opinion). Corporate college now is adopted in South Korea, China, Taiwan, USA, France and many more countries. While some initiatives can be seen in Malaysia (Mydin, Nestle, CIMB, Maybank to name a few), closer relationship between the corporates and university still needed to make this works.

Closing the unemployment gap requires change of attitude from government, business and university alike. Yes, there may be question and fear over that employees will be poached hence discourage the employers to invest in youth employment training, but the consequences for not doing anything about it is equally if not more fatal in the long run. Incremental change on the training program may work temporarily, because organization cannot rely on the current and old workforce for long time. Approximately the young generation (X and Y) already dominating as much as 50% of the workforce and they are here to stay and play.

Finally, technology adoption is also needed to democratize and free up the knowledge within the organization and university. With all variables are converging right now, the world stands a real chance of introducing an “education-and-training revolution worthy of the scale of the problem”.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Project Management – Modern Workforce Imperative

While many business philosophers claimed that we are living in the best times of the world, unfortunately modern workforce has been seeing the worse in the last few years. Data from various sources also predicting a bleak outlook and across the ocean ahead. That’s just a general feel, but if you are familiar with things on the ground there’s lots of hope to make it work especially for those in the modern workforce. You may have started to do something about it, but if you haven’t I would suggest you to seriously consider my suggestion – find a way to learn project management because it is the modern workforce imperative.

Most of today’s organization do not rely so much on new information or new knowledge to thrive or grow their business. Most of us rely on doing more of the same as long as the customers don’t complain. Once a while, we add new things but that will only means new price increased and most customers don’t like it. Sometimes, in business we add new services by combining other services for example in an executive program I bundled together the premium access to library and journals as well as library membership. By bundling I give my client more services but if you look closely, I don’t change anything on the service. I just make it available right on time and deliver it just the way my customers want it. Well, this is only a simple example how one ways product features can be enhanced (not necessarily innovated).

The buzz word of today’s organization including government, is innovation. What innovation means? Briefly, it means making new improvements from something current to satisfy new needs and new customers. If you are in a technology company, you may need to explore new ideas and technology frontiers, where real innovation is your everyday thing. Nonetheless, most innovations are either in incubation period, infancy stage or progressing stage that requires years of testing and trial before actually making it to the market and make a difference financially and impacting the bottom line. Hence, to keep the business afloat we need to learn to use and utilize our current resources and maximize the productivity and yield as much as possible. This require an impeccable project management skills and this can be learned; almost overnight.

 

Project Management skill is one of modern workforce must-have skills.
Project Management skill is one of modern workforce must-have skills.

There are several paths to project management. The usual path is to take up proper certification programs from Project Management Institute (PMI) where you are likely to see PMP or APMG International where you are likely to see PRINCE2 certification. Lately there has been an influx of project management certification from Australia, IPMA and several more which I lost count. Secondly, you may choose to attend and participate in your own local provider to learn the fundamentals of project management. I think this is a good idea because in a 3-4 days you will get good overview and get to try out the hands on of building your project paper.

Thirdly, you may opt to buy or print some books online and read them. Jot some notes and do some graphics for you to remember. Finally, which also a cheap way to get access to project management knowledge is by searching for online videos on project management. By all means, you must find a way to get yourself enrolled in either way.

Project management mindset will take you very far in your career. I haven’t mentioned project leadership where you are taking charge of the project and lead your team including your project sponsor, user, director, and also opposition to achieve project goals. It is amazing that project management has developed to become an imperative skills in modern workforce but as someone who is growing up in organization and observing this phenomenon in fresh eyes, I have this to tell you, once again; do sign up for project management (choose one or two of the methods above). While it may take you a while, to get the hang of using the project management tools, you will get used to it after managing 2-3 real projects.

The very reason I say this because a lot of times in organization including in government find difficulties in implementation and executing the projects they have discussed. Often it gets stuck in the middle and then lost in vacuum because they are no takers who can pick this up and manage it in a manner that is both satisfying for the stakeholders. As a project manager, our role is to ensure we achieve the projects’ objectives and we do this by working through and with other people. It is an interesting role and it is still in high growth stage. I don’t want to bore you with the statistics, but if you are looking for one just Google them because there are plenty of them the last 2-3 years.

You also can learn some hands on experience by organizing events for your company or friend’s, involve yourself in social programs where you volunteer to become the committee member, actively seek for internship, enroll in dinner & dance party or simply create a project of your own and get others to join you. There are many ways, but the point is to get yourself learn the project management skills.

I recently had a project management session with my client, and I have been seeing this development where organizations are in dire state looking for more project managers. Not necessarily with certification, by all means if you have the funds go get the certification but if you don’t, never stop your learning there. Find other ways.

I hope you really going to consider this and please share this information for those who will benefit in your circle. Hope this note help improve the awareness of project management skills and inspire those middle managers to learn project management and become life long learners. 🙂

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Design Thinking (DT) As Strategic Tool – Personal Experience

“I may have overused DT tool because I conveniently used it in several occasion, and the latest was during a strategic meeting to evaluate a partnership proposal.” – That was my starting remarks when I shared my personal experience using DT tool at genovasi aka (Malaysian DT House). Let me tell you why.

From my personal experience, “a tool and a fool seldom differ”. Hence learning how to use the tool is paramount and foundational to anyone, and by knowing how to use it to your advantage is a skill and a gift. A tool helps me to put things in perspective and find the relationship of various information. Just like a hammer that helps you to pound nails so you can hang your jacket. But if you decide to “think” like a hammer where you pound on everything, please be reminded that – “a tool and a fool seldom differ”. I have been using A3 report introduced by Toyota to build business case, I used Porter’s Five Forces to analyze market and I used my intuition to give that second opinion about affairs of the heart. 🙂

Now, why Design Thinking (DT) tool? Simply because it is one of the tools that I learned inside out where with the help of the coaches at genovasi; my team and I learn its application and limitation. Briefly, DT is a human-centered tool where the ultimate focus is to humanize the solution for optimum users satisfaction. You can use this problem-solving tool to create new products, services or in my case to evaluate business proposal. It is humanly possible to learn how to use DT tool and it is also almost impossible for your solution to go wrong if you adopt DT as part of your solutioning design. Nevertheless, just like any tool, DT has its own critics, which I wont touch here. Now let me summarize my own DT experience in the 5 steps and how I used them.

Five Steps of DT Problem Solving tool
Five Steps of DT Problem Solving tool

EMPATHISE

At this stage, my team and I discuss the broad view of the Why, What, When, Who, Where and How about this partnership proposal. Since this partner is an international partner, we are very serious in making sure we put all things on the table. I found getting all team members to Check-in help to uncover their emotional state during that discussion.

We exchanged numerous questions, choose certain key words and drill down further and help ourselves with coffee and tea at the same time. 😛  We used post-it notes and flipcharts. The purpose of this is simple, to put things up and let everyone see it. It gets everyone involved and be part of the solution. This step is critical in getting everybody on one-page and clarify matters early. This step is explicitly discussed and practiced in DT process.

We also ask people outside from our circle and get their feedbacks on partnering with international business ventures.

In some occasion we meet to discuss issues surrounding our objectives. Surprisingly, many of the people we met were rich with tacit experience and knowledge in these areas. This is the power of conversation which is hammered on in DT process.

We also shared our vision using a journey map to get their thoughts and learn their reservations, which could help us in the long run.

DEFINE

We got back from all these interactions and unpack our thoughts and share it out.

Of course, as a DT practitioner I don’t really say things like, “Let use DT and unpack”.

I use DT tool and processes without acknowledging it, I just guide our session through and it takes several days.

Unlike in our program @ genovasi where we have to quickly get it done (because of time limitation), but here I really take them through and get them to buy in especially my team because it takes only one believe that “this is not worth our time” to drop everything. Besides, in the process we also are in on-going communication with the international partners to shape this proposal.

In the process, we try to define the Point of View (POV) of our international partners. Navigating the international waters is very challenging with differences in time, culture, communication and perception. I recently learned that a “mediator” in Middle East is understood as “someone that meddle things up”. How about that? So we really need to define the people that we are dealing with and to avoid any prejudice or negative perception. We finally identified several POVs and we agreed to dive further  and move forward.

IDEATE

With clear POVs and after getting feedbacks from various people, we started to Ideate possible scenarios and situations that would help us uncover some information to validate our assessment. We also internally discuss and sometimes argue whether what we choose is acceptable to avoid any the curse of knowledge and setback of incremental judgment. Just like in other DT session, we allow as many ideas, similarly here where we let people throw in any thinking that come cross their mind. I also let people to ask question so they can substantiate and clarify their idea to gain further understanding.

PROTOTYPE

We end up with three scenarios (which remained confidential) and we internally tested them in several engagements. We iterated a few of them and we earned better confident level now. We also build further communication strategy on our prototypes and humanize it further. It is important to always remember that it is not about “us” or/and ‘them”, its always about achieving our mutual goals. This is difficult to do and I have to continuously remind myself, because it is easy to fall trap in either one and forget the goals and objectives. At the end of all this, we need to satisfy both parties hence the goals are sacred to us all.

TEST

Gladly, we ran several testing session and we are very happy with the results. We make some changes in the prototypes as we learn new information, especially in the POVs. The continuous conversation and discussion internally and externally help us to formulate the right solution to achieve our goals.

In conclusion, DT helps me to help my organization making better decision in evaluating this partnership proposal.

It improves my ability to exert creative confidence, provoke my own and team thinking, expand the team’s capability, strengthen trust and build strong determination to shape the right solution. Of course, with more practice I would do better in using this tool because human is unpredictable; and that quality makes DT even more interesting as a human-centered tool. It is fluid yet structured, it is fun yet strenuous and it break rules yet build trusts.

During a presentation with my team @genovasi
During a presentation with my team @genovasi

You can learn DT tool from internet, just Google Design Thinking. There are many courses and article about it right now and its free. You can buy a book on Design Thinking, again just Google or go to bookstores near you. But what truly a big difference in my own DT learning journey was the passion and patience that genovasi coaches have demonstrated throughout 10-weeks of real DT lessons @ Malaysia DT  House in Petaling Jaya. This program was in partnership with Hasso Platner Institute (HPI) and it is also taught at Stanford University. I couldn’t be more thankful to Prime Minister’s Department for initiating this awesome program and to let genovasi team be on the driver’s seat to drive this – they are just the right team and at the right time.

My sincere thank you and big-hearted congratulations go to The Ultimate Genovasi Team; Carol Wong, Mahadzir, Azman, Michelle, Mike, Foong Wai, Firdaus, Suyin, Teck Hin, Jun-Elle, Fazlina, Genie, and not forgetting our Outreach Project Partner (OPP) and also other genovasi team members. Special thanks to all IADP 3D intakes members, you guys rawks!

"DT house" @Malaysia
“DT house” @Malaysia

“Master It, Muster It”

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

15 Rules to Personal Effectiveness – Joker’s Guide

It’s always refreshing sometimes to look back and reminisce of the past. For me, i wrote back a similar title – Personal Effectiveness ; Joker’s Guide back in 2011. You can read it here. From where i started writing about it, i have been practicing and sharing with more people on this thoughts and what i call RULES. The more i talk about it to more people, the more profound the rules become. I get more evidence that the rules work the way it is supposed to work and it validated what i always believe.

For example, Rule 10 is “Learn to Write”. I started writing in 2007 and now i am reaping the benefits of it. My language command is a lot better and my thinking process is more orderly than it was. I learned how to do creative writing and it helps my proposal writing to be more personalized and convincing.

Another is Rule 11 – “Run Your Own Race”. Sometimes i can be easily caught up with other people’s race. Especially when things dont work out the way i want it, i got trapped in the losers mentality. It is hard to live when you feel trapped and in the state of hopelessness. When i practice this Rule 11, i make a point to remind myself that my time will come and i should persevere. It also help me not to be a procrastinator for a long time (short term procrastinate is fine i guess!). With this Rule 11, i also learn about people around me have their own race. Therefore i learn how to communicate better with them. Just because i am their supervisor, i can ask them whatever i want or wherever i want it. On the other hand, it is also applicable to business where it takes time to see any initiative to take shape and let alone to bear fruits of success.

One of my favorite rules is Rule 8 – “Self Leadership, Self Management”. It is easy to ask others to lead, but it is a lot easier to be a bystander in a leadership position. Many leaders do that and they gain credits for things that they dont deserve. While it is without a doubt they earned that leadership position, they should also live up to it for as long as they in that position. For example, leaders should lead from the front – which i call show up leadership. Show up means your face is always around in good and bad times. Leaders make decision and take ownership of that decisions. Some leaders hide behind the veil of “developing the young through delegation” – these are leaders that hide instead of becoming the first line of defense in times of crisis. As leaders, they are responsible to manage themselves professionally. Some leaders misbehave professionally by accusing their organizations and products too openly. They do it in the name of “open communication”. I like to tend to this issue by asking them back openly on their contribution to the problems. Most of them felt embarrassed because they know they just talk about it – but they hardly do anything about it; and they have been “there” for years.

Well, there are 15 Rules to Personal Effectiveness – Joker’s Guide altogether. Some of the rules are things that you are already practicing. Therefore it is good to acknowledge that you are doing the right thing. On the other hand, for rules that are new to you, please consider practicing them slowly and put yourself a challenge to acquire it. One thing you must know, these rules are universal and have been the guiding light for ancient people as well as successful modern citizens in today’s world.

The differentiation this time is about how i deliver these 15 Rules today, it is in a video format – 15 Rules to Personal Effectiveness – Joker’s Guide. Something that i do by chance with some friends. The result was awesome and i want to share it with you. Hope you will enjoy this video and hopefully later you will start considering some of these 15 Rules! 🙂

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Design Thinking – DT Personal Journey

There was a quote by Steve Jobs saying, “Design is how it works.” I think he was right. Recently i met an engineering student with strong right brain, he echoed that quote. He’s an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering. He said a lot of people equate design with advertisement, art or schematic drawing. It’s wrong he said. I agreed with him; completely.

It was just weeks ago i graduated from a Design Thinking program organized by genovasi in collaboration with Hasso Platner Institute (HPI). The program was a 10-weeks hands on and pants down (i mean i have to do a lot of running around!). The entire program was done in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

The training room set up was brilliant and well thought. Everything were on rollers and wheels (except us). There were fun activities, higher order thinking games and best of all like minded folks; they came from various background but still when it comes to getting this done we only had one source; the Design Thinking (DT) 5 steps and 12 commandments. We literally guided by how to use and apply them in various settings and actual projects.

 

"DT house" @Malaysia
“DT house” @Malaysia

As i travel my DT journey i am beginning to see the world and its problems in new dimension. I got acquainted with design magazine such as Wallpaper and Fast Company (Design issue was released in October 2013). I ventured with enthusiasm what DT capable of doing and now am a DT convert.

There is only one immediate problem i see now; it is a new field that people are still struggling to adopt en-masse. Even when i spoke to my consultant friends, ehemmm! DT is perceived as playful as Mickey Mouse in pin stripped jacket.

Besides, even i personally have to constantly reminding myself on DT whenever i approach new “design challenges”. I sound dogmatic of trying to repackage old rules in new nicely ribboned matte box. Heck, as a convert i should be right? 😉

Look around you will find design plays significant role of a successful products or services. You can see this especially in IT application because technology enablement is a big part of user experience. DT place “human” as central to its approach. Why technology? This is because of our borderless and cross border economic aspiration. For eg. App-based application is used by global citizen and to appeal such a huge majority is a daunting task. But once your app is widely accepted (many examples of this) you are sure to turn them into money machine. This is impossible to do 15-20years ago because of heavy reliant on domestic market. But now with technology, this is not far a distance.

 

Pushed to a corner with a design challenge
Pushed to a corner with a design challenge

While we’ve seen rapid expansion of technology companies, we also observed tech giants that too big too fail; failed. They were unable to cope with this massive power given to global users in the name of UX (user experience). This lies DT approach that see the intersection of User Needs, Technology and Business as Innovation opportunity.

In summary, as a DT convert i only have this to say, “nobody can stop an idea that time has come.” DT is making wave and it is for good cause and for humanity. I know i am in.

Well, thats all for now. I surely get back with more insights as i travel my DT journey.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Learn How and The Simplified Way to Launch Your Project.

This is my new vehicle to achieve my life purpose – Free Up Knowledge.  I recently launched my online training titled #THE ULTIMATE SKILLS (TUSK). In #TUSK I teach my students and participants the importance of learning #TUSK. #TUSK consists of Four Core Skills / Competencies. They are # Project Management Skills #Consulting Skills #Selling Skills #Leadership Skills.

I have completed my #Project Management Skill and offering GIFT SEATS (#FREE) to all of you – while seats last. Check out the following excerpt from #Project Management Skill and I hope you could receive this GIFT SEATS and Sign Up Here.

It is common these days to dream of a pet project on the sideline and it is equally common these projects don’t get done. Simply because it was failed to launched…Let me show you how to launch your projects successfully or learn how to show someone else to do the same!

You see, a lot of us love to dream of launching a pet project or a more serious office project to get ahead in our career. However, often the projects are just unrealized dreams because most of us weren’t taught how to launch one; let alone to sustainably manage one until our goals reached. While we know our dream projects can provide us a renewed hope in life – fitness, science project, community project, social awareness etc..; without a good knowledge on how to launch one can be detrimental and frustrating. Right?

You become bystander of other people’s project. Well, not all projects bear fruits, there were successfully launched hence chances of making it successful is not so far a distance. Furthermore, you can always get back up or get someone’s help (like me) to lift you up a little bit.

Therefore, in my program I am sharing with you a proven simplified  steps that you can personally use as your project tool (because you can localize it) and at the same time you use them in your office – and show to your colleague that you are capable in launching projects that matters to your life and at work in a simplified way. I can tell you more here, but it would just awesome if you could receive my invitation to sign up my GIFT SEATS (read #FREE) and start launching your projects!

Check out the Project Management Summary video:

 

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Thinking Needs Re-Thinking

I am fully convinced now. I have been looking for evidence and now i have found it; few months ago. Its just i am buying time to write it down.

Initially i disturbed that almost everyone i met in the management rant about today’s graduates and workforce lack thinking skills. They lambasted them for being clueless and ‘like chicken no-head’ when it comes to problem solving and creative solutions. Of course they are and surprisingly the management was equally clueless how to solve this perennial problem.

Guess what? I have found the answers. Thinking needs re-thinking.

In the beginning i am curious why a children can generate many ‘creative solutions’ but as we become grown ups we stuck up? It’s just illogical right?

Not really, this is where it needs re-thinking. They are two major findings here. Let me explain how we can accelerate thinking skills for our current workforce.

Firstly, teach them thinking skills and tools. Seriously, SWOT is a thinking tool that helps us to see a problem in a SWOT manner. I bet some of you dont know what SWOT is. People that understand SWOT would have this simple thought process when approaching problems.

Next tool is WDYM; What Do You Mean is a great tool to question any statement and uncover the gist of things. Ask this several times you will get to the bottom of any issue. The best part you will only stop once you reach an agreement of the thing you WDYM about.

Other tool is Sweeper; where you generate all the bad stuffs and sweep it under carpet. This could help you and your team find ways to find loopholes and anticipate the consequences. It is also helping you to prioritize imperfections while trying hard to perfecting something.

See, with tools you actually start thinking. I bet with practice you will create the new neural network in your brain on how to think (including your workforce).

"There's a way to do it better. Find it."
“There’s a way to do it better. Find it.”

Secondly, provide ‘open playground’ to express ideas. Opening up a playground always excites me. I once told my boss, if you want to see my play and soar, open the playground. I soared and fly as the top salesperson.

The idea of ‘open playground’ is to allow mistakes to happen and provide support for your team or workforce to fall back on.

It is important for building better confidence and learning. Person responsible for this are the leaders and bosses. Often we get so stuck up and we forget to build other leaders and thinkers. Doers alone are not enough, we need thinkers at the same time.

In conclusion, my two major findings probably are nothing new to you however our ability to put it to practice and continuously asessing its effectiveness would garner new outcomes to your organization.

I strongly feel we are able to create a truly different results (better long term achievements) when we start thinking and leading at the same time. Certainly, if we fail, thus our thinking needs re-thinking.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Development of Knowledge Worker

Recent report (published by The Work Foundation in March 2009) that ideally knowledge worker in your total workforce should consists by the following breakdown:

1. Many Knowledge Tasks (33%)
2. Some Knowledge Tasks (27%)
3. Few Knowledge Tasks (40%)

If you look carefully of the above and you take Some Knowledge Tasks as minimum requirement of the workforce, you will find your organization requires at least 60% of your workforce as knowledge worker. Now, how much percentage of knowledge worker do you have in your organization? It is normal to have much less; a common challenge in every organization big and small.

There are many ways to develop knowledge worker. Many organizations resort to training programs based on job profiles and departments through TNA. Rarely it is done based on business strategies (for practical reasons). Even if it is done ‘strategically’, most of these developments only addressing the operational needs of the department and organization (also for practical reasons). To my opinion it is an ongoing challenge for any organization development specialist dealing with talents to have a “balanced” organization. Some say “balanced” is BS, no such thing.

You sometimes underinvest or overinvest. Sometimes you end as benevolent organization only to become the talent supplier to your own industry. As I heard one Human Resource Director recently said his organization HR motto is “hire to churn”. Well for those who have “dha” money; yes you can! In fact his remark was quickly rebutted by another Human Resource Director from a smaller but thriving organization, saying “we don’t have deep pockets like you!”.

Energy of a Knowledge Worker needs to be self-sustaining and self-renewal.
Energy of a Knowledge Worker needs to be self-sustaining and self-renewal.

Knowledge worker takes time to develop; usually very long because knowledge accumulation requires experiences. Besides knowledge worker requires knowledge in various areas and ability to have energy that is self-sustaining. If it is not, it will very difficult to perform a knowledge worker job because the central focus of knowledge worker is to get things done.

I don’t quite remember where I develop this understanding of knowledge worker, but what I know I got it from various sources over the years. I stumbled upon it first by Peter Drucker, in fact it was Drucker who coined this word and defined knowledge worker as “one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace“. Over the years my understanding gets deeper, to the point it adds up to this understanding that the main objective of a knowledge worker is to get things done. Period. The only challenge is today’s business, as addressed by Ram Charan in his book (Execution), “Most often today the difference between a company and its competitor is the ability to execute. If your competitors are executing better than you are, they are beating you in the here and now. Execution is the great unaddressed issue in the business world today. Its absence is the single biggest obstacle to success.”

So to get things done, what are the skills needed? What to develop early and what can hold on? Are the skills can be used for long term or simply short term gap mitigation? Who can become knowledge worker? What about the development innovation?

There are many questions surrounding this thing call knowledge worker. I have take it upon myself to dwell this further and find some solution to this. It has to be 3D (deadly, doable, duplicable). I believe knowledge worker development is an important feature in any organization right now simply because we got stuck deeply right now for failing to execute. There are many people that can get things done. If at all they can, they will be in the high potential leadership group which only for the elitists (some say), or maybe this person is a loner stallion that is loaded with a lot of other things taking slack from his other 9 unproductive colleagues or he is simply has to conform to others lackadaisical attitudes so long that he becomes one of them.

Why it is important? I always shared with my conversation with my top clients, top management groups and recently from a group of business schools associates; what we need to tremendously improve productivity is to get things done and especially important things to get done. We need people that can work with others, possess high learning agility, self-educate to get updates, willing to take up difficult tasks, perform presentation to various levels, able to think critically and analytically, connect with other people, high integrity, show up and show leadership, accept mistakes and learn from it and so forth. It looks like we are looking for someone perfect, but I beg to disagree. We already have pockets of these requirements in our daily hiring and performance expectations. Soon this will become a standard in every body and we wont find any talent that fit the bill if we don’t develop them from their sources.

In conclusion, knowledge right now is no longer a concept or ideal talent but rather a function in a thriving organization. Perhaps one day there will be a title/position called ‘Knowledge Worker” to address the execution part. I believe there’s already some solutions underway for this, but I am pretty sure it hasn’t in my country. My discussions with the top management still about leadership leadership leadership. I hope i’ll be able to influence them with my next article.

In my next post, i’ll be discussing more on the skills needed as a functional knowledge worker. I believe many wants to know and I hope I can cover a good piece so it becomes my personal seminal content for future development and conquest!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com