Welcome to our blog, the digital brainyard to fine tune "Digital Master," innovate leadership, and reimagine the future of IT.

The magic “I” of CIO sparks many imaginations: Chief information officer, chief infrastructure officer , Chief Integration Officer, chief International officer, Chief Inspiration Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Influence Office etc. The future of CIO is entrepreneur driven, situation oriented, value-added,she or he will take many paradoxical roles: both as business strategist and technology visionary,talent master and effective communicator,savvy business enabler and relentless cost cutter, and transform the business into "Digital Master"!

The future of CIO is digital strategist, global thought leader, and talent master: leading IT to enlighten the customers; enable business success via influence.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Listening with Empathy

As managers and leaders, you may have to guide, and that is fine after you "seek first to understand."

Empathy is one of the most crucial elements in leadership effectiveness, due to the complexity, ambiguity, and the paradox of the world we live in. On one side, the world has become so hyperconnected and interdependent, the physical barriers such as the oceans and the mountains can no longer divide us; on the other side, due to the cognitive difference, culture diversity, information overloading, and wisdom scarcity, there are still the walls in people’s hearts and the gaps on their minds, empathy is the ability to think as if you were in the other party’s position, to gain an in-depth understanding of the thought processes behind each action and to win the hearts via mind connection based on the golden rules and profound insight. But the first step first, can you learn how to listen with empathy?

It is all about connecting as humans, whether at work or elsewhere. If we become clear about our objectives, we can use a variety of measures to address it. The first is to be clear about our own purpose in life. It is something which when we do, we lose track of time, we don't get tired or lose energy; even if we do, depending on the activity, we are happy to stretch ourselves and feel happier and satisfied by doing so. Similarly, when we listen and find out the other's purpose, identify and respect, whether we agree with it or not, be non-judgemental, then we can connect, talk about it, discuss it and many times, they will get more insight and will look at it differently and be able to fine-tune their own purpose, which they never thought about it in such a way. This is the power of a team.

Empathetic listening is a critical element of business culture. Empathy is a need for managers to be able to relate to people's feelings and bring out their potentials and develop them to be in line with the vision and mission of the organization. After all, "the people as object" thing can only bring you as far. Hard-driving, "macho" businesses that are not really interested in getting alongside their employees see empathy akin to weakness. Those that encourage empathetic listening have the opportunity to give their colleagues a greater sense of worth and in return receive a greater commitment. Listening "attentively" and actively is the greatest gift we can give to another human being. The real beauty is found in the ability to listen from your heart, inviting the speaker to explore the answers that lie within their own hearts and minds. However, due to the rush and fast pace of modern life, people interrupt and seek to solve the problem, often before they have heard enough to understand what is being said and whether anything is truly being asked of us beyond just listening.

As managers and leaders, you may have to guide, and that is fine after you "seek first to understand." The ability to listen with empathy depends on your personal preferences. The step towards empathy is to focus on the speaker rather than seeking the meaning within your own frame of reference to how your own needs and goals can be satisfied. To take in information without bias and then review it in its entirety rather than interactively. Listening with empathy is a good description of passive listening that you have to incorporate into your thoughts. The practice of seeing people as people is gaining momentum as organizations are starting to notice the importance of human capital development spurs their growth to the next level.

The loss of listening with empathy may be a side effect of training. The lack of empathy is caused by the homogeneity of leadership setting. Today, many leaders have sympathy, but lack empathy, they intend to help and manage well, however, sometimes, it goes in the opposite direction. Both of these are major challenges to start with listening with empathy.

Is Culture the Pathway to the Changes

The vivid metaphors for describing culture include the layers of an onion or the visible and invisible levels of an iceberg.

Culture is perhaps one of the most invisible, mysterious, but critical success factors for business strategy execution. Who does create the corporate culture? Is it the top leadership team who unilaterally in a willful act establishes a particular corporate culture? Or is it that at the beginning of a company, there are just a few people working in the organization, and in their interactions, a corporate culture emerges? How is it developed? How can it be remained for years or centuries? Can culture be changed? And how to fine-tune a high-performing culture?

First, the culture in a company is a collective mindset, attitude, and top-down behaviors and action. The spirit comes from the top. Often the founder of the organization creates the culture and builds the foundation of the company. So how strong the culture into the mind of the founder is, how strong it will be in the company. How much effort the founder put in, how fast it will impact the company. Although the founder does not have the full picture of the business brand at the beginning (culture is part of the brand), the brand will be created or will grow time after time. How can culture be remained? As long as the founder keeps a strong idea of it, with the buy-in of a high level of management, culture could be remained.

To the point about founders shaping culture, often it is the stories that get told about early successes and failures that create enduring elements of culture. Then, the major question would be: Is it the culture that can fulfill the business vision and accelerate strategy execution today? Or put simply, is it still helping the company grow and transform? In fact, everything is moving around, the company and the culture could have been successful for years, but no longer be valued by customers or admitted by workers, or it turns to be the very barrier to stop businesses from gaining agility and maturity.

Culture has multiple perspectives that directly impact strategy execution: Statistically, there is a 70% failure rate for strategy execution. There are many different causes of failure, such as resistance to change, silo thinking, business functions with competing agendas, lack of clear and decisive leadership, fail to translate strategy to execution, actions inconsistent with strategy, poor communication of strategy, lack of accountability on follow-through; inability to measure impact, too focused on short-term results, fail to make vision and strategy meaningful to front-line staff, fail to align job responsibility to strategy. Sometimes strategy makers spend more time designing the content of strategies than communicating more interactively on how to implement them successfully. In other words, the failure is caused by a lack of accountabilities, lack of decision rights and inter & intra-divisional tensions. And all those aspects are due to the lack of a culture of execution.

The vivid metaphors for describing culture include the layers of an onion or the visible and invisible levels of an iceberg. You cannot consider culture as one element of the strategy execution unless you can identify the dominant cultures, subcultures, and the layers of those cultures. Layers of culture is a critical aspect here. What you see in the outer layer of an onion is easier to manage, but the innermost deep-belief core of the onion is much harder to change. The iceberg metaphor well describes the layers of culture, with values and beliefs often being under the surface. It’s nearly impossible to change the culture without bringing these to the surface, articulating them and assessing whether they are still the right ones for the current environment.

In a fast-growing company people tend to have similar ideal values that then get manifested in their corporate culture. When the company then grows, this corporate culture tends to stay the same over time -the culture inertia. However, in order to move up to the next level of organizational maturity, the culture needs to be changed as well to adapt to the emerging digital trend and pulling strategy execution towards the right decision. Typically, strategy execution fails due to surprises and unknown/ unforeseen factors. If you take the visible aspects of culture -the tip of the iceberg- alone as an element of the strategy execution, you may well head into trouble. There are stereotyping and elements of ethnocentric culture as well as there is also subculture. So basically, the execution and conviction of strategy strongly rely on culture.

Strategy guides change and culture is the pathways for the change; as the concept of liabilities of origin, the culture is largely a function of history too - whether it is a liability or asset depends on the change itself - but the fundamental nature of change suggests that true strategic change will almost always be in conflict with the old and prevalent ideas. Hence, a conflict with culture is very likely. It is important to explore the local culture in which the organization exists. The existing organization is next to be examined. After you have established a base culture, and then it’s on to examining the needs of the proposed strategy. The resocialization would have to be employed as well. This process is a learning and teaching process with clear communication of vision at its core. Being able to lead by example, lessons and ability to adjust where necessary based on advice from stakeholders will get you what you need.

Being humans, we should have one big advantage - knowing about our own nature. People have no problem with change! They have problems with uncertainty, risk, and fear. Therefore, culture as a collective mindset and attitude is the pathway to changes. There are many different perspectives of culture are presented along with diverse ways and means of dealing with it. Changing corporate culture should address not only the subgroups, but each singular value or behavior to be changed, or not changed. Culture can be changed, although it is challenging!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How to Shift from a "Finger Pointing" to a Problem Solving Culture

The good leaders focus on solutions, not on blame.

Businesses "fail" for a multitude of reasons including economic conditions, vendor management, performance or production, industry regulations, expansion costs and the list goes on. Look at the primary causes behind the fall of the business. So which failure are you talking about here? Is it a functional failure? Or a major capital project failure? Is it the strategic organizational level failure or governance mistakes? What are the parameters of failure to you? Is it poor financial planning and management or low quality of product and services or strained employee relationship, or ineffective marketing channels and communications, or disconnects in operational practices? What type of organization are you talking about?

First, the blaming culture should be erased from individual’s mindset. We should not blame any individual or any function. Strategy guides the business between success or failure. If the strategy is wrong, you can have the best people doing the wrong things very effectively and efficiently, and the business still fails. Before accusing or blaming anyone or any function, the organization should understand what went wrong through all available analytical tools. If a business is failing, the leadership team has to take the greatest responsibility. Businesses fail most of the times because of too much dependence on analysis and one's temptation to keep on following the approach from the past which may have become irrelevant. Leaders fail to use their intuitive abilities, who has time to blame if the business is failing down. Instead of finger pointing, you have to sit together to build a solid strategic planning. It is the only way through which you can overcome the challenges.

The top management and decision makers should take significant responsibility for the success and failure of the business. First, let’s address the question why should a business fail. The top leadership of a business is meant to convert the uncertainties of a marketplace to an actionable strategy to be done by the company and its people. When a company fails, the top management is responsible because their planning, the way to reach to the vision, attitude, competitor's activities, training & product or services knowledge to the field force & communication gap are not on the right track. Hence, whosoever is part of the leadership is accountable including HR. Sometimes this can mean leadership that is unwilling to change. Or leadership that wants to preserve its own heritage, and is less concerned with organizational longevity. Hence, it is not function-specific but the integrated whole that has failed. To blame an individual department, who is merely a cog in the wheel, is ignorant. Blame is a destructive method and can further depress a company that is failing, rather at such times, we should concentrate on building flagging morale and team based decisions to arrive at revival measures.

If a business is failing, many would think a considerable amount of the blame resides with HR. HR is the backbone of any organization and the major, supporting, it has a huge impact on the organization, but still, there are other factors to be considered when we are talking about business failure. To run virtually any business, you need investment and people. HR should control the hiring process as well as training and development. They should know the business and individual employees. They should be observant and aware of the organization's strength and weaknesses. They should learn how to influence leadership, determining how best to guide them in seeing what they should, not just what they want to see. If change is necessary, HR needs to be creative in determining how to bring it about. If an organization has truly implemented the HR business partnering model, where HR is not only an administrative support function but a strategically intertwined function of business, then you can attribute part of the organizational failure to Human Capital Management.

If and when a company fails, it is everyone's responsibility. A business fails because its products or services are not attractive to clients of the delivery of these services and products are faulty. Follow the thumb rule that the decision maker must take ownership of the consequences of the decision. Usually, the key business decisions are taken by the CXOs and hence for any fallen business; the CXOs cannot absolve himself/herself of the blame but in part. Because the CXOs take a decision based on critical input and advice from the incumbents of the executive management team and from the members of the board. And even a brilliant decision can come to a cropper if the execution is poor.

Where there are failures the takeaway should be WHAT (not who) went wrong. The departmental leadership is solely responsible for building a solid, knowledgeable, supported and open team environment whose goal is to meet that department’s requirements. Those department leaders are then led by the senior executive staff who are responsible for building their own strong team of reliable, knowledgeable and accountable leaders, while providing them with an open forum for feedback not only from the top down but also from the bottom up. A company’s survival; their continued success, is reliant on the lower staff's performance and success. The last piece is the company president/owner who also needs to be responsible for their own executive staff and allow a proper flow of information on a regular basis. Where there are failures the takeaway should be what (not who) went wrong, find the point of the break of the process and what steps are being taken to prevent that particular failure.

The good leaders focus on solutions, not on blame. So as far as who is to blame, per se, anyone who contributes to the decline of an organization can own some fault it in its demise. And it seems to be there is one factor that is directly proportionate to any organization's success or decline, and that is whether or not that specific entity is a learning organization. Adaptability and learning are a must: even when it means making some mistakes and have to correct them. Just to wrap it up, transparency in all what we do and good control systems will be great to minimize failure in any type of organization.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How to Learn from Feedback and Move toward the Future

The value of feedback is to effectively connect our past learning to our future operation.

As Einstein wisely said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." We can live in a split second, or we can extend our presence to include the instance of our previous experience and also the opportunity of our future action. This is a different perspective on feedback because we effectively connect our past learning to our future operation.

We shouldn't forget our past, but we should learn from it and move forward. In this sense, feedback is relevant. Feedback needs to be continuous, as close to real-time as possible, in control of the recipient and in a way the recipient can understand. Real-time feedback performance systems are functioning well when in control of the person doing the job and treat people with respect. So feedback is aimed to move forward. Eventually, feedback should always be genuinely precise, proper and substantive. Such feedback helps not only to act but aids to feedforward, as well. However, what is here called feedforward is actually a particular way of presenting what is technically feedback. Indeed, the idea that feedback is about the past is where the logical error creeps in. Feedback is always about how to improve performance so is always about the future. KPI dashboards such as the balanced scorecard were developed to try to encourage businesses to review a set of measures that could predict business performance, and there is no doubt that feedback (or 'feedforward') would be more effective if individual performances were measured in a similar way.

Leadership is the system “with zoomed-in vision and wrapped in a culture of openness and emergence.” It expects everyone to display leadership and hands-on responsibility for learning to be the learner. In this case, feedback - information gained from experience that can improve future performance - is welcomed. Leadership as a system" is 'wrapped in a culture of openness and emergence,' so that 'learning' and the application of new learning bring 'newness' which creates a cycle of continuous feedback, exploration, experience and a more natural process of improvement. Feedback is not limited and static as opposed to expansive and dynamic. If you want your team to create a great future, they need to be responsive to feedback. Feedback is information that enables you to improve. It is essential that you get this information. Feedback does not focus on the past - it tells you what is happening so that you can adapt.
-Feedback is a solution to the problem of cluelessness. We don't know our impact on others until they tell us.
-Feedback is always about the giver.
-Feedback is a gift.

Giving and receiving feedback is essential to improving performance and helping people mature. When we light up our brains with positivity, we are able to increase our communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Evaluating the past can certainly lead us to a good insight towards the future. Therefore, feedforward cannot be seen in isolation. The feedback forms have to be creative to focus on both past performance and future goals or changes to achieve the required goals. In most organizations, leaders are extremely calculated in terms of feedforward strategy because of its unpredictability. What has passed can easily be evaluated but what will and should happen in the future. Multiple ideas need to be taken, and a cohesive plan needs to be built. It allows the individual to take some personal ownership of what is about to occur. They decide the approach, once you have (together) identified the goal. Of course, that requires a degree of personal maturity. Immature people will not comprehend and hence need the simpler idea of applying feedback from past experience to future action. So the issue of giving and receiving feedback is of huge importance and significance in helping people to mature.

Feedback and feedforward are important for a business’s success in the long term. If we no longer reference the past, then we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past. If we consider mistakes in the past as being in a different time or context, then we are not certain to obtain the same outcomes even though it seems we are repeating the same mistakes. Rather, we are learning from the past, and developing towards a new future. In a way, we are destined to look forward, and in doing so, seeing both the past and the future in front of us. Somehow the past is not being seen as the past, but blends into the draw of the future. Rightly we focus on the future, but the past is never far away just hidden from sight.

The STRATEGY Focus of “Future of CIO”

Strategy is a Laser Focus for the "Future of CIOs"!

The blog is a dynamic book flowing with your thought; growing through your dedication; sharing your knowledge; conveying your wisdom, and making influence through touching the hearts and connecting the minds across the globe.

The “Future of CIO” Blog has reached 1.5 million page views with the 2121th blog posting. Among 50+ different categories of leadership, management, strategy, digitalization, change/talent, etc. blog posting,  Strategy is a Laser Focus!  Here are a set of featured “Future of CIO” categories to strengthen the Strategy Core:

The Strategic Focus of “Future of CIO”
  1. Strategy (200+ Blogs): A common definition of strategy is the choices made by a firm on where and how it chooses to compete and cooperate in order to achieve its goals and objectives and strive to fulfill its mission. "Strategy" should be in the DNA of anyone who is a member of the leadership team of an organization. Strategy is all about "balance" between science and art, which can be situational. Sometimes it may be 80% science and 20% art. Other times, it is 80% art and 20% science - or some other balance between the two - it will vary in any given situation.

  1. Execution/Complexity/Decision Making/Capability (150+Blogs): Making a good strategy is difficult, Executing a strategy is even more challenging. There are still a very large gaps between having an idea, creating a solid strategy, building business capabilities, and implementation of the strategy at many organizations. All are vastly different things. Although someone may have great ideas, there isn't the strategy behind it; or although strategy looks “beautiful,” there’s no solid action to achieve it. With the changing nature of digital dynamic, strategy and execution are no longer linear steps, but an iterative continuum.

3. Digitalization/Digital Master Tuning (250+ Blogs): Digital Master - Debunk the Myths of  Enterprise Digital Maturity was published in Jan. 2015, it is the book to envision the multidimensional impact that digital philosophy, technology, innovation, and methodology will have on the future of business and human society. It received overall great feedback in the IT community and beyond. After publishing, I also wrote more than 100+ blogs to continue advocating the best principles and the next practices to run a “Digital Master” - The organization that has rich digital insight , high level innovative capability, and maturity, not only to initiate digital innovation, but also to drive enterprise - wide digital transformation.

4. IT Transformation/IT Strategy & Roadmap/IT Performance/KPIs (300+ Blogs): IT is not just to support strategy, IT strategy is an integral part of business strategy. The main problem is that business executives still limit their vision of IT as “IT supports a strategy,” CIOs role as C-level is to contribute to the formulation of the business strategy where new trends of technology will provide strategic business capabilities to the business that will enhance the competitive advantages of the organization. With information and technology interwoven into business strategy, IT will re-integrate into the business, delivering business initiatives derived from corporate strategy. Such effort will just be one that is appropriate to the organizational maturity and culture.

5. Mind Shifts (250+ Blogs): Thinking is the seed that molds and makes one's life. So, is it true that our thoughts shape our personalities and visa verse. As a matter of fact, the way we think has much of an effect and affect on how we turn out in our life (though many other things do as well). Some examples might be, who we surround ourselves with, how hard we try to do certain things, whether or not we're repetitive (pending on what the repetition is), choosing left instead of right (or vice versa), the communication styles, the career preferences, or the hobbies and entertainment choice, etc. To put simply, we are what we think of. When we change the mind, we change the world.

6.Culture Master/Gaps/Global Perspectives (100+ blogs): Culture eats strategy for lunch. (Drucker). Culture is invisible, but it’s one of the most powerful factors for business’s long-term prosperity; culture is soft, but it's one of the “toughest” ingredients in “digital transformation formula.” Creating a culture itself needs an internal strategy. There are many different perspectives of culture presented along with diverse ways and means of dealing with it. How can you identify culture gaps? What’re the global perspectives of culture? What's your culture readiness, how shall you assess culture? Is one of the goals behind building a great culture about whether your culture can help people become who they are, to create synergy and accomplish the business purpose?  

7. Change Management (200+blogs):  Change Management and Strategy Management need to go hand in hand. The goal for change is always to make improvement or innovations happen, and it's a progressive journey to keep business move forward. Change is inevitable, but more than two-thirds of change effort fail to achieve the expected results. The change shouldn't be treated as a singular occurrence when it is an ongoing, continued process and dynamic capability within the organization.

8. Talent Management (200+ Blogs): People are the most invaluable asset in any organization anytime and anywhere. However, the traditional talent management treat people more as cost or resource, less as an asset or capital investment; performance management approaches more focus on measuring behaviors and quantitative result, with ignorance of qualitative assessment about character, mindsets, talent potential, multidimensional intelligence and culture effect. Talent competency is the digital lenses through which people managers ought to assess and manage talent in more strategic, analytical and creative way.

9. Systems Wisdom/Principles/Practices (200+ Blogs): A strategic thinking is about learning to think the Systemic Wholeness. Systems thinking as a practice promotes a better strategic awareness; as it encourages looking at the wider aspects around any problem space (where problem does not necessarily equate to a bad thing, you can have good problems as well), and then understanding the effect of imposing boundaries within that space. Strategic thinking is about why and what you want to achieve in a particular context and the whole configuration of interconnected and continuous interacting components and systems. Start with the mediating systemic wholeness with which you experience, remember, know, think, imagine, valuate, intend and engage the rest of the intrinsic unity that is the Whole. This wholeness comprises various media that are each functionally contrary to the unitive, fluid and seamless nature of the whole.

Blogging is not about writing, but about thinking and innovating the new ideas; it’s not just about WHAT to say, but about WHY to say, and HOW to say it. It reflects the color and shade of your thought patterns, and it indicates the peaks and curves of your thinking waves. Unlike pure entertainment, quality and professional content takes time for digesting, contemplation and engaging, and therefore, it takes time to attract the "hungry minds" and the "deep souls." It’s the journey to amplify diverse voices and deepen digital footprints, and it's the way to harness your innovative spirit.

How do you Set the Right Priority in Strategy Management

The challenge is to prioritize what you know about and keep an eye open for signs of things you don't know about.

Due to the overwhelming information and increasing speed of changes, one of the biggest challenges for leaders and managers is how to set the right priority for strategy management. Many times, managers focus more on the symptom, not the root cause of the problems; or by management we usually imply a hierarchical arrangement, and most of the mid-level management only follow the command - “do whatever will make them look the best to their immediate supervisor." The result is forcing employees to do stupid things with only the most immediate "apparent" benefit to their supervisor. Now, there is a big digital shift to self-organizing systems under certain guideline, this shift is both generational and phenomenal, from a management perspective, how shall you set the right priority for managing strategy effectively during the journey of digital transformation?

The challenge is to prioritize what you know about and keep an eye open for signs of things you don't know about. Business leaders often revert to "just get the job done!" without stopping to clarify what, exactly is the job that is supposed to be done. It is the equivalent of putting a highly creative person on a production line - you will get exactly what you paid for, a re-created production line process! The whole theory of strategy is about being strongest at the decisive point. In other words, knowing what really matters and then putting real horsepower behind these things. The reality is that there are a lot of things that can go wrong and it is not always easy to identify what is important. The strategy is important, and it can be difficult to find the right allocation of resources to strategic thinking and implementation of the plan while simultaneously monitoring feedback, managing risks, and meeting obligations to staff and customers. Certainly, any corporate system or success need the strong endorsement, support, and implementation of the top-down to the layers of warrior management. Management Systems need to be holistic and comprehensive, also complicated and artistic, it is a strategic level approach to the entire problem in a systematic way.

It takes a strong leadership team to support clear strategy and visions. Managers need to have admirable core strengths and highly effective people skills to lead, influence and empower others. It is not only about how much they know, but it is also about what they can and do that really matters. One difficulty that should be considered is when different managers have different views on direction and strategy. Some are based on theories, others on market analysis inputs, others on instincts. That makes it difficult for making clear directions. Managers are people -- Human beings. They like to be distracted by frills and personal interest first. The onus then should fall to next level of chain up to make a decision, or instead procrastinate on it leaving unclear strategies for the rest of the organization. Since strategy making is not a guaranteed thing, some executives or senior managers could be unwilling to be potentially wrong and discount a possible strategy approach even how small an opportunity. Weakness and Strengths are both very evident by what managers’ do, not what they say but what they actually do, consistently. Peter Drucker says there are only two things that are the job of management: Innovation and Marketing/Sales. These are both culture and process driven. Many managers are simply not credible so even some really good ideas may be wasted on skeptical employees who will unwittingly sabotage the execution due to lack of respect for their leader.

The ability to change relies on the desire to change. The desire to change relies on having enough self-esteem to accept that one's sense of value is not derived from always being right. Personal managerial success is frequently judged by how 'arguably' right that manager is compared with employees (contributing value and justifying the status). It is not judged by results, as the results of alternative outcomes don't eventuate – so they can't be used for comparison. How many people do you know, who have this level of self-esteem and openness? They are the great managers and a rare breed. Perhaps even entrepreneurial. One option to improve leadership effectiveness is to lead through coaching and questioning. Great leaders or managers ask effective questions that raise awareness around what is important to be done and then ask individuals or teams to take responsibility and to take appropriate action. Managers can also self-coach and ask themselves every day is “What I'm doing going to deliver the agreed plan/strategy?” Have we given the new managers the mentorship & reward to support strategic decision-making? Most companies are comfortable with yes-people rather than the disruptive types.

Every company needs a good strategic planning process and a management cycle to benchmark that plans to monthly operations, even weekly when done well. It’s important to build effective business system that creates a high-performance culture and company when used with proper disciplines:
A. Strategic Planning Process.
B. Management Best Practices for Performance, Accountability, and Merit.
C. Dashboard and metrics - You have to measure the right things right.
D. Strategic Budgeting process - Opportunity and innovation driven budgeting.
E. Process Management to capture and refine institutional knowledge.
F. Human Capital Acquisition and Development for culture control, improvement, and finding developing and keeping the best people.

A strategy is a shareware, not a shelfware. Peter Drucker says there are only two things that are the job of management: Innovation and Marketing/Sales. These are both culture and process driven. Often the top managers haven’t done enough to set the right priority and communicate strategies thoroughly with employees. So, it's no wonder they spend their time on what they perceive as higher pay-off activity, specifically the ideas and work that interest them. For that to change, managers must be in the room building the strategy through collaboration and consensus building, they should facilitate ideation session that uncovers the big and innovative ideas that disrupt complacent and conventional thinking. Senior management or the board gets the final say, but if done right, that should not be an impediment to crafting and executing an inspiring strategy. The logical steps include:
-Clearly define and communicate what specifically they are to focus upon. What the specific measures of performance expectations are - quantifiable and qualitative. Measure and review frequently.
-Secondly, share the "what's in it for me" WIIFM in terms of rewards that are meaningful and tied directly to achieving and exceeding specific performance metrics.
-Lastly, praise and reward frequently and in a timely manner to provide positive reinforcement of advanced or creative minds, desired behaviors, and actions.
To lead and manage in today's digital dynamic requires a different skillset than solely performing a task. Therefore, setting the right priority and delegation is very important to improve management effectiveness and ensure first doing right things, and then doing things right.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Three Characteristics of Being Agile

Doing Agile is only an engineering practice, but being agile is the multidisciplinary challenge from top-down and bottom-up.
Many organizations are transforming from doing Agile to being agile, applying agile philosophy, methodology and practices to scaling up and building a truly agile organization is an important aspect of digital transformation. But many such initiatives fail to achieve the expected result, and most of the businesses still get stuck in between, what are the big barriers to being agile? And what are the characteristics of scaling up Agile?

A combination of top-down and bottom-up vision and passion is absolutely required for a buy-in from both ends. A cohesion is needed to make the organization as a whole successful. Seldom a 'theme' is reaching its goal if the people who set the theme or create a vision have different ways in mind than the team who would work on epics or stories. To build an Agile organization, you need a buy-in from all levels within the company. It is entirely possible to run Agile teams, yet in order to scale it up, C-level executives have to understand and essentially accept the idea, otherwise, it could collapse when a conflict (even a small one) between Agile team/project and rest of the organization arises and reaches executive level. Scrum, for example, is very good at bringing problems to the surface. It won't make those problems go away. Or think of a project where the team is working in a kanban mode and the management seeks reporting that is aligned with scrum. That is a conflict! The team needs to buy-in what the management expects and in what way, plus the management needs to buy-in the process teams following to achieve their goals. Hence, a merger of the two is essential.

Agile has required a significant culture change in every organization. Implementing agility starts from the ground up, and cannot/shouldn't be imposed on teams. The development team wants to own their process, talk to their customer and deliver their customers requirements through better quality software and processes. However, ground up cannot succeed if the development team has to fight the company culture, rules, and processes. Therefore, C-level needs to focus on creating the right organizational culture, where people can take ownership of their processes and believe they will benefit from doing so. For a change of that magnitude, support from both bottom up and top down is required. Lack of either will result in the end result that is not truly Agile. Applying Agile principles to scale up and create the characteristics of a truly agile organization is a set of practices:
-We value "Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools." You might follow a process by the book, but if your individuals and interactions aren't right, you won't be very agile.
-"Take a customer-centric view," the customer is the center of Agile.
-"Apply systems thinking." Not just a working software view, but a holistic business view.
-"Assume variability; preserve options." Variability isn't changed. One can still preserve options while following a plan.
-Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles.
-"Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers." Focused on self-organization, not control.
-"Decentralized decision-making." Agile promotes self-organization, an extreme form of "empowerment." And this "trust the people in the trenches" attitude is at odds with most management philosophy.

C-level management does have a hard time getting their mind around Agile, so a selected framework such as SAFe is a good bridge for them. It can if implemented correctly, help move companies towards being “more” Agile. It depends on a lot of factors, though. How Agile a company can be is determined by its corporate culture, geolocation of resourcing, legacy software architecture, quality and development disciplines, and organizational structure. All of these factors only magnify in importance based on the company size. The original question focused on buy-in from C-level management. This is essential in addressing the cultural aspect of the transformation. But, a lot of the other factors will be the true determination of success as well. An only top-down approach will fail because they cannot influence enough change in many of the factors that will impede the teams. If you can’t get a strong bottom-up initiative going, success will be limited. This is where good coaching is extremely important. Get the C-level management to fund the coaching and start finding ways to empower the teams. Encourage upper management to find ways to get out of the way. Otherwise, SAFe will just become another top-down process that will eventually morph back into whatever the company originally had to start with. Once the company adopts the framework, it must work to identifying all the impediments that prevent them from really becoming Agile and start to systematically remove them. It is possible, using the framework, to accomplish this effort over time. If they don’t try, SAFe will just become another useless process facade. And, they will just continue to do what they always did. Also, the challenge with "scaling" frameworks is that they assume the values and principles have already scaled. Very often, it isn't the case.

Doing Agile is only an engineering practice, but being agile is the multidisciplinary challenge from top-down and bottom-up. Being agile also means to become a truly holistic organization. Organizational agility is only achieved when the organization changes, the leadership buy-in, the employees engaged, and the framework & processes are well aligned, and “being Agile" a crucial stage of becoming a digital master.