Looking for Sally…

At high school, Sally was brilliant at pure maths. When the teacher raised a topic, she would research it in depth, she would learn complex proofs. She could create multi-dimensional worlds based on the maths that she read, she would play there, testing the work of geniuses.

Sally went to university to study maths. It was so boring! In her first exams, she came third out of 120. But she had done no work! She had soon realised that almost every lecture was about a topic she had already mastered, so why work? In her second set of exams, she came 10th, she had done no work and was still on course for a 1st but borderline.

Her third set of exams were a shock, 91st and borderline fail!

Sally was determined not to fail, her dreams depended on getting a doctorate, she needed to do research. What had she done for 3 years, had she day dreamed her future away?

Sally chose subjects she knew nothing about for her final year, that way she would be interested. She worked every hour she could until her final exams – 2:2 … borderline 2:1 – no doctorate for Sally.

The job market, Sally got jobs because she was clever. She lost jobs because she was too clever for her bosses. She belittled her colleagues by being so much faster and better. She was a maverick, her appraisals would say that she was “unmanageable”.

But she did learn. Sally learned about living in the real world as well as her dream world. She learned how to be patient and let others knowledge grow slowly. She learned how to be non-threatening. She learned how to be valuable to others. She learned how to help other very clever people give value to the world outside academia.

She saw an advert with the line “weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger“. She had never read William Gibson so she had no idea what this meant but she liked the sound of it. She wanted to be that girl.

Sally was that girl. She found herself in a place she had never dreamed of. The author of the advert was not clever enough to know what he would unleash…

A Tale of Three Managers

Helmut

Helmut is a German technologist. He lives in Frankfurt. He moved there to develop his career as a technology leader. He is extremely successful. He is a widely recognised thinker, speaker and writer on the industrial use of new technologies.

Helmut gets his kicks when he is teaching, when he is waving his arms about, speaking passionately, drawing frenzied pictures to explain a complex concept. He is thrilled when he creates. He is excited when he wakes others up to new ideas. He loves to create excitement.

Helmut grew up in the black forest. He loves the mountains, the fresh air, and the lakes. He spend his spare time walking, skiing, and sailing. Getting back to nature allows him recuperate from the intensity of the corporate world. It allows his mind to recover. Towards the end of a weekend or more extended break you will find Helmut frantically scribbling down ideas in a mixture of words and pictures.

Jamie

Jamie’s accent is immediately recognisable to the non-Scot. It is Scottish. It has a slightly musical quality that holds the listeners’ attention. But to anyone brought up in Scotland, it is mystifying. There are elements of Glasgow, of Edinburgh, of the Highlands and some unplaceable oddities. Jamie is Scottish, posh Scots. He went to a very good school in England. He tries to hide his background by adopting a “Scottish” accent based on characters from the TV.

Jamie inherited a castle, a large estate which he has farmed for him and a collection of very valuable paintings. He has shipped the paintings to America where he now lives. No one in the USA spots the fake accent. Some people think it quaint and like to listen to him no matter what is actually said.

Jamie has two passions. His pictures and gambling. He just about balances his finances. The farm income and his job give him enough to live comfortably and to cover his losses. Big losses mean selling a picture. Big wins mean buying it back.

Jamie is intelligent. He is a theorist. A conceptual thinker. But when he talks he doesn’t care if he communicates. It is all about the voice. He loves to hear it. It is as though through oratory, in that perculiar accent, Jamie enters another universe where he is at the centre.

Zach

If there is a caricature of an American that will irritate the British then Zach is it. Film star looks, square jaw, bull neck, blue eyes, tall, loud, confident, talks and doesn’t listen. There is the goal, let’s go for it now, we will push through obstacles when we hit them.

Zach was always on the up. Could have played pro football but for injury. Glittering military career. Worked at the top consultancies. Lived in the most glamorous locations. He knew all the stars and even allowed himself to be an extra in a couple of movies. And then he joined us!

What is the opposite of a servant leader? What is the opposite of humble? Zach is! Who knows best? Who doesn’t need advice? That’s Zach! Zach knew us better than we knew ourselves and he knew what was best for us.

Me

I worked for Helmut first. Helmut was inspirational, I would have followed him into any venture that he tried. And I did try to. But Helmut knew me, what I was good at and what I wasn’t so good at. So when he got frustrated with corporate life, he moved on and I stayed put.

Then Jamie came along. This was a struggle that I eventually won. The guy tried to micro manage me. Plus he was a bully. After a bitter six month battle, he was fired. No one should go through the stress of being bullied. Some forms of bullying are illegal, why not all?

Zach was a whirlwind! He was gone before most people noticed he had joined us. The organisation regurgitated him like a pill it could not swallow.

Which brings us to Prem!

PREM

Prem was insecure. He came from an Indian family with a long and aristocratic history. He could bask in glory of his ancestors, but he was not adding to the story. He went to a second rate private school, his elder brothers went to more prestigious schools. He joined the navy because that was what expected of him. As an officer, he was never given respect by other officers or by those he commanded. When he left the navy, his service record was OK, but those he served with didn’t keep in touch. Prem left India and went to live in the USA. He joined a middle sized retailer with the help of an uncle. His career outside the navy was following a familiar path somewhere between success and failure.

Prem was headhunted, much to the surprise of his colleagues. He was offered a huge step up to create a new team. He jumped at it! It was finally a chance to make his mark, to be someone, to show the doubters, to prove himself. He would no longer be looked down on. He would no longer be mediocre.

But Prem had a flaw. He liked people around him who agreed with him, he wanted to be the cleverest person in the room, those who didn’t fit were quietly pushed out.

Me

Prem would have been the fourth manager in the tale of three managers. However, I had seen his style, I knew what was in store for me. I just wanted to do a good job for my customers and help my team become the best they could be. I was tired of the political battles. I was tired of the organisation protecting bullies at the expense of talent.

It was time to move on. Time for a sabbatical. Time to recover. Time to open my eyes to the outside world. Time to laugh. Time to get my creativity back.

Why write?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that “The Art of War” said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn’t want originality. A novel … No ideas.

I posted a couple of blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my contribution to the management arts would not be a great insight but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that management consultants often spout. They don’t just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of these notions. They don’t laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor’s nudity. I point out the emperor’s hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don’t have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don’t have to wrap an old failed idea in new terminology and pretend that it’s innovation. You don’t have to acquiesce. You don’t have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price …

You may lose your job. You may not get promoted. You may be unpopular. You may find it stressful when senior management threaten you. But you will have integrity.

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities — my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.

The danger of passion…

Like many enterprise architects, I am extremely passionate about my work. I like to work with and employ passionate people. But the passion that creates drive, which causes them to push through when others would stop, is dangerous. It can override sensitivity to other people’s feelings. It can mean poorly thought through action prevails over a considered plan.

If you are about to employ a passionate person then think it through. Get them to work through tough scenarios. When they miss out on a promotion or pay rise because they upset a key person who doesn’t understand passion, how would they deal with it? When a colleague actively obstructs them, how will they handle it? When the strategy that they have worked on for six months is rejected by the board, what will their reaction be? Can you help them think things through without stifling their power? Can you protect them? How would they avoid the situation? How would they reduce the damage caused to other people and themselves? How will you look? How will you deal with the problems that a passionate person can cause? You need to understand how you will use and direct this passion for positive effect. You need to understand how you will manage the risk to yourself and your passionate employee.

As a passionate person, you need to understand that how ever much your employer talks about wanting people who are passionate, this is usually a myth. The job adverts and person profiles are mostly written by “dry old fish” who wouldn’t recognise passion if it came up and kissed them. They are writing to attract staff, they may be half copying someone else’s work, they are selling. You are buying, you need to make sure it is not a con. Can your new manager cope with you? Will they protect you? Is the political situation one where you will be easily provoked into rash action?

Take a walk around the office — it is easy to spot passion — there should be raised voices, there should be people standing around talking animatedly about work. If there is quiet, if people are huddled in their own cubicles with little interaction then there is no passion. A passionate person communicates and shares. If there is quiet then you will be a misfit. Are you willing to be a pioneer and create some, at least initially, unwelcome noise? Does your new manager really want you to disrupt the current peaceful working environment? Is your new manager prepared to take a risk? Is your new manager prepared to have some fun?

SMART Objectives Redefined…

In many organisations there is an annual ritual, goal setting time. Time for that tired piece of management advice about SMART goals to be trotted out once more.

Everyone’s heart will sink… Staff will not want to over commit. Managers will push and cajole because there is pressure on them from above. The annual battle is on.

Can you get your bonus without effort? Will you know that, despite all your best efforts, your enthusiasm cannot get you there? Do your managers already know that they have missed their targets. Or have they managed to con their bosses into believing that the “stretch” target they have set has not already been achieved. Have they conned you into working hard for peanuts?

We need to get away from the counter productive nonsense of SMART goal setting. It looks good on paper but completely fails to take into account human nature. Emotion counts! Logic is virtually irrelevant!

Unfortunately it is not going away so let’s redefine it!

Stretch  -  be creative, be wacky, be different, change the rules for yourself and your organisation, be innovative, organisation want a step change, challenge everyone to be different, to take a different route, every organisation wants to improve, to make any significant change you have to do something different, forget incremental change, take a different direction.

Motivate – each day you should want to go a bit further towards your goals, you should want to meet and overcome any obstacle, your goals have got to be exciting, they inspire you, you should wake up in the night with fresh ideas on how to achieve them.

Alive – get excited, make sure your goals will keep you excited, infect others with your excitement, don’t worry if they look at you as if you are mad — you are! Your excitement will motivate others, it builds teams that endure and succeed.

Reach  -  set no limits, so what if it is impossible, the greats of this world didn’t settle for possible, why should you? If you get halfway to impossible, it will be 10 times further and more satisfying than your Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timebound goal.

Timeless — we have one life, lets keep on pushing, keep on going, keep on having fun, lets keep on driving to our great goals because we want to, never retire, never stop, just get another great goal.

Much SMARTer!

“Failure is Wonderful”

I just read an article on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History website called “Failure is Wonderful”.  The article talks about a Creativity Round Table, held at Washington’s Cosmos Club in late April.

There are several important points were made that is:

Laurie Kahn stated “Much of creativity depends on listening, asking the right questions, and being able to see things differently.”

Greg Mortenson replied “Listen with your heart and trust your intuition, not solely your logic.”

“When people ask you a question or ask how to solve a problem,” Mortenson advised, “be hands-off so that they can figure it out using resources and thinking creatively.”

Laurie Kahn asked, “How do you sustain creativity?” Mortenson’s experience taught him you need to “take care of yourself” and “be in touch with yourself”.

“Don’t just think outside of the box,” Mortenson added, “live outside of the box. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is wonderful.”

SMART Objectives Considered Harmful!

Introduction

Having been a member of staff, a manager and a consultant I have met SMART objectives many times and in many forms. Being faced with the need to create them for myself and help my team create once again, I feel the need to vent some frustration with the apparent obsession with something that I have finally come to conclude can be a harmful activity that is sometimes best avoided. This article explains why I consider SMART objectives should not be developed.

Apparently, the best order to consider your objectives is M-A-R-S-T: so let’s begin…

Measurable

Measurable is supposed to be the most important consideration. This allows you and everyone else know that you’ve achieved your objective.

But this creates a problem – not everything worth achieving is easily measurable.

Therefore you are left with the option of picking something easy to measure or you spend time creating a measurement scheme that accurately reflects what you are trying to achieve.

There are many tales of company activities being distorted by inappropriate measures. Staff changed their behaviour to reflect the measures that their performance was being judged by, “to hell with customer service, I’m measured on how many calls I complete inside 2 minutes”. The thing is that such measures seemed entirely reasonable when they were developed.

There are three basic approaches to measuring schemes that are often introduced when simple approaches fail. Measuring schemes that mimic balanced scorecards, those that have several measures that are in tension with each other, and surveys.

Balanced scorecard based approaches are often introduced without an understanding of how balanced scorecards drive performance. A complete set of objectives should be based on a strategy map i.e. a diagram showing the cause and effect relationships between the achievement of different objectives which ultimately result in the achievement of the financial objectives of the organisation. Without the understanding of cause and effect, the result is that objectives conflict and the individual’s contribution to the overall performance does not improve.

These strategy maps must be consistent throughout the organisation at all levels and across all functions to be effective. Without this consistency, all that results is a random set of activities that does not deliver improved business performance. My experience of getting this right is that is takes about 3 months at about 25% of managers time to get the scheme right, then it has to be updated every few months. The overhead is just not acceptable!

The tension approach requires that conflicting objectives (e.g. quality vs. timescale vs. cost) are formulated and the result is a creative balance. Again, such an approach requires significant management effort to deliver and, quite simply, most managers either are too busy or can’t be bothered!

The last resort of the manager required to measure the immeasurable is to “ask the customer”. On the basis that everyone has a “customer” and “customer service is a good thing” then it must be valid to “ask the customer”. Unfortunately, as the work of Kaplan and Norton on balanced scorecards and strategy maps shows, the customer is only one dimension in the equation. In addition, why is an internal customer’s subjective opinion of your service that is probably biased by politics a reasonable measure that drives corporate performance?

Inevitably, the measure becomes the managers gut feel back up with a reasoned argument based on some anecdotes.

Achievable

  • It’s measurable
  • Others have done it successfully before you
  • It’s theoretically possible
  • You have the necessary resources, or at least a realistic chance of getting them
  • You’ve assessed the limitations

This is pure cowardice, if you want to be successful, if you want to make an impact, you need guts. Making sure you can succeed before you start is for wimps! Leaders take risks, they attempt the impossible. Sometimes they succeed – and its fun to succeed. Sometimes they fail – where’s the next challenge?

As an interim manager I built a career taking on jobs that no-one thought could be achieved. In fact, no-one understood the jobs, they just knew something had to be done, and I was up for a challenge. My most satisfying and successful jobs have come by “going where angels fear to tread”.

Realistic

Apparently, you should be realistic because even if it’s achievable, it may not be realistic. You need to understand…

  • Who’s going to do it?
  • Do they have (or can they get) the skills to do a good job?
  • Where’s the money coming from
  • Who carries the can?

This is all about getting the resources to do the job. To me that’s just part of the job, you don’t start with the resources. You decide to do it, you get the resources, you deliver, simple!

The key is that what you are doing is important enough and that you can convince others of this.

Your conviction and passion are far more important than realism.

Specific

Apparently, the devil is in the detail. The guidelines say that you will know your objective is specific enough if:

  • Everyone who’s involved knows that they are involved – no, we’ll get going and win them over when we need to!
  • Everyone involved understands what we are trying to achieve – no, we’ll develop an understanding together as we progress.
  • Your objective is free from jargon – I’m all for writing it down, it becomes more real, but lets develop a language together that works for everyone.

In a dynamic environment, you start with an idea and only with an idea. Then you act on it and bring people along. Those that can help get involved and develop the idea further, it becomes a team thing, its not mine anymore, it belongs to all of us.

If we wait for the specific, then the enthusiasm goes and the best ideas, which are often the most difficult to conceive of as successful, never get started.

Timely

Timely means setting deadlines.

Time is money, so is quality – too many people get hung up on artificial deadlines that damage the business by riding roughshod over people’s private life and reducing the quality of delivery.

The only real deadline is one where someone dies if you don’t make it, so lets get the value of a timeframe into perspective.

This isn’t an excuse for procrastination or for delay, everything has an appropriate timescale. Often you can’t know it until after you start, if that’s the case then don’t create an artificial deadline.

There’s nothing wrong with having a hoped for timescale, a target can be useful to focus the mind, there’s nothing wrong with having review points, but if you don’t know when your objective will delivered that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

Conclusion

SMART objectives can create inertia and are sometimes an excuse for doing very little. They can damage businesses by stifling creativity, squashing enthusiasm and making mediocrity acceptable. They are a crutch for poor managers.

If you want to improve your bottom line, recruit leaders, encourage leaders, then give everyone the freedom to achieve.