Archive for April, 2008

Different Yet United:Leadership Lessons from Service-Oriented Architecture

Two weeks ago, I heard Ray Ozzie, Chief Software Architect of Microsoft Corporation, speak at the MVP Summit on his insights about software as a service. While he was talking about the role of software as a service and the Internet as a hub, I couldn’t help but relate it to our ever-changing global world when it comes to leadership. The global economy has changed the way we do business and lead people which sums up a very important fact: we all are different yet unique and can be united.

Let me explain further. Global corporations are faced with challenges that has something to do with geographical, cultural, and sociological aspects, to name a few. In Singapore alone, you will rarely see an organization with all staff being Singaporeans. This means organizations need to realize and capitalize on each individual’s differences. Breaking down the walls of cultural differences is the key to having a harmonious and healthy work environment in a highly diverse organization. This not only means understanding one another’s differences but identifying the strengths behind those differences which can be key to the success of an organization. As Ray Ozzie pointed out, the Internet is a hub where different software can connect to and, in an orchestrated fashion, provide excellent service to those who may opt to use it. In an organization, the vision is the hub which every individual can be attached to and, with the leader’s ability to orchestrate each individual’s strength and uniqueness in their differences, achieve greater heights by achieving that vision.

The transcript of Ray Ozzie’s keynote session at the MVP Summit is available on this site

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Why Emotional Anxiety Is Costly

I was talking to one of our project managers a few days ago while trying to fix some issues in one of our remote data center and out of nowhere just asked how she was doing. While a typical “I’m doing good” answer may have been enough for a few people I know, I asked again, this time stressing out the real reason for asking. She then started down the path of telling me how the IT industry simply does not really care about the well-being of the individuals and is more focused on getting things done. Now, I might be wrong but I guess that is one of the reasons why her performance started going down the drains. I highlighted the fact that whatever industry we are in, we still are humans and have the basic human needs which includes emotional stability in the workplace. Ask yourself these questions. Would you be excited to come to work everyday knowing that you will have to face the same old Mr. Scrooge in the likes of your immediate superior? Would you be enthusiastic to do your work if none of the things you do well are getting noticed while even a small mistake goes across the end of the office premises (I think I’ve pointed this out in the “seagull-type” management style)? Would you be motivated enough to take initiative to solve problems in the workplace when all you’ll end up hearing is that you need to go thru processes to get things done? You may say that everybody should start motivating themselves and I couldn’t agree with you more. But what I am trying to drive at is that organizations need to realize that emotional anxiety in the workplace is one of the reasons for performance degredation and high turnover rates. Why did I say it’s costly? Let me put some numbers into this. Let’s say it takes an average of 30 minutes to finish a typical, repetitive task. For a highly motivated individual, it would probably take 15 to 20 minutes, which would mean a time reduction of 33 to 50 percent (others may call it productivity increase). But an unmotivated, highly-stressed, emotionally anxious individual may take more than an hour to finish the same job. That would mean a 100 percent decrease in productivity or whatever you may call it. That is not to consider absenteeism, long coffee and lunch breaks, employee turnover, etc. I am not a psychologist but I believe its a natural human need to feel important and have their emotional needs met anywhere, including the workplace. Which is why I believe that creating an emotionally healthy workplace will be one of the factors to succeed in a globally competitive environment.

It’s all about perspective: An amazing result of the power of positive thinking

April 12, 2008 1 comment

They say anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Well, if that’s how you think, that’s how it will be. If you precondition your mind to whatever it is that you want to think about, it will definitely happen, according to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking. Well, I have yet to prove that with another of my experiences. I planned to attend the Microsoft MVP Summit 2008 at Seattle, WA but decided to stop by San Francisco, CA for a few days before heading straight to Seattle. I was prepared to enjoy a 3-day rest and relaxation in San Francisco when some unexpected things happened. Without a definite place to stay and a very tight budget, I struggled to find the cheapest yet most accessible place to stay. I was starting to think of this experience as a nightmare, causing deep holes in my pocket and stress due to anxiety, I realized that my way of thinking will definitely affect how things will be. So, I decided to think positively. After finding a place to stay which is more expensive than what I originally perceived it to be, I decided to enjoy what I have. Since I will have full 3 days of doing what I can possibly think of doing, I planned accordingly. First stop was a Barnes and Noble branch at the Tanforan mall in San Bruno. I have always loved books and this is an opportunity for me to enjoy a good one without having to worry about phone calls or check emails. It was a long mile-and-a-half walk from the place where I was staying to the mall. I enjoyed every step I was taking simply because I knew that I was going to enjoy the reading time that I have always wanted coupled with a great weather to be happy about. With a cup of Starbucks (they actually have a coffee bar inside Barnes and Noble which proved to be a great asset especially if you need to be perked up when you feel a bit sleepy) and a book by Marcus Bukingham, I had one of the best reading days ever. I almost finished the entire book within a few hours. I can’t wait for another day like this when I can really devote undivided time and attention to reading a great book. At the end of the day, how you perceive things would be will eventually end up as you expect it to be – whether you think of it as either good or bad. And that is the power of positive thinking. The same is true with negative thinking. The choice is totally up to you. I can’t wait for another great learning adventure tomorrow

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When There is No Such Thing As Customer Service

Ok, I admit, I got the idea for this blog post from leadership expert John Maxwell’s book, There’s No Such Thing As “Business Ethics” (There’s Only One Rule for Making Decisions). His thesis was plain and simple – The Golden Rule applies in all aspect of life. The same thing with customer service. Organizations nowadays focus on delivering the best customer service they could ever provide and believes that this will become their leading edge. I believe that there is really no such thing as customer service. What I do believe in is the concept of service as it is. Organizations simply highlight to staff that providing utmost customer service to customers or anybody bringing in revenue to the company should be a top priority. But this undermines a very important principle. Real service does not know discrimination – whether they’re customers, staff, business partners, even people on the streets. What’s surprising is that organizations treat their custmers really well but not their employees and staff. What they don’t realize is that while customers bring in the revenue, it’s the employees and staff that maintain and keep customers. How many times have you heard of customers being mistreated by disgruntled employees? Or even revenue loss due to productivity loss caused by demoralized staff? If we create a culture of service, both for our external and internal customers, it would propell our organization for success. It would break down organizational barriers as managers would no longer care about their status but rather focus more on how they can better serve their staff. I like what Michael Bergdahl’s book What I Learned From Sam Walton: How to Compete and Thrive in a Wal-Mart World indicates that Wal-Mart practices “servant-leadership”. Essentially, that means all managers put the needs of their employees and colleagues first. Managers are required to respond to any request for help, even if it means delaying their own work. The concept stems from Sam Walton’s oft-stated belief that “if you take care of your people, your people will take care of the customer and the business will take care of itself.” That in itself is the true meaning of service

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Violating the Law of Buy-In

The Law of Buy-In was highlighted in the best-selling book by Dr. John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It simply states that people buy into the leader first, then the vision. The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader, and then the dream. People don’t first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. I was on a meeting whose purpose is to educate employees on the changes that will take place due to a new service agreement that was underway between my company and their client. The first thing I noticed was that not everybody was keen on listening. This is when I’ve learned a very important lesson in leadership apart from the law of buy-in: “To measure the morale of your staff, observe their behavior during one of your most important meetings. If they are apathetic, their morale is very low. If they are very energetic and excited, their morale is high.” This new service agreement is probably the most important thing that would ever happen to this organization. But, sad as it may seem, the staff didn’t really care much. There was no participation, no discussion, even questions raised. The reason for that is probably because the staff felt betrayed. The service agreement was crafted without the staff being considered, which happens to be a very important aspect since it would be their responsibility to provide those services in the future. Plus, the highlight of fear and anxiety was floating in the air. Instead of highlighting how the entire organization would benefit from the service agreement, much more was said about the penalties if the agreement was violated. In fact, one staff even mentioned about the management not trusting the staff on certain aspects and the one delivering the meeting just said a blunt “yes.” It may sound pathetic but who would want to work for an organization who does not trust its employees? I believe that it is a great plan with very noble causes which I also believe in but the one delivering the meeting failed to understand that in order to make the people do what needed to be done, they have to be motivated. This pointed out another important leadership lesson I have learned today: “The message is nearly not as important as the one delivering it.” Communication is the key to the Law of Buy-In and, in this case, the nobility of the cause was not highlighted, thereby, causing the staff to simply ignore the message. Even I didn’t bother listening during the meeting because I felt that it would only deter my commitment to my organization. But my experience earlier today simply pointed out how not to be a leader in every sense of the word. Make it a point that you, as a leader, would first reach out to your staff and make them buy in to you before letting them buy in to the vision. Once you’ve manage to do that, communicate the vision properly so as to further gain their support and eventually cause everyone to move in the same direction.

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A Practical Equation for Risk Analysis: A Leader’s Perspective

Risk taking is one trait that a leader needs to have in order to be really successful. Let’s face it, we don’t want risks. We fear that taking risks would amount to big losses that we cannot handle. That applies to both business and personal aspects. Business schools will teach you how to quantitatively and qualitatively calculate risks in order to make the right decisions. While I may adhere to those scientific ways on risk assessment, leaders should use their instinct and intuition to make decisions and face risks. As a financial analyst friend of mine used to say, “the higher the risk, the bigger the return.” Let me share a practical equation for risk analysis that will be very useful for anybody when making decisions. Take the quotient of the number of times that an event actually happened with the number of times that you have actually feared that the event will happen. I’ll give you a very practical example. You fear the risk of losing your job if you bring up an issue with your boss so you keep quiet. How do we calculate the risk quotient? How many times have you gotten fired because you talked to your boss about an issue? Probably, zero since you still have the job. Let’s call this n. And how may times have you feared that it would actually happen? Probably, a lot of times. And let’s call this one m. Divide these two numbers and you’ll realize that you have a very low risk quotient: n/m. You see, most of the risks that we perceive them to be are really just what they are – perception. We are consumed by those fears that we sometimes fail to realize that risk taking is necessary for growth. I’ve got my own shares of risk-taking adventures as I love taking risks. But sometimes, one can’t help but to linger in their comfort zones and this prevents one from taking risks. But as T.S. Elliot once said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” And that’s the essence of risk taking for leaders

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The best way to admit that you are wrong

Let’s admit it, we are humans and we make mistakes. But it really is very difficult to admit that we make them. I don’t know why but that’s human nature. In today’s corporate environment, its but natural for just about any leader or manager to hide the fact that they make mistakes. But the truth about admitting mistakes is highlighted in Anne Adrian’s blog on why it is important for leaders (and just about anybody, for that matter) to admit that they are wrong. Leaders, and people in general, who admit their mistakes

The most liberating thing to do when anybody made a mistake is to speak or write the three most powerful words of the instance: I WAS WRONG. The message conveyed in this statement is so powerful that it changes both the one who says it and the one who listens to it. And, by the way, I just did that today

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