Archive for November, 2008

Are people your most important asset?

It’s time companies started paying more than lip service to the often-recited slogan: “people are our greatest asset.”

While this basic reality is well understood by most companies, a fundamental change in people management is essential for organisational growth.  If we really believe that people are our greatest asset we should measure the importance of them within our companies.

Technology is certainly crucial in realising the potential of people and harnessing, developing and leveraging the knowledge of those people.  When technology is integrated with corporate strategy, the capacity of an organisation to liberate the potential of its employees is exponentially increased, productivity enhancements are achieved and great organisations develop.

So how do we put systems, processes and reporting in place to get better focus on the development of human and knowledge capital within organisations?

We need to measure, value and manage our most important asset – our people.  Start by analysing the results of customer satisfaction and employee opinion surveys.  Ask your employees whether they feel they’re well led, whether they understand where their organisation is heading, if they feel part of that direction and whether they feel engaged in where their leaders are taking them.

Organisations have much to learn about their achievements and challenges by consulting with their employees and customers.  And more importantly, measuring staff and customer satisfaction can predict the company’s success levels in the next twelve months.

The future of any organisation relies on its ability to harness its human potential, and all business leaders wanting to succeed must aim to extract one hundred percent from each and every staff member.  If you compare the way we manage cash and inventory you wouldn’t survive running an organisation wasting up to sixty percent of those assets.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to waste human assets.

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Planning’s for the birds!

I’m wondering about my own commitment to planning. 

In the past, I have been a strong proponent of planning – in fact my life both personal and professional have been built this way.  I have annual plans, decade plans and tactical plans that address the week-by-week, month-by-month operations of my life. I’ve even written a book about it (SelfScape).

My plans are mental, textual and visual.  They can be found in my diary and on my pin boards at home and at work. 

But then, I began to wonder if John Lennon might be right – that “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.

Then, for my birthday, a huge surprise from my husband: motorcycle lessons. Had he checked my diary or my annual planner (so prominently displayed in my office)?  Did he know how I could fit all those extra hours needed for the motorbike lessons into the 26-hour day I already had?

No, he just wanted to ensure I grow old disgracefully.

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Rise of the global enterprise

When I joined IBM in 1981, it was a classic 20th century organisation – the multinational.

Multinationals emerged to gain access to local markets and resources, setting up mini versions of themselves in literally hundreds of countries.  And for decades it was a very successful model.

However, what looked like efficiency has become redundant. Multinationals simply replicated or duplicated their business in every country. So now there are 150 mini IBMs around the globe.

This means that they have their own models for distribution and supply chain optimisation, procurement and marketing, frozen outdated business models and often disconnected from the electronic web of the enterprise. Even today, suppliers, customers, agents and producers are paper and distance constrained.

This duplication is inefficient.  The next generation marketplace – with the convergence of applied artificial intelligence, super fast networks, wireless systems, smart agents and real-time communications – will require organisations to ask the hard questions to determine their core competencies, strategic positioning and corporate identity.

They will also ask the questions about what they outsource to other enterprises to capitalise on the connected network of organisations all working in their core competency and delivering accelerated innovation and delivery execution for the marketplace.

The enterprise will come to think of itself not as an organisation but as a network, and not just a network of technology but also a network of people.

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The buck starts here

In the 1970s and 1980s it was common for CEOs to have a sign on their desk, which said: “The buck stops here”.

This might have been appropriate when all information and power flowed to the top but it is not appropriate now. It was only appropriate when one person could keep their finger on the pulse and the world moved more slowly.

Nowadays, it’s not so much ‘command and control’ as ‘command and connect’ – connect to those who have the knowledge of current markets and current opportunities. 

Perhaps the sign on the CEOs desk should say “The buck starts here”?

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Google Generation a Myth?

Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, released earlier this year, suggests that the Google Generation is a myth.

In particular, it found that academics and researchers are “power-browsing” or skimming material, and using “horizontal” (shallow) research. Most spent only a few minutes looking at academic journal articles and few returned to them. “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense,” said the report authors.

And this behaviour was not restricted to ‘screenagers’.

“From undergraduates to professors, people exhibit a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal, flicking behaviour in digital libraries. Factors specific to the individual, personality and background are much more significant than generation.”

This is an interesting take on the ‘digital native’ concept, and suggests that today’s youth are not the only generation with a national facility for navigating digital information.

As digital media researcher Margaret Weigel says: “being a media studies person and a lover of history, you learn that over time, modalities change, but human capacities rarely do.”

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Top ten management mistakes

Managers come from different walks of life, possess various characteristics, and have their own philosophies regarding how to manage a business and employees. In a broad sense, there are common mistakes made by managers at different levels and in various types of businesses. The following are 10 management mistakes, outlined on business blog Bizmazing, are the most common.

  1. Putting policies ahead of people. The smaller the organization, the larger the mistake this is. Policies are made to be followed, within reason. Some flexibility with employees, particularly in a small company, is important. An even bigger mistake is standing behind policies at the expense of losing loyal customers. Weigh the significance of standing behind your policy in each situation. If it is a matter of physical safety or security, policies must be upheld. However, in many other instances, there are reasonable solutions that will not alienate the customer or create a strained relationship with your employee(s).
  2. Lack of communication. In any industry, at any level, communication is key to being a successful manager. Employees need to know what is expected of them and when specific projects or tasks need to be completed. Communication needs to be clear, and any questions that arise need to be answered.
  3. Failing to hear what your employees have to say. Managers make the mistake of listening but not always hearing what their employees are saying. To manage effectively, you need to understand the needs and concerns of your employees.
  4. Not acknowledging that you do not have all the answers. A good manager does not make the mistake of trying to solve every problem. Seeking help from individuals with expertise in specific areas is a sign of strength, not weakness. In addition, a good manager must understand that his or her way is not the only way to do the job.
  5. The glass is always half empty. Managers who continually focus on the negatives, without recognizing positive achievements or employee accomplishments, end up with employees who are not motivated and often have one foot out the door looking for a more positive work environment.
  6. Not accepting responsibility. A common mistake made by managers is to either delegate blame or simply not accept responsibility for that which happens under their guidance. Eventually, avoiding responsibility will catch up with a manager and usually not bode well for his or her future. Being in charge means taking responsibility for whatever happens.
  7. Favouritism. Once a manager has obvious favourites, he or she loses credibility and the respect of the rest of the team.
  8. Just do it. The Nike slogan does not work when employees are trying to gain an understanding of the process or project. Rather than expecting your team to simply work blindly on tasks they do not understand, a good manager takes the time to explain what the project is all about and how the team’s work is incorporated into the plan. Remember, the more the team is invested in a project, the better the results will be.
  9. Too much technology. A new breed of managers are more tech-savvy than they are comfortable handling and managing people. Embracing technology is a key to success in the modern office environment, but not at the risk of embracing people skills. Do not hide behind e-mails and other technology.
  10. Never change. In a rapidly changing business environment, not being open to change can be a major mistake. While you may stick to tried-and-true methods in some areas, you should consider and weigh the value of change in others. Above all, be flexible.

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Welcoming the age of e-learning

Academic Dale Spender has turned her attention from feminism and towards “new learning” and how education in the 21st century must adjust to the digital revolution.

Computers have changed the way we learn. The getting of wisdom is no longer a linear process, but a journey where information is forever transforming and where learning is a “trip” from one Web site to another.

The “survival skills of the past” – those of order, systematic processes and reliance on memory – are gone. While today’s parents learned by memorising information for exams, today’s students need a completely different skill set.

“Today’s students,” Spender argues, “need an education that encourages them to be independent, innovative and self-reliant — able to generate their own work and income.”

Digital technologies are enabling us to do creative things with information. With blogs and wikis, everyone can communicate. With RSS feeds, everyone can read about it. MySpace and FaceBook help us to connect with the world. Flickr helps to sort, store and share your snaps, while YouTube lets you show off your movie making talents. Tagging sites like Del.ici.ous enable us to share our favourite Web pages.

And as Spender points out, “When we set out to find a solution, it is not the right answers that we need to remember, but the right questions that we need to ask.”

More than 80 percent of Australians are in the information-making business creating something in the workplace that you can’t drop on your foot.

So we need to recognise that the skills that we developed aren’t going to be the same skills that the next generation of workers needs to survive and flourish in the digital age.

But how do we nurture those skills so that our next generation of workers can succeed?

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