Great Executive

Despite the huge impact executives can have on their organizations, failure rates remain high. Prescriptions for what to do continue to fall short. So it was wondered: If the executives who succeed in top jobs were closely studied , could distinguishing features that set them apart and defined their success were identified?

As part of Harvard’s ten-year longitudinal study on executive transitions, which included more than 2,700 leadership interviews, they did a rigorous statistical analysis (including more than 90 regression analyses) to isolate the skills of the top-performing executives. Seven performance factors correlated were identified to strong organizational performance as well as leadership strengths through IBM Watson’s content analysis tools as well as historical performance reviews of these leaders and their direct reports. These seven factors led to our discovery of four recurring patterns that distinguished exceptional executives. What separated the “best of the best” from everyone else is a consistent display of mastery across four highly correlated dimensions, while “good” executives may have only excelled in two or three. Executives who shine across all four of these dimensions achieve the greatest success for themselves and their organizations.

They know the whole business

Exceptional executives have deep knowledge of how the pieces of the organization fit together to create value and deliver results. Many leaders arrive into the C-suite having grown up in functions like Marketing or Finance and lean too heavily on instincts and cognitive biases shaped by their ascent within those disciplines. Leaders who ran one business of a multi-business enterprise often favor that business within the larger portfolio. Exceptional executives defy such predispositions in order to integrate the entire organization into a well synchronized machine. Executives develop breadth by broadening their exposure to the full organization and taking assignments across disciplines.

They also focus on strengthening the organization’s seams to minimize poor coordination and fragmentation while maximizing the things the organization must do in competitively distinct ways. One client struggled for years to consistently meet customer satisfaction expectations.  In comparative rankings they were generally at or near the bottom of the list. When quarterly forecasts were missed again, Sales retrenched to fix a pricing issue, Customer Marketing focused on better content, and Supply Chain tried to stay ahead of last-minute changes. When all their well-intentioned, but separate, solutions showed up at retail, customer satisfaction never improved. It was the head of R&D who forced all the functions into a room to solve the problem systemically. Together, they revealed obstinate issues of coordination and contradicting priorities between functions who needed to synch up to meet customer expectations. A year later their customer satisfaction improved by 40%. 

They are great decision-makers

Exemplary executives have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call, and communicate the decision clearly. This skill inspires markedly higher confidence and focus among those they lead. Because they’re good decision-makers, they’re also good prioritizers, since setting priorities is all about selectively choosing from among various tradeoffs. Focusing on a few priorities helps these executives ensure successful execution and avoid overwhelming the system with competing goals. They also ensure accountability is crystal clear to the organization.

At the heart of great decision making lies a balance between instinct and analytics. On one end of the continuum are leaders who “trust their guts.” They combine experience and emotion into well-developed intuition. On the other end of the continuum is the leader who relies on exhaustively mining data for insightful perspective to address the decision or problem they face. Exceptional executives function fluidly along this entire continuum, and recognize where their predispositions lie for either being overly impulsive or paralyzed by analysis..

Making good decisions seems to be a comparatively rare skill. In one McKinsey survey of 2,207 executives, only 28% said that the quality of strategic decisions in their companies was generally good, 60% thought that bad decisions were about as frequent as good ones, and the remaining 12% thought good decisions were altogether infrequent. This is consistent with our own findings. The proclivity of bad decision making is usually intensified by poor decision-making systems in organizations. So even leaders whose instincts might otherwise be effective have their ability compromised.

They know the industry

Exceptional executives maintain a solid grasp on the ever-changing context within which their business competes. Their natural contextual intelligence lies at the intersection of insights into how their organization uniquely competes and makes money, and what is most relevant to the customers they serve ─ even when customers may not know themselves.

The ability to apply intricate wisdom of one’s business to emerging competitive threats requires the ability to see trends and emerging possibilities on a multi-year horizon. Too often, leaders are stymied by competing investment options or caught flatfooted in the face of profit shortfalls. Lacking an understanding of how value is delivered to their market, they make suboptimal investments. More typically, they reflexively make across-the-board cost cuts that restrict their ability to maneuver in a shifting competitive arena.

The leaders who scored highest on this skill were described as having innate curiosity and deep knowledge of their business context which they apply to wider economic, technological, and customer trends. Armed with a clear point of view, these exemplars more readily addressed threats and took earlier advantage of opportunities.  Executives develop context by grounding themselves in external realities of their organization, by remaining curious about adjacent industries, and seeking disconfirming data about commonly held assumptions regarding their company.

They form deep, trusting relationships

Every organization has executives everyone wants to work for. These executives form deep connections with superiors, peers, and direct reports, studying and meeting the needs of key stakeholders. They communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial, trusting relationships. Their legacy becomes a positive reputation within the organization for consistently delivering results while genuinely caring for those who deliver them.

It was no surprise that of the four dimensions, relational failure led to the quickest demise among second-best executives.  While exceptional executives led with a humble confidence that graciously extended care to others, second-best executives were inclined to manage perceptions, creating the illusion of collaboration while masking self-interested motives. Executives develop connection by investing heavily in their own emotional and social intelligence, actively solicit feedback about how others experience them, and learn to be vulnerable with their shortcomings to create trust with others.

There’s a lot of research on the importance of executive relationships. One study revealed that executive’s fears of appearing incompetent, underachieving, and political attacks from rivals accounted for 60% of bad behavior among executive team relationships.

All four of these attributes are learnable, and it’s never too early to start developing these skills. Consider where in your current role you have the greatest opportunity for more impact, and which of these four dimensions might be holding you back. You will quickly find they are highly interrelated. So learning more about your own company’s business may require building relationships in others departments. Making sharper investment choices might require learning more about your industry’s changing context. Pick one place to start that will accelerate your impact, and you will be surprised at how quickly you and others see the difference.

 This Article Source from HBR.
Advertisements

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said, Peter Drucker

Hard skills are the core skills required for any job or role. Usually hard skills are acquired through academic or formal studies. Hard skills are the minimum conditions required by employers for any job (although it does not guarantee that you will keep your job for long). On the other hand, soft skills are responsible for every art of dealing with people (the most difficult term of the job equation). There is no black and white in soft skills. Harmonizing with humans do not have one unified formula. It is highly dependent upon context. This post tries to highlight soft skills required in day-to-day job.

It is worth noting that soft skills are responsible for pushing you up the career ladder. Relying solely upon hard skills will make you stay significant time at the lower part of the career ladder!

Definition of Soft Skills

Sometimes they are called People Skills or Relationship Skills. Recently they are linked to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in contrast with “hard skills” that are linked to IQ. Unfortunately, soft skills are mostly ignored during early academic education. It could be better to combine soft skills within hard skills core courses during the education process.

Classification of Soft Skills

Soft skills are scarce in the professional business and are very hard to prove. There are a lot of soft skills but they can broadly be classified into Relationship Skills, Personal Skills, and Business Skills.

Relationship Skills cover communication, negotiation, Leadership and Politics. None is working in sales or relationship management should lack this category of skills. Refer to previous posts on  communication and Negotiation  where they were touched.

Leadership is required even if you are not in a managerial position. As mentioned by Peter Drucker: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”. Leadership will come through establishing trust, building a common vision, building  partnerships, and bringing clarity to risky matters.

Politics is not always bad as wrongly perceived. I searched for an interesting definition of “politics” in Wikipedia as a process of reaching a decision among a group through employing authority, power, and influence. Politics require all previous skills at once to be successful. Politics should follow principles to be governed.

Personal Skills cover transparency, Passion, and fast context-switching.

Transparency is to share your ideas with others and consider others concerns.

Passion is the most important personal skills ever. Nothing great is accomplished without passion (Georg Friedrich). It is your inner feeling of loving doing something. The same things can be performed with or without passion. But there are huge difference with those performed with passion. Combine both persistence and passion to hunt and achieve your goals.

Context-switching is the art of simulating multi-tasking. It is one of key factors for high productivity. Your ability to switch from one subject to another with high speed will determine your capability of time management and multi-track management.

Business Skills cover business knowledge, innovation, practicality, and vision.

Business Knowledge is highly required to know the other side, i.e., your customer or business partner. Our added value as consultants will be clear once we talk same language of our customers. Domain knowledge comprises knowing your customer, knowing customer business, and understanding your company.

Innovation distinguishes you from the masses. Innovation appears in everything: in ideas, in presenting those ideas, in communication with customers, in the process of delivering your services, etc.

Practicality is a major ingredient of success. For example, if you are an IT architect, without practicality, you will be a theorist and you will not achieve your goals. Practicality leads to finding the best way of achieving your goals and executing your strategy in real world with all existing obstacles ad challenges.

Vision distinguishes leaders from followers. A vision requires a target destination along partners with a clear road map. If you miss one of those, vision will lack clarity.

This was a brief trial to scratch the surface of the subject.

Related articles


In hiring a new team member, there is a debate about the degree of importance of having theoretical background compared to practical experience. Theoretical background is gained through academic education, formal training, self-studies and preparations related to certifications. While practice experience comes from actual exercise of skills and competencies in battle field (work environment of course). In addition, practice experience could come from extensive discussions with domain experts.

Practical experience without theoretical background is similar to working with a device without reading its manual. It is probable that you will miss some functions or misuse others. Reading user manuals will help a lot for better understanding of this device.

On the other hand, reading the manual without exercising its instructions on the device, will not make you an expert with using this device. It will take long time to recall instructions for something requires seconds from somebody knows it.

When you interview someone for hiring, you need to make sure he has the right ingredients with proper amounts of theory and practice. Academic education can be easily proven through certificates. However, practical experience is hard to prove (other than getting some guidance from a well-written CV).

One of best techniques is scenario questions. You tell a short story to set the context of the interview and ask a question about the response or a solution for a specific situation within this context. The language of the candidate reply and its logical order should demonstrate his theoretical background. The selected decision should show his practical experience factor.

In conclusion, both are important and you should consider both in your evaluation.


How Others See You? Create Your Personal Brand

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." George Bernhard Shaw

Branding is distinguishing something, e.g., commodity, service, or product, through use of sign, symbol, design, or behavior. Branding is very common commercially, but not so common on individual level. In current crowded business markets, it is good to have or create your personal brand!

I mean by personal brand is to have your own distinct image, qualities and virtues that make you different from others. As much as the contrast between your image and others is high (in a positive sense), it indicates your successful branding.

Personal branding like corporate branding requires a lot of time and effort to build. I have a mental model for branding in a way it is similar to coral reefs (beautiful colorful beings under sea\ ocean water). It takes 100 years to create a one meter length of beautiful corals. However, if they are scratched severely the whole years’ effort will die in a few days!

I read a relevant nice quote about personal branding that I’d like to share with you ‘It’s the brand you make for yourself that determines whether you become mayor of the villageor the village idiot’. So you control the image that everyone sees about you. In order to build a good reputation, you have to view your own actions in the same way that the people judging you will view them.

Everyone has a natural tendency to make excuses for their behavior. Don’t make excuses for yours. People will decide who you are on the basis of the things you do.

There are some behaviors associated with personal brand:

  • Show the best of your values
  • Telling the truth to get the trust
  • Being discreet
  • Keeping your promises and commitments
  • Making people want to work for you

If any of the above is missing, this means you do not have the right bright personal brand.

My advice for the best way to establish a brand when you are new to an organization is by offering something that the organization is missing. This could be done voluntarily but with full commitment. Make sure that you are visible and your values are clearly proven. Take care of the difference between adding-value and being showy without adding value!

Having personal brand does not come without price. You need to consider the following:

1-      Effort and Time (and sometimes money) – you need to exert effort and spent time planning, executing, and polishing your brand,

2-      Risk appetite – you need to explore new areas and be bold to take responsibilities and be accountable,

3-      High spirit – you will be prone for critic as you go, so you need a lot of self-esteem and confidence,

4-      Discipline – each step you take needs to be evaluated to keep your brand intact,

Always remember it is time to outrun competition. It is time for show time!


Motivation and Commitment

"To reach a port, we must sail—Sail, not tie at anchor—Sail, not drift.", Franklin Roosevelt

This is a haunting question. There is a plenty of evidence about human beings laziness compared to other creatures on the planet!

I believe that the statement that “we are lazy creatures” is true to some extent and varies from one to another. Here I will try to throw few ideas about this statement (we can debate of course).

I believe the root behind being lazy is the lack to commitment. Here I refer to the commitment to ourselves and our goals. Many of people do not have goals, objectives, or vision about what they need to achieve in career or life. Here (again) I will borrow from Lewis Carroll (in his masterpiece Alice in Wonderland) a couple of sentences which are very simple to read but very deep to understand:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice,

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

You need to dream with an objective and set interim goals to reach that dream. Without being committed to this vision, you will lose the line of sight and you are in anywhere!

Accordingly, there are two major issues: first, you may not have an objective at all. Second, you may have an objective but we are not committed to achieve it. If you miss any one of those you will be entrapped and classified under lazy species!

To be committed, you need to be motivated to achieve your goals. Lack of motivation is the seed of laziness and the disease of being unproductive.

Some people are gifted to be self-motivated where motivation comes from their souls. Others get motivated from external sources such as mentors, role model, work in a group, needs, etc.

I noticed in many cases, those who classified as “lazy” could work very hard under pressure especially if someone or some external force set their targets. For example, many people work hard if they have exams to pass or deadline to respect. This proves that they have the capability but they lack the motive to work. This exam date or deadline time did a useful thing. It sets a target!

I have a simple recipe to follow (based on a very humbled experience):

1-      Set one or two practical goals to achieve within this year (do not set much),

2-      Set practical plans to achieve those goals,

3-      Plans must have tangible deliverables. Deliverables motivate you to continue,

4-      Plan deliverables to be close to each other, so you are always get excited with capability to progress,

5-      Discuss your goals with someone of group. Search for those who share your interests or like to see you achieving your goals,

6-      Talk about your progress, promise to achieve, and welcome tips and hints,

7-      If you are behind schedule, reschedule to put yourself on track. Do not lose directions,

8-      Remind yourself with benefits of achieving such goals,

9-      Refresh yourself by something out of your plan from time to time such as trips, gym, or any other activity out of your plan context,

10-   Once you achieve the first goal you will like the idea and you will proceed,

Do not leave yourself without goals to achieve. Remember in the absence of well-defined goals, you will be very loyal to do trivial things on daily basis. Without commitment and plans, your targets will remain dreams.

It is a start of a new year. It is time to set targets. It is time to draw a dream and commit to it. It is time to hunt!


Productivity

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

It is very important to learn the secrets of increasing productivity. Time is the most valuable asset in this life. Proper utilization of time (or this asset) you can get any other asset in this life (or even after life!).

In this short post, I will highlight only one tip and a thought about productivity. Yes, only one idea – this is enough if we understand and apply it.

First let me introduce a nice and profound definition of productivity: Productivity = Value/ Time. Notice the VALUE term. It is important that you produce value and not just producing efforts, consuming time, or actions without real value.

I want to highlight a thought about illusion of multitasking. A misleading idea that if you want to increase your productivity is to be a multitasking processor. In other words, you need to carry out multiple tasks at same time. Surf the net, read an article, listen to music, and have a discussion with your kids. With all of these activities you feel (or imagine) that you have a high productivity. Unfortunately, you are not adding a value in any of these tasks.

Although human brain has the capability of considering several dimensions at the same time for a specific subject. The magic number of dimensions is ranging between 5 and 9 (it is 7 plus or minus +/-2) as mentioned by psychology science. This is applied for a single task with several objects and considerations.

The reality is that you need to be single-minded and focusing on specific task. Here the skill of prioritizing tasks comes to the picture. Proper prioritization and estimation of task duration is crucial for increasing productivity.

If we recall how operating systems work to carry out multitasking, several algorithms exist that rely on task (or program) preemption. Where the processor executes portions of programs and switch to another program to execute another portion and so on. Then it returns back to the first one in a round robin fashion across those programs. This gives the feeling (for users) that computer runs\ executing several programs at same time.

Some version of preemption algorithms starts and finalizes shortest tasks first based on estimated execution duration. Other algorithms allocate specific time quota for each program based on their priorities and processor spent this pre-allocated time executing each program. (Please do not confuse this with parallel processing which is another story!)

Applying these concepts with your brain, you can simulate the multitasking. Be careful that the difference between processor and your mind is the speed of switching time and setup required between tasks. Processor just uploads the program code into memory, adjust its instruction pointers and registers and resume execution. However, your brain needs to recall the context of the task and consider current state before resumption. In all cases, you need to focus on one task with full mind attention. This is much more productive than the illusion of carrying multiple tasks at same time.

Let me summarize the technique of multitasking in few bullets:

1- Set priorities to your tasks,

2- Classify tasks into the quadrant of (Important\ Not Important and Urgent\ Not Urgent),

3- Start with tasks in square of Urgent\ Important (since they are not questionable and cannot be delegated),

4- Try to delegate Urgent\ Not Important tasks (if possible) or do it yourself,

5- Estimate duration of each task in the square (Important\ Not Urgent)

6- Eliminate or delegate the tasks in square (Not Important\ Not Urgent),

7- Focus on the urgent and important tasks one at a time,

8- Sharpen your skills of switching between tasks (this is a key differentiator between one person and another – remember processor efficiency in doing that). How fast and still-focused  you can switch between tasks, determines your productivity and your speed.

I hope this helps.


"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works", Steve Jobs

I have long time since my last post. More sharpened time management techniques are required here!
Since long time, since early days of college, I am thinking about good design. I am fond of good design of anything and not only software in particular. I deeply believe that there is no difference between good design of a vending machine, piece of furniture, car, or well-architected software. All of them provide you (end-user) with satisfaction and happiness of using this object more and more.

Nevertheless, I would like to discuss a part of good design which a portion of design that is visible to end-users called usability.

I believe the field of usability engineering is overlooked by many of IT consultants and specialists. They would wrongly think that this practice is exclusive for products development companies who develop large software products or electronic gadgets. However, if we dig into the concepts behind usability engineering, we will discover that its understanding will contribute heavily in many aspects of IT consultants’ activities.

Wikipedia definition of usability is “Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with.

IT consultant can make very good use of usability concepts while he is working on specific deliverables such as an analysis document or design document. How he will present and design the document layout and outline, in an attractive manner for readers. The same applies for sales person who will be much capable of building sleek presentations with clear messages.

Many IT consultants go into IT industry field without minimum knowledge about usability. They experiment their ad-hoc ideas upon their victims (customers in this case) wondering why their customers are not attracted or not understanding their creative work!!

Usability engineering is relevant to other social, psychological, and cognitive sciences. This would propose an acceptable explanation of why IT consultants and specialists do not stumble upon this field during their academic studies (however, this is not an excuse!).

I can simplify the subject of usability into a theme of phrases (as in this post title) starts with “Do not bother me with much thinking about [finding messages within your presentation – tracking line of thought within your document – using your program – understanding what is meant by this error message – learning how to operate this device – searching for help – function of this button – this goes on and on].

We should differentiate between designing good software which is modular and well-layered separating presentation layer from application logic. This does not guarantee you will end up with a good usability level of the application but will ensure future maintenance of it.

However, good architecture and good design promotes and supports high usability. Many invisible components impact visible ones and accordingly the final usability seen by end-user. For example, good data modeling would guarantee fast database response to end-user queries. But the point is that good design is not alone responsible for good usability but it is essential.

In literature, there are many factors determining usability but the major factors can be summarized as follows:

– Efficiency – the amount of effort\ energy\ time required to be consumed by end-user to achieve required results,

– Effectiveness – the capability of software (or any other object) to meet end-user goals with desired accuracy and completeness within a given context,

– Satisfaction – users’ subjective opinion and approval about experience of using a software program or a website,

– Learnability – the ease of use which will enable users achieve their goals. Moreover, they can do other functions for the first time without much thinking or previous training, in other words, intuitive.

Although we know usability factors, those above factors are very difficult to measure and this provides the beauty and mysterious of innovation and creativity. If those factors can be mathematically modeled and measured, the fun about design would disappear!! This is my opinion at least!

In future posts, we can go into more details and examples about good usability.