Author Archives: pancarib

Technology and Millennials – An Inside View

The following is a contribution by Ms. Sasha Soogrim – Media and Technology Analyst at panCaribbean.org, and posits her reflection on the significance of technology to one of the Millennial Generation.

Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purpose especially in industry. It is amazing I found something that was hard work but I enjoyed very much. I was introduced to basic computer skills in form 1 of Pleasantville Secondary School. To my surprise I was  immediately interested in the different areas of technology.

As an 18 year old woman, who was newly introduced to the world of technology and its fast evolving nature; it’s amazing to see how the humans went from sticks and stones to iPhone and Wi-Fi. That’s when I figured out I want to further my education in computer technology.

What I really understand technology to be is the improvement of human life. Where we invent a more efficient and less time consuming way to improve anything. For example, from using stone, clay, charcoal to write, we improved it to pencils, pens, ink, now we use the computer to type and print our words. I know that finding a way to do things faster, producing more of a product or ensuring that things can be done without mistakes can be used to increase productivity and revenue. For example, a company can now produce over 1500 bottles of water a day as opposed to 500 a day hand filled or instead of having someone write 5 copies of a document when we can use a copier/printer to do it without mistakes and less time.

digital worldFor me, the world of technology is fascinating, it’s like a whole new world of improved equipment to help make life easier. To see how we can make robotic arms and micro cameras it’s really surprising how far in technology we have improved. I saw a really interesting video where two full bodied robots were playing table tennis. Also to know that our world is yet to be further improved by several new technology on the market. I personally think that the world has improved immensely in technology. A lot of everyday tasks has been made easier to do with technology. For example, toilets that flush themselves so it’s more sanitary, alarm systems where a person does not need to be present at the compound, hearing aids to help the hearing impaired individuals, a pair of glasses to help the vision impaired individuals, prosthetic limbs to help those who lost limbs and many more.

I think it can be both positive and negative to the world. Positive things such as chairs to sit on & beds to sleep on so we would not have to use the floor, refrigerators to preserve our foods (raw & cooked), microwaves to heat cold food etc. It’s also scary to know that some technology can be of danger to us- negative things like weapons of destruction, chemical toxins that can harm living things, pollution that harms the environment and much more.

I am involved in the world of technology from my everyday life. From my fridge to the microwave, the television, the internet… soo many devices we use that are technologically advanced from the original inventions. I myself can only go 1 maybe 2 days without my phone but to go without my everyday essentials it would be extremely hard especially if you do not have water in the taps, no toilets, no internet, no library, no cars etc.

Computer Technology has a big part to play in my job. I’m a media technician. I promote businesses via internet, newspapers, advertisements, flyers, websites etc. I have my fair share of project management to do but it is fun when I have a new project like making videos, making websites, even just editing videos or recording radio programs. All exciting things to do and the level of technology is interesting especially learning how to use it. It is interesting to get to know the world of computer technology before actually studying it. Yes, it is a step into the unknown world but my opinion is working hands-on in this field you learn a lot more. It is always more fun and educational when you have a hands-on experience than sit with a book to read about it.

My plans for the future is to further my studies in Software Engineering. I also plan to focus on researching technology and the different areas such as construction, manufacturing, information & communication, energy and power, transportation, medical & bio-related, agriculture & environmental. My interest grows rapidly in the area of technology as it is fascinating and has captured my attention. And I intend to quench my thirst for knowledge in this particular field.

Sasha is an Analyst – Media and Technology Projects at Professional Alliance Network (Caribbean) Ltd. She can be contacted at ssoogrim@pancaribbean.org

Managing and Leveraging Knowledge to Succeed

As we move forward in the information age, we often hear terms such as learning organisations, intelligent computing and intellectual capital. One such term we hear time and time again is “knowledge management” — a new focus of developing organisations.

It is interesting to recognise that the principles of knowledge management were practiced globally over 100 years ago!  Farmers for example operated based on the moon phases—those who will swear on their crop that their practices make the difference between a bumper harvest and a dismal season. And what about the well known ‘Corpus Christi’ planting season, which coincides with the start of the rainy season—a time when the nitrate content in the soil is supposed to be the highest. We knew from experience even if we could not have explained the science behind it.

To cut through all the hype, this is what knowledge management is about. Knowledge management refers to the process of managing and leveraging the stores of knowledge that reside within an organisation, with the objectives being to add value, improve efficiency, increase productivity and/or revenues.

Quite a tall order, you would agree, and it entails more than the traditional human resource development initiatives.  So how does the system of knowledge management seek to attain these lofty objectives? These needs of enhancing the productivity, efficiency and revenue streams can be translated into the following strategies:

– Fostering innovation in systems so as to increase efficiency (reduce cost) and productivity
– Improving customer service by reducing response times or adding value to products
– Boosting revenues by enabling a faster turnover time, lower cost and increased productivity.
– Encouraging employee retention by recognising their capabilities and soliciting their contributions.

For those of you involved in the daily business operations, these may seem simple enough. But as we all know, implementation is the real challenge. However, there are some relatively simple considerations to building an effective knowledge management system.

Step 1: Ensure an Effective Information Base

An efficient information system in an organisation supports an effective knowledge management initiative, by enabling employees to enter single transaction entries, reduce errors of entries and retrieval, reduce the time needed for these operations, increase access to documents (within the organisation and via the Internet), demands less storage space and stationery, tailor reports to those parameters desired and a host of other possible benefits that vary according to industry and scale of operations.

This seeks to ensure that the right information is being captured, retrieved and reported in the most cost effective and timely process to support decisions by persons charged with responsibility for same—the analysts, the various levels of supervisors and management personnel.

Depending on the size of the organisation and the industry, other criteria can be equally, if not more important, and includes such aspects as information security, reliability, data accessibility etc.

Implementing an effective information system can be simple, or, as is more often the case, leads to some capital expenditure—which an organisation is not always prepared to spend. A phased approach is practical more often than not, but regardless of the approach, planning is the critical element of this stage.

Step 2: Involve employees in the identification of problems, determination and selection of solutions

This may be routine in many organisations, but too often we hear of systems and solutions being implemented by organisations, only to meet with resistance by those employees charged with its execution.

By consulting with the employees managers can have a better understanding of the real problems, and maybe even the solutions to rectify these problems because existing knowledge gets shared and new ideas are discussed ie knowledge is created.

By learning how to learn together managers help employees to feel a part of the system—of both development and decision-making. Work therefore acquires intrinsic meaning, as it becomes a natural primal motivator.

Organisations that implement this aspect of the knowledge management system may begin to see that the employees are more accommodating to changes in the systems that are deemed inefficient, and are more receptive to new processes and procedures that facilitate increased efficiency, possibly even those that mean increased workloads or longer hours.

Additionally, organisations may also realise the benefit of a reduction in the rate of staff turnover—especially those skilled workers who play an influential role in the realisation of objectives.

Employees, and especially skilled workers, who are included in the process of consultation feel a sense of purpose and belonging, being part of the solution. This sense of purpose encourages a level of commitment and dedication—and ultimately loyalty, that is difficult to capture otherwise. Also, organisations benefit from the various cultural considerations by those employees of varying ethnicities, beliefs and nationalities.

The workplace diversity within the organisation can enable the organisation to realise the cultural implications of its activities on its market as well as the wider community—a factor of increasing importance given the advent of globalisation.

Organisations that seek to implement this system may find it necessary to create some system of reward and recognition that is perceived to be both just and fair—an ideal that can prove challenging depending on the number of employees involved. Additionally, these systems may necessitate a change in management style—and this is not always a desirable action managers are willing to take.

Managers that adopt a typical authoritative style may find it difficult to solicit employee participation, as well as their being unwilling to change their methods to accommodate any comprehensive participation/reward system. Ultimately, decisions must be taken one way or the other to realise the desired outcome.

Also of importance, a system of this nature may demand a modification of the communication process within the organisation, and organisations seeking to implement the system should be prepared to make the necessary amendments.

Step 3: Documenting and Sharing Knowledge

This area is currently the core focus of knowledge management initiatives, and involves such technological considerations as knowledge work systems (KWS), office automation systems (OAS), computer aided designs (CAD) etc.

Not all of these systems may be feasible or even relevant to an organisation, but the underlying principle is to enable employees to document their systems, methodology and processes, and techniques in order to allow ease of access to information for knowledge creation by all.

Once the right tools are available, it becomes easier for employees to (1) document their thoughts, processes, and ideas, (2) communicate these thoughts and ideas with others and (3) share documentation on these with others. These “tools” referred to would include office automated systems, which include word processors, voice mail systems, imaging for documents etc.

Many of these knowledge-enhancing tools come readily available in contemporary software packages, however, the element usually missing is the training of employees to know what can be done using which programmes.

Take for instance the case where organisation-wide email is implemented as the preferred medium of communication, but the typing speed of employees is 15 words a minute. Although the email system may reduce the stationery costs, the time of enquiries and responses increases drastically. Training is therefore one example of the considerations organisation would have to bear in mind in the implementation of such systems.

Moreover, caution must be observed when determining/developing systems, since improper consultation and management can lead to budget overruns, inefficient implementation and a system that defeats the purpose for which it was obtained.

Turning the corporate ship onto a new knowledge management course demands steady hands. And, it’s top management who must be right out in front, in the same way that he/she has to be out in front of major investments in technology hardware or software.

The fact is that if employees don’t see management leading the way, they’re not going to lend their support and we risk losing our company’s valued intellectual capital.

Leveraging Corporate Leadership for Effective Results

A working definition of ‘Leadership’ is the ability of an individual to glean the commitment of others towards the realisation of a goal or objective (Cole 1995). A dissection of this enables the extraction of key concepts in understanding the nature, and subsequent application of leadership ability in a more effective manner.

 

An Understanding of Leadership

But I find this dissection best treated with in reverse order. Looking first at the goal or objective and its realisation, we can note certain characteristics (call it best-practices if you prefer) that guide the identification of goals. Adair (2004) encapsulated these in his SMARTER ‘checklist’, stating that goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bounded, Evaluated, Reviewed. If they are not, then we face some inherent risk in their realisation.

Where the objectives are unclear or not time bound, work towards its realisation tends to not be the most efficient or effective. This same would apply to the other criteria, and as a result we have within the SMARTER model an operational framework for defining goals and objectives to effectively enable their realisation.

There is another dimension to consider – that of gleaning the commitment of others. Why would people commit to the realisation of a goal? We know that except in instances of absolute selflessness (if it exists), the individual works towards a goal if it is in his/her interest or benefit to do so – whether that benefit is direct or indirect; extrinsic or intrinsic.

Further to this fundamental premise, the advent of division of labour gave rise to the basic concept of the group or organisation as we know it today – two or more persons working towards a common objective. The degrees of formality and permanence may have shifted (Cole 2003), but the underlying need of each other – be it for social, economic or other purposes – has perpetuated.

Thus guided we recognise that people would commit to a goal individually or as a group if the goal is synchronous with their desires or states of being. Restating this from another angle, people would commit to a goal that they (helped to) determine. Wallis alluded to this in saying, “there is a natural opposition among men to anything they have not thought of themselves.”

The third dimension in our understanding of leadership is that of the individual’s ability to gain that commitment from others. And it is on this point that complexity is amplified. What is that secret ingredient? Is it charisma? One’s integrity? Distinct traits, perhaps? Or is it rather situational, and a result of extenuating circumstances? Are leaders made? Are they born? Does leadership happen?

Each theory or perspective that has been offered has made a contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of leadership, but application has been quite another dynamic. And it is in lieu of the latter that we revert to the fundamentals of interpersonal interaction.

One’s ability to influence others within a corporate context is emphasised within the intersect of confidence (based on some degree of consistency in competence) communication (based on a recognition of interdependence); and commitment to a cause.

 

Confidence

People tend to respond to confidence. Whether this confidence is based on our degree of comfort in a given situation, or exudes in spite of that situation, confidence tends to effect ‘followership’. In an organisational context (based on limited research), where the person serving in a leadership capacity is confident in their position, or alternatively has demonstrated competence in performing the functions of that role, his/her subordinates tend to willingly follow the individual or at the very least respond positively to their direction. This is reinforced by Glickman (1987) who said, “…one who aspires to craft or to lead is at a loss if he/she …lacks the knowledge, skills or practices to work toward or to achieve that end.”

 

Communication

Interpersonal interaction, based on the available media and channels of communication, can (re)define the effectiveness of leaders. Two key factors in this regard have been observed to play a pivotal role in the effectiveness of leaders – the clarity and tone of communication.

Clarity of interaction tend to incorporate both transmitting and receiving information – and signalling feedback. It is not uncommon to hear of complaints of ambiguous meanings or mixed signals from their supervisors and managers – and this suggests ineffective communication.

In this regard, Gothe observed “if any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts.” Of course, this is not exclusive to ‘writing’ and ‘men’ only. Yet it establishes a principle which can guide us in our interaction with others – and enable us to be more effective as leaders. Boileau added to this when he said, “what is conceived well is expressed clearly and words to say it will arise with ease.”

 

Commitment

The commitment of a leader to the realisation of a goal sets the tone for the rest of the members of the group to follow. Leadership by example, ‘from the front,’ evokes in others the motivation to themselves commit to the realisation of a goal.

It is akin to the Japanese proverb that says, “No man will find the best way to do a thing unless he loves to do that thing.” Whether you choose to call it love or belief, passion or conviction, the commitment of an individual to realise a goal infuses in others drive and hope.

The abstraction of essential themes within this framework advocate that the ability to influence others centres around the ability to gain people’s trust and respect, on one part, and organising effort to stimulate and guide action, on another.

Trust and Respect from subordinates encourages them to buy-in to the goals, intentions or aspirations. Further, the leader’s ability to optimise resources (be it based on intuition or experience) instils in subordinates the confidence and by extension the willingness to follow the leader and actively pursue identified goals. Hay’s study of employee satisfaction found that:

1. Trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization.

2. Effective communication by leadership in three critical areas was the key to winning organizational trust and confidence:

A leader empowered with the trust, respect and confidence of his/her team can define the organisational climate and culture to enable the realisation of results. The leader can relegate impossibility to a mere state of mind. Are you up to the challenge?

The Role of Leadership in the Success of Strategy

Strategy is a response by the organization so as to realise the goals, relative to the competitive and wider socio-economic landscape. It serves to outline the course or plan of action (or policies, if you prefer) over the identified time period, and channels resources to those initiatives identified. Whether this is done via a Management-by-Objective approach or one more focused on Continuous Improvement, it hinges on the performance of people to be realised.

 

In today’s knowledge era, companies are increasingly placing emphasis on people in the realisation of goals. Be it through diversity, talent management, internal corporate social responsibility, innovative compensation packages and other forms of inclusion and ownership, companies are empowering individuals with resources and support to pursue strategies and realise objectives.

 

As a direct consequence, we are seeing more and more the consideration of leadership competencies within the organisation – those competencies that can enable persons to work willingly towards the realisation of goals and objectives. Distinct though not disconnected with the management roles within and organisation, leadership as a strategy is proving effective and resilient for organisations to realise their goals efficiently and effectively.

 

Based on the foundation of trust, respect and confidence, the perspectives of the leader(s) within and throughout the organisation can have a ripple effect on the organisation, both in terms of the acceptance and commitment by all – towards the success of the initiatives identified. What then is the role the leader can play in the strategy ‘process’ within and throughout the organisation?

 

Reinforcing Commitment

Strategic Planning may appear to persons within organisations as a mysterious and demanding exercise exclusive to the top tiers of management, and one that does not change the way things are done, nor address the problems faced. The leader here can reinforce the usefulness and commitment by staff to the planning initiative, and encourage their active participation where applicable.

 

The commitment of the leaders also set the tone for the rest of the organisation to follow. Dedication to the process – the insistence on obtaining the requisite information, discussing the major issues and challenges, agreeing on positions and preferences – all serve to reinforce the support and conviction towards the strategic planning process.

 

Inclusion in Planning

A leader, through open and respectful dialogue, can include his/her subordinates in the determination of goals and objectives – be it the resolution of problems or the realisation of opportunities. This inclusion not only incorporates persons in the process, allowing for greater levels of ownership and commitment, but can also identify critical issues and goldmines of opportunities that can serve the organisation well in its development agenda.

 

By extension, the leader has a critical role to play in the selection (or configuring, if you prefer) of strategy to achieve results. Consideration of resource availability and demands would mean that people are either supported in their efforts; overworked within an ailing structure; or callously disregarded as emphasis is focused elsewhere.

 

Communication and Roll-Out

The leader (who by definition has a competence in communication and interpersonal interaction) can effectively communicate the strategic intent throughout the organisation, to glean the buy-in and commitment by others within the organisation. Inherent in this would be the recognition of interdependence by all stakeholders in the realisation of the objectives.

 

As an example, one company locally placed roughly half of their efforts on themed communication of the plan throughout the organisation – to sterling performance. The news releases, posters, theme songs, dialogue and roll-out plan (complete with quick wins and staff support) all meshed to yield exemplary results in a situation where the expectations were abysmal at best.

 

Because the time lapse between the formulation of strategies and their realisation may be significant (typically up to three (3) or five (5) years), interests and commitment to the goals may vary by persons within the organisation. People may be caught up in the process and forget the outcome, or may become disenfranchised with the delay in realising the results.

 

A leader can serve to not only drive the implementation of initiatives by individuals and teams, but also help to maintain the focus and levels of effort, through any of the mechanisms of encouragement, focus, empowerment and support.

 

Reinforcing Accountability and Ownership

The leader can, in his/her interaction with individuals, reinforce the accountability of persons of various levels, and perpetuate the degree of ownership perceived. Of course, a major prerequisite of this is the assumption that the persons within the organisation have the capacity, supporting systems and procedures, resource availability and asset base to perform the task at hand.

 

In a corporate environment where ‘passing the buck’ may be the default practice, it helps the leader to lead, and the organisation to realise the goals, if every base of support is available. When this is the case, the individuals’ effectiveness plays that pivotal role in the degree of success of the initiatives.

 

Celebrating Success / Sharing Failure

The leader, being part of a team, cannot be removed from the realisation (or not) of results pursued by the team, without jeopardising his/her role on the team. A deflection of responsibility, ownership or commitment can undermine the respect, confidence or commitment maintained by the team-members in their leader. Some contemporary approaches to leadership recognise leading ‘from the front’ or through ‘action-centred’ perspectives.

 

One individual celebrated attainment of every milestone with an offsite feast – designed, developed and devoured by team members. Of course, it may not be practical to encourage a GANTT Chart for every recipe, but it does highlight the innovative and meaningful ways the leader can link performance and effort to the realisation of strategy.

 

All organisations are associations of people, and this is reflected in any definition of the entity. In the approaches to strategy, we are seeing greater emphasis placed on the empowering persons and monitoring performance towards the goals identified. Alternatively, within a continuous improvement approach, more emphasis is toward innovation and specialisation of individuals to effect change.

 

Notwithstanding this dichotomy, a leadership strategy can prove as safe as it can be effective, since it impacts the very foundation of the organisation – its people. The success of the strategy would be a function of the timeliness and effectiveness of people pursuing same, and certainly the leader has a role to play in this equation.

 

As John Quincy Adams identified, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader.”

On Purpose: Leveraging Our Personal Strengths

We are unique in our identity as we are in purpose.

Our identity is based on the generic construct of our unique ancestors, compounded by our own experiences, and interpretations thereof, as we journey through life. These all converge in our minds to provide us the lens through which we view the world and our place in it. And thus we craft our purpose that may enable us to demonstrate our distinction and contribute to our conviction in this great medley we call society.

Our purpose is infinitely more ambiguous (relative to identity), and in one sense all we know is our presence as the effect of the copulation of our parents and their ancestors. But this answers more HOW we happen to be here than the more important WHY.

In the grand design we may never truly understand our purpose of being – it may well have been to directly uplift persons from a disadvantaged or oppressed position; as it may have been to prepare the world to receive another; or to embody or exemplify what should not be done, and thereby remind another of the folly of an act or pattern of behaviour. History alone would vindicate our contribution in this regard.

At another level, we have a purpose of doing – a driving force that shapes our interpretation of our environment and our responses to the changes therein. A primary motivator, this purpose can be identified by inspiration or situation. Regardless of how our purpose is revealed to us, we must be open to accepting it into the very fabric of our being – to let it infuse every cell of our bodies and every synapse of our brain.

Our purpose must become our soul – that gives direction to our efforts. It is easy to classify this purpose as our motivation in its conventional sense, yet this purpose is deeper than, and may even contradict our motivations and aspirations.

This purpose of doing is more akin to our sense of duty – what are those things for which we will be held accountable – either in this and/or the next world.

How can we find purpose? Do we choose it or it chooses us? Our purpose of being may be crystal clear to use or we may exhaust our lives (even those of others) and may never know. Our purpose of doing is informed by that ever-present dichotomy of our unique gifts as human beings and those situations in which we find ourselves. In any circumstance, we can either utilize our gifts for the benefit of ourselves and/or others – this balance we alone can set – or learn from the situation and build armour to contribute more significantly in the future: there is no punishment, since the looming Day of Reckoning or Judgment us yet to come to pass.

What are our gifts then? As a species, our collective gift is that of freedom to choose – not what we face as we perpetually move closer to our demise – but rather how we respond to those situations which we are given to face – the ever-evolving realities that entrust their sacred lessons to our care. All humans are given this gift, wrapped in a burst of colour and textures, scents and sounds that we appropriately call the present. This gift defines us collectively, and one that we bestow the same courtesy on as any other gift, engendering with care even as we savour its character.

Beyond this, subjectivity reigns. A gift is as valuable as its worth to whom it is bestowed. IT may be only skin deep, an ease to behold if not a pleasure. For others it may be wit, mirth or courage. Yet others may be entrusted with intellect or wisdom that they may guide. Others still may be happy dependents who bestow love, care and gleams of admiration that fuels the fires of our passion.

And what if our gifts cannot enable us to reach our goals – that which we aspire to own or achieve? Gifts are given to us to do with as we choose…

But Know! Under-utilisation or use for only frivolous or selfish ends will ensure that these gifts do not linger in their departure – but rather dissipate into a realm that we may never know or can never reach. It becomes that drop that escapes our clutches and falls into the sea – which we may never again taste of its succulence.

May our purpose mold our identity, and provide a beacon toward which we sail, beyond storms and calm seas.

The Art of Leadership… Beyond the Science

“Art is a higher type of knowledge than experience”

~ Aristotle – Metaphysics ~

Here’s an unusual challenge: Create a poem with the subject matter being on Nature and our Environment. The poem must comprise 17 syllables in 3 lines, allocated into 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. Do you accept this challenge? The resulting product – known as Japanese ‘Haiku’ – is a form of poetry that can cause the inductee some challenge to rhythm and rhyme before the creative juices begin to flow.

If you are not too inclined to this form of art, and prefer a more hands-on challenge, we only need look at the ‘Food’ channels on our televised media to see instances of chef competitions and challenges where the creativity is tested with the additional restrictions of limited ingredients or within a specific culinary theme. It may be in the form of challenges centred around 1 key ingredient, or rather one of specific ingredients that may not work together conceptually – but that is what the chefs are given to work with and the time starts now.

Many of the persons undertaking these challenges title themselves artists who are able to not only work with what is given but transcend limitations in order to create their own tributes. So too for us – having mastered the science of our respective discipline – each challenge which we face allows the artist in us to develop and mature; each project a canvas to which we are allowed the opportunity to paint with our own abilities and from our perspectives. Over time, our every effort becomes a stroke of varying intensity and colour that fills the canvas of our career, inspired by passion and sculpted with soul, shaping the object of our attention and affection towards our version of excellence.

As artists operating within our own professions, we too will be tried and tested in different ways and by different parameters. Be it an oversupply of information, an unavailability of resources or inefficient work-ethic, each parameter sets a boundary that can be seen as an insurmountable inconvenience or as an obstacle that, once overcome, can leave a lasting hue of dazzling brilliance. This ability would be more valuable in more restricted environments, and with increasing regulatory frameworks and compliance specifications, may in fact prove critical to sustainability if not growth.

As leaders of artists and as artists ourselves, the challenge is amplified and arresting. We need to ensure that our artists are able to function – with the resources that are necessary, with the skill to create, and with the will to perform even where there are challenges and obstacles. Our contribution to the operating environment (and our own work of art) is much more elemental – demanding the ability to manage (all) resources and efforts directed toward a vision of the future as well as the delicate ability to inspire the artist to function – to ignite the passion that would engulf entire initiatives and effect a lingering afterglow of achievement.

This is not effortless by any means, since obstacles can deter as much as it can entice, ourselves as leaders as much as those whom we lead. As artists, effective performance requires our own passion and dedication to stay the course, despite any obstacles or limitations that may surface. It draws on our creativity and ability to visualise hidden paths that can lead us out of tribulation. As leaders of artists, we must be cognizant of what our reports envision themselves, enunciate and draw upon for inspiration. Equally of importance, we need to know what the requirements are that our artists would need in order to create. Where there are debilitating limitations an open consideration of the complexity of reality can serve to exact resolve and draw upon the individual creativity of each artist even as it serves to strengthen resolve.

Our professionals of today stand to benefit from the artistic approach to their disciplines – one that would engender creativity and innovative responses to manifest boundaries and limitations. The basis is the dedication to a profession, the drive to transcend the science of the discipline and realise their unique contributions that can be offered to the craft. And where this is attainable, the leader as the artist can his/herself offer a contribution to the leadership arts that would auger to the benefit of all individuals, and the organisation as a whole – as his/her own work of art. Great art, as attested by Huneker, as “an instant arrested in eternity.”

Faheem Mohammed is Managing Director of Professional Alliance Network and can be contacted at fmohammed@pancaribbean.org.

Your Perspecitves Shape Your Progress

Many times we may feel or meet people who feel overwhelmed with all that is happening in their lives.

This is especially when things are tough – a job loss; a failed relationship; loss of a loved one; insufficient funds to get by; being taken advantage at work… the list goes on.

I learnt from a dear friend and manager that life is a cycle of feasts and famine. We must be able to recognise the good that we have, and celebrate the good times; and when things are not as we would like, recognise it can happen to either make us stronger or prepare us for exciting times ahead.

In doing this, it is useful to remember as the GoodTherapy graphic suggests – it is how we interpret situations and infer meaning that can make us or break us. Moreso, it is how we respond to the ups and downs that can propel us upward or keep us down. At the end of it all, however, one thing we can be sure about. Life goes on.

Life Cycles and Interpersonal Interaction

My dad used to always say, “life is not for one day.” I used to hear it all the time, but never really gave it much thought. Typically, the silent response of, “yeah, whatever,” would come to mind and quickly evaporate along with the advice.

In the past couple years, however, this saying has been coming back to me in a range of scenarios, to the point where i now find myself feeling compelled to remind others, “Life is not for one day.” When i used the quote initially, I thought to myself that despite my best efforts, I am becoming my dad, and thus used the quote sparingly. But the fact is, it can be something useful for us to remember, particularly in the course of our everyday life.

The first time this came to mind I met one of my college (high school in the US) classmates, who became a teacher. Now, of all the people in the world unfit to give instruction to kids, I would say this guy had to be in the top 10. When he told me he was teaching, i quickly and then more thoroughly scanned my memories for a single redeeming quality that could justify his career – but i couldn’t. I told him this and he agreed. “Who would have thought?” he asked, while we both laughed. But it does underscore one iteration of the theme – Life is not for one day – you don’t know what job you would end up in.

One that stood out – there was this one girl who was quite the plastic – having earned a reputation for being condescending to others and arrogant. Some adored her, others despised her, and all took notice. Good looks, high academic performance, preferential treatment wherever she went. She had it all. Individuals of that behaviour profile never held any appeal to me, nor was I particularly impressed, so that our interaction was minimal. She was hot, was all I knew. Imagine my surprise when one day I was helping a client recruit staff for a back-end banking function, and her Resume was given to me with her being the next candidate to be interviewed. I was briefly, and silently amused – wondering what this interview would be like given my client’s temperament and disposition. The interview itself was OK – bland, really. It surprised me to hear what she went through in her work career. It was remarkably unimpressive. I don’t know what other circumstances would have been, but the confidence and privileges did not propel her that much forward. Life is not for one day – the people you hate on today might be your boss tomorrow.

Another iteration led me meeting one of my school acquaintances dressed smartly in uniform – he became a police officer and was enjoying senior rank. I remember he was a really skinny kid who at one point used to be bullied by others from what I heard. My memory of him was sketchy, but was largely unimpressive. “Wow. YOU became a police? Are things really that bad?” was my first response and we both laughed. But there he was, standing with confidence and many pounds added on, protecting the civilian population as was needed. I thought it interesting that one day he could be the one to respond to the distress call of my family or even myself – Thank God I wasn’t part of the contingent who used to bully him. Life is not for one day – you don’t know who you would need to rely on or ask for help.

Today, I was asked to help someone out who had in the past rejected my professional services and was pretty nasty about the entire ordeal. My initial reaction was ‘Payback is a bitch’. But then I began to think that this guy is evidently trying to develop and would definitely benefit from the help. Should I forgive and assist him, even if I cannot forget? I am really not inclined to, considering the tone on which we last met. But I got into consultancy with the focus on helping others. Perhaps that should be the governing factor? Or would an exception in this instance be acceptable, if not justified? I found my deliberations on the dilemma surprisingly short and the answer quite simple – I would help – it would not take much of my time or by way of interaction. And besides…

Life is not for one day – you be good to other people and good would come your way.

Faheem Mohammed is the Managing Director of Professional Alliance Network (Caribbean) Ltd., where he serves as Lead Consultant for Strategy, Leadership and Technology portfolios. He can be emailed at fmohammed@pancaribbean.org

P. S. Some can argue that this is a simplistic and transactional view of interpersonal interaction, but it does help to temper interpersonal interaction in the dynamics of everyday life. Further, consider that internalising this simple reminder does well to reinforce humility and selflessness, and temper arrogance. None of us are invincible. Nor are we completely independent. As we go thorough the ups and downs of this journey, it would be helpful to remember this, internalise it and let it guide who we are and what we do.

Leadership, Genocide and Mandela

A client and I shared the viewing of a feature of Breaking the Set with Abby Martin on RT News channel, and in particular an interview with Keith Harmon Snow on the issue of Genocide (The White Supremacy of Genocide). Snow, a former UN investigator of genocide, made some glaring statements against governments (and corporate) influence in international genocide incidents. Following on the heels of this interview, almost as if in response to alarming claims that were made, was the announcement of the passing away of Madiba – Nelson Mandela.

The 2 events in rapid succession seem to establish the 2 extremes of leadership, and forces one to think about the reality of leadership and its context today. We infer 2 lessons that can be identified from this reality:

Keith Harmon Snow

1. If leadership is defined as willing influence – or rather the ability to influence people to willing think / act / behave in a desired way, then we see in the Genocide feature the exertion of leadership entirely for self-serving means, regardless of the effects on other people – in this case entire nations of people across the world. On the other part, Nelson Mandela is recognised as a leader who epitomizes selflessness – and stands out as a model for all persons of all ages throughout the world.

The fact that both examples centre around Africa makes the reality even more stark and profound. This illustrates an important lesson, in the fact that leadership is often thought of in the context of ‘goodness’ and high ethical standards and practice, whereas the reality is that the person or group wielding influence my be anything but. It must be recognised that the leader as a person or a group can be either positive or negative – selfless or self-serving, and either way both are leaders, regardless of the extent to which we agree with the outcomes.

2. The second point centres on the form which the messages took – both via the internet and both being broadcast throughout the world. Looking ahead at leadership and its evolution in the technological world, one cannot help but consider that we today are in an environment where ignorance is literally no longer an excuse – we have access to, and in many respects are bombarded by, information in many forms and from many sources. This can result, and seemingly is resulting, in shorter attention spans for any item of information.

That the barrage of information continues unabated would make it difficult for individuals to linger long enough on any 1 area of emphasis, or get others to commit to a cause over a sustained period. The leader of today through tomorrow would need to be constantly vigilant of not succumbing to manufactured consent (as noam chomsky put it), but resist the digital influence of negative forms of leadership.

In essence, where we live in an environment of ready information access, the rejection of negative leadership becomes an obligation. This is reflected in the life of Mandela, and shrouds the issues around Genocide. As Mandela himself said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The information is there. The question is would we use it to change the world? Would we even commit to make this world a better place? For those disinclined, John Milton says it best: “They who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.”

The Future of Management in a Technology World

Going by definitions, which are necessary but really aren’t that popular, we know management to be a job function or task set that is responsible for planning, coordinating, enabling and control of activities within the organisation. Mintzberg saw it as a cluster or roles that have to be assumed. All allude to a science of effort – at least in theory. Management has not yet been recognised as a profession in many of our jursidictions.

From a practical viewpoint, it is even less structured, since we see management as a position within organsiations, not a profession or specific skill set – with good reason; being a position, anyone sitting in that coveted spot (the corner office?) is a manager, regardless of whether that individual has any of the required abilities to [plan, coordinate, enable and control] or not. In fact, I have seen in some instances the only real skill being brought to the management position is complete compliance with those higher up the ladder. No room for planning etc. here – you have one job, and that is to tow the line.

Notwithstanding, the role or task-set spans the the entire gamut of planning through control, and manifests within organisation indifferent layers across the various functional and location divisions – straddling in each the layers of supervisory, management and executive positions. These we have heard in the context of operadigital world 2tional, tactical and strategic level issues, in ascending degrees of importance respectively (if we go by the accompanying remuneration as a guide).

In terms of management roles today into tomorrow, we are seeing more and more the diffusion of intelligence technologies playing a supporting and in a growing number of instances an ‘advisory’ role to managers’ job functions and task-requirements. Our enterprise-wide applications are able to share information in a process that renders time and location irrelevant. The emergence of drone and robotic automation processes within operational functions is encroaching on large segments of supervisory roles. Programmed flags or notifications against established performance standards are rendering reporting and human intervention in the process of supervision comparatively expensive, inefficient and to a large extent unnecessary. It is driving firms to be flatter and leaner in their operating structures today. And that was only the beginning.

Looking ahead, the advent of Big Data, Analytics, Business Intelligence or any other term used to refer to data-intensive artificial intelligence, is poised to only amplify this trend, and distill the diffusion of technology further upwards through the layers of management-oriented positions. That software can on one part compile, collate and articulate data from various divisions in incomparable time is profound, and on the other part personalise and customise communication to various individuals – again in real time – on demand, is equally important to note. The supporting infrastructural developments – cloud and mobile computing in particular – are poised to deliver this intelligence to central decision makers as required. In fact, automated reporting posits a degree of consistency that is rarely emulated by human beings.

The computer-based learning systems – typically algorithms today – are moving into the space of assessing data, making decisions, executing automated functions based on the decisions, providing further detail and information access to persons using the system, and recording (and reporting) on performance and exceptions.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/So how can this work in the management arena? In a pool of 5000 job applicants, a software can filter academic qualifications and performance, past experience, social media activities and other data streams to short-list candidates. It can provide online, remote simulations to prospective candidates and rank them accordingly. It can drive the orientation and training components to which candidates are exposed. With a pool of historical data on performance of different persons on a variety of tasks, an algorithm can select the best persons for the performance of a particular job based on their past experiences and performance on related tasks. Work schedules, performance registers and quota management are all automated computerised systems with which the candidate can interact and report. Meetings are already virtual, and the supporting documentation and ‘tangibles’ are accessible synchronously or asynchronously by anyone with approved access (Access is automatically assigned by employee rank and job description).

Financial, information access and even facility resources can be allocated (or booked) automatically on job assignment per candidate. Their performances are tracked by a system against milestones and comparative benchmarks. Bonuses, penalties and issuing of payments can be automatically configured and channel resources to the supporting structures (perhaps an employee’s bank account or company-issued credit card). At any (every?) point throughout execution the response expectations and projections based on the established plans and objectives (and environmental conditions) can be evaluated and adjusted – with the resulting changes communicated to the affected staff on their mobile devices.

All this to say that there are many management-centric functions which are being supported (or driven) by technology today. Which would be good news for larger organisations seeking to become more agile and responsive to market dynamics. It is also expected to be welcomed by entrepreneur-led and small and growing enterprises, if Greiner’s challenges throughout his Life Cycle Model is anything to go by. Firms facing severe shortage of skilled labour, or economies with an ageing workforce would also stand to benefit from this trend.

However, the shift is expected to be gradual from all indications. And it is currently difficult to see it as a replacement entirely – what with issues of diversity, capta, intuition and creativity still being core human tasks within management (or any) job functions. Yet from considering the tasks associated with management functions and the deployment of technology, the relationship seems set to become only more intertwined.

I wonder if IBM’s Watson would agree?

Faheem Mohammed is the Managing Director of Professional Alliance Network (Caribbean) Ltd., where he serves as Lead Consultant for Strategy, Leadership and Technology portfolios. He can be emailed at fmohammed@pancaribbean.org