Management

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MANAGING TECHNOLOGY AS A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

Despite the many terms used across literature and practice, for the willing or open-minded, the underlying contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is simple to understand and increasingly central to all that we do today as professionals in a discipline or as organisations creating value within an ecosystem.

 

Technology today has conveniently converged into a largely integrated form that makes managing it as a resource a bit easier, although with some accompanying risks. And like the introduction of a resource to an equation, it brings with it its own challenges and demands that we as decision-makers and resource-managers need to reconcile as we strive to succeed in today’s environment.

 

The simple framework of dissecting our technology into its component Hardware, Software, Networks, Data and Risk dimensions allows us to not only consider the specifications across each dimension that would contribute to our operating demand, but also give us the basis to explore and frame developments and emerging trends as it fits to our reality. This framework proves useful when we consider as an example the integration of cameras into internet-enabled phones – which can aid us in our inventory management even as it reshapes the form and format for news reporting sectors.

 

We recognise that ICT today is the dominant institution in society (courtesy of the Internet), and serves to connect us within our ecosystem or communities through social media. The dispersion and usage – and the potential that exists – cannot be ignored. That 3 in 10 people globally are online, or that 2 of those 3 are on the popular social media site Facebook, gives us the opportunity to connect with a sizeable community, and highlights the growth potential that accompanies the use of internet-based cannels of commerce, marketing and resource-engagement. That more connectivity is via mobile devices also serves to reinforce real-time connectivity with fewer accompanying compromises to performance.

 

How is this reality being incorporated in our planning and projections? It would be useful to consider – on a sector basis – the potential sustaining vs. disruptive technologies that can serve to either support our competitive positioning or alter the way business is done. One only has to look at the impact of Apple’s iTunes on the music distribution sector to understand the probabilities.

 

It must be recognised that other mentionable trends are also being deployed to aid us in achieving or even redefining our standards of productivity and performance. From automation which marginalises human error on routine tasks to analytics and ‘Big Data’ which give us the ready supply of information that can transform the quality of our roles and decisions, we recognise the potential applications in job functions behind the desk or in the field.

 

In the same way, we can consider Social Media and Mobile Computing penetration that is not only impacting our engagement of external stakeholders and reshaping organisational forms and structures, but also impacting directly on our ability to innovate our products, service delivery and processes of creating and sustaining value.

 

Overall, the zeal to unleash technology might be tempered by the apprehension onset by the speed of change and the vagaries of technical jargon, but as Peter Drucker reminded us, “Today, knowledge… controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Simple frameworks aid us to unleash this resource for our benefit and for those we serve.

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?

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.

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

Taking the ‘I’ out of Company Decisions

Decision-making can prove a difficult function to perform, sicne it is usually done without the luxury of sufficient time or information. In the context of Entrepreneur-led firms and Central Executives, they become central to decisions – in some cases all the decisions that have to be made – in an environment that may prove less than forgiving.

It is amazing how many Central Decision-Makers (CDMs) overlook the fact that their personal propensities, predispositions and preferences are reflected in their organisation’s strategy.

For example, if you as CDM are personally technology-averse, or don’t put much value on it, I have seen where it is often the case that this paradigm is reflected in the organisation’s systems and processes. It is easy to understand – if I don’t like it, I am not going to be inclined to look favorably on it or entertain too much opportunities for its involvement. This is not to say that I would be opposing it (although some people do feel that strongly about some issues), but more often the case that I ignore or minimise its role and position in my operating sphere.

This I have found to be particularly the case in entrepreneur-led firms, family-owned businesses or other organisations dominated by a strong personality or group-think. Needless to say, these types of firms account for a large percentage of any private sector economy (here’s some interesting data on this from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council).

It becomes important for CDMs to realise that the decisions that need to be made for the firm have to be distinct from personal preferences. The governing question should be ‘What is in the best interest of the firm – whether I like the answer or not?’ It needs to be recognised that many CDMs envision an organisation that bears their envisioned form and shape – their personal signature, and that is fine. But when the decisions are going to affect the ability to compete, perform or simply survive, the question needs to be asked. If the decision is aligned to personal preferences, then great. As long as the decision is a conscious one and considers the firm’s requirements, then its being done from an informed and conscious position.

Imposing this lens is generally difficult to do, with a thousand things going on across different functions and at different levels. However, it needs to happen for rational decisions to be made and before scarce – and expensive – resources are committed. This is one of the key reasons such firms and individuals access external input and insight – in a B2B context typically from a management consulting practice, or on a more personal level from coaching and advisory services. It serves as a reminder to us in the industry to keep the perspective. It reminds us at panCaribbean of the first of our 5 commitments to each client – to put client interests ahead of our firm’s interests. It proves beneficial to the client to do the same from a personal angle.

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