Carrot & Stick

Since time immemorial, I can imagine, there has been a need to motivate people into the “right” behavior.

The first crime ever committed was probably soon after the first settlement was settled and somebody stole a goat from their neighbour.  This resulted in a verdict of “Thou shalt return the goat to thy neighbour; thine goat shall then be cooked for all”.

Punishment was probably easy to implement.  It produced results, was flexible, was (almost) costless and allowed for control of masses within limits of the available technology and philosophy.  However, it must have soon been realized that something was needed to prevent the crimes from occuring in the first place.  Also, there was something needed to make people do good; not just stop them from doing bad.  And this was a gap in the punishment theory.

Bang!  Religion was invented.  Punishment, already invented was included by default.  However, rewards for good behaviour were also included.  This allowed people not only to encourage good behaviour, but also define the parameters of that good behaviour.  Means were very limited though; the rewards could not be distributed freely.  The solution was to provide these rewards in the afterlife (or next life).  This meant no accountability and no feedback.  The required faith also ensured that any gaps in the theory could not be questioned.  A brilliant solution to the motivation problem!

Fast forward to the corporate environment.  The situation does seem to be similar here.  Punishment is easier to implement, easier to execute and requires a lower level of imagination and ability from the managers in-charge.  Loss of employment has always been a credible threat (and remains so today despite the changes in the competitive and HR landscape).

But, how does one motivate good behavior?  This is pretty much a requirement for any organization, not only to thrive, but just to survive in today’s world.  Tools similar to religion were used; lifelong employment, retirement benefits, etc.  This provided the returns on a perennial basis and enabled ‘faith’ and trust in the organization as well as employee.  As the landscape became more competitive, organizations decided they could not afford the largesse.  Individuals also found it more lucrative to sell oneself to the highest bidder in the market.  The lifetime contract was buried once and for all.

So, the conundrum becomes quite accute for the managers of today.  Motivation has become a very complicated field.  Gone are the days when motivation was limited to monetary gains and job security.  Employees as well as organizations concentrate on non-monetary methods.  Also, the expectation of the employees are keeping up with general social trends (they are the same people, are they not!) and demanding instant gratification – and that is if they are not demanding things as incentives before they perform.  Today, the concept of an annual bonus may not make sense due to this.  Even the annual appraisal is being shelved in some brave organizations in favor of a more continuous process.

What is one to do?  In order to succeed themselves, managers (ably led/supported by HR departments), need to break the mold and do things that were unthinkable a few years ago. We need to make the benefits more short term, more flexible (based on the need of the individual). We need to make them more realistic and of real use to our staff. Only then will they give 110% (defined as more that we demand). These are active thoughts in new gen companies such as Google, but for the vast majority of the corporate landscape, the answer continues to be “this will not work for us?”.

Then, the question is what will? Until we redefine the “Carrot” and continue to adjust to the needs to today, we will not be able to get the newer generations to continue working for us. It will take us, the 9-to-whatevers, to open up our imaginations, our biases, our assumptions to really make the worker of today feel Welcome!

Getting from Data to Decisions

This blog is the outcome of thoughts, discussions and interactions which began with the last two posts on The Velocity of Information Part 1 and Part 2.Given that information needs to flow into the decision matrices and the speed is important, the thought has been dubbed with this title.

The insights obtained from these discussions resulted in the below chain of thought.

  • Data as an end state is of no use. It needs to be converted to a usable format. i.e. Information. This conversion is best done by the people who are close to and understand the data
  • Information as an end state is of no use. It needs to be analyzed and insights created. These creations are motivated from the perspective of  the results. In other words, the analysis and insights need to be drawn (or at least vetted) close to the decision makers
  • Insight as an end state is of no use. It becomes an academic exercise if it does not flow into any decision matrix. Remember, a decision to do nothing is also a decision
  • It is difficult to predict which piece of information will be relevant to which decision a priori. Therefore, the appropriate approach would be to de-couple the information creation and the information use stages. These two stages would then be connected through context

As we increase the velocity, the idea is that decision making will be more effective. The context of the decision will drive what information/insights get into the matrix and the increased velocity will improve the coverage and recency aspects.

So, the question is what does this mean. We need to dig deeper into 3 areas.

1. Information Creation

There are a plethora of tools available for this step comprising the first two layers of the proposed model. The “Business Intelligence” world is exactly about being able to extract information about data sets (which are getting ‘bigger’ all the time). The majority of this world revolves around structured data and structured analysis, but unstructured data analysis is beginning to come into its own at this point. There are strengths and weaknesses in this area which need to be addressed, but there are already several threads on that.

In my mind, the importance here is to ensure that the information extracted is rational. This means accurate, timely and correctly categorized. Categorization relates to defining the context(s) within which a particular piece of information could be useful along with the standard tagging/metadata pieces.

2. Information Delivery

This is also a critical stage of the process. This is represented by the cloud (layer 3) in the previous posts. However, this layer defines the contextual language, provides for connecting the suppliers of information to the buyers of information, is the plumbing in the scheme of things. In essence, it is a marketplace to make decision-making more effective.

3. Insight Creation

At the heart of decision making is converting information to insight represented by layer 4 in the model. This is a process which is completely manual and is often the basis of what people mean when they say “out-of-the-box”. This layer will need to have bright, experienced people who understand the context. But, the quality and coverage of the information coming into this is very important. A missed indicator or a false positive can throw the whole process out of kilter.

Therefore, the ability of these “experts” will be to create the correct contexts. What they need to depend on is the quality of information they get when they send a context into the Information Delivery system or the aforementioned cloud.

It seems to me that it is quite imperative that organizations look at what can be done to improve the velocity of information and make decision making more effective. De-coupling, as above, probably makes for a smoother implementation; technically, as well as organizationally.

However, the opportunity here is not necessarily limited to internal implementations. The power of this can be stretched a little bit. How many data-providers do we have in the world today? Can they improve the offerings by converting to information before they publish? The analytics can be done of their own accord or could be added as per the specification of the client. Further, they could publish the output (non client specific information) to somebody who runs an information mart! The information mart sets up the contextual language and provides fully baked information to clients who need it; the information could be a mix of the clients internal analytics as well as external open market feeds. The possibilities here are extremely intriguing…

So, how many of the 9-to-whatevers would be OK to take a plunge into something like this? Comments? Thoughts?

The Velocity of Information (Part 2)

There have been a few interesting offline discussions on this topic – thanks to those who helped shape the below thoughts.

Here a visual representation of the framework.

The Layers

The Layers

So, what are the thoughts driving the framework at this point?

  • The output desired here is a framework and not a product roadmap. Hence, the thoughts are limited to principles with an attempt towards completeness
  • The solution is not looking at a BI tool. While these tools today (including Big Data tools) are sufficiently advanced, they still represent only the bottom layer of this framework
  • Work should be done as close to the source as possible. Hence the ownership of the data, analysis and accuracy needs to be at the information curation layer. These concerns need to be satisfied before hitting the cloud
  • The two processes of generating the information and using the information for decisions need to be de-coupled. The impact of this will be shown below

If we look at the Analytics layer, we see several disparate data sets. This indicates that we could be creating information within disparate silos. As an example, the operations department could provide the information on production data, the marketing department on sales data; the macro-economic data for the geography and any relevant news tidbits could come from a completely different data set.

The silo generating the information should not limit themselves in knowing who needs the data a priori. Anybody within the organization should be allowed to access the information.

Similarly, the decision curators should not limit themselves to knowing the range of information that they would like as inputs a priori. A context search within the cloud should give them all that is relevant within the context. Then, their function would be to filter what is relevant from the results available. As an example, the decision on a product mix within a particular geography would not necessarily approach the legal department to determine if any new laws are expected. This structure would allow that information to be assimilated automatically. Don’t we all want to increase the serendipity within our organizations?

The basic underlying idea is to increase the velocity of information by getting it to the right place at the right time. This will also improve the return on investment in the creation of information; reduce duplication of datamarts and analysis across silos; improve the speed at which information gets incorporated as well as increase collaboration across the organization.

Do the 9-to-whatevers think that the objectives here are desirable? Do you think that this framework will move us in that direction? The time has now come to start thinking beyond the basics into some level of detail on the layers and the interactions between them. Do you have any thoughts you would like to share?

The Velocity Of Information (Part 1)

Decisions are made everyday. Actually, they are made several times a day by most individuals. This is also true within a corporate setting.

So, what are these decisions based upon? When we talk of taking “informed” decisions, they are typically based on information. Crisis management apart, decisions are typically taken after careful deliberation of the available information. The information may not provide a complete picture, but the more coverage you have, the better the decision.

How does information get to the decision makers? In yesteryear, careful paths were laid down to elicit this information. In a top down approach, the data to be analyzed was identified, the framework for analysis was agreed, and the data flowed from the point of data availability to the point of decision making. In this journey, it was collated, checked, summarized, categorized, sliced and diced, ad nauseum until it reached it’s destination. The time it took to reach the decision maker often made the information irrelevant, or at least resulted in lost opportunity. For information to be useful in decision making, it has to be timely.

Then, the technique advanced. Vast stores of data were made available close to the decision makers. They could apply the frameworks necessary to elicit the information in a more timely manner. However, the volume of data grew resulting in incorrect and irrelevant information being included in the decision. For information to be useful in decision making, it has to be relevant.

Also, in todays world, there are multiple sources of information and multiple decision makers to consume it, making pre-defined flows difficult to identify and implement. The question is what can be done to get relevant information in a timely  manner to the decision makers, even when they might not know they want it. This is what I would like to discuss and build on. My initial thoughts follow…

I am not big on industry jargon, but three things which are big today might contribute to the solution (not necessarily in the way they are understood currently though!). In my proposal, I create four layers. However, a lot of thought needs to be put in to how this will function. Early days yet…

1. The information creation layer represents the “big data” gang. However, this can be decentralized. This layer extracts information based on the data. The rules and frameworks used to extract information are in the hands of those who are closest to the data.

2. The information curation layer. These are the people/systems that validate and categorize the data for accuracy and relevance. eg. eliminating co-incidences and non-causal co-relations.

3. The “cloud” layer. This allows for multi-point to multi-point flow of the information.

4. The “decision maker curation” layer. These are people/systems who subscribe the information from the cloud, establish relationships and curate it for the decision makers.

Will this allow us to increase the Velocity of Information allowing for better quality decisions? What to the 9-to-whatevers think?

Can We Balance Process?

As we troll through history, technical or otherwise, we can clearly see that individual brilliance has dominated the field of development.  It is these individuals who have looked at the world differently, challenged the accepted and made a difference for posterity.  Does this also happen on a smaller scale?   I am personally witness to situations where individual brilliance has made a significant difference in day to day professional life.  Given that my day to day professional life has revolved around internal enterprise software, the examples emanate from the same arena.

However, despite the above observations, we are moving towards a more standardized and process-oriented world.  Will this trend allow for individual brilliance?  Does this framework allow for the flexibility needed to attain the quantum leaps we have seen earlier?  Let us analyze the two extremes here.

What is process and why is it needed?  Process is a defined way to do something.  It preaches a tried and tested way to do things which will lead to the successful execution of what we are trying to do.  In preaching, it provides no flexibility on part of any stakeholder to take a shortcut or do things differently.  It is needed so that all stakeholders only need be aware of their own actions; that they understand the timeline and effort involved to succeed; that they can depend on unknown people to deliver on their needs without having to take any specific action beyond.

Where is individual brilliance needed and when does it produce best results?  When the individual is very much in line with the organizational objectives; when they have the knowledge of what is to be achieved and the expertise on the tools needed to achieve it; when there is complete trust between the individual, organization and the client for whom the problem is being solved.

The above two elements, are fairly opposite in nature.  Process helps with standardization and adoption of best practices.  This reduces waste and results in optimization and increased efficiency.  The quantum leaps achieved  provide the competitive advantage on which company growth is based.  Both of these can be extremely beneficial.  But, how do we use them, individually and in concert?  Some factors to look at:

  • Value of the task: Is the task part of the core competency and gives the organization a competitive advantage?  Or, is it  part of the day to day functioning of an organization and represents friction.  A shade of gray in the middle?
  • Trust in the individuals: What is the quality of the individuals?  Can they provide the brilliance we are looking for?  Are they in line with the organizational aims?  Do they understand the tools being used well enough?  Do they understand the clients and the problem well enough to deliver?
  • Culture of the organization: Does the history of the organization favor process or individuality?  Would it be tough for managers to accept the preaching or would individual freedom be seen as cowboyism?

As the value that can be derived from the task increases, flexibility can be increased given the possible reward.  However, we should ensure that our best, most trusted, most creative people are in position to take advantage of this flexibility.  These people must also be close to the heart of the organization.  The farther they are (eg. outsourced), the less the alignment due to gaps in communication and differences in objectives.  Flexibility must be muted here, until enough investment in reducing these gaps is desirable and possible.  Also, the existing culture of the organization will provide the starting point for the whole exercise of moving to the correct balance.

A few pitfalls and lessons we need to be aware of:

  • Creating a process is not simple.  Not only should the process be efficient, it also needs to provide a value to every stakeholder (not just one or a few).  There is a need to ensure that the process does not become bureaucracy.  The process should also be revisited on regular intervals as well as on receiving feedback.
  • Ensure that the best and most capable individuals are put in position to take advantage of the flexibility.  This will be good for the organization as well as the individuals.  Different individuals flourish differently under process and flexibility.
  • Spend the investment $ on training and engagement differently based on the extent of process or flexibility.  Since the people are different and the objectives are different, the methods cannot be the same by default.
  • Do not go towards any one end too much.  An organization which becomes over-processed will lack the innovation to keep up with the competition.  An organization with too much flexibility is likely to become inefficient without sufficient accountability or governance.

I am sure that there are several gray areas that deserve much greater scrutiny and study.  Leadership here will involve determining the correct ending point for your organization.  Good management will then result in getting the right framework, people, processes and flexibility in place.

So, what do the 9-to-whatevers have to say on this topic?

Manager “Attitude”

What makes a good manager?  What makes a good leader?  These are questions that we often think about as we grow in our professional careers.  How do we find the answers to our quest?

In recent times, this has become big business.  Help,  in the form of self-help books/Gurus and (auto)biographies of those having tasted success have emerged.  These have become mandatory for all professionals.

So what do they show us?  They take snippets out of successful endeavors and provide them to us as life lessons.  We listen/read, imbibe, internalize and then execute; the quick-fix of all quick-fixes; management by blueprint; success at your doorstep.  All we need to do is develop 7 habits, or follow the patterns of Akio Morita, Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs.

Does it really help in our daily lives?  I think these resources are extremely useful, both in the content and their variety.  What really decides the answer to the question is what we expect from them and how we handle the life lessons.

There seems to be an extreme confidence crisis, bordering on an inferiority complex in our world today.  People seem to think that everybody else is better at doing what they should, than themselves.  This is what makes us treat the above resources as quick-fixes and a color-by-number guide.  We forget that what got us till that point is who we are.  Actors are really well paid because it is really difficult to be somebody else, somebody other than who we really are, for any length of time.  We all want to be an Akio or anybody else – we are looking do duplicate success, not create it.

What we need to observe is the behavior of people we respect around us.  The most common thread is a comfortable and confident demeanor, at least in my experience.  What this indicates to me is that they are comfortable in what they are.  Trying to be somebody else and achieving the same level of comfort would be something really worth commending for the effort it would take.

By all means, we should study what success looks like.  We should take direction on what has worked historically.  We should listen, read and imbibe.  What I want to say is that before we execute, we should select and adapt.  We should select what works for who we are as a person; we should adapt the lessons to our way of working.  “Be Yourself” should be a starting point to the image we want to project.  Injecting flexibility, enhancing skills, adding to the repertoire, etc is great, but only if we select the right starting point.

So, 9-to-whatevers, please let us pledge to ensure that Steve Jobs’ legacy is about excellence and not his behavior…

Working With Internal Clients

We all work with clients in our professional life. There is a large number of us who work with external clients – the kind we generate our revenue from; for a large number of us, however, the clients are internal to our organization. These internal clients may then work with the external client directly or the chain may be longer.

Is there a difference in dealing with the two? To begin with, let us talk about the similarities – in both cases, we need to address product quality, service quality, engagement levels, ROI for the client, and the ilk. I cannot think of many significant parameters that would not apply to the internal client.

However, there are significant parameters that need to be considered in addition when dealing with internal clients:

  • Captive Relationship  With internal clients, the relationship is in captive mode.  The client is forced to accept the service from you.  This breeds complacency.  As Google also says, complacency leads to a reduction in the motivation to improve – something we need to be very careful of.
  • Benchmarking  As the relationship is captive, there is no competition to benchmark onself against.  You need to develop a very clear structure of KPIs and SLAs along with your client which will allow you to measure and track you performance and it’s progress.  Without these objective measurements, ROI calculations and other benefit statements will be difficult to determine.  This will replace the pricing and product feature/range efforts that determine success in a competitive environment.
  • Strategy  As part of the same organization, both you and your internal client will be part of the same strategy framework.  In your day to day offerings, you need to defend the principles of this strategy.  This means standing up and saying no when the client requests go in a different direction.  This is tougher with internal clients since you can’t just “walk away”.

In essence, working with internal clients can be more challenging in certain areas, demanding external clients notwithstanding.  Well, are we 9-to-whatevers up for it?

Contrasting Election Stories

Elections – what reaction does this word evoke in you?  For me, it brings out the words participation, self-determination, leadership.  But, that is too individual a thought.  From a larger perspective, this is about a mass movement, actually multiple mass movements all trying to outdo each other for success.

What does this mass movement consist of?  This, normally, belongs to a single political party.  The hierarchy begins with the senior party management.  Then come several levels of party leadership as the structure goes from the national level to individual constituencies.  At the constituency level, come the party workers.  They are the people who consist of believers, supporters, leadership wannabes and are the day-to-day touchpoints for common folk; the people who spread the ideology and belief; the people who eventually garner and mobilize the vote.  There is no successful politician at any level who can ignore this fact.

So, let us talk about contrast.  Is the election process identical everywhere?  Definitely not.  What follows is a comparison of the process that is used in India to what is prevalent in the USA.  Let us see what we can learn from these observations.

In India, the decision on who gets the ‘ticket’ in an election is through an interesting process.  The party high-command publishes a list of the winners!  What is this decision based on?  Winnability should be the sole criterion for party success.  But, rumors (maybe they are fact) sometimes point to familial, financial, quid-pro-quo or other similar instincts which on a pure analysis level, do not help the larger organization.  The base of the party – the workers, may or may not be consulted or satisfied through this process.  This process is not necessarily autocratic, but there is surely room for more transparency.

In the states, anybody can throw in their hat into the ring for an election.  The candidates then run a campaign to be elected.  However, this election is from multiple candidates within the same party – they are fighting to become the nominee for their party in the general election.  This process is called a primary.  The layers of party leadership along with the local party workers can show their partisanship by supporting their desired candidates.  However, the result is driven by the ballot, which is cast by the registered party workers or the general public (depending on the party constitution).  Given the transparency of the process and the involvement of the mass movement, this process is necessarily not autocratic.

What is the difference?  By being necessarily not autocratic, there is an involvement of all levels of the party in the decision on who will be the final candidate.  This improves the winnability of the seat for the party and benefits the larger organization.  Interested in examples?

How many of you really think that Mr. Obama would have run for president from the Democratic party without the primary.  His lack of experience and his color would have been huge barriers.  However, the primary allowed him to showcase his abilities which guaranteed 4 years for the party in the White House.

In India, Mr. Khanduri has resigned as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand.  This was because the party workers did not believe in his leadership which resulted in no efforts during the Lok Sabha elections on the party’s behalf.  The BJP failed miserably in the state due to this autocratic appointment.

Is the solution perfect?  Nope.  But it is an improvement in my belief, and a very important one at that.  But, then again, this is not a political column.  What can us 9-to-whatevers take away from this?

How many strategies have you either created or seen come down from senior management?  How many of these have been pre-synced with the people who need to implement them?  How many of these have met the original estimates of success?

We forget too often, who our “party workers” are.  We take our believers, supporters and executors for granted.  Strategies which have buy-in from them will always have a greater chance of succeeding.  This is because their inputs will ensure that the strategy is grounded in day-to-day realities which they are much closer to.  This is also because the commitment to the cause and motivation to succeed increases with their involvement in the decision.  We could try to be more necessarily not autocratic.

What do you think?

The IPL Bonanza

So, the IPL 2009 edition is finally over.  Was it more exciting than the 2008 edition?  Not entirely sure, but it was an incredible spectacle in itself.  While not really having the qualifications to comment on the quality of cricket, I think the take-backs from the event for those of us in a 9-to-whatever are interesting.  Not necessarily path-breaking, but interesting.

  • Organization Potentially fatal announcement to move out of the country.  Decision on location made in hours of negotiation.  Approximately 35 days of time to prepare for an event of this scale and length.  Take-backs: Courage to make decisions and belief in the team to pull it off.  Don’t you think more CEOs would benefit from this outlook?
  • Motivation Money was just the beginning.  Creating or maintaining an individual reputation became equally important.  But how about the team?  The team owners were ruthless in their pursuit of the best teams.  Big names were found warming the bench due to lack of performance or attitude.  The strategies which succeeded were where people were given an opportunity and evaluated based on the results.  The team behaviour award from the IPL has been a masterstroke in this effort.  Take-backs: Clear vision of the qualities that an organization wants to encourage, their articulation and appropriate felicitation.
  • Teamwork Which teams won?  The teams which avoided confusion, confrontation and panic – T20 is that kind of a game.  How was this done – clear division of roles and responsibilities.  There have been several examples of players playing specific roles that have been pre-decided in the dressing room.  This is not about specific strategies, but about getting the best out of the abilities of individuals, no matter what their weaknesses are.  Take-backs: Clearly identify the responsibility of every team member – no matter how small.  Then give them the space to perform within that boundary.  Reward based on role, not overall performance (can’t expect a #7 batsman to score a 50).
  • Transformation Incredible!  The #7 and #8 teams from 2008 meet in the final of 2009!  What gives?  However, if you look closely, DC lineup is almost identical to the whipping boys of last year, while the RC boys also have minimal changes.  The difference is based on a studied and strong application of the above principles which have transformed a 2-run loss into a 2-wicket win. Take-backs: Transformation of a team is not necessarily about the personnel.  A change in the management methodology and a re-iteration of team concepts can bring about wonders.
  • Branding So who is the most successful brand of the IPL?  Well, according to some market research, the honor belongs to KKR – the least successful team on the field.  The question then becomes which one is more important?  Was the KKR team looking to be the best brand and not necessarily the best team?  The media blitz does indicate a propensity in that direction.  The strategy is questionable, but that is not the point here. Take-backs: The aim of an organization should be clear – this is what needs to translate into the efforts of every individual on the team.

I think students and practitioners of management would do well to study some of the on-field and off-field activities of IPL organizers and teams.  This event has been a success, which was not a given at the start of the year, through these efforts.  I look forward to next year to see how teams refine their individual strategies based on the personnel they have – something that has not been mastered yet.