1. Lessons in quality and innovation

    January 12, 2014 by ahmed

    Suresh Lulla, the Founder & Managing Director of Qimpro Consultants Pvt Ltd and a board member of the Global Benchmarking Network was the guest in a Learning Infinite mentor chat.

    Below is an excerpt from the mentor chat Suresh shares his views, which came from more than 40 years experience as a management consultant, speaker and author.


    Q: Sir, what is the role of challenges in shaping one’s career?

    SL: They are the building blocks of experience. Challenges enable you to think strategically. Challenges take you to your vision.

    Q: What are the absolutely critical qualities one should have to deal with challenges successfully?

    SL: Understand customers, Understand customers and Understand customers. When faced with a challenge, ask what is the process? And who is the customer receiving the output of this process? There are only two things to remember in quality management: Customer and Process. Who defines quality? Customer! Who is the final inspector? Customer! Who pays your salary? Customer! To succeed, you have to be passionate about what you are pursuing.

    Q: I am required to define some KRA and goals for my team, my team does back office functions could you suggest some streams which can make work interesting for the team as well?

    SL: TAT of your value creation processes is a good place to start. TAT ensures the wasteful activities are in check. Proficient TAT also ensures customer satisfaction. To make it interesting, challenge the team to reduce the TAT by x%. The x% should have a stretch. It should bring fire in the belly.

    Q: Thanks for your advice, but the problem is that the TAT is already the best it can be e.g. same day delivery. However, what I want is to give some innovation / learning based KRA’s?

    SL: This problem can probably be addressed by understanding the difference between creativity and innovation. Creativity is the generation of an abundance of ideas. Innovation is the process of harvesting these ideas and converting them into something tangible that the customer wants. So to that extent, creativity is a right brain activity and innovation can be a left brain activity. So do you want to set your KRAs on the creativity aspect or the innovation aspect?

    Q: Sir, my organization has always entrusted me with unfamiliar tasks, and I have always taken these challenges and managed to deliver successfully. However, whenever I try and entrust similar responsibilities on my team members, they do not always manage to deliver successfully, what do I do wrong? And how can I encourage them to deliver to meet expectations?

    SL: Have you tried being a team member where one of your team members is the team leader? A Leader has to be a good follower.

    Q: Thanks this is very interesting! …Would you mind giving me an example?

    SL: Can you visualize Dr J J Irani, the then Managing Director of Tata Steel being a member of a team led by a Deputy General Manager and conducting himself as a member and not the senior most person in the team? Can you imagine Ratan Tata chairing a panel of judges meeting where the members of the panel are in total awe of him? How he changed their body language in a 2 hour meeting to one of relaxed creative thinking blended with humor. One has to realize this difference between autocratic and participative leadership. What succeeds is participative leadership.

    Q: Sir, can you recommend some illustrative reading material on participative leadership?

    SL: The concept of interdependence is very clearly explained by Stephen Covey in “The 7Habits of Highly Effective People”

    Q: Sir, if I decide to have my own start up in a few years what should be my personal goals and vision as of today, I being a recent pass out?

    SL: I would recommend that you first define your mission in life – the purpose of your existence. Then set a vision with a prescribed time horizon. Remember you need to revisit your vision each time there is a change in the external environment. On the other hand, your mission will remain a constant. “Vision of a visionary, mission of a missionary.

    Q: Over the years of working, being an vertical expert or being a jack of all trades will help you grow in an organization. How does manufacturing industries see if one does not have fancy management degree?

    SL: R V Ramachandran, the former Chairman of Cummims India was an Inter (Arts). I can’t recall a name. It was in the 1970 that ITC hunted for a Managing Director. They received 1000s of applications. Selected candidate was an Inter(arts). It’s your ability to connect with people that matters. The skill of empathetic listening is probably the least available in top management.

    Q: That is a really surprising one! While people at the top are required to not only increase the business interest but also uphold the stake holders interest (employees being one of them). What do you suggest/ how does one become a good empathetic listener.

    SL: Seek first to understand than to be understood. It is different from sympathetic listening where you agree even if you don’t understand, as for example, when you offer condolence to a friend for the loss of a dear one. With empathetic listening, I give you the dignity of listening/understanding even though I may not agree.

    Q: I come from software industry where deadlines are short and customer demands are huge. In this scenario what is the ideal mix of strategies that we should deploy and achieve deadlines as well as the demand of quality? Need your views on it.

    SL: Quality management is about making your processes better, faster and cheaper. Processes come in various avatars as for example, value creation processes, support processes and supplier processes. Practitioners indulge in managing the quality of value creation processes, more specifically the operational processes. Symptoms of problems surface in operational processes. Over 50% of the root causes lie before operations commence. The processes involved here are Voice of Customer (VoC), design and outsourcing. World class organizations focus on these 3 processes to be better, faster, cheaper and different.

    Q: Sir, if there is one Skill one must have to be an effective leader, what would it be?

    SL: Think of any leader you admire. I would bet 99% the person had extraordinary listening skills.

    Q: Sir, I am a Sales and Marketing professional and I handle a large team. The constant problems I face are lack of innovation in day to day operations in my team members. They stick to time and tested methods. How to make them think innovatively and help them develop their own problem solving skills before coming to me? Can u quote some examples?

    SL: Organizations look to the actions of their leaders. So you wish them to be innovative ask yourself “how innovative am I?”. Also, a culture of innovation is built when an environment of blame or ridicule is eliminated. People must be encouraged to ideate. Where there is an issue of ideation there are creativity tools that can be used in teams to generate right brain innovative ideas.

    Q: Hello sir, I am a Computer Science Engineering Graduate. I am looking for a job experience, but unable to find one. Can you suggest a few alternatives to find employment or improve employability?

    SL: While I may not be answering this question specifically, I was chatting with a young person from Purdue University (US). He brought to my attention that in the final year the curriculum included how to find the right job that you are passionate about. He also mentioned that one should attend every interview even if one does not want to join the company. Because each interview is a part of the learning process. He also mentioned the importance of how to write resume that reflects your passion and not your academic achievements. Selection usually happens when an employer senses your passion.

    Q: Sir, is problem solving a critical skill to have? Why problem solvers are always in demand and what makes them so?

    SL: Solving the right problem is a critical skill! The hard part is identifying the problem and subsequently defining it very objectively. Problem solvers are in demand because less than 20% of the executives have this skill and over 80% of work requires this skill.

    Q: How can one go about developing this key skill?

    SL: Few people know how to teach this skill. The legendary quality guru Dr. J. M. Juran demystified problem solving so that even top management could understand the power of it. It enabled them to define strategic problems effectively. Problems selected a team. Participation in the team was not voluntary. Results were assured.


  2. Rudolf the “Read-Knows” Changer

    January 2, 2014 by ahmed

    Adam Stoehr, MBA
    Excellence Canada
    Vice President, Education

    Once upon a time there was a City employee named Karen Rudolf. Karen worked in the City Manager’s office as an Organizational Development Consultant. Everyone commonly referred to her using her surname. Rudolf was very well read, and if you ever saw her you would even say she knows.

    The organizational culture at the City was a tough one to navigate. Cliques would form and once they did, making progress and achieving goals was quite a challenge. Behind Rudolf’s back, all of the other City workers used to talk and play political games. They saw Rudolf as an outsider whose nose was always buried in a book. They never let poor Rudolf join in on their lunch time gossips and blames.

    Then one foggy afternoon (when the Mayor of the City was wrestling with his latest media scandal), the City Manager came to say, “Rudolf with your “Knows” so bright, won’t you guide our way to light?”  The luminosity of her knowledge was so great that it illuminated the team’s path through fog towards the achievement of the City’s long term goals.

    So Rudolf put her “read-knows” to good use. As a pilot project, she engaged with employees of a single department within the City in a change and transition strategy. She realized that change was relatively easy and that the transition was the difficult part. Change was generally external and situational.  Transition was internal and the process that people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

    Rudolf needed to help the organization move through the phases of transition. Her actions dealt with ending the current situation and building a new beginning for people.  Some key questions that helped the group move forward were meant to specifically identify “what was ending” and then describe in clear detail “what was the new beginning”. A helpful exercise for the group was to brainstorm the behaviours that were required to support the new changes.

    The transition strategy was a huge success. The culture had improved significantly within the pilot department and was having an impact on other departments around the City. The City Manager was excited about all the progress. He started referring to Rudolf in meetings as the Changer.

    Now all the City workers loved her, they were blind but now they see.
    Rudolf the “Read Knows” changer, she’ll go down in history!


  3. Free ebook: How leaders solve problems, second edition

    January 1, 2014 by ahmed

    For ages, leaders have proven to be problem solvers. Many people often wonder what it is that they do which we don’t.
    Here is an excellent, free-to-download ebook that brings to you some fascinating fables of vision, change, innovation and problem solving by leaders.

    9-Feb-2014 Update: Downloaded several thousand times, this ebook brings to you 5 fables on vision, change, innovation and problem solving.
    The Second Edition includes ONE new fable. Get your free copy now! click here to download the ebook

    The author, Suresh Lulla, Founder & Managing Director of Qimpro Consultants Pvt Ltd, a GBN Board Member


  4. The Sponsor as the face of organisational change

    November 25, 2013 by nick.halley

    A large proportion of projects are not given enough executive level attention. Due to this, a large number of projects ultimately fail, as they move further and further away from the business’ core competencies, and strategic alignment between business and project breaks down. In order to overcome this, effective organizations recognize project sponsorship as a key part in any project. It is very important to have active sponsors who support change. Sponsors establish direction for the future, communicate through vision, and forge aligned, high performance teams.

    Dr. H. James Harrington, CEO and Douglas Nelson of Harrington Associates, have written a white paper explaining further how an effective sponsor, who sits at an executive level, can help eliminate the barriers to change and ensure the rapid and effective implementation of project outcomes. Commissioned by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the white paper, outlines characteristics and skills of a strong sponsor, including; power, sense of urgency, vision, public role, private role, and leverage. It includes a small but effective tool for assessing the suitability of a person for a sponsor role.

    The following statement from Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide (PMI, 2013b) provides the foundational concept for this whitepaper.

    “A sponsor provides resources required for change and has the ultimate responsibility for the program or project, building commitment for the change particularly at the senior management level across the organization. Direct responsibility and accountability for the change needs to be clearly defined and accepted at an appropriately high level within an organization. Consequently, the sponsor for a change effort should be someone who has sufficient authority, influence, power, enthusiasm, and time to ensure that any conflicts that could impede the change are resolved in a timely and appropriate fashion.”

    Read the white paper HERE hosted by PMI.


  5. How Mindfulness impacts organisational performance

    November 16, 2013 by nick.halley

    Mindfulness has moved from a largely obscure practice to a mainstream organisational idea in some leading organisations. This purposeful, flexible, and open state of attention and awareness of the present moment has become a significant talking point. The reason? Mindfulness is linked to higher level functioning and people’s increased ability to focus their attention in a dynamic, task-focused way. Its advocates are convinced that it increases performance and it is this link to performance that will be explored.

    What makes mindfulness particularly relevant for work places interested is that it can be trained through mindfulness meditation practice. It is not a genetic trait that some have and others don’t, and instead there is increasing evidence that even brief mindfulness training helps people improve their memory and cognitive ability.

    Researchers are still working on establishing a solid empirical link between mindfulness and organisational performance, but  leaders in top organisations such as Google and Apple have begun implementing mindfulness initiatives for their employees.

    What is mindfulness about?

    Mindfulness is about paying attention with a particular intention: this intention is based on your willingness to give up pre-judgement and certainty, and to bring into your experience of the present moment:

    • A deep curiosity to discover something new,
    • An openness to notice things about the situation, including negative or unpleasant ones, and
    • The flexibility to accept change in the environment or within yourself, rather than resist it.

    How do you become mindful?

    Everyone can practise mindfulness. There are a few things that enable you to become mindful, such as:

    • Slow down.
    • Notice five things about you, or about the situation, good or bad.
    • Ask yourself: What can I learn about the situation?
    • Only then take action.

    This approach is an antidote to overly complex and dynamic environments – it helps people stay present and therefore choose more effective action.

    Mindfulness vs. positive thinking

    The crucial component in developing mindfulness consists of becoming aware of the entire range of thoughts and feelings within you, as you evaluate what is happening in the situation. Counter intuitively, mindfulness enables positive changes in performance not by focusing on the positive, or on those aspects of a situation that you like or appreciate, but by becoming ever more able to welcome into your experience all thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative.

    This is particularly hard during stressful situations. Most people don’t like feeling stressed, and instead avoid the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that are inevitably part of experiencing stress. This can take inconspicuous forms, for instance, by reacting to an unwelcome voicemail by checking email, or by eating a packet of crisps. The problem: by shutting out of our experience those thoughts or feelings that we deem ‘negative’, we shut ourselves off from noticing aspects about such an unwelcome message that are potentially useful, for example, the tone of voice with which the caller conveyed the message. Noticing whether the caller sounded frustrated or disappointed may help us respond more appropriately, and put to good use the information conveyed through the caller’s tone of voice.

    Practising mindfulness at the individual level is hence akin to developing a mental muscle; more specifically, it is about practising the capacity to become aware, and subsequently use, all information available to you, especially information you would have otherwise shied away from. This is where the power of mindfulness lies: rather than focusing on positive thinking at the expense of noticing what it is that may make you experience stress (and the associated tunnel vision or defensiveness), mindfulness enables you to choose the most effective action in the moment, based on a careful evaluation of all intelligence available to you in the situation.

    Organisational influences on mindfulness

    A question asked less often is: How is an employee’s personal mindfulness practice affected by organisational circumstances?

    This is pertinent to organisational decision-makers because – as ever-keen students of organisational performance, we know that many situational factors influence employee performance (competing demands, job fit between a person’s skills and motivation and the task at hand etc.).

    It is an important question to ponder before going ahead and bringing mindfulness into an organisation also because we understand that mindfulness is more beneficial for task performance when the work environment is complex and dynamic (as opposed to an environment where routine jobs need to be performed on a daily basis).

    A research study presented at the Academy of Management’s annual conference in Orlando in2013, carried out by Jochen Reb and colleagues at Singapore Management University, dealt with precisely this question: how do organisational factors impact employee mindfulness?

    Jochen Reb and his colleagues have carried out a research programme that examines what aspects of mindfulness drive employee performance. In an earlier study, Reb and colleagues found that an organisational leader’s mindfulness affects employee performance because the leader’s mindfulness helps foster employees’ psychological need satisfaction (in other words, their autonomy at work, their perceptions of competence, and the relationship quality with others at work).

    In the study examining the effect of organisational factors on employee mindfulness, (which is forthcoming in the journal Mindfulness), Reb et al discovered that several organisational factors strongly affect the employees’ mindfulness: constraints such as poor equipment, conflicting demands, the employee’s autonomy, and also people factors such as supervisor support. Reb and his colleagues go on to demonstrate that the employees’ mindfulness, as measured by their awareness and attention at work, strongly affect their well-being and their performance at work.

    Implications for raising performance using mindfulness

    What does this mean for people pondering to raise performance through mindfulness training in work settings? Rather than focusing exclusively on helping individual employees to practise mindfulness, we can also make organisations more mindful by (mindfully!) examining contextual factors at work that facilitate or hamper a mindful task focus amongst workers.

    The verdict

    It is early days in understanding how organisations can benefit. More work is needed to understand the organisational constraints affecting mindfulness and its link with performance. We need to widen our lens in this field and shift our focus away from zooming exclusively in on the individual and her cultivation of mindfulness, and towards helping leaders in organisations support their employees more effectively (through mindfulness-based approaches and others) and/or removing situational constraints that make it difficult to practice mindfulness as much as possible. In this way we have a better chance of successfully bringing mindfulness into our organisations.

    This article was republished from Dr. Jutta Tobias at Think: Cranfield


    Dr Jutta Tobias is a lecturer at Cranfield’s Centre for Business Performance. She has a broad interest in behaviour change to help improve people’s performance at work

    Cranfield’s Praxis Centre offers  a 2 day mindfulness open programme, The Mindful Executive: cognitive decision making for the wise  leader and a mindfulness practice is taught on their Fearless Leadership programme.

    For more information contact Mary Mills on +44(0)1234754502, email m.k.mills@cranfield.ac.uk or visit Think: Cranfield