1. Learning from Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

    January 23, 2014 by


    By Professor Calestous Juma

    When history is said to repeat itself, it is never for good reasons. George Bernard Shaw captured this when he said: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience

    The question of whether nations can learn from history nag policymakers around the world. Part of the problem is that history is handed down through a variety of interpretations that do not reflect reality. But contemporary history, if genuine presented, can offer policy makers with lessons they can learn from.

    This is the central message in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, with Ali Wyne. This is a contemporary account of Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking as told through a series of interviews.

    His central message is that history can repeat itself in a positive way if the world community pays attention to contemporary lessons. When Lee Kuan Yew took over as Prime Minister in 1959, Singapore’s annual per capital income was $400 and is now estimated at about $60,000.

    Singapore’s lessons for other developing countries have yet to be fully appreciated. This is partly because much of the discussion has tended to focus on rhetorical arguments about relationships between governance and economic growth.

    In fact, governance distinguished Singapore from its neighbors. As Lee Kuan Yew says: “They are not clean systems; we run clean systems. Their rule of law is wonky; we stick to it. We become reliable and credible to investors.”

    His key message on the driving force behind Singapore’s success is simple: “The quality of a nation’s manpower resources is the single most important factor determining national competitiveness. It is the people’s innovativeness, entrepreneurship, team work, and their work ethic that gives them that sharp keen edge in competitiveness.”

    He emphasizes the importance of knowledge in economic transformation but also rejects the classical separation between scholarship and entrepreneurship. “Those with good minds to be scholars should also be inventors, innovators, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs; they must bring new products and services to the market to enrich the lives of people everywhere.”

    This lesson from the evolution of Singapore’s educational system poses great challenges for most developing countries. They run outmoded educational systems that do not reflect the entrepreneurial demands of modern times.

    How to reform educational systems to keep pace with contemporary challenges is one the most important leadership lessons that developing countries can learn from Singapore. In stating that “demography, not democracy, will be the most critical factor for security in the 21st century,” Lee Kuan Yew emphasizes his belief in the supremacy of the quality of human capital.

    He connects this to three attributes that he considers vital for global competitiveness: entrepreneurship (seeking out opportunities and taking calculated risks); innovation (creating new products and processes that add value); and management (opening new markets and distribution channels).

    Probably the most enduring theme in Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership style and conviction is the role of learning. His vision of workers of the future reflects greater autonomy “to manage their own control systems, supervise themselves, and take upon themselves the responsibility to upgrade. They must be disciplined enough to think on their own and to seek to excel without someone breathing down their neck.”

    This lesson might appear to run counter to popular perceptions about Lee Kuan Yew’s own leadership style. But he expects the same kind of “creativity of the leadership, its willingness to learn from experience elsewhere, to implement good ideas quickly and decisively through an efficient public service.”

    In addition, he argues for a leadership style that can “convince the majority of people that tough reforms are worth taking, that decide a country’s development and progress.”

    One of the critical areas that require tough decisions include large infrastructure investments that lay the foundations for economic growth. Singapore built “world-class infrastructure…good communications by air, by sea, by cable, by satellite, and now over the Internet.” But such long-term investments demand not only having long-term economic vision, but consistence and predictability in the rule of law.

    Lee Kuan Yew remains optimistic about the economic future of developing countries: “There is no reason why third world leaders cannot succeed…if they can maintain social order, educate their people, maintain peace with their neighbors, and gain the confidence of investors by upholding the rule of law.”

    To achieve success, these leaders must have Lee Kuan Yew’s determination, consistency, and persistence. They must set out to do something concrete and cannot just focus on the trappings of statesmanship. His advice is simple: “Anyone who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist.”

    For developing countries, history can repeat itself, but not necessarily in the caustically pessimistic way that Karl Marx describes when he said it repeats itself “first as tragedy, second as farce.” Lee Kuan Yew presents a more optimistic outlook. His insights are an important source of inspiration for present and future leaders.

  2. Lessons in quality and innovation

    January 12, 2014 by BPIR.com Limited

    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.

  3. Rudolf the “Read-Knows” Changer

    January 2, 2014 by BPIR.com Limited

    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!

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

    January 1, 2014 by BPIR.com Limited

    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

  5. The Sponsor as the face of organisational change

    November 25, 2013 by

    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.