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It’s Both an Evolution and a Revolution

 11th September 2018 by gihan

I’ve just come back from a short holiday in Singapore, where we spent some time eating, shopping, walking, sightseeing, and enjoying a few days of warmth after a cold winter in Perth.

One of the amazing things about Singapore is the way it has transformed itself over the last 15-20 years. I remember when most outsiders knew very little about it except as a transit spot to change planes on the way to somewhere more interesting. But now it’s become a tourist destination in its own right, with twice as many tourists now than 20 years ago.

Singapore has done this in two ways, and these apply just as much to your own business as well.

First, it has built on its traditional past, preserving and enhancing experiences such as the Lau Pa Sat hawkers market, first built 150 years ago, and protected as a National Monument of Singapore for its historical significance. By night, it’s bustling with locals and tourists, and was our favourite spot for satays and beer.

Second, it has created totally new experiences, such as Marina Bay, built on reclaimed land that didn’t even exist 30 years ago.

So Singapore has done two things:

  • Evolution: Building on what they already had.
  • Revolution: Creating something entirely new.

The same applies to your business.

Most leaders – especially in established organisations – think only about evolution. They look at their assets and figure out how to build on them.

Intuitively, that makes sense – but it’s dangerous. Your biggest assets are also your biggest weaknesses, because they blind you to other – possibly better – opportunities. In the past, these assets protected you from newcomers, but now they might offer only a false sense of security.

What are the biggest assets in your organisation and industry? These could include:

  • Traditional accounting assets, like equipment, stock, premises, cash and other securities, and intellectual property.
  • Less tangible assets, like your brand, reputation, and licence to operate in this industry.
  • Intangible resources, such as your talented staff, systems and processes, and positive culture.

These are all assets, because they are positive features that have built your success … so far. But sometimes our biggest assets hold us back from something better.

For example:

  • Owning premises gives you a local presence, no landlord, and more control over the building. But is it holding you back from a better location, opening other locations, or letting staff work from home?
  • You might have a strong brand, but is it holding you back from doing something daring because it might damage that brand?
  • The positive culture in your office is an asset. But is it holding you back from expanding your team to include remote workers?

Building these assets took effort and money, and it’s difficult to let go. But whatever you spent on them shouldn’t figure in choosing what’s best for the organisation now.

The problem is that it’s difficult to ignore the time, money, and effort you spent in building these assets. Psychologists call this the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”, where we mess up our decision-making procedure by placing too much weight on how much we have already invested in something. That makes it more difficult to abandon something, even if that’s the right thing to do.

Beware the sunk costs!

To overcome the risk of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, assess each of the assets in your business by asking this question:

“If we didn’t have this, what would we do differently?”

For example:

  • If we didn’t already have a Website, what Website would we build? Would we even build a Website at all?
  • If we didn’t have these systems and processes for delivering this service, what service would we really offer?
  • If we didn’t have a database of loyal customers we might upset, what radical change could we make?
  • If we didn’t have established agreements with our suppliers, what agreements would we create now? Would we even choose these suppliers, or would we choose different suppliers to meet our business needs now?

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, that asset is the best option, and we wouldn’t do anything differently”. In that case, you can opt for evolution, and build on that asset.

But if the answer is, “No, if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t choose it”, then maybe it’s time for a revolution, and abandon that asset to invest in something better.

Thinking Ahead

  1. Which “assets” in your organisation could be liabilities because they are blinding you from other opportunities?
  2. If a smart start-up company without this asset wanted to get the same benefit, what would they do?
  3. What would you do if you didn’t care about [affecting the share price / damaging your brand / losing your best people]? How else could you achieve the same result?

Want to know more?

In my Think Sharper masterclass, I show you how to shake up your thinking to avoid problems like the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Find out more here, or drop me a line and let’s talk about it.

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Turn The Tables On Mentoring

 4th September 2018 by gihan

Last week, I delivered the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) National Convention, talking about the “bright sparks” in your organisation – and how to get the most from their skills and talents.

I was interested to see this was the most-shared slide from my presentation:

This shows the results of some recent Harvard University research about what makes up “the best workplace on Earth”.

Contrast that with Gallup employee engagement research from a generation ago, and you can see just how dramatically workplace expectations have changed:

I’ve already blogged recently about the best workplace on earth, so I won’t go over that ground again. But let’s zero in on one idea – and I’ll highlight an incredibly valuable tool that most organisations just don’t use right now.

Turn the tables on mentoring.

You might already have a mentoring program in your workplace, but do you embrace reverse mentoring? If not, it’s one of the most useful things you can do – and it costs almost nothing.

In a nutshell: With reverse mentoring, the younger, more junior, people in an organisation provide the mentoring for older, more senior, staff.

For example, Janet Wilson, CEO of Brisbane law firm Cooper Grace Ward, has an agreement with younger members of her firm to mentor her every month. She says:

“The conversations are inspirational, sometimes worrying, and always refreshing! I make them as casual and friendly as possible. We have fun and lots of laughs… at each other’s expense!”

With a traditional mentoring arrangement, the more experienced, more senior, (usually) older person shares their experience with more junior people to fast-track their development. The mentor offers something – their experience – that nothing else can provide, and in turn that helps the mentoree build their judgement and eventually gain wisdom.

Reverse mentoring turns this idea on its head. This time it’s the more junior person in the mentor role, and their biggest contribution is perspective rather than experience.

That’s not to say they don’t have experience or expertise – far from it. Younger and more junior people often do have more expertise with, say, social media, mobile devices, and technology in general. But don’t stop at those obvious areas – they also might have expertise in other areas – such as:

  • Consumer behaviour: They know how people of their generation buy.
  • Recruitment: You can find new staff through their networks.
  • Talent management: They value different things from a workplace.
  • Money: They have different attitudes towards saving, wealth, and retirement.

But their biggest contribution is their different perspective on the world, which helps senior people shake up their established viewpoints, which are often difficult to break down by themselves.

It cuts both ways.

If you’re the more senior person, reverse mentoring accelerates your learning curve, gives your team members new opportunities, enhances morale, boosts productivity, and creates a closer team.

The Hartford, a financial services group in the USA, leveraged the power of reverse mentoring to reach a new kind of customer, understand the new workforce, and improve their bottom line. Across the organisation, 50 mentoring pairs participated in the program, and they achieved outstanding results:

  • 97% of the mentees (the senior people, remember) rated it extremely effective for their personal development.
  • Just as importantly, 11 of the 12 mentors (the more junior people) in the project’s first wave were promoted within a year.
  • For bottom line results, the business implemented new business practices that saved time and money, increased social media engagement, and boosted internal knowledge within teams.

If you’re not doing this already, engage a smart, savvy younger person to be your reverse mentor for the next three months. Listen to their insights, follow their advice, and resist the temptation to think you are smarter just because you’re older and more experienced.

Then extend the concept of reverse mentoring to other parts of your organisation, so everybody has the opportunity to be involved in it.

Thinking Ahead

  • Who could be your reverse mentor at work?
  • Who among your peers could you connect with your more junior team members (with the junior people as the mentors)?
  • How are you using reverse mentoring in your personal life (with your own children or other young people)?

Want to know more?

In my Think Sharper masterclass, I can show you how to integrate reverse mentoring and other initiatives that create the best workplace on earth. Find out more here, or drop me a line and let’s talk about it.

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Strategic Planning for Two Kinds of Futures

 28th August 2018 by gihan

When you create your strategic plans for the future, do you include two kinds of futures? In the past, we could see what was ahead, and could plan for that in our strategy. That’s still important, but the world is changing so fast that there’s another kind of future: the future we can’t see. How do you plan for that future as well?

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There’s An I In Team

 21st August 2018 by gihan

When my niece Abbey was ten, when she outgrew her Lego Friends toys, she sold them on Gumtree. She kept half the proceeds and donated the other half to a charity of her choice. She set an attractive price, and usually sold a kit within an hour of advertising it. At the tender age of ten, Abbey was already learning about online trading, marketing, social responsibility, and a new model of ownership.

My 19-year-old stepdaughter, also named Abbey, is in her second year of studying Physiotherapy at university. Even though she is still a teenager, she has already had six part-time jobs: coaching gymnastics, babysitting, serving at a supermarket checkout, managing events, working in hospitality at a sports stadium, and being a sports trainer for a football team.

Both of my Abbeys are still years away from entering the full-time workforce, but you already have other Abbeys in your organisation, and others assessing whether they want to join it. They are smart, talented, innovative people who want to make a difference in the world.

Are you ready for the change?

We’re already seeing significant changes in the nature of work, and the workplace of the future will be very different from the workplace now. It will be more common to change jobs more regularly, switch careers every few years, work shorter hours, and work multiple part-time jobs.

If you’re leading a team or organisation in this new world of work, you will face different responsibilities and challenges than you do now.

The biggest change is the shift to individual power and influence. We used to say “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’”, but that’s no longer true. There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ now, because your team members have more influence, power, and access than ever before – and will bring them to work to assist you and your organisation. If you let them.

The Best Workplace on Earth

When workplace researchers Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones asked people about what makes “the best workplace on earth”, they identified six things:

  • IDENTITY: “Let me be myself”
  • TRANSPARENCY: “Tell me what I need to know to get my job done”
  • TALENT: “Help me develop my skills”
  • PRIDE: “Give me a place where I can say I’m proud to work”
  • MEANING: “Give me work that’s meaningful, not menial”
  • SUPPORT: “Don’t get in the way with stupid rules”

This is radically different from workplaces a generation ago, where, according to Gallup, employees favoured things like superannuation, flexible holidays, and good benefits.

In this podcast episode, you’ll discover more about these six key principles for creating the best workplace on earth.

Listen To the Episode

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine these six factors for creating the best workplace on earth, so you can attract, reward, and (most importantly) keep the best talent.

More Resources

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

Know What Problem You Solve

 14th August 2018 by gihan

Jaime Casap, Google’s Education Evangelist, said this:

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

You might be caught up in your day-to-day work, constantly trying to keep on top of everything and fighting all the everyday challenges in your job or business. But it’s worth stopping to take stock and ask the question:

“What customer problem are we solving here?”

Too many businesses fall in love with their own products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. They forget about the problems they solve for their customers and clients. They find a cure for which there’s no known disease.

Of course, you must know your stuff – what matters to you, what you stand for, what you know, and how you create value in the world. But also obsess about what your clients and customers want, and present your solutions in ways that solve their problems.

Many businesses start with a strong customer focus, and obsess about how they can solve their customers’ problems or help them achieve their goals. But over time, as the business grows and needs to support itself, that obsession fades, as other “essential” work takes its place.

For example, imagine a budding entrepreneur of primary school age selling lemonade on a hot day, from the footpath outside her home, to people walking by. All she wants to do is help solve their problem (thirst).

If her little business grows into a large organisation, she will spend more and more time solving other people’s problems, such as: the local council, ATO, other government agencies, staff members, suppliers, shareholders, media, and community groups.

The thirsty customer – who was once her top priority – soon falls down the pecking order. She spends all her time and energy serving other people to keep the business running, forgetting that its original purpose was to solve a customer’s problem.

Just to be clear, it’s not inherently wrong to solve other people’s problems in the business, especially if you’re in a leadership role. It only becomes a problem when that doesn’t ultimately help a customer solve their problem as well.

Be sure you identify their real problem, and don’t just offer a convenient solution to an easier problem. For example, if you offer a loyalty discount to regular customers, that might represent a real benefit to those customers (and helps them save money, which does solve a real problem). But if you force them to bring their membership card to gain the discount, that doesn’t solve their problem (it solves yours).

As a simple (but possibly sobering) exercise, look at all your activity in the past week, and count how many hours you spent on work that solved real customer problems. If you don’t deal directly with customers, you can include time helping other people who do, but be sure you only include activities that help them solve customer problems. Then ruthlessly work at eliminating all this other “dead time”.

Do You Really Know Their Problems?

Do you really know what problems your customers and clients have now? Are you sure? The products and services you offer now might have solved your customer’s problems in the past, but the customer of the future might be very different. So be sure you know what they want, and then build new products and services to solve their problems.

Exercise: What’s Your Problem?

Make a list of the things you do regularly in your job or business – for example, reading and deleting e-mail, making sales appointments, running a weekly staff meeting, filling in a form, recording expenses, following up customers after a sale, and so on.

For each, rate them from 0-5 based on how much they really solve a customer’s problem:

  • 5: Customers say this this solves a real problem in their life
  • 4: This is required by some external party (e.g. completing a form for the ATO or ASIC)
  • 3: This solves a team member’s problem (e.g. a weekly staff meeting that helps the team collaborate better)
  • 2: This solves a problem for me (e.g. keeping my inbox empty to reduce stress)
  • 1: This solves another department’s problem (e.g. completing a purchasing request form)
  • 0: This doesn’t solve any problem at all!

Then, for anything that doesn’t rate a 5, decide how to improve, adapt, or eliminate it. The lower the rating, the more it’s likely to be a candidate for the chopping block.

Remember: If you don’t solve their problems, they will find somebody else who will!

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How to Future-Proof Your HR Career

 7th August 2018 by gihan

Later this month, I’ll be delivering the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition – Australia’s leading conference for HR professionals.

Because organisations are fighting it out among themselves to attract, engage, and retain the top talent, HR is a fast-changing role in a fast-changing world. If you’re an HR professional, your role is becoming more important than ever before – but only if you change your mindset and behaviour.

The biggest change is a shift in mindset from “supporting resources” to “managing talent”.

Talented people want jobs that give them meaning, not just money. They care more about their careers than ever before, and they want their employer to care more about their careers.

They see HR professionals as a vital intermediary between them and their employer. A smart HR professional becomes indispensable to the organisation by being a talent manager rather than just somebody who manages compliance and regulation. That makes you valuable, because the future is very much about people, not just technology.

With all the talk of robotics and automation, that last statement might seem surprising. But we’re not yet at the point where most jobs are at risk. That time will come, so it’s important to be preparing for it. But don’t let that stop you from excelling at what you’re supposed to do: Look after your talent!

Here are three practical things you can do to future-proof your career.

1. Engage a reverse mentor.

In traditional mentoring, you are mentored by more experienced people; reverse mentoring turns that on its head, and you get mentored by more junior people. Your experience used to be one of your most valuable assets. It still is, to some extent, but in the future, the skills we value more than longevity and experience will be flexibility, critical thinking and taking different perspectives.

If you’re not doing this already, engage a smart, savvy younger person to be your reverse mentor for the next three months. Listen to their insights, follow their advice, and resist the temptation to think you are smarter just because you’re older and more experienced.

Then use your influence in HR to extend reverse mentoring throughout your organisation, so everybody has the opportunity to be involved in it.

2. Think like a business owner.

Imagine you are the owner of your organisation, then ask yourself: Do I have the best people right now? How can I get – and retain – the best people?

Sometimes that means changing some of the standards, policies, procedures and systems. It might even mean breaking the rules and championing the cause of your people who want to break the rules.

Most organisations don’t start out to create a system of stupid rules, processes, and procedures – but many do end up that way. This gets in the way of productive work, and generates resentment and ridicule.

Instead of policies, create guidelines, and encourage leaders and managers to build good judgement in their team members.

3. Be a lifelong learner

Every HR professional should be doing online training. This is important for your own development, of course, but it also helps you understand how training itself is changing.

In my conference presentations, I often ask how many people have done any online courses. Typically, fewer than 10% of people raise their hands. If you’re in the 90% majority and haven’t yet attended any online courses yourself, now is the time to start!

There are large online course providers like Coursera.org, but don’t start there. Instead, start with a smaller – but still highly reputable – provider such as Open2Study.com, which is backed by leading Australian and New Zealand academic institutions. The courses are shorter and less intensive, but still give you a taste for online learning.

Start with a topic that interests you and might be useful as well, so you can stay motivated during the course and get something valuable from the time and effort you invest in it.

What are you doing to future-proof your career?

As an HR professional, you spend a lot of time looking after other people’s careers. It’s time to look after your own as well!

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Ask For Customer Feedback Sooner

 31st July 2018 by gihan

As a young software developer working for a small software company in Perth in the 1990s, I was involved in building some of the infrastructure of the early Internet.

Our company was subcontracted to STC Submarine Systems, which laid telecommunications cables along the seabed of the world’s oceans, carrying early Internet traffic. Our job was to build the software systems at each end of an optical fibre cable system, monitoring the health of the lasers and other equipment along the cable.

We would work for years developing the software in our office, then carefully integrates it with our client’s software in the U.K., until we thought it was working well enough to connect to a live cable. We would then travel overseas to the telecommunications stations – in remote locations around the world, where the undersea cable would come ashore – to install and test our software in “the real world”.

I remember when, as part of our software installation team in Hong Kong, I watched nervously as our end customer pored over the automatically generated reports every day, checking for any errors in the operation of the system. Sometimes they would ask for more information in the report, and we would work frantically overnight to add this new feature to the software.

Software development in the 1990s worked very differently than it does now! In those days, it took years (literally) before the customer had the chance to see our product and provide feedback. Now, software app developers publish an early release of their app one day, get customer feedback instantly, and release another version almost immediately.

Ask for feedback – as soon as possible.

Your customers are already marketing experts for your business, so ask for their feedback. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they expect the opportunity to provide feedback, and want you to fix problems fast.

Unfortunately, most businesses ask for feedback too late, when there’s no benefit to the customer. That’s why most people ignore e-mail requests for online reviews of restaurants hotels, online shopping, and other such services. These reviews only help the service provider, not the customer, so customers tend to ignore them, or only make negative reviews as revenge.

So, ask for customer feedback as early as possible, at a point where you can actually change their experience, and make sure you act on it.

Follow these four stages of soliciting feedback:

  1. Ask early: Ask as early as possible in the customer journey.
  2. Listen openly: Listen without judgement, and record all feedback.
  3. Assess fairly: Not all feedback is useful or practical, but don’t discard it just because you don’t like it or because it’s not easy to address.
  4. Act swiftly: Act on the feedback, and ideally in a way that helps the customer who gave the feedback.

How can you get better feedback – sooner – from your customers?

Asking for feedback earlier doesn’t mean you can release a sloppy product or service, with the excuse that you’re just doing it for customer feedback! It’s still your responsibility to deliver quality – but you don’t have to get it “perfect” before you ask for feedback.

As a rule of thumb, follow the guideline “80% is near enough to be good enough”. You can apply that in different ways – for example:

  • Release a “beta” version when you think it’s 80% ready.
  • Release it to a carefully-chosen list of 20% of your customers first.
  • Hold back the final 20% as “bells and whistles” you can add later.

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

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Practise Being a Possibility Thinker

 24th July 2018 by gihan

When I show a picture of a self-driving car to a child, their first reaction is usually, “Cute!” or “Cool”. But when I show the same picture to adults in my conference presentations, their first reaction is usually “Scary!”

Of course, that’s partly because adults anticipate some of the risks and dangers. But it’s also because children are often more open to possibilities than adults.

If your initial reaction to self-driving cars is more at the Scary end (in other words, you immediately think of problems, difficulties, challenges, risks, or threats), you will struggle more when driverless cars hit our roads. Not to mention 3-D printing body parts, the dismantling of the education system, embedding chips in newborn babies, the end of offices, and Australia becoming an Asian country.

On the other hand, if you start by thinking “Cool!” – or even “Hmmm … Interesting!” – then you’re a possibility thinker, and you’ll be better able to adapt, embrace and even lead these changes.

Credit: smoothgroover22

Of course, neither of these reactions – “Scary!” or “Cool!” – tells the full story. But practise thinking about what’s possible rather than what could go wrong. Don’t worry – there are plenty of people who can tell you why something won’t work! But the people who will be most valuable in the future are the possibility thinkers.

Here’s a short video I recorded about being a possibility thinker:

Exercise: Yes, And …

Choose any new technology or trend – such as self-driving cars, Snapchat, or same-sex marriage – and brainstorm as many ideas as possible about how it could have a positive impact on your career, your business, and your life.

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