27.10.11

Ram Sharan in Bucharest

I was one of the thousands privileged to listen to, and interact live with Ram Charan in Bucharest. Mind the fine irony between "thousands" and "live interaction" and we will move forward to the good stuff :). (But it was really a great opportunity for which I want to thank my manager.)

The workshop was a fast forward of concepts in Ram Charan's latest books.

1. The first session was called "How do leaders cope with difficult times". They do stuff like these:
  • Always keep an eye for unusual places in business to spot new competitors - using technology in a globalization era, the competitors can be anywhere. Web sites for instance can make you visible anywhere you need to, and freedom to travel, work and do business anywhere in the world attracts talented people in new markets with multiple opportunities;
  • They are "fierce" in their journey to achieve their results;
  • They are "visible"; they leave their ivory towers and interact with people in the low ranks; they aknowledge these people have the potential to emit the next improvement idea and the correct image of the business reality; ivory tower - no good. As a personal comment, I was for a year a direct for a manager that wouldn't listen to people in their own team. This ended up ugly for her and the organization and I promised myself then to be smart, to learn from other people mistakes and never to do the same;
  • They are credible;
  • They are very sensitive about how they choose to allocate their time;
  • They trust themselves and therefore make other people trust them;
  • They are over optimistic and over pessimistic at the same time: something like "hope for the best but prepare for the worst"; or better, "things will get ugly but we will be able to cope";
  • They have courage;
  • They are determined and their actions are decisive - this goes alone with the second bullet, they are "fierce";
  • They pay attention to resource allocation and hate waste - sounds like something very general, but it really refers to being able to choosing and to let go of some opportunities if pursuing to many means dissipating the resources of the organization. He talked about the classic Steve Jobs coming-back to run Apple. Apparently, out of 26 de projects, Steve Jobs kept 5 that allowed everybody to focus and create exceptional products. Personal comment: Steve Jobs also had the reputation that he wouldn't listen to anyone when making decisions.
  • They take care of key-employees: during difficult times, these are the first persons hunted by other companies; this is a fresh idea that did not occurred to me before; I always thought difficult times are difficult for employees, period;
  • Communicate and make sure the information flows smoothly in the entire organization; again, not Steve Jobs-like;
  • They drop business lines that are not bringing cash;
  • They look outside-in at their company - as seen by the clients, as seen by the partners; but not as the company sees itself;
  • The budget allocation is dynamic and flexible - this will make a finance specialist such as myself stop and think. I always looked at a budget as something fixed, analyzed the variations and tried to correct; I never thought being flexible with your budget can be a competitive advantage.
I put in bold above the three most important success factors for coping with difficult times, in Ram Sharan's view.

Ram Sharan suggested the next question for self assessment: Which is my personal brand from an execution point of view? I am perceived as a person that is effective and gets things done? - which transited to the next session, Execution.


2. "Execution" session had the same title as the book and had some of the concepts in it.

Each quarter, perform the following analysis:
  • Which are the 10 companies that are known for their ability of getting things done?
  • And how do they do this?
Setting priorities is key in Ram Sharan's speech:
- Determin 3-maximum 5 "laser sharp priorities" for you and your directs;
- Measure progress for the asssigned priorities.
  • create deadlines because they create discipline, focus, energy, cooperation
  • maximum 3-5 deadlines per quarter
- For each dead-line, create a dashboard that shows completion percentage, in a manner that is transparent and visible to everyone. This stimulated collaboration;
- Analyze progress:
  • what causes the results; if the results are negative, analyze the causes; if they are positive, do the same; congratulations when the results are good is not enough; you need to find out what went well and see how you can replicate that;
  • are these results based on some external factors and contexts? if yes, how can you benefit most (or minimize negative impact) and what should be done after they are gone?
  • analyze people's performance; if the results are good, then the cross-departmental teams are good; if the results are poor, the the cross-departmental teams do not work.
3. Talent masters - "Right people in the right jobs"

-Define three success criteria, the example below has been created through interaction with the participants and it refers also to Apple:
  • Different Consumer Experience
  • Modern, Sexy, Young
  • New Team
- Match internal abilities with business needs
- Provide real-tine, constructive, specific, on one-subject only, 60 seconds long, feedback. Any feedback that is above 60 seconds will not be put in practice (and hurts worse, too, I add).
Feedback categories in an importance order:
  • Behavior/attitude
  • Team work
  • Business/functional/technical
Note the emphasis on the human component (2 components out of 3), while the "hard skills" area is represented by 1 component: business, functional, technical.

4. Create a management team that performs

- Selecting team members: focus on "team player" abilities, helping the team to win, not competing against each-other.
- There is a deviant member in each team: identify that persona, bring it on track or eliminate her.
- Perform real time coaching and benchmarking with your competition.

Ram Sharan's entire speech was based on people and their abilities as being the primordial solution to all problems; or at least the solution generator. This is an idea that is embraced by everyone, but is seldom practiced. So I guess there lies your next competitive advantage: right people, right organizational culture is very hard to get for everyone.

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