Tag Archives: behaviors

What is the Business Problem You Are Trying to Solve?

business problem

A friend of mine was telling me a story about how he had a project that had $100,000 left in its budget.  He and his team wanted to use it up, since the norm was if you didn’t use it, your budget would be cut by that amount the next year.

Sound familiar?

I asked what they wanted to spend the money on.  He said, “USB video cameras.”

Then, I asked, “why?”

“Because we’ve rolled out a video capability to the company.”

Interested, I continued my questioning.  “But don’t the laptops people use (and the company has already purchased) have a video camera already built in?”

“Yes, some of them do.  We want to buy cameras for those laptops that do not already have a camera and to create a spare pool.”

Good recovery I thought, but I wasn’t quite done, so I asked “But isn’t everyone already on a list to get a laptop refresh, where they all eventually will have a laptop with a built in camera, making these USB ones obsolete?”

“Well, yes,” he said.

I was intrigued because I kept hearing about people putting a piece of tape or a post-it note over the laptop camera for fear they might be accidentally captured on video when they didn’t want to be, so further investment in it raised some red flags.

“Do you even know if people use the video feature?  What’s the data tell us the usage patterns are?  How many video sessions are you doing in a day?  What are you going to do with all the cameras after the laptop refresh?”

I admit I was Feeling like Tom Cruise questioning Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men”.  He was at his breaking point.

“No.  I don’t know any of that.  No usage data.  No trend analysis.  No strategy post rollout.  We just thought we should buy the cameras because the budget had room,” he said.

Needless to say, he didn’t buy the cameras.  No business case, no understanding of the business problem he was trying to solve, and no data.  Common  sense prevails.

I think generally, most good intentioned people are action oriented.  While not a bad thing, I think sometimes we make decisions without all the inputs.  Other factors and incentives drive us to do things that perhaps we wouldn’t do in our own personal lives, but at work we can ignore some common sense questioning that can get us in trouble.  If we all treated our work, or work decisions, like we were the owner of the company, my feeling is that different decisions would be made.  I think it’s always a good exercise to stop ourselves and ask what business problem we are trying to solve.

In that context, we might just make different decisions.

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But what do you “Want” to Do?

questionmark

It seemed like a simple question at first, but as I answered, it became clear that the answer is complicated if we have not spent the time to think about it.

So I spent some time thinking about it recently.

Assume for this exercise that the question is aimed higher than just answering that you want a job or title, like “I want to be a CIO.”  Think about it more in the spirit of answering what you are all about—the package an employer receives when they hire you.  Not the titles they are filling or a comparison between size of budgets and number of employees they have, and your experience levels within each of those those specific things.

Not so easy, is it?

In my case, many themes circled around my head as I contemplated the answer.  Here are some of them:

  • I want to lead in a collaborative, engaging, and inspiring way where everyone is proud of the work of the team
  • I want to make a meaningful difference in the lives (work and outside) of the people I work with
  • I want the impact my teams deliver to be significant, measurable, and not just “talk”
  • I want to help people and organizations change the way they work and lead to stay relevant
  • I want the team to win, and to know when we win, or what we need to do to win
  • I want my team and organization to have my back, and I to have theirs

The challenge becomes how to succinctly summarize what you want.  Forcing yourself to speak and write about it simply is never easy.  And because of that, we take the easy way out and just talk about the jobs and titles we want.

So here it goes…

I want the opportunity to make a difference by leading, engaging, and inspiring others to be proud of their work, feel valued and trusted, and deliver meaningful and measureable outcomes of value for the organization, the team, and themselves.

With pride and trust come outcomes, yet both are developed over time through challenging conversations, debates, and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to listen to unique perspectives.  This can only come if we have the same shared and simplified goals.  I want those too.

That’s what I want to do.

So, what do you want to do?

My Secret to Strategy Execution

At one point early in my career, a re-org put workers into two camps.  You were either in the “strategic” camp, or you were put into the “non-strategic” camp.  I remember feeling like kind of a loser when my name appeared on the non-strategic camp list.  Like the right-fielder of the workplace.

So the strategic camp (shortstops) talked about what we “should do”.  Here were our problems, and here’s where we need to go, they said.

That was cool, but as time went on, I found myself asking (from right field) “hey, are we winning the game?”  It was hard for me to actually know, because we didn’t have a way to measure if the strategy was actually working.

And then it hit me.  I had uncovered my own secret to strategy execution:

They are not separate camps–they are one and the same.

Let me explain.

Strategy does you no good if it is not executed.  When the strategy “setters” don’t actually play the roles of the strategy “executors”, it’s a recipe for, well, not getting a whole lot accomplished.

The biggest miss that I see is not having an effective measurement system or control plan for the execution of your strategy.  Without it, pure strategy setters are more comfortable, because we are not really held accountable to anything that can be measured.  But, it can drive strategy executors crazy because we don’t know what we need to do to win.

I want to win; therefore, I need to know what winning looks like (not just feels like).  In most other things, like sports, it’s a score.  So why not at work?  Why at work does one team think we are winning, while another can feel that we’re not?  The answer is that it is because you do not have a shared measurement system.

But with an effective measurement system, progress (good or bad) can be regularly monitored and because of that, course corrections can be made.  It’s even better if you can ground yourself around one be-all-end-all measure, to rally everyone around the “one thing” that will happen upon the successful execution of your strategy.  This can also help you filter out good ideas from mediocre ones by asking how implementing that idea would impact that main measure.  .  The simplicity of focus on one goal is liberating.  You feel energized along the way, dying to see the numbers and progress when you get into work on Monday morning.  People who doubted you along the way start to believe, and in the end you’ve executed your strategy.

Teams also get too enamored with what they should measure instead of what they can measure.  Too much time spent on speculating about what you should measure will prevent you from even starting to measure what you can measure.

Remember, a Strategy leads to an outcome.  An outcome requires a measurement system.  A measurement system helps you see if you are making the right kind of impact.  That’s the secret–they are all one in the same, not separate camps.  Then, rinse and repeat.

Blog: Have We Lost Our Ability to Wonder?

“Ohio,” my father said out loud in the middle of Sunday church.

Puzzled, I looked at him, and he just smiled back.  The biggest smile I’ve seen from him in a while.  I must admit, I wondered for a second if he was losing it.  I tilted my head, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.

Later that day, he was hanging out with my family.  Someone had posed a question about what year an athlete had played on a local team.  One of my children, seemingly on auto-pilot, quickly looked up the answer on his device and blurted out the answer, like a robot reading from a script.

“Don’t kids have any sense of wonderment anymore?” my Dad asked.  “No, not really,” I responded matter-of-factly.

Dad’s right.  Whatever ability we’ve ever had to truly ponder and think about something, to rack our brains for the answer, seems gone today.  Vanished, like hand writing a letter to someone.  We’ve all been out with friends to have “that guy” in the group who is always on his phone looking up answers to questions that are posed.  Our ability to actually dialog on topics like this seems to be fading.

I suppose one could argue whether or not there are any unintended consequences for this, but I admit I worry that the value mental problem solving, and the sweat equity involved to do so, is missing from our youth today.  I remember thinking about work problems for days, only to solve them days later in a moment of silence.  I felt happiness from that, figuring out something on my own, giving it time, making by brain work for it.

Today, if kids don’t know the answer to something, they just look up the answer.  Done.  Move on to a new topic.  No debates, bets, or dialog.  Like it’s a waste of time to actually sit and think about something.

That night, I asked Dad why he said the word “Ohio” out loud during mass that morning.  He said that days before, his trivia calendar asked to name the three states that were four-letter words.  He immediately recalled Iowa and Utah, but couldn’t remember the third one.

Days later, it came to him: Ohio.  And, with it, a smile.  He had figured it out on his own, at his pace.  Thanks Dad!

MythBusting at Work!

I had the opportunity to hear Adam Savage, co-host of the TV series “MythBusters” speak today at the #Kronosworks conference in Las Vegas.

Savage was entertaining.  He had great slides, I’m a fan of the show, and I have to admit it was just cool to see a celebrity in action.  He talked about having a hypothesis, testing it, and then analyzing the results.  You learn from this process.

There we were, 2500 knowledge workers, there to learn, anxious to apply these concepts!

But he didn’t really tie anything to work.  Not at all.  Zilch.

Thank you Adam!

You may be wondering why I’m thanking Adam for such an obvious omission.

Truth is, this has been my calling for years.  I’ve written about the concepts before, like in my most popular blog about the power of betting a burrito.  We so often stop short of trying out or experimenting on new things based on our opinions or speculations about a topic.  Sometimes I just get too impatient, and just want to test out the hypothesis.  It wasn’t until Savage’s talk today that I tied it all together: We need to think like MythBusters at work.

Take an idea.  Develop a hypothesis.  Test it out.  Learn.

It takes leaders, like you, to move your initiatives and ideas into this model.  Don’t get caught in a speculation showdown.  Challenge your partners to test stuff out.  Bet burritos.  Take action.  Heck, you might even bust some myths along the way.

Don’t Be Afraid of Open Calendar TIme

I realize the topic of meetings is not a new one to talk about.

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me that my calendar has some open availability on it. Ask anyone, in any company, how it’s going and inevitably they will say, “I’m super busy.” A glance at the calendar and you’d likely see the majority of time between 8-5 consumed with meetings.

I think it’s safe to say that knowledge workers today meet a lot. While that’s not always a ‘bad’ thing, I challenge you to think about the following:

If you have a matter to discuss or need a question answered…..is “setting up a meeting” the only way?

Take my personal experience as a view. Historically speaking, scheduling a meeting (or series of) was the default response in follow up to most of my interactions with people. I felt like I couldn’t get my head above water. I was accepting every meeting request—no matter what. The impact was back-to-back meetings, with no breaks, very little desk time and no time for informal interactions with my team. In fact, I’d have to read my calendar right before a meeting and try to remember what it was about. As I got better about really trying to understand which meetings were the right meetings for me to attend, and asking better questions about the purpose of the meetings, I started noticing that I would (politely) decline a few meetings, or have a delegate attend (instead of both of us). This resulted in a little more discretionary time. Time which has allowed me to explore other ways to connect with people on a more ad-hoc basis, and overall… to be more responsive than I had been while doing things the ‘old’ way.

When I talk to folks about their calendars, and why they are feeling “so busy”, here is a Q and A I go through to help get to the “why”:

Q1: Why are you so busy?

A1: I’m booked from 8-5

Q2: Why are you booked from 8-5?

A2: I have to meet with so many people

Q3: Why do you have meet with so many people?

A3: To collaborate on a wide variety of topics

Q4: Why does your initial collaboration on a topic require a calendar meeting?

A4: Getting people in a room helps people focus on the topic at hand–setting up a meeting is how I’ve always collaborated with people, and I can ensure answers to my questions.

Q5: I would agree that at times, that is the most appropriate tool in your collaboration tool box. Have you ever tried using ad-hoc collaboration or asking a couple questions prior to just accepting or setting up a meeting?

A5: I’m not sure, tell me more…

Meetings are expensive. People in a room for an hour adds up. Some extreme companies track this, and there are calculators to compute the “cost of a meeting”. I’m not suggesting we do this—at all—(I think my Dad used to refer to ideas like that as “lead balloons”) but rather just acknowledge the fact that this collaboration technique—getting people in a room—may be more expensive than collaborating on an ad-hoc basis. And, it’s a choice we make. But my focus has been on asking the question:

Do we need to meet on this yet?

Today’s technology collaboration tools like IM and social communities, now more than ever, allow for more efficient ad-hoc collaboration that may allow you to avoid taking the step requiring you to setup a physical meeting to collaborate on a topic. And while our children can’t relate, there is always the technique of picking up the phone.

These ad-hoc collaboration tools are all effective ways to either a) get an answer to the question without meeting or b) confirm that a meeting is the next logical tool to use. Perhaps the answer to a clarifying question, just by asking, would eliminate the need to meet at all.

I’ve had 2 examples—this week—where simply collaborating ad-hoc to clarify something eliminated the need for folks to meet. And everyone was satisfied with that. Are you changing the way you work to open up some calendar time? If so, would love to hear your story.