Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Silicon Valley – the heart of entrepreurism!

What an amazing tour arranged by the incredible CBA Women in Focus Community.  And so many learnings!! 

After visits to Ideo, Cisco, Linked In, Facebook, IBM Venture Capital, Eventbright and many more, here are just a few key ideas that really stood out:

  1. Be in perpetual BETA mode.  Don’t get so far down the road in projects that it is too hard to reverse and you are way too financially and emotionally invested.  Prototyping is at the core of everything. Develop a minimum viable product so you can act quicker and less expensively.  Develop multiple prototypes around the same challenge and then refine as you go along. Launch and learn.  Get live as soon as possible and grow as you learn more.
  2. Find ways to articulate your strategy.  It is no use having the strategy sit in a nice spreadsheet that no one understands clearly.  This is the only way in which you will hold everyone accountable.  When you communicate to people about the strategy, always follow the same template.  For example – start by referring back to the vision.  Then talk to the guiding principles that are set for the short and medium term.  Then set the execution - what initiatives will be in place?  Update everyone about how you are tracking against these guiding principles.  There is then total transparency and people know why you are making decisions. 
  3. Adaptability is a key capability. Innovate, lead and move as fast as you can!  You might have the best product, but this in no way guarantees that you will be successful.  There is so much competition and in order to prevail, size and scale might not be enough.  Go after those ‘sticky’ customers who stay with you for your ability to be ahead of the curve.    Be able to articulate the value that you bring to these customers so that things are easier for them.
  4. Culture is the key to business success.  With so much change happening in the market, cultures that remain glacial are not successful.  To start shifting your culture, think about:
  • Who is accountable for decisions?  Is this accountability real?  How do you create a common language for decisions?  Put together a common vocabulary. 
  • Know what your team thinks of the current culture by doing a survey.  Take the results on board and create the type of culture you are proud to be part of.

Practical programs to foster on-the-job development

What’s wrong with the following scenario?

Day 1: A new sales associate attends a half-day training session to learn about everything she needs to know on the job.
Day 2: She’s mobilised into action during the biggest sale of the year.
Day 3: She quits and/or goes insane.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the outcomes are less than stellar. The sales associate is out of a job and the company is one sales associate short at a very crucial time. It’s exactly the kind of scenario — lack of adequate training — that can lead to lost business and diminished morale, not to mention the wasted time, effort and money spent by the company to source and hire the individual.  

When it comes to training staff members to be happy, productive and loyal to your organisation, sometimes presentations and manuals simply don’t cut it. However some other approaches, such as on-the-job training and development can be very effective. In fact, research by the Center for Creative Leadership tells us that up to 90 percent of what we need to know to do our jobs, we learn on the job.  If that’s the case, what are some of the ways your organisation can foster on-the-job training culture? Here are three suggestions.

Establish mentoring programs

Simply defined, mentoring is a professional relationship in which an experienced employee assists another in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth. Mentoring is a great way to foster loyalty because it demonstrates your company’s commitment to your employees’ satisfaction and longer-term career goals. It’s important to recognise that coaching and mentoring aren’t the same. Mentoring is relational and takes place between two employees, coaching is functional — and takes place between managers and employees. As with any new program, ensure you set clear objectives and determine how the program will be set up and run. It’s also important that your employees understand the program is optional and that they have a say in the mentor-mentee match.

Help your managers become better coaches

Coaching is a unique one-on-one relationship in which a manager helps an employee discover and explore —through meetings, questions and ongoing conversation — the barriers that hinder performance and how to deal with them. The coaching process can reveal valuable insights that can be used to drive positive change for individuals and the organisation overall.  For coaching to be an integral part of your workplace culture, you’ll need to ensure that your managers have the support and training they need to know how to maintain ongoing, two-way dialogue about performance where they share expectations, provide coaching, answer questions, support employee performance, and solicit feedback on their own behaviour and performance. Here are a couple of tips:
  • Give employees regular, ongoing feedback and coaching on their performance, focusing on desired behaviours and outcomes, and opportunities for development, not on “failures”.
  • Keep the focus of formal performance reviews on shared expectations about work and performance, continued development and career progression, and contributions to organisational goals/success, not on ratings and rankings.

Assign work buddies
No one says that every company has to have a formal mentoring program in place. Consider having your managers pair their less-skilled or less-experienced employees with high performers who can act as their "work buddies," guide their work and keep them motivated. A well-matched work-buddy relationship can help employees who are struggling, overcome obstacles and find fresh new approaches to solving problems. Conversely, the high performer can gain valuable experience on how to guide and manage people who need some direction. It’s win-win for the “work buddies” and your organisation as a whole.

One final point, an important thing to consider — and it almost goes without saying — remember to take into account that everyone is different. No one gains knowledge, processes information and gains new skills in exactly the same way. Managers need to get to know their direct report through ongoing dialogue, regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings and observing how each employee reacts in different work situations.

Sean Conrad helps organisations of all sizes and in all industries enhance their talent management programs to drive higher workforce performance. Sean is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software and a regular contributor to numerous industry blogs and publications.