February 22, 2015

Leadership: Helping sway from herd mentality

If you’re from an underdeveloped country like Pakistan you would’ve witnessed the strangest phenomenon ever. A bunch of mindless cows moo-ing and going where ever the rest of the cows were heading. Blank faces, dead eyes, but still moving as if they know where they are going when actually they don’t. That is called herd mentality. I must admit that many times I was also adhering to the same actions but that was because I was so good at it that my actions were inconspicuous and I wanted the leader to grab me and take me out of the herd. But that did not happen. I know that as a student of MBE I need to be more proactive and not rely on people to pick me up but this helped me observe the leaders and their capabilities and the various types of followership that I can demonstrate.

Paul said in class that we are born modellers and that we copy actions as soon as we see them. In my undergraduate school I had a friend who was a psychology major who told me that when we smile at babies and the babies smile back, they are not smiling because they are happy but because they are imitating emotions and actions. That’s who and what we are as human beings. We copy the people around us. Which is why when everyone expresses the same opinion, it is usually hard for people to go to the other side of the matter and raise their voice in favor of it. We as humans fear judgements and welcome social acceptability. These are the two factors that need to be tweaked by the leader to make their followers independent of others’ opinions and have their own original stance.

CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility or Cynical Selfish and Reneging

I am a huge fan of the widely misunderstood Milton Friedman and his stance on CSR. I became an even bigger fan of that man when Zoe Chilton said the words “We are not a charity”. I am not saying I agree with her stance in the true meaning of it which she explained by saying that a company expects financial returns for everything it does, in fact I’m saying quite the contrary. I am saying that if you label your actions as being socially responsible just for the good of it, you should not expect anything in return other than the satisfaction of spreading good.

Milton Friedman never said CSR is bad, he just said that going out of the way to label something as being socially responsible and then expecting financial gains from it is wrong. He argues that if a business is conducting itself responsibly and is operating within the law and is in no way harming anything, then it is being socially responsible. There is no need to label your actions and project them as a marketing strategy. The companies that use CSR as a marketing campaign should be considered the biggest criminals by those who don’t believe in Friedman.

“We are not a charity”

In many ways those words have changed the way I viewed CSR and whatever I have been taught till now. I still won’t expect a penny for a penny.

Do your job

Believe in true welfare

Believe in Friedman

End CSR as a label

Leadership, deception and trickery

The concept of leadership is on one end while the act of deception and trickery are on the other. A leader leads from the front while hoisting the battle flag and reassuring every one of his/her men that he/she will be with them throughout the journey. This is done to show that the leader is just as much a part of the struggle as the rest of the team. Leaders make sure that their presence is a source of comfort for the rest, even if that is the only thing they do. Once such a leader emerges, the whole team would have faith and do whatever the leader asks of them, even if it was asked to change their conduct.

As Paul said, the use of positional power should be a last resort after all attempt through personal power have been exhausted. After the last class, I had an informal reflective session with my own group and many of my classmates from different other groups. We reflected on what one of the classmates had shared in the reflective session by commenting that we had swayed from the state of being a family. After that session, when I was talking to my colleagues, we came to a conclusion that there is an air of deception and trickery in the classroom environment. It is fairly obvious that for many people self-preservation comes first but that is never shown. We also agreed that from the start of the first module till date, we have never been a family. It is all an illusion and where the fear of people might be considered relevant, the divisions within our class need to be considered. The word family is very strong and in no way describes the state of our class right now. We are all acquaintances that will move one and move away with time. Some lasting friendships will be made, but the key word here is SOME. A very simple incident that can be quoted here is the first day of the module when people changed their opinion, regarding the code of conduct, as soon as Paul left the room. If i was to use harsh words I would call people hypocrites. I don't see signs of being a family any where. Our class is, at most, a collection of many small families.

If that is actually a concern then we should use the content of this course and what we are being taught to actually solve the problems. First, we need to realise that we are not a family and if the goal is to be one then we need to work on it together. Greeting and interacting with a fraction of the class and then expecting to be a family is unrealistic. We need to work together to become a family. Being a whistle blower in an organisation is not an easy job. You need to do everything you can to solve the problems before blowing the whistle. This might include confrontations regarding any problems one might have with another person. If you want to make things simple then forget coaching and just talk about it. You cannot expect to win a war just by looking intimidating, you need to fight your way through. If you give up just by thinking on the problem and not doing anything to figure things out then you have already taken the first step towards failure.

Leadership is about trust, faith, belief and most importantly respect. I am very sure we respect each other, if not believe in each other, and we wouldn’t mind lending our ears to aide a cause. Talk to people and communicate your concerns. See the response you get and act wisely. If you don’t get the desired result then go back home and read Dr. Deming because you damn well need to accept the bloody variation in everything around you. The knowledge of variation is a life changer once you embed it in your mind and is even more useful if you add it to your leadership arsenal. And if you think you failed without even doing anything about it, then you just killed the leader in you. So before you go around screaming Armageddon, communicate first. Because leaders lead, not conspire.

The unappreciated follower

John F. Kennedy once said in his speech that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan. That comment is not only limited to the battlefield but also to our daily lives as well as the corporate culture prevalent from as long as I can remember. During these two weeks filled with exercises and simulations, the same trend could be observed but not in its usual announced manner. Any team that failed had a leader that was subtly attributing the defeat to one of the team members but could only be noted with careful observation of their body language. As Paul said, communication is only a relatively small percentage verbal, the rest is body language and the tone of the voice used. A leader needs to own the results of its team’s performance whether it is over the moon or in the ditches. The tone needs to be kept positive and same goes for the body language. Otherwise you will leave behind a demoralised team after the task.

The time given between sessions for coffee usually ends up in an informal cigarette break/reflection session. Numerous times I heard my colleagues, who were team members, say that their leaders complained a lot and probably despised them for the effort they put in because it was obvious from the leader’s response that it wasn’t enough. Even if that were true, the leaders need to give credit where credit is due and not overlook the positives and highlight the negatives. That is what usually leaders do and use bad performance as a form of motivation, but that rarely works. I grew up reading a quotation sticker on the back door of my mother’s office, concealed by curtains, which read “If you do something good no one remembers, if you do something bad no one forgets”. That stuck with me throughout my life to a point where I used to quote it whenever any such situation arose.

The followers give their leaders all their belief, faith, trust and choose to follow them blindly. If after that these people are not appreciated and are shunned aside by their leaders then this is criminal of them. If this trend is followed then you will never succeed with team projects because you have failed as a leader!

February 21, 2015

Leadership substitution

As the exercise constituent of the substitution of leaders partially relates to my dissertation topic, I was intrigued by the coincidence of ending up being the substitution. Over this exercise all leaders and deputy leaders got to observe two teams and the dynamics of change and adaptability. Nothing in this world is a perfect symmetry and the appreciation of asymmetry is something that we have been able to extensively, if not fully, comprehend thanks to the works of Dr. Deming on variation. This is exactly why the 8 people changing position within four different teams cannot possibly know everything there is to know about the teams. Based on permutation and combination it would take various combinations to actually experience all teams with all possible structure. But they did not get that opportunity as it is practically unviable and no one in the real world is that darn lucky to actually be given such an opportunity. The leaders and the deputy leaders had to work with what they had.

Based on the rules of the simulation I was the deputy leader of one team for two quarters and the leader of one for the next 4 quarters. Before the lunch break when it was announced that the deputy leaders had been promoted to leaders, even though the full situation was not communicated as part of the simulation, I had already started planning. I was under the impression that I would be leading my own group and that did not really impact my thought process. I knew what had to be done and I was now behind the steering wheel. This gave me room for zero excuses to justify the loss of learning opportunities if there was any. As I went in a task-focus, I went on with my plan and my team had quite some success. During the feedback when I asked for areas for improvement, my team members said that even though it did not apply in the simulation, in the real world it would be essential to a change that the new leader communicates with the team to bond with them and align the goals for a successful change process. This made me realise that during the change of leaders, where I had a lot going in my mind, I had over looked the fact that the new team was already in a state of shock and frenzy.

The change of leadership brings with it so many aspects that are really hard to address all at a time especially considering the situation. The best possible way to deal with that, which I did unintentionally and found very useful, was to enter the organisation as a blank sheet of paper and asking the team members to reflect their past performance, decisions made and their impact on the performance. This will not only update the leader on the statistics but will also bring out from the team members something that, as humans, they cannot hold back: THEIR OPINION.

February 11, 2015

Contingent leadership

My country is currently being run by a prime minister who is a conventional businessman and he is failing miserably. This is his third tenure and he was not able to fully complete his first two terms successfully and was forced to step down. Where he and his team are more than capable to devise marketing strategies to get him and his party elected, without questioning the legitemacy of their actions, the leadership qualities are absent. His networth puts him unquestionably among the richest people in the country because even as a prime minister his priorities face a conflict of interest. His ability to run a business and to lead his companies to profitability does not qualify him to lead a country. Just because a person can lead a group of people to achieve something does not mean he can be assumed a universal leader. There will always be variables and they cannot be ignored. Different situations require different leaders armed with the appropriate skillset.

Here I refer to the lifeboat excercise we had in class where one of the teams chose a managing director as the leader for the situation. They based their decision on the fact that this person had people skills and that his age reflected maturity. But what does that have to do with a lifeboat situation? When you have a person retired from the Royal Navy on board, would an aged person really be your first choice? The parameters of the situation define the requirements of the leader.

If we started establishing universal leaders, the leading MNC's would start hiring high ranked army generals to lead their organisations. I in my right mind would never do that, would you?

November 30, 2014

Crashing Helicopters and faulty planes

People in the air should be thankful that we are not in the aviation industry. A simple oops would be translated in to a pilot nose diving towards the ground because I couldn't operate a screw driver or a ruler properly. Which reminds me how morbid my sense of amusement is as the DOE reminds me of Homer Simpson's DOH which would be what I might say whenever a plane fell from the sky because of my stupidity. Pun intended!

But on a serious note the meccano airplane and paper helicopter activities helped in identifying the loopholes a production line could have which result in variations and DPMOs. Though Deming said that we should accept variance, he never said that we shouldn't do anything to minimize it. He actually was of the opposite opinion and said that variation should be minimized through statistical tools and techniques which in today’s world can be seen in six sigma. The meccano airplane activity gave us space for process innovation and quality control whereas the paper helicopters gave us an opportunity to test our design of experiments and various other factors in order to use an array to come up with the best product through the combination of different variables.

The tools and techniques used to come up with all this improvement are not easy at all. I might even mention the fact that I almost always blacked out from fear every time Graeme used the word ‘deviation’. But that is what six sigma is all about, using statistical process control and other tools to control variation and always strive for near perfection with 3.4 DPMO as a benchmark.

The Six Sigma perception

A fairly long time ago I found out that one of my uncle's old classmates was a six sigma blackbelt. Intrigued by the fancy title I asked my uncle what a six sigma blackbelt was. He answered with words so amusing that they stuck with me till now. He said, "Son, Six Sigma experts are people in good suits with fancy briefcases making their way in to various industries to rob companies". On further questioning he told me that these fancy people get hired by companies to state the obvious and to present data, not to mention the fact that they are exhorbitantly paid.

The PIUSS module has actually enlightened me to a point where I can understand what misconceptions my uncle had and bring clarity to his absurd, yet amusing, explanation of six sigma experts. Most people confuse six sigma with conventional consulting. As James from GE very aptly put the role of conventional consultancies in to words by saying that they offer to borrow your book and show you how to read it. Six sigma is a lot more than just that.

It would take a long time for a conventional businessman to appreciate the beauty of statistics and different tools to evaluate performance. Most small medium enterprises function on hit and trial, and on intuition and gut feeling rather than on properly measured facts and figures. Six sigma not only substantiates its findings with a huge process and measurement base but also derives viable solutions. The air of ambiguity surrounding the concept of six sigma is diminishing rapidly. 10 out of a batch of 24 MBE students with no prior knowledge of six sigma showed interest in earning a green belt certification at the end of a 2 week module. I think that says enough about six sigma and the influence it will have on industry in the future.

November 17, 2014

Qualitative Enablers, Quantifiable Results

In order to setup a learning organisation or to transform an organisation through organisational learning by way of EFQM, as was the question 3 of the PMA for CBE, a trend can be identified. I hold the same point of view that I held after Chris Hakes' session which is that excellence cannot be quantified. Excellence maybe the goal of an organisation but when paired with continuous improvement the boundries of your destination become infinite in nature. If we breakdown the EFQM model into the enablers and results instead of the nine criteria it becomes fairly obvious that intrinsic factors such as leadership, people and strategy which sum up to be the enablers are not quantifiable.

This in my opinion shows that it does not matter what goal the organisation has set for itself, the input has no set level. This in essence is the concept of continuous improvement. Keeping your goal in mind but not restricting yourself to a certain level of input. At the end the results will be quantifiable not matter what the nature of results is. This brings me to the word quality. The reason I used the words 'qualitative enablers' is because that is the only measure they have, quality. It is all about the quality of the enablers that can determine the quantifiable results. The higher the quality of enablers the higher the quantifiable results.

Organisational learning is all about continuous improvement and you know what they say, there is always room for improvement. This means that the quality of the enablers needs to be at an all time high throughout the whole process. The process of continuous improvement is an ever evolving stage. Makes it sound like real hard work!

October 19, 2014

Social responsibility – The way it should be

Milton Friedman

When we were discussing CSR in class, Paul referred to the name of Milton Friedman and said that if there’s no CSR then businesses are all about Friedman economics. I came home and read up on the whole fiasco about CSR and the corporate sector. If a company was made on the objective of earning profits, it is hard to believe that the company would proceed with any plan of action that would negate its objective. CSR is an investment of time, money and manpower, all of which can be directed towards the organisation to make more profit and earn more intelligently.

In my years of organising events I found out that all the companies who sponsor events organised by me had their interests in it. I’ll share a very common reason for companies to host debating or other university level events. In my country we have a progressive tax system which means the higher a company earns the higher tax bracket it falls into. So if you went to a company before they filed their tax they would literally throw their money at you, charge that money to the CSR budget and fall in to the lower tax bracket so that they did not have to pay more tax. If you went to them near the end of the tax year, because their tax bracket had already been finalised they would turn you away. So if you wanted to get your event sponsored you have to visit different companies in certain months. They did not give a hoot about CSR once the tax bracket was finalised.

There is a very thin line between diplomacy and hypocrisy. If you claim to be a CSR driven company and earn profits by using CSR as a marketing gimmick then that’s diplomacy. But if your claim to be a CSR driven company and you act against what you preach by not being social friendly then that’s hypocrisy. I condemn both. Using CSR as a marketing gimmick and for modifying the image of the company in the minds of the people is criminal. That is not what CSR is about. And I would rather prefer an organisation that is morally upright and does not practice CSR over a company that is a morally corrupt and practices CSR.

This is where I bring in Milton Friedman. In a book published by the University of Chicago called Capitalism and Freedom he was interviewed and asked what he thought were a corporation’s ‘social responsibility’. His reply was that a corporation’s responsibility is to make as much money for the stockholders as possible. So we judge that statement. Is it bad to have a good return on investment for your investors? So what if he revived and emphasised on the company’s interest in monetary gains. The second part of his statement clears his position on CSR, “In [a free economy] there is one and only one social responsibility of business―to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” As you can see that I italicised the last part of his statement. He clearly means no harm. By saying the words ‘stays within the rules’ he clearly contradicts any externalities that would have a negative on the environment, be it corporate or social.

I would like conclude by saying that CSR is not being held up by companies in all its letter and spirit in fact the concept has been twisted to serve the vested interests of the corporate world. Oh and I found this interesting depiction of CSR Maturity on the internet and thought I should share it.


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