May 28, 2011

From watching The Apprentice, Series 7, Episode 4

I am not a big fan of the idea of this programme but I am a loyal audience because I find useful things to learn from it.

The girl who was fired was the project manager for the losing team in this task. At the first minutes of the boardroom time, all of her team agreed that she was a good team leader. The reason for it was she always made decisions as a team, a democratic approach. Even when she knew they lost, she said everyone in the team should be responsible for it. She was said to struggle so hard to make a decision on her feet and no leadership qualities. She was fired because of her indecisiveness. The last words of Karen with Lord Sugar was: 'If you go to business with her, you would have to make all the decisions.'From this example, I am a bit skeptical about democratic approach. I think it is so easy for the leaders to get away with their responsibility when they use democratic approach to make decision. If the leaders dare to push their decision, they possibly make their influence over the team. Otherwise, their role looks to me like being there just to host the voting process. Making decision is a privilege of the leader and also an opportunity for them to make people look and work toward the same direction. In cases when members have more expertise than the leader, democratic might be a good choice. If it is not, everyone has different opinions and different ways of doing the task so the democracy takes place, in my view, just for the sack of making everyone happy that their opinions are taken. In effect, the democratic way might cancel their attitudes and passion. Jumping in and making the decision might show more of their influence and passion.In more specific, if the leader makes the decision, it is apparently that he/she got a chance to persuade their members, whose opinions are different. Therefore, the team would follow because of reasons presented and because the leader believes in it (the influence of a leader). On the other hand, at the end of a democratic decision, it is usually no explaining happens. Just before voting, people are usually talking as much as they can to pull out their ideas, after realising more people have different views, they have no more chance to listen. For those who are in the minority, apparently, the reason they have to give up their ideas is there are more people do not aggreeing with them. Although their ideas are taken, their attitudes and feeling are not respected or appreciated. If the leader in the majority and he/she tries to explain after voting, it sounds like because he/she is the leader, they would have to follow anyway. Vice versa, I think the leader needs to confirm success factors from the chosen voters. If it is the case, I suppose there are more expertise in the team in which the leader should have been aware since the beginning stage and have given more credit to those peoplem and even the expertise should be filtered or justified to prove its It comes to a neccesary prerequisite process beforehand which is skill-accessment. I think it is important for the leader to go through this so he/she might know where his/her position to lead, to push or to pull. At the end, it might depend on different types of decision but I would like to see a decision made by the quality rather than the quantity of the approval. Having said that, I'm still swimming in thinking about it, not very sure. There must be cases when democracy works best, just can'e be generalized.By talking about decision-making, from this real case, I do not see much can be used from the decision-making techniques, from simple to complex ones. They seem to me not very applicable on the operational level. 

In summary, this episode of The Apprentice gives me thoughts on the democratic approach from a leadership point of view. However, more discussion and learning need to be carried on, following the conditions where this approach should or should not be used.

March 29, 2011

Doing unethical jobs, ethically!

In this entry, I want to share my view about a CSR mindset. What initiated this thought in me was the situation about a job offer to one of Paul's students a while ago that Paul shared with our class. First of all, thank Paul for your sharing!

I want to start by another family story.

My mom is a teacher in high school. In Vietnam, where the majority of highschools are run by government, at the end of every academic year, there are accessment and rewards for teachers and schools with high graduation rates. However, for entrance recruitment, there have always been classifying process for students's marks from top to lower ranking schools. Students whose marks are not high enough fall into what is claimed schools of type B and top schools are type A.

I have no ideas how teachers are ranked as well as allocated, probably due to their graduation marks as well. The teaching rewards and high titles, not much suprising, normally go to high ranking schools with workaholic students who during their highschool time have won academic competitions and stuck with tight timetables for most of the time with no other interests except for studying and the competing attitude could make students not good friends (I went through it so I know how it was ...). My mom always see it's such an unfair rewarding system although she is working in a type-A school. To her teaching experience, she found it a lot harder to teach non-hard-working students, who might be not as quick or as bright as others or not enthisiastic in studying. When a teacher comes to a class with noisy and unprepared students, teaching might not be as an enjoyable job as when they chose it. Being patient and being strict, raising their voices quite often when neccessary, facing bad-behaved students sometimes ..., type-B school teachers are those should be rewarded the most. With type-A school students, a teacher play a role mostly as a facilitator. However, for type-B school teachers, they have to play their roles as motivators, directors, facilitators, advisors ... it is a lot more than knowledge in the subjects they teach. At the end, hard-working students graduate with higher rates anyway and it is a lot of efforts required to improve type-B school records. The system just tends to make a bigger and bigger gap between quality of two types of schools.

However, teaching in a type-B school doesn't mean a teacher is not good, there are just different sets of skills to improve different types of students (to facilitate, to direct, moticate ...). It is them who decide their attitudes toward the jobs. The way others look at one job doesn't mean the one who does it would make it that way! No religions tell their followers to kill people but why some do it? Some one play a role as a follower, does it mean he/she would contribute less than the leader? For me, it is the mindset that one choose driving his/her in the jobs, the job titles might not tell everything.

Coming back to Paul's sharing, working in an industry which is seen as unethical by others, doesn't mean all people there are unethical. It is down to how robust a person's ethical mindset can be, which is important in all jobs, all industries, I think. Is it sure that people with commonly ethical job titles such as doctors or medicians are always ethical?

Moreover, for people with an ethical mindset, I think, they might need to take into account different factors more than their expertise to do jobs which are harmful to others rather than those that help. It is just another set of skills that an ethical-mindset person needs to do a claimed unethical job ethically.

In the end, in my opinion, it is the mindset that matter to one's intergrity, not the job title!

LE PMA thought

From the very beginning of my PMA progress, I got stuck with the term 'coaching'!

What I confused was the way of coaching, the method of presenting or the know-how in consulting. Although all the theoretical examples about a holistic picture are provided, the same as other cases I came across during class, no guidelines are available to improve a typical case. To me then, in front of me were lots of theories and the Waverider case and if I bring the whole theories in (you have to understand customers'needs, you need  to improve your operations, you need to think strategically, for example...), the Waverider board could have just bought a leadership text book (Dubrin's, for example). They should be able to use Porter's Five Forces or SWOT or QFD... themselvs. If they haven't known about those tools, a TQM or Operation Management book would help.

It also makes me think about my future employment. When I attended a workshop in skills porfolio of career office, I was introduced with a set of skills that I need to develop untill I finish my degree, there was one that really spotted on to me which is the skill to promote my selling points. From that time, the quesion always hanging in my mind is: what is my sellimg point?.

From this PMA, when asked to encounter a real case, I got stuck. Theories might be accessible for everyone but how can I make me different? how can I make it work? I can't go to a job interview and tell them the theories that I have learnt, as if I am a textbook published from my graduate school with chapters in Six Sigma, in Leadership, in EFQM ... I might be able to tell them what good or bad about those theories, when one should be used, what other experts say about it but how to make it works?? I don't really know or even if I do, how could I convince them?? Theories which are popular, everyone might have known, those are not, might have not been justified to a certain extent to hold true broadly... So what is my selling point? 

Back to my PMA, stuck with how to implement those theories, I look for books in consulting and it does give me an idea how to start, where to look at and what steps to do. Of course, they just give a general idea and guidline of how to approach problems and some tactics to work with clients, problems might arise... And what I came across next was how complex the reality could be and how much a consultant needs to understand a company to do the consulting job well, how the smallest things might count. This makes me face with relevant assumptions need to be made and the available information means something else behind ...

This experience makes me look back on all modules I have studied so far, and feel like I haven't known enough about them. Deming said: "Knowledge comes from theory." and "without theory, there is no learning", he also said: "Knowledge has temporal spread."

I don't want to spend one-year time and all the efforts and resources to get just a textbook back, I don't want to get only low-hanging fruits ... It is 5-6 months left to prepare for my selling point!

March 19, 2011

Consensus – good or bad?

The term 'group thinking' has stuck in my mind since last week lecture. 

It makes me suspicious about any discussion which reaches a consensus. A question comes up first in my mind about any consensus, is it a real consensus or the consequence of group thinking?

I make my own definition about consensus that when there are no interaction during thinking processes and people come up with the same opinion, it is a true consensus. However, if they don't after independent thinking and discussion or arguement bring congruence at the end, I doubt!! There could be chances that people get to a stage where they take into account the same factors so same conclusion can be made. However, when it is not independent thinking, the person who introduce new factors to others, they might have also spread their thoughts in other minds.

This thought makes me come to a lesson that, the anyone can add value to a group or a team when they are themselves, however limited their experience is, as long as they have enough knowledge and keep their thoughts independent to challenge and distort others'biases, they are contributing realistically. It is not necessarily how senior a person could be but it's about a value of an independent mind! :)

March 17, 2011

Is decision–making tools process–focused or result–focused?

As we all have seen, most of tools and techniques used to make decisions are embedded with personal judgement. What I am thinking is, in an attempt to minimize bias, are those tools meant to drive judgement away from personal point of view to a more subjective perspective due to the culture of a group?

During the process, bias will be unveiled apparantly, evidence of bias will be in front of decision-makers. By any chance, it is the meaning of these tools? Is it meant for decision-makers to see through themselves, to review and adjust themselves?

During the whole process of making decisions with my team, I see that what we judge and follow from the beginning was held firm until the end. Our initial, personal judgements became the result of decision tools that we used which was not much of surprise. More than that, it was further expanded to more potential possibilities. What I see after that is how variable our judgements and personal views were among each others and from there, we argued why we thought one factor should have been more important than others and from there, we explored each factor further and deeper, we filled in the gap of impacts from factors among each others. At the end, we reach a consensus where we gained a same deeper understanding about the influences of factors.

I do enjoy discussion although sometimes it turned out tough, especially when, as many have said, it is down to personal bias. However, the more views in discussion we have, I think it is a more potential for a robust decision we can get. The reason for that is everyone pick out different points to base on as he/she sees how far and deep impact it might cause which others might spot on other points in stead so they weight factors differently. After discussion, a deeper and richer understanding of factors is gained by all members, it is when a robust decision is made.

Whatever the result comes out, initial judgement holds true or not, I think it is the process that important. During groupwork I see myself have listened more and held my thought more than before! :)

February 28, 2011

Translation in Communication

Hi everyone, I am working on an assignment in Design for Six Sigma and come across an interesting point about communication that I want to share. The point comes from the thinkest book (that I could find @@) on Six Sigma in library and actually, it was not a bad choice as I found not just basic methodologies, histories, case studies on Six Sigma but also discussions and thoughts of other scholars as well as the author. 

The issue I want to raise is translation in communication. Translation is needed, of couse, when different languages involved in a conversation. What I mean by different languages is not only linguistic languages but also technical or professional languages.

Although there are different contexts of communication, I find the concept of translation works the same. It reminds me of my class on Multi-Cultural Communication in my under-grad course. Once, we were showned a video of an American firm coming to Indonesia, looking for local partners. The American representative in the video failed desperately, he was turned down by local Indonesian firms at the first time they met. Reasons given were critiques from Indonesian executives that the American firm people could not speak Indonesian. They said if American companies wanted to do business in Indonesia, it was their jobs to speak Indonesian not expecting local Indonesian employees to learn English. More importantly, another critique was the Indonesian executive expected a couple of visiting trips between two companies for both couterparts getting to know each others to build up trust first rather than mentioning business projects and contracts right in the first meeting.

Although during the conversation, both sides spoke English frequently, no linguistic barriers occured, the cultural barrier remained and it was more critical than ever as, at the end, the American representative still had no idea why he failed, it had been the way his company worked for years. On the American perspective, firms trusted in laws, and as long as both sides complied with relevant laws, it was not necessary to spend more time and effort understanding partners' businesses.

Our lesson did not mention which of Western or Easten approaches was better, as people were different and things worked differently at different places. The only lesson we learnt was understanding each others to a certain extent would secure communication and collaboration better. In the specific context of the video case, translation means understanding each others' business culture.

Back to my Six Sigma assignment and the book I refer to, from my previous understanding, what Six Sigma means to a quality manager is a change in manufacturing process which requires a new management style. On the other hand, a shop floor worker is more likely to reckon Six Sigma as a change in their interaction with working patterns which would be added with statistical tools. On a higher level of management, an executive might see Six Sigma in terms of short-term investment and long-term return, or in a simpler word, money. The author presented the argument where quality professionals blamed management people for lack of support while the author, a quality expert himself, supported the other side by arguing that it was the job of quality professionals to use the language of management to get their ideas across. He debated that the whole quality community should not have expected their executives to understand technical terms like 3.4 DPMO, DMAIV methodology or Taguchi method... but translated specific Six Sigma projects into monetary terms. Although I don't totally with the monetary equivalence, it should mean more than that for strategy formulators, I find it reasonable that undertanding the language of management should be expected from quality professionals to implement a sucessful Six Sigma project. 

Talking about the most interesting module that I have had, Leadership & Excellence ;), what does translation mean to leader in a leadership context? or in more particular, what does a leader need to communicate with their followers??

From the first task when we were assigned to make a leadership definition, what I have been having in my mind is a leader should understand the needs and potentials of participants before being able to make them their followers. From my accummulated thoughts about communication and translation, I think that it would be more effective if a leader could translate the common goals into individual needs and individual potentials. In doing that, a leader might have more chance to sucessfully unify participants as it would make more sense for individuals to see what they could do and what they could benefit from contributing to common tasks. However, this is just a first step which takes one small part in communication, for the rest of the leading role, they are motivation, facilitation, involvement ... and they are other stories about leadership :P.

Mentioning about making long-term goals understandable to employees, in their own 'languages', I think about Hoshin Kanri, the Policy Deployment ;) but I think I have written way too much @@. If I continue, the chance one would read will drop desperately. As far as I concern, in the language of many readers, a long entry means little enthusiasm to read ;P!

Anyway, my conclusion is that in any context of communication, it is important to understand the message in the 'languages' of receivers.

February 21, 2011

They can, why we can't?

Thinking about CSR these days reminds me of a time with my family!

It was a late afternoon when I was a lot younger than now, we all were preparing dinner, my mom was in the kitchen and I had such a conversation with my dad... I still remember that it was raining quite heavily with strong and cold wind outside. We heard a bell tolling from bin-men awaring people of putting rubbish out so they could collect it right away. As we didn't have big bins with caps on for resident houses like in here so we had to leave it out when they came or just before that.

In such a wet and cold weather outside, when it was dry, warm inside and we were about to have hot food, my first thought when hearing the bell was: lucky me, I had put our rubbish outside before it rained, otherwise, I had to run out in the rain with rubbish bags and bins on both hands, I would have definitely got wet all over. I told my dad not to worry as I had put it out ... My dad also looked out toward the bell ring and raised his eye-browns, he said, poor for those bin-men, at the time when others had finished work and gone home with their family, having dinner, they were still working in the rain an cold and probably till late ... He told me to appreciate those people...

At that time, I was stunned, for a while, what was in the mind of a more than 10-year-old girl and those from an experienced man was totally different.  It has been years and years but I still think about it sometimes. 

Studying about CSR, relating it with other current social problems, I think about those poor and hard-working people in my country. It could have been a lot easier for them to do bad jobs, they might have been theives or burglars or smugglers ... with easier money (I think :P) but at least, they could have earned enough to not work in cold and rain but they chose hard and low-paid jobs with probably low respect from others and keeping their integrity.

Those people usually did not have enough education, could be just enough to read and write. They also had families to support, had their children going to school ... such a burden on their shoulders but they did their jobs well everyday, without complaints. Moreover, obviously, they collected bins by their own hands, sometimes, when it rained, little roads were muddy, they had to push wheel-kits around each neighbourhood to do their jobs ...

In their fight for a living, for their food, for their children's education... the basic necessities, they still choose to do ethical jobs, not harming others for their own goods. We, those have more education and, at least, are lucky enough to have more choices over our jobs, would we feel ashamed if we don't?

They can, why we can't?

February 08, 2011

Leader can be made or just be born?

Although this question is nothing new, I just saw it again a couple of days ago on the BBC Discussion website, and I, personally, had doubted about a made leader until recently, or maybe yesterday, when I got a chance to think back and reflect!

When I was little, I admired people, who could speak confidently, clearly and structurally in front of a crowd. My first impression about those people was their charisma, the thing that I thought they were endowed with, born with. From my part, having never had such an experience, I just looked up to them and wondered how could they do that.

The more I experience with people around me, the more I realise, not all people who can speak confidently that, I found, good leaders. It is more about the attitude and the leading spirit that make sense to me about leadership.

My sense about the suffix “-ship” in this case is the spirit that leaders bring when they know they are leading. Moreover, 90% of communication is visual so in influencing people around, sometimes, words is not the best way. Communication skill is important but as the number says, verbal communication wouldn’t be my only choice.

I think a true leader can lead in any situation, it doesn’t matter what specific skills are needed. Leaders need to trust and rely on the whole team to nurture, what they need is to view situations, to listen, sometimes, to trust, to ask and very important, to be decisive.

When it comes to real life, it is the knowledge that I find potentially make people leaders, first charismatic impression could be faked, but knowledge is what makes a person valuable which others will respect, let them lead and trust in them. Other things can be put on precariously but not knowledge. “There is no substitution for knowledge!” (Deming)

December 22, 2010

Transformation from my point of view


After studying about transformation and organizational learning for a while, I am stick with one image about transformation which has embedded in my mind since my undergraduate course. The chosen image is: transformation is a process of unfreeze-redesign-refreeze. Whatever changes can be, people need to abandon at least parts of what they are doing, thinking, planning to accept new ideas and actions. 

Academic authors have different views on the outcome of transformation. Some say the final organization should be completely different inside-out from the original, change in structure, culture, operation, mind-set ... Those people also classify changes to different levels and categories. Others say, organizations transform as environment changes which will change their current business states. Transformation is adaptation. As long as they keep their organization at the position that they want, it does not make a big different to them how much to change, what area to change.

I think the first view is more academic and, in a way, put transformation to such an extreme of change which is quite unrealistic. Since if they change themselves completely, they would lose all the competitive advantages that they have built up so far. Moreover, they would be a completely new player in an environment which is totally new to them, competing with older players. It can be about the target environment from the author's point of view. If they want to quit the current playground and take a risk to give a go in another potential market, this could be the case.

I prefer the other perspective about transformation. It sounds more practical, understandable and makes more sense to me. However, also having taken into account consideration from the first view, I think whenever environment changes, the leaders stand in front of choices of directions: what market they want to go for to make a new start, what position in that market they want to gain, what image they want to build up in the society in general and in the business environment in particular ... From this point of view, internal factors are also important in a sense that which transformed form would cost them least which still satisfy their strategic aims. At the end, it is about the wisdom of leaders, in both understanding their own organizations and external environment, to make a good match. 

Transformation is about choice over a new game to play when leaders see the current or old one over. ;)

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  • In order to support your point in the last paragraph, you could use the concept of Belbin team–role … by Anh T. Dang on this entry
  • Hi Anh, Great entry. My opinion on where you work is what you want out of life. Is money a motivator… by on this entry
  • I absolutely agree. In the last two weeks, we have had some very long, tiring discussion, not all wi… by on this entry
  • Hey Anh, I agree that you wrote way too much this time, my PEUSS PMA isn't that long! (yet ;). You c… by on this entry
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