Posted by: magnussonllc | February 28, 2012

Setting and resetting expectations

We sometimes create our own difficult clients by not creating, setting and maintaining realistic expectations from the very get go.

Disconnects in customer communications and understanding can happen at a number of points throughout the engagement.

They can happen:

  • During the sales process
  • During project kickoff
  • On change requests
  • On status calls and in status meetings
    During every informal communication that takes place, though less likely in written form like emails

While we try to document communications with our customers and get their signoff on expectations and understanding, that doesn’t always happen – or what we sign off on may be a generality when in fact the details are up for interpretation.

A crucial part of running successful engagements is the ability to set or reset customer expectations early in the project. A technique we can successfully use is called UPDATE.

Understand Customer Expectations

Customers have different expectations of what they want and need from us. These expectations will influence how they perceive our deliverables. Sometimes they have correct expectations, where we have done a good job setting realistic expectations during the sales effort.

Sometimes their expectations might be too high or even too low. In order to set expectations successfully we must first know what expectation level the customers have.

Primary (and secondary) deliverables

The next step in setting expectation is to be very clear about what we deliver and how this will be delivered. These deliverables needs to be clearly defined in our SLA.

Don’ts

We also have to clearly define to our clients what we will NOT deliver. By agreeing on everything that is out of scope we will be able to manage expectations much easier on latter stages in the engagement. Many services professionals are reluctant to explain the don’ts early in the engagement because they think that it will negatively affect the customer satisfaction.  However, it is always better to deal with this conflict early in the engagement.

Alternatives

Sometimes when we communicate our don’ts to the client they experience emotions of worry and concern. What will happen if we don’t do this? What are our alternatives if this doesn’t work?

When setting or resetting expectation it is a good idea to explain what our alternatives might be. What is our fallback plan? Who will help us out if we cannot resolve these issues?

Trust

Trust in your team, trust in the customer and the trust in the solution is the core ingredient that holds everything together.

A huge part of resetting or setting expectations is to show trust in our ability to solve the challenge even with the all the limitations above explained to the client.

During this part we can explain of our team’s competence, experience or anything else that could establish trust from the customer’s perspective.

Knowing the customers concern and connecting your trust points to those concerns would make these trust points even stronger.

Engagement

The last part of setting or resetting expectations is to thoroughly walk through all the steps of the engagement with the client and explain how and why we deliver our different milestones.

Clarity around the process is key for successfully managing the project going forward.

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Posted by: magnussonllc | September 26, 2011

Greiner’s Model for Growth

Fast-growing companies can often be chaotic places to work.

As workloads increase exponentially, approaches which have worked well in the past start failing. Teams and people get overwhelmed with work. Previously-effective managers start making mistakes as their span of control expands. And systems start to buckle under increased load.

While growth is fun when things are going well, when things go wrong, this chaos can be intensely stressful. More than this, these problems can be damaging (or even fatal) to the organization.

The “Greiner Curve” is a useful way of thinking about the crises that organizations experience as they grow.

By understanding it, you can quickly understand the root cause of many of the problems you’re likely to experience in a fast growing business. More than this, you can anticipate problems before they occur, so that you can meet them with pre-prepared solutions.

Understanding the Theory

Greiner’s Growth Model describes phases that organizations go through as they grow. All kinds of organizations from design shops to manufacturers, construction companies to professional service firms experience these. Each growth phase is made up of a period of relatively stable growth, followed by a “crisis” when major organizational change is needed if the company  is to carry on growing.

Dictionaries define the word “crisis” as a “turning point”, but for many of us it has a negative meaning to do with panic. While companies certainly have to change at each of these points, if they properly plan for there is no need for panic and so we will call them “transitions”.

Larry E. Greiner originally proposed this model in 1972 with five phases of growth. Later, he added a sixth phase (Harvard Business Review, May 1998). The six growth phases are described below:

Phase 1: Growth Through Creativity

Here, the entrepreneurs who founded the firm are busy creating products and opening up markets. There aren’t many staff, so  informal communication works fine, and rewards for long hours are probably through profit share or stock options. However, as more  staff join, production expands and capital is injected, there’s a need for more formal communication.

This phase ends with a Leadership Crisis, where professional management is needed. The founders may change their style and take  on this role, but often someone new will be brought in.

Phase 2: Growth Through Direction

Growth continues in an environment of more formal communications, budgets and focus on separate activities like marketing and  production. Incentive schemes replace stock as a financial reward.

However, there comes a point when the products and processes become so numerous that there are not enough hours in the day for one person to manage them all, and he or she can’t possibly know as much about all these products or services as those lower down the hierarchy.

This phase ends with an Autonomy Crisis: New structures based on delegation are called for.

Phase 3: Growth Through Delegation

With mid-level managers freed up to react fast to opportunities for new products or in new markets, the organization continues to grow, with top management just monitoring and dealing with the big issues (perhaps starting to look at merger or acquisition opportunities). Many businesses flounder at this stage, as the manager whose directive approach solved the problems at the end of Phase 1 finds it hard to let go, yet the mid-level managers struggle with their new roles as leaders.

This phase ends with a Control Crisis: A much more sophisticated head office function is required, and the separate parts of the business need to work together.

Phase 4: Growth Through Coordination and Monitoring

Growth continues with the previously isolated business units re-organized into product groups or service practices. Investment  finance is allocated centrally and managed according to Return on Investment (ROI) and not just profits. Incentives are shared through company-wide profit share schemes aligned to corporate goals. Eventually, though, work becomes submerged under increasing amounts of bureaucracy, and growth may become stifled.

This phase ends on a Red-Tape Crisis: A new culture and structure must be introduced.

Phase 5: Growth Through Collaboration

The formal controls of phases 2-4 are replaced by professional good sense as staff group and re-group flexibly in teams to deliver projects in a matrix structure supported by sophisticated information systems and team-based financial rewards.

This phase ends with a crisis of Internal Growth: Further growth can only come by developing partnerships with complementary organizations.

Phase 6: Growth Through Extra-Organizational Solutions

Greiner’s recently added sixth phase suggests that growth may continue through merger, outsourcing, networks and other solutions involving other companies.

Growth rates will vary between and even within phases. The duration of each phase depends almost totally on the rate of growth of the market in which the organization operates. The longer a phase lasts, though, the harder it will be to implement a transition.

The Greiner Growth Model helps you think about the growth for your organization, and therefore better plan for and cope with the next growth transitions. To apply the model, use the following steps:

  1. Based on the descriptions above, think about where your organization is now.
  2. Think about whether the organization is reaching the end of a stable period of growth, and nearing a ‘crisis’ or transition. Some of the signs of ‘crisis’ include:
    • People feel that managers and company procedures are getting in the way of them doing their jobs.
    • People feel that they are not fairly rewarded for the effort they put in.
    • People seem unhappy, and there is a higher staff turnover than usual.
  3. Ask yourself what the transition will mean for you personally and your team. Will you have to:
    • Delegate more?
    • Take on more responsibilities?
    • Specialize more in a specific product or market?
    • Change the way you communicate with others?
    • Incentivize and reward you team differently?

    By thinking this through, you can start to plan and prepare yourself for the inevitable changes, and perhaps help other to do the same.

  4. Plan and take preparatory actions that will make the transition as smooth as possible for you and your team.
  5. Revisit Greiner’s model for growth again every 6-12 months, and think about how the current stage of growth affects you and others around you
Posted by: magnussonllc | June 29, 2011

How to Avoid Unproductive Conflict

We all know people who seem to spend their lives embroiled in conflict. These people probably are doing exactly what they need
to do, given their perceptions of reality.

Conflict can help to clarify issues, strengthen relationships, solve problems, and enrich our lives. However, conflict also can
be unproductive and destructive.

Following these guidelines can help to avoid
unproductive conflict:

  1. Know the difference between your principles and your preferences. Refuse to “sweat the small stuff.”
  2. Test your expectations against reality. When we expect more than others are prepared to give, we run the risk of unwarranted conflict.
  3. Save and spend trust credits. In the give-and-take of human relations, accounts of trust and credibility credits are slowly built up. Everyone in an inequitable relationship feels uneasy. When trust accounts are out of balance, the potential for unproductive conflict increases.
  4. Handle criticism as a live bomb. Our species has not evolved enough to accept criticism gracefully.
  5. Examine your intent before you criticize.
  6. Study the potential recipient’s vulnerability.
  7. Consider modeling the desired change instead. Describe behavior without a value judgment. Wait five minutes; the critical urge may pass. Criticize kindly and constructively.
  8. Practice the power of optimism. Emulate the behavior of cheerful people. Most people with whom you are in conflict want to Stop hurting just as much as you do. When involved in a game of “ain’t it awful,” work to change the focus.
  9. Be aware of personal-growth hazards. Ironically, pursuit of self-knowledge to improve relationships may put us so far “into ourselves” that we lose sensitivity. Examine what is happening; become aware of the responsibilities of living among others.
  10. Recognize day-to-day conflict traps.
  11. Avoid assumptions. The human mind refuses to stay empty in spite of lack of information. Consider what you do when you are unclear about an interpersonal message.
  12. Sensitively anticipate destructive conflict. Avoid incipient conflicts by sharing information and negotiating expectations, by defining roles, and by renegotiating roles as necessary.
Posted by: magnussonllc | May 3, 2011

Process for Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is about being both willing and able to
evaluate your thinking.

Sometimes our thinking might be
criticized because we don’t demonstrate that we have all the relevant
information required or because we make unjustified inferences, use inappropriate
concepts, or fail to notice important implications.

Our thinking may be unclear, inaccurate, imprecise,
irrelevant, narrow, shallow, illogical, or trivial, due to ignorance or
misapplication of the appropriate learned skills of thinking.

On the other hand, our thinking might be criticized as being
the result of a sub-optimal disposition.

The dispositional dimension of critical thinking is focused
in learning and developing the intention to be truth-seeking, open-minded,
systematic, analytical, inquisitive, confident in reasoning, and prudent in
making judgments.

Failure to recognize the importance of logical dispositions
can lead to various forms of self-deception and closed-mindedness, both individually
and collectively. Critical thinking employs not only logic (either formal or,
much more often, informal) but broad criteria such as clarity, credibility,
accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness.

Critical thinkers use a process that ensures that they
evaluate their argument from a critical perspective:

According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking
(http://www.criticalthinking.org), there are seven standards that critical
thinkers should have in their mindset.

Clarity

  • Ask for illustrations and examples
  • Get hard facts
  • Ask the person to elaborate

Relevance and
Significance

  • How does that statement connect to the issue?
  • What are the most important parts of the issue,
    argument, or evidence?

Logic

  • Apply common sense
  • Connect the dots between the points
  • Ask for clarification when points clash with
    each other

Accuracy

  • Look for supporting evidence
  • Check and double-check the facts
  • Get first-hand information whenever possible

Depth

  • Make sure you are not over-simplifying the
    problem
  • Are you covering all the issues?
  • Are you covering the most significant issues?

Precision

  • Ask for precise measurements (63% rather than “over
    half of the population”)
  • Watch out for vague words

Breadth

  • Are you looking at all points of view?
  • How could you gain more perspective?
  • Look at it through someone else’s eyes (your
    children, your manager, etc.)
Posted by: magnussonllc | January 19, 2011

The Lewis Model – Cultural Dimensions

There are over 200 national cultures in the world. Is it possible to classify them into types?

 One classification is the Lewis-model, whose main categories are Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Reactive cultures. A rough guide to global cultural variations can be seen in this triangle, where countries are placed according to their dominant characteristics, or two key characteristics:

People in linear-active cultures generally demonstrate task orientation. They look for technical competence, place facts before sentiment, logic before emotion; they are deal-orientated, focusing their own attention and that of their colleagues on immediate achievements and results. They are orderly, stick to agendas and inspire people with their careful planning.

 Multi-active cultures have people that are much more extrovert, rely on their eloquence and ability to persuade and use human force as an inspirational factor. They often complete human transactions emotionally, investing the time to developing the contact to the limit. Such people are great networkers, working according to people-time rather than clock-time.

 People in reactive cultures are equally people-orientated but dominate with knowledge, patience and quiet control. They display modesty and courtesy, despite their accepted seniority. They create a harmonious atmosphere for teamwork. Subtle body language replaces excessive words. They know their companies well, giving them balance and the ability to react to a web of pressures. They are also paternalistic.

Posted by: magnussonllc | November 20, 2010

Logical Framework Approach Planning for Projects

In practice, even the best project managers can find it difficult to plan major projects without missing important activities, and without failing to spot all significant risks and issues. What’s more, once you’re immersed in the detail of project planning, it’s hard to keep site of the big picture: What are you trying to achieve and why? What are the risks and assumptions? And how you can tell whether the project is a success once it’s implemented?

The Logical Framework Approach is a useful technique for helping you do these things, thereby making your projects more robust and coherent – and more successful. The Logical Framework Approach (LFA) was developed in the 1970s as a tool for strategic planning, using the ideas of Management by Objectives. It’s a tool of choice used by development agencies and in the international donor community.

Large aid organizations throughout the world use the LFA for planning, approving, evaluating and monitoring their projects. That said, this is a powerful and useful technique, and is one that richly deserves much wider application than in international development alone.

The Logical Framework Approach and the Logframe

 The Logical Framework Approach elegantly weaves together top-down and bottom-up approaches to project management. It brings together the classical, top-down, “waterfall approach” for identifying the activities in a project, with a rigorous bottom-up checking process to make sure that these activity lists are comprehensive. It then reinforces this with a rigorous risks and assumptions analysis, which is again thoroughly checked. And it concludes by identifying the controls needed to monitor and manage the project through to successful conclusion. It does this within the framework of the Logframe Matrix, shown in figure 1 below.

This cross-references seven key areas of the project to ensure that the key questions are asked:

Goal – what results do we expect?

Purpose – why are we doing this?

Outputs – what are the deliverables?

Activities – what will we do to deliver the outputs?

Indicators of Achievement – how will we know we’ve been successful?

Means of Verification – how will we check our reported results?

Risks and Assumptions – what assumptions underlie the structure of our project and what is the risk they will not prevail?

 The answers to these questions are put into a Logical Framework Matrix (Logframe) and become the output of the Logical Framework Analysis exercise. The Logframe is a four by four matrix, shown below:

Figure 1: The Logframe Matrix Logframe Matrix

Logframe Matrix
Project Summary Indicators of
Achievement
Means of
Verification
Important Risks
and Assumptions
Goal:      
Purpose:      
Outputs:      
Activities:      

The process has significant value for any size of project. It helps identify the big picture and allows you to see how other items cascade down from it. As well, it helps flesh out the core assumptions that are used in the project development process.

Using a Logframe

Carry out the following steps in consultation with your stakeholders, after you’ve completed a thorough analysis of the situation. By involving stakeholders, you’ll end up with a much more robust analysis of the project than you would on your own.

Step 1: Identifying Outputs and Activities (Project Summary, Column 1):

The first step is to brainstorm the outputs and activities required by the project, starting with the project goal. Do this in the Project Summary column (column 1) of the Logframe. Start by defining the Goal and Purpose of the project and, from these, identify the outputs and the activities required:

  • Goal: What is the “to be” state of the project? What are you trying to achieve?
  • Purpose: What good will you do by achieving the goal? Who are the beneficiaries? What is the underlying motivation for starting the project in the first place?
  • Outputs: What specific things will be delivered as a result of this project? In order for the project to be considered a success, what changes must be made, and what will the result be?
  • Activities: What will actually be done in order to deliver the intended outputs? The Logframe is not intended as an implementation guide, so this section is typically presented in bullet point form.

Tip: Don’t underestimate the amount of time and work needed to complete this process properly! Manage people’s expectations on this, and keep them focused on the task in hand. If people lose focus, you’ll miss important activities, false assumptions, and risks.

Step 2: Verify the Vertical Logic

Next, we take a bottom-up approach to checking that this list of activities will deliver the desired results – after all, it’s possible that activities have been missed, or that the actual results of these activities may not be the ones wanted. This checking process is an important part of making sure that your project plan is robust. Column one shows a hierarchy of objectives, so it is important to check that actions identified deliver the results wanted. Check the logic in column one by using an if/then test as follows.

Starting with your activities, ensure that:

  • IF you complete the activity, THEN the outputs will occur. You want to make sure your activities and outputs are directly linked.
  • IF your outputs are achieved, THEN the purpose of your project will be satisfied. Are the planned outputs closely tied to your purpose? Make sure the beneficiaries you identified in your purpose actually receive the beneficial outcome desired.
  • IF your purpose is satisfied, THEN the goal of the project is achieved. Examine your purpose and goal to make sure that the purpose fully incorporates the intent within the goal.

If, in this step, you find that activities and outputs are missing or are wrong, add or adjust them appropriately. And bear in mind that if you identify issues with elements higher up in this hierarchy, you’ll need to go back to Step 1 and identify appropriate outcomes and activities for those elements.

Step 3: Identify the Risks and Assumptions of your plan (Column 4)

We now cross over to the other side of the Logframe to identify risks associated with the project, and possible false assumptions that may undermine it. There are any number of external factors that can throw projects off course. In the planning and design phase, it is prudent to identify the major assumptions you’ve used and the degree or risk associated with them. For each of the points in the project’s structure (Column 1), identify the assumptions you’re making (which may or may not be correct), and look at the associated risks.

To define your assumptions, ask “What actions or variables must exist for the project to start and proceed as planned?” Start at the bottom and work up.

  • Activity Assumptions: What do you need to happen for your activities to be completed successfully? And what conditions and resources are you assuming will be in place?
  • Output Assumptions: What factors outside of your control must be present to achieve the outputs you need?
  • Purpose Assumptions: To achieve the purpose, what external factors do you need to have in place?
  • Goal Assumptions: What are the necessary conditions for long-term viability of the project goal?

Clarify these assumptions with stakeholders immediately, if you can. If you can’t, make sure you have early activities in place within your project plan to confirm that your assumptions are correct. Next, repeat this process looking at risks (see our article on Risk Analysis.) Make sure you plan in all of the activities needed to manage or eliminate risk, and if risk can neither be managed or eliminated, make sure that it’s clearly identified so that it can be evaluated in the next step.

Step 4: Verify the Logic of the Risks and Assumptions

Once you have identified assumptions and risks, you need to check them to determine:

  • Whether your assumptions will link one level of the project to the next;
  • and Whether risks are too large.

First of all, check that your assumptions are logical using an if/and/then analysis. Start at the bottom and work up to ensure:

  • IF the activity is completed successfully, AND the assumptions underlying it are true, THEN the output will be delivered.
  • IF the output is delivered, AND the assumptions underlying it are true, THEN the purpose will be achieved.
  • IF the purpose is achieved, AND the assumptions underlying it are true, THEN the goal will be achieved.

Then, check some additional points related to your risk and assumption analysis:

  • Make sure you have identified as many assumptions and risks as possible. Have you talked to everyone involved? Have you looked at the project from all angles?
  • Make sure your assumptions are stated specifically and are not too vague. You can’t assess risk accurately if you are working with generalities.
  • Do you have plans at each level to manage the risks you have identified?
  • If the risks you’re not able to manage are too high, consider redesigning the project or, if you still can’t reduce these to sensible levels, reconsider the project’s viability.

Again, where this process exposes issues with your Logframe, update it appropriately.

Step 5: Determine the Indicators of Achievement and Means of Verification

When you are satisfied with the structure of the Logframe so far, and are comfortable that you can manage the risks related to your assumptions, you can move on to think about how you will monitor progress towards success. Performance indicators are the specific measures used to monitor this progress. Here are the criteria for a good indicator of achievement:

  • Valid – it must measure the intended result.
  • Reliable – the measure must be consistently attained over time.
  • Sensitive – the measure should respond to changes, and should sufficiently-quickly identify if things are going wrong.
  • Simple – the measure should be easy to collect or perform.
  • Useful – it must help with decision making or provide information for future learning.
  • Affordable – you need to be able to afford the financial and time costs involved in taking the measurement on a regular basis.

Using these criteria, for each goal, purpose, output and activity, indicate what will be used to determine whether it was successfully achieved. Also note who will be responsible for setting these targets. Then indicate exactly how you will verify that achievement. What sources of data will you use? How will you collect the data? How often?

Make sure that appropriate activities are in place within your plan to set up and manage these monitoring systems. Click here for an example Logframe.

The Logical Framework Approach is a great technique for making sure that your project plan is robust and coherent. By using it, you significantly increase the likelihood that your project will be successful.

Firstly, it provides a useful framework for working through the design of your project with key stakeholders, making sure that you can take full advantage of their knowledge, insights and experience.

Secondly, it provides a useful process for testing and checking your project plan, making sure that it contains all the necessary activities, is based on sound assumptions, and fairly weighs and manages the risks inherent within the project.

Thirdly, it helps you ensure that appropriate control measures are embedded within the project, meaning that you can quickly identify where things are going wrong, and take appropriate corrective action

Posted by: magnussonllc | October 12, 2010

Understanding SMART Goal Setting

Goal setting is a powerful way ofmotivating people, and of motivating yourself.

In fact, goal setting theory is generally accepted as among the most valid and useful motivation theories in industrial and organizational psychology, human resource management, and organizational behavior.

Many of us have learned – from bosses, seminars, and business articles – to set SMART goals. It seems natural to assume that by setting a goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, we will be well on our way to accomplishing it.

But is this really the best way of setting goals?

To answer this, we look to Dr Edwin Locke’s pioneering research on goal setting and motivation in the late 1960s. In his 1968 article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives,” he stated that employees were motivated by clear goals and appropriate feedback. Locke went on to say that working toward a goal provided a major source of motivation to actually reach the goal – which, in turn, improved performance.

This information does not seem revolutionary to us some 40 years later. This shows the impact his theory has had on professional and personal performance.

Goal Setting Theory

Locke’s research showed that there was a relationship between how difficult and specific a goal was and people’s performance of a task. He found that specific and difficult goals led to better task performance than vague or easy goals.

Telling someone to “Try hard” or “Do your best” is less effective than “Try to get more than 80% correct” or “Concentrate on beating your best time.” Likewise, having a goal that’s too easy is not a motivating force. Hard goals are more motivating than easy goals, because it’s much more of an accomplishment to achieve something that you have to work for.

A few years after Locke published his article, another researcher, Dr Gary Latham, studied the effect of goal setting in the workplace. His results supported exactly what Locke had found,and the inseparable link between goal setting and workplace performance was formed. In 1990, Locke and Latham published their seminal work, “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance.” In this book, they reinforced the need to set specific and difficult goals, and
they outlined three other characteristics of successful goal setting.

Five Principles of Goal Setting

To motivate, goals must have:

1. Clarity.

2. Challenge.

3. Commitment.

4. Feedback.

5. Task complexity.

Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Clarity
Clear goals are measurable and unambiguous. When a goal is clear and specific, with a definite time set for completion, there is less misunderstanding about what behaviors will be rewarded. You know what’s expected, and you can use the specific result as a source of motivation. When a goal is vague – or when it’s expressed as a general instruction, like “Take initiative” – it has limited motivational value.
To improve your or your team’s performance, set clear goals that use specific and measurable standards. “Reduce job turnover by 15%” or “Respond to employee suggestions within 48 hours” are examples of clear goals.

When you use the SMART acronym to help you set goals, you ensure the clarity of the goal by making it Specific, Measurable and Time-bound.

Challenge
One of the most important characteristics of goals is the level of challenge. People are often motivated by achievement, and they’ll judge a goal based on the significance of the anticipated accomplishment. When you know that what you do will be well received, there’s a natural motivation to do a good job.  Rewards typically increase for more difficult goals. If you believe you’ll be well compensated or otherwise rewarded for achieving a challenging goal, that will boost your enthusiasm and your drive to get it done.

Setting SMART goals that are Relevant links them closely to the rewards given for achieving challenging goals. Relevant goals will further the aims of your organization, and these are the kinds of  goals that most employers will be happy to reward. When setting goals, make each goal a challenge. If an assignment is easy and not viewed as very important – and if you or your employee doesn’t expect the accomplishment to be significant – then the effort may not be impressive.

Commitment
Goals must be understood and agreed upon if they are to be effective. Employees are more likely to “buy into” a goal if they feel they were part of creating that goal. The notion of participative management rests on this idea of involving employees in setting goals and making decisions.

One version of SMART – for use when you are working with someone else to set their goals – has A and R stand for Agreed and Realistic instead of Attainable and Relevant. Agreed goals lead to commitment.
This doesn’t mean that every goal has to be negotiated with and approved by employees. It does mean that goals should be consistent and in line with previous expectations and organizational concerns. As long as the employee believes the goal is consistent with the goals of the company, and believes that the person assigning the goal is credible, then the commitment should be there.

Interestingly, goal commitment and difficulty often work together. The harder the goal, the more commitment is required. If you have an easy goal, you don’t need a lot of motivation to get it done. When you’re working on a difficult assignment, you will likely encounter challenges that require a deeper source of inspiration and incentive. As you use goal setting in your workplace, make an appropriate effort to include people in their own goal setting. Encourage employees to develop their own goals, and keep them informed about what’s happening elsewhere in the organization. This way, they can be sure that their goals are consistent with the overall vision and purpose that the company seeks.

Feedback
In addition to selecting the right type of goal, an effective goal program must also include feedback. Feedback provides opportunities to clarify expectations, adjust goal difficulty, and gain recognition. It’s important to provide benchmark opportunities or targets, so individuals can determine for themselves how they’re doing.

These regular progress reports, which measure specific success along the way, are particularly important where it’s going to take a long time to reach a goal. In these cases, break down the goals into smaller chunks, and link feedback to these intermediate milestones.

SMART goals are Measurable, and this ensures that clear feedback can be provided.
With all your goal setting efforts, make sure that you build in time for providing formal feedback. Certainly, informal check-ins are important, and they provide a means of giving regular encouragement and recognition.
However, taking the time to sit down and discuss goal performance is a necessary factor in long-term performance improvement.

Task Complexity
The last factor in goal setting theory introduces two more requirements for success. For goals or assignments that are highly complex, take special care to ensure that the work doesn’t become too overwhelming.

People who work in complicated and demanding roles probably have a high level of motivation already. However, they can often push themselves too hard if measures aren’t built into the goal expectations to account for
the complexity of the task. It’s therefore important to do the following:
– Give the person sufficient time to
meet the goal or improve performance.
– Provide enough time for the person
to practice or learn what is expected and required for success.

The whole point of goal setting is to facilitate success. Therefore, you want to make sure that the conditions surrounding the goals don’t frustrate or inhibit people from accomplishing their objectives. This reinforces the “Attainable” part of SMART.

Key points:

Goal setting is something most of us recognize as necessary for our success. By understanding goal setting theory, you can effectively apply the principles to goals that you or your team members set. Locke and Latham’s research confirms the usefulness of SMART goal setting, and their theory continues to influence the way we measure performance today.

Use clear, challenging goals, and commit yourself to achieving them. Provide feedback on goal performance. Take into consideration the complexity of the task. If you follow these simple rules, your goal setting process will be much more successful, and your overall performance will improve

Posted by: magnussonllc | September 3, 2010

Learning Styles

Have you ever tried to learn something fairly simple, yet failed to grasp the key ideas? Or tried to teach people and found that some were overwhelmed or confused by something quite basic?

If so, you may have experienced a clash of learning styles: Your learning preferences and those of your instructor or audience may not have been aligned. When this occurs, not only is it frustrating for everyone, the communication process breaks down and learning fails.

Here is a great article from www.mindtools.com on the subject of learning styles.

Once you know your own natural learning preference, you can work on expanding the way you learn, so that you can learn in other ways, not just in your preferred style.

And, by understanding learning styles, you can learn to create an environment in which everyone can learn from you, not just those who use your preferred style.

Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles

One of the most widely used models of learning styles is the Index of Learning Styles developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman in the late 1980s. According to this model (which Felder revised in 2002) there are four dimensions of learning styles. Think of these dimensions as a continuum with one learning preference on the far left and the other on the far right.

Figure 1: Learning Styles Index

Sensory   Intuitive

 

Sensory learners prefer concrete, practical, and procedural information. They look for the facts.   Intuitive learners prefer conceptual, innovative, and theoretical information. They look for the meaning.

 

Visual   Verbal

 

Visual learners prefer graphs, pictures, and diagrams. They look for visual representations of information.   Verbal learners prefer to hear or read information. They look for explanations with words.

 

Active   Reflective

 

Active learners prefer to manipulate objects, do physical experiments, and learn by trying. They enjoy working in groups to figure out problems.   Reflective learners prefer to think things through, to evaluate options, and learn by analysis. They enjoy figuring out a problem on their own.

 

Sequential   Global

 

Sequential learners prefer to have information presented linearly and in an orderly manner. They put together the details in order to understand the big picture emerges.   Global learners prefer a holistic and systematic approach. They see the big picture first and then fill in the details.

 

Once you know where your preferences lie on each of these dimensions, you can begin to stretch beyond those preferences and develop a more balanced approach to learning. Not only will you improve your learning effectiveness, you will open yourself up to many different ways of perceiving the world.

Balance is key. You don’t want to get too far on any one side of the learning dimensions. When you do that you limit your ability to take in new information and make sense of it quickly, accurately, and effectively.

(I) Developing Your Learning Skills

Step One
:
Identify your learning preferences for each learning dimension. Read through the explanations of each learning preference and choose the one that best reflects your style. Alternatively, use an Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire like the one at http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html.

Step Two:
Analyze your results and identify those dimensions where you are “out of balance,” meaning you have a very strong preference for one style and dislike the other.

Step Three:
For each out of balance area, use the information in figure 2 to improve your skills in areas where you need development.

Figure 2: Bringing Your Learning Styles Into Balance

Sensory Learners – if you rely too much on sensing, you can tend to prefer what is familiar, and concentrate on facts you know instead of being innovative and adapting to new situations. Seek out opportunities to learn theoretical information and then bring in facts to support or negate these theories.

Intuitive Learners – if you rely too much on intuition you risk missing important details, which can lead to poor decision-making and problem solving. Force yourself to learn facts or memorize data that will help you defend or criticize a theory or procedure you are working with. You may need to slow down and look at detail you would otherwise typically skim.

Visual Learners – if you concentrate more on pictorial or graphical information than on words, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage because verbal and written information is still the main preferred choice for delivery of information. Practice your note taking and seek out opportunities to explain information to others using words.

Verbal Learners – when information is presented in diagrams, sketches, flow charts, and so on, it is designed to be understood quickly. If you can develop your skills in this area you can significantly reduce time spent learning and absorbing information. Look for opportunities to learn through audio-visual presentations (such as CD-ROM and Webcasts.) When making notes, group information according to concepts and then create visual links with arrows going to and from them. Take every opportunity you can to create charts and tables and diagrams.

Active Learners – if you act before you think you are apt to make hasty and potentially ill-informed judgments. You need to concentrate on summarizing situations, and taking time to sit by yourself to digest information you have been given before jumping in and discussing it with others.

Reflective Learners – if you think too much you risk doing nothing. ever. There comes a time when a decision has to be made or an action taken. Involve yourself in group decision-making whenever possible and try to apply the information you have in as practical a manner as possible.

Sequential Learners – when you break things down into small components you are often able to dive right into problem solving. This seems to be advantageous but can often be unproductive. Force yourself to slow down and understand why you are doing something and how it is connected to the overall purpose or objective. Ask yourself how your actions are going to help you in the long run. If you can’t think of a practical application for what you are doing then stop and do some more “big picture” thinking.

Global Learners – if grasping the big picture is easy for you, then you can be at risk of wanting to run before you can walk. You see what is needed but may not take the time to learn how best to accomplish it. Take the time to ask for explanations, and force yourself to complete all problem-solving steps before coming to a conclusion or making a decision. If you can’t explain what you have done and why, then you may have missed critical details.

(II) Creating a Rounded Learning Experience for Others

Whenever you are training or communicating with others, you have information and ideas that you want them to understand and learn effectively and efficiently. Your audience is likely to demonstrate a wide range of learning preferences, and your challenge is to provide variety that helps them learn quickly and well.

Your preferred teaching and communication methods may in fact be influenced by your own learning preferences. For example, if you prefer visual rather than verbal learning, you may in turn tend to provide a visual learning experience for your audience.

Be aware of your preferences and the range of preference of your audiences. Provide a balanced learning experience by:

Sensory – Intuitive: Provide both hard facts and general concepts.

Visual – Verbal: Incorporate both visual and verbal cues.

Active – Reflective: Allow both experiential learning and time for evaluation and analysis.

Sequential – Global: Provide detail in a structured way, as well as the big picture.

Key Points

Learning styles and preferences vary for each of us and in different situations.

By understanding this, and developing the skills that help you learn in a variety of ways, you make the most of your learning potential. And because you’re better able to learn and gather information, you’ll make better decisions and choose better courses of action.

And by understanding that other people can have quite different learning preferences, you can learn to communicate your message effectively in a way that many more people can understand. This is fundamentally important, particularly if you’re a professional for whom communication is an important part of your job.

Take time to identify how you prefer to learn and then force yourself to break out of your comfort zone. Once you start learning in new ways you’ll be amazed at how much more you catch and how much easier it is to assimilate information and make sense of what is going on.

Posted by: magnussonllc | August 13, 2010

Productivity personas

Here is a great post from “Sources of Insights” on productivity personas

Some people are natural “starters.”  They live for the creative beginning of projects, but not the day-to-day execution or the detailed follow up and follow through.  Some people are natural “finishers.”  They like the day-to-day work and the routine execution. When “starters” and “finishers” pair up, everybody wins. We can figure out our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to productivity using Productivity personas.  The beauty is that you can use  Productivity personas to get a better lens on yourself, your situation, or people you work with.  With this lens, you can be more effective and get better results in any situation, whether it’s a one-man band or part of a team.

Starters and Finishers
One of my friends is great at starting things.  Just don’t expect him to finish.  He would light a lot of fires in a lot of places and then he’d be on to his next big idea.  Trust me, unless you want to just fade away, you want fire starters around.  They light things up and create value and possibilities out of thin air.  He’s a natural “starter.”

Another one of my friends is great at finishing things.  He is a master at knowing the details and being complete.  Words that come to mind are “thorough,” “attention to detail,” “responsible,” “sees things through,” … you get the idea.  What he lacks in getting things started, he makes up for in bringing things to close and going the last mile.   He is a “finisher” at heart.

When a starter and finisher pair up … look out.  Great things happen. The fastest way to suck your life force out of anyone is to always play the “finisher” role when you’re a starter, or always play a starter role when you’re a finisher.

Why Productivity Personas
Your personal success at getting results is clearly a place where a little knowledge goes a long way.  By adding the lens of Productivity Personas to your tool belt, you will be better equipped to deal with any productivity issue, whether it’s for yourself, helping a friend, or leading a team.

If you’re feeling drained or like you’re spinning your wheels or simply not making the impact you know you can make, this might just be your ticket to faster, simpler, and better results.

3 Ways to Use Productivity Personas
Here are three ways you can use the Productivity Personas to your advantage:

  1. Know Yourself. Use the Productivity Personas to know yourself. If you’re aware of the personas, you can use them to your advantage. For example, don’t let your inner Critic or Perfectionist get in the way of your Doer. Ask yourself, “When am I at my best? Am I more of a Starter or a Finisher? Am I more of a Maximizer or a Simplifier? Am I more of a Thinker or a Doer?”
  2. Team Up. Use the Productivity Personas to pair up with other people and improve your own effectiveness. You can also use the Productivity Personas to create more effective teams or to optimize teamwork. Ask yourself, “Who can I team up with to get results? How can I build more effective teams? Who should be paired up on the team for best results?”
  3. Improve the Situation. You can imagine how some behaviors work better with others and how some can create conflict. Swap out for more effective personas based on the scenario. For example, if you really need a Starter for the situation, but you can’t break out of Finisher mode, then see if you can find somebody who can play the role. Ask yourself, “What are the best behaviors for the situation?”

Remember to use the Productivity Personas as a lens. The labels are for behaviors, not for limiting or boxing in personalities. Anybody can demonstrate any of the behaviors at any time.
Productivity Personas at a Glance
“Starter” and “finisher” are just one lens.  Here are some additional Productivity Personas to give you some more lenses:

Persona Notes
Starter Starts things but doesn’t always finish. Their energy comes from thinking up new ideas and kicking things off. Love prototyping an idea, but once they’ve figured it out, they’re ready to move on to something else.
Finisher Brings things to closure. Effective finishers, complete things and move on. Is a fit and finish type of person. It’s finished when they say it’s finished.
Thinker Is an “ideas” person. Thinking is what they do best. Analysis is their game, but doing is somebody else’s game. They don’t have to act on their thoughts to enjoy them.
Doer Does their job. They tend to get their job done. They may not come up with new ideas, but they have a preference for taking action.
Simplifier Finds the simplest path. Strips things down to the minimum. Good enough for now is OK in their book.
Maximizer Finds the maximum impact.
Critic Finds the faults. They’ll find ways why you can’t or why it’s wrong. They’ll critique themselves, their work, or their ideas. Anything is fair game.
Can Do Finds a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and they’ll find it. It may not be the optimal solution, but they’ll find a workaround.
Opportunist Finds the opportunity in any situation.
Perfectionist Treats everything like a work of art. Quality is their name, finishing isn’t their game. They’ll be done when it’s done. It will be done just as soon as it’s perfect. Whenever that is.
Details Loves the details and will want to see things through. Dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. They’re passionate about spreadsheets.
Big Picture Sees the forest from the trees. Likes the big ideas and doesn’t want to get lost in the minutia.
Facts and Figures Is a numbers person. They want quantifiable measurements. Like Details, they too like spreadsheets.
Controller Likes to control things. This could be the Doers, the project, or their world.
Tinkerer Likes to tinker. The world is their sandbox. Dabbles here, dabbles there.
Marketer Communicates the value. Knows how to sell ideas.
Achiever Likes to accomplish things.
Randomizer Turns their latest priority into other people’s problems.
Daydreamer Likes to dream up better ways for better days. They’d rather dream than do. They don’t have to act on their dreams to enjoy them.
Procrastinator Finds way to put off to tomorrow, what they really should do today. They only send belated birthday cards since they know they’ll never send them out on time.

Simply familiarize yourself with some of the various Productivity Personas so they can help you when you need to make sense of a productivity challenge or scenario, as well as to learn more about yourself.  The key is to be aware of the preferences, for yourself and others, and to choose more effective behaviors as well as to optimize yourself and others in any situation.

Posted by: magnussonllc | July 21, 2010

10 Ways That You Can Add Value as a Consultant

In today’s market place where so many services are viewed as a commodity, the ability to add value to our service is an absolute necessity. There is no doubt that in the absence of value-added components virtually any service can be driven down to the most bottom line – price. Let’s take a look at 10 ways that we can add value to our services no matter what role and technology you are in. Everything can have value-added.

 1. Providing expert advice. In order for you to be able to provide value as a consultant, what you need to do is to understand that you have to provide a level of advice that is significantly higher, more sophisticated and a lot more valuable than that of your competition. What this means is a higher level of sophistication, wisdom and understanding about what it is that you do.

2. Consistently high service levels. It is possible for you to differentiate yourself not only by providing a higher level of service but by being more consistent. Avoid raising the expectations  by sometimes going above and beyond if this is not something that you will do every time. Push yourself not to under deliver on expectations, making sure that you can deliver on your commitments

 3. Transition and education. As new customers and people come on stream with Microsoft you may want to provide action or transition teams to help them to be better able to utilize the products or services. By the same token, the more education they have related to those products or services the more capable they’ll be at utilizing them.

4. Dedication and passion. This works particularly well if you work on a technology or service or one that requires a lot of interaction and  support. The more we give the impression that we truly care about the clients and the clients infrastructure, the more value they will perceive that we deliver.

 5.Speed of service or delivery. One of the ways to differentiate yourself is to guarantee some sort of on time or faster delivery. It is very well known and accepted that on time delivery is a key component for customer satisfaction and perception af value.

6. Provide Assurance to Executives.  Sometimes executives needs confirmation and assurance that they are making the right decisions. They could need help to clarify industry competitive positioning – challenges and opportunities. A key task is  to explain (both current and future) advantages and risks to the proposed approach.

 7. Assist Leaders in Assessing and Managing Risks. When running IT projects one way of providing value is helping the clients assess and manage risks within and outside the projects. Over 70% of all major IT implementations fail and mitigating this is of great value to corporations. We can do this by:

  • Clarify the issues with existing processes.
  • Map out a Transition Strategy appropriate to individual style preferences.
  • Suggest creative techniques to adjust Project Plans to fit anticipated commitments and unanticipated demands.
  • Provide metrics for estimates used in Project Plans.
  • Advise on the selection of performance measurements.

8. Make Integration Easy for Staff . Getting the clients to adopt out technology and fully utilize the functionality in a productive way is another approach to adding value.

9. Add a fresh perspective. Consultants can bring a much needed fresh perspective to existing IT and management teams. This can be invaluable in restart or turnaround situations or during new ventures when the founding team can be too close to the concept to recognize where changes are necessary

10. Recommend Best Practice. Best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. when applied to a particular condition or circumstance. To give guidelines and recommendations is a quick activity to add value. 

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