Entrepreneur

Book Club: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by…

Any management book that urges you to read Dr. Seuss is a winner. I just love metaphors and simple lessons to change the frame through which we look at the world.

There are plenty of books on CEO-ing, none of them so relevant as this one. As a CEO, it’s always great to brainpick other CEO’s and uncover their challenges, only to find out that they are always very similar to mine. This is, as you would expect from a CEO of that caliber: no nonsense, straight forward and directly geared to upping your being a CEO. It’s not a real how-to, it’s a selection of things you stumble upon and a view on how you might tackle them.

Most Memorable Quote: “Sometimes an organisation doesn’t need a solution; it just needs clarity”

I believe that far too often we are trained and groomed to find quick solutions and “fix” things, Ben Horowitz just voice what is most often needed: clarity. And the way in? Genuine curiosity. I notice myself that, when I’m approaching life from a place of curiosity, clarity arises and there is no need for fixing yet another problem. Furthermore, bringing clarity through/from curiosity grows the people around you.

In my bookshelf, it’s on the side of books I will page through again every so often.

#LessonsFromLeaders #LeadingFromWithin #HeartfulLeadership

Agile

Lean vs Agile. What is the difference, really?

Oftentimes both terms are mentioned in one and the same breath, but are they interchangeable? Where do they come from?

On Lean.

Lean as a term is coined in the 90ies and reflects the ideas and practices behind the Toyota Production System (the car manufacturer). Lean is short for Lean Manufacturing and aims at focussing the production effort to generate true customer value by reducing everything else (which is considered to be waste). It’s basically a way to make manufacturing systems customer centric.

The key concept in lean-approaches is waste or, as it is called, “Muda” (Japanese for waste). Next to this direct waste (Muda), oftentimes the terms “Muri” and “Mura” are used, designating secondary waste stemming from either overburden (Muri) or from unevenness in workloads (Mura).

The reverse of waste is “value” and is, in Lean, defined as any action or process that a customer woud be willing to pay for.

This implies that in order to become Lean every process is evaluated against the customer relevance and either considered a waste or a value-add. In a service organisation this entails often that the whole meeting-approach is turned upside down (and slashed), a strong push towards automation, eradicating multi-tasking, etc. The time expenditure is geared towards the things of which the organisation knows customers will need in the future and aim for a delivery as-fast-as-possible.

The emphasis of Lean is on the system “as a whole”. There is always a helicopter perspective at play and micro-management is shunned (micro-management generates non-value-added work, which is exactly what is not acceptable in a Lean system).

Related concepts are:

  • Six Sigma: set of techniques and tools focussed on eliminating defects and reducing variability (6 sigma variance is a statistical concept by which is designated that, in case of a production line the output is 99.99966% free of defects, or in short: 3.4 DPMO (defective features per million opportunities)
  • Value Stream Mapping: method for analysing the current state of the system and designing the future state: the core to many system improvement initiatives.
  • Kanban: an inventory-control system to control the supply chain. It is the key planning tool in a lean system. A Kanban (Japanese for Billboard) is a card that states the inventory going in, being in and going out of each subprocess or task. It enables you to see the backlogs, where inventory is being built up, etc. In short where the potential for the creation of Mura and Muri exists.
  • KPI of Key Performance Indicator and Balanced Scorecard: means of tracking the system as a whole, focussing the value-add of the customer and evidentiating the interrelationships between the customer, financial resources, organisational capacity and internal processes. It’s a way to track the execution of the company’s strategy.
  • The Deming Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act (which is core to continuous improvement or Kaizen).

In short the lean principles are:

  1. Define Value: you need to understand what brings value
  2. Map the Value Stream: how to create and deliver the value to the customer
  3. Establish Flow: create a continuous stream end-to-end
  4. Implement Pull: make the customer aware and nurture the perceived need for the value (the customer has to be aware that there is value produced): no pull, no production
  5. Work to perfection (continuous improvement)
  6. And: mind the waste 🙂

On Agile.

Agile was launched in 2001 and comprises a set of principles put forth in the infamous Agile Manifesto and stems from the software industry as a reaction against the heavyweight methodologies that were the norm and out of frustration because so many projects were never really delivered upon within time and budget.

Agile starts with a set of values which are at its core:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: i.e. self-organisation and motivation through e.g. co-location, working in pairs…
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation: focus on the added value (working software) over wasting time on writing lengthy manuals
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: not all the software requirements can be clear at the start of a project. Therefore a continuous involvement of the customers is necessary throughout the project
  • Responding to change over following a plan: quick responses to change and a continuous development

The typical work method is called the Scrum which is a flexible, “holistic” product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal.

A scrum team consists of people fulfilling 1 of 3 roles:

  • Product Owner, representing the stakeholders and the voice of the customer. The PO is responsible for ensuring the team delivers value to the business. Typically user stories are used to point to the value components. (S)he manages the so-called product-backlog: what needs to be developed.
  • Development Team: responsible for producing and delivering the chunks of value (called: potentially shippable increments or PSI) at the end of each Sprint. A sprint is a block of time reserved to work on an item of the backlog. Usually the period spans a couple of days to a month.
  • Scrum Master. This is not a team leader, but the person responsible to “hold the space” and make sure the team can deliver free from distractions from the outside. (S)he also ensures that the sprint runs smoothly and according to the rules. The role is that of a team facilitator or servant leader.

On Lean + Agile.

More and more we see a combination of both Agile and Lean approaches melting into one. This is especially true in a start-up/scale-up environment where scrums make it difficult for larger chunks to be handled (unless they are arbitrarily cut up in smaller pieces). A Kanban approach can provide the overall framework and the handling of larger workpieces while scrums allow for the nimbleness and the self-organisation and feedback benefits.

Coaching

Why CEO’s really want to get coached (and Boards…

“It’s lonely at the top” appears to be truer than ever. A 2013 study conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches (dito for almost half of senior executives).

Interesting is that nearly 100% of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice.

To me it’s eerie to see that CxO’s are left in the dark when it comes to uncovering their own blind spots. How can they ensure they deliver a continuous top-notch performance, time and again?

Some key findings from the survey include:

  • Shortage of advice at the top. Nearly 66% of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, while 100% of them stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback. Nearly 80% of directors said that their CEO is receptive to coaching. (side note for European readers: “directors” are “board members”)
  • CEOs are the ones looking to be coached. When asked “Whose decision was it for you to receive coaching?” 78% of CEOs said it was their own idea. Twenty-one (21) percent said that coaching was the board chairman’s idea. This highlights that we are moving away from coaching being perceived as ‘remedial’ to where it should be: something that improves performance, similar to how elite athletes use a coach.
  • Coaching “progress” is largely kept private. More than 60% of CEOs responded that the progress they are making in their coaching sessions is kept between themselves and their coach; only a third said that this information is shared with the board of directors. Although much of the coaching discussion should be treated confidentially keeping the board informed of progress can improve CEO/board relations.
  • How to handle conflict ranks as highest area of concern for CEOs. When asked which is the biggest area for their own personal development, nearly 43% of CEOs rated “conflict management skills” the highest. Managing effectively through conflict is clearly one of the top priorities for CEOs. After all, when you are in the CEO role, most things that come to your desk only get there because there is a difficult decision to be made — which often has some level of conflict associated with it.
  • Boards are eager for CEOs to improve talent development. The top two areas board directors say their CEOs need to work on are “mentoring skills/developing internal talent” and “sharing leadership/delegation skills.” The high ranking of these areas among board respondents shows a real recognition of the importance of the talent pool. Today, boards are placing a keener focus on succession planning and people development, and are challenging their CEOs to keep this front and center.

Top areas that CEOs use coaching to improve. Sharing leadership and delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring. Bottom of the list: motivational skills, compassion/empathy, and persuasion skills. A lot of people steer away from coaching some of the less tangible skills because they are uncomfortable with touching on these areas or really don’t have the capability to do it. These skills are more nuanced and actually more difficult to coach because many people are more sensitive about these areas. However, when combined with the ‘harder’ skills, improving a CEO’s ability to motivate and inspire can really make a difference in his or her overall effectiveness. This is also where co-active coaching makes a real difference: action orientation from a grounded perspective.

The full report can be viewed here

Curious to find out to what extent co-active coaching can bring to your company? Give it a try, call for a free consultation! I’ll be having your back.