If every employee hits their goals, will your organization execute its strategy?

“If every employee hits their goals, will your organization execute its strategy?”

That was the key question in today’s webinar by Donald Sull from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. It’s an incredible insight, as collectively we’ve all embraced goal-setting in the 100 years or so since General Motors popularized the idea.

But does it work? Is there enough transparency corporately to ensure that each contributors goals are in line with the overall strategy, and that if all the individual goals are met that the executive strategy would actually be executed?

Goals have been SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). Dr Sull et. al. present FAST (Frequently Discussed, Ambitious, Specific, Transparent). FAST goals seem more suited to today’s fast-paced high-tech world. They provide the agility needed for organizations to thrive.

Specific and Measurable are redundant, and together lead to Specific.

Attainable and Realistic are redundant, and perhaps wrong, and are replaced with Ambitious.

Timely is modified slightly to become Frequently Discussed, allowing the freedom for the goals to evolve as the needs evolve.

Transparent is missing from SMART, and helps to ensure individual alignment with the big picture.

FAST (Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific, Transparent) deserves more attention as businesses struggle to keep pace with innovation.

Check out more at https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/with-goals-fast-beats-smart/ and http://www.donsull.com/

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Exchange Networks, Not Markets

Why is the real world made up of exchange networks rather than markets? In a word: trust.

Relationships in an exchange network quickly become stable (we go back again and again to the person who gives us the best deal), and with stability comes trust, i.e., the expectation of a continued valuable relationship. This is different than in a typical market, where a buyer may deal with a different seller every day as prices fluctuate. In exchange networks, buyers and sellers can more easily build up the trust that makes society resilient in times of great stress. In markets, one must usually rely on having access to an accurate reputation mechanism that rates all the participants, or to an outside referee to enforce the rules.

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread, by Alex Penland

Day Two of Essential Practice Skills for High-Impact Analytics Projects

The seminar was an intensive on Structured Problem Solving, which I think is a term created by professor Patrick Noonan. A book may be in the works. I certainly hope so as there was tremendous wisdom and experience packed into these two days. Referring to the slide deck will help, but not the same way a comprehensive book would.

So what is Structured Problem Solving? It is a way to identify the real issue and then methodically move through various steps including research, task identification and communication, ultimately resulting in action. Be sure to keep the end goal in mind. Anyone who loves data understands that looking for other insights “just because” can waste a tremendous amount of time. That extra effort may be interesting but may not be aligned with the immediate needs of the company or customer. We had a great conversation about scope creep—and how that can come from both the requestor and from the team doing the work.

The high-level steps of Structured Problem Solving are:

  • Define the Problem
  • Break Down the Problem
  • Plan the Work
  • Work the Plan
  • Build the Case
  • Tell the Story
  • Start the Change

I have been in charge of software development teams of various size for over 20 years, including internal developers and outsourced teams. During that time, I’ve seen requirements and management styles shift from Waterfall to Agile. SPS is especially enticing to me as the advantages of Agile and iterative methodologies have become so apparent on so many projects. Each one of the steps above is tackled by a team in an iterative process and then refined or worked individually. Every team member understands the big picture, and every team member understands how their part fits into the whole. The final product truly is a gestalt.

Structure Problem Solving is a technique I intend to use both personally and professionally to bring clarity of thought and process to non-trivial tasks.

There were two other major highlights of the day. The first was on data visualization. As the actions should be based on logic and facts, they should be natural conclusions of the research. The question always is how can the data be presented with both the least cognitive load and the most clarity—especially when the results are being presented to non-technical people. Several examples of poorly chosen graphics were studied and better options discussed. Of course, the works of Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Stephen Kosslyn’s Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations were referenced and highlighted in many ways.

The second major highlight was the time we spent discussing creativity. Some people in the room had practice with structured creativity while the concept was new to others. I have used Brainstorming and Devil’s Advocate approaches effectively for years. The concepts of Brainsteering and Six Thinking Hats were both new to me. The bottom line: creative insight doesn’t happen accidentally. Creative insight happens within the context of intentionally focused thinking.

This course will definitely change my management style for years to come.

The E-Myth Revisited

The E-Myth Revisited has changed my perspective on owning and growing a small business.

There are parts of the book that are an obvious advertisement for Michael’s consulting business, but who can blame him for that? He’s on to something.

Thinking of myself in terms of the Technician, the Entrepreneur, and the Manager has been insightful. I started Blue Ridge Solutions as a reluctant entrepreneur. There was an immediate need to supplement my cash flow and a shortage of available high-tech jobs in Western NC. Thus, I created an environment where I could pursue my craft.

At some point the transition was made from the Technician (a highly skilled web developer) to Manager directing a team of qualified developers personally recruited. It was a good transition and allowed the company revenue to grow well beyond that of a single person.

Later, the transition to Entrepreneur occurred, though I’m not quite as conscious about when that happened. Instead of managing my team, I was implementing processes (Systems, per Gerber) so that the team knew what was needed whether I was present or not. During this time, I definitely experienced the Entrepreneurial Seizure and experimented with different management styles somewhere between delegating and abdicating responsibilities.

Many of these ideas were brought to my attention as I went through the ScaleUp program. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s directly under your nose, especially in the crisis and busyness of the moment. I wish I had read this before I started a business. The lessons learned will definitely apply throughout the rest of my career.

Pick up The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It before going out on your own!

Remembering Web Browser Intelligence

I was feeling nostalgic today so I looked up this co-authored old paper (1997) about personalizing the web. It was such a new field then. I’ve always been proud of the fact that I wrote the first version. Remember when the internet was slow? Advertisers were upset because we could model the relative response times of destination sites using an exponential distribution and place predictive green, yellow and red blocks next to each link. True, it destroyed the page layouts—but web pages weren’t as finely crafted back then. It was wildly useful during a time when a significant percentage of all links went to dead sites.

From the referenced web page…
IBM releases a software agent called Web Browser Intelligence that makes it easier for users to obtain, distribute, and control information on the Web.

Source: IBM unveils intelligent agent – CNET (from 1997)

MacBook Pro

Macs vs. Anything Else

I’m religious, but not about computers. I think they are tools—things to be used to accomplish other things. They can be used for entertainment, for development, for business, for communication. Definitely for streaming music. They can be used by the Russians to direct public opinion.

But they are just tools—things to allow us to accomplish greater things, not do greater things for us.

I’m sitting in my downtown coworking space. There are nine people here right now. Eight are using Macs. I’m using a Dell. Am I an outsider, or is there a new freelancer religion that I failed to grasp?

The irony that people attempting to identify with a fringe movement often end up looking the same has never escaped me.

p.s. I do prefer Bash. Perhaps that’s reason enough to change.