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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

I Believe I Can Fly!

Seriously, I really do believe I can fly and one day I am sure we will figure out how. Me losing some weight would probably be a good start, that and lots and lots of technology! I am often asked about my open mindset approach when going into meetings to work out challenges and how I achieve this. Well, like the title, if you believe you can fly and you have a desire to achieve the outcome, it will happen in one way or another!

I have been watching, with great interest, at how two very different types of businesses attempt to adopt innovative approaches to new technologies. The first is the “start-up mentality” and the second is what I would call the “large business mindset” group. The “start-up mentality” companies are the ones who give the appearance of not facing the challenges of large businesses –but I can tell you those challenges exist! The “large business mindset” group have a tendency to look at business change or confronting challenges as “baggage that must be addressed” whilst managing the day to day aspects of a business operation.

In today’s market, businesses face many challenges and it is interesting to watch how the “people factor” of problem solving always gets in the way of solving the actual problem – I know weird, right? For many people, problem solving is a clinical discussion. “We can do it” or “we can’t”, simple as that. Yet, when “we can’t do it” is the only solution or answer, who wants to inform the organization, who owns the problem, that they cannot be helped? Consider that for a moment. Recognize yourself there already, sighing as you go into your next workshop, anticipating a hard slog or another round table debate? It is, for this reason, why many large businesses tend to look at start-ups with a great degree of jealousy. They see start-ups appearing to act nimble and addressing solutions, while they claim that they cannot move as quickly due to their size, scale and complexity. Well, I am here to tell you that a large part of that claim is simply crap. I have seen and worked in my share of complex IT systems or business processes. If you really want to achieve something you can, it may not look or work the way you thought it would, but the goal is always achievable.

What makes these start ups more successful in addressing business issues? Their attitude! They are walking into a room, not to attend a meeting, but to solve a problem. That mindset is what is driving the first aspect of their success. The second has to do with people – ever had the feeling, during a meeting that people are simply brought in to make sure everyone is represented? It happens often. People are fearful of what decisions might get made, on their behalf, that could impact how they work or what they need to do. In a start-up environment, yes of course everyone wants to chip in and be involved, but there is too much going on to have everyone involved, hence, more often than not, you will hear of meetings with only 2 or3 people looking to solve a problem, informing others of the recommendation to validate if there are any “serious” impacts or risks in moving forward. Plain and simple. So, if you ever sat in one of those meetings asking yourself – “what am I doing here?” well, more often than not, with all of those people, more actions are created and more delays become the outcome and ultimately the problem is not solved. It is then merely a case of how we plan to progress forward. Again, within a start up environment, time is literally money, hence a meeting to agree to have another meeting is not an outcome, and it means delaying a decision which ultimately could mean failure of the business. (This too should and could be applied to large business, but you already know that.)

Here in resides the ultimate challenge of large businesses, “how do you drive a sense of urgency?” – not to have everyone work harder – but an understanding that we simply must walk out of this room with an agreed view on what will be done and by whom and by when to resolve the problem or challenge. Can you imagine having the confidence in your colleagues knowing that as a team you had not only solved the problem but that you and your colleagues are about to go out of that room and make that outcome happen? Imagine achieving that same result four, five or even six times? At what point does it become business practice when staff start walking into a meeting with: a. fewer people and b. the confidence knowing they have been chosen to solve a problem? This would surely start to drive a sense of ownership in solving a problem and ultimately contributing to the success of a business.

I surely hope those of you reading this are not thinking “Well of course Nathan, it is merely a case of throwing money at it!” because that is absolutely not my point at all. If it was, then in most businesses this would result in just one aspect of the decision… where some parts would require reallocating funds. What then happens when the actions require reengaging the customer or supplier, or managing a process differently, or finding work arounds? What then? Can you just throw money at it? I think not. Having worked in both start up businesses and more mature organizations, the challenges remain the same - it is the mindset and approach we take and the people we choose to engage with which ultimately drives the right types of outcomes.

For these reasons I always encourage an organization to have a mix of people who have worked in start up businesses and understand the risks of failure, combined with people who have worked within large corporate for some time and know where the proverbial “skeleton’s” are hidden. It is very rarely the case when business challenges or problems cannot be solved. We simply need the right people around the table, combined with the right mindset, and the focus on business outcome and success. I appreciate the “easier said than done” factor, however, look at who you have sitting around your table. Do they truly believe in what you are trying to achieve? Do you have the right balance of passion and insights? A balance of managing risk vs. ability to execute? And most importantly, can you see one common agenda and view on how your business / team / or idea will succeed – if not, you are in for one hell of a journey or a path to continuous frustration.

The most important attribute of all though, don’t give up! I have met some phenomenal problem solvers out there which I can break into two groups:
• Those that can solve the problem but feel they face a wave of nay sayers or blockers making the outcome all but inevitable;
• and, those that can solve the problem and in the face of setbacks, identify a different path to get to the outcome that is right for the business.

Now, obviously I am not saying those in the 2nd category always succeed, but if you can look inside yourself and honestly say you have tried different approaches and are still not getting anywhere, then you are trying to solve the problem in the wrong place and we are back to the initial challenge of having the right people involved to begin with. No business is perfect, they all have their ups and downs but it is the businesses that have the ability to rally to a cause, empower their teams to lead where their expertise lies and drive business outcomes that ultimately succeed.

One day I am sure I will find the right group of people to solve my challenge, “I believe I can fly!” I just need some bright people to help me figure out how and then I will need to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks? Believe in yourself and believe in the fact that there is always an answer. Your answer simply depends on your understanding of the outcomes and ensuring you have the right mindset and ownership around the table – now, if you will excuse me whilst I prepare for my first flight!

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