The power of curiosity…

Probably the best (and real pithy) summation for the power of curiosity are the 6 faithful serving men that Rudyard Kipling alluded to:
“I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

In the 90’s I had the opportunity to visit the Fuji Xerox manufacturing facility in Japan. Later in life, I had the good fortune to attend a Kaizen workshop run by the father of the movement himself…Masaaki Imai. I recall to this day the simple anecdote he used to describe the benefits of being curious at all times…especially when one is seeking  to uncover the Root cause of the problem…and not just the symptom of the problem. Here is his anecdote on the benefit of asking “why?” at least five times:

At an Auto Repair Shop, a worker is seemingly throwing sand on the shop floor.
The supervisor asks: “What are you doing?”
Worker: “Throwing sand on the floor”
Supervisor: “Why?”
Worker: “Because the floor is slippery”
Supervisor: “Why is the floor slippery?”
Worker: “Because there is oil on the floor”
Supervisor: “Why is there oil on the floor?”
Worker: “Because oil is  leaking from the engine of this car we are servicing”
Supervisor: Why is the oil leaking from the car?”
Worker: “I don’t know”
Supervisor: “Let’s investigate shall we?”
The resultant investigation identified worn out gaskets to be the cause for Oil leaking onto the shop floor.

I still apply this analogy to this day when trying to teach basic Problem solving and Root Cause Analysis skills…the best example of putting curiosity to good and practical use.

Quality Is A Way Of Life…

Quality is not a program…it is a lifestyle…a way of life!

I last visited Tokyo in 1994. We were part of a global delegation meeting to discuss and share our experiences with the Total Quality Programs we were implementing in our respective organizations. We rapidly realized that English as a spoken language was still not quite the acceptable lingua franca there. However I can share two anecdotes from personal experience, that will demonstrate that regardless of language constraints and limitations…the sheer strength of that country’s quality and customer satisfaction ethic laid to rest any residual ‘Tower of Babel’ concerns we may have had.

Tales from Tokyo – 1:

We were travelling by the famed Tokyo Metro system one night, after a meeting at Yokohama. We had used some mixed transport options that night, including shuttle bus, the overland train service, and the last leg by subway. My friend and I were probably too engrossed in conversation and missed our stop. We were obviously very lost, and our demeanor probably made that self-evident. There was a group of University students milling about the train exit and we approached them and asked (in English) how we should correct out error and get back on track. They clearly did not speak much English, however somehow they seemed to intuitively guess that we were lost…and needed help.

They became engaged in a very animated conversation with each other, grabbing a subway map, looking up at the train’s railway station guide map listed on the wall, peering outside, etc.

Then the student who had been most animated of them all, communicated to us with a thumbs up sign …that they would take care of us.

What happened next was surreal. These kids proceeded to escort us off at the next stop, and then got us to board another train that would take us to where we needed to get off. But they did not just put us on the train – they actually stayed with us all the way, got off at our stop, and then proceeded to point and gesticulate as to the proper exit we would need to take to get back on the road home from the station…they then (and only then) got back on the next train and waved and said good bye in the most astonishing show of friendship and Goodwill I have ever experienced.

Tales from Tokyo – 2

My friend and I were in the habit of taking our afternoon meals at a specific restaurant with a menu that was somewhat less intrinsically ‘Japanese Cuisine’ centric than most of the other eating places we had tested. While I had less of an issue finding something to eat, my friend was vegetarian, and therefore we did need to be somewhat picky with where we chose to dine.

At any rate, we had been out strolling about the Ginza district on a lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon, and the rather expensive Umbrella I had purchased in Tokyo a few days earlier, had been put to the test. Yes it had served us well and kept us both mostly dry and safe, regardless of the heavy downpour we had experienced for the better part of the day.

The restaurant owner greeted us with a familiar Kon’nichiwa and I dutifully shook off the rain droplets from my umbrella, rolled the folds shut, and place the umbrella in the umbrella stand adjacent to the entrance (this was the common practice in most business establishments in Tokyo – the need to leave one’s umbrella in the stand on entering, and collect it while leaving).

We proceeded to order our meals and soon enough, we were done and ready to go. We took care of the cheque, and headed out to the familiar sounds of “Arigatou gozaimasu” from the owner.

We reached the exit and I noticed that my Umbrella seemed to be missing – it was reasonably easy to spot, since I had purchased a natural, crooked handle, Cane Umbrella (old school style). In addition it was a simple black fabric, unlike the colourful and modern looking umbrellas that most locals carried there.

I went back to the Owner and proceeded to explain my problem to him. He clearly did not fully comprehend what I was trying to say, but my pointing to the umbrella stand, my palms raised up in a questioning ‘where is my umbrella’ supplication seemed to break through to him. I felt bad because he looked abjectly sorry and ashamed – at once. He simply kept on uttering the single word “Mistake” over and over again. One of the patrons who spoke some English, clarified that what the owner was trying to say was that another customer had probably taken my umbrella in error and that it was a mistake. That no one would steal my umbrella and that the owner was apologizing on behalf of the customer.

The owner then reached down behind his counter, and withdrew a beautiful, hand-made umbrella, much like an expensive English Brolly. Yes this would have doubtless cost him the equivalent of a few hundred dollars in Yen at the time. He proffered his umbrella to me, with a bow and another whispered “so sorry.”

I was completely and utterly touched by this gesture and obviously refused his largesse, much to his chagrin. There were several disposable, plastic umbrellas in the stand, intended for for anyone without an umbrella, and my friend and I grabbed one each, thanked the owner, and departed…to everyone’s profound satisfaction!

The thing that I will remember to this day is the fact that our student friends went over and above the call of duty to make sure we were able to get home safely…and the owner of the restaurant chose to defend his customer’s error stoutly (and I truly believe that no one would steal my umbrella purposely) – as well as offer to compensate with a replacement which was at least 10 to 15 times of greater value than what I had lost…both truly humbling experiences, that demonstrate that Quality and Customer Satisfaction need to truly become a way of life, and not just percolate as some program that we push as a flavor of the month!

On managing geographically distributed teams…

The first step is to ensure that you have a solid, well defined set of processes that are ‘idiot-proof’ and basically simple to communicate, understand, interpret and implement.

The next step is to define the communication plan – Timing, Scheduling, technology (Conference calls, Virtual meetings, Skype like video conferencing, physical travel, etc), cultural considerations, Language limitation considerations, etc.

Consider documenting how the teams will work together – who does what? A simple Document of Understanding goes a long way in spelling out key roles, tasks and responsibilities that are being handed off and taken over during the initial transition meetings. This prevents future fall out like teams saying they were not clear about what they were expected to take over and execute.

Factor in the ongoing attrition problems that impact all geographically distributed teams. Your process needs to be robust enough to ensure that when a member leaves the team or is moved to a different role, there is a consistent induction program to address the new replacement employee’s needs.

Keep an open mind towards applying newer networking and virtual teaming applications and solutions – working across the globe with teams who are scattered far and wide is here to stay…get used to it…embrace it…enjoy the difference!

Just because your manager thinks you are awesome doesn’t mean you really are…

I agree with Bill Fotsch to a degree regarding the notion of the ‘Pygmalion Effect.’
Indeed to an extent that has proven to work in many business and management examples (as evidenced in some comments above).
My departure from the whole concept of “If your boss thinks you are awesome, it will make you more awesome” is laid out below:

1. The ‘awesome’ candidate needs to have the basic educational, experiential, relational, communication and teaming skills, with adequate and demonstrated scope for further development.
What I mean is that just because Eliza Doolittle was able to parrot (in a non-cockney accent) “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” did not guarantee that she automatically had the sophistication, social graces or intellect to survive more than momentarily in any self respecting ‘Society setting.’ And thereby hangs the one flaw that I am always confronted with every time there is reference to the ‘Pygmalion effect.’

We would run a similar risk if we are constantly promoting/praising individuals without verifying and validating that they do indeed have the raw material for future development and growth.

2. The leadership needs to undertake to groom their ‘Awesome’ candidates in addition to just telling them that they are awesome. There is a tendency to keep repeating (to one’s team) the mantra “It’s all good” whenever they ask for feedback…however come appraisal time of year and the long knives get drawn and the feedback suddenly seems to be only negative?

3. The Organization needs to have a balanced feedback process in place that clearly defines guidelines for giving feedback, criteria for a rating system as well as a mechanism for the employee to challenge or discuss/escalate particularly ‘hard’ or excessively negative feedback. This will serve as a counterbalance to the extremes of tough raters versus easy raters. At the end of the day – no one should feel that they are lucky or unlucky to be serving under their respective manager – giving and receiving feedback should never be about luck?

4. If a manager truly believes that their candidate is Awesome and is willing to consistently go on record and say so, they should have no problem in promoting the awesome candidates to better, more responsible roles. The challenge in today’s work environment is that there is no guarantee with regard to how the Organization and the business priorities may change literally from day to day. Therefore to constantly rate an individual as awesome needs to be followed up with a suitable and timely recognition or career promotion…without which any repetition of the ‘you are awesome’ mantra will soon be seen for what it is…just more, hollow, managementspeak!

When you call a face to face meeting…make it count…

In today’s Web-enabled world, the world is the global village and we are all called from time to time to visit the local watering hole, to get our heads around the latest and greatest management priority that needs to be dealt with.

A key difference these days is that we no longer harbor any expectations that the meeting in question is going to be face to face. You see, we are more accustomed these days, to pick up the phone and dial into a conference call, with fellow callers sometimes situated in entirely different Countries and/or Continents so to speak…

But regardless how we choose to call these group discussions, the essential disciplines that we all learned eons ago remain as current and as topical today, in spite of the continental shift in the way Technology has transformed our business model these days.
Typically…two people talk…3 or more people necessarily, meet!

Top considerations to ensure that the valuable time we invest in face to face meetings is not wasted:

1. Develop the Agenda (define what information is to be shared and what information needs to be processed or worked on – these are the jugular issues that need to be debated until agreements are reached by all)

2. Agree on the meeting objectives and outcomes – what will we all take away from the meeting

3. Agree on/assign roles (who is the principal Speaker or Chair, Who is the timekeeper, who is the facilitator, who is the scribe –  to ensure proper Minutes are taken and distributed, are there any guest speakers or subject matter experts included?)

As you can see, the basic 3 requirements for running effective meetings are significant enough to add up the costs rather rapidly. Now factor in the attendees and their associated costs and you have the makings of a decent dent in the organization’s operating costs.

So what options do we have, even though we may believe that a face to face meeting is the only way to go?

The obvious options include:
Video Conference
Skype or other available audiovisual media
‘Cloud’ based meeting

I have learned over the years that the belief that we cannot do without something we have always done in the past…is utterly antithetical to the   current environment.

We are often simply told or directed to do things a certain way, without the luxury of choice…and generally we do seem to come out none the worse for the wear.

So the next time you are planning a modest face to face meeting with your team…try this.
Calculate the cost associated with all the participants (their weighted average salary costs for the time it takes to attend the meeting, the potential cost of lost opportunity because they are unable to execute their primary roles during the meeting, as well as all the other overhead that goes into scheduling and running an effective meeting).

Now communicate to the team that you  intend to call a face to face meeting  and would like their inputs on whether the objectives of the proposed meeting could be met without meeting as a group. Also let them know what it will cost you to implement the meeting as planned.
I would suggest that if it is possible at all to accomplish the objectives in a non-face to face meeting setting, your team would be best positioned to make that call.
If they do great  – and you’ve saved the business some money.
If they don’t agree it can be done without a face to face meeting, the good news is that you will have a significantly more serious group, given their
newfound awareness of how much the meeting is costing the business.

Why are people who are not qualified getting the job?

Qualification is such a subjective term.
What does it really mean to be qualified for a specific job role?
Does it mean that you have a University degree, post graduation or Masters certification?
Does it mean you are a PhD? An Engineer? An MBA?
Does it mean that you have passed the skills/aptitudes testing that are prerequisite for the job you have applied for?

The answer could be varied and complex as you can see.
And worse still- none of the above guarantee that your qualifications add up to what it will take to truly fulfill the organization’s expectations of the candidate.
Therefore should we be more concerned about what specific value the candidate brings to the Organization,  rather than worry about only the prerequisite qualifications?
Now don’t get me wrong – I am a believer that Educational, Experiential and Skill based Qualifications certainly are a great place to start – but that is all it is – only a start. There are other ‘soft qualification’ considerations that we need to consider before coming to a hiring conclusion – here are my Top Three Considerations:

1. Communication: Show me a highly qualified candidate who meets all the other criteria but who has poor communication skills and I will show you a potentially wrong hiring decision. Now it is true that over time communication can be taught, indeed learned – however if you are looking for someone to hit the ground running, you do not necessarily have the luxury of time. Communications has always been and remains my Number One consideration when considering ‘soft’ qualifications.

2. Transferrable skills: What skills does the candidate possess that have been demonstrated in his/her current and past assignments, that are easily transferrable to the current role we have in mind  for which we are hiring? These transferrable skills could be a plethora of different skills and aptitudes, however we need to understand which of these can facilitate quicker productivity gains over the short term (productivity gains are difficult to come by in the early days – hence whenever this can be expedited it is always a good thing)

3. Interviewing skills on the part of the hiring manager(s): Unqualified people likely get hired to jobs, for this critical reason alone, in most instances – Inadequate or extremely poor interviewing skills/techniques: Hiring managers often work from a cheat sheet of Job Roles and Behaviours expected, Experience requirements and Educational/Technical prerequisites. They often miss the big picture and fail to test the candidates for some of the more critical ‘soft’ prerequisites. Like points 1,2 above, these are the areas of opportunity we should truly be looking to investigate and harvest in worthy candidates. hence the importance of good Interviewing Skills/Techniques.

I am amazed at the number of times I have failed to get  satisfactory answers to the following 3 simple questions while conducting a job interview:
1. What can you bring to my organization and this role? (in other words give me one good reason why I should hire you – and don’t tell me about your qualifications, experiences or whom you know?)

2. Can you describe a typical day in your current assignment?

3. Tell me about a situation that did not go so well for you…where your actions/choices were probably not the best and could have contributed to the poor outcome – what did you learn about yourself and how have you used that learning going forward?

If you can include some of the above into your overall hiring process you will go a long way towards minimizing the risk of hiring the wrong person for the right job!


I also believe that our concept of ‘qualification’ is somewhat jaded and irrelevant  in this web enabled environment of constant change, audacious quantum leaps in technology and knowledge sharing at the speed of light.

Knowledge is now an open book as long as you have access to the web. What used to be the domain of a ‘chosen few’ in terms of people who could afford to gain access to certain knowledge through association with some ‘Ivy League’ establishment of learning alone, is now everyman/everywoman’s open source.

I have observed over the years that the Internet has enabled a whole new class of Subject Matter Experts – from the individual who walks you step by step through the complex activities required to prepare that magical, Chef standard cuisine, to the artist who shares with you, up front and personal, how to create that specific work of art, to the Musician who happily teaches you to play that incredible Bach Etude for Cello, in three different timings and tempos with SloMo video thrown in for good measure…and all for a simple hit on the ‘Like’ button.

So consider this – not all ‘Qualification’ or Knowledge need necessarily flow from those fonts of organized learning – the schools and universities of yore. Indeed such knowledge and information as is freely available on the Web…is the shop-floor from whence a whole new breed of ‘Internectuals’ has emerged and this phenomenon will continue into the foreseeable future. So beware the pursuit of academic based qualification alone. The future will not hold as loyal a commitment to that avenue – in my humble opinion…


Why indeed is it that unqualified people sometimes get the job?

The answer is really a no brainer – pure lack of a robust hiring process (and if your Organization does indeed have a robust hiring process, there is obviously execution non-compliance that allows unqualified candidates to get the job).

Process controls and execution discipline guarantees us predictability and reliability of the outcome. So a good hiring process needs to (at the very least) facilitate the following outcomes:

1. Ensure that each job role being interviewed for has a comprehensive Hiring Specification Sheet that contains all the relevant requirements that the ‘(right’)candidate needs to possess and demonstrate during the course of the interview
This spec sheet needs to clarify which of the specs are non-negotiable – in other words there needs to be a ‘go-no go’ gate to filter out candidates who do not meet the bar for critical and non-negotiable skills, qualifications, experience and/or knowledge.

2. Ensure that the interviewer is at the right level in terms of the Experience, Knowledge, Qualifications and Technical Skills (as the case may be) that he/she has been called upon to interview for. I have noted during several interview situations I have personally been at the receiving end of, that the individual interviewing me was barely familiar with the kind of role and expertise the job entailed. This is a double whammy really, because if he/she feels even partially at a disadvantage during the interview, chances are you have lost the opportunity…and the job. This is a huge problem as we could miss out on some highly qualified candidates due to this sort of process gap.

3. Ensure that the Interview process requires that there is a basic screening interview as the preliminary qualifier for candidates who meet basic criteria, followed by an HR interview, and finally the Hiring Manager Interview. More senior hiring requirements may profit from an up-level management interview to obtain Sr. Executive/ Management input on the candidate as appropriate.

A robust hiring process would demand that the various levels of interview inputs are collated and that the comments from each interviewer are impartially consolidated and reviewed, before determining if there is a successful candidate to whom an offer can be submitted.

4. Ensure that the process has adequate controls built in that will allow for determining if any candidate has:
a. Any relations employed at the Hiring Organization (especially if they are the Hiring Manager, or work for the same Hiring Manager)
b. A recommendation from within the Hiring organization to Interview for the job
c. A recommendation from a Manager/Executive from outside of the Hiring organization, to interview for the job

This control allows us to screen for any potential bias or hidden agenda that may exist in the overall hiring environment for specific candidates, that will in turn help us to arrive at a more fair and balanced overall hiring decision.