Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exploring the Many Faces of Learning Agility - Part II

The most popular posting on this blog has been the piece I did on the different profiles of Learning Agility. It has been about a year since that post, so I thought it would be a good idea to do an update based on some more recent research we have done into the different profiles. Following are some key takeaways from some in-depth interviews we conducted with individuals belonging to different profiles. They provide a deeper glimpse into each profile and what differentiates that particular style of learning agility. More on this will be featured in an upcoming whitepaper that should hopefully come out in a month or two.

The Thought Leader: Making An Impact From The Wings
One of the Thought Leaders we spoke with had a role as a Communications Manager. She hated being in the spotlight and having to do her own public speaking but took a great pride in speech writing for executives and helping coach them towards success. A memorable success occureed when working with an executive who had previously has some rocky presentations and had low confidence. Through intense partnering, practice and feedback, the Thought Leader guided the executive toward making a standout presentation. The Thought Leader reflected that, "I would never want to be on stage giving the speech, but there is nothing more exciting than seeing a person whose speech you wrote get a high score or standing ovation. That person now wants to work with me again."

The Trailblazer: Results (But Not Necessarily) At Any Cost
Some Trailblazers have gained perspective on their hard-driving ways. While they can still get quite animated about results (especially when they aren't up to expectations), they have learned to moderate their style to get the best out of others voluntarily versus pushing them to extremes. Said one Trailblazer, "I have matured in my leadership style - I have learned to tap into what makes others tick and have been much more successful with that. In the past, during the first 15 years of my career, I would have been much more of a "jump on the train, or else..." kind of guy."

The Champion: Guerilla Business Strategy
It's one thing to take an idea and run with it, it's another to make it all your own and exceed everyone's expectations. The Champion has a pre-requisite however: "Leave me alone and let me do it." One interviewee relayed her assignment to start a new line of business in a very hard to break into space. She converted the "we've never done it, let's be conservative: attitude of her leaders into a call to action. She was energized by the challenge because no plan or process would get results; it required what she referred to as a "guerilla business strategy". In less than a year, her results were double her goal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are You Ready for the 51% Challenge

One conclusion that I have come to during my relatively short time here in Asia is that there is a pressing need to identify high potential talent, as there is in other regions of the world. The main differentiator is that, due to the increased pace of change taking place in Asian business relative to other regions, the size of the leadership gap and the speed at which it needs to be closed is even greater. The end result is that a type of hyper-development is required to create tomorrow’s leaders today. There are certainly ways to do this through very targeted and aggressive 70-20-10 development efforts. But more than that, it will require leaders, both HR and line, to take unprecedented risks with talent.

This very matter was confirmed by a recent conversation I had with the APAC Regional President of a global life sciences company. During our discussion, he turned and pointed to a quote he had placed in large print beside his desk and said that the philosophy captured in the quote was critical to shifting his mindset and driving his efforts around talent.

Here is the quote, attributed to Koh Boon Hwee, a prominent Singaporean business leader:

"If the man or the woman who has worked with us is 51% ready, I will give him or her the job. But he or she will come up to speed so that he or she is 100 percent ready in a short space of time, or we will deal with the problem. It's fair."

I found the quote intriguing. It seems to take the notions of learning agility, assignmentology and development heat to the next level.

What are your thoughts on this philosophy? Is it sufficient for meeting the apparent challenge at hand for many businesses or is it simply stretching too far?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Principles and Practices

A few months ago, a client asked me to address a group of internal HR leaders on the key practices associated with integrated talent management. In piecing together the presentation, it occured to me that more important than the practices themselves were the particular principles that informed them.

Without clear, substantiated principles about things such as development, potential or the role of HR within the broader organization, the actual practices didn't have a lot of meaning and were likely to have limited impact on outcomes. In other words, to build something of high quality and enduring value, you have to have clear principles and beliefs to guide your efforts.

This brought me around to thinking about one of my favorite phrases - "form follows function" - and the broader quote associated with it. The popularization of the phrase is attributed to Louis Sullivan, a late 19th century architect that many consider one of the founders of the modernist architecture movement. Here is the quote:

"It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
of all things physical and metaphysical,
of all things human and all things super-human,
of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul,
that the life is recognizable in its expression,
that form ever follows function.
This is the law."

The essence of what Sullivan is trying to see is that the manifestation of something (be it a building, a system of government or a talent management system) should be in keeping with the underlying purpose for which it exists. Thinking about it another way, if you can truly identify the "why?" behind something, the "what" and the "how" should follow accordingly.

I encourage you to reflect on the talent system you have in your organization today. Is it a clear expression of an underlying purpose and a clear set of principles around talent or is it something else? If not, perhaps something got lost in translation or the purpose and principles were never defined in the first place. Either way, I hope this gives you something to reflect on and apply. Please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stay Tuned

After a brief holiday respite, things are in full swing on several fronts. Unfortunately, this has left precious little time for entries. Expect to hear more developments soon with regards to my CIO research, the Asia 2.0 initiative and fresh findings on the learning agility profiles. In the meantime, I will direct you to the published version of last month's blog entry, which can now be seen on SmartEnterprise Exchange. I welecome your thoughts and comments, especially if you have experience with managing global teams.

Now, back to work for me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Faraway, Yet So Close: The Paradox of Global CIO Leadership

Our recent research has focused on identifying the specific leadership skills that distinguish great CIOs. The findings from our study are meant to generalize to a broad audience of CIOs. But what happens when you train your focus on just one particular group – Global CIOs? What is it that they need to succeed and achieve stellar results? Do they do something different than CIOs who aren’t leading on a global stage?

It appears that one of the seven skills we profiled in The CIO Edge, Embracing Your Softer Side, takes on a particular significance in a global context. It is the skill that is perhaps the most difficult to manage across cultures and time zones, but also the one with the largest upside impact when practiced successfully.

The key to effectively building and managing relationships in an international context is understanding. People are different across the world, that much is clear. Some differences matter more than others. Which ones matter and, furthermore, how they matter isn’t always clear. It requires a deep understanding of both the individual and the surrounding cultural context to begin to make this all come into focus.

Essential to building understanding is being open and receptive. The trump card skill here is listening. Not just hearing, listening. If you are to begin to truly understand someone – their ideas, their beliefs, their aspirations, their concerns – then you need to exercise your patience, restrain your own desire to talk and really, truly listen.

Humor, suprisingly, also plays a role. Culture has a strong shaping effect on humor. By establishing a light, but still productive tone to interactions and allowing humor to surface, you give others an opportunity to express themselves and also gain a glimpse into who they are.

Understanding is a two-way street. It is just as important for you to give of yourself as it is to draw others out. Caring and relating are essential, especially when great distances are involved. As a result of being fair and caring, high-performing CIOs engender a deep sense of loyalty and “followership,” even when tough people decisions are called for. Likewise, the ability to relate to all kinds of people fosters a bond and a platform for collaborative relationships and working through tough issues. Finally, personal disclosure of the appropriate type and frequency gives others the opportunity to know “the real you.”

This leads us to the central paradox in being a global CIO - you can actually gain strength as a leader by being vulnerable. Successful CIOs show they care enough about the people they work with to make themselves vulnerable so that it can be a truly two-way relationship. In other words, by demonstrating vulnerability – hoping that others will open themselves up in return – these CIOs are creating an environment that facilitates understanding and sets the stage for stronger relationships. Distance is an important considersation here – the further away you are from others, the closer you have to draw them in.

The role of technology is also paradoxical. Obviously, technology has enabled us to become instantly connected to one another across any distance. Great things can be accomplished without ever needing to be together in the same room. Similarly, a misuse or overreliance on technology can cause as many stumbling blocks as it eliminates, particularly when it comes to building relationships and solving complex matters that tap into emotions, beliefs and personal values.

Sometimes the old-fashioned, people-to-people skills just can’t be replaced. By embracing your soft side and showing a willingness to be vulnerable, you become more connected to your people and this helps to make a very large and messy world just a bit smaller and more manageable.

Note: An edited version of this post is due to appear on the Smart Enterprise Exchange blog site in January along with a related post from my co-author Graham Waller of Gartner. Keep an eye on Graham's blog ( for related info.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results

Over the next several weeks, I will be highlighting the seven critical skills that my co-authors and I researched and identified as differentiators for world-class CIO's. The truth of the matter is that these skills are in many ways applicable to any C-suite leader, so this need not be of interest only to current or aspiring CIOs. The seven skills have less to do with one's proficiency from a functional/technical standpoint or overall business acumen (although those are necessary skills) and more with how effective leaders engage with diverse stakeholders to deliver results through people, by people and with people.

To find out more and to get the overall context, I have included a link to a blad that features the introductory chapter of the book:

From here, I will go on to reveal and explore each of the seven skills one by one.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lessons Learned

In just a few days, the latest book project I have been a part of, The CIO Edge, will be released worldwide. In the coming weeks I will write plenty about the content of the book, but before I do I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process itself.

First off, I want to thank my co-authors, Graham and Karen, for their amazing contributions and for making the book writing process such a memorable experience. Part of what made it such a great experience is what I find myself reflecting on. Throughout the process we received several comments from our editors and others working with us on what a remarkable job we did of working together as a team; frankly, much better than they had typically seen when three or more authors get together to write a book.

What we did to make this happen and work so well wasn't anything that is terribly profound or mysterious, but I think it is worth sharing nonetheless. Beyond having respect for one another, listening and having an open mind to diverse ideas, the one thing that I feel really made a difference for us was our willingness to sacrifice our egos and truly put the book first. Simply said, if you let the book (or whatever it is you are tackling) be the focal point and the star of the show, it is much easier to look at matters objectively and push when you need to push and yield when you need to yield, etc. It's not about you and your thoughts, ideas and stake in the matter; it's about creating the best deliverable you can in conjunction with your partners.

So there you have it. Nothing out of this world, but I hope a solid and reliable piece of advice that can help you in similar situations where you have to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals to accomplish a complex and challenging task.