Monday, May 28, 2012

The Path of least Resistance

When you see him on the basket ball court, he comes across as an arrogant rich billionaire  who is extremely competitive and will stop at nothing to win. Then you see him in the show for start ups (Share Tank), listen to him and you slowly start realizing that this person has a very sharp business mind and has a practical approach to life and business. This realization led me to buy his book. Which finally got me sitting here over the Memorial day weekend to write up this blog ! Let me explain why...

I just completed reading the book by Mark Cuban "How to Win at Sport of Business". He has some great themes in his book (Which is the compilation of some of his popular blog posts). One of them which I found most attractive was this nugget

"There are certain things in life we all have to do. There are certain things in life we choose to do. Then there is everything else. The things we do to kill time. In every case, all things being equal, we choose the path of least resistance."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kitchen Nightmare- Cooking Show or Management Lessons ?

People either hate him or love. Even though I am not a cooking fan myself, I watch all of Gordon Ramsey's shows to learn from his management styles. I can see your eyes roll. But walk with me a little longer. 

Take the Kitchen Nightmare show. In this show, Gordon helps restaurants in a very bad financial state to get a chance to become successful. He tackles food, budget, cost and even family issues to provide the owners a chance to succeed.

The show typically begins with Gordon meeting the family members, then tasting the food. He makes recommendations for change (Including fixing inter personal issues) and then mentors them as they successfully transform the restaurant. Most people call it monotonous and highly exaggerated. But, the shows has a policy of going back after a year or so to see what happened to these restaurants and there are successes and failures shown. 

For me the fascination has been his process and how it applies to our professional lives and projects.  So here is my view of the process

Get the Context (Get the Background)
One of the first thing Gordon does is to get a context for the problem. He does this by visiting the neighborhood to check other restaurants or by having chats with the key stakeholders to get their perspectives 
When we go to do similar project reviews, we have meetings with key stakeholders and try to get an understanding of the context before we try to fix the problems with the project

Taste the food (Check the Deliverable)
Next Gordon orders from the menu and samples the food being served in the restaurant to see if there are any problems. If there are any problems, the feedback is direct and not sugar coated. It is very harsh and get the cooks and owners really riled up.

When we do project reviews, we review all the deliverable created to date and make sure we provide detailed feedback on our findings. There is a need to  create a real baseline of understanding before we can fix any problems

Observe the functioning (Monitor the team)
Once the feedback is given, Gordon then watches the operation of the restaurant for one meal services. This way he can see first hand where the problem lies and allows him to confirm the feedback he received from the stakeholders. 

We watch the team go about its activities to observe how they interact with each other and the stakeholders. This gives us a first hand look at the actual problems with the project

Prepare the Owners (Motivate the team)
Most of the time, the Owners are living in a distorted view of reality - They blame everybody except themselves for the problem. Gordon does a thorough job of demolishing the owner's ego and get them to face reality. He fixes any other personnel or staff issues so that they are ready to receive feedback and be ready to change. Otherwise it is water off a Duck's back !

When we do project reviews, we really work on the people involved to make sure we understand their motivation and be able to fix any issues (Fire people if needed) so that the project has a chance to succeed. Without getting the team ready mentally for a change, any recommendations we make is just a waste of time!

Ring in the changes (Execute our Recommendations)
Gordon then rolls out the changes he wants. New menus. New Decor. New processes. Everything which will help them run a smooth restaurant

Once the team is mentally prepared, we walk them through changes in templates, process as well as organization. Making sure the team has a reasonable chance of succeeding

Mentor the team (Support Roll Out)
Gordon then watches and supports as the restaurant goes about trying out the new changes. The success of this try out and the positive feedback from the customers reinforces their minds and give the restaurant a chance to succeed 

We spent some time helping the team execute on our recommendation. Answering questions. Supporting the team and making sure they are ready to internalize the recommendations 

Closing (Exit)
Gordon, at the end of the successful services, get the team together to summarize and celebrate their success. With some last minute motivation and confirmations, Gordon moves on to his next project

We conduct an Exit session, where the team is able to feel the change and celebrate their success. Reenforcing their positive behaviors, we also provide them with key instructions on other tuneups they may want to pursue.

What do you think now? Don you think it is a Cooking related show or a management class? Do send me your thoughts !


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Difference between Lifting and Holding

The man sits on a tall chair. A pure white cat on his lap. His jeweled fingers gently strokes the cat and he says " I love you man"... The crowd roars its approval. Once again, Ceelo Green has the "The Voice" audience eating out of his hands. Almost a caricature of himself, the "Lady Killer" hides the "Singer-writer-producers-entertainment personality -actor- entrepreneur- mentor" that he really is. I was absolutely fascinated by his persona and the way he chose the right words to create the right impact in all situations.

Over the weekend, I was catching up with my reading and was struck by one of the quotes associated to him "There is a difference between lifting something up and holding something up. There is two different degrees of strength" (Article in Fast Company).

That was profound and something which I experienced very early in my professional life. It was my first start up  - A young "hip" company in Bangalore creating a stir among the young employees by introducing free beer during TGIF (Thank god it is Friday). I was the fifth person to join the company (After a very interesting interview process) and when I left it 12 months later there were 162 of us and the company was doing great. As I was leaving my mentor and the CEO of the company told me that there were some people who are good at starting things and some good at maintaining things. He said I belonged to the former group and wished me the very best. (He was and is one of the best mentors I ever had. Absolutely brilliant !)

Year went by and I slowly realized that he was right. I have this passion to build stuff, solve new problems, do things which people think are "undoable". But as soon as the heavy lifting was over, I started getting restless and wanted a change of pace. So when I was reading Ceelo Green words, I was reminded again of that day. Even though it was hard to take it (Being told that you were not good at something), I now realize he was actually pointing to my strength ! Two more start ups later, his words resonate...

What kind of person are you? The builder or the sustainer? Let me know...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Curse of Knowledge

Have you been presenting to folks and getting not so good reviews? Do the stories you tell your friends some time falls flat ? Read on to find out the cure for that malady...
Here is the secret of how I overcame the same problem. "Made to Stick" by Chip & Dan Heath is an excellent book on how to make ideas stick in peoples mind. One of the aspects they talk about is the Curse of Knowledge where a "Tapper" has to tap out the rhythm of very popular songs on a table so as to get a "Listener" to identify it. The crux of the matter is that the tapper playing the song in his mind, tapped the table with the full confidence that the listener would understand it and identify the song. Meanwhile the listener without that knowledge has no clue what the song is and is unable to identify them !!

That story stuck to me ! Let me explain why and how it helped me with my issues ...

One of the problems I face when I make presentation to teams, is that sometimes I get the "glazed eye" look- Sheer boredom or folks fervently praying that I would not ask them questions and embarrass them in front of their peers.  Very frustrating right? Here I am putting my heart and soul into the presentation and I get this? In my mind I was explaining some basic concepts which everybody should get. Finally one of my mentors pulled me aside and had "The talk". He asked me pause and understand the audience - Take time to look at my presentation from the audience's level of knowledge. Some of the folks were business users and did not understand the techno speak. Or other did not understand that particular techno speak! So they did not have the context and they did not have the foundation to build on. Not their fault and here I was making a leap of faith that they are at a certain level of knowledge. The song was playing clearly in my mind. But the tapping did not make any sense to the audience ! 

Being me, It of course took multiple attempts to overcome my ego and make me get it. But when I did get it, I found that I was being understood better and was able to get a better agreement from the audience. Suddenly I was in demand as a presenter as well as a facilitator !

Makes sense does it not? So stop playing to the music in the mind. 
Try it out and let me know if you experience the same empowerment as I did