Excelling at Customer Service

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”

Ralph Marston (1907 –  ) Professional Football Player in 1929

“If you want to give a great customer experience you have to align your culture and the way you reward staff. None of our customer facing staff has sales targets or sales bonuses — their rewards and bonuses are based purely on their customer satisfaction scores.”

Anthony Thomson, Chairman, Metro Bank

Quote courtesy of Institute of customer service

Life has a way of taking everything in its stride and I am often compelled to go through the related emotions. Sometimes, I marvel at the way life turns corners and obviously as human beings, we all have this uncanny ability to learn from mistakes and move on by not repeating those same mistakes. We learn, change and adapt.

Organisations are very similar to us (in theory) and are supposed to learn from their mistakes, change processes to reflect that and become ‘the ideal organisation.’ So, I have to ask myself then, ‘Why in today’s day and age, are we still dealing with organisations’ that are failing its customers, in terms of customer service?’

Obviously, during my life, I have had many good experiences of customer services and some pretty dire ones. The reason for writing this blog is that recently, I dealt with three organisations that should have excelled at customer service but in reality, they failed in their promise to provide even the basic levels of customer service. I have debated whether to play the ‘name and shame’ game but that just wouldn’t be me. So, instead, I have decided to write about how to provide excellent customer service.

According to a survey conducted in the U.S. and eleven other countries in 2010, by American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, Americans Will Spend 9% More with Companies That Provide Excellent Service

Although only a little more than a third of Americans (37%) believe that companies have increased their focus on providing quality service:

  • 27% feel businesses have not changed their attitude toward customer service.
  • 28% say that companies are now paying less attention to good service.

So, where do I start?

Let’s start with:

  1. Culture

According to Catherine Lovering, “Make the goal of providing excellent customer service a company-wide commitment. Put a customer-service policy in writing, and post it in a prominent place. Translate customer-service objectives into specific actions for employees to follow, such as: deliver prompt service, offer a polite demeanour, and make product information readily available.”

Inc.com says, “Start by hanging on the wall a set of core values, 10 or fewer principles that include customer service ideals, suggests Susan McCartney, Maggiotto’s colleague at the Buffalo SBDC. “Share them during the training, have employees sign them, and evaluate employees based on the values,” she says. “But don’t call them rules.”

Employee training on customer service precepts should be intensive: written materials, verbal instruction, mentors, and on-the-job demonstrations all ought to be part of the coursework, says McCartney.”

This theme continues in 10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service and  12 ways to dazzle your customers.

  1. Staff morale and motivation

Catherine Lovering says, “Treat your employees well, so they in turn will treat customers well. Employees will bring enthusiasm and a positive attitude to their job when they know they’re appreciated and respected. Recognize employees who continually provide good customer service and praise the entire staff for their efforts. Customer-service work can be emotionally draining unless the company involved is supportive and gains the loyalty of its employees.”

Inc.com says, “Companies renowned for their customer service — the online shoe retailer Zappos, for example — treat employees as they would have their employees treat their customers. “Employees take on more responsibility because they know they are appreciated and an important part of the team,” says the University of Missouri’s Proffer. “People who don’t feel like they’re part of the bigger picture, who feel like a small cog in a big machine, are not willing to go the extra mile.”

Not every business can afford to shower staff with generous pay and benefits, but not every business has to. Small companies, says McCartney, can show “intense interest” in employees, in their welfare, their families, and their future — what McCartney calls the family model. It’s also important to recognize an employee — publicly — for a job well done. Some companies also offer incentives for exceptional customer service, but if you can’t spare the cash, you might throw an office party or offer another token of appreciation. When he was a manager at cable provider Tele-Communications Inc., for instance, Proffer personally washed the cars of notable employees.”

  1. Knowledgeable staff

Staff need to know their products and services and that can only be achieved by a comprehensive induction and training programme for staff that not only includes products and services but also includes an initiation with an organisation’s processes and knowledge of the internal and external network of people who can help resolve issues and problems. A ‘can do attitude’ needs to be instilled in staff right at the outset while empowering customer service staff to engage in activities that resolve the problem while highlighting to management any processes that hinder resolution. That way employees are highlighting processes that hinder the delivery of excellent customer service while improving customer service delivery at the same time.

Inc.com says, “The best salespeople spend 80 percent of their time listening, not talking,” says Marc Willson, a retail and restaurant consultant for the Virginia SBDC network. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s needs and wants. ”

Further in the article, Proffer offers the The Five A’s. method, “It’s helpful to think of resolving a dispute as a five-step process called the Five A’s: Acknowledge the problem. Apologize, even if you think you’re right. Accept responsibility. Adjust the situation with a negotiation to fix the problem. Assure the customer that you will follow through.”

  1. Well trained staff

Training is paramount and well trained staff needs to help customers resolve their problems regardless of how much time they have spent resolving it (within reason). Many organisations tend to operate their measuring metrics for customer services advisors’ on calls closed rather than calls resolved. Well trained staff will have the ability to resolve calls and close them better than ill trained staff. Staff training should be reviewed periodically and refresher courses offered based around lessons learnt, processes improved and latest innovations in delivering better customer service.

Catherine Lovering in her article on customer service said, “Teach the staff stress-reduction methods and techniques in conflict resolution. Train staff to use language that promotes good customer service. Phrases such as “How can I help,” “I don’t know, but I will find out,” and “I will keep you updated” let customers know that their needs will be met. It also will demonstrate a willingness to find a solution to any problem and a commitment to communicate with the customer. This dedication will go a long way toward defusing dissatisfaction among clientele.”

She further adds, “Train staff to accept responsibility for errors and to apologize to upset customers. Good customer-service representatives must refrain from arguing with an upset customer and instead ask the customer what they can do to solve the problem. Advise employees to speak calmly to customers and to assure them that they’ll do what they can to help. Follow up with a clear resolution to the complaint.”

  1. Empowered staff

Catherine Lovering says, “Empower these staff members to not only deal well with upset customers on an emotional level but also to provide tangible benefits. For example, “Entrepreneur” magazine recommends giving employees the authority to give any dissatisfied customer a 10-percent discount.”

The emphasis should be on, “What can we do that will make the situation better for you? Add the wow factorFor example, one winner of The WOW! Awards is a restaurant in Leeds called Gueller’s. They keep a range of prescription spectacles, just in case customers forget their own and are having difficulty reading the menu.”

Give them something that will make them feel valuable. That could be a freebie, the ability to resolve their problem, following up the matter on their behalf and make them feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed (or will be addressed)

  1. Customer service, IT systems and process review – Capture, monitor and report

IT systems need to be setup according to effective measurement metrics. For example, it is not good enough to measure “How many calls did an agent take/close today?” An effective metric would be, “How many calls did an agent close today that was satisfactorily resolved for the customer?” Each call should also be followed up by the completion of customer satisfaction surveys and that opportunity utilised for creating other effective metrics and for highlighting process improvements.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is used extensively within the IT industry and it can be modified to deliver excellent customer service. Karen Francis of Macanta consulting says, “My opinion is that we shouldn’t be too precious about what we use as long as it works for us. If an organisation is already using ITIL for the IT department and finds that it can be adapted for the non-IT departments, then why not do it.

ITIL may not cover things such as sales and marketing and HR, but if you already have effective and efficient processes for managing faults, problems, changes, inventory, capacity, business continuity, service levels and so on, why not use them for non-IT if they translate well?”

As a fan of Deming, I would like to add Danielle J Baker’s thoughts, “ITIL’s iterative approach and focus on continuous improvement is the basis of IT Service Management as defined by the ITIL set of best practices.

The following needs to be done prior to the installation of any IT system for customer service.

  1. Do we know what processes we have captured in existing systems?
  2. How do we go about capturing processes that are not captured by our existing systems?
  3. What processes can we improve, prior to using IT?

Use new innovative tools for interacting with customers, such as Desk.com (Or similar tool). According to Desk.com website, “Connect to your customers on Facebook and Twitter as easily as on traditional support channels like email, phone and web. Desk.com organizes all of your support in one place so you can respond efficiently wherever your customers reach out.”

One of their client’s, Bonobos said, “I was excited by the look and feel of Desk.com when I saw it. By lunchtime the next day we had switched over entirely.”

  1. Benchmark

As a big fan of benchmarking, I highly recommend benchmarking and covered this in my blog post, IT benchmarking

Catherine Lovering said, “Create customer service benchmarks for employees to meet, and reward the workers who meet and exceed them.”

  1. Customer service and relationship management

Catherine Lovering said, “Communicate with customers so you know what they want. Distribute surveys, request feedback, and make it easy for customers to let you know how they feel about their shopping experience. Add a personal touch to customer communication by answering comment letters with a note of thanks. Keep an eye on the competition to see how they implement customer-service policies, especially if it appears that those services are well-received by customers.”

Inc.com says, “The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one.”

Contact with the organisation should be easy and should include an element of ‘self service’ via social media and an organisation’s own website. That could include, for example, a knowledge base or frequently asked questions (FAQ). This could be done by keeping track of the most common type of service desk requests and enabling access to them via these methods.

In her excellent article, 4 Steps to Overcome Being a Pain in the Ass Call Center that I would recommend reading (All 3 parts), Dr. Jodie Monger says, “According to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality evolution, “workforces are only responsible for 15% of mistakes, where the system desired by management is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences. [1]”  In other words, 85% of a worker’s effectiveness is entirely out of his or her control!   It’s rather unfortunate that it is the 15% that is under workers’ control that call centers tend to focus on through quality monitoring efforts, Voice of the Customer programs, mystery shopping and the like.

A well-designed, well-executed quality program will provide a holistic view of your organization’s strengths and opportunities by answering ALL four of the vital questions:

  1. How are we—as an organization—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  2. What can we—as an organization—do to improve?
  3. How are you—as an individual agent—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  4. What can we—as a management team—do to help you improve?

Note that in accordance with Deming’s philosophy of systems and process management, only one of the four vital questions focuses on the activities of the worker.

What would your answers be?”

On that thought provoking question by Dr Judie Monger, I would like to end this blog and hope that this blog post contributes to even better customer service!

References and further Information:

10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service

12 ways to dazzle your customers

Why is Customer Service Still So Lousy?

Customer service frustration leads to lawsuit

Americans Will Spend 9% More With Companies That Provide Excellent Service

The high price of bad customer service

American Express – A story of customer service gone bad

Create a culture of excellent customer service

Institute of customer service

7 Secrets to Providing Excellent Customer Service

Providing Excellent Customer Service

Tips for excellent customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

How to deliver great customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

Salesforce.com Revolutionizes Customer Service for a Social and Mobile World with Desk.com

desk.com

Using ITIL for Non-IT Purposes

How ITIL Help Desk can help SMBs?

ITIL and Deming

Are you a Pain in the Ass Call Centre?

The Deming Centre for Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness at Columbia Business School

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Steve Jobs (Chairman Apple) and Tim Cook’s (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

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UPDATED: 08/10/11 – This post is dedicated to one of my heroes and role models, Steve Jobs, 1955-2011, Thanks for the inspiration. May God bless you.

In February 2010, I posted the blogpost – Steve Jobs (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs that is currently my most successful blogpost. This post attracts so many people that the search, ‘apple management style’ will return this article as the number one post. That’s without any adwords!

With the arrival of Tim Cook as Apple’s new CEO, a lot has been written comparing the two. I actually debated about writing an article on Tim Cook’s management style as well and spent the last two week’s debating the direction to take. In the end, I decided that it would be best for me to re post the original blogpost in its entirety. That decision was made because so much has been written about Tim Cook (both in the past and currently) that it would be better to leave all my readers with some appropriate links to get an idea of Tim Cook’s management style.

The most interesting part from my point of view was that I found older articles, in many cases, better than the current articles as they were quite speculative and gave solid reasons for why Tim Cook should be chosen as Apple’s next CEO. In contrast, the current articles do not have to speculate anymore and as such just wrote about Apple’s new CEO supported by content mostly from a few years ago. Anyway, below is the full text of my previous blogpost (Just after the links), Steve Jobs (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs:

Tim Cook: my first-person impression of Apple’s new CEO by TUAW
Described as “relentless”, the New York Times profiles Tim Cook
The genius behind Steve – Could operations whiz Tim Cook run the company someday? by CNN
Tim Cook’s Challenge: Sorting Out Apple’s Chinese Supply Chain by Forbes
‘Operations Guy’ Tim Cook Gets Chance to Shine At Apple by CIO.com

This article is an article in a series of articles where I will analyse current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders. I have broken down Steve Job’s style into two distinct pieces. The management style and the presentation style.

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

In an interview with Fortune, Steve Job’s (SJ) opened up about his management Style (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. SWOT analysis: As soon as you join/start a company as a CIO, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company on a piece of paper. Don’t hesitate in throwing bad apples out of the company.

2. Spotting opportunities: SJ – “We all had cellphones. We just hated them, they were so awful to use.”

The lesson that can be learnt is that within IT we need to spot opportunities for improvement. It is not enough, however, just to spot them, the onus is to spot them and then to create an environment to leverage that opportunity and to make it happen.

3. Improve productivity: – SJ – “We figure out what we want. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.”

As a CIO, we need to ask ourselves, what can we do that will improve our customers or our own productivity? That could entail listening to your customers, horizon scanning or simply taking action on something that you feel would help you, your team/and/or customers.

4. Business/IT Strategy: SJ – “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants.”

Sometimes it’s best to follow your instincts and to believe in yourself to do the right thing. Paralysis by analysis is often the cause that many organisations cannot do well. It’s as Nike says, Just do it!

5. Competitive advantage: SJ – “It is the intimate interaction between the operating system and the hardware that allows us to do that. That allows us to innovate at a much faster rate than if we had to wait for Microsoft, like Dell and HP and everybody else does.”

CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage? I covered this a few weeks ago, in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?. Sometimes, it makes sense not to embrace open platforms, as Apple has created a significant competitive advantage, by keeping it’s hardware/software systems closed. CIOs need to make such decisions cautiously.

6. Succession planning and his reputation: SJ – “My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do. My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better. My job is to pull things together from different parts of the company and clear the ways and get the resources for the key projects.”

CIOs need to be facilitators and to bring people together working towards a common goal. It is also important to have succession planning in order that the business has continuity in the unfortunate event of a CIO not being able to provide management.

7. Focus: SJ – “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

A CIO needs to focus on the most important issues that are relevant to the business and to shy away from the issues/projects that do not add value to the business but may just be a ‘nice have’ or appear to add value. Learn to say, ‘No’.

8. Talent acquisition:They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple?”

A CIO needs to trust their gut instinct, as one can only learn a certain amount in an interview. I think, the strategic fit, is a very good measure. How will a new hire fit into the culture of the company? Will they enjoy it here? Have they worked in a similar culture before? The danger is that the culture could be so alien to the new hire, that they find it difficult to adjust.

9. Know your business and innovate: SJ – “I put out an agenda — 80% is the same as it was the last week, and we just walk down it every single week.”

The CIO and the entire IT department need to know how the business operates, preferably, as intricately as possible. It is that complete overview that will allow innovative opportunities to present themselves.

10. Handling barriers and roadblocks: SJ – “And we pushed the reset button. We went through all of the zillions of models we’d made and ideas we’d had. And we ended up creating what you see here as the iPhone, which is dramatically better.”

CIOs need to know when to intervene. For example, in many cases that could mean stopping projects altogether to take stock of current situations or to change the direction. There is no shame in that as the project has to deliver the project’s core objective.

11. Customer conversion: SJ – “But if we put our store in a mall or on a street that they’re walking by, and we reduce that risk from a 20-minute drive to 20 footsteps, then they’re more likely to go in because there’s really no risk.”

CIOs need to help the businesses by utilising IT to create opportunities in attracting additional customers. They need to ask themselves, “How can we assist in taking the business to the consumer”?

12. When the going gets tough, investment in people always pays: SJ- “What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place — the last thing we were going to do is lay them off.”

I covered this, under mobility of management when I covered; can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II. CIOs need to understand the importance of retaining and investing in people as one of the business’s most important assets is yet again confirmed by another business leader. This means that they need to stand by that conviction and avoid losing people in economic downturns.

13. Successful innovation and success in general may be built on failure: SJ -. “Will this resonate and be something that you just can’t live without and love? We’ll see. I think it’s got a shot.”

Apple has proved that failure can lead to success and continues to innovate by investing in many technologies. Some will inevitably fail while others such as the iPod and iPhone will be huge successes. Many businesses lack of innovation is due to their fear of failures.

14. Earn respect: Steve Jobs can be a hard boss to work with but Jobs’ employees remain devoted. That’s because his autocracy is balanced by his famous charisma — he can make the task of designing a power supply feel like a mission from God. CIOs need to command respect from their employees and that is something that has to be earned!

I want to conclude this part by finishing off with a quote that shows us that even with his god like innovative powers, Steve Jobs remains human. “Steve proves that it’s OK to be an asshole,” says Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former chief evangelist. “I can’t relate to the way he does things, but it’s not his problem. It’s mine. He just has a different OS.”

As Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm said. “He’s at the absolute epicentre digitisation of life. He’s totally in the zone.”

The Presentation Style

For the second part, I am reproducing an article written by Carmine Gallo in BusinessWeek for his new book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. For this book he watched hours of Jobs’ keynotes. Here he identifies the five elements of every presentation by the Apple CEO. CIOs can improve their presentations by using these five elements.

1. A headline. Steve Jobs positions every product with a headline that fits well within a 140-character Twitter post. For example, Jobs described the MacBook Air as “the world’s thinnest notebook.” That phrase appeared on his presentation slides, the Apple Web site, and Apple’s press releases at the same time. What is the one thing you want people to know about your product? This headline must be consistent in all of your marketing and presentation material.

2. A villain. In every classic story, the hero fights the villain. In 1984, the villain, according to Apple, was IBM (IBM). Before Jobs introduced the famous 1984 television ad to the Apple sales team for the first time, he told a story of how IBM was bent on dominating the computer industry. “IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple.” Today, the “villain” in Apple’s narrative is played by Microsoft (MSFT). One can argue that the popular “I’m a Mac” television ads are hero/villain vignettes. This idea of conquering a shared enemy is a powerful motivator and turns customers into evangelists.

3. A simple slide. Apple products are easy to use because of the elimination of clutter. The same approach applies to the slides in a Steve Jobs presentation. They are strikingly simple, visual, and yes, devoid of bullet points. Pictures are dominant. When Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, no words could replace a photo of a hand pulling the notebook computer out of an interoffice manila envelope. Think about it this way—the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. In some presentations, Steve Jobs has a total of seven words in 10 slides. And why are you cluttering up your slides with too many words?

4. A demo. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain gets bored easily. Steve Jobs doesn’t give you time to lose interest. Ten minutes into a presentation he’s often demonstrating a new product or feature and having fun doing it. When he introduced the iPhone at Macworld 2007, Jobs demonstrated how Google Maps (GOOG) worked on the device. He pulled up a list of Starbucks (SBUX) stores in the local area and said, “Let’s call one.” When someone answered, Jobs said: “I’d like to order 4,000 lattes to go, please. No, just kidding.”

5. A holy smokes moment. Every Steve Jobs presentation has one moment that neuroscientists call an “emotionally charged event.” The emotionally charged event is the equivalent of a mental post-it note that tells the brain, Remember this! For example, at Macworld 2007, Jobs could have opened the presentation by telling the audience that Apple was unveiling a new mobile phone that also played music, games, and video. Instead he built up the drama. “Today, we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device…an iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator…an iPod, a phone, are you getting it? These are not three devices. This is one device!” The audience erupted in cheers because it was so unexpected, and very entertaining. By the way, the holy smokes moment on Sept. 9 had nothing to do with a product. It was Steve Jobs himself appearing onstage for the first time after undergoing a liver transplant.

One more thing…sell dreams. Charismatic speakers like Steve Jobs are driven by a nearly messianic zeal to create new experiences. When he launched the iPod in 2001, Jobs said, “In our own small way we’re going to make the world a better place.” Where most people saw the iPod as a music player, Jobs recognized its potential as a tool to enrich people’s lives. Cultivate a sense of mission. Passion, emotion, and enthusiasm are grossly underestimated ingredients in professional business communications, and yet, passion and emotion will motivate others. Steve Jobs once said that his goal was not to die the richest man in the cemetery. It was to go to bed at night thinking that he and his team had done something wonderful. Do something wonderful. Make your brand stand for something meaningful.

For more of Job’s techniques, flip through this slide show. Then catch a video interview with Carmine Gallo about how he researched his book.

Our challenge – Eradicate child poverty

English: British school children in London, En...

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“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Nelson Mandela, (1918 – ) First South African President and Inspirational Leader

There are times when you watch something on television so profound that it just pulls at your inner being. On 7th June, something very similar happened. I usually record my television programmes and watch them as I get time but on this particular occasion, I was browsing and came across BBC’s programme, Poor Kids.

For readers outside the UK, who cannot view the programme on BBC iplayer, please visit Jezza Neuman’s blog, titled Poor Kids: A child’s view of growing up in poverty

Journalists often get slated for all sorts of reasons but here was proof of true journalism and its power to present facts in an innovative way through poor children’s eyes and the effects of poverty on children, as they view them. The programme’s innovative approach of presenting key facts all through the programme and the children’s viewpoint was not only moving but heart wrenching. How could we as a society, let this happen?

I usually blog on a variety of topics within business/IT management and technology, while occasionally covering topics that I feel I should cover, such as Nurturing future IT Professionals and leaders and a ComputerWeekly reader’s response, Boring’ label shows industry is ignorant about GCSE ICT.

This time it was different, compared to the ones above. Having witnessed the power of individual’s in the Middle East, I want to do something about it and play my part, in eradicating child poverty, from the UK and indeed globally. Over many years, since I was a kid, I have heard from successive governments and organisations such as Unicef that they have these wonderful five, ten, twenty year plans to eradicate child poverty, yet having grown up listening to these promises, the fact is that child poverty still exists. I cannot eradicate child poverty on my own but if enough people raise their voice against it, even as individuals, it will happen. It is unacceptable to me as a Brit to have child poverty within the UK, in 2011. What should we do to eradicate child poverty? I present my answer below followed by facts that support my hypothesis. My hope is that other bloggers, social media groups and charities can join me in ‘Action’ rather than compiling mere documents, strategies and Acts that have no effect on child poverty. The floor is yours, as they say….

The simple plan to eradicate child poverty (within the UK):

  1. International aid: One of my readers, found it quite ironic that, “We spend millions of public money on the olympic games when we cannot pay for families wo are on the bread line (or below) to live in decent housing stock”. Anyway, we have to reduce International aid, to countries such as Pakistan (£600 million in 2010/11). This cannot be justified when 3.5 million UK children suffer from child poverty. I recognise and accept the UK’s role to support other nations that need our support (My parents were from Pakistan). I cannot justify that aid when I am not shown any accountability as a UK citizen on where and how that money is spent (the UK government is knowledgeable about the rampant corruption among government officials). Especially, when their PM orders a custom built Range Rover and Rolls Royce Phantom (£800k) & pays no tax on any income for that year and one of their richest citizens (who is also an ex PM and current minister), pays only Rs 5000 (£50) in taxes annually (Source ARY News Channel report, Off the record programme on YouTube, titled – Kashif Abbasi, Off the Record, No Tax from Pakistan leaders – IN URDU UNFORTUNATELY). This is while child poverty within Pakistan is probably in figures that would eclipse UK figures!
  2. School Uniform: As highlighted by the programme, the child was wearing his sister’s shirt as his family could not afford the school uniform. This opened the floodgates for ridicule by fellow pupils. School uniform in schools is quite expensive and ranges from approx £15 – £70). Poor families cannot afford these costs and are sometimes reluctant to admit that they cannot afford them. Let’s help these families to keep their ‘self-respect’ by abolishing individual School uniforms across the UK, replaced by a national standardised school uniform available at a standard cost across the country.
  3. Child Vouchers: In addition to the school uniform suggestion above, redistribute a proportionate amount of the International aid (or all of it) in child care vouchers for school uniforms (if the suggestion above is not acceptable) and/or clothes. These vouchers can only be used for clothes.
  4. School curriculum: The national school curriculum, although standardised is taught with a great deal of variety and subject availability, across the UK. Some schools are better than others and are graded every 5 years approximately. Leadership, inspirational  and aspirational aspects are alluded to by some schools, while in others there is a severe lack of these aspects. In order for these schools to produce the future of our country, these three elements need to be incorporated within the curriculum. Curriculum and subject availability standards need to be taught and raised to those expected from private schools. Teachers salaries need to be raised as currently the best pupils end up in the private and public sector and the teaching profession is only chosen by either very special individuals who have aspired to become teachers or who cannot get many other jobs.
  5. After school classes: These should be available on a ‘needs’ basis, regardless of whether one student requires assistance or whether many do. Poorer students are usually the ones that need additional support but additional support for these children, is currently unavailable.
  6. University fees: Many students from poorer or middle class backgrounds will not go to university if they have to pay fees. We need to support our country by producing the people required to manage our country in the future. We will experience extensive brain drain, as we lose our students to foreign universities, after all, if university fees have to be paid, students may choose to go abroad and never return! According to the BBC, “History professor Robert Gildea (Oxford university) said the changes to university funding were “reckless, incoherent and incompetent”.Professor Gildea warned the changes would turn the university system into a “red carpet for the rich” which would take Oxford “back to Brideshead”.
  7. Employment opportunities: Poorer children’s parents need to be supported by the wider community and that cannot be done by government alone. A quota system should be created for every organisation (over a certain size), where priority MUST be given to ‘poorer families/unemployed’ including the chance to cross train.

APPENDIX OF FACTS

FACT ONE:

We, as a society, have become experts at compiling documents on child poverty, that run into hundreds of pages that are either discussed until no more discussion can happen and then both the document and the will of the people and organisations to orchestrate and meet the objective of eradicating child poverty, just dies. When I was researching this article, I have come across child poverty acts and strategies (View links at the end of the post) written by the public sector (UK Govt) and charities, yet I remain convinced that none of these will make an aorta of difference. The reason, I am convinced is backed by facts and the fact that once government is involved, they are experts at writing reports and lack the will for action, due to their bureaucracy.

Tom Peters, sums up very well the problem of inertia. “The magnitude of potential simplification is ….staggering.

Jim Champy, co-author along with Michael Hammer of the bible on reengineering (titled Reengineering the corporation), keeps executive audiences enthralled as he recounts tale after tale after horrid tale of critical business processes gone to flab. Consider a process for verifying an insurance claim. It takes 23 working days. Yet when Champy looks inside with an electron microscope, he discovers that, literally, 17 minutes of actual work are performed. The rest is all about scraps of paper flying (crawling is more like it) from here to there. Sitting on Desks. Unnecessary complications to forms to be filled out. And initialled. And initialled again. And so on.

Yes, it is that bad.

23 days.

17 minutes”. Excerpt from Re-Imagine, Tom Peters, page 156

FACT 2:

Facts courtesy of BBC programme, Poor Kids

  • 3.5 million children live in poverty within the UK.
  • Out of 12 Rich countries studied, kids in the UK have the lowest chance of escaping poverty.
  • In November 2010, the UK came 18th out of 22 European countries ranked by Unicef for Child Poverty. Only Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy were lower.
  • Child poverty under current policies is set to rise 11% in the next 3 years.
  • Poor children are 2½ times more likely to suffer chronic illness.
  • 85% of children living in damp flats suffer breathing problems.
  • 47% of children with asthma are from the poorest 10% of families.
  • Poor kids are 5 times less likely to have access to a safe outdoor play space than rich kids.
  • Credit Interest and higher fuel charges cost poor families an extra £1,280 per year.
  • Poor Kids director Jezza Neumann on the lack of hope for the children he spoke to: “I believe so many of the children we met while making the film could go on to great things in life, if given the right chances.”
  • Save the Children, who worked with the makers of Poor Kids, warns the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise over the next couple of years.
  • Recent research by the OECD revealed that children growing up in poverty in the UK are the least likely to be able to escape deprivation compared to children in other rich countries.

FACT 3:

Facts, courtesy of Time Magazine, 16/5/11 and how they relate to child poverty and Education:

  • By the age of 3, a poorer child tends to lag his wealthier equivalent in terms of personal development by 12 months.
  • At 18, the rich kid, who, like a mere 7% of Briton’s, has enjoyed the benefits of a private education, is 6 times as likely to go to university and 55 times as likely to get into Oxford or Cambridge.
  • More than 60% of the 29 Ministers around the Cabinet table were privately educated, and as many as 7 in 10 Ministers are alumni of Oxford or Cambridge.

FACT 4:

I have included below, a comment that highlights the reality of child poverty by covering a real situation where government guidelines fail children. Similar situations can happen for many reasons including the fact that parents maybe on the threshold of poverty but may not actually declare that to the authorities, as they may for example, be in denial as a result of for example, a recent redundancy or job loss.

A comment from Jezza Neumann’s blog: At 18:47 7th Jun 2011, Boilerbill wrote:

“When I was a teacher in a large school in South Bristol, there was one 11 year old girl in my tutor group who was always late. One day, on her return to school after one of her rare weeks off (on reflection I should have noticed that she was off for a week, never for the odd day, but there was always a letter), she said to me, “My Dad loves me really.” By chance a social worker was talking to the Head of Year. I told her about this rather strange comment. She said that she would see what she could find out.

The result. As I knew already, this girl walk across a mile of derelict ground to get to school. But every morning she took her 3 younger siblings to their Primary School – they were always on time in clean clothing. But it turned out that at home the girl would be given money every day to cook for and feed the family. If the meal wasn’t ready when her parents wanted feeding she got beaten (explains the absences). The children all ended up in care.

But my point is that this problem had remained hidden. The primary school (which had a good record at identifying children at risk) didn’t notice any particular problem. When the girl was in my school she was hard working in lessons, showing none of the indicators we had been asked to look out for. She was skilled at covering up what was happening in her life.
How do you find these children? They are all around us”.

I would like to end this post with a poem by Khalil Gibran, titled – Your Children are not your children:

Your Children are not Your Children

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Further Info

UK Department for Work and Pensions – Child poverty policy

UK Department for Education – Child Poverty Strategy

UK Department for Education – A new approach to child poverty – Tackling the causes of disadvantage and transforming families lives

UK Legislation.gov.uk – Child poverty Act 2010

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Education and poverty in the spending review

BBC News – Main site for Education and family

BBC News – Education and family – Q&A University funding

BBC News – Education and family – Oxford dons vote against Willets

BBC News – Education and family – Oxford dons declare ‘No confidence’ in Willets

BBC News – Education and family – MPs warn over tuition fees funding gap

National Children’s Bureau (NCB) – Ending child poverty – Making it happen

End Child Poverty.org – Poverty in a land of plenty – Five years on

Action for Children – Child poverty

Barnardos – Child Poverty

The Guardian – Severe poverty affects 1.6 million children, charity claims

Gazzette Live – Charity calls for action on child poverty within the UK

Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Can current policy end child poverty in Britain by 2020?

Child Poverty Action Group – Ending Child Poverty – A manifesto for success


‘You’ The Brand and ‘Social Media.’

Social Media Iceberg

Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

James D. Miles (1830 – 1914) Steamboat Captain in the Northwest

Some of you may remember, the television shows of the 80’s where TV series/serials, used to start with, ‘Previously on xyx.’I felt a bit nostalgic today, so I will start the same way. Previously on my blog, I have written about Social Media (SM) in various contexts. I wrote about the effect of SM on a friend’s daughter – The ugly side of social media, the conundrum facing CIOs – The Social Networking dilemma and the CIO, a quick primer on SM – Social Media Primer – Succeed by using LinkedIn and blogs, Toyota and its failure to use SM – How Toyota became the werewolf and the three step process to embrace SM: Organisations “Don’t get” social media (UPDATED, RECOMMENDED READING FOR THIS POST, with ALL NEW SM monitoring tools for both personal and business use). It is becoming evident though that some organisations have become adept at SM, as witnessed by Ford’s recent Ford Explorer, campaign. “We couldn’t think of launching a vehicle today without launching it early using social media,”Jim Farley, Ford’s Vice President for Global Marketing – Courtesy of Social Media Explorer.

Senior management need to understand the business and how IT can be utilised to provide competitive advantage – Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? The problem these days is that many CEOs start working at new employer’s without taking the time and effort to understand and appreciate the business and its culture. Without understanding fully, their business, there is no way for them to realise the potential within their existing or future procured IT systems. In addition, many businesses still have their IT chief’s reporting to CFOs. Without board level representation, IT cannot deliver any benefits to the bottom line. Within that context, Terry Leahy fully understood the impact of IT and allowed his CIO, Philip Clarke to analyse and innovate. In effect, Philip Clarke, successfully created, ‘Philip Clarke, the brand.’ Can anyone create a successful brand, using the Internet and Social Media? The answer has to be a resounding ‘Yes’. I will now outline the steps. The secret to leveraging the success of SM is to integrate, disseminate and monitor SM (automate as much of this as possible, especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints).

Integration: If you are thinking of setting up a new business or personal brand, Google Apps could be the ideal platform for you. I covered this previously, Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality. Google Apps Premiere edition was recently named as  Google Apps for Business and now incorporates all the FREE apps that used to be available to personal Google/GMAIL account holders, such as my favourites, Google URL shortener and Alerts. Regardless, of whether you are a small business or corporate, the website needs to provide analytics to ascertain demographic analysis, page views, referrals (Which sites are referring your site) and statistics and words used for searches conducted, using tools such as Google Analytics. The website also needs a blog feature (Or if you are building your personal brand, enable a personal blog using WordPress/Blogger (Free)). The blog needs to auto connect with SM to deliver posts (Such as, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, MSN and YouTube) automatically.

Dissemination: A decision has to be made on which SM will be most effective in disseminating information (News/blogposts/articles) to your target audience. For example, with the launch of the Ford Explorer, Ford decided to use Facebook.  Appropriate profiles for various SM (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc) need to be created. There is plenty of information available on the Internet, to help in creating these profiles but the rule of thumb is that all of your SM profiles, need to be as similar to each other as possible, across all SM. Again, automate as much of this as possible, (especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints)

Monitor: Once SM has been integrated and dissemination profiles/channels are completed start monitor ing‘key people and blogs and setup appropriate RSS feeds’ for content/people that your business needs ‘to follow’ in order to keep abreast of trends in your field. Monitoring also needs to be setup for adverse comments, as the case with Toyota (See above) highlights. As SmartPhones are prevalent now, appropriate phone apps need to be setup to provide the ability to monitor, regardless of location.

Finally, I wanted to leave you with some Twitter cheat sheets that also include other SM tools etc as well (Courtesy of the following):

Geneabloggers.com-Twitter-Cheat-Sheet

@gminks of Adventures in Corporate Education’s Cheat sheet

The Social Media guide.com’s Cheat sheet

The public you.com and Rich Sauser’s Cheat sheet

Louis V Gerstner (CEO IBM 1993-2002) management style and CIOs

IBM Electronic Data Processing Machine (1952)

Image by Chemical Heritage Foundation via Flickr

“Watch the turtle. He only moves forward by sticking his neck out.”

Louis V Gerstner, Jr (1942 – ) IBM CEO 1993-2002

Sign in Louis Gerstner’s office:

THERE ARE FOUR KINDS OF PEOPLE:

THOSE WHO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN

THOSE TO WHOM THINGS HAPPEN

THOSE WHO WATCH THINGS HAPPEN

THOSE WHO DON’T EVEN KNOW THINGS ARE HAPPENING

Today’s article is the eighth in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet, 4th Bill Gates, 5th Larry Ellison, 6th Eric Schmidt, 7th CIOs and the ideal management style), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

I don’t usually read a book and write about it but I really liked Louis Gerstner’s (LG) very own style of writing and the way that he turned around IBM. In 1993, IBM was losing market share and perhaps on the verge of bankruptcy. Louis Gerstner accepted the job and walked into this situation without really knowing whether he could revive IBM to its glory days.

This series is about leadership and this is the first time I am moving away from offering my thoughts on how CIOs (and others) can apply these leadership practices within their own businesses. The main reasoning is that, I will from now on leave it to my readers to apply what they have learnt from my blog posts. I am increasingly conscious that my readership now envelops many disparate disciplines and I am grateful for that. It has always been my intention that I disseminate my knowledge to others who may benefit as well. After all, knowledge taken to the grave is knowledge lost!

For the full version, please read the book, Who says Elephants can’t dance – Inside IBM’s historic turnaround by Louis V Gerstner. I am also grateful to Harper Collins as I have used excerpts from the book itself.

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

Louis Gerstner started his working in life with McKinsey & Company in 1965, joined American Express as their Head of Travel related Services Group in 1977 and accepted the CEO’s position of RJR Nabisco in 1989. Let’s see what CIOs and general management can learn from this icon of modern business and technology. (In no particular order):

1. Success in general may be built on failure:

As LG started his new job at IBM, he met with the Corporate Management Board (Top 50 executives of IBM) and told them that he had not looked for the job and took it reluctantly as he thought that the responsibility was important to the country’s competitiveness and health. He then went on to outline his expectations:

i.            Eliminate bureaucracy by decentralising wherever possible while ensuring the right balance with central strategy and common customer focus.

ii.            Benchmarking costs against those of competitors and then achieving best in class status.

iii.            Layoffs maybe necessary (Let’s not kid ourselves)

iv.            IBM management wanted to breakup IBM into smaller autonomous businesses. LG said, “Maybe that is the right thing to do, but maybe not. We certainly want decentralised, market-driven decision making. But is there not so offer comprehensive solutions, a continuum of support? Can’t we do that and also sell individual products?”

v.            About morale, he said, “I want can-do people looking for short term victories and long term excitement.” He also told the audience that it would be his priority to utilise internal talent rather than bringing in outsiders.

2. How did he want to run IBM? LG -.

  • “I manage by principle, not procedure.
  • The marketplace dictates everything we should do.
  • I’m a big believer in quality, strong competitive strategies and plans, teamwork, payoff for performance and ethical responsibility.
  • I look for people who look to solve problems and help colleagues.
  • I sack politicians’.
  • I am heavily involved in strategy; the rest is yours to implement. Just keep me informed in an informal way. Don’t hide bad information – I hate surprises. Don’t try to blow things by me. Solve problems laterally; don’t keep bringing them up the line.
  • Move fast. If we make mistakes, let them be because we are too fast rather than too slow.
  • Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve the problem, regardless of position. Reduce committees and meetings to a minimum. No committee decision making. Let’s have lots of candid, straightforward communications.
  • I don’t completely understand the technology. I’ll need to learn it, but don’t expect me to master it. The unit leaders must be the translators into business terms for me.“I would say a few things. First, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you learn, so I believe a lot in trio al and error and course corrections. Often companies are unwilling to admit when they’ve made a mistake. We tend to question things more in our business.

                                              

3.        SWOT analysis: LG pointed out five ninety day priorities on joining IBM and they were:

I.            Stop the bleeding of cash as IBM is running out of money.

II.            Ensure that IBM is profitable by 1994 (LG joined IBM in April 1993).

III.            Develop and implement a customer strategy for the next two years (93,94) that indicated to the customers that IBM had returned and was there to serve them.

IV.            Complete the ‘right sizing’ of IBM.

V.            Create ‘an intermediate-term business strategy.

4.        Constant analysis: With regards to mainframe pricing, LG was convinced that the reason IBM was losing out to competitors was that IBM had the pricing strategy all wrong, so he reversed it with ‘an aggressive price reduction. In addition at a conference attended by approx 175 CIOs and after listening to them during the conference, LG laid out his expectations:

I.            IBM priorities would be redefined, starting with the customer.

II.            IBM laboratories would be allowed to do what they wanted to do and would deliver open, distributed, user based solutions.

III.            IBM would be easier to work with, would recommit to quality and re-establish its leadership position.

IV.            IBM would work for the customer and deliver the performance the customer wanted.

5.        Improve productivity: As LG moved forward with re-inventing IBM, he took the following measures to improve productivity:

  • All of IBM would stay together as one company and not converted into autonomous units.
  • IBM economic model would be altered, such as expenses as IBM were spending 42 cents to produce $1 of revenue while its competitors were spending only 32 cents..
  • Business re-engineering would be undertaken. For example processes and systems would be reviewed as internally IBM had 128 CIOs!
  • Underproductive assets would be sold to generate much needed cash.

6.        Business reputation and brand: IBM had never had a true Head of marketing and just like the processes and the 128 CIO scenario, marketing was controlled by countries and business units etc. That resulted in a totally disjointed marketing campaign. The new Head of marketing decided to consolidate all of IBM’s advertising relationships into a single ad agency. This spawned the “Solutions for a Small planet” and was followed by the coining of the term, “e-business.”

7.        Rating of employees’ performance: – In the past, I have reviewed many CEO’s management style but Eric Schmidt’s and Louis Gerstner’s style is the closest fit to Deming’s ‘Annual rate of performance’ that I have yet come across.

“This was all about pay for performance, not loyalty or tenure. It was all about differentiation: Differentiate our overall pay based on the marketplace; differentiate our increases based on individual performance and pay in the marketplace; differentiate our bonuses based on business performance and individual contributions; and differentiate our stock-option awards based on the critical skills of the individual and our risk of loss to competition.”

8.       Spotting opportunities: While looking for opportunities, LG met the Head of ISSC (IBM Subsidiary), Dennie Welsh. The opportunity that Dennie had spotted would change IBM forever. “He told me that his vision of a services company was not one that did just IBM product maintenance and strung together computer codes for customers, he envisioned a company that would literally take over and act on behalf of the customers in all aspects of information technology-from building systems to defining architectures to actually managing the computers and running them for the customers. My mind was afire. To be truly successful, we would have to do things that would shake the place to its roots. For example, the services unit would need to be able to recommend the products of Microsoft, HP, Sun and all other major IBM competitors if that, in fact, was the best solution for the customer. Of course, we would have to maintain and service these products as well.”

9.        Create and nurture ‘the correct culture.’ – Watson, Sr had created the original culture of IBM but over the years, IBM personnel had moved away from the original ethos of that culture and had started to interpret it quite differently to how it was originally intended. LG made it an imperative to change the IBM culture that was a better reflection and fit for the changing times. The original culture hinged around:

  • Excellence in everything we do. – This became an obsession with perfection. The culture that developed threatened to halt IBM due to checks, approvals and validation meant that decision making just ground to a halt.
  • Superior customer service.- This translated into “servicing IBM machines on customers’ premises”, and as a result the customer’s real needs were usually not entertained.
  • Respect for the individual. – This meant that employees expected their entitlements regardless of performance. This meant that in many instances the best people were not getting what they deserved.

10.     Develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It. – LG “I was always amazed at how many executives thought that “vision” was the same as “strategy.” Vision statements are for the most part aspirational, and they play a role in creating commitment and excitement among an institution’s employees. Good strategies start with massive amounts of quantitative analysis –hard, difficult analysis that is blended with wisdom, insight, and risk taking.”

11.      Business/IT Strategy/principles: LG- “I am struck by how much of the culture change of the following ten years they describe”

LG outlined eight principles that were to envelop the business strategy and underpinned the new IBM culture.

1)        The marketplace is the driving force behind everything that we do.

2)       At our core, we are a technology company with an overriding commitment to quality.

3)       Our primary measures of success are customer satisfaction and shareholder value.

4)       We operate as an entrepreneurial organisation with a  minimum of bureaucracy and a never-ending focus on productivity.

5)       We never lose sight of our strategic vision.

6)       We think and act with a sense of urgency.

7)       Outstanding, dedicated people make it all happen, particularly when they work together as a team.

8)       We are sensitive to the needs of all employees and to the communities in which we operate.

12.     Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – LG – “We’re getting our butts kicked in the marketplace. People are taking our business away. So I want us to start kicking some butts-namely, of our competitors. This is not a game we’re playing. We have got to start getting out in the marketplace and hitting back hard. I can assure you, our competitors are focused maniacally on these charts, and they talk us down constantly. For example, this from Larry Ellison (CEO Oracle): “IBM? We don’t even think about those guys anymore. They’re not dead, but they’re irrelevant.”

13.     Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees. – LG was once asked, “What do you really want people to do?” He answered, “Win, execute and team.”

  • “WIN:    It was vital that all the IBMers understand that business is a competitive activity. In the new IBM there would be no place for anyone who lacked zeal for the contest.”
  • “EXECUTE:         No more studying things to death. In the new IBM, successful people would commit to getting things done – fast and effectively.”
  • “TEAM: This was a commitment to acting as one IBM, plain and simple.”

14.     Focus: LG – “History shows that truly great and successful companies go through constant and sometimes difficult self-renewal of the base business. They don’t jump into new pools where they have no sense of the depth or temperature of the water.”

15.     Quality management: LG ”But alas, too often the executive does not understand that people do what you inspect, not what you expect.”

16.     Succession planning and his reputation: LG – “When IBM’s Board of Director’s considered who would succeed me, passion was high on their list of necessary attributes. Sam Palmisano (Current IBM CEO), my successor, is an extraordinary executive – a man of many talents. However, he would never have had my recommendation, despite these many talents, if he didn’t have a deep passion for IBM, for what it stands for, for what it can be, for what it can do.”

CIOs and the ideal management style

Chief Information Officer United States Army logo

Image via Wikipedia

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch painter

Today’s article is the seventh in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet, 4th Bill Gates, 5th Larry Ellison, 6th Eric Schmidt), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

These blogposts have been informational for me and my readers and I have certainly learnt a lot from all the different management styles of these ‘new age’ leaders. It was fascinating to read that while they all had common aspects, they were also very different indeed.

As a result of these blogposts, books that I read, academic and vocational qualifications and my own experience, I decided to outline my thoughts on the qualities that are needed to become a successful CIO.

1. The start of a CIO’s career within a new organisation:

There is a general assumption within IT that a CIO’s career starts once the interview process is over. This is one of the worst assumptions to be made by a prospective CIO. The aspiring CIO needs to understand the prospective organisation that he/she wants to work with and ensure that it is a good fit for his/hers skills and that the ‘culture’ of the organisation supports change and is quite open to ‘challenging the status quo.’ I would suggest that the CIO has done his/her research on the organisation prior to the interview to establish that it is an organisation that they want to work with and assist to achieve the business benefits that the organisation perceives will be achieved once the CIO joins. The CIO MUST ask the right questions at the interview and ensure that there is indeed a ‘strategic fit’ for both the CIO and the employing organisation.

Read the job specification well and look for indicators that may lead to problems or that highlight that ‘strategic fit.’ Try and define (fine tune) the role to establish, for example, How will IT success be defined and measured?

2. The job begins:

As soon as you join/start an organisation as a CIO, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your organisation on a piece of paper as that will enable you to plan effectively and to ‘hit’ the problem areas first. Go into the job well prepared, as by that stage, you had ample opportunity to look at the job specification, research the organisation and the interview gave you ‘key’ information to utilise. Start building your credibility by establishing some areas for ‘quick wins’ and be careful to strike a fine balance between ‘moving too fast or slow.’ For example, trying to impress your boss by moving too quickly to make something happen that results in an awkward explanation to him/her has to be avoided at all cost. Take decisive action, as moving slow can also adversely affect your credibility.

3. Communication and establishing relationships:

Listen, learn and communicate. As soon as you are comfortable, conduct a business/IT review. I am not going to give this consideration as a separate bullet point because I believe that it has to be done by establishing relationships. These relationships will be ‘key in analysing the business and IT and will provide the information that the CIO seeks. This communication and relationship building cycle has to take precedent as the CIO casts a wide ‘networking’ net across the organisation. Talk to senior executives’, gatekeepers, junior staff and all the people who use IT to do their everyday jobs. These are the people who will inform you where IT is delivering value, where business fails and how to strike the right balance.

Conduct ‘one to one’ interviews, inform people within your organisation your goals and communicate to your team your leadership style. Be honest and transparent with people as everyone hates the ‘new smart ass guy/gal.’

4. Lead and innovate:

Always follow your instincts and look for ideas to nurture. Encourage innovation and ask your team to set aside at least 10-20% of their time for projects that they want to do (during business hours). Google and 3M have done this very successfully and if they can do it, so can you. Look for opportunities while constantly analysing every aspect of IT and your team, looking for improvements.

Be visionary and ensure that you present a vision to your team that is representative of where the business wants to be or is heading towards. Create a culture of change and nurture the ‘right’ talent within your team and if hiring externally ensure that ‘action oriented employees’ are selected.

Finally, ensure appropriate metrics and scorecards are used to chart your progress (key success factors and key performance indicators) from just ‘keeping the lights on’ to actually ‘driving business transformation.’

———————————————————————————————————————————————

Related Information:

Who is a CIO?

A CIO is a leader who has an excellent overview of IT, business and how people interact with each other. He can then apply that knowledge to understand where a business is going (Business Vision) and ensure that IT systems and procedures are developed to realise that vision and along the way, if he/she can realise financial savings/contribute to the bottom line (actually utilise IT to earn revenue), he/she become indispensable and should head for stardom. For example, Tesco’s Ex IT Director became their CEO – http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=505864&in_page_id=2

Why hire a CIO?

To ensure that the above actually happens and that the IT systems are actually working towards creating value for the business and are delivering the business vision with assistance from the IT systems.

Why a CIO is important in an organisation?

A CIO is important as without a board level director (CIO), IT manager’s cannot represent IT effectively to the business. Read my blogpost: Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? – http://wp.me/pw27T-4S

Roles and Responsibilities of a CIO

Deliver the business vision
Create the ‘buy in’ from internal and external relationships to deliver that vision
Develop effective and reliable IT systems to deliver that vision
Empower IT teams to make good decisions
Effective and brilliant leadership

Criteria for Becoming a CIO

Leadership skills, inspirational capability, tenacity, ability to make good educated calculations of where both business and IT are heading towards (especially the IT capability, for example, In House systems vs. Cloud), Excellent networker and people person, team player and good communication skills, especially the ability ‘to listen.’

For More Info:

Master of Information Leadership (MIL) for aspiring CIOs delivered by City University, London

First 100 Days as CIO

Top 10 guidance tips for new CIOs and IT leaders

London School of Business puts whole MBA course on Facebook

Eric Schmidt (Ex CEO and current Chairman – Google) management style and CIO

Image representing Eric Schmidt as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

John Wooden (1910 – 2010) Hall of Fame basketball coach of UCLA

Eric Schmidt (1955 – ) Google CEO and Chairman from 4th April 2011 onwards

Today’s article is the sixth in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet, 4th Bill Gates, 5th Larry Ellison), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

This article also follows my previous articles on Google, Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011, Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality, Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour and Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Eric Schmidt arrived at Google to help Google’s inexperienced founders; Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He has led Google to become a globally recognised company with approx 24000 employees. Recently, he has stepped down to become the chairman and to pass the leadership to Larry Page (on 4th April 2011). Over the years, he has mentored the young founders and believes that the time is now right for them to take the helm. For his efforts, he leaves with a golden shake of $100 million in equity and shares worth 9.1% of Google stock.

“As a CEO, Schmidt is more inclined to provoke than proclaim. “Google is run by its culture and not by me”, said Schmidt in 2009. In Google, when a key executive decision is reached, all interested parties are invited to the decision making process and are encouraged to share their opinions. Schmidt’s job is to oversee the whole procedure and make timely decisions. This bottoms-up way of decision making usually leads to a better buy in and a better decision.  Google allows employees to spend 20% of time on self-directed projects. To closely connect to Google’s frontline innovators, each week Schmidt and his senior associates spend up to six hours in dialogue with team members from across Google, who believe their projects have great potential. This unique management style has hatched a series of great products like Gmail and Google News.” Courtesy Vivian’s Tech Blog

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Eric Schmidt’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. How do you run this company? – ES “It’s run in a strange way. We have a normal hierarchical structure. The company is organized ‘bottoms up’ from the standpoint of product creativity and ‘tops down’ from running the quarter and the financials and so forth. We encourage dissent, we encourage large group conversation, we encourage there to be somebody who’s opposed to the decision, and we work very, very hard to be not hierarchical in the way that decisions are made. Often if we can get a decision, we get the best decision if we have two decision makers, not once. We never make decisions in private; we always do them right in front of everybody.” Courtesy Marketplace

2. When the going gets tough, investment in people always pays: ES – “Getting the most out of knowledge workers will be the key to business success for the next quarter century. Here’s how we do it at Google.

At Google, we think business guru Peter Drucker well understood how to manage the new breed of “knowledge workers.” After all, Drucker invented the term in 1959. He says knowledge workers believe they are paid to be effective, not to work 9 to 5, and that smart businesses will “strip away everything that gets in their knowledge workers’ way.” Those that succeed will attract the best performers, securing “the single biggest factor for competitive advantage in the next 25 years.

At Google, we seek that advantage. The ongoing debate about whether big corporations are mismanaging knowledge workers is one we take very seriously, because those who don’t get it right will be gone. We’ve drawn on good ideas we’ve seen elsewhere and come up with a few of our own. What follows are ten key principles we use to make knowledge workers most effective. As in most technology companies, many of our employees are engineers, so we will focus on that particular group, but many of the policies apply to all sorts of knowledge workers.” – Courtesy 1000 Ventures

For more, read – Google’s ten golden rules for getting the most out of knowledge workers.

When Eric joined Novell, the company’s future was very much in doubt. He correctly recognized a culture of fear that pervaded the organization. Bright engineers with revolutionary ideas were reluctant to voice them for fear of being fired. The engineers however, complained vociferously amongst themselves leading to a culture of corporate cynicism. Recognizing this pervasive bellyaching, Eric asked two engineers he met on the company shuttle, to give him the names of the smartest
people they knew in the company. Eric met with each of them, and asked them in turn to identify the 10 smartest people they knew. In a few weeks, Eric had a list of 100 engineers he considered critical to Novell’s future. He met with each of them personally, encouraging them to take chances and follow their instincts. He removed the possibility of reprisals by their managers for voicing their opinions. This inspired the engineers and focused their efforts, resulting in innovative and improved products. These changes helped Novell transform itself from a loss of $78
million to a gain of $102 million”. – Courtesy Scribd.com

One person alone cannot handle everything. The secret is to surround yourself with employees that are smarter than yourself. These smart people will challenge organisations and force them to think differently. I covered this, under mobility of management when I covered; can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II. CIOs need to understand the importance of retaining and investing in people as one of the business’s most important assets is yet again confirmed by another business leader.

3. Business/IT Strategy: “At Google, Eric has stated the company’s goal as “…Organizing the world’s information making it universally accessible and useful”. An engineer working to index billions of web pages can easily identify with this laudable goal. As a practical matter the goal of making information universally accessible is a more
meaningful goal for the engineer, interested in making his mark on society, rather than a mundane goal of increasing Google’s revenues by $300 million dollars. Eric considers this transfer of ownership to be so important that while at Novell he created a quarterly in-house radio show modeled after NPR’s “Car Talk”. He even made tapes available for in-car listening.” – Courtesy Scribd.com

Sometimes it’s best to follow your instincts and to believe in yourself to do the right thing. Paralysis by analysis is often the cause that many organisations cannot do well. It’s as Nike says, Just do it!

4. Rating of employees’ performance: – In the past, I have reviewed many CEO’s management style but Eric Schmidt’s style is the closest fit to Deming’s ‘Annual rate of performance’ that I have yet come across.

“Eric management style is to let the team’s progress be reviewed by individuals the team respects. In most companies there exist a few individuals that are universally respected or at least more respected than everyone else.
These individuals have a way of articulating principles and have very good memories. Since they are considered impartial, teams are more open to receive feedback or decisions even if the decision goes against them. – Courtesy Scribd.com

5. Earn respect by ‘listening’: – ES “Listening to each other is core to our culture, and we don’t listen to each other just because we’re all so smart. We listen because everyone has good ideas, and because it’s a great way to show respect. And any company, at any point in its history, can start listening more.” Courtesy Andrew McAfee

6. Competitive advantage: This is an area of great interest, as currently, Google is the undisputed king of search but Microsoft’sa Bing is knocking on its doors. So, for the moment Google is able to keep its competitive advantage. The worry for Google has been the defection of key employees (who view Facebook as ‘cool and the place to be’) to companies such as Facebook. Social Media is an area where Google doesn’t really have a strong foothold and that is worrying for them while in the mobile arena, Android is not a huge money earner (albeit, earnings are approx $6 per user per year) when compared to Apple IOS. Google is in a battle with Apple, Microsoft and Facebook and it is ambiguous which markets Google ultimately wants to compete within.

CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage. I covered this in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

7. Talent acquisition – Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees: “I might have been mistaken, actually. Having your name and picture up on that big screen at End of Quarter may not be the biggest incentive. The thing that drives the right behavior at Google, more than anything else, more than all the other things combined, is gratitude. You can’t help but want to do your absolute best for Google; you feel like you owe it to them for taking such incredibly good care of you.” Source unknown, courtesy Oliver Thylmann

Google actively recruits recent Ph.D.’s and Ph.D. candidates. All 1,900 Google employees are researchers and developers in addition to their regular duties. Where other companies will keep their research departments and core businesses separate, Google places all their Ph.D.’s in the rank and file of the company. Workers at Google enjoy a company devoted to benefits (Stross, 2004). They also enjoy an informal company culture where employees have access to gyms, massages, pool and ping-pong tables, well stocked snack rooms and other recreational amenities (Google Culture, 2009). Courtesy Marty Andrade

A CIO needs to trust their gut instinct, as one can only learn a certain amount in an interview. I think, the strategic fit, is a very good measure. How will a new hire fit into the culture of the company? Will they enjoy it here? Have they worked in a similar culture before? The danger is that the culture could be so alien to the new hire, that they find it difficult to adjust.

Eric Schmidt has hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’ Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and as you know them personally, an informed decision can be made on whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

8. Spotting opportunities and innovation: LE –  “innovation is the key to Google’s success, everything Schmidt does revolves around creating more innovation. Without it, Schmidt believes there is nothing to prevent another company from overtaking Google as the king of digital information.  Innovation is systematically encouraged at Google at all levels throughout the organization, including management. At Google, management follows the “70/20/10″ rule where seventy percent of their time is spent on core business projects, twenty percent is spent on projects related to the core business and ten percent is spent on projects unrelated to the core business (Battelle, 2005). Schmidt, in order to remain true to the 70/20/10 rule, actually divides these projects into different rooms and tracks his time spent in each of the rooms.” Courtesy Marty Andrade

For More Info:

The Daily Telegraph’s articles on Eric Schmidt

Google’s greatest innovation may be its management practice

Android OS is profitable, might generate $10 billion per year

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt: “We don’t have a 5 year plan.”

The New York Times: Eric E Schmidt

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, will not talk about “Private conversations” with Apple about becoming CEO

Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

Image via Wikipedia

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Babe Ruth (1895 – 1948)

The quote above is apt when you are up against a person but what happens when you encounter organisations that are trying to outdo each other? 2010 was certainly interesting in that respect. Hunter Richard’s blog post on Microsoft (MS) is “All In” for the Cloud, but What About Dynamics? outlined Microsoft’s dilemma that is not limited to just MS Dynamics.

Microsoft is still trying its best to innovate as its key visionaries, such as Ray Ozzie (View Ray Ozzies’s – Dawn of a new day OR BBC’s summary) were falling by the wayside. At face value, it could be argued that MS is reinventing itself, as it has done so quite successfully in the past (WordPerfect vs. MS Word, Netscape vs. Explorer,……list continues),  but this time around, there is a caveat. Is MS actually listening to its own visionaries and customers?

MS knows that history is repeating itself once again as it has done so many times before and MS is trying its best to change and adapt, as it knows very well that if it doesn’t, it could wither away and die, just as it had slain Netscape and WordPerfect in the past. The secret to Apple’s and Google’s success is that they listen to us, the customer. They are finely attuned to what, we, the consumer want and need, just as my previous blog post Leveraging IT for competitive advantage, has alluded to. Secondly, this battle is not just about the hardware and software anymore, as all three companies go after our hard earned cash. Even Apple overtook MS, in terms of revenue this year.

Microsoft is a giant in the software world and one of the penalties it is paying for its enormous success is that:

1.        Its products are now so diverse that only IT experts can make any sense of them. Need convincing. Ask any non IT personnel to visit any Microsoft site and ask them to explain a particular Microsoft site’s products and what they can actually do for them.

2.        Sheer confusion. As a business owner, for my Microsoft IT system, where do I start? Microsoft Licensing and its payment model – Again, this is an open challenge to Microsoft. How many Microsoft employees can explain Microsoft licensing without referring to a price model manual? The correct answer should be at least half its workforce. Why? You cannot sell what you don’t understand (Microsoft have actually done remarkably well then!). Ah, would an employee be able to explain it all in a pub, though?

3. Microsoft’s entire business model is built on desktop/laptop client installation and as long as it has enough businesses that utilise that legacy because they have no other option, for the short term, it faces no financial problem. Office365 is a step in the right direction but unlike Google, MS products were never designed to ‘run in the cloud’ whereas as Rajen Sheth, Google’s senior product manager for Google Apps said, “It will be tough to build up the cloud expertise that’s been built into Google’s DNA since day one.”

So, where does that leave Google, Microsoft and Apple? They should all acknowledge their key strengths, concentrate and focus on those and licence each other’s products. That can be hard to acknowledge by ‘massive’ organisations such as these three but the reality is that sometimes other organisations just do it better than you can.

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. Novell was the King of network software, had the opportunity to licence its NDS to MS for its Active Directory, failed to strike an agreement and MS ended up killing its business because they could do it better. So, in hindsight, an effective licensing agreement by Novell would have been better. Then, we have Apple. MS Office is one of the best sold software for its desktop/laptop equivalent and Apple decided years ago that it would not concentrate its efforts on a ‘war’ to decide who could create a better office type software suite. Google became the king of search and MS decided to ‘take it on.’

I would argue that all of these companies need to innovate more. Apple and Google innovate, quite successfully. I would argue though that as innovation is stifled at MS, MS have not released a single innovative product in 201o. MS did finally catch up with Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) with a WM7 marketplace though! We even saw new releases of old software, such as Windows Mobile 7 and for those who want to argue and labour the point, did anyone release anything groundbreaking as Apple’s iPhone equivalent in 2007 or the iPad this year?

Oh and let’s not forget, Office365 still has no marketplace equivalent!

For more:

What is Cloud Computing? Its Pros/Cons and making it work

Microsoft announces Office 365 beta: test new cloud-based Office one year before its launch

Office 365 Beta: a first look

Steve Ballmer speech at UW: “We’re all in” for cloud computing

Microsoft Straightens Out Cloud Strategy — Finally

The 7 sins of Windows Phone 7

Apple iOS vs. Google Android

Top Tech Company of 2010: Apple

Will Google Apps survive Office 365?

The road to Office 365: The future

Office365 vs Google Apps

A guide to Office 365 versions and pricing

Windows Marketplace

Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) management style and CIOs

Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Choosing technology over customers

Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality.

Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour

Steve Job’s (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs

Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning

Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

Microsoft and Apple Tablets, pens and swords

The wonderful world of FREE Windows 7 applications

Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

The future is bright but is it mobile?

Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) management style and CIOs

Oracle logo at the Oracle headquarters.

Image via Wikipedia

Updated 12.12.11

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.”

Jonathan Kozol (1936 – ) Writer, Educator and Activist

Larry Ellison (1944 – ) Oracle Corporation’s Founder and CEO

Today’s article is the fifth in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet and fourth was Bill Gates), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

This article also follows my previous articles on ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – Past, Present, Future and successful implementation, Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?, Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning – Blog version and Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning – CIO.co.uk version.

Larry Ellison has led Oracle from start-up to ‘software giant’ with a style that many view as narcissist. “According to psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons, “What makes Ellison so successful, even though he’s a narcissist visionary and really not very good at working with people, is that he understands himself, and he understands who he needs to work with – Courtesy of Canadian Business.” Larry Ellison is both an innovator and visionary, I believe these traits will be his legacy, “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.” – Larry Ellison

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Larry Ellison’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Follow your instinct and develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It: – Courtesy of Canadian Business magazine (with a few changes), ‘While Larry Ellison was employed at Ampex, a firm that did contracts for the U.S. government (mid–1970s), he got his first taste of database software while working on a project for the CIA with the code name “Oracle.” Around the same time, he read a paper published by IBM, which outlined a way to make it easier to store and retrieve data — a prototype for the first relational database. “I saw the paper, and thought that, on the basis of this research, we could build a commercial system,” Ellison, who solicited the assistance of fellow programmers Bob Miner and Ed Oates, recalled in a 1995 interview. “If we were clever, we could take IBM’s research … and beat IBM to the marketplace with this technology. Because we thought we could move faster than they could.” He was right. By 1984, the company he founded with Miner and Oates, originally called Software Development Laboratories, was logging nearly $13 million in annual sales. (Miner died in 1994; Oates retired in 1996.)’

Right from the outset, he dreamed of developing Oracle into a viable successful business. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

2. ‘Image’ is everything. – According to People Soft Planet,Ellison has Oracle in his own image. Now in his late 50s, tall and trim, he has kept himself in excellent shape. His hair is still dark, running to reddish; he has brown eyes and a short beard that helps to camouflage his long jaw. Ellison radiates enthusiasm and charm. He’s animated and engaging on stage, at his best in informal Q&A sessions where he can rap with the crowd.”

According to Canadian Business, “A fan of, and expert on, Japanese culture, he sees himself as a samurai warrior. He also likes to quote a saying attributed to Genghis Khan: “It is not sufficient that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.” The incredible success that he has enjoyed is a marvel to anyone familiar with the accepted literature on what it takes to make a great leader, qualities like empathy, mediation skills and humility. By all accounts, he is a bad listener and a big talker, whose brash, take–no–prisoners approach tends to alienate employees and customers alike. Yet, in the past 35 years, the jet–flying, sailboat–racing renegade has built Oracle into one of the most important tech firms on the planet, with annual revenues of $27 billion — about a billion dollars shy of his personal fortune. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.) While many of his contemporaries have moved to arms–length positions or other projects, Ellison remains the driving force behind the computing juggernaut, continuing to fashion it according to his own design. After acquiring more than 65 tech firms in the past five years, the mercurial CEO announced in September that he would be “buying chip companies,” suggesting that Oracle is positioning itself for what Bill Tatham, head of Toronto–based enterprise software firm NexJ Systems, describes as “another level of world domination.”

But while it may be tempting to single out Ellison as the ruthless villain of high technology, “none of these guys are nice,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at Stanford University and author of Power: Why Some People Have It — And Others Don’t. Before his ousting from Apple, Steve Jobs is said to have become increasingly difficult to work with, refusing to acknowledge that sales were tumbling; since his return, he has often been criticized for his obsessive secrecy, and ruling the company with an iron fist. Meanwhile, it was Bill Gates’s attempt to snuff out the competition that led to antitrust allegations — and sent Ellison rooting through Microsoft’s trash. “It’s very unpopular to say in today’s world, where we have these Kumbaya theories of leadership,” says Pfeffer, “but it actually doesn’t work well.” If anything, Ellison is merely the poster boy for what it takes to thrive in an increasingly ruthless environment. His rare combination of hubris and self–awareness enables him to skid recklessly to the edge, stopping just short of the cliff. And his stunning trajectory offers a valuable lesson: in the cutthroat arena of big business, sometimes it pays to be a jerk.”

3. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – LE “Years ago, I gave a speech that earned me the eternal enmity of the Netscape board. I said that the biggest problem with Netscape was that Microsoft could copy what they had very quickly. It was a clever product, but there was no technical barrier to entry. It’s much harder to copy a database like Oracle. There are millions of lines of code. It’s an incredibly difficult program to duplicate.

But a browser is not a difficult program to duplicate and I said, at the time, that my cat could write the browser. The board members were very offended by all this, but in fact Microsoft later did do exactly what I had predicted.”

4. Succession: LE – Courtesy of CNET magazine (with a few changes)”If Larry was incapacitated, the cult would dissolve,” former executive Marc Benioff says. “It’s unclear if Oracle is a sustainable enterprise without Larry, because his personality is so firmly entrenched.”

This is an area of weakness for the Oracle leader, as he has not planned effectively for a successor. As Larry Ellison approaches retirement, we will all have to witness whether he appoints a successor or leaves succession to the almighty.

5. Competitive advantage: LE – Courtesy of PeopleSoft Planet (with a few changes)Just because you’re good at R&D doesn’t mean you’ve commercialized R&D. The tragedy of Xerox PARC was that they had brilliant R&D but terrible execution in terms of turning that R&D into really wonderful products. Contrast that to IBM. During its glory days, IBM was fabulous at translating their innovation into products, into market domination.”

CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage. I covered this in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

6. Follow your instinct: LE – Courtesy of People Soft Planet magazine “We are the leader in bio-informatics, and a lot of things there are exciting. Sure, Wi-Fi, even 3G, is fairly cool, albeit expensive. But the thing I’m most interested in is software as a service. That idea that every customer who wants to do accounting on computers, or every customer who wants to do inventory, or manufacturing, has to figure out what computer to buy, what operating system to buy, what Cisco router and switch to buy, what database to buy, is just nonsense.

Companies should be experts in their business, and computing should be available on the Net as a service. So more and more, our business is changing from selling our applications to our customers to: We buy the computers, we run the applications, and you use it. We’ll be the experts. And you just pay us a monthly fee. That really is utility computing.”

7. Talent acquisition – Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees: Courtesy of People Soft Planet magazine, “

Geoff Squire, who ran various divisions of Oracle’s world operations from 1984 to 1993, described the manner in which Ellison selected new programmers and salespeople as “clinical,” Squire attributes Oracle’s success largely to the premium he has always placed on choosing the right candidates. “He really did hire very, very good people,” says Squire. Though Squire acknowledges that Ellison could quickly turn on his charges — as he puts it, “He backs people until he doesn’t” — he sees Ellison’s willingness to constantly refresh the talent pool as a strength. “People who do a great job don’t just get to stick around in companies forever,” says Squire, who is currently the non–executive chairman of Kognito, a U.K.–based data management firm. Despite the fact that he was cut loose shortly before the last of his stock options would have vested, Squire harbours no ill will, insisting that the fortune and experience he amassed at Oracle “set me up for life.” Squire’s trajectory is not unique: Oracle is often credited with creating the most millionaires in Silicon Valley; many of those ousted by Ellison went on to head tech firms that competed in the same high–profile realm. (Incidentally, in the midst of the Hurd debacle, Lane was named non–executive chairman of HP.) ”

A CIO needs to trust their gut instinct, as one can only learn a certain amount in an interview. I think, the strategic fit, is a very good measure. How will a new hire fit into the culture of the company? Will they enjoy it here? Have they worked in a similar culture before? The danger is that the culture could be so alien to the new hire, that they find it difficult to adjust.

Larry Ellison has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’ Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and as you know them personally, an informed decision can be made on whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

8. Spotting opportunities and innovation: LE – Courtesy of PeopleSoft Planet (with a few changes)When you’re the first person whose beliefs are different from what everyone else believes, you’re basically saying, “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong.” That’s a very unpleasant position to be in. It’s at once exhilarating and at the same time an invitation to be attacked.

There are really four phases. In phase one, everyone tells you you’re crazy and it’s the stupidest thing they ever heard. In phase two, they say, “There is some merit to the argument. It’s still crazy, but there’s some merit to it.” Phase three is, “Well, we’ve done it better than they have.” And phase four is, “What are you talking about? It was our idea in the first place.”

It’s fascinating as we continue to innovate and lead the way in both the application space and the database space. In the very beginning, people said you couldn’t make relational databases fast enough to be commercially viable. I thought we could, and we were the first to do it. But we took tremendous abuse until IBM said, “Oh yeah, this stuff is good.”

We were the first company that said all the applications had to be on the internet and not client/server. Everyone said that was a bad idea. That was 1995. Now everyone has moved all their applications to the internet.

And now we’re saying you have to have a suite—that this best-of-breed approach is crazy. You can’t sell parts that were never designed to fit together. They’re still saying we’re crazy about that. But it’s interesting, SAP and PeopleSoft are now advertising they have suites. Everyone has started using the “suite” word.

And so the four phases repeat over and over again. As long as we continue to innovate, I don’t think that’s going to change. When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.”

The lesson that can be learnt is that within IT we need to spot opportunities for improvement. It is not enough, however, just to spot them, the onus is to spot them and then to create an environment to leverage that opportunity and to make it happen.

For More Info:

Oracle – Larry Ellison Interviews by PeopleSoft Planet

Can Oracle survive Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison – The Source of Oracle’s Wisdom

Larry Ellison’s one man show

What Larry Ellison said about Cisco and Corporate Culture<

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle Corp.

Top CEO: Larry Ellison / Convinced that the future in high tech depends on consolidation, Oracle’s founder refused to give up on a PeopleSoft takeover, no matter what the obstacles

About.com –Larry Ellison

Hackers take up Larry Ellison’s challenge

Larry Ellison Slams HP Board: “Worst Personnel Decision Since The Idiots On The Apple Board Fired Steve Jobs Many Years Ago”

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Bill Gates selling windows

Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

“There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.”

Douglas MacArthur(1880 -1964) American General

Bill Gates (1955 – ) Microsoft Chairman and philanthropist

Today’s article is the fourth in a series of articles (1stSteve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, and 3rd was written on  Warren Buffet, analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

Gates has led Microsoft from start-up to‘software giant’ with quite an unorthodox style of management. On Microsoft’s website, he measures Microsoft’s success as, “We’ve really achieved the ideal of what I wanted Microsoft to become.”

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Gate’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Create and nurture ‘the correct culture.’ – ‘John Battelle co-founded Wired Magazine. He says Microsoft was the pioneer of the new-agey workplace, making work as comfortable, inspiring and fun as possible so workers would spend lots of time there.

John Battelle: And as a matter of fact, at Wired we adopted that stuff. We had a chef and a masseuse, all sorts of services, because we wanted our employees to stick around. I believe Microsoft gets a lot of credit for that.

Bill Gates didn’t even finish college, but the office culture he created at Microsoft is now being taught at the country’s top business schools.’ – Courtesy of Marketplace

2. Develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It. – From the beginning, he dreamed of developing Microsoft into a corporate giant. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

3. Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees. – CIOs usually have exposure to many different environments and come across many employees. Some will be better than others, while some will be outstanding. Gates has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’

Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and you personally know whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

4. Relax and feel at home – According to Matt Richey, ‘Microsoft has a simple way of maximizing its employees’ productivity: It allows each individual’s office to be as individualized as one desires.

That means making the office more like home. Everything from real offices (not cubicles) to windows in most offices, from free soft drinks to no dress code, from an open supply room to anything-goes work hours. Quite simply, these policies improve employee morale, and thus increase overall productivity.’

5. ‘Image’ is everything. – Gates has successfully changed his image over the years from a geek to corporate leader and philanthropist.

CIOs need to change their image from just being technology leader to leaders who understand business and can apply their strategic IT and business skills to the wider business.

6. Successful innovation and success in general may be built on failure: Yep, Gate’s has constantly had Microsoft innovating along. Currently though, as many large IT businesses employ smarter and smarter employees, time will judge who can innovate the most and bring to market technologies that have ‘stickiness.’

The question these companies have to ask themselves is that can employing ‘smarter’ employees stop the next Google , or Microsoft from raising its head?

For those who have been following my blog, I mentioned this ‘war’ state in Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality , Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour & Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Microsoft has proved that failure can lead to success and continues to innovate by investing in many technologies. Some will inevitably fail while others maybe huge successes. Many businesses lack of innovation is due to their fear of failures.

7. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – Gate’s, is known for his sharp cross examination of employees who present new ideas, innovations etc.

He analyses information quite quickly and gets to the bottom of the matter at a rapid pace. Employees have criticised this approach and associated quick, sharp, snappy analysis that at times is uncomfortable (in employee’s views). These qualities of Gate’s have enabled Microsoft to dominate personal computers (PCs). CIOs need to understand employee perspectives and ‘effectively quiz’ their teams on solutions being proposed.

8. Ruthlessly protect your ‘budget.’ – According to Matt Richey, ‘Even with its billions upon billions in cash, Microsoft is as frugal as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a company that buys canned weenies for food, not shrimp. Until last year (1999), even Bill Gates and his second-in-command Steve Ballmer flew coach. (For scheduling reasons, the company purchased its first corporate jet.)

Bucking the trend of most large, wealthy corporations, Microsoft remains in start-up mode where tight budgets are the rule. When you sit back and think about it, this frugality is less surprising and even explain how a company can come to accumulate such great hoards of cash.’

9. ‘Stop’ the ‘mad bureaucracy’ – I have mentioned this before in a post (can’t think of which one though) and it gets reiterated again by Microsoft. As Matt said, ‘The plague of most big companies is bureaucracy and stupid rules. Thielen gives the example of an un-named high-tech company that sent a four-page memo to all of its employees on proper security badge procedure, including infinitesimal details on how and where to wear the badge.

To that, Thielen states, “Does Microsoft manage to avoid this type of inane garbage? By and large, yes.” Unlike most companies, Microsoft actually assumes its employees are smart. Rules at Microsoft are few and far between, and the ones that exist tend to make sense. Having only a few important, logical rules means that employees actually remember and follow them.

Some Sources of Information and further reading:

How to be the next Bill Gates

Former MS employee recalls Bill Gates’ management style

The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management

Fiedler Model and Level 4 leadership