Monday, November 25, 2013

The powers in an organization

This post is about the powers in an organization. It might sound a little "Machiavellish", but I hope the innovators can take it as a practical guide on how to make things happen in an organization. One might also think that powers, diplomacy and politics are things that do not belong to innovative organizations, but it is not so. Politics and diplomacy are normal parts of any organization that consists of human beings. For example did you hold trading negotiations with your brother/sister about candy, cleaning, money etc? If even brothers/sisters negotiate and argue about who makes decisions then it is only natural that organizations consisting of hundreds of people have similar processes. It is the transparency and the objectiveness of decision making that is important.

But now lets discuss the power that an Innovator needs to consider when trying to improve things. Firstly lets look at the formal and visible powers. There are three types of things that someone with a power can rule:
- The money
- The people
- The right to accept a solution, decision, process etc.
For example an Innovator might want to stop paying for Exchange licenses and change the E-mail platform then he needs acceptance for the following:
- A budget for changing the servers, systems
- Acceptance for getting help from the IT department - the time of the E-mail systems administrator
- General acceptance from the high-level management because they need to agree with all the employees about the change
- Depending on the organization also acceptance from IT security, IT architecture etc.

Besides formal powers there are also informal powers and leaders in an organization. Mostly the informal leaders are the same as the formal ones but in many cases you can notice that some of the formal leaders can influence more and some less. Sometimes there are specialists that are informal thought leaders in their areas and whose opinions are influental. There are also concrete ways on how to become an informal or a thought leader. I could suggest from my experience that learn a lot, work a lot, have success and most importantly be friends with as many people as possible work. Vice versa - if one tries to be smart and get to be influencial through intrigues and manipulation then the success can only be limited in time or one even loses all the trust built up with hard work.

What I want to say with all this is that the power structure is a part of any organization and one should not be afraid of "politics" - it is always there. However - good top managers build the structures so that decision making is transparent, honest and objective. Priorities are given to projects that show the best results not those that are the favoured by someone in the "inner circle".

For Innovators it is important not to get de-motivated by the power structure, the first/second/tenth "NO" and keep on going. It is important to gradually build up trust by doing great things and learning how the organization works. I would also recommend avoiding smart relationship tactics as much as possible and substitute that with learning to understand what others need and trying to help them in their quest forward.

Friday, October 11, 2013

IT and telecommunications product development project manager needed!

We are looking for a project manager in our product development team called The Cloud Services Factory. Here is the official announcement: http://ts.easycruit.com/intranet/elion/vacancy/1063875/66841?iso=ee Let me know if you are interested!

Friday, June 28, 2013

What they don't teach you on innovation courses

In a few weeks there will be the annual Innovation Summer Academy hosted by Tallinn Technical University. It will be a great event and if you have a chance then do participate!

However, there are things that are almost never taught on such courses. Skills necessary for innovation and product development (especially in big corporations) that are never mentioned in neither innovation management books nor trainings. Hereby I would like to fill in that hole a little bit. Otherwise it so often happens that people come back to work after innovation trainings full of ideas and then just get smashed by the corporate world.

So let's begin! Let's say you have an idea of a new product that your employer should launch and you want to make it happen. How should you proceed?
Before you do anything take a moment and think it over - are you sure you want to do this? It will be hard, it might take years, it most probably will fail. If you do decide to go forward (and you should - we only live once) then keep in mind to be persistent, you will be beaten down, but you have to rise up.

The first thing to do is that you need to build support for your idea. Support of your team members, friends, your manager, other stakeholders in your company. This is a process where soft approach works way better than overruling. If you go to people and say "I have an idea, what do you think of it and how would you do it?" then that works much better than the "I have an idea, we need to do that, let's go." The prior gets people thinking along, the latter makes people think why not to do it. In the latter case the idea will stay yours (with a possible first opponent), in the prior case it will be a shared idea.

OK, so let's say you gain some momentum and your team members and friends like the idea. Liking by the way does not mean that anybody would actually do anything about it, but they will help you later on....hopefully. Another crucial element of that first building support phase is that the idea itself should now be much better thanks to multiple people giving it a thought and adjusting it.

 So now it is time to step into the powerplay. Some might call this internal politics or lobbying, but it is part of every organization and depending on the managers and culture, it sometimes is worse. "Power" can be divided into three areas. These are The money (or budget), The people and The decision process. Depending on the size and type of organization some managers might possess two or even three of these powers, but in the worst case the powers are split up and you have multiple budgetary committees, decision boards and team leaders that all need convincing. The problem is that in most cases it is "all or nothing" - either you get an OK from all the powers or you cannot run the development. To make matters worse it sometimes is not even clear who really are the decision makers or the decisions are made somewhere behind closed doors. But you need to know that there is not an organization in the world where there are not internal politics. You have to go through this phase and there will always be opponents.

If you manage to build an interested team and you manage to get all the necessary decisions then it is time to start the actual work. And yes by now it might be months or years since you sat down and decided that you really want to do this. While working it is also important to note that the more people you get thinking and working along the better. Make it "our project" not "your project". One of the dangers is that if the lobbying phase left an important manager or specialist in the opposition or he was overruled you should expect some resistance. There are always people who are expecting you to fail so they can say "told you so....". But it is never too late to try to fix it and get them onboard. It sometimes works, but .... not always.

Last, but not least, the development and launch of a new service is always long and hard work. It is expensive, it is difficult and it is depressing. But you should not give up... because if it would be easy, then the competition would have done it a long time ago. :-)

So this is how you do it! Hopefully your idea was good, because all this brainstorming around the idea, internal lobbying, analyzing and decision boards have taken a huge toll on your employers resources.

In this whole process it is important that you always remain honest and open. If you go too deeply into intrigues then you will lose trust and that you can only do once. Keep in mind also that after a while you will want to develop the next idea and the friends you got while doing the first project will help you, whilst the enemies will oppose. So the best strategy is to have only friends. :-)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Artificial intelligence taking over

In recent years an interesting discussion about artificial intelligences presence in our everyday life has started up. It is somewhat un-noticed that we have come to an era where artificial intelligence is starting to take over work, decisionmaking and even jobs that no-one could ever predicted. Here is an interesting TED talk from Ken Jennings who was the best jeopardy player and then was beaten by a super computer. I think this trend is very important, most probably it is un-avoidable and it is important for humankind to notice that. Let us think of a few examples.

The most scary and almost un-noticed example is that of the high-frequency trading on stock markets. Read here more about it. In essence artificial intelligence owned by investment banks and capital funds are driving now over half of the trades on stock markets. So how did it happen that we now have a casino, where computers are playing with our pension money? It never was a conscious decision, it just happened.

Does anyone now how Facebooks artificial intelligence chooses which posts you see on your wall? Are you driving Facebook or is Facebook influencing you and your relations? If posts of some people are constantly on your wall and posts by others are never shown to you then it does influence your relations doesn't it?

But these are just two first examples and there is more. Google is suggesting us things in the search and influencing our choices by doing so. Spotify and Youtube have a significant influence on which music we listen to. But that is just the beginning. What will the future be like? Especially when the interaction between the world and artificial intelligence becomes better and easier. And it will....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to make it so that people working in a big corporation would feel and work like in a family business?

"How to make it so that people working in a big corporation would feel and work like in a family business?" This is a vital question if one wants to run a successful big corporation. It is the employees who make the difference between good and bad service and success and bankruptcy. If the employees work with the same care and soul like they do in a family business then the chances of success are great. So how to achieve this?

In my experience the maximum number of people in a team that acts like a "family business" is somewhere between 10-20. If the number of people in a team grows over 20 then it becomes hard to keep a 100% one family feeling and a split into smaller units is advisable. So if there are hundreds or thousands of employees then the key question becomes how to organize them. A corporation having such a number of employees is probably offering more than one service or its service can be logically divided into different areas.
 The first and the most logical way of organizing a company is around the services. For example let's take an imaginary company offering 5 quite different services ranging from "Home entertainment" to "Sales of gadgets". The way one could organize this company is to have units or divisions that offer these services. For example have the Simpsons family taking care and developing the "Home entertainment" service.
In a setting like this it is quite easy to create "a family business" mood. All you need is to give Homer good  management training, set proper goals, let him pick his team and give some time. Everybody in the "Home entertainment" and also other teams knows what is their role at work. The focus is on the service and on the customers. The end-to-end responsibility for the service is in place and the first manager who can address rising problems due to different opinions or personalities is low in the hierarchy. Which is good.

But there are a few downsides to this structure. These are due to the "us-and-them" line being between service teams and they will appear in two ways. The first issue will appear if there is a need or a business opportunity to jointly offer services. For example if there are customers using two or more services and want to use just one Customer Support phone number or the business managers see that offering two services for 1,5 price would be an opportunity. The joint offering demands very much effort in an organization like this because the "us and them" line that lies between the teams needs to be crossed. The second issue are costs. This issue has a real component - for example running multiple customer databases is surely a waste and in the worst splits there could even be multiple offices to house the different teams. There is also an imaginary cost issue. Imaginary meaning that it looks like a savings opportunity but actually is not. For example one might think that if Lisa is visiting the customers and telling them about "Home entertainment" she might as well tell them about Games and sell them some gadgets at the same time. This opportunity is imaginary as enforcing this change either means a lot of training for Lisa or less time at the customer or less expertise from Lisa.

Anyway sooner or later the organization reaches either an economical downturn or a reformist manager who sees that the problems of having service based teams are too big and it is time to reorganize. The answer to all the problems that a service based organization structure has is a function based structure. Something like this:
In this model the teams are organized according to the functions. Lisa and Marge can now sell all the services. The sales process will be therefore effective. (or will it?) Homer, as a seasoned manager, is now head of all the Customer Support, not only the Home entertainment. His goal - offer the best Customer Support for all the services with the least costs and to unify the tools and processes of Customer Support.

By implementing this structure pretty soon all the co-operation problems between services start disappearing and everything will be OK....? Well.... not exactly. If all the teams are working towards their goals and the managers are good in trying to build an in-team "family business emotion" then the in-team processes will become effective, costs will be low, but so will also be the level of service. As no-one is taking care of the end-to-end service then the quality will become low, there will be process brakes. The marketing team would launch a huge campaign at the same time when customer support is laying off people and tech support is changing the platform. Or more commonly - everyone is making their processes effective and no-one is actually developing the service. This will in turn affect the motivation of the employees and one can never have a family business like emotion in an organization model like this. But this is not to say that a model like this is not suitable for some organizations. For example utility companies offering water or electricity and not in the need to keep up with the radical development and competition work probably best and most effective in a structure like this.

So how to make a family business like way of working in a large organization? The truth lies between these two extremes. In an official or un-official matrix structure. (Well I never thought I would propose it. :-)) One could have both groups who are organized according to functions, but also virtual teams that are organized to provide and develop the services or vice versa (does not really matter). The service teams could and must use the function teams as resources and co-operate tightly with them. Perhaps something like this:

In this scheme Homer could be given the authority to build a team of both his team members and get support in the way of contact persons from other teams. It is important though that he can tell all the team members that they are one team and are making the best service for their customers. The team is also fully responsible for the service and cannot blame anyone else for problems.

However some important notes about this and organizational structures overall:
- The simpler the better
- Structure and especially virtual teams should be made according to the people in the company and their will and not vice versa.
-  Everyone should have at least one (virtual) team - a family - that works with the same services, topics or problems as (s)he.
- It sometimes might be that the heads of the virtual teams (with no official employees) must be more capable, more energetic and probably even higher paid than some of the line managers. Because if in a setting like this you have a bad line manager then it influences one part of the service and can be fixed by the virtual teams working directly with the specialists. But if you have a weak virtual-team service manager then you lose the whole service together with the family feeling.

And it is in these service based virtual teams that the family feeling can be created and they will be the cornerstones of the organization.