Posts Tagged ‘education’

From the time the idea of a company was developed, those who control the purse strings (finance) and those who manage the income (sales, operations, and marketing) are often adversaries.

A frequent igniter of these tensions is a situation where an operations or business group wants to quickly move forward with a project (XX optimization, for example) which requires a capital investment.

Before approving funding, however, the finance organization must complete its due diligence by quantifying the benefits outlined in the business case. This timing gap often creates a bottleneck and uncertainty about the projects’ implementation and/or timing.

These bottlenecks can be avoided by all stakeholders working together to build a strong, interactive relationship around the project.   Keys to building this relationship are education, communication, and ultimately, including the finance team in your project.  The capacity to master the first two skills will lead to your finance organization becoming a trusted advisor and consistently being invited to serve as an active participant in your strategic initiatives.

Education

It’s a two way street.  With over a dozen years of providing strategic financial support, I have consistently found that education is the first step in building bridges to a better working relationship.  It is as much a necessity for the financial person to understand what the operations groups do, and vice versa.  While working at a for-profit healthcare organization, I held a weekly course for 10 weeks in order to educate the IT infrastructure group management team on the objectives of the finance group and how a working knowledge of finance objectives can add value to the IT organization and help them – and the company overall – to become more successful.  Once the course was completed, the IT management team understood why and how their involvement in budgeting and financial planning is important to the company’s operations, why their participation in the ‘month-end close’ process is crucial to meeting the goals of the company, and also why the building of business cases for all projects is essential for long-term financial planning and overall success.

I have also found that, from the financial team side, learning what the operations groups do, and how they do it, is vital to the success of a financial analyst.  By fostering an active relationship with my ‘customer’ – the operations team – and understanding how they manage IT facilities, call centers, or manage hardware environments, I was consistently able to develop a better relationship with these supported groups – and we always celebrated our successes together.

Communication

This begins with the education phase and continues to build a foundation of trust.  Once the financial representation and the operations groups understand what the other does, it becomes easier to support the others’ efforts.  The key to effective financial communications is to remain consistent with operational or business partner requirements, and to be cognizant of the execution of new requirements and their execution. Make no mistake – the execution of these objectives can be difficult at times; this means the month-end close process must run the same way each month, and the systems of the budget process are changed as little as possible each year.  The information required to develop a business case is the same, regardless of the project.  In the event any strategic change does occurs,  any corresponding  changes in financial requirements need to be carefully considered and communicated so as to not to compound further disruption to the organization. Once consistency is achieved, the analyst and the group he or she supports can get to real work, the work of optimizing the business and reaching the ultimate goals of the company:  profitability, social goals, etc. This is the trusted advisor stage.

The trusted advisor

This is the ultimate goal of the financial representative, and where the fun begins.  As an analyst, I remember my colleagues consistently stating that the most boring part of their job was the “regular” work.  My experience is, once you have a system in place for achieving positive results in a routine activity such as the month-end close, that task often becomes mundane. For a corporate finance person, the interesting work is that which includes participation leading to realizing corporate goals.  Ways in which the financial analyst can participate in this process include performing lease vs. buy analyses for new equipment and software purchases, finding savings within a project, conduct audits to make sure the company is ‘getting what it pays for’ from each of the many vendors and service providers, and also establishing metrics and key performance indictors (KPIs) to put dollar figures on operational measurements and use this information to make key business decisions, etc.  Serving as a trusted advisor to the operations management team can be exceptionally rewarding; it allows an analyst to be creative and to develop solutions that help to both ensure a successful project and contribute to the company reaching its goals.

Achieving the role of trusted advisor and building that relationship between finance and the operations groups is important to the success of the entire organization.  The more adversarial the relationship, the more difficult it becomes to complete the work – both the monotonous (yet necessary) work and the creative solution work.  Once these barriers are eliminated – from either the operational or financial end (or both) – all jobs become easier, more efficient, and much more rewarding to each employee.  Motivated employees will not get excited about doing the same job every day. To them, variety and professional growth are the spices of life, and job functions in all areas of the company become more efficient when the relations between all groups within the company are high

Quality #14: Process Improvement and 3E’s

by Tanmay Vora on January 25, 2010

The next installment in the QUALITYtweet series is: Process Improvement and 3E’s

Here are the first thirteen posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture
  13. Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

#QUALITYtweet Lack of 3E’s can be your biggest road blocks

in improvement journey. Empowerment, Education,

and Empathy

There are many reasons why a lot of improvement initiatives fail. However, top three reasons for most of the failures are:

1)      Lack of Empowerment

2)      Lack of Education and Training

3)      Lack of Empathy

Lets carefully look at each one of these culprits, and what you can do about it:

Empowerment

All improvement starts from the top. Most of the top leaders would claim that they want their processes to improve and efficiencies to increase. However, their best intentions to improve processes do not translate into actual commitment to improve. They assign responsibility of process improvement to a group but tend to bypass the processes themselves for short-term benefits. Worst yet, they assign responsibility of process improvement to a team and then reallocate the same team when faced with an immediate need of those resources. Leaders set a wrong precedence when they do this, and often create a culture where bypassing processes is considered normal. Lack of empowerment also means that people are not allowed to make mistakes. As a consequence, people responsible for or interested in process improvement initiative soon lose interest and move on and organization looses substantial time and effort already spent so far.

What can you do about it?

  • Map your intentions with your actions on process improvement.
  • Assign ownership and divert all communication related to improvement at one point.
  • Set expectations clear on goals and purpose of process improvement initiative.
  • Welcome innovation and let your improvement team make mistakes.
  • Announce your process improvement goals and track the progress.
  • Announce the results as well.
  • Periodically review improvement efforts and results.

Education

Either most people are not aware of the best practices or they don’t know how to apply those practices in given situations. Technology folks are deep into technology, but they don’t necessarily go deep into processes and practices. This is where continuous education is required. People need to be trained on processes and best way to implement them. When people don’t know the process, no wonder they will not use it optimally.

What can you do about it?

  • Set up a process training calendar throughout the year.
  • Ensure that all new processes, practices are propagated across the organization.
  • Set up a process advisory function for current/new projects.
  • Create best practices group and empower them to explore/share their expertise.
  • Have right knowledge management tools that help you in spreading process awareness.

Empathy

Process improvement can only be effective when process has an “empathy” element into it. If applied rigidly, processes can become your biggest barrier in solving your customer’s immediate problems. Empathy means accepting that processes may still not be able to solve all your/your customer’s problems. Empathy also means accepting that processes cannot be rigidly applied to all situations.

What can you do about it?

  • Understand the situation in which processes are applied.
  • Understand the larger context.
  • Assess if processes can be applied in an “as-is” state or would it need some tweaking.
  • Learn from unique situations and improve processes to include those scenarios.

As a first step to your process improvement journey, even if you focus on these Three E’s, your journey will become much easier and fun

Entrepreneurial lessons from Amritsar

by Himanshu Jhamb on December 28, 2009

amritsar_golden_templeI recently visited the holy city of Amritsar – home to the famous Golden Temple, the most revered shrine for Sikhs. Little did I know that my intended spiritual pilgrimage would turn into an entrepreneurial pilgrimage as well. It all started with a chance meeting with the owner of the hotel where we were staying, Mr. Ajay Kapoor. My brother and I were looking for an internet connection and were escorted to Mr. Kapoor’s office, for that purpose. It did not take us long to strike a conversation with Mr. Kapoor and find out that not only was he the owner of the hotel where we were staying but also an entrepreneur at heart. Many stories were shared but one of them stood out that I’d like to share, in Mr. Kapoor’s own words.

I do not have a lot of formal education but what I do have is a lot of practical, on-the-field education. One of the key things I have learnt over the course of my entrepreneurial career (Mr. Kapoor has been running various kinds of businesses for more than 30 years now) is that Relationships are fundamental in building any business. My son is pursuing formal education in Australia and I help him out a bit, financially. I do not send him money directly, I send the money to friends of mine in Australia and then ask them to hold on to it until my son comes and picks it from them… and I tell my son to visit these friends of mine and collect the money from them. Sometimes, I even send envelopes with “Very Important” written on them to my acquaintances (some of them are very accomplished folks) and request them to hold on to those until my son shows up to collect the envelope… and what I send inside the envelopes is a simple letter addressed to my son, that just says “I love you”.

I was quite moved by Mr. Kapoor’s story because it contained deep practical knowledge of an important lesson in entrepreneurship, in the simplest of ways – Relationships matter, big time! All Mr. Kapoor is constantly doing is increasing his son’s capacity by creating an opportunity where he can show up at the doorsteps of these accomplished people and coordinate some action with them. You never know which one would blossom into a rewarding relationship for life.

Here are a few other lessons in Entrepreneurship I took away from Amritsar:

  1. It is all about the People: Mr. Kapoor insisted we address each other by our names and said that that is just his philosophy. According to him, without names, people just end up as titles once they are gone and that is just common practice that will generate mediocre results for the business.
  2. Competitive Advantage: Our train was late the night we reached Amritsar and by the time we got to our hotel it was 11:30PM. We had a full 3 course meal before we went to bed, something that would be a luxury in most hotels (keep in mind we were not in a 24 hours service 5-star hotel, but a local hotel in this holy city). The hot meal, after a tiresome journey, just hit the spot and this does give Mr. Kapoor a competitive advantage over those that do not provide this service, that late.
  3. Personal Touch: By the time we were done with our day trip, the next day, we were quite tired. Being a little short on time (we were leaving at 5AM next morning), I could not imagine leaving without eating the city’s favorite delicacy – Amritsari fish. Mr. Kapoor not only arranged for it for us but also accompanied us on our table with his charming company, while we savored the delightful dish. We were simply “Wowed” by the Personal touch he extended as part of his fantastic hospitality.
  4. Trust from the ground up: Mr. Kapoor lives and works with his brothers where he and his brothers run the common business and the entire family treats the resources as a common pool – which he fondly called “Swimming Pool”. I was awed by the mere thought of how much one can learn about trust, a fundamental virtue in every business, just by living and working in this model.

While sitting on the train on my way back to Delhi, I could not help but reflect back on my trip to Amritsar, where I got much more than what I had bargained for – Not only was I fortunate to take my grandmother to the sacred pilgrimage, but also inadvertently was taken on an entrepreneurial pilgrimage of my own – thanks to Mr. Kapoor.

So you think you are educated…

by Himanshu Jhamb on November 27, 2009

educationWhile I was growing up, I was told that the meaning of education is going through the motions of schooling followed by a professional collegial degree. For about 80% of my life, I held onto that as the truth. It took a lot of stagnation in my career and also the mundane routine of doing the same thing day-in and day-out to shake me out of my tranquility. There is a saying about teachers – “Teacher shows up when the Student is ready”. I was ready… and my teachers showed up. Over the next 3-4 years I surrounded myself with teachers and learned what it really means to be educated.

Here is what I learnt:

  1. Education is not only about gaining the knowledge of something as in memorizing facts or formula, it is also about knowing when to apply what to produce situations that you want for your future.
  2. Education is about learning new distinctions that give you the power of noticing what has gone unnoticed so far… and is perhaps even (without your knowledge) running you or your life.
  3. Going through the motions of school and college is a part of education as it makes you minimally viable in the marketplace – but that’s not where it should stop. Learning, like living life, is a continuous process.
  4. Education is not just about knowing … it is, in fact, more about doing.

The last point is beautifully depicted in a story about Henry Ford, in the book The magic ladder to Success by Napolean Hill. The story goes something like this:

During World War II, Henry Ford brought a suit against one of the national newspapers for calling him Ignorant. The lawyers of the newspaper asked Ford a number of questions for quite some time in front of the jury at the trial trying to prove that Ford was, indeed, ignorant. One of the questions asked was “How many soldiers were sent by the British in the war of 1776?” Ford’s response was “I don’t know how many were sent but I have heard that it was a lot more than ever went back”. Ford continued to play with them zestfully, often responding with such witty answers to more of these testy questions… until a point when he grew really frustrated with a rather insulting question. He said “If I should really wish to answer the foolish question you have just asked or have been asking let me remind you that I have a row of buttons hanging over my desk. By pressing the right button, I could call in any number of people who would give me the correct answer to all the questions you have asked and to many that you have not the intelligence to either ask or answer. Now, will you kindly tell me why I should bother about filling my mind with useless information in order to answer all foolish questions you have to ask, when I have able people around me whom I can call on, if I really need the answers to these questions?”

Henry Ford had little elementary schooling, but, clearly he was one of the most educated men in his times. He probably did not have a lot of knowledge but he more than compensated for the lack of it, in his application and doing… The fact that he is a legend, now, is proof enough for that.

If you are at a point where you feel stuck or stagnated in your career, perhaps a place to look would be your “knowledge gap” and be careful with how you read what I just wrote – I use the word knowledge in the context of doing, now knowing.

The Blinding Task Orientation

by Himanshu Jhamb on October 12, 2009

Task OrientationThere are countless instances in my life when I have wondered why my hard work has not paid off the way I had expected it to ‘coz I had heard so many times (from so many people) that it really pays to work hard. Evidently, I was missing something. My quest for solving this mystery led me to investing in my education (after a drought of almost a decade), finally, and I learnt why hard work, by itself, is not enough to get the results that we are after.

I realized that the way I was working was self-defeating in itself. Yes, I was working long hours (very long hours), I was tired, sweating-it-out and simply slogging it out. I was doing what I was told and I worked really hard to finish it in time and when I was done with that one thing, I went to the next task. What totally escaped me was that in “task-orientation” i.e. my single-mindedness of completing the task; I was simply blind to the overall purpose of what I was doing and in the process, did not end up producing much although it felt like I had moved a mountain (or two!).

If you can identify with this feeling… keep reading…

As an example of what “Task Orientation” looks like (or shows up as) in real life, a recent event comes to mind. I was working with a team member on a project where we were figuring out a piece of software on how we can make it work for using it to deliver some audio/video content. My astute colleague figured it out pretty quickly and I requested him to send out an email with detailed instructions on how to use the software to the rest of the team so that everyone can start utilizing it to do their work more effectively. My colleague sent out the email in the next 15 minutes with 3-4 brief steps and the final step (which was where the meat was) was garbled (perhaps a result of a shoddy cut/paste attempt). 3 out of 4 team members responded for clarifications and a flurry of emails followed to rectify the situation. Imagine how easy it would’ve been if my dear colleague would’ve given just a little more time to thinking of the PURPOSE of the request rather than treat it as just a “Task” that had to be taken care of quickly. The difference is admittedly, subtle, but the consequences, unfortunately, are not.

I have been culprit of many such emails in the past… (and I apologize now to all those who received those emails from me that added “Cost” to their life) and have learnt to take care by following a few simple rules to take care of my natural inclination to the “Task orientation” in my work and not get trapped in it. Here are a few of my simple rules:

  1. Know the recipients of your emails: Who are you writing to? Are they aware of the context of your email? If not, provide some background before you dive into what you have to say.
  2. Know your recipient’s proficiency in what you will be talking about in your email. So, for example, you will be writing a very different email if you are giving technical instructions to a group of developers vs. a group of managers.
  3. Make sure the links or any references you provide in your emails, WORK. Test them out yourself before sending the email out. It is “Very Costly” for the recipients to click on the links you provide in your email that do not work.
  4. Cutting & Pasting (especially software code or configuration stuff): If you are cutting/pasting anything that you want others to take “as-is”: Cut/Paste it in the email body and also cut/paste it in a simple text editor (e.g. notepad); save the file; attach it and then send the email. The attachment serves as a backup plan. It takes care of the situation in which any “hidden” or “Special” characters inadvertently find their way in your email and gives your recipient a “second-chance” to receive what you wanted to send them without them going through the trouble of sending you another email asking you to resend the cut/paste text. That’s a HUGE Cost Saving!
  5. Include your signature at the end of your emails: How many times have you received emails from others, had a question you wanted to speak to them about immediately but could not get in touch with them because all you saw at the end of the email was a “Thanks!”? Do your recipients (and yourself) a favor – Do not be that person.

Imagine the assessments you trigger at the other side of the email with your recipients in your everyday communications. Imagine how you’d show up for them in your emails  if you “took care” to write emails with these rules. You will show up as someone who really “cares” for their time and your time. On the other hand, “Task orientation” only produces lots of activity… not necessarily productive and leaves people with quite a few negative assessments about you.

The choice is yours… and so are the consequences of it!

Choose with care!