Posts Tagged ‘failure’

3 Keys to Successful Integration Projects

by Matthew Carmen on April 11, 2011

Integration Projects

When a company goes through a merger, acquisition, purchase of a business unit, a strategic partnership, etc, there are activities that need to take place to make multiple entities into one cohesive unit.  These activities include: reaching the stated financial goals of the combined new business through operational and departmental combination, the selection of ongoing IT systems, and cost cutting initiatives.  All of these tasks, that create the new company, are integration projects within the larger program.

According to research done by the consulting company NGTO, over 50% of mergers are considered failures and 60-70% of these failures are due to significant misses regarding financial goals tied to the merger.  For public companies – and these are the mergers that people hear and read about – the financial goals are the key.  The true goal of a company is to grow shareholder value, be those shareholders stockholders in a public company or partners in a private entity.  If shareholder value is not improved by acquisition or merger, then what truly was the point?

Further research done by my own firm Datacenter Trust shows that when failure occurs, it is most often due to the stoppage of the integration process after reaching a portion of the total goal; say the merger of business units or reaching the financial goal set by the companies upon announcement of a deal.  By stopping the integration process, the new entity never reaches the strategic state that it set out to accomplish through merger.  Without reaching this state, optimal shareholder value is either not attained (as happens in most cases) or takes much longer and is more costly than was originally estimated.

Mitigating Integration Failure

As a financial professional with nearly two decades of integration experience, I would love to tell you that all the keys to success are based on dollars saved vs. dollars spent, but this sadly would be a lie. If I said all integration projects are successful, this too would be untrue. What I can tell you is that communication is the largest factor in a successful integration project.  Communication is followed closely by understanding – meaning that the people who will be doing the work must understand what the future state of the new organization is meant to look like.  Finally, there is program management – empowering the community that will perform the integration projects while having clear leadership and participation from the executive suite to ensure the program is aligned with the overall strategic vision. Now, lets look at these 3 a bit more closely:

Communication

I cannot stress enough that communication is the largest factor in the mitigation of integration failure.  The executive leadership of the company must ensure that the execution team understands the goal and the look and feel of the future state organization.  Leadership also must make it clear that they are willing and active participants in the program being developed.  Leadership must serve as the sounding board and approvers of each project so as to ensure the entire integration program stays aligned with the evolving strategic vision.  Without communication, there is zero chance of successfully integrating the new organization as advertised to stockholders, employees and the public at large.

Understanding

Understanding is an offshoot of communication.  I would argue that if the execution team as a whole does not completely understand the job at hand, then the notion of communication was unsuccessful.  Also, there cannot be any weak links in the execution team; everyone from the project managers to the network and database administrators must fully understand how their role will ultimately lead to success.  Without understanding, members of the execution team will invoke their own decision rules (e.g. loudest demands, squeakiest wheel, bosses whim, least risk to job, easiest activity, etc.)  Allowing this type of behavior is asking for trouble.  Integration initiatives have a finite amount of time to be completed and must be with the utmost skill and timeliness.

Program Management

Finally we come to program management; the company needs to get the best program and project managers available for integration.  This might even mean going outside the company to contract with consultants specializing in these types of integration projects.  As stated above, the project needs to be completed on time, on budget, and most importantly it must succeed in meeting the goals.  Setting up a ‘program office’ to manage integration properly is an imperative.  The program office manages expectations both up the corporate ladder to the executive suite and down to all areas of the execution team.  Management of the individual project managers is an important area of the program office as well.  With a limited amount of resources, each member of the execution team needs to manage his/her time down to the minute (remember, these team members have regular jobs as well) as the ongoing operations of the company need to take place on a continuing basis.

Countless other activities will help an integration initiative to succeed, but those I’ve covered here are the main three.  In the end, there are many intangibles that come up on a minute-by-minute basis during the project engagement.  The real key is to keep in mind that great people always lead to better results:  Empower the execution team while managing the alignment of integration and the new corporate strategy, ask for external help if needed, ensure leadership is fully engaged, and you’ll be on the path to success.

Any worthwhile study of leadership begins with the realization that there is no foolproof formula for success. The “right” way to lead is most often a function of the organization and its people, and therefore highly dependent upon a large combination of stationary and moving parts. Many factors come into play, including the product or service provided by the organization, skill levels and experience of the work teams, organizational environment, and the personal attributes of the firm’s leaders. As these things change over time, good leaders are usually able to adapt by instinctively modifying their styles as required. If there is such a thing as a common denominator for success, it is trust between the workforce and its leadership. But there are many leadership styles that can achieve this result.

Leadership Styles

  1. Visionary Leadership. Simply put, a visionary is one who is able to see beyond that which most people accept as the norm, and is also able to inspire others to share his vision and help him make it a reality. This type of leader is very adept at inspiring others and influencing team members to improve or change. He is emboldened by his vision, often in the face of disagreement or inertia, to lead the way across a new road into sometimes uncharted territory. In doing so, he tends to walk a fine line between the ideal world he envisions and the real world with all of its obstacles and impediments.  History is replete with Visionary leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, just to name a few. The corporate world has had its share of visionary leaders too. Some of them include Lee Iacocca (former chairman of Chrysler Corporation), Sam Walton (founder of WalMart), and Helmut Panke (former chairman of German auto manufacturer BMW). Modern examples of corporate leaders who have adopted a visionary style are Steve Jobs (Apple) and Sir Richard Branson, whose successes with Virgin Group Ltd. is described here.
  2. Supportive Leadership. This style is characterized by leaders who are able to recognize those situations when people require more support than direction. This type of leader will never hesitate to express sincere appreciation for a job well done or to console an employee who happens to be going through a rough time. Supportive leaders are usually great listeners who also have an uncanny ability to tune in to the emotional signals around them. They make it a point to know their team members well so that they can take an active interest in them. An example of how this leadership style can be very successful is the Hewlett-Packard Corporation. Its co-founder, Bill Hewlett, was noted for genuinely caring about his employees while he was CEO. As part of his executive responsibilities, he regularly walked the floors getting to know his employees and becoming involved with their issues on a daily basis.
  3. Servitude Leadership. Closely aligned to the supportive style is the servitude leadership style. The two are similar in that both of them are characterized by a caring and concerned attitude. However, the servitude style is more action oriented and often has the leaders putting the needs of their subordinates ahead of their own. CEOs who subscribe to this leadership style involve their teams heavily in decision making and very often work hands on alongside their employees to get something done. A good example of the success of this style is Wal-Mart chairman S. Robson Walton, whose overriding mantra is to always listen to employee and customer needs. He has made this philosophy a guiding principle of his billion-dollar enterprise.
  4. Shared Leadership. The idea of a single figure at the top of an organizational hierarchy is no longer a given. This type of structure made a lot of sense when companies were smaller and less complex. But there is a growing trend, particularly in companies whose populations are large enough to rival those of some small nations, to institute a joint leadership arrangement with multiple heavyweights sharing power at the top. This model is often seen in large educational institutions, where the Dean and the President have cognizance over different domains but are both viewed as equal leaders. And to a growing extent, the concept is gaining popularity in the business arena too.

Over the last decade, the corporate world has seen the rapid rise of Google, which ascended to prominence under the direction of an executive management group comprised of three individuals who shared responsibility. Since that time, other companies have adopted a similar business model where company leadership is divided between engineering and sales. This structure has proven successful and has eradicated a lot of the bottlenecks and other problems plaguing extremely large corporations.

Right Leadership Style

So which of these leadership styles guarantees success? The answer is none of them. Anyone looking for a guarantee is looking in the wrong place. There are several approaches which have proven to work very well, but the key is to match the right leadership style to the right company. The sign of a good leader is someone who knows his organization well enough to find that custom fit.

Leader driven Harmony #7: Failure is required (Part II)

by Mack McKinney on January 14, 2011

In the previous post we learned about the danger of not experiencing enough failure in life and we watched John make a bad decision that could have gotten him killed.  We also talked about how well-meaning people who shelter us from failure can rob us of the mental toughness that we need to get through life, thereby actually increasing the chance of our failing later on in some major way.

In business we are seeing Gen-Yers enter the workforce having never been allowed to really fail at anything.  People who have tried and failed are much more attractive to most employers than people who have led sheltered lives, protected from failure, with teachers and parents hovering over them and protecting their increasingly brittle self-images.  Job applicants in this latter group often have fragile egos, cannot accept constructive criticism, and (worst case) may feel entitled to a career that is completely arranged and managed for them, not by them.  This is a recipe for career disaster.

Companies like to see some minor failures in a new hire’s past because they understand the value of the subsequent lessons-learned.  Candidates don’t list failures on their resumes, of course, so corporate interviewers in HR listen for “I made a mistake and learned from it” statements during job interviews:

  1. “I launched a small business in computer repair in high school but it failed after only a year.  I didn’t understand marketing and the local Geek Squad put me out of business pretty quickly.”
  2. “I started a business in web design but I could never afford the design software programs (Dream Weaver, etc.) that I needed to do a first class design.  So I learned the hard way about the importance of getting enough capital up front when you start a small business.”
  3. “I tried free-lance video production for a year but I could never buy a really good camera, so my videos couldn’t compete with established firms.  Also I had no formal training in camera work and I guess that showed.”

But just reading about other entrepreneurs’ failures won’t really drive the lessons home – – – only personally failing can do it.  Losing your own savings in a failed business venture is much more effective as a teaching tool than watching somebody else lose their savings.  Not catching a cash flow problem in time to fix it, and having to lay-off a friend who works for you, will teach you a banking lesson you’ll never forget.  The stakes are lower in school as opposed to the rough and tumble business world, but the lessons are even more important.  I hope you’ll learn (or DID learn) in school that:

  1. Failure is a part of life.  And getting past failure and learning from it are the most crucial of life-skills.  Not everyone in a class should get an “A” grade.  Some people should get failing grades and teachers who do this are doing the student a favor.  After about the third grade, not everyone on a sports team should get an award because, if they do, ALL the awards mean nothing.  The competitive spirit will be stifled.  There SHOULD be awards for the best students in a sport, class, contest, etc.  And parents of students who did not get an award should tell their children “Hey, not getting the award doesn’t make you a LOSER.  You were just not the winner. You’ll need to try harder next time.”  This builds determination, helps youngsters set high goals for themselves and work toward them, and helps them form a resilient character for protection against occasional disappointment.
  2. If well-meaning people are preventing you from ever failing, they are doing you no favors and you are not pushing yourself hard enough!  Ask them to let you climb out on a limb a little by permitting you to make non-life-critical decisions and then living with the consequences.  You’ll still want a safety net to prevent cataclysmic failures while you are learning the ropes, but you need to be allowed to screw-up!  My old flight instructor Larry Davis had my friend John as a primary flight student.  One day during pattern practice at the local airport, Larry emphasized the importance of maintaining flying speed and staying at the correct altitude.  After letting John get too low on the approach, and slightly (but not yet dangerously) slow, Larry said quietly and calmly “John, unless you do something pretty fast, we are both going to die.”  – – – Notice that Larry didn’t tell John WHAT to do. – – –  With heart now racing, John had to quickly scan across the gauges and see the low airspeed, and then see the low altitude on the altimeter, and then fix the problem by immediately adding power (gas) to speed the airplane up and start a climb to a safe altitude.  Larry let John feel the rising panic, and sort it out on his own.  He let him fail in his approach to landing and only intervened just short of a fatal outcome, perhaps also a self-preservation tactic in this case!   The story was embarrassing when retold around the airport and John learned the lesson well.
  3. If you are still in school, you need to get a little more “edgy” in your academic efforts.  My son is a senior in an Exercise Science program at a major university but instead of the normal progression into physical therapy after graduation, he is interested in medical school and surgery.  The college’s internship program pushed him toward spending all 480 hrs in his last semester “shadowing” a physical therapist.  But instead, he worked with the college and with a local hospital to build an internship program split among the hospital’s emergency room, the surgery department and physical therapy.  It had never been done and required a lot of schmoozing and coordinating but it is working!  He started this in time to either get it arranged, or not, by the deadline for internship arrangements.  And he had a back-up plan (480 hrs in a PT department) in case the other plan didn’t come together.  But he wanted to try the non-standard, custom internship approach and his college counselor had the wisdom to say “Sure, try it.  See if you can get the college to agree to it and then see if you can find a hospital willing to do it.  What the heck.”

So I am asking you to fail.  I am asking you to push yourself hard enough that you sometimes screw-up.  As you fail, don’t let your failures unnecessarily impact innocent people and don’t fail in catastrophic ways.  For example, risking your college savings on launching a competitor to Facebook might not be wise;  and moving to Nashville so you can meet Taylor Swift and have her fall in love with you doesn’t have much chance of succeeding.  But push enough in your hobbies, job, profession or academics that you fall short sometimes.  Set goals that stretch your performance.  And fail sometimes.  It is OK. You’ll learn the sting of failure, you’ll learn how NOT to do it next time, and you’ll develop the mental strength to fail, get up, and try something different.  Life demands failure but you get to decide when!   Paradoxically, the occasional failures on little things, through the years, will make you much less likely to make (or become) a major failure later in life.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Leader driven Harmony #6: Failure is required (Part I)

by Mack McKinney on January 7, 2011

Failure is Required!

If any of the following is true about you, you are in danger:

  • Your parents worried a lot about your self-image when you were growing up, so you got lots of encouragement
  • Your parents helped you with homework and projects so you could get a better grade or win the grand prize (and you often did!)
  • Everyone on your sports teams got a trophy for something (best helper, trying the hardest, etc.) so nobody would feel left out at awards banquets
  • Your parents set you up in your first business(es) and made all the tough decisions for you so you wouldn’t fail

These actions by loving, caring parents and coaches and teachers throughout the 80s and 90s have inadvertently helped create a generation of emotionally-dependent Generation-Y people (aka Gen-Yers or “Millennials”).  If you grew up during this time, you are likely affected.  But the condition can be corrected and no surgery is needed.  You just have to fail at a few things and you’ll be OK.  But you need to carefully choose the things at which you might fail (sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?).

In his outstanding book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell talks about his discovery that seasoned professionals (airline pilots, doctors, etc.) don’t really get good at their craft until they have accumulated roughly 10,000 hours doing it!  That is the equivalent of 5 years of five-day weeks, 8 hours each day.  And you can bet that, hidden in those hours are many successes and many failures.  Let’s look at just one profession, aircraft pilot, and talk about the training possibilities and we’ll look at two types of students:  those allowed to make mistakes and those prevented from making mistakes.  We’ll then compare the training they get with the way YOU have been treated by your teachers, coaches and parents and show you why that puts you in danger of being a failure in life!

When you learn to fly, your instructor’s technique is absolutely crucial in preparing you for the real world of safely flying an aircraft around the sky, navigating from place to place and talking to controllers and other pilots.  Most flight instructors, military and civilian, use a combination of teaching techniques, pushing students when their proficiency permits, allowing students to make small mistakes and learn from them, etc.  But unfortunately there are also two extreme teaching styles that we should avoid:

  1. The “Nanny Instructor” who intervenes constantly and prevents the student from making any mistakes
  2. The “Deep End Instructor” who teaches flying like some people teach swimming:  throw the student in the deep end of the pool and don’t intervene unless they are about to die.

We will leave the “Deep End Instructor” discussion for another day.  But a quick examination of the “Nanny Instructor” and a comparison to some parents and teachers and coaches, is interesting.  First, what do we see when students trained by Nanny Instructors finish their training?

  • They are not Prepared. Since they have not been allowed to make many mistakes and have a tiny mistake insidiously multiply into bigger mistakes, they are not prepared when that happens to them when flying alone.  So they are not prepared for many things that can go wrong in the air but more importantly they are not mentally prepared with the confidence they will need to think through the completely unexpected problems they will sometimes face.  If all mistakes are preceded by the instructor saying “now be careful – – – your airspeed is dropping” or “now the needle is moving so let’s start our turn to the runway” then the student will never hear the stall horn on approach (scaring the crap out of you as it warns of an impending, possibly deadly approach stall).  And the student will never have the scary experience of flying through the course to the runway and having to then figure out exactly where he is and then remember that he hasn’t started his descent on time and then overflying the runway and having to call the controller and embarrassingly ask for another approach.
  • They Panic: These students are more likely to panic when a series of problems hits them in rapid-fire succession because they have not been allowed to see those big problems develop in training because the instructor always intervened.  Unfortunately, panic can cause the brain to almost shut down, often leading to fatal mistakes (the aircraft crash of Robert Kennedy Jr. comes to mind).

In the next post we will show how YOU may be like my pilot friend John, who could have killed himself had it not been for the excellent training he had received.  We’ll also see if YOU are in danger because people have NOT let you fail sufficiently as you grew up and why you now may be perfectly set-up to fail big-time in your life. It is like an earthquake:  experts don’t worry about the geologic fault zones that rumble and shake frequently because those faults are releasing energy all the time.  Instead they worry about the quiet fault lines, where pent-up energy is increasing and could let go with catastrophic effect.   Are YOU that pending earthquake?  Are you being unknowingly set-up, by well-meaning family and friends, for a major failure?  And if you are, what can you do about it?  We’ll show you in the next post.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Working Hard – Still no progress?

by Vijay Peduru on August 18, 2010

We all work hard but don’t seem to make much progress. In a lot of organizations, people seem to be praised high for working long and hard, but they never seem to get promoted or get noticed. Why is this. It is because the definition of “hard work” changed. A lot of people still believe in the industrial age definition that hard work is using your “body” to work hard , but if we look at our current situation, the majority of us do work sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

Many people are not aware that we have transitioned to an information age from an industrial age. According to most economic historians, the Industrial age ended about 20Yrs ago in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down and the internet came up.

In the industrial age, working hard meant, using our body and working long hours i.e physical labor . That is how machines worked and humans had to work similar to machines and humans were rewarded for this.

Now though, the majority of us are not working with machines, we are working with computers using our mind more instead of our body. Now hard work means emotional labor.. exerting our mind. Sure, we still work on long hours and weekends, but this is still not working hard as hard work is still translating into long hours. As Seth Godin says ” Hard work meant more work in the past. But the past doesn’t lead to the future.The future is not about time at all. The future is about work that’s really and truly hard, not time-consuming. It’s about the kind of work that requires us to push ourselves, not just punch the clock. Hard work is where our job security, our financial profit, and our future joy lie.

A lot of successful people work the same hours or less than we work, but they are still successful.  They get ahead because they do the new “hard work” As Seth Godin says

“Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.”

So, the easiest way to do hard work is to love change,train ourselves to love challenges and question the status quo all by using and exerting our mind.

From now on, let us start training ourselves in baby steps to do the new “Hard work” i.e “exerting emotional labor”.

Plan C for your business

by Vijay Peduru on October 27, 2009

Big C Armband - yellowA new entrepreneur almost always gets an idea and thinks it is the coolest and the greatest idea. He safeguards it and when someone asks him he would say we are in “stealth” mode.  He dreams of how he would be on the covers of Fortune, Fast Company and Inc when his idea clicks and takes off.  The truth is no one really knows whether the idea will click or not.   About 50%of venture backed firms fail.

So, how does an entrepreneur increase his chances of Success.  He needs to Accept Change as normal and Be willing to Evolve. Nobody can escape change… the way I see it – Either you will confront change OR change will confront you. You choose. The best way is to accept that change happens and take advantage of it rather than be bogged down by it. Humans and a lot of other species on this planet survived and thrived by evolving themselves as the surroundings changed. Similarly, the best companies can survive, if they can adapt with the surroundings and evolve.

We would not have heard about Google, Hotmail or Paypal  if they stuck to their initial Plan (Plan A).  The founders quickly evolved their companies. They tried a business model and if that didn’t work, they changed it immediately and tried another. For Paypal, Plan A to Plan F didn’t work. Plan G as we know today worked marvelously and the rest is history. Google grew and could introduce so many products because it encourages a culture of experimentation and Failure. All these and other successful companies evolved by looking for opportunities caused by change in the marketplace and encouraging change and experimentation within their business.

This can happen only if the team is willing to make mistakes, Learn from it and move on. Our school system has trained us not to make mistakes and view mistakes are failures. This view might prove useful for someone working in a large corporation which has lots of restrictions to change, but for an Entrepreneur, mistakes need to be learned from, quickly, and then move on from.

In the old days, when a missile is fired, it had a fixed destination.. “Ready, Aim , Fire” .  Nowadays, thanks to modern technology, a missile , can be fired and then it’s course can be corrected midway. Tom Peters has a saying that goes – “Ready, Fire! Aim”. It is the same with a business. When we start the business , the business model is different and if it does not work, we correct course as we move.

Get ready to “Ready, Fire! Aim”…


Dirty Dozen #8 – Failure

by Rajesh Setty on October 20, 2009

dirty-dozen-failureThe earlier posts in this series are as follows:

  1. Dirty Dozen #1 – Luck
  2. Dirty Dozen #2 – Status Quo
  3. Dirty Dozen #3 – Complacency
  4. Dirty Dozen #4 – Mediocrity
  5. Dirty Dozen #5 – Indifference
  6. Dirty Dozen #6 – Impatience
  7. Dirty Dozen #7 – Common Sense

Today’s word is “Failure.”

Dictionary definition:
Lack of success

Whatever you do, in that, you either succeed or you…. LEARN.

One again, you might have noticed it above – the keyword is NOT fail but Learn!!

Think about it. However smart you are – it’s hard to get 100% of your decisions right.

If you agree, the next question – “What percentage of your decisions can you expect to get it right?”

Just to keep things simple, let us say you get 50% of your decisions right. This means that the other 50% of your decisions will be wrong. That is pure statistics. So every time you end up in a situation in the other 50% (the wrong category) you end up putting the “failure” label and lose time worrying about it giving you less time to capitalize on the “right” decisions and grow. You are creating a huge opportunity cost for yourself.

As the old saying goes, “It is not about falling down but bouncing back every time you fall down that matters.”

Since you can’t be immune to failure, you might always learn from it. If you don’t you lose twice – once from the failure and once from not being able to learn the lesson that failure is trying to teach you.

Whether you accept it or not, failure is an integral part of the game of life. You can’t change it. However, if you do accept it, you have a new source of power as you can bounce back quicker from your failures. This will instantly provide you with some “extra time” focus and further increase the chances of success in the near future.

You can listen to the audio here:

Note:

Illustration by Ming. Ming is the creator of the Fantasy Story webcomic. He is also a freelance illustrator, designer, painting instructor and occasional luxury car salesman. Ming is based in Penang, Malaysia. You can find him on twitter @Artmaker