Wednesday 30 September 2015

The best way to ensure career success

Amrit Thind
A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to Amrit Thind, who is taking an MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at ESADE Business and Law School in Barcelona. He explains what he sees as the best way to ensure career success.

MCE : In your recent experiences as a student, what are business schools NOT putting into their curriculum that you think should be on the ”MUST teach them” list?

Amrit Thind (AT): Business Schools are increasingly moving away from standardized teachings; too often students tend to only enter the professional world with a strong understanding of management principles, financial fundamentals, and the basics of large industry to assist them in their job hunt. However, what students lack nowadays is a basic ability to solve problems.
For the past decades European educational systems have spoon-fed students problems and accordingly the right solutions. Students don’t tend to make many mistakes. This needs to change. For example, the MSc Innovation & Entrepreneurship program at ESADE Business & Law School has a different approach to educating their students: The course is very much built on practical principles, providing students with an array of different problems to solve: starting an innovative new venture from scratch, for instance. This gives students the freedom to identify problems and figure out how to solve them however they best see fit. More importantly, making mistakes is a crucial part of the process.
MCE: What life/work experiences do you think that you NEED to have to become an effective people manager and respected leader?

AT: Working in teams and taking on various roles with different people is absolutely key to becoming an effective people manager and respected leader. No matter where you work, people will always challenge you. The sooner you learn to manage individuals with different personalities, backgrounds, mindsets, and working styles, the better.
Moreover, if you want to become an effective people manager and respected leader, it is also crucial for you to allow yourself to be managed by someone else in order to identify how it would be working for yourself. Reflecting on who you are and what you do is often more revealing than anything else in developing strong managerial and leadership skills. 
MCE: If you could choose to spend 24 hours with any business/management guru/thinker what would be your choice and why? (Basically – who IS your hero?)

AT: I would love to spend 24 hours with the authors of Freakonomics, University of Chicago economist, Steven Levitt, and New York Times journalist, Stephen J. Dubner.

Whilst their infamous book is already a decade old, I try to listen to their podcasts on Freakonomics Radio as often as possible. They talk about incredibly interesting topics, often discussing every-day issues and unveiling unexpected results. For example, do you know what “temptation bundling” is? Or did you know that the ability to think like a child could be incredibly fruitful in idea generation and developing creativity? I would highly recommend Freakonomics Radio for anyone who is looking for some intellectual stimulation during the commute. If you don’t know where to get started pick up any of the podcast episodes. It will definitely hook you.

MCE: Despite the fact that it appears to be a young people’s world, it looks like we are going to have to work until our 70s. What’s your thinking about keeping yourself up-to-speed current and relevant in your personal career cycle?

 AT: I believe there are two elements that are crucial in keeping yourself up-to-speed and relevant in your personal career: Innovation and the ability to sell - yourself and your product or service.

Innovation is key because it is what companies rely on to continually grow and stay differentiated. In fact, without innovation, corporations become arrogant and die. Therefore, staying innovative doesn’t only mean that you need to keep in touch with the modern world and technology – which is often overwhelming in and of itself. More importantly, never become arrogant and always listen to your customers. This is not just a lesson for your professional career; it is a lesson for life.

Sales are key because, ultimately, everything boils down to sales: You may have an impressive personality and skill set; you may have amazing work experience and a wonderful CV; you might have the most incredible product or service in the world. But if you don’t know how to quantify your value proposition, identify your customer, and understand their needs as well as match your solution to their needs, you will be forever stuck in the same place.

Whilst innovation and sales are important, I believe that, if we are going to have to work until our 70s, it is equally important to take a step back and breathe every once in a while. The world moves so fast nowadays. We are constantly bombarded with information and things we should do: Emails, LinkedIn, WhatsApp Messages, and Facebook notifications – it is easy to become overwhelmed. Step back and breathe – if you are going to work into your 70s, you better find a way to enjoy it. 

Thursday 24 September 2015

Leading Maverick Managers

VIEWPOINT: Innovative thinkers are often mavericks. Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, says we need them, in this fifth in a series of articles for IEDP:
Maverick managers, off-the-wall employees, tortured geniuses – individuals that we have been taught, counselled and warned to leave well alone. Staff recruiters weed them out early in any selection process and any inherited non-conformists get sent packing to the outer limits of the corporate empire.
“A new world of work where similarity breeds contempt”
Until now, standard procedure seems to have been building organizational cultures filled with like-minded people, none of whom will ever rock the boat, much less capsize it. But, as I keep trying to impress upon my peers, we are leading and managing in a new era of work. A new world of work where similarity breeds contempt and the status quo needs a good shaking up.

Why ? Simple. Talent is in ever shorter supply, meaning hiring our preferred people is harder than ever. At the same time, we need to innovate and invent to survive. This means that there is an urgent imperative to think new, radical thoughts about our businesses.

And if you want radical thinking where else to go but to the source of all things different – the maverick executive. We’ve all met them, many of us have worked with them. They are the loose cannons of corporate life. Their travelling companions are chaos and confusion, but they may just offer new insights into how to boost a business, promote a product, or smarten up a service line. My argument is that in today’s business world we need these people who think and act differently to ourselves and our plain vanilla compatriots.

Only problem with mavericks, you have to know how to lead them!

As a leader, the first thing to recognise is that maverick employees need one thing above all else – freedom. Try and tie them down to the rules that the rest of us follow and they will quickly get frustrated and quit. Conversely, if you give them a totally free rein chaos can ensue and others will leave instead!

Second thing to take on board is that these wonderful, wacky people need lots and lots of encouragement – amazingly they often have quite a low opinion of themselves and the more you praise their efforts the better they will be.

Thirdly, you need to create a climate that can support them without turning off your run-of-the-mill corporate clones – the Bills, Bobs and Bettys, that your recruitment agency would much rather you were hiring. These employees need assurance too (most importantly that you haven’t gone crazy), but they also need to be told that these mavericks are not different; they are part of the team.

So, if you want to put some maverick’s into your business, how should you deal with them ? Here’s a few thoughts to get you started.

Make them part of the group you lead (be sure they feel valued) and make real efforts to integrate them. However, also spend a lot of face-time with the others in the group so they know what the score really is.

Tell your maverick(s) that you welcome their ideas (however weird and wonderful they may be!) and you look forward to them. Above all you want them to make a contribution and feel that they can be as open and as innovative as possible.

Set goals and challenges for them. This keeps them focused on what you want, not what they would like to do. Most mavericks have short attention spans and if not watched can wander off and get into trouble.

Follow up quickly with their ideas and their actions. It’s all about encouragement. If an idea isn’t worth pursuing say so and move on. But rather than saying “no,” suggest they think about their idea in another way. What you want is positive reinforcement, not a series of turn-offs. However, never say, “It’s a great idea,” where it clearly isn’t. By trying to build up their credibility you will quickly lose your own.
Don’t say, “I’ll get back to you,” and leave them waiting days for a response. Say you will consider their idea and get back to them in 24 hours and make sure you do it.

And what about conflict ? Well it does happen. Most often because other members of the team can feel sidelined or ignored and take it out on your mavericks. If that happens, confront it. Make it clear what each member of your team is supposed to do – so everyone understands the responsibilities and the roles they play. Don’t play favourites.

Properly led, mavericks can play a major role in organizational success. Is it worth the trouble ? If you know why they are there and you can keep them focused, yes it is. Otherwise stick with those cosy clones although that way corporate life will never be as much fun!

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based learning and development organization. Have a comment or a question? C
onnect with him via Linkedin.