Tag Archives: management

Knowledge Management and Virtual Teams Management (Romanian)

Today I talked at ZF Live about Knowledge Management and Virtual Teams Management. The show was triggered by an online training I have delivered for Mediafax Group which was recently launched. The training is available at www.zfelearning.ro and you may find the recording of the TV show below (NB: both of them are in Romanian only):


Uncovering the secrets of innovation; the turning point in Knowledge Management

When we talk about innovation it’s easy to come up with the iPad example but the product itself is only one side of the story. We’re just looking at the tip of an iceberg. Have you ever wondered what’s below the sea? Let’s take a few moments to see how this innovation world looks like.

In the beginning there was darkness

Do you remember the first verses of the Bible? What happened in the darkness when our universe, the most amazing innovation, started to exist? It is written that “God said”. Whatever darkness you may face, you will never get out of it if you do not start to communicate. Communication is where it all begins.

Being innovative is not a statement or a nice attachment to your logo. It’s a long-term and continuous process. We are challenged to create the business of tomorrow even as we focus on keeping the organisation lean today, with more immediate incremental improvements supplemented by long-term big bets.

The key for this process is to enable connections between people and ideas. The tools we now have available are supporting communication more than ever. When you’ve read the word “connections”, your mind probably jumped to social tools such as Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. Indeed, businesses generally consider how to take advantage of these or similar web tools to communicate inside and outside the firm: enabling employee knowledge sharing, providing customer support, building the brand, or marketing products and services.

PwC recently launched the “Global Innovation Survey”, the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind exploring innovation from a global, multi-sector perspective. It uncovers insights obtained from interviews with board-level executives from 1,757 companies, across more than 25 countries and 30 sectors, who are responsible for overseeing innovation within their company.

Figure1The study shows that the most innovative companies use social media more often to collaborate externally and support the innovation process: 67% (most innovative companies) vs. 39% (least innovative companies) and they are more likely to manage innovation efforts formally or in a structured way: 78% vs. 66%. Moreover, when it comes to developing new products and services with external partners, the most innovative companies collaborate over three times more often.

The importance of collaboration can also be seen in the number of companies that are now working with customers or other businesses to co-create new products and solutions. The rapid upsurge in the sale of e-readers and e-books is a good example of how these collaborations can create game changing opportunities for some businesses and the threat of marginalisation for slower moving competitors.

Starting to communicate is not a requirement for innovation staff only but an innovative culture is required. Seven in ten of the executives interviewed by PwC also feel that a successful innovation culture relies on the organisation’s ability to foster an environment where smart exploration is encouraged even if does not always lead to a successful outcome. Leaders know that breakthrough innovations require exploration of entirely new types of business models and technologies. Sometimes, the experiments do not provide the expected results. Sometimes called a failure, those unexpected results are valuable discoveries that can guide the innovation team to bigger and better outcomes.

More lights in the sky

As we go deeper into creation we see that during the fourth day God made the stars to shine on the earth. Have you ever wondered why would we need stars since we already have light from the sun? Aren’t stars redundant lighting?

As companies begin to experiment and have success with social collaboration tools, they will begin to understand what we call the collaboration paradox: adding more information to the mix (so called “social information”) actually can help companies combat info overload by creating additional context that makes it easy to find exactly what you need.

The navigation techniques have always used stars as guidance on the ocean. We use “interest graphs” (maps of topics, ideas, or business issues and how they’re interrelated) to make it possible for individuals to navigate through our own oceans of information.

Effective innovators have structures and practices in place to make innovation more systematic. This allows them to “control” accidental discoveries, and to be continuous innovators. Such structures include a grassroots approach – empowering employees to act like entrepreneurs – as well as strong leadership backing and centralised support.

The leading innovators in PwC’s survey have clear preferences for a more structured innovation approach. Only a fifth (21%) of the most innovative companies manage innovation informally, compared with a third (32%) of the least innovative companies. In order to get the leading lights in the ocean of innovations, many leaders are shifting away from total reliance on informal structures.

Be fruitful

Why would a creator empower creation? We see fruitfulness as one of God’s requirements even for land and sea. Why would we require innovation at all levels? Well, especially in the knowledge days there is simply no other way.

Figure2A clear indication of innovation’s move into the mainstream is that many companies now expect staff to allocate at least some of their time to developing and supporting new ideas, rather than simply relying on a few bright sparks. Many participants talked about the need “to empower frontline staff”. The fact that talent is quite low down the list would further underline the move from innovation being “alchemy” by the few to “cookery” by the many.

While in the past R&D units would have focused on ways to enhance the product range, the PwC survey shows that many CEOs are looking to go much further by transforming what they sell and how they sell it. A soap powder manufacturer might open up a chain of launderettes or an engine maker could move from selling engines to charging users for running them, for example. What brings these new business models together is a shift in focus from products to solutions. The product is clearly an important part of the solution, but not everything. In turn, the role of technology goes beyond creating new and improved products towards gaining sharper insights into what customers want and how to deliver it. A common thread in the feedback from participants was the need “to spend more time in the marketplace”.

The most successful companies have gone further in seeking to create a culture of innovation. However, in keeping with innovation’s changing risk/reward profile this includes giving people extra time to create and nurture opportunities and being prepared to tolerate a level of risk and failure.

The turning point

The beautiful creation days have met a turning point and its effects are still here today. Why? Because there was a disruption between the knowledge Adam and Eve had and the way they decided to act. Interrupting critical knowledge in the decision making process is the turning point where most beautiful stories have ended tragically.

Figure3Some years ago I began to work on “capitalizing” knowledge in PwC for the EMEIA region, which is a territory covering all offices from the northern countries to South Africa and from the UK to India. This made me look with great interest on the efficiency of information flow and I realised that organizations that have dysfunctional knowledge management begin to suffer the same effects that the Alzheimer disease has on human brain: intellectual abilities are lost, even reach inability to think abstractly, the coordination is limited, and they have trouble performing daily activities. As a result, innovation becomes increasingly rare till it disappears completely.

Since its evolution is similar to an organization’s brain, in an article I wrote last year, I named this disease “Knowledgeheimer”. Thinking about an organization as a patient appeared to be making more sense to me when dealing with knowledge management. “Knowledgeheimer” is the turning point that burns a beautiful story into ashes.

In 1991, Knowledgeheimer’s treatment involved maximizing the organization’s intangible assets. Later, however, innovation was in the forefront of concerns – materialised into projects like Skandia Future Centre, a prototype to test the operation of new methods of capitalization of knowledge and, in particular, human intelligence within the organization. The basic principle was to stimulate new ideas and creative processes.

Today it becomes more obvious that establishing and fostering an innovative culture is a subtle mix of encouraging the right behaviours and giving people the means to take ownership of their innovation efforts. The Innovation Survey offers a glimpse of how this mix would look like.

Just as with Alzheimer’s, to combat “Knowledgeheimer”, the organization’s brain should be looked at consistently and intentionally, in a pro-active manner. Access to knowledge retention and taking benefit of this knowledge has to become part of the daily workflow.

Article published by Romanian Business Digest, October 2013; PDF copy here.

One reason to have an internal social business platform

Forging the Future
(Photo credit: itupictures)

Memo from CEO to Manager:

Today at 11 o’clock there will be a total eclipse of the sun. This is when the sun disappears behind the moon for two minutes. As this is something that cannot be seen every day, time will be allowed for employees to view the eclipse in the parking lot. Staff should meet in the lot at ten to eleven, when I will deliver a short speech introducing the eclipse, and giving some background information. Safety goggles will be made available at a small cost.

Memo from Manager to Department Head:

Today at ten to eleven, all staff should meet in the car park. This will be followed by a total eclipse of the sun, which will appear for two minutes. For a moderate cost, this will be made safe with goggles. The CEO will deliver a short speech beforehand to give us all some information. This is not something that can be seen every day.

Memo from Department Head to Floor Manager:

The CEO will today deliver a short speech to make the sun disappear for two minutes in the form of an eclipse. This is something that cannot be seen every day, so staff will meet in the car park at ten or eleven. This will be safe, if you pay a moderate cost.

Memo From Floor Manager to Supervisor:

Ten or eleven staff are to go to the car park, where the CEO will eclipse the sun for two minutes. This doesn’t happen every day. It will be safe, and as usual it will cost you.

Memo from Supervisor to staff:

Some staff will go to the car park today to see the CEO disappear. It is a pity this doesn’t happen everyday.

Team management and motivation

I’m working these days on developing a course on managing virtual teams so I’ve taken some time to think about what I do and how I do it.

During the last financial year, the service I’m managing recorded growth of 65% (compared against an ambitious target of 20%). Consequently, delivery time has been reduced and… here comes a shock for any academic: quality has improved! Any theory would tell you that, if you reduce delivery time and increase work load with the same resources, quality will drop off.

What made the difference? I would rather say it was the motivation of each team member. On my side, I did not stay to check each of their tasks but I rather encouraged flexibility and efficiency over bureaucracy and strict rules. I transferred much of the assessment from my own review to the final beneficiaries. They are the ones to say if the work was good and to what extend. Interim and final financial year results are transparent, including individual rankings: most of poor performance has been corrected the moment they saw their place. I’ve not used financial incentives as motivation factors and I think of “carrot and stick” as being a manipulation theory rather than real inside motivation.

I had a look over the research performed during the last years on motivation and Dan Pink’s message from a TED presentation got my attention:

Welcome to the virtual team!

For some years I’m coordinating an international team spread out in Europe, Middle East and India. Cultural differences, dissimilar time-zones and communication difficulties due to jarring accent of the English language are all granted. However, the major challenge does not appear here, nor in terms of technology, but rather in the area of ​​personal motivation. I wrote a piece of article on managing a virtual team for HR Magazine which you can find online here. A copy of the printed version is here.

Unfortunately it is only in Romanian so my apologizes for my English readers. I’ll more likely come back with this subject at a later time.

What does innovation mean to you?

English: author: PARK advanced design manageme...
Image via Wikipedia

When we talk about innovation it’s easy to come up with the Apple example but is this the business innovation we should constantly keep a look at? I believe this is a very limited approach as innovation is not only in the product we sell but also in the way we do our business – and this is a core ongoing task in business management.

Innovation is shifting away from pushing products out of labs, towards creating value for customers. And finding out what customers value means getting closer to them. That’s why creating value can mean innovating business models, servicing, processes or marketing. According to a recent survey, over half of CEOs are focusing more on business model innovations.

Being innovative is a long-term and continuous process. Companies are challenged to create the business of tomorrow even as they focus on keeping the organisation lean today, with more immediate incremental improvements supplemented by long-term big bets. Effective innovators have structures and practices in place to make innovation more systematic. This allows them to ‘control’ accidental discoveries, and to be continuous innovators. Such structures include a grassroots approach – empowering employees to act like entrepreneurs – as well as strong leadership backing and centralised support.

Innovation processes are also opening up, for example to suppliers, customers or even the world at large. These changes often need to be accompanied by changes to the operating model. In fact, it’s the complete change of operational models as a result of digitalisation that drives many forms of innovation. Many great innovators are embracing what digital means for their business while others are inventing new operating models to target the under-served in markets once thought unreachable.

New media impact: marketers change their thinking and spending allocations

Social Media Outposts
Image by the tartanpodcast via Flickr

Too many companies view marketing plans as little more than an exercise in where and when to buy media placement. Yet as the number of digital interactions increases, marketers must recognize the power that lies beyond traditional paid media.

The changing role of older media and the emergence of newer ones extend the marketer’s role well beyond the allocation of budgets and channels. Marketers today require a deep understanding of how consumers engage with different types of media at each stage of the journey toward a purchase decision. McKinsey’s study “Beyond paid media: Marketing’s new vocabulary” splits the media in 5 categories: paid, owned, earned, sold, and hijacked and makes an analysis of how media are evolving nowadays.

What’s there to think about?

1. Media are becoming more integrated. New ways to connect with customers, for example, are transforming traditional relationship management by requiring marketers to interact with consumers through multiple forms of media in increasingly personalized ways. JetBlue has promoted its Twitter offering through many channels, for instance, and now has about 1.6 million followers seeking a regular feed of special deals for tickets. This approach has given JetBlue the ability to deliver timely coupons at a minimal variable cost, reducing its reliance on expensive paid media while fostering closer relationships with consumers.

2. New publishing models are emerging because the increasing complexity of consumer needs. Computer maker Dell and automobile manufacturer Nissan, for example, worked with the Sundance Channel to create a television talk show hosted by Elvis Costello to attract their target demographic. With ads that seamlessly blended into the show’s content, Dell and Nissan not only gained exposure to a highly engaged audience but also shifted the perception of their brands to connect with Generation X.

3. Applications on wireless devices are spawning tools that provide useful information. For example, eBay’s Red Laser generates a list of prices for any product whose bar code has been scanned by a mobile phone. Beverage companies show where their products are available by overlaying icons onto maps on the screens of mobile phones. In Japan, food manufacturers can increase sales across entire product categories through marketing collaborations with platforms such as Cookpad, the country’s leading online recipe site, with 9 million members, more than 40 percent of whom are women in their 30s.

4. Marketing experiences are becoming more personally relevant. McDonald’s in Japan, for example, has developed expertise in the use of Twitter and other blogging platforms to promote new products and promotions by leveraging its huge fan base to talk about how much they love the company’s food. While this fan promotion is sometimes spontaneous, it’s often facilitated and encouraged by providing these fans with free meals. In this way, paid- and owned-media efforts (such as blog and Twitter campaigns) make consumers so enamored of McDonald’s products that the company generates a significant amount of earned media.

5. The evolution of new kinds of media means that consumers are engaging more often in real-time conversations, particularly on social networks and other digital platforms. One consumer electronics company, for example, has recognized the significance of every review or rating posted about its products. It now responds to all comments within 24 hours: positive feedback gets a thank you, an invitation to become a Facebook friend, and special offers; negative reviews get explanations of how to fix issues, instructions on how to navigate an interface more easily, or follow-up questions to learn more about what the consumer didn’t like. Some hotel chains, recognizing the importance of travel sites (such as the popular TripAdvisor), likewise encourage satisfied guests to post comments online, while employing staff to follow and answer negative comments.

For more details please see McKinsey’s study.

The next decade – the “most innovative time” ?

A recent PwC survey found that that innovation is high on the executive agenda in virtually every industry. In all, 78% of CEOs surveyed believe innovation will generate “significant” new revenue and cost reduction opportunities over the next three years. But it is highest for those where technology is changing customer expectations. In both the pharmaceutical and entertainment and media sectors, for example, more than 40% of CEOs believe their greatest opportunities for growth come from spawning new products and services.

Additionally, the survey found that CEOs are re-thinking their approach to innovation and increasingly seeking to collaborate with outside partners and in markets other than where they are based. For example, a majority of entertainment and media CEOs said they expect to co-develop new products and services.

The innovation process generally has four phases: 

  • Discovery: Identifying and sourcing ideas and problems that are the basis for future innovation. Sources may include employees as well as customers, suppliers, partners and other external organisations.
  • Incubation: Refining, developing and testing good ideas to see if they are technically feasible and make business sense.
  • Acceleration: Establishing pilot programs to test commercial feasibility.
  • Scale:  Integrating the innovation into the company; commercialisation and mass marketing.

However, the drive for innovation must arise from the CEO and other executive leadership by creating a culture that is open to new ideas and systematic in its approach to their development.

Therefore, the study also identifies 7 misconceptions about the innovation process:

  • Innovation can be delegated.  Not so. The drive to innovate begins at the top. If the CEO doesn’t protect and reward the process, it will fail.
  • Middle Management is the ally of innovation. Managers are not natural champions of innovation. They to reject new ideas in favor of efficiency.
  • Innovative people work for the money. Establishing a culture that embeds innovation in the organisation will attract and retain creative talent.
  • Innovation is a lucky accident. Successful innovation most often results from a disciplined process that sorts through many ideas.
  • The more open the innovation process, the less disciplined. Advances in collaborative tools, like social networking, are accelerating open innovation.
  • Businesses know how much innovation they need. Leaders must calculate their potential for inorganic growth to determine their need to innovate.
  • Innovation can’t be measured. Leadership needs to identify its ROII (Return on Innovation Investment).

Details about the study here.

A shared agenda for businesses and governments

This is one of the new trains that will be run...
Image via Wikipedia

Government leadership in building infrastructure is critical for competitiveness. A majority of CEOs identified the priority for the governments of all countries outside of Western Europe and Japan, where infrastructure is well developed, and of China – where the government allocated almost US$600 billion of stimulus spending for infrastructure projects over the past two years, according to PwC’s 14 Annual CEO Survey.

The role of private capital in financing infrastructure is unavoidable: an estimated US$3 trillion per year needs to be spent on infrastructure across the globe in the coming decades, according to a recent report from the World Economic Forum.

However, businesses can provide more than cash: they have expertise, and the abilities to execute and manage risks. This is part of what makes PPPs attractive. As Berthold Leetfink, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Economics, Agriculture and Innovation in the Netherlands told PwC, “At least for the Netherlands, and I think for many other countries, planning and building infrastructure is very much in the hands of government. But it’s obvious that the private sector has a lot of knowledge in terms of building cheaply, efficiently or in a more environmentally friendly way.” As an example, a PPP project in 2009 to connect a 12-mile regional rapid transit line in Vancouver (Canada Line) was completed several months ahead of schedule.

Needless to say, businesses also have a key expectation for their governments: to tackle fiscal deficits to restore stability to the markets in a way that is mindful of the fragile environment for global growth. Public revenues are of course expected to be part of the equation: a majority of CEOs expect taxes will rise, led by 65% of CEOs in Asia and 70% in Latin America.

For a full report, you may click here.

Competitive intelligence: a real value or a buzzword?

ATWS Slide presentation from Sandra Carvao WTO...
Image by !/_PeacePlusOne via Flickr

“What competitive intelligence? We are in the middle of a crizes, we need to survive!” That may be the statement of many executives today, and it seems that competitive advantage is nothing but an elusive goal. The results of a recent McKinsey survey suggest one reason: just 53% of executives characterize their companies’ strategies as emphasizing the creation of relative advantage over competitors; the rest say their strategies are better described as matching industry best practices and delivering operational imperatives. In other words – this is nothing but a buzzword for stakeholders to make them feel safe.

What I even find more interesting is that only 33% say their companies’ strategies rest on novel data and insights not available to competitors, rather than widely available data. We are more or less used to see companies (especially the big ones) as having some “CIA” teams in charge with competitive intelligence but it seems that this is only true in some of them. What we don’t know from McKinsey’s survey is how many of those 33% are large multinationals and how many are not.

However, there may be one likely explanation of this fact that wouldn’t be affected by the size of the company or the existence of such intelligence units: the widespread availability of information and adoption of sophisticated strategy frameworks creates an impression that “everyone knows what we know and is probably analyzing the data in the same ways we are.” Yet if strategists question their ability to see something that no one else does, the question that raises is how reach are the powerful insight that are most likely to differentiate them from competitors?

Another astonishing result: only 12% of surveyed executives place novel insights in strategy among the top three influencers of financial performance. The financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed revealed weaknesses in many strategies and forced many companies to confront choices and trade-offs they put off in boom years. Not surprisingly, 56% report that their companies are making strategic decisions more frequently than before. This increased speed may make it difficult for some companies to analyze each decision in detail. However, a shift toward shorter planning cycles only increases the need to focus on the timeless aspects of strategy that can drive competitive advantage.

And this brings us back to our main question: is competitive intelligence a buzzword or does it bring a genuine value to the company and its financial performance?