Can you really win if you aren’t the best?

Can you really win if you aren’t the best?People often say that if you work hard and apply yourself, you’ll succeed. But lets be realistic….that isn’t always true, especially because everybody has a different definition of ‘succeed.’   Sure, you can work hard and apply yourself and become better than you were, but it doesn’t mean you’ll become the ‘best’ at something.  That’s just not how life works.

Let’s say, for example, that you decide to become the world’s fastest runner in the 100m race. That’s a lofty goal, but unless you are born with a very specific set of genes and start training very young, the probability of meeting that goal is pretty low.  That said, there’s nothing stopping you from pushing yourself to become faster than you were yesterday or last week.

If you aren’t the ‘best’ at something, does that mean you can’t win at that something (or at life)? Not at all. Even the absolute best have bad days.  Underdogs win all the time, which is why you should always continue to improve and become better than you were because you never know when your chance might come to be ready when the ‘best’ falters.

If you’ve not seen or read Moneyball (the book is here, the movie is here), you are missing out. The book talks about how the Oakland A’s baseball organization took the ‘B’ players and built a baseball franchise around them.  I don’t recall if there were any of baseball’s “best” players on the Oakland team at the time, but I do recall that there were a lot of the ‘also rans’ that many teams didn’t think were good enough for their team.

Many people will argue that the real story behind Moneyball is how statistics and data analysis can play a really important role in running a business. These people are correct…these things are important and they were an important part of the Moneyball / Oakland A’s story, but the part of the story that many miss is that these ‘B’ players also worked really hard to become better at what they did.  They didn’t just relegate themselves to be also-rans…they kept pushing harder and harder to become better than they were.

The same is true for corporations.  Maybe you don’t have a team comprised of the most talented and skilled employees, but if you and your leadership team continue to push yourselves and your people, you (and they) can do wonderful things.  If you build a culture of improvement where the smallest failures aren’t punished and show your team(s) that you are constantly improving yourself – and expect the same from them – your team and company will be able to compete. You may not win every time, but you’ll be around for the long-haul.

You can win if you aren’t the best. Anyone can. You may never be considered the best, but if you continue to try to get better, you’ll always be better than you were.

That said, just imagine if you don’t push yourself or your team to constantly improve? If you and your team are OK with being average, you’ll never have the chance to win.

Innovation needs process change

change aheadJeffrey Philips currently wrote a nice piece titled “Innovate your processes before innovating your products” over on his excellent Innovate on Purpose blog. In that article, Jeffrey argues that before a company can innovate its products/services, it must innovate its processes if it hopes to build a sustainable edge via innovation over its competition.

When I read Jeffrey’s post, I found myself nodding at everything he wrote. While the need to focus on innovation in your product / service line is a real one, many organizations completely miss the need to look at process change to support these innovations.

Jeffrey provides a good example in his article on why process change is needed. He writes:

..most product development processes do a poor job allocating resources and establishing priorities, and are bogged down with poorly defined projects and inadequate staffing levels.  It’s exceptionally rare for products to exit the process on time and on budget.

Anyone that has been involved in an type of project management or product management role will immediately agree with the above statement. Heck..anyone in IT will immediately agree with this statement.   There’s never enough people or resources to do everything, yet it feels like everyone is asked to do everything…and do it now.

In addition to the resource issue, there are many organizations with outdated and ill-informed processes for getting things done.

I recall an IT group in the not too distant past (we are talking 2008-2009 time-frame) that required a change request to be manually filled out with pen/paper and then handed to a secretary. This secretary would then take the change request form around to get signatures from the necessary people and then FAX the change request to the change management team.  Mind you…this team was located in the same building, yet they required a faxed copy of the change request.

The above example might seem like an outlier (and maybe it is) but I’ve run across many outliers like this in my career. Companies are so focused on the new and innovative that they forget to look internally at their own processes.

In order to truly innovate your product and/or service line, you need to look at your own processes first. It may not be as ‘sexy’ as building that new product, but its just as important (or maybe even more important) than that new product.

Back to the example I provided earlier. That company could not have delivered an innovative product or service and sustained that product/service.. In fact, they tried a few different things and even started an ‘innovation group’ to focus on innovation but the majority of ideas that came from this group where stonewalled by the arcane processes found within the company. It wasn’t just the IT group that had out of date processes…every part of the organization needed to have some process re-engineering done. Ultimately, this organization had to step back and rethink many of their internal and back-end processes before they could focus on innovation.

Processes are the lifeblood of an organization. If you don’t step back and take a look at your processes, your innovative ideas might just suffer.

…and then what?

...and then what?I just finished reading a great article titled “The Most Important Question You Can Ask: Then What?

In the article, the author writes:

The great art of life is in balancing the short term and the long term, so that one can have enjoyment with integrity – pleasure with purpose. But in most areas of life, we pay strict attention to the immediate consequences of things. We look at the immediate results of a social or economic policy and call it a victory (or a complete failure).

The solution to  ‘short term’ thinking, according to the author, is to ask “…and then what?”.  By asking this simple question, we can force ourselves to look past the immediate and into the longer term. The author writes:

The problem is that so few of us take the effort to do this very simple thing. It’s understandable, we get caught up in the moment, and we don’t particularly enjoy thinking in minute detail each and every moment of our lives. But in the coming era, it will become increasingly important for us to ask these kinds of things, as our interconnectedness makes ideas and new technologies spread faster than ever before.

This very simple step of asking “…and then what?” can make a huge difference to any individual’s or organization’s planning process. By thinking about the step after the step, you’ll be able to open up plans to include much more than just the things needed to get the current project complete.

A perfect example of the lack of asking “…and then what?” can be found with most instances of the phenomenon known as Shadow IT.  Shadow IT usually arises because the IT organization can’t/won’t give a person/group a technology/system that they think they need. This group then goes out and finds something to fill their immediate need without thinking ahead. What will happen when the data in that new system needs to be integrated with other company systems, needs to be backed up or you need to move it to another cloud service provider? These are all very simple scenarios that can be covered if you simply ask “…and then what?”

Are you and your organization asking yourselves “…and then what?” during your planning?

Maintaining the Delicate Balancing Act as CIO

CIO Generic Analytics Big DataI just ran across an article titled “The CIO balancing act: agility, innovation, cost savings” over on The Enterprisers Project. If you haven’t stumbled across The Enterprisers Project in the past, make sure to add it to your daily routine (RSS feeds, twitter, etc etc) as there is always some great content over there.

In “The CIO balancing act: agility, innovation, cost savings“, the author writes that the CIO maintain “a delicate balancing act… between institutional (or corporate) agility, innovation, and cost savings. The CIO has to ‘get’ all three and maintain the appropriate balance.”

There is no argument that the CIO must be able to balance agility, cost savings and innovation. The challenge for today’s CIO is maintaining this particular balance while moving much faster than many IT groups have ever had to move.  Most CIO’s have had to balance similar priorities in the past but the idea of ‘agility’ was much different in previous years than it is today. Today, a business can’t wait six months for a new server to be provisioned and made ready…that server is needed tomorrow.

That’s why this particular balancing act is so important. Without agility, the innovative thinking, technology and systems that come out of the IT group might not do a company much good. Without delivering that innovation in a cost effective manner  – and delivering it with agility – the CIO and IT group may find themselves pushed to the sidelines.

One thing to note about the term ‘agility’ – we aren’t always talking about speed here. Of course speed is important but agility also covers the ability to get things done.  While a company may be able to move fast, if their processes get in the way of that getting things done then all you are doing is moving fast to sit still while you wait for your processes to catch up with everything.

Take the provisioning of a server for example. It may take you only an hour to set up a server but if the processes needed to get that server ordered, installed and assigned to a project is so laborious that it chews up days, what good is having a provisioning time of an hour doing for that business?

Maintaining the balancing act as a CIO requires the ability to look at every aspect of your team and its processes to ensure bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way of the priorities of the business.  Part of being a good leader and manager is understanding what the organization needs from you and your team and then making sure that those needs are met by your team.  Those needs might change tomorrow, next week or next month but as long as the CIO and their leadership team are in sync with each other and with the organization, the ability to maintain the delicate balance should remain.




Don’t Ask if you Can’t Act

Don't Ask if You Can't DoIn a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “Don’t Ask for New Ideas If You’re Not Ready to Act on Them”, Ron Ashkenas provides an example of a company wanting to do the ‘right’ thing but not having the processes or systems in place to pull it off.

The example provided by Ashkenas is one that I’ve heard and experienced many times myself.  One of his clients implemented a ‘crowdsourcing’ approach to gathering innovation ideas from people throughout their business. This company received so many responses that it took nearly a month for all of the responses to be analyzed, categorized and reviewed.  It then took a few more weeks for executives to respond to everyone and announce that they were planning on following up on specific ideas to pursue.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen this type of thing happen at other organizations I’ve worked at. The urge to identify and implement innovative ideas is a strong driving force for any organization and crowdsourcing these ideas makes a great deal of sense. That said, taking the step of asking for new ideas is pointless if your organization can’t quickly act upon those ideas.

This is why every organization needs to reimagine (or reinvent) itself as an agile organization. To truly be able to act upon innovative ideas, an organization needs to be able to marshal the necessary resources (e.g., people, systems, data, etc) to be able to analyze and act upon these new ideas.

Organizations need to be able to pivot and turn quickly to address their clients needs and their competitors offerings. This agility requires the utmost agility in all aspects of the business, including the IT group.  The IT group must provide systems and capabilities to allow the business to gather data, analyze that data and act upon that data quickly and easily.

In the example given by Ashkenas, an agile organization with an agile IT group should be able to put the right tools together capture, track, analyze and report on ideas from around the business.  If your IT group can’t put together the right tools at the right time to deliver the right services, you probably need to spend some time rethinking your IT group and its leadership. Additionally, if your IT group can deliver the right tools at the right time but it still takes you weeks or months to analyze and react…you have larger problems than just a non-agile IT group.

An Agile Business Needs an Agile IT Group

Agile EmployeesIf you ask any business leader whether they’d prefer that their organization be thought of as ‘slow moving’ or ‘agile’, most would respond with ‘agile’ as their preference.   Those that don’t respond in the affirmative toward agility are most likely running a dying business or are just out of sync with their industry and their organization.

While everyone most likely knows what agility means, let me take as second to define the term and set the stage for the discussion. One of the most common definitions of agility is “nimbleness” or “the power of moving quickly and easily.”

With that definition in mind, think about your own business. Is your business agile? Are you nimble? Does your CEO or top leadership talk about agility or push for an agile mindset in everything you do? If not, you might want to start talking to your leadership team about the importance of agility for businesses today.

I’m not going to dive into why businesses must be agile today. I’ll leave that to the likes of Forrester, McKinsey and others. I will only say that I truly believe that every organization must incorporate the idea of ‘agility’ into their culture to be successful long-term. There’s just too much disruption happening in every industry to not be willing and able to quickly and efficiently make decisions and change direction to meet these disruptive forces.

At the heart of every organization’s move to be a more agile business is the IT group. In order for the organization to be agile, the IT group must approach everything they do with agility at the front of their minds.

In order to make decisions quickly, all areas and levels of the business needs access to data and information about the business in ways that makes it easy to consume and use. For many companies, this concept requires a change in thinking from the ‘old’ way of only allowing data to be accessible via specialized IT analysts to allowing access to just about anyone in the organization.

In addition to information accessibility, an agile business needs agility within the data center, which has always been a complex and structured environment. I’ve written about the Agile Data Center previously but I’ll reiterate that building agile data center doesn’t mean a complete rebuild with new systems or new people but it does require a changing of the mindset. Processes need to be rebuilt to remove slow moving (and often bureaucratic) thinking and replace them with agile client-focused processes that help the business move quickly and effectively.

An agile business requires an IT group that is just as agile as the business. Agility hasn’t always been the forte of CIO’s and IT groups in the past but the future of the IT group depends on the ability to transform into an efficient, nimble part of the business.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

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