Management, Personal, Thoughts

Personal branding (not a facade but clarity)

Posting again after a too long hiatus. And thinking of branding, personal branding. I overheard a conversation that made me cringe about faking. Personal brands are confusing muddy concepts under suspicion that make us recall the marketisation and productisation of people. Let’s package ourselves with a nice and faux decor so as to facilitate our buy out!

Wrong. Sorry to be so bold. But that’s not it. It’s about credibility, it’s about reputation. And you don’t rebuild those every week with a new rebranding. No one else can do it for you. Maybe help you, but that’s all.

The true personal brands are made of congruence. Congruence with personal values, which are those that must become obvious with our personal brand. You got no values? Start building yourself first. Or simply, look inside. Think, what do you stand for? What are you willing to stand for?

That’s your brand. Make those values visible. You won’t be able to ask them from other people unless you’re constantly showing them off yourself. Reliability? Quality? Decisiveness? Assertiveness? Put them on the table, your table, and others will start following.

And be constant. Trust and reputation take very long to build, but can be shattered in just one second. That’s why your brand must be anchored in your true self, otherwise it will be a lie. And people will realise.

It all goes back to leading with example. The example will become your personal brand, lest you’re not consistent with it. And your personal brand will become an explicit part of you that will be clearer every day. Not only others will perceive it but you’ll feel it grow steadily within you. Not a fad but part of your identity.

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b-school, Management, Thoughts

Take care of the senses and the sounds will take care of themselves (A Lewis Carroll reflection)

A couple of days ago I spoke to someone that was having an executive education experience. He had sort of been immersed in a boot camp, hectic experience, out of his comfort zone, not a minute to rest. He had a lot of fun and he proclaimed he had came back sort of a changed person. Maybe he was.

Or maybe he wasn’t. Haven’t you ever had these kind of hectic touristic days in an European city, visiting everything, not stopping even to catch your breath, coming back in love with the city, sort of ‘I could live there’ thing and then… well, er… an exhausted but energetic Monday at work and, on Wednesday, everything is the same again.

Because experiences alone don’t have the capacity to change you. Experiences hold some potential to change you, yes, but most of the time, they simply don’t.

I choose the Lewis Carroll sentence to head this blog entry because it’s all about making sense of what happens to us. Yet I could have chosen a very different one:

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.

How do you know you’re there if you don’t have it clear where you’re going to? Don’t fool yourself, you don’t.

Some fortune cookie sapience, this one was a cookie that Mintzberg was given with his dinner: “Get your mind set. Confidence will lead you on”. And another one by Mintzberg in a not so old “Harvard Business Review” article: “what managers desperately need is to stop and think, to step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences”. Well, so fortunate I did read this article. What my admired Mr. Mintzberg says here (or said some time ago) is what I’ve been saying all along!

And that’s my advice to my fellow executive education experiencer. If the experience is too hectic, it’s incomplete! If in your MBA you’re having excitement, rush and more excitement… something is wrong!

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things to be gained from such an experience, but insight isn’t one of them. Reflections come from flectere, to bend in Latin. One must bend inwards as opposite to just perceiving what’s around. What matters is the impact of the reflection on our own inner wall. Like Plato’s myth, we are the wall over which the shades are reflecting. And what we can really do is to learn about that wall. And in observing that wall, in a Heisemberg uncertainty fashion, there’s the reshaping of the wall.

Otherwise, indigested experiences will make nice anecdotes, we will have a lot of fun. We will recommend the experience to our friends for sure. But there’s no learning in that. The superficiality hides essential meanings interwoven with the fabric of organisations and people. Shortcuts deprive us of deep thinking, and so many things in executive education is about shortcuts discovered by the incomplete and un-rigourous experience of others.

Another quote from Lewis Carroll: “While the laughter of joy is in full harmony with our deeper life, the laughter of amusement should be kept apart from it. The danger is too great of thus learning to look at solemn things in a spirit of mockery, and to seek in them opportunities for exercising wit.”

So many self-labelled educational and learning experiences are witty combination of words and anecdotal evidence. So many advice we give is totally biased and based on erroneous assumptions and insufficient reasoning. What about if we decided to think more and speak (write, blog, whatever) much less?

Lewis Carroll at the rescue: “Courtesy while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.”

And also knowing when to stop: “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'”. Yes, time to stop.

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Aviation, Business, Management

Iberia and British Airways’ merger (two losers together don’t make a winner)

Finally they had to do it. Slumping for too long with revenues going down the drain finally made both companies not so choosy about each other, specially when the rest of the European partners are already married and the half-blood-European-Americans are not allowed. They finally had to sit together in the only remaining chair.

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Borrowed from economist.com, thanks 🙂

Okay, I’m being a bit sceptical here, or even negative. There’s a huge positive thing in the news. At least now the different boards will be able to focus on the real problems of both companies, which are not exactly small. The airlines’ world has been turned upside-down, with some new winners (namely Ryanair who have opened around a half of all the new routes in Europe this second half of the year, and yes, sorry again, I’m a fan of their capacity to generate efficiencies) and some losers: flagship airlines.

They used to be so protected. In fact, they are doing what they are doing in order to be able to attain efficiencies (at least I hope so) but at the same time keep their privileged status (in Heathrow and Madrid) where they have been allocated far more than what they deserved, sometimes in the shape of priceless slots they are holding onto, and sometimes in the shape of better premises than competitors at the same price.

What’s funny is that they intend to do everything at the same time, both rejuvenating themselves and both retaining those beautiful curves. And for that they have chosen the least aggressive partner, of course. God forbid that they had to wake up earlier now they are married. Or maybe it’s the other way round and they are expecting their partner to tell them what they couldn’t tell themselves: to clean their share of their house.

Well, they say you can’t want to follow all the strategies at the same time and be successful. Anyway, Mr. Porter will be proud if they do it. Good luck to the newly wed. Let’s hope that the festivities are short. Inefficiencies and pensions are piling up and, most worryingly, the business model is outdated. Other airlines are becoming more efficient, and I’m not only thinking of low-costs. Time to work seriously. Time to finally realise that an airline is not a ministry!

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b-school, Business, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

On reorganisation and micromanagement temptations in times of crises (holding the steering wheel tight)

Note to the occasional reader: I had this post saved from long ago as a draft and I decided to let it go like it is, I’m in a different mindset now… see next post which is really today’s 🙂

In times of crises, and by this I mean, for instance, when you’re in the latests stages of a project and you spend a lot of time fire-fighting (where have I seen that?), it’s more important than ever to keep in mind the structure of your organisation and use it for good.

What do I mean with that? Well, there are two well know roads that tend to be followed in this kind of situations:

  • Forget about structure and just go straight-ahead-no-matter-what. We are all fighters and we can go down as much as it’s needs to be done. Many senior executives really love to envision themselves as being able to reach the ground level when necessary, even brick layering when they see fit.
  • Focusing on structure: reorganising again. And with this new focus, we forget the problems at hand and we think of organisational architecture. Some senior managers love to envision themselves (again) as not rushed by circumstances but able to keep a cold mind. And with that suspending the activity of the organisation for the sake of more effectiveness and efficiency.

Neither is effective at all.

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The first kind thinks that setting an example is useful, which is not exactly true. You expect a captain able to know every detail about his boat, true, but his main purpose is to steer the wheel. When the conductor of an orchestra starts playing the piano, the rest of the orchestra, mesmerised, feel as if they were directors themselves, and look at the empty place in front of them with scepticism, and the senior manager playing along in disgust. Instead of leading the way, this senior manager is seen as exercising and hipocritical and unsustainable exercise.

Please, don’t micromanage us if you still want our initiative! Otherwise brick layering will turn into brick breaking.

The second group think that it’s trading off time for effectiveness. But in fact is wasting both. Crises are not the best occasions for organisations unless you want to make a crisis-prone organisation.

To change, there has to be the will to change, which will hopefully melt the existing structure and (a small) part of the culture, and a road to follow, a new vision, a new strategy to be implemented that will derive a new structure, that will have to be built and solidified. Does anyone really think that can be done in the rush-hour? I don’t.

What we risk is increasing the chaos, destroying the slowly established learning-by-doing that make the organisations increasingly efficient, is simply a waste of time and energy.

Then, what should we be doing? Structure is still important, yet it should be interpreted flexibly. That doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. Leaders must lead more than ever, inspire more than ever and, if they want managers to be entrepreneurial and problem solvers, they need to keep away from blame orientation at all times and be the first to adopt a problem-solving mindset.

In the moments of stress and crazyness, that’s when you need leader the mosts, to guide, to nurture, to worry about people, or at least to prevent them ending up throwing bricks at each other.

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b-school, HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

An unexpected impact of the crisis in project management (no, they are not lazy)

As the new terminal in Barcelona’s airport nears its completion and the trials are increasingly successful, we are increasingly dwelling into the depths of this recession / depression. No manager can have the luxury of forgetting the external environment, as it always impact us somehow, somewhere.

Sometimes project managers tend to think that they are insulated from the rest of the world. They have their budget, their plan, their milestones. Of course there’s a great deal of interaction with the customer and the stakeholders, but sensing the environment isn’t usually deemed necessary.

They are wrong.

I’m not talking here of budget cuts, or milestones changing. That could happen anywhere, anytime. I’m here referring back to an old post: Soft and hard human resource management (utilitarian instrumentalism versus developmental humanism) and the concept of the psychological contract.

There are many definitions of the psychological contract. For our purposes, let’s say that the psychological contract is the assumed relationship between employer and employee that includes a lot more than what’s included in the papers: what you’ll do for me, what you expect from me, including the promises I might have made, the way you expect to be treated, and the expectations you have for the future. Those small things you’ve talked with your boss about and the trust you have in him that they’ll be taken care of. If your boss lied to you, for instance, your psychological contract would be shattered, and your attitude with your job would dramatically change… for worse.

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So, what’s in it for construction workers here? They are usually contracted through companies that have a working relationship with the companies that have been awarded the construction contract. There may be two, three, even four layers of agreements between them and the project. They may even work for several contracts, always ready to switch between one form of contract or another, everything transparent and irrelevant to the direction of the project, apparently.

But, what used to be the reality for them, that they went from one thing to another always having things to do and always earning money in one form or another, no longer holds true. Their expectations have dropped and, for many, next destination is unemployment. They won’t get bulky severance pays as many other layoffs. They will be simply be no longer required and no longer invited to participate in the next move. They will be have unemployment compensations, of course, but I bet they will be lower, for many reasons, than those of other kinds of workers.

So it’s no wonder they psychological contract has been shattered as well, as they expected to be able to keep living as they had been living. Not anymore.

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And when is that going to happen?

The scary thing is that this is going to happen whenever they finish their job.

So, where is the motivation to finish as soon as possible? Do you think their intentions are aligned with the timeframe of the project’s direction? Obviously they are not. If they are not paid lump sums but depending on the days spent working, which is the usual contract as the lump sums are in higher layers, they will take as much time as they can. And with that they will also shatter part of the psychological contract.

I have been observing this effect. And this feeling is dangerously infectious as workers from one contract see workers from others procrastinating as much as they can. Moreover, this has no easy solution, as the usual ways of control are not responding effectively as they were never designed to overcome this threat or to better manage people, but to apportion and divide the value of the contract between several companies. 

Sometimes, when we are thinking of leading our team to peak performance, we are forgetting to look around and realise how things are changing. We can name them however we want, but we can’t forget that, layers below, there is not a collection of resources: they are people.

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b-school, Business, Management, Thoughts

Moving from the tyranny of success to the crisis-stifled innovation

Yes, your company used to work so well. You were succeeding. And since you were succeeding and you were the incumbent, you needn’t innovate. Well, of course, you were better than that and you decided to innovate anyway, letting go some leash and opening some space for incremental innovation, probably parting from your customers and clustered companies suggestions, and put up some resources to think of new ways of doing the same things, or even new things. You were great.

So, let’s agree that your successful company innovated in any case, at least namely. But you were in a disadvantage with respect to new smaller entrants, that did not have a strong corporate culture to protect, and some rules to adhere to. Yes, you did have those, as that was the culture that helped you to be successful in the first place, and the first thing you’d need to do, if you were not successful, in your turnaround strategy, would be to build a new, aligned and strong culture anyway.

True divergence, the one that was contrary to everything you held dear, had to be repressed. That success was the tyrant that stifled innovation, till now.

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The tyrant has died with the crisis. Now you’re no longer that successful, but prone to crisis-fighting and worried about keeping your ground. Who thinks of innovation now? Surely you know about the importance of innovation, as the innovators now, the ones that rethink the business and learn the ropes of the new rules, will be the winners of tomorrow, but, what about those innovators that bend the norms, destroy capabilities in order to build new ones, ride through the waves of creative destruction inside your company. Couldn’t they wait and not to bother too much until a better time comes? Aren’t they annoying?

Yes, they are the traitors that are breaking the ranks precisely when you needed everyone unconditionally by your side, to put up the fire.

Innovation is stifled again… different reasoning… business as usual.

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HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

Listening (a reflection induced by a beacon)

Yesterday I took a few hours away off the hectic drumming of the new terminal to concentrate on a new project that I am leading: a new control system for the runways and taxiways lighting system for Barcelona’s airport, that happens to have the biggest beacon lighting system in Spain, bigger than Madrid’s.

This project has a very important difference to many other things I’m doing. It’s not focused on the big opening day but the completion date is one year later, in 2010. That means we can focus on understanding the problem, building a team, applying a methodology, generating buy-in with the final customer, expliciting the acquired knowledge and incorporating the best practices into the organisation.

We are also going to standardise the application. Coming from a bespoke application, it won’t be easy but my intention is to be able to build an standard that the organisation will be able to use in its 40-something airports. Closed applications are a thing of the past, we all know it but, instead of paying lip-service to it, this time we’re going to do it.

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But, what was important is the personal reflection that arose after our working session. Just forgetting fire fighting for a while and listening to somebody that knew a great deal about the system and discussing various proposals of what we could be doing for our initial project viability analysis.

It felt so good. Listening, learning. I’ve been getting these kind of sensations thanks to my Henley MBA, but it was great to have the same sensation coming from an engineer’s discourse. Focusing in the input instead of the output as I’ve grown accustomed to be lately.

We all need to be able to take long perspectives into a project. Be able to plan, and consider alternatives. To flex our creative muscles and deploy our energies into constructing something new, more effective, something built constructively not on the unstable foundations of pressure.

We all need to sit back an listen, as humble as the boy (or girl) we all still carry inside, and learn something from people that know more than us. Be able to capture that elusive gist that will enrich each and everyone of us. Coming humble from humus, or ground in Latin, and humilis from lowly, every manager needs to be humilis habitu humilis et actu,  that means humble in dressing (or garments) and in its way of behaving to be able to trascend the manager-administrator role into leading the project’s team to success.

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