Secretary key to efficiency in work

Where has the secretary gone?

Progress in the workplace seems to have included disappearance of the secretary in many offices.  I can type pretty well.  And I can use MS Office pretty well – at least when I am using Word I know about rulers, styles, headers, track changes, page and section breaks.  So, within reason, I can produce a reasonably well presented document – be that Word, Excel or PowerPoint (without being a guru).  But I am more productive when I have a personal assistant or secretary.

The more I look about in workplaces the more I wonder have we taken away too much secretarial support.  Are execs spending too much time scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings, generating meeting notes/ actions, updating action plans, opening, reading, filing and replying to correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.

Yes – much more of it is electronic correspondence.  But there are still filing requirements.  And – yes, the document management systems and wordprocessing software is supposed to do the tracking, storage and retrieval.  And the shared diary systems are supposed to support arrangement of meetings.  But I still wonder.

Many of the interactions with colleagues work better when not just a piece of software grabbing time in your diary – sometimes the secretary or personal assistant just makes it work better.

Managers

And then there are those layers of management we have taken out – in order to be more efficient.  As a result we have flatter structures – with some immediate benefits.  But what about the loss of time for coaching, supporting, encouraging?  Or the lack of time for senior executives as they are pulled into tasks previously managed by those layers of management?

Work is a complex social environment.  People use the technology differently – even the same people use it differently at different times of the same day.  It’s not only sales people who resist loading everything into CRM – all sorts of people have provisional appointments they do not enter in the diary, times they are hoping to manage – perhaps to get away early, to pick up the kids, to catch up with a friend at lunch time.  Sometimes the secretary can manage all of this and make it happen better for everyone.

I would be lost without email, shared information, MS Office – but there are lots of things I need to get done which happen better and faster by having an assistant.  And I think there are lots of other people – across lots of the companies with whom I have worked – who are spending time on the wrong things for the lack of effective secretarial support.

Collaboration

We are back to looking at how to make collaboration work more effectively – and part of the secret is having the right resources in place.  I have spent thirty years looking to streamline and improve work processes through use of technology – be that email, network shares, social media, cloud, personal productivity tools.  But we need to keep focused on the goal – and if more administrative support is what it takes – in spite of the technology – then we should t least be open to this.  The technology should empower people – the execs and the support team.  It probably enables a smaller group to provide more administrative support.  But for now at least, ti seems to me to have led to some questionable practices – pulling execs away from focusing on their greatest added value.  I think more organisations may need to revisit their practices ans structures.

 

Why do teams win? What do we learn from winning teams?

Just attended 6 Gaelic Football and Hurling finals over the last 10 days or so. Five of the teams I supported were successful – so an unusually high success rate! And of course we are often told we learn more from the games we lose (and mistakes we make) than from winning games. But I was thinking – what did we learn from winning these games?

Firstly – winning beats losing. There is no ‘could have, should have, would have’ chat after the game. And, in general, the things that went wrong are put to one side and the focus tends to be on what went right.

Why did five of these teams win?

The first team was well coached, had set achievable targets for itself early in the season, had sorted out its defence and had realistic expectations of its own players (and their abilities). The coaches were meticulous in their preparation – including their analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. On the day the team made a fast start and played with hunger and determination throughout the match.

The second team to win consisted of a teams of winners. They had lots of ability and had been undefeated in Championship matches for a number of  years. The opposition played well but may have lacked some vital element of self belief. The opposition started well and had opportunities to establish a decent lead – but squandered these.  The winning team started poorly but never appeared to doubt their own ability to close out the deal. And they did so comprehensively in the end.

The third team won by one point in extra time. They played a good game – against another team of approx. equal ability and drive/ hunger. Match came down to a couple of missed opportunities for one team and a couple of opportunities taken by the other team. Would not be difficult to summarise by saying ‘they got the breaks’.

The fourth team won because they had more ability, more experience and generally shut out the up and coming opposition. Their pre-match preparation was good and after a slow start for 5-10 minutes they gradually assumed control in the match.  As the match progressed they began to exploit some weaknesses in the opposition team.

The fifth team was too strong for the opposition and won out easily.  They were faster, stronger, more skillful and, in particular, had more consistently good players across the park that the opposition.  

The sixth team lost.  This team was probably expected to win – just about.  They led well at half time.  Something happened after half time – a real momentum swing.  They seemed to lose their way for 15 minutes of the second half.  Over the game they conceded three goals – and, as many say, goals win matches.  The winning team exploited the momentum swing and just about held out in the end.

So what did I learn from watching six finals?

  • Winning and losing teams learned lots about themselves and the opposition in each game
  • Individual ability of team members makes huge difference
  • Attitude is very important
  • Experience is an asset
  • Good preparation (ambition/ focus, training, tactics, knowledge of the opposition) can make a major difference
  • Luck makes a difference in tight matches
  • Understanding limitations of your own team is important in setting out to win a match
  • Winning teams believe in themselves and their ability to win – even when faced by adversity
  • In many matches the top players on either side neutralise each other – the battle often gets decided by the weaker players – the team with the stronger weaker players usually exploits this advantage to win
  • Beware of momentum swings – over the 6 games there were plenty of changes in momentum – when teams trailing were afforded the opportunity to change things around.  The challenge having survived to the momentum swing opportunity is to take it and kick on.  Really only saw this happen in the sixth final.

Interestingly no real reference to individual leadership, per se, in these match wins.  Yes – good players were required to perform – but impact of individual leadership not as great as people may expect.

Certainly analysis is applicable to lots of work and life situations – why do teams succeed/ fail? Perhaps the importance of strong weaker players is overlooked in many situations – as also is having realistic expectations of the team. Other factors such as preparation and common goals/ sense of purpose were as expected.

 

What makes teams pull through?

Three recent football matches again had me thinking about what we are often looking for in work.

Munster won a Heineken Cup quarterfinal  match against the odds away to Harlequins.  Leinster won against Munser in Thomond Park.  And last night I watched an underage GAA football team turn at half time to play into a strong wind, go behind and fight back to win by a couple of points.

And sport is full of these types of circumstances.  But what attracts me is that sense of togetherness, common purpose, that enables a team to overcome the odds.  Yes it requires some of the top players to prove their worth but operating in a team sense – providing leadership, shouldering responsibility, encouraging others.  And lesser players (and least lesser in the public eye) are equally important. Tactics are important and luck will also play its part.  And support from spectators should not be underestimated – although all three games were won playing away from home i.e. with relatively small, but loyal, support teams.

The recent Masters golf tournament was a similar event – even if the teams are down to the player and the trusted caddy.  But there were lessons – in terms of how both players attacked the 18th and attacked the play off holes.  Technique, commitment, trust between caddy and player and finally, I think, one being a little luckier than the other.  But all congratulations to both Angel Cabrera, the runner up, and to Adam Scott, the winner.

The purpose of this post is not to replace the tomes written previously about application of sports principles in business, etc.  But I see so many business failures which can be tracked to the absence of that team spirit – or a gradual fading of the spirit .  All of the teams mentioned have their bad days – but they do understand that feeling of pulling together, leaders encouraging, supporters working in the background, trust and respect and going the extra yard for common gain.  And the successful teams have it in more depth and more often.  And when the luck goes against them they come out fighting again.

Interconnected becomes hyperconnected

Excellent piece in today’s New York Times from Thomas Friedman (previous reference).  Greatly enjoyed his previous book ‘The world is flat‘.

Friedman touches on a three ideas:

  • Advances in technology (since The World is Flat in 2004) e.g. twitter, facebook, freelancer.com are threatening white collar rather than blue collar jobs
  • Stop talking about outsourcing – really just a question of sourcing
  • There is now only good, better and best – and our schools need to catch up

Friedman has it right.  Social networking, mobile technology, free videoconferencing, tools to support collaboration, sites to rate resources – it’s all making for a world where you can assemble the best resources you require to do any task.  Increasingly there will be less room for inferior service.

Reflecting on 2010 – in Dublin, Ireland

Reflecting on 2101 – real challenges for Ireland, some interesting technologies, the need for creative genius

Dublin by night
Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a pretty frightening year on the economic front, here in Dublin, Ireland.  Finally, despite all the protestations of the Government the EU and IMF rode into town.  A deal has been done – premised on significant growth it might be doable…if the growth does not materialise – then eventually some debt will have to be written off.

On the technology front – for me personally the smartphone wins out (currently favouring the Android platform): greater access and availability wherever you are (wherever I am).  Seems to me the Cloud has matured into something that is not going away – in fact that looks like it will win out.  I think the objections will be addressed and moved aside. On the semantic web front – lots of activity from various providers of tools/ solutions using semantic technology. Disappointing, given the presence of DERI in Ireland, that we do not see more publicity/ traction within our own smart economy.  And we trail other countries dismally on initiatives to push publication of data (using linked open data standards)  by government departments.

Snow in the suburbs
A whole new world

The last few weeks have been challenging on the weather front – in particular on the East Coast.  It would have to be said that our local government/admin/ transport has failed miserably and consistently in addressing the weather challenges.  To see major roads not being cleared each night is pretty depressing – be it shortage of money to pay the overtime, trucks to clear the snow/slush,salt to treat the roads or poor planning/management and execution.  But there is a real cost – most likely including loss of life – because of this repeated failure.

Katie Taylor, Graeme McDowell, Tipperary hurlers, U23 cross country runners and many more – great memories and inspiration in a difficult year and looking forward to challenging years.

There was my short break with my wife in Budapest – what a marvellous city and such hospitable people.  But then we had the fun courtesy of Volcanic Ash – our four day trip home was quite luxurious by comparison with the hardship experienced by others.

Best book I read was the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto.  Also often found myself returning to ideas from The Power of Pull.

And Wikileaks has caught the imagination as the year closes out.  I was not very positively disposed to Mr Assange when this began – but the overreaction from certain quarters is not doing much to reinforce my doubts.  I think we all need to reflect a little on this. Some of the ideas referenced by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody and by Don Tapscott in Macrwikinomics are playing out in front of us.

All in all looking forward to the break – a chance to enjoy some of the best things in Ireland – company, craic, ceol, food, literature, scenery, catching up with the visiting diaspora…and time to do some dreaming.  Because we all need to use our imaginations and our creativity in order to ensure that we do beat our targets next year – be that winning a major, winning a football championship, keeping a job, hiring a new employee, starting a new business, teaching a student, helping someone.

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Learning from the young – to make social networking work

Put new intake at the centre of your social networking and collaboration rollout plans – they have lived this way and get it.

Exterior signage in front of J. Crew's Factory...
Image via Wikipedia

Great piece from Tom Peters highlighting the strengths of Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew.  Peters  picks out so many things that appeal to him in Drexler’s approach – clearly a man who walks the walk and talks the talk.  But what I am drawn to in particular is his respect for younger or more junior people in the organisation:

  • Listens attentively regardless of age/seniority
  • Obvious in his transparent respect for young employees

As we begin to embrace social networking and the associated collaborative approach a key step for enterprise management  is to embrace the new generation – sometimes referred to as the F generation (in reference to facebook).  These are the people who know and understand these solutions.  Bring them on board  – put them at the centre of the required change.  Have them mentor senior, more experienced managers – mentoring is a tow way process.

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Barriers to Collaboration

Practical examples of barriers to effective collaboration within companies

Have just been rereading Morten Hansen’s excellent book: “Collaboration”. Hansen concentrates on collaboration within the enterprise. He draws on significant research across a range of large corporates – including well known companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Apple and HP. I have been reviewing his ‘Barriers to Collaboration’ in the context of my own experience across a range of companies.

Not Invented Here
Particularly struck by Hansen’s reference to ‘insular culture’ and ‘status gap’. An example of this often arises where consultants are introduced to assist in some form of business transformation/ BPR – but there is a tendency within certain groups to hold meetings behind closed doors – excluding the consultants. I actually think the status gap is more serious in terms of junior personnel not wanting to open up with senior personnel – because they have experienced a lack of interest/ responsiveness in the past of their suggestions.

Hoarding
In the current climate of economic pressures, cutbacks, rationalisation Hansen’s reference to ‘Being too busy’ certainly rings true. People who are hard-pressed to get their own job done are less willing/ available to assist others. This is a real challenge for management – to provide the environment and opportunities for effective research and collaboration.

Search
It is disappointing that finding people and information seems to be such a challenge. However from my own background in Business Intelligence I think we all know that it is pointless to expect people to contribute data when they do not understand the ultimate use/ benefit of this data. There is any number of technological solutions available – but these require an understanding upfront and commitment to improved processes and technologies.

Transfer
There are real challenges in transferring what Hansen describes as ‘tacit knowledge’. All very well to capture basics of relationships in a CRM system – but the valuable information is often difficult to put down in writing and requires genuine collaboration for its effective transfer. Tacit knowledge transfer takes us into the area of emotional intelligence and ability to intereatc and share ideas.

facebook – 500m plus and rising

Facebook becoming more useful

I’ve been using facebook actively for a couple of years now. Initially saw it as a tool to stay in touch with overseas friends. But since then seems to have become a way to organise events, share photos, promote business expertise, find answers to questions, reconnect with old friends.

Interesting piece published in Forbes by Fred Wilson emphasising the same point – and the threat to google ( and the rest) posed by facebook.

Wave goodbye

End of the road for googlewave

So – looks like end of the road for google Wave. Easy to knock google for this (and other initiatives that have not worked). Seemed like Google were in too much of a hurry to get the incomplete product out in the marketplace. Then seemed like they made some mistakes around security.

At the time I had a concern that in trying to develop a collaboration/ enhanced instant messaging et al tool they were going to build a monster. And I think that was a major part of the problem – user adoption failed because it was not clear which problem google wave was solving.

Anyway the technology is there for others to access and seek to incorporate into other products.

semantic web and intelligence

Do not confuse much of current semantic web and human intelligence

There is a great deal written about web 3.0/ semantic web in terms of knowledge and intelligence.  Much of it relates to computers being able to process data published on the web and ‘understand’ it – either via Natural Language Processing type solutions or through markups such as Resource Definition Framework (RDF).

This
piece of research being conducted by IBM reminds us of the competition – the human brain.

For now I see the real benefit of the semantic web being to give me some assistance in terms of processing the vast amount of data which is available on the web (and within enterprises – under linked open data initiative).  For instance, if in going to a meeting to discuss evolving health & safety issues in the construction industry in Australia, I have a piece of software which can filter/find/ summarise much of the information and data in the public domain then my contribution to the meeting may be more valuable (or my preparation time may be accelerated).  Again, within the context of semantic web, my profile – if I have an interest in such a field – should result in my being prompted with relevant information.  This ties in with Kevin Kelly’s dictum, ‘No personalisation without transparency’.