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Tag: Leadership

Have You Dreamt about Being Your Own Boss?

An interesting bit of information recently emerged from employment statistics in Canada (and one has to assume a global trend). The majority of new jobs created are in the ‘self employed’ category. This is right across the board, including business analysts, project managers and so many others in related fields. What this means is a large number of those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily displaced have become independent contractors and consultants, at least for the short term.

So, have you ever dreamt of being your own boss? Most of us probably have. We think about the flexibility and freedom it offers. We wonder how much more income we would retain if we simply contracted out our services. We imagine what it would be like to be our own boss. That picture of three-day weeks and extended vacations starts to look pretty compelling. But how realistic is it? And what are the downsides that need to be considered and managed to make you successful?

Keep the Coffers Full

One of the biggest challenges the self-employed face is developing a stream of regular income. Some transitions can be quite smooth. An example is Jeff, who left his employer to contract directly with a former client. He is getting paid to do the same work by the same people, minus the middleman. From his perspective this is a good move in the short term and will allow him to form his own consulting firm in the longer term. He could very well transition from being an employee to being an employer. The risk is that, as an independent contractor, he is easy to write out of a budget. If the project is cancelled, his contract is cancelled. My advice to Jeff would be to start looking for the next source of income now.

A contrasting example is Ruth, who has been working as an independent consultant for the past three years. Her business has been thriving – she was building up her client base and striving to meet needs in a growth economy. She is now finding that as her clients deal with cost constraints, their penny pinching is putting a pinch on her pocketbook. She finds herself in a position of having to learn and use a new skill set – business development. It takes time and endless energy to keep the pipeline of work flowing. My advice to her is, get business development busy and look for alternate channels of work to get her through this rough patch.

If you want to thrive in self-employment you need to be prepared to sell yourself every day. If you are someone who thrives on doing the work, but the thought of having to sell it doesn’t interest or motivate you (and may even terrify you), being self-employed may not be a viable option. When the economy is good it is often easy to pick up contracts based on an existing network. When the economy is in recession, a lot more people are fighting for more limited resources. You need to be up for the challenge.

Stay Focused

When you work for a company, others provide structure and direction. No matter how independent and initiating you are, it always helps to have deadlines looming. As Christine Keeling, a successful serial entrepreneur who runs Blueshoe Rewards, says “no one is kicking your butt to do things.” She has this advice for those starting out:

  • Build a plan.
  • Set priorities and stick to them.
  • Ruthlessly manage your time.
  • Get serious about managing your finances – remember you are tying your family’s livelihood to your good idea.

Develop a Support System

Just because you are working for yourself doesn’t mean you should be an island. Look for help and support everywhere. Christine points to the benefits of joining a support group for entrepreneurs, like Strategic Coach in Toronto. These groups often have speakers or resources to help you in areas that are new to you, whether it is building a business plan or marketing your services. You might want to find a mentor or even start your own networking group. My advice is to get all the support you can, wherever you can.

There is a lot of risk in going solo. There is also plenty of reward, as Christine points out. “When you are starting out, you are operating without a net. You have to like being on a roller coaster. But, at the end of the day, your successes are your own. And that’s the best feeling in the world.”

Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.

The Art (or not) of Blamestorming

When times get tough, when people get stressed, and when they are faced with a crisis, it is interesting to observe how many people seem to suddenly become skilled in the Art of Blamestorming. Loosely defined Blamestorming is a meeting of like-minded people who enjoy sitting around in meetings, deciding who or what they are going to blame for their current plight.

How many good Blamestorming sessions have you had in your own organization recently? You probably know some people who are highly skilled at Blamestorming. Some people are so proficient that they do not even need an organized meeting in order to practice their art. They do it at the water cooler, in the elevator, on the phone and some are even skilled enough to record it on paper or send out by email.

In our current economic climate it is not difficult to become a skilled Blamestormer as there are so many easy targets to pick from; Wall Street; The Government; Over Spending Home Owners; Greedy CEOs; Oil Prices and the like.

Unfortunately though, Blamestormers tend to lead their organizations on a vicious downward spiral of panic, falling morale, resignations, lack of focus on solutions and a lack of vision for the future because they are too focused on finding someone or something to blame for the past.

What organizations need now more than ever are not people who are looking to place blame, but for leaders who are prepared to step forward and take some responsibility. To take responsibility for how we got here, what needs to be done about it, what does the future look like, and how are we going to execute a plan to get there. 

Good leadership is always about responsibility and never about blame. Of course there are always things that occur that are beyond your control and yes they can affect your current situation. Strong leaders though will instinctively know that sitting around discussing who is at fault will achieve very little.

Instead they will ask themselves some of the following questions: 

  • Did we really have a contingency plan in place for recessionary times?
  • Have we created a culture of innovation so that we can look at new ways to grow?
  • Have we created an agile organization that can adapt quickly to changing needs?
  • Have we built a loyal engaged workforce who have faith in their leadership and will stay with us?

In the days ahead, organizations that have developed strong leadership will be thinking about how to learn from the past, be innovative today, and provide inspiration for tomorrow so that they emerge stronger, leaner and well prepared when the upsurge occurs. They will not be wasting time with the Art of Blamestorming.

Bryn Meredith is a principle of Bluepoint Leadership Development.  He has extensive experience as a business leader, entrepreneur and leadership development specialist. Bryn can be reached at [email protected]

Designing Great Leadership Development Workshops

Ten Core Design Principles

Leadership development workshops are very expensive. And I’m not just referring to the cost of facilities, materials, trainers, and bagels. When a company takes 20 or so managers out of the organization for several days, it is making a significant investment in their development. Those of us who are the architects of these workshops need to ask ourselves the question: Have we designed a workshop that is worthy of this investment? We at Bluepoint have been delivering leadership workshops for over twenty years and have learned that there are 10 core design principles that lead to a great learning experience. I would like to share these with you.

1) Research-based Content

A colleague of ours once mused that many leadership workshops appear to have been created by two guys in a bar in Milwaukee and recorded on the back of a beer coaster. The truth is that anyone can cobble together some interesting exercises and experiences, but to what end? We know the outcomes of great organization leadership…alignment, engagement, retention, productivity, teamwork, agility, to name a few. There is little mystery here. What many designers ignore is all the research that tells us what specific leadership behaviors, practices and approaches will create these outcomes. A good leadership workshop is grounded in this research and, as such, will equip participants with the capability to make an immediate, positive impact on their organizations.

2) Engagement

The frenzied pace that most managers face today has turned the otherwise calm and thoughtful participant into a skittish, distracted bystander, infected by a self-imposed form of ADD with one eye on his or her Blackberry and the other eye on the door. It’s not that these managers are disinterested in their professional development; they are simply products of today’s frenetic organizations. To get their attention, they must be entertained. While describing a good leadership workshop as entertaining may sound like a call to design a boondoggle, unless the workshop can successfully compete with the myriad of distractions facing today’s manager, we will simply be hosting adult day-care. The famous communications guru, Marshall McLuhan, made the connection even more direct with this statement: “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education and entertainment.” Videos, stories, games, debates, physical experiences and colorful materials all play an important role in participant engagement.

3) Story-telling

Every participant comes to the workshop with their own unique leadership story that has grown out of their experiences, beliefs, fears, biases and aspirations. A great workshop challenges the participant to create a bigger story for him or herself and the people that they lead. This can only happen when the participant has the opportunity to tell his or her current story and have it honored in the classroom. Once this happens, a new story can be crafted. The greater the story, the greater the development.

4) Feedback

No workshop ingredient is more potent than feedback. Whether it be multi-rater assessments or direct one-on-one communication, feedback is a powerful stimulus for personal change. And that’s what leadership development really is…personal change. What limits the use of feedback in leadership workshops? I believe it is largely our own arrogance. Too often we feel that the participant cannot handle the feedback. They are too fragile. They will somehow be irreparably damaged by our words or those of fellow participants. Or it may be our own insecurities. We will lose control of the workshop. Emotions will run rampant. We will not be able to handle the resulting carnage. Remember, the workshop is not about you; it’s about the participant. Be bold in creating a feedback-rich environment. The participants will thank you for the gift, maybe not now, but someday.

5) Appreciation

The problem with many leadership development workshops is that there is an underlying assumption that the ideal leader needs to develop a predetermined set of corporate competencies while becoming some fantastic amalgamation of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jack Welch. Let’s leave that idea to the boys at the bar in Milwaukee. We do not discard these elements entirely from the design process. Corporate culture and strategy rightly have a bearing on workshop design, and there is also much we can learn from the great leaders of the past. However, the best workshops are based on the assumption that all participants come uniquely gifted for the challenge of leadership, and the role of the workshop is to help them identify and cultivate these gifts. It is not our job to help them become the next Steve Jobs, but rather someone much more potent…the best leadership version of themselves. A workshop that is designed to help the participants accelerate the development of their natural strengths is much more potent than one designed to fix the participant or change him or her into the model corporate leader.

6) Intense Experiences

I have asked thousands of workshop participants to reflect on the following five items and select the one that had the most influence on their development as a leader.

(i) Reading and Research
(ii) Performance Appraisals
(iii) Coaching and Mentoring
(iv) Challenging Experiences
(v) Formal Training

Challenging Experiences” was selected by over 90 % of the respondents. (It’s interesting to note that Performance Appraisals always comes in dead last, but that’s a topic for another day.) Even though most designers are keenly aware of these findings, there is a great temptation to fill the workshop agenda with content that is largely extraneous such as succession planning models, managerial competencies, and corporate values. While the intention to provide material that can be applied back on the job is laudable, this information is largely ignored. People can read. Give them the content beforehand. Use the workshop as a learning laboratory where the participants are confronted with real leadership situations. Challenge them to lead at higher levels. Create a curriculum that exposes participants to intense experiences, and allow them to experiment with new behaviors and approaches. This will accelerate their learning and development. (By the way, most savvy managers have read all the corporate tenets and many of the important books on leadership anyway.)

7) Peer Coaching

In my ongoing survey, Coaching and Mentoring always comes in second. One-on-one learning processes are very powerful because, for a period of time, it really is all about me. Because coaching requires no content knowledge, any participant can coach another with a little guidance. For those of us who make our living standing in the front of a classroom trying to be insightful, witty and sage-like, it is difficult to accept the fact that the average peer coaching session is much more effective than our most brilliant lecture. Whenever possible, get your body and ego out of the way and let the participants talk to each other.

8) Self-awareness

It has been said that leadership development is an inside-out game. I like the way Manfred Kets De Vries puts it: “Healthy leaders are passionate…They are very talented in self-observation and self-analysis; the best leaders are highly motivated to spend time in self-reflection.” (Harvard Business Review, January, 2003) The leadership development workshop provides the perfect opportunity for the leader to step out of his or her chaotic schedule, put it in neutral, and take a long, fresh look inward. After all, the only thing participants can work on to improve their leadership is themselves. Put sufficient white space into the workshop design so the participant can personalize the learning. Most managers cannot remember the last time they took 15 minutes in complete silence to contemplate their own leadership journey. Give them the 15 minutes.

9) Performance Breakthroughs

The most frequently voiced dissatisfaction with leadership workshops is the lack of application on the job. It’s not because workshop participants do not want to change; it’s just that real change is so difficult. The pressures of the job, lack of support from their manager, no time…the list goes on. Significant improvement in leadership effectiveness rarely occurs in one big leap. We don’t see the freshly-trained leader walking through the hallways wearing saffron-colored robes, musing about shared community values and throwing rose petals on others (metaphorically speaking, that is). Change occurs incrementally and is fueled by short-term successes – a process that needs to start in the classroom. Bar the classroom door and let no one leave until they have demonstrated at least ten performance breakthroughs (again, metaphorically speaking…I think). Real change starts in the workshop, not back in the office. Start the habit of experimentation and incremental change in the workshop.

10) Learning Accountability

I kick-off many of my leadership coaching assignments with the eternally irritating question: “So, Sally, if nothing changes in your performance what is likely to happen?” Besides the mischievous delight I take in tormenting my clients, I have learned that I can serve them best by insisting that they take full responsibility for their actions, decisions, learning and future. Unless they take personal accountability for their development, there will always be someone else to blame…their board, their staff, their customer, their mother. So too with a leadership workshop. The question that needs to be oft asked at the workshop is “So, George, what have you learned about yourself and what are you going to do about it?

Our clients often report that the two or three days spent in our leadership development workshops were some of the most important days of their careers. Is this because we have great facilitators? Most certainly. A great facilitator can turn almost any curriculum into an important learning experience. But it is also because we try to adhere to the above design principles which, in essence, tell us that the workshop is not about us…it’s about the participant.

Gregg Thompson is a principle of Bluepoint Leadership Development (Canada) and the author of Unleashed! Expecting Greatness and Other Secrets of Coaching for Exceptional Performance. He can be reached at [email protected] or 604-313-5357.

Creating Motivation through Discovery

I am often asked by business analysts, consultants, supervisors, managers and leaders, how do you motivate people? Motivation is an endless process. People, teams and organizations are motivated for different reasons. Your job as business analysts, supervisors, managers and leaders is to leverage your own business skills to understand what motivates the people around you.

The reality is people are motivated because they are motivated. Not because you just rewarded them a date night movie pass for two, popcorn and coke included. One size does not fit all. Motivation is all about asking the right questions, listening and understanding – and then, to the best of your ability, facilitating the needs of that person, team or organization.

Consider it requirements gathering and documenting. Take these ten questions into consideration.

  1. What are the primary objectives of your organization? The people around you, your clients and resources might show more motivation if they understood what is going on. Ask clear questions of the organization to establish clarity of mission, values and objectives. Specifically, what is on the strategic agenda of the organization? You should know the answer to that question. 
  2. What obstacles inhibit us from moving forward, getting the information we need, without which people are hindered from doing their best? People have lives, professional and personal. Consider inquiring about what people are tolerating personally and professionally. Maybe you can destroy motivation-sucking activities. 
  3. What motivates the people you are dealing with? Interestingly, they will tell you that they are motivated by a whole range of different things. Motivation could include tending to family needs, reward and recognition, freedom from structure, competition, security, community service or maybe financial reward. The potential list is huge, but on an individual basis, it is most likely only a handful of items. 
  4. How empowered do people, teams and the organization feel? Do people feel like they have autonomy, independence, room to make decisions or are they controlled, manipulated and have the life sucked out of them? These are important considerations. 
  5. What changes have you proposed or put into place that just killed motivation? Maybe you are investigating the feasibility of implementing a new system that will increase efficiency for management but give administration more work. People are just not interested in helping. In this case, go after the FUDs (fears, uncertainties and doubts) about the future or present event. Give people the freedom to express their concerns with respect. Ensure they feel heard and understood. You may not be able to leverage or act on anything they say, but if they feel you are listening to them and you have captured their needs and requirements, it goes a long way towards motivation. 
  6. What are the motivational patterns of your people and teams within the organization? Check out motivation from the perspective of your best people and teams. Start to develop some lessons-learned data that can be leveraged to perform gap analysis, best practices and training opportunities. 
  7. Are the goals of the individual, team and organization aligned? As a professional, you need to recognize where the organization wants time spent. Establish the valued focus areas. Then consider whether resources are focused on those items and their motivation levels based on their activities, whether right or wrong. 
  8. What do people think about this place they hang out at for 40, 50 or 60 hours a week? This is a loyalty and commitment question. Take generations into consideration when answering this question. 
  9. When it comes to individual, team and organization involvement, how involved are your people in the strategic, tactical and operational development of the organization? Do people get randomly transferred or assigned to committees? When they talk or tell you something, do they feel listened to and heard? When putting a program together are they consulted? Consider this stuff – you may have to leverage the leadership skills and attributes of your business analysts or a person who is recognized as a leader to find out. 
  10. How consistent is the organization internally and externally? Maybe externally you are the “green technology company” and people joined because they thought it was true. If the internal reality is inconsistent with the external appearance, this will cause motivation problems. Again gap analysis is needed to determine the problem and challenge ahead.

These are just some areas to consider when it comes to motivation. I recall a situation when I was a senior manager some years ago in a large international company. I had an employee whose performance was suffering. I knew the person had the talent and knew their job but the drive was missing. Unfortunately, they received poor performance reviews for a few years due to this. It took several one-on-one discussions regarding their performance and, more importantly, their personal life circumstances and interests for us to discover that they loved to travel. Once we clued into the travel option we set up a career path where the person was able to travel about twice a quarter to help the organization on various initiatives. The best part is that we dove-tailed their professional development with another senior person who hated to travel but loved to develop other people using telecommunication technology. In the following two years, both people flourished and were promoted two levels above their original.

Ask questions and discover the needs of the individual, team and organization and facilitate it. That is how motivation is created.

Richard Lannon is an international business and technology industry veteran turned corporate speaker, facilitator, trainer and advisor. He specializes in aligning the enterprise and technical skills to common business objectives. Richard helps organizations and professionals identify what’s important, establish direction and build skills that positively impact their bottom line. He provides the blueprint for your organization to be SET (Structured, Engaged and Trained). His clients call him the SETability Expert. He can be reached at [email protected] or 403-630-2808

Why I Love Being the Vendor

There are two sides to the business analysis community:  The internal business analyst and the external consulting companies or contractors … “Vendors”.  Being the internal BA just isn’t much fun sometimes and often, the internal policies and practices can work against your success.  Sometimes it’s the company itself that has created a requirements analysis gap and the individuals – however strong they might be – just can’t be successful.  Entrenched, hierarchical, corporate cultures will always work against the internal BA unless a company has made the leap to reset the value and position of BAs within this hierarchy.  In spite of all these challenges, I’ve also seen internal organizations transform themselves from being order-takers, to being considered highly valued business drivers.  So often the difference in mindset for those that succeed is they’ve started to think like vendors.

As a vendor, I get to dictate the process or our company does not do the engagement.  This is a strong position – we’ll only do engagements we know will be successful, or we (subtly) take a pass on working together.  Vendors work from a position of strength and build up our “referenceability.”  If I can say “we’ve done over 1,000 of these” and give specific examples, people generally listen when you tell them “this is the way it gets done if you want success.”  Sure, the vendor has to tune the process around the edges to improve the fit with existing internal processes and issues, but the essence of how the work will get done stays the same on every engagement.  By negotiating the process of requirements discovery up-front, by identifying precisely where additional costs might exist, or how to tune their process to meet their specific business objectives, a vendor walks into an engagement with a higher level of commitment to the process than you would see on most internal projects.  A good vendor pre-loads the deck for success by setting out process, roles, and the minimum involvement needed from stakeholders before they take the engagement.  A vendor’s project intake process is far more structured – even where we’re outsourcing and doing 20 large projects for the same client in a quarter.  A vendor can’t deviate from working this front-end because we know that eventually, if we don’t scrutinize it closely, we’re risking failure on an engagement.

Vendors have done their homework on the value they bring.  We also dedicate about 25% of our corporate resources to ensuring that people understand our value in communications and direct sales cost.  Since a decent vendor has done the research, they can prove to management what will happen in time and cost if their process is not followed.  For example, I can show someone hard data from live projects on the reductions in requirements change we bring, the timetable improvements we achieve, and how our process brings value to larger, more strategic projects.  Because a successful vendor has thought long and hard about what it does, they can be more concise and quantified about the value we intend to bring to a specific situation.  We also separate organizational value management (sales role) from value delivery (consulting function) to more deliberately manage client expectations and satisfaction.  For the vendor, high satisfaction is only achieved by a specific path, that starts with setting the right expectations on the value we bring, and ends with help people both see and showcase that they were successful in achieving their objectives.  The thinking is different: Internal analysts tend to focus on task achievement; good vendors think about value management.

A successful vendor’s delivery team has conviction.  Conviction is that deep-seated belief that a process is going to be successful IF an engagement is conducted a certain way.  You can have business analyst training until you are blue in the face, but unless there is the absolute belief that the new techniques will be successful, these techniques will not used.  Vendors make people document the success stories and show these to the new consultants.  At our organization, we make sure that people know that the process has worked over 1,000 times successfully, and we take the cost hit to put our new people on airplanes to observe an engagement done by an experienced team, so that they can success for themselves.  We also get them to co-pilot an engagement with a successful user of the methods before we ever let them go solo.  All this effort is part of building both competence and conviction.  At the end of the day, a vendor can only be successful if every person on the delivery team is able to do the methodology in EXACTLY the same way and get a consistent result.  In our world, there really isn’t a second chance – we do exceptionally well, or we get fired.  Analysts follow the process a vendor dictates not simply because they understand it, but because they absolutely believe that they will be more successful if they follow it.  The path to developing skills is fairly straightforward.  The path to getting consistent execution is much more complex and relies on first building conviction.

I like to relate success and momentum in general within organizations to a big, heavy, flywheel.  A big success gets the flywheel turning a little.  Get a bunch of successes… and the wheel turns a little faster.  The flywheel is an analogy for a cycle of positive change where small, incremental steps lead to momentous change.  If I go back 10 years, our company tended to do smaller engagements of one or two weeks and we really did not pursue large-scale engagements.  Today, it’s the inverse – our teams tend to be engaged on extremely large and complex projects, and the smaller one- or two- week engagements are a smaller proportion of our revenue.   Vendors must deliberately manage momentum.  With positive momentum, the strategic focus of the organization shifts over time.  An organization with no positive momentum offers basically the same value to the organization year-after-year.  A vendor can’t simply say “our strategy this year is to do more BA stuff”.  In the vendor world, clients can be a bit ruthless, so vendors must either show momentum and continuously strengthen the value proposition, or wane in importance as service providers.

A vendor as specialized as we are (we only do business requirements) lives or dies by how we scope and size an opportunity, and how we determine the optimal process, plan and strategy to recommend for a requirements engagement.  We simply cannot miss when doing estimation – ever.  In fact, in the last bunch of years, I can’t remember sliding over-budget on an assignment.  We have to closely manage the number of client days used on an assignment and commit in a statement of work that we are going to produce “X” deliverable in “Y” days.  Most analyst organizations really do not manage client expectations on the number of days required to do requirements.  In fact, a mere 25% of organizations we recently surveyed accurately estimated the amount of time needed from the stakeholders. The rest underestimated by an average of 192% (get the results from   How do you expect to maintain stakeholder involvement over time if the team consistently overruns expectations by almost 200%?

Finally, vendors get access to all the neat toys.  It is perhaps one of the bi-products of working with so many clients that you see what is working and what’s not, but more importantly, a vendor has a deliberate R&D focus to continuously look at new methods or technologies and see what makes them tick.  It’s neat to get a freebie copy of the latest and greatest from a tools vendor like RavenFlow and fiddle with it on an engagement.  Having a substantial R&D budget for BA best practices and technologies development means the vendor is able to get ahead of changes in client demands and talk to them about how, for example, agile methods can be made to work well on very large scale engagements.  Having an R&D sandbox in which to play with new technologies and methods may be fun, but candidly, it’s the only way to determine the practical application of these technologies and methods, and help the organization develop the value it brings to clients.  In fact, internal business analysts and vendor organizations both have access to the toys, the question is, is there a managed process to turn that access into value?

Are these lessons from the vendors well implemented in internal business analyst organizations?  Take a little test:

  • Do your BAs take enough time negotiating the process of requirements discovery – especially on strategic projects – to ensure success? 
  • How good is your organization at selling your process internally?  Do you measure or manage the value delivered to the organization?
  • Do you have consistently high quality requirements from all BAs?  Do your people have conviction that they’ll be successful if they follow your internal process?
  • Do you have strong momentum?  Consistently enhancing value brought to the organization – and an expanding budget/mandate?
  • Can you accurately forecast (+/-10%) the number of days needed for conducting business analysis and in creating business requirements?
  • Do you have a practical, managed process for BA process and technology R&D? 

If any of the answers are “No”, ask yourself, “why not.”  Why not force your BAs to do better elicitation planning, or publish your success stories, or benchmark your team against best of breed performance to showcase their strength?  Maybe you already have strong momentum.  But, maybe, you’re looking for ways to build that momentum and acting more like an external vendor is the path to help get you there.

Keith Ellis is the Vice President, Marketing at IAG Consulting ( where he leads the marketing and strategic alliances efforts of this global leader in business requirements discovery and management. Keith is a veteran of the technology services business and founder of the business analysis company Digital Mosaic which was sold to IAG in 2007.  Keith’s former lives have included leading the consulting and services research efforts of the technology trend watcher International Data Corporation in Canada, and the market strategy of the global outsourcer CGI in the financial services sector.  Keith is the author of IAG’s Business Analysis Benchmark – the definitive source of data on the impact of business requirements on technology projects.