30 September 2010

Importance of checking up with your team regularly

Some people have the gift of sensing atmosphere, moods and spotting if something is slightly wrong/different with someone. This post is for all the others that like me can’t do that.

I remember when I was the big boss president, one of the key things I discovered is that there is no such thing as too much leading when you have a team. I am not talking about boosting your ego, talking all the time, giving all the answers or putting your feet down and only accept things your way. That’s really not the point and as a leader you should learn to lean in and out as necessary. It’s more about interacting with your team frequently and constantly – more importantly, in a proactive way.

There is a lot of “reactive” team management to be done, conflicts arise, plans change, budgets get cut, things go to hell  and all that, but I perceive that a key thing for an awesome leader is to proactively manage the team. It’s like a health check up: you can go frequently to the doctor, discover some stuff that can lead to some bad sickness in the future, treat it early and relax, OR ignore going to the doctor, run to the emergency room and take the consequences of a late diagnostic.

Leaders could (should) be proactive in talking with their teams and checking up if there is something that could be improved, how they are doing (work, personal, etc), frustrations, things that they like about working with you, feedback, etc. Of course employees could (should) be more proactively in seeking their managers, but if a managers gives the first step, usually it’s easier for everyone.

How to do it? Anyway you and the individual people in your team feel comfortable. When I was president, some people preferred to have a monthly talk in the café, others preferred a more structured 15m weekly meeting, another responded well for having a meal together… the important part is to make it constant enough that you are always on top of what is going on and not constant enough that it is annoying for the team member.

Sometimes people don’t even expect that you will solve the problem, they just want some empathy, just want to feel they are listened by the leader.

29 September 2010

Linchpin – indispensable reading

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Linchpin – Are You Indispensable? has book format, but in fact is a gift, a piece of art. It has been a long time that a book didn’t spark me so much. I started reading it around 10pm and I couldn’t sleep, even when I forced myself to bed at 1am. The thoughts, the ideas, the possibilities (within myself!) that the book unlocked is just comparable to a good kick out the nest that a mother eagle might give to its baby eagles.

Linchpin is a manifesto of greatness – not to get more money, not to get rewarded, not for any selfish other reason, but just because we can be amazing artists and give gifts that change the world into a better place.
A linchpin is an artist that gives away the gift of her art. But we are not talking about painters (not only at least – a painter can also be a factory worker, following the rules and the regulations, the exact opposite of linchpin).

Linchpins are doing their art everywhere and they are indispensable. It’s art when you call the customer service and that person treats you like a human being, it’s art when you don’t listen to the lizard brain and put that new idea in practice at work, it’s art when someone solves problems that no one even identified, it’s art when a designer shows us how amazing it can be to have something that is more than a phone. Linchpins are the people who are leaders, not managers, not employees, not factory workers – and, first of all, they lead themselves, so they can lead the world to great things. The best part is that anyone can become a linchpin. Some people might not want, but certainly can.

That’s my gift to you. I hope it sparks your curiosity enough for you to buy it, borrow it in the local library (or from me!), download it in iTunes or even – coff coff – go for an illegal way of getting it. Just don’t let the factory crush what you can be. Unleash your potential and become a linchpin – you will be happier as a side effect.

25 September 2010

IDEO: 3 ideas about the future of books

Nihilists always announce the death of stuff when new stuff shows up. The radio was announced dead after the TV, but it just changes. Same thing about books, we won't get rid of them (thanks god!), but they will for sure evolve. How will the book evolve? Check out the amazing 3 ideas from IDEO's video:

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

I liked specially the last one, where we can turn books into interactive fiction. Imagine the appeal a Harry-Potter-like book would have in millions of children if you also would include game elements in it? Imagine the potential of interactive books can have in education (if of course our educational system evolves at all).

23 September 2010

My work at Yara

I am working in Yara for almost 2 months, I can’t pretend I know a lot about the organization, by I can pretend I know enough about my job to actually speak about it. And since Yara doesn’t have a social media policy, here I am, using all the good sense I have today from the top of my 28-years-old-International-Brazilian-self. Let’s start with the beginning:

Yara International ASA is the world’s leading chemical company that converts energy, natural minerals and nitrogen from the air into essential products for farmers (this means fertilizers and crop nutrition stuff) and industrial customers (all sorts of chemicals to be used in other industries). Yara is a Norwegian company that has a global presence and is physically in 50 countries. It started in 1905 as Norsk Hydro, then it got demerged from Norsk Hydro only in 2004. So we are old, but we are also young. Near my desk there is a book saying “Yara. 100 years young.”

I am working at the Human Resources department, more specifically at the Talent Management and Sourcing department, which was created in January this year. Since Yara grow mostly by acquisition, we don’t have global standardized HR processes - that's where the Talent Management and Sourcing department comes in. Our mission is basically to ensure all the company uses top of the class HR processes. So this gives us a lot of room for creativity, interaction with other units and businesses, research of good case practices, buy-in and lobbying, etc. It’s definitely challenging to accomplish our job (especially when you think that the central Talent Management and Sourcing team is only 4 people including me).

I am very happy with this, since one of my biggest fears when I was leaving AIESEC was a job that was not meaningful (as an organization) and challenging (as in my job). Yara gave me both.
But what do I do? Very different things. I was hired to take care of the communication necessary to implement the HR processes globally that we in Talent Management and Sourcing create (with the help of loads of other stakeholders in the business, of course). But I am an AIESEC alumni and I don’t settle until I am going crazy with challenges, so I am now responsible for the whole Talent Management and Sourcing implementation planning (not only the communication part), responsible for designing and delivering the Employment Value Proposition design process, and I am involved here and there in the Competency Framework creation, High Potentials Program, Workforce Diversity, Talent Management Framework, Global Sourcing and Recruitment Process and Innovation Process. It’s really exciting to be part of such a huge change management process, since that’s what I really like the most: change and improve stuff.

Of course not all are roses and good weather (which challenging job is?) and the freedom to do whatever you want that I got used in the last 5 years (both in my company and in AIESEC, specially as head of AIESEC Norway) is really not present. And I understand it is mostly necessary! The company didn’t survive and thrive for over 100 years by allowing people like me (28 years old, 2 months in the company) do whatever they believe is right without supervision. Especially when you are talking about a chemical company, that needs to ensure safety and so on. But that doesn’t stop me from trying :) I am also a bit frustrated with the pace of changes, that sometimes seems a bit slow (when you need to get buy-in of so many stakeholders), but I also believe it’s the right thing to do, since without buy-in, nothing gets done – and when you are leading an organization with 50 people (as last year after the major downsizing we made in AIESEC Norway) and one with 8000, things will always move slower.

One thing that I am very happy with Yara (especially in contrast with AIESEC) is the resources we can use. Example: we can invest in the work (and also salary wise). How many AIESECers have access to top talent management research and good case practices? Consultancy? People who work with HR for 30 years sitting just in front of you? That are definitely hard/impossible to find in AIESEC.

Though one thing I wonder every day: where this path will lead me? I am a bit uncertain about the future. Growing up and all :) But let’s take the first months like this and then on the goal setting and performance management process in December/January I can talk about these things and start outlining my path.

22 September 2010

Crowd accelerated innovation

Brilliand TED talk by Chris Anderson (founder of TED), where he speaks about how web videos can power (and accelerate) innovation all around the world. Very inspiring, specially for me, when in the end he mentions (and shows) how crowds can actually improve everyone's life by learning and teaching.

15 September 2010

The secret Big Bang Team Days (a post that only the chosen ones will understand)

Well, I am not President anymore, but for them, I am always going to be "MCPiiiiiiiiiiii" (with Alex's drunk voice). Yesterday we used Skype Beta to all see each other, even though we are scattered in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Romania, it felt just like our crazy days in the office. So here is a picture of our team days:

It just coincides with the closing of the books of our term, which made me get very happy for the effort we put in turning the organization around. Before our term, the year result was a loss of 1 million kroner. In our term, we had 111 thousand profit! Way to go my dear Big Bang (and, of course, some special individuals in the organization, to name a few: Hege, Halvard, Andreas, Elizabeth, Kjerstin, Andrea, Catherine, Ane, Tine, Christian and Jan Robert).

Sorry for the random post, but my team deserves it.

10 September 2010

Evoke - the game that is a crash-course in changing the world

Addendum to the previous post: Games can change the world.

Interview in CNN where Jane McGonigal talks about Evoke, the virtual game that teaches people how to create positive change in the real world:

And the promo video of Evoke:

EVOKE trailer (a new online game) from Alchemy on Vimeo.

Games can save the world

I am passionate about education and I believe one day I will be involved in something around it. I am also a passionate gamer, so recently I've been flirting with the idea of introducing games in schools that would enhance children's learning. Please note that I am not talking about the unimaginative educational games, but real games and/or game mechanics applied to the classroom.

That's when I crossed paths with this amazing TED video:

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Not to forget, of course, the Swedish VW example of the game theory in practice, one of the videos of The Fun Theory:

Care to share any insightful ideas after this? :)

07 September 2010

Good leaders shield their people from wasting their time and organizational idiocy

The article is in fact "Why good bosses tune in to their people" in McKinsey Quarterly, but I found particularly good the part that says about shielding their followers - something that I recon, in the beginning of my term as president, I didn't do so well, but then I think I managed to improve. Here is that part of this interesting article:

The best bosses invent, borrow, and implement ways to reduce the mental and emotional load heaped on their followers—and protect them from the incompetence, cluelessness, and premature judgments of fellow bosses or others who can undermine their followers’ work and well being. Followers who enjoy such protection (and who may be bosses themselves) have the freedom to take risks and try new things.

Annette Kyle, for example, managed some 60 employees at a Texas terminal where they loaded chemicals from railcars onto ships and trucks. In the mid-1990s, Annette led a “revolution” that dramatically raised her unit’s performance through a host of changes, including better planning, greater responsibility at the lowest levels, improved and more transparent metrics, and numerous cultural changes. She personally sewed “no whining” patches on workers’ uniforms, for example, to discourage the local penchant for complaining and auctioned off her desk to workers for $60 because, as she explained it, “I shouldn’t be sitting behind a big desk. I should be contributing to team goals however possible.”

This transformation virtually eliminated the penalties that were levied when ships arrived at the terminal’s dock but (despite considerable advance warning) workers weren’t ready to load them. These “demurrage charges,” which cost the company $2.5 million the year before the revolution, were down to $10,000 the year after. Previously, it had taken more than three hours to load an average truck. Afterward, more than 90 percent were loaded within an hour of arrival. Surveys and interviews by University of Southern California researchers showed that employees became more satisfied with their jobs and felt proud of their accomplishments. I asked Annette how she could make such radical changes in her giant company. She answered that her boss shielded her from top-ranking managers—he found the resources and experts she needed but never discussed these moves with senior management until they succeeded.

Good bosses are especially adept at protecting their people’s time—for example, by eliminating needless meetings. Take a cue from Will Wright, designer of computer games such as The Sims: rather than automatically scheduling meetings, ask yourself if they are really needed. Wright employed a clever trick. Every time someone called a meeting, he charged that person a dollar. Although he collected a lot of dollars, this requirement made people “think twice, even though it was only a dollar.” He also used an employee-centered method to keep meetings short—inviting the creative but impatient artist Ocean Quigley, “the canary in the coal mine.” When Quigley raised his hand to be excused, “we knew that the meeting had hit diminishing returns.”