Who Did You Learn Most From?

I have a question for all of you: can you name the person from whom, throughout your professional life, you have learned the most from…? Don’t read further until you have answered this question and got the name of that person in mind.

I have got a couple:

  • John Stevens: who taught me how to influence people
  • Theo Koenders: who taught me how to unleash my potential
  • Reg Bull: who taught me how to design and deliver workshops
  • Tex Gunning: who taught me the power of outbreaks
  • Alan Weiss: who’s books taught me how to be a successful consultant
  • David Meerman Scott: who has inspired me to write

Did you ever tell this person that he or she had made such an amazing impact on your life? That you are who you are because of that individual? Did you ever stop to think how different things may have been without this persons influence?

‘Who Did You Learn Most From’ is one of my favorite questions when I ask people to introduce themselves at a conference or workshop. Why? Because it requires some introspection rather than the normal resume you hear.

Much more importantly it recognizes the importance of the teachers in our lives and gives them due credit. At the same time, it also encourages people to be the same teaching role model for others. Think about it… when you retire, what do you want to be remembered for? The shareholder value that you have created? The profit growth you delivered? Maybe you do, but my preference would be to be remembered for the impact I had on other people’s life and I would love for people to say that I was the person they learned most from.

Who is the person that will tell you that he/she had learned most from you?

– Paul Keijzer

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Dhaka: Stepping Into The Future

I had a great time this week with the HR team of Grameenphone, Bangladesh’s largest telecom operator and most preferred employer for the last three years, in helping them on their journey to implement their new HR operating framework.

Dhaka is really an amazing city. Depending on the way you look at it, you can either agree that it is the least livable city in the world (according to a 2012 study of the Economist Intelligence Unit) or one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities of South Asia. Being the ‘glass-is-half-full’ person that I am, I loved the energy and spirit of the place. However, there is no way to circumvent the fact that the infrastructure is unable to keep up with the influx of 600,000 new inhabitants every year, making Dhaka one of the fastest growing city in the world. People work and live in crammed office blocks and apartments, and the traffic here is probably the worst in the world.

It was with this background in mind that I entered the amazing world of Grameenphone. The GPhouse: A new state of the art U-shaped building, created around a huge water body with waterfalls, adorned with spectacular Bengali art, with a huge auditorium and cafeteria. To top it all of – open work stations, with the CEO sitting at a same desk as any other officer in the company. I had to pinch myself, am I still in Dhaka?

Obviously the people who work there love it. The GPhouse is a fantastic selling point in attracting and retaining talent. There is no office facility that comes close, so much so that they have a special team in the company that gives, almost daily, office tours to high placed government officials.

Whilst I sincerely applaud the vision of the leadership of the company to build such an amazing facility, I also realized that being so far ahead of the curve could potentially backfire as well. Standing out from the crowd as a progressive company is one thing but shiny facilities and offices also increases your exposure and attracts all kinds of desired and undesired attention.

However, there are always positives and negatives when it comes to pushing limits and going against what others feel is the norm. Grameenphone is an example of moving forward in troubling times and should be rewarded for standing out like a bold beacon of progressiveness. While the organization is still growing, they already have a significant lead over their competitors. This comes from investing in their employees the way they do, understanding the importance of business development and paving the road for other local and foreign corporates to follow in their footsteps.

– Paul Keijzer

Photo Credits: Sarkar Protick

Does Your Team Have A Clear Line of Sight?

It’s that time of year again. When sales teams are making that dash to the finish line to make sure they get that last sale in, HR is driving you mad with the timelines for the performance evaluations and of course, the finance team is bugging you to get the budget numbers in for next year.

This is my favorite time of the year, as it allows me to engage with a number of companies in helping them build intellectual clarity and emotional commitment towards their business agenda for 2013. The goal is making sure that each and every member of the top team is aligned and is committed to the same plan and targets.

My standard question to ask before we start a strategy session is for people to write on a piece of paper what they individually think are the three strategic priorities of the company. More often than not, the answers are so divergent that you don’t understand how this company has ever achieved something.

Clients often think that doing this creates a lot of time and tremendous amount of effort and synchronization. However, my experience shows that this is absolutely not the case. My promise to them is that I can get your team to agree, be aligned and committed to the long term ambition, targets for the coming year and the activities required to achieve these targets within 2 days. Yep… just 2 days.

So how does it work?

Having The Right People In The Room:
First of all, you have to make sure you got all the stakeholders in the room. This is without exception the CEO and his direct reports (although often I encourage company to include the next level down as well). Bring people into the room that know the business at an operational level, making the group that owns the plan significantly larger. I have gone up to groups as large as 35 – 40 people.

What Have We Achieved So Far:
I always start by going back in time. In my view there is no future without taking your past into account. Apart from that, it also gives team members a moment to look back and be proud of what they have achieved so far and maybe remind them of a number of ‘lessons’ from the past.

What Do We Want To Become:
After looking back, it is then important that you start looking forward. Think far into the future and discuss what you want to become as an organization. What are the organizational goals that will energize, excite and inspire people? Why do we exist and how will we contribute to the society? I have found that in order for teams to give it their all, they first have to agree that it is worth doing it.

Where Do We Stand At The Moment:
As much as opinions can differ about the future, team members are often also butting heads on the current reality. So prior to starting to plot a strategy on what we need to do to deliver on our aspirations, it is pivotal to get members aligned on where the company stands at the moment.

What Do We Have To Do:
Knowing where we want to go and knowing where we stand at the moment then allows team members to jointly craft a plan on how they will achieve their aspirations given the current reality.

How Do We Have To Work Together:
When we are clear on what needs to be done, only then in my view can you discuss how the team should work together to deliver on this. Team building events which are not ‘anchored’ in the aspiration and strategic plan of the company have a minimal impact as the reason for working better together is not grounded.

How Will We Cascade This:
Finally, it is all about not only creating clarity in the top team but engaging the whole organization to understand, own and run with the plan for 2013.

What blows most clients away is that it is possible to capture your whole three-year strategic plan, including the main activities and targets for 2013, in one single page. That’s right, it can all fit on just one A4 sheet. Can you imagine how easy it is to communicate a one-page document to your organization?

Let me know if you have any questions on the process, I am always more than happy to help. Good luck in creating, aligning and engaging the team in the 2013 plan

– Paul Keijzer

CEO Elections

Yesterday, the United States presidential elections came to a close with the re-election of President Obama. Whatever you might think of the outcome or the process, the simple fact that people have the opportunity to vote for their leader is a powerful right.

This made me think; what would happen if a similar democratic process was being used in companies? Of course investors as owners in the organization already have (although many would argue that it doesn’t work as good as it should work) an opportunity to select the custodian of their investment. However, other stakeholders don’t have this opportunity, although you might argue that they have an opportunity to “vote” by deciding not to do business with a company, not to buy their products, or as employees to simply choose to leave the organization.

That is all true, yes, but allow me to muse for a moment and explore what would be the benefits if employees had the opportunity to vote for their CEO of choice. I think there are various potentially powerful benefits of CEO elections that could change the relationships of employees and leaders, most probably for the better.

For starters, a CEO candidate needs to be able to convince employees about his/her character, intent, capability and strong track record in delivering results and leading people. In order for people to vote, the CEO candidate needs to have an inspiring vision for the company and a clear roadmap on how to deliver on this vision with the result that all employees would be actively involved and engaged in setting the future of the organization. Last but not least, employees will know their leader. They will know what he/she stands for and values, what important decision he/she makes, and have a defined understanding of how their company will be led. Their engagement levels will go through the roof, as they will feel aligned with not only their company, but also their leader.

Of course there are many pitfalls, maybe even significantly bigger than the benefits, but for the moment allow me to fantasize a bit in the aftermath of what was probably the most elaborate, expensive and scrutinized election held to date.

Would you like to have a vote in who your next CEO is?

– Paul Keijzer

Lets Experiment More

I was in Kenya last week and wow it was great to be back after so many years. A client had asked me to help him develop stronger bonds between his top team members. Certainly an exciting prospect, and it turned out the group was the most diverse team I have ever worked with, which consisted of 16 senior executives from 16 different countries covering 4 different continents! It was really an amazing group of people. You know by now that I relish on these opportunities and that it plays straight into my strengths and expertise.

However, the only way for me to deliver with the time frame at hand, was to approach things differently and to experiment. I decided to start the day with something that I normally do after a couple of days. I had worked with my client before and knew he was an extra-ordinary leader who was willing to partner with me and make my experiment work. The results were phenomenal and to quote one participant “What happened that day was extraordinary and it has created a tremendous link in all of us”.

Throughout my Unilever career I had been relatively predictable, and had done things according to ‘how things are normally done here’. However, when I was appointed in my second country HR Director role I made a conscious decision to try to do things in a way I had never done before.

Of course to experiment and take risks is easier said than done. You need to have the courage to do things differently without being sure what the result might be. This requires confidence; in your own abilities but probably even more so in your preparation. Experimenting doesn’t mean that you do things ‘in the blind’ but means you must be prepared for anything. In my line of work I prepare myself through visualization. I visualize how a discussion will flow and what kind of questions, responses and reactions will guide people in a certain direction.

People often don’t experiment because they are afraid to fail. And yes, this requires courage. But from personal experience I have learned that as long as your intent is right and you try things differently – that even if they you don’t succeed people will appreciate the effort, the courage, and more importantly you learn more than you ever can doing things the normal way.

To experiment you have to have the confidence to walk the ‘road less traveled’ and not be afraid to fail. But, you know what – if you experiment you will have more success, learn more and at the same time have more fun doing it.

– Paul Keijzer