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Why is Feedback Important?

Why is Feedback Important?

The world that we inhabit today, is characterized most frequently by the relationship between consumers and service providers. The reason being, a majority of our actions are defined by either consumption or provision of services. We could be at the receiving end or at the end of delivery, whether directly or indirectly. Regardless, it is a present continuous action. Starting from the Ubers we ride in, to the food we eat at restaurants, to the ever so frequently used online shopping and delivery services, or even the work that we do at our respective workplaces every day – there is one common thread binding all of this, which is the action of providing and receiving services.If services are such a crucial part of our everyday lives, why then do we take the one mechanism in place which ensures its smooth and efficient delivery for granted? Namely, feedback.

Its importance cannot be stressed enough. One might dismiss the importance of feedback by saying, “what’s the use, I am not going to be taken seriously”. Or, “oh it doesn’t matter, (s)he doesn’t really know what they’re speaking about”, if we’re receiving feedback.

However that is no longer the case. Why? Because of the stiff competition between the service providers of the same services. The one thing that sets them apart is how valuable they consider feedback and incorporate the same into their services. Which is why feedback in the world of services today is very relevant and important. And when we say services, we don’t just mean the large-scale services, we mean just any kind of service – even the kind that you deliver every day at work.

What are some other ways in which feedback is crucial? Have a look –

  1. You get a sense of direction and purpose

    It is only with appropriate feedback or constructive criticism that you realize how much progress you’re making in what you’re doing. Proper, articulate feedback helps you understand how far you’ve come, and how much further you see yourself going. You realize what’s working and what’s not, and it spurs you to think of ways to take yourself closer to what you envision as your purpose.

  2. It inhibits stagnation

    Without constructive criticism and feedback, it is easy to develop a sense of complacency. You keep doing things in a fixed manner without knowing if you’re really moving closer to your objective and goals. While you may not necessarily get worse at what you’re doing, it won’t be possible to get any better either. Having a system of feedback and incorporating the same into your work gets rid of the otherwise inevitable stagnation.

  3. It fosters growth and evolution

    With feedback, you understand which direction you need to push harder in. It also makes you realize if you need to change your approach and adapt to new environments. That is exactly how you learn and evolve as individuals and not surprisingly, even as businesses/ services. It helps you realize if the work that you’re doing is adding value in any way, and if it isn’t how do you change your game plan to evolve.

  4. A sense of fulfillment

    Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be just negative. It can also be positive. In fact, every time you appreciate a particular service, let them know why you liked it. Remember that you would feel valued as well, if someone told you that you were doing a good job. It goes without saying that getting positive feedback for your work is a very motivating and fulfilling feeling. It cements your sense of purpose and gives you confidence to forge ahead in the direction you have imagined.

The process of giving and receiving feedback is not easy, and is a matter of responsibility at both ends of the spectrum.

Very often, we are quick to deliver feedback in what one may call “absolute” terms, without really considering our thoughts carefully. Karen Naumann in her article on why feedback is important makes a very valid point when she speaks about how it is important to be “professional” and “kind” while delivering feedback –

“So, before we give someone feedback, we really need to check our own motives and current mood whether we feel stressed, annoyed, jealous, afraid, or simply have antipathy towards the other person. And then it is on us to really look at the performance of the other person professionally and kindly, with the goal of helping them unlock their greatest potential.

On the flip side however, that’s also exactly why giving and receiving feedback is not easy for any of us, whether it is positive or “negative” nature. It really does require a great amount of one of our most difficult lifelong tasks called self-reflection, as well as humbleness and openness to different opinions and thoughts on the giver’s and receiver’s end.”

What is your opinion on how important feedback is? How are the processes of giving and receiving feedback different? Want the world of work to be able to learn through your experience? Let us know about your thoughts right here!

Five Pointers to Make Your Business Proposal Stand Out as the Best

Five Pointers to Make Your Business Proposal Stand Out as the Best

A Business Proposal or Sales Proposal is often the first strong knock on the doors of a prospective client. Whether it is in the form of a word document or presentation, it has to be impressive and paint such a compelling picture that the customer just can’t wait to pick up the phone and schedule a face to face meeting with you. You get the entry that you need to pitch your product/service and abilities. Writing and reviewing hundreds of business proposals has made me realize one thing – there is a method to this madness and no proposal is too big or too complex – if you follow certain basic guidelines in the creation process:

Pointer #1: It is not about You – the goal of any proposal is to address the specific customer requirements and pain points. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and structure the proposal in the best way that answers the customer’s stated or implicit questions. Persuade them that you know the questions and have the answers through your proposal. To do this, ensure that your proposal and every section in the proposal addresses five questions Who, What, How, When and So What:

  • Who – will do this?
  • What – needs to be done?
  • How – will you do it?
  • When – will all the milestones occur?
  • So What – will the customer benefit by having you do it?

Pointer #2: Format and Template – Usually the customer specifies the format and structure of the business proposal. Comply with this religiously. Any additional information that you think would be useful in nudging the customer decision in your favour should go into the appendix. If the customer hasn’t specified the response structure, then create the template keeping in mind the questions in Pointer #1. Your proposal should be easily readable and information easy to find. Use indexing and linking within the proposal. Use headings for your sections and labels for your diagrams to draw attention. For some large RFPs (Request For Proposal), especially in government and public sectors, different departments could be given different sections of the proposal to evaluate. So it is important that every section by itself has the context and the references to other sections that might be relevant. Don’t make your customer work too hard or spend a lot of time puzzling his way through your proposal.

Pointer #3 – Optimize against Evaluation Criteria – Most business proposal requests lay out how they will score the vendor for the response. If not, ask the customer about their key evaluation criteria. Compliance to all aspects of the bid is very critical to pass the first stage. So read the fine print carefully before you start putting your efforts to it. Check the submission date and create a timeline to ensure that you meet the deadline. Focus and give more time on those aspects that are most important to the customer and will give you the scoring edge.

Pointer #4 – You do need a Super Executive Summary – Your introduction in the form of the executive summary should actually be the “conclusion” of your proposal. The rest of the business proposal serves to provide the supporting points to add credibility to your introduction. Brainstorm on what the customer needs (as opposed to wants), how you are going to satisfy those needs and why they should do business with you and none else. Summarize the salient points of this into your executive summary first and then start with the rest of your proposal; again it should be more about the customer than about you.

Pointer #5 – Keep it Simple – Minimize buzz words, don’t overwhelm with information just because you have some great content ready, make it visually attractive – sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words. Give a day or two to proofread and review the proposal. Spelling and grammar are yes, important – you don’t want to project yourself as someone who does not care about the details enough.

First impression is everything in hunting and winning business. Use your business proposal to stand out in the crowd and make a lasting impact. I would love to hear your views on what challenges you face in responding to proposals and how you tackle them….

5 Quotes on Operational Excellence for Successful Business Operations

5 Quotes on Operational Excellence for Successful Business Operations

Very few people have the ability to capture their thoughts into a few words – words that leave a lasting impact, words that continue to inspire over decades or centuries and words that speak to you and give you your personal “eureka” moments.  Think about it, Aristotle lived between 384 BC and 322 BC – more than 2300 years ago and what he said then continues to influence us now. Among his many pieces of wisdom passed down through the ages, and before modern management or its terms were invented, he defined business operations and operational excellence –

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So my post today combines two of my passions – operational excellence and quotes that inspire me in this area. I have chosen my five favourite Quotes on Operational Excellence that to me most accurately reflect the principles of successful Business Operations –

Quotes on Operational Excellence #1: Build a Cathedral –

Organizations should be……. no less than Cathedrals in which the full and awesome power of the Imagination and Spirit and native Entrepreneurial flair of diverse individuals is unleashed in passionate pursuit of … Excellence. Our job as leaders—the alpha and the omega and everything in between—is abetting the sustained growth and success and engagement and enthusiasm and commitment to Excellence of those, one at a time, who directly or indirectly serve the ultimate customer.

7 Steps to Sustaining Success:   You take care of the people. The people take care of the service. The service takes care of the customer. The customer takes care of the profit. The profit takes care of the re-investment. The re-investment takes care of the re-invention. The re-invention takes care of the future. (And at every step the only measure is EXCELLENCE.)” ~ Tom Peters

Quotes on Operational Excellence #2: Get Everyone on the Same Page –

“The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad …. A business should be run like an aquarium, where everybody can see what’s going on — what’s going in, what’s moving around, what’s coming out. That’s the only way to make sure people understand what you’re doing, and why, and have some input into deciding where you are going. Then, when the unexpected happens, they know how to react and react quickly.” ~ Jack Stack, “The Great Game of Business”

Quotes on Operational Excellence #3: Follow the Right Order of Operation

 “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what ResourcesInfrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution….

While successful leaders address all four areas, the best leaders always start with why followed very closely by who. Then, and only then, do they work on the design of what and how.” ~Mike Myatt

Quotes on Operational Excellence #4: Process First, Technology and Tools Second –

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” ~ Bill Gates

Quotes on Operational Excellence #5: Discipline Matters – Close the gaps in Execution by Following Through

“Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously.  Following through ensures that people are doing the things they committed to do, according to the agreed timetable.  It exposes any lack of discipline and connection between ideas and actions, and forces the specificity that is essential to synchronize the moving parts of an organization.  If people can’t execute the plan because of changed circumstances, follow-through ensures they deal swiftly and creatively with the new conditions…” ~Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan – “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done”.

These quotes reveal the corner-stones of operational excellence – people, processes, technology and continuous improvement. There are many more quotes that inspire and I have left out some that I have already quoted in my past posts.  I would love to get your favourite quotes on Business operations and Operational Excellence here – maybe do a part 2 of this post. So, if you enjoyed this collection, spare a moment and leave a comment.

Five Key Considerations for Efficient Knowledge Management – Business Operations Performance Management

Five Key Considerations for Efficient Knowledge Management – Business Operations Performance Management

If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest ~ Benjamin Franklin

What is knowledge? Is it the information we gather from various sources available in today’s always-on and seamlessly connected world? Is it the data we deal with in our daily life?

Well, not really! Data is the raw material used to create information. Information is just data in context. Information and Data are not Knowledge until we know how to extract value out of it. Knowledge is the understanding the significance of Information, filtered through people’s skills acquired through experience, and trends and patterns.

How we extract value out of available data and information, and how we club this with lessons learnt through experiences, ideas and competencies, is where knowledge management comes into play.

Knowledge management is the disciplined approach to achieve organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, sharing of lessons learnt and continuous improvement by managing knowledge as a strategic asset. It focuses on processes such as identifying, creating, representing, sharing knowledge and enabling adoption of insights and experiences.  It is a dynamic approach as Knowledge depends on how, when, and from where it is acquired.

Organizations now clearly believe that Intellectual capital is a strategic and valuable asset that can be managed as effectively as physical assets which will set them apart from their competitors and drive their success.

So, how do we establish Knowledge Management and its underlying philosophies within an organization? The key is in bringing cultural change within the organization by making it knowledge based, working with people to increase their ability in the organization to influence others with their knowledge and encouraging free flow of ideas.

Here are five key considerations to take into account to set up an efficient Knowledge management framework in the organization:

 Consideration #1 : Identify the Key drivers for KM

 Key drivers for KM are:

  • Mergers/ Acquisitions/ Downsizing
  • Employee Attrition
  • Globalization

According to data from Deallogic, U.S. companies have spent $219 billion on mergers and acquisitions so far (February) in 2013, a sharp increase from 2012, when firms spent just $85 billion during the same period. And U.S. firms are slated to have the biggest year in M&A activity since 2000.

In such an environment, it becomes highly important to manage different knowledge models of two organizations getting merged or involved in acquisition. And if the merger is between the companies who were formerly competitors, the strategic alliances that are formed between competitors to pursue an opportunity, the workforce, the changes in technology, global teams and diverse stakeholders, are just a few of challenges we face without a proper KM framework in place.

Employees who leave the organization take their knowledge with them which actually results in Knowledge attrition for the organization.  And there a challenge is to establish a system for knowledge transfer or transition before employee exit to avoid the cost of ramping up new employees. In absence of knowledge assets, learning curve for new employees becomes even more difficult.

Global culture and global environments necessitate virtual teams – this demands knowledge sharing and seamless accessibility to the stored knowledge irrespective of location. E-learning is one of the effective mediums for managing knowledge across the globe.

Identifying the key drivers for KM in the organization helps in arriving at the mission and the appropriate frameworks that best fit the organization.

 Consideration #2 : Focus on What Values KM can add

 Many successful organizations fail to realize full value from their investments in projects by not learning lessons in the process. This further means that organizations then fail to continue those processes that were successful in the process and fail to discontinue those that resulted in errors and rework ~Ernst & Young (2007)

Every project/process offers several learning opportunities to generate knowledge and increase both individual competencies and organizational assets. A creative approach to KM can result in improved efficiency, higher productivity and increased revenue. Structured knowledge management provides the following business benefits:

  • Improved customer satisfaction with fastest response times
  • Ideas can be shared and innovation encouraged
  • Decision making is improved with access to facts and past experiences
  • Enhanced Cross team communication and inter functional problem solving
  • Redundant processes and process handling are reduced, hence business operations becomes more effective and margins improve
  • Ultimately revenues increase by getting services and products faster to the market

Business operations performance improvement and revenue gains as a result of KM are indicated by numerous organizations, for e.g. Ford Motor accelerated its concept-to-production time from 36 months to 24 months and the flow on value of this has been estimated at US $1.25 billion, The Dow Chemical Company saved $40 million a year in the re-use of patents, Chase Manhattan, one of the largest banks in the US, used Customer relationship management KM initiatives to increase its annual revenue by 15%, and Pfizer credits KM practices for discovering the hidden benefits of the Viagra drug.

Look at the processes in your organization and identify the specific benefits in the short and long-term that knowledge management could bring in to the business. It is important to tie in the knowledge management initiative to measurable impact to gain agreement and support from key stakeholders in the organization.

 Consideration #3 : Define clear objectives of KM

Before you jump into KM, you must first gain clarity on what you are doing and why and then spread the awareness around the objectives. The message should be absolutely clear without any ambiguities which will help in building strong trust and credibility. Creating a successful brand around a KM initiative takes a lot of effort – the cultural immune system of any organization is highly volatile when it comes to knowledge sharing and collaboration. The main factor that contributes to the volatility is the fact that technology is breaking the barriers and conventional hierarchy is losing its influence. People take the “knowledge is power” adage too seriously and hoard the knowledge sometimes – thinking that sharing the knowledge would result in loss of their control or influence. KM is all about bringing cultural change. Hence it is important to define the objectives and build the awareness and enthusiasm around these to make people more comfortable to become active participants of the KM initiative. Motivating people by recognizing the value of employee’s knowledge and by rewarding them for it not only benefits KM but also improves employee retention rates.

As per International Data Corp (IDC), following are the top objectives for knowledge management initiatives:

  • Capture and share best practices
  • Enhance internal collaboration
  • Improve Customer relationship management
  • Better Competitive intelligence
  • Build Intellectual capital

 Consideration #4 : Ensure data accuracy and completeness

Data quality is a critical aspect of knowledge management, source and accessibility of data to KM  should happen in a defined and structured manner.  If the quality of data is questionable, the value of data goes down and if major decisions are made based on this data, these actions may wrongly influence organization’s objectives. Data is a valuable organizational asset and should be managed carefully by ensuring adequate quality, integrity, security, availability and effective usage.

Assess the current state at each stage of the Process and define guidelines for right data, right time and right tools and infrastructure to arrive at high quality and accurate data for your KM initiative.

 

Consideration #5 : Earn a strong Fan Base to drive KM acceptance

Buy in from people at all levels is required for knowledge management to be a success. Creating a strong case study on the benefits of using KM helps – Identify a willing group and implement a set of initiatives around KM (e.g. Knowledge Map, Build taxonomy to capture the K- Map, Identify SMEs, and scout for content and disseminate the same) and build a story around the same. This will be like a story board where the user narrates a live example of a crisis or some critical situation and how KM has intervened and helped. Also create a picture of current state and the desired state and how this gap is narrowed down by implementing a structured KM. For example the project can be an application maintenance services for a client. The kind of skills required (L1, L2 etc) in terms of managing the applications, number of tickets generated around each of the technology area within the application and resolving the customer issues can noted down. Now bring in the KM system and process and observe the change like reduction in number of tickets, L1 person handling L2 tickets etc. Map the same to productivity numbers. This has a high impact as people can relate to their own situation and will be open to try KM out.

Use Metrics wisely. A perfect blend of qualitative and quantitative metrics should be available to the management to assess the current level of improvement – either top line (revenue) or bottom-line (customer satisfaction through higher productivity). This justifies the investment that an organization is making in terms of resources and technology infrastructure that supports the KM framework. Theorizing the intangible nature and value of Knowledge Management will not convince the leaders as much as measurable indicators that prove the business benefits will.

In summary, every organization wants to perform at its best in delivering products and services with enhanced gross margins, reduced cycle times and in maintaining consistently delighted, satisfied customers. Knowledge Management can act as one of the catalysts in speeding up the process of achieving these organizational objectives.

The value of Knowledge Management relates directly to the effectiveness with which the managed knowledge enables the members of the organization to deal with today’s situations and effectively envision and create their future – Gene Bellinger

What are your experiences with KM setup in your organizations? What challenges have you faced in KM establishment?    Would love to hear and learn from you.

 T0day’s post is a collaborative effort with Kavita Verma and Ramprakash L – both of whom are SMEs in this area. Thank you, Kavita and Ram for your inputs.

Five Strategies to shift from a Cost Cutting to a Business Growth mindset through Operational Excellence – Business Operations

Five Strategies to shift from a Cost Cutting to a Business Growth mindset through Operational Excellence – Business Operations

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Do more with less is a common refrain in any margin focused organization. But this management guidance should come with a big “Handle with Care” sticker. In the enthusiasm to meet cost cutting targets, sometimes organizations forget the “doing more” part and only focus on the “with less” part. By the time, the realization sets in that the growth engine has stalled, it is too late. And most likely, you are left with an organizational culture where “fear” rules supreme and “fun” is a word that belongs outside the work-place. Result – Bottom line improves in the short-term but starts declining after reaching a threshold. With stagnant or diminishing top-line, no amount of cost cutting can help improve profits dramatically after a certain point.

High performance is multi-dimensional – putting the entire organization’s focus on just costs is counter-productive. While margin improvement is crucial, good solid revenue growth is even more important to build a sustainable, profitable business. And these two goals should not be in conflict with each other. With some discipline and mindset changes enforced in day-to-day business operations, one can successfully do the balancing act so that the organization does not lose its focus on growing revenues while keeping a tight control on costs.

The entire business framework that you work in can be used to influence changes in the right direction. Here are five strategies that I have seen business leaders use successfully to shift the organization to a revenue growth mindset in no particular order:

Strategy 1: Budgeting – Put your money where growth is The key to building a high-performance and growth focused culture is to make sure you consider “‘what“ and “how“ you will get to your destination – the clear guidelines of what you need to do now to reach where you want to be in a specific timeline. And, what better place to define this than in your annual business budget. For example what are the core competencies that you need to develop in the current year so that the growth for the next two-three years are secured? What investments of the previous year have not achieved desired results and needs a change in strategy? What partners and channels needed to be cultivated in current year to be able to stay competitive in the market? While a lot of attention is given on the cost items to achieve the top line for the current year, not much attention is given to the few investments that are needed to accelerate the growth for the longer term. Budgeting is a great tool to ensure that the organization is well prepared and aligned for growth.

Strategy 2: Granularity of Growth – Identify the Growth Drivers –  Research shows that having multiple avenues to growth pays off during good times and bad.  In the book – Granularity of Growth (Wiley, April 2008), the authors identified that increased market-share is seldom a driver of growth. They contend, instead, that growth is driven by where a company chooses to compete: which market segments it participates in and how much merger-and-acquisition activity it pursues in these markets. The key is to focus on granularity, to breakdown big-picture strategy into its smallest relevant components. To uncover pockets of opportunity, executives need to dig down to deeper levels of their businesses and organizations. And of course, get the execution plan in place for the opportunities identified.

Strategy 3: Clarion Call – Aligning the Organization to the Vision – It is critical that every employee knows and understands the vision of the organization and the strategy for growth. Re-orienting people is not an easy job but it can be done if the leadership can clearly articulate the problem statement behind the vision and the urgent changes that are needed to get everyone on the board. The idea here is to get people really involved and committed to growth – logic and reason have their place, but in initiatives like this the emotions of people have to be tapped. Hence the need for a clarion call (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/clarion_call – Appeal, urgent call to action).  And also the need for a re-organization too – to move your best people (sales, operations, delivery) from low growth or stagnant business areas to high growth areas to leverage your talent and shake off the inertia.

Strategy 4: Platform for Ideas – Make Innovation more than a buzz word Innovation is the Petri dish for exponential growth. But without a specific team accountable for innovation (which could be new product ideas, new business models, new markets, new acquisitions or new competencies) the focus on exponential growth is lost in the day-to-day block and tackle for meeting the short-term business targets. One person in the senior leadership should have the mandate to lead this team and the authority to champion and approve initiatives that are separate from the company’s core business and to execute on these initiatives. This provides an ecosystem of a structure, time and resources for a “start-up” within the larger organization to help move beyond the comfort zone and also future-proof the business against risks to existing business.

Strategy 5: Metrics and Rewards –Targets breed Performance – Coming to my favorite topic, setting metrics and commensurate rewards is an important lever to quickly drive and arrive at the behavior needed to go beyond just incremental growth.  For example – setting a target of 5% revenue growth year on year with a slightly higher target for profits is quite acceptable but this can be achieved by a little more push on existing services or products. There is no compelling need to look for completely new sources of revenue or new business models. What is needed here is BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), metrics that can be used to track and measure not only the results but the investments, resources and behaviors that are needed to achieve the goals and of course, equally Big rewards to excite and enthuse the teams to think differently, get out of their comfort zone and act like entrepreneurs.

Profitable double-digit growth can become a possibility and not just a fluke. By thinking proactively and building growth into day-to-day business operations, the cost cutting trap can be avoided. A growth oriented mindset can indeed become part of the organization culture when the management plans and puts in place the systems to ensure that growth opportunities are identified and pursued as diligently as costs are controlled.

What have I missed? What growth strategies have you seen work? How and what have you factored in your plans for next year to enable double-digit growth? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Picture courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/ytueresburroyyomemonto/2687124044/

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