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Best content from the best source handpicked by Shyam. The source include The Harvard University, MIT, Mckinsey & Co, Wharton, Stanford,and other top educational institutions. domains include Cybersecurity, Machine learning, Deep Learning, Bigdata, Education, Information Technology, Management, others.

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    The Pitfalls of Project Status Reporting


    Will your next big IT project be on time and deliver what was promised? Maybe — but maybe not. Accepting five inconvenient truths about project status reporting can greatly reduce the chance of being blindsided by unpleasant surprises.


    Nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site launched.”

    White House spokesman Eric Schultz, commenting on the HealthCare.gov website.1
    The launch problems associated with the HealthCare.gov website — intended to provide a one-stop health insurance shopping portal for uninsured and underinsured Americans beginning October 1, 2013 — are now well-known. As Wall Street Journal reporter Clint Boulton wrote, “For the first couple weeks of October, it appeared that the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy, was in danger of being undone by an IT project gone wrong. HealthCare.gov, the $630 million project meant to showcase the administration’s tech savviness, was an end user nightmare.”

    with the HealthCare.gov launch? It has been reported that the implementation process suffered from a lack of clear direction, repeated changes in requirements (some less than two weeks before the anticipated “go” date) and a severely cramped test schedule, which allowed little time to uncover and address integration issues.3 Even so, some lawmakers have reported that Congress had been told as late as September 2013 that the implementation project was on track. These lawmakers have “accused both the contractors and the [Obama] administration of withholding information about the looming failure.”4 It has been reported that an outside consulting firm “in late March [provided] a clear warning” that “foreshadowed many of the problems that have dogged HealthCare.gov since its rollout” and that some high-ranking White House officials were briefed regarding the report’s contents in April 2013.

    While the problems accompanying the HealthCare.gov site launch were unusually high-profile, they are not uncommon; all too frequently, leaders in the private sector as well as the public sector are caught by surprise when projects — particularly complex IT projects — run into trouble. But complex IT projects do not fail overnight; they fail one day at a time, and generally only after numerous warning signs. Our research suggests that for many executives, accepting five inconvenient truths about project reporting can greatly reduce the chance of being blindsided by a troubled project launch. (See “About the Research.”) Each of these inconvenient truths is a tough lesson, but an easier one to learn before faulty reporting has derailed your project — and perhaps your career.

    About the Research

    This article relies on 14 studies that one or more of the authors has been involved in over the past 15 years.i (In this article, we refer to these studies as “our” studies when one or more of us have been involved, even if we had other co-authors.) All of the studies were concerned with the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects with which they are associated and how the recipients of those reports respond to the status information they receive.

    These studies took several different forms. Some involved in-person interviews with project team members, managers and auditors. Others relied on large-scale, written surveys of project managers and team members. Some involved laboratory experiments in which the researchers manipulated various factors so that they could see how those factors impact subjects’ perceptions and behaviors. We have been fortunate to have the cooperation of several organizations in our research: in particular, one U.S. state’s information systems oversight board facilitated access to numerous projects and auditors for interviews, the Project Management Institute provided access to its members for surveys and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association arranged for a survey of its members and telephone interviews with a number of auditors.

    Inconvenient Truth 1: Executives can’t rely on project staff and other employees to accurately report project status information and to speak up when they see problems.

    Most executives expect that employees will speak up when they see problems that might adversely impact a project and therefore naturally assume that employees will do exactly that. Unfortunately, many of our studies show that this is a naive assumption.

    OUR RESEARCH indicates that many employees have a tendency to put a positive spin on anything they report to senior management. In one study, we reviewed the records of 56 experienced software project managers and found that project managers write biased reports 60% of the time and that their bias is more than twice as likely to be optimistic (that is, to make things look better than they really are) than pessimistic.6

    Employees have a strong desire to be perceived as competent performers in the eyes of senior management. If bad news would reflect negatively on them, they have a strong incentive to paint a rosy picture. Similarly, if an employee is responsible for the events that created the “bad news” or believes that he or she will be held accountable, he or she will tend to postpone delivery of the bad news or to downplay the severity of the negative information in the hope that the problem can be resolved before its seriousness is discovered.

    This occurs in part because employees are usually on the weaker side of a power relationship. When the organizational climate is not receptive to bad news, truthful reporting can be inhibited.7 If employees have observed negative outcomes for others who have delivered bad news, they may fear that executives will “shoot the messenger.” As one interviewee recalled: “I wrote a lot of reports. I escalated things as much as I could, but in the end they ... took me out to lunch and said, ‘We really appreciate what you’ve done, but we really won’t be needing you anymore.

    In another study, we observed that employees were less likely to report a potential problem if they believed that they were responsible (rather than someone else, such as a contractor) and also if they believed there was sufficient time to adequately correct the problem.8

    Our recommendation: In negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, President Reagan’s signature phrase was “trust, but verify.” Instead of taking an employee’s status report at face value, executives should solicit the opinions of others who are close to the project. In doing so, it is important to obtain views from different levels within the organization. If everyone corroborates the status, the executives can have much greater confidence in the accuracy of what has been transmitted.Inconvenient Truth 2: A variety of reasons can cause people to misreport about project status; individual personality traits, work climate and cultural norms can all play a role.

    Executives tend to attribute misreporting to poor ethical behavior on the employee’s part. While our research did show that individuals with a greater sense of personal morality are more willing to report the bad news when a project involves a defective product that has the potential to harm others, it also revealed that employees misreport for a variety of reasons and that individual traits, work climate and cultural norms all play a role.9

    Individual traits: We surveyed approximately 250 team members involved in state government projects and asked them questions about themselves, their work climate and their reporting practices.10 Our study suggested that individuals with a higher propensity for risk taking or higher career aspirations are more likely to misreport.

    In terms of personality traits, risk propensity matters when it comes to selecting the right team members for a project. A project manager who is a risk taker may be more likely to take a chance and engage in misreporting, for example. Additionally, team members who have a tendency to view the glass as “half-full” (rather than “half-empty”) will likely be more optimistic when they report their project’s status. Our work suggests that the most accurate status reports are obtained from those who view the glass as “half-empty” because their pessimism will tend to offset any errors that they make when they assess the project’s status.11

    Work climate: A study of government workers also revealed that perceptions of work climate are strongly associated with reporting behavior.12 Specifically, employees who work in climates that support self-interested behavior are more likely to misreport than employees who work in climates based on “rules and code” (in other words, where employees adhere strictly to rules or professional codes of conduct). It is interesting to note that these climates may vary across work units, even within the same large organization.

    Cultural differences: In a study comparing cultural responses of 162 working professionals in the United States with 192 working professionals in Singapore, all of whom were taking master’s-level evening classes, we found a linkage between national culture and individual propensity toward silence within an organization.13 This study compared working professionals from a more “individualistic” national culture (in this case, the U.S.) with those from a more “collectivist” national culture (Singapore) in terms of their status-reporting behaviors. We found that employees from an individualistic culture tended to be more sensitive to their work climate than those from a collectivist culture and responded more strongly to promises of rewards for accurate reporting.

    Another study revealed that employees in an individualistic culture tended to shift blame more often than individuals in a collectivist culture.14When there was an opportunity to shift blame to a third-party vendor, for example, individuals from a more individualistic culture (in this case, the U.S.) tended to be more willing to report bad news, but individuals from a more collectivist culture (in this study’s case, South Korea) did not. We also found that employees from a collectivist culture tended to be more likely to hide bad news for an extended period of time if they believed that it would provide their project team more time to solve the problem or problems.

    Our recommendation: Spend time considering the composition of project teams, especially project manager positions. Of particular note are personality traits, employees’ perceptions of the work climate and employees’ cultural backgrounds. Be especially wary of optimists and risk takers. With respect to employees’ perceptions of the work climate, have employees complete the Ethical Climate Questionnaire developed by John B. Cullen, Bart Victor and James W. Bronson.15 Once you understand how employees within various units (and subunits) perceive their organizational climate, you should find it easier to predict their status-reporting behaviors — and maybe even begin to change the climate. When it comes to cultural predispositions, one of the best remedies is building diverse teams, which can help balance out culturally specific behavior that might inhibit accurate project reporting.Inconvenient Truth 3: An aggressive audit team can’t counter the effects of project status misreporting and withholding of information by project staff.

    Executives may well conclude that the best way to address the problem of misreporting is to rely on auditors to ride herd over projects and make sure that project status reports are accurate. However, our research shows that this assumption is flawed. Once auditors are added to the mix, negative organizational dynamics can lead to a dysfunctional cycle that results in even less openness regarding status information. In a study of state government managers who reported to an IT oversight board, we discovered several cases in which the use of an audit team led to growing distrust and deception in the audited unit.16 (See “A Dysfunctional Cycle of Distrust.”) Individuals charged with reporting project status information reacted to some auditors’ queries by trying to thwart the auditors’ ability to determine the true status of the project. (See “Common Misreporting Tactics” for examples of some tactics they used.) The auditors, in turn, concluded that the project participants were either incompetent or deceptive and increased their scrutiny, which led to more defensiveness and an even greater degree of misreporting.

    We found that lack of trust between auditors and project staff is often the key cause of the harmful organizational dynamics. Not surprisingly, trust affects other reporting relationships in a project structure — relationships that extend well beyond those related to auditing. For example, we asked members of the Project Management Institute about several factors that could potentially affect their willingness to “blow the whistle” on a hypothetical project that had gone awry.17 Of all the factors considered, “trust in supervisor” had the strongest and most significant impact on a project manager’s willingness to expose a challenged or failing project. Another study asked project managers about their actual reporting behavior on a recent project.18 This confirmed a similar tendency: Diminished trust in the senior executive who controlled their project was associated with an increase in misreporting.


    Finally, even if that problem is dodged, it should be noted that simply replacing individuals may not solve all the problems should systemic pressures encourage a new cycle of distrust. At the risk of appearing overly pessimistic, we find that organizations can sometimes reach a point of no return, in which repairing a broken reporting system becomes almost impossible.Unfortunately, once a dysfunctional reporting cycle becomes firmly established in an organization, efforts to create positive encounters and enable additional openness will no longer be fruitful, and other options must be considered to effect a healthy tension between accountability and cordiality. It has been proposed, for example, that rotating individuals between the project manager and auditor roles may have merit over time. However, if improperly implemented, this alternative can lead to a dysfunctional dynamic in which those assigned “control” roles lose their objectivity and reduce their scrutiny of organizational processes.

    Our recommendation: Don’t overlook the importance of promoting trust between those who report project status and those who receive the reports. When trust is low, adding aggressive auditing procedures may actually result in more misreporting, not less. Try to create opportunities for interaction between these parties that are viewed as positive and allow them to discuss successes and accomplishments. For example, you might bring together the project managers and auditors on a quarterly basis for discussions of project successes, best practices and lessons learned.

    Inconvenient Truth 4: Putting a senior executive in charge of a project may increase misreporting.

    For more than two decades, project managers have been told they should have a senior executive serve as the project sponsor for all major projects. By providing visibility and credibility for the project, the argument goes, the senior executive will be able to marshal needed resources and keep the project on the organization’s front burner. Although this advice has often proven wise politically and helpful for securing resources, the involvement of senior leaders does not make it any easier to track project status. In fact, our research suggests that the stronger the perceived power of the sponsor or the project leader, the less inclined subordinates are to report accurately.

    In one survey of project managers, we found indications that the higher the power distance between the reporter and the report recipient, the greater the level of misreporting.19 Project managers told us that the power held by the project executive — in terms of potential impact on the project manager’s future career options — was a strongly significant factor in determining whether they biased their status reports optimistically.

    Moreover, another study of project managers indicated that they would be less willing to provide truthful status information if the project was the “brainchild of someone in senior management who has repeatedly championed the project.”20 We found similar results in another study. As an interviewee in that study put it, reporting negative status information would probably be “career suicide, to be honest. ... I’m going to go to the executive VP of the company and tell him that this is a worthless project and he should pull the plug on it? I sure wouldn’t want to march into this guy’s office and tell him the project that he had been championing for all these years should be put to death.”

    While there is no question that senior executives can be very helpful in maintaining support and visibility for projects, our research shows quite clearly that executive leadership of projects can also cause employees to be less candid in their reporting behaviors.

    Our recommendation: First, scrutinize your own communications to your direct reports. Our research revealed that employees are more truthful when they perceive that the quality of the information they are receiving from their superiors is high and that their superiors are being candid with them. Second, we recommend that project managers report not only to the senior project sponsors but also to a project management office, whose leader is trained to act as a mentor to the organization’s project managers. This leader should develop rapport with the project managers and reduce the power distance in the reporting relationships, which should help in illuminating the true status of the project. Finally, organizations should focus on each project manager’s orientation toward, or away from, boldness in dealing with higher-level executives. Due to either personality traits or cultural factors, some individuals may be more reluctant than others to report bad news to their superiors. Special training may thus be needed to help some project managers overcome any natural reluctance they may have. Our research findings also suggest that pairing powerful sponsors with powerful project managers may decrease the pressure to engage in misreporting, since the power distance between the reporter (the project manager) and the recipient (the project sponsor) would be reduced.

    Inconvenient Truth 5: Executives often ignore bad news if they receive it.

    It is tempting to assume that project status reporting problems can be resolved by focusing solely on the reporter’s side of the relationship. In reality, however, employees sometimes report bad news and senior executives ignore it — something we observed in several studies.22These case studies confirmed that during the pre-failure stage of each project, attempts were made by specific project participants to report the problems to powerful decision makers who had the ability to change the course of the project (or stop it), but such attempts were unsuccessful. As one employee we interviewed for an in-depth study of three failed Canadian IT projects said: “Many managers were not willing to accept the major problems transpiring in the project. ... But because this was such a high-level project, the pressure to go on with it was high.”23

    In another study, we asked 60 students to evaluate a negative report along with information about the messenger.24 We found that the credibility of the bad-news reporter can greatly influence whether the message being conveyed is viewed as relevant, and this in turn influences whether the report will be ignored. In a follow-on study, we found that bad-news reporters are more likely to be ignored if they lack an official platform to report such news (for example, if they are not auditors or risk managers). In a survey of auditors, we found that sometimes executives turn a deaf ear even to them.25 Many of the auditors we interviewed told us that executives often downplayed the seriousness of the problems presented or, worse, simply ignored their reports regarding troubled projects. As one auditor explained: “We were trying to quantify and tell them, convey the seriousness of the situation. And, I don’t think they believed that it would be that serious. ... It was very frustrating for me — a little demoralizing.”

    Our recommendation: Overconfidence is an occupational hazard in the executive suite. In many of the corporate disasters of the past 20 years, overconfidence played a role. Executives should not only listen to a variety of stakeholders but should also take the warnings they receive seriously. If they do not, they may unwittingly contribute to a climate of silence in which employees grow even more reluctant to report bad news.

    Are You Vulnerable to Project Status Surprises?

    We encourage executives to examine their own assumptions and beliefs about project status reporting. To that end, we provide a self-diagnostic tool to see whether you are ignoring one of these important realities of status reporting. (See “Are You at Risk?”) Executives who want to improve project status reporting in their organization should begin by using tMhe self-diagnostic tool to determine whether they have overlooked one of these five inconvenient truths. In using the diagnostic tool, managers should recognize that their own perceptions may not match their employees’, so it is wise to obtain anonymous feedback from employees as well. Still, our diagnostic tool and recommendations can be a useful place to begin; they provide an avenue for the self-reflection that can be crucial in understanding how one’s own assumptions and actions may affect project status reporting.

    Reproduced from MIT SLOAN Management Review 

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    The Upside to Large Competitors


    New research suggests that a smaller company can benefit by making consumers aware that it competes against bigger corporations.

    Large competitors are often viewed as a major threat for startups and small companies; big companies have more financial resources and greater scale, market power and brand awareness than smaller ones. However, our research finds that a smaller brand can actually benefit if consumers can see the competitive threat it faces from a larger organization.

    When Cold Stone Creamery, a U.S.-based ice cream chain with about 1,400 stores, moved within 50 steps of a J.P. Licks ice cream store in Newton, Massachusetts, some people expected that J.P. Licks, a small, locally owned company, would be beaten out of the Newton market. But consumers rallied around J.P. Licks, and Cold Stone later closed its nearby location. When the owner of the Los Angeles-based coffee store chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf could not stop a Starbucks coffee shop from moving in next door, he was surprised to see his sales shoot up — so much so that he started proactively colocating new stores next to Starbucks ones.

    These examples are not anomalies. In six lab and field studies, we explored the effects of having a large, dominant competitor and found that highlighting a large competitor’s size and close proximity can help smaller brands, instead of harming them. (Detailed results of our findings can be found in “Positioning Brands Against Large Competitors to Increase Sales,” forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research. See “Related Research.”) Compared to when they are in competition with brands that are similar to them in size or when consumers view them outside of a competitive context, small brands see consumer support go up when they are faced with a competitive threat from large brands. This support translates into higher purchase intention, more purchases and more favorable online reviews.

    As part of our research, we conducted a field study at an independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Upon entering the bookstore, 163 prospective shoppers were exposed to one of three versions of an in-store ad, emphasizing either the store’s large competitors, small competitors or no competition. Shoppers who read the “large competitors” version were told that the store’s main competitors are large corporations that have the ability to put small businesses such as this bookstore out of business. The “small competitors” version indicated the store’s main competitors are other locally owned small bookstores in Cambridge. In the “no competition” version, participants were given no information about the competitive environment. 

    Shoppers were then given a $5 coupon, coded with the in-store ad version they read. Analyzing shoppers’ sales receipts and the number of redeemed coupons, we found that shoppers were significantly more likely to make a purchase after reading the “large competitors” version of the in-store ad, compared to the “small competitors” version or the no competition version. They also purchased more items and spent more money at the store, compared to shoppers reading the “small competitors” or “no competition” versions. These results suggest that framing the competitive game and emphasizing a competitive narrative against a larger company can help a small establishment — and spur consumers to make a purchase that supports the smaller competitor.

    In subsequent studies, we tested this “framing-the-game” effect in various contexts and product categories and further found that support for a large brand decreases when consumers view it as being in competition with a smaller brand. In one study, we asked participants to assess two hypothetical rival tire shops, “Tire World” and “Tire Planet,” under three conditions — small vs. large, small vs. small or large vs. large competitors. While participants indicated no preference for the small or large shop when it was competing against a competitor of similar size, the small vs. large competitive context elicited a strong preference for the small rather than large shop. Participants indicated they were significantly more favorable to the small “Tire World” shop in the small vs. large setting than in the small vs. small, and significantly more adverse to the large “Tire Planet” shop in the small vs. large setting than in the large vs. large.

    We concluded that framing the game as a competition changes the way consumers view both competing brands and motivates them to express their views and to have an impact in the marketplace through their purchasing. When a brand is presented within a competitive context, consumers consider not only each brand’s attributes, but also which player they want to support and how they perceive their own purchasing actions will make a difference in the marketplace.

    Related Research

    N. Paharia, J. Avery and A. Keinan, “Positioning Brands Against Large Competitors to Increase Sales,” Journal of Marketing Research, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.13.0438.

    Across the studies we found that, when they are perceived as competing against a smaller brand, large brands do not have to do anything explicitly wrong to trigger consumer boycotting behavior; they are, in effect, assumed guilty until proven innocent. Furthermore, large brands should be wary of overtly intense competitive maneuvers. While these strategies may not hurt large brands when they compete against other large brands, they may inspire consumer rejection when the competition is a small brand. Rather than moving in across the street from a small local café, Starbucks Corp., for example, should consider locations where it does not appear to be competing directly against smaller players.

    We also analyzed more than 10,000 reviews from Yelp.com to further test whether a perceived competitive threat from a larger company elicited support for the smaller competitor. We used star ratings from Yelp as a proxy for brand evaluation. In an initial exploration, we found that in a large U.S. city, small, local establishments in the “coffee & tea” category had better average Yelp ratings when they were in close proximity to a Starbucks coffee shop than if they were located further away. However, we wished to control for a number of alternative explanations, including multiple Starbucks locations and varying quality levels of smaller establishments.

    To control for quality variance, we focused on a relatively smaller chain of coffee shops, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, based in Emeryville, California. To control for the presence of multiple Starbucks locations, we used the number of times “Starbucks” was explicitly mentioned in the text of a Peet’s Yelp review as a proxy for competitive salience. We reasoned that if there were one or many locations of Starbucks nearby, it would be more often mentioned in the reviews. We predicted that if a higher percentage of reviews for a specific Peet’s location mentioned Starbucks, ratings of that particular Peet’s location would also be higher. For each Peet’s location, we recorded the total number of Yelp reviews, the number of reviews that mentioned Starbucks, and the average star rating. Overall, across the 201 Peet’s locations listed on peets.com, 24.5% of the 10,445 reviews explicitly mentioned Starbucks.

    We found a significant positive relationship between the percentage of Peet’s reviews that mention Starbucks and the average star rating for a given Peet’s location. Furthermore, the effect was robust when looking at average ratings for the reviews that mentioned, or did not mention, Starbucks. If a location had 50 reviews and 15 mentioned Starbucks, the effect held whether we looked at only those 15 reviews or at the other 35 reviews that did not mention Starbucks.

    These results show a positive relationship between the perceived salience of a large competitor and customers’ ratings; in other words, customers liked Peet’s better when they perceived it in competition with Starbucks. To further rule out alternative explanations, we replicated these results in a controlled lab setting, where we described a hypothetical coffee shop and manipulated its proximity to a large competitor. Again, we found that competitors near each other elicited preference for the small rather than large competitor, while competitors located further away did not.

    Our research demonstrates the importance of considering a brand’s competitive context and illuminates how small brands can benefit from the real or perceived presence of a large competitor. Many smaller brands shy away from mentioning their competition in their marketing communications, especially at the point of purchase. Research has found that when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. enters a market, the most common reaction for incumbent smaller retail chains is to do nothing, at least in terms of advertising and the marketing mix. Our research suggests that this strategy may be unwise. For the framing-the-game effects outlined here to work to the advantage of small companies, competitive narratives should highlight the battle between small and large competitors, and this narrative must be made salient to consumers at the time of purchase.

    Brands don’t have to be tiny businesses to benefit from such competitive narratives. Jim Koch, the founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams beer, has over the years often compared his independent brewery to the behemoth Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC, framing the game to Boston Beer’s advantage with claims such as “Anheuser-Busch spills more beer than we make.” A Sam Adams advertising campaign entitled “Growing Up Small” attempted to remind consumers of its diminutive competitive position. Despite the objective reality that Sam Adams is by now a well-known brand, Koch deftly reframes the competitive game to benefit the Sam Adams brand. What drives the framing-the-game effect is not absolute size but consumers’ perceptions that a brand is smaller than its larger competitor.

    Reproduced from MIT SLOAN Management Review


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    Problems, Conflicts and Decisions

    Voices_Lynda_Problems.jpg

    While frequently treated as separate topics, conflict management, problem-solving and decision-making are interrelated and all are focused on achieving the best possible outcome.

    In an ideal world, there would always be sufficient information and rational maturity to allow you to treat everything as a problem and apply the following problem-solving steps to reach the optimum solution:


    1. Investigate the problem.
    2. Define the problem; the way it is defined will influence the solution.
    3. Identify the root cause.
    4. Define the "solution space" -- the potential range of acceptable methods and solutions the options have to conform to.
    5. Generate options. This can include: group creative processes such as brainstorming, negotiation between parties, facilitated processes, and reflection and other individual processes.
    6. Decide on the solution that solves the root cause in the simplest way. 
    7. Implement the solution effectively.
    8. Review the implementation.

    The trouble with this process is that problem-solving assumes there is a best answer -- that the information needed to determine the answer is available and that the people involved in the process are acting rationally. These circumstances are relatively rare!

    Many of the problems that require solving are rooted in emotions. At its center, every conflict has people acting (or reacting) emotionally, and conflict management is focused on reducing the effect of emotions to allow the people in conflict to start acting rationally. Any effective solution to a conflict involves defining the problem, defining a solution space (e.g., a formal mediation), understanding the options, choosing a solution and then implementing the solution. The only difference is how these steps are implemented or imposed. The standard solution options are:

    • Forcing/Directing: The solution is imposed by a manager with adequate power or a tribunal (i.e., a judge, arbitrator or adjudicator).
    • Smoothing/Accommodating: Emphasizes agreement, minimizes the issues in dispute and allows time for emotions to cool and any residual issues to be resolved through a rational decision-making process.
    • Compromising/Reconciling: Both sides give something up to resolve the problem. Option generation is limited by the level of conflict.
    • Problem-solving/Collaborating: Also referred to as "confronting." A joint approach to the problem -- collaborative decision-making -- is used to find a mutually acceptable solution (that is, a win-win).
    • Withdrawing/Avoiding/Accepting: Allows time for emotions to cool but may not resolve the issue.
    Different conflict-management processes are appropriate at different times. The primary focus is on reducing or managing the level of conflict, but eventually someone has to decide on the solution to the underlying problems.

    Problem-solving and decision-making are also closely aligned. But the weakness of the problem-solving concept is the assumption that there is sufficient data to make the "right decision." Unfortunately, many decisions are not that simple!

    The types of decisions you will be required to make range from "simple problems" through to "wicked problems":

    • Wicked problems are those that keep changing and involve the stakeholder's emotions and complexity. You can never really define the problem that needs a decision but still have to decide something. And every decision changes the problem -- an iterative, one-step-at-a-time approach is usually best.
    • Dilemmas have no right answer. You have to use your intuition and choose the lesser of two evils. Not making a decision is almost always worse than either of the options.
    • Conundrums are intricate and difficult questions that only have a conjectural answer.
    • Puzzles and mysteries lack adequate information to resolve, requiring your best decision based on the assessed probabilities at the given time. You almost never have enough time to get all of the information and skills you need to reduce these decisions to simple problems, but you can use processes to a point.
    • Problems just require hard work and the application of the problem-solving process described above to get to the best decision.
    The challenge of decision-making is to understand and balance the following:

    • The characteristics of the problem you have to make a decision about
    • The levels of emotion and conflict in the people affected by the decision
    • The characteristics of the different types of decisions you will have to make
    • 
The last step is to have the courage to make the best decision you can, in the circumstances as you understand them at that point in time. 
    Ultimately, good decision-making is firstly getting most decisions reasonably correct (luck plays a part) and then continually reviewing the consequences of your decisions to adapt, adjust and correct the suboptimal ones as quickly as possible. Generally, any considered decision made in the appropriate time frame is better than no decision or an unnecessarily delayed one.

    How do you make your decisions when confronted with a problem?


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    Six Key Findings on the Use of Theories of Change in International Development

    The Theory of Change approach is becoming a pervasive part of development practice: as an artefact, as a management tool, and increasingly as a common discourse which implementers use to explain and explore their interventions. My new JSRP paper,‘Theories of Change in international development: communication, learning or accountability?’ seeks to address a critical gap in understanding the actual effects of using a Theory of Change approach in international development work and considers how the approach may be better understood, if its aim is to improve development policy and practice. It does so through an analysis of the emerging findings of a collaboration between the JSRP and The Asia Foundation. Six key findings have emerged from this research:
    1. A Theory of Change approach can create space for critical reflection, but there is a danger that this is an illusory process.
    Many have welcomed the introduction of a Theory of Change approach, specifically because it provides space for reflection on their assumptions and the context in which they work, particularly in comparison to logframes. Such attempts to situate programmes in larger ecosystems of social change should be applauded, not dismissed. Yet a Theory of Change approach can also create an illusion of serious reflection by being a superficial process of critical thought, where people who engage with the theories (donors as well as  implementers) do not actually reflect sufficiently on how power dynamics change in practice and how local people see change happen.
    1. Personalities matter—they change whether a Theory of Change is seen as a tool of communication, learning, or a method of securing funding, or some combination of these. 
    The existing organisational approach to new tools and the individual agency (understood as the personal views and actions) of those within these organisations will change how the approach is used. The way in which The Asia Foundation used Theories of Change reflects both how their international management asked that it be used, as well as the existing practices of each country office. Beyond this, it is clear that this occurs, in part, because of a lack of clarity more broadly on what a Theory of Change approach entails. As highlighted by Whitty, how such tensions are resolved and perceptions play out depends on how an artefact is communicated, managed and tailored to its context. What this means is that changing an organisation’s approach may require considerable personal and organisational investment (and potentially risk) in convincing all staff to critically analyse interventions.
    1. Power relations between donors and implementers in the international development industry discourage critical reflection and therefore constrain Theory of Change approaches.
    The tendency to view a Theory of Change as predominantly an upward accountability mechanism considerably constrains attempts to learn from the process. While using Theory of Change as a way to encourage critical reflection may be the most useful and important approach to take, as Ramalingam notes, “the knowledge and learning agenda is just one among many voices pressing for change and adaptation within development agencies”. This includes the demands for ‘results’ made by donors. This needs to become a core part of a 
    Theory of Change approach; a recognition that the process and product is hamstrung by the power dynamics of the sector, and to use the approach as an opportunity to open up a space for honesty and critical reflection. Equally, the content of a Theory of Change approach itself also needs to be more explicitly related to the power relations and politics that the intervention is aiming to work with, or shift, and needs to be based on a serious reflection of how local people feel about the interventions and the changes that might be set in motion.
    1. A Theory of Change approach needs to focus on process rather than product, uncertainty rather than results, iterative development of hypotheses rather than static theories, and learning rather than accountability.
    In this way Theories of Change can be part of a challenge to the more negative effects of results-based performance management systems; but not if they are dominated by preferred, linear cause-and-effect models of management that are often inappropriate for the kind of changes development organisations are trying to achieve. Discussions with one advisor within DfID highlighted a strong awareness that this shift was required; yet within DfID itself there are various institutional and individual perspectives which may clash on this issue. 
    Donors are also subject to government demands to demonstrate ‘results’ that often remains mired in the problem of counting successes, rather than exploring and explaining change. Governments and donors therefore have a key role to play here in changing the terms of the debate: if Theories of Change are to be required by them, then they need to increase the institutional incentives for reflective critical thought to become the norm.
    1. Politically expedient Theories of Change may be useful, but are unlikely to encourage critical reflection.
    The political context in which the organisation is operating may limit or open up space for deeper critical reflection. Organisations may be used to framing their work in ways that appear technical and unchallenging to power and the political status quo, and this will feed into their approach to Theories of Change, particularly since they may become public documents.  As Tom Parks (former Regional Director for Governance and Conflict of the Asia Foundation) argued, there are drivers of change in the countries in which the Foundation works that “we simply can’t write down”. 
    Of course, politically expedient or simplistic Theories of Change have their uses: to please donors, to facilitate working with skeptical governments, to build consensus among teams on varying goals. But what they are unlikely to do is encourage serious critical reflection on the underlying assumptions for an intervention, which is what Theories of Change set out to do. When such an approach is taken, there is also a danger that evidence is used selectively to build a pre-defined Theory of Change.
    In The Asia Foundation’s Philippines office, where they did not need to make their Theories of Change public, one staff member was particularly unequivocal that the internal process was helpful: “It has been useful and can be very effective for clarifying and understanding; the caveat is because we never have to publish it”.
    1. If the aim is to encourage critical reflection and learning, the use of Theories of Change should be supported only so long as they remain useful in that respect
    Carlsson and Wohlgemuth identify five key issues obstructing system-wide learning in development: political constraints; the unequal nature of aid relations; problems internal to the organisation of the aid agencies; organisations and capacities on the recipient side; and the sources and quality of knowledge. This study has reaffirmed many of these. The value of Theory of Change is in its ability to create a space to negotiate some of these challenges, but should that space be closed off then the approach is likely to produce analysis of a dubious or deceptive quality.
     Across the many workshops associated with the JSRP and The Asia Foundation collaboration, it became clear that no one felt particularly wedded to the use of Theories of Change per se. There was a commitment to a broader reflective approach to development practice, rather than to any given tool that might well fade away at some point. In this respect it may be worth anchoring Theory of Change approaches to other useful concepts and practices, such as that of problem-driven iterative adaptation or single and double loop learning.
    Ultimately, the paper argues that a Theory of Change approach represents a good space for those in the aid industry to critically reflect on (and then change) their policy and practice; however, this space can be heavily constrained if the correct incentives are not in place for that to happen. We need to be wary of Theories of Change simply becoming another corporate stick to beat people with: the onus is therefore on likeminded donors, implementers and researchers to build a case for a critical, honest and reflective approach, which takes the complexity of social change seriously.

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    How to land a job in social media


    With the jobs market ever more competitive, Anna Marsden reveals how to gain the experience you need to get ahead

    More than 5 million people on LinkedIn claim to be social media experts, while social media job vacancies have proliferated at a blistering rate of 1,357% since 2010. So, how do you stand out and prove your expertise in this highly competitive marketplace?
    Most recruiters seem to agree there is one element to trump them all – experience.
    Stuart McClure, head of marketing at digital recruitment agency Propel London, says: “Courses and qualifications are valuable for your own knowledge but nothing compares to proven work experience.”
    He said employers are looking for candidates that can demonstrate evidence of having gained traction – increased engagement metrics such as followers, likes, comments, re-posts – for a real, social media case study.
    Bar chart showing growth in social media jobs.
    The number of social media related jobs has exploded since 2010. Photograph: Offerpop
    However, Mike Cornwell, chief executive of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), which launched the first digital marketing qualification in partnership with Google in 2005, says: “The marketers with little digital experience who were simply blagging it are being found out. It’s not about qualifications for their own sake, but about enabling people to do their jobs properly. It’s also about building confidence.”
    First-jobbers v marketing managers
    Cornwell says social media qualifications are ideal for three groups of professionals:
    People coming out of university, whether marketing-related or not, who want to make themselves more attractive to employers.
    People who have been marketing generalists who then wish to specialise, or vice versa – often for a promotion or with a new role in mind.
    People aged 40 or over who came into the marketing industry at a time when they hadn’t needed to practise digital and have now reached a level that they realise the importance of gaining digital skills. Often this group are recruiting a digital team or managing digital agencies and need to ensure they are receiving a competitive return-on-investment.
    Cornwell adds: “For businesses that subsidise IDM qualifications for their employees, it’s about the return on investment, making them more accountable marketers. The more people that practise [social media/digital marketing] professionally, the better for the industry.”
    Harry Thuillier, head of marketing at Squared Online, which offers Google-developed courses, says: “We find a large proportion of our participants actually have five or more years of marketing under their belt. So I would agree – experience is vital. But our students find that Squared offers a wider strategic digital context, a network of digital peers, and an emphasis on learning by doing that they can apply to their day to day roles and in many cases, their management of digital and social teams.”
    Thuillier says the average age of its participants is 32, over half of whom are marketing managers at brands, SMEs or agencies; only 10% are director-level professionals and even fewer, 6%, are recent graduates with less than a year’s experience.
    But with such a plethora of courses available – from degrees through to online certificates – should you go for a specific social media qualification rather than a more general digital marketing course? Which courses and qualifications are worth your investment?
    Which qualification? Social, Digital or something else entirely
    Mary Thomas, social media and Microsoft Office trainer and owner of Concise Training, says: “There is no right way of ‘doing’ social media, but there are lots of people doing it badly out there. The City & Guilds ITQ Social Media qualification provides hands-on experience of using the digital tools in a safe way, accompanied with individual feedback on the ways of doing it. Other courses may focus on how to ‘do’ social media in theory, rather than actually doing it in practice.”
    Interestingly, Adam Round, recruitment consultant at The Digital Recruitment Company, says “a strong degree in journalism is a good starting point for the junior social media roles”, because of the nature of content production and its relationship to social media management. However, Round says, in fact “digital marketing is the best to be in if you don’t have any qualifications as it’s so much about experience”.
    Victoria McKevitt, director of digital marketing agency, iProspect, agrees that “social is getting more integrated and less siloed”. As such, she says social media marketing now requires “a lot of rounded skills and abilities such as an understanding of brand, marketing or communications planning, writing and good design/aesthetic judgment. In addition, the ability to gain insights and analyse social performance and business results, along with the ability to generate ideas.”
    Qualifying for a role on social or digital marketing
    Current job descriptions for social media professionals, as advertised on LinkedIn, indicate a combination of communications, technical and digital analytical skills and experience are highly sought after. Social media marketing today is about so much more than community management, requiring a more sophisticated blend of online interactive communications skills and technical, digital marketing proficiency.
    As result of social media maturing, the content for social media marketing courses has been adapted and morphed into a fuller, more comprehensive digital marketing approach. Most courses include email marketing, viral marketing, affiliate marketing, online PR, search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC), marketing analytics and social media.
    What to consider:
    Is the course accredited? Are CPD hours applicable? Learning and development and HR departments welcome this.
    Is there a combination of offline and online learning?
    Is there an option for progressing through qualifications and apply credit to advanced courses?
    Read testimonials for the course.
    Find out how the course material is compiled, who forms the committee to ensure material is up-to-date and academically rigorous as well as practical.
    With a plethora of social media qualifications to choose from, here is a lowdown of the ones to consider:
    Academic degrees:
    Birmingham City University
    Type of qualification: Social media master of arts (MA)
    USP: The course is accredited by Creative Skillset
    Starting price: £6,000 a year
    The University of Westminster
    Type of qualification: Social media master of arts (MA)
    Starting price: £7,000 a year
    London Metropolitan University
    Type of qualification: Social media bachelor of arts (BA) degree course
    Starting price: £9,000 a year
    De Montfort University
    Type of qualification: Digital marketing and social media BA (Hons) degree course
    USP: This three-year, full-time course offers a professional qualification from the Institute of Direct Marketing.
    Starting price: £9,000 a year
    Industry association qualifications:
    The Digital Marketing Institute
    Type of qualification: Professional diplomas, postgraduate diplomas and a masters in digital marketing. The social media marketing diploma will be available in autumn 2014 and the price will be £1,995.
    USP: Syllabus Advisory Council (members include Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google) update its content and courses
    Starting Price: £349
    The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM)
    Type of qualification: Certificate in social media (Cert SocM)
    USP: Two-day intensive.
    Starting Price: £1,445 for members
    The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
    Type of qualification: Diploma in digital marketing
    USP: All certificates and diplomas have a digital element
    Starting Price: £3,400 per 40-unit course, plus CIM (£50) and CAM Affiliate membership (£144)
    Concise Training
    Type of qualification: City & Guilds ITQ certificate in social media
    USP: Practical course of 180 online hours, comprised of 20 modules. Nationally recognised IT user qualification
    Starting Price: £999
    Certificate courses:
    Squared Online
    Type of qualification: Certificate in digital marketing
    USP: Endorsed by Google and certified by the IPA
    Starting Price: £1,449
    The General Assembly
    Type of qualification: 10-week course in digital marketing
    USP: Face-to-face learning
    Starting price: £2,800
    Econsultancy
    Type of qualification: Various certificates
    USP: Use its Training Navigator to decide which e-consultancy course fits best
    Starting price: £550
    Online courses:
    Hootsuite University
    Type of qualification: Hootsuite certificate
    USP: Accredited to Hootsuite’s popular social media management software and provides practical social media examples from brands
    Starting price: $21 a month
    Hubspot Academy
    Type of qualification: Inbound Certificate & Hubspot Design Certificate (other certificates available to Hubspot members/partners only)
    USP: Accredited to in-bound marketing specialists Hubspot
    Starting price: £140 a month
    MOOCs
    What is a MOOC?
    Type of qualification: Massive open online courses (MOOCs) vary considerably in their content, timeliness, quality and learning outcomes.
    Note: MOOCs typically have a fairly low completion rate of 5% to 15% compared with 80% to 95% for paid courses, which sometimes lowers their reputation with employers
    Starting price: Free
    More info: Coursera, FutureLearn, or search “social media MOOC”

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    Why Marketers Want to Make You Cry


    “Hey – Dad? You want to have a catch?”
    Every time I watch Field of Dreams, there’s one scene that gets me. When Kevin Costner’s character asks his ghost father to throw a ball around, I – and a lot of other guys my age – dissolve.
    Chances are, the stories that stay with you also make you cry – or laugh – or get angry. The strong emotions make them memorable.
    Marketers are getting increasingly sophisticated at tapping into those strong emotions, and they don’t need a full-length feature film to do it. How many of you teared up – be honest – when you watched this heartwarming P&G commercial during the Olympics?

    So how do marketers go from 0 to tears in 30 seconds?
    In a word, storytelling. From drawings on cave walls to blockbusters at Cannes, story is still the most powerful way to elicit an emotional reaction. Realize, however, that these emotional connections don’t always have to be innately positive. Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” video, which now posts 13 million+ views, evokes a number of downright depressing emotions by telling a simple story designed to educate consumers about today’s food preparation and make them feel better about Chipotle as a better choice. Nevertheless, the story does end with a challenge to consumers, encouraging them to be part of the solution and to “cultivate a better world.”
    The difference between any particularly emotional story and a good marketing story is that a marketing story has a purpose. Ask yourself, “What is the objective of the brand story?” Is it to educate potential fans about some aspect of the brand – like Chipotle’s more sustainable supply chain? Maybe it is simply to bring the brand’s personality to life. (After all, no matter how touching the commercial, no brand can actually be the “sponsor of moms” – yet P&G clearly positions its portfolio of brands as exhibiting mom-like qualities.) Regardless, having a clear, concise rationale is critical before creating your story. Storytelling is simply the means to the end. It is our responsibility to understand what that end is.
    Great emotional stories also need to evolve to change with the times. The message may be the same, but the story evolves. For instance, during the 2014 Super Bowl, the Coca-Cola Company ran an ad that showed the various aspects of today’s culturally diverse America with the hymn “America” sung in different languages.

    The theme behind the story was the same message the Coca-Cola brand communicated forever – authenticity, sharing happiness, and Americana. What changed was the way these ideas were communicated. Coca-Cola has evolved to communicate these ideas in a 21st century way that is aligned with our times and as a result, shows that Coca-Cola isn’t an outdated brand. By modernizing its stories, Coca-Cola is avoiding the mistake too many mature brands often make. All too often, mature brands believe that they have to change the brand’s core message when in fact, the core message doesn’t need to change, but the way the story is communicated does. After all, even though times change, our emotions don’t.
    Strong emotional stories also have the power to announce a major brand change. A classic brand, A1, uses a story based on a modern communication platform to share a transformation – modifying its name and, ultimately its positioning from “A1 Steak Sauce” to A1 “Original Sauce.”

    Here is a story that elicits real emotion – and yet we’re talking about the emotional life of a steak sauce! Yet, it leverages the classic “boy gets girl, boy loses girl” relationship story that tugs on your heartstrings and yet achieves the purpose of letting the consumer know that A1 is for more than just steak.
    Great emotional stories can also make a competitive argument about product features null and void. Apple’s competitors always want to talk about pixels and price points. Apple responds with a story that shifts the conversation to a higher emotional place – and makes those competitive arguments seem small and unimportant. In its heartwarming Christmas story, the Apple brand becomes an integral part of a family’s holiday festivities and thus, takes a higher road against those competitors who want to compare product attributes.
    Great emotional storytelling doesn’t take stunning cinematography or a complex storyline. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the right music. Consider another example from Apple — this simple 2012 iPad mini commercial, which uses a classic Hoagy Carmichael song to create an instant emotional bond with the viewer:
    As a marketer, you have to ask yourself, what is our brand’s story? If you don’t know the answer to that question, or even worse, find that it one that isn’t compelling to you, you can be sure that it won’t make customers feel anything.
    View at the original source

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    8 Things Every Design Firm Should Know About Running A Business

    Almost eight years ago, I sat down with my partner in crime, Gavin Kelly, and we made one of the best decisions of our lives--we started our own design consultancy, Artefact. We were driven by the not so humble ambition to become the best digital design and innovation company in the world. And we think we are on the right path. But starting, running, and growing your own design company has also been a tremendous learning experience. With every achievement comes a new set of challenges to overcome and lessons to learn. In the spirit of transparency, and with hope that by sharing the lessons we have learned we could save fellow designers some frustration, here are eight insights we've gleaned over the years.
    The design industry is changing rapidly. There is a ton of business out there, but it has gotten a lot more competitive. Always be ready to adapt.
    The design industry has changed dramatically since we founded Artefact almost eight years ago. In an industry that shifts as much as ours does, you need to be ready to constantly adjust, evaluate and improve along with it. You should know there is no such thing as a steady state. 
    Compared to when we started, there are many more businesses out there doing what we do, with more entering the arena every year. Early on, Artefact competed with the classic design consultancy legacies of companies like Ideo and Frog. Today, many different kinds of competitors have entered into the digital innovation and design thinking fray, from McKinsey Digital to Accenture Digital, not to mention encroachment from the big digital agencies like R/GA. The fact that so many different kinds of companies are now working in this space is testament to the demand for our kind of expertise, but when demand is strong so is the competition. A discussion about starting your own agency would not be complete without a little reality check about how hard it is to set yourself apart these days.
    Your two biggest assets are your people and your reputation. Quality and creating a best place to work is what drives profitability.
    The only way to get a great reputation is to do great work. The only thing more important than doing great work is hiring great people. That’s the simple secret of doing business well. It’s a cycle: hire well, do quality work, get recommended and the quality of opportunities (for both work and new hires) will improve.
    The other part of doing great work is making sure you don’t compromise on quality just because you are young, new to the business or plain hungry. When you start out, make sure you are being hyper vigilant about your values, quality and integrity and avoid bad habits. The first gig you get with a client will be how they cast you forever, so act as if you’re a much more mature company doing exceptional work (and then do that), because that’s the only way you will survive.
    You can’t design culture. But you can design the conditions for a culture to come into existence and thrive.
    Culture is a far subtler thing to design than a policy. Culture emerges from the values, policies, and behavior that you and your employees manifest each day. It’s never static and always subject to the tensions and moods of the people in the studio, the clients, and the business climate. 
    As an employer, you have this relationship with people who came to work for you and believe in you. You have to give them reciprocal amounts of trust back to create a place of work where people want to return the next day. At Artefact, we dropped the corporate baggage adopted from previous employers for a much more trusting environment. Everyone gets the same amount of vacation, there is no limit on sick days, and employees can work from home as long as they communicate with the people they are working with. As a result, we work in a much more egalitarian organization.
    Start as you mean to go on. The first project you do with a client casts the mold forever.
    Your best clients know your worth and will pay you for good work. You should never work for less than you’re worth and especially never work for free. It not only devalues your work, it devalues our whole discipline.
    The rare exception to this is when the opportunity is so great, relative to the investment, that you would be crazy not to go for it. But if you go down that path, go all in, and do it to win. These opportunities are often competitive and if you don’t put in the work, your competitors will. This goes back to the point about reputation: the first job you get with a client forever casts the mold for that relationship, so make sure to start out on the right foot.
    You don’t have to like sales. But you have to do it, and you have to be good at it.
    A consultancy is as much a design business as it is a relationship business. This is especially true when you first start out, because your first client relationships can determine if you succeed or not. But it really doesn’t change even after you are more established. Even now, 70% to 80% of our work is repeat business as a result of existing connections we have cultivated over time, with the help of great people and a great reputation, of course (see Insight No. 2).
    The business has two temperatures. Scolding hot and ice cold.
    When the business is thriving, you’ll wonder if you can grow quickly enough to keep up. In the opposite state, you’ll wonder if you’ve lost your mojo. You have to be resilient enough to keep a steady hand on the business and a balanced response to business conditions. Do not panic.
    Here are the secret numbers to starting and maintaining your agency: three out of four of your employees should be at least 70% billable in a given year, after adding your profit margin to all your expenses. Don’t let those proportions get out of whack.
    Use slow times to invest in initiatives that help you grow as an organization or within an industry. At Artefact, we have a big-picture vision for what success looks like and we invest in areas we are passionate about. Initiatives like our internal innovation program Startefact and passion areas like civic engagement and health care help us even out the extremes and maintain an environment of constant development.
    Your only real power: say no and walk away. Focus on what you believe and what you are great at.
    You would be surprised at how often saying “no” actually results in a more positive outcome. The honesty generates more respect from your client and the relationships that result are often stronger. It’s true what they say: being principled is a fine thing.
    Do it for the right reasons. Because there are two exit strategies: death and quitting.
    In order to build a great consultancy, you need to think long-term. Start an agency because you love the idea of working with great clients on a massive variety of exciting projects and you want some degree of autonomy over your destiny and legacy. If you are starting an agency in an effort to do something else, then you are choosing a risky and roundabout path. Eventually, most agencies fold; some figure out leadership succession plans and a very small fraction (think winning-the-lottery) sell their business to a bigger business and survive the cultural transformation that results. Starting a consulting company is not a get-rich-quick plan or a startup; but when things are running well it’s a great and fulfilling life. 
    Artefact’s other co-founder, Gavin Kelly, and I agree--Artefact is the best thing we’ve ever done in our careers. It has not always been a smooth ride, but we set out to make a company that was world class and that is what we’ve got. I’m around people I respect and want to come to work with every day. I’m inspired by what we can and do accomplish every day. I’m challenged day in and day out to help us realize our full potential. What more could you ask of your career?

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    A way into the hearts and minds of managers

    Neuroscience©James Ferguson

    When Rob Pearse signed up for a three-day leadership programme at Ashridge in the UK, it was because one aspect had piqued his interest. “The only thing I knew about the course was that it was based on research of heart rate monitoring,” says the executive from Newey and Eyre, the UK electrical wholesalers.
    As Mr Pearse was put through crisis scenarios at Ashridge, he wore a heart variance monitor continuously for 48 hours. His heart-rate readings were correlated with a video recording of his actions and reactions, help to isolate stress points. 
    A moderately increased heartbeat when under stress improves performance, says Ashridge researcher Lee Waller, but too much pressure has the opposite effect, triggering flight. “If you push people too far they will see it as a threat.”
    The course at Ashridge is one of a growing number of programmes that bring medical techniques and equipment into the business classroom. Heart rate monitors, eye scanners and even brain scanning machines are increasingly being used to help executives manage the stressful parts of their job, make ethical decisions or even potentially be more innovative.
    At Ashridge the heart rate monitoring programme was designed following research into what most top executives find stressful, including giving a speech with no preparation, or having a difficult conversation with a subordinate.
    In Australia, Cameron Newton, associate professor at QUT Business School in Brisbane, also uses heart rate monitoring to research stress trigger points for executives. His work monitoring managers in Australia and Europe shows some surprising geographical differences. “One of the biggest stress points in Europe is commuting,” he says.
    And it is not only the office that produces stress. Prof Newton tells the tale of one female executive in Australia whose stress level readings were low at work but soared once she went home to her 10-year-old daughter and lackadaisical house husband.
    Perhaps the most extreme and controversial techniques that have found their way from the hospital to the business school involve the latest magnetic resonance imaging machines, which use magnetic fields and radio waves to form images of the brain. To date, these techniques have been used in isolated pockets of research, but that is changing.
    One of the more recent exponents is Maurizio Zollo, professor in strategy and sustainability at Bocconi University in Italy, who is using the scanners to discover why some managers are more innovative than others.
    “From neuroscience we know there is an ancient area of the brain that switches between exploration [creating new products or models] and exploitation [improving the quality of existing products] and back again,” says Prof Zollo. “Those managers who can switch more rapidly and easily are those who perform [innovate] best.”
    The use of brain-scanning techniques has been used for several years in the US – at the Goizueta school at Emory University professors used MRI techniques with EMBA students to assess which of them were making ethical decisions.
    These kind of techniques are important because they bring a different aspect to skills teaching, says Rick Gilkey, who holds a joint appointment between the business school and the medical school – he is an associate professor of psychiatry. “On the MBA we teach tools and techniques that are logical. But emotion is data and it is important data,” he says. “If you are going to talk about strategy ... you’re going to ask people what they feel as well as what they think.”
    The importance of emotion in the trading room has been a long-term research project for finance professor Andrew Lo at MIT Sloan, who has specialised in analysing the data gleaned by wiring up traders at the Boston Stock Exchange. “We learnt a lot about the role of emotion in decision making,” he says. “The most skilled traders used their emotions to their advantage.” On the downside: “There are times where you should not be making trading emotional decisions because you are in emotional distress,” he adds.
    The use of brain-scanning in a business school context is seen by many as controversial and by others as unhelpful. At Warwick Business School in the UK, for example, Gerard Hodgkinson, professor of strategic management, believes brain-scanning risks oversimplifying human behaviour and can therefore be misleading.
    He argues that effectiveness in the workplace goes well beyond the workings of the brain and that insights from sociology, anthropology and psychology are important. But he acknowledges that the headline grabbing potential of neuroscience in management theory will ensure continued research in this area.
    ...
    No surprise then that other techniques in cognitive psychology are also finding favour in business research. Peter Bryant, a professor at IE Business School, is also a keen exponent of such tests to investigate the thought processes of entrepreneurs. However, he uses a less complex technique, the “stroop effect” test, which uses flash cards on which conflicting information is printed – for example the word “red” is written in blue.
    The difference between the responses of entrepreneurs and corporate executives to the test was measurable, he says. “In the first microseconds, entrepreneurs were processing more quickly. They were quicker to embrace the conflicts and dedicated more brain energy to their resolution.”
    So can business people learn to be more entrepreneurial?
    Prof Zollo plans to look at how business schools can change executive behaviour. “We want to understand what impact interventions have to change the cognitive patterns. The idea now is to move from mapping to learning interventions and the third stage is to improve our capacity to teach, based on what we learn.”
    Helping executives practise their emotional responses in an academic environment should help them perform better in a live crisis situation, believes Megan Reitz, leadership programme director at Ashridge. The aim of the heart monitoring is to create “muscle memory” she says. “When you have to do it when it really, matters, you do it almost automatically.”
    Time for reflection
    Neuroscience is proving popular in business school in more ways than one. The popularity of using neuroscience research to teach leadership in its corporate programmes has persuaded the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management that there is a market for an open enrolment programme on “Neuroleadership”.
    The theme of the two-day course centres on the idea that managers can make their teams more effective by encouraging and rewarding them, rather than criticising them. The Frankfurt school believes managers in Germany are more likely to give credence to measurable results from the world of science, presented by a neuroscientist, than the same message presented under the guise of “soft skills”.
    Sonja Thiemann, head of Competence Centre Management at Frankfurt, believes the biggest problem is that 80 per cent of leadership patterns are unconscious, and most managers do not reflect on their behaviour – reflection will be a big element of the course.
    “Executives’ main task is to bring employees from survival mode to growth mode, to create a home base where people are encouraged to experiment,” she says. “I’m convinced that we now have pressure in companies to change and to reflect seriously on management behaviour.”

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    Great Leadership Isn’t About You

    The year 1777 was not a particularly good time for America’s newly formed revolutionary army. Under General George Washington’s command, some 11,000 soldiers made their way to Valley Forge. Following the latest defeat in a string of battles that left Philadelphia in the hands of British forces, these tired, demoralized, and poorly equipped early American heroes knew they now faced another devastating winter.
    Yet history clearly records that despite the harsh conditions and lack of equipment that left sentries to stand on their hats to prevent frostbite to their feet, the men who emerged from this terrible winter never gave up. Why? Largely because of the inspiring and selfless example of their leader, George Washington. He didn’t ask the members of his army to do anything he wouldn’t do. If they were cold, he was cold. If they were hungry, he went hungry. If they were uncomfortable, he too choose to experience the same discomfort.
    The lesson Washington’s profoundly positive example teaches is that leading people well isn’t about driving them, directing them, or coercing them; it is about compelling them to join you in pushing into new territory. It is motivating them to share your enthusiasm for pursuing a shared ideal, objective, cause, or mission. In essence, it is to always conduct yourself in ways that communicates to others that you believe people are always more important than things.
    Donald Walters, in his insightful little book, The Art of Leadership, provides a compelling example of how this perspective plays out in the most unlikely of places: the battlefield. Walters points out, “The difference between great generals and mediocre ones may be attributed to the zeal great generals have been able to inspire in their men. Some excellent generals have been master strategists, and have won wars on this strength alone. Greatness, however, by very definition implies a great, an expanded view. It transcends intelligence and merely technical competence. It implies an ability to see the lesser in relation to the greater; the immediate in relation to the long term; the need for victory in relations to the needs that will arise once victory has been achieved.”
    As a general myself, I can confirm that achieving my mission, be it in training a new generation of capable men and women for service, promoting peace, or achieving victory in combat, is paramount. Yet this doesn’t imply that I should indiscriminately pursue my goals or blindly pursue my objectives at all costs. What Walters’ wise words strive to remind us of is that leadership, be it as a general in the military, an executive in the boardroom, a pastor serving a congregation, or a parent providing for a family, isn’t about exercising power over people, but rather, it’s about finding effective ways to work with people.
    The most effective form of leadership is supportive. It is collaborative. It is never assigning a task, role or function to another that we ourselves would not be willing to perform. For all practical purposes, leading well is as simple as remembering to remain others-centered instead of self-centered. To do this, I try to keep these four imperatives in mind:
    Listen to other people’s ideas, no matter how different they may be from your own: There’s ample evidence that the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend not to come from the top of an organization, but from within an organization. Be open to others opinions; what you hear may make the difference between merely being good and ultimately becoming great.
    Embrace and promote a spirit of selfless service: People, be it employees, customers, constituents, or colleagues, are quick to figure out which leaders are truly dedicated to helping them succeed and which are only interested in promoting themselves at others’ expense. Be willing to put others’ legitimate needs and desires first and trust that they will freely give you the best they have to give.
    Ask great questions: The most effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers. Instead, they constantly welcome and seek out new knowledge and insist on tapping into the curiosity and imaginations of those around them. Take it from Albert Einstein: “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.” Be inquisitive. Help tap others’ hidden genius one wise question and courageous conversation at a time.
    Don’t fall prey to your own publicity: Spin and sensationalism is an attractive angle to take in today’s self-promoting society. Yet the more we get accustomed to seeking affirmation or basking in the glow of others’ praise and adulation, the more it dilutes our objectivity, diminishes our focus, and sets us up to believe others are put in our path to serve our needs. Be careful not to become prideful; it will only set you up for a fall.
    Those who serve under an effective general know well that he or she would ask nothing of others that they would not first do themselves. Such a leader believes with all their heart that they are one with their people, not superior to them. They know that they are simply doing a job together.
    The need to reimagine and recast how we think about leadership has never been greater. In my view, too many of us have allowed our understanding of leadership to grow stagnant, contributing to why we face so many daunting problems in our society today. Now is the time to discover the leader within all of us. Now is the time to accept that leadership is meant to be more verb than noun, more active than passive.
    Now is the time to not lose sight of the fact that people, be it in warfare, politics, religion, education, or business, are always more important than things.
    Are you game?

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    Google's Tony Fagan

    True detectives

    Uncovering insights on putting marketing theory into practice

     "We are all detectives, trying to uncover something.”
     

    Evoking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Donald Lehmann of Columbia Business School shared that reflection at the conclusion of the 2014 Theory + Practice in Marketing conference held at Kellogg. Lehmann’s remarks illustrated how practitioners and academics alike are in constant pursuit of discoveries that have the potential to solve huge problems, such as the challenges posed by big data.

    “While data analytics is one of the big ‘it’ ideas of the current day, why does it matter? We all know it’s about gaining a deeper understanding of the customer and how you create more value,” said Dean Sally Blount ’92 as she welcomed top marketing faculty from across the globe to the fourth annual TPM conference.

    Speakers who have held top positions at Google, Microsoft and Booz Allen imparted the following ways today’s executives can harness the power of big data — by emulating the wisdom of Sherlock Holmes.

    1. Become a professional skeptic

    “My education here taught me how to be a professional skeptic as opposed to an armchair skeptic,” said former Booz & Company CEO Shumeet Banerji ’90, as he reflected on obtaining his PhD at Kellogg. “Being a professional skeptic is about asking, ‘Is that true?’ ‘Under what conditions is it true?’ ‘Can you support that claim with evidence?’ Good questions beget good answers. It is about not accepting something is thus because a wise man said so.”

    2. Emphasize decision-making over analytic output

    Speaking to his time in the corporate world, Banerji said, “While analysts do analytics, nobody listens to them. You have to get line people to use analysis. And the way you get them to do it is by integrating the analytics into decision-making. What matters is decision-making, what doesn’t matter is analytic output.”

    3. Don’t buy the quick-fix “anxiety sell” — hire the right people instead


    Instead of trying to find flash-in-the-pan big data solutions, Tony Fagan, who leads a quantitative research team at Google, underscored the importance of hiring a Watson-like team with the right combination of skills. “It’s almost a fluency issue. They need a certain intuition with data, they need to know what questions to ask and they need to have some understanding of technology, because that, in my view, is what will affect marketing organizations in the future.”

    4. Experiment your way to rapid innovation

    As the economics of technology professor at Stanford and the former chief economist at Microsoft, Susan Athey knows a thing or two about how research principles can best apply to modern business, especially in the area of web search and online advertising. “At Microsoft and Google, algorithmic changes [in web search] are proposed frequently and exposed to a subset of users in randomized experiments. Every single thing that changes at Microsoft and Google in search goes through A/B tests. Experimentation allows you to incredibly rapidly innovate. You can have people come up with an idea, put it through an experimentation process, test it and ship it within a week.”

    Ideally, all of this tinkering will have a positive impact on key stakeholders. According to Athey, “When you think about changing a [web search] algorithm, it’s going to change the outcome for all constituents. It’s going to change revenue for the platform, it’s going to change advertiser profits and it’s going to change the user experience. You’re constantly monitoring how changes you make affect the welfare of participants.”

    Conference conversations revealed the value of academics’ and practitioners’ shared focus on developing an analytical approach to customer centricity — and forging collaboration between the two sectors is truly a case worth cracking. 

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    Northern California earthquake is area's strongest in 25 years



    The strongest earthquake in 25 years in Northern California struck early Sunday, injuring dozens of people, damaging historic buildings in downtown Napa and turning fireplaces into rubble.


    The 6.0-magnitude quake struck just six miles southwest of Napa, California's famed wine country.

    "Everything and everyone in Napa was affected by the quake. My house, along with everybody else's, is a disaster. It looks like somebody broke in and ravaged the place, room by room," said CNN iReporter 

    Malissa Koven, who was awakened by the shaking at about 3:20 a.m.

    "Anything and everything that could fall, did," she said.

     5 most powerful recorded earthquakes Napa quake like 'a rollercoaster' 6.1 earthquake shakes California
    Quake locationQuake location

    One child was hurt when a fireplace collapsed and was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Vanessa deGier told CNN.

    Nearly 160 were treated for minor injuries at the emergency room at Queen of the Valley Hospital, though hospital CEO Walt Mickens could not confirm that all of those patients were injured in the earthquake.

    Thirteen people were admitted for orthopedic issues and medical conditions, according to Mickens. By Sunday night, only one patient was still in critical condition.

    Assessing the aftermath

    The damage in Napa is "fairly significant," said Glenn Pomeroy, the CEO of the California Earthquake Authority, who surveyed the area Sunday afternoon.

    At least 15,000 customers in and around Sonoma, Napa and Santa Rosa lost power, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Roughly 7,300 were still without power as of Sunday evening.
    In historic downtown Napa, the bricks and beams that once made up buildings' facades lay splayed in the street. Shattered glassware covered the floor of a local restaurant. One home had visible charring from a fire that occurred in the aftermath of the quake. Gas leaks and downed power lines were also reported.

    "The post office building had cracked, the local hardware store was destroyed with layers of shelves that had fallen over and busted the windows, multiple buildings had fallen apart, and all the local businesses looked trashed on the inside and out," Koven said.

    Pomeroy said that downtown was particularly hard hit "probably because of the age of construction."
    However, the damage "is not as bad as it could have been," Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Sunday.

    Putting out the fires

    To help with the recovery Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.
    "We're here for the long run," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN. "Not just when we're putting out fires -- literally."

    The earthquake triggered six major fires that destroyed several mobile homes, said Napa Division Fire Chief John Callanan.

    Napa Public Works Director Jack Rochelle said it might take up to a week to get the water system back to normal after dozens of water main breaks were reported. The water that is still flowing is safe to drink, he said.

    How did it feel?

    Sunday's earthquake struck four miles northwest of American Canyon, six miles southwest of Napa and nine miles southeast of Sonoma, according to the USGS.

    The USGS estimated that based on their locations, 15,000 people experienced severe shaking, 106,000 people felt very strong shaking, 176,000 felt strong shaking and 738,000 felt moderate shaking.
    For those in Napa, close to the epicenter, the quake jolted downtown residents such as Karen Lynch.
    "It was not like other quakes we have felt," Lynch told CNN. "This was a violent quake."
    Although the quake has not resulted in any deaths so far, many residents were surprised by how strong it was.

    "Honestly it felt much worse than the '89 earthquake," CNN iReporter Garret Gauer said. "The refrigerator relocated itself to the other side of the kitchen"

    Farther south of the epicenter in San Francisco, CNN producer Augie Martin felt the quake differently.
    "It was a fairly good shake, about 25 or 30 seconds. It was a softer rolling type earthquake," he said.
    The quake struck about seven miles deep and was considered "strong" by the USGS. Major quakes start at a 7.0 magnitude, according to the USGS scale.

    More than 60 aftershocks struck in the hours following the quake, according to the USGS, ranging from 0.6 to 3.6 magnitude.

    The economic loss is likely to be more than $1 billion, according to USGS pager data.

    Wine country hit

    "I've got a lot of broken wine, being here in Napa," said Emily Massimi, who was woken up by the quake. "We tend to collect wine, so I have wine all over my kitchen, and glass, and pictures off the wall and books off of bookshelves," she told CNN.

    At Silver Oak Winery, owner David Duncan spent the morning cleaning up hundreds of broken wine bottles that fell off the shelves.

    "Those bottles were very unique," he said. They were part of his private collection and worth hundreds of dollars. Duncan said he plans to open the winery today.

    But it's not just the wine economy that will feel the pain.

    "There's a mythology about Napa, that it's all fancy wineries," Newsom said. "But underneath that there are a lot of folks here -- very low income -- that are going to need support."
    25 years later

    The quake was the strongest to hit the Bay Area since 1989, when a 6.9-magnitude one struck during the World Series. The Loma Prieta earthquake caused 63 deaths, 3,757 injuries and an estimated $6 billion in property damage, according to the USGS.

    The damage from Sunday's earthquake was relatively minor compared with the buckled highways and destroyed homes that scattered the Bay area in the aftermath of the quake 25 years ago.

    The 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California was nearly as deadly -- 60 people were killed and more than 7,000 were injured. The USGS says 20,000 people were left homeless in its aftermath.




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    Six Key Findings on the Use of Theories of Change in International Development



    The Theory of Change approach is becoming a pervasive part of development practice: as an artefact, as a management tool, and increasingly as a common discourse which implementers use to explain and explore their interventions. My new JSRP paper,‘Theories of Change in international development: communication, learning or accountability?’ seeks to address a critical gap in understanding the actual effects of using a Theory of Change approach in international development work and considers how the approach may be better understood, if its aim is to improve development policy and practice. It does so through an analysis of the emerging findings of a collaboration between the JSRP and The Asia Foundation. Six key findings have emerged from this research:
    1. A Theory of Change approach can create space for critical reflection, but there is a danger that this is an illusory process.
    Many have welcomed the introduction of a Theory of Change approach, specifically because it provides space for reflection on their assumptions and the context in which they work, particularly in comparison to logframes. Such attempts to situate programmes in larger ecosystems of social change should be applauded, not dismissed. Yet a Theory of Change approach can also create an illusion of serious reflection by being a superficial process of critical thought, where people who engage with the theories (donors as well as  implementers) do not actually reflect sufficiently on how power dynamics change in practice and how local people see change happen.
    1. Personalities matter—they change whether a Theory of Change is seen as a tool of communication, learning, or a method of securing funding, or some combination of these. 
    The existing organisational approach to new tools and the individual agency (understood as the personal views and actions) of those within these organisations will change how the approach is used. The way in which The Asia Foundation used Theories of Change reflects both how their international management asked that it be used, as well as the existing practices of each country office. Beyond this, it is clear that this occurs, in part, because of a lack of clarity more broadly on what a Theory of Change approach entails. As highlighted by Whitty, how such tensions are resolved and perceptions play out depends on how an artefact is communicated, managed and tailored to its context. What this means is that changing an organisation’s approach may require considerable personal and organisational investment (and potentially risk) in convincing all staff to critically analyse interventions.
    1. Power relations between donors and implementers in the international development industry discourage critical reflection and therefore constrain Theory of Change approaches.
    The tendency to view a Theory of Change as predominantly an upward accountability mechanism considerably constrains attempts to learn from the process. While using Theory of Change as a way to encourage critical reflection may be the most useful and important approach to take, as Ramalingamnotes, “the knowledge and learning agenda is just one among many voices pressing for change and adaptation within development agencies”. This includes the demands for ‘results’ made by donors. This needs to become a core part of a Theory of Change approach; a recognition that the process and product is hamstrung by the power dynamics of the sector, and to use the approach as an opportunity to open up a space for honesty and critical reflection. Equally, the content of a Theory of Change approach itself also needs to be more explicitly related to the power relations and politics that the intervention is aiming to work with, or shift, and needs to be based on a serious reflection of how local people feel about the interventions and the changes that might be set in motion.
    1. A Theory of Change approach needs to focus on process rather than product, uncertainty rather than results, iterative development of hypotheses rather than static theories, and learning rather than accountability.
    In this way Theories of Change can be part of a challenge to the more negative effects of results-based performance management systems; but not if they are dominated by preferred, linear cause-and-effect models of management that are often inappropriate for the kind of changes development organisations are trying to achieve. Discussions with one advisor within DfID highlighted a strong awareness that this shift was required; yet within DfID itself there are various institutional and individual perspectives which may clash on this issue. Donors are also subject to government demands to demonstrate ‘results’ that often remains mired in the problem of counting successes, rather than exploring and explaining change. Governments and donors therefore have a key role to play here in changing the terms of the debate: if Theories of Change are to be required by them, then they need to increase the institutional incentives for reflective critical thought to become the norm.
    1. Politically expedient Theories of Change may be useful, but are unlikely to encourage critical reflection.
    The political context in which the organisation is operating may limit or open up space for deeper critical reflection. Organisations may be used to framing their work in ways that appear technical and unchallenging to power and the political status quo, and this will feed into their approach to Theories of Change, particularly since they may become public documents.  As Tom Parks (former Regional Director for Governance and Conflict of the Asia Foundation) argued, there are drivers of change in the countries in which the Foundation works that “we simply can’t write down”. 
    Of course, politically expedient or simplistic Theories of Change have their uses: to please donors, to facilitate working with skeptical governments, to build consensus among teams on varying goals. But what they are unlikely to do is encourage serious critical reflection on the underlying assumptions for an intervention, which is what Theories of Change set out to do. When such an approach is taken, there is also a danger that evidence is used selectively to build a pre-defined Theory of Change.In The Asia Foundation’s Philippines office, where they did not need to make their Theories of Change public, one staff member was particularly unequivocal that the internal process was helpful: “It has been useful and can be very effective for clarifying and understanding; the caveat is because we never have to publish it”.
    1. If the aim is to encourage critical reflection and learning, the use of Theories of Change should be supported only so long as they remain useful in that respect
    Carlsson and Wohlgemuth identify five key issues obstructing system-wide learning in development: political constraints; the unequal nature of aid relations; problems internal to the organisation of the aid agencies; organisations and capacities on the recipient side; and the sources and quality of knowledge. This study has reaffirmed many of these. The value of Theory of Change is in its ability to create a space to negotiate some of these challenges, but should that space be closed off then the approach is likely to produce analysis of a dubious or deceptive quality. Across the many workshops associated with the JSRP and The Asia Foundation collaboration, it became clear that no one felt particularly wedded to the use of Theories of Change per se. There was a commitment to a broader reflective approach to development practice, rather than to any given tool that might well fade away at some point. In this respect it may be worth anchoring Theory of Change approaches to other useful concepts and practices, such as that of problem-driven iterative adaptation or single and double loop learning.
    Ultimately, the paper argues that a Theory of Change approach represents a good space for those in the aid industry to critically reflect on (and then change) their policy and practice; however, this space can be heavily constrained if the correct incentives are not in place for that to happen. We need to be wary of Theories of Change simply becoming another corporate stick to beat people with: the onus is therefore on likeminded donors, implementers and researchers to build a case for a critical, honest and reflective approach, which takes the complexity of social change seriously.

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    Keep Learning Once You Hit the C-Suite

    What skills do companies prize in C-level executives ? To answer these questions, we surveyed 32 senior search consultants at a top global executive-placement firm. Experienced search consultants typically interview hundreds and even thousands of senior executives; they assess those executives’ skills, track them over time, and in some cases place the same executive in a series of jobs. They also observe how executives negotiate, what matters most to them in hiring contracts, and how they decide whether to change companies. (See my posts on “The Seven Skills You Need to Thrive in the C-Suite” and “Headhunters Reveal What Candidates Want”)
    Many consultants emphasized that executives need a first-rate core of technical and soft skills. These skills will vary by industry and function, but up-to-date financial, technical, managerial, and leadership skills are of universal value. The terms “flexible,” “adaptable,” and “curious” came up frequently. One consultant described a typical in-demand executive as “a sponge,” primed to “take in new skills” and “learn from the people around them.”
     Another endorsed “willingness to learn and adapt to changing environments,” and a third urged “adaptability, the ability to operate in multi-cultural environments and the openness to learn.” One consultant virtually spelled out a formal specification: “Executives should not only have a high level of intellectual curiosity (staying current on market trends and changing dynamics in business), but also a personal sense of flexibility and adaptability.” Several consultants urged executives to build on their personal strengths, or, in the words of one respondent, to “stay very focused and honest on where their core strengths lie.”
    Several consultants urged executives to refresh their technical skills constantly. “It is always important to keep oneself up to date with what is happening in the industry,” one said. “Updating one’s IT skills and getting acquainted with the new ways of communicating and interacting (social media) are obviously also very important.” Another urged executives to “continue to educate themselves commercially, financially, and operationally.”
    Some argued that merely keeping pace with industry and market changes is inadequate; an executive must anticipate change. The costs of not doing so—not continuously changing and evolving—are likely to be high. Those who neglect to keep up, one respondent said, “will be left behind in a rapidly changing market.”
    Finally, team-building skills are both highly prized and shifting rapidly: executives are apt to find themselves managing co-located teams, cross-functional teams, global teams, and virtual teams. Accordingly, they are increasingly expected to apply an analytical lens to team management and to be familiar with best practices (as opposed to managing by gut).
    Where should executives turn for advice on skills they need to acquire and upgrade? According to the search consultants, executives might also want to seek out these four sources of insight:
    Self–assessment. Many consultants stressed astringent self-reflection, urging honest self-scrutiny about one’s shortcomings and developmental needs before turning to peers, colleagues, mentors, coaches, or courses. “Be extremely critical of yourself,” one counseled. Another urged “listening, adapting, and being cognizant about your own strengths and weaknesses.” The risks of complacency and arrogance arose repeatedly. As antidotes, some recommended flexibility, openness, and willingness to listen. “[Leaders] need to be constantly testing how people are responding to them,” one consultant said, “and open to adjusting their style—both in how they communicate with different groups of people and how they change their leadership approach to suit the situation.”
    Peer and subordinate feedback. “External awareness”— which one consultant described as “the ability to seek information outside the executive’s classic sphere”—was viewed as just as important as self-awareness. Several respondents advocated a “strong and diverse network” and openness to 360-degree feedback—that is, not just feedback from supervisors. One even declared that executives “should always be asking their team, peers, and boss how they can be better.”
    The same relationships that can fortify executives’ self-knowledge can also keep them abreast of the market and the industry. One consultant urged executives to “seek advice at all levels, and leverage the experts they have in their businesses—this helps build trusted relationships as well as provide them with valuable information.” Another noted one hazard of failing to do so: “Too often I see good executives focused only on their role, and not interested in spending time building a good network of peers. The consequence is that they miss the weak signals of the market.”
    Mentoring. Many respondents recommended a mentor—one whose career trajectory the executive hopes to emulate—as a source of information and advice. “Analyze the success of others in their company,” one consultant suggested, “and don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor.” Others extolled the benefits of taking a more junior colleague as a mentor, or “reverse mentoring.” “In a few cases we have been successful in implementing a ‘reverse’ mentoring program, i.e., giving an under-30-year-old mentor to an executive of 54 years of age or older,” one consultant said. “They have been helpful in changing some old habits and ways of thinking.” The junior partners tend to be front-line managers and professionals with up-to-the-minute knowledge of customers, competitors, products, technologies, and trends.
    Formal education and developmental assignments. Some consultants praised external educational offerings, including formal executive-education courses, for the access they offer to new research and practices, examples of companies facing relevant challenges, and sometimes a global network of contacts.
    Others advocated seeking out varied and off-track job assignments, or what one consultant called “opportunities that take one out of one’s comfort zone.” Developmental assignments outside one’s areas of expertise can often provide exposure to new practices, new markets, and disruptive technologies.
    Professional coaches were also cited as a source of reliable but confidential feedback about oneself and one’s managerial skills. “Having a coach or peer group to bounce ideas off is important as execs review their own performance critically,” said one consultant. “An impartial outsider is often required.” Coaches can help executives correct their blind spots and weaknesses, and offer valuable negative feedback that subordinates might withhold.
    As one executive offered advice for the long haul: “Do not spread yourself too thinly, and focus on the objectives you have been given. Ensure you have a happy and healthy support system outside of work, and make this a priority.” Some cautioned, too, that flexibility ought not to displace long-term objectives. The goal, one consultant said, is to “stay open-minded but remain on purpose.” Another warned against embracing fads and “every whimsical management book that comes to the market.” Another observed, “The problem is not the sources of information. It is about the analytical and reflective capacity to sort through all that information and pick what is specific to their needs.”
    Today, the most pressing question is,“How can you keep your skills current?” It’s really a question of career survival.
    About the Research
    We talked to the 32 consultants in 2010, but the findings are consistent with everything we hear today. As a group, the senior search consultants we spoke to were 57% male and 43% female. They represented a wide range of industries, including industrial (28%), financial (19%), consumer (13%), technology (11%), corporate (6%), functional practice (6%), education/social enterprise (4%), and life sciences (4%). These senior search consultants worked in 19 different countries from every region of the world, including North American (34%), Europe (28%), Asia/India (26%), Australia/New Zealand (6%), Africa (4%) and South America (2%).

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    Top CIOs Get Deeply Involved in Merger Deals




    Todd Stabenow was on a secret mission.  


    As he flew from Minneapolis to Paris one morning last year, he considered tactics for getting the information he wanted without revealing the truth about his visit. Land O’Lakes, a giant agriculture cooperative, had hired him the year before to oversee the IT part of mergers and acquisitions. The first step is investigating a target company for major risks—“the big rocks,” as Stabenow says.


    He was on the way to Geosys, a French firm that had developed algorithms for analyzing satellite images to help farmers track the health of their crops. Land O’Lakes already owned almost 10 percent of Geosys, and now it wanted to buy the rest. The opportunity to add a new line of business — selling this analytics service to its member farmers — was enticing as a strategic play in the fast-growing “precision agriculture” market.


    Land O’Lakes has doubled its sales in seven years, from $7.1 billion in 2006 to $14.2 billion in 2013, and has pledged to offer new tools to its member farmers to help them improve their yields and profits. Stabenow had to find out whether the Geosys technology was solid enough to scale and whether overall IT at the company was sound. Just a handful of top executives at Geosys knew of Land O’Lakes’ intentions; most of the people Stabenow would be interviewing did not. The deal wasn’t definite, so speed and discretion were imperative.


    CIOs: Prepare Yourself for M&As


    You could soon find yourself in the same situation.


    Whether they aim to boost revenues, break into new geographies, eliminate competition or otherwise expand an empire, M&A deals are on the rise. As of July, mergers and acquisitions were up 24 percent in number and 36 percent in value compared to the same period last year, according to FactSet Research Systems.


    There’s Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ $53 billion bid to take over Botox-maker Allergan, AT&T’s $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV, Comcast’s proposed $45 billion buyout of Time Warner Cable, and discount retailer Dollar Tree’s $8.5 billion plan to buy rival Family Dollar Stores. After a bidding war against rival Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods’ nearly $9 billion acquisition of Hillshire Brands is expected to close this month.


    As companies posture during the sensitive early stages, CIOs must swoop in to perform due diligence, assessing the inner workings of someone else’s IT organization, on limited time, often in secret and typically with imperfect information.


    “It’s like a puzzle,” says Michael Iacona, president of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and former VP of technology for M&A at Thomson Reuters. “You collect pieces, and at the end of day, you won’t have it complete. But you can see the picture.”


    It used to be that CIOs, tired of having IT be an afterthought, cried out to be brought into due diligence early on. But that’s no longer good enough. To make the most of a merger, companies need CIOs involved in a deal’s conception, says Jan Roehl-Anderson, a principal at Deloitte Consulting. CIOs who help shape the business case the company takes to Wall Street, she says, will be able to find not only risks but also potential rewards.


    Yes, a CIO can spot IT problems that a CEO or CFO might miss, such as a decrepit application behind a pivotal business line that will take millions to stabilize. But in these digital days, sometimes only a technology leader can recognize IT assets that could increase the value of the deal.


    That could be the target’s state-of-the-art data center, which could save you the expense of building one yourself. Or it could be a quiet group of data scientists with a killer algorithm for predicting customer behavior. Or, as the IT team at electronics distributor Avnet discovered during a recent deal investigation, it could be an internal training system that could be built up into a fast-growing source of revenue.


    A higher standard for IT’s role in these deals is now emerging, says Dewey Ray, president of M&A consultancy Cognitive Diligence: “CIOs formulate theories about approaches to the acquisition itself and understand the business drivers.”


    Or CIOs should, anyway. “Not many of us get trained in due diligence or mergers and acquisitions. You’re learning on the job,” says Steve Phillips, CIO of the $25 billion Avnet. Phillips has done 51 acquisitions in the past 10 years. “Your first one is always really hard.”


    Right Process, Right People


    After a buyer issues a letter of intent to a company it wants to purchase, the process soon moves to due diligence. A cadre of senior executives visits the target company to learn about its strategy, plans and basic operations and facilities. For a CIO, the point is to evaluate the state of IT there and how it matches yours. Where the two systems differ, there are risks to mitigate or opportunities to exploit. The trick is to quickly estimate the time, manpower and money needed for either kind of work.


    Access can be limited when time is short. Smaller companies often don’t have the requested information readily available, says Cora Carmody, SVP of IT at Jacobs Engineering. Carmody has done a lot of deals: Acquisitions account for one-third of growth at the $11.8 billion company and are critical to meeting its goal of boosting profits by an average of 15 percent every year.


    Some interviewees aren’t forthcoming because the acquisition is unwelcome or they’re afraid for their jobs. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other bodies govern what information can be disclosed or kept confidential at which stage of a transaction, says Rudy Puryear, who leads the IT practice at Bain and Co. For example, during due diligence, two companies cannot see each other’s “competitively sensitive” information, such as current or future pricing. But a neutral third party agreed upon by both companies can evaluate that data for them.


    Before Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced their deal in February, the companies had shared information about equipment such as hardware, software and routers. But not until things progressed did they reveal more sensitive material, such as certain customer data. The rules are there to protect companies in case the deal falls apart, Puryear says.


    Rather than setting up camp at the company headquarters, the two sides might use a neutral third party to run a “clean room,” physical or virtual, where material is shared and evaluated. That’s especially common when doing deals in other countries; you don’t want language barriers to blur the nuances in critical information. Participants sign nondisclosure contracts and agree to follow rules laid out by lawyers, such as no personal electronic devices in the clean room.


    Deloitte’s Roehl-Anderson recalls one merger where the parties were especially worried about a leak. They taped paper to the windows of the conference room and installed a lock on the door. Retired executives with no vested interest in the deal, or in using the proprietary information afterward, assessed the data, diagrams, financial forecasts and other material. “If the merger didn’t go through, those people were gone anyway,” she says.


    As an extra precaution against compromising vital information, companies sometimes hire consultants to do an initial assessment. A consultant might observe, for example, that there is little customer overlap between the two companies or that their product pricing strategies don’t mesh well, Puryear says. 


    Players at the companies don’t see each other’s confidential data, but they do gain valuable insights about it, he says.At Land O’Lakes, the Geosys transaction wouldn’t be huge, with an ultimate purchase price of $26 million. But Stabenow knew that creating a new business would be strategic, bringing in revenue for years to come—if all went well. To avoid sparking worried speculation among Geosys employees, he didn’t join his peers from finance and legal on their due diligence trip. He conducted the IT portion separately.


    “We went in under the guise of an IT audit, given we were already part-owners,” he says.


    As a result, he had access to lots of Geosys IT staff members knowledgeable in many areas. That’s not typical, though. ­Usually, just a small group of senior leaders is available. “Sometimes you’re speaking with the CFO and he’s struggling with getting the detailed answers you need,” he says.


    Stabenow used an IT M&A playbook, which he had developed for Land O’Lakes CIO Mike Macrie, looking at items such as the age and stability of infrastructure equipment, downtime, and problem-resolution processes. The report was mostly good, save for disaster recovery and infrastructure—no deal-breakers. Macrie and the IT leadership team then began to mull ideas for fortifying those areas.


    Macrie has been involved in more than 40 acquisitions in his career and knows they don’t all go as well as Geosys. After he joined Land O’Lakes in 2010, he wanted to formalize the acquisition process, to make it repeatable and speedy, and to help get the most value from each deal. Eventually, he saw the need to hire someone to manage IT’s role in M&A work, in part to improve relations with the Land O’Lakes strategy group. “Consistently, we were getting blindsided after a deal was done with very little IT due diligence,” he says. “We’d be asked to execute on things we had little visibility into.” 


    Macrie brought in Stabenow, a former colleague at Ingersoll Rand who had led M&As and divestitures for IT there. His MBA and experience with finance and global project management were attractive, Macrie says, because whoever filled the role had to be viewed as part of the business team. “We had to hire someone with the ability to talk about risk, planning and synergy targets,” Macrie says, “and how IT could be an enabler to possibly gaining more.”


    Finding the Bad Stuff


    Before any company can gain from an acquisition, however, the potential problems must be identified and weighed. IT risks can include old or multiple data centers, cybersecurity holes and onerous software license contracts. These items can result in huge costs to be borne by the buyer.


    Unfavorable contracts with vendors often go undiscovered, says Roehl-Anderson. Maybe an agreement between the target company and a vendor obligates you to pay millions of dollars for maintenance in the next four years, subtracting from the synergy savings the acquisition was supposed to deliver, she says.


    Software about to lose vendor support may need to be upgraded soon. “A CEO and CFO would never know that and it wouldn’t get disclosed in early conversations happening at a higher level,” Puryear says. “The CIO knows we’ve got a $20 million exposure here because we have to replace it within two years.”


    IT problems alone typically won’t scuttle a deal, but they could change the negotiations or add to a pile of risks that ultimately turns a company off, says Iacona, who is also a former longtime CIO. One large company Thomson Reuters looked at when he was there ran some old technology that few IT people knew how manage, he recalls. That discovery went into the demerit column and Thomson Reuters ultimately dropped its pursuit, he says.


    If an acquisition moves ahead despite sizeable risks, the buyer will sometimes ask for a pot of money to be placed in escrow, to be drawn from if needed during integration, says the consultant Ray, who is author of The IT Professional’s Merger and Acquisition Handbook. For example, if the buyer audits the acquired company’s compliance with software licenses and finds violations, then the buyer can use funds from the escrow account to pay for making the systems compliant.


    Impress the Boss


    M&A is a good time to try to improve your career standing. The projects are high on the CEO’s agenda and can make a substantial difference to the company. The IT leader who recognizes that a target company’s sales forecast is predicated in part on successful rollout of a new ERP system—and the project is going south—can bring unique insight to C-suite colleagues, Puryear says. “An informed CIO could suggest that maybe the company is not worth what it says it’s worth,” he says. 


    “These things don’t appear on the surface, but a couple layers deeper.”


    Avnet’s due diligence team happened upon valuable technology in 2012 when it was checking out Magirus Group, a data center technology distributor in Germany. They spotted a small but elegant online system the company used for internal training. They didn’t trumpet their interest, wanting to avoid showing their hand during negotiations, says CIO Phillips. “It was noted and we were thinking about it,” he says. “That increased the momentum to complete the transaction.”


    After the deal closed, Magirus developers (now part of Avnet) scaled up the Magirus system, branded it Avnet Academy, and began selling it. Today it reaches paying customers in 59 countries.


    At the very least, CIOs must understand the business drivers behind a deal. For example, Avnet bought Magirus for an immediate financial boost in Europe and the Middle East. Jacobs Engineering bought Federal Network Systems in July to build its business in the intelligence community and Eagleton Engineering in February to add expertise in oil pipeline design and construction.


    CEOs, meanwhile, are getting smarter about the business implications of IT issues during a merger, Puryear says. He’s working on a deal between two large healthcare companies that each run about 80 percent of their operations on homegrown systems. “The CEOs realized very early that it was absolutely critical to sort out the platform issue sooner rather than later,” he says. “There are pervasive implications for strategy and operations.”


    More executives will start to evaluate the intrinsic value of IT and data in the coming years, Ray predicts. But it’ll take awhile. “The M&A process is dominated by lawyers, advisers, accountants and investment bankers who are mired in the traditional approach to deal-making and not particularly open to nontraditional ways of thinking about finding value,” he says.


    At Jacobs Engineering, SVP of IT Carmody expands her due diligence beyond IT to larger strategy discussions. For example, she helps vet acquisition candidates long before a bid is made, assessing whether the business, corporate culture and customer base would fit well with Jacobs.


    In one recent acquisition, Carmody talked to a couple of big customers of the other company to get feedback about the customer experience, then took that intelligence to Jacobs’ board of directors to bolster the case for doing the deal. “I could tell the board it was a good fit,” she says.


    Doing M&A transactions can be a potent way to enhance your skills as a business executive, says Roehl-Anderson at Deloitte. “It’s a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from other CIOs.”


    Carmody, for example, is often appointed to the team that audits the report from the initial due diligence group, looking for holes in the information and analyzing the IT findings with an eye toward legal and financial implications—for example, how much wiggle room there might be in the target company’s enterprise license agreement with Microsoft.


    Jacobs Engineering uses M&A as a stretch assignment. Bosses populate due diligence and integration teams with managers who meet tough criteria. Among them: Good general leadership qualities and the ability to plan large projects and to understand lots of legalese in IT contracts. Team members also must be able to travel and sometimes be away for weeks or months. “They have to dedicate not just their mind but their body,” she says.


    As Land O’Lakes settled its acquisition of Geosys, Stabenow went on to provide guidance about M&A processes to the HR department. Macrie couldn’t be more pleased. Such a show of business know-how strengthened the relationship between IT and other colleagues, he says. “That was a great outcome.”In January, Land O’Lakes expanded Stabenow’s job to add international management responsibilities. He declined to provide details about the potential deals he’s investigating now, but the company has said it plans to expand in China, Africa and Latin America.





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    Eight Surprising Rules That Will Get You The Job

    At 76 years old, Bill Ellermeyer is an elder statesman of the job search world. He founded an Irvine, CA outplacement firm in 1981, which he sold to staffing firm Adecco in 1990, then ran that office as a division of Adecco subsidiary Lee Hecht Harrison until going out on his own as an independent coach in 2004. 

    He specializes in what he calls “career transitions” for people who have lost their jobs at the executive level, mostly from the c-suite or as vice presidents. Some of his clients have been out of work for more than a year when they come to him. He pushes them until they find a new position. After three decades in the career coaching business, he’s come up with eight rules, some counter-intuitive, that he says promise to land his clients a job.

    1. Stop looking for a job. 

    Too many unemployed people equate looking for a job with sending out a résumé or answering an ad on a job board. “If you send out 500 résumés to friends, family and companies, nobody is going to take the time to help you,” he says. The only time you should send a résumé is when you’ve established there is a real job at a company for which you’re being considered, or a headhunter is trying to fill an open position and requests one. Instead of presenting yourself as an out-of-work job seeker, come across as a resource. Let people know you can solve problems. Approach your job hunt as a search for quality relationships. Instead hand out business cards that portray you as a consultant.
    2. Stop working on your résumé.

    You need to have a printed résumé but increasing numbers of employers prefer to just look at your LindedIn profile. Also many companies just want the basic facts about your career, rather than a long, carefully crafted story about you in the form of a C.V. I’m not sure I agree with Ellermeyer on this point, but I like his basic advice: 
    Your résumé should be clean, clear, simple and no more than two pages. It makes sense to update it when you’ve made a major accomplishment, like increasing sales by 75% in your department or in journalism, writing a cover story. But you should be able to make those fixes in a few minutes. Do keep your LinkedIn LNKD +1.29% profile up to date.

    3. Hold your elevator speech.

    “After 20 seconds, no one can remember your elevator speech,” contends Ellermeyer. Instead, he recommends telling a story about yourself that runs for 60-90 seconds. “People remember stories,” he says. “Nobody wants to hear facts and figures.” You should come up with a short, possibly humorous moniker for yourself. Ellermeyer calls himself a “connector.” One of his clients branded himself “rent-a-CFO,” and then told a story about how he had gone from project to project over the last year, and how he had found success at each job. Other possible short-hand titles: IT Problem-Solver, Deal Finder, Resource Solution-Finder.
    4. Don’t talk about yourself. 

    Instead of leading a conversation with the latest news about your life, says Ellermeyer, “find out how you can serve other people.” Be inquisitive about others and when you learn about them, try to suggest a book or article they may want to read or an event they might want to attend. Many people think that networking requires that they list their accomplishments. But it can be much more effective to ask others about their interests and needs.
    5. Don’t go to networking events.

    Instead try hosting them yourself. Form your own breakfast group of eight or ten people. In other words, create your own network with people you hand-select. Though it’s tempting to sit at your computer and meet virtually, make the effort to get together face-to-face.
    6. Take breaks.

    The job search process can make us pretty emotional, especially when you go on the fifth interview and then you’re told that the firm has hired someone else. “Don’t take your downers to the outside world,” advises Ellermeyer. If you’re having a bad day, do research or catch up on email. I agree with this piece of advice but I also have to acknowledge that it can be awfully tough to keep your spirits up if you’ve been job hunting for a long time with no success. A single day off may help but you might need to seek more support from family and friends.
    7. Don’t say you’re unemployed.

    Instead of presenting yourself as an out-of-work executive, hand over a business card. Remember, you’re not out of work. You’re just between jobs.

    Headhunters only handle roughly 10% of the available jobs. Also, they’re working for companies and not for you. After you’ve made sure your résumé is in their database, move on.

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    Diversity Is Useless Without Inclusivity



    Over the past decade, organizations have worked hard to create diversity within their workforce. Diversity can bring many organizational benefits, including greater customer satisfaction, better market position, successful decision-making, an enhanced ability to reach strategic goals, improved organizational outcomes, and a stronger bottom line.
    However, while many organizations are better about creating diversity, many have not yet figured out how to make the environment inclusive—that is, create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities.
    That’s a problem.
    Minority employees want to experience the same sense of belonging that the majority does to the group. Indeed, dating back to 1890, William James noted that human beings possess a fundamental need for inclusion and belonging. Research has shown that inclusion also has the promise of many positive individual and organizational outcomes such as reduced turnover, greater altruism, and team engagement. When employees are truly being included within a work environment, they’re more likely to share information, and participate in decision-making.
    There are many reasons that inclusion has proved so difficult for most organizations to achieve. Broadly, they tend to stem from strong social norms and the failure to gain support among dominant group members. To understand these issues better, it is useful to look at four dynamics that frequently work against inclusiveness in many organizations.
    People gravitate toward people like them. We’ve long known that similarity makes people like and identify with each other. In organizations, leaders often hire and promote those who share their own attitudes, behaviors, and traits. Thus, many organizations unknowingly have “prototypes for success” that perpetuate a similarity bias and limit the pool of potential candidates for positions, important assignments, and promotions.
    To counteract this natural tendency, leaders must focus on the systems in place, look at basic statistics, and ask deeper questions, such as: Who is getting hired? Who is getting promoted at the highest rate? Why don’t we have more diversity in various positions or on teams? Who has access to information and who doesn’t? Who is not being included in these decisions? Whose opinions have I sought and whose have I left out? Am I building relationships with people who are different from me?
    Subtle biases persist and lead to exclusion. When minority-group employees are hired, they may experience more subtle forms of discrimination such as being excluded from important conversations, participation in a supervisor’s or peer’s in-group of decision-makers and advisers, and may be judged more harshly. I recently completed a study, for example, demonstrating that individuals who were racially different from their supervisors perceived differential treatment in the forms of discrimination, less supervisor support, and lower relationship quality. The findings also suggested that dissimilarity might lead supervisors to favor people who are similar (in terms of race, gender, etc.) and demonstrate bias against people who are different. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “subtle bias,” which is often a result of unconscious mindsets and stereotypes about people who are different from oneself.
    To neutralize exclusion, leaders need to proactively review the access of all groups of employees to training, professional development, networks, important committees, nominations for honors, and other opportunities. Often, employees who differ from the group in power must satisfy higher standards of performance, have less access to important social networks, and have fewer professional opportunities. A recent Monster poll showed that eight out of ten female respondents “believe that women need to prove they have superior skills and experience to compete with men when applying for jobs.” Leaders may need to invest in training to reduce the subtle biases of the workplace.
    Out-group employees sometimes try to conform. Often as a coping strategy, those who are different from the majority will downplay their differences and even adopt characteristics of the majority in order to fit in. Female attorneys, for example, might adopt masculine behaviors to foster others’ perceptions of them as successful. But when unique employees move towards the norms of the homogeneous majority, that negates the positive impact of having diversity within the group.
    To reduce conformity, leaders need to talk authentically about the issues, seek out, and encourage differences. Leaders should ask important questions such as “What is it like being the only African-American executive?” or “What has your experience been as a female executive?” “How can we leverage your unique perspective more effectively?” While the key is asking the right questions, it is also important to listen to the responses and not react negatively if the leader does not like what he or she hears.
    Employees from the majority group put up resistance. Majority employees often feel excludedfrom diversity initiatives and perceive reverse favoritism. Many companies have experienced backlashwhen leaders don’t engage majority members in the conversation on diversity and inclusion, explain why change is necessary, and make everyone accountable.
    PwC chairman and CEO Robert Morwitz has said that diversity and inclusiveness are major priorities for him personally. Morwitz prefers to serve as a role model and lead from the front. He pushes to have a diverse team on all major issues. Further, he believes that critical thinking comes from inclusion, that is, from the diversity of perspective. Leaders need to put inclusion—not just diversity—at the top of their agendas and mean it. They need to actively talk about its importance, notice when it is present and absent, and set the agenda for the organization.


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    A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Raising, Communicating, and Enforcing Expectations in Online Courses.




    As an instructor new to the online environment, I carefully reviewed the syllabus and the requirements for the course discussions and assignments and incorporated the following ideas from Myers-Wylie, Mangieri & Hardy: a “what you need to know” document that includes policies about late work, formatting, source citations, grading and feedback, and the dangers of plagiarism; a separate “assignments at a glance” calendar that details due dates and submission instructions; a “frequently asked questions” thread in the discussion forum; detailed scoring rubrics for each assignment, and example assignments.

    As is typical in the online environment, my course was equipped with areas for announcements and discussions and a grade book with a place to post comments for individual students. I used all these formats to communicate with students about course requirements and provide detailed feedback. From the beginning, some students submitted their assignments without reading any of my sage advice. About a third missed the deadline for the first assignment. Several assignments were missing key components, and some exhibited major formatting flaws.

    There was a flurry of questions in the discussion forum about the due date and format—answers to which could be found in the numerous documents I had posted. Student frustration mounted when I referred them to existing documents. Indeed, the instant gratification associated with the Internet has “trained students to expect help when they require it—on their schedule” (Creasman, 2012). I provided feedback by electronically editing each assignment and returning the marked-up documents. I was discouraged when I noticed that students continued to make the same errors on subsequent assignments—proof that they had not incorporated my previous feedback. Had they even seen it? It occurred to me that I would need to find more innovative ways to communicate my expectations. I have been able to raise expectations and improve the quality of work in my course by implementing the following practices. Set a tone of “no excuses.” 

    According to McKeachie (1994), when students know what to expect, they can be more productive. In addition to introducing themselves at the start of the course, I ask students to answer the following questions: (1) How will you make time for this course? and (2) What is your “plan b” for computer and/or Internet issues? When students answer these questions they are forced to think about potential issues and solutions before the class begins. Reading about how other students tackle these problems is also helpful. Introduce another voice. Students listen to other students. During the first week of class, I post an announcement that summarizes advice collected from previous students from the preceding class.

    As a rule, this advice encourages students to keep up with the readings, follow instructions, work hard, and meet deadlines. Seasoned students will also advise new students to pay attention to the examples and rubrics. This advice is especially helpful to students who are fearful or easily discouraged (McKeachie, 1994). Students will have the opportunity to provide their own advice at the end of the course. Force engagement with the information. Online students are pragmatic. They need a reason to seek information, especially information that might not directly relate to an assignment that carries a grade.

    I created an online scavenger hunt quiz based on the course logistics information and awarded extra credit points based on the quiz score. The quiz consists of 12 multiple-choice questions covering the topics of late work, due dates, grading, feedback, plagiarism, formatting, and the course textbook. Students are permitted to take the quiz as many times as they wish during the first week of class. Because my course is asynchronous, most students take advantage of the extra-credit opportunity and therefore become engaged and familiar with the information within the first week when it is convenient for them.

    Although the extra-credit points are minimal (six points out of 1,000 course points), most students like starting the course with a few extra points in the grade book. Force engagement with feedback. Research supports corrective feedback as one of the most powerful ways of enhancing student achievement (Angelo & Cross, 1993; Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001; McKeachie, 1994). But it is not the giving of feedback that helps students learn, but the acting on feedback (Chappuis, 2012). I provide feedback to students by electronically editing their individual documents and placing them in a special feedback thread in the discussion forum. 

    One of my biggest disappointments was providing detailed feedback to students and having them make the same mistakes on subsequent assignments. I was spending hours providing feedback, but many students were not learning from my feedback. In fact, I was not even sure that they had found my feedback. To ensure that students find and open their marked-up assignments, I now include a feedback code on the second major assignment. The code consists of the student’s initials and a few numbers (for example, MR456). Students reply to me with their feedback code for a few extra credit points on their next assignment. 

    Most students take advantage of this extra credit opportunity, therefore assuring me that they know where to find their marked-up papers. Force engagement with peers. Most online courses require weekly discussion postings with responses to classmates. Indeed, “the best online instruction allows for students’ learning to be forged more through interaction with each other and less through instructor lecture” (Creasman, 2012). To encourage participation and ensure that students don’t tune out after they have submitted their minimum number of required postings,

    I require students to review their classmates’ comments and submit a revised, polished version of their original post. The revised version is posted at the end of the week and is the version that is graded. In addition to commenting on content, I ask peers to provide advice on spelling, grammar, and conventions. I also comment on student forum postings throughout the week. According to Bullen (1998), instructors need to allow adequate time for follow-up discussion and comments. McKeachie (1994) agrees; more comments and more specific comments lead to greater learning. 

    Because the feedback for the discussion forum refers to the draft post, it occurs during and not after the learning, and therefore often improves the quality of assignments that are submitted at the end of the week (Chappuis, 2012). Provide student exemplars. My course is project-based, and although the course syllabus describes the expectations and provides criteria for the projects, seeing an example of a well-done project will help, direct, and inspire students in their own projects. Kerr (2009) agrees and feels that exemplars support student success and contribute to the development of the learning community. The first time I taught the course, I created my own exemplars. Now that I have taught the course several times, I share actual student examples (with names removed) as exemplar projects. Provide opportunities for student-to-teacher feedback. Halfway through the course, I ask students to provide me with feedback about how I might improve the course. I ask three questions: 

    What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? What should I continue doing? (Angelo & Cross, 1993). I allow about a week for students to respond, then summarize the results and share with students via the discussion forum. At the end of the course, I ask students the same three questions and one additional question: 

    What advice do you have for future students in this course? The mid-course and end-of-course feedback has helped me shape the course and make subtle changes. As the result of student feedback, I have simplified my late work policy and created an area in the discussion forum for students to share project ideas. I share students’ advice for future students and believe it is one of the first steps in setting high expectations for the incoming class. Taken together, implementing the practices described above has helped to improve the quality of the work submitted by students in my classes by setting high expectations from the first day of class and maintaining high expectations throughout the course. By raising the tide, I have lifted all boats! 

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    Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student 





    Most students begin college, the academic year, and new courses motivated and optimistic. Many first-year students expect to do well because they were successful in high school. Some are right, but others will only find similar success if they work much harder than they did in high school. Yet most start out expending the same level of effort. They will talk with their classmates and convince each other that an exam covering three chapters can’t be that hard, so they put off studying and then “look over” the chapters the night before—happily dealing with any and all interruptions and distractions.
    It’s not until the day of the test, as they’re confronted by a number of questions they can’t answer, that the anxiety sets in. They will sit staring at the questions and guessing at far too many answers, before turning in the test and then persuading themselves that chances are still pretty good for a B.
    A lot of students continue to hold unrealistic expectations throughout the course even in the presence of mounting evidence to the contrary. A student can be going into a cumulative final exam with a solid C, but she believes she is going to ace that final and come out of the course with a high B. That may be possible in a few courses, but it’s a long shot in others and is simply not going to happen in most courses.
    Adjusting expectations
    Unrealistic expectations present teachers with a conundrum. We want students to believe in themselves. We want them committed to doing well. But we need them to be realistic about what success demands.
    So, we tell them what they will need to do. Sometimes we try to get their attention with hyperbole. Most of us no longer offer the “look to your right, look to your left. . .” admonition used when we were students. But many of us do still tell students that they need to invest two hours of study for every one hour in class. Yes, that’s true of some courses, but it is no longer true of most courses. Is it true of your courses? I recommend evidence-based answers, gently noting that unrealistic student expectations are not adjusted by equally invalid faculty declarations.
    The most persuasive claims about how much work it takes to do well in the course are those delivered by other students. Teachers can control those messages a bit by sharing advice from former students on the course website, in the syllabus, or by getting permission from some carefully selected former students that students can contact if they’d like to talk with someone who has taken the course.
    Beyond telling, most of us also try to make the expectations more realistic with an early assessment in the course—a first test, early paper, or some other kind of graded work. And some of us are a bit tougher on this initial work. We let the lower-than-expected grade convey the message that this is going to be harder than many students anticipated.
    When trying to help students adjust their expectations, it’s good to remember how strongly students believe performance is ability based. If they get feedback (which their performance deserves), they are quick to conclude that they can’t do it, so they drop the course and perhaps later leave college. What we have them do immediately after the tough feedback is just as important as that initial expectation-correction activity. Is it another test or paper? Is it an opportunity to redo what they didn’t do well initially? Is it having a policy that removes the lowest score from the final grade calculation? Is it leading a class discussion about the value of high expectations and sharing realistic ideas about how to reach them?
    I remember one faculty member telling me that he had students respond to their first disappointing test grade with a goal-setting activity. He’d start with the prompt: “So what’s a realistic amount of grade improvement for your next exam?” After that, each student created a list of what they needed to do and when they needed to do it in order to accomplish that goal. The instructor provided regular reminders and a review of the goal and accompanying activities before the next test. That exam debrief included discussion of who reached their goal and why they did or did not, followed by another round of goal setting.
    Setting realistic expectations is an important life skill, and our courses can provide students a chance to learn how.


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    Can we move our students from consumers to realistic achievers?

    cluelessstudent
    The scenario is a painfully familiar one…






















    For the last two decades the scholarly study of “academic entitlement” and its relationship to the higher education experience has yielded some important insights. While defining the concept is tricky, Singleton-Jackson et al. (2011, p. 232) identify the following facets of the phenomenon:
    1) a belief that some reward is deserved that is not justified based on one’s actual academic achievement;

    2) that a high academic entitlement disposition implies a diminished role for personal responsibility in actual academic achievement; and,

    3) that a high academic entitlement disposition also implies expectations about the role of instructors that are above and beyond their obligation of providing educational opportunities and effective, quality instruction.
    These tendencies should come as no surprise to us, as we have been and will continue to teach the Millennial generation — and their expectations based in part on an educational consumerist perspective — for the next six years. First year college students, in particular, are vulnerable to experiencing a system shock as the work patterns that yielded high achievement in their K-12 past don’t seem to cut it in the bigs. So is the answer to provide toughlove and get them used to lowered expectations?
    We don’t want our students to be demoralized, and to settle for lower expectations for their performance in our classes.  Indeed, a healthy body of research confirms that establishing high expectations for students can be a powerful means of achieving effective student learning outcomes.
    Maryellen Weimer of The Teaching Professor Blog addresses an important dilemma we all face as college teachers:
    Unrealistic expectations present teachers with a conundrum. We want students to believe in themselves. We want them committed to doing well. But we need them to be realistic about what success demands.
    Her useful recommendations bear some attention as we start our courses this year — how can we use the first day, the first week of class to set expectations that are both realistic and aspirational for students? 
    How can we use the first few weeks of the term to provide formative feedback that helps students adjust their expectations while maintaining their morale? 
    And how should we respond to the first big exam or essay to help keep students motivated and on the right track?

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    Using “Mulligans” to Enhance Student Participation and Reduce Test Anxiety



    When I speak with other professors who work extensively in the classroom, we often find that we share many of the same challenges. Students’ lack of classroom participation in discussion and test anxiety are two of the most common. Many professors try to mitigate these issues through two time-honored pedagogical tactics: a participation grade and extra credit questions on tests. While both tactics can be effective, by applying concepts from gamification research I found a way to both enhance classroom participation and reduce test anxiety with one simple technique.
    While many have heard of gamification, it’s important to note that gamification differs from game-based learning. According to a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report, gamification is “a much newer concept than game-based learning. It uses elements derived from video game design which are then deployed in a variety of contexts” (Perrota, et. al). Gamification focuses on what games do for brain processes and tries to bring that into the learning environment. While reviewing gamification concepts, I discovered two elements I thought would enhance my classroom: flow and fiero. Flow refers to a state of focused, enjoyable attention that has been known to enhance intrinsic motivation and memory. Fiero is a game design term referring to small victories that result in a feeling of accomplishment, which has been linked to greater engagement and attention to the material. (24, 33).
    Lecture/discussion sessions rarely result in these learning states even with the instructor providing engagement opportunities. Most students have been trained to approach the lecture as a largely passive activity. I wanted to bring my students out of this orientation, and to improve test performance through reducing anxiety without reducing rigor. By using the concepts of flow and fiero. I found a way to achieve both with the same modality through the use of what I call mulligans.
    Trivia nights in the Midwest are very popular. Before the game begins, players purchase small stickers, called mulligans, which are used to reduce the penalty when the team doesn’t know an answer. This sparked an idea that has proven to be successful in the classroom. All it required was a trip to a teacher supply store for stickers and then a bit of explanation on the first day of class.
    At the beginning of the semester, I tell my students that there are no extra credit or participation points. Instead, they can earn mulligan stickers to be used on tests or assignments. These are earned during class by showing mastery of content, presenting well-thought-out discussion points, or showing improvement in specific skill areas. Each mulligan sticker is worth one point, and students can use a maximum of five mulligans on a single assignment or test. I give out the mulligans intermittently during the term and never tell students when we’re going to have a mulligan day.
    Initially, I was worried that this element may be too juvenile for college students. However, by calling them mulligans and equating them with familiar classroom elements, students reacted very well to the idea. Student participation improved from the start of the course and continued even on days when I didn’t distribute any stickers. They were more prepared and more eager to contribute to class discussions, and students actually focused during review since it was a prime earning opportunity. The mulligans also provided a tangible incentive for quiet students to step outside their comfort zone and gave me a quick assessment of which students were contributing.
    Moreover, students with mulligans showed less outward signs of test anxiety. They could see their collection of stickers as proof that they knew the material, and when stickers were used on test questions that gave students trouble, it helped me assess places where students struggled most.
    Lastly, this small change improved the intangible vibe of the classroom. There were moments of fiero and flow that students could easily see, especially when a student got their first sticker, or ‘beat’ another student to an answer. While it may seem like a gimmick or perhaps juvenile, this one element of gamification has convinced me to look into the research further for other modalities that can improve learning.

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