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Companies will be social or not.

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Olivier Zara, author of a book about collective intelligence

Recently, I answered to an interesting question posted by somebody on LinkedIn. The question was related to the statement that businesses are inherently about people and relationship. Despite the fact that technologies allow people to perform higher performances and to communicate, it seems that there is no emphasis on the communication and the collaboration, and that there are divergences of ideas in a same organization. The question was “Should not we bring the social-factor in Business and realize the power of Enterprise 3.0?

To provide an answer to such question, it should be interesting to have a look to the evolution of the companies and the impact of the new technologies on the work processes in the organizations. In this analysis, we will see that we are referring to a range of concepts and that the combination of these concepts is essential to make each of them efficient.

The development of new technologies had a significant impact on the operational processes of organizations. It allowed people of the organizations to develop more ambitious projects, to perform sophisticated tasks and processes, to provide more added values in a shorter period of time. With the development and the integration of the technologies, we moved to a new kind of economy, based on knowledge. But investing into technology is not the only condition to ensure efficient processes and to obtain high results. There are several conditions, the basic principle of management who are more essential to succeed in a company or organization project.

  • People are key players of the organization. With the development of new technologies, people become the owners of sophisticated and complex processes. The development of the expertise in these processes needs a period of time. The return on investment has to be seen on a mid and long term basis. With this level of expertise, of complexity, each member of the organization becomes an essential stakeholder of the organization.

  • People have to subscribe to the values of the project and to have clearly assigned goals. A condition to reach the success of a project is that each member of the organization is looking to the same direction. By having the knowledge of the goals to be reached, they know exactly the usefulness of the tasks and processes they are performing. They can measure the added value they are bringing to the project, and it is a positive factor of motivation.

  • Skills and competences. Technology is a tool. Companies are investing considerable amounts in technologies, but as said early, it is the team members who are the owner of the processes, performed by the technology. The related knowledge to the technology is essential to get an efficient control on it and has to be part of the investment. You cannot reach an acceptable return on investment of your technology if you do not invest in training people.

 All the point I mentioned here are essential to build organization working on a collaborative way. Tools like CRM and other collaborative platforms take more importance in companies, and the development of Web 2.0 leads to the model of Enterprise 2.0. The development of Web 2.0 technologies and the social media are supposed to empower the communication and the collaboration between people. The technical performances of such tools are appreciable and offer a lot of possibilities, to increase the connectivity between people.

With the development of communication and collaboration tools, and the expertise development of people, we hear to talk about the concept of collective intelligence. Organizations and projects become more complex, and a range of competences are needed to lead these projects to success. But each member of the team needs to understand the contribution of his expertise, the interactions with the contribution of the other team member and the potential problems they can encounter and prevent. Team members have to maintain a transversal collaboration. Such collaboration is possible if people are convinced to be part of a project they understand and they subscribed to.

And what about the Enterprise 3.0 ? The definition of Enterprise 3.0 is not very clear, but we trend to a model where companies will be, as far as I understood, “dematerialized”, more virtual. People will work from different locations, from home office. All what can be outsourced will be. In such model, collaborative tools and social media platform usage will be much more important. But it will imply also that people will be and have to be more autonomous, and the key role they are playing will be more important for the organization. This model is an evolution or an upgrade of the previous one, and in some case, the previous one does not work, there is a lot of chance that the new one will not work too. A key component to make work such organization is motivation. We are coming back to the 3 fundamental questions: What, how and why. People know what they have to do, how they will do it, but the most important one is why they have to do it. In other word, what is the goal of the project. With such answer, they can measure their own contribution and added value they bring to the project, and it represents an appreciable feedback in term of career and personal development. All the conditions I mentioned here above become more and more essential as the level of expertise is increasing, as the key role of each people become more important.

There is a clear answer to the asked question. Yes, business is inherently about people and relationship. They have to be driven by the same values the project is based on, and their contributions have to be recognized by the management. The level of their competences will increase their autonomy and their possibilities to make other choices and to move to other projects if they are not satisfied. And in such circumstances, the tension between stakeholders and instability within the organization can increase. The question is to know if companies will be “social” or not, or will we move back to a more traditional model of enterprise.  Wait and see.

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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 4, 2011 at 19:34

The keys of a strong partnership

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The keys of a strong partnership

We are close from year end, and traditionally, it is the time to look to the perspective for next year. The financial crisis, we thought it was over, is still there, and it creates uncertainty for the coming months.

I was attending an event some days ago, organized by a recruiting partner. In his speech, the managing director was mentioning these uncertain times, and the necessity to build strong teams and partnerships in order to do business and maximize chances to get opportunities in such difficult environment. Indeed, when economical environment is bad and that the markets are decreasing, the struggle between competitors is more intense, and the customers have more power to dump the prices for acquired services. But is the price the only strong argument to choose a contractor or supplier for services? It is probably an important one on a short term basis, but if you want to maintain sustainable partnerships on a long term basis, there are other important keys on which you will get more return on investment. What are these keys?

  • Trust and accountability: Trust is essential between members of a partnership. Each people have to know that he can count to his partners to provide solutions to a problem or a challenge, and that he will contribute to the collective success.

  • Integrity: Integrity is linked to trust and is a major component of it. Integrity and honesty is a guarantee of a good reputation. Don’t forget that it takes a long time to build a strong and good reputation but only few minutes to destroy it. Lack of integrity can not have only negative consequences for the person who is lacking of integrity but for the whole team.

  • Quality of services: The customer is expecting a level of service for the paid price. To offer the lowest price is not the only argument to acquire business opportunities. The ratio Quality/price is much more important. Each service has a price. The customer can understand that, but on the other hand, try always to offer a little bit more than what the customer is expecting. You will first meet his expectations, and he will certainly contract again your services in the future.

  • Professionalism: Professional attitude is essential. If there is any problem that can block the success of a project, talk about it with the customer and try to find with him an appropriate solution. If you can not offer the needed service for a determined problem, try to find a solution or a contractor who has the competence to solve it. You can always playing, not only as a service provider but also as a solution provider. By looking for a solution for the customer, you will make it save a lot of time.

  • Network: Build a strong network of professionals. It is a good way to provide solutions to the customer I am referring in the previous point. The quality of collaboration you will have with these people will make that they can recommend you and contribute to build and let know your good reputation. By having such behavior, your partners will not forget you and will come back to you with some opportunities you can take.

  • Team spirit: Team spirit is essential. As contractor, you will need the collaboration of employee of your customer to achieve goals. Stay humble and share also with them the solutions you are suggesting. Each challenge offers a win-win situation which empowers collaboration and partnership.

 A strong partnership based on the values I mentioned above is essential in the business, and particularly during difficult times, when you have to make the difference with your competitors. Partnership and collaboration are better solutions than competition. Competition is only useful if it contributes to motivate people of a team each other, in order to provide a better quality of services. Building a strong partnership creates a mutual motivation between stakeholders, creates a win-win situation where we can learn from each other, acquire knowledge and contribute to provide high added-value services and solutions. This is an important point that customers have to keep in mind to build long term collaborations. When companies are facing recession times, they are decreasing costs, cutting contracts and decreasing personal costs. Such restructuring process means a loss of know-how and do-how. To rebuild such team and reach again the same level of quality en efficiency, takes long time and cost a lot of money. On the other hand, people having talents like challenges and interesting projects. They like also companies where they can work with talented and professional people. By having a long-term vision and opened to flexible solutions, they can build and maintain strong partnership and ensure a sustainable business.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 24, 2011 at 19:20

How to face the uncertainty?

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How to deal with uncertainty?

By having a look around you, by reading newspapers about several subjects, you can note that uncertainty is increasing, and that we have to face it more and more. When we think closer to that subject, we can wonder ourselves if there are still certainties. You never know what can happen tomorrow with your health, with your job, with many things. There are different types of uncertainties. There are things happening by coincidence, and things we can more or less predict but we can not say if these things will happen or not. To make predictions becomes more and more difficult, because things are changing faster than before. What was true yesterday is not true anymore today, and it is hard to make predictions on a long term basis.

We can talk about uncertainty in different areas, but here, let us talk about the daily uncertainties we have to face in our job or in our business environment. Uncertainty can impact positively or negatively our career or business perspectives. Another question is to know how are we facing uncertainty. And we can note that for some people, uncertainty is something there are scared about, but for other people, it is a source of motivation, giving them a lot of energy. Is it something impossible to be able to face uncertainty? Certainly not, but as in many things, in many goals you want to reach, you can implement different strategies, in function of the constraints and the circumstances. As in each problem, you can find a solution, if you decide to take care of it.

The first point is to face the uncertainty. By burying your head in the sand like an ostrich, you will certainly be heading straight for disaster. You need first to analyze and understand the source of uncertainty, determine the potential issues and what are the different alternatives you can develop to solve the issue, what are the solutions that will help you to maximize your chance to succeed by facing uncertainty. It is important to be ready all the time, and not to think about things when you only need them. With other words, I could say that uncertainty is probably something which can make avoid putting you in danger. A too comfortable situation makes you falling in a routine, where you don’t see the necessity to make efforts, to improve yourself, and when you perceive a danger, when an issue appears, it is most of the time to late to take action in order to escape to the troubles.

You can decrease uncertainty by maximizing the potential opportunities. But as mentions Philippe Gabilliet, a French professor in leadership of a MBA school, in order to attract the opportunities to you, you have to be an opportunity yourself. To be an opportunity, you have to offer added value, to be an expert or to offer a bundle of competences, to be able to show proven experiences, and to show a fair attitude. By optimizing these assets and by building a good network, you can maximize your chance to have opportunities. Don’t forget also that most the time, you get once an opportunity, not twice. Each opportunity can bring a lot of lessons, reveal new interests and capabilities. Each opportunity can contribute to improve our knowledge base, to improve skills. By expanding your skills, your knowledge, by having a curious mind, you maximize the potential opportunities you can face, and you can profile new career or business perspectives. By maximizing our chance to be able to face new opportunities, we become more self-confident, and we can face the uncertainty on a confident way.

To be able to face uncertainty implies also to have margins. As mentioned before, by improve our capabilities and skills, contributing to increase our chance, we are creating us margins, allowing us to face uncertainty on a more confident way. The margins allow us to have the time and the possibility to develop different alternatives in order to get out of a difficult situation. Never forget also the material margin. For your business or for your own life, keep always financial margins. It is the challenge we have to face everyday.

The key points to face uncertainty are anticipation and long-term view. I mentioned it is difficult to predict things on a long-term basis, but by analyzing different trends, you can develop and implement alternatives bringing long-term effects. Anticipation will allow you to have solutions before the problems occur, and you will be prepared to use the appropriate solution in function of the circumstances. And even you will probably find another solution than the one you prepared, because by pursuing such process, you become more creative, your mind is used to deal with that.

I could summarize this topic as follow. Imagine you are falling into the water. You will probably be scared if you cannot swim. If you are facing the problem, you will be convinced that you have no other choice to swim. Your natural reflex will be to try to swim, or at least, to try to keep the head out of water. But before to be confronted to such problem, learn to swim. It is important also to be trained on a regular basis in order to improve your endurance. If after this, you should fall into the water, you will not be scared, because you are trained to face the situation. And if you are a bad swimmer, and you suspect that there is a possibility to fall into the water, think about another solution: take a lifebelt with you!

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 26, 2011 at 21:17

Bootstrapping, a way to make stronger businesses?

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IT entrepreneur

Some entrepreneurs unfortunately lost their business or project, because they made it with some investors who wanted to have a certain short-term return on investment level. As the expected return on investment was not reached, the founders of the project were sanctioned by the investors and pushed out of the company.

I read in the Belgian economical magazine Trends-Tendance, the story of three partners who had to face such adventure. These three engineers decided to start a new project, but following a totally different business model. They build a new business in the field of digital imaging, a technology having customers in the medical and aerospace sectors. The major concern of this business was to protect the intellectual property of such technology. The patent price for such technology is expensive, and the three partners have to allocate the major part of the profit of the activity to the deposit of such patent. To reach that goal, the challenge was to make the needed profit, and in this case to do business based on a low cost model. They have no offices. Each of the partners is working at home, having only meetings when necessary. They are using free open sources software, communicating thru free voices over IP systems, like Skype. They have no company cars, and are maximizing their travel with public transport, and eventually renting a car when really necessary. One of the partners explain that to work in such a way has of course an impact on their professional and personal life. It implies to have new habits, but the conclusion is that they keep the control on their business and they are very happy.

By thinking about this experience, we note that these entrepreneurs took the option of bootstrapping. Bootstrapping means that you start your activity or business with limited funds and without partnership with investors. It implies that you will have to contract only the necessary costs to develop your business. In each case, you will consider if there is an opportunity to spare money, or to contract a service or a good for a better price. You will also consider if you can do it yourself. The chance to succeed in such process is linked to the competence level of the partners. What you can do yourself is an opportunity for cutting costs. A partnership with members having different and complementary competences will be definitively an asset. In such process, we can maybe see an opportunity to build businesses with much more added value. As your margin are thin, more attention will be paid to the return on investment of the contracted expenses, and maybe the basis of the business could be stronger. You will probably invest money in tools providing more added values to your project and more return on investment after, instead of investing in a luxurious car, which can bring maybe more appearance but which will not contribute to increase the quality level of your product or your services. With the development of technologies, we can more easily see than before, the level of people competences and services performances. This is what the customer is looking for.

But do not forget that such approach is not always a guarantee of success. Each project needs a minimum of capital in order to be implemented. The lack of capital make that some projects are never concretised. Nevertheless, this way to operate will make that people will probably do business on another way, with long term views contributing to develop a sustainable economy where imagination and creativity will be the motivation and the profit the middle to make the dreams work.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 21, 2011 at 22:25

What is precisely a consultant?

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Team of consultants

Most of companies are contracting consulting services in different areas for specific needs, in IT, tax, finance, marketing..etc. They are using outsourced services for punctual needs, and because they have no in sourced people having the skills for these specific needs. During my career, I had to note that the word “consultant” was used for different type of profiles, and I would say in certain cases because it sounds better.

What’s precisely a consultant ? If I am asking that question, it is after reading a Peter Drucker’s quote saying that “ The true expert is the one who is doing the work. We must accept the fact that the one who is doing the job knows better about it that the one who is supervising, or in any case that he knows a different aspect about it”. It make me remember the first assignment I had as interim manager. We were two selected candidates for a senior accountant ad interim position. Finally, the customer decided to contract my services. The financial director who took the decision explained to me that he was more interested by my profile, because the other candidate was somebody who would explain how to do things, and in my case, I was the person able to do things. I remember a partner from a IT company where I worked some years ago, who used to say that he was not a consultant but a “practitioner”. This view meets Peter Drucker’s quote.

A consultant or an expert is somebody who has several years of experiences and who can give advices or execute missions and projects, based on the knowledges and the practices he acquired. If you ask to a consultant some advices about something he has some theoretical knowledge, you will probably not have an appropriate solution, and you will probably not learn more than if you have read some books about the subject. I remember a customer advised by a consulting company for an accounting software. The advised software did not match with the needs of the company, and the invoice that the consultant sent for the advice was ten times more expensive than the price of the software we had needed. The advice was given by a big consulting company, but I am not sure that the consultant did daily accounting during his career. More generally, there are different ways to obtain a result. But the result is not the only target to be taken into account. The way to reach the target is important. Processes in companies become more complex and need more expertise in order to control them. Some processes, methodologies will be more efficient than others. But only a expert having experiencing these processes will be able to give the appropriate advice. The different processes in a company include sub-processes, and improvements at each level can produce significant results in term of efficiency and profitability.

The most important is not to answer what is precisely a consultant, what are the range of services he is supposed to deliver. A consultant or an expert can only provide services linked to his experience and skills. The experience is another important parameter. In a fast moving environment, people have to adapt their methodology of work and their knowledges. The number of year of experience make that you integrates some processes or knowledge, and you can adapt yourself in a new environment faster than somebody having less experience, you can transpose more easily some methodologies in new environments.

What is precisely a consultant? In any case somebody who will provide the appropriate advices, answers or services to the customer and who will make him satisfied.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

February 10, 2011 at 23:41

If you can dream it, you can do it.

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If you can dream it, you can do it - Walt Disney

This quote as title of this article was from Walt Disney. Recently, I was attending a presentation session for web entrepreneurs, organized by the Betagroup in the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels. The organizer of these sessions is used to end the session by telling a quote related to entrepreneurship. After the session, ending by a networking drink, I had the pleasure to talk with a freelance journalist about the experience of entrepreneurship. She was raising the question to know if the fact to dream about doing something is a sufficient condition to do something and to succeed. This question seems to be a bit naive, but it is not the case at all.

Today, we can attend a lot of coaching training sessions where some coaches says that everybody can do what he is dreaming and that he will succeed. I wrote on this blog an article about the fact to stay focused on your goal. I agree with the fact that if you do not believe in what you are doing, you will never reach your goal. But in order to succeed in the project or the job of your dreams, there are several conditions you have to keep in mind:

  • Do I have the talent for this? It is important to know about yourself, to clearly determine what are your strong points and your weaknesses. Peter Drucker was used to say that it is better to work on your strong point in order to go from the competence to excellence instead of to work on your weaknesses in order to go from the incompetence to the mediocrity. I would add that you can be able to play piano, but there is a huge difference between knowing to play piano and to be a piano player like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In a competition environment, you have to appear to be one of the best player.
  • Am I entrepreneur minded? To become entrepreneur is not only a change of social status, it is also a question of mind. An entrepreneur needs to have always a project in advance. He is somebody who wants to move things forward, who is curious and who has of course the entrepreneurship spirit.
  • Is there a market for the services I want to propose? You can not escape to that question. It is important to know if there are customer interested by your product or services and if they are ready to pay the requested price.
  • Are you ready to assume the risk linked to start as an entrepreneur? As you know, entrepreneurship is always risky. Are you ready to loose a part of your money if your project do not succeed? If you can not sleep anymore, it is because you invest probably a too big part of money in a project and you are scared to have a lack of revenues.
  • Have you an alternative plan? If you do not succeed, have you develop an alternative plan in order to still have revenues? I remember an article about a entrepreneur who launched his own activity after a 15 years employee career in a bank. This man was explaining that he invested a part of his money in two apartments he gave to rent, ensuring an alternative revenue in case of business failure.
  • Do not hesitate to ask advices to serious advisers. It is always an asset to have different points of view from professionals in different areas. There is more in few heads than in one. Make the difference between serious people and the others. The others are building time to time their own legend, or are telling you only their success and not their failures.

These points I mentioned are important to maximize your chance to realize your entrepreneurship dreams. If you can dream it, you can do it, but stay in contact with the reality and be creative.

Interesting links for entrepreneurs: http://www.betagroup.be/ – http://www.westartup.eu/

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 27, 2011 at 00:38

What the figures don’t say

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What figures don't say.

Each company is obliged legally to keep an accounting and to present balance sheet and income statement one or few times a year. For quoted companies, the main concern is to publish figures on line with the budget and expectations in order to give satisfaction to the investors.

It is obvious that a company needs to have an organized financial information system in order to drive the business, to see the evolutions, to compare actual figures and to compare with budgeted figures, and to take the appropriate actions in order to reach a determined target. It is always good to show good performances and else better performances than expected. But we have to keep in mind that such statements show only a picture on a time T. In order to measure trends, we need to compare statements over several periods. But is such analysis giving a good picture of the health of a company? Do positive figures mean that everything is fine in the company? Of course, figures need to be commented, but are the comments reflecting the entire reality? No, because comments will only speak about figures.

There are a lot of elements that a financial statement doesn’t show, but which could have impacts on the mid-term and long-term results of a business. Let us take for example the human resources. The human capital is the motor of a company. A lot of human resources aspects can produce negative or positive effects on the business. The satisfaction level of your employee is an important key indicator for your business. If people are not satisfied by their job or work conditions, they will probably leave the company. The result will be a loss of know-how, an increase of recruitment costs and a period of lower performance of the new employee who need a certain time to learn before to be fully operational. The consequence of a high human resources turnover and a decrease of know-how contribute to de-organize the company, with a negative impact on the activities, and a negative impact on the customer satisfaction. If you have a look on a financial statement and you see a profitable business when the accounts were closed, you can wonder how many times it will do so, if there are for instance human resources problems.

Often, we can note that companies are focused on human resources costs, and frequently try to maintain or decrease such expenses. If we have a look on the concept of cost or investment, costs or investment are commonly defined as a cash-out amount that will provide future economical advantages. In this case, the question to be asked is to know what will be the economical advantages produced by the employees. The performances of the advantages will be or could be proportional to the level of satisfaction, because satisfaction contributes to motivation, and to provide better performances. We can see here the importance to define the objectives of each collaborator and to give him the tools to reach the goals, by giving training programs for example. This implies a mid and long term view. Such view is important when we notice lacks of specific profiles on the market. When somebody is leaving the company and you cannot find somebody with the same qualification level, it could impact your business negatively and for small structures, put your business in danger. When for example, if a small software company has troubles to find software developers to develop or improve a product, the business will be negatively impacted and could rule the company to bankruptcy.

By taking such example, we underline the fact that a financial statement represent a instantaneous picture of the company but does not show the quality level and controls of processes. The question is to know if the incurred costs are the result of a mid and long term view and if they will generate sufficient revenues, contributing to ensure a sustainable business. This means that not only financial results indicators are important, but also qualitative measurements of all the constituting components of a company.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 16, 2011 at 12:48