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Posts Tagged ‘competences

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.


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 4, 2011 at 19:34

The intangible side of an organization.

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Traditionally, each company or organization used to publish financial statements in order to present their results and the performances of the activity. Most of the time, the level of profit is the main concern of companies. Of course, making profit is a essential condition to ensure the durability of a company and to finance in future projects. But is profit the only condition and the only parameter proving the good wealth of a company, of an organization?

A financial statement is a picture at a T time of the property of a company, an organization. A picture provide a range of information, but the evolution between two period of time will tell more about the trend of the business or the activity. In other words, the movie will tell us more than a couple of pictures. Nevertheless, these financial information does not include a range of intangible values that will have a positive or negative impact on the activity or the business.

What are these intangible values contributing to the sustainability of a company, of an organization? Let us review a few of them:

  • Innovation: in a fast moving environment where a lot of competitors are acting, innovation is a key factor of success. Innovation requires to perceive the trends of evolution, to look at the expectation of people, of to potential market needs. Innovation means to anticipate and to look further than the horizon. Innovation and creation of new innovative products or services will distinguish your company from your competitors. Success is never definitively acquired. But sometime, companies are meeting success and forget that success has a time. The major point is not how to survive to failure, but how to survive to success.
  • Talent and competences: An organization or a company works only thanks to the collaboration of people having competences and skills. The development of competences level will contribute to the performance level. The organization needs to have a long term view in term of competence development. Some people are leaving the organization, and it means that a part of know-how is leaving the company too. To ensure the sustainability of resources and talents has to be a major concern of the companies.
  • Vision and team spirit: The organization needs to have a clear vision and all the member have to subscribe to that vision, to the common goal. It is only by sharing the same vision that they can contribute to common goals and show team spirit. A company like Appel Computer succeeded in her major realizations, because Appel members are sharing Steve Jobs vision.
  • Motivation: Each collaborator, each member of a team has competences. But competences is not the only condition making him contributing to the organization by giving the best he can do. The key factor is motivation. He can only be motivated if he has clearly assigned goals and if these goals and the role he has to play within the organization fits with his expectations. People who are not motivated will show poor performances and the level of performances will decrease with the time. People need to be able to express their talents, and to find sense on what they are doing.
  • Wellness: Wellness is linked to motivation. People needs to love their job and to do it with a feeling of to wellness. They need to enjoy their work environment in order to be motivated and to provide the best work they can give. Stress and lack of wellness have a negative impact on the health, and on the productivity. People are only waiting to go back home, their do not want to be considered or identified as a team member of the organization. In these circumstances, it is difficult to reach a common goal.
  • Corporate social responsibility: People are paying more and more attention to the reputation of companies and their engagement to social responsibility. The economy is a major actor of the society and has to integrate values that are respecting the society and the people.

These are a lot of intangible aspects you will never find in a financial statement of an organization or a company. Nevertheless, these aspects can have a positive or negative impact on the performance, but also on the reputation of the organization. And with the development of information technologies and the social medias, your bad reputation can be known quickly and cause important damages to your organization. To take care about these things will contribute to empower the efficiency and to ensure the sustainability of your organization.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

August 16, 2011 at 21:08

The “Working” board

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Board of directors of a non-profit organization

Few days ago, I was publishing a question on a LinkedIn forum about experience as volunteer. One of the people who answered to that question talked about his experience, by mentioning the fact that he was member of the “working” board of directors. He was meaning of course that he was not there because it is smart to have such title, but he was contributing effectively to the management and operations of the non-profit organization.

I really like this concept and the meaning of “working” board, because as member of the board of two different non-profit organizations, I noticed two kind of directors. There are directors who were probably invited to join the board by other directors who are friends, and they are very proud to acquire a title, but they have not specific competences of real management background. There are other directors who have a specific competence contributing effectively to the organization processes.

I already mentioned in a previous post the situation of a non-profit organization who received some years ago an important donation. The association was by the time wrongly advised by the bank and they lost a lot of money in their investment. But what I noticed also in their accounts during one year, was the fact there had important operational losses and that nobody reacted during the year about that. When they received the donation, they decided to hire people, but the budget was not in balance at all. What happened a day, is that there were obliged to fire people, and each member of the board rejected the responsibility of such disaster to the other member of the board. Such situations allow to conclude that these people were totally incompetent, and did not want to face their responsibilities and take difficult decisions when needed, to avoid to get in trouble with the other directors. Such disaster is the result of non-decision, as I was writing in a previous post.

Let us talk about the other type of directors. These people are joining the board of a non-profit organization because they have specific competences, and they can help to implement solutions and improve processes in the organization. Competences are really important and are an added value when the organizations have a important and critical size. As you know, the more a project is important, the more the risk to fail is high, and the more experienced people are needed. In an organization where you have around ten people on payroll and fifty volunteers, like the one I am director of, you are definitively in a small enterprise. Like in commercial companies, structure and management are essential and are the key factors of success. The goal of a non-profit organization is probably different than the one of a commercial organization, but management and strategy are essential in both case to reach the assigned goal and to sustain the activities.

This second category of directors is the most useful, specially when non-profit organization are subsidized with public money. They have to guarantee the good usage of the allocated funds in order to make a successful project and to reach the assigned goal, and will be able to do it. This is the mission of a “working” board.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

June 8, 2011 at 22:25

Non-profit organizations, an added value for the society.

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In our society where economy is an important component creating wealth, I often heard critics about the non-profit organizations and associations. People are wondering if the subsides these organizations are receiving are correctly used. In other words, people are wondering if the institutions which do not create economical wealth, are not a charge for the society, and if there are useful. It is of course a pertinent question and people have the right to know how the taxes there are paying are used. People have the feeling that the taxes they are paying are not correctly used, but does it mean that non-profit activities are useless for the society? It should be a quick and wrong conclusion.

Non-profit organizations and associations, in different sectors, cultural or social are playing an important role in the society. We can see different interesting aspects of this sector of activity, but there are also conditions that need to be filled and which are filled in a lot of cases, making that people can have the feeling that their money is correctly used. What are these conditions?

  • Selection of project and the benefit they will produce: there are several needs to be covered in the society, needs that the private sector is not covering because there is no link with their activity and because the final goal is not the profitability. A detailed presentation and activity plan, and determined goals need to be presented in order to see what are the positive effects on economical, social and local level. The allocation of subsides need to be voted by a committee including independent members.
  • Project management and competences: non-profit organizations and associations are non-profit enterprises. It means that they have to face several challenges and issues on financial, legal and organizational level. In order to reach the goals on an efficient way with the allocated funds, some skills and competences are needed. As investing time myself in non-profit associations, I often see some lacks in term of competences, which has a negative impact in term of sustainability.

  • Concrete results: The associations launching projects have to produce concrete results, to justify the allocated amounts. They have the obligation to show the return on invested amounts, not on an economical point of view, but on social, educational, environmental level, depending of the scope of the project.

  • Financial sustainability: The allocated funds have to be spent correctly and each association has to implement controlling process in order to maintain the finance in break even. By creating debts and not paying contractors or employees, you do not reach the social goal of such organization. This is in my mind the weakness of some associations. The goal of a non-profit organization is not to make profit, as the name is saying, but it does not mean that the financial management is useless. I often see projects failure due to lack of management, with negative consequences.

These are some conditions needed to ensure that subsides are usefully allocated to projects. The quality of a project can be measured by the provided benefits. These benefits can be found on different levels, and make that non-profit activities are complementary of the economy. What are the benefits?

  • A positive contribution for the society: the associations are covering a range of services to the society, services not ensured by the private sector. It goes from social or medical services for aged people, for people facing temporary difficulties, also services in the education giving an access to knowledge and culture for everybody.

  • Local employment: this sector is creating local employment. Employment is a important key of social integration.

  • Local economical benefits: these associations are using local services. There are in fact a vector of wealth redistribution, as the allocated subsides have to be spent. The money they are receiving do not remain blocked and sleeping on bank accounts. It has a positive impact on local economy.

  • Personal positive effects: Some non-profit organization and associations are working with volunteers. Some studies show that people having a volunteer activity are in a better psychological and physical health. As mentioned, age is a question of mind. It is not because you reach a certain age that you are unable to contribute to a project, that you are unable to have activities. The fact to contribute to the community, empower the feeling to be useful and the feeling of social integration. We can see also a positive effect and cost reduction for the social security. If people are going well, they need less medical services. Globally, and as already mentioned in other postings on this blog, people need to have a project, to face challenges. The gained successes are an important factor of self- trust and wellness. Such activities have to be recognized, and encouraged. People should be encouraged to do an activity with the rhythm it agreed to them.
  • Social and educational benefits for the community: some social activities, related to education, are contributing positively to a better social and public environment. For instance, structures taking care of the children during holidays or when they are coming back from school and when the parents are still at work. These structures where animators are helping them to do the schoolwork, or by organizing games or activities, avoid these children to stay in the street, abandoned to the boredom, and avoid them to go to delinquency.

By mentioning these points, I tried to show that non-profit organizations and associations have a positive function in the society, on social and economical level. They have to be seen as a complementary activity of the economical activity. Do not forget that the economy is providing taxable wealth and that of course, without a strong economical activity, the public and associative world can not work. It is a question of balance, where each actor has to play the game, by respecting rules and with transparency, where initiatives have to be encouraged and supported.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 28, 2011 at 07:19

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

Shared services centers, the best solution?

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Shared Service Center

Shared Service Center

Many international companies are using shared service centers for a range of services. Most of the time, these shared service centers are located in regions where the salaries are lower than in other countries. I experienced few times this way of process in the financial and accounting area. Is this an advantage for companies to operate in such way ?

 As every system, shared services centers present advantages and disadvantages. In a multinational company, common processes are set up and used by every location. It means that there is a standardization of the processes, and if you are able to perform tasks or activities for a location, you could do it for every location. This seems to be an advantage. Nevertheless, there are also specific requirements for every location, for legal purposes. I experienced recently such case, in which some intercompany transactions needed to be supported by an invoice. These documents went never raised, which could cause some issue on a legal point of view.

By noticing such problem, my questioning was the following: are these process set up correctly by involving all the people playing a role in these process? Are the requirements for each location correctly analyzed? Are the people performing these processes well trained? By asking these two questions, I want to talk about the following. In order to perform correctly some tasks, you need to know and understand the purpose and the implications of the tasks you are performing. In order to have things under control, a good training needs to be provided to the operators. This is the difference between to delegate a task and a process. A process is a range of tasks, and by delegating a process, the people acquire more control on this process, understand better the purposes of the process, and it brings more added value in terms of competences and knowledge, and indirectly more value for the company.

If I am talking about knowledge and competences, it is because sometimes, I have the feeling that people working in shared service center, in India or other locations with lower salaries, are a little bit the slaves of the companies, performing basic tasks for a competitive price. I have the feeling they are considered as enough stupid to do such job. If it is the case, it is for me a mistake. I noticed an important people turnover in such organization, because people want to move to other function, to more interesting jobs. As you know, when people move to another function, there is always a loss of knowledge after the handover. This loss of knowledge has a negative impact on the service quality, and the time spent to solve some problems issued by such situation represents a cost for the company. Once again, we are coming back to the disadvantage of short term views.

Does it mean that shared service centers does not represent added value except for financial advantages? I will not be so categorical, but there is some requirements needed. First, we have to integrate the dimension of personal development. We are not the only one in the western countries who wants to progress in our professional career. The evidence is that in countries like India, or in South America, there are also very talented IT engineers, financial people… It means that the training aspects are very important in order to provide high quality services, and to contribute to the professional development of the employees and the interest of their job. The implemented technologies are also important in order to improve such operating structure. In certain cases, I noticed that the shared service center structure brought about more work for the beneficiary location, in term of transmission of documents and information. And last but not least, an efficient organization is necessary to ensure a smooth running of a shared service center….and for the all company too!



Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

October 19, 2009 at 21:40

Posted in Business

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Ensure your employability !

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486053407_080886b0caFew months ago, I was hearing a leader from a politician party saying that the companies have to ensure the jobs security. I was a little bit amazing by this comment, and wondering if we were right now in the twenty first century. To ensure job security means that economical crisis should not exist.

This comment aside, is the job security still existing?

In the beginning of the nineties, when I started to work, it was conceivable to make your career in the same company. I remember at that time, I was working for a Japanese computer company. This company created his own subsidiary in Belgium and we were around fifty employees. The ambition of the management was to increase the market shares, and to get three hundred employees in the three years. Two years later, the first gulf war started with negative consequences on the economical sphere, and there was a price war on the laptop market. These two components made that the company suppressed fifty percent of the jobs.

I remember to see many friends of my parents, who lost their job, after a whole career in the same company. These men and women who had all to be happy, were jobless the day after, having thin chances to find another job due to their age. It was clear in my mind that something was happening, that something was changing.

I contacted at that time some temp agencies, and finally had few months later a first temp contract. This new assignment was the opportunity to see something new, to learn, to acquire more experience. By noticing this, I was thinking that maybe job security could be …a danger.

Today, I think we should not talk about the job security which seems a bit utopian view, but we should talk about employability security. The only way to ensure your employability is to gain in competences and experiences on an ongoing way. By gaining competences thru experience and training programs, you maximize your chance to find new opportunities. Each competence you can show is an asset to face new challenges. If on the other way, you are staying at the same job level during many years without acquiring new competences, you could face serious problems to find other opportunities, because companies could find younger people than you to do a job, and for a lower salary. You probably had a job security during few years, but after ?

The companies could find several advantages to develop training program in order to ensure professional development of the employees. By implementing such policies, they could help each employee to gain in productivity, to increase the work quality, but also increase the qualification level of the employee. This last point is clearly a benefit to ensure companies to develop their projects, to develop a sustainable economy. The lack of competences in a country or a location can cause delocalization of economical activities.

As most of you know, to manage is to forecast. The job you are doing today will condition your job of tomorrow. By increasing your capabilities and your competences, you are developing your employability, en ensuring your chance to face new challenges. It is only in these conditions we could still talk about…job security.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

September 12, 2009 at 19:42