Monday, August 29, 2011

Making Assumptions: Visas

by Jane M. La Barbera, CAE, Managing Director, Association of American Law Schools

Making arrangements for visas for professors located around the world has been an eye opening and educational experience. In 2004 we had an international conference in the US and we had such trouble bringing non-US professors to the conference. We were frustrated with the difficulty of inviting these well-respected leaders to the US.

As the years continued, in every country where we held a conference we faced difficulty in bringing conference delegates from developing countries. I blamed the delegates, assuming that they waited until the last minute to obtain their visas. This caused a mad scramble of activity weeks and days before the meeting dates even though we had issued the letters of invitations many months before. Usually, the consulate asked for more information at the last minute and we had to have the host university issue all communications on their letterhead in their language to the consulate. At this point, airfares were much higher in cost and hotel rooms might not be available.

It was a conversation with a distinguished African professor that enlightened me about my perspective on visas. She said that obtaining visas was another privilege of which those from developed countries were easily given and we had no clue as to the experience of someone from a developing country. She explained that while she and many of her colleagues from developing countries would request the visa as soon as the months in advance conference invitation was received, the consulates often did not act on these visa requests until the very last minute. Conference delegates would have to rush to obtain and complete all visa documents in order as soon as the invitation arrived, then constantly contact the consulate to see if the visa had been processed and they would be told over and over that it was being processed, if they received an answer at all.

In addition, many countries do not have consulates or embassies in every country or there might be one location in a very large country. We paid for a Senegal delegate to fly and stay in the US to obtain the visa from the Argentinian consulate (where the conference was to be held), rather than have them fly to a nearby African country to obtain the visa. Why? First, the consulate in the other African country was not open every day; we could fly this individual to that country and we could not rely that the consulate would see them on a timely basis because those from the country where the consulate was located would have first priority to be seen. To my surprise, it was cheaper to have the individual fly to the US, where they could attend another conference, go to the Argentinian Consulate in the US, make an appointment to fill out the application and have it processed before she left the US. It was also more reliable.

I am constantly reminded, especially, in the international arena, of uninformed assumptions that I make where my experience is limited to the perspective of someone from a privileged developed country.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Should Your Organization Be Centralized?

by Virgil R. Carter

As non-profit organizations look for growth and opportunity, a key question arises about the organization’s operations: should the organization be centralized? Centralization appears to offer some advantages: planning and production efficiencies, reduced overhead, improved quality, more predictable scheduling, and more reliable distribution and customer service. But is this really true?

Centralization vs. decentralization is a predictable and perennial tug-of-war between advocates for each. It is a dilemma for organizational leaders. Now, in a recent article by Andrew Campbell, Sven Junisch and Gunter Muller-Stewens, published in the McKinsey Quarterly, the authors describe how organizational leaders can lead a more thoughtful debate by asking three questions.

The three questions each pose a test that must be considered by any centralization proposal. A decision to centralize requires an affirmative answer to at least one of the three questions. The questions are:

Is centralization mandated: Does the organization have a choice? For example the corporation annual report and consolidated tax filing are required by law and must be signed by the CEO, making this function impossible to delegate to subordinate units. Thus the response is yes to centralizing this activity.

Does centralization add significant value (a minimum of 10%): The authors write that if centralization is not mandated, it should only be adopted if it adds substantial value. Without significant added value, the risks of centralization may not be worth taking.

Are the risks low: Proposals for centralization should proceed only if negative side effects are low. The authors suggest that an initiative for centralizing payroll is a likely example of low negative side effects.

If you and your organization are facing a centralization decision, you may want to consider these three questions.

For the full article click here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Health vs. Performance

by Virgil R. Carter

What’s the steady-state condition of your organization? Is it an exemplary organization? What does exemplary mean? Scott Keller and Colin Price, examine this question in a recent article “Organizational health: The ultimate competitive advantage”, published in the McKinsey Quarterly.

The authors content that “focusing on organizational health—the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competition can—is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance.” The authors go on to explain, “Organizational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition”. Their view is that the ultimate competitive advantage lies in an organization’s ability to “create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time”.

Now, many non-profit organizations are noted more for their continuity and consistency, than for their “learning and changing over time”. Do you agree? Some non-profit organizations even boast that “we’ve always done it that way!” So where does that leave health vs. performance of non-profits?

First, and foremost, every non-profit is unique. That is, each organization has its own history, culture, traditions and values. So “competitive advantage” can’t successfully be copied from other organizations and simply imported into a “host” non-profit organization. The authors point to their research that leads them to believe that health (the ability of an organization to align, execute and renew itself faster than the competition) is the basis for performance (what an organization delivers to stakeholders in financial and operational terms). “At least 50 percent of any organization’s long-term success” is the result of organizational health.

According to these authors, to improve organizations, with lasting results, leaders must “focus on (organizational) long-term health even as leaders push for higher performance. How is the long-term health of your organization?

For the full article, click here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Killer Questions

by Virgil R. Carter

Want to know how your career can vanish before your eyes during an interview? The Wall Street Journal’s recent article “Seven Questions That Kill Careers” identifies these questions as ways to ensure you will have more free time (and less time at work):

1. So, tell me a little about yourself. This innocent-sounding question is a likely opening one. This is not where one describes one’s life history or most recent vacation frolic in Mexico. You may be best to simply make 1-2 brief comments about your most recent professional history.
2. Why do you want to leave your current job? Here’s one of those loaded questions. Best response is to indicate a logical career step “to” the new company. Avoid indicating any desire to get away “from” your current company. Stay positive.
3. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared for this one. You’ve got to beat “hard-working” (strength) and ‘none” (weaknesses). When identifying a weakness, it’s important to include how you overcame it successfully.
4. How would your current or former colleagues describe you? Focus on what employees at different levels “look to you for”, i.e., a derivative of some of your strengths.
5. What is your goal for the short term? Before answering, clarify what “short term” means to the interviewer. Don’t get off on the wrong foot, since you have no way of knowing what the term means to the interviewer.
6. Are there certain tasks or types of people you don't like? Here’s a really loaded question, so be positive and honest. Keep in mind the tasks and folks who are likely to be involved with the job for which you are interviewing.
7. Do you have any questions? Not having any questions may suggest that you aren’t very bright or have much interest in the job. This is not the time to be asking about compensation, what the business is about, vacation or mandatory drug testing. Instead, ask a question or two showing your interest and knowledge about the company and job. The company’s web site is likely a good place to find information and for the basis for an intelligent question that shows you know something about the business.

Some prior thought to these, and other common-sense questions may be all that is needed to keep you from killing your interview chances.

To read the full article, please click here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The First Timeless Pillar of Leadership

by Peter Baker, Executive Director, Laser Institute of America

When you strip away all the fads of the last four decades and focus on what really works, there are Seven Timeless Pillars of Leadership. Here is the first one:

Know Thyself
The oracle at Delphi said it, and Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said “Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

You might well ask, “What does this mean for me? What shall I do about it?” What it means is that each of us has a unique set of aptitudes and attitudes, strengths and weaknesses. Some are bold and fearless like Alexander the Great—cut the Gordian Knot—rule the world! Some are more thoughtful and deliberate like Dwight Eisenhower—take time to plan the D-Day invasion, research moon and tide—then launch. There are many leadership styles and each can be effective, but you cannot copy someone else’s style. You must, as Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” People can spot a fake in a heartbeat.

Most of us have a good idea of our key characteristics. If you are reading this you are probably pretty smart (hard to lead successfully if you are not) and have a basic idea of your type. I recommend digging in and facing the truth; be clear on your strengths and weaknesses. Use tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test or the DiSC® Personality test or other similar systems.

On two occasions I benefited by taking a whole battery of IQ tests, aptitude tests and tests to help show which kinds of careers would best fit me—and which would not. I found, no surprise, that I would be a poor fit as a Marine Corps Major! It was also recommended that I not try to fix my own car and to make sure I always have a good administrative assistant—good advice indeed. These tests and others like it are readily available online or through your local university career center. I recommend a career center which has the advantage of trained counselors to interpret and advise.

Once it is clear who the real you is, you can focus on using your strengths and building a team to support your weak areas. You can go through a similar process with key members of your team.

So there it is, the number one Pillar of Leadership—Know Thyself!

Peter Baker is the Executive Director of Laser Institute of America. He has studied and practiced the art of leadership since 1970.

Monday, August 1, 2011

CEOs and Organizational Models

by Virgil R. Carter

As a CEO (or aspiring CEO), have you reached the conclusion that understanding your organizational model can help you reach more effective (and satisfying) leadership? The 2010 study of CEOs by Booz & Company, reported in Strategy+Business, sheds some light on the subject. I know, we’re in the non-profit sector, but we want to expand our awareness and learning as much as possible don’t we? How much applies to your situation?

This year’s findings identify four categories of organizations and management:

1. Holding: Distinguished by an arms-length approach to managing subsidiary activities. CEOs have a minimal degree of involvement in operational decisions. CEOs focus on “portfolio management”, while second-tier executives run daily business.

2. Strategic Management: CEOs and other senior executives are engaged in strategy development with subsidiary leaders, who have the accountability for business operations.

3. Active Management: CEOs and senior executives participate with close guidance and expertise, but leave direct operational management up to subsidiary units.

4. Operationally Involved: While execution remains within the subsidiary area, CEOs and senior executives play key roles in cross-unit capabilities, expertise, human resources and strategic decision making.

According to the Booz study, the organizational model clearly appears to influence CEO experience and tenure in the position. For example, the tenure in operationally involved organizations was markedly shorter and riskier. By comparison, the tenure of a CEO in a holding organization was a third longer than a CEO of an operationally involved organization. In addition, the study indicated that CEOs in operationally involved organizations are much more likely to depart during their first four years. For the full study, click here.