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Russell Potter

The 3 Inside Secrets to Managing Millennials

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As a leadership trainer and HR Consultant, the question I am asked probably more than any other, is, “How do I deal with Millennials?” Millennials are the group born between the mid-90’s and mid-2000s and are the generation now entering the workplace. Organizations are confused by the group, who they see as transient job hoppers. Perennially un-satisfied, Millennials are often stereotyped with either a voracious appetite for their own personal growth or a healthy disrespect for those in authority or both. The word, “Narcissistic,” is often mentioned, which I will come back to later. Millennials are often perceived as pretentious rather than humble, which in a team setting translates into irritation and conflict.

These are the stereotypes, and stereotypes are born when individuals from one social group view another social group as one entity, as if the other social group were one person with a single personality.  The failure to see the group as individuals with individual personalities, but with some shared ideas, creates a problem. Not all Millennials are created equal. The reason this creates a problem is that it excuses organizations from their responsibility to provide the highest standard of leadership and people management to ALL employees.

In many ways, it’s not that Millennials are difficult, it’s that previous generations were prepared to suffer well in organizations with leadership styles based on fear and control where learning and growth were way down the priority list. In such organizations, the unspoken goal is not to lose, rather than to try to win. Millennials don’t seem too comfortable with this.

Some background, every new generation entering the workplace arrives with the same bewilderment from leaders, Generation X had the same reaction from the Baby Boomers. Generation X (of which I am a member) shared the dedication to hard work that Baby Boomers did, but they lacked the compliance and were more keen to challenge systems which they felt had room for improvement.

I do agree that Millennials present a challenge for organizations, which for them is unavoidable because, as the “New Crop” entering the workplace, Millennials are the most cost-effective employees.  Most Management Consulting companies would cease to exist without them.

We need to be truthful with ourselves here, the reason that the question, “How do we deal with Millennials,” is asked is because all organizations need an influx of fresh and cheap labor, and graduates and school leavers provide that. Graduates enter with low pay and are expected to do at least a couple of years of doing the hard work and, “Learning the ropes,” before maybe moving to a better position, hopefully within the organization.

The system works because it’s true, you do indeed need to learn the ropes which means understanding the market, organization and how to grow the business armed with an understanding of both. Unfortunately, this generation isn’t just accepting this system quite like the last and are highly motivated to move to a better position as soon as possible.

One of the things I hear a lot is that Millennials are, “Narcissistic,” meaning that they are selfish, exaggerate their abilities and feel entitled.  It is also said that they lack humility. I’ve worked with Millennials in organizations and interviewed hundreds in the past few years, and I think this a touch unfair and misunderstood.  Let’s not mistake a belief in equality with narcissism. Millennials have a strong belief, as Gen X did, in equality. They enter the workplace and see their more senior colleagues getting paid more them they do and, as the more junior, less experienced employees, they often do the more laborious, monotonous tasks. To their mind, they are just as smart and work hard, and see this situation as unfair. Of course, most of us would agree that their perception belies a lack of experience and maturity, but to label it “Narcissism’ would be inaccurate. Equality, yes, immaturity without a doubt, but let’s not forget how old they actually are, and that Gen X had EXACTLY the same attitude when they were the “20 somethings” entering the workplace.

So, what to do? Here’s my inside tips from HR consulting, headhunting, leadership training and coaching at large organizations in Asia. There are of course many interventions but here’s my top 3.

1.     Don’t treat millennials any different. The US army doesn’t change it leadership style just because the latest generation has different attitudes and values. It chooses wisely, uses an excellent leadership framework and ejects anyone who doesn’t make the cut. Millennials also don’t want to be treated differently but they do want to be treated fairly. Evidence from Gallup suggests that patronizing Millennials with offices that look like a playground doesn’t work, although it does work on Baby Boomers, which I find very amusing.

Make sure that you invest in genuinely excellent leadership at all levels of Management and apply excellent leadership to ALL employees irrespective of age. What does that mean? It means that leaders must understand how to articulate a clear vision, judge the abilities of team members well and assign work appropriately, constantly growing each team member in terms of skill and thinking, and then motivating team members to overcome their fears, to contribute their best, and strive together as a team. That’s easier said than done and requires very specific skills that can be learned in a classroom, but, with the commitment of the organization, it is achievable. The outcome is teams that are able to make a significant contribution far and above the sum of their parts. “Command and control,” is the opposite. It’s enforced compliance where performance is as strong as the weakest part. Although it definitely has a place, especially fresh graduates and school leavers, Millennial, Gen X or Baby Boomer, which one would you prefer to work in? They key is to change your style as the employee grows.

2.     Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you promise a Millennial that they will be promoted within 1 year, and it doesn’t happen, the Millennial will look elsewhere without a thought, they will walk.

It’s true that Millennials are ambitious, and they often need a parental style of leadership that’s encouraging and grounding at the same time. Like all of us, they feel the need to make progress, but they often feel that need more acutely than most others.  Making promises is not the answer but succession planning is. One of my favorite quotes is by Richard Branson who said, “Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.” Sage advice indeed, and the best way to treat all employees, especially Millennials. It’s worth remembering that the #1 reason for an employee resigning is a bad boss. Although “Trigger/Final Straw” would be a more accurate term, great leadership has the ability to work both ways and many employees, Millennials included, will stay for an excellent leader that they can learn from and trust.

3.     Personal growth. Many Millennials are into rapid career progression through accelerated personal growth. They possess bundles of outward confidence and are hungry to learn, with the expectation that they will sprint up the career ladder. Whilst the latter is unlikely, the former is a very real phenomenon.

They have been bought up in a Tony Robbins/Richard Branson world that tells you that if you can dream it, you can have it and that your unfounded negative beliefs and idleness hold you back. Tony and Richard may well be right, but I see that behavior with ALL age groups now, especially Generation X in Asia, entering their 40s and looking to secure a lucrative future.

Millennials are into learning and personal growth (like all people) and showing your commitment to that is the key to keeping them happy.  This is standard best practice for ANY age group and should be personalized through great leadership and not only through cumbersome HR initiatives. The concern is, however, that the thirst for personal growth is just that, personal growth, with the expectation of a new job (anywhere) at the end of it.

Leaders need to make personal growth tightly aligned to the delivery of the business strategy and immediate plans for business growth, as opposed to vacuous “Capabilities.” Many Millennials see that the employer is a vehicle for their learning with the employer there to serve their needs. Great leaders need to give a different message, “Grow yourself by growing my business.” This honest and authentic message is to the point and has no implied promises, and authenticity is essential to being a great leader…of any generation.

Watch the video here

Russell Potter is Senior HR Consultant at Motivo. Visit for more about our leadership training and HR consulting in Asia.

Inside Info | Are you a Manager or a Leader? The 4 Key Differences

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The term, “Manage” is often used to denote, “Just getting by,” somehow…”we manage.” I come across many managers who are purely focused, quite naturally on the urgent emerging drama of operational work. Tasks are “Managed.” Tasks in the never-ending flow of the machine, seemingly without end…indeed, when will it all end? Leadership, it seems, is a nice to do, “End of day,” activity.

Leadership is about more than, “Just getting by,” it’s an edge, a state of not only operating but of being in control, of standing up and deciding not what we will receive and but what we will give. Leading is about challenging and not just accepting, it’s about standing out front.

Here are the 4 traits that determine the true difference between management and leadership:

1.      Leaders walk in front, they lead and others follow. This is the most accurate definition of leading. The leader determines the route, the safety of the terrain and its hazards, they have the clearest view of the territory. From that position, they enjoy the vision that the followers may not have. Leaders, therefore, must have a clear vision and the ability to articulate that vision. Managers, on the other hand, merely operate the organization’s control systems.

Anyone can be a leader, a Receptionist is a leader when a visiting CEO walks into their reception. The IT guy is the leader when the company IT Systems go down. In their territory, they walk in front, visitors to that territory merely follow and it’s one of the reasons that expertise is the foundation of leadership. Leaders know their terrain.

For anyone looking to improve their leadership skills, understanding the territory is a high priority. Go back 100 years and plot the evolution of your industry with each game-changing moment, find market research to show where your industry is today and then anticipate the future. Most managers have no idea how their organization evolved let alone their industry, taking their inferences entirely from current customer demand.

2.      Skill is nothing without judgment.  The need to accurately judge a situation is key. What’s possible and what’s not, what constitutes a high risk, and what indeed is a low-risk. “Who dares wins,” maybe, yet ironically judgment includes the need not judge other as we judge ourselves. Because I can make it doesn’t, mean that others can make it too. Knowing the capabilities and limitations of your team is vitally important.

Imagine that our Manager can see a proverbial river ahead, a formidable obstacle. Battle-hardened, he knows how to traverse it, but how well can he get 10 other people to follow suit? Can he(or she) train his team with the skills needed to overcome the challenge? Can he then motivate, encourage and instill the self-belief needed to take on the overwhelming prospect of an activity that could result in their demise? Proverbial or not, if he cannot ask himself these questions and address these issues, he will not be a leader. Indeed, leadership is an essential pre-cursor to any change management initiative as it requires the judgment to ascertain the readiness of teams for the changes ahead.

An excellent way to achieve this is by using a coaching style or delegating (properly). When delegating properly, employees are given time to develop plans and ideas independently. This will quickly allow you to assess their level of thinking and judgment and gives the opportunity for employee development or, “Thinking practice,” as I like to call it. Coaching and delegating build strong self-confidence in employees.

3.      Experience matters. Can you really understand the terrain until you’ve walked it? Is a map enough? Most would argue not. If you’ve never had to lead skeptical people through a difficult change if you’ve never walked that path how can you possibly understand resistance, and more importantly, your own personal limitations and capabilities? How can this be addressed without years of experience?

Training, coaching and using the right leadership style, offers a safe space to try, fail and learn. Great training programs should incorporate a level of live skill training and realistic simulation, taking the theory out of the classroom. I like to think of the glass walls of a training room as a metaphor. We require trainees to leave the training room to complete at least one live exercise, practicing the skill learned in training on a real employee. That’s real experience and the leader now has 2 feet in the territory.

4.      Trust is vital. Leaders can walk in front but who would follow someone they didn’t trust. Employees need to have confidence in their manager’s ability to solve problems and to plot the correct path but more than anything else, employees need to feel that their manager has their interests at heart, that he “has their back.”

That is truly a difference between a manager and a leader.

Watch the video here

3 Inside Secrets to Surviving the Skills Crisis in Asia

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There is a crisis in Asia which is affecting every business and organization. It’s affecting different regions in different ways but the message is clear, there is not enough skills in the market to support businesses.  Indeed, the very continuity of many business units is threatened.

In some locales, such as Indonesia, the problem isn’t so much a number of people in the marketplace, it’s the quality. In other regions such as Japan, although the quality is pretty good, there simply isn’t enough people in the marketplace. The growth in South East Asia is compounded by the low maturity and expertise of employees, especially at the lower levels. In Japan, it’s the culture of loyalty coupled with a low birthrate, an aging population and a reluctance to restructure in response to market realities that’s causing problems. It’s worth noting that the biggest crisis of skills is LEADERSHIP skills.

The 3 Keys to Survival are the same in both countries and pertain to simply creating a great place to work. These are the priorities which must be addressed in order to survive.

1.      You must become an employer of choice by reputation (more than awards).  If you have a culture of, “Command and control,” where long hours are the norm and fear is the leadership style of choice, nobody will want to work for you. If you invest in learning and growth, celebrate great leadership and understand that making your office look like a playground only works in a creche, you stand a good chance that employees will want to join.

Many organizations I come across win, “Employer of Choice,” awards but on closer inspection, the authenticity is lacking. I recently met an “Employer of Choice Winner” who’s very job title was “Employee Engagement Officer.” I was encouraged by the job title but the reality was that she was merely a compensations and benefits administrator who’s role was nothing to do with employee engagement. It was merely lip service to being an employer of choice and it transpired that, in reality, the “Employer of Choice” was operating a command and control structure based on fear.

2.      Grow and promote from within. It goes without saying that any employer of choice should promote from within but the reality is that most organizations like to bring in, “New blood” from outside the organization to freshen things up. It’s a balance to be struck of course but when the market for skills is as bad as it is, the onus on up-skilling employees at the most junior levels and developing leadership from within becomes hugely important. Many of the more forward-thinking organizations, though a mix of philanthropic ownership and forward thinking are creating Corporate Universities for their organizations. This is a great move. I’m often reminded of a quote from Robert Kiyosaki in his excellent book, “Lesson In Leadership from the Military,” that the US Marines have never appointed a General from outside of the US Marines and you shouldn’t either.

3.      The Little Black Book. Come recruitment time it’s essential to have a database of candidates you can call on.   Most organizations have a good database but how relevant is it?  It can take weeks to scour the recruitment market but staying in contact with candidates who have shown an interest in your organization, in the same way that they stay in contact with customers, is what some of the best organizations do. There is, of course, a range of great Applicant Tracking Systems out there and building an “Employer brand” and consistently advertising, even if it’s just to “Register an interest with us” is a key to being read to strike.

There are of course many other great interventions and options, however, in reality, resources are limited and quick fixes are often just that, quick to work and quick to fail. Becoming a genuinely good employer and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Gallup has repeatedly shown, with huge samples sizes, that organizations who treat employees well occupy the upper quartile of profitable companies globally. Such organizations attract the very best talent from the top universities and they can do that because of their reputation. How can you become one of them?

Watch the video here.

5 Tips to Make your Training Stick!

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All good trainers want just one thing, they want their training to stick. Maybe the biggest frustration and challenge is that what’s learned in the classroom is often left in the classroom.

Time and money are invested in training courses which have a sound theory and seem sure to add benefit to the organization. The leadership approves it, the trainer delivers it and the attendees acknowledge the value. Perplexing then that such learning activities so often fail to make an impact once the trainees leave the room where workplace norms prevail.

In reality, people just find it too difficult to break with their usual practices and to implement what they have learned even if they see the value. Here are 5 top tips for making past the morning after:

#1. Be There.  On the morning after the training, the trainer should be present on site to offer coaching in a workplace setting. During the training you planned the trip, now it’s time to make sure the family are in the car and the journey is started.

In addition to reinforcing the expectation of change, the repetition of a quick morning refresher will improve the chances of long-term memory storage.

#2. Top Down.  The bottom line with a lot of training is that if the management doesn’t fully support the change, it won’t be effective. This can be for a number of reasons but chief amongst them can be politics. Managers often believe, however, that teaching new skills will solve all problems without having to change themselves.

An excellent way to achieve commitment is simply to include the senior management in the training. For senior executives, this means the CEO. Their positive presence is crucial to reinforce the messages.

A word of caution here though that business Owners and CEO’s can occasionally become defensive when the training topic contradicts their own leadership styles or idiosyncrasies. Such occasions can take the momentum out of the positive change attitude created in the training.  Senior managers should be fully aware of the messages before the training and their own styles are best dealt with in a coaching setting.

#3. Bottom Up.  It should never be forgotten that training that should be the outcome of a thorough management consulting analysis of the most pressing business issues if expertise is noted as the issue. There is nice to do training and there is business critical training. If training does not address their most pressing issues, interventions are unlikely to succeed. In my experience it’s easy to see from the body language of attendees who’s number 1 issue is expertise and who’s is capacity. One looks happy to be there, the other never entered the room (mentally that is).

Using KPIs or customer feedback helps to build the case for the training event, the need for change and winning over the detractors. Using a KPI dashboard was instrumental in my training session this week with executives at a hotel in Indonesia. Once they saw the reality, I had their attention.

#4. Keep it short. In reality, most people will remember only one point from each training session. Keeping sessions shorter and spreading the learning over multiple sessions is a great way to get multiple messages across.

In their excellent book “Willpower,” Roy Baumeister and John Tierney propose that willpower is a limited resource that reduces throughout the day. In short, he suggests that only one change and one new habit can be formed at a time.

I split my leadership training into 5 X 2-hour sessions. I find that this way I can teach a single topic and have the participants leave without overloading with multiple concepts. Each participant also gets homework which maximizes the chances of creating an impact.

#5. Poster campaign.  As all trainers are aware, mixing the mediums in the classroom is very effective at getting the messages across. However, reinforcing training messages outside of the classroom is one of my favorite techniques. It reminds participants not only of the training messages and changes required but it also primes the organization to expect the change.

I recently placed posters in key areas to promote great leadership values. Although the training was for executives, it was important to make the training topic part of the culture of the company

More than anyone, the trainer wants the training to have a positive impact on the organization. Following these 5 steps will put you well on the way to maximizing training effectiveness.

Motivo provides talent and organization consulting to businesses in Asia.

5 Steps to Engagement in Life and Work

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Employee engagement and engagement in general, are still not major headline topics but more and more people are starting to ask questions about a general lack of caring and commitment not only in the workplace but also the wider frame.

By engagement we mean caring. Specifically, caring enough about something to want to improve and grow it, whether it be a busines
s, social issue, or local frisbee team, whether that be in the deeply immersed “State of flow,” or otherwise.

According to Gallup, 87% of employees globally are “disengaged.”  That number is shocking. That means that 87% of employees are being paid to do jobs they simply don’t want to do.

Charitable engagement however, seems to have taken a different path. Total giving to charitable organizations was $373.25 billion in 2015 (2.1% of GDP). This is the sixth straight year that giving has increased and the second straight record-setting year, following 2014’s total of $358.38 billion.  Good news on that front.

In more qualitative terms however, with Facebook et al maximizing social engagement, many may believe that we are all already highly engaged yet we are more likely to engage with a picture of someone’s dinner than we are with a major issue of global importance.

A client who is launching a rehab clinic here in Asia recently bemoaned that a post detailing a cutting edge therapy offering relief to thousands will receive almost engagement whilst one detailing a celebrity in rehab will score a home run.

Why are we so disengaged at work and in life? Is there optimism for the future. I think so.

My experience in working on employee engagement highlights 5 main points:


According to a slew of research, we achieve peak performance when we have a growth mindset focused on optimistic outcomes. According to Shawn Achor in his landmark book, The Happiness Advantage, we are more successful, live longer and have a range of measurable health and performance benefits if we are happy. Further, it appears that happiness preceded success and that by focusing on happy thoughts we can achieve the aforementioned benefits. Clearly then, we instinctively focus on the happy, a fact attested to by the huge popularity of inane situational comedy and reality TV.

Based on this insight, would we, by our very nature then, be more likely to evade what we may perceive as negative and unhappy issues and news stories even if they are of global significance in the same way that we procrastinate at work. Indeed many people who follow a “Happiness” mindset watch no TV News (with its negative sensationalism) or Hollywood action movies (with their destructive social scripts).

It would seem then, that we are hardwired to engage more closely with a picture of a cute puppy falling off the sofa than we are with an article on a sofa made by child labor.

Could reframing with a positive, growth mindset be the solution? Would this appeal to our hardwiring for happiness and growth? Ironically, in my work with organizations in creating positive mindsets, it is immediately apparent how few people have such a mindset. This is a superb opportunity, as with some simple exercises we can transfer our perception of a worthy cause from an insurmountable negative issue into an opportunity for growth.

Try this. The next time your team encounters a major problem. As them for 5 ways in which it could be the opportunity of a lifetime.


Our modern lifestyles and technologies have perfected the art of distraction. Social media, email, 24 hour news and stock prices are amongst the bombardment of information available anywhere and in real time.

It is estimated that, on average, only 1.1 hours of real focused work gets done per day and that this is largely down to the distractions of email and the previously mentioned distractions. With so little engagement in even our bread and butter, is it any surprise that we fail to engage with worthy causes (which, for the purposes of this article I will reframe as projects).

As our minds are cluttered our focus becomes more and more narrow decreasing our engagement with even ourselves. The mind has so many “issues” that we lack the headspace to contribute.

Here we have 2 solutions, either we clear each problem one by one, which may not always be feasible, OR we short circuit the system with mindful meditation.

Take only 10 minutes per day to focus only on your breathing and new neural pathways will be created which serves focus and concentration, giving you the power to ignore all of the clutter that simply doesn’t need to bother you.

Taking it one step further, address as many of the issues as possible. Write down all of the issues that are on your mind. Cross off all of the issues which you cannot affect e.g. the economy, your bosses mood, the outcome of the little league game etc. For all of the issues which are in your circle of influence write down a “Next Action,” i.e. the immediate next small step towards resolving the issue. As Psychologist Roy Baumeister says in his book “Willpower,” the brain needs only to know that there is a plan, and the next part of it, for it to cease being a cause of stress. Indeed, this “Internal locus of control” is a predictor of high performing individuals and has major life benefits.

Leverage Narcissism

“If they don’t care about me why should I care about them.” In the Western World (but not the East) we have been brainwashed into an X v’s Y culture in which a zero-sum game of winners and losers is ingrained. Our culture has become narcissistic with selfies and bragmail now duly scripted into society as a norm. A narcissistic society however, by its very definition lacks empathy, is deeply insecure and is inherently self-interested.

Engagement with worthy projects however, requires a great deal of empathy unless it is motivated by vanity and the need to be seen to a good person (for narcissistic reasons).

Again, the answer lies in reframing the engagement as benefiting not only the receiver but also the giver. Vanity or not, at the end of the day, does it really matter?

Avoiding Ambivalence. 

There is a phenomenon of desensitization which pervades our society and workplaces. Norms of growing moral depths are experienced making the original atrocity seem somehow normal in comparison. Socials scripts such as these are alarming psychologists. This desensitization makes us less likely to care about a cause as we are somehow numbed and normalized to it.

I am reminded here of the reaction to a Facebook post about a huge bomb in Karrada, Baghdad which killed over 300 people in July 2016. The blast came some months after a Paris atrocity which claimed the lives of 130. I questioned why nobody changed their profile pictures to the Iraqi colors, as had become a statement of solidarity following the Paris attacks. “We hear about bomb attacks in Iraq all the time but this was Paris,” was one reply.  As good an example as one could hope for of the ambivalence of our desensitized society.

There is hope. The evidence is, that minority groups who are persistent and consistent in their message do eventually succeed in achieving their goals. It may take years, but, over time more and more people will engage with the cause and accept it as not just a passing phase, but a real and worthwhile cause with integrity.  The message is, keep shouting and you will be heard.

Tackle Learned Helplessness. 

In one of the most famous experiments in psychology, dogs were conditioned to expect electric shocks when a sound played. The dogs were then put into a pen which was specially built so that, on one side, the dogs would get the shock and on the other side they would not. The dogs only had to jump over the low wall to reach the safe side.

Surprisingly, rather than head to safety the dogs submitted to the belief that they could not escape the shock so didn’t bother trying to move away from the danger area. They had learned helplessness.

In the two-legged world, Psychologist Marin Selgman took the idea further to prove the concept in human behavior.  Many believe that it’s a senseless waste of effort to engage in breaking established norms even if they are guaranteeing our mutual destruction. Who on Earth would engage in a challenge such as poverty, hunger, global warming, nuclear proliferation or corporate corruption with a “We can never win” attitude?

Luckily, just as we can learn helplessness, we can also learn a growth mindset. Try this exercise. Every day list 3 things that you are grateful for. Do this for one week and a new neural pathway is established which scans the horizon for growth opportunities. That mindset is then permanent and will continue even if the exercise is stopped. Boom!!

Imagine how engaged our society would be is we saw worthy causes as winning opportunities and “projects” rather than depressing demands on our precious time and resources.  Imagine how engaged we would be at work if we focused on the intrinsic value of each task and not the deadline.

In the coming decades, life will in no way slow down to give us time for engagement and more and more people and communities will get left behind. By cultivating an awareness of why we fail to engage and cultivating the skills to achieve it, both giver and receiver can enjoy lifelong sustainable benefits in all areas of their lives, social networks and organizations

How to be a Disruptor in 5 Easy Steps

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In the age of disruption we have seen so many determined entrepreneurial minds break through with simple, well-executed ideas that transform the lives of millions. From the supply and demand conduits of Uber and AirBnB, the accidental disruptors such as Google Maps and the flat out globalized disruptors such as Apple.

We are often startled by the simplicity of their innovation and the meteoric rise to public ubiquity in what seems like days. Of course, disruption h

as been happening for a aeons.  Edison’s light bulb disrupted candle makers for example, however disruption now is somewhat different. Edison’s lightbulb was a invention of the truest order. It’s the pace of disruption that’s changed.

Modern disruptors simply use other people’s inventions (reusable code and off the shelf electronics) to create new innovative iterations which sync with today’s consumer (and indeed supplier) with vastly reduced product development costs and timeframes.   It’s the pace that changed with a mix of enabling technologies + business model + impeccable timing.

Here’s how its done in 5 easy steps.

Step 1 | Look for a great idea that didn’t quite make it.

In their book “Big Bang Disruption” Larry Downes and Paul Nunes describe a “Singularity” before the Big Bang of disruption. At this phase, market experiments are happening on a small scale but only as a weak signal to the big market players. Often traceable to great ideas that didn’t quite make it these experiments offer an insight to new markets and possibilities and often fail due to underfunding, poor timing or just poor execution.

The forerunner to Facebook was MySpace. Although MySpace could never have been described a small player Mark Zuckerberg said that, “They were so inept we just couldn’t fail to do it better.” Now we can see how big Facebook has become, Myspace could easily be described as a weak signal.

Before Uber there was Google Ride Finder which was dropped but an idea, a technology and a market was identified for others to later exploit.

Many disruptors have capitalized on the failure of others who have blazed an unsuccessful trail only to illuminate a possibility, some lessons learned and fledgling market.

Step 2 | Think high volume low/no cost.

The key to any disruptor is that its low development and advertising costs keep the price to consumers very low. Most consumers now expect things for free and successful disruptors need the right business model to match. Remember that most disruptors will essential buy users and customers at the beginning using VC money.

Take the example of one startup I came across recently planning to offer a $30 hotel room for only $3 to customers whilst paying the full contract rate to the hotel.  Although their model is unlikely to work due to the industries standard mechanisms, it nonetheless shows the intention. Buy users, monetive later.

Moves like that bankrupted bigger fish (Hoover in the UK is a shining example) but now it’s a popular business model and arguably unfair competition akin to economic dumping.  Regardless, it’s the model and its here to stay. Speed, aggression and surprise is the key to achieve massive, overwhelming and seemingly overnight customer adoption which will be monetized at a later date.

Step 3 | Simplify

As the great bearded billionaire, Richard Branson said “Any fool can make something complicated, it’s hard to make something simple.” Bang on. Gone are the days when we needed to make things seem complicated and oh so specialized to justify the price tag. Disruption is all about taking something laborious, complicated and specialized and making it easier, more accessible and cheaper.

Think how Monster and other online job boards disrupted the traditional recruitment market.  No longer did the candidate have to trudge through the newspaper or business press and then send CV’s by email with a long cover letter. 10 applications could be sent with less clicks than a dolphin saying “Hi.”

Step 4 | Experiment (a lot)

Floating ideas and small frequent experiments is a key trait of disruption that even large incumbent corporations now use. Get the basic concept right and test market even if it’s to a Facebook page.

I met a startup entrepreneur recently who had a great idea for a dating app and just started a Facebook page to see what type of response she’d get. When she got to 4,000 page likes she decided to go for it and her app will launch in a few months. Experimenting like this takes away that stomach churning “will they come,” feeling that most bootstrapping entrepreneurs get when they are developing a product or service.

As Paul Brown mentions in his book, “Entrepreneurship for the Rest of Us,” the key to a breakthrough is to take small steps, launch at an experimental level, see what they think and then refine the product until you find the winning formula.

Short feedback cycles are key. I do this after ever training workshop and recently came across a free/low cost app to get anonymous feedback online.

Step 5 | Innovative is a Culture.

The big mistake that many larger companies make is that they are not set up for the innovation required of disruption. Mistakes are not tolerated (especially in Asia) and this promotes a, “No risk culture” and a dearth of great leaders. Disruptive innovation can ONLY happen in creative environments where innovators are free to explore without the fear of a warning from HR.

The office space itself should be laid out to allow collaboration, experimentation and second glance moments that make you think differently.

Forget astroturf floors and indoor slides, recent research from Gallup concluded that Baby Boomers appreciated funky “Out there” office spaces more than Millennials.  Think co-working space and immersive experiences.  Not having regular desks is a great way to mix it up, creating the cross-functional discussions you need. Some of my clients now look more like Starbucks than an office with long benches and no desks.

Disruption is here, like it or not. Organizations can no longer afford the luxury of Darwinian pace organic evolution into evolving market conditions and need to accept that change now happens at an overnight pace more analogous to Global Warming. Smart organizations need to be the disruptor and not the disrupted and this requires a fundamental culture change.

Happy disrupting!

5 Steps to Growing your Leaders from Within

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An interesting fact brought to light comes from an unlikely source, wealth guru Robert Kiyosaki.  In his excellent book, “Lessons in Leadership from the Military,” he points out that in the US Marines, nobody has ever been appointed to the position of General from outside of the Marines.“In the US Marines, nobody has ever been appointed to the position of General from outside of the Marines.”

As benign as that may sound, how many organizations can say that their CEO was home grown from within the organization, embodying the values that have evolved over decades into a clear brand identity delivering loyal customers and regular profits.  The answer is obvious, they didn’t grow the best person for the job where the said job is in an open marketplace for the best talent.

Here’s our take on how to grow the leaders of the future from within.

1. Recruit Wisely

In any organizational development consulting project we start recruitment, more specifically the Recruitment and Selection Processes.  No organization can truly move forward if it continuously feeds itself with the wrong hires.

We stress the importance of high standards and entry requirements.  Many candidates can do a great interview so it’s important to spot the signs of a poor fit at this stage.  Look for leadership characteristics and not only operational  skills in all hires.

A note on psychometrics here.  Although psychometrics are popular, unless you are highly trained at using them you’re likely to go straight to the Job Match.  What the Job Match doesn’t tell you is how well the person would fit into your organization.  A Sales Executive position at a large multinational requires a totally different set of personal characteristics to a Sales Executive Position at a start-up IT company, where entrepreneurial skills would be more favorable.Hiring only people with leadership and intrapreneurial characteristics will create the raw talent pool needed for the next generation of leaders.

2. Delegate Well

Although this is easier said than done in high paced environments such as hospitality, which call for rigid SOPs and emergency management styles, the key here is to train leaders in when to delegate and to whom.

It’s the best opportunity you have to put employees into a stretch position involving real learning and responsibility.  Most leaders stretch employees by giving a higher volume of work rather than a higher level of work.

Many leaders will find it quicker and easier to do complex tasks themselves but this is poor leadership.  In reality, this is one which needs reinforcement from the very top.  When the Executive Team expects it of their managers, they usually fall in line.  In other organizations which value the “Hero,” approach to working, delegation is rarely executed effectively.

Delegate what you can, delegate often, delegate interesting stretch tasks, set clear expectations, give the employee 24-48 hours to report back on their plan to do the job, support coach and guide from there.“In other organizations which value the “Hero” approach to working, delegation is rarely executed effectively.”

3. Project Work.

Although most companies will not utilize Six Sigma style cross functional projects, our experience is that these projects offer the perfect opportunity to develop leadership skills in employees who would otherwise not have the chance.  Leadership comes not only from delegated power (I’m the boss) it also comes from technical competence and project work offers a chance to leverage this.  At the same time, with coaching, the technical leadership can be compounded with a broader spectrum of leadership skills.

Team members can eventually become project managers and have cross-functional leadership experience, perfect for Executive positions.

More than anything the experience gives a broader view of the organization, essential to any future CEO and desperately lacking in nearly all divisional and departmental leaders.

4. Leadership Training…for All.

All of us, whether we are CEO’s or Receptionists, are leaders at specific times.   In an emergency fire drill, it’s often the Office Manager or Receptionist with leadership responsibilities.  There are times when my 9-year old son is the leader when it comes to anything related to surfing or the latest trend for kids.   He has the knowledge that I clearly lack in that arena and becomes a leader in that moment.

The very best way to ingrain leadership qualities into an organization is to train everyone to be a great leader from the beginning.  Indeed, this is a key tenet of US military training.

Although the Office Junior has little need to learn about the Balanced Scorecard he does have a requirement to understand that leadership is about teaching, about engagement, about unity.

In Richard Branson’s words, “Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.”“Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.”

5. Teach don’t Tell

This is one we have used at Motivo with some stunning results.  The idea is that instead of giving tasks and answering questions, you ask questions and give responsibilities.

Although there are often cultural barriers to this, as here in Indonesia, it takes time and patience and is worth the effort.  In an emergency situation or up against a deadline you will need to manage your own emotions to stay on track but keep with it.   Employees eventually work out that they have the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves, to take responsibility. 

By putting the problem back to the employee they learn to think in leadership terms in a protected and safe environment, almost like a child learning to ride a bike with stabilizers.  Once the stabilizers come off, the employee will have the self-confidence to make decisions and solve problems without fear or emotions clouding their judgment.“Employees eventually work out that they have the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves, to take responsibility”

This list could go on and on, but 4 Steps is about the limit of change for any organization.  Ingrain these 4 steps into your corporate culture, stay with them for the long term and your pool of leadership talent will be deep and wide.

The Importance of Starting the New Year Off With a Bang

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by Asher Raphael,, 28th December, 2015 – As many die-hard baseball fans know all too well, you can’t win the pennant in April — but you can lose it. The same sentiment rings true for businesses at the start of each year. While a great first quarter doesn’t necessarily guarantee a banner year, a terrible first quarter will absolutely ensure a year that falls short of expectations. That’s why it’s imperative to make your employees feel energized and motivated — almost as if they are being shot out of a cannon — as the new year begins.

It’s a challenging feat no doubt, especially as many return to the office feeling weary after a long and busy holiday season. However, it’s critical to ensuring a successful year and worth the time, energy and investment it takes to be done right. It’s also the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the natural inclination most of us feel to start the new year with new goals and aspirations on both a professional and personal level.

As your new fiscal year gets underway in the coming weeks, consider the following:

1. Don’t forget to look back.
While everyone views the start of the new year as a chance to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start, not enough businesses take the time to reflect on both positive and negative trends from the previous twelve months of measurable results. A crucial component of good leadership is accurately communicating the goal and vision of the company, something that, unlike a mission statement, should ebb and flow from year to year.

Just as the President of the United States begins each year with the State of the Union address, it’s important for every business leader to acknowledge the state of his / her business and lay out new, specific goals that are in line with the current vision and realities on the ground.

2. Put success within reach.
Now is the time to define not just long-term goals but also short-term milestones that are both aspirational and achievable. Consider putting out your biggest goals in the first quarter, thereby allowing for some immediate wins and setting the standard for what’s possible for the year. After a huge first quarter, both individuals and departments will redefine their own expectations and set out to achieve year-end goals that on Jan. 1 would have seemed unattainable.

3. Make it personal.
To be a great manager and leader you have to know, understand and care about your people. The goals they are setting for themselves at the beginning of the year are most likely both professional and personal goals and can reveal volumes about their motivations on a number of levels. Make it a point to acknowledge and encourage those goals in some way.

I’ve made it a tradition at the start of each year to ask each employee to write down one short-term and long-term professional goal, one family-related goal, one health-related goal and one spiritual goal. Each list is placed in an envelope, sealed and opened during year-end reviews. Not only does it help people feel accountable and aware of the permanent nature of their goals, but it also allows their managers greater insight into the things that are most important to each of their team members as individuals and human beings.

Perhaps most importantly, every business leader should lead by example. If you want your people to feel energized and motivated at the outset of a new year, you need to feel the same way. Taking time to get away, recharge and reflect outside of your typical day-to-day grind will enable you to look at things from a different perspective and with a clear head as the calendar turns to 2016.

Start-ups Should Sell to Small Businesses, Not Big Enterprises

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HBR, 1st Feb 2015 > Business-to-business start-ups are an important segment of the entrepreneurial landscape, but many founders hamstring themselves by focusing on the wrong initial customers. They focus on large enterprises, hoping to gain legitimacy from “anchor” customers. This focus can make their path much more difficult, and dramatically reduce their chance of success. Instead, B2B entrepreneurs should focus their efforts on small businesses.

The traditional line against targeting small businesses is that they’re costly to sell to. That’s short-sighted. Selling to small businesses is a great way to start a business, and often sets the stage for selling to larger enterprises later on. In this way, the start-up that initially served only small businesses can disrupt incumbents and come to dominate the large enterprise market, too.

Several examples of this strategy have emerged over the past few years:

  • Salesforce disrupted expensive on-site customer databases by offering a cloud-based solution that replaced substantial up-front expense with a low monthly subscription.
  • Vistaprint disrupted local printing shops by offering web-based design and ordering and centralized production, using economies of scale to dramatically reduce costs.
  • disrupted traditional mail-processing companies like Pitney Bowes by replacing expensive equipment purchases with an online application and monthly subscriptions.

The pattern continues today with start-ups that are in the early phases of this journey:

  • Expensify is in the process of disrupting administrative assistants and office managers with an app-based expense reporting product.
  • HourlyNerd (which was founded by members of my MBA class at Harvard Business School) is disrupting the consulting industry by connecting businesses with independent consultants.

To understand how small business solutions can disrupt large enterprises, I studied HourlyNerd and share here the lessons entrepreneurs can use to create disruptive B2B businesses by starting with small customers.

Because small businesses have similar needs to large businesses, a model that profitably and effectively serves them can be scaled to serve medium and large enterprises with relative ease. Small businesses are also extremely low-risk proving grounds because there are so many of them that failure with any one customer won’t lead to large reputational damage.

Better still, because small businesses desperately want these products but can’t access them, they will be happy with much less functionality than large enterprises that have many products to choose from. This gives start-ups a great entry point for a simple product that can be improved over time to appeal to more demanding customers. Gone are long pre-launch development cycles that attempt to create the optimal product for the most demanding customer. Instead, entrepreneurs can launch quickly with little capital and improve over time. In fact, HourlyNerd was started during Harvard’s FIELD program with only $5,000.

The first step to entering the small business market is to identify opportunities where incumbents are ignoring small businesses because their products are too expensive or complicated. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos recommends looking for opportunities to convert capital and fixed expenses into variable costs. So look for industries where upfront costs are high and new technology could offer similar services with little or no upfront commitment.

Next, create a minimum viable product and work closely with your initial customers to understand what goes right and wrong. For HourlyNerd, this meant individually matching each business and consultant and performing thorough interviews with each before and after the service. It’s important in this phase to temper your growth; make sure your unit economics make sense before seeking to scale.

Keep the product general. Create standardized offerings that many small customers can apply to their unique situation without expensive and time-consuming customization. Similarly, it may be tempting to categorize your customers by attributes like geography or business type, but resist this and instead organize them based on size and sophistication. This will allow you to segment your products and create simple solutions for simple needs and more complex solutions for more demanding customers. Framing your opportunity in terms of the benefits you offer and not customer demographics will help you see opportunities in ever-larger enterprises.Even once you start targeting enterprise customers, it’s possible to do so without competing directly against the bigger competitors. For example, HourlyNerd recognized that while very few people in large organizations have the money or need to hire a major consulting firm, many people have small but important problems that make perfect small consulting projects and space in their budgets to hire a consultant. Similarly, in the post-recession world, many managers have no ability to hire additional staff but have complete flexibility to hire a freelance consultant on a short-term basis. By serving these people, HourlyNerd is now growing in the enterprise space without meeting resistance from big firms, because they’re growing the category with new consumption rather than stealing existing consumption. `

Every business naturally improves its product over time. As B2B entrepreneurs improve theirs, they will find that they can meet the needs of these underserved constituencies in large organizations. The pattern of disruption continues when more demanding constituencies inside the enterprise see the results from the disruptive product and begin to consider it as an alternative to incumbent offerings. Typically incumbents will ignore the startup because they don’t feel any pain from lost sales until their best customers abandon them for the new offering. But by then it’s too late; the startup has succeeded in the disruption and is too big to defeat easily.

This strategy is not without challenges, including brand perception — remember the adage “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” But with time this can be overcome. While initially many large enterprises may have balked at the idea of using a web start-up called, no one today bats an eye at the idea, even in the largest, most sophisticated companies.

by Thomas Bartman > Harvard Business Review > 1st Feb 2015 > start up business strategy.

How to Motivate Employees the Star Wars Way

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Leaders spend much of their time figuring out complex systems and how to motivate employees but an interesting lesson comes from the set of the new Star Wars movie.  Jedi mind tricks?

JJ Abrams, the Director of the upcoming seventh Star Wars film, has written a  note to cast and crew to motivate them for the much anticipated project.

Ahead of filming for the latest Star Wars film in the saga, JJ Abrams sent a  handwritten note to everyone involved in order to engage and motivate them all  to give the world “something great.”

The note reads: “Dearest cast and crew, what an honor it is, to work beside all of  you, on Star Wars Episode VII. I can’t thank you enough, for all work past and future.

“Let’s take good care, of not just ourselves, but each other. Amazing, but true: The world awaits this film. Let’s give ‘em something great. XO JJ”

Filming started in May 2014, with the expected release date of the film to be December 2015.

The cast will be made up of both returning actors – such as Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher – and some new talent in the form of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, to name a few.

Following the cast announcement in April, Abrams said: “It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again.”

So the lesson to other leaders in all fields from one of the most successful film producers and directors of recent years…build engagement with the personal touch.  May the force we with you all.