Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reverse Brainstorming

A Different Approach to Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming helps you solve problems by combining brainstorming and reversal techniques. By combining these, you can extend your use of brainstorming to draw out even more creative ideas.

To use this technique, you start with one of two "reverse" questions:

Instead of asking, "How do I solve or prevent this problem?" ask, "How could I possibly cause the problem?"

Instead of asking "How do I achieve these results?" ask, "How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?"

How to Use the Tool

  1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge, and write it down.
  2. Reverse the problem or challenge by asking, "How could I possibly cause the problem?" or "How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?"
  3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to generate reverse solution ideas. Allow the brainstorm ideas to flow freely. Do not reject anything at this stage.
  4. Once you have brainstormed all the ideas to solve the reverse problem, now reverse these into solution ideas for the original problem or challenge.
  5. Evaluate these solution ideas. Can you see a potential solution? Can you see attributes of a potential solution?
Reverse brainstorming is a good technique to try when it is difficult to identify solutions to the problem directly.

Luciana is the manager of a health clinic and she has the task of improving patient satisfaction.

There have been various improvement initiatives in the past and the team members have become rather skeptical about another meeting on the subject. The team is overworked, team members are "trying their best" and there is no appetite to "waste time" talking about this.

So she decides to use some creative problem solving techniques she has learned. This, she hopes, will make the team meeting more interesting and engage people in a new way.

Perhaps it will reveal something more than the usual "good ideas" that no one has time to act on.

To prepare for the team meeting, Luciana thinks carefully about the problem and writes down the problem statement:

  • "How do we improve patient satisfaction?"

Then she reverses problem statement:

  • "How do we make patients more dissatisfied?"

Already she starts to see how the new angle could reveal some surprising results.

At the team meeting, everyone gets involved in an enjoyable and productive reverse brainstorming session. They draw on both their work experience with patients and also their personal experience of being patients and customers of other organizations. Luciana helps ideas flow freely, ensuring people to not pass judgment on even the most unlikely suggestions.

Here are just a few of the "reverse" ideas:

  • Double book appointments.
  • Remove the chairs from the waiting room.
  • Put patients who phone on hold (and forget about them).
  • Have patients wait outside in the car park.
  • Discuss patient's problems in public.

When the brainstorming session runs dry, the team has a long list of the "reverse" solutions. Now it's time to look at each one in reverse into a potential solution. Well-resulting discussions are quite revealing. For example:

  • "Well of course we don't leave patients outside in the car park – we already don't do that."
  • "But what about in the morning, there are often patients waiting outside until opening time?
  • "Mmm, true. Pretty annoying for people on first appointments."
  • "So why don't we open the waiting room 10 minutes earlier so it doesn't happen."
  • "Right, we'll do that from tomorrow. There are several members of staff working already, so it's no problem."

And so it went on. The reverse brainstorming session revealed tens of improvement ideas that the team could implement swiftly and

Luciana concluded: "It was enlightening and fun to looking at the problem in reverse. The amazing thing is, it's helped us become more patient-friendly by stopping doing things rather than creating more work".

Key Points

Reverse brainstorming is a good technique for creative problem solving, and can lead to robust solutions. Be sure to follow the basic rules of brainstorming to explore possible solutions to the full.

Thanks to MindTools / Mind Tools Ltd


6 Eye-Tracking Secrets That Will Get Resumes Read

Technology is giving us clues into how people read online resumes—how their eyes travel over the page, where they pause, what they move to next. Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a pioneer in the field of usability, conducted an eye-tracking study on the reading habits of web users. The research study displayed that participants exhibited an F-shaped pattern when scanning web content.

Resumes Eye-Tracking Secrets

With this "F factor" in mind, when you are composing your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters, or other career-comm documents, think about how you can position key information and impressive accomplishments in these areas. Doing so will increase the likelihood of readability and comprehension for recruiters and hiring managers.

Here are six secrets to leverage the "F factor" in resumes:

1. Use Keyword In Headings And Subheadings

Choose keywords for headings and subheadings when possible. For example, instead of "Professional Experience" as a category heading on your resume, consider "Sales Management Experience" or "Customer Service Experience" or other appropriate title. As recruiters scan the resume headings, they'll get an extra dose of the keywords they're looking for.

2. Position Impact Statements Near The Company Name

Since readers look for company names and dates as part of their first impression, consider adding a key impact statement or accomplishment between the company name (on left side of resume) and the date (on right side of resume), as this example with yellow highlighting shows:

Resumes Eye-Tracking Secrets

3. Lead With Info-Carrying Information

Front-load paragraphs and bullet points with info-carrying words, accomplishments, and/or numbers. For example, instead of saying "Developed strategy to boost untapped VA contract from $250K to $2.5M", lead with "10-fold increase: Built VA contract from $250K to $2.5M."

4. Use Graphics To Convey Key Information

Consider adding a graph or chart to convey important information. A picture IS worth a thousand words!

5. Keep Key Info Above The Fold

Keep the meatiest information up high on the page. Even though many resumes are read on a computer screen, the information near the first third to half of the page is still the most important real estate on the page/screen.

6. Center Important Points Near "F" Bars

Consider centering key information in a text-box, as the example below shows.

Resumes Eye-Tracking Secrets

Review your resume today and consider potential tweaks to increase its readability. Getting the "F Factor" into your resume may earn you an "A" in your job search!

Thanks to Contributing Writer / Careerealism


Sunday, March 10, 2013

How To Create And Execute A Plan For Successful Change

A change plan is an explanation of the proposed changes and the steps needed to achieve them.

How are you dealing with change? Procrastinating is not an option. To survive today, you must be prepared for rapid change. A change plan is developed to implement projects that have been specified for change. It's important for all companies to have a change plan, but it plays an even more significant role in small companies, ­because the very nature of being small lends itself to greater potential growth and rapid change.

Change requires courage, a certain degree of risk, some discomfort, and often a lot of hard work, but today, an ongoing change plan should be the norm rather than the exception.

The development of a change plan is an integral part of all successful people's playbook. Prepare yourself for ongoing change by developing and executing a change plan that includes the following:

  • Identify projects for change
  • Develop an effective communication plan
  • Eliminate implementation barriers
  • Develop the change plan

Identify Projects for Change

There is no right or wrong answer as to exactly where to begin, but after doing a company-wide assessment, you should be able to prioritize what needs immediate attention, improvement, or change. Talk with as many people as appropriate and possible before adopting and communicating any change plan. Explain the proposed area of change and simultaneously get an understanding of your organization's appetite and aptitude for change, including how people might react to the change and what will have to be done for successful adoption and execution. Get feedback from everyone you deem necessary.

Determine what is working and what isn't, as well as improvements and changes that could be made by asking well-crafted questions. Importantly, while you're checking in with your team, also get their perspectives on the company, the marketplace, the competition, and your customers.

Develop an Effective Communication Plan

To manage sustainable change, you must communicate a clear vision of the project. Begin by developing an effective communication strategy for company-wide adoption, which is the cornerstone for the support, execution, and success of the plan.

You will have already informally introduced the proposed project and received feedback, so now you can finalize and deliver your formal communication plan. Set an upbeat, energized tone from the get-go. Be open and freely share all information about the pending change.

Follow up with your people with these essential steps:

  • Explain the goals and objectives of the change
  • Explain why the change is necessary
  • Discuss what the change may look like and how it may affect departments and individual employees
  • Speak in terms of how the company and everyone will benefit from the change
  • Establish roles and responsibilities for how the change will be achieved; that is, who is going to do what, when, why, and how
  • Discuss the project timeframe and timelines
  • Establish the desired results
  • Keep providing progress updates
  • Encourage feedback from all employees to continuously improve the plan

Whenever possible, have all the appropriate people involved in any change discussion, and do it in a timely fashion to eliminate information vacuums, rumors, and resentment. Make them part of the entire process.

Eliminate Implementation Barriers

Everyone perceives change in different ways. Keep in mind that change can be disruptive and upsetting to people. There will be those who are stimulated by the change and welcome it, but you can't expect everyone to be happy—it just isn't going to happen. The truth is, some people will complain and some will view the change as a weapon of mass disruption and resist its implementation. Be prepared to maneuver through some minefields and to deal with a plethora of fear and concern when introducing change.

In our consulting practice, we create significant change in many companies we work with. Interestingly, the first barriers we often face are from the very executives who call us in to make the changes. They are tentative about taking on the unknown, disruption, fears, and concerns that accompany the change process. We help them prepare for the tidal wave of potential opposition with an overwhelming, compelling, and persuasive plan to ensure successful adoption.

Understand the potential obstacles from allquarters for the change plan you have in mind. To give the project and yourself the highest level of credibility possible, anticipate problems and peoples' objections, and prepare viable answers and solutions. It's likely you'll encounter resistance, so be prepared for concerns from managers and employees.

Factor into your execution plan the time to deal with potential resistance. If the project is thoroughly planned and you've communicated it well to the organization, you'll have less resistance. Regardless how well you plan and present the project, you still may encounter some degree of opposition, so be patient and prepared to deal with it. Make a point to give the straight facts continually; regularly resell everyone on the benefits of the change and offer wholehearted support to everyone, whether they're for or against it.

Develop the Change Plan

In its simplest form, a change plan is an explanation of the proposed changes and the steps needed to achieve them. Length and formality depend on your particular situation. Here are the essential elements:

  • Formulate a crystal-clear vision of the proposed project and its goals
  • Understand exactly why you want to tackle the specific area
  • Understand what you're looking to change and its scope, and how it will affect other areas
  • Isolate potential implementation obstacles
  • Determine projected costs
  • Determine risk factors and all potential downsides for the proposed change
  • Establish evaluative criteria for success and how it will be measured
  • Determine best and worst cases and pros and cons
  • Design an action plan that includes who is going to do what, when, why, and how
  • Set timeframes for implementation and completion

Create your change plan with a clearly expressed written document that provides the necessary road map to ensure flawless execution.

John Kuhn and Mark Mullinsare serial entrepreneurs and business consultants. Their newly published book is "Street Smart Disciplines of Successful People: 7 Indispensable Disciplines for Breakout Success."

Thanks to John Kuhn and Mark Mullins / TrainingMag / Training Magazine


How To Get Disengaged Employees To Go The Extra Mile

Some employees rest before they're tired. Others perk up in the parking lot at 5 o'clock. Some quit long ago, but have forgotten to tell you. All these employees show up to work every day and give you the minimum effort to stay afloat. Some eventually leave, taking with them their knowledge, experience and on-the-job training. We call these employees "the disengaged." A study shows that disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses $11 billion annually. The global situation isn't much better.

Many business owners and enterprise leaders try to cope with the disengagement by sending employees to accountability training. Accountability training typically focuses on topics such as creating SMART goals, clarifying expectations, empowering employees, establishing regular progress reviews and giving appropriate feedback. But a year later, even though everyone is now well-trained on the accountability cycle, the needle of engagement hasn't moved. Why is that?

That's because leaders need to look behind the curtain at the more prevalent causes for disengagement. Gary Hamel, professor at London Business School and one of the world's top 50 Thinkers, puts it this way: "By far, the greatest untapped source of wealth and potential in any organization is all those people who have chosen on that particular day not to bring their imagination to work, not to bring their passion to work, not to bring their initiative to work … and the capabilities that we need most of our employees, their imagination, initiative … are exactly the capabilities that are most difficult to command. You cannot tell someone to show initiative or to be creative … those are literally gifts that people choose to bring into work every day or they don't."

As Hamel says, the question a manager needs to ask himself is not "How do I get people to serve my company?" but rather, "How do I create the work environment and a sense of purpose that literally merits the gifts of creativity and passion?" Hamel provides several tips, which include dramatically reducing the level of fear in organizations; depoliticizing decision making (so decisions are the result of good ideas, not political power); democratizing information (so information is not used as a political weapon), and reducing the power of traditional hierarchy.

If you struggle with employee disengagement and a lack of accountability, the following tips can help you turn that around.

Take a good look at all the leaders in your organization. Research shows that one of the most important factors that affects employee engagement is the relationship with one's immediate manager. Evaluate all your leaders, from the back office supervisors to the vice presidents—everyone who is directly in charge of others. There is no doubt that people flee bad managers. So, what do good managers do? A worldwide study of engagement shows that the managers who fuel engagement exhibit these specific behaviors: they are personally involved, they delegate and utilize their employees' talents, they don't withhold recognition, they actively foster a sense of community and belonging, and they provide feedback and coaching. Does every manager in your company do this?

Institute a reverse accountability program. This idea comes from Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global provider of IT services. The company is recognized as the best employer in India. One of its core values is the belief that all managers are equally accountable to their employees. To put this into practice, all 5,000 leaders in the company undergo a reverse 360 assessment. This gives employees a chance to evaluate their managers, for development purposes. All 80,000 employees worldwide can access the results on the Web. You can hear more about the success of this approach in Nayar's video interview with Karl Moore, associate professor at the University of McGill.

Assess these 12 conditions. The Gallup Organization developed a 12-point gauge of conditions that best predict employee engagement. These are 12 simple but powerful conditions that every manager should consider. They include statements such as "At work, my opinions seem to count" and "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work."  Would everyone in your shop be able to answer "yes" to these? The full 12-point list is available in Feedback For Real, a Gallup Business Journal article.

Understand what drives people. If you're an old-school manager, you may be thinking that the carrot and stick approach is the best way to control people and push them to be more accountable. As Daniel H. Pink discovered in Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, once basic financial needs are met—that is, once people are paid adequately for what they do—what truly motivates people is Autonomy (the need to direct their own lives), Mastery (the urge to continue to get better at something that matters) and Purpose (the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves). Get to know your people on a human level. Focus not only on knowing their strengths, but also on what their unique drivers are so you can tailor your approach for best results.

Offer a cafeteria of motivators. If tight budgets prevent you from offering the compensation that people require, consider offering other motivators. A recent survey of employees revealed incentives that can work for some people, including a flexible schedule, an opportunity to make a difference in their jobs, telecommuting, more challenging work, academic reimbursement and even having their own private office. All these are low-cost incentives to consider.

Eradicate unfairness. Fairness is treating people equitably without favoritism or bias. A sense of fairness is hardwired in us—nothing demotivates us faster than working in situations where getting ahead is not a function of what you know, but who you know. A recent study shows that the number-one reason people get sick is perceived unfairness at work. The emotional hurt associated with unfairness triggers the same neurophysiologic pathways present in physical pain. (My article "Monkey Business: Fairness in the Workplace" provides seven tips to help you promote fairness on your team.)

Does all this mean that accountability training doesn't count? On the contrary, knowing what constitutes accountability in your workplace is important; however, accountability training on its own is not the panacea for what's wrong with the engagement scores in an organization. For that, leaders need to step back and build a great place to work. They need to pay attention to a fundamental and often overlooked truth about people: How people feel profoundly affects whether or not they will go the extra mile for you.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations.

Thanks to Bruna Martinuzzi / OpenForum / American Express Company