Definition of the Problem


We must first define a problem exactly before we can describe, analyze, and explain it. We define it with the deviation statement, or name of the problem. It is important to state this name precisely because all the work to follow—all the description, analysis, and explanation we will undertake—will be directed at correcting the problem as it has been named.

However simple or complex a problem may seem at the outset, it is always worth a minute or two to ask, “Can the effect of this problem in the deviation statement be explained now?” If it can, we must back up to the point at which we can no longer explain the deviation statement. Vague or generalized deviation statements must be reworded into specific deviation statements that name one object or kind of object, and, and one malfunction or kind of malfunction for which I wish to discover and explain cause.

It is tempting to combine two or more deviations, in a single problem-solving effort or to try bunch a bevy of seemingly related problems into one overall problem. Nearly, everyone has attended meetings during which two or more distinct problems were tied ankle to ankle in a kind of problem-solving sack race. This procedure is almost always inefficient and unproductive.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Interacting with People


Direct open communication with others fosters trust, enhances information flow, and builds stronger relationships. Use following guidelines to increase such communication:

  • Let people know in a timely way about information that affects them. Respond as quickly as possible to any questions they may have.
  • Be aware of the messages you send non-verbally. Communicate a positive, open message to people by facing them and making eye contact (or using other culturally appropriate gestures when in other countries or cultures).
  • To help your employees and others develop their skills, convey positive and constructive feedback. Positive feedback lets people know what they are doing correctly and the behavior you appreciate. Constructive feedback informs people of their ineffective behavior and gives them an opportunity to compensate for or improve the behavior.
  • If conflicting or mixed messages come up in conversation, confront the discrepancy and work with the other person to clarify the misunderstanding.
  • When you receive vague messages, define the issues in concrete terms so that all parties are clear about what is being said.
  • When you need to get a point across in a direct, nonaggressive, fashion, simply say what you think and feel without putting the other person down.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Critical Incident Appraisal


Critical Incident Appraisal focuses the rater’s attention on those critical or key behaviors that make the difference between doing a job effectively and doing it ineffectively. The appraiser writes down anecdotes describing what the employee did that was especially effective or ineffective. With this approach to appraisal, specific behaviors are cited, not vaguely defined individual traits. A behavior-based appraisal should be more valid than trait-based appraisals because it is clearly more job related. It is one thing to say that an employee is “aggressive,” “imaginative,” or relaxed,” but that does not tell us anything about how well the job is being done. Critical incidents, with their focus on behaviors, judge performance rather than personalities.

The strength of the critical incident method is that it looks at behaviors. Additionally, a list of critical incidents on a given employee provides a rich set of examples from which employees can be shown which of their behaviors are desirable and which ones call for improvement. In drawbacks are basically that: 1) appraisers are required to regularly write these incidents down, and doing this on a daily or weekly basis for all employees is time-consuming and burdensome for supervisors; and 2) critical incidents suffer from the same comparison problem found in essays—mainly, they do not lend themselves easily to quantification. Therefore the comparison and ranking of employees may be difficult.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Target Marketing & Mass Marketing


A marketing strategy that specifies particular target customers is called ‘target marketing’ to distinguish it from ‘mass marketing.” Target marketing says that a marketing mix is tailored to fit some specific target customers. In contrast, mass marketing—the typical production-oriented approach—vaguely aims at “everyone” with the same marketing mix. Mass marketing assumes that everyone is the same—and considers everyone a potential customer. It may help to think of target marketing as the “rifle approach” and mass marketing as the “shotgun approach.”

Commonly used terms can be confusing. The term mass marketing and mass marketers do not mean the same thing. Far from it, mass marketing means trying to sell to “everyone.” Mass marketers aim at clearly defined target markets. The confusion with mass marketing occurs because their target markets usually are large and spread out.

Target marketing is not limited to small market segments—only to fairly homogeneous ones. A very large market—even what is sometimes called the “mass market” –may be fairly homogeneous, and a target marketer will deliberately aim at it.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Learn the Language


If you are going to spend a year or more in a country—definitely, absolutely, do your utmost to learn the language. It will make a tremendous difference to your state of mind. Ability to understand the local language seems to play a major role in adjustment to culture shock and personal success in a foreign world.

It is not clear why speaking the language makes such a big difference, but it does. Obviously it makes getting around a lot easier. In hundreds of moments of struggling to get something done, from shopping to household repairs to getting directions, just knowing some of the language removes huge portions of aggravation and helps you gain a sense of safety and self-assurance. When people around you are babbling away in a foreign language, you become vaguely insecure and feel isolated. Knowing the language gives you a sense of mastery in situations where you may feel vulnerable.

The more process of learning the language gets you more in tune with the culture, and breaks the ice, putting you in the right frame of mind to adjust. In some places, speaking a second language is important to enhance your image as a well-bred, educated person—you may be somewhat better off if the language you learn is not the language spoken in the country.

The frequent traveler should think about learning languages too, of course, depending on the amount of travel and bilingualism of the business community. Speaking a language fluently can permit you to attain levels of relationship and business advantage unattainably by someone who doesn’t.

Fluency in the language will allow the traveler into otherwise exclusive realms of local business. The process of negotiation often depends on behind-the-scenes information flow.

Learning the language is no substitute for learning the culture and appropriate behavior. People who are fluent in a language but not sensitive to the culture can make worse mistakes, perhaps because the local experts more of them. And there are dangers in speaking a language if you are not competent in it. Not knowing the nuances of words or being careless with intonations, you might say things you don’t mean. In most languages, some common words have extremely vulgar meanings if pronounced incorrectly. Or you may hear unintended meanings.

If you don’t speak the language well, it is best to reveal that you have made the effort to learn—but then rely on English or an interpreter. Experts advise that is generally best to speak the language for socializing and daily activities, but not when transacting business. As a rule of thumb, if you are not fluent and your foreign counterpart does not speak fluent English, always transact business with an interpreter. Traders who meet frequently with foreigners say that while English is the business language around the world, buyers are far more comfortable talking in their native language, and even if they can speak English, it is often better to have an interpreter. They don’t have to struggle so hard, and it puts them at ease.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Customer Needs’ Gap


Not every customer has explicitly defined the gap between his or her present state and desired state. Defining the gap requires converting vaguely defined problems into clear statements of need. The more concrete and explicit the statement, the more likely is to recognize the need to take action.

Prepare for a customer call by speculating about the customer’s probable needs. You can often identify the general needs your potential customers may have before beginning formal discussions with them. This general understanding of problems can then be a springboard for a more detailed exploration of needs.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Policy Structures


One of the major purposes of organizations is to relate and coordinate individuals and groups separated by task and space. The authority structure helps accomplish this by defining, at least partially, who can tell whom to do what, and who has the authority to make what kinds of decisions and to take what actions. This authority structure is supplemented with a structure of explicit and implicit policies, procedures, methods, and rules, which channel and direct many decisions and actions.

A policy is a statement of intent that is made to guide others in their decision making without being so specific as to specify decisions. Theoratically, the top executives of any company, but especially the larger ones, necessarily determine policies that help guide the behavior of people within the organization. However, in fact, people at lower levels often have an important hand in fashioning policy. This happens in two ways. First, people at lower levels make recommendations to those at upper levels. Second, people in upper levels sometimes formalize policies to fit behavior patterns that have already emerged at lower levels. In the latter case, policy follows practice.

A frequent characteristic of policy statements is that they are vague enough to permit managers to select among specific decesions, depending upon the managers’ view of the specific conditions surrounding the decision.

In addition to policies, certain procedures and methods are usually designed to facilitate work. For example, there may be eight discrete steps in a particular work process, and a sequence established for each step. Step three might involve notifying two departments that the first two steps are completed. Such a suggested process is called a procedure. It tells people when they should do something. How they do it is the method they use. The method is formally prescribed in some cases and is left to the operant’s discretion in others. Anyone who fails to follow the prescribed procedures and methods is usually open to censure if problems result. Yet much of life in organizations involves evading required procedures and methods, or redesigning them, and again the reasons are usually people-problems rather than errors in the logic of the design of the procedures and methods.

Most organizations have rules and regulations to supplement policies, procedures, and methods. Rules and regulations say what one must do or not do and often specify penalties for infractions. “No one is to punch another’s third card” is an example. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It says “no one,” period.

So there is a sliding scale from guides (policies) to suggestions (procedures) to requirements (rules and regulations). Nearly all organizations include the entire svcale, but different companies may vary widely in their relative emphasis upon various parts of the scale. At the less specific end of the scale, there is more freedom but less certainty, and the reverse is true of the more specific end. Knowing where a particular organization stands on the scale is thus important in understanding how it functions.

Furthermore, there is wide variability between organizational units (eg., research division versus accounting department) in the reliance placed upon or the attention paid to the policy structure.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Is this Meeting Genuinely Necessary?


A “maybe” response indicates only limited need for the meeting and shows that further thought is required. Only a “yes” is a positive justification for calling a meeting.

 

The same question needs to be asked before attending a meeting. If the meeting is not necessary and you can avoid it, do so. If you have to attend, try to use the time to shorten your workload to compensate for the lost hours.

 

Many managers find it hard to judge if a meeting is needed or superfluous. There are some guidelines:

1.    Is the meeting being called to exchange information or viewpoints?

a.       If the meeting is to discuss viewpoints, it is probably a necessary conference. If the meeting is strictly to distribute information, the meeting is probably unnecessary. Meetings are most effective when used to find solutions or resolutions to conflicts. A meeting held for the sole purpose of imparting information had better have some pretty spectacular revelations. This in all likelihood should be classed as an inspirational conference, because important news is seldom passed along without editorializing or explanations. Inspirational meetings are difficult to conduct, because they are based on emotion, but there are times when the troops need boosting or, conversely, deflating.

b.      Training meetings appear to be an exception to the don’t-meet-to-exchange-information concept. They are not. Distributing information in advance allows the meeting to be used for developing concepts and testing individual understanding. This is a better use of everyone’s time. This is not to downplay the importance of instructional sessions. It is just to set this category of communications apart from other meetings.

c.       Information, facts, figures, sales data, market intelligence, production numbers, personnel reviews, and more, can be disseminated more effectively by memo than meeting. Chances are, the memo is going to be written anyway passed out at the meeting. Distributing a memo is okay if there is other business on hand, but calling a meeting solely as a means of handing paper to other managers is inappropriate.

d.      Meetings are at their best when used to generate expressions of viewpoints or concepts, or to develop a policy.

e.       Meetings are at their worst when used to check individual progress on various projects. There are few more mind-dulling experiences than to sit at a conference table and hear about the status of tasks that are not even remotely connected with yours. These sections often turn into excuse contests with rambling dissertations on the reasons behind delays or problems.

f.        Meetings are generally not an efficient way to dispense information. If this is the primary reason for the gathering, then rethink the need for convening.

2.    Can one-on-one conversations or even one-on-two conversations accomplish what needs to be done? Or is a larger group necessary?

a.       There’s a difference between a meeting and a conversation between two or three people. A conversation is relaxed, informal, and rarely has the time constraints posed by a meeting. Those present sense the difference.

b.      Decisions are rarely made in conversations. In fact, some managers and executives become agitated when two or three members of a committee converse and come to a consensus without the others present. This nervousness is not assuaged by a follow-up memo which details the conversation or even by the fact that the decision may be nothing more than a unified front, in no way binding upon the group.

c.       If conversation will suffice to avoid another meeting, then have the talk. Inform the other committee members or interested parties. Those smart enough to advance in management will welcome one less meeting on their schedule.

3.    Is this meeting being called because someone or some group doesn’t have enough to do? It happens all the time. Workloads in an organization can be unbalanced. This week, Production has more than it can handle, while Sales is costing. One way to fill the day for Sales is to call a meeting. This is more common than anyone dares admit.

4.    Is the agenda for the called-meeting vague? Or worse, is there no agenda at all?

a.       As a basic rule of meeting skill, do not go to a meeting where there is no agenda. If you have to attend, go prepared for the worst.

b.      If a manager cannot express on paper what the meeting is about, there probably shouldn’t be a meeting at all.

c.       If you are asked to a meeting and no agenda is given to you in advance, find the person who called the meeting and ask for one. If it is verbal, take notes.

d.      Many times, the person discovers he or she has vague ideas about why the meeting is needed. This experience can benefit both of you.

5.    Is there any reason to meet other than the fact that your group has a set, regular, once-a-week mandatory meeting? Top management often wants certain employees to get together each and every week, to discuss items of importance, or to match timing, balance workloads, and do ongoing, necessary house-keeping.

a.       After a few sessions, these meetings fall into a routine and small talk dominates.

b.      The day before, the manager should do a little checking. Is there actually a need to convene? Could a more limited gathering accomplish the same thing? Would a memo suffice? Could matters be handled by a phone call? If the answer is yes, skip the meeting.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

The Fudges of Brainstorming


The term brainstorming has passed into common English usage. Invented by Alex Osborn, a versatile advertising executive, brainstorming has come now to mean freewheeling discussion.

The principles of brainstorming as a technique are deceptively simple:

  1. All evaluative or critical comments are taboo during the phase of generating ideas or solutions.
  2. The attempt is to generate a very large number of ideas or solutions. The logic is that at least a small proportion of ideas tend to be high quality that are both novel and useful, so that the larger the number of ideas generated the larger may be the number of quality ideas that are produced.
  3. Emphasize novelty, not correctness or appropriateness. The stranger the ideas solutions, the better. The reason is that strange ideas demolish existing mental frames and liberate the mind to generate and accept unconventional ideas.
  4. Participants in a brainstorm are encouraged to build on each other’s ideas.

Typically, in a brainstorm, a specific problem is first introduced. The problem must be quite specific, and capable of many alternative solutions. Thus, one cannot brainstorm on a vague problem like how to increase productivity, now on a problem with one right answer, such as what was worker productivity in the plant last month But how to increase worker productivity by 30% in a particular is quite appropriate for brainstorming. Gnenerally, brainstorming problems are preceded by how to …

After the problem is stated and clarified, the brainstorm begins.Each group member gives one . . . .

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact Asif J. Mir.