Problem Solving May Be Easier Than We Believe

creative-problem-solving-technique-become-the-problemEver find yourself in a tight work situation where you become anxious and tense?  No matter how unique the problem may seem, it’s likely other people have been in your shoes.

We had a chance to speak with Ravin Shah, co-CEO and Founder of QuickTapSurvey about his problem solving methods whenever he’s in a jam.

“I’m big on lists, getting things done and seeing progress,” explains Ravin. “Having a problem solving methodology has helped me tremendously.”  He suggests there are four key steps to solving business problems at a managerial level:

  1. Identify the Problem“Figure out what the real problem is,” says Ravin.  “Often we confuse symptoms of a problem with what the root cause is.”  The easiest way to do this is to keep asking yourself “why” after every statement of the problem until have gotten to the core of the issue
  2.  Loop in the Right People 

    Who are the appropriate people to speak to about the problem?  Who has the right skill set to fix it? Remember, these people can be both internal or external.

  3. Break it Down 

    Ravin does not look at a problem as one overwhelming task. Instead, he breaks it down into several small pieces and each have an order of priority.  “Let’s say there are ten things that need to get done,” explains Ravin. “I would prioritize those ten based on 1) what is the most important thing to get solved and 2) what can we do quickly to move us forward.”  The items that usually end up at the top of the list are the ones that are directly affecting your customers.

  4. Follow Due Diligence 

    Due diligence means whatever steps you have put in place to solve the problem, make sure you see resolution to completion.  Do not simply assume that it is taken care of because you have assigned the appropriate people with their tasks.  Follow up with them and stay on top of their progress, especially in high pressure situations.    That being said, you need to find a balance and make sure the people involved know you have faith in their abilities.

Overall, the ability to solve problems in high pressure situations demands that you stay calm and focused, rather than anxious and scattered.

“When time is of the essence, we focus on quick wins by knocking out smaller tasks that help solve the bigger problem,” explains Ravin. “This is one way to stay calm because it is much less daunting.”

Lastly, Ravin warns not to make quick decisions under pressure.  If you remain patient, you will reap the rewards of your due diligence in the long term.

 

Becoming a Better Leader Tomorrow than you are Today

resized-leadership-pinnedWhether you are looking at your own leadership style, or that of an employees’, we all need a little facelift sometimes.

Guy Beaudin, Senior Partner at RHR International, gave us some insight to some key leadership characteristics.

As it turns out, leadership isn’t as black and white as some of us are lead to believe, “I think it’s a lot more difficult and complex than most people really think it is”, explains Guy, “[Leadership] requires a broad array of skills: intellectual skills, interpersonal skills, sensitivity to others, awareness of your own limitations.”  Guy emphasizes the need for humility in leaders, “There are so many models of leadership out there that are about being a strong assertive, extroverted individual”, says Guy, “there’s more diversity to the kinds of leaders that can be successful and within that range, humility for me is much more of an important characteristic than I would have previously considered”.

In addition, Guy emphasizes the importance of IQ & EQ.  When asked to pick a single important common characteristics of good leaders, Guy stated: “it’s a little controversial, but if you only have one piece of data to determine someone’s likelihood of success or failure in that role, that person’s cognitive abilities – IQ – is the best single predictor.  I don’t mean intelligence on it’s own is sufficient, but that is an important factor”.  Furthermore, when it came down to singling out one EQ trait, Guy focused on self-awareness.  “EQ is honestly defined in any number of ways, but if I had to think of the key dimensions, I think for me to differentiate between good leaders and great leaders, I would focus on self-awareness”, explains Guy, “[it means] real understanding of how you come across to others and what other people need from you. I think that’s important for them to be able to do their best work”.

When asked what the most common mistake Guy sees leaders make, he talks about evolution and the common phrase “what got you here won’t get you there”.  “Whatever skills you have employed to get your company to this point are probably not the same skills you’re going to need to get to the next level”, explains Guy, “I think with smaller organizations, they tend to miss that inflection point. Once their company has gotten to a certain size, scope or complexity, they are going to have to do things differently to continue to grow that company”.  Guy was then asked his advice for leaders who are looking to continue to grow their company and how they can stay innovative and relevant.  “Stay curious and open to feedback. If you can remain open and flexible, you’ll remain open to innovation and new ideas,” says Guy, “I think the greatest risk is to get cemented and only look at your business and not the world around it”

Guy believes that leadership is mostly contextual, that there’s no preconceived model of what a good leader looks like.  There’s a stereotype that people are either born leaders, or they are not.  Guy strongly disagrees with this notion. “I would say that leadership can be taught, can be learned.  Some people think you’re either a leader or you’re not. I think that’s not true. If you have curiosity, self awareness and humility, I think you can become a better leader tomorrow than you are today.”

The 5 Benefits Most requested by Employees of Tech Startups in the GTA & KW Corridor

Recently, many AceTech Ontario members participated in a survey conducted by Brightlights.  Brightlights provides recruiting services for growth technology companies. They focus on: 1) Leadership positions (Team Leader to C-level) where experience, cultural fit and proven leadership are a must. 2) Senior level technical roles including Senior Developers and Engineers, Architects, Sales Engineers, Product and Project Managers and Product Marketing professionals, etc. These are roles where strong technical and interpersonal are key.

The survey they conducted was focused around employee benefits and is titled: The 5 Benefits Most requested by Employees of Tech Startups in the GTA & KW Corridor

 

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To view the full survey, please click here

To view the Brightlights Employee Benefits Costs Worksheet click here.

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How to Keep your Teams Innovative

ping pongEver find that in today’s world, where information is at the tips of your fingers, there is no such thing as a new idea, only adaptations?

Well, if that’s true, how are we supposed to keep our teams innovative and our companies fresh?

As it turns our, keeping a bit of a start up mentality could be the trick.

EventMobi is an event technology platform that helps all varieties of event planners be successful.  Bob & Bijan Vaez, EventMobi’s Co-Founders started the company in 2009 and since then it has grown exponentially and has continued to stay top of it’s game.

Bijan, who is also the CTO of EventMobi and heads the engineering, product and design teams, gave AceTech Ontario a little insight as to how they continue to stay innovative.

One of the key pieces is how you identify responsibilities. “You need to create very loose boundaries where people are comfortable flexing in and out. You do not want to create a rigid box for employees where if they need to step outside of it, they pass the buck and say ‘sorry, this is not my responsibility’,” says Bijan, “but if you create it too soft, they never really know what their job is”. Improperly clarifying responsibilities also becomes a problem for performance discussions when employees do not know what their job functions are day to day.

One way EventMobi enables this, is by setting up a team structure as mini-startups within the department. Each team is setup with the resources of a small start. A dedicated product manager (think mini CEO), designer, tech lead (mini CTO) & 3-5 crossfunctional engineers. The idea behind this is that in start ups, everyone has their expertise, but no one in a start up says “these are my boundaries of what I do and these are the only things I do”. The mission is clear in a small team, they have accountability to each other, they are autonomous and they can choose the best processes for them to move fast & be as innovative as they can be. “We try to create the groups as small as we can so that they can all feel like part of the team and they all know what their mission is,” says Bijan, “they all bring their expertise together and do the work together.  It has given them a lot of experience and exposure outside of what they normally would do day to day and they really thrive in that environment.”

Another way EventMobi feeds their innovation cycle is by letting their employee’s passions be their driving force for work. To avoid keeping people in a box and keeping that start up mentality, EventMobi has established functional groups outside of their normally cross-functional teams, focused around major areas of innovation (i.e. design thinking, devops, javascript architecture, etc), known as “Chapters”.  They are monthly or bi-weekly meetings & workshops attended by at least one person from each team, and led by the most passionate employees in that subject matter. These are individuals that have such deep passion around the subject matter where they will be spending time continuously learning and pursuing this knowledge outside of work hours for their own personal enjoyment. EventMobi nurtures the drive of these employees into innovation by appointing these individuals as Chapter Leads. These completely functional and likely not work related discussions facilitate knowledge sharing, excitement around innovation, and allows for a centralized way to push innovation into many teams. Each team member is able to go back to their team and apply the ideas brought forth in these meetings, and utilize the help of the Chapter Lead if needed to better deploy these ideas & practices. “Even though everyone is working on their day to day”, says Bijan, “Now we are getting a slew of new innovative ideas around new technology, new tools, new way of thinking about things and challenging the status quo continuously. Best of all we’re not trying to force this and using our employees passions to drive that.”

Lastly, we all know start ups have certain cultural traditions. As companies grow, some of the traditions are not kept, but a Ping-Pong or foosball table, for example, usually sticks around unused for symbolic reasons. At EventMobi, a focus is put on the culture of allowing employees to creatively go about their problem solving. You will often find Ping-Pong, lego or video game rooms being used as a way to conduct informal 1-on-1s or as a way for team members to share and talk through ideas. They have found this is a great way for employees to keep their creative juices flowing and work through any roadblocks, “I’ve seen two engineers sit there and chat through a problem while killing zombies,” laughs Bijan.

So, if you are struggling to keep your employees innovative with your technology, try revisiting your start up roots.  It could be the answer you are looking for.

Playing the Talent Lottery Might be a Bigger Risk than you Think

ingenuity_146275016When you find that sales are down, ever discover yourself banking on that quick fix? Thinking you can find the right hire that will bring up your sales?

This is actually a bigger gamble than you realize.

“Everyone believes that they are just on hire away from solving the problem”, says Andrew Ford, Founder of Sales CoPilot, “they believe it’s all about just getting that right person”.

We live in a day and age where sales are more difficult.  Today when you meet a potential client, they already know everything about the company.  You cannot read off a brochure and expect them to be happy.  They do not want to be sold; they want you to solve their problems.  30 years ago, customers needed salespeople to tell them about the company and product, but not anymore. “We need smarter sales reps, we need reps that can hang inside a business conversation with senior managers,” says Andrew, “they have to help the client better understand their current situation. And if they do that, they build credibility that can actually help the client solve problems and create value”.

This is why playing the talent lottery is a bigger risk than it has ever been before.  More due diligence is required when making that hire and we have to avoid simply throwing bodies at the problem, “they think they can identify that right guy by reading a resume, or getting a reference,” says Andrew, “and none of those things are very accurate at predicting performance”.

So how do you avoid this pitfall?

First, sit down and understand your business strategy, then from that understand what the sales strategy needs to be.  This will help formulate a plan of how your sales representative is going to be successful when you make that hire.  “Strategy dictates structure”, says Andrew, “this will make it a lot easier to figure out what the right structure is for the sales team and then you can then determine what kind of talent you need”.

Andrew lists three key ingredients you need when building your high performing sales team:

  • Talent
  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency

“Talent is the right people.  Effectiveness is two parts: first sales skills”, says Andrew “and then what I call tribal knowledge, that’s the ingredients of where we win and why”.  Andrew continues to explain that companies tend to not gather this information very effectively.  It is usually locked away in key people’s heads, and often it is shared orally through stories and anecdotes.  The problem with passing along information orally is that it slow, and inefficiently shared: think of the game of broken telephone.  Lastly, efficiency is how you want the sales team to do the work: Territory, Opportunity, and Time Management.

Sales and sales success needs to be an organizational commitment to develop and refine a formula for success. Specifically, in the technology space “Sales should be validating what it is that you are out there doing that you think has value”, says Andrew, “it needs to be an integrated part of how you think about your business strategy and it is an extension of your strategy”.

There’s no perfect sales person.  “You have got such short windows of opportunity in the technology space”, explains Andrew, “you can’t afford to be that much of a gambler when building a team”.  So resist the urge to buy your lottery ticket for that quick fix and focus on strategy and structure first and then talent, effectiveness and efficiency to build your successful sales team.