One key rule for successful business interactions: be prepared!

Business Meeting Preparation

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

 Benjamin Franklin, author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat (1706-1790)

Abstract:

In sport, music, theater or many other disciplines, it is obvious that success strongly depends on the time spent preparing for the event itself. With no surprise, the same rule applies to business. In order to increase your chance of success, an efficient preparation should always include the following four components: Objective setting,  a thorough study of the Context for the expected event, Anticipation of what could go wrong and Rehearsal (OsCAR).

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): OsCAR for Successful Business Interactions

DELTANOMIX LEADERSYNDROME - OsCAR Business Interactions

Concept:

Looking at the players selected for the Olympic games or at the members of any well-known philharmonic orchestra, it is with no doubt that those high performers could reach this level of professionalism only through long hours of training, rehearsing and preparation. It is also obvious that their successes and performance are directly linked to the intensity and quality of their preparation work. In the same way, in an always more competitive business environment, becoming a champion requires a similar level of preparation, be it for giving or taking an interview, running a presentation in front of your board and your company shareholders, giving a demo to a strategic customer, negotiating a deal with a prospect, handling a difficult discussion with one of your team members, managing the triggering of your Business Continuity Plan during a crisis  and so on…

But more concretely, what does a preparation exercise bring to the table in the context of business interactions?

Among others, the following internal and external benefits can be identified:

  • synchronizing the understanding of a situation among various staff or teams which will allow to speak from a single voice once facing your external counterparts,
  • sharing/getting knowledge and increasing the subject matter expertise among the employees involved in the preparation meeting which will benefit your audience when running the real meeting,
  • getting exposed to various view points and learning to constructively debate and position within a group focusing on a common goal,
  • increasing the perception of professionalism for your contact when going through the official meeting or event,
  • gaining self-confidence and a feeling of control over the situation to come which will in return allow to decrease your level of stress and anxiety,
  •  bringing a level of comfort with the topic to discuss which will help to free up some cognitive resources to focus your attention on your interlocutor by improving your active listening ability…

What are the main rules for a powerful preparation?

  • Be conscious that running a preparation exercise is time-consuming, especially for key business events with many stakeholders involved. Make sure to book the necessary time in the schedule of all relevant parties long enough in advance, specifying the agenda for the preparation meeting using the OsCAR framework below,
  • The group of staff attending a preparation meeting may be larger than the group expected to join the real event. This mainly depends on the type of knowledge or information required to grasp the context of the event,
  • The recommended framework for a preparation meeting consists in four elements:
    1. Objective setting:
      • What do you want to achieve? (eg: convey a specific message during a presentation, get access to a decision-maker for a deal, understand the true motivation for a candidate to join your company…)
      • How will you specifically measure whether you have reached your goal? (eg: get a clear budget figure from your counterpart during  the meeting, get a specific appointment set as a next step, have your audience being able to summarize your message when asked…)
    2. Context study and understanding:
      • Who is your audience / interlocutor / counterpart? (background, existing relationship, area of expertise, personal interests, history, level of authority, level of influence…)
      • Why are they joining the meeting / presentation and what do they expect from it?
      • In case of meeting with a client or a prospect, what is the company business? What are their objectives?
      • What are the latest news about this company?
      • Who is their main competitors and how do they differentiate?
      • In case of existing relationship with your interlocutors, are they supporter, neutral or detractors? Are they satisfied with the product and related services?
      • What type of relationship do they entertain with the rest of your ecosystem (competition, providers…)?
      • You may add as many questions as necessary to get the best possible picture and understanding of the situation (or of the topic to present)…
    3. Anticipation of what could derail the course of the event:
      • List what could go wrong and review what the action course should be.
      • Which objections could you expect? How to handle those?
      • Review the 5 most realistic what-if scenario and prepare alternatives or answers.
    4. Rehearsal:
      • before starting your rehearsal, clarify the logistics (attendee list on your side, flow of the event, owner of the material preparation, set-up of the meeting room – power? internet? projector? microphone? … -)
      • depending on the type of event (one-on-one meeting, internal team presentation, client meeting, deal negotiation, external roadshow and demo…), you can of course use various methods for rehearsing: from standing alone in front of your mirror, to role-playing with colleagues or to go for a complete dry-run in the exact location of the event…
      • Obviously, the closer you get from the real conditions, the better!

Despite a thorough OsCAR preparation, things rarely go as per plan. Nonetheless, it is exactly because you have prepared with the relevant stakeholders that you will be in a better position to tackle any unexpected challenges. Being prepared will allow you to approach more openly, confidently and creatively those unavoidable surprises.

Practice:

  • exercise 1: Over the past 6 months, select the most important internal and external business interactions you had run and that had ended up successfully.
    • Describe what those two events were about and how it went?
    • How much have you prepared for each of those events?
    • What were the objectives and measure of success?
    • What was your level of stress and confidence when running each event?
    • Which image have you given to your interlocutor? How satisfied are you with it?
    • Could the outcome have been better? Why and how?
    • Could the result have been worse? Why and how?
    • If you had to do it again, what would you do differently in preparing for those events?
  • exercise 2: Over the past 6 months, select the most important internal and external business interactions you had run and that had failed.
    • Describe what those two events were about and how it went?
    • How much have you prepared for each of those events?
    • What were the objectives and measure of success?
    • What was your level of stress and confidence when running each event?
    • Which image have you given to your interlocutor? How satisfied are you with it?
    • Could the outcome have been better? Why and how?
    • Could the result have been worse? Why and how?
    • If you had to do it again, what would you do differently in preparing for those events?
  • exercise 3: Pick from your current to-do list the next key internal and external business interactions you will have to run. Use the OsCAR framework to prepare for those two interactions. Once the events are over, answer the same questions as the two exercises here above and compare the results. What do you conclude? Which actions will you take as a next step?

So What?

The art of running successful business interactions (from internal one-on-one discussions on one side of the spectrum to external strategic executive meetings and presentations on the other side) heavily relies on the science of preparation. While preparing allows you to gather the necessary information to get a clear picture on the situation, boost your knowledge and understanding of the topic at stake, share and discuss your views with the relevant internal stakeholders, it also gives you a better grip on what can be expected or what can go wrong during the course of the real event, thus making you ready to face the unexpected. Efficient preparation meetings can be based on a four-step approach (OsCAR): 1. confirm your goal and related measure of success (Objective setting) 2. study and analyze the situation and the background using all relevant sources and resources (Context) 3. identify the risks, objections or issues that can arise (Anticipation)  4. train through dry-run or role playing once the logistics is confirmed (Rehearsal). Using the OsCAR preparation framework should give you the peace of mind to join confidently any business interactions as well as provide you with the necessary resources to cope with the various challenges arising as your event progresses.

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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Effective Decision-Making: when to engage the team (or not)?

Decision_Making_Styles

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

 in “Good to Great” from Jim Collins, American business consultant, author, and lecturer on the subject of company sustainability and growth (born 1958)

Abstract:

Several times a day, managers have to take decisions that will potentially impact or benefit their business, customers or teams… What is the best approach between a top-down decision-making approach and a bottom-up one? What are the various decision-making approaches and which one to favor for which situation? This post introduces the four main decision-making methods that shift the balance of the decision control between the leader and to their teams: the unilateral style, the consultative style, the democratic style and the consensus style. This posts also presents the related best practices on how and when to use those styles, depending on the analysis of some key criteria related to the situation at hands (like urgency, maturity of the team, expertise required, fostering engagement).

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Decision-Making Styles: from Leader to Team

DELTANOMIX LEADERSYNDROME - Decision-Making

Concept:

Because, in a business world, most of the decisions that are taken will impact the business itself and potentially, through ripple or direct effect, the team morale and engagement, it is key for managers to define and follow decision-making practices that will ensure that the best possible decisions for the business and for the teams are taken for any given situation and that the team fully supports those decisions once taken.

From our observations, efficient managers have often developed the following decision-making habits:

  • They assess first if it is a situation where they need to be involved personally or where they can fully delegate the decision-making process to a trusted employee, relying on the existing reporting structure (in that latter case, it is recommended that the manager trains his employees on the content of this post prior to the decision-making delegation) ,
  • In case they need to be involved personally in the decision-making process, they know the panel of decision-making types that they can use with their relative benefits and risks,
  • They understand which decision-making style to pick through the identification of key factors linked to the situation they want to address (such as existing data and facts at hands, urgency, expertise required, operation frame and constraints, what is negotiable and what is not, potential business impact and team impact…)
  • They are aware of the main decision-making biases and other heuristics,
  • They communicate clearly to their team on the above before initiating the decision-making process,
  • They ensure the support and commitment of all the team members once the decision is taken (regardless of the approach chosen)
  • They review periodically, during the execution, the outcomes of the decision and assess the level of divergence between the expected results and the reality, often using a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach. They do not hesitate to recognize possible decision errors early enough and bring the team back at the decision table for necessary adjustments.
  • They do not shy away from their responsibilities as team leaders on the outcome of the decision, regardless of the method chosen and the decision itself

In order to help managers navigate this apparent complexity, below is a summary of the four main decision-making styles with their respective descriptions, the recommendation when to use them and their related risks. Those decision-making styles allows the leader or the team to have more or less direct control on the decision itself. Note that the scope covered here is for decisions involving or impacting a full team; process and comments for individual decision-making where a single employee is concerned  would obviously differ.

  1. “Unilateral” or “Directive” decision-making style
    • Description:
      • the manager takes the decision unilaterally and communicates it to the team
      • this style gives the full control of the decision to the manager and usually leaves no space for negotiation.
      • It is frequently used by managers with a “leader control”-oriented leadership style
    • When to use:
      • to use for emergency cases under time pressure but only when the manager possesses the necessary expertise or experience
      • to use on time sensitive issues with a junior team lacking experience or knowledge (or under unstable conditions) and when the business at stake is high
      • to use when it is a non-negotiable top-down decision where frame and context cannot be openly shared
    • Risks and recommendation:
      • beware of the “hero leader” syndrome: the exclusive use of this approach by a manager will not support the team development and will quickly create frustration or disengagement from the team members.
      • probability of having team members not committing or supporting the decision is high.
      • Therefore, once the decision is taken and case closed, it is recommended that the manager holds a debrief session with the team. Topics to cover are: explanations on how the manager came to that decision, open constructive feedbacks from the team, lessons learned on what worked and what could have been better and the steps for the team to learn how to efficiently contribute to similar situations in the future. Obviously, those recommendations do not apply in case of a non-negotiable top-down decision where individual follow-up meeting would then be more appropriate.
      • Prior to announcing his decision – and if not time-sensitive -, the manager can “test” it with his trusted partners (manager, peers, HR…) to see their reactions and help preparing answers to possible objections or to seek inputs on how to generate higher support for the team
  2. “Consultative” decision-making style
    • Description:
    • When to use:
      • to use when the manager needs specific expertise that he does not have to decide
      • to use instead of consensus decision-making when time is of an essence
      • to use to initiate further engagement of an already experimented team that is though not yet mature enough for a consensus approach
    • Risks and recommendation:
      • if the manager does not explain clearly that he his the ultimate owner of the decision, he may open the door to long negotiations and debates that will dilute his objective of gathering valuable inputs for a quality decision.
      • Quality of inputs may be low if objective and frame are not set clearly (what needs to be decided upon, in which timeframe, what are the constraints – budget, resource… – and related room for negotiation…)
      • this style is efficient only if all team members are in a position to bring quality inputs, else the manager may create frustration to the less experimented people from the team who can then get disengaged
      • for staff whose inputs seem to have had no influence on the final decision, commitment to support the decision may decrease
      • recommendation is consequently, as a first step, to have the manager reminding clearly to the team that he is the owner of the final decision based on the various individual inputs and what the framework for the decision is.
      • Also, the final decision will have to be provided in details to the team accompanied with explanations on how each input has helped to model the decision (or the reason why some inputs have been discarded) in order to ensure full support on the execution (individual meeting may be required)
  3. “Majority vote” or “democratic” decision-making style
    • Description:
      • the team members and manager provide several alternatives and the final decision will be based on the result of a vote with pre-defined parameters.
      • this method shifts the power balance to the team since the final decision may completely differ from the one proposed by the manager.
      • It is mainly used by managers with an “employee control”-oriented leadership style .
    • When to use:
      • to use with a team large and mature enough to conclude on several quality proposals as the range of possible choices for the vote and to generate active participation among the team members on a specific matter
    • Risks and recommendation:
      • if the team is not large enough, this method can not apply.
      • if the team is not mature enough or has not got the necessary experience, identifying the viable options may take a considerable amount of time and discussions. Also the manager needs to be comfortable with all ideas and with the fact that his own idea may not be picked. If the manager ends-up with poor quality proposals, he may have to fall back to a consultative or directive approach which will result in higher frustration for both the team members and their manager.
      • if the voting parameters are unclear (majority percentage, weight of the manager…) result may create frustration and disengagement.
      • staff whose idea does not win may have difficulties or feel frustration to work on executing the idea of somebody else.
      • if the voting is done openly, followers will be inclined to vote for the same choice as their reference colleague or manager, biasing the result
      • Thus, managers applying the majority voting method should first make sure that the team has reached the sufficient maturity to bring on the voting table, in a timely manner, viable options that everyone will be comfortable supporting once the vote is made. The manager should also clarify explicitly the constraints / framework to get the various options designed and proposed. Each participant should be given sufficient time to present his proposal(s) with related benefits and risks and process to select options that will be submitted to vote should be clear.
      • Besides, the voting method should be presented in details by the manager in order to avoid any misunderstanding (open or closed vote, required majority, weight on the manager’s vote or not, second vote in case of equality…).
  4. “Consensus” decision-making styles
    • Description:
      • All team members with their manager have to build together a decision that they agree to support without any exception.
      • This approach lets the team build and support the decision with almost full autonomy
      • It is commonly used by managers with an “employee control”-oriented leadership style leading a team that has reached maturity.
    • When to use:
      • to use with a mature team of experts to create further commitment and engagement
    • Risks and recommendation:
      • if the team has not yet reached a sufficient maturity, severe conflicts can arise or debates may go too emotional.
      • for sensitive topics, the manager will have to turn into a professional moderator else consensus may never be reached. Discussions and debates may turn hot but have to stay constructive…
      • if the manager engages himself too much, he loses the position of neutral moderator which may generate frustration among the contributing team members,
      • beware of followers who will simply align to their reference colleague or to the manager view; this can biase the final decision through “false consensus”
      • all employees will have to comply and support the decision when consensus is reached although they may have prefered a slightly different option. It is the role of the manager to follow-up and to make sure that the decision remains supported at anytime (including by himself)
      • Recommendations for managers are here: to make sure that the decision framework has been clearly set, to dedicate a space to each individual to express and share their views and ideas openly (preventing “talkers” to monopolize the debate, “manipulators” to over-influence the followers and followers to silently align even if not convinced). Debates may be colorful but discussion must remain constructive and respectful of every participant at any time; those basic rules must be reminded prior the opening of the discussion. Note that the support of an external moderator may be required if the manager cannot assume the role of neutral moderator.
      • Finally, in case a consensus cannot be reached in a predefined timeframe, it is strongly recommended that the manager has a decision-making fall-back plan ready.

Practice:

  • exercise 1: Look at the key decisions impacting your business and your teams that you have taken over the past months.
    • Which decision-making method(s) have you favored? Why?
    • To which extend have you shared the decision-making method with the team?
    • How far were the decisions supported by the team members?
    • What was the type of engagement generated to your team by the approach you’ve used?
    • If you had to do it over again, would you use the same approach? If not, what would you do differently and why?
  • exercise 2: Which decision-making style would you use in the 3 below cases? Why? What are the risks and how would you tackle them?
  1. You have just been appointed Head of Sales of your unit, coming from the Client Relationship Management team where you had spent more then 3 years. Your understanding of the local market was one of the factors that had supported your promotion to this role. Your Sales Team is composed of one veteran who has been in the industry for 10 years and selling the solution over the past 5 years, one sales manager who moved into the role last year and who had previously worked for 2 years as pre-sales in another unit of the company, a new grad who joined last year and a new staff who on-boarded  less than 6 months back coming from one of your main global competitors. It is now beginning of September and you are requested to present to your executive management by mid-November  your next year sales strategy and related execution plan…
  2. Your European-based company provides non-intrusive biometric sensors combined with easy-to-use health care apps suitable for senior people. Your company has enjoyed a steady growth and has just opened a business unit in Japan where the demographic and technology  access seems to offer a promising market. The team is composed of a sizeable sales forces, a small local R&D team in charge of proposing new solutions based on the local market specificities and a Service Desk dealing with client issues. Since the inception of the company, 5 years ago, you have built and been heading the European-based Service Desk but had looked for a career development opportunity outside of Europe. Your track record had put you on the top of the list for a promotion as Japan Head of R&D and Service Desk. And here you are. Because of the language barrier, you could not move experienced staff with you and had to build the team from scratch less than a year ago. Today, your Number One customer calls the Service Desk showing signs of extreme dissatisfaction with the way that some of the menus and data from your app are displayed in Japanese and threatens of cancelling the contract. You remember a very similar case 2 years ago when you had introduced a Russian version of your app.  The customer is waiting for a call back in the next 30 minutes…
  3. You are leading the marketing department of your business unit with a  team of three people. So far your company has given large autonomy to each business unit to manage their own marketing process leading though to inconsistent practices across the company. Your team members have all been in the company for more than 3 years showing steady performance, except one staff wo was just recruited 9 months ago based on his track record at one of your largest competitor. You are requested to appoint one team representative to work on a transversal cross-unit project aiming at defining marketing best practices for the company…
  • exercise 3: Analyze the last time you had fully delegated a decision to one of your team members.
    • Do you have clear criteria defined for a full delegation of decision (type of situation, potential business impact / team impact pre-assessment, identified team members for specific decisions, reporting structure…)?
    • Why have you decided to delegate in this specific case?
    • How far have you explained the framework and context related to the situation to decide upon (timeframe, budget, resource, information and data at hands…)
    • To which extend are the team members you’ve delegated decision authority to familiar with the concepts of this post?
    • How have you followed up upon the delegated decision?
    • What were the specific challenges?
    • What would you do differently next time you delegate a decision?

So What?

Obviously, taking wrong decisions can easily bring businesses down or destroy teams’ morale and staff engagement. Developing effective decision-making habits becomes therefore critical for managers. Assuming that the manager in charge has to personally get involved in a decision-making process, his first step should be to identify what is at stake and the context surrounding the situation: timeframe for the decision, possible impact on the business and on the team, specific experience or expertise required, available resources, team maturity, desired level of engagement of team members, risk of unsupported decision, possible decision-making biases. Then the manager should identify the most appropriate decision-making method, considering whether he prefers the team to drive the decision as much as possible or whether he prefers to be the sole owner of the final decision. As sole owner, the directive style has the merit to deliver a quick decision-making process suitable for urgent situation with high business at stake and where expertise is available at the manager level. Alternatively, if specific experience or expertise is required, the consultative approach will efficiently support the manager by helping gathering the necessary inputs from the team, increasing de facto  the involvement of the various team members. A Majority-vote style shifts the decision authority balance further to the team who then have to come and vote for a viable option with their manager. Finally, for mature teams, consensus decision-making will very probably bring the highest level of commitment and support. It is though to be noted that each one of those styles presents risks depending on the situation at hands. It is thus the responsibility of the manager to appreciate the benefits and risks of each of those decision-making styles, to keep in any case accountability over the decision agreed upon, regardless of the process used and to request for justifiable adjustments whenever required.

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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Continuous Improvement: keep pushing the Deming Wheel on the Kaizen road

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

 Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known under his pen name Mark Twain, American author and humorist (1835-1910)

Abstract:

As part of the famous “Kaizen” (改善) practices introduced to Japan post World War II to help the country reconstruction, Deming advised among others a simple technique, the Shewhart cycle, more commonly called the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, in order to improve company processes in manufacturing, engineering and business management.  Since then, the PDCA cycle (also called the Deming Wheel) has frequently been used as a management best practice to support the continuous improvement of systems and organizations. This post summarizes some recommendations for each phase of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Continuous Improvement: the Deming Wheel (PDCA)

DELTANOMIX LEADERSYNDROME - PDCA Deming Kaizen

Concept:

Because the performance of the companies we work for is highly dependent on the quality of their underlying systems (understand “system” here in its broad meaning of a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole, from a production chain to a sales process, an organization structure or a business strategy), changing those for the better becomes an obvious objective for any business leader.

Before initiating any PDCA cycle, there is a very first important step, sometimes referred as the “Observation” phase,  which simply consists in identifying what already rolls with very little waste or friction in your organization, from what partially runs but could be optimized further, from what does not work at all. Beyond performing your own study or referring to external auditors for this phase, and because improving a system for a better performance should be everyone’s responsibility, at all level of the organization, the best place to start is often with your direct teams, peers, providers and customers. Here are two simple methods to engage your teams in such a discussion:

  • Run a risk exercise with your teams: ask each of your team member to list the three main risks that they may think of for the team / department / company by answering specifically to the four points below.
    1. What is the fact or else the specific condition at the origin of the risks?
    2. What are the consequences from this fact or conditions?
    3. What is the impact for the team / department / company
    4. What are the possible risk mitigation plans? (Usually, the more specific the answers to the first three questions are, the easier it is to identify mitigation action plans)

Here is a concrete example of risk exercise:

1.  Fact or specific condition: the weekend support activities initiated 4 weeks ago for the release X are prepared individually by each implementation engineer on a customer-by-customer basis, without minimum notification timeframe being requested to the client.

2. Consequences: 

  • in the past 4 weeks, 5 change tasks lists out of 6 regarding Release X were prepared last minute (with less than 48h notice) and were not consistent across the team (4 different task lists out of 6), making it more complex and time-consuming for the four-eye check by the Service Desk,
  • in total, 8 employees came on the weekend for those 6 changes in the past 4 weeks where it could have been performed by 5 engineers through scripting,
  • 1 employee has been identified at risk because of too many weekend work activities.

3. Impact: high risk of operation mishandling implying potential reputational impact and client business loss and increased cost for weekend support and four-eye check, staff turnover due to repeated weekend activities

4. possible mitigation plan: implement a process of weekend work validation at the team level, involving senior staff and Service Desk to identify common framework and intervention and possible scripting activities

  • Ask each of your staff what they think they should start / keep / stop doing, why and how? In order to get to the bottom of your staff comments and answers, make sure to ask probing questions.

Moreover, while grasping the current situation of your company and listing the priority of what you want to improve first, make sure to understand as well the interdependency between each system you analyze: you may find some simple systems with very little interactions with other parts of your company but you may also discover complex core systems, systems of systems involving various subsystems and that are highly entrenched at all level of your organization. In the latter case, keep the following two basic points in mind:

  • “Great” must not be the enemy of “Good”. If you tend to be perfectionist and face a complex system to improve, you may not be in a position to find the direct final perfect answer! And even if you do so, you may face difficulties in identifying where to start. Don’t freeze there… Even very complex systems can usually be divided in smaller subsystems; breakdown your issue in smaller problems that you can more easily grasp and tackle.  The PDCA cycle is also thought to run iteratively to improve on the long run, in a continuous manner. Go for some small incremental steps and several iterations of the cycle to ease the approach of large complex systems. You will then become “Good” to become later “Great”! It will also give you the flexibility to modify your approach if needs be.
  • “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer, poet, and pioneering aviator (1900 – 1944)

Following this first observation phase, you and your team now know what you want to improve and are all together ready to push the Deming Wheel on the Kaizen road, rolling through the four following phases: Plan, Do, Check and Act.

  • Plan: Regular Project Management best practices can easily apply here. In a nutshell, our recommendation is to “go slow to go fast”! The more you prepare your project execution upfront, the less risk you have to fail and engage in expensive corrective actions in the “Act” phase. You will find below a non-exhaustive list of items you may want to check to help preparing your plan.
    • write a simple one-liner mission statement that you can share easily
    • specify clearly and precisely the desired outcome and related deliverables
    • define the metrics, Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Measure of Success (MoS)
    • identify a unique project owner, the project team, the related stakeholders and a potential sponsor
    • precise the project milestones, beginning, end and dependencies
    • list the required resources and means to ensure project completion (resource, technology, training…)
    •  in case of structural or organizational change, anticipate and remove resistance by ensuring project buy-in (through proper communication plan, proposing a pilot step, identification of quick wins…)
  • Do: the success of your system improvement will rely as much on your planning as on the rigor of your execution. The key word here is to make sure that accountability around the various project tasks and activities is clearly defined.
    • look at your task breakdown and ensure a single person is accountable for the execution, reporting to the project owner
    • have the project owner running regular progress update review, asking for binary answer on the task execution for high-level progress overview (Is the task closed or open? If not closed, is it started?)
    • update your sponsor and stakeholders on the project progress (and faced challenges) and seek for feedback in order to confirm the direction (especially in volatile project environment), share the feedbacks with the project team and explore blocking issues for alternative solutions
    • communicate project updates accordingly to remove further resistance to change
  • Check:  This analysis phase consists in studying the obtained result. Have the goals and objectives been met? If not why? What are the root causes? This phase usually encompasses the below activities.
    • compare obtained results and project outputs against the initial specifications and project MoS defined in the “Plan” phase to evaluate the project performance
    • identify deviation from the plan, success and failures and their related root cause (the 5-Why technique can be used here to help getting to the root cause of an item in parallel to asking penetrating questions)
    • run the lessons learned from the “Plan” and “Do” phases making sure to highlight possible improvement areas for future cycle iterations
  • Act: Based on the outputs of the “Check” phase, you should be able to easily  identify what to adjust in order to get closer to the expect results defined in the “Plan” phase and to deduct the related possible corrective actions. You are then ready to start a new iteration of the PDCA cycle. But before that, also make sure to close this cycle by communicating your achievements to your sponsor, stakeholders and any other parties involved in this project as well as by providing the project team with feedbacks on their performance and by describing the next expected steps for the coming cycle (whether the same team will get involved or not in the next cycle).

Practice:

  • exercise 1: Run the risk exercise described in the “Observation” phase by yourself. Then run it as well with your direct reports. Are they common items raised by yourself and by your staff? Which priority would you set for each of the risk (High/Medium/Low)?
  • exercise 2: Run the “start/keep/stop doing” exercise described in the “Observation” phase by yourself and then with your direct reports. Answer the same questions as the ones from exercise 1.
  • exercise 3: Pick one high priority item from exercise 1 or exercise 2 and prepare on paper the “Plan” phase of the PDCA cycle. Which difficulties have you encountered? How would you overcome those difficulties, should you start the PDCA cycle in reality?

So What?

In order to improve the performance of a company, it is a common practice to improve its underlying structure, processes and other system components using a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach. Once areas of improvement have been selected and prioritized through a preliminary “Observation” phase, the PDCA technique (also known as Deming Wheel) promotes a continuous improvement approach by running iteratively through a 4-stage cycle. First, The “Plan” phase of the cycle allows to define precise goals and measures of success while requiring as well to bring all risks and dependencies upfront for a greater efficiency in execution. Then, the “Do” phase is the place for project execution, reinforced by clearly defined ownership and accountability for each activity. The “Check” phase is the time of analysis, focusing on analyzing the difference between the obtained results and the initial objectives as well as the related root cause. Finally, the “Act” phase proposes to define the corrective actions and possible adjustments based on the “Check” phase outputs and closes the cycle while preparing for the next cycle iteration. Embedding this very simple PDCA method in your company practises will help to initiate the virtuous circle of continuous improvement through small, tangible, incremental steps, leading to enhanced performance with each single iteration.

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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Three words to sustain team performance: Competency, Direction and Diversity

"十人十色" (juu nin to iro) litterally means "ten persons, ten colours" or in other words "several men, several minds" - Japanese proverb

“十人十色” (juu nin to iro) literally means “ten persons, ten colors” in Japanese or in other words “several men, several minds”

 Japanese proverb

Abstract:

How to sustain your team performance and company competitive edge in a fast-pace changing environment (propelled by technology innovations and globalization)? The secret simply resides in making sure that you on-board the right staff! But how do you define the “right staff”? You will learn in this post how to focus on three key components: the competency, the direction (read here motivation and company culture fit) and the diversity of your team members.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): 3 attributes to sustain team performance

DELTANOMIX LEADERSYNDROME - 3 attributes to sustain team performance

Concept:

Getting started by playing in the “Shape” industry…

Welcome to the “shape” industry!

The “shape” business is nothing fancy: the clients simply expect their providers to deliver in the shortest delay the largest possible monochromatic shape matching their order. For the past decade, the client demand has principally been for Square shapes with a few recent exceptions of requests for Rectangle shapes.

Let’s now have a look to four small-size companies competing in this “Shape” industry. Each company employs an equal number of staff, 7, represented in the figure below based on the following coding rule:

  • the form of the staff represents its skill set / background / competency in producing a certain shape,
  • the size of the staff shows its level of expertise for the given skill set / background / competency; in other words, the larger , the more expert the staff is,
  • the color of the shape indicates the staff “direction” where “direction” is defined by the combination of the staff motivation and its fit to the company culture and values.

All four companies have put emphasis of developing a culture of cooperation and collaboration among their staff to maximize their opportunities of winning deals: the more the staff members associate their competency and expertise by cooperating together the larger the shape they can create.

Workplace_Diversity_Shape

Now that the four competitors and their teams have been introduced, back to business!

A first prospect, pretty traditional, approaches our four companies and requires for a Square shape. Keep in mind: not only time is of an essence to win the deal, but the shape has to be as large as possible and unicolored.

Between Company A, B , C and D, which one is the best positioned to win the deal? Put another way, which company will be able to leverage its staff competency and expertise to come with the largest possible unicolor square in the shortest delays? How fast was each company to answer the request for quote from the prospect? How big is the proposed shape for each company?

While Company A and D can very quickly deliver a unicolor square shape thanks to the competency and expertise of one of their team members only, obviously they will not be in a position to compete with Company C who can easily involve all his team members to create promptly a very large square… What about Company B? It took to the team leader and his members many discussions and debates to come up with a large square shape, but they have finally made it. Too late though, Company C had already won the deal!

CompanyCB_Square

A second prospect, attracted by the new trend in the “shape” product suite, is looking for a monochromatic Rectangle shape.

Well… Here again, competitive advantage goes to Company C who can quickly mobilize all his staff to provide a large rectangle shape. Company B is not too far behind though in preparing a sizeable rectangle shape. Company A and D had some unicolor rectangle proposals as well, but, unfortunately for them, nothing to compare with Company B and C in terms of size!

CompanyC_Rectangle

CompanyB_Rectangle

A third prospect already knocks at the door. The request is again for a classical Square shape. This time, capitalizing on the first prospect experience, Company B was able to deliver a Square shape in the same timeframe and size range as Company C. Up to the customer to finalize which company to pick based on other criteria (Sales experience, company reputation, add-on services, pricing…)! Unfortunately, Company A and D remain unable to provide larger square shapes and were not even invited to the request for quote process.

After many other regular orders for square shapes (and a few other demands for rectangles), the “shape” industry sees its landscape transforming… Inspired by a generation that is looking for new shapes that would better fit the world they live in, an avantgarde customer suddenly requires a Triangle shape! Soon after, another order comes in for a Trapezoid shape while another prospect would like a rhombus…

Going back to the same question: between Company A, B , C and D, which one is the best positioned to quickly offer those unicolor shapes in a large format without putting any specific extra-investment?

Obviously, only Company B can easily answer those emerging needs by leveraging the diversity of background, competencies and expertise of its staff through proper collaboration of the various team members. This took initially a bit of time and passionate discussions  to answer these new requests but here is the result!

CompnyB_TransformingShapes

Although one can easily argues that this illustration over simplifies the much more complex reality of a company and its environment, which conclusions can we draw here?

  1. If one or several of your team members do not possess the right competencies and expertise required to perform in your industry, your competitive advantage will drop without any doubt. (Look at Company A with experts in “Circle” shapes who can simply not perform in a business focusing on “straight-line” and “hard-angled” shapes)
  2. Formatted staff in terms of skill set, expertise and view points (like in Company C) will allow you to solve efficiently recurring identified challenges with minimum adaptation of your management style. Nonetheless, in front of unexpected requests or issues, you will very probably end-up clueless and lose your competitive edge, unless you invest extra-effort in rebuilding your teams.
  3. Comparing Company B to Company C results, it appears that only a diversity of profiles (experience, skills, background, opinion and ideas) within your team will give you the breadth and depth to both answer a standard business and tackle successfully upcoming challenges or emerging needs of your business at the same time (as long as they work in the same direction). No need to write that coming with new ideas and answering the new challenges involved heated discussions and passionate debates among the various team members of Company B… The ability to leverage each team members talent efficiently requires here a flexibility in your management style.
  4. Experience from Company D clearly reveals that, regardless of how skilled and talented your staff is, if its direction (motivation and behavior) does not converge with your company mission and culture, then your ability to execute and deliver on your business challenges will be strongly hurt. This is true even for one staff walking in the wrong direction. Look at the blue triangle staff: he is not motivated in his role or his motivation does not match any more with the company goals; he is not interested in working with his peers in providing the largest possible unicolor shape. Consider as well the red triangle staff: he has valuable skills and deep domain expertise but he is not willing to collaborate with his peers although it is a behavior largely encouraged by his company as a key value for success… Both will diminish the Company D ability to tackle new opportunities.

From theoretical lessons learned to a field application.

Unless your industry and market are completely static (find me one!), you need to focus your energy on building your teams in a way that will allow them to cope efficiently with any upcoming challenges; this is a key matter if you want to maximize your chance of success and sustain your performance on the long run.

Our recommendations and experiences here are :

Step 1: Identify

  • Identify and express clearly your company mission, purpose, culture and values. In your team/department/company, which behaviors are to promote and which ones are to ban, for which goals?
  • Identify the must-have and nice-to-have skills and competencies required in each role for a maximum performance.
  • Identify for each of your staff if its skills match the ones expected for the role and, more importantly, if its direction converges or diverges from the company one.

Step 2: Adjust and/or filter out

  • Focus first on your staff with a diverging direction, regardless of their expertise. Is it a simple punctual problem of motivation that makes them diverging? Or is it a deeper ongoing problem of motivation? In that case, you will need to assess directly the situation with the concerned staff and agree on an action plan to restore motivation. If no action plan looks possible, it is best to terminate the employee at that stage before this motivation issue leads to underperformance and potentially contaminates other team members. Or else is it a problem of fitting to the company culture and its promoted values (eg not being able to participate to constructive debates by highlighting one own’s ideas and point of view in a company defending values of staff discussion for problem-solving) ? If so, you will need here an open and honest discussion with your staff. In case of incompatibility with your company culture, it is then recommended to terminate the working relationship with your employee as soon as possible.
  • Then focus on your converging team members with limited or insufficient proficiency. Assess the ability to learn in the expected area of expertise and to develop the necessary skills at a sufficient level to perform in their jobs. Build and agree on appropriate development plans (training, coaching, mentoring…) and follow-up through SMARTER goals.
  • Do not forget to review the situation with your best performers as well, the ones aligned in terms of direction and with adequate competencies and expertise, in order to identify where and how to grow them further and to keep their motivation as high as possible.

Step 3: on-board and support diversity

  • Now focus on the new staff you want to on-board within your team (be it through internal mobility or external recruitment). Take with you the information from step 1 on your company environment and promoted behaviors as well as the missing and required skills for your team.
  • Source your candidate from the broadest possible range of sources and try to ensure a maximum variety in the candidate profile (gender, age, citizenship, past experience, education, culture…) with the expected skill set.
  • During the screening process, remove any personal information to avoid being influenced by non-relevant details or other stereotype/association bias.
  • During the interview process, of course, evaluate and confirm the competencies, skills and experience of the candidate, but spend even more time in qualifying whether the work behaviors and attitudes of the candidate would match your company culture, assess thoroughly the true motivation of the candidate to take-up a new role in company. Take time to explain how your company works and what its values are and check for the candidate’s specific feedback.

Step 4: Explore and Protect diversity

  • Spend quality time with every new joiner and ask them for their candid feedbacks about your organization (process, methods…). What has surprised or shocked them when they had joined? What could be improved? What is working very well from their view? New joiners wear “external glasses” till their integration is over; you may learn a lot from them during this initial phase.
  • Support constructive discussions within your teams and accept to be challenged as well as challenge your team members on status quo. Welcome disagreement on view points and conflicts as long as conclusions are drawn on how to move forward and final decisions are respected by all team members. Foster a culture where debates are encouraged as an healthy activity to progress and improve the company competitiveness and performance.
  • When facing a challenge, solving a problem, changing a process, revamping your organization or working on any other important matter impacting your staff, be clear on the decision making process that you will adopt. Highlight what will be negotiable and what is not, explain how the final decision will be made (by majority vote within the team, by consensus between the team members, by the manager based on the team inputs, by the upper management…) and precise the expected involvement of your staff in this decision making process. When debating an important topic with your team, be the last one to give your opinion not to influence your team members in the expression of their own ideas.
  • Make sure to keep the same spirit of open discussions within your team over time by adapting your management approach and leadership style to the individual and situation and by reassessing the situation on a regular basis starting from step 1…

Practice:

  • exercise 1: Answer the following questions in order to prepare your next open position.
    • Are there any missing competencies or knowhow in your current team? Are there any profiles already over represented in the team? What are then the mandatory competencies, skills, experiences and background required for the position? What are the optional ones? Which trade-off are you ready to do in case of competing profiles?
    • What are your company culture, values and missions? Which behaviors are encouraged and supported? Which ones are prohibited? How will you assess whether your candidate embraces those values as well?
  • exercise 2:
    • Assess your existing team members competency, motivation and company culture fit by positioning them in a similar matrix than the one displayed below
    • Which actions and next steps will you take for each one of your staff?  By who will you start?

Team_Position_Matrix_Direction_Competency

  • exercise 3: Think of the last unknown large issue faced by your team.
    • Who was involved in finding the solution?
    • Which decision-making process did you follow?
    • Was the process communicated to your team members?
    • Were you satisfied with the end result?
    • What would you do differently next time?

So What?

In a constantly transforming environment, the management team has the key responsibility to build teams that will allow their companies to navigate those changes in a minimum of time and with a minimum of extra-investment. This requires to look closely at each staff to assess and validate three parameters: first, the staff competencies must be in adequacy with the role. Then, and more importantly than skills, the staff motivation must point to the same direction as the company goals and their attitudes at work must match the behaviors and values promoted by their company. And finally, the diversity of the team members must be capitalized on and protected against any ideological dictatorship. As a summary note, let’s quote an extract of “Good to Great” from Jim Collins: “The old adage “People are your most important asset” is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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Leadership and management styles: the “prêt-à-porter” collection

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

 Peter Ferdinand Drucker,  Austrian-born American writer, management consultant and university professor (1909-2005)

Abstract:

Getting the right things done can obviously be achieved in various ways:  a “command-and-control” directive approach based on the manager’s exclusive expertise, a participative team discussion leveraging on everyone’s knowledge and skills, a path shown in a convincing and energetic manner by a charismatic leader… While it is important to know the various management and leadership styles with their respective advantages and drawbacks, it is also crucial to recognize that the best leaders are often the ones who can navigate from one style to another, depending on the context.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Leadership and Management Styles

DELTANOMIX LEADERSYNDROME - Leadership and Management Styles

Concept:

The above matrix allows a simple positioning of 5 classical pairs of leadership / management styles based on two dimensions where:

  • the x-axis represents the orientation of the manager towards people (ability to communicate and establish rapport with others, strong interpersonal skills, ease of communication with various audience) or towards tasks (set distance in his interaction with others, focus on hard skills, expertise and knowledge)
  • the y-axis displays the inclination of the team leader to take a direct control on things (strong personal involvement, commitment to success and results through self-implication and direction setting for the team) or to let the control to his teams (results are targeted through the team work, manager steps back)

Note here that each pair of style represents a “at best / at worst” set of behaviors with an existing continuum between the two extremes.

  1. “Leader control / Task-oriented leader” Quadrant
    • authoritative leader:
      • is self-committed, gives instructions, structures the team activities, sets precise objectives, models behavior, defines detailed evaluation criteria, is solely accountable for decisions, uses a top-down approach
      • style is also known as directive leadership
    • coercive leader:
      • wants full-control, does not delegate, does not accept co-workers’ influence, requests tasks to be executed, builds his authority exclusively on his technical expertise, does not accept failure, always decides, does not listen
      • style is also called autocratic leadership
    • risks and recommendation:
      • while a directive leader can quickly deliver results under unstable conditions (reorganization, new team being set, business downturn), his management style may be challenged when working with senior expert team members.
      • even if the strict command-and-control approach of an autocratic manager can save the company from high-urgency crisis situation, this leadership style is proven not being sustainable on the long-term. It inhibits the employee’s will to contribute and creativity and consequently freezes the ability of the team to change and evolve for the better.
      • it is not uncommon to see authoritative or coercive managers becoming real bottlenecks if not a true risk for their companies, acting as “hero” leaders that the company can no longer run without…
  2. “Leader control / People-oriented leader” Quadrant
    • persuasive leader:
      • engages his team through cooperation, explains projects and values, stimulates, encourages, mobilizes his resources to mobilize his teams, consults for opinions and suggestions, remains accountable for every decision, is flexible on methods, supports co-workers’ initiatives and autonomy
      • if the persuasive leader is pulled at the far-extreme of the 2 axis (Leader control / People-oriented) , he will turn into what is commonly presented as a charismatic leader, knowing how to inspire and energize his teams thanks to his creativity, enthusiasm and convincing power.
    • utopian leader:
      • manages based on principles, mixes up explanations and adherence, puts his teams under pressure, does not accept differences, promotes changes for the sake of changing, sets unrealistic goals, does not take the reality into account, confuses innovation and creativity
    • risks and recommendation:
      • while a charismatic leader will excel in motivating his troupes by giving sense to their work, his followers may fall in the trap of blindly walking the path without questioning the direction, even if requested to do so.
      • a persuasive leader is also usually less interested in closely following-up project and related  activities; obviously this may come as a barrier for junior or less experienced staff who would require a closer guidance and coaching approach.
      • when becoming his at-worst version of utopian leader, the team’s motivation drastically drops while the frustration increases which quickly implies a higher staff turnover.
  3. “Employee control / Task-oriented leader” Quadrant
    • delegative leader:
      • defines the rules, the missions and the responsibilities, plans and organizes the team’s activities, sets an activity tracking system, delegates missions and responsibilities, gives autonomy, steps in only when required, fosters mutual respect through expertise
    • bureaucratic leader:
      • isolates himself from his teams, lacks involvement in transmitting decisions, does not control delegation in place, mixes up activity and result, manages activities rather than employees, communicates principally per mail, is too rigid in his definition of roles and functions, does not question the existing organization
    • risks and recommendation:
      • team respect will come from the expertise and high competency of this type of leader. People with less experience can appreciate the clarity of their duties while being guided. Nevertheless, this profile is in many cases less able to inspire his teams, to share a vision. Consequently, this style is not recommended for a team with low morale.
      • a delegative leader with high expectations tends to force the pace, expecting excellence and autonomy from all his staff. If this works well with experienced and motivated employees, this may be disturbing for less experienced staff who may start doubting about their own competencies and abilities to perform the job.
      • when turning bureaucratic, the manager will simply build a mediocre structure by retaining staff with low-ambition and by losing employees with high energy and who are eager to contribute in building further their company.
  4. “Employee control / People-oriented leader” Quadrant
    • democratic leader:
      • supports team work, offers collective projects, listens to the bottom-up flow of information, encourages teams to express freely, takes into account the individual needs, recognizes and grows his staff’s competencies, fosters a positive work environment, engages his teams in the decision-making process
      • style is also referred as participative leadership
    • affiliative leader:
      • tries to hide the reality of the hierarchy, prefers to satisfy requests or requirements in order to avoid disagreements, gives precedence to ambiance against results, is unclear on what is negotiable and what is not, systematically seeks for consensus, assists his co-workers rather than helping and growing them, avoids conflicts, does not tackle or postpone difficult or unpopular decisions
      • style is sometimes labeled as paternalistic leadership
    • risks and recommendation:
      • under stable conditions, the participative leadership style allows to build a sustainable structure through empowerment of the staff. The manager himself is no longer the key to the success of his team but the team itself becomes the key and can run with little guidance thanks to an “intrapreneurship” mindset progressively developed through coaching. On the downside, employees who expect or need clear guidance and close support may feel leaderless and lacking directions. This style is also often more time-consuming than a directive style.
      • when turning affiliative, the manager develops a nice “family” ambiance that can help to improve a team with low morale or lacking bonds but also takes the risk to decrease performance on the long run by accepting mediocrity in order to preserve the stability of the team at any cost.
  5. “In-between” Quadrant
    • adaptive leader:
      • adapts to the various situations, works in a trial-and-error approach, formalizes only what is required, negotiates objectives and methods, leverages the competencies of his teams and their complementarities, remains hands-on, grasps opportunities, looks for win/win solutions
    • opportunistic leader:
      • tries to find a compromise when time to take a decision, is not precise, always changes his behaviors, uses fake-democracy, insufficiently formalizes the practices, talks rather than acts, does not take clear commitments
    • risks and recommendation:
      • while the adaptive style is usually efficient at an individual level, it may still be perceived as confusing and lacking direction, especially if the objectives and missions are not sufficiently defined and set.
      • if falling into opportunistic behaviors, manager and team’s performances clearly decrease because of the too-many uncertainties and promises which are not executed on.

Seasoned leaders know from experience that excelling as a manager requires to navigate the above leadership styles matrix depending on the context, while staying crystal clear on what is negotiable and what is not with the team and its members. “Context” can be summarized here as the influence of the following factors:

  • organization / team missions and objectives
  • team maturity
  • team member individual situation: personality, role and responsibility, autonomy and competency for the required task or activity, motivation

Understanding those factors allows the leader to identify and use the most appropriate leadership style for a given staff at a given time for a given duty…

Practice:

  • exercise 1: To which quadrant of the leadership styles matrix do you belong to by default? Where do you position yourself on the “at best / at worst” continuum of this quadrant?
  • exercise 2: Reading the below sentences from various leaders, can you precise the management style?
  1. “You remember the training I gave on that new product we need to support, don’t you? I’d like you to be in charge of setting up and maintaining a test environment with that product for next month. You can get the support from the infrastructure team if required. Simply send me a weekly progress report and don’t hesitate to let me know if you get stuck somewhere.”
  2. “I don’t have the time for questions now. Do what I say!”
  3. “Guys, our sales funnel on this strategic product has been pretty low for the past four weeks. Can we sit all together tomorrow afternoon in order to identify what’s on the way of increasing our pipe here? Do not forget to come with your notes on the challenges or successes you had while selling this product; I’d like we share those to see what actions we could take as a next step so that everybody can meet their quota this quarter. Thanks”
  4. “Don’t ask me. Simply follow the procedure and enter a travel request in the expense system even for that half-day case you are referring to. I will log in the system in the next two days and check the details of your travel request. if I have questions, I will put a comment under the supervisor window; make sure to check it and answer. I know that you already know the cost of the train, but please attach the quote of our vendor to the request. I will then check it to approve or deny the request based on our usual expense limit.”
  • exercise 3:
    • Analyze the last interactions with your boss. Can you identify which leadership style he/she has used while interacting with you? Is always the same style being used? Is it efficient or would you prefer to be managed in a different manner?
    • In the same way, analyze your last one-on-one reviews with some of your team members as well as your last team meeting? Have you exclusively used your default management style as identified in exercise 1 or which other styles have you also used? What can you conclude? Is there anything you would do differently and why?

So What?

If obviously different management styles can be described based on the team leader’s inner nature to turn to people or to tasks and his tendency to be self-involved or to let part of the control to his staff, each profile reveals nevertheless clear advantages and drawbacks, especially when pushed to their extremes. Therefore, every manager should understand first the dominating management style they fall under by default and then learn how to adjust their behaviors based on the situation of the team and individual employee they interact with.

Answer to exercise 2: 1. delegative – 2. coercive – 3. democratic – 4. bureaucratic

Last Revision: 2015 March 24

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