Concepts and Pragmatism: Applying original thinking in a Manchester Method way

February 12, 2015

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Vikram Madineni

Applying theory to find practical solutions in professions like engineering is well-known.  The Manchester Method approach in the field of management comes from  applying the learning in one’s professional life and, leveraging trust and current experiences.

 

The Global MBA program at Manchester Business School gave me a platform to self-reflect and grow professionally, to learn the importance of communication and also to shape my future goals and ambitions

Personal Growth

I encountered many of the nuances of business management early in my professional life, but at first I had a hard time relating to decisions being made from a professional and personal perspective.

The dynamic nature of the Global MBA course work, diversity of people, need for team collaboration and applying theoretical frameworks to understand “why” and “how” part of the decisions, all have shaped my personal growth over the last 18 months.

The focus on teamwork is paramount and there is a regular need to improvise based on dynamics of team members. I have dramatically improved my group negotiation and implementation strategies. For this, I owe much to the information exchange with other students in multiple workshops across countries and partly to the self-reflection of my creativity reports.

By using theoretical frameworks of economics, marketing, operations, accounting, and leadership when answering individual assignments, I gained a better perspective of various factors influencing decisions being made within my own organization.

Manchester Method

The emphasis on “managerial oriented” application of concepts rather than academic discussions has been advocated in all courses. I got a better understanding of the principle after receiving feedback for my final marketing assignment. My thorough research was appreciated, as was required in an MBA course, but both examiners explained the importance of also arriving at practical solutions that could benefit the company.

In the induction session the program director [mention name] explained the importance of networking, teamwork, the value of working within a diverse cohort and building relationships.

This has been an enriching experience and it has helped me to manage assignments and projects in a more efficient and productive fashion.

Chartering the future – Social Responsibility

I dreamed of being an entrepreneur since I graduated from college and I got a new perspective after reading an inspirational book about the TOMS company written by Blake Mycoskie – Start Something That Matters.

I chose the book for my leadership assignment and published a post about TOMS and its CSR in Leaders We Deserve.

Around the same time, I became aware of the amazing work being undertaken by the Gates Foundation and within my own company, Ingersoll Rand, in providing opportunities to serve a social cause. I was inspired and motivated to change but also identified the lack of management experience in handling strategy or operational needs of social organizations.

Johnson. W (2012), “Disrupt Yourself”, discusses the concept of disrupting oneself to stay ahead or charting one’s profession career.

I embraced the opportunity to do the Global MBA program, and over the last year I have opportunities to learn and understand the business system at a functional and a strategic perspective. As I progressed through my learning I gained knowledge in operations excellence and insights of marketing for a non-profit organization.

I had to do considerable amount of research on TOMS for my leadership and marketing course assignments. I gained a deeper understanding and need to embrace social responsibility; and also the power of words, advertisement of conscious consumers, and era of storytelling successful companies. I discussed this concept with our company’s marketing team to rethink branding and customer connectivity. We needed a story; a story that connects with our customers and makes them our passionate advertisers.

Original Thinking Applied

One of the most enjoyable workshops and one that I can vividly recall is the Accounting workshop! Marketing, Operations, CIB and all other workshop assignments helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamentals but Accounting was very focused on one particular aspect of the organization or situation. I probably have never spent 6-8 hours analyzing just 3 sheets of papers before, the Balance Sheet, Cash Flow and Income Statements! It was a workshop in which I truly realized the potential of applying the thinking – understanding what financial ratios really mean, challenging whether the numbers are really telling a true story, what should the company or an investor be looking for.

Our group spent hours endorsing and debating each other perspective. I remember our professor being intrigued by the new metrics and ratios that we identified and how we linked them with a balanced score-card strategy. The level of analysis and realization of the importance of certain metrics all helped my immensely in applying the learnings in the business simulation course.

The business simulation course was another opportunity to bring all our learnings together for the first time and I enjoyed the challenge of managing and competing against my peers. Managing finances, building on equity, improving net margins, borrowing cheaper capital were all a result of application of deep analysis of the company’s financial statements and the market. This was also an opportunity for us to apply the concepts of strategy, adapt dynamically to market changes and build a road map for the future profitability. This gives me confidence in my ability to manage business operations in certain roles like strategic integrator, program manager in companies like TOMS or Gates Foundation.

 Leadership

My perspectives on definition of leadership have gradually changed over the course of my student and professional life. Growing up, my father was a leader for me; responsible, knowledgeable, humble and passionate. I inculcated lot of those values and owe my growth to his leadership skills as a parent. My views on leadership skills expanded during my career at Ingersoll Rand while working with my peers and my manager. We were now in a dynamically changing environment and it was educating to understand the need for a leader to find a “balance” – compassion and setting expectations, leading and allowing to lead, teaching and allowing to learn and most important of all humility and approachability.

The Manchester MBA program has expanded my horizon further on leadership traits and I was introduced to the concept of Servant Leadership. The ability to build a vision and then inspire and influence people to adopt and engage is truly a remarkable skill set. In this era of social consumerism the ability to reach out to people who are remote and influence their decisions is a differentiating attribute of the new generation leader.

The new era of conscious consumers and employees is suited in supporting and associating with a leader who is empathetic and is committed to social responsibility.

 


The boat race: Competent Jerks and loveable fools

April 6, 2014

Seven years ago, Cambridge introduced a teamwork theory into their boat-race planning. Leaders we deserve assessed whether the ideas held water

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The post in Leaders we deserve described how the theory was supposed to work.

The news was picked up by the media noting that Cambridge Coach Duncan Holland has been assisted by Mark de Rond from Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

Mark is an American strategy theorist who is tipping his toe into more behavioral waters here (I can’t get away from aquatic imagery at the moment).

Competent Jerks and loveable fools

The basic idea, by Casciano and Lobo, originated in the prestigious Harvard Business Review last June. Their work examines the relationships between managers with differing levels of competence and of likeability. Details of the work can be found in a summary by Asia one Business AsiaOne Business:

The authors studied four organisations – one which is profit-motivated, one non-profit, another large and the fourth, small. No matter which organisation they studied, they found that everybody wanted to work with a lovable star and nobody wanted to work with an incompetent jerk. They say things got more interesting when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools … surprise, surprise, the two researchers found out that the reverse was true in the four companies they analysed.

“Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships – not friendships at work, but job-oriented friendships – than is commonly acknowledged, even more important than evaluations of competence.”
The competent jerks represent an opportunity for the organisation because so much of their expertise is discounted.

Since the original post, Oxford has won four out of six contests. Today’s race is considered too close to call.


Murray breaks back in the non-medical sense

January 18, 2014

Broken RacquetA TV transmission from the Australian Open in Melbourne illustrates an important issue for effective team work, as two commentators exhibit group think and mutually reinforcing mind sets

The match took place in round three [January 18th 2014] and involved Scotland’s Andy Murray and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. UK viewers were following the fortunes of the Wimbledon champion Murray who had recently returned from back surgery.

Even before the match started, the two commentators from UK Eurosport appeared preoccupied by the possibility that Murray would be feeling the after effects of the injury. I decided to keep notes to see whether their suspicions would turn out to be justified.

Game one. Murray drops serve and touches his leg as if in pain. Murray has tended to do this throughout his career. However it induces an outburst of commentator anxiety 0-1

Game two: more injury signs detected. Commentators even more anxious. Murray breaks back. Just realized that I must explain what I mean. Murray has not broken his back, but equalizes by breaking serve. 1-1

Game three. Injury talk continues to dominate, although Murray wins serve 2-1

Game four. Easy Lopez hold. Murray makes errors each accompanied by explanations of
poor execution because of injury. 2-2

Game five. Mix of poor and good Murray Shots. Crowd v quiet. A stretch for a ball at the net looks laboured and
suggests commentators may be right. Murray looks out of sorts. Wins but Looks up at coach a lot during change over. 3-2

Game six. Commentators distracted by news of other matches. Both players up game. Lopez holds serve. Slightly less injury talk. 3-3

Game seven. I’d say it is a typical scratchy Murray match when he is not quite on song. Holds serve. 4-3

Game eight. Quick win for Lopez. 4-4

Game nine. Murray serve also powerful. 5-4. Commentators have calmed down slightly.

Game ten. Slightly patcher. Murray return length high quality persists. Lopez wins. 5-5

Game eleven. Murray comfortable at 40 love and wins. I think tiebreak coming up 6-5.
At changeover so does commentary theme.

Game twelve. Tight points. Murray stretch at net works well. Lopez errs to set point but then aces. Survives. 6-6

Tie break. No sign of back problem says commentator. Murray ups game. Wins. “Looks as if he’s stopped [his] preoccupation with his back”. Think it’s not Murray with the preoccupation7-6

Second set

The commentators are again agreeing totally. But their shared perception has now shifted. After an early service break by Murray they agree this match is now be one-sided. I began to develop a theory of team mind-set. Murray wins easily. 6-4

Third set

Even easier for Murray who extends his record of wins over Lopez to eight. 6-2

Conclusion

Murray in his post-match interview denied he had problems beyond what was to be expected after recent surgery. The commentators during the match were united in a different mindset. This was eventually dispelled. Their initial narrow focus ignored important information about court conditions, and temperature, players’ head on head records, even time of day for European viewers.

I felt that they needed to make more effort to be aware of the assumption that was dominated their thinking. This is common enough. A newer thought occurred to me. Maybe the two commentators were in a comfort zone reinforced by mutual agreement on their shared ‘map’ or basic assumption. This is a possibility for explaining the persistence of beliefs in face of contrary evidence.

If so, we have a nice example of the importance of creative and constructive challenge for effective group work. Otherwise groupthink will become increasingly inhibiting.


Querrey on the up, Murray’s career is at the crossroads

August 2, 2010

Andy Murray’s career at a tennis player is at the crossroads. Something was broke and needed fixing. He has decided to change his coaching team in a quest to advance further in the game

Andy Murray’s tennis career seems to be on hold. His goals of a winning grand slams, and maybe contesting for World No 1 seem increasingly remote. The trajectory was highlighted last week as he announced a change in training personnel. He also lost to big-hitter Sam Querrey [August 1st 2010] whose career seems on a more upward track.

The counter-puncher out-punched

The loss was in the final of the Farmer’s Classic, in Los Angeles, a relatively minor ATP event. Murray had accepted a wild-card and had been granted top-seed status. It could be argued that Murray did well to get to the final, where he demonstrated only fitfully his strengths of speed and shot brilliance, and more clearly the weaknesses that are now increasingly recognised. These are much to do with finding a shift away from counter-punching when facing a skillful big-hitter capable of out-punching the counter-puncher. Murray’s serve remains disappointingly unreliable.

Managing change

It is no exaggeration to suggest that Murray needs a radical change to reach his tennis goals. Changng his coaching set-up might be as necessary as was BP’s change of leadership recently, as much signal of intent as guarantee of future success.

Resilience and other success factors

In work on dream-teams, there is evidence that performance success may be shown through team factors such as resilience, learning from experience, vision, and capacity to activate a network of contacts. Murray has shown willingness to initiate changes to achieve his professional goals. His last coaching change was to remove the abrasive but internationally-experienced Brad Gilbert with a team-set up providing a cosier psychological environment led by Miles Maclagan. Strictly speaking, a positive team-climate is another success-factor, but positive is not the same as unchallenging. This time he may have acted realising that comfort-zones are there to be broken out of.


Using Creativity to Explore a Business Issue

September 1, 2009

Benign structures [metaphor]

Creative problem-solving techniques can be powerful ways of exploring any complex business issue. An example is given applying a process of mapping, perspective seeking, and idea activation, used within project scenario work

The Manchester Business School MBA includes project work on creative leadership. In assessed workshops, participants apply a creative problem-solving system as a means of generating a scenario for a real or simulated business client.

The Scenario

MBA teams are presented with a real and contemporary business issue. Leaders we deserve posts have been used for this purpose. The structure to support the team is known as the MPIA system, an acronym for its stages of mapping, perspective seeking, and Idea-activation.

MPIA is a version of the Parnes-Osborn creative problem-solving approach which has been developed at Manchester Business School where the principles behind the approach have been studied

In this application, the group has to apply the MPIA system to explore the project. The presentation is made to a client and a faculty member who grade the effort independently. Through this, the team experiences some of the ambiguities of a realistic project, one of the features of the s-called Manchester Method

Basic MPIA Structure

Here is the basic MPIA structure:

Start-up: Check team members understand the MPIA system, and the roles they are to play; set time-limits for the stages of work on the project; check that all group members understand and agree to the structures to be followed.

Mapping: Share information available using a structure such as a mind-map for sharing information.

Perspectives: Use ‘How to …statements’ suggested by the map produced in Stage 1. Avoid complex How Tos (split them into ones with a simple central objective). Include wishful ‘How Tos’ (‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful..).

Idea Exploring: Using the rules of brainstorming, generate as many ideas as possible postponing evaluation in any way. Include apparently impossible but desirable ideas as these may become a trigger to an original and feasible idea.

Activation of Ideas: Link short-listed ideas to practical action steps. Pay particular attention to the presumed needs of the client.

Team Dynamics and interventions

The difference between the most successful teams and others is often a result of better attention to team dynamics.
A creative climate is supported by ‘idea-leadership’ (ensuring ideas are individual contributions are respected and not ignored). The process leader is also servant to the psychological needs of the group.

When things go wrong, teams are advised to call for a brief ‘time-out’ after which the team will find it easier to make progress. Creative teams are characterised by various actions supportive of a positive psychological climate such as the Yes And reaction to an idea’s perceived weaknesses.

To go more deeply

The process illustrates distributed leadership, with different team members taking responsibilities for leading in process issues. You can find out more about the educational principles behind this as an example of The Manchester Method of experiential learning


Amir Kahn and his world-beating team

July 19, 2009
Amir Kahn

Amir Kahn

When Amir Kahn won the WBA Light-Welterweight Boxing Championship in July 2009, he was quick to thank the efforts of his team. But did he overlook one influential figure, while including another?

In the UK, Amir Kahn has been a hero in waiting since winning a silver medal at the Athens Olympics as a spindly teenager of 17. He turned professional shortly afterwards and retained loyalty to his coaching team for a while after turning Professional.

But loyalty was not enough to take him to the highest levels, and he switched trainers several times. The most significant switch occurred after his first professional loss, a first round humiliation [to Bredis Prescott, 6th Sept 2008].

The changes seem to have been orchestrated by Kahn’s promoter, the colourful and controversial Frank Warren.

The World Championship match

Amir Kahn had his first world championship match, [July 18th 2009] against Andreas Kotelnik, at the MEN Arena, in Manchester for the WBA Light-Welterweight Championship. Khan outboxed a dangerous puncher of an opponent, despite tiring toward the end.

Khan thanks his team

After the fight, Kahn, remarkably level-headed in a sport which encourages hyperbole was fulsome in his praise for his team. I thought I heard him say the following, which has the added charm of ambiguity regrading the membership of his team:

“First of all I want to thank God, thank my mum and dad and thank Freddie Roach [his new trainer]. Without the team I got it wouldn’t have been possible.”

To date I haven’t heard a replay, so my memory may be letting me down. The BBC report cut out mention of God on Amir’s team. (too controversial?).

On Teams and Super-teams

Regular subscribers to LWD will know of our affinity of looking for signs of leadership distributed across membership of a social group or team. See the post on distributed leadership at Chelsea Football Club. That seems also to be the case here.

Khan has recognized the benefits of a switch to a world-class trainer. Also the longer-term familial support. Interesting that in his ingenuous first remarks he omitted to mention Frank Warren. Not so much a team member as an influential power broker, perhaps?

Maybe Amir figured he had all the powerbroking he needs on his super- team, and he doesn’t recognise Frank’s influence.

Acknowledgement

Image from wikipedia


On Pelotons, Tigers, and Leading from the Front in the Tour de France

July 17, 2009

Peloton

Peloton


The Tour de France, and the Open Golf Championship both offer insights about leading from the front

Susan asks good questions. Ones I don’t have answers to. This week, as we were watching Tour de France highlights on Eurosport, she broke in with

“How is it the main group always catches the breakaway leader?”

Our cycling friends have been quick to provide us with answers. It seems that sometimes, the front-runner does escape and win. But far more often, the breakaway leader is overtaken by the main group or Peloton.

The peloton is like some monstrous cycling centipede possessing the wisdom of the swarm. The arrangement conserves energy for individuals which has to be sacrificed by anyone who breaks away and becomes a breakaway leader. That provides for numerous tactics and team work.

As we watched, the process looked as if the one-time leader was caught and somehow then trick-cycled backwards through the swarming riders making up the peloton.

A few years ago, Paul Hochman wrote a brilliant journalistic description of how it all works:

Nothing in [American] sports resembles the bizarre dynamic of the cycling peloton, partly because a stage race is less a sporting event than a commodities exchange on wheels. What appears to be a random mass of bicycles is really an orderly, complex web of shifting alliances, crossed with brutal competition, designed to keep or acquire the market’s most valued currency: energy.
Amassing it (i.e., letting as little of it as possible drain away) is the only way for a racer to survive the brutal physical strain of a Tour de France, the metabolic equivalent of running 21 marathons in 23 days. Bikers save energy by riding together in a massive slipstream. Those who save the most energy can “buy” various goods – international glory, TV time, a bright yellow jersey, attractive French girls.

But here’s the key: To thrive in the angry little swarm that is the peloton, enemies often have to stick together and make deals with one another. Cooperation across enemy lines is the centerpiece of a winning game plan. It’s a weird concept to those accustomed to the zero-sum, us-them finality of the walk-off home run or the Hail Mary touchdown pass.
Why play nice with someone who might beat you? Racers in the peloton are not pals; they’re enemies without options.

To which it might be worth mentioning that not winning a stage may not be the same as losing one. The gallant front-runners are still doing a good job for their sponsors whose branding they are sustaining. The breakaway will have been worth a lot of prime-time ads.

The golfing front-runner

How about golf? Is there a peloton principle at work? Not quite. Tiger Woods has a fearsome reputation for winning when he does hit the front.

However, there is general principle which is more statistical than psychological at play. It explains why a relatively lowly-ranked golfer can leap into a substantial lead after the first round of a tournament, and why is almost always caught by many of the pursuing group.

Simple stats can test whether there is a random deviation around an average score. Some high and some low scores are the inevitable result of the expected distribution of scores. The stats can reveal if variations are due to a few exceptionally good (and exceptionally bad) players, or may be no more than a statistical effect.

When more data become available in the next round, there will be similar expected distributions of scores. For the front-runner, there is only one direction to move. Down. The result is that the one-time leader appears to be going backwards. Just like the would-be leader in the Tour de France.

Tiger, and Tiger alone for much of the last decade, plays golf in a way which can’t be explained as a random distribution of scores. If Tiger appears in the lead, the greatest of modern players, the rest of the competition, and almost all watchers of the event reach the same conclusion. Tiger is on his way to another win. Tiger’s scores are those of a statistical outlier.

How about Leadership Behaviours outside Sport?

Just a few speculative thoughts. Might the processes of the Peloton and of statistical theory help explain more mysterious phenomena such as momentum (leader going forward) and loss of momentum (leader going backward)?

And what about the tall-poppy syndrome, or the more folksy principle that pride comes before a fall? Might we have some explanations from tales of the Tour and the Tiger?

Much food for thought on the dynamics of leading from the front, the hero-to-zero phenomenon, and maybe even the tall-poppy syndrome.

Image

The brilliant illustration of a peloton in action is from the social networking site Fark. The post also explains the how and why of the flocking process of Geese.