Nina Nets It Out

Perspectives on Leadership

Great Tech Doesn’t Guarantee Innovation

Throughout my career I have seen some amazing technology come to life. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the great business leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries, witnessed their creativity and ingenuity first hand, and watched as those innovations have transformed industries across the globe. But for every success, I have seen dozens of failures. For every brilliant idea, I have seen many fall at the first hurdle – or progress, limping towards an uncertain future. I have seen many leaders also rise and fall on the back of their idea – some have been able to taste success. Others continue to search for it. And as one idea, leader, team or organization fails and falls, another rises to take its place. The momentum and energy that sustains innovation seems to readily transfer from one project to another and one person to another. It is as if the role of innovator comes with a certain yet necessary degree of amnesia. We forget the pain and heartbreak of failure on the journey towards our own success. More often than not, our successes are built on a string of smaller failures which we learn from and improve – so this idea of failing before succeeding tends to make sense to those with an innovator’s mindset. In Silicon Valley, this approach to failure has been popularized and optimized under the term “fail fast”. But in the risk averse environment that many of us operate, even failing fast can carry a negative connotation that lasts long after the project fades. Writer, Rob Asghar suggests that “failing fast”...

Take Steps to Crack the Glass Ceiling

We still have some way to go before we can honestly claim to have shattered the glass ceiling. That invisible barrier between minorities and women that prevents access to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder still requires our attention and action. The Economist’s glass ceiling index for 2015 reveals that the United States ranks below the OECD average, behind Germany and Australia and well behind countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden which rank highest. The Glass Ceiling Index combines data on higher education, labor-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. It draws on data from a range of sources including the OECD, European Commission, World Economic Forum and others. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on nine indicators. The interactive version of this chart allows you to see how the weightings can modify the results, showing how that a focus on specific factors can transform a whole country’s performance. You can hover over each country to delve into the figures for each country – and when we do this for the US, the data is revealing – especially when we contrast it with some of the other countries in the list. Let’s extract the data for a few countries: USA Canada Britain Finland Higher ed gap 5.0 11.3 2.2 12.9 Participation gap -11.5 -7.0 -11.4 -2.5 Wage gap 17.9 19 17.5 18.7 Exec positions 42.7 36.0 34.3 32.0 Board roles 21.2 18.3 22.6 32.1 Childcare cost 35.1 29.3 45.7 22.5 Paid maternity 0.0 8.0 11.7 14.1 GMAT exams 38.3 38.5 27.4 53.6  Women in parliament 19.3 25.2...

New Horizons

This week I start in a new role as Chief Product Officer, leading global product and commercialization strategy for NTT Innovation Institute (NTT i3). NTT i3 is the Silicon Valley-based open innovation and applied research and development center of NTT Group. I will lead the development and commercialization of NTT i3‘s groundbreaking platforms and solutions aimed at today’s Digital Businesses. You can read the full press release here. This is an incredibly exciting time to be stepping into this kind of role – one I see more and more leading businesses creating. We are living in a time where our lives are increasingly connected – not just in terms of people and devices, but also “things”. We used to think of these as trends, like the “internet of things” or “social networking”. But the truth is, they are now our realities. The technology that we use consciously or unconsciously shapes the way we live, not just how we live. It is this that excites me. As Srini Koushik, President and CEO at NTT i3 says: Like all major drivers for change, the interplay between technology and the evolution of human experience is complex. Just as the first human societies were shaped by their use of tools—the technology that we are inventing now is re-inventing us. This new role will be a challenging and exciting one. It will require invention and re-invention. Leadership and innovation. And I look forward to sharing my insights with you...

Women Who Lead

We hear a lot of talk about gender inequality at all levels. From the board room to the call center and everywhere in-between, we seem to have a problem. This is particularly in the technology field where qualified women are abandoning the industry in record numbers. In 2014, “big tech” got together to analyze the situation, releasing a report that showed that men outnumbered women 4:1 – or more – in their technical sectors. And we’re not talking “old skool” tech companies here – we are talking Google, Apple and Facebook. Collectively we are facing a huge challenge. Not only do we face the challenge of attracting women into the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM), once they are there, we have trouble retaining them. It’s an issue of culture. As I have suggested previously, we need to put a STEM in STEM for Women. Laura Sherbin, director of research at the Center for Talent Innovation sums it up: It’s a really frustrating thing. The pipeline may not improve much unless women can look ahead and see it’s a valuable investment. But the news is not all bad. Monique Thorpe has created a website that showcases and celebrates the real worlds of women. There are already dozens of interviews of business owners, innovators, artists and activists. In fact, they come from all walks of life. Some of these women are early career. Some are executives. Some are following their own paths. Earlier this month I was featured as one of the women who lead. But there are plenty more. Take a few minutes to read the stories of...

The Three Ms of Mentoring

Mentoring is one of those strange, unknowable beasts. It can be hard to do, difficult to explain, but can have enormous benefits for all involved. Both mentors and mentees find significant value in the process – but it’s more like a dance and less like a business relationship than you might imagine. And in today’s multi-level, matrixed organizations, finding just the right mentor-mentee relationship can be like finding a needle in a haystack. For women in particular, the challenge is even more complicated. Studies show that women find it more difficult to find mentors – and a LinkedIn survey of over 1000 working women indicated that 20% of women have never had a mentor at work. Over the years, I have been a mentor and have, in turn, been mentored. And I have come to realize that there are three clear elements that need to align for mentoring to be successful. I call them the “three Ms”: Match-making: In many ways, mentoring is like dating. What you are looking for is a “match” – and this goes far beyond whether you “like” someone or not. To have a successful match – on both sides of the mentoring equation – it is essential that you find someone who is actually interested in the mentoring process. If you have been matched through your work, then you might find there is just not the level of commitment you want or need. Ensure that your mentor-match has the time, focus and interest that you expect or need. Mentality: Do you know – or have heard about your mentor-match? Do you respect their experience...

Putting a STEM in STEM for Women

We often look at the world of tech startups through rose colored glasses. After all, these companies are the future IBMs, Oracles and SAPs – long-lived, large scale organizations that have generated not just large returns for shareholders, but massive value for customers, employees and partners. Yet despite their obvious focus on future value building and innovation, startup tech companies have a startlingly poor record when it comes to hiring women. Ann Hoang from STEMINIST explains: Women make up less than 40 percent of the workforce at Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, and no more than one-fifth of the technical workforce at those companies. Blair Hanley Frank takes this further, citing “a 2011 study found that 15 percent of women who graduated with an engineering degree did not go on to work in engineering, while another 20 percent entered the engineering workforce and then summarily left for another industry.” Clearly there are not just factors that prevent women from taking up STEM related roles – there are also factors that drive them elsewhere once they have them. Lynne Y Williams refers to this phenomenon as IT’s vanishing women. “A 2004 study by the National Center for Women & IT revealed that a large number of women who already occupy upper-level IT-related positions are leaving the industry at a startling rate, with “56% of technical women leav[ing] at the ‘mid-level’ point” (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2010) of their careers, a rate almost double that of equivalent male colleagues.” Williams calls out the “hostile, macho culture” in the IT workplace along with isolation, lack of opportunity and support from and...

Are Your Top Executives Running on Empty?

You know the drill … into the office to get the day started. You are beset by distractions, dramas and issues, all of which keep you away from the important work that is (or should be) your focus. Yet, each and every day you work intensely and return home drained, catching up into the evening on emails that you missed or responses that need attention. In amongst all this, there is a lingering sense that the work that we do continues to mount and that our daily efforts amount to little. Sound familiar? A 2013 Gallup report indicated that just 30% of American employees feel engaged with the work that they perform. This extends across the entire employee base – which means that your top executives and even your leadership team are feeling the strain. In fact, they’re running on empty. To understand how leaders at all levels can address this challenge, Harvard Business Review, in conjunction with The Energy Project, conducted a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a range of industries. The results were surprising – and enlightening – identifying four core needs that when met, vastly improve employee morale and performance: Physical: We respond well to opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work. This means a physical break of some kind. Emotional: Feeling valued and appreciated is far from a “soft skill”, it’s a powerful motivator. Mental: The opportunity to be removed from distraction helps employees focus and achieve tasks and through this gain a sense of satisfaction. Spiritual: Connecting your work to a higher purpose – beyond oneself – also has...

The Perils of Linear Leadership

Throughout my career, and undoubtedly those of many of my readers, people have asked the question of their respective organizations, “Why do we do it this way?” Most often, the truth of the matter, and the specific response is, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But, having been engaged in various companies across my career, one thing that I have learned is that the best way to do something might not be identified by those that have done it the same way for years. Why not look towards industry best practices? Or for “out of the box” thinking and innovation? For example, if I wanted to know the best way to run a help desk, I might look to an icon in customer service such as Nordstrom’s or Ritz Carlton. Not that I am seeking a retail or a hotel perspective, but I am seeking the best way to manage customers and their expectations. But, for sure, no one does customer service better than these companies and it is their methods, processes, policies and overall mindset that can teach us things that can be applied to customer service within any context. Without understanding that great ideas can come from an outside vantage point or from someone not entrenched in the paradigms that have led to the current ways of doing things, people can easily get caught up in what I call “linear leadership”. Sadly, doing so can have grave consequences and organizations would do well by encouraging its employees to think “outside the box” and to hire those that come from different backgrounds and offer different perspectives...

Where Do You Start?

For some time I have been fascinated by the way that different people solve problems. Over the years I have worked with both creative thinkers and with directed, logical thinkers and found that each have strengths and weaknesses. Those who tend towards more logical, methodical and analytical approaches are often considered “left brain” dominant. They excel in mathematics and statistics and work through problems in a step-by-step manner. The creative and artistic types, however, are known as “right brain” dominant. Their expertise lies in a capacity for expression. This “lateralization” of the brain was popularized by Nobel Prize winner, Roger W. Sperry. While studying epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain could reduce or eliminate seizures. This division of brain hemispheres has formed the basis of dozens, or hundreds, of books, seminars and training sessions. No doubt, if you have undertaken a personality or strength profiling exercise, you have experienced some form of this thinking. While this approach is pervasive, it has however, been called into question. Recent research indicates that while aspects of brain function reside in one part of the brain, it is too simplistic to assign left/right brain domination. For example, neuroscientists now know that our capabilities are strongest when both sides of the brain work together. That is, we are more creative and more logical when the left and right hemispheres collaborate. Creative thinkers have strengths and so do logical thinkers. And like the brain itself, which seems to borrow the best and most appropriate capability from any of its regions, leaders must be able to work...

Personal Leadership Starts with You

Whenever I meet with or talk to a successful leader, I am always reminded of the phrase “leadership starts with you.” And recently as I was browsing the All Things Workplace blog, I was reminded again. Steve Roesler says: Without a clear sense of what a successful life means to you, then everyone else can control your time, your choices, and your career. You have no firm basis on which to make decisions. One of the most important functions of the leader is to make decisions and act upon them. This means having a firm personal and professional foundation from which to function. I have explained this previously as “keeping your eyes on the prize”. But leadership success also stems from a single, personal acknowledgement: No-one will support your career the way that you do. I point this out not to be obvious, but to make an important point. Your leadership aspirations will only come to fruition if you acknowledge, own and act upon them. No one will do this for you – not a partner nor parent, not a boss nor mentor. For while these people may have a personal interest in your success, activating that personal interest is the first step that you must make on a much longer journey. There are three key steps that you can take to activate your own personal leadership: Identify a quantifiable step-up: Many people aim for the very top of an organization. While this is an admirable ambition, leadership extends far beyond a singular role. Aspiring leaders need to identify not JUST the goal (ie to be CEO) but a...

Learn to Love Office Politics

Love it or hate it – there is no way around it. Once you start working with a team you are going to experience “office politics”. And for leaders at any stage of their career, learning to deal with office politics is vital. In fact, it can determine whether you are successful in your career or not. Recently I was interviewed by Women’s Leadership Coach, Jo Miller on the subject of office politics. Over on Jo’s blog, February is “office politics month”, so there is plenty of useful information and insight and a range of viewpoints on this controversial topic. In my interview, I fielded a number of questions from Jo’s readers. Here are a couple of extracts – but be sure to read the whole article. QUESTION: Do you feel you MUST engage in office politics in order to be considered successful? Jane, WA NINA: Politics are a reality and one must not ignore them or do so at their own peril. I am not a fan of politics, but I have learned that ignoring them can have negative consequences. So, I do believe that we all must understand the nature of the politics within our respective companies and participate to the extent necessary. QUESTION: Nina, what are some of the “rules of the game” that you have encountered? Shelley, TX and Kay, CA NINA: I have encountered issues of being the only woman in the room, being younger than many of my colleagues, etc. but I have always kept my focus on delivering value and results. I believe, based on my experience, that outcomes matter the most....