Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A personal thought…

Every year we receive from our top management the high level corporate objectives set by our board, and each of us, as members of the units of our company, define the different activities to execute in order to achieve them. One by one, all the levels of the company subdivide and lay down strategic guidelines, functional objectives, tasks, and concrete deliverables, which according to the plan, and once completed, will make the global plan a reality.

One of those high level objectives has been around with us for several years now. It is heard in hallway conversations, at lunch, in the elevators; it is simply a perfect small talk subject. We are reminded of it at all the kicks-off events. Most of us find it to be crucial to help the company mature, grow, and, as our CEO usually says, become a major league corporation. I am talking about professionalization, such an abstract concept that we have to always keep in mind, and for which I have seen different sorts of interpretations.

This article is intended to invite all of you to make a personal reflection. Many of you might feel touched by its content, but what I like about this formula is that I can show the message so you can make you own evaluation, and right from it, if you think you have the chance, take any action to make this high level objective a reality. Otherwise, if your personality does not allow criticism, then I suggest to you not to keep reading, because, even though I will be polite with my words, I do believe that most of us will find something touching in the message.

Oftentimes I talk with people who say “we have to get a master to be professionalized”, “the company needs to give us incentives to study in order to grow in our profession”, or “if we do not study we will be held back”. Believe me, I totally agree with improving the academic level of employees to help professionalize the company. Studying definitely helps us be more efficient, better understand problems we encounter, have a better ability to respond, be in touch with better professionals, etc.

However, there is a point where all of us, myself included, can give a lot in the short term. It does not require a lot of effort, time, or investment. Some people prefer to grow through experience and “brute force”, whereas others prefer to study and gorge themselves with books. But, regardless of how they approach increasing their knowledge increased, we all have to interact with other human beings as we develop our activities; and the manner in which this interaction is carried out might completely invalidate the academic effort.

At this point I believe we must observe our own behavior, ponder over how we act every day, and ask ourselves one simple question: “is my behavior in the company professional?” Please, do not be alarmed; I am neither being pretentious nor intending to teach you manners. As I have said, this is a reflection we can individually make. Think about sentences like “I have a friend who works in such company, and over there everything is different, people are not treated like this”, and then ask yourselves “How do I treat people here?”

In order to better illustrate the idea, I am giving this list we can immediately evaluate and you can choose which one you can help with.

1.- Inappropriate use of email: email is not a chat; it is not a board; it is not a forum and it surely does not replace the tools to be used to complete your work. I will not go further on this; I will only list the common problems regarding email abuse:
  • Copying too many people.
  • Replying all to say “Thanks”, “Got it” or any other confirmation message.
  • Language in emails: you can have a personal relationship with a coworker, but it is rather different to write to that person in relation to a work activity.
  • Email is not an excuse: think about how many times you have heard “I sent you an email with the information years ago”. Yes, the email information is binding and we assume that the recipient is in the know; however it does not excuse us from backing documents up, following up and appropriately managing the information. Email is lost when backing up, people change their areas or projects, they take new challenges, etc., and when they leave, basically that information, which is already hard to manage, tends to expire.
2.- Professional treatment: some days ago I told somebody that sometimes we can forget that ten factor we grew up with. Sometimes we forget we are over 500 employees. I understand that one of the greatest assets of the company is the almost familiar bond we have with each other, however it is convenient to look at each other eventually and think “OK, right now, we are working”.

3.- Punctuality: it is simple and easy; an appointment at any particular time is at that time, it is not 15 minutes later. We tend to underestimate things, and we need to say this, make people wait, apart from being expensive for the company, is disrespectful for the person who is waiting for us. We all have cell phones, so if 10 minutes before you know you will be late, let the other person know; if you know you cannot get to the meeting, call it off in time.

4.- Meetings in the work areas: It is natural to have sporadic discussions which take about 5 or 10 minutes. But if the discussion goes further, take into consideration people around you; voices and noises get them distracted and make their work harder to complete. There are meeting rooms. This idea applies to things like listening to music at the desks, using the speaker mode to speak over the phone, or having loud phone conversations.

5.- Respect for others’ work: this is the most sensitive item, but unfortunately it is the most frequent one I have seen. We have to acknowledge the value of the work of each one of us. It is common to hear comments of a department thinking that other departments “do not understand that I have a critical work”, which is a sort of minimization of the others’ work.

Although we all have different jobs, I am pretty sure that nobody has a job which description says something like “Value the work of other people, classify them as relevant or not, and in case they are not, do not care about their opinion or assessments”. Ask yourselves the following question: “is there anybody who is better trained than the person in that unit to make the decision he/she is making or to ask for what he/she is asking for?” If the company has done a good recruiting job (and I think they have), then the answer would be: “No”; and like someone who works here says, we do not argue with he/she who knows.  

I would not like to turn this post into a debate about pertinence or not; as I said at the beginning, I am only sharing a very personal thought. We do not need a lot to change the environment to continue seeing “professionalization” in Smartmatic, it does not depend on a decision made by the CEO, it depends on us deciding to have a more professional environment.
Heider García

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Change is changing faster!

I would like to share with you some fascinating ideas that I came across as I watched the thoughtful, envisioning, and inspiring presentation by business thinker Gary Hamel, Reinventing Management for the 21st Century. His forward looking vision, and the passionate way in which he explains what he believes to be the daunting challenges facing organizations in the twenty first century prompted me to write this post. I have made some of his ideas mine and I hope you will do the same.

According to Hamel, we are the first generation in history that has to cope with an accelerating rate of change. The number of internet connections, the capability to store data, the number of mobile phones connected to web, CO2 emissions, among others; are all dramatically changing characteristics of today’s landscape that directly condition the way in which businesses are run. Change is changing faster!

In this unstable and hyper-competitive context, barriers, and competitive advantages are being eroded constantly. Companies are left in a bare knuckle fight to defend its profit margins, with innovation, creativity and adaptability being their only reliable tools to succeed.   

Moreover, in our Information Society, the speed with which knowledge is exchanged through different communication channels, the abundance of consultants benchmarking companies and transferring knowledge from one company to another, among many other reasons, have made it extremely difficult to gain sustainable competitive advantages through knowledge. Knowledge has become a commodity. Nowadays everything is much less about how much or what you know, and it is more about how fast you can create new knowledge.

In essence, the successful company of the 21st century needs to change as fast as change itself and innovation must be the work of everybody, all the time, every day. Knowledge needs to flourish constantly.

The web, which is a defining factor of our times, has some very specific core values embedded. The web is adaptable and collaborative. It praises openness, meritocracy and flexibility. Every twenty first century company must embrace those values.

Hamel Capped off his presentation by stating that the successful corporations of the 21st century will be humane above all things. Humans are adaptable and enormously resilient by nature. Humans have essential qualities that organizations usually lack.

I kindly invite you to watch the presentation. As a corporation with a clear mission to innovate and design new solutions to help governments become more efficient, there are a lot of ideas we could apply to make Smartmatic even more successful.
Ernesto Parisca

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The best audit is the one even granny can do

The importance of being able to audit a voting system in every stage of an electoral process, both during and after Election Day, is undeniable.

The necessary audit mechanisms go from a revision of the source code of the systems involved, to the vigilance of the votes’ chain of custody, including several quality control and accuracy checking processes in between.  

Many technocrats run the risk of emphasizing whitebox-type tests, which involve revisions to the source code and even requesting that the code be 100% open, in many cases placing its importance over the importance of citizen control or the vote´s chain of custody.  

Although it is useful to review the design and the deployment of the software to be used in an election in order to detect undesirable behaviour, both malicious and involuntary, it is no less true that these reviews will involve (for most electors) trusting a third party.  It’s unlikely that the average Joe, lacking IT knowledge, will be able to verify and certify that the programming code of a given system is fully correct.

Even more, the same technocrats that demand a thorough and public review of the voting system’s source code, will surely state that it’s impossible to know, without resorting to complex avant-garde systems, that the software installed in a voting machine was exactly the same that they reviewed. These procedures would be, once more, only available to a minority.   

On the other hand, controlling the chain of custody of votes is a procedure that any citizen can carry out, regardless of his political affiliation, his role in the electoral process or his level of technical expertise. It’s a control than can be carried out even by those who haven’t voted (this excludes the revision of the printed voting voucher, which can only be performed by someone who actually casts a vote).

From printing the “zero” voting record at the start of the electoral process, until checking that the voting records from the machines match the ones published and the official tally results, including the verification of the proper register of the vote in a physical voucher; these are all tasks that every citizen, with no restrictions whatsoever (with the exception of being physically present for each one), can carry out in a full and thorough way, without the need of specialized technical knowledge.

It is strange that those who demand greater openness and transparency in matters regarding e-voting, would recommend a complex technical process that will only be available to a minority over citizen verification, available to everyone with no further limitations other than individual will.
Rui Santos

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Why does Smartmatic exist?

There are moments that shake you and drive you not only to act, but to think as well. To think intently and with your eyes closed. This video of Simon Sinek (Talks | TEDx) was one of these moments, and it shook me to the core.

There are several key phrases in the video. It’s around 20 minutes long, and each main idea is followed by another and another. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ve made a list of 5 ideas that help us to answer the question I chose as a title.

1. What we do everyday must be consistent with what we believe in. The circle in the image has three keywords: WHAT – HOW - WHY. According to Sinek, we all know what we’re doing; some know better how to do it, but few are conscious of why they do it.

2. An inspired organization communicates from the inside to the outside.  By this I mean that the organization knows why it exists in the first place and believes in these ideals (e.g. its mission and vision), then it concentrates on how to accomplish this mission and vision (planning and strategies), and finally it concerns itself with the how (actions and day-to-day procedures). It’s something like (my apologies to all philosophers): I believe, therefore I am, and therefore I succeed. 

3. If we hire people just because they know how to do their work (well), they’ll work for money. But if we hire people who believe in our mission and vision, they will give their blood, sweat and tears to accomplish our objectives. HR and even the leaders of the company have the tremendous responsibility to find these brilliant minds who believe in what we do. 

4. Whether you work next to me or on the same floor and we see each other daily, or if you work in Manila and we seldom meet, is irrelevant: in spite of all our differences we must have a shared motivation. When we close our eyes, let’s picture a world where technologies of great social impact contribute to a better-functioning civilization. That is why Smartmatic exists; if we don’t believe it, it’s better to close up shop.

5. Why is it so important to believe in what one does? There’s a human reason: it’s good for me, it makes me get out of bed every day, it inspires me; or as my boss would say, it amuses me. There’s also a financial reason: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. When I realize that our technologies are a solution for those governments around the world that want to be more efficient and transparent, my message will surely have passion, and passion generates sales. When I believe with every fiber of my being that the technology I conceptualize / design / develop / market / sell / deploy effectively is actually helping mankind, then we’ll be closer to reaching our objectives.  

Watch the video and let's talk later.
Samira Saba