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Don Khouri

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How Good Are You at Multi-Tasking?

Posted by Don Khouri on Sun, Oct 18, 2009

I have heard the term, "multi-tasking", a number of times in the last 30 days from both clients and colleagues.   One client put "multi-tasking" as a required skill on a job advertisement and another colleague was talking about the importance of "multi-tasking" in today's world.  The truth is there is no such thing as multi-tasking.  Sure, you can switch between tasks at a very fast rate, but you are still doing one thing at a time.  I will advocate the skill of focus is more important in today's world, not multi-tasking.  In a recent Stanford Study, self-proclaimed multi-taskers underperformed other groups in several multi-tasking tests.  The study results showed that people are actually less productive when they are multi-tasking. 

We are very easily distracted by the latest and the loudest, and it is difficult to stay focused on any one thing.  As a result, it becomes very challenging to actually get anything accomplished.   The answer to this dilemna is simple - stay focused on one thing at a time.  Think about when you are most effective and productive.  It is when you are clear about what you want to accomplish.  It is when you focus on a single task and lost track of time making progress toward the finished product.  Here are four suggestions on how you can stay focused on one thing at a time.  

Get your email inbox to zero.  That's right.  Each one of those emails in your inbox is some type of open loop that  you are committed to getting to a state that is different than the current state.  Those emails will grab your attention and take you away from what you are working on.  Stop checking your email every 5 minutes, set some specific times to process your emails, and turn off the alert that pops up telling you that you have a new email.   

Clear your desk.  Anything on your desk that is not reference, equipment, decoration or supplies is also an open loop, and will act as a distraction from what you are working on.   A clear desk will help you get to a clear mind, and stay focused.   

Put a strategy in place for social media.  We have a lot of information coming at us today through the web, blogs, twitter, facebook, linkedin, you name it.  In fact, I heard a statistic a while back that goes something like this:  in 1900 people received 1000 pieces of new information in 6 months, in 1950 people received 1000 pieces of new information in 6 days, and in 2005 people receive 1000 pieces of new information in about one hour.  So, set some time aside each day or each week to stay current on the blogs you want to read and the people you want to virtually connect with.  If you are not familiar with some of the consolidation tools like Tweetdeck or Google Reader, they are worth a look. 

Focus on the important, not urgent.  Everything that is urgent seems important but it is not.  Think about when you are interrupted - phone call, text message, online alert of some kind.  How good are you at deciding what is more important, the interruption or what you were working on?  If it is what you were working on, how well do you trust yourself to park the interruption and get back to it at the right time?  Making these decisions are critical to your focus and your productivity.  It is most valuable when you can align your day-to-day work with the higher horizons of life - projects, goals, responsibility, vision, values, mission.  When it all aligns, you know for example, "Writing this article is important because it aligns with my goal of producing valuable content and with part of my mission of being a great coach who brings out the best in others." 

Don's coaching questions:
o    How can you stay focused on what has your focus?
o    What are the factors in the environment when you are most productive?
o    What can you do to distinguish the important from the urgent?

Tags: productivity, leadership, multi-tasking

Stress: How Are YOU Dealing With It?

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Sep 09, 2009

This edition of the blog is co-authored with Rina Koshkina

We are hearing from clients that employee burnout and stress are higher than normal.  Money magazine reported in June of this year that "layoff survivors are now stuck with more responsibilities and additional stress - for the same old salary".  In a recent survey by, 47% of workers reported that they have taken on more responsibility because of a layoff within their organization, 37% said they are handling the work of two people, and 30% feel burned out!   

Clearly, in tough times, companies are trying to stretch the dollar by maximizing their resources, including human resources.  But at what cost?  Gordon Health Solutions, Inc. surveyed 65,000 employees and learned that employees who said stress had a large effect on their life also experienced significant productivity loss.  Do you recognize this in your team?   If so, how are you dealing with it? 

There are a number of factors that can contribute to burnout in organizations, and there are effective ways leaders can help minimize or avoid burnout and stress.  The leading causes in the workplace are:  (1) work demands / pressure exceeds one's ability to meet them, (2) unclear or lack of priorities and focus, (3) insufficient recognition, (4) work / life balance, and (5) little or no time spent on personal development.  So what can you do about them? How can you mitigate stress and maintain productivity?  We have a few suggestions:

Excessive Demands.  Disparity between demands and resources is often considered as both a leading cause and a symptom of an organizational / individual burnout.  More than ever, employees are feeling the demand on the environment is greater than their perceived abilities to meet that demand.  When they are stretched too thin, quality suffers; employees may feel that they have lost their edge.  "I used to be great at this, what happened?"   To tackle this problem, allow employees to do what they do best, focus on their natural strengths (recommended reading - Strengths-Based Development from Gallup).  It is also a great time to get clear about what you are going to do and what you are not going to do.  Ensure that priorities are understood and allow employees to focus on them. 

Lack of focus.  "What will be the fire drill today?"  This is the type of question that often stems from a severe lack of prioritization at the managerial level.  Everything is not a priority and everything can't be urgent.  Checking your email, while on a conference call, while thinking about a report you have to prepare for tomorrow is not an efficient or focused use of your time.  Reality check - there is no such thing as multi-tasking.  You can only do one thing well at a time.  Leaders need to help their teams to refocus, keeping an eye on the big picture, while helping them balance the daily tasks.  

On a practical level, managers can tackle this issue in various ways.  For instance, meet with your team to re-prioritize projects, display the big picture goals in an easily accessible and visible location to help employees put the daily stressors in perspective.  And ask for employee's input -- what's the best way to approach this issue?  How will it help us get close to our objective?

Recognition.  Stress may diminish performance, and mistakes are bound to happen.  Suddenly, recognition becomes a thing of the past and almost a luxury.  This is not a positive trend.  Marcus Buckingham, the author of First, Break All the Rules, tells us that people need to be recognized in some way about once / week.  This does not need to be a big award or a $100 gift certificate.  Sometimes that is appropriate, and sometimes a simple thank you, an acknowledgement for working overtime, or ordering lunch for the team will do the trick.  Remember everyone needs to be recognized in different ways.  Some like it publicly, and other prefer an individual recognition. 

Work / Life Balance.  The right point of equilibrium will differ from person to person.  It is our job as leaders to recognize when the job demands have gone too far, and help coach employees to strike that right balance.  If someone is working 70 hours / week for four weeks in a row, you need to be able to offer some solutions and encourage employees to take the time to rest.  The individual is ultimately responsible for keeping a harmonious relationship between their personal and professional lives, and the leader needs to keep an empathetic eye and help provide assistance when needed.

Personal Development.  Stephen Covey, habit #7 is "Sharpen the saw".  You likely know his story of the man that sees another man sawing down a tree feverishly.  He observes, however, that the man is not making much progress.  After a while the first man notices that the saw is very dull.  So, he asks the second man, "Why don't you stop and sharpen the saw?"  "Oh no," says the second, "I am much too busy cutting down the tree."  Sharpening your skills takes planning - What do you want to focus on?  What resources are available to help you?  How can you block time so that work can get done?  Now, it is more important than ever to maximize everyone's innate talents and tap into their hidden potential.  As a leader you should encourage / require people to spend time on personal development, help them identify their strengths, and help those that may have difficulty planning for it and making it a priority.  Make it clear that you truly care about their growth and are willing to spend the time/resources necessary.  

Don's coaching questions:

  • How is your pulse of employee burnout and stress in your organization?

  • What three steps can you take to address it head on, or prevent it?

  • How much time is planned on personal development in your organization over the next 3 months? 6? 12?

Rina Koshkina is a Marketing Strategist with over 12 years of experience in the financial services industry and an Executive Coach. Recognized as a change agent and a results-oriented leader, capable of empowering and developing people in ways that contribute to individual and organizational growth, Rina has been coaching executives in various industries to maximize their potential and achieve unparallel success. Prior to her current position as a Vice President of Retail Marketing at AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, Rina held various positions at Merrill Lynch and the MONY Group. She has a B.S. in Business Management from the City University of New York and pursuing her Graduate degree.

Five Steps to Organization Design

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Aug 13, 2009

"Reorganization" seems to be very popular these days as companies downsize and focus on maximizing efficiency. As staff size shrinks and more work falls to a smaller number of people, it is more critical than ever to ensure you have the right people and the right structure in place.  Without this, greater efficiency is unlikely to be achieved and the creation of an efficient and effective organization becomes near impossible. Some things to consider when getting the right organization in place are: function, people, stakeholders, effective communication, and flexibility.

1.    Function is a great place to start, but don't get stuck on it.  At the most basic level you need to identify which functions need to be staffed.  Some approaches to consider are:

  • A functional organization organized around Architecture, Development, Testing, Implementation, Support.
  • A customer-focused organization organized around specific customer groups
  • A project organization organized around key projects
    Or some hybrid of the above.

To decide which is the best approach for your organization, make sure you are aligning the functional structure with the organization's goals and business goals.  If you are not sure what the organization's goals are, stop reading, and make determining these goals the highest priority with your team.  If your top goals are around delivering key projects, organize around projects. If your top goals are around improving customer satisfaction, there's your answer.  If you need to improve overall delivery, perhaps a functional organization is the right way to go.  Once you have aligned the basic functional set up of your organization with your goals, draw out a sample organizational chart or two.  You will start to see the pieces falling into place. 

2.    It's all about the people.  Jim Collins reminds us, "first who, then what.  First who, then what."  It's important to make sure the right people are in the right roles on your management team and across the organization.  To do this:

  • Play to people's strengths and stretches.  For example, you may have a very solid software development manager (strength) who has not taken a leadership role on a new product initiative before (stretch).
  • Look internally first.  It is always better to leverage the people you have when you can.  Hopefully, you have done some work already to grow associates so they will be ready. This is a positive message for the entire team.
  • Take the opportunity to put good people in the right roles in your organization, and when possible find the right roles outside the organization for those individuals that may no longer fit.
  • Don't assume people want more responsibility. 
  • Ensure leaders have the respect of others.   

 Allow yourself to structure around the good people you have identified even if it means modifying the structure you created in step 1.

3.    Test it out.  This is a critical step.  It is important to get some feedback from each of the following groups of people:  The key players and influencers on your team  (start here to ensure the basic structure and people will work well with the team, and that the structure makes sense overall), your HR support team / person, your boss, your peers, and your business partners.  As part of this process, you need to be clear about confidentiality both to encourage honest and direct feedback and to convey that the new structure is not yet ready for broad or public communication.  Finally, make adjustments based on the feedback you receive. 

4.    Spread the word.  Now it is time to identify all of the people that need to know about the changes and go on a road show.  Communication is key and making sure everyone knows and understands the change is important to obtaining their buy in and ultimately their support of the new structure. Put a short presentation together describing the process you went through, key organizational goals, objectives of the re-organization effort, and verbalize why you chose the people you did.  Finally, describe the key entry points into the organization so that everyone is clear where to go and for what purposes.   

5.    Be Flexible.  Ok, now that you have figured it all out, tested it with great feedback, communicated it, you still have to leave yourself some room for adjustment.  No matter how much you plan and think ahead, there will be some things that do not work quite right.  Do not be afraid to fix it, re-communicate, and move forward. Don't think you have to stick to your original plan forever.  I love the words of George S. Patton, "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." The factors above represent only a subset of those that you may consider when reorganizing a technology group, however I hope they provide a good framework to help shape your thinking. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How well aligned is your organization with your organizational goals?
  • As you look around the organization, do you have the right people in the right roles?
  • How comfortable are you with your stakeholder's buy-in to your organization structure.

Your Job is Knowledge

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Jul 15, 2009

This edition of the blog is co-authored with Katrina Pugh. 

Let's talk about knowledge management - the practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable the adoption of insights and experiences (Wikipedia).  In short, this amounts to finding or sharing knowledge easily.  There are three key knowledge management imperatives for executives: (1) Recognize that your job is knowledge; (2) Actively participate in professional communities to expand your brain bank outside your firm; and (3) Create an environment that encourages active curiosity.  

Your JobMany scholars have pointed out that technology professionals of the 21st century are competing on their responsiveness to market signals, their ability to leverage partners' knowledge, and their ability to create a stimulating environment for their staff.  As a leader, your job is knowledge.  It is about making sure that information is available for you and your team to make decisions, produce, and innovate efficiently.  Let's walk through a simple case study to emphasize how important this concept is.  For example, say, one of your objectives is hiring an effective team.  You are hiring someone that has skills that you are lacking, e.g., a database administrator, or DBA.   You need this skill set on your team to help you innovate in your area.   You ask a peer who has hired a DBA recently, "What do you look for in a DBA?"  He provides you with some tips on DBA qualifications.  Now, you want to record this information for your later use, and for other hiring managers within your organization.  As you do this, contextual knowledge is very important.  What is unique about your conversation (for example, time, date, company situation, your sense of how conditions differ in your world from your peer's)?   Contextual knowledge like this will help future knowledge-seekers identify what part is applicable to their situation. Capturing this knowledge is critical and a key element of your role as a leader. An effective leader is not only thinking about today's issues but also strategically setting the stage for the future. Today's knowledge is often critical to the success of tomorrow's decisions and actions.    

Your Community: Today, average tenure in a company has dropped considerably, from 10-20 years in the 70s, to approximately 5 years in the 2000s. This implies that over the course of your career you are likely to have more than 8 jobs with as many companies. Increasingly, leaders are aligning more with their professions than their companies.  Your ability to stay employable (and to keep an identity from job to job) is a function of the strength of your external professional community.  An external professional community provides you with a connection to your peers and is a valuable source of knowledge.  For example, there exist groups of technology leaders, developers' forums, and quality engineers. Seek out the relevant professional community for you and join. Or in the event there is not a community in place, consider creating one.  Returning to our example, your professional community gives you an instant sounding board.  You can poll your Tech Execs community distribution list for their experiences in hiring DBAs.  Emails are likely to come in with sample job descriptions and someone may even recommend a potential candidate.   

Your Team: Web 2.0 technology pundits claim that you no longer need documentation, because, with our ever-present social networks, it is easy to get whatever you need by Googling or emailing requests to your network.  We heartily support networks, but we see limitations as well.  The downside of not collecting and documenting the critical knowledge of your own experts and teams is losing context.  Your online community represents many contexts (not necessarily yours!), and sometimes your request (say, for a DBA job description) comes up dry.  You just cannot match the incisiveness of knowledge that comes from interacting directly with an expert, and asking him or her about their context ("Why do you think that worked here?").  Take responsibility for your team's memory.  Where the knowledge matters, your team needs the discipline to elicit it, publish it, and get it into circulation.   Curiosity is a virtue.  So is memory.  Create incentives for your team to value curiosity and contribute to shared memory.  As we work together, so we discover and share collective knowledge.   

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What are you doing to preserve and leverage your organization's knowledge?
  • How are you using your professional communities to exchange expert information? 
  • How welcoming is your culture to curiosity and memory?

All our best,

Don Khouri and Kate Pugh  

Don Khouri is an Executive Coach helping technology leaders improve productivity.  He has over 20 years experience leading technology teams at Fidelity Investments and has a track record of delivering highly complex, firm-wide technology programs from inception to completion, and bulding high-performing global teams.  As a technology leader himself, Don is passionate about helping other technolgy leaders improve and deliver.  Don holds a B.S. degree in MIS from Babson College, and an MBA from Boston University School of Management.  He is a trained leadership coach.  

Katrina (Kate) Pugh is a consultant with 15 years of management consulting and 7 years of industry experience in the healthcare, energy, and financial services sectors. Formerly in leadership positions with IBM, Fidelity, JPMorgan, and Intel Corporation, she specializes in strategy, organizational change and multi-stakeholder alignment. Kate has an MS/MBA in Information Technology and Business Transformation from the MIT Sloan School of Management, a BA in Economics from Williams College, and is a professional project manager and facilitator. (

Doing More With Scarce Resources

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Jun 17, 2009

Today, many leaders are being asked to do more with scarce resources.  I find this trend particularly interesting in that it is my understanding that leaders are not being asked to simply keep pace, but rather to take on more responsibility and get more done with fewer resources.  In other words, this is not a temporary situation whereby leaders are asked to tread water until more boats are fueled and ready to go.  It is a permanent shift toward greater productivity through effective management and leadership.  Leaders that are successful in achieving this will grow increasingly more valuable to their companies. In this article, I would like to provide a few simple tips on getting more done.  It is about creating the right focus, following through on your commitments, and having easy access to information.  

Focus.   Without looking at your watch, can you identify what is in the ‘12′ position?  Is it a 12, or a dash, or a logo, or something else?  No peeking!  See if you can do it without looking ...  Now you can look.  Okay, how did you do?   If you got it right, congratulations.  Now, without looking again, what time is it?  Did you get that right?  The point of all of this is that we get done what we focus on.  We are most productive when we are focused.  What are you focused on?  Are you staring right at it, and still not getting it done?  Here's my suggestion:  decide what is most important for you to be focused on right now, write it down, and review it every day.  Don't let the latest and the loudest drive your day.  Watch how your progress increases, and then let me know about it.

Commitments.  Think about a commitment you have made but have not completed yet.  Do you have something in mind?  How does it feel?  How clear are you about what you need to do to move forward on this commitment?   When we do not meet our commitments, either a commitment we have made to someone else or a commitment we have made to ourselves, we add unneeded stress to our lives.  We do not feel good about ourselves when we fail to meet our commitments.  It is actually meeting those commitments that gives us the energy and enthusiasm to do more.  Think about the last time you completed a really big project.  You were probably ready to take on more, and that's because you freed up all that mental energy and the act of completing something gave you energy.  You have three options when dealing with unmet commitments: (1) keep them, (2) don't make them, or (3) renegotiate them.  A good friend and colleague had to reschedule an appointment with me this week for very good reasons.  Now, she is going to feel a whole lot better by rescheduling ahead of time versus just not showing up.   Let's face it, the world changes all the time and sometimes it makes sense to rethink or renegotiate our commitments. 

Information.  How easily can you obtain information when you need it?  Are your reference systems in good order?  The best practice here is to keep your filing simple.  If it takes you more than 60 seconds to file something, you probably will not do it.  Make it easy and fun, keep things at your fingertips, and purge annually.  People spend much more time than they should looking for something, and this negatively effects productivity.  This goes for your paper and electronic reference systems as well. 

How about when you need information from someone else in your organization?  You need to elicit knowledge from experts easily today, find that knowledge easily when you need it, with the right technology and the right culture.  More on this next time from a knowledge management expert.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What are you focused on?  What do you want to be focused on?

  • How are you managing your commitments?  Which commitments do you need to move on now?

  • What can you do today to improve your reference system? 

I am currently offering a complimentary 30-minute 1:1 session in your office to help you deliver more with scarce resources.  If you would like to take advantage of this, please email me at

Say What You Can Do

Posted by Don Khouri on Sun, May 24, 2009

Are you telling your customers what you can do or what you can't do?  How you communicate your ability to meet their needs can make a huge difference.  It can come across as a positive that you are working with them and want to service them or that you are throwing up roadblocks.

I have been having some technology issues lately, and if you've had any experience with consumer products technical support, you may suspect that this has not been an easy process. After escalating the issue and requesting a replacement, I received immediate resistance.  "I can't replace your product or give you a refund". So, I proceeded to tell my story, the difficulties I was experiencing, and the time I spent trying to resolve the issue.  I continued to meet resistance. 

So, I escalated again. This was not easy to do and required four additional phone calls to get to the next level. This time, after I told my story, I got the response, "Don, I'm sorry for the amount of time you've spent on this. I don't want you to spend anymore time on this. I'd like you to send your unit to our best technical team. If they can fix it, great, and if they can't, I'll replace it." So, now I am listening. Now, I am willing to take another step before demanding a replacement. Something I was not willing to do before.  They both wanted me to do the same thing but approached it very differently.

Focus on what you can do, and get the same message across in a better way.  Here are some examples:

Don't say what you can't do...

Instead say what you can do...

I can't meet with  you until next week

I can meet with you next week

I won't be able to deliver that in May

I can get that to you by the first week in June

There's no way I can deliver all the functionality

I can deliver functions A, B, C in the first release and function D in the second release.

How are you servicing your customers? Listen to them, understand their reality first, and then communicate with them. Tell them what you can do, not what you can't do.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What is going well for your customers and what is not?
  • What are they asking you, and what can you do?
  • How can you help them resolve their challenges?


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Welcome to Don Khouri's Blog

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 30, 2009

Welcome to Don Khouri's Blog.  In this space, I will publish thoughts on leadership, teams, and personal productivity. 

Please join my distribution list.  Thank you,