Don Khouri Blog

Develop Your Team Members and Develop Yourself

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 08, 2010

Develop Your Team Members.  Bob Reynolds, the former Vice Chairman of Fidelity, in an address to senior executives said, "I see it as a failure of our company when we need to hire leaders from outside."  It was a message to all of us in the room that part of our job was developing the next generation of leaders.  As a leader, a big part of your job is doing exactly that.  Block the time to do it!

Here is a five step process you can follow with your team members to begin the leadership development process.

  1. Identify with each person their strengths, and one specific area for improvement. 
  2. Look for assignments that will leverage the strengths and help stretch the improvement opportunity.
  3. Help them find the right resources to support those areas -- training, articles, other mentors.
  4. Be a coaching leader.  Provide timely positive and constructive feedback, be supportive, and spend time with them to encourage their growth.
  5. Monitor by discussing progress in your 1:1s and observing yourself.

Develop Yourself.  "Of all the things thapersonal development can have an effect on your future, I believe personal growth is the greatest. We can talk about sales growth, profit growth, asset growth, but all of this probably will not happen without personal growth." -- Jim Rohn.

So here is a process you can follow to work on your own self development:

  1. Clarify and fully understand the organization objectives so that whatever you do aligns with those objectives.
  2. Gather information.  Ask for feedback (manager, peers, associates) on what is going well, and what you can do to improve.
  3. Based on the feedback, set 1-2 goals for improvement -- leverage your strengths, improve your weaknesses.
  4. Get a team in place that you can rely on to help you monitor progress on your own goals. 

A good executive coach can help you with this process.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How much time are you spending weekly on staff development?
  • How much time do you spend relfecting and on personal development?
  • How can you ask for feedback on how you are doing as a leader?

leadership development


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Tags: productivity, leadership, Fidelity, technology

Be Productive -- Get Better Every Day

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 01, 2010

Produce results, and get better every day -- I would like to cover part 7 and 8 in this article.

The first, "produce results" is simple and straight forward.  At Fidelity and elsewhere, working hard is not enough.  You have to produce results and show the benefits of those results.  You want this attitude to be pervasive in everything you do, from running a meeting, to completing a project, to building your team.  Make sure you are getting results.  Make sure you are delivering the business value you committed to.  This is not just about delivering on time and on budget.  In fact, one project team I know actually measures their success based on how widely used the solution is.  You accomplish this by making sure you delivery the features identified up front.

Second, there is a productivity concept called Kaizen.  It is actually made up of two words.  "Kai" which means change, and "Zen" which means better.  Change for the better.Kaizen

This is a Japanese concept that was introduced during their quality revolution that took place in the 1950s.  The idea is this:  that you make small incremental improvements every day, get better every day.  This idea was built into the Fidelity culture from the top down.  After a trip to Japan in the 1980s, Mr. Johnson, came back so excited about it, that he started sharing with Fidelity associates any opportunity he got.

For example, after every software development project, successful or not, mission critical or not, big or small, the project team would have a project closure meeting with all the key players and ask two simple questions:  What worked well that we should continue doing?  What can we do differently next time that will make this better?

In one particular case, the project team questioned the reason for having two sequential requirement steps -- a business requirement process and a systems requirement process which created overlap and redundancy.  The result was to combine the requirement process which saved effort, time and money.  Fidelity does not settle for the status quo, there is always room for improvement, there is always a way to do it better, faster, cheaper. 

Another example, from my coaching work relates to what I have done with the agreement process.   I have improved my agreement process to include a coule of additional steps including building an alliance with the client around our interactions.

When the idea of continuous improvement is built into a culture, it can be very effective.  Kaizen is something you can use as a leader in your work and in your daily life. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How close is your current project to producing the results you committed to?
  • What are you doing today to get better?
  • How can you best share the concept of Kaizen with your team?

Tags: productivity

What I Learned at Fidelity Part 6 -- "No" Is Not Acceptable

Posted by Don Khouri on Tue, Feb 16, 2010

It might be one of the first words we learn and perhaps one of the most powerful ones, however, the right answer is never a simple "no".  Anything is possible with the right amount of time and resources.  So, rather than start off with no, explain what you will need to make it a yes.  This is a similar concept to one of my earlier blogs, Say What You Can Do.

At Fidelity, there is a culture of figuring oucreative, no is not acceptablet how to do it, whatever it is.  As a software solutions provider, my teams knew it was never acceptable to tell our customers, "no, we can't do it".  Rather, it was a discussion about priorities, or a trade-off between time and other factors.  A good software project manager will prioritize the following items as part of the project start-up process:  time, quality, cost, and functionality. 

For example, Iwhen we were converting the payroll system at Fidelity, it became evident that there was no way we could deliver all of the requested functionality in the required time frame.  In this particular case, quality and time were the most important factors.  So, we got creative, and identified the core parts of the system that needed to be delivered initially, and agreed with the business sponsors on a phased approach for the less critical functionality. 

When you take this approach with your business customers, you will create an environment that opens up dialogue, builds credibility, and fosters strong partnerships.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What issues are facing you right now that seem like "no" is the right answer?   What can you do?
  • How clear is the relative priority of time, quality, cost, and functionality on your current projects?
  • What three things can you do to create a culture of creativity with your team?

Tags: productivity, relathionships, Fidelity, technology

What I Learned at Fidelity Part 5 -- Adapt to Change

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Feb 03, 2010

There is only one constant at Fidelity -- Change.  Change is what allows the organization to stay fresh, innovative, and entrepreneurial.  The speed of change is increasing, and that is fueled by technology.

Successful leaders anticipate change, embrace change, and influence change.  You can either manage the chanChange, adapt to change, technology leaders changege or allow it to manage you.  When you see it coming, ask questions, understand it, offer your input, and provide pertinent information that will help make the change better (for you, for your team, and for the organization).  I used to love the idea of change at Fidelity, whether I was initiating it or responding to it, because it was an opportunity for me to share what my team was doing, how they were contributing, and it was usually a way for us to better align with the company. 

As Spencer Johnson writes in his book, Who Moved My Cheese? "be ready to change quickly, and enjoy it again and again."  You may not always agree with the change, and that is ok too.  Take the opportunity to share your thoughts in a constructive way.  The change champions will appreciate your input.

How do you anticipate change?  To answer that question, ask yourself the following:  What do you notice in environment that is different -- people, conversations, meetings?   What is different about it?  Trust your instinct, notice your observations, and use this information as a signal to get involved.

Embrace Change.  Your involvement will allow you to keep abreast of what the change is all about.  In fact, the change will probably change, so staying current will help you adapt during the change.  Those that get stuck in the old way of doing things, although easier in the short-term, are at a disadvantage.  They miss the opportunity to improve how things work, and often more importantly, are viewed by the organization as a dinosaur.  This is a difficult stigma to overcome.   

Influence change.  Now that you know change is inevitable, there is no reason that you cannot be the one to advocate for the right change.  What can be improved?  The Japanese concept of Kaizen tells us to make small incremental improvements every day. 

What I Learned at Fidelity


Take a quick look at this video and think about which character you are most like.
         Change Management


Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What is changing in your environment?
  • What needs to be changed in your environment?
  • What can you do to influence the change?


Tags: productivity, leadership, Fidelity, technology

What I Learned At Fidelity Part 4 -- The Big Picture and The Details

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Jan 11, 2010

Leaders need to have a good grasp of both the big picture and the details.  It is the best way to ensure success of your initiatives. Some leaders may be good at establishing, communicating, and motivating followers around the big picture.  Some leaders may be good at digging into the details and know what is going on.  Strong leaders do both well.

First, let's define both terms.  The big picture is a broad, overall perspective with a long-term view of a project or issue.  The details are the particular tasks and items that need to be accomplished to fulfill the big picture.  As the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."  If the leader does not understand enough about the details, they may not be supporting the path to the big picture.  Conversely, if the leader does not see the big picture they could become too caught up in micro-managing the details and "miss the forest for the trees."

A great example of this is the software quality assurance (QA) process.  The Software QA group focuses on the overall quality of the product to ensure that quality is built into the process throughout the software development life cycle.  By focusing on the details, the Software QA team will ensure the proper testing of the software during that phase of the life cycle.

QA is testing the software to ensure overall quality, and it is not enough.  You cannot test quality into the software; it needs to be built into the whole process from project startup and requirements gathering to implementation and rollout.

When a pilot takes off, he knows his destination and staysairplane landing focused on that for the entire trip.  It is fascinating to note that 90% of the time, the airplane is actually off track.  During this time, the pilot is using the instrumentation (note, paying attention to the details) to get the plane back on track.  The only way to do that effectively, is to know the final destination (the big picture). 

Successful leaders keep their team focused on the big picture and remind them the reasons they are working so hard to deliver on time and on budget.  Successful leaders also understand enough about the details to provide support to the team, to remove barriers, and to ensure the details are supporting the big picture.  It is easy to get off track and get so focused on a detail that, in the end, will not help contribute to the ultimate goal.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What is the successful outcome (aka, big picture) of your current project?
  • How well do you understand the details?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to get back on track?

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Tags: productivity, software development, big picture, details, quality assurance, testing

What I Learned at Fidelity, Part 3 -- Master Communication To Be Productive

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Jan 04, 2010

This is the third part in a series of What-I-Learned-At-Fidelity-Investments-About-Being-a-Leader 

Mastering communication is a key component in succeeding as a leader.  It is not enough to have a good idea, or be a terrific project manager, or to be great at developing software, you also need to effectively communicate it.  Mastering the art of communication is so important because it is what keeps everyone on the same page, and enables you to take appropriate action.  Without communication, there can be misunderstanding or lack of action.  Ultimately, good communication leads to improved productivity.

In this article, I would like to layout a blueprint for a communication plan.


Think of yourself as a hub of communication.  The Leader is in the centehub of communicationr, communicating with all of those people around him / her, and must provide the right information to the right people in the right format for it to be effective.  Too much and too little information is not appropriate.

Your Team.  It is important to keep your team up to date.  I find it effective to do so using a number of formats -- staff meetings, 1:1s, and email.  In staff meetings, establish an agenda, seek input from your team, and have an open discussion about projects, strategy, and issues.  It is a time for your staff to learn about what is going on with their peers.  It is a time to encourage teamwork, and a time to identify how staff members can help each other.  It is also time for problem solving.

Your Peers.  It is equally important to keep your peers and business partners up-to-date on the status of your projects and your team.  In my leadership roles at Fidelity, I found it beneficial to set up recurring project status meetings with business partners to share the current status of projects, issues, risks and actions.  When all the data is on the table, it is easier to take appropriate action.  An open line of communication with partners and peers also helps to identify problem areas early and provides a forum for discussion.

Your Superiors.  With your immediate manager and other superiors, it is vitally important to communicate strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, and vendor updates.  I found it helpful to structure the 1:1 agenda with my boss along these topics, putting the most important ones up front to ensure they were covered in the scheduled time.

Other Stakeholders.  Identify who the key stakeholders are and what means of communication are best suited for effectively reaching them. 


What should you be communicating?  Here are some things to consider:

Team -- Vision, project information, upcoming events, how your work fits into the organization, issues. 

Peers / Partners -- Project status, issues, risks, actions

Superiors -- Strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, Vendor updates


Different situations call for different forms of communication.  Richer forms of communication, like face-to-face meetings, are best and not always possible.  So, as the sensitivity of topics decrease, other forms can be used.  Using multiple formats to communicate information will work best -- face-to-face meetings, email, phone calls.  Think carefully about the audience and content before selecting the most effective means to portray the information.

For example, use 1:1 meetings to discuss the progress of individual projects, to solicit feedback on targeted ideas, and to discuss individual development plans.  Use email for updates that require no discussion or interpretation.

Good communicators listen actively, use stories to communicate ideas, and are clear about what they are communicating. 


The simple answer is early and often.  Get the information on the table, and be transparent about it.  When the information is available, it is easier to solve problems.  When the information is not available, issues fester, and the longer they fester the more difficult they are to resolve. 

Each of these topics could easily be a blog entry on its own, and for that matter, a book.  The simple point is this -- mastering communication is a key to being a successful leader because it helps ensures all stakeholders are operating with the right information.  Hopefully, I have given you the start and framework for thinking about communication and developing a plan. 

Don's coaching questions:

  • When are you at your best communicating ideas?
  • What does your communication plan look like?
  • What actions can you take this week to improve communication?

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, motivation, communication

Remembering a Leader

Posted by Don Khouri on Fri, Jan 01, 2010

We lost a close family friend unexpectedly yesterday afternoon, 12/31/2009.  I am compelled to share some thoughts on leadership in this special New Year's Day edition of the blog.  To give you some sense of the relationship, Jim, or Chucky as he was known to his friends, was a life-long friend of my parents, served with my Dad in the army, and his son and I grew up spending many, many weekends together.

My direct relationship with Chuck was serving on our church's parish council together in the late 80s and early 90s.  If you have been reading my blog, you know my philosophy about leadership and productivity.  Chuck was a leader who knew how to get things done.  There are three qualities that defined his leadership style that have always stuck with me -- commitment, creativity, and community. 

Commitment.  Every leader needs to have a commitment and passion for the cause.  There was no question about Chuck's commitment to the church, always keeping its best interest in mind during parish council deliberations.  He would not speak or act without doing what he thought was best for the church.  It was this commitment that earned my personal respect.  I always wanted to understand his point of view on a topic, and although we may not have always agreed, I always respected his viewpoint and opinions.

Creativity.  Every leader should be willing to try out new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Bring a fresh perspective to the work, and your teams will innovate.  Chuck was one of the creators of our annual Christmas Bazaar over 20 years ago, and it still serves as a significant part of the Church's income today.  This spark triggered others, and the Bazaar Committee came up with so many different ways to keep it interesting.  Then there was the 1000 Club, the Bonanza Night, and so many others.  Chuck had countless ideas that he brought to the table -- "let's try it this way, or how about this, or why not that."  This creativity brought energy and excitement to the community.

Community.  Chuck had a way of creating a community environment and inspiring those around him to work hard for the community.  He recruited me to serve as Treasurer of the Bazaar which I did for many years.  It was a pleasure to work for him because he worked hard himself, and he demanded excellence.  I remember him coming into the office during Bazaar weekend wanting to know exactly where we stood relative to the previous year, and encouraging us to make sure we balanced out to the penny. 

I don't remember Chuck as a boisterous, outgoing, attention-grabbing leader.  He led quietly, he led with distinction, he led in a way that inspired teamwork, and he was true to himself.  I bring these lessons with me today serving on the council, and in all my work. 

Chuck, may you rest in peace, and may your memory be eternal.

Tags: productivity, leadership

What I Learned at Fidelity, Part 2 -- Build Strong Relationships

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Dec 21, 2009

This is the second in a series of blog entries about What-I-Learned-At-Fidelity-Investments-About-Being-a-Leader

Building strong and strategHandshake, relationships, productivityic relationships is a critical skill in furthering one's success; one that I encourage you to learn and executive effectively.  It is an especially vital and important skill for leaders to acquire.  One technology executive shared the following words of wisdom with me; I have never forgotten them.  "When you have strong relationships, big issues become small ones, and when you have weak relationships, small issues become big ones."

Being partial to small issues, I recall an instance when we were experiencing a system outage and not providing the service our customers were accustomed to receiving.  Certainly a serious issue, however, it was an easy phone call to those customers with whom I had built and fostered strong relationships.  They understood, trusted me and my team to solve the issue, and gave me the time and latitude to do that.  For those where my relationships were not as strong, the trust was not as high, and I had to spend more time explaining our action plan, providing status updates, and communicating our progress.

It takes time and planning to build relationships.  It may be easy to focus on the "work" and put relationships to the side, however it is part of your job as a leader to develop these relationships both for your benefit and your team's.  Block time on your calendar, reach out to those that are important, and spend formal and informal time building critical relationships.  In addition, fostering relationships is equally important in order to keep them strong and vibrant, and also takes planning and a commitment of time.

When I worked with a company in Paris developing payroll software, I learned that, "in the US, the work is the goal and the relationship is the tool.  In France, the relationship is the goal, and the work is the tool."  Perhaps we should consider moving a little closer to the middle of this spectrum. 

One of my managers was masterful at building strong relationships with both business partners and peers. The strength of his relationships enhanced his credibility and the respect that those individuals showed him.  It made his job easier and it made my job easier.  I try to carry this lesson with me and make time to focus on, build, and foster relationships.

Think about some of your current challenges.  Think about what is going well for you.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How does the strength of your relationships play a role in your challenges and in what is going well? 
  • What are three key relationships you could improve upon?
  • What can you do to begin to re-build, and/or foster those relationships?
  • What impact will these stronger relationships have on your work?

Tags: productivity, leadership, relathionships, Fidelity

Is Motivation Just for Kindergarteners?

Posted by Don Khouri on Sat, Dec 12, 2009

Motivation, technology leaders, producivity

I can't help but comment on Adalius Thomas' statement this week that "motivation is for kindergarteners" in response to Patriots' coach Bill Belichick sending him and three other players home after arriving late for practice.  I am not commenting on whether or not Belichick did the right thing, or even if this was the best way to motivate his team.

What I would like to comment on is motivation.  It is not just for kindergarteners.  We all need it. I like Zig Ziglar's quote, "People often say that motivation doesn't last.  Well, neither does bathing -- that's why we recommend it daily."

Perhaps you can motivate yourself, perhaps you use something external to get you motivated, or perhaps you use someone else like a coach to keep you motivated.  Bottom line is that we all need to be motivated on a regular basis. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What motivates you?
  • When you are stuck, what tricks to you use to get unstuck?
  • What distracts you from your goals?

What do you think?

Tags: productivity, motivation

What I Learned At Fidelity Investments About Being a Leader

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Dec 10, 2009

Ten Strategies You Need to Excel as a Leader 

The rules of the game keep changing, and the rate of change is increasing, all being driven by the rapid pace of improving technology.  As a technology leader at Fidelity Investments for 21 years, I learned a great deal about being a leader and how to work in this fast-paced, ever-evolving industry.  Fidelity is well known for its commitment to technology and uses technology solutions to its competitive advantage. For example, Fidelity was the first to offer automated phone services, the first to allow customers to withdraw funds from Money Market accounts, and has always been on the forefront of electronic trading.  To the best of my knowledge Fidelity spends more on technology as a percentage of revenue than any other financial services firm.  

During my tenure at Fidelity I played many different leadership roles managing global software development teams from Boston to Bangalore and Dallas to Merrimack.  The teams that I was responsible for focused on a broad array of projects and products over time including the delivery of back-end systems to support Fidelity Active Trader,  B2B conversion, market data systems, payroll quality, and retirement services quality. 

From my experience, I found that there were ten key factors that directly contributed to my success as a leader.  For the next ten weeks I plan to address each of these factors individually and highlight what I believe are the necessary ingredients to excel as a leader.

1.  Build Strong Relationships
2.  Master Communication
3.  Understand the Big Picture, and Know the Details.
4.  Adapt to Change
5.  "No" is not Acceptable
6.  Have a Sense of Urgency
7.  Produce Results
8.  Improve Every Day
9.  Develop your People
10.  Develop Yourself

It is important to note that when I use the term leader, I am not referring solely to those who manage other people.  A leader is also someone who manages projects or an individual who needs to coordinate and get things done across many groups or teams which involve large numbers of people.  In my mind, a leader is someone who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal (  

The rules of the game keep changing, and the rate of change is increasing, all being driven by the rapid pace of improving technology.  As a leader you have to not only lead effectively, but also figure out the game-changing rules that apply at the same time.  The best leaders are the ones who actually define the rules.   Over the next ten weeks I hope to enlighten you with what I believe are the ten key factors to focus on in becoming an effective, productive, and successful leader.

Next time:  Build Strong Relationships

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, software development