• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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Have a vision? Follow your dream…with discipline!

About five months ago, I had a social meeting with a long-time friend and his son. My friend wanted his son to meet with me and discuss his thoughts for his future. When we met, the dynamics was so familiar. The father worried about his son’s future, wanted him to get a regular job and so on. The son, on the other hand, had different ideas. More importantly, he had a passion: video games. Most of the night went as one would expect. As we were walking out of the place, the father left us alone for a few minutes. Those few minutes made it obvious that this young guy was no ordinary kid. In addition to being very clear about what his passion was, he also had a game plan to convert his passion to a business.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago… I met my friend (the father) again and listened to the accomplishments of his son in a few short months. He had set up a YouTube channel, broadcasting his expertise on a video game. He beat the game before the provider made changes to it to make it less challenging for the average player. He interviewed on BBC, no less, and has thousands of followers of his video updates. Some of his YouTube videos attracted millions of visitors. And, his efforts started to bear fruit. The month before, he generated what I would call serious revenue for his start-up.

At the second meeting, my friend was no longer worried about his son. Instead, he expressed his admiration for the son’s passion and discipline. And, this is the important point: discipline.

What made this guy successful is the combination of his passion and his discipline. He clearly articulated what he envisioned, which was an achievement in itself. But, he also planned and executed every step to get there. When I was listening to the events of the past months from his father, I was remembering the things the son had told at our first meeting. It was clear that his success was not incidental, it was carefully thought-out and impeccably executed.

My hat is off to this kid!

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com.

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Is Your Skin Thick Enough to be an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are a rare breed of people, who are motivated by opportunities to lead corporate growth. In doing so, they typically take inordinate career risks because they are driven by “doing the right thing to create value” but such value is generated over a time frame which is mostly outside their control.  They are different from entrepreneurs because they are not doing it for their own companies.

Their personal benefits, if business becomes successful, are typically quite limited. On the flip side, intrapreneurs enjoy access to better resources and, unlike entrepreneurs, they are not encumbered by cash-flow issues. Larger organizations that employ intrapreneurs typically have deeper pockets than most entrepreneurs do.

To be successful, intrapreneurs need to change the company culture, do things differently, do it efficiently, shake the boat, and gain internal support to get things done. That is a tall order even in change-friendly organizations. The way intrapreneurs operate typically do not resemble the way daily operations work. This difference is necessary to achieve new and innovative results but it is also at odds with the typical results-driven, bottom-line focused organizations.

Abbie Griffin, Raymond L. Price and Bruce A. Vojak call such people “Serial Innovators” in their book with the same title (you can find a review of the book at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2012-summer/53419/what-it-takes-to-be-a-serial-innovator).  In spite of the enormous value intrapreneurs bring to their organizations, the authors report that a number of the serial innovators they interviewed thought that if they were just starting out today, their companies would not hire them. Fortunately, there are a good number of intrapreneurs who are not discouraged by this observation and continue to be motivated to bring in new and exciting businesses to life.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

Performance – What Measurement to Use?

Two articles I read today made me share my thoughts about performance of individuals and teams.

The first article was published by Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2012/07/03/the-terrible-management-technique-that-cost-microsoft-its-creativity). The author argued Microsoft killed creativity when it adopted GE’s famous bottom-10-per-cent-out performance scheme.

The second article appeared on Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/1842019/evaluating-employees-based-on-influence). It discusses an emerging performance indicator: influence.

In my world of innovation and new businesses, creativity of individuals is paramount. Every team is only as good as its members’ ability to envision and implement new and effective ways to perform its tasks. Creativity is typically associated with artistic fields (eg. Marketing). In fact, in a well-performing team, every member is creative in their expertise area because they need to do it better than the next company in order to secure market share. The leader’s role is to create and foster such an environment. So, how one does it? Here are a few practices that worked well for me:

  • Allow individuals define what they want to do for the team. What they did before may be qualifier but what a person can do is not evident in their past successes or failures. This is an area where leadership is essential. Not everybody is comfortable with expressing their aspirations. There is always a fear of over-promising and under-delivering. With proper coaching and guidance, one may unearth star players.
  • Deliver on-the-spot guidance and just-in-time feedback. It is my belief that feedback and guidance has to be immediate, not the next day or on the performance appraisal day, whenever that happens.
  • Place value on knowledge and level of contribution, not on seniority, title, or how loudly one argues. Dan Pink states that “mastery” is one of the top motivators for people. Placing explicit value on master knowledge and expertise creates a culture of learning and improving.

Probably most people would agree with what I wrote above. None of this is new or ground-breaking and seems to fit well with the Fast Company article. However, I am always amazed by how everyday practices differ from the above. Under the typical pressures of budget and schedule, it is easy to deviate from these best practices and fall back on a more rigid system. When the purpose is collaboration and innovation, there is no faster way to failure with competitive performance systems.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

How to Keep a Team Motivated

What motivates people? Many people devoted their careers to find answers to this question. I faced the same question in a project recently and here is what I did about it.

First, let me give you a brief background. I was parachuted into a project which was experiencing issues with meeting delivery objectives and had significantly over-ran its budget & schedule targets. Among some other issues, one of the fundamental problems in the project was team motivation. What made this project atypical is that the individual team members did not lack motivation and they were not in apathy. However, the project lacked a unified team motivation. As a result, days was spent fighting fires and a new fire emerged almost everyday.

Now, let’s take a look at what motivates people at work. Frederick Herzberg, in his classic Harvard Business Review article (October 1987) shows that sense of achievement is the top motivator by a good margin. The second place goes to recognition.

With this observation, I decided to tackle the motivation issue in two steps and focus on the top-two motivators I mentioned above:

1) Immediate resolution to get things back on track and put out fires:

Sense of achievement is only possible when the objectives are clear and agreed upon. My first action was to get the team together and define the immediate goals of the project. Once we defined them and achieved consensus, we had a team objective. Next step was to identify the actions to get things back in order. Many team members already had ideas and we collectively chose a short-list of actions to take. Everything else was put aside either because they were unnecessary left-overs from earlier tasks or because they did not directly correlate with the objectives of the project.

The above approach touched both motivators:

  • Sense of achievement by defining goals and, therefore, confirming that the tasks helped the team meet its collective goal.
  • Recognition by using the ideas and acknowledging the achievements towards the goal.

As a result of the first step, the team met a very aggressive business milestone within three weeks and established confidence among the company executives that the project could be salvaged.

2) Eliminate future fires & keep the team marching towards a unified objective:

The next stage was to create a sustained motivation level when the adrenaline rush was over from step 1. While there was a sense of relief to meet a challenging and high-profile milestone, there was more to do to complete the project. For continued success, the team needed to know and believe in a shared vision and the way to get there. We achieved this as follows:

  • Created a milestone-based project plan and assigned each major milestone to a project team member. This created a sense of ownership, which leads to a sense of achievement when they are done.
  • Ownership clarified responsibility and accountability. As they are done, recognition goes to the owner and the team that made it happen.
  • Access to information (i.e., communication) was spread to all levels of the project team. The earlier approach was to streamline all communication, both incoming and outgoing, through the project manager. The approach we took was to involve the full team in all incoming communication and help them communicate to outsiders their areas of responsibility.

Currently, the second step is proving to be very successful, both among the team and among company executives. Critical milestones are being met, and the project is showing signs of a healthy recovery and a motivated project team.

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