The following Q&A was conducted with Sidita Hasi, a recent recipient of an MIT Sloan Executive Certificate in Management and Leadership and an executive for FedEx Trade Networks. To earn her certificate, she completed the following short courses: Neuroscience for Leadership, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity, Communication and Persuasion in the Digital Age, and Creating High Velocity Organizations.
What is your role at your company? Are there particular challenges you face that prompted you to enroll in executive education?
I currently work as a Process Improvement Advisor for FedEx Trade Networks, the freight forwarding and customs brokerage arm of global shipping giant FedEx Corp. At the core of our corporate mission is delivering and exceeding customer expectations, what we call the "Purple Promise." I am responsible for overseeing and leading projects in regard to air/ocean global transportation and acting as the middleman across departments to solve issues that might impact product development and service quality. I also analyze development opportunities and support top management decision-making.
As we continue to grow and change in terms of internal organizational structure and new products and services, as well as the high velocity of industry changes in the recent years--there is a strong focus on continuous process improvement. Change is considered to be a survival competitive strategy rather than luxury or situational.
A few of the motivations that guided me towards this certificate were:
- Personality type--I have always embraced change and strongly believed in continuous process improvement. I believe that we can't change others unless we look at ourselves as well and start the change from there. Increasing internal and external awareness can facilitate the change itself.
- Cross departmental type of job--In my role, which straddles so many departments that don’t report to me directly, it is beneficial to know how to coach other teams to ensure that tasks get accomplished in addition to their own departmental tasks.
- Fast industry--The freight forwarding market has become very volatile and uncertain in the recent years. If prices were changing two to three times a year in the past, now they change every month. Keeping up with all these changes and finding profitable solutions requires situational leadership as well as flexible strategic mindset in conjunction with strong organizational skill set.
When did you decide you wanted to get a certificate in Management & Leadership? Did stakeholders at your organization support/encourage this effort?
My former and existing manager noted my desire for ongoing professional development since day one, and they supported and motivated me to pursue all of my development initiatives. The company not only financially supports education, but also has a high internal focus with related programs that develop quality/organizational skills.
Shortly after completing another quality-related certificate designed from ASQ for FedEx (a mix of lean-six sigma and total quality management), I decided to start the MIT Sloan Executive Certificate path to get more field knowledge from different industries and with professors who have shaped their programs based on industry needs and student feedback.
Neuroscience for Leadership provides management insights based on new and cutting-edge research. Did you enjoy this course? What are some of the insights you have begun to apply?
This program brought me an awareness of where I stand with myself and how I approach life in all its aspects, including work. While I previously had awareness of changes I needed to make, I have never come up with a plan to implement those changes. I tend to embrace change and look for opportunities for self-improvement; however I am aware that I sometimes resist it. As a result, I've put myself into change situations yet sometimes struggled during the process. I am now trying to be more open to experiencing change and embracing the struggle, which is a necessary process for the change to happen.
I'm also dedicating more time to sleeping and eating. I realize now that discipline and finding equilibrium between the mind and the body is what I need. Allowing my body to also feed my brain, instead of looking for knowledge as the only source of brain development is essential to a healthy life balance.
In terms of work, there are a few things that I decided to do differently. First, I've decided to take a communication class and find ways to provide information in a clear, simple, and meaningful way. I will still continue to motivate people to improve as I always did, but will work more on accepting their failures as I accept mine. I will try to be less selective and not close doors to people who are not as committed to their work as I am. I will try to help them improve and love improvement, or accept that their priorities and perspectives are different from mine.
I will also try to not make judgments purely on perceptions without experience. I do have a strong intuition, which I used to rely on at the expense of a more rational and exploratory approach. I will try to experience things that I would typically avoid and to learn from them.
I wrote down some of these guiding principles, and I keep them on my desk as a reminder to stick to them. As suggested during the program, I'm limiting myself to two to three goals at a time and am trying to be patient, allowing time to make the change happen.
Creating High Velocity Organizations focuses on process improvement and innovation. What prompted you to select this program? How does it apply to your work?
As the company continues to grow, our current focus has been to stop and see how we operate internally and pursue process improvement strategies that will allow us to reach global growth targets while still excelling in customer satisfaction. Customer retention is as important as gaining new customers; therefore, we need to be proactive while facing rapidly changing markets. This course teaches you not only how to survive in times of fast speed business but also how to turn challenges of uncertainty into opportunities. By using an approach of prevention versus correction, starting from small steps and staying flexible for future changes, we're able to adapt to industry and customer volatility and gain competitive advantage through revision of our internal strategies. This philosophy really matches our company's quality-driven principles of striving to make the organization changeable rather than strictly focusing on a one time change.
How have you changed your habits and behaviors in the two months since taking Maximizing Your Personal Productivity?
I was very excited to take this course. Since completing the program, I now start my day with a standard, clear plan on what I should be working on for the day--tasks that are usual and need to be taken care of and other projects based on priority. I also leave time for last minute requests depending on relevance and time requirements. I make sure to still work on one or two things that might not be required to be accomplished soon or might require a lot of time to be accomplished yet are not urgent. I do this so those projects can still move ahead.
I also make sure to hold meetings with prep work done and an agenda, which we so often tend to ignore. I request that all speakers send me a short summary of their talking points so I can enrich the agenda for the attendees as well as ensure that meeting notes reflect what the speakers intend to transmit to the audience without losing meaning.
I am very much a detail, quality-oriented person and come from a research mindset. I realize now that these forces sometimes drag me into being involved in too many things at once. By attending this course, I've learned that I need to delegate more. I've also learned to let go of certain tasks that did not have a big impact or weren't well-aligned with the higher level strategy and yet were taking a lot of my time to be accomplished.
What prompted you to enroll in Communication and Persuasion in the Digital Age? Do you think this program will help you influence attitudes and change behaviors in your organization?
This course has been very beneficial in understanding some key concepts. For example, we need a framework to use when we try to communicate a certain message or request. This framework might be different depending on context, audience and so on; however, we still need to define a clear and purposeful path while we communicate. Another concept that I found very powerful is that of storytelling. Storytelling helps employees to understand the organizations high-level strategic goals…and strengthens message understanding and memorization. People like stories, they connect to certain pieces of them with their own life stories, and this helps increase empathy towards the communicator. As a result people are more willing to help and collaborate. I did start using storytelling while coaching a group of employees on quality-related statistical tools. It made statistical concepts look simple and meaningful by incorporating them into an engaging story. This concept is particularly useful when dealing with global virtual teams. It helps build that community that geographical distance won't allow.
This course also helped me decide how to better evaluate motivation, ability, and time when deciding how to convey a message in a way that requires automatic, quick cognition rather than central deeper thinking, also known as "peripheral and central routes of cognition" (see Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow). This approach not only will allow me to convey messages in the right way depending on situation and audience, but will also ensure that stakeholders will provide what I need in a way that is straight to the point. While managing projects with different stakeholders I now try to adapt the content and format to the various audiences.
Additional concepts from the course that I have put into practice so
- Writing down clear and detailed standard procedures for teams to follow
- Asking all vendors to provide their organizational structure and procedures so we can reach the right people when support is needed
- Adding visuals to meeting presentations—letting the data speak. This also became a good tool to use to prompt open discussions and brainstorming.
- Sending information as a link instead of an attachment whenever possible (lightens the email memory load)
- Attending many monthly calls in other departments to stay in the loop with anything that can possibly impact product. It also helps me to learn their system/departmental language.
What did you enjoy most about your experience at MIT? What surprised you?
I was seeking hands-on courses with content that could be applied to real issues. These courses were all applicable to our own concerns. The two day course structure is intense enough to give you those "aha moments" that we all need to trigger change in thoughts and plans.
I believe that improvement at work comes from improvement from within, and this is what these programs deliver. Courses at MIT Sloan make you look in the mirror and enable you to visualize your strengths and weaknesses. Once you see those, you have a more realistic view of your context. As a result, you acquire a vision for leveraging your strengths and reducing weaknesses.
In a matter of two days, I felt at home with program administrators, professors, and participants, each with such a high level of experience and colorful background. Professors were open and striving for constructive feedback to incorporate in their future courses. Knowing that the same course changes from semester to semester based on participant feedback is exciting and perfectly matches the reality we live in.
During the Neuroscience and Leadership course, I sat with a high-level executive participant during a group exercise and was really touched to hear how openly he shared a tough and sensitive moment as part of a conversation on externalizing triggering moments that impacted our lives. I was moved, and it made me shift how I see executives at my own company. After all, behind each title there is a human being. We have to be open to each other and true to ourselves to reach successful cooperation.
What surprised me the most was how the professors and the structure of their courses were exemplifying the curriculum material itself. During the Neuroscience for Leadership program, for example, Dr. Tara Swart kept a bottle of water in her hands at all times. She was drinking a bit from time to time while she was teaching us that we have to take care of our body and mind in order to be productive. I noticed how most of participants consciously or unconsciously started to drink more water during those two days.
During the first day of Maximizing Your Personal Productivity course, I felt that the readings were too many as they had not been provided ahead of time and participants were mostly internationals who had a hard time reading that quickly and that much within the same day. However, as we got to the core of the class, I realized that all that was intentional--that was a perfect simulation of our work days. How often are we faced with multiple projects at once, without enough time to think deeper or lacking resources, and yet are required to deliver solutions? Learning how to handle pressure, stretch ourselves, and be quick and positive in delivering successful results were elements that were very well taught during this course beautifully designed by Dr. Robert Pozen.
Another surprising yet
smiling moment happened during the course of Communication
and Persuasion in the Digital Age. Paul "the robot" was one of the participants
in this course experimenting with remote participation. It was a perfect match
with the course content. We got to experience first-hand how technology is
rapidly changing the way we interact with one another. It was a perfect
conclusion of my certificate path. It all linked. I chose MIT for my
certificate because of its history of being on the cutting edge. And ironically
enough, there was a robot participant the day I received my certificate.