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Onward and upward

Change.

Earlier this year I moved into a different job within my company. Same employer. Different responsibilities. Different direct reports. Different scope of work. I’ve been learning new procedures, establishing new relationships, and adapting to a different group culture. My travel schedule has changed, my work hours are different, and my in-office vs remote days are different. That’s enough change to make anyone wide-eyed each day!

Change is like the path unknown

Yet, despite all the adjustments in my life over the past few months, my personal and work missions have not changed. I continue daily to pursue connecting people together using systems and solutions. New routines don’t change that. That’s why it’s important to find and define those things in life that give us energy, motivation, and purpose. I believe defining and recognizing our mission provides the foundation for establishing life rhythms. These are the recurring daily and weekly actions that are completed for a purpose.  

The same journey.

Reflecting and writing about my life change has made me realize I’m still on the same journey. I’ve added a few new experiences and met some new colleagues. I discovered more about my existing friends, who I leaned on during the transition. But my direction is the same. I’m gravitating back to the same rhythms that brought me this far. Things like:

  • Start the day before 6am
  • Opt for the phone over email (and texting) when practical
  • Look for the business value behind technology solutions
  • Ask colleagues how I can help them be successful
  • Provide honest feedback to team members in the spirit of continuous improvement
  • Follow-up on commitments to earn trust and respect
  • Walk after dinner every day with my wife
  • Express gratitude for grace and love

If you have methods for staying on your true North and keeping your rhythms hold onto them. They will be your roadmap even when the scenery changes around you.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: bahahamelly via creative commons

Planting organizational seeds for a sustainable future

I’m in the process of repositioning to a new role within the same company. I’ve done this in the past, but never viewed the transition through a lean lens.  When this happened early in my career, I looked forward to the new job without giving thoughtful consideration to the previous job. Sure, I had documentation and notes I could leave for the next person. But I didn’t think about leaving a sustainable system.

That all changed when I was introduced to lean philosophy and thinking. The fifth lean principle is to pursue perfection. This is the principle that creates the basis for making continuous improvement and respect part of the culture and not just another management fad. Lean thinking identifies value and remove waste in such a way that practitioners view their work as more than a job. The work becomes part of a sustainable system that adapts to changing environments.


Ready to Spring Mike Lewinski via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/e9Fj5B

Today, as I transition to a new role, I’m leaving a team of managers with a set of documented standard work that creates the foundation for continuous improvement. I’m leaving them with departmental metrics that support the mission of the group. I’m leaving them with a defined system for problem solving and root cause analysis that systematically snuffs-out recurring problems that prevent excellent service delivery. I’m leaving them with the foundation for growing leaders who understand the work by going to the gemba. This time, the role change is different. This time I see and care about leaving a sustainable system for the next leader to enhance and make better.

4 of the 14 principles of the Toyota Way promote long term thinking and people development. Read these four principles and imagine how following them can promote sustaining a company culture by respecting people.

Principle 1) Base management decisions on long-term philosophy even at the expense of short-term goals.

Principle 6) Standardized tasks are the foundation of continuous improvement and employee empowerment.

Principle 9) Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy and teach it to others.

Principle 14) Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.

Pursuing perfection and continuous improvement is bigger than any individual. The big idea is to grow leaders so the system can survive management changes. If the system truly becomes part of the culture then the system will sustain itself and continue to grow over time. Of course I realize if new leaders are not versed in lean thinking then all of this may seem like foolishness to them. Therein lies the challenge for organizations in the midst of adopting lean. Grow leaders into elevated positions that understand the work and the system. Weave the system of lean into the culture so that it’s part of the core makeup of thinking.

The lesson in all this is to start planting seeds today for a sustainable system tomorrow. The seeds of long term thinking, standardized tasks, growing leaders, and continuous improvement are not only great ways to respect employees, but key to providing value to customers as well.

Onward and upward!


Have you found it?

Questions.

What do you want to do?

What do you want to be when you grow-up?

What’s your dream job?

Where do you see yourself in five years?

While the questions can be interpreted with different time horizons, they all focus on the core of who I am. These questions help me to think about motivators in my life as well as what provides emotional reward. The questions could be rephrased as “who are you, what gets you up in the morning, and why are you here?”

Answers.

I’ve heard some acquaintances answer with specific jobs or titles. They want to be a doctor, lawyer, pilot, etc. Then there are a group of friends who are motivated to switch their careers to something different. They may answer with stated goals to start a business or to go back to school to become a nurse. Others I know, answer in terms of what they don’t want to be doing because they haven’t determined what they do want to be doing. Someone once told me, “I don’t want to manage people. I don’t want to deal with their problems because I have enough of my own.” They were happy using their skills as an individual contributor.

My experience is our answer to the question will change over time as we learn more about ourselves. We determine what we do and don’t like. But over time, we also find more about what we value and what motivates us to work.

Meaning.

I’ve written in the past that I’m one of those odd people that went to college and never changed majors. I declared Computer Science as a course of study before I stepped foot on campus. At graduation, I walked across the stage to receive the paper with Computer Science written on it and I’ve been working in technology ever since. Here’s the thing, I loved my studies. I’ve loved my job assignments. I don’t feel like I’ve ever ‘worked’ because my days are filled with completing tasks I enjoy. I’m doing what I was wired to do.

Look for it!

As I’ve gained more experience (can I say matured?), I’ve adjusted my answer to the question “what do you want to do?” Now, I answer the question in terms of connecting people together with solutions provided by technology. It’s like a mission statement, “I connect people through systems and solutions”.  I enjoy working with technology components like servers, networks, and software. But I’ve come to realize what I’m really doing is connecting people with solutions to make their world a little easier. People are the ‘why’. Technology is the ‘how’. I still love to create. I love to solve puzzles. I love to experiment, dabble, and search for better ways of doing things (continuous improvement). These things make me smile. 🙂

Have you found it?

Have you found what gives you satisfaction such that you don’t consider working work? Look for it. Search for it. Find it.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Larry Smith – Look! Via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/c2yKFS

Making Respect Part of the Culture

The word respect is so common in company core values that I wonder if it’s become ubiquitous.  How do we define respect? Is it treating people kindly, helping those in need, and recognizing the contributions of others? Most certainly. But the challenge is, these are surface level behaviors and don’t create lasting impact for the organization or individuals. If something is a core value, I would expect to find it deeply embedded in the thinking, behaviors, and expectations for a company.

Giving respect to others is a key component for molding the culture of an organization. It requires more than periodic displays of kindness. Respect is way harder than that, but so much more powerful. Respect requires a willingness to change an opinion. It requires admitting others may have more knowledge about a situation. It requires collaboration.  Respect is sustained actions and involvement of employees in continuous improvement and problem solving.

Listen with an open mind

Employees on the front-line of work notice weaknesses in product and solution delivery. Why do we so often discredit them because of their position or because their thoughts don’t fit the corporate narrative? Listening to others with an open mind and not having predetermined answers shows respect because it creates meaningful dialogue. When we seek to understand the viewpoint of others, we risk opening our minds to alternate solutions. But we also show the other person that we care about understanding their view point. Respect is two-way communication.

I’ve have ongoing dialogue with employees about the work-from-home policy. I can tell you I have a different opinion than they do about the right balance of office and home days. But I’m trying to be open to dialogue that centers more around work output and uninterrupted flow. I know we’ll reach a better solution with common understanding and approach.

Participate together in problem solving

An ultimate sign of respect is to involve employees in solving problems. Jim Womack describes it this way in an article respect for people:

“Over time I’ve come to realize that this problem solving process is actually the highest form of respect. The manager is saying to the employees that the manager can’t solve the problem alone, because the manager isn’t close enough to the problem to know the facts. He or she truly respects the employees’ knowledge and their dedication to finding the best answer. But the employees can’t solve the problem alone either because they are often too close to the problem to see its context and they may refrain from asking tough questions about their own work. Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other’s role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to an ever higher level. “

This is a great example of driving respect into the culture through sustained actions rather than kind gestures. It shows respect for employee’s insights and skills. It creates a framework for employees to directly impact their work cells and production output. When an employee and team are part of creating a solution they feel more pride and accomplishment.  

Accepting constructive feedback

What we do with feedback from others is an indicator for how we respect them. If we dismiss feedback we could be overlooking an opportunity for improvement. If we take feedback personally we are telling employees not to be honest. If we retaliate against feedback by taking actions against an employee, then we create distrust in the organization.

In my career, I’ve had a manager question my ability to make a decision after I told them I thought they were showing signs of micromanaging. I’ve had a manager tell me I wasn’t onboard with the corporate strategy after I cautioned about moving too fast without understanding risks to business disruption. In both cases, trust was broken between the manager and I and I believe a lack of respect was present. They chose not to engage in dialogue, but to dismiss my feedback as insubordinate.

Learn together  

True learning involves sharing results with employees and guiding them in processes to problem solve for additional improvements. Learning is completing a cycle of plan-do-check-act and acting upon the results. When a group of people realize that continuous improvement is really about becoming a learning organization, then a cultural transformation is underway.

On my team, one way we’ve been learning together is by establishing visual metrics that align to our mission. We review the metrics weekly and discuss impact to our service delivery. Over time, we’ve adjusted the metric or even created a new metric as we’ve learn more by examining results. Growing together creates strong culture. Everyone sees progress and everyone feels setbacks.

In summary I would say respect is more than this –

Rather it’s best characterized by this –


Onward and upward!

Creating culture with remote teams

“What are ways you are building a ‘lean culture’ with remote team members?”

I posted this question on Twitter and a LinkedIn group because during the 25 years of my professional career, I’ve seen working from home (telecommuting as we used to call it) go from a special once-per-week privilege to a common status of working from home multiple times a week.  A growing number of workers are also now considered full-time remote. Some factors contributing to this change:

1)The technology for connecting employees to the company network is ubiquitous.

2) Companies realized they can recruit workers regardless of location and expand their talent pool.

3) Commute time is a factor affecting employment decisions.

Weaving together disparate blocks is like building culture with remote workers

In our knowledge economy and bit-driven world, location is irrelevant for completing work and contributing to mission of the team for many of us. But how do we create and maintain a group/company culture when workers are not co-located? How do we build a new culture when we see each other through conference calls?  My group is in the early stages of a ‘lean’ culture transformation and geographically dispersed. So I’ve been wrestling with this question and concept.

I read some online posts about others’ experience with building a culture and it’s quickly apparent the answer depends on the environment, value, and people in the company. There is no magic elixir or secret equation. Each company has a set of beliefs they strive to follow and a set of tools they use to connect their daily operations fit their desired company culture. It’s apparent, culture isn’t based on tools, ping pong tables, free lunches, etc. Culture is built from a shared set of beliefs and practices for how to deliver products and services to a customer.

In my own journey to answer this question, I’m focusing on a few fundamental building blocks to promote and build ‘lean’ into our team culture:

Explain the why.

When people understand the root of ‘lean’ is to add value for the customer, it’s easier to gain momentum as compared with getting momentum from cost reduction and cycle improvement tasks. Reducing costs is important, but will come as the result of adding value to products and services the customer wants. Lean doesn’t come by osmosis. There should be training involved to reinforce the daily operations of the team.

Build leaders that focus on creating flow and reducing waste.

It’s unusual for anything to survive in a company setting if there is no support from executive management. For ‘lean’ to survive, the team needs to see more than verbal affirmations from executives. They should see a leader who engages with local and remote workers in the tasks they are assigned (Go to the gemba). They should see a leader that actively promotes and discusses the benefits of completing recurring root-cause-analysis events for problem solving. They should see a leader that examines metrics and assigns actions to improve performance through counter measures.

Attribute action and results to the mission of the organization/group.

The mission of the organization states why it exists. The mission is a connecting statement between organizational actions and providing value to the customer. To develop culture with remote employees, they should understand how their daily activities map to the mission. Strong leaders frequently remind employees of the mission so it becomes a source of motivation and a common bond.

Promote team over individual efforts.

This last building block requires additional focus from remote employees or it can become a stumbling block to results. Include the voice of remote team members by making sure there is adequate participation and polling for their input. It’s through actions like these, the bond between remote workers will develop as strong as two co-located workers. It promotes helping co-workers when they have a question or need some extra man-power. It promotes the cultural feeling that we succeed together and we fail together. It promotes clearer understanding of team roles and boundaries.

Lastly, I realize I must have patience because this isn’t a sprint. Culture is built over time and through actions. Culture isn’t built on hanging platitudes, rah-rah speeches, and lofty goals. Rather it’s built-on working together, investing in each other, coaching, gemba walks, and shared experiences.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/oFffVN – Porch Weave by Kay Hayden on Creative Commons