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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

Lean Visual Management Board – What I’ve learned so far

Last year we started using a visual management board to get a better understanding of the flow of work in our IT department. The board, now in version 2 and completely electronic, has become the staple of our weekly team leader meetings. With continued attention and more maturity in lean thinking, I expect to continue evolution of the board contents.  There is no destination; Journey we must.

Each week, we “walk the board” during the team leader meeting. The content of the board is the agenda of the meeting. As we “walk” we make updates, we discuss topics, and we review results. The board has posted metrics and results, upcoming production changes, a calendar of key events , training plans, action plans, and links to standard operating procedure documents. It’s like a big dashboard but yet different because we are actively working the flow of department in the department instead of just viewing it. The board provides a tool for enacting the countermeasures and actions necessary to bring visual management to life.

Here’s a rough layout of the board contents which now reside on our Intranet start page:


Here are a few of the things we’ve learned by working the board each week:

  • Making work visual allows others see how their inputs and outputs affect overall flow of work.
  • We can measure progress of continuous improvement efforts by seeing how they affect key metrics.
  • We have a consistent approach for root cause problem solving. Learn together. Win together.
  • The board promotes the development of leaders that follow the company’s philosophy for work.

The visual management board is a conversation starter. It’s a visual representation of work. It’s a mission enabler.

Onward and upward!

Turning employee survey results inside out

Making sense of employee survey results.

This week I reviewed the 2018 employee survey results with my department. I’ll be honest; deciphering survey results is a challenge for a variety of reasons. Questions are interpreted differently. Similar questions with slight nuances yield measurably different answers. Survey results are influenced highly by what is happening at that moment in time (mergers, hiring freezes, large customer wins, new managers, etc.)

I first reviewed the results with the managers in the department. We discussed questions with the highest and lowest favorable scores. When we did this within a small group, we found different interpretations of the survey question. The process was useful because we had a healthy dialogue about the findings. But there was enough diversity of opinion that I wondered how employees would feel about our resulting actions.

Traditions.

The guidance from human resources and my history with employee surveys fit a set model. Employees take a survey. Management reviews the results. Then management responds with actions to address the areas with the lowest favorable scores. In this model, all the responsibility for action is on the management team.

Then I dug deeper and realized,

getting the most value out of employee survey results requires a more holistic approach than a set of management action items.

I reviewed all the question categories and realized they touch on interpersonal actions between all employee classifications in the company. So why would we respond by assigning action items only to the management group?

Changing the survey results approach.

I used the core findings in the results to create action items for the entire department. We can’t transform culture within a group only by having managers changing rules, policies, and workflows. To improve in areas like collaboration, trust, empowerment, and agility requires all employees work together as a cohesive unit.

I challenged the team with this thought, the first step on a journey for job satisfaction is looking in the mirror. 

It’s age-old advice to focus first on your own behaviors and attitudes. I followed with a paradox for success,

our personal success and how we view our job depends on how successful we make our colleagues, manager, and customers.

The employee survey questions had little to do with technology, tools, or things. The questions focused on communications and interactions between people. Our definition of success, or our inclination to mark a favorable answer, is directly influenced by how successful we make our coworkers and customers. If we think more about how we can give, rather than how we receive, then we’ll go farther and find more job satisfaction. This is a better recipe to maximize employee engagement.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Creative Commons

All I ever needed to know about information security awareness training

This week I completed the annual information security awareness training module. This material is now required for every employee of the company as part of the growing compliance controls for information security. Over the past several years, the core content in the training has changed little. So I’m thankful the group making our content updates the modules to give it a fresh look-and-feel each year.

It occurred to me, as I listened to the audio of the training content, I could summarize information security awareness with three important principles I learned as a young child:

  1. Don’t talk to strangers

The most prevalent way criminals steal sensitive information is by taking advantage of our good nature. In fancy-speak, the term is social engineering. The most common examples we experience today are email and phone messages asking us to respond or click. Some attempts I receive are comical, but in recent years they’ve become better disguised. The simplest action is to not respond to any unsolicited communication. But, if you think it’s legitimate, then contact the person or organization on your terms via channels they establish.

  1. Know your address

I remember as a young child learning my address and phone number. It was part of my identity and something I had at all-times. In information security we prove our identity by wearing identification badges and signing-in at security checkpoints. ID badges are helpful in large building settings so everyone can distinguish me from a visitor or contractor. In simplest terms,  Knowing my address and who lives/works with me, increases my chances of staying safe.

  1. Treat others as you want to be treated

Earlier this year I wrote about the data we see and are exposed to at work. In today’s information age, the most valuable asset we protect is information about people in our systems. This could be employee data or data about other people our customers share with us. Information security training covers several classifications for data, including NPI, PII, PHI, and PCI. But the key concept is the same in all cases. We should protect and hold this data confidential. In simple terms, we should treat others data as we would want them to treat our personal data. It’s an extension of the Golden Rule relevant in our information driven society.

Long live moms and kindergarten teachers.

Onward and upward!

(Photo credit: Public Domain Image)

Battling Urgent

Picking my battles

Every day I am tempted to work more on what’s urgent than what’s important. Somedays I do better at working on important tasks, but it’s a constant wrestling match. Important tasks help to achieve my overall goals. Urgent tasks usually involve fixing something that is broken for someone else. Urgent tasks may not always be beneficial to everyone and tend to be subject to interpretation of the one asking for something to be completed. In other words, if I ask someone how urgent something really is, I will usually receive varying answers.

For me, it all starts with a service desk ticket, a system-outage, equipment failure, unexpected email, etc. Something happens that seems to always turn my time management routine upside down. Even if I’m working on important tasks related to larger goals, there are interruptions for urgent things by way of phone, in-person office visit, text, email, etc.

7am quiet time

At one time, the 7am hour was my stress-free plan-the-day time. It was quiet and I could plan the day or work on important tasks. Nice.

But I’ve noticed lately, the battle-of-urgent is starting more often during the 7am hour. More colleagues and customers are working flex-hours and home office hours these days. That means more workers are online at 7am trying to use computing equipment or starting to go through their daily tasks and reaching out for help.

Different Perspectives

I realize my purpose at work is to help others and to connect them to solutions. So while I may have lost my 7am hour as a planning time, I need to adjust and think smarter about how to approach the battle of urgent versus important.

I also realized the reverse is true; my important tasks could be someone else’s urgent tasks. If our goals are not aligned then it’s easy to create this type of mismatch.

Battling Urgent

A great approach to time management is defining leader standard work (LSW).  When I documented my leader standard work, I defined the important activities I perform daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. If I plan my day around leader standard work activities I should see the following benefits:

  • Working on what’s important – LSW defines activities that are important to the execution and management of my team and work.
  • Addressing what’s urgent through assignment and delegation. Whenever possible, I should delegate urgent work.  My LSW is structured in such a way as to review work queues for the entire team and make assignment shifts or inquiries as necessary.
  • Leading by teaching – LSW should be setup to make me more visible to my team and customers not less visible because I’m hidden behind a computer screen. LSW creates opportunities for engagement with other team members and customers.
  • Reflecting and 5S – I fail most often on this task because I work until I reach that stopping point at the end of the day.  If I can take 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and jot down any important tasks for tomorrow then it should help towards a great start against battling urgent.

Battling urgent never ends and some days I do better than others. But I try to prepare for the battle everyday by defining what’s important first and then executing that plan.

Onward and upward.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/21aTYi5 – Marco Verch via Creative Commons.