A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.
I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”
His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.
- Reporting structure reorganization
- Technology platform adoption
- Technology platform migration
- Removing waste from processes
- Adding value to a customer relationship
- Cross-department collaboration improvements
When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:
- The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
- The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business. The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
- The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.
So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.
Onward and upward!
Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons – https://flic.kr/p/pGWebT
A couple of weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg announced he is changing the mission of Facebook. He wants to move beyond connecting people and more towards connecting groups of people in community. I commend Zuckerberg for establishing a written mission statement that aims to be something more than growing big and making lots of money. Although I do wonder what the shareholders of Facebook think about the new mission. After reading his statement, the question is in my head was, can an online forum bring community together in meaningful dialogue that promotes better understanding of opposing viewpoints?
Creating a place for a public forum is easy. Changing behavior of individuals to have an effective forum, not so much. I thought of two recent examples:
- NPR.org, a large well known media outlet for local, national, and world news discontinued public comments in 2016. Why? They described it very eloquently as “the c comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.” I personally read comments prior to their decision and I can affirm they are correct. The comments section was intended for readers to pass along further insights or even ask questions about the topic of the article. Unfortunately, the public comments section was mostly a shouting match and full of hateful words. It wasn’t even close to meaningful dialogue.
- During the past presidential election, political posts on Facebook were common. The dialogue became so charged that in the days leading up to and after the election there was quite a bit of ‘unfriending’ happening as people looked to silence and rid their daily feeds of political bickering. I’ll admit it; I muted quite a few people during the presidential process.
Online community groups and interest pages are not new. Just look at twitter hashtags, Google+ Collections and Communities, or even online blogs. Getting people to engage in an online interest community is an easy connection to make. Members participate because they share a common interest. They share a common viewpoints or interest.
But beneficial discussion with true debate and openness around opposing viewpoints has become problematic in our society. This isn’t a technology problem. It’s a heart problem. For Facebook, or any online community, to create meaningful dialogue around opposing viewpoints to succeed, people must first choose to behave with common courtesy and respect towards one another. Here are some courtesies: Listen first, smile often, apologize, speak in a conversational tone, and share. Sounds alot like love your neighbor. We would all do well to start on this foundation.
Onward and upward!
I often use yard work as a time for self-reflection because what else is there to do while drawing shapes with a lawn mower? Sometimes I reflect on personal interactions and plans, but I also use the time to consider business activities. As I edged the lawn this week, I wondered how was it possible that some business leaders are able to leave behind a successful blueprint for the philosophy and culture that drive and define an organization. This isn’t a new question, but it’s a thought many business leaders go through on their professional journeys. Jim Collins spent an entire book on the subject in Built to Last. He discusses how companies find enduring success. More on that in a minute.
As if by fate, I read a story tonight on NPR.com about implicit egotism that links to a study published by the Harvard Business School (HBS) called the Ikea Effect. The Ikea Effect suggests we have a preference for and place greater value on things we personally create. The HBS paper adds, “labor leads to increased valuation only when labor results in successful completion of tasks.” Meaning, when we are successful in a task, we tend to place a greater value on our creation than something someone else created.
I quickly realized the Ikea Effect told me something I’ve already observed and participated in during my professional career. Typically, new leaders and managers bring their way of doing things to a company. They want to establish a change in the company by doing what worked for them in the past. Maybe they were hired for the purpose of bringing change to the organization. On the flip-side, I bet you could think of some successful companies that started failing after a change in executive management. Considering the Ikea Effect and the thought of enduring greatness and consistency, the antagonist may very well be me!
Grow leaders from within.
One of the principles of the Toyota Production System is to “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.” We read this same finding in Jim Collins’ books Built to Last and Good to Great. A key observation from Collins, is companies that found success spanning multiple leaders most often promoted insiders to the CEO position. Constancy of purpose, culture, and philosophy is a key ingredient to enduring success.
My take-away from tonight’s mental exercise is to look and reflect on the Ikea Effect in my own decision making. Am I prone to shut-out other ideas because I didn’t create them? Am I over-valuing methods, procedures, and systems I created? Can I create sustainable systems that will be maintained by those who succeed my position in the company? The Toyota Production Systems uses the phrase “the right process produces the right results.” So success is not about what I create or what you create. But it’s more about results that are right for the company or organization.
Onward and upward!
Photo credit : http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/photo-1207142
A note from my Lean journey
A few years ago I was introduced to Lean concepts and principles at work. After several months of studying the topic I realized that many of my professional activities for both managing processes and people already mapped to some of the core components of Lean. That makes sense as many of the leading management philosophies and programs of our time share foundational elements.
One of the important principles of a Lean is visual management. Visual controls are used to communicate information to people that indicate if the current condition of a system is acceptable. The Toyota Production System says to use visual controls so that no problems are hidden. It’s like the old phrase, “you can’t fix what you can’t see.”
On my personal Lean journey, my next task is to develop a Flow and Performance Board. This will be a form of visual management that displays information to use at recurring team meetings. The contents on the board support the Lean principles of continuous flow and reducing waste. Effectively, the board becomes a visual control to see how flow of product is progressing for customer value-added activities and where waste exists in the system.
Flow and Performance for IT – My 1.0 version
I used the following guiding principles when designing the 1.0 version of a Flow and Performance Board for my IT shop:
- Show elements of product flow – At what stage work is in the system.
- Show key metrics – If possible show actual vs expected. The focus of the board, and Lean, is process flow and eliminating waste (as opposed to traditional boards that focus only on results).
- Show flow influencers – These are items that may influence the production system such as holidays and customer audits. The intent is to make the influencers visible ahead of time so it’s possible to manage through them instead of reacting to them.
- Show audit results – Part of the Lean journey is having leaders that inspect our work to see if we are following standard process. IT also has a rapidly growing set of requirements for compliance, which customers require, that fits in this space.
My 1.0 version of a board looks like this:
Since IT team members are geographically dispersed and most of our tools report data electronically then this will be an electronic board. Content will vary for different groups within IT. My first board is targeted towards and enterprise level view.
The board is intended to be referenced during recurring team meetings so that team members have a visual control as they inspect pieces of the product flow. As such, it should be easy to read and process information. The contents of the board must be current to be relevant. Ideally the board will updated dynamically to reduce the amount of non value-add work of administrative processes.
I anticipate I will wrestle with screen real-estate, content, and compactness with each future iteration.
Onward and Upward!
The Chaotic Symphony.
Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:
- Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
- Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
- Ticketing system / Service desk
- Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
- Personal notebooks
- Hallway conversations
- Customer requests for information
It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!
Make a Corral.
I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.
I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.
Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.
Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.
Two important attributes for tasks.
To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:
- Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
- Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.
Making it routine.
Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.
Let’s do this.
Onward and upward!