A Business Technology Place

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

Take this job and love it

Johnny Paycheck didn’t talk to me

I’m blessed to say I’ve never been in a job I hated.  I’ve been challenged and grown professionally in each position I’ve held because I positioned myself in a career field I enjoy. But I’ve also developed a few routines over the years to enhance my work experience.

  1.    Engage with people

I’ve learned cube hermits rarely enjoy their job or surroundings. I believe collaboration is more successful when I can see and/or hear my customers and team partners. So I increase my engagement with work by getting away from email and visiting others in-person or calling them on the phone.

  1. Go to the Gemba

The phrase gemba is a Japanese term meaning the place where value is created. Before I was introduced to the word in Lean teachings, I discovered the power of the concept. When I was a product manager, I noticed I was spending as much or more time with the business unit owners as my peer group. I moved my desk inside their business unit and not within the IT area. This move increased my understanding of the business and made collaboration with my customers easier.

  1. Take pride in your work

A wise man told me in college that every piece of work I turn in has my signature and approval. It left a mark on me. My work output reflects how much I care about the customer, my company, and my work. My work is my signature, so do it right and take pride in it.

  1. Seek to align with other departments

Aligning with other departments means actively listening to understand their needs and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. It means aligning to common goals in the business and not thinking my goals trump others. Isolationism within the company will ultimately leads to frustration, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies.  

That’s my recipe for loving your job. What’s yours?

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via creative commons

Can you feel the business?

Can you feel it?

One of the aspects of my job that I love to describe and that motivates me is that I “feel the business”. I feel the impact of administrative dollars to the financial income statement. I feel the impact of delivered services by talking to sales executives and customer service management. I read customer requirements and customer complaints. I look for opportunities to talk to positive minded employees that are making an impact in the organization and to our customers.Just Feel It

Feeling the business means understanding how customer requests are turned into finished product. It means understanding how my specific job impacts the bottom line. It means understanding how a colleague’s job impacts the bottom line.

I use the imagery of ‘feeling’ with employees during coaching sessions and reviews. Feeling the business transforms a job to a new level. It involves the employee, creates commitment, and influences better performance. I used to think of it as a featured aspect for select jobs. But now, I see that it’s much larger. We all have an opportunity to feel the business. I believe, that it is an unstated factor that distinguishes the high performers from the average employee.

Serving notice to technology professionals.

I don’t advocate a culture where technology professionals are hidden from the business. IT shouldn’t be just a cost center on the income statement with team members that do their job in a bubble. Technology professionals need to step-up and understand how their work impacts the success of the company and the customers who buy the products and services.

But listen. This isn’t any easy thing. IT professionals are put into cultures where the goal is to follow a process. The goal is to check-off all the boxes and the procedures list. When this happens, it’s easy to lose site of the reasons the processes exist. It’s easy to lose site of the customer. It’s easy to not feel the business because IT is feeling the task and the process.

Create the culture to feel the business.

If we want everyone to feel the business then we have to create a culture that encourages others to see it, accept it, and value it. Here’s some specific examples how I encourage others to get a feel:

  • Get out of email and pick up the phone – Email has a place in our communications. But an effective way to feel the business is to hear a customer speak about a need or complaint. We had a service incident this past week that affected the ERP for a division of our organization. After the dust settled, I called the organizational leader. I wanted her to hear my voice when I spoke about the problem rather than me writing an email response. I wanted to hear her response rather than read it.
  • Share the financial results of the company – Help employees feel the business by sharing financial results with them. I pass down financial metrics like company revenue, profit, and expenses to employees. It sends the message that they are participants in the financial results of the company. Employees are concerned about the health of an organization, and they should be encouraged to exhibit behaviors that influence positive results.
  • Tour operations and understand the flow of work – Operations is where customer requests turn into products and services. If employees want to feel the business they need to understand this. Last year, I contacted a plant operations manager and arranged a plant tour for our entire IT group. The results were spectacular. IT employees were making comments to me like, “I had no idea this is what was happening” and “this really helps me understand a few things.”
  • Measure results after a project completes – A few months ago, we completed a project that automated a manual purchase order process to an electronic workflow. After the project completion, I asked the manager of the group that was processing the purchase orders to list all of the tasks that were eliminated. We put an approximate time by each task as well. It was a powerful statement. We had used a similar list as part of the ROI for the project. But reading through it post-production release allowed us to truly understand the impact the programming had to the business. We certainly could feel it.

Feeling pigeonholed at work?

Have you been pigeonholed at work?
Getting pigeonholed in my career is something I work hard to avoid. Unfortunately, it’s a tough condition to shake and my experience is that I have to initiate the shaking-and-moving to stay get out of the hole. This is an important topic for professional workers that don’t want to grow stagnant and that continuously seek new challenges.

Pigeonholed is an expression with various meanings depending on context. For this writing, I’m referring to it as a verb meaning “to assign to a definite place or to definite places in some orderly system”. We use the term to refer to people in the workplace that are locked into a position or a set of responsibilities based on past achievements. Colleagues, management, and others place a label on the person which makes changes in positions or responsibilities difficult.

One of the reasons workers get pigeonholed is they perform well and there is no one else in the organization that knows how to do what they are doing. Often there is not a sense of priority to make sure the person has a back-fill or that that work rotates among people. Organizations get caught up in managing the day-to-day operations of the business and personnel matters are often pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

Cheryl Dahle captures this thought in an article in Fast Company entitled Escape Your Pigeonhole.  Dahle explains the conundrum as “How do you develop the expertise to be known as the go-to guy or gal for certain projects or jobs without getting so tightly defined that you’re stuck working on the same project (or in the same industry) year after year?”

The remainder of Dahle’s article gives four areas of practical advice that professionals can use to escape and avoid the pigeonhole. A common theme in her recommendations is that we are responsible for moving our own careers towards paths that interest us and that match with our skills and strengths. We can’t rely on our managers, human resources, or anyone else to take us there.

What are you doing about it?
A former colleague once told me that “everyone should be fired or reassigned from their current jobs every three years.” His idea may seem a bit extreme, but his point was that companies benefit more from fresh ideas this way. It keeps workers motivated and challenged and allows them to grow. His thought follows the same mindset as executive leadership programs within some companies where they identify employees with “leadership potential” and change their job function and responsibility every 24 months.  It’s a form of job rotation.

But there is only so much an individual has control over in their workplace. Even if they are doing things to avoid a pigeonhole and to advance to other areas, there is no guarantee they’ll change perceptions of others. Which is exactly why this is a difficult condition to avoid. Just how do you change someone’s perception of you?

I’ve been pigeonholed.
In my personal career I’ve had success and failure getting locked into a position. I know of two times that I have been boxed-in by a pigeonhole. In both cases I had to leave the situation to escape the hole.

The first time was after I entered the organization as a college cooperative student (similar to intern). I stayed with the company after I graduated because they offered me full-time employment. After a couple of years however, it became apparent that management still thought of me as a college co-op student. There really wasn’t any opportunities to continue personal growth. To get out of that pigeonhole I had to leave the company.

The second time was with an employer that no longer exists (due to acquisition). I worked in the IT group as a product manager for many years and sought to advance within IT leadership by moving into management and gaining a broader breadth of responsibility. I felt I was a good fit because I had previously been in roles of analyst, project manager, and network engineer which gave me knowledge of systems, networks, and programming. I knew the business side more than most because of exposure to clients and Sales. But management went through a time of hiring outside people into the positions I was interested in serving. I was told at one point “Just keep doing what you are doing. You are good at it” (AKA – pigeonhole). To escape this pigeonhole I finished a MBA and applied for a position in eCommerce Marketing. It worked and I moved on to new challenges and opportunities for service and learning outside of IT.

Why does it matter?
Getting pigeonholed limits our experiences. It cuts down on the skills we could develop. It reduces the breadth of opportunities which directly influences career choices. This isn’t a power-play to climb the traditional “corporate ladder”. It’s about personal satisfaction with our work and output. It’s about serving others by staying motivated. It’s about learning and growing.

I’d love to hear your experience on this topic. Have you avoided being pigeonholed? Have you escaped a pigeonhole?