Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Listening to Leaders

Here's a free opportunity to listen to 30+ leader/authors on the subject of leadership. Over the two days (Nov 3 & 4) you can watch on demand videos whenever you have the time!
Have fun!


If there's more, read it here...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When Acceptable is Not Acceptable

Work place standards v. what we really want to happen

Recently I was leading a workshop on skills and process to address poor performance and defined the trigger for initiating the process as performance or behaviour that is “below acceptable standards”. We talked about the usual things like ensuring that people knew what the acceptable standards were and how they were measured. This led to an interesting discussion on standards - how they get set and how to change them, and if that is possible in their environment - in this case, healthcare.

What happens when the standard in practice, or the desired standard, is higher than the espoused standard? How does a leader evaluate a person’s skills and performance when there is more than one standard in play?

Two situations were of particular interest – I’m sure there are more – and generated a whole bunch of questions that were outside the scope of the workshop.

1. Work standard may not be a “standard of excellence”

For example, in hospitals taking 2 attempts to start an IV meets acceptable standards. Wouldn’t the standard of excellence be “first time”? Employee may never get an IV started on the first attempt and as long as they always get it going on the second attempt they are performing to standards. I know which one I would prefer as a patient.

2. Team norm is higher than the work standard

For a team engaged in the pursuit of high performance, how do new team members understand that although there is a work standard, they are expected to perform above it? What can the leader do if they don’t?

In both cases, it makes it harder for team leaders to work with an employee that performs to “work standard” without any attempt to meet the higher standard. If they don’t address it there is a chance that the lower standard will become THE standard if other team members become discouraged.

What advice would you give the leader to help them engage the “acceptable” performer while still supporting the higher standard?

Labels: , ,

If there's more, read it here...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Eighth Opportunity

Before I start let me make it clear - I am a huge fan of Lean principles and philosophies as part of the complex path to organizational excellence. I applaud the engagement of the people doing the work in making the work better. I find that people can easily grasp the idea of the Wastes and come up with ideas for their environment. I love the guiding framework of the 5Ss and the clear leadership required to create context in the organization.

So what's the problem?

I've seen one too many Lean presentations on successful initiatives where they talk about the seven wastes and give a nod to the eighth (human skills, abilities and experience) saying they know it's there but didn't include it.

Why not?! In our rush to be efficient in the light of previously predicted people shortages (maybe not now - who can tell), we are overlooking the potential of people we already have. The old customer service adage used to say that it's cheaper to sell to an existing customer than to a new one. I haven't got the numbers for recruitment but I have a sneaking suspicion that it may apply to existing people resources as well.

Is there anyone out there working in this area in conjunction with lean philosophy and initiatives in their organization? I would love to talk to you.

If there's more, read it here...

Monday, May 25, 2009

The time it takes to change what's your time horizon?

In a recent keynote speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Peter Senge remarked that our management time horizon is shorter than our change horizon or, in other words, change takes longer than the average manager stays in the job. He also talked about what he calls our “boundaries of concern” which defines who we care about and for how long. Senge challenged us to extend our boundaries from our family and city block and include to the implications of our actions globally and for the future.

In an age where 20 year old buildings can be designated as heritage* it seems that no one is willing to build cathedrals anymore.

Enter the Long Now Foundation with the goal of promoting "slower/better" thinking and fostering responsibility “in the framework of the next 10,000 years”. One of the founders, Stuart Brand, makes the point that when he was a child “people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all.”

Remembering being riveted by the futuristic idea of 1984 and what might happen? I take his point … what dates are on your time horizon now? Mine is 2011 when we have been told that there will be more people leaving the workforce than joining it – I need to get out more.

Brand goes on to say “The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

So they built one. The Long Now Foundation is already on their second prototype (moving a little fast there aren’t you boys?) and, realizing that a clock with such a long context in time needs support for longer term content, is now developing the 10,000-year library.

Their guidelines are remarkably similar to the key characteristics of companies that have survived more than 200 years:

Identity – sense of who we are transcends what we do
Tolerance – openness to what we don’t know
Fiscal conservation – maintain control of their destiny
Sensitivity to environment – larger sense of responsibility as a natural by product of how they operate
Serve the long view (and the long viewer)
Foster responsibility
Reward patience
Mind mythic depth
Ally with competition
Take no sides
Leverage longevity
Learn more about their thinking at http://www.longnow.org/

Incidentally, the Long Now Foundation uses five digit dates, the extra zero is to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years.

What's your "boundary of concern"?

* see this link for Vancouver’s criteria and a 2006 list of heritage registered buildings, monuments, parks and trees http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/Guidelines/V001.pdf

If there's more, read it here...

Friday, January 04, 2008

On being average

Chris Koch, editor CIO magazine talks about the applicability of a traditional IT benchmark measure of cost/spending against revenue and what it means to be in the middle of the range for your industry. He speculates that if you are mid range you probably aren't spending effectively and that companies finding themselves close to their industry average in spending should be concerned. Noting that many IT benchmarks reflect only new spending and do not include the cost of maintaining what you already have, Koch says

"Average may simply mean you are managing neither piece well. Being in the middle shouldn’t be a comfort."

and to take the message home, he quotes a CSC study which found that

"companies that spend much less than the average [on IT] are three times more successful than those in the middle. And companies that spend much more than the average are six times more successful."

There are problems with external benchmarks, mostly related to knowing whether or not you are comparing apples and apples, and not all companies find value in using them. The currently popular Lean approach to process excellence, for example, ignores other industry benchmarks and measures only against itself.

Perhaps the lesson is not about benchmarking.

Highly effective organizations have strategies and plans which drive the resource allocations year over year. If companies spending more and less than average are achieving better results, could it possibly be that the average spenders are not targetting their budgets, IT and otherwise, towards specific goals? Could it be that they don't have clear objectives?

I suspect that all too often in "average" organizations, the budget is the plan.

If there's more, read it here...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Is There Too Little "Know Why" In Business?

Is There Too Little "Know Why" In Business?
Published: February 2, 2007
Author: Jim Heskett, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School.

"Two recent books offer views of the roles of managers and leaders. The first, Know-How, by Ram Charan, sets forth eight behaviors exhibited by managers who get things done. The second, Purpose, by Nikos Mourkogiannis, could really have been titled "Know Why." It describes four kinds of purpose, "starting points" that govern what great companies do and how they do it. Each of these purposes represents a kind of "holy grail" as opposed to goals (often merely financial), missions or visions, or even a set of values. As Mourkogiannis puts it, "Let others play with 'strategy' and 'tactics' and 'management.' Purpose is the game of champions." "

According to this theory, truly transformational purpose can be found in: (1) discovery, the challenge of adventure and innovation characterized by dot-com entrepreneurs willing to work 24/7 in search of the new or unknown, (2) excellence, in which high standards are not compromised for short-term performance (as with Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett), (3) altruism, where the primary purpose is to serve (customers, employees, etc.) first and assume that profit will follow (as at Nordstrom), and (4) heroism, typically involving grand plans to change entire industries or even the way we live (Bill Gates and Microsoft).

The argument is that only one of these purposes, if pursued rigorously and successfully, is required for greatness. Putting mere goals, such as primarily making money, before purpose gets us an Enron or a Worldcom. The pity, according to Mourkogiannis, is that true purpose could have enabled these organizations to make even greater "real" profits than those they reported.

One curious aspect of the book is that relatively few examples are cited to illustrate purpose in the for-profit world. Several are used repeatedly, perhaps in part to suggest the complexities of establishing purpose in an organization. Among these, the choices included examples such as BP and The Body Shop, suggesting that purpose, a requirement for greatness, is no guarantee of long-term respect and performance.

Purpose is powerful when it comes to attracting and inspiring employees, centering a company's activities, or guiding strategic change. Executives talk about and seek these things for their companies all the time. But how much purpose do we find even at the top of a typical organization? Can we aspire to a strong sense of "know why" even if our organization is not out to change the world? In terms described here, how strong is purpose in your organization? Is there too little "know why" in business? If so, why? What do you think?

If there's more, read it here...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Forty years of The Effective Executive - Appreciate our Strengths

I realized a few days ago that it is 40 years since the late Peter Drucker first published a slim volume called the "The Effective Executive" . He held several consistent messages over the years, one of which was to focus on people's strengths so that their weaknesses were irrelevant.
Yet we still persist in measuring what is least powerful in each of us and attempting to solve the problem through "training". Let's take a moment to follow his good advice - find something that someone (yourself maybe?) does well and make it even stronger. Mastery is an admirable long term goal and yet the ongoing pleasure of learning more about something we do well and are interested in may be even more rewarding.

The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths -- the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance
Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, 1966

After 40 years wouldn't you think we might finally get it?

If there's more, read it here...