Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Quality focus run amok

The topic of quality receives so much air time, showing
Google Images:finishagent.com
up in company values statements and printed on meeting agenda after meeting agenda, that it becomes  a way of life.  It becomes a source of pride for employees and a source of gratification for customers.

Or does it?

Quality focus run amok can reveal itself as the sort of perfectionism that slows individuals and teams down.  It causes analysis paralysis, as more and more information is sought before making a 10-cent decision.  And it causes management gurus like Seth Godin to yell, "Ship it already!"

Quality is a worthy aspiration, but:

  • Regardless of quality you won't make any money on the products or services that have not yet shipped.
  • Anything beyond the customer's ability to perceive is not quality - it's cost.
  • Quality is also determined by speed and the total experience, not only by the thing that you are shipping.
Are you using quality as an excuse to delay taking a risk by making a decision?  Are you requiring a surgical level of precision on a backyard project?  Are you driving other people nuts because of your unrelenting process of scouring for errors?  And is your company overstaffed because you have checkers checking other checkers just to make sure that no problem slips through?

Here are the simple seven steps you need to take:
  1. Determine the requirements for the product or service, as determined by the customer.
  2. Hire and train the people to fulfill the requirements, and give them the power to interrupt the process to catch any problems as early as possible (and before you've invested more in the product).
  3. Produce the product according to spec, in a time frame that complies with customer requirements.
  4. Ship.
  5. Invoice and collect.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5
  7. After a reasonable sample size, evaluate the process for improvement opportunities, incorporating customer feedback and input from employees directly involved in making the product.
Are you thinking that this is oversimplifying your situation?  Perhaps it is.  Perhaps, though, you've been over-complicating it. Quality is a relative thing. It's a matter of the comparison between customer expectations and the delivered product or service.  The customer wants what they want, when they want it, through a process that is easy and convenient.  They want it at a price that is aligned with the value that they perceive they are buying.  Simple, eh?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Izzie's Rules

Isabel Rohrbaugh probably wouldn't think of herself as a leader.
Isabel Rohrbaugh
She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, and a beloved aunt and cousin.  She didn't conquer corporate life - that wasn't her thing.  She was a servant leader in the personal realm, touching and influencing countless lives.

Some would-be leaders tell you they are such.  They talk about what they think is important.  The real leaders show you instead.  You discover their values as they are demonstrated day to day.  This is how Izzie revealed her rules:

  1. Stay in touch with people.  Izzie was known for being a correspondent, and wrote to many, many pen pals.  Some friendships grew out of the pen-and-paper old school conversations, and some were sustained through that means.
  2. Show people they are special.  A person would always know when an envelope in the mail was from Izzie.  It usually had stickers on the outside, and often had glitter or more stickers on the inside.  The message was directly targeted at the interests and/or the sense of humor of the individual.  And when she chose humor it was the gentle sort.
  3. Show up.  She went to concerts, wrestling matches and to hundreds (maybe thousands) of youth baseball games.  If her grandson was playing she was sitting on the sidelines, cheering.
  4. Make an effort.  When family and friends came over for dinner they could be assured that their favorite food would be on the menu.  Izzie specialized in comfort foods - scalloped potatoes, baked beans with plenty of bacon, and cakes with fruit and nuts and cinnamon and....yum.  It was never too much work for Izzie to do something for somebody she loved.
  5. Be prepared.  Izzie joked that her daughter would often go grocery shopping in Izzie's special basement storage room.  The shelves there were always chock full - with soups, cake mixes, canned vegetables and fruits, beverage mixes, you name it.  Izzie's pantry probably could have sustained her and her husband Dave through the snowstorm or hurricane of the century - and her daughter's family too. And perhaps also the neighbors.
  6. Remember special days.  If you were Izzie's friend or family member you could count on receiving a card or gift.  She never missed.  And she took pains to check and find out a child's sizes and/or consuming interests so she could select just the right thing.  Izzie's house and front porch were always decorated for the season - bunnies, scarecrows and pumpkins, and snowmen helped Izzie and all who visited her house celebrate.
  7. Contribute.  Izzie gave of her time and caring.  She babysat, looked in on ill friends and aging relatives. She volunteered at school.  And she purchased countless fundraiser sandwiches, candies, raffle tickets, gift wrap and candles - all to contribute to nieces and nephews and neighbor kids' passions and help them feel successful.
  8. Welcome. If you were friends with Izzie's daughter or grandson, you were her child or grandchild too.  If you were a friend of a friend, you were her friend too. She had heart enough to go around, and you didn't have to meet any sort of standard to be in Izzie's circle.  She would take you as you are.
  9. Savor.  Izzie cooked.  Boy, did she cook.  She showed love through food, and that's also how she expressed her creativity.  She took classes, collected recipe books, and enjoyed the things she made.  Izzie's needs weren't complicated - someone to love, someplace that she could nest in, and something to cook.  Izzie enjoyed her life.
  10. Persevere.  The last few years of Izzie's life weren't easy.  Her vision was failing, and her mobility was becoming limited.  But she still did what she could to participate as fully as possible in what was going on around her.  She kept her doctor appointments so she could feel as well as her medical conditions would allow.  And she still made an effort to be there for the people that she cared about.
Izzie was a leader.  Not the corporate titan sort, but the sort that touches individuals smack in the middle of their everyday lives.  She was gifted in that, and she will be long remembered for that, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Favorites: Which thinking hat are you wearing?

Google Images: polyvore.com
One of the most commonly cited workplace time wasters is the meeting.  Groups get into a groove, and that turns into a rut.  Sometimes the discussion goes round and round with no actionable outcome.

Is your team running short on creative ideas? In your staff meetings do you feel like you're reliving the same old discussions (or arguments) about solving the same old problems and not making any progress? Try using the metaphorical "hats" developed by Edward deBono in his book, Six Thinking Hats to change things up a it.

The premise is this: individuals, and thereby teams, get stuck looking at things from the same perspective. The thinking hats can help your team members to adopt roles or points of view that change their perspectives and come up with fresher and/or better ideas. If you were to look at the issue wearing the:

  • White Hat - Information - Asking for information from others.

  • Black Hat - Judgement - Playing devil's advocate. Explaining why something won't work.

  • Green Hat - Creativity - Offering possibilities, ideas.

  • Red Hat - Intuition - Explaining hunches, feelings, gut senses.

  • Yellow Hat - Optimism - Being positive, enthusiastic, supportive.

  • Blue Hat - Thinking - Using rationalism, logic, intellect.
Take a look at the list. What hat(s) are you in the habit of wearing? Are there some that you resist, or that you're not sure you're "allowed" to wear? What impact has that had on your thinking, and on the decisions you've made?

When in a group setting, certain members tend to adopt roles that stem from their natural temperament, from the established patterns of communication in the group, or from one or more participant's reluctance to take on a certain role (like black, the hat of the devil's advocate.) Once the group has been introduced to the concept of the hats they can make a point of "putting them on" to
  1. Give greater notice to types of thinking not usually involved in the discussion

  2. Overcome reluctance or pressure related to certain types of thinking.  

  3. Reinforce a vocabulary for different ways of thinking about an issue

  4. Help individuals change from their customary roles, thus changing the interpersonal dynamic and boosting creativity.
Most group-based interpersonal issues are an outgrowth of ingrained habits of thought and the behaviors that are driven by them. Sometimes it's useful, even necessary, to disrupt or suspend habits temporarily in order to get good stuff done. The six thinking hats are a simple, yet very useful, method for creating a different dynamic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your name is your strategy

At first blush this post might appear to be targeted
Google Images: pleated-jeans.com
toward start ups and would-be small business owners.  But if you are considering doing any changing of name - to modernize, to overcome a less-than-stellar prior reputation, etc. - know that your name pronounces your strategy to the world.  You need to choose it with intention and forethought, and a bit of research doesn't hurt either.

Here are some of the naming pitfalls that can destroy your business:

  1. A name that nobody can pronounce or is difficult to remember.  How are they going to look you up online if they can't find your website?  GE Capital Retail bank did a Major Purchase Shopper Study that says 81% of consumers research online before they make big purchases.  It follows that a bad name (and of course a lack of online presence) will shut you out of the game at the start.
  2. A name that has already been taken online.  A URL search should be a standard part of your research.  Even if you are a local business that doesn't anticipate going outside of your local market, you are well advised to have an online presence.  Using a different suffix isn't going to be enough to differentiate you.  Prospective clients will try to find you under the .com designation.
  3. A name that is perceived to be in poor taste or off-color.  This is partly target market dependent; if you are selling to a young or fringe group, part of the group identity might be language that others would avoid.  But know that the "cool" appeal of your name with some can be off-putting to others.  If you sell edgy apparel to tattooed teenagers, Grandma might not be willing to buy her grandson one of your shirts for Christmas if your tag has a cuss word or vulgarity on it.  She might not even want to be seen coming into your shop.
  4. A name that is too narrow.  You might start off as "Hal's Necktie Shop", but what happens when you decide that you want to sell bow ties too, and perhaps socks, belts, Fedoras and even briefcases? Existing and regular customers will see your expansion in scope when they visit your shop.  But for new shoppers you might not even have the opportunity to compete, even if you carry the hottest Fedoras on the market.
  5. A name that is too ambiguous.  Your name should attract attention, and it won't do so for you unless maybe the name inspires so much curiosity that people can't resist checking it out.  YourName Associates says nothing about what you do.  If you call your business Purple Squirrel Advisers you might at least call attention to yourself.  But you had better be effective at explaining concisely and engagingly about what you do in all of your marketing efforts.  Your name doesn't do the work for you.
  6. A name that is your name.  It simplifies your start up process to use your name as part of your business identity.  But think ahead before choosing to use it.  Everything that happens in the business from here forward has your personal reputation attached to it, and vice versa.  What if you want to sell it sometime in the future?  What if you want to retire and have someone else run it?  Will you still be as happy having your name on the letterhead?
These aren't the only pitfalls in naming your company.  Even if you know that you have already made a renaming mistake of some sort, if you have already established a positive reputation you might incur more risk in changing it than you would to maintain the one you have.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If you want to learn, teach

One of the most frustrating elements in training can be the degree
of retention (or lack thereof) of delivered information by the participants.  This is one of the reasons why employers sometimes hesitate to make the investment in developing staff - they don't see any difference when the whole thing is over.

Among the strategies employed to improve this are exams and certifications.  While it is true that scores on these tools can convey an individual's recalled data set, they don't address the real question:  How can you help employees learn and apply more, more efficiently?

Another question that goes along with this discussion is "How can you use training as a tool to enhance employee engagement rather than as a perceived consequence that requires employee endurance and compliance?

The answer is that many would-be trainers are looking in the wrong place for the answers.  Many seek to perfect their delivery by looking for the sexiest A/V tools, the prettiest packaging.  They are looking at themselves and their own performance - but not at the means by which learners learn best.  You'll note that in this diagram the retention rate for lecture is only 5%.  So much for the wordsmithing and perfect scripting that you have been attempting to create!  It's not about the delivery skills of the trainer.

Reading is better than lecture, and audio visual is better than that for retention.  But to find the best methods you need to start at the bottom of the pyramid, not at the top.  The best way to learn and remember is to teach and mentor others. A participant has to learn the material enough to deliver it, but with every repetition it becomes more ingrained into his or her brain.  Every question from a student or mentee causes the student/trainer to revisit and clarify understanding.  The student is able to master the subject by passing it along to someone else.  And there is no way to be passive in this activity.  The information is not washing over and rolling off - it's bubbling out.  The student mentor is fully engaged and alert when he or she is doing it.

Notice that the next two learning methods (from the bottom up) are all interactive, hands on methods.  People remember when they try something themselves.  They like to work together. So much for trying to stop the sidebar conversations - in truly effective learning the conversations are the centerpiece, not a disruption. Breakouts, buzz groups, dyads and triads, and group projects are all effective methods for learner engagement.

The good news for the trainer in this is that you create the framework, the design, but the participants in these more active learning methods share the responsibility for their own learning. The more learner-directed training treats them as adults.  It's more interesting, and it adds to the engagement and motivation of the individuals participating.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are you ready to lead a big change?

You and your company might be in a situation where an overhaul
Google Images: bri-williams.blogspot.com
is necessary.  Perhaps you would like to do more than make a few tweaks here and there.  

Most companies who undertake this level of change do so for one of two main reasons:
·         Inspiration – a leader has someplace he or she wants the company to go, and the leader won’t take no for an answer.
·         Desperation - external threats or internal challenges are causing the company to be at risk, to the point that they MUST find a new way or else.

In Julie Poland's book Changing Results by Changing Behavior we lay out a prototype for big company change step by step, process by process. But regardless of the process, the whole thing depends upon you and your senior team.  It depends on your buy-in and full commitment - to a person, and with good reason. The adventure of a culture change will take 1-3 years, and that's if you're working on it with intention and a game plan.  

If you're not focusing on it and making strategic choices anticipating that a process poked over here affects employee engagement over there, culture change may remain only a wishful thought.  If you are expecting individuals to change their habits of behavior without giving them some structured opportunities to develop new ones in better alignment with your intended direction, you (and they) are likely to struggle.  If you are enforcing against a certain type of behavior over here and another leader is allowing it over there, your change will likely not be achievable.

Are you ready?  Are you prepared to stir the soup to get a better end product?  It’s important to reinforce that you are part of culture change too, and not only as its architect.  You go first in the change department. You might find that this adventure reinvigorates you as you move beyond business as usual.  You might also find that your ego will be challenged when people start coming to you with new ideas that they want to implement.  You’ll need to make the decision of whether or not you are willing to let go enough to have them follow through and see the results with their own eyes.

You can best support the company in its change by becoming personally involved in the efforts to change behavior, including your own.  After all, your behavior has also contributed and continues to contribute to the company’s results.  Let yourself be open to new learning, or to more consistent alignment with the things that you already know are good things to do.

If you are not comfortable with the level of vulnerability involved in being part of a development group, or if you are concerned that your team won’t be candid with you in the room, hire a coach who will take you one-on-one through your own process, at your own pace.  Often the best outcome occurs when your coach is also the person working with the rest of your company – terminology, methodology and style are more consistent that way.  They will listen to you, strategize with you, challenge you, and help you hold the mirror up to yourself.
Summit coaches are specialists in taking companies - and their leaders - through the process of establishing a new culture that supports the company's strategic direction.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recruit for values and passion, not for skills

Perhaps this sounds like heresy, especially if your organization
Google Images: gemrecruitment.com
has processes in place for documenting core competencies for particular roles, or if the jobs in your company are regulated and require certifications, licenses, etc.  But here's the thing - skills can be trained.  Values and passion are much more firmly ingrained, and as such are far more difficult to change. If a candidate starts out as a bad fit in the values and passion departments, they are likely to stay a bad fit no matter what resources the company expends to try to help them once they are on board.

Some organizations choose to recruit for skills because they think they don't have time to train.  They need a capable body to fill a role - and right now.  Sometimes they think they need the skills urgently enough that they will bring someone on board who has the credentials but who is not necessarily in complete alignment with the organization's purpose.  This is shortsighted thinking.

No matter the individual's skills, if his or her values are not in alignment with that of the company it's unlikely that the full value of the skills will ever be contributed.  Values are part of the "want to" that cause people to work to meet and exceed expectations.  Shared values are a critical component that creates glue among the members of a team.  If this highly skilled lone wolf isn't in sync with the rest of the team - worse yet, if he or she doesn't care or thinks the group's values aren't compelling - this relationship isn't going to work.

When you lead a volunteer organization, values and passion aren't the extras - they are the very reasons why an individual would want to get involved.  Volunteers aren't being compensated in monetary terms - they are seeking psychic benefit from their involvement.  They are seeking to make a difference, and if they are not properly enfolded and engaged they won't stick around.  At the very least, the disengaged volunteer won't be as active as he or she might otherwise be.  This can be costly to the organization's manpower resources, and also to its ability to sustain itself financially.

A passionate contributor's value, regardless of skill level or skill type, is tied directly to the organization's abilities to assess and properly deploy them, and to train them for whatever roles they are going to fulfill.  A proper process of orientation, with training, mentoring, and positive relationship support, helps the individual activate his or her passion into contribution.  Then once the individual is effectively performing in his or her role, an effective organization continues to enhance the individual's skills by a planned process of ongoing training, development, and stretch projects.

Speaking of training, it's common for organizations - for profit and not-for-profit - to invest time and money in technical skill training for the individuals that work there.  They tend to gloss over interpersonal skills and leadership developing, assuming that individuals come on board with that already ingrained.  While it's true that some individuals already have leadership skills, it doesn't mean that persons who have not yet demonstrated them aren't capable of doing so.  Interpersonal skills are developable as are technical skills.
Summit coaches can assist businesses in selecting candidates for values that are in alignment with the company's core values, and talents that can help candidates succeed in particular roles.  We can also help to develop existing staff in the areas of human relations skills, productive attitudes, and goal achievement.