Friday, August 31, 2012


Waiting... by Serlunar
Waiting..., a photo by Serlunar on Flickr.
This the fourth post in a series on waste...

This is the scenario that causes blood to simmer and then boil.  You arrive at your prescribed destination at the pre-arranged time, and ...the other party doesn't arrive, and doesn't arrive, and doesn't arrive.  You wonder whether you should find a table and risk missing them altogether.  You might not want to stay there on your own.  And there might not be a comfortable place to sit.

When it comes to people, waiting can have a lot of emotion attached to it.  The folks who live according to the clock interpret lateness (on the other party's part) as a sign of disorganization, disrespect, lack of care and concern, and a number of other not so nice qualities.  They may or may not be correct in their  interpretation, but they really don't like to wait.

When you are concerned about customer loyalty, cycle times for your processes can be deal-breakers in customer retention.  If you take too long to process their order through production and delivery they might risk a customer relationship on their end.  They will find the wait unsatisfactory and costly, and may choose not to buy from you again.

The big wait is often the sum of many different waits:

  • Waiting for materials to arrive - to the plant or to the appropriate production area
  • One team or person waiting for another team or person to finish 
  • Delays in the hand-off of data
  • Waiting for approvals
  • Waiting for a meeting to start - determine the hard-dollar cost here by the number of people in the room and the salary dollars consumed during the wait.

Your company's future may rest on the amount of throughput you can achieve.  Let's look at some "fun math":  If you can only produce 5 products per hour, you only have 5 available to sell.  Let's assume that each of your products sells for $100 and yields a gross profit of 50% (or $50).  

  1. That means that at a production level of 5 per hour you would be producing $250 for the company every hour.
  2. Multiply that by 40 hours per week and you're producing $10,000 in gross profit per week. 
  3. That results in $500,000 in gross profit per year, assuming that you work 50 weeks per year and every product produced is sold. 
What if you were able to produce 7 per hour instead of 5 by preventing or reducing wait time?  

  1. At a production level of 7 per hour you would produce $350 for the company in gross profit.
  2. Each week your contribution to gross revenue would be $14,000,
  3. And translated to annual terms that's $700,000 in gross profit.
If you perform tasks in batches you have built-in wait time.  The last item processed might have a wait of only 10 seconds until it proceeds to the next process step, but to determine your wait you need to average the longest in the batch - 10 minutes? - 30 minutes? - with the shortest time to determine the average wait for the batch.  Why do you process in batches?  Is it to "simplify" approvals, transportation or other forms of waste?  Your efficiency tactics might not be as efficient as you thought they were.  

You are probably working as fast as you can given your current process, but this isn't about you.  Examine the steps in the process.  The process has elements of waste within it that are making your job more difficult than it needs to be, and production slower than it could be.  When you analyze your process you might find waste within steps, or the biggest culprits might be between steps, during hand-offs from one person to the next.  If you want to achieve more profit and keep your customers happier by not making them hear that tick....tick....tick sound in their heads, fix the process.  It's probably not a convenient time right now, but if no time is convenient, then why wait?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stop! Enough already!

3rd July 2008 - Day 185 by LoulaM
3rd July 2008 - Day 185, a photo by LoulaM on Flickr.
This is the third post in a series on waste....

It was always fun to go to Grandma's house, as was the ritual every Sunday afternoon.  Because it was such a big family there were always several kids to play with, and a big back yard for the obligatory running around.  But one of the attractions of Grandma's on Sundays - or Mondays or Tuesdays or any other day for that matter - was that she made enough dinner for an army.

On countless occasions the dog Hercules could be found chowing down on a pork chop or sirloin steak, because Grandma cooked so much of it that there were 5 extras in addition to his.  And Grandma didn't typically have leftover night.  This wasn't pre-cooking to save time later in the week.  It was overproduction, and a number of her family members still pay the health consequences associated with helping her make it disappear - consequences of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.

In the workplace, overproduction is often missed as a form of waste because it is interpreted as a sign of doing things well, such as:

  • Generating reports and sending them to a wide distribution list that doesn't read them.  There's a story about a large international firm that won't be named here, where an individual in the mail room was given the instruction to weigh the daily load of mail, and then create a report.  The report was sent to 7 layers of management, none of whom could remember seeing it, much less why the report was requested in the first place.   You might assume that it was originally intended as a step in justifying a certain level of mail room staffing, but as of today nobody knows for certain what it was.
  • Writing when verbal communication will suffice.  People and companies sometimes forget the purpose behind the communication and become focused instead of coming up with a way to measure their work output.  Written communication serves as a "CYA" history of productivity, so it's sometimes overused.   In addition, certain tasks need interaction to be effective.  A misunderstanding created in an email or memo can take days or weeks to clear up because of the time delay involved with shooting written communication back and forth.  This can become compounded when the topic has the potential to carry negative emotion along with it.
  • Too much equipment per employee for the amount they use it.  Sure, everyone wants their own printer in their own work space.  It's easier not to have to walk 25 feet to a community printer.  But how often do they actually print documents?  Equipment, especially personal productivity equipment, can be a cultural indicator of relative status inside businesses, so companies can find themselves purchasing several at a time just to make sure nobody complains about fairness or favoritism.  Equipment, even as prices come down as technology advances, can consume a huge chunk of capital when every person has his or her own.  And speaking of technology, the financial and impact of technology changes and rapid obsolescence is magnified when you have to constantly update or replace 25 instead of 5.
Where are the points of overproduction in your company?  In your department?  Are you killing too many trees from the volume of paper output?  Are you swamped by requests for productivity gadgets?  What do you think you want to do about this type of waste in your business?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wasted and Travel-Weary

Logs on truck by CIFOR
Logs on truck, a photo by CIFOR on Flickr.
This post is part 2 in a series on waste...

Transportation is the second form of waste that we are discussing in this series of posts.  How much do you have to move how far to complete your work processes?  How long does it take to do so?

The sneaky thing about transportation is that although the picture of logs on a truck might come readily to mind, there are other forms of transportation that might not.  Things like:

  • Unnecessarily long routes to deliver materials.  In a multi-story office building this could be items stored on one floor that are needed for production on another floor.  Or one piece of the item being produced and assembled might have to be carted from one end of the factory floor to the other.
  • Double-handling data between two processes.  For instance, student data might be used by the registrar's department to set up classes and the food services department to generate the student's meal card.  When the same data for a particular student is being entered by more than one user, there is wasted data handling.
  • Moving a dozen people to meet with one person.  This form of waste is often the result of culture, and the spoils of status in a company.  When you're the hondo, people come to you, even when it costs more to do so.
  • Using snail mail (or interoffice mail) instead of email.  In one company where there were multiple buildings on a campus, interoffice mail delivery of a customer blueprint could add as many as 2 days one way and an additional 2 days back to its originating office once the document was processed.  

Measuring transportation waste
There are two types of waste impact in transportation:

  1. Time - Transportation time sometimes isn't on the management radar because it's not obviously long.  But the significance of the time factor can be surprisingly large.  Delay from transportation might only be a matter of seconds, but when you multiply the seconds by the number of items being produced, you suddenly realize that you're dealing with a significant cost.  Compounding the cost, when nothing is happening on the other end of the transport because materials have not yet arrived, investments in work hours and machinery are being wasted during the wait.
  2. Distance - Greater distance in transport can also result in materials that are lost or damaged, unnecessary stressors on the bodies of the humans moving the items, etc.  As is the case with the time element, an arm stretch to pick an item might not seem to be a big deal in one incident.  But when you multiply the long reach by dozens, hundreds, or more repetitive occasions, injury can result - and that disrupts production capacity.

The online work environment has created the potential for incredible savings in moving people from meeting to meeting.  Gatherings that used to happen only with the help of a car ride, train, or flight can now happen with the help of a click of a mouse and Skype, Twitter, GoToMeeting or a host of other tools.  Even a phone can facilitate a face-to-face conversation to bring people together.  Some companies aren't taking full advantage of technology here because they don't have consistent access to the technology across their company.  In some instances it's more a matter of fear of using the technology.  And there are some times when a 3-D, legitimate face-to-face conversation is the only way to achieve your goal.  An XOXO or ((  )) doesn't achieve the same results as a live hug or kiss.

Technology is sometimes the answer to the non-human components in transportation waste.  For example, pneumatic tubes can suck lightweight parts right off the line and carry them to their next process step almost instantly, even when it's all of the way on the other side of the production floor.  Electronic transmission of data can replace paper forms and snail mail.  But technology is not always the best answer, best being defined as effective while cost effective.  When creativity is being applied instead of capital to reduce cost, transportation waste can often be reduced substantially by rearranging the physical configuration of people and work processes, by improving the ergonomics in moving and picking process materials, or by establishing decentralized storage methods.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Short on cash, buried in stuff

Warehouse by Eridony
Warehouse, a photo by Eridony on Flickr.

Today is part one in a series of posts on reducing cost by eliminating waste.

Unless they have a bone to pick with their employers, employees don’t intentionally create waste.  They aren’t seeking to produce bad product, or to slow things down.  Typically, waste arises out of processes that aren’t working properly.

You won’t find all of the waste related to your processes in the garbage can, or in the scrap heap or recycling bin.  Waste is sneaky, so you have to look in all of the nooks and crannies in your business if you want to find it.

Believe it or not, some leaders are a bit reluctant to look for waste because of fear that they will find it.  They think that waste is reflection on them, and they’d rather continue to hide their eyes rather than have their prior unawareness exposed.  But that’s not you, so we’re going to talk about where you might look to find the sneakiest consumers of time, energy and cash in your operation.

Waste #1 - Inventory
We’re starting here because inventory has some of the most readily noticeable impact, in the checking account balance and in the storage areas of the company.  There are several dimensions to inventory-related waste:
  • When inventory is stored in multiple locations, orders for replenishment are often made unnecessarily.  One location is low while another location is bursting at the seams, and someone at the low-stock location places an order for more.  One aspect of this is when individuals hoard popular supplies for their own use (the good pens in the desk), and therefore unnecessarily increase the expense for office supplies.
  •  If orders are made separately, the company may miss out on quantity pricing, and will often pay more for fragmented deliveries rather than consolidated ones.
  • There may be more inventory on hand than is needed to cover a reasonable amount of work process.  If there is inventory delivery available within 48 hours at reasonable cost, a smaller quantity can be kept on hand (tying up less cash) and still meet the demands of production.
  • More inventory means more time invested in counting, and more in moving it around.  Sometimes multiple people are needed to maintain it, when it could be a one-person job.  In extreme cases, more cost is incurred because more storage space is needed to hold the inventory, and that can mean more people, higher rent expense, and even more equipment expense invested, just to maintain and move the inventory.
  • Some companies maintain out of date or obsolete inventory, increasing the cash investment needed for their overall stock without increasing their ability to generate cash by producing product with it and/or selling the obsolete goods.
  • Paper when electronic will serve the purpose.  Buying paper, storing paper, and handling paper add to cost.  This sometimes happens due to ineffective electronic systems - a shadow system to compensate.  Sometimes it's the result of people not trusting the electronic system, whether it's working or not.  And in other cases people default to paper because they are used to having paper.  Simple as that.
  • Office furniture kept in storage is inventory waste.  It sometimes flies under the waste radar because it's not purchased in direct relationship to the production of finished goods.

This list is not intended to be all-encompassing, but rather to be a thought starter.  The best way to find unnecessary inventory is by walking around, opening doors and drawers, etc.  It might sound simple, but in the crush of daily operations it doesn't happen as routinely as you might think it would.  

It's dangerous to make assumptions about inventory without obtaining the input of the individuals using it in their daily work.  What appears as "extra" to an outside observer might be there for a valid reason - like known long lead times for raw goods, or upcoming large orders - for which there has been an intentional increase in items on hand.

Although Inventory is the most readily identifiable of the wastes, there are several more we’ll discuss over the next few posts (Transportation, Motion, Processing, Producing Defects, and Overproduction).   They are also contributors to over-investment in time, energy, and cash.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 17, 2012

When you're stuck

Talk To The Experts by Jeremy Brooks
Talk To The Experts,
a photo by 
Jeremy Brooks on Flickr. 
Some leaders have a difficult time with self-reliance.  It's not that they have too little - instead they have too much.  They will lose sleep for a succession of nights and weeks about an issue that's troubling them, rolling things around in their heads.  They puzzle about the problem, engage in circular arguments with themselves and examine innumerable action alternatives until they are mentally and emotionally exhausted.

The issue itself is only one part of the sticking point.  When a leader is stuck and has a hard time moving off the dime there's an additional burden - that of the inner monologue that's going on:

  • "I'm a smart person.  I can figure this out.  Why can't I figure this out?"
  • "This doesn't sit well with me.  I'm the boss.  I'm supposed to have my act together."
  • "What will happen to my reputation when somebody finds out just how badly I've messed this up?"
  • "What will the consequences be to me and my business when this hits the fan?"
The self-critical self-talk does nothing but delay the leader's taking action to handle the situation.  And sometimes while the rumination and leg-breaking leaps to conclusions are going on the problem is getting worse.  The leader needs to know a few things:
  1. His or her emotional attachment to the situation is clouding the analysis of what to do, it is contributing to the circular arguments, and it is inhibiting action-taking.
  2. This might be a situation where a content expert should be brought to bear.  The leader may have incomplete information, or may be making inaccurate assumptions about alternative courses of action and the implications of those.  There might be options about which the leader is not even aware.
  3. The process of taking a complex issue and talking about it with a neutral and knowledgeable outside party lightens the burden of carrying the issue internally, even before it is fully resolved.  
The leader need not pay big fees to obtain the information that he or she needs.  There may be industry peers, community business friends, or free resources available through SCORE or other organizations.  

By now you have probably already surmised the biggest obstacle to becoming unstuck.  Ego.  It's hard to admit that you would benefit from help, or are even desperate for it.  Ultimately it comes down to a decision about whether it's more important to you to save face or more important to move off the dime and start to fix the thing that's bothering you.  The dread-filled paralysis is actually adding to your stress.  Action taking, on the other hand, gives you a mental and emotional boost because you are taking initiative to influence the situation in a positive way.  When you start to take action you start to generate small wins that help you regain confidence in your ability to generate more of the results you want.

If your issue is really big, things won't necessarily be completely sunny when you're done with whatever you need to do to become unstuck.  But they will be better.  And your temporary reliance on a content expert, coach or sounding board will have been well worth it.

Summit coaches help leaders to become unstuck from a variety of situations.  The processes we use have been proven over more than 20 years in more than 30 industries.  If you think you might benefit from a coaching relationship to get off the dime and moving forward, contact about a complimentary needs assessment.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Behind faulty performance

faultfinder by
faultfinder, a photo by on Flickr.
There are a million reasons why performance can go awry - from poor employee selection to lack of training to new procedures to bad equipment to a full moon to employees who take advantage of the moment a leader is looking the other way.  But there is one way to guarantee faulty performance - that is to be looking for it on a day by day, moment to moment basis.

Even the best, most devoted staffers - and even leaders - become a little bit gun shy when they know that one false step is going to garner a verbal reprimand or a disciplinary write-up.  They are more, not less, likely to make mistakes under the microscope of constant scrutiny.  So the manager in search of faulty performance will find it.

The impact of fault-seeking behavior
This is a behavior that is based on fear, and the first fear is that of the manager who is afraid to be found lacking in his or her leadership.  The fault-seeker worries that if their area is not perfect that they might be at risk - if not at risk of losing their job, at risk of being passed over or losing political clout in the company.  So they make the rounds with their magnifying glass, waiting for the opportunity to have a "gotcha!" moment when somebody screws up.

People WILL mess up.  It's a part of what makes them human.  But fault-seeking behavior fails the company in a number of ways: 

  1. It assumes that there is a) only one correct way to achieve results, and  b) that is the fault-seeker's way.  That assumption is patently false - both parts.
  2. One of the outcomes of the oppressive, fear-filled work climate created by the fault-seeker is that people won't experiment.  They won't try new methods for the sake of trying to improve the volume of their output or their quality.  They will wait until they are told.  And when that happens, the company has sacrificed a large percentage of their potential contribution.  The fault-seeking work climate has wrung innovation right out of them.
  3. The most valuable people will leave.  People derive a large proportion of their life satisfaction from their contribution at work.  When fault-finding behavior clamps down on creativity and autonomy, the creative and self-motivated people won't stand for it.  They will elect themselves out of there, and ultimately the company will be left with the drones.
Enforcement versus attraction
Certainly there is a place for a policy and a procedure.  There are some work processes that can result in dire risk to the company or negative impact on a customer if they are not followed to the letter.  But there are parts of the work process that don't need to be mandated.  In fact, often the policies and procedures are written by people not doing the work every day, and so become so convoluted with unnecessary and illogical steps that create such waste that they are difficult to do completely correctly - and no sane employee would follow them.  This systemic problem creates an open door for the fault-finder.

Instead of finding fault, the peak performance seeker outlines a direction, then gives employees the latitude to figure out how to get there.  This methodology is scary to some managers because:
  • They may be seeing their own value to the organization at risk if they aren't the keepers of the most knowledge and decision making authority.
  • There is a need to train employees beyond the rudiments to help them to solve problems and implement solutions, individually and in teams.
  • Some of the solutions will fail when tested, and that's a natural part of the process.  Management's handling of the failures will determine whether the individual or team perseveres until they find something that works.
A peak performance seeker gives credit for attempts to make improvements, and he or she assists employees by providing the resources for positive change.  The peak performance seeker is not fearful, but rather is focused on activating all of the minds and hearts in his or her area of authority toward the achievement of company goals.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oranges from apple trees

a photo by 
anne miek bibber on Flickr. 
An apple tree doesn't produce oranges, silly!  An apple tree produces apples!  And the same goes for the products of your thoughts - if you think about goodness, prosperity, achievement, kindness - you will grow those.  If your focus is scarcity, hardship, cynicism - those crops will flourish for you.  Just like apple trees grow apples, orange trees are necessary for oranges.

A recent re-read of the classic As A Man Thinketh by James Allen served as a reminder that thought leads to behavior and behavior leads to results.  If you really follow Allen's argument all of the way, the current circumstances in your life are ones that you created.  That means if you don't like what's going on for you, you only have yourself and your thoughts to blame.

Perhaps that's taking a pretty harsh interpretation of Allen's words, but ponder it for a minute with this example:  You think you're an awful golfer.  Your poor image of yourself as a golfer leads to you avoid setting foot onto a golf course or involving yourself in golf-related social events.  You don't invest in good clubs, you don't waste your time on lessons, and presto!  You continue to be a lousy golfer!

If, on the other hand, you think you have the potential to be a reasonably good golfer, you invest time in playing and refining your game.  You might take lessons, or you might seek out a set of clubs that are well suited for your body size and swing.  While you might not advance to the point that you are tapped for the PGA circuit, your game improves.  You reap the harvest that ultimately results from the thought, "I could be a decent golfer if I focused on it."

There is not necessarily a direct line from thought to manifestation, from faith to the bountiful harvest.  Actions are needed in between to help things happen.  Yes, certain events happen around you and outside of you without direct intervention from you, but you will typically have to extend yourself in some behavior to create the results you want. The thought is the foundation, but there are actions that follow.

You can engage in a series of actions that you think will result in apples, but the series of actions will be harder for you to sustain if you don't have the supporting thought firmly ingrained in your mind.  In the absence of the sustaining "apple" thought you will seek earlier proof that your actions are the right ones.  In the case of apples, you may misunderstand when the first result that you see is not a tiny apple, but a blossom on the tree.  You might go so far as to dig the tree out, thinking that you planted the wrong thing, and start over instead of waiting for the blossom to transform itself into the juicy apple.

What crops are you growing in your mind?  If you are seeing results that are not what you want, you need to get to the root of it and investigate what the thoughts are that have sown the seeds for your current harvest.  You then need to over-seed your mind with thoughts of the apples that you desire.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What you hope to be

aspirations by joe_williams
aspirations, a photo by joe_williams on Flickr.
One of the biggest challenge in leading strategic planning sessions is to help the planning group reach beyond "hearts and flowers" language in their vision and values.  Too often these fundamental directional components leave company leadership and employees with no real direction, yet they have the potential to be the cornerstones of hiring, performance management, and decision making.

This is important because the core values component of the plan helps to determine the rules of engagement for the company.  It sets the standard for behavior, toward customers, the community, employees, and all other stakeholders.  Yet many companies are willing to settle for pablum values like honesty and integrity.

This is not to say that honesty and integrity have no place.  They are standards for behavior - the ticket into the game.  But they are not differentiators, nor are they motivators.  And in some instances it can't be assumed that some of the stated values are even currently in evidence.  It's easier to say "we believe in honesty" than it is to confess that you are not in a meeting when you don't want to take a call.

In his book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni talks about 3 types of values:

  • Core values - you live by them no matter what, they are a fundamental part of who you are, and they set you apart from others.  
  • Aspirational values - you hope and want to exemplify these, but you know that you're not doing so consistently right now
  • Pay to play values - these are the behavioral standards like honesty, integrity, timeliness, and others that are expectations

What an important distinction this is, and yet it's not often made.  What purpose do you want your values to fulfill?  Are they only so much ink on paper hanging in the lobby and the lunchroom?  Or are they authentic commitments that create an opportunity to become a unique and well-aligned organization?

What do your core values look like when they are in action?  This is another opportunity often missed in the process of developing values in a plan.  There's a difference between saying

  • "We look everywhere" and "No stone left unturned" 
  • "We believe in customer satisfaction" versus "We take the extra step to outperform customer expectations"
  • "Good fresh food" versus "We buy our produce from local farmers every morning"
In the phrases above, the second statement is intended to be more specific and observable.  You need to know what your values mean when they are translated into decisions and behaviors, and your employees need to know too.  Some of your values have marketing potential, but beware of diluting their impact by sloganizing them.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Team spirit gone amok

Team Spirit, December 2006 by JF Schmitz
Team Spirit, December 2006, a photo by JF Schmitz on Flickr. 
Teamwork, team building, team player - all terms that sound like Mom and apple pie.  We want our employees, our citizens, (our Congress??) to work together, to look for the good of the group and to bring individual energies together to create something big and exciting.  How can anything be wrong with that?

Look around you and you'll see evidence of individuals crippling their company in the name of team loyalty.  The so-called teamwork has been fouled with cries of "You go first!" or "Not out of my budget, you won't!" or "We're fine - Department X is where the problems are!"  If you are leading in one of these strife-filled companies, the question that needs to be answered is, "What team are you on?"  That's the rub, because the answer often isn't a simple one.

If you are looking out for the interests of Team MyFunction, whatever your function might be, and on behalf of your team you're looking for attractive budget allocations, higher standing in the cultural pecking order, new equipment, plenty of staffing, and the nice offices - you might be rooting for the wrong team.  If your focus is solely on your department you're liable to place its needs in higher priority than they company's needs.  That's silo mentality, turfishness, partisanship, and it can bring your company to its knees.

When you are a mid- or senior-level leader your team is the company, not your department or functional silo.  When you are playing for the right team you make different decisions:
  • You might choose to sacrifice resources that would otherwise have come to you so that they can be reallocated to a more strategically powerful purpose than the one for which you intended them.  
  • You abandon the old management meeting strategy of "CYA" and instead contribute the information that the company needs to move forward, even if it makes you look bad right now.
  • You help your best people progress, even if it means that they move to another functional area to make their best contribution to the company's success.
To take this bigger team stand in your company takes trust, and the willingness to make yourself vulnerable.  It might be difficult to be the one to go first, to put yourself out there and not know whether exposing your soft underbelly will result in a dagger to the gut.  But you are the only person whose behavior you can control, and if you are not going to be a catalyst for positive change, who will do it?  

Go Team Go!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The best plan ever

horse_race_mingella2 by RaeAllen
horse_race_mingella2, a photo by RaeAllen on Flickr.
Still searching for the silver bullet that will create the outcome you want?  Investing more time analyzing data to perfect your plan?  Engaged in debate with a colleague or significant other about the "correct" approach to take to solve a problem?
General George S. Patton, considered one of the great military leaders of all time, said, "A good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week." 
Wow.  A good plan. Violently executed.  Today.
What constitutes a good plan?
A good plan is in sync with your overall intentions.  The desired outcomes need to be defined, and known and potential obstacles accounted for.  Once the obstacles are laid out, solutions to the obstacles are developed and specific action steps are outlined.  Accountabilities and assignments are made, and follow-up timelines established.  While there are no guarantees on results, a solid plan will take care of the reasonable hurdles and contingencies.  You can communicate it to all of the participants and measure the outcome.
What is "violently executed"?
You don't have to be a soldier to relate to the energy that is involved here.  It's do or die time, where your all is invested in working the plan.  You and your team aren't running around in circles seeking opportunity.  Rather you're clicking through the predetermined action steps you laid out in the plan.  Violent execution means you are not stopped by unanticipated obstacles.  You find a way around, through, or under them - right now, so you keep your forward momentum.
Why today?  What if it's not ready?
Conditions change, and your plan may become irrelevant or obsolete if you don't implement it now.  And because there is no guarantee of desired results even with the most detailed plan, your best option is to provide yourself the opportunity to make, for instance, 5 decisions in the course of the next five days rather than only 1.  If that one weekly decision is wrong you've lost a week, whereas even if 2 or 3 of your TODAY decisions are proved to be wrong, you still have 2 or 3 more opportunities to make better ones that take you quickly in the direction of your goals.
WWPD (What would Patton do?)
General Patton's leadership style was brash and aggressive.  He put on a show with his personal appearance and his profanity-laced language to demonstrate his toughness, and his country's toughness.  "Old Blood N' Guts" went wherever the fighting was the fiercest, and with his Third Army on the Western Front, he blazed through six countries in ten months.
From a New York Times article on Patton and his career:
There were times, in those great days when the tank spearheads of the Third were racing across France with almost unbelievable speed and again when they were cutting the dying Nazi armies to pieces in the final spring of the war, that not even Supreme Headquarters itself knew where his vanguards were. Driven by his iron will, his advanced units had to be supplied with gasoline and maps dropped by air.

Are you ready to take no prisoners?  Are you ready to implement today?  Because your best plan ever is the one you execute today.  It does you no good while it rests on a sheet of paper, or in a file on your computer.  It doesn't bear results while it rattles around in your head, morphing with changing moods and external circumstances.  Your best plan ever is closer than you think.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The best 15 minutes you'll invest

Laurel Lake in panorama, a photo by LWGibble

What would you do if you had fifteen minutes - that's fifteen - in your work day to allocate in whatever way you want?  Regardless of whether you think you have it available to you right now, with all of the fires you're putting out, the meetings you're attending, and the "To Do" list that's calling your name, how would you use your fabulous fifteen?  You could

  • Plan your day
  • Prioritize your task list so the most important things get done first
  • Talk to a resource and build connections with them
  • Walk around your department and see what's going on (not for audit purposes - for information purposes)
  • Exercise your body to clear your head
  • Take a power nap
  • File the piles
  • Work on a "Someday Isle" item  (someday I'll - get it?)
  • Sit completely still and think
  • Recap your day and plan tomorrow's priorities
Does this seem impossible?  It may seem improbable at best, but it won't happen unless you choose to do it. Close your door, park your phone, leave the room, leave the building if you have to - but give yourself fifteen minutes.  Fifteen isn't too much to ask.

For bonus points:  If you can bring yourself to set aside thirty or even sixty minutes, that's even better.  You will feel far more in control of your day, because you will be, and that will help you manage your stress levels.  Your responsibilities are to think, change, and operate.  You can't do the first two effectively if you allow yourself to stay too caught up in the third.  Yes, crises happen that need your attention.  But keep your eye on the prize - that fabulous fifteen - that will help you perform better and maintain your sanity in the process.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spoiler alert - there is no magic wand

Magic Wand by photophilde
Magic Wand, a photo by photophilde on Flickr.
A new leader is hired, and given the message that her job is to reverse the organization's negative momentum.  She charges in on her white horse wielding her magic wand (figuratively speaking, of course) and digs in.  She works long hours, and she eats, sleeps, and breathes her new opportunity.

Weeks or months later she feels like the legendary boy trying to stem the rush of flood water from breaking the dam.  She is seeing the issues and the solutions for them less clearly now that she is up to her eyeballs in the crush of daily crises, details, and political maneuverings.  Her initial excitement and enthusiasm have given way to obsession and insomnia.  She can't seem to quiet the voice in her head that's busy searching for solutions, even in the middle of the night when she should be getting some sorely needed rest.  She begins to explode with temper at family members over minor irritations.  In short, she's on a fast train to burnout.

No matter her honorable intentions, this leader needs to remember a few things:

  • There is no magic wand.  No one person will single-handedly turn things around, and it won't happen overnight.  The company took all of its history to arrive at this place, and the thought that the solution is straightforward or that she is the only person who sees things clearly is simply naive (or overblown ego).  
  • The workplace is a system of interrelated, interdependent processes.  When you poke one place in the system, many other processes are affected.  And sometimes the ancillary effects are not the ones you anticipate or even want.  This makes some issues harder to resolve, because there are many points of contact to manage simultaneously.
  • Start with accessible victories.  Don't take on the problem of world peace right out of the gate.  Start with the equivalent of peace at the dinner table for 15 minutes tonight, and then expand from there.  Learn and refine improvement methods on relatively lower-stakes opportunities, then move on to the bigger ones.
  • Prioritize, prioritize.  Not everything can be handled at once.  Identify the Really Big Goal, and then determine the numerous obstacles standing between the company and the goal.  Another way to look at it is to do a root cause analysis - look at the problem you are experiencing and identify the variety of contributing causes to the problem.  Determine the root (main, or biggest) cause and work on that one first.
  • Assemble a body of knowledge by involving content experts.  The experts are not necessarily the folks with the biggest academic credentials.  The real experts are the ones doing the work.  If decisions are coming from the ivory tower instead of from the field, they will 
    • likely be wrong or uninformed, and
    • meet resistance from the people responsible to implement them
  • Care for the relationships.  No result right now will be of full benefit if a leader has to burn every bridge in sight to get it done.  Tomorrow a result will also be needed, and the day after that.  The leader needs cheerleaders, future experts, and plenty of hands-on effort to create a sustainable improvement.
  • Care for self.  Rest, relaxation, relationship building, nutrition, continuing education - they are all creators of production capacity.  This leader will become less effective if she loses her drive and her mental edge, or compromises her health and stamina.  These activities will be ones she will have to choose to allocate time for if she wants to make sure that they happen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why they are not complying

DON'T FEED THE HIPSTERS, a photo by TrustoCorp on Flickr. 
Some leaders complain often about the lack of follow-through, even the lack of common sense, that they see in their employees.  These leaders don't understand why their teams don't "get it," and after a period of frustration they start to make assumptions about why employees aren't complying with management's expectations.  They start to think that employees are being rebellious, that they are apathetic, or that they are not too bright.

There are reasons why employees don't do what you want them to do, and many of the reasons are centered not around the employees, but around you and how you are leading.  They are not complying because:

  1. The performance expectation has not been spelled out for them.  Management has assumed that they know what to do, when, and how.
  2. The necessary tools (this includes training) have not been provided.
  3. They don't know why it's important, and/or how it connects to the company's overall performance.
  4. They weren't involved in the decision, and they are the ones who know what's really going on.  So the decision or process brought down from above makes no practical sense to them.
  5. They have been provided with no feedback so far that anything is amiss, so they have been working merrily along.
  6. The problem feels so big that they are paralyzed, unable to see a first step toward fixing it.
  7. They feel disengaged, and so they are only doing the minimum amount necessary to get by.
Steps toward better compliance
The whole concept of compliance revolves around living by somebody else's rules.  Looking at it from an employee's perspective, when you are creating the rules yourself you set them up in alignment with what you think is practical, and to lead to the outcomes you want to see.  So when you as a leader provide opportunities (even responsibilities) for employees to be actively involved in creating and improving work processes, you remove several compliance obstacles in one fell swoop.  They understand why it's important, they are involved with the decision, they can identify feedback loops, and so they become more engaged.

There may be employees who are not a skills fit for the jobs they are doing.  Choosing not to comply is different from not having the ability to comply.  Provide training first, give them the opportunity to practice and apply the skills, and then if the individual is still not cutting it, reassign them to a job that's a better fit or help them to exit the organization.

If an employee is not a values fit for the company you will have a difficult time helping them to perform consistently well (in conflict with their values.)  Attitudes (values) drive behavior, and behavior generates results.  You can only truly manage behavior that's exhibited, not values that are internally held, and behavior is likely to revert to values-based conditioning whenever the individual is not paying specific attention to it.  An individual is better off working in an organization with which they have a greater values alignment.

Top-down or bottom-up?
The challenge, and the art, in leading is to provide the vision and big-picture goals as a senior leader, and then to unleash employees to operate at their fullest level of authority.  The context of a company-wide plan that is shared among employees enables your staff to make better decisions, and to see how they fit into the overall company picture.  When you provide the tools to do so, employees bubble ideas up, and they will have a vested interest in making them work.  With this level of participation and engagement, employee compliance becomes a non-issue.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Poison for your brain

Poison by Thorius
Poison, a photo by Thorius on Flickr.
Would you intentionally poison yourself?  Probably not.  But it's possible that you are poisoning your brain on a daily basis.  

The poisoning we're referring to here is not a cloudy green substance that you swallow that results in wooziness or even death - it's information that you are consuming and storing in your head.  When you take it in, your brain is not programmed to evaluate it.  You have to choose to engage critical thinking to determine whether the information is valid.  Your brain just stores it, as is, for later retrieval.

Destructive information contributes to your habits of thought, and your habits of thought lead to habits of behavior.  Thought poison manifests itself later, so it's not something to be ignored or dismissed.  It's all around you, and it takes many forms:

  • The news, in print, online and on TV
  • The "friend" who complains incessantly
  • The family member who reminds you regularly what you could have been or should have been (other than the person you are right now)
  • Self-talk that focuses on your sins of commission and omission, your perceived flaws and quirks
Depending upon your prior conditioning (the conditioning that you received before you really had the awareness to choose,) you might be highly sensitive to this type of brain poisoning.  But to the extent possible from the whatever circumstance in which you find yourself right now, prevention is your best solution.  It's much harder to dilute the effects of negative conditioning than it is to keep the poison from going in.  

If you think that you might have been inadvertently pouring poison into your brain, here are some potential courses of action:
  1. Turn off the 24/7 news channel and take a break from the newspaper.  Reduce the amount of "ain't it awful" information that you put into your head.
  2. Stay away from the people whose words hurt you or the people you love. 
  3. Detach from conversations and situations that engage your poisonous side.
  4. Take action to manage your internal conversation with yourself.  You ARE using self-talk all day, every day already.  But with greater self-awareness you can manage the tone of the discussion. dilute the effects of the poison, and improve your habits of thought.
  5. Increase your attention on your purpose, your intended contribution, and determine a tangible next step you can take toward fulfilling it.  It doesn't have to be a giant step - a small step in the right direction can work wonders to build your credibility with yourself.
  6. Engage in a reading and/or listening program, to absorb information that aligns with your higher purpose, builds your belief in yourself and your value, and that looks for the good in the world.
  7. Set goals for yourself and take regular, daily action toward them to help yourself stay focused on the nourishing aspects of your life.
Thought poisoning doesn't have to be permanent.  The course of intervention can be time consuming, but the benefits significant.  One additional consideration:  if you have been talking and behaving from a thought-poisoned state you might be contributing to the poisoning of other people.  This problem is communicable, so failure to address your own condition has implications that could stretch far and wide.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

To hire or not to hire

small business owner: woman and her flower shop by mauricio jordan
small business owner: woman and her flower shop,
a photo by 
mauricio jordan on Flickr. 
When you're a one-woman or one-man show, it's a huge decision to determine whether or not you want to hire somebody.  When you transition from being a doer to one who helps other people do, a whole new skill set is required of you.  You become responsible in a way for another person's income stream and family security.  And you no longer have the luxury of making spur of the moment decisions just because you want to.

Some small business owners think that having employees is the sign of a "real" company.  But given the additional demands an employee makes on your time, it becomes important to consider carefully just why you're contemplating the move in the first place.

  • Need additional production capacity. Many if not most small business owners are performing services themselves, or they are producing product themselves.  Production capacity is limited by their time, so they think that they need to add more available time in the form of another warm body.  Sometimes they forget to consider just how much of what their customers are buying is tied up in them as an individual.  For some services and situations there is no substitute.  If you want to hear Mick Jagger you don't want to hear somebody else covering Mick Jagger tunes.  You want to hear Mick Jagger.  
  • Need additional sales volume.  If you want your business to grow you have to figure out how to get more customers, and then how to serve them more efficiently so you can handle more and more over time.  Until you have increased your sales volume, additional production capacity is a moot point.  Yet there are far more people willing to, say, teach a class for you than are willing to do the activities necessary to sell the project.  Then there's the question of compensation and who bears the risk associated with slow or under-performing sales results.
Alternatives to hiring
Because hiring is a risk - you have selection, training, processes, policies, need for management time, etc. - it might be a good idea to expand your thinking.  If what you need is additional sales volume, you could:
  1. Partner with a complementary company and create a structure for commissions, revenue sharing, etc.
  2. Locate an independent contractor who can represent your company and create sales opportunities.  If you take this route, be sure to check the legal guidelines for what constitutes "independent."  Otherwise you could find yourself owing tax witholdings, FICA, workers comp, etc. for that person.
  3. Improve or redesign your work processes to allow you more time to do your sales function.
If you need additional production capacity, you might:
  1. Look for a reliable outside resource who can do it for you.  (This assumes that you don't want or need to be the person doing it yourself.)
  2. For temporary influxes of work, consider temps or interns.
  3. Same as number 3 above, only in this case your goal is to be able to achieve greater throughput of work or product with the same resources.
In summary, think before you hire.  Adding a person increases your costs for the long term, and you want to be as certain as possible that the risk is manageable.  In addition, you probably don't want to find yourself in the position of having to lay someone off because your business can't sustain them.  Last, you're the founder, and you have both the opportunity and the obligation to find the role for yourself that benefits the company the most.  Whatever you build in an organizational chart beyond that needs to be built with that in mind.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Playing "chicken" with your results

Chickens by Allie's.Dad
Chickens, a photo by Allie's.Dad on Flickr.
You know the game called "chicken" - two drivers speed head-on toward one another.  The winner is the one who does not yield to his or her fear, that is unless neither yields and they collide, destroying their vehicles and potentially losing their lives.

The higher the stakes are, the bigger the risks involved, the more fear you might attach to the results you are trying to produce.  If we were talking about positive attitude today, this post would talk about abundance mentality,  and the way that you subconsciously create your results.  When you believe that the results are out there to be had, you do the activities necessary to bring them to you.  When you don't believe that the end you desire is possible, you slump into inactivity, which nigh-on guarantees that you won't reach your goal.

The point today, though, is that your activities of yesterday might not yet have produced the results you want.  The game of "chicken" here is to sustain what you are doing, knowing that a delay is built in, a naturally-occurring gap exists between your action and the reaction.  To sell the volume that you want to sell, you might have to talk to five people - or you might have to talk to fifty.  If you are in a fifty-person arena and stop after you only talk to five - you have lost the game.  Your fear has gotten the best of you - and you haven't achieved the results that you want.

How do you know the difference between situations where you have to stay the course and those where your methods are bad?  Sometimes you can see through the windshield.  Sometimes there are interim indicators of whether you're on course or not.  The driver of the car can see second by second whether the oncoming car has veered off of its collision course.  If you can develop some predictive indicators like production backlog, customer satisfaction scores, or sales pipeline, you won't be driving blindly.

But in certain situations, or in certain types of business development, you have to wait - while somebody makes a decision, while a budget is approved, etc.  It's part of the game, and if you take yourself out of the running you are guaranteed not to win.  If you want to make the waiting easier and the risk smaller, get on with some additional activities that will help you create more opportunity for yourself and your company.  When you have only one "do-or-die" opportunity, the fear is greater, and the potential for failure higher.

Perhaps it's not a game of "chicken" at all - unless you make it one.  Rather it's a process of balancing multiple streams of activity toward the results that you want.  It's not only about this race, with this immediate situation.  It's about the bigger picture - unless you let this one take you out of the running.