Feeling Lonely? Call a Meeting – more from the world of meetings

Recently I was talking with two clients (partners in an engineering firm) about meetings. In particular were the meetings that one of their customers was calling on short notice with no formal purpose with a cast of thousands. We were puzzling through the various ways they could handle customers who think that it is alright to have meetings that take up lots of time and only really involve my clients occasionally for their input and expertise.

Feeling lonely today? Let’s call a meeting. Continue reading

Why Should You Develop a Business Plan for Going Concern, How to Do It, and How Do You Convert the Plan Into Action?

Why Should You Develop a Business Plan?

For every startup the development of a business plan is a  required first step. It is so obvious – business schools have course on writing the business plan and it is impossible to get funding without one. Teams coalesce around the labor. So, every startup has a business plan.

For the going concern, the ones that are now three or so more years old, the business plan (also called strategic plan -really the same thing) is forgotten, only stumbled on when a move forces someone to pick it up and wonder, “Should I just relegate this to the dumpster?”

This is not a good situation. A business without a plan is like a boat sitting in a pond just waiting to sink to the bottom for nature to compost it. Or, if it has the fate to be afloat in a stream, it will be carried along willy-nilly until it bumps into a stone or dead branch or reaches the ocean where nature will also send it to the big composter.

Every business exists in a world that is changing and filled with opportunities and threats. Your business plan is your set of oars to provide the means to pull in the direction you want to go in, to avoid the rocks. You might even row to shore and portage around the falls, to move to an entirely new river.

But, many people, even accepting the wisdom of having a plan, find it a painful exercise, all too easily avoided. This may be driven by the idea that a business plan involves dozens of pages of writing, lots of spreadsheets with numbers they really don’t believe (sometimes don’t understand). Business plans, strategic plans, these are just the exercises one does in business schools. Or it may be the folk wisdom that business plans are not a useful part of managing and they always end up on the shelf or hidden in a file cabinet only dusted off for display when in search of a bank loan.

However, shift your thinking to view the process of building a plan as a value in and of itself, and adopt a simpler more flexible business plan model you will find that building that set of oars for your little boat is fun and productive. Continue reading

Book Review – 12 The Elements of Great Managing and Making These Actionable

12ElementsGreatMng-book-cvrThe Gallup Organization has been publishing books on management and high performance organizations regularly for quite some time. The encouraging elements in all of them are that they are  based on real data from real people about real work.  I have recommended two earlier books from Gallup, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, 1st ed. (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths, 1st ed. (Free Press, 2001). 

I recently read 12 The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter (Gallup Press, New York 2006) another in this series. Don’t be deceived by the title, this book is really speaking from the perspective of how employees experience high-performance management. So a little translation is required to uncover the implied principles and practices of the 12 elements. Here are the twelve elements as presented in the introduction to the book((1)) .

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

A footnote at the end of this listing states that “Each of the Q12© statements above represent millions of dollars of investment by Gallup researchers…..”. This is one of the reasons these Gallup books are interesting. There is lots of data embedded in them. It is well worth the time to read through and absorb the anecdotes that flow from the data.

The questions I have about this list are not about the validity of these statements. They seem to jive very well both with anecdotal observation and the findings of many other studies about the attitudes and feelings of people in high performance organizations. The questions facing a manager is how to create the business culture, infrastructure and processes that produces these results in the human resources of the organization?

Without attempting anything exhaustive here, let’s take a look at several of these 12 elements and see how one might convert them into actionable tasks for a manager.

Looking at the first two elements,  applying Lean principles and practices creates an environment in which every person knows what is expected of them, how they are to accomplish the tasks, when the results are required, and what success looks like in terms of detailed deliverables of a product or service.  And, they receive immediate feedback concerning all of these characteristics from those around them in the work flow.

Since good Lean work design involves visual, simple feedback mechanisms, quality is a result of the process and failures are dealt with immediately. Apply Lean principles and practices develops processes that directly connect the work at hand to elements eight and nine. Central to Lean practices is the principle that quality is a outcome of the process and failures are identified in the flow and quality issues are resolved down to the root level.

Lean principles and practices include a focus on the development of every individual in the organization to be fully cross-functional in their skills. Typically this is implemented through specific cross-training requirements so that, over time, every individual learns to be a fully qualified practitioner of multiple skills required by the company’s processes and long-term goals. or

Element seven, “At work, my opinions seem to count.” requires some further comment. High performance organizations require the involvement of every associate’s mind and energies to solve problems and carry out the work at hand. It is not optional in a high performance environment. So, by definition, every person’s engagement counts. The word “seem” needs to be replaced by “does”.  A little further quibble here. Opinions are not very useful without the supporting facts and thought processes behind them. This is the reason that high performance organizations, whether they identify themselves under the banner of Lean((2)) , Baldrige((3)) , EFQM((4)) , or ISO9001-2008((5)) , use disciplined problem solving techniques that everyone learns to use. This assures that everyone’s engagement in the problem is represented, but the problem solving is fact-based, gets to the root, and is actionable.

Element 10, “I have a best friend at work.” is clearly beyond the control of management. It is understandably nice, but definitely not a controllable element of any work place.

Some elements are particularly subject to influence by the behaviors of senior management. Elements 3, 4, 5, 6, and 11 are typically elements to be found in high performance human resources management processes. But, making those processes come to life can readily be driven by the example of senior management in how they manage the selection, development and pruning of the people who report to them. If they practice sound high performance human resource practices, those practices will cascade down to everyone in the organization. It goes without saying that a component of that is direct involvement by senior management in oversight and monitoring of the health of the human resources management processes in the organization. A simple example of this is to impose a rule that no manager, even to the CEO level, can receive a pay grade review if they have any outstanding performance reviews for their subordinates. This drives timeliness quite nicely.

To conclude, this list of 12 elements is an interesting starting point to venture into high performance management. The list is really a slice of the results that flow from high performance management practices. The trick here then is to reverse engineer the list to uncover high performance practices from the world of Lean, Baldrige, and other high performance models that can be applied in your particular business environment. Building a high-performance organization is one sure approach to developing an organization that produces great results and solid answers to the 12 elements of great managing as described in 12 The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter.

Footnotes:
  1. pages xi and xii []
  2. Lean is the American name for the Toyota Production System, also more broadly the Toyota Business System. There is no standards organization for lean principles and practices. A good starting point is Womack, James P., and Daniel T. Jones. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated. 2nd ed. Free Press, 2003 and The Lean Enterprise Institute []
  3. Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria []
  4. European Foundation for Quality Management []
  5. International Organization for Standardization ISO9001-2008 Quality management systems — Requirements []

Podcast – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Be a More Effective Manager – stop answering those questions, seize your time, and it’s your fault

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Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Become a More Effective Manager – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps

In the world of planning and strategy, there is a truism that too much planning, too much detail, too much analysis, leads to inaction, to a loss of opportunity. Along the same line of observation, in the world of learning to becoming a more effective manager, there can be too much study, too much thinking, too much integration of the many many skills and aptitudes required to become more effective. In both strategy and management skills action is almost always preferable to another round of study. Action bumps you up against the real world and provides the real basis for improving skills and results.

But, that still leaves us with the nagging question as a manager, especially for rookie managers and supervisors, how do I get started?

Based on many years of personal work as a manager and many years coaching managers, here are three steps you can take that will get you into action and guarantee striking results. These results will come in your personal effectiveness and in of the results of the organization you manage.  Remember,  by results, I am referring to the three meanings Drucker defined: (1) direct business results (usually measured in $s); (2) improved organizational culture (values); and (3) development of people.((1))

1. Stop Answering Questions

If most managers could listen to themselves, the proverbial fly on the wall, for just a few hours, they would discover that they are chronically enabling dependency all around them and undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place. How is this happening? Just listen and you will hear a stream of questions coming at them followed by answers in response. You are enabling the following the reflexive pattern: ask the expert and be rewarded with answers. Ask the boss, get an answer, and be safe from responsibility for the answers.

If you want to get people to take responsibility and be involved in the business, you can’t go on answering all these questions. They will just go on asking whether they need to or not. And, you are spending an enormous amount of your time, your most valuable resource, to answering all of these questions.

What should a manager do to break this pattern? Continue reading

Footnotes:
  1. see Chapter 2 – What Can I Contribute? in his book The Effective Executive []

Podcast – Early Intervention Is Key to Employee Success

Early intervention for new hires and promotions is key to success.

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This podcast is 4 minutes 59 seconds long.

A text version is available here.