So what if it’s important?

office_work_by_linni_fight

office work by linni fight

I wish I had a nickel for every time some new initiative was rolled out, sometimes with mandatory attendance at grandiose presentations proclaiming the utter importance of the initiative to the future survival of the company.  If I did have a nickel for every one of those, I’m certain to have a whole lot of nickels.
Unfortunately, asserting that the reason for change is  important violates the Fat Smoker principle, as I like to call it, which was a term coined by David Maister.  Essentially, it is the awareness that although we know what the problem is, we rarely address it, no because we don’t know what the right thing to do is, but because in order to get to something good we must first go through something difficult.  Here’s a video of his thoughts on being a Fat Smoker:

 

Knowing that something is important is only necessary for change to occur.  It is not sufficient for full, genuine adoption of new behaviors.  In order for people to change their behaviors, it is necessary to demonstrate how the change from the old to the new will make life easier, even if it requires some difficulty in the near term.

When I say “make life easier” I mean at the personal level – not the organizational.  If the organization is made more profitable, that creates some amount of ease, but one that doesn’t necessarily transfer all the way down to the individual.  In fact, most initiatives have the opposite result – making the long-term workload for the individual more difficult.  Sustaining the improvement also becomes easier because, once people are able to accomplish the desired outcomes with less strain, they will always want to keep doing things in the easiest way they know how.

It must be noted that, if the people within an organization have been subjected to years of strain and strive, however, they will not easily adopt anything new.  The lack of trust is simply too pervasive.  In these cases, incentives in the form of tangible or intangible rewards are often doled out in order to reward those who adopt the new behaviors with the greatest zeal.  Unfortunately, in these circumstance, no amount of management pressure, bribery or cajoling will ever be successful in the long term because the energy required on the part of management to enact such things will eventually run out, too.

People will develop new habits based on a perceived personal benefit, and even then, old habits die hard.  Overcoming this inertia requires a bit of guidance.  When it comes to change, nothing is as important as an engaged, supportive and authoritative leadership.

So long, Ray Lewis, and a tale of two retirements

Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless

Ray Lewis by youngandreckless

If any of you watched the Ravens – Colts football game this past weekend, you were treated to the final home game played by one of the NFL’s all-time greats.  Ray Lewis, an iconic figure for over a decade in the NFL, has announced he will retire at the end of this season. While I am not a fan of Ray Lewis, personally, any fan of the game of football still must respect and appreciate him for his tenacity, toughness, on-the-field and locker room leadership and overall football smarts. 

 What has always turned me off to Lewis is his ballsy bravado and showmanship that is so very much the hallmark of many a famous athlete.  It does nothing for me, whatsoever.  Nonetheless, watching him play the position of inside linebacker has been a site to behold for a very long time.  

The Ravens defeated the Colts handily and, although the game was well out of reach, Lewis took the field for the game’s final play – a meaningless kneel-down to run out the clock from the Colts rookie QB sensation, Andrew Luck.  There was no need for Lewis to be on the field.  In fact, he stood about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, deep in the defensive backfield, avoiding even the suggestion of contact on the final play of a game in which he played with a large, heavy brace on his injured arm. 

This play, however, was the most memorable thing for me in the entire game, even with amazing circus catches from Anquan Boldin and explosive runs pulled off by Ray Rice still lingering in my mind’s eye.  Ray Lewis left the stadium where he made himself a legend in the one place where he should have – on the field.  He was not on the sideline, high-fiving teammates, hugging coaches or waving to spectators.  He was active, involved, in the game and doing his job – no matter how trivial or small the play he was going to be remembered by everyone in that stadium as spending his last final moments right where he should have been – on the field. 

Now, let’s contrast that with another story…… 

I knew someone who, after spending over 30 years with a company, decided to retire.  After a long but unspectacular career, it was time to leave the rat race as just about every single one of us who is not a legendary NFL icon will do.  Unfortunately, also unlike those legendary NFL icons, leaving the job with an iota of respect wasn’t in the cards. 

You see, the rulebook indicated employees needed to work on such-and-such days in order to receive certain benefits.  This meant reporting to work for 2 more days, even though operations on those days were just about completely shut down for the Holidays.  And, of course, there’s no way that a full day of work could be done with all the retirement congratulations going on, not to mention the complete lack of motivation to throw yourself into anything knowing you are never – ever -never-ever-never coming back. 

Rather than thanking this person for a lifetime of commitment and riding off into the sunset with a feeling of admiration and respect, like Ray Lewis, the company required reporting to work for a couple more days just to satisfy some meaningless policy requirement from which no value to anyone could be derived. And that is the difference between running an organization on the basis of cost vs. running one on the basis of value, and the difference between people in an organization that understand what Respect for People means, and those who do not.

Well, OF COURSE no one trusts management…..

Backstabber_by_bat_bat

Backstabber by bat bat

In a conversation with a seasoned manager who asked me why I believed morale was so poor in his organization, I stated that the thing most often heard wafting through the cubicles was that people simply don’t trust the management here. “Well, that’s universal.” he stated, and quickly dismissed the concerns people were uttering as just usual, typical, workplace angst. 

And so, improving the situation quickly became impossible or, at the very least, set back for quite a while. 

Now, it would be easy to point out the ignorance of this approach, or how such thinking leads to long-term disengagement, to how the failure to put aside personal perceptions and attempt to understand a situation before launching into a solution is a far more optimal approach, etc, etc, etc.  Certainly, all of these things were my first, immediate, and emotional reactions. Upon reflection, however, I realized that this problem  was born from different perspectives on management’s role among the age groups in the organization.

Those who felt that the staff was – for lack of a better term – whining, were all north of 55 years of age, and most of those were north of 60.  Their expectation was that managers were tough, not very understanding, at that the entire management rank of the organization was something for everyone else to contend with and develop mechanisms around. 

The folks on the other end of the spectrum were all 30-40 years old, and had an expectation that, while management needed to be stood up to at times, its primary function was to enable workers as much as possible.  Managers, from their point of view, needed to make adjustments in their own behavior when confronted so that the organization as a whole, as well as the people within it, could thrive. 

Younger still, and with a very different perspective, were those who were 20-30 years old, who believed they shouldn’t even have to confront management and let them know where the problems were.  They expected management to be involved, engaged, and have a deep understanding o the work such that problems were prevented, not simply addressed when they arose. 

 Some of this difference in perspective has to do with simple matters of maturity.  s you get older, you get a little more grizzled, tougher, and less likely to expect that someone else is going to take care of you.  Some of it, however, is also generational – my belief is that those folks who are in their 20s now will be more likely to look for collaborative and trustworthy management styles when they are in their 60s, as well as be more likely to create a sense of trust in the organization as they rise through the ranks. 

They will not achieve it 100%, of course, since having to bend the young whelps into shape is a part of maturing and becoming a leader.  There are clear differences in the expectations that generations have of the role of management, however, and not all of those expectations will erode over time. 

For the highest ranks of management, this is an important element of team dynamics to understand.  There are going to be conflicts arising from role expectations, management styles, personality types and even just work habits.  But what is driving those attributes?  The root cause may be something so simple as understanding when a person was born.

My best advice to anyone, regardless of age group, is simple:  Seek understanding and reflect before speaking.  Every opinion is a valid one, and you will understand it better if you first learn to understand the premise with which it was made.  This will provide you with an opportunity to examine your own opinions and behaviors and then decide if you are the one who needs to grow up a little, or regain a little of your lost youthful optimism.

 

Stump the Chump, and the Steve Jobs Paradox?

Paradox

iTime paradox by IlookingYou

Two weeks ago, I delivered the presentation that’s been adorning the home page to a monthly meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of the project management institute.  That presentation was drawn from a series I put on the blog just a little over a year and a half ago, where I made a connection between common, sub-optimal activities that are found in project environments and Lean’s 7 wastes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to stand up and speak about how Lean is not a set of cost reduction techniques nor a quality assurance program, but a philosophy of how organizations work, how people work, and of how people within organizations work.  While several in the audience were expecting a discussion of Agile software development when they heard the topic would be about Lean in Project Management, I think my focus on understanding environments and behaviors resonated with a few of the audience members.  Many asked if they could obtain a copy of the presentation, which I took to be quite the complement, also.

If the Q&A that followed, however, I was asked a question that – as I put it, “Stumped the Chump.”  One gentleman asked, in response to the portions of my presentation that focused on the Respect for People foundation of Lean and, in particular, the Shingo model, how I would characterize Steve Jobs and Apple’s success, given that Jobs was a well-known egomaniac and had a reputation for being quite stern and non-compromising.

While some members of the audience offered their take on what might have happened at Apple as others took up the cause of Respect for People and the “appropriate” management styles, in an effort to help me out as I stated that the question would require some thought, I thought up my response.  I briefly recounted my understanding of the work Steve Jobs did at Pixar, and the interpersonal dynamics he created within the hallways of Pixar (quite literally) that fostered collaboration and creativity – including several dynamics for idea sharing and generation that were drawn from – you guessed it – the Toyota Production System.

While this answer satisfied the gentleman asking the question, it has stuck with me for the past couple of weeks, as I felt the need to contemplate the question a bit further.  What I may have come to realize, is that there is something of a Paradox involved when a true visionary ascends to the position of influence within an organization.  These situations are remarkably rare, I believe, which is why they are so disruptive, revolutionary, and highly successful.  It is dependent as much upon the circumstances as the traits of the individuals involved, but it is clear to me that the person(s) who creates a whole new paradigm for conducting the work of an organization very often must embrace what I will call the “Jobsian Paradox.”

Clearly, the stories of the founders of the Toyota Production System are not that far from what we hear of Jobs doing at Apple.  The outcomes are revered by many, studied and copied by others, and delved into by an army of commentators looking for the secret to the success these visionaries bring about.  What they have in common, however, is something that is, indeed, contrary to the tenets of creativity and innovation in both project and process.  That is, that at the beginning – when people’s mindsets need to be calibrated towards a new understanding and  that understanding needs to translate into action, someone authoritative, demanding, relentless personality must be at the forefront of creating and driving the system under which change will occur.

From those personalities come systems, and from that relentless focus on driving people to the correct behaviors comes guiding them to possibilities, and from satisfactory mediocre comes the expectation of greatness.  It must begin, however, with unique individuals willing to drive others to the point of aggravation in order to be achieved, which is something of a paradox in the realm of thinking that believes people are intrinsically motivated and that all a brutish task master can do is to de-motivate them.

This is, in many ways, akin to the concept of a Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins discusses.  To foster change, unique, rare, visionary people are needed.  In order to turn their vision into reality, however, a certain drive is required that leads the people with that vision to adopt behaviors we tend to believe, at least in the short term, are counterproductive and entirely suboptimal.

To wrap it up, the Jobs-ian paradox is this:  For true visionaries with the ability to persevere, many of the management practices and behaviors that we associate with high levels of creativity  and innovation among the workforce, are ignored or simply not practiced in order to bring the organization, as a whole, to high levels of creativity and and innovation.

 

Think small, even when you’re big

Nearly all of my career has been spent in large organizations.  Whether publicly traded or wholly-owned subsidiaries, most of these companies have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of employees in nearly every corner of the globe.

Recently, however, thanks to nothing more than a lot of dumb luck and maybe a smidgen of effort, I’ve gained a little bit of exposure to some tiny companies – from 3-person startups to proven ventures with a dozen or so employees looking to make the leap into the growth stage.

The biggest difference, I’ve realized, is the amount of information that gets shared.  When you are part of something small, especially if you have an equity stake, the information is much, much more open and flowing freely.  Even if things aren’t directly in your area of responsibility, you’re still aware of what people are doing, why they’re doing it, the tradeoffs that were evaluated in order to decide upon that course of action, and the overall performance and health of the company.

In a large organization, information is often tightly controlled, provided on a need-to-know basis, and when it is shared, it is usually edited for content and to run in the time allowed.  Why must this be so?

Whether a large organization or a small one, the people who rely upon the business deserve to know what’s going on.  Those same people, however, also have an obligation to stay abreast of the decisions being made and to understand why they were made.  Many a company has to deal with rumors and speculation born of cafeteria conversation among the rank and file, which are every bit as bad as executives who keep information to themselves in a paternalistic attempt to tell people “only what the need to hear.”

All people have a stake in the performance of the organization.  Even without equity and stock options, people still look to their company for stable income, which enables them to lead their lives.  When information is withheld or doctored to depict a situation for the sake of not causing a panic, or raising undue concern, it portrays an attitude that states the rank  and file simply aren’t able to understand the complexities and must be prevented from learning the truth – as a parent withholds details of an R-rated move from a child.

The better path, both for esprits-de-corps, as well as for simple efficiency, is to share information with all stakeholders.  Make people feel like they have a genuine impact on the success of the organization, and you’ll find a much more engaged workforce than anything you’ve seen before.