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.

 

Stranded by the tide, and the return of the water

Stranded by the tide

…stranded by the tide…by federstern

Those of you who follow this blog regularly…yes, both of you….are well aware that I haven’t done much with the blog for a while.  In fact, I haven’t done anything in over two months.  Let’s just say, life’s been busy.

  • My older son, not yet 8 years old, has had an intestinal problem that, while temporary, is difficult and a lot to deal with.  He’s also had problems with kids and teachers at school socially, and self-esteem and confidence and just plain belief in himself have all taken massive hits.  We’re working through all of that and it sure isn’t easy.
  • My P.o.S. car died, necessitating finding a newer, cheap slightly less P.o.S. to run around in for a while, straining the family budgets.
  • I was enrolled in a Project Management Professional class, which concluded in November and I had the exam date set for December 9th
  • The usual Holiday time running around that will make anyone crazy.

So, there’s been a lot going on and, truth be told, I had lost a whole lot of enthusiasm with the blog.  It wasn’t scratching the itch anymore personally, and I was at something of a crossroads professionally – which was brought to a head by the PMP prep course.  You see, for all my affinity for Lean and Operational Excellence as the foundations for improving the workplace, and life, my experience with them has primarily been intellectual.  My professional day job resists Lean thinking significantly, and gives me little opportunity to practice.  The vast majority of my professional background is in project management and, as I contemplate career moves, I simply don’t have enough resume fodder to get where I want to go by using Lean as my primary driver.  This realization, more than anything else, led to my absence from the blogosphere for a while.

Truth be told, I had no idea where I was going with this thing, and although I didn’t want to give up, it seemed I had no ability to move from where I was.  I felt like a ship, stranded at low tide.

During this time, however, there were a number of positives occurring that began to set the stage for better things.  First and foremost, I was contacted by an acquaintance with an entrepreneurial opportunity.  While it is challenging to find the time to work on that endeavor, it’s remarkably interesting and, if the idea comes to fruition, it is potentially quite lucrative.  Being a part of concept development in the early phases of a start up endeavor is incredibly satisfying.  As a part of that opportunity, I created my own LLC.  I’m not exactly certain where that is going, (it will be some sort of speaking or writing of articles kind of thing), however, contemplating what I can do with it is also a great project.  Here’s my logo and banner:

 

I’m not a wizard with the graphics just yet, so cut me some slack as I work those things out.  Nonetheless, I think it’s going somewhere.  I have a URL reserved for it and will be building out that site in the weeks/months ahead.

 

By the way, I did pass the PMP exam and I am now a certified Project Management Professional (I’ll have to update my profile).  That designation appears to be opening doors already as I’ve had a couple good conversations with people in companies I am curious about already.  What I do, and when I do it, are still up in the air – but the future is looking brighter.  Additionally, just this past weekend, I was presented with a speaking opportunity out of the blue, which should give me a much-needed opportunity to help launch the LLC.

What all this reminds me of is that we very often don’t know where we’re going, or even how we got where we are, and when we hit these low times it tends to feel as if we’re going to be stuck there forever.  What is most important to remember when things get this way, however, is that sometimes the best thing we can possible do for ourselves is to simply endure.  Stay in the game, last as long as it takes, don’t back down and don’t get ahead.  Just simply stand there against the things that attempt to pull you apart and prove out that you can last longer than the troubles that surround you.  When you give up, you start down the long spiral ofnever feeling fulfilled.  When you endure, you keep yourself prepared for better things.

Because, eventually, the water will return.

Ownership is easy when you’re not fighting for survival

Fight In Wolf Pack

Fight In Wolf Pack II by amrodel on deviantart.com

Right on the heels of my recent post advocating the development of a “Shop Owner Mentality” in order to create pride and dedication within organizations, an article by Nacie Carson was published on FastCompany.com entitled “Think Like An Entrepreneur, Act Like An Employee.”

In my article, I wrote:

People who are proud of their shop always want to have that pride.  They want it to sustain and grow.  They never want to see their pride diminished.

In your workplace, do people act like shopowners?  Do they do work extra hard to take care of the shop, own its processes, design its delivery of goods and services, and constantly seek out innovative ways to provide value?  Are they looking for ways to grow the business, since that growth leads to both stability and prosperity?

Odds are, they are not.  Most people are just trying to survive it all, in return for a paycheck and some sense of satisfaction, if it can be found at all.  Most people have jobs and not purposes.  That lack of purpose prevents the emergence of any kind of pride in the ability to do the job, grow the company, satisfy the customer or improve the quality of whatever it is they are selling.  Instead, pride gets twisted until it becomes not pride of ownership, but pride of survival.

 

My perspective was this:  Most people would love to be calling the shots, but fear of reprisal prevents them from experimenting with risky project that, although they might have great rewards, just aren’t worth the potential downside if the project fails.  As a result, people embrace self-protection and learn to keep their heads down.  In other words, they learn to survive.  The only way this can be systematically overcome is for leaders at the top of organizations to embrace management styles and practices that encourage, and even reward, risk taking.

The FastCompany article has a different take on the situation:

Traditionally, the roles of employee and entrepreneur represent two completely different professional archetypes, each with their own ideal skill set. For example, success for an employee is often measured by how well they take direction from superiors, act within the scope of their job responsibilities or function, and reinforce the mission, vision, or values of the organization. Success for entrepreneurs is typically determined by their ability to direct their own work and act without precedent, to expand and grow their job responsibilities and functions, and to envision and support a mission, vision, and set of values on their own. Another way to look at it is to think of the role of an employee as implementing the tactics of an organization–the individual actions that contribute to the success of the larger strategy. The role of an entrepreneur is to develop that larger strategy, and implement it themselves or oversee its implementation.

From my experience in professional development and management consulting, I can tell you that the number one complaint organizations have about their employees is their inability to act tactically but think strategically–or, as above, to act like an employee but think like an entrepreneur. This requires being a follower and a leader simultaneously, and knowing which hat to wear when.

 

First off, I hate when someone says “the organization” has a complaint, perspective, takes an action, or anything else.  Organizations do not act – people within organizations act.  In the above passage, “the number one complaint organizations have about their employees” really means “the number one complaint people at the head of organizations have about their employees” or, in other words, “the boss is complaining about the employees’ inability.”

Yep – that’s right – the behavior of the rank & file is all their fault.  It’s not that management styles prevent risk taking, it’s that those people at the bottom just don’t know how to get to the top.

The article goes on to depict a situation where an entrepreneurial-minded young man rewrote some of the code behind one of his company’s critical reporting processes – without asking permission – and his efforts yielded success.  Of course, he was also a year out of college and, quite very likely, had nothing to lose.  Take a seasoned professional who isn’t yet vested in the 401K plan, has children in need of braces, summer camp, daycare, and a house to live in – and the willingness to unilaterally initiate an enterprise-changing project diminishes greatly.  Why?  Because in many places the very fact that you undertook something without three levels of review and approval threatens your ability to stay at least in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid.

The article’s point is well taken, and offers some very solid advice:

After all, if you are super productive, all you’ll get is more work to do, right?

Yes, and in more than one sense. You may be assigned more responsibilities and tasks, but you will also likely be offered more opportunity in the organization…as long as you make sure someone notices the effort. Like the proverbial tree in the forest, if a man works 80 hours a week and no one sees him, does he still get a raise? (No.) This is why productivity, when combined with a great professional brand, is an awesome recipe for increasing your value within an organization. The point is to look at your job responsibilities and required skills from a place of ownership, initiative, and personal direction. Remember, it’s about strategy and tactics.

 

However, I’d hate to be in the organization where everyone is looking for a big project to undertake in order to make a name for themselves.  That sounds like a place without standards, where it is more likely that people will seek to make themselves look good by making others look bad, and where management, rather than leading the people within the organization to reach their potential, is content to sit by and let the wolves destroy each other just to see which one is the strongest.

The state of the blog (and the blogger). Or, how did I get here & what am I going to do now?!

ON THE PATH TO THE TRUTH

On the path to truth by Chryssalis on deviantart.com

March is the 2 year anniversary of this blog.  It has had a lot of ups and downs, gone through some periods where I did very few updates and considered killing the site altogether, but I am proud to say that I’m still here.  To be honest, I couldn’t image NOT writing this blog.  It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve undertaken and continues to be a terrific learning experience as well.

I started the blog about 1 year after my introduction to Lean via a GBMP training class, almost 1/2 finished with an MBA program and, of course, looking to the future and using the blog as a way to grow my network.  Two years later, I’ve finished the MBA and have had opportunities to interact with people from many different professions, in a way that is down-to-Earth and honest.

Looking back, a lot of those initial posts aren’t great, but they also aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were, either.  I can point to a few distinct phases in the writings I did over the past couple years that help me remember what things were on my mind and what interested me, personally, professionally, or intellectually.  True to the blog’s title, I gave myself permission to meander a bit from subject to subject, and write down my thoughts as I experienced things from day to day.

I’ve discussed Lean a lot on this blog.  Lean, you could say, offered me some much-needed evidence that I wasn’t completely out of my mind.  What my Lean training showed me was that the things I experienced at work that frustrated me so greatly had been noticed by a great many other people who were passionately working to change them.  I attended the 2010 Northeast Shingo Prize conference and heard a talk given by Lesa Nichols on the concepts of mura and muri and the “people side” of lean, which put into my mind that the workplace itself can be, and should be, much more focused on the cares and concerns of the people doing the work.  As a result, I have discussed mura and muri on the blog several times since.

I’ve also written a great deal about project management and the dynamics of project teams, which I’ve built up quite a few observations on over the past 12 years or so working in Program Planning & Control.  More recently, I’ve been blogging about workplace change, management improvement, Lean and ROWE, in particular.  It’s fairly well understood that the typical workplace is broken.  The expectations placed on people to live with this broken system are tremendous and unfair.  The vast majority of workers are frustrated and hollow – which is no way to live a life.  ROWE offers some solutions, but while the concept is enormous, its practical applications across all possible environments is still in its infancy.

Once in a while I talk about family life, too, and I attempt to integrate some of what I’ve learned about project management and Lean into those discussions, too.  I find there’s a tremendous amount of insight into just how all these theoretical concepts and tools work when you apply them to something that really matters – like your own family and your household.  There’s nothing more salient to me than finding a way to apply what I believe should be the way to do things, intellectually, to the day-to-day concerns that we all have to deal with, emotionally.  That’s the true intersection of life and work, in my humble opinion.

There’s more to the Lean and ROWE discussion, however, than just those two concepts.  What I see for the blog as I look into the future, is more discussion of Operational Excellence, which includes but is not necessarily limited to Lean, and how those concepts can be applied to the larger concepts of virtual, flexible work.  Clearly the world is trending in that direction, with the rise of technology that is enabling greater mobility.  The tools and methods that make Lean work so well, however, will need to adapt to this changing workplace.

This changing workplace brings a number of challenges.  Management styles will need to adapt, as will working styles.  Security concerns are massive, too.  Nonetheless, it’s a space not explored in any great depth that I have seen, which appear to make it ripe for the picking.