Snowy boots: A reminder that enjoyment enhances skill

Sunburst in Snowy Mountain ForestA walk in the woods this weekend with my sons, ages 8 and 3, was initiated with the expectation that the snow on the trails would have melted enough for us to walk on the ground or, as this time of year in northern New England typically requires, in the mud. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any mud (nor the associated puddles that are so much fun to stomp in) and, instead, discovered the trails were still covered by a good foot of heavy, compacted snow.

I contemplated turning around, and heading back after a short walk, but the boys were having a blast and convinced me to just keep going.  Falling into the snow up to their knees, at times, didn’t sway them in the least.  You see, for them, the importance was in spending time outside walking with each other.  We worked hard walking on the snow-covered trails, much harder than was needed had we decided to walk on an asphalt trail in a park, but we carried on just to enjoy the day and be near each other.

The situation made me think of some comments left in response to my post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telework at Yahoo, a person going by the unfortunate name of “FuggleyBrew” over on reddit.com posted the following:

You don’t need to be passionate for a companies every action in order to be one of its top performers.

They’re a company, they pay you to provide a service for them, you can be dedicated to performing your job well and earning that money but not be devoted to the company.

Yes, and….

While you can do work for money and do a fine job, imagine how much greater of a job you could do for a belief in addition to a paycheck.  As my boys demonstrated, even children will work hard for something they believe is worthwhile.  If you can combine that kind of belief with a skill so well developed people are willing to pay you for it, I can only imagine the degree of success that could be attained.

As business leaders and managers, it is important to bear this in mind, and to set an environment for people that engages their passions, and doesn’t just offers them a paycheck.

Leadership, Culture and the Situation of Marissa Mayer

marissa_new4Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, sent a shock wave across the internet and the blogosphere last weekend when she announced that Yahoo’s policy of allowing people to work remotely would be ended, and that remote-working employees would need to begin reporting to the office by June 2013.

The debate has raged over the wisdom of the move, with a heaping ton of criticism coming from culture-change advocates who point to research indicating that remote work programs are beneficial, while the other side of the coin points to lost engagement and productivity.  A short, quick summary of the debate can be found over on the Huffington Post:

What I find interesting is that, in an era when so many are advocating culture as the basis for an organization’s effectiveness, as well as the need for leadership to take charge of establishing that culture, that so much criticism is being thrown at Mayer for her decision.  All this even as some insiders report that the move was utterly necessary because the work-from-home policy had created more problems than it solved, and the abuses of the policy were significant.

All of the admonitions and warnings and tirades thrown at Mayer, or in support of her, all seem to be coming from outside the company – by folks who have a voice, but who are not, necessarily, informed.  Like them, I do not know Marissa Mayer.  Unlike them, however, I won’t assume that she’s a short-sighted crazy person or an idiot.  Her ideas do have some merit, even if we disagree with them.

What’s daunting, however, is what we are seeing is a high-profile CEO doing what everyone is demanding of high-profile CEOs – to take bold steps and to lead an organization through the establishment of a company culture.  If Mayer believes that her organization will perform best when people are interacting face-to-face, then she must act with integrity and follow her beliefs by bringing that dynamic into her organization.  It has become the stuff of many an article and business school essay at places like Facebook and Google.

Of course, that’s also exactly where the problem lies.  Mayer is attempting to benchmark against other organizations and believes that worked over there will also work at Yahoo.  That’s a bit short-sighted, however, it’s also the exact same dynamic being offered by her critics – finding the best case example of a situation just like your preferred alternative, and then using that as evidence that the alternative is the right one.  For example, the creators of ROWE responded to Yahoo’s policy decision with an Open Letter to Marissa Mayer, citing The Gap as an organization that has done well by implementing ROWE.  Unfortunately, you can’t claim the Gap’s implementation of ROWE was a success and ignore the fact that performance at Best Buy, where ROWE was created, just sucks.

Likewise, you can’t say this was the right move and not wonder why there was not a declaration of the need to identify the root cause of these behaviors.  If people are abusing the system and failing to collaborate – face time might not be the root cause.  There is likely something else going on.  Perhaps that something else can be attended to by having people co-located, or maybe not.  Fact of the matter is, none of us knows for sure, and all anyone is contributing is an opinion, if not an agenda.

There is clearly a clash of cultures occurring as well, as most of the criticism is coming from tech/software/internet company founders and their employees who have embraced remote work.  Others outside of the tech community are much more supportive of the move.  If we believe the insider’s view, then this was the right move for Yahoo at this time – and maybe it is, or maybe it is not.  What the critics themselves should be chastised for is campaigning for executives to lead and set the tone within their organizations and then criticize those same leaders for not setting the tone the critics preferred.

The truth is that no one knows if this will be the right move.  It is, quite clearly, going to be something of an experiment.  Those who believe remote work, in general, is a good thing based on their experience or beliefs and, therefore, a good thing for Yahoo are about to have that hypothesis tested.  On the other side of the debate, those who advocate face-to-face interaction as the core that fuels innovation, will also have their theory tested.  What all must do now is what everyone who has conducted an experiment must always do – establish the parameters of the experiment and observe the results.

If Yahoo’s performance improves over time then we will have evidence over which to debate this decision, and not just relentless opinion.  If, however, it turns out that the performance of the company declines, then we’ll know that the performance problem was not due to attendance, but to other, deeper flaws in the management of the company.  Either way, some years from now when the evidence is available, I suspect no measure will be given to the dynamics of the system and I’m certain Marissa Mayer will either be celebrated or blamed.

The height of disrespect for people: A UK Healthcare nightmare

The_Doctor_will_SEE_you_now_by_DaYDid
The_Doctor_will_SEE_you_now_by_DaYDid

The Doctor will SEE you now by DaYDid

I came across this lengthy article from The UK’s Daily Mail detailing the nightmarish conditions at Staffordshire Hospital, where it is reported that between 2005 and 2008 as many as 1,200 patients died needlessly due to appalling conditions and neglect.

Keep those dates in mind – this is current.  The events described in the article did not happen in some long-forgotten past or in a third-world hell hole.  This scandal is unfolding, right now, in one of the most developed nations on earth.  If you want to know just how far an organization can stray from the Respect for People ideal that lies at the root of Lean and Operational Excellence, forget Foxconn and look at the UK’s NHS.

There are a host of other articles on the Daily Mail site.  This article shares stories from the families of victims of the hospital’s abuses, where people were so thirsty they drank water from dirty vases and patients were often left to soak in their own urine for days.

Of course, the man at the head of it all refuses to accept responsibility, blaming ‘the system’ for the problem.  I know Lean typically advocates looking at the system for the root of the problem and not blaming the individual, but this seems like a bit of a bastardization of that concept.

The scandal runs wide and deep, and would be shocking if it wasn’t so utterly disgusting.  The Guardian has published a guide to the scandal, demonstrating just how far-reaching this is that it requires a guide.

Amazing that, in an era where Lean Healthcare is gaining more and more momentum, a situation like this exists.

“Discipline, effort, patience and courage”

patience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrosepatience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrose

patience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrosepatience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrose

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I came across on article on Psychology Today entitled “What to Tell Kids After Failures and Mistakes.”  The Author, Salmansohn, describes some recent research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, who advocates an “Incremental theory” of learning.

Incremental Theorists believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist” – so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to overcome them.

This quote from the article is powerful:

Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.

 

They are also hugely important core values for adults to maintain, too.  I think we can easily simplify that message and state that Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown up or just look like one, either.

Consider all of the writings on change management, personal improvement, operational excellence, or just about anything else I’ve ever discussed in this blog.  Every school of thought regarding those issues relies on some combination of exactly those same 4 principles:  Discipline, effort, patience and courage.

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement seems to embrace these concepts most closely.  To successfully launch, you have to have a plan, work your plan, stick to the plan, but be willing to make the courageous decision to pivot when called for.  That dynamic applies to many facets of both work and life far from the startup environment, too.

Since there is always overlap of concepts and even repackaging of old one, I’ll go ahead and assume that the practices advocated by the Incremental Theorists aren’t anything entirely new.  Nonetheless, the depiction of the characteristics necessary to overcome adversity is simple, powerful, and entirely consistent with the best practices for both business and personal development (and isn’t it funny just how much those 2 things go hand in hand?).

Dad tells a story of inefficient communication, and truly wasteful meeting management

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steelwork by roodpa-d4xunzm

On a recent trip home for the Holidays, I was railing about such-and-wuch workplace goings on, when my father shared a story from his days managing projects in the construction industry.

His experience was in steel fabrication – the guys who take standard bpieces of milled steel beams, bars and plates and cut it into the pieces necessary to erect buildings and bridges.  As such, he worked closely with the erectors who took those custom-fabricated bits of steel and turned them into the skeletons around which the rest of the structure was put together.

Often times, he told me, he would have to report to the job site for a project status meeting.  The general contractor, or whatever entity was in charge, would require all the leads of the various teams to report out and hear what was happening and where the project was, and establish any hand-ins and hand-outs that had occurred, or needed to occur.  None of which sounds too terrible, of course.

That is, until Dad also let me know that, as the “steel guy,” most of his work was done fairly early in the life cycle.  The steel was cut, fabricated, delivered, erected, corrected, charged back, and his end of the project entirely signed off.  Nonetheless, he was bound to attend these hours-long meetings at times, just to hear how the electrical inspection and finished carpentry was progressing.  His activity on the overall project was long since done and over with, nonetheless, in the name of communication, he was required to attend.  The fact that the meeting would never include any information he needed to hear was entirely lost on the meeting’s organizer.

So it goes with most meetings.  Well-intentioned people will often, in the name of completeness or the feel-good sensation of having shared information with the entire group, call large all-hands meetings and blurt out every bit of info under the sun, just so everyone is “on the same page” and can understand the “project environemtn” and “paths to success.”  Unfortunately, what gets lost is that the project is made up of many, many mini-projects and, just as the PM does not want to waste time and cost by speding effort on anything not relevant to his or her project, so it is with the leaders of all the mini-projects, too.

Communciation for the sake of driving a necessary decsion, from the necessary decision makers, is valuable.  Communication for the sake of team building and understanding is valuable, too.  Communication for the sake of adhering to formal or informal protocols or because “this is what we’ve always done,” or because of a single-sided belief that people want to hear what you have to say is misguided.  People like to know what’s going on if it helps them to get a job done.  Otherwise, all that communication is just a hindrance to some actual accomplishment.