Posts Tagged ‘Business Strategy’

When I was in the seventh grade, during our school’s annual track and field day, I was assigned to the shot put event.  That was a bit of a problem.  Back then, I wasn’t what you would call skinny – I was downright scrawny.  I could barely pick up the shot put, let alone heave it across the field.  Let me tell you, I was definitely scrawny but I was scrappy too.  I practiced hard.  The gym teacher worked with me and, day-by-day, I got better.  It hurt and I hated it, but I got better.

After what seemed like an eternity of training, track and field day arrived and I threw the shot put farther than I had ever thrown it.  It was a personal best.  And I came in … dead last.  Thirty-seventh out of thirty-seven boys.  I had worked hard, I had gotten better, and I had gone from poor to just a little less poor.  My immense effort went largely unrewarded.  That’s what happens when the talent doesn’t match the task.

The truth is, many of us have been sold a bill of goods.  It started with Napoleon Hill when he said, “Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  Which is just plain nonsense.  Think about this:  I can conceive of playing in the NBA, and with enough self-delusion I might even be able to believe it.  But I won’t achieve it because you can’t coach tall … or fast.  In other words, I don’t have the talent.

Talent is the capacity for near perfect performance.  It’s something you’re born with or that develops very early in life.  Talent can be cultivated, but it probably can’t be created.  The good news is, everyone has talent of some kind.  But each of us also has some non-talents – some things we just don’t do very well and probably won’t ever do very well.  (My list of non-talents includes anything requiring a power tool, math past the 8th grade level and throwing the shot put.)

If you want exceptional performance in your company (and who doesn’t?) there are two crucial activities that you and all your managers must engage in.

#1 – Identify the talent of each of your people

#2 – Match that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished

Identifying the talent of subordinates and matching that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished just might be the most important contribution to organizational success a manager can make. A wonderful, if somewhat awkward, question is:

Who Does What Well Around Here?

That question focuses on the right thing – it focuses on talent, on what a person can do.  Far too often, managers are in “cop mode”.  They’re on the lookout for what’s wrong.  Certainly there are times when a manager needs to take corrective action.  But great managers spend a lot of time looking for what’s right with people.  To find out more about what great managers do, spend a few minutes with our free online management development course, The Foundation of Management.

Jack-Hayhow Jack Hayhow is Chief Executive Servant of Opus Communications in Kansas City. Opus provides tools and techniques to help business owners build their business. Jack is also the author of two highly acclaimed business books, The Wisdom of the Flying Pig: Guidance and Inspiration for Managers and Leaders and, Breaking Through the Barrier: What Companies That Grow Do Differently
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Resilience Engineering #8: Rupert Murdoch’s Folly

by Gary Monti on August 2, 2011

Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation’s latest problems provide ample opportunity to show both what happens when resilience engineering is ignored and how important it is for success in business and project management. It also provides an opportunity to point out the shortcomings of the domino and barrier models, both of which were described in previous blogs.

If you haven’t heard, the issue is illegal hacking of cell phones of crime victims to gain inside information and “scoop” the other tabloids thereby keeping their tabloid, “News of the World (NoW),” circulation at the top of the heap in the British market and continue to maintain substantial influence in British politics. During a Parliament committee hearing both Rupert and his son, James, said they were shocked, appalled and surprised to find out that phone hacking and other illegal activities were endemic in their tabloid.

Mr. Murdoch said it was the humblest day of his life. He apologized for everything but took responsibility for nothing. He stated, “I feel people I trusted – I don’t know who, on what level – have let me down, and I think they have behaved disgracefully, and it’s for them to pay.”

He went on to claim he did not know that 1.6 million pounds were paid out to two victims of phone hacking. Nor did he know the tabloid was paying the ongoing legal fees of a guilty private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, and reporter Clive Goodman who were convicted in 2007 of hacking into the phones of the royal family’s staff. He also went on to say he would not step down as chairman of News Corporation and that he is the best person to handle an investigation as to what went wrong.

This is the domino accident model at its finest, or should I say worst. Find the “bad apple,” punish him/her, and throw the bum out.

But wait! There’s more! And it is worse! The flaws of the barrier model come into play when looking at the firing of the former editor of the now-defunct NoW, Rebekah Brooks, whose job it was to maintain the barrier model and validate the veracity of and methods used to obtain information the tabloid would publish. She was to make sure no ill-gotten information was used. But she consistently delivered what was desired and that was the end of it in terms of auditing.

These approaches are disingenuous by trying to say those in charge are almost as much a victim as the true victims of the hackings. But is that the case? NoW had a very robust model that consistently gained what it was after and Murdoch stuck to it.

Let’s explore and start by going back to the first blog in this series and get basic definitions for robust vs. resilient behavior.

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

So why is Murdoch’s behavior robust? At the end of the day what matters to Murdoch is getting the scoop and massing political power. For the number of years the illegal and unethical behavior had been going on employees at NoW knew this is the only standard by which they were judged. Why is this fair to say? Simple. Once the scoop and political power were achieved no attention appears to have been paid to the behaviors surrounding it. As both Murdochs said, “I didn’t know.”

The robustness (as defined here) of their news empire can be seen in former News Corporation executives being close to the Prime Minister as well as 10 of the 45 media specialists working for Scotland Yard being former NoW employees and, as mentioned before, the development of pipelines of information within the police via financial bribes. And this model definitely was robust. British politicians paid attention to News Corporation and how they are viewed and reviewed by it. This formula was working quite well and had so much influence that the purchase of the satellite broadcasting company, British Sky Broadcasting (BSB), was all but a slam-dunk. However, because of the drift that occurred that purchase is off the table for now.

Yes, NoW was sacrificed along with its editor but that actually isn’t a resilient behavior. Why? A robust approach was taken to essentially say, “We can continue with the purchase of the BSB satellite service. Look! It wasn’t us! It was irresponsible underlings who did this and we are punishing them.” This is a much bigger prize that has the potential of expanding the existing model even further.

The big plus with the resilient model is its comprehensive approach, socio-technical. It takes into consideration the attitudes and power structure that permeate a situation as well as the technology. In this case, Murdoch’s organization suffers from the same issues of robustness that contributed to the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters or the Abu Ghraib prison debacle in Iraq:

  • A belief that a robust model can continually be pushed. This ultimately leads to brittleness and fracturing of the system due to inability to look ahead and prepare to respond accordingly;
  • Drift whereby an organization moves closer and closer to a disaster feeling smug the entire way because of previous successes but oblivious to the environment and the pending disaster;
  • Initial avoidance of independent audits. Those responsible for creating the context are in a position to judge the players, singling out lower level individuals for punishment while those with the power to create the situation are left untouched.
  • An ever-widening gap between work as imagined vs. work as performed

With the domino and barrier models the situation is ideal for a fragmentation to set in (which is essential when denial is practiced for the sake of achieving a goal) and powerful people can divorce themselves from culpability in who was hired and what they did (domino model) and point to the PMO or other group that was in charge that should have been making sure problems were trapped and neutralized (barrier).

So what is the lesson learned? The resilient approach keeps everyone connected. As many factors as possible that lead to sustained success or failure are considered. Adaptability is key. While several sets of standards may be involved there is an above-board balance created between those standards for all to see. Everyone takes responsibility for his or her share of the success or failure. This leads to sustainable performance and development of the most precious asset an organization can have – trust.

Rupert Sosnoff in his blog for Forbes Magazine sums things well, Rupert Murdoch is looking a lot like King Lear these days.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Remember in Star Wars when Yoda said something to the effect that “There is no ‘Try’, only ‘Do’”?  Well I guess if you have supernatural powers and a light saber then that might be true.  But on THIS planet, there is often a lot more trying then actually doing!  In fact business experts say unless you are failing periodically, you aren’t trying hard enough.  So setting lofty goals is a good thing, right?

Yes but failing a lot may earn you a reputation for not delivering on your promises.  The more I talk with people in business about what qualities they want to see in their employees, the more I hear the phrase “Do what you say you will do”.  From engineering staffs to marketing teams, making things happen – - – key things and minor things – - – seems to be an increasingly important ability when HR departments look at potential hires.  How do you do this?

How do you build a reputation for Reliability?

  1. Be very reluctant to agree to do things in the first place.  Since your word is your bond, don’t give your word easily.  Instead of saying “I’ll make so-and-so happen by the end of next month” when you have no idea how you’ll actually make that happen, say instead “I’ll push hard to make that happen and it depends on our ability to get X and Y here parts in time” or just say “That is high risk but we will try it.”
  2. Be an ACE – - – Always Control Expectations.  If a task is going to be especially difficult make sure key people know it, for two main reasons:  a) You want them to know that the probability of success is low so they are not automatically counting on your success and are, instead, preparing back-up plans b) you may need resources in order to be successful and they can help you get them.

 Here is how you DON’T build a solid reputation for reliably making things happen:

  1. You don’t cherry-pick only those jobs that you know you can do, finding ways to reject/avoid all the others.  This will get you branded as a primadonna interested more in your corporate image than in the work of the enterprise.
  2. And you don’t play the blame game, finding ways to blame other people (coworkers, managers, suppliers, etc.) time after time when you are unable to complete assigned tasks on time.

As a boss, if people on your team are signing up for tough jobs and then unable to complete them on time, a process (or several) is probably broken.  Your forecasting process for sales may be unrealistic; your supply chain might be unreliable and impacting your deliverables; your project managers are not properly assessing risks and developing work-around plans.  Whatever is causing the problem, get a Tiger Team to tackle it.  They should dig until they find the root causes, no matter how politically painful, and then provide you with options and a recommendation to fix the problem.  This has the additional benefits of forcing people to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, helping teams become more self-directed and showing everyone that management wants solutions brought to the table whenever a problem surfaces.  Find a problem?  Good.  Bring some possible solutions (options for management) and a recommendation.  That last point, making a recommendation, forces people to take a stand and suggest a course of action.  Such assertive action, taking a public stand on something, builds character.   Managers always watch to see who does this – - – they are almost always the future managers and leaders for the enterprise.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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The Holy Grail for complex organizations experiencing high risk is finding a balance between stability and flexibility. This presents a very real challenge since the environment is almost always shifting and the team has to think on its feet because time, money, people, and other resources are limited. There isn’t enough time to cycle up to senior management and back down to the team.

The previous two blogs presented linear models of success and failure that are inadequate in complex situations but which are still alive and well in many organizations. They are also limited in term of being either fixed solely on the individual (Domino model) or top-down in terms of policies and procedures (Barrier model).

This blog starts the process of looking at a more realistic model for addressing success and failure in dynamic situations, the Functional Resonance Accident Model (FRAM) developed by Hollnagel. Its roots are in complexity theory and it comprises four principles:

  • Equivalence of success and failure. Successful teams rely heavily on anticipatory awareness, i.e., paying close attention to the environment as it is, without expectations. They perform early-warning weak signal analysis, and decide how best to organize for the situation. An anesthesia team might best characterize this behavior. Guiding medical principles are present but the number of hard-and-fast rules is low compared to how much the anesthesia team must monitor the surgery and think on their feet constantly assessing the entire situation while simultaneously monitoring details. Failure can occur when the team temporarily losses this ability.
  • Approximate adjustment. The team is constantly adjusting its performance to suit the situation. This includes adapting to shifts in resources as well as unique requirements for the specific task at hand. Imagine your elderly, sick grandmother is staying with you and she is very sensitive to excess heat but also chills easily. You have an air conditioner that can maintain 75°F indoors in direct sunlight only if the outside temperature is below 95°F.  On days forecast to be hotter than 95°F what do you do? You must gauge what time in the morning to turn the thermostat below 75°F. How low do you turn down the temperature? At what time do you do it? Does it vary with the afternoon forecast? Could she chill with the setting you’ve chosen? Answering these questions from day to day is making an approximate adjustment in the presence of limited resources and high risk.
  • Emergence. The constant adjustments in performance means there is constant variability. This variability can have a compounding effect, which is non-linear and disproportionately large. New behaviors can emerge. A tipping point can be reached. Think of the impact one failed safety relay has had on the electrical grid in the United States. Whole areas have been plunged into darkness.
  • Functional resonance. A whole constellation of variables can show emergent behavior and impact each other, causing a particular function in a system to resonate without there being one direct, cause-and-effect relationship to which one can point. Think of the speed with which Google grew initially or sales of the iPad or the initial impact of Palm. Failure can emerge as well. Think of Palm’s sales for the last few years before being bought by HP. In a different area, look at how the functional resonance of political dissent has changed in the Middle East. Have changes in communications had an impact?

In principle you can see that FRAM is much more robust than the Domino or Barrier models covered in previous blogs. It goes well beyond the individual or attempts to create all-encompassing policies and procedures. It addresses the dynamics of the situation, which keeps it grounded. We will go deeper into the FRAM model in the next blog.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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The role of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the organization is to provide internal and external clients with actionable metrics in easily accessible, customizable formats they can use to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. What differentiates KPIs from the wealth of metrics that can be generated from any business is that they are key leading and lagging indicators that can be used to reflect the strategic performance of the organization.

In selecting your KPIs it is important not to be tempted to label as KPIs the “top 40” metrics but rather generally at the top level you should limit yourself to the top 1-3 KPIs per strategic objective. These should only include those metrics that are essential to the success of the organization. In addition, each department will have their own contributing KPIs. The departmental KPIs should be selected so that they can be rolled up in support of the overall strategic goals.

The effectiveness of KPIs can be directly related to the care with which they are defined and implemented. Critical questions to consider when developing your KPIs include:

  1. How does this measure contribute to the strategic goals?
  2. Is it quantifiable?
  3. Is the data currently available?
  4. Can current performance, benchmarks, and target values be defined?
  5. How will it be used as a management tool?
  6. What is the high level plan for the establishment of reporting?
  7. Is there an outline for how continuous improvement activities will be implemented?
  8. Has a cascading plan to all levels of the organization been developed?

A brief discussion of the detailed considerations for each of the above questions is included to assist with the process of initiating a KPI program.

  •  How does this measure contribute to strategic goals? -  The success of using KPIs will be dependent on how effective they are at contributing to a better understanding of what drives the success of the organization. Keep in mind that KPIs will differ based on the type of organization and its goals. For example, a non-profit organization such as a school or a hospital will have different fiscal KPIs than a publically traded company. Each KPI should reflect the mission and goals of the organization.
  • Is it quantifiable? – A common mistake in developing KPIs is to take too general a statement such as “Improve customer service” as a KPI. To be effective it needs to be specific and measurable so “improve customer service satisfaction scores or increase customer repeat order rates” would be more appropriate measures.
  • Is the data currently available? – Another factor to be considered is whether the data to be used for each potential KPI is currently available. The expense of gathering additional data including system changes should be weighed against the value that the measure will provide.
  • Can current performance, benchmarks, and target values be defined? – To be effective a KPI must define a clear target so success can be determined. Industry benchmarks can often be useful in setting these targets. For example, an IT department may have as a target 99.999% availability of key systems. Meeting this target in turn will enhance customer satisfaction, ordering functions, etc. and support the other strategic objectives.
  • How will it be used as a management tool? – A clear understanding of how this KPI will be used, how improvement opportunities will be developed, and consequences for deteriorating performance should all be clearly mapped out before implementation.
  • What is the high level plan for reporting? – Publishing and reporting of KPIs is critical to monitoring progress. Formats for reports should be customized by role and function so that executives will see a summary view while department heads would have a much richer set of detailed metrics. Consideration should be given to the mix between dashboards, scorecards, detailed reports, and self-service tools for ad hoc analysis.
  • Is there an outline for continuous improvement activities? – A process improvement process allows the KPI values to be used to identify where focus should be placed to enhance performance.
  • Has a cascading plan been developed? – Each level of the organization needs to understand how their operations support the overall strategic goals. Cascading the KPIs clearly delineates their contributions and their opportunities for improvement.

Implementing a well thought out and comprehensive set of KPIs is the first step to a more proactively performance- based operation. This program will provide all levels of the organization clear targets and objectives with the ultimate goal of materially contributing to the success of the organization.

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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Flexible Focus #61: The Art of Folding Time

by William Reed on July 14, 2011

Anatomy of a Fan

One of the best representations of flexible focus in Japanese culture is the folding fan, invented in Japan between the 6th and 8th centuries. The folding fan can open as a fan, or fold for easy storage. Its radial form is symbolic of opening out to new possibilities, of victory, and of good fortune. It is a product of the same culture which invented origami, the art of paper folding, the quintessential art of Folding the Square.

The anatomy of a folding fan is work of genius. It is both simple and complex, an enigma of Japanese design. It fits in the fingers as an organic extension of the hand. It was used in Japanese dance, and could double as a weapon for the samurai. The range of designs and materials available make it a perfect product for infinite variations on a common theme. Moreover, the art of folding has been applied in Japan to everything from umbrellas, bicycles, eyeglasses, to keyboards, as well as clothing, and even the joints of the human body in the martial arts.

Folding Time

The Mandala Chart can free you from the tyranny of living by the illusory objectivity of the clock and the calendar. While these devices are useful for organizing logistics in life, they serve as a poor measure of experience and imagination. One of the characteristics of the Wonderful World of Flow is a distorted sense of time.

Einstein explained the relativity of time in layman’s terms to a journalist saying, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.”

While we experience the relativity of time, we seldom stop to think, what if it were possible to consciously fold or expand our experience of time through flexible focus, much in the way that we open or close a folding fan? This is not only possible with practice, but it is relatively easy to do. A good exercise for your eyes is to make a habit of looking at things far away, as well as up close. Many people settle into a myopic existence just for want of looking at things far away. The same thing can happen mentally if your mind’s eye settles for a fixed range of vision.

Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, tells the story of a Disney executive charged with revitalizing the Disney Stores, who asked Steve Jobs for advice. Jobs’ responded in two words, “Dream Bigger.” Many people leave their mental fan folded and tucked away, and seldom open it out to dream bigger.

It is better to broaden your experience through curiosity, than to fall into a dull routine. If you simply measure your life by the calendar, without exercising your mental flexibility, you may find that the decades fly by and leave you behind.

Magic of Mindfulness

Thinking that you know will take you out of flow. I wrote on the Magic of Mindfulness in my Creative Career Path column about the work of Harvard Psychologist, Dr. Ellen J. Langer on Mindfulness, who has studied the effects of Mindfulness, as well as Mindlessness on the quality of our lives. Dr. Langer attributes mindlessness to three habits of mind: stereotyping rather than experiencing, acting from a single perspective, and doing things on auto-pilot.

This is another way of describing a lack of flexible focus, and the consequences can range from low self-image to casual cruelty. Fortunately, the cure is close at hand. Awaken your spirit of curiosity. Practice mindfulness in your movements. Pay closer attention to your experience, and show greater appreciation for what you have. Lend a helping hand to others in need. Open the fan.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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The barrier model for explaining failure is a quantum jump in improvement over the domino model. It helps get beyond two huge weaknesses with the domino model:

  • Focus only on the individual and individual behaviors, and;
  • Ignoring environmental factors that could play into the failures

Most of us are familiar with the barrier model in one form or another. While it is more robust than the domino model it is still essentially linear in nature. (In later blogs we’ll look at more dynamic approaches that go beyond linear thinking.)

The barrier model is an analogue from epidemiology. Think of how an infection spreads from country to country. There are latent conditions, e.g., no quarantine policies and procedures at customs, fast and easy air travel, and excellent street transportation within a city or country. This sets the stage for an actual infection incident to be a trigger event, which allows the infection to spread like wildfire. Concerns regarding avian flu a few years ago comprise a good example.

The central idea for the barrier model is following and staying within defined policies and procedures will trap pending failures and allow successful execution of a process, project, or any other activity.

The picture above is from one of my workshops and shows typical barriers.  A mistake occurs by slipping through a hole in the barrier rather than being deflected away. Again, this model is linear in nature and flows from the more general or strategic (the BLUNT END) and moves towards a specific action (the SHARP END), where the failure is visible and the actual damage occurs.

Specifically in this case, the first barrier is having the correct, integrated policies and procedures appropriate for the situation and is followed by the two remaining barriers of “training” and “task time.”

A mistake occurs when an action slips through a hole in the barriers. In this case a new hire is pushed into getting to work too rapidly. The first hole slipped through is lack of familiarity with policies and procedures (p & p) or the p & p may just be inadequate. The second hole slipped through is inadequate training. Finally, the third hole slipped through is not having enough time to get the job done. Notice how there is the assumption that given enough time with a given barrier there will be a compensation for failure at previous barriers and the pending mistake will be “deflected” or avoided. You can see where, over time, there could be a progressive over-reliance on successive, lower-in-the-ranks, closer-to-the-task managers compensating for less-than-ideal support coming from higher managers.

The barrier (or Swiss cheese) model is an obvious improvement over the domino model since a host of variables are taken into consideration, going beyond blaming the individual. This is a very common model and the familiarity referred to earlier is in being told, “Understand there is a way the organization gets things done. Learn it and stick to it. In other words, ‘Color inside the lines!’” With this attitude, though, there usually is a tinge of the domino model present because an error can be viewed as not sticking to what has been dictated.

The barrier frame of mind is usually fleshed out by having best practice groups put together to improve processes or there might be the formation of PMOs (project management offices) to standardize project methodologies, etc. This can work well in predictable situations where the rules work consistently. In such situations, a command-and-control structure can be established and as long as people stay within the limits set all will go well.

A closer look at the assumptions, though, will show limits to this model.

In complex or chaotic situations solutions are generated from the bottom up NOT the top down. Consequently, the barrier model and its linear approach fail to work in forecasting and preventing failures when complexity is present.

Another shortcoming of only using the barrier model with complex projects is complex projects are next to impossible to document. Ream after ream of paper can be consumed without getting to a clear, linear picture of the situation. Also, there is the fact that both the domino and barrier model focus on failure. But isn’t our goal to maximize success? Yes.

So, if the domino and barrier model are severely limited what does work? Tune in next week and see!

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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In 1971 I was 19 years old and freshly promoted into my first management job – assistant manager of the band and orchestra department at Jenkins Music Company.  To this day, I’m not sure exactly what it was I was supposed to manage, because I was clearly the lowest ranking employee in the building.

No Trouble

On the first day of my management career I was called into Jess Coulson’s office.  Jess was my boss’s boss.  He was a compelling, charismatic guy.  He had a huge mane of silver hair and a twinkle in his eye that told you he knew the secret and he just might let you in on it.  Jess smoked cigarettes nonstop, he drank bourbon and milk pretty much all day long and he told the greatest musician stories a kid like me had ever heard.  I was in awe.  So when he called me into his office I was nervous and excited.  Here’s what happened:

He was on the phone when I walked in and his chair was swung around so he was looking out the window.  All I could see was a cloud of smoke swirling around the top of his head.  He spun around, stood up and shook my hand and said,

“Congratulations, Kid – you’re in management now!”

He grinned and his eyes sparkled and I’m sure I stood up just a little straighter.  He looked away for a moment like he was lost in thought and then he turned and locked in on me like I was the only person in the world.  He said,

“Kid, the big guy wants three things and only three things.”

I wasn’t exactly sure who the big guy was but it didn’t seem like a good time to ask so I just stood there.

“The big guy wants high productivity, low costs and No Trouble.  You got that?”

High productivity, low costs and No Trouble.  I got it.

“That’s good, Kid.  Now get out of here.”

I was in Jess Coulson’s office for a total of about 60 seconds.  But in that 60 seconds he outlined the essence of HR.  High Productivity, Low Cost and No Trouble.  For business owners, that’s what HR is all about.

In the 40 years since I stood in Jess’s office, the No Trouble part has become increasingly difficult for employers.  Employment laws are more onerous and courts are significantly more sympathetic to employees’ claims than ever before.  For business owners, legal attacks by employees or former employees have become a serious concern.

The bad news is, there is no foolproof way to protect your business.  No matter what you do, there is still some risk associated with having employees.  But you can minimize that risk by creating an employee handbook.  An employee handbook is the centerpiece of an effective HR program.  It explains your company’s policies and procedures and it communicates your expectations to employees.  A good handbook also helps protect your company in the event of a dispute.

Now the good news – there is a quick and free way for you to create an employee handbook.

In less than 10 minutes and at absolutely no cost, you’ll have an employee handbook with the policies most small businesses need.  And that’s a huge step toward No Trouble!

Jack-Hayhow Jack Hayhow is Chief Executive Servant of Opus Communications in Kansas City. Opus provides tools and techniques to help business owners build their business. Jack is also the author of two highly acclaimed business books, The Wisdom of the Flying Pig: Guidance and Inspiration for Managers and Leaders and, Breaking Through the Barrier: What Companies That Grow Do Differently
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We all have stress in our lives and a little stress can be a healthy thing.  Stress is caused by stressors, defined by BusinessDictionary  as either 1. A physical, psychological, or social force that puts real or perceived demands on the body, emotions, mind, or spirit of an individual –OR- 2. A biological, chemical, or physical factor that can cause temporary or permanent harm to an ecosystem, environment, or organism.

Stressors are like bullies: We can usually handle one or two but when confronted by too many of them at one time we may lose the ability to overcome them.  Heck, just recognizing stressors can be difficult and sometimes even counter-intuitive. Did you know that pleasant, desirable, rewarding things can also cause stress!?!? In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe suspected there was a link between events in your life and your level of stress.  They looked at 43 life events and after thousands of interviews and surveys they ranked each life event for its contribution to stress.  Some of the events that made the list are surprising: A change in health of family member (including an improvement), a change in financial state (including suddenly receiving a lot of money), and even an outstanding personal achievement!  This is because our bodies react automatically and biochemically, way down at the cellular level, not only to bad changes in our life situation but to any changes.

To measure the overall stress using the Holmes-Rahe scale, determine which events/situations in the past year apply to you and take note of the associated number of “Life Change Units”.  Add them up and the resulting total score will give you a rough idea of how much stress you are experiencing.   (The table and explanation shown here is from Wikipedia at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale but the same table is available from multiple locations on the Internet and elsewhere.  Newer lists may also be available as part of more modern studies.).  This first table is for adults:

Life event

Life change units

Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

A different scale has been developed for non-adults.

Life Event

Life Change Units

Getting married 95
Unwed pregnancy 100
Death of parent 100
Acquiring a visible deformity 80
Divorce of parents 90
Fathering an unwed pregnancy 70
Jail sentence of parent for over one year 70
Marital separation of parents 69
Death of a brother or sister 68
Change in acceptance by peers 67
Pregnancy of unwed sister 64
Discovery of being an adopted child 63
Marriage of parent to stepparent 63
Death of a close friend 63
Having a visible congenital deformity 62
Serious illness requiring hospitalization 58
Failure of a grade in school 56
Not making an extracurricular activity 55
Hospitalization of a parent 55
Jail sentence of parent for over 30 days 53
Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend 53
Beginning to date 51
Suspension from school 50
Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol 50
Birth of a brother or sister 50
Increase in arguments between parents 47
Loss of job by parent 46
Outstanding personal achievement 46
Change in parent’s financial status 45
Accepted at college of choice 43
Being a senior in high school 42
Hospitalization of a sibling 41
Increased absence of parent from home 38
Brother or sister leaving home 37
Addition of third adult to family 34
Becoming a full-fledged member of a church 31
Decrease in arguments between parents 27
Decrease in arguments with parents 26
Mother or father beginning work 26

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

The Kent Center has adopted this scale in their stress assessment and treatment practice.  (We found them online and have no affiliation with them.)  Working with mental health professionals is almost always a good idea.  If you perform a self-assessment of stress and the result concerns you, seek professional counseling (in-person and face-to-face if at all possible) because untreated stress can easily lead to physical illness and depression.  And then things can get very serious because depression cannot always be self-diagnosed or self-treated.  Worse yet, severe depression is potentially lethal.

But if you decide that your stress level is sufficiently low, and composed of only a few distinct and easily identified causes/events, you may want to tackle them yourself.  To make this stress-busting effort effective, be methodical.  Spend some time thinking about each stressor in your life.  Here are some tips:

  1. Make a Master List of Stressors and list each stress-causing event/situation separately
  2. Have a plan to deal with each one, independent of the others
  3. The plan for each one should include the following:
    • Identification of what you see as the root cause of the stress (OK all you Mental Health Professionals, don’t email me: I know we mere mortals cannot always determine the root cause of stress but this is a start)
    • A descriptive vision of what your life would be like without this stress (you being worry-free, happy at work, etc.)
    • Who else is involved besides you, and what each person will do to help correct the situation
    • Actions you and the other people involved will take today, this week, this month and this year

The human brain does not come with a user’s manual.  Get professional counseling to help with high stress scores, depression or with any thoughts about harming yourself or others.  Don’t mess with stress!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Resilience Engineering #1: Robust Vs. Resilient

by Gary Monti on June 7, 2011

Sustaining success in complex situations presents challenges where classic approaches to projects, programs, and processes may fall short. This series of blogs will present a tool for dealing with those challenges, resilience engineering (RE). I’d like to start with two terms from RE: robust and resilient. Why? In a word, Relevance. These terms will give a taste of RE and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Robust Systems

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

An example of robustness may help. Company XYZ is an early entrant into a new market with Product Line A. In supporting Product Line A, a series of integrated databases are built in the back office and end-user operations are superb. As time goes by the industry morphs and there is opportunity for introducing Product Line B. The database requirements for Product Line B are a mix: 60% can be handled with the current systems and the remaining 40% present new requirements.

Time-to-market can be reduced if a commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), stand-alone product is purchased to cover the new requirements. The problem is it does not integrate with the existing system and double entry in both systems is required. Specifically, products and services for Product Line B clients will be tracked in the COTS system while accounting will be done separately in the original system.

While an integrated solution is desirable it will take 6-9 months and is decided against. Another reason for deciding against the integrated solution is Company XYZ is in a recession in their market and keeping costs down is a “must.” Those in functional operations, the end-users, are told they will have to figure out a way to handle the double entry and insure problems don’t arise. The database end-users absorb the changes, create new policies and procedures, and the entry into the new market achieves sales and margin projections.

This is an example of robustness, i.e., the organizational system responded to a challenge and met its functional requirements while the original database systems are not modified. People absorbed the changes. This absorption comes at a cost, though. The stress level of the end-users rises and they are a little less masters of the database system and a little more victims of double entry.

Resilient Systems

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

With a resilient approach the integrative change would be adaptive in nature. Database operations would morph to reflect and environment comprising a composite of Product Line A and Product Line B. This is in stark contrast to the robust solution, which is still Product A-centric.

In its simplest form with the resilient solution, the end-users would focus on serving the customers and be free of the clunkiness and increased potential for failure associated with the double entry system.

Robust or Resilient: What’s the Difference?

Is the robust decision a bad one? Not necessarily. It just comes at a cost; a cost incurred while deciding on trade-offs, a cost that may be invisible to the culture. This issue of trade-offs is at the core of RE.

In the next blog we will look more at the accrued costs associated with trade-offs and a rather scary element that can be associated with robust solutions – drift. As the series progresses more innovative ways to approach trade-offs will be presented.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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