All posts by pdonehue

Building your “A” Team

Our previous post referenced the proverbial “A Team,” and identified the “A” as standing for agility.

But along with being agile, the ability to build high performing teams can enable an organization to make significant gains that go beyond those typically achieved by individuals. As the saying goes, “TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More.”

Consider that it is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses, as the exchange of ideas alone leads to new thinking and innovation. In addition, the involvement of multiple people in decision-making typically strengthens commitment levels, and a team environment can provide mutual support and a sense of belonging.

However, virtually every organization we’ve encountered struggles with developing teams.

Many teams are dysfunctional; they take too long to accomplish tasks, the work is filled with errors and waste, the costs are excessive and turf wars abound.

Some key steps for developing high performing teams include:

  • Providing effective sponsorship
  • Developing strong team leaders and facilitators
  • Developing alignment around a common purpose
  • Developing and applying consistent task and project management
  • Open and consistent communication
  • Teaching people how to conduct productive meetings
  • Setting measurable performance targets
  • Identifying the right process/game plan to achieve results
  • Holding people mutually accountable for results

The “A” Team: (“A” for Agility!)

In the past 10 years we have seen an unprecedented acceleration of the rate of change, and you’ve probably heard people refer to the effect as “disruption” or “dislocation.”

“Disruption is when someone does something clever that makes you and your company obsolete,” says Craig Mundies, former chief of strategy and research at Microsoft, “Dislocation is when the whole environment is being altered so quickly that everyone starts to feel they cannot keep up.”.

Whether we are experiencing ‘disruption,’ ‘dislocation,’ or unprecedented opportunity, we have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration of change has important implications for business — specifically for the organizational traits and capabilities that determine who will thrive, survive, or fail.

Thus “agility” has become a key component of sustainable success.

Many people say they would like to make their organizations more agile, but few organizations have a formalized strategy to do so.

For many leaders, the planning and management methods mastered on their way up the ladder were designed and effective in a different time, when change moved at a much slower pace. Others might lean more toward the entrepreneurial side, exhibiting high-levels of vision and enthusiasm, but not the team-building or other managerial skills necessary to develop a truly agile environment; and others may simply fail to stay the course.

To gain agility, today’s leaders must incorporate these four “agility enablers” into their operating model:

  • Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
  • Relentlessly streamlined and simplified processes in order to handle the more rapid pace of implementation. If the processes that comprise the value stream are held together by patches, expediting, and human vigilance, or are full of inspection, rework, delays, over-specification, redundancies, excess inventory, complexity, etc. it will be very difficult to execute the necessary changes.
  • Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.

Ready for a Change?

Is the team ready?

As noted in previous posts, the start of a new year is often a time for making resolutions or strategic improvement plans, which is another way of saying “a time for change.”

As we all know, change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success; and, to be effective, change initiatives must involve not only a change in attitude, but also behavioral change.

But, as we also know, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Examples include: Converse in sneakers or Kodak in photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

Readiness… the Right Attitude
The first step in any change effort is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success. We have found that this “readiness for change” is best brought about through assessment, communication, education, empowerment, measurement, and recognition.

Components of helping people prepare for and embrace change include:

  • Making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture so that people at all levels change the way they think, talk, work, and act
  • Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
  • Clearly identifying the necessary or desired changes to actions and behaviors
  • Effectively using statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation and to measure improvement
  • Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement

ISO 10018: Quality People Management

Our previous post referenced the fact that a formalized approach to enterprise engagement yields a positive result for all stakeholders, including both employees and employers.

For more perspective about what constitutes a “formalized” approach, you might consult ISO 10018 guidelines on people involvement and competency.

These guidelines were created by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Technical Committee ISO/TC 176, Quality management and quality assurance, Subcommittee SC 3, Supporting technologies.

They are based on the premise that “the overall performance of a quality management system and its processes ultimately depends on the involvement of competent people and whether they are properly introduced and integrated into the organization,” according to a summary of the standards published by ISO.

“The involvement of people is important in order for an organization’s quality management system to achieve outcomes which are consistent and aligned with their strategies and values. It is critical to identify, develop and evaluate the knowledge, skills, behavior and work environment required for the effective involvement of people with the necessary competence.”

This international standard provides guidelines for human factors which influence people involvement and competence, and creates value that helps to achieve the organization’s objectives. While the standard was created specifically for the application of quality management, its creators suggest that it has application for any management system.

Key Principles of Quality People Management
The underlying distinguishing factor of ISO 10018 is the attempt to bring a process approach to Quality People Management. The standards are based on the following Quality Management Principles created by ISO Technical Committee 176:

  • Customer focus to align activities and priorities in service to the consumers of an organization’s services or products.
  • Leadership that insures people feel inspired, have the information and knowledge needed to do their jobs and feel part of a community so that they have a sustainable passion for success.
  • Involvement of people so that everyone acts as the eyes and ears of the organization.
  • A process approach to provide a systematic, as opposed to an ad hoc, approach to achieving goals.
  • A systematic approach to management that ensures alignment of all key tools of engagement.
  • Continuous improvement: a culture committed to innovation.
  • A factual approach to decision-making rather than influenced by political or factional biases.
  • Mutually beneficial supplier relationships.

Ream more from the Enterprise Engagement Alliance…

Engagement 2020: Win/Win

A Winning Approach for Employees & Employers

The emerging field of employee or workforce engagement has captured the attention of most “C Suites” over the past year or two; and as more and more organizations are taking a more formalized approach to engaging employees, the correlation between engagement and Continuous Improvement (CI) has also emerged.

Consider that engagement is simply a framework for achieving goals through people in a measurable way. These “goals” can involve anything, and might include reducing team turnover, enhancing safety, or improving specific work processes.

But what many of us might not realize is the fact that today’s “engagement” plans are designed to benefit all stakeholders, including employees and employers.

Organizations that have embraced this approach have found it is not only possible to achieve almost any goal that involves people, but also, to the surprise of many, to realize a return-on-investment in the process. In other words, engagement can be a profit center rather than a cost center and the ROI can take on various forms.

For example, according to an Employee Engagement Benchmark Study by Temkin Group, highly engaged employees try harder and tend to drive business results. They are twice as likely to work after their shift ends, twice as likely to do something good for the company that is unexpected of them, and three times as likely to make recommendations for company improvements.

But these same employees can also be participants in an ongoing effort to improve their workplace. They can have a say, and they can have a hand in impacting the quality of day-to-day work life by improving the way their work is done. In these cases, which we call “engagement around the work,” many feel more empowered and experience greater levels of job satisfaction as well.

So, as noted above, engagement yields benefits for all stakeholders, employees and employers. Or, as the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

It is important to recognize, however, that engaging people to achieve results requires top-management support and requires more than a casual or ad-hoc effort. Far too many organizations have learned this lesson the hard way, only to find half-hearted efforts don’t work. This reality is evidenced by the fact that only thirty percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged.

Here is a more comprehensive and structured approach to engaging a workforce based on extensive research completed by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance – you might also note how well it aligns with tried-and-true CI methodology:

  • Develop realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Effectively assess the people and the playing field to identify opportunities and obstacles to success.
  • Create a formal Engagement business plan outlining the desired outcomes, behaviors that lead to outcomes, key program components, roles and responsibilities, timeline, and return on investment, etc.
  • Implement the appropriate integrated communication plan, including an Engagement web portal for the program when appropriate.
  • Make sure people have the knowledge or skills needed to succeed.
  • Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, and fun.
  • Reward and recognize both progress and achievement so that people feel supported in their efforts.
  • Measure outcomes and returns.
  • Reinvest and continue…

Strategic Planning Part 2: The Beginning

Our previous post focused on best practices for executing strategic plans. Taking a step back, this post will focus on the formation of those plans.

To begin, a strategic plan is a high level description of what you intend to do, what you do not intend to do, and how you will move from where you are to where you want to be. A typical time horizon is 3 – 5 years, but may vary depending upon the industry.

These plans should not be confused with long-term budgets or “wish lists.”

Instead, the strategic plan links the mission, vision, goals and objectives. The strategy also needs the buy-in from those expected to deliver. For that reason, they need to be involved from the outset.

Further, to be successful, strategic planning requires a mix of imagination and realism.

  • Imagination to describe an innovative product or service, or a way to market for which there is little or no competition.
  • Realism to make sure that there is a practical way of executing the strategy.

Here are some of the specific steps for formulating your plan:

  • Assess current reality and opportunities, both external and internal
  • Develop and/or communicate mission and vision to ensure alignment
  • Define the gaps between “is” and “needs to be” and set the right goals
  • Develop, assess and select strategic alternatives
  • Compare best practices to ensure the strategy can be executed
  • Convert strategy into action, using strategy maps and a balanced scorecard
  • Launch and build high performance teams and work groups to execute the strategy
  • Create an accountability plan so that people at all levels are held accountable for taking the action steps outlined above and for staying-the-course

Well Done v. Well Said

Since many organizations tend to make strategic plans for the New Year, either at the end of the previous year or at the outset of a new one, it seems an ideal time to reaffirm the fact that “planning” does little good without execution. Or, as Ben Franklin put it, “Well done is better than well said!”

But people at all levels frequently struggle to stay-the-course when it comes to achieving goals, keeping resolutions, or executing strategic plans as they fall prey to “working so hard on the urgent that they forget about what’s really important.”

The Four Disciplines of Execution, an insightful book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, shares a solution.

As you may know, the ‘Four Disciplines’ comprise a management system of making consistent and systematic progress on executing plans and achieving goals. An organization can have an excellent strategy but fail to execute effectively on that strategy. Almost always the reason is that everyone is BUSY, and that they experience a conflict between all of the demands to keep the business running on a day to day basis (the ‘whirlwind’) and the time required to move the organization forward to accomplish existing or new goals!

The book identifies four key elements of execution that can help any organization achieve steady progress on the strategic objectives:

The first discipline is to focus on the “wildly important” (WIG—Wildly Important Goals). It is suggested that we’re better off executing a small number of goals right instead of spreading ourselves too thin. It is also important to not only identify, but also communicate exactly what these wildly-important goals are so that everyone is working on what matters. Equally as important, each of these goals must be associated with a targeted completion date – in other words, they must be time-based.

The 2nd discipline is to set (and act upon) lead measures. While lag measures tell you whether or not you have achieved your wildly-important goals, in most cases, by the time the results are in, it’s too late to do anything about them. Lead measures are predictive; they tell you how the lag measures will move, and they are “influenceable” (you can do something about them).

For example, a person might set an important goal of losing weight. The lag measure will be to take periodic measurements of weight. But to influence the weight goal the person must act on the lead measures: exercise (calories burned) and calories consumed.

The 3rd discipline is to keep a compelling scorecard. The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measures defined in the first two disciplines. This scoreboard must be ‘a players’ scoreboard’ not a ‘coach’s scoreboard’. It must support, guide, and motivate the players to act effectively on the lead measures and influence the lag measures.

People play the game differently when they are keeping score, and they play differently if they are keeping the score themselves! In fact, the action of recording their own results has proved to have a strong effect on people ― fostering ownership, engagement, and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their effort.

In addition, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:

  • The scorecard must be visible. If it is out of sight, on your computer or on the back of the door, it is less effective at aligning the team to focus on moving those measurements.
  • It must be simple, showing only the data required to ‘play the game’ ― to let the players know how they are doing day to day.
  • It must show both lead and lag measures.
  • It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.

The 4th discipline is to develop a “rhythm of accountability.” This is the discipline that enables you to win… without a rhythm or cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.

By setting a rhythm or cadence the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule to which everyone is committed. For example, teams should meet every week or every two weeks as opposed to “whenever something comes up.” It’s also best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each week or every-other week. These meetings should never be canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.

As noted in the book, “without accountability, the whirlwind will win!”

Like many things in life, these elements are simple but not necessarily easy… but they do enable an organization to more easily achieve important goals in the face of the whirlwind.

Your Training ROI & How to Optimize It

We are often asked about how organizations can optimize the value of their Learning & Development or training programs, with many leaders looking for ways to increase training-related behavioral change as well as their return on investment.

A recent VitalSmarts webinar addressed this subject quite nicely, and shared several perspectives that are well-aligned with ours.

Here’s a brief summary:

First and foremost, the webinar’s over-arching premise is that Learning & Development must become a strategic partner of the C-suite in order to bring about improvement and real behavioral change. In addition, there must also be a C-level commitment to consistent L&D programming. As the presenters said several times, “Training, or L&D, must be treated as a process rather than an event.”

These concepts align nicely with our perspective about the importance of senior level management’s buy-in, sponsorship, and involvement in all improvement initiatives. And, in case some convincing is in order, the article went on to share some thought-provoking statistics.

For example, only 7% of Learning & Development leaders measure the bottom-line effectiveness of their training programs. Possibly more troubling, only about 10% of all Learning & Development executives have met with the C-suite; and only a few align their training plans with the organization’s strategic plan.

In addition, only 35% of the US workforce receives any training at all! And even then, the average is three days of training per year.

Finally, without effective reinforcement and ongoing development, only 14%-15% of the information shared in training “sessions” is applied in the workplace. Instead, people most often do nothing differently or make a few changes for a while and then revert back to whatever they were doing in the past. Clearly this enormous “gap” represents significant waste, which was referred to as “learning scrap.”

3 Best Practices

For those who are determined to improve the value and effectiveness of their Learning & Development programs, (i.e., increase learning transfer and reduce learning scrap), three best practices were suggested:

Define the role and purpose of Learning & Development within the organization. To begin this process, the first couple of questions might be, “What would translate to a breakout year for L&D?” “This training will be a success when… (complete the sentence)”

Build the Learning & Development platform on defined and agreed-to business outcomes. It was pointed-out that most L&D managers plan their programming on what they “hope people will learn.” But the real focus should instead be on “what people will do differently as a result.”

Recognize that L&D is a process, not an event. The process must include ongoing measurement and support to ensure the business outcomes are achieved. This means coaching, reinforcement, and accountability on multiple levels:

  • C-level must be committed and allocate resources for appropriate levels of learning as well as for reinforcement and ability coaching
  • L&D leaders must align with business outcomes, and move the “finish line” of their training to include an achievement phase
  • Front line managers must provide reinforcement and support
  • People at all levels are accountable for applying what they’ve learned and related behavioral change

Quantifying Waste

Why & How

Bill Conway always said that at least 50% of improvement is working on the right things. Organizations that are able to engage people in making good, fact-based decisions about what to work on and then execute with laser focus reap huge gains. An opportunity search is key.

That means that we must identify and act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results. In other words, we must identify and quantify waste.

Quantifying the waste helps in three significant ways. First, it helps distinguish between the big‐hitters and the nice‐to‐have improvements so you focus on the most important opportunities first.

Second, it makes the organization aware of the cost of a delay in tackling a ‘big‐hitter’. If a problem is wasting $5 million a year, every week of delay is wasting nearly $100,000, so the organization wants to make sure nothing slows this improvement effort.

And third, quantifying the waste enables you to have more meaningful discussions with other parts of the organization whose support you need to change the processes that cause the waste.

Here are a few guidelines for “how” you might go about the quantification step:

  1. Identify if and how the problem affects the four forms of waste: lost sales, material costs, time, and capital costs. If the problem causes delays, think through and estimate the form of waste that the delay results in. Does it increase capital such as inventory or receivables? Does it delay sales and revenue? Does it cost you customers and future business? Does it require additional people time? Many problems will affect more than one of the four forms — lost sales, material, time, and/or capital. For example, excess inventory not only ties up capital, but may increase the number of people who need to manage it, the warehouse costs to store it, and the probability of scrapping it. All these factors can be reasonably estimated with some historical data and getting close enough to the work.
  2. Quantify the impact, recognizing that assumptions and estimates will probably have to be made. If you have or can gather data, use the data and document where you got it. If you must use assumptions or estimates, document how you came up with that — who did you talk to? Perhaps document a range that you are pretty confident about. The Conway Waste Calculator can help with the documentation.
  3. Do the math to roll it up into annual dollars.

4 Pre-Requisites to Creative Problem Solving

Creatively Achieving Breakthroughs

Recent posts have focused on the value of creative thinking when seeking to solve problems or achieve improvements.

While research has consistently shown that creativity can be developed, there are 4 requirements to harnessing it to solve problems and achieve breakthrough results:

  • We must have an audacious goal — one that cannot be achieved through standard procedures no matter how smart and hard we work
  • We must clearly and convincingly make the case for achieving this audacious goal
  • The goal must be measurable and timely, clearly laying out the degree of improvement and the deadline: “from x to y by when”
  • The people involved must be trained in methods for achieving breakthroughs and given the leeway (and amnesty) to challenge the status quo and to test outrageous ideas that just might work.