Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

Archive for December 2009

Reinventing Myself

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People have emailed me, wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s a bit humbling, as this blog has been primarily to help me frame my thoughts. But there are people who have actually been paying attention to these musings…thank you!

Briefly, I’ve taken a break for introspection triggered by a “hard right turn” career change. A summary of that inward look follows. The result-I am starting a more focused blog, yet to be published. Some of the themes found here will carry over, some will not. I do plan on keeping this blog up and running, but with even more random thoughts and probably more fun than it has been. Stay tuned.

Besides this reinvention I’ve had an epiphany along the way too, thanks again to my career / position-on-the-ladder shift. See John Everyman.  As an immensely respected mentor inscribed in a Max Depree book he gave me in 2001, “never lose sight of yourself.”

 I did, and didn’t even realize it.

The Road to Reinvention

Over the past 20+ years I have worked for two multi-billion dollar multiple-location corporations, with projects at both the business unit and corporate levels. I’ve been both a follower and a leader. Hopefully, the experience in one has had a positive impact in my ability to be the other. I have been involved in development of people and process improvement, in business process and manufacturing environments. Most recent projects included culture change, leadership curriculum development, alignment and action planning, developing and managing systems (performance management, quality management, and communication systems), re-engineering, standard work and lean implementation.

After losing my position in February 2009, I stopped to examine my direction. Did I need professional re-engineering? Are my knowledge base and my core competencies a good fit with my values and beliefs, and career plans? More importantly, was I focusing on critical areas that businesses need to achieve excellence, and were those areas worth devoting my efforts to in this phase of my career?

In short…is my direction personally relevant (engaging) and professionally relevant (marketable)?

I’ve moved past ladder climbing; I simply want to make a meaningful contribution where that contribution is truly valued and strategically significant. I do not care to work in a large corporate environment again; I prefer being part of a smaller organization that is flexible and insightful enough to do what it needs to do.

I have always been a huge believer in “involvement”. Involvement has transformed into the loftier concept of “engagement”. But what you call it matters little. Either way, two truths stand out:

  1. If you don’t pay constant attention to the “soft” stuff (the human side of the business—working relationships, personal development, teaming, involvement etc) you will never fully achieve the maximum level of “hard” results (### and $$$) that your business is capable of. And,
  2. If the soft stuff does not have a strategic impact, what good is it? Who has time for irrelevant hugs and kisses classes with no purpose? Forget Kumbaya, show me the cash.

Over the past half year I produced a random series of essays loosely focused on what is becoming the basis of Roadmap. Thousands of surfers visited this blog without any active promotion on my part. For me this affirmed the power of cyber space, but also indicated a high level of interest in Engagement, Alignment, Communication, Systems and Involvement…my reinvented focus.

Mission: Within my sphere of influence, enable individuals and leaders to leverage the power of engagement to more fully realize flawless execution of strategy.

Vision: Improve quality of life and protect our standard of living. Serve as a catalyst who enables highly satisfied and productive people, leading to greater business and industry profitability and success.

Unlike some missions / visions, I feel confident that mine has sturdy legs: supporting objectives, strategies, and action plans. One strategy is to produce what you are reading right now, and my target market and how to reach it are both detailed in my objectives.

 The Relevance

So why all this personal disclosure, and how is it relevant here? Why should anyone but family and friends care at all about any of this?

One: I wanted to share my experience with you, so others can understand my perspective. Two: personal re-invention comes highly recommended to other individuals. Three, the introspective analysis I conducted is roughly the same process a company goes through, or should go through, on a regular basis to re-evaluate, validate and adjust its strategic direction. My reinvention was reactive, out of necessity, caused by a “crisis”…career change. I would strongly advise others to be more proactive-don’t wait for the bleeding to start. Rather, prevent the injury!

In my chosen avocation, if you’re not continuously evolving you’re falling behind. The opposite of growth is stagnation, atrophy and, eventually, death. I don’t want to look back when it’s too late and do the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” thing.

In that respect is your business, career, or life any different than mine?

Written by Craig

December 28, 2009 at 4:14 am

Letter to the Boss, From John Everyman

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Dear Sir:

My name is John Everyman, and I’m one of the hundreds of people who work for you. Like me, many of my co-workers have started working here fairly recently after losing their jobs. You probably haven’t had a chance to get to know many of us or what we did before we came here, but that’s understandable. Since we’ve been working side-by-side, I’ll help you get to know a little about them.

Many of my co-workers have had impressive careers and responsible, important positions. Laid-off teachers. Highly skilled craftsmen. Entrepreneurs whose businesses have failed. College graduates, some with masters degrees. Ex-soldiers who risked everything. Parents who are successfully raising families, and grandparents who have already succeeded in that most-important job of all.

Since you don’t know me, I wanted to tell you a little about what I did before I came here. I managed thirty people and a seven-figure budget. My salary was quite a bit more than the wage I earn now, but that’s alright. These days money isn’t everything like it used to be. I have a lot to be grateful for…I’m working. You have no idea how frustrating it was hearing over and over that I was “too qualified” for other jobs I had applied for before this company finally gave me a chance.

In spite of my years as a captain, I haven’t forgotten how to be a good soldier. But now that I’m back to taking orders rather than giving them, I realize that I did forget some things that are very important to the troops in the trenches. I was a manager for so long I forgot what it felt like to be just a “regular person” on the front line. That’s not to imply that you’ve forgotten too. But just in case, I want to share this with you.

Some of the best people in the world reported to me. Those same people work here. While we may be the best, we’re easy to please. Nothing that matters to us costs much of anything! My co-workers and I…

  • Want to help! Is what we know, see and think important to you? If so, show it to us now and then. For starters, just let us know you are really listening, that what we say is registering with you.
  • Need to know we are making a difference, and we need to know how we’re doing.
  • Need to know that we’re appreciated.
  • Need a compelling vision to commit to; without that all we can do is comply to the direction we’re given. There’s a big difference.
  • Are good soldiers. But we need clear marching orders from leaders we trust, before we will feel safe laying it on the line.
  • Need a chance to better ourselves, not just through raises or promotions. We need opportunities to learn more, do more, apply ourselves more. People need to grow.
  • Need to feel like our talents are being fully utilized in our jobs. Did you know that “wasting talent” is now one of the official Eight Wastes of Lean Thinking? Talent is a terrible thing to waste.

These are the same things that my employees needed more than anything else I could have given them, and these are the basics that I lost sight of in my years as a manager. I was too busy juggling the accountabilities of the position that I had far too little time to devote to the people who were capable of making or breaking me in that position.

My family has adjusted our standard of living and we’re doing alright, especially considering the economy. This job means a great deal to us-I need the paycheck and the benefits more than you can even imagine, unless you’ve recently been without one or the other or both. I really don’t care about “position” and I’m sure many of my co-workers are like me in that respect. But if I ever do get back to a position where I am once again responsible for leading others, I have learned some valuable lessons that I will not forget.

I hope you have not forgotten those things, because that’s easy to do. We’re counting on you.

Sincerely,

John

Behind the Everyman Letter

Talent Wars

Before the downturn, the big scare was a projected shortage of talent of significant proportions. But employee retention is still a key issue; and it is black and white demographics. The number of those entering the workforce over the next few decades does not even come close to being able to replace the droves of retiring boomers. At the same time, education attainment levels are plummeting-smaller percentages of young people are graduating from both high school and college.

The talent pool is evaporating, and the impacts cannot be ignored. Fewer workers, lower skilled.

It’s more than numbers that is scary. Those boomers who do retire will be taking with them the years of experience and knowledge that built most of the companies they are working for. They are the long-term do-ers and leaders of business and industry.

Career Shifters

Countless people have recently transitioned into new jobs, many of them taking a substantial cut in pay, position, and responsibility. Some may have taken a “lesser” job just to survive, others may not mind staying where they landed even when opportunities open up again. Their new employers don’t recognize the importance of this fact. When the downturn eases, many highly skilled, experienced people will be looking for meaningful jobs if they feel they can do better. Or, does their current job satisfy them enough to entice them to stay? The opportunity to create a high-involvement, highly engaged work force will never be greater. The highest quality raw materials are readily available.

People Who Need People…

It’s no secret that your people determine your success. From The Global Workforce Study, Towers-Perrin 2007:

While many factors can trigger failure, the most critical is often overlooked: people. Lack of support, buy-in, and readiness at all levels — your employees, frontline managers and CEO — makes the difference between an abandoned initiative and one that contributes to your company’s growth. 

The downturn has elevated the need for engagement. BlessingWhite noted in their 2009 report Uncertainty’s Antidote: Three Leadership Imperatives:

Now you need employees to stay focused and productive despite taking on the ghost work of laid-off colleagues, paused pet projects, eliminated perks, ever-shifting priorities, and the distraction of the latest market headlines telling them their 401k’s have been crushed again. Employee engagement is essential.

Retention, and the Payoff

If you manage to land good talent, you’d better work hard to hold on to it. What factors impact overall job satisfaction, and therefore retention? Forget the bottom level basic survival needs of the Maslow model. The work force is craving much more than just pay and benefits. I’m not a researcher, and I don’t care to list yet again the mountains of studies and data to validate this, but the studies are out there. Fact:

Companies with higher levels of engagement also experience greater profit, productivity and retention rates.

The bad news: you cannot buy engagement. The good news: engagement costs nothing.

Written by Craig

December 28, 2009 at 4:05 am

Good For You, Good For Me

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 Leaders Expect…

Diligent people who produce

Company goals to be met

Productivity

Profitability

Followers Need…

Clear expectations

A compelling reason to perform above and beyond the call of duty

A feeling of belonging and worth, and of contributing to the cause

The knowledge, skills, abilities, systems and tools needed to meet their expectations

These needs and expectations are not in conflict. Rather, one leads to the other. People find meaning and the means to make a difference through their level of contribution at work, and their efforts directly impact the profitability and success of their employer. Seems like a basic concept. But if it was that easy, why hasn’t everybody been doing it, and doing it well?

Written by Craig

December 28, 2009 at 4:01 am