Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

Archive for February 2011

What’s Your “One Thing”?

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City Slickers Dialogue: Metro Man Mitch (Billy Crystal) and Cowpoke Curly (Jack Palance)

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

My personal vision, developed 15 years ago: leave a legacy, make an impact. I have a detailed strategy and ever-adapting action plan to support that vision but won’t bore you with it here, except to say that my strategic pyramid is based on personal values, a few attributes that have been my deepest drivers since at least junior high. A long time ago! I am certain these are deep, personality-anchored values, not just transitory or behavioral based on where I am at present.

I’ve given it a good deal of thought, in part through the work on this project. I am certain my “One Thing” is to connect. That is what my personal well-being and engagement is dependent upon, and connecting will allow me to become an effective enabler of engagement for those in my circle of influence….my ticket to leaving a legacy, making an impact.

There are many different connections, one being the connection among all I do in my life. It flies in the face of work-life balance, but I Am What I Do. Am I just lucky enough to be involved in something that allows me to attack the whole enchilada at once, with one focus, and not have to be overly concerned with maintaining that precious balance? Or maybe I’m deluding myself and I really am a workaholic headed for burnout?

There is a lot at stake. Those dynamics bear close watching, and I’m on it!

I teach at a local college now and then, most recently my personal favorite Total Quality Management: Performance Excellence. “Total quality” means just that: it encompasses everything we do at work, at home, in the community. Performance excellence in its broadest sense is meeting expectations first time, every time, on time–again at work, at home, in the community. So the class has a decidedly “big” flavor. Workplace-specific concepts and theories are applied to students’ private lives and vice versa.

Class exercises, discussions and projects are absolutely relevant to my day job. What applies in class applies to work, applies at home, applies socially. I research one and it applies directly to the other.

I get a lot of good out of reading and contributing to discussions on The Employee Engagement Network, a growing global social network of over 3,000 devotees of engagement (easy to find: Google it).  What I read there, what I contribute there has everything to do with what I do at work, what I share in my college class, who I am at home, my role in the community.

I am what I do, I do who I am. I am connected.

Your Challenge: connect. It’s a good place.


Written by Craig

February 16, 2011 at 6:12 am

Good System, Bad System

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I work for a start-up manufacturing operation. “What?!” you say? Didn’t know there was such a thing anymore? We’re in the wind energy business, enough said.

Our location is 3 years old, we have recently ramped up to several hundred people and counting. We’ve had so much to learn with new design, processes, and equipment that we haven’t paid much attention to systems. That opens the debate for whether systems are a prerequisite to starting up (later!). Regardless, we’re playing catch-up on two systems critical to managing the people and process elements of the business: performance management and an ISO-based management system.

I’ve explored both systems in prior posts: see The Roadmap for a guide to primarily ISO –focused posts, also the Perf Mgmt category.

I’m drawn back to this subject by the immediate need to collect our thoughts and take a close look at how to attack both systems. And coincidentally, the college class I teach is currently exploring systems. Two birds with one boulder.

The way these systems are designed, implemented and maintained can be very good or very bad. I’ve seen both up-close. What makes the difference, in 50,000 words or less?

This started out looking like a two-part post, one for each system. But there are several common factors to target together. Specifics for each will follow, along with a few barrier-busters.


Reputation. Both ISO and performance management are a favorite foil for jokes and an easy target for Dilbert. Ask those who have experienced ISO or performance management.  The balance of input you will hear is definitely skewed. Maybe it’s because people like to gripe more than praise, or maybe there are more bad experiences to share than good. Even those who have not personally experienced either system can offer “first-hand” accounts — legends shared around the campfire.

The bad rep these systems have earned have become a part of tribal folklore. And like it or not….

Image Is Everything. If a task is perceived as a waste of time, it is treated as low priority and there is only minimal effort directed at completing the task. Why is the company subjecting its associates to all this grief? Shamelessly sell the sizzle, and do it with substance not smoke! Make it personal, and make it personally rewarding for people to carve out a chunk of their limited time to work the system.

System Intent, Perceived Value There must be some value, some compelling business reason for the system, beyond earning the certificate of compliance (ISO) and providing input for merit increases (performance management). How does this system help me on the job, how does it help the company achieve its goals, how does the system help keep the doors open?

The Grindstone Effect. People are task-driven. Systems are out of sight, out of mind unless one of them gets in the way of getting the job done. How much on-task productive time is diverted to meeting system-demanded obligations? Two choices: either educate the workforce on systems thinking, interconnectedness, and the value of systems, or simply ensure that user-friendliness is a priority.

Occasional Afterthought (Under Duress). Little causes widespread panic like “ISO auditors coming next week.” People scurry about sweeping dust bunnies under the rug and otherwise cramming for the exam. Similarly, “performance reviews must be completed by end-of-month.” In both cases, attempts at fabricating an acceptable past kick in, in reckless pursuit of compliance.

To add value, both systems require constant, disciplined attention at a level commensurate with the importance of the system. Which, unfortunately, requires that the systems are perceived to be deserving of attention.

Ownership. The Kiss of Death for both systems: “performance management is an HR thing…ISO is a quality thing.” While HR and Quality are traditionally the guardians of their respective system, users must own their individual performance management plans, and must own their area’s piece of an ISO-based management system.

My performance management plan determines my individual success on the job, as well as the direction of my career. My area’s management system determines how well my area of accountability meets requirements and contributes toward achieving my company’s goals.

Ownership is fueled by broad involvement, at the highest and most frequent level leadership is capable of allowing. Leadership can either enable or inhibit.

Compliance vs Commitment

ISO is steeped in terms of compliance, from the language of the model itself to the ongoing post-certification cycle of audits and corrective action. Performance management is in some cases a check-box activity people are driven to complete only to comply with an HR mandate. Oh by the way, your merit increase, if any, is tied to timely completion of your assessment. So we gotcha…

What Next?

All of these issues get in the way of people fully buying into performance management and ISO.

So we’re up front, in the system design phase. Where do we start, to minimize the impact of these potential pitfalls?

The highest single priority: focus on those things that will elicit full commitment from associates. There is a world of difference between simple compliance to completing a task, and full commitment to executing the plan. One may win a battle or two, but the latter wins the war.

  1. Design for user-friendliness. The best way to ensure a user-friendly design is to involve the users in the design.
  2. Communicate and educate associates on the importance of the systems to the long-term success of the business, as well as the WIIFM elements.
  3. Train people on the mechanics of how to use the system. WHAT and WHY before HOW!
  4. Last, follow the formula for flawless execution: It Ain’t Rocket Science!

Four easy steps….I can’t wait for Monday to get it done!

Written by Craig

February 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

Primers for Engaging Conversations

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 The following is posted at the 4,000-member Employee Engagement Network. It is an invitation to contribute to an e-book, topic described below. Go check it out and if you aren’t part of the EEN community, come on in! Sign up and contribute.

 High on the list of a leader, manager, or supervisor’s daily work should be having meaningful conversations with others, beyond the regular small talk. Taking time to talk with a person goes a long way and is even more powerful if the conversation targets what matters most. This says to the other person I recognize you, I care about you, I am committed to your success, and I support you.
Our next e-book is Primers for Engaging Conversations: Questions or Conversational Primers to Help Others Engage

What question or statement would you use with peers, reports, bosses or others as a conversation primer to help them engage more fully in work, relationships, customer service, organizational goals, results, etc?

Write your engaging conversation primer question in one sentence. The ideal question or statement should be written in a conversational style that reads the same way it sounds if it was voiced.

Submit one question or statement at a time. 
This book will be co-edited by Craig Althof and David Zinger with design by John Junson.

Written by Craig

February 7, 2011 at 12:46 am

Posted in Engagement

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