management

Set Free by the Truth!

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I learnt a looooong time ago that success comes from effort you put in + talent + luck.  What I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago is that whilst I thought I was putting in the max, actually I wasn’t.  This is a truth that applies to most all of us, we spend sometimes hours just doing meaningless and pointless tasks.

I admit facing the reality was a difficulty, after all I’m perfect aint I? Well, NO actually.

The possibility that I could make better and quicker decisions just hadn’t occurred to me and when it did it was like being hit by a juggernaut. The reality just hit me right between the eyes, suddenly it was obvious what I had to do, I had to measure my activity and the waste would become self evident. I adopted a method I have to use every couple of years and I kept a diary for a couple of weeks. When I was a child I was in hospital for a very long time and at the time had pioneering surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Anyway since turning 40 years of age (and that seems like a life-time ago now) I go for a check every couple of years to make sure I still have a functioning heart and nobody’s replaced it with a lump of rock.  Before the appointment where I’m prodded, pressed, listened to and covered in wires I have to keep a diary of diet and activity.  Thankfully over the last 8 years I’ve actually improved my health! Yes, I’m fitter now than I was 10 years ago!

Anyhow, the lesson is there. Measure stuff and stuff gets done. So I applied the logic to activity, especially activity that brought me closer to my dreams. And you’ll never guess what? I found I waste time.

I waste time day-dreaming (not necessarily a total waste of time but too much dreaming and not enough doing, well need I say more?).

I waste time flicking though pages of magazines looking at cars and phones and computers that I will never consider buying.

I sleep more than I thought I did.

I watch a lot more TV than I thought I did.

I spend hours, yes honestly hours on-line looking at and not buying cycling gear (yes its a fantasy, I am a MAMIL; a middle aged man in lycra)

The truth is that I measured what I did and hey presto I became more productive. Its no miracle just facing up to the truth and then doing something about what I didn’t like about my life.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Trust Yourself

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moo.com business cards
moo.com business cards (Photo credit: bargainmoose)

There are many times in life when it is very tempting not to trust yourself but to go with the crowd, go with the flow. That way when mistakes are made and you come to regret your actions you can rely on the thought that everybody else said or did the same. There are many instances in history which are of note where this has happened and has led to catastrophic events unfolding.

I’m sure that some some who were involved in the slaughter in the Balkans, in Rwanda and in the Holocaust have lived to deeply regret their actions (even if they would have paid a very heavy price for refusal to cooperate). I’m equally sure that there are some who didn’t and some who don’t care either way.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been involved in a business reorganization. As part of any reorganization of a business there had to be some job losses. People with long service histories were made redundant. In some cases people with almost double the amount of service I have (18 years so far).

Naturally the process was mentally and emotionally painful, perhaps more for those who lost their jobs than me, but nonetheless there was pain. Of course what I was doing was right, I absolutely believe my actions to be correct. I had the long-term health of the business at the forefront of my mind when taking those far-reaching and life changing decisions. But do I regret my actions? No, not at all. Less than a week after some of those with long-term service have left and there are already employees trying to make an impression, trying to improve how things are done.

I suppose to some extent this is just showing-off, trying to impress in the hope that they aren’t next. But in so many other ways it frees people to shine, to do what they do as well as they can. A breath of fresh air!

Traditionally when we have made groups of people redundant we have picked out those employees with least service and lowest pay in order to minimize the up-front cost. This has never really made a real and deep and lasting difference to the business. We see cost reductions and then over a period of time the cost creeps back into the business and after 9 or 12 months we then find ourselves back in the same position. Almost like a crash diet and then when the diet is over eat as normal.

What we had to do was find a way of attacking the under-lying reasons for why things just don’t seem to change. Well, I remember on one those tedious management courses I’ve done somebody once saying that its sergeants that run the army, and this gave me a clue as to where to look when making changes. That’s right, I had a good hard look at the middle ranks and this was where the problem lay. They just didn’t want to embrace change, either self generated or enforced. So they had to go.

Its cost a lot up-front I have to admit but its worth it.

Those who had to leave were the ones who blocked progress, who were in the way of change, in the way of improvement. By removing them they way has opened-up for new talent to shine, new ideas to come into the open and new ways of doing things.

We have quite a number of employees from many countries (UK, within the EU and outside the EU) each with a breadth of experience but little in the way of educational achievement or family stability. And 1-week after the clear-out and they are beginning to shine. All those experiences, all those personal struggles they have had have made them a resilient bunch, they have made them into a group of people who can find ingenious ways of solving problems.

To struggle is good, it teaches us how to be resilient, creative in solving problems and to see opportunity when it comes.

So I have to live with my decisions, what I did and why I did it. I find it easy to live with my decisions of the last few weeks, they were the right ones for all concerned.

System, System, System, Soft Systems Methodology

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We all use the word system a lot when talking about a whole range of things… computer system, information system, ‘the system’ meaning a way of doing things normally with some sort of negative or sinister overtone but not always. Basically so far as I can see there are 3 distinct uses of the word:

  1. A way of doing things, of organizing things, resources and procedures
  2. A fixed or hard system; a computer system for example
  3. A specialized system, a conceptualized way of organizing resources and procedures according to a systems theory

Another governing principle is that of emergence; simply expressed as the sum is greater than the whole. So for example a factory operates with direct labour (those doing hands-on work) and indirect labour (those who do administrative work, management work, delivery drivers, maintenance staff, warehouse staff…) to make the factory work.

Systems thinking has come to be known as either hard or soft systems thinking. Hard systems are those where behavior can be reasonably predicted, normally where mechanical components interact in an organised, predictable way. Soft systems by contrast are where human activity is concerned and are a lot less predictable by nature. Organisational problems are a lot less clear-cut, and are a lot more complex in nature.

My thinking tends towards seeing systems problems through the lens of complexity, a system is an intellectual construct designed to make sense of a given situation or event, they help us deal with the enormous complexity of the (real) world.

By making a conceptual model of the world and comparing this to the real world its surprising how quickly difficulties and problems in the actual real world organisational system can be uncovered. Multifaceted problems become more apparent and quantifiable and the possible solutions are more easily teased out of the problem situation. Conceptual models are not representations of the real world, but are a conceptualization of potential real world systems. Soft Systems Methodology therefore is not about real world systems but about applying systems methodologies (systems thinking) to things that happen in the real world. It is best carried out with the full co-operation of those involved in the real world organisation with a facilitator to help and guide.

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Each conceptual system has at its heart a transformation process; input into and output. A very powerful concept accompanying the transformation process is that of weltanschauung (world view) – what makes the transformation worth doing! So the components are:

Customers – the victims or beneficiaries of the transformation process

Actors – those who do the transformation process

Transformation – input to output

Weltanschauung – the world view that makes the transformation meaningful

Owners – those who have the power to stop the transformation

Environmental Constraints – elements outside the process that can influence the process

Monitoring and Control Measures

E1 – Efficacy; does the system work? has the transformation taken place?

E2 – Efficiency; what are the resources needed to achieve the output? Is the system worthwhile?

E3 – Effectiveness; can the system achieve its longer term goals?

As a part of the Soft Systems Methodology intervention it is central and important that the 3 E’s are understood, measurable and agreed by all involved as appropriate measures of the intervention success.

Gen X, Y & Z + more

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5 generations in the workplace, Generation Z (born 1996 on-wards) are in the workplace and the room for cross-generational conflict is here.  Younger workers feeling deprived of career opportunities by job blockers. Older workers aghast at the irreverence of youth.

ARRRRRRRRRRR!

Retirement age removed, pension crisis in full swing, surge (massive if you’re Spanish and Greek) in youth unemployment.  The storm is upon us.

The emerging sectors of digital, green and creative offer fantastic opportunities but a greater likelyhood of Gen X, Y and Z coming together each with a different set of skills and reference points.  The challenge; getting each to educate the other in their relative strengths.

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The time to be honest is now.  The new realities are that growth and satisfaction come from diverse development experiences along with a range of different career opportunities.  Reverse mentoring (cross-generational educational engagement) projects offer a way of getting the old and the young to just talk to one another.  By engaging across the generations people are freed to have flexible thinking.

By exploring what’s right for individuals and addressing the tensions of generational differences trust can be encouraged to grow.  Experiences and outcomes will be all the more richer, individual priorities appreciated, flexibility fostered and social environments more fluid.

So 5-Gen workplaces, what to do?  Well best advice is definitely don’t lose your head when faced with difficulties.  Honesty is the key, and keep to the task.  Job organisation and design will have to appreciate the different generations and make the best of them.  Rewards too, some younger workers will almost certainly be better rewarded than older workers; again honesty is key, reference the task.

Communication, the biggest single failure in any business, but there is a gap in what is being openly discussed and what should be openly discussed.  Close the gap!

A spectrum of ages in a workplace is a positive advantage.  It allows for a diverse range of skills, points of view, learning opportunities.  By leveraging this diversity the business will benefit.

Each generation will typically have its own communication style, values and feedback modes.  Everyone needs to recognize this and come to terms with it.  Communication styles will have to be flexed to meet the varying demands of communications across the generations.

Job blocking?  Its a fallacy to think that young people are being job blocked and careers stifled by older workers.  By working together opportunities will be created.

Measure Inclusion

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If you measure diversity then you’re part way there.  Measuring inclusion is difficult by any standard so here are some ideas:

Meet with other organisations – networking by another name & you could allow bench-marking.  Please don’t hide from the data it will give you a start to the story.

Spot Checks (especially by the managers) – this will widen the number of people looking at diversity and the effects (positive or otherwise).  You could even try building inclusion into the performance management process for the managers themselves.

Performance – keep a close eye on who’s getting promoted, who gets a good performance review, who’s getting a pay rise.  But also keep an eye on the reasons and map them too.

New Start, New Leave – why are they leaving, what are they saying, are they even being asked? Is there a way to ask them?  Who’s starting and what do they bring in the way of qualities and qualifications?

What do you already know? – absenteeism, sickness, lateness, shift splits, pay scale, pre-existing skills…

Survey – ask your employees to comment.  Use a combination of open and closed questions and map the results.  You could then try a focus group with the results to see if anything comes out that might have been missed or under or over played.

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Inclusion is a massive opportunity to effect positively culture change and organisational development.  Leaders who recognize this are likely to be the ones who create an environment where everyone is at their best.  The risk however, is diversity and inclusion is not measured or managed and diverse teams have a habit of fracturing. Managers must be sophisticated in their approach and management style to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Lessons from Occupy

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On-line protest and business have nothing in common? Yeah?  Well I think they have more in common than either side would really like to admit to.  Kalle Lasn Advertising Executive turned environmentalist started it all with his anti-consumerist Adbusters magazine.  See #OCCUPYWALLSTREET – are you ready for a Tahrir moment?

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So what are the lessons?

Commitment

Motivation to achieve results; when goals and objectives are aligned to passion and personal values then motivation is at its strongest.

Listen to your Clients

When faced with a challenge then ask, ask as many stakeholders as you can possible think of to ask.  Go out and ask, you should even ask those who you think might not actually have anything to say.

Keep it simple

Your message, your product offering, your service proposition should be clear and easy to understand.  Your message must be able to fit in a Tweet.  Hashtags provide a way to put your message across while making sure its to the point!

Your Client is a person

The experiences, the services, the products you offer may standardized but you really must  speak to your client as a person, an individual.  Individual may well work in teams, work for organisations but individuals will speak for themselves.

Decentralise

Facilitation is the key, meetings don’t need to be Chaired, decisions should be reached through consensus.  Participation from all stakeholders brings social value added, unless organisations can show themselves to be responsive they will be seen as the enemy.