Hi I’m Flexadaptmilling. How are you?

sensual slim queer man dancing in modern studio
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Every year new words are added to our lexicon- either formally added to the dictionary or adapted as part of our slang. I am searching for the word that describes the state we are currently in. Something that combines our new flexibility requirements given the corona virus. The adaptability demanded in the light of our social justice uprising. The treadmill reality of 22 weeks of working from home. So in the spirt of Frindle (a children’s book by Andrew Clements where they invent the word Frindle) I introduce to you the concept Flexadaptmilling with its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

Flexibility: Bend and break. There have been some pretty amazing changes to our workplaces that without the corona virus wouldn’t have happened- or at least wouldn’t have happened at this pace. Suddenly every job can work from home. No one needs a flexible job arrangement to allow them to pick up kids, bring meals to parents, or to create a personal swing shift working schedule. I have had  3x the number of homemade dinners with my family than we’d have in normal times. Bending our assumptions has been healthy for our culture. But it also has it’s challenges. Zoom is a great tool. But it limits your ability to read the room and really see people, which impacts our discussions and can deter some voices. There are days when my steps are in the 100s – a far cry from 10,000 steps as I spend hours sitting in front of my computer in my small office. As an intense iterator it is hard virtually white board without glitches or delays. My takeaway is bend my thinking and take breaks for my body. Without a commute I have no excuse not to get up early and workout. Taking a Zoom call outside is a good idea. Blocking off a lunch hour to have no meetings and change my scenery is good for my mental health.

Adaptability: Thinking and rethinking. I am invigorated and sometimes exhausted by the new level of energy and interest in racial justice and DEI at work these days. The fire has been burning for years but now we have community, leadership, and student interest in taking action. I am inspired by my son and his friends and their social activism. I am proud of my organization for our commitment to health equity and equity for associates. I am thrilled that instead of asking (begging) to integrate DEI into leadership curriculum as I’ve had to do in the past I now have complete support and a heightened expectation for delivery. Opening our minds and hearts can only make us stronger. It is also tiring. There is a wave of white guilt  motivating action at a pace and speed that may not be sustainable. There is a pent up demand that is overflowing from associates. We want to work quickly, ensure sustainability, and be inclusive which, like the program management triangle, can be hard to balance. My take away is to use what I know and seek what I don’t. The “I” in DEI is for inclusion – we need the commitment and collaboration from every function to examine, question, and rethink our systems and structures. No one person or plan can undo hundreds of years of systemic racism. Tried and true tools like aligning to the organizational strategy, creating clear execution plans and timelines, and measuring progress are critical in this work. The “D” and “E” mean we must check assumptions, push against biases, and ensure we don’t settle for tried and true decisions but instead engage and reflect our full community.

Treadmilling: New ways of moving. As we prepare to go back to another semester of distance learning, continue our prolonged work from home, and manage social distancing there are time when our days feel like a rinse and repeat. What’s been exciting to see how technology really can personalize learning.  I’m inspired by my educator friends and how they are shaping their craft in this new world. I have loved pop up Zoom calls with friends and family from across the world that never happened before.  Then there are times when our social limits are tiring. As an extreme extrovert it does not fill my bucket to be home 100% of the time. I have a sophomore and college freshman who both want to be safe, be social, and be active in their sports. At my worst I pout over feeling like Bill Murray in Ground Hogs Day. My takeaway is control the controllables and enjoy the ride.  @Janice Payton told me having children would be the best IDP I ever had. She was right. Our current environment is my new IDP.  I have to remember I can only control what I can. Instead of resisting or fretting, do what I can and let go of the rest. Setting daily goals both personally and professionally has been a big help to see that it may be a different ride at a different pace but there can still be progress.

I love the term “Corona coaster” to describe the ups and downs of our current reality. In discussions with friends we were struggling to describe both the emotions and actions we are taking everyday. It’s not just being flexible. It’s being flexible while we adapt our systems, structures, and thinking. It’s feeling like we’re on a treadmill and not making motion but then looking down and being impressed with our miles. My description of this concept is Flexadaptmilling and I am working on embracing its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

 

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

Shark-Tank.jpg

Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.

Being a Change Conductor

change quote

When leading a change, we tend to focus on the change management skills and experiences needed – the what. But I would contend that how a leader conducts change  is the most critical element for success. A traditional code of conduct outlines expectations on how to act in alignment with the organization’s values and culture. So what code should a leader follow to conduct organizational change? Changes have stages and change leaders need to conduct themselves differently at different times. At first as a train conductor, then as an orchestra conductor, and finally as an energy conductor.

All Aboard: Conducting the Change Train. The first step of change is creating awareness of our need to change. This often requires the leader to be out in front, looking down the tracks at the external and internal business factors that can help or hinder our success. The leader also needs to engage others to create movement. At this phases of change, thinking about change as a train conductor makes sense. A train conductor is responsible for directing the train’s movement. For coupling or uncoupling cars that are needed at different parts of the journey. He or she also ensures that any cargo is assesses, reviewed, and consciously taken on or off the train.  Planning and execution are critical parts of change, and leaders should engage the energy of the early adopters.

Moving in Harmony: Conducting the Change Symphony.  A common, often fatal flaw, of a change initiative is failing to pivot on how the change is conducted. Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were iconic change conductors. But they were so busy driving the train they forgot to ensure the organization was moving in time with them. In the Senn Delany change model they talk about  unfreezing to create change. We all have patterns, habits, and beliefs frozen in our minds. For true change to happen all leaders need to unfreeze and  bring their perspectives and experiences together to create a new organizational rhythm. Once the change has movement, it is critical for the leaders to shift to helping people know how to change and giving them the ability to change. This is when the change leader needs become a symphony conductor.  This type of conductor focuses on interpretation of the work and real-time communication of those interpretations. He or she is accountable for looking at the entire score, rather just individual parts. The conductor is ultimately responsible for having knowledge of every instrument and demonstrating how to get the best out of each part when working together.

Be Electric: Conducting Energy.

Both the train conductor and symphony conductor have a unique role standing in front of the change.  As we move to the implementation and reinforcement stage of change, the change leader now needs to act as an energy conductor – helping to carry the change current and spark energy across the organization. Andy Hargrove say change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain. That is because we need to ensure we have a complete circuit across the organization to move and maintain energy. In science, a conductor is a material which permits a flow of energy.  A substance’s  conductivity depends on how easily electrons can move through it. Most materials are neither good conductors, nor good insulators. They don’t readily conduct, but if enough energy is supplied, the electrons will move. It’s important to realize that we all have different energy currents and not all of us readily move.  It’s also true that with enough energy we can be spurred into motion. It’s critical for the change leader to remember that resistance and heat also impact conductivity — and to strike the right balance between enough and too much energy so that we don’t cause an explosion.

Change is both a noun and a verb. It is the act of becoming different, and the action of becoming different. We tend to focus on change nouns  -plans, projects, and timelines. But the verb – our action- is the only way to actually conduct change.  Change leaders need to conduct change – and themselves -differently at different times during the change process. Successful change leaders know how to think and act like train conductors, orchestra conductors, and energy conductors.

 

 

The Problem With Our Problem Solving

blackboard business chalkboard concept
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.

 

Rock and Role Rock Star Leadership

Rockstar blog

Great bands – and great teams- are composed of talented individuals collaborating to make something new and exciting together. As part of our new leadership curriculum at Abra we have designed a Rock and Role Rock Star Leadership module to help our leaders rock productivity and retention in their centers. We believe that good leaders want to rock results by focusing on key priorities, that teams with clear roles drive productivity, and that real rock stars build all star teams.

I wanna rock. Employees want to jam with the best, earn the applause, and collaborate on creating hits for the business. But before we are ready to perform we need to know our playlist. Rock star leaders help their team focus on priorities by identifying the big rocks and eliminating the gravel. Big rocks are the things that are important, but likely not urgent. They are the long term, strategic projects that will have a direct impact to the business. They are the things we know we should do, what we want to find time to do, but often don’t prioritize because we are drowning in gravel. Gravel is the thousands of small tasks like emails, meetings, or conference calls that can fill your calendar, but don’t fill your bucket and definitely don’t fill the stadium with fans. Rock star leaders help teams separate what is important from what is urgent, and work with the team to create clear priorities and areas of focus. They recognize that to do that we need to clear the gravel. Rock stars give the team permission to start new riffs, and to stop old habits. They remind us just because we always used to do X doesn’t mean we should still be doing X. They ask what we can automate and eliminate so that their team can rock.

Role With it Baby. Once you have the big rocks identified, a rock star leader now looks at where the work should get done. Some leaders think their job is to own every big rock themselves. But organizations don’t need one man bands, they need well- tuned teams. Teams can rock and roll when they have clear roles, use their strengths, and have on-the-job development opportunities. One role of the leader is to sort that gravel to determine if there are some diamonds in the rough that should be done, but should be done differently or at a different level or by a different team. In my earlier blog,  Improve Through Improv,  I talked about the magic teams make when they leverage team members’ individual strengths to collectively create the best outcomes. Teams have a lot of different roles, and a rock star leader looks at how to train the drummer on keyboards, and encourages the bassist to try a solo. This approach provides cross training and succession planning. It also brings new eyes to each role and empowers each person to roll with new and innovative approaches.

Baby I’m a Star. Plenty of bands have split because the lead singer demanded artistic control and tried to keep the spotlight on him/herself. A rock star leader doesn’t want credit – they want collaboration. They also know that to create that collaborative environment they have to focus on both short and long term results. They know that today’s hits won’t stay on the charts. They invest time finding and growing their future stars. They push their rising stars to test and try new ideas. They build all-star teams that deliver bold solutions. Rock star leaders give credit where its due, cover when it’s needed, and trust freely.

Leadership isn’t an easy job, but it should be a fun one – and one that we should make more fun, more rebellious, and more edgy. Kind of like a rock star. Wild make up and leather jackets optional. What’s required to be a Rock and Role Rock Star Leader is to  rock results by focusing on key priorities, that teams with clear roles drive results, and that real rock stars build all star teams.

 

 

Connect the Dots

Connect the dots

For many of us it’s budget season. Time to look at what we want for 2018, realizing what we’ll likely get, and figuring out what we can eliminate and prioritize. Too often in this exercise we cut and copy our current projects, just changing the year and tweaking our plans. This year I encourage you to think about how you can not cut, not copy, but connect the dots in your strategy. Commit to a new kind of new year by creating alignment, setting your focus, and pivoting your team.

Creating alignment. Instead of making functional budget or talent decisions, step back and look at your company’s strategy. What are the big opportunities in your line of business? What is your competition doing? What’s out there that no one is doing? What are your leaders always talking about? Ask them what keeps them up at night. Bring the slides from the last business review and talk to them about the real story you should be telling. Help them by recreating simpler slides that connect the dots for all levels of the organization. Looking in is a great place to start- then don’t forget to look out.  Double the business and industry sites/blogs you follow. Meet with some former leaders who moved into new roles.  Block time on your calendar every day (at least every week!) to stay current on your markets and customers. Knowledge IS power so use your power to create alignment across the organization. Help tell the story. Connect priorities across the business.  Ensure everyone is marching in the same direction.

Setting your focus. I once worked for a leader who set 64 annual priorities for us. That is more than one a week! When I raised my concern I was told we didn’t have a choice- this was the work that needed to be done. It may be what needs to gets done, but it won’t be able to be done.  Without guidance we leave it up to chance which of those 64 items get done. One of my favorite phrases is, what’s the order of events? If one of our goals is to expand our military hiring strategy, the first order of events may be to roll out interview training. Or maybe given other business priorities, they both need to wait until 2019. Take a step back and look at how you can sequence your goals. Less is more – and a more likely path to success.

Pivoting your team. To do things differently we must do things differently.  A powerful pivot can be the question, “How will we do things differently in 2018?” Test it first in HR. What will you and your team need to stop and start doing to achieve your top business opportunity? What skills will you need to add to or develop in your team to win in this space? What is the change agility of your team? How customer centric is your team? What do internal and external customers say about you? Questions like these can help unlock new discussions and generate momentum for a pivot. It can change what roles and skills you hire for. It can drive you to move work around – or off your team. It can break down silos and create a new mindset of shared outcomes. Starting with why creates buy-in and focus – and keeps us focused on the big dots.

HR is uniquely positioned to help the organization connect the dots. We understand both the business strategy and the people strategy for the organization.  In 2018, I encourage you to use the end of the year to look at what you want to achieve this year. Don’t cut and copy your current projects – be bold, be focused, and help your organization connect the dots by creating alignment, setting your focus, and pivoting your team.

 

 

 

https://hrtrendinstitute.com/2016/11/23/hr_trends_2017/

 

 

Math (vs Change) Management

 

Overwhelmed

I recently got to hear Nick Tasler  speak at an author’s breakfast. Nick is the author of great books like Ricochet and Domino about change management. My takeaway from his talk was that the real change we need is math management. There are a finite number of hours in the day. Within those hours humans require sleep and food to live. We need social interaction to be alive. These are realities. In my last blog post, I talked about embracing constraints instead of fighting or denying them. So let’s focus on the math management instead of change management. How can we divide our time, multiply our impact, and add uncertainty to support organizational change?

Divide (not dilute) your time. This is a key distinction. Many of us have diluted our attention across many different priorities, working on many things but making progress on few. So let’s take a new approach to this math problem. In Tasler’s book Domino he asserts that a key to change is identifying your top three priorities. Next you need to review your projects and divide them into two lists: a 90 day sprint – items that accelerate your top three priorities — and those that will have to wait. By time boxing your projects and focusing on what is tightly aligned to your priorities, you and your team will be able to focus and make meaningful progress on your most important initiatives. You will allow your team to give these priorities their undivided attention, and the dividend is that they can invest their discretionary effort into the change effort.

Multiplying (by magnifying) your impact. Southwest Airlines was the pioneer of the low cost airline business model. Today, 47 years later, they are the largest low cost domestic airline and have the second largest market share by revenue passenger miles. How did this upstart airline create and sustain such a change in the airline industry? Through their laser focus on their purpose: to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. Every decision they make as an organization is held up to this magnifying lens. When the marketing team was researching how Southwest could differentiate itself from the competition, one team suggested offering free meals on short, but popular flights. The executive team reviewed the proposal and decided it may be friendly, but it didn’t drive reliability or lower costs, so turned down the proposal. When a different group pitched allowing two free checked bags, the same decision process was used– friendly? Yes. Reliable? Sure. Low cost? Definitely. This differentiation hit on multiple elements of their core strategy and magnified their position as friendly AND low cost. What is your company’s purpose? How will your proposed change magnify your purpose and multiply your impact?

Adding (by addressing) uncertainty. The good news is you don’t actually have to add the uncertainty. You just have to honestly address it. Kurt Lewin created the three stage theory of change, commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze. The challenges today is that change is happening so fast we never get back to freeze and instead have to live in a state of slush. So when your team asks, “When will the change be over? Will there be more changes to come? How can we master this change before the next one comes?”, tell them never, yes, and unlikely. This may add uncertainty but it also adds honesty.  The next discussion you can have with them is, given that we live is a new state of slush, how do we navigate effectively? What should we let float by and what needs to crystallize? It is perfectly natural to seek solid footing in times of change, and it is highly unlikely to find it. Help your team navigate this tension by acknowledging and addressing it’s presence.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.” Unfortunately many organizations today have abandoned the idea of sharpening the saw, and instead reward a mass machete approach to change. Given that 70% of change initiatives fail, perhaps we need to take a step back and try a new approach. Don’t ask your team to power through a change. Instead empower them to create realistic plans that divide their time, multiply their impact, and add uncertainty so they can support your organization’s change priorities.

 

Embrace Constraints

think-outside-the-box

Our lives are full of constraints of all shapes and sizes. From taking conference calls while dropping off kids, to making dinner with what’s in the fridge, to juggling multiple work projects, we are all constantly balancing our limited time, resources, and scope. We often talk about these three interconnected constraints in project management — changing one impacts the other two. But what if instead of talking about these factors as constraints we think about them as accelerators? In his post How Constraints Fuel Innovation Instead of Restricting It, Vishal Kataria tells the story of how Toyota broke into the luxury car market. Their chief engineer challenged the team to build a car with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, an efficiency of 22.5 miles per gallon, a cabin noise level of 58 decibels at 60 mph, an aerodynamic drag of 0.29 or less, weighing less than 3800 pounds. None of their competitors had cracked one, let alone all five, of these goals. At first this seemed to be an impossible goal. But when the team designed to meet all these collective (and sometimes conflicting) constraints, they created the Lexus LS400, which outrated the BMW 735i and Mercedes 420SEL in every category rated by Car and Driver Magazine. And for $30,000 less.  Constraints can help you accelerate your productivity if you think outside the time, resources, and scope “box.”

Time: Think of less as more. Deadlines are stressful. And companies are infamous for short changing time to meet an executive’s schedule or demand. So embrace it.  According to a recent article cited in the New York Times, the average employee admits to spending 2 hours a day on non-work related tasks. So whatever timeline you thought you had, you really had 25% less anyway.  Help focus your team with more frequent, shorter meetings. You will have a different level of energy if you hold four 30-minute meetings rather than one two-hour meeting. Tell the team when the meeting ends, that phase of the process is done. Tell them in the first 30 minutes we need to complete X so that next time we can start with Y. Creating focus and urgency can up productivity– remember cramming for your college exams? Test it out and see what new results you see.

Resources: Look for the double down. There are never enough people or money for any given project. I am currently a department of one designing the learning and talent strategy for a production driven company. I am short on time and money and so are our leaders and team members. We have limited processes or practices to build off of. Isn’t that great? Now I get to focus on bite-sized learning, as I discussed in my Refresh Your Talent Menu blog, and to ensure that each piece we decide is intentionally interconnected. I am currently partnering with one of my peers to repackage some of our customer service training as coaching training. After all, asking questions, listening, and staying calm under pressure are key skills for working with customers and employees. And by using the same concepts in both scenarios we hope to ingrain them in our leaders.

Scope: Look through a new lens. Who decides what is in scope or out of scope for a project? Very rarely is it the end user. Lets say, for example, that your company is working on an acquisition. Your hands are more than full working on onboarding and talent assessment for the new employees. You don’t have the time or resources to address what is happening in payroll. You are in HR. But ask the average employee what HR does and they are likely things like payroll and benefits – because those are transactions that impact them in a tangible way, on a regular basis, and they don’t care what function that department sits in. So before deciding what is in scope, take a step back and think about what your employees are looking for. Design your project plans around that.

Think about Apollo 13. The constraints faced by that team were unimaginable – NASA had precious few hours to figure out how to return a severely damaged aircraft to earth using only the supplies the astronauts had on board. But everyone came together and came up with an ingenious, lifesaving solution. So how can you accelerate your productivity by embracing your constraints? Take a fresh look at the time, resources, and scope elements of your current project.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Constraints drive innovation. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”

Your Best Work Can Be Done From Anywhere

Work from home

My dad was a 20+ year IBMer. He was an employee of the blue suit era – where people whispered if you wore striped ties. Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner worked hard to teach the IBM elephant how to dance, transforming the company from a computer manufacturer to a solutions provider. This transformation was not easy nor was it without casualties, including IBM’s culture of “employment for life” and pensions – painful changes for my dad’s generation. Gerstner recognized that IBM had to change it’s fundamental economic model and re-engineer how they did business or go out of business. IBM successfully branded and built their solutions business, and is pioneering exciting AI work with its Watson system. On IBM’s homepage they promote the power of Watson:

With Watson, you have the AI platform for business. Uncover insights, engage in new ways, make decisions with more confidence and do your best work with Watson, today.

IBM choose not to put its latest business disruption on their website: the decision to end remote working. On May 19th IBM announced, “In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working.” The problem IBM has identified is the need to drive greater innovation, improve communicate and make faster decisions. Their solution is to require all of their almost 400,000 employees to work on location. I strongly disagree with this decision, and think it is counter intelligent. Instead I would advise IBM and all companies to follow Watson’s recommendations: uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work wherever they work.

Uncover innovation insights. IDEO is an award winning product innovation company. Their success comes using empathy to uncover insights. By observing user behavior and putting yourself in the end-user’s shoes, you collect invaluable insights. Remote teams can help companies know and go to your customer across a large footprint. Leverage vs. eliminate remote teams to foster better customer collaboration. Innovation comes from shifting from “we can’t” to “we can if…”. It thrives when we welcome diverse perspectives and collaborate under constraint. Remote teams live in this petri dish and can help companies create best practices for innovation.

Engage in new ways of communication. The article News Flash From IBM. There IS a Downside to a Remote Workforce points out that it is more challenging to communicate on remote teams. It is hard to have impromptu conversations or to drop in on peers when you work remotely. But does harder mean impossible?  Global employees communicate across a complex network of remote customers, suppliers, and contractors everyday. Instead of opting out of this challenge, companies can and should apply the same principles for working with global teams and use them with remote workers. Create clear strategies. Connect the team’s work to those strategies. Check in frequently and personally with individual team members. Create space for unstructured, impromptu discussions in your calls and meetings. Invest in building good leadership and communication skills vs. dismantling remote work structures.

Make decisions with more confidence. Watson’s power is its ability to analyze multiple sources of information and derive insights and recommendations. On its website, IBM states, “Watson can understand all forms of data, interact naturally with people, and learn and reason, at scale.” The good news is teams, remote or co-located, don’t need a supercomputer to improve their decision making skills. We can understand data by staying objective and focusing on facts. We can interact with others to understand connections, implications, and lessons learned. We can learn and reason by using industry trends and experts in our field, then applying our knowledge of our company and customer to form a hypothesis. Good leaders know success doesn’t come from obsessing about the right decision but rather from making timely, confident decisions.

Watson is an incredible breakthrough for IBM and has thousands of exciting applications, including cancer research, aviation, and energy.  The Toronto Raptors are partnering with Watson to analyze the play of their roster, determine what skills are missing, and recommend the best players that suit its needs. Watson will include both basketball skills and team camaraderie skills in its analysis. I’d encourage IBM and all companies to apply this same logic to its workforce. Given it’s current employee roster and skill set, is it more advantageous to focus on clear goals, expectations, and engagement for remote teams or to let them quit and work for a competitor? IBM- and all employers- have the ability to uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work. Let’s make the intelligent decision.

 

Walk A Mile in My Gemba

Gemba-Kaizen-Quotes-Morpheus

Lean principles are no longer a new idea in the workplace. As many workplaces try to “do more with less”, identifying and eliminating waste not only makes sense, it is essential. A key element of the lean methodology is to “walk to the gemba.” The original Japanese term comes from gembutsu, which means “real thing.” It also sometimes refers to the “real place.” This concept stresses making a personal observation of work at the place where the work is happening.  Walking the gemba is a learning activity. We can learn how to do address delivery and quality challenges, how to deal with internal quality problems, how to sustain inventory, and how to make a better use of capital. We can also learn from our teams by asking the people closest to the work what they see as waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. I recently read the article Your Gemba Isn’t the Only Gemba to Walk by Aaron Hunt in the Lean Post. He highlights the value in seeing how others (your customers, your competitors) are working on challenges, and encourages us to walk their gembas for ideas. This got me thinking – what if we applied that to our own organizations?  The article The Future of HR: Run like Tech. Talk like Ops. Think Like Sales. Lead the Change by Jeff Palen offers some great recommendations on ensuring HR runs like a business. I think we can take this one step further by going to the gemba together to help each of these functions learn from each other. If we do, we can connect technology and talent, measure what matters, and be more customer-centric, and by doing so we will drive business value.

Connect technology and talent. Gone are the days of massive annual IT updates, where people were given big binders of instructions and had their systems down for hours while the new release was launched. Instead, technology has moved to micro releases sending regular, small updates in real time. HR could ask IT how to redesign the talent review as a micro release process instead of today’s annual, big binder process. By observing the process steps and the waste removed, HR may gain some insights on how to redesign their own talent process. In exchange, IT could ask HR how to engage stakeholders before a release is launched. An incremental release of a Workday program may launch but won’t stick unless managers understand why the change was made, believe this change is for the greater good, and understand how to execute the change.

Measure what matters. Operations teams are often experts in ROI metrics. Common customer experience metrics used by operations teams include on-time delivery, cycle time, and time to make changeovers. Walking through an operations gemba you may see the line stop and manufacturing employees giving feedback on an inefficiency that slows down delivery and/or cycle time. HR could ask Operations if performance reviews are efficient and if they measure what matters. Are managers delivering feedback in a timely manner? Is the cycle between feedback discussions optimal? Have managers changed over to the feedback approach you launched? In exchange, Operations could ask HR what internal customers are measuring. Is Quality measuring supply chain stability but Operations is switching to low cost suppliers? What are HR incentive plans designed to drive? Is that in synch with what operations is measuring? Making these connections is key to making ROI metrics real.

Be customer-centric. Sales people know that knowing your products is important but knowing your customer is essential. Key elements of the sales process are prospecting, conducting a needs assessment, and presenting benefits to the customer. HR could ask Sales how to better engage their customers.  For example, you may have identified major market segments (employees, managers, executives) but have you fully profiled each of these in order to adjust marketing tactics appropriately? Is your engagement strategy designed to solve your prospect’s problem? The only way to do that is by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions will not only help you determine potential solutions, but also builds confidence, trust, and may help prospects consider ideas they may never have thought of.  In exchange, Sales can ask HR how to better engage their employees. Gemba walks are a great way to do this, and anywhere a sales employee works is a place for a gemba walk. That could be in a home office, a car, or an onsite customer meeting. A gemba meetings looks at flow: what is the process, who are the people, and where is the friction. By asking the employee questions and offering him/her coaching, the sales leader can drive both results and engagement.

Most functions believe they know what their peer functions do. But as the quote says, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. By walking the gemba together we can get to the “real thing” we need to address to improve our performance. We can also learn from those closest to the work how we are generating waste and what recommendations they have for improvement. How could you walk the gemba with your peers at work?