Wednesday 30 November 2011

Inspirational Leadership

The ability to really change organisations lays with the senior team. We've all heard of the need for a "burning platform" as an ignition for change - put who at the top will "admit to failure" if a burning platform exists. 

We're immediately into a conundrum, which locks most management teams into continuing with what they've always done - after all, it got them into their succesful senior management positions in the first place.

It takes a great leader with real courage to see this, work on the failures, learn from mistakes, to implement fundamental change, and reach for new levels of success. These leaders are few and far between.

The question we should ask is how can we create more inspirational leaders?

Read more on LinkedIn

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The difference between investing in people and training

Toyota may well train their employees, but the real investment is allowing these employees to engage their brains at work - giving them time and space to make continuous improvements. And yes, they may well need a little help in learning how to do this.

The "investment" here is time away from immediate productive work - which in the short term results in cost. But time taken today, saves time for the future, and the return on investment is achieved.

This requires a long term view. When the pressure is on, especially in an economic downturn, we look for the simple ways to cut costs - training budgets, biscuits in the meeting rooms, and a general reduction in investment. In a flash, we begin to move in the wrong direction through the Deming cycle - quality drops, costs increase, competitiveness decreases.

In difficult times, we must re-double our efforts in improving quality, not cut it out - and it starts with making sure the whole team know where they're heading, fully focussed on purpose.

See the full story in LinkedIn.

Sunday 6 November 2011

No one will ever understand Lean Systems Thinking

There is always more to learn - and when it comes to understanding the work place from a Lean Systems Thinking perspective, new learning seems to change the learning of yesterday. May be because there are always new ways to improve, and each situation has it's own unique set of circumstances.

This is a good article from Bill Trudell on Relentless Excellence - click here.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Kotter's 8 Steps to Transformation

You've decided you need to change - there's a problem, and it's got to stop.

You now understand the true purpose of the organisation - so you know where you're aiming and why.

You've understood the end-to-end process - and realise it's broken.

You now have two decisions:
  • What method do you use to design the work? - the technical design.
  • What method do you use to change the people process? - the social design.

I often wonder if these two questions are ever fully considered at the beginning of a transformation programme.  Do people realise there are ways to ensure the socio-technical systems design is the right one for them?  Are there really ways to ensure that the work is designed in a way guaranteed for success - scientifically? Do we really consider how people in the system might behave and react to change?  Do we recognise the difference between the work design, and the people that work in the system?

What Kotter offers is an approach to consider when designing your change programme to ensure everyone understands the process, and is ready to act to ensure success.

To read more:

Sunday 16 October 2011

Pick a hat!

It's easy to get stuck in a rut, or "turn native" when faced with a problem, a way of working, or when a decision is needed.

And when working in groups, you may also sometimes wonder where others' viewpoints are and where their suggestions (which may not always appear helpful) are coming from.

Edward do Bono suggests taking a number of different view points when in this type of situation as a way to guide the thinking process.

  • White - just consider the facts
  • Red - whats your gut feel
  • Black - apply logic to the flaws and problems
  • Yellow - apply logic to the good things
  • Green - be creative, what else could happen
  • Blue - think about the thinking process.

Read more at Wikipedia - and there's plenty on the web - search for de Bono thinking hats

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Changing upward

A few weeks ago I attended a conference where one of the speakers (a charismatic and knowledgeable young man) spoke about the need to engage the workforce in the change process. All good, sensible stuff.

During the presentation one of the attendees asked "but what if we can't get the senior managers to agree to the change?". The speaker explained that the senior team needed to be, and be seen to be, the driving force of the change and briefly touched on Kotter's Eight Steps (recommending all attendees should read the book). A good answer at the time.

Since the conference I've thought about that question more and think there are two main points that should have been discussed at the time:

1) If the senior team aren't convinced of the need for business change then the case for change must be flawed. Senior sponsorship is vital for any sort of success. If the senior team can't see the benefits, how likely are they to be delivered?

2) If the middle managers can't convince the senior team of the need for change how on earth are they going to convince the workforce?

Kotter's seminal book on change can be found here.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Why do we assume that quality is expensive?

I was talking to a colleague recently, and began discussing some of the transformation work that I had undertaken to help improve customer service at a local authority. (See my blog entry here.)

Not for the first time, an assumption was very quickly made that an improvement to service, and a dramatic reduction in the time taken to complete the customers’ demand, would increase the cost of the service.

Anyone having read and followed some of Deming’s work, will have come across his Chain Reaction:

For a given task, operation, business or purpose, taking the effort to get it right first time every time, reduces cost because there are fewer mistakes, less re-work and less chasing.  As in my example in a recent posting, for half of all demand, we managed to design out the need for customers to call chasing us up on progress, and eliminating the wasteful hand-offs and re-work.

Who’d have thought – get it right first time, and it reduces total cost…

Monday 10 October 2011

Does it really take 6 weeks to get my claim sorted?!

So, you post your form off to the post office/tax office/council/insurance company/bank/cable company (* delete applicable). What happens next – from your perspective?

“They” are busy getting on with it – right?

Two weeks go by – so you give them a call?

You spend a while on the phone as they track down your details. Then they tell you they’re dealing with it – right?

A week later, you hear back – and they need more details from you. So, it’s another phone call, or you write a letter.

This happens a couple of times?

Then, after a many weeks – it’s finally completed – hooray!

Six weeks to get the job done. Sound familiar?

But has it really taken them six weeks to get you sorted. No - it hasn’t. Most everyday customer demand just doesn’t take that long to complete – so what is happening?

When you study the work, you find your query passing from one internal team to another, waiting in someone’s in-tray, reviewed by different experts, who then need to get hold of you, even though you’ve spoken to someone else in the organisation a couple of times already.

Frequently, 30 minutes of work ends up taking over a total of two hours, spread out over six weeks, and they’ve had to build a call-centre to handle all the failure demand calls coming in to chase progress, and spent £000’s on IT to “manage” the back-log.

Ask any member of staff in a system like that and they’ll know the problems, and most will know the solution too. With a change in thinking, great things can be achieved.

I’ve just completed working in one such system. It was already working quite well – with claims being processed in 13.5 days, and was about 50th out of 380 similar organisations.

Working with the whole team, we were able to:
  • line the processes up to maximise the benefits of a simple flow 
  • work on one application at a time 
  • see each one through to conclusion where possible. 

Within weeks:
  • the end-to-end time had more than halved to 6.5 days 
  • almost half of all new claims where dealt with there and then in 30 minutes 
  • customers were delighted 
  • staff satisfaction improved 
  • 4th best in the country 
Some say quality is more expensive – I disagree – its always better value. We’ve cut out the waste work in the process – which was proving to be very expensive.

Real change can happen with a willing and committed management team to have the vision, take the brave pill and see it through.

Interested: send me a mail -

Sunday 9 October 2011

Steve Jobs - a Systems Thinker

A great deal has been written about Steve Jobs in the last few days - and my favourite was written by Horace Dediu on the asymco site (see links below). If ever there was a Systems Thinker, he was the man - making great business his way, and not getting sucked into "this is the way we've always done it" - a lesson for all of us:

  • Steve Jobs did not create products. He created an organization that predictably and reliably created emotionally resonant products.
  • Steve Jobs did not make movies. He made a company that predictably and reliably made blockbusters.
  • Steve Jobs did not wrest market share from competitors. He created new markets that attracted and sustained competitors.
  • Steve Jobs did not design anything. He gave others the freedom to think about what jobs products are hired to do.
  • Steve Jobs did not re-engineer processes. He brought engineering processes to works of creativity and the creative process to engineering.
  • Steve Jobs did not develop new management theories. He showed by example that innovation can be managed.
  • Steve Jobs was not a visionary. He put the dots together and saw where they led.
  • Steve Jobs was not a futurist. He just built the future one piece at a time.
  • Steve Jobs did not distort reality. He spoke what he believed would become reality at a time when those beliefs seemed far fetched.
  • Steve Jobs was not charismatic. He spoke from the heart compelling others to follow him.
  • Steve Jobs was not a gifted orator. He spoke plainly.
  • Steve Jobs was not a magician. He practiced, a lot.

He had taste.
He was curious.
He was patient.
He was foolish.
He was hungry.

These things many others can do. Maybe you can.

Link to the original article here.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Why oh why oh why... oh why oh why

So why do these thing happen? In the office, in the factory, in the customer service centre?

If you really want to find out why we do things, ask why 5 times - who knows what you might find...

Check this funny little video : A Funny "Whys" Video from the Lean Blog

And a more in depth look at Wikipedia: 5 Whys

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Changing time at the zoo

My wife and I took our two year old boy to Twycross zoo today, and we had a great time. 

Though I suspect some parents may not have done, and it is all down to a bit of [missing] common sense.

Here's a photo of the changing facilities, could do with a bit of padding for the child to lie on, but not a disaster.

I cleansed the changing surface using the spray mounted on the right-hand wall then lay my son down - choice of head on the ceramic sink or feet on the sink. I chose the feet on the sink option.

After watching me use the spray to clean the surface his first reaction was to press the sprayer (a fairly understandable bit of curiosity for a two year old) which was directly above his head - fortunately I got there just in time to prevent him squirting the detergent. Otherwise he'd have had a couple of eyes filled with surface cleaner!

Now maybe I could have thought a bit more about additional hazards, but also by designing out the risk flustered parents may have one less thing to fret about? I imagine that around 50% of parents must initially put their child down that way?
I wonder if anyone tested the new facility with a doll or baby? A detergent above a child's eyes doesn't sound a great idea?!

Let's see if the feedback I left will get someone to move the sprayer!

Thursday 8 September 2011

5 warning signs to watch for in failing businesses

This is a fascinating article - aimed at Apple - but probably true for any large business.

What I found more interesting is not about what to look for to check your share valuation, but what goes through the minds of the senior management team that thinks these courses actions are going turn the tide, and return the business to growth and success.

As a short cut, the headline are here:

1. The size of the board of directors starts to grow.

2. The number of products expands dramatically.

3. Departures of senior executives.

4. Leaks to the press.

5. Acquisitions, especially big ones.

The main article is very much worth a read: click here to the original article.

Link to the author: Bob Sutton's Work Matters Blog

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Mistake Proofing - always looking for ways to improve

The devil is in the detail - and getting things right can help your business improve service and reduce costly errors.

This is a simple example of where small change can eliminate repeated frustrations.

But what happens when this thinking is applied to all aspects of your business: in purchasing, servicing, manufacturing, delivery, finance, HR - error proofing the process, maximising "Right first time", eliminating waste and failure...

Link to the original blog entry here

Steve Jobs and the Eureka Myth

It may appear that Steve Jobs is an inspired leader who succeeds by taking big risks on personal hunches, but there's more to it than that. His success, and that of Apple, is designed in to the way they think and develop products.

Their key to success, is to compete internally - ensuring the quality, desirably, and usability is first class, before it hits the streets - getting it right first time.

Written by: Adrian Slywotzky

Mend the roof while the sun shines

Most, if not all, well managed businesses have plans in place should disaster strike.  Though for many businesses the first time the plans are tested is when the dreaded day arrives and all too often the plans come apart at the seams when the disaster doesn’t go quite as planned.  Disasters can be awkward like that.

In December 2010 the UK experienced some pretty fierce (by UK standards) winter weather.  At a distribution centre their ‘snow clearing’ disaster management plan kicked in.  During sunnier times local farmers had agreed to clear the roadways within the distribution centre site. 

During the snow the farmers arrived as agreed and cleared the roadways.  There was one vital piece of information missing in the disaster plan – where should the cleared snow be put?  The farmers cleared the snow, management had been informed that the roads were clear and deliveries could commence the next day.

The next day senior management arrived on site to find more than half of the trailers blocked in by mountains of grey snow cleared from the roadways!  In the absence of any better or clearer advice the farmers did what they thought was required – they pushed the snow out of the way.

It took two more days for the snow to be cleared (with shovels) and deliveries to commence as planned! 

An answer to the simple question “where will we put the snow?” hadn’t been considered during the halcyon days of summer, and an appropriate escalation route (in case of any doubts) hadn’t been made clear – and why should it?  We’ve got a detailed plan!

Common sense can often be lacking in life, and when under pressure to recover it can be even more elusive!

The most effective time to define your disaster recovery plans are when the pressure is off.  But how will you test those plans, and how will you ensure that they deliver their benefits when the pressure is on?

Sunday 4 September 2011

Camila Batmanghelidjh - If you could edit your past, what would you change?

Camila Batmanghelidjh was born in Tehran in 1963. She was educated at Sherborne Girls' School and Warwick University and became a psychotherapist. In her early 20s, she started her first charity, The Place To Be, a counselling service for schoolchildren. In 1996, she founded Kids Company in six converted railway arches in London, and in 2006 her book, Shattered Lives: Children Living With Courage And Dignity, was published. She lives in London.

When asked: If you could edit your past, what would you change?

Her response was: I so underestimated the destructive powers of middle management.

So what has she experienced to reach this conclusion?  What's it like in your organisation?  And what can we do to help?

See her interview at The Guardian

From: The Guardian, Sat 2 Sept 2011

Friday 2 September 2011

Thoughtful design - problem gone

How often have you picked up a stapler in the office, clipped the corner, and sworn when you discover there are no staples. The problem always crops up - time after time.

What other 'Design' issues happen time and again in your work environment:

  • Monthly reports that don't really get to the heart of the problem? 
  • Errors that your customer highlights after every service delivery? 
  • Sitting in your manufacturing debrief meeting, and it's the same story? 

Well at last! Someone has designed a small window in the side of that stapler - giving you information about the contents over a period of time - leaving ample opportunity for a quick refill.

So how about redesigning those monthly reports, understanding the end-to-end customer service stream, or fixed that manufacturing issue?

Wednesday 31 August 2011

The Fear That's Holding Back Your Business

Too often, entrepreneurs or executives hesitate to reach out to others — even people who like them a lot.

Sometimes it's because they don't want to be intrusive: "She's so busy, I don't want to bother her." Other times, they'll self-deprecate ("she won't remember me") or shrink from perceived conflict ("he'll be angry I want something from him"). Or they may take the "high road" and profess a distaste for self-promotion, vowing that their reputation will speak for itself and quality will eventually triumph.

Unfortunately, those are all excuses: they're scared.

By: Dorie Clark

Link to full article

From: Harvard Business Review

Outsourcing your services - the questions you should ask

Housing managers need to think carefully about whether outsourcing will actually solve their problems - or whether it could exacerbate it.

Link to Guardian article

From: The Guardian

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Watching but not seeing

Each day managers throughout the world are provided with the same reports they’ve had for years (with all sorts of apparently business critical numbers on). After seeing the same report regularly, managers begin to take the data for granted, make assumptions about the figures and risk missing out on the real information.

Don’t believe me? Then try this…

Without looking at it, take your watch off and put it in your pocket, in a drawer, somewhere.

Now either draw or describe the watch face, clasp and strap in as much detail as you can.

Take as long as you like. (Bearing in mind that you see the watch dozens of time per day)

Now study the watch and see how much information you got right in your drawing/description.

How much information are you getting each day from the reports/systems you use? If the answer’s not much then it’s probably time for a refresh. Before you miss something important…

You might be looking, but what did you see?

We do the same things day after day - but do we take in the whole picture?

Take a look at this clip (you'll need the sound up too) - and remember to count the passes!

Link to YouTube video

Monday 29 August 2011

The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behaviour being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

Wikipedia - The Hawthorne Effect

From: Wikipedia

A refreshing beverage - made easy

Even buying your favorite coffee can be designed so that it is easy and quicker for the barister, and right first time for the customer.

New standardised Work at Starbucks


Make problems go away - design them out

Another simple solution - and the problem goes away.

Are there any like these in your workplace?

Quitting a Software Application: Safari vs. Chrome


Design the problem out

When a fast food restaurant faced with the problem of customers disposing of valuable and reusable trays, rather than putting signs up to admonish careless customers (and in the process trying to make the loss of trays their customers' problem) this famous restaurant chain simply designed-out the problem.

Don't fix the problem - design it out so it can't happen in the first place.

This is a lovely example - where could you apply it?

Simple Brilliant Error Proofing at the Amazing In-N-Out Burger