1, 2, 3, BREAK! Go team!

Blog 2-21-13

I think setting the tone on a daily basis is as important to consider as first impressions are lasting and important. How you start the day with people, what people’s first impressions of you are on any given day, particularly if you’re in management, has a profound impact on the day’s productivity.  You have to be able to mask some of the things that are going on outside or in your personal life. When you get into the office it can’t be a situation where you’re first reaction to somebody is a negative reaction or somebody bears the brunt of something that’s a personal issue that you’ve brought into the work place. I think that a lot of the productivity that occurs during any given day with the people that you have is based on how they get that day started.

I know that we start off every day as a company with a morning scrum and there’s a lot of value to it as a manager in terms of understanding what people are doing and being able to allocate resources.  It’s also a great approach for us to better understand how we’re resourcing things to facilitate problem solving in a light way and ensures we are managing things appropriately.  Added bonus is it’s only 15 minutes so there’s not an enormous overhead that’s required.  The other thing that I think it does is it enables us to, as management, capture some of the first interactions that the people have in the day and ensure that it’s positive.  Not to say that we always succeed in that, but that’s one of the goals is to come in and get people started in the right direction.  So it’s a chance to not just make sure somebody’s working the right task, but to maybe provide some positive feedback. Even doing something as simple as a smile when you first come in helps to frame people’s days in a positive way is important.  So that scrum provides us with an opportunity to as a company and management, get things off on the right foot. So I’m curious what other people think about that. Is it something that’s important enough for you to focus on, ensuring that people get off on the right foot with everyone on a day to day basis? Is it something that other people are paying attention to or believe in the validity of?  I’d be really curious to know what other people think about the importance of starting off the day in a positive way with other employees and team members.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Buy outcomes, not output

Outcomes vs output

There a couple of things you need to think about before you buy consulting services, management consulting, or any of the types of services where you’re looking for a unique perspective or insight, the benefit of experience,  and a fresh view on things.  Anytime you’re looking for something that’s going to end in real change for your organization, it’s important to make sure the original purpose doesn’t get lost in the current economic climate’s push to make sure that you’re making the most of your dollars and spending appropriately.  I know that a lot of organizations are much more cost conscious than they have ever been previously but I think that focusing on value, especially when you’re looking at management consulting type engagements where small changes have huge consequences, is vital.  You need to be really careful about how you judge value there.  More people at a lower rate does not necessarily mean better value.  I’ve had some interesting conversations with people over the years as they look to maximize individual rates on personnel, or in this case minimize.  They try to maximize their perception of value so they focus on driving down individual rates or sometimes total cost, but a lot of times it means using people with lower individual rates, and in turn that sometimes means quality.  It’s just part of the problem with contracting things on a time and material basis.

I would really like to see a shift away from that. I know that it’s an easy way to measure what you’re getting sort of situation, but I think what it tends to make vendors do is beef up the amount of paper that they deliver; and to deliver more paper they put more junior people on tasking because those are the paper creators.   They slim down the time that senior staff spend on the engagement and you end with maybe one person who’s been there and done it before.  Then you end up with five or six people other people that are no doubt smart and have been to the right schools and know lots of things but probably aren’t maybe necessary to get the job done in the first place. They’re extra; they’re part of the extra value that the client is getting but in reality they are not necessarily solving the problem that you went in there to fix.  I think it’s why so many organizations, when you initially start talking to them, they point to the failures of the past and the failures of the past are monstrous SharePoint sites that are full of documents.  You know they’ve got an entire library of things that have been created on their behalf but they haven’t really moved the ball forward.  You know why that is?  I think it’s because they focused on the output not the outcome.

So I think that as you go into to acquire something, be careful about what you’re really trying to get on the other side.  Now I’m not sure what the exact answer is but I know that at MB&A we try to position things in terms of here’s the value of that you’re going to get and less in terms of here’s how many hours you’re going to get of somebody’s time and what it’s going to cost you per hour because I just don’t find it to be very valuable.  I know that by using a times and materials basis it’s easier to explain as a vendor talking to a client, but I don’t think it gets the client anything and it tends to encourage the wrong kind of behavior which is: lower rates, more hours, neither or which has to do with more outcomes.  So I’d be interested to hear how others have solved this problem for their organization or times when they’ve run into this problem.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Battle Royale: Talent vs. Determination

Battle Royale

I think everyone has heard the saying, “Hard work will always beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  In my experience, this statement holds true.  I know that personally, I’ve always felt confident that I could outwork the other side through sheer force of determination and will alone. Whether it is athletics, academics, or work, there is almost always a way to get through a problem.  As I look back at the times when I was hiring somebody, especially when I first started looking at different people, I was hiring a lot of people based on talent and potential alone which hasn’t always worked out as well as it seemingly should have.  I recently addressed this conundrum in a blog post after I read a great interview in the New York Times with Kon Leong. He mentions that one of the things he most tries to identify in the interview process is not only smarts, but drive too.  He wanted people that were going to work hard because with those two things you could solve almost everything else.   It really changed the way I think about things.  Have you spent a lot of time being frustrated with people who you just know better than their performance shows? You know how talented they are, how smart they are, but you just aren’t seeing the results you expect from them.  I’ve sat there and wondered why this is.  Maybe they just don’t have the tools you thought they did, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the tools are there and maybe it’s just a lack of drive. Maybe it’s my failure to motivate or find the right way to get through to them but either way, as a manager you should position yourself to recruit for drive as well as intelligence in hopes of alleviating this problem.

I know that this may seem obvious but I think the part that we often miss is asking the questions that let you evaluate their drive.  That’s something that I’ve changed a lot and is going to be a much bigger focus in terms of trying to determine how to elicit those responses that give insight into whether people are truly driven.  I don’t know if everyone has a general drive to succeed.  Ideally, you want to find people that are passionate about solving problems and the things that you do at a minimum.  So it’s important to figure out what the right questions are and how do you make that determination early.  It’s never going to be a perfect evaluation. You have to recognize that you’re going to end up with some folks in your organization that are really smart and really talented but no matter what, you’re just not going to be able to get them to perform the way that you feel they should.  At some point you’re going to have to move those people out because if you’ve got a collection of people that have that drive and that ambition and you have a couple folks that aren’t on the program, you will not reach your potential as an organization.

This is just like being on a team when you’re a kid and your coach would say things like, “Everyone is a team here and we need to pull together,” or “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” and I think these clichés among others are just as applicable in your work life as they were in athletics as a kid.  If you have somebody that doesn’t have the desire or the drive to push, they’re not there for the same reasons, or they’re detracting from everybody else’s efforts then you need to really question how long you want to wait for that drive or ambition to appear; and how many times are you going to attempt to motivate them before you make a decision that you are going have to part ways. If someone isn’t living up to the set standard and you can’t get them there fairly quickly, I think you need to make a decision about their future in your organization.  You can be as kind as you possibly can be about it but after I’ve tried a few things such as having a discussion with them about level of effort and it’s still not working out, it’s time to let go or otherwise you’re jeopardizing your whole team.

I’ve also come to the belief over time that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skill or soft skill, or interacting with the client than it is to teach drive.  So if you get somebody and you start to wonder if the effort just isn’t there or maybe something is distracting and it persists over a long period of time, you are never going to get that person out of that behavior.  At least that’s my general belief with the rare case that is the exception to the rule, but that type of behavior casts a pall over the rest of your organization and is just not worth whatever talent that one person may have.  I’d be very curious to hear what other people’s experiences are.  Have you had a happy ending to a story where you had somebody with a lot of talent but you just couldn’t get them to work and you found a way to motivate them?  I certainly don’t want to discount a manger’s ability to motivate or find the right way to get somebody to do things but I sometimes think there is too much emphasis on mangers and leadership getting people to excel.  Sometimes you just need to understand that you will not be able to motivate that person and you have to just cut them loose, but I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this issue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

how to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

Small steps can be just as important as the big ones

Business process re-engineering doesn’t have to be a boil the ocean approach to transforming your business. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this but I believe that the most missed opportunities to improve are the little ones we have in front of us everyday. I’m not advocating against “Thinking Big,” I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so focused on enterprise transformation that you miss the 1% improvements that add up over time. I believe that many managers miss out on maximizing their value proposition to the organization because they aren’t able to execute on small change initiatives in a meaningful way. These smaller 30, 60 or 90 day initiatives include re-engineering internal workflows, automating internal processes, and course corrections to major programs. The dollars are generally small and the rewards for any one won’t get you an award at the annual holiday party, but over time these are the types of improvements that move the needle for an organization as a whole. Here are 5 things to think about before you decide to move out on that small change effort you’ve been thinking about.

  1. Take the big picture or system view: I know this post is all about little improvements—just remember the big picture and try not to work against it. Thinking big picture helps you ensure you don’t miss the really important thing that happens just before the process you are focusing on.
  2. Think about the data: In most organizations, everything else changes faster than the data. People, technology, and processes—they all change fairly quickly. Understanding information requirements around a process improvement opportunity often gives you a chance to think about it without the confusion of technology and other factors. In the end, many of the improvement opportunities you will find in any organization center on more effectively moving, manipulating, or otherwise acting on information that has been used for years to support the business.
  3. Remember the human factor: Ever sat in a place and wondered how it was possible that nobody had fixed problem “x” yet? You’ve been on site for five minutes and you can tell right away what’s wrong. Most of the time there is a reason that obvious improvement opportunities go unexploited. Many times it’s a people issue. Many times an unwillingness to change comes from a fear or uncertainty about the effect of change. People are often the biggest obstacle to change and you often need to be prepared to sell people on why they should change, even when the existing process seems so obviously broken to you.
  4. Beware scope creep: Little improvements have a way of morphing into massive programs over the course of a cup of coffee. The temptation to keep pulling on the thread of an improvement opportunity until you have completely re-organized the company is hard to resist.
  5. Remember you still need to manage change: Little improvements can go a long way, but one of the downsides to smaller improvement efforts is the costs of change management isn’t anticipated and the effort falls short because there is no money to update the SOP, provide training, etc. The bells and whistles that get included with major transformation efforts often get left out. Informal or small programs still need planning to ensure that there is documentation, training, etc. Without these, the value of these small changes is severely limited.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Is that tile crooked? How to decide when its time to hire a pro

how to decide when its time to hire a pro

Part of being a leader is knowing when to ask for help

I wish everything could be solved in house. There is something satisfying about getting the job done inside the team. If you can pull it off, it’s cheaper too. At work here at MB&A, we have over time pulled creative design work and some other things we originally outsourced, simply because we needed to have the skill in house. At home, I’ve gone the other direction with a few things including hanging up my tool belt for projects I just can’t do as well as the pros. Knowing when you have moved into an area where you need outside help to succeed is a skill that both individuals and organizations should learn if they want to be successful. I’ve come up with five questions I ask myself about projects I undertake at work or at home to help ensure I get the outside help I need, when I need it.

  1. Have I done this before? This is probably the toughest one because it’s not so much about asking the question. Most of us are aware that we are trying something new. The skill is in ensuring that when you are about to attempt something new, that you take the time to ask yourself the rest of these questions. Just jumping in can have disastrous consequences. I learned to ask the rest of these questions because I lived the results of not asking. Take the time to think things through.
  2. How good does it have to be? What are the consequences of failure? I think the easiest example here is legal. I’ve had some fairly dire consequences from playing amateur lawyer and not understanding how to protect my interests. If its important enough that you think you might need a lawyer, you probably do. I’ve also destroyed a MacBook Pro trying to swap out a hard drive. The point is that not getting outside help can cost money too. I’ve probably saved more money by being honest about how hard something is to do and how bad the consequences are than from any other single thing.
  3. Are there people who do this for a living? Most people have done some home improvement in their lives. I’ve painted and tiled a lot of places in my time. I don’t do it anymore. Not because I can’t. I now have a few of the skills and all of the tools (Home Depot is my friend). I don’t do it because as a weekend warrior home improvement guy, I’ve never been able to get it as good as the pros. This was fine before I knew just how good and fast they are at doing it. I’m still proud of some of the work I’ve done, but I know it simply isn’t as good as someone who does it for a living.
  4. Is this something I will do again? How often? If its something I’m going to have to do regularly it may be worth learning how to do. If it’s something I only do a few times a year or every few years, it may be worth leaving to the experts. My Dad used to always say about plumbing that it is pretty simple—basically water runs downhill, but you usually had just about forgotten everything else you knew about it by the next time you needed to know it.
  5. Can I learn this? Do I have time? Even simple things take time to learn. I’m sure I could over time develop into a pretty good painter or tile guy. Unfortunately, at the rate of one bathroom every five years I’m not likely to get the time invested that I need to get to a high level of skill. See my post “5 keys to mastering anything,” for more on why repetition plays a role. For the purpose of this post I would say that anything you don’t do pretty regularly is a candidate for outsourcing. There is only so much you can be good at.

How do you make the decisions to do it yourself or hire outside help?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The Icarus Deception: The Good Fail

Icarus

Dare to fly high and give yourself the opportunity to soar

 Seth Godin’s new book “The Icarus Deception” will be available December 31st of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to receive an advance copy from a friend and have since been sucked in to what I believe is an exceptionally valuable addition to my library. The book isn’t comprised of long sections but is rather a series of short pieces grouped together, which should feel familiar to those who have read Seth’s blog. The book as a whole is great but in my read I hit on one particular piece that I felt had to be passed along because of its relevance to performance. On page 203, Seth has a piece called “The Good Fail: How does the Organization Get Boring” In it he puts forward a law credited to David Puttnam which states, “It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. And its corollary: The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is a lot less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. In short, you can screw up with impunity so long as you screw up like everyone else.” I absolutely love this piece and this quote because it dovetails so closely with my own thoughts about how organizations descend into mediocrity or worse.

The pressure of the herd to press onward despite mediocre or poor results on the basis of it being the generally accepted path or best practice is probably one of the single most frustrating things I am confronted with on client sites. There is often an unwillingness to plow new ground despite ample evidence that the current path is not going to provide great rewards. I have often said that one of the biggest failings in most bureaucracies is that the reward for failure so outweighs the punishment for failure, that ground breaking approaches are almost never carried forward. It’s also why so many innovative ideas get their start in a garage rather than in the billion dollar R&D budgets of big business.

I know that in the new year one of the things I plan on pushing forward with is a plan to better enable my folks to take the road less traveled and encourage experimentation, and by definition almost become more accepting of failure. We want to continue down the innovative path that we try to encourage within our workplace and I believe that we already do a pretty good job of encouraging people to think outside the box. I’d love to hear your thoughts/examples, etc of programs, projects, or people who have successfully encouraged original thinking in your workplace. How did they inspire original thinking and deal with failure?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

‘Tis the Season to Thank Your Partners

partnersPrudent partnerships add significant value to your team and clients

 Last night was our annual holiday party and for the first time we expanded our party beyond our team. We didn’t bring in clients, but we brought in our close partners. Looking back now, I think this was long overdue because so much of our success has been directly attributable to our partners. Sure we have great people and I know that on our own we bring great value to our clients, but by having a rich partner ecosystem we are able to bring our clients unique value.   We are staffed to handle the majority of our clients needs and our staff reflects specific capabilities and expertise that drive results for those clients. For the rest of their needs we could either stretch our existing staff and hope we do a good enough job, tell the client to find someone else to handle this need, or like we have, find and partner with companies that make it their job to handle those specific niche areas. I know what I would prefer as a client and I know that my clients over the years have been extraordinarily happy with the results they’ve gotten from this type of arrangement. For us having close partners we can depend on, know, and trust, means seamless execution for the client and the ability to take on and execute on more comprehensive projects without having to move outside of our area of expertise. For our partners, this means having someone that they can count on to bring them in at the appropriate time to perform well and execute and finally, for the client they get a turn key solution that brings the highest level of expertise and execution to every aspect of their project.

 This is worthy of a post because I think that by leveraging a partner network to deliver for clients, you are essentially extending modular solution design back into sourcing and staffing. This isn’t anything new. In fact, if you look at supply chains for retailers and other global commerce, this concept is how we are able to deliver products that are designed, sourced, marketed, built, and delivered globally at what is an incredibly low cost if you look at the complexity of the delivery system. Individual components of this global supply chain have developed capability and executed in order to win their place in delivering end value that becomes the bikes and boxes under Christmas trees around this time of year. By delivering our management consulting and technology offerings in this manner we are simply leveraging that same concept of taking the best available partners in the market and developing unique value for the end client. I’m sure there are many cases where this means that we are leaving money on the table or not maximizing on the near term value we could gain for the client, but this approach ensures that we form and retain lasting relationships with our clients because they know that we are consistently finding the best possible solution for them.

In conclusion, I think the major take away from this should be to ensure that you are looking beyond the edges of your organization for value and opportunities to improve. So much of what organizations produce now is dependent on the value that others create, that it simply isn’t enough to find improvement opportunities within your own organization. If 70% of the value stream for your stakeholders is dependent on stakeholders that are external to your organization, you will never get maximum performance by simply focusing inward. We have always recognized that our partners bring value; but by bringing them in and thanking them at our Christmas party this year I think we took another step forward in driving client value.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.