Many top executives find themselves in a tricky spot. Human beings and technology, two essential ingredients for a company to thrive, don’t naturally work well together. Here is one way to tackle the issue, using the case of Business Process ...

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  1. How to Get IT and HR to Cooperate on Change Initiatives
  2. Why a huge email inbox means low productivity, not high popularity
  3. How to Intervene When an Executive Starts Acting Like a Victim
  4. Don’t write off stupid employees – here’s how they can deliver smart outcomes
  5. Why leaders need to develop productive superpowers
  6. More Recent Articles

How to Get IT and HR to Cooperate on Change Initiatives

Many top executives find themselves in a tricky spot. Human beings and technology, two essential ingredients for a company to thrive, don’t naturally work well together. Here is one way to tackle the issue, using the case of Business Process Management (BPM).

 

A recent McKinsey Journal article described the advent of a new role: a “Chief Transformation Officer.” Operating with the trust of the board, this change-agent operates like an extension of the CEO, holding top managers to account.

As a CTO, your mandate would be simple: cause the organization to change itself, even as it continues to do business. With excellent emotional quotient and technology skills, you would be able to join the expertise of two organizations which usually avoid each other: Human Resources (HR) and Information Technology (IT).

In most Jamaican companies, these functions operate in silos. As a result, HR is slow to adopt (let alone envision) new technologies, while IT is ill-equipped to implement the human side of digital solutions.

Case in point: the introduction of email in the mid-1990’s. This happened to be the single biggest culture changing intervention since the advent of personal computing over a decade earlier. Unfortunately, HR never saw it coming and was often the last department to be trained in its use. It’s counterpart, IT, still has a hard time predicting and managing the behavior changes ensuing from newly introduced technology. The smartphone is a ubiquitous example.

More recently, CEO’s are demanding that executives implement another change: enterprise-wide Business Process transformation. They want to see the benefit of continuous improvement on a massive scale, in preparation for disruptive innovations which are just around the corner. At the same time, they understand that new technology cannot simply be bolted onto old methods of doing business.

Plus, BPM projects don’t take place on the sidelines: they affect core operations and, with them, the bottom line. Local companies have responded to this imperative in two ways.

 

The Human Resources Leadership Option

When HR is placed in charge of a firm’s BPM program there’s an immediate credibility problem. Usually, HR business partners are lacking critical technology depth and just haven’t studied the combined impact of inventions such as cloud computing, mobility and security.

Furthermore, they often lack the engineering skills to lead such an effort. Most HR professionals have no exposure to process baselining, measurement, analysis, improvement and automation. By contrast, these are skills taught in most IT programs, albeit at an abstract level.

The Information Technology Leadership Option

Based on this realization, it might be obvious that IT should take the lead. However, even though professionals in this unit have all the technical skills needed, they are often short of interpersonal, political and change management capacity.

To worsen matters, most local companies have manual processes which have never been baselined. Therefore, incumbent staff must be appropriately engaged in order to continue daily operations which they, and only they, understand.

Their lack of experience on BPM projects drives up resistance, forcing IT professionals to start by launching trust-building exercises, an unfamiliar tactic for them. Furthermore, the first round of changes only requires common sense, not newfangled robotics. When this fact is discovered, the business case for fancy automation is often found to be inflated, due to poor, improper information.

 

Lastly, the IT professional who ends up in charge of implementing behavior changes which don’t require new technology is likely to struggle: it’s just not his/her cup of tea.

 

Given the shortcomings of both these approaches, McKinsey’s ideas offer a third way.

 

How to Install a Chief Transformation Officer

A CTO is not simply another functional role in the usual lineup of corporate officers. Instead, if you were in the job, you would be the driver of behavior change, the one who makes a difference in the practices, habits and tools used to do daily work. Pulling on all resources, you would need the trust of other executives to share their people’s expertise. As you form cross business unit teams, you would help them implement process changes across silos.

You would be the advocate of the customer’s journey – the moments of truth the customer faces as they interact with different touchpoints.  Spanning the enterprise, you would be one to see where revenue generation and service levels are being thwarted by organizational gaps.

In BPM efforts, it’s critical that HR and IT continue to play their roles but don’t make the mistake of saddling them with responsibilities they aren’t capable of implementing. It sets them up for failure, minimizes their impact and reduces their role to enablers of small improvements.

 

When a company needs to be prepared to make big changes, only a CTO-like function can succeed. Combining human and technological expertise, it’s the only way to drive practical, large-scale change.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170716/francis-wade-getting-it-and-hr-cooperate-change

    

Why a huge email inbox means low productivity, not high popularity

How many items of email do you have sitting in your inbox? Are there 20 messages? 20,000? What difference does it make?

Perhaps you are already suspicious of others who oversee a permanent pile of unprocessed email. Remember that recent message you sent them? They don’t remember seeing it. It annoys you because it included a critical question. Now, you stand next to them, forced to repeat the request in person while they complain about “people who send them too much stuff.”

In their minds they are too popular, or too important.  To them, it’s not their fault. They cannot be expected to get back to all the people who ask for an answer.

If you suspect that something else is afoot, you aren’t crazy. Their inability to reply to your message reveals a lack of productivity. The other explanations are excuses.

 

The fact is, most people dislike email management with good cause. It takes up to 20% of the average employee’s work day, partly because the techniques they use are self-taught. Their lack of sophistication is more than a curiosity – it’s a drag on your organization. How do you make sure you don’t become just like them? Start by understanding the problems an unsorted email inbox causes you and others.

 

Confusion that Keeps You Paralyzed

If you fail to completely empty your inbox for several weeks (or even years), the messages held within fall into three categories:

  1. Usually, there are some messages you have not read at all. They contain demands on your time, including emergencies, requests from other people, warnings of trouble, useful information you need to use plus other potential dangers. Lurking in the shadows like duppies, they nag you all day with quiet but distracting reminders
  2. Inevitably, you glance at a few messages which indicate tasks to do later. Often, you mark them as unread: a signal that you must return to attend to them. Unfortunately, this tactic makes these old messages look just like new ones, which leads to them becoming lost. Now you have a mountain of stuff you know is important, but you can’t quite remember what or where it is in your stack of messages.
  3. Most of the messages remaining are ones you glanced at but decided to leave until later. Why didn’t you get rid of them? You didn’t immediately know what to do so rather than make a decision, you took the path of least resistance and left the message right where you found it.

 

If you receive a tiny number of messages each day, these tactics may actually work. However, they just don’t scale for the average person. Instead, if your inbox contains more than 20 items, you are really attempting to use your memory to track too many ill-defined commitments. The end result is a mental avalanche of confusion.

 

Commitments which overwhelm your calendar

These unprocessed messages have a cumulative effect: they make you feel as if you don’t have enough time. Each one requires a few moments to re-read and decide what to do next. Altogether they lead you to feel extremely busy, even overwhelmed. Each time you glance at your inbox you experience a sense of dread… it’s no wonder why, according to one study, 33% of people would rather clean a toilet than clear out their email inbox.

The truth would be: “I’m not really busy, just disorganized” but no-one ever admits to this fact. Instead, they complain about not having 25 hours in each day.

 

Adverse impact on your reputation

Even here in 2017, email management is seen by some as an exotic skill which a person is either born with or not. It’s accompanied by the myth that it has something do with your age. It’s almost never viewed as a result of poor habits which can be unlearned.

This mistake leaves individuals to flounder, even as their colleagues exclude them from the best teams. After all, they can’t manage their email messages, let alone a high-priority assignment.

Companies shouldn’t allow employees to ruin their professional reputations because of ineffective email habits. Instead, they should teach them best practices such as limiting their visits to their inboxes to the times of day when they can empty them completely. Studies show when everyone agrees to this habit, productivity soars.

This training should start on the first day of employment. It’s the only way to prevent a mess.

 

Even if the implementation is clumsy at first, this approach is the only way to cope with the increased message-volume we can all expect in the future. For the sake of your organization, time spent processing email must be minimized by modifying employees’ unproductive behavior.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170702/francis-wade-overfull-inbox-means-low-productivity-not-high-popularity

 

    

How to Intervene When an Executive Starts Acting Like a Victim

We Jamaicans take many of our cues from leaders. This is never truer than when a leader acts like a victim, blaming everyone else for sub-par results. Eventually, employees join the blame game, actively avoiding responsibility before fingers turn on them. Things worsen to the point where only an intervention can save the company from ruin.

In a recent meeting with a CEO, I listened as he blamed his colleagues and staff for the predicament his organization was in. He had a long list of factual observations. Their actions were saddening, and I had no reason to doubt his veracity.

However, when I suggested that, from my prior experience in many client firms, “The fish stinks the worst at the head” he visibly bristled. Dismissing my suggestion, he doubled down, adding further stories to prove that I was incorrect: he was the victim. The others needed to have their heads examined.

What made the situation maddening were the facts: he had risen to the top after 30+ years. Also, profits were a thing of the past: for the prior decade, the company had barely broken even. Yet, in his mind, he had nothing to do with its poor performance.

As a manager, what can you do to prevent this kind of terrible end-result? How can you make sure it never happens in your organization?

Pay Attention to Hard-to-See Angles

Companies slip into having a culture of complaints gradually. Complaining, normally a rare habit, becomes a team sport played by a critical mass of staff. When you find that valuable meeting time is being spent in old, familiar gripes which never reach resolution, be suspicious.

Start by appreciating that a single complaint is quite different from a culture of complaining. The first requires action, perhaps produced by a fruitful discussion. The latter requires an intervention by someone who understands the peculiarities of dysfunctional corporate cultures. They tend to be bad in many of the same ways.

The intervenor must explain to managers that the behavior is like an addictive drug which carries both a short-term benefit and a long-term cost.

The benefit derives from an avoidance of responsibility. Complainers paint themselves as the weak, helpless recipients of injustice. In the eyes of the CEO mentioned earlier, he had nothing to do with the state of affairs and was permanently innocent of any blame or fault.

As complainers perpetuate this frame of mind, they exact a terrible price. Their feigned weakness renders them inactive. Lacking creativity, they lose their capacity to implement real solutions to problems. They turn themselves into bystanders.

When the complainer happens to be the CEO, it turns the corporation into a battlefield between him and the rest of his company. It’s no surprise that poor results ensue because the behavior is also highly contagious. When employees compete with each other for the right to be seen as the biggest victim, everyone ends up hating their jobs.

These are hard-to-see angles, so few distinguish persistent complaining for what it really is—the start of real trouble.

 

Resist the Temptation to Withdraw

However, seeing the true problem isn’t enough. If you have joined a team which already has a complaining culture, it’s only human to hide out; to make sure you are far away from the gripers-in-chief. If you get caught in a situation where you can’t escape their presence, you go completely silent.

Obviously, this won’t work in the end. In fact, it is a sly mirror-image of the same refusal to accept responsibility.

Instead, fixing the problem calls for the very opposite. When colleagues refuse to assume ownership, the most helpful action is not to retreat, but to expand. Only those who choose to step up and take greater responsibility have a chance of making a difference.

Managers who do so empower themselves. Without waiting for someone to give them permission, they make a private decision to act which is likely to produce noticeable, public results.

Get Help from Others

One of the end results might be a group intervention conducted with the complainers. In this kind of carefully managed confrontation, each person plays a predetermined role in a group discussion designed to call a stop to the behavior. It’s a last ditch, high-stakes effort: oftentimes, an outsider is included to prepare the team or even play the part of referee.

What makes the risk worthwhile is the possibility of succeeding.  In the very worst situations, it’s the best the team can do, and it’s better than cowering in fear. In the end, it benefits everyone concerned and can pull the company out of a bad spot.

There’s no guarantee whatsoever, but a top executive who stops being a victim can make a tremendous difference to the health of the bottom-line and the company’s culture.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

    

Don’t write off stupid employees – here’s how they can deliver smart outcomes

Are you stuck with employees who don’t have what it takes to make necessary improvements to the way work is done? If so, avoid the mistake of believing they can’t improve your company’s processes. Here’s why.
As you analyze your operations, you may already recognize there are processes which need to be dramatically improved. If high unit costs, poor customer service, long lead times and bad quality are some of the problems you face daily, consider these to be signs confirming the need for an urgent change.
But as you survey the situation, your heart sinks. Your staff appears to be unable to implement even the most obvious improvements. They are happy to repeat the same broken processes each day, producing identical, poor results.
In response, you may be tempted to take a shortcut, by following the three steps of Method A:
1. 1. Find an expert to define better processes, preferably automated.
2. 2. Train people how to use the new process.
3. 3. Measure the results.
It looks simple and commonsensical. By itself, it’s hard to imagine any other approach. But there is another, Method B:
1. 1. Select a team of in-process employees to improve the process.
2. 2. Heavily facilitate their improvement efforts.
3. 3. Measure the results.
By comparison, the second approach looks to be more difficult, and take longer. Yet, it’s the better method to follow under the following three conditions.
#1 – When current knowledge is lacking
Most local companies don’t have documented processes. This leads to an inevitable gap between the way a process is supposed to work and the way it actually functions. To survive, staff members develop shortcuts and workarounds, then pass them from one person to another by word-of-mouth.
Outside experts cannot understand these nuances by conducting a few informational interviews. Their attempts fail because an unmanaged process falls apart in unpredictable ways. Some of these failures are rare, with remedies known only to a few insiders. While sitting in an interview, they forget to mention these errors, blinded by their unconscious competence.
 
To make things worse, in people-intensive processes, knowledge is widely distributed. Discovering the true nature of a process’ performance has to be a group activity where knowledge is combined and documented in real time. Usually, such sessions raise a host of surprising issues. Together, these reasons support Method B.
Reason #2 – You may require more buy-in than you think
Implementers of automation often believe in Method A due to its simplicity. However, they overlook the fact that there must be a time of overlap and transition between old and new processes. During this period, which is required to keep the business running, staff must undertake behavior changes.
However, if they see the new process as “The Enemy”, a foreign object to be expelled at all costs, prepare yourself for passive-resistance.
In extreme cases where the new process cuts jobs, be ready for sabotage. Critical information is withheld as mistakes multiply, causing the overlap to drag on. By the end, if the transition ever takes place, the savings are minimal, the pain maximal.
Once again, Method B is the remedy.
Reason #3 – Future improvements require people
Often, when the new system is implemented, project leaders walk away, thinking their job is done. Unfortunately, the effort has just started.
Ideally, the future should be filled with further improvements. But there’s no such thing as a process which improves itself – it involves people reexamining it to make additional changes. When outsiders are the ones who decide what must be tackled (Method A,) it leaves insiders without the skills to make additional upgrades.
Therefore, the dominant rule is: include people executing the process early and often. But there is an exception.
When the underlying process to be improved is short and simple, like boiling an egg, Method A works. However, with a complex process which cannot easily be automated, like making a soufflé, only Method B succeeds.
Sometimes, leaders create problems for themselves by arguing that they have complex processes, but they are staffed by “stupid” people. Craving Method A, they say “employees cannot be trusted” because they either “won’t take ownership” or “lack the skills”.
This is a grave mistake. Often, from the heights of the executive suite, every process looks simple. If your company has little history of process management, it’s safe to assume there is hidden complexity, and therefore a high risk involved. You must use Method B, giving employees the tools and expertise needed. This includes team-building activities so that together, they can function far better than they can working separately. This is why a team of “stupid” employees can outperform smart individuals acting separately.
Including employees is more challenging in the short term, but it hews far closer to reality. In most cases, it’s the best approach to implement the lasting change your organization needs.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
 
    

Why leaders need to develop productive superpowers

Recently another negative report came out confirming the continued decline of Jamaica’s productivity. In a recent speech, IDB official Therese Turner-Jones understated that “firms in Jamaica are not particularly efficient” and “private sector workers are as inefficient as the Government.”

As a business leader, this is a song whose tune is probably familiar. But it is frustrating, because as far as you know, you are working as hard as you can. However, it’s obviously not enough because there is considerable empirical evidence that we are almost as far as we can be from being the Usain Bolts of productivity in the world.

To state the obvious: closing the gap means doing things differently from ways we have ever done before

It won’t be easy. There are only a handful of local companies who treat their operations like finely tuned machines. They are vigilant: always looking for first indicators of an incipient problem. In addition, their leaders treat their own individual systems in the same way. Seeking to be as personally effective as possible, they perform like Formula One Drivers.

Why We Need a Change of Mind

Culturally, we prefer to favour the underdog. Just listen to us re-tell the story of the “likkle guy on his push-cart” flying down Mount Diablo past a “big man in a Benz”, skating on just two wheels the whole way. However, this propensity to “big up” the unsophisticated shouldn’t be taken too far. Lewis Hamilton, multiple Formula One Champion, didn’t become a winner by luck. He spent years perfecting his craft and mastering his equipment, continuing to develop his skills every day.

During a 100 mile per hour race, he has learned to track a tremendous number of changing variables using sophisticated instruments. Off-track, he’s trying to find ways to save a few grams here and there, or cut wind resistance with the slightest of alterations.

Too many of our executives settle for much less in their personal productivity, as if they are push-cart men or women. They run late, forget commitments, allow their email to pile up and let their lives drift dangerously out of balance. In other words, their employees view them as cautionary tales rather than role models. While they may dress the part, speak well or have the house and car which befit their status, they don’t view personal productivity in the same vein.

It’s optional.

In this respect, our local executives are satisfied being moderately better than the worst employees. They fail to hold themselves to a high personal standard; instead they are happy to barely beat a low social standard.

However, the best executives view their personal productivity as an extension of their company’s operations. As a result, they tackle it with high effort and rigour, developing two superpowers along the way.

Superpower #1—Detect Early Warning Signs of Trouble

The most productive leaders have a kind of “spidey-sense”: the ability Spiderman has to sense trouble before it occurs. In like manner, they can detect the moment when their personal system first starts to fail.

For example, if you had this skill, you would be able to see when it’s time to upgrade your technique for managing email. All it would take is the disappearance of one or two messages into the proverbial cracks; long before an actual complaint is received.

This ability to detect early warning signs of trouble is rare, much in the way Hamilton has the kind of foresight other drivers cannot even imagine. It gives him an edge in a close race.

In a tough economy, companies need leaders who demonstrate these abilities while actively teaching them to others.

Superpower #2 – Develop Diagnostic Skills

Once a problem is detected that’s just a start. Few take the next step: discovering why the issue exists in the first place.

For example, the challenge of email overwhelm is hardly solved by purchasing an expensive smartphone. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. The person with weak diagnostic skills would commit this error without understanding why.

The few who have developed superpowers waste little time scouring the internet, talking to friends or polling their colleagues. Instead, they know how to scrutinize their current practices and tools. If you have ever watched an episode of “House,” the television show about a doctor with fantastic diagnostic expertise, you may understand. These skills are hard to develop, but they save tremendous amounts of time and energy, enabling someone to make precise interventions.

When Jamaican executives start behaving like Formula One Drivers, we may produce role models with superpowers. Rather than Parliamentarians who are perpetually late, or CEO’s whose lives are unhealthy and unbalanced, we would live to see something new: leaders who take their personal productivity as seriously as their most recent haircut, watch or shopping trip to Miami.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, contact columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170521/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-develop-productive-superpowers

    

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