No more Drivel! Give us the Practical and Useful.

drivel

There is no substitute for business advice which is practical and useful. Yes, I am talking about suggestions which actually work. … As in make things better in the real world! Drivel, on the other hand, is defined as “silly nonsense”. Unfortunately there is a lot of these unhelpful opinions flying around our field of organizational development.

At its best, management tips and techniques have allowed me to face numerous organizational challenges and provided a clear, successful solution. When one is in the middle of a structure, process or people challenge it can be difficult get to above the chaos and envision a path forward. Yes, management thinkers really can be your best friends.

However, this is not always the case. I have observed that management thinking tends to fall into three buckets:

Bucket 1: Interesting, But Not Practical: Much of the academic work around management offers up clever concepts around leading others that have limited practical application. These are the types of management ideas that are fascinating to think about. However, you are left asking yourself “What would I do with this idea as I stand before my team Monday morning?”

From my experience, leadership styles provide an example of a theory without apparent application. Leadership styles essentially categorize types of leaders as being dictatorial, authoritarian, consultative or participative. Great! So let’s assume that you want your style of leadership to be more participative.   What actions do you take and what do you tell your team in order to create a participative environment?

These management theories often answer the “What” without ever addressing the “How”. In other words, this work often times offers conceptual statements about what is means to be a manager without providing advice on how to be a manager.   The theory is interesting, but, is not going to help you be a better manager.

Bucket 2: Practical, But Not Useful: The academic management thinking in this bucket offers you some practical ideas for how to manage your team. However, when you carry out these ideas in your organization you find that they are met with confusion and poor results. These are the types of ideas where you are left saying “Well, it looked good on paper!”

An example of practical but not useful management thinking is the business reengineering craze that many organizations adopted a decade ago. Reengineering called for reinventing the way work was done via the redesign of business processes and workflows. However, this practical approach resulted in negative consequences in the end.   Too often the effort resulted in corporate down sizing without better results. It did not take employees long to realize that it is was not in their best interest to volunteer for a reengineering effort! [Tony Carter, 1999, https://www.amazon.com/Aftermath-Reengineering-Downsizing-Corporate-Performance/dp/0789007207]

It is easy to identify the management theories in this bucket. This is because when you introduce these ideas they are oftentimes met with confusion and skepticism by your team. They clearly do not resonate with the employees who do the actual work. When you roll out these ideas many of your employees ignore your advice since they suspect it will fail. Those employees who do infuse this approach into their work get poor results. These ideas are quickly abandoned.

Bucket 3: Practical and Useful:   As is the case in so many areas of life, we have lots of opinions but very little wisdom.   Once we have shed the management ideas in buckets 1 and 2, we are left with a few practical and useful management ideas. The good news for you is that there is now less to learn since we are down to a handful of management approaches.

The practical approaches and tools in this bucket are made up of organizational interventions that can transform human behavior on a regular basis. They simply address complex aspects of work including structure, processes and people practices.

Below are some examples of practical and useful management thinking that I have benefitted from over the years:

  • Structure: Jay Galbraith’s emphasis on leveraging design principles in the creation of organizational structure helps ensure that the design accomplishes the desired outcomes. The principles are statements about what the design should provide.  These principles guide the design process, provide criteria for making trade off decisions and keep all parties focused on creating the same outcome.  This organizational design methodology has allowed me to take a dozen independent marketing groups within a Fortune 100 company and align them for quick response to customer demands and other unexpected challenges. [http://www.jaygalbraith.com]
  • Processes: Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act [PCDA] continuous improvement circle has provided the framework for managing improvement projects.  The method helps employees stay focused on data collection and analysis driving them towards identifying and solving root cause.  Outcomes of leveraging this method include savings millions of dollars, along with better quality products and services.  [http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/project-planning-tools/overview/pdca-cycle.html]
  • People: ‘Start/Stop/Continue’ is a straight-forward group exercise that any manager can easily introduce. The approach can help groups move from strategy to execution and lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency. As the name suggests, the goal is to get employees to brainstorm programs, activities and processes that should be started, stopped and continued.  I have had employees report back that this simple exercise has been transformative in terms of helping them improve and align their work. [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/SKS-process.htm]There is a huge volume of management thinking to wade through before finding advice which is practical and useful. Mission accomplished if this blog helps raise awareness on the importance of crafting management thought which helps practitioners in the real world.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

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A Quick Approach for Developing Impactful Business Processes

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Organizational fatigue has set in regarding launching large-scale re-engineering and process improvement efforts.  The time and resources it takes to carry out a major re-haul of processes is daunting. Besides, too many organizations have experienced too little benefit from these massive efforts.

The solution to this challenge, however, should not be inaction.  Crafting business processes which lead to effective and efficient operations is critical.  The key, for many organizations, is to launch a few short business process sessions in order to identify a critical few new or revised processes that will make a difference.

Below is an easy three step process for quickly putting business process wins in place:

Definition of Business Process

A business process is a series of actions or procedures designed to produce a product or service.  It is a general (high-level) approach to completing specific work activities.

Criteria for Quality Business Processes

Clear and consistent business processes should:

  • Encourage accountability at all levels.
  • Improve customer satisfaction through more efficient business practices.
  • Establish clear roles for employees to avoid confusion.
  • Reduce redundancy in work.
  • Customize solutions for different customers.
  • Improve communication between functions.

Steps for Establishing and Aligning Business Processes

  • Step One: Analyze
    • Identify the major strengths and weaknesses of the current processes
    • Objective: To utilize best practice and avoid pain points
  • Step Two: Brainstorm
    • Brainstorm options re: new and aligned processes
    • Objective: To ensure you dig deep and generate many ideas
  • Step Three: Select
    • Assess options against criteria and select the critical few new processes
    • Objective: To ensure that we are adopting useful processes

For example, I guided an operations team through this three step process.  As a result of three, half-day meetings we came up with a dozen new and revised processes that were designed to have a big impact on quality and speed.  The new processes addressed everything from how the team accessed resources, to how they interacted with internal customers.

They key to success was to avoid getting bogged down on details.  The team knew first-hand where the pain points lie and I simply helped them quickly identify fixes.

One might argue that a more in depth process re-engineering effort involving dozens of staff over a period of months would have resulted in larger wins.  Perhaps in theory it would have.  However, in reality that would have never happened. Leadership was not prepared to invest in a large scale process effort.  However, the entire organization was very happy with our quick wins…

General Questions to Consider When Identifying Business Process Changes

Finally, here are some to consider when identifying business process changes.  Answering these questions will help ensure that you establish business processes which are successful:

  • What tasks do employees perform today and what tasks do we want employees to perform in the future?
  • What observable behaviors will employees be expected to display?
  • How will interrelationships between your work group and other work groups change?
  • How will the timing and/or sequence of projects or tasks change?
  • What completion timelines need to be built into business processes?
Note: The views expressed in this blog are my opinions and do not reflect the views of my employer.