Posts on Jun 2020

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 26 :: Culture :: Imperatives

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote from Peter Drucker has surfaced multiple times over the course of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The best strategies and tactics are dead on arrival when they’re unleashed into a company with a toxic culture. This week, we’re focusing on culture for the third time in the series. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and we’ve already talked about two of them in earlier One Year, Thirty Minute ChallengesMentor Mindset in week 4 and Lifelong Learning in week 16.

Here’s my complete list –

  • Vulnerability – The willingness to be transparent, admit weakness, and ask for help when we need it, is the shortcut to building trust inside the organization. Trust is the currency we spend with one another as we build an effective team.
  • Confront the Brutal Facts – Jim Collins reminds us that accurately assessing ourselves, our team, our products and services, our operations, our financial situation, and our competitive environment is mandatory. No rose-colored glasses allowed.
  • Sacrifice of Sacred Cows – No idea, no product, no service, no “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is out of bounds. Cling tight to core values. Nothing else escapes scrutiny.
  • Team First – When making decisions, the good of the organization comes first. Self-serving, self-promoting and personal advantage have no place in the organization. That must apply from the business owner down to the most recent entry-level hire.
  • Learning Orientation – The minute we think we know it all is the minute the countdown clock to the death of the organization begins. The organization will never grow beyond those who lead it, so we must continue to improve and learn – personally and professionally.
  • Mentor Mindset – Every team member is there for the good of the other team members. Owners and managers are committed to staff development, teaching not just the “what” but also the “why”.
  • Bias for Action – Doing is better than thinking or talking. Dive for the ball when a teammate drops it. If you promise to do something, do it.
  • Over-communication – Information is lubrication for the wheels of the organization. Tell what you know, quickly and completely. If owners want employees to make the same decisions they would make, employees need access to the same information the owners have.

 

Later in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge at least one of these will merit their own thirty-minute exercise, but that’s not the goal of this week’s exercise.

Let’s jump in.

This week, I want you create your own list of cultural imperatives – those attitudes, approaches to work, actions, and commitments to one another that must be present in your organization. Every organization is different, so your cultural imperatives will be different – but if they truly are imperative – i.e. you must have them baked into your corporate DNA or the organization will fail in living out its mission, reaching its vision and living up to its core values – you must identify them, live them out, talk about them, train on them and drive them deeper into the fabric of the organization.

One note before you begin – let’s quickly talk about how core values differ from culture. Core values are the shared, intrinsic beliefs of those in the organization. It might be a love for small business owners, a passion for camping, a desire to make learning available to those who previously did not have it or a commitment to treat client resources (money, house, car) as if they were your own. Someone who didn’t share those beliefs would continually find themselves uncomfortable in the organization. Everyone else would be rowing in harmony with the values and the outlier would feel like they were being dragged along.

Culture is how we live inside the organization. After we’ve been admitted by virtue of our shared values, culture is the mashup of our attitudes, approach to work, commitment to one another, commitment to customers and commitment to the ideals and health of the organization.

So, pull out your pen and notepad or open Evernote and begin. I’m giving you five questions as thought starters for identifying your cultural imperatives. Underneath each question, I’ve included some statements. Some are positive, some are negative, and others are neutral. I’m not asking if they apply in your organization. I’m tossing out examples of attitudes and actions that might be indicative of company culture. I’m wanting you to identify the cultural must-haves you want and possibly identify some current attitudes and behaviors you should jettison.

  • What are the non-optional behaviors in your organization?
    • Show up on time
    • Work hours are flexible as long as the work is done
    • Arrive at meetings on time
    • Always use all your vacation days
    • Never use all your vacation days
    • Work through lunch
    • It’s ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • It’s never ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • Answer an email no matter what time it comes
    • Only answer emails Monday through Friday
  • What are the attitudes you display in your interactions with one another?
    • There’s clearly a pecking order – the highest paid person’s opinion matters most
    • We have a true meritocracy when it comes to opinions – the best idea wins the argument
    • It’s ok to ask for help when I’m stuck
    • Departmental in-fighting is the order of the day
    • We work hard to work as a team – there’s no blaming – just solid cross-discipline problem solving
    • We’re good with ambiguity – we know there’s plenty we don’t know and welcome new situations that challenge the status quo
    • We’re committed to one another – my boss and coworkers have my back
  • What is your approach to work?
    • Good enough is good enough – if it’s not broke – don’t fix it
    • We strive for excellence in everything and nothing less is acceptable
    • We dive for the ball when someone drops it
    • If someone screws up – it’s on them – they bear the consequences of their own mistake
    • Good ideas can come from anywhere
    • All the good ideas come from our creative people – that’s their job
    • When we tackle a problem, we do our research – we want to know the truth even if it hurts – that the only way we can create great solutions
  • What is your approach to customers?
    • We take care of each customer like they’re the only one
    • Some customers are unreasonable and if they leave it’s ok
    • We’re always looking for new ways to serve existing customers and gain new customers – making our products and services better
    • We want not only our products and services to be superior, we want the customer to have a great customer experience
  • How do you view the organization?
    • I’m just a small cog in the machinery – doing what I’m told
    • I have a chance to leave my mark in the organization – my work matters
    • There’s more going on here than just making money – we’re making life better for our customers
    • All the company cares about is money
    • The people who lead the organization fairly balance the interests of employees, customers and shareholders
  • How do you communicate in the organization?
    • There are lots of islands of information
    • There are single points of failure in the organization – people, who alone, know specific information or how to do that job
    • Information flows freely from the top of the organization down
    • Information flows freely from the bottom of the organization up
    • Some conversations are off limits

 

After you’ve worked through the questions and have your own personalized list of cultural imperatives, sleep on it for a day or two and review the list. What did you miss?

Then roll out your list to the leaders in your organization. Does it describe the kind of place they’d be proud to work? If so, why? If not, what needs to be tweaked and why?

The implementation merits its own One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and that will come later, but knowing the kind of workplace you’re after is the right place to start.

Here’s a sneak peek on implementation. Once you have your culture described, how do you codify it? How do you live it out? How can the leaders in the organization model it? How can you recognize and reward it? How can you extinguish attitudes and behaviors that don’t fit? How can you reinforce it in one-on-one and group training? How can you reinforce it in day-to-day work interactions?

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 25 :: Operations :: Processes

If you want to be tied to your desk, be forced to solve every problem yourself, never enjoy a day off and worry constantly about whether or not work is done the way you want it done, ignore this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge.

Creating processes is the key to delivering a great customer experience, ensuring quality, scaling your business, decreasing mistakes and defects, empowering employees and increasing velocity.

New business owners struggle with early hires. To the detriment of the organization, they often hire people “just like them” so they can feel confident that the work will be done just like they would do it. The better alternative is to create detailed processes for everything so that every new hire, as they follow the processes, can do the work just as the founder intended. Then, as new talent is added to the organization, those with different skill sets, personalities and gifts can add new strength to the organization and bring increased clarity and refinement to the processes.

Let’s quickly clarify the distinction between processes and policies. Processes are for those tasks where there is no wiggle room – the way we mass-produce widgets, the way we pay a vendor invoice, the way we complete new employee documentation. Policies are for those tasks where there might be some gray areas – when do we give a refund, when do we allow a reservation to be cancelled without a cancellation fee, how many bereavement days do we allow when an employee’s family member dies. Processes are like railroad tracks – you can’t veer at all from the track without negative consequences. Policies are like guardrails – if you drive anywhere between them, you’re safe. With processes, follow the letter of the law. With policies, follow the spirit of the law.

Back to this week’s challenge. In thirty minutes, you won’t be able document all the vital processes in your organization. So, in this week’s challenge, we want to construct the framework that you’re going to use to create your process documentation. For processes to be most effective, they must be complete and have sufficient granularity for those who have to follow them.

Here are some suggestions for putting your process documentation together –

  • Why does this process exist? What is the endgame? Is it part of a larger task (for example, if this is the process for invoicing a customer, how and where does it fit in the larger task of obtaining, processing, and filling a customer order)?
  • Who is responsible for this task? Who is the backup person if the primary person is unavailable?
  • What is the requisite knowledge for this task? What is the requisite experience for this task? Where can that knowledge and experience be obtained.
  • If the person responsible for this task has a problem or question, who do they ask?
  • What resources are required for the task? If software is required for the task, who adds new users or assigns privileges? If there’s a software problem, how do you get technical support? If equipment is required, where is it located? Who provides support if the equipment breaks down? If materials are required, where are those materials stored? What vendors supply those materials? What is the process for reordering those materials?
  • What are the steps in the process itself? Describe the steps in detail, including why that step is done? As you’re documenting the steps, be especially sensitive to the things that are done by instinct or that “everyone knows”. Make sure that even the most intuitive, well-know and obvious things are included in the documentation. For example, if the last step is to drop something in the mail slot, spell out the location of the mail slot.
  • Who is notified when the process is completed? How are they notified (even if they are notified automatically via software)? What do those people do with the notification after they have received it?
  • How is completion of the process measured? Are the number of widgets manufactured counted? Is the insurance claim reviewed for accuracy? If so, who is responsible for the tracking or auditing the process? How do they give feedback or scoring to the person or people who did the work?
  • How is the person executing the process invited into the improvement of the process? How can they question the process or recommend changes?
  • Where is the most updated copy of the process stored (paper, shared drive, collaboration software (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Basecamp, etc)? How are any “remote” copies of the process updated when changes to the process are made? How are changes to the process rolled out? What is the training mechanism? (demonstration, checklist, class, video, podcast, collaboration software)

Use these suggestions, then add and customize to create your own framework for documenting processes. Then, beginning with the most critical value creation activities, work your way through all the processes in your organization.

When you’re finished, the goal is to create a “company in a box”. That is, if someone with the requisite knowledge and experience picked up your process documentation, they should be able to carry out all the core value creation activities in the company. And, perform the work just the way the founder intended (with the modifications and enhancements made by other smart staff members along the way).

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 24 :: Business Continuity :: Operations

2020 has been the poster child for disruption. From global pandemic to localized rioting, business owners and managers have faced situations they’ve most likely never seen before. These events and the fallout from them have magnified the importance of a solid business continuity plan.

In the second One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we discussed business continuity in the context of protecting the data that powers your organization. This week we turn our attention to operations.

Let’s jump into the exercise.

People

Operations pivot on people and on the skills they bring to the workplace. To mitigate people risk in the context of business continuity –

  • Identify any processes that are not thoroughly documented. If a current employee becomes unavailable, it’s imperative that the processes surrounding their job are accurately and thoroughly recorded. Document not just what they do, but why it is done, when it is done (including deadlines) and to whom the finished work product is distributed. During this week’s thirty-minute exercise, you won’t be able to complete the documentation itself, but you want a complete list of all undocumented or under-documented processes in the organization.
  • Identify options for completing critical work if a large percentage of your workforce is unavailable (as we saw with COVID-19).
    • Can work be completed by other personnel?
    • Are those personnel cross-trained and do they have access to the process documentation from the previous step?
    • Can you access contractors, temp workers, or consultants to complete critical work?
    • If so, who are those people and how quickly can you mobilize them?
  • If your workforce if formally organized (unionized), work proactively before a work stoppage to engineer an agreement that allows the company and the unionized workers to benefit from the company’s success.
  • Make training an ongoing part of the company’s employee development process so that all workers are continually honing their skills and building a broader base of expertise.

 

Infrastructure

Clearly, some businesses, like a hotel, are location dependent and remote work is not an option, but for many other businesses, work can be portable. Depending on the nature of the event that triggers use of the business continuity plan, there are multiple options.

  • If onsite work is required and the primary location is destroyed or inaccessible, a “hot site” can be activated. Typically, hot sites are abbreviated replicas of a primary location complete with equipment and tech. In the event of a disaster, the hot site is activated and workers report to the new site and begin work. Cloud-based systems are accessed from the hot site location and business continues as usual. Obviously an expensive solution, but sometimes necessary.
  • If your business is multi-location, consider moving operations to what would normally be a branch office.
  • If the need will be longer-term (maybe due to something like a fire or flood), consider a coworking space for temporarily housing your operations.
  • In a world of ubiquitous broadband internet service, cloud-based systems and video conferencing, working from home is a more-than-viable option. If you don’t have a work from home policy, work from home procedures or tech that supports work from home, add the development of those things to your to-do list during this week’s exercise. Once you have those things in place, schedule some practice work-from-home days to make sure everything functions as it should.

 

Resources

There are multiple critical-path resources in a business. The absence of any of them can diminish or destroy the organization’s value creation activity. Effective business continuity planning puts those resources back in play as soon as possible – ideally without any interruption to value creation activities.

  • If your organization is dependent on specialty vehicles or other large equipment for which rentals are not available (e.g. tow trucks), craft a plan with a competitor for a shared business continuity plan. You’ll be each other’s back up and you’ll do a pre-negotiated revenue share.
  • If your organization uses specialty tools and those tools become damaged or destroyed, identify multiple sources for replacement tools.
  • Identify multiple vendors for raw materials. Craft agreements with primary, secondary, and even, tertiary vendors for essential items. Nurture the relationships so that each one represents a win-win for both parties. If a primary vendor fails, make it easy for the other vendors to respond quickly. Always track vendor performance in pricing, quality, and service.

 

Finance

Even a brief business disruption can have an oversized impact on sales revenue. Unchecked discretionary spending can quickly deplete cash reserves. Activating the business continuity plan might have its own built in costs (rental charges, overtime), so acting quickly is a necessity.

  • Build a cash reserve much like you’d do for your household. Three to six months of fixed costs, plus all “automatic” business continuity expenses is a good start.
  • Quickly assess the severity (and anticipated length) of the disruption. If necessary, quickly stop all discretionary spending.

 

Communication

Create a communication procedure as part of the business continuity plan. Where do team members go to get the most up-to-date and best information. Who do they contact if they have questions?

One Final Tool

For the final part of this week’s exercise, I’d encourage you to conduct a “pre-mortem”. We know all about post-mortems from every episodes of CSI (or one its spinoffs) that we’ve watched. When someone dies, the coroner examines them closely to determine the cause of death. A pre-mortem is similar, except, for purposes of this exercise, we propel ourselves into the future and pretend that our business continuity plan has failed miserably. Then we ask, “What did we miss?”, “What fell through the cracks?”, “What procedure broke down?”, “Who was unprepared and why?”, “How did we fail the customer?” You get the idea. It’s looking backward at the event from an imagined failed future state. Anything that helps us create another perspective of our response to the disruption is beneficial. Take the results of the pre-mortem and work them back into business continuity plan.

After you have the plan in place, review it with your team and put a reminder on your calendar to review it every six month to make sure everything still makes sense.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 23 :: People :: Employee Development

Nobody wants to be a screw-up at their job. In fact, Dan Pink explains in his excellent 2009 book Drive, that the social sciences teach us that one of the three things people seek in their work is mastery. Pink briefly describes mastery as, “the urge to get better and better at something that matters.”

There are two things that you, as an employer, can do to tap into an employee’s intrinsic desire for mastery – provide resources, time and support for the employee’s self-initiated efforts for personal and professional growth and build an effective employee development program inside the organization.

Effective employee development programs align the interests of the employee with the interests of the company. With an effective employee development program, you are, concurrently, making a better person and a better employee.

This week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge is to design a framework to start your program. The graphic above will provide direction.

The company’s interest in the employee can be view through four lenses –

  • Employees as assets to be developed. Answer these questions –
    • What resources can we provide to make this employee more valuable to the organization (formal education, additional experiences inside the organization, continuing education units (CEUs), professional certifications, webinars, industry meetings)?
    • How will this employee’s compensation reflect his/her additional value to the organization?
    • What should the accompanying gains in productivity or value creation look like?
    • How can we leverage this employee’s new skills into mentoring for other employees?
    • What soft skills does this employee need to develop in addition to technical or industry-specific skills?
  • Employees as people to be understood. Answer these questions –
    • How does this employee embody the organization’s core values?
    • How does this employee embrace the organization’s culture?
    • What motivates this employee in addition to or instead of monetary compensation? Pink’s book tells us they want autonomy (a measure of control over their work), mastery (the opportunity to improve their work skills), and purpose (a feeling that their work has meaning beyond a paycheck).
  • Employees as team members to be deployed. Answer these questions –
    • How well is this employee suited to their current position?
    • If the employee is not well suited, can they be coached or transferred?
    • If they no longer fit in the organization, should they be terminated?
    • Is the employee trusted by other team members?
    • Does the employ skillfully navigate conflict?
    • Does the employee take responsibility for mistakes without making excuses?
    • Does the employee respect and learn from the diverse viewpoints of other team members?
    • Does the employee display good absorptive capacity for new ideas, procedures, and environments?
    • Does the employee have a mentor mindset?
  • Employees as indispensable. Answer these questions –
    • Are there employees who, if they left, would put the health of the organization in jeopardy?
    • How can you most quickly mitigate this risk with additional hiring, training, or outsourcing?

 

The employee’s interest can be viewed through four lenses –

  • What does my future look like?
    • Is there a career path here for someone with my interests and skills?
    • If so, what does it look like?
    • What happens if my interests change over time (e.g. I want to move from IT to sales)?
    • Is there a path for advancement for a skilled practitioner that doesn’t include management?
    • What is the company’s policy on intellectual property?
  • Can I learn and grow in the organization (skills, aptitudes, experiences)?
    • Will you invest in my growth?
    • If so, how?
    • Will I be mentored?
    • Will you give me opportunities to try my hand at several things?
    • Will I have the opportunity to work in other parts of the country or other countries?
  • Can I keep my priorities intact if I work here?
    • Can I live the way I want to live (core values, hours, time off, great co-workers, benefits that are important to me)?
    • Will the organization morph as my life changes – realizing that my priorities might have to change over the course of my employment – children, illness, aging parents?
  • Will the organization help me navigate roadblocks as they surface?
    • Can I escape a boss that isn’t committed to my development?
    • Can I recover from involvement in a failed project?

 

Use the section above to construct two things – a questionnaire for employees and an initial outline of the growth opportunities you can include in your employee development program. Once your employee questionnaire is done, begin meeting with employees one by one and gather their responses. Take their feedback and revisit your initial employee development plan. Add items that are important to employees, fit in your budget but were absent from your original list. Remove items that, based on your interviews, are not important to employees.

Begin rolling out your plan. The conversations should be something like, “You said you were interested in Balanced Scorecards. If we had a Balance Scorecard in our organization, that would be great. If I sent you to a class for Balance Scorecards, would you come back and work with me personally to make one for the company. When we’re done, I’d like for you to present to all the department heads and explain our work. Would you be up for that?”

Have a conversation like this with everyone on your team. When you knock out one of the things important to the employee and the company, move to the next thing and keep the growth going.