Making Work More Effective

Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.

Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.

Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.

If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!

Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!

Related Reading at QAspire

Six Rules to Simplify Work

Most re-organization efforts either focus on hard stuff (processes, strategy, structure, KPI’s) or on soft stuff (culture, values, relationships, feelings). I have seen very few reorganization efforts in my career that are focused on the most important aspect of how value is delivered to customers: Simplicity

Simplicity stems from decentralization of power. “New Power” as they call it, is all about empowering people, creating conducive ecosystems for performance, learning collectively and encouraging collaboration. Most complexity in organization is introduced in an attempt to centralize power. The focus then is on adding more checks, processes, structures, metrics, KPI’s, incentives, coordinating offices and such.

Yesterday, I saw a very interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux (Boston Consulting Group) where he says,

Complicatedness: This is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is rubbish, very abstract. When do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness. Only you can fight, can do it.

The talk sets the context on how organizations increase complexity and offers useful ideas on how work can be simplified. Here are my notes from the talk and I recommend you watch this insightful and provocative talk to gain a more well rounded view.

More Posts on Simplicity at QAspire

Consume Less, Create More

That was my mantra in 2015 and beyond. As we start a new year, I revisited this mantra and a few additional thoughts came to the fore.

Consume Less

Consumption is a critical element in one’s ability to create anything. So, consumption, by itself, is not all that bad. The problem of our times is  consumption by default. We first consume and then think if we really needed it. This is true for almost everything – from stuff we buy to the content we read, from events we attend to conversations we engage in. Unfortunately, technology has made consumption all the more easier which only adds to the problem. Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

The goal, then, is to consume mindfully and there seem to be two ways to do it:

1) Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more. When you have better filters, you gain that which is relevant. Consuming mindfully also means being in the moment while you consume and not rush through the process.

2) Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.

“Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus” – Source

Create more

Most of us, I assume, long to create stuff that changes us and others for better – whether it is a radical new product or a one-on-one conversation with a colleague. Mindful consumption increases our capacity to create.

“Create what?” – you may ask.

When we exercise mindfully, we create health. When we consume food mindfully, we create wellness. When we travel mindfully, we create enriching experiences. When we converse mindfully, we create relationships. When we create what we truly love, we create joy and meaning. When we share generously, we create connections and conversations. When we connect mindfully, we create learning. When we work mindfully, we create remarkable results. When we prioritize mindfully, we create focus. When we serve mindfully, we create contentment. When we meditate, we create wellness. And we make a positive difference to ourselves and others through our creations.

To be mindful is to be present in the moment, immersed in doing whatever you choose to do. The fact that individually, we can only do so much, we have to choose our battles carefully and subtract the rest!

The time saved through mindful consumption is the time spared for engaging in creative pursuits.

So my mantra for 2016 (and beyond) is the same as it was in 2015 – Consume Less, Create More. I look forward to doing better and raising the bar for myself.

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Also read at QAspire:

Agility: 8 Pillars For Building Self Organizing Teams

Last week, I was invited to speak as a panelist at Agile Carnival, Chandigarh where I expressed my thoughts on Agile as a method and as a mindset. Agility in our approaches is one of the most potent ways to deal with the challenges of a constantly changing world.

Here is the summary of a few thoughts I shared (and a few more):

  1. Agile is not just a method or process, but a mindset. Which also means, if your organization wants to be agile (and strategically nimble footed), you have to invest in building a culture of agility.
  2. You need to build a system of management methods, rituals, processes, tools and motivation where people are more likely to exercise their choice of doing a good job versus doing a great job. Their discretionary effort is so vital for your success. If you are aiming to build teams that are self-organizing, this is even more crucial.
  3. To be a part of a self-organizing team, people require maturity, skills and expertise to deal with technical challenges and manage conflicts constructively. Without required technical and functional competence, team will just not be able to take decisions to move forward.
  4. Narrowly focused reward programs kill self-organization within teams. When people have narrow and conflicting goals, they will do everything to meet their goals and yet, system might fail. Setting up systemic goals are vital to encourage collaboration (everyone wins when the system wins) rather than competition.
  5. Self-organizing teams also need a leader (read coach) – only that the role of a leader is to guide self-organization and clarify the direction relentlessly. A leader enables self-organization between team members and plays the role of mentor or a coach to the team. For this, leaders have to adopt an abundance mindset and give up on old ways of leading others through command and control.
  6. You cannot manage what you cannot measure, it is said. But you only get what you measure. We need to measure right things for right things to happen. E.g. if you only measure utilization, you may get high utilization but lower efficiency.
  7. Learning – collective learning – is the currency of self-organization in a team. The job of a leader is to establish forums where collective learning can happen. I have seen leaders who use forums like technical reviews and retrospectives to guide collective learning.
  8. Prioritization is at the heart of self-organization. When you have too much on your plate, you cannot deliver excellence. I have seen so many teams  derail when multiple and conflicting priorities don’t allow them to focus. Lean methods like Kanban therefore suggests that we limit the work in progress (through effective prioritization) and make the flow of work visible.

Over to you: What have been your experiences in building a self-organizing and agile team? If you were on the panel, what would you have shared?

Optimize the Whole

When we think in parts, we improve in parts. Most of the business improvement is the game of ‘sub-optimization’. You optimize pieces without looking at the whole.

When a customer reports problem with your software, you do an incidental root cause analysis and address the code quality problem. You deploy tools, introduce new processes, measure constantly and yet – a few months later, you encounter a similar problem.

But when you look at the whole system, you might figure out that the real root cause is in something which is immeasurable yet important – may be, collaboration with other teams or how you sell. May be, inefficiencies rooted in how you support your customers after product is delivered.

We optimize the silos and the whole misses our radar. If ‘customer centricity’ is one of your key values, you should consider optimizing the whole customer journey with your organization – not just your development processes.

Often, we also optimize that which is measured. If your metrics are narrow, you will never be able to focus on systemic metrics that may really help your business and the customer.

Here are a few important things to consider when you optimize the whole:

We need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

  • Focus on Value Stream. Value for customer is created in a series of interactions between various processes that starts right from first contact with the customer. Value stream mapping is a lean tool to identify a series of events right from conception to delivery of product or service.
  • Define what “complete” system means. Too often, we think of complete product as a set of completed features. For customers though, complete product is an experience they receive through each interaction with the organization. It helps to define what ‘complete’ means.
  • Measure Right. When you have narrow functional metrics, people in each function will work  hard to achieve their goals and yet, organization will not realize benefits of having such metrics. However, if you have more systemic metrics (and rewards) where people win only when the system wins, it aligns everyone to the same set of goals to ensure that ultimately, customer wins too.

Sub-optimization in organizations is a thinking problem. When you fail to see the whole, you undermine your capabilities as an organization.

And this may be the precise thing that holds you back from delivering a superior performance to your customers.

On Simplifying Through Subtraction

I am on a mission to minimize. It started with this website which went minimal a few months back. It was hard to give up on all those fancy pages, content and images that I had created before. I kept adding more pages to this website till it started feeling like a burden. Now that clutter is gone, it feels so much better. I am now extending the same fundamentals in other areas of work and life.

Outside of mathematics, it is easy to add but far more difficult to subtract.

Adding more stuff at the home, more thoughts in the mind, more pages on the website, more services in business, more features in the product, more property assets, more tasks in the day and more everything else. That’s easy.

Try eliminating what you accumulated and it is way more harder. In a world that is getting more and more complex, we seek more and more simplicity. It seems to me that subtraction is at the heart of simplicity and hence effectiveness. Lao Tzu really got it when he said,

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day”

This may sound paradoxical but the act of subtraction is actually the act of addition in some other form. When I eliminated graphics, I added focus to the content. When we stop doing many things at a time, we create a room for more effort/focus on a few important things.

Methodologies like Kanban promote the idea of limiting the work-in-progress items. When you limit the “stuff on your plate”, you decrease distractions and increase the possibility of finishing what you started without compromising on quality.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

This applies in almost every aspect of business and life. I have seen senior leaders spending days (and nights) doing meetings to frame a grand strategy when it is really the small and basic things that they are really missing. What would happen if they trade grandeur of strategy with simplicity?

Further, what would happen if we simplify the meeting agendas and subtract the number of meetings from our work day? If we reduce the slack in each and every process to get the work done? If we stop trying to load up our teams for doing more work in less time and set them up to focus more on less number of active tasks?

These are all possibilities. To realize these possibilities, we have to actively pursue simplicity through subtraction.

You can’t juggle too many balls for long. What balls are you ready to drop? What will you subtract?


Note: I have learned a great deal about simplicity and subtraction from Matthew E. May’s blog and his book “The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything” is definitely on my reading list.

Measuring Right Things: Utilization Versus Efficiency

In manufacturing world, there is a direct correlation between how much machines are utilized and how much they produce. This works because machines do the work that is non-linear and there is very little variation in producing exactly same unit of work. Utilization is the extent to which installed capacity performs actual work. Less idle time means more utilization.

Knowledge work – where people find optimal ways to apply their knowledge to a given context in such a way that it produces the best possible business result – is very different. In this world of work, more utilization does NOT always equate with more productivity and efficiency. With re-usability, someone can churn a great deal of work in a short time whereas a tiny piece of work/defect may take up days to solve. Being busy, in this world, does not mean progress and when people seem to be sitting idle, it does not necessarily mean they are not working.

In HBR article “Six Myths of Product Development”, authors Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen say –

Processes with high variability behave very differently. As utilization increases, delays lengthen dramatically. Add 5% more work, and completing it may take 100% longer. But few people understand this effect.

And when companies focus solely on measuring and improving utilization alone, people will respond to that expectation accordingly. People will seemingly remain (or report) busy all the day when nothing real is accomplished. More utilization without visible gain in efficiency is a waste.

Instead of focusing on utilization, we should focus on efficiency – how much real work gets shipped and how well. Efficiency encourages people to work smart, focus on quality and find best possible route to achieve the desired business results.

For this, we should focus on building a system where efficiency is more likely to happen. We need to engage our people to the purpose of our product/organization. We need to give them autonomy and promote self-organization. We need to share feedback early and often. Most importantly, we need to trust them.

And we need to monitor real progress instead of simply trying to occupy people for 8 hours everyday!

Implicit Customer Expectations: Are You Addressing Those?

Customers don’t always specify everything they want. Truth is, not everything can be specified.

Lets say, you go to a restaurant and order a sandwich. You specify the type of bread, filling preferences, sauces etc. That’s what you want and it can be specified explicitly. But you also want the bread and veggies to be fresh. Preparation to be hygienic. Ambience to be nice. People to be courteous and so on. How often do you specify these expectations? It has to be that way.

These are implicit customer expectations and they are powerful. It starts with a decently working product but you deliver real value to customer when you address implicit expectations. Better yet, if you are able to create a new set of implicit expectations, you start leading the way. This not only delights the customer but creates a new standard for implicit expectations in your area of work. When you set new standards for implicit expectations, you move a customer from “experience” to “advocacy.”

Implicit expectations are slippery. Easy to overlook or ignore because they are unsaid and invisible. This is an area where you are likely to take shortcuts because RoI of addressing implicit expectations is not visible.

In your quest to deliver a working product fast (and cheap), do not forget that customer still expects you to address the intangible elements of product that are not specified but certainly expected.

If you want to deliver great value to your customers, you have to get your kitchen in order. That’s where real value is created.


Related Posts:

Book Announcement: Implementing Lean Six Sigma in 30 Days

I am so glad to announce that my next book is just released. It is an actionable guide titled “Implementing Lean Six Sigma in 30 Days” that aims to help readers in understanding the Lean Six Sigma methodology and solve problems that undermine quality and inhibit efficiency.

This book is for business owners, quality improvement professionals and anyone in general who is driven by the desire to improve their team performance.

I co-authored this book with my colleague and friend Gopal Ranjan (to whom I am so grateful) and this book is published by ImPackt Publishing, UK.

As also written in the book introduction,

How can we improve? This is one of the most fundamental, but challenging, questions an organization can ask itself. It is never easy, but the ability to drive significant change that can bring positive results is immensely important for a business that wants to be successful in a rapidly growing market. Lean Six Sigma offers a way of answering this question, combining the approaches of both Lean and Six Sigma in a way that offers an opportunity for exponential improvement in a way that is manageable, flexible and sustainable. Spanning a month’s implementation process, this book will take you on a Lean Six Sigma journey, where you will gain a clear understanding of the fundamental principles, and develop a clear perspective of the process as it unfolds. From defining the problems to be tackled, to their measurement and analysis, this book leads you towards the stage of innovation where you can take steps that ensure and sustain improvements.

So, if you are a quality professional or an improvement consultant, you can use this book to guide your clients/organizations through their Lean Six Sigma journey.

Available on: Amazon and PacktPub Website

And yes, when you guide your customers through improvement journey, do not forget to align the content (the concept and implementation method) to your client/organization’s unique business context.

Because in the end, any methodology or best practice only delivers results when content intersects with context. It is this intersection where meaning is created.


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Consulting, Content and Context: A Fable

contentcontext

It was the first day of his job as a consultant with this large consulting house. The consultant entered the office and walked across the corridor confidently, armed with his knowledge about methodologies, tools and best practices.

In next few weeks of his induction, the challenge was to apply his knowledge on several simulated situations that consultants usually face during their real assignments. He provided solutions that were in tune with some or the other best practice but impractical to implement in a given situation.

The boss was observing this from a distance since a few weeks and his disappointment grew with each passing day.

It is said that when only thing you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Consultant was trying to nail the problems with the only hammer he had – the best practices .

Knowing that things were not heading in a right direction, boss called the consultant for a counseling session over a cup of coffee.

It was clear that the consultant was loaded with content but did not do enough to understand the context of the problem – the culture, people, business model, root causes of problems and specific situations.

The boss explained, “Unless you put your lessons in a frame of reference, those lessons mean a little. You can endlessly talk about your knowledge, but unless mapped to a context, it has no meaning.”

The consultant was curious to know more about the context.

The boss continued, “Context is a powerful thing. It is a perspective you form based on a situation. A freedom fighter of one country may be considered as a terrorist by the other. One man and two different ways to look at him based on the context he is into.”

He explained further, “Your success as a consultant (and professional) is less about knowledge of best practices and more about your ability to map them to a specific business context. Context provides meaning to content. If you think of your knowledge content as water, context is the glass that holds it, gives it a shape; an identity. Our knowledge is static and defined whereas situations are dynamic and uncertain.”

As the wisdom unfolded, consultant felt as if he was beginning a new chapter in his consulting career. He realized that context always trumps content.

The lessons he learned from this short counseling session would stay with him throughout his career!

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BONUS: I recently had an interesting Twitter conversation on Quality, Process and Culture in a Complex Business World with Tom Peters, Mark Graban, John Kordyback, Sunil Malhotra, Jatin Jhala and others. Read the storified version of the conversation here.

SHRM Top 20 Indian HR Influencers Active on Social Media 2013

Social media has become mainstream and an integral part of business strategy. Social media is at the center of how people connect, consume information, drive conversations, initiate movements and promote brands. At a time when everyone seems to be on social media, the challenge for those who wish to make a difference is to generate influence.

Last year, SHRM India published a first-ever list of Top 20 Indian HR Influencers on Social Media – people with distinct voice that reflects engaging ideas and insights. I was featured at #4.

This year again, SHRM India published a list of Top 20 Indian HR Influencers Active on Social Media 2013” and I was so happy to featured at #3 along with prominent HR thought-leaders and practitioners like Gautam Ghosh (Philips India), Vineet Nayar (Joint Managing Director, HCL Tech), Abhijit Bhaduri (Chief Learning Officer, Wipro), Aadil Bandukwala (Recruitment Product Consultant, LinkedIn), and Anand Pillai (Chief Learning Officer, Reliance), amongst others. This year, influence was evaluated with a focus on quality of conversations apart from Twitter statistics. As per SHRM,

The new report, in addition to gauging the influence of dominant HR voices on Twitter, goes a step further by zeroing in on the content of the Twittersations. ‘The methodology followed this year is similar to the last year with one core addition. In 2012, we identified specific HR keywords and monitored them on Twitter but this year we looked at the influencers from Learning and Development, Social Media, Talent Management and Leadership domains and captured their influence on Twitter,’ the report says.

From an HR perspective, it is important that talent managers leverage the power of social media to recruit, collaborate and engage with current and future talent pool.

This recognition for second consecutive year underlines my belief: Excellence is a product of leading people well and every manager, in that sense, is an HR Manager. Building a culture of excellence is not just a departmental job of HR, it is everybody’s job.

I am excited about this recognition because it underlines the importance of human factor in quality.

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Download the 2013 Report Here.

Download the 2012 Report Here.

Visit the related post on SHRMIndia’s website.

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How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

In manufacturing, “touch-time” is when the raw material actually touches the machinery and moves one level up in the production cycle. In a factory, more capacity to produce does not yield results if “touch-time” is low. In lean methodology, it is also referred to as “processing time”.

As a professional, you have required skills and knowledge that increases your capacity to deliver. But that is of no use if your “professional touch-time” is less i.e. time when your unique abilities and talents are at work to produce meaningful results. In a typical work day, how often do we get sucked into activities that adds no or little value but just ends up filling the time?

If you are a programmer, what percentage of your time is spent in actually writing/improving code and building awesomeness into your software? If you are a sales professional, how much of productive time do you spend on reporting/MIS versus actually talking to a prospect and making a sale? If you are a CEO, how much of your time goes into driving strategy versus implementing tactics? If you are a writer, how many hours per day goes into actual writing?

When you are in “touch” with your work, you become better. You concentrate. You start spotting opportunities to improve. You optimize it. Nuances of your work start showing up. You build a serious expertise and get creative. You start adding “real value” to the customers.

The only way to improve quality of our work is to do the real work – not just preparing for it, but doing it.

Critical questions then are: When did you last measure how you spend your productive time in the day? What is your professional touch-time?

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Quality: Ownership and Getting Better

Helsinki Lutherian Cathedral, Finland Photo By: Tanmay Vora

Quality you deliver has everything to do with how much you own your work, your actions and its respective impact on the other parts of the system you operate in. When you produce work that is useful, qualitative and something that others find valuable, it feeds your self-esteem and makes you a better individual. By consistently delivering better than you did last time, you raise the bar and grow.

It is a cyclic process and the one that starts with an intention to do better, not with just having better or superior skills. It is the same intention that drives the thing we call “ownership”. This means, unless you own your work, you will never be able to deliver better than you did last time. And when you do that, work becomes a part of your identity and you value it higher. You do well in things that you value more. In a knowledge world, your work carries your fingerprints. It tells a story about you. This is even more so if you are a leader at any level.

Downed by things like organizational hierarchy, our fear of failure, lack of trust with superiors, micromanagement and poor management, we often treat our work as a transaction. I do this and I get this. You do only that which is required by the job. Work like this for a few months and you will be indifferent, uninspired and if you are ambitious, stressed. Quality of your work will plummet down and growth will be stalled. Not a great way to work and live, particularly when this is the only life you (and we all) have!

Better alternative is to take charge from where you are. Acknowledge the problems, evaluate possible solutions and work your way out. This may not be easy, but on a long run, compromising on quality of your work because of these external factors and not growing through your work can be both painful and costly!

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

Understanding Quality: Duty Towards Self

Core of a Kiwi Fruit : Photograph By Tanmay Vora

Gross definition of quality is externally oriented – meeting and exceeding customer expectations, satisfying their implicit and explicit requirements, the degree of excellence, and conformance to specifications. They all refer to something outside of us.

At a subtle level, quality stems from what is inside of us. More than deliverance to others, it is deliverance to our own selves. If what we do makes us happy, it will make them happy too.

In his timeless classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Robert M. Pirzig captures the cultural correlation between ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies and quality.

Consider this snippet:

“What moves the Greek warriors to deeds of heroism is not the sense of duty as we understand it – duty towards others; it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate ‘virtue’ but is in Greek arête, excellence. …. Phaedrus was fascinated too by the description of the motive of “duty towards self” which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma.”

A lot of self-help material talk about “living up to one’s full potential” – in Greek mythology, that is exactly what arête or excellence means. And it starts from an intense desire to do whatever you do in the best possible manner – not for someone else, but for the self.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” – Robert M. Pirzig

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My other attempts to understand Quality from a different lens:

1) Quality is Human. Quality is Love.
2) Quality? Excellence? What?
3) Quality is Happiness
4) Quality and Quantity – Compliance and Excellence

What We Need: Compassionate Compliance

Compliance stems from our need to ensure certainty, reduce variability and adhere to a certain structure or model. Compliance may be explicit (e.g. to a certain process model like ISO) or it may be implicit (e.g. to a certain specific belief system, way of working or ideology). Focusing on compliance means that you have a direction to follow and it should allow you to focus on the nuances of work without worrying about the basics. Compliance is good because it helps us stay creative, allows us to be a part of community and gives us a direction.

The problem stems when focus is only on compliance. A friend who is a senior leader in IT organization narrated his recent experience. In his quest to fix a nagging problem on a project that he had just taken over, he ended up forcing compliance to a certain process without taking time to understand the real root cause. People initially raised their concerns but then succumbed to the force. They complied dispassionately, morale went southwards and quality dropped. It took him a lot of effort and time to get things back on track, though not as great as it was before.

He made a mistake that I like to call as “Compliance without Compassion”.

To be compassionate is to understand that every problem has many facets and every situation has a context attached to it. That people will only follow rules if those rules really help them in adding value. That people need to be understood first. That sometimes, you have to look at purpose more than how a task is performed. That it is important to be cruel to be kind – being tough for a greater good.That effective solutions are the ones that consider all the facets of the problem –the context behind it. To be compassionate is to tune the process or ideology such  that it yields maximum value with minimum waste. To be open to new possibilities and appreciate that others may be seeing things differently. To evolve and improve.

Compliance is always an external force. Compassion stems from within – from our desire to add value without compromising on human aspect of work.

Bottom line:

We don’t need plain compliance. Compassion alone may not help. What we need is compassionate compliance.

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Photo Courtesy: Sendai Eyes’ Flickr Photostream

In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden

Improvement is never a destination, but a journey that is organic, constant and never-ending. Consider this story from Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur

A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes.

A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”

Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Don’t Miss: Nicholas Bate’s Life Tips 101

Do KRA’s and Rewards Help in Quality?

When kids don’t comply to your instructions, you tell them, “Do it and you will get a surprise gift.” Some parents I know use scoring system (with negative marking) to keep kids focused on living within the rules. Each time they comply, they get certain points. Once these points total up to a certain agreed threshold, they get a surprise gift.

This theory gets extended in organizations and teams. Managers and HR set up KRA’s for each employee and some part pay is attached to achievement of these KRA’s. Like kids, people are driven by all rewards that are external in nature.

Do such reward systems really result in a lasting change in anyone’s behavior or habits? Do they help people in delivering better outcomes?

Every approach to motivate people will have downsides – and the downside of “performance based rewards OR rewards based performance” is that it only generates dispassionate compliance to established performance standards. It seldom is the reason why an employee would exercise her discretionary effort to innovate and walk that extra mile to deliver superior outcomes.

I was wondering about it when I read about the work of Alfie Kohn – one of the America’s leading thinkers on the subject of motivation and rewards. He wrote a book titled “Punished by Rewards” and in his 1993 article in New York Times, he suggests:

If rewards do not work, what does? I recommend that employers pay workers well and fairly and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. A preoccupation with money distracts everyone — employers and employees — from the issues that really matter.

Those issues might be abbreviated as the three C’s of quality: choice, collaboration and content. Choice means workers should participate in making decisions about what they do. Collaboration means they should be able to work together in effective teams. Content refers to the job’s tasks. To do a good job, people need a good job to do.

Doing these things is much more difficult than dangling goodies in front of workers. But manipulating behavior by offering rewards, while a sound approach for training the family pet, can never bring quality to the workplace.

On the other hand, completely eliminating external rewards may also not guarantee quality. Yes, people work for money and that is the starting point of engagement. They exercise their discretionary effort only when they are provided autonomy, community/collaboration and work that helps them grow as professionals and human beings.

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Tell us, what do you think? Do you agree with Alfie Kohn? How does your organization handle this all important issue? What have you experienced so far?

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Related Articles: Does Rewarding Children Backfire?

Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement. It all sounds good on the surface, but the reality is that very few companies fully embrace kaizen. They say, “But we’re improving all the time.” That may be true, but it’s the way in which companies make improvements that matters.

In companies that truly embrace kaizen, the bulk of improvement—from surfacing problems and opportunities, to designing, testing, and implementing countermeasures (a better word than “solutions”)—are done by the people who do the work. In most organizations, however, improvements are “mandated” by supervisors, managers, and senior leaders. This organizational behavior has several key consequences:

1) The people doing the work become numb order-takers versus engaged problem solvers.

2) The improvement is often merely a “change,” not true improvement.

3) The improvement is resisted because it’s being forced on people who had no involvement in designing it.

In my book, The Outstanding Organization, I show how kaizen is a highly effective means to boost employee engagement by meeting three basic human needs: 1) The need to connect, 2) the need to be creative, and 3) the need to be in control. This last one often scares leaders; they fear they’ll lose control and anarchy will occur. But, in properly executed kaizen, the frontlines are given control within clearly defined boundaries that leadership themselves set.

There are two ways to approach kaizen. Ultimately you want improvement being designed and implemented by everyone, every day, everywhere in an organization.This transformation requires both leadership development and a disciplined problem-solving and improvement process. Kaizen events, highly structured improvement activities that are an effective shaping tool, are a second way to shift culture and begin reaping the significant benefits from achieving both high levels of employee engagement and rapid results.

In both cases, employees have ample opportunities to connect with organization purpose, a specific problem or opportunity, and each other. They use their creative potential in highly fulfilling ways. And they are given the level of control that all human beings need and deserve. In a word: they become deeply ENGAGED.

The people who do the work are the experts, not leaders nor consultants. If you want employees to engage, you must create the conditions for engagement to occur. Creating a proper kaizen culture is the way to achieve this. Start today!

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Today’s Guest Post comes from Karen Martin – author of The Outstanding Organization, which addresses the missing fundamentals that are key success factors in organizational transformation. Karen is the founder of Karen Martin & Associates and she is also the co-author of The Kaizen Event Planner: Achieving Rapid Improvement in Office, Service, and Technical Environments Guest Post   Words Matter: Why I Prefer PDSA over PDCA lean.

In Review: The Outstanding Organization by Karen Martin

In quest of excellence, an organization that grows has to deal with chaos. I recently read Karen Martin’s new book “The Outstanding Organization” that offers a simple yet effective model to create organizational conditions to combat this chaos and ensure better results out of improvement efforts.

What Problem Does This Book Address?

The book starts with a simple premise: Self-inflicted chaos (internal chaos) sabotages an organization’s ability to provide value to your customers, satisfy stakeholders, and offer a work environment that doesn’t break employees’ spirit. Self-inflicted chaos comes from constantly shifting (and often conflicting) priorities, excessive focus on hierarchy, unclear direction, unstable processes, unhappy customers and disengaged employees. To deal with this chaos that cracks the very foundation on which business results are based, Karen suggests essential strategies in four broad areas: Clarity, Focus, Discipline and Engagement.

What I liked the most

I loved the simplicity with which this book is written. It is a fine balance of narrative explanation, real life examples from the world of business and specific actionable ideas.

In the very beginning, Karen emphasizes that all improvement strategies are based on “respect for people.” Karen says,

“I have never seen an outstanding organization that believes that people are interchangeable, that they are simply parts in a machine to be used when needed and discarded when they are no longer convenient. I have never seen an outstanding organization that views people as a variable cost. Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.”

This book also touches upon applicability of essential lean concepts including Gemba and Kaizen in building a high performance organization. Not only that, the book has impressive research behind it and the research sources are very generously shared.

Selected Quotes from the Book

On Engagement and Creativity: “When the need to express their creativity is consistently thwarted – whether because it’s not safe, not encouraged, or not allowed – human beings stop giving of themselves – they know they will get nothing back. Organizational performance suffers as a result.”

On Priorities: “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”

The bottom line

No single book can cover everything that is required to build a great organization. However, this book is a very good starting point for senior leaders within the organization to assess the current state and decide their way forward based on essential strategies outlined in the book. Every leader who is committed to excellence will find this book useful.

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Find out more about the book at Karen Martin’s website: http://www.ksmartin.com/