All In

From 2007 to 2021, I ran a speaking and consulting firm called AccelaWork. I closed that business because I am running for U.S. Congress. You're likely here because a search engine still has references to the 4,000+ pages of content from that site.

I stand by what we wrote, and I think the most honest choice is to preserve that information, since its part of what I did before I became a candidate for public office. That writing is all below.

Robby Slaughter
September 2021

Breaking the Law in 20 Words (Or Less)

Every business wants to protect its assets, and instructions might represent trade secrets. But could only twenty words be something that no one can legally share?

A classic op-ed piece in the New York Times by Michael Crichton states a scientific claim which happens to be copyrighted. Here's a hint: it's an expansion on the idea that vitamins are good for you.

Unlike similar statements of fact, such as "the earth revolves around the sun", this sentence of twenty words is the subject of courtroom controversy. It can't be repeated, or even considered, without legal ramifications. According to Crichton:

A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

Obviously a "trade secret" is a time-honored tradition in business. But no matter the age or the size of the company, there's more to a brand then a formula that they keep under wraps. The recipe for Coca-Cola is confidential, but the value of that organization is mostly tied up in sales relationships, distribution systems, employee knowledge, and business processes. The chemical symbols are important, but aren't much in the grand scheme of the enterprise.

No business should rely on a revenue model based on keeping small amounts of information secret. Even organizations with vast libraries of content—like record labels, production companies and software developers—should differentiate themselves on the quality of their service, not the control of information. If your business includes "trade secrets" as a barrier to your competition, contact the business improvement experts at AccelaWork today to evaluate how to transform your business process.

Grocery Store-Inspired Process Improvements

Business researchers at the Wharton School are focusing on the way we shop. Some paths through the supermarket are more efficient than others, changing grocery store layout from intuition to science.

Recent studies---according to an article from Forbes magazine---note that patrons spend, at most, 30 percent of their time actually acquiring merchandise, leaving the remainder for browsing, navigating the store, and completing the checkout process. Retailers believe better store design would increase shopper productivity, boosting that percentage and therefore, overall sales.

Scientists compare the experience of being a retail customer to the to "traveling salesman problem." In short, if a salesperson has to visit a number of different cities, what is the shortest path they can take and then return home? From the article:

Grocery shoppers face the same challenge as they go about collecting milk, bread, cookies or other things on their list, according to Wharton marketing professor Peter S. Fader. “The TSP closely resembles the problem faced by a typical grocery shopper who plans to purchase a certain list of items in the grocery store,” Fader and his research colleagues–Wharton marketing professor Eric Bradlow and doctoral student Sam Hui–write in a new paper, “The Traveling Salesman Goes Grocery Shopping: The Systematic Inefficiencies of Grocery Paths.” For the shopper, the researchers write, “the TSP offers an ‘optimal’ path, which connects the entrance, all the products that she purchases and the checkout counter.”

To achieve the same efficiency as the salesman who meticulously plots his route, a shopper would need to know where products are located and have a game plan on how to go about gathering the items on his list while covering as little distance as possible. But do people really behave that way when they head into their neighborhood supermarket?

Work environments are often plagued by similar challenges. We sometimes find ourselves exhausted by overhead, constantly running around the office, or waiting patiently on someone else. Spending 30 percent of our time at the office actually completing work that advances the organization may sound optimistic, as we're too often wasting even more time on distractions.

If it seems challenging to apply the complex mathematics of the traveling sales problem to your organization, you are not wrong. But the first step in any situation is to acknowledge that the issue exists. If you find that the way you organize papers at your desk or emails in your inbox seems random, perhaps a higher level of thinking should be considered. And if they way data moves through your organization's bureaucracy seems equally convoluted, maybe it's time to sit down and draw a map.

And you're not alone if you're just thinking about this systematically for the first time:

“By no means does this study solve all the burning questions that keep retailers awake at night, but it’s a step in the right direction. The main point is that we’re bringing hard science to an area that’s been left to judgment and intuition alone. There are still many steps awaiting us on our ‘path’ to better understand in-store behavior, and we hope we can be fairly efficient---unlike most grocery shoppers---as we move ahead with it.”

Companies leaders who want to better understand their current workflow and make improvements in business processes should pursue business improvement consulting services. If your company is operating on intuition instead of science, contact AccelaWork to arrange a consultation. We would love to help you make the leap, draw the map, and help bring your business to the next level.

Open Communication and America’s Complicated Pastime

Clear communication is a hallmark of good business. So why are some parts of the multibillion dollar free-agent system conducted partially in secret?

Here's how it works: If a baseball team in the U.S. wants to hire an impressive player from Japan, they're not allowed to make an offer directly. Instead, the league organizes a silent auction and any interested party can place a bid. Some commentators believe this secrecy is inflating the market, making foreign players unreasonably expensive.

Sports writer Tim Kurkjian at ESPN magazine explains how Daisuke Matsuzaka successfully secured a whopping $51.1 million from the Boston Red Sox. Because the auction was conducted in secret, the winning team ended up bidding 20 percent more than the second place team to ensure their lead. Still, this figure ended up in negotiation, driving up the final price to just over $100 million.

The backstory is fascinating. From the article:

"It is silly,'' said one major league executive. "It is stupid."

The posting process originated from the Padres' controversial signing of pitcher Hideki Irabu in 1997. The Padres entered into a working agreement with Irabu's team in Japan, the Chiba Lotte Marines, guaranteeing exclusive rights to him, which angered a number of major league teams that wanted to bid for him. The Padres traded Irabu to the Yankees three months later, but from Irabu's signing, the posting process was born. Now teams make one secretive bid. The team with the highest bid is given 30 days to sign the player. If the team fails to do so, the player goes back to his Japanese club, and the posting fee is retrieved.

The posting process was adopted in part because the small-market teams didn't feel they had a chance to compete in open bidding against the big-market clubs. But what we've learned from the Matsuzaka case is that the blind bidding by teams can produce an even more outrageous offer. When the Mariners posted $13.1 million for Ichiro Suzuki in 2000, they were afraid that they had overpaid for him, but they knew they had to offer at least $10 million to have a shot at getting him. As it turned out, Ichiro has earned his money.

Many believe the posting process will be changed, but the fundamental challenge for Major League Baseball is the question of secrecy. Any organization which attempts to create a positive economic climate without total openness is always in danger of such imbalances. Keeping details under wraps is very rarely the best move for everyone involved.

This is a classic problem in economics, dating back to the era of Adam Smith. It's sometimes called information asymmetry. If you know more than the other guy, you may have the upper hand. But that also means the other guy may be frustrated or feel the need to retaliate.

There's a lesson for everyone, not just baseball managers and economists. Companies and nonprofit entities should always attempt to ensure that news of incentives, rewards, and opportunities is made available to affected stakeholders. That means if there's a promotion available, a bonus upcoming, or a chance for something new, be sure and share it as widely as you can. Otherwise, people may feel left out and bad decisions might get made.

The opposite is true as well. Holding off bad news or keeping it isolated to a few people is probably not the right move. Share, deal with the issue, and move on.

If your company is facing difficult internal outcomes due to a lack of trust, consider a business consulting firm to assist in evaluating your workflow and information management. Because usually, it's about the system. If the rules are the game are fun, everyone wants to play.

The Inefficiency of Power in Network Traffic

Effective process improvement requires the willingness to look everywhere. That includes looking beyond the obvious, even when the subject is highly advanced information technology.

Consider the electrical power in network connections between computers, servers, and other devices—it may seem insignificant compared to the energy required to run the equipment itself.

However, according to The Register, the world's packet-switched networks are wasting a billion dollars in power costs.

Expert Mike Bennett says most of the problem lies in our high-speed connections. They're usually overkill. Network cables and interfaces operate at peak performance, even in the quiet midnight hours when almost no one is online. Just reconfiguring equipment to automatically switch to lower speeds can mean big savings:

A lot of the problem is connections running at higher speeds than they need to, said EEE chair Mike Bennett. He added that the problem has worsened as more and more systems - from business servers and network printers to home IPTV set-top boxes - are left on 24x7.

"For example, measured at the wall socket, a device that operates at 100BASE-TX instead of 1000BASE-T when the link is operating well under 100Mbit/s could save close to 2W," he said. "Multiply that by two for the other end of the circuit and you're saving roughly 4W per link. It may not sound like much, but over an enterprise with thousands of links, it can add up."

Even if you don't work in information technology, these kinds of process improvement techniques can still apply. How much paper are you wasting that could be turned over and reused on the back? How many lights do you leave on when sunlight will suffice or you're the only one working on the entire floor? How many emails do you keep in your own private inbox filing system when your colleagues are doing the same with the very same emails?

You're probably thinking that this is a strange way of thinking. And in fact, it's a relatively new idea known as lateral thinking.

Approaching problems about resources in this unique fashion can identify creative ways to conserve and reduce costs. But it's not just a savings technique: it's also a method for innovation. Learning to think differently is a common refrain, but a helpful exercise. We all need to "get outside the box"---even if it's just beyond the networking equipment down to the wall socket.

A nice piece on the topic comes from the website To quote:

“We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries,” explains Edward de Bono, who coined the term in 1967. “Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces.” It’s the art of reframing questions, attacking problems sideways. They way a computer hacker or, say, MacGyver would think.

Breakthroughs, by very definition, only occur when assumptions are broken. In creative fields, this often happens when people break rules that aren’t actually rules at all, but rather simply conventions.

It's hard, but it's worth it. The best solutions often come not from doing what's obvious, but from trying things that seem completely crazy and unorthodox. And sometimes, it's not even the attempt that makes the difference. Sometimes it's the failure that provides the inspiration for success.

This may be something you can do in-house. Or, you may need to talk to an outsider to get a fresh perspective. If your company wants to better assess existing systems, services, and workflow, contact us at AccelaWork to schedule a consultation. We'd love to help you think differently, challenge assumptions, and achieve more.

Inefficient Processes Can Even Ruin A Justice System

Workflow and process issues sent one man to jail twice for the same crime. The system was too slow to update, so he appeared to be guilty of skipping the sentence.

Here's what happened: When Horace Harding plead guilty to a serious traffic offense, he accepted his fate and served a 30-day sentence in prison. Unfortunately, the system designed to record his compliance with the sentence took several weeks to catch up. Harding was then picked up by the police, and because of the processing delay, could not prove he had already cleared the warrant. The slow pace of bureaucracy sent Horace Harding to jail twice for only one crime.

Barbara Gayle's expose on the justice system in Jamaica reveals a combination of corruption, incompetence, and tragedy. The case of Horace Harding demonstrates that an inefficient system does not save time, but it can also cause devastating errors. The interplay of court documents, police warrants, arrest records and sentencing requires careful analysis to ensure fairness. One source explained that these issues impact the entire system, noting that:

Three weeks after he filed a suit in the Supreme Court Registry, the file could not be found. After waiting there for more than an hour while the staff searched for it, he left saying that when it was found he would return for the hearing, which was scheduled in chambers for that day. After waiting there for more than an hour while the staff searched for it, he left saying that when it was found he would return for the hearing, which was scheduled in chambers for that day. The file was eventually found but Phipps expressed great displeasure at the system of record keeping at the Supreme Court and asked whether they had ever heard of computers...

It is not unusual for people to turn up at the courthouse requesting information in relation to cases which have been disposed of from as far back as the 1960s, the court official disclosed.

The court official pointed out that such information was not easy to come by because, even if a clerk was assigned to search for a particular file, the clerk was going to report that it was not found because the real truth is that unless the person has the suit number or even the year it was filed or disposed of, then it would be like looking for a needle in a hay stack. The court official said that The Supreme Court was badly in need of a records officer to deal with those files.

The final orders of those old cases should really be scanned into computers and reserved because the Supreme Court is a court of record," the court official added.

The island nation of Jamaica is ranked as "medium" on the United Nations Human Development Index and receives millions in foreign aid from the United States. Yet even in offices, factories and government offices of highly-developed countries, stories such as these do not sound implausible. Productive, effective procedures are the hallmark of good business and great service. We all know people like Horace Harding who have been treated unfairly by some broken system---criminal justice or otherwise.

A key reason process improvement is hard is because the people most impacted have the least power to make changes. That's why the best thing you can do is speak up if something isn't working right. Or, if you're in charge of a system, ask for feedback. Process improvement consultants start with asking questions and listening carefully. That's the critical element to improving any system.

If you are concerned about the quality of process in your organization, or if you want to find ways to improve they way you conduct business, contact AccelaWork today. Our team helps companies and non-profits analyze and improve operations for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Unsolved Due to Workflow Error

The British government maintains an ambitious registry of over four million DNA samples used in crime fighting. However, some major data entry problems have left nearly 200 crimes undetected.

Quoting from The Times:

As the total number of samples on the database topped 4 million — meaning that 5.5 per cent of the UK population now has their DNA held by the Government — officials acknowledged that 5,000 of those failed entries have never been loaded, so the full consequences of the failures are not known.

A Home Office spokesman said that there was one arson attack, three robberies, nine burglaries, nineteen drugs offences, and sixty-two thefts among the 193 crimes that went unsolved because of the inputting failures, which were blamed on incomplete information and technical problems.

The article continues to explain the many controversies around this database including the retention of DNA for people who have been cleared and the existence of many duplicate records. Whether you feel that a biometric registry is a great crime-fighting tool or a serious violation of civil liberties, the role of managing the system is complicated and apparently experiencing major problems. This government admission questions the integrity of the service, and makes discussing the deep social question much more difficult.

There's a similar issue with a similar system in New York.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a review of a national DNA database, has identified nearly 170 profiles that probably contain errors, some the result of handwriting mistakes or interpretation errors by lab technicians, while New York State authorities have turned up mistakes in DNA profiles in New York’s database.

The discoveries, submitted by the New York City medical examiner’s office to a state oversight panel, show that the capacity for human error is ever-present, even when it comes to the analysis of DNA evidence, which can take on an aura of infallibility in court, defense lawyers and scientists said.

The errors identified so far implicate only a tiny fraction of the total DNA profiles in the national database, which holds nearly 13 million profiles, more than 12 million from convicts and suspects, and an additional 527,000 from crime scenes. Still, the disclosure of scores of mistaken DNA profiles at once appears to be unprecedented, scientists said.

In some cases, the discovery of an error has enabled the authorities to identify new suspects in cold cases. One such discovery has breathed new life into the murder investigation of a man found bludgeoned to death in the Bronx in 1998. It also led to new matches in two rape cases in New York City in the 1990s, although the statute of limitations for prosecution appears to have expired. In these examples, the errors were found in the DNA profiles taken from the crime scenes rather than from people convicted of crimes.

The errors had the effect of obscuring clues, blinding investigators to connections among crime scenes and known offenders. It remains to be seen whether the new DNA evidence will cast doubt on any closed cases.

It's one thing if these errors simply make the system inefficient, but the implication of the wrong person is also possible, and that would be catastrophic for those involved. Any time a company, non-profit organization, or government provides a service or introduces a program that inspires divisive emotional reactions, issues with quality and efficiency only muddy the debate. Parliament will not be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a national DNA registry if the office in charge cannot be be trusted to operate the database efficiently in the first place. This is the essence of process improvement and in particular process improvement consulting: understanding how data and decisions are integrated to get the best possible result.

Likewise, your operation must be especially effective when working in controversial areas or promoting change. AccelaWork provides business consulting services in these areas; helping companies maximize the impact of their methodologies, so that critics and supporters can focus on true products and services rather than supposed issues in provider quality.

Inefficiency Becomes Incompetence In Pakistan

The names might sound unfamiliar, but a story in a Pakistani newspaper reports on inefficiencies in local community boards that might well be in your own hometown.

According to Khalid Hasnain of the Dawn Newspaper Group, the district government in Khanewal, Pakistan has approved development projects for citizen groups with a failing track record.

This follows some 1.5 million rupees provided for milk chillers, another 1.5 million for furniture for a high school, and just under 1.1 million rupees for an ambulance—none of which have actually been purchased. There are also questions about proper coordination between various offices as well as whether or not application timelines have been enforced by the Executive District Officer.

Sound eerily familiar? Almost every organization around the world deals with challenges in workflow and process management. In the case of this particular story, the process improvement issue has to do with the difference between what was planned and what was actually executed. The report tells a story of a process littered with inefficiencies and process breakdowns. All of this resulted in a tremendous waste of resources, and most importantly, the failure to deliver the contracted services and products. Whether this is fraud or simply incompetence will have to be a detail for future investigative journalism.

The coordination between different departments, agencies, and other stakeholders is always a challenge, not just for governmental entities like Pakistan, but for any organization taking on a major project. It's rare when a project can be completed without some degree of process sharing. Even small businesses and nonprofits require collaboration with other entities from time to time to accomplish certain goals. And the more complex the collaboration, the greater the opportunity for inefficiencies that can cost valuable time and resources and destroy credibility when services aren't delivered. That means the creation of a precise workflow and careful monitoring of progress to ensure completion of the project.

Success in these ventures requires two critical components: communication and accountability. Communication channels and processes must be built in to the overall workflow to make sure all the moving parts in the project can talk to each other. This eliminates delays and inefficiencies waiting for answers to process questions. Accountability pieces must also be implemented, not only to identify the sources of process breakdown and remedy them, but to prevent allegations of impropriety like the ones facing the Pakistani government officials.

Even in the most innocent of circumstances, processes go awry. Absent communication and accountability processes, those breakdowns often go unreported and the project simply and silently comes to a halt until it catches the attention of someone who happens to be looking. Meanwhile, money and time needlessly slip away. And if it's a lucrative project, the potential for fraud and intentional inefficiency is always present.

That's why each project must have an overseer, a "buck-stopper" who enforces accountability, implements necessary changes, and  reports progress to relevant stakeholders. It's this person's job to look for the inefficiencies, to anticipate and proactively prevent breakdowns when possible, and to actively step in to restart processes that have run into road blocks. Without this person, we see the all too common breakdowns in process like the ones happening in Pakistan.

To understand how a company or non-profit can improve, business consulting firms like AccelaWork recommends starting with a workplace diagnostic. This helps identify key components of every activity and provides opportunities to transform workflow for the benefit of stakeholders. Although you may not be wrestling with funding issues for municipal projects in the Punjab province, your organization may have inefficiencies that warrant further investigation. Contact AccelaWork to arrange an appointment today!

Business Consulting Tragedy: Paid For Failure

In dire need of a new payroll system, the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) engaged Deloitte Consulting to the tune of $55 million. Why did they end up paying nearly ten million more?

The problems and overruns during implementation caused an uproar in the ranks of teachers and employees, who demanded remedy. LAUSD agreed to another $9.6 million to fix the issues, spending that money (once again) to pay Deloitte.

An editorial from the Los Angeles Times explains the problem.

The system was supposed to bring efficiency and flexibility to district payroll systems. Instead, it has created the dispiriting spectacle of teachers and other district employees slogging downtown to register complaints and make sense of their paychecks. Back in April, the waits for help averaged nearly five hours; about the only good news the district has to offer lately is that the wait times have fallen to just over two hours. Still, problems persist. Not surprisingly, as employees have missed mortgage and rent payments, concern has mushroomed into outrage. The breakdown has, one board member told The Times, “contributed to the worst demoralization and cynicism I've ever seen in this district.”
The details of this story are incredibly complex, and attempting to place blame with either the school district or with Deloitte would be irresponsible and unhelpful. However, this is a case of dramatic, expensive change executed by consultants which did not occur as planned. Process improvement is supposed to make things better and cost less money overall, not make them worse and be more expensive.

Many stakeholders are upset at the turn of events. The decision to pay Deloitte to help resolve the problems continues and reinforces the relationship between the two parties. Although there is no agreement on who is at fault, this choice fuels discontent because whichever group you blame is still involved.

Businesses and consulting firms will forever have a shared interest: to drive major organizational change in an efficient and cost-effective way. But when the two parties don't do their homework up front, the opposite can occur, like this conflict between the LAUSD and Deloitte.

So how can your business avoid this kind of disaster? The answer isn't avoiding change or consulting firms. It's making sure to do your homework up front.

  1. Make expectations clear from the beginning. Don't wait until contract time, or worse, when things go wrong, to voice your expectation. Consultants should know the exact frameworks you expect with regard to completion time, money spent and product received. Similarly, consultants need to be up front with any objections or issues with their ability to deliver.
  2. Establish regular "check-up" communications. Start with a "kick-off" meeting where all the principals review the expectations and timelines. Then proceed with agreed upon regular check-in conferences to make sure everything is going according to plan. This can turn potential roadblocks into speed bumps and keep a project on time and on budget. Most importantly, it eliminates any explosive surprises in time or cost overruns.
  3. Employ good conflict mediators on the project. With any major change, conflicts will inevitably arise within the process. Too often, the parties dig in their heels and a major roadblock occurs. Businesses need to realize they hired a consultant in the first place because they don't know something. Failing to at least listen to the advice of the consultant is foolhardy. On the other hand, consultants need to adhere to the axiom "the customer is always right." Their job is to deliver what the customer wants. The consultant can certainly provide their expertise and even warnings if necessary, but that should always be tempered with the reality that it's the customer that ultimately must live with the results.
Business consulting firms may want to consider an alternate model for building partnerships---one based on shared risk. And businesses should contact AccelaWork before engaging a traditional consultant for organizational change.

Untangling Technology

We're all interested in usable technology. Who are the people who make electronics easy to use? Curiously, these experts are nicknamed “untanglers.

An overview of the field appears in the lead of the article from the New York Times:

Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it. The creator of a Web site may assume too much knowledge on the part of users, leading to confusion. Software designers may not anticipate user behavior that can unintentionally destroy an entire database. Manufacturers can make equipment that inadvertently increases the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries.

The distance between the designer of a system and the user of a system is a phenomenon which is not unique to technology. In fact, this separation is a key frustration people experience when they are learning anything new. Creators of labor-saving devices, software programs and even business workflows often know a tremendous amount about the ecosystem surrounding their invention. Compare this with the everyday users, who just want access to tools in order to complete their work.

In this sense, you can think of business improvement consultants as usability experts for business processes. Instead of having your company's procedures seem arcane and random, experts can help you to "untangle" policy and create smooth, straightforward patterns for everyday tasks.

For the workplace systems, the best experts offer smart business consulting services to bridge the gap between complex systems and the people who use them. the gap between the people who manage your processes and the people who execute them is wide, reach out to the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork to set up a consultation. We help people and systems work together to achieve success.

Friendly But Bloated Skies

South African Airlines may be at the bottom of the heap among members of the Star Alliance. One study claims they have five times the number of employees per plane as some competitors.

As reported in an interview by iafrica, SAA is “wildly inefficient.? Even after accounting for differences in routes from other Star Alliance partners, the subjects expressed shock that the workforce of the African airline is comprised of 30% management.  How is this possible?

There are plenty of theories about how this happens to an organization. But SAA is not alone. Many businesses---both small and large---look nothing like their closest competitors. And it's not just management. In the case of this carrier, not only does the organization employ more people per plane, but those working as crew or in maintenance or other administrative roles make up more than a quarter of the company.

Comparing your productivity against your partners and competitors is an important and healthy diagnostic step. Improving workflow to positively impact your company is the logical next action. If your company reminds you of South Africa Airlines, with too much management and too many people working on internal tasks instead of helping customers, consider contacting the business consultants at AccelaWork. Your future depends on your ability to continue to compete!

Infrastructure Means Commitment

The Minneapolis bridge collapse lead to a widespread call for instant response to inspect other bridges and enact emergency appropriations. The real problem, however, may be systemic.

As a reminder, the tragedy in Minneapolis in 2007 was a combination of business process failures. Experts did not inspect the bridge appropriately, they did not manage the load on the bridge and they did not track the changing weight of the bridge through repeated resurfacing. The result is something everyone remembers:

A classic Brookings Institution op-ed reviews the main issues, but makes several finer points. So what does the think tank have to say? To quote their paper:

Once funds are allocated the states can distribute them among projects as they see fit. Oversight is limited only to ensuring that they comply with federal guidelines and accepted design standards....A state that prioritized spending so none of its bridges were structurally deficient would not be rewarded in any way, nor would a state that allowed its infrastructure to slip further into disrepair be penalized.

The story of this collapse Minnesota is the same one which occurs under less dire circumstances at any organization at any level. An unexpected and dramatic event usually inspires immediate and swift reaction even though the real need is to understand the larger environment that which allowed the event to occur in the first place.

Well-built, regularly inspected bridges can serve a community without incident for generations. Likewise, all stakeholders can benefit from procedures and processes which have been designed using the best available engineering resources, but only if they are maintained and managed for the life of the organization. If your company or non-profit entity is facing a crisis, resolve the issue and then contact business consultants like the team at AccelaWork. We help businesses understand why anomalies happen, and how they should update policy and workflow accordingly.

"La Dolce Vita" of Waiting

In Prato, Italy, it sometimes takes so long for the government to process residence renewal permits that by the time they are ready to be picked up, they have already expired.

Saying that Italians have challenges with government efficiency might sound like the punchline for an insensitive joke. But for the 3.5 million legal resident aliens who live and work in the country, problems with bureaucracy are no laughing matter. This process improvement issue is their livelihood.

According to the The New York Times:

The issue is particularly pressing in this part of Tuscany, where a once-thriving textile industry fueled immigration, especially from China. The influx of new workers had spurred local administrations to meet with the police department to cut through the bureaucracy. The new procedure has been a huge setback, local officials said.

“Before, we could get papers processed in 15 days, we were cited as a model area,” said Irene Gorelli, the provincial councilor for social affairs. “Now it's as bad as Milan or Rome, it takes months.”

Read that carefully. Incredulously, the local bureaucrat has a well-defined benchmark for unacceptable delays. She believes that the situation is "officially" dire when turnaround times are as slow as in the major cities!

The language we use to describe processes is essential to understanding our perspective and building new approaches to improving our systems. When we compare ourselves to the worst, it shows that we consider our success in relative terms rather than absolute ones. Get help from the process improvement experts at AccelaWork. Make your systems more efficient and effective for everyone.

Printing Errors Violate Trust

When renewal forms were sent out in the mail to the members of the Australian Football League, they included key information. But they also presented a serious mistake.

What does on a renewal form? Naturally, these documents contain personal information including the name, address, phone number and birth date of the recipient. Unfortunately, an error resulted in printing the same data for a different member on the reverse.

Although nobody at the AFL offices caught the error, over a hundred people reported the problem to the organization. This figure should discourage the league management, because it is probably a tiny percentage of the number of people who were actually impacted by the issue. This is a basic principle of feedback: far more people are affected by a problem than bother to report it.

The Age quoted the media manager of AFL, Patrick Keane:

"We are extremely concerned about it and we apologise unreservedly and we are following it up as to how this has occurred. At this point, we think it is restricted to a couple of batches. I couldn't give you the exact number of how many have been mailed at this point."

The creation of mailings is a common business function. It's likely the case that the AFL sends out batches of letters on a regular basis. Although a mistake was made in this instance, the volume and impact of the problem indicates that the mailing process workflow may have serious flaws.

Experts in business process modeling, such as the business consultants at AccelaWork, can help prevent these issues and provide maximum value for all stakeholders. The key is comprehensive review, a structured approach, and true employee engagement. And of course, making things right when mistakes are made.

Drastic Measures, Drastic Results

Lawmakers in Washington state decided to curb property tax growth through a fixed cap. But as with many approaches, a simple approach in a complex system leads to unintended consequences.

The problems were considerable. The extreme measure has forced towns to reduce police protection, decommission fire trucks, close municipal pools, and abandon public safety projects. Many wonder if the cap did any good.

We'll get to the local politics in a moment. But instead of debating the merits of property taxes: let's remember a fundamental fact of process improvement and system design: drastic measures generally produce drastic results.

In this case, an op-ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer describes the situation:

Local governments, which use property taxes to finance many core services, are not flush, either. That is especially true of smaller jurisdictions, cities and counties in mostly rural parts of the state. In those places, [the 1% tax cap] has been a disaster, forcing deep cuts in basic services—such things as police and emergency services—that we all rely on for our basic security and well-being.

Tax policy is complex, but the complaint made is simple. The inability to provide basic services was never an intended goal of the 1% cap, just an unfortunate consequence. Dramatic changes in procedure or policy might win votes and be tremendously popular, but drastic measures usually lead to drastic results. The intensity and variation of outcomes is hard to control.

The business consultants at AccelaWork help organizations study, understand and implement organizational change. However, our focus is on long-term sustained effort as opposed to instant, overnight solutions. If you are looking to improve business processes and recognize that improvement takes time and commitment, reach out to experts to schedule an appointment. We would love to help you steadily and productively transform into a more effective organization.

From Russia, With Frustration

If you are concerned about productivity in your workplace, you are not alone. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the principal issue with his nation’s economy is “extreme inefficiency.”

At first glance, the problems in the world’s largest country may make the average American feel thankful. Putin was quoted here as stating:

You can’t start your own business for months. You have to go to every agency with a bribe: to the firemen, the health inspection, the gynecologists. Who don’t you have to go to? It's just terrible.
Although a depressed economy and an underbelly of corruption seems a world away, are interoffice politics in many offices so different? Starting a new project often requires making the rounds to visit every department and promising favors to well-connected coworkers. Just like the centers of power in Russia, stakeholders in many organizations often have competing objectives and face conflict whenever anyone suggests change.

President Vladimir Putin urged "far-reaching modernization" of his economy. But you don't have to live in Russia to recognize that this is a goal that would benefit many businesses, government offices and non-profit organizations in every nation.

Here are some steps any organization can take to move themselves into the "first world" and eliminate political inefficiencies:

  1. Reward success and achievement, not just position. As Putin points out above, politically corrupt organizations reward and pay tribute to an office or position, regardless of their actual role in getting things done. Smart businesses reward employees, whether their office is in the C-suite or next to the mail room, for their actual contributions to the organization.
  2. Value your employees as people. In politicized organizations, managers treat their employees as chips to be bargained with or chess pieces to be moved around a board. Little or no attention is paid to their personal needs or development. Organizations need to value their employees beyond just productivity. That includes noticing personality styles and how people work together. When the organizational goal is to get along, the political goal of get ahead gets minimized, creating a more harmonious and productive atmosphere.
  3. Create engagement outside of work. You can't force coworkers to be friends, but you can promote that opportunity. Work with HR to schedule fun, social activities after hours (and even a few during regular hours!). Why? This allows everyone in the organization to get the "people first" vantage point mentioned above. Depending on the activity, these activities can also instill teamwork and trust. Even the NFL's Indianapolis Colts get this dynamic, having recently spent a day playing paintball together instead of practicing.
  4. Create mentorship programs and clear paths toward advancement. Political organizations make advancement a game to be played. The rules are nebulous and incentivize Machiavellian behavior to move up the organizational chart. When those in leadership engage and groom their reports, however, they share the "secret sauce" of advancement and create a model for long-term success within the organization.
  5. Everyone wins...and loses. Political organizations reward the close, loyal followers in good times and protect the "inner circle" during times of trouble. That creates a culture where employees are perpetually playing a game of "King of the Hill" trying to make their way into that trusted court. Successful organizations share the rewards and bonuses that come with a job well done. And when things get tight, the management tightens their belt along with everyone else.
It's not just government bureaucracies that have problems with disorganization and corruption. Business consultants can help with process improvement just about everywhere. Even if you're thousands of miles from Moscow.

If your company wants to improve business processes by engaging all stakeholders, consider the business consultants at AccelaWork. We're interested in cutting through red tape and procedural challenges to help you be the best.

Paying by the Hour

These days, dropping $4 for a cappuccino or a few grand for a fancy flatscreen television is a considered a typical purchase, not a wasteful extravagance. So how do we react to hourly wages?

Tipping waitstaff 20% or slipping a few extra bucks to a skycap is standard practice. Popular opinion on billable hourly rates for business consulting and professional services, however, varies from begrudging acceptance to outright mockery. Should we open our wallets or raise our fists?

In Colorado Springs Gazette editorial, columnist Jim Flynn wrestles with the debate over hourly rates at law firms---a type of business consulting. His question: what should we pay for services?

On the one hand, rates of $1,000 per hour for superstar attorneys sounds preposterous, but the power of the most elite legal team will often earn settlements that easily cover their fees. Some claim that charging for time encourages service providers to pad estimates and dawdle to earn more funds. If you do less work in more time, you get do get paid more.

The problem is magnified by overachieving junior staff, who are competing with each other for the most billable hours and the least amount of sleep. Furthermore, providing incentives such as bonuses and accolades as rewards for total charges rather than quality of work surely benefits the firm at the detriment of the client.

On the other hand, Flynn clearly articulates a reasonable counterargument:

"Good lawyers are too busy to revel in inefficiency. They want to get their work done, provide cost-effective services for their clients, and have enough time and energy left to go to their kids’ soccer game or read a book."

Should business consultants charge by the hour? It's certainly easier than charging for a project or tying compensation to results. But just as we know that the best employees are those who aren't motivated by money and who aren't supervised minute by minute, the best business consultants are often those that stay away from hourly billing and come up with more reasonable solutions for compensation.

Learn more. Reach out to our Indianapolis consultants at AccelaWork today!

Disorganization Causes Disappearances

Is it unreasonable to say that black holes exist only in outer space? To the disorganized employee, peeved by their own mess, perhaps not. Piles at work lead to lost items.

The notion of an ominous vacuum that sucks up everything from emails to files to bagged lunches is not only a plausible argument, but a fantastic scapegoat. In an article by Clement Jones of IT News, statistical data depicts the chaos caused by an employee's failure to locate information. Overall, the surprising results supports Jones' main point that “the inability of many employees to find key files, emails or documents can cause stress, frustration, arguments and a bad atmosphere at work.”

From the article:

A survey by enterprise content management firm Tower Software found that a third of employees at middle manager level or below have been in such a position when stepping into someone else's job or covering an absence.

Around 87 percent of those respondents have experienced a variety of negative outcomes as a result, largely because of their inability to find necessary documents.

Over two thirds found it 'extremely frustrating', while 40 percent became 'extremely stressed'.

Nowadays, the choice to save easily-accessible snapshots in electronic form no doubt trumps the hardcopy filing systems of yesteryear. Yet, even with this revelation, there are still many professionals who lose correspondence simply due to a lack of organization. Losing information is unacceptable, but with sheer volume of data we absorb every day, it seems like its inevitable.

How do you keep track of all of the data in your life? Here's a simple piece of advice: file everything as soon as possible. When information arrives in your desk or in your inbox, decide whether it needs to be saved (and put it in the right place) or decide whether it needs to be deleted (and do so accordingly.)

Furthermore, if you work with other people, develop a common filing system that everyone can use. There's no need for multiple people to keep the same information in their own private archives.

After all, the article notes:

Some 43 percent of middle managers and 48 percent of junior managers have had to phone a colleague, customer or supplier to ask them to send a copy of a document or email because they could not find it on their system.

At AccelaWork one of our specialties is helping workplaces to get organized. Whether it involves systematic problems, process failures, employee training, stakeholder collaboration or any other workflow procedures, we can help. Reach out to the process improvement consultants at AccelaWork today to set up a consultation and watch the black hole in your office evaporate.

Winning by Failing

How do you feel about errors? "If everything goes right all the time," writes Paul Brown in the New York Times, "you are less likely to try something new."

Pbrown explains why failure may be better than success in a piece that reviews a variety of books and resources on the topic.

For example: Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes, authors of "Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation," contend that failure should be looked at as a positive way to learn, grow, confidently take risks and develop solutions creatively. This may sound like the advice of parents everywhere, but researchers at the Harvard Business School and Vanderbilt University back these claims and are studying why it is hard for people to learn from their mistakes.

Here at AccelaWork, we embrace stumbling and crawling as part of the process of learning to walk. Failure is simply information to try something different. No business or individual should expect perfection without trial and error. No system or approach, however ideal for the present moment, should be immune from refinement or reinvention. This is the nature of process improvement.

Every business must learn to recognize that mistakes are signposts along the roadway called improvement. While we will never reach that perfect destination, stopping and convincing ourselves we have arrived means we are stuck at permanent failure. Rewards come from taking risks, and risks from taking chances, learning lessons, and continuing onward.

If your organization is ready for change, reach out to some of the best process improvement consultants in the business. Keeping your patterns the same as they have always been may be safe, but opportunity for growth arises from the willingness to take risks and find success through failure.

Europe Leads in IT Efficiency

The US is falling behind counterparts in Europe in providing beneficial technology services, according to a study by Computer Associates. The issues are not with product knowledge, expertise or system availability, but the quality of processes.

An article from siliconrepublic outlines the main points:

The research found that the alignment of IT and business is a priority for most companies, but highlighted a marked difference in how European businesses are trying to achieve it.

“In the UK we see a much greater assessment of IT change on business output using process fundamentals," explained Bannister.”

“For instance, businesses are starting to relate a server failure to whether a customer gets their order delivered, not just to an availability metric.”

“The important thing for the IT industry is to remember that these discussions are at a process level, not a product level.”

That final quote may be the most crucial. Discussions in technology improvement must happen at a process level, not a product level. And in truth, all process improvement consulting starts with the patterns themselves, not the industry and certainly not the tools that are involved.

If a department in your company is not as responsive or effective as you feel they should be, the challenges may not be with funding or competence but with workflow and process. Any business service that benefits stakeholders should be evaluated and maintained for the benefit of those affected. Contact the process improvement consultants to seek help improving the efficiency of your corporate operation, whether in technology, sales, production, accounting or elsewhere.

The Golden Handshake

We have all exchanged a friendly handshake with a stranger when introduced by a mutual friend. For Mark Gurrieri, this experience saved him from a rare and deadly form of brain cancer.

According to the BBC, the condition known as acromegaly occurs in just 0.0003% of the population. One symptom can be oversized, spongy hands, which can be easily spotted by a trained expert. The coincidental interchange between Mark Gurrieri and Dr. Chris Britt led to a life-saving surgery. (Click here to view the area on the site that provides a video.)

This story is about the intersection of expertise with an undiagnosed need. If Gurrieri had failed to extend his hand, he would probably be dead. If Dr. Britt had failed to speak up, he would have lost an opportunity to protect life. Genuine experts are hard to find, but the incredible tale of Mark Gurrieri demonstrates that often people who have a critical need for evaluation and change are not even aware of their problems.

We may have the best business consultants, but they don't diagnose rare forms of brain cancer. However, we do help clients identify needs and challenges which they may not be able to verbalize. If you know that something isn’t quite right with your business or your processes, contact us today!

Mayor's Delayed Action Center

The Mayor’s Action Center in Indianapolis receives over 200,000 calls each year, mostly to inform local government about issues like broken traffic signals, stray animals, illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles and graffiti. MAC’s work is a massive endeavor and great public service, but according to StarWatch, “they print out Web forms and send them in interoffice mail to the appropriate department.”

The process may sound gobsmackingly backward, but the problems are significant. The Indianapolis Star interviewed resident Mark Hudson, who publicized the issues:

When concerned citizens submit a complaint via the Web site or call after hours, they have no automatic way to get a tracking number. Hudson has had to get follow-up information by calling during business hours to ask the person manning the phone to search through his requests. “A Web tracking tool would be a logical next step to reduce this added work and reduce calls,” he said. “I know the city is in a budget crunch, but with all the technology that exists, there has to be a low-cost way to share information more quickly.”

Organizations constrained by their current methodology not only suffer from reduced productivity as well as client and employee satisfaction, but will eventually face public scrutiny. If you are operating less than optimally, talk to the business consulting experts at AccelaWork to assess your processes!

Flights Cancelled, Answers Deferred

A computer failure at JFK airport led to huge luggage delays, five cancelled flights, and days of headaches. Airline foul-ups aren't exactly news, but the words from company official a were downright frustrating. Apparently she "could not estimate when the system will be working again or how many passengers have been affected."

The story came from an American Airlines representative quoted by Ireland Online. There's not much information in the release, but that summary from the journalist is enough to highlight serious issues.

No piece of news is more despised than one which contains no information. We often say that "no news is good news," so if you're in an uncomfortable situation the worst thing you can do is stand up and say "we know nothing."

To be clear: American Airlines expressed two areas of ignorance—when the system would be working again and how many people were inconvenienced. They might as well have announced they were unsure who would win the Superbowl this year and how many fans would tune in to watch the game.

Crisis management is almost entirely public relations, but crisis prevention is business planning. Like all organizations, airlines must have procedures and processes in place that not only enable the company to run smoothly during normal operations, but adjust as much as possible to extreme situations. Workflow analysis, process design and productivity measurement are all aspects of our business consulting services. Reach out to AccelaWork review and renew your workplace procedures, and reduce the risk that a crisis will catch you (or your passengers) unaware.

Death to Performance Reviews

Dr. Samuel Culbert, a leading business professor from UCLA, hates performance reviews. "To my way of thinking," he asserts, "a one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense [to preserve authority]."

This is only one of many pointed statements offered by Dr. Culbert's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. If you can stand some of the stronger language used in the rant, a few of the points make sense. Consider the following:

The mindsets held by the two participants in a performance review work at cross-purposes. The boss wants to discuss where performance needs to be improved, while the subordinate is focused on such small issues as compensation, job progression and career advancement. The boss is thinking about missed opportunities, skill limitations and relationships that could use enhancing, while the subordinate wants to put a best foot forward believing he or she is negotiating pay. All of this puts the participants at odds, talking past each other. At best, the discussion accomplishes nothing. More likely, it creates tensions that carry over to their everyday relationships.

If you have ever been reviewed or been required to serve as a reviewer, the points outlined above may seem poignant. To the supervisor, the matter of a 1% raise versus a 4% raise is fairly trivial compared with the actual work output. Yet, to the employee struggling to feed a family and cover their bills, those points mean everything. The worker needs new job titles and responsibilities to amend their resume and direct the visible evidence of their own career path. The boss is focused almost exclusively on the work, not how the work is described in some irrelevant documentation.

Dr. Culbert also brings up the painful truth about pay raises:

Another bogus element is the idea that pay is a function of performance, and that the words being spoken in a performance review will affect pay. But usually they don't. I believe pay is primarily determined by market forces, with most jobs placed in a pay range prior to an employee's hiring.

This is certainly repeated by practical experience. The usual advice if you want to a raise is to find a new job. Doing so allows you to explore the market and find out what you're really worth.

Furthermore, while you might feel like you do ten times the work of some coworkers, or a review of your work might prove that one of your employees is far more productive than their colleagues, no payroll budget includes room for such dramatic variations in compensation. The obvious exception is commission-driven sales, where working smarter and harder has an impact on wages. All other departments effectively have no special compensation for performance beyond fighting over a few percentage points at each annual raise or handing the occasional bonus.

Scrapping performance reviews may or may not be possible at your company, but the willingness to explore alternate ideas is a foundation of positive organizational change. If the way to compensate, promote and sanction employees does not improve productivity, perhaps it is time to consider a comprehensive engagement of all stakeholders to rebuild the processes and metrics of your business. Reach out to the business process experts at AccelaWork to learn more.

You Can't Patent Process

A federal appeals court has issued a powerful ruling for the world of process improvement: business processes cannot be patented.

You can find an overview of the ruling here. To summarize, the court explained that patents should be restricted to cover only “physical objects or substances, [but not] abstractions.” The decision was aimed at the financial services industry, but the outcome clarifies that the detailed nature of work is non-proprietary.

If your organization uses application forms to handle incoming requests, includes a clever approval procedure to reduce errors and ensure quality, or has a coverage system designed to ensure enough staff is always available to complete core tasks, then you are using business processes which can be freely duplicated by anyone. That may seem unbelievable, but the ruling indicates that procedures are something that can be protected.

What does that mean for you? Competitors may build upon your approaches to reach the market faster and cheaper, and your partners may decide your techniques are obsolete. Business process is not a trade secret. That means if you want to compete, you have do to so by executing better, not just by having a better process.

Since you cannot protect your corporate procedures through the vagaries of copyright law, the importance of continuous improvement is more significant than ever. Contact the business improvement experts to for services on how to make your operation more effective.

Search Results: Influenza

Google usually answers your questions, but did you know it can predict the future? Flu Trends aggregates historical search data to foretell where the flu will strike next. Is there anything Google doesn't know? Tracking the spread of viruses is a complicated endeavor, and scientists at the Center for Disease Control spend millions of dollars in the lab and the field studying and containing these epidemics. Google analyzes search requests across geographical areas with even more impressive results.

  The link between epidemiology and search engines may seem difficult to believe, but connections between apparently unrelated phenomena are a core element of innovation. Your organization may or may not be able adapt to the market by watching Google Trends, but nevertheless there are undiscovered relationships between the smallest actions in the workplace and the overall productivity of your company.

It's this kind of creativity that makes for radical improvements in productivity, business process design, and overall execution. If you are ready for lateral thinking about your people, processes and organizational culture, consider chatting with some business consultants.

Loving a Dirty Job

Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, doesn’t just adore his own work. He notes that stars of his program—with their unusual, disgusting jobs—are surprisingly ecstatic about their own careers. Who could love a dirty job?

Rowe explains his perspective in a guest editorial in Forbes magazine:

It’s true. People with dirty jobs are in on some sort of a joke. Maggot farmers are ecstatic. Leech wranglers are exultant. I’ve personally witnessed lumberjacks and roadkill picker-uppers whistling while they work. And don't even get me started on the crab-fishermen, spider-venom collectors and chicken-sexers—they're having such a blast they’ve sworn off vacation. So why are people with dirty jobs having more fun than the rest of us?

The answer (aside from the fact that they’re still employed) is because they are blissfully sheltered from the worst advice in the world. I refer, of course, to those preposterous platitudes lining the hallways of corporate America, extolling virtues like “Teamwork,” “Determination” and “Efficiency.” You’ve seen them—saccharine-sweet pieces of schmaltzy sentiment, oozing down from snow capped mountains, crashing waterfalls and impossible rainbows. In particular, I’m thinking of a specific piece of nonsense that implores in earnest italics, to always, always ... Follow Your Passion!

Aren’t these sayings meant to inspire us to greatness? According to Mike Rowe, stock business phrases actually demoralize employees in the workplace. These are signs and speeches designed to create productivity and satisfaction through edict. The men and women of Dirty Jobs do not spend their days in the shadow of a motivational poster but out in the muck of work and progress.

This applies everywhere, not just on the set of popular national TV shows. You do not need to be told to follow your passion if you are already having a grand old time digging out, building up, tearing down, breaking apart, forging together, scrubbing down or burning in the stuff of your employment. Motivation to work comes not from the outside but from within.

AccelaWork believes that organizations succeed most effectively when stakeholders are satisfied with their role, purpose and contribution to the larger operation. When people believe in what they are doing and understand how their own work feeds into the work of others, they have the path to find passion for what they do. Get business consulting support to learn more about how to better engage enthusiasm in your business or organization. We believe that stakeholders make work worth doing.

Under the Influence of Texting

Banning texting while driving is an attempt to save lives. But what can state legislators learn from business process improvement when it comes to influencing stakeholder behaviors?

Consider one instance: It was reported that state senator Tom Wyss proposed a ban aimed at teenagers prohibiting text messaging while driving.

Enforcement is one way to react to dangerous behavior, but governments should consider defining opportunities as well as punishing mistakes.

While in a metropolitan coverage zone, the modern mobile phone can detect its own location and velocity. Wireless carriers, therefore could refuse to route non-emergency calls to handsets moving faster than a brisk walk. This could be further refined, as required by Senator Wyss, to only those phones associated with account holders aged 18 and under.

Whether it's the private sector or the business of public safety, focusing on the process rather than trying to control the behavior is almost always superior. Here are some other ideas that are process-oriented rather than behavior-limiting:

Asking police officers to enforce yet another law may slightly improve teen safety but will reduce overall coverage of other services. Adding requirements to modify behavior means adding work. On the other hand, changing the process may only require work for a few people. Plus, the process can inform behavior for future generations.

Whether you feel that a text messaging ban for teen drivers would encourage motorists to behave more responsibly, or you think that government incursion into personal telephonic decisions is unwarranted, the best solution is not always the obvious one.

But no matter If you're considering trying to change behavior through enforcement, you might want to talk to an employee behavior expert to find alternate solutions that may help you achieve your goals.

A Passion for License Plates

One secret to engaged employees: true passion for their work. Those seeking increased productivity and employee satisfaction can learn something from the metal plates attached to vehicles.

In 1985, Dr. Roy Koltz, Jr discovered a vintage 1913 Mississippi license plate. With only two in existence this scrap of metal is worth more than $35,000. Other plates are worth nearly twice that, including what Forbes contributor Zach O’Malley Greenburg calls the “holy grail of license plates”: the 1921 Alaska, priced at $60,000.

It's hard to use words to capture the passion radiated by these collectors. Their dedication, patience and meticulous manner resonates in the room. Stakeholder enthusiasm is a tremendous differentiator in any endeavor, and people who love what they do are more effective and less afraid of failure.

If you are looking for the passion that comes from your environment working for you instead you working against it, maybe it is time to talk to some business consulting experts. We help find new avenues and steer businesses away from medians and back onto the fast-paced highway.

Bad Economy, Longer Weekends?

Here's some good news in a down economy. If you're on the cusp of unemployment: Accept three day weekends and you get to keep your job. Instead of having employees work overtime to compensate for financial distress, employers are handing out vacation time.

The economic strife facing our country is hitting many businesses hard.  Unfortunately, employers have few options other than downsizing. Workers are paralyzed with fear about facing unemployment. Yet according to Business Week companies are opting to reduce employees’ working hours rather than eliminating jobs entirely. And these aren't business consultants talking---HR pros at many organizations are pursuing the concept of a four-day work week.

Chris Simpson, senior Vice President at a manufacturing company, is determined to retain experienced staff—even if only for a shortened work week. He believes keeping employees leaves the company better prepared for when the economy turns back around. Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta agrees. “It’s not just jobs we’ve saved, it’s services.”

Unconventional thinking can create opportunities. Applying innovative, unexpected ideas to seemingly unsolvable problems can bring beneficial change to business operations. In some cases, it can even save jobs.

Even if you're company isn't facing a labor problem, you're likely to find value in new perspectives. That's the core of great business consulting. An approach that sounds crazy at first just might the most useful idea of all.

Here at AccelaWork, we believe in the vitality of best practices; yet we also focus on discovering alternative solutions that uniquely fit a company’s needs. Our top business consultants would love to take part in a truly exclusive and in-depth consultation on how your company can broaden its views on problem-solving.

Additional Streams of Bribery

Middle class Americans might hope to generate some extra income by running a home-based business, taking a second job or managing some rental property, but the struggling Russian economy provides less options. The only way for many to get by is krutimsya, meaning “we hustle [for bribes].”

According to the National Public Radio program “All Things Considered”, corruption is rampant throughout Russia:

In Chelyabinsk, corruption has worsened in the past decade. Ask anyone in the city how much he or she makes, and the likely answer is somewhere between $200 and $600 a month.

Russia is expensive — really expensive — even in remote areas, so how they live on that is questionable...Few live on their declared salary. People get paid an additional amount under the table, or they take bribes...Bribes can get you out of the army and, if you pay enough, into universities — especially in highly competitive fields like economics, law and medicine.

The Methodology Blog has covered the process improvement issues in Russia before, but this story helps clarify the relationship between ethics and survival. Not surprisingly, stakeholders value their own safety and well-being above that of others. When their livelihood is threatened, it seems reasonable that Russians or anyone else will take whatever steps necessary to protect and feed their own families.

Your workplace probably is not dealing with widespread poverty and corruption, but employees may find themselves caught between helping the organization and helping themselves. If the pattern of work contains drudgery, quality will suffer and productivity will decline. Ultimately, employees will begin to despise their jobs, which not only makes them ineffective, but impacts morale throughout the office. Ensuring stakeholder satisfaction is critical to the continued existence of any company.

If you are concerned that your workers are less than satisfied or if there is a direct conflict between individual and organizational needs, consider talking with a business consulting company with experts in process improvement and facilitation. Programs can help identify workflow challenges and the needs of stakeholders. With the help of outside experts, you can build a better organization---which places you, your employees and your customers in control of your shared success.

The Extremely Scenic Route

Here's a word problem for you: a train filled with 450 passengers was scheduled to leave at 2:15PM on Monday, but gets stuck in Chicago’s Union Station until 1:22PM on Tuesday. Those on board had no access to food, water or reliable restrooms. What happened?

This question might bring back memories of school, but it should really make you think about business process improvement. And in fact, it really happened. You can read about the failure on The Consumerist.

According to these sources, a chorus of official excuses unfolded over the 24-hour period as the ticket-holders waited for the train to depart. With no specific planned departure time and freezing temperatures in the station, many passengers slept on the floors of the crowded train carriages.

The actions of Amtrak are inexcusable. Delays are an obvious reality of rail systems, so management should have a clear and comprehensive policy about how to take care of passengers in the event that foul weather, technical problems, labor issues or other challenges adversely impact planned departure times. Processes must be designed to handle exceptions, with the emphasis on situations that are easy to predict and have the greatest impact on stakeholders.

If your company or non-profit deals with customers, clients, vendors or employees who have the potential to become angry, you should ensure that your workflow takes common issues into account. Contact the process improvement experts to assist your institution. We help companies design systems for business which allows them to operate smoothly during both normal times and anticipated periods of stress.

Counting is Fundamental

Babies who are brand new to the world are not only adorable, but brilliant. According to The Economist, they can differentiate between two and three objects.

Any new parent will tell you that their child is surprisingly smart. But the lessons we gather from children can have impacts on business process improvement. In the article “Easy as 1, 2, 3”, the magazine explains some amazing experiments conducted by researchers:

The baby is just one day old and has not yet left [the] hospital. She is quiet but alert. Twenty centimetres from her face researchers have placed a white card with two black spots on it. She stares at it intently. A researcher removes the card and replaces it by another, this time with the spots differently spaced. As the cards alternate, her gaze starts to wander—until a third, with three black spots, is presented. Her gaze returns: she looks at it for twice as long as she did at the previous card. Can she tell that the number two is different from three, just 24 hours after coming into the world?
Scientists are still interpreting this data, but it has long been clear that human beings have an innate relationship with the concept of quantity. We can instantly tell the difference between objects and experiences that are simply arranged differently and those that are actually distinct in type or number. This comes not with training or experience, but instinct.

Decades later, when that baby enters the workforce, he or she will use an extended form of this skill to evaluate information and make decisions. Business processes should be designed to embrace our ability to recognize differences and act intelligently. In fact, that's really what business process improvement is all about: dividing up work between that which only humans can handle, and that which machines and systems can take care of automatically.

The opposite is what creates the problem. When an automated, unthinking action is required of a human behing, stakeholders begin to feel like cogs in the machine rather than a part of the team. Help your business and your employees embrace the power of their brains for benefit of the organization. Talk with process improvement experts today to learn more.

Efficiency the Japanese Way

Thanks to some recent reforms, it's much less complex to die in Maine. The average time required to issue death certificates is down from over three months to just five days. These dramatic improvements in local governments come from process improvement approach called “kaizen”, which originated in Japan.

According to Fox News, many states are cracking down on inefficient bureaucracies using "kaizen." Translated from a Japanese word meaning "continuous improvement," correspondent Julie Carr Smyth describes the system as:

"A way of thinking that puts workers at the center, gives them a sense of the total process they're involved in, and then frees them to think of ways to best do their jobs."

Kaizen is spreading like a bestselling novel. Only two states reported pursuing the approach in 2005, but by 2010 more than 29 agencies nationwide have either participated in or planned a process improvement session based on kaizen. Iowa, for example, drastically enhanced a permitting process from an average of a painful 187 days down to a reasonable 30 days. Ohio has eliminated nearly half of all of one class of hearings and sped up identification of benefit overpayments. These changes save the buckeye state $220,000 a year and are credited for a $33 million increase in collections.

Old processes may be familiar, but they often slow down production, decrease stakeholder creativity and engagement and result in a stagnant workflow. Organizations must embrace innovation as continuous improvement. Using approaches like kaizen, AccelaWork believes that through a combination of observation, feedback and the free flow of ideas, stakeholders are able to make remarkable improvements to their own workload and the workflow of their company. Real change and real process improvement is possible.

Employee contributions can help build an environment of confidence, teamwork, open communication and mutual accountability. Contact the process improvement experts today if your organization is seeking to renew old processes or reinvent the way you operate.

Investing in the Competition

When the Sony Corporation partnered with IBM and Toshiba to design a new processor for the next generation PlayStation 3, everyone understood that IBM might someday sell the chips to another customer. However, no one thought to structure the tri-lateral agreement to prevent such a competitor like Microsoft from buying the processors before they were even finished.

The book The Race for a New Game Machine by David Shippy and Mickie Phipps chronicles this unbelievable folly. As described in the Wall Street Journal, the events played out like a farcical comedy:

All three of the original partners had agreed that IBM would eventually sell the Cell [processor] to other clients. But it does not seem to have occurred to Sony that IBM would sell key parts of the Cell before it was complete and to Sony’s primary videogame-console competitor. The result was that Sony’s R&D money was spent creating a component for Microsoft to use against it.

Mr. Shippy and Ms. Phipps detail the resulting absurdity: IBM employees hiding their work from Sony and Toshiba engineers in the cubicles next to them; the Xbox chip being tested a few floors above the Cell design teams. Mr. Shippy says that he felt “contaminated” as he sat down with the Microsoft engineers, helping them to sketch out their architectural requirements with lessons learned from his earlier work on Playstation.

The tale reads like a cloak-and-dagger novel played out under fluorescent office lights. How could such a failure happen? Should one cite Sony as incompetent, IBM as conniving, or Microsoft as devious? None of these explanations seem immediately plausible.

Most challenges in business partnerships come from a lack of establishing clear goals at the outset and problems maintaining truly open communication. To improve business communication, especially with consultants and third-parties, we need transparency and constant dialogue. You can't disappear for weeks or months, and you can't work next to people who you feel you cannot talk to.

Usually, we want to study the competition, not invest in them. Top business consultants focus on great communication to make sure that everyone starts and ends on the same page.

Excel Macro, You're Hired

The social news website Reddit hosted a message board conversation between programmers. The topic related to business efficiency: “How many of you are working with at least one person who you could replace with an Excel macro?” What's a macro? It's simple computer program designed to automate a regular task. You might set up a macro to handle repeated typing of automated data, or to click through menu options that are highly consistent. Macros can be a tremendous boost to business efficiency if used correctly.

The spreadsheet package Microsoft Excel includes a language for writing macros that allows advanced users to set up automatic tasks for manipulating the contents of rows and columns.  Although the Reddit discussion includes many off-color jokes and side comments, there are several gems. One user named andrewljohnson relates the following story:

They hired me at an ad agency when I got outta college. One of my duties was to report to clients how much the stories we placed for them in magazines, newspapers, and websites were worth.

So, the method was to measure the article with a ruler, and then look up in the magazine’s media kit what an ad was worth, and multiply the two together.

You have to understand that there were hundreds and hundreds of articles to report on each month. So I could only stand doing this once until I did a few things:

1) wrote some [programs] to [automatically download] articles from websites I was supposed to check

2) figured out the number of words in a “column inch” so I could count the words to calculate their costs, in the cases where I had electronic copies

3) compiled all the prices into a spreadsheet so I could do automatic calculations instead of looking them up by hand.

4) Wrote a script that would spit out the report in the right format, once the data was complete.

All told, I think I saved myself 15-20 hours of work per week, and this led my bosses to let me write more business plans, strategy documents, and ad copy.

So yeah, I knew a guy. He was me, and I replaced him.

Another commenter named munroe talks about a colleague who was responsible for building key reports for their business. Efficiency was his main objective:

I literally replaced a big portion(3+ hours) of someone’s weekly workload with a 15 line script.

He was receiving data via e-mail, plugging the data manually, variable by variable, into a [formula] then executing that query in the [reporting program].

I set up a mailbox, had him forward those messages to the box, set up [a program] to grab the messages, pull the data out, stick it in the [formula], then run it. Once the message hit the box, the data was inserted in less than 3 minutes.

Not all tales, however, were positive. A user with the handle starspangledpickle offered some toungue-in-cheek advice based on a reference to the popular television show Seinfield:
Tsk, tsk. You need to learn from the George Costanza School of Work.

If it takes two hours to do something manually and your bosses know this, then you use said script and do it in 10 minutes, goof off for another hour and a half and hand in the work 20 minutes earlier. You get praise; you get the job done; you get to surf the [internet].

A similar story of business efficiency comes from coc_ar:
I once wrote a script to save time doing a dull repetitive task, and when I tried to share it with the others in my group who had to do the same thing, one of them said, ‘oh, you're a cheater’. It totally altered my concept of what ‘cheating’ consisted of.
Is your organization one where saving time by developing a macro would be rewarded, or one where it would be punished? Are you interested in improving overall business efficiency, or does getting more work done in less time threaten your job?  These are not questions of technology, but of workplace culture. What's the reality at your place of business?

Outsmarting the Carjackers

When Alan Heuss of Columbus, OH had his car stolen at gunpoint, he assumed the vehicle was lost forever. Then, he realized his cellphone could be used to trap the thieves. A deceptive text message tricked the criminals into revealing their location to the police.

How do you get a carjacker to announce their location? As explained by WBNS TV News, have a friend send a message to your stolen mobile phone announcing you have “hot chicks and drugs”, followed by a request for where to meet. These foolish crooks took the bait, probably thinking they could follow up their original crime with a second score of stolen drugs and perhaps kidnapping. Instead, they were caught red-handed in Huess' stolen BMW.

While armed robbers aren’t known for their brilliance, this is not just another story about idiotic criminals. Alan Heuss outsmarted his assailants by thinking creatively in a time of crisis. Although the bad guys had the upper hand, their greed and bravado led them from a successful crime to a stint in prison. An outside-the-box approach saved a car and sent crooks to jail.

The relationship between the law-abiding citizen and the carjackers started out adversarial, but the clever text message fooled the thieves into thinking they were talking with a fellow miscreant. Up until the cops arrived, they probably expected to bring home a bonus haul of narcotics. Although our relationships at work usually aren't quite as dramatic, we often find ourselves on the opposite end of the spectrum from other stakeholders. We disagree, we argue, and we refuse to compromise. We often need some serious process improvement in order to get anything done.

Thankfully, most organizations are not facing a loaded gun and being forced to hand over valuable property. However, unexpected emergencies do flare up, and we are usually too focused on panic that we rarely pursue non-linear thinking. If you are ready for a fresh approach to workflow which accounts for unusual situations and where no idea is off-limits, reach out to the business process consulting experts at AccelaWork. We help businesses and organizations avoid crisis by working together to understand the realm of likely possibilities to save time and sanity.

Reply-All Leads to Gridlock

Process improvement at work usually means using email smarter. One crucial tip for improving email usage is to use the "reply-all" feature sparingly, if at all.

Employees a the US State Department have it even worse. They've been warned not to use the “reply-all” feature on their email programs, as a message storm nearly took down a major internal communication systems. According to the Associated Press, an accidental press of the shift key (as in pressing control+shift+R) will invoke unspecified “disciplinary actions.”

Responding to an email may only take a few seconds, but every address in the To, CC and BCC line corresponds to a new copy of the message. Sending one note to a thousand people already taxes resources. If even only a handful fire back using “reply-all”, thousands upon thousands more pile onto the servers all at the same time. More expert users contributed to the issue when they used “reply-all” to inform others not to use “reply-all” in the future. The AP explains that the onslaught of messages began with a mistake:

Officials said the storm started when some diplomats used the “reply-all” function to respond to a blank e-mail sent recently to many people on the department's global address list.

Most demanded to be removed from the list while others used “reply-all” to tell their co-workers, in often less than diplomatic language, to stop responding to the entire group, the officials said.

Some then compounded the problem by trying to recall their initial replies, which generated another round of messages to the group, they said.

When organizations like the State Department suffer from embarrassing technical foul-ups, it is easy to laugh and crack jokes about government bureaucracy. The real failing in this story, however, is not just with the people who should have used  “reply” instead of “reply-all.” Management should never create giant distribution lists which anyone can use, as there is no reason for every employee to have the ability to fill a thousand inboxes with a few errant keystrokes.

Likewise, reacting to a technical failure by admonishing and threatening employees will only build apathy and discontent. When both of these elements appear in the popular press, the average citizen will likely attribute the story to incompetence. Sure, you probably shouldn't use reply-all. But you also shouldn't be able to accidentally email legions of people you don't know.

The technology of email servers is complex, but the patterns of workflow that should define policies, procedures and system settings need to be clear to all key stakeholders. Tools for communication should encourage positive interaction and make it difficult for people to accidentally consume resources and waste time. Process improvement means helping companies change their culture for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Cube Farms Are Unhealthy

An open-plan office might save on construction costs, but yet another study has demonstrated that cubicles lead to reduced productivity and increased stress.

Researchers quoted in explained their findings:

"The evidence we found was absolutely shocking," researcher Dr. Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said.

"In 90 percent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover."

"The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, there are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity." 

Stories that discredit cube farms are nothing new. Fast Company covered the topic September 2008, Time magazine discussed their inefficiencies at the turn of the millenium, Forbes the year before and the New York Times back in 1993. Fortune even reported how the inventor of the cubicle, Robert Propst, lamented his creation before his death in 2000. If so-called "open-plan" offices are universally despised, why do they persist?

Here's an open secret: Most organizations are better at measuring activity than progress. The cube farm lets a manager gauge movement by glancing out across a field of workers or listen to the cacophony of ringing phones and impromptu meetings. This survey of the landscape does not tell you how much work is getting done, but it certainly proves employees are at their desks and doing something.

The age of measuring work by watching for movement must end. Activity does not equal progress. Engaged employees do not need to be watched. Instead: as genuine, enthusiastic stakeholders they are more likely to make progress when they can concentrate on work and be rewarded for producing real results.

Times are changing. If you are ready to begin the conversation about changing the dynamics of your workplace, talk with the business consultants at AccelaWork. We love to help organizations transform workflow and rekindle the passion of their people.

Police Avoid Making Arrests

Police in Queensland, Australia, are releasing some criminals on bail rather than holding them in custody. The new computer records system is so slow and convoluted, officers are even reluctant to make arrests for fear of having to use the application. According to The Courier Mail, the $100 million system is supposed to replace 230 old software programs, many of which were incompatible. But is this new tool compatible with the idea of swift justice? The article quotes the police union vice president:

"There was an occasion where two people were arrested on multiple charges. It took six detectives more than six hours to enter the details into QPRIME," he said. "It would have taken even longer to do the summary to go to court the next morning, so basically the suspects were released on bail, rather than kept in custody."

It seems surreal that such a system could fail so tremendously, but The Methodology Blog has chronicled similar problems in large scale, criminal justice software applications several times before. Massive, system-wide organizational change is incredibly difficult. These efforts often create a productivity paradox like the one experienced in by Queensland police, where the system intended to save time actually requires more time.

Here at AccelWork, we don't sell or build giant, one-size-fits-all software applications. Instead, we conduct a true analysis to help companies identify ways to improve the flow of work. If you are already burdened by a slow, counterproductive new system, talk to us about how to help you capitalize on existing tools, processes and skills more effectively. Your challenges may not be a $100 million dollar foul up, but if you believe there is a better way, consider reaching out to AccelaWork

Business Process Advantages of Consolidation

A study from Ball State University explains how local government reform could save Indiana taxpayers $620 billion each year. The evidence is forty years of data on consolidation.

A summary of the report appears thanks to of Inside Indiana Business, but the actual document goes into great detail. The opening explains the techniques used in the analysis:

We use statistical methods and data on consolidation referendum attempts in the United States since 1970 to test whether governments that consolidate (voters approve the consolidation referendum) have higher spending prior to consolidation (measured by local government employment, payrolls, or expenditures) than the average local government in the state. If these indicators are higher than the average local government in the state, this suggests that the consolidation is driven by the level of government spending. Citizens perceive spending to be “out of line,” and consolidation is one way to address this. If, on the other hand, governments that consolidate have lower spending or spending is not statistically different from the average local government in the state, we interpret this to mean that consolidation is driven by the quality of government and that citizens view consolidation as one way of improving quality.
The approach employed by researchers to prove their point is brilliant and methodical. First, review other areas across the country and identify correlations between consolidation and savings. Then, use this to weight to the argument for increasing government efficiency. For Indiana, the value of the process is around $620 million per year, every year.

The study also outlines a point of view that is fairly widespread:

Economists (and the general public) have long recognized that there is likely to be a general slackness in government operations. X-inefficiency occurs when a government fails to produce the maximum output obtainable with a given level of inputs. The result is that costs are higher. Government inefficiency may result from several sources including lack of competition, coordination difficulties, corruption, or padding the budget.
Although likely not their intent, this paragraph neatly defines the sources of inefficiency into segments:

Lack of Competition

Although competition is not the solution to every problem, the best business process improvement campaigns involve looking at multiple options and to select the best. Because government services aren't often competing with other entities, and because individual departments and positions are not often evaluated side-by-side, stagnation can result.

Coordination Difficulties

Much of the work in any large bureaucracy requires handoffs between teams. Furthermore, distribution over a wide geographic area or to meet a large need means there may be duplication of effort.


The word "corruption" inspires visions of bribery, extortion and other enormous crimes. But the term also includes more subtle actions such as the abuse of discretion (like letting someone slide) or simple favoritism. These are problems both with controls but also with culture.

Padding the Budget

This final form of inefficiency shows the role of incentives in management. If there is more money, there is more breathing room. In many environments, there is no penalty for requesting too much money. Therefore, it's no surprise padding the budget is commonplace.

If you work for a state or local agency looking to reclaim some of that $620 billion dollars, or if you work for a private sector business ready to make improvements to productivity,  contact the business consulting experts at AccelaWork.

Plan to Survive

Henry Efroymson, partner at local Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller, offers nine advisories for companies in the current economic whirlwind.

His op-ed piece, The Perils of Business as Usual, includes the following points:

  1. Make Changes Now.
  2. Truly Understand Where the Business Stands Financially.
  3. Analyze Whether Margins Can be Improved.
  4. Reduce and Control Spending.
  5. Manage Accounts Payable.
  6. Collect Accounts Receivable.
  7. Watch Credit Like a Hawk.
  8. Leverage Assets.
  9. Manage the Sales Process.

All nine of his messages carry the same tone: change is crucial, change is hard, and day-to-day management of both the mundane and the extraordinary cannot be overlooked. Quotes from Efroymson's essay are especially poignant. Consider the following sentence:

The business should make no assumptions about what is or is not needed, and encourage all employees to get involved

Of all of his wisdom, this is perhaps the easiest to understand but the most difficult to embrace. Stakeholders make an organization succeed in the marketplace through their efforts and choices. When managers, employees, and customers all have low morale, the entire system suffers. A business or non-profit can cut costs, chase down delinquent invoices, raise prices or borrow capital, but without the goodwill of those inside the organization, failure is inevitable. Everyone matters, and no source of ideas for improvement is beyond consideration.

At AccelaWork, we provide a variety of business consulting services. But let's focus on one just one area: workflow and process consulting. Where accountants and budget specialists and tax attorneys can help you optimize your use of capital, we can help companies increase their use of an even more precious resource: time. Unlike money, which comes from your customers, lenders and investors, the vault of time is composed entirely of the efforts of your employees. We believe that the everyday actions of those who work for and work with your organization have the greatest potential. We believe that those who best survive the economic downturn will not be those with the most reserve cash but those who never stop improving the way they work and benefit customers.

If you are uncertain about how you will weather the current storm, consider reaching out to the team at AccelaWork. We will support your survival by helping you to become a stronger, faster and more capable organization.

Waste Not, Get Sued

Eddie House got so good at recycling, composting and reducing his waste that he decided to cancel his garbage service. The official response to his earth-friendly efforts? Sued by local government.

According to The Examiner:

The lawsuit, filed by San Carlos Deputy City Attorney Linda Noeske in San Mateo Superior Court on Jan. 22, seeks a permanent injunction forcing House to maintain garbage service. City officials are also seeking to recoup from House the costs of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims House broke the city’s municipal code requiring all residential, commercial and industrial properties to contract with Allied Waste for pickup at least once a week — a standard requirement in most cities, San Carlos Deputy City Manager Brian Moura said.

The actions of Eddie House might be great for the planet, but not for exclusive, tightly-worded contracts between the city and a private company. Those agreements have no room for individual exceptions. Eddie House might not have been filling his trash bins every week, but the law requires him to keep placing them on the curb.

Of course, the weekly pickup requirement was originally established for sanitary reasons, not out of greed or an anti-environmental perspective. If most people opted out of regular trash service, they would stink up the neighborhood. They might even create a public health hazard. The city code is wise in this regard. That is, unless you are actively working to generate less garbage.

The case if the lawsuit against Eddie House is another tale of a rigid system responding to an unusual situation by taking the simplest path which maintains that system. The sanctity of the contract between the local government and Allied Waste must be maintained, so when a violation is identified, it cannot be overlooked. Changing the contract to account for individual innovations would require a tremendous amount of work. It is much easier just to require Eddie House to get back into the habit of producing refuse.

Organizations are often so fiercely committed to existing agreements, procedures or perspectives that when an interesting exception arises, they react in a way which is comically unfortunate. Organizational change is incredibly hard, and it is always easier to require the outlier to change to fit the mold than it is to understand the motivations, capacities and importance of anyone who wants to be different. But, we are measured by how well we react in exceptional circumstances, not just how well we work every day.

If your company or non-profit agency is facing someone like Eddie House or is otherwise burdened with a process that you know does not make sense, reach out to the business consultants at AccelaWork. We help organizations to understand and improve their own process to better accommodate change.

Failure: The Secret to Success

Making a decision at work sometimes feels like sliding a quarter down a slot machine. Every chance taken is a gamble between success and failure. But without placing bets or playing cards, can we find success and make our dreams reality?

Honda's tagline, "The Power of Dreams," offers a grand vision of what is possible. Company founder Soichiro Honda inspired his employees by making just one demand: to take risks and fail. The video clip below (direct link here) provides an in-depth look at how Honda's failures, though taxing, influenced and ensured a pathway to success.

Calculated risks in the workplace are far from easy to make. Yet, without change, you guarantee a future of stagnation.  Organizations should encourage creativity and embrace failure as evidence of boldness and a desire to improve. A business willing to gamble on new ideas and ready to listen to any stakeholder is the only one that can win big.

The old Wayne Gretzky quote "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" has basically become a cliche at this point, but the reason it's repeated so much is it's so true. If you aren't taking shots, you aren't going to be able to score. If you aren't taking risks with your business, you aren't going to be able to succeed. And if you aren't striving for great success, then you're likely just wasting your time and the time of those you work with.

Robby Slaughter elaborates on this topic further in his book, Failure: The Secret To Success. We've included a sample from that below.

There is an easy way to avoid failure: attempt nothing

This is the route many of us pursue when we encounter a challenging project or difficult decision. Failure seems like such a black mark on our record that we often try to escape the pangs of error by not taking risks. We sometimes avoid the possibility of screwing up by refusing to venture outside our safety zone.

This strategy does work. If we don’t sign up for that committee, we can’t be held responsible for any future mistakes. If we don’t apply for that premier university, we will not be rejected.

But there is a tragic side effect to insulating ourselves from the possibility of failure. If we refuse to take chances that could lead to major errors we also miss the opportunity for significant wins. You cannot have great success without great failure.

All of this discussion about failure may seem less than encouraging. After all, we can all look back in our lives at the times where we went wrong and feel regret. You may be thinking that you’d rather not revisit those embarrassing memories. If failure is so essential, why is it still so frustrating? Do we really have to be ready to fail again and take on all of the negative consequences of our next disaster?

The answer may not be what you expect. Failure is essential. Failure will continue to be part of your life. Fortunately, by adopting a new perspective on how failure can actually help, you will be able to achieve more.

If your company finds failure difficult to accept, opportunity from mistakes impossible to see, or a problematic drop in its competitive edge, contact the business improvement experts at AccelaWork for a consultation. We help for-profit and non-profit organizations analyze their own workflow and help them to build out new ideas into successful business practices. We have spoken before on the fact that success requires taking risks, and taking risks means making mistakes. Pursue success by looking inward at business processes with AccelaWork.

Leadership Competence: An Oxymoron?

The boss is supposed to be the person with the answers, who is decisive, well-informed and supremely confident. Why then does it seem like so many managers are clueless? Jeffrey Kluger of Time Magazine offers an interesting insight on the subject. According to a new study from UCLA a leader is not necessarily someone who has the right answers, but perhaps simply the person who talks the most. After their first experiment, researchers found the following outcome of their participants:

. . . group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as "general intelligence" and "dependable and self-disciplined." The ones who didn't speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including "conventional and uncreative."

With such compelling feedback, researchers wondered whether their first study accurately represented true leadership ability. In their second experiment, which focused on competency and leadership, they discovered that often the two do not go hand in hand.

Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers.

Though this study does not prove all leaders are incompetent at work, it does shed some light on whether positions of leadership are awarded based on ability or simply through the frequency of communication. Some may even argue promotion comes mostly from confidence. One article from provided a poll that stated ninety percent of executives and managers believe they perform in the top ten percent of their competition. This is an extreme version of the Lake Wobegon effect, as obviously no more than half of any population can be above average!

Regardless of how leadership is evaluated, the important distinction here is how an individual utilizes their  role to make a difference within the organization. Whereas some members of upper management excel at communication and diplomacy and therefore help employees feel satisfied, these leaders often lack the fortitude to make challenging decisions. Likewise, authoritative leaders, who make business and product outcomes their first priority, may not as easily relate to their employees and cause rifts that inhibit productivity.

At AccelaWork, we believe leadership is not the product of title or promotion, but of contribution and initiative. If a company is experiencing downfalls in productivity or success, the question on everyone's mind—executives, managers, and employees alike—should not be "where has management failed?" but rather "how can the process improve?" Through our consulting programs, we analyze stakeholder contribution and seek out ways to transform inefficient processes into a well-oiled machines. By granting every stakeholder the responsibility of being conscientious in their work, individual contribution flourishes and personal empowerment prevails. The key is to create an everyday business environment where management, like a well-written thesis, is simply present to keep structure while the employees satisfy the goals of success. Contact us today for more information.

The Exhausted Yet Fantastic Candidate

Whether you're seeking a job or a current employee, quality matters. An incoming response to a startup company's job posting looked especially promising---except for a glaring typo in the subject line. But instead of hitting "delete", the manager sent a quick reply back to the candidate.

The MyPunchBowl blog contains the full story, but the initial email response and commentary is particularly interesting:

Your email subject caught my eye — but the spelling error causes me not to look at your resume further. Thought you might like to know for the future. All of that stuff matters.

- Matt

I know that I didn’t have to send that email, but this person had a great resume. I know I was being a little harsh, but I wanted to see what would happen. Would she ignore the email? Would she say thank you? Or would she apologize and ask for another chance?

The "Matt" in question is actually Matt Douglas, one of the founders and current top managers at Punchbowl Software. His words show genuine passion for his own organization, and a desire to find and hire new talent that will be equally enthusiastic. The few seconds spent in his email experiment may help to demonstrate more about this candidate than many hour long interviews. The few minutes spent publishing a blog post about a workplace experience illustrates just how deeply the individual cares about building the best possible team and understanding the motivations and perspectives of everyone around him.

The complete response from the candidate is the subject of much conversation on the Punchbowl blog site and elsewhere on the web, but at AccelaWork we are most fascinated by how both employer and potential employee are able to differentiate themselves as true stakeholders. As we've noted before on here on our business improvement blog, failure is a prerequisite to success. The candidate's failure to spell a word correctly on a job application might seem dire, but the subsequent interaction may well earn her a new job.

Every workplace should be a source of satisfaction for stakeholders, whether they are employees, customers, owners or potential hires. If you want to bring enthusiasm back into your office through a rigorous analysis of work, talk to the business consulting experts. We help organizations rekindle excitement and make the world of work a better place.

Termination by "Mr. Nice Guy"

The humor publication The Onion has spoof editorial. The piece describes an annoying workplace conversation where the question, "Hey you got a second?", is followed by the worst possible news. Although satire, this article offers a vivid picture of workplace communication gone bad.

The opinion column recounts a farcical "informal meeting" stuffed full of insincere undertones. In one excerpt, Katz portrays the obvious irony of a supervisor's nonchalant attitude:

Hey man, whenever you get a sec—and it's no biggie—I was hoping you could just pop on over to my office real quick so I can fire you.

Nothing to worry about. Trust me. Just a short little one-on-one session about you being fired. We'll have a bit of unnecessary and degrading small talk and then I'll clunkily segue into terminating your position here. I'll follow up by apologizing like I care and that'll be that. The whole thing will take a second out of your day. Promise.

Successful companies place a high value on employee contribution and professional respect. Phrases like "whenever you got a sec" and proposals for a "short little one-on-one session" are an attempt to downplay the impact of interrupting someone else's work. Claims that you have "nothing to worry about" and should "trust me" are in fact signals to do the opposite! Being cornered into an impromptu meeting or small talk at the office defeats the purpose of business: to manage time and energy efficiently so we can get things done.

Although most organizations do take employee termination more seriously than the made-up story from this comedy newspaper, we have all been subjected to fruitless invasions of our time and heard offhand comments that destroy our morale. Even the simplest of statements (such as "it's not a big deal, but...") can rattle an employee's nerves. Cryptic messages have a polarizing effect and can lead to an uneasy and potentially counterproductive environment.

Workplace language can change moods, create resentment or bring unwanted stress. Used properly, however, one's choice of words can also positively impact perspectives.  AccelaWork can do more than just analyze your company's existing processes. We can review your flow of communication. We believe that how we talk about work is as important as how we complete tasks. Great organizations have satisfied stakeholders, who use positive language to support each other. Find out more about how you communicate and work together. Contact our business consulting experts today to arrange for a consultation.

Super Signs You Need a New Job

Super Bowl Sunday is the epitome of American football and the pinnacle of American advertising. Commercials during the big game can cover any topic—even the dissatisfaction many will face when they return to work on Monday morning.

It makes sense to focus advertising on the contrast between the fun of a Super Bowl party and the doldrums that many will face the next day at work. After all, too few people have jobs that they would rather work at than watch football and eat food with friends. As the game goes on, the dread of the following work day will surely creep into the mind of many viewers. One example of a company who tried to capitalize on this thought CareerBuilder with this 2009 ad. Though, they went far beyond the point of focusing on workers who are simply unenthused about the work week ahead. The humorous TV spot is well worth a watch below.

Like all Super Bowl commercials, this comical portrayal of burnt-out employees is somewhat bizarre. It provides the obvious message that your job should not be unbearable, but simultaneously implies that many people face this reality every day.  Everyone can identify with the idea of a little misery at work, though hopefully there aren't many of us who feel it to the extent that the commercial shows.

Dissatisfied employees may be the target demographic for the spot, but a more profound message awaits organizations and individuals who are willing to openly contemplate the nature of work. The Methodology Blog has already covered that the environment, structure, and sense of ownership is far more important than the topics or materials we encounter during our shift. People leave jobs because they do not feel valued, either by the work itself or by their colleagues or their boss. On the other hand, people excel at work when they have faith that their contribution and ideas actually matter. While you may not be walking around the office calling people "dummy" there could be something more subtle going on that keeps employees from feeling respected and valued. If there's a higher turnover rate in your office than is ideal, it may be time to evaluate the situation.

Of course, CareerBuilder wants people to quit their jobs. They want current employees to be focused on their dissatisfaction in the workplace. After all, the more people who are looking for jobs (and the more companies that have to fill positions) the more there's a need for job finding sites. But don't be so quick to leave a job that you have a few problems with.

Before you quit your job, decide whether the problems at work are caused by impossible personalities or frustrating inefficiencies. The former is a sign to head for sites like CareerBuilder, but the latter is the territory of business consultants like the team at AccelaWork. We analyze the patterns and processes at your job site through and help your organization to grow and change. We can help turn dissatisfied employees into satisfied ones. And oftentimes that change isn't nearly as hard as it would seem at first glance. A few small tweaks to your communication process and the way employees are treated and you could soon have an entire organization of workers who can no longer relate to this CareerBuilder ad. When that happens, turnover rate will go down, and even more importantly, quality of life will go up.

Work should be satisfying and productive. Before you leave an unpleasant job, consider helping to change that workplace for the better. Contact the employee engagement experts at AccelaWork today.

30 Days Without Email

Like almost every office worker, Katie Goodman was drowning in email. She decided to fight back by abandoning her inbox entirely for a single month.

Goodman tells her story in detail, starting with the motivation and the challenge:

I had come to hate e-mail, for all the reasons anyone does. It interrupts and overwhelms. It causes stress. It distracts the brain and encourages the fracturing of attention. Because it’s devoid of verbal tone and facial expression, it leads to miscommunication, confusion, and hurt feelings. All for the sake of making our lives “easier.”

In the end, I decided on a 30-day e-mail detox. No e-mail, in or out, for one month. Anyone can do a month, right?

The idea of completely avoiding email sounds refreshing, impossible and insane. We would all love to be freed from our electronic leashes, able to interact with others on reasonable time frames and through appropriate mediums. One assumes that no modern business professional can operate without email. Goodman’s experiment, however, proves otherwise. Check out what happens when she returns from the four-week hiatus:

Nervously, fearing the worst, I go online. How many messages could there be before AOL simply stopped processing them? But the pile is shockingly light. For the first week of my absence, there were about 35 e-mails a day. Then it peters out to 10 or so a day (not including several daily offers for penile enhancement); since I wasn’t sending any mail, I wasn't generating any communication. Several messages, from friends and co-workers, start out, “I know you’re not on e-mail, but...” And by the time I’m reading these, almost everything in them is irrelevant.

I missed nothing.

Like all technologies, email can be used for good or for evil, for productivity or as a way to waste time.  Many of us feel as much frustration about the size of our inboxes as we do the size of our waistlines. An organization filled with employees who are tired, flustered, and overworked from battling email is not likely to be very productive.

At AccelaWork we help organizations reclaim lost time through a variety of seminars, workshops, and on-site consulting. Reading and responding to email alone consumes about an hour or more a day, according to one study.

Become more satisfied and more productive at your workplace through a minute-to-minute assessment of how time is spent and how information moves throughout your organization. Contact the productivity experts today to arrange for a consultation.

For Sale: Service Which is Not Actually Available

The words "we'll take care of it" from any company should be music to a consumer's ears. After all, one less responsibility is great when the weekly to-do list is already overflowing. But what happens when a promise is left unfulfilled?

For Scott Abel, author of the article Hey AT&T! Buying Residential Telephone Service Shouldn't Be This Hard, purchasing new phone service was far from the stated promise of "just plug it in and we'll do the rest." When it came time to use his phone the line had not been activated. Scott Abel soon discovered he was unable to access his account, file a grievance report or even receive service in his area. AT&T wasted their own time because of a broken process. Unfortunately for Abel, the experience cost him time, energy and unnecessary frustration. He explains:

[AT&T operators] are guided by written scripts designed to help them obtain the information they need to complete computer-enabled order forms, which run on various computer software applications that—you guessed it—don't talk to each other. So while the marketing department at AT&T shouldn't be promoting services in areas in which they don't provide service, my situation is proof that they do. And, while systems designed to process orders shouldn't allow orders to be placed in areas where AT&T does not provide service, my situation is proof that they do.

As seen through the example above, gaps in a process — no matter how minuscule or innocent they may be — will eventually cause problems, particularly if they are not discovered or dealt with immediately. Like a novelist or football player, at times it can be difficult to find error in the work you partake in day to day. By bringing in a fresh eye or new perspective as editors and coaches do, discovering flaws more readily helps to streamline the product's success.  With the integration of new technology as well as stakeholder contribution and feedback, processes are continually evolving in business. Every successful change in workflow requires a thorough examination of the transformation and a system of checks and balances to ensure validity.

At AccelaWork we strive to help our clients improve business efficiency through diverse, highly customized services offered as a proactive partnership. We bring a fresh viewpoint to identify challenges in process and help stakeholders to model and implement effective solutions. Contact us today to learn more about how we help corporate and non-profit teams to transform work environments for everyone.

Process Abandonment, Wrongful Detention

Legal immigrants in Australia are supposed to receive letters from the government letting them know the status of their visa. For one unfortunate man, however, the mail was never sent, leaving him wrongfully imprisoned for five years.

Due to a broken process, Tony Tran, a law-abiding immigrant, suffered devastating circumstances that went above and beyond his wrongful imprisonment. According to the report in The Age, he also lost his son, was severely beaten by another detainee and has suffered continual health problems ever since. This unfortunate story spotlights a harsh truth to the effects of failed systems. From the article:

Tony Tran, now 35, was taken into detention in December 1999 after the department believed it had notified him that his bridging visa had been canceled years before.

The Methodology Blog often reviews cases where citizens have been mistreated by justice systems due to a breakdown in procedures. As seen in this story as well as Justice in Jamaica and Less Than Due Process, everyday aspects of workflow can dramatically impact people’s lives if not resolved. In this particular situation, it’s not a question of immigration policy, but actually following the procedures that are in place:

Mr. Tran had not received the letter warning him about his status, an apparent breach of the procedure necessary before taking a person into detention.

AccelaWork helps organizations of all sizes address such issues, not through a top-down systemic evaluation, but through individual analysis and engagement of employees. We are most interested in speaking with front-line managers and workers who interact with customers, customer products and company information systems, as much as we are with owners and managers. We believe that working together with a business, non-profit or government to develop effective models is the key component in helping enable change and reduce the risks of procedural failure.

Your operation may not be sending letters that keep people out of prison, but if you do believe there are ways to improve how you get work done everyday, consider reaching out to the business consultants at AccelaWork.

Berkun on Change

According to noted author Scott Berkun, change has nothing to do with the latest technology. Rather, innovation comes from taking risks and embracing new ideas. At the Tools of Change conference in 2009, Berkun gave an impressive, energetic talk where he covered everything from the American Revolution to Gandhi to Rome. Go get a sack lunch and prepare to be amazed (Direct Link):
The entire 40 minute video is filled with gems. Berkun points out that although an idea may be widespread, the actions to implement the change begin with one person:
Even grassroots change depends on the choice of an individual to use their power to make something take place.
We assume that change can only occur when someone who has authority dictates it. Berkun explains that this is a fallacy of management:

If you want to make innovation happen, you need to create opportunities for people to succeed underneath you. Your job becomes not being the star...If you are hiring good people, smart people, people who have knowledge that you don't have, then they are going to be suggesting ideas or perspectives that you don't entirely understand.  If you are always thwarting ideas that do not fit your worldview, then all you are going to get is your own worldview. Which as a manager, is increasingly becoming farther away from the front lines where all the new stuff is happening!

The team at AccelaWork are longtime fans of Scott Berkun’s fresh approach. In fact, his works form a major component of our philosophy. We help companies innovate by including all stakeholders in the process of analysis and conducting implementation on a realistic schedule. Change is not easy, but it is essential. If you are interested in improving the way you work, talk to the business experts at AccelaWork today.

One Gadget, One Decade

Here's a surprising productivity story: BusinessWeek tech writer Roger Kay always brings a sleek‚ portable computer to the annual Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. But unlike the rest of the cutting edge gadgets, his trusty notebook is over ten years old.

In an editorial, Kay explains that this aging device perfectly meets his needs:

As I fired up and snapped shut this highly reliable machine during a cascade of meetings, I was again struck by its practicality. Although dated by any definition, the old Jornada remains—year after year—exactly the right tool for the job at hand: taking notes in appointments scheduled one after another all day in venues scattered throughout the city.

Speaking as a true advocate of technology, Kay highlights that not only is his ancient computer durable enough to last another decade and reliable enough to provide more than three days of ample battery life, it's also light enough to carry on his back when riding a bicycle. All in all, his humble advice to those debating any upgrade is quite profound:

This year, as IT and financial managers wonder whether, given the economic situation, they can squeeze another year out of their existing client PCs, it's not a bad idea to revisit the principles of useful life. A good tool should last a long time.

We do not always need the latest and greatest of products to be productive. Instead, technology in general, regardless of age or fancy updates, provides value when it helps us achieve our goals. Likewise, systems and processes at work should be effective and long-lasting, instead of hopelessly awkward or mirrored after the current trend. The HP Jornada is the best tool Roger Kay has seen in the last decade for reporting, yet he keeps going to the latest tech conferences to try out the newest inventions. Likewise, great organizations build procedures, policies and systems that are designed to last but maintain a commitment to pursue new ideas. This combination helps to ensure success and enable a business to evolve.

As covered before in The Methodology Blog in Bad Economy Brings Longer Weekends, the pursuit of best practices is key to nurturing company growth and maintaining a positive workplace atmosphere. By embracing beneficial change as well as maintaining effective policies, organizations achieve success. Here at AccelaWork, we recognize that advancement isn't always found through the creation of new systems, but often through creative innovation via familiar resources such as stakeholder ideas, introspection and feedback. Contact us today for further information on how we bring change without the need for costly equipment or confusing technology.

Brute Force Positive Thinking

Gretchen Rubin author of The Happiness Project, often talks about on upbeat thinking. In one blog post she offers nine tips for dealing with a "happiness emergency."

Her advice column opens with an fairly typical recommendation, but it is backed by science in an unexpected manner:

Boost your energy: Stand up and pace while you talk on the phone or, even better, take a brisk 10-minute walk outside. Research shows that when people move faster, their metabolism speeds up, and the activity and sunlight are good for your focus, your mood, and the retention of information. Plus, because of emotional contagion, if you act energetic, you’ll help the people around you feel energetic, too.

It might sound silly to add some physical activity to a frustrating day at the office, since a walk outside will only delay your progress and cause your workload to build up even further. However, if you follow the suggestion carefully, the biochemical benefits of a little exercise will help to improve your productivity once you sit back down again. By investing even a few minutes of conscious thought in improving your well-being, you can have even greater returns on the rest of your day.

Even more important to the larger organization is the phenomenon of emotional contagion. Feelings, both positive and negative, have a tendency to spread between people during social interactions. Wikipedia explains this further:

Unlike cognitive contagion, emotional contagion is less conscious and more automatic. It relies mainly on non-verbal communication, although it has been demonstrated that emotional contagion can, and does, occur via telecommunication. For example, people interacting through Emails and “chats” are affected by the other’s emotions, without being able to perceive the non-verbal cues.
AccelaWork is a business improvement consulting firm, not a happiness provider. But satisfaction at work is a key indicator and effective predictor of workplace productivity. The Methodology Blog has already reviewed how emotions impact the job recruitment market both for frustrated employees as well as eager candidates. People with the worst jobs are often having the most fun.

We believe in a direct relationship between happiness and productivity, and when an organization empowers employees to manage their own tactical needs, both satisfaction and output increase tremendously. If you are unhappy at work today, try one of Gretchen Rubin's nine tips. If you agree that there is a fundamental connection between morale and effectiveness, contact us to find ways to improve your organization.

The Non-Language of Offices

An article from the BBC lists fifty different phrases that permeate the modern workplace. But does this type of language actually help businesses be more productive?

All of the quotations come from brief interviews with frustrated employees:

“The one that really gets me is pre-plan—there is no such thing. Either you plan or you don’t.”
Another reads:
“The new one which has got my goat is conversate, widely used to describe a conversation. I just wish people could learn to ‘think outside the box’ although when they put us in cubes what do they expect?”
As well as:
“I once had a boss who said, ‘You cant have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music.’ It was in that moment I knew I had to resign before somebody got badly hurt by a pencil.”
One more exceptional example is:
“The particular phrase I love to hate is drill down, which handily can be used either as an adverb/verb combo or as a compound noun, ie: ‘the next level drill down’, sometimes even in the same sentence—a nice bit of multi-tasking.”

These examples are amusing, but the use of such phrases can be destructive to workplace culture. Unlike jargon, which is the specialized terminology of a field, business speak has no value. It is helpful for doctors to use words with precise meaning, such as atherosclerosis or angioplasty. But the phrase “outside of the box thinking” merely means “creativity.” Long-winded substitutions of stock phrases for simple ideas only wastes time and frustrates the listener. Perhaps this style of language reinforces the points made in the last posting in The Methodology Blog, which questioned whether leadership roles are awarded for competence or just saying the most words.

For more information and examples, check out the excellent book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide. Note, however, that word choice and tone at the office do more than inform or amuse, they may also inspire and frustrate. The resulting stakeholder satisfaction is a key predictor for workplace productivity. Productivity, in turn, is the hallmark of success.

A good measure of whether or not your business consultants are any good is if they use too many buzzwords. If they say it's time to "drill down" on "core competencies" to "address needs" "in this space," run the other way.

Businesses Pained By Lead Tests

Everybody knows lead is dangerous. A heightened awareness and avoidance of products like lead paint is vital to public safety. Unfortunately for smaller companies, expensive new regulations for independent testing may force many to go out of business.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the safety of children must be the priority in the production of goods. This is particularly true with items such as toys, supplies, and utensils. In the last decade, lead paint recalls have impacted many retail toy companies. The effects from the new regulations, as seen in one article, weigh heavily when attempting to keep a business thriving:

Small batch toy makers, many of whom make old-fashioned wood and sustainable products, say the testing requirements—which can cost thousands of dollars—are unaffordable. At, a Website where entrepreneurs can sell their handmade items, many expect the new law to put them out of business. Also ensnared are companies that make products like bikes or children's books. Because they aren't toy companies, many were caught by surprise when it became clear the law would apply to them. The only lead that can be found on children’s bikes is on the tire, where it poses no risk to a child not in the daily habit of licking the wheels. And while children's books may contain no more noxious materials than paper and ink, under the new rules they would still need a test to prove it.

Responding to the uproar, CPSC has issued a rule-making notice that would exempt natural materials from having to be certified as lead-free -- but it will need to go further to avoid an economic trainwreck in February. The real responsibility lies with Congress, which rushed through "kid-friendly" crowd-pleaser legislation without considering the consequences. Despite warnings from small businesses, Illinois Representative Bobby Rush and California's Henry Waxman pushed provisions that now require pulling products from the shelf. Mr. Waxman demanded lead standards without allowing compliance to phase in.

Now even their allies are skittering away from strict enforcement, fearing the looming fiasco could force Congress to amend the bill. Last week, consumer groups that once flogged the law, including Public Citizen, Kids in Danger, and the Naderite U.S. Public Interest Research Group, wrote a letter urging the CPSC to "take the initiative . . . by providing prompt, common-sense, and explicit interpretations regarding exemptions to CPSIA." Now they tell us.

This unfortunate situation is a clear example of the law of unintended consequences; whereas important regulations imposed to benefit one such area, unknowingly bring negative effects in another. In business, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a proposal, dramatic change in one area is likely to have wide-reaching impacts. The fact is, change is not only hard because it requires work to start the process, but control to guide the outcome to the benefit of all stakeholders.

Sometimes it's difficult to see the whole picture. But despite the fact that it's difficult, it's of the utmost importance. If there are unintended consequences that aren't foreseen, the impact could be hugely negative, oftentimes outweighing the positive impacts that the original decision was made to achieve.

Before you begin to comply with new regulations or pursue a major initiative at your company, consider a smaller investment in business consulting from AccelaWork. We can help your organization make improvements to process and workflow that may help reduce the need for sweeping changes or even mitigate the effect of market and government forces. Efficient, satisfied workers have more time and energy to face larger challenges and think strategically. Don't hesitate to reach out to us today!

Indiana Social Security Numbers Publicized

One downfall to the endless possibilities of the Internet is the existence of identity theft. Just under 9,000 current and former Indiana state employees had their social security numbers posted to a public website leaving many vulnerable. Though the breach was quickly corrected, one has to wonder how such a mistake could have occurred in the first place. According to the Indy Star, the accidental slip-up was caught just a tad too late:

Mark Everson, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Administration, said in a news release that the numbers were erroneously included in a contract solicitation file posted on the department’s procurement Website. They were immediately removed after a department employee noticed them. By then, though, four entities had already accessed the information.

It's tempting to imagine two files on a state employee's computer desktop—one reading “public contract information”, the other reading “top secret employee SSN data”—being "dragged and dropped" in a momentary distraction. Though this is probably not what actually caused the mishap, it does seem odd that sensitive information could be so easily manipulated and posted.

Whether it is customer lists, protected health information (PHI), financial records or personnel files, virtually all organizations deal with sensitive data. Securing this data with appropriate software tools, strong passwords, steel deadbolts and surveillance cameras is essential, but how robust are the procedures and workflow that shuttle this data around an office?

If your company or organization has great security policies but is concerned about how well those policies are actually followed or implemented, contact business process design experts at AccelaWork. We diagnose workplace operations, and can not only help you to understand what you are doing today, but find ways to work smarter and more securely in the future.

The Million Dollar Usability Correction

Probably everyone dreams of making millions. For one company in particular, hitting the jackpot didn't come from selecting winning numbers in the lottery. Instead, all it took was changing a simple icon.

In the article "The $300 Million Dollar Button," a online vendor increased their customer sales by 45% when they added a graphic to alert patrons that registering was optional:

... they put a Continue button with a simple message: You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click Continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.

In essence, the company discovered that potential customers were turned off by the request to register; deterring them from following through with their purchase. To make matters worse, the button that was meant to benefit current customers was doing quite the opposite. Instead of streamlining the purchasing process, many were left frustrated because they couldn't remember their login or password. Ironically enough, the acts of logging in and registering were not required for purchasing on the website—an extreme misconception that hindered company revenue and customer patronage.

The moral of the story: no matter how "user-friendly" some system may appear to the designer, success cannot be fully achieved until after a full review of stakeholder productivity and satisfaction. This is not an easy process, but one that is essnetial.

An important component that helps to bring positive and rewarding change is software interface design is the concept of "usability." Defined as the endeavor to make an interface easier for customers to use, usability centers around how an interface design either enables---or hinders---an individual's use of a system. As seen in the example above, the website's usability was shortsighted in the eyes of the general public. The average person clearly did not have a full understanding of how the process was meant to work, but only of how it appeared to work.

When it comes to troubled business systems, AccelaWork's business consultants use an analogous approach. Whereas usability focuses directly on the user, our consultants focuses on the process. When paired together, these two techniques can foster tremendous positive change in productivity and stakeholder satisfaction. 

 By having conscientious concern in regards to how a process works and how it affects every individual involved, ideal outcomes, financial and stakeholder alike, will be achieved effectively and efficiently. Contact us today if processes in your company are hindering business, lacking proper instruction or creating frustration with your team or your customers.

The Ultimate Library Fine

The new Central Library in downtown Indianapolis ran two years and $50 million dollars over budget. Now, the courts will decide who is at fault and who has to pay.

For five years, this story has pained taxpayers in Marion county. The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday on the scale of the problem:

Early in the project, in 2004, large gaps and cracks were discovered as formwork was removed from the two-level garage’s concrete beams and columns. Library officials, themselves accused of lax oversight, halted construction in March 2004.

The library claims that [engineering firm] Thornton Tomasetti and a managing principal, Joseph G. Burns, created deficient designs and then concealed the flaws. In particular, the library claims the firm misrepresented the reasons behind a substantial change order that resulted in more reinforcing steel being inserted into the garage's concrete, contributing to holes in the beams and columns.

A financial consultant to the library recently blamed Thornton Tomasetti for a $24.3 million share of the costs arising from the problems, an amount an attorney for the firm called absurd.

On the one hand, it seems incredulous that we cannot reliably plan and execute civic buildings like public libraries. Civilization has thousands of years of experience in construction, and engineers, architects and contractors have successfully built millions of buildings, many thousands of them as large as the new Central Library.

On the other hand, if you have been to the building, you can instantly recognize the unusual and progressive design features. Soaring columns arch into the lobby. Level after level of books rest on the northern end of the foundation. Although this edifice is similar to every other modern, large public building, it is also entirely unique. The existence of distinct challenges should be no surprise, even if the unexpected $50 million dollar surcharge is too much to bear.

Placing blame for the time and cost overruns is a complex matter. However, you do not need a team of experts with graduate degrees to understand that process failures can dramatically impact stakeholders. In fact, the article explains the main problem in just a few words: the assertion that the engineering firm "created deficient designs and then concealed the flaws." This was not just a mistake, claims the library, but a cover-up.

As The Methodology Blog has covered before, failure is not only a reality but is often better than constant success. In fact, keeping secrets is often not a great business strategy.

If you, your employees or your organization makes mistakes but has trouble admitting to problems to seek resolution and improvement, talk to the business improvement experts at AccelaWork. Challenges in embracing the value of failure as an opportunity to enact positive change often arise can be addressed. We'd love to help.

The Obsession with "Done"

Media darling Bre Pettis continues to circle the web. This post is about completion. Done, he asserts, is what matters, and all productivity arises from an obsession with done. His thesis appears as The Cult of Done Manifesto, which includes the following thirteen points:
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the Internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Brief statements of philosophy like The Cult of Done Manifesto are everywhere, and they seem to generate mostly reactions of inspiration or disgust. The comments on Pettis’ blog demonstrate this passion. Are these thirteen theses a mark of genius or an tragic oversimplification of real life?

The precise answer is unclear, but several of the points merit discussion. For example, Item #1 insists on only "three states of being—not knowing, action and completion." Obviously, projects can be stalled, held up by clients, placed on low-priority or rescheduled, but the notion of all status updates offering just one of the three states sounds blissfully appealing. Any project manager would probably agree that they don't want to hear about anything else.

Likewise, the suggestion of item #8 to "Laugh at perfection" makes sense. This is merely a brazen restatement of the old adage "perfect is the enemy of good." Even #10 offers sage advice, as mistakes and failure are part of success.

Points #5 and #9, however, may seem odd to many. Surely some ideas require more than week of gestation. Not all activity is productive or even positive. An obsession with getting things done may inspire you to give up on your dreams, and instead spend your time completing many tasks that are of little or no value. A manifesto cannot completely describe the best way for everyone to work.

Nevertheless, increased productivity leads to increased satisfaction. There is power in the emotional impact of reaching a finish line. The thirteen points of The Cult of Done Manifesto are just advice, but building enthusiasm about working smarter is the first step to change. If you or your organization is ready to become more productive and move beyond slogans into actual transformations, talk to the change management experts at AccelaWork. We help companies and non-profit organizations channel enthusiasm for renewed productivity into new business process models and system implementations through committed engagements.

Leadership in "The Office"

The hit NBC comedy he Office features a neurotic, naive and often unruly character in Michael Scott. The show is famous for uncomfortable workplace moments and many of the scenes feel as if they are based in reality. Yet behind the entertainment, the premise begs the question: How do leaders emerge and how could incompetent fools become the boss?

In one Office debacle, Michael Scott comes up with a new way to enhance business revenue. As shown in the clip below, this supposedly "innovative" idea is embarrassingly unconventional:

Though ingenious in Michael's eyes, his idea turns sour when Dunder Mifflin’s largest and most lucrative client receives all five of the golden tickets—rewarding them with a fifty percent discount on an order. Faced with potential of being fired, Michael attempts to abandon his leadership responsibility by coercing his most loyal employee to take the fall.

The character of Michael Scott, although an overwrought stereotype, is a great example of the destructive power of bad management. As we covered in our post on leadership competence one theory states that leaders are selected for their vocal skills more so than actual ability. Judging by Dunder Mifflin's standards, Michael Scott's position as branch manager did not stem from any actual management skills. Fortunately, this choice is a comical twist of fiction for the benefit of entertainment rather than office productivity. Tragically, the joke hits home because many viewer offices are eerily similar to The Office.

While you may not have a manager prancing around the office like Willy Wonka, there still may be some ideas that aren't quite fully fleshed out. Before putting an idea into practice, it's important to look at every possible outcome. Yes, they should've ensured that only one golden ticket was going out in each shipment, but if Michael had thought to add a disclaimer saying that offers could not be combined, the hit the company had to take wouldn't have been quite as big. Regardless, the promotion wasn't really doing much for the company, as someone who was already their biggest client didn't likely need a promotion like that to continue with their orders. It's more prudent for them to focus on solid customer service and competitive pricing.

In terms of Michael passing the buck onto one of his employees, that's something that may come off as pure parody, but isn't as uncommon as you might hope. Look around your organization and see how many people are unwilling to take the blame when they've done something wrong. Saying "I was wrong" is a simple thing, but it can go a long way toward earning trust and loyalty from those around you. There's no shame in admitting a mistake. There is shame in not learning from your mistakes so they don't happen again.

You may think these things don't apply to your business, but it's important to remember that Michael Scott likely thinks the same thing. He always thinks he's doing something for the betterment of the company and his employees. It's his blissful unawareness that leads to the majority of the problems he creates. Recognizing the situation is an important first step toward finding a way to fix the problems that may be plaguing your organization.

If you are concerned your company is becoming the Dunder Mifflin of real-life business, consider contacting the business consultants at AccelaWork. We help organizations focus on the actual process of work instead of the eccentricities of personality. Painful office interactions might be great television, but companies and individuals would prefer for the workplace to primarily be a realm where work gets done.

The Danger of Loving Where You Work

Lorraine Ball of Indianapolis marketing firm Roundpeg added a brief post to her company blog. She believes "when [your] employees love your company your customers will too!"

The full contents of the post are worth a quick read. Here's an excerpt:

I have always believed if you want to create customer evangelists, (customers who care passionately about your brand) you need to start with employee evangelists. Every day, your employees go into the community. What do they say when asked about where they work? Do they say they love it or say, it’s ok? Do they passionately endorse your products? Do you know?

The supposed value of "passionate employees" is a longtime business staple. Apple engineers on the original Macintosh computer made sweatshirts that read "90 Hours a Week and Loving it!" The founder and former leader of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, famously placed employees first, customers second and shareholders third. The SAS Institute built a landscaped campus with private schools so employees could feel engaged and supremely respected. Passion at Work is even the title of a 2005 bestselling book by Lawler Kang.

Not everyone, however, is sold on passion. Authors Kathy Sierra and Dan Russell warn against asking employees to be passionate.

They write:

People ask me, “How can I get our employees to be passionate about the company?" Wrong question. Passion for our employer, manager, current job? Irrelevant. Passion for our profession and the kind of work we do? Crucial. If I own company FOO, I don't need employees with a passion for FOO. I want those with a passion for the work they're doing. The company should behave just like a good user interface — support people in doing what they're trying to do ... the best company is one in which the employees are so engaged in their work that the company fades into the background.

They even provide a precise list for identifying the difference between people who have passion for their employer and people who have passion for their work:

Passionate about the company:

Passionate about the work:

Employees with professional passion, especially if that passion is driven toward using and improving the systems, procedures and quality of the work, will become more productive. However, hiring passionate employees is not enough. Companies must ensure that everyone is empowered to improve process. If you are frustrated at work and have trouble applying your passion, or if you are concerned that employees are working with inefficient systems that limit their desire to do great work, contact AccelaWork. We help to diagnose workflow challenges and help companies to work smarter.

Why You Can't Innovate at NASA

A fascinating Youtube video highlights innovation and workflow problems at NASA. Watch the clip to see how employees trapped through compartmentalization hinder the development of bright ideas.

Although it runs for ten minutes, the video conveys a clear message of the suppression of ideas. For further background on the premise, see the the NPR article Astronaut's Video Satirizes NASA Bureaucracy. Watch and enjoy:

Despite impassioned attempts at explaining her ideas, the NASA engineer hears surprising responses from  upper management that discourage initiative and creativity. Here's some of the dialog:
Young Engineer: So, I've been thinking about this better way to design the spacecraft, and here are some sketches of what I've been looking into...

Supervisor: Wow. This is a pretty significant change from the way the project office is doing things.

Another exchange includes the following:
Supervisor: We've never done anything like this before. I should also remind you that as a member of this organization we are really only supposed to be working on subsystems.

Young Engineer: Yes, I know, and I've considered that, but I think this is really important.

Supervisor: I see. You know, you will be basically telling them that their current approach is flawed.


The video illustrates four fairly common errors organizations make when establishing and engaging processes:

  1. Processes inhibit productivity. In the video, we see an enterprising contractor who's genuinely trying to improve the final product, only to have established processes slam the door in her face again and again. Does your organization allow processes to get in the way of much needed improvements in their products and services.
  2. Processes that require inefficient use of time. Did you catch the size of the organizational flow chart? Even the length of this parody video captures the inordinate amount of time required within the organization to get an answer to a pretty simple question about improvement. Does your organization have processes that require people to spend time caught up in the flowchart instead of actually being productive?
  3. Processes that discourage innovation and quality control. Organizations that don't change don't grow, and organizations that don't monitor for quality control don't last. In the video, he contractor's proposal is aimed at both of these desirable ends. Instead of having her idea considered, vetted or implemented, however, the vines of the process choke it out before it can make a difference. Is your organization giving the difference-makers and quality checkers room to perform these valuable roles?
  4. Cultures that value following the process to the exclusion of desired outcomes. Unfortunately, the conversation between the contractor and the project manager is one that's all too common within organizations. When presented with her idea for a better design, the PM responds, " My job is to follow this plan from start to finish." If that wasn't clear enough, he states his understanding of his role within the organization: "I'm not responsible for showing an optimal solution." Organizations that become addicted to process can create a culture where employees are more concerned about what they're not permitted to do within the process than the actual goal of the organization. That's a culture of fear that stunts growth, limits productivity, and charts, at best, a flat course for the organization.
This video illustrates exactly the kind of organizational and workflow challenges we address at AccelaWork. Instead of trying to reinvent a whole culture with a top-down reorganization, we focus on engaging with individual workers to find ways of improving efficiency, increasing access, and embracing the contribution of stakeholders.

As we covered in our post about productivity and job loss, change should occur from the bottom up. To quote ourselves: “no one is better positioned than the employee to lead and implement new ideas in their own workflow.” If your company finds this philosophy refreshing, contact us today. Our aim is to assist you and your employees to transform processes so you can be effective, inventive and successful in all your ventures.

Are there Shortcuts to Productivity?

As Americans diligently strive for personal and occupational success, productivity improvement schemes continue to gain momentum and support. Yet, between old-fashioned “know-how” and fancy technological solutions, what is the best strategy in the race for ultimate efficiency?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Tips for Getting Things Done, there are effectively two separate approaches for improving individual productivity:

One, called “life-hacking,” emphasizes technology and encourages the use of gadgets and software. The second, sometimes called GTD for “Getting Things Done,” emphasizes to-do lists and focusing on one task at a time.

While both paths certainly offer a hope of improving efficiency with everyday tasks (whether business or personal) each overall theory invites judgment. Critics of GTD say that the complicated structure, with its time-consuming review process and lack of an accurate system for setting priorities, is not conducive for general use in everyday life. Likewise, with the continual emergence of new technologies, the feeling of boundless advancement from "life hacking" lasts only a short while. Before long, many find that their innovative time-saving gizmos stop working or dwarf in comparison to the latest and greatest program or gadget released to the masses. Plus, the most important technologies (like the trusty HP Journada) should last for years and only make simple tasks even simpler.

Is there a foolproof solution for establishing a system for productivity? Taking into account the variation in individual people and intangible nature and tremendous variety of individual workflows, the answer is most definitely not. However, there are better, more balanced ways at improving productivity.

AccelaWork aims to assist companies in exploring ways to improve productivity, but not through one-size-fits-all, cut-and-dried systems like the examples above. Unlike other consultancies which promote and sell products that force companies to rearrange and adapt, we provide ongoing business consulting services through a well-rounded approach that not only improves efficiency, but maintains the advantage over time. In fact, we usually oppose creating more work by writing “to-do” lists or sending employees off to detailed, program-specific training. Instead, we aim at reducingwork.

Through detailed analysis and customized solutions, we help organizations to embrace and integrate changes that cut down on time-consuming processes and open up avenues for further stakeholder innovation. As discussed before on The Methodology Blog, allotting time for creativity brings incredible value to both business and employees. If your organization fumbles with unfamiliar technology and unused checklists rather than actually producing results, contact AccelaWork today.

Rotten Attitudes In The Workplace

To many of us, the saying "one bad apple ruins a bunch" brings up memories of overbearing lectures we received as children. But how true is this statement in the adult world of work?  According to one source, "bad apples" an the office can slow down productivity, diminish creativity and prevent successful completion of projects.

In the article "The Bad Apple: Group Poison,"  Jeff Atwood discusses a study set up to test the theory of "bad apples." College students were divided into groups of four and asked to successfully complete a project. Unknown to the participants, conductors of the study planted actors in some of the teams to represent difficult personality types that inhibit productivity. They discovered:

Groups with bad apples performed 30 to 40 percent worse than other groups. On teams with the bad apple, people would argue and fight, they didn't share relevant information, they communicated less.


Other team members began to take on the bad apple's characteristics. And they wouldn't act this way just in response to the bad apple. They'd act this way to each other, in sort of a spillover effect.

In the end, the blogger makes the following conclusion:

It doesn't matter how great the best member is, or what the average member of the group is like. It all comes down to what your worst team member is like. The teams with the worst person performed the poorest.

Besides the obvious fact that "bad apples" deteriorate group cohesiveness, they also carry negative traits that reduce the quality of task completion, stagnate motivation and diminish career development. Businesses that employ individuals who do not meet that standard of quality may find themselves at an impasse. The ultimate price of a rotten attitude at work is dissatisfaction and failure.

At AccelaWork, we focus on assisting companies in creating efficient workflow processes that improve productivity and help maintain avenues of achievement. Our aim is to also bring satisfaction to stakeholders as job contentment enables company success. As the article states, great leadership can be the salvation to poor employee contribution. If your company lacks proper leadership when it comes to fulfilling project objectives or needs to redesign a faulty process, reach out to our business improvement consultants today.

Business Process Crisis: Data Faxed To The Wrong Address

Each month, Indiana business owner Bill Keith receives over 150 faxes. Each one contains confidential patient records, but Keith is not even in the medical business!

According to WBIR TV in Knoxville, Tennessee:

Bill Keith, owner of SunRise Solar Inc. in Indiana, has been receiving hundreds of confidential medical faxes from doctors' offices and other medical providers in Tennessee for three years.

Keith was, on Monday, still receiving patient information meant for the Tennessee Department of Human Services in Nashville. Keith has tried to correct the problem with the state and doctors' offices but to no avail.

On Friday, state officials blamed doctors' offices, saying that the toll-free fax numbers for Keith's business and the state nearly match. But Monday, Mowery Johnson said the state was taking some responsibility for the problem, which stemmed from a typing error.

It's tough to know where to begin in discussing this story. Should we blame government incompetence, which has been unable to correct a typo for three years? Should SunRise Solar have simply disconnected their fax machine? Or is this really more evidence that we need to move to electronic medical records and leave the messy world of paper behind?

No matter what the solution, we should look back to the original problems: processes for double-checking fax numbers, processes for distributing these numbers to the public, processes for correcting errors after they occur, and processes for maintaining old systems during an upgrade. None of these procedures should require high-level administrative approval or strategic analysis. They are simply a matter of stakeholders having the authority and responsibility to make changes.

Facsimile machines may not be the right technology for today, but regardless of the platform in use, the process should be rigorous, well-documented and reliable. If your organization needs help in reducing errors, talk to the process improvement experts. We help companies analyze and transform their methodologies for everyday tasks.

Innovation in the World of Pizza

Given the speed of emerging technology, the idea that anything is possible never seems too far out of reach. One such recent achievement is an Italian pizza vending machine.

Check out the below video to view the invention: (direct link)

Despite the doubt by some critics in the pizza-making capital of the world, Italians are expected to be quite receptive to the quick and affordable meal. Like many ideas#8212;technological, mechanical or procedural based—innovation that aims to save time, stress and/or frustration in our competitive, fast-paced world is surely in high demand. Anything that increases efficiency and productivity is worth consideration.

Like a pizza made-to-order, we customize solutions to fit the intricate needs of individual stakeholders and businesses alike. To learn more about how we can bring beneficial innovation to your office, reach out to our consultants today.

Summit Retrospective

On Monday, March 30, 2009, we hosted the first Indianapolis Productivity Summit. Each of the four 90 minute sessions drew more than 30 attendees for an interactive discussion on ways to work smarter.

The first session, Managing Email Productivity, not only drew in the crowd and shared a new perspective on email, but earned some notoriety in the blogosphere. Attendee Jason Bean wrote a post about just one of the recommendations on email for (Reversing Your Email Composition). This got picked up by Kevin Purdy of the massively popular site Dozens of people have commented on these two posts and carried the discussion forward.

Our second event, Power Modeling - Self Training was one of the more challenging sessions. Complex workplace systems, whether they consist of software tools, corporate protocols, official procedures or other systems for filing, maintenance or client service, are often a source of major frustration and a lack of productivity. Analytical tools are needed to identify these challenges and bring mental models about systems closer to the actual nature of how they work. Power Modeling is a set of techniques for enabling individuals to conduct this analysis process on their own and effectively train themselves to better use existing systems.

[caption align="aligncenter" width="1"]Indianapolis Productivity Summit Indianapolis Productivity Summit - March 30, 2009[/caption]

The most lively session of the day was Workplace Productivity Tools. Topics included an organizational scheme for documents, meetings, workplace coordination and social media. The group became especially engaged in a conversation about the appropriate role of announcements. This is a difficult area for productivity, because a routine announcement can be communicated in far less time via a medium like email, whereas an extraordinary announcement (such as employee commendation or unfortunate news) probably requires some dialogue. With meetings as a major source of workplace frustration, all organizations need tools for managing these events to maximize productivity.

A Continuous Improvement Primer ended the summit. Large-scale change models such as Six Sigma, Lean and TCO are not only a fashion but an essential component of modern business. This event provided a broad overview of some of the major trends, along with historical context, advantages, disadvantages and perspective.

Over the next few weeks, The Methodology Blog will review these sessions in detail both for those who could not make the summit and to further support the attendees. Thanks again to everyone for participating in the Indianapolis Productivity Summit!

Summit: Managing Email Productivity

The first event at the Indianapolis Productivity Summit on Monday, March 30, 2009 was Managing Email Productivity. For ninety minutes, the group reviewed the challenges of email: the biggest threat to getting any work done. There is a wealth of information available on battling your inbox. As The Methodology Blog has covered before, these are mostly shortcuts to productivity. However, no quick change to your routine can have a lasting impact if the environment is fundamentally broken. Email is not a small problem. It's a catastrophic and destructive force to everyday time management. Tackling this problem requires more than a handful of tricks. It's about adopting a fresh perspective.

Check out the slides (direct link) for more information:

If you are drowning in email and know you need to get ahead, consider talking with the email productivity experts at AccelaWork. Our seminars are available for private companies. We also offer comprehensive workplace diagnostics that help you find ways of resolving frustrations with systems (like email) and assists with increased productivity and satisfaction.

Summit: Power Modeling - Self Training

The second session at the Indianapolis Productivity Summit was dedicated to Power Modeling, a series of techniques for self training on technology tools.

Behind the concept of Power Modeling is a single principle: the mismatch between our mental models for systems and the actual internal mechanisms. For example, many people misuse a common household thermostat by giving it a “stretch goal”—setting it well beyond the desired temperature in the hopes that the device will make the climate control system work harder. This technique might be effective for coaches and athletes, but is only wasteful on an HVAC installation.

Power Modeling encourages individuals to challenge their own assumptions about how systems work, and then begin to determine the actual model through analysis and experimentation. Rudimentary diagramming tools should be employed, such as mind maps and state charts, as these can help with the though process. Those working with power modeling are also encouraged to normalize data and procedures by breaking each down into the smallest, logically distinct parts and defining precise relationships. Aspects of tool usage that are repeated are often subject to iteration, which means that there may be ways to automate steps and make work more efficient. When employed together, all of these techniques can be used to facilitate analysis and help stakeholders teach themselves to use systems more effectively.

Albert Einstein once noted that “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking which created them.” Power Modeling is an organized approach to higher level thinking about workplace systems. To learn more, or to schedule a training for your organization, contact the best Indianapolis business consultants today.

Accepted to College by Accident

Forty-six thousand hopeful applicants received congratulatory messages from the prestigious University of California-San Diego. Unfortunately, 29,000 of those emails were sent to people the admissions department had actually rejected.

The local NBC news station covered the story:

The school’s communications office said an e-mail was sent Monday afternoon to all 46,377 students who applied for admission—including the 29,000 rejects—welcoming them to the campus.

A half-hour later, school officials said, they realized their mistake. Almost two hours after the first note went out, a second e-mail was sent, apologizing to 28,889 freshmen applicants for the mistake.

Accidentally delivering the wrong message is nothing new.  However, the power of technology compounded by high stress work environments enables us to make even bigger mistakes faster than ever before. The Methodology Blog reviewed a similar case recently where a state office accidentally published Social Security numbers. A few years back, we also noted that the the Australian Football League fouled up a mailing.  Each example is a routine organizational task which seems to lack a workable process. If there were any checks and balances in these systems to prevent major problems, those measures failed completely.

Your company is probably not communicating with those who hoped to become the next Mighty Tritons of UCSD. However, effective, reliable and robust procedures are essential to averting mistakes and maximizing productivity. If this story sounds like it could happen to you, contact AccelaWork. We help stakeholders take control of methodologies through our comprehensive business consulting services offering.

Summit: Workplace Productivity Tools

Attendees of the 2009 Indianapolis Productivity Summit spent the first afternoon session talking specifically about Workplace Productivity Tools. One of the most important elements of modern organizations is the production, maintenance and lifecycle of documents. This ranges from the informal diagrams on a whiteboard or a post-it note to the detailed, legalistic language in a contract, a client proposal or a warning label. Document creation, editing and review requires tremendous amounts of time and energy. Studying the nature of documents can help companies and individuals focus their efforts more effectively, as each work has a distinct purpose and role.

The group also debated the value of meetings. With a focus on productivity, Slaughter Development advocates that all meetings should have one of two objectives: brainstorm ideas or make decisions. This approach better ensures that everyone involved is a true stakeholder with a genuine interest in the outcome. No routine meeting should be used for a routine announcement.

However, many participants pointed out that difficult information should be relayed personally. No one should be fired by email. Bad news is out of the ordinary, and anything which is unusual cannot be made more efficient. Furthermore, if information is difficult it probably requires discussion which will result in individual action. Therefore, using a meeting to announce layoffs is not actually a mere announcement. It is an opportunity to discuss the challenging situation and encourage stakeholders to submit ideas and make personal decisions. The two-sided logic for meeting agenda still stands.

The group also reviewed some specific tools to assist in communication, workflow and coordination. This included a quick demonstration of TitanPad, a collaborative, real-time text editor, as well as Basalmiq Mockups, a service for rapid prototyping of user interfaces. Both tools stress informality and rapid results. These concepts are far more important than the systems presented. The best results emerge when people can propose, debate and discard ideas as quickly as possible.

Many more topics were covered in this session on Workplace Productivity Tools. If your organization needs to focus on more effective ways to work or wants to identify the right systems for current and future tasks, reach out to AccelaWork.

Continuous Improvement Primer

There are many methods for business process management. Here's an overview of popular approaches for "continuous improvement" that covers techniques from the turn of the last century to those which are still being developed.

With terms like Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and Total Cost of Ownership appearing everywhere, it is difficult to know which of these ideas is meaningful or appropriate for a business challenge. Management techniques are sometimes revolutionary and sometimes just temporary fads that have no lasting impact. A primer on these topics, which can be broadly titled Continuous Improvement (CI), is essential for anyone interested in working smarter.

To help organize the field, AccelaWork describes all CI approaches as falling into one of five categories:

There's plenty more to cover, of course, but this grouping help provides a simple overview of the main schools of thought. For more information, contact our business improvement experts today.

Great Workers Surf On The Job

We all know that employees at work should be working. But according to a new study, those who spend a bit of time at the office goofing around online are actually more productive than their colleagues.

According to researchers quoted in a CNET news article, the phenomenon is caused by fatigue:

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture—after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored.”

A short break, such as surfing the Internet, “enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

But how much productivity is gained? If workers limit themselves to leisure web surfing for no more than 20% of their total time at work, they are 9% more effective than those who avoid personal web use altogether. These numbers may sound a little confusing, so the claim should be restated. People who merely occasionally browse the Internet actually get more done then colleagues who never go online.

Of course, taking frequent breaks while working is nothing new. For as long as people have been working, they have been stepping out for a meal, a cigarette, or just to stretch. Even a few minutes away from a complex or arduous task can help us feel refreshed. However, spending one-fifth of our working hours doodling around online might sound excessive to the typical manager. That is writing off an entire day out of every week. How could losing so much time actually save time overall?

The answer lies in the connection between satisfaction and productivity. When employers monitor Internet usage and dictate that their workers never go online for personal reasons, they are effectively telling employees they cannot be trusted. Telling anyone what they can and cannot do is a recipe for frustration.

As The Methodology Blog has reviewed before, people love the concept of being done with a project. Employees despise work environments where they are not valued. They will even adore a dirty job if the work is satisfying and productive.

Here's the secret: No organization should expect success by controlling employees, but rather, by embracing individual creativity to improve workflow and achieve great results for customers. If you are ready to think beyond monitoring your workers by empowering them to do more for your business, reach out to the business improvement experts at AccelaWork. We are ready to work with you and your stakeholders to get more done.

Process Follows People

No industry should be more focused on the well-being of people than healthcare. According to one study however, many healthcare organizations are over-emphasizing process and technology to the detriment of workers.

A press release reviewed the key findings:

Nearly two-thirds of those questioned agreed that technology solutions should be kept simple, but 40% lamented the complexity of the technology they were using. More than 70% were unsure of the ongoing cost of device failures. Yet, the high cost of mobile devices, along with their proneness to theft, loss and damage, were identified as major barriers to their effective use by more than half the respondents.

We all want our lives to be simple. Excessively complicated computerized systems at the hospital should give us pause.  In fact, a 2005 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that although prescription order-entry systems were designed to reduce deadly errors, they in fact introduce a whole new category of problems due to design issues. Perhaps the original eHealthServer press release described this issue most effectively in their lead:

Healthcare organizations are throwing mobile technology at problems without fully considering the underlying business processes or the working conditions of the end-user.

Although businesses, non-profits and government organizations must have advanced software tools and robust processes to perform daily functions, the people who make use of these tools remain the most important component of the overall system. At Slaughter Development, we prefer the term stakeholders to describe the human beings involved, whether they are clients, employees, managers or owners. This word clarifies the primary function of people in an organization: ownership. When we conceptualize workers as doing more than work, perhaps as the caretakers of particular responsibilities and authorities, we begin to see how much more important people are in comparison to process or technology.

What Salt and Pepper Shakers Can Teach You About Process-Oriented Thinking

On virtually every restaurant table in the world lies a salt and pepper shaker. A moment of contemplation reveals that this design makes for highly efficient workflow.

Salt and pepper are unusual resources in the world of food preparation since, unlike most ingredients, they do not require refrigeration and do not spoil after a few days or weeks of sitting out. When compared with other spices, salt and pepper are not particularly valuable. Leaving them unprotected on a table does not present an attractive prize for petty thieves. They are often used together, so although the raw ingredients might come from distant corners of the earth, they are presented, side-by-side, to the hungry patron. With their handy assistance for last-minute customization of food, it's not surprising that salt and pepper shakers are everywhere.

In fact, this tradition makes it so that almost any change in this formula results in frustration. If the salt and pepper shakers are stored halfway across the table from each other, you are constantly asking your fellow diner to “pass the salt.” Though the addition of either substance can be done by the chef, it limits a patron's ability to control the last-minute customization of their food and increases the establishment’s liability. Furthermore, changing the delivery technology from shakers to say, open bowls filled with spices, will not only attract the concern of the health department but will probably lead to more messes for waitstaff to clean up.

Needless to say, the current salt and pepper system is highly effective, but not necessarily perfect. In recent years, some may have noticed several innovations to the classic shakers. With a desire for pepper to be freshly ground, an integrated crushing mechanism is often provided. Instead of having the shakers stand solemnly on the table, plastic or wire racks now neatly hold the entire range of powdered and liquid toppings. With the recent interest in nutritional awareness, many eateries have also taken note to the health concerns of patrons, and therefore now offer salt alternatives. The opportunity to improve workflow is everywhere.

If your business seems as well-solved as salt and pepper, we urge you to reconsider the circumstances. There are always opportunities to work smarter. The challenge is finding the most impactful choices and implementing changes that actually stick.

Is Print Marketing Dead, Or Will The Process Live Forever?

The local marketing scene has been discussing the fate of printed handouts.  Last month, mediasauce predicted the death of the brochure. Firebelly Digital insists (strong language warning) that the brochure will never die. Advertising pro Lorrie Walker sees both sides.

We are not in the advertising business, so we will refrain from reviewing the content of this exciting, Indianapolis-based debate. However, the process of creating a brochure is completely driven by the answer to this question. Companies that are producing full-color paper handouts need to be concerned with duplication systems, routing artwork to off-site printers, receiving proofs, seeking client approval and ordering individual runs. Electronic ads have different constraints and capabilities. They may require testing on different types of computers, email programs or mobile devices. These variations not only impact the creative and strategic issues of the world of marketing, but the tactical, everyday issues of defining a workflow system and moving information and resources through that structure.

Third-party software solutions like MarketingPilot, HighOrbit, BaseCamp and Workamajig are all designed to facilitate process at advertising agencies. One may be right for your firm. However, it is essential to understand the individual components of workflow and especially the ultimate output. These factors should inform the strategic choice. But what about the moment-to-moment use of existing tools and procedures? Do these interactions enhance or limit overall productivity? These questions are about tactics, not strategy.

At AccelaWork, we do not know if the brochure is dying or stronger than ever. But we do know that the minuscule steps involved in making brochures is increasingly important. Companies compete on cost, quality and time-to-market, and any positive change to workflow and stakeholder satisfaction will benefit the customer. If you are interested in learning more about methodology, whether you make brochures, sell products or provide services, reach out to our consultants. We love to discuss and help transform the smallest details of what you do.

Process Improvement: Friction Versus Frustration

Kristian Andersen of the Indianapolis-based experience design firm Kristian Andersen + Associates is ruminating on the latest business buzzwords. He thinks the notion that processes should be “frictionless” is “flat wrong.”

To quote from the blog post:

There are certainly many examples of processes where reducing friction is a critical component of success. But I can’t think of any examples of efficient and effective processes where friction is absent altogether. Imagine trying to strike a match, steer an oil tanker, kiss your significant other, or even walk down the street, without the dynamics of a bit of friction at work.

Andersen’s comments might sound like mere semantics. He uses a literal, scientific definition of friction, as a force which enables motion. Clearly, the Inc. Magazine article that inspired this discussion considers friction to mean conflict and resistance to progress.

But this conversation is more than just being picky about word choice, it is about describing key interactions in business with useful and effective terms. As Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Choosing the best word, the best image, the best user interface controls and building the best overall brand experience is the focus of groups like Kristian Andersen + Associates. This dissent, therefore, should be seriously considered.

At AccelaWork, we find that the words used to describe business processes provide insight into the organizational workflow, productivity and culture. The methodologies utilized at a workplace should include enough friction to enable meaningful contact and conversation, but not bog everyone down in bureaucracy. If we are looking for anything to eliminate, it should not be friction but frustration. We'd love to help you find better, smarter, and smoother ways to work.

Process Improvement and Business Outsourcing

Late last month, news surfaced of an IBM patent application for a “method and system for strategic global resource sourcing.” Is shuffling jobs between countries something which requires workflow analysis?

According to Paul Boutin at The Industry Standard, the answer is a resounding yes:

A patented methodology for deciding where to send jobs overseas to cut costs would be a valuable tool that IBM could sell to its corporate clients. But IBM has plenty of opportunity to eat its own dog food: The company continues to slash its own payroll, starting with 4,600 cuts earlier this year and continuing with a huge layoff within its 180,000-employee global business services group.

So often, business improvement is seen as employee reduction. Outsourcing is nothing new but is rarely popular among workers. Process analysis, too, is often seen as a way to eliminate jobs. We find that companies who see their workers as expenses, not assets, will always be trying to find a way to cut those costs. Organizations who feel their workers are invaluable resources of knowledge, creativity, innovation and customer relationships will want to invest rather than divest. Great consulting firms---and great companies---place stakeholders at the center. And who is a more crucial stakeholder than members of your team?

Business process analysis is at the forefront of organizations with just a few people to those that employ hundreds of thousands. If you are ready to talk about leveraging your greatest asset, contact AccelaWork today.

Business Process Improvement: Putting Theory into Practice

Over at TechRepublic, writer Chip Camden reminds us that “no methodology or theory is a silver bullet.” Project success depends on the quality of execution, not blind adherence to broad principles.

Camden offers this opinion in an article titled Consultants: It's not the theory, it's the execution:

Managers often fall victim to the notion that “if we adopt a specific methodology, we’ll fix everything”; this mindset can infect consultants and developers as well. We’re all tempted by the promise of not having to think about a certain subset of the actions we must perform; if we just follow the prescribed procedure, we’ll be all right.

You don’t want to have to reinvent all of your processes on every project, so you should standardize procedures to help avoid missing things. But nobody has perfected a methodology for a nontrivial activity yet, so you always need to consider when to break the rules – or at least bend them a little.

Buried in the above paragraph is a gem: the notion that there are no perfect methodologies—especially for nontrivial activities. Although Camden's article is about software development, the larger field of change management is full of one-size-fits-all solutions. There are many Indianapolis consulting firms and probably as many approaches. Each have advantages and drawbacks. No approach and no expert can transform an organization without competent and dedicated leadership.

However, if there's no perfect way to do complicated things, there must be best practices for everyday tasks. Refining these are a matter of tactics, not strategy. We need to learn to think small as much as we need to think big.

An organization may need to focus on long-term success, which requires high-minded theory and experts to execute the plan. Likewise, a company also needs to constantly review and improve single actions taken every day by stakeholders. These processes and workflow enable individual productivity, satisfaction, and larger success. Learn more about what AccelaWork can do for your details.

Duplication Without Reason

Just because a company is growing at a record pace does not mean it is immune to bad process. One amazing story comes from W.E. Peterson, a co-founder of a multimillion dollar organization.

In the 1994 book Almost Perfect, Peterson writes:

With everyone solving their problems by trial and error, we had all kinds of inefficiencies creeping into the organization. The orders department, for example, always seemed to keep a copier running full time. When I looked into the reasons, it turned out they were making a lot of extra copies of invoices so they could file them by invoice number, by customer, and by product. When asked why, they were not sure, except that it had always been done that way. To make a point, I threw one full set in the trash and told them to call me if they ever missed the extra copies.

There's more than one insight in this anecdote. Consider the culture of a department which feels it needs to create three copies of every document. A business process which enables multiple ways to access the same information assumes that every case is highly likely and that speed is essential. Somewhere, a stakeholder is more concerned with ease of looking up data than they are with the cost of paper, ink and labor.

The management response—to discard countless hours of work—is bold and decisive. Unfortunately, Peterson’s narrative does not discuss employee feedback to his actions. Most people would feel slighted if one-third of their contribution was chucked into the garbage and instantly deemed worthless. Their inability to explain why duplicate copies were maintained does not mean that no valid reason exists. Rather, this ignorance indicates how employees can enable themselves to complete a task without understanding the actual value of that work.

Finally, the quoted paragraph offers some standard advice about traditions. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper says it best: “The most dangerous phrase in the [English] language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” The author uses this notion as a justification for quick action. However, Peterson’s snap judgment is in itself, an knee-jerk response. He assumes that since no one can provide a reasonable rationale for the procedure, he can safely destroy the extra copies. In a sense, he falls victim to the very fallacy used to support his actions!

Great management requires more than swift decisions. Great employees must do more than be diligently obedient. In fact, all stakeholders should understand both how and why work is done. This degree of engagement generates true productivity and satisfaction, and builds a platform for resource optimization. Before you throw out reams of work or make another duplicate file without understanding why, reach out to the consultants at AccelaWork. We care about tactics, stakeholders and productivity.

For Many Business Processes, Excel Is Not Recommended

Business processes all over the world run on Microsoft Excel. Even in microbiology labs. Unfortunately, using this program has resulted in serious problems for the scientific and medical community.

A journal article describes the problem in its title: Gene name errors can be introduced inadvertently when using Excel in bioinformatics. The authors explain:

Use of one of the research community’s most valuable and extensively applied tools for manipulation of genomic data can introduce erroneous names. A default date conversion feature in Excel was altering gene names that it considered to look like dates. For example, the tumor suppressor DEC1 [Deleted in Esophageal Cancer 1] was being converted to ‘1-DEC.’

Usually, users appreciate the Microsoft Excel feature which automatically recognizes DEC1 as the first day of December. But in the case of genetic research where countless millions of cells are automatically processed without user intervention, this conversion introduces errors. Worse, as the paper reports, some of these problems are irreversible. In fact, the authors of the article found thousands of incorrect gene names in “carefully curated public databases.” The cost of these mistakes to other researchers is incalculable.

This is not a time to beat up on Microsoft or the team that produces Excel. Rather, it is a reminder that Excel is intended for financial calculations and projections. The program was never meant to serve as a massive database or automated computation workhorse. Much of the development cost for Excel is in making data input more natural for users, not machines. The paper describes problems which are not from bugs in Excel, but unintended uses of the software program.

Like everyone, researchers tend to use systems, procedures and tools that are the most accessible, even if they are not right for the job. Your workplace may also utilize Microsoft Excel for something other than budgeting and financial analysis. If you're using tools that weren't built for this purpose, you're running the risk of creating errors that you never expected. And perhaps more practically, you may not realize what is possible with the right tools because you're stuck using the wrong ones.

Temporary Change Can Become Standard Operating Procedure

The team at XYZ Industries ran a fairly efficient warehouse floor, often processing as many as 60 orders per day. When new people were hired for a seasonal rush, the floor manager put together a simple paper artifact to facilitate training. That temporary fix became a major boon to productivity and was adopted as SOP—Standard Operating Procedure.

XYZ Industries resells systems and components as an exclusive channel partner to a major manufacturer. Virtually all of their incoming inventory arrives on a weekly basis in a couple of major shipments. A sales team accepts orders via telephone and fax, and enters them into a software tracking system. Employees working on the floor review each order and then retrieve each item from the inventory. The order is packaged and marked for shipment. All in all, the process seemed fluid, but when a few new workers were hired, transferring the institutional knowledge presented a challenge: learning the organizational pattern of the entire warehouse.

Unfortunately for the new hires, many of the storage locations were historical rather than logical so understanding and adopting the system was difficult. To complicate matters, the product codes did not have much meaning, so codes such as RX-542C and RX-542K were easily confused with one another. In the end, large orders were becoming more time consuming to fill. The new workers were making multiple trips around the warehouse because they had forgotten to retrieve some item, and shipments were sometimes confused or misdirected to the wrong location. All in all, it was taking longer than expected to complete tasks, which inevitably increased the error rate. It eventually climbed to at least one bad order every week.

In an attempt to mend this broken process, the warehouse manager, Cory, came up with a clever idea to train his new staff members. Instead of having them remember the order, Cory added a report to the sales tracking system that employees were to print and carry around the warehouse while filling an order.  This piece of paper served as a checklist. It helped to increase work quality and decrease fulfillment time.

Printed documents that move around an office are commonplace in many corporate environments. In medical offices, the document contains patient data and is often called a superbill. In manufacturing facilities, the artifact keeps track of part data is referred to as a traveler. In government and academia, these documents establish authority for action and are sometimes called a change order or simply a form. As the paper moves, people mark it in predefined ways to record progress. Essentially, the artifact helps to improve productivity by showing that work has been completed.

Here's the report Cory designed for XYZ Industries:

consultants discuss report
This document represents a tremendous improvement over the old process. Whereas before, employees would take a look at the order screen on the computer, commit the current items to memory, and then wander around the warehouse looking for products. Now, the order fulfillment process begins with printing the report and marking it accordingly per step. For example, a diagonal cross mark is used in the "Packed" column to indicate that some inventory has been pulled off the shelf. Once a secondary confirmation has been made, the initial slash is turned into an "X" as a mark of completion. The "Remaining" column states the number of items that should still be available after the order is filled, which helps employees catch inventory issues early. The "Shipped" column is initialed when all order items are packed together. Cory designed this new system for training purposes and expected to stop "wasting paper" after a few weeks. However, the document was so useful to everyone on the team, they decided to make it a regular practice. "In the two months we've been using it, we haven't had a single error," Cory explained. "That's unprecedented."

The story of XYZ Industries is another case of metawork. Just contemplating the nature of work—even just for the purpose of making some training materials—can have tremendous impact on productivity and satisfaction. The warehouse team is able to expedite more orders faster and with fewer errors. Doing good work not only helps the organization succeed, but helps individuals feel good about the work they do!

Cory's form is a great start, but it's only the beginning of possible improvements. For example, the use of the "Remaining" column could be tracked to determine how frequently the warehouse needs to conduct a complete manual inventory. This could save many person-hours each month, and is more likely to be accurate since it's not as grueling as spending the entire day counting boxes. The design of the form could be improved as well. Since the "Packed" and "Shipped" columns are so close together, it's easy for someone in a hurry to confirm something incorrectly. Moving the fields apart (or shuffling the form randomly) will provide a stronger incentive to be detail-oriented. Items could be listed in the order they appear in the warehouse, not the order they were placed by the customer. Presently, the process ends by re-keying order information so as to produce a shipping label; however, XYZ owns a barcode reader. Therefore, why not include a barcode on the form to increase speed and accuracy when printing UPS and FedEx stickers?

There are many more opportunities for improvement beyond this piece of paper. First, the warehouse could be re-organized so similar products are stored farther apart, which will surely reduce the chances of confusing a BX-502C product code with a BX-502D+ one. Second, with some heavy duty masking tape or paint, XYZ Industries could mark off space reserved for particular storage or work activity. With well defined zones in place, the operation becomes more defined. Just think, if there's a mark on the floor where outgoing packages should be placed, it's hard for someone to put a box down halfway across a line. And finally, many limitations on productivity and satisfaction happen in the sales process. For example, when an XYZ customer needs a new shipment, they either place a phone call or send in their request to the company's fax line. XYZ sales representatives must answer these calls or pick up paper faxes, then re-enter 100% of all incoming orders into their computer system. Although XYZ Industries may eventually create an e-commerce website to allow for client self-service, in the meantime they can improve this process tremendously. Each member of the sales team could have their own private fax line at minimal cost. Optical character recognition (OCR) software that can read incoming orders is relatively commonplace. In summary: Order entry is not sales. Company representatives should spend their time talking to customers and closing deals, not typing information about the sale.

XYZ Industries took the first step toward improving productivity by creating an artifact. This was only meant as "training wheels" for some new employees, but the change had such a positive effect it became standard operating procedure. As simple as it sounds, improvement begins by thinking about work. Make your job more satisfying and more productive through contemplation, action and evaluation. Change for the better. Contact AccelaWork's small business consultants to learn more.

The Advanced Technique for Smarter Web Surfing: Manjoo's Method

Tech writer Farhad Manjoo is supposed to be obsessed with the latest online gadgets. But instead, he has designed a straightforward system for surfing the web. In a tech column in Slate, Manjoo dismisses a more modern approach for high-speed browsing. Most experts advocate a tool called Really Simple Syndication (RSS) that aggregates all of the content from your favorite sites into one location. Manjoo notes, however:
RSS started to bring me down. You know that sinking feeling you get when you open your e-mail and discover hundreds of messages you need to respond to—that realization that e-mail has become another merciless chore in your day? That’s how I began to feel about my reader. RSS readers encourage you to oversubscribe to news. Every time you encounter an interesting new blog post, you’ve got an incentive to sign up to all the posts from that blog—after all, you don’t want to miss anything. Eventually you find yourself subscribed to hundreds of blogs, many of which, you later notice, are completely useless. It's like having an inbox stuffed with e-mail from overactive listservs you no longer care to read.

Instead, Manjoo advocates setting up a handful of bookmarks that each open multiple tabs. Label each group based on activity. Since Manjoo is a journalist and needs to stay on top of breaking news, he names his collections based on time of day. The 8AM group is for first thing in the morning. His lunchtime collection includes sites best enjoyed over a sandwich. This system improves overall enjoyment and productivity.

Of course, there is no need to limit the selections to blocks of time. Tab groups could be labeled “vendors”, “competitors”, “partners” and “local news.” Employees might want to keep a “humor” selection on hand to help recover from loss of motivation at the office. This approach can also be used to self-monitor the time spent on Facebook and other social media sites.

One might assume that everyday activities like surfing the web are already fully optimized. But Manjoo’s method shows a smarter way to work. Like the story of Roger Kay’s aging laptop, this solution did not require new technology. Instead, this approach is using existing features more intelligently.  Organizations should be ready to embrace change at every level, especially the tactical humdrum of day-to-day events. The tools we need may already be in our hands. Learn more. Talk to the business consulting experts today.

A Map Changed Medicine Forever (And Can Do The Same For Your Business)

Every epidemiologist (as well as every science fiction fan) is thinking about the risk of a worldwide pandemic. Interestingly, the most important tool in understanding the spread of disease was invented in 1854.

In that year, a cholera epidemic struck an area in the West End of London. The popular theory at the time insisted that the disease was caused by “bad air,” not contracted between hosts. Dr. John Snow was skeptical of this claim and began interviewing residents in the area. He eventually concluded that the cholera came from a community water pump. Once the handle was removed, the outbreak subsided. Snow’s most compelling evidence is also his legacy: a map of the Broad Street outbreak.

Process Improvement - John Snow's Map

Even without extensive training in epidemiology or statistics, one can easily see that the black dots are clustered around a central point. The markings indicate cases of cholera, and the central point was the location of the Broad Street pump. A simple visualization offers profound insight. The map drawn by John Snow launched an entire field of medical research studying the behavior of disease among a population.

At AccelaWork, we also find that drawing a map of an operation can offer amazing revelations. Our business consultants work with stakeholders to learn the basics of UML (Unified Modeling Language) and BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) so that they can begin to draw maps of their own business procedures. Just like John Snow’s efforts, these diagrams allow us to move above the chaos of everyday firefighting to understand the underlying factors. Sometimes, solving systemic issues is as easy as removing a pump handle.

Business Process Improvement in Journalism: Checking Sources

The passing of famous composer Maurice Jarre made headlines last month. Many articles included a quote from the songwriter, which unfortunately, was a simple hoax. According to the Irish Times, a 22-year old fooled the Guardian, the London Independent and the BBC:

These words were not uttered by the Oscar-winning composer but written by Shane Fitzgerald, a final-year undergraduate student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin.

Mr Fitzgerald said he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

He wanted to show how journalists use the internet as a primary source and how people are connected especially through the internet, he said.

It is tempting to dismiss this incident as the act of a rogue hacker completing a highly sophisticated prank. But the student merely used a free online encyclopedia website with almost no technical knowledge.

Fitzgerald posted the quote on Wikipedia late at night after news of Jarre’s death broke. “I saw it on breaking news and thought if I was going to do something I should do it quickly. I knew journalists wouldn’t be looking at it until the morning,” he said.


Fitzgerald admits that he is not a sophisticated hacker or technology junkie. “I’m capable of using a computer but I’m not a whizz. Anyone can go in and edit [Wikipedia] anonymously,” he said.

What was the fake quotation? "Music is how I will be remembered. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."

Few businesses seem more committed to factual accuracy than journalism. Yet, one opportunistic student conducting a social experiment was able to change the news. Every organization has procedures for confirming work meets quality standards, but apparently the fact checking systems at these major media outlets were unable to detect this hoax.

There's a parallel in your organization. What do you take at face value? What "business processes" are little more than individuals scrambling to get information out the door? How easily could you be defrauded or confused by bad information, because there is no pattern of double checking?

If you need help, talk to the business consultants at AccelaWork. We can help you redesign your workflow to improve quality and reduce the risk of errors.

Is Complexity Always Bad For Business?

Business process improvement is usually about making procedures less complex. The recent death of electronics retailer Circuit City provides many somber lessons for business. One key idea is that simplicity might actually be overrated.

A compelling method for analyzing the demise of one firm is to compare the loser with a winning competitor. Joel Spolsky, writing for Inc Magazine, considers the wildly successful technology store in Manhattan called B&H a front-runner:

The whole operation is a crazy Willy Wonka factory. If you want to check out a product that’s not on display, a salesperson orders it by computer terminal from a vast stockroom in the basement. Moments later, as if by magic, the product arrives at the retail counter, via an elaborate system of conveyor belts and dumbwaiters. You can try out the gear, see if you like it, and, if you do, the salesperson puts it in a green plastic box and places it on another conveyor belt, which runs, above your head, to the pickup counter. There, an employee bags your purchase. Meanwhile, your salesperson gives you a ticket, which you take to a payment counter. After you have paid, you get a different ticket that you take to the pickup counter to get your merchandise.

This description sounds unreal compared with the typical visit to a big box retailer. Usually, customers amble around with a shopping cart, engage (or evade) sales associates and carry desired purchases to the register themselves. Browsing for digital cameras inside a Rube Goldberg machine is surely distracting and unproductive. But Spolsky has an alternate explanation for the complexity:

At first, this all seemed like incredible overkill to me. But then, as I thought about it more, I developed a theory as to why B&H operates this way. With all the expensive electronics and cameras and lenses and laptops floating around the store, the system creates a series of checks and balances—typically, five employees are involved in every purchase—in order to reduce shoplifting and employee theft.

Better control over inventory actually reduces overall costs, which results in customer savings. Combined with an exceptionally helpful and intelligent staff, it’s no surprise that B&H is always packed and continues to prosper.

Overwhelming complexity is usually a sign that a business process ought to be simplified. However, in some cases, the many steps in a procedure were specifically crafted to achieve particular objectives. That's why the best consultants aren't just looking at complexity, but also at value. Companies like B&H should be praised for their commitment to self-improvement.

The world may never know why Circuit City failed while other electronic stores succeeded. It is clear that blame cannot rest with either excessive complexity nor unyielding simplicity. As The Methodology Blog covered in a piece on consulting practices, no methodological approach is a silver bullet. Rather, organizations must engage their tactical challenges with an open mind and total dedication. If you are ready to talk about ways to improve your operation, reach out to the business consultants at AccelaWork today.

Consulting By The Customer: Taking the Process Into Your Own Hands

After his roommate moved out, Douglas Mezzer continued to receive and pay the monthly internet bill. Then, Mezzer made a fatal mistake: he decided to officially transfer the account to his own name. In the Worse Than Failure article Connect Betterer (a pun on iiNet’s slogan “Connect better”), Alex Papadimoulis explains the thought process:
He figured it’d be a simple change that could all be accomplished through the self-service account management website.

After logging in, however, he ran into a bit of an issue. While he could change the address, phone number, email address, date of birth, and several other fields, the Firstname and Surname were disabled.

Not surprisingly, this is a standard approach among web developers. Since the create account and modify account forms are effectively identical, a quick shortcut is to simply tweak the latter so that certain fields are disabled. Although useful to the programmer, this design is a little frustrating to people like Douglas Mezzer.

consultants discuss account forms

The invoice came within a few weeks afterwards. It stated the additional expense, but was still addressed to his former roommate. Mezzer waited another month, and the next bill once again listed the old name! He called up iiNet to complain.

Mezzer began to wonder about the competence of his service provider since all that was standing between him and a successful name change was the fact that a few fields were marked as disabled. Perhaps if he could somehow change their value the system would dutifully replace his roommate's old name with his. Using a program called Firebug, Mezzer was able to make the switch himself! The next month, the bill was addressed correctly.

Firebug  Example

The process of transferring an account from one person to another may involve well more than Mezzer’s clever solution. There may be contractual, legal or accounting ramifications, not to mention any compliance issues. There may also be multiple databases to update. However, the overall customer service experience, combined with the visual appearance of the web form, inspired Mezzer's approach. From his perspective, all is resolved even though he did the work and he had to pay iiNet a hefty fee.

Organizations should analyze all aspects of a process. A procedure such as an account transfer not only requires actions from employees, but impacts customers. If it appears that a customer can implement a procedure themselves, they may attempt to do so—especially if your staff appears less than competent.

Since this article was posted, iiNet has corrected this issue and reached out to Douglas Mezzer. Yet, how many similar problems go unreported and unresolved? How many times is the customer the best consultant---and how often does the customer act as the consultant by fixing the problem themselves?

If your organization is struggling to manage business processes, talk to the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork. We help companies, non-profits and government organizations assess and improve their everyday operations.

Consultant Interviews a Consultant: Live on The Content Wrangler

AccelaWork partner Robby Slaughter founder was interviewed by The Content Wrangler, a popular website dedicated to information architecture and content management.

Highlights from the interview include:

TCW: I know you are a usability evangelist (among other things). Like me, I’m certain you have a list (written or in your head) of five things that just drive you nuts about the web. Share with our readers five usability challenges that should be easy to tackle, but for one reason or another, are making the web harder or more confusing to use than it should be.

RS: Redesigns - The web development business (and the marketing VPs who employ them) is obsessed with cosmetic makeovers. The dramatic destruction of an old site with a new site that does exactly the same thing, only newer sounds like a great idea. However, doing so alienates countless users who are accustomed to an existing model. Instead, upgrades should be gradual, with new features introduced as optional instead of mandatory. When faced with a new design, users should be able to safely exit to the old familiar approach as they learn your new system. Stop pulling the rug out from under your users. Believe in their ability to change, but help make that change as painless as possible.

This is perhaps the most emblematic example of business process: stakeholders sometimes want to redesign everything from the ground up as a way to sweep away problems. Yet ironically, dramatic change is extremely difficult for many others who are involved. The best consulting firms will steer away from advocating wholesale change at all costs. Instead, they will look for small improvements that can have a tremendous impact.

An overnight switch, even if it has been in the works for months or years, will create incredible tension in and around an organization. Change requires time and emotional investment. Companies not only need to define what needs to be modified, but to provide support over the course of many months to make that change permanent.

The full interview from Scott Abel is at:

Consulting Wisdom: Outcome vs. Process Thinking

A new study reinforces the challenge and importance of process thinking. The result? focusing on outcomes saves time, but limits our mindfulness.

As reported in Science Daily:

Consumer decisions often involve trade-offs between means and end benefits, such as weighing quality versus price, rewards versus risks, or enjoyment versus effort. Process-oriented thinkers tend to focus on both ends and means, making decisions more difficult.

This result is consistent with common sense. For example: it would be great fun to vacation overseas, but doing so requires spending money for the trip, taking time off work and enduring a long, cramped plane ride. Do we think about the journey or the destination?

We often structure our organizations based on end results. These include personal objectives, job descriptions, company goals or sales targets. Such details may represent an exciting destination, but the essential aspect of work is how we move towards the ideal. This is illustrated by one of the experiments in the study:

Participants were asked to choose between a small apartment that required a short commute and one that was larger but required a longer commute. The researchers instructed participants to either think about how living in the apartment would affect their daily routine and habits (process-oriented thinking) or to think about what they would gain from living in the apartment (outcome-oriented thinking). “Process-oriented participants thought about both the size of the apartment and the length of the commute, were less likely to choose the larger apartment, and experienced more difficulty making the choice,” the authors write.

Although the quote characterizes process-oriented thinking as “more difficult,” the increase in consideration is actually beneficial. A major decision should inspire effort. If actively thinking about "how living in the apartment would affect their daily routine and habits" encourages stakeholders to be more conscientious, then  process-oriented thinking is arguably superior. The experiment also leads to an outcome that considers the full impact of living closer to work: a more efficient use of time.

Here at AccelaWork, we believes that the most powerful method for improving productivity and satisfaction among stakeholders is to empower them with the knowledge, authority and responsibility to analyze and implement processes. Focusing on choices forces us to slow down and review details. But here's a business consulting secret: too many choices create problems as well. Empowered individuals have options, but not so many they are overwhelmed and cannot make a decision.

Ready to look beyond outcome-oriented thinking? Talk to the business process consultants at AccelaWork.

Employee Engagement by Hunting for Treasure

To improve employee engagement (and save $110 million in recurring costs), GE sent employees hunting for treasure.

Over at, Gretchen Hancock explains the program:

By design, Energy Treasure Hunts start on a Sunday afternoon, when an operation is “sleeping.” We kick off by splitting participants—a cross-functional group of GE employees—into teams and training them to identify opportunities in the facility where energy and resources are needlessly in use: Lights that may be left on, equipment operating, pumps or motors running, and to quantify those opportunities for follow up during the rest of the event.

The thought of a roving group of workers spending their weekend finding ways to reduce costs would delight many executives. Not only are these groups working overtime, they are doing it to save the company money. According to Hancock, the story unfolds over the next several days:

By the time teams return to the central location in the early evening, you can sense the buzz: Employees have seen opportunities for improvement, and are realizing how this whole process makes sense for the organization as a whole.

On Monday morning, teams interview facility employees about the opportunities identified for energy savings, a critical step to secure operator buy-in to the proposed change. Throughout the day, they continue to quantify their projects, getting cost and savings information from process experts, and ideas for operational change from the employees that run the operation. By Tuesday afternoon, each team has a list of at least 10 quantified ideas for energy savings— most notably, these projects on average have a simple payback of less than two years!

From these quotes alone, it might sound like GE is empowering stakeholders to transform the organization and granting them the power to make real change. However, selecting alternate passages from the article presents a different perspective:

GE employees solve problems. We improve Lean processes and quantify defects from our Six Sigma heritage, and we're accustomed to teamwork and matrix organizations.


Employees generally don't want to spend their Sunday afternoons at a facility, making measurements and taking detailed notes. Suffice it to say that most participants aren't very excited when we first start a hunt, yet we've learned that it's best to accept that and encourage them to “genchi genbutsu” (loosely translated as “go and see,” but what we refer to as “get your boots on”) and tackle wasted energy use.

This language makes GE sound like a top-down, command-and-control organization. A general-purpose job description cooked up in HR and marketing is applied to everyone at the company: “GE employees solve problems.” The copy cites Six Sigma and Lean, two change management practices which are often implemented using authority ("we're going Lean") and evaluation. The writer admits that most people approach Energy Treasure Hunts with trepidation, implying that organizers have to require participation. Are the employees actually leading this change or is this just another corporate directive cloaked in upbeat language?

Like many organizations, GE is likely struggling with blending traditional models of management with the incredible opportunity of stakeholder-driven change. Their internal assessment of energy usage is a form of bottom-up business process improvement, but limited to only analyzing resource waste. Efforts to design new programs, often envisioned by the teams themselves, match closely with how modern business consultants like AccelaWork help companies to change.

The most encouraging sentence from the article is buried near the end: “Through no central mandate, more than 250 GE locations globally have implemented the process and continue to do so because it makes economic and environmental sense.” This logic is applicable to organizations of any size. If your operation is ready to make changes that make sense, talk to our business improvement consultants today.

Dilbert on Case Studies, Consulting and MBAs

In a recent episode of Dilbert, an overconfident business consultant has a sudden realization.

Here's the three-panel strip from March 19 (direct link):

Although The Methodology Blog has been known to advocate business consulting and case studies in general, we stand with Dilbert creator Scott Adams on this issue. Pouring through journals and books does not make you an expert in improving business efficiency, teaching better sales techniques or implementing customer service projects. Rather, it ensures you are knowledgeable about the tiny fraction of historical business scenarios that happen to be well-documented.

Any good consultant knows: details in case studies are not prescriptive. The purpose of reading about other scenarios—where someone else has faced challenges and written down choices and outcomes—is actually much more profound than simple advice. Instead of telling you what to do the help an organization, case studies reassure us that we are not alone. These records serve to inform, not to dictate.

We often laugh at workplace issues presented in popular media (like this business process nightmare from The Office or employee engagement failures in superbowl ads. But just as business school case studies should give us pause, so should these poignant works of entertainment. There's more to business consulting than just following the advice of others.

The team at AccelaWork wants you to acknowledge that your place of employment may need help. Read the case studies, but talk to consultants and outside experts. There's plenty to gain if you're open to learning.

Over-investing in BPM Technology

In an eWeek piece, Laura Mooney advocates "investing" in business process management software.  Unfortunately, making yet another technology purchase will only contribute to the methodological problems in an organization.

Weak points in this argument appear in the original article:

Why cut [costs] blindly when there is a software application that will immediately improve process efficiency and employee productivity across the board? Business process management (BPM) software is designed to automate and improve people-intensive business processes—the processes that are often the most manual and therefore the slowest and most cost-intensive.

These two sentences are filled with dangerous assumptions and problematic claims. Consider the following points:

  1. “Don’t cut costs blindly” - Reviewing your options carefully is sound advice, not just about reducing expenses but for any major organizational changes. Ms. Mooney immediately suggests instead of blindly slashing overhead, companies should place faith in new software. Taking swift action without careful examination is always bad. Why oppose blind cost-cutting yet support blind software-purchasing?
  2. Software that immediately improves process efficiency and employee productivity” - Virtually all software systems should eventually improve productivity, but not until after all data is migrated, all personnel are sufficiently trained, all major bugs are identified and resolved, and everything runs smoothly. This transformation may take weeks. Or as in one case months, or even years. An increase in overall work output will not be instant, and in fact there will likely be a decrease in productivity during the transition. Change always requires extra time to adjust.
  3. Software designed to automate and improve people-intensive business processes” - The existence of extensive, well-organized public libraries do not make people smarter. The development of low-calorie, health-conscious meals do not make people thinner. Likewise, no BPM software product will automatically make employees more productive. Stakeholders must find enthusiasm and support to implement positive changes to workflow. The people, not the software, will improve operations.
  4. Processes are the most cost-intensive part of business - Actually, the most expensive part of your operation is probably elements which are not traditionally characterized as business process. How much time do employees spend battling email, listening in on conference calls or attending meetings? How many use tools without proper training? Most of the everyday costs and frustrations with business are tactical, not strategic. Acquiring BPM software sidesteps an important conversation about where stakeholders see waste and aggravation at work.

A great consulting firm does not sell one-size fits-all software solutions. Transforming the processes in your office will not magically occur if you buy an expensive, off-the-shelf product. Change requires commitment and passion, and the most effective agent for change are the employees themselves. Don’t be afraid of costly BPM solutions because you probably do not need them. Instead, contact the Indianapolis consultants at AccelaWork to focus on the everyday opportunities to work smarter.

Improving Employee Productivity by Demanding "No Sitting on the Job"

Imagine a workplace where chairs are banned and alarms go off when you walk too slowly. This is not science fiction, but the reality at one branch of the Canon Electronics Company.

According to a story in Nikkei IT Pro Magazine (English Translation), an executive has made radical changes to the work environment. President Hisashi Sakamaki makes the following claims:

Not only are employees denied the chance to sit down, but the plant is equipped with special sensors that measure walking speed. If a worker is crossing a hallway too slowly, they are admonished by the machine!

At first glace, Canon Electronics sounds like a nightmare; a throwback to factories of the Industrial Revolution before the creation of labor laws and workplace safety regulations. But many of Sakamaki's objectives actually have some merit. We do waste lots of time in meetings, and standing up through them help to keep them short and focused. By taking a step back, we can recognize similar conditions in the United States as well. Many service employees such as restaurant servers and hospital workers maintain their energy through long shifts by standing on their feet. In these professions, where seconds can have a tremendous business impact, walking a brisk pace is advantageous.

So what is the real problem with this proposal? Why do we recoil at the story? Perhaps it's due to the company's president inflicting this vision on his employees. Dramatic changes at work usually frustrate employees if they come as an edict from upper management. Even if the idea is sound, no one enjoys being told exactly what to do, where to stand and how to walk. We sympathize with Canon's employees as if they were under the thumb of a cruel master. In actuality, the company president is only trying to help.

Managers and employees often experience tension because of similar models for implementing change. If you want to improve workflow in your organization, consider first how it will be perceived by those around you. When stakeholders are engaged in the change process and have true ownership over their own work, both satisfaction and productivity improve. Reach out to our Indianapolis consulting firm today.

Cutting Waste, Dumping a Networking Group

Indianapolis speaker and sales coach Jeff Bowe points out that sales requires being "vigilant in using limited time." But how should sales professionals manage their time effectively?

In his article, Bowe states:

Most salespeople spend less than 30% of their time in active selling and less than 50% of their total time in any aspect of selling. The rest of the week is filled with travel, marketing, company meetings, training, client problem resolution, and paperwork. All of these are part of sales so we can’t get rid of them. What we can get rid of is unproductive networking time.
Bowe goes on to to talk about how to optimize the use of networking groups. But note how he dismisses other activities such as "travel, marketing, company meetings, training, client problem resolution, and paperwork" as inescapable. According to Bowe's numbers, this miscellany makes up 50-70% of the total time worked!

However, it is precisely these boring, arduous tasks which are the most important to try and reduce or eliminate. Since this work is outside of the field of sales, the employee is likely to make errors and be less efficient. Since the work is largely considered as drudgery, quality and consistency will inevitably suffer. Imagine the impact of a sales person who could remove this component of their workday and focus exclusively on building relationships and closing deals. Using Bowe's figures, such a producer would either double or triple their sales.

In the landmark book The Trouble With Computers, Thomas Landauer shows that modern technology has actually lead to a decrease in specialization in some areas. The business professionals, university professors and bureaucrats of yesteryear were supported by specialized departments: secretarial pools, billing centers, and field service groups. But today, we all have cellphones in our pockets and computers on our desks, so we are expected to manage our own correspondence, process our own paperwork and handle practically all customer needs.

We are not likely to turn back the clock or hire an administrative assistant for everyone. However, we can design and maintain workplace systems to increase productivity in these crucial, non-core areas. Drive time can be optimized by combining trips. Training can be shuffled using audiobooks, recordings, or webinars. Client issues can be documented in a common space, such as an online support forum, to foster community and reduce costs. Improved meeting preparation and structure can save time and increase effectiveness. Paperwork can often be automated and in some areas, entirely eliminated.

Increasing efficiency at work and networking are both topics our Indianapolis speakers present on at seminars. To learn more, contact us today!

New Study to Review Price Increase Finds Study Too Costly

When a British bridge authority raised tolls by 7%, many people complained. So, the board conducted an inquiry which cost tens of thousands of dollars and must be paid by the future tolls!

Quoting a story from the BBC:

The Humber Bridge Board said in a statement: "Unavoidably, the inquiry created extra costs of almost £50,000 for the board, which must be met from current toll fees."

It said the transport minister's decision was unlikely to be announced before the end of June.

Humber Bridge Board chairman David Gemmell said:"The delay is a concern for the bridge board and, no doubt, also for the objectors.

"Nonetheless, the inquiry, and its costs, is an acceptable price to pay to ensure that local people and businesses have their voices heard over such an important matter."

Let’s review the facts as presented in the article:
  1. The bridge authority raised the toll by 20p (about 33 cents in US currency.)
  2. Many people complained about the increased fees.
  3. The board decided to conduct a public inquiry to study the issue.
  4. This analysis came with a price tag of £50,000 (about $82,000.)
  5. That cost will have to be paid by toll revenue, thus delaying any possible decrease.

It is easy to shake our heads at yet another government blunder, but the situation is more complex than just simple incompetence. Note the stated philosophy of Mr. Gemmell: that this “is an acceptable price to pay to ensure that local people and business have their voices heard.” His belief in the supreme importance of stakeholder satisfaction is commendable. Unfortunately, the public is outraged because of increased costs—so spending more money to study the issue will only make the problem worse.

When management sees the need to make changes such as cutting costs or increasing prices, stakeholders must be engaged before taking action. Often, individuals may have creative suggestions that are only visible from their unique perspectives. Moreover, reaching out to employees, customers or constituents early in the process helps to build a shared sense of ownership. When it comes to unpleasant changes, practically everyone would prefer to advance knowledge over a having the change thrust upon them without warning.

Change is part of any organization. If you are looking to update some part of your operation, whether through new workflow, updated procedures, reduced costs or increased services, find ways to empower your people to be part of the transformation. Firms that offer speakers and consultants can help be part of the change. Contact us today!

Process Automation and Employee Morale

Local Indianapolis consulting and telephony services company, Interactive Intelligence, announced “communications-based process automation." The offering sounds great for management, but what about for employees?

A story by Patrick Barnard at includes some interesting language:

Much the same way a contact center agent can route a call or other contact to any designated end-point throughout an organization, based on pre-defined rules, any worker (or automated system) in any department can use [Interaction Process Automation] to automatically route documents to any other end point on the network. What’s more, the same automated re-routing and failover mechanisms found in the contact center platform still apply: For example, if a worker is unavailable to handle a task, at any given time (as indicated through their presence), the system will automatically re-route that task onto the next available employee who is qualified to handle it.

If you are a senior vice president of operations or a COO, you might be salivating at this copy. But what about if you are a front-line employee in a company like those described in the article? Barnard's choice of words dismisses "workers" as equivalent to "automated systems." He describes the features of the software application in the language of infrastructure, using words like "automated re-routing", "failover mechanisms", "unavailable." Although the author is accurately describing the system, he is also writing about the lives of people and characterizing their livelihood.

Imagine how employees feel when their unique contribution is described as just a movement in a machine.

In addition, Barnard writes:

As such, the software gives managers the ability to create and implement customized, "communications-based" workflows based on specific business rules, as well as employee skill sets. Perhaps most importantly, the solution helps drive increased productivity, as workflows become more efficient and streamlined. Interactive Intelligence claims that with this new offering, organizations will be able to harness additional power out of their [Unified Communications] systems to drive new levels of efficiency and productivity.

The first snippet minimizes the importance of stakeholders while the remaining collection of sentences places the corporation on a pedestal.  As managers design workflow "based on business rules" and "employee skill sets," the idea of productivity morphs into something which arises not from worker innovation, but from being "driven" out of the system. In other words, a design that effectively tells people how they should work, as though they are operating machinery or herding livestock. In the end, increased efficiency is apparently achieved through a more streamlined sequence of work, rather than any increase in actual training, understanding, or intellectual sophistication. Finally, the article claims that the organization benefits from the new system since they can  "harness additional power" out of pre-existing systems; leaving factors such as individual creativity, satisfaction and personal growth as non-essential.

Interactive Intelligence's new product offering will undoubtedly help businesses improve benefits to customers as well as decrease costs. Yet, if implemented without regard to employee engagement, it will surely leave stakeholders at a loss. With each opportunity to improve workflow, decision makers should always engage with stakeholders to generate ideas. After all, describing a corporate initiative to employees by using words like "drive", "automated processes", "mechanism" and "failover" only reinforces feelings of being a "cog in the machine." Failure to embrace their humanity damages morale and stifles innovation in the largest, untapped internal resource for ideas: front-line employees.

As technology advances, some jobs will cease to exist. There used to be countless elevator operators and gas station attendants. But as The Methodology Blog has covered before, increased productivity doesn't always cost jobs..

Your employees are valuable because of instinct and brilliance, not routine mechanical tasks. Learn more about how to embrace change by embracing your stakeholders. Reach out to the Indianapolis speakers and consultants at AccelaWork today!

Is Self-Confidence Genetic?

Researchers have determined that intellectual confidence is part of our DNA, proving again that what you think you know is overshadowed by what you believe about yourself.

An article in New Scientist reports the finding:

These genetic differences predict grades in school, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University in London, whose team found that 7- to 10-year-old children who achieved the best marks in school tended to rate their own abilities highly, even after accounting for differences due to intelligence and environment.

Put simply, the act of “believing in yourself” is connected to actual success. In school and at work there is a direct relationship between productivity and satisfaction. People who are confident in their abilities tend to be competent. Engendering a culture of empowerment can transform the success of a workplace.

However, organizations must be careful not to have total faith in confidence alone. As The Methodology Blog covered earlier this year, leadership roles are often awarded to people who appear to be business experts, not for actual expertise.

Businesses small and large should support their workers and encourage them to believe in their own abilities. Yet at the same time, the organization should help employees identify strengths and weaknesses to enable collaboration.  Successful operations are confident and cognizant. Reach out to the business improvement experts at AccelaWork to learn more about working smarter through stakeholder engagement.

Remote Work Week

This week, The Methodology Blog will be covering the latest perspectives on working remotely.

Logging into the office from elsewhere can be both a dream and a nightmare, a blessing and a curse. This flexibility can allow parents to stay home with sick children, but also allows work to creep into our private lives. Telecommuting can enable employees to concentrate in quiet spaces or be nearer to customers, but can also lead to feelings of isolation and challenges in communication. Remote work can have a tremendous impact on stakeholder productivity and satisfaction, but is not a guaranteed win.

Thanks for following us for Remote Work Week!

Remote Work Week: Telecommuting Research

As part of Remote Work Week, yesterday's edition of The Methodology Blog introduced the relationship between telecommuting and happiness. Today we will discuss the major research into telework.

The word "telecommuting" isn't exactly new. In fact, the first modern analysis of working somewhere beside the office comes from 1985, not withstanding Jack Niles landmark 1976 book that coined the term telecommuting. It's hard to imagine being productive at home in the mid 80's—an age of primitive desktop computers and achingly slow access.  But in those days, people who were working remotely physically brought work home with them.

Reagan Ramsower's 200-page volume Telecommuting: The Organizational and Behavioral Effects of Working At Home outlines systems of physically hauling materials back and forth on a recurring schedule, structuring work items to facilitate remote efforts, and coordinating with supervisors to measure progress. Much of this book is about the experience of working at home, and how it impacts the culture of organizations.

An article from the winter 1991 issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology offers An Investigation of Selected Variables Affecting Telecommuting Productivity and Satisfaction. Research conducted by Hartman, Stoner, and Arora demonstrated something puzzling:

The results indicated that as telecommuters spent a higher proportion of their total work time in telecommuting, their perceptions of overall at-home productivity declined. This finding is contrary to expectation.

In other words, the more you work from home, the less productive you feel. But why?  According to the study:

At least two possible explanations of this finding may be advanced. First, workers who spend only one or two days a week in telecommuting (therefore three or four days a week at the office) may be more cognizant of the productivity improvements that occur while working at home. Their relative comparisons (between home and office) may be sharpened. Accordingly, they may evaluate telecommuting productivity more positively than those who do not have as sensitive of a comparison base. Second, some of the uniqueness of the telecommuting arrangement may be lost as workers expand their telecommuting time. What was viewed as special (by both workers and managers) when done on a limited basis, may become routine and more mundane when extended over time. Therefore, one may start to take on work that is less amenable to at-home performance as their telecommuting hours increase.

In summary: intense telecommuters feel less productive because their isolation limits their basis for comparison, or because the benefit of telecommuting leads to a sense of incompetence.

The most important finding by Hartman, Stoner and Arora appears in their conclusion:

[This] study revealed no significant relationships between gender, educational attainment, age, occupational classification, nature of the job, and preference for changing the amount of telecommuting work and telecommuting productivity and satisfaction. This does not imply that telecommuting  is appropriate for all persons or all jobs. Yet, the findings do suggest that telecommuting decisions should not be confined by these categorizations.

Translating from academic-speak: overall productivity and satisfaction for telecommuting have nothing to do with age, gender, education, job title, job function or how much the employee prefers to work from home. Effectiveness for telecommuting is controlled by other factors beyond these simple criteria.

Finally, an article by Ralph Westfall in the August 2004 issue of Communications of the ACM turned the telecommuting conversation upside down. He subtitles his paper Does Telecommuting Really Increase Productivity?  with the warning:

As many companies have learned in the last decade, the reality of telecommuting does not reflect the hype, the expected potential, or the existing literature.
Wait a minute: isn't telecommuting supposed to be the greatest thing since baked goods were segmented into portable vertical chunks?

Westfall notes that virtually all of the supporting claims regarding telecommuting are anecdotal and that the numbers presented are untenable. Stories of increases of over a 100% in results often appear in the popular press. But, he concludes, if telecommuting were really so effective would we have not adopted it wholesale long ago?

The most telling part of Westfall's paper may be an aside about the accuracy of measurements:

Another possible explanation of the high[ly biased] subjective estimates is that some telecommuters may exaggerate productivity estimates to justify being away from the office during regular working hours. (The author of the popular “Dilbert” comic strip appears to view telecommuting from this perspective.)

Here is an author who clearly recognizes that some employees actually prefer to be somewhere else beside work. Decades of research have led us toward a profound conclusion: workers like telecommuting because it places them in control.

Thanks to the work of leading experts, we have a simple, almost comical principle. We know the office often prevents us from getting things done. Let's leave the summary of academic work on this topic to the most famous of scholars (direct link):

Enjoy this post? It’s part of Remote Work Week here on The Methodology Blog

Remote Work Week: Technology and Telecommuting

Yesterday's edition of The Methodology Blog discussed major research on telecommuting, dating back to 1976. Today we demo modern technology as part of the Talking Tech Series.

To show the possibility of remote work, AccelaWork prinicpal Robby Slaughter gave a 15 minute presentation today. Check out enhanced versions of the slides (direct link here) for more information:

Remote Work Week: Qualifications and Personality Types

Today's issue of Remote Work Week discusses who in your organization is best suited for telecommuting.

Back on Tuesday, The Methodology Blog reported on major findings in telecommuting research from decades of scholarly effort on working remotely. To quote ourselves:

Translating from academic-speak: overall productivity and satisfaction for telecommuting have nothing to do with age, gender, education, job title, job function or how much the employee prefers to work from home. Effectiveness for telecommuting is controlled by other factors beyond these simple criteria.

So, the best telecommuters are neither men nor women, PhD's or high school dropouts, accountants or graphic designers, managers or subordinates. The best telecommuters are not people who love to work remotely, or even people who love to work at the office. Who makes a great telecommuter? According to a recent article from BusinessWeek—people who crave the social component of work:

[The] chief researcher, a kindly and upbeat psychologist named Stuart Duff, was shocked at the findings. He assumed it would be the quants, the introverts and the shy types who would thrive in a virtual work situation. After all, they're the ones who keep their heads burrowed in cubicles at work. Turns out it's the extroverts among us who are better suited [to telecommuting.]


[Researchers] found that it's the employees who chase socialization who thrive in the land of virtual work. The office gabbers. Those who are life of the break-room party. Left on their own, these types of workers are the ones who work closely with clients, chum around with colleagues, and talk it up with bosses. They stay connected no matter where they are. It comes naturally to them.


Shy, disorganized types are better kept in-house. Turns out the office environment is more forgiving of the disorganized. Its structure helps provide external reinforcement. There's also much to be said for social vibrations that naturally abound in an office. It doesn't require much work to keep up basic relationships when you're all in the same place.

This may sound like a final answer from well over a quarter century of analysis. Send your chatty extroverts home to work, where their aggressive, organized personalities will thrive without structure. Keep your quiet introverts at the office, where they can be nurtured and supported by routine and procedure. And as a bonus, those who need noise and activity and those who prefer peace and quiet won't annoy each other any longer.

Unfortunately, deciding when to work remotely is more complex than following this rule. The argument is against what people often expect, which will create friction. Employees who are outgoing tend to measure their success and satisfaction through developing great relationships; sending them home to work will deflate morale. Heads-down workers tend to measure their success by silently completing tasks. Telling them they must clock in regularly in a noisy, distracting work environment will communicate a lack of trust.

Instead, management should use the introvert/extrovert criteria as a leading indicator. When combined with employee ownership of the work environment and individual workflow, selecting the right venue for the worker is a true collaborative process. Some people do work better from home while some work better in a shared office, but everybody works better when they have genuine engagement, actual authority and a sense of responsibility.

Enjoy this post? It’s part of Remote Work Week on The Methodology Blog.

Remote Work Week: Telecommuting and Employee Satisfaction

Integrator, manufacturer and consulting firm Cisco Systems released a study touting the benefits of telecommuting. They also mentioned a headline product, Cisco Virtual Office.

A TMCnet featured article entitled "Remote Workers Are Happier Workers" explains the findings:

Officials at the world's largest maker of computer networking gear – San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. – say allowing employees to work remotely can yield an uptick in work-life flexibility, individual satisfaction and productivity.

This claim mirrors those made in a Wall Street Journal article from 2007:

A recent survey finds that workers who telecommute from home or elsewhere, while still a very small portion of the work force, report the highest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and loyalty to their employers. In the poll of about 10,000 U.S. workers, 73% of remote and home-based workers said they were satisfied with their company as a place to work, compared with 64% of office workers.

But perhaps the most interesting commentary on working remotely comes from technology pundit Paul Graham. Note the following snippet from his 2005 essay What Business Can Learn From Open Source:

Another thing blogs and open source software have in common is that they're often made by people working at home. That may not seem surprising. But it should be. It's the architectural equivalent of a home-made aircraft shooting down an F-18. Companies spend millions to build office buildings for a single purpose: to be a place to work. And yet people working in their own homes, which aren't even designed to be workplaces, end up being more productive.

This proves something a lot of us have suspected. The average office is a miserable place to get work done. And a lot of what makes offices bad are the very qualities we associate with professionalism. The sterility of offices is supposed to suggest efficiency. But suggesting efficiency is a different thing from actually being efficient.

The real reason why telecommuting makes people more productive and more satisfied is this: outside of the office, employees are automatically in control their environment and workflow. There is no better way to build satisfaction than to give people authority and responsibility, and no better way to destroy productivity than to require people to work in environments and structures which do not leverage their expertise.

The remote work revolution is not about working from home; it's about being in control of work. Corporate offices often suggest efficiency, whereas people working in their own spaces can actually build environments that truly support efficiency. Putting power into the hands of the stakeholders has exactly the effect you expect—people enjoy work more and get more done.

Enjoy this post? It's part of Remote Work Week here at AccelaWork.

Remote Work Week: Pursuing Telecommuting at Your Office

For our final post in Remote Work Week, we wrap up the discussion with advice on advocating telecommuting at your organization.

Before we discuss how to pitch the idea to your boss or employees, let's review the highlights:

Happiness: On Monday, The Methodology Blog asked about the relationship between working remotely and overall satisfaction. Some research supports this connection, but there is more evidence that people enjoy telecommuting because it better demonstrates they are trusted, respected and have genuine ownership of work.

Research: We then outlined some of the major findings in academic studies of remote work over the last thirty years. Odd side effects steadily appeared: as people work more hours away from the central office, they begin to feel less productive. Also, researchers were surprised to discover that none of the standard criteria such as gender, job title, job function, level of education or type of work has any significant impact on worker productivity or satisfaction. Finally, recent analysis demonstrates that the reported benefits of telecommuting must be wildly inflated. In summary, the advantages of remote work are most strongly connected to positive, supportive and results-oriented workplace cultures.

Technology: When the word telecommuting first appeared in print in 1976, remote employees had only the most primitive electronic systems for conducting work from home. Today, practically all computer-based tasks can be completed remotely. AccelaWork principal Robby Slaughter demonstrated this technology live by leading a brief on-screen productivity training seminar as part of the Talking Tech Series. If you haven't investigated this recently, check out free tools such as Vyew and Yugma. Thanks to today's fast computers and high speed networks, a telecommuter is less dependent on geographic location and mobility than ever before.

Qualifications: On Thursday, we returned to the question of identifying people best suited for remote work. It turns out that the best indicator of telecommuting success is social attitude, but not in the direction you expect. The heads-down, quiet, introverted employees are the ones who perform best in an office. Boisterous, extrovert types do better when they can work from home. But again, assigning people to a work location based on a judgment is still issuing an edict. The best way to decide who should telecommute is to collaborate with stakeholders to identify relevant personality traits and individual perspectives on work.

With all that in mind, let's return to the question everybody asks: how do I talk to my supervisor about telecommuting? It's easy to find advice on the topic. Just last month, Web Worker Daily ran an article titled "How To Ask The Boss If You Can Work Remotely" and SitePoint served up "Telecommuting: How To Approach Your Boss." Both of these posts offer general suggestions about citing research, listing the benefits and offering to make some concessions.

Remote Work Week has told us that telecommuting is not about where you work. That, in reality, the home office phenomenon actually stems from three, more powerful concepts:

So, do not approach your boss (or your employees) about telecommuting! Focus instead on improving relationships toward work. Transform and take ownership of your workflow using an process-oriented mindset. Build satisfaction and productivity through direct engagement. Show that results, not presence, are what really matters.

Then, decide collaboratively about the best work environment for each employee. These are all tactical questions that can truly be pursued if you have an open workplace culture. And when you're ready, reach out to the telecommuting consultants at AccelaWork to figure out how to implement your own telework policy.

The Danger of Focusing on Metrics

An old business adage warns: "You can't manage what you can't measure." However, obsessing over metrics often does more harm than good.

Indiana-based business consultant Joe Dager provides a classic restatement of this premise in one of his blog posts:

Identifying, gathering and leveraging the right mix of metrics adds value to a project. Metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for describing how you are doing and what you can do better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on subjective evidence, perceptions and guesses.
This all sounds reasonable. After all, having a ruler which you how far you've come and how far you have yet to go provides perspective and incentive. Shouldn't we use hard figures as much as possible?

The answer is a qualified "yes." Numbers are important, but without an understanding of their context, they can be misleading. Say you're an NFL team in search of a "franchise" quarterback to guide you to the Super Bowl. If you looked solely at a productivity output figure like passing yards to guide your decision, you'd probably have wasted several high draft picks, spent a whole lot of money, and still be looking for that elusive Super Bowl. Of the top 30 all-time passing leaders in NCAA history, only two quarterbacks have actually started an NFL playoff game, much less a Super Bowl.

You could say, yeah, but I want guys who put the ball in the end zone. Well, Russell Wilson (number 16 on the NCAA all-time touchdown list) has been to two Super Bowls, winning one. But the rest of the list? Not so much.

Context matters. Who were those quarterbacks playing against? Who did they play with? Did they throw the ball 50 times a game or more around 30?

Or suppose you wanted to become a famous, fabulously rich movie star. Part of that success is choosing roles in top-grossing films. You might want to note the films of the biggest box office stars of all time, like Bruce Willis (ranked #11), Tom Cruise (#7) or Harrison Ford (#4). But you probably wouldn't be interested in emulating the movie-making career of the number one box office star of all time. That's because it's little-known actor Frank Welker, whose films have brought in nearly five billion dollars.

Welker is successful because he's a voice actor, and has done bit parts and vocal sound effects in countless motion pictures. These include jobs in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Independence Day.  If you want  to do voices in Hollywood, he is the man to follow. Just like the quarterbacks listed above, Frank Welker's success demonstrates that there is more to winning than having the right measurement. Acting requires craft as well as sound decisions. The same is true in your business. Here at AccelaWork, we're always working not just on hitting our numbers, but on making sure those numbers actually

Whether you are trying to draft a quarterback, conquer the movies, survive marketing budget cuts, or just trying to finish routine tasks, measurement is important. However, that famous quote is usually interpreted incorrectly. We must not forget that the most fundamental aspects of our ability to work cannot be measured: passion, talent and creativity. Leverage these qualities in your stakeholders to conduct measurement, workflow redesign, and continuous improvement. Reach out to the Indianapolis speakers and consultants at AccelaWork to learn more.

Business Consultants Recommend Going To Work Naked?

Tess Vigeland, host of the National Public Radio show Marketplace Money, interviewed the managing director of a UK design firm. He invited all of his employees to come to work not without negative thoughts, but without any clothing.

The interview with Mike Owen is full of unlikely interchanges:

Vigeland: I'm sorry, I'm really going to try not to giggle too much. So were you yourself clothing-less?

Owen: You've just gone straight to the killer question, straightaway, haven't you? That is the most important question of all.

But yeah, I absolutely drove to work naked. Yeah.

It's hard to even consider the suggestion of working naked seriously, but Owen does provide an interesting rationale. He responds to Ms. Vigeland with the following assessment of her tenure at NPR:
Owen: OK. In your eight years, you'll be very close to some people, but not as close as we are to each other here. It really just speeds up the way we communicate with each other. It takes it to another level. There may be things that sometimes when you're talking to your colleagues or if they're talking to you, stuff gets in the way, you know? And we're much better now at clear thinking and clear communication.
Going without clothing to the office is a suggestion that is well beyond radical. Owen even admits that he "couldn't concentrate" during the nude workday. But nevertheless, the objectives of the experience do warrant some investigation. David Taylor, author of The Naked Leader and creator of the program, offers this advice:
Do it! Take action – Your success comes down to what you actually do. What you, your people and your organisation do, every day. Everything else is just noise.

Bothering to put on clothing at work may seem essential, but the exercise is a valid (if extreme) demonstration of this premise. Results come from action, not from distractions. Companies should focus on actual progress instead of worrying about irrelevant details. This is a powerful and important lesson, and one that is difficult for many organizations to take to heart.

Programs rooted in developing group personality can be helpful for organizations. Sending everyone off to a retreat or a relaxing event can build community and encourage better interaction. These approaches may help ease social tensions and facilitate better communication, but they rarely impact the flow of work directly. No trust games will make your software less painful or make your desk less messy. These problems require systems, not psychology.

Here at AccelaWork, we don't offer team building exercises and certainly do not recommend a company-wide nudist day. Instead, our emphasis is on leveraging stakeholder expertise to redesign and implement business processes. We, looking at process, not people. We teach people how to create schematics that outline business process, but we do not teach everyday communication skills. Finally, we support system implementation. You must ultimately make the change if you want to have ownership and be assured that change is permanent.

If you need help in transforming your methodologies, contact our business consultants today. If you're planning a naked day at the office, don't call us—we'll call you.


Productivity and Blogging at blogINDIANA

Attention Hoosiers! Writing a blog and spending your time judiciously can be compatible. Learn more about it at blogINDIANA.

Social media may represent a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we interact using technology, but it doesn't solve the most basic issue of work: effort requires time. No matter what you want to accomplish, you must design your schedule and your workflow to enable the possibility of achievement. Blogging may be great, but it's still work.

That's why here at AcellaWork, we are speaking about Productivity and Blogging through blogINDIANA conference. From the topic description:

The reason most people don't blog—and the reason most bloggers stop blogging—is because of the incredible amount of time required to produce content. Become a more productive and more effective blogger through this session!

Lack of time is our favorite excuse, but the investment of time is our preferred method to demonstrate value. Blogging seems to operate outside of this spectrum: we insist that blogs appear instantly and be written in a personal voice, yet we demand that they are accurate, thematically consistent, on-brand and on-message. A blog is both spontaneous and carefully executed. That's why people who want to blog need a process for blogging.

Learn more at blogINDIANA 2009. We'll see you there!

P.S. This blog post was written, edited, and scheduled for publication in 9 minutes, 22 seconds.

Removing Bonuses to Make Room For Business Improvement Solutions

Often, the best source for new ideas in an organization are the employees themselves. But according to author Matthew May, management should never give rewards for innovation.

The opening of his article summarizes the theory:

I am constantly asked how to best structure a financial reward system in an effort to motivate people to contribute ideas and improvements. My answer: Just say no.

Combined research from the Employee Involvement Association and Japan Human Relations Association reveals that the average number of ideas submitted per employee annually is 100 times greater in Japanese companies than in U.S. companies. Why? For one thing, we reward the wrong thing in the wrong way. The average reward in Japanese companies is 100 times less than the average U.S. reward of nearly $500. We have it backwards!

In a nutshell: payment for ideas can defeat the purpose.

The ramifications of this extreme proposal have far-reaching effects. The employee who provides exceptional work will often find the announcement demoralizing. The accountant handling the budget will likely be pleased by the reduction of unplanned expenses. Some managers will be frustrated by their inability to reward employees, while others will smugly insist all the best ideas come from themselves anyway. A policy opposing payment for ideas would fundamentally alter the core culture of many organizations.

So why does Matthew May argue against bonuses for good suggestions? Because it attempts to measure what cannot be measured, and value what cannot be fairly evaluated. It establishes an environment of expectation, not one where people are constantly looking for ways to improve without external motivation. The desire to do more should be intrinsic—it should come from within. As May quips: "[We should] not attempt to light a fire under people, [but] light the fire within them."

Bonuses for innovation stem from an obsession with measurement, a topic The Methodology Blog covered. Studying figures and exercising control sometimes drives process beyond practical benefit. Since we are monitoring output, we assume that we need to compensate according to results. But this logic is flawed. Consider the story of an intern who came up with a million dollar idea. He was already being paid for his job, which is mostly to think up interesting ideas. Paying him twice makes it seem like the compensation is the most important part. According to Joel Spolsky, the intern's supervisor:

The very act of rewarding workers for a job well done tends to make them think they are doing it solely for the reward; if the reward stops, the good work stops. And if the reward is too low, workers might think, Gosh, this is not worth it. They will forget their innate, intrinsic desire to do good work.
At AccelaWork, we do not provide management consulting. So why do we care about how organizations structure their compensation systems? Because it impacts individual motivation to conduct and improve the process of work. Methodology engineering is best conducted by the stakeholders themselves because they fundamentally believe in continuous improvement.

If you're an employee and you are offered something extra for a job well done, consider something radical: refuse to accept that bonus. Tell your manager that you want to be motivated not out of fear, greed or expectation, but out of a personal desire to contribute. Light a fire within yourself, not one beneath you or one to run toward. Get excited about working hard for the sake of hard work itself.

Worker Productivity Advice, Not Tips

Usually, productivity advice appears in the form of direct suggestions that seem impossible to implement. An article by Deborah Hildebrand of Office Arrow, however, contains some profound ideas.

The problem with tips such as "check your email only once a day" or "always carry a notebook to jot down ideas" is that they seem unworkable and generic. You can see how they could be beneficial in ideal circumstances, but they just don't apply to you. Hildebrand's four points, however, resonate on a deeper level.

1. Stop telling yourself that you don't have enough time.
Psychologists have known for decades that self-talk influences attitudes and attitudes influence productivity. Changing your perspective on your workload does not actually decrease the amount of work you have to do, just your perception on whether or not you can climb that mountain. The claim is not surprising, but it is relevant. Check out The Methodology Blog's coverage of the science of brute force positive thinking and the destructive power of rotten attitudes in the workplace.
2. Be very clear about what has to be done.
The best way to decide what has to be done is to make a list, and the best way to decide how to conduct work is to draw a picture. Productivity and satisfaction arise from executing defined workflow. Is there anything better you can do at the office besides knowing how you're going to do something and then getting it done?
3. Remember: It's okay to ask others for assistance.
Hildebrand's connotation is that we are hesitant to delegate. We fear a loss of control and a reduction of quality. Sometimes, it seems easier for the customer to do the work. Failing to ask for help results in more than just lost time: it is also a source of countercompetance, which is the ability to complete a task despite tremendous shortcomings in the efficiency and productivity inherent in the procedure, policies, or organization. The profound revelation is that often the most productive choice is to state "that's not my job."
4. Look for unexpected time during the day.
This final comment might appear to be merely encouragement, but it may be the best advice in the entire column. We assume that all time is expected, that it is all filled with tasks and work, and there will never be enough time to complete the work before us. However, there are tremendous quantities of time in the seconds between actions. Think how often you're waiting on tools, software or other resources to catch up to your own thinking. Consider how often you reinvent workflow which you have done before, but never captured on paper. How many documents could be templates? How many procedures could be automated? We have found that we are too busy plugging away to think about how or why we are working.

AccelaWork provides comprehensive business improvement consulting services, which is a systematic analysis and redesign of organizational procedures, policies and business actions through technical solutions implemented by stakeholders. Yet, we try to avoid giving tips. Instead, we focus on offering advice and counsel to change perspectives and empower stakeholders to take ownership over workflow. We can help you identify business challenges and redesign business procedures, but ultimately you must make the change you want to see in your organization. If this sounds like it could be beneficial to you, contact us today!

Productivity and Satisfaction Lead to Results

AccelaWork's belief in business process improvement is based around a simple formula: workplace productivity + satisfaction = results. These were covered in a presentation on this topic at the Indiana Business Fair.

The talk reminded us that a key advantage in business is speed. Anytime we can get a product to the customer faster, provide services more quickly, or deliver information sooner, we pull ahead of the competition.

If speed is the objective, the approach must balance the rate of progress against the level of excellence. Keeping quality and quantity at the forefront maximizes overall productivity. But then again, what good is it to complete tasks and please clients if we ourselves are frustrated, tired, and overworked? Working 24 hours straight could complete a task faster, but would that benefit really outweigh the cost? Accomplishment without a sense of personal satisfaction is hollow at best.

Success arises not just from work, but from a combination of reactive and proactive happiness. The choice to pursue success requires motivation. And in turn, why we choose to act may be driven by internal or external forces.

Not familiar with the difference between reactive and proactive happiness? The site breaks it down well.

Reactive Happiness is the reaction to ‘things’…food, comedy, people, movies, music, snuggles, tea and biscuits, a cosy fire, sunshine, beautiful scenery, a comfy pair of slippers etc.

Proactive Happiness is our belief systems, goals, values, freedom, knowing who you are, connection etc.

Finding a combination of the two is going to allow you to be happier in work, and in life, and thus more successful.

To elaborate on that further, an article from Serge Kahili King talks more about happiness.

Reactive happiness is the type of happiness that most people experience. It comes from how we have learned to react to specific conditions, situations, events, and behaviors. In this case our happiness is dependent on what happens in us, to us, or around us. Even our reaction to beauty has to be learned. When one of my sons was about two I was holding him and pointing out the sunset. At first he was indifferent, but when I explained that the way all the colors came together was a good thing, he began to respond. The next time we were outside at sunset he happily pointed out to me how beautiful it was. It's the same with everything that "makes us happy." We are happy because we have learned to be happy when a particular thing occurs.

Unfortunately, if those things don't happen, most of us don't have any occasion to feel happy. All we can do is to wait around until the right thing happens to make us happy. But it doesn't have to be that way. The young Frenchman I mentioned before was trying to teach proactive happiness, the idea that we can purposely choose to be happy, no matter what the situation. To many it might sound like we would have to fake it, but he didn't mean that and neither do I.

Of course you should take pleasure from completing tasks well and completing them on time, but if you aren't pursuing those things for the right reason, then you won't have lasting satisfaction in your work. You have to find a way to be intrinsically motivated and apply that to your work. It's when you reach that point that things feel less like an endless list of tasks and more like an endless list of opportunities.

For more information on how to find the proper balance of productivity and satisfaction in your work, contact our Indianapolis speakers and consultants today!

Owning the Process Leads to Productivity

Many retail stores warn customers that "if you break it, you buy it." But it turns out there's an even better reason to keep products out in the open—handling something makes you feel like you own it.

Although the scientific evidence might not be all that surprising, a published report explains this phenomenon:

"In four studies, we find that merely touching an object increases the feelings of ownership a person has for the object. This, in turn, results in a person being willing to pay more for most objects that they touch versus objects that they cannot touch," the authors write. "We also find that when touch is unavailable, such as shopping online, having people imagine owning a product increases their perception of ownership and how much they are willing to pay for a product."

If people have a positive or neutral response to touching an object, they are willing to pay more for it, the authors explain. However, if an object does not feel particularly pleasant to the touch, it decreases the amount consumers are willing to pay. "For most products, the touch experience is positive or neutral so merely touching a product usually increases how much a person is willing to pay for an object," the authors write.

The research may help explain the link between touch and impulse purchasing, the authors explain. "Encouraging touch in a retail store, as Apple does for products like the iPhone, may increase the feelings of perceived ownership and influence the amount a customer is willing to pay for a product." Likewise, offers of "free trials" for a certain time before the consumer is obligated to pay are likely to increase perceived ownership and product valuation.

Retail businesses love any method for converting shoppers into buyers, but what does this research have to do with workflow, methodology, and productivity? It reminds us of the impact of perception of ownership on perceived value.

If we hold a product in our hands, or even imagine what it's like to own that product, we start to feel like it is ours to keep. Likewise, if a business process is not just something we do (or we're told to do), but something we have found, held close, designed and redesigned—it becomes something we own.

But if workflow is simply borrowed, it may not be respected nor analyzed. It is only when stakeholders take on actual responsibility and authority for the process of work that they become far more engaged at the office. And the reasoning behind allowing employees to mold their own process isn't just so they feel engaged. It is more than likely that when you bring together the best ideas of everyone involved, the process that is formed will not only be one everyone feels ownership of, but it will be one that is more effective than anything an individual could've thought up on his or her own. In a situation like that, everything is coming together for everyone's betterment. It almost seems silly to not take steps to ensure that your organization is headed in that direction.

Just like shoppers visualizing that new product in their own home, employees should internalize a new or current process as part of their own work and their own career. If you need help engaging stakeholders in ownership of their own workflow, reach out to the business consultants at AccelaWork. We help disconnected employees to find new meaning, passion, and success at work. We can get you moving toward an organization where everyone becomes much more productive by owning their own process.

Taking on Lean Six Sigma and Corporate Productivity

People often ask us if we use popular change management techniques like Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma. The answer is definitely no, but not for the reasons you might think.

An article titled Building a Lean Organization in the Service Industry, now archived on but originally posted on, readily demonstrates the main failures in Lean/Six Sigma thinking.  To quote from the article:

When most organizations consider Six Sigma and process improvement, it is usually done in the context of the manufacturing sector. In reality, the methodology is just as effective when deployed in organizations within the service industry. The main difference is that the variables under review are more focused upon people (as you would expect). Aside from that, the goals are virtually identical: eliminate process-related waste and variance.
This is only the first paragraph, but it's filled with disturbing language and invalid perspectives. First, the author equates manufacturing and service businesses. Yet this is entirely wrong. Manufacturing is about assembling products which are exact duplicates of one another, whereas the service business is about building relationships, establishing trust, and using expertise in unique situations. The two sectors are totally dissimilar. The former aims to replace labor with labor-saving devices wherever possible, and the latter can never replace employees because it is the human employees who relate to the human customers.

The choice of words also highlights the way of thinking of writer Ryan J Bell. He characterizes people as "variables" and suggests the goal that we should "eliminate process-related waste and variance." No employee appreciates being called a variable whose individuality is in question and process-related waste is under scrutiny. People are not the machines assembling products on a line, however this language seems to describe stakeholders as coefficients in an equation.

Bell continues:

The number one contributor to waste in the service industry is not completing a given task correctly the first time. For example, consider a restaurant which serves water and a basket of bread to each party. Let’s suppose a customer is seated and a glass of water is provided by the server. If that server fails to provide the complimentary basket of bread with the glass of water, he must make an extra trip. That requires additional time.
While the assumption of this paragraph sounds reasonable, it is incorrect. The number one contributor to waste in the service industry is not first-time task failure, but lack of stakeholder engagement. Of course every new waiter screws up their first day, but they improve quickly. A single failure the first time is insignificant compared to the thousands of glasses of water and complementary bread baskets the waiter will bring successfully and simultaneously in the course of their career. So what is the actual problem? Mr. Bell inadvertently explains the issue later in his piece:
In order to identify process-related waste, the Lean Six Sigma team must first review the organization’s goals and current performance levels. Each transaction which is performed by an employee represents an opportunity to improve efficiency. However, the project team must take care to establish the proper transactional baselines.
Who is responsible for improving the organization? Not the waiter, but the Lean Six Sigma team—an outside group analyzing every move, timing delivery with a stopwatch and describing the convivial banter between waiter and customer as a "transaction." In fact, the server has no particular incentive to do anything which is not being measured. A great waiter will take the trouble to split a check, bring crayons for the kids, drop off additional butter for a hungry table, or spend a few extra minutes catching up with a regular patron. All of these activities ultimately strengthen relationships and drive business, but all of them threaten the "proper transactional baselines." Service is not manufacturing.

How do you improve a restaurant? The same way you improve a law firm, a marketing company, a sales team or a doctor's office, by not trying to improve it. You can't make these organizations better through external motivators and obsession with measurement. Instead, you must provide intrinsic motivation by giving stakeholders the authority and responsibility to define their own business processes. This requires training, but more importantly, a change in perspective. Organizations must recognize that their value is not in structures of authority but in individual innovation.

Top-down approaches like Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma (or their combination Lean Six Sigma) tend to encourage business to focus entirely on systems while forgetting about people. If you've been considering improving your organization, stop and think about language and stakeholders. Contact our corporate productivity consultants for help building a plan that puts your people in charge of their future.

Increasing Employee Productivity By Making Groups Smarter

The term priming refers to the tendency of a stimulus to influence the response to a later stimulus. That's a fancy way of saying that just being aware of something can totally change our thinking.

A post at MindHacks reviews an article from New Scientist on the topic:

The psychology of crowds is challenging the idea that people become an 'unruly mob' in large numbers. In fact, recent research shows that people tend to cooperate and quickly achieve an altruistic and bonded group identity when in large numbers. This partly relies on the fact that our group identity is fluid, as demonstrated by an elegant experiment.
How do you prove that large groups are influenced by psychological priming? Perhaps hire an actor to fake an injury outside a sports stadium and change his shirt from a neutral color to the jersey of either the home or rival team. What can be found is that the crowd tends to help people with whom they identify. Their sense of belonging and ultimate actions can be swayed by first reminding them whether they are supporters of a particular team or just fans of the sport in general.

Businesses can take advantage of this phenomenon by priming employees. Suggesting everyone wear the company t-shirt might be a little silly, but asking stakeholders to share ways to improve work will help establish a common sense of purpose. Putting control over methodology into employee hands will "prime the pump" to do good work. When an emergency arises, members of a committed, passionate team will work together to resolve the crisis and learn the key lessons from the incident. Groups at the office can be smarter, but only if we remind them of their cohesion before innovation is required.

Dump Job Descriptions. Write Career Plans Instead.

Local HR firm C&S Consulting recently published a blog post about job descriptions. Unfortunately, these documents tend to cause problems rather than establish useful parameters for work.

The piece begins with a straightforward argument:

You may not think that job descriptions are important but as a manager or business owner you want people to know what your role in your company is. It is the same with your employees. The more descriptive you are with what your employees’ titles are the more you will get out of their performances.
If only this were true! If employee performance were tied to job descriptions, managers could simply write "will close $100M in sales every day" and retire immediately.

Obviously, the author does not mean that a worker will conduct any defined task, but rather that the level of detail in a job description will predict the level of employee output. There is some logic in this claim—if you want an employee to return customer phone calls within an hour, you must tell them to do so. However, that's not a description of a job, it's a description of an expectation.

The choice of words might sound like mere semantics, but giving an employee a written job description places them in a sort of career prison. Such a document is separate from the human employee and is created without any analysis of the employee's unique strengths, talents and weaknesses. The next person to fill the job will get the same job description, and will live inside the same carefully defined box.

Instead of a job description, organizations should focus on the individual stakeholder and their personal ability to contribute. Consider this comparison:

Job Description: Account Manager XYZ Services Corp.
- Respond to client issues within 1 business day - Treat clients with courtesy & professionalism - Answer all calls within three rings - Support sales team with RFP review process - Maintain billable hours spreadsheet daily - Coordinate monthly client seminars - Maintain office vacation calendar - Attend two networking events each month - Assist with annual charity fundraiser - Other duties as assigned

Salary: $14.00/hour

Sally Smith's Career Plan
XYZ Services Corp.
Current Title: Account Manager

Strengths: - Excellent customer service skills - Strong product knowledge - Good written and verbal communication

Current Focus: - Enhance overall attention to detail - Demonstrate increased autonomy

Organizational Obligations: office vacation calendar, daily billable hours spreadsheet, 10% availability for miscellaneous tasks

The job description on the left is generic and almost painful. It is a list of requirements spelled out in excruciating detail. One can easily imagine a supervisor using this document to defend a poor performance review or low compensation. A job description tells what has to be done, but says nothing about who is going to do it.

By presenting a career plan, the employee is freed from "job description prison." Notice how the name of the person—not the name of the role—is most prominent. Although a job title is mentioned, it's referenced as the current title, reminding the employee that they can change and grow in the organization. Instead of listing duties, the career plan outlines employee strengths. Each is listed with a qualifier, so the individual knows where they excel and where they can improve. Areas of current focus are also identified. This document is mostly focused on the person doing the work, not the job.

Finally, the career plan does include some "organizational obligations" as a footnote. These are important, but they do not constitute the real value of Ms. Sally Smith. She's a great employee because of her strengths, not because she updates her daily billing reports flawlessly. Even the dreaded "other duties as assigned" is characterized with a helpful limiter. Sally knows that she should never expect to allocate more than 1/10 of her time to work outside her main career path.

Despite these concerns, C&S Consulting does offer one sound piece of advice in the blog post:

Giving responsibilities unique to a position will make the employee feel important...
While this is true, empowering stakeholders with responsibility and authority will do more than help people feel important. Giving people control over their own work actually makes them important. It demonstrates they were not hired to complete the items listed in a job description but instead due to their innovation, creativity and ability to forge relationships. It shows the organization values not just the work that gets done, but the people who do the work.

Ladd on Gladwell Regarding Workplace Productivity

Local Indianapolis blogger Parke Ladd recently cited popular author Malcolm Gladwell. Their joint insights on work are right on target.

Quoting Ladd, who is quoting Malcolm Gladwell on Work:

When work is truly satisfying it meets 3 key criteria:
  1. Work must be Autonomous:  You must be responsible for your own decisions and direction.
  2. Work must be Complex:  It must engage your mind and your imagination.
  3. Work must display an intrinsic Connection between Effort and Reward: The more you put into the work, the more you get out of the work.
Although Gladwell and Ladd both talk about work that is "truly satisfying," they also hallmark work as truly productive. Let's examine each of the three points in turn:
  1. Self-directed: If every moment of work does not need to be supervised, both the manager and the employee can be more productive.
  2. Complex: Extremely simple tasks can usually be done by machines or computers. It is detailed work which requires human judgment, creativity and ingenuity.
  3. Rewarding: When you complete a complicated, self-directed task, you feel great. This inspires you to do an even better job on the next project, accelerating individual productivity.
Even meeting just one of these criteria for one hour out of the workday has an incredible impact on productivity and satisfaction. Pursuing all three will transform the workplace into an environment where everyone can make significant, meaningful contributions every day.

Furthermore, the wisdom offered by Parke Ladd and Malcolm Gladwell reinforces our post about business improvement consulting to avoid job description prison. Listing employee expectations may define work, but does not necessarily lead to a truly satisfying or truly productive work experience. Instead, we should list employee strengths and areas of current focus. We should grant them the autonomy to complete tasks, try to assign work that is fascinating and relevant, and promote a culture where great work is its own reward.

Make your workplace better by pursuing work that's truly satisfying and truly productive!

Fire Protection is Transforming Processes

Every week, Muncie, Indiana firefighters had to submit maintenance reports to headquarters. This had been done by hand—by actually driving fire trucks across town to deliver the paperwork!

As covered in the Star Press, this is a major change. You may also view a screenshot of the article here.

A low-cost upgrade of computer equipment at fire stations will eliminate the costly expense of firefighters using fire trucks to deliver paperwork to the chief's office.

"If we are literally delivering every document from a fire station by fire truck, that is not an efficient operation," said Mayor Sharon McShurley.

The city administration estimated a $1,500 cost to taxpayers every time fire trucks make a run, based on the 6,066 runs made one year at a $9 million budget expense.

(Mayor) McShurley told Fire Chief Sean Burcham recently to order equipment that would allow firefighters to transmit maintenance, training and other reports electronically to the chief's office, now at City Hall, instead of having on-duty firefighters deliver paperwork by fire truck.

Journalist Rick Yencer went on to explain that this change required some new equipment. Thankfully, this mayor seems to have taken steps towards decreasing costs, but one has to wonder why things took this long. From AccelaWork's point of view, it's almost always faster and cheaper to collect, deliver, and review information using electronic mediums. From the outside, this change seems painfully obvious, but the article hints that the issues are more complex and that the workflow required significant investigation.

Obviously, this is a major case of an organization dragging far behind the technological curve. However, the changes that were necessary at the Muncie Fire Department were more cultural than technological. The paper also reported that firefighters historically used company trucks to make supply runs to local grocery stores! To address problems with workflow, we must begin by understanding the motivations and beliefs of the stakeholders themselves. Furthermore, it is those individuals who should suggest new courses of action and who must implement new ideas.

There's a chance that those within the organization weren't even aware of how costly their actions were. If that's the case, then this is likely an area where the stakeholders weren't feeling empowered in the organization. Perhaps there was no motivation to try to save money since the firefighters wouldn't directly benefit by cutting costs for the department. Or perhaps they really were completely oblivious to the cost per trip. Either way, that's a major problem.

Sometimes within a government organization change can be hard, as there are many more approvals that are needed, but assuming your company is privately owned, then there's absolutely no reason to not re-evaluate your processes and see where improvement can be found. Maybe there's nothing going on that would cost you more than $1,000 every time, but even little costs can add up to a big waste when they're unnecessary and avoidable.

There's a pretty good chance if similar problems are in place in your organization that you don't even realize it. After all, if you realized where the problems were, steps would hopefully have been taken to fix them. Sometimes it requires an outside point of view. Sometimes the solution is as easy as talking to your stakeholders and getting honest feedback on where things could be improved.

At AccelaWork, our focus is on helping organizations to improve productivity and satisfaction from the bottom up. Like the Muncie Fire Department, your company may be doing the equivalent of hauling reports across town at $1,500 a pop without realizing there could be a better way. Contact our business improvement consultants to discuss your workflow and ways we can work together to make positive improvements.

Employee Satisfaction Low, 98% Unpaid for Overtime

In many companies, working extra hours means receiving extra compensation. But in one industry, 98% of employees report that they do not receive paid overtime, not even during "crunch" periods.

Any guesses about the industry? Is it financial services around tax season or retailers preparing for Christmas? Nope. As reported in Develop magazine, these are figures derived from a study of the multi-billion dollar video game industry:

Ninety-eight per cent of game developers across the world do not receive paid overtime, despite being frequently asked to work an extra ten to fifteen hours per week.

The survey was launched in part as a result of the controversy surrounding the International Game Developers Association and, in particular, Epic CEO Dr. Michael Capps, who suggested that Epic’s staff would be expected to work 60 hour weeks as part of the corporate culture.

The resulting argument split the IGDA membership between those that felt the organisation should be making a stand against such practices, and those who thought otherwise.

The video game business is unique among all organizations and even within the software development community for many reasons. Since every release must be cutting edge and meet precise timing requirements, teams tend to work more and more hours as they approach the launch date. Since every product is effectively a brand new invention, it's hard to develop consistent process and workflow because so much will be used just once. This makes tasks such as planning, budgeting and work expectations nearly insurmountable.

Legendary game designer Peter Molyneux has worked to address this problem in his own studio, Lionhead, through massive changes in its corporate culture. In his own words, the gaming industry must “stop ruining people’s lives.” This follows the ea_spouse incident in which the wife of an Electronic Arts developer helped usher in a class action lawsuit relating to unpaid overtime. Such issues are a troubling reality for any business. Employees and employers must work together to set reasonable expectations that promote both productivity and satisfaction.

At AccelaWork, we try to help organizations address the challenges of workflow long before they are elevated to such levels. We do this by helping stakeholders understand what makes them most effective at work. When individuals have passion for their field and productive systems which they own and maintain, everyone benefits. Unfair overtime policies arise when we don't communicate about productivity and satisfaction.  For more information, contact our business consultants today!

Conducting Meetings With Organizational Productivity

As part of The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin put together a list of tips for running good meetings. But are these simple suggestions enough to positively influence workplace productivity?

Her fourteen points are not as grandiose as those of President Woodrow Wilson, but Rubin does make a strong argument:

Nothing can drain the happiness from you faster than a long, unproductive meeting. You’re bored; you’re not getting anything done; emails are piling up while you sit, trapped.

On the other hand, a productive meeting is exhilarating. A long time ago, when I was working in Washington, D.C., I remember a friend who worked at the Department of Justice saying, “Jamie Gorelick runs a meeting so well, it brings tears to my eyes.”

These comments support AccelaWork's primary thesis: that productivity and satisfaction are connected. When a meeting drags on, attendees become frustrated and feel like they are achieving nothing. When a meeting is filled with rapid fire ideas and decisions, it's an exciting place to be and you leave feeling energized and renewed. Let's review Rubin's suggestions:
  1. Start on time, and end on time.
  2. Spend a little time in chit-chat.
  3. If some people hesitate to jump in, find a way to draw them out.
  4. If you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you the responsibility.
  5. Share the credit.
  6. Making people feel stupid isn’t productive, and it isn’t kind.
  7. Have an agenda and stick to it.
  8. Never go to a meeting if you don’t know why you’re supposed to be there!
  9. Standing meetings should be kept as short as possible and very structured.
  10. Don't say things that will undermine or antagonize other people.
  11. Be very specific about what the “action items” are.
  12. For long meetings, schedule breaks when people can check their email and phones.
  13. Meetings should stay tightly focused.
  14. Consider a radical solution: no chairs.

Items #1, #7, #8, #9, #11, #13 and #14 are all suggestions for maximizing effectiveness. Tips #2, #3, #5, #10 and #12 all help people feel more comfortable. While all of these proposals are good ideas, none of them really tackle the fundamental question of why we meet. Understanding the best techniques for conducting meetings should derive from the purpose of the meetings themselves.

At AccelaWork, we advise that if a meeting is routine, it has one of two possible objectives: to make decisions or to brainstorm ideas. Whichever it is, less is definitely more. A short meeting in which the group comes to one consensus about one important choice will be more powerful than one in which a dozen minor nuances are debated and resolved. Likewise, generating ideas is more effective when the focus is on one topic. If meetings are a challenge for your organization, contact our Indianapolis consultants today!

Starbucks Lean Manufacturing and Productivity Growth

Local service industry consultant Tripp Babbitt commented on the use of Lean Manufacturing in the coffee shop business. His key insight is that there is more to improving organizations than reducing waste.

To quote Babbitt directly:

Lean tools tackle the customer experience as an efficiency problem and some times it is and some times it isn't.  Think about it . . . does every service organization want their customers flying in and out of their business as fast as possible?  I don't think so.
Although some feel that this is an unfair characterization of Lean Manufacturing, it's certainly the practical result that we at AccelaWork see all the time. As we covered last week in Taking on Lean Six Sigma and Corporate Productivity, trying to treat a product company the same way you treat a retail shop is a recipe for disaster. We'll say it again: service is not manufacturing.

Generally speaking, though, Tripp Babbitt is correct on this point. Coffee shop employees might waste lots of time moving around the store, but eliminating waste will eventually lead to a completely robotic customer experience. Instead, Starbucks wants to create an environment where customers feel valued, and though respecting customer's time and filling orders promptly is essential to their business, it isn't the only perk. By establishing a welcoming and relaxed space where employees offer friendly greetings and helpful tips for ordering the perfect drink, while also avoiding the sensation of a fast food rush, the customer is provided a sense of calm. With the addition of warm, cushiony sofas and convenient work spaces, a distinct creation of the inviting "home away from home" feel certainly entices consumers and in turn, benefits business.

The most important question about any business improvement philosophy is this: what is the agent of results? In Lean Manufacturing, it is the identification and elimination of waste which receives the credit. Six Sigma advocates claim that the statistical analysis of variation provides a method for ensuring conformity, which in turn reduces variations and decreases costs. The approach of consultants like Tripp Babbit emphasizes thinking about business systems from the outside-in rather than trying to change behavior through top-down demands. His philosophy ensures that improvements are more individualized to the client, and help to eliminate problems that occur when someone blindly applies time-waste reduction to the lingering experience of good coffee.

At AccelaWork, we ultimately believe that improvement comes when the people who do the work make the change. Technically speaking, a pillar of Lean Manufacturing is "respect for people". Yet, ask anyone at a hospital or a restaurant chain if they feel more respected after going through a Lean overhaul. Contact our consultants to learn more.

Netflix, Culture, and Corporate Productivity

Scott Booher of CIOpedia posted a thoughtful critique about the obsession with procedure at many companies. His surprising inspiration was an internal document leaked from Netflix.

Here's what Booher had to say on the topic of company policies:

In this model [from Netflix], Process is to be tolerated, and whenever possible, replaced by great performers who know what they are doing and can figure out how to get things done, without arbitrary rules getting in the way (I do not personally know any Netflix employees, so others will need to comment on whether this view of Process is accurate across their organization).

Contrast this model with that found in most IT organizations of any size. Process is not only accepted, it is celebrated. There is a complex process for everything, from the method for getting approval to build a piece of software, to requisitioning a new server, to the detailed accounting for every activity performed during the work day. One might even go further with the observation that in many organizations, processes are stacked over time, one on top of another, with few processes ever being retired.

This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not exclusive to the information technology department. Usually, almost every area of work is governed by a dizzying number of official and unofficial policies, which ultimately stifle innovation and limit progress. At AccelaWork, we have run across companies where it takes weeks for a new employee to be issued a computer and months to receive business cards. Purchases often require multiple signatures no matter how small the amount. These regulations may not be written down anywhere, but if employees feel as though they're out of control than they effectively have no authority. Process can overwhelm a company until it reaches stagnation.

Although Booher's comments were fascinating, the source material may have been more relevant to most employees. Check out the Netflix Reference Guide on Freedom & Responsibility Culture (direct link):

To many employees at many companies, this document sounds unreal. It suggests, for example, that Netflix aims to increase employee freedom as it grows. Who ever heard of a boss that wants you to spend more of your time doing whatever you want? That sounds like a fantasy, not the reality of work.

AccelaWork will not promise to change your culture into one similar to Netflix. We prefer not to work with the executives who make such slide decks, but rather with the individuals doing the work. We prefer to help you establish a personal culture of productivity and satisfaction so that you can get more done by owning and improving the workflow in your immediate area. That kind of change can helps to transform the larger organization. Thumb through the presentation to get inspired. Call on our consultants to begin the process of making work better.

Sensational Headlines About Employee Productivity

A press release carried the title: "Bosses Beware: Employees Watching Videos Online on the Company's Dime." The contents of the document, however, had nothing to do with supervisors, employees and productivity.

Phrases like "Bosses Beware" and "on the companies dime" set off all kinds of warning bells at AccelaWork as we read a press release that had accused employees of goofing off at work and offering suggestions for bosses to clamp down on workers. Instead, the document offered new data on how people watch web videos. Turns out that internet viewing hours are spread throughout the traditional work day and not clustered around the same period as prime-time television.

It was tempting to chide the authors of the press release for selecting a misleading title. However, it was much more important to consciously acknowledge what this phrasing told us about our common perspective on work. The words "bosses beware" implied that supervisors are expected to be fearful and distrustful of their employees. The old expression "on the company dime" characterizes all employee time and activity at work as the property of their employer. This is not language that will inspire employees to feel valued at work.

We have previously spoken out about employee productivity and surfing the web while on the job. Efforts to try and control what people do at their desk are not only ineffective, they belittle workers and actually reduce overall productivity. Instead, we should study companies like Netflix who actually aims to give employees more freedom thanks to employee satisfaction as the organization grows.

Bosses should not be afraid if and when their employees check YouTube at work. In turn, employees should not be afraid to enjoy the company's resources from time to time. Work is about opportunity, not control. Contact our business consultants to learn more.

Balancing Life, Work, and Employee Productivity

Accountants are known for working ridiculously long hours. A CPA named Marty McCutchen, however, found that improving workflow actually improves work/life balance.

McCutchen told a familiar tale of life in a successful firm:

Public accounting — a place where chargeable hours were king and working on Saturdays was a badge of honor. Why in the world would we want to complete our tasks faster and then have to explain why we missed our charge hour goal for the month? A young staff that answers that question with, “I guess I am more efficient with my time than my colleagues,” does not find much traction in the world of a tax and accounting firm.
The author goes on to explain that the overarching problem in his field is the obsession with billable hours. When professional services companies chargeby the hour, they effectively encourage employees to work more hours. After all, the more hours you can bill, the more money you can make.

McCutchen's answer was to charge for services instead of time; however as we here at AccelaWork noted when we first covered this topic while researching business improvement solutions, the real issue is the old problem of confusing activity with progress. Employees might receive a salary for working, but customers prefer to pay only for results.

It's not always possible to bill your clients based solely on actual work product, and although companies like Best Buy have bravely pursued a results-oriented work environment, it's not always practical to compensate employees for their output alone. Therefore, every organization that struggles with work/life balance should evaluate the impact of their business services model on the work patterns of employees. Companies can design their pricing and their promises in a way that respects their workers. To learn more about how good workflow can improve work/life balance, our business process consultants us today.

Organizational Productivity and Conferences

After attending the blogINDIANA 2009, a common question surfaced in our minds. What's the most productive way to attend a conference?

It's easy to put together a checklist for this kind of event with tips such as "bring plenty of business cards,"  "carry a pen and paper at all times," and "make sure your cellphone and laptop battery are fully charged." However, there's much more to a successful conference experience than just feeling like you have the right equipment. A productive experience requires the right perspective. Here are some powerful ideas for approaching your next big event.

Identify your objectives. Note that "networking" and "learning new things" are not specific enough to be useful goals. Review the announced speakers in advance to determine who you want to meet in person. Study the schedule so you can plan which events you want to attend. Prepare questions in advance—you may have the chance to ask a presenter or a fellow attendee, but regardless, you can definitely see how much you learned after the conference ends.

Review your personal style. Attending a conference like blogINDIANA is probably completely unlike your typical workday. It's not even that similar to a networking event or social mixer. With so many distractions to conversation—from the snack table, the vendor floor and the scheduled programs—it's difficult to have a meaningful conversation with anyone. Practice some lines that make sense for you, such as "I've got to run to catch someone, can we schedule a phone call to talk more next week?" or "Do you mind if I follow up with you by email?"

Arrange for an at-home advocate. Someone else back at the office or in your personal life is not attending this conference. They are grounded in reality, probably sitting at a desk in front a computer, and have the power to be productive and responsive. Stay in touch with your advocate through quick emails or short phone calls. Keep them posted on conference developments, networking contacts and new ideas. With the at-home advocate as your sounding board, you are able to stay on-task more effectively and remain connected to the real world outside the conference.

Define your post-conference workflow. The best time to decide what you're going to do after the conference is beforeyou go to the conference! Most of us have established patterns for daily or weekly tasks, but unless you are a conference junkie, you probably don't have a well-defined workflow for what to do when you get back to your desk. Take a few minutes to document what you plan to do when you return, possibly using a visual schematic approach.

A great conference experience is partially the responsibility of the organizers, but mostly up to the attendees. Taking authority and responsibility over your workflow will enable you to prepare effectively, attend with confidence, and be productive in your follow-up after the event. Don't let process challenges impede you from benefiting from a conference! For more information, contact our Indianapolis speakers today.

The Boss's Deadlines and Worker Productivity

One of the biggest challenges to blogging productively is a partner who doesn't meet deadlines. It's even worse when that blogging partner is your boss.

Why is this difficult?  Because he's your boss! If you're trying to get someone to do something, it doesn't help if he is usually the one telling you what to do! The boss-employee relationship is characterized by assigning tasks and getting them done, thank you very much.

Remember, blogging is writing. Writing is a creative process.  No great artist finished every project ahead of schedule and within budget. So trying to get your boss to finish a blog post on time is doubly challenging.

The solution is to clear some space. Everyone works more productively with fewer distractions. If you can take his phone calls, answer his e-mails, respond to client issues or handle other routine tasks, your boss has no more reasons—or excuses—but not writing his blog.  The bonus is that he'll like you better.

At AccelaWork, we blog productively in part by avoiding the traditional difficulties of the boss-employee relationship in blog writing. We share responsibilities and focus on results, not hierarchy. For more information on how we help you improve your company's blog production, contact our consultants today!

This blog was written during Productivity and Blogging, a session in the blogINDIANA 2009 conference. Special thanks to Michael Starks of Starks Communications for editing this blog live in front of the audience.

Workplace Productivity and Blogging

At the blogINDIANA 2009 conference, AccelaWork gave a talk on Productivity and Blogging. The take home lesson: yes, you can blog quickly and efficiently!

The presentation began with a series of Five Lessons about blogging

  1. Almost everybody quits blogging. According to the New York Times an incredible 95% of all blogs are abandoned. This is great evidence that poor productivity kills blogging.
  2. Amazing blogs are regular. All of the great blogs, whether they are hugely popular or successful in a niche, are updated consistently.
  3. Quality doesn't matter much. Bloggers constantly debate whether grammar and spelling actually matter, and often point out that most business blogs stink.
  4. The most recent post wins. Search engines and users pay more attention to what you wrote today than what you wrote yesterday.
  5. We are all vain. Every blog post is written and made public so others can read it. Acknowledging that we write because we want our words to be read is essential to blogging.
Based on the lessons, the presentation offered several helpful perspectives on blogging productively. The most important advice is the same we give at AccelaWork every day: if you do something regularly, design a process for that task. Every organization will need a different procedure, but having a process beats "winging it every time."

The session concluded with a brave demo. After soliciting an idea from the audience and recruiting a volunteer to edit, we produced a worker productivity post in 575 seconds. This is undeniable proof that you can blog quickly if you have a system.

For more information on designing a blogging process for you or your company, contact our business consultants at AccelaWork today!

Trust Issues About CEO Bloggers

A great way to measure the success of a conference is the number of times you have an "aha" moment. At blogINDIANA 2009, one comment in one presentation surpassed all the rest.

Although we'd like to say that our own session on Workplace Productivity and Blogging was the most influential, it was actually an offhand comment made by local entrepreneur Chris Baggott. As he pointed out in a blog post last year, people don't trust blog posts attributed to top-level executives. In his presentation at blogINDIANA 2009, Baggott refined this information with data from the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer. His words:

According to the largest PR firm in the world, people trust CEO bloggers less than ever before: down from 36% to 29%. It's more important than ever that your employees be blogging to build trust with your customers.

This is great news if you're trying to sell corporate blogging software, but the Edelman report is not just about blogging, it's about the degree to which the public trusts large organizations. One graph in particular is staggering:

productivity chart
Let's highlight that figure: in America, 77% trust companies less than they did one year ago. If that trend continues, then it won't be long until the mistrust of companies is rampant throughout not only America, but the world. That's clearly a very bad sign for all companies, whether they're already big or still growing.

The Edelman reports admits, "our survey did not ask why they had lost trust in companies," but that is the essential question. Why are stakeholders becoming more suspicious of companies and CEO's than ever before?

At AccelaWork, we believe the essential problem to loss of trust is caused by the failure to spread authority and responsibility throughout the organization. Employees have more training, more expertise, and more potential to innovate than ever before. Likewise, customers have more choices and know more about how products and services actually work. When met with the traditional, top-down, secrecy-based infrastructure of organizations, it's no surprise that trust is in decline. Why trust a corporation or your boss when you have the feeling you could do it yourself?

Edelman's website takes a step further in clarifying why this information is so important:

Building trust is essential to successfully bringing new products and services to market, and building trust in new business innovations requires that companies demonstrate clear personal and societal benefits, behave with integrity and engage with customers and stakeholders throughout the process.
If your employees have expertise in a certain area, it'd be foolish not to utilize that. No CEO should think that they're the expert on every single facet of a business operation. There's simply too many components in a large organization for that to be possible. It's important to let those who specialize in various aspects of your workflow take the lead. Not only will those workers feel more valued, but they'll also be able to push the company in the right direction. If a CEO does find him or herself in a position where they know the most about even the most minute portions of a process, then that may not be a sign that the CEO is an expert, but rather that training hasn't been spread through an organization and employees aren't put in a position to innovate. Either way, there's a problem in place. Instead of not trusting employees, it's time to fix that problem.

Don't get trapped in a spiral of distrust. Open up to stakeholders. Show employees and customers that you trust them so that they have a reason to trust you. For more details on improving relationships through productivity and satisfaction, contact our Indianapolis consultants. We love to help organizations achieve more with less!

Business Consultants Make A Disastrous Mistake

Brody PR, a 20-year old public relations firm, recently made a small mistake. In a few seconds, someone clicked the wrong box and may have destroyed the reputation of the entire company.

As reported by local tech blogger Douglas Karr, as well as on the Social Times, the ZDNet blog, and 25+ other blogs around the web, this is a story of a single email. It was an unsolicited, commercial message sent to a few hundred people, which makes the message "spam." Brody PR sent the advertisement to some highly-influential members of the online community. Unfortunately, they included all the email addresses on the CC line in the message.

That's an error of only 26 pixels which managed to anger hundreds of important people. Douglas Karr writes on his blog:

It wasn’t bad enough that it was SPAM, it also openly provided the list of recipients with everyone else’s name and email address. Ever heard of BCC?

I don’t know Beth and I don’t know Brody PR, but I’m going to let them know, as well as all their prospects and clients, that they deserve the huge backlash that they are currently getting.

In the immediate aftermath of the mistake, the firm got slammed by plenty involved, including one writer from the Social Times:
If you’ve never heard of Brody PR before, it’s not surprising. Check out the company’s website which includes a collection of animated GIFs that are reminiscent of the year 1995. Typically I don’t hang a PR firm out to dry when they slip up as everyone makes errors but this one was bad. Honestly, the majority of the people on the email list could have just ignored the emails rather than continuing to reply to the list, knowing that everyone would see it.

I was personally laughing throughout the whole experience but at a certain point it became annoying. Beth Brody could have stepped in to resolve the problem but as of now she is still missing in action and her company has just been put on the spam lists of a large number of industry influencers. Lesson learned: don’t create an open email list where anyone can reply when sending out press releases. Other lesson learned: don’t hire Brody PR.

Although Brody PR has tried to issue a few individual apologies, it's clear that serious damage has been done. The social media community was actively discussing the outcome of this case, but at AccelaWork we are more interested in the process which lead to this issue in the first place. How could a 20-year old PR firm have made such a rookie mistake?

Although we don't have access to the internal workings of Brody PR, it's easy enough to guess at the likely culprit: Brody PR probably has no established process for distributing information by email. This problem is not unique to the PR world. Earlier this year, we reported that 29,000 college applicants were accidentally sent acceptance letters via email. This is better than the Muncie Fire Department, who realized that email was the best business process transformation to avoid continuing to deliver reports by driving them across town via fire truck. Workflow issues are a challenge for every organization. The story of Brody PR is likely another case where a lack of defined process lead to disastrous results.

Once you define a process, then you're able to see holes that may arise. Without a process in place, there's really no way to properly foresee problems that your organization may face. But not being able to easily predict these problems is no excuse for not having a plan in place. And that's where we can help!

AccelaWork helps organizations before they have a crisis by helping to establish great workflow. We teach individuals and teams how to design business processes to ensure that procedures are robust and reliable. Don't let a 26-pixel error destroy your reputation. Contact our our business consulting firm today!

Business Improvement Process, Anecdotes, and Evidence

One of the most inspirational sources of workflow improvement is medicine. Yet, what makes doctors effective are not good outcomes, but understanding why good outcomes actually occur.

A fantastic summary about the role of science in medicine recently appeared from writer Harriet Hall. The article states:

How can you know whether a medical treatment really works? If everybody says it works, and it worked for your Aunt Sally, and you try it and your symptoms go away, you can pretty well assume it really works. Right?

No, you can’t make that assumption, because sometimes we get it wrong. For many centuries doctors used leeches and lancets to relieve patients of their blood. They KNEW bloodletting worked. Everybody said it did. When you had a fever and the doctor bled you, you got better. Everyone knew of a friend or relative who had been at death’s door until bloodletting cured him. Doctors could recount thousands of successful cases.

All those people got it wrong. When George Washington got a bad throat infection, his doctors removed so much of his blood that his weakened body couldn’t recover, and he died. We finally got around to testing bloodletting and found out it did much more harm than good. Patients who got well had been getting well IN SPITE of bloodletting, not because of it. And some patients had died unnecessarily, like George Washington.

The story of the development of medicine is the story of testing. Researchers have learned that results are not as important as the actual underlying scientific phenomena. Just because some action appears to lead to a positive outcome does not mean there is any actual connection between the two.

Businesses can learn a great deal from medicine. Are workflow patterns actually effective, or are they just traditions we've always done? Do software systems collect useful data, or do they just make people busy with data collection and useless analysis? A critical issue in any organization is determining what work actually matters and what is merely distraction.

When AccelaWork conducts its own form of medicine, like diagnosing your workplace for potential improvements, we try to help organizations recognize that every element of work should be open for discussion. A great employee, like a great doctor, is not just one who follows the procedure, but one who is willing to try and understand what makes the procedure work. It's not wise for anyone to improve on business process without understanding true business value. For more information on how to work smarter, contact our business consultants at AccelaWork today.

Business Process Methodology Slaves

Businesses love to implement a new, comprehensive solution to address a wide range of challenges. However, an analyst named Duncan Haughey argues that blindly adhering to methodology is ineffective and all too common.

In an article (PDF) published on, Haughey writes:

Project management by form filling is not an effective way of managing projects. These days many organisations and individuals whole project management strategy revolves around becoming slaves to a methodology.
This quotation concurs with previous reports from The Methodology Blog. These include commentary on productivity growth at Starbucks and the issues in general with treating corporate productivity with service like manufacturing. As we have said before with a post on business process improvement, it's not about the theory, but the quality of execution.

Complete with British slang, Haughey also notes:

My worst experiences have been with organisations that stick blindly to the methodology regardless of whether it adds value.  'It says you fill in this form at this stage and we're jolly well going to fill it in.' Then the form invariably gets filed away and never looked at again.

This leads to many methodologies being perceived as needlessly bureaucratic, which, when used appropriately they're not.

What's actually happening in this scenario is the transfer of responsibility. If a team member insists on completing a form or a procedure, they are insisting that success or failure lies entirely with the methodology. Actually deciding what needs to be done might require creativity, innovation, or questioning the process. In the end, stakeholders conclude that because other people blindly followed the methodology when it wasn't necessary, the methodology itself must be bloated. In reality, it's the stakeholders who refused (or were denied) responsibility that created the waste and frustration.

The warning that Haughey repeats is a familiar saying: there are no silver bullets. This expression reminds us not to put too much stock in comprehensive methodologies. However, the bullets are not without value. Peter Drucker says it best: Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable. The benefit of a methodology is not in adhering to the practice, but in being methodical. If you need help developing processes for your business (or freeing yourself from an unhealthy obsession with methodology), contact our consultants today.

Business Consulting for the Cashier

Even in Indianapolis, consultants can make a difference by noticing everyday elements. Consider the cashier at the auto repair shop who struggles to process a routine customer payment. She keys in obscure codes to her computer, pours over handwritten notes, and checks the math with a hand held calculator.

This is a basic and critical business process. It seems totally unbelievable that a national company would have such a complicated procedure for handling an everyday action. Reviewing the visible steps, however, provides some insight:

  1. Pre-print and staple duplicate invoices, then file alphabetically
  2. When customer arrives, retrieve their invoice from files
  3. Separate customer and archival invoices
  4. Check customer details in computer system
  5. Retrieve from system amount paid by warranty company
  6. Use hand-held calculator to compute outstanding balance
  7. Request customer signature to accept invoice
  8. Request payment; if by credit card manually key in balance and run card
  9. Return vehicle keys to customer
  10. File archival copy of invoice
Each of these ten steps tells a story. Long lines or negative customer feedback probably inspired a manager to invent Step #1, as it was perceived as faster to pull an invoice from a file cabinet than to print one upon request. Step #5 surely arose as warranty payments became more popular. Instead of developing a more robust system for recording line items, the amount covered by insurance just got added as a note. But that's not all!

Likewise, the rise of charge cards as payment methods created Step #8, which requires punching in the balance by hand. A lack of trust of systems probably inspired Steps #6 and #10. Although a computer can handle simple arithmetic and long-term storage, intermittent reliability problems may have created these unnecessary precautions.

Changing this business process would tremendously impact productivity and satisfaction, but doing so would not be easy. Stakeholders must find enthusiasm for making improvement and have both the authority and responsibility to manage this workflow. Changes must be implemented over time, not only so they become habit but so they can be carefully designed and judiciously reviewed. Each adjustment will eventually lead to what might be an ideal customer service procedure:

  1. Request payment method
  2. Swipe credit card/key-in last name to automatically print invoice
  3. Accept one signature for both payment and invoice confirmation
  4. Return key to customer

Dropping from ten steps down to four not only increases productivity, it improves satisfaction. All stakeholders—from employee to manager to customer—have more time to pursue other endeavors and engage in innovation. The story of the auto shop is true and commonplace. If your procedures are cumbersome, or if you feel that there must be a better way, reach out to the business consultants at AccelaWork. We'd love to help you (or your repair shop) improve your business processes.

Business Improvement Services

Local brand experience design firm Kristian Andersen + Associates just got fired. It was an amicable divorce, but getting dumped is part of the consulting business, right?

On the KA+A blog, Kristian Andersen writes:

Recently we were informed by a client, with whom we had been working for several months, that they were moving their account to a design shop, located in a very large city on the east coast. It wasn't ugly or contentious, there were no angry words, or overt slights – it was all quite civilized. But that didn't temper the sting of rejection. This particular relationship was, by our standards, extremely short-lived.

[To quote] the AMC drama Mad Men: "The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them."

A business relationship begins at the moment of a signature and a handshake. Yet, as the old adage of the advertising and marketing business concludes, retaining clients is a losing battle. No one knows when the partnership will end.  All the firm can do is work hard and try to keep the customer happy.

The reason many consulting companies attempt to keep clients forever is that there's no expectation that the company will ever be in a position to succeed without outside expertise. Indeed, Andersen's story is not about a company that decided they no longer needed brand experience design. Rather, the customer decided to switch to a different design shop. Luckily for service consultancies and reputable user experience gurus in general, assistance with marketing, visual design, brand management, advertising, copy-writing, media buys or any of the other services of the PR/marketing/design industry will always be needed until companies go out of business or start their own department. Outsourced services usually do not rub off on internal people.

This concept of infinite consulting involvement is the essential difference between service consultancies (like KA+A) and instructional consultancies (like AccelaWork.) Our goal is to help you improve workflow and productivity through comprehensive training and re-engagement. We don't expect to be involved with you for more than 12-18 months. Believe it or not, we are in the business of getting rid of clients.

Every business has non-core functions that are best addressed by service consultancies. If you need help with accounting, legal services, marketing, public relations, catering, event planning or cleaning your facilities, it makes sense to consider hiring outside experts. Of course, businesses also have core functions with productivity and workflow challenges, which are areas that can benefit tremendously from productivity experts; however, such engagements should be limited.

As we see it, there are times when you need to buy fish at a supermarket and times when you need help learning how to fish. If workflow issues stifle your success, contact our consultants at AccelaWork. We're in the business of helping you and your business move forward.

A Green Workspace is a Positive Workspace

The corporate headquarters of Summertown Interiors is, not surprisingly, quite beautiful. It's also in an energy-efficient building with architecture designed to improve workflow.

As reported in Gulf News:

With Summertown Interiors being well-known in eco-friendly designs, it is only natural that their new corporate headquarters in Jebel Ali is built to conserve energy and water.

The company's premise was designed to reduce water and lighting consumption by 50 per cent. In order to do this Summertown Interiors installed water efficient fixtures to reduce use by 32 per cent.

In addition, movement detection systems in restrooms were also installed so that lights only turn on when someone is inside.

Marcos Bish, managing director of Summertown Interiors, said: "We incorporated all the best elements of green design into the new headquarters and showroom to demonstrate ... how to create an eco-friendly work environment that is also cost-effective and productive."

The colour scheme comprising warm shades of grays and whites in the office, along with the clean desk policy implemented by the company influence the work output of employees.

A Summertown Interiors blog post by Heidi Demuynck provided more insight. Unfortunately, that full post has since been removed from their site, but we held onto the following quote from it, which helps to further explain the results of the Summertown change:

Most importantly, I feel like the office environment that we now work in is much more positive...the lighting that we use now is less harsh with an abundance of natural light and open space which I have no doubt, has increased our productivity levels.
It's not unusual to expect a leading interior design firm to operate out of a space that is both attractive and usable. However, note that both the news article and the blog talk about work output increasing as a result of these changes. Can a positive environment actually improve productivity?

Absolutely! As we have covered before, we should be conscious about what our business consultants wear to work, how we manage our clutter to improve workplace productivity, what our business consultants hang on the walls, and even our business improvement consulting services! We even discussed the concept of a "mess bias" back in the 2009 Indianapolis Productivity Summit—the condition where your desk influences what you and others believe about yourself, due in part to a phenomenon called priming for employee productivity.

Even though this isn't a new topic for us, it's an important one to reiterate. While altering a workspace may seem like a daunting task, the benefits can far outweigh the effort required. Some changes can directly impact a company's bottom line, such as the resource-saving techniques implemented by Summertown. The fact that those same changes can also be environmentally responsible only further proves the benefit of adapting a workplace's design for the better. And when those changes can be accomplished in a way that also makes a space feel less like a stuffy, stereotypically harsh office and more like a comfortable place to be productive in, then there's no reason to hesitate when it comes to maximizing the positive aspects of a work environment.

The design of your workplace and your workflow are intimately connected. Improve your productivity and satisfaction by taking responsibility and authority over your role and your space. Work in a positive environment and have that environment work for you. Follow the example set by Summertown Interiors and prove that efficiency and positivity can go hand in hand. If the process of making these changes seems daunting, then contact our consultants at AccelaWork for more information on how to best achieve these goals at your business.

Organizational Productivity and Event Planning

Many people have worked long hours on event planning. If you've struggled to process registrations and track down attendees, think about using Cannonball Communications strategy.

Professional, high-end event planning software like Cannonball often seems like magic. Most employees involved in a large event spend hours writing individual emails, tracking down lost registrations, processing checks and entering in data from paper surveys. Pulling off a successful conference requires incredible amounts of legwork, so clicking and dragging across a warm green background feels like a dream.

organizational productivity with employees

Software tools can make the event planning process easier. Watch the video carefully, however, and you can see how the true value of Cannonball is the rigorous structure of information and workflow. You can do this without fancy software. Note the following:

  1. Work as a Visual Schematic - The essential components of event marketing are not just talked about or described in written form, but represented as diagram. The circles and arrows are a form of Business Process Modeling Notation that our consultants use. You can instantly tell how each subproject connects and how the entire event is structured.
  2. Characterizing Information - About 48 seconds into the clip, the presenter explains how the city of the event is an "attribute" of the attendee. He types this text into a grid, along with the first name, last name and email address of the contact. Essential data is mapped, connected, and well-defined.
  3. Tracking Choices - Interesting work, whether done by an employee or a customer, requires decisions. You cannot plan events completely via checklist. The video outlines how decisions are made based on data, such as whether or not someone has responded to an invitation or what kind of marketing they want to receive.
Systems like Cannonball may be right for your organization, but more important than the software application is the idea of well-defined workflow. If you want to increase productivity, satisfaction and overall organization, try drawing pictures, organizing data and thinking consciously about available choices. Learn more about how to work smarter by contacting our business consultants today.

Productivity Growth While Saving Ink

Every day, over 600,000 copies of the Washington Post hit newsstands and front porches. Printing now requires 30% less ink yet no additional frustration.

According to an article in Newspapers and Technology, the upgrade was a success:

The Washington Post is among the latest papers to deploy ink-savings software, in its case capping off a two-year project to study the technology.

The Post rolled out GMG Americas' inkOptimizer app, following an evaluation that included putting four different vendors through their paces, according to Kevin Conner, quality assurance manager.

Although reducing the total ink required to print a paper is primarily a cost saving measure, the Post understands the potential impact on productivity. "We had some established workflows," one staffer remarked, "and we didn't want to change those." How does an organization conduct a major operational improvement without affecting daily routines?

The team at the Washington Post made a bold choice: implement the upgrade so seamlessly that it requires no changes to workflow. From the coverage:

Deciding the best practical test was to wait for reaction, Conner didn't tell staff or advertisers about the new app ahead of its deployment.

"Two to three weeks after we implemented it, I received a comment from our photo department about how much better the photos were printing," he said. "This has been a win-win."

Advertisers also took notice, according to Bugg.

"Of course, the potential reaction from advertisers was really important to us," he said. "And we've actually seen improvements and had a lot of positive feedback."

This story demonstrates an exceptional commitment to stakeholder satisfaction: upper management is pleased because of a reduction in costs; staff has an improved product without any change in routine; customers are positive about the increased printing quality of their advertisements. As it sounds, it would benefit other organizations to study this event as a best practice for enhancing in-house technology.

At AccelaWork, we remind organizations that sometimes the best way to make a change is to ensure it doesn't require change from others. Process improvement and workflow management is about embracing routines, not disrupting established patterns. If you are considering adopting a new software package, even for only a few people, contact our productivity consultants.

Email Productivity

You might lose your job for any number of reasons, but being fired is usually connected to a major mistake. One New Zealand woman, however, was terminated because of her use of the caps lock key

According to an article that had been printed in The New Zealand Herald:

An Auckland accountant was sacked for sending "confrontational" emails with words in red, in bold and in capital letters.

Vicki Walker, who was a financial controller with ProCare Health, has been awarded $17,000 for unfair dismissal, and plans to lodge an appeal for further compensation.

Walker said they talked about a number of emails she had sent, yet used only one in evidence. The email, which advises her team how to fill out staff claim forms, specifies a time and date highlighted in bold red, and a sentence written in capitals and highlighted in bold blue. It reads: "To ensure your staff claim is processed and paid, please do follow the below checklist."

It's not possible to know the entire story from one news article, but the premise is still fascinating. Does the use of uppercase letters, bold text and bright colors have a significant influence in stakeholder satisfaction?

It would seem that ProCare Health feels the answer is yes. We at AccelaWork would have to agree—not with the decision to sack Ms. Walker, of course, but with the notion that the way we produce messages influences the productivity and satisfaction of the recipient. According to the article, Ms. Walker "had contributed to disharmony in the workplace," so the real question here is not why Ms. Walker chose to utilize such highlighted text, but instead, why its emphasis offended her colleagues and employer to such a serious extent? We have covered and issue similar to this before about employee productivity in the digital era. The ordeal Ms. Walker and ProCare Health dealt with was an example of emotional contagion.

Usually, the true intentions behind written or spoken words are intended to be helpful and effective. However, actual meanings can be skewed through alternate interpretations. The way an individual perceives particular communication is often entirely different than what was meant originally—especially when it comes to email. We have noted before that cryptic messages and worker productivity have a polarizing effect, often resulting in an uneasy and potentially counterproductive environment. Don't allow miscommunication to negatively influence harmony between stakeholders. Contact our Indianapolis consultants today to learn more about how we can help.

Tape-Free Business Improvement Solutions

Visit any television station and you are likely to see racks filled with videotapes. Finding, loading, playing, rewinding and re-shelving this media is a workflow that is no longer required.

A press release posted on a broadcast industry news site reports:

Igor Orlo, First Deputy Head of the Department of Production and Technology at VGTRK, said: “Unlike low-end media servers that rely on PC-based platforms, the Omneon MediaDeck media server is engineered to provide mission critical reliability and performance tailored to the specific demands of broadcast operations. In our transition from tape-based operations to a file-based workflow, the Omneon systems allowed our stations to accelerate and optimise content production, from ingest to media preparation to playout.”
Between the industry jargon and the product names, it’s a little challenging to follow the quote above; however, the essential fact is that the company made a “transition from tape-based operations to a file-based workflow.” In the fast-paced world of television, moving from tapes to files can save serious time, frustration and money.

Even if you've never worked at a television station, it’s easy to see how workflow, based on videotape, creates challenges. Footage recorded on the scene must be physically transported back to an editing station; it cannot be sent via the Internet like a file. Only one person can work on a tape at one time, unlike a file which can be copied with virtually no expense or overhead. Tapes wear out with repeated use, but a qualified systems administrator can keep safe backups. And of course, the editing process itself is much easier without videotape. There’s no need to wait to “rewind” a file!

If your office or operation contains videotape, you should consider moving to a file-based workflow. But whatever your information—whether it is stored on paper invoices, printed intake forms, telephone conversations or whiteboards—the most effective way to improve productivity and satisfaction is to improve the sequence and manner of handling work. Every organization, from TV stations to doctor’s offices to non-profits, deserves the chance to make positive changes to workflow. For more information, contact our workflow consultants at AccelaWork.

Four Employee Productivity Revelations

A blogger named Adrian Try has documented four lessons that helped optimize his workflow. All his ideas come from one source: thinking carefully about the process of work.

The article in offered these gems:

  1. Boundaries and Deadlines Can Be Motivating
  2. I Can Stay Focused Longer by Pacing Myself
  3. I Must Be Ruthless Handling Interruptions
  4. I Can Effectively Utilize Spare Moments
Each of the author's points come from a reflection on a personal story. For example, he noted that:
Early in the second week [of the school year], I randomly woke at 6:00 am. I decided to get up and start work. By the time I took the kids to school I had done two hours of solid work, which made a big dent into my work for that day. I finished the bulk of my day’s work before I picked them up from school. Psychologically, that made a big difference. I could enjoy my evening without having to worry about undone work.
These workflow revelations all come from one central idea: thinking about work. AccelaWork calls this process metawork, which is the process of studying the nature, purpose, function and outcome of individual actions at the workplace. The suggestions that Adrian Try offered might seem obvious, and yet, how many of us are as actively managing our time and interruptions? By analyzing his own workflow and writing the essay, the author was able to describe real changes that had a tremendous positive impact on productivity and satisfaction.

At AccelaWork, we help companies and non-profit organizations change the structure of work so that metawork is part of the routine. We provide training and tools to help employees discover the challenges in their own workflow and identify ways to make improvements. If you are ready to find your own list of revelations, don't hesitate: contact our business consultants today!

Worker Productivity and Cutting Costs

In an anonymous opinion piece, one former employee explains how a reduction in expenses destroyed productivity and morale. Mark down another incident for the law of unintended consequences.

The following quote comes from the Adventures in IT column in Infoworld:

Here's the kicker: Because analysts and admins were now employees of different vendors, we were forbidden by our respective management to speak to each other directly. All communication was to be done via the tracking database in the tickets that were created by the out-of-state help desk. Since most of us were physically located in the same complex, it was an extremely frustrating situation. There were several times when an issue would come across our desk and we could see the guy at the other end of the cubicle farm who could resolve it, but we were forbidden to take it to him directly.
On the one hand, there's a certain beauty to a business operation that is so efficient and cleanly segmented that it can be completely outsourced. But as we documented in our post on employee productivity during Remote Work Week, shifting tasks so they occur in different locations is more complicated than writing a memo. Management might reduce costs, but how much will savings increase frustration and negatively impact employee success?

The story from Infoworld refers to an IT department; however changes in productivity and stakeholder satisfaction due to cost cutting occur in virtually every department. If your organization is thinking about reducing expenses, consider reaching out to our business consultants at AccelaWork. We help companies make sure that cutting costs does not lead to an unexpected decline in productivity and satisfaction.

Employee Productivity Through Paperless Solutions

When the City of Langford realized they had too much paper, they did not choose to buy more file cabinets. Instead, they established an new, all-digital workflow.

People have been talking about the "paperless office" for years. For this to become a reality, an organization must not only convert all existing files to a digital format, but all incoming paper needs to be scanned as well. According to an article from IDG:

Before starting this transition in 2003, the City had a very manual and paper-based approach that, according to Mike Palmer, the City of Langford IT manager, "used to be walk to file room and retrieve a paper file and take it back to your desk."

Scanning all incoming documents resolved the physical space issue but using network scanners to do the job was proving too much a burden on the devices, recalls Palmer.

"Because we were growing so quickly as a city, we had so much paper coming in and that was overwhelming our input capabilities," he said.

Improving workflow requires more than just using advanced technology. In addition, stakeholders must have both authority and responsibility over the changing environment. Another quote from this story hints at this challenge:
But the initiative wasn't just about scanning and storing paper documents. The goal was to ensure City employees could easily and quickly retrieve the files. Instead of using a third party file storage vendor, the City used Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server and workflow engine AutoStore, developed by HP partner Rockville, MD.-based Notable Solutions Inc., so that all scanned content could be indexed.

The document management workflow at the City of Langford is scalable such that the new version of the software, to which the City plans to upgrade, will support new PDF standards. And, new devices can be easily added to the network, said Palmer.

These quotes make it seem like the improvements are centered around technology, not people and process. A stated goal is to ensure that the software infrastructure can be readily upgraded. But what about making positive changes to the actual procedures, not just replacing paper files with electronic versions?

As we covered before in our blog about worker productivity, there is more to good management than making swift decisions. A paper-free office is probably more efficient, but it is much more important to work with stakeholders to discover what impacts their productivity and satisfaction. Having the most efficient operation in the world without understanding the nature of the work is like taking a high-speed train—in the wrong direction.

At AccelaWork, we help companies and non-profit organizations improve workflow. We believe that becoming more effective and more efficient does not require new technology as much as it requires the empowering and engaging of individuals. If the people in your office feel satisfied, productive and connected through their work, then the whole operation will thrive. For more information on ways to improve workflow without expensive technical solutions, contact our Indianapolis consultants. We look forward to helping you improve your business.

Worker Productivity Questioned

A woman named Amanda Hite had made a routine visit to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. While waiting in line, she noticed an employee playing computer solitaire—and managed to snap a picture with her cellphone camera.

Amanda Hite posted a comment on Twitter, along with this grainy photograph:

This evidence might be connected to any number of explanations. Perhaps a BMV worker was on a break and taking a few minutes to relax, or the screen was left on from a previous shift. However, Ms. Hite probably took the photograph out of frustration. Most people already perceive government offices as fairly inefficient. Many would argue that the image shows our tax dollars are wasted on video games. Does one fuzzy photograph really prove incompetence and laziness at the BMV?

We all know that one quick picture from a cellphone camera is not enough to make sweeping generalizations. Maybe one employee did goof off for a few minutes and just happened to be caught. But this story should remind everyone who works in business, government or non-profits that customers are stakeholders too. The BMV may not have much competition for renewing drivers licenses, but what if Amanda Hite had snapped the same picture while in a long line at the bank? If someone appears to be unproductive, others will assume they are not actually getting anything done. It may be a bad idea to try and look busy, but looking bored is often even worse.

At AccelaWork, we help organizations improve stakeholder satisfaction and productivity by looking  beyond employees to include customers. We investigate beyond appearances to discover which processes work effectively and efficiently. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should ban computer solitaire. Instead, organizations must carefully assess how stakeholders perceive the actions of others.  For more information, contact our business consultants. We help operations increase both the perception and reality of productivity.

Business Consulting Advice: Try Saying "No"

Want some business consulting advice that might surprise you? AccelaWork principal Robby Slaughter appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal with some thoughts on a very small word.

From Learn how to say 'no' at work:

For most Hoosiers, work is the process of accepting responsibility. Ambitious employees actually pursue more duties, perhaps because they believe putting in long hours is the fastest route to promotion and career advancement.

Whether we do so out of fear, greed or a sense of duty, relentlessly volunteering for more work is one of the worst choices we can make at the office. Instead, we must bring back a term we’ve intentionally forgotten: the word “no.”

Slaughter explains that "saying no" is actually a way to be more productive at work:

[Saying yes] ignores perhaps the most fundamental aspect of modern work: specialization. The human resources specialist is not an information technology expert; the graphic designer is not an account manager; the receptionist is not a sales representative; and the vice president of finance is not a copy editor.

Yet when you ask a cube-mate to look at something wonky on your computer, to e-mail the client with an update, to call a prospect with a new promotion, or to edit your memo to the board, you are unconsciously denying their years of effort in becoming a highly focused expert. You are requesting they do something they really don’t know how to do.

Try it yourself. Become more productive by saying no more often. As writer Josh Billings once quipped: "Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough."

Reach out to AccelaWork for more business consulting advice.

Process Improvement and School Principal Workflow

Greg Carroll is a elementary school principal in New Zealand. Despite this position of authority and respect in his community, he still spends much of his day focused on effectiveness and efficiency.

Most of us would rather never visit the principal's office. But according to one of Carroll's blog posts, this is the place where he spends most of his productive time:

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking recently about managing workflow.  All school leaders have an infinite amount of work to do.  There is always the tension between the important and the urgent.

He then lists a dozen techniques that help him to stay focused. Many of these are based around technology, but a few ideas are much more fundamental.

For example, Principal Carroll has his email configured to "only check once an hour to reduce distractions."  He also reports, "I TRY to keep my desk as clear as possible." And although he lists software gadgets and fancy, hi-tech toys, Greg Carroll has a notebook: "A good old spiral bound analogue notebook.  And I use this to keep all the business cards, notes, scribbles, etc that I need to keep track of.  Lots of stuff glued in."

Although many of his suggestions are full of technical jargon, the most powerful ideas for improving workflow require consciously thinking about work. The Methodology Blog has covered this before, but from a employee productivity revelations for freelance software developer instead of an elementary school principal. We have shown how a clean workspace can actually increase productivity.

We have reviewed how clear diagrams written on old-fashioned paper can improve organizational productivity and make complex ideas into a business map. To become more effective and more satisfied at the office, we should emulate this elementary school administrator: evaluate, document and improve the tools and procedures by which we conduct our work.

AccelaWork helps organizations overcome tactical challenges. And while we respect the work of our friends down under, most of our efforts are focused here in the Midwest. If you are buried in email, mired in bureaucracy, constantly "reinventing the wheel" or just generally feeling overwhelmed, reach out to our Indianapolis consultants today. We can assess the challenges in your workplace and help you develop and execute a plan to transform your business.

Business Lawsuit of the Century

In today's society, ambition has many definitions. To a man named Dalton Chiscolm, it's defined as $1.78 septillion dollars.

In a news article printed this week, Chiscolm is suing Bank of America due to problems with depositing some of his checks. In retribution to the damages he's suffered, he's requesting not only a huge amount of money, but also that it be paid in twenty-four hours time. Perhaps to the defendant, this request is reasonable; however, to break it down logically, $1.78 septillion equates to "30 billion times the world's total GDP of $60 trillion."

If Bank of America agreed to pay what its customer is asking, it would wipe out the bank's $196 billion in common equity 9.1 trillion times over.

According to Reuters, Chiscolm was unhappy because Bank of America would not deposit some of his checks due to problems with their routing numbers. And his efforts to solve the problem with the help of a "Spanish womn" were unsatisfactory. Chiscolm's lawsuit requests damages for his suffering, specifically, he asks that "1,784 billion, trillion dollars" be deposited into his ATM account the next day. He also demanded an additional $200,164,000."

This is not his first lawsuit. In Janaury 2009, Chiscolm sued his landlord for $892 million billion dollars -- or $892 quadrillion. In his January complaint, Chiscolm alleged that "Manerment nor mainterntmen had no atcuse's to go in my apartment what so ever I had to keep a lock no the kichen cabernit." The court dismissed his complaint.

This story, as far-fetched as it is, has a valuable lesson: too much ambition creates impossible goals and can tarnish a reputation. In Chiscolm's case, regardless of the backlash or inconvenience he suffered at the hands of Back of America, his story and request have become a target of sarcasm in national news rather than treated as a serious claim.

Confidence and ambition are important. There are a couple of quotes about basketball that illustrate this well.

“Confidence is everything in this game, if you don’t think you can, you won’t”Jerry West

“Confidence is what happens when you’ve done the hard work that entitles you to succeed” – Pat Summitt

As Pat Summitt's quote shows, you have to plan and work before you can succeed. Confidence, while important, isn't enough on its own. Every NBA player needs to go out on the court thinking they can hit every shot they take, or else there's no way for them to be effective. But that doesn't mean players should be throwing up half court shots when a defender is right next to them, especially when that isn't something they practiced and prepared to do. The same ideology should go toward your business. You want to be confident and ambitious, but you also need to know your boundaries. Find a goal that works for your business, without having ridiculous expectations, not only for where your entire organization is headed, but for those you're working with. If you set up a process that paints the picture of you not knowing what you're doing, no one is going to respect the goals you've set.

As The Methodology Blog has covered before, drastic process improvement measures involve making a decision without first recognizing potential outcomes inevitably decreases the chance for success. By examining all angles of a decision first, and keeping a level head in regards to reasonable options will help you discover an appropriate pathway that leads to opportunity and eventual success. If the methods used in reaching your current business goals seem over your head, talk to the consultants at AccelaWork today. We'll help bring those goals within reach by building processes that make sense.

Email Productivity and Reactionary Workflow

Over at the American Express OPEN Forum, writer Scott Belsky feels that we spend too much time reacting. Instead of working intently, we simply "battle the unyielding flow of incoming information."

Belsky's article explained his premise:

Without realizing it, most of us have entered the new era of what I have come to call “reactionary workflow.” Rather than being proactive with our energy, we are acting in response to what is incoming. We have relinquished control of our focus. It has become harder and harder to embark on our work with intention.
There's no question that we all face a barrage of interruptions which prevent us from effectively planning and creating our time. To address this Belsky offers what has become the standard advice:
How to avoid a life of reactionary workflow? It all starts with some discipline (and imposing some blockades around your focus). I have interviewed a number of people who literally quit (or minimize) their email program at certain times during the day. Piers Fawkes, founder and editor of PSFK, actually reserves his morning – from 7-10am every day – to do research and digest the day’s trends/news prior to going through his email. Impose some discipline on yourself to ensure that adequate time is spent on proactively creating stuff (rather than just responding!).
We have commented before on the problem with worker productivity tips and employee productivity shortcuts. Turning off your email program is good advice, but it's not nearly as powerful as changing your perspective on email. Individuals who want to be more productive need to take authority and responsibility over their own workflow. Such a step inevitably impacts others and assists in developing reasonable expectations together.

If you work in an organization where people expect you to respond to emails within the hour, then turning off your email program will negatively impact your career. Instead, work with your colleagues to develop a reasonable policy that enables you to become more productive. At AccelaWork, we work with stakeholders to develop these systems.  Contact our Indianapolis consultants today to learn how to combat reactionary workflow.

Sarcasm Can Be Used To Reveal Frustration

Social networking websites like Facebook enable people to communicate easily with friends, family and colleagues. They can also document feelings of anger and resentment with work.

The following screenshot reveals a conversation between some Facebook friends. Names have been hidden and photos changed to protect the identify of those involved:

worker productivity and facebook
As social media becomes more and more prevalent, people are going to take to it with all sorts of ideas. Nothing seems to be off limits. Posts about sports, politics, religion, and everything in between can be found on your timeline. It seems that many people still fail to realize that whatever you post online is permanent. It can be shared all over the web, even if you think your accounts are all listed as "private". Which then makes things extra interesting when some people take to the social media sphere to complain about work.
The discussion starts with a proposal for a night out on the town on October 9th. It ends when one participant notes that he cannot commit to anything without checking his work schedule, which apparently his supervisors have yet to announce as of October 1st. That's a pretty quick turnaround, even if the schedule is out the next day.

It's always difficult to know what is actually happening based on limited information, but any number of factors could be at play. Perhaps the schedule has already been defined, but there has been a delay in publication. Perhaps a sudden change in personnel or availability has caused the posted schedule to be revoked. The sarcastic tone of the final comment, however, implies this is a recurring problem. The employee is neither surprised nor sympathetic. He's simply frustrated that he can't make plans for Friday night a week in advance.

Plenty of organizations institute social media policies saying what their employees are allowed to post when it comes to work. That is not the point of this blog post. Rather, we believe that if people are posting their complaints on social media, then things are far beyond a level where policies can be effective. In the situation the employee above has a valid point. He should know his schedule to know if he can make plans in a week. However, that hasn't happened. Now it's very likely that the employee hasn't gone to his employer to express his frustration with this on-going situation. There's a chance this could be because the employee is unwilling to communicate. But it's much more likely that the employer hasn't fostered a work environment where employees feel comfortable in voicing their opinions.

If you don't feel like your opinion will be valued, or worse, will cause you to face negative repercussions, then of course you aren't going to go to your boss with a complaint. But that doesn't mean the complaint is going to go away. Rather, it's just going to simmer under the surface until work performance declines or the employee heads off to greener pastures. If you're in charge of your organization, you need to make sure that you're going to create a situation where any complaints are brought to you before they're taken to a Facebook comment thread. Not from the sense of keeping the complaints quiet, but rather from the sense of working to empower your stakeholders, from top to bottom.

Organizations need to hear these kinds of comments from stakeholders. Individuals should be empowered to discuss opportunities to improve satisfaction and productivity, and to actually implement positive changes to their work environment. For more information, contact our business improvement consultants here at AccelaWork. We love to help companies improve employee communication and overall effectiveness.

Airline Baggage Packages May Not Be A Deal

To keep passengers in the skies, airlines will do just about anything. That was why United Airlines offered a "deal" for checked bags.

According to an article on AOL finance, the $249 annual program allows subscribers to carry on two bags per flight with no additional costs. For frequent travelers who regularly dish out additional money in baggage fees this scenario might be a good bargain. You simply calculate the amount of extra baggage fees you'd pay in a year and see if it's more or less than $249. Yet, as the article pointed out, perhaps the package is bogus to begin with:

United promotes Premier Baggage as "a great gift for any frequent flyer," but it's more likely that most of the airline's customers won't get past the bald-faced effrontery of this move. Historically, checking two pieces of baggage had been free. That changed back in June 2008, when United began charging for the first piece of baggage, with the justification was that doing so would help it offset the rising price of fuel. However, like so many of these fees, the charge for the first piece of checked baggage not only outlasted the fuel price spike but managed to actually increase. Now, by offering a yearly subscription rate, the carrier is telling consumers that luggage charges aren't only here to stay but that United is planning to exploit them as much as possible

One of the most irritating aspects of the new program is that it exposes the airlines' fee strategy as a very pricey con game. While the new service won't cover charges associated with overweight or oversize bags, it encourages United's customers to get their money's worth by packing at least two bags on every flight. Admittedly, the airline is probably counting on customers to sign up for the program but not actually use it. Even so, United is sending the message that the link between baggage weight and fuel consumption -- the very reason cited for baggage fees, overweight fees and other charges -- is effectively meaningless. In so doing, it casts a great deal of doubt on its own pricing structure.

As many have seen and experienced through the current recession, generating business is difficult. Yet, just as important to the success of a business—and just as difficult—is maintaining existing relationships. As we have covered before, situations with business consultants where fees and pricing structures are debatable often frustrate stakeholders.

We'd like to say this situation was the only weird pricing technique airlines have tried, but the truth is far from that.  Various airlines tout themselves as having the best pricing, but with all the hidden fees and random charges, it's really hard to tell who is ever the best value. No one is ever happy when they think they're going to be paying one price and the actual charge ends up being far higher than that. But even worse can be when the reasoning given for a certain price turns out to be untrue. While airlines may really have a justification for charging more in fuel with more bags, programs like this cast a serious level of doubt onto those claims.

At AccelaWork, we believe that one of the greatest threats to any new business venture is goals which have lasting, negative effects on current clientele. Of course, maintaining a bottom-line and turning a profit are key to the success of business, but these should not be at the expense of those stakeholders who fund the business as clients. If you're looking to simultaneously improve business and customer relations, contact our business improvement consultants today.

Business Improvement Process and Collaboration Failure

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but can often seem frustrating. A software product inadvertently demonstrated the challenge of collaborating with others through a PC.

The topic was covered in post called True Collaboration Via the Cloud:

One of the reasons that collaboration is so difficult is that in order to bring everything together in a manageable way, IT organizations have to spend an inordinate amount of time first integrating about a dozen technologies with about a half-dozen applications. Then they have to support all the custom integration on an ongoing basis.

Although this statement helped to advertise a new product that addressed the issue, it demonstrated one of the key problems of most software applications. Instead of enabling workflow among different stakeholders that exchange and produce different kinds of information, programs usually offer self-contained features. A simple example is copy and paste. How many of us use this crude feature to manually complete work tasks because programs cannot talk to each other?

Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Solow once wrote that "You can see the computer age everywhere except in the productivity statistics." This claim seems as true today as when he first stated it back in 1987. The path to improving productivity with computers is not in training or in new software, but in understanding the business process models and adapting to the capabilities and limitations of the machines. This is what we do for clients at AccelaWork every day. Contact our business consultants to learn more.

Business Improvement Solutions That Are Fun

Our daily routines consist of normal activities like climbing the stairs and throwing away trash. What happens if we try to make these boring tasks more fun.

In this first video, a seemingly normal trash can is transformed through some gadgetry (direct link):

Here's a clip of people discovering something unusual about stairs at a subway entrance:  (direct link):

Both of these experiments are part of a program by Volkswagon called The fun theory. The car company offers a simple explanation:

We believe that the easiest way to change people's behavior for the better is by making it fun to do.
The two videos use custom technology to positively influence the way people behave, but the premise does not necessarily require anything so complex. Any environment—even the workplace—can be improved by making routine tasks more enjoyable through something cheerful and unexpected. More importantly, doesn't real productivity at the office seem intimately connected with the satisfaction of a job well done? A little joy is always welcome, whether it comes from completing a task or from an outside factor.

At AccelaWork, we believe that there is no greater power than stakeholder satisfaction.  If you care about your work and derive happiness from starting, doing and completing each project, there is no limit to what you can achieve. Sometimes, all that is needed to improve outcomes is a desire to make the process more pleasant. Contact our consultants today!

Employee Retention Through Fulfilling Work

"Fun" was a hot topic on the web that we here at AccelaWork looked into. But how can we enjoy work when our assigned tasks are boring?

Our post on business improvement solutions introduced "the fun theory" as a way to change behavior by making everyday activities more pleasant through unexpected changes. A post on Trizle discussed How to Make Work Fun:

Imagine 5-year-old Cinderella. Cinderella hates basketball, but you have to make her better or you die. What in the whole wide world do you do?


You start thinking about some management concepts you read in some business book you read.

  1. So, you try motivating her: "Hey Cinderella! You can do it!"
  2. You try bribing her with gifts: "I'll give you cookies if you practice!"
  3. You try putting fear into her: "I'm going to tell on YOU!"
But, Cinderella doesn't budge; she still finds basketball boring.

You're about to die. What do you do?

The suggestion from Trizle is to add measurement: make it a game using points and suddenly there's a reason to work. They claim that competition will inspire Cinderella to shoot hoops:
Make it a game, then keep score.
  • "Cinderella, I'm going to time you for 1-minute to see how many shots you can make."
  • When that's done, "Cinderella, I'm going to time you for another minute to see how many shots you can make."
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
A more motivated Cinderella starts trying to beat her high scores every time. Quickly:
  • You get her more engaged.
  • You increase her confidence.
  • You make her internally motivated to amplify her skills.
Games addict peeps because peeps try to beat their high scores every time they play.
But yesterday's article from the Work Happy Now! blog, How to Find Meaning in Tedious Work, offers a strikingly different perspective:
Great work makes me feel like I have a purpose.

This emotional connection to fulfilling work makes me happy, and these feelings then go beyond me.

On the opposite spectrum, if I’m doing work that I can’t connect with then I’m extending my frustrated feelings beyond myself.

Several years ago, I was the caretaker of large property. I essentially mowed grass for a living. It paid the rent, but I viewed the work as pointless because the grass was only going to grow back. I remember thinking to myself, I’ll just have to do it all over again in two weeks. By thinking these thoughts, I attached my feelings of meaninglessness to my effort. I only upset myself more by extending my negative feelings, and I was unable to see the greater good of my actions.

If I could have found a connection to how cutting someone’s grass mattered beyond my own feelings, I could have felt happy about my work. I could have viewed my grass cutting work as a way to help people feel proud of their home. I know I would have enjoyed the thought of helping people appreciate their home, and this would have helped me appreciate my own actions. Instead of focusing on the fact that the grass would just grow back in two weeks, I could have focused on the positive reactions of the property owners when they pulled into their driveway and saw the perfectly cut grass.

Each of these sources propose a different fundamental approach to making work fun:
  1. The fun theory - Change the mechanics of the routine around boring work to inspire joy.
  2. The score theory - Make boring tasks exciting and competitive by adding a scoreboard.
  3. The attitude theory - If a task seems unimportant or meaningless, focus on positive outcomes of work.

All three ideas have merit, but each tells you more about the stakeholder than anything else. People who subscribe to the fun theory thrive on the idea of unexpected happiness. Individuals who find the score theory appealing enjoy games, contests and the thrill of winning. Those who prefer the attitude theory are most interested in the power of positive thinking. All these techniques should be considered for ways to improve the process of work, as all have the same basic premise: stakeholders should have permission to enjoy what they do.

Redesigning workflow to increase satisfaction is not always an easy task. Leverage the fun theory, but be careful your worker productivity isn't called into question. Try adding a scoreboard to a boring task to improve the business improvement process. Think happy thoughts, but understand the capabilities and limitations of positive thinking for employee satisfaction. If you're ready to learn more about the connection between joy and productivity at work, speak to the experts. Contact our business consultants at AccelaWork today!

Workplace Productivity From Dilbert

The concept of workflow and its impact on productivity is often highlighted on our blog. The classic workplace comic strip, Dilbert, had an interesting take on the subject.

From the official Dilbert website (direct link):

worker productivity from Dilbert

One would hope that typical workplace brainstorming sessions tackle issues more constructively! Comparing office tasks to chickens working for pellets may seem analogous to utilizing the newest program or process to complete more work. The outcome of the upgrade is appealing, particularly to upper management whose main objective is to increase the overall success of a company. After all, more work completed in a less time means more business, more money and greater clout. Right?

To those responsible for the conducting the process—and whose jobs depend on it—the thought of improvements can be terrifying, especially if it means eliminating the job altogether.  In the end, employees in such compromising positions may spend more time dwelling on the stress that comes with the delivery of a pink slip rather than the quality and creativity of their work. So the inevitable question becomes, how can an increase in productivity through streamlined processes benefit all parties involved?

AccelaWork believes that the key is to value all aspects of a process, employee and management alike. As we talked about before regarding worker productivity, "You are more than the sum of your tasks and responsibilities—you are a force for creativity, a source of commitment and limitless potential. A machine might enable you to finish rote tasks faster but it cannot replace brilliance and instinct." During process reengineering, all stakeholders must remember that individual contribution should be valued not just because of the time spent completing a process, but also for the time spent creating and nurturing the process.

AccelaWork delivers more than just tangible solutions: we provide in-depth investigation and focused attention. We view stakeholder satisfaction as essential to the creation and retention of productivity. Therefore, to us, who better to focus on then those employees who are key to positively evolving productive workflow. If your company wants to expand time for employee innovation and decrease hours spent on monotonous tasks, ask for help. Contact our Indianapolis consultants today.

Worker Productivity and Micromanagement

A noted writer and speaker had a message to the micromanagers of the world. That message was: "stop it."

Here are a couple of great quotes from his recent post:

Good managers are brave, and generous with trust in their people. The want them to mature in their judgment and grow in their skills, preferring to err on the side of trusting too much than trusting too little. They take pleasure in letting go and giving power away to their staff, accepting that when someone who works for them shines, they shine too.

But if you do not enjoy these things, and struggle to trust your staff, or can’t bear to see a decision made or reward earned without your name all over it, you should stop managing people.


Even if you are 30% better at a task than someone who works for you, the time it takes for you to check on them every few hours, and demand approvals over trivial decisions, costs more in lost morale, passion for work, and destruction of self-respect among your staff than the 30% you think you’re adding.  No one works well if they feel they are being treated like an idiot child. Having two people involved in work that should only require one wastes everyone’s time.


An easy test of micromanagement is to let your team know you are confident in their ability to do their job and offer, if they wish, that you will be less involved in their day to day work to give them more room to perform. Tell them you are available if they need you, but otherwise you will put some of your attention elsewhere. See what happens. Hold your tongue. Don’t demand to review that email. Don’t insist on regulating who can meet with who. Take one small step backward and see what happens.

Odds are extremely good the world will not end.

There are so many wonderful aspects to Berkun's essay, but let's just focus on key concept. Ultimately, he clearly recognizes that great management is not about controlling work but about enabling work to be done.

Unfortunately, most of us have more experience being micromanaged than we do in self-assessment of our own management style. Although we might like to anonymously send our boss a letter like this, what advice is there for us? Here are some thoughts for workers under the corporate microscope:

Dear Micromanaged Employee,

I know work is tough. It seems like every task you do your boss has to double check, whether there are errors or not. Not a half an hour goes by without a manager or team member dropping by your cubicle to discuss the status of a current project. The phone rings constantly, and if you don't answer, people wonder where you are. You feel micromanaged.

It might seem like the only options are to quit or to endure. But you can take actions that will help to improve your situation.

Most importantly, try to understand the motivations of those who seem to dominate your time and belittle your work. Are they fearful? Distrustful? Obsessive? Respond by finding ways to allay their concerns. Structure your work and your communication about your work to help demonstrate that these feelings are not needed.

Second, measure your own work to show your improvement. Each time someone checks on your progress, make a note of the time, duration, project and conversation. If you're speaking with your boss an average of 7 times a day at an average 6 minutes for each conversation, share this information with your boss and suggest that you actively schedule a brief meeting every hour on the hour. Explain how you want to improve the quality of your work, and so hopefully you will be able to reduce the frequency of these meetings over the coming weeks.

Finally, remember that all people love to feel important. If people are constantly checking on your work, recognize their expertise by repeatedly seeking their approval and input. With genuine respect, schedule time with them before they can interrupt you. These requests for their expertise may start out fruitful, but eventually you will no longer need to meet so frequently. Thank them for teaching you how to improve. Praise them for their guidance and support. And then, get back to work.

Warmest regards,

A Formerly Micromanaged Employee

Productivity Growth From A Writer's Prospective

There's a process for everything. An organized methodology can make almost anything more effective, including writing a murder mystery novel.

Over at the Type M for Murder blog, John Corrigan asked about the methodology of editing:

I've heard many different methodologies regarding manuscript editing: Some authors insist on writing a complete draft before going back, adding details, and flushing out scenes and characters. Other writers edit as they go, making each scene as polished as they can before working on the next so that when they have finished, the book is ready for submission or publication. I've also heard the longhand-versus-computer debate whereby some novelists compose and edit on a computer, while others write longhand, filling tablet after tablet. And there are scribes who combine these two methods: Richard Russo writes longhand on legal pads in the morning, then types his day’s work in the evenings, "editing" as he does so. Perhaps the most unusual method I've heard of is the prose writer who suggested that writers should draft work in single-spaced text but revise after double-spacing the manuscript.

Obviously, each writer does what works best for them.

It seems there are as many stories about the techniques which writers use as they are writers themselves. Novelist John Grisham, for example, wrote The Firm in between the washer and the dryer in his laundry room. Vladimir Nabokov supposedly preferred to write standing up with all of his writing done on index cards. Corrigan's blog post claims that science fiction author Michael Crichton "ate the same food for 90 consecutive days when working on a novel." But the article also asks the most important question: "Is this superstition or methodology?"

Whether we are mystery writers, account executives, marketing specialists, engineers or sales reps, we can benefit from an organized process for our work. This is what AccelaWork calls the practice of methodology engineering, which is the systematic analysis and redesign of organizational procedures, policies and business actions through technical solutions implemented by stakeholders. Yet, as we have covered before, we must determine whether our rituals are just traditions or are part of the business improvement process. Likewise, while we should review what others are doing, consultants should be aware that case studies are not prescriptive, but descriptive. Improving our methodologies requires both learning from others and testing practices on our own.

Writing a novel is an extremely focused form of work, but most businesses routinely produce output which is as rich and complex as a best-selling book. The sum of your efforts is not often a neatly bound volume, but a collection of positive customer experiences. If you want to improve your processes, take the first step. Contact our business consultants to learn more about methodology engineering.

Workplace Productivity and Timed Bathroom Breaks

Heading to the restroom? If you're a call center employee in one government office, you had better be back in three minutes.

As reported by the Australian news site, staff have been told to time their toilet breaks:

Managers ordered all staff to fill out the length of toilet breaks in a "compliance diary", threatening staff who failed to spend 92 per cent of their time on the phone with counselling and disciplinary action.

The call centre staff, who said they felt "bullied and harassed" by the policy, outlined shocking examples of management invading their privacy.

They included team leaders regularly "popping in" while staff were going to the toilet because they were deemed to have taken too long, staff being lectured for failing to enter into a diary a one-minute toilet trip and management suggesting staff only use the bathroom at certain times.

These kinds of stories seem incredulous, but we all know about employers well on their way to measuring time spent in the bathroom. Already many companies require their workers punch a clock in order to pay them down to the minute. Many automatically dock thirty minutes for a lunch break and some employee handbooks outline the number of allowed breaks per work period. Where is the line between filling out a time card and having to count minutes spent in the bathroom?

In some respects, this is another story about worker productivity and micromanagement. The tale of this government office sounds like the Canon Electronics company where employee satisfaction is low thanks to alarms sounding if you walk too slowly. But really, this is an extreme example of our fundamental perspective on work: It's much easier to measure time than to measure results. Everybody can agree on the meaning of an hour, but it's tremendously difficult to agree on the meaning of a job well done.

That doesn't mean that all companies can or should stop paying people by the hour or by the year. Rather, it's a reminder that measuring time is just a poor approximation for understanding work. If you are worried that your organization is struggling with metrics, contact our business consulting firm. We help companies and non-profits find ways to improve processes that respect stakeholders and produce meaningful results.

Productivity In A Can Is Too Good To Be True?

Sick of the jittery aftermath that coffee causes, but still in need of a boost? According to one study, there's a product on the market that provides more than just a pathway to alertness.

Advertised on, FRS ("Free Radical Scavenger") is a trend in "drinkable energy." The advertisement boasts that the product "seemingly ends the quest for an energy boosting solution that's both healthy and effective and, amazingly, seems to also improve people's ability to concentrate and perform better at work."

The purported secret? The antioxidant Quercetin, which is in FRS and supposedly as a viable source of productivity in a recent study:

FRS and a non-Quercetin placebo were consumed daily by two groups of workers at a university over a 3-week period. At the end of the study, the group that received the FRS with Quercetin reported a significant improvement in their level of work performance and their ability to concentrate. They also reported reduced fatigue and reduced feelings of frustration compared to the placebo group.
More information about these free radical scavengers was posted on Wise Geek.
The free radical scavenger is often referred to as an antioxidant. They are generally found in certain foods, primarily dark colored fruits and vegetables like blueberries. These scavengers work by preventing the oxidation process that is required in order for electrons to be passed from one cell to another...

The role of the free radical scavenger is also being tested in the medical field. Various types of antioxidant treatments are being researched which may offer cures for diseases like cancer. The premise is to insert scavengers directly into the affected area, such as a tumor where millions of unstable cells have accumulated, in the hopes that high concentrations of these powerful substances will be able to target diseased cells directly. This would be more efficient at curing disease than more conventional chemical methods because healthy cells would be left intact.

Other ways in which free radical scavengers are useful within the body is in maintaining a youthful appearance and keeping skin vital. Eating antioxidant-rich foods and using lotions with added enzymes or antioxidants may help skin replenish itself more quickly. This helps to prevent wrinkles and sun damage.

Most of that information makes sense, or certainly more sense than a magic productivity cure, though people always seem willing to shell out a little extra money if it means fixing something they view as a gap in their life.

Throughout history, there have been many enticing ploys that promise to make life easier. Everything from diet trends to get rich quick schemes to elixirs that improve mental and physical ability have been advertised as a shortcut to success. Regardless of the product however, an empty guarantee is usually the hidden tagline.

That's why being cautious of "too good to be true" deals is a valuable tool in the quest for success. Rather than falling victim to what the scheme is offering, take the opportunity to reflect on what the scheme is promoting. If you are intrigued by a drink that claims to make you more productive, evaluate why you feel unproductive in the first place. By identifying faulty areas, you can easily recognize the disconnect in the process and restore it accordingly. Improving productivity can be as simple as rearranging your schedule or creating a new way to work. Bottom line: good results come from working hard, working smart, and utilizing reliable, trustworthy resources.

So is this drink just another gimmick or can improved work performance really be consumed through a can? Whether or not its worth a test trial, AccelaWork simply believes, you get what you pay for. Contact our consultants today!

Productivity Growth Takes Risk

Do you have one minute and seventeen seconds? If so, check out a video that made the rounds on the web.

Enjoy the clip below:

Here's a transcript of the video:
Dismissed from drama school with a note that read, "Wasting her time. She's too shy to put her best foot forward." (Lucille Ball)

Turned down by the Decca Recording Co. who said,? "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." (The Beatles)

A failed soldier, farmer, and real estate agent, at 38 years old he went to work for his father as a handyman. (Ulysses S. Grant)

Cut from the high school basketball team, he went home, locked himself in his room and cried. (Michael Jordan)

A teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything and he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. (Thomas Edison)

Fired from a newspaper because he "lacked imagination" and had "no original ideas." (Walt Disney)

His fiancee died, he failed in business twice, he had a nervous breakdown, and he was defeated in eight elections. (Abraham Lincoln)

If you've never failed, you've never lived.

life = risk

All of these individuals were famous for their productivity in their chosen profession. As we have covered before success in worker productivity requires failure. Be prepared to make mistakes as they will lead you to victories. Some people shy away from failure. They won't pursue something because it seems too hard or the risk seems to great. But if any of the people mentioned in the video above had felt that same way, then the world would've been deprived of seeing their great skill and the gifts they left us.

The people in the video aren't the only successful ones to have failed at first. Business Insider has a list of others who could've been included for inspiration. Check out a few more below.

Oprah Winfrey was publicly fired from her first television job as an anchor in Baltimore for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories."

Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times.

Soichiro Honda's unique vision got him ostracized by the Japanese business community.

After having trouble adjusting to the culture and his classes, Dick Cheney dropped out of Yale — and then returned, only to drop out for good.

Sir Isaac Newton's mother pulled him out of school as a boy so that he could run the family farm. He failed miserably.

When Sidney Poitier first auditioned for the American Negro Theatre, he flubbed his lines and spoke in a heavy Caribbean accent, which made the director angrily tell him to stop wasting his time and go get a job as a dishwasher.

In one of Fred Astaire's first screen tests, an executive wrote: "Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little."

The same can be applied to your business. While sure successes may appear to be the right route, very rarely is something great achieved on the first try. Looking into untapped markets, finding innovative ways to work, or sticking your neck out for a cause you believe in is much harder than simply playing it safe. But without those risks, there can't be any real reward.

There's no reason to fear failure. You should embrace it, and even seek it out. Failure is where you learn the lessons needed to succeed later on. And when you view your pursuits through that lens, then it's actually impossible to fail. Rather you're just hitting minor roadblocks and learning points along the route to success.

For more information on this, reach out to our consultants at AccelaWork. We can help your organization tap into its true potential.

Business Consultants Knowing When to Say "No"

At AccelaWork, we're big fans of the little word "no." That's why we love a new article that advises when not to do business.

Seasoned web designer Greg Hoy offered this gem in Getting to No:

Determining which prospects you want to work with is often considered a luxury. Don’t think of it that way. Even if the economy is in the tank and you absolutely need the gig, you should be very critical of the prospects you’re considering working with. These are the people who will become part of your immediate and potentially long-term future, and you want to make sure you don’t spend that time drinking schnapps to get through the day or grinding your teeth at night.

Remember: the prospect you’re considering is the client you’ll have.

The title of Hoy's article was a spin on a popular business book from the early nineties. In Getting to Yes, the authors explained how to negotiate so that all parties benefit as you work toward an agreement. But in Getting to No, haggling over details is a sign that you might want to walk away:
If you ?nd yourself unable to come to terms after negotiating ten versions of your contract with your prospect, or if they keep asking for updated project plans before you’ve even signed an agreement, beware. They may show similar tendencies during the actual project, especially if the people you’re negotiating with are the same people on the project team.

In rare cases, such scrutiny garners better results, but it more frequently results in watered-down, design-by-committee mediocrity.

Even if you're not looking to hire contracts, declining work is an important skill. Our blog has covered consultants saying no to work. Productive work environments arise when we are eager to accept responsibilities we know we can tackle and willing to pass on those better left for others. If you need help knowing when to say yes and when to say no, reach out to our business consultants at AccelaWork. We'll help you learn that two letter word.

Graffiti and Good Behavior

The walls in some public bathrooms seem to attract scribbles and markings. But one researcher found a completely effective method to stop graffiti for practically no cost whatsoever.

The story of Professor T. Steuart Watson is recounted in a newspaper article:

Each day, Watson and his minions meticulously counted how many marks were on each wall.

New graffiti popped up every day, in every one of the restrooms.

But "after treatment was implemented", Watson reveals, "no marking occurred on any of the walls, and they remained free of graffiti at a three-month follow-up". No marking at all. None. Not a jot. Cleanliness uninterrupted. This was complete, utter success.

The treatment was simple: "Taping a sign on the wall that read, 'A local licensed doctor has agreed to donate a set amount of money to the local chapter of the United Way for each day this wall remains free of any writing, drawing, or other markings'."

The success of this project is truly remarkable. These were restrooms where new graffiti appeared every day and where the walls were frequently repainted. The amount of the donation was not included on the sign, so Watson set the amount at a measly five cents per bathroom per day. How could a single piece of paper have such a tremendous influence on behavior?

That same question is posed in the article:

Why was the treatment so very – nay, completely – effective? Watson speculates that "prior to posting the signs, bare walls appeared to function as discriminative stimuli for graffiti, perhaps because it was not apparent that anyone cared. Posting the signs was evidence that a prominent citizen (a doctor) was prepared to pay for results."

"An alternative explanation," he says, "is that the presence of the observers prompted restroom users to refrain from writing on walls."

Both of Watson's theories suggest that the sign influences motivation. If bathroom visitors feel inspired by the donation, they choose not to leave graffiti because it feels good to support the philanthropic cause. If bathroom visitors feel scrutinized by the notion that someone is checking the wall each day, they are acting out of fear and guilt.

We haven't been asked to review the markings in any bathrooms here in Indianapolis. Consultants aren't usually called into to look at that kind of problem. But perhaps we should look not just at the outcome of a situation but the context. Going to the bathroom, after all, is a routine task. This is a "job" that requires a few minutes of our time and is not particularly exciting. Reading the sign encourages bathroom visitors to contemplate the impacts of graffiti, and allows them to take some credit for helping a worthy cause. Going to the bathroom may be a tedious job, but this distraction helps it be a little less boring.

The objective of this study was to cut down on unwanted graffiti. In reality though, the program may have first reduced general malaise or enhanced individual guilt, thus leading to the desired result. At work, we should be conscious of the effects as well as the causes. After all, the office is a place where we actually want employees to be creative. No organization can succeed if the walls always remain bare.

The Flu and the Value of Hearing All Sides

As the swine flu crept up in many homes, schools, workplaces, and public areas throughout our nation, people were starting to fret about securing an H1N1 shot before they ran out. To make matters worse, there was a new controversy on who qualified as "high risk."

According to one article, thousands of prisoners would be vaccinated against the swine flu before the general public.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons and state health officials say more than 45,000 convicts are being considered for the vaccine. They've been targeted by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distribution policy to receive the vaccine.

Texas is the second state to announce it would vaccinate prisoners before vaccinating the general public. Earlier this month, Massachusetts announced it would do the same.

Officials plan to inoculate more than 40,000 correctional officers and medical personnel who work with those prisoners and are also considered to be at high-risk for developing the flu.

To some law-abiding citizens of this nation, losing the potential to receive the shot for their kids or themselves to a prisoner, is unfair. Yet, The Centers For Disease Control disagreed wholeheartedly:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to states listing categories of people who are highest priority for receiving vaccinations against the virulent influenza strain known as swine flu. Christopher Cox, spokesman for the CDC, said the high priority guidance applies to higher-risk people whether they are in a prison, a homeless shelter, a school, or a nursing home.
Spokesman Cox defended the overall decision stating, "What we're looking at is vulnerability to getting sick and dying of H1N1. That's what we're trying to prevent."

As controversial as this subject was, the truth of the matter is, there's no right answer. For those individuals desperate for flu shots for their kids or themselves, their argument cannot be disputed. Yet, to deny certain citizens the right to protect themselves from the flu simply because of their past behavior, also seems unjust. Bottom line, with every situation that involves satisfying the expectations of two opposing positions, an impasse usually forms. And although workplace controversies are rarely a matter of life or death, its important to remember that all sides have ownership in their stance.

The essential path to keep in mind when dealing with seemingly unresolvable rifts between stakeholders, is that arguments are heard and acknowledged. A compromise may not be easily discovered, but airing frustrations in a constructive manner may help stakeholders recognize each others point of view.

The important thing in situations like this is communication. If someone simply says they're going to vaccinate prisoners first, then the rest of the population could very likely have a problem with it. However, if it's explained why those prisoners are at a higher risk, and the plan for when the vaccine will get to the general population, then it's more than likely that most rational people won't have nearly as big of a problem with the situation as they did before they had a full slate of information. By explaining the logic behind the decision, a civil conversation can take place, and a solution that benefits the majority of stakeholders can be found.

As we have covered in the past, employee satisfaction and friction between stakeholders is not detrimental so long as it sparks useful conversation that leads to growth rather than stagnation. Sometimes a respectful conflict can be the optimal way to reach an ideal solution. If your company is wedged between opposing points of view and wishes to bring satisfaction to all parties involved, contact our business consultants today.

Business Process Transformation Through Social Media

AccelaWork presented "Making Social Media Productive" to Rainmaker University. Highlights available here.

The presentation outlines the main challenges of social media and productivity. The interactive talk began with a discussion of some relevant background about social media, including the famous small world experiments, the 90-9-1 Principle and the popular notion that social media is a waste of time. These factors help set the stage for a discussion on social media and productivity because they provide empirical evidence for our connectedness, our tendency to not contribute and the widespread, yet false perception that social media is not productive.

The group then studied definitions of basic terms. First: a reminder that social media is not technology. Although we tend to get caught up in the latest buzzwords and gadgetry, social media is actually the alarming propensity of connection between human beings. This phenomenon is about leveraging the ways we know each other and, in this sense, is not fundamentally new.

Second: a reminder that productivity is beyond action. With any new tool, it's easy to become distracted with activity without making progress. Productivity is the ability to define objectives and meet objectives. To make social media productive, we must move beyond the allure and mystery of the technology as well as beyond the simplicity of being busy. Instead, we need to set goals and then set out to meet them.

Attendees completed a series of worksheets and small group activities designed to help establish objectives. The group then reviewed a few quick case studies of how social media was used to produce a desired result. Participants left the event with take-home materials and ideas for their respective organizations. Hopefully, everyone assembled will be using social media more productively in the weeks and months to come!

AccelaWork offers a shortened version of this and many other presentations. For more information and other course offerings, contact our Indianapolis consultants.

Special thanks to Rainmaker University and Spinweb for facilitating and hosting this event!

Productivity Growth Through a Competitive Edge

According to Barbara Findlay Schenck, contributor to MSN's Business on Main, the three elements that all customers desire are price, quality and speed. Her advice for companies: "deliver on all three fronts to win and keep customers."

In her article, also posted on Entrepreneur, Schenck listed out tips for accomplishing a good business reputation for price, quality and speed:

Be good at everything and great at something Customers expect your business to offer quality at good prices with prompt service, but they don’t expect you to be the market leader on all three fronts.

Strengthen your strongest suit Customers decide where to go for services, products, meals, or whatever else they’re ready to buy based on how well they believe businesses will address their wants and needs. If they aren’t sure what your business does well, they’ll opt for a competitor they trust to give them what they want.

Face and overcome your weaknesses To grow your business, you have to attract customers who may currently think you don’t offer what they want and value.

Take action today If the big guys can adjust their mammoth organizations to meet the market’s want-it-all demands, your nimble small business can certainly do it as well. Go for it!

Reading through, it's not hard to see that these tips can be very useful in gaining business as well as retaining current customers. After all, it comes as no surprise that consumers desire and expect the best. This is particularly true considering that the economy is forcing many businesses to lower prices, increase speed and maintain quality in order to offer a competitive edge.

Yet, as simple as it is to invest much of your time, money and effort into what your company is best at—as the first two tips suggest—perhaps it might be more beneficial to focus on the weaker aspects of your company.

True, these underdeveloped areas don't seem to have much value. They certainly don't help make your business cheaper, better or faster. If they have any role at all, besides subjecting the company to slower productivity, potential failure and vulnerability, it is that old routines are familiar. But as we have covered in the past, business process implementation due to tradition alone is usually not a good reason to keep doing something the same way. If you only focus on where you are already strong, your efforts overshadow the areas where you have the greatest potential for improvement.

As the third and fourth tips suggest, DO face and overcome weaknesses; DO take action today! AccelaWork believes whole-heartedly that winning by failing still improves workplace productivity, no matter how large or small it may be, it is an incredibly proactive way to bring about success. Contact our consultants to learn more.

Productivity Growth Hits a Wall

Over at the Creo Quality Blog, Jon Speer wrote about the frustration of companies that are divided into silos. "Stop building walls", Speer advised, and instead "Figure out how to tear them down."

The article is titled Pass The Bricks. I Need To Make Our Wall Stronger. Here's a great quote from the intro:

Have you ever worked in a company where every functional group had their own “kingdom”? I have. It was frustrating. I've also had the pleasure of consulting for companies where the objective seems to be “How can we screw the other groups?” and communication seems to be discouraged.
Most of us can appreciate the notion that large organizations are divided into smaller groups. These factions often tend to be more political than practical. Sometimes it seems like different managers are vying for control of funds, resources or attention. Sometimes it seems like their goal is to make life more difficult for internal adversaries.

The advice for this situation is so frequently repeated that it has almost lost all meaning: Communication is crucial. The reason we tend to build kingdoms and walls instead of building teams and productive patterns is that we do not effectively discuss what we want and need.

Let us know if you're interested in communicating more effectively. Contact our business consultants at AccelaWork today!

Government Productivity and the Cold War

Over at the Lean Blog, Mark Graban reported on a Wired story about former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Apparently when he ordered secure numeric codes to be placed on the weapons nuclear arsenal, the Strategic Air Command set the passwords to all zeros.

Graban quoted the original Wired article:

When: 1960s

What: Midway through the Cold War, American leaders began to worry that a rogue US officer might launch a small, unauthorized strike, prompting massive retaliation. So in 1962, Robert McNamara ordered every nuclear weapon locked with numerical codes.

Effect: None. Irritated by the restriction, Strategic Air Command set all the codes to strings of zeros. The Defense Department didn't learn of the subterfuge until 1977.

Lean Blog contributor Mark Graban responded directly:
Isn't it amazing to see how clever people can be in working around a top-down management mandate? Would Secretary McNamara been more successful if he had involved all of the stakeholders and gotten buy in instead of issuing an order? How did DoD not know about the "subterfuge"? Because they weren't going to the "gemba"??
There's considerable wisdom in Graban's commentary. He noted, for example, that the decision makers were probably not going to the gemba, a Japanese word roughly meaning "scene of the crime." Graban also wondered if McNamara should have worked with stakeholders instead of sending down another mandate.

However, there's even more going on here than just  the usual issue of top-down management, command and control thinking, and a failure to engage stakeholders on their own turf. The greater question is why did leaders feel that officers might be untrustworthy? After all, the original motivation for the change was due to the concern that a rogue US officer might order a small nuclear strike without proper authority. (It's not clear if this fear came from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, in which actor Sterling Hayden plays this very character.)

To improve process at organizations, we must recognize that workarounds often represent frustration, lack of communication and mistrust. Yet, they are also a fundamental source for improvement: a workaround usually illustrates what stakeholders truly desire. If you need help identifying challenges in your organization, contact our consultants at AccelaWork. We help companies realize that passwords set to "all zeros" illustrate that perhaps there is a better way to design access and control.

Workplace Productivity Through Time Management

The Indianapolis Workshops on Software Testing held a panel discussion on Time Management. Five presenters, including AccelaWork's own founder, took part in the conversation.

Robby Slaughter opened the discussion with a reminder that time management is really about everyday work, balancing focus and interruptions, and finding a system that works for you:

Routine tasks really occupy a well-defined period of our time. They occupy that time we use to focus on our work during the course of our day. They occupy what we think about as our jobs, or the things we do every day.

And although we call it time's not really the time we are trying to manage. Time is not something we can really store up or trade, like money. So instead of trying to manage time, perhaps we should try to manage our focus, and how our focus is taken away from us: as distractions or interrupts.

It's great to study the literature [on time management and find a system], but ultimately everybody's time is their own time, everybody's focus is their own focus. The work that you do in your job—no matter what you do—is mostly what happens when no one is looking. So ultimately whatever system you are going to use, you have to invent and define and expand for yourself.

(A full breakdown of the workshop session is archived at the IWST website and includes some great thoughts by the other speakers. )

While individual time management is crucial, we should ask whether or not the culture and workflow of organization impacts our ability to manage time. The answer is clear: time management is productivity, so company success is limited to the amount of work made possible by the working environment.

Consider the following examples:

If you are struggling with time management, ask yourself if larger challenges in your organization contribute to your personal issues.  It may just be that you need to take control of your calendar and change your individual strategies. We can not only help you manage your time, but better manage the operation which makes time management difficult. Contact our consultants at AccelaWork today!

Employee Satisfaction Meets Customer Service

Customer service, or lack thereof, is an enormous part of thriving in business today. Yet, as one airline employee discovered, people must be cautious with how they respond to frustrated consumers. Otherwise, they may get fired.

An article posted on reported on an American Airlines web designer, anonymously named "Mr. X", who was fired after responding to a dissatisfied customer's complaint. According to the airline, his e-mail to the disgruntled individual "violated a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that he had signed with the airline and that prohibited him from revealing 'sensitive information.'" Yet to Dustin Curtis, the frustrated customer, Mr. X's response was the only positive outcome he received from the company:

AA fired Mr. X because he cared. They fired him because he cared enough to reach out to a dissatisfied customer and help clear the company's name in the best way he could.

Though this story has several points of view and varying issues that can be argued, there is one common factor: disconnect. By reading Mr. Curtis' original letter and Mr. X's email response, you may gather there is an obvious disconnect not only between American Airlines and its customers, but between the airline and its employees as well. As we have covered before, employee retention depends on leadership and bad management can lead to low worker productivity which creates low employee satisfaction. And where there are dissatisfied employees, there are dissatisfied customers.

As cliché as it sounds, if problems persist in a top-down fashion through a company, a sweeping domino effect can occur; leaving all stakeholders at a loss. For Mr. Curtis, his conclusions on how American Airlines operates are reason enough for him to steer clear of becoming a re-occuring customer:

The reason large companies with bad design are the way they are is because they are run poorly from the top, with philosophies that force the entire company to behave like its lowest common denominator. The company ends up making bad products. It ends up treating its customers badly. And if the company is being run by people who don't have taste, it gets stuck. Eventually, the company's brand suffers.
If your company is suffering from issues of competence, which results in a loss of clientele, problems within management or a lack in successful and productive work, contact our business consultants today. We help organizations leverage innovation from the bottom up.

Productivity Improvements in Seven Weeks

Improving your personal productivity requires changing habits. Here are some productivity tips that can help you improve your habits in your professional and personal life.

The secret to making improvements is planning and enacting change. Here are seven tips for seven weeks to get you started:

Week 1: (Today!) Throw Something Away

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, writes that one secret to happiness is "Don't get organized." She writes:
When you're facing a desk swamped in papers, or a closet bursting with clothes, or counter-tops littered with piles of random objects, don't say to yourself, "I need to get organized." Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don't keep it, you don't have to organize it.
This is fantastic advice, not just for your home but your business as well. Start your productivity project by getting rid of something, and try to do this at least once a week through the end of the year. You can toss a piece of paper, throw out unused junk, or decide that you're just not going to pursue that project any more. There aren't many feelings more powerful than having less on your plate. Throw something away so you can focus on everything else!

Week 2: Dedicate Some Time

Every business is different, but all of us can benefit from a recurring appointment in order to work on a critical task. For you, it might be battling email, handling books, returning phone calls or conducting inventory. You may just be behind on trade magazines or your current business book. Pick a task that you wish you spent more time doing, and then go to your calendar and set up a repeating event. Treat it as a dedicated meeting: turn off your phone, close down other applications and explain to your colleagues that you need to focus for this time. Even a mere half hour on a dedicated task can have a tremendous impact on your productivity and sense of well being. Dedicate yourself and watch what happens.

Week 3: Draw a Picture

Didn't expect that coming? Sometimes, we feel the need to "get organized" by writing down our goals or documenting business processes in written form. But often, a visual diagram is a more powerful and more effective way to review, to understand and to plan. Get a few large sheets of paper and some brightly colored markers, and draw. Sketch out a diagram of how some part of your business works, such as the sales process or your customer service plan. Or, draw a picture of something you want to achieve in the next year, whether it's a new location, a new procedure, or a graph showing company growth. Then, hang it up on the wall.

When home-made diagrams are at eye level, they become part of the landscape of our business. We want to make adjustments and modifications. We want to see ideas become reality. We have a visual reference for the way we want our business to operate staring back at us at eye level. And the best way to interact with documents on the wall is to stand up, become active and engaged, and talk about the ideas presented with the rest of the team. A picture may be a worth a thousand words, so a diagram of how your company works hanging on your company's wall beats a million pages of written documentation hiding on a shelf or in a drawer. The difference: this work will actually be read and maintained.

Week 4: Get Happy

Productivity and satisfaction are inextricably connected. If you want to be more productive, you should also try to be more satisfied.

There are a million ways to find momentary happiness. Eat some chocolate. Get a massage. Take a vacation. Read a gossip magazine. The pleasure derived from a moment of relaxation can rejuvenate us so that we can get back to work. But an even better way to find satisfaction is to do something for someone else. Provide some positive affirmation for a co-worker or friend. Give a small, unexpected gift. Offer to help out with a project that helps someone feel less overwhelmed. Satisfaction moves among groups of people in a viral fashion through a scientific phenomenon called emotional contagion. Be happy, make others happy, and leverage that happiness to get more work done.

Week 5: Make Distant Appointments

You can admit it. Next year certainly does not seem like it's right around the corner. If you look at your calendar for the months of next year, most of those days are empty. They are open and unscripted. They are opportunities to do work that you've always dreamed of doing.

Now is the best time to put things on your calendar that seem tremendously important but not particularly urgent. Go reserve a half day six months from now to create the outline for that book you want to write. Block off time to call your referral partners every month, or reserve time for a regular meeting with colleagues. Even if you don't know when others are available, marking down time helps to create something rigorous in your schedule. It's easy to fill an open day with unspecified work. It's hard to ignore an appointment you set ages ago because you made a commitment.

Week 6: Reflect on the Past

It's helpful always help to review the past day, month or year, but getting nostalgic is something that should only be done after you've already made some progress on the present and the future. Set aside time this week to review each of the months of the last year or so. What parts of those months stand out in your memory? Now compare with your financials and your Sent Items folder in your email. Do the records match what you remember?

The purpose of looking back is not to identify where you went wrong, but to see what parts of your life in the last twelve months were most powerful. Don't just repeat the parts that were positive and avoid those that were negative. We need to fail in order to learn how to succeed. Reflect on who you have become over the course of this year. Prepare yourself to grow in the year to come.

Week 7: Write a Detailed Plan

The final component of your preparation should be to lay out a plan for the year. For each quarter, each month, and even each week: write goals. Make these objectives specific, and include numbers wherever possible. A goal for Week 17 might be: "Attend one networking meeting" or "Write a blog post." The detail of 52 individual to-do lists may sound a little excruciating, but it is also liberating. You are forcing yourself to state what is important to you well in advance of doing the work.

However, it's essential that this plan not become a monument to your failure. DeMarco and Lister write that "If the date is missed, the schedule was wrong. It doesn't matter why the date was missed. The purpose of the schedule was planning, not goal-setting." No one knows what the future will bring, so be open to changing the plan! Be prepared to move items or drop them off the list. As President Dwight Eisenhower once noted, "Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable." Get ready for the future, but don't cling to the past.

Final Thoughts

Every day is your day. Every year is your year! Maximize your productivity and satisfaction to achieve more in your business and personal life. Throw things away, dedicate time in your day, draw pictures, get happy, make distant appointments, reflect on the year, and a write detailed plan. That's plenty to do for the next seven weeks. See you then!

A version of this post was also published as a guest blog for Roundpeg, an Indianapolis-based marketing agency.

Worker Productivity Displayed on Twitter

An Indianapolis-based firm announced they had rejected a candidate for an internship. They even explained the mistake: he left a message on Twitter that made it seem like he was goofing off at his current employer.

Nicki Laycoax of Squish Designs made the following comment on the microblogging site Twitter:

worker productivity and twitter

Obviously, it's impossible to know the full circumstances from such a limited amount of information. We don't know if Laycoax merely received an application or if the candidate was already interviewed in person, but it is clear that the words "I'm so productive at work" were interpreted as sarcasm. Laycoax clearly assumes that this individual is wasting time at their current employer and bragging about it, and she is using that information to disqualify the candidate.

We can readily jump to the defense of the accused. Perhaps his current job involved writing movie reviews, so watching the classic 1980 film Caddyshack is a required workplace task. Or maybe the company was rewarding his past efforts and had encouraged him to take some leisure time at the office. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why he was enjoying a Bill Murray comedy while joking about productivity.

However, most people likely sided with Laycoax. On Twitter, she went on to explain that "We have enough on our plates... Def[initely] don't need to stay on top of someone to make sure they aren't slacking." Laycoax also noted that "Small biz & entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. We work too hard & can't carry someone that doesn't display that work ethic."

Laycoax explains her technique and rationale: "I Googled his name...Same thing I do with anyone that inquires. Like to make sure people will mesh well & be dedicated." Laycoax was not unusual in this regard. Checking out applicants online is commonplace, as has been reported by the Seattle Post-Intellegencer and the Chicago Tribune.

Certainly the practice is ethical. Messages on Twitter, Facebook and other websites are generally public knowledge, so employers can use them to screen candidates. The question is whether or not it is advisable.

While we don't know all the details, we can surmise from Laycoax's comments, and our own practical experience, that employees who appear to boast about wasting time at work are probably prone to do so. However, the opposite is not necessarily better: individuals who do not advertise that they are goofing off may in fact just be better at concealing their laziness. They may also be fearful of being misinterpreted and thus are consciously maintaining two lives: one that is work-safe and another that reflects their true personality.

None of these possible scenarios are really that advantageous. Candidates who talk about being unproductive are certainly unproductive at times, but they are also honest.  Candidates who don't admit to being unproductive might be tremendously efficient, but they also might be sneaky or paranoid.  Are any of these hypothetical character traits really that superior?

Most powerful of all is the evidence that goofing off at work actually improves worker productivity. Of course, watching movies all day long is certainly an exception to these findings. Boasting that your employer is paying you to do nothing could be a sign that you lack motivation.  However, taking short breaks does increase productivity. Employees who feel they have authority, responsibility and autonomy are more generally more effective because they are not worried about being micromanaged which affects employee productivity. There's far more power in rewarding results than in marking time which lowers employee satisfaction.

Did Nicki Laycoax and Squish Designs make the right decision by disqualifying this candidate? Probably. They live in a fast-paced work environment focused on the Internet, web development and social media, so individuals that could be construed as lazy might be bad for their image. But it's also poignant to note that although Laycoax attempted to obfuscate the applicant's name with a black box, a quick visit to Twitter's search engine reveals his identity. If the offhand comments of the candidate reveal that he is lazy, does Laycoax's own short message—which only partially masks the identity of the accused—reveal a sliver of carelessness or a lack of technical knowledge in the same area where she issued her judgment?

It is difficult to say, but we can fairly assert that significant business decisions tell us as much about the target as they do about the decision-maker. Laycoax was clearly uninterested in candidates who boast about wasting time at work and she provided good rationale for her actions. She was also devoted to sharing her thought process with the world by broadcasting it online.  She was prepared to make some effort to conceal the name of the rejected individual, but is unwilling, unable or perhaps not conscientious enough to fully protect him.

Should employers disqualify candidates after reviewing their digital footprints? If doing so reflects the culture of the organization and their interaction with customers, absolutely. Should they share this policy with potential candidates? Possibly: it's common knowledge that employers will Google you, but it never hurts to emphasize how applicants will be evaluated. Should firms publicly announce when and why a candidate is rejected? Only if they are certain that the individual cannot be identified.

At AccelaWork, we help organizations work through these challenges. To increase employee productivity, we must also increase employee satisfaction. This may require better filtering techniques during the hiring process, but also changes to culture, language and workflow. If this story sound familiar or inspires questions, contact our consultants at AccelaWork. We're here to assist you in working smarter.

Peyton Manning Shows The Value Of Perseverance

For Indianapolis Colts fans, a win in a certain game against the New England Patriots was a sweet victory.  So why were many game-attending patrons experiencing post-game regret?

For those of you who missed or have forgotten that specific game, the Colts spent the better half of four quarters battling a seemingly unstoppable offensive and defensive Patriot line. In fact, with less than ten minutes remaining on the clock and the Colts seventeen points behind, many ticket holders streamed out of Lucas Oil Stadium in apparent surrender. However, turns out their judgment on the loss was a tad premature.  As Phil Richards summarized in the Indianapolis Star, the turning point in the game came when one play went catastrophically wrong:

New England coach Bill Belichick opted to go for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots 28-yard line with 2:08 to play. Three plays after Colts safety Melvin Bullitt hammered running back Kevin Faulk down after a 1-yard gain, Peyton Manning's 1-yard pass to Wayne made the Colts 35-34 winners.
The victory echoed throughout the entire stadium as the remaining fans celebrated in the stands. Unfortunately for those who left early, the victory was bittersweet. Though the win was a fantastic display of talent and excitement, the self-inflicted absence of many patrons brought feelings of sadness. According to Daniel Stokes, who attended the game but celebrated the Colts victory in his car while driving on I465, "I should have never underestimated Peyton Manning. No matter what the circumstances, he always recovers and brings a win. I'm so mad at myself for leaving when I did!"

employee satisfaction

Having doubt is a natural feeling and one that provokes a reactive state of mind rather than a thoughtful, reflective one. So in the end, taking immediate action, whether rational or not, seems to become the thing to do in unstable or unpredictable situations. In any industry there are ups and downs, wins and losses, yet no matter what, its important never to abandon a venture simply because it appears susceptible to failure. By doing so, you may miss out on limited-time opportunities or worse yet, invaluable experiences.

If your company abandons projects often or operates re-actively versus proactively during times of uncertainty, contact our professional business consultants today.

The Impact of Framing On Subliminal Behavior

When conference organizers provide dinner for attendees, they usually plan a regular meal and a vegetarian option. Most people choose the former, but not because they prefer meat. Instead, it's how the options are presented that makes guests into omnivores or vegetarians.

According to Mark Gunther, the framing makes all the difference:

When a meat-based entrée is being served, and people are offered a vegetarian alternative, about 5 to 10 percent will request it.

But what if the choices were reversed? Organizers... tried an experiment: They made a vegetarian lunch the default option, and gave meat eaters the choice of opting out.

Some 80 percent went for the veggies, not because there were lots of vegetarians in the crowd of about 700 people but because the choice was framed differently. We know that because, at a prior conference, when meat was the default option, attendees chose the meat by an 83 percent to 17 percent margin.

Whether you love hamburgers or eat nothing but vegetables, it's easy to see the difference between these two outcomes. But for organizers, one type of meal could be preferable to another. What if vegetarian meals were less expensive, or the topic of the conference was to highlight new cooking techniques for poultry? In these scenarios there's more at stake than just the menu. Subtly nudging one choice over another can have a significant impact on final results.

This may seem like the psychology of manipulation to you, but you don't necessarily have to take it in such a sinister way. Understanding the way people think and the way that framing can impact outcome can be hugely advantageous when managing people or putting business processes in place. Gunther discusses these benefits in his original post.

Might there be broad-based ways to promote a vegetarian diet, while giving people the freedom to choose what they want? How can smart-grid technology be designed to encourage people to conserve energy? Which “green” marketing messages work, and which don’t? Can the insights of behavioral economics help fight climate change?

Those are the questions that engaged the policy makers, academics, and business executives at this BECC (Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference) event, which differs from most conversations about climate change. Typically, when politicians, environmentalists or corporate executives  discuss the issue, they focus on technology (solar, wind, electric cars) or regulation (cap-and-trade, the UN climate talks). The BECC crowd focuses on another powerful lever, albeit one that doesn’t get as much attention: human behavior, and in particular the irrational, emotional, self-defeating, short-term, inconsiderate, and plain old silly human behavior that most of us engage in every day.

At AccelaWork, we love to analyze the interplay of incentive and outcome. We first covered this topic back in 2006 with a discussion of corporate productivity and car mileage.  We analyzed a proposed ban on employee productivity while texting and driving. We highlighted the efforts of a car company to make boring tasks business improvement solutions. And just last month, we discussed employee satisfaction and public restroom graffiti. All of these things are just further examples to highlight how useful it can be to focus on the process of recognizing the most effective ways to change behavior.

So much of what we do in business and government is to change behavior. We must recognize, however, that the least effective way to change behavior is through edict and enforcement. Instead of telling stakeholders how we want them to act, adjust the incentives. If you want change at your organization, don't try to force it. Draw on the ideas and passions of stakeholders and the power of human behavior. Reach out to our business improvement consultants to learn more.

Diagrams Can Have Much More Value Than Documentation

A video of the famed graphic designer Milton Glaser was floating around the web. The title and the topic were powerful: "Drawing is Thinking."

The full clip is less than five minutes. Here is the direct link.

Glaser may not be well known outside artistic and design circles, but he is famous for the "I 'heart' New York" logo and several renown posters, logos and other creations. But it's his commentary in this brief lecture that is most profound:
For me drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I'm convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully. The act of drawing makes me conscious of what I am looking at. If I wasn't drawing, I get the sense that I wouldn't be seeing.
This is good advice for anyone interested in art, but also for someone pursuing business process improvement. The single biggest factor in changing workflow and productivity is to favor diagrams over documentation. Writing down a sequence of steps or a plan of action is helpful. But unlike written documentation, pictures tend to communicate action and fluidity rather than rules and rigidity.

A study from Washington University further expanded on the benefits of  diagrams.

The study, by Mark A. McDaniel, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, and graduate student Dung C. Bui, found that college students who had visual aids given to them before a science lecture were better able to understand and remember the lecture, but illustrative diagrams helped more than outlines.

"Participants given illustrative diagrams likely engaged in deeper levels of processing while listening to the lecture," the authors conclude.

Previous research has highlighted the benefits of note-taking for students, finding that students better retain information when writing it down. (And there have been subsequent studies about writing vs. typing notes.) But not all note-taking is made equal, leading researchers to question what cognitive processes involved in notetaking lead to better performance.

The McDaniel-Bui study, released online earlier this spring, included 144 undergraduate students.Participants listened to a 12-minute lecture about car brakes and pumps. Except for those in the control group, students got either outlines or illustrative diagrams. They were then tested to see what information they recalled and whether they understood it.

While the students who had any form of visual aid always did better than students in the control group, students with diagrams, on average, outperformed students with only outlines.

There are countless other studies online that highlight the ways that diagrams can improve comprehension. If topics are more complex, then maybe a longer, written form could be useful, but it's always good to start with breaking down things to their most basic level in a visual way. Between the increased understanding, and the more casual tone, there's really no reason not to bring this ideology into your daily workflow.

Whether you are trying to prepare for a new year, plotting organizational productivity, or understand the spread of disease and its effectiveness on worker productivity, pictures have power. According to Milton Glaser, perhaps the reason people are afraid of making sketches is based on an unfounded fear:

Curiously, people think that the difficulty of drawing is making things look accurate. But, accuracy is the least significant part of drawing.
Don't be afraid to draw pictures because they won't be flawless. Perfect is the enemy of good. An informal picture can be changed, improved, and understood by anyone. If you're ready to learn how to diagram what you do, contact our consultants at AccelaWork. We help organizations put pen to paper and draw the future of their business.

Tweetsgiving Indianapolis Shows Social Media Techniques

We joined other central Indiana bloggers to offer a word of thanks during the holiday season. We called it: "Tweetsgiving Indianapolis."

Made up words like "tweetsgiving" deserve some explanation. This is a combination of the term "Tweet", meaning to send a message via service Twitter, and the word "thanksgiving."

A non-profit group called Epic Change organized this fundraiser using Twitter with the word "tweetsgiving." In only 48 hours, they collected $10,000 almost entirely from small donors. Members of the Indianapolis blogging community are took part in a larger effort which included an event at at Scotty's Brewhouse downtown.

The process for participating in this event was simple.

1. TWEET THANKS: Share something you’re thankful for with all your twitter followers. Your tweets can be touching or silly, poignant or fun. Just tweet from the heart and be sure to include the #TweetsGiving tag and a link to:

2. GIVE: Make a donation in honor of whatever – or whomever – you’re grateful for.

* Every $10 buys a brick to build a classroom in Tanzania. (1,000 bricks = new classroom!) Email your TweetsGiving tweet to, and it will be painted on your brick!

* For $100 or more, you’ll be named one of our “Top Turkeys” and we’ll list your gift on our site.

* Or, with the holiday season approaching, you may buy unique gifts at: With each purchase, you’ll add one or more bricks to a new classroom at the school.

3. SPREAD THE GRATITUDE: Follow @TweetsGiving to fill your twitter stream with gratitude, then blog, retweet, or even change your avatar to the TweetsGiving Turkey.”

Thanksgiving is such a meaningful holiday because everyone understands gratitude. The comforts and assurances of life may range  to include great personal success, home-cooked meals or simply the kind words of friends and family. Likewise, in our business we have something special to be thankful for: the opportunity to help people improve.

This is a rarer gift than it may seem. Not all potential clients are ready to make changes to workflow or are willing to acknowledge the possibility of working more productively. Even those who recognize the need for change do not always want to speak to outside consultants. We understand that sometimes just opening the doors is the greatest challenge of all. It not only requires trust, but also the ability to admit that there could be a need for change. We are truly grateful that we continue to find organizations that are willing to talk about positive change from within.

The business of business improvement has no secrets. If we can help you find a way to work smarter from one 15 minute presentation, we are grateful for the opportunity to do so. Of course, our business runs on revenue from paying clients. Yet, in all truthfulness, the chance to help is all the reason we need to be here. Proceeds from this event went to help Epic Change.

Epic Change is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses the power of stories to create social change. Their current project is to rebuild and expand Shepherds Junior, a primary school in Arusha, Tanzania. Mama Lucy Kamptoni, a savvy and passionate local woman, started the school near her home in 2003 with the money she raised from selling chickens. She believes that education is the key to transforming a country gripped by poverty. By participating in TweetsGiving, you’re investing in the education and future of students like Gideon, Pius, Glory, and many more who have the potential to change the world. All the funds raised will go to build a new classroom at the school.
Thanks again for the opportunity to help you improve. We are truly thankful.

Other participants that were involved in Tweetsgiving Indianapolis:

Conquering Airports On Black Wednesday

The eve of Thanksgiving carries the same chaotic, stressful reputation as it has for decades passed: the busiest travel day of the year. Yet, no matter how many years go by, no matter what precautions are taken or how much media attention it gets, there are still doubts as to whether people will make it home to their loved ones in time for turkey.  

Orbitz revealed the Top Ten Airports To Avoid On Thanksgiving. Here were the top ten "Orbitz Insider" busiest airports for Thanksgiving 2015.

“With travel expected to be up six percent, those heading to airports this Thanksgiving will need to build in extra time to account for bigger crowds and longer lines,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of  “As expected, Wednesday, Nov. 25and Sunday, Nov. 29 will be the busiest of the weekend. Travelers looking to avoid the crowds should consider flying out on Thanksgiving day and coming back on Monday, Nov. 30, both the least busy of the holiday weekend.”
1 Los Angeles International Los Angeles, Calif. LAX
2 Chicago O’Hare International Chicago, Ill. ORD
3 San Francisco International San Francisco, Calif. SFO
4 Denver International Denver, Colo. DEN
5 Boston Logan International Boston, Mass. BOS
6 John F. Kennedy International New York, N.Y. JFK
7 Orlando International Orlando, Fla. MCO
8 Newark Liberty International Newark, N.J. EWR
9 Dallas-Fort Worth International Dallas, Texas DFW
10 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Atlanta, Ga. ATL
They also released a list of the least busy airports, but as you'll see, the majority of them aren't convenient to too many major cities.
1 Eppley Airfield Omaha, Neb. OMA
2 Kahului Airport Maui, Hawaii OGG
3 Mineta San Jose International San Jose, Calif. SJC
4 Jacksonville International Jacksonville, Fla. JAX
5 Palm Beach International West Palm Beach, Fla.  PBI
6 Nashville International Nashville, Tenn. BNA
7 General Mitchell International Milwaukee, Wis. MKE
8 John Wayne Airport Orange County, Calif. SNA
9 Port Columbus International Columbus, Ohio CMH
10 Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Cincinnati, Ohio CVG
As useful as this information may have been, the fact still remained: for many, traveling is unavoidable. Many businesses are still open. Many schools are still in session. At that point in time, reasonable travel alternatives are scarce. Yet, regardless of these simple facts, Orbitz still said "if you have already booked a flight in or out one of these airports, well, then it sucks to be you." Translation: for those of you committed to traveling that day, congratulations! You're doomed for a really miserable time.

It's no secret that airport foul-ups calls their their organizational productivity into question and are incredibly frustrating, particularly during the holidays when time is of the essence. Still, the majority of the time, there's not much you as an individual can do about it. Likewise, bad processes in the workplace—no matter how expected or unexpected they may be—are sometimes hard to avoid. However, this shouldn't be the reason to fret over elements that are out of your control. It shouldn't be a viable reason for giving up on the venture either. In fact, such a resolution seems counterproductive.

Instead, rise to the challenge. Stop focusing on how terrible the consequences may be, and narrow your focus on making the outcomes better. For those of you traveling today: pack light to avoid checking bags, pre-print your boarding pass at home,  familiarize yourself with current TSA rules, bring that book you've been wanting to read, splurge on the latest tunes for your iPod. Regardless of the situation, vow to head out knowing what's in store and prepared to handle the worst. You may just end up finding out it wasn't so terrible. AccelaWork assists in seeking positive, productive solutions to problems. Contact our business process improvement consultants today to learn more.

The Pros and Cons of Loss Leaders

Countless Americans lined up outside of retailers in hopes of taking advantage of low prices. But is "Black Friday" really worth it?

The principle behind these sale events is a technique called a loss leader. A store will lower prices on a handful of items, sometimes to a point even below their own cost. The store advertises heavily in hopes of leading people into the store.  Although some products will be sold at a loss, store managers hope that patrons will buy other items out of convenience.

The deep discounts offered on Black Friday are an extreme example of this concept. Retailers may only have a handful of the advertised items in stock but will also advertise other low prices. Often, stores will pull back their opening hours to create additional buzz for the event. For shoppers, beating this system is simple: only buy what you came in the store to purchase.

If you use this technique, you are likely to return home with some incredible holiday deals. But if all shoppers remained diligent and never bought anything that wasn't advertised in the newspaper circular, the practice of Black Friday would come to an end. Retailers can only afford to sell some inventory at a loss if their customers buy other items where they make a profit.

Not only do retailers hope that merely getting customers into their stores will increase profits, but they sometimes take the extra step of marking up other products in the hopes of maximizing total profit. A Yahoo! Finance article detailed some of those techniques:

Many of the worst deals being offered on Black Friday feature out-of-season products. Prices for home improvement tools and supplies tend to be best around Father’s Day, closer to when many consumers are looking for spring cleaning sales. Both Lowe’s and The Home Depot offer “Spring Black Friday” sales. According to FatWallet’s Brent Shelton, gas grills are a better deal in the fall, when retailers are looking to clear out unsold inventory from the summer months.

Black Friday also coincides with the peak demand for some popular gifts. Among these are toys, winter clothing, and holiday decorations. Shoppers buying toys for their kids may want to wait until December, since prices for toys tend to drop as Christmas approaches. Winter clothing and holiday decorations also tend to be especially expensive around Black Friday.

Customers should also be on the lookout for products that tend to be marked up on Black Friday. Electronics often are loss leaders, meaning companies sell them at a loss to get customers into their stores. However, the accessories that come with many electronics are frequently marked up.

Marketing expert Seth Godin said it best: "Cheap is the last refuge of a marketer who is out of ideas." Reducing prices to below cost as a hope of enticing people into your store assumes they won't just buy the marked-down items and leave. The loss leader strategy creates a conflict between two essential groups of stakeholders. Management wants more people to come into the store, but customers want the cheapest prices. This tension may drive revenues, but it also creates frustration. A third group of stakeholders is most negatively impacted: store employees.

At AccelaWork, we help people analyze and understand the methodologies they use to make decisions and conduct work. Loss leaders, sales, and price adjustments are just another category of stakeholder analysis. If you want to learn to think and act more clearly at work, contact our Indianapolis consultants. We can help improve the processes you use to serve customers and build success every day.

Case Studies Cannot Replace Active Analysis

AccelaWork published a case study about a company that decided to adopt a temporary policy to help train new staff members. Increased employee awareness, however, led to a permanent adoption of the change.

In one of our blog posts, our business consulting expert discussed SOP, and we outlined the story of a company that transformed workflow with a simple new document:

The team at XYZ Industries ran a fairly efficient warehouse floor, often processing as many as 60 orders per day. When new people were hired for a seasonal rush, the floor manager put together a simple paper artifact to facilitate training. That temporary fix became a major boon to productivity and was adopted as SOP—Standard Operating Procedure.

Still, as even Dilbert can attest to the link between business consultants and case studies, they do not replace direct assessment of real-world environments. These documents may provide guidance or comfort, but they can never stand in for conscious, active analysis done by stakeholders and consultants. "Case" is the key word in the phrase case study. While something may have worked in one specific situation, that doesn't make it a one-size-fits all solution.

Simple Psychology published an article discussing some of the limitations of case studies.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies. Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g. letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g. case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports). Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e. verbal description rather than measurement) but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group we can never be sure whether the conclusions drawn from this particular case apply elsewhere. The results of the study are not generalizable because we can never know whether the case we have investigated is representative of the wider body of "similar" instances

Because they are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e. descriptive) data a lot depends on the interpretation the psychologist places on the information she has acquired. This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit the particular theories about behavior (e.g. Little Hans). This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

While that specific information is clearly tied to psychology, the same can be true for case studies in a business environment. While the temporary fix in our case study was good enough to become standard operating procedure, a similar method may not be effective in your organization.

We know it might be difficult to start a process of active analysis within your organization. The problems may be right in front of you, but hard to see due to the fact you're over-familiar with the subject matter. If you feel that may be the case, we'd love to help! The team at AccelaWork will guide you in the right direction.

If you'd like to learn more about AccelaWork or if you want to be the topic of a forthcoming featured article, contact our business process consultants today. We love to help companies improve and capture the essence of change in written form.

The Flaws In Electronic Medicine Technology

As Congress debated the future of the American healthcare system, a common point of discussion was the benefit of computerized medical records. But a study suggested that the cost savings would be "nonexistent."

An article in Pacific Standard delved into this medical records problem:

A RAND Corporation study estimated the savings from electronic medical records would be about $77 billion a year. The Center for American Progress added the federal government would save $196 billion over the next decade. The Obama administration has made the argument — probably because of its consensus appeal — a focal point of its health care pitch going back to the 2008 campaign. The whole idea just seems, well, common sense.

Not to spoil a good holiday week (and a rare hiatus in the health care wrangling in Washington), but a new Harvard study suggests all of these claims are simply wrong. Health "information technology," the research concluded, has yielded neither substantial efficiencies nor any real savings at the U.S. hospitals that today use various forms of it.

... "In my everyday work with a computer system at my hospital, which is one of the widely distributed ones, I go through probably a couple hundred unnecessary mouse clicks a day that are there purely for billing purposes," said David Himmelstein, a Harvard professor and one of the authors of the study, alongside Adam Wright and Steffie Woolhandler.

Whenever he sees a patient, for example, he must answer these questions: Did he have to use an interpreter? If so, was the interpretation done face-to-face or over the phone?

"That's purely because the hospital can be reimbursed by some insurers a bit more if I have an interpreter," he said.

In one sense, this software actually does the opposite of what many of us assume. Rather than help anyone save money, it helps maximize the hospital's ability to collect money from patients and insurers.

When asked why so many of us assume this to be true when it's not, Himmelstein deferred to a YouTube clip of a cheery 1961 promotional video touting the endless promise of electronic medical records:

"We've been convinced," Himmelstein said, "by a 40-year marketing campaign and our own wishful thinking. We wish that there were a quick, easy solution that didn't actually involve any difficult political decisions for how we're going to save money for health care and improve the quality of care," he said. "That's part of what would be lovely about computers - gee, we don't have to do anything but install this machine and solve all these problems."
It seems shocking to suggest that four decades of technology advancement have had no impact on electronic medical records. Computer systems are supposed to make our lives easier, but they often have the opposite effect.

There are many reasons why this occurs. In the case of patient data, the stakeholders who design the system don't necessarily have the same goals as those who use the system. Hospitals want to maximize billing so medical record tools ask lots of "just-in-case" questions, such as whether or not an interpreter was used during the consultation. But doctors and patients want the system to be efficient, not highly profitable. This conflict creates friction, and is part of the reason why these technologies still have a long way to go.

If computer systems seem to be working against you at your place of business, don't be afraid to question whether computers are even the right tool. Take a step back, look at the larger issues of stakeholder needs and try to engage people directly. And if you're ready to ask for help, reach out to the consulting team at AccelaWork. We help organizations become more productive and more satisfied.

Government Productivity at the White House

The Obama's first state house dinner was a success. That is, of course, except for one minor detail: insufficient guest security.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi were admitted into the White House State dinner by the U.S. Secret Service despite their absence from the guest list and their inability to show an invitation. Yet, according to the Salahi's, they were invited:

By their own admission in the e-mails, they showed up at the White House gates at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 without an invitation — "to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list!"

But the Secret Service has said they weren't on that list and that it erred by letting them in anyway.

In an e-mail sent just hours after last week's dinner to Pentagon official Michele Jones, the Salahis claimed a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing Jones' voice mail earlier that day advising them they did not make the guest list.

Since the majority of communication in regard to the invite was discussed via email, their permitted attendance is up for interpretation and still being investigated by authorities. Regardless, this incident has provided heightened awareness for future White House events:
The administration will make at least one change to its practices for invitation-only events: The White House social office will go back to making sure that one of its staff members will be present at the gates to help the Secret Service if questions come up, the first lady's communication director, Camille Johnston, said.

Johnston maintained that this has been an existing policy, but the White House and Secret Service have said no such person was present last week as guests arrived for the dinner. Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the plan for the dinner did not call for a social office employee to be at the gate but agents didn't call the office to ask for assistance or clarification.

There were many mistakes throughout this entire situation. However, the most significant was not the lack of an invitation, but the lack of significance in both the invitation and door security. What was the purpose of an invitation-only event if those in attendance do not have to provide evidence of their invitation to enter? Or worse, what if anyone can bypass door security at the White House with ease?

The system of invitations, the difficult work of the social secretary and the fearlessness of the Secret Service are all supposed to make the event run more smoothly for everyone involved. But in fact, they had the opposite effect: they unintentionally conspired to let the Salahi's crash the party. The apparent lack of security demonstrated what can result when important elements of a process are underestimated or disregarded altogether.

Luckily there wasn't any tragic result of someone getting into the White House uninvited, but the situation surely opened the eyes of many involved. Likewise, small mistakes in your organization can be just what's needed to alert you to a bigger problem. While you aren't likely running a high-security event, it's still important to ensure that the only things that happen for your company are what you intend to happen.

When an activity requires strict guidelines to ensure optimal outcomes, attention to detail is of utmost importance. Without it, all the effort and hard work done may not matter in the end. Don't allow pertinent projects fall by the wayside due to weak or faulty checks and balances. Instead, contact our business process consultants to learn more about how proper processes can positively influence workflow, project organization and stakeholder satisfaction. We'll help you keep crashers out of your party.

The Benefits of a Results-Only Work Environment

Over at the More Than a Few Words podcast, two Indianapolis small business owners discussed the benefits of a Results-Only Work Environment. That's more than a buzzword—ROWE is a radically different perspective on running a business.

Lorraine Ball interviewed Michael Reynolds on the notion that results are more important than time. In the audio clip, Reynolds explained the biggest challenge in moving away from the standard modus operandi of a small business:

The most difficult thing...was getting out of the mindset of 'filling a chair' from 8 to 5. In this workplace culture, we value filling a chair for a certain number of hours [as if] that equals productivity. But in reality, it doesn't. Productivity is what gets accomplished, what gets done.
At first glance, this observation doesn't sound like rocket science. We all know that's it's not the hours of work that matter but work we do within those hours. But if we take this thought to it's logical conclusion, we end up with thoughts like those Reynolds offers next:
ROWE is not just a matter of shifting your schedule around. You can literally work as much or as little as you want. Sometimes our employees will work 20 hours a week and they still get paid full time. That's because they have accomplished the right amount of work.
Interviewer and fellow small business owner Lorraine Ball doesn't miss a beat with her response:
You know that's going to strike fear in the hearts of many small business owners.
Both Reynolds and Ball are absolutely correct. If you can finish all your work in half the time, you still deserve full credit and full compensation. But almost any small business owner will look at time saved as money saved. Employees who work less get paid less. Or do they?

When we covered this topic regarding employee satisfaction and the ROWE concept, we noted that a traditional time-oriented work environment not only punishes employees who are more efficient, but may actually encourage them to put in more hours. After all, you'll either get overtime pay or at least notoriety by coming in on the weekends. Employees may find themselves without any incentive to work smarter if working longer hours earns them more respect and a bigger paycheck.

Later in the podcast conversation, Lorraine Ball asked about setting appropriate objectives and workload which are fair to both employer and employee. Michael Reynolds admitted that he doesn't have a great answer, but that it comes "with practice" and starts by "working backwards from objectives."

The reason that Reynolds had a hard time articulating this process is because it is best achieved through an even more revolutionary idea than replacing work-as-time with work-for-results. If you truly seek to put a dollar value to a particular end product, you have to either give the employee information about your revenue model or trust the employee to quote you a fair price. Neither of these are comfortable for many business owners. We often think of employees as people who work for us at our pleasure, not as competent experts who are more effective the more they know about how everything works. But as we've covered time and time again on this blog, the more trust you put in your employees and the more you value them, the better results you'll see.

At AccelaWork, we make every effort to compensate our employees for quality results instead of the passing of time. We prefer to bill clients for each success rather than each hour. If you're ready to rethink the way you work, contact our business improvement consultants. We can help you improve your work environment from the bottom up.

Conservation Communication at Central Michigan University

The administration at Central Michigan University managed to reduce water consumption by nearly 10%. But to make up for lost revenue, the city of Mount Pleasant may need to raise water fees for everyone.

According to a report by writer Hilary Farrell:

Central Michigan University’s water conservation efforts caused Mount Pleasant to lose an estimated $50,000 in revenue.

The City Commission is working on several incentives to reduce costs and bring in revenue for 2010 and beyond, said Finance Director and Assistant City Manager Nancy Ridley.

Mount Pleasant’s enterprise funds in the 2010 budget are hit by several factors, including CMU’s conservation efforts in residence halls and other buildings. CMU is estimated to have used 20 million fewer gallons of water this year.

Mount Pleasant sold 834 million gallons of water in 2000 and 740 million gallons in 2008, [City Finance Director] Ridley said. The estimate for 2009 for the city is 670 million.

“This is a fairly significant decline in revenues.”

Water conservation efforts, such as low flow fixtures and last summer’s cold and wet weather, contributed to decline in water sold by the city, she said. The same factors have affected cities statewide.

The closing of the Mount Pleasant Center also will affect water sales next year, Ridley said. The city will sell an estimated 23 million fewer gallons next year with the closure, she said.

You can't fault Central Michigan University either for saving water or reducing costs. Reducing consumption and lowering expenses are both laudable objectives. And it's hard to blame the city of Mount Pleasant, who has charged by the gallon for eons and needs water revenue to pay their bills. A proposed fee increase of 2% would help cover these losses, but effectively punish everyone else for CMU's efforts.

The situation hardly seemed fair to anyone involved. Yet, instead of focusing on the outcome we should think through the process. There's more to the relationship between the city and the university than buying water. If Mount Pleasant had known about CMU's conservation plans years in advance, they might have been able to conduct better budget projections. If Central Michigan University was consciously aware of their contribution to city water revenue, they might have been able to develop a more constructive plan.

It's fairly safe to assume that Central Michigan University wasn't totally oblivious to how large of a percentage of water they were buying. In any college town, it's clear that the college has a lot to do with just about any industry, and any major changes are going to have large ripple effects. The issue is whether they cared to inform anyone of their plans. In this situation, clearly not.

But that illustrates a big point. As a business owner, you can't assume that anyone is going to care about your needs as much as you do. You're going to be the number one person looking out for your own interests. Which is why it's important to always take the time to fully analyze a situation and make plans for the future. What if your biggest client moves on? Is that going to completely destroy your company? Hopefully not. But if you've looked at things and realize that may be the case, then it's probably time to re-focus and protect against that sort of worst-case scenario. Preparation is key.

We have covered consultants using process-oriented thinking before as well as what happens when your business process solutions are too good. Helping people think through stakeholder conflicts and workflow challenges is our business. If you're looking to balance incentives, contact our business consulting team. We'll help you think and work smarter.

Shedding Pounds Isn't a Full Solution

America once watched the Biggest Loser contestant Danny Cahill step on the show's infamous scale for his final weigh in. The dramatic outcome in weight-loss proved only to be one of his many successes from the show.

Upon his first day at the Biggest Loser Ranch, Danny weighed an astounding 431 pounds. Desperate to turn his life around, he applied to the show on three separate occasions; "My family means the world to me and they are the reason I started this journey. They’re the reason I filled out the application for season 6 and 7 and 8.” So when the scale read 191 lbs. last night and host Alison Sweeney announced his 55.58% weight-loss, his accomplishment was clear. Yet, his remarkable transformation was not limited to just his size. From alternate eating habits to an exercise regimen to a new outlook on life, it has proven to have changed his entire lifestyle:

Among Cahill’s friends and family in the audience were his wife, Darci, 39, his son David, 10, and his daughter Mary Claire, 8. When Cahill got on the scale, “I was taking it all in and I couldn’t focus on where my family was,” he said. “When I finally saw them, I mouthed, ‘I love you’ to them and my daughter mouthed it back and I wanted to cry. I wanted to run off the scale and hug them! My family means the world to me and they are the reason I started this journey. They’re the reason I filled out the application for season 6 and 7 and 8.”

Cahill’s wife Darci told PEOPLE, “I knew he had it in him. He’s every bit of the man have seen on the show. He has been so diligent at home and the hard work has paid off.”

The whole family’s hard work is evident — [wife] Darci has lost 60 lbs. herself, and daughter Mary Claire has lost 10 lbs. “We have done it with mega support from our friends, family and community,” Darci said.

Danny and Darci say their relationship had only grown through the experience. “When somebody gets to be that obese,” Darci said, “he turned into somebody I didn't know, so part of this journey is getting to know each other again. It’s awesome. It’s like a new beginning.” Danny confirmed the couple will renew their wedding vows next September.

Like Danny's success, improving one aspect of a problem through measurable means is a fantastic beginning, but not a full solution. Yes, his 239 pound weight-loss was an incredible victory, but it's the positive, immeasurable changes he accomplished that have made all the difference in his life. Losing all that weight means nothing if he can't keep it off, and it means nothing if he doesn't do it in the right, healthy way. But with the changes he made for his life, it looks like neither of those things should be a problem.

As we have covered in the past, consultants obsession over metrics could be harmful to the overall goal of a venture. Instead, focusing on personal drive, creativity, and ingenuity will bring continual improvement which increases the opportunity for a positive, rewarding and most importantly, lasting outcome. Not only will those help you surpass any metrics that may have been in place, but your business will succeed in many other ways, both measurable and unmeasurable.

At AccelaWork, we set out to assist in improving company workflow, productivity, and stakeholder satisfaction—three areas in an office that are never fully measured by a numerical scale yet are crucial to a company's success. Contact us for our business improvement services today if  problems are weighing you down. We can help establish beneficial changes that are worth more than numbers.

From Communication To Science

The PR business requires creative people who can explain complicated ideas and situations to the public. One consultancy, however, moved away from traditional communications in favor of the scientific method.

As covered on the blog Evidence Soup, a firm called Burson-Marsteller was emphasizing evidence:

This year, the firm has rolled out a methodology for developing and measuring programs. “The media and communications landscape is changing and so have the needs of our clients,” said Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn. “In a world of citizen journalism, social media, and instant information about events happening around the globe, we are investing in a more diligent and scientific approach to developing and delivering key messages.”

It's great to see marketing and media moving in this direction. Here's how the firm describes the benefits (there is, um, a bit of spin applied). "Evidence-based communications ends the guess work. All strategies are based on evidence, not speculation." (Okay. But trying something creative and new involves unknowns. Don't let evidence crowd out big ideas and experimentation.) "It is cost-effective... ensuring that each client’s communications dollars are spent on tactics and messages that will deliver results. It is measurable. By... benchmarking at the beginning of a program and measuring effectiveness at the end, clients will be able to demonstrate a positive communications return-on-investment."

They continue, saying theirs is a holistic approach: "While it is common to use some basic research to drive a communications message or to assess the reach of a program at the end, the Evidence-Based approach is a complete methodology. The approach ensures a thorough use of data and tools designed specifically to insert science into the process where appropriate. It provides proof of PR value to the organization’s C-Suite. By using an Evidence-Based approach, communications professionals can demonstrate the value that PR brings to their organization at large."

Inspiring the imagery of scientific inquiry to support your new product line is obviously good PR. But there was a big risk that Burson-Marsteller was taking: What happens if the science proves that their PR isn't all that effective? Somehow, it seems like having a hypothesis that turns out to be false is a much bigger problem for a public relations firm than for the typical research laboratory. After all, a research laboratory is expected to have many failed hypotheses. The same can't be said for a PR firm.

At AccelaWork, we recognize and enjoy the certainty of hard facts. There are plenty of great things you can take away from analytics, both standard and some that are more advanced. As we have covered covered before, workplace productivity requires more than good measurement. We must also find ways to embrace individual creativity and reward innovation, which is shown by failure as much as by success. After all, for all the things that hard data can show you, experience, learning opportunities, and failures that serve as stepping stones are much harder to quantify. That said, plenty of businesses have shown what works and doesn't work in all those instances. Studying what has been done in the past is a great way to predict what may be the best way to move forward in the future.

In science, you can tweak and tinker until you find the right experiment conditions for the result you desire. In business, that flexibility isn't always an option. No business should become a test tube. If you feel like your company's processes are not rigorous, reach out to a productivity consulting firm like AccelaWork. We use science and reason to encourage creativity, increase productivity, and foster satisfaction among all stakeholders. Contact our business process consultants to learn more!

Email Overload at the White House

Big political news was found out from the previous administration. Computer technicians found 22 million lost emails from the Bush White House.

The Associated Press provided the following report:

The two private groups — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive — said Monday they were settling the lawsuits they filed against the Executive Office of the President in 2007.

It will be years before the public sees any of the recovered e-mails because they will now go through the National Archives' process for releasing presidential and agency records. Presidential records of the Bush administration won't be available until 2014 at the earliest.

The tally of missing e-mails, the additional searches and the settlement are the latest development in a controversy surrounding the failure by the Bush White House to install a properly working electronic record keeping system.

The two private organizations say there is not yet a final count on the extent of missing White House e-mail and there may never be a complete tally.

There's a great deal of productivity and workflow issues to discuss from this story. We have already discussed the impacts of disorganization and corporate productivity. We've covered extreme email management techniques and provided email productivity advice. We've highlighted government productivity failure and business consulting failure. For AccelaWork, lost emails and broken processes are old news.

Instead, let's look at the raw numbers. The AP reported a recovery of an additional 22 million emails spread over 94 days. It's tough to get an accurate count of "White House staff", but the Washington Post pegs the 2007 headcount at 442. Let's put those numbers together:

22,000,000 emails / 94 days / 442 staffers ˜ 530 emails per day

At a conservative estimate of a 9 hour work day, that's approximately 58 emails per person per hour, or nearly one every minute. This is untenable. How do you steer the fate of a country when you have to process or produce a message every minute?

The figures above are based on limited research and are not highly accurate. But even if they are off by 25% or 50%, it's amazing the White House can accomplish anything at all. The constant stream of emails surely limit individual productivity. If the most important office in the country is constantly battling email, it's likely that you too struggle against the inbox.

AccelaWork does not believe that email is the key problem of the modern organization. Rather, it is a symptom of the real problem: lack of stakeholder authority and responsibility. Change the way your office operates. Contact our Indiana consultants today.

The Cost of Unrecognized Accounting Errors

Many people dream of the day their bank account doubles or triples in size. For Stephen Foster, a supermarket warehouse employee, having it increase by an astounding $1.3 million is a tale for the history books.

Like any other payday, Foster's paycheck was directly deposited into his bank account. However, his girlfriend discovered that in fact a $2.3 million stipend was appearing on his statement. After taxes, his take home equaled $1.3 million.

Without hesitation, Foster immediately contacted his company and explained the mistake. Within hours the money was back in corporate hands, and Foster got a second bonus for his honesty - a case of beer and a bottle of champagne. Not exactly an equal exchange, but the five-year employee gets high marks in the honor department.

While the idea of keeping such a big unexpected bonus sounds like the perfect holiday treat - most employers are entitled to take back such a windfall if it's indeed an error. Check those direct deposit agreements you signed - they usually state that employers reserve the right to correct any deposit errors without even telling you.

Banks have their own rules too - giving direct depositors five days to correct errors. That means Foster probably did the right thing by informing his employer about the error. An amount that big wouldn't have gone unnoticed on the books - and that would have been one heck of an overdraft penalty had he withdrawn the cash.

There is no doubt that Foster's honesty is commendable. With the enormous amount of additional cash this paycheck provided, its understandable why he felt compelled to turn it back over to his company. Yet, what would have happened if this mistake went unrecognized by Foster? Imagine for a moment that the additional amount was either not large enough for him to truly recognize or large enough to see, but small enough to believe it a surprise bonus or repayment of some kind.

Though the question above is hypothetical, the fact remains that if an employee receives extra in pay and withdraws it from their account, they may be in for another surprise: overdraft fees. As the article notes above, "most employers are entitled to take back such a windfall if it's indeed an error." So, essentially, the employee is not only responsible for paying back his/her employer for the mistake, but also for any bank penalties that accompany it. Of course, this scenario seems simple enough. If you choose to spend money that isn't technically yours, the responsibility for returning it is also yours to claim. Yet, why should a company's failure go unrecognized while it's employee suffers the consequences?

We have previously covered these types of workplace productivity failures and government productivity failures that threaten all types of business consulting partnerships. These mistakes may be innocent enough, but in the end, someone inevitably pays for them. Regardless of whether they're complete mistakes or malicious behavior, the results can be the same: Major problems for everyone involved. Assuming malicious behavior isn't the case, it's important to find ways to seek out and prevent errors such as the major one we've noted here. Even if the mistake isn't in the millions, thousands of dollars is certainly something you don't want misplaced either.

If you or your company needs assistance in avoiding simple errors that can wreak havoc on differing bankbooks, contact our business process improvement consultants today. We would love to find a way to help you out. It's always better to know rather than speculate on whether or not your workflow and procedures are sparing your valued stakeholders any frustration or problems.

IBM's Purchase of Lombardi

Technology giant IBM made another acquisition. This time it was Lombardi, an Austin, Texas-based software company whose fantastic product is totally unknown to the people who need it most.

Here's some of the text from IBM's official press release:

ARMONK, NY - 16 Dec 2009:  IBM today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Lombardi, a privately held software company based in Austin, Texas. Financial terms were not disclosed. Lombardi, a leading provider of Business Process Management (BPM) software and services, helps organizations automate and integrate business processes to increase efficiencies and reduce costs.
Congratulations are in order to Lombardi, who not only managed to court Big Blue, but also offers excellent software products. Beyond the great news of the sale, the press release also offers more insight into the field of business process improvement:
Organizations are struggling to find ways to simplify their business operations to better reach partners and clients, improve decision-making and increase their return on investment. The management of processes supporting business functions such as product planning, supply chain execution, insurance application and claims management, human resources, IT services and procurement is vital to the success of every business. Helping companies automate these processes to make them more consistent, predictable and cost-efficient is a major requirement for businesses today.
The first part of this paragraph is strikingly accurate. At AccelaWork, we run across companies and non-profit organizations on a daily basis who are "struggling to find ways to simplify their business operations." The problem is painfully evident, and it's clear to anyone that some kind of process improvement is necessary. But what sort of improvement is what's still up in the air.

However, the press releases went on to advocate automation of processes. The specific objectives are to make processes "more consistent, predicable and cost-efficient." These are goals which will appeal to management and company owners. In other words, if companies are to build software systems that complete processes without human interaction, such detailed modeling is essential.

We have already covered over-investing in business process transformation software. The challenge is not that we don't have good software applications for conducting detail business process modeling work, but rather that most employees do not have a process-oriented mindset. Instead, stakeholders at all levels tend to be outcome-oriented. As we've also discussed, studies prove that employee satisfaction is high when they focus on the experience rather than the results. We've talked over and over again about how focusing on the process can even lead to better results, but somehow this is still lost on so many major companies.

Before companies can truly benefit from software tools like those offered by Lombardi, there must be a comprehensive stakeholder engagement around the potential for positive collaborative change. Then, there should be sufficient education among employees to understand the basic principles of a modeling language like BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation).

All of this work should be done in the most familiar of environments: in offices and conference rooms and on whiteboards and pen and paper. Only once everyone has internalized the nature, structure, and experience of process improvement should software tools be employed. This is the point when large-scale automation should take place. In effect, such implementation should be championed by the stakeholders themselves who were doing the work in the first place.

Congratulations to Lombardi. Celebrate their success by planning to utilize their excellent software packages in your organization down the road. But first, reach out to consultants who specialize in productivity and workflow consulting like those at AccelaWork. Before we recommend any tools, we listen, learn, and help you to empower change from within.

Personal Productivity and Resolving to Succeed

Personal productivity improvements are always worth considering, whether it's the first of the year or simply the day you decide to make a change. Here are some personal productivity tips for being more effective at keeping your resolutions.

Each time the Ball drops in Times Square, people everywhere begin committing to New Year's resolutions. Turns out, you may not be the only person striving to lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, get out of debt, and/or get organized. In fact, according to, these very goals are among the Top Ten list of New Year's Resolutions every year in recent history:

1. Stop Smoking

2. Get Fit

3. Lose Weight 

4. Enjoy Life More

5.  Quit Drinking

6. Get Organised

7. Learn Something New

8. Get Out of Debt

9. Spend More Time With Family

10. Help Others

Yet according to one study, though 52 percent of resolution-setters believe they have the will-power to succeed, only 12 percent actually achieve what they set out to do. So what's the problem? Could it be that once the holiday excitement passes, people just simply loose interest? Or perhaps resolutions lose their luster once its discovered that reaching them requires hard work? To the team at AccelaWork, this yearly phenomenon is not a coincidence, but instead a failure of direction.

The truth is, when a goal is set but its parameters are nonexistent or defined incorrectly, the possibility of following through and achieving success are diminished. For many, this lack of a logical strategy is reason enough to forego a resolution since most believe it easier to simply abandon a venture rather than fail at it—a common misconception in our view. For the handful still wholly committed however, we cannot deny that their goals may still be reached. The problem is, the process of accomplishing them may be less seamless and take longer to achieve. This is a form of incompetence. We don't know what we don't know, and we get into trouble.

Yes, its tough to truly know why resolutions fizzle. But by enlightening yourself with proper ways of creating reasonable and attainable goals, you may just avoid abandoning them this year. So, we urge you to take that step toward starting the year off right. Be conscientious of goal-setting by learning proper techniques for it. If you are having a hard time recognizing where to start, think about attending some presentations by our Indianapolis speakers. We'd love to see you there!

Worker Productivity vs. Facebook

A survey of 4,000 office workers in India revealed something everybody already knew: employees spend about an hour a day on social networking websites like Facebook.

The story ad appeared on BBC News, which quoted the announcement:

"Close to 12.5% of productivity of human resource in corporate sector is misappropriated each day since a vast majority of them while away their time accessing social networking sites during the office hours," according to the findings of Assocham's Social Development Foundation survey.
The math in this claim seems a little obvious. One hour a day is probably measured against the normal eight hour work day, so the writers seem to assume that this time equates to a productivity loss of 1/8th (or 12.5%). But as we have already noted, taking breaks at work increases employee productivity. More importantly, we should recognize that work cannot be effectively measured by the passage of time. The Assocham study seems to assume otherwise.

A more revealing comment appears next:

"As a matter of fact, [the] growing use of browsing sites can be dangerous for overall productivity and IT companies have already installed software to restrict its use," Assocham secretary general DS Rawat said.
Programs that restrict browsing habits are another example of treating employees like children. How can we expect employees to innovate and develop new ideas for the organization if our entire perspective is that bosses distrust workers which causes low employee satisfaction? If every minute spent on Facebook inescapably decreases overall productivity, than managers should consider using a stopwatch to time bathroom breaks. Actually, some already do this to measure workplace productivity.

The greatest irony of this study is that it attacks workers for using social networking sites. This isn't a crackdown on long lunches or excessive smoking breaks, but rather a method employees use to fill emotional needs. As we covered earlier, these tools may provide more employee retention as stakeholders can find out about what employees actually want and need.

At AccelaWork, our commitment to productivity is not based on counting hours but instead on engaging and empowering individuals. If you want to increase effectiveness at your organization, contact us today!

Fueling Efficiency or Impatience?

If waiting longer than 60 seconds for a refill on your soda is unacceptable, then perhaps you should head to the Sunshine State for dinner. After all, Floridians are enjoying new service technology from their local Applebee's, so why shouldn't you?

Notification devices which allow restaurant patrons to immediately summon their waiter/waitress were installed in several Florida Applebee's restaurants for testing. According to a blog post by Jennifer Lawinski:

The system is activated when a host seats a table and swipes a watch against the small black box. A server is notified by vibrating watch and has 60 seconds to arrive at the table or a manager is alerted. Managers are also informed when customers press the button several times.
As further reported by the Orlando Sentinel (which unfortunately has been removed from the site since this blog post was originally written), the system allows for immediate feedback from diners, promotes constant communication between the restaurant staff and essentially strives to keep patrons in control of their dining experience. From this perspective, it appears that the introduction of this technology may be just what people are looking for when it comes to receiving a speedy and efficient meal. But, what if gaining this new technology—and all its anticipated benefits— negatively affects both the service  and atmosphere of the restaurant?

According to blogger and waitress Hannah Raskin, the system is a threat:

"I'm not thrilled by the prospect of being put on an electronic tether. Like anyone who's had to confront the possibility of being replaced by a machine, I believe my job requires a sophistication computers can't yet mimic."
Likewise, Rick van Warner, president of an Orlando-based restaurant and retail-consulting firm, questioned how the system will affect customer service:
"Will it make servers become less attentive and just become reliant on the buzzer? Will customers have less patience if a buzzer doesn't get answered promptly?"

Its goal is to improve the restaurant's response time to diners, but perhaps all it will actually do is decrease dining satisfaction. After all, if the system does as it suggests, it will undoubtedly force servers and staff to rush through their usual processes. As well all know, rushing through anything increases stress, sloppiness, and the possibility for unnecessary error—all of which cause frustration and annoyance. So in the end, though a patron's cheeseburger is served at racing speed, satisfaction with the meal may still be lost if it's missing the additional bacon requested, served by someone completely frazzled or simply not cooked to the diner's liking.

When attempting to streamline processes it's easy to become distracted by all the positive outcomes a solution may bring. But the truth is, new implementations are not immune to negative or counterproductive side-effects. Therefore, it's important to consider all outcomes of a solution, both positive and negative, prior to enacting it.  Otherwise, you may end up discovering that, though a process has changed, it may not have actually improved.

While some may no doubt be thrilled with a quicker restaurant experience, many others don't mind the wait, the time for conversation, and the knowledge that quality servers will get to their table before too long. Faster doesn't always equal better. If any restaurants are thinking of putting such a process in place, it's important to know whether they're really going to improve the dining experience, and most importantly, the odds of a customer returning for multiple visits.

If your company is in need of pin-pointing inefficiencies and rebuilding broken procedures, contact our business process consultants today! We'll assist your team in developing solutions that deliver successful results WITHOUT restrictive time limits.

Christmas and the Absolute Date

Millions of people all over the world rush to complete final purchases before the stroke of midnight. It's the biggest retail deadline of the year, which raises the question: Do deadlines make us more productive?

The intensity of the holiday season is caused by a fixation on December 25th. Every decoration must be completed by this date, every gift must be acquired, every Christmas card stamped and delivered. We privately measure success and failure by what we accomplish before this day. Christmas isn't just a holiday, it's also a stressor.

Here are a few choice quotes on the topic of deadlines:

A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all. - Rita Mae Brown

A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large. - Anonymous

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.  -Douglas Adams

Some people will insist that they appreciate the pressure of an absolute date, as it provides an easy way to measure progress. Others will claim that without a deadline they would have a hard time being motivated. But ultimately, deadlines are extrinsic factors. They are external, not internal. We may try to join our families before Christmas Eve, but that time would still be meaningful if we arrived an hour or day later. After all, the real goal is not meeting the deadline but spending time with loved ones.

When you're wrapping up your own holiday seasons, remember that deadlines are not as important as results. If a flight is delayed, you will still arrive. If cards are not addressed on time, they will still eventually be delivered. The most productive way to spend the holidays is not obsessing over the time remaining but enjoying the time together. That's the source of the joy of the season. Anything else that takes away from that joy causes unnecessary stress and can turn the holidays into a time that you dread, instead of the most wonderful time of the year.

If you can find a way to focus on the result instead of on the absolute date, then not only will stress be decreased, but it will be much easier to successfully achieve your goal. You shouldn't stress to send gifts on time so they arrive when they're supposed to, you should look forward to giving friends and family something that they'll enjoy. You shouldn't stress about being somewhere for the holidays even when unforeseen factors stand in your way, you should be excited about seeing loved ones and bringing them joy during the holiday season. When you focus on the correct goals, you're able to use your abilities to best achieve excellent results.

This holds true in the workplace as well. Over-emphasizing deadlines can lead to substandard results. If the main focus is on a due date instead of the thing that is due by that date, work can become rushed. If the focus is on the result, and if you're truly excited about achieving that result, the work should not only get done at the right time, but should be even better thanks to decreasing stress and putting your focus in the right place.

Unfortunately, most of us have been shopping on Christmas Eve. We've seen the stress as people try to fight through crowds in order to snag those last minute gifts. Likely we've been stressed as well. No matter what you may say about the motivation the absolute date of December 25th provides, last minute shopping on the night of the 24th is an experience you'd be wise to avoid in the future.

If you're interested in transitioning your business from having a focus on absolute dates to focusing on the real goals that matter, contact the business consultants here at Accelawork!

Business Improvement Solutions Without Technology

A project with a major institution created tremendous workflow improvements. Ulysses Learning helped Harris Bank improve business processes without technical changes.

The website TMCNet features a Q&A with the major players:

At organizations of all sizes, there has been a renewed focus on building a customer-focused culture. However, doing so requires changing the way the company does business at all levels, from the front-line to upper management. And to be effective, there has to be employee buy-in, otherwise, it’s just empty platitudes.

Ulysses helped Harris’ Lending business make the transition from its previous transactional and tactical approach to a more effective market and customer-focused approach. To ensure this initiative was a success, our team worked with Harris to foster a culture where every employee, at every level, had a stake and ownership in the outcome.

Above all, these opening paragraphs provide a single powerful statement: that all stakeholders must be involved and have real ownership for change to be effective. Inclusive language may be more common today but it is no less important. We cannot expect an organization to significantly improve unless the people who are doing the work believe that change is possible and that they have the authority and responsibility to make enhancements.

The end result of this level of thinking is characterized by Hilde Betts, a Senior VP at Harris Bank. The "lessons learned" are as follows:

  • You can make significant workflow and process changes without focusing on technology.
  • To make change happen, you need to get everyone at the organization, all levels engaged. And it’s especially crucial to engage the front-line employees.
  • If you can’t articulate the value – both from an organization-wide perspective as well as an individual perspective – the initiative doesn’t have “teeth.”
These revelations are crucial to any business that wants to make improvements to patterns of work. We assist organizations in learning how to work smarter from the bottom up. Contact our consultants today!

The Productivity Secret: Create a World Without Deadlines

AccelaWork principal Robby Slaughter has another article in the Indianapolis Business Journal this week. The piece is titled "Imagine a World Without Deadlines."

Here's an excerpt from the full essay:

Deadlines might seem like a necessary aspect of all human endeavors. But the word itself doesn’t come from highly organized corporations. The first recorded appearance of “deadline” in English dates from the Civil War. This usage indicates a point beyond which soldiers are authorized to shoot escaping prisoners. Stay within the zone, this term seems to promise, and you might not end up dead.

Anyone working on deadline can sympathize with these convicts. We, too, are trapped by an invisible line we must not cross, and each step toward the point of no return fills us with impending dread. It’s true that completed work must be handed off from one person to the next, but perhaps we can find a better working model than one originally coined for violent reprisal. Perhaps we should focus not on what happens when we fail, but how and where we can work together.

Deadlines are everyday aspect of business workflow. But they really only make sense when you're working independently, not collaboratively. Slaughter continues:

A change away from deadlines toward collaboration zones cannot be done instantly or without coordination. If I send my editor an incremental update to this essay every day, it will result in annoyance rather than increased productivity. Instead, we need a way for us both to be able to view and edit these words at the same time without the hassle of managing file versions, sending documents via e-mail, receiving and opening attachments, then replying with feedback.

This doesn't require advanced technology. You can encourage a smarter business process by putting people and resources in the same place. A whiteboard is a much better indicator of status than a series of phone calls. A posted draft is a much cleaner system for showing overall progress than having countless outdated versions in everyone's email inbox.

Deadlines probably shouldn't be used so much in your organization. For more information about how to improve productivity in your business, talk to the productivity experts at AccelaWork today.

Corporate Productivity Takes a Hit From a Bug

While most people were ringing in the new year, one retail shopping network in Australia decided to leap forward to January 2016.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an initial report on the computer glitch:

Retail businesses across the country have lost thousands of dollars over the long weekend because a computer glitch left shoppers unable to use the Bank of Queensland’s Eftpos terminals.

BOQ’s Eftpos machines skipped ahead when the clock ticked over to January 1 and started date stamping January 2016.

BOQ staff have not been able find what caused the problem, but a temporary solution has been put in place to ease retailers’ frustrations.

The glitch cost businesses untold amounts as the Eftpos terminals read customers’ cards as having expired and refused their transactions.

We may never know exactly what caused this problem, but certainly countless small retailers are angry about the loss of sales and having to turn away customers. But even without understanding the technical details, we can identify two process problems:

First, it seemed the Bank of Queensland had not flagged the 2010 rollover as a condition which required intentional testing. This doesn't take a computer genius to identify. After all, moving from 12/31/2009 to 1/1/2010 clearly required more attention than say, moving from 12/15/2009 to 12/16/2009. This was a new month, a new year, and a new decade. After the world spent billions of dollars to fix the Y2K problem, one would think a major world bank would have thought to test their systems by setting the date forward.

To understand the second process error, take a look at the comments of one frustrated business owner:

Barry Jones, owner of Sharky’s T-shirt and souvenir store in Cairns, said his business was without an Eftpos machine for two days.

He spent close to an hour on the BOQ’s helpline on Friday to no avail and did not receive as much as a courtesy call from the BOQ to explain the problem or tell him it had been fixed.

Apparently, the Bank of Queensland failed to communicate with stakeholders regarding process issues. It's okay for companies to make mistakes, but talking to customers, explaining the problem, and letting them know when it is resolved reduces the impact of the problem and builds confidence.

Business Process Improvement and The Power of Perspective

Business process improvement can be controversial. To illustrate, consider the firestorm over a photograph displaying a conversation between President Obama and Vice President Biden. Turns out, a picture may not be worth a thousand words but instead a thousand different points of view.

Just this week, the picture of President Obama and Vice President Biden was posted on the White House Flickr page along with a couple dozen comments attempting to both "read" the body language and succumb to a logical solution as to why President Obama looks the way he does. Below are just a few examples of the comments posted:

Heike 1964 says:

He looks like as he sleep [sic].

roger.wilco says:

Wow, he looks like an egotistical scornful guy. I think I'd appreciate my POTUS having a little more humility

Happy Heart2010 says:

President Obama is leaning back, listening and mentally going over the details as Vice President Biden gives updates on 'topics'.

In one published article, further comments appear:
"He's tired and he's floating above it all," observed Ann Althouse, who then made the leap to predict this was a sign that Obama will not run for a second term.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey looked at Obama's face and got the distinct impression that the boss wasn't pleased, claiming "the stern body language of the President towards his VP isn't a fluke."

But another conservative, while acknowledging the negative comments about the picture, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "I haven't yet seen any real explanation of how the photo is actually unflattering," said National Review Online's Mike Potemra -- who added, as others also noted, that the tux and pose give Obama a bit of a James Bond look.

As can be seen, there are many different perspectives. However, no one but the two men—and perhaps a select few Secret Service staff members—can actually attest to the true contents, emotions and words exchanged during their discussion. Regardless of differing views however, this picture neither disproves or confirms varying arguments. In fact, it does nothing more than provide a sneak peek into the background of our nation's leaders. So why then is it making an enormous splash in headlines?

Although we at AccelaWork are not here to make political statements, one observation is clear: we all experience judgment. Whether in a classroom, on a first date or at a job interview, at one point in time some variable has lead others to reside in their own conclusions about you, your work or even what you represent. Yes, perhaps these conclusions are inaccurate, a stretch of the truth or even completely false, but despite your efforts at rectifying them, the damage has already been done. First impressions, positive or negative in nature, weigh heavily in the recipe for success. For entrepreneurs, small business owners or even sales professionals, its these impressions that can make or break a deal.

Part of our mission is to assist businesses in repairing, redistributing or even redeveloping processes so that first impressions seen are of an organized, efficient and viable business rather than a sloppy, slow and unprofessional one. As consultants, we aim to offer a non-evasive and unbiased way to get true assessment as to the interworkings of both the company as a whole and the stakeholders who nuture that business. We seek out misdirections in assigned procedures as well as process inefficiencies that not only lag productiveness, but inhibit evolution and creation.

As the saying goes, "make a good first impression" because it is this initial encounter that which holds strong in the minds of those you meet and interact with. Granted, you cannot control mental cues, but you can work towards relaying the best, most profound, side to yourself and/or your business. Reach out to our process improvement experts today to learn more about how we can help.

Productivity Growth Through Social Media

AccelaWork's founder had another article in the electronic edition of the Hamilton County Business Magazine. This piece was about productivity and social media.

We've published the article in full below:

One of the hottest buzzwords in the news today is “social media.” Cable news networks are using Twitter to capture public opinion. Everyone from teenagers to retirees are joining Facebook. The professional pick up line is no longer “may I have your business card” but “I’d like to ask you to join my professional network on LinkedIn.” These social media services are incredibly popular, but can they actually be used to benefit you and your business?

The challenge in embracing any new phenomenon is more than just figuring out how to use the tools and speak the lingo. It requires that we truly understand what is going on and why it is relevant in our lives. To use social media productively, we must get past the hype and focus on the underlying concepts. Once we see how this trend actually operates, we can determine how it applies to our lives. To begin to understand “social media” we should start with the opposite term: “mass media.” This newspaper, your favorite radio station and a monthly glossy magazine are all examples of mass media. This is information and programming distributed to the masses which is generally representative of the masses. Most television programs, for example, are designed to appeal to millions of people. A sitcom written in an obscure foreign language about a niche topic would never make it to prime time.

Social media, then, is the notion that information and programming can be distributed to small groups of people without concern for mass appeal. Before the age of the Internet, this was infeasible. You simply couldn’t write columns on extremely unusual topics and publish them for anyone to see. A mass media outlet would not sponsor such endeavors. But the Internet allows anyone to be a publisher and anyone to find and consume obscure content. Social media enables all of us to have our own tiny mass media empires focused on our own topics and designed for populations with a common interest.

For each social media tool, then, it’s helpful to find a corresponding analogue in the world of mass media. LinkedIn (, for example, is a website that enables business professionals to track the careers of themselves and their business contacts, and to use those resources to network and build business. That makes LinkedIn a social media form of a mass media tool called the telephone book. Instead of publishing the same phone book for everyone in a geographic area, LinkedIn provides a detailed phone book focused just on the people in your personal network and their contacts. That means that an easy way to use LinkedIn productively is to consider how to use the phone book productively: namely, to find people you know, look up people you meet, and reach out your contacts to help you make new connections.

The social media tool Facebook is designed to let individuals publish information about themselves, their interests and their personal affiliations, and share that information with their “friends.” That means Facebook is somewhat analogous to the society pages in an classy newspaper. Those columns are mostly announcements about important people. Facebook is effectively your own society page for all of your friends and fans. You can use it to let others know what you are doing, as well as keep up with the antics of those who are important to you. With a little contemplation, you can usually find a corresponding mass media example of any social media tool. The photo-sharing site Flickr is very much like your own personal coffee table book publishing house. Blogging services like WordPress and Blogger correspond to your own personal newspaper column. Twitter is just soundbites captured in written form. YouTube is your own personal television station. That website even offers a poignant tagline: “Broadcast Yourself.”

In this sense, social media and mass media really aren’t that different. Social media is just mass media with you at the center and targeted on a precise subset of the masses. The same strategies are appropriate, they just need to be tuned for what you can personally accomplish and what is most effective among your target population. And ultimately, there’s still no higher honor than making the jump between social media and mass media. Great bloggers occasionally write books. Great authors maintain a blog between novels. There’s plenty of room for both social and mass media.

Working productively with social media tools requires understanding the social media phenomenon. Through the incredible power of the Internet, media production is now accessible to everyone and media targeting can be far more precise. Become more effective in your use of social media by mapping new tools to older examples. Remember what YouTube recommends: “Broadcast Yourself.”

There are two key questions around the idea of social media and productivity. First: can we use these services to productive ends where they help us to grow our businesses and improve our lives? And second: can we efficiently and effectively use social media networks?

The answer to both is a resounding yes. For more information, contact our business consultants for more information on how to use social media wisely to increase productivity growth.

The Five Box System and Its Effectiveness

As part of the More Than a Few Words podcast, Indianapolis small business leader Lorraine Ball sat down with our own Robby Slaughter to talk about productivity. A key topic from the conversation was the "Five Box System."

The podcast is available at at Roundpeg's site. Here was Robby's summary of the Five Box System:

The Five Box System says that you have a pile of stuff, papers, junk, whatever... that has been overwhelming you, generating frustration and dissatisfaction. Just take that pile of stuff and divide it into five even pieces and divide it into five sealed boxes, one for each day of the week.

And then every day of the week, schedule fifteen minutes to fight that box.

This is a really important productivity tip that many would be wise to try out. After all, think about how often a giant stack of documents in your "In" box can seem like a daunting and insurmountable task. You know that stack is more than you can handle in one sitting, so you push it off and push it off until it becomes larger and larger and more overwhelming.

Henry Ford summed this exact idea up pretty well:

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.
This is an idea that elite distance runners often embrace. When starting to fade in a race, it isn't uncommon for someone to think about maintaining that speed just until the next light post, and then when they reach that light post, to try to maintain the same speed until the next tree. Or on the track, the thought process may be "Just another 10 meters" over and over again for as long as possible. When thinking that way, it isn't uncommon to be able to prolong the amount of time until you're able to fall off the pace. However, if instead of thinking "I just have to stick with this competitor for another 10 meters" the same athlete thought "I have to stick with this competitor for another two miles" the task becomes a much more overwhelming one.

While your work may not involve anything nearly as tough as running four-minute miles over the course of a 10k race, it still can be very important to break things into smaller tasks. Doing a little bit every day is going to be much easier than trying to do things in one giant batch, especially when the task is an unpleasant one. It's much easier to schedule 15 minutes a day than it is to schedule an hour and 15 minutes on a Friday.

Another tip to make this process an effective one is to set a strict time limit for yourself and stick to it. Back to the example of organizing papers, if that's your task, set an alarm for 15 minutes from now and don't check your phone, email, or speak to anyone until the alarm goes off. In exchange for that, stop the unpleasant task as soon as the alarm goes off. Whatever you didn't get to can be tackled tomorrow. If you've been putting it off anyway, having a strict time limit will help you to get it done without skipping days (or weeks) of your task. And by having that limited amount of time, it's going to be much easier to really buckle down and work without distractions, as opposed to thinking, "I'll get this done sometime this afternoon."

For more information on how you can up your organization skills, contact our business process implementation consultants today! We love to help organizations like yours become more productive and more organized!

Passive Aggressive Threats Hurt Productivity

Companies use email to communicate on just about every imaginable topic, from party announcements to corporate decisions. But it's still surprising to see an email that contains an underlying use of threatening language.

Here are a few lines from a message that was anonymously forwarded to AccelaWork:

Please look at the attached list and make sure you know what day and time you are scheduled for the [REDACTED] Training. This training will be two hours so please plan the rest of your day accordingly.

Please remember, this is a MANDATORY training.  As was stated in a previous email re: [REDACTED] Training, "staff members are going to be held accountable for not attending meetings, or arriving late.  This will include corrective action plans, written reprimands and if not corrected could result in termination."

When reading this email, one thing is clear: its phrasing is definitely a threatening and caustic choice of words. Though both paragraphs start with the word "please," the expectations of gentility and politeness turn sour in the brutal, underlying tone. In fact, much of the language is the textbook definition of passive-aggressive. For example, the remark: "this training will be two hours so please plan the rest of your day accordingly," clearly implies that the author assumes those who receive the email are unable to manage their own time without explicit reminders.

Furthermore, the use of all capital letters (which is typically not considered effective for email productivity) in a way belittles employees as it projects a sense of reprimand and shouting. Additionally, the author has told the employees (twice) that if they do not meet expectations, they will be punished. When proving a point, quoting yourself can be helpful; however, in this instance, restating an open threat merely relays doubt in both employee listening and understanding. All that can serve to do is discourage employees who were already doing a quality job at these things.

There may be some issues that were in place prior to cause the sender of this message to take on such a tone, but that's still no excuse for treating employees in this manner. If you continue to treat people like they're incompetent, they may just start to believe it. Regardless, there are ways to address problems in the workplace, and it's almost never through a threatening email. There should be a level of trust in place where a simple message informing employees of a training session is enough. The fact that the session is mandatory shouldn't have to be repeated. If the training is worthwhile, then employees should want to attend. The fact that work is still required in the other hours of the day shouldn't be a big deal. Employees should be trusted to find ways to align their day on their own. If that level of trust is in place, employees will not only be happier, but work will be better for everyone.

The way in which you talk to employees not only influences their satisfaction at work, but also impacts their overall productivity. Words matter. Check our follow-up post where we rewrite the above note using positive, empowering language. If you're reading the email above and thinking it sounds like a standard message and that there isn't really a problem, well then you may need to re-evaluate the way you communicate throughout your organization.

If you want more information on how to properly communicate throughout your organization, contact the business consulting team at AccelaWork today! We can help you avoid issues like the email above and find ways for everyone involved in your business to thrive.

Changing Threats to Requests In Emails

In a previous post on this blog, we reviewed a poorly-worded email message from management. Today, we will show how to rewrite that same text so that it fosters satisfaction and productivity.

The post on productivity growth through threats included the following snippet forwarded to AccelaWork anonymously:

Please look at the attached list and make sure you know what day and time you are scheduled for the [REDACTED] Training. This training will be two hours so please plan the rest of your day accordingly.

Please remember, this is a MANDATORY training.  As was stated in a previous email re: [REDACTED] Training, “staff members are going to be held accountable for not attending meetings, or arriving late.  This will include corrective action plans, written reprimands and if not corrected could result in termination.”

In order to change the tone of this notice, we must do more than just swap out a few words. Instead, we have to change our perspective on the purpose of this message.

At its core, the email is really just providing information. But that data comes in two varieties: facts and expectations. The first is simply the training schedule and notice that the training lasts two hours. The latter, however, indicates what the author believes about the people who are reading the message. If we simply strip the expectations, the email becomes much cleaner:

Please look at the attached list to see the day and time you are scheduled for the [REDACTED] Training. Please note that the training will be two hours in length. Thank you!
Of course, we cannot remove expectations entirely. The structure of all work is based upon expectations, which consist of both responsibility and authority. The use (and capitalization) of the word MANDATORY implies that all of the authority in this case lies with management. Language such as "held accountable", "written reprimands", and "could result in termination" show that the employees have responsibility for their fate.

Instead, consider a more balanced approach to the second paragraph:

We believe you will find this training to be tremendously beneficial. If you are not able to make your scheduled time due to other commitments, reply to this message so we can take a look at your workload.
Changing the phrasing as shown above uses empowering, supportive language. It reminds employees that training sessions are intended as a benefit, not a burden. Still, it clearly states that employees are expected to attend the training, but also gives them another option: talking to their manager.

If you still feel the need to write emails in threats rather than requests, then there's probably a problem with your organization. Either you have the wrong people working for you, or you've set up a system where workers don't feel valued and empowered. Either way, it's time for a change. Take the time to emphasize the reasoning behind your actions. If you're going to have a training session, take the time to show how it can be beneficial. If you're having difficulties articulating those benefits, then it's more than likely true that the training is a waste of time and should be scrapped. If it's something that's important for your employees, it shouldn't be difficult to explain at all. If someone still doesn't understand why you're requesting something of them, then it may be time to discuss things outside of email.

At AccelaWork, we constantly work with our clients to help them improve productivity, workflow, and stakeholder satisfaction.  Making improvements to the words we use at the office can tremendously impact success. Learn more about how to write and speak more effectively. Contact our business process improvement consultants today!

Workplace Productivity in 36 Minutes

There's nothing quite like the satirical news magazine The Onion to help us recognize ironies in our advanced society. A recent headline simply reads: "Man Gets Life In Order For 36 Minutes."

In their characteristic style, they "report" on the status of one Floridian:

JACKSONVILLE, FL—Briefly overcoming a near-continuous streak of disorganization, area man Terry Oberlin, 37, got his life together for exactly 36 minutes, sources confirmed Monday.

According to family reports, Oberlin's bills for the month were paid, the living room was vacuumed, the dishes from dinner were all washed and put away, and the father of two was sitting in his favorite chair in the living room without a single thing in his life out of place.

"It was nice to get some chores out of the way," Oberlin told reporters later, acknowledging that for more than half an hour he experienced no regrets, despair, or frustration of any kind. "Felt really good."

We're big fans of The Onion having covered a piece on workplace productivity early last year. But this article is really more about the obsession with being "done." Our lives—whether at work or at home—seem to be characterized with tasks we have not yet finished.

The connection between worker productivity and satisfaction is clear. We feel good about ourselves when we get things done. But that doesn't mean the opposite is necessarily the case. We don't need to harbor a sense of guilt and self-defeat because something happens to remain on our to-do list. Our remaining work is only a burden if we're not sure what we're supposed to do.

At AccelaWork, we strive to create well-defined objectives for each year, month, week and even day. Specifying a handful of goals in the morning can help provide direction for the day and accomplishment when it's time to head home. Improved productivity requires change. Reach out to our Indianapolis consultants to learn more.

Productivity in Real Estate Through Phone Calls

BarCamp Indiana featured a blog post from AccelaWork's founder Robby Slaughter. The post discussed the correlation between real estate productivity and the telephone.

Unfortunately, that site is no longer online, but we were able to save an expert from his post "Real Productivity in Real Estate":

In order for real estate professionals to improve their productivity with regard to incoming calls, start by recognizing the difference between your relationship with the phone and the person who is dialing. Unlike you, it's likely that they don't take part in dozens of calls each day. While you have every right to be busy, that potential customer does not automatically realize that their call is not the only one you receive today. This disparity is crucial and it gives you a reason to change your tactics.

Instead of answering the phone ready to help the client, consider answering the phone ready to schedule time to help the client. That appointment might be only five minutes in the future or the following day, but doing so immediately changes the character of the relationship. You are now working together rather than just answering a call. You now have a time-frame for mutual work and the beginnings of commitment.

Now you may be thinking that you aren't in real estate. Sure enough, many of our readers aren't. But that doesn't mean that this can't apply to your organization as well. It's almost a guarantee that you've been faced with a seemingly never-ending series of disruptive phone calls.

Think about how often a single phone call pulls you out of the momentum of your working day. By always being ready to drop everything you're doing in order to help someone on an incoming call, you're prioritizing the caller's time over your own. And sure, the call could potentially be done with in five minutes, but oftentimes what may seem like a five minute call drags on into a twenty minute ordeal. That can be extremely disruptive when you have more important work that has to be done. Even if calls are the most important thing you have to deal with, by picking the phone up with no idea what you'll be discussing, you'll be unprepared and likely unable to be as helpful as you ideally would be.

Actual phone calls aren't the only culprit. Texts can be just as disruptive, if not more so. Simply having your phone sitting on your desk means the constant buzzing is going to leech your attention. It's pretty hard to stay 100% focused while seeing the blinking notification light, even if you're the most dedicated worker. Instead of leaping at every little notification, put your phone on silent and put it out of sight. Unless you're expecting an important call, it's likely that the texts you get about lunch plans or the afternoon Cubs game can probably wait.

If you're actually good about managing your phone, then you can batch together appointments. By turning an incoming call into a scheduled appointment to properly focus on the call, you can enable yourself to manage your schedule much better. If you have three of these calls, you can try to sort them into the same hour. That shouldn't be a problem if the problems really only should take five minutes to talk through, and then you have the built-in excuse of getting on another call if one of your conversations begins to uselessly drag on.

For more information on how you can create and maintain client relationships while improving productivity, contact our business process implementation consultants today! We love to help organizations like yours become more productive and more organized!

The SarcMark And Its Benefits In Communication

Nowadays, email exchange is a dominant form of both personal and business communication. In fact, it's so commonplace that now there is a special feature that helps avoid one of it's biggest blunders: the misinterpretation of words. 

The SarcMark, as it was formally introduced, is a punctuation mark that represents sarcasm. Below is the minute-long advertisement (direct link):

The SarcMark's website has more information about the reasoning behind its invention:

Like most inventions, the SarcMark™ came to be out of necessity. Its creator, Douglas Sak, was writing an e-mail to a friend and was attempting to be sarcastic. It occurred to him that the English Language, and perhaps other languages, lacked a punctuation mark to denote sarcasm.

Sarcasm, Inc. was formed in 2006 to pursue this idea, and with a great deal of effort and undying support from family and friends, the punctuation mark for sarcasm came to life.

Despite treading on the unchartered territory of inventing a punctuation mark, the shareholders of Sarcasm, Inc. have been pleasantly surprised by the rate at which it has spread and the demand for the SarcMark™ to be available on additional platforms. Sarcasm, Inc. intends to relentlessly pursue development on new platforms and spread what is a simple idea, but absolutely necessary in the sarcastic world we live in today.

The SarcMark addresses a real problem in this world of constant written communication, and the early reactions to it show this. One article in the Guardian was especially complimentary of the new irony punctuation.
Its product, perhaps the most innovative and original of the century so far, is a punctuation mark for sarcasm. Although ­strangers to the mark might mistake it for a squiggle with a dot inside, the "SarcMark" will soon be turning up in our inboxes every day. The question that will baffle future generations is how we managed to live without it for so long.

It's surprising, given the ­brilliance of the idea, that it has never been suggested before. ­Admittedly, French poet ­Alcanter de Brahm proposed using a ­backward-facing question mark to denote irony in the late 19th century. But that's in no way similar to the scribbled brilliance of the SarcMark. And the fact that US writer andsatirist Josh Greenman proposed the upside-down exclamation mark as a "sarcasm point" in an article for Slate magazine in 2004 is equally ­immaterial.

While the SarcMark hasn't quite caught on yet, the fact so many writers loved it initially, and the fact that it was invented at all, highlights a larger problem in today's society: What is the best way to communicate online in the same way that you can in person?

We have recently covered, words matter in regard to employee satisfaction. Likewise, we must also emphasize that context of words are just as important. It's always best to communicate in person and remove the uncertainty, but that simply isn't always possible. Besides certain abbreviations such as LOL and j/k, we have only known the email that lacks the ability to show emotion. And even then confusion can still occur. The results: a varying amount of misinterpretations that may offend, discourage, challenge, or simply create reverse or unintentional reactions. And though the SarcMark aims to prevent this, it does not guarantee it. So, users beware!

The truth is, regardless of abbreviations or symbols, being cognizant of both language and altering points of view in an email is important when seeking proper, positive communication, particularly in the workplace. Contact our business consultants today to learn more about empowering stakeholders through effective and efficient communication that doesn't depend on nonverbal cues for translation.

Self-Control Can Be Contagious

Trying to stay focused at work? Want to avoid eating that extra piece of cake? Science now says: try thinking about people with better self-control than you.

The folks at posted a news article reporting that self-control is contagious:

A new University of Georgia study has revealed that self-control—or the lack thereof—is contagious. In a just-published series of studies involving hundreds of volunteers, researchers have found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely exert self-control. The researchers found that the opposite holds, too, so that people with bad self-control influence others negatively. The effect is so powerful, in fact, that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.

"The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control," said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the UGA department of psychology. "And by exhibiting self-control, you're helping others around you do the same."

People tend to mimic the behavior of those around them, and characteristics such as smoking, drug use and obesity tend to spread through social networks. But vanDellen’s study is thought to be the first to show that self-control is contagious across behaviors. That means that thinking about someone who exercises self-control by regularly exercising, for example, can make your more likely to stick with your financial goals, career goals or anything else that takes self-control on your part.

VanDellen's findings, which are published in the early online edition of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, are the result of five separate studies conducted over two years with study co-author Rick Hoyle at Duke University.

While it can be hard to accept the idea that emotions are so powerful that they can be spread from person to person and dramatically influence productive behaviors. If you are feeling overwhelmed by distractions at work and need more self-control, reserve time to merely think about someone with better self-control. After all, the habits of many successful people are inspiring. Some feel that by just adopting the same morning routine as an exceptional athlete, writer, or business person will be enough to direct them along the same path to success.

An article on Business Insider shared some thoughts on this and the routines of some successful people. We've included some of the more interesting bits.

Scott Adams, the creator of 'Dilbert,' designed his morning routine to maximize his creativity.

The first 20 minutes of Adams' day are exactly the same, every day. Putting his physical body on autopilot "frees his brain for creativity."

Concentrating his creative hours in the morning makes sense for Adams. "My value is based on my best ideas in any given day, not the number of hours I work," he says.

Billionaire John Paul DeJoria starts his day the same way, no matter where he is.

DeJoria, the cofounder of Patrón tequila and Paul Mitchell hair products, starts every morning with five minutes of quiet reflection.

"Doesn’t matter where I’m at, which home I’m in, or what hotel room I’m visiting," he says. "The very second I wake up, I stay in bed for about five minutes and just be."

Andrew Yang, CEO of Venture for America, keeps his a.m. routine simple.

The first Yang does when he wakes up? Push the dog off him.

Next he'll check on his wife and son. If his son is awake, he'll spend time with him before heading to the office. If not, he hits the gym.

If he needs an a.m. pick-me-up, he'll open a memo file on his phone and record three things he is thankful for. "The things I've typed on other days are still there," he says. "It's a long list. Always helps."

If you need help increasing productivity beyond just mental focus, reach out to our consultants at AccelaWork. We are experts in helping organizations improve processes and procedures by empowering stakeholders to make positive change.

Saving Money By Analyzing Efficiency Vs. Productivity

At AccelaWork, we're always fascinated by the way people organize their work and prioritize tasks. Recently, we learned that one non-profit had assigned culinary duties.

To protect all those involved, the names have been changed. But here's the gist of the phone conversation between Jack, the external accountant for the group, and Francine, the programs director:

Jack: I'd like to come by next week and go over the annual budget. What's a good time for us to get together?

Francine: No can do. I'm out for the next two weeks.

Jack: Taking a vacation? Any place that would make me jealous?

Francine: No, I will be in town, working. I'll just be at home cooking for the spring fundraiser.

Jack: Cooking?

Francine: Yes. We looked at catering the event, but it's just too expensive. So I'll be making and freezing cookies and soup at home.

An old saying reminds us that productivity isn't just doing things the right way, it also requires doing the right things. Sure, a professional caterer comes at a price. But it's hard to imagine that it's really cheaper to pay Francine's salary for two whole weeks plus the cost of materials. It's just easier to characterize her time as a fixed cost and characterize the event fees as a variable cost. We've got to keep Francine busy anyway, so why shouldn't it be in the kitchen if it seems to save money?

It should be apparent, however, that this tactic doesn't result in savings. Not only is the organization likely paying more in total wages and benefits, they are sacrificing overall efficiency for someone who is probably, at best, a competent amateur. Catering companies prepare meals for hundreds in a few hours. Francine is taking a full two weeks away from the job she's been hired to do in order to stay at home and make food. Something there just doesn't align. Unless she's a severely underpaid employee, the costs just don't add up.

The greatest price, however, is the opportunity cost. Francine is not an expert in making soup and cookies. She is an expert in designing and managing exceptional programs. If she can find two weeks to cook, she can find two weeks to dream big and put together something amazing. That's what she's been hired to do, so if you're not letting her do it, then who knows what the company is missing out on. As great as her cookies may be, the benefits her actual, employable skills would bring about are likely much greater.

We understand that the smaller your organization is, the more likely it is that employees have to wear multiple hats. There may be instances when someone is feeling stuck in their current work and wants to take on another task in order to refresh and clear their mind. But still, we believe that having people outside their area of expertise is a major waste of resources and talent. The times when a process like this would work out for the better are certainly the exceptions, not the rule. While you may think of money, supplies, and other tangible things as your company's manageable resources, they usually aren't nearly as valuable as time is. Finding efficient ways to manage your time and talent will ultimately lead to greater productivity and to achieved goals.

At AccelaWork, we help both companies and non-profits find ways to increase their focus on their core business. If you find yourself busy "cooking to save money" (and you don't work for a restaurant or catering company), contact our business improvement consultants. Improved productivity begins by making contact.

Advice on Avoiding Social Media Blunders

Twitter, as we very well know, is one of the fastest growing avenues of social media today. And although it only allows up to 140 characters, it's still large enough for trouble—regardless of the intentions.

In one story, a British native named Paul Chambers was arrested for a tweet he posted on January 7th in regards to Northern England's Robin Hood Airport:

You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!
Turns out, Chambers' "threat" was his way of airing the frustrations he held about the airport being closed due to snow. Even if Chambers used the SarcMark, which our consultants reviewed, it's highly doubtful the situation would have been prevented. For, according to him, the police simply did not understand it was his attempt at sarcasm:
You may say, and I certainly realise now, it was ill-advised. But it was clearly frustration, caused by heavy snowfall grounding flights and potentially scuppering my own flight a week later. Like having a bad day at work and stating that you could murder your boss, I didn't even think about whether it would be taken seriously.

Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.

I never expected to be charged, but a month later I was: not under the offence of making a bomb threat, for which I was originally arrested, but under the communications act for the offence of sending a menacing message. This first appeared to be an absolute offence, much the same as speeding: conviction does not depend on mens rea. For a stupid mistake, I was faced with the prospect of a career-ruining criminal conviction. After fresh legal advice it turned out I could argue I had no intention and awareness to commit the crime, and I could plead not guilty. Even after all the preceding absurdity and near-breakdown-inducing stress, I was confident common sense would prevail in my day in court.

This story poses a valuable lesson: social media outlets, though seemingly casual,  may be perceived as mediums of precise communication and can affect employee satisfaction. Whatever is posted can be viewed by virtually anyone. Therefore, it's dangerous to assume that every reader understands the thoughts and intentions of what is written, regardless of whether the message is clearly absurd or not.

Especially in today's era of better safe than sorry when it comes to threats, it's not worth making any joke on social media that could be taken the wrong way. Even if you have your profiles set to private, there's nothing to stop anyone from screen-shotting your posts and reposting them all over the internet. Chambers writes in his article that he believed he's no longer able to speak his mind, but in reality, he likely knows a whole lot of trouble could've been avoided if he had reconsidered before pressing that ever-dangerous "send" button.

Social media can be a great source of productivity and improvement in both our personal and professional lives. It's simply a matter of how to use it properly. Productivity and social media can go hand in hand. Not sure how to properly use social media within your organization? Learn more by contacting our business process improvement consultants today!

Worker Productivity Bolstered by 18 Cool Tools

The folks at Mashable, the "world's largest social media company," published a list of productivity tools. You probably didn't know that the web has radical new ways to conduct old fashioned tasks like managing your to-do list, taking notes or gathering information.

Barb Dybwad's article 18 Online Productivity Tools for Your Business had a few buzzwords but some great ideas:

Choosing primarily online tools for your productivity workflow is a great way to address the issue of source agnostic accessibility. It’s also a convenient method to ensure you have a backup of your important day-to-day items and files in case a particular computer or device fails. One other not insignificant factor in selecting cloud-based tools to keep you and your business on track is cost: the online equivalents of once desktop-bound applications are often much cheaper in both raw cost and maintenance cost, as tool upgrades usually happen behind the scenes and don’t require an in-house IT staff to keep up and running.
The high-powered minds at Mashable sometimes need a little translation. Here are a few definitions:

Technology can be a little overwhelming at times, and the target audience for Mashable is probably not your typical office professional. But after a little practice and patience, it will become clear that the most essential aspect of these new services is how they impact your personal workflow. There will always be a need to make lists, take notes, and gather information. Tools and processes can only make these tasks more efficient and more effective.

At AccelaWork, we help companies to improve productivity by first working to understand their current environment. It might be the case that none of the eighteen tools listed in this article are right for your business, and trying to force a new system is always the wrong idea. If you're ready to talk about improving productivity with someone ready to listen, contact our Indiana consultants. We're here to understand before we advise.

Borders Books and Losing Credibility

It's never easy avoiding favoritism, particularly when it involves a large amount of business with large sums of money. Yet, as those who were Borders bookstore now know, ignoring or delaying others can lead to more than just annoyed clients.

According to Sarah Weinman, publishing industry reporter of DailyFinance:

Just days after reporting dismal holiday earnings, Borders (BGP) can't quite shake off the negative news vibe. According to Debtwire, the company has been "playing a risky game of favorites" by paying only some of the publishers it does business with -- and the ones losing out are in the process of taking legal action. Borders' long-documented money-losing, credit-extending and cash flow problems means that the company is trying to hold on to as much money as it can, and one way it appears it has done so is to make sure its biggest clients are paid first while smaller publishers must wait their turn.

With increased delays, and inquiries into whether Borders would come up with a restructuring plan to speed up outstanding payments rebuffed, a group of these smaller publishers have retained the bankruptcy firm Lowenstein Sandler as legal counsel. It's the same firm that prepared a financial analysis of Borders last December which pinpointed the bulk of the company's problems -- declining revenue and profit margins, a short-term liquidity crunch, a highly leveraged capital structure, and a challenging operating environment. With $674.2 million of short-term obligations, the report noted, "Borders is likely to face a short-term liquidity crunch if it is not able to refinance its debt or generate sufficient cash from operations."

It's another example of the clock ticking on Borders, which must come up with something drastic and unexpected to keep the company afloat a little while longer.

As many businesses continue to bear the weak economy, it comes as no surprise that such large companies are facing financial difficulties. As the article explains, Borders had been facing such problems for over a year. Unfortunately, they were unable to bounce back from this, and an array of other problems, and the company eventually went out of business in 2011.

There was a big amount of debt in the picture, but ultimately Borders wasn't transparent or honest, and that led to its demise.  The business section of TIME detailed that problem:

When the recession hit in 2008-09, Borders was already carrying a huge debt load. It had restructured twice since 2008 in an attempt to pay down some $350 million owed. But Borders could never get out of the hole that its inefficient business practices had put itself in.
But for what weren't focused on here, the major problem wasn't necessarily that Borders was unable to pay their clients. After all, there is no doubt that normal operating procedures can no longer be normal when struggling to keep up with finances. In times such as these, downsizing, price-reductions, pay cuts, and even filing for bankruptcy are commonplace. The problem is, instead of being up front and honest with their financial delays, Borders apparently chose to give the run-around to their smaller publishers.

As the team at AccelaWork sees it, failure can actually help help worker productivity. But, when it begins to cloud judgement and negatively impact client relations—especially among those who help keep your business afloat—failure no longer beneficial. Instead, it leads to a loss of cooperation, clientele and worst of all, credibility. If your company is facing any or all of these issues, don't wait! Contact our our business consultants today. We'll help you identify and benefit from positive failures while showing you how to avoid futile ones.

Business Improvement Process Failure

Millions of companies have pursued major business process improvement projects. Evidence reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, showed that most of these endeavors fail.

According to Satya Chakravorty, this phenomenon should be no surprise:

What do weight-loss plans and process-improvement programs such as Six Sigma and "lean manufacturing" have in common?

They typically start off well, generating excitement and great progress, but all too often fail to have a lasting impact as participants gradually lose motivation and fall back into old habits.

Chakravorty correctly identified one of the  two broad reasons why most process improvement programs fail: change is hard. To implement new systems and maintain new patterns requires incredible diligence, and we are more likely than not to return to our previous ways.

However, there is a second, more fundamental reason why Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and many other approaches are unsuccessful: forcing others to change is nearly impossible. Note the tone of some other parts of the article:

Team members collected data on their current working environment and, with the help of the Six Sigma expert, identified the changes they most needed to make to achieve their stated goal... the expert developed a "to do" list that included action items, responsibilities and deadlines and made sure needed resources were available.


With the departure of the Six Sigma expert, the teams...lost their objective voice...Without the expert to rein them in, some team members began pushing agendas that benefited themselves and their departments, making it harder for the team to agree on new goals.

Read those words carefully. The expert creates the "to do" list, not the stakeholders. The expert is the person who has to "rein in" the team, because only the expert is capable of being "objective." This is a process improvement model based on telling people what to do, not helping them to develop new practices on their own or trusting them to be responsible.

We combat these challenges with methodology engineering by listening first, empowering stakeholders through training, and staying engaged with our clients for at least twelve months to help ensure that new habits become permanent. Improve your organization. Contact our consultants today!

Productivity Consultants Analyze the Three Dollar Mistake

AccelaWork has covered the topic of disrupted travel and its effect on employee productivity due to faulty business improvement solutions on several occasions; however, nothing so far can compare to the bungle made by China Eastern Airlines.

Though the average cost of a one-way flight from Nanchang to Beijing is 2,000 yuan (approximately $323 USD), three hundred lucky customers purchased it for the ultimate bargain price of 20 yuan ($2.90 USD)! According to the airline, the tickets will indeed be honored since the mistake was a direct result of their system.

The company acknowledged the computer error and said it would honour the tickets, even though some of them were sold for travel during the peak-demand Lunar New Year holidays in February, when fares normally jump.
Of course we can only speculate as to how such a malfunction could have even occurred, but one thing is quite clear: this detrimental mistake is what happens when success depends solely on one system. As can be seen, one malfunction, minor or not, can cost thousands of dollars in business revenue.

In a nutshell, no matter how much time is spent creating and updating a program, it can never be totally error-proof. No matter how long a system has been in place, its course of action is always evolving.  No matter how familiar a person is with the inter-workings of a operation, there is always something new to learn and adapt to. Business is a living and thriving thing. Its components should never remain stagnant, not been updated or left untested —a lesson China Eastern Airlines has surely learned.

On a positive note however, we'd like to point out that though the airline is suffering a major failure, it has succeeded in keeping their customers happy. Their immediate response and fair assertion will boost their customer satisfaction and perhaps even increase their flight sales due to the honorable reputation.

Failure and success are the cycle of business. Processes must be built, studied and improved. For more information on how AccelaWork can assist your companies in avoiding both large and small process errors, contact our business process transformation consultants today!

Fresh Thoughts on Business Networking from an Expert

As part of the ongoing More Than a Few Words podcast, Indianapolis small business leader Lorraine Ball sat down with our own Robby Slaughter to talk about productivity and business networking.

The full podcast is available online, or directly at Roundpeg's site. Here are a few of Robby's thoughts on networking:

It's important to have an objective when you network. You don't network for the sake of networking itself, you network to promote your business, you network because you want to find new contacts, because you want to learn more about the space that you are in.

I think the most important tool you can bring to a networking event is a pen and a piece of paper. I'm amazed how many people go to a networking event and never write anything down. How am I going to help you, how am I going to connect you to specific resources if all I have is your business card?

One thing that can be very helpful when going into a networking event is trying to get an advance list of the attendees. If you know who's going to be there, then you can scout out people you may want to meet, and you can gameplan for your interaction with them. In any situation it's better to be more prepared than less prepared, and that goes doubly for networking, especially if it's something you're uncomfortable with. You can minimize your level of discomfort by being extra prepared for any conversation you may have.

In addition to that tip, an Entreprenuer article provided some helpful ideas for networking. We've included some of those below.

Resist the urge to arrive late
Being fashionably late isn't a thing when it comes to networking. Get there early so you can meet others who arrive alone. Once everyone is grouped up, it's much harder to break into a conversation.
Ask easy questions
Sometimes it can be as simple as thinking about a question you wish someone would ask you and going up and asking them that very thing. If nothing like that jumps to mind, you can never go wrong with a simple, "May I join you."
Share your passion

Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.

There are a million companies out there, with a team of entrepreneurs behind each one. Don't be afraid to share what you think makes your company special. People respond to passion.
Don't hijack the conversation

Some people who dislike networking may overcompensate by commandeering the discussion. Don't forget: The most successful networkers (think of those you've met) are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.

This is a great tip for dating as well as networking. Let the other person talk. Be an engaged listener. But don't feel the need to redirect every topic back to yourself. No one likes it when they feel as if the other person is merely biding their time until they can talk again instead of actually listening. Think about terrible conversations you've had with people. Don't do what they did. It can be as simple as that.

Contact our productivity consultants at AccelaWork to learn more about our services.

The Power of the Right Words in Communication

People who learn that AccelaWork offers productivity and workflow consulting often think we make people better at their jobs. That's not only incorrect, it's a dangerous way to think.

Here's a typical interaction between someone on our team and a potential client:

Manager: So you're in the productivity business? That's good, I really want to make my employees more productive. How can you make them get more done?

SD: Actually, we can't make them do anything. It might sound like splitting hairs, but there's a world of difference between wanting your employees to be more productive and wanting to make your employees more productive.

Manager: Huh? What's the difference?

SD: Productivity comes from improvements to workflow and tools, but also from individual empowerment. Trying to force someone to change only degrades their morale.

Manager: This is more complicated than I thought.

The words we use are crucial. If you tell a co-worker that "you're doing it wrong" then you are also doing it wrong! Openly criticizing the way someone works doesn't lead to any kind of meaningful or sustainable change. It only creates frustration and dissatisfaction.

There are few better to talk about the power of words than Mohammed Qahtani, a speaker at the Toastmasters 2015 World Championship of Public Speaking.

Do you know that the amount of people dying from diabetes are three times as many people dying from smoking. Yet, if I put a snicker bar, nobody would say anything.

Do you know that the leading cause of lung cancer? Is not actually a cigarette, it’s your DNA. You could smoke for years and nothing will ever happen to you. This whole war against smoking is just to restrict the farming of tobacco.

Mr. Contest Chair, fellow Toastmasters and guest, I use these arguments even though I just made them up...

A simple choice of ‘word’ can make a difference between someone accepting or denying your message. You can have a very beautiful thing to say, but say it the wrong words and it’s gone.

I have a son who is four, and he had this bad habit of writing on the walls with crayons. And one evening I walked into his room and he’s going at it, just writing and drawing and so on. And I said, hey, hey, hey!

Are you stupid? Don’t you ever do that again? And guess what happened. He did it again.

Nobody likes to be threatened. Nobody likes to be intimidated. His pride will not allow it. He did it again just to spite me. A week later, I walked into his room and again, he’s going at it and this time, he was even looking at me.

Consultants can't be brought in to threaten your employees, nor should they. They aren't going to make your workers work harder. Rather, they should be giving employees the tools for them to become successful. But when phrased in a different way, the entire situation can be a confusing one. Using the right words not only makes sure that your audience clearly knows what you mean to say, but it also means that your point will be received as a meaningful and important one, assuming that it is indeed something meaningful.

It's good to want employees to be more productive. Yet it's also essential to acknowledge that we cannot achieve increased performance through mandate. Instead, we should give employees more authority and responsibility and empower them through additional education. That's the only consistent way to help companies become more productive.

Are you forcing or empowering? business process improvement consultants to learn more.

Sometimes Less is More For Productivity

Over at the website Blogussion, a writer named "Alex" suggested we can increase productivity by doing nothing. How can working less result in more?

In the article (which has since been removed from the site), Alex admits this is weird:

Productivity is actually your ability to produce something. It even makes quite a contradiction to the term as well. Today, I want to talk to you about doing nothing. My favorite thing for getting into a working mood. The Less you do, the More you want to do. Later.
There is some wisdom in this advice, although it's not that you shouldn't work at all. Rather, the article helps to remind us that when we are doing fewer tasks, we tend to accomplish more. Clearing your mind of all the extra, unrelated work enables you to focus. There's only so much your brain can do and so many things you can process at one time. As strange as it may seem to our culture of busy workers, in this case, less is more.

An article on TIME's website echoed this same sentiment. The full article is a fascinating read, and we've included some excerpts from it below.

Time and the way we spend it was Schulte’s focus, and she argued that we spend too much time working, logging more hours at the office than employees in any other developed country save Japan and South Korea. As a result, “we have a lot of unproductive, sick, unhappy, burned out, and disengaged workers,” Schulte noted. Ironically, we are less productive, creative, and innovative than we would be if we had more time off.

Our continual state of busyness, she explained, prevents us from entering the loose, associative mental state in which unexpected connections and aha! insights are achieved...

Beeman and his collaborators have found that although we may appear idle while daydreaming or mind wandering, the brain is actually working especially hard in these moments, tapping a greater array of mental resources than are used during more methodical thinking. This unfocused “default mode,” Schulte has written, “is like a series of airport hubs in different and typically unconnected parts of the brain.” When activated, it “puts together stray thoughts, makes seemingly random connections and enables us to see an old problem in an entirely new light.”

If we don’t allow our minds to have this kind of downtime—because we’re always under stress and on deadline, always making calls and checking email—such connections and insights won’t materialize. “At work and at school, we expect people to pay attention, to focus,” Beeman observed. “To focus on one thing, you have to suppress a lot of other things. Sometimes that’s good. But sometimes a solution to a problem can only come from allowing in apparently unrelated information, from giving time to the quieter ideas in the background."...

“As we move ever further into a knowledge economy, in which ideas are our products, we have to think about where ideas come from,” Schulte concluded. Where they come from, she argued persuasively, is not only from conventional work, but from productive leisure.

At AccelaWork, we constantly try to improve our productivity by doing less. Employees try and find ways to reduce the number of projects they have at the same time. And although we don't want to spend time doing nothing, brainstorming and innovating is always worthwhile. The great ideas of the future begin as daydreams. Why not plan to do less so one day, we can do more? For more information on bringing these principals to your organization, contact the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today!

Work Smarter, Not Just Harder For Increased Productivity

Joblessness is still high, labor costs are down, and unemployment claims are up. When times are tough, businesses must do more with less.

It's easy to characterize this environment as one of tragedy and even oppression. Just look at this quote from an article in The Village Voice, which is ominously titled Row Harder, Slaves! Productivity, Unemployment Claims Up, Costs Down:

Good news for whip-crackers: In the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals, U.S. productivity rose at a 6.2 percent annualized rate -- output up 7.2 percent, hours worked up one percent.


Put simply: The declining number of us who are still working are working harder and getting more done, and being not being compensated accordingly. But you probably knew that.

Millions of Americans would probably agree with the final sentiment from this piece. Yet there's more involved in productivity than simply putting in more hours or moving faster. Rather, the economic downturn is also an opportunity to work smarter.

An article on INC. talked about five ways to work smarter, not harder. The full article is a good read, but we've included some of the main points below.

Take more breaks.

On average, your brain is able to remain focused for only 90 minutes, and then you need at least 15 minutes of rest. (The phenomenon is based on ultradian rhythms.) By taking breaks roughly every 90 minutes, you allow your mind and body to renew--and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.

For some people, 15- to 20-minute breaks might be tough to pull off, but taking short breaks throughout the day can still help you to refresh your mind and reset your attention span.

Take naps.

Not only are naps beneficial for consolidating memories and helping you remember new information (handy if your job includes a lot of research during the day!), they're also useful in helping you avoid burnout, since research shows burnout is a signal that you can't take in more information in this part of your brain until you've had a chance to sleep.

Spend time in nature.

One experiment he mentions tested how relaxed people were when taking a walk down a city street versus in a quiet park. The study found that the level of attention needed to navigate a busy city street is high enough that the walk doesn't let the brain relax enough to reset your focus level.

Move and work in blocks. 

Of course, you can sort out your task list however suits you best, but the important part to note is having a clear finishing point based on your task list rather than thetime you will move to a new location. And when you move, cycling or walking is a good way to go, according to Runyon:

Use this time to practice your Zen, take a break from your screen, and get some movement into your day. Keep your phone in your pocket, and move. Take a break away from work for at least 30 minutes.
If you've been putting off learning a new skill, upgrading your equipment, or organizing your files, now is a great time to make this change. If there is any time that you will need the extra time afforded by a more productive work environment, it's during a recession.  If you're a supervisor, be sure to recognize that your employees feel the strain as much as you do. Asking them to work harder will almost always be demoralizing. But supporting innovation, self-improvement and additional training during the "worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" will remind your team just how important they are to the organization.

Think beyond working harder. Work smarter. Contact our consultants today to learn more.

Trust Employees During Snow Days

When winter weather was closing thousands of schools and businesses across the United States, it inspired a local HR firm to ask a rather curious question.

Indianapolis-based human resource consulting firm FlashPoint posted the following message on Twitter:

worker productivity snow day
That link, by the way, goes to a story from National Public Radio. That article has a few interesting points on the topic.
More than a third of companies now allow at least some employees to do their jobs from home. As telecommuting becomes more mainstream, a handful of states provide tax credits to encourage it, and the Obama administration is advocating it as a way to reduce traffic and promote work-family balance.


Working from home is growing more popular at all kinds of employers. A 2008 survey by a consortium called World at Work found that some 17 million Americans telecommuted at least part time. Consultant Maryann Perrin, who helps employers adopt flexible work arrangements, says telecommuting has become common in companies large and small.

"As they look at their business growing, this bricks and mortar that's going to have to grow along with it is extremely costly," Perrin says. "And they've realized if they can take more advantage of telework, that they can have a significant impact on the bottom line."

Perrin says, though, that a successful telecommuting strategy involves more than just packing up an employee's stuff and sending him home. New teleworkers may need to go through training on technical things — like how to use remote software — and on lifestyle issues, like balancing work and family. Supervisors also might need training to manage people they can't see.


Spain says Fuentek has had few problems with its workforce of home-based professionals. But he concedes that telecommuting isn't for everybody.

Some workers, he says, tend to thrive on the camaraderie, meetings and structured hierarchy of a traditional office job — things that can't be replicated at home.

But back to the Tweet. To answer the question FlashPoint posed, we do have a a telecommuting policy at AccelaWork. The policy is:
Please conduct your work wherever and whenever you feel you can be most productive, most efficient, most effective and most satisfied.
That might sound a little bold. After all, shouldn't employees come into the office most days? Shouldn't they have set working hours? Shouldn't we define what kind of work can and cannot be done from home?

The answer to all of those questions is a firm "maybe." If there are reasons to be in the office, to work specific hours, or to specify where work should be done, it's likely that employees will have the best perspective to generate these reasons and make sound decisions. We trust our employees to do what they believe is best for the company. Ultimately, any corporate policy is either a reminder of what everyone knows or a restriction on how people should behave.

We're no strangers to working remotely and how it affects worker productivity. We conducted Remote Work Week, a five-day series on telecommuting happiness, telecommuting research, and telecommuting technology. We also covered telecommuting and personalities as well as how to approach your boss about working remotely. We shouldn't need "policies" about getting work done. Except, perhaps a policy to trust that employees want to do good work.

Great organizations have high employee satisfaction. If we want employees to be innovative, we don't need to tell them where to get their work done. Instead, we need to focus on making sure they are fully empowered to work. Brilliance comes from being unencumbered. Avoid policies in favor of freedoms. Think beyond mere control.

For more information on how to transform your workflow and your perspective, contact our business process consultants today!

Fun May Not Be Enough To Solve Long Meetings

Office meetings aren't always the highlight in our day—particularly when the outcome proves to be only the illusion of productivity. So, is there an antidote to this dreaded, wasteful time?

Some business owners and employees have found that the inclusion of water guns, games, and role reversals are just what the doctor ordered. But Ann Latham, president and founder of Uncommon Clarity, cautions against this prescription:

Making them 'fun' does not make them productive or do anything about the work being neglected or accumulating during the meeting. If you want to make people hate meetings less, make the meetings productive. If you only add 'fun,' people will likely just view it as more wasted time.
Yes it's true: making meetings productive will surely make them easier to attend. But that's besides the point. This declaration seems just as easy a remedy as consuming the supposed worker productivity shortcut of a "magic drink." Yet, actually figuring out how to accomplish it is far from simple. After all, if attaining productivity in a meeting was so easy, wouldn't everyone feel satisfied and on track at the end of the time spent together? In AccelaWork's view, half the problem with long, drawn-out business meetings is a company's inability to define their own, unique standards of productivity.

A Fast Company article tackled this same theme.

Time is money. Track the cost of your meetings and use computer- enabled simultaneity to make them more productive.

Almost every guru invokes the same rule: meetings should last no longer than 90 minutes. When's the last time your company held to that rule?

One reason meetings drag on is that people don't appreciate how expensive they are. James B. Rieley, director of the Center for Continuous Quality Improvement at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, recently decided to change all that. He did a survey of the college's 130-person management council to find out how much time its members spent in meetings. When he multiplied their time by their salaries, he determined that the college was spending $3 million per year on management-council meetings alone. Money talks: after Rieley's study came out, the college trained 40 people as facilitators to keep meetings on track. Bernard DeKoven, founder of the Institute for Better Meetings in Palo Alto, California, has gone Rieley one step better. He's developed software called the Meeting Meter that allows any team or department to calculate, on a running basis, how much their meetings cost. After someone inputs the names and salaries of meeting participants, the program starts ticking. Think of it as a national debt clock for meetings.

DeKoven emphasizes that he created the Meeting Meter as a conversation piece rather than as a serious management tool. It's a visible way to put meeting productivity on the agenda. "When I use the meter, I don't just talk about the cost of meetings," he says, "I talk about the cost of bad meetings. Because bad meetings lead to even more meetings, and over time the costs become awe-inspiring."

As DeKoven tackles at the end, there isn't necessarily a big cost of meetings, but rather a big waste of money that happens at bad meetings.

Before solutions can be integrated, companies need to answer three questions. First, what does productivity even mean to them? Second, what elements need to be met in order to achieve productivity? Third, what awaits the company once productivity is reached? Without answering these three questions, reducing the amount of time stakeholders spend on "wasting time" will continue.

There is no doubt, discovering the right path in workflow is an intricate process. So, empower employees to contemplate how to work smarter. Encourage them to contribute their ideas by answering the questions above.  By involving everyone, the mission for productivity not only becomes a group endeavor, but creates a realistic and tangible vision for success.

If your company wants to increase productivity but needs help defining its standards, contact our Indianapolis consultants today! We will assist in sharpening and developing your ideas on everyday work.

The Benefits Of Assistive Technology

If there's no one in your personal life who experiences a form of disability, you may not be aware of the incredible array of resources available to help people work more effectively. But "assistive technology" can help almost anyone, not just the disabled.

AccelaWork toured the offices of the Easter Seals Crossroads and in particular the grant-supported Assistive Technology lab. This organization provides equipment, training, services, and more for disabled individuals. Their mission statement explains more about what they do. First for Easterseals as a whole:

Easterseals provides exceptional services, education, outreach, and advocacy so that people living with autism and other disabilities can live, learn, work and play in our communities. Easterseals has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives for more than 90 years. From child development centers to physical rehabilitation and job training for people with disabilities, Easterseals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life's challenges and achieve personal goals.

And for the Assistive Technology lab:

Easter Seals Crossroads has been providing assistive technology solutions in Indiana since 1979.  In 2007, Easter Seals Crossroads partnered with the State of Indiana, Bureau of Rehabilitative Services to establish the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) Project.  The INDATA Project is one of 56 similar, federally-funded projects designed to increase access and awareness of assistive technology.

INDATA core services include: Information and referral, funding assistance,public awareness and education, device demonstration, device loan, reutilized computers, and equipment reutilization.

“The term ‘assistive technology device’ means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” – Assistive Technology Act of 1998

The gadgets in their facility are obscure and impressive. There are digital magnifiers, text-to-speech devices and oversized keyboards. Thanks to the generous funding sources that support Easter Seals, anyone in need can typically borrow some of this technology for a 30-day trial period.

It's tempting just to nod appreciatively at groups like Easter Seals and thank them for their service to a small portion of the population. But this kind of sentiment is a disservice—not only to those who are disabled as well as the assistive technology community, but also to our broader relationship with work. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. Consider the following:

It's worth looking at the steps taken by groups to make things accessible for those who are disabled. There may be inspiration you can take in order to make your own workflow more efficient. Golf carts were originally invented to transport the elderly. They weren't adopted for their use on the links until the 1950s. But the inclusion of a cart sure makes playing 18 holes much more relaxing. By removing the need to walk from shot to shot, golfers are able to better focus on making good, solid contact with the ball.

There are numerous other examples of things like this that we could bring up. But the point remains the same throughout. If there's any way you can make your own life easier or more productive, shouldn't you take it?

Whoever invented the term "assistive technology" should be applauded. We all use technology and can all benefit from some kind of assistance. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Learn more by contacting our business consultants today!

Embracing Failure In The Best Way

While Todd Jamison exercised in the gym, his parked car was getting a work out too. The only difference: Todd chose to lift weights. His car had no choice.

In a YouTube video, the astonishing view of the hit and run accident in the parking lot of an Xtreme Fitness in Ontario was captured on surveillance camera. Here is the direct link.

As we have covered on many occasions, whether preventable or not, mistakes happen. The key to overcoming the aftermath—and walking away with positive improvement—is to embrace the failure and use it as an advantage. Unfortunately for the female driver of the BMW X5, who panicked and fled the scene, her failure turned sour. (She was ultimately identified and charged with fleeing the scene of an accident.) For Hyundai on the other hand, the accident presented a unique and golden opportunity for a sensational marketing campaign.

The car was one that Todd had just finished paying paying off the month before. An article written by The Star details what Hyundai ultimately decided to do.

Todd Jamison planned to take the day off to shop for a used vehicle a week after a driver trashed his 2004 Hyundai Elantra, which he had just finished paying off. But when colleagues called him into the office on a pretense, he found a shiny 2010 Hyundai Elantra in the lot along with a smiling Hyundai representative. "She gives me the car," Jamison said in a phone interview. "I am just in shock. I say, 'Thank you.' "


"We wanted to help the guy," said Hyundai Canada representative Barb Pitblado. "This was our random act of kindness."

While it was certainly an act of kindness, it wasn't as pure and selfless of a move as Pitblado may want you to believe. Hyundai knew that with the original video getting so many views, plenty of people would be interested in the follow-up where Hyundai helped out. In an industry currently weighed down with recalls, bankruptcies, and slower sales, the car company's tagline at the end of the video, "Because at Hyundai, we like a story with a happy ending," conveys three clear messages. First, Hyundai is a company that consumers can depend on. Second, they value their customers. Third, regardless of fault, they can be trusted to right the wrong.

While what happened isn't Hyundai's fault, they knew that the simple act of giving a man a new car would be viewed as a huge act of kindness in the media. And they're right! While the $20,000 or so it took to get Todd a new car may not be a big deal to Hyundai, it's likely a very big deal to Todd. He went from a horrible situation to a great one, all thanks to someone stepping in to fix a failure.

While this wasn't a failure on the part of Hyundai, their actions can be inspiring when it comes to your own errors. If you or someone in your organization does something wrong, don't think that that all is lost. Instead, look at the situation from the perspective of someone analyzing an opportunity. Within every set of failures, some silver lining can be found, and with the right attitude, good can always come from the situation.

The moral to this story? Seize opportunities when they come your way. Don't deny failure or pretend it never happens. Instead, accept errors for what they are. They may just lead you down a more creative, lucrative path. For more information on ways to make the most of failure, contact our business process improvement consultants today!

Transforming Broken Forms Into Useful Ones

How many times have you had to fill out a government form, only to find yourself struggling to fit all the required information in impossibly small boxes? These processes illustrate a broken workflow, but not how you might think.

It's incredibly easy to find a paper form that requires tiny, perfect handwriting. Here's a closeup of just one example: a small section of State Form 52802 (R2 / 1-09) / CW 2182. (Try saying that three times fast!)

business process methodology form
That's a little over two inches to fit in a telephone number and not quite three inches to write an entire email address. Unless you are a human typewriter or happen to have something as concise as, it's extremely difficult to fit precise information inside that space.

The temptation is to complain about the form or begrudgingly accept these paper systems as the way things are. Yet, even without diving inside the state department that produces these, it's easy to recognize what is likely happening:

All three of these groups are important stakeholders in the process, and all three are connected by the workflow implied by the form. The recipe for fixing these issues is as straightforward as identifying them: While these may seem like simple solutions, there's no lack of areas that can fall short when it comes to functionality. That could be due to the fact that implementing these solutions is no easy task. Change requires real commitment from everyone involved. To fix a government form, multiple departments may have to be consulted, multiple approvals may have to be given, an extra route of communication would potentially have to be created, and a great cost could be incurred. Fixing a broken workflow at your business can have its challenges, but it's likely a much simpler process than what the government is faced with.

Regardless of the challenges implementing large or small changes presents, the results of a bad workflow can be even worse. Sticking with the example of tiny government forms, if the box is too small, then either all of the information won't fit, or the person filling out the form will have to write so small that their response becomes nearly illegible. And if the response is illegible, then the form is failing to serve its purpose. If the box was slightly larger, then not only would the person writing have an easier time, but the employee tasked with deciphering that data would also have a much easier time. Everybody wins!

Identifying a problem such as this one serves to highlight the potential workflow issues laid out in the bulleted list above. Not only can fixing those issues solve this specific problem, but it can keep similar problems from popping up in the future. No matter how seemingly insignificant of a problem you encounter, it's worth looking at the bigger picture to see if there is a broken workflow at your business. Sorting out the problem early could save everyone involved a ton of time and headache in the future.

If you see these problems in your organization, no matter where you are, ask for help. Contact our business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today!

The Importance of Appearing Organized

As well all know, the trends of "going green," resource preservation, and climate control have taken our society by storm. Yet, amidst the hype, a leader in the movement was under a magnifying glass for his disorganization.

Professor Phil Jones is a key contributor to the theory on global warming. Yet, in a recent article, his professional integrity and organizational skills are being questioned after much refusal to provide scientific documentation.

According to Mr Harrabin [reporter for BBC], colleagues of Professor Jones said ‘his office is piled high with paper, fragments from over the years, tens of thousands of pieces of paper, and they suspect what happened was he took in the raw data to a central database and then let the pieces of paper go because he never realized that 20 years later he would be held to account over them’.
This sought-after data contains analysis of climate records from hundreds of weather stations around the world, and is the scientific source that the United Nations utilizes when urging countries to cut carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, with looming questions of the report's existence and accuracy, skepticism over the entire movement is increasing.
[When] Asked by Mr Harrabin about these issues, Professor Jones admitted the lack of organisation in the system had contributed to his reluctance to share data with critics, which he regretted.


Asked about whether he lost track of data, Professor Jones said: ‘There is some truth in that. We do have a trail of where the weather stations have come from but it’s probably not as good as it should be.

‘There’s a continual updating of the dataset. Keeping track of everything is difficult. Some countries will do lots of checking on their data then issue improved data, so it can be very difficult. We have improved but we have to improve more.’

Many would agree, Dr. Jones is a highly dedicated and revered scholar. Unfortunately, when it came to keeping his office clean—a nagging problem that, mind you, many suffer from—his shortcoming was clear. But is this really the problem? After all, many can attest that being organized in disorganization is possible.  So, why should Dr. Jones' dislike for filing cabinets inhibit his ability to keep record of research? It's certainly not because he didn't know how to document properly. Instead, its because he disregarded the value in it.

Two highly-valued, heavily-weighted standards of professionalism, in academia and business alike, are accountability and credibility. Its hard to achieve and retain one without the other. As can be seen in Dr. Jones' case, his lack of accountability in his work is now threatening his credibility as well. Even his colleagues talked about his disorganization, which must mean it really is a problem. Even if Dr. Jones didn't take the steps required to actually put in place an efficient system (something he probably should have done), he certainly should've taken the steps necessary to ensure his desk was clean enough that he could get work done.

No matter how insignificant a task within a project may seem, it is not reason enough to neglect it, ignore it, or worse, assume it has no bearing on future success. Take the initiative to first contemplate the purpose of the task, the benefits of the activity both today and in the future. Thoughtfully evaluating rather than underestimating work leaves less opportunity for problems in the future.

Contact our Indiana consultants today to learn more and how we can help you not only to be more productive, but to appear more productive in the eyes of your critics.

Destroying Morale Will Destroy Productivity

Nick Carter, owner of AddressTwo, points out that there's an easy way to destroy productivity: destroy morale. Today's blog is a guest editorial.

I considered titling this post Call Reports and Other Ways to Demoralize a Salesperson, but while the point may be punchy, I’m afraid the problem goes far deeper than a poor method of reporting.

For many business owners, no expense weighs more heavily on one’s mind than the payroll overhead of non-production staff. It’s simple economics to hire talent which produces profit, but the salary of the accountant, the attorney, and even the maintenance and cleaning crew—while undeniably vital—can still gnaw at the mind of any sole proprietor. But few people realize, until it’s too late, that sales staff are the double edged sword—they can be the greatest producers, yet strike the greatest fear of lost productivity.

Root fears, unfortunately, are difficult to detect. Instead, it’s the symptoms which we see so clearly. Call reports, demands for ad-hoc forecasts, and the frequent “what’s closing this week” questions are all the tells of a worried manager. The irony, however, is that the symptoms of such worry—the call reports and other administrative tasks placed on a salesperson—actually serve to decrease productivity, increase non-production salary, and propagate greater fear.

So how can you break this vicious cycle? Consider a solution which would not only calm your fears, but actually improve productivity.

Since call reports are such a prevalent practice, I’ll use that as an example. In most scenarios, the required weekly call report creates an extra administrative task for the salesperson producing it. That means, the more time spent writing out a list of calls, the less time spent dialing. And, while this should be obvious, I’ll state the bottom line: sales people get paid to sell, not report. I could argue that a commissioned salesperson is equally as troubled over non-productive time as the owner is with the corresponding payroll impact. Moreover, as many salespeople could attest, the end result is an environment of mistrust and “big brother” mentality which ultimately diminishes productivity.

But reporting doesn't have to be counter-productive. What if reporting actually improved a salesperson’s productivity? What if the act of reporting were coupled within an organizational tool which expedited follow-up and made quick work of a salesperson’s most tedious responsibilities?

Productivity-enhancing software known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems does just that. A well-designed CRM will allow salespeople to interact with their customers in an intuitive way. And, in the process, data is stored surrounding these interactions which provide management the reporting required to calm their fears.

Whether it is CRM or some other form of technology, the principal is simple. Look for a win-win with your sales staff. Realize that a commissioned salesperson is probably as interested in his or her productivity as you are. Partner with your team. Empower them to succeed. Your peace of mind should be the pleasant byproduct of any solution that moves your company forward.

Nick Carter is the founder and CEO of AddressTwo, a CRM solution for small business. Visit them online at

We think the points Nick brings up are very important. While the productivity cost with an inefficient process can directly hurt the bottom line, the impact it can have over time is just as important. If employees are engaged, they should be as worried about unproductive time as you are. If things are implemented that take away from productivity, they can become disengaged, discouraged, and ultimately, demoralized. For more information on how to implement these positive changes in your workplace, contact the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today!

Supervision Can Stand In The Way Of Good Workers

There is a weird relationship between innovation and motivation. You can't force creativity. Instead, you have to find ways to inspire creative people and get out of the way.

That was the topic of an article from Slate, called How to Make America More Innovative. Writer Ray Fisman reviewed a study of two different approaches for funding medical research:

To assess the importance of incentives in stimulating innovation, MIT economists Pierre Azoulay and Gustavo Manso, together with UC-San Diego professor Joshua Graff Zivin, analyzed the research output of life scientists chosen as "Medical Investigators" during 1993-95 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which provides long-term and flexible funding to award recipients. They measure HHMI investigators' output against that of researchers who receive Pew, Searle, Beckman, Packard, and Rita Allen Scholarships—also prestigious early-career awards whose winners are probably of a caliber comparable to HHMI recipients. However, because these programs provide less funding than HHMI, award winners rely for the most part on National Institutes of Health support to pay for their research.

The [Howard Hughes Medical Institute] and [National Institutes of Health] funding incentives are a study in contrasts. HHMI gives five years' worth of research funding, renewable at least once as long as reviewers see effort, not necessarily results. NIH funding typically expires after a few years. HHMI picks "people not projects" while the NIH does the opposite, tethering funding to particular experiments or analyses.


Despite comparable pre-award performance, the two groups diverge in the years that follow. HHMI winners are almost twice as likely to produce studies that are highly cited by other researchers. They are also more likely to produce research that introduces new words and phrases into their fields of research, as measured by the list of "keywords" they attach to their studies to describe their work. The downside is that they also produce more stinkers—studies that never get cited by anyone. But, again, that's part of the exploration process.

Incentives matter for innovation, and it's a critical lesson for the government bureaucrats set to disburse hundreds of billions of dollars through Obama's nationalInnovation Strategy, which is supposed to return America to innovative pre-eminence. The way we spend those dollars will be at least as important as how much we spend, and if we want the next generation of ideas to be Made in America, Obama's team had better get its incentives right.

Put simply, there are broadly two approaches to getting innovation out of creative people. Either use the NIH model of measuring closely and keeping researchers on a short leash, or try the HHMI system of choosing smart people and sending them off to work with minimal supervision.

Not surprisingly, the latter technique is more effective. Giving people plenty of room simply produces more results. Admittedly, some of those ideas might be terrible. But with lots of options, you are more likely to have better success overall.

You can use the Howard Hughes Medical Institute model at your company by picking people, not projects. You can imbue them with responsibility and authority to be innovative. Encourage them to come up with lots of ideas, even if some might end up being worthless. Trust leads to empowerment, and empowerment to productivity and satisfaction. Show your employees that you believe in their power to innovate without excessive oversight.

To learn more about innovation, especially with regard to workflow and productivity, don't hesitate to contact our small business consultants today. We believe the best ideas for improving your organization are the ones your employees will generate when motivated, empowered, and heralded for their work.

Employee Satisfaction Plummets

Here's a double whammy for the working professional. You hate your job and want to quit, but the economy is bad so you're afraid to leave.

There's no need to prove the second part of that statement—everyone knows that unemployment is high and finding a position is tough. But a recent survey shows that in one industry, people despise their current job more than ever:

[The] survey found that the willingness of IT employees to "exert high levels of discretionary effort" -- put in extra hours to solve a problem, make suggestions for improving processes, and generally seek to play a key role in an organization -- has plummeted to its lowest levels since the survey was launched 10 years ago.

In 2007, about 12% of the IT employees fit in category of "highly engaged" workers, but that has since fallen to 4%.

These are literally the most critical employees," said Jaime Capella, a managing director in [survey company] CEB's information technology practice. Moreover, such critical workers are 2.5 times more likely than the average employee to be looking for new opportunities.

Similarly, the Conference Board Inc., a non-profit research group, said Tuesday that occupants of 45% of 5,000 U.S. households it surveyed last year were satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted. The Conference Board said that the job issues found in its survey, which cover all occupations, could cause multiple workplace ills, including declines in employee engagement, productivity and retention.

"When the economy starts to head in the right direction, the employees are going to vote with their feet," said Mike Hagan, a vice president of infrastructure at a health insurance firm he asked not to be identified...

To keep employees, Capella said they are advising managers to take performance reviews very seriously, work on motivating teams and communicating more consistently and openly, as well as give employees more of a say in the jobs they want. If employees don't believe that companies are being honest, they are more likely to become disaffected, he said.

Although the data from this study is fairly dire, the language used in the story is equally concerning. That first paragraph seems to imply that employees ought to be willing to "put in extra hours." Yet, shouldn't we characterize these unusual situations not as a sign of engagement but a failure of management? With proper management, the number of hours that should be allotted for a problem should be adequate, and not require extra hours.

Likewise, the drop of "highly engaged" workers from 12% to 4% ought to upset any business owner. Does that mean almost all of the people we hire are not "highly engaged" to begin with, or does their level of engagement start to drop after the interview? Either way, it's not good.

It might seem bold, but don't we want to strive to have all our employees "highly engaged" while expecting none of them to work overtime?  And in a tight economy, can't we afford to let people go who aren't committed to the organization?

These are hard questions and can't be answered in a single blog post. But in general, we cannot just focus on job satisfaction. We have to instead study the connection between satisfaction and productivity. Because if employees really don't feel engaged and valued, there's truth that "the employees are going to vote with their feet."

If you're struggling to engage employees, consider contacting our consultants at AccelaWork. We'll help you figure out how to empower employees to be productive so they enjoy work and achieve more without the fear of being swallowed by the troubled economy.

Employee Productivity, Ambition, and Motivation

A feature in Time Magazine posed a powerful, and perhaps dangerous theory about ambition. The article implied that perhaps some people are just more likely to succeed.

The full article is worth a read, but these four paragraphs were particularly noteworthy:

But a yearning for supremacy can create its own set of problems. Heart attacks, ulcers and other stress-related ills are more common among high achievers — and that includes nonhuman achievers. The blood of alpha wolves routinely shows elevated levels of cortisol, the same stress hormone that is found in anxious humans. Alpha chimps even suffer ulcers and occasional heart attacks.

For these reasons, people and animals who have an appetite for becoming an alpha often settle contentedly into life as a beta. "The desire to be in a high position is universal," says de Waal. "But that trait has co-evolved with another skill--the skill to make the best of lower positions."

Humans not only make peace with their beta roles but they also make money from them. Among corporations, an increasingly well-rewarded portion of the workforce is made up of B players, managers and professionals somewhere below the top tier. They don't do the power lunching and ribbon cutting but instead perform the highly skilled, everyday work of making the company run. As skeptical shareholders look ever more askance at overpaid corporate A-listers, the B players are becoming more highly valued. It's an adaptation that serves the needs of both the corporation and the culture around it. "Everyone has ambition," says Lowe. "Societies have to provide alternative ways for people to achieve."

Ultimately, it's that very flexibility — that multiplicity of possible rewards — that makes dreaming big dreams and pursuing big goals worth all the bother. Ambition is an expensive impulse, one that requires an enormous investment of emotional capital. Like any investment, it can pay off in countless different kinds of coin. The trick, as any good speculator will tell you, is recognizing the riches when they come your way.

It's possible to be productive and satisfied without being at the top. Every team needs a quarterback, certainly, but they also need specialized players in all of the positions. All jobs are important. The question is whether or not the people in those jobs are empowered to do the work that job deserves.

In some organizations, employees are simply told what to do and expected to go do it. There aren't any questions asked, and there isn't any real input outside of that initial instruction. In other, more successful organizations, employees are allowed to, and even encouraged to, go about their work, review the processes in place, and present suggestions that will be heard and seriously considered. That's how so many of the best companies in the world today reached their current status: someone at the top empowered the employees beneath them and was able to set their ego aside in realizing that they may not have all the very best ideas.

At AccelaWork, we don't really want to meet owners of companies to talk about productivity and workflow. That might sound counterintuitive, because the usual thought is that organizations become more effective from the top down. In reality, it is the everyday, mid-level and front-line employees which have the most impact on efficiency and effectiveness. The people doing the work are the people we want to meet.

If you recognize the opportunity to make improvements at your company or non-profit, consider reaching out to AccelaWork.  We'd love to support your ambition by speaking to your team on a topic of your choice. Contact our Indianapolis consulting firm today!

The Power of Happiness on Employee Productivity

AccelaWork's very own Robby Slaughter contributed another article in the Indianapolis Business Journal. The piece is titled “Does Your Workflow Bring Satisfaction?”

Here’s an excerpt from the full essay, which unfortunately has since been removed from the IBJ site:

The satisfaction derived from work is more than just momentary bliss. Satisfaction is an essential component of productivity. Many studies have shown that people who are most effective at work enjoy much of what they do. Happiness might not sound like a practical employee objective, but it’s an outcome that has tremendous power.

Slaughter continues:

Scientists have studied what connects work and satisfaction. In the opening to the landmark book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes that “we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.”

Note how Csikszentmihalyi refers to the difference between unsatisfying and satisfying work. The former is like being knocked around randomly, but the later is about authority, responsibility and self-awareness. This recognition provides an essential clue in how to improve employee productivity. We must remove the arbitrary and anonymous elements of work and replace them with meaningful tasks that demonstrate trust, ability and opportunity for growth.

Slaughter isn't the only one to talk about this issue. Another recent study by The University of Warwick echoed the sentiment that happier workers are more productive ones.
Happiness makes people more productive at work, according to the latest research from the University of Warwick.

Economists carried out a number of experiments to test the idea that happy employees work harder. In the laboratory, they found happiness made people around 12% more productive.

The article continues by elaborating on the study and the implications it may have:
This is the first causal evidence using randomized trials and piece-rate working. The study, to be published in the Journal of Labor Economics, included four different experiments with more than 700 participants.

During the experiments a number of the participants were either shown a comedy movie clip or treated to free chocolate, drinks and fruit. Others were questioned about recent family tragedies, such as bereavements, to assess whether lower levels of happiness were later associated with lower levels of productivity.

Professor Oswald said: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

Dr Sgroi added: “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”

Dr Proto said the research had implications for employers and promotion policies.

He said: “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce.”

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's incredible how many people underestimate the impact something as simple as happiness can have. Curious about how to create a emotionally healthy workplace and continue to make those around you happy? We can help! For more information about how stakeholder happiness can impact your business, contact our consulting firm today.

An Unexplained Process Can Be Wasteful

Operating a business through process-oriented work is what defines a successful company. And, despite the dozens of adjectives that go into describing any given process, the purpose should be well-defined and known to all stakeholders involved.

Every time AccelaWork analyst Ashley Lee walks into the gym with her two children, two processes occur. First, the receptionist at the front desk scans her card. Second, she is handed a long, red tag entitled "Kids Zone." Having never been told what to do with the tag, Ashley simply accepts it, heads to the children's daycare and leaves it on the counter top.

Curious as to why the daycare attendants never ask for the red tag, Ashley questioned its existence this week.

Ashley: Excuse me, may I ask what this red tag is for?

Daycare Attendant: You know, I actually have no idea.

Ashley: Really? It doesn't serve a purpose?

Daycare Attendant: Well, I figure its to show us that you have a family membership at the gym. Really though, none of us were told what its actually for.

Since little was known about it, Ashley proceeded to the front desk to ask the receptionist. Upon her arrival, she found the manager there instead.

Ashley: May I ask why I'm given a red tag every time I enter the gym?

Manager: The red tag symbolizes that you have a family membership.

Ashley: So bringing the tag to the daycare proves to the attendants that we're paying for the service?

Manager: Well, sort of. Really, its not up to the daycare attendants to determine that. The front desk attendant is supposed to check your profile on the computer after scanning your card. They give you the red tag to confirm that you are paying for the membership.

Ashley: But, if the receptionist knows I'm paying for the membership and the daycare attendants aren't responsible for knowing, why the red tag? Isn't it kind of useless?

Manager: Pretty much.

All in all, Ashley ended her investigation with one conclusion: The process of the red tag had zero significance.

If you think this situation sounds like a ridiculous one on the part of the gym, wait a minute before you start to judge. Take the time to look at your own organization. Many businesses have similar wasteful processes that are only still in place since no one has taken the time to ask one simple question: What's the point? 

Perhaps it's a sales report that really doesn't provide any useful information. Maybe it's requiring employees to be in the office even though telecommuting would be just as (if not more) efficient. It could be a chain of command that requires someone to get the go-ahead before moving forward with processes that should be entrusted to them by default. Or maybe it is something as literal as a red tag that does nothing but rack up cost and take up time without benefiting anyone.

Even if you don't have one of these situations in your workplace, there's a chance a well-intended process isn't being as beneficial as it should be due to a communication error. It's worth taking the time to ensure everyone in your organization is aware of the purpose behind the process.

Be wary of any process that leaves a false impression of purpose. If it's left unquestioned or goes unexplained, all that's created—besides confusion—is a sense of incompetence among stakeholders. Submitting to a transparent, misdirected process is more than just wasteful. Its frustrating. After all, doesn't that useless process increase costs to the customer?

To learn how AccelaWork can help companies overcome processes that leave stakeholders running in circles, contact our business consultants today. We'll do more than just provide a  fluid solution. We'll assist in creating a purposeful and productive pathway for process success.

Putting Problems In Perspective

If you frequently type numbers into a computer, a 10-key is an essential productivity tool. But one hobbyist decided to build a less efficient system out of an old rotary telephone.

A video on the website shows the contraption at work (video direct link):

Why are we showing off an old rotary telephone used for text entry? It's not because this is a brilliant idea that you should try at your own office. Rather, the hack is a good example of lateral thinking. Instead of creating something to increase productivity, this little invention actually decreases productivity. Figuring out how to do the opposite of what you want sometimes helps to put the problem in clearer perspective.

Perspective can be everything when it comes to problem solving. There's an old story of three blind men who are asked to describe an elephant. One of them talks about the elephant being long and skinny like a snake. Another says that an elephant is solid and strong like a tree. The third gives a very different description of the creature, saying that an elephant is round and soft. It's easy for us who have seen elephants to know that each man is talking about a different part of the same animal (trunk, leg, ear), but without the proper perspective, there's no way to have that knowledge. The same thing can be true when it comes to solving your problems.

An article in Smashing Magazine breaks down the process of changing perspective to solve problems a bit better.

To answer the question of how a different perspective leads to a creative solution, we need to understand a little neuropsychology and what happens in the brain when you are solving a problem. According to Jonah Leherer in his book Imagine, the “A-ha” moment is essentially an abstract connection that the right brain makes between two disparate ideas. History has countless stories of people having amazingly innovative ideas from seemingly insignificant events. One of my favorites is the story of how Robert Sherman came up with the song “A Spoonful of Sugar” when his son came home from school one day after having his blood taken (they had given him a cube of sugar). Another story is Newton theorizing about gravity after an apple dropped on his head, or Archimedes and the bathtub, and on and on. Some event triggers an idea and the brain makes a connection to creatively solve the problem.

How does this process work? When you are faced with a puzzle, be it visual or functional, you solve it by first running through all of your usual solutions that are obvious — such as the e-commerce layout that you have used a million times, design patterns that you know, the button style that you love, the font that always works, etc. You first engage your left brain by recalling the obvious tried and true solutions. Sometimes these ideas work, sometimes they don’t. As soon as your left brain has exhausted all ideas that don’t work, you get frustrated and you hit the wall. The wall is the inability of your left brain to create new connections from your old ideas. You are unable to connect the old ideas with fresh ones, to find different solutions with the same methods. The only way to get unstuck is to try to see the problem in a new way.

At AccelaWork, we work to encourage clients to think in all directions. If you're struggling to come up with ways to become more productive, try thinking of ways to become less productive. That change in perspective can make all the difference. Great business processes arise when we are open to every possibility. Contact our business consultants today to learn more!

Using Your Sixth Man to Your Advantage

Today's post is from Lorraine Ball, president of Roundpeg.  Her advice on getting the biggest bang for your buck in marketing: understand your clients and establish standards for success.

In basketball, the fans are often considered the Sixth Man.  In your business, Marketing is the “sixth man”. Would you hire an employee without a specific idea of what you wanted the employee to do?  Of course not. As a business owner, when you hire someone you want them to be productive.  Likewise, in order to put them on the right track you outline things such as goals, objectives, and performance so you and your employee know what is expected and how success will be measured.

For many firms, the investment in marketing exceeds the salary you pay a single employee. If you are going to make that type of an investment, I think you need to have some clarity regarding performance objectives and success measures.

So Where Do You Start?

Just as you would with an employee, begin with your business objectives.  How many customers or sales do you hope to generate as a result of the investment? Understanding what a single customer is worth will help you match the appropriate investment to a particular marketing activity. Then at the end of the program, campaign or promotion you can evaluate if the money was well spent. Calculating the ROI per customer can provide a helpful starting point for your budgeting process.

Compare Marketing Activities

Hold your marketing accountable.  Those activities which produce better results, such as more qualified prospects or simply more prospects in general, should get promoted while the investments directed toward similar programs should increase.  Those activities which don’t produce results risk being fired!

Just as business owners will disagree on what qualities make up the perfect employee, they will disagree on what marketing is most effective.  Set your own criteria and measurements and you will enjoy a winning season!

Lorraine Ball is President of Roundpeg, a full service marketing firm in Indianapolis' small business community. Visit them online at

In the NBA, they ought to rename the Sixth Man Award the Jamal Crawford Award, as he's been one of the most valuable players off the bench for the majority of his career. He's a dynamic scorer, who is constantly able to come into the game and immediately provide a spark. If you've watched any of the teams he's played for over the years, it's clear how he transforms his squad when he's in the game. Marketing really can have a similar sparkplug effect.

It isn't only important to have a solid marketing squad when things go stale. No NBA team could be successful if they didn't start out with a solid bench. Even the most dominant players don't play for at least 20% of each game. But, when things are going stale, that's when it's extra important to have a spark like a good marketing team.

Take the time to analyze your marketing activities. This isn't something you should rush into, throwing money around hoping that something sticks. Be sure to really understand what you need to accomplish in the best case scenario and which clients you're going to be tracking down. Then, set your team up so they can be successful at getting you to that best case scenario. Once you've properly planned, then you can move towards a system of success.

At AccelaWork, we can help you make the most of your marketing activities. If you’re ready to rethink the way you work, contact our business improvement consultants. We can help you improve your work lineup from the all-stars to the 13th men on the bench.

Admit Your Mistakes To Fix Them Quickly and Effectively

Dilbert strikes again! One episode of the popular comic strip once again resonated with AccelaWork.

Also seen on Dilbert's official website, below is Scott Adams' creation:

corporate productivity and Dilbert
Obviously, judging by standards of professionalism, "playing dumb" is hardly a reputable—let alone believable—scapegoat in business. And though this comic strip may seem overly far-fetched, there is a hint of truth behind it. Perhaps in not such an extreme manner as seen above, but surely there have been situations in business where a lack of acknowledgment, understanding, accountability, or honesty have jeopardized an entire company, a management team, or even a single employee.

As ironic as it sounds, discovering failure should not be embarrassing. On the contrary, acknowledging its existence is commendable. Admitting to mistakes prior to implementation not only presents the opportunity to highlight ethical traits such as diligence, humility, and forthrightness, but its simply the logical thing to do. After all, isn't it better for everyone involved if the problem is rectified before it turns into an even bigger mess? If nothing less, it would certainly prevent the hot water that the employee is standing in from boiling over.

So many people are afraid to admit they're wrong that the simple act of doing so can carry a lot of weight when it comes to earning the respect of those around you. A blog post from Amy Anderson tells the story of an instance when this was the case.

I don’t know exactly why so many in the world carry that false belief that admitting their mistakes makes them weak, but I can tell you how I learned to recognize that the opposite was true. I was somewhere in my 20’s visiting the home of a family in California when I witnessed a heated disagreement between the father of the home and his defiant pre-teen daughter. There was no question that the lesson the father was trying to teach the daughter was a correct one, but the manner in which he handled it was not. He didn’t strike his daughter or become abusive, but his tone was hurtful and degrading.

After the incident ended, and knowing the man well, I thought to myself, “He has to know that wasn’t right because I know him to be a good man. But there is no way he would admit it because he doesn’t want to lose face as the leader of the family.” I wouldn’t say that one incident made me lose all respect for the man because I knew his character better than that and I knew of his incredible qualities, but I clearly recognized that he was in the wrong. About an hour later, I walked down the hall to hear the man talking to his daughter saying these exact words to her: “I was wrong, and I am sorry.”

I was honestly shocked. I had never before heard someone in authority admit they were wrong and apologize like that. There was no excuse made for his behavior. There was no justification of “well, I only acted like that because you did this.”  Nothing, nada, zip. He simply admitted he was wrong and he apologized. Observing his behavior, my respect for this man grew tremendously. I saw him as a great leader and a person of fortitude that I wanted to be like. Seeing his behavior that day changed my life, because I was able to recognize that the reason I now saw him as a leader of great fortitude was his willingness to honestly and humbly admit his mistake, especially to someone subordinate to him.

Allowing problems to spiral out of control in the office is more than just irresponsible. Don't be afraid to admit something is wrong. According to productivity consultants, it can be an expensive mistake. It can also go against employee satisfaction or even affect government productivity.  Don't allow fear of failure to create problems in your office. Instead, contact our consulting firm to learn more.

Getting to a Paperless Workplace Without Stunting Growth

Most offices are driven by paper. One document management expert, however, wanted to know what it will take to get paper out of the workplace entirely.

Daniel Chalef, writing for Knowledge Tree blog, reviewed a report from the Association for Information and Image Management:

[What stood out to me is] that people are predominantly scanning documents to get rid of paper file cabinets and archives – they’re scanning documents that are already “dead.”

Unfortunately, the real value from document scanning comes from those documents that are very much “alive” and that require action. About 57% of respondents identified “improve process throughput (productivity)” as an important business driver for document capture.

Yet, in reality only 37% of survey respondents are scanning over half of their inbound documents. Of those scanned documents, 57% are passed to archive rather than a business process.

Chalef is correct in that the advantages of digitizing paper is far greater with documents you are actually using. After all, if you're scanning documents just to place them in an archive, you probably hope to never have to retrieve that data.

However, taking an active business process paperless can be incredibly difficult.  That's because you're asking stakeholders to make as many as three changes:

  1. Acknowledge that the way you are working now can be characterized as a rigorous, well-defined procedure.
  2. Trust that the proposed system will work at least as well as the way you are doing it now.
  3. Learn and utilize the new approach and deal with any eccentricities that appear.
Unfortunately, many  improvement efforts try to force all three at the same time by issuing an order from above. What often happens, as Daniel Chalef noted, is a compromise. Instead of implementing a comprehensive document management system and resulting in dramatic productivity increases, the company ends up with a small change that is largely ignored.

Fortunately, when it comes to paperless offices, many workplaces have moved in that direction. You can choose paperless billing statements for almost every regular payment you have. More and more employers are accepting online applications. The act of physically posting memos is basically a thing of the past. But that doesn't mean this issue can't be used to illustrate the large challenges facing change.

Perhaps you think it would be more efficient for errors to be fixed by the person who made them instead of by management who runs the quality control check. Before putting that change in place, you need to evaluate all potential outcomes. Are people going to resist the change just for the sake of resisting change? Then they probably aren't the sort who you want around. But, have you given them reason to believe at the the new system will work better than the current one? Are you giving them time to learn the new process? Without going through the proper steps, then a successful transition is going to be much harder to come by.

But back to a paperless system. Why is it that archival documents are usually the first to go? Odds are, it has something to do with the fact that no one is going to miss them. Changing up the way you manage documents that no one looks at is one thing. Changing someone's day to day process is a whole other ballgame. Know that with major change, there are going to be some difficulties. But if the gained efficiency is great enough, then the difficulties are going to be well worth it.

These concepts don't just apply to scanning systems. The reason business improvement is hard is because we often start with technology instead of with people. We should begin by empowering stakeholders, not forcing them to change. To learn more, contact us today to learn more about our business improvement services.

Improving Employee Retention and Dismissing Employees

Sometimes, it's hard to evaluate which choice is the best for your business. But it's clear that one is always the worst: dismissing an employee.

An old management adage suggests that we should "hire slowly and fire quickly." This advice assumes that the cost of keeping an employee is far greater than the cost of losing them. More often than not, the opposite is true. We need to find ways to retain and value the workers we have by empowering them to succeed.

Take a moment to think about your own employer, or a place you have recently worked. There is probably at least one person who seems to know all of the arcane details about the business. This "subject matter expert" is the one who remembers the unusual clause in long-forgotten agreements, the structure of old filing systems, and the workarounds needed to navigate key systems. If you lost this individual, your company would be in serious trouble. Firing should be the last possible resort.

Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the march of progress creates a natural tension among some workers. After all, isn't almost every change about doing more with less to increase worker productivity? We covered workplace productivity improvements. To quote ourselves:

The words used in these old jobs seem antiquated: telephone operator, gas station attendant and book keeper. It might seem like our value as employees is dependent on the arrival of the next gizmo or software application to do our work for us. This belief creates fear, and that fear provides power for a resistance to change.

At AccelaWork, we invite stakeholders to take a different view of themselves, their work and their organization. We believe that companies, non-profits and government agencies make hiring decisions because they believe in the capacity of individuals. You are more than the sum of your tasks and responsibilities—you are a force for creativity, a source of commitment and limitless potential. A machine might enable you to finish rote tasks faster but it cannot replace brilliance and instinct.

Continually improving yourself and business operations is the best possible job security. If your innovations make your job require less time, your boss should hand you more responsibilities, not a pink slip. If your reward for finding ways to work smarter is that you lose your job, take that as proof that you would be valued more elsewhere.

So what does that mean for readers of our blog? Please don't introduce us to managers and directors of companies and non-profits. Instead, help us to meet the front-line people who personally experience productivity challenges every day, so that we can help them to work smarter. AccelaWork believes in the power of stakeholders to transform business from within. Contact our corporate productivity consultants to learn more.

Social Media and Honest Communication

Our founder, Robby Slaughter, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal about productivity and social media. The message: Social media is powerful stuff, especially for small business.

In a story titled Facebook, Twitter Updates Spell Trouble in Small Workplace, Sarah Needleman writes:

These days, bad employee behavior is no longer confined to cubicle walls. Some workers are now sharing disparaging opinions and even proprietary information about their employers on social media – Web forums that in many cases can accessed by anyone, including a company's clients, investors and competitors. Business experts say that kind of exposure could be particularly troublesome for small enterprises, though there are ways owners can cope and even turn the tables to their advantage.

"It's much easier for a large company to distance themselves from the actions of one employee than it is for a small firm," says Robby Slaughter, owner of Slaughter Development LLC, an Indianapolis consulting firm that specializes in workplace productivity.

And just one person can make a big impact on an organization.

Needleman's article mostly covers the negative aspects of social media use. One particular quote in the piece identifies the reason that many small businesses experience so much trouble with this new technology:
Business owners may be able to protect themselves from similar employee snafus by instituting a written policy outlining what kind of content is and isn't acceptable to post on social media, says Christina Stovall, a director for Odyssey OneSource, a human-resources outsourcing firm in Euless, Texas.

Ms. Stovall recommends discussing the policy with employees in person, and having them sign an acknowledgement form. That way, "You're laying the groundwork for expectations," she says.

To nab violators, some business owners frequently conduct Web searches of their companies' names. Others make a habit of checking employees' social-media profiles if they're open to the public or they've been granted access. They say such strategies can be helpful for quickly doing damage control, as well as for digging up digital dirt on employees and prospective recruits.

Let's be clear: A written policy is the among the worst decisions a company can make about social media. Such regulations have a tendency to backfire. Attempting to censor employees is more likely to sow discord and contempt than it is to successfully protect the company.

Obviously, no organization wants their employees to freely reveal trade secrets or make embarrassing details public. But what do these actions have to do with social media? People have always griped about their boss to their friends, complained about inane workplace procedures to their spouse, or casually mentioned top secret ideas to people in confidence. The problem is not that employees exercise this freedom. Nor is it an issue that modern technology helps these idle comments spread a little faster.  Rather, social media merely illustrates the sad state of honest communication in the workplace.

Strongly-worded policies usually limit productivity and satisfaction. We're opposed to most of them, from social media usage requirements to worker productivity on snow days. We love Netflix's idea to improve employee satisfaction, which suggests that growth should create more employee freedom.  This is a challenging philosophy, but one that appears in successful companies everywhere. James F. Nordstrom, late co-chairman of the famous Nordstrom department store chain, eloquently explained the real problem:

The minute you come up with a rule, you give an employee a reason to say no to a customer. That's the reason we hate rules.
Improve your company by questioning the value of policy and refocusing on the value of people. Employees get the most work done when they have freedom and a free flow of communication. To learn more, contact our small business consulting firm today!

Productivity Consultants Review the Management Buy-In Myth

Almost every change management professional talks about "management buy-in." But actually, the most interesting and powerful business process improvements occur without the involvement of leadership.

There's a long history of dramatic changes that are done in relative secrecy. Perhaps the most famous are the "skunksworks" projects from Lockheed Martin. One article told the story:

During early 1943, as a result of prescient jet engine design work by chief engineer Hall Hibbard and conducted by Lockheed's Nate Price and the then little-known Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, the Army Air Force's H. H. "Hap" Arnold drafted Lockheed to design and build a jet fighter to counter the rapid technology advances then taking place in Nazi Germany. On 17 June 1943, the Air Force formally approved what was to become Lockheed's first jet aircraft-the US Air Force's XP-80. That day is considered the birth date of the Skunk Works.

The security surrounding the project and the expeditious manner in which the aircraft was to be designed and built meant that most of the bureaucratic norms for new aircraft design and manufacture could be circumvented. Hibbard, Johnson, Willis Hawkins, Art Viereck, Donald Palmer, and a team that eventually totaled 128 went to work immediately constructing a jet fighter. The schedule was severe. The jet-powered aircraft was to make its first flight within 180 days after the project started.

The deadline was met. On 8 January 1944, Lockheed's Milo Burcham piloted the XP-80 (nicknamed Lulu Belle) into the air for the first time at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards AFB) about seventy miles northeast of Los Angeles.

In all of the technical language about aircraft designs, there are three important facts: The irony of this situation should be apparent. We all know that large companies have complicated procedures that enable them to complete large projects. The skunkworks story, however, seems to imply something different. If you want to succeed in a mission-critical endeavor in record time, forget the official policy and ignore management.

Sometimes, the most interesting process improvements are the ones made without any official approval or by conforming to the rules. That doesn't mean you should always flaunt authority. Rather, the reality is that positive change is often most effective when we do it on a small scale. The most revolutionary ideas, after all, often come from the bottom.

At AccelaWork, we love helping companies and non-profits to become more productive, more efficient, more effective and more satisfied. We encourage everyone to recognize that management buy-in is often a myth. After all, why should you need to convince someone to allow you to make choices to improve the quality of your own work?

Sound interesting? Find out more. Contact our consultants today!

Finding Proper Perspective Even On Simple Issues

USA Today's website captured a very intriguing photograph of a young boy in midair. The question is, what's your perspective on the image?

At first glance, the young boy's actions are difficult to detect. Is he falling? Is he jumping on a trampoline? Is he practicing his tightrope skills? How did he get there and more importantly, where is he landing? [direct link here]

In actuality, the young boy from Mumbai, India is jumping into the ocean for a cool down on a hot day. But, since we can't see the ocean below, all we're able to do is speculate.

Perspective is extraordinary. Though one individual may see a picture, an object, a person or even a process one way, the existence of a completely different view by another is guaranteed. In business, sharing perspectives is a great tool for innovation and efficiency. It not only empowers stakeholders, but leads to less worker productivity suffering from micromanagement.

We've talked about finding the proper perspective before on this blog, and the points made then hold just as true now. If you're not able to see the whole picture due to looking at an issue from only one point of view, you're not likely to find the best solution.

An article in Smashing Magazine brings up some tips for the best ways to change your perspective. While that site is mostly geared toward visual designers, it has themes that people in any industry can benefit from thinking about. We've included a bit of that article below.


If you are stuck, it is probably because you need an answer. Trouble is, you might not be asking the right question. If you ask the same question over and over, you will most likely get the same answer. So, how do you rephrase the question or ask a new question to gain new insight?

Sometimes the problem is visual. Something in the layout is distracting or causing it not to work, so you need to address a different part of the layout. The root of the problem might be not the element you are working on but the surrounding elements. Here are a few things to try:

Delete or remove other items on the art board and see what happens. This could reveal a solution to the problem.

  • Try an illustration instead of a photo.
  • Change colors.
  • Break the grid.
  • Emphasize different parts of the page.
  • Try a whole new approach to the navigation, not just a new menu bar.

Looking at the big picture can also lead to a new way of seeing the problem. When a problem is very specific, look at how it fits into the next largest context. In product or Web design, this could mean storyboarding how the app or website is to be used, including the location and psychographics of the user and what they are trying to accomplish. Better understanding how the business works might also help. Understanding design in the context of how the app fits into the big picture of the business can help you refine the strategy and eliminate options to arrive at a solution more quickly.

Zooming out sometimes helps me realize that I am asking the wrong question. If you are asking how your problem (say, one about a feature set or product requirements) fits into the big picture, you might find that the big picture is not big enough and has to be expanded (such as by revising the strategy or the user flow). Perhaps the feature set or product requirements don’t make sense because you haven’t zoomed out wide enough and don’t understand the product in context. Once you look at it in the big picture, your entire team might realize that its approach is wrong — or perhaps right!

We encourage our clients to embrace alternate points of view, especially when calling upon us to assist in overcoming problems, streamlining processes or even seeking stakeholder satisfaction. Contact our business process improvement methodology consultants today if you are interested in gaining a new viewpoint on the benefits to open perspective.

Stakeholders vs. Shareholders and the Importance of Both

Pop quiz: What's the difference between a stakeholder and a shareholder? Here's a hint: it's at the root of some problems that have affected Indiana communities.

In Evansville, approximately 1,500 people gathered to protest the planned closing of a Whirlpool factory. The Oakland Press reported on some of the notable comments from those assembled:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America President Jim Clark joined about 40 other protesters in delivering a petition to the factory’s front door asking that the plant not be closed.

“Eleven million jobs have gone with the great recession. Nothing, nothing, is more important here at this moment,” Trumka told a packed room at the Local 808 chapter of the IUE-CWA, which represents many of the workers at Whirlpool’s Evansville plant.

The numbers in these headlines are staggering. They represent tremendous hardship for so many people. Yet at its core, this is a struggle between stakeholders and shareholders. This brings us back to the original question at the top of the post. A shareholder is an individual who has made a financial investment in an organization in the form of capital. A stakeholder, however, is someone who has made an emotional investment of time, labor, and relationships.

The key difference made evident by the situation in Evansville is that shareholders can move their investment with little more than a phone call. Stakeholders, however, don't usually desire such changes. They have emotional ties to their community and usually want the environment to stay the same.

Indeed, when these jobs were first created decades ago, there was an implicit assumption that they would remain. Factories require an enormous investment in equipment, construction, maintenance, and training, so it seems reasonable to expect companies to stay in one community. In those days there were pension plans and other incentive programs designed to retain employees for their full working life. Local governments encouraged this relationship through tax abatements. People could become stakeholders and be relatively confident that they could be employed at the same company for their entire career.

As millions have learned, however, no job is guaranteed.  Shareholders and stakeholders both need to see their investments provide a meaningful return. If someone else is willing to do the same job at a cheaper rate, the market will eventually drive shareholders to enable that to occur. Likewise, if stakeholders are able to demonstrate increased value to their employers, they can help their business grow in a way which benefits their own needs.

Protests and industrial action are one way to highlight that value. These techniques do illustrate the role businesses play in communities and show that the relationship between a factory and a town is more than merely financial.

There is another way to show value at work. Through individual innovation, employees can demonstrate that cheaper labor is not necessarily better. Workers who think intelligently about their own tasks, who come up with new ways to conduct workflow and thus help contribute to increased productivity offer a profound voice to complement those on the picket line. This will certainly help shareholders and stakeholders speak the same language and connect their mutual investments.

These are challenging times. Millions are enduring the risk of job loss or unemployment. The way forward is to return to work, but as always we must learn to work smarter. No matter the job, the human being doing it should be empowered to take responsibility and authority to do that job better. Smart shareholders always favor smart companies, and smart companies foster individual innovation.  Make an investment in your stakeholders by asking them to help you improve work.

Thanks to Indiana resident Cara Dafforn for bringing the Evansville protest to our attention.

How Company Dress Codes Impact Professionalism and Productivity

Having a dress code in the office is quite common. Yet, some say that nowadays they're not followed as strictly as in past decades. The question is, which is worse: wrong attire or pigeonholing?

According to an article written by Katie Lorenz, editor of, there are 15 "no-nos" when it comes to work attire. And though much of her advice seems relatively obvious for particular occupations, it's not to say that her guidelines apply to every person in every profession.

To better explain this idea, let's discuss some examples:

2. Workout gear. Save your muscle shirts and spandex for the gym.
This attire may not be suitable for a business professional, but it may be a key factor in professions such as personal training, athletics and coaching. After all, just as lawyers are expected to appear in court neatly dressed, athletes are expected to wear clothing that accommodates their rigorous work out and enhances performance.
4. Shorts. Whether of the Bermuda or Daisy Duke variety, wearing shorts to work is just plain wrong.
Though it may be obvious that this "no-no" applies to anyone in a business setting, it certainly should not encapsulate all businesses. According to Matt Lee, a senior transportation representative and carrier supervisor for a Fortune 500 company, shorts are the dominant office attire in the summer; "we spend all day speaking to clients on the phone, so there's no need to wear formal, uncomfortable clothes. If, on the off chance, a client visits our office, we simply dress for the occasion."
5. Tattoos. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie have made tattoos seem almost mainstream, but many people are still put off by them. Best to keep yours under wraps or disguised with a heavy spray-on makeup made expressly to conceal tattoos.

6. Extreme hair color. Natural looking highlights are fine, but never dye your hair blue, magenta or other colors not found in nature.

9. Grungy beards. In general, most companies prefer clean-shaven men to, say, ZZ Top. If you just can’t part with your facial hair, at least keep it neatly trimmed. (And for gosh-sakes check in the mirror after eating that powder-sugared doughnut!)

13. Body piercings. Studies show that most people view body jewelry as unprofessional and that people with multiple piercings are less likely to be hired or promoted.

Just as a barber sports a clean haircut to better market his work to clients, so must alternative stylists and tattoo artists. There's a heavy metal-themed burger bar in Chicago that wouldn't be the same if the majority of  waiters didn't have huge beards. In the simplest terms, showcasing your talents through the best means possible is important for your target audience.
15. Low-rise pants. “Plumber’s crack” is not acceptable anywhere. Period. Finally, as a rule of thumb: If you have any doubt whether something you have on is appropriate — go back and change.
We may be able to come up with exceptions for most of the list, but she hit the nail on the head right here. There's no defending this one. Even as a plumber, it's not a bad idea to wear a belt!

As seen above, it stands to reason that formulating strict guidelines that every professional should follow is not just difficult, but unreasonable. In today's society we recognize that actions taken to improve worker productivity, tasks performed, and even appearances are strategic in nature. Whether it be dress codes, computer programs, or processes, don't allow societal norms to totally dictate your business. Instead, do what works best for you and your company's success.

For more information on focusing on results instead of policies, contact our productivity consultants today!

The Risks Of Outdated Procedures

We have previously discussed corporate productivity errors that drastically impact unsuspecting people. Likewise, today's topic on accidental housing foreclosures highlights the aftermath which follows unstable systems.

For Pittsburgh native Angela Iannelli, owning a home for twenty years and remaining punctual with mortgage payments did nothing to prevent the stress of foreclosure. Good Morning America covered her story on the accidental foreclosure which left her shaken and her house damaged.

I cannot walk in my house by myself. I tried it one time by myself. I went over, walked in and the whole time and I was jumping like somebody was behind me and just started shaking.
The damage done to her home by Bank of America took six weeks of repair. According to Iannelli's lawsuit, the lock-down resulted in many problems:
Iannelli, 46, is suing the bank, noting in court papers the serious destruction done to her house, including cutting various water lines and electrical wiring, damaging Plaintiff's furnishings and carpet.
Though this story does not go into the events leading up to Iannelli's wrongful lockout, its hard to imagine that a faulty process was not involved. After all, how can a mix-up of this magnitude occur if not for receiving the wrong address or mistaking one house for another? According to the report, these types of mistakes are happening more frequently due to the increase in overall foreclosures and the passing of names and addresses from one department to the next.

Mistakes happen. There is no doubt about it. And when such errors play out, it provides an outline for what not to do in the future. The key is not avoiding failure, it is learning how to not make the same mistake again. Unfortunately, Ms. Iannelli's situation is not the only one of its kind—forcing banks to revisit procedures, re-train staff, and work overtime to not only compensate innocent victims but reassure their other mortgage holders that the same won't happen to them.

Thankfully, the company has taken steps to make sure these things don't happen in the future.

Bank of America apologized, saying: "We will move quickly to review the allegations … and consider any hardship that resulted."

Dan Frahm, a spokesman for Bank of America, said the company has "zero tolerance" for these kinds of incidents.


James Hagerty, a reporter who covers housing and mortgages for The Wall Street Journal, said, "I think this kind of embarrassing situation does help galvanize the banks to try harder. ... Gradually, the banks are going to get better at handling these cases."

Meanwhile, homeowners can do little to protect themselves against accidental foreclosures. But Bank of America said it is working on the problem and has mandated a strong system of procedures for contractors, including additional training and establishing a 24-hour hotline for homeowners.

Bank of America claims to have learned from their mistake, but in such a large corporation with so many moving parts, these things are hard to avoid.
As the number of foreclosures increases across the country, experts say, so do mistakes, such as mixing up names and addresses as they are passed from department to department.

The owners of a St. Petersburg, Fla., home claimed their belongings were cleaned out, despite paying for their home with cash, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

In Galveston, Texas, the power was shut off at a vacation home, resulting in 75 pounds of spoiled salmon and halibut for the owner, according to the Galveston County Daily News.

Don't allow outdated or improper procedures wreak havoc on your company's credibility or financial bottom line.  Instead, contact our business consultants to learn more about creating effective processes to reform errors that maximize your business capabilities.

A Meeting at Sea Could Liven Up Dull Tasks

Some find conducting business at a coffee shop a nice way to create a casual environment for a meeting. But if you're looking for a more interesting twist on scenery, you could consider sailing the open seas on the newly introduced "sofa boat".

Announced at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show, the the sofa boat was quite an attraction. Besides its retractable sun canopy and comfortable sofa seat, the boat has joystick steering and runs on electricity. A second version, called the "B2B", also contains a refrigerator and laptop docking stations. Some claim this design is "perfect for those extremely confidential business meetings out at sea."

The article goes on to describe the boat further:

The electric boat, who was enjoying its maiden voyage at ADYS, is a 3.5m 'floating fun platform' - designed, developed and built in the UAE with a folding sun canopy covering the seating area, joystick steering, and a soft-foam bumper to allow easy maneuverability among other craft in crowded marinas.

'I wanted to offer boats that were enjoyable to women and families - low noise, easy-to-handle craft that are perfect for quiet sundowners or a more glamorous arrival at a private yacht than in a tender,' says Dr Martin Mai, Managing Director, Abra Marine, the boat's designer and manufacturer.

'The boat is completely powered by electricity and has 0% carbon-dioxide emissions. It can be charged via an electric socket and has batteries that give it 12 hours of continuous power. We also have a solar-powered version in development.'

The solar-powered version will run by the power generated by seven square metre solar panels that generate 1,000W peak electric energy, with the ability to run for up to 10-hours.

While all the things above are nice, you truly have to see it to believe it. Here's a snapshot:

business consultants at sea

Copyright 2010 Marine Business News
It's hard to imagine actually conducting a meeting on this boat. Despite the wondrous views it surely brings, the limited space alone—with virtually no exit once in motion—would perhaps leave participants anxious, if not claustrophobic. To even suggest it may make you feel more like a Bond villain ready to reveal his master scheme than someone trying to run a productive meeting. So why entertain the space as an option?

We have covered corporate productivity during long meetings and how people go to all lengths to jump-start a meeting with positive, exciting energy. This tactical approach can prove to be a great way to inspire employees. Yet, no matter how upbeat the atmosphere, there's more to a productive meeting than comfortable seating and an enthusiastic presenter.

Worthwhile meetings require forethought. Meetings must have a solid purpose to justify taking time away from their work. Routine workplace gatherings should be about one of two objectives: brainstorming or decision-making. Announcements should not be made aloud, but transmitted through passive modes of communication such as email or memos. Inevitably, it's the content in the agenda that makes all the difference between successful meetings and wasteful ones. Far too many meetings are a waste of time when there isn't a real reason behind calling for it. It's nice to get people together, but be sure that you have a clear purpose set in place beforehand. And that goes double if you're going to take the time and resources to conduct a meeting at sea!

To learn more about conducting useful, productive meetings that actually leave stakeholders optimistic and lead to progress, contact our business process improvement consultants today. We may not be able to provide ocean views, but we can certainly assist in refreshing your typical meetings.

Blogging Should Be Easy When Approached Smartly

AccelaWork's very own Robby Slaughter was asked by Roundpeg to write a guest post about efficient blogging. His advice: let go.

Here's a teaser from the post:

I’m not worried about the editing, the formatting, or the pictures. Someone else will take care of that work. After all, what’s easier: writing a blog, or, coming up with an idea AND writing the post AND editing it AND inserting appropriate media AND testing it AND promoting it? Letting go of all of the responsibilities is essential to efficient blogging.

There’s even more you can release besides the tasks which are ancillary to writing itself. Key among these are the *structure* of a blog post. I decided on the car ride over to this coffee shop that I would write a post consisting of six paragraphs. The first would introduce the concept of blogging in ten minutes, the second would provide justification for the topic, the third would illustrate my main thesis (let go) and the fourth would expand on that thesis by showing you can plan the structure in advance.

Just sketching out the blog post in my head was tremendously helpful for this process of sitting down to write. But you don’t have to have a six paragraph plan. Instead, you can have predefined styles for a blog post. For example, you could quote a news story and react with your own personal flair, or tell a personal anecdote that ends in a business lesson. With these template structures in hand, you just need to follow the format. Blogging isn’t about writing impeccable pieces of literature that will last the test of time—it’s about writing work that gets your point across quickly and easily.

Robby then goes on to describe how you don't need to worry about having perfectly beautiful language. No one expects that F. Scott Fitzgerald is behind your company's blog, but the thought of not comparing with the most polished writers often scares people away from even sitting down to write. No one at AccelaWork has written any pieces of literature that are taught as classics in English 101, but we like to think we're doing a decent job nevertheless. You can do the same, regardless of where you perceive your skills to be.

Robby highlights other suggestions for potential post formulas, including the following:

For example, you could quote a news story and react with your own personal flair, or tell a personal anecdote that ends in a business lesson. With these template structures in hand, you just need to follow the format.
Just having an idea of how you're going to proceed can make the task of writing a post far less daunting. And if you aren't intimidated by the process, then the only thing that can hold you back is laziness! And if you're taking the time to read this post, then it's probably safe to assume that you aren't lazy when it comes to improving your organization.

Blogging should be an easy task that doesn't interfere with other work. Yet, it's not uncommon for people to either avoid or abandon writing posts because they take up too much time or require too much thought. Don't fall victim to these fears. As Robby stresses in his guest post, it is feasible to write meaningful blogs in only 10 minutes. It just requires a well-defined formula, a consistent process, and the simple act of letting go.

If you're interested in learning more about AccelaWork's system for blogging and streamlining weekly processes, contact our business improvement consultants today! We'd love to help you get on the right track toward ultimate blogging efficiency.

Should You Play Ball With Unreasonable Job Requirements?

Our local minor league baseball team had an exciting opportunity for a bright, hardworking individual. The internship offered an entry into the world of sports PR and the explicit promise of 100 hours per week.

I had to call the Indianapolis Indians to make sure that was really the case. In speaking with a representative, the posting is accurate.  Here is the relevant text as posted on the Hoosier PRSA Job Bank with some highlighting:
Full Time Communications Internship
Job Type Internship
Job ID 499
Date Posted 03/17/2010
Company Information Indianapolis Indians
Job Description 2010 Indianapolis Indians Internship ProgramBACKGROUND: The Indianapolis Indians are a professional Triple-A baseball club affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Indians play their home games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis, a 14,500-seat ballpark that has received numerous local and national accolades. Since its opening in July of 1996, the ballpark has hosted over 8 million fans for Indians games, an average of over 8,200 fans per game. Victory Field features 28 luxury suites, five suite-level party areas, and two large picnic areas.POSITIONS: Communications (1)

SKILLS: Strong written and verbal communication skills.

Ability to multi-task in a fast-pace and stressful environment.

Comfortable providing excellent customer service skills.

Proficient with Microsoft Office and Adobe Create Suite software.

Ability to work up to 14 hours per day and up to 100 hours per week.

TIME FRAME: Resumes are accepted through March 26, 2010. Interviews will be scheduled no later then March 31, 2010.

DATES: April 1, 2010 – September 15, 2010

HOURS: Full Time Internship; 40+ hours per week in addition to all home games

SALARY: $700/month plus housing

If we ignore the rest of the details and focus just on the highlighted text, the opportunity seems incredulous. The phrase "up to fourteen hours a day" sounds like something out of the last century. In fact, much of the history of the industrial revolution consisted of a struggle to determine reasonable working conditions. We now generally think of work as eight hours a day, five days a week, thanks to all the efforts that culminated in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

The notion of "up to 100 hour per week" may also seem unbelievable. That would be twenty hours a day in a five day week.  Throw in Saturday, and you're working an average of sixteen hours and 40 minutes. As the next portion explains, this time includes "all home games." In April of 2010, the Indianapolis Indians will host nine games in a row, from Friday the 16th to Saturday the 24th. All but two of these games run until 10:00PM at night.

Finally, the job posting lists the salary: $700 a month plus housing. Although prices vary, one reliable source puts a generous apartment allowance in downtown Indianapolis at $1,000. The effective rate, therefore, is $1,700 a month. At 40 hours a week, that works out to a salary of $10.63 an hour. At 100 hours a week, it's closer to $4.25/hour. The federally-mandated minimum wage, by the way, is $7.25/hour.

That doesn't mean the Indianapolis Indians are planning to violate the law. In fact,  there is no legal limit on the number of hours an employee can be asked to work. However, it's not clear if overtime is due is in this case. The Department of Labor explains on their website (emphasis added):

Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for employees employed as bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees. Section 13(a)(1) and Section 13(a)(17) also exempt certain computer employees. To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week. Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations.
My estimation of $1,700 a month would work out to $425 a week, so I would say that the internship is not exempt from overtime pay laws. Therefore, according to the Department of Labor:
For covered, nonexempt employees, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires overtime pay at a rate of not less than one and one-half times an employee's regular rate of pay after 40 hours of work in a workweek.
So how is it possible that a company can offer a job for a measly $1,700 a month and expect employees to work 14-hour days and 100-hour weeks? That would be inconceivable almost anywhere for the past hundred years. There is one reason why the Indianapolis Indians can post these details without a second thought: It's baseball! What could be more exciting for a fresh young intern? Everybody knows that sports fans know no limits when it comes to sleep, obsession or team loyalty. Why should employees of sports franchises be any different? Aren't they living the dream of spending all their time with the team and getting paid at the same time?

The sobering reality is that although baseball may be exciting, it is still a business.  Employees are human beings that need balance, personal lives, and sleep. Worker productivity will suffer from 14-hour days, whether they are logged in a bank, a non-profit or a stadium. No matter how tremendous or valuable the experience, we should never expect people to work 100 hours a week.

One blog post is not going to inspire the Indianapolis Indians or the entire sports world to reassess their attitude toward internships. The essential message for the rest of us, however, is to recognize the distinction between passion for an employer and passion for doing good work. We might be able to legally ask people to spend all their waking hours at the office, but that won't produce results or satisfaction. The only reliable way to increase productivity is to increase trust and freedom, not working hours.

This is an old topic for us at AccelaWork. In fact, we covered the topic of employee satisfaction and loyalty over a year ago here on our blog. We'd love to chat about it more. Reach out to us. Contact our business improvement consulting firm. Talk to us about how you characterize work.

Nagging Phone Calls: How To Handle Them

Like any consumer willing to accommodate certain processes in order to better service my needs, I've agreed in previous months to partake in phone surveys that assist in music selection for radio stations. About every two months, I receive a phone call asking for my participation. And, up until this month, I always agree. However, this past week brought an entirely different scenario.

Whereas the bi-monthly phone requests previously came around 5 o'clock in the evening, for whatever reason, this one occurred around 8 o'clock on a Monday. As many can imagine, this is not an ideal time. Besides the post-dinner clean-up and organization, having two small children with bedtimes inevitably leaves my evenings jam packed. So, though I wished to help out, I kindly declined the request with the assurance that if called earlier in the day—say 5 o'clock—I would certainly participate.

Like clockwork however, as I was putting my kids to bed on Tuesday evening, the phone rang. "Surely," I thought to myself, "this is someone other than the surveyor." Yet, to my surprise, it in fact was. Again, I kindly declined with the same assurance as the night before. "Call around 5 o'clock please."

By Wednesday, the sound of my ringing phone at 8p.m. no longer caused me to snicker in amusement, but instead scoff out of annoyance. When Thursday rolled around, the charade HAD to stop. Calmly I told the caller about my repeated requests for earlier contact. Accordingly, he double-checked his "system" to see if my requests were in fact documented.

"Yes," he says to me. "We have your request documented right here. 5 o'clock p.m."
What? How can that be? If my request was actually written down somewhere, why then is my household being summoned at 8p.m.? Turns out, after some follow-up questions, I found out the reason: I live in Indianapolis. The survey group, located in California, operates business three hours earlier! Well, now cleared up, I reiterated my request.

By Friday, there was no doubt in my mind I would receive the call at 5p.m. Not surprisingly, my phone rang at 8p.m.

The problem here is not one of employee competence. It arose due to a poor system and lack of communication. If the automatic call system was set up properly, it should be able to log time zones AND if the callers were properly educated on the system, they would know to either check the area code or ask the caller what time zone they are in PRIOR to setting a preferred call time.

Broken processes inhibit the opportunity for success. They also diminish credibility, customer satisfaction and even participation. If your company suffers from poor systems that lag business, contact our business process improvement methodology consultants. We'll assist in getting you back on track so you can focus better on furthering business rather than losing it.

Improving Worker Productivity By Learning Your Keyboard

When it comes to productivity, we often turn to computers for quick results. Yet, ironically, the functions that are designed to increase usability are often times neglected. Robby Slaughter, founder of Slaughter Development, discusses the power of ALT + TAB keys in a guest post on The Marketing Tech blog.

In The Power of ALT and TAB, Robby points out:

Take some time to learn ALT+TAB. You’ll be faster with the machine and able to get more work done. But more importantly, recognize that keys like ALT are really about changing the mode of the systems around us. ALT is like the difference between working at your desk and talking on the phone. It’s about switching to a different state.

Context-switching is the biggest cost in productivity. Every interruption presents the opportunity to forget what you were doing. Figure out what you do that requires you to change your focus, even if it’s from the keyboard to the mouse. You’ll find your workflow runs smoother and you’ll get more done.

Its hard to imagine that making small changes in workflow will create large enough results to actually matter. However, tweaking a process, even if only shaving off seconds of additional work, can and will certainly affect overall productivity. As the old adage says, "Every little bit counts." Nothing could be more true; particularly when it comes to achieving efficiency.

Contact our consultants to learn more about our business improvement services.

Employee Satisfaction and its Effect On Customer Service

Indianapolis-based image coach Starla West dropped into a Jimmy John's franchise to buy a meal. Little did she know that her entire day would be transformed by the experience.

Here are a few of her own words on the visit:

As I pulled into the drive-up, I was slouching in my seat with a facial expression that screamed, “I’m tired!”

When I rolled down my window, I was immediately greeted by an energetic and enthusiastic voice that said, “HEY THERE! Welcome to Jimmy Johns! How are you doing?”

Somewhat taken aback, I immediately sat up. I was prepared to answer the normal, “May I take your order?” not “How are you doing?” so I collected my thoughts and then replied, “I’m a doing very well. How are you?” The young man said, “Hey, I’m GRRRREAT! Thank you for asking. What can I get for you today?”

I literally felt this man’s smile and energy oozing through the speaker.

West goes on to explain how the personal presence of this employee had a dramatic effect on her own mood. That's a great lesson for those in customer service. However, there's something more profound about the interaction. It highlights the power of a topic we've covered many times before: employee satisfaction.

Productivity at work isn't just about our output; it's also determined by how we feel about our accomplishments. Those emotions are spread among the people around us through various methods. Just like Starla West was infected by the positive attitude of the Jimmy John's staffer, your own attitude about what you doing at work will impact your clients, colleagues and even those in your personal life.

It is important to choose to present a good attitude. But it's even more important to assess your own feelings about work. Productivity and satisfaction are innately connected. The best work environments are those where we are proud of the progress we make.

Improving Worker Productivity Through Praise

As we previously discussed, a business process solution at Applebee's was digital technology for faster service has been integrated into several of its restaurants. Though the chain hopes the technology proves beneficial, a recent dining experience of my own has reaffirmed the value in good, "old fashioned" service and the simple act of praise.

I dined in an Applebee's restaurant with a very large group of people.  Our group was cordial and relatively calm, but given the mass of bodies at our table, we were needless to say our waiter's "challenge" for the evening.  Besides the usual drink refills, appetizer orders, split meals and divided checks, we also brought the challenge of whining children, crying babies, food allergies, side substitutions and yes, even diet restrictions. As if that wasn't enough, our presence came at one of the busiest times of the week: happy hour. Suffice it to say, the hour was probably far from delightful for our server.

Yet, despite the many trips back and forth to our table, our waitress went above and beyond in service. She brought the discontent children toys and snacks. She brought complimentary sides of fries to those who initially substituted them with salads but regretted the decision later. She was speedy, efficient, friendly and most importantly, accommodating.

Granted, I realize that part of the job description when working in the restaurant industry is to be exactly that: accommodating. But I have experienced poor (if not borderline rotten) service in the past. So, when I come across service at its best, I can easily recognize how truly great it is to see and even more so experience. And that is why I took the following actions post-dinner.

Full and happy, I felt compelled to praise our waitress for her phenomenal service. She thanked us all for our recognition and immediately began cleaning up our table. However I was not satisfied with leaving without further praise, so I thought perhaps her manager would appreciate the feedback.

"How can I help you today?" the manager kindly inquired.

"I just wanted to let you know how fantastic our server Mindy was during our dinner tonight," I replied.

"That's wonderful to hear," she responded.

"Yes. Mindy was extremely accommodating and really went above and beyond to make sure we had a great dining experience. Thank you for having such a friendly and nicely trained staff."

I smiled and began to walk away, but was quickly stopped by the clearly grateful manager.
Thank you so much for seeking me out. You have no idea how rare it is for any diner to take the time to relay compliments. Believe it or not, feedback like yours helps our staff out the most and makes them better.

The best compensation to a job well done is not always monetary in value. There is something to be said about passing along deserving and sincere praise. Trusting and believing in your employees, your colleagues and/or your stakeholders is incredibly important. Yet, if you don't take the time to express such appreciation they may never know the value they hold. Lacking a sense of value may deter individuals from striving for high performance, efficiency, or even success.

Personal drive and motivation are key components to success in any job. So, take the time to show your appreciation to those who excel or even show improvement. You may just find that by doing so, you'll benefit just as much as they do!

Increase Workplace Productivity By Asking For Help

We all know that achievement comes through collaboration, not isolation. However, it's not always clear when we should ask for help.

This topic appeared on, where Julie Meloni wrote:

I know some people see asking questions as a sign of weakness or insecurity (and believe others will view them that way), and that asking questions can produce answers we don’t want to hear. Both of those possible results pale in comparison to the potential good that just sitting down and asking questions can produce.


And sometimes you just have to get over it and flat out ask someone else for help. I did that, and it was one of the greatest productivity tools I've ever encountered.

The best way to increase productivity is to better understand what you are doing. Therefore, asking questions is never a weakness, but instead demonstrates a commitment to improvement. If we reach out to those who might be able to help, we show them that we are more interested in doing good work than looking like we have all the answers.

On the other hand, productivity requires the judicious application of time. When we ask others for help, we are asking them to sacrifice their personal productivity. How many times have you been in the middle of a project at home, work or school, when someone interrupts you with a request? No matter how gracious you are, we all know that stopping to help someone else causes us to lose our train of thought and ultimately delays overall progress.

The best way to ask for help to improve your own productivity is to be as respectful as possible of the person you are soliciting. Avoid going to their desk or picking up the phone; instead send them an email. Avoid making a general statement of frustration; tell what you've already tried so that they can help you efficiently.

We all appreciate the chance to help someone, and we all appreciate it when our friends and colleagues show us that they respect our time. Ask for help to improve your productivity, but be conscious about the impact it has on the other person's productivity. Your thoughtfulness will be rewarded.

Consultants Share Thoughts on Being Helpful or Disruptive

Is there ever a time when being helpful is counterproductive or even taxing? According to one source, even the simplest of actions can hinder workflow.

In an article on, author Hanna Raskin said that stacking used dishes while dining out makes an employee's job more difficult:

For servers who innately understand the art and physics of plate stacking, it's terribly frustrating to be handed a wobbly tower of dishes and silver that has to either be set down and reassembled or carried gingerly to the dish room before the server can return to the table to do in two trips what might have been accomplished in one.
Interruptions in routine can cause delays, prevent active productivity and even disrupt crucial thought processes—all of which create set-backs and errors. Yet, being helpful should not be frowned upon in any situation. After all, denying the graciousness and willingness of another can also be counterproductive.

Instead, when compelled to offer assistance, perhaps exercise a few of the suggestions below:

1. Prior to taking something over, ask  first. By doing this, you give the individual the choice to a. decide whether they are willing to accept the help; b. decide what they need assistance with; c. decide how the task can properly be completed without disrupting his/her normal routine.

2. Inquire strategically. As kind as it is to offer help by asking first, its also important not to interrupt. Try not to utilize the phone. Avoid unexpected trips to the person's desk, cubicle and/or office. In all cases, its best not to break the person's concentration as it diverts attention to the matter at hand. Instead, send an email. Request a short, informal meeting. Ask at a more opportune time such as the person's lunch break.

3. Never assume small actions are obsolete. Like Ms. Raskin mentions above, simple actions that appear harmless (like stacking dirty dishes) can certainly throw off an entire process. And though you may think you fully understand the process and all its parts, it never guarantees you hold the correct notion of the workflow. Every person works differently. Therefore, its always better to ask rather than assume an action taken is helpful.

If you find that interruptions in your work environment are inhibiting productivity, contact our small buisness consultants at AccelaWork today.

AccelaWork's Consultant Robby Slaughter on IBJ

Still scratching your head trying to figure out which desk drawer you've stashed your company's operations manual? Recently, the Indianapolis Business Journal published an article, written by AccelaWork's very own, Robby Slaughter, which discusses ways to improve the manual to the point of actually utilizing it rather than forgetting about it.

For your convenience, below is the full article. You can also download a pdf version.

Why you should kill the operations manual

If you look around your place of business, you’ll probably find a dusty shelf somewhere that contains an ancient archaeological relic. It might have been left over from the person who worked there before you. Or, you might have received the artifact in new employee training. No matter how you received it, you've probably forgotten entirely about your company operations manual.

Instructions about the manner and practice of work are as old as written language. If we did not believe operations manuals were valuable, we would not invest millions of hours into producing them. So why do these manuals always seem laughably outdated?

The most troubling aspect of written documentation, however, is not the waste of resources used to produce them or the fact that actual procedures don’t match the printed word. When we do pull out the operations manual, it’s often a defensive maneuver. We might have better ideas about work or be prepared to have a meaningful discussion, but nothing silences dissent or innovation faster than a ream of official paper.

To understand how to fix the operations manual, we have to first understand what is broken. In businesses and non-profits alike, the desire to create narrative documentation is almost innate. Describing work patterns using prose gives us a sense of importance and immortality. When we post signs, write out company policies or create authorized checklists, it feels like we are building the structure of the corporation.

Our intentions are healthy and appropriate. Organizations of any size benefit from some degree of order. The problem is that the form of a written narrative does not match the experience of the flow of work. Printed volumes are great for novels and non-fiction books, where the plot should slowly unfold and skipping to the end is rarely advisable. Furthermore, these tomes are intended to be definitive. They represent a series of ideas frozen in time with the sole purpose of presenting some artistic or technical message.

Workflow, however, is always changing. The way you answer the phone may be different from today to tomorrow; indeed even where we answer the phone is uncertain. The practices we use to assist customers, process requests, manage data and conduct analysis are constantly renewed. Whereas a novelist has absolute power over the reader to dictate the story, the relationship between employees and work is much more personal. Work, after all, is what actually happens when no one is watching. The manual might urge a particular sequence of tasks, but it is what employees personally decide to do that leads to results.

How do we resolve apparent clash between written instructions and individual innovation? The answer is in two parts. First, instead of trying to capture workflow in words, we should use images. Engineers describe circuits using diagrams, chemists develop formulas via pictures, and architects envision their creations through blueprints. We should describe work in the way we think: as visual schematics.

Second, we need to recognize that all of us have jobs not just because we can follow instructions, but because we have the intelligence to know when instructions need to be improved. Workflow diagrams represent the opportunity to empower stakeholders. If we merely put diagrams up on the walls rather than hiding written instructions in drawers, employees may still silently ignore them. However, if these documents are hand-drawn rather than neatly printed and managed by workers themselves, they have the potential to become part of the culture of work.

There’s no need to pull down your operations manual and throw it in the trash. Instead, start a conversation at your office about documenting workflow visually. Encourage your coworkers to share their ideas for improvement and explain them as diagrams.  Support continuous improvement at your organization by moving away from narrative authority and embracing innovation from the bottom up.

Slaughter is a Principal with AccelaWork, an Indianapolis business process and workflow consulting company.

Feel free to explore the rest of our consulting website. If you are interested in learning more about AccelaWork and our business improvement solutions, reach out to use today!

Why Efficiency Matters Everywhere, Even When Battling Crabgrass

As all Hoosiers have seen in the past, the long-awaited anticipation for spring is a yearly affair. The glorious recipe of warm weather and blooming flowers is magic to those of us fairweather winter fans. The only thing left to combat—besides the clouds of pollen—is: crabgrass.

Let's face it, crabgrass is my arch nemesis. And despite my enthusiastic attempts at victory, it has beaten me every single year since the day I became a homeowner. Every year it's the same song and dance. I fertilize. I water. I cut. I seed. Yet, every year two things happen. First, my grass humbly gives in and cooperates for the months of April, May, and June. Leaving me proud and satisfied with my job well done.

How nice! I think to myself. The yard is actually responding to all my hard work!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you my dear, kind, humble yard!

Then, as though secretly laughing at me from underneath its crisp, shiny, deep green plushness, it turns on me. Ill-fated and ugly, crabgrass strikes again!

I must admit, perusing my neighborhood on leisurely walks is a difficult task. After all, the scenery that surrounds me invites emotional envy. I actively view plot after plot of beautifully manicured grass and, like salt to a wound, admit to myself that every neighbor has better, more cooperative grass than I. How do they do it?

With my pride sadly pummeled, my efforts lessened to nothing more than an impossibly difficult grass stain, I asked my neighbor for advice. Interestingly enough, I found that my only blunder, besides over-indulged frustration and minimal amounts of patience, is consistency. Turns out, it actually is important to explicitly follow-through with an exact regime. My problems consisted of the following:

FERTILIZING: Though I have actively utilized all the spring and summer applications consistently for three years, I have never followed-through with the final step that should occur each year before the first snowfall. Not diligently sticking to the recommended applications have left my efforts in vain.

WATERING: My *attempts* at watering my yard, which consist of rainfall, emptying my kids' inflatable pool, and the occasional once-around with my garden hose, are (surprise, surprise) subpar. Watering grass periodically everyday for a substantial amount of time is not just good, it's vital.

MANICURING: In a perfect world, my grass is freshly mowed twice a week. Yet, at times I'm lucky if I manage to mow once a week. Being inconsistent with a mulching mower can kill grass as the length leaves behind a lot of clippings that cover and shade the grass.

I was going through the motions, all the while incorrectly administering them. It was then that I realized, besides diligence and consistency, efficiency within any process–not just yard work—not only makes it better, but makes it stronger and more reliable.

Think for a moment about an important project timeline. Now imagine what would happen if a vital step was left out, accidentally missed or purposefully skipped. At the very least, the project would be vulnerable. Perhaps it simply wouldn't reach it's full potential. Or worse, perhaps it would fail altogether. The end result may be a gamble, but one thing is for sure: without conscientious evaluation and proper follow-through, attaining project success will not be easy.

Persistent thoroughness may sound exhausting, but  it certainly pays off. If unconvinced, look around your neighborhood and compare plots of grass. You may find as I have that hard work isn't always as effective as smart work. Contact our Indianapolis consultants today to learn more about how we can transform processes from "crabgrass eyesores" into "landscaped masterpieces." Happy mowing!

A Broken Process and a Four Cent Fine

Millions of Americans hope they have completed their taxes correctly during tax season. One man in California, however, suffered the penalty of underpayment.

Here's the story:

Arriving at Harv's Metro Car Wash in midtown Wednesday afternoon were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. "They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending," says Harv's owner, Aaron Zeff.

The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff's on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was ... 4 cents.

The story gets crazier as it's further explained. This situation happened in 2010. The money that was unpaid had been due since 2006. The penalties and taxes the accrued on that four cent debt were a whopping $202.31! That seems rather excessive for such a minuscule fine, especially one that built up over just four years! The reason this fine went unpaid? Because Zeff wasn't aware of this fine. He was never told of any late payments or taxes due. If he had been, it's safe to say he could've scrambled together the extra four cents needed. Not only would he have been spared from such a whopping fine, but the IRS would've have had to send two agents, a car, and the paperwork needed to collect this money. After all, don't most copies cost about five cents?

The ridiculousness of the situation was certainly not lost on Zeff.

"It's hilarious," he says, "that two people hopped in a car and came down here for just 4 cents. I think (the IRS) may have a problem with priorities."

There might be a reasonable explanation for this story, but it's hard to imagine one. There's some indication that Zeff might have been several years behind on settling up, which could have triggered the personal visit. But why would the agents go on site to collect a couple of pennies? If what Zeff is saying is true, there was simply no reason for this visit. Either his errors should have been properly communicated to him beforehand, or if this was really only a four cent problem, then there's no chance it was worth even a fraction of the gas money to send the agents over in person.

The most important lesson is that IRS employees are not empowered with sufficient authority and responsibility. They should feel comfortable looking at the letter and making the decision not to waste hours of their day serving a notice for a nickel in fees. If perhaps IRS agents are not allowed to look at these letters, than why do they need to be hand delivered? Clearly, someone is not thinking conscientiously about work.

This IRS problem is one that impacts everyone since it's our tax dollars being wasted in situations like these, but it's very possible that similar situations are going on in your organization. It's important to ensure your employees feel comfortable enough to take initiative when they come across a situation that might need to be resolved in a different way than policy dictates. Because no matter how smart you are, it's impossible to be aware of the best policy for every situation every time.

Based on such anecdotes it's easy to make fun of bureaucracies from the outside, but we  all know that there are problems throughout every organization. That's why AccelaWork works with companies and non-profits to help redesign business processes based on stakeholder engagement. Contact our business consultants today for more information! We can help you avoid goofing up like the IRS, and help you keep your resources flowing in an intelligent and efficient manner.

Embracing Technology With The Technology Cognition Chart

Technology is not a rare concept to come by in today's society. Yet, while many embrace advances and strive to become experts, others may find it daunting and difficult to understand. Robby Slaughter, a Principal with AccelaWork, recently discussed this topic on the Marketing Tech Blog.

In Productivity Secrets: Technology Isn't Always Technical, Robby displays his theory on adapting to technology through the Technology Cognition Chart:

consultant's chart
He points out that skepticism is a natural instinct that comes when new advances in technology arrive. Therefore, instead of allowing fear of discovery to take over, visualizing how the technology can be integrated and used in our own lives is the first step to becoming competent users. According to Robby, technology is simply about "getting complexities out of the way so we can get more done and have more fun."

The full post is certainly worth checking out, but for your convenience we've included some of his explanation below:

Blissfully Unaware In the beginning, none of us have any idea what it going to appear next. And then one day, BAM, you hear that Google, the Food Network and the International Olympic Committee are joining forces to create an online social network for competitive arugula farming.

Skepticism Not surprisingly, we don’t buy into things right away. Really? What I am going to do with a device that doesn’t have a keyboard? We ask ourselves, why do I need a machine that uses body language to send text messages on my behalf?

These questions, however, require a bit of technical understanding. We have to at least visualize ourselves using the new technology, and have some sense for how it might work in our own lives.

Discovery or Fear As a technology becomes more prevalent, we come across a fork in the road. Either we can get it in a flash of discovery (Oh! I can keep up with old friends on Facebook. Cool!) or it never really clicks in our minds. The technology starts to pass us by, and we become afraid that we’re “just not smart enough” for the world around us.

(Not pictured: tech we get but don’t care about. For example, iPhone applications that make embarrassing bodily noises.)

Adopter to Expert Sometimes we become fluent in the technical details of a new technology, and we want to take it apart and show off our prowess. As I write this post for The Marketing Tech Blog, I get to do so in raw HTML and add my own markup tags. The technical fluency isfun, because I’m sufficiently expert in doing so.

Towards Competence Sometimes we become sufficiently competent in a technology, understanding just enough to know how to get by. You may not really understand how a touch screen works, but with a little practice and comfort you can get along using it just fine.

Towards Defeat Sometimes technology seems hopelessly complex and passes us by. This is the most troubling of all positions, because it’s hard to help someone recognize that if only they understood just a little bit of the technical details (such as the difference between the search box and the address bar), they would be much better.

Ideally, you're a tech expert, using the latest innovations in the most productive way, but in reality, that may not be the case. Plenty of people find themselves behind the curve, or worse, slipping right off the track when they try to implement new productivity technologies. If you feel like that's the case for you, then fear not! By being aware of the chart above and asking for help, you could see positive changes in no time. For more information, contact our business improvement consulting firm today.

Taking Chances vs. Fearing Failure

For those of us afraid of making mistakes, avoiding the unknown and sidestepping risk can certainly seem appealing. Yet, overcoming the fear of failure and taking chances can prove extremely beneficial. For AccelaWork's founder, achieving productivity comes from tackling challenges head on—even if it means writing a blog post in under five minutes. 

In an interview for Mixwest 2010, Robby Slaughter had an opportunity to highlight some of his recent success. During the discussion, Nat Finn touched upon Slaughter's new book, Failure: The Secret To Success, and his Mixwest 2010 session, "Producing Content Without Agony." A snippet of the interview is below.

1 – Mixwest 2010 might be dubbed, “The Year of the Writer.” Congratulations on publishing your book, “Failure: The Secret to Success.” Besides the implied reasons found in the title, what specifically inspired you to write the book?

Thanks! Fear of failure is the most gripping and serious problem we face at work and in life. Making mistakes is essential to learning, yet we seem to be afraid of doing anything wrong. I wrote the book to establish a conversation around what enables us to succeed in our professional and personal world. I hope that it helps others feel inspired to embrace the role of failure.


5 – During a session of Mixwest 2009 you claimed you wrote a post in 8 minutes [correct me if that's wrong]. Have you since broken that record?

It was nine minutes and forty seconds. I think I’ve done it much less time, but I don’t usually take out a stopwatch while blogging. The promise for Saturday afternoon is to write one in under five minutes. Come and see if it can be done!

Turns out, Slaughter had managed to create a detailed, comprehensive blog only in four minutes and ten seconds. And though he certainly broke his blogging record, he admits doing so wasn't his main goal. Instead, it was to simply inspire others to adopt similar strategies when it comes to content development and workflow improvement. Hopefully, after witnessing the feat, all the session participants can freely attest to his intentions and, ultimately, his results!

That said, Slaughter didn't show up off the street and write a post in under five minutes. He has been blogging for years and has found the best strategies for efficiency in his posting. He has improved his writing speed and quality through many hours of practice. Perhaps you're just starting out and don't have the practice or experience to have your own workflow figured out. That shouldn't matter at all! Slaughter's achievement from Mixwest should be an inspiration for anyone at any stage of their business. If your strategies are sound and you're serious about achieving your goals, you can reach a similar level in no time at all.

Your goal may not be to write a blog post in under five minutes or even in under ten. It could simply be to realize that content development is not always a daunting task. If Slaughter can write a post in four minutes and ten seconds, then surely even less experienced writers do not need days or even weeks of preparation to come up with a quality post. And his achievement is a great example of what proper planning and practice can lead to. Regardless of what your business goals are, if you approach them in a smart, strategic manner, it should be much easier (and take much less time) to reach those achievements.

Still unsure of how this can apply to your business? We can help! To learn more about efficiency in the workplace and how to use proper strategies and a quality workflow to improve your business, don't hesitate in contacting the consulting team at AccelaWork today!

Government Productivity and the Juror's Burden

In the United States' judicial system, you are considered innocent until proven guilty. And though hefty laws exist to protect this right, is it possible that bad processes and desperate measures get in the way of a fair trial?

In the article Jury Duty Economics: The High Cost of Justice, journalist Barry Watson divulged his experience—and perspective—on jury duty and its economic strain it has on those summoned. He reported that juror concerns boil down to two things: missing valuable work time and losing crucial income.

It isn't hard to figure out why people try to avoid empanelment: Apart from the lost work time, there's often a major pay cut. In New York, jury members make $40 per day. Granted, this is significantly more than most states pay—California, for example, only kicks in $15 per day, along with 37 cents per mile for commuters—but $40 per day doesn't even cover the cost of rent in New York City.
One further aspect of jury duty concerned Watson:
By the time we got to the jury room to decide the case, it seemed like most of us had an eye on the meter . . .

Within a few hours, we came to a decision. It's hard to determine if the economy affected our final verdict, but I wonder what the rejected jurors might have contributed to the discussion . . . The question is, ultimately, whether the ability to serve on a jury and render judgment against one's fellow man is becoming a luxury, reserved for those who can afford it.

As a juror, the duty of deciding one's fate is of extreme importance, not just to the defendant, but to the government as well. However, as Watson pointed out, such a process comes at a cost to those involuntarily losing time and income. Despite this underlying message, the truth is that stakeholders matter. In any process, vital contribution for its success is created, performed and seen by the people conducting the work. The results suffer when these people do not receive the respect they deserve.

At times, it seems that allowing a bottom line to dictate compensation is the only choice of action. This is not always the case. At AccelaWork, we assist companies in expediting processes so that valuable time and money can be utilized elsewhere. If your company is interested in learning more about how we can help, contact our business process improvement consultants. We'll help your process seem less like jury duty and more like swift justice.

Utilizing Strengths-Based HR Approach

Indianapolis-based Ignite HR Consulting hosted an evening of training, networking and music. The education program focuses on an emerging movement in corporate training called Strengths.

Here's their overview of this approach:

Ignite HR Consulting is the premier Strengths-based HR, coaching and training company in Indianapolis, IN. Our unique approach breaks all the rules of conventional wisdom. Rather than finding gaps and fixing weaknesses, Ignite focuses on  what is RIGHT, building on Strengths and minimizing weaknesses. Explore a few of our training and coaching options below, and find out more how we help create strong employees, strong managers, and strong organizations.

The event took place on Thursday, May 6 at 4PM and featured a 45-minute training session entitled “Doing What You Do Best” presented by Carla Feagans. This session was followed by an hour and a half of networking, with unlimited food and cocktails. The evening concludes with a symphony concert from the Time for Three string ensemble.

Tickets were normally $25, but Ignite HR offered our readers a discount. Contact our business process consultants to learn about how we can assist your company.

Improving Worker Productivity Nurtures Brain Power

Since our founding, AccelaWork has worked alongside clients to increase office productivity by improving or even eliminating inefficient processes. Our goal? Open avenues for innovation and create a healthier workflow for stakeholders. It turns out that doing so doesn't just create a healthier sense of productivity— it also nurtures the brain.

MSN Health & Fitness featured a two-minute video, Boosting Your Brain, which discusses how multi-tasking weighs heavy our ability to think. According to Dr. Sandra von Chapman, chief director at The Center for Brain Health, this mental function decline occurs "because people go to automatic levels of processing of just information in, information out."  In addition to the video here are some tips from the article to avoid "brain overload:"


List out top three tasks each day.

Work on each task for 30 Minutes without distraction.

Turn off email at certain points during the day.

Make bullet points for meetings to decrease rambling.

It's no secret. AccelaWork not only encourages these types of recommendations to our clients, but we utilize such tactics in our office everyday.  We view productivity as more than just streamlining a filing system or getting a task checked off a list. It's about creating a viable routine that significantly reduces the amount of work and stress a faulty process brings.

By reducing the amount of time spent inefficiently multi-tasking, an individual gains something extremely valuable: uninterrupted work time. We have covered the link between employee satisfaction and workflow, getting "into the zone" of solid work brings a worker a deep sense of satisfaction. For many, this sense of accomplishment doesn't just create happiness. The ability to freely focus on work is truly motivating.

For further information on how we can help rejuvenate your brain at work, contact our corporate productivity consultants today!

Workplace Productivity and Financial Advice

A study of employee benefits reports that workers want financial advice at the office. Most believe that counseling programs would increase their productivity.

The data came from an annual survey conducted by MetLife. According to a UK-based website:

The research found that 77 per cent of employees think their productivity would improve if they were offered money advice and guidance programmes at work, as just 37 per cent admit they are confident about their ability to make sound financial decisions.

In addition, 65 per cent of employers believe workers are less productive if they are worried about their personal finances, while 52 per cent think absenteeism rises when staff have to deal with money problems.

Let's review that text carefully: the analysis does not prove that employees who receive financial planning services are more effective. Rather, it states that employees believe they would be more productive if they were offered some kind of money counseling at work.

In a broad sense, this information should not be surprising. After all, any benefit for employees—especially one that might be particularly valuable—will undoubtedly be well received. Of course stakeholders think they will be more productive if there are more visible signs of appreciation!

More importantly, however, this study highlights the importance of our own self-perception of productivity. Three-fourths of people believe they could get more done at work if they just received some financial consulting. How much more could they achieve if all their wishes were respected and evaluated?

At AccelaWork, we help organizations to increase productivity and improve workflow by engaging stakeholders. When people believe they can get more done they tend to actually get more done! Empower your team to work smarter and collaborate more effectively. Contact our productivity growth consultants today!

Simple Business Process Methodology, Sweet Outcome

Nowadays, million dollar contests seem to be popping up everywhere. Whether answering trivia, surviving the great outdoors, or even completing silly games,victors can earn major prizes. For one winner however, path to victory has led to controversy.

Sue Compton of Delanco, NJ, entered the annual Pillsbury Bake-off with her Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups recipe. Her creation, however, is based on sticking ready-to-bake cookie dough into paper muffin cups.

Delightful and delectable, these tiny desserts wowed the judges, leaving her $1 million dollars richer. Yet in a story on, other contestants and observers felt her recipe was not deserving of the honor:

This is a very clever use of ingredients and tasty, but the million dollar winner? I am sorry, but I remember when contestants had to actually come up with a real recipe that they then had to make from scratch...This almost seems like cheating to me
I am sorry to see a recipe awarded such a prize for doing nothing. What has happened to cooking? A small child could create this terrible thing.
We are often quick to judge value based on complexity. A luscious dessert which requires many steps, unusual ingredients and delicate execution is easy to revere. But shouldn't we be more impressed by a tasty treat which is is also easy to make?

To fairly evaluate any procedure, we should not consider the level of difficulty as a key variable. Instead, what matters most is the overall quality of the process and the product. For Ms. Compton, her simple, yet creative recipe embraced both criteria. Not only is her confection delicious, it's also a cinch for even the novice chef and quick enough to whip up in less than an hour. Who can complain about that?

To actually complete work in an effective and efficient way while avoiding over-complication is as much of an art form as baking. It takes time, patience, trial and error to reach an ideal level of expectation. So, creating and partaking in a simplistic process hardly makes a person an amateur. On the contrary, when utilized correctly, the approach can signify a high level of expertise; a position that comes only from experience.

As our consultants have covered before, working hard does not necessarily mean you're working smart. If over-complicated processes at work are baking your brain, contact our business process consultants at AccelaWork today. We can help simplify your processes while still achieving a successful outcome. Most importantly however, we'll help you to pursue an even greater goal: process improvement.  Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?

The Problems With the Passive Voice

Your English teacher warned you not to use the "passive voice" when writing, but doing so is one of the easiest ways to improve productivity in your workplace. Changing language can change culture!

First, a quick refresher on passive voice from the UNC writing center.

A passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. That is, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. Take a look at this passive rephrasing of a familiar joke:

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?Who is doing the action in this sentence? The chicken is the one doing the action in this sentence, but the chicken is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject to be. Instead, the road is the grammatical subject. The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses (more on that shortly).

Consider the following statement, which is common in offices across the world:
Please edit this report as soon as possible.
Although the sentence begins with the word "please," it is obviously a command. If you're the one saying it, you expect the work to be done immediately. If you're the person hearing this request, it's hard not to feel like you're being given an order.

It might sound a little odd to question the value of direct requests at work. After all, shouldn't we expect our jobs to contain specific responsibilities and assignments? Consider then rephrasing the same concept using language with the passive voice:

This report needs to be edited.
Using the grammatical approach your teacher recommended against should result in a weaker, less effective sentence. Yet, if you heard such a request from your boss it wouldn't just seem passive. Instead, the comment would sound passive aggressive.

The manner by which we provide instructions affects how people feel about those instructions. What if we take the passive language and combine it with something informative and empowering? Consider this version of the same idea:

The client is really in a bind and I think we can win some big points if we edit this report today. Is this a task that interests you, and if so are you available to help out?

Unlike the first two statements, the handful of extra words provides some context. There is now a rationale for the emergency as well as a benefit. The person asking demonstrates respect—both for the other person's competencies and responsibilities. A "yes" answer is more meaningful and a response of  "no" is perfectly acceptable. The extra words don't just take up a few more seconds, they help to transform the culture of work.

It's not always possible to turn a command into a request, whether you employ the passive voice or another technique. Sometimes work just has to be done. But even so, you can empower your team members by showing them you recognize their value:

I'm sorry to interrupt your workflow, but I need you to stop what you're doing and edit this report right away. Can you let me know what other project will slip as a result so we can plan accordingly?
If you have the right sort of people on your team, then they're going to respond positively to a request like this. And if they legitimately don't have the time to properly accomplish what you're asking them to, then you're probably better off finding someone else to take on the task.

Connect with your team. Improve productivity and satisfaction by changing the way you talk. Learn more by contacting our small business productivity consultants today!

What Lying to 911 Can Teach Us About Problem Solving

Chances are many of us have indulged once or twice in a white lie with the knowledge that, for the most part, the statement has little to no serious consequence. For one man however, his version of a "white lie" was far from harmless.

According to one story in the Associated Press, a Maryland resident is pending charges after he called 911 and made a false statement about being robbed.

The Charles County sheriff’s office said a man called 911 and made up a story about being robbed so that he could get a ride home. Authorities said they were called to Hawthorne Road near Manor Drive in Ripley for a reported armed robbery on Thursday. The man told officers that he had been walking on Route 225 when a car stopped and a someone put a gun to his head and demanded money. The man claimed to have complied and the suspects fled.

But as officers searched the area and noticed inconsistencies in his account, the man admitted fabricating the robbery story because he wanted a ride home.

He said his cell phone was out of minutes and 911 was the only number he could still call.

Taking into account his desperation, the man accused of falsely filing a police report was probably in distress—a factor that potentially clouded his judgment. Nonetheless, there is no denying that he made a major mistake. However, his error didn't begin when he called 911 with a false story. It started much earlier.

Despite his first mistake of not rationing his cell phone minutes he made an even bigger blunder: he underestimated his own value. He convinced himself that being stranded on the highway was not a viable enough reason to ask for help. If the man would have simply called 911 and told the truth, his day would have probably ended quite differently.  Perhaps the dispatcher would have put him in contact with a cab service or sent a nearby police car to pick him up. Who knows what would have transpired. But one thing is clear: by doubting the severity of his own predicament, he created an even larger problem.

There's also the very obvious problem here of lying to a 911 operator. Under no circumstance is that acceptable. But it's almost as taboo to lie to your clients or employees. Even if you do find yourself in a desperate situation, the truth is always going to be the best option. All lying has the potential to do is get you into some real trouble. For this man, it's some sort of legal trouble, but for your business it could be a loss of a client, a hurt reputation, and a lack of trust from your employees.

Effective problem-solving takes time and serious contemplation. We need to come up with strategies that are fluid and well-equipped to remedy a situation. Yet, when problems arise unexpectedly, our instinct is to react first and reflect later; opening the door to further mistakes, misdirection and even loss of value. We need to learn to think before we act.  If we plan properly, then when problems do arise, we won't likely be in quite as desperate of a situation, and therefore won't be forced to jump into a decision that has a very negative outcome.

If you want to learn more about how we can assist in creating logical solutions for workflow challenges, don't hesitate to contact our business process transformation firm today. Rest assured, we don't come with pre-paid stipulations that can leave you stranded—we'll stick around until you no longer need us. And you certainly won't have to lie to 911.

Fighting Backwards Company Policies

Often the most interesting aspects of employee workflow are not procedures that are highly efficient but subtle workarounds. We received an email with an offhand comment that demonstrates this issue perfectly.

In the following message, two employees at different companies are coordinating their mutual involvement in a non-profit committee:

Thanks. I'm not supposed to log-in to gmail at work, so I'll need to take a look at our group and calendar soon to get a handle on it, then promote it to everyone via e-mail.
In one sentence, the anonymous person sending this email illustrates the startlingly backwards culture of the typical employer. She expresses two core ideas:
  1. "I feel comfortable using company email to discuss our volunteer project."
  2. "I am not permitted to use company resources to access our volunteer project."
These contradictory statements make her office sound like employee satisfaction is pretty low. It's like being allowed to use company postage to request mail-order catalogs for personal use, but not to actually submit mail-order forms. How could official policy be so insane?

If we read the email carefully, however, possible rationales start to emerge. The key phrase is "I'm not supposed to log-in to gmail." Maybe Google's Gmail product has been deemed a security risk. Or perhaps management feels that people who are using the service are more likely to be wasting time. In any case, the author of the message seems to think she might get caught on Gmail. Perhaps the IT department has monitoring software, or maybe another employee could happen to walk by her cube.

None of these possible explanations are very reasonable. If Gmail is dangerous or problematic, why not have the technical staff install Internet filters? Any time people feel they are "supposed" to act in a certain way, they probably harbor at least a small amount of resentment. Why can't we be trusted to be responsible?

There's a lesson for management in this story. If you want to provide exceptional customer service, emulate companies like Nordstrom and try to keep policies simple which will have a positive effect on worker productivity.  If you're an employee who writes emails that say things like "I'm not supposed to do this at work," consider a policy change of your own: don't give out your work email to personal contacts. Or, think about finding an employer which is more interested in productivity growth than monitoring behavior.

We've all been in offices where micromanagement runs rampant. Perhaps in certain situations it's called for, but on the whole, it's usually a negative management style. After all, if employees don't feel empowered, are they really going to be comfortable coming forward with novel ideas? And it's rather hard to feel empowered when your phone calls are being monitored, or you fear checking in on your personal emails since someone is watching your internet history. Yes, all employees should remain focused during the day, but it's very unlikely that during a five minute break to check in on emails, an entire day of work is going to be ruined. And if your organization is really one where those sorts of policies are needed, the employees shouldn't fear retribution, rather they should understand why the policies are in place and thus have a motivation to stick to it.

Ultimately, the words we use to describe our limitations at the office are often the most important part of our workflow. Make smarter processes that empower your team to have the freedom to accomplish more. Consider contacting our small business consulting firm to learn more about this. We love to help!

Can Three Sigma Work as Well as Six?

According to one noted blogger, three sigmas ought to be enough. More importantly, though, is the question of whether we should use any sigmas whatsoever.

Over at Lexican, Steven Levy offered some refreshing words. First:

I get heartburn when people assume or suggest that process improvement and Six Sigma are synonymous.
It should be obvious that Six Sigma is just one tool that can be used to attempt to make businesses more efficient, but the marketing budget and the groundswell for the "cottage industry" is tough to ignore. More insight from Levy:
Three Sigma represents about 7 defects per 100 “things” — widgets manufactured, processes run, documents reviewed. As a manufacturing standard, it’s pretty minimal, but it’s a reasonable human standard.

As a manager, say, did I get 93% of my interactions with my team “right”? I don’t know, but I think that would be pretty reasonable, especially if I were quick to fix the other 7% if pointed out to me. (I had only two managers in all my years in business who came in around this level; I worked for each of them for a long time because they were skilled managers.)

The things that are hardest to measure are also those that matter most. The Six Sigma methodology is designed for things that are easy to measure, that are “cookie cutter” (or stamped out with a mechanical jig). Misapply it, and you can do as much harm as good. You can’t write off the nuances, the gray areas, the conditions encountered for the first time.

The best hitter in baseball hits at a One Sigma level. The best putter in golf putts at a Two Sigma level. Three Sigma’s not as easy as it sounds.

Failure is crucial to human learning. A methodology where we are aiming for near-zero defects is probably going to be demoralizing at best. However, the essential component of improvement is the analysis of the improvement. This is where Levy misses the mark:

Ultimately, my methodology is pragmatism and practicality. Use what works. Borrow liberally. Focus on the destination more than the path.
A Wall Street Journal article tackled a similar topic, bringing up why so many Six Sigma projects fail.
They typically start off well, generating excitement and great progress, but all too often fail to have a lasting impact as participants gradually lose motivation and fall back into old habits.


Many teams reported their achievements incorrectly, giving a false sense of success. Because the director continued to communicate only about projects that were showing excellent results, it took several months for the division vice president to become aware of the widespread failures and reluctantly inform the company's top executives.


Executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just "support" them. Because it was in his best interests, the director in charge of the improvement projects at the aerospace company created the illusion that everything was great by communicating only about projects that were yielding excellent results. By observing the successes and failures of improvement programs firsthand, rather than relying on someone else's interpretation, executives can make more accurate assessments as to which ones are worth continuing.

We should be realistic, emulate successful patterns, and borrow from experts. However, there is tremendous danger in focusing on outcomes. Although it may sound counterintuitive, we need to put business process transformation ahead of results. Individuals are most empowered to make smart choices when they focus on their own work, not someone else's goals. Process-oriented thinking helps ensures that failure leads to learning rather than losing.

Make changes to your workflow. Learn more about Methodology Engineering. Reach out to our consulting firm today!

Workplace Productivity Dysfunction

After spending 40 hours a week together, some teams within an organization become so close that they start behaving like a dysfunctional family.  In other words, professional behavior goes flying out the door and team members stop "playing nice."  This, of course, is a recipe for disaster that often results in disengaged employees and a loss of productivity.

An event in Indianapolis in 2010 attempted to address these problems which are all too common in the workplace. The event was appropriately titled Five Simple Ways to Get Your Employees to "Play Nice". The event's speaker was professional communication coach Starla West, who discussed five simple ways to create and maintain a FUN and professional work environment where employees "play nice" each and every day!  Below were the event details:

DATE: Thursday, May 27, 2010

TIME: 3:30pm to 5:00pm (with open networking from 3 to 3:30pm)

LOCATION: The beautiful Skyline Club in downtown Indianapolis (One American Square - Indianapolis, IN 46282).

INVESTMENT: Only $35 per attendee.

REFRESHMENTS: Yes, of course!

One of the ultimate goals for any organization is to get its employees to view one another as "internal customers" and interact with each other - productively and harmoniously - in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If respect is missing, then employees may not feel safe or comfortable in the workplace. When that happens, work may be inefficient and lacking in quality, which can lead to external customers being just as unhappy as the "internal customers" are.

We previously discussed how a well-designed workplace can be an efficient one, but simply having soft lighting and properly painted walls isn't enough to have your teams work in harmony. You have to take steps to ensure that all of your employees find a way to feel comfortable while at work. It may not possible to completely please everyone, but it's certainly possible to put methods in place to ensure function reigns supreme over dysfunction.

A blog post from Influence & Co. tackled a similar topic and brings up some quality points. While that post is directed specifically at sales and marketing teams, the suggestions it presents can apply to any division of employees. We've included two of those specific suggestions below.

1. Make an objections spreadsheet.

Have your sales team regularly update a spreadsheet with objections from leads. The marketing team can create content that speaks to those objections.

If your marketing team is aware of your prospects’ concerns, then they’ll be able to create effective — and conversion-focused — content.

5. Use meetings to compare proposals.

Schedule periodic meetings to revise proposals based on feedback from leads.

Marketing may think the sales collateral is great, but if it’s not answering questions leads are asking, it’s really not worth much.

Likewise, sales might think a proposal is informative, but if marketing notices it’s visually unappealing or difficult to understand, your prospects probably will, too.

Those two suggestions can easily be combined into one: Keep lines of communication open. We've discussed the problems with time-wasting meetings before, but the purpose of a meeting to compare proposals is to ensure that there's communication between various departments. That makes sure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals. This can be achieved any number of ways, whether it's as straightforward as a meeting or something more outside the box. And to continue thinking of the workplace as a family, the occasional dinner together can do big things for turning a dysfunctional family into a functional one where everyone feels comfortable and valued, regardless of whether they're the head of the household or the youngest of many siblings.

At AccelaWork, our goal is to deliver workplace productivity and stakeholder satisfaction. If you are interested in learning more about what we can offer your business, contact our business process improvement consultants today!

Technology Isn't Required For Productivity

In the modern, technology-powered workplace, it may seem like being more productive is mostly a matter of the latest gizmo. However, a short video proves that there are some ingenious employees in the most impoverished places in the world.

This clip comes from a post on the Daily Markets Blog. Take a look:

As the video progresses, you probably find yourself wondering over and over again if the man is going to try to carry one more brick. Yet as his burden increases, he only seems more confident. What lessons can we learn from this worker?

Regardless of the technology you have in place, productivity can still be achieved. We want to find ways to maximize our technology, but not completely rely on it for our jobs to work. An NPR article touched on the productivity pros and cons businesses are faced with today. Technology can allow us to better monitor our work days, but that isn't always the best situation. Rather, it's important to look at the big picture.

The advance of tablets and Web-based computing makes it possible for more people to work remotely, but that also makes interoffice coordination a greater challenge.

Tim Bajarin is a technology analyst who says companies — from IBM and HP to smaller startups — are grappling with how to make the workplace more effective.

"The tools to make them successful in their productivity is the No. 1 IT project in any company," Bajarin says.


But Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, says this kind of punitive approach — constantly pointing out what you're doing wrong — is counterproductive. Her research shows that documenting progress on work, no matter how minor, is by far the most effective tool.

"That absolutely dwarfed every other positive thing that happened to people," she says.

Amabile likes a service offered by a startup called iDonethis. It prompts users to write down what they accomplished at the end of the day. She says this helps users stay focused on their biggest, most important goals.

"And that good inner work life fuels their energy, their motivation and their emotions to make progress the next day," Amabile says.

Just staying motivated, she says, is still the best way to get work done.

Motivation, as we've covered many times on this blog, usually is the strongest when it's coming from within. There are a million ways to try to motivate someone, and we certainly don't want to do anything that can hurt motivation, but when someone's motivation is completely self-starting, then they're going to be the most successful. People aren't motivated by the next technological way to document productivity. Rather they're motivated by striving towards a goal through an effective workflow. That's where satisfaction, and ultimately productivity, come from.

Great workflow is impressive, regardless of the economic conditions or the type of work. To help your organization run with similar efficiency and satisfaction, give our buisness improvement consultants a call today.

Government Productivity in 100 Steps

If pressed, most individuals in the private sector would probably repeat the stereotype that government jobs are easy and nearly impossible to lose. One article, however, shows that these positions can be extremely difficult to get.

Here's some information from a piece in the Washington Post:

The good news for the legions of Washington area applicants seeking federal work is that the government wants to fill tens of thousands of jobs here. The bad news is that they have to first slog through the federal government's labyrinth hiring system to get one.

In a process that can involve 100 steps and take a year or more, applicants must deal with an online site many find cumbersome, sometimes vastly different procedures and requirements for the various agencies, and a culture loaded with mind-numbing jargon, codes and acronyms.

It's easy to make fun of the government, but it should be clear that this bureaucracy creates a significant barrier to productivity and satisfaction. After all, how many steps should there be to hiring someone for a job? It seems pretty clear:

  1. Decide on your organizational needs and wants, and publish information about the job
  2. Receive applications from candidates
  3. Conduct any pre-screening tasks, such as background checks or other requirements, to qualify candidates
  4. Schedule and conduct interviews
  5. Decide who you want to offer the job to, and extend an offer.
That's far less than a hundred steps, and not even all of them involve the candidate!

The article explains the scope of this challenge:

Over the next five years...the government will need to replace at least 550,000 workers who are slated to retire. Thousands more will be needed for new federal initiatives, including health-care and financial regulatory overhauls. Officials at the Partnership for Public Service say that about 25,000 of those jobs annually will be needed in the Washington area.


Last week, the administration announced a plan aimed at reducing the period of hiring to 80 days, about half the present time. The new process would eliminate KSAs -- knowledge, skills and ability tests -- and base hiring more on applicants' professional background.

The government needs to bring on a half million people, yet currently has a hiring cycle of more than five months? It's no wonder government jobs have a bad reputation: they are only offered to people who are willing to wait for ages to actually start work!

All organizations need processes to manage important, repetitive operations. Yet sometimes, these procedures can become laughably complex. If your company wants to simplify procedures, contact our productivity consultants today. We work with stakeholders to help simplify everyday tasks.

Email Overload

Many can relate to the stress caused by an overflowing email inbox at work. But what many may not know is how a healthy inbox can help promote a healthy lifestyle, beyond just what comes about from your emails.

For many of us, staying healthy is a numbers game. We should exercise more and eat less. We should gain muscle but shed pounds. We should raise our heart rate so that it can be lower on average. For better or for worse, we watch the scale, count calories and constantly measure our progress.

Physical wellness requires being conscientious. However, there are health factors far more significant than making it to one more spin class or deciding to enjoy one more strip of bacon. Among the most serious is stress. For most of us that stress arises from our job.

The American Psychological Association highlights how stress can be a serious problem:

Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.
Stress at work leads to long hours, which keeps us from sleep. Work stress threatens our personal relationships. Many people use alcohol or food to escape from their troubles at their office, which can only damage their overall well-being. Workplace stress is a major threat to our health.

Much of the mental anguish we endure at our jobs is out of our control. We are stressed by everything from demanding customers and personality conflicts with co-workers. There are no easy treatments for many of these frustrations. However, there is one universal source of annoyance that we can readily tackle. Almost everyone can relate to the incredible stress caused by email.

The main reason that we are overwhelmed by email is because we so rarely deal with email on our own time. Most of us leave our email program running constantly. Messages pop up throughout the day. They interrupt our current workflow and demand our attention. How many times have you stopped to deal with an incoming message and forgotten the task you just left? Because email is interruption-driven, we tend to treat every message as urgent—thus building up our stress over time.

Furthermore, we tend to use email as a catch-all storage system. The hundreds or perhaps thousands of messages in our inbox represent work we have not yet completed. It’s as if our mail is a gigantic, growing to-do list that we will never complete. It is no wonder that email contributes to stress.

Both of these problems require a change in perspective. First, we must recognize that email is never urgent. If someone needs our attention right away, they should call us on the telephone. That means we can turn off our email program and check messages on our own time. We don’t need to respond in minutes to requests that can be processed the following day.

Second, we should acknowledge that the destiny of any email is to be deleted. Inbound messages should be processed, not saved. If someone sends you a document, put it in the right folder. If they request an appointment, place it on your calendar. If they offer contact information, store the details in your address book. The ultimate fate of any email message is deletion. A shrinking inbox reduces stress.

Improve your health by improving the health of your email inbox. Reduce stress by controlling email. Choose wellness in your environment as well as within your body. Healthy inboxes make for healthy people!

If you want to learn more about ways of reducing stress at work, contact our Indianapolis consultants today.

A 99-Year Mistake Due to a Lack of Expertise

No matter how fool-proof something may seem or how long it has existed without discrepancy, correction or improvement is always a possibility—even if it means updating after 99 years.

Stephen Hughes, a physics lecturer at the University of Technology, recently discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) had the wrong definition of siphon:

Dr Stephen Hughes, from the University of Technology in Brisbane, noticed that the error in the dictionary during research for an article for science teachers.

The OED definition of the word erroneously states that atmospheric pressure makes siphons work, when in fact it is the force of gravity.

Siphons draw fluid from a higher location to a lower one and are often used to remove liquid from containers, such as petrol tanks, that are hard to empty otherwise.


The article goes on to say that Hughes couldn't believe the dictionary had the definition wrong. Perhaps even more shocking than the fact that the definition is wrong, it's been that way since 1911. Once Hughes wrote to point out the error to the dictionary, they ensured it would be rectified in the next edition. That's a good way to handle the problem, but how did it happen in the first place?

The dictionary's response was simply, "the definition was written 'by editors who were not scientists.'" That definitely makes sense, but a dictionary is supposed to be an expert on these things. People who don't know what a siphon is will turn to the dictionary for clarification. And that's why an error like this is such a problem. People rely on scholarly sources like this to be correct. If the source is incorrect, then everyone who learns from the source is also going to be wrong.

Indeed, editors are experts in language and written communication... not science.  Yet, as any passionate specialist would agree, it's not unreasonable to expect that accurate research and verification be valued and more so present throughout the work. So the next question is, how has this error been missed for nearly 100 years?

The answer is simple: human error.

There are roughly 616,500 words in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), making the English vocabulary one of the largest in size in the world. So its fair to say that one incorrect definition (out of hundreds of thousands) is actually quite astounding; a rate of only .000162%. All the same, an error is an error. Siphon has been corrected, but what other words are wrong? While it'd be nice to think this was the case, I doubt finding this one mistake led to a fact-checking for the entire scope of the English language. And even if it did, who's to say the publisher has the proper experts in place to ensure an error like this couldn't happen again?

You also have to wonder if Hughes was the very first person to ever see this problem? That seems unlikely. It's very possible that another expert noticed it, but didn't take the time to communicate the error to someone with the power to fix it. That person would've assumed it wasn't their problem since they didn't write the dictionary. Thankfully, Hughes didn't feel the same way, and future generations of dictionary-readers will be smarter because of it.

Escaping all types of error is something we may never overcome, but it is something we should certainly pursue. Without it, there would be little reason for change. Without change, there is little room for innovation. When there is a lack of innovation knowledge, discovery, and even creativity can dwindle or halt altogether.

For more information on ways to prevent or fix errors in your organization, don't hesitate to contact the business development consultants at Accelawork today!

Consultants Take on Exceeding Expectations

Regardless of position or title, the inability to reach full potential in a job could create problems that have consequences. This applies even if the job is to run, throw and catch.

Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins' star shortstop, was taken out of a game when he caused an error and failed to properly rectify it. According to Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, Ramirez simply chose not to hustle:

Hanley left the game because we felt—he got smoked in the ankle—but we felt whether he was hurt or not hurt or whatever it was, we felt that the effort wasn’t there that we wanted.
Ramirez was replaced by fellow teammate Brian Barden—who, despite a sprained ankle, completed the final eight innings. All the while displaying the "killer" effort that the Marlins know and expect.

Like baseball, business is competitive. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect the best out of your employees; particularly when their performance directly impacts the success of the company. In fact, supplying full confidence not only empowers your players, it also motivates them to go that extra mile. Yet, no matter how talented or flawless their work may be, achieving constant perfection is impossible. Everyone, even all-star athletes, have bad days.

If bad days happen more often than not however, there may be a larger issue at hand. As we have covered before, positive thinking greatly influences worker productivity and we can't just focus on outcomes. Instead, we need to embrace process-oriented thinking.What makes a for a great team player isn't just putting points on the scoreboard, it's also how they play the game.

At AccelaWork, we believe that the most powerful method for improving productivity and satisfaction among stakeholders is to empower them with the knowledge, authority and responsibility to analyze and implement business processes. Contact our business improvement solutions firm today to learn more about how we can help you not only meet job requirements, but exceed beyond expectations.

Corporate Productivity and Participation

On the fence as to whether or not social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are beneficial and worthwhile? Well, there is some advice that will help take away feelings of guilt or indecisiveness when it comes to "indulging" in this type of communication.

AccelaWork's Robby Slaughter was invited to write a guest post on The subject matter? Why Social Media ISN'T a Waste of Time. Here is an excerpt from the blog:

As a productivity consultant, I’m often called upon to make pronouncements about what is and is not an efficient use of time. So let me make this claim: social media is not a waste of time, because it’s a mechanism by which we engage in social behavior.

. . .

Although these are services made possible through cool technology, they are powered by our fundamental propensity to connect. We need to work together. Social media merely makes doing so easier and faster than ever before.

Using The Right File Name Transforms Productivity

Every file on your computer has to have a name. Selecting the right text might seem like an easy task, but bad filenames are actually a major problem.

We have reported on some of the problems with disorganization and it's effect on workplace productivity. The source article included a striking quote:

Some 43 per cent of middle managers and 48 per cent of junior managers have had to phone a colleague, customer or supplier to ask them to send a copy of a document or email because they could not find it on their system.
The most significant factor in misplaced documents is also the easiest to fix: using intelligent file names. Here are three key points to keep in mind when deciding what to type in that dialog box:
  1. Remember the Stakeholders - You might know exactly what final report.doc means, but what about someone else who runs across this document?
  2. Note the Sequence - If you maintain multiple files that are similar in nature, such as weekly reports, invoices, receipts, versions or pages, use a consistent structure in the file name.
  3. Take Advantage of Hierarchy - A computer folder can store thousands of documents, but that will make it hard to find anything. Create subfolders to help organize content.
Here are some simple examples to consider:

Original file name: my resume.doc Comments: Whose resume? This will only confuse recruiters—who will have many resumes with this exact filename!

Improved Version: Resume for John Doe.doc Comments: Much better! This way your resume can be easily found.

Even Better Version: Resume for John Doe - June 2010.doc Comments: This is fantastic, because it reinforces the temporary nature of a resume. The recruiter may ask for a new one by December!

* * *

Original file name: order_17.xls Comments: Although we know this is an "order," the number seventeen has no meaning.

Improved Version: ABC Enterprises-Jan 5, 2010.xls Comments: This at least indicates the name of the client and the date. But if there are multiple orders, we cannot sort by date easily.

Even Better Version: ORDER 2010-01-05 N-0017 [ABC Enterprises].xls Comments: Multiple similar file names can be sorted by name, which also sorts them by date. The contents of the file are also completely clear.

* * *

Original file name: updated report FRI EDITS!!.doc Comments: This file name is just sloppy. It's impossible to tell the intended audience for the document, or where it fits in the revision cycle.

Improved Version: competitor-research (updated at may 7 meeting).doc Comments: Now the purpose of the file is clear, and it's evident when it was last modified.

Even Better Version: [INTERNAL] Competitor Research [DRAFT 7-MAY-2010].doc Comments: The use of capitalized words in brackets highlight important text, such as indicating that this file should be kept internal to the organization and that it is not a "final" version.

One more bonus piece of advice: don't trust the "Date Modified" field. It's too easy to open a document just to view it and accidentally hit the save button. If the date a file was modified or submitted is important, put it in the filename. Here's a visual example of some of these problems:

improving productivity using file names

A good filename makes all the difference!

Say Goodbye To Impulse Buys

Ever find yourself running out to the grocery store for milk and eggs only to return with fifteen grocery bags and a hefty receipt reflecting your impulse buys? If this sounds familiar, don't fret. Slaughter Development's founder has some suggestions that will help your shopping become more efficient and less costly.

One article at featured an article written by Robby Slaughter in regards to productively saving money when shopping. In "Productivity and Shopping," Slaughter pointed out several different ways to save time and cut down on impulse buying:

1. Make a list, but make no exceptions: A key tip is to avoid tossing your list at the end of the trip. Instead, write it on an index card and laminate it. Then use a dry erase marker to cross off items you don’t need before you leave home, and cross the rest off as you pick them up. That way you’re always buying the same items.

2. Know your enemy: the environment: Skip the wheeled cart so you have to lug any impulse shopping. Bring headphones so you can listen to your own tunes . . . try wearing sunglasses inside the store. It’s harder to read signs about irrelevant specials if you’re looking through dark shades just at the products that matter.

3. Shopping is a job, not a social event: If you need to go shopping with an expert, first make a plan to utilize their time effectively. That way you don’t end up needlessly browsing for hours, impulse buying random items and snacking your way though the food court to catch up.

If you would like to learn more about ways of effectively reducing both time and money wasted on processes in your office, contact our small business consultants today!

Business Consultants and a Happy Meal

McDonald's made headlines when a substance linked to cancer was discovered in their promotional toys. Yet, despite the immediate recall a week ago, commercials promoting the product are still airing on major networks.

The fast food chain announced a major recall on 12 million Shrek Forever glasses that were being sold at their restaurants. Turned out, cadmium, a carcinogen that can lead to bone softening and kidney damage, was discovered in the paint. Therefore, in an effort to keep customers safe, the fast-food giant immediately responded by pulling the promotional item.

It's not rocket science: when a product is recalled, sale is no longer an option. Yet, six days after pulling the Shrek glass, a commercial was aired on NBC promoting the item. So, was this a scheduling mistake made by the network or did McDonald's approve showing the ad despite the recent problems?

According to Tom Forte, analyst for Tesley Advisory Group, "the challenge for McDonald’s will not be the lost revenue from the promotion, but the perception concerns regarding the recall.” If this is the case, the restaurant empire may have ad an even bigger problem. After all, the surprise airing did nothing more than reopen doors of caution to consumers and rekindle negative bouts of attention: two sure-fire reasons why McDonald's issued the recall in the first place.

One thing is sure: when failure occurs, reacting to it promptly is a great start, but its not the only solution. Acknowledgement of a problem should be accompanied by a lucid plan of action that is not only detailed and accurate, but communicated sufficiently. Otherwise, something vital—like discontinuing an advertisement—may get missed.

Failure isn't always bad. In fact, AccelaWork sees it as a beneficial stepping stone in the journey toward success.

The Benefits of Standing While At Work

Feeling tired at work? Why not try something new and get rid of your chair? It may sound exhausting, but standing while you work not only improves productivity, but it provides a larger sense of accomplishment.

Featured in Health Minute Magazine's June edition, Robby Slaughter's article "The Benefits of Standing Up" describes the ways in which a person can dually achieve a productive workflow as well as a healthful life at work. You can read the entire article below.

The Benefits of Standing Up

When friends or family visit us at our home, we encourage them to find a chair. “Relax!” we order. “Take a load off. Have a seat.”

That tradition came from generations ago, when virtually every job required long days of physical labor. It used to be that most of us worked with our bodies while standing up. Nowadays, more of us than ever are working with our minds while sitting down.

Although the transformation from standing to sitting might sound like civilization at work, there are some tremendous benefits to staying on your feet. If we spend hours crouched over a desk or a computer screen, we may develop cramps, trap stress in our joints or reduce circulation. We should get out of our chairs at least once every hour. Better yet, we should consider working while standing up.

The primary benefit to working on two feet is ironically, the exact reason why it sounds like it would be unproductive. We can’t remain standing in one position very long because we become restless. Yet this creates a natural rhythm and urgency to our workflow. We are more likely to take a break to visit the bathroom or get a glass of water when we’re already standing. We set shorter intervals to complete tasks and have a greater sense of accomplishment when doing so. When we are upright, we feel like we’re about to do something purposeful. We are “standing up” for the work we’re doing.

The most troubling use of chairs at work, however, is not at our own desks. The seats around a conference table may be the most unproductive devices in the entire office. Each cozy, high-backed plush leather piece doesn’t provide anything except a rationale for drawn out meetings with sleepy participants.

Instead, the best approach for the health of your business and the health of your employees is to hold your meetings while standing up. This keeps them brief and on-topic, and helps ensure participant focus. Any follow-up conversations will receive a similar benefit. And if anyone who works in your organization can’t last for ten minutes without looking for a chair, it’s a sign that they may need help.

We are often called to stand up for our principles no matter where we are.  Spending too much time “sitting down” can be a sign of emotional complacency. Yet just as our spirits benefit from the confidence and possibility of a firm stance, our workflow will also improve when we take to our feet. This advantage is multiplied when communicating with the rest of our team. Standing meetings truly should be “standing” meetings.

If you’re now seated, take a minute to rise to your feet and read this article again. Reflect on the natural arc of anticipation and relief which forms over the course of those few minutes.  You’ll probably find that your altitude affects your attitude and see this piece in a different light.

Consider spending more time on your feet. Stand up for your work and your health.

Robby Slaughter is a Principal with AccelaWork, an Indianapolis-based business process and workflow consulting company. Visit them online at

Are You Encouraging Mediocrity By Accident?

Mediocrity in the workforce certainly lacks luster. Not only does it deflate drive and motivation, but it inhibits productivity. Yet, what if that's the standard being encouraged in your office?

BusinessWeek provided five ways to successfully achieve mediocrity in the office.

1. If you desire a mediocre workforce, make sure your employees know you don't trust them.

When employees know they're not trusted, they become experts at "presentee-ism"—the physical appearance of working, without anything getting done. Congratulations! Your inability to trust the very people you've selected to join your team has cost you their energy, goodwill, and great ideas.

Just because you're not lingering around their cubicle all the time or asking for hourly updates on their work, doesn't mean you're placing full trust in your employees. Take notice of workplace productivity in other areas. If you insist on viewing data, reports, or invoices on a regular basis, are hesitant to allow full ownership over a project, or expect to be carbon copied on every email, ask yourself whether or not your requests are inhibiting employee growth and accountability.
2. If you want to drive talented people away, don't tell them when they shine.

Fear of a high-self-esteem employee is prevalent among average-grade corporate leadership teams. Look how hard it is for so many managers to say, "Hey Bob, you did a great job today." Maybe it's a fear that the bit of praise will be met with a request for a pay raise. Maybe it's the fear that acknowledging performance will somehow make the manager look weak.

Praise does more than just satisfy a momentary need of approval. It boosts your employees' confidence and overall performance. Don't be afraid to say "job well done" every so often as this will surely improve employee satisfaction. You may just find that such a simple phrase pays off in future projects.
3. If you prefer a team of C-list players, keep employees in the dark.

Leaders who can't stand to shine a light on their firms' goals, strategies, and systems are all but guaranteed to spend a lot of money running ads on Marketable top performers want a seat at the table and won't stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.

Failure to communicate the relevance, impact, and importance of a task to an employee does more than make their job difficult. It reduces the overall effectiveness of the team. However, be cognizant of the information given. Provide only the details vital for understanding. This allows for project ownership and innovation.
4. If you value docility over ingenuity, shout it from the rooftops.

The most desirable value creators won't stick around to be treated like children. They'll hop a bus to the first employer who tells them, "We're hiring you for your talent—now go do something brilliant."

Encouraging employees to innovate and speak their minds just might rejuvenate a project or process. Basing job duties off of decade-old procedures because they worked well then, doesn't mean they work well now.
5. If you fear an empowered workforce more than you fear the competition, squash any sign of individualism.

Leaders who want the most docile, sheep-like employees more than the smartest and ablest ones create systems to keep the C players on board and drive the A team out the door. They do it by instituting reams of pointless rules, upbraiding people for minuscule infractions ("What? Twenty minutes late? Sure you worked here until midnight last night, but starting time is starting time.") and generally replacing trust with fear throughout their organizations. Companies that operate in fear mode will never deliver great products and services to the marketplace. Their efforts will be hamstrung by their talent-repelling management practices.

Anyone who has read our blog before knows that empowering employees is crucial to both the efficiency and effectiveness of work. The team at Accelawork promotes this value every day not just with our clients, but in our office as well.

Contact our consulting firm to learn more about avoiding mediocrity, improving stakeholder satisfaction, and achieving successful workflow through methodology engineering.

Visualizing Possibilities To Improve Productivity

There are moments when work starts to feel overwhelming. Artist John Bramblitt faces this reality everyday. And though he may not see these challenges personally, overcoming his obstacles brings more than just reassurance: it creates success far beyond what the eyes can see.

Bramblitt lost his vision due to epilepsy. Yet, despite the difficulties accompanying his impairment, his passion for creative expression has gone unscathed. In a featured documentary, Bramblitt demonstrates how he uses his sense of touch to paint his masterpieces.

If you have a few minutes, check out the video and watch him in action. [direct link here]

The "About" section on his website also provides some interesting insight.

While art was always a major part of John’s life it was not until he lost his sight in 2001 that he began to paint, and it was then that he says, “Art reshaped my life.” John’s paintings are intensely personal, and are mostly taken from real people and events in his life. John’s workshops are unique in the art world in that they not only span the gap between beginning and professional artists, but also include adaptive techniques for people with disabilities. According to John, “Everyone has an artist somewhere in them; sometimes they just need a little help letting it out.”

That section of his website also talks about how he learned to distinguish between different colored paints by feeling textures. The raised lines on the canvas helped him to visualize the image. He was able to embrace a traditionally visual medium through touch, and his work is all the more special for that.

Bramblitt's unique process proves that reaching success in unconventional ways is far from impossible. No matter the size of the obstacle or how vulnerable we may feel, there are always new ways to work. We can discover creative ways to achieve our dreams, even if we cannot see a way through.

When it comes to your business, this story should serve as inspiration that no obstacle is insurmountable. After all, if there's one thing that should stand in the way of a visual artist, it's the inability to see. You may find a problem with your organization that is very difficult, yes. But something that you can't move past? Never.

Perhaps a new technology has rendered your good or service obsolete. Learn from the changes that Nokia made. Nokia started off as a pulp and paper company, then adapted into electronics, and ultimately became one of the leaders in cellular technology. That wouldn't have happened if someone saw a decrease in the market position for paper and decided that would simply be the end of the company. The same can be said for DuPont. You know DuPont now as a chemicals powerhouse, but they were once such a powerful gunpowder company that they provided a majority of the gunpowder needed during the American Civil War. And there are countless other instances of companies finding ways to overcome barriers and adapt into something better.

Who knows if Bramblitt would've ever become an artist if he hadn't lost his sight? What we do know is that he wouldn't be as notable or as inspirational of an artist. So despite the tragic lifestyle change he went through, good came out of the situation, not only for Bramblitt, but for anyone who can learn from his resilience.

If difficulties at work are leaving you in doubt, or some obstacles seem insurmountable, don't hesitate to contact our workplace productivity consultants today. We'll help you work through tough projects and bring you more than just results—we'll help you develop a vision.

Productivity Consultants Take On Spelling

Though it consists of merely six letters, one of the most straightforward words in the English language is C-H-A-N-G-E.  Yet two prominent groups saw a need for further simplification of this term.

During the Scripps National Spelling Bee, four protesters passed along their message: "Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much."

The group, representing The American Literacy Council (ALC) and the London Spelling Society, confidently stand by their claims. They insist that the English language has too many unreasonable ways of spelling words—more than 425 as it turns out—thus causing thriving illiteracy. An Associated Press article explains:

According to literature distributed by the group, it makes more sense for "fruit" to be spelled as "froot," "slow" should be "slo," and "heifer" — a word spelled correctly during the first oral round of the bee Thursday by Texas competitor Ramesh Ghanta — should be "hefer."
There's no denying an apparent sensibility to this argument. There are many words that make little sense when it comes to spelling. Simple examples such as dumb, gnat, cough, knit and aisle can baffle those just learning the language. This is one of the many difficulties in mastering English.

Although purposely altering words in a language might seem like an reasonable suggestion, one might as well advocate building a time machine.  Good intentions aside it's not reasonable to demand that billions of people set aside a lifetime of tradition.

It's often easy to diagnose problems and identify remedies. The difficult part is finding a realistic approach that is not only affordable but  genuinely attainable. As we have covered before, forcing others to change through business process transformation is nearly impossible. Instead, we must find ways to inspire stakeholders to improve.

At AccelaWork, we focus not on forcing change but empowering employees. We don't change the language at your business. Instead, we help provide ways for you to flourish in the one you already know! Reach out to our business process improvement consultants today to learn more about how we can help.

Robby Slaughter on The Buzz

Robby Slaughter was interviewed on The Buzz, an internet video show. Check out his conversation with host Tony Scelzo.

The full video is below (direct link here)

For more information on how to bring these principles into your organization, contact the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today.

Inefficiency In Unclaimed Property

Many Hoosiers discovered that luck isn't the only way to find unexpected funds. If you've been eyeing that brand new grill for your back porch, maybe it's time you check in with the state government. After all, there's nothing to lose but unclaimed money.

The Indy Star posted a story about unclaimed property in Indiana. According to state records, Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office has more than $350 million in unclaimed assets.

"Almost all of this is cash, and there's a lot of it," [Zoeller] said. "The largest amounts are in stocks and securities, but there's a lot of insurance companies that owe people money, too."
To bring public awareness, Zoeller traveled statewide encouraging Indiana residents to not only look up their own names, but the names of further family, friends, and neighbors. Claims range in value, but for one family at least, $18,000 in retirement benefits is simply waiting to be retrieved. Who needs the lottery when you've got money with your name on it?

Before we go much further, it's valuable to define what all constitutes unclaimed property.

Any financial asset with no activity by its owner for an extended period of time is considered unclaimed property. This includes unclaimed wages or commissions; savings and checking accounts; stock dividends; insurance proceeds; underlying shares; customer deposits or overpayments; certificates of deposit; credit balances; refunds; money orders; and safe deposit box contents.

That certainly sounds like a list of things you would want to know about! Ironically, as excited as Hoosiers may have been with this discovery, our lack of awareness represented a serious disservice. After all, who knows how long the money had been sitting around? Given the economic hardships that have fallen upon many individuals, this cash may have come in handy weeks, months, or even years ago. The more important question, though, is why does the state need citizens to request their unclaimed funds?

This isn't something that's unique to Indiana. There are entire websites with lists of unclaimed property laws. The laws vary from state to state, but most of them allow you to search by either your name or social security number and it can be handled online. A few states require written requests, but those are in the minority.

The current system may appear sufficient—just type in your name and see what you are owed. But why does the Attorney General need to ask Hoosiers to visit a website when the state is practically in constant contact with citizens? Every time you receive a tax bill, update your drivers license, register to vote, pay a traffic ticket, submit a change of address form, or receive any official correspondence the government has to look up your name. Why can't these systems automatically include a notice about unclaimed funds?

Although such a fix might be easy to describe, business consultants know change  is tough to embrace. We cannot improve the experience by simply describing a better outcome but instead by understanding the process. There's a reason that people have to search for themselves, and when the reasoning behind that initial decision is understood, then we can move forward with how to solve the problem. After all, until you put a problem in perspective, it's almost impossible to come up with the best solution.

Your business operation might not be as big as the Indiana unclaimed property division, but you likely have business processes that don't leverage what you already do. AccelaWork helps organizations improve business process by empowering your stakeholders. We may not be the lottery, but we'll help you hit the jackpot. Contact our our Indianapolis consultants today to learn more about how we can help you cash in on productivity in your office.

Not sure if you have unclaimed assets in Indiana? Visit or call the Unclaimed Property Division toll-free 24 hours a day at (866) 462-5246 (IN-CLAIM).

Properly Utilizing The Fast-Cheap-Good Rule

AccelaWork's founder contributed as a guest to The Marketing Tech Blog. His topic: the quick-and-dirty trick for describing any project.

According to Robby Slaughter, when it comes to dealing with complicated projects, the "Fast-Cheap-Good" rule is always a valuable yardstick when seeking results. Below is some of his post:

The purpose of this rule is to remind us that all complicated endeavors require tradeoffs. Whenever we have a gain in one area there will undoubtedly be a loss somewhere else...

No matter what project you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s mowing the lawn or traveling to the moon, we all want it done as soon as possible. Of course, sometimes speed isn’t everything. Some of the best vacations are those where we linger. Some of the most successful products are those where the designers didn’t worry about getting to market first but doing better work. And often, rushing is wasteful of resources...

And sure, it’s great to save money. You can call upon an army of volunteers and interns to try to produce something, and often receive surprising results. Yet by reducing costs we also risk sacrificing quality. Searching for all of those places to save takes time. Ultimately, the way to have the best possible result is to ensure that time and money are no object. The highest quality work is always available when we have infinite resources at our disposal.

This rule of thumb sometimes seems a little obvious. We all know there are tradeoffs in any project. Yet . . . project estimation is painful. That’s because clients will constantly put us in the trap of trying to deliver something which is fast, cheap and good all at the same time.

This is impossible. It’s the reason that deadlines slip, projects go over budget and quality suffers. You have to make tradeoffs.

No matter the size of the project, the fast-cheap-rule is valuable. If you’re a graphic designer working in Photoshop, you can save time by not keeping your layers separate and organized. If you’re trying to cut costs on your email marketing, you can sacrifice quality by trying to do it in house (or sacrifice urgency by using a outsourced email marketing provider.) If you don’t mind a few typos in your article, you will benefit by producing it more quickly and inexpensively. The tradeoffs are easy to see.

Despite the fickle and sometimes negative connotation the word tradeoff may have, to Slaughter, its use in the "Fast-Cheap-Good" rule is quite a valuable tool in the office:

In your own office, you can use the fast-cheap-good rule for more than just making decisions. You can also use it for communicating between stakeholders. When people ask for work to be done immediately, you can ask them if they would prefer to sacrifice quality or pay for increased costs. If someone wants to know about less expensive options, ask them if they would rather see options that connect savings to fewer features or to a longer development cycle.
It all boils down to the fact you can never have it all. Almost always, two out of three in the Fast-Cheap-Good rule is going to lead to an excellent result. When you try to jam all three into your project, that's where major frustrations are going to arise. Managing expectations is as important as any other aspect of managing a project.

To learn more about AccelaWork's perspective on increasing productivity and smoothing workflow in your organization, contact our productivity growth consultants today! We can help you learn where to focus your energy and how to best utilize the resources at your disposal.

Productivity Growth Through Collaboration

Ever wonder what the results would be if there was further collaboration on an already established masterpiece? The end result just may strike an inspirational chord.

In 1955 The Staple Singers released the instant classic "Stand By Me." The song was such a sensation that it has been re-recorded by many artists including The Drifters, Otis Redding, John Lennon and Seal—to name only a few.

There's no denying that this hit song, with its heartfelt lyrics and moving melody, has stood the test of time. So, how could it get any better? In the short video below, see how an international collaboration on the song does just that.

Achieving success as an individual is incredibly rewarding. It not only brings pride and inspiration, but a great sense of accomplishment and individuality—without a doubt, results that spark motivation and creativity. And while there are enormous benefits to satisfying individual goals and attaining individual success, there is something to be said about the unique results that come from integrating further collaboration.

AccelaWork works towards this exact goal: improving company workflow through collaboration. We help bring increased productivity so that your company, your team and/or your stakeholders have the time to create the next great idea and innovate new processes that further overall success. Contact our business consultants today to learn more about how we can help you. We'll be here to stand by you and help open the doors to the next great inspiration in your business.

Being Silently Overworked is Overwhelming

When projects at work become overwhelming, its not uncommon to seek assistance from employees. But what happens when their workload is just as hefty?a

AccelaWork's Robby Slaughter offered advice on how to get help from an overworked employee.  According to Slaughter, clear communication about your exact situation is key:

When you approach the person, you might have to let him know about your heavy workload, because others often don’t know.

. . .

If they're not overworked they want you not to be either so that everyone is contributing fairly.

Sharing the workload isn't just about fairness either. It's about success. If the organization has built a healthy culture, each team member will recognize that the occasional shifts in workload are necessary for the company to achieve its goals. The individual team member will take little comfort in not being overworked if the project fails because another team member had too much on his/her plate.

Unfortunately, many organizations, knowingly or not, create cultures where team members feel like the Lone Ranger and "help" really is a four-letter word. In these cultures, workers inevitably experience high degrees of frustration and burnout. This leads to a high rate of turnover for the company, and eventually, failure.

Here are three simple rules of thumb about asking for help at work. Knowing and practicing these can save careers and organizations:

  1. Exhaust all options. Many times people ask for help when they don't really need it. They call on co-workers before they've adequately tried to work through a problem themselves. That creates a "boy who cried wolf" dynamic within a team. When there's a simple solution that a little investigation would have discovered, co-workers can feel like the one asking for help is either incompetent or wasting their precious time. Over time, that breeds resentment and a likelihood that help won't be there when there really is a problem that needs to be solved.
  2. Sacrifice isn't popular in the break room. Some workers stuck in a problem will purposefully push themselves to the brink looking for a solution...and make sure everybody else knows about it! This is the team member who stays up until 2 a.m. looking for a solution they never find and then comes to work the next day complaining about being exhausted. In this story, another team member usually pipes up with the solution and says, "If you'd have just asked, you'd have saved yourself a lot of trouble." This behavior, when it becomes a pattern also creates resentment among team members. Remember, industrious and effective workers don't waste valuable time (theirs and the company's) pridefully searching for an answer that could be at another's fingertips. It's not a good look.
  3. Keep your notes. When a worker realizes it's finally time to ask for help, there's no need to show up at the boss's door or the co-worker's desk waving a white flag. Instead, come prepared to share what's already been done to attempt to solve the problem and where the current roadblock is. Asking for help at work isn't about dumping work onto someone else's plate, and it's not about delegating any responsibility. It's about collaborating to find a solution. The best way to start off a conversation about asking for help is to review what steps have already been taken. That avoids any unnecessary repeats of failed attempts or backtracking. The combined power of the team can pick up the process at the sticking point and find a way forward.
When workers feel overwhelmed by workloads, it's easy to forget the importance of teamwork. It's up to organizations to build a culture that rewards individuals who tap into the potential of the team instead of stubbornly going alone. AccelaWork can help your organization improve its culture and create one where employees engage with each other.


The World Cup's Impact On Productivity

The folks at Mashable were touting an infographic that complained about "lost productivity" due to the 2010 World Cup. It was filled with bogus, deceptive figures that make our blood boil.

The original story mostly consists of the image, which we've repeated below. Take a look, and scroll down for our commentary and a treat:

productivity growth and the world cup
We could spent lots of time tearing into these numbers, but several columnists have already done a great job explaining why this is a meaningless exercise. Megan McArdle, writing for The Atlantic, simply notes:
The amount of guesswork necessary in these estimates make it difficult to accurately gauge the cost of productivity lost due sporting events. Most of these estimates are hype and fuzzy math or ignore the built-in costs of everyday interruptions.
There's also a great article on Slate which attacks attacks productivity losses during last year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.

So after seeing how bogus those stats were and the ridiculous arguments that were pulled from it, we decided to make a diagram of our own. We think this one is a lot more accurate of a depiction on how the World Cup really affects the workplace when it rolls around every few years.

Here is our take on that same diagram:

employee productivity world cup
The pressing issue here isn't so much that this specific chart made some bogus conclusions. It's that charts like this are all over the internet and people will reshare them as if they're as valid as actually valuable information. Bosses may actually look at this information and use it as a reason to limit the access of employees, whether it's to social media, to streaming sites, or to the internet in general.

Picture this scenario. You've got an employee who is a huge soccer fan. They don't have enough vacation days to take off for the entire World Cup, so instead they go to work, where you won't let them check on scores. So instead of taking a quick second to go online and see if England beat Columbia, they have to find another way to get the results, out of fear of being reprimanded. So they sneak away for a multitude of bathroom breaks in order to check the results on their phone from the safety of a bathroom stall. Then you realize that they're sneaking away, so you have them leave the phone when they go to the bathroom. So instead of quickly checking the scores and then going about a productive day, this employee is distracted, feeling unvalued, and likely ready to get out of that office as soon as the clock strikes five. Is that really better than just allowing employees to have the game going in a separate window while they do their usual work?

That may seem like a bit extreme of an example to you, and if that's the case, you're lucky to not have been faced with a situation like that before. Unfortunately, for many readers, that exact situation is going to seem all too real. It's something that far too many people have had to deal with at work. We all know a good employee shouldn't be checking their phone every five minutes or watching a sports game instead of focusing on a project, that's just not a productive way to get work done, but the motivation to focus on work should come from the desire to do quality work, not from an employer's fears that are promoted by a heap of completely unfounded or misleading statistics.

Contact Accelawork's productivity consultants to learn more about how we can help your business today!

Indiana Productivity Consultants On Decision Making

Jacob Miller prides himself on his decisiveness. No matter what options, alternatives or dilemmas forthcoming, he makes a choice and sticks to it. That is of course, until he chose to construct a home.

Miller, a recent transplant to Indianapolis, felt that the only way to get a perfect home was to build it to order:

My wife and I had a laundry list of things we wanted in a house and really didn't want to compromise. So, we figured instead of spending hours searching for something that didn't totally fit our needs, we'd build a home that could satisfy everything.
So, with contractors in place and blueprints made, the extensive project began. Yet, little by little, Miller discovered it wasn't so easy.
There were millions of tiny decisions we had to make—hardware, light fixtures, flooring, paint. You name it, we picked it. We were so detailed that we even decided where we wanted all the electrical outlets to go in every room. The only problem was that with every change we made to the original floor plan, the more it cost us.
Turns out, before breaking ground the Millers were already $10,000 above their initial quote. They soon found themselves at a crossroads: relinquish their deposit or continue building despite their original budget.

To help make up their minds, they requested a tour of a completed home that was similar in cost and style. If the finished product was nice, they would stick to their plan.

We didn't make a single decision in the show home and yet we loved it more than the one we were building. In fact, when the contractor told us it was a bigger, more expensive version of the one we selected, it didn't matter. We decided right away that we wanted it.
Despite being financially over-extended, Miller and his wife decided to move forward building the more expensive home—utilizing the exact floor plan and interior concept. In the end, their decision-making came down to one thing: accepting someone else's design.

When it comes to defining a project, knowing what you want can be a great advantage. Clarity assists in making smart choices and helps battle indecision. However, at times even the most decisive person needs assistance on some level. Whether its making small choices that influence the larger outcomes or by providing suggestions that broaden the point of view, having a collective team you can trust is invaluable.

When aspiring to create a project in a team environment, take into account all points of view. Success begins and ends with logical, thoughtful and collective decisions. As we have covered before, AccelaWork believes consultants having perspective is necessary when it comes to innovation and efficiency. Contact our Indiana consultants today to learn more about how we can help you design, build or even reconstruct a project to make it the best it can be.

Broken Processes Lead to Frustration

Believe it or not, the time has come for baby boomers to trade in meetings and work weeks for some well deserved R&R. For my father-in-law however, the process of retirement—let alone the idea—is anything but relaxing.

With retirement only two years away, my father-in-law is certainly ready for the soothing life that comes after a long, successful career. Here's what he had to say:

I have so many projects around my house that I've wanted to do for years. Its just so hard to believe that I'm finally going to have the time to do them. I honestly can't wait.
So, when his company approached him and asked him to gather information on his social security history, he was anything but disappointed:
I was happy to embark on the researching process since after all, it meant that I'd be organized and worry-free come retirement.
Instead, all he found was headache after headache.

Turns out, his  social security benefits package changed in 2010. This created an unexpected problem.  Since he had not yet retired, the social security office claims they can not and will not provide him the financial history he needs to decipher whether it has affected what he's already accrued. As he recalled:

The representative said that until I retire history and paperwork cannot be processed. I told them that my company needed the paperwork so they could prepare my retirement package, but that didn't seem to matter.
Despite the difficulty he was encountering with the social security office, he had faith that his company would be able to proceed without the information. Again, he was wrong.
My company told me that without the history, they would have to make a decision on my social security without proper reference and I would therefore have to accept whatever was quoted—whether or not it was accurate.
Needless to say, after months of wasted time, effort, and sanity, my father-in-law is still in social security limbo. He is currently filing a petition with his company to have their policies changed so that other aspiring retirees don't find themselves in the same difficult position he is currently in.
I won't let this go. I've worked too hard for too long to make retirement a painstaking task.

As we have covered before, productivity consultants realize this type of work frustration results when we don't make time to recognize and address broken processes. Stakeholders, particularly those who have dedicated many loyal years to their company, deserve to feel valued and in control of their career. Yet, as we learn from this story, allowing broken processes to remain undetected and unchanged only results in frustration.

Hopefully this situation will lead to a change at the company level. Perhaps this is the first time they've encountered such a problem. If they take the steps to fix this process, then while this hasn't been ideal, at least it has been a learning experience. However, if they let the situation continue on until others have the same issue, then that's where major, company-wide changes are likely needed. Admitting you were wrong and taking steps to ensure it won't happen again is the first part of turning an average organization into an excellent one.

Don't deny your employees what they deserve. If inefficiencies in your office are limiting stakeholder satisfaction, it's time to re-evaluate and improve the areas that are creating the problem. Take the initiative to support them by contacting our consultants today. We'll help you regain efficient, logical systems in your office by redirecting processes that improve stakeholders' present and future. Everyone involved will thank you.

Robby Slaughter on Blogging Speed

AccelaWork's Robby Slaughter spoke at Blog Indiana on the topic of blogging and productivity. The topic: "Producing Content Without Agony."

My presentation last time was simply called "Workplace Productivity and Blogging." I also did something rather audacious back in 2009, which was to write a blog post live in only ten minutes. The audience generated the idea, a volunteer names Michael Sparks helped edit the productivity growth post, and we put together a complete article in under six hundred seconds.

Writing a blog post in ten minutes is so much fun, I did it again for Roundpeg. But I had to top my previous performance. A blog post in under ten minutes was impressive, but one has to ask if we can do it even faster. So how about a post in a mere five minutes? Do you think it's possible?

Let's be clear: this is an insane proposition. Not only am I suggesting that I can write a blog post in about the amount of time it takes to listen to a Lady Gaga song, but I'm betting I can increase my efficiency by 50%. At that rate, I would be writing a blog post in two-and-half minutes in 2011, in 1:15 in 2012 and in only 37.5 seconds by 2013. So yes, this is a crazy idea.

Performance Reviews Are Unwise

Robby Slaughter, founder of AccelaWork, addressed a dilemma posed in the B2B Social Media Digest regarding performance reviews. His suggestion: "We don’t need to review, we need to plan and do."

Writer Meryl K. Evans studied the question "How can I make a difference with my performance reviews?" By compiling various recommendations, Evans narrowed down the advice to four steps. Unfortunately, that article has since been removed from the website, but we were able to save Evans' four main steps:

Though every company utilizes the information differently, Robby Slaughter insisted that performance reviews are unwise.  After all, no matter how hard you try, your past work can never be changed.  So why focus on the past when you should be focusing on the future? As an alternative, he suggests the following:
Instead of performance reviews, employees and managers ought to mutually define forward-looking performance objectives that include fixed targets tied to future compensation — and honor them.

This viewpoint should be no surprise to our longtime readers. We covered Dr. Samuel Culbert's performance reviews and its link to employee satisfaction. You cannot change the past, only the future. Isn't the best way to increase performance to start by defining what we want?

A Bloomberg article by Jeffrey Pfeffer further explores the problems with performance reviews.

Some years ago a human resources manager at a Silicon Valley computer company offered managers free tickets to San Francisco Giants games if they completed their subordinates' performance reviews on time. When David Russo headed up human resources for software maker SAS Institute, he earned employee cheers for a bonfire celebration that burned appraisal forms and ended annual reviews.

These two examples reflect a broader reality: Managers don't like giving appraisals, and employees don't like getting them. Perhaps they're not liked because both parties suspect what the evidence has proved for decades: Traditional performance appraisals don't work. But as my colleague and fellow Stanford professor Bob Sutton and I pointed out in our book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, belief and conventional wisdom often trump the facts. And when it comes to performance evaluations, companies ranging from HR consulting firms to providers of software that automate the process have a big stake in their continued use.

The most basic problem is that performance appraisals often don't accurately assess performance. More than two decades ago research done by professor David Schoorman showed that whether or not the supervisor had hired or inherited her employees was a better predictor of evaluation results than actual job performance. Employees hired by people doing the reviews got higher scores because of the greater psychological commitment managers have to the people they put themselves on the line to hire. That there is rater bias in performance reviews is consistent with the evidence showing gender and race effects on reviews. Similarity is an important basis of interpersonal attraction, and so people who are "different" get lower ratings, other things being equal.

That point he brings up is just one of the many that are problems with these reviews. But what it boils down to is anything that doesn't better your organization is simply a waste of time, energy, and resources. And all those inefficiencies should be removed in favor of processes that are more effective and more enjoyable for everyone involved. It's not too late to turn things around.

Transform your organization. To learn more about improving business through productive, efficient systems, contact our consulting firm today!

Dissipate Fear By Using Trust

Despite the occasional need for roller coaster rides or horror films, fear is not an emotion most people want to experience often. This is particularly true if it shows up in the office.

Granted, there are those adventuresome types who thrive on death-defying acts like cliff diving and sword swallowing as a profession, but generally speaking, being scared in the workplace is never a good thing.

So how can you tell if fear is a problem in your office? In a Bloomberg Businessweek article, columnist Liz Ryan listed 10 telling signs that fear is not only present in a company, but wreaking havoc on its stakeholders. Unfortunately, that article has since been removed from their website, but below is a summary of the list:

There is fear in your workplace if . . .
  • Concern for reputation outweighs quality of work.
  • There is a preoccupation with employee status.
  • Distrust halts the sharing of ideas.
  • Value of employees are based solely on numbers.
  • Rules rather than ingenuity dictate work.
  • Title and salary outweigh the ability to freely share ideas.
  • The need for understanding is power rather than knowledge driven.
  • Wrong people are promoted for the wrong reasons.
  • There is an inability for creativity, passion and collaboration.
  • Leadership morphs into dictatorship.

An article published on Inc. touches on a similar subject matter. We've included some of the most enlightening parts below, though the entire article is certainly worth a read.

Whether employees fear retaliation, punishment, humiliation, or being fired, the study revealed that this emotion quickly leads to dissatisfaction and lowers productivity levels. Once this happens, you're not far from creating a domino effect that can torpedo creativity and lead to disengagement throughout the company. Fear is also the primary cause of much of the bad behavior you see in companies, from office politics to poor communication. While a culture of fear may temporarily make people work harder to try to avoid undesired consequences, leading through fear will always backfire on you--particularly when it comes to retention. In other words, fear kills the company's productivity engine.


Limit the rulebook. Too many rules reflect too little trust. When you really trust your team, you don't need as many rules. Reaching the point where that level of trust permeates the culture is important, because trust is a fear-buster that will result in employees feeling better about the company and its leadership team.


Measure systems, not people. W. Edwards Deming proposed a theory to measure the performance of systems, not people, to help drive fear out of organizations. As one of Deming's 14 Points on Total Quality Management, he advised eliminating numerical quotas for the workforce, as well as numerical goals for management. We've taken this philosophy to heart with our sales team by eliminating sales commissions--and the short-term, "if-then," extrinsically motivated mentality behind them that grounds innovation. You can't have a culture of continual improvement if people are afraid of suffering serious financial consequences as a result of their individual performance.

Instead, our goal is to get everyone to realize that we're all in this together, working as a team and measuring the output of the overall system. This intrinsically motivated mentality encourages individual innovation on the sales team. It leads to better behavior, better performance, and improvements that can become breakthroughs for the company over time. We've taken another page from Deming's playbook by eliminating annual performance reviews companywide. In their place, we encourage frequent informal conversations between leadership and their teams with a focus on continual improvement, not just performance.

Take a moment to reflect and question: Are you or your employees being micromanaged to the extent that it impacts worker productivity? Controlled due to a distrust of employee productivity?

In AccelaWork's view, the greatest way to improve productivity and generate overall success is to empower employees, building employee satisfaction, rather than inhibiting them. As the list above shows, encouraging subordination and allowing fear to dictate work does little more than create a volatile work environment that breeds intimidation, resentment and low employee retention.

Don't allow stakeholder passion and creativity to fall by the wayside. Contact our business process improvement methodology consultants today. We guarantee your stakeholders will find a renewed sense of value through encouragement and trust. And though we may not dissipate fear with popcorn and funnel cakes like theaters and amusement parks, we guarantee our solutions are just as successful and satisfying.

Finding Effective Zones To Work In

We have talked about Workplace Artifacts. A powerful component of effective forms, files, and workspaces is the use of zoning.

When we hear the word "zoning", most of us think of civic planning. City officials define specific regions of land and specify their fate. By carefully placing commercial, residential, and industrial zones, planners can encourage growth and commerce. They can look at current zones and see why certain areas are thriving and others are dying. They can use that information to make a city much better.

The city of Chicago is a great example of this. Up until the mid-19th Century, the growth of the city was unchecked and there wasn't much planning involved.  After the great fire of 1871, the city was able to be re-zoned and laid out in a way that prepared it for growth and made public transportation much easier. Entire neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Park, were meticulously zoned after the fire, and those neighborhoods are now some of the most desirable urban areas in the entire country.

A landmark designation report from the city of Chicago breaks down the ways that zoning in the aftermath of the fire helped eliminate wasted space in the city. One excerpt from that study is below.

As the City rebuilt and land values increased in the aftermath of the Fire, real estate investors subdivided ever-larger sections of land into residential lots usually 20 to 25 feet in width. In order to maximize the use of ever-more expensive land, architects began to alter their designs from the free-standing dwellings of the pre-Fire era to more compact, though often equally elaborate, row houses. In fashionable and densely-developed lakefront neighborhoods such as the Near North Side, Lincoln Park, and Hyde Park, row houses were a common building type built in the 1880s through the early 1900s.
While the fire was certainly a disaster at the time, it allowed Chicago to become the thriving city that it is today. That was achieved all through the simple process of zoning.

There is tremendous power in using "zones" in other parts of work. Think about the zones that appear on a paper form, usually as blank lines or boxes. They tell you where to write and what answers are needed.

Here on our blog, we've talked about the business process transformation with regard to forms that are too small. Zoning, however, gives us an even smarter technique for describing spaces. Compare this:

Email Address: ________________________________________________________
To an alternate method:
Email Address:  [ _____________________ ] @ [ ________________ ] . [ ____________ ]
This simple change will help ensure that people can use the form more easily. It also forces the designer of the artifact to truly see how much space is available. Then, any changes that may be needed will be apparent.

The same concept can be used in physical spaces as well as with paper. You already create "zones" as file folders in your cabinets. You can make these zones more effective by setting up divisions and using clear labels. A simple change like that can greatly increase efficiency and decrease headaches for everyone in your office. But unfortunately, far too many people neglect to make a change like that, even though it's a very easy and quick one. You don't have to wait for a giant fire to destroy the potentially inefficient zones you've created in your workspace. Take the time to review your process and see if it's truly the most efficient and wisest use of space. If not, a little bit of planning could lead to major improvements in your work life.

Zoning is a straightforward technique with a powerful result. Try it out! Learn more about this approach by contacting our business consultants today.

Lightweight Workflow Can Be The Most Productive

Andrew McAfee sang the praises of "lightweight workflow." But was he really talking about reducing churn or just trying to better leverage interruptions?

In a commentary in Forbes, McAfee refered to new software applications like Chatter. These are tools designed to encourage to take advantage of the "social" nature of modern computing. As McAfee wrote:

Both of them are big steps toward the goal of using technology to more effectively support how knowledge workers actually work, and work together.

The first of these innovations is clever bridging between the realms of structured and unstructured data. A review of Chatter in Infoworld states that "Chatter offers a Twitter-style 'following' mode, but with a twist: Instead of just following people, you can also follow data sets like price lists and client lists. When a data set you are following gets updated, you are immediately notified of the change. If, for example, you're about to make a presentation to a client and your company's pricing data has been changed, you'll be in the loop instead of unintentionally giving the client outdated information."

I like this idea a lot. Instead of requiring people to access or look up a bit of structured data, it instead puts the information where they’re looking anyway: in the middle of their steady stream of updates. Facebook, Twitter and their relatives have conditioned a lot of us to keep checking that stream throughout the day, so it makes a ton of sense to include machine- and event-generated updates along with the human-generated ones we’re already used to.

Streamwork and Wave do something similar by allowing users to drop enterprise IT widgets into the middle of human conversations. For example, a widget could be a live look into the ERP system at the status and estimated ship date of an important customer order that’s going to be late because of a problem. While a team is using Streamwork or Wave to work on the problem, the widget will let them know if what they’re doing is working–it will automatically update the estimated ship date every time it changes. Such live windows into structured systems and their data can be tremendously valuable. They put relevant information directly in the flow of work, and in the environment where the work is taking place, letting everyone involved be better informed and more productive.

This feature certainly sounds intriguing. Wouldn't it be great if you could "friend" important information and receive "Status Updates" just like you do from long lost pals on Facebook?

However, it should also be obvious to even the casual user of social media technologies that such a workflow could become overwhelming. If you have even a few dozen active friends on Facebook, you can't begin to keep up with all of their activity. That's acceptable for social connections, where we are expected to occasionally drop out of the loop. At the office, however, too much information is already a problem. Will lightweight, social workflows make the situation worse?

There are no easy answers. It certainly is convenient to be able to "follow" a book at your local library and receive an automated email when your it's your turn to borrow a copy. On the other hand, we've all deleted marketing messages from companies that we do care about because of timing or lack of interest. A lightweight, unintentional, structureless workflow is like being surrounded by feathers. The soft texture may be comforting, but there's nothing to really grab onto. In the end, you can still get buried.

At AccelaWork, we're constantly reviewing the latest approaches to workflow to help our clients. New technologies can increase productivity and satisfaction, but only if they match the culture and personality of the organization and its stakeholders. Learn more by contacting our corporate productivity consultants!

Productivity Takes a Ringing Blow

When it comes to being productive, a ringing telephone is far from helpful. In fact, many would agree the nuisance is downright distracting.  But can this type of communication be avoided when conducting business? To AccelaWork's founder, the phone can and should be handled more intelligently.

In a recent Indianapolis Business Journal article, Robby Slaughter addresses the idea of achieving work productivity without ringing interruptions. According to Slaughter, the best technique for attaining telephone productivity is simple:

Don’t always answer a ringing phone. Instead, check the caller ID. Balance the benefit of a conversation against losing your current train of thought. Let your voice mail system take a message and pick up the receiver if necessary. Failure to answer an incoming call is also succeeding in concentrating on the task at hand.
On the same token however, telephone productivity is a two-way street; consideration of others is just as crucial. Slaughter encourages courtesy across the board: 
Likewise, be judicious about making outgoing calls. If your objective is to relay crucial information, consider sending an e-mail. Spoken words might make it to the brain more quickly, but written words will be perfectly preserved and can be more easily duplicated and forwarded.
It's not always possible to avoid the telephone at work. Not even AccelaWork can deny that there are times when phone conversations are crucial. However, if every situation at work seems to deem a phone conversation necessary, you may want to consider reevaluating processes and communication scenarios at work.

If you or your company could benefit from telephone productivity, reach out to our small business productivity consultants today. We'll help alleviate the ring in your ears!

Finding a Better Way Than Rewards and Punishments

Rewards and punishments are such an integral part of organizations it's hard to imagine doing anything else. Yet one video reminded us that these are the least effective ways to motivate anyone.

The clip was sponsored by the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts and has been making the rounds for some time. We know this may seem long by modern YouTube standards, but the 11 minutes will be well worth your time. Here's the absorbing video (direct link here):

For regular readers of our blog, this is old news. We've talked before about employee productivity and motivation and even gave an entire presentation around workplace productivity. AccelaWork believes strongly that we should motivate workers by empowering them to work.

The site The Balance, has an article about this topic of employee empowerment. One of the best tips they give are to share your goals and direction with your employees.

When possible, involve employees in goal setting and planning. They add value, knowledge, ideas, insight and experience that you won't find on your senior team. At the very least, involve them in goal setting on the department level and share the most important goals and direction for your group. With the help of your employees, make progress on goals measurable and observable, or ascertain that you have shared your picture of a positive outcome with the people responsible for accomplishing the results.

If you share a picture and share meaning, you have agreed upon what constitutes a successful and acceptable deliverable. Empowered employees can then chart their course without close supervision.

Again, if you're a regular reader of this blog, this concept shouldn't seem revolutionary. If you involve all your stakeholders in these decisions, then not only are you going to get valuable input from an array of perspectives, but you're going to allow your employees to feel more empowered and thus do better work. It's a win-win situation. Unfortunately, too few employers are willing to adopt this mindset.

Another interesting suggestion they have is to delegate impact opportunities, not just more work.

Don't just delegate the drudge work; delegate some of the fun stuff, too. You know, delegate the important meetings, the committee memberships that influence product development and decision making, and the projects that people and customers notice. The employee will grow and develop new skills. Your plate will be less full so you can concentrate on contribution. Your reporting staff will gratefully shine - and so will you.
This is a great idea. Too often companies only delegate more work, leaving all the "important" things to management. But that's foolish. If you have an employee in a position to give an impactful presentation or run an important meeting, let them do that. Allowing opportunities such as those are going to be far better for your organization than simply rewarding or punishing employees could ever be.

If you're a manager, stop worrying about what you pay your employees and start focusing on valuing your employees which in turn increases employee satisfaction. If you're an employee, stop worrying about what you are "allowed" to do and instead focus on defining your responsibility and authority. When both parties are actively working at those things, an organization will have the healthiest balance that leads to productive and empowered people, all the way from the entry-level employees to the founders and CEOs who are supposedly running the show.

Intrigued? Learn more about our values. Contact our business process improvement consultants today! We'd love to help you get on the right track when it comes to employee empowerment and overall business productivity.

Empowering Stakeholders To Act

Surely government employees at the Texas Railroad Commission would take great pride in taking care of trains in the Lone Star State. It's too bad, then, that the agency has no authority over railroads.

How could this be? Surely the second word in the title of this official body tells us what they do. But that's not the case. One story explains:

In 2005, when its last shred of authority over railroads was transferred to another agency, the Texas Railroad Commission's name became a misnomer.


At its creation in 1891, the Texas Railroad Commission was tasked with regulating railroads and protecting farmers who had quickly found themselves depending on the new mode of transportation to move their product to market.

Oil and gas didn't enter the agency's purview until 1917, when the Legislature tasked it with regulating pipelines. Over the next 20 years, the commission oversaw much of the state's oil boom.

Most state-level railroad regulation now comes from the Texas Department of Transportation. From receptionist to commissioner, agency employees regularly have to explain to people that they have nothing to do with trains or train schedules.

"They need to have a name that's clear to understand," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. "It's horrible in terms of the public having any clue of where to go with concerns and complaints."

So what's the big deal? Why not just change the name?

Changing Anything Costs Money

There's certainly a price tag associated with this change. The Commission reports that updating signs, forms, and publications would cost $100,000 alone. Furthermore, updating the title of the agency would break nearly a hundred years of Texas tradition.

Of course, the state is already paying a tremendous cost by using the outdated name. Those employees waste time every day when they have to explain that the Texas Railroad Commission is not actually in charge of the railroads. Politicians waste time every few years debating---and then discarding---various proposals to rechristen the organization.

Changing Anything Requires People Capable of Making Change

The fundamental problem with this issue, however, is that the stakeholders are not sufficiently empowered to act. Citizens, public officials, and companies that deal with the everyday business of the Commission have neither the authority nor even the voice to make such an obvious change.

When we can't change what we want to change, we become frustrated. And it's those kinds of emotions that inhibit productivity, personal satisfaction, and employee engagement. The right answer is that someone needs to have the ability to make the decision. Since no one has that power, no one does, and the problem continues.

Putting People In Charge

At AccelaWork, we believe that productive, effective workplaces are run by stakeholders. When the people involved in a process have ownership in the process, the organization thrives. That is easier said than done. You need decision-making systems. You need to have some kind of structure, whether it is a hierarchical or self-organizing. You need a way for people to fairly discuss and debate. And you need a way to communicate change to everyone. It's work. Are you dealing with the challenges of today but still using names or techniques that are no longer accurate? Reach out to our consultants to learn more about what we do. We want to help your organization do what it was built to do. And if you're carrying the baggage of an old name that doesn't apply any more, it's time to cast off that misnomer and be proud of who you are today.

The Call Volume Paradox

Joe is a sales professional with a problem. His management is unhappy despite the fact that Joe is fantastically successful at closing great deals.

What could be going wrong? Is Joe breaking the law or company policy? Is he making promises that the organization can't keep?

Nope. Like many of his colleagues, Joe is in "inside sales," which means he spends his days "dialing and smiling" to reach out to potential customers. The number one metric in his office is call volume: the total number of outbound calls and the total duration of those calls that each sales rep makes in a given day.

However, Joe has made an incredible discovery about the experience of direct sales. When he places an unsolicited phone call to a potential customer, he is intentionally interrupting their workflow. Even if that prospect is interested in Joe's product, they have to stop whatever they are doing to take the call. Sure, that may lead to him waiting on hold for a bit, but he thinks he's wasting that time.

As a result, Joe has started to change his tactics. Instead of going for the sale immediately, he asks for an appointment to make another call later in the next week. "Do you have time Thursday at 3PM to discuss this opportunity? Put it on your calendar and I'll ring you then."

The problem strikes on Thursday morning. If Joe's overall call volume is low, he knows he will get in trouble with management. It doesn't matter that he has an appointment with a hot lead. So he has to decide: risk a low call volume and keep the appointment, or call the prospect to reschedule and increase his chances of making the daily target?

No stakeholder should ever need to make such a decision. Yet people like Joe do so every day. Organizations need to empower their workers to be able to speak up about systems that don't make sense. Employees ought to be able to share their discoveries and ideas freely. They shouldn't fear punishment for finding a more efficient way to accomplish their assigned workload.

The problem that we've posed with Joe is a classic case of micromanagement. He has found a better way to spend his time, and yet, his bosses would be more worried about him deviating from the process instead of producing great results. I'd like to say this situation should sound ridiculous, but odds are, most people have had to deal with a situation like this in their workplace. We've even heard of less dedicated employees calling automated loop numbers in order to increase their duration. That is way less productive than someone who can seal a deal in less than two minutes, but by this one metric that far too many companies rely on, the less dedicated employee would be regarded as the more productive one.

It can be hard to measure an employee's productivity, especially if the position is something similar to a call center. But unless the job description specifies that the employee is tasked with running up phone bills, then there has to be a better way. It's the job of management to figure out what that way is and to start ignoring process-related metrics that may or may not lead to the desired results.

You may feel like you are in Joe's position in your company. Or, you may wonder if your policies and procedures are limiting your success. Find out more through calling AccelaWork's business consultants. We can help find your paradoxes and help you to make lasting, permanent, meaningful change.

Good Processes Ruined By a Bad Result

I wouldn't characterize myself as a germaphobe, but I would say that my tolerance for public restrooms is quite low. To me, there is nothing worse than being subjected to unkempt toilets, grungy floors, slimy sinks, and bacteria-caked doorknobs. This is particularly true since I'm forced to touch them. So why, with the increased appearances of automatic bathroom appliances, is my mind still not at ease?

As silly as it may sound, the sight of toilets flushing automatically, soap and water dispensing on its own, and the touch of hot air drying my hands without so much as a cranking handle or a silver knob is heavenly. But let's face it: not all bathrooms have every piece of automatic equipment. In fact, I've experienced all sorts of appliance combinations in bathrooms. A few samples are below:

The "Almost There" Bathroom: sporting automatic toilets, sinks, and soap dispensers but old-fashioned hand dryers.

The "Ran-Out-Of-Money" Bathroom: containing automatic paper towel machines and nothing more.

The "Fancy Pants" Bathroom: a system sparing no expense in technology—including automatic toilet seat covers, lights, and air freshners.

The "Old Charmer" Bathroom: where the existence of manual toilets and sinks are overshadowed by the legendary linen towel crank and pulley system.

The "Survival-Of-The-Fittest" Bathroom: providing little more than what is absolutely necessary. In the end, clean hands, let alone running water, are virtually never an option.

Despite the obvious differences in each of these bathrooms, all of them have one thing in common: counterproductive systems.  Regardless of all the latest bells and whistles, or lack thereof, the goal for hygiene is lost the moment a patron heads for the exit. After all, I've seen people depart the bathroom without washing their hands. What I've never seen is an automatic bathroom door. Why is that?

I could sit and brainstorm for hours as to why such doors don't exist. Perhaps they're too expensive. Perhaps they pose a fire hazard. Maybe it is viewed as some sort of privacy issue Maybe the idea has simply never been pondered. Whatever the reason, the point is: results are only as good as the systems that generate them.

What makes a system successful are the steps within it. They need to be strategic in thought, fluid in action. Like puzzle pieces, they should coordinate perfectly, fitting together easily to develop and increase value. Yet, when even one step is awkward or missing, the process goal is lost. The result: an unfinished, unsuccessful product.

Like a misshaped puzzle piece, the lack of automatic doors in bathrooms diminishes the overall goal of appliance automation, which is to reduce the existence and spreading of harmful bacteria. You can have all the technology you want inside, but it can all go out the door as soon as you have to leave the bathroom. Needless to say, like many others, when faced with the  grimy public door, I opt for a shoulder nudge rather than a hand push. Who knows, perhaps one day I won't have to contemplate such an action.

Are there systems in your office that start out in one direction, but end up with opposite results? If so, there's a good chance that the process steps don't fit together correctly. They may appear logical and reasonable, but inevitably, they're nothing more than counterproductive.

If your company is having difficulty with processes, think about reaching out to our business process methodology firm. With our help, we guarantee your systems will not only fit together like a puzzle, but fit into your office like a successful, clean handshake, regardless of how your bathrooms look.

The Importance of a Clean Workspace

Is your office messy, unsanitary, or filled with distractions?  If so, a slight renovation could do you some good. Turns out, the state of your workspace can not only affect your own productivity, but your ability to gain trust, respect, and confidence from surrounding co-workers and employees. 

When it comes to lasting impressions, it's not surprising that piles of disorganized papers can deter people from wanting to work with you. However, who would have guessed that a picture on your desk, a dying plant on your file cabinet, or even a bobble head next to your phone could raise questions about the way you work?

But these types of subtleties are exactly the things that can mislead stakeholders into believing you are bored, unproductive, not serious, introverted, overly demanding or even untrustworthy. According to Lisa Marie Luccioni, professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati, "everything in your office sends a message, whether you want it to or not."

A Forbes article echoed these sentiments:

According to a new survey of over 1000 workers by staffing firm Adecco, a majority of Americans (57%) admit they judge coworkers by how clean or dirty they keep their workspaces. Meanwhile, nearly half say they have been “appalled” by how messy a colleagues’ office is and most chalk it up to pure laziness.

“With so many open office plans today, more people can see into your workspace, and they do judge,” says Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for Adecco. “It’s often personal. They think that you must be a slob in your real life.”

This comes after a report last year by OfficeMax that found that office clutter undermines productivity and motivation. “Your performance coincides with your workspace,” says Dede. “When it’s organized and precise you have the mindset and motivation to work.”

If you’ve let your clutter get out of hand, it might be time for some spring cleaning. Whether you’re in a cube or a c-suite, organization experts offer timeless tips to streamline the mess and keep your office tidy year-round.


Like a clean desktop, a clear floor will instantly lighten up the feel of the office space. Gym bags, purses, outerwear and changes of shoes quickly overwhelm the space and look chaotic. Jane Brown, founder of organization and design firm Jane Brown Interiors, suggests hanging hooks in your office or from your cubicle walls to gets coats, umbrellas and bags off the floor. Designate a drawer or shelf for large bags or extra shoes. But be careful not to overload the walls. Dede notes that cluttered corkboards and crooked pictures will undo the effort of clearing your floor and desk.

That article goes on to say that 75% of workers surveyed believe themselves to be more productive when their workspace is clean. Regardless of whether there's any scientific fact to back that up, the mind is a powerful thing, and if people believe it to be true, then it might as well be.

The observation AccelaWork is compelled to make however, doesn't just involve the state of an individual's workspace. Instead, we choose to examine the overall state of an individual's work environment. After all, a messy desk may just be the first sign of a bigger problem with workplace productivity. If an employee is forced to work with an inefficient process that allows no room for improvement or creativity, side effects like disorganization, boredom, or indulged distraction can take over. In the end, even day-dreaming could be product of a powerless employee.

By empowering employees to create new systems and encouraging them to take pride in their own productivity, a proper, manageable workspace will easily result. Open the doors to your stakeholders and give them the freedom to create a better, more conducive workflow. Contact our business process improvement consultants today to learn more about how we  can help rearrange the way work is judged.

A True Vacation From The Workplace

With the convenience of technologies such as laptops, BlackBerrys and cell phones, taking a true vacation from work is hard to accomplish. Yet, for many, checking email on the beach sounds efficient. But is it really?

Featured in one edition of Health Minute Magazine, Robby Slaughter’s article “The Efficient Vacation” discusses why abandoning work while on vacation is far from irresponsible. In fact, he believes its not only a sign of great efficiency, but a healthy way to remain motivated and productive in your job.

Whether or not you're actually aspiring to relax on vacation this summer, it can't hurt to take a moment and read the article below.  In the long run, it may just do you some good! Read the article in its entirety below.

The Efficient Vacation

Regardless of our field of expertise, all of us strive to be more productive. We want to get more done in less time and produce higher quality results while reducing overall effort. You can see our attempts to be more efficient as we make phone calls while walking to the car or listen to audiobooks while exercising at the gym. It seems as if every minute must be put to optimum use.

As a productivity expert, people sometimes jokingly ask if I try to maximize my time while on vacation. The answer is not what you might expect. The truth is that the greatest breaks from work are highly efficient.

In order to understand what that means, we need to look into the definition of the word “efficiency.” Many people incorrectly think this term is another word for speed. An efficient worker, after all, completes their tasks more quickly.

Yet “efficiency” has a precise and powerful scientific definition. It refers to the relationship between effort and results. In formal engineering terms: efficiency = work output / work input.

That might sound like more arithmetic than you've considered in a few years, but this is a formula you’ll want to remember. Efficiency is not just a measure of how much work you accomplish: instead, it measures what you got out versus what you put in.

Highly efficient people are not those who spend long hours at the office. Instead, they are those who generate amazing results despite a comfortable, relaxed work schedule. Inefficient people, however, aren't necessarily those who merely seem to complete work slowly. Rather, it’s those workers whose results are unimpressive given the quantity of effort they applied in the first place.

This brings us back to our discussion of time away from the office. If you’re spending some time on the beach not doing any work, you’re actually very efficient. That’s because your work output and work input match up perfectly! It’s the people who try to check their email from the hotel pool who are tremendously inefficient. They are wasting considerable energy and focus for a meager result.

Every other aspect of your health at work echoes with this same equation. It’s not just a matter of consuming calories, but rather the efficiency by which your body can turn that energy input into energy output. Likewise, your trips to the gym should neither be effortless nor exhausting—instead you want to work just hard enough that you’re invigorated and inspired to return in a day or two. If you take prescription drugs or supplements, you should work with a qualified provider to determine a dosage that has precisely the coverage you need without being wasteful or falling short. These choices are the hallmarks of efficiency in your health.

If there’s a secret to becoming more productive and satisfied at work, it starts with understanding the relationship between effort and results. We need to look beyond simple cause and effect. Instead, we must acknowledge that our essential leverage at work is the ratio of what we put in against what we get out. As any engineer can attest, operational efficiency is the greatest sign of a healthy system. Help your company, your body, your mind and soul to become more healthy by being more efficient.

Robby Slaughter is a Principal with AccelaWork, an Indianapolis-based business process and workflow consulting company. Visit them online at

Happiness Can Equal Productivity

A professor named Daniel Sgori published an article that outlines the connection between happiness and productivity. In short, the impact is enormous.

If you've got a knack for digging through academic language, the complete post is worth a read. Here's a few words from some key paragraphs, with emphasis added:

One of the biggest growth areas in economics over the last few years has been “happiness economics”. A plethora of intriguing results, starting with Easterlin’s famous paradox breaking the link between well-being and income through to recent counterintuitive findings showing that “happier countries” produce more suicide cases, all show that we still do not have a clear mental grip on how mood links to economic variables such as income or economic growth.

Working with my colleagues Andrew Oswald and Eugenio Proto, I am seeking to better understand the micro-level links between happiness and economic behaviour. Crucially we turn the traditional causal relationship between production and happiness on its head – rather than investigate how economic variables, like income or growth affect happiness, we have instead studied how happiness affects economic variables. Thinking about which economic variable to examine first, we had only to consider Paul Krugman’s words, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

With this in mind, my colleagues and I address the question: does happiness make people more productive in a paid task? Using an experimental methodology, we find that it does. ... Effort increases. Precision remains unaltered. In our first experiment, we induce short-run shocks to happiness and find a pronounced positive effect on productivity. In our second, we turn to the longer run when we ask whether subjects who have experienced recent “life shocks” perform significantly differently, and again, we find that they do.

How did they do it? In Experiment #1, subjects were paid to perform some math problems. Some of the participants were asked to watch a short video clip of a stand-up comedian before starting work. They were on average, 10% more productive than those who did not view the program. (Why economists call enjoying some comedy a "happiness shock" is in itself, rather comedic.) Here's the actual data of participants who have been "treated" with some entertainment:

productivity growth graph
Daniel Sgroi and his colleagues are good researchers. They worked to ensure that there weren't other factors effecting this outcome. They checked for differences in performance by gender and saw nothing significant. They compared between different sessions at different times of the day, and again, there were no meaningful differences. They looked at the work conducted in detail, and divided it into "effort" (number of attempts) and "precision" (percentage of correct answers), and saw that "precision" remained constant but "effort" increased after watching the video clip. They even tried varying the payment system and tried showing the control group a boring clip of "dull visual images." None of these adjustments had any affect.

Does that mean you should start you day with a session on YouTube? Probably. Here, enjoy this and you'll probably read the rest of this blog post even faster:

So what was Experiment #2? Instead of the "shock" of a comedy video, participants were asked to assess their own happiness. After finishing the tasks, those taking part in the study were provided with a questionnaire about recent negative life events. The survey included topics such as loss of a family member, parental divorce, or health factors.

Once again, people who were happier in general were more productive. Happiness leads to productivity. For more information about how you can work smarter and be more satisfied, contact our consultants at AccelaWork today!

Business Consultant's Biggest Mistakes

Since I authored a book called Failure: The Secret to Success, it's probably a good time to talk about things we do wrong at AccelaWork. One mistake, in particular, we keep making because it's so tremendously attractive.

Here's what we continue to do, even though it's a terrible idea: we often build initial client relationships with high-level executives and owners.

This probably sounds counter intuitive. If AccelaWork is a speaking and business process consulting company, shouldn't we want to meet the people who are in charge of all of the business processes?

After many years of experience, the answer is definitely not. If there are workflow and productivity challenges in an organization, we need to meet with the people on the front lines who personally experience these frustrations. We should get to know them to find out if they believe change is possible. We should connect with those who will be putting new processes into action so they have confidence in our ability to help.

However, there's an even more critical reason why business process consultancies should avoid starting at the top. Companies that are experiencing some dysfunction will only be further aggravated if the boss brings in an outside expert. Think about it: how do you feel when someone shows up and tries to tell you what to do? Probably a lot like this strip from Dilbert:

Usually, business process consultants that start out by working with management end up being less effective overall, because doing so breeds distrust among stakeholders. After all, if company leaders want to increase productivity, why don't they try talking to the people doing the work rather than some outside firm? In our business, reaching out to executives to begin a relationship is a bad move.

So why do we keep making this mistake? Because building connections with managers is devilishly attractive. They are used to interacting with outside vendors and know how to give tours and describe the company business model on a whiteboard. They have the authority to take you to lunch on an expense account or head out of the office for an afternoon training session. You know they can make the decision to hire your firm on the spot, and that power is intriguing. In short: it's easy to sell to executives because they are accustomed to salespeople.

Furthermore, this is the advice of every sales training program everywhere. Virtually all sales coaches will tell you not to waste time with people who don't have the authority to make use of whatever you are offering, and instead ask to be introduced to the people in charge. That makes sense when you are selling a product that doesn't require total buy-in from stakeholders. Because our approach to process improvement is stakeholder-centric and bottom-up, our sales approach should also be stakeholder-centric and bottom up. We need to reach out to the people who we want to help first, not the folks who will decide whether or not to sign the contract. That comes later, if and only if there is a match.

So, I'm resolved to do my best not to make this mistake. If you're an executive, don't be offended that I'd rather talk to the people who work for you. If you're on the front lines, I really do want to get to know you. If we end up working together to help your company become more productive, you're the best place to start.

Don't Expect Workers To Trust Blindly

Next time your company decides to partake in some team building, you may want to steer clear of the exotic. After all, for one daring real estate company in Italy, a bizarre choice of exercise left some employees literally burned.

Who would have thought that walking on hot coals would be a way to empower individuals and build team unity? Yet, according to motivational speaker Alessandro Di Priamo—who has led thousands of people through firewalking the last 12 years—challenging employees to take such risks will help create confidence and motivation.

Firewalking helps people overcome their fears, seek new challenges and understand that most of what they see as their limits are self-inflicted.
Unfortunately for nine unsuspecting employees, their blinding walk did anything but flourish team unity. Instead, it placed them in the hospital with minor burns and scars. Turns out, despite Di Priamo's own walk on the hot coals, his failure to double-check the standard of materials left him in the hot seat. It wasn't until after the injuries ensued that he discovered artificial coal and incorrect wood were utilized for the fire pit. Ouch!
"I have done this job for 12 years with thousands of people and never had a problem. I myself walked first on that bed of burning coals and didn't feel anything -- in fact that same evening I went for a 16 km run," he said.
Sometimes when a problem isn't apparent, it's hard to be aware that one exists. But that difficulty didn't make this situation any less unpleasant for those employees who were struggling to walk for some time after trying to do something as simple as build team unity. This is definitely a situation that should have been avoided through proper planning and a little more caution.

Without a doubt, Di Priamo's negligence was quite concerning. Yet, just as worrisome is the fact that his participants were simply expected to place full trust in his unfamiliar leadership. And if that wasn't enough, even more unfortunate was the fact that each employee was forced into one of two difficult positions:

AccelaWork knows quite well: failure doesn't always have to be bad. If nothing else, this incident is evidence of some good lessons learned. Chances are, Di Priamo will probably never hold another seminar without first checking materials and testing fire pit standards. Yes, this turned out bad for some employees, but it would be even worse if corrective actions weren't taken to prevent a similar result in the future. And one hopes that companies will re-evaluate the way they choose to motivate and empower their staff. After all, building and maintaining a strong team is not created by backing stakeholders into a corner or burdening them with unreasonable expectations. Building a strong team is as simple as showing trust in your staff and allowing them to be empowered through their day-to-day work, not through gimmicks and other motivational seminars.

If your goal is to create a better working, more unified team, empower your stakeholders! Provide employees with proactive tasks and meaningful responsibilities. Encourage them to take on more ownership in their position and challenge them to improve their own systems of operation. This will lead to feelings of confidence and respect rather than submission and lack of importance. AccelaWork believes strongly in promoting accountability, creativity and cooperation among stakeholders. Reach out to our our consultants today today to learn how to use empowerment positively to improve workflow and build better teams.

The Etiquette of Networking In Simple Dos and Don'ts

There's no doubt: networking is hard work. And despite the incredible amount of diligence it takes to be successful at it, there is also a certain amount of finesse and etiquette that can either make or break your efforts. So, what's the secret to good networking?

Eric Marasco, creator and host of the video blog Espresso To Go, discussed the basic "do's and don'ts" of networking with AccelaWork founder Robby Slaughter. Check out the five-minute video below:

Slaughter pointed out in the video that its important to be memorable when networking. Relay information that not only stands out, but intrigues those you are speaking with. This is a great way to set yourself apart from others and create an easily identifiable connection that will assist in follow-up techniques.

As we have covered on here before, consultants using networking is a great tool for gaining and maintaining business relationships. If you are interested in learning more about being efficient and productive in your networking, contact our organizational productivity firm today.

Enjoy Social Media Exposure Instead of Shying Away From It

This post is from Kristin Page, project manager for for Golden Technologies. As a social media and internet marketing specialist, she advocates the importance for maintaining rules and regulations in regards to social media use in the workplace. Yet, for companies looking for exposure, her advice is simple: encourage employees to use it.

Originally social networks appeared to be a threat for businesses, whether it was their employees spending too much time on them or employees making inappropriate posts. Yet, it has very quickly become a a common trend for people ages 13 (legally) to 104. When Facebook started, it was geared to keep college students in touch when they graduated. Now it's simply unheard of not to use it. Twitter is very quickly following a similar path. Businesses embraced social media and yours should too.

Social Media will open up a whole new world to your customers and let them contact you and read about you on a more personal level. You might not talk about your kids in front of a customer at your office, but by letting them see a photo or two of your children on Facebook or Twitter, it can open up a whole new conversation the next time you see them.

It is also beneficial when something negative happens. Inevitably, it enables you to control your brand name. Just by getting on social media you are able to start making a good name for yourself in the event that things go wrong. People have a tendency to turn social media into a bad situation. Yet, you will have a heads up on addressing the problem before all of the negativity is exposed.

It is also nice to see that not everyone is perfect. Simply stating your opinion can expose a side of you that the general public might not know about. That’s not a bad thing. After all, you never know who might share the same opinion. By encouraging your employees and your CEO to use social media you are letting others see you are human.

While it is important to keep rules and expectations with employees on social media, at the same time encourage them to use this new platform. Social Media offers a chance for you to get more of your business out on the web and let others get an inside look. If you’re a Fortune 500 company or a mom and pop shop, social media is a tool that you should at least dabble around in. So get out there, enjoy the exposure. What are you afraid of?

Kristin Page is a project manager for Golden Technologies with a special interest in social media and internet marketing. She blogs often on the Golden Tech Blog and can be found on Twitter @kristypage.

The "About" section of the Golden Technologies website further elaborates on their business:

In late 1999, the foursome decided that it was time to leave the safety net of the steel mill and work full-time for Golden Tech, beginning their journey as entrepreneurs. Since that time, the business has grown steadily. Starting out with just the “Core 4″ engineer partners, Golden Tech now employs more than 60 individuals at four offices, offering IT Management Services in the Northwest Indiana, Michiana, Chicagoland and South West Florida regions.

With plans for expansion, the Golden Tech continues to explore opportunities in other markets.

The key to Golden Tech’s success, however, remains in its relentless drive to provide exceptional customer service, the highest level of expertise, and innovative solutions delivered by friendly and tireless support engineers.

Our Mission

“The pursuit of excellence in making technology work for people.”

Our Vision

“We embrace innovation and teamwork in our quest to be the best IT Solutions provider in the markets we serve. We strive for excellence through tireless support, timeless craftsmanship, and adherence to our Values.”

Merely Avoiding Confrontation Can Prolong Frustration

To the majority of us, being productive in the office is a great thing. Yet, for one individual, consistently accomplishing her work is a big problem.

The Indianapolis Star printed the following Dear Annie letter:

Dear Annie: In my office, we all have different, unconnected job functions. I am usually busy, and when my work is finished, I take a break. I do not disturb anyone else while I go online, take a walk, or do some organizing and other things to pass the time until my next assignment. One of my co-workers makes sarcastic comments about my work ethic. It's not like I can use my free time to help her, because our jobs are unrelated. The boss knows he can count on me when there is work to be done, but he isn't going to invent assignments. How do I handle my nosy co-worker, who seems to be watching my every move?

- Looking Busy Enough

This predicament is a hard one to tackle. After all, what type of advice can you give an anonymous reader that will help maintain a well-working relationship without creating rifts in the workplace? According to Annie, the best advice is to adapt amicably. Below is her response:
Dear Reader: Your co-worker is envious that you have finished your work and have time to yourself and she doesn't. As long as your boss is satisfied, you are under no obligation to please anyone else. You could try "making nice" by offering to bring her a cup of coffee or something along those lines, but otherwise, ignore her barbs. It's sour grapes and not worthy of a response.
We have covered employee satisfaction and the inability to maintain a cohesive work environment can have lasting negative effects on productivity. So, although Annie's advice to ignore and "make nice" is a calm, non-confrontational plan, its overall effectiveness is questionable since it does little more than prolong frustration.

Instead, why not encourage "Looking Busy Enough" to utilize her strengths in a more effective way?

If AccelaWork were to respond, we would advise the following:

Dear Reader: From the sounds of it, your workflow is not only successful, but meeting—if not exceeding—expectations. Well done! And while your well-deserved free time is yours to spend however you'd like, perhaps it's time to take your talent for productivity to the next level. After all, your job isn't just to complete projects, it's also to be innovative and creative on behalf of the company.

Though your co-worker's job functions are different, remember that both of you have the same overall goal: to work effectively and generate success. What better reason is there than to take your free time and develop new ways of integrating your work systems into the office? By doing so, you are satisfying three solid things:

  • You will have the chance to assist all your co-workers in their own productivity. Not only will this help boost your office's overall success, but it will perhaps reduce the rift between you and your co-worker.
  • You'll have the opportunity to showcase your unique skills and work ethic to your boss; highlighting your creativity and leadership.
  • You will empower yourself and feel more accomplished, confident and respected.
Seize the moment and use your productivity to your advantage! I guarantee you and your co-workers will be thankful you did.
Improving worker productivity has a slew of advantages: it streamlines projects, frees up time for innovation, helps the functioning of our brains and strengthens collaboration in the workplace.  To learn more about how we can help your company, reach out to our productivity growth consultants today!

Producing Great Content Without Agony

The Blog Indiana 2010 presentation was called Producing Content Without Agony and if you must know: yes, I beat my record.

If you're curious about the back story, I gave a talk at Blog Indiana's conference on Workplace Productivity and Blogging. In that workshop, I reviewed some of the common challenges that prevent us from blogging successfully. I showed off these techniques in an audacious d