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 in 2022. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 99u.com. 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Tsk, tsk. You need to learn from the George Costanza School of Work.A similar story of business efficiency comes from coc_ar:
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].
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?
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.
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.
Researchers quoted in news.com.au 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.
"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
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:
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.
His op-ed piece, The Perils of Business as Usual, includes the following points:
- Make Changes Now.
- Truly Understand Where the Business Stands Financially.
- Analyze Whether Margins Can be Improved.
- Reduce and Control Spending.
- Manage Accounts Payable.
- Collect Accounts Receivable.
- Watch Credit Like a Hawk.
- Leverage Assets.
- 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.
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.
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 nothingIf 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.
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.
. . . 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 courier-journal.com 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 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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 can’t 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.
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 Etsy.com, 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!
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.
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.
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.
- There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
- Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
- There is no editing stage.
- 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.
- Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
- The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
- Once you’re done you can throw it away.
- Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
- People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
- Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
- Destruction is a variant of done.
- If you have an idea and publish it on the Internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
- 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.
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 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.
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:
- The ultimate team player who goes along with the group rather than voice dissent
- Works late nights and weekends because “everyone needs to pitch in on this project”
- Defends the company to anyone, anywhere that criticizes or questions its products, policies, or practices
- Puts responsibility to employer above responsibility to customers, without question
- Questions, but does not challenge the status quo
- Is well-liked because they do whatever is asked, enthusiastically
- Accepts (and uses) phrases like, “this is what corporate needs us to do.”
- Cares a lot about his career path in the company; focused on getting management recognition.
Passionate about the work:
- Scores well on the 4-question test:
- keeps up with trade/professional journals
- knows who the key people in the industry are
- would spend his own money, if necessary, for better tools
- if they were NOT doing this as their job, they would still do something related to it as a hobby
- Works late nights when, “I'm just one-compile away from this awesome refactoring that's going to make this thing run 40% faster.” In other words, they work late when they're driven by something they know they can do better on.
- Defends the quality of his own work.
- Puts responsibility to his own ethics and values—especially related to quality of work—over responsibility to employer.
- May not be extremely well-liked, but is highly respected and tolerated because he's known as one who, “cares deeply about doing the best possible job, and is very good at what he does.”
- Does not accept, “this is what corporate needs us to do” when it conflicts with quality and ethics. Must be given a good reason why a corporate decision is worth the downsides.
- Does not care about upward mobility in the company. Cares about doing fabulous work and possibly the recognition of his peers in the industry. May strive for professional recognition.
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.
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...Another exchange includes the following:
Supervisor: Wow. This is a pretty significant change from the way the project office is doing things.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 EveryJoe.com (Reversing Your Email Composition). This got picked up by Kevin Purdy of the massively popular site LifeHacker.com. 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 - 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.thecontentwrangler.com/article/robby_slaughter_interview/
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.
Over at GreenBiz.com, 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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
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."Let’s review the facts as presented in the article:
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."
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!
A story by Patrick Barnard at TMCnet.com 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!
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.
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!
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 matter.li
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.
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?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: 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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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!
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 bigsmiile.com 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.Finding a combination of the two is going to allow you to be happier in work, and in life, and thus more successful.
Proactive Happiness is our belief systems, goals, values, freedom, knowing who you are, connection etc.
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.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.
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.
For more information on how to find the proper balance of productivity and satisfaction in your work, contact our Indianapolis speakers and consultants today!
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."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 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.
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.
An article titled Building a Lean Organization in the Service Industry, now archived on www.isnare.com but originally posted on www.technology-toolkit.com, 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Quoting Ladd, who is quoting Malcolm Gladwell on Work:
When work is truly satisfying it meets 3 key criteria: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:
- Work must be Autonomous: You must be responsible for your own decisions and direction.
- Work must be Complex: It must engage your mind and your imagination.
- 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.
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!
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.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.
"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.
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.
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!
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.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:
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.”
- Start on time, and end on time.
- Spend a little time in chit-chat.
- If some people hesitate to jump in, find a way to draw them out.
- If you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you the responsibility.
- Share the credit.
- Making people feel stupid isn’t productive, and it isn’t kind.
- Have an agenda and stick to it.
- Never go to a meeting if you don’t know why you’re supposed to be there!
- Standing meetings should be kept as short as possible and very structured.
- Don't say things that will undermine or antagonize other people.
- Be very specific about what the “action items” are.
- For long meetings, schedule breaks when people can check their email and phones.
- Meetings should stay tightly focused.
- 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!
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.
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).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.
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.
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):