May 2012


I am finally getting back to reading Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck.  To review, according to Dr. Dweck there are two mindsets the differentiate successful people from others, fixed and growth.

At the end of the second chapter she uses the movie Groundhog Day to illustrate these two mindsets.  At the beginning of the movie Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, considers “himself to be a superior being.”  At the groundhog ceremony he shows “contempt for the ceremony, the town, and the people.”

In the movie he finds himself repeating the same day over and over.  When he realizes his predicament he uses the knowledge he gains through repeating the same day “to further his typical agenda, making fools out of other people.  Since he is the only one reliving the day, he can talk to a woman on one day, and then use the information to deceive, impress, and seduce her on the next.  He is in fixed-mindset heaven.  He can prove his superiority over and over.”

After repeating this cycle countless times, he realizes “he could be using this time to learn.”  In fact he has been learning all along but just using the knowledge selfishly.  The real change that happens is the realization that he can be using his time to improve himself.

Once Phil realizes this “he goes for piano lessons.  He reads voraciously.  He learns ice sculpting.  He finds out about people who need help that day (a boy who falls from a tree, a man who chokes on his steak) and starts to help them, and care about them.  Pretty soon the day is not long enough!  Only when this change of mindset is complete is he released from the spell.”

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There is nothing that drags me down more than blaming other people for things that go wrong or complaining about things we don’t like.  This is the ultimate morale killer.  You might think I am venting about others but I am as guilty of doing this as anybody.  It drags me down to hear others doing this but it drags me down more when I do it.

We all have our weak moments and need grace when we are in a bad frame of mind.  I am giving everyone, whether they read this blog or not, permission to call me out when I am caught blaming someone or complaining about something.

What do we complain about?  Here are a few things to get started.

  • Things other people do that we think they should know not to do.
  • Aspects of our job that we don’t love but are a fact of life.
  • Having to do something that another person could have done instead (but chose not to).
  • Cleaning up other people’s messes.

Blaming and complaining has its origin in an unhealthy focus on oneself.  This could also be called pride.  To be perfectly honest, it takes a lot of self-control to not complain.  I find that I am most likely to complain when I have a lot of things competing for my attention. In these situations I feel my heart rate increase.  I am not able to concentrate.  I get more active but not more productive.  I limit my interaction with others.  The limited amount of interaction I have with others is brief and shallow.  I’m aware of my stress but feel helpless to deal with it.  But I am not helpless.

In these times I need to take a break and prioritize my responsibilities.  Usually I realize that much of what is distracting me is not high priority or can be easily dealt with.  When I sort through my thoughts and responsibilities I am able to focus and my attitude improves.

What I just described is the ideal way of handling distractions but it is easier said than done.  Which is why I not only give permission to others to call me out when I complain but ask them to do me the favor of calling me out.  Its not always easy but its best for everyone.

Two articles I’ve read recently offer advice on how to get the most out of your process improvement efforts.  The first focuses on the well-documented benefit of focusing on processes not people.  Despite the undeniable value of constantly looking for ways to improve your processes, the general tone of the article gives the impression that the organization somehow creates processes without the input of the people who are actually doing the work.

Most employees would and could contribute to positive outcomes if given an environment to do so. It is far more productive to focus on streamlining processes and making them better rather than trying to make good employees even better within a broken system.

I believe the author envisions an approach where employees contribute to the process improvement effort but does not clearly state it in the article.  I certainly hope so because it is simply not sustainable in today’s business environment to centrally establish and maintain business processes.

This brings me to the second article.  In it, the author advocates an approach where employees initiate process changes.  He presents this as a contrast to a technology first, process second, people last approach where employees are “subjected to retraining, and they have to radically alter their routines, often in ways that they don’t think will work as well.”

In an approach that focuses on employee-initiated change, technology acquisitions would only come after the organization adopted new processes and sought a technology solution that would best help employee productivity and innovation.  By empowering “front line” employees to establish, document, and maintain business processes it is more likely that the acquisition will be successful.  The net result is cost savings (because the correct solution was purchased) and greater productivity (because the solution is compatible with the work environment).

For more on process improvement, click here.

Michael Hyatt offers a great example of new marketing.  Rather than summarize the post I will offer my perspective.  First, you don’t have to be in business to apply the principles of new marketing (read the post to find out what they are).  I actually think we would all be more productive and get along better if everyone applied them.  Second, authenticity is an under-appreciated aspect of customer service.  For more on authenticity click here.

Why is it that the attention to process improvement seems to be episodic.  If you use the dieting and exercise metaphor, most people should probably dieting and exercising all the time but we know they don’t.  They go on binge diets.  They go on binge exercise programs.  They make New Year’s resolutions that they don’t hold on to.  What is it about human nature, what is it about organizations that cause them to adopt an improvement activity for a period of time and then lose interest and move on to something else?

I have first hand experience with this phenomenon.  I have concluded that a change in mindset and culture is required to truly see the benefits of process improvement.  That is why I am linking to this presentation by Brad Power.  In the 20 minute discussion he diagnoses the causes of what he calls “Process Attention Deficit Disorder” and prescribes a remedy.  Since this is a long discussion I have quoted some excerpts that attracted my attention below (key points in bold text).

What I take away from these stories is that the natural way of operating is not to have continuous improvement.  That these improvement activities required an injection of energy.  They require a non-natural way of operating.  It’s very hard to build it in and make it natural so that it sustains.  If you’re looking at this in terms of physics, gravity draws you not to do improvement.  Gravity drives you to a steady state, focusing on doing your job day to day, not on continuously improving how you do your work…You have to consciously build things into the system to make it happen.

As I was listening it dawned on me that the only remedy is for leaders to consciously focus on sustaining the focus on process improvement.  Here is how Mr. Power addresses this topic.

In the Western world, new leaders are treated like rock stars and are expected to bring in their own way to improve the company.  A company can go through a new process improvement strategy with each successive leader but not necessarily see the benefits of any.

Here is advice Mr. Power offers for sustaining process improvement.

  • Put yourself on a steady “diet and exercise” program.
  • Adhere to management “best practices.” (e.g., focusing on short-term results vs. long-term; Focusing on functions and business processes)
  • Understand the role process improvement plays in your business strategy – Process improvement isn’t necessarily the way every company competes.
  • Apply appropriate management processes (Traditional vs. Lean)
  1. Strategy execution
  2. Performance management – Metrics, incentives, rewards
  3. Talent management – How people advance through the organization
  4. Problem solving – Traditional would rely on outside consultants where a lean methodology relies on front-liners
  • Pain of disruption – People have to embrace change and be willing to change the way that they work.  Most people prefer to stay with the way that is comfortable and you have to apply various techniques to overcome this.

Mr. Power’s advice for creating a culture of process improvement

Because its an unnatural act to improve, [leaders] need to build into [their] management processes time set aside for improvement.

  • When addressing his team, a leader should take 10 minutes out of an hour to focus on improvement activities
  • In monthly/quarterly meetings set time aside to discuss improvement activities
  • Have people and resources dedicated to improvement activities
  • Have mechanisms in place so good ideas have a channel to get implemented
  • Change your view of disruption (not always a bad thing) – Give people time to innovate.