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Finding your circle’s touch points


Feeling blue?

When an organization undertakes a “redo”, finding your spot in the new organization is similar to starting a new job. You learn what your tasks are to create the outputs you are accountable for. You soon find the circle (some would argue “circus”) that defines your day, your goals and your contribution to the organization.

Eventually, you learn how your circle affects other circles and those circles touch other circles, and so on. You also learn you’ll have to overlap with some people or teams to ensure everything that needs to be done gets done. For example, someone in your organization is formally responsible for continuous improvement but that doesn’t mean everyone else is absolved of responsibility for driving continuous improvement. Your circle overlaps with the continuous improvement person’s because everyone is responsible for continuous improvement.

If you only do your own “circle” and not take into account how it interacts and overlaps with your surrounding “circles” means:

  1. Some things will not get done. It is inevitable. Throwing “it” over the wall isn’t the same as overlapping. All it means is your desk is clean but your co-worker is cleaning up your mess. You’re better than that. “Know before you throw.”
  2. The organization becomes weaker. A chain is a series of interlinked circles. Unlinking them means your organization will have much weaker pulling power the next time you run into a “tree-stump of a problem”
  3. There will be a communication blackout. Like a brownout that runs through a city, some blocks will have lights while other neighborhoods will be plunged into darkness. Instead, why not maintain your circles and make sure there aren’t any gaps in them? Interaction promotes understanding. It ensures you know why your customer needs something, not just what they need.

Overlap is a catalyst to change. It creates an environment to share. It invites people to be curious and ask questions that could get you thinking about something you have never thought about. It promotes continuous improvement.

If you find yourself saying “that’s not my job”, ask yourself if you are leaving a gap.  When establishing roles in a new organizational structure, it may not be your job, however if you see a hole it is your responsibility to the team to find a way to fill it.

Be intentional,

Learning how to play the “gray” scales


9 Value Scale

I was watching my husband create a “simple” 9 value scale the other day. He started with a pile of black paint (1) on the left and a pile of white paint on the right (9). He then mixed a middle tone gray (5) which was half way between the two. He then mixed a 7, half way between 5 and 9, eventually completing his chart. He had to keep a healthy balance between being too dark or light in order to keep a gentle graduation of gray (his words, not mine.)

In a similar fashion, strong organizations have a healthy balance between “strict processes” and “flexible solutions”. Leaning too far in either direction can cause an organization to become unhealthy (Defined as not being able to meet their goals).

If an organization has “strict processes”, it leaves no room for dealing with surprises, or disruptions. If something does not fit neatly into a box, a “strict process” organization will either ignore the issue or use an ill-fitting process to address it. Thus, over time these issues will add up to stagnation and un-health.

If an organization has no processes and uses only flexible solutions (one offs / different every time), it will soon overtax its resources. Over time the organization will drown in the urgent with no time for the important.

Processes allow organizations to quickly deal with things that are repetitive, things that have best practice solutions, and things that can be improved over time from repetitiveness. They allow the organization to clearly communicate based on a foundation of understanding. However, if there is not space for a “middle gray” (meaning the organization recognizes that some things don’t fit the norm and need special solutions), the organization will find itself too rigid to meet changing needs of the market place.

Finding the right balance of “gray” is a must for a strong healthy organization.

Be intentional,

Priorities and Resources. Do you have time for one but not both?

We sat there staring at the list of house work to be done, the list seemingly endless; Garage to be cleaned, patio to be straightened, closets to clean, and last but not least, college football to be watched. We only had a day to get it all done because quite frankly I knew Sunday would be filled with church, reading, visiting with friends on the phone, eating a wonderful meal my husband prepared for me and of course, my afternoon nap. Prioritizing the important to the available resources was going to be crucial to our “success”.
Much like our weekend, there are very few people or companies that have endless resources to support everything that could be done, much less what should be done. Understanding how to:  divide and conquer, prioritize the urgent of the day, prioritize to what is important in reaching your goals, balancing the urgent and important – is a daunting task.
Instead of thinking about all the things you cannot get done, flip the equation and ponder on the following:
  1. Identify your biggest issues. How do they interconnect with each other? Can you find the “end of the thread” and pull on it? If you pulled on the “one thread” would it solve (or begin to solve) more than just that one issue?
  2. If you rearranged your timeline expectation, could you fit a longer term project in the open spaces of your week? Maybe this longer term project could solve some of those ankle biter issues. But if you never get to the longer term project, the ankle biting will continue
  3. What could you stop doing that no one would notice? Can you stop attending a certain meeting that takes time but you never seem to provide equal value to the time spent?
  4. How would you best let go of the lower priorities to make room for the higher priorities? Can a more junior person replace you in a project? They gain valuable growth experience and you gain valuable time to attend to a higher priority issue. So what would you let go and how would you best communicate it to the team?
  5. When is the last time you tracked your time? Have you ever kept a time log on how you spend the day? Can you justify the time you spend on those things? If not, why not?
Understanding your priorities is the starting place of prioritizing the resources. There are only 24 hours in a day and while some things “just have to get done” – identifying those that don’t can help you plan the right resources to accomplish the right priorities.
As for us, the garage was cleaned, the patio straightened, and football was watched. The closets, they are on the wait list. Maybe I’ll convince my husband that cleaning a closet is as exciting as watching a game. No? Yeah, I din’t think so either…
Be intentional,

Tasks, Timing, and The Team

When planning a project, the one thing that has the most risk yet seems talked about the least is the people doing the project.  Time, risk, quality all are dependent on having the right people doing the work.  

I think we all know that, yet my experience has been the “people” and the “task” conversations tend to be separate.  

Tasks are never separate from the people.  So how do you account for people in your project plan…

  1. Early on, make an assessment of your team’s skills. Include how fast they can accomplish something and at what quality level.  
  2. You don’t always get to change who is on the team. While it is important to get the “right people in the right seat on the bus”, that can take time. So understanding who you have and how they effect the timing of your project plan is important to the success of your plan. 
  3. Identify who on the team are single point failures. Develop risk management plans if something should take them off your project. 

Understanding that people are not robots and that the schedule has to be flexible to absorb the unpredictability of people is key to a strong, executable project plan. 

Be intentional


What I learned this summer.

Think back to when you were in school. Did you ever get the assignment to write a report on “What I did this summer”? For me it was mostly about the books I had read that summer. Oh how things have changed as I’ve gotten older. As we roll into September, I started thinking about what I learned this summer.

The “same people” exist in all companies.
What I mean by that is, there are only so many different personalities (based on DISC, Myers-Briggs, etc). So everywhere you go, there you are.

Processes only work for repeatable tasks.
If you are working a “one-off” by the time you construct a process for it, the task will probably be done. Or as I’ve been told “OBE” / Overcome by Events

Be there for your people, they will be there for you.
As a leader, your job is your people. Protect them. Remove their obstacles as best you can. They’ll thank you for it. And when possible, send an email instead of calling a meeting. (And if your boss does that, please read the email…)

Most folks want to do a good job.
I’ve been working since I was 14 and I think I can count on one hand the people who purposefully wanted to do a bad job. People just want to do the right thing. They’ll get tripped up if they aren’t given the tools and guidance to succeed.

You can do more than you think.
But you need to listen to your internal voice when it says, “Slow down” or “Time for a break”. Olympic athletes take rest days. Farmers let fields rest every so many years. And God created the world in six days taking the seventh off. Just saying, there’s a pattern to consider following.

Multi-tasking means doing many things poorly.
Instead of multi-tasking, you should consider “multi-thinking”. Each issue you encounter needs your undivided attention. So put down the phone or turn off the email – and really pay attention to the “think” in front of you. You’ll make better decisions rather than getting swept away and risk being “OBE” yourself.

Listening skills are HUGE.
If you are going to multi-think, you need to hear what is being said. Look your folks in the eye. Hang on every word said. Ensure you comprehend their thought and intent. If you are on a learning curve for a new program – you really don’t have much room for error. It’s important to listen with rapt attention.

Paperless is here.
You can save a tree. In fact, you can save a small forest if you choose not to print that email. Technology has actually advanced to the point that you can survive without printing. (Sheer blasphemy!)

Never, ever, never, assume.
Always validate your assumptions. It is your responsibility to ask really good questions. You may not always have the right answer or even the answer – but by asking the right questions – you and your team can get to the right solution set.

Manufacturing is a team sport.
There are no “singletons” in Manufacturing. We are like the Musketeers, “all for one and one for all”. Whether that is between work stations or shifts, each team is inter and intra-dependent on the other.

And finally, what I learned this summer is;

No matter how bad the day. Tomorrow is coming. The clock is reset and you get another 24 hours.

That’s what I learned this summer. It went by quick. Granted some of these I already knew but they were brought to my attention during the summer and I wanted to share with you. Have a happy and safe fall as we settle back in.

Be intentional,

If it is right to do right, then it is smart to do right

Back in high school I had a really good mentor named Nona Kelly. Nona was the smartest woman I knew. She shared with me a saying that her dad had given her, “If it is right to do right, then it is smart to do right.” I’ve often thought about that over the years since. And her dad’s saying still rings true today. There’s such a thing as doing the “smart right”.

Doing the right things for the right reasons is a perfect combo. Some people do the right things for the wrong reasons. Others do the wrong things for the right reasons. And a few do the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

As leaders, our job is to set priorities and goals (the right things) and provide values/code of conduct (the right reasons). More importantly, as leaders, our responsibility is to ensure the balance of the right things and right reasons.

Here are four ideas you can use in your next “doing the right things rightly” check-up:

  1. Good goal setting cadence ensures people understand today’s charter and tomorrow’s destination.
  2. Stretch goals are great for challenging the team to their full potential as long as it is balanced with doing it the right way.
  3. Don’t shy away from “talking out the conflicts” between “what needs to happen” and “why it needs to happen”– it helps the team internalize and perform better in the future.
  4. Embrace questions – it keeps everyone in the decision honest
  5. Finally, if it’s right to do right, then it’s smart to do right…  choose the “smart right”

Be intentional