Root out 4 time wasters. Modularize your job properly

Productivity is all the rage

We hear of drilling our inbox down to zero.  We hear about agile sprints and personal kan bans.

All these productivity systems have one thing in common.  Finish what you start and don’t start what you cannot finish.

Work cycles

Now some poor unfortunates have job cycles of 20 seconds.  These jobs are mindless.

Others have job cycles of between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.  They are called managers. (You didn’t know that?  Now, you do.  Professor Mintzberg of McGill University brought that to our attention a long time ago.  When you work with managers, break things into small pieces for them!)

Others have long job cycles.  University lecturers have “seasons” of 7 years – from sabbatical to sabbatical.  That is the time it takes to write a proposal, get funding, do the work, write it up and publish it.  They give lectures that are 50 minutes long.

If they are wise though, they remember that they are human and few of us can concentrate for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Hence, a university lecture is broken into five parts.

  • What this lecture is about.
  • First chunk of theory
  • Change-up – change pace, delivery style and activity of students
  • Second chunk of theory
  • Memorable conclusion

Design what goes in to your job cycle

The secret of any job, I think, is breaking it into parts that fit our ability to start-and-stop and link it to other parts.

3 components of jobs design

Job design is about modularization and all 3 things matter

  • Our attention span and the features of our “box” – the human body.
  • The size and shape of the piece that we are working on
  • The way we link one piece to another to make a coherent whole.

The 4 time wasters in badly designed jobs

When we get any of the 3 features of job design wrong, then we create 4 inefficiencies.

  • We spend the 15 minute chunk working out what we are supposed to be doing rather than doing it
  • We do the wrong task because the linking mechanisms are sending us the wrong messages
  • Our attention is split or frayed with fatigue and our work is poor and has to be re-done
  • Or the task we are doing isn’t bundled properly and we cannot start, finish and put it back in the pool in one pass.

The job of managers and job designers

Inefficient managers tend to think that problems with productivity are to do with the way the task itself is done.  Sometimes that is the case.  To play tennis well, I practice the same shot over and over again.  Training time is important.

Most times, we are wasting time because we cannot start and finish something completely.  And on big tasks, we haven’t broken the task into modules that can be started, finished and handed over.

There is a genius to managing work.  And there is an explanation about why some teams get done more than others.

They aren’t having to redo work.  Everything is handled once, by the first person who touches it. And never again.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Find whom you need to do the team work you don’t want to do!

Belbin Team Roles

I’ve put together the promised presentation on Belbin Team Roles.  You are likely to prefer playing 2 or 3 of the 9 roles.  Each role adds essential activities to a team and carries with it a downside.  The Shaper asks probing questions, but can be a pain.  The Team Player keeps the group together but can’t make tough calls. And so on.

The Belbin provides the words and labels to what many of us intuited.  And it reminds you to hunt down the team members who drive you scatty because they are so unlike you.  You need them badly to do what you don’t like doing!

The presentation is on slideshare. It runs well in Powerpoint.  On OpenOffice and Slideshare, one or two slides are distorted.

[slideshare id=2666705&doc=icandoit-091207092921-phpapp01]

Make more money by promoting a sense of belonging in your firm: A manifesto for HR

I don’t do pain, even in my imagination

In my last post I described an exercise for testing the depth of our positive attitude: write a novel about myself and make myself feel pain.  I tried it.  It was hard!  I’m glad to know that I am not a masochist.

But I learned a little.  I learned that we hate to lose our ‘role’ and that I hate to be around people who are just pretending to have a ‘role’.  From there, I found myself listing the HR procedures for increasing belonging and the metrics to show how much value these procedures add to a company.

A manifesto for HR!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare is being in zombie-land.  I hate being in places where people have become cynical and at best are just “deteriorating as slowly as possible“.

Of course, I don’t really hate it ~ I am terrified by it.  We are terrified by anything which assaults our personalities.  I’m an INTFJ or a shaper/completer-finisher/resource-investigator.  I don’t do incoherent, lazy, out-of-it.   I may be misguided.  I may be slothful about many things.  But I will always have a purpose.  If I am going to be rudderless, I do it on purpose!

Our nightmare is not to have a role

This was my insight from the novel-writing exercise.   We are all terrified by the prospect of not having a role, or not belonging to our communities and workplaces.  We are very sensitive to rejection.  Even the nuances of rejection send us into a flat spin.

Many things that can lead us to feel that we don’t belong

A lot of things can lead to a sudden feeling that we are out of place.

  • Our general confidence
  • Policies of the firm which signal who is in and who is out
  • Cliques and favoritism
  • Mismatches with our own hopes and dreams
  • And storming – good old crises of confidence

Recraft your way to belonging

  • Heaps has been written in the last few years about recrafting jobs to meet our personal needs.  A waitress tenderly sweeping the floor of the cafe with good music playing in the background is recrafting her job just as the young guy who also works there recrafts his job by trying to sweep as fast and vigorously as possible.  Both put their personal stamp and sense of meaning on the job.
  • Poet David Whyte gives the same advice.  Begin with the ground, the hallowed ground on which you start.  Find meaning and belonging in what you already have and build from them.
  • Positive psychologist,  Christopher Petersen calls expanding from what we have “building a bridge while we walk on it”.
  • And for a good speech showing this is not just for me and you, but for the smartest and the brightest, listen to Dr Rao on Googletalk (YouTube).

Recrafting when we feel rejected

It is tough to recraft when we feel rejected though ~ for this reason.  We hate being rejected and we are loathe to admit that we have been excluded.

  • One, it hurts.
  • Two, we catastrophize and think that if this person rejects us, then everyone else will too.
  • Three, we worry that if we dismiss rejection, we may dismiss feedback that will help us manage future relationships.
  • Four, we catastrophize and think that if this relationship is not worthwhile, none will be worthwhile.
  • Five, we worry that the information that we have been rejected will be used against us!

Rejection put us in an emotional spin and bullies know it!  They’ll use rejection to keep you off balance.

That said, how do you work on finding the good in situation when you are feeling lousy?

Recrafting when we we are afraid

I would say we should do three things.

  • Make an objective assessment of the situation, as clinically as any staff officer in front of a paper map miles from the front line.
  • As you are not sitting behind the lines and you are actually in the thick of things, do as you would in battle. Move yourself, everyone else and everything you need out of the firing line.
  • Consider all the options including the options for negotiation and resumption of pleasantries.

This is really hard to do.  Believe me ~ being rejected by people like employers and teachers, on whom you depend, will frighten you almost as much as getting shot at.  In many ways it is worse.  You can allow yourself to be frightened by bullets as long as you act responsibly.  But to admit you are being “dissed” by your own side rips the guts out of you.

So you do the three steps: you take defensive actions, you try to be pleasant, you take time to make an objective assessment.  And guess what 90% of your energy is going into defending yourself from your own team!

Time spent on mending relationships in a firm

You are now being defensive and so is the next person and so is the next.  Guess what?  Anyone who wants to overrun this outfit, or take on this company, is going to win!

The firm is now in peril

This is my biggest nightmare.  It is quite clear once the spiral of defensive starts, the only thing allowing this firm to survive, is the incompetence of the opposition.  Anyone wanting to ‘take’ them would only have to distract the staff more for the whole ‘shooting match’ to fall apart.

What is the alternative to a firm where we are all watching our backs?

Inevitably, things do wrong in companies.  People do bump against each other quite unwittingly.  Feelings are hurt.  If we want to be successful (survive),we need to establish is a working culture where people are able to deal with shock and surprise without passing it down the line.

How do we stop defensiveness spreading?

Good HR departments, generally in larger firms work hard to keep a positive atmosphere  (I did say good.)

  • Good firms develop strong systems to minimize the management by whim. The reason they do that is to remove the objective threat to one’s employment that accompanies disagreements.  When there is no objective threat, then people can attend to mending their fences.  Good firms don’t allow people who are party to any “dissing”, in either direction, to take part in decisions about each others employment contract.
  • Good firms go to great lengths to manage the assimilation process ~ known as on-boarding or induction. They work with people through the forming, storming and norming stages and then take a watching brief during the performing stage coming back in when there are changes in a team or when someone leaves.
  • Good firms take some trouble to build diverse teams and to educate people why they need the very people who seem very different from themselves.  HR also takes some trouble to make sure that a team is not made of people who are too similar too each other and that the important bridging roles of team player and chairperson (the lazy roles!) are also present.
  • Good firms insist that everyone has an active career plan which is reviewed with you openly by committees chaired by senior members of the firm.
  • Good firms monitor diversity assiduously and keep a watchful eye on the formation of cliques.  HR is quick to intervene to minimize behavior that is rejecting and removes people’s attention from their own job.
  • Good firms design jobs carefully making sure that is is easy to get down to work (autonomy), that growth is possible in the job visible (competence) and that jobs allow us express ourselves meaningfully (relationships).  Work has goals, feedback built into the task itself, adequate resources, dignity, respect, physical safety, contractual safety, mentors and coaches.  We don’t want people so confused about how their jobs fit into the wider whole that they cannot think straight.

This is what I do for a living

My job is to make a system so that we are able to work together even when we are rubbing up against people.  I will see the effects of my systems in several ways:

  • People attempt to resolve difficulties without fear of their contracts.  People take the initiative; people don’t use the employment contract as a threat; negotiation of the employment contract is kept separate from other decisions; there is no fear in the organization or cynicism.
  • The output of people does not vary significantly when they move from group to group.   Nor does the output vary between people with different demographic characteristics.
  • The time taken for people to settle into the organization is known and the process is monitored and taken as seriously as quality on a Toyota assembly line.
  • Everyone has an active career path, we are mindful of who should be seriously thinking about progressing onto other firms, and we treat their onward progression as part of our competitive edge.
  • Deployment of individuals is not only done for and to individuals.  Teams are deployed so that they are balanced.  They are given time to bed down and their boundaries are respected.  Team work is not disrupted without investments being made in the time it takes to reestablish a team.
  • We have designed each job so that it has clear goals measurable by the incumbent, they can see how well they are doing and they can step-into the job in an orderly way sharing their successes publicly with others.

HR Metrics

To monitor my system, I have metrics on each process.  I also monitor HR Costs/Sales in each business unit and over time.  When people have the time to attend to their jobs, I would see small improvements in the ratio.

Take for example, the HR Costs/Sales ratio in manufacturing which is usually around 10%.  If people are able to do their job only 10% better, then the ratio will increase from 10/100 to 9/100 or done the other way from 10/100 to 10/110 or a 1% in Gross Profit.  That is generally going to be “pure” profit ~ that is, it is money that comes available for new equipment, training and even medical insurance and holidays.

When we are making more money because we aren’t worrying, then that is good profit indeed!

We do what concerns us and we are terrified by its loss

So it seems making a role for everyone comes from greatest concern -that we are going to have to sit around faking it.  That  led me to think that everyone wants a meaningful role.  Not everyone wants to sit around making meaningful roles. Who would make the money if we did?  While other people are off making things and selling things, it is my job to create an organization where we can get along without needless friction.

An emotionally healthy company requires good systems.  We must be able to work without fear.  Problems must be refereed as they arise and early.  And we must trawl our systems looking for emotional bruising that is getting buried.  If we continue to hide the casual rejection of people “because we can”, it will eventually cost us our livelihood. While we are all protecting ourselves from each other, our opposition will be taking over our business.

Simply, I am doing my job when you are able to do yours and I do this job because I cannot imagine what it is like to live defensively all day long!

PS I still don’t think I did the exercise properly.  It is very hard to imagine pain ~ even on a make-believe character that looks, moves and talks just like us!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Belbin’s team roles: know yours and value others

Too much energy for one person

I’m an energetic person with an eye for opportunity and slightly neurotic streak.  It’s is not surprising that my main roles come out at

  • Shaper – is what being done important and is what important being done!
  • Completer/Finisher  – have all the important details been attended to and will we finish on time?
  • Resource/Investigator -who should we and could we know and what can we do that we couldn’t do yesterday?

Exuberant, enthusiast, loyal and kind – that’s how people describe me.

Everything has a flip side

But not necessarily tactful.  Unlike Britons described by BBC yesterday, I can’t lie ‘for toffee’.  I’m also the type that departs the beaten track and climbs over a challenging course just for the hell of it.

When I was younger, I knew that I wasn’t a ‘hale fellow, well met” sort of person.  Everyone who had taken a short cut or conned anyone or been faintly dull felt ‘criticized’ by my preferences.  I knew that I didn’t have a sharp grasp of fashion but I thought I wasn’t a ‘people’ person.

We surround ourselves with opposites to balance our preferences

By the time, I was an active student leader at University, I was wise enough to include a gregarious, easy-going person on every one of my teams.  I would think up the ideas and run them past my ‘people’ person to make sure they would be well received.

The names of roles and their pros and cons are formalized in the ‘Belbin’

It was only much later, as I encountered the Belbin (and taught the Belbin) that I realized my instincts were spot on.  I had brought in ‘team players’ to balance me.

And it was only then that I understood that all team players show characteristic weaknesses.  I had observed that but I didn’t know it was predictable.

Teamplayers don’t get down to work very easily.   They might not even do their share of work. And they are dreadful negotiators. They think they are wonderful but they tend to give everything away.  For the life of them, they cannot hold the line.  To say ‘no’ might make them unpopular and they can’t stand that.

Disadvantages or not – I want opposites on my team

But I still want a team player on my team.  They keep the peace.  They don’t complain.  They are careful with other people’s feelings.

Team players are essential in every office

In one place that I worked, we had a long corridor and my office was about one-third of the way down from reception.  When our receptionist went away, I would hear the noise gradually increase.  Once I even slammed my own filing cabinet drawer shut, thinking as I did just how unpleasantly noisy our office was!  Then I caught myself.  Pleasantness and unpleasantness is contagious.  Without our team player, tempers were rising and little incidents of bad temper were being sparked like bush fires after a long drought.  Amazingly, in a team, who should know better, people were often unkind to our team player and complained she wasted time chatting.  No, she didn’t. She was the lubricant that kept the office turning.

I want a team player and I don’t even mind if they do less work than everyone else.  I can do thinking – I will anyway.  I can double check their work – I will anyway!  I can do the unpleasant chores.  It doesn’t bother me.  I’ll even be firm with them and tell them I will do the negotiating because they are no darn good at it!

But I want them there.  They keep us sane.

Do you know the team roles you prefer playing and will always choose when you can?

The Belbin test can be googled but it is heavily copyrighted.  You aren’t likely to find a full copy on the web.  I think I will put up some old lecture notes on Slideshare for you and I’ll use the occasion to check out Prezi.  So book mark this post and come back in a few days to see if it is done.

I strongly recommend you ‘name’ your preferred roles and explore the upsides and downsides of our own style.  Moreover, check out the roles played by people who annoy you.  You will see why you need them so badly!

What’s your preferred corporate culture?

Cool 2×2 on organizational culture

While tutoring some very smart undergraduates, I bumped into  very nice 2×2 model that I haven’t seen for years.  Deal & Kennedy’s model is used primarily to explain corporate culture.  It also correlates nicely with two factor personality theory – so it’s pretty useful for helping people understand their preferences for various workplaces.  It’s easy to use and remember and what’s more reading political commentary, I had an insight about competency frameworks that is quite useful.

Get drawing!

Grab a pen.  WordPress is not up for 2×2 tables.  Across the page put feedback (slow on the left and fast on the right), and down the page put risk(high at the top and low at the bottom).

Live or die in the next 20 minutes!

Top left is the fast-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of surgeons, American police, City traders.  Everything happens quickly, and losses and gains can be dramatic.  This is the world of extraverted, neurotics – loud, quick, aggressive and dramatic.  Game of choice: squash! A one-one-one tussle with points scored in a fast and furious contest.

Fast but not furious

Bottom left is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of the factory, the retail bank and even the supermarket cashier.  Good or bad, feedback is quick but no one event is of great consequence.  This is still the world of the extravert.  Sociable people are at a premium provided they are amiable and easily content.  Indeed, they wouldn’t know what to do with aggression.  Game of choice: soccer.  Great teamwork that goes on for an hour-and-a-half with only one or two goals.

Leave it with me

Bottom right is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of very low skilled or very high skilled.  The work is deceptively simple.  Take an accountant.   A piece of paper is processed and there is no sense of the world changing.   A better example is a lawyer who writes your will.  You rely entirely on it being correct when it is inspected many, many years later by other lawyers.   The essence of this work is this long delay and ability to do fine work with no feedback.  This is the world of stable, unemotional introverts.  Game of choice : jogging.  One foot after another!

He’s my brother, he ain’t heavy

Top right is slow-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of civil engineers putting up buildings  which will only show that nasty shortcut many years later.  It is also the world of educators – all those hours put in to person who may or may not make good.  This is the world of neurotic introverts.  A mark of people in this quadrant is other people take them to be a fool and abuse their good will.  They are also prone to feeling disappointed with the world.  Game of choice: golf.  You can lose it all on the last hole.

So what is my observation for leadership competencies?

Generally, the most obvious leader is someone who is extraverted and unanxious.  Leaders like quick feedback and are neither too prone to hi risk (likely to be quick tempered) or too prone to lo risk (too amiable and unable to hold the line).

Listening to the commentary on political candidates, I suspect that this rule-of-thumb holds in the lower levels of leadership (Lieutenant to Colonel).  At higher levels, the willingness to reserve judgement and wait to see how events unfold might also be important.

Any thoughts?  What is your preferred culture?

UPDATE:  Anyone from any quadrant can lead and be a good politician. Generally though, we will be happy in our basic trade depending on its match with our personality.    We will also learn to use all quadrants with practice, though under pressure, we are likely to revert to our preferred choice.

Knowing your preferences helps you understand why you dislike some tasks and how you can recraft them to make them more comfortable. It also helps you understand other people’s styles.

Enhanced by Zemanta

3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill

 

Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.

Benefits

What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.

Relatedness

Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.

ROI

The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.

Collaboration

If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.