Who makes the mold?

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In my undergraduate days at Georgia Tech there was a bumper sticker that said “Georgia Tech – We don’t fit the mold, we make it.” This slogan certainly has relevancy in the engineering discipline, but I think it also has application in the business world for process management.

Don't fit the mold, make it
Don't fit the mold, make it!

The question is whether or not we become products of the system in which we work or if we help to make the system in which we work. Stated another way, do you just follow the system, or do you help make the system?

I spent the first half of my professional career just following the system. By this I mean that I followed the process given to me without thinking about the why and how.  As I matured and assumed more leadership responsibilities, I began to think about organizational processes and efficiency.  I started asking questions like “what business need does this process solve?” and “are there more efficient ways to complete this process?”.  I started to try to make the mold of the system in which I worked.

Throughout this journey, I’ve had some successes and some failures at making the mold.   As important as the business results achieved, I’ve learned a few lessons that are worth sharing. If you are trying to shape, influence, design, or re-engineer systems at your work as part of process management, here are three principals to remember:

Don’t act alone

Cowboys and renegades rarely succeed in a business organization. You can’t go-it alone. Instead, focus on building consensus for your process management ideas within your immediate work group. From this, accomplish and measure successes with your new system to help build a case for your ideas based on merit. This will help you to promote the ideas to next level of the organization.

Don’t criticize the existing system

The existing system may not be broken or bad.  Even if it is broken, criticizing it doesn’t establish trust with the existing leadership. Avoid making your ideas and changes a political struggle by not creating a competition between the existing process and your ideas.  Remember, you are suggesting change or trying to create something new.   Human tendency is to resist change because it puts people out of their comfort zone. Remember also, that the existing process was put in place for a reason and members of the team that implemented it may still be employed.  Keep the discussion based on the merits of your recommendations. Use facts, not opinions.

Don’t shut out compromises and tweaks

One way to gain wider support within the organization is to be open to adjustments to your ideas.  This type of activity builds trust and consensus. Your idea will be stronger as well because it leverages more diversity of thought and it keeps everyone in the mindset of continuous improvement.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/knowprose/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Why Congress makes for bad business and what to do about it

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I don’t write about politics on the Merchant Stand, and this post isn’t about political topics. But I had a thought about comparing the political culture to business culture this week and thought it worthy to document and share. Have you ever thought about how Congress differs from working in corporate America? Congress is group of elected officials and “leaders”. They are addressed as Congressman and Senator as a sign of respect. So why is it that much of the behavior we see from them is so contrary to the values and ideals we teach in our homes and use in our business? Media coverage is filled with partisan politics, name calling, blame games, scandals, etc.  It’s no wonder that the political party with a majority of congress is so cyclical.

Yet I know politicians are intelligent and often well respected business leaders in their communities. So why do they lose this respect from so many when they reach political office?  I think the system could be improved and accomplish more with a few adjustments to align with some age old principals. Then maybe take away a few of the privileges that make the position so valuable and return it to being a true public servant.


Treat others with respect. Stop the name calling, slander, criticism. Is the golden rule dead in politics? Instead, find value and benefit from personal differences.

Trust and Integrity

Act with integrity and build trust. Follow through with commitments. Act legally and ethically.

It’s about the people, not the Party

Let’s setup a system without political groups so that politicians can focus less on what the party is doing and more on what their constituents are saying.  In business, people align together solve needs without bickering and slander. Maybe Congress could get more done with representatives aligned towards the people rather than towards a party.I’m not suggesting a single party system that only thinks one way. I’m suggesting a system composed of individuals who think for themselves rather than what their party tells them they should do.

Let’s really make it about public service

Serve the public for a term and then let others do likewise. I hear the phrase “public servant” quite a bit within political speak. When you consider the rewards politicians have today, it’s no wonder they fight so hard to keep the position.  The basics of their package from salary, health, and retirement are well beyond what the average American receives.  I see a public servant as someone who serves others for the merit of serving others. It shouldn’t be about the perks and benefits of the position.

The crux of the matter

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Recently, I was in a discussion about the word “crux” and its meaning. Webster’s definition centers around finding resolutions to problems:

Crux of the Matter
Solution or Journey?

1 : a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

2 : an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

As an aside it’s intriguing to note the word comes from the latin “Cruc” for cross or torture. So a difficult problem is likened to torture?

In my professional life and writings on The Merchant Stand there are definitely recurring cruxes.  Oh but to solve these problems and what would it mean? Is there a final resolution? Or does the resolution lie within the journey itself?

What are the cruxes in your life?

When does process remove your passion?

I’ve heard it said of teachers before that they lose their ability to do what they are passionate about because of all the paper work required for their job.  As organizations or groups mature typically the processes within each group will tend to expand. So my question is, when does following the process remove people from their passions and what they love to do (i.e. serve a customer, teach a student, write software code, advise patients, etc.)? I see people making decisions because that’s what the process says or they are looking to check-off on a process step. At some point they lose site of the real need they are trying to solve as the following the process rules their thoughts and actions.

In my professional life, my passion zones are around being part of software development and helping to solve business needs through the use of technology.  I had a reflective moment this week that I spend most of my time navigating through process management requirements such that I’m losing the ability to work in my passion zones. But is that really true? Is process management really part of the journey to solving the business need or producing the piece of software? Can the two be separated? Should we consider all of the steps and flows of a process part of the act of solving a business need or teaching a student, or advising a patient?

Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Social media ideas for amusement parks

I spent the day at Sea World in San Antonio with my family and as we went through the park I searched for signs of the digital and social media age.  I was surprised not to find any. In fact, the amusement park today is much like the amusement park I remember as a child and teenager. The focus is on selling the season pass, the end-less refill soda,  the gift shop at the end of the ride, and other extras not part of the base ticket price(not that I recognized that as kid).  I did a quick scan on Facebook for Sea World and Six Flags and found they do have fan pages, but the pages appear to be more of a bulletin board for information.  I didn’t see anything immediately engaging to the fans.  So here are some quick thoughts about how amusement parks can use social media to engage their audience and employees better:

Moving scavenger hunt

Find seven or so themed items that fit with the park and place them in different locations each day. Individuals or groups must find all of the items and submit a picture with themselves and a unique code from their ticket stub via their mobile device.  Those without picture mobile may send a text message with their unique code and the location of the item.  All correct entries received at the end of the day are entered into a drawing for a prize.   This type of game engages both the employees to find hidden locations as well as the paying customers. Customers are not likely to give away the location of the items because it decreases their chances of winning. The concept is similar to the hidden Mickeys at Disney World. But the number of the items should be much less and move each day to keep the game refreshed.

Review it!

Invite customers to review certain areas or attractions in the park such as eateries or rides.  Reviews could be posted on sites such as Yelp, Facebook, or Twitter .  Have a social media team setup to scan and read the reviews each day.  Pick a winner for a prize! Again, this engages the audience because they are encouraged to more closely examine the attraction and it pros/cons.  The amusement park benefits because the review becomes a customer survey loaded with information about what is right and what can be improved.  Offer incentives to employees for having positive reviews. This promotes better customer focus and everyone benefits.

Video my fun!

Let’s face it, many customers today enter amusement parks with some type of video recording device. It might be a Flip or even a mobile device.  So designate an area in the park with a themed backdrop and some props. Have individuals or groups use the area and create a short video (less than 1 minute) about their experience in the park.  Videos should be submitted to the amusement park channel on YouTube where other customers vote for the best daily video. The winning video receives a prize.  I like this idea because it brings out the creativity in the customer base but creates a free commercial for the amusement park as well. Customers will remain connected with the brand as they watch the videos and vote.