Conquer the antagonist

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Yardwork reflections.

I often use yard work as a time for self-reflection because what else is there to do while drawing shapes with a lawn mower? Sometimes I reflect on personal interactions and plans, but I also use the time to consider business activities. As I edged the lawn this week, I wondered how was it possible that some business leaders are able to leave behind a successful blueprint for the philosophy and culture that drive and define an organization. This isn’t a new question, but it’s a thought many business leaders go through on their professional journeys. Jim Collins spent an entire book on the subject in Built to Last. He discusses how companies find enduring success. More on that in a minute.

The antagonist.

As if by fate, I read a story tonight on NPR.com about implicit egotism that links to a study published by the Harvard Business School (HBS) called the Ikea Effect. The Ikea Effect suggests we have a preference for and place greater value on things we personally create. The HBS paper adds, “labor leads to increased valuation only when labor results in successful completion of tasks.” Meaning, when we are successful in a task, we tend to place a greater value on our creation than something someone else created.

I quickly realized the Ikea Effect told me something I’ve already observed and participated in during my professional career. Typically, new leaders and managers bring their way of doing things to a company. They want to establish a change in the company by doing what worked for them in the past. Maybe they were hired for the purpose of bringing change to the organization. On the flip-side, I bet you could think of some successful companies that started failing after a change in executive management. Considering the Ikea Effect and the thought of enduring greatness and consistency, the antagonist may very well be me!

Grow leaders from within.

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One of the principles of the Toyota Production System is to “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.” We read this same finding in Jim Collins’ books Built to Last and Good to Great. A key observation from Collins, is companies that found success spanning multiple leaders most often promoted insiders to the CEO position. Constancy of purpose, culture, and philosophy is a key ingredient to enduring success.

Know thyself.

My take-away from tonight’s mental exercise is to look and reflect on the Ikea Effect in my own decision making. Am I prone to shut-out other ideas because I didn’t create them? Am I over-valuing methods, procedures, and systems I created? Can I create sustainable systems that will be maintained by those who succeed my position in the company? The Toyota Production Systems uses the phrase “the right process produces the right results.” So success is not about what I create or what you create. But it’s more about results that are right for the company or organization.

 

Onward and upward!

Photo credit : http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/photo-1207142

 

 

Finding Felix

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It all started with a tweet.

Last week my local public library tweeted “GCPL has the solution to your quest for genealogy information….#HeritageQuest”.  Squirrel!

The message captured my interest and before I knew it, I was hooked on a modern day treasure hunt for information on my family lineage. 25 years ago I did some basic family research at the state archive building and found census records back to 1910. With the Heritage Quest tool from the library, I was able to view my father’s family line in the census records in every census back to 1840 (except 1890 because most original records were destroyed by fire).  Time travel never felt so real.

Digitization of records.

The big win is the census records are now digitized with metadata. Unlike 25 years ago, when I was searching Microfilm, I was able to complete a wide array of searches very quickly. I could use first name, last name, birth year, death year, places lived, and family members to help narrow search results. Linked to each family unit was the scanned image of the original census document for visual confirmation. Using this new capability I was able to quickly find census record data back to 1880 for my father’s family line. But I wasn’t done. Felix awaited.

One challenge with the metadata is sometimes the interpretation of the original handwriting is wrong and sometimes the original census data has inconsistencies in what is recorded. There were variations in spellings, middle initials, and ages that made it difficult for me to get a match in a few of the years. So I had to examine the data in-context to find matches (approximate ages, children names, place of recording, etc.) Basically, the tools of the digital age combined with manual human intellect to solve a puzzle.

Finding Felix.

1840 Census Document

Before this past week, I knew the name of my great grandfather and great-great grandfather (from my great aunt while she was living). I also knew the cemetery where my great grandmother was buried. Using the cemetery information I was able to locate her grave using the site findagrave.com. At the bottom of her gravesite record was a comment from a lineal relative of mine previously unknown to me (a distant cousin). I emailed her a question asking if she knew the name of the father of my great-great father. Within hours I had the name, Felix.

Using this new information, I went back to the census search. Within a few hours I found Felix in the census records for 1880, 1870, 1860, 1850, and 1840! Hello Felix.

Digging required.

To get to the next generation, I’ll need data from additional sources. The 1790 through 1840 census records only show head of household by name and then headcounts for other family members. I was able to match Felix in 1840 because I knew the age of his spouse and children in the 1850 census.

Over the last four days, I’ve seen the power of metadata searching, optical character recognition and digitization of written records. I just hope I can find Felix through another historical document to tell me a little more. It’s a treasure hunt for another footprint in the past. It’s a story waiting to be told.  

Onward and upward!

Do more with what you have!

We need more people. We don’t have enough resources.

Every week I hear about the conflict between the number of employees in the organization and the amount of work to do.  The underlying presumption is the organization can accomplish more by adding more people. The problem with this rationale is it takes the focus of solution delivery off the processes used to deliver solutions. Adding more people to a team is complicated:

  • It adds more strain on inter-team communication. Whatever inefficiencies exist in the current team environment will become more apparent with more people.
  • It creates the need to train and develop new people in the culture, business, and process flows of your company.
  • It moves the process bottleneck to another departmental team. For example, if you add more developers then you need more business analysts for requirements documentation.
  • It values urgent things over important things.

The right process will give the right results.

There are times when staff should be expanded. But it can’t be arbitrary and because the existing staff feels stressed about the existing workload. A better approach is to first examine the current environment for ways to work smarter and more focused. Process focused leaders look for ways to work smarter knowing that in the long run it will deliver greater capacity and more value added results. I don’t consider this doing more with less. I like to think of these actions as doing more with what you already have. Consider these approaches:

  • Write less code – If our first solution to solving a problem is writing code, then we’ve missed the opportunity to solve the problem by simplifying the process. The ultimate solution may require less code. Keep it simple!
  • Align value streams to your mission. – The activities we do that should be more important to us are the ones that align to our mission. The mission is a guide-post when deciding between what’s urgent and what’s important.
  • Develop existing employees before adding more. – The existing staff can provide more capacity if they work on the right things with more efficient processes. To do more with less we have to believe that getting existing people to understand the power of process efficiency, focus, and alignment adds more capacity. Get employees to work harder, but not before you help them work smarter.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jim1102 via creative commons.