Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Book of Work

Mind changing strategy and communications is about bringing people together to think and explore what's possible, make decisions and make things happen.  I help people interpret the environment, set a direction and go there.  I have had a front row seat with non - profit organizations, government organizations, private sector and the co-operative sector.

This journey has been one of curiosity and understanding.  In university, the first book that I studied in English 100 was entitled, "Work."  It was a story of work experiences. My English professor chose it because it would have more meaning to us than Romeo and Juliet would have at the time.  Without knowing it at the time, I had become inspired to build a career on the study of work to make work better.

I began my career as a journalist, which I loved, but that I found limiting given the time and monetary constraints of the industry. I moved on to be a corporate communication specialist and writer, and found there was more to learn in policy, because that's where decisions were made.  From policy I went to strategic planning, because that's how the decisions are made, and who makes the decisions. I shifted to other aspects of governance, Enterprise Risk Management, and social responsibility because that is why decisions are made.

And that is where I live now.  I am an instigator of thought.  A facilitator of change.  A map maker in the journey of work. I am the "where's Waldo" of the work world because my journey has taken me to strange and unique places, where I am not the leader, Per Se, but one that creates an environment where leadership can occur.

Businesses today need to watch the bottom line. But it's more than that. It's about the way we work, why we work at what we work at, and whether we should work at all at those things we work at.

Let me illustrate.  Often times, the business environment is fraught with what I often call "sundry" activities.  These are things that we do because:
a).  We always did it that way.
b).  "I" don't want to change.
c).  "I" don't have time to change.
d).  I like it this way and I can tell you 100 reasons why it's important if you are willing to let me waste your time.

All these options really say one thing:  we are resistant to change, so we dig in and justify, justify and justify some more. We like the work, even if we don't, because we dislike change.

Work does change.  For example, I remember my first job as a file clerk about 100 years ago.  If someone took a file, they were not allowed to put it back. The file had to be shipped to the department that I worked in (called Central Records) where more than 10 people were employed.  The files were sifted, sorted, piled, documented and filed.  It was pointless then, and thankfully, business has evolved and this type of system doesn't exist (much) anymore.  And those 10 people hopefully went on to bigger and better things.

It's true that resistance and fear of change is one of the toughest things to overcome.  When people feel the ground shift underneath them, they tend to dig their toes in and hang on.  This is natural.  Yet when it comes to making change, often times, the royal "we" do it badly.  We tend to force it on others and expect them to just accept it.  Through the years, business gurus and consultants have been quite successful in finding ways to make the transition from this way more effective.

In the 80's, Michael Hammer's "Re-engineering" led the way in finding and eliminating inefficient and effective ways of working to be replaced with a new and better way. The problem with the Hammer approach is how it was often applied.  If the people element was ignored (the notion that you need to bring people through their own change) then it feels like the changed is being "hammered."  Hence, the Hammer method became associated with being "hammered."

Kaplan and Norton came along with the Balanced Scorecard. Their big idea was that change requires balance, and a well managed company understands the areas that drive success. Typically people, process, customers and product value and financial management drive business success. Well managed companies make and implement decisions understanding the impact and being conscious of moving forward accordingly.  This is still a very successful theory and approach. As a student of Kaplan and Norton over the past 10 years, I continue to believe that the principles of balance are important, but not easy to achieve because of the tendency to take short cuts to change.

The problem with balanced scorecard idea is that the hammer sneaks in.  One of the elements of introducing a balanced scorecard approach is a learning culture, where there is tolerance for learning and an appreciation for innovation and risk taking.  If that learning culture does not exist, the measures of the balanced scorecard become the hammer of non-performance.

Enter the new kid on the block. This kid has many nicknames - efficiency, LEAN, SIX SIGMA, productivity, cost management to name a few.  With that many identities, this is "curiouser and curiouser", to quote Alice in Wonderland. The ubiquitous nature of its meaning can be a concern if not couched in the right context.

Let's break it down:
  • Business is commerce.  How we make money. How we derive value and deliver value to generate revenue  
  • Process is how we go about making money, creating value.  Process adds cost, in terms of time, people and systems. (subtract from cash). 
  • Innovation is about changing - something.  Creating something new.  Doing something a different way. Building a better mouse trap.  The Information Highway.  (more money is made than is being spent). 
In mathematical terms it looks something like this: Revenue -  costs  + innovation = profitability.

Some say we are in the information age.  Others say we are in innovation age. I say we are in the age of possibility. Business Process Innovation is about changing the way we work so that we can derive more value with the resources we have  - our people, systems, processes and money.  

Despite the possibility of great things,  this is a deep deep well. And the business world where some tools make it and others go the way of the file room, this trend could go the way of Re-engineering if it is not treated right.  

There is great potential in stepping back and looking at what can be better. But since people do the work in the work place, if this is not done "with" the people, it will be done "to" people, and it will be rejected.  

So it all comes down to people and work.  And people are the great variable in that equation.  People have emotions.  They have the ability to be defiant. They can justify and they can stall.  People can become fearful or create fear in others.  The greatest leaders that I have known bring people through change, not force change on them.  

Kaplan and Norton did a great job of instilling the concept of balance.  We need to remember the equation of change includes people.  It's important to remember good principles of change: 

1.  Help people understand what needs to change and why.
2. Show them how they can get involved.
3. Give them the tools and information to be successful.
4.  Get out of their way.
5.  Ask for progress reports. 

It's also important to remember that change takes time, especially when people are involved, if change happens at all.  


Kirk said...

Love it.

Anonymous said...

You've hit this right on, Ms. Armstrong. Anyway you can create a mail group and send this to all of the CEOs in Saskatchewan, and include Mr. Wall in the distribution.

I like your blog and tune in quite often. This one in particular is very insightful for business. Keep them coming!

IrisMA said...

You couldn't have said it any better, you are so creative and futuristic. Great article.