Apr 7, 2014

Bad employees


As I discussed in my last post, the article, “Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence” in the McKinsey Quarterly evoked my ire. In it, the authors discussed how to identify “bad employees” and get rid of them -- the old “bad apple” theory.

Let’s look more closely at the destructive behavior the authors illustrated...

Tardy, unhelpful, discourteous salespeople irritate all of us. But how does the company’s culture shape that behavior? Are managers late for meetings or prone to canceling them? Do they help frontline salespeople who should help customers? Do they show a lack of respect for salespeople? Are the employees overworked and underpaid, and under stress to perform well anyway? Or what is it about the hiring process that it can’t identify people who are not customer-oriented?

A nasty nurse is no asset to the hospital floor. But nurses in a typical hospital are not happy, for a number of reasons. They want to devote their time to caring for patients. Hospitals, however, have inefficient processes that waste their time. Nurses don’t want to search for supplies and equipment, wait excessive amounts of time for the doctor or supplies to show up, or rush because shifts are understaffed. And they’re understaffed because unhappy frontline nurses find other jobs as soon as they can.

What made the nurse in the story snap at the doctor? A lack of respect for authority?
But doctors often act superior or arrogant. They fail to recognize that nurses are professionals too, usually with college degrees and years of direct patient care experience. The doctors have no monopoly on knowledge. They have no justification for commanding a routine blood draw. Who among us in an understaffed and disorganized workplace would not be out of patience? “Do it yourself” might be mild in comparison to what we would really want to say.

In the case of the thieving employees, supposedly, they were stealing for the thrill of it and status in the shop floor “gang.” When the company spoiled the game by letting employees check out equipment for personal use, theft dropped. But maybe the reason theft slowed was not taking out the fun. It would depend on the perception of how management made the change. Was it that they outwitted bad employees? Or did management actually respect employees and trust them to return what they borrowed? If sincere, such a change, especially when accompanied by similar ones, could have simply reduced hostility.

The authors include fear as a reason for expulsion of potentially disruptive employees. But Dr. Deming said, “drive out fear,” and he didn’t mean to drive out employees who are afraid. Fear is not the fault of employees, and getting rid of them won’t get rid of fear.

Later in the article, as I said, the authors come up with some more useful advice. A culture that welcomes admitting mistakes so root causes can be found gets better performance. They also advise, “Employees work harder and more loyally if you explain your actions, talk about how changes will unfold, and treat people with dignity.” Management can foster feelings like fear and powerlessness or they can show respect.

What management behaviors create beliefs that are part of the employee subculture? What emotions are connected to those beliefs, and what employee behavior does that drive? If behavior and feelings are the result of a belief that so-called leaders are selfish, dishonest, nasty, and dictatorial, who needs to change their ways first, employees or management?


Mar 30, 2014

McKinsey proves that today's management culture has a long way to go


The first issue of the McKinsey Quarterly for 2014 was entitled, “Shaping the future of manufacturing.” Proof that management culture, however, is still rooted in the past, is made plain in the article “Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence.” Not every article in this issue is backward: several are worth reading. But if this one got past the editor, McKinsey has problems.

In “Bad to great,” the authors ask what to do with problem employees. Who are bad employees?

·      Employees engaging in “destructive behavior -- selfishness, nastiness, fear, laziness, or dishonesty.”

·      Salespeople who are “tardy, unhelpful, uncooperative, discourteous to customers, or unproductive.”

·      Hourly workers like those who stole equipment worth a total of a million dollars every year from their employer.

·      Subordinates like the nurse who, when the doctor said, ‘Nurse, draw this man’s blood,’ she replied, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
In a culture where management labels people "bad" without understanding why they behave as they do, improvement will never stick. It’s true that a few employees will resist change or engage in disruptive behavior. Some can be persuaded to at least give change a chance, and some will eventually be helped to find jobs elsewhere. They’re not bad people. They just can’t adopt the rules of a changed workplace culture.

This article’s authors are from Stanford: Huggy Rao is a professor of organizational behavior and human resources and Robert Sutton is a professor in management science and engineering. Their book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less, has been excerpted for the article. Maybe the excerpt is not representative of the whole book. To be fair, later in the excerpt, they do come up with some alternatives to firing “bad” people.

What bothers me is not that someone has written a wrongheaded article. It is that a consulting firm influencing the largest, most powerful, companies believes an article like this reflects “shaping the future of manufacturing.” If this is a product of McKinsey’s culture, even if some of its consultants understand lean at its best, lean thinking faces worse barriers than I realized. And if this represents the current thinking at Stanford, we are making little progress. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed.


Mar 19, 2014

When management doesn't get it



Our last post identified a divide in a corporate culture between management and operational subcultures. I think that the failure to understand the importance of cultural differences is one of the reasons why lean initiatives fail. When lean champions come from operations and engineering, they have different criteria for success than executives do.

We have also talked about seven principles of change* identified by anthropologists that help explain cross-cultural change.

1. Consider your own psychology. Do you believe you have the only right way of seeing things? Is your attitude showing that you think management's beliefs are wrong? Or are they doing things right in the context of a different culture?

2. Beliefs direct behavior. In management's world, people need numbers and reports. Revenue, cost, profit, and growth. They feel no need to see your plant, value stream map, or throughput times.

3. Change must be seen from the point of view of those being asked to change. If the numbers look good, not only will they be rewarded financially, they will also bask in approval and admiration. Managers down the line get promoted. If the CEO gets raked over the coals when business is slipping, blame will be passed down to every level of the organization. If you want to change the way management believes things should be done, they can’t be sure what will happen to the numbers. When you start talking about members of management devoting time to learning and coming to the gemba, there’s nothing to motivate them.

4. Make no sweeping changes. Introducing a grand system of change can just be too much. This presents a dilemma for introducing change to top management because we know they need to grasp the nature of lean thinking as a system. That’s why pilot projects are such a good way to start.

5. A significant change produces emotional tension. Are traditional company leaders heartless, unemotional, inconsiderate people? They may have to present themselves that way to gain and maintain status in a by-the-numbers business culture. Any change will produces fears, uncertainty, and threats to self-esteem.

6. Change often produces stress and frustration. If managers secretly worry that they can’t succeed in a lean culture, what will they do? Even if it’s only unconsciously, they may obstruct progress. Behind-the-scenes coaching can help. And develop empathy.

7. Harm to people. Persistent and intense stress threatens physical or emotional health, heightening pressure to prevent change. Some people are more vulnerable than they seem, making it important for lean champions to consider emotions as well as the intellect.

Putting yourself in a manager's shoes is easier if you read management books and magazines, as well observe behavior. You can learn more about your industry. To get management's attention, you also need to understanding the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the management culture in your company. If your changes help managers look good and get beat up less often, they will feel safer and put up less resistance.

But first, show them the money.


++++++++++


*Seven principles of cultural change


Principles one and two
Principle three
Principle four
Principles five, six, and seven



Mar 12, 2014

Senior management is an alien culture


“They just don’t get it.” That’s the most common complaint you hear from lean champions. “It has to start from the top” -- If senior management does not support and lead a lean change, just forget about any real achievement. Another apparent reason for giving up: “The corporate culture is bad and will never accept change.”

Here’s the news: there is no single monolithic corporate culture. Any culture has subcultures and management’s subculture is different from a plant or a functional manager’s. Because lean champions often come from the operational parts of the organization, its cultural norms surround them. They see improvement in terms of productivity, inventory reduction, plant size, downtime reduction, and cost.

What they may not recognize is that in the senior management subculture, those benefits don’t resonate. The management subculture evolved with different beliefs and values. Its goals come from owners and stockholders, and usually have dollar signs on them: profitability, growth, and share price. When lean champions speak in the language of operations rather than finance, management won’t hear them.

This divide in a corporate culture between management and operational subcultures causes conflict and interferes with communication. I think that the failure to understand this principle of social organization causes lean initiatives to fail. We must take the time to learn the languages, beliefs, status symbols, problems, and psychology of the culture we wish to influence or we doom ourselves to failure. And cultures and their subcultures in vary from organization to another. Examine yours before you try to persuade leaders of the benefits of lean.

Next time: Want change? Applying the seven principles to understanding your management’s culture.

Mar 4, 2014

Do bonuses work? Yes and no, according to new brain research


The debate over bonuses has raged for decades. Do bonuses improve performance or not? Dr. Deming emphatically argued against them, and work like Alfie Kohn’s has backed him up. However, other research has demonstrated that productivity improves when people get extra pay for working faster or better.

Is there an answer? It would be nice to have a scientific explanation of why the effectiveness of bonuses is so mixed.

New brain research suggests that bonuses can make some people more productive, but actually make other people’s performance worse, and the difference seems to be related to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Recently published work by Esther Aarts of the Donders Institute in Nijmegen  has demonstrated such a relationship.

As you would expect, levels of dopamine, which is believed to be related to pleasure and reward, vary from one person to the next. In her experiments, Aarts first measured dopamine levels in test subjects using a PET scanner. Then, asked to perform a difficult cognitive task, some subjects were offered a bonus of 15 cents for a right answer. The others were offered 1 cent.

You might guess that offering a reward that elevated dopamine levels would make people want to do a better job. In this study, people with lower dopamine levels did perform better work when they were getting the higher reward. In contrast, subjects with high levels of dopamine in the high pay group actually performed worse than those getting lower rewards. What’s going on here?

Aarts says:

“For people who usually have high levels of dopamine, the promise of a bonus causes a type of dopamine overdose… Our test subjects were asked to perform a task that required considerable concentration. An overdose of dopamine makes this difficult. People who usually have less dopamine are less likely to have an overdose of dopamine, and they therefore perform better after being promised a bonus.”

Does this help us know how to motivate people to work harder to implement lean? Unfortunately not. There’s no easy or ethical way to measure an employee’s brain dopamine level. If you could, dividing people into groups for more pay or less based on a chemical test would not stand up to a legal challenge. And basing compensation on a single study with an interesting explanation isn’t very scientific.

Aarts also pointed out that rewards might work differently for simple tasks than the tasks in the study that required concentration and focus. In a lean system, all employees think about the work they are doing and continually come up with ways to improve it -- all work requires concentration and focus.

Even if it’s not useful in making real world decisions about compensation systems, the research does remind us that people are different. Trying to find a silver bullet or a one-size-fits-all management policy is overly simplistic. There’s no substitute for getting to know employees, and if you offer incentives, you want to choose those that allow for differences in motivation. Could that be the reason why team incentives often work better than individual ones? Perhaps high-dopamine team members like the reward and elevate performance enough that low-dopamine members don’t pull average performance down. But that’s the opposite of stability, which is one of the keys to really making lean work.


Feb 24, 2014

Making the lean learning community more valuable to you

Recently, I have been participating in a series of conversations with a small group of other bloggers about how to improve the online lean learning community.

We thought it best to start with what you thought, so we'd like you to take a few minutes to answer 10 questions to get us going. We'll even give you a free gift for your time -- find articles in zip files from Jeff Hajek, Chad Walters and Matt Wrye as a thank you for taking our survey. 







Jan 21, 2014

FreshMIX: Entry into a community that needs you


Continuing my contributions to the Management Blog Carnival 2013, I’m going to tell you about FreshMIX.

          FreshMIX
                             daily dispatches from the management vanguard
As a blog, this is not the greatest, but as an entry into a website, it serves its purpose well. Blog posts become website content. The website, the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), is worth exploring. MIX describes itself as an “open innovation project aimed at reinventing management. (While it has support from some corporate sponsors like McKinsey and SAP, it seems to have no big-company bias.)
The MIX was designed for change addicts -- “all those who are frustrated by the limits of our legacy management practices” -- and I think that includes us. In a quest to develop more a
daptable, innovative, inspiring and socially accountable organizations, the MIX is meant to be a clearinghouse and a virtual laboratory.

The MIX principles are pretty consistent with current lean thinking:
  • Everyone Wins When Everyone Shares
  • Every Innovator Deserves a Hearing
  • ​Accomplished Innovators Deserve Acclaim
  • The Most Important Problem is the One You Care Most About
  • It's Good to be Humble
  • The Devil's in the Details
  • Innovation is a Social Process

To evaluate this blog for the Management Blog Carnival, I did a few quick searches to see whether there were posts about lean or continuous improvement or mentioned Toyota. It showed that, while blog posts didn’t reflect much awareness of the lean body of knowledge, there were Stories, Hacks, and Hackathons that did... 

Story: Pull vs. Push by Mark Bublitz.

Story: Operating at the Intersection of People, Process andTechnology to move an Industry Forward by Atul Khanzode

Story: "Ever Forward" Extreme Makeover – DPR ConstructionRebuilds their Continuous Improvement Process from the Foundation Up by Dan Tran - Project Engineer at DPR Construction

Hack: Learning From Failure - Turning an “Oops!” into an“Aha!!” by Leonardo Zangrando, Edna Pasher, Amanda Boonzaaier, Deb Seidman, Claire McCartney

Hack: Systems Thinking by Andy Lippok - Project Manager - Home Service & Supply at BSkyB

Blog post that originated from a Hackathon: Is big the enemy of good? How togrow without crushing agility and creativity by Joris Luijke, VP Talent & Culture at Atlassian

Another intriguing feature of the MIX are the M-Prizes, for people taking on big challenges. The current M-Prize challenge is the SAP Unlimited Human Potential Challenge. M-Prizes are not money or trips to Paris. They confer recognition on people sharing ideas, on multiple winners, and on spreading their ideas. The MIX also features Moonshots and Mavericks. MixTV is a little like TED, but you don’t have to be super-famous to be on it.


This an open network and community …

The MIX is yours. …A platform and a laboratory for you to advance your ideas, experiments, and passions around management innovation… the MIX is already the product of many minds — individuals from around the world with deep expertise and shared passion when it comes to reinventing management.


That means that you, dear reader, are invited too. Seriously, I want to see you submitting innovations, stories, and hacks (what you may call kaizens) that you have been part of. I want to see your opinion pieces in the blog. I want to see you participating in the Hackathons. I want to see you winning an M-Prize. I want you using this launch pad as a way to spread more lean thinking. 

Take it easy on the lean labels and tell good stories about how lean manifests itself at its best. Let’s push some management thought leaders like Gary Hamel, one of MIX’s leaders, into seeing lean not as a tool, but in its highest sense as an actionable philosophy. We have a lot to share, and would have a lot to gain, by really getting into the MIX.


Copyright @ 2005-2013 by Karen Wilhelm