Things Will Never Be The Same

There is no escaping discussing the effects of the Coronavirus / covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease. Almost everyone in the world is affected in one way or another.

The meme of the week seems to be working from home advice. The Rework podcast lately is a two-part Q&A with Basecamp leaders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Basecamp has always had a remote work culture and this podcast captures the excitement. I’ve been working at home for more than 25 years. Almost all of the advice I’ve heard will get you on the right track. If you have questions, you can comment or send me a note. I’ve convinced a few companies of the benefits of remote workers.

So, whenever anything happens, pundits crawl out of their burrows and speculate about what all this means for the future. “Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same,” constitutes their collective mantra.

The truth is that every day something happens that changes the way we live, work, or think. Sometimes just a little thing; sometimes a bigger thing. Will this crisis change the way we work and live? Probably a little. But I bet we return to handshakes and hugs when things pass over. It’s a natural urge for most cultures. Probably the same for our supply chains. And our health care systems. In other words, we seldom learn and apply from a previous situation in order to prepare for the next one.

It’s like travel. “We’ll never fly again. Either it will be a virtual meeting or we’ll drive.” I’ve heard that one. But as soon as the crisis passes, we’ll rediscover the value of the face-to-face meeting.

I’m seeing one conference after another announce moving to a virtual meeting format. There have been many technologies used for virtual conferences over the past 20 years. I’ve even participated in one or two. Tried to listen to a few. These are tough. It’s hard to set aside 2-3 days while you’re still in the office to devote the time to a computer screen whether listening to a keynote or to a panel. I can last through a half-hour presentation. More time than that is difficult for me.

It has gotten to the point for me that when I go to a conference most of the value comes from 1-to-1 discussions and casual conversations in the hallways, coffee shops, and bars. Perhaps there is a speaker at a session I’d like to hear. Sometimes a keynote is excellent. I mostly do not like the panel format, but there are times when it is a worthwhile discussion rather than four 5-minute presentations (that run over time) followed by routine questions. The virtual conference is a poor substitute.

Culture, fashion, experiences seem to be described over time more like sine waves than straight lines up and to the right. Or, I prefer the model that French Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher, and priest Pierre Teilhard devised-a spiral looping upward each trip around similar to the last stage yet building on it to a new reality. Things are the same, yet different.

In a few weeks, we will all be back at work—but with cleaner hands. And perhaps a better appreciation for how we spread germs and viruses.

Industrial Leadership—Beyond The Buzz

Have you heard “digital transformation” until your ears ring? Every supplier, every analyst, every consultant promises to take you on the digital transformation journey.

Pause and reflect. Aren’t you already using many digital tools in your business and production processes?

Are marketers and gurus trying to induce panic in you with FOMO (fear of missing out). These days we have plenty of people inducing panic and fear with health concerns. Do we need to add to that with fear that when production returns we will be left in the dust by the digital few?

What I have seen as I tour manufacturing and process plants is a triumph of good leadership using sound management and judicious application of technology to solve problems that improves the business. And treats people well at the same time.

In my own journey, I learned about the importance of sound data from the ground up. And working with people to improve processes. Later, I learned about computer applications and digital technology as I implemented an early MES system that improved processes and life for inventory control and cost accounting. These savings paid for the system. And we had barely tapped the potential.

Then as a quality assurance manager I studied W. Edwards Deming and and the work behind the Toyota Production System pioneered by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, Japanese industrial engineers, who developed the system between 1948 and 1975.

What we learned was good leaders working with all people involved identified and solved problems adding digital technologies into their tool set as they helped solve problems.

The worst thing was when engineers wanted to apply technology just because it was new and cool. It has been several years since I’ve seen or heard of “over automation”—at least until Elon Musk blamed his Tesla production problems on it.

People like me who are not beholden to a particular supplier or type of solution can help find the way that works for what your culture and problem require. It’s important to consider both. Trying to change everything at the same time is a recipe for certain disaster.

As we sort through the sickness mess we’re in now, we also need to remember that startups after a prolonged shutdown never go smoothly. Machine problems that were previously hidden by continuous running suddenly demand immediate attention. People take some time to return to speed and focus.

If you are still in production or trying to develop a product or process specifically for this outbreak, remember that it is hard for you and all your employees and contractors to maintain focus when fear and worry linger in the recesses of their minds. Anti-stress breaks and encouragement for nutrition and sleep help build the immune system and keep them in the race.

And rather than focus on social media negativity and panic, check out some of the positive sources for information such as Peter Diamondis.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay focused on solving problems.

Digitalization or The Practice of Leadership

Gasp! Signs of common sense begin to pervade the discussion of digitalization and its cousins–connected (everything?), digital twin, cyber-physical, and so forth. Meaning that it’s all about leadership.

Suppliers constantly develop or enhance technologies within products. But I’m betting that just about all of you already have more digital data than you know what to do with. I’m betting most of you already have some products and connectivity–and have had for 15 years or longer.

What is always lacking is the will, the ingenuity, the, yes, leadership, to use all of this to its most beneficial effect.

Leadership doesn’t just appoint someone to head an exploratory team. It sets vision and expectations about how a new business model can send the company on a growth and success trajectory.

Leadership sees data as an asset and asks how it can be used to further goals of profitability, process uptime, improved quality, faster time to market, better/faster customer service, supply chain smoothing, and more.

Leadership organizes and motivates people to forge new paths into the economy.

Simply compiling digital data is a waste of time and resources. Leadership treats it as a foundation for success.

Understanding Yourself and Others

Effective leaders are comfortable within themselves. Both outgoing, quick witted leaders and quiet, thoughtful people can be effective leaders. People follow people who are clear, confident, and know them selves.

I first discovered the Enneagram at least 35 years ago through study of the Jesuits. Ennea from the Greek for nine; gram from the Greek for picture or diagram. The Enneagram is a diagram showing the nine basic personality types and some relationships among them.

The origins of the Enneagram are hazy, but an early church father is thought to have put out the original ideas.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile provides an overview of the nine types and their nuances. Most importantly, since the Enneagram has Christian origins, it is more useful for personal and spiritual development than it is for psychological profiling.

Oh, the nine types:

  • One-The Perfectionist, Reformer
  • Two-Helper, Giver
  • Three-Achiever, Performer
  • Four-Individualist, Romantic
  • Five-Investigator, Observer
  • Six-Loyalist, Loyal Skeptic
  • Seven-Enthusiast, Epicure
  • Eight-Challenger, Protector
  • Nine-Peacemaker, Mediator

I am a Five with a strong Four—just so you know why I write observations so much and prefer reading and researching. Don’t ask about the Romantic side 😉

Ian Morgan Cron has partnered with a company for Enneagram assessments.

As you go deeper, you discover that 9, for example, may have a relationship with 8 and 1. All three are in the “anger” triad. Each deals with the anger that began in childhood differently. They call these “wings”, so you could be 9 with an 8 wing, for example, which will describe you in more details.

Even that is simplified. However, each number has a healthy side and an unhealthy side. It becomes important to your growth and spiritual journey to recognize when you are healthy and when you are not. Then you have work to do to get to healthy.

Also, we all have some of each number. So in the mixture comes an occasional misunderstanding. Depending upon the assessment, I can come up with a strong 9. But upon reflection, it is really a manifestation of 5 where I take time to digest things, think about it, see both sides of the issue, and so on.

The purpose of the Enneagram is not just to know your type, or your significant other’s type, or the numbers of your co-workers. It is to do the work of growth and spiritual development. It never ends.

Cooperation

This is one of those weeks. Flew to Orlando late Sunday for the 24th annual ARC Advisory Group Industry Forum (my 23rd). Up early Monday and met with at least 20 people spending most of the day sitting. Dinner with a group from 7-10 pm. Back to the hotel room (I am staying about a 25-minute walk from the conference hotel, so I get some exercise). In bed after 11. Up at 5:30 to get ready, walk to the conference hotel, and then sit through an hour of breakfast and company presentations.

Then came the keynote presentations. Usually these are theoretical and can be boring. But today the leader of the Information Technology group and the leader of the Operations and Manufacturing group from Dow spoke about working together in order for the corporation to meet its goals.

These two organizations within a company typically do not like each other. Each thinks of the other as a roadblock to good organization. Each thinks the other doesn’t understand their needs and expertise. (Actually, there is some truth to that.)

No matter what sort of organization you work at, you’ve no doubt seen where bickering and misunderstanding between different groups leads to a dysfunctional organization. Without strong leadership from the top, the organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, will not serve its customers and investors and will ultimately fail.

The point was that these two executives shared the story about how the two organizations broke down the barriers between them and worked together to achieve the corporate goals.

The “secret sauce”? Communication. They had adjacent offices. Saw each other daily. Had meetings. Brought teams together. Later I talked with several people at the conference who also were impressed with the presentation–both the way it was delivered as a conversation between the two and in the results achieved.

Communication. Cooperation. Try it in your organization.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

I once wrote on leadership every Friday on another of my blogs. Then I felt as if I’d run out of anything meaningful to say. Publicists offer me books to read in order to review. I’ll share one I just received Friday–Formula X: How to Reach Extreme Acceleration in Your Organization by Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen. It was published in Dutch last June; the English edition will be available Jan. 28.

It is European, so the protagonist is known as a Managing Director rather than General Manager or COO. And the conceit regards Formula 1 racing.

I say protagonist because while the book is about leadership and organizational change, it is written as a story or “fable”. In that regard it reminds me of The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.

The protagonist is bright, yet clueless. The story weaves business and personal problems. And it is through learning from how a Formula 1 racing team operates that he learns how to organize the company, build teams, and achieve goals. It is only out of despair that he finally wakes up, gets a clue, and builds a winning team and relationship with his wife.

Sort of a journey from micromanager to orchestra conductor, if you will pardon the change in metaphor.

Whereas Goldratt was building a Theory of Constraints for optimizing production (it’s a 1980’s book, but still valid), Formula X steps back and looks at organizing the company and all its silos and disfunctions. It’s a blend of Lean and SCRUM (from programming) and Holacracy and other newer ideas.

The model is FASTER (as in racing cars must become…).

  • Focus and clarity
  • Accelerate decisions
  • Simplify
  • Team engagement
  • Elementary physics (Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, but don’t worry about that)
  • Rhythmic learning

The authors use such Lean principles as Respect for People, daily stand ups (quick meetings), a form of 5S, using the people to find root causes of problems along with experimenting to find solutions.

Good stuff.

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