Archive For November 21, 2017

A Process for Thanks

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The holiday season always brings to mind a focus on gratitude, from homespun images of saying grace around the dinner table to awkward expressions of gratitude pulled from employees around the conference table. Despite the rote recitation of grace and the awkwardness of forcing employees to express their appreciation for their colleagues and their jobs, experts tout a daily process of gratitude for numerous psychological and health benefits.

Being that expressing gratitude is a deeply personal exercise, corporations are advised to give guidance, but not impose the process of gratitude upon their employees. Jia Ni Teo describes her gratitude process: “Every year I carve out some time at Thanksgiving to sit down and write down a list of 101 things I am grateful for.” Natalia Drum cautions that “not all things feel worthy of being thankful for. When I’m gut honest, there are things in my life that are just hard, and at times I don’t feel like giving thanks for them.” She refers to biblical passages, Dueteronomy 31:6, Romans 8:28, and Genesis 50:20, in reminding herself that God does not ask her to be thankful for pain, but for truth.

Manifested in the workplace, gratitude and appreciation helps to develop deep, interpersonal, and organizational good will that yields outstanding employee effort and business success. The consistent practice of genuine appreciation and sincere gratitude combats the loss of self-confidence and the growth of cynicism, contribute to a loss of trust and a toxic workplace. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ron Ashkenas acknowledges that the failure of managers to express gratitude and appreciation for a job well done usually results from being busy and overwhelmed. “The challenge,” he says, “is how to make the process of giving thanks more routine so that it occurs without a reminder.”

Organizational gratitude stems from shifting focus from everything that goes wrong to what goes right. As Ashkenas explains, “much of the power and potential in organizations is revealed by its success stories. By identifying these vignettes and shining a spotlight on them, managers can help to tease out important lessons, reinforce innovation, and unlock tremendous value.” So, rather than seat your staff around a conference table and then order them to share with everyone what they’re thankful for, take the lead in showing how much you appreciate them. Stacey Alcorn, writing for Entrepreneur, offers some suggestions:

  1. Circulate a “we give thanks” email message throughout the company (or department in a large corporation), listing everyone in the organization and explaining why each person is special and appreciated.
  2. Host parties throughout the year to celebrate company successes and as a way to thank employees for their contributions to those successes. Making the parties family affairs by inviting your employees’ spouses and children really raises the bar and shows how much you care and appreciate the people working for you.
  3. Plan an excursion to get people doing something other than work, whether it’s a holiday shopping trip or a jaunt to the zoo or amusement park. The gesture shows employees that you care about
  4. Handwritten thank-you notes add a low-cost, personal touch that employees treasure. This enables executives to single out specific people who really deserve and extra pat on the back without embarrassing anyone.
  5. Offer clients expressions of gratitude through gifts unaccompanied by sales pitches. Expressions of appreciation can range from the distribution of baked goods to handwritten greeting cards.

 

Gratitude comes in many forms and does not require extravagant gestures. Customers and staff all appreciate heartfelt expressions of gratitude and knowing that they matter.

 


Do Your Processes Help or Hinder?

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Well developed processes guide activity. However, many people find that processes instead hinder activity, a common and consistent enough occurrence that the very word process makes people wince with fear or distaste. To reverse the negative perception of process as a constricting set of rules imposed by managers with nothing better to do than micromanage the people who work for them, analyze your business’ processes to see what’s working and what’s not working. Then act on that analysis, because inaction leads to deeper problems than mere bottlenecks.

Pipefy states at the outright that “[i]dentifying the flaws in your company’s processes is not an easy exercise and can’t be accomplished without dedicating time and effort.” This exercise in analysis requires mapping and analyzing existing processes and determining the viability and necessity of every single step in the process. Although painstaking, this analysis will not only expose the bottlenecks, but it will also help you find those unanticipated opportunities to improve. If you’re not sure whether your processes are as good as they should be, Pipefy advises taking a look at competitors’ processes. How do your processes compare? How do your competitors overcome the challenges that stymie your employees? Impartiality and objectivity matter. Since most competitors won’t allow you to examine their employee handbooks and operation processes, you may find hiring a consultant beneficial, to take advantage of the knowledge the consultant has learned from working with other companies.

Those problems within the process that diminish effectiveness, cause delays, degrade quality, add cost, or otherwise impede delivery of a product or process pose critical flaws. Resolution of those flaws absolutely requires thoughtful interaction with the people involved in executing those processes and those on either side of those benchmark steps whose work those bottlenecks affect. As much as a manager might not want to admit it, no one knows the work better than the people doing it–and no one knows how the process helps or hinders better than the people affected by that process. You need their input, which means that some of these discussions must take place privately behind closed doors without fear of reprisal.

If your employees don’t trust you, you won’t get honest responses–and that means you have bigger problems than an ill-conceived process.

When identifying bottlenecks, determine whether they’re short-term or long-term. Short-term bottlenecks occur on a temporary basis, such as when a key employee is sick, injured, or on vacation. Good processes include some redundancy in order to shift work and responsibility to other employees who can cover while someone’s out of the office. Long-term processes are systemic and often require some deeper investigation. MindTools offers two examples: 1) delayed delivery at a distribution center due to the warehouse not being forewarned of the truck’s arrival and the forklift being used for something else when the truck arrives; and, 2) a company’s end-of-month reporting delayed because the person responsible must complete a series of time-consuming tasks based on data not received until–you guessed it–the end of the month.

For systemic bottlenecks, the process of figuring out the resolution for the bottleneck rests upon a concise definition of the problem and following up with one the key question: “Why?” Ask that question as many times as necessary until you’ve dug to the bottom of the issue and have exposed the root cause.

Resolution may require major adjustment or minor tweaks. Don’t judge the value of the change by the effort going into executing that change, but by the result of the change. Sometimes, small modifications bring the greatest value. Resolution of bottlenecks goes one three ways: increasing the efficiency of that step, decreasing the input flowing to that benchmark step, or eliminating that step. Changes that feed into the first two steps may involve reassignment of personnel, upgrade in technology, reallocation of resources, and adjustment of delivery schedules to accommodate a necessary step.

Once the process has been improved and the bottleneck either eased or eliminated, revisit the process periodically. As business evolves, your processes must adjust to fit.

 


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Assessing Strengths & Weaknesses

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Almost every business goes through a SWOT process in which a team is assembled to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Oftentimes, management brings in an objective, third-party consultant when the internal team realizes that their perspective is skewed by being too close to the subject under study. After all, look at any advice columnist’s responses. It’s much easier to look in from the outside and identify problems and suggest solutions when: 1) you’re not the one identified as a problem and 2) you’re not the one affected by the solution.

That doesn’t mean that advice columnists or management consultants have easy jobs. They know that the hardest part of the SWOT analysis is implementation of the recommendations that arise from the exercise.

Any savvy business owner knows his or her rivals and challenges, and usually knows or figures out the opportunities for growth. But identifying and defining the strengths and weaknesses that help to position the business in the marketplace elude close examination and specification. Any company’s literature may boast that “Our strength is in the excellence of our people.” That’s so general and vague that it holds no meaning whatsoever. Think about it: no company will declare that its employees lack essential skills. No company will market itself has having “adequate” products or services. Superlatives reign and they’re mostly devoid of meaning. “New and improved” means that the product you’ve been selling for years was inadequate before.

Then, of course, what consultant has not come across the problem of having identified the bottleneck, the hindrance, the impediment to success as the very person or persons who hired his or her services? How does the consultant tell management, “You have a great labor pool, but you’re holding the business back?” This might segue into the old truism that “there’s no I in team,” because the old barrel racing retort to that points out, “but there’s a U in suck.” This is the point where tact and honesty collide.

But, I digress. Let’s return to assessing strengths and weaknesses.

Identification of the internal and external, positive and negative, strengths and weaknesses requires a step-by-step process to guide the effort and often results in matrices that organize those traits or grids that put the brainstormed thoughts into some sort of organization to maximize comprehension of the team gathered to make sense of it and determine what to do next. Community Tool Box offers examples of several types of matrices related to a SWOT analysis.

During the SWOT analysis, participants must exercise candor, flattering or not; otherwise, the exercise will fail because the plan of action will be based on faulty information and inaccurate presumptions. Large corporations with multiple layers of management will shuffle ineffective management and executive personnel to positions where they can better serve the interests of the organization, or terminate their employment altogether for the good of the business. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. Determination of a company’s CEO, who likely founded the business, as the impediment for growth and continued success clashes against the very culture of the business and the realization that, without the CEO, there’s no company, and no company means people lose their jobs.

Identification of your business’ strengths and weaknesses begins in general terms which a skilled facilitator then helps the team refine until the real information comes out. This is the opposite of the value engineering job plan which works to define an objective to a level of extreme abstraction. Instead of heading for the bird’s eye view, you’re using a microscope to pinpoint those characteristics that should be expanded and complemented and those which should be minimized or eradicated. The exercise also helps the team discern whether certain business directions suit the company and the niche it aims to serve, because–let’s be honest–no business can be everything to everyone. The knowledge yielded may indicate cutting off certain aspects of the business that do not or no longer serve the business’ best interests, or it may reveal where additional personnel and/or subcontractors should be added to enable the company to better fulfill the needs of its target clientele.

 


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