How Great Ideas Become Game Changers

Do you have a great idea? Is your idea the proverbial “game changer?” How do you know? Here are four criteria that you can use to evaluate your ideas:

  1. What is the benefit of your idea? What is its return on investment?
  2. What is the cost of your idea? What are its risk factors?
  3. Does your idea have a strategic fit with your organization? It needs to be consistent with your organization’s practices.
  4. How easy will it be to implement your idea? This is a key criterion.

If your idea passes all of the above criteria, then you possibly do have a “game changer!”

Other things to consider in relation to innovative ideas include:

  • Most innovation is incremental. If you have 25 percent of your organization’s people making a difference every day; that will amount to huge change over time. Patience is a virtue.
  • Innovation usually surfaces on the front lines. For instance, it’s the FedEx guy who realizes things can be done better; not FedEx management.
  • Size of the organization is irrelevant when it comes to innovation. However, bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation because it only rewards conservative victories. Be bold!
  • Innovation is sensitive to both new and desired customers. For instance, I believe it was Wayne Gretzky that said, “I don’t skate after the puck, I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Innovation requires champions, but it also requires other things like focus, resources and priorities. It’s about consistency. For instance, if you need a fiscally prudent environment, then it needs to be fiscally prudent every day. Through consistency, the organization can change belief systems.
  • Innovation requires patience. Sometimes results of change can take a long time to show themselves. Remember the first bullet point above: Patience is a virtue.
  • When you have a “game changer” in hand, you need to exploit it. Seek out new markets. Use social media. Get noticed.

Finally, to accelerate innovation, promote its likely causes (e.g., front line workers) and exploit innovation for all its worth. After all, it’s innovation that makes the world move forward. In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”  

Before You Buy That New iGadget

Recent promos for the latest new technology gave me pause. And it should give you pause, too.

There is no doubt that we are a society of “must-have-the-latest-new-toy,” but have you thought about what happens to your old technology – those smartphones, laptops, printers, and other energy-emitting devices that you no longer wish to use? What is your old technology doing to Mother Earth?

You might say that you are responsible and recycle your old electronics. Good for you. And I bet many recycling depots do a decent job of ensuring safe recycling practices. But some old electronics may fall through the cracks.

In August 2009, CBS revealed some startling evidence (as only 60 Minutes can!) about old electronics being shipped illegally to countries like China where the dismantling of the equipment is hurting (understatement) the people and the environment. You can see the show here: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-wasteland-50076351/.

If the 60 Minutes investigation does not give you pause, perhaps the following might.  

A report by Liam Young and Kate Davies of the Unknown Fields Division traces the supply chain of the global economy in reverse. Their research brings the point home (literally).

After the 60 Minutes expose aired, the Chinese government tried to clean-up Guiyu’s booming e-waste operation. However, Young and Davies state “that what really happened is that it went underground – or more specifically, inside.”

“Actually what happened is that the industry has moved from the street and into peoples’ houses,” he says. “So now this new form of mining is now a domestic industry, where a circuit board bubbles away to refine the copper next to a pot of noodles in someone’s kitchen.”

“It’s too easy for people to sit in an air conditioned flat in New York or London, tweeting on laptops and talking on their phones about the horrors of the rare earth mining industry or cheap production and exploitative labor in China,” Young says.

The reality is much worse.

Young and Davies collected some of the toxic mud created from recycled technology and created “lovely” toxic sludge vases. These vases are part of an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London which opened on April 22, 2015.

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan summarizes the journey of the vases in a report titled “These Vases are Actually Made From Liquefied Smartphone ByProducts.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The mud that makes up each of these vessels was carefully drawn from a toxic lake in Inner Mongolia, where the sludge from the world’s most prolific Rare Earth Element refineries ends up. It was brought to London, where a ceramicist in a hazmat suit worked to turn it into actual pottery, representing the waste created by a smartphone, a featherweight laptop, and a car battery. Starting today at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibit What Is Luxury?, you’ll be able to see each vase in person—a stark visualization of exactly what’s involved in building your electronics.”

After reading Campbell-Dollaghan’s report, I learned that our smartphones each have about 380 grams of toxic and radioactive waste. Think about that the next time you go to answer or make a call on your smartphone.

The questions before us are simple: 

  1. How much newer-better-luxury stuff do we really need?
  2. At what point will manufacturers take responsibility for killing the planet?
  3. What can be done now to reverse the damage?

The answers to the questions are probably not as simple.

Off Target

When Target came to Canada in 2011, not only were consumers surprised that the retailer opened up over one hundred stores across the country, but so was the business community. To do such a “big bang” approach, you either know what you’re doing or you’re taking a major risk. Unfortunately for Target, its major risk did not pay off.

Target’s biggest failing was in not piloting its entry to Canada with one or two stores before launching full scale. Any project manager worth their trade will tell you that starting small and building up when it makes sense to do so is the best guarantee of success.

In addition to missing the mark with their full-scale roll-out across Canada, Target missed out on the basics of operations management. For one thing, their demand forecasting appears to have been a dismal failure. If they had forecast properly, they would have learned that Canadians preferred the U.S.-type Target stores and not reincarnations of Zellers.

Target also missed out on strategic capacity planning as well as facility layout design. Their inventory systems management was absent, to say the least. This also speaks to their lack of adequate supply chain management. When inventory is scant (as it was at Canadian Target stores), one might reasonably presume that the retailer was using some type of customized just-in-time fulfillment. However, this, too, appears to not have been part of Target’s strategy.

A material requirements planning or enterprise resource planning software would have helped Target manage its stocks and stores. However, we can see that even if Target had such a system, it, too, failed them.

And what about quality? Quality and price are generally prominent factors for consumers. Integrating quality into every element of an operation allows an organization to reduce its prices while still remaining profitable. Clearly, quality does not appear to have been a high priority for Target.

While one can hypothesize about Target’s demise in Canada, it provides little comfort to Target employees. As well, the company itself is now targeted (pardon the pun) as a losing venture:  At least, in Canada.

One thing is certain, though: Target really did miss its mark!

Types of Clients

Let’s face it. There are clients and then there are clients. The great clients (or customers) are those that are ready, willing, and able to work with experts to achieve organizational efficiencies.

And then there are clients who fall short on anything from initial meeting to following through with an expert’s recommendations – these latter clients are wasting not only the expert’s time, but their own, as well.

As experts in our various fields of work, we have all run into a variety of clients. Here are some of the more common types – if you’re a client, maybe you see yourself in one or more of these descriptions: 

Bargainers. These clients want everything you’re proposing, but they can’t pay for it. Or maybe they’re doing the project “under the table,” and don’t want to ask the “real boss” to pay for it. Solution: If the client does not have the money for the full project scope, downgrade the scope – phase the project into manageable chunks.

Naysayers. These clients just can’t believe the project will take six months to complete. Certainly they can do it in a fraction of the time. Solution: Explain why the project will take as long as it will (perhaps a timeline depicting steps is helpful here); if the client does not believe you, suggest a mix of internal and external resources to complete the project faster. Client is still a non-believer? Walk away.

Stealth Implementers. They insist that no one else from their organization needs to be involved in the project. Just do it. Solution: Stress (and demonstrate with examples) how involving others in the organization will greatly enhance the success of this project as well as change management when implementation occurs. 

Self-Made Experts. These clients believe they can do exactly what you’re proposing without you, so why are you charging them so much? Why don’t you just tell them the steps that you would take and then leave them to it? Solution: Walk away.

Call 9-1-1. These clients think everything is an emergency. They need your proposal “yesterday” and the work is required within the next month. However, when you give them your proposal, you don’t hear from them for six weeks. Solution: Develop a project timetable and meet each deadline. Build in “slack” time for all steps involving client input.

Weekend Schmeekend. This is the client that sends you e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Weekends are for working. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Solution: Say no when appropriate. Just because the client works all hours does not mean everyone else needs to, as well!

Committee Monger. The client who believes everything needs to be decided by committee. The end result? Everything gets decided by committee, no one takes responsibility for decisions, and decisions take much longer. Solution: Ensure that there is one “point” person (typically a Project Champion) that will sign-off on all deliverables.

Wordsmithers. You know the ones that review your work and almost re-write the entire content? Solution: Set a time limit for review and stress that only key content requires review. Provide an example. Or hand out the report ahead of time and then convene as a group to review the feedback.

In the end, it’s up to the expert to determine whether they are able to work with the client. If the decision is to fire the client, provide them with the name of another expert – even if it is a competitor. You’ll be glad you did!

Value and Billable Hours

Why do companies and individuals still insist on billing for services “by the hour?” If you are tracking billable hours, you are not being efficient. And, even worse, you are not providing the best possible service to your customers.

When companies focus on billable hours, it may be to the exclusion of other important activities, like building capacity to better serve customers.  

However, this is a Catch-22 situation:  As you build capacity to better serve your customers, you are not able to bill for your time. Then when you use this new capacity to serve customers, you discover that it takes you less time to provide the same service. If you are billing by the hour and you are very efficient, you are unable to earn as much as someone who is less efficient providing the same service.

This is why billing based on the value of service being provided makes so much more sense. Why wouldn’t your customer want to pay you the same (or more) for a service that you can deliver in less time?  

According to Canadian statistics, the amount of time spent at work is decreasing. This is also the case in the United States. Does this mean that “billing-by-the-hour companies” are earning less? Perhaps, but it might be that these same companies are realizing that it is more economical (and profitable) to bill for value rather than hours. 

The secret to creating value for both parties (the company or person providing the service and the company or person receiving the service) is to focus on outcomes rather than inputs. How much time it takes to create a widget or develop a plan is irrelevant to the value the widget or plan provides to the customer.  

In Lean Six Sigma terms, we want to go beyond just meeting our customer’s needs and wants – we want to be sure our customer is delighted with the product or service they purchase from us. This is value. And it has nothing to do with money.

If customers are delighted with the service provided by your staff, they will pay your asking price to continue to receive this value. It is irrelevant to the delighted customer that it cost you $100 to produce the widget, but they pay you $1,000 for the same widget.

In addition, fixed fees (i.e., value-based fees) have the advantage of using up less administrative time for both sides. There is no need to track hours unless the provider of the service wishes to do so. This improves efficiency for both sides.

In the words of Alan Weiss, “No one cares, really, about how good you are. Clients care about how good they are going to be when you’re done with them.”  And that, really, is the ultimate goal of any service or product.

 

What happened to achievement?

Several years ago, my son came home from school with a report card that included mostly B’s and A’s. When asked about the B’s, his response was that his teacher said that B’s were good. In fact, he said that his teacher told him that it’s okay to strive for B’s or even C’s (“as long as you pass”)—and not work so hard to get A’s.

We have become a society of underachievers.

Consider these facts: workaholics have higher social status, exceptional achievers live longer, and the ten most workaholic nations in the world produce most of the world’s GDP.

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints about how much e-mail and smartphones have taken over our lives. But let’s get serious for a minute. Has technology really taken over our lives? Or are we saying we’re overworked because technology runs our lives?

When we let technology run our lives, we end up wasting time on e-mail, cell phones, playing games on smartphones or computers … so much so that we become underachievers. Underachievers don’t complain about working hard on the trivial, but when it comes to working hard on the important, a proclamation of ”overwork” is made.

The world’s most influential people such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and others rise to the top because they worked (and continue to work) hard to accomplish the important. Their passions drive them to succeed. These people are not overworked. It is not possible to be overworked if you love what you are doing.

For those that underachieve and proclaim to be overworked, perhaps the blame rests with personal coaches, bosses, teachers, and other authority figures—those who say, “There, there, you will do better next time.” Failure does not guarantee success next time. And giving an “’atta boy” for each failure only reinforces the failure.

With continued underachievement, our society’s general level of ambition is also threatened. Chamorro-Premuzic observes this about the younger generation: “If you go to China and East Asia, Gen Y is totally different, consumed with ambition, very similar to post-Second World War Americans and Canadians, who took advantage of a booming economy to set out to run the world.”

Now ambition is withering. He says: “We’re behaving like people who say that we don’t like chocolate ice cream because we can’t get chocolate ice cream. In the rest of the world, they want chocolate ice cream.”

The way to become an achiever and never be overworked again is to stop working in a job, get a career, and embrace hard work. These are the only ways to succeed—both personally and for your organization.

The leader’s role in productivity

An organization’s performance is directly linked to its leader’s effectiveness. In fact, extraordinary leaders can make extraordinary employees out of average employees while poor leaders can turn extraordinary employees into poor performers. And it has nothing to do with the organization’s systems, processes, policies, or procedures.

Employees are impacted by their leader’s behavior. In a McKinsey Global Survey published in October 2009, nine critical leadership skills were identified. Inspiring employees ranked number one (Leadership through the crisis and after: McKinsey Global Survey Results, October 2009).

Inspiring employees is crucial if they are to serve customers in the best possible way, all the time. Since they are the organization’s front line to customer service, employees are the organization’s key to success. Empowered employees will perform their best to achieve their organization’s goals. The leader’s role in positively influencing this behavior cannot be overstated.

To sustain inspiration and empowerment, employees need recognition and reward. Both monetary and non-monetary reward can be used. Some employees may need a bonus to settle personal debts, while others may appreciate a more flexible working schedule. Ask your employees how they want to be rewarded and act accordingly.

While difficult to measure, strong leaders can impact the work environment by contributing to improved employee morale through a “snowball effect” of positive outcomes. It takes just one employee to hinder change, but it also takes just one employee to create positive effects. It starts with leaders.

There are five areas that every leader should consider to better influence productivity in their organizations. These areas are:

  1. Defining goals and objectives. Clarity around organizational goals and objectives and how projects fit within them needs to be provided. When employees understand the projects on which they are working, they are better able to identify and close gaps between the projects and the organizational goals.
  2. Assigning ownership. For any work undertaken in the organization, there should only be one owner of the work. When one owner-employee takes responsibility for the project, there is a greater chance of project success. If there are multiple owners or if ownership is not clear, efficiency and productivity suffers.
  3. Managing employee expectations. This includes ensuring employee job satisfaction and providing incentives and rewards. If employees are empowered and receive appropriate support (e.g., training, resources, etc.) to complete their work, their job satisfaction increases. In addition, recognizing and rewarding employees helps increase their self-esteem and further strengthens their resolve to continue working hard on behalf of the organization.
  4. Communicating. This is a two-way experience. Leaders need to be clear in their communications with employees, but they also need to listen to their employees and act on what their employees are telling them. By engaging in open communication, leaders build trust with their teams, further empowering productivity.
  5. Innovating. Without innovation, organizations will not grow. Leaders need to embrace innovation and encourage innovation and creativity in the workplace. Same old, same old has no place in organizations that want to be successful. Creating or inventing/re-inventing new markets, products and services—this is how successful organizations thrive.

Leadership competency models provide boundless traits and behaviors that differentiate between good and great leaders; they are all useful. But when higher levels of productivity are desired, straightforward behaviors—defining goals and objectives, assigning ownership, managing employee expectations, communicating, and innovating—can be achieved by every leader.

A core business goal, productivity is under the direction of leaders. Leaders who are able to motivate and inspire their employees will be the leaders of successful organizations. Those who do not may soon find themselves out of work.

 

Technology and Social Media on a Collusion Course

In the olden days (remember those?), technology didn’t have a place at work other than as a tool to get work done faster. Today, technology in the workplace is much different than it was even a decade ago.

E-mail has coupled with instant messaging, texting has coupled with mobile phones, and other applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, HootSuite, Klout, Ping…the list is almost endless…seem to be must haves for businesses and individuals alike. These technological aids invading the workplace no longer allow users to get their work done faster in an organization laden with “tradition.” In fact, the collusion of technology and social media in the business environment is having the opposite effect.

The complexities inside a business need an overhaul and this includes updating policies and procedures to include technology wherever possible. For instance, why use “approved” corporate travel agents when booking online is much faster? Get rid of your travel department (or travel roles) and allow employees to book for themselves. Allowing employees to use technology (like online travel booking) rather than relying on “tried and true” in-house processes can actually help speed up business.

And forget about middle management taking recommendations to upper management for decisions. Organizations should either do away with middle management or trust middle management (and other front line staff) to make decisions on behalf of the organization. The hierarchical structure of old no longer fits the technological revolution. If your organization is trying to fit technology into its deep hierarchy, it’s doing it wrong and the approach is hurting its bottom line. Deep hierarchies suck both efficiency and productivity out of the organization. In fact, it’s probably not an overstatement to say that deep hierarchies suck the life out of organizations.

Employees can only be productive if the bombardment of technology is managed efficiently. Give your employees access to all of the information they need, so they (and only they) can decide what information is important to be effective in their jobs. Essentially, it’s about employers loosening the “controls” on what their employees may (or may not) access. At the end of the day, productivity and results matter more than the steps taken to get there. But if those steps are enabled through technology, then productivity is also improved.

Employers that trust and value their employees will reap the results of improved efficiency and productivity and, ultimately, corporate success. Allow your employees to use a full range of technology to manage their jobs in the best way they see fit. When this happens, your employees will also trust you and the organization’s leadership. The end result is a win-win relationship that enables the company’s success.

Establishing the Need for Improvement: Benchmarking

One of the key requirements of implementing a continuous improvement program is to first establish a need for improvement. You may think this is quite easy, since you already “know” what needs improving. But establishing a need for improving services or products may be harder than you think. If you can’t show the need for improvement in a clear and meaningful way, it will be extremely difficult to get support for making change.

One of the best ways to establish a need for improvement is to benchmark; that is, compare one entity to another for the purpose of improving internal processes. There are four types of benchmarking:

  1. Process benchmarking is about reviewing and comparing process best practices of other companies. For example, the process of issuing building permits – how are other organizations managing this process in comparison to your organization? Are they faster? What is their cost of operations? Are their customers satisfied with the process?
  2. Performance benchmarking relates to reviewing companies that you know are doing a better job than you are overall. When performance benchmarking is undertaken, it is generally undertaken on competitor companies.
  3. Project benchmarking is about evaluating best practices on projects that are similar in scope to your project(s). This can be done with projects both internal and external to your organization. Do your projects generally run over schedule? Over budget? If so, why? What do others do to enable them to stay within schedule and budget? If the Empire State Building was able to be built in 1930 under budget and ahead of schedule, what’s preventing your projects from being equally successful?
  4. Strategic benchmarking relates to observing how other organizations compete. This type of benchmarking is not industry specific and therefore, non-competing organizations are more willing to share their best practices for similar business processes, products or services. In addition, organizations can learn from all operating units within their own organization.

Once you know what type of benchmarking you need to undertake, there are five steps to follow. They are:

  1. Determine your organization’s current practices in your selected problem area and identify your organization’s key performance indicators. This will give you your staring point.
  2. Identify the organization(s) from whom you will be obtaining benchmark data.
  3. Analyze the data that you’ve gathered, comparing your organization’s current practices to the best practices you have observed in other organizations. What are their best practices in this area? In what ways are they better than your organization? Are they faster? What is the cost of the operation? Do they produce a higher quality product/service? How is their customer satisfaction rating in this area?
  4. Model the best practices to fit your organization and present a business case to management for why modeling these best practices is necessary in your own organization. And when approved, implement the change.
  5. Repeat the process. This step is very important, since continuous improvement is not a one-off implementation project. It is a plan-do-check-act cycle that never ceases.

As a management tool, benchmarking cannot be underestimated. It helps you know “how well” your competition or internal units are doing and enables prioritization of change. If your organization does not include benchmarking as part of its continuous improvement mandate, it is likely that your organization is frequently fighting fires and focusing on the present. Instead, use benchmarking to help your organization become and remain profitable by having more time to think about improvements and focus on the future. Leave the firefighting to the fire department..

Clarity, Collaboration and Creativity

Mary explains what benefits she brings to the table when she is working with her clients.  These include clarity, collaboration and creativity.