When to Brainstorm With The Boss…. Or Not.

Sometimes I reach out to one of my subject matter experts for his thoughts, like I did earlier today.  And I ended up practically hanging up on him when he started ‘thinking out loud’ about my question.  I didn’t mean to be rude — after all, I did ask for his opinion.  Yet I heard myself admonishing him “Hold on… you’re letting the air out of the balloon. Stop.

In hindsight, I realized what happened.  I was in the Executive Voice, wanting something done. And having absolute confidence that who I was asking to do it, could do it — delegating it, I was already moving on to the next item on my day’s punch list.

(For anyone new to Process Triaging, here’s the primer on The Three Voices of High Performing Teams — who sings what notes in high performing teams that create high performing business processes that deliver strategic objectives.)

Let’s call my subject matter expert Joe.  Joe, wanting to please, did not realize I was in Executive Voice, meaning I was thinking about either my company’s Brand, Business Model, or Balance Sheet.  In fact, the question was really about how I could leverage my company’s flagship product with another product — one Joe is a go-to expert.   So I was talking to someone who I placed into Producer Voice; and unconsciously expected only Completed Staff Work — run with it and get back to me with a finished, ready-to-implement proposal.

And, more importantly, I wasn’t clear with my signals with Joe.  I should have been more explicit, and not asked an open-ended question, “Joe, do you think there is a link between PT’s ‘X’ and (your knowledge of) ‘Y’?  And to exacerbate my error, I need to be very careful about appearing to task someone who doesn’t work for me.  We have to purchase the right or be granted the authority to task other human beings (having settled that with the 13th Amendment to our Constitution, but I digress).

When Joe tells me what he really  thinks — it will be completed staff work, and I’ll compensate him for it, no doubt.

But what happened was blog fodder.

When you’re asked for you opinion — weigh the moment.  If the question is about the Brand, Business Model, or Balance Sheet — you’re talking to the Executive Voice — and a complete, fully-formed answer may lead to an investment decision. Don’t settle for just comparing notes.

 

Are You Hearing Voices?

High performing teams that create high performing businesses are a lot like a choir.

Each member sings their part while listening and harmonizing with other parts — basses with baritones and tenors and sopranos.   A culture of continuous business process improvement requires three voices — leadership voices.

Here’s a link to an article in Thinking Bigger magazine (here)  on the three voices high performing teams, the Executive, the Process Manager, and the Producer.  All three voices are in our heads, but only one of them should be singing at a time.

Cheers,

Rosey

A Triager’s Success Story — Jessica Ross, Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles

I live for this.  It wags my tail (in dog-speak)! It pops my buttons (in proud parent-speak)!

I have the unique and humbling pleasure to facilitate Process Triage workshops.  The participants in these workshops are the best-and-brightest, cadre-grade producers and expert doers of their organizations. Our triage facilitators face literally a parade of outstanding front-line leaders and technical experts by the nature of our business model.

So it’s a statistical probability then, that some triagers are outliers — truly over-the-top amazingly competent and insightful professionals with obviously great potential.  For example, when a triager sings perfect-pitch executive or process manager notes, we know they’ll run the organization someday, if their current leaders are paying attention.  If fact, just this week I was honored to meet one of these big-motor types.  The sponsor CEO agreed (I confirmed) he should help her with her MBA, for example.

About a year ago, the Kansas Department of Vehicles led by Director Lisa Kaspar triaged the call center that supports drivers license actions, such as suspensions, cancellations, reinstatements and so on.  It’s a ‘hot kitchen’ with an understandable level of unhappy customers who must always be treated with respect regardless of the upset customer’s often difficult circumstances.  A number of factors outside of Lisa’s control led to an unacceptably low ‘first call resolution’ rate that gave reason to triage the call center.   Triager Jessica Ross was on the front row and was an exceptionally quick study.    Mark Schemm, the call center manager and triage host wrote and led the 90+ Day improvement plan, much of which Jessica shouldered.  Lisa (executive sponsor)  understood the post-triage needs as well; she and her boss added necessary head count and had one of the nation’s best call center coaches take a look, Dave Slattery of  E-Resource Planner  But the heavy lifting was led by Jessica.

Well — a year later, let’s celebrate like crazy:

CONGRAT’S TO JESSICA ROSS, SLATED TO ATTEND HER NATIONAL ASSOCIATION’S LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) Leadership Academy provides professional development opportunities for future leaders in the AAMVA community. The program is designed for jurisdiction employees who have demonstrated leadership potential and the ability to succeed in positions of greater responsibility within their agencies.

This week-long program includes modules on defining leadership, working with legislators, team work  and collaboration, consensus building and dispute resolution, managing employee performance, and more. It is an intense training opportunity focused on the unique characteristics of leading and managing a motor vehicle or law enforcement agency.   

This is a new program and only 20 participants across all jurisdictions are accepted. She will network with other leaders in the vehicles industry, will visit with Federal officials at the United States Department Of Transportation and tour the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The opportunity to attend this training (fully paid for by AAMVA) is a well deserved outcome of all the hard work and leadership Jessica has shown this past year- might I say Driver Solutions phone stats going from an average [snip] a year ago to 80+% now!!!

While some state’s Department of Motor Vehicles catch a lot of criticism, something really cool and right is happening in Kansas!

Hat Tip  Jessica, and the triage team that worked shoulder-to-shoulder with her to deliver the improvements.

298-4 Jessica Ross leads deck ranking (2)

The Four Fastest Verbs To Communicate What To Fix

We have surveyed our triage workshop participants — we call ’em Triagers, after each triage from our beginning.  We summarize these anonymous remarks in our facilitator’s report to the Sponsor and Host.  One of the questions is open-ended: “What did you like most about the workshop?”

Triagers frequently say they liked the deck of Small Now’s and Big Now’s — the action item-size and project-size improvement proposals, respectively, they nominated and prioritized.  A typical workshop generates two dozen ‘Smalls ‘n Bigs‘ that more than fill a team’s process improvement queue for the next 90+ days (taking nothing off their plates).  First timer’s are surprised how fast they created them.

Empowering at team to nominate this many improvement proposals, together as a team, within a very tight time box demands thorough simplicity.  We do this with the Four Fastest Verbs:

Analyze [something], if you don’t understand the root cause well enough.

Design  [something] if you understand what to fix.

Train [something] if the fix needs teaching and/or

Enforce  [something] the fix.  It’s lead, follow, or get-out-of-the-way time.

We refined our triage protocol to these four words (synonyms are sometimes allowed) because they occurred the most frequently.  This after examining thousands of triage cards over several years.  If the Small or Big Now is something IT must deliver, it’s reduced to Design and Implement.

What surprised me what how these fastest verbs have helped triagers after our workshops.  I’ve had managers and supervisors tell me these four words help them get to the point when talking about what they want their bosses to support or what  they want their subordinates to do.

I knew these four words were right  when when one of my triage sponsors interrupted me mid-sentence — mid-pontification actually, and asked, ‘Rosey, what do you want us to do — Analyze, Design, Train or Enforce?”

Sweet!

Sometimes Even I Am Surprised

When we’ve done something enough times, whatever it is, after some number of repetitions we know what to expect, riding a Learning Curve no doubt.  Readers of this blog likely know we study how highest performing teams continuously improve their collaborative work — their business process.   We’ve distilled what we’ve learned into the Process Triage Decision Cycle and designed a one-day facilitated immersion experience that has become our flagship service.  It’s a great way to launch and/or focus your continuous process improvement culture.  It’s also very figured out, with typically superb reviews and results.

But last week’s triage with the Product Management team from Redemption Plus was exceptional.  Ron Hill’s company, on its face, sells toys — about 1,200 SKU, constantly updating them to lead their markets needs.  But what they really do is Enrich lives through insights that empower. Oh yeah – we sell toys, too.

It gets better — from their ‘About us‘ page.

We mine data, including our observations, experiences – proprietary knowledge! – to discover hidden nuggets in the relatively worthless ore; insights that change the way our industry does business and empower customers to reach their loftiest goals. We focus on continuous improvement by eliminating waste & rework, thereby making us more nimble and efficient. We also utilize ethnography – the study of how people live – to better understand the inner workings of your business, discovering valuable ‘unspoken needs’ along the way.

To the point, the typical triage workshop reserves attendance to a select group of the experts in the process being triaged.  Host managers (hosts) typically limit the number of observers for good reasons; it’s expensive to pull someone away for day or the triage team prefers to clean their own laundry privately.  Jennifer Hantsbarger, Ron’s triage host and product management team leader bravely invited experts upstream from her process — from marketing and sales.  She invited her downstream customers including experts in fulfillment as well.  Imagine your own expert process team studying what to improve with both your principal supplier and customer looking over your shoulder!  While it seems reasonable, in practice it takes guts.

Or it takes a very special culture to foster this kind transparency.

So it was a delight to see the above-the-norm experience survey results — averaging above 9 out of 10 points for all experience survey questions, and the highest recorded score ever for ‘Confident that leadership will follow through on our improvement recommendations.” –– an average 9.0  out of 10 possible.

Their team picture says it all!

Redemption Plus's Product Management Triage Team

Redemption Plus’s Product Management Triage Team

Life Is Not About the Pursuit of Happiness, But…

This blog post links an article I wrote for the Thinking Bigger Business magazine.  It’s an inspirational piece about enjoying the journey, and recounts a word of wisdom from my dad, of blessed memory.

It’s not about the pursuit of happiness…

1944 Duane (Terrell Field)Duane on Rusty

Enjoy!

No one of us is as smart as all of us.

I was reminded Ken Blanchard’s quote* ‘No one of us is as smart as all of us’  this week.

While it’s always a delight to work with a company’s front line experts, it’s unusual for these triagers to all be serial entrepreneurs and start-up mentors.  Generally, process triage teams are task experts in technical matters, such as sales, customer onboarding, manufacturing, customer care, or administrative support — the customer facing performers.    The occasion was a triage of one of Kansas City’s business start-up accelerators, SparkLabKC, led by Kevin Fryer, with his triage team picked from his mentor pool.

You can imagine how opinionated and passionate a group of successful entrepreneur coaches might be on the best way to qualify and accelerate a start-up.  So I was, again, pleased to see the Process Triage Protocol pull their all of us-quality thinking to the task.  The result was a triage map they can use to manage their client’s expectations and accelerate their start-ups as far as possible within their time constraints.

Hat tip to Kevin and his team!

322-1 Team Pix (Best)

* The Heart of the Leader; Blanchard, Carew, & Parisi-Carew, 1990.  This is also phrased ‘All of us are smarter than any one of us’, quoted in Brandon Webb’s The Red Circle, describing a sign on the wall at a SEAL sniper training facility.

 

 

 

Don’t Delay Process Improvements Waiting to Establish Baseline Measurements

Mark Shwartz, a case-study quality triage host at RCF Technologies (Vadalia, GA) raised the subject of base lining some process measurements before kicking off some Small and Big Now process improvements.

To the point, the answer is No!  Don’t hold up the improvement efforts, just start measuring as you improve.

The reason you shouldn’t wait is supported by some now famous, almost 100 year-old organizational behavior research known as the ‘Hawthorne Effect.’

A good summary was published in The Economist here:

The Hawthorne Effect recognizes that workers who perceive their work is being watched are more productive than before the were observed. So if you don’t already have process performance measurements in place, as soon as your staff recognizes they are being observed (by management or their improvement team peers), they will perform more focused. That suggests your original baseline behavior, before observations began, won’t be reflected in new measurements.

Remember, you’re after a TREND of continuous improvement, time period over time period. So just start measuring and focus on consistent measuring. Your ‘Process Manager Voice’ is looking for improving trends until your Process Capability Goal (PCG) is met, then stable performance afterwards.

You should see some welcome improvements early on because of another phenomenon called ‘The Learning Curve’, a subject for another blog.

A Shout-Out to Triage Host Duane Turnbull @ Nationwide Learning

Here’s a shout-out to triage host Duane Turnbull at Nationwide Learning. He forwarded the following post-triage update, since his July triage.

“… I know you are curious so I will start off by letting you know that we have all the Small’s from our Triage complete and 80% of the Big’s with more Big’s in process and the best part of it all is we are seeing great results due to the implementation of the ideas that resulted from the Triage!”

Nationwide Learning has this really cool product memory book products for schools.

Chad Zimmerman is the CEO / Triage Sponsor and a member in one of Jeff Hutsell’s Vistage groups.

Update (2/16/15) Chad reports the post-triaging efforts by his team have delivered an 18% decrease in seasonal labor (their largest cost driver) and a 12% bump in revenue.  Excellent, and not surprised really.  Chad and Duane ‘Get it.’

A TED Talk echos the Process Triage protocol

Hat tip to triage host Catherine Cates of Pat Murphy Electric (Atlanta) for mentioning a TED talk given by Tom Wujec on ‘Making Toast.’

I laughed out loud when Tom explained how everything is ‘nodes’ (circles) and ‘links’ (arrows); a process mapping style I’ve facilitated for 20+ years.

Here are some triagers working collaboratively on their process sketch.

319-1 Wall Work (2)

What Tom is doing is impressive. His body of work offers additional explanation why the Process Triage protocol has been so successful theoretically.

Tom and I are now connected (Linked-In) and perhaps PT can help him with case studies.

Thanks Catherine!