Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

An Unlikely Mechanism for Personal Growth – Monthly Reports

It’s important to communicate the status of the work with others in the company.  Done well, priorities are aligned, decisions are made within the context of others’ work, gaps are identified, and learning is shared. But what’s the best way to do it?

There are many ways to communicate with others in the company, but I want to talk about the monthly report. Like it says in its name, the monthly report is written monthly and it reports on things. But there are far more elements to the monthly report if you want there to be.

From a compliance perspective, if you submit a document every month and you mention some of your work, you meet the minimum compliance criteria for a monthly report. Compliant, yes, but it doesn’t communicate, it doesn’t educate, and nor does it align.  This type of monthly report is only a half-step above not writing one.

What are the elements of a good monthly report?

There are two beneficiaries of a good monthly report – the people that receive it and the team that writes it.  It’s pretty clear how the recipients benefit.  They receive a clear, dense description of the learning objectives for the months, the learning that actually happened, and the learning objectives for next month. But the benefits are not so clear for the team that creates (writes) the report.

When the team leader writes the report, they ask each team member for a summary of their work and then compile and reconcile the various summaries.  They make sure each project fits nicely with the other projects and they connect the projects that are connected.  And in the end, the team leader has deep knowledge of all the projects, all the learning objectives, and all the work that will happen next month.  But the problem is that the team leader is the only one that has that knowledge.  It’s more important for the individual team members to have this full landscape knowledge and understand their work fits (or doesn’t) with all the other work going on within the team.

To help the team develop this learning, provide them a single working document that they can edit simultaneously; provide some rough headings and format (learning objectives for the month, the actual learning, and next month’s learning objectives); and tell them to write about their work. And tell them the report will be sent directly to the Leadership Team.  This will help them put their hearts into the report.

This won’t go well since the team members are not used to tightly reconciling their work with their team members, but, after writing the first monthly report this way, their work will be better coordinated with their team members.

Tell them the report will be sent to the Leadership Team without any input or edits. Tell them the Leadership Team will read their exact words, see their charts as-is, and hear the tone of their summaries. This will make it clear to them that you think their thoughts and perspectives are valuable and that you want the Leadership Team to know the real deal from them.  This disintermediation (removing yourself from the middle) makes it clear that you trust and respect their opinions and that you think the Leadership Team should hear it directly from the experts – them.

This direct line to the Leadership Team will help your team members learn how to communicate at the right level of abstraction and sharpen their judgment on which elements to focus on and which to save for next time.  These are valuable skills that can be honed only by choosing the levels of abstraction and using their judgment and choosing what to talk about.  This will be uncomfortable for them, but that’s what growth feels like.

And after the report is circulated and the recipients ask you questions, don’t answer them.  Instead, suggest that they ask their questions directly to the experts – the people that did the work (whose names are listed next to the summaries they created.)  This little flip is exceptionally powerful.  In one little step, you declare that the people that did the work are the experts (and you are not); you create a direct connection between the subject matter experts on the team and important people outside the team; and you reinforce to the company that the people that do the work call the shots.

If you want people on the team to stand two inches taller, defer to their judgment and do it in public.

And if you people on the team to do work that’s almost impossible, well, that starts with creating the conditions for them stand two inches taller.

There are two types of monthly reports: monthly reports that check the box and reports that create the conditions for people to grow.

So, which type of monthly report will you write next month? And how do you feel about that?

“Report Key” by Got Credit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Good Coaches Do

Good coaches listen to you.  They don’t judge, they just listen.

Good coaches continually study the game.  They do it in private, but they study.

Good coaches tell you that you can do better, and that, too, they do in private.

Good coaches pick you up off the floor. They know that getting knocked over is part of the game.

Good coaches never scream at you, but they will cry with you.

Good coaches never stop being your coach. Never.

Good coaches learn from you, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t compromise. Ever.

Good coaches have played the game and have made mistakes. That’s why they’re good coaches.

Good coaches do what’s in your best interest, not theirs.

Good coaches are sometimes wrong, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t care what other people think of them, but they care deeply about you.

Good coaches are prepared to be misunderstood, though it’s not their preference.

Good coaches let you bump your head or smash your knee, but, otherwise, they keep you safe.

Good coaches earn your trust.

Good coaches always believe you and perfectly comfortable disagreeing with you at the same time.

Good coaches know it’s always your choice, and they know that’s how deep learning happens.

Good coaches stick with you, unless you don’t do your part.

Good coaches don’t want credit. They want you to grow.

Good coaches don’t have a script. They create a custom training plan based on your needs.

Good coaches simplify things when it’s time, unless it’s time to make things complicated.

Good coaches aren’t always positive, but they are always truthful.

Good coaches are generous with their time.

Good coaches make a difference.

Certainty or novelty – it’s your choice.

When you follow the best practice, by definition your work is not new. New work is never done the same way twice.  That’s why it’s called new.

Best practices are for old work. Usually, it’s work that was successful last time.  But just as you can never step into the same stream twice, when you repeat a successful recipe it’s not the same recipe. Almost everything is different from last time.  The economy is different, the competitors are different, the customers are in a different phase of their lives, the political climate is different, interest rates are different, laws are different, tariffs are different, the technology is different, and the people doing the work are different. Just because work was successful last time doesn’t mean that the old work done in a new context will be successful next time.  The most important property of old work is the certainty that it will run out of gas.

When someone asks you to follow the best practice, they prioritize certainty over novelty.  And because the context is different, that certainty is misplaced.

We have a funny relationship with certainty.  At every turn, we try to increase certainty by doing what we did last time.  But the only thing certain with that strategy is that it will run out of gas.  Yet, frantically waving the flag of certainty, we continue to double down on what we did last time.  When we demand certainty, we demand old work.  As a company, you can have too much “certainty.”

When you flog the teams because they have too much uncertainty, you flog out all the novelty.

What if you start the design review with the question “What’s novel about this project?” And when the team says there’s nothing novel, what if you say “Well, go back to the drawing board and come back with some novelty.”?  If you seek out novelty instead of squelching it, you’ll get more novelty.  That’s a rule, though not limited to novelty.

A bias toward best practices is a bias toward old work.  And the belief underpinning those biases is the belief that the Universe is static.  And the one thing the Universe doesn’t like to be called is static.  The Universe prides itself on its dynamic character and unpredictable nature.  And the Universe isn’t above using karma to punish those who call it names.

“Stonecold certainty” by philwirks is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

When You Have Disagreement

When you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

But, when you have something to say, you must say it.

When you think your response might be taken the wrong way, it will.

When you take care to respond effectively, your response might be taken the wrong way.

When you have disagreement, there’s objective evidence that at least two people are thinking for themselves.

When you have disagreement, confrontation is optional.

When you have disagreement, everyone can be right, even if just a little.

When you have disagreement, that says nothing about the people doing the disagreeing.

When you have disagreement at high decibels, that’s an argument.

When you have disagreement, disagreeing on all points is a choice.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to sharpen your response, it’s a death spiral.

When you have disagreement, it’s best to disagree wholeheartedly and respectfully.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to understand, there’s hope.

When you have disagreement, it’s a disagreement about ideas and not moral character.

When you have disagreement, intentions matter.

When you have disagreement, decision quality skyrockets.

When you have disagreement, thank your partner in crime for sharing their truth.

When you have disagreement, there is sufficient trust to support the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, sometimes you don’t, but you don’t know it.

When you have disagreement, converging on a single point of view is not the objective.

When you have disagreement about ethics, you may be working at the wrong company.

When you have disagreement, there are no sides, only people doing their best.

When you have disagreement, the objective is understanding.

When you have disagreement, it’s the right thing to have.

When you have disagreement, there may be disagreement on the topic of the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, you are a contributing member, even if you stay quiet.

When you have disagreement, why not be agreeable?

When you have disagreement, it’s okay to change your mind.

When you have disagreement, you may learn something about yourself.

“Day 7: I disagree” by Stupid Dingo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Musings on Skillfulness

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

“Old Monk” by anahitox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Foundation of Leadership Development — Work Products

Leadership development is a good idea in principle, but not in practice. Assessing a person against a list of seven standard competencies does not a leadership development plan make. Nor does a Meyers-Briggs assessment or a strengths assessment. The best way I know to describe the essence of leadership development is through a series of questions to assess and hire new leaders.

Here’s the first question: Is this person capable of doing the work required for this leadership position?  If you don’t start here, choose the person you like most and promote (or hire) them into the new leadership position. It’s much faster, and at least you’ll get along with them as the wheels fall off.

Next question: In this leadership position, what work products must the leader create (or facilitate the creation of)? Work products are objective evidence that the work has been completed.  Examples of work products: analyses, reports, marketing briefs, spreadsheets, strategic plans, product launches, test results for new technologies. Here’s a rule: If you can’t define the required work products, you can’t define the work needed to create them.  Here’s another rule: If you can’t define the work, you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to do that work. And if you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to the work, you might as well make it a popularity contest and hire the person who makes the interview committee smile.

Next question: Can the candidate show work products they’ve created that fit with those required for the leadership position? To be clear, if the candidate can show examples of all the flavors of work products required for the position, it’s a lateral move for the candidate.  That’s not a bad thing, as there are good reasons candidates seek lateral positions (e.g., geographic move due to family or broadening of experience – new product line or customer segment). And if they’ve demonstrated all the work products, but the scope and/or scale are larger, the new position, the new position is a promotion for the candidate. Here’s a rule: if the candidate can’t show you an example of a specific work product or draw a picture of one on the whiteboard, they’ve never done it before.  And another rule: when it comes to work products, if the candidate talks about a work product but can’t show you, it’s because they’ve never created one like that. And talking about work products in the future tense means they’ve never done it. When it comes to work products, there’s no partial credit.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has shown us, are they relevant? A candidate won’t be able to show you work products that are a 100% overlap with those required by the leadership position. The context will be different, the market will be different, and the players will be different.  But, a 50-70% overlap should be good enough.

Next question: For the relevant work products the candidate has shown us, do they represent more than half of those required? If yes, go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has not demonstrated, has the team done them? If the team has done a majority of them, that’s good.  Go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate or team has not demonstrated, can we partner them with an expert (an internal one, I hope) who has? If yes, hire the candidate.

Leadership development starts with the definition of the new work the leader must be able to do in their next position. And the best way I know to define the work is to compile a collection of work products that must be created in the next position and match that against the collection of work products the leader has created. The difference between the required work products and the ones the leader has demonstrated defines the leadership development plan.

To define the leadership development plan, start with the work products.

And to help the leader develop, think apprenticeship.  And for that, see this seminal report from 1945.

It’s time to start starting.

What do we do next? I don’t know

What has been done before?

What does it do now?

What does it want to do next?

If it does that, who cares?

 

Why should we do it? I don’t know.

Will it increase the top line?  If not, do something else.

Will it increase the bottom line?  If so, let someone else do it.

What’s the business objective?

 

Who will buy it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

What does it look like when you know they’ll buy it?

Why do you think it’s okay to do the work before you know they’ll buy it?

 

What problem must be solved? I don’t know.

How will you define the problem?

Why do you think it’s okay to solve the problem before defining it?

Why do you insist on solving the wrong problem? Don’t you know that ready, fire, aim is bad for your career?

Where’s the functional coupling? When will you learn about Axiomatic Design?

Where is the problem? Between which two system elements?

When does the problem happen? Before what? During what? After what?

Will you separate in time or space?

When will you learn about TRIZ?

 

Who wants you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

When will you read all the operating plans?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Who doesn’t want you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

Who looks bad if this works?

Who is threatened by the work?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What does it look like when it’s done? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What do you need to be successful? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Starting is essential, but getting ready to start is even more so.

 

Image credit — Jon Marshall

Words To Live By


What people think about you is none of your business.

If you’re afraid to be wrong, you shouldn’t be setting direction.

Think the better of people, as they’ll be better for it.

When you find yourself striving, pull the emergency brake and figure out how to start thriving.

If you want the credit, you don’t want to make a difference.

If you’re afraid to use your best judgment, find a mentor.

Family first, no exceptions.

When you hold a mirror to the organization, you demonstrate that you care.

If you want to grow people and you invest less than 30% of your time, you don’t want to grow them.

When someone gives you an arbitrary completion date, they don’t know what they’re doing.

When the Vice President wants to argue with the physics, let them.

When all else fails, use your best judgment.

If it’s not okay to tell the truth, work for someone else.

The best way to make money is not the best way to live.

When someone yells at you, that says everything about them and nothing about you.

Trust is a result. Think about that.

When you ask for the impossible, all the answers will be irrational.

No one can diminish you without your consent.

If you don’t have what you want, why not try to want what you have?

When you want to control things, you limit the growth of everyone else.

People can tell when you’re telling the truth, so tell them.

If you find yourself watching the clock, find yourself another place to work.

When someone does a great job, tell them.

If you have to choose between employment and enjoyment, choose the latter.

If you’re focused on cost reduction, you’re in a race to the bottom.

The best way to help people grow is to let them do it wrong (safely).

When you hold up a mirror to the organization, no one will believe what they see.

If you’re not growing your replacement, what are you doing?

If you’re not listening, you’re not learning.

When someone asks for help, help them.

If you think you know the right answer, you’re the problem.

When someone wants to try something new, help them.

Whatever the situation, tell the truth, and love everyone.

Image credit — John Fife

A Recipe to Grow Talent

Do it for them, then explain. When the work is new for them, they don’t know how to do it. You’ve got to show them how to do it and explain everything. Tell them about your top-level approach; tell them why you focus on the new elements; show them how to make the chart that demonstrates the new one is better than the old one. Let them ask questions at every step. And tell them their questions are good ones.  Praise them for their curiosity. And tell them the answers to the questions they should have asked you. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Do it with them, and let them hose it up. Let them do the work they know how to do, you do all the new work except for one new element, and let them do that one bit of new work. They won’t know how to do it, and they’ll get it wrong. And you’ve got to let them.  Pretend you’re not paying attention so they think they’re doing it on their own, but pay deep attention.  Know what they’re going to do before they do it, and protect them from catastrophic failure.  Let them fail safely.  And when then hose it up, explain how you’d do it differently and why you’d do it that way.  Then, let them do it with your help. Praise them for taking on the new work. Praise them for trying. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Let them do it, and help them when they need it. Let them lead the project, but stay close to the work.  Pretend to be busy doing another project, but stay one step ahead of them. Know what they plan to do before they do it.  If they’re on the right track, leave them alone.  If they’re going to make a small mistake, let them. And be there to pick up the pieces.  If they’re going to make a big mistake, casually check in with them and ask about the project. And, with a light touch, explain why this situation is different than it seems.  Help them take a different approach and avoid the big mistake. Praise them for their good work. Praise them for their professionalism. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Let them do it, and help only when they ask. Take off the training wheels and let them run the project on their own. Work on something else, and don’t keep track of their work. And when they ask for help, drop what you are doing and run to help them. Don’t walk. Run. Help them like they’re your family. Praise them for doing the work on their own. Praise them for asking for help. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Do the new work for them, then repeat. Repeat the whole recipe for the next level of new work you’ll help them master.

Image credit — John Flannery

28 Things I Learned the Hard Way

  • If you want to have an IoT (Internet of Things) program, you’ve got to connect your products.
  • If you want to build trust, give without getting.
  • If you need someone with experience in manufacturing automation, hire a pro.
  • If the engineering team wants to spend a year playing with a new technology, before the bell rings for recess ask them what solution they’ll provide and then go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have the resources, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, let someone else do it.
  • If you want to make a friend, help them.

 

  • If your products are not connected, you may think you have an IoT program, but you have something else.
  • If you don’t have trust, you have just what you earned.
  • If you hire a pro in manufacturing automation, listen to them.
  • If Marketing has an optimistic sales forecast for the yet-to-be-launched product, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have a project manager, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, teach someone else how to do it.
  • If a friend needs help, help them.

 

  • If you want to connect your products at a rate faster than you sell them, connect the products you’ve already sold.
  • If you haven’t started building trust, you started too late.
  • If you want to pull in the delivery date for your new manufacturing automation, instead, tell your customers you’ve pushed out the launch date.
  • If the VP knows it’s a great idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you can’t commercialize, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, do something else.
  • If a friend asks you twice for help, drop what you’re doing and help them immediately.

 

  • If you can’t figure out how to make money with IoT, it’s because you’re focusing on how to make money at the expense of delivering value to customers.
  • If you don’t have trust, you don’t have much
  • If you don’t like extreme lead times and exorbitant capital costs, manufacturing automation is not for you.
  • If the management team doesn’t like the idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you’re not willing to finish a project, you shouldn’t be willing to start.
  • If you know how it will turn out, it’s not innovation.
  • If you see a friend that needs help, help them ask you for help.

Image credit — openDemocracy

How To Know if You’re Moving in a New Direction

If you want to move in a new direction, you can call it disruption, innovation, or transformation. Or, if you need to rally around an initiative, call it Industrial Internet of Things or Digital Strategy. The naming can help the company rally around a new common goal, so take some time to argue about and get it right.  But, settle on a name as quickly as you can so you can get down to business. Because the name isn’t the important part.  What’s most important is that you have an objective measure that can help you see that you’ve stopped talking about changing course and started changing it.

When it’s time to change course, I have found that companies error on the side of arguing what to call it and how to go about it.  Sure, this comes at the expense of doing it, but that’s the point.  At the surface, it seems like there’s a need for the focus groups and investigatory dialog because no one knows what to do.  But it’s not that the company doesn’t know what it must do. It’s that no one is willing to make the difficult decision and own the consequences of making it.

Once the decision is made to change course and the new direction is properly named, the talk may have stopped but the new work hasn’t started. And this is when it’s time to create an objective measure to help the company discern between talking about the course change and actively changing the course.

Here it is in a nutshell. There can be no course change unless the projects change.

Here’s the failure mode to guard against. When the naming conventions in the operating plans reflect the new course heading but sitting under the flashy new moniker is the same set of tired, old projects.  The job of the objective measure is to discern between the same old projects and new projects that are truly aligned with the new direction.

And here’s the other half of the nutshell. There can be no course change unless the projects solve different problems.

To discern if the company is working in a new direction, the objective measure is a one-page description of the new customer problem each project will solve.  The one-page limit helps the team distill their work into a singular customer problem and brings clarity to all. And framing the problem in the customer’s context helps the team know the project will bring new value to the customer. Once the problem is distilled, everyone will know if the project will solve the same old problem or a new one that’s aligned with the company’s new course heading.  This is especially helpful the company leaders who are on the hook to move the company in the new direction.  And ask the team to name the customer.  That way everyone will know if you are targeting the same old customer or new ones.

When you have a one-page description of the problem to be solved for each project in your portfolio, it will be clear if your company is working in a new direction. There’s simply no escape from this objective measure.

Of course, the next problem is to discern if the resources have actually moved off the old projects and are actively working on the new projects. Because if the resources don’t move to the new projects, you’re not solving new problems and you’re not moving in the new direction.

Image credit – Walt Stoneburner

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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