Category Archives: Systems Thinking and Government

EA Sports – Worst Company in America?

What makes a company the worst in America?  The Consumerist website has determined EA Sports is this years winner of the Golden Poo award – for the second year in a row.  EA Sports soundly defeated perennial powerhouse Bank of America.

I like to read the Consumerist as you get some really good info on what problems organizations have in delivering product and/or service.  I see many of these problems with organization obsessed with revenue and costs – where they should be focused on the customer and let revenue and costs take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, too many executives only get targets for revenue and expenses that lead to bonuses.  This leads to a short-term focus and an internal view.  Consumers feel the pain.

There are few companies (and I haven’t found one) that deliver really good service and mostly for the reasons I have noted above.  All organizations in the US are struggling with an environment that has been shrinking.  The shrinking has to do with our collective approach to management and a scarcity mentality.  Budgets are part of this thinking.  Growth and innovation takes a back seat to budgets and shrinkage.  Businesses fight over market share rather than ways to grow.

This is a disease that began here in America.  EA Sports in the eyes of consumers that frequent the Consumerist have spoken.  However, so are your customers – are you listening?  Do you know how?

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CustomermanagementIQ.com. Reach him on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.Enhanced by Zemanta
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The Organizational Whipping Boy – The Vendor

I’ve been reading and writing a lot over the past month, just not much on my blog.  Most reading about organizational purpose.  In this case, not just customer purpose, but a higher calling to benefit mankind.  Certainly, we want to respond to customers and create an environment that they want to engage and embrace.

However, there are other elements in every system that need nurturing.  One overlooked area is the treatment of vendors.  Many organizations focus on the customer and improvement, but treat their vendors like, well . . . dog poop.

Pounding the vendor for the lowest price, they don’t become partners, instead vendors become a whipping boy.  A whipping boy was a young boy assigned to an equally young prince and when the prince did something wrong the whipping boy got the punishment.  If you have been a vendor long enough, you will find yourself a whipping boy for unevolved organizations.

This is usually driven by management fear of not hitting their numbers.  Sometimes the hierarchy is used as the next rung down gets the blame.  More convenient though is an outsider that can be blamed . . . a whipping boy.  Deflecting blame to vendors has become an art and a science.

All that hard work to impress customers, but you don’t pay your vendor in the promised timeframe which negates all the goodwill you accomplish.  The system is out-of-balance and treating one better than other can only result in long-term consequences.  Vendors have other relationships and influences that can influence future customers.  What goes around come around.

Treating vendors fairly is always a good policy.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CustomermanagementIQ.com. Reach him on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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A Process of Discovery

Functionally separated organizations have one thing in common . . . they don’t have a clue.

Each function absorbs the demands placed upon them from some IT application and off they go to work.  The unfortunate workers that have to interact with customers that encounter such work design bear the burden of brutal backlash when the service delivered is pathetic.  Such is the life of workers on the front-line.

Management meantime is busy in their respective offices pouring over the latest scorecards that can’t help them manage.  Both worker and manager are frustrated that the other just doesn’t get it.

Does it really matter?

The pointing of fingers does little but create a divide and some kind of organizational class warfare.  both sides so sanctimonious in their debate that each side is deaf to the real problem.  And we think the US political system is a mess, this is – by operational definition – deadlock.

The deadlock can be broken in service organizations.  Customers represent the tie-breaker and focus of to break the deadlock.  If functionally separated organizations cannot agree on anything, they can agree the importance of the customer.  This is true even with the clouded glasses in which they view customers.  Especially, when they see the same thing at the same time.

Debate ensues when we see things together, but can ultimately be resolved by what matters to customers.  It is a process of discovery that bridges the gaps and refocuses our aim.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Our “Rank and Yank” Culture

English: The first verse of Yankee Doodle, a w...

English: The first verse of Yankee Doodle, a well-known US song. The words are from a well-known song that first appeared in the 1700s. Any copyright for the words would have expired. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word Yankee or the shortened form “Yank” is an offensive word when used by foreigners, especially those residing in the UK.  Yankee dates back in time, the song Yankee Doodle developed by the British as an insult in 1775.  In true American form, we adopted the term in a complimentary sense.  We won the war and set the standard from that moment forward.

Now, you can call Americans anything you want, except . . . late for dinner.

Now, we have organizational cultures with a “rank and yank” mentality.  We should reference it as “mental.”  “Gee, I wonder why employees hate our company” is a oft heard lament of HR.  Well, it could be that teamwork you build by stack ranking employees creating competition and the brown-nosing manipulator too often takes the top spot.  Real ideas are lost to pleasing the risk averse hierarchy.

The revelation that Microsoft and many other organizations throughout the US embrace stacked ranking and the “rank and yank” mentality exposes either our stupidity or ignorance – choose one.  We have so many difficulties in competing these days and coming up with new ideas that can unleash growth and employment that we have no time for this silliness.

For more read this article on better thinking.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Another Fine Mess

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”                                                   – Oliver Hardy

Lobby Card c. 1921 featuring the first appeara...

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Will Governor Daniels have to testify or not in the IBM lawsuit?  Who knows.  However, we all should care as the $1.3 billion boat anchor (Cancelled IBM contract) continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.  The State of Indiana sues IBM and IBM sues the State of Indiana.  Costs increase and waste begets waste.

In a recent Indianapolis Star interview, Peter Rusthoven (Attorney for the State) describes IBM in this manner:

We thought we were getting the guys who were building a better planet, and we ended up with Larry the Cable Guy.”                                 – Peter Rusthoven

Wow, if that isn’t a shot across the bow.  Although it does take two to tango when you form a partnership.

“Hello partner, you are to blame.”  Doesn’t sound like either side knew what they were doing.  This is the predictable result of assumptions in management.  Modernization and automation are the key words to future waste in any organization.  Start with flawed logic and you make your own bed.

The problem is that Federal, state and local governments continue to flock to IT companies like IBM for the same flawed assumptions.  The waste is enormous and predictable.  The only loser is the taxpayer, year after disastrous year – we all pay for having leaders and vendors make bad decisions.

This is a disease of all parties – not just Republicans.  Democrats face the same issues.  There is a simpler way to design work, but it requires changing the way you think about work.  You must first get knowledge about the “what and why” of current performance.  Redesigning the work without IT, but even this can not be done unless leadership participates and changes too – something that elected leaders fail to do is change.  Ego of being elected may be partially to blame, after all . . . doesn’t every elected official have a mandate?

Elected officials are in most cases not fit to make decisions as most come with a slew of assumptions.  Most of these assumptions we don’t learn about until after they are elected.  Ability to govern apparently is a side road to the main street of politics.

Until our leaders learn how to govern properly, we – the people – need to ask better questions about things that matter.  A good place to start would be by asking. “what method” will you use to reduce the deficit?  If automation and modernization is the answer prepare to pay dearly.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Oops Factor

State Seal of Indiana.

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Reading Governor Mitch Daniel’s book, Keeping the Republic, he mentions the Indiana Welfare Eligibility modernization.  This modernization was a ten-year deal worth $1.3 billion to IBM and its partners.  It is an important story for all of government because everyone has the same mindset.

This mindset is characterized by anecdotal evidence to support an ideology.  In this case, privatization.  The old welfare system was labeled as the nation’s worst according to the US Department of Health and Human Services back in 2005 – these are the same bureaucrats that Governor Daniels laments about earlier in the book.  The system was rife with error, delays, fraud and unhappy people with the status quo.

Further, the welfare offices were described in the book as “a chaotic mess.  Antique, green-screen computers from the 1970s sat amid the floor-to-ceiling stacks of boxes stuffed with paper.  I asked our researchers to take pictures.  Otherwise, I knew no one would believe later how bad the system was.”

This is the death sentence for governments assuming old manual systems with old technology is always bad.  Government management has embraced modernization because it doesn’t feel “modern.”  However, the old systems are never evaluated for flow or knowledge, just that things looked old.  This is the mentality that wastes taxpayers billions of dollars.  IBM and others wait like wolves ready to pounce on the gullible and naive.

Governor Daniel’s calls the attempt an “oops.”   The re-engineering to modernize and privatize the welfare system wasn’t begun with knowledge but ideology and assumption.  When ideology and assumption are in the decision-making costs increase and service worsens.  Politics has a hard time separating reality from fantasy.  Evidence without preconceived notions is always best.

Modernization and privatization – which I am not against – really need to begin with knowledge of the systems we are trying to improve.  Governor Daniels does not challenge the back office design when describing the improvement effort, yet, here is a huge opportunity for improvement.  Most believe in the front-back office design that handicaps the design of work.  Different thinking and better method are required to improve work.

Governor Daniels has brought fiscal discipline to Indiana, but fiscal discipline by itself is doing the wrong thing, righter.  Indiana and other government entities can find dramatic improvement (another 30-70%)  from changing the thinking about the design and management of work.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Bureaucrats – Getting a Bum Rap?

White House Portrait of Mitch Daniels

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“. . . an astonishing amount of the laws created today are not made by elected, and therefore recallable, representatives, but by unelected bureaucrats and judges.”

– Governor Mitch Daniels

In Keeping the Republic, Governor Mitch Daniels laments how unelected officials (bureaucrats) make policy and law.  I was once a bureaucrat and so was Governor Daniels – lest he forget his time at the OMB.  However, Governor Daniels has a view of a right way and a wrong way to be a bureaucrat . . . and so do I.

Much of Governor Daniel’s view has to do with having a favorable cost-benefit ratio and making sure a law didn’t already exist.  This seems reasonable, especially considering Governor Daniels staunch fiscal discipline that he has embraced as Governor of Indiana.

For me, the issue is the same I have written about in posts many times before.  The question becomes, “by what method?”  Setting our cites on costs alone – always increases costs.  The method to improve government requires method.

I have long been an advocate of the virtues of the 95 Method.  Getting knowledge is always the best first step to improving service organizations.  The problem is that it is a rarity to find executives or elected officials willing to get in the work to get knowledge.  Instead, they rely on reports, anecdotes and others to do this for them.  Bureaucrats are in a position to be in the work and make decisions based on knowledge.

This doesn’t mean elected officials should abdicate the responsibility, but the reality is they do.  Elected officials are too busy embracing political ideology, and creating new laws to be bothered with facts.  As a bureaucrat, I remember being more hand-cuffed by dumb laws than wanting to create new ones.  Plenty of opportunities to do what makes sense than to pass a law.

Bureaucrats need good systems to work in too.  What I have seen in government is the influence of ideology over evidence that dictates the design.  Each new government has a different ideology and the learning is skipped in favor of ideology.  Misguided laws and ideology make government systems run poorly.  Blindly running down the privatization path is as faulty as embracing government to do things.  Better design of government is in order, but that is not what we get.

Bureaucrats are stuck in systems that are poorly design.  Not by choice, but by laws and ideology that rule thinking.  Government management and workers have been marginalized.  If we are to fix government, we need everybody engaged and the bureaucrats are in the best position to see the problems and identify ways to fix them and help fix the systems they work in.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Whole Vision Thing is Overrated

Greg Ballard

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There was an election recently in Indianapolis between incumbent Mayor Greg Ballard (R) and challenger Melina Kennedy.  A reporter for the Indianapolis Star (and the Star) put their endorsement behind the challenger because she had better vision . . . and we aren’t talking about eyesight.

I consider myself an independent, so there things I like and don’t like about Republicans and Democrats.  However, I found the whole “vision thing” to be pathetic.  I’ve seen it in business too.

Too many executives with “vision” running companies into the ground.  They need to understand the business first and not just bullet points and anecdotes.  They need to understand what it takes to do the job and interact with constituents or customers that use the service.  Visionaries often gloss over the “understand the business first” piece.

Mayor Ballard won despite the endorsement of the Star falling to his challenger.  Why? Because he and his staff did the things that matter to the voters.  Do the fundamentals well and reelection will follow.  The “vision thing” can wait for the basics to be mastered and knowledge to be gained.  If you aren’t doing the things that matter to customers and constituents than you aren’t going to win an election or make profit.

Vision and political ideology in government seemingly go hand-in-hand.  More government, less government, privatization . . . how about “what works”  for a change.  This requires knowledge, not plans or policy.  This is completely counter to the “big picture” people we too often see in government.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Revisiting MBO (Management by Objectives)

The Honorable Jennifer Granholm, Governor of t...

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I am reading two books right now.  One by Governor Daniels of Indiana and another by former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.  Governor Granholm talks quite a bit about the loss of jobs in manufacturing in her State to outsourcing.  In fact, her last election against Dick DeVos – the former Amway CEO – she let him have it during her campaign for outsourcing jobs to China.  Certainly, the subject for a future blog post.

However, something else caught my eye . . . Governor Granholm’s love for MBO.

“As a big believer in management by objectives, I loved using  the State of the State speech as a blueprint for the year.”

– from A Governor’s Story – Governor Granholm

There is a correlation between the loss of jobs to outsourcing and MBO, but I won’t make it in this post.  They are both wrong behaviors and outsourcing you can find plenty of posts why it isn’t typically saving money.

Organizations and governments are still using MBO – shocking?  Not really.  I still see it in many organizations, once a bad idea . . . always a bad idea.

Peter Drucker invented this thinking in 1954, W. Edwards Deming rocked the world when he spoke about MBO as one of the evils of management (as practiced).  Closely related to MBO is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-related) and a Balanced Scorecard.  Targets come along with these thinking methods.

First of all, Dr. Deming understood that when you provide objectives and targets by function you get sub-optimization.  Meaning if you optimize each functional piece you miss the inter-dependencies and create a system works against itself.  This creates waste.  For example, you often see departments vying for resources focused on what they can get in resources for themselves. Artificial competition is produced and the loss to the system is great because we do what is right for the department, but not right for the system.

Information technology seems to get much of the money in organizations.  Yet IT cannot create value, it can only add value to the relationship between customer demands and work.  Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t get that IT, HR, Finance and other supporting areas aren’t meant to create a profit for their department – they are there to enable the value creating relationships.

With MBO, we get management and worker focused on the wrong things.  Hitting the target laid out in the objective (remember SMART).  The flow is interrupted by the functional separation of work as each piece tries to optimize itself.

“(MBO) nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics.”

– W. Edwards Deming (from Out of the Crisis)

“Management by Fear” was the Deming phrase that replaced MBO.

Governor Granholm is a Harvard graduate.  Peter Drucker taught there.  Harvard, with all its money has become the poster child for bad theory.  Smart people, wrong method.

As voters, we need to ask candidate, “By what method?”  As managers, we need better thinking about the design and management of work – devoid of MBO and targets.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Social Services Work Design and Thinking Problems

I recently read an article from Governing, Human Services by the Batch.  I felt a familiar pain associated with the “answer” for social services – process management, modernization, automation – the Greek trilogy and tragedy.

I posted a comment at Governing that explains why process or task management is NOT the way of the future.  I had to go back and adjust my answer (over the character limit) so the comment below is longer:

I am a former CIO of FSSA in Indiana. The “process management” system that is proposed here is similar to the IBM (and partners)-led modernization failure in Indiana.  This was a billion dollar contract that the Governor was forced to cancel.  In essence, “process management” is doing the wrong thing, righter – or possibly wronger.

Here is why – we have a fundamental thinking problem in government about the design and management of work.  The design of “process management” deals with three traditional questions, How much work do I have? How much time will it take?  How many people do I need?  These are the WRONG questions to start with to improve services.

All demand is not work to be done – some of the demand we receive is in the form of failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a constituent).  Eliminating the amount of failure demand which I have seen as high as 90% in social services offers us a huge opportunity to reduce the demand coming in.  A leverage point for better designed social services.

Secondly, the flow of the work is interrupted by designing the work into teams and things wind up taking longer when functionally separated – a counter-intuitive truth.  Separated work even with a team will create more failure demand and less flow.  Better ?s are how many demands are done one-stop?  What matters to the constituent?  How long does it take end-to-end from application to benefit sought?

Improving the design of the work requires different thinking about how we manage work.  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this thinking until after the IBM fiasco in Indiana.  However, you can learn from mistakes others have made.

A better method is to first understand the “what and why” of current performance.  When variety of demands is high – like in social services – IT systems and standardized process can’t absorb the variety resulting in failure demand (or more work to be done).  Redesign the flow of the work by eliminating failure demand and making the work one-stop.  Then automate with IT when a design that works (good flow) is found.

The problem we had in Indiana was that political ideology ruled the day – this at the expense of evidence and knowledge.  Case workers replaced by process and task management.  The system that the case workers worked in was flawed, but the flaw was from poor thinking from management . . . not bad workers.

With 49.1 million Americans living in poverty, we need better services that reach those in need.  Better social services needs to be a government management issue regarding how we think about the design and management of work.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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