Tag Archives: innovation leadership

Pluralsight – The Best Company You Never Heard of

PluralsightA few months back, I had the pleasure of being one of five Deming instructors participating in delivering a Deming Institute sponsored 2-1/2 day seminar to the entire Pluralsight organization. The fact that this was an all-hands meeting (200+ in attendance) told me these guys were serious about the Deming philosophy and making it part of their culture.

So, who is Pluralsight?

Pluralsight is an on-line training provider. The company produces on-line courses for people that want to learn software development and IT.

The more important question may be,” what is Pluralsight becoming?” They are becoming a Deming company by building into their system a Deming DNA. This is not an easy task when most of the other organizations in the world are following a completely different and mostly opposite path.

So, what is in their Deming DNA? Or what isn’t in their Deming DNA? They do not have sales commissions, bonuses,or  targets. They do have profit sharing, trust and the right kind of leadership. They understand variation and the difference between common and special causes of variation. They also understand how tampering makes their system worse and creates a finger pointing culture.

Want more? They got rid of their paid time off and travel and expense policies. You take whatever vacation you need and you do what is right for travel and expenses. This allows the use of guiding principles rather than rules and policies – I have found this works for dealing with customers too.

All the employee rules and policies you see in most every organization has been replaced by two rules at Pluralsight:

  1. Be respectful, considerate, and kind, even when you disagree.
  2. Always act in Pluralsight’s best interest.

Who wouldn’t want to work in an organization like that? The top-down rule -producing organization is probably going into full tilt mode right now.

A forward thinking organization like this is coming to your industry and will be creating a new type of disruption. Can you compete against an organization this nimble, while your big boat anchor of rules, policies and procedures keeps you from leaving the dock?

Some will think they can copy Pluralsight and then they have you right where the Japanese auto, electronic, optical instrument and steel industries have had US competitors for years now – copying to catch up. When you copy, you never catch up. Regardless, many will read this post (and others) and try – think Toyota.

The fundamental Deming philosophy needs to be understood to find your path using it. Find your path and let your competitors follow you – now you are a leader.

You can listen to Keith Sparkjoy talk about the Pluralsight journey in his presentation at the Deming conference called, Discovering Deming: Cultural Evolution at Pluralsight. Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight writes a column for Inc magazine.

Take a look at your organization as your customers see it – our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.” You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance. Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist. His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer. The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness. Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for PEX and CallCenterIQ. Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Hostess – A Reflection of What’s Wrong with American Business

Another American icon bites the dust.  Sure, we still have our auto manufacturers even if they are a shadow of their former selves.  We are a divided country . . . haves and have nots, 1% and 99%, management and labor, Republicans and Democrats.  The list can go on.  Winners and losers, except in the case of Hostess it is clear that everyone losses.

Who didn’t grow up eating Ding-Dongs, Cupcakes and Twinkies?  Not the most nutritional of snacks, but they were really good.  They just never continued to get better.  The product was a cash cow and I can not find one new product.

English: A Hostess CupCake, shown whole.

English: A Hostess CupCake, shown whole. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a management problem.

A declining market in what would be like trying to sell buggy whips in an age of cars.  The cash cow, suddenly becomes a boat anchor.  The ship sinks under the weight of management and labor taking advantage of past successes through pensions, increased salaries and other balance sheet and income statement busting actions.  Who would get most of what is left of the wreckage?  Not a question designed for a going concern.

These difficulties are exacerbated by six different leaders in the past 10 years.  The last CEO being a “turnaround expert.”  This, however, was a liquidation or more so a demolition.

This is a management problem.

As Americans, we have grown used to having managers going through a revolving door.  Leadership needs to be stable, so they can learn.  The misfits in management instead know how to manage a balance sheet and income statement but no little about growing a business or in this case how to build a Ding-Dong and not be one.  For American management this is what it has come too.

Management and labor are need of working together to end the madness.  The change needed is that management must first respect the worker and together work with them to improve the system.  Not just to reduce costs, but to improve culture and work on innovation.

Lesson learned?  We can only hope.

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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Innovation – It Starts with Challenging Old Assumptions

Probably better to say curiosity starts us down a different path and innovation follows, but assumptions block the path to curiosity.  Grabbing or copying the first best practice or tool to make improvements ends any chance at innovation.  We want to check a problem off the to-do list not have to think about what options we have to solve a problem.

I was reading Alfie Kohn’s website and remembered my Deming days.  He was the first person I had met that challenged my thinking on competition and reward systems.  He reinforced and furthered Dr. Deming’s argument that cooperation and not competition was that better way to go.

Deming and Kohn also made me rethink reward systems and how they drive the wrong behavior.  Rewards and targets become the defacto purpose of an organization – meaning that management and worker pursuits of targets and rewards take our eyes off creating value for customers.  Further, the system we work in and how well it is designed is by far the biggest influence on organizational performance.

The best way to ask people to begin is to set aside the old assumption that we have learned in childhood, experience, schools and what others have told us are true.  This is why going to the work is so important rather than relying on IT-generated reports or the biggest mouth in a meeting.  You can learn new truths when you do and banish myths at the same time.

This brings new and better thinking to problems.  This is called innovation.

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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Caveat Venditor!

There is  a growing trend of backlash in America and around the world.  The Tea Party wants a balanced budget and less government, Occupy Wall Street wants equality in business and government and now the consumer is taking action against $5 debit card fees.  We are in a new age.

Caveat Venditor!!!

“Let the seller beware” is upon us.  Social media has allowed people to organize causes quickly.  Be it the Arab Spring or London Summer or the recent events we have witnessed the times they are a-changing.

Organizations, governments and management need to get serious about the poor service they are providing customers because they aren’t just one-off or individual complaints anymore they are movements.  This can be good news or bad news for companies.

If you are trying to maximize profit and putting it to customers – bad news.  If you have horrendous service through poor customer service, IVRs, websites, etc. – bad news.

Blaming it on Washington just won’t fly anymore.

On the other hand, if you are designing good services – good news!

Here is the management paradox that organizations and governments need to get a grip on . . . good service costs less!  So, quit lamenting on lost revenue and build services that meet customer purpose and satisfy demands.  There will be less failure demand to deal with (lower costs), happier customers (more revenue) and discovery of new and innovative methods for new products and services.

That short-term focus on profit-thingy your reward systems will not survive this onslaught.  People are perceiving it as greedy and sometimes it is.  Long-term thinking with a consumer focus will win the day.

Are you ready?

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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Tools or Systems Thinker – You Choose

I recently read an article by one of the management fad proponents that even though they used tools they were a systemic thinker.  Further review and reading determined they provided no evidence of systemic thinking in the work they had done.  Where is the evidence?  None existed.

The use of tools offers problems I have written about before.  I wrote about it in my recent Quality Digest column – Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker? Tools limit thinking and create a barrier to systemic and breakthrough thinking.

Systems thinking (and more specifically, the 95 Method) is about method and innovation.  It addresses the management thinking that has to be challenged because of the assumptions that lead service organizations in the wrong direction.  The functional separation of work, targets, financials, hierarchy, technology, information are but a small sample of items that need to be challenged.

So, part of systems thinking is about addressing not just the design, but the management of the work.  Management thinking drives the design.  The management fads claim to do this too, but look for the evidence . . . lots of hat, but no cattle.  Pathetic and misleading.

Managers have a choice too, they can pick assumptions or knowledge.  Knowledge requires context to all those management reports with meaningless data.  One can only get that in the work.

Tool-focused activities support status quo in management.  Most don’t know better, but many believe that someday if they see the benefit of tools management will buy-in over time.  The benefit never comes in sufficient quantity to convince management and management relegates the improvement fads to lower and middle management or the front-line.  A dead-end for sure.

Unless efforts to optimize systems include management . . . it is better not to start.  Systems thinking includes everyone and everything, not just the elitist or tool users wreaking havoc on the systems.  This is not business improvement, it is more waste and sub-optimization in the system.

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  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Those Annoying Two-Year Cell Service Contracts

BlackBerry Bold NTTDOCOMO

Image via Wikipedia

I am the guy who likes a cell phone that does what I want it to do.  Getting my email, calling or receiving calls, web and the occasional game of Break-Breaker are about all I need.  So the three generations ago Blackberry World Edition works perfect for me.

Recently, my track-ball stopped working and so I got a replacement, but not without some arm-wrestling with the sales guy that wanted me to “upgrade” to a BlackBerry Bold.  It slices, dices and probably will crawl on its belly like a reptile, but to upgrade I have to sign that stupid collusion (yes, seems all carriers have it) contract for two-years.

OK, maybe I am missing out on a camera phone (which seems to come in handy in places like Bahrain and Wisconsin).  But I am not sure I have need for 4G, which I am sure makes things faster, but why do I need faster?  This may be someones need or want, not mine.

Customer service with my current carrier (Sprint) is always entertaining and rarely good.  They say it has improved . . . haven’t noticed or heard particularly good things about any carrier with regards to customer service.  Often Sprint sends me from a “sales center” to a “service center” when I have problems with my phone.  Shouldn’t any location be a service center?

Back to the two-year contracts.  I have heard all the excuses about recovering costs and planning as the need for contracts.  Maybe if I got good service, I would want to stay.  But when you treat me poorly, I should have the option to leave the relationship, I am the consumer.

With contracts come early termination fees (ETFs) and the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) has website on the fees charged by carrier.  It makes me wonder how much failure demand these carriers get in complaints from consumers.

It is frustrating moving from one bad carrier to another and to have to pay for the privilege is maddening.  How about improving the service first and then people won’t want to leave.  Obviously, these carriers take an inside-out approach which will cost them money or business.  A better path would be to acquiesce to these customer demands and provide what consumer’s want , the way they want it.  The first carrier that does, will win the market.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

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  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Why Apple Really Isn’t Cool

Recently, I was reminded of the plight of the worker as America is saddled with high unemployment.  As an American icon, Apple has become what is wrong with our labor picture.  The innovation giant and its success has not had the trickle down affect of labor employment.  They, like so many others, have shipped their labor overseas and the accompanying lack of manufacturing job creation leaves America both less wealthy and less innovative.

Without labor to make Apple products, we are missing future opportunities to innovate from knowledge gained from making the products.  Maybe antenna-gate would never have happened.  Labor is an integral part of the system as the Apple Genius Bar.

Our elitist mind-set has us believing that management, lean six sigma black belts and project managers are more important than those that do the work.  Labor is treated as a commodity that should be negotiated for the lowest price.

And it isn’t just traditional labor that is getting the shaft.  Contact centers, software developers, HR, finance and even research scientists are being outsourced, shared and marginalized.  This leaves no labor that can actually create value in the eyes of the customer in manufacturing or service.

This is a disturbing trend and the root of some of the unrest we have seen in the Middle East.  When jobs aren’t available, political upheaval is in the future.  The problem is . . . the future is now.

Apple for all its success is a beacon for what is wrong with America.  They return high profit with cheap labor and their success has created a whole new generation of misguided thinking.  The economy of scale and mass production thinking blinds them to better ways to design and manage work.

It is American management that has marginalized the worker with poor work design and thinking.  Apple, as the great innovator should have long come to understand and embrace this as fact.

This creates a paradox for Apple as their biggest customers are right here in America.  With all their labor outsourced, who will be able to afford their products in the future?

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

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  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Copying and the Weak Service Organization

The allure of copying in service sings like the siren’s song . . . but like the siren’s song it leads the ship to the rocks. – Tripp Babbitt, 2011

So ,what is copying?

Besides the stuff that mediocrity is made of, it has many faces.  A short list might be:

  • Tools – Lean and many improvement methods promote this approach.  It is an attempt to capture lightening in a bottle.
  • Best Practices – Promoted by technology companies so they don’t have to do more for the contract overruns they have.  If everybody is doing it, it must be good.  This is a ridiculous concept for the gullible.  You will hear things like, “We did this for (insert big Fortune 500 company here) so it must be good” or “we don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Pavlovian management pants its way to the promised land.  A short cut to saving money.  Give me some of that!

It was W. Edwards Deming that warned us against copying in the 1980 TV White Paper, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?”  His famous words that the US wanted to copy Japan, “but they don’t know what the copy!”

But copying does far worse things, it stunts our growth.  Once we have a tool or best practice the search ends and management moves on.  The tools limit our ability to find new tools and methods for tomorrow’s problems leaving management looking for more to copy.

I compare tools and best practices to when we do physical inventory.  If you look at the inventory sheet first to see if the item is on the shelf, we miss the items that are not on the sheet.  This is why we need to count shelf to sheet.  Tools and best practices are like counting sheet to shelf, where we limit what else might be out there and stunts our thinking and growth.

Systems thinking organizations learn to think for themselves and can separate from all the pretenders that are always a step behind the competition and the market.  They are puzzled why copying others leaves them consistently behind.  The market wants the real thing and not a poor copy of the original, works for paintings, why not service business?

Investing in new methods to uncover better thinking and innovation doesn’t require copying it requires originality and a different perspective about the design and management of work.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

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  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Battle for Change is a War

I was reminded today of the nature of change and more importantly the methods of change.  Here, I am reminded more about the fundamental rules of change and less about whether it is lean six sigma, TQM or any of an assortment of other disciplines that may describe organizational change management.

The default method of change seems to be in making people change or training them in ways to do so.  Neither of these methods are optimal, but both may have a time and place.  The former (making people change) is a reflection of the power in wielding control, while the latter attempts to convince people.

People “do” what they believe makes sense.  It is only when people are constantly challenging assumptions that breakthroughs are realized. 

But this creates an uncomfortable position for a world made of assumptions.  Columbus challenged the flat earth theory with his life.  Copernicus was afraid to reveal his theory that the sun (not the earth) was the center of the universe and waited to almost death to have his thoughts revealed.  And so it goes through history that until assumptions are challenged through theory and observation are advancements made and new paradigms created.

New perspectives are a never-ending cycle that shortens the cycle of discovery through new and better thinking.  And so it is with systems thinking that intervention theory for organizations can create breakthroughs in innovation and method that advance mankind. 

This is not just a battle to win the day, but a war with battles won and lost.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columist (Quality Digest and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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An Assault on Our (Business) Intelligence

My post a couple days ago on Business Intelligence got the ire of people in the technology world.  Most wanted to tell me how wrong I was about what Business Intelligence (BI) was about.  However, the definition of BI must be fuzzy to these folks too . . . the answers I received were all different.

Information is not knowledge let’s not confuse the two. – W. Edwards Deming

I reject the purported fact some used to say that BI was about making better decisions.  Data may tell me how many, but tells us nothing about “why” or even give us context around how many. 

Case in point:  If I ask how many units I sold in the last year, I might conclude (wrongly) from data that this is representative.  What if I was out of stock for 6 months?  Would I miss demand that was there, but I failed to see? 

Other objectors pointed to how BI ties multiple data warehouses together or keeps IT out of the loop of “getting data.”  But is that really intelligence of any kind?

One person told me that management was hungry for more data . . . and BI vendors are ready to take their money.  We already have way too much information and with it not necessarily the right information to make better decisions.

One BI defender wrote this:

Like it or not, the business world revolves around numbers. And businesses, rightly, set targets around the numbers they want to achieve. Without data, businesses would be unable to measure performance against targets, judge success of strategies, and implement corrective action.  – From the BI Journal Blog

They rightly set targets? He obviously hasn’t learned about systems thinking and that targets become the defacto purpose of managers and workers when they should be serving customer purpose. 

Further performance against targets is dictated by the system in place.  The work design, structure, technology, management, measures, etc.  If an organization is operating at a certain level it will continue to unless the system changes and that should be managers focus – improving the design and management of work.  More data is just keeping score (at best).

You see, a lot of the BI techeads (those that use technology to solve every problem) have bought into the command and control mindset that decision-making should be separated from the work and that targets improve performance.  The reality is neither of these work very well (for other elements see command and control vs. systems thinking).

A better way to achieve better decisions is to go to the work and get knowledge and first determine what the customer purpose is (i.e., what matters to customers).  Armed with knowledge of customer purpose we can derive customer measures. 

These customer measures I have found are always (so far) different from what organizations think is important like costs and productivity.  Once an organization has customer measures that matter costs and productivity take care of themselves as they experiment with method and innovate.

BI does not lead to innovation, experimentation with method leads to innovation and this needs to be done with knowledge and with the work.  BI is becoming more of a distraction to getting on with business improvement.

So my BI friends, I stand by the fact that data needs context and alone does not help make better decisions.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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