Tag Archives: targets

Management Hurdles for Break-through Improvement

The funny thing about change is that management wants all the change, but doesn’t want to change themselves.

The biggest hurdles to improvement are management.  This is not referencing how to do things better to the front-line . . . it is management by itself.  The problem is in the mirror.

Recent events have allowed me to take inventory of management hurdles.  So let’s take a look:

Politics. To survive large bureaucratic service organizations (all of them), you have to look good all the time.  A silver-tongue (another word for BS) goes a long way when compared to knowledge.  “Didn’t he say that well” does not overcome the lack of facts and evidence in the communication.

Navigating the politics has usually gotten folks in management positions.  Inevitably why we have so many dopes in management.  Looking good does not mean performing well.  In fact, it is a red flag.

Me, get my hands dirty? Closely related to the political hurdle are management that prefer the comfort of their office or being away from the office.  Meetings can kill lots of time too.  Asking management to be in the work to get knowledge and/or evidence usually gets that deer in the headlight look – who me?  The higher up, the more difficult as the egos are bigger.

It begs the question, did people get into management because they didn’t want to do real work?  The shuffling of papers and dictates from the mountain do not really help create value, they create more waste.

The management factory. All those people that management hires to help with the politics and looking good.  You hear words and phrases like “best practice,”  “governance” and “plans.”  Scores of people hired to help build the plans and others ensure that the front-line is following their mandates.  All add no value and waste precious resources.

The front-line folks are either frustrated by or aspire to be in the management factory.  Because creating value for customers just isn’t cool.  Making front-line employees do stupid things is much more fun.  Costly, but fun.

Hierarchy. No one and I mean no one talks to the boss until all the boxes are ticked.  A front-line employee reaching out to a CEO or an executive is not allowed.  There is an open door policy, but of course all the boxes must be ticked.  You will grow old navigating the hierarchy.  If you are lucky enough you may be granted 5 minutes with the big cheese as long as you keep to the script.

All of these things create dysfunctional organizations.  As pathetic as they are, they are in all organizations in varying degrees.

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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Buried Deep Inside the Management Factory: Value

In my last article to Quality Digest, I gave a description of the management factory.  More often than not, the management factory has been put in place with lots of bureaucratic, non-value adding roles.  The value work has literally been buried by all the policies, rules and political BS.  Customers and front-line workers get in the way of profits.

Service organizations have lost their way.  Buried the very value that creates value and reduces costs in a sea of red ink.  Management has not a clue on “what matters” to customers.  They are too busy to bother with such menial tasks as understanding customer purpose and measures that matter.

Instead, targets are set without knowledge and show “green” on Red/Yellow/Green reports.  The problem is that what is being delivered is far from “green.”  I have too often seen managers perplexed when they are hitting their numbers, but are down-sized because the company is failing.

Uncovering value in a large service organization is not hard if you know how to look.  However, all these other pursuits of management take their time, attention . . . and add no value.

Cynical, but management has become a game of manipulation.  If you can manipulate the numbers and people.  You have a future in management.  Breaking the cycle requires leadership, not sheep.

New leadership characteristics needs to be sought.  Good looks and a silver tongue can not replace knowledge.  Knowledge does not come from a management report or a meeting with other managers.  It happens when your customer shows up, calls or emails for service.  So few in management have made the connection.  Knowledge is forever buried within and value is lost.

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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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Over the years I have heard this phrase more often then I care to mention.  I hated it when I was 23 and I hate it at my current vintage age.  This term makes as little sense as the grammar it contains – and you know how bad I am at grammar.

The truth is our service systems have long been broken . . . and to some extent always will be broken.  There is no end to improvement and accepting the current state as stable is, well, both ignorant and obstinate.  Take the cover off your eyes, man.  Your service systems lack anything close to what a customer would call perfect.  And be thankful they are as such because otherwise life would be b-o-r-i-n-g.

New breakthroughs and new thinking will have infinite life for those that don’t accept the status quo.  That feeling inside that lets you know the blood is pumping through your veins is excitement and our dissatisfaction propels the world forward.

The current state of business that succumbs to targets, incentives, and assumptions leads us to the “ain’t broke don’t fix it” crowd.  A pathetic lot that reminds me of the McCarthy and witch hunt eras of yesteryear.  “Did I hear you say no targets?”  Burn them at the stake or accuse them of heresy or even communism that should keep them cowering.  Copernicus hid his revelation that the earth was not the center of the universe until his death in fear of being mocked or killed.

Do we still live in that era?

Universal “truths” that aren’t are hard to swallow and so we wallow in the stagnation of old theories.  Like a pig to mud.  Claiming brilliance, instead of admitting we wreak the odor of decay.  New thinking is only hazardous to careers, not profit.  Those that venture outside to experiment with method most often are labeled failures until they start their own companies and defeat last generation’s thinkers.

Toyota in manufacturing, Apple in technology while the rest fight to protect their dying markets, thinking and profits.  An isolationist attitude in a global market.

God bless the dissatisfied.

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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Service Targets, Technology and other Non-sense

It was W. Edwards Deming that first spoke of “arbitrary numerical goals” and the damage they can do to organizations.  His famous question was, “By what method?”

Anyone that understands Walter Shewhart’s control charts understands that a system operating predictably between the upper and lower control limits cannot be improved without a statistically significant change of method.

They can, however, be changed by manipulation of the system or the numbers.   This is the bad news of targets, especially when rewards or penalties are tied to achieving them.  Managers and workers are caught attempting to reach targets in bad systems . . . manipulation is often the only alternative.  It is sometimes referred to as a “defacto purpose.”

Over and over organizations that set targets get a false sense of security.  SLAs (Service Level Agreements), KPIs, budgets are set with targets and seemingly achieved, but customers don’t feel the 95% target in the service provisioned to them.  There is good reason for this, the truth is hidden in the details.  Projects and cases are closed and reopened, customers get hung up on, operational definitions are changed, money shifted and the list goes on in the creativeness to hit the numbers.

None of this is real improvement.

The design of our service systems gets to the heart of Dr. Deming’s method question.  When the design of the work is consistently poor (and it is), the result is predictable . . . bad service hidden by faux measures.

It doesn’t end there.

Unfortunately, service organizations turn to information technology to automate the poor design.  Here, we enter the realm of scripts, IVRs, best practices, analytics and standardization – a short list.  Management has a love for technology that is assumptive in nature and puzzling to customers.  Management and technology are like moths to light.  Why have paper when we can have technology?  For that matter, why have people?

A fool’s gold.

Service organizations have spent billions on technology and the outcome has been project delays, cost overruns, and entrapped workers have contributed to the great money pit called information technology.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Our greatest opportunity for improvement lies in the design and management of work.  This involves not just redesign, but also how our thinking got us to the poor design in the first place.

Much of this thinking problem is rooted in costs and budgets with the corresponding targets associated with these.  Others are rooted in the problem of the functional separation of work, how we think about workers (see the Quality Digest article The Droids We Build), assumptions about motivation.

Coming to grips with the thinking that prevents good service is an important part of developing good service.  Addressing the system conditions (targets, technology, standardization, etc.) that constrain our service systems can only be done with knowledge.  And knowledge is gained by studying our service systems outside-in from a customer’s perspective.

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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Service Sales – Design the System Better and Finish the Job

The functional separation of work shows up in many places in many ugly ways.  The one design that is maddening to customers is where you have the salesperson sell you a product and tell you about all the great features and benefits, only to disappear after the sale is made.  This requires a hand-off to some back office person that either laughs at what the salesperson said the product or service would d0 or has no clue about anything the salesperson said.

I laugh when I hear salespeople say, “My job is to sell, not service.”  Are you kidding?  You have zero chance of a referral with this thinking, especially when customers have to track down someone that can actually help them.  As consumers we should not be tolerating this behavior.

Interestingly, if you provided me good service there would be less reason to have marketing or sales . . .  or at least greatly reduce their need.

I don’t buy that sales is a stand alone profession.  Functionally, sales has been split out and it has become highly rewarded.  But aren’t we just trying to find people to do sales that have a silver tongue because our service stinks?  Trying to convince customers that we “really are good” or hope that if we spin it the right way customers won’t find out about poor encounters.

My recent article at Quality Digest talked about how there are fewer places to hide for service organizations that provision services poorly.  Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets give customers and potential customers a forum to share their experiences.  And you can read for yourself that the mouthpieces aren’t always happy with your performance.

My insurance company salesperson couldn’t be bothered with operational issues that I was having trouble with when my basement flooded.  That of course is a different department.  My perspective as a customer is that there are no departments . . . there IS ONE COMPANY.

Customer wish:  Please don’t bore me with your over-stimulated sales people.  Just give me what I want when I want it.  I promise to reward you with more business and from me and others.

Now that is service and sales.

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 Problem with Budgets

Headline:  Iran Attacks USA, but No Budget to Fight Back

News at 11 . . .

Well.  That headline would get some attention.  Robert Gates claimed that he can’t fight two wars on the budget he was given.  Whether to fight two wars or not is the right thing to do is not the question I am addressing here.  The question is whether the budget should dictate what we should do.

Needless to say, I am against all this focus on budgets.  Because when we talk about budgets, we are talking about costs.  Politicians are notorious for trying to reduce costs, but they wind up increasing them.  Sometimes because of ideology and sometimes because they just hack away without knowledge of the systems they tamper with

. . . and this is the management paradox.

I am all for spending less, but in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “By what method?”  There is no way that by congress or law that we have any chance to reduce spending without knowledge of where the waste is in  any system.

Take a view that if we cut costs to eliminate our ability to fix potholes that their would be loss to the system.  Cars with flat tires and people would complain . . . a lot.

The question becomes where to cut and that can only come with knowledge of what we are doing today.  Not a line item on a budget.  This is true for both business and government.

“Reduce expenses by 9%” to meet the budget is as stupid as the removal of the wrong arm in surgery.  Managers have to be better and smarter than that to succeed.  Executives with such mandates should tarred and feathered in public for offering up such ridiculous solutions to their problems.

Management needs to understand the dysfunction that is caused by the setting of targets with budgets.  Does it get people’s attention . . . absolutely.  Cut travel, cut unnecessary expenses, but what is unnecessary?  Somebody is traveling for a reason.

It should be called “Corporate Stupidness.”  As I have often seen managers saddled with such expectations wait for the “stupid period” to end, so they can get back to doing their real jobs.

All this caused by an arbitrary number that someone committed to during that investment call.  This is just good business . . . except it is not.  It is short-term thinking at its worse.  Driving value out and expenses in over the long-term.

Budgets have long become obsolete, just when will managers discover their carnage?

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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Knowledge Over Strategy

Those strategy sessions . . . full of the visionary people of any organization.  Sitting in a room concocting up plans, hopes and wishes.  But few make touch with reality – of any kind.

How many times must we sit in a meeting full of big egos and assumptions to develop the 5-year plan without knowledge?  There are talks of trends, a few anecdotal customer quotes, an industry “expert” and . . . of course, the financial review and budget.  The it is lunch, golf and dinner before the “putting the strategy together the next day.

They would have done well to continue to play golf.  Because as a strategy is assembled, projects are identified and executive owners can then take action on their assumptions.  Taking action on assumptions is the wrong thing to do, it locks in the waste and sub-optimization with a management mandate.

Not that anyone ever goes back and looks at what they developed during these strategy sessions.  Strategic plans come in a binder and gather dust on management shelves.  If you want to get green, get rid of this waste.

The closest thing organizations are left with are the project plans, targets and the budget information.  All the wrong thing to do.  Somehow this is what management has become.

But wait, there is the need to report on all this activity with reports.  “We will need information technology.”  What we really need is knowledge technology.  But this requires work, something best avoided by management.

Gaining knowledge is really very easy.  Spend some time in the work getting knowledge of the “what and why” of current performance.  Then maybe you will discover you don’t need to “strategize.”

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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SPC – There is NO Other Way!

I read an article today in Quality Digest about Dr. Don Wheeler (An Interview with Donald J. Wheeler).  I had the pleasure of getting a solid back ground in SPC from Dr. Wheeler and from a local (Indianapolis) statistician named Tim Baer.  I won’t pretend to have their knowledge, but through application of statistical theory I have learned that there is no other way to know whether improvement efforts or experimentation are making things better.

W. Edwards Deming challenged us in many ways.  He warned us not to copy the Japanese (because we could never catch up).  The perpetuation of Dr. Deming’s ideas requires a solid understanding of statistical methods.  Rarely, do I walk into a service organization and see the use of control charts (or process behavior charts as Dr. Wheeler references them).

The truth is there is no way to know whether things are getting better without the use of SPC.

That is correct – there is no other way!  So this begs the question of why their use is so uncommon amongst those that mine, analyze and use data.  If they did they would understand why targets are so damaging.  Or why the system governs performance and not the individual.  These are things you come to understand when you understand variation through the use of SPC.  My Myth Buster series at IQPC explains why – click here.

To me, operating without solid knowledge of SPC is a mistake that is very costly.  An organization trying to achieve business improvement must know when things are betting better or falling apart.  Sometimes you find out that things are worse when it is too late.  This requires an early warning system for a business tsunami that can wipe you out.

Using data in appropriate manner is hard to find these days in service organizations.  SPC is the only tool worth learning.

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 Executive Glass Floor

It’s a little early for football, but I always can remember a game or two where the team leading goes into a prevent defense.  The commentators predictably comment that a prevent defense will prevent you from winning.

Business is different than football in many different ways.  An important one being that aim of business is not to win, but to make money.  This is often lost in the conversation with executives especially ex-athletes carrying over their glory years and yearn for the competition of business.  Aggressiveness without knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Yet, when it comes to making profit most management types look to protect their position within the company.  You hear words like, “Don’t make waves” or “That is too risky” or “Protect the bottom line.”  These are all ways of playing prevent defense in business.  Accountants and risk types can point behind trouble at every corner.  Sensational headlines each day lead to adding expense to protect profit.

Instead profit is diminished as more and more infrastructure is added for protection of more an executive’s position than their profit.  The things they do to protect by watching financials daily and setting targets do nothing but add expense.  The real work is buried amongst a meaningless pile of management reports.

The end game is always surprise when executives realize that the management reports have betrayed them.  “This isn’t what the reports were saying” . . .  exactly the problem.  Meeting internal and external SLAs (service level agreements) is never a good way to manage.

Rarely, do I find that service systems report what is happening accurately.  Instead, they report “what matters.”  And in too many cases this leads to manipulation because “what matters” is what the boss says is important or is rewarded through incentives.  Hit those targets and you get a prize.

C’est la vie.

The management paradox is that this form of “prevent defense” prevents you from profits.  It is a huge thinking problem for executives.  The answer is seeing for yourself the damage, don’t believe me.  Hierarchy and not seeing installs a glass floor.  “Me, in the work? Don’t you know who I am? I do NOT go there.”

Huge profits await those that are willing to shake the hierarchy they have embraced in favor of a more knowledgeable approach.  Seeing is believing and it will save a fortune on your technology spend for data mining and analytics.

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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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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