A Refreshing Experience at a Great Company

 Why is it so difficult these days to find businesses that care about their customers?

I asked myself this question again today as I visited stores and shops looking for a few simple brackets that used to be available at every corner hardware store. The responses that I got ranged from people trying to one-up me with their technical knowledge without first attempting to understand the problem, to treating me (the customer) as if I was a nuisance. One counter clerk even exhaled with a heavy sigh when my request dislodged him from his stool located away from the service counter, as if this was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do at the end of a very long day, yet it was only 10:am!!

On a positive note, I did receive a tip to go to a shop that would actually make exactly what I needed, made to my specifications right on the spot while I waited. It sounded too good to be true but it was worth a shot.

When I arrived at Malmberg Truck Trailer Equipment LTD., located in Ottawa Canada, two smiling faces behind one of the service counters greeted me. The place reminded me of a mechanic’s version of an indoor shopping mall, or perhaps a farmers market. I was directed down a hallway lined with little shops. One sign said brakes. The one that I was looking for was the spring shop. Each shop was equipped with whatever they needed to complete their work, whether it be remanufacturing break components, or as was the case with the spring shop, manufacturing the brackets that I needed for my project.

The whole experience reminded me of my visit to a recreation of a western town, and now I was in the blacksmith shop, except it had modern tools. I placed my order and the man went to work manufacturing the eight brackets, and then as part of his quality control step, manually adjusting with his hammer and anvil to make a perfect fit. Start to finish my visit took less than twenty minutes. 

I reflected on my own work helping organizations move in this direction of focusing on providing value to the customer rather than performing tasks and complaining. I thought about a quote I had read in a book, and it seemed to apply

“It is no harder to build something great than to build something good. It does not require more suffering than perpetual mediocrity" - Jim Collins, Good to Great

As I continued my journey through the Malmberg shop and stopped at the cashier, I was prepared to hear a phrase that, like many people I have grown tired of hearing when I thank someone for his or her service. But the phrase “no problem “ was not what I heard. I never expect to be a problem. Thankfully, the man at the Malmberg cash register did not use that phrase. Instead of me being his problem, he was more concerned with solving my problem, which the Malmberg team had. One of the other employees heard me comment on how refreshing their attitude towards customers was. He enthusiastically offered that they are each very aware that no customers means no pay cheque.

Malmberg

 As written here, this story may not have the impact on you as it did on me that day, but whenever I begin to get discouraged by complacency within the teams that I am hired to improve, I will think back to this day and how refreshing it is to walk in to a place where everyone already gets it. At Malmbergs the focus is on the customer, whether it be an external customer walking in off the street, or an internal customer such as the truck repair shop just down the hall from the brake shop or the spring shop.


Posted in Service Improvement Hall of Fame Nominees | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Continual Improvement or Continual Erosion?

When I work with organizations to improve their ability to deliver services there are two acting forces that I typically encounter:
1. Inertia
2. Erosion

Inertia is an objects resistance to change. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. This rule applies equally to People.

My definition of erosion describes objects continually trying to return to the earth. Erosion applies equally to riverbanks and service improvements. Cars are another example. Cars are made out of steel, steel is made from iron ore, and iron ore is found in the dirt. If you leave a car alone long enough it will turn to dirt.

Many improvement initiatives are temporary and return to dirt. Here is one example that I captured using time lapsed photography:

In photo one, you can see the results of an improvement initiative one organization used to decrease the time it takes as well as reduce the errors that occur when connecting equipment. Attaching coloured dots to each connection to indicate which wire goes where, and then documenting the configuration makes their setup process more efficient and effective.

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This improvement initiative provided positive results and apparently had enough inertia to remain unchanged for quite some time. Inevitably erosion set in. Picture 2 was taken years later, and it appears that quite a bit has changed.

 

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It takes a trained eye to notice the difference, but those of you with advanced skills will not only spot the change in markings, but also the rogue letter escaping from its cable. Improvement ideas are like baby sea turtles. Once they are hatched they immediately begin their journey. This little number has already begun its journey to return to the earth. If all goes as planned, in a few weeks it likely will likely turn to dirt and get swept up in a dustpan.

What you have just witnessed is a true story that I uncovered as I walked the halls of one organization. How did this happen? Perhaps someone ran out of coloured dots at some point? Was the erosion slow and gradual, or was there a specific event that triggered the change? Perhaps a second improvement opportunity suggested by a worker afflicted with colour blindness caused this change?

Improvements are not the type of thing that you can set and forget. You have to be constantly trying to improve. Changes must be evaluated in some way to see if they are likely to make the situation better or worse, and then measured once the change has been made. When you stop improving, erosion is inevitable.


Posted in Service Improvement Hall of Fame Nominees | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

You Can’t Think With Your Tool Belt On® – 09/06/13

artwork toolbelt

I am seeing a pattern here...

In the last few years a number of significant size projects have come my way when the organization hired technical consultants to design and implement new cloud based solutions. In every case the technical project lead to a meeting with me to diagnose problems with these stalled projects. In every case it became clear that the root cause was organizational, and not technical.

The bad news is that the technology investment alone did not solve these problems. The good news is that the technology served as a catalyst to confront the internal truths and forced people to face some hard decisions and difficult conversations. That’s where I came in, and the smart ones have brought me in in advance of the problems.


This month's Quote:

"Like choosing a Swiss Army Knife for their jobs, people select tools with a rich set of features just in case they might need them. They don't know if they will need them because they don't really understand everything that their jobs entail, or what services (versus tasks) their clients value from them. Day by day they rely on these tools (and other people) in order bail them out, or to help make things up as they go (over and over again). Would it not be more efficient to figure out specific work patterns and address them once?" - Wayne McKinnon  


Posted in You Can't Think With Your Tool Belt on® | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

The Value of Creating Process or the Process of Creating Value?

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The building I had planned to work in today had problems with its air conditioning so I elected to work in my home office. About an hour into my day, my air conditioner suddenly shut down along with all the power in the house.

I glanced outside to see the hydro lines bouncing and a construction crew scurrying about. Once the excitement was over they went back about their work. Using my keen problem management skills I ascertained that the root cause of my power outage was a line shorted by something hitting the power lines, and picked up the phone to report it.

That's when it dawned on me that the portable phones that we have require electricity to work. Fortunately I had cell phone coverage.

But wait, it gets better!

I called the utility company's automated attendant pressed one for this, two for that, and eventually my outage was recorded. I then received a message that if I had further information that would help them troubleshoot this incident, to stay on the line and speak with an attendant.

In mere moments an attendant responded and asked me the nature of my call, recorded all the same information that I had just entered, and then seemed uninterested in the vital information that I was able to provide on why the outage occurred so that they would be able to resolve the incident more quickly.

Only somewhat satisfied that I had done all I could do, I returned to work on my battery powered laptop computer, only to be interrupted by the house phone ringing somewhere off in the distance. Dashing from floor to floor, I discovered our only non-portable phone in the house that I had forgotten that we still had. On the other end of the line was a helpful person from the field service group informing me that there was a power outage on my street (big news). He said they had no idea why, and would be dispatching a crew. He speculated that that some animal must have crawled inside the distribution box.

I've had it! I'm packing up and finding a third location to work from today. I sure hope they have coffee, air conditioning and efficient process for service delivery...


Posted in Where is the value? | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Gut wrenching or going with your gut

Every week I see business leaders, their direct reports and front line employees making “gut feeling” decisions.

Much has been written on the benefits of going with your gut, and the worst decisions tend to be ones where your analytical mind is telling your one thing but your gut is sounding off all sorts of alarms, so, yes, going with your gut has some validity, however:

1) Are you going exclusively with your gut or is your opinion informed?
2) Do you know why you are comfortable or uncomfortable with a situation?
3) Have you confronted the facts?

I could list a myriad of additional questions to consider but my point is that there is a vast difference between going with your gut because it is sending off warning signals, and simply feeling that everything will work out fine because you feel it.

Facts are facts. You can't ignore them yet many people chose to, and they make their gut the scapegoat for ignorance of the facts. How a person processes the facts is an entirely different discussion from accepting the facts.

Somewhere around 1984 an executive at the hospital where I worked informed me that there are three types of people. You have undoubtedly heard of at least two of these types by now, the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist sees the glass half full while the pessimist sees the glass half empty.

She saw herself as a third type, the realist, and recognized that if she stayed around long enough someone was going to have to wash that glass. Funding cuts had been announced. Some workers were pessimistic and wrung their hands as they waited to lose their jobs, others were optimistic that their value was significant enough that they would not be affected at all. Meanwhile my executive mentor wisely began making plans and taking swift action to make changes within her control before someone else imposed changes out of her control.

Your gut may guide you, but seeing people ignoring the facts gives me a stomachache.


Posted in Adapting To Your Surroundings | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Quick Wins, or Cutting Your Losses?

 I recently received flack for a comment that I made in response to the question “where should a small organization with limited resources begin when it comes to process improvement?”

My comment was not to overthink this. In fact, specifically I said “forget about assessments and process maturity, just get out there and improve things one at a time.”

Apparently this goes against common sense. I was told that you always have to begin with a formal assessment. Always.

This is a small organization with limited resources for Pete’s sake! The last thing they need is to launch an over-bloated improvement project that will never get off the ground, or invest in some three-week exercise to figure out where to start!

In the example given, there are only a few people roaming the halls trying to provide support, and they are already outnumbered and overburdened. If they don’t already know what needs improving, they all should be fired! In fact, regarding measurement, if management doesn’t have a clue about what “better” looks like, they should be fired too!

Could they benefit from professional advice or guidance on how and where to begin? Likely they could, thus the initial question. My advice was to either follow a project through the organization, or, when the next call comes in from a customer, actually listen to them and use that conversation as a catalyst, then work backwards from there. All of their processes could likely be improved. Making just one exactly perfect likely isn't going to provide much value, but lightly touching each one would provide an aggregate result in terms of measurable service improvement.

I can go toe to toe with many framework and methodology experts and cite their bibles chapter and verse, so don’t get me started about theory. This situation required practical experience generating actual results with minimal investment to generate quick wins, and the negative response to my practical advice is exactly why more organizations are not winning.


Posted in Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

The Value of Words – How to Influence Executives

There is an unwritten rule that I see at executive levels:

“The one who says the most often knows the least.”

Infrequently this comment is targeted at other executives but more often the targets are within the levels below. If you want to become a trusted advisor to senior management, learn to be succinct. In fact, this isn't a bad idea when talking to anyone in any situation.
 


Posted in Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

How Long is Your Value?

The comments that I received after my presentation this week were from people who expressed how pleased they were to have received so much value in such a short amount of time.

I don’t think that we should ever forget that our jobs are about producing results, and the faster those results can be produced, the sooner our customers can benefit.

In the case of my presentation at Tuesday’s conference, the event was running late. I opened by inviting the audience to give me feedback, stating that in my role helping organizations survive and thrive versus heading for extinction, that value is about the customer, not about the service provider (in this case me). I promised to make my points in a compelling way, and then get them on their way so that they didn’t miss lunch. For this I received a round of applause before I began.

In the hallways later that day, and even at other venues in the days that followed, I ran into people who wanted to let me know how much they appreciated what they had learned. None of those in attendance have approached me to tell me that I didn’t have enough slides or that the session was too short. Instead they expressed to me how much value they received.

If the number of PowerPoint slides is your measure of value, search my blog for my discussion of producing 500 page reports.

During my presentation nobody in attendance seemed to feel shortchanged when I gave them my full attention and talked with the group instead of pointing to slides. Nor did they seem to feel the need to be overwhelmed by too many points at once. Instead they felt they had received a powerful message that made them look differently at the way that they work, and were left with some time to digest it.

Maybe some didn’t get it and have not spoken up yet, but for the ones who did, they felt they received great value, and that’s the point. Value is in they eyes of the consumer, not the service provider. Nobody needs you or me, they need the results that we produce, and if we are good, we can produce those results with relative speed and ease, as long as we have a clear focus on what is of value.

It is easy to take a simple topic and turn it into somthing complex. Taking a complex topic and simplifying it is much more difficult, but that is what most attendees find value in when an expert presents.
 


Posted in Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Wayne McKinnon Presenting at the ITSMF NCR event

Wayne McKinnon will be presenting at the ITSMF NCR event, March 5, 2013 

Wayne Headshot 418NCRLogo
 
 

 Why Service Departments Should Eliminate Services
  

There is a misconception that technical experts are innovators. While it is true that technical experts can be innovative, any technical expert who has been in the field for more than a couple of years is much more likely to prefer stability over innovation. As a result, very few truly innovative ideas come from the Information Technology branch of an organization, and when they do, it is often more about systems than services.

Throw away your CMDB projects and SWOT analysis tools. Mr. McKinnon is particularly fond of locating and improving disconnects between business strategic direction and operational activities that lead to improved services, and in this session Wayne will share how everyone in any part of the organization can and should be focused on significantly improve service delivery in terms of cost, quality and customer satisfaction by doing less instead of more.

Click here for event information 


Posted in Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Please Sign Here…

 Please Sign Here:

How many times have you signed a document without reviewing it, simply because someone said the phrase “sign here?”

When I work with my clients to help improve their ability to deliver services (which spans all levels from the customer on down to design and production), I encounter many contact points were someone requires a signature from a manager before the next step can be taken. My question is always “WHY?”

Most answers focus on the act of signing.
Getting a document signed should be viewed as part of a process, not a singular event.

Sometimes I am told that a signature is required because that is the way that they have always done things around here, and other times I am told that no one is allowed to do anything until the boss signs off on it. Neither of those responses are good reasons at all. Simply putting ink to paper does nothing to provide value, and often just slows down the delivery of services.

The next question I ask is “what does the manager’s signature signify?” Often when I dig deep enough, the response sounds like a Shakespeare soliloquy, making the entire charade sound like a scene from Macbeth.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
-William Shakespeare’s MacBeth

This all leaves me wondering the motive behind the need for a signature?
• A manager’s need to feel important?
• A manager’s desire to exercise control over otherwise capable folk?
• A policy analyst’s empty description that everything must be signed for because that is the policy?
• A cut and past from someone else’s way of doing things without examining why?

If the reason is any of the above, then off with your heads!

A signature is simply evidence signifying that the appropriate steps have been followed appropriately.

I once had a boss that required any purchase order to be passed to him for his signature. He swore that he reviewed these and that nothing ever got past him before placing his signature at the bottom of the form.

He and I had a good working relationship, and on my last day of work, my colleagues held a party in my honor. It was actually more of a roast. When it was my turn to speak I produced a stack of purchase orders signed by him that I had created, had him sign and then stored in my desk drawer for such an occasion. Here is the list of items that he approved for purchase:
• 100 sea monkeys $2500.00
• Sea monkey aquarium $6000.00
• Sea monkey food $200.00
• Swing set to entertain sea monkeys $3325.00

Signed by fools…

When you stand back far enough and examine the intended value of a signature, what the signature is properly meant to be is evidence to support one’s assertion that an evaluation was performed, risks assessed, and approval was given, with acceptance of those risks and accountability for any negative outcomes by the person signing. (Fortunately for my boss, I never processes any of the sea monkey orders that he signed).

If things are going off the rails, find signatures and work back from there to determine which steps in the process are not being performed effectively. At no point should a career become but a walking shadow. It should have meaning and our actions must provide value. We should learn from our yesterdays to understand why signatures are required, and examine our motives to ensure that those actions are just.

Rather than simply creep along in this petty pace from day to day requiring signatures unnecessarily, or rubber-stamping those that require proper evaluation, perform the prerequisite duties.

If signatures are not truly required, then out, out damned process step. If they are required, then perform the analysis that your signature signifies evidence of.


Posted in Leadership, Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

You Can’t Think With Your Tool Belt On® – 02/11/13

artwork toolbelt
 

 Keep the Momentum In 2013

Every year at this time I write my advice for the new-year column. I chose to release it in February because it sets it apart from the noise of the first few weeks back from vacation. This is a time when many people with good intentions realize that they have already missed the mark on their new years resolutions, and many have told me year after year that the timing is perfect, so here goes:

1) Stop relying on electronic calendars exclusively. Even more so if you are a mobile worker rather than one who has a permanent desk, but even then consider that meeting time away from your desk as mobile time. You need more than a calendar that tells you where you are supposed to be right now. You need a portable planner that lets you see where you are going. Something that will assist you in plotting your course. (I’ll share mine with you next month)

2) Use progress metrics for yourself, and those that you manage. My first fitness goal was to simply show up at the gym as planned in my schedule, even if I did very little while I was there. My second goal after I achieved that one consistently was not to leave until the end of a fitness routine.

3) Don’t take baby steps. Shake things up. For me proactively this includes both taking on a new project and finding a fresh environment to work in. My office environment is too routine. Instead of beginning my day there, I now go to a breakfast stop after the gym. While there I write chapters for my next two books. All this before the more reactive part of my day begins. I’m sure that you can come up with more dramatic examples.

4) Be patient about starting new things, but be driven to complete the ones that you have started, unless they are no longer strategic. Don’t be afraid to shut things down if they are not. Fewer balls in the air, a higher percentage in the net.

5) Identify where the work comes from and design your process to start there.

6) Recognize the significant learning that you have internalized and the competencies you have gained. When directing others, realize that what you have achieved did not occur over night. When you tell someone to do something, they may lack the skills. When you send them on training, they may lack understanding of how to apply it. When you help them integrate the learning they now have the tools to be successful.

© Wayne McKinnon 2013. All rights reserved


Posted in You Can't Think With Your Tool Belt on® | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Wayne McKinnon’s Evolutionary Challenge

 
Evolutionary challenge
 

  

This month’s challenge is to come up with two examples of what I have termed “Working IN the Process vs. working ON the process.”

Give it your best shot using this blog’s feedback feature (below)


Posted in Wayne McKinnon's Evolutionary Challenge™ | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts