About Wayne McKinnon
As a foot note in history, Wayne once worked as a member of the team that assembled the particle detectors used in nuclear physics to discover the first evidence of quarks.
Wayne no longer works with the building blocks of the universe; instead he works with the building blocks of organizations. Unlike the tiny quark, the results that Wayne achieves for his clients are visible and have an extended lifetime.More
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Monthly Archives: February 2013
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,
-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.
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
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)
There are many business situations where service providers (internal or external) are seen as roadblocks to progress because they do not act quickly enough. Sometimes these sentiments are dead-on, but other times they are taking additional steps because it is necessary to assess risk.
When I was growing up I was taught to respect my elders, walk on the left hand side of the road facing traffic, and to look both ways before crossing the street.
The respect for elders had more to do with recognizing that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and therefore should listen to their advice before making a decision.
The other two parts had to do with situational awareness in order to minimize risk.
This morning on my way downtown during a snowstorm, I witnessed a number of close calls where pedestrians stepped off curbs without even attempting to look.
This bus picture is one example, but in another more dramatic case, a sliding vehicle was heading directly for a pedestrian who had just stepped off the curb. The driver honked the horn to get the pedestrian’s attention to no avail. The pedestrian didn’t even glance in the car’s direction. Instead she just gestured towards the yield sign indicating that pedestrians had the right of way, and kept walking. As I watched in horror, the car narrowly avoided her. As she walked away I am absolutely positive that she had no idea how close she had come to losing her life, or at least becoming a hood ornament.
The situation was entirely preventable. Yes, the car could have moved more slowly, or the driver could have been more attentive to what was about to occur as the pedestrian approached the intersection, but defensively if the pedestrian had glanced left before stepping off the curb, she would have seen the car coming and that it was out of control. Yes, the driver would have been at fault, but the pedestrian would have paid the price for assuming that signs would protect her. She would be right. Dead right.
In the corporate world we see the same obliviousness to risk. If the process of crossing an intersection involves a step where one assesses the risk before going forward, then why do business units not feel it necessary before making significant changes?
Perhaps the corporate elders act more as enforcers with zero tolerance to risk, rather than trusted advisors? Assessing risk need not always be cumbersome. Sometimes it is as easy as simply looking left and right, and that step should never be skipped. What you chose to do about the risk is another matter, but lack of awareness is foolish.
As a kid I also learned that the phrase “I didn’t know” was countered by “you should have known better.” Unlike our pedestrian friend, business leaders are expected to know better.