Friday, 26 August 2016

Motivation for Change?

Ever heard the line, or something like: “we need to change things now and we need to get people motivated to get on with it!”

A survey of senior managers across dozens of organisations asked a seemingly straightforward question about motivating employees and discovered a clear consensus in “Recognition for good work” as the number one motivator.  Well, it seems that all of those managers were wrong.  So, if praise and recognition don’t motivate, what else is there?

Research has now concluded that the key indicator of performance is not recognition but progress.  When people believe they are getting on and making headway, their emotions are positive and they are driven to succeed.  On days when we feel like we are spinning in circles, hitting our heads against a wall or encountering problems then our moods and motivations plummet.

Common sense really, and the research is based on many thousands of survey results, so what does this mean for managers?  Well its pretty good news since it suggests you don’t need to rely on complex incentive systems but can focus efforts on the things that help, rather than hinder, employees to make progress.  In other words, do the practical stuff – be clear about goals and objectives and help your people to achieve them.  And that’s it!

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg suggested that you cannot motivate people but you can definitely de-motivate them.  He showed that by eliminating the things that annoy people (poor training, no reward or recognition, lack of job security etc.) can create peace but not motivate anyone to improve performance.  These are things he called hygiene factors.  The way to create satisfaction with work becomes the job of managers to match people’s skills and abilities to the work, give responsibility and opportunity and support. He also recognised that everyone is different and it is essential to understand what matters to each individual.

Author Dan Pink made similar observations, saying that the most important thing to do is not to offer rewards and incentives but to help people to satisfy their innate desire for autonomy and self-direction.  Pink hypothesises that if we are intrinsically, rather than extrinsically motivated we perform better and are generally happier.  He gives many examples and some straightforward toolkit suggestions on how to achieve this

Finally, this rings true for the work that PIU do.  The people we work with aren’t incentivised in any way, apart from with tea and biscuits.  However, they do spend hours reviewing their work processes and strive to create improved re-designs that can be implemented.  We try to support them by providing tools, techniques and facilitation to enable them to do this and to leverage their subject matter expertise to make things better.  We don’t motivate them but we work to create the conditions in which they can make progress and, funny old thing, but that seems to provide all the motivation that is needed.

So my question for managers and leaders is: "how do you support your people, as teams and as individuals, to learn, grow, develop and make meaningful progress in their work, not just for one off problem fixes but as part of their day to day work?"

Thoughts on a postcard please to PIU.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Measuring what matters....

One of the key factors to maintaining improvement and indeed ensuring continuous improvement, rather than one off step change, is by paying attention to what is measured.

sustainchangepic.pngThe old adage: “tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave” says it all.

The question which then arises is “what to measure?”  The answer is both simple and complicated.  Simply put:

Understand what the purpose of your operation is, be clear about what matters to your customers and measure how capable you are at delivering this.

The sort of things that tell us how we are performing might include:

  • How long it takes from customer request to completion
  • Percentage of ‘right first time’ provisions
  • Percentage of on time completions

In the professional service areas of work this can include things like time to give a decision, time to process an application.  Some internal measures can be useful for things like the percentage of items received that can be processed (this flags up missing data or information which requires chasing, delay and re-work).

Another consideration is how to employ these key measures so that they are meaningful and tell managers and front-line staff how they are performing.  One very effective approach is the use of time series data and whilst there is a whole technical world of definition and deployment around this, the key principles are making relevant numbers easy to understand by the use of visual charts.  

SPC1 before.png
Process capability current state
For example, a process which was providing help to customers with health problems was meeting all its internal performance targets but when the key measure of how long it took from customer request to help being in place was measured it took an average of nearly 2 months and could take up to 7 months.

Following some relatively simple and straightforward redesign the revised process was measured using the same approach.  The chart below indicates the somewhat improved capability:

SPC2 after.png
Process capability after redesign
This system delivers help on average within just 4 days with an upper limit or worst case prediction of less than 2 weeks.
By putting real data about the capability of the process to deliver in graphical form we see information in a way that is much more meaningful than the outturn measures of cost, revenue and customer satisfaction.  (Realising that customers are complaining and that we need to do something about it is a bit late in the day when we should know in advance how capable our processes are at satisfying customers).  A good measure can do a number of things very powerfully:

  • It relates directly to purpose and is derived from the work
  • It helps understanding and improvement by providing information about the system
  • It demonstrates how capable the process is at doing what it is there to do
  • It is easy to understand and can be used by the people who do the work to control and improve the work
  • Managers can use it to act on the system

So the big question is, what do you measure at the moment and how relevant is this to the purpose of your service, team or process?  The PIU team would love to hear from you and even better help you with measures that let you and your teams really understand how you are doing.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Learning and Thinking part two - Leadership

I wrote last week with some thoughts about lean thinking with the emphasis on recognising the importance of changing the way we think. Since change needs support across the vertical as well as horizontal structures of our organisations it seems reasonable to ask how best to help managers with change and improvement?

The Process Improvement Unit works with teams from front line to analyse the work designs then create better ways of delivering the service.  I think it was Deming who commented that workers work in the system and managers should work on the system.  Taking front line teams and helping them to redesign their work processes is clearly working on the system so how should we support managers?

The best answer I have ever come across is that given by Deming and is frequently referred to as the system of profound knowledge, or leadership competencies.  With some interpretation by me and a few thoughts from Peter Scholtes, they are:

  • Thinking and leading in terms of systems:
Systems are wholes comprising many parts.  For example, a symphony is a complex whole comprising many parts: music, musicians, instruments, venue, conductor etc.  Each of these parts consists of sub-parts and each of these sub-sub parts. The overall purpose of the system is to perform music.  No one part or subpart can fulfil the purpose thus, they must act in concert, hence the name!  The parts must be subordinate to the purpose of the whole such that no one tries to play the loudest or fastest - the result would be a cacophony.  A common purpose, no cross-purposes and integration of all the parts provides music to the ears and is directly analogous to a well functioning organisation.  
Everything starts with a purpose.  What is your purpose is the most useful question one can be asked.  For an organisation to work properly it must have a clear, constant purpose and to have this it requires leadership.

  • Understanding variability:
Leaders failing to master the concept of variation will cause them to see trends where there are none and miss trends where there are trends.  They risk blaming people for things beyond their control and giving credit for things equally beyond control. Not understanding variation will have simplistic, almost superstitious explanations about cause and effect.  One management disease is trying to solve complex problems with simplistic solutions and the lack of understanding of variation leads to overly simplistic solutions that are wrong. Understanding variation requires data which is carefully gathered, analysed and interpreted so that we can understand our systems, predict future performance, plan, prioritise and solve problems.

  • Understanding Human Behaviour:
We are simplistic about people: we look for heroes to reward or culprits to punish. We believe we know how to motivate people when we cannot. We create elaborate incentive plans that not only don’t work but make things worse.  Human behaviour is wonderful and complicated and we will never completely understand it.  However, there are things to be learned about motivation, work performance, teamwork, loyalty, cooperation and the multitude of dynamics that comprise human behaviour.  Leaders failing to recognise this inherent complexity will fail to create the sense of community in the workplace and the genuine relationships that allow the corresponding work systems to improve and flourish.

  • Understanding Learning and Improvement:
As human lifespans get longer and the lifespans of knowledge and pace of changes get shorter these two opposing trends create a revolution in the substance and methods of learning.  What we need to learn changes rapidly and how we learn also must change rapidly with a critical need for continuous lifelong learning.  Leadership therefore must necessitate a commitment to learn - both as leaders and with the teams we lead.
Deming again said something about theory and application along the lines of “All theories are wrong, but some are useful” In other words, we have a theory, we try it out and we learn - again and again.  This repeated cycle was described by Deming as the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle which is embedded in the approaches that the PIU take with all our work.  Leaders need to commit to learn and embrace the interplay between theory and application so that true fact based learning takes place.

  • Understanding Interactions and Interdependencies:
Performance is what results from the interaction of various events and factors that comprise the system, variability, human behaviour and learning.  Leadership requires an understanding of these interactions and interdependencies in order to understand the complexities of change.
  • Giving the Organization Direction and Focus:
Simplistic leadership seeks to direct and control people.  Good leadership establishes, and continuously reinforces, throughout all staff teams the purpose, aims and priorities of the organisation.  Everything starts with a purpose and maintaining direct line of sight clarity on what this means for each and every person in the organisation is one of the roles of the leader.

So how do you rate yourself in terms of the above? I hope this has given you food for thought. The PIU would love to hear your thoughts on leadership or talk to you about how we can help...

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Thinking and Experiencing and Learning

How do we learn?

Big question, we can learn by:

  • Watching
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Following
  • Trial and error
  • Doing
  • Feedback loops
  • Structured training

There is a long list of approaches to which the above barely scratches the surface.  The question however is important to the work which the PIU carry out at a number of levels:

We train, run workshops, hold seminars, provide one off and bespoke courses.  We facilitate quick improvement sessions and week long events.  We have an array of material from ‘taught theory’ to simulation in games plus supported mini projects for people to test out what they have experienced back in their day jobs.  All of these are designed with the aim of supporting people to do two things:

  1. Gain new skills, and
  2. See things from a new perspective and think differently.

I believe that the latter is particularly important and addresses the age old questions around why so many traditional change efforts have failed to deliver to expectations in the past.  Our approach to improvement is based on lean thinking, as often quoted, but less understood as the Toyota approach.  Two words in this are critical: Lean + Thinking. It is the thinking element that we seek to challenge in many of our activities.  Every service we work with is different yet many of the problem themes which occur are familiar time and time again.  Typically we see duplication, rework, waste and delays all coupled together to conspire against effective and efficient service delivery.  As humans we seem to favour batching things, functionalizing work into silos and running faster rather than smarter.  Not because we don’t want things to work well but because we come to accept that change is too difficult or needs ‘someone else’ to sort it out and anyway, we are just too busy keeping the plates spinning.

At its simplest level, our improvement work involves examining to understand the how and why of things as they are now, then building a better operating process and planning to implement it.  So why is thinking important?  Consider:

Our thinking determines the way our work systems are designed and these work systems determine the performance which we, and our customers, experience.  It is often the poor performance experienced (delays, frustration, complaints etc etc) which act as the trigger for us to examine the work system (enter stage left the PIU team).  

And we can achieve wonders!  Getting a group of knowledgeable people together in a room has allowed us to help them create much better, easier, more efficient process designs time and time again.  However, the challenge is how do we help them sustain these improvements?  The answer, I believe, is by challenging our collective thinking.  The tools, techniques, training sessions which we run are designed to share skills, effectively providing the ‘how to’ go about improving processes.  They are also designed to make people think differently about the work and leverage their considerable skills to continuously question why they do things the way that they do them.  Given that the pace of change; technologically, legislatively, financially coupled with customer expectation that is constantly increasing it is essential that we become flexible and capable at evolving our work designs.  

So back to the question of learning - come along with an open mind and try to re-think what it means to ‘do good work’.  I suggest that it now includes constantly examining the way we do our work and taking the time out to regularly sanity check that we are doing things optimally - for our customers, for ourselves and our colleagues and for our University.  Only by being open to thinking differently about what we come to work to do will we become true lean thinkers.

Thanks for reading.