!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Value of Prediction Markets

As a follow-on to this earlier post on prediction markets, I'd mention a Business Week online report that provides several examples of how companies are using prediction markets to help with decision-making. By aggregating knowledge from a broad base of individuals, a prediction market can often yield highly accurate indications of future outcomes. They also help top management get a clearer picture of employees' thinking.

Writer Rachael King explains that
[t]he markets are particularly useful in areas such as consumer goods or technology, where change is rapid and companies need to adapt quickly or get left behind.
Specific types of decisions prediction markets can help with include:
  • sales forecasts

  • product launch dates

  • new products most likely to succeeed

  • resource allocation for new product development

  • when a project milestone will be reached

  • how a movie will fare
The last item is particularly interesting to me because I've read so often about the unreliability of conventional methods of predicting a movie's box office. You can get an idea of how movie-oriented prediction markets work by visiting the Hollywood Stock Exchange website.

The Business Week report provides a handy list of Do's and Don'ts for setting up a prediction market. One Do is investing in education for participants, so they understand how the market works and are not discouraged by complexity in placing their bets. Also, middle managers will be more willing to reduce their role as information gatekeepers if they are given a persuasive explanation of the value of the prediction market.



Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Isle of Man

During my just completed trip to Ireland, the UK, and France, my happiest discovery was the Isle of Man. It's the little red dot between Ireland and Great Britain in the map below.

The cities and towns, especially the capital Douglas (below), are fully equipped with modern infrastructure.

At the same time, just beyond the cities and towns there is beautiful countryside ...

... including beautiful forests ...

As I did, you can travel a few routes on old-fashioned trains ...

... or you can treat yourself to walks and hikes of whatever length you like.

I'm dying to go back to Man myself, and have been recommending it to other people who like the sorts of atmosphere and activities it offers. For people interested in additional information, the official tourism site is here.



Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Use and Abuse of Discovery Learning

Used selectively, discovery learning1 can produce strong retention of important knowledge and skills, especially for people who already have a good grasp of the basics.

But this sort of experiential learning can also lead to the disappointing situation of Mission Not Accomplished.

Fortunately, there is considerable research available to help training designers decide when to use discovery methods and when to use more directive methods. Just this year, Paul A. Kirschner (Utrecht University), John Swell (University of New South Wales), and Richard E. Clark (University of Southern California) published a paper in Educational Psychologist, in which they marshall evidence to show that minimally guided instruction2 is
less effective [the learner can acquire misconceptions, incomplete knowledge, and/or disorganized knowledge] and less efficient [due to the learners' false starts] than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide "internal" guidance.
Kirschner, Swell, and Clark support their argument with a review of research studies that tested discovery methods against direct instruction. These studies found that the latter led to deeper learning, especially in the case of novice learners. (See also this earlier post about Anders Ericsson's research on the relative roles of raw talent and deliberate practice in a person's development of expertise.)

The lessons I take away from my reading of the Kirschner/Swell/Clark article are that we should listen to people when they say they like classroom sessions because they can ask questions; we should generally confine discovery learning to selected modules of a training course, and make sure that the learning is debriefed well by the facilitator; and we should carry on with giving advanced learners real business problems to solve in their training, while providing guidance from master teachers (à la Toyota).

1 Academics use the term "constructivist" to refer to various types of discovery learning. You can read about constructivist ideas of learning here.

2 Kirschner defines "an unguided or minimally guided environment" as one in which learners, rather than being presented with essential information, must discover or construct essential information for themselves.



Monday, August 28, 2006

"I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..."

One of the professors I most admired in graduate school was Jürg Niehans, a Swiss economist who began teaching in the US in 1966. He was deeply knowledgeable and keen-witted. He was full of right answers, and he was able to come up with them very quickly.

Nevertheless, he took care not to squelch students or colleagues. One of his favorite ways of starting a comment was, "I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..." He would then explain what he thought was the correct view of whatever issue was under discussion. Everyone else around the seminar table was confident that if they had something to contribute, whether supporting or contradicting Niehans' position, he'd be happy to listen.

This approach to delivering answers one is virtually certain are correct became a model for me. Not that I use Niehans' "I don't want to be dogmatic" intro, but I do try to make it clear non-verbally that responses from others are welcome, whether or not they agree with me.

I should add that Niehans didn't hesitate to inject a note of sarcasm if someone came out with a comment that was really weak. My favorite line was Niehans' observation in one seminar that a point someone had just made "is something that's been known since antiquity at the latest."

When I think about my overall impression of Niehans, which is strongly positive, I think it illustrates part of what I said in yesterday's post. Paraphrasing: A teacher who challenges you and sets high standards is a gift.

If he has a sense of humor, that's icing on the cake.


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

No Correlation Between Level I and Level III Evaluation

There is an excellent article by Sarah Boehle in the August issue of Training magazine. "Are You Too Nice to Train?" blows the whistle on the widespread misuse of smile sheets in evaluating training.

It was the title that caught my eye. Ever since I started school, I've accepted the idea that you should take what you can from a knowledgeable teacher and not worry too much about whether he or she has a winning personality. And you certainly shouldn't hold it against the teacher if he or she challenges you to think more clearly and to meet high standards.

Unfortunately, in the world of business training, evaluation is most often confined to Donald Kirkpatrick's Level I, which means that the facilitator's personality, and willingness to flatter participants, play a disproportionate role in determining whether the training is viewed as successful.

Put another way, if a company begins and ends training evaluation with smile sheets, they are depending on feedback suitable for a motivational speaker, whose job it is to get people into an "I will do it" frame of mind. What they should be doing is gathering information on whether the training has advanced people to the point where they "can do it" and "do do it."

"Can do" is measured at Kirkpatrick's Level II (see above graphic). Actually "doing it," which is what really matters, is measured by observing whether learning is being applied (Level III), and whether the training has led to better business results (Level IV).

Boehle reports that research indicates that "there is an exceedingly weak correlation among the various levels of training evaluation." Furthermore, there seems to be a negative correlation between Level I results and Level III results, i.e., high ratings on the smile sheets tend to be associated with poor on-the-job application of learning, and vice versa.1 Apparently some of what is necessary to make learning stick, can lead to participants' giving a facilitator relatively low smile sheet scores.

This finding reinforces the importance of doing a sufficiently meaningful Level III evaluation to know whether needed skills and knowledge are being acquired and used. Meanwhile, smile sheets can serve the very useful purpose of gathering ideas from training participants concerning how the training can be improved.

1 Boehle cites Turning Research into Results A Guide to Selecting the Right Performance Solutions, by Richard E. Clark, a professor at the Rossier School pof Education at the University of Southern California, and Fred Estes, a training designer and an adjunct professor at USC.



Saturday, August 26, 2006

Going Live with Your Strategy

I've written about the knowing-doing gap previously. I'd like to follow up with some practical ideas in the specific area of getting from knowing what your company's strategy is to actually executing it successfully.

Thanks to strategy consultants Michael C. Mankins and Richard Steele, we have a research-based checklist of seven steps for effective strategy development and implementation.

Writing in the July-August 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Mankins and Steele note, as any number of other researchers have, that "despite the enormous time and energy that goes into strategy development, many companies have little to show for their efforts." To make your own organization's strategic planning efforts pay off, Mankins and Steele recommend:
  • Keep it simple, make it concrete. Explain in clear language where the company is headed and why. Describe what the company will and will not do.

  • Debate assumptions, not forecasts. Create cross-functional teams with representatives of planning, marketing, and finance to ensure that the assumptions underlying your long-term plans reflect both the real economics of your company's markets and its actual performance relative to competitors. Avoid debating forecasts because such discussion, due to its links with performance evaluation and compensation, invariably becomes political (as opposed to fact-based).

  • Use a rigorous analytic framework. You want a sound way of linking your business's performance in the product/service market with its financial performance. Therefore, make sure that the dialogue between headquarters and the business units about market trends and assumptions is conducted within a rigorous framework. Mankins and Steele offer profit pools as an example.

  • Discuss the level and timing of resource deployments early on. This is essential for arriving at realistic forecasts and for making execution of your plans as efficient and successful as possible.

  • Clearly identify priorities. Use agreed priorities to guide tactical decisions. You want employees to have a clear understanding of where to direct their efforts.

  • Continuously monitor performance. Identify and monitor the primary drivers of performance, and then track resource use and results against plan. Use this continuous feedback to reset assumptions and reallocate resources as necessary.

  • Reward employees' execution performance, and continuously strengthen their capabilities. You want both to motivate continued good performance and to equip employees to steadily improve their skills.
By making these steps your guide to developing a sound strategy and then executing it well, you will avoid the sort of gap between strategy and execution that causes so many companies so much grief.


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Friday, August 25, 2006

Effective Charismatic Leadership

Project GLOBE has been discussed in several previous posts. Among the key results of this intensive investigation of the relationship between culture and effective leadership is that "charismatic/value-based leadership" is viewed as effective in all of the 62 societies studied.

This result can seem surprising to anyone who is aware of business leaders widely viewed as "charismatic" who have managed to get away with malfeasance that inflicted serious damage on their companies, employees, and stockholders.

Thus, it is important to understand what characteristics the Project GLOBE researchers associate with the leadership style they call "charismatic/value-based." These characteristics are:
  • Charismatic/Visionary

  • Charismatic/Inspirational

  • Charismatic/Self-Sacrificing

  • Integrity

  • Decisive

  • Performance-oriented
Project GLOBE distills these six characteristics into a definition: Charismatic/value-based leadership is a style of leadership that taps the ability to inspire, motivate, and communicate high performance expectations on the basis of firmly held values.

It is also important to recognize the shortcomings that can accompany charismatic leadership. These include:1
  • Employees so much in awe of the leader that they hesitate to make suggestions.

  • Employees stifling criticism lest they find themselves on the leader's enemies list.

  • Employees assuming that the leader is infallible.

  • The leader's confidence and optimism blinding him/her to risks in need of management.

  • Organizational learning forestalled because problems are denied.

  • A portion of employees who are turned off by impulsive, nontraditional behavior of the leader.

  • Neglect of succession planning.
Once one has a clear understanding of the meaning of "charismatic/value-based leadership," and so long as one is aware of potential shortcomings of this leadership style, the finding that charismatic/value-based leaders are viewed as effective across all the cultures GLOBE studied becomes quite plausible.

1 This list of shortcomings is based on the work of Gary Yukl. See Leadership In Organizations, 5th ed. (Prentice Hall, 2002).



Thursday, August 24, 2006

21st-Century Journalism IX: Can You Teach Curiosity?

According to CNN's Larry King, the answer to "Can you teach curiosity?" is No. Therefore, in King's view, it isn't really possible to teach newspeople how to conduct better interviews because curiosity is what equips an interviewer to ask good questions.1

Meanwhile, over at ESPN, veteran investigative reporter John Sawatsky, now ESPN's director of talent development, takes the view that "If an interview goes well ... [i]t happens for an understandable reason. It's rational. It's a skill. It's easy to teach someone skills."2

As an interested observer who has developed consultative sales training for a number of years, and who has written the occasional interview-based feature for our local newspaper, I have no doubt that Sawatsky is right and King is wrong.

I became interested in what Sawatsky has to say about skilled interviewing when I heard an August 14 David Folkenflik report on NPR concerning the training Sawatsky is doing at ESPN.

From Folkenflik's conversation with Sawatsky, it was apparent that a skilled consultative salesperson and a skilled reporter have a lot in common when it comes to the techniques they use to gather information from people who are not always inclined to be forthcoming and frank. For instance:
  • It is essential to prepare meticulously in advance of meeting with a source of information. (Larry King prides himself on doing zero preparation for his interviews.)

  • Yes-or-no questions are to be avoided except when confirming a specific piece of information. Open-ended questions are much more likely to produce a quantity of useful information, especially when followed up intelligently.
There are also differences. For instance:
  • Sawatsky urges reporters to keep questions short. A salesperson may want to be schmoozier in how he poses questions. For both reporter and salesperson, it's important that questions be clear.

  • Sawatsky cautions reporters to avoid charged words. A salesperson has more flexibility in deciding when to push buttons and when to be neutral in his choice of words.

  • Leading questions are almost always a bad choice for a reporter. For a salesperson, so long as they don't undercut the authenticity of the consultative approach, leading questions can be a real help in advancing toward a completed sale.
The key point for me is that effective information gathering is indeed a skill that can be taught. The specifics of best practice will vary according to the purpose for which the information is being gathered (e.g. for a news report vs. for learning what a prospective customer values), but that just means that the skill training must be customized accordingly.

1 David Folkenflik, "The Art of the Interview, ESPN-Style," All Things Considered, NPR, August 14, 2006.

2 Susan Paterno, "The Question Man," American Journalism Review, October 2000. An article well worth reading if you want more detailed information concerning John Sawatsky's views on how to interview well.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teaching Ethics

Despite the widespread belief that you can't teach ethics, there are many classes being taught. Indeed, in the wake of recent business scandals, there has probably been a marked rise in the number of ethics courses included in school curricula at all levels.

My own experience as the product of K-12 Catholic education fits the proposition that teaching right and wrong has to start when a person is young. After a person's character is formed — perhaps the threshold is somewhere in the twenties — trying to get them to behave more ethically by exposing them to ethics training is a dubious endeavor.

But ... like most generalizations, this one bears examination to see where there may be exceptions. I believe I came upon a counterexample in an article in the August 7 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Alan F. White, senior associate dean of the international MBA program run by MIT in partnership with a pair of Chinese universities, speaks in an interview about his experiences in the ten years the program has been in existence. Toward the end of the interview, he gets onto the subject of academic fraud and plagiarism in China. White reports that the China MBA program has
been asked by our sponsors to assist the Chinese in teaching ethics. So we have two faculty members, one who draws on classical Chinese sources and offers sessions in ethics, and a second is an attorney who works on it from the standpoint of business practices. He shows where laws break off and where ethical considerations should begin. Knowing where that line exists is very important. But we don't suggest the ethics the Chinese should have. We talk about approaches to developing curricula and let them figure that out for themselves.
What is encouraging about such an initiative is that it directs effort toward filling gaps in knowledge, as opposed to sermonizing, and it does this in a way that provides practice in moral reasoning, as opposed to simply imparting rules in the deluded hope that learning a set of rules will equip a person to make ethical decisions.1

Since the ethics curriculum is not yet in place, its effectiveness remains to be seen. I'll be watching for follow-up reports on the training's actual impact.

1 Gordon Marino, a professor of philosophy at Saint Olaf College, made a similar point in the February 20, 2004 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education: "Unless our ethics students learn to examine themselves and what they really value, their command of ethical theories and their ability to think about ethics from diverse perspectives are not likely to bring them any closer to being willing and able to do the right thing."



Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Let's All Get Along: Moderating an Online Forum

I have been helping administer an online forum for a Finnish rock band for a little over three years, during which time I have been solidifying my ideas of how best to handle this job.

My aim as a co-administrator with the site owner (a young German man) is to maintain an inviting, friendly atmosphere among the forum members, old and new. The people who visit the forum come from all over the world and use English to communicate with each other. In fact, using English is one of our rules because we want to be inclusive.

The members are also mostly young — in their teens and twenties. This means that there is often some educating needed concerning accepable behavior. In other words, some of the problems that crop up are honest mistakes of inexperienced youth.

For this type of forum — recreational, skewed young — these are the main principles I'd recommend to administrators and moderators:1
  • Rudeness is out. Since some young people enjoy trash talk, they think it's OK to bring it to our forum. They have to be clued in to the fact that trash talk is not part of our culture and is not allowed. Other types of rudeness are also verboten. On the other hand, isolated, mild instances that don't lead to flame wars are often quietly ignored. (My worst experience in this area involved a young German woman who felt entitled to criticize quite scathingly the mother of an autistic child in Britain who was trying to let her daughter participate in the forum because it seemed like a safe site to her.)

  • Encourage thick skins. Some people are quick to take offense at statements they encounter in postings. They then want to quarrel, and maybe even get one of the moderators to issue a warning or a ban to the poster who has given offense. I believe warnings and bans should be used as lightly as possible — basically, only to control truly disruptive visitors. Again, the idea is to be inviting and not have people thinking that they have to stifle themselves lest they get in trouble with the forum powers-that-be. Some of the moderators have a harsher view, so another part of my job is deciding when to overrule a moderator, which brings us to the next point ...

  • Display a united front. In the event of a difference of opinion concerning how to handle something obnoxious a forum visitor has done, such as expressing racist views, I generally support whatever action a moderator has taken even if I think it is too harsh. After all, I may be too much of a softie, and even if I'm sure it would have been better to let the incident pass, I believe it's important to minimize second-guessing the moderators. I know they're all well-intentioned and trying to make appropriate judgment calls.

  • Be responsive. If a member of the forum has a question or complaint, it's important to respond quickly and sympathetically. As with customer service situations, how a forum administrator or moderator handles an issue a forum member raises makes a tremendous difference in how the member feels about continuing to be part of our online community.

  • Neatness counts — on the front page. For the most part, I don't edit postings, since there's no reason to spend my time on something that is likely to annoy at least some of the posters who don't appreciate having someone else meddle with their text. What I do do is correct spelling errors that appear in the thread titles on the front page of the forum. With so many non-native speakers of English, errors are fairly frequent. Even native speakers have their problems with spelling. Cleaning up the mistakes keeps the front page looking presentable, which I consider important for making a good impression, especially on newcomers.

  • No blatant copyright violations. Forum participants have to understand that the forum owner is not willing to risk being sued just because fans of the band enjoy sharing digital files they are not authorized to distribute.

    With the advent of YouTube, this issue seems to have become easier to cope with. Content owners appear to be accepting an approach whereby, if some kid somewhere posts an unauthorized video, it stays online unless and until the copyright owner requests its removal. This is as opposed to expecting site owners to vigilantly watch for unauthorized material and to remove it without being asked — a time-prohibitive task in the Internet era.
As I mentioned at the beginning, our forum is frequented by a lot of young people, so I view what I'm doing as including an element of teaching, which, no surprise, is something I enjoy.

1 Forum moderators have somewhat fewer privileges than forum administrators. For instance, moderators can move, edit, and pin posts, and they can warn and suspend members, but they may not be able to ban members.



Monday, August 21, 2006

Work Smart

Especially in the case of knowledge and service workers, it's essential to have a concrete approach to getting as much as possible produced in a given amount of time. There are five steps involved in identifying ways of working smarter:
  1. Define the task. Ask: Does this work need to be done?

  2. Concentrate on the task. Ask: How exactly can we add value by doing this?

  3. Define performance. Ask: What are relevant quantitative and qualitative measures of what we are accomplishing?

  4. Get advice from any and all knowledgeable employees about how to improve the process and the outcome.

  5. Make learning continuous. Use capable training specialists to design and guide training efforts (a good portion of which will be based on on-the-job coaching). Ask the best performers to become teachers for the rest.
Managers play an important facilitating role in all of these steps. In addition, they serve as links between their own units and the rest of the organization. This bridging of organizational gaps is a powerful way of enabling employees to work smarter by coordinating better with co-workers organization-wide.


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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Competitive Differentiation

It is impossible to overstate the importance of differentiation in the marketplace. Sources of differentiation include:
  • the nature of services wrapped around products

  • talent and expertise the company can tap

  • the company's quality processes

  • strong customer relationships

  • how specific combos of products and services are tailored to individual customers

  • use of high-quality resources

  • infrastructure investments (e.g., IT)

  • financial resources

  • the quality of the company's distribution channels

  • the quality of the company's information about customers and competitors
A sustainable advantage usually comes from developing skill sets, depth of experience, know-how, market understanding, data bases, and distribution capabilities that others cannot field and that customers agree deliver value.

If a prospective customer asks, "Which company that sells what we're looking for is consistently competent, responsive, and well-organized?" does your company come to mind first? If yes, the need is to continue delivering the product and service excellence the customer has come to expect.

If not, there is almost surely opportunity for clearer differentiation through some combination of the sources of differentiation listed above. And that, in turn, means systematically assessing training needs, and addressing whatever knowledge and skill gaps are identified as barriers to strengthened differentiation.



Saturday, August 19, 2006

Framing Reality

We're all so sophisticated these days. For instance, it seems just about everybody talks knowingly about "framing" when discussing the dynamics of political and other discussions. People blithely talk about the importance of not letting others frame ideas in ways that automatically make one's own point of view seem misguided, unimportant, or dangerous.

But how many people actually have the skill to reframe issues? How do you get your own perspective recognized and given consideration? You want to have legitimate dialogue, as opposed to engaging in endless sparring. At best, a sparring match doesn't accomplish anything and, at worst, it results in bad decisions about important issues.

For instance, in a conflict situation, a key step is reframing the issue from individual positions, to a neutral, mutually acceptable statement of the issues. How do you do this?

To set the stage for a constructive dialogue:
  • Frame the discussion to avoid blame, and instead focus on the larger problem everyone is facing.

  • In a complex situation, invest sufficient time and effort to uncover all concerns before you move to reframe them into a constructive problem statement.
Some guidelines:
  • Focus on actual interests — concerns, wants, needs. Do not accept as premises for the discussion the various parties' positions — their specific answers, responses, solutions.

  • Reverse roles. Put yourself in the other person's place. Be as explicit as possible when imagining what it is like to be him or her. How might it make sense for the other person to feel as he/she does? What is the best light you can view the other person in? What is it like to be the other person looking at you?

  • Identify common ground. Defining a dispute as "ours to resolve" is the beginning point for getting people on the same side of the table. Finding and highlighting commonalities, even on small issues, can establish a successful pattern and enhance problem solving.
And, of course, take seriously the goal of arriving at a neutral statement of the issue. Don't undercut your trustworthiness by trying to get the issue phrased in terms that are biased toward your own point of view and your own interests.


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Friday, August 18, 2006

Learning Better and Faster

There is not a lot of surprise in hearing that biology students retain more if they are taught using animated 3D graphics accompanied by annotations, than if they learn from 2D graphics and text in a textbook.

What was striking to me about a report I came upon of a couple of experiments at Harvard comparing these methods was that undergraduates experienced not only improved retention, but also faster learning.

In one experiment,
...Robert Lue, who created Biovisions [the project developing the enriched graphics] ... tested two separate groups of 12 undergraduates on their ability to interpret experimental data and draw conclusions from it. One group was given 90 minutes with the latest textbook on the subject; the other was given 20 minutes with animations in an interactive interface. The group with the animations scored almost 30 percent higher. [emphasis added]
In the other experiment,
... two groups of students studied the same concept and then were tested on it. The first group had notes augmented by the animation and one hour in which to study. The second group had a textbook with assigned readings and two hours in which to study. [emphasis added]

The results showed the students who saw the animation did better, Lue said, scoring an average of 93 percent on a test of facts, compared to 79 percent for those who used the textbook [a difference of 17%].
As a Harvard news item explains, "The difference [between 2D and 3D animated graphics is] dramatic, with the animations bringing to life the flat, sometimes confusing textbook images, showing not just the structure of complex processes, but allowing students to watch them at work." And, as the experiments indicate, the impact on learning is decidedly positive.

The goal of the Biovisions Project is to "combine advanced multimedia development with rigorous biological content." The project uses these media (pdf):
  • 3D animations of complex biological processes

  • 2D animations that illustrate sequential processes and the underlying chemistry

  • interactive tutorials

  • digital video clips that show important research techniques and interviews with scientists discussing the history, current use, and future directions of a given method
As Lue explains,
Biological knowledge is expanding at an incredible rate, but class time is not expanding to match. Instead of making things increasingly superficial in courses, which unfortunately is one of the approaches that could be taken, the idea behind Biovisions is to create teaching tools that will allow you to teach major concepts far more quickly than you could in a standard lecture using overheads or even slides.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Toyota Way III: Leadership Development

Recent reports of quality issues at Toyota momentarily made me wonder whether there should be a moratorium on laudatory references to the Toyota Way and the Toyota Production System. As you can guess from the fact that I'm now writing my third post on the subject (the two previous posts are here and here), I'm confident that Toyota is giving high priority to course corrections, and that their approach to operations will remain pretty much as Steven Spear and Kent Bowen document it in "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System".

Accordingly, to round out this discussion of Toyota's practices, I'd like to take a look at what Steve Spear has to say in his follow-up article, published in the May 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review under the title, "Learning to Lead at Toyota."

Spear's central point is that a company seeking to emulate Toyota's approach to operations cannot hope to succeed by adopting Toyota's techniques in piecemeal fashion. On the contrary, since the Toyota Production System is just what its name says — a system — its payoff can only be realized by having company leaders think in system terms about how to operationalize its principles.

Spear distills four lessons a company seeking to apply Toyota's system must learn and embrace:
  • There is no substitute for direct observation. — Toyota employees are encouraged to observe failures as they occur — for example, by sitting next to a machine on the assembly line and waiting and watching for any problems.

  • Proposed changes should always be structured as experiments. — Employees embed explicit and testable assumptions in the analysis of their work. That allows them to examine the gaps between predicted and actual results.

  • Workers and managers should experiment as frequently as possible. — The company teaches employees at all levels to achieve continuous improvement through quick, simple experiments rather than through lengthy, complex ones.

  • Managers should coach, not fix. — Toyota managers act as enablers, directing employees but not telling them where to find opportunities for improvements. [This enables workers at all levels to develop sophisticated problem-solving skills. Emphasis added.]
Toyota does not orient new executives in the hyperactive style seen all too often in the US, in which the new person is parachuted into company operating facilities for brief field exposures.

Instead, Toyota's practice is to have a new leader learn the Toyota Production System through actual practice over an extended period of time. In the case of the American executive Spear describes in his article, the field experience lasted for three months. During that time, a major goal was for the executive to learn "how to construct work as experiments, which would yield continuous learning and improvements, and to teach others to do the same."

Steve Spear is now following his own advice, which is to say, he's working to bring the Toyota principles to healthcare providers. He is currently based at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (which featured in an earlier post), where he is a senior fellow.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Toyota Way II: Controlled Experiments

To detail further how the Toyota Way (outlined in a previous post) actually works, I'll discuss today and tomorrow what Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen discovered during four years of field research at over 40 Toyota manufacturing plants and a few competitors' plants.

Today I'll look at what Spear and Bowen have to say about how Toyota implements kaizen, aka continuous improvement. The basic principle is to combine learning how to work better with a plant's ongoing, day-to-day work processes.

In "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System", published in the September-October 1999 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Spear and Bowen report that "the company's operations can be seen as a continuous series of controlled experiments." Workers are trained to conduct the experiments as part of the regular process of designing, producing, marketing, and distributing cars, and to respond immediately to any shortcomings they uncover.

This approach entails adherence to four tacit rules that Spear and Bowen eventually inferred from months of observation.
These rules guide the design, operation, and improvement of every activity, connection, and pathway for every product and service.

Rule 1: All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome. [This is necessary so that workers can know immediately if what is actually happening diverges from what was specified.]

Rule 2: Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.

Rule 3: The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.

Rule 4: Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.

All the rules require that activities, connections, and flow paths have built-in tests to signal problems automatically. [emphasis added]
An important outgrowth of these rules is that all employees can contribute intelligently to the work. No one is an unthinking cog; everyone is a trained problem-solver.

The training comes at the hands of managers. Because so much of the workers' learning occurs on-the-job, the manager-teachers must be adept at facilitating learning-by-doing and at teaching how to use the scientific method as the basic problem-solving technique.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Project GLOBE III: The Cultural Profile of the US

Talking about THE culture of the United States is an obvious step in the direction of over-generalization. Or, a step in the direction of fragmented tips for avoiding embarrassment while visiting the US. ("If invited to that quintessentially American invention, the cocktail party, expect to mix informally with a large number of complete strangers. According to American custom it is considered rude to push food or drink on a reluctant guest. So be sure to respond quickly in the affirmative if you wish to have something that is offered. Do not expect to be asked twice."1)

To keep this post in managable bounds, I will stick to recapping one important piece of research concerning US culture. As discussed in two previous posts, Project GLOBE is an in-depth study of the relationship between culture and leadership in 62 societies, including the US.

Below, in somewhat edited form, is the summary of results concerning US cultural practices ("Is"), and corresponding cultural values ("Should be"), provided by Cornelius N. Grove in the third of his valuable articles on Project GLOBE's findings.

For definitions of the Project GLOBE cultural dimensions, you can click here. Keep in mind that the cultural dimensions were measured on a scale of 1 to 7. A score of 1 was low for a given dimension, a score of 4 was intermediate, and a score of 7 was high.

Project GLOBE's results for the nine cultural dimensions in the US:
  • Performance Orientation — The practices score was 4.49, while the values score was considerably higher at 6.17. In comparison with the other 60 societies,2 the US values score was only moderately above the middle range of scores. The following societies all had a values score significantly higher than the US: El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Slovenia, Namibia, Portugal, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Philippines, Nigeria, and Zambia.

  • In-Group Collectivism — The practices scores was 4.25, quite low in relation to the other 60 societies. But the score for values was a much higher 5.77, mid-range among all 60 societies and virtually identical to the scores of Russia, Spain, Zambia, Turkey, and Thailand, societies that one might expect to place a much higher value on in-group collectivism.

  • Humane Orientation — The practices score was a middling 4.17, while the values score was a noticeably higher 5.53.

  • Future Orientation — The practices score was 4.15, while the values score was much higher at 5.31.

  • Gender Egalitarianism — The practices score was 3.34, somewhat below the numerical midpoint (4.00) and placing Americans in close company with societies such as Finland, Thailand, and Brazil. However, the values score of 5.06 was among the highest in the 61 societies.

  • Assertiveness — The practices score was 4.55, near the upper end of the scale of all 61 societies. The values score was a very slightly lower 4.32.

  • Institutional Collectivism — The practices score was 4.20, while the values score was a virtually identical 4.17.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance — The practices scores was 4.15, while the values scores was a very similar 4.00.

  • Power Distance — The practices score was 4.88, while the values score was 2.85. Note that the US practices/values gap — 2.03 — is larger than in the case of any of the other eight dimensions. The US gap is not quite as extreme as the worldwide average for the power distance dimension.
I've listed the cultural dimensions in order according to the US values score to make it easier to get a sense of the aspirational cultural profile for the US, as captured in the GLOBE data. The ranking of the dimensions by practices scores, from high to low is: Power Distance, Assertiveness, Performance Orientation, In-Group Collectivism, Institutional Collectivism, Humane Orientation, Future Orientation and Uncertainty Avoidance (tied), and Gender Egalitarianism.

I'd be interested in getting reactions to the above cultural profile for the US. As soon as the GLOBE results concerning US views of effective leadership come my way (January 2007 at the earliest), I'll file an update to this post.

1 From a University of Freiberg website.

2 The Czech Republic is excluded from the comparison, apparently due to data problems.



Monday, August 14, 2006

Project GLOBE II: Overall Findings

A month ago I marked Bastille Day by noting what Project GLOBE — a massive research investigation of how cultural factors influence the nature of effective leadership in different countries1 — found concerning the cultural dimensions of leadership in France.

To do justice to this important research, I'd like to summarize its overall findings today, and then home in on its results concerning the cultural profile of the US tomorrow.

Project GLOBE's key overall findings:
  • In all 62 societies studied, the leadership attributes viewed as facilitating effective leadership are: trustworthy, just, honest, foresight, plans ahead, encouraging, posiive, dynamic, motive arouser, confidence builder, motivational, dependable, intelligent, decisive, effective bargainer, win-win problem solver, administratively skilled, communicative, informed, coordinator, team builder, excellence-oriented.

  • In all 62 societies studied, the leadership attributes viewed as impeding effective leadership are: loner, asocial, noncooperative, irritable, nonexplicit, egocentric, ruthless, dictatorial.

  • The leadership attributes that are culturally contingent (i.e., they are viewed as facilitating effective leadership in some societies, but as impeding effecive leadership in others) are: able to anticipate, ambitious, autonomous, cautious, class conscious, compassionate, cunning, domineering, elitist, enthusiastic, evasive, formal, habitual, independent, indirect, individualistic, intra-group competitor, intra-group conflict avoider, intuitive, logical, micro-manager, orderly, procedural, provocateur, risk-taker, ruler, self-effacing, self-sacrificial, sensitive, sincere, status-conscious, subdued, unique, willful, worldly. (The attributes in bold are those for which there were the largest measured differences across the 62 societies.)

  • In all 62 societies, the charismatic/value-based, team-oriented, and participative leadership styles are seen as contributing to effective leadership.

    The US is the only culture in which participative leadership was measured as having a positive influence on employee performance. The US also registered the highest actual level of participation.2

  • "A major finding was that the Performance Orientation cultural dimension3 is the most important predictor of the Charismatic/Value-Based leadership dimension. Societies and organizations that value excellence, superior performance, performance improvement, and innovation will likely seek leaders who exemplify Charismatic/Value-Based qualities, and such leaders are likely to be effective."4

    Societies placing high value on performance orientation also viewed participative and autonomous leadership5 positively.
For a discussion of how the Project GLOBE findings on the relationship between culture and leadership style can be used to prepare for overseas assignments, you can click here (pdf).

1 Project GLOBE defines leadership as "the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of organizations of which they are members."

2,5 Definitions of the leadership dimensions are here.

3 Performance orientation is the extent to which an organization or society encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement and excellence. The quote is taken from Cornelius N. Grove's invaluable summary of the Project GLOBE results, which is divided into three articles you can access here, here, and here.

4 House, Robert J. et al., Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (Sage, 2005), p. 711.



Sunday, August 13, 2006

Celebrating Mozart

Another weekend, another road trip.

This time it was to Shrewsbury MA to visit a friend who had come to stay for the weekend with one of her stepdaughters. During the round trip, I had about 2½ hours to listen to some further episodes in the taped history of music I'm gradually working my way through. We — lecturer Robert Greenberg and I — have advanced to the classical period, which means extended and close attention to Mozart, whose 250th birthday was celebrated this January.

Mozart seems as fine an example as any of the existence of inborn talent. As discussed in an earlier post, recent research indicates that much of the difference in accomplishment from one person to the next is explained by differences in how motivated the individuals are to master needed skills, and in how effectively they are coached as they practice their skills.

Certainly Mozart had his musician father's guidance (and pestering) until moving to Vienna in 1781, and he had regular contact with a wide range of fellow musicians, but there can be no doubt that his accomplishments were enabled by extraordinary natural gifts, accompanied by strong motivation to compose.

Mozart's output during a life of just 35 years was prodigious, especially considering the ongoing medical problems he experienced. Prof. Greenberg reports that in just the ten years Mozart was in Vienna — from 1781 until his death in 1791 — Mozart turned out 17 piano concerti, 6 operas, a clarinet concerto and quintet, 7 symphonies, 5 string quintets, 11 string quartets, and a requiem (unfinished at his death).

Just about all of these works, along with a substantial portion of the nearly 600 other pieces he composed, are masterly and beyond the capabilities of all but a small number of similarly gifted musical artists.



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Saturday, August 12, 2006

"The New American Workplace"

Everybody talks about globalization, but what do they do about it?

As reported by Aaron Bernstein in the July 31 issue of Business Week, James O'Toole and Edward Lawler1 have written a book to try to help US companies cope. For businesses with scope for innovation, they argue that a good route to success in the era of globalization is embracing practices that lead to high involvement of employees in their work. The New American Workplace describes a high involvement work environment as one that affords employees
  • challenging and enriched jobs

  • participation in decision-making

  • an expectation of minimal layoffs

  • promotion from within

  • profit-sharing

  • ongoing training and development
O'Toole and Lawler present evidence that, over the long run, for companies aiming to use innovation to compete, this approach generally leads to greater productivity and better financial performance than the alternative of treating employees as a cost to be tightly controlled.

One of the case examples O'Toole and Lawler cite is W.L.Gore & Associates, producer of Gore-Tex. Gore has been high on Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for every year since 1998. As O'Toole explains in a 2004 interview:
[Wilbert Gore] was one of the few business leaders who I’ve ever read about who consciously — and what I mean by consciously is every single day in his life — thought about the issues of structure: How to structure his people in a way that would encourage them to be innovative, but innovative in an effective way that advanced the organization’s goals. ...

... He saw that if you have people in large groups, they tend to become bureaucratic. So even though he had 10,000 employees, he tried to keep them in groups of 100 or maybe 200 at most so that they could be self managing. They could all know each other. They could behave as teams and not feel that they were lost in a large bureaucracy. When you start breaking up 10,000 people into groups of 100 or 200, you can create quite a managerial headache for yourself in terms of control. Gore’s genius was that he was able to focus the efforts of those people while at the same time giving them an incredible amount of freedom.
The emphasis on community in O'Toole and Lawler's discussion of W.L. Gore reflects the importance they attach to establishing a sense of supportive community in the workplace.

The upshot of creating a supportive environment is employee commitment to task and mission. Assuming that overall management is effective, employees achieve a level of productivity sufficient to more than offset the costs of high-involvement business practices (listed above).

1 James O'Toole is a professor at the Center for Effective Organizations, a research center in the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. Back in 1972, he was the chairman of the government task force that produced the original Work in America report, for which The New American Workplace is a follow-up. Edward Lawler, a professor at the Marshall school, founded the Center for Effective Organizations and served on the Work in America task force.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

21st-Century Journalism VIII: The New York Observer

Ownership of the 50,000-circulation New York Observer changed hands on July 30. Jared Kushner, a 25-year-old with family and business money to spend, is the new majority owner of this privately held enterprise.

Peter W. Kaplan, The Observer's editor, says the chemistry with Kushner is good so far, and that he believes Kushner's promise not to interfere with the paper's editorial process.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story for me is what Kaplan had to say about the prospect of working for a publisher considerably younger than he. "The way the world is working, I find that I have as much to learn from 25-year-olds as they do from me. I have no vanity about that. He exists in the world that is about to be, and that seems worth trading for my information about the world as it has been."

Bosses younger than employees they supervise are increasingly common.Thus there is a growing need for people to know how to handle this reversal of the customary relationship of the generations. Well-designed training can be a powerful aid in promoting healthy working relations in which the young and the not-so-young share what they know in constructive fashion.

Kaplan also talks about how Kushner represents the 21st century in the newspaper industry: "In that sense, his 25-ness is a huge asset. He is not weighed down by the debris of conventional wisdom." (link added) I myself welcome the prospect of observing the Observer to see whether the paper is able to devise a business model that eliminates its $2 million annual loss.

Indeed, Kushner says his overall aim is to improve the Observer's financial performance. To achieve this goal, he plans to pursue three objectives:
  • Marketing the paper's brand.

  • Building Internet traffic.

  • Providing resources for more news beats so the paper can be stronger, "with more constituencies and more advertising" (Kaplan's words).
The game is afoot.



Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's a hot job, but is it you?

Earlier this year, Mary Ellen Slayter used her regular column in the Washington Post to offer some cool-headed advice on how to approach the question of whether to chase after a hot job, i.e., one that employers are expected to be recruiting heavily for over the next several years. (Information on job trends is available in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.)

The main issue is whether you actually care about the job. Slayter reports being taken aback by misguided questions like one "from a young man who wanted to know if he should study to be a nurse or an electrical engineer."

Slayter counters with questions of her own. Her recommendation is that someone trying to decide whether to pursue a particular occupation ask himself or herself:
  • What kind of hours do I want to work? What shift? How much overtime?

  • How much time am I willing to spend in school equipping myself with requisite skills?

  • Is the pay range really something I can live with? The key here is to write out a realistic budget for yourself that reflects your projected spending. Does the job you're considering provide sufficient income? (Take into account reasonable expectations concerning raises and promotions.)

  • Does the job play to my character strengths? For instance, a nurse must not only have solid medical skills, but also have a strong inclination to be nurturing.
As Slayter points out, the best way to inform yourself about what a particular line of work is like, is to talk with people currently doing the job. Another common tack is to arrange an internship so you can observe up close what the job entails.



Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pay Matters

I'm back from my trip to Maryland to help my twin brothers move my father into an assisted living apartment near the condo where he had been since 1977. At last report, Dad was still unhappy with the change. Though he has been evaluated as needing assisted living 24/7, he believes he's capable of living on his own, including continuing to drive.

One of my brothers and his wife did the legwork of finding a suitable spot for him, and now we have our fingers crossed that the staff of the new place provide good care and attention. My father and I have already made the acquaintance of a resident down the hall, an 89-year-old widower who graduated from the Naval Academy five years before my father.

Captain S. has been living at the assisted living facility for three years, so he seemed like a good person to ask about what residents actually experience day-to-day. His response was reasonably encouraging — he indicated that the care was satisfactory, if not exactly meticulous.

He did complain that many of the caregivers are not smart. My immediate reaction was predictable: These people aren't paid much. Attracting and retaining individuals with high skill has to be extremely tough. Hunting around on the Internet led me to conclude that the typical wage for direct-care staff in the DC area is around $10.50 (pdf source).

For someone as obviously intelligent as the Captain, to expect the cream of the intellectual crop when paying so little seemed quixotic. In fact, the second time he made the comment about the dim staff he had to deal with, his private caregiver (a very capable women who had also cared for his wife before she died) whispered, "It's the money."

The moral of the story: Managers at an assisted care facility are faced with a challenging balancing act. They have to keep staff motivated and engaged, while controlling wages as part of an overall responsibility to hold the rates residents pay at a level that keeps the facility filled and running in the black.

As with any organization, the importance of training, both of managers and staff, cannot be overstated. In the case of staff, the potential for improving a low-skilled person's capabilities is substantial, so long as necessary motivators, such as a respectful work environment, are in place.



Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Toyota Way I: Company Culture

Toyota has been in the news because their July sales put them in 2nd place in the US — ahead of Ford — for the first time in recorded history. This seems like a good moment to review "The Toyota Way," of which The Economist provided a summary in their January 21, 2006 issue.

The five main elements of the Toyota culture are:
  • Kaizen — the process of continuous improvement.

  • Genchi genbutsu — "Go to the source." I.e., "Find the facts and do not rely on hearsay, because it is easier to build consensus around arguments that are well supported." Also, when you have a problem, make it your business to uncover the root cause.

  • Challenge — The idea that most problems are best approached as improvement opportunities.

  • Teamwork — Key principles are putting the company's interests ahead of those of the individual, and sharing knowledge. According to The Economist, this is an area where Toyota concentrates a lot of its on-the-job training effort.

  • Respect for others — This has two prongs: respect for others as fellow humans, and respect for people's expertise. Also part of the picture is encouraging expression of differences of opinion, something that can and should be done in a respectful fashion.
You can find a more detailed overview of the Toyota Way here. It will be interesting to watch as Toyota deals with its recent quality problems.



Monday, August 07, 2006

Scrutinizing a Master's Work

I had to make a 360-mile trip by car between Massachusetts and Maryland today, so I armed myself with eight more of my music history tapes and hit the road.

In the particular lectures I was listening to on my drive south, Bob Greenberg devoted considerable attention to J.S. Bach. The musical excerpts and explanations of Bach's work were a good antidote to the annoyance of running into several miles-long areas of congestion.

Aside from the beauty and fascination of the music itself, I was struck by Greenburg's account of how Bach learned to be a composer. One thing Bach did was copy out compositions of predecessors whose technique he wanted to understand in complete detail. Sometime earlier, I had read that Verdi did the same thing, and that the composer whose work he copied out was ... Bach.

I've tried to think what the closest analogue to this method of learning is for people in a business setting. It seems to me it's the analysis of case examples and the hands-on problem solving that people do in some types of training.

The important element in this learning method is having a proven master available — in documentary form, if not in the flesh — to present detailed examples of how to produce a particular type of work, whether it's computer software, a pre-call plan for a sales contact, learning to navigate a rich online performance support system, or whatever. The trainee dissects the examples in order to discover every detail of what the master craftsman did, and to understand as completely as possible the decisions the master made concerning what to do and what not to do.


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Performance Metrics that Do the Job

I'm always on the outlook for serious, clear presentations of important subjects (as opposed to hype-ridden, low-nutrition write-ups). Today I came upon an exemplary treatment of performance metrics in the February 2006 issue of Intelligent Enterprise.

The author, Wayne W. Eckerson, is the director of Research and Services for the Data Warehousing Institute. Last year he published a book on the subject of performance metrics: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business.

Eckerson's whole article is worth reading if you need a compact review of how to make intelligent use of KPIs (key performance indicators). As a sample of what awaits you, below is a lightly edited list of the characteristics of effective KPIs that Eckerson identifies.

Please note that instituting use of KPIs should be accompanied by training for all employees covering your organization's strategic direction, the KPIs you are tracking to measure progress, and the outcomes that constitute success.

Wayne Eckerson's 12 characteristics of effective performance metrics:
  • Aligned — KPIs need to be aligned with corporate strategies and objectives.

  • Owned — Every KPI is "owned" by an individual or group on the business side accountable for its outcome.

  • Predictive — KPIs measure drivers of business value. Thus, they are leading indicators of desired performance.

  • Actionable — KPIs reflect timely, actionable data so users can intervene to improve performance before it's too late.

  • Few in number — KPIs should focus users on a few high-value tasks, not scatter their attention and energy on too many things.

  • Easy to understand — KPIs should be straightforward, not based on complex indexes that users don't know how to influence directly.

  • Balanced and linked — KPIs should balance and reinforce each other, not compete and confuse. Otherwise, you will degrade process performance.

  • Transformative — A KPI should trigger a chain reaction of positive changes in the organization, especially when it is monitored by the CEO.

  • Standardized — KPIs must be based on standard definitions, rules and calculations so they can be integrated across dashboards throughout the organization.

  • Context-driven — KPIs put performance in context by applying targets and thresholds so users can gauge their progress over time.

  • Reinforced — You can magnify the impact of KPIs by attaching compensation or incentives to them. However, do this cautiously, applying incentives only to well-understood and stable KPIs.

  • Relevant — KPIs gradually lose their impact over time, so they must be reviewed and refreshed periodically.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Intrinsic Motivation

In three previous posts, I've talked about how important it is to match people as far as possible to jobs they find appealing. When you do this, you take advantage of the power of intrinsic motivation — the desire a person has to do something for its own sake.

A related point is that you can take steps to raise a job's Appeal Quotient. In Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy & Commitment, Kenneth W. Thomas, a professor emeritus at the Naval Postgraduate School, provides a practical framework for enhancing the inherent rewards a job delivers.

Thomas divides intrinsic rewards into four categories: choice, competence, meaningfulness, and progress. He then identifies five building blocks for each of these types of intrinsic rewards. The categories and building blocks are outlined below.

Choice — the sense of being able to use your own judgment and to handle tasks in your own way

Building blocks
  • delegated authority

  • trust in workers

  • security (no punishment for honest mistakes)

  • a clear purpose

  • access to needed information

Competence — the sense that you are able to do high-quality work

Building blocks
  • knowledge

  • positive feedback

  • recognition of your skills by others

  • challenge

  • high, noncompetitive standards

Meaningfulness — the sense that your mission matters

Building blocks
  • noncyclical climate

  • clearly identified passions

  • exciting vision

  • relevant task purposes (no busy work)

  • whole tasks (the opposite of the production line model)

Progress — the sense that you are making headway in accomplishing the mission

Building blocks
  • collaborative climate

  • milestones

  • celebrations

  • access to customers

  • measurement of improvement
To read about the role of intrinsic motivation in the specific area of spurring creativity, you can have a look at this classic article by Harvard business school professor Teresa Amabile. A recent summary of Amabile's thinking is available in the Fast Company archives.



Friday, August 04, 2006

How to Leverage Creativity

The pile of books waiting to be read here at the home office is pretty high, so I know it will take me awhile to get to a promising new publication that I found mentioned in the August issue of Optimize magazine.

The brief Optimize item by Paula Klein makes Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn (founding partners of the ad agency Fallon Worldwide) sound like a keeper.

Fallon and Senn advocate seven steps for leveraging creativity — and thereby building competitive advantage. Here in somewhat edited form is Klein's summary of these steps:
  • Always start from scratch and find fresh ways to look at a problem.

  • "Demand a ruthlessly simple definition of the business problem."

  • Connect emotionally. Be rational, but find a way to communicate fervor about a project.

  • Focus on the size of the idea, not the budget.

  • Seek out [and then manage] strategic risks.

  • Collaborate with others inside and outside your organization to enable the best solution.

  • Listen to your customers — internal and external — and then listen some more.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Friendly Feedback

Some years ago, I was prompted by a brief Business Week article to get myself a copy of Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence (out of print), by Sarah Myers McGinty, an adviser in the teacher education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Much of McGinty's book is predictable in the advice it offers for cultivating the sort of "presence" that is necessary to rise to a senior executive position. One tool that stood out for me as a real contribution to helping people grow was McGinty's guidelines for observing a colleague in a meeting in order to provide friendly performance feedback afterwards.

In edited form, these are the questions McGinty recommends the observer have in mind during the meeting (p.61):
  1. When does the speaker present information as statements, and when as questions?

  2. Does the speaker weaken her points by inserting ill-worded disclaimers ("I'm not really sure about these figures, but ...")?

  3. Does the speaker present a confident and assured demeanor, or does he seem nervous and hesitant?

  4. When does the speaker connect her points to what has been said previously, and when does she take the conversation in a new direction?

  5. Does the speaker use evidence or experience to claim authority?

  6. When does the speaker interrupt, and when does he get interrupted?

  7. How often does the speaker contribute? How long is each contribution?

  8. How often does the speaker stutter, hesitate, say "um" or "er"?

  9. Is there a repeated phrase ("To tell you the truth...") or other habit that detracts from the speaker's effectiveness?

  10. Body language:
    • Does the speaker look at individuals in the group?

    • Are his hands still, or are they flying around?

    • Is she fidgeting or making repetitive eye, head and/or hand movements?

    • Are his facial expressions reserved, or are they animated in a natural way?

    • Does her body language reinforce her credibility, or does it undercut credibility?

  11. Judging from their facial expressions, how are listeners responding to the speaker?

  12. Does gaze reinforce the speaker's air of competence and confidence in what she is saying? I.e., is the speaker looking directly at the audience; and are members of the audience indicating via an attentive and deferential gaze that they acknowledge the speaker's expertise?
After the meeting in which your colleague has observed your participation, find a comfortable place for an informal debrief. Talk about what went well, and where there was room for improvement. Finish by deciding what it's most important for you work on in order to elevate your "presence" in business settings.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"I Can't Hear You"

Shortly after I posted about molding rookie employees' attitudes, I was reading a blog maintained by a lapsed lawyer. He was lamenting that despite his best efforts, he was finding it impossible to make headway in persuading certain closed-minded people that the US could improve on its approach to the Mideast.

As an ex-litigator, this man was, I imagine, instinctively thinking in terms of the courtroom model, in which each side presents its arguments, and if yours is the more persuasive case, you win. The people on the other side don't have the option of saying "I can't hear you" and walking off, with their minds firmly closed and insisting that the arguments must continue until the issue is resolved in their favor.

The blogger's frustration got me to thinking some more about the issue of how to cope with closed minds. Obviously, this is too large a topic to tackle in a blog posting, so let me narrow it down to the business setting (i.e., no wading into political and religious issues).

Suppose you find yourself dealing with someone — perhaps in a business meeting or at a training session — who has a set view on a question that needs to be discussed without preconceptions. What can you try in an effort to get the resistant person to cooperate? Here are some possibilities:
  • Appeal to the person's curiosity. E.g., cite an intriguing fact that doesn't entirely jibe with her bias. Ask her what she thinks about it, what experience she has had with it.

  • Ask a question that creates cognitive dissonance. Your aim is to stimulate thinking and active participation before the person has a chance to realize that her defenses are down. Ideally, the person arrives at new insights and, at a broader level, develops greater self-awareness concerning her beliefs and thought processes.

  • Make it clear that it's safe for the person to express ideas that don't entirely match what she has argued in the past. For example, sometimes a person's closed-mindedness is a result of some kind of trauma; creating a supportive environment can enable freer and more calmly reasoned thinking.

  • Play up the WIIFM factor. Enumerate the ways in which approaching the material under discussion with an open mind will benefit each participant personally. Talk about job, career, and other benefits. In fact, as far as possible, elicit insights on What's In It For Me from the participants themselves.

  • Get assumptions out in the open. Ask participants to work in small groups to identify the assumptions they're bringing to the discussion. Then work with the whole group to determine which of these assumptions should be suspended in order to facilitate unfettered thinking.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

As Others See Us

A friend of mine who's a high school teacher in the Finnish city of Kuusankoski recently sent me an account Heidi, a local student, had written called "The Best Year of My Life." Heidi was spending the year (during which she turned 18) with a series of host families in Imlay City MI, where she attended the public high school as an exchange student.

The good news is that Heidi had been dying to come to the US and was very happy with how the year worked out for her. For example, she reports:
One of the first things that I noticed at school was how many hot guys there were in our school. That is probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed going to school every day at 7:30. The other thing that took my by surprise was how polite and nice the students were to me! Everyone wanted to talk to me and show me where to go, and that was just so nice of them!
The not-so-great news is how the education provided at the school compared to what Heidi was used to back home in Kuusankoski.
School is ... a lot easier here [than in Finland]. At first it might seem really hard, but once you catch on the language and the everyday school life (which takes about three months), you find yourself being better than the average.
The Americans don't really put much effort in teaching mathematics and what not, as we do over there in Finland. Often I notice students complaining about the amount of homework they get — which is pretty much nothing compared [to] the amount what they give us in Finland! One time in the sociology class, our teacher Mrs. Gulick gave us a book that had about 100 pages. She didn't say anything how she wanted us to read it etc. so I asked her when the book was due. She stared at me and I just thought that she didn't hear me well so I asked her again "Is this book due like in two or three weeks, or how do you want us to do this ...?" She said that we would be given about two months to read the book and we would only have to read a couple of chapters!! I was shocked! At that point THREE THINGS came to my mind — my Finnish class in Finland, my Finnish teacher and the time period we were given in that class to finish a book!
But let's end on an upbeat. Here's another of Heidi's comparative observations:
Not only the way of teaching or giving homework is different here than in Finland, but the students are taught to have something that is called the "school spirits". Basically what it's about is that the school has their own mascot (ours is the Spartan), school colors (ours are royal blue and gold), and the school sells hoodies, t-shirts and varsity jackets. I've bought a lot of school stuff already and so do many other people. These things make the students more proud of their sport teams and school. I think that is something Finnish schools should have too.