!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Te Deum

To round out the Thanksgiving weekend, here is a beautiful performance of the Te Deum composed by Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968).

According to a55b47, who produced the video, the performance comes from a 1980 recording by Josef Zimmermann, the organist of Cologne cathedral. A55b47 provides these details concerning the organ:
The instrument is the IV/86 Transept Organ, built in 1948 by Klais & updated & expanded intermittently over the following 12 years. In the late 1990's the organ was "re-organized" (no pun intended) & raised about 2 meters to project more sound into this immense room. And in 1998, a III/53 "swallow's nest" organ was installed in the nave — turning a superb instrument into an amazing one that can generate a virtual avalanche of sound.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Poem by Walt Whitman


Noted verbatim after a supper-talk out doors in Nevada with two old miners.

More experiences and sights, stranger, than you'd think for;

Times again, now mostly just after sunrise or before sunset,

Sometimes in spring, oftener in autumn, perfectly clear weather, in plain sight,

Camps far or near, the crowded streets of cities and the shopfronts,

(Account for it or not — credit or not — it is all true,

And my mate there could tell you the like — we have often confab'd about it,)

People and scenes, animals, trees, colors and lines, plain as could be,

Farms and dooryards of home, paths border'd with box, lilacs in corners,

Weddings in churches, thanksgiving dinners, returns of long-absent sons,

Glum funerals, the crape-veil'd mother and the daughters,

Trials in courts, jury and judge, the accused in the box,

Contestants, battles, crowds, bridges, wharves,

Now and then mark'd faces of sorrow or joy,

(I could pick them out this moment if I saw them again,)

Show'd to me just aloft to the right in the sky-edge,

Or plainly there to the left on the hill-tops.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)



Friday, November 28, 2008

"One Blessing had I than the rest"

One Blessing had I than the rest
So larger to my Eyes
That I stopped gauging — satisfied —
For this enchanted size —

It was the limit of my Dream —
The focus of my Prayer —
A perfect — paralyzing Bliss —
Contented as Despair —

I knew no more of Want — or Cold —
Phantasms both become
For this new Value in the Soul —
Supremest Earthly Sum —

The Heaven below the Heaven above —
Obscured with ruddier Blue —
Life's Latitudes leant over — full —
The Judgment perished — too —

Why Bliss so scantily disburse —
Why Paradise defer —
Why Floods be served to Us — in Bowls —
I speculate no more —

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

President Lincoln's First Thanksgiving Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln issued the first of what thereafter became annual Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations on October 3, 1863 . . .

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union."

[You can access all the Thanksgiving proclamations issued by the Continental Congress and by US Presidents, starting with George Washington, here.]



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The ABCs of Risk Management

For a good overview of how to handle the risk management function, I suggest looking at this post by Nancy Germond, a risk management professional based in Arizona.

Germond outlines a five-phase process (here slightly edited):
  1. Identify assets that may be at risk.

  2. Determine what could go wrong with each asset, and how likely each possible problem is.

  3. Determine how you will treat the risk.

    There are four possibilities:

    • Avoidance — e.g., don't buy property in an area prone to mudslides.

    • Reduction (mitigation) — e.g., install a sprinkler system.

    • Retention — e.g., accept the risk of having to pay the cost of replacing a stolen computer and, possibly, its stored files, rather than buying insurance against computer theft.

    • Transfer (wholly or in part) — buy insurance or otherwise arrange for a third party to absorb all or some of the risk.

  4. Create a plan that makes sense for your organization.

  5. Implement the plan.

  6. Monitor the results. Address new perils, and adjust your treatment of existing risks, as necessary to improve your risk management arrangements.
There is a compact glossary of risk management terms here.



Monday, November 24, 2008

An Online Economics Text

If you'd like to study — or review — principles of economics, Robert E. Schenk, a professor of economics at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer IN, has posted a full-length text online. The text includes some basic interactivity to help you retain what you read.

The text opens with four sections that introduce the subject:
  • What is Economics?

  • Actions and Results

  • The Individual and The Group

  • The Model of Supply and Demand
The remainder of the text is devoted to separate treatments of microeconomics and macroeconomics.

The microeconomic sections are:
  • Elasticity and Revenue

  • Rationing and Allocating

  • The Logic of Choice

  • Maximizing Behavior

  • The Firm and Its Constraints

  • Maximizing Profits

  • Efficiency

  • Information, Risk & Exclusion

  • Government and Efficiency

  • Problems in Resource Markets

  • Monopoly and Efficiency

  • Transport Costs and Borders
There is a detailed table of contents for the text's introductory and microeconomic sections here. You can also browse micro topics via this list. There is a glossary of micro terms is here.

The macroeconomic sections are:
  • Economic Catastrophes

  • Growth and Development

  • Measuring the Economy

  • Connections

  • Financial Markets

  • Money Matters

  • Banks Create Money

  • Business Cycle Theories

  • The Multiplier Model

  • The Labor Market

  • Fiscal Policy Today

  • Monetary History
The detailed macroeconomics table of contents is here, and the list of macro topics is here.

To get a feel for how Schenk treats individual topics, you might look at the section on rent-seeking, which has particular relevance in our current environment of distressed businesses hustling to Washington to see what they can arrange in the way of taxpayer assistance.

When you visit the "Rent Seeking" page, you see four buttons at the top left:

The Overview button takes you to the introduction to "The Government and Economic Efficiency" — the section of the text of which "Rent Seeking" is a part.

The ¿Review? button takes you to a page with a few review questions. When you click on the correct answer to a particular question, an explanation of why the answer is correct appears. If you choose an incorrect answer, you generally are told why the answer is wrong, but sometimes you're simply encouraged to try again.

The Explore button takes you to a page that provides opportunities to apply the concepts covered in the text.
  • To see the answers to discussion questions (such as the first group of questions on the "Exploring Rent Seeking" page), you need to access the appropriate page from the list on Schenk's "Extra Features" page. For the Rent Seeking discussion question, this means clicking on the "Government and Efficiency/Problems in Resource Markets" link.

  • You get feedback to multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions (such as the second group of questions on the "Exploring Rent Seeking" page) right beneath the questions.
The Quiz button takes you to a short set of questions you can use to check how well you have learned the material in the entire section — "Government and Efficiency" — of which "Rent Seeking" is a part. After you have answered all the questions, you click on the "Check My Answers" button to see how you did.


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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Project Management Competencies

The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has developed a set of program and project management competencies that can serve as a baseline model for any organization that needs staff who can handle program and project management effectively.

The FAI competencies cover two general areas:
  • General business competencies

  • Technical competencies
In addition, there is a detailed definition of specific project management and leadership competencies at three levels of proficiency:
  • Entry level

  • Mid-level/journeyman

  • Senior/expert
The general business competencies include
  • Customer service

  • Decision-making

  • Flexibility

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Leadership

  • Legal, government and jurisprudence

  • Oral communication

  • Organizational awareness (e.g., knowledge of agency mission and functions)

  • Problem solving

  • Reasoning

  • Team building

  • Writing
The technical competencies include:
  • Business process reengineering

  • Capital planning and investment assessment

  • Contracting/procurement

  • Cost-benefit analysis

  • Financial management

  • Planning and evaluating

  • Project management (see below)

  • Quality assurance

  • Requirements analysis

  • Risk management
The entry level project management and leadership competencies involve recognition of all significant concepts in these areas:
  • Requirements development and management processes

  • Systems engineering

  • Test and evaluation

  • Life cycle logistics

  • Contracting

  • Business, cost estimating and financial management

  • Leadership/professional: oral communications, problem solving, conflict management, interpersonal skills, resilience, flexibility, accountability, written communication, customer service
The mid-level/journeyman program and project management competencies involve application of the project management concepts learned at the entry level, plus additional/strengthened competencies in the leadership/professional area: influencing/negotiating, partnering, team building, conflict management, political savvy, strategic thinking, decisiveness, creativity/innovation, external awareness, developing others, entrepreneurship, leveraging diversity.

The senior/expert level program management competencies add management and evaluation to the required abilities, along with these additional/strengthened competencies in the leadership/professional area: strategic thinking, external awareness, vision, and entrepreneurship.



Saturday, November 22, 2008

21st Century Journalism XXX: The Savvy View of Office Politics

Kudos to Phyllis Korkki, writing in the New York Times on November 16 about "The Win-Win Way to Play Office Politics." In FAQ format, Korkki does a good job of concisely explaining the ethical way in which savvy people handle the political dimension of their work lives.

Korkki reports input from four experts/gurus (all female BTW):

Marie McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work. McIntyre provides a practical definition of "office politics" — being smart about how you manage the relationships at work — which Korkki paraphrases and elaborates:
understanding who has power and how decisions are made; being aware of how your managers and co-workers prefer to operate; adapting to the culture of your organization; and behaving and speaking in a way that helps you advance — and not hurt — your goals and those of your company.
Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner. A key point: We must know how "to talk about ourselves and our accomplishments and our team's accomplishments in appropriate situations."

Marilyn Puder-York, a psychologist and author of The Office Survival Guide. Key points: When you've engaged well in office politics, "you've enhanced your reputation with the right people." Effective involvement in office politics also means being able "to diffuse the conflicts that inevitably emerge in a group of people with different temperaments, needs, backgrounds, agendas and goals."

Franke James, editor of officepolitics.com and creator of a game called Office Politics. A key point: Pay attention to the interpersonal dynamics in your organization so that you "develop an awareness of the interrelationships and levels of influence that exist in your office and how those could affect your job and the work that you do."

For an earlier post on office politics, see here.


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Friday, November 21, 2008

Training Health Workers in Developing Countries

In a couple of previous posts — one dealing with Monique Dembele, a native health worker in Mali, and the other discussing the Barefoot College, which began in India and has since spread to other countries — I've looked at how training can be geared to the needs of people in impoverished areas of the world.

Now the National Geographic has published an article in their December 2008 issue that offers another compelling example of how effective training can equip members of a rural community to deliver valuable services to fellow residents.

The CRHP compound
(1 km outside Jamkhed)


The Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP), or Jamkhed (the name of the city east of Mumbai where the organization is based), has been providing training to village health workers (VHWs) since 1970. The training enables the VHWs to deliver effective basic health services and to teach such health-promoting practices as good nutrition, breast-feeding, hygiene, and oral rehydration. According to Raj Arole, CRHP's founder and director,
A village health worker ... can take care of 80 percent of the village's health problems, because most are related to nutrition and to the environment. Infant mortality is actually three things: chronic starvation, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. For all three, you do not need doctors.
Interestingly, one of the key aspects of the training for the VHWs, many of whom are coimpletely illiterate when they begin, is boosting their self-confidence.

The VHWs are supported by visits from a mobile team that includes a nurse, paramedic, social worker, and sometimes a doctor. The visits are initially weekly and then are scaled back as the VHW's expertise builds. At the moment, the mobile team actively visits 45 of the 120 villages where CRHP currently works. (In the thirty-eight years since its founding, CRHP has provided training to VHWs in 300 villages.) Patients requiring more complex care than the VHW can provide are referred to the hospital in Jamkhed.

CRHP's VHW training is ongoing — there is a Tuesday-Wednesday weekly session at the CRHP compound. At these sessions VHWs can "discuss problems in their village, review what they learned the previous week and tackle a new subject, such as heart disease." Back in their villages, the VHWs train villagers to diagnose and solve common problems on their own.

The Jamkhed Institute in Community Health and Population, established in 1992, aims to embed enhancement of rural healthcare delivery in a broader context of rural development. Thus, the Institute's offerings address not only health topics, but also agriculture, micro-credit and loans, income-generating programs, government schemes, and watershed management.


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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting Results at Nonprofit Organizations

As a follow-on to recent posts dealing with nonprofit organizations, I'd mention the recommendations Jeffrey Bradach, Thomas Tierney, and Nan Stone have published in the December 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Bradach, Tierney, and Stone (BTS) are all associated with the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consultancy that provides strategy advice to other nonprofit organizations.

In "Delivering on the Promise of Nonprofits," BTS discuss four interrelated questions that they would have any nonprofit organization work through in iterative fashion in order to determine exactly how the organization will carry out its mission:
  1. Which results will we hold ourselves accountable for?

    What is the intended impact of our work? Who are the beneficiaries we are targeting, and what benefits will we provide? When the organization has to make tradeoffs in deciding where to allocate resources, referring to the intended impact you have defined will provide steadying guidance.

  2. How will we achieve the results we're aiming for?

    Your stakeholders need to understand the rationale for your organization's strategic decisions, so you need an explicit theory of change that spells out your beliefs and assumptions concerning how the programs and services you offer will achieve your organization's intended impact.

  3. What will results really cost, and how can we fund them?

    You need to carefully assess total costs of current programs, including an appropriate share of organization overhead allocated to each program. Then appropriate sources of finding must be identified. Each program's effect on the organization's overall financial health must be understood, so that funding and strategies can be better aligned.

  4. How do we build the organization we need to deliver results?

    The organization needs to give focused attention to creating better processes, building leadership capacity, and ensuring that needed people and infrastructure are in place (as opposed to succumbing to funder pressure to minimize overhead).
Leadership capacity gets a culminating mention in the BTS article because nonprofits to a large degree are outside the discipline of markets to which for-profit organizations are subject. Therefore, the discipline in a non-profit's direction-setting and operations must come from its executive director, who "shoulders the heavy burden of engaging key stakeholders in a rigorous consensus-building process in which all parties contront the fundamental questions [listed above] — and fully embrace the subsequent answers."


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Relationship Between Study Time and GPA

It would seem we're in "dog bites man" territory, when we read that the father/son team of Ralph Stinebrickner (professor of mathematics and computer science at Berea College) and Todd Stinebrickner (professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario), has established a strong statistical relationship between the amount of time students study and the grades they receive.

This research result is newsworthy because, however obvious the connection between studying and grades may seem, it has been hard to pin down statistically. The problem the Stinebrickners (S&S) solved was a lack of data enabling researchers to control for the other factors that could conceivably affect grades (e.g. class attendance, time spent sleeping, etc.). In previous statistical studies, the link between study time and grades turned out to be weak.

S&S got their data from the Berea Panel Study (pdf), their ongoing longitudinal survey of college entrants from low income backgrounds. As explained in their paper, "The Causal Effect of Study on Academic Performance," (pdf) S&S were able to create two groups of students alike in all respects except one, namely whether or not a particular student's randomly assigned roommate brought a video game to school.

S&S established that students whose roommates had video games studied less than those whose roommates were sans video game; the former studied an average of 0.79 hours per week, while the corresponding figure for the latter was 4.06 hours per week.

The Stinebrickners then went on to estimate the impact of this difference in study effort on the GPAs of the students in the two groups. That estimate turned out to be 0.356 points on a four-point GPA scale, a result significant at the 92% level.

In addition to their basic conclusion that study effort has a significant effect on GPA (significant in both statistical and practical terms), S&S also concluded that:
  • Programs which encourage struggling students to work harder should pay off, at least for students who respond by increasing their study time.

  • One of the ways peers can affect how well fellow students perform academically is by influencing each other's time allocation.

  • Video games can detract from learning. (This conclusion does not refer to classes in which video games are part of the learning methodology.)

  • It makes sense to include some measure of applicants' academic work ethic as one of the factors considered in reaching college admission decisions.
I would just wrap up by noting that most students have conducted their own personal controlled experiments whose outcomes support the S&S result, i.e., students find that they do better or worse on tests for a particular class, depending on how much time they put into preparatory studying.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"The Baseline Scenario"

If you would like to visit a site on the current global economic crisis that is regularly updated by a team of three experts, you can go to The Baseline Scenario.

Simon Johnson (professor of entrepreneurship at MIT's Sloan School of Management), Peter Boone (chair of Effective Intervention), and James Kwak (a student at Yale Law School) explain:
The goal of The Baseline Scenario is to present a considered view of the key issues facing the global economy that is rapidly updated as new information and events arise. To that end, we publish an extended Baseline Scenario position on a weekly basis. During the week, we use the blog to develop positions, comment on events, and highlight other perspectives that we find worthwhile.
JBK's current baseline scenario is here.

The most recent blog posts are on The Baseline Scenario's homepage. The blog posts fall into several categories:
  • Comments to help beginners

  • Posts useful for teachers

  • Commentary on current developments

  • External perspectives (ideas offered by people other than JBK)

  • Interviews by JBK

  • Op-ed and other articles authored/co-authored by JBK

  • Responses to reader questions
For background information on the issues and concepts that those grappling with the situation talk about, see the "Financial Crisis for Beginners" page.


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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Distinguishing Features of Nonprofit Organizations

Cate Doty's article on "Training to Lead Nonprofits," which appeared in the November 11, 2008 edition of the New York Times, provides a summary of the activities that distinguish nonprofit organizations from for-profit enterprises. These activities are:
  • Fund-raising

  • Community engagement

  • Meeting ethical standards and legal requirements specific to non-profits

  • Volunteer management
Concomitantly, it is these activities that require focused attention when training individuals to fill leadership roles at nonprofits. The Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University, founded in 1999, has identified five areas that their experience and research indicate are essential for nonprofit managers to study:
  • Governance — the legal responsibilities of boards of directors and how boards operate.

  • Financial management — the basic accounting and audit requirements for nonprofits. Subtopics include stewardship of the organization's assets, assurance of adequate resources, development and approval of an annual budget, current and year-to-date financial reports, and assurance that the organization is prepared for the annual audit functions.

  • Program knowledge — how to develop programming and evaluate its effectiveness.

  • Resource development — how to develop donor relationships that lead to effective fund-raising; foundation and corporate fund-raising.

  • Nonprofit law and ethics — what specific laws to know and how to understand and make decisions that are ethical and sound.
More detailed specs (pdf) for graduate and undergraduate degree programs have been developed by Nonprofit Academic Centers Council. (See yesterday's post for links to some resources that can help in developing training for people who are already at nonprofit organizations or who want to prepare for a career in the nonprofit sector.)


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Collection of Non-Profit Case Studies

The Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management (INOM) at the University of San Francisco has compiled several types of teaching resources, all freely downloadable as pdf files for use in training and development of nonprofits' managers:
  • Case studies — A searchable group of over 100 case studies. Though all of the cases date to the 1992-2000 period, the lack of recency is generally not a problem because the situations depicted are timeless (e.g., conflict between a music organization's board president and its artistic director).1

  • Course syllabi — for both certificate and degree programs.

  • Curriculum materials developed by the Nonprofit Leadership and Democracy Project of the Union Institute Center for Public Policy.
I've spent some time looking through the case studies and offer the following as representative examples of what's available:

"New Stage Theatre" deals with "the special problems that nonprofit organizations have in developing budgets and devising management accounting systems." Teaching notes at the end offer suggested responses to the half dozen discussion questions that follow the case scenario.

"The Sports Medicine Program at St. Mary's Hospital" in just three pages of text provides a rich and realistic scenario for analysis. The situation presents both financial and HR issues.

"Where Loyalties Lie" raises fundamental questions about how a nonprofit should seek and use funds.

1 The case studies are sorted among the following categories (not mutually exclusive): Arts management, Ethics, Evaluation, Financial management, General management, Governance, Health administration, Human resources management, International, Marketing, Museum management, Organizational behavior, Public relations, Resource development, Strategic planning, and University administration.


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Saturday, November 15, 2008

21st Century Journalism XXIX: Michael Lewis on the Financial Crisis

On November 11, Portfolio published an account of the current Wall Street meltdown by Michael Lewis.

Michael Lewis
(Robert Birnbaum)

Lewis first came to attention as the author of Liar's Poker, his 1989 memoir of his four-year career in the mid-'80s as a twenty-something bond trader at Salomon Brothers. As Lewis explains in the opening paragraphs of his Portfolio article,
To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital — to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.

I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous — which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. ...

Unless some insider got all of this down on paper, I figured, no future human would believe that it happened.

I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind.
What distinguishes this piece of journalism is not only the vividness and detail of the story it tells, but also, in more general terms, its model execution of the journalist's job. As an example of long-form journalism, the Lewis piece exhibits a number of essential principles, among them steady authorial concern for good sourcing, clarity, and coherent flow.

I am firmly of the opinion that the news organizations that survive into the future (I am not talking about more feature-oriented publications, such as People) will make quality assurance a central value for their writers and editors. And they will invest the resources their staff need in order to meet high quality standards.


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Friday, November 14, 2008

"Ever the best of friends"

I've finished Great Expectations and am reflecting on what Dickens is doing in his novel. I'll mention just one of Dickens' themes because it's particularly important to me — the sterling value of loyalty.

"One night I was sitting in the chimney-corner with my slate, expending great efforts on a letter to Joe."
(Pip and Joe Gargery)
Illustration by Felix O. C. Darley (c. 1861)

Source: www.victorianweb.org

Joe, Pip's foster father, is a paragon of loyalty. Joe is in no way hampered in looking out for Pip's best interests by illiteracy and a humble social position. He remains actively devoted to doing whatever he can to help Pip, even in the face of Pip's heedlessness after he moves to London and is living off the funds provided by the anonymous benefactor who has promised that "great expectations" lie ahead.

As was the quote in yesterday's post, the quote below comes from Chapter 18, in which Pip and his household learn that he has "great expectations":

Joe laid his hand upon my shoulder with the touch of a woman. I have often thought him since, like the steam-hammer, that can crush a man or pat an egg-shell, in his combination of strength with gentleness. "Pip is that hearty welcome," said Joe, "to go free with his services, to honour and fortun', as no words can tell him. But if you think as Money can make compensation to me for the loss of the little child — what come to the forge — and ever the best of friends! ——"

O dear good Joe, whom I was so ready to leave and so unthankful to, I see you again, with your muscular blacksmith's arm before your eyes, and your broad chest heaving, and your voice dying away. O dear good faithful tender Joe, I feel the loving tremble of your hand upon my arm, as solemnly this day as if it had been the rustle of an angel's wing!



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Great Expectations

Not having looked at it since high school, I am now rereading Great Expectations for my book group's December meeting. Not surprisingly, I'm finding much in the text that completely escaped me the first time through — mostly in the realm of the fraught relationships among the characters.

"And the communication I have got to make is, that he has Great Expectations."
(Jaggers, Pip, and Joe Gargery)
Illustration by H.M. Brock (1903)

Source: www.victorianweb.org

The illustration above refers to this passage:

"My name," he said, "is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. I am pretty well known. I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. If my advice had been asked, I should not have been here. It was not asked, and you see me here. What I have to do as the confidential agent of another, I do. No less, no more."

Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, he got up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned upon it; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot on the ground.

"Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures, at his request and for his good? You would want nothing for so doing?"

"Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip's way," said Joe, staring.

"Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose," returned Mr Jaggers. "The question is, Would you want anything? Do you want anything?"

"The answer is," returned Joe, sternly, "No."

I thought Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered between breathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.

"Very well," said Mr. Jaggers. "Recollect the admission you have made, and don't try to go from it presently."

"Who's a-going to try?" retorted Joe.

"I don't say anybody is. Do you keep a dog?"

"Yes, I do keep a dog."

"Bear in mind then, that Brag is a good dog, but Holdfast is a better. Bear that in mind, will you?" repeated Mr. Jaggers, shutting his eyes and nodding his head at Joe, as if he were forgiving him something. "Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has Great Expectations."

Joe and I gasped, and looked at one another.

"I am instructed to communicate to him," said Mr. Jaggers, throwing his finger at me sideways, "that he will come into a handsome property. Further, that it is the desire of the present possessor of that property, that he be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as a gentleman — in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations."

You can read the review of Great Expectations published by the Atlantic Monthly in September 1861 here.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Online Intermediate-Level Course in Website Design

The online courses Hewlett-Packard offers at its Learning Center are a mixed bag. I have by no means checked them all out, but the few I looked at several months ago did not inspire enough immediate interest to delve more deeply.

Now, however, I have worked my way through a newly posted course in "Intermediate Website Design" and found it quite useful. You can look investigate the course yourself by going to the home page of the Learning Center and registering.

To give you an idea of what the course covers, here's an outline of its four lessons:
  1. HTML tables and web design — How to create a table, incorporate text and images, specify cell padding and cell spacing, define border color and width, and set a background color or image.

    Learn how to use the following tags: <table>, <tbody>, <tr> (table row), <td> (table cell), <caption> (table caption), <tfoot> (table footer), <th> (column or row header), and <thead> (table title).

    Learn how to use the following attributes: border, bordercolor, bgcolor (background color), height, width, cellpadding, cellspacing, align (horizontal alignment), valign (vertical alignment), and colspan (cell merge).

  2. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) tutorial — How to use CSS to separate coding of your content from the content's appearance. Font styles, text effects for hyperlinks (change in link color when the mouse is hovering over the link, change in link color after the user has visited a link, presence or absence of an underscore, change in border color of a linked image when the mouse is hovering over the image), positioning of graphics (absolute or relative), inserting comments.

    Learn how to use the following tags: <div> (to define divisions of content in your web page) and <span> (to define the style of a relatively small section of text).

    Learn how to use the following font attributes: font-family (e.g., arial, serif), font-size, font-style (normal, italic, or oblique), font-variant (normal, small caps), font-weight (e.g., bold), and color. There is also one example of the use of the class attribute to define different types of text (e.g., introductory paragraph, body text, etc.).

  3. Search engine optimization for your website — How search engines work (crawling, indexing, serving search results), use of paid search listings, best practices for improving your website's search engine ranking. Topics include adding keywords to your website, use of meta tags, Google Webmasters Tools, how links drive traffic to your website, basics of creating compelling content, choice of keyword phrases to embed in your content, the Google Keyword Tool, how to avoid common mistakes, and how to keep a webpage from being searched.

  4. Website development and maintenance — How to control whether clicking on a link opens a new browser window (or, if you're using frames, whether clicking takes the user to another frame in the current window), adding tooltips, using a named anchor to link to a specific location on a web page, nesting lists, nesting tables, and using hexadecimal color values.
Each lesson is accompanied by a straightforward assignment that requires hands-on practice of the points covered in the lesson. There is also a 4- or 5-question quiz for each lesson, which provides a quick indication of whether you've retained key points.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008

Clifford Berryman, November 11, 1928
(Library of Congress)



Monday, November 10, 2008

Ways of Reframing

The topic of reframing has come up in several previous posts. Now that I've finally read Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most — I've had the book on my shelf since shortly after it was published in 1999 — I'd like to note what authors Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (SPH) have to say on the subject of reframing. (All three are associated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.)

In a section called "You Can Reframe Anything" (pp. 204-205), SPH identify five types of statement that generally benefit from reframing. The examples below are adapted from those SPH offer.
  1. One side of the conversation claims to have a monopoly on the truth: "I know what's true here, and there are no two ways about it."

    Reframe: "I want to make sure I understand your perspective. I can see you feel strongly about it. I'd also like to explain my perspective."

  2. One side of the conversation accuses the other of bad intentions: "You deliberately caused me a serious problem."

    Reframe: "I can see you're feeling angry about what I did. I didn't intend to cause a problem. Can you tell me more about the impact of what happened?"

  3. One side of the conversation blames the other: "This problem is all your fault."

    Reframe: "I'm sure I contributed to the problem. I think we both have. Rather than focus on whose fault this is, I'd like just to look at how we got here — at what we each contributed to the situation."

  4. One side of the conversation is judgmental: "You are always making hasty decisions without any concern for other people."

    Reframe: "It sounds like you're feeling stressed by the difficulty we're facing. It certainly is upsetting."

  5. One side of the conversation says the other is an inadequate person in some way or another: "You're simply incompetent when it comes to keeping projects on track."

    Reframe:"I think we disagree about how this snag should be handled. Since the options are difficult to sort out, that's not surprising. The question is whether we can work together to figure out how to address both of our concerns."
The key point illustrated by these examples is that keeping your eye on the goal of achieving a constructive outcome from your conversation will help you choose an appropriate way to reframe a less-than-constructive stance taken by the other party. What you're aiming for first and foremost is a good resolution to the problem, along with maintenance of good working relations.


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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Forestry Training in East Timor

Nursery constructed by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries staff in Baucau, Timor-Leste.
Source: Hawai'i Forestry Extension (pdf)

The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa has a forestry extension service, one of whose activities — the Agroforestry Program of the Timor-Leste Agricultural Rehabilitation, Economic Growth, and Natural Resources Management Project — has assisted development of forestry resources in the country previously referred to as East Timor.

The project included training for staff of the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and for groups of farmers. At the CTAHR website, you can access several presentations made by J. B. Friday, an extension forester, during the 2004 Agroforestry Nursery Training Series, which was delivered in Dili (the capital of Timor-Leste), Baucau (the second largest city), and Venilale (near Baucau).

The presentations (with scripts in English and Tetun, the Timor-Leste national language) "show examples of good nursery practices used throughout the Pacific Islands, with suggestions as to how they might be used in East Timor." There were four lessons:
  1. The Target Tree Seedling — introduces the concepts of species selection, pots and containers, healthy seedlings with good root development, quality seed, timing of outplanting, and field evaluation of the seedlings produced by the nursery so that improvements can be made year-by-year.

  2. Planting Stock and Containers — how different size seedlings should be grown for different projects.

  3. Building Forestry Nurseries — how to construct shade for nurseries, why raised beds are beneficial, what other nursery structures are useful, and where to locate the nursery.

  4. Seed Technology — why it is important to collect good seed, how to collect and store seed.
Other topics covered in the workshops included:
  • species selection

  • examples of healthy and poor-quality seedlings

  • soil and potting materials

  • seed extraction and cleaning

  • calendars and planning planting dates and growing seasons
You can get an overview of current conditions in Timor-Leste at a webpage maintained by the World Bank. The forestry webpage of the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries is here.


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Saturday, November 08, 2008

A More Detailed Summary of the Influence Model

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I'd call attention to a comprehensive summary (pdf) of their Influence Model that Allan Cohen and David Bradford published in the Journal of Organizational Excellence in 2005.

(click to enlarge)

The whole article is twenty-four pages (including endnotes) and easy to read. Well-selected exhibits help you pick up quickly on the points Cohen and Bradford are making.

For example, Exhibit 2 lists the situations in which you are well-advised to make conscious use of the Influence Model:
  • The other person is known to be resistant.

  • You don't know the other person or group and are asking for something that might be costly to them.

  • You have a poor relationship (or are part of a group that has a poor relationship) with the group the other person belongs to.

  • You might not get another chance.

  • You have tried everything you can think of but the other person still refuses what you want.
Exhibit 6 is a helpful list of "Currencies Frequently Valued in Organizations":
  • Inspiration-related currencies — vision, excellence, moral/ethical correctness.

  • Task-related currencies — new resources, challenge/learning, assistance, organizational support, rapid response, information.

  • Position-related currencies — recognition, visibility, reputation, insiderness/importance, contacts.

  • Relationship-related currencies — acceptance/inclusion (feeling closeness and friendship), understanding (having concerns and issues listened to), personal support (receiving personal and emotional backing).

  • Personal-related currencies —gratitude, ownership/involvement (ownership of and influence over important tasks), self-concept (affirmation of values, self-esteem, and identity), comfort (avoidance of hassles).
Finally, Exhibit 8 is a brief checklist that helps keep in view all the main aspects of applying the model.


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Friday, November 07, 2008

A Model of Influencing Without Authority

How can a person influence people over whom the person has no authority?

Allan Cohen, a professor at Babson College, and David Bradford, an emeritus professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, answer this question in terms of the Influence Without Authority model illustrated below.1

(click to enlarge)

Application of Cohen and Bradford's model to a variety of work situations is spelled out in their book, Influence Without Authority, originally published in 1989 and updated in 2005.

You can get a taste of Influence Without Authority by reading a summary of the chapter on influencing your boss that is available here. The main theme of the chapter is that your best bet is to develop a relationship with your boss in which you act as a junior partner (i. e., you are not a mere underling).

The do's for a boss's junior partner:
  • Do stay loyal to the partnership's objectives.

  • Do place the good of your organization first, ahead of your own personal druthers.

  • Do value and take advantage of the differences in skills and perspectives between you and your boss.

  • Do tolerate each other's foibles.

  • Do give the boss the benefit of the doubt, i.e., assume that any bad behavior is due to misinformation or misguided views, rather than reflecting bad intentions.
The don'ts for a boss's junior partner:
  • Don't let your boss make big mistakes.

  • Don't let your boss inadvertently look bad.

  • Don't let your boss move along in ignorance of information he or she should know.
In sum: "The idea is to always be on the side of your boss, not an antagonist or critic. You are always seeking to help the boss meet his or her goals."

1 The graphic comes from influencewithoutauthority.com. The website also offers seven case studies illustrating application of the Influence Model.

Note that in the context of the Influence Model, "Currencies are anything that you and your potential ally value, and can exchange to get what you need to do your work."


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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Leaders as Teachers

With good reason, much classroom training nowadays is led by facilitators rather than by teachers per se. The idea is that adult learners should generally direct their own learning as far as possible, and they should spend their training time as far as possible working on real issues and problems with a team of colleagues. The facilitator's role is to help with sharing of expertise, keeping discussions on track, and posing questions that get people to think more deeply.

Facilitators do, in fact, generally include periods of teaching in the flow of training, often to present concepts, to provide memorable examples of how to handle various situations, and to demonstrate techniques the training participants need to learn.

There is a type of more traditional teaching that organizations should provide on a regular basis. This is teaching done by the organization's leaders that is designed to pass along expertise and to reinforce internal messaging and branding.

In the November 2008 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, Michael Chavez and Gil McWilliam of Duke Corporate Education, and Sushanth Tharappan of the Infosys Leadership Institute, offer advice on how to optimize leaders' teaching. The article isn't as clearly written as it should be, but it's still worth perusing because it captures instructive details of several years' worth of experience with Unisys' "Leaders as Teachers" initiative.

The authors point to three reasons teaching by leaders is valuable:
  • It's a way of passing tacit knowledge along from senior experts to the rising generation of leaders.

  • What leaders have to say tends to get attention — "... bringing leaders to the forefront of the process of developing other leaders ... sends a powerful signal to the organization about the value of specific insights and the importance of the development process itself."

  • The Leaders as Teachers approach forges a productive alliance between the organization's learning and development professionals and top management.
Based on their experience with leaders teaching at Infosys, the authors offer five caveats:
  • Make sure that what the leaders teach is content making a specific contribution to achieving explicit learning goals.

    Content likely to fit the bill includes material that helps employees understand why and how to change their focus or priorities, that helps institutionalize use of new tools or knowledge that the leader doing the teaching has had a direct hand in producing, or that affords the leader an opportunity to solidify his or her own command of concepts, frameworks, and practices by explaining them to learners.

    In the latter case, the leader is also, in effect, acting as a champion of specific changes the organization is making in order to develop capabilities needed for executing its strategy.

  • Make sure the teacher uses techniques, such as posing stimulating questions, that involve the learners "in the creation of new meanings, in finding applications and examples and in stretching" everyone's imaginations.

  • Make sure a leader being considered for a teaching role is able to invest the necessary time "to work closely with internal learning and development professionals — and often outside consultants and educators — to build learning outcomes and design the content, refine the materials and design, and rehearse the delivery."

  • Use other training resources (i.e., not a leader) for the more basic portions of a training effort. Have the leader step in to teach how concepts already presented apply to company-specific situations.

  • Organize a cadre of teachers large enough to handle the number of sessions being scheduled. No one senior leader is going to have time to meet with more than a few groups. Note that it will probably be necessary to allocate time to train-the-trainer preparation.
In a sidebar to their article, the authors note that the actual content of the programs Infosys offers is selected
based on input from multiple listening mechanisms: a survey of high-potential leaders and their consolidated personal development plans; senior management performance reviews; and the opinions of business-enabling functions such as HR, corporate planning and quality.
To actually produce the content, Infosys uses a process that helps leaders "deconstruct their learning into teachable points of view," and then incorporates those POVs into an engaging training design.

To ensure the relevance of the content, Infosys:
  • Aligns the content to the company's leadership competency framework. Each session provides a "platform for illustrating or narrating examples of how leadership competencies actually play out at work."

  • Places great emphasis on debriefing — i.e., drawing lessons from the tales the leader tells about problems and dilemmas he/she has had to handle.

  • Encourages learners to approach their jobs with confidence. Unisys places strong focus on helping learners believe that, with diligent application of their enhanced skills and knowledge, they can achieve results comparable to those achieved by the leader doing the teaching.
You can read more about the Infosys approach to leadership development, including measurement of its impact, in a April 2008 interview with Girish G Vaidya, head of Infosys Leadership Institute.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Outdoor Training that is Genuinely Relevant

I'm sure I'm not alone in being skeptical that the outdoor "ropes" courses some companies spend considerable training dollars on actually deliver work-related results that couldn't be achieved more cost effectively with alternate team training methods.

I do make an exception for the military. The November 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute has an article by freelance writer Ed Darack that makes a compelling case for enhancements to the outdoor training Marines go through prior to deployment to Afghanistan.

The concern highlighted in the article is that the live-fire portion of the current training is almost exclusively geared to operations in Iraq, whose desert terrain is very different from the mountains which cover much of Afghanistan. At the moment, Marines get most of their live-fire training at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert of California.

A convoy gets ready to transport snipers to a training exercise at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert.
(Lance Cpl. Sean P. Cummins, USMC)

To learn about operating in mountain terrain, Afghanistan-bound Marines go to the Mountain Warfare Training Center in the California's Sierra Nevada, an area "with elevations ranging from 6,000 feet up to more than 11,000 ... very similar to the terrain of Afghanistan's Kunar Province."

A Marine practices rappeling down a mountain.
(Cpl. Ryan D. Libbert, USMC)

Darack describes the Mountain Warfare Training Center experience:
... Bridgeport (as the base has come to be known) presents deploying Marines with the experiences of gasping for breath at high altitude, the cold of night and the biting chill of pre-dawn, and of course the knee-pounding and ankle-twisting movement across miles of steep terrain-just like Twentynine Palms immerses troops in the realities of desert living. But while the [Twentynine Palms] combat center provides a full-fledged MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force] experience, Bridgeport has only a few ranges for sniper training, with no ability to host live-fire mortar, close-air support, and artillery training.
As Colonel Norman Cooling, the commander of the Mountain Warfare Training Center explains, "The terrain dramatically changes the tactics, techniques, and procedures associated wih the accomplishment of every military task." For example,
In the desert, the gun line and target are usually at or near the same elevation, where in the mountains the difference could be 5,000 feet or more. This requires a complex ballistic solution that demands training. "It isn't something that you should face for the first time when lives are on the line in country." [comment by Captain Roe Lemons, an artillery officer with experience in Afghanistan]
Training in communications is also a major issue. As Captain Zach Rashman, a pilot with experience in eastern Afghanistan, explains:
... you need to maintain comms at all times, and in the mountains, where you're rarely in line of sight of whom you want to talk to, you really have to know how to use non-line-of-sight frequencies and channels, like SATCOM. To be able to work out techniques before setting foot in a theater of operation — talking to air, infantry, commanders in the rear, in a live-fire training setting — would give troops a tremendous advantage.
So now the Marines are looking to create a full-fledged MAGTF training ground at the Mountain Warfare Training Center. The Proceedings article is a brief for undertaking this clearly "relevant to the job" project. We'll see what happens.



Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Islamic Banking

At the end of last month, the Faiza Saleh Ambah, a reporter based in Saudi Arabia, published an informative article on Islamic banking in the Washington Post.

The article's hook is the idea that Islamic banking institutions have fared better in the the current distressed financial environment than non-Islamic banks, the obvious question being why. A large part of the answer would seem to be that Islamic banks, in addition to being forbidden under sharia law from charging interest on loans — the restriction people are most familiar with — are also forbidden from using derivatives and from assuming excessive risk ("gharar"). As Ambah explains:
The theological underpinning of Islamic banking is scripture that declares that collection of interest is a form of usury, which is banned in Islam. In the modern world, that translates into an attitude toward money that is different from that found in the West: Money cannot just sit and generate more money. To grow, it must be invested in productive enterprises.
The enterprises would include such activities as buying real estate, providing services, and selling goods. A bank's depositors become, in a sense, partners with the bank because the return they receive is viewed as a share of the profits from the enterprises in which the bank invests deposited funds.

Ambah describes the example of home purchase. In lieu of providing a mortgage loan, an Islamic bank can help a customer finance the purchase by buying the home itself and then leasing it to the customer. Over time, the customer makes enough payments on the lease to cover the cost of the home and a reasonable profit for the bank. At the conclusion of a set period, the title to the home is transferred to the customer.

You can read an overview of the characteristics of Islamic finance in a brief 1995 article published in Nida'ul Islam magazine.1 The article cites five requirements:
  • Any predetermined payment ("riba") over and above the principal amount of a loan is prohibited.

  • The lender must share in the profits or losses arising from the enterprise for which money is lent. "This is unlike the interest-based commercial banking system, where all the pressure is on the borrower: he must pay back his loan, with the agreed interest, regardless of the success or failure of his venture."

  • Making money from money is not acceptable; there must be actual investment in an enterprise generating whatever return is achieved.

  • "Gharar" — uncertainty due to ambiguity or deception, or excessive risk (e.g., due to speculation) — is prohibited.

  • Investments cannot support forbidden practices or products, such as alcohol or gambling
Back in February, the Harvard Business Review included Islamic finance among its twenty Breakthrough Ideas for 2008. In a brief write-up, Aamir A. Rehman, a consultant on global corporate strategy, and S. Nazim Ali, director of the Islamic Finance Project at Harvard Law School, provide an overview of the growth of sharia-compliant finance institutions and products.

Rehman and Ali suggest that some of the policies of Islamic financial institutions may be especially worth considering for adoption by non-Islamic institutions. In particular:
The sharia requirement that all parties to a contract must disclose both risks and rewards could have prevented companies from engaging in the kind of financial engineering that led to the subprime lending crisis. Similarly, the currency speculation that has historically destabilized some emerging markets would be prevented by sharia rules that effectively outlaw the practice of short selling. Opaque financial contracts laden with penalties and complex clauses would be more difficult to use because sharia requires that the risks of any product or service be clear to both buyer and seller.
Just yesterday, NPR broadcast a report of the grief a thick and confusing prospectus for collateralized debt obligations has caused five school districts in Wisconsin, which now find themselves faced with devastating losses in their retirement funds.

To get an idea of how contemporary Islamic financial institutions present themselves and their services, you can have a look at the websites of some representative firms, such as Dubai Islamic Bank or Unicorn Investment Bank (based in Bahrain).

1 You can read more extensive treatments of Islamic finance here and here (pdf).



Monday, November 03, 2008

Employee Development in Manufacturing

Like most big pharma companies, in recent years Merck has embarked on resturcturing programs aimed at maintaining profits in the face of slowed revenue growth. Most recently, the company announced plans to reduce its global payroll by 7,200.

As far as I can tell, few, if any, of those layoffs will affect the Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) plant in Australia, where, according to its website:
  • The plant has five manufacturing suites, nine compressing suites, four film-coating suites, and eleven packaging suites.

  • 61 medicines are produced in over 1000 combinations for local and overseas markets; some of these are Merck products for which the plant is the sole global supplier.

  • About 53.6 million packages containing one billion tablets are manufactured annually.
The Australia plant, part of Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), a Merck subsidiary, offers some useful lessons in human resource management.

Specifically, in 2004 the New South Wales Office of Industrial Relations published a case study detailing steps the Merck plant had undertaken to develop "a learning and teamwork culture based on the concepts of best practice in work-based training."

The Before situation at the plant:
Until about [1999] the company's work organisation operated on the traditional Taylorist model. According to Robert Justice, Manager, Human Resources at MSD, despite the company's desire to collaborate with employees and their representatives, MMD was "in the dark ages in the way (they) consulted with people". Management practices were inconsistent with future strategic direction.

Demarcation barriers and the mistrust between management and employees were identified as the biggest barriers to teamwork within the workplace. These barriers existed between management and shopfloor employees and also between employees of different classifications within the workplace. This contributed to a culture of departmental self-interest.

. . .

Prior to 1993 MMD had no developed culture of continuous learning and training. Training was informal, unplanned and based on a need-to-know basis, consisting of a "buddy system" in which an incumbent passed on skills to others whilst on-the-job. Operational instructions then, according to Debbie Samoley, Workplace Change Facilitator, were not user friendly. The result was a range of inconsistent performance levels from employees who did not have a clear understanding of the whole production process.
MMD decided it needed to "move away from an industrial focus and toward a focus on employees including an opening up of the channels of communication and information sharing." One key means of accomplishing this was formation of an Employee Development Committee.
Elected by popular vote, rather than by departmental representation, the Employee Development Committee comprises eight shopfloor representative and four representatives from senior management. It acts as a forum for general discussion between management and employee representatives on issues like training and development, employee initiatives and suggestions, and workplace change.
As a result of the reform efforts, the plant has an encouraging After situation:
Work-based training, based on best practice principles, now constitutes the main type of training at MMD. ...

. . .

A personal training plan is also established to ensure employees who wish to do so may have the opportunity to advance their skills. Training at the site is typically modular and self-paced.

A new plant employee classification structure was introduced with a basic platform of utilising a high level of introductory skills and the provision of training and development opportunities to allow employees to acquire and utilise further skills. Based on a "learning organisation" approach, the classification structure directly links training plans for departments and individuals.
Four skill levels are defined: Introductory, Competent, Mastery, and Expert.

The plant also offers training in interpersonal skills aimed at helping staff build and maintain good working relations. Results have been positive:
Departments now work more closely together. Free flowing communication, training and sharing of information between the manufacturing, packaging, planning and quality assurance departments has resulted in an improved work flow and consequent improvements in productivity and quality. For individuals there is a greater awareness and understanding of the whole production process. That, according to Barry Stevenson, has been "the greatest change of all".

"The level of accountability has changed" says Tony Pusic, Manufacturing Facilitator. There is a feeling of ownership over the process. ... The open communication and the sharing of information has also seen the removal of the "domino effect". Instead of shifting the blame or covering up costly mistakes employees are now aware of the outcome, learning from mistakes made in order to avoid them in future.

. . .

... the differences between management and the shopfloor have been significantly reduced. Greater technical knowledge and skilling up of operators has led to a shift in control over the production process from line management to the shopfloor.
Since not all supervisors and line managers were comfortable with the new environment, senior management took steps to formulate "a deliberate strategy to provide support for managers to involve them in the restructuring process."

As summed up in the case study, the benefits to MSD of its new approach to training, teamwork culture, and communication are:
  • Increased productivity and quality.

  • Increased worker flexibility.

  • Improved quality control and predictable work flow.

  • An improved occupational health and safety record.

  • Ability to use down time and idle time for training.

  • Better integration of training and HR systems.

  • Improved relevance of training.
The benefits specifically for employees include:
  • Recognition of increased skill acquisition, including problem solving skills.

  • Proof of competence.

  • Mobility between divisions.

  • Better opportunities for situation-specific learning.

  • A feeling of responsibility for the production process and ownership of the final product.

  • Increased job variety, e.g., the opportunity for operators to take on the role of trainer or performance assessor. (MSD has adopted a performance management system that includes formal assessment of competency — self-assessment and assessment by peers, team leaders, and an on-site accredited assessor.)

  • Use of state-of-the-art technology that is unavailable elsewhere.

  • Improved opportunities for self-development.

  • Job and financial security.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cooking for 15,000

One of the earliest themes of this blog is "critical caring" — making sure, as far as possible, that your work is something you really and truly want to do well.

I recently came upon a prime example of this philosophy in the culinary area. At the Reluctant Gourmet blog, there is an interview with Todd Mohr, a man who began a second career as a chef after spending about ten less-than-fulfilling years as a middle manager in marketing and advertising.

Todd Mohr and his wife Heather
(Savor Hospitality)

Having recognized that "I was spending the majority of my life in an endeavor that was not fulfilling spiritually," Mohr jumped ship at considerable financial cost and enrolled in the culinary arts program at Baltimore International College. He finished the two-year program in 13 months and went on to his first job in his new field — working at the National Security Agency, where the kitchen team prepared two meals a day for a workforce of 15,000. Among his remarks about this experience, Mohr notes:
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the NSA taught me a tremendous amount. There were certainly times I wanted to quit, but I’m glad I persevered, because that knowledge paid off.
After a couple more jobs in institutional cooking, Mohr returned to his home state of North Carolina and opened Savor Hospitality, a catering business. He explains his thinking:
I didn’t want to start just another catering company. I wanted to create a unique niche. I started to notice large, important, companies having important business meetings and getting wax-paper wrapped sandwiches brought by an unskilled delivery boy, dumped at the receptionist’s desk.

The secretary now has to set everything up, clean it up, stuff that’s not their job. I created “Business Dining Catering,” elements of a wedding caterer brought to the business environment. This unique approach that included a Chef on site, gold and chrome chafing dishes, white linens, and return clean-up service separated us from every other caterer.

Now, 7 years later, others are copying what I started.
The whole discussion with Mohr is quite informative and engaging. For my purposes, I would just reiterate what I take away from the interview: Mohr is working hard and productively, and is continuing to expand the range of services he offers (which now include a cooking school for laypeople). He is motivated to put in all the time and effort this requires because he truly cares about what he is doing. As Mohr puts it, "I would be terribly frustrated with 12 - 18 hour days if I worked for someone else. The fact that I'm forwarding my own business makes it a joy."

Earlier this year, Mohr began a blog, where he posts brief instructional videos. In the example below, you can learn how to make a Japanese omelet, a technique Mohr was taught by a Japanese chef who visited one of his classes at culinary school.


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel, 1912 - 2008

A scene from "Studs' Place" on WMAQ-TV in Chicago (1950?). Terkel is on the right, the man with the guitar is folksinger Win Stracke, and Phil Lord is on the left.(www.richsamuels.com)

Studs Terkel's radio show, The Studs Terkel Program, aired on Chicago station WFMI-98.7 between 1952 and 1997. Earlier, he had performed as an actor on radio, as he explains in the final paragraph of the following excerpt from the introduction to his 1972 book, Working:

A personal note. I find some delight in my job as a radio broadcaster. I'm able to set my own pace, my own standards, and determine for myself the substance of each program. Some days are more sunny than others, some hours less astonishing than I'd hoped for; my occasional slovenliness infuriates me ... but it is, for better or worse, in my hands. I'd like to believe I'm the old-time cobbler, making the whole shoe. Though my weekends go by soon enough, I look toward Monday without a sigh.

The danger of complacency is somewhat tempered by my awareness of what might have been. Chance encounters with old schoolmates are sobering experiences. Memories are dredged up of three traumatic years at law school. They were vaguely, though profoundly, unhappy times for me. I felt more than a slight ache. Were it not for a fortuitous set of circumstances, I might have become a lawyer — a determinedly failed one, I suspect. (I flunked my first bar examination. Ninety percent passed, I was told.)

During the Depression I was a sometime member of the Federal Writers' Project, as well as a sometime actor in radio soap operas. I was usually cast as a gangster and just as usually came to a violent and well-deserved end. It was always sudden. My tenure was as uncertain as that of a radical college professor. It was during these moments — though I was unaware of it at the time — that the surreal nature of my work made itself felt. With script in hand, I read lines of stunning banality. The more such scripts an actor read, the more he was considered a success. Thus the phrase "Show Business" took on an added significance. It was, indeed, a business, a busyness. But what was its meaning?

[Ellipsis in original.]