How Do Sound Processes Save Money?

Over the weekend I bought a Hampton Bay Ceiling Fan Light Kit from Home Depot. The colors of the finishes in the bedroom where the ceiling fan is located are all some sort of antique brass. The metal finish colors intentionally don’t match in the room. I didn’t want to spend life hours searching for the exact shade of antique brass so I decided to go with an eclectic look that would hopefully, thoughtfully coordinate.Hampton Bay 2-Light Ceiling Fan Light Kit

My previous experience when buying products with finishes is there will be a hand-drawn check mark in black marker, checking off the box that indicated whether the finish color was () white () antique brass () polished brass () black or () satin nickel.

I saw the colors listed on the box but no black check mark. “Uh oh”, I thought, “which color will it be?” I opened the box. From past experience purchasing products with the hand drawn check black marker checkmark, the color marked on the box and the color inside did not match requiring a drive back to Home Depot.

I found that all the finishes were included. This took a few seconds to comprehend, it was so odd and different from my previous experiences. Not quite believing it I looked back at the box to see which finish was indicated to be in the box. I confirmed they all were included. Wow, this solution gives me lots of options. I can change the color if and when I choose to. If the antique brass color is not quite right, I can make an in-the-moment decision to choose another finish. There’s minimal risk my finish will not be included in the box, saving me time and minimizing frustration.

Here’s my guess on how this process improvement occurred:

  • someone listened to the customers who complained they didn’t like the finishes, or they were wasting time exchanging mismatched boxes, or the finish they wanted wasn’t available. Someone listened.
  • Someone listened to Home Depot, the distribution channel, that was receiving complaints and other feedback. Someone listened.
  • Someone measured:
    • the time and cost it took to physically mark the box with a black marker
    • the savings of minimizing the labor to mark the box and the expense of procuring the markers
    • the cost of having product taking up shelf space because the finish color was not the desired color
    • the cost of re-stocking when the finish color was not right
    • the cost of dissatisfied customers
    • the cost of monitoring which trends in light kit finishes would sell
    • the cost of damaging relationships with distributors

Someone calculated the cost of:

  • including four finishes in each box

Someone asked if the cost if the increased cost of including four finishes was justified in hard dollar cost savings, minimized consumer complaints, maximized consumer satisfaction, strengthened the relationship with the distribution channels and would be the manifestation of the brand they want to be known for.

My guess is that including all four finishes does accomplish all those things. However, Hampton Bay can’t stop now, they need to keep asking . . . and listening.

How Can We Be Sure When to Trust?

 

Last week’s post review the book The China Study which provides seemingly credible evidence advocating for a plant based diet to avoid and even cure disease. A quick internet search will uncover passionate arguments for and against a plant based diet.

So how can we know? When do we know? What is right? How can we use information? What should we do?

It’s important to find out how research is conducted and who sponsors the research. All research will have some holes in it. All research can be disproved in some way. So what are we to do when we are at the crossroads and need to make decisions?

  • Understand as much as possible about the study and the motivation of the study as possible
  • Determine if the study and the advocates of the study are trustworthy

 

 

  • Do your best to understand the world view of those advocating the study
  • Evaluate the information against your own beliefs, awareness, experiences
  • Have open conversations with people that both support and discredit the cause. Listen deeply to their responses and opinions. Use the information to inform your beliefs. Listen with the intent to learn and understand.

Your own, thoughtful, informed courageous opinion is necessary and required when evaluating data, people and situations. Keep questioning, listening, learning and challenging.

 

The China Study

The China Study thoughtfully, engagingly brings the reader along on the journey of winding roads the authors travelled to ultimately write this book.

As you read the China Study you just can’t help but increase amount of plants in your diet. The wisdom of Moms everywhere to ‘eat your vegetables’ just has to be true. The joy of incorporating plants into your diet that you grow yourself or can visualize coming from the beauty of nature is uplifting. The endless colorful, tasty possibilities of meals you can create and eat from available, seasonal plants is just fun.

T. Colin Campbell PhD, with the support of his son, co-author Thomas M. Campbell II MD, iterate the progressive and sometimes painful path of change in the food industry. They courageously discusses how powerful people and agencies go to great lengths to protect their interests. T. Colin Campbell vulnerably discloses how he, at times in his career, would make statements he knew were not entirely true. He justified his endorsement, while not directly scientifically accurate, weren’t exactly inaccurate, and wouldn’t do any real harm. In addition, there were career benefits to having published statements which would allow him to further his research and cause.

This is a courageous book.

A quick internet search on this topic will release a violent debate. There are strong credible arguments advocating for many diets, Atkins, Weston Price, Raw Milk, Weight Watchers, the American Heart Association, The American Cancer Society, etc and they seem credible. How can we assess what’s right? How do we know which methodology to follow? There are claims the opposing party is motivated by greed and money. Are we all motivated by greed and money? Is money always bad? Are we bad when we have money and use money? Is it ever ok to use money? When is the use of money good? When causes are poor and struggling are they noble? Do causes lose their nobility when their cause gains momentum and the now have money?

Whom do we trust, when do we trust and how do we know our trust is well-placed?

T. Colin Campbell and his son point out something I learned early on as a junior marketing manager and later as a more established business professional – it’s possible to use statistics to justify any cause. When looking at statistics it’s imperative to look under the covers and determine: who paid for the study? what methodology did they use? What did the control group consist of? What factors were included? What factors were excluded? Does this analysis make sense? Why or why not? Is the assessment still relevant based on today’s environment? It is not wise to accept statistical data on face value. I also believe that organizations, corporations and people are doing the best they can with what they know and the influence they have. Violent arguments and passionate protecting of interests is to be expected with any monumental change.

So how do we assess what is right? How do we know what to do? How do we do the right thing with something as primal and basic as food?

Check next week’s post to learn more . . .

 

Education vs. Learning

I recently took a course in renewable energy at NYU. As I signed up for the course I received 20 or so emails containing different promotional announcements. After the first email which provided the details of the course, I did not open the remaining 19 or so messages. This is unfortunate for me as one of the emails contained the syllabus that listed the pre-reading for the course. I received that email the day before directly from the instructor. I spent the entire day consuming hundreds of pages of data. This oversight was my error, I just didn’t have the time to filter through the emails to determine which ones were relevant to me and which emails contained information that I might want to review at some time.

It was also announced in one of the unread emails that NYU would be changing their certification course program, eliminating certifications now calling the courses Career Advancement Courses. I loved it. After one or two courses I would have enough information and connections in the any given field to pursue my interest in that field. If I want to or if it’s necessary I can pursue an advanced degree in this discipline. As is true with any change, many students did not value the certification and many were disappointed that the certifications was being eliminated.

Gift vintage certificate / diploma / award border template in vector

I congratulate NYU for taking this bold move. If a university the caliber of NYU has the courage to make such a decision, others will follow. That’s impressive leadership. NYU made this decision by evaluating the data of students that took their courses. They learned most took one or two courses but did not complete the certification. Non-certification courses are also less expensive and more accessible to a wider audience. The goal of the courses is career advancement, so they decided to call the classes what they are: career advancement courses.

As I work on large, complex transformations business architects assess the resources of: People, Processes, Technology and Information. (PPTI) When evaluating the resources of the People we have today and the talent we need to implement a transformation, education and certifications can become a barrier. The current staff, while functioning adequately, may not have the required education. If they are not functioning sufficiently and need to develop new skills quickly the time it takes to earn a certification or advanced degree is just not agile enough for the goals of the project or to remain competitive. The available talent pool may not have the required formal education but might have transferable skills.

When we do find the talent that meets all criteria they may not want to do the tedious work that is necessary as it may be vastly different to the reward and experiences they had in academia. Compensation may not be available to adequately counterbalance the investment the student has made in their education. While the candidates may have the education required, they may not have the skill further delaying progress.

There is a gap.

Victor Saad created his own solution to the large investment in education and the lack of guaranteed employment as result of the education in the Leap Year Project. This is not an accredited program yet but I hope one day it will be. Mr. Saad is sharing his process with the creation of the Experience Institute.

Why do we now rely so much on education and certifications? My view is it is the path of least resistance. When hundreds maybe thousands of resumes are received for a position it’s easy to electronically cull the universe and make it more manageable by dismissing any resume that does not have the required education. It also, on the surface, relieves the responsibility of hiring managers and leaders of critically assessing talent and being accountable for their results.

What talent are we not considering by relying on education alone? Those over the age of 50 that have had long-term careers? Those that have worked in non-competing industries in similar functions? Veterans that have skill, discipline and leadership skills that are needed but don’t easily translate? Those educated outside of the country that have the skill but their education is not accepted in the US?

It would require time, leadership, communication skills and critical thinking to evaluate the current and potential resources of People.

Some will argue with me that there are laws that prohibit them from considering other talent and they cannot incur the legal risk. This is sometimes true but not always true. My opinion is we do not allocate enough time to hire talent. Once we do hire, we are reluctant to have uncomfortable conversations and invest in those we recruited so diligently.

If we recognize the accurate amount of time it takes to recruit and to develop people as well as having the courage to have uncomfortable conversations; we will readily identify we are surrounded by a pool of potential talent.

The Art and Science of Communication

Raj Ramesh does a great job of explaining how capabilities work in business architecture. One capability where organizations and individuals sometimes inaccurately assume competence is Communication.

“The single greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

Effective communication is a high impact, low cost capability that can be an incredible competitive advantage creating efficient, agile execution and high trust environments aligned with strategic objectives.

We all think we are good communicators because we know what we mean as we attempt to convey our message. However, it is not the job of our audience to listen, it is our job to make them hear. Assuring our teams and affected audiences understand what we intend is the tough part. Inspiring them to take action can even be more difficult.

When I work on project teams I’ll ask participants if everyone is clear on objectives and responsibilities. I’ll hear “yes, we had a meeting.” ONE meeting? Expecting that one meeting will be enough when trying to influence a complex transformation is highly unlikely. Expecting that one meeting reached your audience in a way that will influence their comprehension and change behaviors is improbable.

In today’s environment we are inundated with communication impacting our ability to remember and retain detail.

In the Mad Men days of advertising a common statistic was, ‘you had to hear a message 7 times to understand it.’ Today, as we have so many causes requiring our attention, demanding action from us, messages need much more repetition.

We need to communicate in such a way that people will understand. We all have audio, visual and kinesthetic learning abilities. It’s important to reach audiences in all ways to ensure our message is understood.

A great course that helps individuals enhance their writing skills is given by PowerSuasion. PowerSuasion will evaluate five writing samples and creating a Writing Profile and a Writing Editing Guide. These tools will help writers understand where they are falling short in writing and give them a tool that will guide them in improving. When I took the assessment I submitted an article, a proposal, a presentation, an email and a letter for professional review. The consistent mistakes I made through the different channels were eye-opening. I also learned about my strengths in writing and became a more courageous writer. In addition I learned how to use each medium its fullest advantage.

If you’d like to increase the capability of Communication in your teams and your organization ensure the continuous learning about the discipline of Communication is an individual priority and an organizational priority.

 

What does the term “architecture” mean in business?

The term architecture means looking at a business problem or an opportunity from the greatest context possible considering factors that may or may not seem to impact the result to define the most thoughtful approach to implementing a solution.

My friend and colleague Raj Ramesh explains the concept more clearly in this three minute video:

 

 

 

 

Why is Fast better than Slow?

When an outsider evaluates the progress of a project a question that often comes up is . . . “how long did that take you?” There might be a touch of cynicism in the tone, a little judgment. The assumption is progress is taking too long. Team members also may value fast progress over slower progress.

Illustration of an old alarm clock with a globe behind

The time it takes to achieve a task is only one measurement. When gauging progress consider the following categories.To remain agile — assign a status of High, Medium, Low to this assessment. In your project are you:

  • Building a strong business foundation?
  • Taking thoughtful risk and assessing consequences carefully?
  • Are you anticipating risk and planning for possible outcomes?
  • Have you employed thoughtful recovery from failure?
  • Are you using resources wisely?
  • Are you employing a sage use of time?
  • Is your work aligned with the organization’s vision? strategy?
  • Is every action true to the organization’s values?
  • What is the best possible solution considering your current capabilities?
  • Are you establishing realistic goals? adjusting when necessary? Are your processes as efficient as they can be?
  • Is there effective Leadership on all levels?

Once you apply a high, medium or low status to the above then determine if you are moving too fast or too slow.

Be careful of letting a stopwatch alone dictate your results.

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a Vision

Visions are often a very powerful unifying force amongst teams of people attempting to achieve common goals. You can have a vision for your organization, your team, or your project.

Simon Sinek describes why knowing ‘why’ you are doing something is important in this 5 minute video.

Leadership

I gained a deeper understanding of Leadership while working on an assignment at a financial services company that serves the military and members of the military community. Like many people I thought Leadership means that the person in the corner office does the right thing for the benefit of the organization’s mission and for all, while giving clear direction. I thought Leadership meant that Leader had personal integrity and could be trusted. I learned the military professes we are all Leaders. We demonstrate our Leadership every day in our actions, our decisions, and our interactions. In today’s competitive, ambiguous, fluid and transparent world personal Leadership skills are increasingly important.

 

As a consultant, there are times, when I’m asked to weigh in, in confidence, on the behaviors of those I work with. I take the responsibility seriously and give my answers thoughtfully and carefully. I know that my answers have the power to help the person we are discussing succeed or can sometimes even influence their exit. I personally believe that every person comes to work every day to give the greatest contribution that they can. If, for some reason, they are not doing the right things, they have not been given the proper direction or support. They may be working with broken processes. When I’m giving tough love to clients I’ll tell them “you get what you build”. If your employees are cynical and not contributing to their best ability –” you built that.” If your employees are motivated, engaged, and contribute beyond your expectations, “you built that too.” If you want different behaviors, you must conduct some critical self-assessment and ask yourself what you and your organization can do differently.

 

A manager brought me in his office to ask about one of the employees I was assigned to work with. The employee did not acknowledge my emails, if he showed up for meetings he showed up late. He was often un-prepared and un-informed although this employee was pleasant, knowledgeable and well-liked.

 

Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

 

“Alicia, what do you think of John? Is he pulling his weight on this project?” (I hear the subtext here, the manager is not asking an exploring question, he’s leading me to validate his opinion the employee is not pulling his weight)
My response, “John is very bright, he has a lot to contribute, I do, however, think he can work on his leadership skills.”
The manager leans forward, not expecting this answer. “John’s not the leader on the project.”
I reply, “True, however he’s an important team member. Emails are often not consistently answered in a timely manner, if at all. He does not regularly attend meetings. If he’s absent from meetings, he does not send a delegate or ask for meeting notes. His input is critical. We won’t be successful without him. By raising the bar on this behavior, we will run a more efficient project and manage resources more effectively.”

 

The manager leans back in his chair with a new awareness and is now armed with information to better help his team member achieve greater success, through improved leadership skills.

 

We are all leaders. We demonstrate it every day in all we do.

Values

I really wanted to use this photo as the cover photo in the website.

thinkstock-hiking-lrg

 

 

 

 

 

The message it demonstrated to me was that NLA works with smart, independent people that excel individually to achieve common goals.

 

The second photo of one person helping the other up the mountain was intended to demonstrate that we provide assistance and fill gaps so that the we can enable and unlock the potential of the smart, independent people we work with.

helping-up-mountain-crop-lrg

 

I couldn’t find the rights to the first photo. I searched everywhere. I searched in Google Images, I searched in ThinkStock. I became pre-occupied with the importance of this photo, of the image and the idea that I wanted to present.

 

I was at a crossroads. It’s not right to steal an artist’s photo. Artists are a group that are often exploited, under-appreciated, under-recognized and under-paid. Someone somewhere stood in the freezing cold to capture that shot. They deserved compensation or at least credits for the photo and I couldn’t find it.

 

Posting the photo without permission seems like a small risk and it probably is. I see images used commercially that I know are not available for commercial use. When I see it, I recognize it as wrong. I judge the people who used those images and I shake my head at organizations that allow it.

 

Could I now allow myself to be in that category — the apathetic category?

 

After some time, I realized that there are many great photos I could use properly that would convey a similar message. I finally chose the three figures standing on a mountain top, independently. We’ve received several compliments on the imagery.

proud-crop-lrg

Corporate values are important. They are the guideposts that help employees make decisions when they are at the crossroads and there’s no one around to give permission. Sound values create agility in problem solving and enable speed to market with new products and services. Authentic values attract and retain high caliber teams.

 

At NLA two of our core values are ‘maximizing individual contributions’ and assuring ‘fair compensation’ for those we work with. Stealing a photo from an artist is not the right thing to do. Thoughtlessly using a photo without permission is not the right thing to do.

 

You might be asking why the photo is presented in this blog? Is it ok to showcase work in a blog?

 

It’s ok. Blogs are not designed for commerce but to share information. It’s a shade of gray but an important distinction.

 

Solid corporate values will empower employees and leaders to make the best possible decisions with the information they have available to them, with the purest intent they can at the time in our fluid and ambiguous world.

 

 

 

 

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