While guiding teams towards more agility, I often hear that people are overwhelmed with a mountain of tasks. One reason might be that people misunderstand agility with rushing. Can you really achieve 10 times more by trying to do the same things you did yesterday a little faster? The answer might be to try to do less, especially less of the things that don't bring you and your team further towards your goals.
There is one concept that in my experience helps a lot - and it is old. It goes under the name of 2nd Quadrant, Priority Matrix, Eisenhower Matrix... A simple 2x2 grid where you place your tasks: important and urgent, or not. In theory, the solution is easy. Everything that is not important, don't do it; simply drop it (non-urgent) or delegate it (urgent). The crux with the important activities is that we often start with the urgent tasks. By then end of the day, end of the week, we realise that that important and non-urgent things are still not done. All concepts highlight the same thing: increase your focus on the second quadrant (important, non-urgent tasks).
Yes, understood, and how can I achieve this? People approached me and said, this is really hard - even when they know the who-to. The solution is that you start with your weekly planning (best on Friday) and block time for the 2nd quadrant tasks. It is so simple, and so hard. Here is my tip: go to your calendar and create an appointment on Wednesday 9am that is repeating weekly - mark the entry as busy. In the appointment, list 3-5 items that you really want to get done. Based on my experience, the trick here is that you start your work in the morning with that important, non-urgent task; before any other distractions come up. For sure, any other day of the week works; though if you schedule these tasks for the afternoon, I promise that you will have many excuses and a lack of energy to get started.
With this, you are starting a new routine that is giving you space and satisfaction to complete your strategic tasks. You will be better prepared when urgent things are coming up. And you might end up with more blocked time in your calendar. If you want to see how this looks like, watch this funny video: Nextel: Dance Party.
How do you carve out more time for your big rocks?
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Today is June 2020. Are you looking at the 18-months plan you have created in January 2019? Most probably, nothing on it would make sense in today's world. They have reflected a very different reality. And the complexity and uncertainty we are acting in, makes planning difficult.
What is the alternative? In my work to improve operational excellence, I am guiding teams to create specific and clear key results that will be achieved in the upcoming 3 months. This is a time horizon we can foresee with more certainty. And how do we make sure the teams are going in the right direction? This is where we need a northstar, a collective dream, that gives us a guidance for direction and priorities.
No plan at all? This feels very uncomfortable... Sure, we need something that is bridging the northstar and the key results; these are the objectives. They give us the context for the key results. And, in order to provide clear guidance, I suggest teams to imagine how the end results might look like and how the path can look like. This imagination of the results and the path is providing excitement and clarity.
If we don't have a plan, how do we measure success? In the past, project teams celebrated that they finished their project on time and on budget - and delivered outdated requirements? Instead, I suggest teams to measure success based on these three dimensions: a) value to customers, b) discipline of routines that create an excellent working environment, c) the pace the team members are learning.
How would you think this vision-to-action approach will contribute to accelerated success?
Earlier this year, with a friend we discussed how to start a mindset shift initiative in a company; introducing autonomy and agility. On the one hand, the teams might be reluctant to experiment with the new ways of working. At the same time, some of the leaders are cautious if not doubtful. How do you make both sides comfortable to give it a try?
The obvious answer is in small steps - with a pilot - and then let it organically grow. The success of the first team will spread and other teams want to try, and the inception has started. For some people that might be too slow. An alternative way is to limit the pilot in scope. You introduce the initiative to a wide audience but only related to a small part of their daily work.
This reminded of what we started in 2014 in a manufacturing excellence program in Southeast Asia, covering 15 production sites. Besides the typically efficiency projects, we launched an initiative to strengthen the ownership of the frontline workers; the aim was to let them take more responsibility and get them more engaged with their surroundings.
This ownership program was straightforward. We divided the manufacturing site into areas and assigned teams to these areas. Each team then had three housekeeping tasks: a) keep them clean, b) keep all things orderly, c) make the area enjoyable to work in. They received a budget and had full autonomy on how they implemented these three tasks.
The results were great. First, the areas' housekeeping improved a lot and the people installed rest areas, painted their work areas and beautified the factories. In addition, they were more engaged, excited to come to work and simply more content. In addition, we could then take this spirit of responsibility and accountability to areas closer to the key operational activities.
This can be an inspiration for you to introduce new routines that give people more autonomy and introduce agility at the workplace. Housekeeping is a good start; in an office environment that means that you can provide a budget to refresh the common areas and then continuously improve them.
With such programs you can try out how your teams adopt this new way of working. As leaders we can overcome some of our concerns and experiment with new leadership styles: more guidance, less micromanagement. And then, widen the reach of these routines to operational tasks.
Thank you for the discussions, Philippe Henrotaux.
In larger companies you can observe one barrier to success, and it is present almost everywhere. How can I make the people in the other function work for me? The managers then request to have communication training, support to improve their negotiation skills, and resort to escalation to the higher ranks. Is this effective? Will you solve the root cause of the collaboration problem?
A few weeks back, I conducted a workshop with the request to improve cross-silo collaboration and we introduced two simple concepts. How can I create win-win situations and how can I make other people trust me.
A simple game you can try right now is the 4x4 Tic Tac Toe. Take another person and try to play the game that all of you can get the most points. Here comes an interesting observation: many players try to block the opponent to get points, instead of allowing them to make points and get points yourself. Why are we fighting instead of working towards a common goal? In order to create win-win situation, interestingly, it takes only one party. The key is courage and consideration. Courage to express how win looks for you. Consideration to listen and understand what winning means to the others.
Trust is a loaded term; everybody knows it is important; few try to dissect it and understand how to cultivate trust. I tend to introduce the formula of trustworthiness by Charles H. Green: you can increase trust with credibility, reliability and intimacy; and reduce trust by self-orientation. Most are pretty obvious, though I like to share a few words about intimacy - not a word we are often using in a business context. According to Green, this is the most important factor. And, it relates to familiarity, safety and respect. The closer I am with the person in the other silo, the better we will be able to work together.
Improving collaboration across the boundaries in your organisation is vital. And, you don't need to wait for the others to join. Each individual can start to seek win-win situation and cultivate trustworthiness for themselves.
Where will you start today?
Photo credit: Galliard Games
This sounds weird, right? If we fully focus on performance, our performance will go down? How is that possible? And what can we do to improve performance in a sustainable way?
A while back I learned about this formula that your performance is equal to your potential minus your interferences. While I wanted to learn more about this a stumbled across this article written by Tim Gallwey about the Inner Game and its impact on capability building. One passage brilliantly explains the above paradox:
"For example, my need to finish an article by the requested deadline obscures the reasons I chose to write the article in the first place, and dampens the natural enjoyment of expressing my thoughts and convictions. The person caught up in performance momentum neglects learning, growth, and the inherent quality of the work experience."
Let's look what we are doing at work. At first, yes, we are producing products and services; a key aim is to produce outcome of our work. At the same time, we are also engaged in two other things. We are building teams, cultivate relationships, providing a safe environment for our people - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'experience'. In addition, we need to grow in our skills and as personalities during our career - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'learning'. As a summary and taking the example of sales, we need to provide a trusted environment with our customers and we need to engage with them to learn what they need. Only then, we might be able to sell our products to the customers.
This week, I was coaching a team to develop their objectives and key results and based on the discussions we had, the team then added two objectives related to cultivating better relationships and engaging in more learning. They are very engaged now with their objectives.
What does that mean as a leader? Do I stop pushing for results? The way I see it, a leader's responsibility is to provide a safe and challenging environment. This will create a condition in which people can grow their capabilities, become more creative, take more ownership, enjoy more and become better team players.
In my work, quite often I see myself as the person that is providing the space to reflect. Which is important to become more excellent.
The Inner Game of Work: Building Capability in the Workplace.
In the projects I support, we often talk about agility and a lot of efforts are taken to initiate tons of new activities. At first people are excited and expectations from the management are high. The teams try to achieve more in less time and are rushing forward. After a while, a cloudy feeling starts to emerge - is this it? Exhaustion arises and with that frustration: what is exactly different from what we did before?
In my eyes, two fundamental questions are not answered often enough.
Why do we need to become agile?
And what does agility really mean?
Today, our business and organisational context is getting more uncertain and more complex. In order to strive and become stronger in this environment, we need to be able to constantly find new solutions. Solutions that bring value to the business, bring value to our customers. At the same time, we can't wait for the perfect solution. We need to share early prototypes and establish an early feedback. They need to be short because everyone is constantly confronted with new challenges and opportunities; the people around us evolve, and we need to evolve as well. Velocity matters! Do we need to run faster? Or do we need to run smarter?
Ok, we know the Why. And how can we get there? Some people come up with great frameworks, activities, templates and say, that is what we need to become agile. In my experience, while these tools are supporting the journey, I see that it is more important to bring people back to the foundational principles of agility.
First, we need to go deep and understand the needs and challenges of our customers, understand how we can create value for our customers. In order to do this we need to interact with them with empathy and compassion; getting close to them. Co-create the solution they need - beyond their initial wants.
Based on this and based on our values, each team, each department, each company requires a purpose, a vision, a collective dream that guides every person in the organisation in what they need to focus on in their daily work. This big picture objective should be specific, tangible, ambitious and created from within.
When we are dealing with complexity, can we simply focus on our own territory? Act in our own silo and let the others deal with their own? In my experience, improving the way people work together across silos has a significant impact on the results of the individual silo and the entire company. And this collaboration starts with the cultivation of good relationships; they will establish trust and build the foundation for efficiency.
An important barrier to velocity is trying to be perfect. This will delay delivery and prevent early feedback-cycles. Potentially we are wasting efforts on work that are not related to creating value for the customer and the company. Instead, if you have an idea, an early draft of a solution, give it a try! Experiment. In case that solution was wrong, then at least you know it, you got early feedback and guidance on how to create more value. Build - Measure - Learn. Be curious what other people, especially your customers, will say about your idea.
Cultivating agility in your team is a journey which will take a few months to get established. Be patient until you can harvest the benefits. Stay true to the principles and enjoy the ride.
This week I attended a webinar organised by BI Worldwide, Grant Rawlinson sharing how he has attempted to cross from Singapore to New Zealand on human power: rowing and cycling. The key lesson he learned during this journey? Resilience is being able to weather the storm. Though, sometimes we need to be able to grow stronger when we are under pressure - Grant calls this "Anti-fragility". Here are my key take-aways.
1) In a storm, don't make strategic decisions! Keep going; there will be sunshine soon again.
2) When you hit a major roadblock, go back to your original objective; the purpose why you started the journey.
3) Select your partners based on motivation and mindset; skills are not a good indicator for successful teamwork.
4) Only spend so much energy in a day that you can regain in that day; with this sustaining effort you can go on forever.
This explorer's mindset is true when you want to achieve a major adventure like the crossing Grant is attempting. And this also applies when we as an individual and as a business are facing a crisis like the current situation. It might very well be an opportunity to grow stronger.
Thank you Omar and David.
Photo Credit: Alistair Harding
A manufacturing site in Thailand had an established continuous improvement program that included brainstorming sessions, Kaizen reports, 6-Sigma activities. Still, the plant management team saw a need to drive excellence. They felt there was a lack of innovation and inspiration. And headquarters launched a strategic initiative to significantly improve productivity. How can the local team achieve this?
While observing the 300-people site, there was no lack of team spirit and engagement. They were a happy family. At the same time, most topics and issues where dealt within the respective departments. Also, the annual improvement topics where defined within these silos. The familiarity between the functions did not translate into deep cross-silo collaboration. New activities were required.
With the local leadership team we decided on a 12-months innovation program that had a clear focus on a) driving excellence & optimisation, b) cultivate innovation & agility, c) strengthen cross-silo collaboration. The program had two core phases: create crazy ideas and then execute these ideas.
During the first phase we conducted a Innovation Days event for about 70 people from various functions. We defined six teams that focused on different, specific challenges around maintenance, process technology, supply chain, environment and others. During these two days workshop, the teams engaged in brainstorming to better understand their customers and the brainstormed solution ideas. The success here was that the insights and the ideas were discussed across silos; this sparked creativity and opened people's mind. (Previous blog entry)
In the second phase we executed these ideas with Focus Cycles that lasted three months. Again, the six teams took their crazy ideas and started to work on implementing these ideas. The big change for the people was that we didn't chase a specific deliverable. Rather, we gave them a time frame (three months) after which the teams shared what they achieved and what they struggled with. This resulted in a big mindset shift and the teams realised that in this way, they are operating much closer to what they want to achieve and were delivering value to the overall operations. (Previous blog entry)
After about six months, the local and regional leadership team looked at exciting results:
Thank you Aphisak Traipoonsin, Teerapan Jaieam and Paul Seagle for your support and enabling this great journey.
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Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.