Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chapter 3 The Filter

You may have been introduced to the concept in business school, you have been practicing it your entire life, especially when you were younger, and now you find its use as common as grass.  It is called the filter.  Cleaning up our dirty laundry, skewing the meaning so as to cushion the blow; “We did not have a fire Sir, rather it was a small thermal expansion event, and it was nothing!” The amount of energy that is wasted by maintaining the filter in the average American Corporation amounts to very little, and if we were able to regain all of the energy that is used up by keeping the filter alive, it would be negligible!

Come on …do you really believe that?  Of course not!

So if this exercise is robing us of our resources (which hopefully equates to profits in your organization), why do we keep doing it?  Is it custom, is it habit? Is it useful?

Here is a thought, I am willing to bet that most individuals will filter their news before it is presented because of fear that if their boss was to know the truth, he/she may just overreact and cause a bunch of extra work.  Their manager is Reactive.  Yes, it’s true; we place the filter between layers of management like a sandwich cookie so that we might diminish the amount of Reactive behavior that exists in the company.  So it is fairly easy to see that Reactive Management is a cause of the filter being present, and it promotes the organic growth and spread of the filter, but does it in turn promote Reactive behavior?  Is this a vicious cycle that tailspins into the heart of corporate communication?  If so, can we ever pull out of the damning stall?

I argue yes on both counts, and here is why!

By filtering, we are actually conditioning.  It is the same concept used to train dogs, and we turn right around and use it on our bosses.  It exists at every level from the factory worker all the way up to the board of directors.  When we filter information, we present a picture, a truth…a false reality in which our manager lives and breathes.  Whither they are naive enough or not to know that they are being feed utopian poison cookies doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that they have now been conditioned to a reality, fact or fiction, which does not truly exist.  So what do they do with this reality?  They dress it up in ribbons, plaster it on their report, spreadsheet, email, etc. and send it to their boss so that we might hoist this falsehood up the ladder.

This usually causes problems in only abnormal situations.  Lets examine product recalls for instance.  There is not a single product recall in the modern manufacturing world that does not have the filter and Reactive Management to blame for its size and lack of timely adherence!  Every time one of these investigations is conducted, it always turns out that some low level engineer found a defect and reported it to his/her manager who then dressed up the problem and “kinda reported it” to their director, only to find that 300,000 units and two deaths later, “Hey, maybe I should have told somebody?” 
“Well, we have to meet our production quota, and Bill, well he worries to much, I will just tell the director in a small memo that I will write on a napkin so as not to leave a paper trail, that we have some small concerns but are diligently working through them and obtaining our production goals!”  Bravo Mr. Filter Mouth!  You are the cause for three lawsuits and millions of dollars of lost profits, a never-ending mound of paperwork that will be required by the guy that has to fill your position (because it won’t be you anymore), and a tarnished corporate imagine that will haunt the company for the next ten years! 

No wonder when these upper level managers find out the Truth, they over react, they haven’t seen it.  They can handle it, remember, they have been conditioned to live in an easier reality.

Now obviously you, the reader should not go to your manager and confess all of your problems.  After all, they are your problems and you are paid to solve them, but, your manager should have the stomach to handle the truth about your project or production situation when the time comes.  If we had more truth and less filter, perhaps we could work in a company that is truly less Reactive!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Chapter 2 Part 3 "Lack of Ownership"

           After exploring our last couple of causes, Data Choke and Promotion of the Unqualified, it is time to round out our discussion with the exploration of an idea that I wish to refer to as “Lack of Ownership.”

            Lack of Ownership is a fairly straightforward type of concept, but in our quest to identify how it ties into Reactive Management, we must explore several of its facets.  Lets commence by identifying the term and providing some examples.

            For starters, what is ownership, in so much as we are referring to in this context?  It is simple.  It is the actions taken by an individual who values his/her work, responsibility, and takes personal action to ensure its success by any means within his/her power.  You see it when you drive by the small business at 4:30 am…and the lights are on.  You hear it when the guy in front of you at Staples is doing his best to make his next sell presentation be a knock out, as though feeding his family depended on it.  You may have even felt it when you were given your first assignment as an intern, or had just started the job of your dreams.  No matter when, or where you have come in contact with Ownership, one universal truth remains; it is dying!

            I once was told a story about a factory worker years ago.  This actually occurred in Tennessee.  This story goes as follows.  There was this one factory worker who operated the same machine for 20 years.  Keep in mind this facility was a 24/7 operation.  Anyway, as the story goes, this employee who was just an operator, actually had his own set of tools, and would rarely let anyone touch His machine, including maintenance, unless it was an absolute necessity.  His production rate was so high that when he was on shift, that the machine produced enough material to keep the plant running for the next 24 hours.

            Think for a moment about that salesman working for the company who only has 6 employees, they are out there trying to push a new product.  They left the comfort of their corporate jobs and their families are living tight, saving money, hoping that this move will pay off.  Imagine how hard this guy is working.  Imagine if you, and everyone around you tomorrow worked just as hard as this person?  What does that look like?  Would your entire department’s efficiency increase?  Did you answer yes?  Does this mean that there is room for improvement in your organization?  Do these words make you wonder how to instill ownership into your employees?

Thought it might!

            Sadly, there is no way to inject ownership into people who just show up to collect a check, or managers who aspire to climb ladders instead of lead men.  However; if you are a manager and you are reading this, you know who your mules are, your go to people that pull it out of the hole every time.  They were born with Ownership.  The trick for you dear manager is making sure that you don’t rob it from them.  The quickest way to do that is to show them that you are just another puppet who is reactive to every challenge that comes across the department’s desk.  Good mules can smell fear, and they do not appreciate working for it.  They wish to be led to their field so they can do what they do best.  Own the plow!

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chapter 2 Part 2

The next idea that I wish to address would be what I refer to as the Promotion of the Unqualified.  If you have spent anytime whatsoever working in Corporate America, I am certain that the phrase “How did he/she get that job?” has proceeded from your lips.  It’s like grass, it’s everywhere.  There is absolutely no organization immune to such symptoms.  So, what causes these situations?  Well, I am about to explain, but first I would challenge you to change your thought pattern….From this moment on, I want you to ask yourself “How does he/she keep that job?” 

                  Well before we can dive into the subject of unwarranted promotion, it is important to understand about modern hiring practices, which is better known to my MBA decorated readers as organizational staffing.  Obviously before one can be promoted, one must be hired.  The reason I point this out is because you; the reader, needs to understand why the pool that You swim in is so shallow, how You are in a drawer full of dull knives, how You are kept prisoner in a shed full of blunt tools!  The reason for this is simple; it is the cumulative result of hiring legislation that is present in America, most of which has been birthed from absurd lawsuits.

                  Before we proceed, it is necessary that I make the distinction between weight bearing and non-weight bearing legislation.  Many of you by now have the words affirmative action running through your minds, but how many of you have actually studied the law behind the term, conversely, how many of you have simply formed your opinion about the law based on what the media has fed you over the years?  Wasn’t it delicious?  I would not have you look at affirmative action, the actually impact it has on the hiring process today is negligible when you consider all of the other Federal legislation (EEO/AA) that exist.  Before we proceed further, I would have you understand some new terms.

                  First let us review the modern concept of Disparate Treatment.  Disparate Treatment is a term that is used in organizational staffing to describe an employer who deliberately discriminated against a protected class.  Essentially, a member of a protected class (age, minority, sex, race) applies for a certain position along with another applicant who is not a member of a protected class, and all education/experience being equal, if the employer does not chose the member of the protected class, they may face litigation on the basis of Disparate Treatment.  So, as harsh as this will sound, If I, a white male 28 years of age apply for the same position as a 40 year old woman, where both of us are qualified for the position, if the woman is not hired and I am, she can sue the company on the basis of Disparate Treatment by siting the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967).  But don’t worry, that would never really happen because the company will need her to enhance its “organizational profile” in its documented AAP (Affirmative Action Plan.)  Well, I guess we just can’t ignore the old AAP after all.

                  Now on to Disparate Impact.  This one will really get your goat.  This term is also commonly referred to as Adverse Impact, but essentially what it means is that an employer can be found guilty of discrimination against a protected class if said employer did not intend to discriminate, but their hiring procedures unintentionally favored certain groups.  Hold that thought, we have one more definition and then we will weave our basket of truth!  Some organizations in America actually believe that they wish to hire the smartest people they can to fulfill their open positions.  I know…it’s shocking!! But these utopia aspiring fools and practitioners of logic actually try to get away with it.  Uncle Sam says that may hurt someone’s feelings...so, maybe they should stop.  Here is how this injustice presents itself.

                  Current EEO laws allow organizations to use interviews, applications, background checks, etc. as “predictors” for hiring purposes.  In addition, current legislation also allows these corporations to use a tool know to many as Cognitive Ability Tests.  Basically, it is an exam used to judge your innate and learned capacity to function, (aptitude and achievement.)  Seems like a fair concept.  I am an employer who wishes to hire the brightest and most gifted individual that I can find to run my facility, so I will test applicants and use their scores in my selection process.  I personally can think of no fairer way to hire an external applicant.  Well, guess what?  Some American courts and their gifted justices beg to differ.  In fact it has been stated by members of the US legal system that this can incur Adverse Impact because according to the courts Blacks score on average 1 standard deviation below Whites, and Hispanics score 0.72 standard deviations below Whites.  So, its okay for the American Courts to cite these statistics, and yet allow the employer who is trying to hire the best employee they can to be charged with an Adverse Impact Discrimination lawsuit?  Anything about that seem a little backward?

                  Anyway, that has led us to this point.  Hopefully, you now know some of the backward thinking that takes place when it comes to getting “qualified” people in the door.  If we were to be astute in our observations, I think it would be no stretch at all to discern that the majority of our modern EEO laws are Reactive in nature.  But actually, isn’t all legislation when it comes to such matters?  Now you know where the rest of the dull knives came from that you are surrounded by.  I think it is time to promote somebody.  Let’s get started!

                  This is really the essence of this section.  The “Promotion of the Unqualified.”  America has a ruthless problem.  Due to the fear of litigation, we rarely wish to fire anyone based on a job performance that is found wanting.  We have tools to address such matters, such as probation, “do better” speeches, coaching, mentoring, S1D1 grid placement, etc.  It is difficult to fire anyone in the Fortune 500 without plenty of documentation to CYA the corporation in case of ensuing litigation.  Thus, we just shift them around, just like a 4 year old child picking at his broccoli.  It is much easier to just move this person to a more manageable position, wither it be laterally, or upwards.  Yes, you have seen individuals promoted based on the fact that they needed to be moved out of the way. Why? Well, the answer is simple.  In the lower and mid-level ranges of an organization, profit producing and necessary work is actually accomplished, conversely in higher positions; most people are responsible for goal setting and attending meetings.  If you have an “unqualified” employee come up with a bad idea in a budget meeting, his thoughts can be ignored or twisted.  If that same individual has a bad idea on a $4 million dollar project install, the company just lost a great deal of money.  Get the picture?  You should look at the back side of the coin.

                  With the above stated difficulty concerning the attainment of qualified external applicants, why would a corporation ever allow an individual who is good at their job to be promoted.  Well, actually they don’t.  It is fairly common to keep the good trench soldiers in the trenches, literary.  For instance, there was once a private first class on the western front during WWI.  He was assigned to be a dispatch runner, taking messages from local HQ up to the front lines.  It was often said that this particular individual would carry other runner’s messages if they ever got scared or trapped by enemy fire.  This private’s commanding officers would not allow him to move up in the ranks due to the fact that he was so good at his job. Who was this soldier…it was Adolf Hitler.

                  So, what are we left with?  An organization where the gifted are stuck in mid and low level positions, while the “Unqualified” are moved to the side or promoted, making live more difficult,….and taking Reactive measures!  In addition, we also have a bad habit of promoting people through the ranks until they reach a position in which they suffer, and because it is frowned upon to remove them our pull them back one rung, we leave them there to flop like a fish.  Is that how we truly wish to staff our organizations?  Is that how we want to reward a good employee?
It must be, because we certainly are not changing our ways.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chapter 2 Part 1: Causes

                  Now that we have explored the concept of Reactive Management, in addition to providing common examples of is leering presence, perhaps it would be best to identify common causes.  This management style does not just grow in office chairs, nor is it cultivated and nurtured like plants in an attended garden.  No, this management style springs up out of the field of good intentions due to the gardener’s neglect.  Reactive Management is the weed that takes hold of the soil, and chokes out the crops.

                  So why did the gardener neglect his field, why has the American Corporation neglected its managers? It is simple, they got busy and distracted.   We are all guilty of such action, but what is the cause? What is the underlying catalyst for this presentation of symptoms?  That is what this section is devoted to.  Considering the breadth of the subject matter and the length of the list, we will only elaborate on three of the most commonly experienced distractions.  We will explore the ideas of Data Choke, Promotion of the Unqualified, and Lack of Ownership.

                  First, let us speak to the idea of Data Choke.  If you were an Engineer in the 1950’s designing a power plant for a large electric utility, chances are you were in a very large department.  You would have most likely worked in a large Metropolitan area such as New York or Chicago, came to work every day with your lunch box, and take a seat at your drafting table.  Your drafting table would have been surrounded by 40 or more drafting tables with other Engineers seated at the helm, maneuvering through the massive design of the power plant, all while maintaining communication with the rest of the fleet.  The slide rule was your computer, and Becky, the nice and kind secretary was your word processor and email software.  This would have allowed you to focus on the two drawings that you needed to finish that day so the next group could start the structure details.  It would allow you time to walk over and check with Bill to ensure that your elevation marks were correct.  At the end of the day you would go home and leave your instruments behind…and hopeful Becky.

                  This world offered a level of quality and expertise that we have lost over the years.  Now people send and receive multiple correspondences a day, are covered up with fruitless meetings, and when they arrive at their home late at night, their blackberry keeps them tied to the office.   The modern Engineer, Manager, fill in the blank, is strapped down with the work load of multiple men.  This has become increasingly worse since the invention of the fax machine, and has progressed to a crushing level since the internet.  But what does this have to do with Reactive Management?  Glad you asked!

                  I am sure that you, the reader was surprised, and excited at the amount of focus and “clarity of thought” that a day off, or better yet a vacation, can provide your mind.  Well this level focus appears after such instances because the mind has released the stress causing ties that has it choked from operating at its peak performance.   In today’s world, we never allow the manager to think or digest the information that he is feed, instead….we just keep forcing more down his throat with meetings, email, phone calls, etc.  When does he have time to exercise critical thinking on a difficult situation?  When does this manager have time to bounce ideas off of his “Bill?”  We all know the answer to this of course….he doesn’t.  With this being explained, it is fairly easy to see the manager has only two choices that he can make.  Those choices are for him to rely solely on his manager to lead him around by the nose, or for him to make quick and “decisive” decisions.   Obviously the second choice is more preferably, and if you are lucky enough to have a manager that has multiple years of experience in your area and is an exceptional and knowledgeable resource, then you are most likely in good hands.  Sadly that is not how we promote people into management.  We promote individuals based on other criteria which are to be explained later.   Nonetheless, this leaves us with a universal truth.  Experienced managers are decisive, inexperienced managers are reactive.  If you take only one thing away from this blog…remember this fact!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chapter 1 Part II

                What is even more disturbing than the simplistic example that is discussed in the last post, is the fact that international corporations are taking Reactive Management to an entire new level.  In fact, it is becoming an essential ingredient in their programs and departments.  Take Safety programs for instance. In this modern age, we have Federal enforceable and standardized working conditions through OSHA, and in some States, more strict laws than the Federal regulations are in place to ensure worker safety; a constant concern since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and rightly so.   To offer a further blanket of protection where needed, almost every modern company involved in industry of every sort dictates that task specific programs be in place to ensure safe working conditions for their employees.  Obviously, this is an exercise in checks and balances.  If these laws and regulations were not in place, the corporations would “cut corners” in order to maximize profits.  However, that is not the world that we live in.  In fact, in the modern age, we possess a great and mighty weapon that is wielded with precise large strokes…to keep the corporations honest.  It is more commonly know as the lawsuit.

                  Yes, In the economic climate of today, make a mistake, forget to dot the I, and someone is coming to take their share of deserved compensation…along with their attorney’s fees of course.  So, with all of these truths out on the table, one would assume that Safety accidents in the work place should be at all time low.  Well, that may not be the case; nevertheless, no one can argue that injury severity has declined over the past 150 years.

                  The modern corporations of today have developed extensive safety programs in order to keep their workers safe, and dollars from going out the door.  The installation of these multileveled programs is a very proactive approach, however; time and human nature has allowed reactive tendencies from lower and mid level managers to taint the waters.  It never fails.  Anyone who has ever been a part of mandated accident investigation has seen the heading at the bottom of the form.  It is labeled “Countermeasures.”  Is this necessary, most certainly!  If any institution or organization can apply a countermeasure in order to keep someone else form becoming injured in the same manner, it should be done promptly!!  However, statistics dictate that sometimes...there was nothing that could have been done.  You, the reader; can think of such an instance.  “A man pinched his hand in his lunch box, (yes…if it happened on your property even though it was at lunch and it was his item, it is still reportable on your OSHA 300 log.)” “A woman staples her hand at her desk when she was not looking.”  These types of items come across the incident investigation team all the time in companies across America.  What do we do with such statistical anomalies?  We develop countermeasures!  We never question whether or not this event warrants a countermeasure!!!!  The bottom of the investigation form requires us to develop and implement them…so we must obey!!!  Sounds a little Reactive doesn’t it?  Obviously, this company has saw fit not to allow the investigation team to question the need for the countermeasure.  Upper management needs leverage in the civil courts if accidents go to trial so they can fight the good fight and absolve themselves of the liability!  Wrong!   The corporation will settle, and the company will be stuck with lockable staplers, or worst yet, all of the employees company wide will be reduced to paper clips and brown paper bags for their meals.  These atrocities are the result of a Reactive mindset that has penetrated upper management in the American organization.