Managing a level – UP or DOWN

8c6bd989-14bf-4a3f-9dfd-7871333967c4-1264-00000130e4504535_tmpOrganizations usually have some sort of reporting structure. That can vary based on the size or maybe the model that is being used. Typically an individual contributor reports to a supervisor or manager who then reports to a manager or director (and so on). Much like a pyramid there are more people at the bottom and less as you climb to the top; one director has two manager who each have three reports etc. While I do believe that no one is more important – the responsibilities tend to change with the hierarchy. On the front lines much of the work is hands on with day-to-day in mind. As roles change to manager (etc.) focus shifts from day to week to year; tactical to strategy. One would normally expect this sort of management. Communication passes up and down the ranks and each role performs their piece to allow the plan to come to life. When done right it can be a breeding ground for future managers as well as various other promotions. For the sake of this post, let’s call it “managing up a level.” Inside of this up one level mentality it would be common to see empowerment, stretch goals, grooming opportunities as well as overlapping responsibilities. The work looks like a Venn Diagram; each circle is clear and distinct but shared at points. In this model people are supportive of each other as well as weave a strong braid.

Yet, inside this structure a counter culture can lurk; hard to detect afar but extremely noticeable from the inside. This decay of the system creates a pull downward; or managing “down a level.” Each tier of the organization is not capable or does not complete tasks (for whatever reason). Leads perform non-lead work and supervisors spend the days working inside of fires vs. planning and improving processes. Instead of roles being empowered they tend to request affirmation at every transaction. Often, Peter’s Principle is at work. The great lead does not make a great manager does not make a great director and so on. Every role works one level(+) down to compensate for responsibilities. While doing this each position effectively (or ineffectively) performs subordinate work and ineffectively performing his or her own work. The time and energy that was once spent in grooming, or growing people, is used to micromanage, draw and redraw boundaries. It probably feels more like chaos and striving to keep the ship afloat or train on the track…

If you suspect that you are in a managing downward situation, stop, and reflect. What led to this point and what can you do to change the culture? It did not happen over night so do not expect to flip some switch or change directions midstream with no ripple effect. It is the right thing to do – to step back – and start to empower your team. However, it is not the “norm” depending on how long the culture has been in place and like anything previously set, will take time to change. You can start by setting a plan into place which includes stretch goals and empowering/ownership expectations. The key is that you did notice and are taking action.

Hope the week is treating you well.


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Have a cup of coffee and breathe

Some time ago, I posted an entry which discussed staying in the game. In poker, you may not go all in, on purpose. Sometimes it is about holding and outlasting the balance of the players. I have found myself watching the election results and am in awe about how breaking this is. Breaking in both a good change – and a bad change – depending on which stance you hold. I am not here to discuss that; one good thing about the election day – it is OVER after that day. I want to say – have a cup of coffee, take a breath, gather your thoughts and make a plan based on the cards you have been dealt.

Best wishes,


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Toilet paper, 4 gigabytes & an open mind

A sign caught my eye on the way to work one morning. There are advertisements everywhere and why this one caught my eye, I am not sure. I suppose it was the fact that the delivery vehicle had a large toilet paper roll on the outside of the truck. Clayton Paper, a local company, had an advertisement with the message (paraphrased) “There will always be a need for paper.” Below the quote was a large roll of toilet paper. While I find the advertisement effective for now – I started to drift in thought. I started to think about alternatives to using toilet paper. I mean, after all, there are some now. Granted, they are not as widely used, accepted, or even known to some folks. Yet, there I was – pondering.

Later on that day while I was teaching a 5S course, I ran into a few situations where I had to shift some paradigms. “We have always done it this way,” or “It will never change.” We are creatures of habit – and I am just as guilty not liking change from time to time. I also do not have a business (Clayton) riding on a model with that philosophy. I did look at the company’s website; they have a large amount of other items for the marketplace. Again, I still come back to the thought process that lead me down the rabbit hole. That is, why do we think of now and the future in terms of what we know vs. reconceiving what could be? When I purchased my first computer I had 4 GB of space and 256K RAM. The current modem was a 26K modem and we used a land line to dial in to our ISP. I tell you this because while I was buying the unit – I was worried about space. “You will never fill up 4 gigs,” a convincing Gateway salesperson said. Today, I do not have a jump drive smaller than 16. In fact the last movie that I copied to my PC was over 4 gigs.

A business needs to develop a solid plan for each fiscal year. In those plans, there should be a detailed plan as to when and where the money is going to come from. Projects should be feasible and realistic to the times. You would not want to bank on a large savings from non existent technology unless, of course, you are pioneering the way with lots of research for credibility. I would propose, however, that in your idea chest you keep a section of ideas that could happen some day. Through each ideation session, capture the ideas and revisit old ideas. Eventually the ideas will be pruned out or come alive based on new developments. To be cutting edge, or progressive (as I have heard it coined), you should think of what could be… I do not think you would want to build an empire on high risk unknowns, but there should be a small percentage that you can tap into at a later date.

Clayton Paper did not do anything wrong. They just happened to spark a considerable amount of wandering in my thoughts. I think that the only wrong thing we could do is assume that what we have will never need to change.

Hope the week is treating you well!




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They’ll come around: invest in teams

There was a book that I read some time ago. Prior to reading the book I knew about engagement of your team and sharing information. I had not thought of it in any detail; I was relatively new to supervision. Gung Ho! changed the way that I thought about the team(s) before me. The video that I watched was cheesy at best but has, to this day, been a continual reference point for me. Realistic Perspectives, a blog reviewing the material, does an excellent job of describing the three philosophies discussed in the book. If you want to understand the concepts in detail I encourage you to read the book or website mentioned above. When I first started understanding the material I had my team sit through the dramatic video. The reactions were mixed, of course, and the message was lost with some people. Sure, the occasional snarky or smart alec remarks were shared. Around the same time I started learning about lean, continuous improvement and the eight wastes. Of those, I tend to spend a lot of time focusing on “intellect.”

Back to the story. So my department was struggling. We were not doing the best in safety, our performance was sub-par and morale was low. My department was one, when you mentioned the name, people either pitied me – or smiled the kind of smile when you got socks for Christmas as a kid. I am sure that if I looked hard enough I could have found a wall with notches for each supervisor that “went through there.”  After watching the video, presented to me by an human resource manager, I decided to go down the path of Gung Ho!. I have always been a servant minded manger, sometimes to my undoing, and began to take advantage of the team that I had. I began to share the information from meetings that I had with the company with my crew. Did we make money, or lose it – if so where, how, and what did it mean? I explained why we had to do some activities that no one liked (and I didn’t necessarily support). I let the team see me as a real person. When the team worked the weekends – I came in some of the weekends to work with them. During our start up meetings I shared yesterday’s results in comparison with the week goals and made educated guesses about what I foreseen coming. Granted, I could not always predict, but I shared my opinion and facts as I had them. Let’s be clear: I did not whine or cater to a victim mentality. It was not my place to “take sides” or to belittle others to gain my teams side. When tasks came to the department I had the team members lead the groups and help in my decisions. I mean, after all, it was a team – I just was the liaison to communicate where we were and needed to go. This continued for some time – and one day I stopped. A couple days went by and the team started asking questions. “How did we do” or “where are we for the week?” It had started to take shape. It was a long road, and had more rough days than good at start but it had grown, organically, into a team.

There is no miracle. Our performance did not take us to the top of the company. It did, however, improve from our baseline. We were engaged, empowered, and moving in the same direction. If you imagine a crowd moving down the street – there were runners and walkers. There were joggers and people stopping every so often. It all had to do with intellect and the fact that people were hungry to know what they were apart  of. Having a known purpose adds value and creates a pull to the what or how when we known the why. When people know how they fit in – it feels much less like a single useless dot but a part of a poitalism painting. Start with why is another good resource when digging into he deeper message of what makes us inspired – or have purpose.

In summary, I challenge you to take a moment and think about your team. Do they know what they do and why they do it? Have you shared information about the department – the company? There is something to be said for a team that is transparent and takes pride in the vital role that each plays towards the end goal. If you consider it an investment over time I am sure you too will see a decent ROI.










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42 Business Quotes from the Most Disruptive Startup Founders (Luis Trevino)

This post came to me via email from a reader who wanted to share several entrepreneurial quotes. It has been some time since I posted – and as I get back into the groove, habit, create the mojo (whatever you wish to call it)… I wanted to share. It is good to see someone post about what they believe. In addition, it is not just any marketing ploy. Many links I am sent turn out to be some marketing spam. This post, regardless if targeting this site for marketing or true desire to share the words seems to have energy. A spark. I say that because the blogger is also a small business starting up. Good luck to you Luis Trevino and Create the Bridge.

Below are a couple quotes that stood out to me. Go to “42 Business Quotes from the Most Disruptive Startup Founders” to see the rest.

Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox

“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify

“Put your consumers in focus, and listen to what they’re actually saying, not what they tell you.”

Tim Westergren, co-founder of Pandora

“Make your team feel respected, empowered, and genuinely excited about the company’s mission.”

Yancey Strickler, CEO of Kickstarter

“Email, which was the centre of my life until six months ago, has suddenly become much less important to me. I spend nearly all of my time on face-to face meetings.”



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Going Virtual – Electronic Only – Paperless Business

I have recently moved towards converting to entirely electronic project planning, notes, calendars, and task lists.

While trying to make my notes and history more “preserved” and accessible, I have converted to using my Samsung Galaxy Note for note taking. The notes which I am not able to take via S-Pen (stylus) and S-Pad (notepad), I photograph with a high megapixel camera. I then save the the appropriate file in PDF or JPG formats depending on need. My inbox has a detailed file sorting path which contains major categories and sub-folders for more granular filing. For me, the tasks above are taking less time than a legal pad and keeping that list up to date and of value for the future; whether that is filing with a project, or scanning.

Any notes that I need to take for quick action, such as a reminder, “Do XYZ today,” I use my operating systems Stickey Notes which allow a simple task list for quick to-do’s. For longer term projects I use Tasks inside of Outlook and take notes, priorities, updates, and percentages completed.

My questions to you – are what do you do? How do you organized your work/life schedule so that you cut free of paper and retain the knowledge of actions. I am a firm believer that Intellect is a Waste (8 common wastes) that we can avoid in today’s modern age. What works best for you, and your style of organization?


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kaizen vs. problem solving

You would not use a hammer to put a screw in – would you? Sure it would work, but would it be the best practice or give the best results? No. The right tool is needed for the right job. The same is true for other business tools, which include lean tools. Simply put we must use strategy when deploying methods and tools. If we pursue the wrong tool we could end up with no results, poor results, good results with more time spent (waste), or a chance that it would be just fine. The chance is just that, a risk or method which has unsure outcomes.

One that comes to mind (and there are many examples) is the a Kaizen event. I have witnessed numerous times that an event was demanded from someone, somewhere before the problem was even clearly defined. A Kaizen even is kind of a big deal. It is a very structured, multi day, cross-functional problem solving event where we need big gains. Gains can be defined by the value you wish to imply. Safety, Food Safety, or other metric is suitable. It does not always have to have financial figures attached but if you think about it (really think about it) every one of the items listed could have that value. It is a pyramid, an octopus, touching a variety of tentacles in a multitude of places.

My preference is an A3 problem solving approach. Some companies have named it 5 step, 6 step, or various other names but it is essentially a gap analysis with structure that takes one through brain storming, to solution, and follow up. I love these since I can schedule them over multiple days. Much like a Kaizen it can be cross functional. Virtual teams can work, but realize that without direct involvement and separation from normal jobs (like the enclosure of a Kaizen) things can get pushed aside or dragged out longer. I am not saying that you cannot work with this – just be aware of the project progress. Anyway – the thing that I like about delayed problem solvings (repeating at some interval from identification through solution) is that you come together, gather the lists of action items, disperse and meet again with some of the actions completed. Sometimes, using the Kata approach (Mike Rother) you could even set an experiment, see the results, and PDCA your plan the next meeting(s). Mike Rother did not actually create the Kata concept, but has the best explanation that I have found yet on the subject. If you are in a situation where a solution needs solved quickly, with lots of energy, larger teams, an equipment strategy workshop, or kaizen may be the ticket.

Sure I went on a tangent but I wanted to point out that several tools can be used but there may be a better one. If you want to read a really good article about Kaizen’s check out HOW DOES KAIZEN DIFFER FROM A KAIZEN EVENT? by Mark Rosenthal.

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