Tag Archives: coaching

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wonderful advice and so poignant. But actually, if you read the whole poem, what we take from the quote isn’t what the poem was saying. Earlier in the poem it says

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

view out windows of a temple

photo from a temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia by John Hunter

Robert Frost was poking fun at his friend who would obsess over what fork to take in the path as they walked when in reality the choice made no difference.

And “that has made all the difference” is poking fun at self justifications of our actions; congratulating ourselves for doing something not really worthy of accolades.

Still the top three lines do seem like insightful advice. Of course what is really needed is insight into when choosing the road less traveled is wise (or at least a sensible gamble) and when it is less traveled for very good reasons.

I do believe we far too easily slip into habits encouraged by the well worn path most people take. And therefore think balancing that tendency with at least considering the road less traveled more often is wise. But I actually like that when you read the full poem it really isn’t saying that.

Related: Chomphet Hike, Luang Prabang, LaosOlympic National Park PhotosThe Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life BalanceMaking Better DecisionsRhinoceros Hornbills on Mount Santubong

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Poor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming Individuals

My response to: Where is the Deming study that asserts most errors are in organization or process?

There is no such study, it is based on Dr. Deming’s experience as I discuss in 94% Belongs to the System (improve the system, don’t blame the people in the system).

“I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% special.”

Page 315 of Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

Getting hung up on the figure 94% is a mistake. His point was that you improve performance going forward by improving the system not blaming people. His two books provide background and the thought process involved behind why we are failing to manage better. Changing the people, while leaving the system in place, most often doesn’t help.

Variation does confuse people sometimes. The same mistake as say yelling at someone any time results are really bad. Most likely results will get better. Not because yelling helps but essentially regression to the mean. So you can move people out after really bad results and things get better. Of course, most of the time they would have gotten better if you left the people there (and did nothing or yelled).

Even when the person did totally mess up, why did the system allow that? Why did the system put that person in a place where they were not qualified? Answering and fixing these types of questions would help improve the system and the results going forward.

Yes, occasionally the answer might be that Joel was hired sensibly, managed and coached sensibly but he just became a complete jerk and won’t respond to coaching and this is only his fault. But normally that won’t be the case, even when the person seems nearly totally to blame (and that isn’t even a very common situation) normally there are obvious weaknesses in the system that put them in the place to fail and will likely put anyone else in the same place in the future.

Related: Firing Workers Isn’t Fixing ProblemsPeople: Team Members or CostsCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame

Indirect Improvement

Often the improvements that have the largest impact are focused on improving the effectiveness of thought and decision making. Improving the critical thinking in an organization has huge benefits over the long term.

My strategy along the lines of improving critical thinking is not to make that the focus of some new effort. Instead that ability to reason more effectively will be an outcome of things such as: PDSA projects (where people learn that theories must be tested, “solutions” often fail if you bother to look at the results…), understanding variation (using control charts, reading a bit of material on: variation, using data effectively, correlation isn’t causation etc.), using evidenced based management (don’t make decision based on the authority of the person speaking but on the merit that are spoken).

These things often take time. And they support each other. As people start to understand variation the silly discussion of what special causes created the result that is within the expected outcomes for the existing process are eliminated. As people learn what conclusions can, and can’t, be drawn from data the discussions change. The improvements from the process of making decisions is huge.

As people develop a culture of evidence based management if HiPPOs try to push through decision based on authority (based on Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) without supporting evidence those attempts are seen for what they are. This presents a choice where the organization either discourages those starting to practice evidence based decision making (reverting to old school authority based decision making) or the culture strengthens that practice and HiPPO decision making decreases.

Building the critical thinking practices in the organization creates an environment that supports the principles and practices of management improvement. The way to build those critical thinking skills is through the use of quality tools and practices with reminders on principles as projects are being done (so until understanding variation is universal, continually pointing out that general principle with the specific data in the current project).

The gains made through the direct application of the tools and practices are wonderful. But the indirect benefit of the improvement in critical thinking is larger.

Related: Dan’t Can’t LieGrowing the Application of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationBuild Systems That Allow Quick Action – Don’t Just Try and Run FasterBad Decisions Flow From Failing to Understand Data and Failing to Measure Results of Changes

Leading Improvement and Enjoying the Rewards

The better job you do of managing the easier your job becomes.

As a manager your primary responsibility is to improve the system: both the systems within your sphere of control and those outside of it. The more effectively you do so, the less firefighting you have to do. The less firefighting the less hectic and chaotic your days are. And the more time you have to focus on improving the system.

The better you are at leveraging your efforts, the greater your impact, and more quickly your job gets easier. Most effective leveraging involves improving the system. Improvement to the system continue to deliver benefits continuously.

A specific form improving the system is coaching people so they are able to be more effective at improving the system themselves. One valuable role you can play is to help avoid the existing traps that prevent improvements. Early in a transformation to a continual improvement culture there are significant barriers to improvements. Those not only prevent the system from improving rapidly they can easily derail the motivation people have to improve. It is hard to maintain a desire to improve if every effort to do so feels like a long slog through quicksand.

As you create a system where people have the knowledge, drive and freedom to improve you get to enjoy continual improvement without any direct action by you. As this happens you are able to spend more time thinking and learning and less time reacting. That time allows you to find key leverage points to continue the progress on improving the management system.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemKeys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement CycleGood Process Improvement Practices

Continual Feeding

I like growing things. I think it is part the connection to system thinking I have had since I was a kid. I like finding ways to leverage my effort so that I put in a bit of thought and effort and then get to enjoy the fruits of that effort for a long time. This idea also guides my investing approach.

I planted a vegetable garden in my yard a few years ago. My strategy was to find methods that gained me what I wanted (yummy food) without much effort required from me. I don’t want to deal with persnickety plants. Basically I composted leaves, grass and yard waste. I put that into the garden spot and put in some seeds and small plants to see what would happen. I watered things a bit early on and if we had very little rain for a long time. But in general my attitude was, if I could get success with some plants with this level of effort that was good. Only if nothing would grow would I bother with more involvement from me.

photo of wineberries

Wineberries in my backyard.

Luckily it turned out great. Lots of great tomatoes and peppers and peas and beans and cucumbers and more, and very little effort from me.

I actually even had more success with wineberries. I didn’t even have to plant them (some bird probably seeded them for me and I just let them grow). It was wonderful for several years. Then I had a huge area with huge amounts of tasty berries: it was wonderful. Sadly then birds started to eat them before I go them and I got far fewer good berries than before. The berries were so good I went to effort to keep the birds from devastating my reward (to some success but with much effort). Oh well, I didn’t really mean to get onto that – those berries were just so great.

Now I am living in Malaysia and growing plants on my balcony. It is wonderful in many ways but one of the issues is I have to continually water the plants. Even though we get a great deal of rain, not nearly enough reaches the plants (and also the dirt doesn’t retain the water well – especially given the small volume of the containers). So if I want the fresh vegetables I have to continually water the plants. This goes against my desire to plant seeds and let me sit back and enjoy the bounty of my limited efforts (ok it is still pretty limited).

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Pull Consulting: Immediate Management Consulting As You Need It

2013 UpdateNew method for by the minute consulting with John Hunter.

As happens in this fast paced world this service is no longer available. The company has shut down their web site.

I think the potential for consulting as you need it is great. I actually was looking into creating an application to support the ability to provide this service with someone else; but we just had too many other things going on. I have now made myself available for consulting you pull as you need it through MinuteBox. You can get consulting when you need it for as little time as you need.

So if you are trying to apply the ideas I discuss on this blog and run into issues you would like to get some help with connect with me and you can get some immediate coaching on whatever you are struggling with. I am offering a special rate of $1.99 a minute, for now. The graphic on the right of this post (any post on this blog, actually) will show if I am available right now (as does johnhunter.com). If so, you can connect and get started. If not, you can leave a message and we can arrange a time.

I am featured on MinuteBox with this cool graphic, isn’t it nice 🙂

home page of MInute Box with John Hunter graphic

John Hunter feature on Minute Box homepage

One advantage of this model is that those of you following this blog have a good idea of what topics you would like to delve into more deeply with me. If you have any questions on a particular topic you would like answered today or arranging coaching on specific topics over a period of time or help planning a project or someone to bounce your ideas off give this consulting as you need it model a try.

For those of you management consultants reading this blog (I know there are many) you can create your own Minute Box account easily and provide this service also. And even if you are not a consultant if you have advice worth sharing (and I know there are many of you also) you can also set up an account.

Related: John Hunter’s professional life timelineJohn Hunter onlineJohn Hunter LinkedIn profileTop Leadership blogsTop Management and Leadership blogs

Practical Ways to Respect People

What matters is not your stated respect for people but your revealed respect for people. Here are some ideas I collected after being prompted by a post by Ron Pereira: 7 Practical Ways to Respect People.

  • Don’t waste people’s time: have meetings only when necessary and provide agendas in advance. Use email effectively instead of presenting material in meetings that can better be presented in email. Don’t have complex benefit manuals, aimed at making lawyers happy, that employees are expected to use.
  • Do what you say you will.
  • Provide bad news early (don’t hope it will get fixed somehow so you don’t have to address it, let people know what is going on and let them help).
  • Pay people fairly – I would venture to say most senior executive pay today is inherently disrespectful, If I am wrong about the “most” part, certainly a huge amount executive pay is inherently disrespectful.
  • Put the long term success of all stakeholders as the focus (don’t risk people’s jobs for short term bonuses, don’t use large amounts of leverage risking the future of the company…). Respect all stakeholders and provide them confidence their long term success is important. Companies that find themselves laying off workers due to managements failure to succeed over the long term are not being respectful to those workers. That failure is most obvious today but the important improvement is not in handling the layoff today, it is in the behavior for years before that did not build a system that was successful in the long term.
  • Tell people what they can do to improve. It is respectful to help people improve. It is treating people like a child that needs to be shielding from any hint of weakness in need of improvement.
  • Don’t expect a few people to do far more than their fair share of work because management allows poor performance to continue un-addressed.
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Many Good Employees Want to Continue to Do Their Current Job Well

Far too much focus on managing people is given to helping them get ahead. Yes many people want to be promoted, and it is good to help them. But I would guess a majority of people really don’t (at this time – they may want to look to promotional later) want to take on new responsibilities (even for more money). But much of the way many speak and coach is disconnected from this reality and really ends up being disrespectful in assuming because I want to climb the ladder as far as I can I you do to.

There are several psychological factors behind this mindset. Many of those striving to get ahead can’t really conceive of the idea that others don’t have the same driving goals (and as many find in a “mid-life crises” – they may not have that either, but they don’t want to question their thoughts on this matter). And it is applying a simplistic one size fits all view of the world.

You can’t coach people effectively to reach their goals if you can’t understand what they are seeking. You can coach them how to do their current job – even if you don’t understand their ambitions (so at least part of the responsibility can be done well, even with this misunderstanding). Often it takes some work to learn what they desire. The culture of your organization may well make people hesitant to say they want to focus at getting better at their current job now, instead of stating a all consuming desire to earn more money.

Stop Ignoring the Stalwart Worker, makes some good points, though I am not so interested in Thomas DeLong’s definition of a stalwart worker. He sees them as not seeking attention and deep loyalty to the organization. I find his point that we ignore most people and the myths he mentions are the points to take note of. Too often the myths are used as the basis for managing people. And that is a mistake.

People do not all want the same thing out of work. A manager should know what their employees want and help them move in that direction. I find far too little actual management of people goes on. Many managers really take less than an hour all year making this happen. They are too busy doing all the busy work their organization has created for managers to actually get to know their employees and then think about how to help them grow (if that is what they want), and then actually coach them. Many managers also seem to think the little coaching they do should be reserved for those seeking rapid advancement. This is a bad concept. And it goes against respect for people principles. Most often the way to deal with the limited time for coaching is to cut out less important things taking up the managers time and increase the time working with all employees.
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Productivity Improvement for Entrepreneurs (and Everybody Else Really)

The 3 Factors That are Limiting Your Productivity by Evan Carmichael

Elimination is at the core of every successful business. You have to focus on what you’re really good [at], what drives your business forward, and what you’re legally required to do in order to stay in business. Everything else should be eliminated.

Just because everyone else does it or because you’ve always done it that way, it doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it.

The order of Eliminate, Automate, Delegate is very important.

Eliminate is first. You don’t want to automate or delegate something that can be eliminated because it’s a non-productive task. Automate is next. You don’t want to delegate something that can be automated because it is more expensive and more prone to error.

I agree that eliminating non-value/low-value work should be done much more often. Automating makes a great deal of sense, though I would generalize it to process improvement. Automation is great: I think that is a specific form of process improvement – automation is wise, but maybe limiting. You improve productivity both by taking less time and by producing more effectively. If you produce something of more value to customers in the same time that improves productivity.

I also think there is another important area for people to think about – new ideas. Spending more time on something might seem counter-productive to productivity improvement. It takes time after all. Going and seeing what is really going on with your own eyes takes time, but trying to save time by acting based on reports results in ineffective and therefore unproductive action.

One of the things I first when looking at using internet technology to improve performance was that the technology opens new opportunities that were not feasible previously. People often focused just on how to improve what was done. People forget to look at things that were not pursued before that are now possible. With the time you save by eliminating, improving and delegating maybe you would get a big productivity improvement by coaching someone – or by being coached yourself. Or by reading about how to apply successful management improvement strategies that are too often ignored. Or you can learn about a new strategy that is more effective such as, combinatorial testing. Or learn to eliminate ineffective strategies such as: multitasking .

A number of “new ideas” are round about ways to eliminate work, in some form, though in a bit less direct way than people normally would consider elimination. For example, if you focus on reducing turnover, you can eliminate time spent bringing new people up to speed. If you make a process more reliable you can reduce the time spent dealing with the problems from a less reliable process.
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Posts on Managing People from Around the Web

My thoughts on managing people are based on Dr. Deming’s thoughts on management. The over-simplified explanation is that people want to do good work. Performance problems should be looked at first, second, third, fourth and fifth as problems with the system not the individual.

photo of yellow leaves

I believe organizations should practice continual improvement with the participation of everyone. Decisions should be based on evidence not the opinion of the highest paid person in the room (or even worse – “policy”). Coaching is good. Performance appraisals are bad.

Poor performing processes need to be improved by the people working on those processes. Those people need to be provided the tools (knowledge, time, support) to improve.

People don’t need to be motivated and empowered they need to be given the the opportunity to do what they want to do naturally: a good job. Managers need to help people by eliminating the de-motivation that so many organizations seem designed to create for people at work.

Management and human resource staff need to do a much better job of providing people opportunities to do a good job and take pride in their work. Far too many people are forced to suffer through poorly managed systems when trying to do their jobs. By improving the work environment, organizations can improve their results (customer satisfaction, profit, productivity…) and employee satisfaction.

Developing Staff, Managing People, Coaching

  • Managing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with Your Employees by Jim Keenan – “I believe coaching people is a process. I don’t believe coaching people or managing people can be done reactively… To develop the strengths or mitigate the weaknesses of your employees, get them on the table early and keep them on the table.”
  • The Eight Steps to Driving Successful Large Scale Change by John P. Kotter – “The obstacles take many, many forms: bosses who haven’t bought in; IT systems not capable of supporting the strategies; lack of the skills needed to make the vision a reality; a lack of training to develop these missing skills. The guiding coalition finds ways to eliminate these obstacles, empowering people to do what they want and what the change effort requires.” from his new book Buy-In: Saving Your good idea from getting shot down.
  • Do more experiments faster by Tom Peters – “The best performers, I said, seesawed back and forth between ‘ideas’ and ‘actions.’ That is, they had a ‘big idea.’ (Or a small one, for that matter.) Rather than think it to death, they immediately got the hell into the field and experimented with some element of it (a prototype). They watched what happened, adjusted, and then quickly ran another experiment.” [use this idea in your coaching – (experiment and adjust) and also as a guide to those you are coaching – John Hunter. by the way I completely agree with doing more experiments faster. I completely disagree with the idea systems thinking somehow precludes that.]
  • A Secret No One Tells New Managers by Wally Bock – “Controlled confrontation is a key part of being a boss… Your objective is for your team member to leave your meeting thinking about what will change and not how you treated them.”

Good Policies for Managing People

  • Start at the Wall by Paul Hebert – “How many of the processes actually decrease effectiveness and are really barriers enacted years ago for issues that no longer are issues? What ‘behavioral’ issues could be solved by changing the environment the person is in?”
  • Standardization the prerequisite for any meaningful improvement by Steven Spear – “Without defining what you expect to do and what you expect to happen, you cannot meaningfully determine if what is happening is a bona fide problem or merely the result of work done out of control.”
  • Social Learning = Organically Sloppy. How business really gets done by Kevin Grossman – “Social learning welcomes impromptu scenario-based training and development opportunities. Organically sloppy, the way we really learn to transform ourselves and the business.”
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