Archive for the ‘Leadership’ category

Continuous Improvement Is About Engaging Employees

April 15, 2012

Not very long ago Honeywell was a troubled company. Several years ago Honeywell changed how it operated by focusing on continuous improvement and engaging all levels of employees. The new management approach, which also involved the implementation of Six Sigma has had a positive impact.

Every department in Honeywell, including the smallest shop-floor unit starts the day with a short meeting (under 15 minutes) to identify problems and ideas for improvements, which are then pushed up to senior managers. All workers are expected each month to come up with two implementable ideas for doing things better.

This simple form of communication and tapping into employee ideas has reaped huge benefits for Honeywell as explained in a recent Economist article.

Sales in 2011 were 72% higher than in 2002, and its profits doubled to $4 billion. It used to take 42 days to make and deliver a sophisticated toxic-gas detector, for clients including Intel and Samsung; now it takes ten. The production process used to consume the factory floor; now, it uses merely a quarter of it. This has freed up the rest of the factory to make lots of other products.

In my 17 years of government experience it was a rare event where employee ideas were sought to improve how services were delivered. An important part of Toyota’s and Honeywell’s success has been the constant feedback sought and obtained from employees on how to produce products better. While many companies do not solicit and implement employee ideas, Toyota implements an average of nine ideas per employee per year.

We need more elected officials and department heads in government who are willing to communicate with and listen to ideas from employees and citizens on how to improve the operation of government. We need government officials who are willing to move beyond setting up a suggestion box.

20 Signs That You Cannot Be Trusted As A Leader

April 12, 2012

Job satisfaction has decreased since the beginning of the recession in 2008. According to Gallup polls U.S. workers have reported a decrease in job satisfaction. The Gallup-Healthways Work Environment Index score has dropped from 51.3 on January 1, 2008 to 47.5 on June 1, 2011. The Index includes four items: job satisfaction, ability to use one’s strength at work, treatment of supervisor, and is it an open and trusting work environment.

Other studies highlight how stressful the work environment can be:

71percent of American workers are”not engaged”or”actively disengaged” at work (Gall-up2011)

69 percent of employees report that work is a significant source of stress (American Psychological Association, 2009)

52  percent of employees simply don’t believe the information they receive from managers (Discovery Surveys, Inc.)

47 percent of employers think that employee trust has declined (Hewitt Associates LLC, 2009, p.2)

All of the above items are strongly effected by the leaders employees report to or are supervised by. Dan McCarthy has a great blog devoted to leadership topics and his blog post 20 Signs That You Cannot Be Trusted As A Leader contains some great examples of how many leaders destroy trust in the workplace.

1. You don’t do what you said you were going to do.

2. You overpromise and under deliver.

3. You’re unpredictable and inconsistent.

4. You always seem to have a hidden agenda.

5. You’ll agree just to avoid conflict.

6. You never share anything personal about yourself.

7. You never seem to finish anything you start.

8. You have a reputation that says you can’t be trusted.

9. You’re never willing to take a stand.

10. You won’t listen.

11. You don’t seem interested in what’s important to others.

12. You gossip about other people and disclose confidential information.

13. You make decisions but don’t explain how and why you made the decision.

14. You often change your plans or mind and don’t tell others about it or explain why.

15. You come across as uncompassionate and insensitive.

16. You won’t admit your mistakes or acknowledge your weaknesses.

17. You misrepresent other’s views.

18. You’ll say anything to achieve your objectives and results.

19. You sugarcoat the truth.

20. You see others as a threat when they are successful or come up with good ideas.

Anything to add to the list?

Are Change Leaders Polarizing Figures Or Consensus Builders?

March 27, 2012

Mark Funkhouser a former Mayor of Kansas City has written an interesting post titled “Our Misguided Love Affair With Political Consensus”. Funkhouser states:

“Journalists seem to see the ability to build consensus as the epitome of political leadership, but in actuality political leadership almost never involves consensus. Consensus favors the status quo, not progress.”

Funkhouser’s point is great leaders that accomplish big items are polarizing figures not consensus builders. Recently I did an analysis of votes cast by the town board members where I reside (Tonawanda, NY), and I was shocked how few times members voted “no”. From 2008-2010 the Tonawanda Town Board voted on 3,179 items and during this three year period there were only 11 instances where any Town Board member voted “No”! In other words there were 3,168 instances of unanimous consensus. Seems like a whole lot of status quo to me.

I realize that the agenda of most local government meetings is pretty routine stuff but Funkhouser has a point. Leaders who are looking to challenge the status quo have many opportunities to vote “no” at a minimum. If you as a leader are serious about making a difference in your community then you have to be willing to address big controversial issues where strong opinions exist for and against change.

Do leaders have to be polarizing to make change happen or is building consesnsus where change happens?

7 Antidotes To Public Apathy

March 21, 2012

Dave Meslin is an interesting activist from Toronto Canada who describes himself as a “professional rable-rouser”. I love the title as we truly need more folks like Dave questioning how government operates.

A common thought given the few number of people that attend public meetings or even bother to vote is that members of the public are simply lazy and not interested in public affairs.

Meslin disagrees with the view point that people are not interested in government or elections. Meslin’s position is that too many obstacles exist making it difficult for people to actively participate in public affairs. In a great 7 minute Ted Talk, Meslin highlights seven obstacles that make it difficult for citizens to participate in government and elections.

If you can’t check out the full video, in the first two minutes Meslin makes a great point as to how dense and unispiring public meeting notices are typically drafted and buried in the legal section of local newspapers. Not a great way to educate and encourage public participation in government.

Some how government officials have to get more creative with public notices and move beyond legal postings only, which in addition to not being very effective are also pretty expensive.

What do you think about Meslin’s 7 antidote’s to public apathy?

12 Signs You Might Be A Bully

March 20, 2012

There has been a great deal of attention focused on the issue of bullying among children. The news media frequently highlights cases of bullying among children that at times result in a child that has been bullied committing suicide.

Bullying among adults especially in the workplace also happens more than it should and is drawing more attention. From my experience becoming an elected official no matter how low on the political ladder, often brings out the worst in people. It is amazing what just a little bit of power can do to some people.

Meghan Casserly, has put together a great series of slides under the title 12 Signs You Might Be A Bully, it should be required reading for all new leaders in government, and in particular elected leaders.

I really do respect how difficult it is to be an elected official and there are some great elected officials that are hard working, innovative and treat people well. There are many elected officials, however that I have encountered and worked with who according to the list put together by Ms. Casserly are bullies.

Am I being too harsh towards elected officials, or has your experience been similar to mine?

A Toilet That Symbolizes Intelligent Municipal Government

March 18, 2012

The City of Portland has designed a public toilet that it has patented and is selling to other municipalities. The public restroom contains the following features:

  • Stainless steel anti-graffiti wall panels mounted on a slim-profile steel structure, that weighs a fraction of a typical restroom, making it easier to install in high traffic locations.
  • It is lit by 100 percent solar-powered LED lights equipped with motion sensors for energy conservation.
  • The stainless steel panels are louvered and allow for surveillance by the community (without sacrificing privacy).
  •  The restroom has an exterior handwashing station that helps to deter illicit activity.

Portland has sold one of their restrooms to the British Columbia City of Victoria for $40,000.

“The Portland Loo symbolizes intelligent municipal government,” said Barry Greenfield, editor and publisher of EfficientGov. “The city created a patentable product solving a problem for all municipalities, and similarly, their sales initiative to other cities is an important innovation in government. Generating new revenue helps to alleviate taxpayer reliance. The Loo shows how government can become a profitable resource rather than a net spender.”

Portland officials have taken a very creative and entrepreneurial approach. Should municipal officials be in the business of creating and selling patented products?

Local Governments Need To Embrace The Passion Of Amateurs!

March 15, 2012

One of my favorite quotes is: ”

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

The first edition of Britannica Encyclopedias appeared in Scotland in 1768. In 11 years a group of Internet volunteers has ended the 244 year history of Britannica printed encyclopedias.

Britannica has 100 full-time paid editors and the cost of its printed edition was $1,395. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition, which comes in 32 volumes weighing 129 pounds have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they are bought.

Wikipedia was created 11 years ago and is not organized in any traditional way as the content contained on its web site is all prepared by dedicated passionate volunteers, where it is available for free. Wikipedia doesn’t have a single paid employee responsible for content (writing, editing or any of the sort.).  Wikipedia is more than 10X as big as the New York Times, which has 1,200 employees responsible for writing and editing.

Through dedicated volunteers Wikipedia has worldwide produced more than 17 million articles compared to Britannica’s approximate 100,000, Wikipedia has 365 million readers, and is the 7th most popular website in the world. Total visitors to Britannica’s websites last year numbered 450million. Daily traffic to Wikipedia is around 100million hits, which equates to more than 36 BILLION hits a year.

Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail states:

“In the endless debate about the relative merits of amateurs vs. professionals in a world where the two have equal access to the tools of production, I think people miss a key point:

“Amateurs self-select for the job. Professionals are selected. For most jobs, volunteers beat draftees. I’ll take a passionate amateur over a bored professional any day.”

No one imagined that several thousand volunteers interested in writing encyclopedia articles could contribute the amount of free quality work they did for Wikipedia. People are passionate about their communities and their local governments. Wikipedia makes it easy for people to contribute their time and ideas, local governments need to do the same.

Local governments need to embrace the passion of amateurs!

If The Office Is Not A Good Fit, Sometimes You Have To Quit

March 14, 2012

Work matters. We spend a great deal of our lives at work. It is important that you get meaning and satisfaction from your job, whatever your job may be.

If your boss is a jerk or if your opinions do not matter or if the values that are important to you are an issue, some times it is worth it to walk away.

Greg Smith, after 12 years of employment at Goldman Sachs wrote a resignation letter explaining why he was quitting. Some of the reasons cited by Smith were:

  • The company which in the past had a great culture is now focused on making money and not on what is best for clients.
  • Obtaining a leadership position in the company was once based on ideas, doing the right thing and serving as an example to others is now solely focused on how much money you bring into the firm.
  • For Smith building a client’s trust long-term and serving their needs was most important to him rather than a short sighted focused on making money. With trust and good client service, money will follow.

The bottom line for Smith was that working for Goldman Sachs “… just doesn’t feel right to me anymore”.

I had a decent paying job as General Counsel to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority with a pension and medical benefits, but the corruption and raw politics that I saw there at the expense of public housing tenants sickened me. It reached a point for me as well that it just didn’t feel right to stay any more.

Today I am much happier as a self-employed attorney where I have the freedom and ability to create my own work environment.

I understand that not everyone has the ability to just walk away from a bad employment situation, but sometimes for your own sanity and principles it is the right thing to do.

Have you ever walked away from a job that was not a good fit for you?

Leadership Is Achieving Outcomes Through Collaboration

March 11, 2012

Getting things done in government requires working with other levels of government, non-profit organizations etc. Mark Funkhouser as the Director of the Governing Institute (a former Mayor of Kansas City), recently watched Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley conduct a session of StateStat, the process he has implemented to make the state’s government more efficient.

As Funkhouser stated in a blog post:

“I had expected more of a pure-management focus on streamlining the internal workings of state government–breaking down silos, improving coordination of state agencies and programs, and holding government managers accountable for measurable improvements. To be sure, there was some of that. But when O’Malley and I talked afterward, I mentioned that I was struck by how much of the focus in the meeting was on working with counties, nonprofits and others to get things done. Yes, he said. “Collaboration is the new competition.”

To accomplish something as an elected or non-elected government official, Funkhouser points out that one needs the following leadership skills:

• Bluntly calling out the issue.
• Setting a challenging goal.
• Accepting accountability for achieving the goal.
• Convening the players who can impact some part of the issue.
• Engaging in dialogue about the costs and consequences of the issue and a path forward.
• Creating transparency by continually collecting and publishing data on the issue.
• Consistently following through.

I see a lot of elected officials that lack the ability or discipline to bring players together to dialogue on an issue and who fail to consistently follow through. Good elected officials understand the importance of collaboration in achieving goals. Collaboration is hard work, but it is the key to achieving outcomes that will improve your community and carry you to higher office if that is your goal.

What do you think about the leadership skills listed above and the importance of collaboration in achieving goals?

8 Things Government Employees Need Most

March 6, 2012

Jeff Haden has written a great post titled 8 Things Your Employees Need Most. While pay raises are nice, many studies have shown that higher pay alone does not result in a greater commitment or performance by employees.

Sadly, from my 17 years of experience in government, most government employment does not provide employees with the things they need most.

1. Freedom. Best practices can create excellence, but every task doesn’t deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. (Yes, even you, fast food industry.)

Autonomy and latitude breed engagement and satisfaction. Latitude also breeds innovation. Even manufacturing and heavily process-oriented positions have room for different approaches.

Whenever possible, give your employees the freedom to work they way they work best.

2. Targets. Goals are fun. Everyone—yes, even you—is at least a little competitive, if only with themselves. Targets create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Without a goal to shoot for, work is just work. And work sucks.

3. Mission. We all like to feel a part of something bigger. Striving to be worthy of words like “best” or “largest” or “fastest” or “highest quality” provides a sense of purpose.

Let employees know what you want to achieve, for your business, for customers, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own.

Caring starts with knowing what to care about—and why.

4. Expectations. While every job should include some degree of latitude, every job needs basic expectations regarding the way specific situations should be handled. Criticize an employee for expediting shipping today, even though last week that was the standard procedure if on-time delivery was in jeopardy, and you lose that employee.

Few things are more stressful than not knowing what your boss expects from one minute to the next.

When standards change make sure you communicate those changes first. When you can’t, explain why this particular situation is different, and why you made the decision you made.

5. Input. Everyone wants to offer suggestions and ideas. Deny employees the opportunity to make suggestions, or shoot their ideas down without consideration, and you create robots.

Robots don’t care.

Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. When an idea doesn’t have merit, take the time to explain why. You can’t implement every idea, but you can always make employees feel valued for their ideas.

6. Connection. Employees don’t want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people.

A kind word, a short discussion about family, a brief check-in to see if they need anything… those individual moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations.

7. Consistency. Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize… as long as he or she treats every employee the same. (Think of it as the Tom Coughlin effect.)

While you should treat each employee differently, you must treat each employee fairly. (There’s a big difference.)

The key to maintaining consistency is to communicate. The more employees understand why a decision was made the less likely they are to assume favoritism or unfair treatment.

8. Future. Every job should have the potential to lead to something more, either within or outside your company.

For example, I worked at a manufacturing plant while I was in college. I had no real future with the company. Everyone understood I would only be there until I graduated.

One day my boss said, “Let me show you how we set up our production board.”

I raised an eyebrow; why show me? He said, “Even though it won’t be here, some day, somewhere, you’ll be in charge of production. You might as well start learning now.”

Take the time to develop employees for jobs they someday hope to fill—even if those positions are outside your company. (How will you know what they hope to do? Try asking.)

Employees will care about your business when you care about them first.

From my experience most government offices do not have targets, expectations, consistent management and employee input into decisions. What do you think about this list?