Writing Operating Procedures–STC Review

Through much of last year, I offered to the technical writing and continuous improvement communities for free (!) my book, Writing Operating Procedures. I was gratified by the positive response to the book.

I was approached by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) to review my book, which they did. On Dec. 24, I received an email with the review of my book (along with 18 or so other publications they reviewed for their most recent journal). So I cut and pasted the pieces of the review together and here it is (courtesy of STC).

WOP book review from STC

I was very pleased to have my book reviewed and to receive a very positive summation of my work. As far as the last comment, about what the reviewer wished I had included, I actually addressed that at the end of Section 11. Long story short, I had to end the book somewhere, and I noted that I would cover things related to procedure “life cycle” in an updated version of the book. After some thought, I decided that I will write a companion book (with the working title Beyond the Writing of Operating Procedures). So that will be my “big” writing project for the first half of 2014.

In the not-too-distant future, I will have to cease free distribution of the original book. However, through February (at least), I will honor any request for the .pdf version of the book sent to me at mrprocedure@gmail.com. And of course, if you are not thoroughly satisfied with the book, I will give you a full refund of the purchase price.

So to all of you who received my book, I thank you for your support. To those who want the book, write me. I will keep you posted on the progress of the companion book to Writing Operating Procedures.

I hope everyone’s New Year is off to a great start, regardless of when your New Year begins!

Tim James, Mr. Procedure

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Implementing Lean: Going Boldly Where No Company Has Gone Before?

Editor’s note: on occasion I take a question posed on a LinkedIn group discussion and expand on the response I provided to the discussion. Since I am very much at odds with the big-program (read, big-budget) initiative approach so prevalent as it relates to continuous improvement, some topics elicit a stronger reaction than others. Today is one of those occasions. Some time I will return to my leadership series, which I began in August.

This question was posed in a Continuous Improvement group in LinkedIn recently:

What is the most challenging part of implementing lean in a business that has never dealt with lean before?

This question struck me as a curious one, and it elicited a lot of answers from fellow travelers. Many answers focused on leadership, others focused on culture–all good thoughts. But here is an alternative thought: there is no business that has never dealt with Lean!

True, there are many organizations that have never embarked on a “Lean program,” replete with consultants, roll-outs, etc. etc. But think about it for a minute: what organization has not looked at any of its processes and never done anything to improve them?

Maybe a significant part of the “challenge” would be eliminated if those of us in the teaching chair considered that people intuitively understand Lean, have to some extent “done Lean” and that the idea of eliminating waste is far from a foreign concept.

In one of my past incarnations, I conducted a two-day “introduction to Lean” course that included a factory simulation (actually included two working side by side). Through the iterations of factory line improvement, I told the attendees to focus on the process. The one “tool” I had them use was an outcome-focused Process Map. Over the course of the first day (first four of eight simulated days), the teams made significant improvements in their operation.

It was early on the second day that I presented a segment on the “Tools of Lean.” During this time I gave a brief description of each tool (5S, Quick Changeover, etc.), and we discussed how the teams had implemented Lean without having had the tools discussed in advance. The teams were using the tools whether or not they knew what they were doing had been described as a tool.

The reality was that through a careful analysis of the processes they used on their lines, and some “common sense” thinking, the teams made the changes necessary to improve quality and throughput.

If an organization is seeking to embark on a Lean journey, I’m suggesting that while the business may have never dealt with Lean (as an initiative), the people have dealt with Lean. They do not need a new way of thinking (read, they do not need to be told they’re idiots),  they most likely need only to sharpen their process-analysis skills to see how a process contributes to waste and then focus on what will remove the waste.

PS–this is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada. My heartfelt thanks to those who served, both in war and in peacetime, to preserve the freedoms we all too often take for granted.

Posted in Continuous improvement, Culture change, Leadership, Process, Process Analysis, Purpose Maps, Training, Training Program Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So You’re a “Champion?”

One of the great highlights of my sports-fan watching occurred June 11, 2012. On that date, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils, 6-1 to claim their first Stanley Cup championship as an organization. For fans such as myself–who was actually part of the smallest home crowd in Kings history in 1967, their first year, who drew a comic strip newsletter about the Kings through high school, who attended Wayne Gretzky’s first game as a King, who waited, and waited, and waited through some miserable seasons–this was nothing short of a miracle. For the 23 or so players, winning the Cup was the culmination of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice (not to mention the brilliant goaltending of Jonathan Quick).

So what does this have to do with continuous improvement? Not a whole lot, except lately I have been pondering how organizations get so many things backward. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, a new job title emerged: Champion. As in, “so-and-so has been named the new Lean Champion here at XYZ Corporation.” Somehow, “manager,” “leader,” etc., was not good enough. We need a Champion!

The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that such a “champion” has not necessarily succeeded at anything, much less proven to be the best. Now, of course, many of you will say, “The person is there to champion (v.t.) the cause of Lean, or Six Sigma, or whatever initiative.” I get that. But can’t they promote, cheerlead, facilitate, guide and lead the organization into better conduct without such an off-putting title? Or should the person at least earn the title of Champion the way the Kings earned their skate with the Stanley Cup in 2012?

Naming someone a “champion” before they’ve won anything is putting the cart before the horse, and setting the champion up for a potential fall. In an organization, the title puts emphasis in the wrong place–on a person, a Messiah-figure–when the emphasis should be on the processes the organization owns and the methods and tools the organization intends to use to improve. In that regard, the term Champion is counter-productive (employees will not respond as readily if it’s already determined who gets the glory for the success). A true Champion of continuous improvement doesn’t need a title. He or she knows success is a team effort and the team’s success is all the glory they need. A true Champion does not have to go around telling the world they are champion. Their accomplishments speak for them.

And don’t even get me started on “Change Agents.”

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Leadership, Part 13: Shall I Serve or Shall I Rule?–Part 2

What is the leader truly after? Success for a people, an organization, a country, or success for Self?

The barometer for any leader (that is, who they truly serve) will be seen in the degree to which they can build consensus and instill a cooperative environment. The leader whose heart is in service to others will move effortlessly into this realm and stay there. The leader whose hear is in service to Self will make only the most superficial stab at creating such an environment, because in a cooperative environment the Self-serving ruler runs the great risk of having credit fall to others.

What makes Consensus-Building and Cooperation the go-to mode of the serve-others leader is that they rely on an organization-wide focus on the processes and actions that lead to organizational performance, its success or lack of success. These modes by their nature de-centralize decision-making and allow people at all levels the opportunity to do what aids and abets improved process performance. By this I am not suggesting that people are “empowered” and “self-directed” to make changes, but changes can be suggested at any level, evaluated in terms of their effect on the process, and attempted as evidence suggests they are viable.

The leader’s principal role becomes to (initially) create the consensus: that is, establish the understanding about how the organization will operate, and that anyone’s success will rise and fall with their conformance to a particular way of operating rather than their conformance to the leader’s desire.

Once consensus is established and cooperative momentum is developing, the leader’s next role changes to sustaining the cooperative environment. This involves providing the time for development of workers at all levels in the methods of process analysis and communication. It also involves maintaining open communication in all directions. It also involves ensuring that all people, especially those in “mid-management” roles are not permitted to engage in behavior that suggests service-to-self. And of course the leader must walk the talk.

And–here is where service-to-self types are exposed–the cooperative leader is quick to provide recognition and reward for the process successes achieved by workers, teams and departments. It is impossible to stand in the middle of a spotlight you are shining on someone else. When the organizational environment is built on letting the process dictate direction, the “glory” is diluted. To the leader dedicating to “servant leadership,” his/her satisfaction is maximized when employee satisfaction and process excellence are maximized.

Such leadership requires that one check their ego at the door. Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for too many.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue to discuss servant leadership and its implications.

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Leadership, Part 12: Shall I Serve or Shall I Rule?

In the discussion of the 7Cs, five of the seven Cs of the progression dealt with either how a leader ascends to the position of leadership or how they intend to retain their leader role. Only two of them–Consensus Building and Cooperation–really deal with how the leader intends to behave in the role. You could also say that these are the only two whose execution depends entirely on honesty and transparency (two attributes every U.S. President in my adult lifetime have given lip service to providing).

Let’s go back to the first two Cs:

A potential leader or current leader can seize on a Crisis to come into leadership or consolidate leadership. The crisis need not be real, or be honestly evaluated, if the end game is to get followers in line. The leader does have to project a confidence that they can get the followers through. In a democratically-elected structure, it can also help that the leader is the leader and is not in danger of being replaced.

Is such a leader ruling or serving? Much depends on what happens when the crisis recedes. The leader who declares martial law, and never lifts martial law when the crisis is over, has either become enamored of the thought of ruling or intended to become a ruler all along.

This progression is evident in the histories of many countries, but does it play out in business organizations as well? Consider the corporate leader who is thrust into the sort of crisis that threatens the organization’s survival. The leader must make quick, and in many cases, unpopular decisions. And, should the organization survive, regain its footing and grow, the leader may conclude his/her leadership is what saved the organization, and since that type of rule got us through, it’s appropriate to continue with that form of leadership. Such a leader may feel a sense of entitlement to transition into a ruling mode, and may even justify it by saying things such as, “if I hadn’t led us through the crisis, you wouldn’t have a job!”

The Compelling Vision can be more insidious than a Crisis, in particular because the would-be leader can claim ownership of the Vision when they would be loath to own the crisis. Most people would love to be in on the ground floor with the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and for them someone with a unique vision can be hypnotic. The danger of course is that many of these visionaries are driven by the singular vision of them being in absolute control of others.

In the business world, this Vision may lead to a breakthrough product. The ruling visionary, buoyed by this success, may be deluded by the notion they have some Midas touch, that every idea will be similarly golden, and they will not tolerate dissent or any opinion that their next Vision will be anything less than revolution 2.o.

For such leaders, political or corporate, leading by serving was either abandoned in the heat of the struggle or was never a consideration to begin with. Either of these can make a quick leap to ruling with an iron fist, exercising complete control over everything, even being so brash and self-absorbed as to fire subordinates in the middle of a global conference call (one can only hope the situation was quickly Patched up–sorry).

What was missed in the progressions described above? Leading by serving, which not so coincidentally is embodied by Consensus-Building and Cooperation. There was no stop on the path from Crisis and Vision straight to Coercion and Control. More often than not, the reason is the leader never intended anything less than Rule by Self.

Tomorrow: embodying leadership by service.



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Leadership, Part 11: The Motivation to Lead, Part 2

My experience stepping into leadership took place in 1989. Funny, because I had actually been the “lead person” in the analytical chemistry lab for three years prior. I never really embraced it as a leadership position, ironically, which likely limited my effectiveness in any area other than getting testing completed and results reported.

But in March of 1989, the organization I was working for had posted a position for a Mixing Supervisor. I had spoken to several colleagues who expressed an interest in the position, only to be told they would not be considered because they did not have a college degree. Well, I had a college degree, so I thought, “let me put my name in and see what excuse they give me.” Long story short, I was given the position and started my new life in the ranks of the exempt on April 3, 1989.

The mixing group consisted of seven people, one of whom was a lead person. I had dealt with this lead person in my prior role and knew he was an excellent performer in his role. I did not need to take over his role and demonstrate I was the boss. Whether out of sheer luck, my reticent personality, my falling back on my skill set (writing), or a combination of the three, I stumbled into what would become my fundamental belief about a leader’s real role.

In this new position, I had several administrative-type tasks (time card review, keeping the supply cage stocked, among other things), but really did not have a road map or specific guidance about how to be a supervisor. So I looked around and discovered that one critical need the group had was improved documentation. The mixing instructions and operating procedures for the equipment was somewhere between lacking and non-existent. So I plunged into rewriting all of the mixing instructions, developed a new form for them to follow in documenting their mixes (so the same information would be recorded each time), and developed more complete procedures to describe how to use equipment.

The result was that the scrap rate of mixes fell sharply, and others in the organization released the perception that “the Mix Room people don’t know what they’re doing.” I did not change the lead person’s function one iota. I did not have a bunch of meetings with the crew, other than to explain on occasion the new way mixes were to be documented.

What I discovered in that role, very much by accident, was that my value to the organization as “the leader” increased in proportion to how much easier I made it for the workers to accomplish their work successfully.

Now, what does that have to do with motivation? In an inverted sense, my discovery came out of the manner in which I did not lead. I did not go in and lay down the law, demand compliance, make sure everyone knew I was in charge, etc. This was not a path I carefully planned out, nor was I really coached in my approach. But it seemed a good plan to assume that the group was doing a good job, and they did not need me beating them into performing well. They needed someone who could facilitate them becoming better.

As a leader, is your desire to serve, or to rule? This cuts to the core of who we are as leaders and how we approach leadership. We’ll look at that tomorrow.

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Leadership, Part 10: The Motivation to Lead

In the previous seven posts, I laid out a progression of leadership, with the understanding that the fundamental need for any leader is a group of people willing to follow. At one end, an individual through a crisis or through a compelling vision can develop a group of followers. At the other end, the leader can attain or sustain a leadership position through mere comparison to the opposition, by rewarding loyalty (compensation or consideration in kind), and finally, simply by exercising absolute control, where the comparison is between remaining alive or being killed, and the compensation is not being killed.

I was not making the assertion that any particular leader or regime would sequentially pass through the seven steps, that the ultimate end of any leader’s tenure is one of absolute control.

In the coming week, we are going to unpack this progression in terms of several key questions, such as: what motivates someone to leadership? what attributes allow leaders to continue in leadership without progressing to a tighter leadership mode? are leaders made or are they born? So let’s look at the first issue.

What motivates an individual to leadership?

When I developed the lead person training course that led to the development of the 7C model, I was coming from the perspective that the lead person position was the individual’s first leadership position in the work setting. I was also operating from the belief that in the vast majority of cases, the person’s ascension into the lead role had nothing at all to do with anyone’s perception of the person’s leadership capability.

From the organization’s perspective, the newly-appointed lead was “deserving” because of their tenure in the company, their performance in the position that they would become lead over, their education, the fact that they were more likely “lead material” than anyone else up for consideration, that they were the most compliant in former roles, etc. Nothing in that list suggests “leader,” and plenty in that list suggests serious obstacles that will need to be faced. (And that was why the lead person course was developed.)

While the organization’s criteria for promoting someone to lead person  may be suspect, they probably rarely if ever consider what it is about the lead position that’s attractive to the promote. What motivates the new lead person to say “yes” (assuming that they have the option to say no without penalty)?

Some answers: a bump in pay, it was the only promotional opportunity available, the positive feelings about being a leader, feeling they will have less work than they did in their former role, opening the possibility for future advancement, wanting to order people around, believing after years of being bossed around it would be fun to do the bossing, wanting to prove they can lead better than the person they are replacing. Again, none of these motivations correlate in any way to performing well as a lead person.

While I have focused on the lead person position, the question of motivation and its implications apply to any leadership position, regardless of how high up or how large the organization.

A lot about a person’s motivation can be summed up in how they see the leadership position: is it an opportunity to serve, or an opportunity to rule? Tomorrow, we will discuss the difference.

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