Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Trust Maker's Secret

20 years ago, the plant was a wreck, forgotten witness of the soviet era. Now, the local employees produce state of the art bio-technological products and the nearby research center, established 10 years later in connection with the University, has become the spearhead of its parent company, a North American family business, world leader in its industry. The local manager  - she started back then as a purchasing clerk- is  welcoming the guests coming from all parts of the world to Tallinn, Estonia where we are celebrating this joyful anniversary.
“Looking back”, says the CEO addressing the audience, “and trying to explain our incredible journey since we bought this plant two decades ago, I think that your success, our common success, comes mainly from this network of Trust patiently built over the years. After all, business is just about building a trust network: our customers trust us, we trust each other to do the job, we trust our suppliers to deliver their part, we trust our research partners, the universities, and they trust us. We are all trust makers, trust weavers. Over the years you have built this fantastic network of trust...that’s the real and full value of our company."

As I was listening to the CEO's speech, I could not help thinking that if he was brilliantly explaining the effect of Trust making, he was not unveiling the Trust making process itself and its obvious but overlooked secret, which may take a lifetime of trials and errors to figure out.

We all know that Trust is the bond which secures the conditions for co-creating great value: Trust triggers cooperation which in turn will combine competences and goodwill inside and outside the company to deliver unique customer value.
We also know that Trust will improve the probability of getting the expected result as it works as a risk reducer: while check and controls reduce uncertainty within complex processes, Trust reduces uncertainty between People: uncertainty spurred by continuous and unexpected change, by multiple internal and  external interactions, by the mix of functions and cultures.
By reducing uncertainty, Trust is reducing fear and opens the joy of creating distinctive value.

But we often skip the "secret" source of Trust: mutual Respect.
Respect starts with acknowledging, sharing, including and nourishing each others' intentions and actions in a common project: there is no respect without full inclusion of all partners.
Inclusion. I feel that I am included when my drive for personal achievement is considered in the collective project, when I am not just a pawn being used by a dominating power. I feel that I have been included when, looking back, I can see what this network of Trust has helped me accomplish: dreams, ambitions, hopes.

But these dynamics are fragile.
Lacking respect means that you deny inclusion. Lacking respect develops mistrust, defiance, contempt; fear takes over the joy of creation, opening the vacuum of  destructive production.

Respect is the real secret,
Trust its great by-product.

If you want to be a Trust Maker... the CEO of this story.....start by leading with Respect!*

* a great book just published on this issue: Lead with Respect by Michael Ballé

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

A friend once asked if I thought it necessary to suffer in order to succeed - it seemed like a trick question. After hemming and hawing a bit, I had to confess that although I wished to think otherwise, I sadly believed that suffering leads to success.

And it should be no surprise. Judeo-Christian enshrines suffering as a test of faith and valor, one from which the sufferer somehow emerges greater than he entered (Book of Job, for example), closer to salvation. Take a look around at the countless variations on the "no-pain no-gain" mantra, particularly as regards athletic training and performance. Nietzsche's famous quote "what does not kill me makes me stronger", taken out of context, figures prominently in this Western mindset according to which success stems from hard work, which in turn requires effort and therefore suffering.  

Indeed, it can seem like sweet justice that those who succeed should have to sweat for it. Under this system, the lazy have only themselves to blame for their mediocrity while the mediocre are made to feel guilty that they are not working hard enough. Meanwhile, the industrious can forever hope to be rewarded for their pain - except that it doesn’t always work out. Why is that? 

Continuing with the sports analogy, it's quite clear that it's possible to train too much, to inflict so much suffering on one's body that it cannot benefit from the training. It's also possible to do wasteful work that yields limited or negative returns. Identifying useful work and finding the sweet point between effort and rest is the task of the coach. Looking further, the notion of pleasure is paramount: one can only excel at a task that provides enjoyment, even if effort is necessary. Indeed, that is Nietzsche's overarching point in Ecce Homo: 

"Now by what signs are a well-made human being recognized? They are recognized by the fact that such a person is pleasant to our senses; he is carved from one whole block of wood which is hard, delicate and fragrant at once. He enjoys only that which is good for him; his pleasure, his desire ceases when the limits of that which is good for him are overstepped. He divines cures for injuries; he knows how to turn misfortune to his own advantage; that which does not kill him makes him stronger. " 

Let's leave the athletic pitch to enter the shop floor. Workers, who extend themselves physically and psychologically, are much like athletes. Days are long, repetitive tasks cause injuries, and bodies age and whither at ill-conceived work stations - with well-known impacts on productivity. In the corporation at large, busyness is rewarded through so many indicators, most of which are essentially proxy measures of suffering. And yet, powering through pain, the ethos of bygone eras, has shown its limits. Unsurprisingly, concepts like lean come from outside the Judeo-Christian cultural sphere.  

Workers, we can all agree, should seek to maximize production while minimizing their suffering (which we can expand to include all waste). Nietzsche provides perspective and a few hints: seek pleasure and 'that which is good' when looking for optimization. A "well-made" person will know when his/her limit has been reached, will learn from mistakes, and find solutions to recurring problems. But there is more; Nietzsche's "well-made" person  
"… instinctively gathers his material from all he sees, hears and experiences. He is a selective principle; he rejects much. He is always in his own company whether his intercourse be with books, with men or with landscapes; he honors the things he chooses, the things he acknowledges, the things he trusts. " 

In these few lines we find some key ingredients to an innovative optimization process. We have left the realm of suffering for gain and entered the domain of progress through thoughtful observation, self-awareness, personal commitment, education, intuition, and (ultimately) pleasure.  

Today, I am changing my vision and trying to reject suffering as a basis for success. Effort is necessary to improve, but pleasure is a key driver. This is easier said than done. Abandoning suffering for pleasure requires trust and confidence  
  1. Self-confidence because(a) if underlings suffer, the boss gets stature fromimposing the suffering, and (b)each individual must believe in his/her sustained desire to strive in a positive-reward environment that markedly departs from western cultural norms  
  2. Trust because, under a pleasure-based management model, management must trust its underlings to continue to work efficiently and innovate without fear of punishment - this despite the pernicious notion that underlings are somehow "lazy" (otherwise, they'd have worked hard and become part of management!) 
The benefits are potentially significant: workers will use their innate wisdom to improve their performance, as long as that they operate in an environment that gives them choices, and even more so if they can use the services of a well-meaning 'coach'. In short, management must trust that workers are "well-made" and engaged employees. This can be a difficult step to make for those raised in the worship of pain as a pathway to success, but it is a step on the long path to  kinder and wiser management.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Separating people from machines

Reading Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz latest opus, it becomes clearer than ever that:
1.     Knowledge drives performance
2.     Learning drives productivity
3.     Speed of learning drives competitiveness
Why is learning then so little considered in enterprise discussion? Why is so assumed that learning is the employee’s personal problem not the company’s?

Actually, it isn’t. There are in fact two ways to learn:
1.     Personal mastery of one’s existing tools
2.     Adoption of a new, more powerful tool.
In effect, managers readily adopt option 2. Not being very secure in their ability to support someone’s developing their personal mastery of their job, managers feel that to get people to learn one has to force them to adopt newer, richer tools.

To a large extent, it does work, but the upshot is often poorly understood oversized tools with low utilization and many unhappy side-effects for the customers of the process. A second unintended consequence of this process is blurring the distinction between people and tools, as you can tell every time you try to have a reasonable discussion with a call center but the person on the other side of the line is just a voice for a tightly scripted interaction they can’t deviate from.

The key to getting the best of both forms of learning lies in separating clearly men from machines, people from systems. If we understand what the person is supposed to achieve, what are the goals from the customers’ perspective, and then where the machine is supposed to help, then we can work on the personal mastery curve of the existing or new tools.

Obsession with our tools is hardwired in human brains (a credible theory asserts that tools made us humans) and as a result, it’s easy to forget that when the finger is pointing at the moon, we should look to the moon, not the finger. To avoid confusing tools and their use, we need clearly separate people from machines.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Shaving and the art of questioning

A few days ago, I was about to start shaving when my 6 year old daughter (Lucie) entered the bathroom. She wanted to discuss our upcoming day together, but quickly started asking me questions about shaving. Every step of the way, she asked me what I was doing, what my objective was, why I used a particular tool or product, etc... She also asked me to explain or clarify what she didn't understand. (She also told me every time I missed a spot.) I use a shave brush, and so the process is slightly more involved than with a can of shaving cream - she also wanted to know why I prefer the brush. 

Of course, shaving is not something I spend a great deal of time thinking about: I do it on autopilot, in the morning, sometimes while half awake and mostly while thinking about something else. Her questions forced me to consider my shaving process step by step, and to find a reason for everything I was doing.  

As I finished, I realized that between my automatic behavior and her pointed questions, this had been quite like a process audit in a professional environment. However, unlike in most process audits I've participated in, a few things struck me about her demeanor  
  1. the sense of wonder in her tone and questions - as if what I was doing was the most  amazing and important thing in the world (at least at that moment)  
  2. the innocence with which she approached shaving - she has no preconceived notions about how it should be done and has a completely open mind 
  3. the way in which she phrased her questions - she knows nothing about shaving (I'm clearly the expert), and so her manner was humble and positively inquisitive  
  4. the kindness underlying her questions - she genuinely cares about me and (at that moment) expressed her care by wanting to know more about shaving   
  5. the trust and confidence between us that allowed her to ask probing questions without threatening me and allowed me to answer in a frank and non-defensive manner, knowing I would not be judged for them
Of course, father-daughter interactions are quite different from intra-company or consultant-client relations, but I believe that I learned a lesson. The next time that I find myself observing a process and asking questions about it, I'll try to remember Lucie's 5 keys to a successful audit :  
  1. wonder and amazement - I am privileged to observe an expert working his/her craft  
  2. innocence - I will try to abandon any knowledge of the task to approach it with a fresh and open mind 
  3. posture and phrasing - I will inquire humbly about what the expert is doing and my questions will be gentle  
  4. kindness - I will care deeply about the individual and extend him/her the kindness I wish to receive in return  
  5. trust - I will take the time to build a relationship based on trust and show myself worthy of the same