The Quincy Effect…

The year was 1976 when the TV show “Quincy” first aired, with the main character played on screen by actor Jack Klugman, Dr Quincy was a coroner who took to solving a weekly murder mystery.  The way the story line played out every week thereafter until its end in 1983 was Dr Quincy would approach his boss Dr Robert Asten and explain his solution to the murder at the start of the show.  The solution set was based upon Dr Quincy’s vast experience base built while serving in the Navy.  However, Dr Asten (a button down corporate type) in turn would dismiss Quincy out of hand (repeatedly every week) forcing him to “re-prove” himself over and over again.  In the end after all of this, Quincy’s position would be proven right.

Well in the first week, this didn’t strike me as odd as we all must prove ourselves once or twice, right?  Then came week two and once again the same thing repeated itself, now I am thinking ok, Dr Asten is a tough cookie.  Now fast forward to week six of the show and again the same thing yet again, ok enough was enough.

So think about this for a minute, Bob Smith from production control comes to you as his manager with a potential situation and you dismiss him, however the event happens.  Week two, he again comes with another, and like clockwork it pretty much goes down as he says it will.  Now what are you going to do on week three?  Has Bob not built a reasonable track record worth investigation?

Let’s talk about frustration, how would you feel if each and every week you where dismissed and had to re-prove yourself?  Maybe you do, and I will go so far as to bet many of those folks reading this do this on a regular basis.  This organizational defect has led me to coin the term the “Quincy Factor” as an organizational measure of a company’s ability to or not to leverage the learned experiential knowledge of the people within its organization and empower that judgment.

As mentioned above, after watching about 6 episodes, I voted with my channel changer and tuned out as the plot was given away up front, as why would I want to watch when I already knew the outcome? Now if you’re one of those Dr Asten types (you know who you are), you have to be thinking, “are my employees tuning out too”?  Today’s organizations are failing to fully realize the experience their employees are bringing to the table and losing competitive advantage because of it.  This is especially true if we look at the graying of the workforce, as each year that passes the experience set increases and this viral aspect is further supported by the fact that people are working longer.  So the impact is one man year times the entire workforce and the distribution of the workforce is not linear as retirement age spans out ward and the volumes of workers are at the tail and not the nose due to the “baby boomers”.

The next question is what drives this negative behavior and in many cases it is the “not invented here” bug-a-boo meaning if solutions are not reinvented each time, the personal value proposition of others are placed in perceived jeopardy.  In the show “Quincy”, this was one of the clear drivers as Dr Asten could not wield the same problem solving acumen Dr Quincy did when it came to assessing a crime.  Thus, Dr Asten felt his personal value proposition was threatened by Quincy.  The same could be said for our scenario with the production control manager Bob Smith from above, as his managers personal value proposition could also be perceived as threatened.  This is a clear defect in the managerial chain by allowing perceptions to dominate over results.

What other options could drive one to redo the same homework over and over again just so they see the same results?  Maybe it’s we as a managerial culture have truly developed what Seth Goden calls a “Culture of Attendance“, where in Quincy’s case, Asten’s belief was he was paying him to show up so therefore the expectation was he would start at square one each week rather than employing his institutionally learned knowledge to “leap frog” his advantage.

Regardless of the reason or even a plurality of reasons, companies are wasting resource time, creating turnover and general discourse as the higher the applied “Quincy Factor” the greater the level of organizational friction will be induced.  As this goes up other key factors such as productivity, creativity and motivation decline.  So have you measured your “Quincy Factor” today?

The Holidays are here, Are You Feeling Sorry for Yourself…

While it’s not often you won’t find me traveling for business, its during those down moments when I do get to work from home and spend sometime with my wife who also works remotely from home (so much for Coase’s Theorem) that I am reintroduced to an interesting piece of Americana.

As my wife also happens to be the type of person who has to have some background noise all the time as she types away at the computer, I am once again exposed to the American tradition of daytime television. As most of this “background” noise takes the form of daytime reality television, and you guessed it, is packed with Judge Judy, Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkcos and the like.

How does all of this daytime drama tie in with the holidays you ask and even more a viral concept?  Well, spend a few minutes first watching “It’s A Wonderfull Life” with the immortal Jimmy Stewart playing the role of George Bailey and what do you see?  For most of the movie is about a man who while does have some challenges (hey who doesn’t), is just feeling sorry for himself, straight up self pity if you will (the world would have been a better place without him).  Now we push the fast forward button in time to see Judge Judy’s case of the day and bam! While the characters are not as nice hearted as George Bailey, they like George all typically have what I call the “Whoa Wes Me” gene alive and active.  I’ve come to coin the new gene by this name as while the human genome project has not officially identified it just as of yet, it’s simply a matter of time before one of the researchers watches some daytime TV and the lights also go off.

However, what sets this gene off you ask, it’s the gene “carriers” belief the world owes them “fairness”, maybe even an advantage just because they were born!  Since for the most part this doesn’t happen the “gene” drives them to seek “pity” from others as a source of full filament. Back to the holiday theme, if you now move from daytime TV to primetime holiday programming, it is packed with all these stories of someone feeling wronged in life who ends up sitting on a park bench alone on Christmas Day.  Yes, I fully understand this is suppose to tug at my heart strings, however it’s hard for me to watch someone sit there and “feel sorry for themselves” and have empathy for them when they can do something about it.  Also there are people who do not get the idea this is a movie or TV show thus further feed the “pity beast” within their “Whoa Wes Me” gene.  Hey look George in a Wonderful life found happiness in the end right?

This is one of the things which for me is a growing concern as media’s taste is to over feed the viewing public a steady diet of “Whoa Wes Me” to the gene holders of the same at large to get them to watch more mindless tube.  Thus it grows within the American culture even passing from generation to generation as the youth see this apathy not only in their family units.  However, also supported in their television viewing content creating a feedback loop supporting a “negative habit” within a positive growth loop.

As a kid many moons ago, I would sometimes sit there healthy and all with a solid mind yet feeling sorry for myself over one thing or another.  Enter my father of little words who would say, “if you don’t stop feeling sorry for yourself, I will give you something to feel sorry about“.  Yes, there were times where I was foolish enough to push the envelope and yes my father made good on his promise.  However to this day I respect and love the man for teaching me this valuable lesson which I’ve made use of for almost a half a century now.

However for the greater population this has not been the case as there has been a steady growth of the concept of entitlement within the American culture which also adds another negative loop into the growing viral mix.  As a final thought, please keep in mind, this trend in whole is a disturbing proposition for the building of America’s future workforces which is needed to replace the retiring baby boomers who are departing the working legions.  Happy holidays and read a book rather watching all those heart tugging holiday show on TV as the workforce needs you!

Follow Up Freddy (are you one)…

Living in a hectic world isn’t always easy, we have many important things which compete for our time every day and while you can be well organized and attentive to task.  It doesn’t mean others upon which you depend on for success feel or operate in the same way and is the reason we have to continually invest in “follow-up”.

How much time do you “invest” on follow-up each day?  Does it grow over time as the general working population finds itself with more and more things to do?  Does this make it a “viral” task, as the more follow-up you send, the more “follow-up” is created downstream?

With this I don’t know about you, however I seem to find myself spending the majority of my time as what I’ve come to refer to as “Follow Up Freddy“.  This where an abnormal amount of time is spent on the “tasks” of follow-up rather than completing new work.  As part of a non-scientific study, my typical follow-up count is three about (3) communications per task on average.  So for the sake of conversation if there are 10 tasks,30 follow up communications will be required to keep on task in addition to the original request which kicked things off.

In essence we see a “rubber-banding” effect within the task where it’s priority from the delegated party appears to slip.  Note, it’s hard to tell definitely the reason for the shift in importance as it may have many drivers.  The key is to optimize the message along with the follow-up timing to maximize attention (from the delegated party) while avoiding a premature escalation which makes it look like your simply crying wolf all of the time.

Also I have struggled to find a good software App which helps me manage my follow-up and tasking.  Have tried many different one over the years, however I still keep going back to writing them in a notebook (highly recommend Moleskin or Conceptum) one per line as an open thought meaning. It’s “loose” which keep my massive list of 30 or so items everyday fluid so I can work them into other tasks instead of them becoming a task.

An example would be, say I’m sending Bob an e-mail for a new project and notice on my follow-up list that he also owes me an answer for another question.  Instead of sending two mails, I’m able to be blend the two together, so Bob gets one mail, I only type one mail and it avoids the appearance of crying wolf.

What are some of your ideas or best practices for managing follow-ups?  Also what software or other tools are you using to manage the chaos?


Problems love (to create) Problems…

In thinking about the concept of “problems” it came to me that by their nature they create “new” problems and just not one more, but many more!  If you will think back to a recent meeting where you are sitting there watching the swirls created by the creamer in your coffee as your boss is waxing on and on about some problem he has.  Then all of a sudden you look up from the comfort of the swirling coffee and his one “problem” has now metastasized itself into not just one other problem.  It has now “multiplied” itself as if you tossed a glass of water on to a fuzzy gremlin, your eyes grow wider while breathing quickens as you now realize that you along with several of your table mates in this meeting now your own a freshly minted “problem” as the “one” has now become many!

Minutes later as you walk out of the room with your new charge like a monkey with a strong grip around your neck if you will, your first reaction is you reach for your Black Berry and pen an invite for your staff, and the scenario repeats itself as you take your new “problem” and mint several more new ones!  Where does all of this madness stop?  What is the value proposition of this seeming infinite chain of “problems”?

In this scenario, one of the striking aspects which hit me as an epiphany was that “problems” are viral as they expand and this expansion because of the viral aspects means it can grow very rapidly.  With each step in the expansion, a cost is assessed; meaning the overall “cost” of the loop will grow in direct portion to the loop which can soon form a disruptive influence to the original proposition of the problem.

Ever play the “telephone game” in elementary school?  Where a chain of students are lined up and the first is whispered a message by the teacher, and then asked to share it via “whisper” again with the next person in line and so on down the chain?  What you will get at the end is nothing like what started out in the first place.  Keep in mind this “message” is being past down a straight line, however take a moment to think of the same game if at each next step the count “doubled” as in a hierarchal organization?

Well, this is the very thing which is happening everyday in the business world as “problems” flow from the top down, and end value is lost due to the organizational friction which these “problems” generate.  It’s also important to point out that opportunities are “not” problems, as “problems” do not have a positive side other then when solved, they return the situation (which spawned them) to a state of equilibrium.

To explore this, let’s build an example for discussion purposes and one of the most common I’ve heard in my career has been “unless X,Y and Z the customer will no longer buy from us”. So our starting position is that the customer “will” buy so this is our point of equilibrium, and now “X,Y and Z” is the acknowledged problem that once solved we have back what we started with.  In other words we gain back no more then we started with so the net cost of the problem was a pure impact to the bottom line.

Another famous example of this is “Houston we have a problem” as wasn’t the intent of Apollo 13 to return to the earth with its occupants safe and sound?  After the explosion created the “problem”, and then thankfully the “problem” was solved returning the situation to equilibrium, the astronauts did not gain per say from the ordeal they only got what was originally promised as in a safe return.

So how do we reduce the friction created by this “problem”?  First and foremost is identify the “source” of the “problem” as mentioned above is this being cascaded downward?  The answer will most likely be yes, therefore there will be distortion in the “problem statement” much like the telephone game which will lead to additional over head (i.e. friction).  In addition to the distortion, there is the likelihood of multiplicity in response because of the one to many nature as discussed above, most likely several groups are unknowingly working on the same problem adding even more friction (cost).

Most importantly, address the problem at the “root” or source as the majority of the time it is a perceptual issue and not a tangible one.  Also keep in mind that a “problem” say coming from the CEO is a minor problem, which is cascaded to a VP and now it’s a MAJOR problem as the VP will use this as a platform to build and promote his or her own self-worth rather than just solving the problem…

People just love (to create) a good Problem!

A few years back it became clear one morning that a change was needed and my current employer was never going to provide that opportunity so with that I set out to find a new job.  During this time I had been working crazy hours jetting around the world just busier then all get out if you know what I mean.

After a month or so of looking in the market, a new opportunity presented itself (actually a couple) which prompted me to tenure my notice and because of the current role gave one month and since the new job was not competitive with the old.  I was allowed to stay on-board and help wind things down from my current role with my soon to be former employer.  During this time I was no longer in the first row and had basically moved to be a member of the audience if you will. Where there once were 12 and 14 hour days, there were now six hour ones with a lot of coffee break’s as I was no longer “the guy”.  Than around two weeks into the month long transition, a realization struck me.

When I looked up no one was doing all the crazy things I had been doing, my replacement was far from up to speed as they had only selected an interim person (while they looked for a permanent one) at the time and while the customer was not overly happy with the situation (personal change always has an impact), the world per say wasn’t falling apart either, then it hit me.  It hit me like a ton of bricks landing square on my chest with enough force to take my breath away!

The epiphany which struck me that day is I loved a good problem, I loved the feeling of solving a good problem, I loved it so much I even created them and not only did I do this, so did most every other human being which I knew!

Sitting  there that day staring out of a frosty window watching the snow fall, it seem to me a “problem” was not much more than a personal value proposition.  Where the majority of the people benchmarked their “perceived value” by the problems they had to solve and if they didn’t have enough, the solution was to simply create more!  It was easy for me to do this as the opportunity to create them seemed to be limited by my own imagination. If this was true for me, was it true for others?  I started to think back as the snowflakes continued to fall outside to the problems which others had provided to me via the on-slot of daily e-mails, phone calls and seemingly endless array of meetings.  All of these required a solution and 9 out 10 were not aligned with the goals of either our company or the customers which they had set out.  These were instead personal value propositions which individuals set out to create in order to have something to add to some dashboard as saying “everything is ok” doesn’t seem to carry the same weight (read as frowned upon) as “look at all these issues I have to solve”!

Well the snow kept falling that day, my coffee cup now empty and the winter sun had set, with this it was now time to make my way home.  However first I pulled a cell phone from my pocket and dialed my wife to say the falling snow was going to be a “problem” and I would be late…