Dan Markovitz shares a short but insightful post and an introduction to a workshop on the importance of word choice when problem framing to ensure a positive outcome.
In 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.”
In 2017, President Trump declared a “public health emergency” to battle the opioid crisis.
These two declarations were essentially about the same thing: dealing with the financial, emotional, and social scourge of drug abuse that was destroying individuals and communities. But the framing of the problem—a “war” versus a “health emergency” makes a huge difference in the countermeasures that citizens, politicians, and communities are ready to consider.
If you’re fighting a war, you’re thinking about military action. You’re going to mobilize soldiers, deploy aircraft and other weaponry, and erect barbed wire barriers. If you’re responding to a health emergency, you’re thinking about hospitals, counselors and social workers, treatment centers, and medical interventions. The countermeasures are radically different.
This is one of the exercises I’ve used with a corporate client that’s enrolled my Conclusion Trap workshop. Based on my latest book, this workshop helps participants become better problem solvers by improving their ability to frame problems.
To the extent that anyone outside of General Motors remembers Charles Kettering, he’s most famous for saying, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” Which sounds great—except that he never defined what a well-stated problem is. As my students discovered (and you can see from the example above), the phrasing of the problem has enormous consequences for the kind of countermeasures you develop. This kind of exercise helped them move from weak problem statements such as, “The problem is that we’re too busy to meet the milestones set by the project manager,” or “The problem is that we don’t have enough time to write and test the necessary code.
Key points include:
- The Conclusion Trap workshop
- Consideration of countermeasures
- Defining a well-stated problem
Read the full article, PROBLEM FRAMING IS MORE CONSEQUENTIAL THAN YOU MIGHT THINK, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
Dan Markovitz provides an article that explores what it means to be a healthy company.
What is a healthy person? We can argue over specific metrics, but we’d all agree that we have to account for physical as well as mental/emotional health. What is a healthy organization? As with
individuals, there will be disagreement over metrics, but clearly we have to consider financial performance, internal stakeholders (employees), and external stakeholders (community). Healthy organizations recognize the importance of all three areas, and while a specific decision might prioritize one over the others, in aggregate, healthy organizations make decisions that, on average, address all of those needs.
Milton Friedman is the primary exponent of the belief that a company’s sole purpose is making a profit: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits,” he wrote in 1970. In the past decade there’s been a backlash to that one-dimensional view, most notably by the Business Roundtable. In 2019, the organization announced that corporations should be governed to benefit all stakeholders— customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.
But many companies have long subscribed to this more holistic—and I’d argue, healthier—mantra. As Jim Collins wrote about visionary firms such as Merck, 3M, General Electric, Boeing, and Disney in Built to Last.
Key points include:
- Profit maximization
- Internal Stakeholders—Employees
- External Stakeholders—Community
Read the full post, What Is a Healthy Company, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
Dan Markovitz explains why training without a goal is a waste of time.
“Just in case 2020 wasn’t challenging enough for you, here’s a brilliant example of how to waste time, money, and credibility in 2021.
The HR department at a company approached me recently about teaching employees process mapping. This company recognizes the utility of process mapping in continuous improvement and decided that a class would be a good place to start.
Sounds sensible. But with all due respect to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time or money than this class. Not because training has no value—of course it does, in the right circumstances—but because this class was completely disconnected from any process that needed improvement or business goal. Training done for training’s sake, without linkage to some sort of goal, is like a cattle rancher taking vegan cooking classes: intellectually interesting, but kind of pointless.
In my experience, the half-life of classroom knowledge is somewhat shorter than the time it takes employees to walk from the conference room back to their offices. Without a connection to a desired business outcome, training becomes a strictly academic exercise that will be forgotten after the next bite of a danish. And even with a connection to a business outcome, you’re in race with the danish.”
Read the full article, One Easy Way To Squander Time, Money, And Credibility, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
This short, insightful post from Dan Markovitz is a sage reminder on where to focus attention when managing a team.
Prior to the Super Bowl last Sunday, you couldn’t pick up a sports section without reading about the duel between Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, and Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the game today. But it turns out that the battle between the two big name quarterbacks was much less important than the battle between the Chiefs’ offensive line and the Buccaneers’ defense.
The Chiefs’ offensive line lost its starting tackles (those are the two big guys on the right and left end of the offensive line), forcing them to not only use backup players, but to shift the players into different positions. Perhaps the Chiefs could have survived one of those changes, but together, they sounded the death knell for the Chiefs’ title hopes. Mahomes was pressured on 29 of 56 (52%) of his dropbacks, the most of any quarterback in Super Bowl history. By contrast, Brady was pressured on only 4 of his 30 (13%) dropbacks during the game.
Now, there were all kinds of other problems that doomed the Chiefs: dropped passes, penalties, poor punting, etc. And the Buccaneers played incredibly well. But given just how good Mahomes is, the fact that he seldom had time to throw the ball might have been the biggest factor in their loss.
Key points include:
- Super Bowl strategies
- The unsexy and unsung
- Where the game is won or lost
Read the full article, Pay Attention to the Trenches Not the Stars, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
In this post, Dan Markovitz identifies the weak spots in productivity hacks and explains why they don’t work.
Leaders in organizations are always seeking to improve employee productivity (including their own). All too often, that quest goes no further than time management training provided by the HR department. Those classes cover the pros and cons of Inbox Zero, the Pomodoro technique, the Eisenhower matrix, Getting Things Done, and countless other approaches that tantalize us with visions of the promised land of peak productivity. Given that people are still overwhelmed by work, buried in email, and unable to focus on critical priorities, it’s safe to say that these productivity hacks don’t hack it.
The problem isn’t with the intrinsic logic of any of these approaches. It’s that they fail to account for the simple fact that most people don’t work in isolation. They work in complex organizations defined by interdependencies among people—and it’s these interdependencies that have the greatest effect on personal productivity. You can be an email ninja, but with the explosion of email (not to mention instant messages, Twitter direct messages, Slack messages, and countless other communication tools), you’ll never be fast enough to deal with all the incoming communication. Similarly, your personal urgent/important Eisenhower categories fall apart when the CEO asks you to do stop what you’re doing and handle something right now.
As legendary statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming argued in his book Out of the Crisis, 94% of most problems and possibilities for improvement belong to the system, not the individual. I would argue that most productivity improvements belong there as well. Personal productivity systems are certainly useful, but the most effective antidote to low productivity and inefficiency must be implemented at the system level, not the individual level.
Four countermeasures to systemic overload include:
- Tackling tiered daily huddles
- Enabling an equitable distribution of work
- Defining the “bat signal”
- Aligning responsibility with authority
Read the full article, Why Your Productivity Hacks Don’t Hack It, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
Dan Markovitz shares a free workbook to accompany his latest book.
Response to my latest book, The Conclusion Trap, has been strong, but I’ve heard from some readers that they’d like a workbook to accompany it.
You can download the Conclusion Trap Workbook here. For free. Gratis. No charge. $0.00 dollars.
In it, you’ll find a recap of each of the four steps, along with questions, and recommendations you can use to experiment with the approach in your work (or personal!) lives.
Access the link to the workbook through the post, The Conclusion Trap Workbook Is Out (And It’s Free), on MarkovitzConsulting.com.
Dan Markovitz identifies issues that may arise in the workplace when some remote employees return to the office and others don’t. He also provides a few key tips to help maintain team cohesion.
A client of mine has started to bring some of their employees back into the office. They’re not ending their work from home policies, but increasingly higher ranking staff are coming back to the mothership, particularly for important meetings.
This shift makes sense for many reasons, but it’s having three unfortunate side effects. First, the work from home employees are beginning to have middle school flashbacks, where they’re definitely not part of the cool crowd, and they have to eat lunch at the cafeteria table with the dweebs. Second, they are, in fact, being left out of many discussions and decisions — not out of malice, but simply out of benign neglect. When everyone is working from home and meetings are conducted by Zoom it’s easy to remember to bring everyone to the virtual table. But when you’re in the office, it’s even easier to forget your cohorts who are laboring at home and just have the meeting with the people who are physically present. Third, the remaining work from home employees are missing out on the incipient burbling of water cooler conversations. This is bad for morale and bad for business.
Key points include:
- Team alignment
- Team morale
- Visual tools to help engage remote employees
Read the full blog post, Don’t Let this Happen to Your Work from Home Colleagues, on the Markovitz Consulting website.
In this article for Industry Week, Dan Markovitz explains how the current pandemic provides an opportunity to move forward with value stream mapping.
At some point, the COVID pandemic will pass, whether that’s due to a vaccine, a two-minute test, or herd immunity. But if you want to thrive in the post-COVID world, you’ve got to start working on operational improvements now. After all, if you’re walking to the starting line while your competitors are already settled into the blocks, you’ll never catch up. Value stream mapping is the tool that will help you become faster and more nimble—both now, and in the World 2.0.
What Is Value Stream Mapping?
Value stream maps (VSMs) show both the material and the information flow in any kind of end-to-end process such as order to cash, or new product introduction. By revealing the handoffs, the delays, and the defects within and between processes, they act as an X-ray into the otherwise invisible workings of your operations, enabling you to address long-hidden problems that make your organization slow and unresponsive.
Key points include:
- Selling and Merchandising
- Picking, Packing, and Shipping
- Key VSM Terms
Read the full article, COVID: A Golden Opportunity to Move Forward, on Industryweek.com.
In this article, Dan Markovitz identifies the problem with striving to be on the leading edge and why focusing on achieving lean operations is a better strategy.
Don’t be seduced by the siren song of the leading edge. While it’s a nice concept, it’s not nicknamed “the bleeding edge” for nothing. All too often, companies that strive for first mover advantage bleed their products—or their entire organization—to death.
Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis’s seminal study of 500 brands in 50 product categories reveals that almost half of market pioneers fail. In fact, the greatest long-term success belongs to companies that enter a market and become leaders about 13 years after these first movers. MITS introduced the first personal computer in 1975. Bell Labs brought out the first color TV in 1929. 3M had the first copy machine in 1950. Good luck finding any of those products today.
In follow-up work, Tellis shows that even now there’s little evidence to support the idea of first mover advantage: MySpace and Friendster were ahead of Facebook, Books.com was online before Amazon, AltaVista (among others) beat Google in search, and Sony, Blackberry, and others hit the shelves before Apple in mobile music, smartphones, and tablets. That’s quite a collection of corporate carcasses.
Forget about the leading edge. Instead, focus on becoming faster and more nimble, so that you can get to the head of the market quickly, when the timing is right. That means eliminating the bureaucratic barnacles that encrust so many organizations. Here are a few areas that are probably creating lethal operational drag on the corporate ship.
Key points in this article include:
- The hoshin kanri solution
- Assessing the skills and traits
- Misaligned decision rights
Read the full article, Want To Be On The Leading Edge? Forget About It., on Markovitzconsulting.com
Dan Markovitz provides an article that explores the ability of public US companies to operate as a wholly lean company.
Can public US companies really embrace lean? Well sure, they can deploy lean tools here and there, but the whole socio-technical system that comprises lean? I don’t think so.
Wall Street pressure for quarterly profits competes fiercely with lean principles, both inside and outside the company. Executives who take the long-term view and view employees as appreciating assets worthy of investment, rather than variable costs to be minimized, put their companies at risk of attack from outside “activist shareholders” who demand higher returns. And given how tightly senior executive compensation is tied to the company’s share prices, there’s internal pressure not to put their own wealth at risk by not pumping up the stock price. (Tom Johnson, Doc Hall, and Bob Emiliani have written extensively about this problem.)
Areas covered in this article include
- Stockholder expectations
- Toyota as an outlier
- Barriers to becoming lean
Read the full article, Can A Public Company Ever Be Lean?, on the Markovitz website.
Dan Markovitz shares a new video series on the root cause of CEO overwhelm and provides a downloadable PDF on why the best CEOs don’t feel overwhelmed.
As many of you know, I conducted a study of CEO overwhelm this winter. It wasn’t entirely surprising that CEOs (and other leaders) who embraced lean habits and principles in their work felt less overwhelmed by the demands on their time and attention.
In the study, I made a few brief suggestions about how to deal with the root cause of overwhelm. But the limits of a PowerPoint format made it difficult to go into much detail. In response to requests for more information, I made a series of short (2-3 minute) videos in my state of the art video studio (i.e., my living room).
I’ll be posting one video per day over the next week on my YouTube channel. I’ll also be providing links to each video on Twitter and LinkedIn as they’re released. I hope you enjoy them.
Dan has recently published his latest book, The Conclusion Trap, which addresses the bane of problem solvers everywhere: jumping to solutions.
Dan Markovitz shares why COVID-19 provides the opportunity to institute change.
“You’ve heard it countless times before:
‘People don’t like change.’
‘Change is hard.’
‘Change activates people’s lizard brain. They’ll fight you or run away.’
‘People don’t mind changing. They don’t like being changed.’
You hear these complaints so often that you’d think they’re inscribed in the 10 Commandments by now. (They’re not, by the way.)
Sure, there’s plenty of truth in those sayings, but the good news is that right now—in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak—they’re less relevant than ever. If you want to make a change at your organization, now’s the time to do it.
The habits that people develop are like ruts in a dirt road. Whether you’re driving, biking, or hiking on that road, it’s really tough to get out of the ruts. You get stuck in the well-worn grooves that you or others have formed over the years. Which pant leg do you put on first? Do you brush first and then floss, or floss and then brush? How do you interlace your fingers? Good luck changing any of those habits.
Except when a flood washes out the road and you (and everyone else) is forced to bushwhack across new territory. Everything is thrown into turmoil, and the old habits no longer apply. When the road is gone, so is the rut.
Read the full article, Covid-19 Is The Best Thing To Happen To Your Company. Seriously., on the Markovitz consulting website.