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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Checklist

While working with a client on a leadership performance development project, the company owner requested that we incorporate the performance behaviors we targeted as imperative into a standard of work process and chart that a former lean consultant had developed for their team leaders.   

They weren’t currently utilizing the standard of work, and the owner felt like it was a tool that should be used.  When I first looked at the chart, my immediate thought was how unbelievably micro-managing! The standard of work charted a daily schedule, in some cases, down to five minute increments.  I secretly wondered how these team leaders found the time to go to the restroom if they followed it.   And I vocally expressed my concern over the risk that this standard of work might prohibit innovative thinking on the part of the team leaders because it was so confining.   

We did modify the standard of work chart based on the clients request, making it less confining and incorporating key leadership behaviors into the process.  I still went away, however, skeptical of the idea of such a strenuous standard of work.   However, while listening a sermon last week I was struck by new way of thinking about the importance of tools for guiding our behavior on the job, whether it defined as standards of work, checklists or job aids.

The minister began his sermon by talking about the book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, explaining the author’s key point: checklists improve outcomes.   Whether it be surgeons working through a checklist prior to surgery or pilots prior to takeoff, checklists help even those who are the most expert or educated avoid costly mistakes.   

Here are some key points and changed ways of thinking I took away:
1.       In an increasingly complex world and work environment, checklists help provide the structure needed to make sure things aren’t missed.  They focus our efforts.
2.       A checklist or standard of work should start with first things first.  An example?  The first thing on a surgeon’s checklist- wash your hands.  The first thing on the team leaders in a manufacturing setting I referenced, check production outcomes required for the day.  
3.       One item should naturally flow to the next item. 
4.       Don’t make assumptions that people know they need to do a certain item and leave it off the checklist if the item is imperative to successful to performance.   Don’t leave “Wash your hands” off the surgeon’s checklist just because it seems to be common sense that it should be done.
5.       Checklists help us create positive habits.  Eventually the checklist isn’t even necessary it is so engrained in the way we behave.
6.       And finally, checklists should help us focus on relationships to other people, not hamper our interaction with others.  
7.       Checklists not an end, but a means to an end resulting better performance.

Why you may ask did a church sermon focus on checklists? Exodus 20:3-17. The 10 Commandments.  A checklist for living.  It focuses our efforts, puts first things first, one item naturally flows to the other, it makes no assumptions that the Israelites and us already knew that, it helps us create positive habits,  and focuses on how we should interact and treat other people.  

How have checklists or standards of work helped make you more successful at work and in life?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Queen Bee Syndrome

Think Meyrl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal.  Are you thinking that you’d love to work for a boss like the characters they portray? I would guess not.   They personify what researchers are referring to as Queen Bees- the alpha female who is a you-know-what.   And what’s worse, they are labeling it a syndrome.   

A Today Show segment last spring focused on this syndrome emphasizing that most people, whether male or female, would prefer to work for a man than a woman.  The segment argued two ways of thinking about its causes.  One cause being the personality of women in general and the other being the work environment. 

Those that focus on the personality of women postulate that women are more prone to share too much personal information at work, are “moody” or emotional and are ultra-competitive, in particular with women. That’s just the nature of women.  Ouch.  

The contrasting opinion argues that it is not the personality of women, but the work environment itself where women have had to model the behavior of males to get ahead (and male behavior on woman isn’t as attractive as it is on a male) and have to be cut throat with other women because there are still too few spots for females at the top.

Regardless of which camp you side with, it is important to realize that whether it’s your personality or your environment, capitalize on what’s good about it and realize when it starts to hurt you.  

How to do this:
1.       Know your strengths and your weaknesses.
2.       Know environments in which you thrive as well as those in which the worst comes out in you.
3.       Play to your strengths and select work environments that bring out the best in you.
4.       Don’t model a behavior to get ahead just because it got someone else ahead.  First, do what’s right and second, do what makes you uniquely you. Bee Yourself (sorry, I couldn't resist the play on words...)
5.       Know where the line between personal and business is drawn and stick to it.

And finally, I think what bothers me the most about this theory is not the double standard that it seems to convey in that what makes a man successful actually causes a woman to be labeled as a you-know-what, but the fact that women are hurting other women.   If you are a male or female in a leadership position, whether you follow all the “how-tos” above or not, you should ask yourself, “Am I making more leaders?” If the answer is “no” then maybe you do have a syndrome, or at least you need to neglect the thought of seeing yourself as a leader.