Sunday, August 31, 2008

Waiting on Gustav

As I sit here and wait for hurricane Gustav, it occurs to me that I probably have about an hour of uninterrupted thinking time. My family is out and about picking up some “last minute” necessities. (Probably M&Ms and Gummy Worms!) Knowing exactly what to do at this time is a little nerve wracking so I am taking a break and “letting the chips fall where they may” for a little while. The patio furniture is secure, we have propane gas, and we are hunkered down. And I can still use the computer to capture my thoughts. If (when?) the electricity fails I am not sure if I would have the energy to write in longhand (and besides my handwriting is so bad I might not be able to interpret it).

I am wondering if others feel this unprepared in uncertain times. But are not all times uncertain? We never really know what is going to happen from day to day or, for that matter, from minute to minute. We try to have influence on people and events but certainty is forever elusive. The best we can do is to be prepared for uncertainty and change. Change may be the only thing that is certain and constant.

In consulting with business persons we (our business team) are continuously preparing for change. We advise our clients that if they don’t like change… they will like irrelevance even less. So let’s get with the program! Abraham Lincoln said, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” So he prepared and was elected the 16th president of the United States.

Upon further reflection, I think it is the hurried preparation that increases the stress levels to the breaking point. If we are continuously preparing and adjusting our plans (in business or for other life events) I propose that our confidence in ultimate survival and success will increase. It is very difficult to plan the battle in the midst of it. The plan should come first. And if the battle is not going the way it should, retreating and gathering a better plan may be a good course of action.

I hope your plan is well thought out and executable. Also, I hope your hatches are battened down!

Let’s hope Gustav is more show than blow.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Measuring or Judging

As an accountant by training, my tendency is to attempt to measure everything in business and make decisions based on those measurements. Measurements… like how many calls came in, how many were converted to customers, how much did each customer spend, how long did you work, and how many widgets did you produce, etc…you know…counting things!

In fact, we have been known to say, “What you can measure, you can manage”. In the world of repetitive tasks, such as an assembly line process, this perspective may be very successful. But the business world of today has many fewer repetitive, factory worker type, tasks and many more unique selling and production opportunities. The environment has changed to a knowledge worker dominated work force as opposed to a factory worker dominated work force. In an environment such as this, measurement in and of itself can be difficult at its best and yield worthless information at its worst. Managers should take note, as managing a knowledge worker is much different than managing a factory worker.

Measuring how long a knowledge worker, someone who thinks for a living, sits at his or her desk, though relatively easy to do, will not necessarily assist a manager in assessing the productivity and value of this type worker. Sure the workers are there, but are they productive? You then may think, “Let’s measure the knowledge worker’s output.” Again, on the surface, this sounds pretty good... and easy…but what if the output is of great quantity but poor quality? Will the customer be happy?

I hope you are beginning to get the picture that judgment in the world of business management is beginning to take the place of pure measurement. A rather silly example is that measuring the efficiency (how many operations performed) of a brain surgeon is not nearly as relevant as judging his effectiveness (how successful were the ones that he did perform). I don’t know about you …but give me effective in this case every time!

Because our firm is totally comprised of knowledge workers, I have given up all together on certain measurements as a management tool. In fact, we have adopted, what we call, a Results Only Work Environment (a ROWE). We do not complete time sheets, we do not have set office hours, we do not have set holidays, we do not have “overtime”, and we do not measure our value by how long we are at the office. But what we do track is how effective are we in completing a task in a timely manner and in the highest quality fashion. We judge how happy our customers are with our deliverables and services. We also hire quality people who are very well capable of knowing the tasks they need to accomplish, the associated timetables, and the quality expected. We treat them like adults (though sometimes we play like children) and judge the quality and effectiveness of their output.

In the business world today…judgment trumps measurement every time!