Monthly Archives: September 2012

Process this thought!

Recently I read the views of a scientist on how processes could hurt the serendipitous scientific spirit.

“Structured activities, rules, flow charts and metrics for decision making are the roots of a successful business tree. However curiosity, creativity, freedom and luck are the foundations of science… trying to predefine the outcome of science and restrict it to process won’t work. While I have no doubt a horse can push a cart, is not more effective when pulled?… processes stop serendipity”

The last line does deliver an “ouch” punch. And the first line sets you thinking – will even the roots of a successful business tree weaken and die invisibly if not given the flexibility to seek out space for a stronger foundation? However much we believe in or champion structure and processes, we can certainly recall times when we have been frustrated as the rigidity of processes stood unmoving, hampering the flow of our creative juices, or in dealing with an emergency. Like asking an ambulance to stop at a red light.

In a set-your-mind-free-to-think book “Jugaad”, the authors have shown a compelling and practical way to bring innovation to life. Once the unthinkable is envisaged, they say, innovators do not plan, they improvise. They experiment simultaneously with multiple ways to reach their goal. They act with speed and agility. They shed risk aversion thinking. Organizations that embrace innovation rewrite rules and create time and space for employees to experiment – and thereby truly engaging them to confidently step out of their comfort zone to gain new perspectives.

Innovation is today no longer a branding “mantra” or an adrenalin-pumping vision statement. Today it is a ‘do-or-die’ way of thinking, manner of acting. If innovation calls for flexible thinking, it must be accompanied by nimble action, especially in today’s dynamic challenge of even the last minute being history. Silos will need to be broken and re-pieced. The irony of re-introducing the start-up thinking in organizations that pride themselves in having grown past the small scale will have to be reckoned with.

No, this is not an argument for dumping processes. Far from it. It is a watch-out call to prevent processes from becomes the culture at the cost of innovation and humanity. For example, while 3M uses Six Sigma to enhancing manufacturing processes, it has steered it away from interfering with free thinking R&D.

What are the signs that we need to watch out for? Whenever we veer to trust or give much more credence to systems than people to solve problems, these are red flags. Too many approvals and sign-offs, too many meetings, jargon-packed vision statements are the most common. A simple checkpoint for all managers – if the outcome of any decision box directs my thinking to the judgmental, I am stepping on the landmine of deterrent processes for sure.

However, here is a word of caution to the torch bearers of futile denigration of processes. Please keep things in perspective – innovation is not always inversely proportion to structure. As much as the ideation stage requires divergent thinking, the execution stage needs convergent thinking.

We live in an increasingly complex business world that throws a volley of uncontrollable situations that sometimes confound drawing up of even medium term plans. With no opinions on the right and wrong, Albert Einstein’s contention that ‘one cannot alter a condition with the same mindset that created it in the first place’ is a simple truth that we may do well to keep telling ourselves.


Time to redefine employee loyalty?

Employee Loyalty.

At its basic premise, it defines an employee who is committed to the success of his organization, and who passionately believes that working for her organization is the best and only option. On the face of it, a great situation to be in for both the employee and the organization.

But here are a few questions to tickle the ticking, thinking brain…

  • Do the indices of employee loyalty veer towards being unconditional – if so, is this a healthy virtue both for the employee and the employer?
  • Is it a fair given to expect organizations to reciprocate the longevity sentiment of their employees’ loyalty? Conversely, is it unfair if organizations do not, especially in today’s business environment?
  • Do we need to redefine employee loyalty so that it works better for both?
  • If we realistically think about employment as a reciprocal exchange (without the judgmental connotation of being mercenary on either side), would it be more beneficial to leverage associate traits of loyalty (professionalism to work and stakeholders) rather than the fuzzy term itself?
  • Would it be wiser if the specific concept of the “engaged employee” took precedence over the grand concept of the “loyal employee”?
  • Would employees better appreciate the organization’s efforts on being a strong supportive interface that helps them develop pride and professionalism towards excellence of work, clients and colleagues?  And in doing so, would organizations not automatically leverage and translate employee skill and competence to revenue, profits and client retention?

Call this a sort of destructive distillation, but there seems to emerge advantages of having employees passionate about their work over those loyal or passionate to the organization. Of having a workplace where employers can be proud of holding proud employees who

  • Are driven by something they know they can do better
  • Place responsibility on their own higher standards of ethics related to quality of work
  • Have the courage of conviction to defend the quality of their individual and team’s work to raise the bar on what is just needed to be done
  • Care more about doing fabulous work and the recognition of industry peers than mere upward mobility and management recognition in the organization

In a scene in the film “J. Edgar”, Edgar Hoover tells his loyal and longtime aide Clyde Tolson that the most important thing to him is loyalty, even beyond intelligence and competence. There are lessons we learn when history decisively proves things wrong – as in Hoover’s instance. The more enduring lessons lie in creating shifts that history will laud and prove right.  Time to do so?