Thursday, November 26, 2020

122 - Happy Thanksgiving

Hi, I'm David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and I also want to make a special shout out to my lovely bride of 36 years since it's her birthday today.  Happy Birthday, baby.  I love you.

It's been a very difficult year for us all.  We've been restricted from traveling, restricted from gathering with family and friends, restricted from going out to our favorite restaurants and bars.  But we seen hundreds of thousands infected and tens of thousands killed because of the virus that has recently ramped up.

So in this kind of gloomy environment, our ability to recognize blessings that my be hard to see and hard to think about is a pretty handy skill.  No matter what we're going through or what we've been through, there is always something to be grateful for.

I'm grateful that my family has avoided getting sick.  We've been careful, but we've also done some limited traveling - nothing like last year, but at least we've been out of the house a couple of times.  I'm grateful that the vaccines are progressing well.

I'm grateful for some new friends in the National Speaker's Association, where I've been asked to become a Vice President and future President in the Ohio Chapter.  

I'm grateful for a new client and the return of existing clients.

I'm grateful for the time I've had to create some new stuff and to do these videos.

I hope you'll be able to take some time today to reflect on similar things in your life.  Embrace that feeling of gratitude and see how that affects your mood and stress levels.

We're having a Zoom feast this afternoon with the family dialing in from Texas and Maryland, then we're planning some online games we can play together.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

121 - Cultures of Compliance II

Hi, I'm David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.

A few days ago I described a culture of defiance in organizations, and I ended up saying that a new leader would usually be necessary to pull the organization into a culture of compliance.  

It takes a leader to create conditions for a culture of defiance - and that leader generally has to convince people that they can trust no one but them and tends to blame everything bad on some group or some person. 

The first step toward getting out of a culture of defiance is to remove that leader.  

The new leader will need to be pretty much a tyrant, enforcing his or her will through the strategic application of power.   But if that behavior persists, the organization will return to the pits of defiance.

The first stages of a culture of compliance  will involve a new set of rules with consistent enforcement of those rules.  There is no room for anything else.  These new rules will form the basis for a new relationship between the leader and the led.  During this period of time, the leader has to be brutally honest about everything.  The more transparent they can become, the less difficulty they will have in restoring trust.

The vast majority of organizations are stuck in cultures of compliance.  This isn't because leaders are maliciously keeping people there.  It's because people have been conditioned for compliance their entire lives.  It's parents, then teachers, then employers who have consistently punished non-compliance over time that creates compliance as the default until you discover how much freedom you actually have.  

The new rules need to encourage and reward compliance, and punish and discourage defiance.  It won't work for some of your people.  That's fine - they can go, either voluntarily, or through termination - If they can't or won't follow the new rules, which you have carefully communicated and taught - there is no reason to keep them.

As we settle into the new culture of compliance to the rules, and as we see some degree of trust returning, leaders have to adjust the rules to allow for more involvement.  But it isn't just adjusting the rules.  It also requires systems to allow for productive involvement of the workforce in setting those new rules.  We have to ask employees for their input.

We will always need compliance to set rules.  But to advance the culture toward engagement, we'll need a defined process for breaking the rules.  So when someone has input to share, that defined process shows them what they much do to confirm that the input makes things better, and then we change the rules - we create a new expectation.  We capture that in our standardized work and it becomes the new source of compliance, until we find a still better way.

More to follow.  Stick with me.  Join me next week, Wednesday and Thursday, for a high speed problem solving workshop sponsored by Lean Frontiers.  It's virtual - four hours Wednesday afternoon, and 4 hours Thursday afternoon.  

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

120 - Cultures of Compliance

I’m David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.

We’re exploring this spectrum of organizational culture that spans from Defiance to Engagement.  

I believe the vast majority of organizations operate in a culture of compliance.  You can be perfectly successful here.  Some are even satisfied here.  

In a culture of compliance, people show up, work hard, and generally stay within the lines.  That’s another way of saying they do what they are told.  They follow the rules.  They comply.

Following rules is essential, but restrictive.  To create something new, like a new process, or even to change a process, everyone has learned that you can only do something like that when your leader has directed it.  That directive doesn’t have to be dictatorial.  It can come in the form of an innocent question, “How’d you like to be on the next kaizen team?”

And that is what makes us tend to stay in this culture of compliance.  People have learned not to try new things because of the likely response they will get from either their leaders or their peers.  We’ve learned not to rock the boat.  We’ve learned not to stand out.

To change this, we can’t just talk about encouraging people to share their ideas.  We can’t just ask people to let us know when they need help.  We have to have systems that make it safe for people to do these things.

The best way to convince people that this is safe is to deliberately train them on the techniques we want them to use when they have a problem or an idea.  We might need to do some conventional familiarization training - the classroom stuff we’re used to, but the more effective, although slower, way is to build a system that teaches them in real time when they have a problem or an idea.  In this case, the leader is the teacher and coach and reinforces the notion that we do want people to begin pushing the limits of the way we currently do things and forcing changes in the rules when the rules restrict us from improving performance.

I have some ideas that can help you build these systems, so give me a call and we can get started.

Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

119 - Cultures of Defiance

How do we find ourselves in a culture of defiance?

Defiance is the open disregard or even contempt of something or someone.

I’ve seen defiant cultures in several different organizations.  In two cases, it was a Union workforce that defied any management policy.  I’ve been doing some digging, plus reading the news, and doing some critical thinking; and I’m closing in on what I believe to be the root cause of this kind of defiance.  

I’m almost convinced that a defiant culture, whether in an organization, or a nation, flows from distrust of the opposition based on false or exaggerated claims by influential people in leadership roles.  When leaders, whether they have actual or official leadership positions or if they are simply the people others tend to listen to and believe, make false or exaggerated claims of the activities or performance of some system or some opposition leader, people believe them and resist or defy.  What's bad becomes good.  What's good becomes bad.

I even saw this in Toyota for a short period of time after the first US president was named at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky.  He happened to take the job at the same time the company decided to make changes to the suggestion system that restricted what ideas would be eligible for consideration and reward compensation.  

Team members associated that change with the new President, and I was even asked by a friend who worked there if I thought the new president was trying to bring the United Auto Workers into the plant.

That was a case of unfortunate timing without clear communication about why a change was made.  Neither the President nor the managers of the suggestion system were malicious in intent, but the influential voices started rumors that spread quickly and were believable.  The result at Toyota wasn’t particularly bad from a performance standpoint that I could tell…They were still producing about 2000 high quality cars a day, but the difference in the way the plant just felt was palpable.  

I’ve been in that plant a hundred times.  Most of the time, the team members working on the line would take a second and look up at visitors and smile or wave briefly.  You could feel positive energy in the building.  During that dark time, though, it felt like a pall on the place.  When anyone looked up at you, there were hard lines on their faces and that energy had changed.

We’ve seen this same growing split in the culture of our country.  I think it started with George W. Bush’s presidency and the stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that prompted our invasion.  Then when Obama was elected, we see the partisan shift in several news organizations that slid them decidedly to the left or to the right.  And each began coloring the events with that left or right slant.  When Trump was elected, it seems we stomped on the gas pedal for radical reporting with audiences observing the exact same events, but coming to two entirely different conclusions.

Now, with the seemingly clear election results being openly contested by the sitting president for the first time in our history, with half of the country supporting him absolutely and the other half defying him absolutely, we find ourselves in that same kind of dark and stressful place that is just made worse by the raging Pandemic.

This kind of defiant culture can’t last long without having serious consequences.  

So how would an organization (or a nation) pull itself out of a defiant culture?  I’m still working on that.  

But I believe that without a completely different leader taking the dominant role in the organization, it will only get worse.  But then it gets ugly.  That leader has to be remarkably consistent with the truth, and ruthlessly suppress the disinformation from the opposition.  

We’ve seen some examples of this in history on both extremes.  

When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, he was immediately, forcefully, branded a tyrant by the opposition.  And he was.  He had to be to draw the nation out of our most terribly defiant culture ever.  

Hitler rose to power by uniting German nationalists against everything else, especially the Jews, by using every lie and exaggeration he could conceive. But he sold it.  

The only way out of both of these cases was a brutal war, and of course, the winners write the history.

Can we work together at the grass-roots level to find the common things that bind us together?  Can we deliberately ignore news and information from the extreme ends of the political spectrum and not let it inflame us to the point where we want to take up arms?

What we have to do is deliberately step toward compliance, together, and build systems that allow us to continue building toward more engagement.  For an organization, that’s not really too difficult.  For a nation, that’s a different story.

Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

118 - Culture

Good morning.  I’m David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.

What is culture? offers 8 non-biology related definitions.

1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.
4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular group of people, as a social, ethnic, professional, or age group (usually used in combination): the youth culture; the drug culture.
6. the shared beliefs, behaviors, or social environment connected with a particular aspect of society: the rape culture on campus; the culture of poverty; a culture of celebrity worship.
7. the values, typical practices, and goals of a business or other organization, especially a large corporation: Their corporate culture frowns on avoiding risk.
8. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

We see culture in the arts, rituals, and ceremonies of any community, society or nation.  Think about the way we in the US have weddings or funerals.  And then, within a variety of communities there are special features of the celebrations.  A wedding involving a military officer is likely to feature something like a saber arch for the married couple to pass through as they exit the chapel. Mine did. Then my best man swatted my bride on the backside with the broad side of his saber…an old and somewhat questionable ritual.

We have graduation ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, prayer breakfasts, and any number of other reasons we get together.  We have have rituals for things like kids’ soccer games - oranges at halftime; ice cream after the game.

In an office, it’s no different.  The rituals and ceremonies are the meetings and gatherings we have for a variety of purposes.  They can be formal or informal, long or short.  

It might be a quarterly all-hands where we share the news of the company and recognize people for accomplishments and achievements.

It might be how we send off retirees.  Or it might just be our weekly pot luck.

The frequency and the duration of any of these along with the tension in the room, tells us the culture of any organization.  If, during the potluck or birthday ceremony, everyone is a little tense and anxious to get back to work, what would that tell you?

In Operational Excellence, we talk about creating a culture of continuous improvement or a culture of problem solving.  And we can talk about it a lot.  But if we don’t have that now, we won’t get it by talking about it.  We have to deliberately change the rituals and ceremonies around problem solving and continuous improvement.  There has to be a legitimate reason for people to change the way they behave.

Ultimately, I think we want to move from a culture of compliance, where people do what they’re told or what they are allowed to do, to a culture of engagement, where people do what they need to do to make the workplace better.  Of course that’s a function of trust between the workforce and management, isn’t it?

At the lowest end of the culture spectrum, we can describe a culture as defiant.  I’ll pick this up tomorrow and see where it leads.

Don’t forget to register for my High Speed problem solving workshop, hosted by Lean Frontiers on December 2 and 3.  

Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

117 - Heading for the Holidays

Good Morning.  I'm David Veech.  This is Elevate Your Performance.

We are quickly heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, and then on to Christmas, Chanukah, and New Years.  All fantastic times to re-center, reconnect, rejoice.  I'm praying for a safe, virus-free, small gathering for everyone.  In the midst of this pandemic, please take the time to reflect on your blessings and find gratitude for small things.  Gratitude eases the stress and can get you refocused and reenergized.  We all need that!

If you need a brief renewal with focused problem solving, I invite you to join me for a 2-day virtual learning experience hosted by my friends at Lean Frontiers.  

Come and discuss how we can... 
• See problems more quickly
• Teach problem-solving skills more consistently
• Write better problem statements
• Determine more accurate and actionable root causes
• Reduce bias and increase certainty in your decisions
• Build more creativity in your workplace...

The workshop will be from 12-4 pm EST on December 2 - 3.  Register HERE.

If you need something more focused on your business, please reach out.  We can co-create a program to deliver precisely what you need, delivered either virtually or on-site.  My favorites are strategic planning, leadership development, operational excellence & lean systems, and problem solving. 

If you need a speaker for an upcoming event, I am happy to help.  I can deliver an inspirational and motivational message virtually or in person.  It might be the perfect touch to your organization's holiday celebration. 

Please visit my Blog and my YouTube channel.  I've been posting something nearly every day.  Drop by and share a thought or two and let's get a conversation going.  Please consider Subscribing to my mailing list for the most current information.

Call me at 502-517-1845 or send an email to me at to get the ball rolling. 

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Join me over the next couple of days.  I'm going to be talking about different types of organizational culture and how we might be able to change to create a better workplace.

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

116 - What's your next challenge?

How do you usually respond when someone says "I want to challenge your thinking about that."  

If you're like most people, your autonomic response is defensive.  That means we immediately begin formulating our response in defense of this challenge.

I'm still a fan of challenging ideas and conclusions.  We need that to bolster our critical thinking.  But can we do it in a way that doesn't feel like an attack?  For this, I haven't really figured it out.

Maybe if we dropped the word challenge in those cases and instead offer an alternative to consider.  Could this help us through political discussions?  Too many political comments and discussions on social media are driven by rage, outrage, passion, or other emotions.  It doesn't help that two people can look at the same data, presented the same way, or even look at the same video and come to different conclusions.  And both would still likely be wrong.  If we pause our commitment to one answer long enough to consider the other side, how much progress could we make?  

Let's leave the word "challenge" to represent a difficult goal that we want to pursue and attain.  My current challenge is to walk a half-marathon in every state and US territory within two years.  COVID-19 screwed that up, but I'm getting it fired up again this month with a "virtual" race in Maryland the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The virtual race idea sounded pretty weird at first, but organizers are still offering t-shirts, medals, and other race swag but allowing people to run on their own instead of in a giant crowd.  I think that's a great work-around for our covid constraints.  With Pfizer's announcement about the effectiveness of their vaccine, I am hopeful that we'll be back to real races by the middle of next year.

My other current favorite challenge is orienteering.  I read about orienteering in a book called "The Great Escape" way back in 1972 and was hooked.  Organizers plan courses of different levels of difficulty and distance in a park, and hang orange and white markers at different locations and on different landmarks or pieces of terrain and mark them on a map.  At the start of the course, runners get their maps and have to find their way to each marker in sequence.  

The Orienteering Club in Cincinnati, OCIN, offers a series of races every week from November through February.  Last year they were really well done and I'm looking forward to getting started this weekend.  They are challenging.  They make you think.  They are always a lot of fun.

One more example of a challenge I want to share is rock climbing.  Last week, Emily Harrington became the first woman to free climb a route on El Capitan, a famous rock face in Yosemite National Park, in under a day.  That is a beast of an accomplishment.  Her approach was different from Alex Honnold's free solo climb of El Cap in 2017.  Emily still used ropes for protection, and Alex didn't - which I think is pretty crazy, but that's what made this a challenge for him.

One of these days, I hope I’ll get to do a little more rock climbing.  It’s been a while, though.

What's going to challenge you?  What's your next challenge? 

I'm David Veech.  This is Elevate Your Performance.

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, November 6, 2020

115 - Getting back on track

Good morning!

It's been a rough week and I'm out of sync with my video schedule.  We ended up with doctor's appointments this week that fell during my normal video production time, and if I don't get this made within a certain time window in the morning, I can't seem to escape the other stuff that comes up every day to get it done later.  

Other factors contributing to this include my tendency to procrastinate and just be lazy.  I let a lot of things get stuck bouncing around in my head too, that I constantly try to organize.  The excitement of this very close election is also proving very distracting!

To start getting back on track, I want to return to a discussion about Culture.  I spoke about this back in August, so after the weekend, I'll dig into some more detail about each culture type that I talked about then:  Defiant; Compliant; Involved; Excitement; Engagement.

I also need to get refocused on Saturdays to talk about Travel.  I think travel is going to come back very strong once we have a vaccine that works and makes social gatherings a thing again.  I want to have the travel advisory ready for that. 

Sundays are for reflection.  I like to set aside specific time to think through what I've learned, discovered, uncovered, and shared with you.

I hope you’ll stick with me.  give me a like, a comment, or a share please.  Let’s have a discussion about these things.

I'm David Veech.  This is Elevate Your Performance.  

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2020

114 - Challenges, Opportunities, and Problems

I've been in a bunch of organizations who initially are uncomfortable with using the word "problem."  I expect this is caused by feelings lingering from some previous negative experience with a problem of some kind.  Most likely someone received some kind of punishment for having a problem.  This would be particularly acute if that person wasn't fully in control of the area that had the problem.

I suspect that some of this is also caused by our egos, which tell us we should not let anyone else see that we're having any problems lest they think badly of us.  This is where the expression "don't air your dirty laundry" may originate.

In lots of places, people would rather say we have some "opportunities" or we have some "challenges."  Those seem to be nicer words than "problem" but they mean something different.

A problem is anything that happens that you didn't expect to happen.  Some are good "We get free HBO this weekend!" Some are bad "Wifi is down!"  The key is that there is an expectation of some kind, but the actual condition was different and therefore it's a problem.  

An opportunity is something that you can choose to take advantage of or not.  "We have an opportunity to sell 400 units to the government."  You don't have to do that.

If you change the phrase to "opportunity for improvement" it's still OPTIONAL.  If there's a problem - something that is not meeting our expectations - good or bad - we have to take some action.  If it's the positive side, "free HBO" could be an opportunity - we can choose to figure out if we want that to be the new expectation or not; but on the bad side, "the wifi is down" that's something we have to fix.

You can make all the semantics arguments you want about these kinds of examples.  What I want to get to is that we need to call problems - problems so we can apply an effective problem solving method to fix them. 

But I also want to teach leaders how to CHALLENGE people because if a leader challenges people to do something different than they are doing now, that is, if the leader CREATES the problem by changing the expectation, that can drive some positive and creative behaviors.  But people perceive that as impossible, they are going to be unwilling to accept the challenge.  So even now, it's optional.  A leader can try to force the challenge, but if people are forced, they may not pursue it with gusto.  

But consider this:  Once accepted, once we decide to pursue an opportunity or take on a challenge, then, with new expectations set, any deviation from that new expectation is now a problem.  

The difference is choice.  For a problem, you don't have a choice of whether or not to solve have to find out what happened.  For a challenge or opportunity, you first get the option to go for it.  Once you choose, then you can use "problem" language because we're going for it.

Another thing to consider is getting out of it.  It's often pretty difficult the get out of the challenge or opportunity once you accept it.  For example, when Alex Honnold accepted the challenge to Free Solo El Capitan, he treated it like a problem to solve, planning and investigating and experimenting, and testing everything.  But until he started up the wall, he had a choice.  Half way up though, he didn't have the option to quit.

What kind of challenge will get you fired up today?

Don't forget to Vote tomorrow.  I'm David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.

Have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.
Follow me on twitter:  @davidveech