Undesirable Effects

xmas-momAt last I get to search naughty websites for suitable images for a legitimate article for my blog!

In the TOC world we build Future Reality Trees to try to anticipate how things will play out when we start making changes in the systems we seek to improve.  Another tool used at this time is the Negative Branch Reservation.  With this tool, you can say “Oh yeah, now I see how if we do X, it will lead to Y, and Y will lead to Z, and Z is really bad.  We better fix that.”  The NBR is a very good tool for doing this and it’s not hard to learn.

It kind of looks like the good folks working on Bing could have used this tool.  As it turns out, what makes Bing good at finding videos also makes it good at finding porn.

Here’s a link to the article.


p1000749.jpgDoes your organization seem to wander from crisis to crisis?

Does it often seem as if you are playing “Whack A Mole” with the problems in your organization?

If so, here is what is causing it: In improving one necessary condition you or your staff are allowing other necessary conditions to be damaged.

Let me start by explaining what is meant by the term “necessary condition.”

One of the core concepts of TOC is that a system only reaches its goal when all of its necessary conditions are met.

You can think of necessary conditions as the requirements for the success of your organization: What you simply must have in order to reach your goal.

If you are managing a dry cleaning business, one of your necessary conditions is “We are in compliance with local environmental laws.” That is, you can’t just dump your dry-cleaning chemicals in the nearest stream or down the toilet and expect to have a successful business in the long run. (Note that this assertion, like all assertions, rests on other assumptions. Here, I am assuming that the dry cleaning business is located in a city where there is environmental monitoring and laws against dumping harmful chemicals into the envirnonment. If one or both of these assumptions is wrong, then what I have claimed to be a necessary condition for success may in fact not be necessary at all.)

Every organization that I have encountered has many necessary conditions for its success. For example, “We bring value to our owners.”, “We have a highly satisfied workforce.”, “We operate in a cost-effective manner.”, “We are effective in responding to competitors.”, etc.

Sadly, not every organization I have encountered has done the hard work required to identify its necessary conditions for success and how they are related (in terms of cause-and-effect) to the goal of the organization.

Not doing this is dangerous to the health of the organization. Here is why.

An organization that has not yet reached its goal has one or more necessary conditions that are not met, or at least, are not fully met.

When the people in that organization recognize that that necessary condition is not being met it is very likely that they will try to take some kind of action to cause it to be met. More succinctly, they will try to “fix the problem.”

This is all well and good. It is good that the people in the organization have recognized that something important to the success of the business is not being achieved and that they are taking action.

However, what they must do in order to really improve the organization is to improve the satisfaction of that necessary condition WITHOUT DAMAGING ANY OTHERS.

Said differently, if you improve one necessary condition while damaging another all you have done is to trade one problem for another. And in so doing your organization will appear to wander from crisis to crisis.

Let me give an example.

Let’s say that the organization in question has recognized that one of its necessary conditions for success is “We provide excellent customer service.” It is also recognized that they aren’t actually achieving this condition. In fact, customer complaints have been going up and up over the last year and now management is determined to fix the problem once and for all.

In an attempt to fix the problem the management team determines that the problem is “Not enough sales staff on the floor.” and so they increase floor sales staff headcount significantly.

While this may have the desired effect of improving customer service it also increases operating expense. And in many organizations payroll is far and away the dominant operating expense.

If the increased customer service results in sufficiently increased and profitable sales then this may be exactly the right action to take.

On the other hand, what if the problem wasn’t really caused by too few sales staff on the floor, but rather, by a lack of proper sales training?

In that situation, the organization has not improved. Operating expense has gone up while customer satisfaction (and, presumably, profitable sales) has not.

This example is, of course, a very simple one. In reality the situation is not usually so clear-cut.

But that brings me to the point of this post. Why are such decisions not clear-cut? What can we really do to be better able to improve one necessary condition without compromising any others?

At first blush it might seem as if this is a thorny problem where nothing can really be done. I don’t think that is the case at all. In fact, I see the situation as one where so much can be done that it’s hard to know where to start.

So let me keep it simple and offer just three suggestions.

First, do the hard work to define the goal of your organization and then from it derive your set of necessary conditions and how they are related (in terms of cause and effect) to each other and ultimately to your organization’s goal.

I recommend doing this in a tree-structured manner (building what is called a “future reality tree” in the language of TOC). If you have not done this before feel free to contact me and I’ll help you get started.

Second, when you and your staff have determined your necessary conditions, publish your work in a highly visible manner. You really want every member of your staff to know what conditions they should be working to achieve. And, if they disagree with some of the conditions, you really want to know that too.

Finally, when people seek to make changes to improve the organization, ensure that they know how to do so without damaging the satisfaction of any other necessary conditions. An invaluable tool for doing this is the evaporating cloud (a.k.a. the dilemma diagram, a.k.a. the conflict resolution diagram) as is the “negative branch reservation” (NBR) in the TOC Thinking Process toolbox.

ThinkingWinWinA few days ago I wrote a post asking why people might view “selfish altruism” as a contradiction in terms. I think this is an important topic. In this article I want to try to share a bit more of my thinking with you. I hope you will share your thinking with me — even if we disagree.

So why do most people seem to believe that selfish altruism is an oxymoron?

I think this is a result of the widespread belief that win-win is just happy talk. Something guys like Steven Covey espouse in order to sell books or something that the Pointy Haired Boss says to Dilbert.

I think I understand how reasonable people can come to this conclusion. There are a number of misconceptions about “Seeking Win-Win.” I thought I’d try to address a few of them in this post.

“You just can’t create win-win on demand.”

False. There are several procedures that you can use to create win-win solutions when we need them.

The one I use most often was created by Eli Goldratt. It is the so-called “Evaporating Cloud” method. Bill Dettmer has written about it at length in his books on the TOC Thinking Process tools. And TOC For Education has taught hundreds of thousands of children to do it.

TRIZ is another way to generate win-win solutions. It’s more complex than the Cloud but arguably more powerful for certain kinds of problems.

Note that crafting win-win is (mentally) more demanding than simply compromising on something important to you or demanding that someone else give up something important to them.

“If what you said was really possible, everyone would already be doing it.”

Not necessarily. Here is why.

First, the procedures I mentioned above are not widely known. Most people have never heard of the Evaporating Cloud, Eli Goldratt, TOC or TRIZ.

Second, even if everyone knew of the procedures, most people are not practiced in them. Just as the ability to sight-read music doesn’t confer the ability to play the piano, neither does knowing the mechanics of the Evaporating Cloud confer the ability to craft win-win when you need it. You really have to sweat and struggle with it until you master it. And most of us don’t like sweating and struggling.

I think there may be a biological basis for this aversion to sweating and struggling. I believe we seek to conserve our limited resources. I believe that over the course of our evolution those people who did not conserve their resources “selected out” of the population. After all, you never know when you’re going to need a burst of energy to survive, so don’t waste what you have.

Here’s the bottom line. You won’t make the necessary investment unless you believe that sweating and struggling to learn how to craft win-win is going to serve you. And if you don’t make the investment then for you win-win will be just happy talk. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Learning how to craft win-win when you really need it doesn’t give you a free pass in life. It won’t put you on easy street. You will still have problems.

However some things will be very different. You will have the freedom to choose to deal with your problems in a much more effective manner. You will recognize that you have many options instead of only a few or none at all.

You will still find yourself suffering at some points in your life. Let me give a personal example.

I once had a good friend who I met when I hired her into my small business. She demonstrated her competence and personal concern for the business very quickly. We soon developed a deep and abiding respect for each other.

A few years after I hired her I learned that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died about two years later.

Of course her disease caused her to suffer. And those of us that loved her in one way or another also suffered and still suffer from time to time.

Having the ability to craft win-win didn’t grant me an exemption from this suffering. It did allow me to view suffering in a different way. And I ultimately came to see some value in that suffering.

So on the one hand I really had no choice in the matter — I was going to suffer. And yet, on the other hand, I had total freedom as to how I would understand and use that suffering.

I believe that suffering has (in some ways) served me. While I would much rather have my friend back that is not possible. So I did the best I could and found a different kind of value. And I know that that is what my friend would have wanted me to do.

“But other people won’t cooperate. They’ll just exploit you.”

I have not found this to be true. When you craft win-win, you’re bringing the other person a win too. People don’t usually cut their own wrists. They sometimes do, but it’s the exception and not the rule.

So what about the freaks? The psychopaths who still want to hurt or kill you even when you’re bringing them a real win?

The ability to craft win-win provides protection even when someone does something very bad to you. You might have to sweat and struggle, however.
When you crafting win-win over and over again (for a period of years) you become pretty good at finding novel ways to wriggle out of tight spots. Who knows, with work, maybe you could become the next “MacGyver” of the problem solving world.

I’ll end this too-long post here. As the old song goes “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”

Over at Focused Performance Frank Patrick has posted an article called “Cost Cutting Nightmare.” It also references Circuit City as I did a few days ago.

Frank provided a link to this article about Circuit City and their actions. While there are many good insights in the article the one that caught my eye was this one:

By breeding an environment that doesn’t reward the knowledge or loyalty of its staff, then “why would workers have the incentive to put in any extra effort?” asks Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Exactly. And this ties in with the article I wrote last week regarding the global workforce study done by Towers Perrin that found that only one in five workers around the world was fully engaged in his/her work. (“Engaged” in this context means having a strong emotional connection to the success of the organization and thus being willing to, for example, sometimes invest discretionary time in an effort to improve the performance of the organization.)

I think Circuit City CEO Philip Schoonover is probably a bright-enough guy. What I suspect he is missing is a practical means for checking a contemplated action for likely bad outcomes — or “negative branches” in TOC speak. I expect that there were many people in his organization that thought that his plan for massive layoffs would have negative ramifications on the business. But without a way to reconcile their concerns with his concerns the outcome was never in doubt: He’s the boss and he’s going to do what he thinks he must do.

Can an organization work itself into such a hole that layoffs are required? Yes, it can. An organization can get to the point where the number of problems facing it are so large and so severe that there is no other credible choice.

But are most such layoffs required? I don’t think so. Rather, I think most organizations work themselves into these situations by managing poorly for an extended period of time. I know this because I have done it myself in the past.

One of the ways in which organizations can manage poorly is by not building a model — even a simple one — of the factors that they must achieve in order to achieve organizational success.

Doing this will help to ensure that people within the organization have only a partial picture of what is required for organizational success. This will in turn make it much easier for people to argue for their preferred course of action while ignoring the ramifications that their preferred course of action while have on the other conditions necessary for organizational success.

In a previous post I showed a very simple example of one such model. Building such a model by yourself is enlightening. Building such a model in collaboration with your top people is how you begin to secure the future of your organization.

If you’re not getting red curve performance in your organization, you may be interested in the results of a recent study by Towers Perrin.

Towers Perrin is an HR services firm. In May and June of 2007, they conducted a study that they called the “Global Workforce Study.”

The study surveyed 88,612 respondents, from comapanies around the world. 42,486, or about half, were from the United States.

The greatest number of respondents were individuals aged 25 – 34 (29,430 respondents), while those individuals aged 35 – 44 were the second largest group, at 24,528 respondents.

I did not find the results to be surprising and doubt that they will be a surprise to you.

Only 21% of the respondents claimed to be “fully engaged” in their work. 41% claimed to be “enrolled”, which means only partly engaged. And about 38% of those responding said they were either disenchanted (30%) or totally disengaged (8%) from their work.

From this it seems that only about 1 in 5 workers is fully engaged in their work. The rest are not connected emotionally to the work. They may show up and get their assigned work done, but they won’t be going the extra mile for the organization anytime soon.

One discussion we could have is whether this level of engagement is acceptable.

A separate question, and one that might drive the former, is whether this level of engagement is inevitable. After all, if we were to conclude that we can’t do anything to improve the situation, we’d have no choice but to accept it. Correct?

We can take concrete actions to improve the level engagement in our organizations. Call me a dreamer, but over time, I think most organizations can go from the kind of engagement levels reported here (1 in 5) to levels of 3 in 5 and maybe even 4 in 5.

Now, if such a change was possible, what kind of performance impact would you expect it to have on your organization? Especially if you could apply this new found level of passion to the problems that are, today, most limiting the success of your organization?

In the near future, I will be writing about rule clashes, and how one of the devastating effects of such clashes is to cause people to become disconnected from the mission of the organization.