Monday, February 23, 2009

Self Starter or Loose Cannon?

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, but I think it depends in large part on the length of your eyelashes.  And on the kind of environment that the leadership operates in.  Like a nimble Silicon Valley software start-up might be a little different than a federally regulated gas, electric and water utility; at least in how they might treat a person who demonstrates initiative.  The terms self-starter vs. loose cannon come to mind.

A Six Sigma Black Belt told me the other day that when he looks at an organization’s metrics, his radar is modulated to detect the three indicators of a lazy organization:  a dataset including only metrics that fulfill regulatory requirements, metrics that are structurally simple to gather, and metrics that make the organization look good.   Appearing nowhere in this dataset are metrics that actually help to get things done faster, better, or more cheaply.  In case you didn’t know, doing it better, faster, or more cheaply are the three best ways to put money in someone’s pocket, sometimes your own.

So which beast are we serving when we do our jobs?  The CYA-Metrics Beast that provides cover, fulfills compliance needs, makes us look good, doesn’t stress us out too much, keeps us free from blame, but doesn’t actually improve anything?  Or the Make-a-Difference Beast that actually applies those critical thinking skills that our parents and educators worked so hard to shape in us?  Joining that critical thinking with risk taking willingness-- by proposing  the new idea, by persuading a colleague to try it a new, more efficient way, or by daring to say, “The Emperor has no clothes!” at the next self-congratulatory metrics review meeting could bump our organizations (and our nation’s) productivity to greater profitability.  And given our dire straits in the macro-economy,  there really isn’t too much choice.  Like strategist Mark Nittler used to say at PeopleSoft, “Processes and tools don’t make up organizations…People do.”  Let’s wag that dog and take control of our processes and tools back.  Now is the time to think critically, to risk, and to be willing to improve.

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