Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Path of Least Resistance

We’ve all heard that phrase before, usually in the context of something electrical. But this phrase can also be applied to people as well. When people seek the path of least resistance in their personal lives, you get this. If they choose the path of least resistance in their professional lives, you get this. And, if the entire company’s leadership takes the path of least resistance, you get… Enron.

When this mentality is confined to a person’s personal life, there’s not much to be said about that, unless that person’s personal life intersects with yours.

But when this approach is taken by people you work with, or for, that’s another story.

You know the type. The corners he cuts are the ones you have to glue back on – and only then can you proceed to do your own work.

Jill Geisler, of the Poynter Institute, gives a great example of the antidote for these ‘least resistors’ in her “Meet 12 great employees to toast in 2012”.

Take a look at the article. Do you see anyone in your current organization or someone you’ve worked with in the past that, with just a bit of mentoring, could gain the attributes listed and not be a ‘resistor’? What about yourself?

Which, if any, of these role models listed in the article best describes you?

If the answer is none, you’ve got some work to do. Because, each of us has the potential to gain possibly all of these very attractive qualities, and who wouldn’t want to work with the kind of people Jill has described?

Let’s look at them one at a time.      
The Popular Pacesetter: She distinguishes herself by consistently excellent work, and does so in a way that causes the rest of the staff (including managers) to cheer. Your Popular Pacesetter is a low-maintenance, low drama, high quality performer. Co-workers trust that the product will be better and the work more enjoyable when she is on the team.
I’ve worked with some that absolutely loathe this gal. Why? Because they’re afraid they can’t compete with her. They blame her for their own shortcomings or personal lack of effort. But, beyond the issue of a lack of personal confidence, they’re missing an important point: the Popular Pacesetter (PP) I’m familiar with, isn’t competing with anyone other than themselves. That’s why they’re low-maintenance, low-drama. When they screw up (yes, even high performers make mistakes) they don’t point fingers (often when exactly that could be justified). Instead, they resolve to do better next time. And they usually do.

The PP is also a Process Disciple. She has to be, in order to be a pacesetter at all. She studies individual task itself, how it fits in with the  bigger picture. She thinks about her customer's customer. She thinks about her supplier's suppler. She thinks about her deliverables and how she can improve them. Because she's Process Disciple, she trains her attention on producing the absolute best product possible by making certain that all the 'small details' that many discount are as they should be, according to company standards and customer specifications. If they aren't, she makes them right before continuing.

Because of her dedication to excellence, the PP knows the process forwards and backwards. This allows her to see when something is out of order, when something's wrong. As a Process Disciple, she can detect these variances earlier rather than later, and in turn take corrective action earlier, thereby saving time and money, and even the company's repute.

Because PP's are focused on their own performance, they develop a very good habit of staying on task. Doing so not only allows them to become highly proficient at that task, but it also serves to remind them of why they’re doing that particular task, and for who.

That ‘who’ you might think would be a boss or a co-worker or some other stakeholder (and definitely the end-user), and there is much truth to that. However, as I’ve said many a time, every job is a service job.

We all know that the fellow that takes your order at the local coffee shop is a service worker, as well as the person who does your taxes. Yet I maintain that even someone like Rembrandt was a service worker. After all, he made the paintings for someone, even if that someone was himself. He was a service worker, and the paintings, the art, was how he served his customers.

Rembrandt may not have been a PP in the same sense that I’m using the term here. But, he did strive for excellence, and so do Popular Pacesetters, at least in my experience. But again, the excellence they strive for is their own.

I’ve worked with two kinds of Popular Pacesetters. The first kind, least common (in the universe of all PP’s) are the kind of people that like what they do and are good at it because they enjoy it. For these folks, being a PP comes naturally.

The second subset of PP’s I know are those that have to work hard to perform at a high level and they don’t necessarily like doing the particular task at hand, but excel at it because they take pride in their work, the quality and the quantity of their output. From my experience, these are the people that come through when things get toughest. Yes, they do tend to get put-upon more than others, but they also tend to have greater job security as well. The Popular Pacesetter gets it that her job is, ultimately, a service job.

What can you do if you aren’t a PP but want to be? Well, the one thing you don’t want to do is come to your boss with problems. Instead, come to her with solutions.

How do you find solutions? Be observant. Describe how you think the work should be done (without compromising quality-or safety - ever - in any way). Draw a (current-state) process map. Compare it to what you think the process should be (future-state process map). Detail the area(s) where changes (elimination or mitigation of constraints) need to occur.

Then, make a Pareto Chart listing the negative effects of each constraint.

For each category, devise a plan of action on how to deal with that particular constraint.

Put your thoughts, including any data or other pertinent information on a sheet of paper 11” x 22”. This is called A3 reporting, and it is very effective because it forces you to describe a problem, back it up with data or other information, and propose a solution, all one piece of paper. There are many, many ways to accomplish this. Google the term and do some of your own research.

There are many other techniques used to improve quality and productivity. Who knows? You might even come up with a new techniques of your own!

The point of it all is that to be, or to become, a Popular Pacesetter, you must focus intensely on the job at hand. Figuring out how to outperform yourself on a regular basis is habit forming and the best, most popular pacesetter of them all is the one who is secure in themselves enough to eagerly share what they know. They know that training others can be very difficult, but they will do it because they know that the company as a whole will benefit. Instead of seeking the path of least resistance, they create a path to greater success for others.

As you can see, the PP shares traits with others on Jill's list, and as we move forward in this discussion,we'll explore in greater detail how these various role models can be incorporated into the same employee's skill set.