SEE.

Envisioning solutions to our nation’s most complex challenges

BELIEVE.

Engaging the untapped passion and talents of our public workforce

ACHIEVE.

Delivering results that showcase great government in action

BY JOHN M. BERNARD

With the access we as customers have today to a plethora of options, we place enormous value on an organization’s ability and willingness to say “yes” to our unique needs. Not only do we want to hear that magic word, but we want to hear it NOW!

Call us spoiled, but we want what we want and we have learned we can increasingly get it thanks to the incredible options we find on the Internet.

During the time I was writing Business at the Speed of Now I had a conversation with some colleagues during which the term “YESability” was coined. I was explaining how critical it is in these highly competitive times that employees have the authority to say yes to opportunities, yes to solving problems, and yes to how best to move the organization closer to its goals.

While I know some people find made-up words annoying, I use YESability because it poses two questions every leader needs to explore: How yes-able are my people? Can they take action when they need to or do they need to seek permission?

If employees have to go to their supervisor or manager to get permission to do anything out of the ordinary, you have a problem. A competitive problem that will directly impact your customers’ experience. Why do I say that? Because seeking permission takes time. And in a real-time NOW economy that extra time is just enough for the customer to give up and move on to a more responsive competitor.

But the concept of YESability goes well beyond the conspicuously important real-time customer opportunity. It impacts the daily opportunities employees see to solve a problem, trim a cost, or improve a process.

It is human nature to improve things. We do it in every aspect of life.

But in traditionally managed organizations decisions happen through the chain of command. That fact of life slows down every decision and dramatically reduces the volume of decisions that can be made.

When only a handful of people have YESability, namely management, only a handful of problems get solved, only a handful of costs get cut, only a handful of ideas get implemented. It’s simple math and customers bear the brunt of this model.

Enabling people to say yes requires that management do its job BEFORE an opportunity knocks. Management needs to shift from making the decisions to enabling the decisions, which fundamentally redefines the work of management.

The job of management in our modern economy is to make sure every employee has the business knowledge, problem solving skills, and authority to say yes to customers — and to be able to say it now — when yes is the right answer (which is most of the time).

Can your employees say yes?

BY JOHN M. BERNARD

Before the automobile was in common use many people believed that high-speed car travel would cause the human body to disintegrate starting at about 60 miles per hour. Only 100 years later that belief now sounds so far fetched you probably think I made it up. I did not.

Speed fascinates us and the mystery of it taps into our imagination. As I write this I am traveling in an ordinary jet aircraft traveling some 400 miles per hour and about seven miles above Mother Earth. Ironically, after the flight ended my young daughter told me that the plane we took was “too slow,” which I knew was because once we reached cruising altitude she thought it had actually stopped moving.

It is a strange world.

Second only to our love to move fast is our passion to get information fast. It wasn’t that long ago that a letter from a far away relative was a treasured possession as it took many weeks to travel to its destination.

Today we get information in real-time. An email traveling at the speed of light circles our globe seven times in one second. So, I don’t know about you but when a web page doesn’t load instantly or when I have to wait for my computer to boot, I am a bit impatient.

It is true that we live in a NOW world with instant access to everything. And the faster things move the more we value time. In fact, we so hate wasting time that when an organization puts us through the hoops as we try to get our needs met we simply want to scream with frustration.

Our NOW world has redefined what customers expect. Yes, they expect your organization to meet their needs, although that’s really just the price of admission. Increasingly time is the dimension from which our speed-driven world derives the greatest value when meeting their needs. These are known as the NOW Moments.

That value creation most often requires the intervention of employees. Unless those employees have the skills and authority to take action NOW, your business is at risk of becoming irrelevant to your customers.

And our passion for speed is only accelerating.

We live in a time where we must do Business at the Speed of Now. Management’s new job is to enable their employees to deliver on the NOW Moments.

SPECIAL POST BY JOHN M. BERNARD

Government in this country is in crisis. After rising for a long period, tax revenues in many states have painfully declined the past few years as the economy floundered.

A constitutional lawyer told me one day after hearing me talk about governmental waste, “Government was never designed to be efficient.” He pointed out that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution nor in any documented expectation of the founding fathers was efficiency ever addressed.

Government’s primary focus has been to ensure the protection of the nation, maintain public safety, care for the poor and defenseless, guard human rights and free speech, protect its people from unethical businesses, and educate the masses…the list goes on and on. Efficient execution of these responsibilities was not a consideration and that fact plays a significant part in the amount of waste that exists today in government.

Because our governing system focuses on doing the right thing first and puts cost a distant second, very tight tax dollars puts government at a crossroads. In the case of Oregon, my home state, the situation is complicated by the fact that Oregon’s Legislature passed over 800 laws in each of its past two sessions. This generated an estimated 50,000 pages of new regulation that added to the responsibilities of state agencies already suffering from plummeting budgets and horrendous waste.

However, thanks to the courage of a handful of agency heads in Oregon, members of the Executive Branch in one state have stepped up to the reality that business as usual in state government is a recipe for disaster. Today my company is helping the leadership teams of Oregon’s largest agencies deal with the legacy of inefficiency including Oregon Youth Authority, Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Lottery and Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System.

Our work in Oregon led to an invitation from Washington State. Aaron Howard, President and CEO of Mass Ingenuity, and I had the honor of testifying before the Washington State Senate Ways and Means Committee. They had learned about the nine Oregon agencies we are working with to install the NOW Management System. They were interested in our thoughts about what Washington State could do to improve government effectiveness.

I believe our fate as a nation lies in our ability to effectively address our most complex challenges. Clearly, governing efficiently is one of the most complex challenges that we must immediately address.

We are moving forward with our work in Oregon, and will soon be starting in other states. As our work expands, I know the challenge will be not only to drive healthy and constructive accountability and transparency in the Executive Branch, but to also look at government as a system.

For government to work as a system, all three branches must find ways to collaborate without doing harm to the balance of power. At the very least, this collaboration must begin with lawmakers owning their role in streamlining government. I am not talking about driving focused program cuts or micro-managing agency budgets, I am talking about working with agency leadership and the governor to clean up the piles of laws already on the books that burden government with layer upon layer of irrational complexity and contradiction. In Oregon for the State to lease an office building for one of its agencies involves about 280 steps and takes 12 months to complete. The tangle of laws is simply irrational.

Yes, these are challenging times, and to succeed as a nation we must face the challenges collaboratively.

Thanks to the courageous Oregon leaders who understand this challenge and have allowed us to be part of the solution. Thanks to the Washington State Senate for the opportunity to share our opinions about how to address these enormously challenging times in their state.

Good, efficient government is not only possible it’s essential.

BY JOHN M. BERNARD

PART FOUR OF FOUR-PART SERIES ON APPROACHES TO EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

For a long time I avoided using the words employee engagement. Even in my book, Business at the Speed of Now, I barely allowed the phrase to appear on its pages. That’s because few people understand what it is and even fewer people know how to deliver on its promise.

In the past few posts to this blog I shared the three most common approaches to engagement and made clear the fatal flaw(s) of each.

Engagement by exhortation (words) never works because campaigns and talk don’t create sustainable changes in behavior. Telling employees to “go make changes” can’t work because the reality is not only is that not sufficient to drive smart changes, but the reality is the leaders will never allow the ideas to be implemented anyway.

Engagement through performance management doesn’t work either. This approach assumes that if everyone were accountable to do his or her part, the organization will be successful as a whole. The flaw in this approach is it assumes management can plan without error exactly what each person must accomplish, and that each individual has control over every bit of the work they do. Business processes just don’t function that way.

Engagement by tools and techniques shows great promise because efforts such as lean projects actually do engage employees in that they rely on the knowledge of those we do the work. While this “events” approach does engage employees, events do not morph into daily standard practice.

So what does work?

What causes employees to engage is a management system that expects them to take action, fix broken processes, and respond to customer requests. A management system is the set of routines and processes used to run the business and cause it to adapt actions at every level in order to achieve the goals.

How do you cause engagement? You design the management system to expect it.

Here’s an example of expected engagement:
• Employees are given ownership for the process or processes they work in and are accountable for its performance.
• Measures are in place and categorize performance as red, yellow, or green.
• Every quarter the department and company conduct Quarterly Business Reviews and every process that is in red or yellow will have time on the agenda.
• Employees know once a process is in red or yellow they are expected to take corrective action using a structured problem solving process; they also know progress on the corrective action is expected to be reported at the business review.

The 10 Elements of Full Engagement
To fully engage, an employee needs:
1. Understanding of the business goals and business aspirations
2. Understanding of how the goals connect to their work
3. Understanding of their specific accountabilities
4. To feel sufficiently safe to be transparent about problems
5. Understanding of the language of the business well enough to speak it
6. Sufficient knowledge/skills/resources/tools to do their job competently
7. To have the skills to solve problems effectively
8. To have the authority to solve the problems encountered
9. To have the skills and information to make good decisions
10. To have the authority to make decisions

Engagement is not magical. It is the natural response of employees to the system of management leaders use to run their organizations.

BY JOHN M. BERNARD

PART THREE OF A FOUR-PART SERIES

Employee engagement is the Holy Grail because when it improves so does the customer experience, productivity and revenue. Also when it moves up, costs, absenteeism, turnover, theft, accidents, and defects go down. In the search to drive up employee engagement there have been many alluring paths to explore. Over the years most organizations have jumped at dozens of programs to boost the degree to which people, their most valuable asset, take initiative and go the extra mile to make improvements.

However, not only has employee engagement NOT improved in the past 25 years, it has actually declined according to research by Gallup. Today in the typical company less than 30 percent of employees do anything more than the minimum required.

Our hunger to engage people creates an unrelenting appetite for anything and everything that might help. We hope the Balanced Scorecard will transform engagement. Maybe if we just emulate the Good to Great companies we can pull it off. Or if we can get past the Five Dysfunctions of a Team or if we all just practice The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People our employees would finally be more fully engaged. Then there is the promise that lean, six sigma, Kaizen, the whole world of process improvement, certainly must be the path to true engagement. Right?

Unfortunately, programs and tools like these do NOT transform employee engagement. Every one of the great books I mentioned and the very powerful world of process improvement all support engaging employees. Yet, supporting employee engagement does not create transformation.

Take lean as an example. You can engage employees in a project to take the waste out of a given process. But projects of this nature are almost always special sanctuaries where the over-riding norms of the organization are temporarily set aside. What that means is the improvement effort is a special event during which employees actually have a voice and are highly engaged.

For these reasons, there is no doubt that lean is a good thing. But the problem is we hope that if we just keep repeating these projects we will transform the underlying behaviors, expectations and routines of the organization in such a way that results in a highly engaged workforce. It’s like remodeling a 1,200 square foot track home one room at a time and hoping when you are done you have a 8,000 square foot mansion.

Repeating a good practice, no matter how much we hope it does, can’t transform an organization. As Einstein put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

In reality, employee engagement is driven by the underlying system of management, the logic that organizes and runs the business. That logic is often unseen and unconscious, and it is that logic that creates organizational culture and behaviors.

Learn about our exciting results by reading Business at the Speed of Now.