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|Reflections on Priority Overload
Here are some of the comments I received in response to last month's focus on priority overload (click to view the June issue).
I enjoyed your June letter and found some of the comments directly in keeping with my observations about overload and burnout.
- Nancy Trammell, Director, Annuity Administration, Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co.
I'm new in my industry & found reading your column on Priority Overload really hit home!
Jodi Tresidder, Relationship Manager, Flextrack
The June issue of the Leader Letter is
outstanding and appropriate to what is now becoming an increasing part
of my consulting practice. Despite being an M.S. degreed statistician,
I am "blessed" (cursed?) with an INFP Myers-Briggs style. My work has
evolved to at least 1/3 culture change/leadership retreats...and your
materials are an integral part. I've been doing extensive work in the
UK on their healthcare system and ALWAYS recommend your materials/web
site/ improvement points, so I'm hoping you're noticing an increasing
volume of e-mail traffic from the UK.
like your comments about the balanced scorecard. I've begun asking the
question, "Is it a balanced scorecard or unbalanced rubbish heap of
I would pass on a concept you alluded to that was "named" by a dear
friend of mine, Faith Ralston (who has written a BRILLIANT book on
emotions IN THE WORKPLACE. She calls it symptoms of "Corporate
- Lack of focus
- Obsession with technology
- Too busy to care
- Judgmental attitudes
- Indirect/Vague communication
- Too many closed-door conversations
- Too many/unproductive meetings
- "Blame" in reaction to mistakes
- Reactive budget processes
- Secretive decisions
thinking is evolving in very similar ways and I think you would
resonate with one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell:
we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong
tree. The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess. We
are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives."
I took that seminar from you at the 1994 Institute for Healthcare Improvement conference in Orlando when you were writing Pathways to Performance
and want you to know how much your writings have influenced me. And I
can't thank you enough for your generosity in allowing me to put some
of your materials on my web site. I do hope our paths cross again in
the near future.
- Davis Balestracci, Portland, Maine
|It's Often About Processes Not People
in the past few months are clearly trying to tell me to review the keys
to process management in this issue. Problems with processes have
featured prominently in a number of my workshops and management
retreats this spring. Much of the ongoing consulting and organizational
coaching work we're doing at The CLEMMER Group is currently centered on
process management. Then I got a series of messages from Davis
Balestracci connecting the priority overload problem (preceding
article) with process management and reminding me of my heavy focus on
this area in my book, Firing on all Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance.
also quoted Steven Wright, "I suffer simultaneously from amnesia and
deja vu. I have the feeling that I keep forgetting the same thing over
and over again." That's a bit of how I have been feeling this spring as
process management issues resurface. At times it was feeling to me that
many managers have either once again forgotten just how critical
process management is to their organization's effectiveness or they
never really understood it in the first place. I am seeing evidence of
both factors at work.
Here's more of Davis' message:
Jim, as I've reflected over the last 10+ years of my career, I have such gratitude for the day a good friend of mine told me "Firing On All Cylinders
may just be the best book on quality that I have ever read." And, years
later, it is still very relevant and hasn't dated much at all,
especially your BRILLIANT paragraph on why "it's processes, not
people"! Here's the paragraph I am referring to:
about 15 percent of [problems] can be traced to someone who didn't care
or wasn't conscientious enough. But the last person to touch the
process, pass the product, or deliver the service may have been burned
out by ceaseless [problem-solving]; overwhelmed with the volume of work
or problems; turned off by a "snoopervising" manager; out of touch with
who his or her team's customers are and what they value; unrewarded and
unrecognized for efforts to improve things; poorly trained; given
shoddy material, tools, or information to work with; not given feedback
on when and how products or services went wrong; measured (and rewarded
or punished) by management for results conflicting with his or her
immediate customer's needs; unsure of how to resolve issues and jointly
fix a process with other functions; trying to protect himself or
herself or the team from searches for the guilty; unaware of where to
go for help. All this lies within the system, processes, structure, or
practices of the organization...
- Jim Clemmer, Firing on All Cylinders
a good "punch line" to your brilliant "process" paragraph, I also meant
to pass on a humorous exchange between me and my boss at the time (a
TRUE leader and the absolute FINEST human being I have ever met in my
life). He was SO into NOT blaming people. And, one day, I "got" him. A
middle manager in our organization made yet another bonehead decision
that was going to have very serious consequences on the good, honest,
decent, hard-working front-line staff. I was FURIOUS and he said to me,
"Now, now, Davis, we mustn't blame people, we mustn't blame people," to
which I replied, "OK, Rodney, I won't blame him, but I WILL blame the
process that lets people like that get into those positions." And he
Thanks for the reminder, Davis. This spring also reminded me of another theme in Firing on All Cylinders;
many managers are investing huge money in sales and marketing while
blindly throwing money at technology and maybe a bit left over for
training. Very little serious attention or investments are made in
improving the organization's effectiveness. One of the big imbalances
these days is all the marketing money plowed into branding. But if
frontline staff isn't living the brand, customers raised expectations
are dashed and their anger and cynicism grows. One of the biggest
reasons frontline staff can't live the brand is because operational,
service, order fulfillment, and other processes aren't working. In too
many cases, organizations have purchased software systems that just
mess things up faster. When I suggested to one management team during
an offsite planning retreat that they need to map out their badly
flawed order fulfillment process, they told me that had already been
done. I asked who facilitated the project. We all managed to keep a
straight face when they replied that the software vendor had helped
them. And -- coincidentally -- the vendor had just the technical
solution to "help" them! It was a disaster and brought the company to
its financial knees.
|Why Strategic Process Management
- Functional silos and chimneys create errors, delays, and waste.
- "Turfdom" and political maneuvering.
- Customers dance the bureaucratic shuffle ("that's not my department").
- E-commerce can showcase disjointedness to the world.
- Local/department/team sub-optimization.
- Communication, collaboration, and coordination problems.
Permission to Reprint: You may reprint any items from the Leader Letter in your own print publication or e-newsletter as long as you include this paragraph:
"Reprinted with permission from the Leader Letter,
Jim Clemmer's free e-newsletter. For over 25 years Jim Clemmer's
practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and
achieving results. His 2,000+ presentations and workshops/retreats,
five bestselling books, columns, and newsletters are helping hundreds
of thousands of managers worldwide because they are inspiring,
instructive, and refreshingly fun. And best of all, they work! His web
site is www.clemmer.net."
|Steps to Strategic Process Management
- Define key strategic processes with inputs from suppliers and outputs to customers.
- Map out how the process really works.
- Track and analyze process performance.
- Redesign the process to improve performance.
- Monitor, follow-up, and continue process improvement as appropriate.
|Process Management Pitfalls and Traps
- Jumping to step #4 without thoroughly defining, mapping, and analyzing.
- Poor customer/external partner data and input.
- Allowing opinions, power, and politics to override hard data.
- Frontline internal partners not involved.
- Processes narrowly improved at micro/departmental levels.
- Lack of senior managers' involved leadership.
- Misapplications of major reengineering versus incremental improvement.
- Weak training, ineffective approaches/templates.
|Keys to Strategic Process Management
- Ensure that everyone involved in process management is well trained in these basic improvement tools:
- Cause-and-Effect Diagrams
- Check Sheets
- Pareto Chart
- Scatter Diagrams
- Force Field Analysis
- Flow Charting
- Rating Chart
- Macro Mapping
- Run Charts
- Affinity Diagram
- Problem Solving/Decision Making Tools and Techniques
in a data-rich environment with lots of visible data, such as;
diagrams, charts, and graphs for everyone to quickly identify issues,
opportunities, and progress.
outside experts to teach and guide internally owned and operated
strategic process management. Don't let specialists, consultants, or
software vendors do theoretical process reengineering or improvement in
isolation and then slam-dunk it into the organization.
for chronic problems that you're continually "fixing." These generally
indicate that you haven't drilled down deep enough to the root causes
and/or they are symptoms of broader process problems.
- Make process management part of a broader improvement planning infrastructure and process.
- Does your internal environment have high enough levels of trust and teamwork to support involved process management?
|Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm...
on Process Management
building blocks of corporate strategy are not products and markets but
business processes. Competitive success depends on transforming a
company's key processes into strategic capabilities that consistently
provide superior value to the customer."
- George Stalk, Philip Evans, and Lawrence Shulman, "Competing on Capabilities: The New Rules of Corporate Strategy," Harvard Business Review
"The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply."
- Kahlil Gibran, Syrian poet who migrated to America in 1910
"Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge."
- Sir Winston Churchill
intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex. It takes a touch
of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.
- E. F. Schmacher, German economist and conservationist
"Particulars are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed."
- Emanuel Celler, American lawyer and senator
and again in business history, an unknown company has come from nowhere
and in a few short years overtaken the established leaders without
apparently even breathing hard. The explanation always given is
superior strategy, superior technology, superior marketing, or lean
manufacturing. But in every single case, the newcomer also enjoys a
tremendous cost advantage, usually about 30 percent. The reason is
always the same: the new company knows and manages the costs of the
entire economic chain rather than its costs alone."
- Peter Drucker, The Essential Drucker
|Practical Book Feedback
Since most readers of the Leader Letter have copies of my books (you are clearly a well read group), I thought you'd be interested in these two recent exchanges:
ordered two of your books from a conference you gave in Kitchener,
Ontario. I'm very busy balancing work with my wife and three young
boys, so the short excerpt format was perfect. I was just at a five day
training conference in Orlando, and I was talking to a trainee who was
also a manager for his company. He had some problems with morale in his
department, so I started to explain your Management vs Leadership model
(click here to view the model www.clemmer.net/models/hperflship.shtml). I happened to have your book, The Leader's Digest,
with me and I lent it to him to look at. The next day I could tell he
was very impressed, so I told him to keep it. I think you've really
explained these principles well, and in a way that people can instantly
grasp. Congratulations on an excellent book - I have already ordered my
replacement copy on-line.
- Keith Harasyn, Quality Specialist, Invacare - Carroll Healthcare Division
very much for your interesting story! I am always curious to know how
my books get used and love to hear about word-of-mouth referrals like
You may know that there is a Practical Application Planner that goes with The Leader's Digest. You can check it out at http://www.clemmer.net/books/tldpp.shtml.
Keep learning, laughing, loving, and leading – living life just for the L of it!
I read Firing on All Cylinders
several years back and although I no longer have it in my possession
(since my boss at the time kept it), I found it probably the best book
I've ever read dealing with the customer/vendor relationship. It was
not only an easy read, but engaging. The everyday references given in
the book certainly stuck. As a consumer, I look at my buying experience
in a new way since reading the book. Thanks.
- John Shultis
|Top Improvement Points from June
Of the short quotes with links to full articles that were e-mailed out as complimentary Improvement Points last month, the most popular with subscribers were:
"Managers try to light a fire under people. Leaders stoke the fire within."
- from Recharging With Recognition
father was late getting to his son's baseball game. As he sat down
behind the players' bench he asked one of the boys known as a real
leader on the team what the score was. "We're behind 14 to nothing," he
answered with a smile. "Really!" the Dad replied. "I am surprised that
you don't look very discouraged." "Discouraged?" the boy replied with a
puzzled look on his face. "Why should we be discouraged? We haven't
been up to bat yet."
- from Leaders Inspire Their Teams With Optimism
managers are great at supplying information, but they're not so good at
communication. This is, after all, the information age. Our
organizational lives are overflowing with e-mails, voice mails, phone
calls, newsletters, books, articles, manuals, and Web pages. But we
suffer from a profound lack of communication. Too many managers
over-inform and under-communicate."
- from Speaking of Success: Informing versus Communicating
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|Feedback and Follow-Up
I am always delighted to hear from readers of the Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in the Leader Letter without their permission.
am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my
material for your team or organization. Drop me an e-mail at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net.
Keep learning, laughing, loving, and leading -- living life just for the L of it!
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Copyright 2005, Jim Clemmer, The CLEMMER Group