Do you kaizen?

Kaizen: A new religion? Speed dating?  An extreme sport? No. Kaizen is a Japanese word that means ‘continuous, incremental improvement’. It’s about doing lots of things just that little bit better. This is smart, because it’s a lot cheaper, easier and faster (and still very effective) to do 100 things one per cent better than one thing 100 per cent better.

Here are four ways you can kaizen:

  • Regularly review your performance. Whenever you do something, especially something you do a lot or something that’s important to do well, get in the habit of reviewing what you’ve done and how you’ve done it to see what you can learn from it. Whether you’ve done it well, poorly or in between, think it through. What exactly did you do? What were the results – How well did it work? What can you conclude from that? How can you use that information to do it even better the next time?
  • Take responsibility for making the changes in yourself or your surroundings that will help you do things better, cheaper, faster or smarter, or more easily, reliably or safely.
  • Watch how others do things to see what you can learn or adapt from them.
  • Think creatively and innovatively.  There is probably a better way and a different way to get the same result or a better result. But you need to search for it.

Here are some great questions to ask to help you kaizen:

  • How can I do this BETTER?
  • How can I do this EASIER?
  • How can I do this FASTER?
  • How can I do this MORE ECONOMICALLY?
  • How can I do this MORE SUSTAINABLY?
  • How can I do this MORE SAFELY?
  • How can I do this MORE RELIABLY?
  • HOW ELSE can I do this?

The gender pay gap that doesn’t go away

For every dollar Australian men earn, Australian women earn a whopping 83 cents – more than 20 per cent less than men. Why is that? Gee, could it be because men mostly set the salaries, do you think? And because it’s been that way for so long, it seems normal? Hmmm.
Of course, there is still extensive occupational segregation, with women clustered in lower-paid ‘women’s work’ jobs but that ‘reason’ doesn’t hold water. When we stack ‘women’s work’ up against ‘men’s work’ that requires similar education, experience, knowledge etc. etc. levels, the pay gap remains. We’re just paying women less than men for doing equivalent work.
Here’s a short (under 3 minutes) and very cute video that shows how capuchin monkeys feel about inequality of rewards for equal work. You will probably laugh out loud, so take care where and when you watch it!
Have you watched it? Good. Hands up if you would feel like rattling your cage if the person in the next cubicle earned more for doing the exact same or an equivalent job as you. Is that why a lot of organisations aren’t transparent about salaries and instruct staff not to discuss what they earn? Hmmm.
But it would pay Australian organisations, as well as the Australian economy, to divy up.
Business Insider examined the gender pay gap in relation to productivity over a 27-year period and found that the effect is negative; unequal pay, lower productivity. Organisations may save a bit of money but they lose more in terms of productivity. Halving the gender pay gap could increase productivity by 3% and eliminating the gap altogether would increase productivity by 5.7%.
It’s a no-brainer, really. When you pay fairly, it’s easier to attract and retain the people you need.
The arguments for social justice and pay equality have failed over nearly five decades. Maybe the argument for productivity and greater profits will do the trick.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Handbag and briefcase management

It seems I’m developing a bit of a reputation for being super-organised. It’s totally undeserved, to be perfectly honest, but it’s a topic I know a bit about because, being basically disorganised,  I try very hard to be organised. If you follow. Anyway, that explains why, on a recent radio show, I was asked how I organise my handbag and briefcase. And here, basically is my answer.

First, don’t buy heavy bags or briefcases. When you can feel their weight when they’re empty, you’ll be sorry when they’re full. According to the American Chiropractic Association, handbags should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight. So if you’re a dainty 60 kilos, that’s only 6 kilos, which is lighter than my cat. I imagine the weight guideline holds true for briefcases.

(Gentlemen, at this point you may skip down to the Briefcase bit and I won’t be offended.)

Handbags
Buy a handbag with compartments. Then learn which compartments hold what. No compartments in your handbag? Use little make-up bags or jewellery bags to keep similar items together.

Have a separate card holder for your loyalty shopper cards and all those other seldom-used cards. No more unsightly bulging wallets.

Don’t carry every item you think you may need. You probably won’t need it and if by some miracle you do, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it in amongst the kitchen sink that’s also in there.

Carry shoulder bags cross-wise. If cross-wise sounds too daggy for you, call it ‘New York style’. If that’s still too daggy for you, at least switch shoulders every 10 minutes or so.

‘New York style’ is better, though. You don’t have to worry about it slipping off and you have two completely free hands, which is important for safety as well as for shopping. More importantly, it’s better for your back and shoulders. Years of carrying heavish-ish shoulder bags on only your shoulder, as opposed to cross-wise, really does a number on your back muscles, your spine and your ability to stand straight. Been there, done that. (I’m much better now, thank you.)

Briefcases
Most briefcases have a lot of compartments. Use them to store like items together and get to know what you’ve put where. If you need to, use pencil cases, make up or jewellery bags to stash any smaller items you need to carry.

When you’re meeting about several topics or with several people and you’re not carrying a laptop with the documents you need, coloured heavy paper folders or plastic folders are great. Label each one so you don’t have to over-tax your memory. Anyway, there’s no point in remembering your colour-coding unless you use the same colours all the time for the same subjects or people and even then, it’s a good idea to label them so that others who may help you in the office can locate them if they need to.

There we have it. It may not be rocket science but it’s one more tiny element in a polished professional image.

Are you working hard enough? (Trick question)

Consider these two situations:

A: You’re at work.

  1. You’re slogging through your usual 10-hour day answering phone calls and emails, trolling through paperwork, rushing to meetings… Are you working hard?
  2. You’ve been in your ‘flow zone’ for two hours of total, productive concentration. You feel energised and knock off early for a walk in the fresh air. Are you working hard?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to 1, you’re kidding yourself.

B. A joiner comes to re-hang a sliding door that sticks and is difficult to move.

  1. He gives it a tap and a whack and it’s in perfect working order. Be honest: Do you feel a bit cheated when you hand him his fee?
  2. The joiner toils and grunts and seems to work quite hard for quite a while before the door is in perfect working order. Do you feel his fee is worth it when you pay him?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to both 1 and 2 in situation B, you’ve fallen for the ‘labour illusion‘.

This same illusion leads people to answer ‘Yes’ to question 1 and ‘No’ to question 2 in situation A. We tend to equate effort, be it long hours or grunts, with hard work. But generally, what really counts is results, not time spent or sweat. The ‘labour illusion.’

When you apply the ‘labour illusion’ to your own work, you kid yourself that long hours and ‘busy’ (but non-productive) work are ‘real work’ and that you’re working hard.

And whether you’re a customer or a team leader, when someone else is working on your behalf, you probably like to see them putting in some effort. Most people prefer the ‘hard-working’ joiner to the expert, experienced joiner who completes a job quickly and proficiently. Many bosses would be rather miffed at a team member knocking off early, even though their work is done or they just cracked a difficult problem or made a break-through innovation. The ‘labour illusion.’ (Maybe that’s what’s at the core of toxic work cultures where you’re not committed and working hard enough when you go home on time?)

Even when the hours you or your team members put in are easier to measure than actual results, don’t let the ‘labour illusion’ fool you. It isn’t how tired you or they are at the end of the day that counts. Results count. (Of course, we aren’t talking about people learning a new job, here. That takes time and effort and results aren’t great straight away.)

Understanding the ‘labour illusion’ helps you to concentrate on what’s important, to do your best and to work as hard as you need to, in order to get the results. It teaches you to not kid yourself that busy work and long hours earn results.

 

 

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.

Even bees burn out

Anthropomorphising means giving a nonhuman being, particularly an animal, a supposedly human attribute. Anthropomorphising isn’t supposed to be sensible or logical, but ironically, science keeps coming up with examples that substantiate it.

Take, for instance, the humble honey bee. On a recent trip to Kangaroo Island (beautiful, by they way), I learned that the only colony of pure Ligurian honey bees in the world is in KI. They were originally from Liguria in the Alps, but a parasite killed them there and everywhere else they’d been moved to.

It seems that worldwide, other types of bees are dying out too, endangering food production because bees pollinate so many of our food crops. The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder (CDD) and KI is a bee sanctuary (no other types of bees are allowed on the island) and pivotal in fighting extinction of bee colonies and the preservation of our food supplies.

CDD can be caused by disease, parasites or — wait for it — overwork. What’s happening is bee keepers are forcing bees to work for longer hours and over the whole year than nature intended them to work. For instance, bee keepers move the bees from the Californian almond farms to the apple and pear orchards of the North in summer and then to the citrus plantations of the South in winter. All this unnatural moving around means the bees are being worked to death and the bee colony eventually collapses.

There’s a lesson there about sustainable agriculture and maybe a lesson for people who work long hours, too. Some organisations have a long-hours culture and people are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t put in lots of ‘voluntary’, unpaid overtime every week. Technology gives us the ability and flexibility to take work home with us and work all the hours we want to or feel obliged to work, especially in the global marketplace that never stops working. And when we’re not working, many of us have family and household responsibilities and all sorts of other pressures on our time.

And you have to wonder–how productive and efficient can over-worked people be? The answer is: not very.

People who regularly work more than 60 hours a week have a marked increase in the risk of depression, illness and injury than people who work more reasonable hours. In Japan, death from over-work is so common it has a name: karoshi, estimated to be responsible for up to 10,000 deaths a year in Japan.

To anthropomorphise a bit, people and bees are perhaps not so different. Work is good for people and it’s good for bees, but too much work doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it could also make Jill a widow.