energizing breakthrough performance

Toyota Breakdown Linked to Decline of Mentoring

Author: ; Published: Feb 22, 2010; Category: Mentoring, Workforce Planning, Workforce Succession Planning; Tags: , , ; 3 Comments»

The Washington Post reported on February 13, 2010, that the “Toyota Way” was derailed in part because the company had thinned its ranks of expert mentors. The article quoted Susan Helper, a professor of economics at Case Western University in Cleveland, as follows: “So much of what made the company work well was that each manager was personally trained by a mentor who himself had long experience with the company.  When the fast expansion came, Toyota was very short of senior managers who were ready to become mentors.”

Whether you are dealing with explosive growth, constricted staffing, or simply the changing of the guard as a new generation replenishes the ranks, the Toyota story is instructive: Mentoring is not an HR frill to be dismissed lightly. Indeed, as the Toyota example demonstrates, sufficient high-quality mentoring is the make-or-break difference in ensuring continuity of quality and productivity as well as pivotal values and norms. Those who have brought success to an enterprise can and should pass the torch to those who will bring future success after the mentors have moved on. Effective mentoring is the passing of this torch of success–a torch that is not passed by accident or raw luck.

It takes several years to ramp up a quality mentoring program with an adequate stable of capable mentors. This cannot be done overnight. No mentoring “miracle-grow” exists. Fancy electronics won’t get it done either.

Mentoring is a long-term investment intended to yield long-term benefits and as such, it conflicts with day-to-day operating imperatives. Long-range initiatives are trumped regularly by the emergencies of the day. Those of us in the training business often hear “there is no good time for training.” This logic suggests that there is no good time for mentoring either. That said, ask Toyota if there is a good time for failing.

Once your mentoring program has developed momentum, it is essential that it be maintained adequately. This means ensuring that new mentors are cultivated and that legacy mentors are refreshed periodically. In addition, once target mentor-mentee ratios have been established for the workforce, an enterprise must ensure that these ratios are maintained properly.

We don’t know if quantitative and qualitative indicators of mentoring were Balanced Scorecard dashboard items at Toyota, but we surmise that Toyota now wishes that it had paid more attention to the maintenance of a mentoring program that was once the envy of its industry. “Short-Term Bottom-Line Fast Buck Freddy” companies don’t and won’t make the long-term investment that quality mentoring requires, but “Built to Last” companies will.

To ignore mentoring is to ignore the long-term interests of your stakeholders. Today’s choices surrounding mentoring are your strategic future. The strategic future is now.

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Merging Strategic Planning and Workforce Planning

Author: ; Published: Feb 4, 2010; Category: Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning; Tags: , ; No Comments»

A frequent and appropriate concern in strategic planning is whether the resources needed to fund the plan are available: Is our financial plan adequately supportive of our strategic plan? Another concern is whether the human capital needed to implement the plan will be on-board and ready to go: Stated differently, is our workforce planning aligned with our strategic planning? (The financial plan and the workforce plan should be components of the strategic plan, either in the main body or as annexes).

There’s a push-pull between the development of a strategic plan and available financial and human resources. On the one hand, strategic planning which simply assumes the resource status quo can become constrained and unimaginative, tending to recite the way things are rather than the way things should be. On the other hand, a pie-in-the-sky plan quickly degenerates into a bookshelf ornament, breeding cynicism at best and fear-and-loathing at worst.

Achieving consensus concerning our resource assumptions allows us to create a workable strategic plan—doable by “stretching” ourselves to implement it. But would you want a strategic plan that wasn’t ambitious? You may be lucky and have the financial and human resources needed to create an ideal strategic plan right from the start, but most of us do ambitious strategic planning with the proviso that the plan will need to be adjusted iteratively in view of real financial and human resource constraints. Getting this right is a balancing act: Oddly, we must sometimes put the cart before the horse for a time before we can correctly position the cart after the horse. This process may need to be repeated once or twice until goodness of fit among all plan components has been achieved.

A comprehensive strategic plan aligns strategy with both systems and structure, organized solidly around vision, mission, goals and objectives. Systems refer not only to electronic systems but to defined core processes. Structure refers not only to the organizational configuration of talent, but also to needed capabilities and capacities.  Capabilities are the skill sets and talent competency levels needed to implement the plan and perform the work. Capacities are the required amount of a given capability at relevant levels of mastery, expressed in person-hours or person-years. Correct specification of capabilities and capacities is central to effective workforce planning.

Effective workforce planning answers this pivotal question: If the strategic plan expresses what we intend to accomplish, then what is the mix of present and future talent that will be required to implement the plan and how will this mix be cultivated? Peter Drucker said it best, “Plans are nothing until they degenerate into work.” 

If we are going to have a plan, then we’d best have the talent needed to implement it successfully. Otherwise, a strategic plan without a workforce plan could end up being just a cart without a horse.
 

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Matrix Gold: Mining for Synergy in Cross-Functional Teams

Author: ; Published: Feb 2, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , , ; 2 Comments»

Cross-functional teams operating in a matrix-managed environment can deliver enormous synergy across participating disciplines which results in many significant benefits. This is true not only in R&D organizations but also in a wider, more diverse set of enterprises, such as engineering and construction management, government and more.

Benefits resulting from achieving valuable synergy include but are not limited to:

  1. Greater efficiency and productivity. Essentially there are golden possibilities for eliminating rework because each discipline learns to anticipate the needs and preferences of another discipline for the work that is being delivered to the other
  2. Discovery Breakthroughs. Much of what constitutes “discovery” in almost any field of endeavor represents a reconfiguration of components that existed previously but had not been assembled together in a particular way. When disciplines have the opportunity to mix and match their work products together in novel ways, discovery breakthroughs can result. The hastening of such breakthroughs is best accomplished by those who are closest to the work, laboring together in a cross-functional team setting.
  3. Widening of Comfort Zones. When members of different disciplines work closely together, organizational defense mechanisms are disarmed as trust builds. This widens comfort zones and builds esprit de corps—esprit de corps that has immediately usefulness, but which also expands future agility.  Experienced team members who have participated previously in cross-functional efforts that have shattered barriers can be reconfigured for new projects or purposes with learning curves that are less steep. These team members will also evidence diminished resistance to change as new teams go through the stages of team development, e.g., form-storm- norm-perform.

In addition to lateral, cross-functional benefits, there are also important benefits for each of the participating vertical functions. One of these benefits is what I call “disease control,” meaning that a functional problem that is being evidenced on one cross-functional team may also be apparent on one or more other functional teams. Early knowledge of such problems permits the function to either fix or prevent the difficulty systemwide. Another benefit relates to priority-setting, where a helicopter view of all matrix teams’ needs for the services of a particular function permits proper allocation of available resources. This helicopter view also permits the discipline to identify and develop its future capabilities consistent with a clear-eyed view of emerging needs and team preferences.

Synergy is golden and the employee with a synergistic mindset is more valuable than an employee who lacks synergistic skills and behaviors. Success in mining for gold presupposes that you know where to look. This blog entry isn’t the full “treasure map” but I hope that it sends you off towards True North.

 
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