Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is there a leadership genome?

I was listening to the lastest Harvard Business Review podcast interview of Marcus Buckingham where he outlines an innovative way to provide leadership instruction that his company is working on.  It is similar to the algorithmic method used by systems such as Pandora and Netflix to recommend music and movies.  But instead of Pandora serving up a song based on what you have liked in the past and your current mood, this system would give you a leadership technique based on the leadership strengths you have shown in the past and the nature of the situation you find yourself in at the moment.  Your long term profile is stored in the system and you can describe your current situation in real time.  Out pops an idea that history shows usually works in similar situations by people with your leadership profile. Similar technology and software, the trick is developing a leadership "genome."

The system is still early in its development so they have no real-life evidence that it will work.  But the research team developing it seems very passionate about the idea and confident that they can implement it. They envision a smartphone under the table while a future Steve Jobs is typing in "how do I get my engineering team on board?" and the system spits out anything from a motivational speech to an incentive sharing plan. 

What do you think?  Is it possible to model leadership using an algorithm just like Pandora, Netflix, or eHarmony?  I suppose it can’t hurt to give someone a possible technique to try.  Or maybe a couple of suggestions.  But I am not sure I would want a leader to be relying on this as a crutch in a critical situation. 

Outdated Processes are a delicious low hanging fruit

The pool at my townhouse development opened up this weekend.  I went soon after it opened.  My plan was just to lie on a pool lounge chair for an hour or two with my headphones on and de-stress from a very tough first half of the year.

The procedure is to check in by writing your pool tag number on a sign-in sheet.  They don’t keep track of who comes or when because there is no limit and no benefit of coming more or less often.  They just want to make sure you have paid your pool fee for the year.  You don’t even need to write down your name.  Just the tag number.

This year they have located the lifeguard table all the way on the other side from the entrance.  So I showed the lifeguard that I had a tag, yelled the number (he was sitting right in front of the sheet), and sunk my butt on the first chair that was facing the sun.  I was half-asleep in five seconds.  But nooooo.  He had to yell over to me that I needed to walk around the pool, write the number “0079” on the page, and then walk back.  There was no reason for me to lie about the number and the tags are color-coded so he knew it was a 2012 tag.

Why am I sharing this stupid waste of time on a beautiful sunny morning on an Industrial Engineering blog?  Simple.  How many of these processes and procedures are cursing your own workplace?  They usually start out with a good purpose.  But then the world changes around them.  Technology gets implemented.  Processes get updated.  The layout gets moved around.  And pretty soon there are these wasteful processes that everyone follows either out of habit or because they are dedicated to following the rules.

Once a year, you need to do a survey of the employees and a procedure walkthrough to see how many of these relics there are and then get rid of them.  This is the very definition of low hanging fruit.  Easiest million you ever made for your company.  Make sure to document the productivity gain for the next time you are in front of the company execs doing a cost-benefit for your department.