Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Extreme Government Makeover Really Extreme?

Last time, we introduced Ken Miller's work called Extreme Government Makeover. Unlike many waste cutters and efficiency improvers, Ken comes from government service. He cut his process improvement teeth working to reduce the waiting lines at the Missouri DMV. After that, he spent a decade on the road as a consultant.

He claims to have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn't from his combined experience in government and as a consultant.

At the root of his approach is his view that most attempts to cut waste out of government are doomed to fail because they focus on exactly the wrong aspect. The cost cutters usually cut the people first because in a service industry, that's the most visible expense.

The problem is the cutting the people doesn't fix the gummed up processes of government. An example here are the long waiting lines at a DMV. Cut down the number of staff and the lines just get longer.

Miller contends that citizens are mostly not wanting reductions in the capacity of government to do good. They want the potholes filled, the license plates renewed, the deeds filled etc. What they want is that this is done more efficiently.

His argument is that you need to change the efficiency approach entirely. Don't bash the government employees as most are hard working and loyal people. Use his approach to fix the processes that don't work and then the costs will reduce and the citizen customers will be more and more happy with their government.

I find the approach refreshing and in line with what Dr. Deming taught in the early days of process improvement work in the 1940's. 94% of the problems are not due to people!

After the approach, I would say that the techniques recommended seem to be mainstream process improvement tools.

If you are interested, read more about Ken Miller on his blog:

Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Behind the Buzz about Transforming Government

Most leaders have by now been exposed to a veritable alphabet soup of quality improvement initiiaves.  There were Quality Circles, TQM, SQI and CQI; remember those?  I do and have even  taught them.
Now LEAN and Six-Sigma are the popular intiatives to reduce waste and improve efficiency.  LEAN had it’s genesis in the Toyota Production System Kaizen philosophy.  This approach has been applied with notable success in an improvement resistant sector, healthcare.
Now we have an increased call to drive waste out of government, to reinvent it, make it more like business and so on. 
This is not actually new, news though.  Take this quote:  "We don't want to get rid of government.  We want it to work better and cost less.  We want it to make sense."  Sounds current, doesn’t it.  That’s actually from then Vice President  Al  Gore.
Many people, when asked, feel there is waste in government and often epitomize this perceptions with the snapshot view of the highway contruction worker leaning on a shovel.
The core question about transforming government is where to begin and that involves identifying the problem which may lack the convenient simplicity of popular sloganism as most lasting problem solving does.
In the next post, we’ll explore views from quadrants as diverse as the 9/11 Commission and the Missouri Drivers’ License Bureau about the state of government.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Checklist "Feel Good"

Let's face it, many of us like lists.  They can help us get organized and stay focused.  I find that there is also a downside.  Lists can also enable us to "feel good" that we've got it, been there and done that.  Whoa nellie, not so fast.
Here is a good example.  Frank Bucaro wrote a nice piece in Linked2Leadership entitled "Leadership and Ethics, the Eight Great Habits" (Linked2Leadership 8/16/11)
Taken as a set of self-reflective pointers, I found it stimulating.  Take this one:  "How am I a better person because I am part of this organization?".
No, I'm not talking about spieling off a trite or politically correct response as to a situational interview question.  Really, am I?  The answer some days might be "no" and a trend of same speaks to time for change in capital letters.
Taken as a checklist, I find the list quickly loses it's value for me and descends into triviality.  I don't spend much time daily reviewing lists such as this one.  What I do is look for challenge points that catch me. 
When one does, I nab it and work it until I find my own journey as a leader has progressed over, under, through and beyond the hurdle.  Then I look for the next one.  If nothing catches you in this list, toss it.  If it does, that might be your next diamond in the rough.
Here is the list:
Start building ethical habits by using these 8 reflection points each day:
1. Find every opportunity to practice the virtues of integrity, trustworthiness, honesty and compassion.
2. Ask yourself this: "How is my organization better today because I am in it?"  And "In what ways?"
3. Weigh out your actions  in order to cause more good than harm.  (Consider the short-term vs. long-term consequences of your actions.)
4. Ask yourself this: "How am I a better person because I am part of this organization?"
5.  Remember to treat each person with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.
6. Be aware of whom you benefit, whom you burden , and how that decision is made.
7.  Find and name strengths of the organization  that can help you become more human.
8. Practice getting beyond your own interests to make the organization stronger.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Linked 2 Leadership: The Leadership Collaboratory - Leadership Clarity: Can They See You Now?

    Linked 2 Leadership: The Leadership Collaboratory    
Leadership Clarity: Can They See You Now?
July 22, 2011 at 12:03 AM
Though it seems a clich├ęd notion improving your company culture starts at the top, you have to lead by example. Is what you say what they see? To make sure, just lead by example to improve your organizational culture. Be Somebody Real If you're a leader who promotes a company culture of "do what I [...]
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Leaders: Take Your Business Back!
July 21, 2011 at 12:03 AM
I often hear from managers that employees have more power than their bosses. Studies have shown that the majority of workers in North America do not want to move into a management role. The trend toward servant leadership and participative management has created a lot of very good results, but in many cases it has also created chaos, [...]
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Gaining Influence as a Leader
July 20, 2011 at 12:03 AM
So, you decide that you want to build additional influence at work. What’s one to do? Maybe you want to gain greater influence with a particular group of people, such as your peer group or your team members, or even a group of more senior leaders.  Or maybe you want to exert greater influence over [...]
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Finding the Right Dose of Chocolate

A few months ago, I stumbled on to Sam Parker, writer of a blog with no fluff inspirational leadership messages (and services).
In a recent post, he writes about performing a professional value evaluation.  Huh?  I've never seen one so this picqued my interest.
In typical Sam Parker fashion, no fluff, he says ask yourself whether your work:

"1.creates a positive buzz about you and your work?
2.makes others want you as a part of their team?
3.makes your employer cringe at the thought of losing you?
makes your patients (or colleagues) excited about referring you to others?"
That's pithy.  His argument is that if your work loudly proclaims value, you are creating economic and job security in trying economic times.  While it's not something I consider daily or even weekly, I think his points are valid.
You can read more about Sam Parker at
My view about external inspirational messaging like Sam Parker's is that each person needs to find how much they need in their "diet" to continue in a progressive, leadership balance.  It's like chocolate, for some people, a little goes a long way.  For others, daily consumption is just right.
With external leadership inspiration, you need to find the right dose of chocolate for you.  For me, a little bit now and then is what is useful.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Preparing Leaders in the Face of the Unknown

A recent editorial* in a healthcare trade magazine by National Center for Healthcare Leadership staffers posed the question whether our leaders today are being prepared for the future.
At first, I thought the piece called "Timeless Truths" would lead to a cheer-leading piece about helping those following in your footsteps and so on.  Garman and Harris Lemak who wrote the piece took a more challenging line.  They argued that lack of resources and the unknowns facing us are not excuses to fail to prepare tomorrow's leaders.
They challenge that if you as a manager don't have resources for development, identify where in your organization it's already taking place and support it becoming more effective.  "Our task is less to 'turn on the spigot' and more to guide the water that's already flowing in the directions that will be most effective."
As to preparing in the face of the unknown, Garman and Harris Lemak argue to work on the timeless basics, collaboration skills, performance improvement and relationship building as keys that will be essential ingredients of leadership success regardless of the face of the future later revealed.
I set down the piece determined to look again for where the leadership water is already flowing.
* "Timeless Truths" may be found in the May 2, 2011 edition of Modern Healthcare, page 25.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Did I Remember?

A recent radio story about a prominent national leader led me to remind myself that you never know when an encounter you have will have a powerful influence on another person.
Here is a case in point.  Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was recently asked what prompted her toward a life of striving that broke through barrier after barrier opposing the advancement and fulfillment of women.  She then became the first and only woman ever elected to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.
To the question, she responded that back in an early school debate class exercise, each student had to pull out a slip of paper from a bowl and then debate extemporaneously on the question written on the slip of paper. 
Nancy Pelosi's slip asked "Do women think?" and it has haunted, urged and propelled her since.  It is highly unlikely that the debate class teacher ever imagined the impact this exercise might have.
By the end of the radio story, I was left wondering how often I forget that any encounter I have as a leader can have a powerful impact on another person or, it can be just another forgettable encounter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lesson from the Coffee Pool on Being Right

I recalled an early life experience that reminded me of a lesson about managers and leaders.

One day as a young boy, I saw the local Scout Master jaywalking.  This was a man I admired greatly and here he was possibly breaking the law.  Each of us has similar examples of discovering that others we look up to aren't perfect.  As we grow older, we construct more sophisticated mental assemblies to hand these little contradictions and get over them.

Or do we?

Early in my professional career, our hospital got a new CEO.  Several months into his tenure, I was in the Executive Suite arranging meetings with his senior assistant,  She told me how very impressed she was with the new boss and it floored me.  It wasn't anything I expected from a seasoned, top of the line assistant.  She said he always chipped into the coffee pool.

The other day, when I saw a manager fill up their cup at the office coffee pool, I wondered they chipped into the pool.  The contradiction wasn't all worked out after all.

This recent manager who didn't pay didn't do anything wrong but arguable could have as I didn't see him pay. I simply hadn't seen him do it right.  If inclined toward the negative, I could have walked away from the experience assuming that he had as the conclusion was potentially open to interpretation.

For a manager seeking to also be a leader, it's not enough to be doing the right thing.  The leader must also be noticed being right.  At first, this seems trite.

Perceptions are very strong, particularly if negative.  If a manager is perceived not to be right, even in a small, seemingly insignificant area like the coffee fund, their standing as a leader drops.  If the right deed is done but not noticed at least sometimes, the perceptions in others may run to unfortunate and inaccurate negative views, sadly so, but true in my experience.

My attempts at being a more effective manager and leader include making deliberate actions that I would have taken anyway but now making them publicly at least part of the time.

I am seen at least some of the time, paying into the coffee pool.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Missing Truth of the Bryde Whale

As the summer fair season approaches, I was reminded of a childhood experience that didn't turn out how I imagined it would at a midwestern state fair where I grew up.

The sign advertised "See the REAL Bryde forty foot long whale".  I couldn't resist.  I followed the line past the ticket booth as the other paying guests and I waited our turn.  Slowly, we approached the exhibit which turned out to be a semi-truck trailer.  My suspicions were starting to rise but still, hope prevailed.

As we made our way into the trailer, our eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light.

There, in a long tanks stretching from one end of the trailer to the other, was a very dead Bryde whale floating in some preservative solution.

True, it was a "real" whale. And no, they had not said see the real, "live" whale.  I had presumed that because, at that point, my only interest was in seeing a live whale and my perspective assumed that that's what everyone else would want to see.  Therefore, that's what would be shown I thought.

That was not the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

As leaders and managers, we are often confronted with dealing with portions of the whole truth.  Sometimes, because we simply can not reveal the full story to others.  Sometimes, sadly, because there is power in withholding the critical elements of the full picture and we withhold for advantage.

The latter will generally backfire colossally in time as the missing truth is discovered and trust evaporates.

The former, the act of disclosing part of the picture when some aspects can not then be spoken, can be accepted if the groundwork has already been laid.  For example, when a staff member is let go due to disciplinary action, it generally is not appropriate to reveal the exact nature of the action.  There were differences and they are gone and it's time to move on. 

Other staff are much more likely to accept this if the track record is already in place that you have demonstrated again and again that the portion of the truth revealed is relevant, accurate and in general alignment with the fully details later revealed.

The story of the missing truth of the Bryde Whale reminded me of the importance of telling a portion of the truth that is an accurate reflection of the whole truth rather than a twisted version true only by it's omission.

Monday, April 18, 2011

4/18 21st Century Transformation by Asif J. Mir

    21st Century Transformation by Asif J. Mir    
April 17, 2011 at 7:53 PM

Decentralization means helping lower organizational units set goals and then giving them the responsibility and authority to meet these goals. Decentralizing can mean giving each of your managers profit goals for their own departments and then allowing them to make the necessary decisions to reach these goals.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, and my Lectures.

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