Hotwash

This came up on a powerpoint slide of the day’s agenda “4 – 5 pm Hotwash”.

Evidently it means immediate review, according to Word Detective it comes from the US Army where it describes the debrief that occurs immediately after a mission or patrol, possibly from the literal talking while showering, more likely from the practice soldiers have of dousing their weapons in hot water after an exercise.

I’d never seen it before, and nor had any other colleagues in the room. So I’ve asked people what it makes them think of, most people said either laundry or hot tubs (which might say more about them than the subject). But the most descriptive was “hotwash sounds like a painful spa treatment involving large muscular women twisting your body in weird ways”.

In this case it was referring to the last hour of an assessment day, when all teams will discuss their assessments and we’ll check any major inconsistencies.

If I’d been writing the agenda I would have put “4 – 5 pm Review Assessments”, but then, I’m not a management consultant.

Image: Weekly Laundry | Stefan | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cyberslacking

Perfect subject for a Friday!

Cyberslacking refers to the use of a company’s computer and internet connection for personal activities when one should be doing work.

It’s not the occasional email, or lunchtime Facebook status check that’s deserves the name, it’s the excessive use of work time to play on the internet. Those times when you look up one little thing and 30 minutes later you’re in an internet black hole arguing, or buying another light sabre or watching cat videos. And of course mobile phones make it even easier.

It’s not a new thing, as early as 2000 reports flagged the cost of lost productivity as more than 50 billion USD in the US. The same report notes that companies were already taking action, putting in place specific internet use policies and firing the greatest violators – such as employees spending as much as 8 hours a day on gambling sites. More recent estimates put the costs to a business at 35 million per year for a company of just 1000 people, if each employee cyberslacked for an hour a day.

Some companies see this as a loss of productivity, effectively money down the drain and seek to monitor or to limit access to all non-work internet sites for all employees.

Employees find their own strategies; blocking access on work machines means they’ll use their own devices, trying to watch over their shoulder leads to cheeky solutions like the “look busy” button on Last Minute’s Australian site (it used to be on more of their sites, but apparently only the Australians kept their sense of humour).

There is some research showing that people who take internet breaks at work are more productive. I’m inclined to agree,  if people are busy with meaningful work and producing great results, brief internet breaks are not going to cause a dramatic drop in productivity. In fact if managers focus on results the fear of productivity loss goes away.

This holds true even in extreme cases; the guy playing on online gambling sites all day is unlikely to produce the expected quality of work – addressing that issue early could have a better outcome for both the company and the employee.

This focus on results is one of the key principles of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in fact in a ROWE the time spent on the job becomes irrelevant, employees are trusted to use their judgement to plan their workdays. In my view it’s a much healthier than putting increasing layers of monitoring on employee’s use of internet.

I guess I’m in favour of mild cyberslacking.

The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test is series of experiments on delaying gratification in children. Researchers tested whether children could delay eating a treat when told that delay would mean an extra treat.

Researchers then followed the children’s development and found that those who had been able to delay gratification for a greater reward had been more successful by various life measures including academic achievements.

Would I have passed the marshmallow test? Easily, I’ve never liked marshmallow. I’d do less well if the temptation involved chocolate, even now.

Can the “Marshmallow Test”  be applied to companies?

There is pressure within companies to meet monthly sales targets, project deadlines, quarterly results – multiple drivers of short-term performance requirements. A company’s strategy should provide a longer arc but the relentless pace of change compresses even this.

Are there companies out there that refuse short term revenue or profit to build long term gain?

Don Pepper identified 3 “small” examples in a Linkedin Post which got me thinking about specific incidents where I’d deferred instant result for a better result in the future.

I came up with three;

  • delayed a high impact project, that had some urgency, until I could get a knowledgeable project manager in place. A good decision.
  • rolled a mobile deployment of an intranet tool into a larger project, thinking that it would be easier to solve the significant security challenges once and the outcome would be a better user experience. A bad decision, two years later it still wasn’t done.
  • turned down an excellent candidate, because I didn’t think it was the right role for him – and hired him a year later for the right role. A difficult, but good decision.

In all cases I feared missing out on an opportunity when I made the decision, in two cases it was a good decision, in one perhaps not. I try not to give into the “fear of missing out” factor, and one way to do that is to imagine what I will think in six months if I say yes, vs saying no. You can also take time to imagine what it will take to deliver if you say yes now – in the first example I had to defend a delay, but had I taken on the project I had no resources for it’s unlikely the project would have been delivered any earlier or any better.

Have you deferred short term benefit for long term gain? If so, what was the eventual outcome?

Astroturfing

astro turfingIf you’ve ever seen a book on Amazon with a lot of vaguely positive reviews, or a hotel review on trip advisor with glowing reviews that don’t really match the photos, or a new restaurant with a suspiciously high number of reviews in its first week after opening, you may have stumbled across a case of astroturfing.

Astroturf is that fake grass seen in public sports parks, and astroturfing is, according to the Guardian;

the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view.

We know that people trust reviews and recommendations from family and friends, but we’ll also trust consumer reviews – even when we don’t know the reviewer – ahead of any form of company communication or advertising. So it’s not surprising that some companies and organisations try to co-opt the review process for their own purposes.

It might not seem to matter much, but reviews, recommendations and star rankings affect sales, Astroturfing puts that at risk. This has become such an issue for the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, that they’re now building a technical solution to stop fake reviews.

There’s a more important potential issue at stake when this scales up, when Astroturfing is used by special interest groups it starts to influence public opinion, discredit dissenting voices,  and influence public policy as Sharyl Attkisson explains in this TEDx talk.

The signs she suggests to watch out for;

  • use of inflammatory language, for example;  crank quack nutty pseudo conspiracy
  • claiming to debug myths that aren’t myths
  • attacking the people and organisations surrounding an issue rather than addressing the facts

I’d add blocking or deleting comments from dissenters in online discussions.

As the video makes clear this is a tactic used by marketers and lobbyists, and it’s one we, as consumers need to be aware of as we read reviews and follow online discussions. And online retailers need to follow Amazon’s example and build engines to reduce the impact of astroturfers.

Burning Platform

Burning Platform

“We need to define what’s the burning platform”.

We’ve probably all heard this term, and the mental image conveys a sense of crisis and urgency. The origin is even more explicit, it comes from a (possibly apocryphal) story of a man faced with an urgent choice of certain death on an oil rig that was burning or potential death from hypothermia (or sharks) by jumping into the water below. According to the story he jumped and survived.

However the decision facing us in the meeting when I heard the term used was not a crisis, nor was there any urgency (except that imposed by our own project), nor was their a fire, and whatever the decision no lives would be lost.

So what does the term mean now?

In this case, judging by the context, the sentence meant “we need to define the business reason for this change”. It’s supposed to give a sense of urgency to inspire business change. But that’s far less exciting than leaping flames and swirling smoke.

Image: Fire  |  Hans via Pixabay  |  CC0 1.0

Bullwhip Effect

bullwhip effect

It should have taken me 3 hours to get home. It took 5 1/2, and yet nothing major went wrong with my journey, there were no strikes, no severe weather conditions, no accidents. Just a tiny delay leaving Mechelen.

That 7 minute delay meant the train I was on had to give way to Intercity trains that were running on time so we were slow leaving Antwerp, that meant that I missed the opportunity at Rotterdam to cross the platform to the highspeed train to Schiphol, that meant I was late arriving at Schiphol and missed a connection. All for 7 minutes.

This is an example of the bullwhip effect, where a small event at the beginning becomes magnified along a process until the impact is big. In this case 7 minutes became 2 1/2 hours. It gets its name from the increasing amplitude along a bullwhip.

In business it’s usually used to describe an effect in supply chain management.

Demand is unpredictable, so a retailer trying to predict how much stock is needed will include a buffer of safety stock, to avoid running out. Their wholesaler reads the demand to all their retailers and sees a greater potential variation when they predict demand, so in planning their stock also include a buffer. The manufacturer sees the variation in the wholesaler’s orders and builds up their stock, which the component suppliers see and and make their planning for stock including a buffer.

So at each step in the supply chain there is a buffer stock.

If demand drops then that stock becomes excess inventory and suddenly each step in the chain has to solve the issue of excess. The impact of a small change in demand goes up the supply chain with increasing impact, just like the cracking bullwhip.

 

 

Images; lost source for first one – sorry

bullwhip graphic is from wikipedia issued under creative comments. 

Blue-Sky Thinking

CM2017_10_Bluesky.png

Blue-sky thinking conjures up open-minded and creative thinking. Thinking that will ideally result in new out-of-the-box solutions to business problems.  When my former boss, an American, used it this was his intended meaning.

But according to Wiktionary, there’s an alternative meaning; Thinking that is not grounded or in touch in the realities of the present. I think my lovely pragmatic Dutch colleagues understood this meaning.

So a boss might be encouraging his team to be creative, to imagine wild solutions, but a pragmatic or cynical team might be hearing “let’s waste some time thinking of solutions that can never realistically be used” and that’s a demoralising thought. Maybe it’s better to include some of the pragmatic limits in your briefing. Perhaps offering to fund a pilot of the best idea would give people the freedom to think creatively and reassure the pragmatists in the team.

Read the room before you use this phrase.

Image:  I wandered lonely as a cloud…  |  D Wright  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0