flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘plans

I learned from the masters of administration!

I went to a university where we moved through a degree programme in lock-step.  In year one, we took 2.5 subjects, 2 compulsory papers from each of the first 2, and one paper from the third.  In year two, we took 4 papers from one of the first two subjects and 1 from the second.  And the same in year three, but a different set.

The sum of variation allowed was changing the order around 5:0 and 3:2, or if you were really smart, taking a 6th paper.

The university waited for no one

Not even babies!  The university took a simple view that examinations were taken once and once only and deferred only for matters totally outside our control.  Sporting matches, babies that after all arrive on quite a predictable schedule, family celebrations – were all deemed matters under our control.

Even being detained without trial by various rogue governments wasn’t deemed a reason to vary the schedule!  The university made a slight concession and brought you exam to your in jail!

Good administration leads to assured output & a productive life

The net effect of this policy is that the university opened and shut on time. People began degrees and finished them. The simplicity of the administration in that university was just stunning.

All requests had to be made before the event. Nothing was considered retrospectively. All decisions were made on facts marshalled on one piece of paper.  Decisions were made against clear criteria that were public and you knew what you could request from whom and on what grounds. All decisions were reviewed at the next level up where they were considered against new criteria.

A lecturer (professor) graded your paper and the lecturer’s colleagues approved the mark. Those marks were put together and an inter-Department committee approved your GPA/class of degree. An inter-Faculty committee checked that the Faculty committees weren’t being too lenient or too hard.  An eminently logical, rational, fair and transparent environment.

Lock-step systems can be inefficient when misunderstood

Lock-step systems don’t always produce efficiency or fairness, though.   I came out of that system quite well, and I am not unhappy that I studied psychology, sociology and anthropology. But I had actually wanted to study psychology, economics and mathematics – which I was very good at.

Novices need guidance not on the system but how the system will serve their goals

To achieve that combination, someone with knowledge of the system needed to sit my 17 year old self down and ask me what I wanted to do.

The answer would have been for me to enrol in the Arts Faculty for a B.A , to read psychology (2 papers) & economics (2 papers) in the Faculty of Social Studies, and Mathematics (2 papers) in the Faculty of Science!

Apart from being too complicated for a noobe to find, that solution would have made me a little insecure because a BA (General) has a lot less status than a B.Sc. (Hons) and I wouldn’t have read Sociology (upsetting my father).  I would have studied though what I wanted to study and created the choice of transferring in second year to a straight Honours in any of the three subjects, or continuing with a more general mix including picking up Sociology in second year.

Would I have been better off if I had taken this road? Who knows!  What I do know is that the system was more concerned with its lock-step, which was very efficient, than making sure I developed to my full potential.

Lock-step systems require highly qualified front-line staff who understand the values and goals as well as the plan

I quite like lock-step systems because they give people a clear model of what to do.  We need to ‘see ahead’ when we are a ‘noobe’.

But we can waste resources and time too easily when we don’t distinguish values from goals from plans.

  • We had three values in our case– broad first year, Honours (meaning specialize) in 2nd and 3rd year, and finish neatly in three years.
  • The plan is the lock-step system I described at the top of the post.
  • The goal was my goal – to study psychology, economics and mathematics.  That got lost.

To make sure that the (usually) naive client pursues their goal, we need good frontline staff who can find out what my goal is – or what the client’s goal is.  That is paramount.

  • We only use the model to communicate the values concretely. It shouldn’t be a strait-jacket.
  • Then we make a plan that fits our streamlined system, adheres to our values, and allows the client to pursue their goal directly in the comfort of our well run service.

Most systems in Britain are plan-led.  Lock-step supersedes common sense.

I see so much in Britain where the plan seems to override the goal.

We’ve borrowed 175 billion this year to keep going. That is 3000 pounds per man, woman and child. Not that much, hey?

I bet we could simplifiy our services to cost less and achieve heaps more by having

  • much simpler models (a lock-step model to convey the idea)

  • spending more time finding out the goals of individuals

  • and lastly creating an individual plan to navigate the system.

This wouldn’t put people out-of-work, it would just allow a lot more to be done at a fraction of the cost, allowing the country to make more money to pay the bills!

We the unhappy punters would feel better and get more done. We would spend less time on the phone talking to call centres and officials whose main job it does seem is to fill in meaningless bits of paper for meaningless procedures whose ultimate destination is a a database left on a train.

P.S. The people who thought up the systems at the well-run uni were Scots.  We have the expertise.  We just don’t seem to be using it.

It’s October. In January, I found myself with far too much to do.

I tried all the tricks of the trade. I decluttered. I prioritized. I still had too much to do.

At last, I quietened my panic by drawing each goal as a spoke, coming in to a central hub. I marked off months and quarters. And wrote down some milestones.

Bicycle spokes for planning

Inevitably (and it is inevitable), I made heaps of progress. I am sure that resolving my panic was important, if only because I could do something useful with the time that I would otherwise spend panicking!

I am still busy. Horribly busy. Work is cutting in to my sleep as well. So, I am motivated to give my planning system a thorough overhaul.

Umbrella goal

Fortunately, I am much clearer now about what I want to do. I’ve managed to phrase a super-ordinate goal and the many goals that gave me such grief in January, all contribute in their own way. When I make a decision on one project, I’m able to check in my mind how work on that project fits in with the overall goal and all the other projects.

There is a lesson in this, I think.  Don’t discard your competing goals.  Live with the strain until you can see why you are attracted to apparently conflicting projects.

Eventually the bicycle wheel takes shape as an umbrella!

From wish to intent to action

Now I am more focused, my attention has shifted from goals – to critical mass & priorities.

I could list everything I have to do.  I could even put everything on a spreadsheet.  But I think I would throw up.  There is too much to do and seeing it in one place won’t help.

That kind of planning is better when there are lots of steps that are critical, and when they must be done in a specific, and known, order. That will come later.

Impact vs ease

I had a brain storm last night. I remembered a technique which I learned from Zivai Mushayandebvu in Botswana.

Sort tasks into four piles (2×2):

  • What will make a huge impact and is relatively easy to do.
  • What will make a huge impact but is hard to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is easy to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is hard to do.

The first, we do.

The second, we see if we can buy in.

The third, we might get do as filler tasks.

The fourth, we discard.

Keeping it simple, cheap, disposable (and green)

This whole project can be done on the back of old envelopes and a set of shoe boxes. My guess is that the priorities to develop critical mass are going to emerge quite fast.

I am going to try it. Anything rather than the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list.

UPDATE: In another phase of overload, I think I shall rate my tasks like this again!

Classical ideal feedback model. The feedback i...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just been reading a post from an ambulance driver (woops, they don’t like that title).

It is a privilege, because I might not otherwise have the chance to observe the nuances of their job, and even if I did, to learn the same might take hours of interviews and hours of rewriting.

So we are lucky to have this blog.  It also teaches lessons for the general practice of job design – which it did today.

Briefly, feedback is a key idea in job design. Yet, it gets forgotten for procedures and targets.

This is what is critical.  For every task anyone does, they must get feedback on how well they have done before they begin that task again.

Experts often get feedback as they move from one part of a large task to another.  That’s what makes them expert.  The ability to detect feedback that will mean nothing to anyone else.

But at some point a task is handed over to someone else. When and how do they get feedback on how well their work fitted into the next process down the line?

If they don’t get feedback, what sense are the supposed to make of their work?   What sense will they make of their work?  And what of evidence-based practice, if the people doing the work do not get ‘knowledge of results’ before they start the same task again?

This is the story

The ambulance man and his colleague raced a severely dehydrated child to hospital rather than attempt to re-hydrate the child themselves. They drop off the child, but hear nothing more about what happened next.

There appears to be no mechanism to tell them if their decision was correct and whether equally trained people would have made the same decision.

The blog post talks about the decision points in the job.  It is worth reading in the original for the pattern of thinking that is typical in skilled people.  We are constantly on the look out for this thinking to inform our understanding of the information that experts use and need.   And indeed, who is an expert and who is not.

You will also see the confusion and overload that’s caused by not getting feedback quickly.

So what can the organization do to provide adequate feedback?

I don’t know what the NHS does. I’ve never worked with the NHS in a professional capacity and I don’t know any work psychologist who has.

What I would expect to be happening is a regular psychological audit of each and every job to look out for situations like this.

We want to know that in each and every situation, a skilled and experienced worker is able to set a goal, lay out a plan, and obtain feedback before they begin that task again.

Why might that feedback not be available?

1.  The task is handed over, and for some reason, the feedback loop is not in place.  It might have gone AWOL (in which case alert the line managers and check that they put it back).   It might never have existed (in which case which psychologist slipped up).  The job might have drifted (in which case re-analyse it and adjust the feedback system).

2.  There is one other scenario that is more tricky.  Managers have been known to hijack feedback because making people wait for information makes them feel powerful (and sometimes allows them to distort what is said).   An organization has to come down on such practices like the proverbial ‘ton of bricks.’   Withholding information causes stress and overload, delays learning, and potentially causes accidents, which in an organization, like the NHS, may lead to loss of life.   If managers are intercepting feedback, that has to be reversed.   In a hierarchical organization, usually we have one meeting with the manager concerned, and if that does not produce immediate redress, we have an urgent meeting with his or her manager.

Who guards the guards, so to speak?

The system does not stop with psychologists keeping jobs properly balanced.    The file on the job (not the person – the job) should have the internal auditor’s signature on it confirming they have checked that the psychological audits are taking place and are being conducted properly.

And there should be another file with copies of the report that the internal auditors routinely send to the Chief Psychologist to report on the quality of the psychological audits.

A lot of work?

Organizations are a lot of work.  That’s why we have to consider whether we want one at all.  But once we have one, we have to run them properly and ‘prevent rather than cure’.  Good systems reduce crises, problems and accidents.

I don’t know what the NHS does exactly but as the largest employer in the world, I imagine they have sophisticated management systems in place.  Feedback failures are one of the many things that ‘staff managers’ count, monitor and resolve.

Does anyone know how the NHS, or other large British employers, manage their feedback systems?

For further reading on the 3 tier system of

  • Doing
  • Directing
  • Reviewing

.

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Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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manchester airport
Image by rogerbarker2 via Flickr

The recession is like a plane journey

When I lived in New Zealand, I flew a lot.  Thirty-six hour journeys in the main.  After a while, it was possible to get it down to a fine art.  Everything was just where I needed it.  I knew the oddities of the airports en route, and the vagaries of a chain of flights through countries with their own distinctive cultures.

I walked into an aircraft, put my hand-luggage overhead, and sat down with exactly what I needed – book, hard case to protect my glasses, pen and passport if I anticipated filling in forms before we touched down.

And then someone sat down next to me and started bobbing up-and-down. First, they had forgotten this. Then they had forgotten that!  My heart would sink!

What can psychologists tell us about being cool, calm and collected?

Why is that some people cannot get their act together?  Why are others cool, calm, collected, and seemingly in control of every thing going on around them?

Action theory

Yesterday I listed three types of initiative described by Michael Frese of Giessen University.

Self-starters are quick to action and equally quick to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In an aircraft, they get their junk into an overhead locker quickly, clear the aisle, help other people, hold up no one, yet are comfortable and ready to go.

Proactive people think ahead.  They have what they need in the outer pockets of their hand luggage.  They are dressed for a wide range of cabin temperatures and take off a jacket or put on one without a fuss.  They know that alcohol will worsen the cabin-induced dehydration and they claim all the water they can see.

Persistent people are amazingly flexible.  They know that they are not in control and ‘read’ what is happening around them, less to join in, and more to help everyone else get settled.  They know they can get back to enjoying a quiet and peaceful flight when every one else is settled.

Can we be self-starting, proactive and persistent all at once?

Of course, we would like to be!  We all like to be in control, calm and dignified!  But can we be prompt to act, yet planful?  Can we be flexible, yet persistent?

The three styles of initiative are brought together with three key psychological concepts: goals, plans and feedback.

Goals are amazing.  When we decide what we really want to do, we become self-starters.   We jump into tasks and nothing can stop us.  Oddly everything becomes very easy too – or as we say, ‘the universe conspires to help us’!

Plans allow us to anticipate the various ways something can pan out.  So we learn to allow for other people’s needs and we budget a little time and energy to help them out.

Feedback tells us if we are on track.  If we have a realistic mental model of what will unfold, we can say to ourselves – my long term goal is to have a restful flight and my short term goal is to help my neighours get settled.  Then we can follow both plans simultaneously.

German and American psychology

The big difference between German and American psychology is the recognition of these three concepts.  American psychologists talk a lot about goals and to a lesser degree about feedback.  Germans place a lot more emphasis on plans.

We are able to make plans when we understand how the world works.  Hence, education is important.   So too is experience.  So is a good attitude to errors.  An error simply alerts us to the possibility that something needs to be understood.

For example, on several occasions as I stood exhausted and bleary-eyed in Australian passport queues, something went wrong with their computers and it took over an hour and a manager to sort it out.  The third time it happened, I stepped round the counter and watched how they resolved the problem.  To cut a long story short, it seemed that the clerk had entered the country code for my passport incorrectly.  I could see that this would happen again.  Thereafter, my passport proudly carried yellow stickies with the message “The code for xxxxx is yy!”  Understanding the objective world and the priorities of others is so important to maintaining our own bearings.

When I understand the “noise and whip of the whirlwind”, I find it so much easier to deal with the “noise and whip”, or to use another metaphor, to give unto Ceasar.  Dealing with distractions, interruptions and errors may take a little time, but I don’t muddle them up with a commentary on what I am doing.  I deal with the distractions on their own terms, and register as feedback solely whether or not I am free to pursue my own goals!

When I am aware of what is going on around me and I have dealt with the odd things that come up, then at last I can act more like a self-starter – pursuing goals, doing what needs to be done immediately, being more mindful, and finding flow.

All three – goals, plans and feedback – work together.  Sometimes I am on a learning curve.  And I need to get through up that curve to arrive at a point where I am self-starting, proactive and persistent – or to anyone else – cool, calm and collected!

So what should I do about my disorganized neighbours?

Well, neigbours on long-distance flights, as in life, can be interesting or dull.  They can genuinely require help, or just be the most feckless, disorganized wretches that it is possible to imagine.

It doesn’t matter which they are. They are. They simply ‘are’.  We take them as we find them.  I’ve found myself reading for hours to an 8 year old travelling alone and on another flight, moving seats to allow an engineer travelling from Melbourne to Rwanda to use my seat to sleep.  I’ve shared a beer with a fireman from 9/11 and translated for seamen determined to drink the bar dry as they flew from Cape Town to Beijing.

They each had their goals, their plans based on their understanding of their world, and their judgement of the situation.  They’ll settle soonest if they can explore the situation they find themselves in, learn what works, and balance up alternative plans.  The sooner they can do that without distraction from me, the sooner they will settle.

And talking about the recession?

Like most people, I am exasperated by the mess made by the banks.  I am not even sure why we continue to pay people who are manifestly not competent in the business they have chosen.

I am also looking forward to the point where more people around me are ‘up to speed’ on what is happening in the world of international finance.  I’ll even be happy when more people around me are actively trying to find out what is happening.

I would like to see people setting positive goals.   Too many goals seem to be persistent in the wrong way  – hanging on to what we thought would happen – and no longer relevant to what is happening.  As we learn about this new world, we must find goals that are attractive in spite or even because of the mess. We will still have to deal with the mess, but it won’t bother us half as much if we have our own goals on the horizon.

And then we will find ourselves more active – less inclined to groan when the alarm clock goes off.

The truth is achieving goals is simple – the universe really seems to help us.  Deciding on our goals is the hard part.


Come with me!

So I’ve begun.  Today, I flicked open my SEO notebook at the back and started jotting down key figures on the British economy as I found them in various articles.

How are you learning more about the financial system and the economy?

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