Archives for the month of: November, 2007

If you ended up here lured by the topic for this blog entry I hope you come away a bit more aware about yourself, your work environment and possibly one or more of your colleagues.

Let me explain how I came upon this topic. First, as part of our Lean efforts, we are examining the possibility of doing “something” with our cube farm. From a Lean perspective, the goal would be to eliminate the waste of motion and to increase communication, collaboration, creativity and job satisfaction (respect for the worker.) The discussion led to things like “open space” offices or offices for all or just a rearranging of the existing floor plan. What was interesting during that discussion was the variety of preferences expressed by the individuals participating in the conversation. They can be categorized into 1) open space with places for privacy, 2) privacy with open places and 3) strict privacy.

I discovered conflicting research and anecdotal testimony when I googled the topic of office layouts, much of it was consistent with the three categories expressed in our discussions. The whole thing got me to thinking as to what determines one’s preference for different office environments. Based on the results of my web search, it became evident on the surface that the type of work, an individual’s personality, and the company culture all have an influence. So, where does sensory integration fit in?

Briefly, Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) “is a neurological disorder causing difficulties with processing information from the five classic senses (vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste), the sense of movement (vestibular system), and/or the positional sense (proprioception).” [Wikipedia definition] More succinctly, it is when an individual processes the input from one or more of his senses abnormally. I became aware of SID when my 4 year old was recently diagnosed with this dysfunction.

How, you may ask, are these two topics related? Well, it became evident that children with SID grow up to be adults with SID. Based on some research, adults (and children) may be diagnosed with related disorders such as ADD\ADHD or a form of autism or not diagnosed at all. SID impacts these individuals in various ways. Things like fluorescent lights, sounds shoes on a carpet, the fabric of a chair, loud bangs or other noise can all cause reactions ranging from social withdraw to hyperactivity. As an adult without SID, you might react to a loud noise with a jolt, but then your body and mind settle down. An adult with SID may react with anger and lash out at a colleague. The adult with SID processed the noise differently and his reaction was involuntary. You might be on the receiving end of this reaction and have no explanation for why your work mate is treating you this way. It is also possible that a person with SID is sensory seeking. A sensory seeker needs additional stimulus to function normally, This may included heavy clothing, loud music, deep muscle stimulation, etc. At work, this person may listen to loud music with headphones, seek physical contact with arm and shoulder touches, enjoy larger groups with multiple conversations, etc.

So, to tie things together the two topics got me to thinking that when we redesign our office space here at ABC Corp., we need to factor in a wide-variety of work types, behaviour, personality, dysfunction and culture. I think that the result will be a selection of different work spaces for individuals. These should include 1) open spaces for collaboration or individuals who are sensory seekers; 2) private, quite areas for workers needing constant focus or people who are easily sensory overloaded; and 3) combination areas that allow for a balance between privacy and public access. The office space should allow for dedicated work areas so that individuals have a sense of space and stability, but give an opportunity for mobility so that a more appropriate work area can be secured when needed. This would mean using wireless technology, notebook computers, kiosks, telephony with mobility (your phone extension follows you), electronic and physical collaboration tools such as Sharepoint, mobile electronic whiteboards, presence technology so that your colleagues know where you are and whether you are available or not.

This is not the Office of the Future. This is the Office of the Present. Companies should be honest with themselves and recognize that this is not that hard (or expensive) to accomplish and is most likely necessary for increasing productivity, efficiency, collaboration, creativeness and overall employee job satisfaction.

Jim Womack Interview in Industry Week – Thought Leaders, Lean on Me

I found the link to above interview with Jim Womack on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog. Check out the post and Mark’s insightful comments.

I wanted to highlight a separate section of the interview in which Mr. Womack is discussing the adoption of Lean in the US. He summarizes his response with the following statement:

I would say that’s the biggest single change in management mentality, to step back and say, “Gosh, the reason why we’re fighting fires all the time is we don’t have any fire marshals around here. We’ve got an incredible fire department with the very best equipment and the fastest, brightest trucks, but we don’t do any fire prevention at all.” That I would say describes American management at this point: brilliant at fighting fires, but not adept at all at preventing fires. And to take our poster boy company, that’s what Toyota historically has done so well is to put bullet-proof processes in place for product development, fulfillment, order delivery and supplier management so that actually things work, as opposed to “nothing works but that’s okay because we’ve really got some bright people on it and we’ll get back to you, boss, in four days with an answer.” That’s a big, big difference in what managers think they do.

Mr. Womack’s comments align with my experiences over the last 15 years. Working in a wide variety of industries, mainly within IT, I have experienced these heroic behaviours as the rule and not exceptions, to rewarded activity. Along with broken or non-existent process, heroic behaviour also arises from poor time management and prioritization of work, inadequate communication as to what work needs to be accomplished by what date, insufficient resource allocation and planning.

Generally, from my experience, management and non-management operate reactively on a day-to-day basis. There is no shortage of complaints on “I’m so busy”, “not another meeting”, “why are we doing this”, and inter-departmental finger pointing. Point solutions are discussed ad nauseum with no tangible change in how people behave. That is partly were the solution may lay. In order for management and non-management to change their behaviour, they must acknowledge to themselves that their current actions are not contributing value to the business (or their family or friendships.) A dictate from executive management mandating a new way of doing something (which is supposedly better) by itself will not result in the positive changes that were anticipated. Teaching individuals to be more self-reflective and empathetic and to create a safe environment for mistakes is also a critical ingredient to meaningful change.

Remember back in high school when you would celebrate silly boyfriend\girlfriend anniversaries like 1 month, 2 month, our first kiss, that time you bailed me out of jail, etc.? Well, I’m now accepting gifts and flower arrangements for my 5 month anniversary at my new job.

It’s been an interesting 5 months. Sort of a roller coaster of events. What I want to concentrate on today is stimulating positive cultural change.

I’ve posted before about generational differences and how the work environment is changing\needs to change to accommodate various workers methods and attitudes. Personally, I know I have been challenged with various organizational structures in which I don’t work to my best potential, including authority hierarchies and turf wars.

My recent immersion into Lean provided a very enjoyable forum of various team members to have open and honest, and often passionate, exchanges. What resulted was invigorating to my work and sent a ripple into the existing paradigm. Some team members (including myself) provided our managers with briefings on how things were going in the meetings. Some managers interpreted the passionate exchanges as a negative. I disagree. As the facilitator, I felt that the team needed this opportunity for a safe exchange of ideas and opinions -some room to breathe. Unfortunately, the current culture is hampered by stories of fear. Fear of management retaliation for employees who express their opinions or take unilateral action. To me, the exchanges at the team meetings were refreshing expressly for there uncensored honesty in what should have been considered a safe forum.

Despite my own impatience with the pace of change, I understand that cultural shifts take time. Many people’s feelings of safety are grounded in an understanding of what they can expect day in and day out when they sit down at their desk. They look to their “managers” to provide direction and stability. What should I be doing now? How about now? They have been trained that if they step off this particular path there will be consequences to pay. Who would want to take that risk? How many of us question the reality of the consequences? Many of these are based on corporate legend and myth. I believe that the reality is much brighter than that. How about this…get rid of the paths. Create an open field. Let the participants suggest their own paths. If they are involved in providing input into where “we” are going, then they will be more likely to lead – and follow.

That means that the company needs to start telling new stories. Stories that will shift the paradigm and attract and retain a new generation of employees. Employees who have grown up with social networks that stretch beyond geographical limitations. Employees who are comfortable with collaboration, self reflection, vulnerability and looking for a work\life blending (not necessarily balance.) Employees who are not focused on climbing a corporate ladder, but in redefining what the ladder is supposed to look like.