Friday, February 04, 2005

Running Up the Score Through Plaque-Busting:
The Sac Bunt, Joe Ely & Re-Tooling  

Last week I wrote about "survivals", behaviors that made sense when their practice began or when they were institutionalized, but that are now behavioral plaque, no longer delivering their original benefit. I promised to describe a method I use to discover and expose them.

My presumption was that, like the sacrifice bunt, the survival was a net-benefit when it got institutionalized. Most survivals are. But a reader who works at a mega-sized multi-national that gets a lot of its margin from armaments chided me for giving survivals that benefit from the doubt. I'll call her "Bill Klem". Klem pointed out that her corporation is stuck with an onerous time-keeping system that requires every single employee to spend anywhere from four to 24 minutes a day to track and report one's time...and that's when the gathering equipment is working.

She asserts that it was never adaptive. Burning up some spare time, she wandered over to the Admin building and interviewed people in the department that collected the data to report to payroll. She discovered the Genesis of the system

"In the late seventies, the VP Finance wanted to upgrade to a more technological capture system. He intended to bid out the system but along the way met a fellow rotarian who worked with a company which had bought a small time-reporting hardware company and was diversifying into software and systems. They were looking for partners to buy the new products that wern't designed yet. They were going to let the pioneers help design the product.

The veep bought in to the idea and took it back to the company. Well, it took almost thirty months to get approval. By that time, the system guys had finished their design. For some reason, my company went ahead and bought the system thatn had been designed for an by other companies in a different industry.

What we bought didn't EVER work for us, not from the get-go, and not now. Just because its a survival does not mean it was ever functional."

Klem has a really good point. Not all survivals started out as net-positive.

But I'll reiterate what I mentioned in the previous entry, which is that in general, the most stubborn survivals are those that were so effective in their original context that their virtue became an article of Faith that people supported without continued examination.

Rooting out those once-useful methods or behaviors requires finding them first. And my esteemed colleague, Joe Ely, agreed to tag-team, writing about techniques we use to find the survivals so we can figure out if they have any value. Then, in turn, you can answer the questions:

  • Does it still work in its present form?
  • Could it be tweaked to be more effective?
  • Why did it develop in the first place?*

The first two questions are of a different nature than the last; they face the present and near-future, and are designed to help you make an immediate judgement. The last is about knowledge management, understanding where this came from so you and your associates can understand how functional solutions can evolve into survivals. Knowing that helps you design methods for better on-going evolution as well as acting as a visible lesson in the costs of insensitivity to the entropy of ignored bahevior plaque.

Joe Ely's first shared technique is to follow the flow and see where it's being slowed or re-directed. He wrote about it here.

Please read his entry then come back here.

The essence of this first technique is to ask the question: What Stops Flow?

Like a batter hitting a gapper and steaming into second base only to discover the slow-poke who had been on first stopped there already, plaque stops flow.

Not all flow-stoppers are survivals.
Not all survivals are flow-stoppers.

But starting with Joe Ely's approach will mow down a mess 'o survivals and other behavioral plaque build-up and is a fun and easy technique you can turn into a group activity in the lunchroom or even as a formal process.

In my next entry, I'll talk about how the sacrifice bunt illustrates the lag time in adapting to new situations and how you can get half-way to evolving only to stall out before you reap the full benefits of change.

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