Archive for February, 2010

Productivity vs Product-viability

Feb 26, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Change Initiation

Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Toyoda’s apologies:

“In the past few months, our customers have started to feel uncertain about the safety of Toyota’s vehicles…”.

“Toyota has for the past few years been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick.”

“…Toyota’s traditional priority of Safety, Quality and Volume became confused and we are not able to Stop, Think and make Improvement…we pursued growth over speed and forgotten the basic stance of listening to our customers…”

Productivity is the buzz word in Singapore since the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC)  study has unveiled ambitious plans aimed at transforming Singapore’s economy over the next decade. Chairman of the ESC, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam told a news conference Monday morning: “Our assessment is that the next 5 to 10 years will provide greater opportunities for growth in the world around us than any decade we have seen in the past… It will require a change in how we work, how we create value.”

I did a brief search on ‘Productivity’ and would like to share with you the following:

Manual (Labor) work productivity, popularized by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early 1900′s  uses Sciencetific Management – is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows, with the objective of improving labor productivity. Peter Drucker identified better knowledge work productivity as our most important economic need. Manual work is visible, specialized, and stable, whereas knowledge work is invisible, holistic, and ever changing. Unlike manual workers, knowledge workers use their situational knowledge to get things done in a dynamic environment. They are almost always formally educated and are called upon to run and change their functions and organizations simultaneously. Here a quick table comparison:

Frederick Taylor on Manual Work Peter Drucker on Knowledge Work
Define the task Understand the task
Command and control Give Autonomy
Strict standards Continuous innovation
Focus on quantity Focus on quality
Measure performance to strict standard Continuously learn and teach
Minimize cost of workers for a task Treat workers as an asset not a cost
Manual Work Productivity Knowledge Work Productivity
Work is visible Work is invisible
Work is specialized Work is holistic
Work is stable Work is changing
Emphasizes running things Emphasizes changing things
More structure with fewer decisions Less structure with more decisions
Focus on the right answers Focus on the right questions

Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise, by Jack Bergstrand

ConversationCircles recent work with Fonterra Brands (see Fonterra case-study) help our client to identify that their work is changing therefore the entire team need changing mindset to continue adding-value to the work they do.  The team that comprises mainly senior executives were encouraged and focus in asking questions rather than just giving answers.

Talk to us to find out more about how we can help you in Change Initiation with your organisation.

Clarity invites Commitment

Feb 19, 2010 // No Comments » // HR Insights

Photo source : Isaac B2 via

Photo source : Isaac B2 via

Have you ever drive aimlessly? Have you ever attempt an endless project? Frustrated? Not easy?

A rookie football coach was leading the players through their pace in a routine physical conditioning exercises. In one segment, the players have to jump high up into the air about 15 times while jogging round the track. The rookie coach observed that the players lack commitment when they jump, no matter how he commanded them with a stern “JUMP!” or encouragement. Annoyed, the rookie coach confided with a senior and the experience coach said: “When you shout jump, their head responded with ‘how high?’”. He continued, “Give them a target and your heart, and they will reach for you!”

How true! Lack of goal clarity can be an Achilles-heel to commitment. We often start the year with resolution, a run with specific end time or finishing point or even groceries shopping with a list seems to be more enjoyable and productive.

We all work and learn better with clear goals, targeted objective and specific purpose.

Have you communicated clarity so as to invite commitment?

Note: In my previous blog titled ‘When Training Might Not Work’ I promised to share with you a down-loadable Learning/Development Passport. The template may be used as a guide to draft a development plan for all your new employees. Do contact me if you have doubt on how to use the passport template.

Why Do It In Circles?

Feb 18, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Conversational Circles


I once heard a story about in ancient time after the discovery of fire. The early men spent their daylight time harvesting and hunting for food supply and when night falls, they would gather in circle with the bonfire in the middle to prepare food, keep warmth, using the lights from the fire to see one another and keep them safe from wild animals. Playfully, I would add to the list what they would do in a circle; they play musical- chair, tell jokes, sing and dance and so on…

In the many meetings during my time in the corporate world I must admit that I do day-dreamed away at times. I would dreamed about what if the early men have to attend meetings like we do? What would they do at the meeting? How would they communicate in a circle like the story I heard when I was a child? Do they have an agenda? Would the leader, like our leaders in our time do most of the talking and the rest listening (or dreaming like I did)?

A circle is not just a symmetrical shape that is for the sake of it. A conversational circle is not just chairs arranged and leaders hosting a meeting with concerns over preoccupied agendas.

A Circle is a way to create space so that people can connect as a community, and rediscover the opportunity to think together and doing things differently. I remembered my very first circle meeting at Singapore Training & Development Association. It was supposed to be an introduction of me to the new colleagues at the association. When the talking piece went round during checking-in, I experienced an aura of calmness and respectfulness and when the talking piece finally came to me, I felt that the fear of speaking disappeared almost immediately and sensed that the respect was given mutually to hear me speak…

We are all familiar with hierarchical structures (triangular shape). They provide efficient ways for organizing and disseminating tasks. It is therefore a useful structure for teaching, distributing, engineering work tasks, organizing data and producing goods. The Circle structures are useful way for learning, consulting, creating community, governance, observing rituals and cultures…

I believed both ways have a place in organization. Both ways, when working in tandem will benefits the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization. In my view, sadly, we have separated the two. Hierarchy, when overused has often been viewed as a ‘mechanical structure’ and ‘patriarchy’, a system that lacks the heart and souls of the people and its environment. On the other hand, a misapplied circle structure can be viewed as ceremonial and lacks the positive influences on the real workings of the organization world. These imbalances are putting strains on organizations and in turn unto the people and environment. In the past century, so many resolves and conditioning have been applied to some degree of success but mostly unsustainable.

In my next post, I will share with you a simple way to bring conversational circle back to your work place. A way to create space…and thinking together.

Be Disturbed

Feb 10, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

Picture source: Amanda_Mac via Flickr

Picture source: Amanda_Mac via Flickr

I once facilitated a program for an IT technical service group of 30 staff. They are a team of diverse specialist good at what they do best in smaller groups but struggled to collaborate as a team.

The day started with helping the team to realized how good are they working on their own and in smaller group but as the day passed, they begin to realize the importance of skills and attitude needed to work together. The day ended with a large group activity that focused on the need to communicate expectation, accountable for other’s successes, and agreeing on ways to do things differently.

At the conversational circle, two questions were asked:

  • What has happened that you find interesting for your learning?
  • If indeed a learning, how can that apply back at your work environment?

“It’s all about planning. We did not plan well in the beginning and we struggled to find a way to solve the problem.” shared one participant.

“We underestimated at certain staged of the activity and don’t really have a leader to spot the problem.” enthused another.

“But we also work well as a team and did not blame one another at times of failure.” concluded another.

I responded: “If I may invite you to think about your learning, your personal ‘aha’ moment, what would that be?”

After a long pause of silence, came a rather weak respond from a petite lady: “To be honest, I came with very little expectation from the learning viewpoint but I thought I am really disturbed by today’s event.”

“Thank you for being honest. Would you like to share more about what you meant by being disturbed?” I sensed a rich vein of possible learning from her…

With a moment of staring blankly, she responded: “Umm…I meant I observed many behaviors of myself that is congruent to the behaviors back at the workplace. I am disturbed…and I did not know that I am like that at work until now…”

“And if there is one change that you may choose to make happen back at work, what would that be?” I invited her response with my eyes connecting sincerely.

“To actively respond to others…I hope.” she ended with her eyes downward.

Have you been disturbed lately?

When training might not work

Feb 05, 2010 // No Comments » // HR Insights


Much of the attention in human resources seems to be about how to retain good people. Likewise, when we offer training programs, we make them as palatable and attractive as possible. You can learn long distance, online, anytime and anywhere convenient in the comfort of your own home. If you are busy, we can even break the program into bite-sized modules to accommodate your working demands.

How are we suppose to create an environment of collective responsibility and accountability if we go down the road of placating to their ever increasing demand on account of being recognized as a “talent”?

Nowadays, most organizations will have some form of training and developmental plan and with substantial budget and resources dedicated. Not many though would communicate the long-term vision and commitment of the training and development plan and purpose for their people. Mostly are done haphazardly and are dependant on many variables that will influence the more important business agenda.

People stay in an organization that respects their freedom and cares about their learning. Your training efforts would change radically for the better if we solicited participation. We have three pointers to share that you may want to consider as a primer to your training initiatives:

  • COMMUNICATES COMMITMENT – Inspire the people right from the start of their career that they take ownership for their long-term learning commitment.  That all training and development be it on-the-job or designed program require time, depth and personal engagement. True value cannot be achieved in a few hours, on the run or at a distance.
  • COMMUNICATES PURPOSE – Impress upon the people the importance of learning agility. Studies have shown that one of the critical skills in the new economy is the ability to unlearn what we thought we already know and relearn what we could possibly know. The purpose then is for people to change their thinking and consider the possibility of creating meaning and a future that is different from the past.
  • COMMUNICATES CHOICE – Instill a ‘Come By Choice’ mindset. No one should be force into anything that is against their will and values they hold. Everyone should have the consciousness of what he or she wants and need to learn, how to learn and when he or she wants to learn it.

In my next blog-post under HR Insights thread, I would like to share with you a template that you may find useful in inducting your new employee into your organization that communicate commitment to learning, purpose in career development and ultimately their choice to make things happen.

Till next time.