Tag Archives: BT

Getting it right rather than ‘firefighting’…unless that’s your job!


By Elisabeth Goodman

Being a ‘farmer’ not a ‘firefighter’

Some years ago when I was first learning about Lean and Six Sigma, a colleague shared an article he’d found comparing farmers and firefighters. People in organisations are often singled out when they have worked all hours to deal with a crisis, and yet the people who have worked more quietly to anticipate those problems and put preventative measures in place (the farmers) can often go un-noticed.

Lean Six Sigma and Project Management techniques advocate just that quiet and steady farming approach (the FMEA technique described in an earlier blog is one way to do this).  Lean Six Sigma also advocates stopping and addressing problems as soon as possible after they do arise so as to prevent the same thing happening again.

What can we learn from the competitors in the Olympics at London 2012?

It’s impossible to write blogs at this time without referring to the Olympics and London 2012, which has kept many of us supporting Team GB glued to our television screens!

The competitors have been training for 4 years or more for the Olympics. ‘Firefighting’ is hardly an option when you’re up against the clock in your event, and you just have to get it right on the day.  How did the medalists and the other competitors who achieved their personal bests manage to do so?

“Hard work and grafting” was the approach described by Mo Farah after his exciting finish in the 5,000 metres: the culmination of his strategic planning and execution of the race itself.

Contrast this with Brazil’s men’s football team’s desperate attempt to equalize Mexico’s 2-point lead in their final match. In the words of the BBC commentator: they “started sloppy and underestimated Mexico”. They managed to score a goal in the 90th minute but missed scoring a second with a simple header because “it was too much” for the player involved.  Their ‘firefighting’ was just too tall an order.

The quality of the Olympic competitors’ coaches and their ability to pass on their knowledge, experience and expertise will have been a big factor in these games. It was intriguing to watch the dynamics between the pole-vaulter Holly Bleasdale and her coach as she tried to cope with a persistent breeze. She did seem to be in ‘firefighting’ mode and sadly things did not work out for her on this occasion.

Project management heroes

Coming back to the world of project management, Tony McGoldrick Opinion Piece in July’s issue of Project writes about how we can all be ‘heroes’ by doing the basics well. He also queried the all too frequent emphasis on ‘firefighters’.  For him, getting the basics right involves understanding and delivering what your stakeholders want, and getting the quality, timing and budget right.  Incidentally, the July issue of Project also carried an article by Andrew Hubbard on BT’s goal of ‘flawless delivery’ and getting it ‘right first time’ for the Olympic games!

Being the best that we can be

Amongst all the marvelous reflections and pronouncements about the Olympics, I found the following in this Sunday Observer’s ‘The farewell’ report by Tim Adams: “What these Olympics have been about, though, is not the necessity of being the best, but the pleasures of finding out the best you can be”.

Whether through “hard work and grafting”, anticipating and planning for risks, never underestimating the competition, being clear on how we can deliver value to our shareholders, and being committed to doing so, we can all not only become better farmers and heroes rather than ‘firefighters’ in our everyday lives, but enjoy the process of becoming so.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners


Employee involvement is of course fundamental to the success of any business process improvement initiative: without the close involvement of those who are involved in an organisation’s process, it would be futile to try to identify opportunities for improvement, let alone to try to implement them.  So it was with some interest that I read the results, in this Sunday’s business management article in the Observer : “Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service?” (22 August 2010, pp38-39) – commissioned research on how the FTSE 100 companies report on employee engagement, and of how they ranked the top 30.

The research on employee engagement and the findings

The full report carried out by Transparent Consulting, with assistance from Snap Surveys, Call Britannia and Tomorrow’s company is available from http://www.transparent-consulting.com/engagement-index/.  It evaluated the FTSE 100 companies’ annual reports up to June 2010, and compared them to the 2006 Companies Act requirements, which include the need for companies to report on their impacts on employees.

Amongst the report’s key findings are, that: “Companies and sectors which prioritise customer satisfaction are also the ones that seem to find it worthwhile to give attention to employee engagement.”  (Banks, insurers, utilities, telecoms and media were the highest-scoring sectors.)  Such organisations are thus addressing some aspects of the two key components for effective business process improvement: customer relationship management, and employee involvement.

The report’s detailed data make for an interesting review of the FTSE 100 companies.

Examples given of how companies engaged with their staff fell into the following categories:

  • Communication – 80% used company intranets or newsletters; 13% sent senior executives ‘back to the floor’ (e.g. Marks & Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury, Kingfisher); only 4% conducted exit interviews when employees left.
  • Employee surveys – nearly 70% conduct regular surveys, with 41% of the total conducting annual surveys, and some conducting quarterly ones (Lloyds Banking Group, British Airways, BT and J Sainsbury).

There are also other important aspects of employee engagement covered by the report such as diversity policies and Health and Safety practices.  Pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are also mentioned in the report.

Case studies on employee engagement and customer satisfaction from BT, Sainsbury and Centrica

The following extracts from the Observer article’s description of the case studies in the report speak to aspects of employee engagement and customer relationship management that could support a business improvement culture:

  • In BT, each manager gets a report on their team’s collated responses to the employee engagement survey, and is expected to work with their team to address the results.
  • Sainsbury operates a process for collecting ideas from employees and putting suggestions into practice.  They also have a “daily huddle” where employees talk directly to managers, and senior managers / executives are expected to visit their stores on a weekly basis to talk to front-line staff.  Sainsbury also have an online “community” to collect employee feedback.  Finally, they also conduct monthly customer surveys.
  • Centrica ensures that clients’ opinions about their service are fed back to their employees.

Closing thoughts

As Simon Caulkin points out in his aptly titled accompanying commentary to the Observer article: “Britain’s companies can’t afford to continue wasting the human capacity in their grasp”, it’s time for companies and financial analysts to think beyond economic efficiency, and recognize that “in a knowledge-based economy it’s worker’s ideas and inventiveness that matter most.”

Companies’ focus on employee engagement and on the tools to facilitate and measure this engagement are important, but will only work if the people involved are: doing the jobs that they enjoy; supported in the skills that they need to do them effectively; ‘empowered’ (or have control over) how they do their jobs and can improve them; and have a belief (endorsed by their managers) that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Although neither article, nor the report mention this, a strong awareness of what is important to the success of the organisation, including up-to-date information on the needs and views of customers, are all key complements to effective employee engagement, and to the success of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.