Saturday, July 25, 2009

About stress and work life balance

This spring was extremely stressful for me. Mainly because of things not related to my work - but my high stress level naturally effected also my contribution at the office. I had difficulties to sleep, which led to poor concentration resulting to delays and forgetting things. I was even too tired to ride my bicycle. And that is alarming, since riding bicycle is my main method of relaxation. I went to see a doctor who told me to “Relax!” and offered sleeping pills, which I refused to take. Instead I slowed down and my stress level came down. At the same time many things started to get solved and my stress was gone.

I did some thinking about stress and work life balance and decided to blog about it now on the first day of my summer holiday. I actually blogged about the same topic last year. I hope I have learned something and don’t need to blog about stress again next year.

Let’s start with finding your stress level right now by completing a simple online test provided by Canadian Mental Health Association. They also provide resources for Coping with Stress.

Many of the blogs I follow regularly have had posts related to stress. John Spence wrote about How to have Much Less Stress and Much More Happiness, Matt May wrote about the power of The Quiet Mind in producing Eureka! type breakthrough insights. Zen Habits has several posts about stress – see for example 20 Ways to Eliminate Stress From Your Life, or type stress on their search box.

But remember: dealing with stress starts with you - nobody else can stop you form pushing too much but you.

To save time (and reduce stress), I will use material from our Corporate Responsibility Report to describe how we deal with Work life balance in the office. And I dare to say I provide these possibilities for my team and our company provides them for me.

Work Life Balance

Work-life balance means different things in different cultures. Our approach to the issue is designed to meet the needs of our employees around the world. Working patterns, activities and benefits vary by country according to local legislation, culture and common practices but can include:
  • Flexible working hours
  • Healthcare services and programs
  • Employee assistance program
  • Generous time-off plans
  • Telecommuting
  • Fitness facilities and support for sporting activities
  • Social and cultural activities
  • Taking advantage of local rules to provide access to tax efficient retirement saving, child care, computers, charitable giving
Our managers have a key role in supporting and enabling our employees to achieve both professional and personal goals. Being a flexible employer benefits both staff and the company. Moreover, our leadership development programs help to focus our managers in promoting innovative and flexible solutions for job satisfaction, job performance and overall quality of life.

But again, at the end it is up to you as an individual to take advantage of the possibilities provided.

Tomorrow I will fly to Finland for summer holidays with my family and will not update this blog until late August. Meanwhile you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Please enjoy the summer and relax with your family and friends!

If you need something to read, check out Slowness by Milan Kundera, one of my favorite novelist. According to him There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lean, Elegant and Excellent

I just experienced the most impressive company visit during my career. I have visited quite a few companies in several industries during the past 15 years, but none of them compares to NBK in Gifu, Japan. NBK originally started 450 years ago as a pot maker and has during the years evolved to a maker of metal parts such as pulleys, couplings and screws, with 410 employees generating US$ 80 million of revenue.

What made this visit so impressive is that they seem to fullfil all
I'm not going to list all those principles here, I have explained most of them earlier and will be blogging about Toyota Way later.

NBK has managed to create a true learning organization which operates according to lean principles producing high quality products with high customer and employee satisfaction and good profitability.

And they do this with
  • no sales budget

  • no cost budget

  • no profitability target

  • no HR department

  • no Quality assurance department

  • no maintenance department

  • no bureacracy

  • ...
Instead they had had culture where they put high emphasis on employee learning, job rotation, continuous improvement and meeting each customer's needs. Their Sushi Bar Concept describes how committed they are to meet their customers needs - to understand the rest you need to go and visit the factory.


NBK's craftsmanship meets each customer's needs.

As our customer, we would deliver what you need, right when you need it, in just the amount you require. We at NBK have been polishing our skills in an effort to craft each individual product with precision and mastery, as embodied in the work of sushi bar chefs. We continually strive to respond to all customer needs. We do so by engaging in "one-by-one production," and inspecting every single product that we produce in order to ensure the highest quality possible, and by responding to customer orders anywhere, anytime, and for any quantity, even for an order of one.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Creative Chaos or Productive Neatness?

Recent blog post on Bill Matthies’ Business Wisdom got me commenting on creative chaos and productive neatness. And it got me thinking of brainstorming which might look like creative chaos. But when brainstorming is mastered the creative chaos is actually guided by productive neatness.

I’m not that good at it, but here’s the best practice I learned five years ago by watching the video(s) below by Ideo. While watching the video I sketched the process on the right – the “chaos” at Ideo happens neatly within these boundaries.

See also FastCompany articles Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming and Six Surefire Ways to Kill a Brainstorm. Or my previous post The Art Of Innovation (which is also name of the book where Ideo presents these rules and stories).

OMG! This is all 5-10 years old stuff, am I getting slow or old?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Your options in change

I have been writing a lot about organizational change from the organizational point of view, but this Nevin Danielson's ChangeThis Manifesto looks at change from the individual's point of view.

He is talking about organizational change, but you can actually apply his thoughts to political change, economical change or other types of major changes happening around you. Nevin examines the options you have for participating in that system. And submits this challenge: Will you flow with it, flee from it or fight it?

Our radar is constantly on, sensing the cues that we’ll synthesize to decide if we’re actually going to be engaged at work. The end result of our synthesis is
a feeling, a feeling of whether we’re content within the system. Are you accepting the status quo? If not, what are your alternatives?

The Flow Option

If you work in an optimal organization, you like it and how it allows you to contribute at your best level, then naturally you can flow with it - unless there is room for continuos imprvoment which is a form of slow change, not flowing.

Or are you just comfortable with the system and flow with it because you are less comfortable with the other options - flee or fight.

Nevin's manifesto argues that we should make the deliberate and courageous choice to NOT flow. You owe it to yourself to find true meaning in your effort. Flee if you must, but consider what it looks like if you choose to fight. It may be a watershed event that defines your career.

The Flee Option

In today's labor market you are free to flee the existing system if you want. By flee, Nevin means choosing to leave the system, ostensibly to go to another system more suited to your needs. But there are risks and challenges with this approach - you do not actually know how the other system looks form inside and it will take time for you to earn credibility in the new system.

Fleeing could be the best option when you know the system you are in is too entrenched to change. It will require too much energy from you to see meaningful progress. Shifting your energy to a new system can be valuable for you, the organization you leave and the organization you go to.

This is actually what I did seven years ago, when I had a mismatch of values and did not see any meaningful future for in at the system I worked for at that time - not even after a period of coaching and partly because the coaching made mee see I was not able to fulfill myself at the system I was in. I have never regretted that decision to flee - it opened me a whole new world in a system where I am able to contribute, and where I am allowed to fight for change.

The Fight Option

Fighting is a pretty strong word. Please forgive the alliteration. By fight, Nevin means that you can work to change the system. If you’re in the system and disagree with it but are passionate about the outcome the organization is pursuing, this may be more of an obligation than a choice.

The variables Levin sees in fighting the status quo:

Loud or Quiet? Are you going to state your intentions and go on the offensive? Alternatively, are you going to disagree with the system and choose simply to not participate? The quiet non-participation does not lead to anything except maybe to you been seen as a non-performer and to change resistance when the system will further develop to something you disagree even more.

Fearless or Pragmatic? If you choose to fight, it really boils down to deciding how much you’re willing to challenge the system. This choice is best envisioned as a continuum. At one end, you fearlessly behave the way you believe you should, even though the system may have consequences, either expressed or implied, for those who behave that way. At the other end, you gingerly select the safe route, expressing your displeasure at the system when you’re not stepping on toes, or perhaps toes of people who can’t hurt you. There can be a feeling of accomplishment if you lean towards the pragmatic option. You see that you are not flowing and you have not fled, ergo, you must be fighting.

Earlier I was more fearless, was about to step on too many toes and became more pragmatic. The pragmatic approach has led to the results I was hoping for. Slowly but surely. Slower than my fearless change agent would have wanted, but I have achieved them at the end anyway.

It’s a delicate balance, but Nevin believes a thoughtful blend of compassionate articulation, well-founded arguments and insightful behavior can be seen as an effort for a greater good. You can stir a change movement that affects the system and creates positive results for the organization.

Photo by bizior

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Atomic Rules of Kaizen

Lately I have been thinking about Kaizen (continuous improvement), and came across blog by Pete Abilla. Earlier this year he wrote a post about The Atomic Rules of Kaizen. The post was so good I will quote it as such:

Systems that are internally consistent and externally pragmatic stem from just a few rules. Systems with exceedingly many rules typically fail or will not endure. For example,
  • Most mathematical truths stem from just a few axioms
  • Music stems from just a handful of finite notes
  • Most Martial Arts stem from a few principles of angle, attack, force, etc.
This same approach is true for Kaizen. In Kaizen, it is important to have fidelity to just a few atomic rules, from which a range of behavior will originate. Below are the rules that I subscribe to:
  1. Spend no Money
  2. Add no People
  3. Add no Space
  4. Add no Steps (Touches)
These four atomic rules collectively form constraints, leading to some creative tension. For example,
  • We will be compelled to use creativity
  • We will be compelled toward elegance
  • We will be compelled to respect people
  • We will be compelled to question the status quo
  • We will be compelled to think “we can, if…” instead of “we can’t because…”
  • We will be compelled to focus on processes, instead of finger-pointing at others
  • We will be compelled to make many small improvements, instead of big, water-shed changes that take a lot of time and resources
  • We will be compelled to seek the collective wisdom of many people, instead of a few, select heroes
In a tough economic climate in which we all find ourselves, a Kaizen worldview is needed more now than ever.

By Pete Abilla,