As long as I have been active in the business world (and paying attention), “providing solutions” has been part of normal business language. This is not a measure that I endorse, but a Google search for “business solutions” garners 10 times more results than does a search for “business problems.” (For what it’s worth, bing.com turns up 270 million for the former, and 300 million for the latter. Is Microsoft onto something here?)
Tom Blackwell (National Post Health Care columnist) writes last month about the trends to bring Toyota-like efficiency into hospital and health-care environments. The successes are clear and are often demonstrated in reduced wait times and higher through put. Both of these offer defense to such criticisms as “you can’t treat people like automobiles” because you can treat processes like processes.
One of the perspectives that Mr. Blackwell introduces is that of consultant Tim Hill, who works in the implementation of such programs. His criticism is that, as the worm turns toward “everybody’s doing it,” clients may not be getting the value that they should (or, as Hill puts it, “A lot of health care facilities are getting ripped off.”). Needless to say, the eHealth initiative in Ontario has raised the level of scrutiny on consultants to the health-care industry, including perhaps myself and Mr. Hill.
Accountability for “providing solutions” has always been a tricky one for consultants and service providers. How many software executives would take payment from the efficiencies their product generates? Or how many advertising executives would link compensation to the sales impact of a campaign? With a larger understanding of shared interests, consultants can be encouraged to try to “solve the problem” rather than simply “provide the solution.” This may override the obvious tension of the pay-the-least vs. charge-the-most divide. Again, both sides need to be reasonable.
The bigger challenge is where “the problem” stretches beyond the area of the organization that hired the consultants. The natural temptation for any service provider is to give the client “what they want,” which may not be the solution they need. To use Mr. Hill’s example, the hospital may get the rigour of Lean processes (that they asked for!), but some important underlying issues remain unsolved.
Managing the tension of collaboration is possible when there is an understanding of the shared interests. This likely means that: (1) the customer is not always right; and (2) for consultants, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions… but we all knew that already.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MARCH NEWSLETTER OF THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (www.supplychaincanada.org)
We are all familiar with the adage: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” If this is your mantra, please accept my apologies. I am actively working to change that mindset—in a supply chain function—one evening at a time. I am recently involved in delivering training for the Supply Chain Awareness Program for Employment (SCAPE), whereby people with international training and experience can receive courses toward designations recognized in Canada.
In the overview material and cases, much of the focus is on tools and frameworks to identify problems… not just our problems, but within and beyond the organization (e.g. from supplier’s supplier to customer’s customer). The level of complexity and the breadth of the analysis pretty much ensure a grab bag of problems. In my experience working in various industries and countries, a different perspective (e.g. international) provides an increased ability to see “new” problems. Stopping every time to ponder solutions would be paralysing.
I am not at all suggesting that solutions be ignored. The better solutions to these complex problems demand participation from other stakeholders, who may require some help understanding the importance of the problem. Credibility and flexibility are necessary ingredients in this communication. The SCAPE training at Micro Skills will provide part of the credibility, as will Canadian work experience as it accumulates. Flexibility is addressed through the material in “translating” problems to different audiences. We tend to practice the following languages:
- Profit impact on dollars tied up in, for example, inventory (business language);
- Customer service impact of slowdowns and delays (sales language);
- Risk impact of uncertain forecasting (finance language); etc.
The plan is to involve all the necessary people to contribute to a better sustainable solution that almost always involves complex trade-offs. One perspective will not deliver the insight required.
Rather than bring solutions with problems (or not bring problems because we can’t find the solutions on our own), the line should be “Bring me problems and a lists of potential collaborators!” I think that those with other language skills and experiences could be part of this shift.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MARCH NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL. www.supplychaincanada.org
This month, I attended meetings at which the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council, in conjunction with the Canadian Standards Association, assembled stakeholders to discuss the creation of standards for the accreditation of training and education programs in the sector. Like any standards, these are planned to be objective yardsticks. Educational programs or courses that are submitted for review and meet the requirements specified in the standard, once finalized, will be accredited by the Council.
Discussion at one point focused on communication between students and teachers, which got me thinking about the divide between ideal-world and real-world communication in learning environments.
One of the principles put forward at the meeting was that of lifelong learning. I enjoy the parallel of this concept with continuous-improvement supply chain philosophies, such as kaizen.
In a professional setting, there is no room for knowledge building that fails to be applicable in the workplace. Operating with this in mind, students/trainees should ideally receive feedback on their course submissions, as well as in related areas such as problem solving (e.g., “You missed the main issue”), presentation and writing (e.g., “I can’t understand your argument”), and working with teams (e.g., “You caused disruptive tension with your classmates”).
On the other side of the equation, instructors also require feedback that provides information about both the degree of customer satisfaction (e.g., “You demonstrated knowledge and answered questions”) and the teacher’s effectiveness (e.g., “You made it easy for me to pay attention and learn”).
Through this kind of communication, teacher and student answer each other’s question, “What can I do to be more successful in doing my job/building my career?” Since, in an ideal world, both parties subscribe to the principle of lifelong learning, each will want the information that answers his respective question, to enable him to improve his performance.
The attitudes of teachers and students will never be standardized, but you can count on market forces to keep the parties somewhat aligned: students won’t waste their time in programs that don’t deliver value, teachers want to remain employed, and institutions want to attract students.
Many evaluations, rather than providing objective information that would help a student or teacher truly develop skills, address questions such as:
- Was it fun? or,
- Did I get a good mark?
And consider, would a teacher really be open to feedback that indicates, for example, that she is boring or her thinking is outdated?
Most of the training that I am involved with focuses on skill building (in negotiations and communications, for example), so, as with golf and languages, there is always potential for growth. I will confess to not always wanting it, but I do solicit and appreciate feedback from my students and clients. It is easy, however, to see how the commitment to lifelong learning could waver on either side of the equation.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (supplychaincanada.org) – JANUARY 2009.
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