Sustainability and the Humanization of Work

Sustainability and the Humanization of Work

Joanie Mann Bunny FeetFew problems in business are truly solved simply by throwing more money and resources at them.  Certainly, having the people, tools and supplies to get the work done well is a business requirement, and many organizations take a “building out” approach to addressing growing workloads and customer demand.  On the other hand, there are business owners who recognize that things can always be accomplished better and more efficiently, and that improvements in these areas can make the difference between ending up with an overburdened organization with more mass than agility, or a lean organization with the ability to sustain itself while continuously adjusting to meet changing internal and external challenges.

It is said that the only constant is change, and businesses must find a way to effectively and cost-efficiently meet changing demands and conditions in order to survive.  What frustrates many business owners is that change is generally disruptive to the business, representing a significant challenge when it comes to the re-development of internal processes and procedures.   At issue is the understanding that proven, structured and repeatable processes help to improve efficiency, yet changing conditions often require changes to these processes.  In many cases, businesses find that the requirement to structure and document activities is work that must be re-done in the event of broad changes.  Too often, the work falls by the wayside because the minute it is completed, some change comes along and renders it obsolete.  It is somewhat like the child who questions making their bed each day, as they’re just going to sleep in it again and make it messy.

There may be a solution, and a lesson to be learned, in the “kaizen” approach to change and improvement.  Wikipedia’s entry on Kaizen identifies the meaning of the Japanese-Kanji word as simply “good change”.  Similar to the English word “improvement”, kaizen does not refer specifically to any single or ongoing change.  Rather, it has come to describe an approach to business which recognizes the potential for improvement – improvement in work product, work conditions, worker satisfaction, and worker performance – at all levels throughout the enterprise.  Further, kaizen does not describe change as being broad-ranging or particularly intrusive.  Beneficial (good) change may come at any level and may be identified by almost any source.

Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (“muri”), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.

The ultimate business goals are, of course, improved productivity, product quality and profitability.  A “Kaizen” approach to business recognizes that these goals are often met through gaining the participation of the entire organization.  Whether approached as individual effort, small or large group, or via suggestion system, the purpose is to nurture the company’s human resource and help focus it towards making improvements in work environment and activities which lead to improved productivity.  After all, the most valuable asset a business has is its people.  It is logical to apply this individual and collective intelligence and source of business knowledge towards making the company better – and a better place to work.

Make sense?


Reinventing your Business – What Happens When Systems Fail?

Reinventing your Business – What Happens When Systems Fail?

There is a lot of discussion today about how our children are growing up in a world where high technology is simply part of life and lifestyle.  I even read an article about how people are evolving because of the availability of information; evolving to the point where we no longer store and retrieve information, but store information on how to get information.  The article cited an example of someone who couldn’t recall the name of an actress in a movie they had seen, so the immediate response was to search for the answer on Google.  In the past, people relied upon memory, and found various ways to mentally associate and store information so it was able to be recalled.  Now, there’s an app for that.

Are we losing our ability to effectively store and recall information?  Are we forgetting how to do things before we had all this technology to help us?  It makes you wonder sometimes, how technology-dependent we are. We look at the ruins of past civilizations and view seemingly impossible structures, (impossible given what we know about the technology available at the time) and wonder how they came to be.  The knowledge was there at some point, but is now lost.

Is your business at risk from a similar fate?  Maybe it sounds silly, but it makes sense to at least think about it, because there are a lot of companies out there today that are not paying attention to critical issues such as knowledge management and sustainability.  Finding ways to capture business knowledge and protect it is essential in every organization, whether small business or large enterprise.

Small businesses are often centered on an owner who started the operation, and who just knows how things are done.  The primary goal in this situation is to capture that knowledge and turn it into process.   Only through this approach may a business begin to reduce its reliance upon a single individual, and this is a critical step in creating both sustainability and continuity in the business. In larger enterprises, process and structure are essential to keep the various parts and participants moving in the same general direction.

Once those processes are established, generally using technology to support or facilitate them, is that the end of the task?  Many businesses seem to believe so, and move along with the impression that they have things well in hand.  And then a major system or technology failure occurs, and folks are left standing around, unable to get their jobs done.  In the worst cases, there isn’t anyone in the business who really understands how to pull things back together or there is no longer access to electronically stored information necessary to continue operations.  How would you handle things if your systems – your computers and software and systems – were no longer available to you?

While GPS and high-tech auto-pilot systems can bring tremendous efficiencies to the process of flying, they also can give a false sense of security that encourages complacency. If something goes wrong, the auto-pilot will adjust and the computer will tell you where to go, won’t it?

Here is where technology has the ability to distract pilots–and entrepreneurs–from asking themselves if they’re both focused on and capable of solving the right problems.

Each and every business must consider how they would address a severe information technology outage, and should take steps to protect and preserve business knowledge so that there is some hope of recovery from such an event.  In an article on (Survival Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs), writer Chris Mittelstaedt makes this observation, and suggests that business owners address how they might get things done “old school”, just in case all this nifty technology fails us unexpectedly.

Make sense?