Translate this blog

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Recap: Life Science Information Exchange Event in SW Michigan


Recap: Southwest Michigan Life Science Information Exchange 10-18-12

The first southwest Michigan Life Science Information Exchange event held in Kalamazoo at the SW Mich Innovation Center (SMIC) last week was very much like a TEDx event, or rather it was more like at TED event (wonder if I can trademark that?).  The audience ranged from life science manufacturing, to biotech, to pre-clinical, and on to life science business support arenas. 
Ben Culp

Everyone in attendance, including late arrivals, were provided with the opportunity to give their personal “elevator speech” so that they had a head start during the many opportunities at the event for expanding their network. 

               Yours truly started off the event describing the many opportunities for life science companies who want to expand their client portfolio to include the government sector.  The National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, the Office for Biological Defense, the VA, EPA, and the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery are among just a few of the branches of government which award many millions of dollars in R&D, life science equipment, and safety evaluation studies (as well as many, many, more services).  The government sector is not necessarily an easy customer when compared to a commercial client as there are many qualifications and hoops to jump through.  Fortunately, the local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) provides free training, guidance and follow-up to support the life science client.  Because there are many hurdles, those life science companies who are not fully on board (lack commitment) are predictably less successful in this arena.  Conversely, those companies who have developed a systematic approach to the proposal/bid process achieve more successful shots on goal.  Also described was the NIH RePORTer online research tool.  This government-transparency tool provides a great deal of information for researching topics, forecasting, and competitive surveillance.

Brian Knapp of MPI Research

               MPI Research Study Director Brian Knapp showcased the Quantitative Whole Body Autoradiography (QWBA) capabilities that he developed.  Mr. Knapp explained that his methods resulted in the reduction in the number of animals used on study vs. n=3 for traditional tissue excision, allows for multiple data points within the same tissue or organ, and that QWBA can be run in conjunction with other ADME portions or as a standalone tissue distribution study.  Brian also displayed the robust tumor mapping capabilities in their molecular imaging department.

Dr. Andrea Johanson


               Dr. Andrea Johanson from BBCetc based out of Ann Arbor, MI enlightened the entire group with the requirements and intricacies involved in securing SBIR/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)   grants. While her presentation was an overview of the program, it was ripe with enough detail to provide a life science entity as to whether to pursue such a grant.  I am certain that Dr. Johanson will be receiving several follow up phone calls.


               Rounding out the speaker line up were John Underwood and Kevin Marcial from Performance Validation.  Performance Validation supports companies who need to prove that their facility/equipment compliance standards are met. John explained that Kevin’s extensive experience in life science systems validation has actually expanded their company’s service offerings.  Definitely value-added.  I am certain that Performance Validation will get some calls as a result of their presentation.

Kevin Marcial and John Underwood


             The atmosphere at the event was comfortable for people to ask questions during the presentations and engage in a hearty dialog.  Before the event, during the break, and afterwards, the room was quite animated with these professionals connecting to both new acquaintances and familiar faces.

The feedback that we received has been only positive with every respondent asking for this to be a continuing event.  Once the finally tally has been made we will determine if this will be quarterly or semi-annually. As I stated in my first article regarding Life Sciences in West Michigan:  It’s part of our DNA!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

West Michigan Life Science Information Exchange event


Life Science Information Exchange in West Michigan

It’s not San Diego and it’s not Boston, it’s the left half of the mitten and we have one the most broad spectrums of life sciences companies in the region.  Our local skills certainly have a global reach.  The range of life science companies in West Michigan is expansive:

·        Drug development

·        API manufacturers

·        Clinical laboratories

·        Pre-clinical laboratories

·        Chemistry laboratories

·        Biotech research

·        Equipment manufacturers/suppliers

·        Reagent suppliers

·        Medical Device manufacturers

·        Veterinary drug development

·        Animal models

·        Life Science consulting groups

·        Life science project management

·        Life Science business incubators

·        Research Hospitals

·        Research Universities

Until now there has not been a concerted effort to organize an event which connects this broad range of organizations and services. That ends on October 18, when the life science community comes together to participate in a Life Science Information Exchange event providing the opportunity for this entire spectrum to interact and discuss current issues, opportunities and challenges. This fast paced meeting will cover a broad range of topics that each person will find useful on a variety of levels.   There will also be plenty of time for participants to expand their business network. The Southwest Michigan Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) has partnered with the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center (SMIC) to launch this inaugural event.  Everyone working in a life science-related field is welcome. The event is free.  Registration is strongly recommended: www.tinyurl.com/LifeScienceExchange.  You will find this event to be well worth your time. 

Life Sciences in West Michigan?  It’s part of our DNA.

Event flyer: www.benculp.com/lifescience.pdf

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Gamification of Training Records


The Gamification of Training Records
Every day we are being “gamed” without our significant awareness. Whether you have a competitive nature or not, gaming elements are being used to manipulate your behavior to achieve someone else’s goal. Gamification is the application of gaming elements, strategies and mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.  Since you are reading this on-line blog it is likely that you are also clued into some of the most popular social media websites such as Facebook®, Twitter® or LinkedIn®.  It’s pretty clear that there are games on Facebook®, but by comparison LinkedIn® is rather dry and is “strictly business”.  So the fact that you are being gamed by it with every visit may come as a surprise.  I am certain there are more examples, but here are three very easily identifiable ones:

1)     “Your profile is 85% complete”. Much like your local United Way® thermometer which indicates how many donations have been contributed, LinkedIn® wants you to know just how close you are to a goal.  It is our competitive nature to want to meet the goal.  And gee, I only have 15% of the way to go.  LinkedIn® will profess what the benefits are to being 100% complete, thus drawing us into the quest to achieve their goal.  We are being gamed and for that matter, the United Way is gaming us too.

 

2)     726 Connections link you to 4,569,663 professionals”.  Nearly all LinkedIn® users know that the exact number of connections isn’t public once it hits 500.  That in its self may be motivation to gain connections, despite their warning not to connect with people you haven’t actually met, but LinkedIn® provides you with an automatic list of people that you might want to connect with.  Click on any of them, and you have been gamed.

 

3)     “Your profile has been viewed 8 times in the last 3 days”.  WHO viewed my profile?  Thus clicking the provided link takes you to the screen to show you who viewed your profile.  The point is to draw you to another section of LinkedIn®. Simultaneously, LinkedIn® provides the opportunity to not only study/worry/ponder about who has been stalking you, but to encourage you to enroll in a premium account.  They have moved you along the game with your full consent. You have been gamed.

 

 

Applying Gamification Methods to Training Records

In a GLP environment, training records are paramount to compliance and the motivation to have complete records and at the same time promote cross-training is a win-win situation for the organization.  Borrowing a page out of LinkedIn®’s playbook can assist in achieving these goals.  These methods are certainly easier to administer if the training records are in electronic format, but this is not exclusively required. 

 

Much like the %profile complete described above, there is usually a defined list of procedures that the staff must be trained in (initiated and authorized to perform). If the technician is 47% complete on their training goal, then they will strive to complete that next 3% microgoal. It is human nature, but they have to know where they sit on the continuum in order to make the motivation work.  While there may be a financial reward (at your institution) for completion of all of the goals, microgoals along the way make the journey more pleasing to take. 

 

Exactly like the number of LinkedIn® connections, the number of activities that the staff is cross-trained in needs to also be tracked. A salesman with a higher number of LinkedIn connections is one indicator of span of reach and similarly the more procedures that the staff is trained in benefits the organization with flexibility, maturity, and succession planning.  Proving the technical staff with their numerical rank on procedures mastered, can motivate them to achieve the next milestone.

 

Additional reinforcement of the microgoals may include such gamified achievements in the bronze, silver, and gold levels.  [This sort of level naming can reach absurdities as indicated by the gamified announcements for boarding an airplane: “Delta® now welcomes all SkyTeam® Platinum Elite Plus members”.]  Bronze level technicians may work in a single department, silver may work in 3 departments and gold level may work in all areas.  Who wouldn’t want to be a gold level technician?  Eventually, the technician will be financially gratified, but in the meantime, they get a distinction that sets them apart. 

 

Utilizing the ubiquitous Microsoft® SharePoint® can ease the tracking of all of the aforementioned elements so that the technician’s progress, achievements, and quests are readily available.

 

The gamification of your training records can self-motivate your staff to achieve the goals of your organization.

 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

LEAN Six Sigma: Ready, Fire, Aim


Lean Six Sigma: Ready, Fire, Aim

At the weekly staff meeting the boss makes an announcement that a trainer will be in next week and you will begin LEAN Six Sigma green belt training.  BTW, the training will be 2 weeks long.  What’s a six sigma? And how am I going to meet my deadlines? Er… what's a green belt?!

That “buy-in” scenario occurs all too often and while the answers to what a Six Sigma Green Belt is and is not are pretty quickly answered, but the aspect of who is going to cover for the trainee when they are out of production invariably leaves the line supervisor scratching their heads. Clearly the target that the boss intended to hit, has turned into a miss.

What’s Wrong?

As with any new program buy-in by all levels of the company is essential for success.  For LEAN Six Sigma (LSS), the impetus for bringing it in the house may have been one of the following:

·        Too many errors

·        Perceived (by someone) or evident bloated internal processes

·        Low profitability

·        Competitive advantage (or equivalence)

·        Client expectation

Is every effected stakeholder aware of the situation?  If the effected individuals can recognize the need for improvement, then there is greater opportunity for buy-in.  Perhaps the problem exists in an external- to-the-company situation e.g., competitive advantage.  This needs to be explained in understandable terms.  Example: Client A awarded the contract to Vendor B because they had a LSS program and thus had the potential for fewer errors and cost overruns.

 

Who’s Driving?

Who is leading the charge to make LEAN Six Sigma a resident program?

·        Executive Management

·        Middle Management

·        Quality Assurance/Quality Control (there is a difference)

·        CFO

Often the leaders who have been faced with “issues” are the first to grab on to a LSS program.  Executive management sees what the market is doing, how the customers are viewing the company product/service output, and where the company is ranked amongst the competitors by the clients.  Middle management often sees first hand where the issues are, although unable to “get a handle” on how to address them.  The Quality Assurance unit had been losing confidence with level of compliance coming out of the laboratory as too many errors need correcting.  Quality Control has observed an increase in the number of faults/errors and re-do’s are now being considered as part of the regular schedule.  The CFO perceives/theorizes wasted money in time and materials.  All of these observations come from different vantage points and each needs to be incorporated into the roll out program.

 

Who’s on Board?

Who is on board with bringing this potentially onerous program in-house to disrupt everyone’s routine? Those words are fairly negative but if the program is rolled out in a half-hearted way that is exactly what it will LSS become. Buy-in by ALL leaders is required otherwise it could be a painful experience. 

·        Upper Management

·        Middle Management

·        Everyone Else (unified  vision)

·        No one!?

If the top of the organization is driving LSS and the front line staff are committed to it, but the middle management is not supportive, then the program will not succeed. Further, if the leadership is dragging (or nagging) the staff into participation then the six sigma program is going to be an uphill battle.

Ready, Aim, THEN Fire.

 

Before launching into LSS all stakeholders need to understand what the drivers are, what is at risk if remediation (of the issue) does not occur, what the realistic time commitments are required, and how business timelines are going to be maintained. 

 

At the heart of LSS is change and change is not something that comes easily to organizations that do not recognize that there are issues.  While it has nothing to do with LSS, the movie Kinky Boots (PG-13) could well be shown to organizations that need to change but are reluctant to do so.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Who Moved My Silo?


Who Moved My Silo?
When high walls and self-centered actions have a place in your organization (and when they don’t).

Just down the hall, Dr. Joe’s engineering department is just simply not playing fair. His administrative assistant is not in the rotation for switchboard coverage.  Their expense reports don’t have the required receipts attached to them, yet they get paid.  They infrequently show up to the weekly staff meetings.  They go around H.R. when hiring.  Dr. Joe’s casual Friday’s are cringe-worthy.  Information flows into Engineering, but the sounds of crickets come out. How is it that this department is not held to the same standards as everyone else?  Why isn’t the VP addressing this disruptive situation?  Surely, there has been a great deal of grumbling amongst the rest of the department heads.  And now, it’s effecting turnover outside of engineering.   This silo has apparently not kept everything inside its walls.

“Silo” is a pejorative business term and no institution, whether academic, commercial, or non-profit is immune from the silo’s impact.  Despite its relatively recent negative connotation, the silo is not a new invention, and only gets the moniker when others are negatively impacted.  That silo down the hall from your office, didn’t naturally occur.  It was purposely established and while not inside of it, you helped with its construction.  But maybe it’s not a mere silo. 

Building Silos

Silos are a metaphor for closed-loop internal business communication and function.  Resources and communications are held close to the vest.  Silos might be constructed in your organization indirectly as a result of contractual obligations.  The client has contracted for dedicated space/staff/equipment.  Accounting practices may make it easier to limit the number of hands working on a project so as to track the specific FTE’s used on the project/product. Or specific training for the project for very few individuals make that skill set difficult/restricted to pass on.  Example:  Working with radiolabeled compounds may require hours of training by an external source.  Thus when one needs help to get past a bottleneck, there are only a handful of people that can be called upon to assist with the burden. Once that finite skill set is contractually obligated to inhabit a silo, the remaining projects needing that scarce resource will have a difficult time meeting their milestones.

The president of your organization wants to provide the new hired gun with all of the resources he needs to get the job done.  The CFO wants that specialist to be fiscally conservative and share resources.  These are often diametrically opposed actions. One is a silo building action and the other is a silo busting action.

There are Six Irrefutable Laws of Silo’s

1.      A silo will persist as long as it is profitable for the organization.

The hiring director woos a specialist to join the company with the promise of dedicated staff, etc. The length of the honeymoon is dependent entirely upon the profitability, bid success, innovative output or the positive industry recognition gained by the specialist in his silo.,  Performing below promises or expectations, gets a monitored honeymoon with a shortened silo or it may be engulfed into a different silo.

2.      A silo is either a fortress or a prison.

In the obscure 1965 Movie, The War Lord, Charlton Heston’s Saxons occupy a (silo-shaped) fortress in hostile Friesian territory. After some questionable “public relations” decisions their castle becomes their prison as the locals gain control of when the Saxon’s can freely leave their quarters.  Whether a silo is a fortress or a prison depends entirely on which side of the door the key is on.  Similarly, the silo in the department down the hall may be keeping a toxic influence out or it may be keeping a contaminant contained inside.  The hiring practices over in the engineering department may not be appropriate (or legal) but at least they are isolated away from your department.  Conversely, their perspective may be that they have discovered a fast track to expense reimbursements and it might ruin their advantage if they let the secret out and everyone took the shortcut.  If everyone is on your road, it’s not a shortcut for long.


3.      Silos which are contractually established for dedicated resources are impervious to process improvement programs. 

It will not matter that a six sigma program determines a new process that makes better use of labor or equipment.  If that new process involves sharing the government-purchase electron microscope rather than have it sit idle for 3 days/week. Then that new process will be contractually forbidden. Similarly, if PharmaXYZ has exclusively leased 10,000 square feet of laboratory space for their short notice development testing, they will not be a client for long if you utilize that space for BiotechABC for 1 week a month, simply because you did not schedule effectively.

Other organizations are limited contractually to provide dedicated equipment, laboratory space or staff members.  These situations inherently create silos.  Government contracts will create silos of expertise and/or equipment.  Companies which secure government contracts may purchase a specific piece of equipment, eg. Gas chromatograph, to be used for the government project.  When that piece of equipment is idle, it cannot be used on any commercial work, unless it was contractually stipulated to be allowed.   Thus a wall is erected.  Had the equipment been leased on a per sample basis, then it could be used on commercial work.   If the contract is based on FTE’s and the FTE’s were to be Ph.D. level staff then the silo is erected around the Ph.D.’s and therefore cannot be utilized to troubleshoot  commercial project which may be facing a deadline issue. 

4.      Incentive/Bonus programs reinforce silo construction.

Cooperative sharing incentives for localized leadership will expand the diameter of the silo. Incentive programs constructed to turn lack luster groups into profitable ones, which contain no cooperation clause will establish/reinforce “every man for himself” strategies  by the incented one. 

5.  A silo will be replaced by a silo with a different scope of influence.

Sometimes called “realignment”, it may take time for the organization to recognize it that the new organization is just a different configuration of a silo.  Business Development, Marketing, Communications and Social Media units will merge and morph into each other and then subdivide again in varied combinations.  The break up will occur once the silo is recognized as having diminished effectiveness. e.g. Why doesn’t Marketing talk to the Business Development group?  If we put them in the same group they will have to work together.

6.  If the CEO didn't want silos, there wouldn't be silos.

How the entire organization is structured will be a determinant if silos are intentional. Those enviable start-ups are nimble because they operate in an environment where every employee is unselfishly driving towards the same goal and they know they cannot achieve the goal without the collaboration of the entire team. The CEO (COO/President/General/Dean) paints the vision for the organization and assembles the team. When the CEO has not created this environment, at the organizational meeting it will be apparent to the most casual observer whether a departmental update comes as news to the other departments. Retracing steps or rehashing issues are evidence of siloed organizations. 

Silos (sometimes) Have a Place in Your Organization.

Organizations with departments with different funding sources or with strikingly different regulatory requirements are keenly poised to create silos. This does not have to be a negative situation if the entire organization understands where expense  and resource lines must be drawn.  These are siloed organizations by design. Mergers and acquisitions hold the greatest challenge for silo busting.  Maintaining that unique identity of the acquired group must first be determined if that is essential for continued success of the organization.  Otherwise, let the silo busting begin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Operations Management 101


Operations Management 101: The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) has a free on-line Operations Management course: https://www.coursera.org/#course/operations

This is a 6-week course WITH homework.  There are sure to be interesting discussions and if your learn nothing more than your current level of understanding you WILL expand your network!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Staff Meetings that Inspire

Staff Meetings that Inspire
Is your staff dreading the weekly staff meeting?  Perhaps the meetings have become predictable and non-motivating. Unless you have a “no phone” rule, the point at which the meeting has lost its audience is signified by an overwhelming amount of email checking and website surfing that happens just below the level of the conference tabletop.   Having experienced both roles as meeting leader and attendee, I have been guilty on both fronts [although I do believe that when the meeting leader checks his phone that everything is out the window].  Seems like there would be a learning moment to fix this situation then, wouldn’t there?   Enter Steward Sandstrom, current CEO of Springfield, IL Chamber of Commerce.  Having presented and endured my share of Youtube videos as part of meetings I have found them to be a mixed bag in quality and content.  Steward refreshingly makes a point of using TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Talks videos during his meetings.  [This is not intended to be a commercial for TED.com].   TED videos are consistently produced and edited in a high quality manner.  Further the index of “talks” is sortable not only by content, but also by level of seriousness, awesomeness and “inspirability”.  Steward mixes those up and is able to challenge the staff to view situations from different perspectives and motivates to think “how would our clients respond if…”.  Sometimes 3 minutes and sometimes 18 minutes, whatever attention was lost is quickly recovered when the TED video plays.  For the uninitiated, TED talk videos are frequently: “look at this magical technology we developed” , “look at this common situation in a new perspective” or “Oh the humanity! We need to address this situation now”.
While a meeting can be re-focused around a TED video, the magic actually happens after the meeting has concluded.  Outside of the meeting space comments, discussions and debates are triggered amongst office mates and in my case at the dinner table.  While meetings are held to achieve end results to inform and to decide, there is no reason that a few minutes cannot be invested to also inspire.  I recommend that you give this a try and see how your staff responds to the change in the agenda.
How to Start a Movement video from TED:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sink or Swim? Your Company’s Titanic Opportunity

Sink or Swim? Your Company’s Titanic Opportunity
Recently, a medium-sized company hit the proverbial ice berg. The chief executive abruptly announced that he was taking a position with another company. At his staff meeting he outlined what the processes should be for finding his replacement. He outlined that the Board of Directors should appoint an interim CEO, and they should form a search committee, it should take a few months to identify suitable candidates and a new CEO should be in place in about 5 months. He assured the staff that their positions should be safe and they probably have nothing to worry about. The only definite was that the incumbent would be leaving the scene in a couple of weeks. At the very next staff meeting while the incumbent was house-hunting, the staff openly discussed who could be a potential replacement. What’s wrong with this picture? Answer 1: Most everything . Answer 2: No succession planning.

Succession plans are essential for an organization to thrive in BOTH times of success and times of turmoil. Succession plans are often viewed with a jaundiced eye by some who regard them as threats to their jobs. That could indeed be true. If someone has been in training to fill in for you, then indeed you are no longer irreplaceable. Conversely (and far more likely), having a back-up person can free you up to take a more senior position, added responsibilities, and handle more projects. It simply works both ways.

In situations where the soon- to-be-empty position is not straightforward, having a procedure in place will do a great deal for having all stakeholders informed of the navigational route.

It only takes one iceberg to sink a potential business organization. In the instance above, the continued smooth operation of the organization relies upon stable leadership. They are not going to sink, but the crew is going to flounder around for a bit and climb into their life boats until a new captain is at the helm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Darth Vader: Micromanager


Having a bold personality does not guarantee management success.  History is littered with examples of great leaders who possessed a Type A personality:  Napoleon, Churchill, and Qin Shi Huang [first emperor of China] to name just a few.  Forceful, direct and unswerving in the drive to achieve their goals, even through adversity.  But those are leaders from the past.  What about the leaders of the future? How will their management styles stack up? Example: Darth Vader. [Spoiler Alert: do not read further if you have not seen Star Wars.]

Few would deny that Darth Vader is a goal-oriented, driven individual.  He sits atop a vast organization [aka Galactic Empire] and answers only to the CEO [Emperor Palpatine].  Clearly Vader is in a very envious position.  Capital improvement projects (Death Star) are underway, his organization is outfitted with the latest technology upgrades, and last but not least, he is surrounded by a highly trained team of commanders and lieutenants monitoring the progress of the entire organization [empire].  Seemingly Vader has it all under control. Not so fast. The first evidence of his failed management skills appears when he must travel across the Galactic Empire to check on the progress of the Death Star.  Curiously, he could have handled this in a Go To Meeting®.  Displeased with the actions of his subordinates he immediately terminates their employment.  Vader has developed a pattern of knee jerk reactions.  Never does he provide a PIP to the errant staff and thus they are not given the chance to correct their behavior.  Eventually it is evident that if Darth Vader wants something done right, he must do it himself.  eg. torture Princess Leia.  Impatient and with an inability to delegate even the simplest of tasks, Darth Vader would not be a suitable leader in most successful organizations.

Despite my son having warned me not to mix franchises: Vader is a management failure compared to Star Trek’s Captain Picard [also a Type A personality]. Picard empowers his staff to make the decisions in their respective departments. Picard has clearly outlined his expectations to his management team of Riker, Data, Worf, LaForge, and Crusher.  These staff are clearly aligned with the corporate mission statement: “Go boldly”, and they manage their individual staffs to those ends, fully understanding the extent of their decision boundaries and thus not burdening Picard to make trivial decisions.  Further, Picard understands that familiarity breeds contempt and thus does not mix with his direct reports by not inviting himself to their poker games.   

Management success by Type A personalities depends on their ability to listen, empower¸ and teach. Proof: Trek franchise= 12 movies; Star Wars franchise = 6 movies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Comfort Zone or Rut?

The employee who does not try to reach outside of their comfort zone, endangers the success of the organization and stifles their career development.  Recognizing this form of complacency is step one.  Taking action on it is step two.  Getting buy-in is step three.  
Science-nerd TV show, The Big Bang Theory has a great snippet of dialog when Penny says”: … let’s try and get you out of your comfort zone.” Sheldon answers, ”Why would we want to do that? It’s called the comfort zone for a reason.”  In fact, why would we want our employees to operate outside of their comfort zone?  We spend lots of time training them to learn new things which are built upon the foundations that they have built over the years.  But I’ve seen your lab, and you have that one indispensable employee.  You know who I am talking about. When they are absent for vacation it is difficult for the lab to run smoothly, not Earth-shattering stuff, but none-the-less work does not flow right and sometimes it takes their back-up a little longer to find the file, run the blood processor,  or sometimes to even make the coffee turn out right.  I used to be in that situation too.  Then I changed it.

In my large operations services group, I had two directors, Albert and Forest.  Each was responsible for approximately half of the organization with over two dozen supervisors and a few hundred technical staff each.  When one was off fishing, their competent direct-reports knew which decisions to make and which to kick up the ladder.  They infrequently “cross-pollinated” with the other group.  These were not silos, but had divergent job functions.  I had an epiphany on my way to work one day when I was considering their value to the organization.  The company would be really screwed if one of these two got an offer they couldn’t refuse from some outside company.  I devised my plan and called a meeting when I arrived at work:
It went something like this: “Forest, It’s July 1 and on January 1 you are going to take over Albert’s job.  Albert, In 6 months you are going to take over Forest’s job.”  They replied: “But, but, but…” and offered a number of concerns about this out-of-the-blue idea and how they liked the staff that they had reporting to them now and did not want to give their right hand people up to the other person and so on.  My reasoning was that while they were experts in their areas right now, they would be more valuable to the organization if they were skilled in the other one’s job.  The company would end up with not an expert over each area, but rather have two experts for each area. Not only would they add value to the organization, but they also would vastly increase their own value.  I offered that they could return to their former positions in a year.

The instructions given had significant implications:  The move on January 1 had to occur without incident and be transparent to both the external clients and the internal study directors (P.I.’s) .  They had 6 months to prepare for the exchange and were challenged to not drop the baton.  While Albert and Forest were in reluctant agreement to go along, their soon-to-be- former right-handers were not happy about this.  The study directors were also concerned.  They too were in a comfort zone.  I was surely nuts to do this.

January 1 came around and Albert and Forest had spent the last 6 months getting familiar with the staff, the processes, the clients and the new subset of study directors.  As the deadline got closer the decisions made within their groups were done in consultation with each other.   While the event of the job exchange occurred without a hiccup or stumble, there was a more profound change that was brought to light:  Because Albert and Forest were operating in new territory, there were no assumptions made on the skills of their newly inherited staffers.  Some of the skills were observed with a new set of eyes and employees who might have been marginalized or not taken seriously were listened to with a new set of ears. 

I was only looking at the top level to have the greatest impact, but indeed this change positively affected the organization to a far deeper degree.  Even before a year had elapsed, neither party was interested in taking their former position back.  Everyone had been pushed out of their rut and were hitting top speed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

There Are No “Do Overs” When It Comes To Clients.

No client wants a new person working on their project. Absolutely reliable and unflinching in their execution.  That is what is expected, because that is what sold them on doing work in your house.  It does not matter that staff turnover in your lab has been on the rise since your competitor has been poaching your good talent.  After all, that contract was signed weeks before the exodus began and there is no way to explain that your team isn’t ready.  Despite the short term rehearsal, it will become quickly evident that your staff has not gelled.  This will be most evident when it is “crunch time” [always with a client present].  When the error occurs it will be difficult to explain it through your reddened face. 
Compare this to your visit to a restaurant.  When your steak dinner arrives with a well done steak instead of medium rare, who got it wrong?  Was it the waiter who took the order down wrong, was it the chef who left it on the grill too long? Was it the sous chef who assembled the order? Or was it the waiter again who did not check the finished order vs. what was ordered? Just like you the waiter is embarrassed that the system did not work as designed, someone screwed up and you want it fixed.  Your guest is inconvenienced.  When the guests come to town again they will probably choose another restaurant. In order to immediately address the problem, your order gets re-submitted, the kitchen increases the order’s priority in line and someone else’s order gets bumped or in many cases, their order is rushed through and thereby risking the accuracy of that order.  The same is true in your laboratory: if the process is not followed correctly and has to be re-done/re-analyzed/re-processed, it will be rescheduled (if you are fortunate) at a time that is neither convenient for you or your other clients.
Because so many people have a role in the process (at both the restaurant and your lab), it is not easy to say that it was a one-time event.  There are a great deal of double-checks in place and the thing that was missing most in either process was a single responsible person to ensure everyone was executing their role as prescribed.   The client does not care.  You promised this, but delivered that.  When it comes time to choosing your lab vs. another on the next go round, this incident, no matter how low of an impact on the final result, will be a factor in that determination. While I have heard many clients explain that errors happen in their lab too, they are risking their reputations more when an external check is going to be written.  The next time your double soy decaf macchiato turns out not to be decaf, you will likely carefully choose which coffee house stop at on the way to work.  The same is true for your clients.  Will they come back?