Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Setting the Norm

"Only knowledge put to use can create capital." -- Mikel Harry & Richard Schroeder, creators of Six Sigma

NBA Player Royce White speaks on mental health

I realize the whole issue being taken up by Chuck Klosterman in his article (short aside, I believe Klosterman to be a very insightful who is able to cross-reference sports with all other aspects of public interest) is not how I would like to preface today's piece.

It does, however, state a simple fact that we take for granted - setting a norm is the best way to determine how to go about accomplishing something.  If there are no norms, no standards, no procedures or precedents on major parts of activity society would fall apart.

In our office setting the lack of standards is one of the glaring issues we need to address.  I say this without any rancor for any particular manager, or for the management in general.  I am sure they are aware of the problem.  Without any specific standards for operational efficiency, there is a lot of difficulty of measuring how good our people are, or how much money we are actually making.  Sure, there is the financial bottom-line, but even with the best accountants, numbers can prove to be deceptive.  It's just like high-volume shooters padding their stats without any efficiency.

The classic NBA example is Allen Iverson.

I admit I was never a fan of Iverson's kind of game.  Sure, he was a talented player who can get off any shot he chose, but his career shooting percentage is just a little over 40%.  With simple math, it is easy to conclude that Allen Iverson misses more than half of what he attempts.  And if he's your best player, then you are in a quandary - necessity dictates you have to surround him with both good defenders to help stopper the opponent's offense, but who can also shoot reliably when needed.

Experience and common sense will tell you that if there is any player with that kind of combination of ability, they won't stay too long when all they have to do is stand around and wait for Iverson to get settled in isolation during your half-court sets.  It will be fortunate if Iverson gave up the ball, and he did so only under duress.  That is a bad combination for his teammates.

They need their shots too, primarily for their self-respect as players, but more shots also mean more opportunities to score, and therefore a chance to score a better payday.  Good luck on keeping them effective and happy at the same time.  So - hello and goodbye Jerry Stackhouse, Glenn Robinson, Tim Thomas, Toni Kukoc, Keith Van Horn, Chris Webber.  Did I miss someone?

So as his abilities started to decline Iverson became an even bigger problem.  He could no longer produce, but he still had the same tendencies, and was a growing liability at defense as well.  Iverson started as the point man, but because he was such a ball hog he was shifted to the shooting guard position, for which he was undersized.  Opponents could not only shoot over him, they can just body him up to bother his shots or for them to get off theirs.

Any casual reader who makes the call to trade or cut Iverson after reading the last few paragraphs is probably correct.  Of course, when Iverson was traded it was not so much about his ability but because the team had to cut salary.  They moved him for lesser parts and started to rebuild.

Hit the pause button there and time for some rumination.  It took more than a decade for the Philadelphia franchise to realize they didn't have the right kind of merchandise.  Sure, there were simple rules like eye-balling the games.  Iverson made fans happy, but only if they won.  Outside of the court, he was amazingly intelligent and articulate, but it was obvious he had major issues and personality defects.  And the metrics didn't lie - the team kept on building around him, but did not produce the desired result.  Still, it was all about money in the end.

Back to our case.  Right now, the industry is booming and even if it weren't, there are enough orders to get by and ensure that salaries are paid with a little profit to spare.  For so long management was happy to do this and employees followed suit.   Barring some few brilliant moments, the company was mired in perpetual mediocrity.  Worse, without strong hands to hold people back, unscrupulous parties had a field day with graft and corruption.

We are still in that middle phase of bringing in new talent and getting our existing talent to contribute a little more.  Like any family-owned and -operated company, it was personality and not performance that drove the company.  It's not fair of course to judge people straight away, but numbers don't lie.  Very specific, critical norms need to be defined in major technical aspects of the operation.  The means to measure them and optimize our performance are already there.  There is just too much inertia.

I believe we will get there.  I must, because part of my job is to ensure that we must.  There is just too much at stake for us not to succeed.  There will be many more sacrifices to be made, not only in terms of effort and investment, but also in people too.

Unless, of course, we delude ourselves such as some of my more cynical colleagues, our own corporate Royce Whites, who beg to differ on the basis that nothing will ever work, because we are all flawed.

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