Friday, September 26, 2008


A few weeks ago, I was invited to some big event. Many ceremonies take place around the country, as Israel is celebrating these days 60 years of independence. This event was a military event that was aimed to saluting a large group of technical people. Usually those people are in the shadow, servicing the others, and therefore, the uniqueness of this event was in putting them in the lights and thanking them for their significant activity that donates to the complete success and security.
Thousands of people were invited to the event and most of them did show up. Unfortunately, an hour before the ceremony started, somewhere else in Israel, two soldiers were killed in a training accident. After waiting a while, the event was canceled. Five thousand people were sent back home, with no party. We are a family, the commander said, explaining the cancellation, after every one had already arrived. A family, in good times and in sad times. Today is one of the sad times. We cannot joy and celebrate.

Can we plan anything? Is there any meaning to planning? I am sure that the brigadier general that set the event in motion, and worked diligently on turning it into reality for six month, did not imagine that the event would end the way it did. I am convinced, that the families of the killed soldiers, that send their beloved ones to another day of operation, did not think that they will never see them again.

Even when we deal with less important events, we plan and not always success to stick to the original plan. In the beginning of my way, as a consultant, I remember that I received a purchase order from a client, after several months working on the lead. Two weeks later, the company was merged into some other company. I was left with an order in my hand, yet with an organization in change that was not in the suitable situation to execute the activity. The button line: zero revenue.

I have many more examples. We plan, and agree on some things, together with an employee, customer or a partner but reality is stronger than any plan. Time is an issue, something else is urgent and our activity is being postponed; replacement of managers and our plan is being canceled. In some case, activity starts and an external constraint prevents its completion. The list of reasons why plans are not fulfilled is very long.

Should we conclude not to plan? This shall we deal with changes affecting our plans?

I will start from the ending point. At "Alice in wonderland", Alice asked the cat, as she reached the intersection: "Which way I should choose?" "Where do you want to get to?" She was asked. "I don’t know". "If so", she was replied, "Any road will lead you there".

We need to plan. Planning serves us in defining the direction we want to get to; designing, the long-term direction, as well as the intermediate stations (the tasks) that will help us get there.
Planning assists us to get much further;
Planning assists us to estimate the required sources (time, expense and other sources);
Moreover, planning assists us to notice the risks, so we can prepare ourselves in the best way possible.

Yet, planning is only an introduction to life, and therefore it may be considered as a baseline for changes. I do believe that we should not stick to the original plan at every case, and never give up. It is necessary to work according to a plan, but yet to know when this plan turns to be only a plan and not anything beyond.

We should be more careful not to turn the planning and the work plans to be a target rather than an aid. Many times, I have seen over occupation on plans and their details. Updating that recurs repeatedly, drawing all management attention to it. We are limited in our ability to dedicate management sources at the same time to too many tasks. We need to remember that the goal of a work plan is to help us and it is not the project or the activity itself. It is possible that the best solution, in case of a need in change, is only the indication of a new layout without dismantling it to a repaired work plan. In other cases, it is possible that the solution include changes of a work plan without getting into details. It is possible that we will ensure a full work plan but we will guide an employee below us to deal with the details, and we, as managers, will not be involved ourselves in this assignment. We have a wide range of solutions. All we have to do is decide that we are willing to compromise. The rest is simple.

However, primarily we need to know not to trust the planning as a promise under no circumstance. You are not a start up or a futuristic project of R&D? So do not act as if you are. If there is a certain forecast of revenue, do not spend it all in advance, as if the Excels are reality. Not before we see the revenues actually in our bank account. Not as a regular expense and not as an investment. My recommendation is to remember the difference between plans and reality.

I have learned, reading Goldratt's management theories, an interesting perception: at any work plan, we save reserves, for time of crises. Reserves of time, reserve of money. In actual life, we burn them all, even if there is no major problem standing in the way. There is more time left? Let us add more features and capabilities to the built appliance, or invest more at the finishes. There is money? We use more equipment and parts, and as before, there are no reserves left out.
The situation resembles our attitude to our personal salary: If it turns higher, most of us get used to higher consuming. We fit our self to existing resources.
Planning triggers resource consuming, even if they were planned for a rainy day.
How can we improve our planning? Goldratt suggests saving all the reserves in a special bank, leaving it at the end; as a separate section, the "reserves" section. We will allow using it only when there is a real problem and additional resource is truly required. That way, we will ensure that the work plan will converge, usually sticking closer to the average need without using the reserves, part of them or all. Those, stay to the end, in the separate section. It is too easy to spend them and this technique helps managing the reserves and controls the use of them.
I make efforts to build my work plan this way. Minimal, but with flexibility. It saves money to me and its saves money for the customers.

The management of the twenty century has made us a bit technocratic, with all management control tools. In the 21 century, I believe, we are required to remember that we have to be much more flexible and creative, in many aspects. Even in planning and in work plans.


Thursday, September 11, 2008


I admit that the first time that I ran into the concept of empowerment was five years ago. Before. I was did not recognize the term. I remember, we worked on a project for some customer in the education sector. If I try to analyze the customer's organization, without too much generalization, I can say that they were afraid of computers. Some of them were terrified. Building a website and knowledge sharing was a very different process of what we recognized and experienced in other places. As part of trying to make things easier for them, we used many techniques; for example, we left many blank areas on each page, so that it would look less threatening. In addition, all graphic art was planned accordingly.
On the contrary, the home page of this website included many terms describing main values of the organization. It included terms as democracy, autonomy, activism, enrichment and more. Of course, empowerment was one of the values.

The truth must be said; I did not relate to those ideas at all; it seemed to me as if the ideas were taken from the ivory tower and was not joint in our day-to-day conception. I wondered on the polarity of my reflection to those ideas versus my reflections to computers and using it as a sharing tool. I admit that I misunderstood the importance of those ideas, being a person that defines herself as rational and practical.
I grew up; I have changed. Also today, I try to reline on the conception of practice; yet I learned the influence of the empowerment and its capability.

Dr. Elishava Sadan defines empowerment as a process that is impact is passing from a situation of manliness, to a situation of relatively control in life, fate and surroundings. This shift can be expressed by improving the sense of capability to control or by improving the real capability to set in motion this control.
The original meaning of the idea is a way of power of attorney -approval to work in the name of the company, kind of delegacy of authority in the social plane that been given to a certain one. There are four categories of empowerment: individual, community based, cooperative and professional. What is not surprising, and of course most positive, is that empowerment in one category usually affects the other categories, and they improve too.
In my terminology, empowerment is a process of development; individual/ community/ collective/ professional strengthening and handing over abilities and skills so that the empowered person could utilize his or her potential in different aspects.

How is empowerment relevant to us as managers?
One of our main roles of managers, as I see it, is empowering the managers in the scale below us and empowering the employees. I personally dedicate to this activity a main percentage of my time, management efforts and resources. Naturally, I concentrate in professional empowerment mostly, and on that I intent to write and share in this post. As one may already understand, I did not always deal with professional empowerment in the same intensity. I assume that in my first years as a manager I felt the need to be on the front stage; I concentrated on guiding workers and advancing their skills. However as a manager I thought that I need to be in front of them. I thought that it the right way to lead them forward, is by giving a good example and shouting "after me".

It is hard to invest hours, time and energy in empowerment. The goal of most of the organizations is to create or to give service. We always have missions to complete; we always have activities regarding some product, service or customer. Usually, their due date is yesterday (or in good cases, tomorrow). To stop and to invest in empowerment it is not a simple challenge. It is so too easy to postpone the important issues as we see the urgent ones.

How do I reduce the chances that it will happen?
In two ways:

First, I remind myself repeatedly of the importance of staff empowerment.
Second, I nominate workers to be responsible for empowerment, and define resources for doing so (mainly time). It is not enough to cover all the aspects of empowerment, yet it is enough to constantly and significantly advance.

I know that it is fashionable today to talk about talent management. Locating a small percent of workers with an exceptional potential and investing more in their empowerment. I am in favor of the opposite method: empowerment of all workers. From my point of view they are all talented. It is clear to me that since the resources are always limited, it means less investment in each one.
As I see it, there is a moral say here about my faith in each one of my workers; there is a say here about my faith in us as an organization. We hired talented people. They are all talented. They all have potential to be even more talented. That is what empowerment is about.

It is very important to communicate the workers how important is to us to empower them, and how important it is to us that they actually will be empowered.

There are two aspects here:
The first one is to encourage the workers to grow; to give them the legitimization to take over new territory at their work.
The second is a message to workers that we believe that they have a great potential. A person's belief in him self is the key of his or her empowerment success.

Above the formally empowerment frame, it is worthwhile to take advantage of opportunities that enable us to strength empowerment.
Recently I was ill. I was absent from work for a long time. It is unfortunate, but it was an excellent opportunity to empower workers and managers. My absence from the office gave the managers under me more place to express them selves, in different terms, that in other circumstances I would have been involved in. A simple example to that is lecturing in conferences. In many places, organizers of conferences prefer the senior person, and naturally I am the one that been invited to lecture and present. My absence required others' participation instead of my self, and suddenly they turned more known in their seniority. They moved to the front stage.

In my first years as a manager, I thought that to be a manager is to be in the front stage, to set good examples and see that people follow me. Today I know that it is right to begin this way, but the wisdom is in the next stage. To be wise enough to move aside or even to the back, and concentrate on removing all stones and obstacles, allowing the managers and the workers below me to run and lead.
This is essence of empowerment. Today I know that it is more difficult to lead when you are behind, but that way you get much further.


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