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How to Build Lean and Agile Management

How to Build Lean and Agile Management

Hierarchical is out; horizontal is in.

There’s no room today for the multiple layers, slow decision making, and dependence on leaders. Successful organizations are characterized by consultation, collaboration, and cross-functional problem-solving, decision-making, and planning.

Why are horizontal organizations so much more nimble? Extended product development cycles are replaced by rapid movement from design to market; decision-making bottlenecks are eliminated; leaders empower and delegate; and the focus is on the success of the business, not individual functions.

Horizontal Leadership Success

Leaders intent on this transition must take four actions:

  1. Horizontal Leadership Success Look into the mirror. The top team sets the tone. Before expecting others to “go horizontal,” senior managers must ask, “What are the decision-making patterns on our team?” “To what extent do we see ourselves as accountable and responsible for one another’s success and for the outcomes of our team?” “Do we depersonalize conflict and confront one another honestly and openly?” If the president is still calling the shots; if team members are constantly lobbying for resources; or if internal conflict has brought decision making to a halt-it’s time to practice what we preach.
  2. Align all your teams-beginning at the top. Raising team performance and refraining team behavior begins with alignment. Ask seven questions to determine whether or not a team is aligned: Does the team have clear goals? Are those goals aligned with the strategy? Do all team members know who is responsible for what and how they will be held accountable? Are protocols or rules of engagement agreed upon so everyone knows how decisions will be made? Are rules in place for how conflict will be managed? Are relationships between and among team members healthy and transparent? Do people assert their point of view honestly and openly and treat disagreement not as a personal attack but as a business case?
  3. Shift from commanding to influencing. In the new paradigm, the one who wins isn’t the person with the most clout, but the one who possesses the right strategic instinct, content capability, rapport, and persuasion. When Susan Fullman was director of distribution for United Airlines, she was a cross-functional player in a hierarchical context. Her success hinged on her ability to influence rather than command: “I had to sell my vision to each director. And I couldn’t do that without learning to clearly articulate my ideas, depersonalize the way I made my case, develop my powers of persuasion-and learn to listen to each person and address their concerns.”
  4. Become a player-centered leader. The horizontal organization calls for a shift in the role of the leader to a new “player-centered” model. The question becomes: How prepared are the players to handle increased authority and responsibility? As teams proliferate and decision making becomes decentralized, people must step up. Managers must know each person’s capabilities and skills and adjust his or her “style” accordingly.

'Lead with Lean' by Michael Balle (ISBN 154480844) For example, when managing an inexperienced team leader, a senior manager needs to provide a high level of direction, structure, and support; but as team leaders become more competent, the senior manager can adopt a more hands-off style. The goal should be to inspire and empower, not prescribe or direct. Provide coaching and collaboration as each player requires.

Many leaders talk about decentralization, delayering, and empowerment. But decisions continue to be made by the CEO; functional heads are still vying for resources; and further down are vacationers and victims.

Horizontal organizations are more states of mind than states of matter. It’s not as much about titles and boxes as it is about every employee showing up, every day, as an energized, strategically focused team member.

Posted in Management and Leadership Mental Models and Psychology

Union Advertisement Slams Southwest Airlines and asks, “Has Southwest Lost its Way?”

On 25-Nov-2014, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) of America issued a half-page advertisement in USA Today bashing Southwest Airlines management about their baggage handling operations.

Southwest Loses More Bags Than Any Other Major U.S. Airline

Southwest Loses More Bags Than Any Other Major U.S. Airline.

Southwest Airlines, historically known for rarely losing luggage, now loses more bags than any other major American airline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, released this month. What happened?

Quite simply, under the leadership of Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines places profit ahead of people and a quality product. The airline now flies larger planes packed with more bags than ever before but doesn’t hire additional baggage handlers and, in the last four years, hasn’t provided a raise to half of its ground workers. More suitcases, larger planes, tighter schedules and an overworked ground crew not only mean lost bags: it means delays for al Southwest customers—even those who don’t check luggage.

This year will be Southwest’s most profitable. During the second Quarter alone, the airline earned nearly a half-billion dollars in profits. Gas prices have fallen, more seats have been filled, revenues have been growing. Wouldn’t it make sense at this time to invest in ground workers and on-time performance?

Southwest’s stock ticker symbol is LUV. But is Southwest still the “luv” airline or is it just a heartless machine? Losing bags is bad—but eventually they find their way home. Losing a successful company culture can be forever.

The TWU posts advertisements which are intended to be perceived as harmful to the airline in order to attempt to extort a better package.

Although the “facts” being displayed in this union-paid ad are certainly up for debate, there’s no doubt that the workload of the rampers has increased because Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t charge checked baggage fees.

This is the latest manifestation of the dramatic evolution that has Southwest over the years, both from external and internal forces. In a nutshell, economic reality is now catching up with Southwest Airlines. The fuel hedges are spent, the network carriers have restructured and merged, and at the same time Southwest has gone from being pretty much the lowest-cost operator in the market to middle-of-the-pack and has high labor costs than ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines.

Southwest Airlines Free Checked Luggage Baggage Policy

Southwest has to control costs somewhere to remain competitive. They’ve probably tried, to at least some extent, to do it through productivity gains, by making rampers do more with less (same workload with fewer rampers, or increased workload with same number of rampers). But that, too, of course, has its repercussions, such as the one detailed in this TWU advertisement.

While paying employees well and treating them with respect will ensure better performance, Southwest Airlines is having to learn to cope in a more challenging economic environment, especially as to cost. Reduce cost, increase productivity – something has to give.

Southwest Airlines recognized this as union propaganda and integral part of contract-negotiation season. To the union bosses, nothing’s ever enough … their workers are always underpaid and under-appreciated. Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King responded,

Although it’s a common practice, informational picketing does not change the Company’s approach to negotiations. We continue to share the Union’s sense of urgency to secure a fair agreement. Reaching the right deal for both Employees and the Company remains a top priority; and it must be one that is fair to all Employees, enables the Company to grow, and protects our position as a low-cost leader in the industry.

We have a renewed focus and effort on improving baggage delivery and over the past few months, we’ve seen a steady decline in our mishandled baggage rate. In October, we proudly delivered approximately 99.5 percent of our bags correctly and we continue to see improvements.

Regarding the number of bag carried, the packing habits of Southwest passengers haven’t changed. Customers continue to pack the same number of bags since the “Bags Fly Free” campaign was initiated in 2008. What the campaign has done is attract more Customers to Southwest, improving the bottom line. At the same time, the number of bags carried on other airlines has decreased, which improves their overall DOT ranking.

As the number of Southwest Customers increase, we continue to hire in response to that growth. Over the last three years, the annual number of bags handled per Ramp Agent has steadily declined, not increased.

Posted in Airlines and Airliners Management and Leadership

Staying Up to Speed on Leadership Reading

Michelle Kumbier, senior vice president, motorcycle operations, Harley-Davidson Michelle Kumbier, senior vice president for motorcycle operations at Harley-Davidson believes in lifelong learning and aspires to inspire her employees to believe in that. She says, “you don’t become a leader and then forget about it; you need to continue to grow and develop.”

Kumbier has the following books on her credenza on leadership:

Posted in Management and Leadership