Tuesday, 12 June 2007

"What's in your Toolbox"

One of the corner stone concepts of delivering benefits via the 5 Why's blog, is the concept of the "Toolbox". Being aware of this concept will allow me to deliver and describe the tools I use in my day to day life, that will in-turn allow you to put them into the appropriate context that will suite you.

The "ToolBox" is central to life as a manager. Much like a tradesman has a tool belt, or a developer has their preferred text editor or techniques for writing and debugging code, a manager needs to have tools and techniques for dealing with day to day issues. Developing your own toolbox and how it looks is one method that can be used to assist in recognising his.

Your toolbox can take many forms, and naturally will evolve as you go along. In my case my toolbox traditionally consists of a combination of books, articles and electronic files. Some of this material has been obtained through academic or professional studies such as Prince2, ITIL and 6 Sigma. A further source has been through organisational training and leadership training, and finally my own experience.

The key principles behind the tools and techniques contained in the "Toolbox" is that they are relatively portable, can be handed out to others to assist with completing tasks, and can even be used personally or when coaching. Second to this, and much like the proverbial toolbox of a tradesman, you may find tools that don't suite, that they are "cheap" or simply downright wrong. These are the ones you'll eventually throw away.

The trick here is recognising the tools or techniques when you first see them and then putting them into an appropriate context that is useful. An example that comes to mind is an event I once attended. This particular event was for New leaders, and the presenter was attempting to explain the concept of "Knowing your values".

Whilst sitting in the audience and looking for a positive thing to take away from this very painful situation, I realised that the technique/process she was describing may be appropriate for a problem I had within my team at the time. In particular I had an individual who was not fitting in, I'd been told by some of my team leaders and manager to get rid of him. This advice of course was accompanied by a list of misdemeanors.

Taking the values tool I sat this person down and had a chat, explored their values and made a world of discoveries. The individual in question had joined the organisation under special circumstances, had special needs and perspectives that needed to be taken into account. Becoming aware of this opened up a world of opportunity for both myself and the person I was working with.

All of this was achieved by recognising a tool, taking it out of the context it was delivered and applying it to great effect. Naturally this tool has been thrown into my toolbox, and gets rolled out when appropriate. All because I was sitting in a forum, looking for a positive aspect to the day.

So how do you do this? As per any good tool, technique or exercise you should be able to break it down into a few simple steps. Here is my attempt:

1. Learn to recognise a tool or technique for what it is - Often you'll attend a course or read a book and think how am I going to do all of this. The fact is you are probably not going to. For example "The 7 Habits of highly effective people" by Stephen R. Covey. Great book, I hear, I'll have to get back to it, but upfront on page 60 Mr Covey made a great point "read with purpose in mind of sharing or discussing what you learn with someone else within 48 hours after you learn it".

This in fact was my main take-away from the book and is central to the concept of recognising a tool or technique. Often long, detailed and hard to execute the tools and techniques you learn about often leave you feeling either overwhelmed or inadequate. The Secret here is to put it into a context that has relevance to you. Look for what is applicable, play with the process, make it work for you.

2. Test it - Literally, maybe not immediately, but definitely keep an eye out for an occasion that you can use the tool, and use it consciously. In fact if it is appropriate and you are working with someone - tell them that you are trying something new. This will open up the feedback loop on the tool in question and increase it's robustness into the future.

3. Refine it - Based upon the feedback from using the tool in action make improvements. One recent example of refining a tool relates to a "6 week approach" approach that we used to complete some critical tasks. Although an informal tool for driving/managing quick outcomes my team and I found that we had to make it a bit more robust on each pass.

Now on pass three the team is looking to make it even more robust into the future (You'll probably hear about this in more detail on 5 Why's in the not to distant future). In fact I'm finding that a lot of my commonly used approaches, if not in electronic form already are fast heading that way. This is refining at work.

4. Make it accessible - As per the tradesman's tool-belt or box, make it accessible, keep it close at hand. I don't mean in your pocket, but definitely somewhere that you can get to within a working day, or the next day at the latest. This in fact can be quite difficult if it is in a book, or article that can only be in one place at a time. If this is the case - do as I do, and convert it into an electronic form that you can readily access.

5. USE IT!! Check it, and refine it. - This is the key to your toolboxes success. My real toolbox the one with the hammers, screwdrivers and stuff in it is actually in quite a state of disrepair. This is due to the fact that I am not a handyman (much to my wife's amusement). My Management "Toolbox" is quite different, it's constantly being changed, updated and reviewed. This of course is primarily achieved through USING IT.

So that's it, that's the concept of the Management "Toolbox". Over the coming the weeks and months, amongst the book reviews, and other things I intend to bring out some of the tools and techniques I use in my professional and personal life. My hope is that you find some of them useful and that in fact you add some of them to your own toolbox.

Let me know if you found this article of interest.



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