I’m very proud to say that John Hunter kindly gave me the reins (for one day, at least) for the Curious Cat 2012 Management Improvement Blog Carnival Annual Roundup. This is my third year to contribute to the Carnival, and it’s a not only a chance to share some of my favorite posts, but to revisit and reflect upon their lessons for myself.

What I’ve tried to do this year is select posts that gave me a new perspective about the world around me, and how improvements could be made to the current state.

First up is Kevin Meyer’s Evolving Excellence blog. I love this blog because of the range of topics Kevin and Bill Waddell cover, and because of their strongly voiced opinions. Nothing politically correct here, and perhaps for that reason, powerful lessons about improvement, value, and excellence.

Just Observing, Sir: Kevin has a real talent for unearthing lessons just about anywhere he goes. In this post, Kevin notices that at the Four Seasons Hotel there is always someone watching the customers. Always. Their uncanny habit of appearing the moment you need something is no accident, nor is it magic. Excellent service, it turns out, comes from discipline and standardized work.

Kevin and Bill both penned more than a few pieces on Apple and its reliance on outsourced Chinese labor. This piece, Apple Is Not a Manufacturer, does the best job of explaining that Apple’s vaunted product design does not make it a model manufacturing company—or a model company, for that matter.

In The Difference Between Leading and Wonking, Bill takes on the politicians (shocking!) and makes powerfully makes the following point: that the best road map and the maximum buy-in comes from letting people closer to the ground work out the details. As he says, “So long as the path they come up with effectively moves the group in the right direction there is little to be gained and quite a lot to lose by having the boss meddle with the details.”

The Wall Street Journal published a story on how companies are increasingly leaning on software to help them hire new people that are less likely to quit within six months. Bill skewers the management mentality that has generated a $3.8 billion industry—or as he says, $3.8 billion in pure waste. Read all about it in It’s All About People and Relationships.

Disruptive Management is an outstanding piece on the absurdity of only looking at innovation through the lens of end products. The management fad of analyzing how existing companies tend to resist “disruptive innovation,” as articulated in the Gospel of Clayton (Christenson), ignores the long-term, sustainable value that management innovation provides.

Finally, for all of you that have suffered through the deployment of lean tools and seen those improvement efforts come to naught, Kevin’s post—Sustaining, Leadership, and Why—on the necessity of understanding why you’re adopting a tool is as pithy as it gets. Read it in conjunction with this analysis of Sony’s demise and the absurdity of blaming Deming for their fall: Blaming Deming, Lean, and Six Sigma and the Importance of Why. (Don’t worry: both of these posts are far better written than their inelegant titles would indicate!)

Brad Power’s regular contributions to the HBR blog are seldom written about in the lean blogosphere, and I think that’s a real mistake. While not a regular contributing member of the lean community, Brad has been researching business process innovation for the last 30 years and has valuable insights to share. His posts are invariably well-written and filled with terrific stories and case studies.

Brad’s post, Understanding Fear of Process Improvement, is a perfect example. He posits that fear of change is the root cause of failures to create a culture of continuous improvement, and suggests three countermeasures: get people involved in the improvement; remove the downside risks and provide upside; and hire people who are committed to the organization’s larger mission.

If you’ve ever been involved in process improvement activities, you know the drill: map the process, identify improvement opportunities, and make an implementation plan. You also know that the momentum from these events usually fizzles out after a few months. In Get Your Team to Work Across Organizational Boundaries, Brad argues that the most important outcome of these activities is actually development of the team itself, and describes how social networking technologies offer new ways to support teams, especially process teams that cut across organizational boundaries. As he says, “constancy of purpose matters more than one workshop's flash of brilliance.”

Why Doesn't HR Lead Change? is Brad’s analysis of why the human resources department, which ostensibly should be at the forefront of any improvement process, typically lags, or actually acts as a brake on innovation and change. Brad believes that there are three root causes for this situation. Although he doesn’t provide countermeasures in this post (he does in other posts), the points he makes are seriously thought-provoking for leaders from all departments in your organization.

Those are my suggestions for valuable, pithy, and thought-provoking reading for the holidays. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I did.

You can read the 2012 annual management carnival summary here, and you can follow John's semi-monthly carnival posts here.

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