I started out my career as a software engineer. Software doesn’t tend to be quite as elegant as other forms of machinery, but I totally get the concept that things are beautiful when they run efficiently and reliably.

That’s why I’ve found it amusing that my emphasis has shifted almost entirely to the “people side” of business. People are messy, unpredictably, and endlessly challenging.

I guess it’s because I’m a problem-solver at heart, and people offer an infinite array of problems to work on. Yet, we envision our businesses as that “well-oiled machine,” running like a top.

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Almost 4 million workers in the US quit their jobs in April 2021. That’s just stunning.

And, as we know, it’s a mixture of many job openings, people changing their career paths, and dissatisfaction with current situations. Workers are really rethinking their options right now.

As an employer, I assume that you’d like to keep your best people around. But there’s a problem:

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Last week I talked about creating delightful experiences for customers. But I have to be fair and admit that there’s a flip side as well.

This came to mind just yesterday when I got a new tool for my woodshop. The tool is great, although the assembly instructions weren’t as uniform in their detail as I would have liked.

Then I came to the registration card.

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I recently got a new camera. Yeah, a real camera that takes pictures and videos and stuff – not a phone.

And I confess that I didn’t take the photo here – I don’t yet have the talent to use the camera properly. That’ll come.

But my point today is what an absolute delight it is! It’s solid, capable, and seems to have prepared for my every whim.

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The pandemic broke Just In Time (JIT).

I’ve seen many examples of this in the last year, starting off with the toilet paper shortage. Remember that?

It was ridiculous! It’s not like people started using a lot more TP. It’s just that it was in the wrong place, in the wrong format. When people noticed, they started hoarding … but that just made it worse.

The real problem is that we all became accustomed to having supplies readily available. Without having to stock extra.

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Culture is a powerful concept in business, identifying the way people actually work together to get stuff done. It’s connected with other larger cultures, of course, including the community, society and country we live in.

Individuals also bring their own micro-culture — how they interact, communicate, make decisions, and so on.

But here I’m focusing on the culture we all share in our organizations. Our key processes interleave with the way we work together as people. We’d like to think that they’re in sync. When they’re not, everyone gets frustrated and the processes don’t work well.

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I’m involved with several organizations for which this is the beginning of the new year. Not on the traditional calendar, but in the way we think and plan and organize.

January 1st is just an arbitrary date, right?

So now might be a good time – as good as any – to make some decisions.

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We’re creating more and more innovative team structures. Some people are at home, some in the office, some in a remote office, ….

It’s truly exciting as we discover how much work is independent of location.

But the challenge is that not everyone is on an equal footing.

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People who run charities or other volunteer organizations have a big advantage over those of us in the for-profit sector: They know they have to tap peoples’ energy in a different way.

Because, of course, they can’t pay those volunteers. Well, maybe with a bit of beer and pizza, but that’s about it.

Over the course of my life, I’ve volunteered my time and energy in many places. And I’ve led teams of volunteers myself. Am I crazy?

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Zoom has become an absolute lifeline for many businesses. How would we have gotten anything done at all without the ability to do office jobs from home?

But we’re finding out something very important about what it means to work with others via video-conferencing: It’s not just about performing work tasks.

Yes, it’s very easy now to pull together a meeting. We discuss. We make decisions. We follow an agenda. But … it’s not enough!

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