Monday, March 19, 2018

Don't Point Fingers, Focus on Problem Solving

Problems are the natural offspring of change, so you'll see plenty of them in the years to come. Build a name for yourself as a problem solver, and you'll be a valuable person to have around. 

Organizations need people who can take care of problems, not merely point them out. Too many employees get this confused. They seem to think complaining is a constructive act. Their keen on identifying all of the problems - often in an accusing, blaming fashion - but contribute little towards improving things. Their attitude is "Upper Management is supposed to make it all work. We'll sit back, watch them struggle and second guess their solutions." 

As employees, in fact, as an entire society, we've gotten unbelievably good at the blame game. We're experts at dodging personal responsibility and using our energy to criticize and complain instead. This carries a terrific cost. So long as we search beyond ourselves for solutions, we disempower ourselves. You might say that even as we commit the crime and blame someone else. We also become the victim. 

Even when we find someone else to blame for our circumstances, we win a hollow victory. It may feel good for the moment to get ourselves off the hook, but it perpetuates the problem. 

Finger-pointing does not position us to do our part - that only we can do - toward workable solutions. 

We've come to expect too much from our institutions, and too |e of ourselves as individuals. In the long haul, it simply doesn't work. The organization's values grow out of individual employees values. The organization's results are merely the accumulation of singular people's results. 

So instead of being a finger-pointer, and rather than trying to single out somebody to blame, assume ownership of problems. Let the solutions start with you. You'll increase your odds of career success.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Lean Quote: A Handful of Skill is Better Than Bagful of Gold

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"A handful of skill is better than bagful of gold." — Irish Proverb

This is a quote about preparation and skills. The question is what are your skills, and how can you pass them on to another. A skill I have is the ability to see problems, and come up with ideas on how to fix them.

Problem solving is an essential skill in the workplace and personal situations. Everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all encounter problems on a daily basis; some of these problems are obviously more severe or complex than others.

Problem-solving may seem straightforward at first glance, but there are many employees who stumble over one or more of the critical steps, failing to successfully resolve workplace issues. Successful problem-solving requires several important skills that will help you proceed efficiently from identification to implementation.

In the early stages of problem-solving, you need to have strong observational skills. Rather than accepting issues at face value, you need to demonstrate lateral thinking and analytical abilities. These will help you properly assess what's going on and pinpoint the core cause of the issue.

As you explore potential solutions to the issue, you must demonstrate persistence. Finding the right approach to the issue won't come easily. Innovative thinking will serve you well. Employees who know how to utilize their creative thinking facilities will excel in the second and third stages of problem-solving, as they're able to come up with approaches that others have overlooked.

Implementing your solution requires its own skill set. This typically requires a careful balance of teamwork and leadership. You'll need to demonstrate resilience to withstand inevitable pushback from co-workers who resist change. Both communication and negotiation are important at this point. Once you've implemented your solution, you'll need to utilize critical thinking and attention to detail as you assess the results and tweak your strategy as needed to make sure the problem is successfully resolved.

This old Irish proverb rings true for me. How about you? What are your best skills and who will you pass them on to.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Four Rules of Lean Transformation

People are often quite uncomfortable with change, for all sorts of understandable reasons. This can lead them to resist it and oppose it. This is why it's important to understand how people are feeling as change proceeds, so that you can guide them through it and so that – in the end – they can accept it and support it.

Recently, I was reading William Bridges’s book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.  He recommends following four simple rules, “show up, be present, tell the truth, and let go of outcomes,” to deal with transitions. As I was thinking about these rules, I realized how useful they are for leading “Lean” transformation.

Rule 1: Show Up
It is startling how often we miss precious opportunities by taking ourselves out of them. All our predictions of success or failure are simply our own imaginings, for we never have a true picture of all the factors in a situation. There is no way to guess how many failures are traceable simply to not giving something a try – to not “showing up” for the event.

Lean Lesson: There is no perfect time to start Lean transformation. Don’t wait. Start Now!

Rule 2: Be Present
Some people show up, but they don’t give it their best shot. They don’t want anyone to say later that they didn’t, but they don’t bring all of their energies and talents to the table. They merely go through the motions, put in their time.

Lean Lesson: Engage all you employees in your Lean transformation. Many hands make light work.

Rule 3: Tell the Truth
Saying what you think you are expected to say has several drawbacks. First, you may get the expectation wrong. Second, the expectation may suddenly change – in fact, it can be guaranteed to change these days. Third, it is difficult to keep clear on what you’ve said in the past, especially when expectations keep changing. Fourth, it destroys your mind and spirit. Telling the truth is often the most powerful action you can take. Many seemingly overwhelming problems have been transformed when someone finally told the truth.

Lean Lesson: Communicate and share information with your employees. They’re adults they can handle the truth.

Rule 4: Let Go of Outcomes
In this day of heightened accountability, it’s tempting not only to do our best but to try to manipulate the system to bring about our desired ends. But we cannot ultimately control outcomes, and when we try to, we either alienate others or drive ourselves crazy. Wisdom through the ages has always counseled a wise relinquishment: Learn to do all that you are able, the let go.

Lean Lesson: Focus on the process and the results will follow.

Change happens in everyone’s life. The problems associated with change are generally not because of the change itself but more likely the transitions involved with change. According to William Bridges, change could most effectively be dealt with by concentrating on where you put your focus.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Teaching and Coaching the Mental Game

As many of you know I coach youth ice hockey and a couple of weeks ago I attended a conference for my Level 4 USA Hockey Coaching Certification.  This conference was held over 3 days and comprised of about 16 speakers around youth sports, athletics, and ice hockey.  The topics ranged from nutrition and safety to hockey strategy to leadership and coaching.  As part of this certification I had to write a short thesis on one of the subjects presented.  Probably no surprise to many of you I wrote about teaching and coaching the mental game of hockey.  Since there is so much synergy between this and teaching and coaching for Lean in operations I thought I would share some of this with you.

For me I think the section I related to the most and found the most insightful was by Dr. Wayne Halliwell on Teaching and Coaching the Mental Game of Hockey. His talk was about inspiring excellence in today’s athletes and similarly my day job is about inspiring operational excellence. It is important for Teachers and Coaches to have the right mindset. It starts with understanding this is a privilege and a great opportunity.

Dr. Halliwell shared John Wooden’s philosophy on life and coaching. The two sets of 3’s consisted of never lie, never cheat, never steal, don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t make excuses. Remember if you point fingers at others there are always three fingers pointing back at you. Coaches and leaders inspire through passion. Passion is not something you can fake and is not something you can hide.

According to Coach Marc Trestman leaders have two primary goals: The first is to serve others, the second is to bring out the hidden value of every member of the team. Leaders set process goals for the team to improve and performance goals around execution and work ethic. Focus on the process and the performance and the results will look after themselves. Dr. Halliwell added that the only thing that matters to get you from here to there in the next five years is the books you read and the people you talk to. I think he has a good point.

Leaders should make the unnoticed noticed. This is done by motivating your team members. The three most powerful motivators are recognition, appreciation, and gratitude. In the workplace there is no motivator with more impact than purpose-based recognition. There is little that people won’t do if they really feel appreciated. Gratitude is a positive emotion which shows thoughtfulness and touches people’s hearts.

Dr. Halliwell concluded his presentation with five elements to lead today’s athletes. The five elements are:

• Understand them
• Empathize with them
• Communicate with them
• Connect with them
• Inspire them

These elements are vital in leading athletic teams, work teams, and other teams in our life. The lessons Dr. Halliwell shared will help me have the right mindset to inspire others to achieve their excellence.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Lean Quote: Culture Changes When the Organization is Transformed

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day." — Frances Hesselbein

Corporate culture, safety culture, quality culture, lean culture …What is the culture of your organization? Is it one that reflects the values of your business and is supported by the behaviors of all those that work there?

Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of - generally unspoken and unwritten - rules for working together.

An organization’s culture is shown in:
(1) the ways the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community,
(2) the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas, and personal expression,
(3) how power and information flow through its hierarchy, and
(4) how committed employees are towards collective objectives.

In a healthy business culture, what's good for the company and for customers comes together and becomes the driving force behind what everyone does. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behavior, dress, and language.

The culture of an organization is learnt over time. It can be taught to new employees through formal training programs but is more generally absorbed through stories, myths, rituals, and shared behaviors within teams. 

Company culture is important because it can make or break your company. Organizational culture will impact positively or negatively on everything you try to do whether you want it to or not. Companies with an adaptive culture that is aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Lean Tips Edition #121 (1816-1830)

For my Facebook fans you already know about this great feature. But for those of you that are not connected to A Lean Journey on Facebook or Twitter I post daily a feature I call Lean Tips.  It is meant to be advice, things I learned from experience, and some knowledge tidbits about Lean to help you along your journey.  Another great reason to like A Lean Journey on Facebook.

Here is the next addition of tips from the Facebook page:

Lean Tip #1816 – When it Comes to Improvement Think Small
Many companies today are only looking for the, “BIG WINS” when it comes to improvements. While big wins are always nice, they really aren’t going to be able to happen very often. A company that identifies small areas of improvement and implements them frequently is going to make much more progress over time than one that ignores the small things and only focuses on bigger issues.

Lean Tip #1817 - Empower Employees
Good managers are an invaluable part of having a facility that engages in continuous improvement. This is because good managers know that it is often going to be the employees who come up with the next great improvement idea. Employees perform their jobs all day everyday so it is no surprise that they will be the ones to find problems and hopefully the solutions to them.

Empowering employees to take steps toward improvement can be very helpful. Having a process by which they go through the PDCA cycle with as little interference from management as possible can be very helpful. Of course, for some changes manager involvement and approval will be necessary, but putting as few obstacles in the way as possible will result in much more improvement.

Lean Tip #1818 - Engage the Full Team to Find Improvement Opportunities
Continuous improvement in a facility is almost never going to be made by a single person. This is why you need to have the entire team involved. This starts with the CEO and leadership team and goes all the way to the front line employees. By creating a teamwork environment where everyone is working together to ensure ongoing improvement you will be much more successful in the long run.

Even when employees propose an unrealistic idea it should still be seen as a positive step. Taking all ideas seriously and trying to find ways to implement them if practical can allow employees to have the confidence in the management team that they need to want to bring new ideas up to the team.

Lean Tip #1819 - Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes.
To be a success, your kaizen must improve things from the point of view of the customer. Many people make the mistake of improving a process from their own point of view from within their own organizational silo.  If your kaizen doesn’t improve things from the perspective of the customer then any improvement is an illusion.  In fact a good kaizen may result in the work of an individual team getting harder rather than easier.  This is fine as long as the value stream of the whole process is improved and the value flows better and in more efficient ways to the customer from a whole of business perspective.

Lean Tip #1820 - Kaizen What’s Important, Not What’s Easy
Don’t just target the low hanging fruit.  You want to make sure that your kaizen is important to the business.  Doing something important means that you will have no problem motivating people to be involved and do a good job.  We find work teams are easily tempted to do something easy so that they can be surer of a result.

If the Kaizen didn’t deliver a result that made a real difference, people will wonder what was the point.  Of course if you are lucky enough to have something that is both important and easy to work on then go for it.

Lean Tip #1821 - Focus on Collaboration & Working Together
Collaboration is one of the most important things for businesses to focus on improving, as it can help to improve ideas, cut down on wasted time and — yes — improve employee engagement. It may seem like a lofty goal if your employees tend to stick to themselves, but it doesn't have to be at all.

Lean Tip #1822 - Let Your Employees Focus on What They Do Best
Employees want to know that the work they're doing is being appreciated and meaningful ... and if they do, they will be engaged.

They also want to be given the opportunity to shine, which means they have to have the ability to do what they do best as often as possible. The biggest mistake that a manager can make is assigning tasks to those who work under them that simply don't match their skills ... which is something that can not only lead to poor performance, but will no doubt have a negative impact on employee engagement.

If you want your employees to stay as engaged as possible, you have to allow them to focus on their skills.

Lean Tip #1823 - Allow Time During the Day for Personal Enrichment & Development
The workday can be long at times, and it can be difficult for some employees to get the time they need to work on personal enrichment.

Most people want to learn something! So give them time to learn it and better themselves.

The weekend is only so long, and many people are exhausted at the end of the workday. If you want to improve engagement levels, you may want to allow time throughout the day for people explore something new.

Each day, allow your employees to take a half hour or so to work on something they're passionate about, even if it isn't work-related. It may seem as if you're losing time doing this, but in the end, you'll actually be making the environment more comfortable for you employees, which will lead to a more engaged staff.

Lean Tip #1824 – Recognize and Encourage Innovation
You might have heard some pretty inspiring ideas around the office. What about that project that came together so well and had some amazing improvements that no one initially thought of? Find out who came up with that idea. Give them a friendly “Good job!” or recognize them publicly for going the extra mile.

Lean Tip #1825 - Connect Employees to the Greater Good.
When employees feel connected to the company mission or like their work is contributing to a goal that is greater than profits, they feel like their work has purpose.  A sense of meaning is priceless and costs nothing for an employer to cultivate.

Lean Tip #1826 - Be Clear on the Metrics for Success.
Success should not be fuzzy. When your people understand the size of the prize and how their contributions matter, they are more motivated to achieve the desired results. Everyone should be visualizing the same thing, and they should be in lockstep on how to achieve it. You should regularly report on organizational progress toward the defined targets. It’s also critical to make those targets clear during the rollout of the changes and new strategy.

Lean Tip #1827 - Celebrate Early Wins.
As the change takes hold, you will have some successes you’ll want to replicate quickly (both at an organizational and individual level). To do that, capture those successes and communicate them broadly. Convert the early wins, no matter how small, into success stories people can understand. These stories let people know what you want more of in the organization and allow others to reflect on whether they could do anything similar. These stories also reinforce that small contributions really do matter.

Lean Tip #1828 - Focus on Managers During the Transformation
Managers are critical to keeping employees engaged and productive and can be instrumental in helping leaders manage change. Managers are also, unfortunately, the most overlooked group in an organization when it comes to developing the skills that make the difference between change failure and success. These include communicating, interpersonal skills, team building and coaching. If managers can’t operationalize the desired changes, then the total investment and effort will be sub-optimized. Managers must understand the strategy and then translate it in a way that is relevant for each employee.

Lean Tip #1829 - Keep a Positive Attitude.
Your attitude as a manager or supervisor will be a major factor in determining what type of climate is exhibited by your employees. Your attitude is the one thing that keeps you in control. Change can be stressful and confusing. Try to remain upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic. Foster motivation in others. During times of transition and change, try to compensate your employees for their extra effort. Last, try to instill organizational change as a personal challenge that everyone can meet…with success!

Lean Tip #1830 - Develop a Common “Change” Language and Tools

When everyone knows the process for how change is communicated and implemented in your organization, they won’t see change as so disruptive. People want to know what’s being changed, how it impacts them, what they need to do, what to expect overall, and who to turn to with questions. By using a common change language and process across the organization (such as Six Sigma), you reduce anxiety and make change more “normal.”

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Sustaining With Layered Audits

One of the most common questions I hear with 5S (and Lean for that matter) is how do you sustain. Sustaining 5S can be very difficult without the use of 5S standard. A layered audit program is essential to ensure that your company’s 5S efforts continue.

Layered Audits are tied directly into the fifth S – Sustain – and they are the means used in Lean Improvement Systems to avoid “backsliding” into old habits, creating sustainable culture change.

Originating in the automotive industry, the concepts behind the Layered Process Audit are not new. They find their origin in the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act continuous improvement cycle.

Layered Process Audits require that multiple operational levels within an organization review the same key operational controls to ensure sustainability. Simply stated, they are an ongoing chain of simple verification checks, which through observation, evaluation and conversations on the line; assure that the process is being properly performed.

The key is everyone is an “auditor”. To paraphrase E. Edwards Deming, no one goes to work with the intention of doing a bad job. Therefore, everyone wants to know that he or she is doing a good job. If people need to know that they are doing a good job, they need to have metrics regarding their job. This starts with the operator personally checking their process for compliance. Then the first line supervisor checks key processes, where feedback is immediate as are any agreed-upon corrective actions. The next level supervisor would then make the same checks, and so forth, up the chain of command in the organization.

The essential part of the Layered Audit is the creation of a standard checklist You must identify and ask the right questions on the checklist. This is where Standard work at all levels of the organization is critical. Layered Audits is a formalization of “management by walking the Gemba”.

Layered Process Audits can be compared to a preflight checklist. Is my operation ready for take-off? Am I confident that everything is in place to build and ship conforming product to my customer? When the flight, or day, goes smoothly, management and operators can use the time saved to work on improvements.

The Layered Audit approach is especially effective in sustaining process improvements and institutionalizing key process steps because all levels of the organization participate. Managers often can learn much about the manufacturing processes from operators, and operators can learn much about what is important to customers from managers.

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