Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Take Pride in Continuous Improvement


Do you take pride in continuous improvement?

Employee pride offers a powerful force for continuous improvement. There is a power lying at the beating heart of every facility, field office or location– a power waiting to be called forth, and yet one that remains woefully untapped, under-estimated, and even unintentionally undermined. That power is Pride.

Leaders can improve motivation within their organizations by following this process:

Promote Process Improvement - Continuous Improvement: small incremental, ongoing changes that combine to deliver significant gains in quality and efficiency. The stream of continuous improvements creates a powerful and constant force, promoting high performance throughout a facility and producing tremendous employee pride.

Reward Results - When employees feel under-compensated, under-titled for the responsibilities they take on, under-noticed, under-praised, and under-appreciated, don’t expect results from employee empowerment. The basic needs of employees must feel met for employees to give you their discretionary energy.

Involve Employees – Provide them with opportunities to share what they need to be successful at their jobs. Encourage employees to share and implement ideas for improvement

Deliver Excellence - Striving for excellence is an ongoing process; it requires a persistent attitude of excellence demonstrated by a continual focus on both the large and small things in our daily work. Lean excellence is about is about eliminating waste and making the work easier.

Educate - Provide a means for employees to get whatever training is necessary to their optimal performance so that they can truly master their job responsibilities. Not only does this provide for employee empowerment, but it is a great way to gain employee loyalty and improve employee performance.

A motivating environment is one that gives workers a sense of pride in what they do.

People and teams who believe they have control of their situation work harder and perform better. They take pride in their efforts. Pride gives meaning to their work and their lives.

Lean leadership is about enabling and empowering people. Lean leadership is about helping people grow professionally and personally, allowing to take pride in their work.

Leaders who sincerely and deliberately instill a sense of pride in their employees encourage them to give their discretionary energy– to go the extra mile– to drive operational performance and bottom-line results.

Employees who take pride in, and appreciate their vital contribution to improving the value is the embodiment of Lean.   



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Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Essentials of Effective Collaboration


Collaboration is important to the success of an organization, but as the saying goes: “it’s like getting rich or falling in love, you cannot simply will it to happen.” Collaboration takes practice. Collaboration is an outcome. And collaboration leverages the individual skills of every team member.

To create effective collaboration across your organization, you need to break down any departmental barriers to collaboration so that you can draw on the best people. You need to set clear objectives and define working relationships so that members can work as a cohesive team, and you must provide tools that support efficient collaboration.

Collaboration and team work create an environment that allows the collective knowledge, resources and skills of each team member to flourish. When people work together they can complete tasks faster by dividing the work to people of different abilities and knowledge. Collaboration can lead to better decisions, products, or services.

In my experience there are five essentials for effective collaboration:

1. Respect for People - Showing respect in the workplace is all about the relationship we develop with other people and how we value them.

2. Communication - Regular communication fosters collaborative interactions among leaders, stakeholders, and practitioners at all levels.

3. Consensus - Consensus means “general agreement” and having that as a goal encourages and focuses the participants. It also creates equity and ownership in whatever decision is made.

4. Responsibility and Accountability - Accountability is an agreement to be held to account for some result. Responsibility is a feeling of ownership. You can assign accountability between yourself and others, but responsibility can only be self-generated.

5. Trust - Trust people to do their best and trust them to do it right. Allow them to make mistakes without retribution.

Collaboration is a principle-based process of working together, which produces trust, integrity, and breakthrough results by building true consensus, ownership, and alignment in all aspects of the organization. Put another way, collaboration is the way people naturally want to work. It is a way of life that enables us to meet our fundamental needs for self-esteem and mutual respect in the workplace. This principle provides the basis for significant and permanent change – for people as well as for organizations.


Put simply, collaboration is the missing ingredient to transforming the way we work.


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Lean Quote: Disrespect the Impossible

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.

"Develop a healthy disrespect for the impossible.— Gene Hoffman, Supervalu

Impossible is a state of mind; what is impossible today may not be so tomorrow. What is impossible for us may not be so for others. It is not impossible simply because a human mind cannot come up with anything that does not already exist. This means that nothing is impossible if we put our mind to it. To think otherwise will prevent us from finding a solution.

It's easier to say something is impossible, or at least extremely unlikely. Everyone has periods of doubts. Everyone considers giving up sometimes, but then you just have to remember why you tried so hard in the first place.

Never give up. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. The right attitude makes the impossible possible. Attitudes drive behavior. If you want to succeed at anything you need to have the right mindset.

Nothing is impossible. If you never tried it then you would never know if it worked. Every failure teaches you something if you are willing to learn from your mistakes. Those saying it can not be done should not interrupt those trying it. Artificial roadblocks are wasteful and counterproductive. Keep trying. Keep learning. 


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Listening is Not the Same as Hearing


Hearing and Listening, though synonymous, are completely different things. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires more than that: it requires focus.  Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body.  In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages.  Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.

Listening is not automatic.

It takes practice.

It takes intention.

It is a skill — one that is capable of being not only honed, but lost.

Listening is key to all effective communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are easily misunderstood – communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.

Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees.  This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to: better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.

Here are ten useful tips that can help you become a good listener:

1. Take time to listen.  Obviously there are times when you're busy for extended discussions.  But you need to set aside times when you can listen carefully to employee's problems, reactions, concerns, and suggestions.

2.  Let employees know that you're approachable.  Adopt an "open door" policy.  That is, communicate your willingness to hear what employees have to say.  Demonstrate that it's safe to talk to you.

3.  Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and "permission" to speak their peace.   Watch how you look at them, how you stand or sit, it makes a huge difference. Relax, and let them relax as well.

4.  If people don't come to you, go to them.  Some employees may take advantage of your "open door" by approaching you with their concerns.  Others will be reluctant to do so, for any of f variety of reasons (shyness, fear of being judged, unwillingness to complain about others, and so on).

5. Set-up multiple means, both formal and informal, for communicating with employees.  Some employees are comfortable talking face to face.  Others would rather send a note by email.  Some will speak up during a formal team meeting.  Others will reveal their concerns only in casual conversations around the snack machine.  Make multiple possibilities available so that you hear from everyone.

6.  Pay attention to nonverbal signals: tone, vocalizations (such as "um," "uh," laughs, and sighs), body postures, and gestures.  Often a person will say one thing but signal nonverbally that the true meaning is different.  For instance, "okay" said with a deep sigh does not really mean "okay."

7. Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to stop working computer, close a door, stop reading your email, or only answer emergency calls.. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know they are getting your full attention.

8.  Avoid anticipation.  Don't jump to conclusions or assume that you understand a person's comment before he or she has finished talking.  You may misunderstand, or you may discourage people from saying what they truly mean.

9.  Suspend judgment.  Don't decide on the spot whether the speaker is right or wrong.  Wait until you have a chance to think the matter over.

10. Use active listening techniques.  Active listening mean taking an active part in the conversation to make sure you are grasping fully what the speaker is trying to say.  Active listening involves techniques such as these:

  • Attending. Focusing closely on the speaker and maintaining eye contact.
  • Paraphrasing. Repeating what the speaker has said in your own words, giving him or her an opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood: "You're saying that the procedure seems too complicated, is that it?"
  • Summarizing.  Offering an occasional summary of the main points made so far: "Let's see, you've mentioned three problems…"
  • Interpretation checking.  Stating your interpretation of what the speaker is conveying – both ideas and feelings – and asking if you're correct: "It sounds like you're upset that you didn't get earlier feedback on you handling of this project, is that right?"
  • Using clarifying questions.  Asking questions that attempt to make a point clearer or more explicit:  "Are your suggesting we change our procedures?"
  • Using probing questions.  Asking questions that encourage the other person to expand or elaborate on what was said: "I think I see the problem, but why do you think it happened?"

Good listeners become good communicators.  They understand the importance of speaking clearly in an easy to understand manner.  When it's hard to interpret what you mean, you greatly increase the chances of a misunderstanding.


Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs credit their success to effective listening skills. Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships, spend some time thinking about and developing your listening skills – they are the building blocks of success.


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Monday, July 14, 2014

Carrots and Sticks Don’t Motivate in a Thinking Environment


Motivation is a core factor for a successful business and there have been many studies around it, yet there is no definitive answer or a one size fits all solution to motivation and employee engagement. The several elements of motivation differ from person to person as well as circumstances.

A well known motivational concept is the “Carrot and Stick” approach. This analogy is about using rewards and penalties in order to obtain desired results. It refers to the old story that in order to get a donkey to move forward and pull the cart you would dangle a carrot in front of him or hit him with a stick from behind. The result is the same; the horse moves forward.

So the stick represents fear and punishment. It may produce immediate results that derive from prompt compliance. It is only useful in the short term though, as over time increasing levels of punishment would be necessary to obtain the same results and this can backfire in the form of mutiny and sabotage.

The carrot is then an incentive, which can work very well as long as the individual finds the incentive appealing. In this case, the donkey would have to like carrots, be hungry and/or have a manageable and movable load in order for the carrot to work. This is very important as the incentive must be perceived to be attractive enough.

Reward and punishment are significant motivators only if the reward is large enough or the punishment sufficiently severe. For example, management holds out a carrot, offering a week’s paid vacation to the person who has the highest production numbers. Employees will work hard to reach that target (if the vacation is really what they want), but once the contest is over, they will revert back to their previous level of effort. Or, management wields a stick, threatening some kind of punishment if employees don’t do their jobs. In those cases, people will do just enough to “stay under the radar” and avoid getting into trouble. While some carrots and sticks may work in crisis situations or as a stop-gap remedy, what they mostly do is promote nearsighted thinking, mistrust, cynicism, and a diminished capacity to innovate and create.

The carrot-and-stick approach worked well for typical tasks of the early 20th century – routine, unchallenging and highly controlled. For these tasks, where the process is straightforward and lateral thinking is not required, rewards can provide a small motivational boost without any harmful side effects.

But jobs in the 21st century have changed dramatically. They have become more complex, more interesting and more self-directed, and this is where the carrot-and-stick approach has become unstuck.

The carrot and stick approach to motivation doesn’t work, especially in work that is complex, requires creativity or involves problem solving. These traditional short-term motivators actually reduce creativity, and foster very short-term thinking at the expense of long-term results. They extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, crowd out good behavior, encourage cheating, shortcuts and unethical behavior, become addictive and foster short-term thinking.


Modern management techniques tell us to motivate by the carrot and stick but the carrot and stick method doesn’t work unless it’s a simple task with a simple outcome. The more complex a task the less successful the carrot and stick method becomes. Today’s problems are more complex and have unknown solutions. Rewards will narrow our focus and limit our possibilities and aren’t effective with today’s problems we see.


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Friday, July 11, 2014

Lean Quote: Success Comes From Perseverance

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.

"Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.— Samuel Johnson

Success is one of those things that just about everybody wants, but not nearly as many people do what it takes to achieve. It’s the reason why so many people search for a “secret to success”; they want it, but they’re afraid of what it might take to get there. They’re looking for an easy path; a magic pill that will solve all their problems along the way and give them what they want with minimal effort.

Well, I’ve got news for you. There is no magic pill. There is no easy path. There is no secret to success. You have to work, and you have to work hard.

It is usually true that something, no matter how difficult, can be done if someone spends enough time trying to do it. If you think of any goal as requiring a finite number of steps (tasks), then each task completed is one step closer toward completion of the goal. Again, the key is often to break the steps down into what may seem to be absurdly simple tasks, but ones that you know you can complete, thereby making measurable progress and establishing forward momentum.


If you can stay with it, persevere in face of repeated failures (and learn from each one), there is very little limit to what you can accomplish.


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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Daily Lean Tips Edition #65 (976-990)

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 #976 – Identify and Use Employees Strengths. 
Every person has strengths and tapping in to their unique gifts and capabilities will assist them in adding significant value to your organization whilst feeling important.  There are few things more inspiring than getting the opportunity to show how good you are and doing what you love.  Giving people these opportunities also consolidates the fact that they aren’t all faceless cogs in a large machine, but valuable people who have something positive to offer.

Lean Tip #977 – Give Room for People to Grow.
If you expect people to come in and just do their job day after day like worker bees, then you miss out on the unique opportunity to develop and coach them to greater things.  Some managers are afraid of developing their people in case they leave.  Great leaders understand that people will leave at some stage anyway, so why not position them for better things in the knowledge that they will give you great press as an inspirational leader to work for.  People who are continuing to grow and develop and know that there is value in working for you will give a far greater discretionary effort than hamsters on a wheel.

Lean Tip #978 - Remind Employees of Their Importance. 
If people feel faceless, then they will act accordingly.  However, if you can connect their role to the overall success of your business, they are more likely going to perform with pride and deliver great outcomes. It’s important that your team is aware of their impact on the company. Make sure to show how their efforts help contribute to the organization’s objectives.

Lean Tip #979 - Don’t Let Naysayers Slow You Down
Be a problem solver. There is no such thing as impossible.  If someone says “there really isn’t a way to do that”, don’t take it at face value.  There is always a way.  It just means determining the effort or cost involved.

Lean Tip #980 - Don’t Over Engineer Solutions.
KISS - Keep it Simple and Straightforward. The more you complicated the concept, the harder it will be to gain traction.  You can always add bells & whistles later.  Break features into “Must Have” and “Nice to Have” (and don’t make everything a must have!).

Lean Tip #981 - Listen for Ideas and Empower them to Act
Do you get a steady flow of ideas from your team? Are they pro-actively coming up with ideas for doing things better in your area? for your customers? Though this may take time to develop, the way to get this going is two-fold: 1) demonstrate your interest by listening to all ideas and 2) demonstrate your commitment by implementing the best ones. Take steps to turn their ideas into action as often as you can. And empower your team to act. Give them the latitude to do it themselves.

Lean Tip #982 – Smart Team Leaders Listen for Problems
Every organization has its share of problems. And the front line teams encounter many of these problems daily, up close, and directly. A smart front line leader wants to foster open and lively conversations about these problems, conversations that become more structured and focused on finding solutions. The leader gets the team together and listens to their descriptions of the problems that are identifying. They guide them into a problem solving process, teaching the steps and the tools at a pace that they can absorb. This listening strategy coaches the team to develop into effective problem solvers.

Lean Tip #983 - Teach Employees How to Manage Time and Energy Wisely.
Coach employees to fully engage in the task at hand, focus on the important rather than the urgent, avoid distractions, and create balance and renewal in the achievement of the goal. Help them learn to say no to urgent requests or terrific ideas that aren’t aligned with the important work of the team.

Lean Tip #984 - Help Employees Engage Others.
Encourage those you work with to reach out and engage others with similar goals. Remind them that goals can be created independently, but achieving them almost always requires help and support from others.

Lean Tip #985 - Help Employees Break Projects, Goals, and Work Assignments into Small Victories.
Small victories tap into motivation. Achieving is fueled by making small amounts of progress, such as accomplishing a task or solving a problem. Help those that work with you jump into an achievement cycle and experience the benefits and rewards of moving through all five steps.

Lean Tip #986 - Create an organizational habit for communications.
You know you need to communicate about policies; health and safety; benefits; and how a job should be carried out. But remember that you also need to share information about your organization—what our your objectives? How are you performing? What are your plans and prospects? How can employees help?

Lean Tip #987 - Emphasize face-to-face communications.
Although today's employees may be more tech-savvy than ever, nothing beats human interaction. Most employees want to hear news and information from their supervisors. Managers need to be trained in how to communicate, and they need to have the right tools at hand.

Lean Tip #988 - Lead and Coach Employees to Success.
Without employee performance coaching there can be no sustained employee engagement. Coaching is all about helping employees to become more effective in their roles both strategically, culturally and through performance.

Lean Tip #989 - Live Your Organization’s Core Values
Your organization’s core values should be conducive to creating a work environment that enables active employee engagement and provide employees with opportunities to demonstrate the company’s core values through their daily work.

In high performing organizations, employees and leaders regularly refer to and use their core value statements as a real time compass and positive shaper of both formal environment and work life behaviors.

Lean Tip #990 - See Your Employees as People Not as a Number
Feeling valued, confident, inspired, enthused and empowered are the key emotions that lead to employee engagement. These emotions can’t be fostered unless you build strong relationships with your employees and by seeing them as human beings.


Actively engaged employees are fully aware and secure in the knowledge that their managers really know them and care about them as human beings. Employees thrive when managers really understand and connect with them through the lenses of their personal values, goals and passions.


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