Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Empowering Employees is About Coaching Not Managing


Employee empowerment has been described and defined in many ways but is generally accepted as: the process of enabling an employee to think, behave, act, react and control their work in more autonomous ways, as to be in control of one’s own destiny.

Empowerment may not be a new concept to you, but many organizations experience problems because they don’t know how to ‘live it’. Most corporations, however, fail to recognize and empower their most important assets: employees. Empowerment in the workplace is an often-misunderstood concept. Employee empowerment is a term that many managers and organizations think they understand, but few actually do, and even fewer really put into practice.

Many managers feel that by empowering employees, they relinquish the responsibility to lead and control the organization. This is not the case. Empowerment is actually a culmination of many of the ideas and tenets of employee satisfaction.

The best way to empower employees is not to manage them. Coach them to success. This is a process of developing their skills and providing them specific feedback to meet high standards. Employees want to be on the same team with their bosses.

Empowering employees is the ongoing process of providing the tools, training, resources; encouragement and motivation your workers need to perform at the optimum level. If your organization is looking for a way to speed processes and still produce quality materials and services, focus on employee empowerment. When you show an employee you trust them, and give them timely information and the authority to find solutions, they will be able to solve problems and provide solutions more rapidly than someone without that empowerment.

Employee involvement cultivates an atmosphere of collaboration, increases retention of talented staff, and intensifies dedication and commitment. Employees develop a sense of ownership over proposed changes when they are involved.  Employee engagement can not only make a real difference, it can set the great organizations apart from the merely good ones.

The lack of ongoing employee involvement at the shop-floor level has been identified as a major reason for the non-sustainability of Lean in the organization. When there is a lack of staff involvement, and management fails to seek employee input on critical decisions, employees may feel dejected and detached from the organization.

Effective employee empowerment not only has positive implications for employee satisfaction, but also many other organizational facets. Empowerment of employees results in increased initiative, involvement, enthusiasm & innovation. From large corporate giants to a small business operation, this concept holds true. This is because; empowerment caters to an important human need which is common to any employee, regardless of work setting. This is the need for recognition and self-actualization.


Empowerment is a desirable management and organizational style that enables employees to practice autonomy, control their own jobs, and use their skills and abilities to benefit both their organization and themselves.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Getting the Most Value From Your Conference


ASQ’s annual World Conference for Quality and Improvement (WCQI) will be held May 4-6 in Nashville, Tennessee (and, yes, you can still register). Julia McIntosh of ASQ Communications asks the Influential Voices about the value of conferences.

Sharing with like-minded people who have various experiences can create a support network for continuous improvement and learning. Professional groups that share your interest in a particular topic, offer a great forum to learn and share. Special interest groups within these groups can offer further topic specialization and can be a tremendous way to learn or be mentored.

Industry associations and trade organizations offer a variety of training options, including conferences, seminars, certifications and more. There may be a cost associated with some of this training, and access to some of the resources may require membership.

By attending conferences, trade shows, and workshops you can find quality teachings. Guest speakers entertain, educate and inspire their audiences through motivational and informational presentations. They are particularly good for networking with others that you can learn from and share with.
There are some tips you should consider to make the most out of your conference experience.

1. Before the conference.
As Dr. Stephen R. Covey (author of the international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) would advise: “Start with the end in mind.” Make concrete connections between the value the conference represents and your personal and professional goals. Outline several detailed goals that you are committed to and keep them in mind throughout this process. Explore the conference schedule. Be selective and strategic about your planning schedule. Begin by focusing on areas relevant to your interests.

2. Attend the sessions, listen, and learn.
Remember the focus of the conference. Whether it’s to meet new people with common interests or take advantage of being in a learning environment. Come prepared to learn. Listen to peers in conversations. Attend and participate in sessions. Soak up what you hear and learn to improve your business or yourself.

3. Network, Network, Network.
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet new people who have your similar interests, new and different ideas and great feedback for your business. Have a positive attitude, a stack of business cards ready to mingle, strike up conversations and start meaningful relationships.

4. Distill every talk down to one key takeaway.
Every presenter at a conference has his or her own style. Some people tell a story, sometimes there is a video or set of images, and sometimes there is a full slide presentation. Given our short memories and the great amount of stimuli, it is important to distill each presentation down to a central point. After each presentation, ask yourself what struck you, what did you learn? Perhaps there was a specific tip that you could adapt in your own work - or some piece of counter intuitive advice that really resonated.

5. Follow-up.
Organize any materials that you collected at the conference. Make a list of the new things you learned at the conference and write down one strategy for each idea that outlines how you’ll incorporate what you learned in your daily work. Write up a summary of what you learned at the conference and share it with your supervisor. Offer to present a session or workshop on a particular topic to your co-workers. Follow up with any new contacts you made at the conference to continue the discussion.

Lastly, you should review the conference. While it is fresh in your mind, consider what worked well and what didn’t. Think about what you’d do differently if you attended again. Make a few notes for yourself that you can refer to when planning to attend again.



I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Lean Quote: The Important Thing is Not to Stop Questioning

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.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.— Albert Einstein

One of the most important benefits of being a curious person is that you will become very open-minded towards new ideas, interests and adventures. Being curious helps you to approach challenging tasks or problematic situations in a positive, curious way rather than steadily visualizing the associated fears towards a task.

By being curious, you will be:
  • More open minded
  • Increasing your awareness of the world around you
  • Enhancing your chances of new experiences
  • Learning new things
  • Building your confidence
  • Improving your job performance

So how can you be more curious?  The following 5 tips are a good place to start:

Question relentlessly. A sure way to dig deeper beneath the surface is asking questions: What is that? Why is it made that way? When was it made? Who invented it? Where does it come from? How does it work? What, why, when, who, where, and how are the best friends of curious people. Questions keep your mind engaged.

Keep an open mind. Be open to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Some things you know and believe might be wrong, and you should be prepared to accept this possibility and change your mind.
This is essential if you are to have a curious mind.

Don’t take things as granted. If you just accept the world as it is without trying to dig deeper, you will certainly lose curiosity. Never take things as granted. Try to dig deeper beneath the surface of what is around you.

Read books, blogs, etc. Reading new things is another way to feed your curiosity and develop it. Reading is a great way to continue learning as much as you can. You might like to focus on just one thing but you should be open to as many different topics and things as possible when it comes to reading. This can help you build your curiosity even further.


Be enthusiastic! Enthusiasm will allow you to be by far more interested in a certain topic than without it. You can become enthusiastic by associating fun and joy with the tasks you have to perform, rather than expecting them to be a waste of time or irrelevant for you.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dealing with Concrete Heads


The term “concrete head’ is the result of a Japanese translation. A concrete head is someone who is resistant to the changes that Lean brings. Obviously this is a derogatory term. I like the image for someone who doesn’t want to get it. But remember concrete takes a while to set-up. Don’t give up too soon.

Implementing Lean Thinking can have a revolutionary effect, but not always one that is positive. At some point in just about every revolution, the dynamic comes into play of, “You’re either for us or against us.”  This is when you can lose a lot of good people.

One of the reasons you spent so much time and effort building high-performing teams is to better face the reality that some people get it, some people don’t get it and some are actively against it.

The Lean leaders job is to worry about the ones who are actively against the Lean effort. A few of the resisters can be helped to see Lean implementation differently, some can be neutralized, and the remaining you will have to help find other pursuits.

Discuss the goal of maximizing value for the customers and see what happens. If they are for the goal, but uncertain that Lean is the best approach, agree that the proof will be in how well Lean works. Give them time, information, and results.

If they still don’t see the value, discuss how they can still be an asset to the company. If possible, find them the right spot. If this is not possible, make sure they go quickly as they cannot function as a member of the team.

People are critical of Lean Thinking when they don’t understand it or have another approach that they prefer.  I believe once they learn what Lean can do, they will support it.

For those who have a more entrenched rejection, often this is a control issue and not something to combat. Don’t judge too soon. People take a while to adapt. Usually when these people finally become convinced they are the biggest. If they are not doing harm, resisters will probably become assets soon enough. Allow the time to grow.



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Monday, April 20, 2015

7 Tips of Successful Organizational Change


The success of an organization depends more and more on how fast it can adjust to new conditions and situations, to new and different demands. New technologies, trends, regulations, changes in style, and fierce competition force companies to make major changes in order to remain competitive.

The faster the change, the more important employee participation becomes, as well as getting the best use of people’s talent. In a less stable business climate, when innovation is forced upon even the most conservative organizations, employee participation – bringing fresh ideas and creative improvements in process or work practices – is indispensable.  Where routine response does not exist, people cannot be replaced by machines.

Equally important is the timing of major organizational changes. Timing reflects on the vision of the leader. Oftentimes, a company makes changes too late - after the company starts losing money and market position, when cash flow and funds for the necessary investments are no longer available. A good leader begins change when it is still sunny, and the first clouds are far away.

There are seven considerations that can help make major organizational changes a success.

  1. Planning
Careful planning saves time and money. Chances for success improve with:
·         A well prepared disclosure and good communication.
·         Careful weighing of potential resistance and its consequences.
·         A detailed timetable for execution.
  1. Motivation
Employee resistance is often in self-defense to the fear of losing security, power, or status. To offset such resistance:
·         Discuss potential new career paths within the company.
·         Discuss the necessity and advantages of a different position.
·         Give the reasons for the change.
·         Show appreciation for loyalty.
Some employees who lack self-confidence consider any change a threat. They are afraid to cope with new responsibilities, another boss, or different colleagues. Patience is needed to explain and convince. Teaching, training, and full support are good remedies.
  1. Communication
Good communication is vital. Reasons for the change must be explained beforehand. Clear communication is the best investment, since resistance is often due to misinterpretations, half-truths, and rumors that recede the change. Easy to understand written and verbal communication should reach all layers of the company.
  1. Involvement
Employee involvement prevents mistakes and wrong assessments, as well as expensive consequences. Those affected by the change can usually provide the best insight, but their objectivity must be scrutinized.
The sooner people are involved in the plan, the more involved they become. Employee involvement during the planning stage has two advantages:
1.    Learning from the experience of people on the job. Early employee involvement improves the plan. Those who come aboard early support the plan and spread the word, preventing rumors. And the build-up of resistance.
2.    When people get seriously involved everything becomes easier. It is no longer an “Us and Them” scenario. A well justified change becomes every body’s project, not just management’s. The motto is “We, the company, will benefit from the change.”
  1. Trust
Another great facilitator of change is trust. Credibility of management, based on past experience plays a key role. Where trust is lacking problems will multiply. The best remedy is honest information and better communication; these are stepping stones in developing trust.
  1. Contingencies
In spite of your best efforts, some resistance may remain. If the problem is wage loss, then negotiation is necessary. In some situations, leaders of the resistance and their motivations have to be identified. If direct communication does not resolve the problem, negotiation and cooperation must be pursued.
  1. Execution
Once everything is prepared and in place, execution should be fast. An implementation date must be set to introduce the new organization. Even if there is a last minute problem, postponement is not recommended.


Coherence of management and trust in leadership eliminate opposition, and ease the way to permanent ongoing renewal.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Lean Quote: Focus on Preventing Problems

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.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.— English Proverb

Generally the most effective way to achieve quality is to avoid having defects in the first place. It is much less costly to prevent a problem from ever happening than it is to find and correct the problem after it has occurred. Focusing on prevention activities whose purpose is to reduce the number of defects is better. Companies employ many techniques to prevent defects for example statistical process control, quality engineering, training, and a variety of tools from the Lean and Six Sigma tool kit.

Seek to prevent problems and waste, rather than to inspect and fix.  Shift the emphasis from failure and appraisal to prevention.  Inspecting the process, not the product, is prevention.  Use poka yoke to mistake proof process errors.


Although it’s generally understood that it costs more to deal with crises than to prevent them, many companies do not recognize and reward those who push past the symptoms to the root causes, preventing future occurrences. If you want to focus on prevention, be sure to reward those who do it successfully.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daily Lean Tips Edition #77 (1156-1170)

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 #1156 – Coach Your Employees
Your role as a manager is to support, inspire and coach your employees to their highest levels of performance. Coach your employees so they understand their responsibilities and your expectations. Managers who provide regular coaching increase overall engagement among their employees.

Lean Tip #1157 – Earn Trust From Your Employees
Earn trust every day. Trust provides the essential foundation for your effectiveness as a manager, whether we’re talking about engagement, innovation, or high performance. To build it, you need to reveal who you are as a person. Your title and accomplishments aren’t enough.

Lean Tip #1158 - Stress Employee Ownership
You can’t create an engaged team if your employees don’t have clear visions of personal success. Make sure they know that you’re available to provide guidance, remove barriers, and help them find fulfilling work. However, they are ultimately the ones responsible for their success.

Lean Tip #1159 - Remove Systemic Barriers
In a business like those in manufacturing environments, I’ve found some key themes that can get in the way of engagement across an entire site no matter how good the frontline supervisor might be at it. Themes such as communication and trust, pay and benefits, office vs. plant culture, and (lack of) change management must be identified by actively listening to your frontline associates and addressed by the senior leadership in addition to direct manager-associate conversations.

Lean Tip #1160 - Create a Productive Work Environment
A workplace that is trusting, open and fun will be the most productive and successful. Be open to new ideas and suggestions that come from your employees, and show them that their voices are being heard. Regularly set time aside for team-building exercises and meetings, and make them fun so your employees actually look forward to participating rather than looking for reasons to ditch them.

Lean Tip #1161 - Keep Promises
Never make a promise you can’t keep, and when you do make a promise -- no matter how small it might be -- be sure to follow through with it. Even if you think your employees don’t care about it, you can be sure that they are keeping score. If you aren’t certain that you will be able to follow through on a promise, then don’t make it.

Lean Tip #1162 - Let Your Team in on the Plan
Be as transparent with your people as you can be, in terms of providing information on how the company makes and loses money, letting them in on any strategies you may have and explaining to them their role in the big picture. When your employees understand the overall plan, they will view themselves as an important, vital piece of the puzzle.

Lean Tip #1163 - Involve Your Employees
Involve employees more deeply in your organization by inviting them to join cross-functional teams that draw on the expertise and talent of people from different parts of the organization. Let each team have the authority they need to make decisions on their own -- especially when the decisions directly affect them.

Lean Tip #1164 - Create a Partnership With Your Employees
The best way to encourage your people to consistently give their very best on the job is to create a partnership. Treat each employee as a valuable member of your team, and give them the autonomy to make decisions and do their work as they see fit, so long as they meet their performance standards.

Lean Tip #1165 - Solicit Ideas for Improvement
If you do one-on-one meetings with your team, or in informal "stop-by" talks, ask your employees individually for their thoughts on the department's operations. Ask "What should we be focusing on? What could run better in our group?" If the solutions offered seem impractical, don't shoot them down—talk through the obstacles so your colleagues will understand the challenges of implementing what they've suggested. Above all, don't send the message that you're the only one who is qualified to make improvements. We don't keep smart people unless we make them part of our brain trust.

Lean Tip #1166 – Draw You Value Stream Map by Hand First
Some VSM software programs help you draw maps and perform many data manipulations. In my opinion, you should learn to draw it by hand first, because it will help you better understand the methodology. By putting pencil to paper, you emerge yourself in the mapping process, and that’s how it becomes real. Yes, it may seem like a struggle at first, but with practice it becomes easier. The day you can grab a piece of paper, start discussing a problem with a colleague, and draw a map is the day you really start to understand the power of VSM.

Lean Tip #1167 - Use a Team to Create the Maps and a Plan
Having one person create the map means you used only one brain and two hands. The information gathered may be biased or, even worse, incorrect. Decisions need to be made for what is best for the entire value stream, and that’s hard to do with only one person. Make sure you use a good cross-functional team to walk the shop floor, analyze part flow, gather the information, and then draw the map.

Ideally, someone with experience in VSM should lead the initial meetings. A person who has drawn several maps can help determine the process families with the team, teach the team the correct way to collect data and information, show how to draw the maps, coach toward a better future state, and facilitate a successful event.

Lean Tip #1168 – Don’t Expect Everything to Show up on the Map
Even though the maps will give you great information and insights for improvement, they typically do not have other enterprise wide initiatives that an organization should undertake during its lean journey, such as 5S workplace organization and standardization. A company needs to have 5S everywhere, and VSMs may show only an area or process that needs 5S, not the entire facility. Also, other important functions like communication and training do not usually show up as an action item on a VSM, but these functions are extremely important while implementing lean concepts.

Lean Tip #1169 - Post Maps Where People Will See Them 
Don’t hide your maps. A key benefit of displaying your value stream maps is to communicate what is going to happen at your organization over the next few months or during the next year. Many people resist change because they fear the unknown. Posting the maps with the plan removes or eliminates this fear. It’s also a way to start discussions and obtain buy-in and ideas for improvement. Don’t hide your maps; be proud of them!

Lean Tip #1170 - Eliminate Waste, Don’t Create It

When it comes to VSM, people often become so enamored with their own bureaucracy or analysis that they are just wasting valuable resources, especially time. I’m talking about the people who spend too much time making fancy graphs from the data that was collected, or the ones that want to get the data down to the one-hundredth decimal point. Remember what you are trying to do here: eliminate waste, not create more.

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