Friday, October 19, 2018

Lean Quote: Listening and Observation Will Gain You More Than By Talk

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.


"If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk." — Robert Baden-Powell

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 eight useful tips that can help you become a good listener:

Tip #1: Stop talking. If you really want to be an effective listener, stop what you are doing. Eliminate distractions. Give full attention. Show the person that you really want to listen.

Tip #2: Put the person at ease. Get relaxed yourself. Use door-openers like, “What’s up? Anything I can help you with?" Don’t rush, give them time…unhurried. Be alert to posture and nonverbal cues.

Tip #3: Don’t interrupt, especially if the person is upset. Allow for ventilation to occur. Remember, it’s only words. Be patient.

Tip #4: Empathize. Make a statement of regret. Be genuine. Ask them for their help. “I’d like to understand your problem; will you help me?”

Tip #5: Paraphase. Try to summarize what you’ve heard and restate it to the person to his/her satisfaction.  This often helps defuse tension. It also aids in showing employees that you’re trying to understand their situation.

Tip #6: Ask open-ended questions. Use questions for clarification and understanding, “What do you suggest we do?”

Tip #7: Use silence. Don’t be afraid of tension. If any tension exists, time perception get terribly distorted.

Tip #8: Allow reflection. In many case the best role we can play is that of a sounding board for our employees. This even allows for a little pressure release.

Bottom line, the time it takes you to listen to the ideas of others is not only worth it - the success of your enterprise depends on it. Choose not to listen and you will end up frantically spending a lot more time down the road asking people for their ideas about how to save your business from imminent collapse. By that time, however, it will be too late. Your workforce will have already tuned you out.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Guest Post: 7 Skills of Great Leaders


When it comes to getting your company or brand to the next level, excellent leadership is the basis of everything. By having a strong basis, you will have the liberty to make the choices and moves you want.

Leadership is what makes the entire vessel move, that allows goals to be accomplished. Without a strong leader, any company will be just a collection of separate skills and traits. Therefore, you should always take after history’s successful leaders and strengthen the bond between you and your team.

What exactly makes a great leader so great? We’ve selected 7 of the most important traits of a leader that should become your own.

1. Listening
Not everyone can listen. Listening is a formidable skill that’s closely connected to humility. Being the ultimate listener means accepting the fact that your solution might not be the best one.

If a leader is a good listener, he can connect with his or her team and show them that their work is important. By listening, you show people that their words matter and that they should express themselves.

Robert Garvey from EssayOnTime concurs and adds that listening is an investment in your team. Once people feel that they’re being listened to, they will be more motivated to share ideas and plans in the future.

As a direct result of this investment, there will be an atmosphere of equality, which will translate on everyone relying on each other and having each other’s backs. Leaders have to establish such a climate.

2. Critical thinking
To be a successful leader, you have to play the role of a judge on many occasions. Time and again, you will be presented with plans, proposals, ideas and everything else that comes to someone’s mind.

How will you be able to discern good from bad and make the right choice? Critical thinking is the key, and it always will be.

A critical-thinking leader can draw information from a multitude of sources, even if some of them are conflicting. Keep in mind that a critical thinker is also the owner of an open mind.
Even though you have to double check and question everything, don’t hesitate to use other people’s knowledge as an aid. Promote facts and scientific methods amongst your team, and you will be much more respected.

3. Giving feedback
While listening may be a paramount skill in today’s business world, giving feedback is also a skill that’s vital to quality leadership. By giving honest and useful feedback, the listener will also learn about your outlook on the situation.

With the critique added, they will be able to see what they can improve. Additionally, when they hear that they’ve performed well, they will be more motivated to continue in the same manner.

Hone the culture of giving feedback in your company. No matter the position or experience level, everyone should have the same right to voice their opinion.

If the feedback is negative, never end it on the same note. Emphasize that failure is just an indication that there is room for improvement. People will feel better about themselves as a result.

4. Time management
Even the greatest and most inspiring ideas have perished because of a lack of time management. Every goal and plan have to be dissected into smaller sections.

By inserting each of these sections in a corresponding period, you will be closer and closer to achieving that goal. Thus, it is your duty as a leader to allow your colleagues and associates to be precise and punctual.

Make to-do lists and have a big board or screen somewhere where everyone can see it. Even by casting a glance at the list, people will be reminded of their purpose.

Everything will be written down and managed, so they will feel more secure because they know what they have to do. Also, be sure to set an example of how to deal with unexpected occurrences and changes of plan.

5. Planning and implementing
Determining what you want and what should you do can sometimes be much harder than actually doing it. Plan together with your team. Have everyone give their opinion on what should be done tomorrow, next week or for the entire year.

A good leader always makes planning a collective activity, without much pressure on one single person.

By allowing your associates to participate in the implementation process, they will feel less of a burden. Different perspectives will yield a different result and thus result in a more efficient implementation of said ideas.

6. Organization
An organization is nothing more than practical use of knowledge. A great leader must know the individual traits, preferences and strong sides of every employee or associate.

With that knowledge, he can distribute every task accordingly, without worrying about something going wrong. Every part of the task will be executed by the person most fit to accomplish it.

In addition to giving out orders and distributing workforce and brainpower, a great leader knows how to distribute resources. To top it off, you have to implement written progress tracking, so that everyone is in sync.

7. Motivation
Everyone has bad days and doesn’t feel like doing something. No matter how discouraging this is, it doesn’t define anyone.

As a leader, it’s your role to remind people that you’re working with of what they’re worth and how valuable they are to you. Within your position, you have to display equal amounts of sturdiness and compassion.

Reward those around you and make them realize how much you value them. By providing clear purpose and an evident direction, you will be able to do great things and get the most out of everyone around you.

Concluding thoughts

Don’t look at leadership as a burden, but as a challenge. Look at that position as an ultimate form of gravity, the force that binds different people and different goals together. By functioning in sync, organizing and motivating your associates, everyone will flourish, and potential for further accomplishments will indubitably be infinite.

About the Author:
Serena Dorf is an enthusiastic content writer in Los Angeles. She is thirsty for knowledge and is always on the lookout for amazing writing tips to share with her readers.  In her free time, she is reading classic American literature and learning Swedish. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Lean Tips Editions #130 (1946-1960)

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 #1946 - Help the Employees Identify What's in It for Them to Make the Change.
A good portion of the normal resistance to change disappears when employees are clear about the benefits the change brings to them as individuals.

Benefits to the group, the department, and the organization should be stressed, too. But, nothing is more important to an individual employee than to know the positive impact on their own career or job.

Additionally, employees must feel that the time, energy, commitment, and focus necessary to implement the change are compensated equally by the benefits they will attain from making the change.

Happier customers, increased sales, a pay raise, saved time and steps, positive notoriety, recognition from the boss, more effective, productive employees, and an exciting new role or project are examples of ways in which you can help employees feel compensated for the time, energy, focus, change, and challenge that any change requires.


Lean Tip #1947 - Listen Deeply and Empathetically to Employees.
You can expect that the employees will experience the same range of emotions, thoughts, agreement, and disagreement that you experienced when the change was introduced to you or when you participated in creating the change. Never minimize an employee's response to even the most simple change.

You can't know or experience the impact from an individual employee's point of view. Maybe the change seems insignificant to many employees, but the change will seriously impact another employee's favorite task. Hearing the employees out and letting them express their point of view in a non-judgmental environment will reduce resistance to change.

Lean Tip #1948 - Empower Employees to Contribute.
Control of their own jobs is one of the five key factors in what employees want from work. So, too, this control aspect follows when you seek to minimize resistance to change. Give the employees control over any aspect of the change that they can manage.

If you have communicated transparently, you have provided the direction, the rationale, the goals, and the parameters that have been set by your organization. Within that framework, your job is to empower the employees to make the change work.

Practice effective delegation and set the critical path points at which you need feedback for the change effort—and get out of their way.

Lean Tip #1949 - Create an Organization-wide Feedback and Improvement Loop.
Do these steps mean that the change that was made is the right or optimal change? Not necessarily. You must maintain an open line of communication throughout your organization to make sure that feedback reaches the ears of the employees leading the charge.

Changing course or details, continuous improvement, and tweaking is a natural and expected, part of any organizational change. Most changes are not poured in concrete but there must be a willingness to examine the improvement (plan, do, study, take additional action).

If you implement your change in an organizational environment that is employee-oriented, with transparent communication and a high level of trust, you have a huge advantage.

Lean Tip #1950 - Listen First, Talk Second
The first strategy to overcome resistance to change is to communicate. Communication is key — you already knew that. However, try letting your employees initiate the conversation. People want to be heard, and giving them a chance to voice their opinions will help alleviate the frustration they feel over the situation.

What’s more, your employees thoughts, concerns and suggestions will prove wildly valuable to steer your change project. At the very least, understanding them will help you pinpoint the root of employee resistance to change.

Lean Tip #1951 – Make Change About Employees
Change is only possible if your human resources are on board, so make sure changes are approached in terms of the employee. If you are implementing a new software system — plan your project through the lens of user adoption rather than focusing on the technology. It’s not about what the technology can do, it is about what the user can do with the help of this new technology.

Lean Tip #1952 - Encourage Camaraderie
Teams work better when they understand one another on a somewhat personal level. To cultivate a strong company culture and foster deeper connections between employees, create opportunities for your staff to socialize that doesn’t involve work. Happy hours, company-sponsored events and group outings and clubs are excellent ways to bring people together, regardless of age or professional title.

Lean Tip #1953 - Identify the Root Cause of Resistance
There are many telltale signs that staff members are resisting change. They may complain more than usual, miss key meetings or bluntly refuse to participate in new initiatives. It’s important to recognize when resistance is becoming an issue, but it’s even more important to understand why your employees are pushing back in the first place. The most common causes of resistance include:

·        Lack of awareness about why changes are being made
·        Fear of how change will impact job roles
·        Failed attempts at change in the past
·        Lack of visible support and commitment from managers
·        Fear of job loss

By identifying why employees are resisting change, you can better decide how to address resistance head-on. If lack of awareness or fear is the problem, greater communication and discussion groups may help. If change has failed in the past, and employees aren’t confident this time will be different, you can discuss specific ways the organization has learned from its mistakes and how it plans to use this insight to successfully implement new initiatives.

Lean Tip #1954 - Involve Executive Leadership
You cannot successfully implement change without support from all levels of business. Your employees take cues from the executive team, and if leadership doesn’t adhere to the plan for change management, it’s very likely your employees won’t either. Encourage company leaders to set an example, and the rest will follow.

Lean Tip #1955 - Do Change Right the First Time
Failed attempts to change aspects of your business process will have a negative effect on how employees view future initiatives. If you’re going to make a change, make sure you’re doing everything in your power to ensure it’s successful and set realistic timelines. Many companies fail to successfully implement change because they overload employees and expect near-immediate gratification. The reality of change management boils down to one fact: It takes time.

Break the initiative down into stages and guide employees through the process to ensure, at each mile marker, adaptations are unfolding correctly to support the next stage of change.

Lean Tip #1956 - Innovation: Trust Yourself Enough to Trust Others
Innovation requires breaking down the old rules of thought and creating new ones.  This means each member of the team must become more transparent than ever before.    As such, each member of the team must trust themselves enough to trust each other.    When you can accomplish this trust, you become more patient, a better listener and over time more grateful for the new experiences and relationships that are being formed.

Then, step back and recognize that – with your ability to co-exist with people in ways that form a family bond – the promise of a new workplace culture can be realized.

Lean Tip #1957 - Innovation: Collaborate and Discover
It’s not until you begin to trust yourself and others that real collaboration takes root.  Collaboration is not just about working closely together, but also about taking leaps of faith together to discover new ways of thinking and create greater outcomes.

You never know which idea will take shape into the new innovation that creates impact and influence in the marketplace – whether a new process, product, packaging, piece of knowledge, etc.

Lean Tip #1958 - Innovation: Communicate to Learn
Without strong communication, teams can’t find their rhythm and they certainly won’t find the things they are looking for to build trust and collaborate.  The manner in which you communicate sets the tone and propels thinking in a variety of directions that leads to new innovations.

A team should view themselves as an innovation lab – constantly challenging each other  to learn from each other’s ideas and ideals  and to plant the seeds  for future innovations.

Lean Tip #1959 - Innovation: Be a Courageous Change Agent
For teams to innovate, leaders must challenge each team member to think more critically and see through a lens of continuous improvement.  Looking through this lens requires the mindset of a “courageous enabler” – one who takes charge and embraces the role of a change agent in support of constructive disruption that ultimately makes things operate better and improves performance.

Every leader must become a change agent or face extinction.  As such, their teams must equally be charged to do the same.  Accepting the role of a change agent means taking on an entrepreneurial attitude, embracing risk as the new normal, and beginning to see opportunity in everything. As you do, innovation becomes second nature.

Lean Tip #1960 – Innovation: Course Correct to Perfect
To find the perfect combination of people on a team, leaders must often course correct along the way.  Yes, perfection is utopia but course correction steers you closer to the promise of the culture you are attempting to create. Course correction also keeps people on their toes and teaches them to adapt to new environments, where they can showcase their abilities and skill-sets to new people and personalities in different situations and circumstances.

To effectively course correct – and create and sustain momentum for growth, innovation  and opportunity – I’ve always  believed that every leader must ask themselves the following three questions:  1) What must I keep doing?, 2) What must I stop doing?, and 3) What must I start doing?  Simple questions that we don’t ask ourselves often enough and must hold ourselves accountable to answer.


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Friday, October 12, 2018

Lean Quote: Waste is a Tax on the Whole People

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.


"Waste is a tax on the whole people." — Albert W. Atwood

A simple, profound statement that reminds me of our shared social responsibility.

In recent years many companies have established a fundamental goal to minimize the environmental impact while maintaining high quality and service for all business processes and products. This is commonly referred to as sustainability or green manufacturing. According to the Department of Commerce, “Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.”

When implementing lean within our organizations, equipment reliability is a predominant foundational element that enables lean operational performance. Embracing green manufacturing requires giving more focus to environmental and energy concerns during the implementation of reliability improvement projects. Improvements geared toward improving equipment reliability have distinct linkages to environmental performance. 

As most manufacturers are starting to realize, the quest to become green takes them right back to Lean. Applying ‘Lean Principles’ – a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement - is one of the key ways to enhance environmental performance. By applying the tools, systems thinking, and lessons learned from the process improvement methodology they can effectively operationalize sustainability.

Lean and sustainability are conceptually similar. Both seek to maximize the efficiency of a system. This is accomplished through waste and time minimization. The difference lies in where this system (or process) boundary is drawn and how, and in how waste is defined. Lean sees waste as non-value added to the customer; green sees waste as extraction and consequential disposal of resources at rates or in forms beyond that which nature can absorb.

When companies expand the definition of waste to include not only product and process waste, but also the business consequences of unsustainable practices, Ohno’s list of wastes takes a different form:

Waste of natural resources
Waste of human potential
Waste due to emissions
Waste from byproducts (reuse potential)
Terminal waste, waste from by-products that have not further usefulness
Energy waste
Waste of the unneeded (e.g., packaging)

When the definition of waste is expanded and when it’s understood that the consequences of corporate decisions extend past the company parking lot, Lean can indeed be green. Less waste is good for the environment — and the company’s bottom line — and reducing waste in both products and processes is what Lean is all about. So it makes perfect sense that in order to achieve higher levels of environmental performance, your organization must first adopt the principles and practices of lean manufacturing.

Lean manufacturing practices, which are at the very core of sustainability, save time and money — an absolutely necessity in today’s competitive global marketplace. While the pursuit of Green and Lean is not a destination but a journey it is clear that organizations that stretch themselves to build a culture around the values of Sustainability, Excellence, and Equity will ultimately have a big advantage those who do not. Isn’t the ultimate definition of “sustainable manufacturing” to be able to compete and not only survive, but thrive?


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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Five Ways to Find Time for Continuous Improvement


A common question I get on tours of our factory is how do you find time for improvement. My usual response is “we just do” but that is not entirely true.

“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” – Charles Buxton (Philanthropist and Politician)

It is an age-old battle — production time versus improvement time. Two worthy rivals attempting to occupy the same narrow 24-hour space. The issue is not which is more important. Production is! This is as it should be: a company is in business to sell its products and services. It must first make them. And that takes time. Production time always comes first.

Too often improvement is left to chance and the ingenuity of the willing to eke out small pockets of time — and make magic happen. We all know these people. They see the vision burning brightly before them and are determined to make it happen. Time and again, these people prove — with their own mental, emotional, and physical health — the familiar adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Improvement doesn’t just happen.  It takes time, and in the pressure pot of our day to day activities, there is never enough time to improve our situation. The structure of Lean permits and requires time be set aside for improvement. If managers do not definitively provide time for the task of improvement, then people will know that they are not serious about making improvement a formal part of the work.

One of the most common reasons I hear when improvement activity stops is ‘there is so much going on, we’re too busy to find time for improvement. The predominant culture in many organizations is on of firefighting – implementing temporary fixed to problems. Ultimately, however, fire-fighting organizations fail to solve problems adequately. Firefighting prevents us from getting to the root cause. And if we don’t get to the root of problem we will be right back to firefighting soon.

There are some ways to build continuous improvement into your business:

1. Remove roadblocks.
Management’s job is improvement. They must remove roadblocks that hinder this achievement. If managers do not take the time and make the effort to incorporate improvement in their work they are not serious about the effort. It takes time and effort to make changes in the way we do things, but it takes the time to consider and implement those changes if they are to survive in the long run.

2. Look for quick wins.
Don't start by trying to save a million dollars overnight. This is the type of work that makes people think they have no time for continuous improvement. After all, you can only work on so many of these projects at once before you really do run out of time - or you don’t even have the time to get started on any of them. Small, incremental changes can give you quick wins—without disrupting your operations or demanding a huge amount of effort. 

3. Engage and develop entire team to solve problems.
Sometimes supervisors and managers think they need to implement all of the suggested improvements themselves, as in the old suggestion box model where employees point out problems and the boss fixes them (or ignores them or rejects their ideas). This approach results in the boss becoming a bottleneck. 

In a successful culture of continuous improvement, managers accept that they can’t (or shouldn’t!) implement every little idea that their staff come up with. Instead, they empower the staff to act on their own ideas! Successful managers save time by developing their staff as critical thinkers and problem solvers.

4. Doing is more important than thinking
Improvement never comes to you while you are thinking about it. You are what you do. Knowledge is basically useless without action. Good things don't come to those that wait, they come to those that ask what they can do today to learn and move forward now.

5. Never stop.
It’s called “continuous” improvement for a reason. Once you’ve found your first quick win, start looking for the next one right away. A long-term commitment to continuous improvement will help you respond to growth and change—and keep your competitive edge sharp.

Adopting a culture of continuous improvement can benefit both you, your team and your business. Finding a suitable way to begin your never-ending quest toward it doesn’t need to keep you awake at night. Why don’t you start by implementing these 5 ways in order to set yourself up for all the benefits that come hand in hand with improving continuously!


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Monday, October 8, 2018

Learn to Discover, Discover to Learn


In the US we are celebrating Columbus Day which recognizes Christopher Columbus who discovered America. This is a good time to talk about the importance of discovery to Lean thinking.  Fundamentally, discovery is the act of detecting something new, or something "old" that had been unknown. Discoveries are often made due to questioning.

Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask questions that stimulate our thought.

Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such.

Thinking is of no use unless it goes somewhere, and again, the questions we ask determine where our thinking goes. Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things; force us to deal with complexity. Questions of purpose force us to define our task. Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.

Encourage a questioning culture.  Urge everyone to question. Ask why several times to try to get to the root cause of problems.  Challenge everyone to think and learn. Because without questioning there can’t be discovery. And without discovery there can’t be improvement.


In the spirit of Columbus Day take some time to discover and learn about your company, your employees, your problems, your processes, and your customers so that you can think Lean improvement.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Lean Quote: Journey, Not a Destination

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.


"Excellence is not a destination; it is a continuous journey that never ends." — Brian Tracy

Lean Thinking is often described as a “journey, not a destination”. In many regards this is true since the best Lean companies have found that their improvement efforts never end. Each set of improvements result in improved bottom-line results but also exposes more opportunity.

Continuous improvement as the name says, is a journey that never ends. There will always be a gap between where you are (current state) and where you would like to be (True North). Since there will always be a gap, there will always be an opportunity to improve.
The road to continual improvement is a rocky one with many ups and downs. Value the incremental improvement approach to continuous improvement. Through simple, common-sense, and low cost experimentation a great deal of process improvements can be made. Experimentation is the exercise of a healthy Lean journey. Understanding this allows one the opportunity to stay on the path along the journey.

Lean doesn’t end after you reach your first set of goals, and it’s not a finite project with a beginning and end date. Rather it’s a way of business life that everyone needs to pursue continuously.

A Lean journey is full of steps not all of which are forward. Failure will occur. Its ok, the purpose is learning, and we learn through experimentation. Trying new approaches, exploring new methods and testing new ideas for improving the various processes is exercise for the mind.


Sustaining the Lean effort and overcoming inertia requires institutionalizing your process. The real benefits of Lean come from a sustained effort over years, not weeks or months.


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