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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Stop Firefighting at Work, Make Time for Change

Many leaders often feel like there is an endless list of fires to put out in their business, with another popping up every time one is extinguished. They end up in a vicious cycle of knowing they need to improve, but feeling unable to get to the root cause of a problem before it bursts back to life, sending them rushing over to the fire extinguisher again.

Productivity goes down, profitability goes down, and the constant day-to-day battling demotivates staff. Meanwhile, managers have no time to work on the things that would really benefit the organization.

Fire fighting is popular because it is exciting. Furthermore, it is a win-win situation for the fire fighter. If the fix works out, the fire fighter is a hero. If it doesn’t, the fire fighter can’t be blamed, because the situation was virtually hopeless to begin with. Notice that it is to the fire fighter’s advantage to actually let the problem become worse, because then there will be less blame if they fail or more praise if they succeed.

When constant firefighting is the norm, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the fire extinguisher as the hero. But it’s important to remember that fire extinguishers do not prevent fires from occurring. The fires will only stop once learning and root cause problem solving are valued over the firefighting itself.

But the real problem is the people in charge. Fighting fires instead of developing a plan to stop fire fighting and making sure it will not happen again is the job of management. Most of us deplore the firefighting style, yet many managers and organizations perpetuate it by rewarding firefighters for the miraculous things they do. In fact, it may be the absence of a vision and plan that cause your organization to be so reactive, and spend a lot of time fire-fighting rather than proactively meeting the needs of your customers. This is all easier said than done, of course, but if you get things right the first time, there's usually not much fire-fighting later.

To prevent firefighting becoming the norm, leaders instead need to develop a culture of problem solving and fixing issues at the source. This is a skill that can be learnt. A good problem-solving manager will always begin by asking the Five Whys to get to the root cause of every issue.

Once the Whys have been identified, the next question should be “How can we stop this happening again?” This is a crucial part that many organizations tend to miss.

Empowering people

The next step is to delegate responsibility, rather than pass problems up the chain. Supervisors and staff members need to be empowered to ask the Five Whys and solve small issues themselves, thereby freeing up time for managers to focus on more important tasks and preventing other fires from occurring.

This requires coaching, which takes time and energy, but if you were to compare it to all the time and energy you spend fighting the same recurring problems, the investment is more than worthwhile.

Visual Management

Visualizing performance can be a useful tool in preventing fires from breaking out. This often takes the form of visual management boards showing metrics such as SQCDP (Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, People), which was certainly missing in the example of Company A above.


Another way of looking at a problem is to see it as a gap between the ‘standard’ and what’s actually happening in reality. Once you have identified the root cause of the gap (using the Five Whys) and how to close it, you create a new Standard Work to replace the old one.

If you don’t have any standard work instructions or operating procedures in place to begin with, it’s difficult to solve problems because you have nothing to compare against – you cannot really identify what went wrong.

When introducing a new standard to your organization, always use the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle to ensure changes are planned and analyzed effectively before being adopted.

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.

There can be no improvement without the time and resource commitment from management to solve problems.

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Monday, December 5, 2022

5 Tips for Leadership Looking To Encourage Employee Growth

Image Source: Pixabay

You want your employees to always be growing — in their roles, within their personal lives, and toward the company’s goals for the future. Consistent growth in your employees can result in great things for your business, including more productivity, innovation, and loyal customers.

Unfortunately, many company leaders stifle employee development. Many don’t have the resources to make it happen. Others don’t want employees to leave. Some just don’t care. And their businesses are paying the price.

Be a leader that encourages employee growth by following these practical tips.

Connect With Employees in Clear and Transparent Ways

Inspiring growth in your employees first requires you to get to know them personally. Knowing who they are at their core will help you develop personalized development plans for each employee, something so vital for growth.

You can start building these relationships with transparent interdepartmental communication. Be honest and open in every interaction with your employees. Do more listening than talking.

Also, ensure employees connect with each other clearly and transparently. The closer they are to one another, the better they work together. And as they work together, you can discover untapped talents and additional avenues for growth.

Moreover, better communication in the workplace and a closer connection with your employees make understanding and accommodating their needs easier.

For example, people with neurodivergent traits have a range of neurological differences that show themselves in various ways. Diagnoses like autism, Tourette’s, and dyslexia fall under this category. Because neurological differences can affect language, cognitive, and motor skills, as well as sensory experiences, it’s essential to consider their unique needs to facilitate growth.

Whether it’s training, education, or a job-related responsibility, you must create accessible and individualized tools to meet the needs of your employees adequately. Without them, they won’t be set up to excel, hurting their confidence, self-esteem, and, ultimately, their growth.

Assess Your Leadership Style

Every leader has a particular style. They manage, communicate, and work with their employees in a certain way, whether intentionally or not. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a particular leadership style. But, the mistake many leaders make is not adapting to the team they oversee.

Using a leadership style your employees don’t resonate with almost guarantees slow growth. This is because you play an integral part in their morphing into “them 2.0.” So, if you’re constantly at odds with your employees and making them feel inadequate, it will affect how they elevate.

It’s wise to assess your leadership style as you learn more about and make deeper connections with your employees. Consider the feedback they’ve given you and what you’ve heard from those above you. Then, be honest about whether the way you lead is helping or hurting employee development.

If you’re hurting, it’s time to make some changes. Research other leadership styles that can potentially work better for your team. Once you’ve landed on the one you want to adopt, slowly but surely change your leadership behaviors.

Adopt the Right Mindset

Employee growth won’t happen without the right mindset. Your thoughts influence your behavior. So, you want to ensure your employees have a positive, growth-oriented attitude, so their actions prompt evolution.

A mastery mindset is an excellent choice for any leader looking to encourage employee growth. A mastery mindset is rooted in believing wholeheartedly you can do something and allowing that belief to prompt action and influence how you think and feel.

If you instill self-confidence and belief in your employees, you can inspire a mastery mindset. Always give them props when they do something great. And spend even more time uplifting them when they’re lacking. This will help them keep striving, thus prompting growth. 

Facilitate Professional Development

A lot of growth happens in professional development settings. Employees can advance their skill sets, increase their knowledge, build beneficial relationships, and grow traits like confidence.

Facilitating professional development should be on your to-do list. Map out uptraining, cross-training, educational, and other professional growth opportunities your employees would enjoy and appreciate.

Be sure that you properly compensate employees who take advantage of these opportunities and give them time off to complete them. That way, they can focus entirely on their chosen opportunities and evolve. 

In addition, you can facilitate professional development through mentorship programs.

Create Mentorship Programs

Your employees can absolutely take steps toward growth on their own. But many of them will need someone to hold their hand through the development journey to reach each stage seamlessly.

Mentorship programs can offer your employees precisely that, someone to guide them through critical periods of growth. You’d be spreading yourself thin if you tried to take every employee under your wing.

So, consider creating one or multiple mentorship programs for your employees. Talk with other leaders, owners, and even employees to see if they’d be interested in mentoring interested workers. 

Your mentorship could be as informal as allowing employees to shadow someone in a position they’re pining for. Or it could be a formal mentorship program where your employees go through a signup process, match with a mentor, commit to a schedule, and work through different tasks with their mentor.


As a business leader, you should take pride in helping your employees grow. Continuous development breeds confident, productive employees dedicated to taking your business to the next level. The tips above can help you encourage employee growth rather than suppress it.  

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and business topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Lean Quote: Improving Your Communication Skills

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.

"Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.  —  Brian Tracy

Communication is the foundation of every single relationship you have in your personal life; it's no different in business. Without effective communication, there can be misunderstandings, problems and conflicts among your staff, your clients and everyone else you come into contact. Poor communication can make effective delegation, increased productivity and an enjoyable work environment virtually impossible.

Here are the 7 Tips for Improving Your Communication Skills:

Make communication a priority. Checking in with employees is essential. Meet with them regularly either in-person, inviting them to discuss their thoughts on their projects, tasks, and the organization as a whole. They want to be heard, and they want to share their thoughts and opinions. This will improve internal communication throughout your entire organization, as well as empower your employees and keep them comfortable in their positions.

Simplify and stay on message. Use simple, straightforward language. The truth is that everybody cannot be on same page when it comes to vocabulary. Therefore, to be effective in your communications with your team members, use words that can be easily understood. When ambiguous words are used, you can be misunderstood and/or waste precious time having to explain yourself.

Engage and encourage feedback. Don’t just talk and walk away. Draw your listeners and readers into the conversation. Ask questions and invite opinions. Solicit their feedback. It will also afford you the privilege of knowing if your message was well understood. Look for ways to clarify or rephrase what you are trying to say so it can be understood.

Listen to your team members. Communication is intended to be a two way street. Don’t just talk because you are the leader without listening to anyone else. Encourage them to open up so you can be well guided when communicating in the future with them. You have two ears and one mouth –so you must listen more than you speak.

Respect your team. Recognize your message is not just about you or what you want. You should sincerely care about the needs and the unique perspectives of those to whom you are communicating. One of the best ways to show your respect is simply by paying attention to what they say.

Develop trust. Trust is the product of open and honest communications. So it is important that good communication channels exist. Also, trust is an essential ingredient of teamwork. If trust exists among business associates, teamwork and cooperation are much easier to achieve.

Inform and Inspire. Communication is a form of information exchange. Explaining and clarifying your thoughts and ideas is important in a leadership role. But passing on information to your team is only half of the equation. As a leader, it's vital to your business that your communication efforts inspire your team as much as they educate them. Plan ahead for meetings and conversations so you can effectively mix information and inspiration.

Ultimately, effective communication can be one of the most important skills you use in your business. If your communication skills can use some fine-tuning, take time to analyze how you communicate, and the results of your communication. Then focus on ways you can improve it over time. You may be surprised how much that changes your relationships with staff, clients and colleagues for the better.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Lean Roundup #162 – November 2022

A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of November 2022.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here. 


Going To The Electronic Gemba – John Knotts talks about how to go to the “electronic Gemba!”  with 1) A Wall Walk, and 2) A Functional Analysis.


The Good Karma of Lean – Kevin Meyer discusses an interesting alignment with key aspects of lean and continuous improvement – as well as karma, stoicism, and zen.


Beware Prizes, Belts & Self-appointed Experts – Pascal Dennis says professional degrees or certificates are nothing more than a kick-start, a proxy for the hard work of building a management system & getting results.


How to Reduce Product Variants – Christoph Roser gives some general suggestions on how to reduce your number of product variants.


Keynote: How To Be A Lean Leader Who Inspires and Influences People In Their Continuous Improvement Journey – Katie Anderson shares her keynote presentation from QP Summit 2022 on lean leadership challenges.


Automation and People - Michel Baudin summarized observations on automation and people from the Van of Nerds tour of 11 manufacturing sites in Northern France


At Toyota: Mistakes are OK, as Long as We Learn; Culture and Psychological Safety – Mark Graban talks about Toyota’s culture of trust and safety when it comes from learning from our mistakes.


Why Few People Truly Take the Lean Leap - Michael Ballé says the reason why lean is only truly taken up by few has to do with embracing changes in our hearts and minds.


Lean Eyes Don’t Lie - Darren Walsh shares tips on how to gauge whether improvement efforts are paying off and people are internalizing a lean way of thinking.


Who, or What, Is Your Company Investing In? – Josh Howell asks if technology works for your people or the other way around?


Building A Diverse and Capable Workforce from the Bottom Up - Adrienne C. Trimble and Mark Reich say combining lean thinking and practices with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives builds more inclusive, engaged, and resilient businesses.


How Can Business Transformation Reduce Costs? - Adam Darnell says that implementing a digital business management system to structure and measure business process improvements can result in significant cost savings and a more strategic use of resources.


How to Align Continuous Improvement with Strategic Goals - Megan Cox says when improvement work is aligned with strategic goals and objectives, the organization moves in lock-step, increasing the probability of long-term success.


The Indispensable Role of Middle Management in Lean - Maggie Millard discusses the role of middle managers, evolving them from "enforcers" to enablers and coaches of front-line workers and supervisors.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

Lean Tips Edition #196 (#3151 - #3165)

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 #3151 – Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Having a lean and healthy culture requires many components. One of those is instilling an environment of continuous improvement.

Gradual, consistent change that sustains continuous improvement is critical. It doesn’t mean you have to train staff in strict fundamentals. It does mean you need the idea of continuous improvement to be part of everything you do.

Seek out ideas about how to improve production processes. Making everyone part of the change shows that you appreciate their opinions. It can also increase employee engagement and foster a more inclusive environment.

Lean Tip #3152 – Perseverance Should be Admired, But Only Up to a Point

If it takes a lot of effort and time to prove your point, make sure it’s worth it – for you and your sponsor. Persistence is an admirable quality and crucial to success, but it’s important to know when to let it go and move on. You may sometimes have to invest your passion in alternative projects to ensure long-term success, so make sure you stay flexible.

Lean Tip #3153 – Change of Behavior is as Important as the Tools

Industry experts believe that change in behavior is mandatory for the effective implementation of change. People have this tendency to work around a problem rather than fix it, and this is where Lean and Six Sigma inculcate a willingness to constantly address problems that arise in business processes. When people are committed to changing their behavior even tools will be incorporated seamlessly. Training your workforce in Lean and Six Sigma is one thing, but without a change in behavior, the whole process will be just academic without any practical implications.

Lean Tip #3154 – Have the Right Measurement System in Place

Organizations first need to understand that things that cannot be measured cannot be improved. By having a proper measurement system in place, practitioners can decide on baseline performance and use the data to make informed decisions. And when people understand the potential of Lean and Six Sigma, there will be rapid improvement in projects. Also by encouraging participants to define both tangible and intangible measures one can monitor the impact of their improvements and keep a database that will help in communicating the success to the organization.

Lean Tip #3155 – Have Constant Communication to Engage a More Employees

In an organization, there can never be enough communication. There should be varied communication channels to – receive information and comprehend it in a way that the recipient will be able to reflect and act upon it. Having open communication channels in an organization is an important aspect to complete Lean and Six Sigma projects on time. On many occasions addressing a small group or having face-to-face communication for discussion of important things is more effective than mass e-mail communications. In fact, many organizations today are using local displays with regular updates on work progress and visual summaries of future plans or targets will help in better engagement of the workforce.

Lean Tip #3156 – Take a Lean Tour

Sometimes we learn best by first witnessing the success of others. See the benefits of lean in action. It is not difficult to find organizations that will allow you to see their lean implementations (referred to as the Gemba walk). Take detailed notes of what is highly effective in their Lean implementations, ask questions, and get as much valuable information as you can in order to help you formulate you own Lean strategy for implementation.

Lean Tip #3157 – Get the Whole Team on Board

To get the greatest advantages out of Lean, the entire organization should adopt and promote its practices, and extend its influence to suppliers as well. You must involve the people who are the closest to the work and you must get support from senior management as well.

Lean Tip #3158 – Discard Conventional Fixed Ideas

Part of problem solving is thinking “outside of the box.” Encourage fresh perspectives and ingenuity in your team in order to develop innovative ways to forward Lean manufacturing without changing what is already efficient and successful. With such a rapidly evolving climate in manufacturing, sometimes conventional thought is what leads to the problem in the first place!

Lean Tip #3159 – Set Realistic Goals

In order to get people motivated, they must value the goals set for Lean manufacturing. These goals must be challenging, yet obtainable for your employees. Further, always ask for feedback on these goals, as well as progress toward target attainment. Feedback should always contain measurable facts and figures.

People, by nature, are goal-oriented and want to see that their actions are producing positive results. But if you’re not being realistic with your target goal dates, you are setting yourself up for failure from the beginning. Set small goals and reward yourself and your employees for each milestone accomplished.

Lean Tip #3160 – Show Results, Not Action Items

Naturally, implementation is what ultimately yields results and improvement. The last think you want is to devise and formulate a Lean campaign that then sits on the shelf and collects dust.

It’s important that you post real results on your Lean board, not things that you’re going to do. You must be able to point out your successes if you are ever going to convince others that Lean really works.

By concentrating on the processes and building continuous improvement, you will have the culture change that you are looking for. Also, correct mistakes immediately. Don’t wait for the next shift, the weekend or maintenance to do it.

Lean Tip #3161 – Make Experimentation a Habit

Today’s changing times make it essential for big and small companies to be able to adapt and – if necessary – pivot quickly. Any firm that keeps the focus on experimentation welcomes new ideas and works on evolution patterns to see what their product or service could become. But a culture where experimentation thrives often takes a push from management to make it happen.

Lean Tip #3162 – Ensure a Strong Commitment From the Leadership Team

It’s important to develop a strong commitment to the change amongst the senior leadership team before it is rolled out company-wide. In doing this, you can identify any potential obstacles or resistance to change and put a plan in place to overcome these. The top executive should be the main driving force, and the responsibility of cascading the change further will be down to the senior leadership team so it’s crucial to instill a high level of understanding.

Lean Tip #3163 – Engagement is Everything

Don’t underestimate the power of engagement here. Change requires engagement to succeed. Highlighting employee strengths and where these can be put to effective use within the change itself will move focus away from resistance towards more positive actions.

Lean Tip #3164 – Identify Key Influencers

Identify any informal leaders within the business and ensure they are a champion for change. Find out who the company’s sounding-boards are and make sure these people are on-board with the change!

Recognition is powerful. You could create an internal campaign to identify those who are quick to adapt to the change and show leadership qualities in their positive adoption.

Lean Tip #3165 – Constant Assessment

When you are supporting your senior leaders to adapt to change and form new habits, encourage them to consider the overall objective you are trying to achieve through the change and motivate them through outcome thinking.

Regularly assess these new habits and how the change is being adopted throughout the business. What’s working, what’s not? How can these challenges be confronted and overcome?

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Friday, November 25, 2022

Lean Quote: Thankful People are Happy 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.

"It’s not happy people that are thankful. It’s thankful people who are happy.  —  Unknown

It’s my favorite time of year, the holiday season. I especially love Thanksgiving. The very foundation of the holiday is a concept rooted in gratitude and giving back. It’s a time to gather with loved ones, enjoy the bounty of the earth and open our hearts to all the gifts we have been given!

Studies show we are happier, healthier (less heart disease, stress related disorders) and heartier (we actually live longer) and are more resilient when we focus on the plusses not the negatives in life.

The holiday season reminds us to slow down the pace a bit and just Be. Yes, I know, it’s not easy to let go of our daily stresses, and it’s true that there is a very long list of things to do.  But, when we think of the bounty we have in our children, our families and our friends, the rest can wait.

Happiness seems to be a rare quality these days. But maybe it's because thankfulness is rare too. Taking a moment from your day to remember why you are thankful can make you feel more complete. By focusing on being grateful for what we have, we can retrain our minds and feel more satisfied in our daily lives. Being thankful can help you live a life with a lot more appreciation and mindfulness.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

Be Thankful This Holiday

Thanksgiving Day has evolved over the years as an important holiday. It is not just about feasting and merrymaking. The tradition of Thanksgiving dinner teaches us to appreciate the finer things in life. It is about showing one's gratitude for the blessings that we are showered with. In all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Thanksgiving, take a moment to focus on what being thankful is all about. 

Being thankful for what we already have is probably the most powerful tool of positive thinking. The ability to notice what we already have and to consider ourselves blessed with it truly unlocks the door to abundance and to feeling good.

As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, may we vow to live not just this day but every day with a grateful heart and to use our blessings to bless others.

Be Thankful
Poet Unknown

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don't know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you're tired and weary,
because it means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,
and they can become your blessings.

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