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Monday, April 29, 2024

Lean Roundup #179 – April 2024

A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of April 2024.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here.  


Strategy Digi-deployment – Bruce Hamilton shares a few potential (and common) pitfalls to avoid when digitizing your strategic deployment plan.


Simplifying Lean – Bob Emiliani discusses the problems from simplifying Lean in terms of method and in terms of objective.


Enhancing Organizational Efficiency through Supplier Process Improvement – John Knotts explains why working with suppliers to improve their processes is a strategic necessity in today’s complex and competitive business environment.


My Piece for IndustryWeek: Boeing Executives Failed to Lead, Waved Off Lean – Mark Graban discusses the Boeing failures being a company problem, not a worker problem.


Content Follows Form or Acting Your Way to New Thinking – Pascal Dennis explains Lean excellence rests on a set of mental models or mindsets and through these routines you can change one’s behavior.


Nine Tips to Better Process Development - Eric Ethington and Matt Zayko share nine proven techniques for designing successful, waste-free processes to achieve exceptional results with your next product launch.


Continuous Improvement vs Operational Excellence | KaiNexus - JJ Puentes explains the difference between these two complementary paradigms that guide business operations management so that you can apply elements of both to streamline operations and achieve your most critical strategic goals.


Lean Transformation for Enhanced ROI - Matt Banna shares some tools that help optimize lean transformation depending on your organization's objectives.


How Top Organizations Approach Enterprise Digital Transformation - Danielle Yoon explains how organizations are embracing digital technologies and modernizing processes to enhance operational efficiency, improve agility, and unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation.


How Status Regulates Progress – Bob Emiliani says to improve the understanding and practice of management one must go into this work with eyes wide open and have an interest in learning from the difficulties and mistakes of others that preceded them.


More Crisis Control at Boeing and the FAA – Some Lessons on Building in Quality from NUMMI – John Shook explores how the NUMMI joint venture between Toyota and GM offers vital lessons on integrating quality right from the start as Boeing grapples with recurring quality issues.


Digital Transformation in Manufacturing: Benefits, Key Challenges, and Solutions – Megan Cox explores the ongoing digital transformation in manufacturing and the challenges, benefits, and best practices for aligning smart manufacturing technologies with business goals and values.

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Friday, April 26, 2024

Lean Quote: When Done Well, Leadership Communication Inspires Trust and Positive Change

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.

"When done well, leadership communication inspires trust and positive change.  —  Moryah Jackson, linkedin

Communication is more complicated than the simple mechanics of sending and receiving information — when leaders harness the ability to communicate well, they translate important data quickly and accurately.

Communication is one of the most important skills a leader can have. It takes purpose and intention to implement effective communication. You must know how and when to communicate and select the appropriate mode for your audience. Whether writing, conversing, presenting, or facilitating, leaders must excel at communication in all of these modes. It’s the only way to meet people’s individual needs and enable important human connections.

3 Important Facts About Communication for Leaders

1. Authenticity counts — a lot.

Be honest and sincere. Find your own voice; avoid using corporate-speak or sounding like someone you’re not. Let who you are, where you come from, and what you value come through in your communication. People want, respect, and will follow authentic leadership. Forget about eloquence — worry about being real. Don’t disguise who you are. People will never willingly follow someone they feel is inauthentic.

2. Visibility is a form of communication.

If you want to communicate well, be accessible. Emails and official missives aren’t enough. Be present, visible, and available. Getting “out there” — consistently and predictably — lets others know what kind of leader you are. People need to see and feel who you are to feel connected to the work you want them to do. Find ways to interact with all of your stakeholder groups, even (and especially!) if communicating in a crisis.

3. Listening is a powerful skill.

Good communicators are also good listeners. When you listen well, you gain a clear understanding of another’s perspective and knowledge. Listening fosters trust, respect, openness, and alignment. Active listening is a key part of coaching others. Allow people to air their concerns. Ask powerful questions that open the door to what people really think and feel. Pay close, respectful attention to what is said — and what’s left unsaid.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

5 Skills for Effective Communication in Leadership

Good communication is a core leadership function and a key characteristic of a good leader. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. As a leader, you need to be a skilled communicator in countless relationships at the organizational level, in communities and groups, and sometimes on a global scale in order to achieve results through others.

Leaders must be able to think with clarity, express ideas, and share information with a multitude of audiences. They must also handle the rapid flows of information within the organization and among customers, partners, vendors, and other stakeholders and influencers.

Being an effective leader is virtually impossible if you lack strong communication skills. The good news is that it’s possible to cultivate and hone skills that will help you excel in both areas. Here are 5 skills to enhance leadership and communication:

1. Adaptability

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

As a leader, you must constantly react to changing conditions, factors, and challenges while keeping a level head. In a professional context, adaptability refers to your capability to remain flexible and respond effectively to fluctuating plans, responsibilities, schedules, expectations, trends, goals, or work processes. As such, adaptability is related to other soft skills critical to strong leadership, including creative thinking, analytical, interpersonal, and teamwork abilities.

It’s also essential to be adaptable in how you speak and write so that you can tailor your messaging to best reach and influence team members with different communication styles. For example, some employees may appreciate detailed written guidance when embarking on a new project, while others may prefer a concise verbal direction or summary. Although some of this may be intuitive, it’s always beneficial to speak with your reports early on about their communication habits and preferences so that you can determine what works best for them.

2. Empathy

“One of the criticisms I've faced over the years is that I'm not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I'm empathetic, it means I'm weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong." – Jacinda Arden

Leading and communicating with empathy is crucial to your success as a business executive, manager, or director. The better you are at recognizing, acknowledging, and validating the feelings and experiences of your employees, the more valued they will feel and the more likely they will be to meet your goals. Accordingly, it’s important to schedule regular communication meetings with your team so you can get to know them better, including their professional experiences, challenges, and goals.

To be an empathetic leader, it’s also vital to express genuine curiosity about the people you work with and take a personal interest in their lives, which helps to build stronger relationships.

The many potential benefits of empathetic leadership include the following:

  • Creating trust, appreciation, and loyalty
  • Enhancing employee engagement and motivation
  • Improving collaboration and empathy between team members
  • Increasing job satisfaction and productivity

In other words, connecting with and relating to your team can have a lasting positive impact on your employees and your company.

3. Transparency

"The people, when rightly and fully trusted, will return the trust." – Abraham Lincoln

Being transparent involves openly and candidly sharing information with your team about your company’s high-level goals, challenges, and opportunities—regardless of whether the information is good or bad. Being transparent will keep your employees informed and build trust between yourself and your team, which is critical to performance. Through transparency and trust, you can also empower employees to take healthy risks, share their perspectives freely, better collaborate and innovate, and actively problem-solve.

You can help to create a culture of transparency in the workplace by establishing clear communication channels and well-defined expectations and providing regular feedback on how your team and organization are progressing in their goals. It’s also imperative to create an open environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up when their opinions don’t align with leadership. This can involve implementing regular anonymous surveys or scheduling short meetings to check in and allow employees to share their thoughts or ask questions.

Without transparency or trust in the workplace, communication and morale suffer, employee stress increases, and productivity decreases. But when you are authentic and vulnerable with employees and readily share insights and discuss rationale, you can create a space in which your team feels secure in exploring—and voicing—their creativity. If you involve your employees in aspects of the decision-making process, they are more likely to feel engaged and loyal to your organization, to the benefit of everyone involved.

4. Active listening

"I need to listen well so that I hear what is not said." - Thuli Madonsela

Active listening is critical to effective leadership communication. It’s a skill that involves hearing what people say and trying to understand their words' meaning and intent. Fundamental active listening techniques include being fully present in your conversation, responding to and using non-verbal cues, asking open-ended questions, avoiding interruptions, judgments, or advice, and reflecting on what you’ve heard. When you practice active listening, the goal should be to understand and empathize rather than to respond.

When you practice active listening skills as a leader, you can help create a stronger rapport with your team by showing that their opinions and ideas are heard and valued. When you know when to speak and when to listen, you can encourage productive conversation, build trust, and create an opportunity to better understand your employees' motivations, challenges, and goals. An essential component of active communication is maintaining open body language. This involves making good eye contact, refraining from folding your arms, and smiling and nodding while you listen.

5. Ability to give and receive feedback

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill

If you take on a leadership role, it will be your responsibility to give feedback effectively and receive it thoughtfully. Providing clear and constructive feedback to your employees through routine communication gives them the chance to course correct as needed, leverage their strengths, and improve their overall efficiency and effectiveness. Some tips to help you provide helpful feedback include focusing on the behavior rather than the person, balancing negative comments with positive ones, and referring to specific examples to support your statements rather than focusing on generalities.

If you want to become a better leader, it’s equally important that you can receive feedback from your employees. Strong leaders appreciate that they are fallible and must constantly learn and grow. And who is better to provide constructive criticism of your leadership skills than those directly affected by them? When you receive feedback from team members, it’s essential to be open and aware of your body language and tone of voice, try to remain objective rather than defensive, ask questions for clarification as needed, and assess the input to create an appropriate action plan.

For ages, leaders have been motivators who have encouraged others to work on themselves and achieve their goals. This ability of great leaders results from the effective communication skills they possess. It is believed that effective communication is linked to great leadership skills and that many successful leaders like Abraham Lincoln have been strong communicators. Therefore, effective communication skills are a prerequisite to becoming a successful leader. So, what is the role of communication in leadership?

Communication skills help leaders to define the goals of team members clearly. It also helps understand team members’ goals and desires and solve their grievances. Effective communication skills also help foster an open and good rapport between leaders and their teams, which increases productivity and efficiency. Therefore, it is clear that effective communication skills play an important role in leadership.

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Monday, April 22, 2024

Lean Tips Edition #298 (#3496 - #3510)

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 #3496 – Enhance Cross-Functional Collaboration

Many organizations find that most waste occurs at the points in a process where different functions intersect. Breakdowns that result in waiting, wasted motion, and unnecessary movement are common when handoffs occur. That's why getting all departments on one system to manage improvement and problem-solving is critical. When everyone is on a single platform, communication flows smoothly, and improvement gains momentum. Everyone speaks the same language and follows a standard procedure for planning, implementing, and evaluating their improvements.

Lean Tip #3497 – Conduct a Waste Audit

A waste audit involves analyzing each area of your startup to identify specific instances of waste. This can be done by observing workflows, talking to employees, and reviewing data. For instance, if you notice that your sales team spends a significant amount of time on manual data entry, this could be considered a waste of their time and skills. Similarly, if you find that your manufacturing process results in a high rate of defective products, it's important to address this waste to minimize costs and improve quality.

Lean Tip #3498 – Monitor and Measure Progress

To ensure that your efforts to eliminate waste are effective, it's crucial to monitor and measure your progress. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect your waste reduction goals and regularly track and analyze the data. For example, you can measure the reduction in defects, the decrease in inventory levels, or the improvement in lead times. 

By monitoring and measuring progress, you can identify areas that still require improvement and make necessary adjustments to your lean initiatives. Celebrate success along the way to keep your team motivated and engaged in the waste elimination process.

Lean Tip #3499 – Streamline Processes

One of the most effective ways to identify waste is by analyzing your business processes. Look for inefficiencies, redundancies, or bottlenecks that may be causing unnecessary delays or expenses. For example, if your production line requires excessive manual handling or frequent rework, it might be time to invest in automation or process optimization. By streamlining your processes, you can reduce labor costs, improve productivity, and minimize waste.

Lean Tip #3500 – Eliminating Non-Value-Added Activities

Non-value-added activities refer to tasks that do not contribute to the final product or service. These activities consume resources without adding any value for the customer. Take a critical look at your operations and identify any activities that can be eliminated or streamlined. For instance, excessive paperwork, unnecessary meetings, or redundant approvals can be streamlined or eliminated altogether. By focusing on value-added activities, you can enhance efficiency and reduce unnecessary expenses.

Lean Tip #3501 – Give Your Team Members Ownership

The best leaders in the business understand the power of ownership. Giving ownership to the team members means nothing but letting them make their own decisions and making them accountable for their work.

Making team members accountable for their work induces a sense of responsibility in them regarding their work can be very helpful in improving team performance. They start to see their work differently so that their decisions can impact the performance of the entire team.

Lean Tip #3502 – Ensure Proper Communication

Communication is one of the critical factors that contribute mainly to team productivity. Without effective communication, businesses fail.

A lot of successful businesses thrive on effective communication. Now, a project manager must ensure effective communication prevails in a team.

Communication plays a significant role in helping team members to understand their job responsibilities. And, if there is any communication gap, it can lead to multiple confusions within a team, which will undoubtedly impact the overall productivity of a team.

Lean Tip #3503 – Give Them Room to Work

Every employee or team member works best when given an environment where they are allowed to do things ‘their way’. Most employees tend to lose interest as soon as they are being micromanaged by their bosses or managers.

One of the many ways that can help you overcome this is to create a kickass team. Define their job responsibilities and your expectations clearly to them. Now, get out of their way and let them work on their own.

At the same time, be approachable so that if someone in your team has a question, they don’t need to think twice to clarify their doubts.

Always trust your team with utmost confidence. This further strengthens their belief in themselves which helps them to perform to their best abilities and contribute positively to team productivity.

Lean Tip #3504 – Praise a Job Well Done

While for different employees, different things work to boost their productivity and efficiency at work. But for many of them, it is something as simple as being acknowledged for their efforts.

Nothing can add to productivity if an employee feels that his contribution isn’t valued enough. Whereas appreciating them in front of the whole team can work wonders.

Instead of virtual congratulatory words, this public act of appreciation inspires others in the group to do their best. This promotes a healthy work culture in an organization which will be an addition to boosting team productivity.

Lean Tip #3505 – Lead With Gratitude

Being thankful can have a major impact on the people you work with within the workplace. Gratitude improves how we interact with others and collaborate. It makes our colleagues feel a sense of belonging and motivates them to work harder. So, don’t ever underestimate the power of a firm handshake, a warm smile, and saying “thank you” to your team members.

Lean Tip #3506 – Provide Help if Needed

Helping your team members at work is critical to fostering and maintaining a stable workplace. As a team leader, you should encourage your team members to approach you in case they have any questions or concerns at work. You should instill confidence in them by taking the initiative. Observe your team, which people are most productive and who are struggling with meeting deadlines.

Here are some ways how to improve team productivity by offering timely help to your team members.

  • Practice consistent communication with team members
  • Actively listen to people in your team and encourage 2-way communication
  • Use your experience to recognize when others are struggling at work
  • Build relationships with team members while being aware of professional boundaries
  • Practice surprising acts of thoughtfulness such as getting them coffee, leaving personalized “thank you” notes on their desk, etc.
  • Ensure a fair and even workload to prevent employee burnout and excessive stress
  • Inspire positivity by maintaining a friendly attitude

Lean Tip #3507 – Be Authentic and Vulnerable

Create an environment of trust and honesty within your team so people feel comfortable talking about what's going on for them. Start from the top by being honest and open about where you have opportunities or where you might have trouble. Being publicly vulnerable with your team shows them that admitting when you don't know or need assistance is OK.

Cultivate a team culture that lets people know that it's okay to be human. Asking for help, admitting you were wrong, or having a project go sideways isn't unforgivable. If you position these things as learning opportunities, it will help your team be more productive — they can move forward and try new things without having to worry about being punished for failure.

Lean Tip #3508 – Set a North Star

One of the hallmarks of a good team is working together. But how are you supposed to work together if you don't know where you're trying to go? Imagine a three-legged race where both participants are trying to run in different directions — they wouldn't get very far!

The same goes for your team if they don't have a unifying goal or metric that they are trying to hit. Before you start trying to boost your productivity, identify the big things that would impact your customers' experiences. From there, distill the big-ticket items into achievable goals and metrics.

A "North Star" metric is a measure that is the most likely to indicate success for a company or team. In the case of support, your North Star metric may be:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT)
  • Customer effort score (CES)
  • First contact resolution
  • Time to first response

Or, it may be something that funnels up to your company's overall metrics. For example, if your company sets a North Star metric of the number of customers and wants to increase from 10,000 to 30,000 customers in a year, your team would need to set some goals in service to that. Those goals might be closely linked with:

  • Customer happiness
  • Time to first response
  • Churn
  • Renewal rate
  • Customer satisfaction

Each of those metrics contributes to the company’s North Star by helping to maintain or gain new customers.

Lean Tip #3509 – Prioritize Your Goals

One of the best ways to increase productivity within your team is to prioritize your goals well and to help your team members prioritize theirs. Once you've identified priorities and started to work toward them as a team, check in regularly to see if they need to shift or grow with your team’s abilities and your company's goals.

Lean Tip #3510 – Reward Quality, Not Quantity

Recognition is so important when it comes to the workplace. Any good team lead or manager takes the time to recognize the hard work and effort their team members put in. This recognition can occur at the team level, within stand-ups or meetings, or at the company level during all-hands or annual events.

When you recognize excellent work and contributions, try to focus on quality efforts rather than the quantity of a body of work. For instance, consider if one of your team members answers tons of tickets but has a low customer satisfaction score. You may also have another team member who responds to fewer tickets but has a 100% customer satisfaction rating. In this situation, it's best to target your praise on the team member with higher-quality work.

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Friday, April 19, 2024

Lean Quote: Communication is the Key to Any Effective Teamwork

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.

"In teamwork, silence isn’t golden. It’s deadly.  —  Mark Sanborn

Teamwork is the force behind every successful business. Only when employees come together, share a common vision of the goal, put together their strengths, complement their weaknesses, and help each other in times of need- can an organization grow to its greatest heights. Teamwork leads to a multitude of benefits:

  • Builds a sense of community
  • Improves employee morale
  • Increased productivity
  • This leads to personal and professional development
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Faster problem solving
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Faster execution of ideas

Communication is the key to any effective teamwork. If you can’t share ideas and get your point across in a supportive environment then it will be difficult to get anything done. If people don’t agree, or have a problem then need to be able to tell the other members in a constructive manner. Also, each member needs to stay informed about any decisions or progress so that everybody is working together rather than in their own direction.

Make it clear that collaboration is the minimum standard. Define roles and responsibilities within the team. Every team member should understand their position and what is required of them. In a collaborative environment every team member takes responsibility for good outcomes.

Include every person on the team in as many large decisions as possible. Create a means of communicating current work flows to avoid duplication of effort. Initiate daily team huddles where each member shares what they will be accomplishing that day. This keeps everyone on the same playbook and enables team members to re-direct their efforts as needed.

Team communication is one of the most fundamental aspects of collaboration. Communication in teams is more than just efficient work. It allows everyone on the team to be educated on any topic that may affect their work. Moreover, it develops trust, builds camaraderie among the team members, boosts morale, and helps employees stay engaged in the workplace.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Replace your SMART goal with a PACT

A system without a goal is like a marathon without a finish line. But a system with a bad goal will result in a bad outcome. Traditional goal-setting methods use the SMART framework.

Specific. Your goal should be well defined, clear, and unambiguous.

Measurable. You can easily measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal.

Achievable. The goal should seem attainable and not impossible to achieve.

Relevant. The goal should be aligned with your current priorities.

Timely. Your goal should have a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target end date.

Each of the SMART components is needed in order for your goal to have clarity and focus. Clarity and focus are the driving force behind achieving your goal. Without clarity you wouldn’t know what to do; without focus, you wouldn’t have a reason to do it.

Instead of SMART goals, which don’t encourage ambitious, long-term endeavors, I prefer to make a PACT with myself. While a SMART goal focuses on the outcome, the PACT approach focuses on the output. It’s about continuous growth rather than the pursuit of a well-defined achievement. Which makes it a great alternative to SMART goals.

PACT stands for Purposeful, Actionable, Continuous, and Trackable—the four factors that make for great goals:

Purposeful. Your goal should be meaningful to your long-term purpose in life, not just relevant to you right now. It will be much harder to stick to your goal if you don’t actually care. When a goal is aligned with your passions and your objectives in life, you are feeling much more motivated. (many tasks don’t feel purposeful but need to be done in order to achieve a meaningful long-term goal, and that’s fine—they are tasks, not goals)

Actionable. A good goal is based on outputs you can control. Your goal should be actionable and controllable. It’s all about shifting your mindset from distant outcomes in the future to present outputs you can control and that are within your reach, taking action today rather than overplanning for tomorrow.

Continuous. It’s important that the actions you take towards your goal are simple and repeatable. So many goals are not achieved because of what’s called choice paralysis. That’s when there are so many options that you end up spending more time doing research than actually doing stuff that will make you progress towards your goal. The good thing about continuous goals is their flexibility. What you need to do is get started, and as you learn more, you can adapt your approach. It’s about continuous improvement rather than reaching a supposed end goal.

Trackable. Not measurable. Stats can be overrated and don’t apply to lots of different types of goals. More of a “yes” or “no” approach, not measurable; ask yourself have you done the thing today? Have you coded today? Have you called three potential customers? Have you published your weekly blog post? Yes or no? This makes your progress easy to track.

While goal-setting methods come in many different forms, there is no one goal-setting technique that works for every person in every situation. Some people say SMART Goals are outdated and PACT goals are too ambitious, so if either of these methods aren’t for you, research some other strategies and try out a few until you find a good fit. Being able to set realistic, attainable goals is a very useful skill you should have as it’s a skill that can set you up for long-term success.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Listening is the Key to Effective Communication

Communication is an essential part of our lives, and it's something we do all day, every day. However, have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you feel like the other person isn't really listening? Or have you ever been so focused on what you want to say that you're not paying attention to what the other person has said?

We've all been there, but the truth is, listening is the key to effective communication. Listening is one of the most powerful tools you possess as a leader – and can help build trust and loyalty with your team.

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, and 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 a 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 on a 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 means 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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