Category Archives: Communication
As agents of change, relationships become an important part of the work. Without relationships it becomes very hard to influence others to change. It seems very intuitive when you say it, but sometimes it is forgotten.
At the start, it is your knowledge and skills about the subject (Skills/IQ) that creates the foundation of the relationship. If you prove to the person you know what you are doing, it creates a foundation of trust.
As the relationship progresses over time, it becomes less about your knowledge. You have proven overtime the skills and knowledge to the other person. Now it becomes about understanding the other person and what makes them tick (Emotional Intelligence/EQ). Keeping the connection while still having open and honest conversations becomes the skill that helps create more and more influence as time moves forward.
I heard this and took the time to reflect on my own relationships. I found this to be true. My skills have gotten my “foot in the door” with people and then once my knowledge was established then it become about how I could connect with the person on a one-on-one level.
As you think about your relationships, do you find this to be true? What are your thoughts?
In today’s tough economic climate, it is even more important the work we do is aligned with the company’s goals and priorities.
As companies reduce headcount while still driving towards revenue growth, decisions have to be made about what are the top priorities for the company. If you cannot strongly link your work to one of the company’s priorities then you should really question yourself and/or your manager about the validity of finishing that work.
Everyone in the company should know the priorities and should be asked to understand how their work is linked to achieving success on the priorities.
One good way to do this, is through strategy deployment. This is process by which the priorities of the company are used to determine the priorities of the division and then those are tied to projects and/or initiatives for the current year.
If you cannot link your work to one of the projects/initiatives that is part of the strategy then you have to ask if it needs to be done. Sometimes the answer may be ‘yes’. An example might be updating your servers or you won’t be able to run some of your IT systems. This may not be one of the priorities but it must be done in order to keep the business running.
It is good to capture the linkages on an A3 document and use that as your guide throughout the year.
It is amazing the power of alignment has on driving a company to achieving its top priorities. Are you aligned?
As the year comes to an end, companies and organizations start to evaluate how they performed for the year and what they need to do to make next year better.
The planning for the new year starts with objectives. What is it the company needs to do to be successful in the upcoming year? Reduce costs. Increase sales. Bring new products to market.
Objectives are only half of the work though. Too often, I see companies set objectives above but never publish a goal for the objective.
Can I reduce costs by $1 and be successful? $100 million? What?
How much do I need to grow sales? What part of the company’s market needs to grow in sales?
How many new products need to hit the market? How much revenue to new products need to generate?
Without answers to these questions how are people suppose to know if they are being aggressive enough during the year? Maybe we only need to reduce costs by 5% or maybe it is 25%. The answer to this question will inform how you go about reducing costs, growing revenue or bring new product to market.
As leaders, we need to set goals/targets for each objective. Then we need to give updates during the year to understand how we are progressing towards these objectives.
These isn’t new or earth shattering. But it is something I see quite a few companies neglect.
What are your objectives for next year? What is your goal for that objective?
Scott Adams does a great job of nailing how typically organizations take on transformational change.
(click on image to enlarge)
Two concepts I see Scott Adams touch on here. The first one is the idea of just speaking about transformational change will cause transformational change. It isn’t enough to just talk about it or say it. It is very hard work to create transformational change.
Which leads into the second concept shown. Transformational change does not have to be bad or painful on people..causing us to want to hurl. It can be good and as management we need to convey a clear message and show actions that back that message up. We have to consider how people process change differently and create change plans with that in mind.
If all else fails….just show them this cartoon.
How is the culture in your organization when it comes to confronting upper management about decisions or direction that may hurt the company? Does your culture allow employees to push back on upper management about a decision? Or does your culture shy away from pushing back afraid the manager will get angry or upset and hold it against them for bringing it up?
We can’t allow our cultures to be afraid to bring up decisions that may be costing the company money. We have to have the fortitude to raise the question and challenge it appropriately. I’m not suggesting to confront leadership with every decision or to do it in an emotional way because you have passion about the decision.
There is a proper way to raise an issue.
- Understand the Current State – Understand what the decision was and how it is understood to help the organization (grow revenue, cut cost,etc…). List the ways the decision is affecting the organization in a negative manner (Causing cost in another area).
- Gather the Facts – Once you have the list of the benefits and negative impacts you need to quantify them. How much revenue is the decision actually generating? How much cost are we saving? What is the cost in the area being impacted negatively? How much rework is the decision causing?
- Make a Recommendation – If you believe a decision is not what is best for the organization then that suggests you have an idea of what would be better. What is the recommendation you have? Quantify what you believe the results would be? Why do you believe that?
- Get Your Ducks in a Row – Think of different angles upper management could take. What are the facts around those options? Would they say, “Become more efficient in the other are.”? If so, how would you become more efficient? What would it cost to implement the efficient way? What would be the savings? When would it pay back?
- Present Your Case – Set up a meeting with necessary people and present your findings. Do it in a business-like manner and stick to the facts. Don’t let emotion control the discussion.
I have found over the years that approaching situations in this manner usually brings out a great discussion and upper management respects the way you handled the situation.
Nobody likes to be lectured about how the decision they made was wrong. It can be disrespectful. Show them it isn’t emotional. It is factual. A lot of times they may not have known what their decision was doing to another area or that it was actually costing the company money looking end-to-end.
I have approached different leaders in this manner several times over the years and all but one case the leader changed their decision once they saw the facts. The other time they still stuck with their decision which was their choice since they were the leader and the decision maker but at least the facts were presented.
How does your organization handle situations like this?
An often overlooked aspect of designing a process is defining the who the decision maker is for directional decisions. When it is not clearly defined as to who has the final say then a lot of waste occurs. Decisions are made by the wrong people that can cause rework later in process. Confusion can occur as to who someone should go to for a decision causing delays or decision not to even be made.
A common tool I have been using for the last couple of years is RACI. Catchy isn’t it.
R – Responsible – This is the person who does the work. Responsible for taking action.
A – Accountable – This is the final decision maker. The “buck stops here” with this person. They own the work or project and have power of the veto.
C – Consult – This is someone who is asked to give input to the action/decision.
I – Inform – These are the people that are notified of what is being decision has been made or action will be taken.
An example would be product development.
R – Designers are Responsible for creating the product.
A – Product VP would be Accountable for deciding the product will meet the consumer needs.
C – Finance and Manufacturing Consult on what is cost and manufacturing feasible for the new product design.
I – Distribution and Sales are Informed of the new product and when it will be ready.
It is amazing at the efficiency a process can gain by defining and documenting the RACI for decisions and actions that are executed in a process.
Have you clearly defined your RACI?
A couple of weeks ago during the Lean Series week, a comment was made on one of the posts about showing more examples of visuals used in the office. That was a great question.
Below are some ways visual management has been used in the office area.
The column on the right shows the tasks that must be done each day by the managers. When the task is completed they put a check mark in the box. There are 4 managers in the area every day so there are 4 columns under each day. You can see that one manager is in a kaizen event all week so they put kaizen on the board to highlight the situation.
The above picture is a board displaying which employees are working on what work for that day. The manager updates the board every morning. The green square shows where that person will work that day. If an employee finishes their work they put a blue square showing they are available to help. If employee needs help, they can put a red square up. This has eliminated a lot of startup time in the morning when employees were trying to understand what work they were needed on that day.
This visual training matrix board supplements the visual scheduling board. This board shows who is fully trained in what skills. Green ‘X’ means they are fully trained. Purple ‘X’ means they are in the progress of being trained. Red ‘X’ means the employee is not trained to do that work. The manager uses this board to inform who they can have do what work for the day on the board above.
This is a typical way visual management can be used in the office. It shows the progress of work through stages of the work. Depending on the type of work, the stages work goes there can be labeled differently. For software development it could be Design, Develop, Test and Deploy.
I hope these examples spur thought on how you can use visual management in the office environment. If you have any examples you would like to share please feel free to send them to me so I can share them wit the readers.
As we go through Visual Management week here at Beyond Lean, I was asked to kick it off. I haven’t been able to see the other posts, so I hope I don’t step on any material coming later.
Looking at the Lean ‘Toolkit’, I think that Visual Management concepts are fundamentally the most important. That’s pretty easy for me to say when you could bucket almost all of the tools in some way or another under a visual workplace umbrella. But, I think my affinity for it comes from a more altruistic place. The underlying keys to effectively utilizing Visual Management are built on things like trust, respect, and honesty. As a shop floor operator (or your workplace equivalent), there needs to be a trust that what you are responding to, what you are reporting, and what you are following will be used productively by “the management” and not as a bigger hammer to hit you with. As a “manager” effectively utilizing the tools means you have to treat people with respect, dignity and honesty in order for the data to mean anything past the initial kick off. As business leaders, we have to be willing to share an honesty and transparency and trust with our suppliers, customers, managers, and front line workers.
(Case in point on the last one… Last week I toured a factory that I am a customer of. In a WIP queuing area, they had skids of product that they charge premium prices for labeled as “OVERSTOCK”. I couldn’t even be mad because they were so honest about how their product flow worked that they were willing to show anybody that walked in the door what was going on and how they viewed their operations.)
Pretty much anybody who has worked in a continuous improvement situation can point out failures of visual management tools. But when they are working well, they are a clear signal of a different kind of workplace. The openness, honesty, and trust that they reflect are the difference between workplaces where people trade their time for money and workplaces that are built on something more. That something more is a collaborative spirit where all of the parties build something greater than they could separately.
So, as we read through the thoughts of some really bright people this week, I hope we can all pick up some great ideas we can take back to our own workplaces. I hope that in the long term we can also use these to help build and/or strengthen the cultural differences that make a Lean workplace truly special and unique.
Have you ever questioned why you are in the Lean/Six Sigma/Continuous Improvement field of work? I know I sure have. Usually it’s after I arrogantly ask myself why I have to re-explain something I feel like I’ve explained a dozen times. Or it’s after rolling my eyes and walking through why you can’t just ignore the points on the control chart that are outside the limits because that’s where the interesting stuff might be. Those type of things happen for me and mostly because of my own limits in skill, patience or energy. This past week I seriously questioned why I’m doing this for a completely different reason.
I was talking with a group of friends when one started a dissertation on this awful consultant led “kaizen” event they “had” to be involved in that week. Normally when that happens, I just let the person finish and try to loop the conversation back to some sort of positive. You know…something was better out of it or they learned something. This time, I didn’t even get a chance to interject when a second voice, then a third followed with similar horror stories taking place in other companies with other parties. These are people that know what I do and have sought my opinion on different improvement related topics over the years. At that point, I had no idea what to respond with and I wasn’t sure I had a defense in me for the stories that they were telling.
Now, I’m not bashing these consultants (I didn’t even ask who they were) or any consultants in general. I’ve been able to learn a ton either first or second hand to know that some are very good at what they do. I also know there are a lot of hacks out there, whether as consultants or in internal facilitator roles. I really wonder sometimes where I fit on that continuum. Do I leave people interested to learn more and strive to be better…or do I leave them exhausted and frustrated? I’ve always felt that one of the ways that I can tell I’m making an impact is by listening to the questions that people are asking of themselves and each other. When I hear the language start to change, I feel like I’m leaving a positive impact on those around me. Maybe that’s a terrible measuring stick…I’m not really sure. I am sure that I don’t want people to walk away from working with me with the same stories and outlook as my friends have of the people they worked with. Although I can’t make everyone feel the same about the improvement process, maybe I can try to be a little bit better myself and leave others with better impressions and better stories to tell. Questioning my career path probably won’t help me get there, but continually striving to be better at what I am trying to do might.
I’ve been in a really reflective state lately as I try to weigh some different opportunities. While I have come up with some really interesting topics for posts, most of them have turned too lengthy or incoherent to clog your Lean reading time. One of the discarded themes has also come up a couple times lately in conversation and I thought I’d throw it out in print. Here are three of the less obvious skills that have served me well in solving problems and working in continuous improvement activities over the years.
The first one is utilizing some sorta advanced Excel skills. For all of you statistics nerds out there, I totally agree with you that Excel is not statistical software. But it can be really, really helpful in sorting out piles of data in to something useable in a hurry. For me, sometimes digging through the raw data can help highlight a pattern that I can’t see in aggregate. Sometimes it can help put information in context and help people make better decisions faster. I have used functions from Pivot Tables to conditional sums to writing macros (with some excellent assists from Matt) and so on. It’s not sexy, but it is helpful.
The next skill that has served me well is another Office tool…PowerPoint. I’m not talking about fancy slide transitions with animated gif’s and musical accompaniment. I’m more referring to using the existing toolbox to tell concise, effective, clean stories. You could argue that A3 reporting is much more concise and clean (and I’d agree), but PowerPoint is still massively used. The ability to create a visually appealing communication is valuable for almost everybody.
Another skill that seems to be on and off the radar is the ability to filter information. Learning how to quickly separate signals from noise is a very underrated skill and one that needs your attention. Every person and every idea deserves respect and consideration. But not every idea needs to be implemented. Abnormal situations should get due attention, but not every abnormal situation should be weighted the same in terms of response. Developing the ability to say “no” or “not right now” with a reasonable justification can save a lot of inefficiency.
That was my quick list of unspoken skills (in no particular order). For the record, I’m not propping these up because I consider them strengths of mine. They’re just things that I do well enough to not do too much harm when I try to bust them out. Mostly they’re things that I’ve picked up from others and tried to emulate. What about you? Do you think I overrated any of these? Any other not-just-Lean traits that you use or seen others use effectively?