Monthly Archives: June 2010

Understanding Yourself to Become a Better Leader – Balance Sense and Intuition

Part 2 of 4

This is part of a series of posts about understanding yourself and your personality in order to become a better leader.  There are many tools that can be used for personality assessments.  The company I currently work for uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  There are many other personality assessment tools available, but I have found this tool to be pretty accurate for me.  The MBTI is broken up into 4 segments with results placing the participant in one of two categories based on the responses the the questions in the survey.  My results showed that I am an ISTJ.  Getting my results have caused me to do a lot of reflection over the last year and a half on how I can use this information to become a better leader.  I thought I would share my reflection and understanding of the results.

This is part 2 of 4 – Sensing vs. Intuition

Sensing (S) – notice and trust facts, details, and present realities

Intuition (N) – attend to and trust interrelationships, theories, and future possibilities

My reflections have been centered around being an ‘S’.  Some of the sensing tendencies are:

  • Have all the facts before moving on
  • May find it hard to link facts to the bigger picture
  • Seen as matter-of-fact and sensible
  • Find applying ideas more appealing than the ideas themselves
  • Learn best from direct hands-on experience
  • Comfortable with the tried and true because it provides a precedent to follow

I rely on my sensing tendencies quite often.  I have found they come in handy when doing hands on problem solving.  Wanting to dive right in and get hands-on experience but not moving on until all the facts are understood are very good traits for problem solving.  This works very well when you want to lead by example.  Show people the behaviors and actions that you want exhibited in your organization.  But what if you are trying to develop your employees thinking?  This can be a hindrance.  There is coaching to a solution and coaching to a method (credit Jamie Flinchbaugh with that line).  Coaching to a solution is leading the person to the solution that you want.  Coaching to a method means you guide them on a path and let them discover a solution on their own.  both have there time and place.  When coaching to a method, you have to be aware as a leader that you don’t dive and and get into the nuts and bolts of the problem with the person you are coaching.   If you can find a method that allows you to coach to a solution, the good news is with sensing tendencies you will be able to use that method and feel comfortable with it once you have a precedent.

Preferring to apply ideas more than thinking of the ideas themselves can be challenging.  One way to help develop the ability to think about ideas is to spend some time reflecting on what you are working on.  Take a scheduled time out and go where you won’t be disturbed.  Just think.  Doodle ideas down.  It can be difficult but I have time I block out every Friday morning for reflection and I have been able to think of new ideas to try during that time.  Once you have an idea, then it is easy to get excited to go out and try it because that what an ‘S’ loves to do.

One other thing I work on is tying all my work back to the bigger picture.  A tool that I find very useful is a flow tree.  Start with the bigger picture and see how it flows down to my work.  Another great tool for this is strategy deployment (good book on it).  The idea is to start with your 3 year vision and understand what you need to do this year to work towards that vision and then who will do the work this year to get it done.

Sensing has its advantages but can have disadvantages too.  It is hard work practicing to be out of your tendencies but it will pay dividends in your leadership.

Which category are you in?  S?  N?  How does your natural tendency tend to help you as a leader?  Hurt you as a leader?



Understanding Yourself to Become a Better Leader – The Power of ‘I’

Part 1 of 4

This is part of a series of posts about understanding yourself and your personality in order to become a better leader.  There are many tools that can be used for personality assessments.  The company I currently work for uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  There are many other personality assessment tools available, but I have found this tool to be pretty accurate for me.  The MBTI is broken up into 4 segments with results placing the participant in one of two categories based on the responses the the questions in the survey.  My results showed that I am an ISTJ.  Getting my results have caused me to do a lot of reflection over the last year and a half on how I can use this information to become a better leader.  I thought I would share my reflection and understanding of the results.

This is part 1 of 4 – Introverts and Extroverts

Introverts (I) – get energy through reflecting on information, ideas, and/or concepts

Extroverts (E) – get energy through interacting with people and/or doing things

My reflections have been centered around being an ‘I’.  Some of the introvert tendencies are:

  • Prefer small group or 1-on-1 interactions
  • Harder to get to know
  • Don’t feel the need to talk in social situations or large groups
  • Sharp distinctions between friends and acquaintances
  • Prefer to stay in the background

I find all this true as an introvert.  There are some advantages of this tendencies as well as disadvantages (same is true for extroverts).   One advantage I have found is my strength to build one-on-one relationships with people is very good from a coaching aspect.  I take great interest in the people that I am coaching and take a great interest in their success.  Introverts can be very good at building strong relationships that have great influence on the person they are coaching.  Where this can be a disadvantage, is it takes more time to reach a greater audience of people.  An introvert can influence a smaller number of people in the one-on-one setting but have a harder time influencing a larger group.  Influencing a larger group means coming from the background to the foreground and becoming easier to know or putting yourself out there.

There are a few of ways I have worked on influencing larger groups.  One way was to lead many kaizen events with people from many different levels of the organization.  This put in front of a large group and forced me to interact and open up with them.  I also concentrate on being an active participant during staff meetings.  A third way is to give tours/presentations about projects, lean transformations, etc….  This was very uncomfortable at first but has started to become a comfort zone with each time I do it.

I have found that as I get better at influencing with a large group, my one-on-one strength has an even bigger effect.  For example, when I participate in the discussion, even for a moment, in a staff meeting it starts my peers thinking about what I said because they know I don’t talk a lot so when I do they seem to listen.  After the meeting, they may start a one-on-one conversation that plays to my strength and now I am influencing another person that I wasn’t before the meeting.

As leaders we should be aware that just because someone is an introvert and exhibits these tendencies does not mean they are not good leaders.  Traditionally, organizations look for leaders that can command the room or are outgoing.  Don’t over look the power of the ‘I’.  They may not be the best in large group settings but with great relationships they may get everyone to follow them into battle.

Which category are you in?  I?  E?  How does your natural tendency tend to help you as a leader?  Hurt you as a leader?

Note: My post is based on my personality type being an introvert.  Extroverts can learn to have introvert tendencies just like I have learned to have extrovert tendencies.  It just isn’t natural for extroverts and takes some learning and practice like it did for me.


Lack of Handoff Integrity and Empowerment

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was dealing with a mess between our health insurance provider and our flex plan provider.  This is our first year of using a Flex Plan that pulls money directly from my paycheck (before taxes) into an account to be used on medical visits, prescriptions, etc…  Everyone mentioned how wonderful this is.  It is kind of like level loading the payment for doctor visits and prescriptions we would need during the year.  This is suppose to be a seamless process for us.  The insurance company is suppose to automatically send processed claims through to the flex account provider.  At that time, the flex account provider is suppose directly deposit the money into our checking account for us to pay the bills.

If you noticed, I used the word ‘suppose’ a lot above.  There is a good reason for that.  The process is not working like that at all.

After a few months, my wife had noticed that we hadn’t received our reimbursement from our flex plan for several doctor visits.  She keeps meticulous records, so she knew exactly what the amounts were, what doctor, and for what.  My wife called our flex plan provider.  It didn’t take long before the flex plan provider pointed the finger at the insurance provider.  I think it was put this way, “We can’t reimburse you if we haven’t received any notice so it is their fault.”

That led to a call to our insurance provider.  My wife spent almost an hour on the phone with them.  The insurance provider said they sent it.  Their system showed it was sent on a specific date.  My wife asked how often do they send claims to the flex plan provider and do they get a confirmation of receipt back?  It was explained to her that all claims are sent out electronically to the flex plan provider on Wednesday (weekly batch and queue method) and they do not get any confirmation back of what was received.  The woman that my wife spoke with was very nice.  She very politically said they know there is a problem and there was nothing she could do about it.  Basically, we have to now re-submit for reimbursement the manual way.  Send a fax to the flex plan provider with the Explanation of Benefits.

How much of this sounds like the place you work at?  A very common failure point is at the handoff point.  Passing information and work from one person to another.  This is exactly where the failure is happening in this case.  Could the handoff errors be caused by the batch and queue method of sending claims all over at the same time on Wednesday?  Could this overload the computer system and cause claims to disappear?

Does the insurance and flex plan providers really have the consumer in mind?  If they did, I would think they would be more willing to work together to solve the problem and help consumers.  Instead, they point the finger at each other and the problem continues, causing headaches for the consumer.

Finally, the woman working for the insurance provider is the closest to the problem because she hears from the consumers directly.  She told my wife they know it is a problem but they aren’t going to do anything about it.  The insurance provider does not even have a stop gap or rework loop.  They put it all on the consumer to manually refile directly with the flex plan provider.  Would you agree that she is not empowered to make change or even suggestions?  If the woman was empowered to make change she would have mentioned what action was being taken.  Instead, she made it sound like she can’t take action because the company won’t let her.

Wouldn’t the insurance provider’s cost be less if this problem was fixed?  Wouldn’t they need less call center people answering phones?  Maybe they could be working on other improvements to the system?  Maybe the benefit pre-approval area is swamped and could use the resources to help out?

The biggest thing that irritated me wasn’t the existence of a problem, but rather they knew it was a problem and sounded helpless to do anything about it.  That sounded like the sentiments I hear every time I go to a new area to conduct a kaizen event and try to engage a new set of employees.  They can say the industries are different but the problems look the same to me.


Flip Conventional Wisdom on Business Process Rework

When applying lean to business processes, one of the most common improvements that has to be made is the elimination of errors in paperwork.  When it comes to design this usually shows itself as someone changing their mind and making changes in the design.  When someone makes changes to the design this is a form of rework.  Anytime rework is added the lead time is lengthened.

Sometimes the redesign is due to change of direction and sometimes it is due to the designer tweaking the design hoping for perfection.  One way to eliminate this waste is to shorten the lead time of the original process before the rework loop is added.  I know this is flipping conventional wisdom upside down.  Conventional wisdom says, eliminate the rework and the lead time will become shorter.  Why not shorten the original process through solid lean practices and waste elimination so that the window for design changes is shorter.  Take away the extra time that gives the designer to fiddle with the product or service.  It also causes the designer to due their due diligence up front to understand what the design must entail.  If the organization is trying to win new business or get a new product to market all the rework could cause the organization to lose the revenue from the new business or product hitting the market.

I’m not saying don’t allow rework for the sake of not allowing rework.  But look at why you have rework.  Is the original process so long that it allows people continue to think and nit-pick every detail?  If so, that may be a good time to look at eliminating waste from the original process.

I worked with a procurement group that had a very long process to go out and get quotes for marketing material.  Because the process was so long, the designers and marketers would come back up to 4 times with changes to the material and then the quoting process would have to start again.  The procurement group shortened their lead time for the quoting process and all of a sudden the marketing and design groups couldn’t come back for multiple changes.  This forced marketing and design to improve their process in order to better understand what markets they wanted to hit up front.

Some times you have to flip conventional wisdom on its ear to see things in a new way.  Even for the lean thinkers.  Our thoughts may be different then conventional wisdom but it is still very standard within our community.  We can’t forget to continue to look at things differently.


Guest Post on the Lean Blog

Today, I have the special honor of being a guest blogger over at the Lean Blog by Mark Graban.  Mark is on vacation and asked if I would fill in for him today.  The blog posted over at Mark’s site is about Traditional Continuous Improvement versus Lean Continuous Improvement.  This link will take you to the post (link).  Have a great Monday!


SportsCenter Has Killed U.S. Manufacturing

A few weeks ago, there was a discussion on one of the Linked In groups.  The question to start the discussion was “How do we make manufacturing sexy again?”  This question really struck a nerve with me.  I starting thinking, “Why does manufacturing need to be sexy?”  Then I realized there is a lot of similarity between sports and manufacturing in the U.S.  OK, so I am being a little dramatic about the affect SportsCenter has on manufacturing but there is a great parallel between the two.

We are a culture that suffers from the “SportsCenter Syndrome”. We crave the new and the sexy and forget all about the fundamentals and the foundation. Manufacturing is not sexy.  It is a fundamental. Everyone wants to get caught up in the flashy new idea and talk about innovation like watching the high flying dunks and long three pointers on SportsCenter. Meanwhile, the companies that are sustaining growth and manufacturing here in the U.S. are companies that continue to set good screens, make the extra pass, play defense and do all the basic fundamental things to manufacture a product. Even in sports, the teams that can’t execute the fundamentals don’t end up winning championships or sustain long term success (see Cleveland Cavaliers).

As a society we are becoming enamored with the flashy and sexy new thing.  We forget about manufacturing and the foundation it built for our country.  Manufacturing combined with innovation was how the U.S. became a super power.  During WWII, we created new and innovative weaponry, vehicles, and supplies that were built here in the U.S.  It helped us when the war.  When the war was over, everyone came home and we put the resources we had to building infrastructure to our country.  The interstates, suburbs, cars, etc…  There was  balance between manufacturing and the innovation that was coming about.  Without a good blockout and rebound, the star can’t receive the pass for a break away dunk.

I say we don’t try to make manufacturing sexy, we realize it is fundamental and it is time to get back to the fundamentals.


Is 5S really foundational?

About a month ago, Jamie Flinchbaugh wrote a great blog titled “Don’t Do 5S”.  It talks about how 5S is not necessarily the first step to a lean transformation.  I agree with Jamie’s blog.

It started me thinking about whether 5S is truly a foundational part of lean.  I know conventional wisdom says lean is a first step.  Why?  The answer I most commonly get, “It builds a foundation for everything else we will do.  It drives accountability and responsibility.  5S makes problems easily visible to spot problems and it is a great start to visual management and standardized work.”

Great.  But what if you work some place that is spotless (spotless does not equal great at 5S) and is very good at following standardized work.  A good example might be a pharmaceutical manufacturer.  They work in clean rooms and their environment is  spotless.  The employees also have to follow standardized work pretty well or they could cause a contamination issue that could cause people to get sick and/or die.  Same with medical device manufacturers or any other medical manufacturing you can thing of.  Now does this mean all these companies are great lean companies?  No.  Does this mean all these companies are great at 5S?  No.

If I were to go into a company in this situation, I would not be starting with 5S.  What would be the point?  There still is no foundation for lean.  Just because employees keep an area spotless and follow the standardized work does not mean they are engaged (respect for people) or can even stop the line for errors (built in quality).  I would start with a problem the company is facing and use that to get the engagement of higher level management (Point #3 of Jamie’s blog).  Depending on the issue the company works on, I would most likely expose the company to several other tools like visual management, Pareto analysis, strategy deployment, PDCA, etc…  I never hear of these tools/concepts as foundational to lean, but they can get people engaged and drive accountability just as well as 5S.   Plus, working on this issue gets results that allow the company to understand the benefits of lean quicker and with more tangible success (Point #2 of Jamie’s blog).

If these other tools/concepts can accomplish the same things that conventional wisdom claims 5S does, does that mean mean they all are foundational?  If so, where do you start now?  Or is 5S not really foundational?  Rather just a tool/concept that needs to be used at the right place, at the right time, for the right problem.

I believe the foundation lies in the thinking.  Lay that foundation in the best way for your situation and you will give yourself a great base to build upon.


Apple vs. PC – Keyboard Waste or Value

I’m not a Mac user and never have been.  Not because I don’t like them.  More because I have never had the opportunity to use or need one.  I have always received a PC laptop as a work computer.  The company I work for now uses about 50% Macs and 50% PCs so I am getting more exposure to them now.  One glaring physical difference was the keyboards.  I noticed how thin the Mac keyboard was.  The picture is below.

Notice the keys are very low profile, the whole pad is extremely thin, and there are no bells and whistles on the keyboard.  There is no place to turn the volume control up or down or shortcuts to mail, files, etc…

In contrast, the picture below is the PC keyboard that is attached to my docking station.

The PC keyboard keys are much taller and the entire keyboard is thicker plus has the bells and whistles on it.

Is the PC keyboard waste or is the Apple keyboard not meeting the expectations of the customer?  For me, I see the PC keyboard as waste.  There is more plastic per key used and the keyboard panel has more plastic also.  This seems very wasteful to me.  What would the savings be if the PC keyboards were as thin as the Apple keyboards?

I don’t use all the extra shortcuts on the keyboard so the manufactured over-processed the keyboard to give me more than I need.  If you are a person who uses all the extra shortcut buttons on the keyboard then you may see the Apple keyboard as not meeting the value needed by the customer.  Even if the Apple keyboard had all the extra shortcut buttons on it, I think it would still be thinner than the PC keyboad.  What do you think?

Waste or not meeting customer needs?


Error Proofing the Weight Room

I have always been active and continue to try and stay active.  I go to the gym and workout a few days a week to try and stay in shape.  A couple of weeks ago, I switched gyms that I was working out at.  The new gym I go to has many more machines that target muscles more specifically.  The thing that got my attention most was how well they targeted the muscle it was designed for.  I wasn’t doing any new exercises or trying to target different muscles, but I was more sore than I had been in the past.

I have been using a weight machine for several years to do the overhead press to work my shoulders.  At the new gym, I find the overhead press machine.  It looks a little different.  As I use it, I notice that my range of motion feels better…..more natural.  I’m not fighting how my arms move.  They are just moving comfortably.  I did the weight that I have been doing for a few weeks.  The next day, my muscles felt more exhausted and worked then I have ever felt.  By making slight improvements to the design of the machine to mimic more natural of a movement the machine target the muscles more directly and made my workout more efficient.

One other improvement was the use of visual standard work.  One the machine is a plaque that details what muscles it is designed for.  It also gives instructions on how to set up the machine seating for use to best target the intended muscles.  Below is an example (click to enlarge).The instructions on the machines at the new gym are more detailed then this one, but I wanted to give an idea of what was on the machine.

Examples of lean concepts are everywhere.  Do you see other examples at the gym?  Where else do you see examples being applied?


President Obama – Traditional Leader or Lean Leader?

I have absolutely no interest in getting into a political debate.  I am not interested in anyone’s political views.  That is not the point of this blog.  The question I have has to do with the leadership style exhibited by President Obama in an interview on NBC.  Here is the specific clip from the interview about the oil spill in the Gulf.

President Obama wants to know “who’s a@@ to kick”.  Right away, I jump to this being a trait of a traditional leader.  Someone looking for a scape goat and looking to place blame.  I agree that BP should be held responsible for the effects of the spill, but what good does it do to blame a person?  Shouldn’t we be concerned with the temporary containment of the oil leak?  What about the clean up?  More importantly, how do we error proof this so it never happens again?  I can remember getting my rear kicked when I worked in the auto industry.  In fact, it took all of 3 days before I had the assistant plant manager screaming at me, because I allowed 3 or 4 bad parts through in my 12 hrs of inspection of about a thousand parts.  He was also one of the first to go when we started implementing lean.

So, is this comment taken out of context?  Is this comment a trait of a lean leader or a traditional command and control leader?