More focus on achieving goals than people?

Managers, business owners, or entrepreneurs have many responsibilities.  One of them is to help their staff learn, develop new capabilities, and grow.   However, their most important job, being a servant leader, is not always a priority.  The reason is that leadership sometimes focuses more on achieving goals than people.

Why more focus on achieving goals than people?

In traditional businesses, the desire to meet goals drives the company culture.  Therefore, leaders focus on activities to achieve them.  Most of the time, the target is cost reduction.   Some cultures give so much importance to it that rewards reducing costs without regard to the means.  That is a way to promote a toxic work environment where achieving goals is more important than caring for the people.

On the other hand, in a continuous improvement culture, the focus is on the people.  Leaders understand that their job is to help their team to learn and grow.  Moreover, to build a culture of inclusion, respect, and collaboration.  The only way to achieve it is to keep people in the spotlight all the time.

Leaders and priorities

Hyper focus on the goals also causes another problem.  In their quest for achieving them, leaders may decide to do things on their own.  With that decision, two different things can happen.  One, they would stop training and mentoring, which will hinder their team development.  And two, they could go back to the control and command state.  These actions are the opposite of the learning and empowering environment that they would like to build.

Even when leaders recognize that the secret ingredient for the business’s success is their people, sometimes they lose focus on their team.  For me, this is one area where I keep working to improve.  I want to be so effective with my time that often, I do not allow myself to deviate from my goals for the day.   The problem is that sometimes that means that I only do what I planned.  For instance, I don’t take advantage of informal situations to keep building my relationships because I am focused on something else.  

How not more focus on achieving goals than people?

Highly efficient leaders know how to balance their time between people-focused activities and their other tasks.    We need to ensure that we included some time to fulfill our top responsibility with our team, build relationships, and enjoy being part of the group of people we work with.  Including the intention to do it in our daily plans is a way to ensure that we don’t overlook it.  Include a reminder to check on your colleagues and team members is not cold and calculated.  On the contrary, it is a way to recognize that it is so critical that it deserves a top spot in your leader standard work.

How to promote innovation, a must-know for leaders.

Leaders must know to promote innovation and the attitude to never stop exploring, learning, and growing.

Innovation is crucial for the success of any organization.  Finding out-of-the-box ways to improve the operation or satisfied your customers can give you a competitive edge over your competitors. Innovation can produce a new product or service.  It can also help you to empower your team.  Regardless of the purpose, creative thinking is a must.  Given the competition out there, leaders need to know how to promote innovation as part of the daily processes.

To promote innovation, develop your team’s skills.

To empower the team, leaders need to ensure they have what they need.  How do they know what skills to develop?  Some skills, like problem-solving or data visualization, are easy to recognize, but others are not.  If you are not sure, go to the best source for this information.  Ask your team member what do they need for success?  What skills or knowledge do they like to develop?  Then, evaluate if the request is reasonable or worth the resources. Finally, approve the request or work with them to find a solution that fits their needs and aligns with the company goals.

Create a safe place to learn.

One of the rules for a kaizen event is to create a safe place to learn, voice ideas, and test their hypothesis.  A safe environment is fundamental for a learning experience.  Employees are more likely to engage in the problem-solving or creative process when they feel safe.  Creating such a place is one-way servant leaders show that they care about their team. The absence of fear of losing their job or retaliation is critical for innovation.  

Even when there is no fear of losing their job, exposing themselves to failure is a deterrent.  Although in continuous improvement, you win or you learn, it feels like a failure if you don’t get what you expected. To change that, leaders will need to step up and model the expected behavior.  

Promote innovation modeling the expected behaviors.

They can model them in two different ways.  First, they can show how to react when they face failure.  Great leaders do not hesitate to show their vulnerabilities.  Leaders make mistakes like everybody else.  When people see the boss has fears or insecurities about following his ideas but do it anyway, they feel good.  It is that aha moment when they realize that their boss is human and feels fear like they do.  

The second way to model correct behavior is by demonstrating the expected reaction when things turn out differently than expected.  During those times, it is normal to feel defeated or upset.  However, it is the reaction to that feeling what counts.  Instead of roaming your sadness or anger, good leaders show their team that it is ok not to win all the time.  Ask your team how they feel and let them vent their emotions.  

After that moment of relief, reset the mindset by showing them how to reflect on the lessons learned. With those learning on hand, adjust the plan and test it.  Moreover, show them to never stop exploring, learning, and growing!  

Ask without telling, the art of asking questions

To make good questions and help your team to develop their problem-solving skills, you need to know how to ask without telling.

One thing that everybody does every day is asking questions.  We ask questions to learn, clarify doubts, or obtain information.  As a leader, you ask questions to learn about a situation.  Also, you make questions to guide your team on their learning process.  However, are you asking or disguising your solutions as questions?  To promote a learning environment, leaders need to ask without telling.

Sometimes a leader needs to tell

Leaders have the responsibility to communicate, set direction, and provide a purpose.  To accomplish them, they tell information and share news or concerns with their team.  Moreover, there are times when they need to set direction.  Sometimes, there is a need to change a strategy or adjust a plan.  When that happens, the leader tells the group what the change is and why it is needed.  Also, how it will affect them and the new expectations.  During these situations, telling is the right thing to do.

Another responsibility of leadership is to teach and coach their team.   The objective is to transfer knowledge and create capabilities.  While facilitating the learning process, leaders tell new information.

Finally, sometimes leaders need to advise people.  It is common to share previous experiences or tell a story to illustrate a point.  If that is the case, say what you are trying to do, do not hide it behind questions.  The best leaders are humble and compassionate.  There is nothing wrong with showing your humanity by using past experiences to illustrate a point.

Why do you need to ask without telling?

A servant leader’s job is to develop more leaders by teaching, motivating, facilitating, and supporting the team.  By asking questions without telling, they promote learning.  Also, their team’s confidence in their ability to solve problems and create more value grows.  As their confidence grows, their participation in the improvement process grows as well. 

A critical step to change the culture is to empower the people.  While asking questions with respect, leaders guide them to find answers by themselves.  By allowing people to use their brains and participate in the daily management processes and innovation, they feel more engaged with their work and happier when they come back home.  

How can you ask without telling?  How to ask better questions?

When you ask questions that people can answer with a simple yes or no, they don’t put too much effort. Closed questions do not lead to engagement or promote thinking.  When you don’t receive answers, the next thing you do is telling people what to do.  On the other hand, with open questions, people need to think.  Use the 5W and 1H to ask questions.  That is, reframe your questions using who, what, where, when, why, and how.

To keep the brain’s wheels turning, ask one question at a time and give people time to think.  In general, we are not comfortable with silence.  Therefore, right after asking something, people jump to tell their answer.  To be successful in asking without telling, you will need to become comfortable with silence.

Sometimes it is easier to ask closed questions.  Therefore, you would need to stop and think about how to reframe it as an open question.  There are two questions that I used often.  The first one is, what makes you think that way? or ” What do you think we can do differently?”  The second question I often used is, “How do you think we can accomplish that? 

Ask without telling that is what we should do.

Contrary to common perception, leaders are not supposed to have all the answers.  However, very often, they have ideas or solutions to share with the team.  During those times, tell the group that you want to share something with them.  You can always tell people, here is a suggestion and then ask how they can improve it.  Do not hide answers using questions.  Let people think, promote learning and problem-solving skills.

By telling, leadership is not fulfilling their responsibility of teaching and coaching.  Once again, this is a stop-and-think situation.  Think about your idea, do you have any doubts about it?  What parts of it need fine-tuning?  Use your doubts or unknown parts to ask open questions.

A continuous improvement culture seeks to foster a learning environment.  Servant leaders teach, motivate, facilitate, and support their teams.  Show them that you care by helping them to develop their skills and grow.  Learning how to ask questions without telling is a way to achieve that.

Accountability and visual display boards during the daily meeting

Using visual display boards during the daily meeting helps to keep everybody aligned with the company KPIs and drives improvements.

One difference between traditional culture and continuous improvement is the focus on the things that matter most. Another difference is that we want to make problems visible.  A daily management system supports both things by using gemba walks, daily meetings, and leader-standard work.  Daily meetings are the place to discuss progress and actions while keeping everybody aligned with the site KPI’s.  The use of visual display boards during the daily meeting is how this alignment occurs during the accountability portion.  

What is the daily meeting accountability process?

A daily stand-up meeting with the team is one of the fundamental activities of the daily management system.  However, the huddle meeting is not complete unless it has a visual review of the critical objectives.  The daily accountability process is the way to involve everybody in the organization to check progress and further action needed to close the gaps.  

This process is done through daily meetings at different levels.  These tier meetings typically occur at two or three different levels, depending on the size of the business.  Tier 1 is between the team leader and team members, and tier 2 is between the supervisor and team leaders.  A manager leads Tier 3 with the participation of a group of supervisors.   These gatherings help the team to keep the focus on the performance of the daily process.   Also, it makes visible the effect of their actions on the site metrics, which drive accountability.

We use a visual management system to track those metrics.  During the meeting, the discussion is around the results presented on the board.  During the conversation, we seek to answer two questions.  What we did well? and what could we have done better?   

What should be part of the visual display boards during the daily meeting? 

Every company goal must have a metric to measure progress.  Usually, what we use at the top leadership level does not make sense for the office or shop floor people.  Therefore, they must be cascade to the team as a metric that they understand.  That way the metrics, are aligned with the KPIs.

The board should be easy to understand by the people working in the area.  Everybody should know the meaning of each metric.  Also, they should know how their work affects the performance measured by each one.  The board should provide information to know when the process is out of range.  That way, they can see how yesterday’s actions affect performance.

The purpose of the visual display boards during the daily meeting

The meeting must be a safe place to discuss the problems, reasons, and possible solutions.  It is the leadership’s responsibility to ensure that it is that way.  While it is not the place for long problem-solving sessions, the group should agree on what actions to take.

When the design is correct, a visual system will help see what should happen and what happened.  The objective is to understand what happened and create the appropriate actions to correct the deviation from the target.

While reviewing the KPI’s, people should understand the results and the gap with the target.  Understanding what went well or not helps to learn the source of concerns and frustrations.  After this step, the conversation should focus on taking action to solve the daily problems.  When problems are too big to solve, capture the ideas for further discussion during kaizen events.

The goal of these tier meetings is to foster a collaborative environment for problem-solving, ideas sharing, communication, and learning.  The daily meeting is where we see problems and take action to make improvements every day.  The spirit of continuous improvement is making small improvements every day, everywhere, by everybody.   Live up to it by using the morning meetings and display boards to drive improvements!

Asking good questions, what is the value of it?

By asking good questions the right way, leaders can uncover the root cause of a problem, the later big product, and much more.

One way to build trust in the workplace is to listen.  Listening is the most basic way to show respect.  Another way is by helping your team to develop their problem-solving skills.  To help people to get to the root cause of a problem, asking good questions is critical.  Although solving problems is of great value, asking good questions brings more value than that.

Uncover the root cause of a problem and get more

It is necessary to ask comprehensive questions to uncover the root cause of a problem.  For example, use open questions to ask what happened, how, and how often. This kind of question makes people think harder before answering.  The thinking process may bring with it new ideas and different ways to see things.  Moreover, it unleashes the hidden talents of the people.  

When people feel that their work is meaningful, they feel better about themselves.  Higher self-esteem is part of a good mental health state.  Some benefits of good mental health are more clarity of thinking, better mood, and anxiety reduction.  People with good mental health also experience an improvement in relationships.  That is to say that something that started with someone asking good questions ends up helping not just the team but their family.

Ask good questions to build trust

If leadership often communicates with team members at all levels, they have the chance to create relationships beyond problem-solving exercises.  Informal conversations are the perfect vehicle to know the person behind each team member.  It is also a chance for those team members to learn the human side of their leaders.

Some leaders are nervous about asking their people for ideas.  This hesitance many times comes from the fear of being weak or not worthy of their position.  However, when a leader asks for help, it is shows vulnerability which helps to build trust.  In other words, they show that they are honest about admitting that they know everything.  Also, asking for help Is a sign of modesty.  Good leaders are humble and trustworthy.

The value of asking good questions

Asking good questions is a skill that every leader should have.  By asking, they help their team develop new skills and learn new ways to do things.  Most of the time, those learnings are applicable not just at work but also in other settings.  Problem-solving Is one of those skills that are helpful everywhere.  

Team members that learn more and participate more from the site decision process through brainstorming and other activities feel better about their jobs.  The feeling of being part of a group and have a meaningful job brings the added value of good mental health.  An individual with good mental health has better relationships at work and home.

Finally, problem-solving is a team activity.  Therefore collaboration, creativity, learning, and trust are added benefits of the idea’s inquiry process.  For the business, the value of asking questions Includes better efficiency and lower costs.  Above all, it can impact employee satisfaction and retention.

By asking the right questions in the right way, leaders can discover the next big idea for their business, the solution to what stops them from sleep at night, or how to change their company culture. Moreover, they will positively impact their team by helping them to grow.

Effective meetings, how to have them?

Effective meetings are a necessary evil.  They are fundamental for the growth of any business.

Meetings, everybody needs them, and at the same time hates them.  They have the potential to be a powerful part of any growth, innovation, or improvement strategy.  However, many times they turn into a waste of time.  Moreover, many times they are the reason why people allegedly have no time for other meaningful things.  As a leader, what can you do to ensure your business or organization have effective meetings?

Causes for ineffective meetings

Before discussing what to do to have productive meetings, let’s start with the common causes for ineffective meetings.  One thing that bothers most of us is not knowing the motive or objective of a gathering.  Lack of clarity regarding the purpose can lead to decline or not take it seriously.  For the organizer, the lack of a plan or objective leads to inviting the wrong people.  Maybe they will end with people that don’t need to be there.

Another cause for unproductive meetings is when participants arrive unprepared.  Preparation includes reading the objectives, search for backup information, read related reports, and others.  Lack of preparation leads to a repetition loop where players talked non-sense or repeat the same things discussed during the previous meeting.  Not being prepare also causes inefficient time management. Moreover, distractions, interruptions, and off-topic conversations cause lost time.  

There is no point in having a meeting without a record of the topics discussed.  Notes of the issues reviewed, ideas and opinions, action items, and decisions are critical for effectiveness.  Follow-up the progress on the action items and decisions enforcement is easier when there is a record.  It also eliminates different opinions or recalls about what happened.

Effective meetings require preparation

A productive meeting starts with the planning.  The first step is to define the objective of the meeting.  What do you want to accomplish with the reunion?  From there, you can decide what topics need discussion, how much time, and who should be there.  Avoid too many complicated subjects for one meeting.  Consider splitting the themes in more than one gathering if necessary.  

Second, prepare the agenda and list possible sources of information to facilitate preparation.  Third, separate a room big enough to accommodate the people you will invite.  If possible, avoid conference rooms close to areas with too much noise.  Also, ensure to have available all the tools or equipment that you will need.  

The fourth step is to send the meeting invitation.  Along with the invitation, explain the purpose of the meeting.  Also, send the agenda, scope, outcome expectations, and sources of information.  With this information, participants can prepare for the meeting.  Preparation will facilitate effective participation and better time management.  Communicate the rules for the reunion as part of the invitation email.  For instance, request to turn off mobile phones and refrain from using laptops or tables during the meeting.

To run effective meetings, leaders do the following.

  • Complete the adequate meeting preparation (objective, scope, agenda, and others).
  • Set clear expectations by opening the meeting summarizing the scope, purpose, and desired outcome. 
  • Continue the meeting discussing the points of the program.
  • Ensure that everybody on the table has a voice, promote participation.
  • Always take notes or have a designated secretary.
  • Respect the allotted time for the meeting by managing the time for each topic. 
  • At the end of the meeting summarize the outcome, decisions, and action plans.
  • After the reunion, send the minutes along with action items.  Ensure to include what, who, and due dates.
  • Set up time on your calendar for follow-up.

Meetings are a necessary evil to run a business.  However, they don’t need to be a waste of time.  A well-run meeting is fundamental for the growth and process improvement of any business.   Effective meetings are possible with proper planning, conduction, and follow-up.   

What are the characteristics of a kaizen facilitator?

Some of the characteristics of a kaizen facilitator are excellent communication skills, emotional intelligence skills, and being courageous.

Kaizen events are an integral part of the continuous improvement culture.  The success of those events depends on many factors, such as the characteristics of the kaizen facilitator.  This person is responsible for leading the event, among other things.  Experience leading events and continuous improvement knowledge are not the only characteristics that a facilitator needs.  What are the characteristics of a kaizen facilitator?

Characteristics of a kaizen facilitator

Whether you are looking to hire or contract, the following are most haves’ characteristics.  The facilitator must be courageous.  In other words, a person who is comfortable having difficult conversations and asking tough questions.  While being brave in the name of the event’s success, a coach is respectful and supportive.

Whether you are looking to hire or contract, the following are most have characteristics.  The facilitator must be courageous.  In other words, a person who is comfortable having difficult conversations and asking tough questions.  While being brave, a coach is respectful and supportive.

Communication is another soft skill that is critical for success.  The ability to convey information in a clear, simple, and concise way.  A person who practices active listening and can do so with people of different levels in the organization or levels of education.  If they cannot explain something in simple words, it will not translate knowledge effectively.  Explain something complicated without too many technical words is an elusive skill for many.

Emotional intelligence skills are another characteristic of a kaizen facilitator

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence recognize and understand their feelings and how they can affect other people. The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions.

A facilitator must motivate, make others feel comfortable, overcome challenges, and manage conflict. Therefore, the ability to understand and manage their emotions to influence others in positive ways is critical.  Social skills such as interpersonal relationships with empathy, compassion, and humility are essential for this job.  With them, the facilitator will be coaching others to learn and be their best self.

For instance, understanding human psychology and change management are key to influence people and drive a successful event.  An honest and trustworthy individual who gives people credit for their ideas will navigate through the challenges of the event with greater chances of success.

A facilitator must have technical skills

A continuous improvement facilitator without technical skills and lean knowledge is not a good bet. Knowledge about continuous improvement and proven practical experience is non-negotiable.  Moreover, problem-solving, time management, organization skills, and team building are also crucial.  An energetic and passionate about continuous improvement person is the ideal driver for the cultural transformation from traditional to continuous improvement, one kaizen at a time.  

How to create the leader standard work?

Create the leader standard work with the team.

The purpose of the leader standard work (LSW) is to build the behaviors to drive continuous improvement and Lean thinking throughout the organization.  Moreover, it ensures that leaders keep an eye on the important things.  This document provides clear expectations of leadership behaviors.  In other words, it contains what leadership needs to do for a successful continuous improvement transformation.  How do you create the leader standard work document?

Who needs leader standard work?

The continuous improvement culture transformation depends on three daily activities.  Those are the leader standard work, visual management, and daily accountability.  Therefore, LSW is critical for the success of the transformation.  

This document is not for top leadership only. This statement is true regardless of the industry.  Every leader, from top leadership, to managers, supervisors, to team leaders, can benefit from LSW.   

Required information for the leader’s standard work.

Before you start to create LSW, you will need to gather some vital information.  First, get the site vision, goals, and key performance indicators.  Second, make a list of requirements that are critical for your business.  For example, to comply with FDA or OSHA rules or special requirements from suppliers.  

Finally, get the site calendar and each person’s calendar.  Many companies have a list or calendar with all the periodic meetings for each leadership level.  If you do not have one, you can always build it.  The LSW for every people with the same role is similar.  However, they are not the same.  It is common not to have all kinds of meetings or activities on every shift.  Also, people may participate in special projects or events.

To create the leader standard work, start with the activities

Look at the vision, goals, and performance indicators.  Are they aligned?  If they are, what behaviors or practices are needed to achieve those goals?  Also, what do you need to do to ensure compliance with requirements?  The answer to those questions unlocks one critical piece for LSW.  They are the backbone of the document.  

Some examples of such activities are gemba walks and participation in the daily management system. The morning meeting or shift meeting using visual management is an integral part of this system.  Other activities to include on those periodic tasks are coaching, participation in continuous improvement events, schedule audits, and participation in shift handoff meetings.  Also, to monitor how LSW and other continuous improvement systems are working.  For instance, to verify compliance with standard work, watch the start-up, and participation in problem-solving sessions.  

Building the leader standard work.

One more step before building the LSW is to revise all those meetings.  Analyze the objective, duration, and frequency.  Ensure that the meeting objective or purpose aligns with the site vision and goals.  Moreover, check that the duration and frequency are the right ones.  Who knows, maybe you can eliminate or combine a couple of them.

Creating the LSW for each leadership level is a team exercise.  Get the team together for a brief explanation of what we want to do and why. Then go through all the steps together.  To build the LSW, put together the daily, weekly, and monthly activities and tasks in the desired format.   

What are the characteristics of good communicators

Good communicators convey their thoughts clearly and with honesty.  Those are only two characteristics of good communicators.

Effective communication is one of the key elements for a successful continuous improvement transformation.  Therefore, being a good communicator is essential for leadership.  What are the characteristics of good communicators?

Characteristics of good communicators

Every step of the way during the transformation, leadership communication needs to be effective. Clarity is one of the characteristics of effective communication.  Convey all the necessary information with clarity is not easy.  Not only that but being concise and clear is even more difficult.  Good communicators master the art of getting their ideas across while being concise.   They share clear ideas, direct to the point, without fancy words.

To spark curiosity and the desire to learn and discover, asking the right questions is critical.  A good communicator knows how and when to ask.  They listen to the answers and use them to keep asking questions.  With this process, they guide people to learn lean thinking.  That is to say that asking questions is another way to communicate ideas and share information.

Honesty is always good!

Honesty is another characteristic of this group.  Changing minds and behaviors is not an easy task.  Influencing people to change requires a good dose of honesty while being respectful.  It also requires having tough conversations at the appropriate time.

In continuous improvement, root cause analysis is an everyday activity.  While investigating the reasons for failure, focus on the process.  Most of the time, this or the materials are the culprits.  However, sometimes a person did make a mistake.  Those times, you need to be honest without criticizing or blaming.  The way you present the facts will determine how the person feels and react in the future.  The trick is to provide feedback while motivating the person to keep learning and improving.  

Practice the characteristics of good communicators

Good communicators create a safe environment to have courageous conversations.  They are honest, empathetic, and compassionate.  Also, they practice active listening, convey their ideas with clarity and concisely.  The best communicators ask questions to understand and learn.  They are mindful of the tone of their words and the timing of the questions.  We all can learn to be better communicators.  With practice, we can become good ones.   

How do you sell the need for continuous improvement?

Know what matter to your team before you start to sell the need for continuous improvement.

This week I was facilitating a workshop for a group of team leaders and supervisors.  The subject was managing and sustaining 5S.  I asked what their biggest concern is to implement and sustain 5S.  Close to 70% of them answer that selling the need for it.  How do you sell the need for continuous improvement?  How do you get your team to buy in to lean? 

Using benefits to sell the need for continuous improvement

The answer of the workshop participants did not surprise me. My experience tells me that they were right on the money. For a long time, I struggle to get the buy-in of the team. It took me years before I realize what I was doing wrong.

During the launching phase, I talked about the benefits of continuous improvement. For example, for a 5S implementation, I mentioned things like better organization, increased productivity, cleaner machines, and no search for tools. But I failed to tell people what was vital for them.

People respond to what matters to them

Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that who we are is an inherent part of everything we do. Our beliefs, values, and life purpose are at the front and center of all our decisions. Even when we don’t realize that we are doing it, those things guide ours thought process.

Talking about how continuous improvement or 5S will benefit the company will not gain their buy-in. Your team needs to know what is in there for them. We would gain their support when they see how this new initiative connects with their needs and who they are. It is our job to find that connection and communicate it to them. To know that, we have to answer a few questions.

  • What are the most important things for them? – family, community, personal values
  • What higher purpose they pursue? – fighting climate change, curing cancer
  • Their personal goals – professional and personal
  • How do the team feel about their work?  – content, frustrated

Answer their questions and concerns to sell the need for CI  

Every proposed change will encounter resistance or hesitancy. None of those changes will be sustainable unless the team understands and support them. This statement is true for continuous improvement, 5S, or anything else. Job security gained through increased profits or better customer service is a great selling point. However, maybe it is not connected to their values or emotional needs.

To sell the need to change, you need to understand their goals and what they value. When the team sees the relationship between what matters to them and your proposal, buy-in and sustainability have better chances. Ensure that your communication plan highlights that relationship. Also, answer any other questions and concerns they may have before they voice them.