Keep it simple! Processes, training, everything.

keep it simple! Simple procedures and communication is easier to understand and follow.

A company culture transformation is an undertaking.  You will attempt to break with old habits and mental models.  Also, you will introduce new ones.  For that reason, you and your leadership team will make many decisions regarding what to do and how to do it.  Later, there will be a lot of communication, skills development, training, and new standards.  While teaching new behaviors, mental models, and ways to do things, keep it simple.

For a successful transformation, keep it simple

Along the transformation journey, you and your team will have countless communication efforts. That communication will happen in different scenarios and formats.  In other words, individual or group settings, in writing or verbal.  Also, you will write new policies, standards, work instructions, and others.  The purpose of the communication or procedures and other details needs to clear.  Keep the receiver or user in mind while deciding the language, design, or communication structure.  Moreover, it needs to be simple, easy to understand and execute.

If you can’t explain it simply, take a step back.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Albert Einstein

Any continuous improvement activity starts with gaining an understanding of the current situation. The cultural transformation begins with a similar process, understanding the present culture.  The knowledge gain during this step helps to design the best way to share with the team the intention to change.

Why do you want to engage in the transformation process?  Why you propose to use continuous improvement?  What are the steps?  A long and hard thinking process is required to answer these questions in a simple way.  Refine your thoughts, do not use too many words, do not overthink.  Be honest and talk from your heart without fancy words or excuses, just the truth.

You are not ready to communicate this idea until you can say it in simple words.  

Keep it simple, all of the processes, language, structures, and formats.

Simple language is easier for the reader or receiver.  For instance, try to avoid the use of technical words unless it is necessary.  The same rule goes for industry jargon.  For example, in continuous improvement, we use many Japanese terms like kaizen.  Depending on the current culture, you should use generally accepted American words as a substitute.  In our previous example, you can use continuous improvement or rapid improvement events instead of kaizen.

While teaching new tools, use simple structures.  Further, give examples of things related to their work.  Things are complicated enough as it is, keep it simple.  Processes that are easy to understand have more probability of sustainability.  It is much easier to execute simple instructions than complicated words.  

Summary

Trying to explain something complex is often a humbling experience.  It makes you realize how much you don’t know.  Therefore, it forces you to break the subject into smaller pieces and understand each one of them.  When you think you know the process well enough, try to explain it with simple words. Would your five years old self understand?  If the answer is no, then keep refining your thoughts, keep improving your pitch.  

Simplicity avoids confusion, and processes are easier to execute consistently.  Don’t complicate it, keep it simple. 

Improvement suggestions program, what is it?

improvement suggestions box

A solid foundation of employee involvement activities is critical to achieving the continuous improvement goals.  One of those elements is the improvement suggestions program.

What is an improvement suggestions program?

An employee suggestion program gives your employees a formal way to express their ideas to improve the processes of the workplace conditions.  Also, it is a way to channel those ideas from the work floor to management.  

A well manage suggestion plan serves two purposes.  The first is to formalize the suggestions process.  The second is to provide documentation of individual contributions.  With the former, leadership can prioritize ideas aligned with the company goals.  The ladder provides documentation for the year-end performance review.

Are you ready to lunch this program?

Why do you want to lunch an improvement suggestions program?  If you want to check a box from your to-do list, do not do it.  Are you receiving a steady number of suggestions?  If ideas are not flowing from employees to supervisors and managers, maybe you are not there yet.  On the other hand, if enthusiasm is growing and team members are communicating ideas constantly, it is time to launch your suggestions program.

Characteristics of an improvement suggestions program

But the improvement suggestions program is much more than a suggestions box.  Above all, careful design of the process is important.  For instance, the following are factors that describe a successful suggestions plan.

  • Hassle-free process – Make it easy to participate by providing a simple suggestions form. 
  • Clear and fair rules – Same rules for everybody, explain how you would assign a value or impact to the results of the estimated improvements.  Moreover, explain the rewards and recognition system tied to the suggestions propositions and results.  Also, establish guidelines for the type of topics open to suggestions and how ideas are prioritized.
  • Quick feedback – Establish a standard, such as responding to suggestions within one week.  Even more, create the standard for what information should be included in the response and how the feedback will be provided.
  • Program promotion and evaluation – Check how the system is doing versus the standards and look for areas for improvement.  Furthermore, create a measuring or evaluation system and publish the results.  For example, the total number of suggestions and participation percentage

Don’ts

A badly designed program will hurt your continuous improvement transformation.  Once it loses credibility it will be undertaken to win it back.  Put simply, avoid hurting the continuous improvement journey and the business bottom-line. The following are mistakes that should avoid.

  • Create a complicated form requesting too much information.
  • Take too much time to answer, don’t be the bottleneck of the process!
  • Have a homogenous evaluation team, include people from different functions and levels.
  • Fail to follow the program rules.

Summary

Team involvement activities are critical to achieving improvement goals in the areas of quality, cost, and delivery.   For that reason, their engagement is decisive to achieve the continuous improvement goals.  Certainly, it is important to create and maintain a fair and simple program that motivates participation.

Stop fixing and start improving

stop fixing problems and start improving

If you have a friend or acquaintance who is a business owner, I bet there is not one time you met that the conversation doesn’t gravitate toward business stuff.  As a result, you hear stories about the enterprise’s performance.  When things are not going as expected, you talk about things he or she want or should do in their business.  Moreover, they keep talking about problems and how they fix them.  The problem is that they should stop fixing and start improving processes.

Stop fixing and start improving

Richard is the owner and general manager of a chemical laboratory.  Every once in a while, I see him at a bar we both frequent. As we have friends in common, several times our groups get together to have a good time.  Inevitably, I heard Richard talking about the problems he had in the lab many times.  However, it took me several months to convince him to do something about it.

During the time that Richard was talking about inefficiencies, his business was suffering.  ChemTest was not releasing results on time or keeping up with demand.  Therefore, the customer service rate was declining.  Also, he was missing the opportunity to grow the business.  Every day, Richard and his team were working very hard to get caught up with the tests.  Richard thought he was fixing the problem by hiring a new lab technician.  

But the real problem is that he was not fixing this problem.  Even more, he did not fix the situation of running out of reagents by increasing the inventory level.  Neither the testing errors by hiring a laboratory helper to organize and label samples.  Richard was trying to fix problems by throwing more resources into the business.  In fact, instead of fixing, he should have been improving the processes.

This is the time to stop fixing and start improving

Like, Richard, many business owners or leaders are focus on fixing problems day in and day out.  But there are two problems with that approach.  First, probably they are only dealing with the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.  Hence, there is no such thing as fixing or solving the problem.  And second, they are not improving the business processes.

Process improvement using simple and common-sense solutions is the best way to eliminate waste and increase safety, quality, and efficiency.  It is also the best way to achieve the fastest delivery times without spending lots of money.  Continuous improvement is a people focus system.  Leadership takes care of the team and the team takes care of the problems.  Through skills development and lean thinking, the team learns to improve their work area and processes.

As a consequence, leadership would have more time to think about improvements, new products, and how to grow the business.  How long have you been thinking about doing something to change your business performance?  Have you considered a continuous improvement strategy?  These days, more than ever it is critical to building a flexible business capable of adjusting to market changes as fast as possible.  This is the time to stop fixing, and start improving.

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts, behaviors for success.

The ten ground rules for practicing continuous improvement events exist to ensure the right environment to encourage participation exists.  Therefore, is the job of the event facilitator to set clear expectations about following those rules.  It is also their job to steer the group in the direction.  Effective facilitators know how to guide the team and get results creating a positive and high-energy environment.  They do that by encouraging and motivating the right behaviors.  Let’s summarize them with the continuous improvement or kaizen event do’s and don’ts.  

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts for Success

kaizen event dos and don'ts

Keep the momentum on your CI event

Through the kaizen event, the facilitator teaches team members how to think lean and identify waste. For instance, the team will learn by doing.  While they go through the event process, the team learns and uses tools to analyze the current state.  Using lean thinking they will question the status quo and will learn how to see things differently.

To keep momentum, the event facilitator keeps asking questions.  He or she builds upon the team’s ideas and concerns to challenge the status quo.  Maybe, asking questions is the facilitator’s most important job.  In other words, questions are the vehicle to guide the team to discover their solution.  Through questioning with respect, they learn how to challenge the status quo.

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts, one more don’t

Also, to keep momentum on your CI journey I have one more Don’t for you.  Do not engage in an event that is not aligned with your business goals.  Through events, you are targeting those big gaps between the goals and the current state.  Before you start planning the event, ask Do these activities help the business to achieve its goals?  If the answer is no, then find another subject for your event.

Cultural transformation, lean thinking & people’s development

Achieve the cultural transformation from traditional to continuous improvement using lean thinking

One of the key elements for a successful cultural transformation from traditional to lean or continuous improvement is to change behaviors and beliefs.  The challenge is huge, in part because those behaviors and beliefs have been part of the company for a long time.  

The cultural transformation from traditional to lean

The company culture is the set of shared attitudes and practices that characterize an organization. Daily activities like decision making are influenced by the culture.  Further, the way people act, the values they shared, and how they respond to certain situations.  Also, it includes how people interact with each other and the work environment.  Things like the company vision, mission, and goals are the face of the culture.

In other words, culture determines or influences everything that happens in the business.  Therefore, to change practices it is necessary to transform the way people think and act.  The face of the company, the vision, mission, and goals have to reflect those new ways.  For instance, the shared values and leadership styles should mirror the new beliefs.  Lean thinking is what will drive those new behaviors.

Achieve cultural transformation using lean thinking 

The shift from traditional to continuous improvement or lean is one of the most challenging things during the cultural transformation.  Put simply, it is easier to change processes than people’s minds.  However, the only way to achieve the change is by adopting a new way to think and act.

People will learn new ways to approach the same problems and situations.  The first change is to learn how to identify value from the customer lenses.  The idea of thinking about how every action can affect the customer is mind blowing for many people.  However, once they know why, it makes sense.  The business goal is to provide the customer with the highest quality, in the shortest amount of time and at the lowest possible cost.  Then, focusing our actions on quality, cost, and delivery is the right way to conduct business.

The focus of the entire transformation is the people, your team.  A fundamental part is to care more about people’s motivations, viewpoints, and how to develop their skills.  Some of those skills include problem-solving, how to identify non-value-add steps, and the use of PDCA for improvements.  When you take care of your team, they take care of your customers.  And by doing that, your business performance improves.

People’s Development is fundamental

One of the most important steps in the cultural transformation roadmap is to design the programs for the people’s development.  Respect for humanity is at the core of lean thinking.  For that reason, this part of the transformation is fundamental for its success. 

Using a hands-on approach, the leaders will teach their teams how to use lean thinking.  Use every learning opportunity to develop new skills.  As a result, a team member would learn ways to solve problems and improve their work.  One step at a time, leaders will guide their groups to reach their potential.  They do that by giving them a purpose and showing how their work is tied to the company’s success.  Also, by providing performance and development plans to help them grow.  

Start with Why

Do you want to start your transformation journey with the right foot?  Then, start explaining why.  People need to know the reasons for such an undertaking.  Be honest, and clear about the motives and expectations.  Also, explain what is in it for them?  When you explain the new behaviors and way to do things, many will look at you with skepticism.  But also, many more will feel hope and will give it a try.  Make that try counts do what you say you would.  As a business owner or top leader, your job is to model those behaviors and show the new ways to do business.

Management responsibilities, what are they?

management responsibilities, what are they?

In one of my first classes of my master’s degree, I learned the management responsibilities or functions.  The professor indicated that management consist of four general obligations.  Those are planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.  However, the explanation failed to include the responsibilities of a leader from the continuous improvement lenses.

Planning as the number one responsibility

There is no doubt that planning is one of the most recognized functions of an entrepreneur or manager.  Planning should start with grasping the situation. Hence, define the problem or describe the desired state is the first step before start planning.  The following steps are to define the gap, create strategies, set objectives, and determine resources.  

In continuous improvement, planning entails the same things.  Perhaps, the method used is different because it involves people from different levels of the organization.  Strategy deployment addresses critical business needs by aligning goals, strategy and the company’s resources at all levels.  Moreover, it develops the skills and capabilities of the team.  It does so by engaging them to answer the question of how do we get there? Leaders guide their teams using their experience and PDCA.  The use of the PDCA cycle provides a framework to identify potential problems and countermeasures.  

Management responsibilities organizing and staffing

In a traditional enterprise, managers would design jobs, specify tasks, and allocate resources.  They would also create an organizational structure and set policies and procedures.  All that is still true in a continuous improvement environment.  However, there are a couple of differences in how to achieve those tasks.

In a CI culture, managers are also teachers.  Their main job is to develop themselves and develop their staff.  One way to do it is by teaching them how to manage the daily activities.  For instance, daily coordination activities, allocate resources, daily problem-solving, and standards creation.  Managers oversee and support supervisors and middle managers.  Support means teaching them how to do it and provide the resources.  It also means to listen to their concerns and help with high-level decisions.  Set them for success by establishing clear rules and limits, so they know when to escalate the problem or situation.

Leading and controlling, two more management responsibilities

While creating strategy, leaders set direction and provide a purpose.  Those tasks are critical to lead and motivate employees to accomplish organizational goals.  In addition, effective communication and clear rules to manage change and conflicts are also fundamental.  Some of those conflicts are related to employee performance.  In a traditional culture, controlling refers to measure performance and compare it to standards.  Also, this responsibility includes taking the appropriate steps as per the performance level.  That is recognition, salary increase, promotion, training, or a development plan to take care of weaknesses or inefficiencies.  

In a traditional setting, leading and controlling are seen as two different things, but in CI, they are part of one.  Leadership in a CI culture lead by example, teaching and coaching their staff while visiting the work area every day.  They motivate by providing learning experiences and challenging the team to be the best they can be.  Performance assessment is part of the development process.  However, it is focused on employee development, not a way to punish low performance.

What are the responsibilities of a manager, business owner, or entrepreneur?

Management’s job is to help the staff to do better by providing purpose and direction while supporting the daily activities.  In other words, managers should be servant leaders first, and everything else, second.

The daily activities should be the responsibility of the supervisors and their teams, including daily improvements.  Managers support their direct reports by listening and learning from them what help they need.  Then, they can allocate the resources, make high-level decisions, or remove barriers. 

When leadership does not respect their staff, it will command instructions and control their actions. In a continuous improvement culture, respect for humanity is a tenet.  Therefore, command and control are not a way to fulfill management responsibilities.  Most importantly, that behavior should be identified as non-acceptable and banned from the culture.

Develop your people first and motivate participation

develop your people

For a successful cultural change from traditional to continuous improvement, the CEO or company owner leads the way.  It does this by ensuring some actions are taken.  One of them is to develop your people first and motivate participation.

The mission of continuous improvement is to develop team skills.  Teaching and coaching the team to help them reach their maximum potential is a way to show respect.  Respect for the people is at the core of lean thinking.  Also, it is one of the top three characteristics of the right work environment for CI success.  

Develop your people

One of the lean thinking principles is that the people doing the work design it and solve their problems. The leaders guide the team by respectfully asking questions.  They teach them problem-solving and data analysis tools and support them in providing resources and removing roadblocks.  In other words, the leaders are now coaches, not bosses.  The most senior leader coach his or her team, while they do the same with their teams.  

To develop your people, start by giving them a purpose

Each one of your employees needs to know how their work affects the company’s bottom line.  Let them know how they contribute to achieving the company mission and vision.  That is to say, give them a purpose.  Learning new skills will be critical to fulfilling their part.

Link the company Vision and Mission statements to the continuous improvement activities.  For instance, link them to the company goals and objectives.  Continuous improvement is not a project. Instead, it is part of everybody’s daily work.   Therefore, participation in CI efforts and training should be part of the performance review program.  Ensure that these things are communicated, discussed, and explain to everybody.

Communicate the development plan and motivate participation

Build a team to work on tying together communication, training, participation, and employee’s performance.  The objective is to define and clarify responsibilities, set expectations, and incentivize participation.  This team is responsible for reviewing the job descriptions, performance system, and incentive program.  Also, they are in charge of creating a suggestion program.  

An important piece to motivate participation is training tailored to the company and industry.  A good trainer will design the training based on the audience and their preferred learning method.  Lean is about learning by doing.  In the process, it provides enough theory to support the hands-on activities.  

Peoples’ development and participation

A continuous improvement culture is a learning culture.  Learning by doing is one of its tenets.  Another one is to formulate theories for problem-solving or improvement.  Following the scientific method, those theories will need to be tested.  The success of this process (PDCA) lies in the understanding that it is ok to make mistakes.  It requires effective communication and trust between leadership and teams.  

The leadership team has to work with their leader to communicate, train, motivate and clarify alignment between objectives and actions.

 

Buy-in and support from leadership is key for changes

buy-in and support is key for cultural transformation from traditional to lean

The business owner or top leader leads the change in company culture from traditional to continuous improvement. However, to achieve it, he or she needs the buy-in and support of the leadership team. That condition is one of the key elements for the continuous improvement success.

How to gain the buy-in and support

The first step in this journey is to get the support of your leadership team.  Start explaining why the change is necessary.  Be honest and provide data to support your intention.  Also, communicate the purpose of the transformation.  What do you want to achieve?  Explain the process you will follow to achieve the goal.  

Be clear about the expectations through the journey.  Provide the team with a top-level explanation.  For example, explain expected behaviors, like showing respect, learning, and teaching new skills.  

These conversations are an excellent place to start modeling those behaviors.  For instance, show how to do active listening and be patient.  You and your team will go through the same learning experience.  It is ok not knowing and be vulnerable.  Your clarity and honesty regarding the reasons are a good selling point, but the best will be the fact that you will participate along with them on this journey.  It is much more difficult not to try to do something when the boss is willing to try first.

What is in it for them?

Present the team the benefits of a continuous improvement culture.  a couple of gains are more engaged employees and less turn-over rate.  A stable and motivated workforce means more brains thinking in solutions.  Therefore, leadership would have more time to engage in strategy rather than firefighting.  

Another benefit is creating a learning enterprise where the entire team works together to provide better services or products.  As a result, the company could grow to expand to new markets.  Another possibility is to offer new products or services.

But also talk about the challenges ahead.  Prepare the group to have setbacks and frustrations.  The continuous improvement journey is about changing behaviors and attitudes engrained in the company’s soul.  That task is not easy.  Neither is to learn and teach at the same time.  By doing this, leaders will feel vulnerable, and that is again everything they know.  But, if you are willing to do it, they should be as well.

Buy-in and support leads to collaboration

The journey to transformation starts with explaining the need to change.  As the top leader, you are responsible for aligning purpose, process, and people.    Your job is to provide clear information and answer questions.  Also, to listen, provide direction, teach, coach, and remove barriers.   

Remove barriers means provide resources and make high-level decisions.  Unfortunately, it also means letting go of those leaders who are not willing to change their behavior.  Of course, that would be the last alternative after trying to change their minds.

With a clarity of purpose, process, and intentions, the team should be ready to start working together in this adventure.  Share with them the key elements for a successful continuous improvement or lean implementation.  Those elements are building blocks for the new work environment.  For instance, knowing them from the beginning could help to understand the journey ahead.  

Time studies and continuous improvement

time studies and continuous improvement

From everything I learned while studying industrial engineering, time study is what I have to use the most.  Time studies and continuous improvement have always been part of my job. Early in my career, I use time studies to establish or update time standards.    Later on, when I started to learn and practice CI, time studies were part of the data collection process.  This time, the time study was a component of the process to define the problem under analysis.  

Numerous times in my career, I found well-intended people trying to do formal time studies as part of kaizen or continuous improvement activity.  There is no need to complicate your life.  Nevertheless, it is necessary to follow some basic rules to ensure satisfactory data collection.

Time studies and time standards

Time study or work measurement is a method to establish an allowed time to perform a given task.  Frederick Taylor envisioned industrial engineers using time and motion studies to determine the best way to do the job.  Standardized work and cycle time reduction are two more of Taylor’s innovations.  

While establishing a time standard, industrial engineers would use a detailed process to observe and analyze the method and measure time.  The standard calculation includes rating the operator’s performance and applying for allowances.   This type of time study seeks to establish a standard used for manufacturing cost and wage calculations.  They need to be specific and accurate.  The focus is on the process, looking to reduce the cycle and make it more efficient.

Time studies and continuous improvement

On the other hand, when using time studies in continuous improvement, you don’t need to rate performance or use allowances.  You are not trying to create a time standard.  The purpose is to see if the changes are moving the needle in the right direction.  The focus is on the operator and how to reduce his/her pain points.  How can you make the work easier and safer?  While doing that, you will reduce the cycle time, but that is not the priority.  

Although you won’t need to calculate a standard time at this point, you need good data.  For that, there are a few steps that you need to follow.  Talk with the operator who is completing the process.  Explain why you are there and clarify that you will measure the process, not the person.  Observe the process and ask questions to understand what he or she is doing.  Also, look at the flow of materials and/or the information and learned about the pain points. Your objective is to eliminate waste.

This preliminary work will help you to get familiar with the process.  Once you are familiar with it, you can divide it into general steps for further time measurement.  You to measure how long it takes to complete a process, before and after the improvements. 

Keep it simple

Learning is always better when you keep things simple.  Concepts that are too complicated may distract you from the real purpose of the exercise.  All you want to accomplish is to get data to compare if the proposed improvements reduce the cycle.  

There are many other ways to improve a process besides cycle reduction.  Focus on finding the waste within the process.  Then look for ways to eliminate or reduce it.  Waste reduction will reduce the cycle time while making the process easier, minimize errors, eliminate waiting times, and others. There are two key things for sustainable improvements.  First, you need participation from the team doing the work.  Nobody knows the process better than them.  Second, the focus of the improvement efforts is always the customers, internal and external.

How companies show they care?

how companies show they care about its employees

Ask any company leader what their most important asset is, and they will answer the same, their employees.  But is that true or just the convenient collective answer?  If it is true, then words are translated into daily actions.  Companies show they care about their employees with actions, not fancy statements or values hanging on the walls.  

The best way to show a company cares about its employees is to build a culture of respect, trust, inclusion, and collaboration.  That is an environment where all members feel valued and trust to share their ideas without fear. Moreover, it is a place where leaders listen and take time to know the person behind the position.  Also, leaders would take time to develop their skills and help them to reach their potential.

Some ways companies show they care

Although nothing beats those things, it will not hurt if companies offer good benefits.  Leaders and companies committed to making their team a priority take the time to put together an attractive benefits package.

We all heard regarding companies that provide food and snacks services for free, video games, ping-pong tables, and more.  Those perks sound nice but are they what their employees want? A different option is to take the time to know what their employees’ value or need to craft a nice set of benefits.

Ways to show you care about their well-being

It is quite common to offer wellness programs as part of the benefits.  Examples of those programs are on-site weight management, high blood pressure or diabetes clinics, and gym subscriptions.  Unfortunately, sometimes those are offered by companies that show no respect for their employees’ health.  Ensure that your company does not foster or accept attitudes and behaviors that create a toxic environment.  Also, promote adequate rest, ask your team to take their time off.

Align perks, culture, and values to create a positive environment that fosters creativity and well-being.  The following examples are ways to show that you care about the person behind the position.

  • Give new parents time to be home
  • Encourage healthy behaviors by providing options for healthy foods.  Revise what kind of snacks you offer in the vending machines.  Do they match your health message?
  • Promote doing exercise with internal tournaments of popular sports like basketball or baseball.
  • Advertise ways to relax during their breaks while encouraging learning and skills development.  For example, create a small library with magazines and books.  The library can be a corner with comfy chairs, adequate lighting, and a bookshelf.
  • Promote using stand-up desks or converters.
  • Create a walking path around the building for your employees to walk during their breaks.  If there is enough space, a small garden would be nice too!

Give back to the community

Another way to make your employees feel appreciated is by showing respect and care for their communities.  Once again, align these programs with your company values.  Above all, align them with your actions.  For instance, do not say your company cares about the environment and then dump toxic waste down the creek.

  • Encourage volunteerism with days off
  • Help them help the community by creating teams to participate in efforts to participate in non-profit activities.
  • Promote and actively participate in recycling efforts.
  • Team-up with local companies and provide discounts for buying solar panels or other types of sustainable energy.

When companies show they care, great things happen

Caring for your employees is a way to show respect.  Employee appreciation is the right thing to do.  Also, it is good for the business.  Employees that feel appreciated by their leaders are more engaged and productive.  When they perceive that they can grow professionally and build meaningful relationships, their job satisfaction will be higher.  Therefore, they will be willing to contribute to the well-being of the company.