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.  

Morning habits, try these to increase productivity

Choose the right morning habits to boost your productivity

A study found that our morning mood has a considerable impact on our productivity once we get to work.  Several things can affect our mood.  For example, receiving bad news or kids giving you a hard time getting ready will affect you negatively.  You cannot control or avoid some of those things, but there are others that you can.  Your morning habits can increase or kill your productivity throughout the day.

Build a morning habit that helps to start your day on a positive note

It is possible to change your negative morning mood.  For instance, you can create a morning habit that helps start the day in a positive mode.  Choose the right one as per your preferences and what you know works for you.  Some examples are having a morning exercise routine or take your time to drink your coffee and have a balanced breakfast.  

For some people, taking a few minutes to write in a journal makes a big difference in their day.  You can write about those things you are grateful for or about how do you feel that day.  Making you aware of your mood helps to take some steam off and focus on other things.  Another way to do this is by chatting with somebody.  You can have a short chat while taking your coffee and smile while making eye contact.  However, choose the right colleague for this.  You do not want to do it with a person that carries a heavy black cloud on top of his head.

Avoid morning habits that create distractions

Another way to increase productivity is by avoiding distractions in the morning.  If you wake up and the first thing you do is pick your phone, stop doing that.  Once you picked it up, it is easy to go down a rabbit hole of emails, news, and social media.  

Instead, use the early hours of your day to do something productive.  Put yourself on a positive note and then get to work.  Use that time for top priority tasks where you need to use your full brainpower.  You can always schedule meetings and calls later in the day.

Using the right tools to ensure your keep the focus increase productivity

Strategy A3 is an excellent tool to ensure you keep an eye on the right things.  When you start your day by revising your A3, you see your top priorities and the actions to achieve them.  Use that information to choose the items that you will plan to complete.  Create a balance between daily maintenance and strategic activities.   Once you build your daily plan or schedule, stick to it.

An additional note on productivity

These morning habits put you in the right mood for being productive.  Also, they take advantage of your higher energy levels and clear mind during the morning hours.  However, be aware of what time of the day you are more productive.  Do things in the morning to put you in a positive mood and protect your most productive time from distractions.  Schedule those critical tasks for the time where your focus and productivity levels are higher.

How can you help your employees to improve their workplace?

Help your employees to improve their workplace by creating a safe space to  test new ideas.

When leadership move away from command and control and empower their team, amazing things happen.  Once the team feels trusted and supported, they gain more knowledge about their capabilities.  This condition is critical to have them creating improvements in their areas.  However, it is not enough to ensure sustainability.  Leadership still must do more to help employees to improve their workplace.

Create a safe space for learning

A continuous improvement culture is about learning, experimenting, and reflection on the results to keep learning and improving.  In other words, continuous improvement promotes creating a learning enterprise.  To learn, the team needs to feel safe.  

People will share their ideas and expose themself to failure only when they know that there will be no retaliation.  Therefore, you must show with actions that testing new ideas and learning from failure is ok.  Better yet, that it is not only ok but encouraged.  

When things don’t go as planned, help the team to understand what happened.  Make them feel safe by focusing on the process, never on the people.  Do not talk about how the company metrics suffer, but how much knowledge you gain. 

Help your employees to improve their workplace by listening to them

As a leader, one of your responsibilities is to go to gemba every day, see for yourself and ask questions.  When you do, actively listen to your employees.  Listen to their concerns as well as their ideas.

They are the best source for ideas on how to improve their work area or processes.  Your job is to guide them by respectfully ask questions.  Ask them what help they need from you to succeed?  This help can be resources or training.

Help your employees to improve their workplace, learn what others are doing and share it with them.

Although there is no better way to learn than doing, learning from others is good too!  Being a member of a professional association has several advantages.  One of them is that you can get information about best practices in your industry.  Also, if your business has more than one location, create a structure to facilitate ideas sharing.  Although not always what others are doing is 100% transferable, you always learn something.  

Create a safe environment where the team is not afraid of sharing their ideas.  Listen to what they have to say and do what you can to help.  By testing new ways to do things, you win, or you learn. 

Innovation and continuous improvement

Promote innovation to strengthen your company.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, innovation is a new idea, method, device, or novelty. It is also the introduction of something new.  In this competitive world, innovation is crucial to the success of any organization.  Therefore, one way to strengthen the company is to promote innovation.  

Innovation and the company culture

An article in Harvard Business Review describes the behaviors exhibit by the most innovative organizations. Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Rahul Nair, and Natalie Painchaud are the authors of that piece.   The article, Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation, explains them in detail.  Those behaviors are the following.

  1. Always assume there is a better way to do things. 
  2. They focus on deeply understanding customers’ stated and unstated needs and desires. 
  3. Collaborate across and beyond the organization, actively cross-pollinating. 
  4. Recognize that success requires experimentation, rapid iteration, and frequent failure. 
  5. They empower people to take risks, voice dissenting opinions and seek needed resources.

These five actions or attitudes are aligned with a continuous improvement culture.  

Innovation in a continuous improvement culture

A tenet of continuous improvement is to respect the people.  One way is by providing the environment and opportunities to learn new skills.  In other words, the team is empowered to improve their workplace. They would do it through innovation and continuous improvement.  

The ultimate goal of continuous improvement is perfection.  That is to say that you always assume that there is another way to do things. Precisely, that is the first behavior in the article.  Other behaviors listed are collaboration, seeking improvements through experimentation, and learning from mistakes. All of them are part of a continuous improvement environment.

One of the CI principles is customer value.  The customer is who defines value.  Value definition is a critical piece to start your continuous improvement quest. For instance, you will use it to classify each process as value-added or non-value-added. Moreover, you need to understand it to focus your innovation efforts on the right place  

A CI culture is people-based. The focus is to create an environment that promotes learning and growth. When the company is mature enough, team members do not have to deal with repetitive problems. Therefore they don’t have to deal with the frustration that comes with them either.  A mind free of work concerns and frustration is a mind ready to create and innovate! 

Facilitators, their role in a kaizen event

A kaizen facilitator has various tasks to complete, for example keep the team focus, engaged, and energized.

Various roles are critical for a successful continuous improvement event. One of those roles is the event facilitator.  He or she is responsible for leading the event, but that is not the only responsibility.  

What are the responsibilities of the facilitator?

Most of the time, the facilitator is also the kaizen or continuous improvement event planner.  As an event planner, they organize and prepare all the activities related to the event.  For instance, the facilitator works with the event leaders to establish the scope of the event and develop the charter.  Also, they identify and gather resources and materials while keeping everything under budget.  

During the event, the facilitator has a couple of responsibilities that can make or break the activity.  A CI event requires a good coach that guides the team by asking questions.  Through these questions, he or she helps the team to see and approach problems using lean thinking.  In other words, participants learn lean thinking by doing it.  

While executing the different steps of the event, the use of CI tools is common.  Because not all team members know those tools, they learned them from the teacher or facilitator.  This means that during the event, they develop team skills.  

Keep the team motivated

Unfortunately, not everything always goes as planned.  Sometimes, participants do not show interest or lose focus during the event.  When that happens, it is time to put on a different hat.  This time the facilitator will act as a motivator and cheerleader.  Accepting change is never easy.  Therefore, people need to understand the purpose of the event.  Furthermore, why they are participating in the event and what is in there for them.

Even when event participants know those things, keeping them motivated and engage in the activities is a tall order.  A good facilitator will take time to learn about their audience before the action starts. Knowing ahead how they learn better and their learning type will go a long way to keep them motivated.

Some parts of a continuous improvement or kaizen event can be bored.  Not everybody enjoys sitting in a room for hours or analyze information.  The facilitator needs to work hard to keep those individuals engaged and energized.  A way to do this is to acknowledge those challenges and the accomplishment of milestones during the activity.  Celebrate those accomplishments as all small wins.  Keep the audience active by incorporating exercises and having them assisting you in some parts.  For example, participants can help as scribers.

Facilitators also manage conflict

Another situation that is inevitable when we are dealing with change is conflict.  Some people will be more open than others to accept change or participate in activities that lead to change the status quo. Those groups may disagree on the causes or solutions.  When that happens, the facilitator acts as a mediator to help those groups to reach a consensus.  

There are a few other things that can cause some trouble.  For instance, when technology fails, it must pivot and adjust the training to the new circumstances.  The same happens when the original training plan is not working.

Help the team succeed is the most important job of the facilitator

The event facilitator’s most important job is to help the team succeed.  Teaching and coaching while focusing on the kaizen’s objective is a critical part of that job.  Also, to remove any obstacles to learning and keep the group energized.  Motivate and show respect by focusing your attention on whoever is sharing an idea or commenting on a subject.  Celebrate small wins and praise teamwork and collaboration.  In other words, create a positive and safe environment that invites people to participate and be the best they can be!

How do you overcome resistance?

Every transformation effort will face resistance.  An effective plan can help to overcome most of it.

Every transformation effort will hit the resistance wall sooner or later.  In general, in the beginning, your team will be divided following the 20/60/20 rule.  The rule states that approximately 20% will be happy to participate, 60% will watch from distance, and another 20% will resist the change.  

How to handle resistance with each group

Those who are happy to participate, or at least try, are your golden group.  They can help to spread the enthusiasm.  The resistance group will actively work as roadblocks.  They will oppose every idea and maybe even try to convince people to stop or delay progress.  

Focus your efforts on the 60% group.  With the right transformation plan, you can influence this group and have them participating in the transformation.  Treat the first group as your advocates and helpers.  With the participation of these two groups, things will start to get traction.  Eventually, they will convince most of the resistance group.  

Use the transformation plan to overcome resistance

While there are no magic bullets, an effective plan will help address some situations that cause resistance.  For example, explain what will change, the reason for the change, and how it will happen.  

A critical part of the transformation is the communication plan.  Think who, when, and how to break the news.  Start saying why the culture needs to change.  Explain the reason to invest time and resources into a conversion of the company mindsets and methods.  Be open and honest about those reasons. Also, be transparent about the challenges ahead.  Moreover, explain in detail what the goal is, what do you want to achieve.  In other words, try to answer all the possible questions before they become a source of resistance.

Build your plan around the team needs

Your team is the most critical resource in the journey from traditional to continuous improvement. Assess the gaps between the skills and knowledge your team need and currently has.  Talk about education and training.  For instance, cite examples of training needs and how you will close the gap.

Changes are stressful, remove a bit of anxiety by presenting the big picture, a high-level view of the roadmap to success.  Present how success looks like, what the expectations are.  Monitor the execution of each step of the plan and report back to the team how things are going.  Be honest about what is working and what is not.  Reflect with the group about lessons learned and celebrate together every win regardless of how big or small.

Your people are the heart of your business, the most valuable asset.  When you take care of them, they take care of your customers.  Keep the focus on providing them all the support and guidance they need throughout the transformation.  Listening to their concerns and act upon those things that you can improve is critical for a successful transformation.

The roadmap to continuous improvement success

The roadmap to success is challenging, however it is possible to achieve.

While creating the roadmap for the transformation, it is critical to keep in mind your people, customers, and how you will execute the plan to ensure sustainability.  To ensure success in the transformation into a continuous improvement culture, maintain the focus on those three aspects.

Roadmap to respect and teamwork

Continuous improvement is a people’s system.  Your team is the heart that keeps the CI thinking alive and kicking.  Therefore, it is a good practice to evaluate your company culture before you start and every year after that.  You want to know if the culture is changing in the right direction.  For example, if the levels of engagement are increasing or employee turnover is decreasing.

Respect for the people and teamwork are the foundation of the new culture.  Leadership shows respect and promotes collaboration in different ways.  Visiting gemba every day to see problems and listening to their team concerns to find solutions together is one way.  Another is to take advantage of those moments to teach them how to analyze them, find the root cause, and create solutions.  Those gemba walks along with huddle meetings help to give clarity, alignment, and effective communication.  

Participation increases when they have a clear vision of how their work fits within the company mission.  In other words, to know how what they do affects the customer and the company’s bottom line.    

Customer experience journey during the transformation

The focus of our daily operation is the customer.  The continuous improvement goal is to deliver the best quality product or service, at the lowest cost, in the shortest amount of time.  But to be able to do that, we need to know first what they need.

What problem or need are you looking to solve or fulfill.  What constitutes value from the customer lenses?  Listening to the voice of your customers is as important as listening to your team.  Use your customer input to create new value proposals, redesign processes, and guide improvement events.

Sometimes, you think you know what they need, but the truth is that there are times when not even they know.  If it is possible, look for ways to feel the experience yourself.  Observe the process to understand the challenges your customers deal with.  By doing this, you will see what the real problems are.  Maybe what you perceive as a quality problem is a service issue.

Also, keep in mind that their needs and wants can change over time.  Go out to gemba or the marketplace as often as you can and talk with your customers, current, and potential.  Ask questions to understand their pain points and needs.  Get a look at what your competitors are doing or how your customers look at them.

Roadmap to excellence

A strategy is a way to achieve the mission and provides the framework to make decisions.   To achieve excellence, you need the help of your team.  Therefore, they need to know which is the strategy.  Moreover, if you give them participation in creating the execution plan, the chances of success grow exponentially.   

However, a good plan is not good enough if it does not include how to sustain the change.  There are a couple of things that are critical in this plan.  One of them is how to make sure that every day everybody participates in continuous improvement activities.  Another is the establishment of a daily management system that ensures that leadership will do their part.  Integral parts of this system are the gemba walks, leader standard work, and huddle meetings.  

To follow-up progress, make sure to identify key operating metrics that are aligned with the company goals.  Translate these metrics from top leadership to the shop floor or office.  You will need them to make visual management work.  Make it easy for everybody to know if the company is winning or losing.  The sooner you can identify that something is not working, the sooner you can change course.

Also, plan to evaluate the safety program, training needs, desired behaviors within the new culture, and business performance in different areas.  For example, assess productivity, quality, delivery, and operating costs.

Follow the roadmap to achieve CI success

The road to excellence is bumpy, with curves, hurdles, and other challenges.  However, it is also a great adventure where the daily journey is more important than the final goal.  Consistency is the name of the game.  Practice day, even when you think it is not working.  Never stop learning, practicing, and teaching.  The reward is knowing that you are changing lives, growing your team, and in the process building a flexible and profitable business.

Influence to be effective as a leader

Motivate and inspire people from a position of influence rather than authority.

For most of my career, I was responsible for one or various departments within the organization. During that time, I share a vision with my team and work alongside them to make it a reality.  When things did not go as planned, I always had the option to use my authority to change course.  But when I started to learn about continuous improvement, I realize that CI is a peoples’ system.  The leaders’ job is to care about your team and help them grow and learn new skills.  Therefore, you do not want to use your authority to achieve things.  You want to use influence to motivate and inspire your team.  In other words, I had to learn how to use my authority less and use my influence power more.  

Influence as an effective way to gain followers

Effective leaders must be able to influence others’ behaviors.  Power is the ability to influence others to behave in a particular way.  When leaders are looking for support, the right way to gain it is from a position of influence rather than authority. Using your influence power, you can motivate your team and inspire them to learn and do new things.

What you need to be able to influence

When you are not honest, many people can see it through you.  Therefore, if you want to motivate people from an influence position, honesty is a critical ingredient.  Be authentic and sincere about your intention and goals.  Convince people to collaborate by explaining to them the complete picture. First, communicate why you want to do it.  Second, explain the pros and cons of the proposal.  Third, let them know what is in it for them.  That information is always critical to gain support.

A good leader practices those behaviors or attitudes that he or she is asking the team to have.  Be fair and flexible, do not ask the team to do something that you are not willing to.  Roll up your sleeves and work alongside them to figure out the best way to do it.

The future is in your hands

Provide your team with the goal, a collective vision of where the company will be in the future.  Once they know the target, empower them to find answers by themselves.  Coach them to find those answers but let them figure them out.  Remind them of the vision to ensure alignment between those goals and the company’s vision.

Your actions determine the future of the company.  The way you choose priorities and work to achieve targets is critical to success.  Moreover, how do you treat your team is the secret ingredient for a successful company.  Motivate and inspire from a position of influence rather than using your rank in the organization.

Overcommunicate to prevent problems, right?

Overcommunication is used with specific information to keep the team focus and aligned

I once had a conversation with a seasoned manager who proudly explained different ways his company uses to prevent problems.  One of them strikes my attention and curiosity.  He claimed that they overcommunicate to make sure things go as planned. 

What overcommunication means?

When I asked what he means by overcommunication, his explanation left me worried.  For instance, his definition was indeed what it is not.  Dumping all kinds of information through countless emails, oversharing, or repeating instructions while checking performance is not the right way to do it.  

First, over-communication is not a way to share all kinds of things.  It is used only to clarify and reinforcing critical information.  For example, to convey instructions or concerns during crisis times, top priorities, and the company vision.  Second, it is about communicating the right things effectively.  In other words, in a clear, consistent way, promoting collaboration between teams.  By sharing the right things frequently, you ensure alignment between the company vision and the daily operations.

Overcommunicate prevent problems, right?

When you over-communicate in the right way, it is possible to prevent problems.  However, when what you are doing is oversharing or micromanaging, the results are different.  The team can feel distracted by too much information, overwhelmed, or frustrated.  And they have all the right to feel that way because that behavior is disrespectful.  The team will respond much better if you convey the information effectively.  If you want them to remember the company’s core values and vision, become a model of those behaviors.  Also, incorporate the enterprise vision in what you do and become a coach.

Communicate right, do not overcommunicate

Excessive communication is not the right way to prevent problems.  Effective communication is the right way to ensure everybody receives and understands the same message.  When you disseminate critical information frequently enough, people will know that it is meaningful.  Over time, they will start to use it, and the result is alignment between values and daily actions such as problem-solving, project selection, and others.

Start with why while breaking the news

While launching a new project or initiative. always start explaining why you want to do it.

When a company is launching something new, it is common to have the CEO or the owner breaking the news.  Sometimes, the enthusiasm and clarity of the information given are not enough to guarantee success. People need to know why before committing to do something.

To get support, start with why

Sometimes it is not easy to understand the reasons for a change.  However, knowing what inspired it helps to get that understanding.  For the leader, that inspiration comes from a vision of the future.  That vision stems from a belief that it is possible to reach an unreachable limit or carry out that impossible idea.  The strong desire to make that vision a reality is his or her why.  

That inspiration comes from the heart, from their values and beliefs.  People connect through common feelings, ideas, and values.  For that reason, explaining why you want to do that is the best way to get support.

Explain why to achieve your vision success 

I learned about the power of starting with why from Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why.  He explained the human need to belong and the connection between that and the success of some companies.  Sinek defines why as a purpose, cause, or belief, the reason for the organization to exist.  Also, he explains that when a company communicates their why, and we believe in the same thing, we include their products or services in our lives.  We do that because they symbolize values or beliefs we share with them.  

It works also with any initiative or project

Using Sinek’s book as inspiration, I incorporated my purpose or vision as part of a new initiative or project launching.  Our team needs to know why we are doing what we are doing.  They need to learn or recognize the connection between the company values and the purpose of the new project.

Getting support for the new project or program is easier when team members can see how their work influences it.  In other words, how they can contribute to the company’s vision.  If your team believes in the company values, they will believe in that vision and will contribute to it.

The why of the project is the purpose for that project or initiative to exist.  What customers’ pain points the project address.  Explain the why simply so it is easier for your team to relate.  Once they understand the vision and see how it marries the company values and beliefs, they will commit.

The purpose or why is the true north.  It becomes the compass that will guide you and your team throughout the execution of the project.  Having this guidance during the entire journey will keep everybody focused on the end goal.  Also, it will ensure alignment with the company’s purpose or reason to exist.