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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.  

What are the key roles for successful kaizen?

continuous improvement or kaizen event

Planning and executing a continuous improvement event is a team activity.  The team participating in the event is vital for its success.  But there are other equally critical key roles.  These roles are executive sponsor, value-stream manager, facilitator, event coordinator, and team-leader.  Let’s see the responsibilities of each one.

Key roles for direction and support

The executive sponsor is typically a C-suite leader, vice-president, senior leader, general manager, or plant manager.  His/her job is to provide direction and support to the event.  For instance, the sponsor will talk at the beginning of the event to clarify that a successful activity is necessary for company performance.  Moreover, the achievements of this type of exercise will not risk anyone’s job.

Frequently, the value-stream manager is a vice-president, director, or middle manager.  It is someone that has the authority to approve policy-related changes.  In addition, he or she has the power to approve improvements that can impact regulatory, financial, safety, or a critical process. The value-stream manager works with the event coordinator and participates in the planning and preparation stages.  Another duty is to communicate complete support to the event and the team.  Above all, should be present during the event ready to answer questions and remove barriers.

Key roles for planning

The event coordinator is responsible for the logistics of the event.  For example, coordinate the event date(s), reserve the room, and send out invitations.  Another task is to ensure that all necessary equipment and materials are available.  The coordinator is part of the team whose responsibility is to identify the best team members.  The other people responsible for this task are the value-stream manager and the HR manager.

Event Execution Roles

The facilitator is responsible for leading the event.  Sometimes, the event coordinator and the facilitator are the same people.  This situation is typical when the company has a seasoned staff in CI matters.  The facilitator participates in planning, team selection, and event logistics.  Also, it is part of the follow-up and post-event reflection.

In general, the team leader is the team member with the most knowledge in the process.  This position may not be necessary if the event is led by an internal facilitator.  But, if the facilitator is a consultant or external resource, the team leader is an advisor.  The facilitator will ask this person for advice or help when needed. 

External help for your kaizen event

If you are starting and have never done an event, you may want to hire an outside professional as your facilitator.  The objective of a good external facilitator is to help you to become a skilled facilitator and coordinator.  A good consultant will work with all the key roles in the planning, event execution, implementation, and follow-up of the event.  He or she will teach each member how to fulfill their role successfully.  Also, will let all key roles member to do their tasks while coaching them.  

Are you ready for your first continuous improvement event?  If you have doubts or need help to start your improvement journey, call Better Process Solutions.  We can help! 

Small Steps philosophy as a way of life

The first time I read Gemba Kaizen by Masaaki Imai, I was a junior manager responsible for several production lines.  The concept of improving processes by taking small steps at a time capture my attention.  It was the beginning of a never-ending learning process in continuous improvement.  I believe in this philosophy; it drives the way I work and make decisions.  I don’t remember when I started, but one day I realize that kaizen or the art of improving by taking small steps was my way of life.  I was learning and improving how I do things all the time.

Small steps as way of life 

After that realization, I started to consciously apply the basic concepts of some tools in my house.  For example, I started to use 5S to ensure I kept everything in my kitchen, closets, and garage organized.  My father learned that if he put things in their place, he wasted no time when he needed them again.  I also use kanban for my groceries to ensure that I don’t run out of my favorite items or over-stock the less used items.  Visual management becomes a staple in my calendars, inbox, and agendas.  

Over the years, I roll out my home CI initiatives to improve home tasks, from cooking to gardening.  I used PDCA to cut time, distance, and other types of waste.  The strategy I follow is to change things in small steps.  I create small steps by breaking a task into smaller pieces.  I do a plan for each assignment, test it, learn the result, and adjust.  

When I started gardening, I had no clue what I was doing.  In the beginning, I bought grown plants at local stores.  After work, I used to relax while taking care of them.  That was fun, but I wanted more. Therefore, I start reading and learning what types of vegetables grow in my area. The first year I took note of everything I did.  At the end of the season, I noted what worked and what didn’t.  I kept doing that every year, learning more and taking small risks at a time.  My gardening skills are much better now, and the number of vegetables harvested each season is growing.

Small steps to create or break a habit, or develop a skill

CI is useful for creating a habit, break a habit, or develop new skills.  The formation of a new habit has three steps, a trigger, the routine, and the reward.  Make sure that the new routine is a small step.  I know it works but, I could not explain why until I read the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life:  The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer.

In his book, he explains how to overcome fear and procrastination with seven small steps.  He also talks about how the reptilian brain governs the fight-or-flight response that keeps us alive in the face of danger.  When something triggers fear, this response kicks in to sabotage your intentions.  The trick to achieving change is to think of small steps.  Maurer recommends asking your brain what one small step you could take toward reaching your goal.  Small questions or small steps keep the fight-or-flight response in off position.

Fear paralyze us, use small steps to keep going

Fear or uncomfortable feelings keep us from doing things that we don’t like.  When you faced a situation you don’t like, the flight mode kicks in.  As a result, you ignore the event until you can’t anymore.  By then, it is a hot mess, only because you did not deal with it before.  It is better to listen to the warning signs and gut feelings that tell you that something is wrong. Once you recognized the warning, deal with a small problem and not a big one.    

A different way to see and do things

The secret to your success is to take small steps.  Sounds funny, even silly, but it works.  Before we learn to run, we learn to crawl, take one step while holding onto something, and then walk without help.  Breaking a task into smaller pieces makes sense.  It allows you to grasp the situation and deal with it with greater chances of success.  Many small wins add up to a big win.  Do not let fear paralyze you.  Keep going, one small step at a time.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Mark Twain

Continuous improvement books for beginners

continuous improvement books

I learned that February is the library lovers’ month.  Many of us don’t visit libraries anymore, but still, keep our love for books.  In my case, I have a weak spot for continuous improvement books.  Books are an excellent way to learn, find inspiration, or have a good time.  My CI learning experience includes traditional classroom training, webinars, hands-on workshops, and others.  But my favorite way to learn more about CI is by reading books.  Perhaps, it is because I can go at my pace, reading, learning, and practicing.

Continuous improvement books

There are thousands of books about CI out there.  Although there are real gems, there are also some that are not very good.  As a result, finding the right one can be difficult.  Some publications are best suited for beginners, while others are for people with some experience.  

Here is a list of my favorite CI titles

  1. Gemba Kaizen by Masaaki Imai – This book is an introduction to kaizen and gemba.  Although the book contains all the traditional lean jargon, it is easy to read. In addition, includes various case studies including hospitals, product development, ground transportation, and logistics.  
  2. Lean Production Simplified by Pascal Dennis – The title says it all, it contains a simplified explanation of the lean system.  The book includes a description of various concepts like five S, visual management, standardize work, and others.
  3. The lean turnaround by Art Byrne – If you are an executive looking to start a culture transformation, this is the one for you.  It focuses on lean as a strategy to create value and transform the company.
  4. Lean Office and Service Simplified by Drew Locher – If you work in an office or service environment, look no further.  The author presents all lean principles and concepts from a non-manufacturing perspective.  He describes how to use tools like value-stream, standard work, flow, visual management, and others.  In addition, it provides several examples and implementation strategies.
  5. The Toyota Way to Service Excellence by Jeffrey K. Liker and Karyn Ross –   The authors explain how to use the lean principles, practices, and tools to provide better services.  Moreover, it contains case studies in various service industries.  The examples include financial services, telecommunications, health care, and insurance.
  6. People: A leader’s day-to-day guide to building, managing, and sustaining lean organizations by Robert Martichenko, Steve Gran, Roger Pearce, & 4 more – This book is a leaders’ guide to build and sustain a lean organization.  It provides guidance for all the tasks, activities, and behaviors a leader needs to transform the organization and get long-term success.  
  7. Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones – This publication is a best seller classic.   It goes from the principles to lean thinking to action, presenting how to close the gap between customers and providers.  It also has case studies to explain those concepts.  One of them is Wiremold Company with Art Byrne as its president and CEO.  Yes, you are right, he is the author of the #3 on my list.

You read continuous improvement books, and then what?

The short answer to that question is that you learn, explore, and practice lean.  Learn new ways to do things.  Second, you explore how to apply those ways within your business.  Third, you keep learning by teaching others how to do it.  And third, you keep learning and practicing.  

The secret to a continuous improvement culture transformation is that lean, or CI, is a system, not a group of tools.  The focus should be on the people and the learning process.  One common mistake is to spend too much time learning and using tools.  Instead, focus on working with the people.  The real success is, being able to engage your team in CI.  That is to say, do not waste your time reading books unless you are committed to learn and teach.  

What else you can do?

To increase your learning opportunities, combine reading books with hands-on workshops and training.  For even better results, get a serious professional to help you along the journey.  We all need a coach or mentor to guide us through the challenging steps of transforming a culture.  Here in Better Process Solutions, we are ready to help.  Get in touch!