CI 101

How is Communication in a Continuous Improvement Culture?

Poor communication affects productivity, quality, customer experience, and costs money.  According to David Grossman, as reported in his article The Cost of Poor Communications, the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding among 400 surveyed corporations in the U.S. and U.K. is $37 billion.  On top of that, many companies spend a good chunk of money every year in communication training.   If poor communication is so critical for the successful operation of any business, can you imagine how critical it is when you are trying to change the culture?  

Clarity of purpose and transparency are critical elements of the lean culture, effective communication is imperative.  To be able to inspire people with a shared vision of the future that the company wants to build using continuous improvement, you need clarity of purpose.  Everybody needs to know and understand how their daily work supports the company’s strategic vision.  To achieve the dramatic change from traditional to a continuous improvement culture, people need to trust.  Trust grows within the organization when transparency exists, and people receive the information they need.  For this, effective communication is an essential ingredient.

As a leader, your job is to communicate, 80% of the time you are communicating instructions, expectations, policies, news, standards, and others.  A leader in a continuous improvement culture is expected to be a role model and a teacher, which are forms of communication.

If you search for effective communication, you will find a lot of resources offering different characteristics and ways to achieve it.  One thing that I learned through my career is that you need to know when and where or how to communicate and to follow the three C’s of effective communication.

Know your audience

One of the best ways to quickly improve the effectiveness of your communication is to adapt your communication style to match your team member’s styles.  Who are you going to communicate with?  You need to know his or her communication style, how do they like to receive the information and the level of detail.  Adapt your vocabulary and examples used to the receiver.  Remember that not everybody understands the same kind of jargon.

Choose the best time to start your conversation.  Do not try to discuss something with a person who is in the middle of an important task.  Show respect, ask for a good time to talk.  Where the communication takes place is also influential. You don’t need a meeting for everything, sometimes a short conversation over a coffee is more than enough.  Other times an email is ok, but always remember that face to face communication is better.  If you choose to send a written communication schedule a follow-up conversation to ensure the message gets through as intended.

The three C’s of effective communication

All types of communication need to have at least these three basic characteristics, clarity, collaboration, and consistency.  

Communication has to be clear and simple, avoid fancy words if they are not critical to convey the message.  It has to be complete but concise to prevent misunderstanding and gives people the information they need.  

Effective communication is a collaborative process, in which two or more people contribute to the talking subject.  Communication is a two-way process where both parties send and receive information.  If you talk without expecting any interaction from the individual(s) you are talking with, you are making an announcement not communicating.  Don’t try to dominate the conversation, give other people a chance to express themselves.

Be consistent, commit to your message and act the same way always.  When your words and actions do not match, you lose trust, and credibility.  

Continuous improvement and lean need effective communication for its success.  Lean is a people-centric system, which means that the way you treat and communicate with the people is critical for success.  In continuous improvement, we want to make the standards and the deviation from them, visible.  We want to communicate the standards and performance against them.  5S, visual management, visual displays, kanban, and others are forms of communication.  They are tools to ensure transparency and keep the clarity of purpose by making the information and standards visible.  

Time Management

Is multitasking effective to increase productivity? Does it help with time management?

Do you know what the number one excuse to not deliver or complete something on time is? Yes, you guessed it, it’s a lack of time. Time management skills are very important for personal and professional success. Single parents and entrepreneurs are among those who need time management super skills.

When you wear multiple hats, the way you handle time determines whether or not you complete all the tasks you have scheduled. Being organized is one of those skills that help to manage your time better. Most people think that multitasking is an ability that helps to increase productivity but is not.

People who multitask decrease their productivity by 20-40% and are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time. Time lost switching among tasks increases the complexity of the tasks (University of Michigan)

Research in neuroscience tells us that the brain doesn’t do more than one task a time. Each time we move from one task to another, there is a start-stop process going on in the brain. Multitasking should be called switch-tasking, and is bad for productivity. For better time management, stop multitasking, it kills your focus. The skills you need to master are:

  1. Organization
    • Practice 5S in your office or work area
    • Organize your meetings and tasks throughout the day. Meetings are better early during the day because the time leading up to an event is often wasted.
    • Separate your routine, automatic tasks from the strategic ones. Strategic duties usually need a higher level of focus, schedule them for the daytime at which you are more productive.
    • Choose one subject for the day, for example, on Monday I work with everything related to budget and Tuesday is for project updates.
  2. Prioritization
    • Know your priorities and identify how you will measure progress. Assign deadlines for everything.
    • Identify the most important things for you and mark them on your calendar or agenda with a special color. Develop the habit of working with those first.
  3. Goal Setting
    • You have goals for your business, and you also have personal goals. Keep an eye on both, create the habit of reviewing them periodically.   
    • You cannot work with all at the same time, divide your goals for the year into smaller time buckets. 
    • Prioritize your goals while dividing in buckets, your yearly goals into months, month goals into weeks, and weeks into days.
  4. Planning
    • Be realistic while planning your daily activities. Regardless of how well you organize and plan, things happen.
    • Make time for the unexpected, plan for not more than 4-5 hours of work per day.
    • Remember those priorities? Always know the one thing you need to get done during the day and do it as early as possible.
  5. Communication
    • Communicate your priorities, goals, and plans with your team or family. Let others help you to be on track for success!
  6. Delegation
    • “If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate!” – John C. Maxwell

Remember, working more hours does not make you more productive, neither does multitasking. Work smarter, not harder!

CI Tools

What is Visual Control?

Road traffic safety is an example of visual controls

The ultimate goal of 5S is to create a visual workplace. Visual controls make problems visible, communicate status, and improve performance. They also guide people to stop or prevent abnormalities.

A key component of road traffic safety is the group of lane markings, traffic signs, and signals. Think about a street’s intersection. The traffic light and pedestrian crosswalk are visual controls. As a driver, if you are facing a red line, you know that your right of way has ended, and you stop. A pedestrian uses the pedestrian signals to know when it is safe to cross. In the workplace, you can use visual controls to warn when it is time to buy more office paper or to communicate that help is needed.

Everybody in the work area understands the visual control objectives and knows what to do with the information. They work because when looking at them, everybody understands the same thing and act the same way.

If you use a chart to show orders completed per hour, you should be able to know if there are delays by looking at it. What you see will tell you if there is a reason to hurry up or just relax and keep your pace. Another example is the red tags used in the Red Tag Campaign as part of 5S. These red labels indicate that something was out of place, and call your attention for action.

If you want to create visual controls remember the following:

  • Make the team part of the visual control design process.
  • It must be visible at a distance, choose wisely the font type, color, and size.
  • Avoid cluttered signs and charts, it has to be easy to understand.
  • Use color code and fewer words whenever is possible.
  • Visuals communicate a standard and actual performance.
  • Ensure that the entire team knows what it is, the objective and rules. Even when they participate in the design process, a meeting or training to share those details is important. This will ensure everybody understands the same thing and reacts the same way to the signals.

In future posts, I will talk more about examples. For now, look around and identify visual controls around. Think about how you can apply this tool in your business. Any ideas?