What are the characteristics of a kaizen facilitator?

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

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

Characteristics of a kaizen facilitator

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

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

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

Emotional intelligence skills are another characteristic of a kaizen facilitator

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

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

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

A facilitator must have technical skills

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

How 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.

What can derail your transformation effort?

what can derail your transformation

Currently, I am planning a complete site assessment.  It is a preliminary step before the creation of the transformation roadmap.   While working on it, I couldn’t help but remember an experience I had various years ago.  During that time, I was the leader of the continuous improvement transformation. Despite my best effort, it was not successful.  What did I do wrong?  Where did we fail as a team?  Some years passed and quite some reflection time as well before I realized what derailed that effort.  What can derail the transformation?

Not understanding what you are getting into might derail your transformation.

There are various misconceptions regarding continuous improvement.  As a result, many entrepreneurs decide to start their journey believing some of them.  For instance, many times, the reason to initiate the effort is cited as costs reduction.  Here are some misconceptions that can derail the transformation.

Continuous improvement is not a cost reduction initiative.  Furthermore, it is not a tools supermarket where you can pick and choose what you like.  CI or lean is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  It is different for each company, even for each site.  The transformation is not fast or straightforward.  For instance, it is a slow process with moments of success followed by setbacks. Also, it is common to have times with total clarity of purpose followed by thousands of doubts.  The lack of understanding of all these facts soon will become challenges that leadership is not prepared to deal with.

To overcome the inevitable challenges, leadership needs to understand that lean is a people’s system. CI is not about using tools.  The company culture needs to change its focus from financial profit to their people’s development and customer satisfaction.  The transformation from traditional to continuous improvement requires being humble and courageous.  It is not easy to be vulnerable and willing to expose your weaknesses as a leader.  Neither is to let go of the control of the day-to-day operation.  

Misalignment between company goals and continuous improvement

Traditionally, company goals are different for each department.  Therefore, each team member will work towards department goals that do not promote collaboration.  This type of goal perpetuates the silo mentality, which is a CI thinking killer.

In a continuous improvement environment, the goal is to provide the customer with the highest quality, at a lower cost, in the shortest amount of time.   For that reason, the collective goals focus on productivity, quality, cost, delivery time, safety, and morale.  People from different departments collaborate to achieve those goals.    

Not having the top leadership buy-in will derail the transformation

The buy-in and support from leadership are key for a successful CI journey.  Their support is critical to building the CI fundamentals into the company culture.  Alignment between KPI’s and metrics with the company goals is crucial for success.  Leadership is responsible for ensuring this happens, and therefore CI focus will be the right one.  

A unified front from this group will help overcome the challenges, setbacks, and resistance to change. One of their responsibilities will be to learn the continuous improvement fundamentals and tools and teach their team. They become students and teachers, modeling the new behaviors and focusing on long-term strategy instead of day-to-day decisions.

Conclusion

Knowing what can derail your company’s culture transformation is the first step to avoid those mistakes.  Educate yourself and your team before starting your journey.  Learn about the elements for a successful continuous improvement transformation.  Perhaps, it is a good idea to find a responsible and CI transformation seasoned person to help.

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.  

Innovation and continuous improvement

Some people think that continuous improvement or lean conflicts with innovation.  In other words, that lean kills innovation.  However, that is not true both go hand in hand.  Let’s see how.

The power of innovation within continuous improvement

One critic about continuous improvement that I heard often is that the structure does not allow creativity.  CI indeed organizes the thinking process and has some core elements that are not negotiable.  On the other hand, it promotes skills development as a way to show respect.  And it is there where the innovation power of lean or continuous improvement resides.

How it works

To be able to empower your team, you need to develop the skills they need.  Hand-on training to learn the tools is not enough to succeed.  Self-discipline to behave and think the continuous improvement way is critical.  The structure provided by tools like PDCA and 5S helps to build that discipline.   

For example, the traditional way to solve problems is by using past experiences to guess the best solution.  But with PDCA, you have to define the problem by going where the problem happens to see for yourself, ask questions, and gather data.  It also uses promotes a team approach.  Various minds working together enriches both the problem definition and countermeasures identification.  

The most important lesson of PDCA occurs at the end of the process.  During the last step, act or adapt, you verify if the actions taken solved the problem.  It also encourages you to reflect upon the results, what work, and what didn’t.  The discussion of the lessons learned opens the gates of innovation by opening minds to endless opportunities.

Reflection

Reflection generates learning by making us look at our actions and their consequences.  Doing this requires looking at assumptions and reactions while examining the lessons learned.   The act of reflecting upon our actions also help to develop creative thinking skills.  

Once your mind starts to question how things work or how you can do it better, you will keep looking for answers.  Curiosity is the source of invention.  Being curious about things keeps your mind sharp on what happens or not.  Being curious opens your eyes to new ideas.

Engagement and innovation 

Boredom is a leading indicator of engagement.  Doing the same thing every day is boring.  And boredom kills engagement and consequently innovation.  They have time to think about how much they don’t like their work and start looking for a new one.  On the other hand, if they feel that their skills are valued and can visualize themselves growing with the company, their engagement increases.

One tenet of continuous improvement is to respect the people.  One way to show respect is to provide the environment and opportunities to learn new skills.  Being able to contribute to the company’s future in a meaningful way is a great motivator.  It will not only improve their work performance but also their attitude towards life.  A team member that finishes the workday feeling good about it will arrive home with much better humor.  Therefore, family time will be as rewarding and positive as it should be.

A mind free of work concerns and frustration is a mind ready to create and innovate!

Conclusion

CI does not restrict thinking.  On the contrary, it provides a way to standardize routine tasks, allowing time and energy to use their talents and creativity.  When they have the power to change and improve their workplace, they will engage in finding ways to improve.  With self-discipline, they will pursue daily small improvement steps.  With each step, their curiosity will grow.  And with it, the appetite for asking why and getting answers with data will grow as well.  As a result, they will have breakthrough ideas, new concepts, and ways to do things.  Curiosity is the source of invention. It is not a matter of whether innovation will happen, but when.

Where should be the focus of continuous improvement?

While transforming the company culture from traditional to continuous improvement, where should be the focus?

The most common errors while implementing continuous improvement is to focus on one small area. Do it in such a way, you are impacting only a portion of your business and not the entire enterprise. It is common to focus on the most visible parts. For example, start with areas with labor-intensive processes or warehousing, where most of the inventory resides. There is nothing wrong with using one problematic zone as the initial focal point. This way, you can earn a big win and use it to promote the initiative. But, focusing on one area should not a permanent strategy.

Focus on one area only affects the impact of the transformation

Your goal is to deliver to your customer the highest quality, at the lowest possible cost, in the shortest possible time.  To achieve this goal, you need to focus on your customer needs, ensure flow through the value stream, and create quality products or services.  You need the help of all the different components or teams to make this happen.

Focusing on one area, regardless of how problematic it may be, have the immediate effect of perpetuating the silos mentality.  You want to promote collaboration and to have people from different departments working together to achieve common goals.  Impacting only one department does not improve collaboration, not even when you have a cross-discipline group.

Focusing on anything less than the entire enterprise is missing the opportunity to achieve real changes in flow, quality, and costs that would position your business in a better place than most of your competitors.  Let’s face it everybody is happier when the company’s financials are better, and a big impact on those numbers only happens with the participation of all departments.

A narrow focus does not change the culture

If you want to have a permanent change in how things are done and create a new business model, you need to change the culture.  This type of change, by definition, has to impact everybody.  If you recall, Culture change, lean thinking & people’s development are some of the key elements for a successful lean implementation.

While focusing on one department only, most probably, you are picking a couple of tools or principles only, ignoring those that will help to develop your team.  Lean is not about tools; it is about the people.  Using new tools for process improvement to obtain quick results is not right.  You need to be in the look for people’s development, including your own.  When you focus on the team, provides the right environment to learn, explore new ways to do things, and communicate without hesitation, the improvements will come along.  

The team needs a common purpose

Knowing how their work connects to the value the company provides to the customer gives your employees clarity to connect their actions with the final results.  The new culture will create a team of problem-solvers, people that think differently and are motivated to create.      

Conclusion

Continuous improvement as a strategy to improve quality, lead-time, or minimize cost will give you additional benefits when it is implemented in the right way.  Other benefits include an increase in customer satisfaction and employee engagement and flexibility to face an unexpected crisis. Implementing this strategy across the house leads to better results.

Start by knowing your current status in detail.  What are those big-time issues that are affecting your bottom line the most?  Identify your business strengths and weaknesses.  Select three to five key objectives, establish a goal, and develop strategies to close the gap.  Choose them wisely, use your resources on the most pressing issues.  You can impact different areas like quality, cost, delivery, safety, or people development.  Break down the strategy into bite-sized plans.  Do not forget to include how to deploy the implementation throughout the entire business.

How to promote lean methods and tools? One of the leadership’s daily responsibilities to create a continuous improvement culture.

For a successful continuous improvement journey, there are five things that leaders have to do daily.

  1. Review job environment and satisfaction
  2. Develop our people first and motivate participation
  3. Demand leadership responsibility
  4. Develop new behavior patterns
  5. Promote lean thinking and insist on following the new methods and tools

I already discuss the first four, and today is the turn for the last one, Promote & Insist on Lean Methods/Tools. One of the leaderships’ responsibilities is to model the new behaviors, like the use of continuous improvement methods and tools.

We know that communication within a CI culture has to be clear, consistent, and collaborative.  The promotion of lean methods and tools need to have the same characteristics.  Leadership has to visit the value-creating area (gemba) every day, and while they are there, use the principles and tools that are appropriate for what they see.  One skill that lean practitioners learn over time is to identify and act upon those learning opportunities that present themselves while visiting the work areas.  Take advantage of every opportunity you can.  

Lean thinking is for every day, every time, in every department, by everybody.  This statement is true even when things are not going as expected.  During those times that things got worse instead of improving is critical to insist on using the CI principles and tools.  Why?  Because that is the moment that the non-believers and road-blockers are waiting for, the time when things are unacceptable and you, back-up from the new culture behavior.

The integrated use of tools like 5s, visual management, gemba walks, huddle meetings, and problem-solving using PDCA is the perfect vehicle to convey the clarity of purpose, transparency, and collaboration needed for a successful implementation.  They also promote standardization, focus on shared goals, effective communication, visualization of current vs. standard, learning, motivation, and engagement.  The best way to promote lean thinking is to accomplish your responsibilities as a leader.  Learning, teaching, and modeling the new behavior day in and day out is how you will do it.  Nobody is perfect, admitting that you don’t know and that you make mistakes is a way to show respect to your team and be a good leader. Show what to do and how to do it. Telling without showing will not be enough.

How is Communication in a Continuous Improvement Culture?

how communication is in continuous improvement

Have you ever wonder how communication is in continuous improvement? Poor communication affects productivity, quality, customer experience. Also, it costs money. David Grossman wrote the article titled The Cost of Poor Communications. He reported that the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding is $37 billion. The article use information from 400 surveyed corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom. On top of that, many companies spend a good chunk of money every year on communication training.   

Poor communication is critical for the successful operation of any business. Consequently, can you imagine how critical it is when you are trying to change the culture?  For instance, let’s see how communication is in continuous improvement.

Communication in continuous improvement is clear and transparent

Clarity of purpose and transparency are critical elements of the lean culture. Therefore, effective communication is imperative to convey a shared vision of the future that the company wants to build. To inspire people with that vision, you need clarity of purpose. For instance, everybody needs to know and understand how their daily work supports the company’s strategic vision. Moreover, to achieve the dramatic change from a 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.

As a leader, your job is to communicate. For instance, 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. These two tasks are forms of communication.

Many sources offer advice to achieve effective communication. For me, one thing is clear, you need to know when and where or how to communicate. Also, I learned that you need 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. You need to know his or her communication style. How do they like to receive the information? Also, how much detail do they like? Adapt your vocabulary and examples 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.  Besides, where and how 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.  However, 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.  

Communication in continuous improvement

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.  

Self-discipline, 10 Ways to help your team to build it.

To create new habits you need to build self-discipline.

To achieve a successful continuous improvement culture implementation, leadership needs to Develop new behavior patterns.  They will learn and teach new skills to the team. This is by itself a monumental task.  To achieve success, self-discipline is going to be paramount.

How do you motivate your employees while helping them to create new habits?  

Ten things you can do to help the team to build self-discipline.

  1. Model the new behaviors every day, go to gemba, ask with respect, and always explain why.  Set a good example, teach your team how to do it, be consistent and persistent.  
  2. Foster an environment of respect and collaboration.
  3. Encourage daily improvements, kaizen events, PDCA, and root cause analysis.
  4. Take your time to listen, get to know your team, and become a teacher and a facilitator.
  5. Give feedback often, create a reward system and a formal performance appraisal program, including a development plan.
  6. Give specific instructions and communicate clear expectations, follow-up, and assess.
  7. Ensure everybody knows the performance metrics used to measure success and make them visible.  
  8. Conduct daily stand-up or huddle meetings, discuss what we did good, what we can improve.  Celebrate the wins!
  9. Promote customer satisfaction to see the process from customer lenses.
  10. Be present, visit the workplace every day, not just when there are problems.  And when you go, acknowledge the good things your team is doing and come back with at least one improvement idea.

Why do you need it in continuous improvement

During a transformation from traditional to continuous improvement, the entire team will need to learn new habits. Self-discipline is the vehicle to let go of old habits and embrace the new ones. The heart of the continuous improvement or lean system is a highly flexible and motivated team member that is always improving.  

When employees participate in daily improvement activities, they see the benefits of the new culture.  Some of those activities are housekeeping, small improvement steps, problem-solving, and standards review. Becoming an integral part of the company’s success makes the team feel they have a meaningful job. When leadership takes time to listen, teach and learn from them, they build trust and discipline.