CI 101

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.

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.  

CI 101, Leadership

10 Ways to help your team to build self-discipline

To achieve a successful continuous improvement culture implementation, leadership needs to Develop new behavior patterns.  Leadership will learn new skills and teach them to the team at the same time, which is a monumental task.  Everybody will have to practice self-discipline 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.  How do you motivate your employees while helping them to create new habits?  Here is a list of ten things you can do to help them 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, which includes a real development plan.
  6. Give specific instructions and communicate clear expectations, follow-up, and assess.
  7. Ensure everybody knows what performance metrics are 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.

When employees participate daily in housekeeping, small improvement steps, problem-solving, and standards review they start to see the difference from the previous culture and understand the benefits of the continuous improvement culture.  Learning and becoming an integral part of the company’s success are ways to make them feel that their work is meaningful, and you appreciate it.  When leadership is showing them what to do and how to do it they not only learn but start to build trust and discipline to do what is expected.

CI 101

How to achieve the key elements for continuous improvement success

From What are the key elements for CI success? we know that for a successful continuous improvement implementation we need the following.

  1. Leadership buy-in and support
  2. Culture change, lean thinking & people’s development
  3. Effective Communication every step of the way
  4. Use the right CI tools, create your own toolbox
  5. Continuous improvement everywhere, every day, by everybody

As a business owner or top leader of your organization, you have a huge responsibility to make this happen. The implementation is something that you should not delegate.  If you don’t know how to do it or if you are not familiar with it, find a responsible coach to guide you through this journey.  There are a few fundamental actions to ride successfully the implementation road.  

  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 discussed the first one in the post How does the work environment affect the lean implementation? The job environment review is critical to understand how the company culture will affect the implementation.  Complete this action before you start to practice continuous improvement.  Incorporate other as part of your daily job as a top leader.  Today I will cover the second action, develop our people first, and motivate participation.

The mission of continuous improvement is to develop team skills.  Respect for the people is at the core of lean thinking and is one of the top three characteristics of the right work environment for CI success.  One of the lean thinking principles is that the people doing the work design it and solve the 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.  The leaders are now coaches, not bosses.

Link the company Vision and Mission statements to the continuous improvement activities.  Align those activities to the company goals and objectives.  Continuous improvement is not a project but part of everybody’s daily work and should be part of their performance review.  Ensure that these things are communicated, discussed, and explain to everybody.

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, incentive program, and 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, make sure to provide enough theory to support the hands-on activities.   

The success of the new culture and CI implementation is based on communication, teamwork, alignment between objectives and actions, motivation, and training.  Regardless of how difficult the journey may be, always use Lean Thinking as your North.

CI Tools

What is Leader Standard Work?

The fundamental ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  It is impossible to create a culture without the active participation and support of leadership.  Most of the time, leaders at all levels have to learn continuous improvement principles and tools along with their team.  But that is the easy part, the challenging one, is to move away from traditional thinking and adopt a completely different way to behave, think, solve problems, communicate and relate to others.  

In other words, leaders looking to use continuous improvement and lean thinking need to build a new business persona.  This journey will help you to reflect on how you manage or supervise now and build new habits for the future.   Some people say it takes 21 days to build a habit, while others claim it takes up to 66 days.  I don’t know the right answer, but I know that building the habits required to successfully change a culture takes more than a couple of months of practice.

One tool that helps with leadership changes in behavior is Leader Standard Work.  Standard work ensures consistent results and is the baseline upon which improvements are made.  Leader standard work is a description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to drive continuous improvement and Lean thinking throughout the organization.

Leader standard work is usually presented as a form or checklist with daily tasks, as well as space for additional tasks specific for the day.  You can divide the daily tasks by time-specific, like meetings and non-time specific.  A different approach is to divide tasks into sections.  For example, before, during, and at the end of the shift.  Like many other things with continuous improvement, you can select the format that makes more sense for you and your business.

The following are things that you should include in your Leader Standard Work because they support and promote continuous improvement.

  • Daily team meetings
  • Walk the area where value is created
  • Observe out of normal situations
  • Support continuous improvement activities
  • Follow-up performance vs. objectives
  • Set direction, ask and answer questions
  • Reflection
  • Plan the next day

Although many can say that using a form to guide what you have to do through the day is too restrictive and takes away the flexibility to deal with daily problems, it is the contrary.  Remember, you are building a new habit, a new way of doing business.  The form will help you to create that habit and make you focus on those things that will help to identify out of standard situations before they become a problem.  It will take time, but in the end, you will see the benefits of seeing things by yourself and not relying on reports with outdated information.  Lean is about learning, experimenting, and reflection on the results to keep learning and improving.  As a leader, you set the example by doing what you expect your team does.

This is like whey you are trying to build the habit of jogging or have a walk daily. It is hard, but over time you will get the benefits, will get used to it and doing it is almost like breathing.