How do you build a new habit?

Every New Year, millions of people around the world make new year resolutions. They pledge to build a new habit. It can be to lose weight, stop smoking or learn a new skill. Perhaps, in your business or workplace, you want to create new work habits. For example, making continuous improvement thinking, the only way to work.

How our brain reacts when building new habits

There is evidence that the brain rewards us for fast thinking by activating pleasure centers and punishes us for slow thinking by activating the pain centers.  That situation comes from the time our ancestors have to think quickly to survive the elements, animals, and other existential threats.  How do you fight against thousands of years of fast responses?  

How to build a new habit

Years ago, I was struggling with creating the habit of exercising and started looking for information to learn how to form that habit.  I found that the formation of every habit has three steps, a trigger, the routine, and the reward.

The trigger starts the process or habit you are pursuing.  It can be a place, a feeling or emotion, time of the day, or a reminder in your calendar.  If you are going to do something effortlessly, without thinking about it, your brain needs to know what the reward will be.  For our ancestors, the prize was survival.  The reward can be a feeling, like the satisfaction of helping others, winning, learning, getting one step closer to a goal, or whatever makes you feel happy or good.  The reward must be something that you crave, something that you want to repeat.

After you figure out the trigger and the reward, it is time to create the new routine or behavior that you want to become a habit.  The trigger will remind you that it is time to follow the action you want to pursue. 

Does this work?

This analysis and the process that follows make sense for me. When I reflected on it, I realize that I unconsciously follow it. As a production planner, I could not visit the production floor on most days. I knew that the only way to find out why we could not follow the schedule was by observing what was going on and talking with the right people. I force myself to go it by blocking time in my calendar. The notification was the trigger I need it to stop what I was doing and go. I didn’t know it, but I was creating a habit.

Helping your team to build a new habit

To help your team to build self-discipline, you have to create some habits for yourself, like going to gemba every day or take time for daily coaching.  When your team sees that you are creating habits they will feel compelled to do the same.  Make sure that you are consistent, do not fail yourself or the team by not following your daily routines.  Building habits to change old behaviors takes a lot of discipline, focus, and more than a couple of months of practice.  Of course, this short analysis can also help you with your new year resolutions.

How to show respect in the cell phone age.

Communication in the cell phone age

The other day I was browsing for pictures for one of my posts.  When I wrote the keywords communication and talking, most of the photos that I got back were people with cell phones or computers!  I know that the result depends on the algorithms used on that particular application, but yet, it was choking me. It drove my mind to think about a simple way to show respect in the cell phone age.

In what world we live, that all the talking is through electronic devices! A lot of the communication in and out of workplaces is through emails and text messages.  You look around, and all you see is people staring down at their devices.  You can see it everywhere, while in line in the supermarket, during break time, and even while in a restaurant with friends or loved ones!  We don’t talk anymore!  

What I am describing here, happens before COVID. Now, virtual communication is a blessing. But I am referring here to what happened before and for sure will continue after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Respect for the people, listen and be present

That situation kept me thinking about the continuous improvement tenet of respect for the people and how much we need to apply it to our lives.  I would be hypocritical if I don’t use the principles of CI to improve myself as a person.  Listening is the most basic way to show respect. If we seek to listen to our co-workers daily, why not with family and friends?  What happened with being present? 

Be present, even when not in the same place

This year, the holiday season is going to be harder than ever.  Many of us are going to be away from our families and friends.  Some will have a hard time putting themself in the celebration mood because they lost family members through this year, or a job, or their life savings.  

For all these reasons, it is important to reach out to family and friends.  We can revive those things from the past like a postcard or a handwritten letter.  We can send a care package full of love, simple things like a nice picture of better times, and some treats.  But the ultimate gift will be the gift of being present.  With some, you can be present through a simple phone conversation or any of those video applications.  With those living with you, be present by dedicating time without phones, tablets, or any other electronic devices.  Let’s practice the art of conversation and be present!

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership focuses on the development and well-being of the people.

Many years ago, the company I was working with was getting ready for a transformation.  The hourly rate structure had too many classifications. Also, it had a great variety of job functions. I team up with the human resources team to create the new structure.  

After a detailed analysis of every function and its responsibilities, we combined some functions and created new names for them.  The HR manager suggested changing the Supervisor’s position name to Facilitators.  I did not understand why. 100% of my peers did not understand either.

Fast forward a couple of years, and now I am leading the lean implementation. During a meeting, my lean coach brought up the concept of servant leadership. It was the first time I heard about it. He explained that continuous improvement is a people-centric system. Leadership’s job is to take care of the team. Facilitate events and teach tools are a secondary job. The tools are important, but it is the people who matter, he said.

Servant leadership is a different way to do things. It is a distinctive leadership style or attitude.  A Servant Leader focuses on the development and well-being of the people.  The employees are first!  Therefore, the leader’s job is to develop more leaders by teaching, motivating, facilitating, and supporting the team.  Below are examples of how you can be a better leader.

Servant leadership and Teaching

  • With teaching and mentoring, you get people to do things that otherwise they wouldn’t. These skills and experiences change their work and their entire life.  
  • A servant leader creates the right environment for learning and building trust.
  • It also handover the tools needed to be safe and effective.  

Motivate

  • Encourage exploring new things and testing different ways to get better results.  
  • Follow-up on suggestions and ideas. Seen your ideas implemented is a powerful motivation.

Facilitate & Support

  • Facilitate and endorse collaboration between teams by promoting participation in kaizen to solve cross-functional problems.
  • Give them information, resources, and better work environments to ensure success.
  • Provide the right continuous improvement support system. For example, provide training schedules, suggestion programs, quality circles, daily improvements, and fair compensation systems.
  • Understand and support the team all the time, regardless they succeed or not. Moreover, show that in continuous improvement, you win, or you learn.  
  • Not everybody learns at the same pace, be patient and empathic. Help the team to achieve what they believe is not possible. Also, to trust their skills.

Practicing Servant Leadership

To be a servant leader, focus on the needs of others before your own. Every day, go and see what is going on for yourself. Experience the facts firsthand and listen to their concerns and ideas. Learn about them as individuals, get to know the person behind the team member. Establish a relationship with your team and create the right environment for people to flourish. Are you ready to be a servant leader? Can you understand now why the name Facilitator was not such a bad idea? I do.

Leadership responsibilities, what is their role in continuous improvement?

leadership responsibilities while transforming the company culture

Leadership defines the organizational culture, and the company culture determines how employees react to the news regarding continuous improvement or lean implementation.  For that reason, they carry a heavyweight to change, model, and sustain the new culture.  In my last post, I listed five actions to achieve the elements of a successful CI implementation.  Today I will discuss the third one, which is to Demand leadership responsibilities.

Leadership responsibilities for a successful continuous improvement journey

We can summarize their new responsibilities in five pieces. 

  1. Understand the current culture and learn what needs to change to have a CI culture.
  2. Learn continuous improvement principles by doing.
  3. Develop the team by teaching what they just learn.
  4. Motivate participation.
  5. Model the new behavior.

Learn about the current culture and the challenges to change it

Just as the CEO or top leader had to study the current culture and how it would affect implementation, other leaders have to do the same.  It is important to see the difference between present practices and continuous improvement culture.  They need to understand how the current situation will affect their implementation efforts.

Change creates stress on employees; how much depends on the culture.  When employees do not trust management, the level of stress will be higher. The fear of losing the job or getting new responsibilities will affect their performance and the reaction to those changes.  Effective communication is critical to relay the correct message.  The leadership group should explain what is going to happen, when, how, answer their questions, and clarify doubts. 

Modeling new behaviors is part of the leadership responsibilities

As the top leader, you have to model this behavior and show them what you expect to see.  Although you can expect some resistance, keep coaching them, take your time to ensure they learn the basic concepts.  Be calm and patient but do not accept deviations from the expected behavior.  Those who cannot adopt the new model become roadblocks.  There are only two options for them, they learn and adapt, or unfortunately, they will have to go.  

Learning new behaviors and ways to do things is never easy.  When you have to learn and teach your team, what you are just learning, it makes you feel uneasy.  Supervisors and managers are used to having all the answers, that is what people expect from them.  During this journey, they will learn while they are teaching.  They will realize how much they learned, or not at the moment they have to explain those principles and tools to their team.  They will feel vulnerable not knowing the answers or making the mistakes.  One of the first things that everybody needs to learn, is that in continuous improvement it is ok to make mistakes.  Continuous improvement is about using a systematic approach to learn about the process and improve it, one step at a time.  

Learn something and teach your team

The beauty of this is that while the leader learns, the team learns as well.  It is a welcome change when they see that their supervisor is learning and doing the same as they are.  While the leaders become coaches, the team is empowered to learn new things, and unleash their creativity to improve their own work.  It is important to highlight that these coaches are going to teach by showing how to do it, follow-up for questions or doubts, and then let go.  They are not supposed to have all the answers, the team is driving the solution to the millions of little problems they have every day.  

It is a leadership job to walk the working areas to observe the process, ask questions with respect when they notice that there is a deviation between the standard and the actual performance, and challenge the team to fix it.  It is also their job to support the team and help by providing resources and removing roadblocks when it is needed.  They need to model the behaviors they are asking their team to have.  There is no more do what I say, not what I do.  Effective leaders lead by example.  It is part of their daily job to promote lean thinking and insist on using the CI tools.As long as leadership keeps fulfilling their continuous improvement responsibilities, implementation will keep going and slowly, but surely, the culture will change.  This entire process takes time, blood, and tears, but all that is nothing compared with the rewards.

How do you show your team that you care?

The heart of any business is the employees. Regardless of your experience and skills, you cannot be successful on your own. Your team determines your business success. The most prosperous companies recognize that and transform their operations to be people-centric. If your people will be the focus, how do you show your team that you care?

Your team, business goals, and you

We know that when you take care of your team, your team takes care of your customers. The only way to deliver the highest quality of service at the lowest cost is by taking care of the heart of your business. That is to say, that to achieve your business goals, you need to take care of your employees. What does it mean to take care of your people?

Before you show your team that you care, start caring about you

As a leader, one of your top responsibilities is your development and the development of your people. It is like the oxygen mask on the airplanes, you need to put yours first, and then you can help others. Similarly, you need to develop your leadership skills before teaching and mentoring your team.

How is it to be a good leader? Good leaders have excellent communication skills and listen without judging. Also, they are grateful to their team and help their people to be successful. They see not only the employee but the human being. Good leaders show respect and have open and honest conversations.

Show your team that you care

The best way to show respect is by treating people like human beings and not as machines. For instance, understand their needs and create an environment to help them succeed. Also, build high-trust relationships and drive out fear. Those actions set the stage for teamwork, learning, and participation in improvement activities. When people can change their work conditions by learning problem-solving and other techniques, they feel appreciated and respected.

Caring about your employees is not only to provide decent pay and benefits. It is about providing the opportunities and the environment to learn and grow. My favorite way is to make them feel that they are capable of making meaningful contributions. In times of coronavirus be a leader is more challenging than ever. But the focus is the same, always put the people first.