Keep it simple! Processes, training, everything.

keep it simple! Simple procedures and communication is easier to understand and follow.

A company culture transformation is an undertaking.  You will attempt to break with old habits and mental models.  Also, you will introduce new ones.  For that reason, you and your leadership team will make many decisions regarding what to do and how to do it.  Later, there will be a lot of communication, skills development, training, and new standards.  While teaching new behaviors, mental models, and ways to do things, keep it simple.

For a successful transformation, keep it simple

Along the transformation journey, you and your team will have countless communication efforts. That communication will happen in different scenarios and formats.  In other words, individual or group settings, in writing or verbal.  Also, you will write new policies, standards, work instructions, and others.  The purpose of the communication or procedures and other details needs to clear.  Keep the receiver or user in mind while deciding the language, design, or communication structure.  Moreover, it needs to be simple, easy to understand and execute.

If you can’t explain it simply, take a step back.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Albert Einstein

Any continuous improvement activity starts with gaining an understanding of the current situation. The cultural transformation begins with a similar process, understanding the present culture.  The knowledge gain during this step helps to design the best way to share with the team the intention to change.

Why do you want to engage in the transformation process?  Why you propose to use continuous improvement?  What are the steps?  A long and hard thinking process is required to answer these questions in a simple way.  Refine your thoughts, do not use too many words, do not overthink.  Be honest and talk from your heart without fancy words or excuses, just the truth.

You are not ready to communicate this idea until you can say it in simple words.  

Keep it simple, all of the processes, language, structures, and formats.

Simple language is easier for the reader or receiver.  For instance, try to avoid the use of technical words unless it is necessary.  The same rule goes for industry jargon.  For example, in continuous improvement, we use many Japanese terms like kaizen.  Depending on the current culture, you should use generally accepted American words as a substitute.  In our previous example, you can use continuous improvement or rapid improvement events instead of kaizen.

While teaching new tools, use simple structures.  Further, give examples of things related to their work.  Things are complicated enough as it is, keep it simple.  Processes that are easy to understand have more probability of sustainability.  It is much easier to execute simple instructions than complicated words.  

Summary

Trying to explain something complex is often a humbling experience.  It makes you realize how much you don’t know.  Therefore, it forces you to break the subject into smaller pieces and understand each one of them.  When you think you know the process well enough, try to explain it with simple words. Would your five years old self understand?  If the answer is no, then keep refining your thoughts, keep improving your pitch.  

Simplicity avoids confusion, and processes are easier to execute consistently.  Don’t complicate it, keep it simple. 

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.

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts, behaviors for success.

The ten ground rules for practicing continuous improvement events exist to ensure the right environment to encourage participation exists.  Therefore, is the job of the event facilitator to set clear expectations about following those rules.  It is also their job to steer the group in the direction.  Effective facilitators know how to guide the team and get results creating a positive and high-energy environment.  They do that by encouraging and motivating the right behaviors.  Let’s summarize them with the continuous improvement or kaizen event do’s and don’ts.  

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts for Success

kaizen event dos and don'ts

Keep the momentum on your CI event

Through the kaizen event, the facilitator teaches team members how to think lean and identify waste. For instance, the team will learn by doing.  While they go through the event process, the team learns and uses tools to analyze the current state.  Using lean thinking they will question the status quo and will learn how to see things differently.

To keep momentum, the event facilitator keeps asking questions.  He or she builds upon the team’s ideas and concerns to challenge the status quo.  Maybe, asking questions is the facilitator’s most important job.  In other words, questions are the vehicle to guide the team to discover their solution.  Through questioning with respect, they learn how to challenge the status quo.

Kaizen event do’s and don’ts, one more don’t

Also, to keep momentum on your CI journey I have one more Don’t for you.  Do not engage in an event that is not aligned with your business goals.  Through events, you are targeting those big gaps between the goals and the current state.  Before you start planning the event, ask Do these activities help the business to achieve its goals?  If the answer is no, then find another subject for your event.

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.  

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!

Would you like instant results in your improvement efforts?

Instant results for your continuous improvement efforts

These days people look for instant results. They want something, and they want it now! Some people have the same expectation for continuous improvement (CI).  Although they never say it out loud, they believe that CI will get them instant results.

Continuous improvement is a way of life.  It is a different way to think and do things.  Therefore, it comprises challenging prevailing ideas and learning new ones.  Reshaping your entire belief system for process improvement and problem-solving is not an easy task.  As a result, it cannot be quick or instant.

Instant Results and Continuous Improvement

I visualize continuous improvement as a marathon.  Through the CI system, you are looking to change people’s minds and hearts.  Lean or CI cannot be considered a tool or a short-term strategy to accomplish some goals.  It is a long-term commitment to which leadership focuses on developing people and create a team of problem-solvers.

Two heads are better than one

Two heads are better than one.  That is to say that it is easier for two people who help each other to solve a problem than it is for one person.  In a traditional setting, the manager and supervisors are fire-fighting all the time.  They take care of putting off a fire and run to the next one without learning about why it happened or how to fix it for good.  

Learning proper problem-solving and root cause analysis techniques is the best way to get out of that vicious cycle.  Better yet, grasp the new methods and teach your team how to do it.  Create a team of problem-solvers by empowering your people. Allow them to solve their daily problems while you coach and guide them. Let them be the source for most ideas and take ownership of the improvement process.

Permanent results, not instant ones, is what changes the culture

Continuous improvement is not a sprint race but a never-ending race. Change the mindset and culture takes time. Learning how to test new ideas and reflect on the results takes time as well.  Continuous improvement or kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes.  It is possible to get big results with small changes. The time invested in using the scientific method to learn and reflect on the results guarantees a thoughtful process.  This thought process makes those results likely to be permanent, but it takes time and patience. 

In the time and age of clicking a button for instant purchases, a culture change is perceived as a big undertaking.  Well, it is a big undertaking.  There is no way to make this instant or fast while keeping the permanent aspect.  Create new habits and change our thinking process is slow rather than fast.  However, the practice of CI, everywhere, by everybody, every day will keep the momentum going and the changes sustainable.

Self-Reflection and continuous improvement

One of the biggest differences between continuous improvement or lean and other business models or systems is that it recognizes the need for reflection.  Toyota recognizes that even if a task is completed successfully, there is a need to reflect on the results.  It is a structured way to look at the results with the purpose of learning from the experience.

Daily Self-reflection

It takes time to get used to the idea of reflecting on our actions as part of our daily work.  That is why reflection is part of the leaders’ standard work.  It is challenging to do it because nobody wants to think about what went wrong or failures.  The objective of this exercise is not to criticize the person or team, is to learn from mistakes to avoid future repetition.  Through reflection, you can create better plans for the future. 

Continuous improvement is about learning, experimenting, and using the lessons learned to change and adapt.  We will find a million reasons not to take the time to reflect, but self-reflection or team reflection is the vehicle that will drive us full circle in our learning journey.  It is not until we take the time to ask what went well and what didn’t that we learn through our honest answers.  While learning from what we did well is good, learning from our mistakes is better.  The answer to what you would do differently next time is where you will learn the most.  

Continuous Improvement through Reflection

Reflection is one of the elements of the Kaizen spirit.  The act or adapt step of the PDCA cycle is a reflection of what we intended to do.  Did we accomplish the goal?  Why not?  How can we fix the problem?  By getting into the habit of answering these questions, you keep yourself grounded to lean thinking.

Reflection is an important part of a learning organization.  Learning from mistakes is what helps us to prevent repeating them, and the process of recognizing that even if something is good, can be better is what keeps the continuous improvement process alive and kicking!

Trust, how do you build it in the workplace?

To build trust in the workplace is critical to keep your promises.
Gaining someone’s trust is not easy, do not do anything that risks losing it.

In my last post, I was talking about empowerment.  I indicated that if you empower your employees, you need to trust them. But trust is a two-way street, you trust your employees, and they must trust you back.  How do you build that trust?

5 ways to build trust in the workplace

1.  Be honest and with integrity no matter the circumstances

There is no doubt that it is hard, to be honest, and act with integrity all the time.  Regardless of how hard or inconvenient it might be, it is critical for being a trustworthy person.  Consequently, admit when you don’t know and take responsibility for your failures.  

Be transparent, accept if you are wrong, and be open about your emotions.  For example, concede that you are angry about the outcome and ask for time for reflection before talking about the matter.  Showing vulnerability is not showing weakness but rather that you are human too.  

Also, always communicate your reasons to do something and list your expectations.  Do not hide information, be transparent instead.  

2.  Show respect and listen to what others have to say

The most basic form of respect is to listen.  Let people talk, focus on the person, and listen with the intention of understanding.  Ask for clarification to fully understand ideas, concerns, or feelings.  Then, respond with empathy and give feedback respectfully.  Show your team that you genuinely care about them. 

Another way to show respect is to be mindful of your demeanor.  Be aware of your reactions.  For example, don’t laugh or make fun of peoples’ comments.  Likewise, do not dismiss their ideas.  Your job is to coach and teach them.  Remember that not everybody learns or analyze things at the same pace or the same way.  Getting to know the person behind each employee, that is the best way to be able to help them.

3.  Think before you act

It takes time to build trust.  Therefore, the last thing you want to happen is to do something that breaks that trust.  Take time to think about how you are going to answer, make decisions carefully.  However, do not take too much time.  

Be consistent with your actions, treat everybody the same way, and act with integrity at all times. While making decisions, think about your values.  How do they align with your values?  Always, especially during hard times, respond as per your values.  

4.  Keep your promises

Once you tell someone that you will do something for them, do what you say you would.  Honor your commitments and don’t make promises you can’t keep.  If you meant to do something, do it.  If the outcome of your actions is not what the person is expecting to hear, say it anyway.  Be honest about the reasons and offer an alternative solution.

5.  Support your employees

Have their back at all times, never let anybody to bully or disrespect any person.  Your team needs to know that you are there for them always.  Create a trusted environment where they feel good about sharing their ideas and concerns.  As indicated before, a safe setting where they learn and test their opinion without fear of losing their jobs.  Provide feedback and guidance without judging but showing compassion and empathy.

Key Points to build confidence

Give trust to get trust, be the adult in the room, and extent the olive branch first.  Gaining the confidence of someone is not an easy task.  Therefore, take small steps by inviting the person to participate in a continuous improvement event, brainstorming session, or project with you.   

Model those behaviors that you want to promote by respecting everybody, keeping your word, and being transparent.  Participate with your team in the continuous improvement and problem-solving processes without trying to micro-manage.  Instead of controlling the situation, coach, and give constructive feedback.

Empowerment, what it is and how you do it?

Empower your employees to take over the improvement of their work.
Empowered employees take over problem-solving and process improvement of their workplace.

Empowerment through coaching and skills development is a powerful way to show respect to your team.  When leadership walks away from command-and-control management, they start to empower their team to take control of their work.  As servant leaders, supervisors and managers listen more, ask questions to understand, and take away barriers.  

What is empowerment?

Merriam-Webster defined empowerment as the act or action of empowering someone or something, the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.  In business, it means to share information and some level of power with the employees to make decisions.  Likewise, it delegates some tasks like problem-solving and improvements at the workspace level.  As a result, it also comes with more responsibility and accountability.

At Barry-Wehmiller, they refer to empowerment as responsible freedom.  Bob Chapman talked about it in his post, “Trust: Better to give than receive“.  He indicated that responsible freedom summarizes two ideas, freedom and responsibility.  Freedom is the opportunity to exercise personal choice, to have ownership of the work that you do and the decisions you make.  Responsibility is to ensure to be careful and exercise concern for other people and the requirements of the organization while making decisions.

Empowerment Requirements

But give power or authorization does no good if leadership doesn’t fulfill some requirements first. Employee empowerment requires the following.

  • Trust they will do their best
  • Training in the skills necessary to carry out the new tasks
  • Coach them how to use the new skills and model the behaviors associated with them
  • Provide all required information or grant access to it
  • Encourage testing new ideas and assist with guidance and resources

How do you entitle your team with more power and control?

Empowerment means people have power and control over their daily work.  With this new power and control, they gain knowledge and trust in their capabilities.  Similarly, they feel more engaged with their work and happier when they come back home. 

As leaders, we need to watch out for our team’s needs.  Not everybody learns at the same pace or the same way.  The support they need on this new endeavor is not the same either.  Some people need more help than others. 

If you empower them, you need to trust and support them.  Respect your team by providing adequate support.  Visit the workplace often, talk with your employees and listen to their concerns.  Ask how you can help and do what you said you would do.  Equally important is to provide support.  No idea is a bad idea.  Respectfully ask questions to guide them.  Challenge the situation or the method, never the person.  Create a safe environment where the team is not afraid of sharing their ideas, try them, or fail.  After all, in continuous improvement, you win, or you learn!