Asking good questions, what is the value of it?

By asking good questions the right way, leaders can uncover the root cause of a problem, the later big product, and much more.

One way to build trust in the workplace is to listen.  Listening is the most basic way to show respect.  Another way is by helping your team to develop their problem-solving skills.  To help people to get to the root cause of a problem, asking good questions is critical.  Although solving problems is of great value, asking good questions brings more value than that.

Uncover the root cause of a problem and get more

It is necessary to ask comprehensive questions to uncover the root cause of a problem.  For example, use open questions to ask what happened, how, and how often. This kind of question makes people think harder before answering.  The thinking process may bring with it new ideas and different ways to see things.  Moreover, it unleashes the hidden talents of the people.  

When people feel that their work is meaningful, they feel better about themselves.  Higher self-esteem is part of a good mental health state.  Some benefits of good mental health are more clarity of thinking, better mood, and anxiety reduction.  People with good mental health also experience an improvement in relationships.  That is to say that something that started with someone asking good questions ends up helping not just the team but their family.

Ask good questions to build trust

If leadership often communicates with team members at all levels, they have the chance to create relationships beyond problem-solving exercises.  Informal conversations are the perfect vehicle to know the person behind each team member.  It is also a chance for those team members to learn the human side of their leaders.

Some leaders are nervous about asking their people for ideas.  This hesitance many times comes from the fear of being weak or not worthy of their position.  However, when a leader asks for help, it is shows vulnerability which helps to build trust.  In other words, they show that they are honest about admitting that they know everything.  Also, asking for help Is a sign of modesty.  Good leaders are humble and trustworthy.

The value of asking good questions

Asking good questions is a skill that every leader should have.  By asking, they help their team develop new skills and learn new ways to do things.  Most of the time, those learnings are applicable not just at work but also in other settings.  Problem-solving Is one of those skills that are helpful everywhere.  

Team members that learn more and participate more from the site decision process through brainstorming and other activities feel better about their jobs.  The feeling of being part of a group and have a meaningful job brings the added value of good mental health.  An individual with good mental health has better relationships at work and home.

Finally, problem-solving is a team activity.  Therefore collaboration, creativity, learning, and trust are added benefits of the idea’s inquiry process.  For the business, the value of asking questions Includes better efficiency and lower costs.  Above all, it can impact employee satisfaction and retention.

By asking the right questions in the right way, leaders can discover the next big idea for their business, the solution to what stops them from sleep at night, or how to change their company culture. Moreover, they will positively impact their team by helping them to grow.

The roadmap to continuous improvement success

The roadmap to success is challenging, however it is possible to achieve.

While creating the roadmap for the transformation, it is critical to keep in mind your people, customers, and how you will execute the plan to ensure sustainability.  To ensure success in the transformation into a continuous improvement culture, maintain the focus on those three aspects.

Roadmap to respect and teamwork

Continuous improvement is a people’s system.  Your team is the heart that keeps the CI thinking alive and kicking.  Therefore, it is a good practice to evaluate your company culture before you start and every year after that.  You want to know if the culture is changing in the right direction.  For example, if the levels of engagement are increasing or employee turnover is decreasing.

Respect for the people and teamwork are the foundation of the new culture.  Leadership shows respect and promotes collaboration in different ways.  Visiting gemba every day to see problems and listening to their team concerns to find solutions together is one way.  Another is to take advantage of those moments to teach them how to analyze them, find the root cause, and create solutions.  Those gemba walks along with huddle meetings help to give clarity, alignment, and effective communication.  

Participation increases when they have a clear vision of how their work fits within the company mission.  In other words, to know how what they do affects the customer and the company’s bottom line.    

Customer experience journey during the transformation

The focus of our daily operation is the customer.  The continuous improvement goal is to deliver the best quality product or service, at the lowest cost, in the shortest amount of time.  But to be able to do that, we need to know first what they need.

What problem or need are you looking to solve or fulfill.  What constitutes value from the customer lenses?  Listening to the voice of your customers is as important as listening to your team.  Use your customer input to create new value proposals, redesign processes, and guide improvement events.

Sometimes, you think you know what they need, but the truth is that there are times when not even they know.  If it is possible, look for ways to feel the experience yourself.  Observe the process to understand the challenges your customers deal with.  By doing this, you will see what the real problems are.  Maybe what you perceive as a quality problem is a service issue.

Also, keep in mind that their needs and wants can change over time.  Go out to gemba or the marketplace as often as you can and talk with your customers, current, and potential.  Ask questions to understand their pain points and needs.  Get a look at what your competitors are doing or how your customers look at them.

Roadmap to excellence

A strategy is a way to achieve the mission and provides the framework to make decisions.   To achieve excellence, you need the help of your team.  Therefore, they need to know which is the strategy.  Moreover, if you give them participation in creating the execution plan, the chances of success grow exponentially.   

However, a good plan is not good enough if it does not include how to sustain the change.  There are a couple of things that are critical in this plan.  One of them is how to make sure that every day everybody participates in continuous improvement activities.  Another is the establishment of a daily management system that ensures that leadership will do their part.  Integral parts of this system are the gemba walks, leader standard work, and huddle meetings.  

To follow-up progress, make sure to identify key operating metrics that are aligned with the company goals.  Translate these metrics from top leadership to the shop floor or office.  You will need them to make visual management work.  Make it easy for everybody to know if the company is winning or losing.  The sooner you can identify that something is not working, the sooner you can change course.

Also, plan to evaluate the safety program, training needs, desired behaviors within the new culture, and business performance in different areas.  For example, assess productivity, quality, delivery, and operating costs.

Follow the roadmap to achieve CI success

The road to excellence is bumpy, with curves, hurdles, and other challenges.  However, it is also a great adventure where the daily journey is more important than the final goal.  Consistency is the name of the game.  Practice day, even when you think it is not working.  Never stop learning, practicing, and teaching.  The reward is knowing that you are changing lives, growing your team, and in the process building a flexible and profitable business.

10 Rules to practicing continuous improvement

While doing kaizen, obviously you are seeking to improve a process, but if you are focusing on the results, your heart is in the wrong place.  Continuous Improvement heart is the people; therefore, you should focus on their learning experience rather than the savings or productivity gain.  What are the ground rules for practicing continuous improvement?

Ground rules for practicing continuous improvement

When I facilitate kaizen events, I like to be clear about the expectations.  A number of those expectations are directed to leadership because, as stated before, they need to learn and model the new behaviors.  Kaizen is a learning activity, where curiosity, creativity, and the desire to learn and do new things are the main ingredients for success.  The following are ten ground rules for practicing continuous improvement.

  1. Practice Respect at all times, respect the people and their ideas, one person speaking at a time, listen to what others have to say, be on time, no finger-pointing, there are no bad ideas.
  2. Tune your mind to a new channel:  Lean Thinking.
  3. Keep an open mind, be curious, ask Why, What if, How could we?
  4. Challenge the status quo, ask Why five times, and find the root cause.
  5. No excuses!  Think Yes, we can do it if _____.
  6. Look for low-cost, rapid, and simple solutions. 
  7. It is ok (and encouraged) to disagree, but it is not ok to be disrespectful.
  8. The meeting room is a safe zone where there are no titles, all ideas and opinions have the same value, and it is ok, to be honest.  
  9. Correct what you see wrong, but there is no need to be perfect!
  10. Win or learn, here you do not lose!

Additional key notes

These rules exist to ensure the right environment to encourage participation exists.  Kaizen is not classroom training; it is learning by doing.  Create the environment to drive fear out of the door and let in creativity and curiosity.  Every team member deserves to have the opportunity to learn and be part of the activities that will change their work environment and processes. 

What is a system?

A system is a set of principles or procedures working together to achieve a defined goal. Continuous improvement or Lean is a business management system designed to create customer value with fewer resources. Each part of the system has a purpose or objective. Many times only one or two lean principles are implemented, but not the system. Perhaps that is the reason why the expected results are not obtained.

The goal of lean or continuous improvement is to provide the customer with the highest quality, at the lowest cost, in a shorter time. The foundation of the system is stability and standardization. The pillars to achieve that goal are delivery time and quality. The heart is involvement, highly flexible, and motivated team members that are always improving.
Each program or principle connects with one of those components. For example, 5S and standardize work are critical for process stability. Continuous flow is one of the activities to achieve shorter delivery times.

How do we take care of the system’s heart? One of the most important principles of lean is respect. It is important to treat our team members as human beings and not a commodity. We show respect by taking the time to develop their skills and helping them to be successful. Create opportunities to learn using lean tools and encourage them to improve their work. Employee participation in improvement activities is a way to increase engagement. It gives them a chance to win achieving success in their efforts to create simple and safer processes.

Little by little, I will continue to share other activities or tools connected with the goal, foundation, pillars, and heart of the Lean System. Continuous improvement is not a supermarket of tools to pick and choose those you like more. You don’t need to use all the tools available, but you have to support all the system components. What makes Lean good is not the effectiveness of individual tools, but the synergy between them to achieve the goal.