Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Borrowing From Neuroscience to Drive Kaizen Thinking

"If you are going to do TPS you must do it all the way. You also need to change the way you think. You need to change how you look at things." - Taiichi Ohno 
One of the most common issues lean coaches face when teaching structured problem-solving is keeping people from immediately jumping to countermeasures when addressing a problem. Touting the virtues of sticking to the process and mentioning that the countermeasure may be wrong is rarely an effective way to getting someone to forget what they already think is the answer and to take more time and effort only to arrive at the same conclusion. There are a number of reasons for countermeasure-jumping, and understanding the motivation behind the behavior can help people appreciate the importance of following the process. 
There are many reasons people jump to countermeasures rather than following the process to solve problems. The need to be an expert (for personal or cultural reasons) and being stressed or overloaded are two common reasons.  A third reason, which is the focus of this blog, comes from the study of neuroscience and our internal programming regarding how we make decisions. 

Fast vs Slow Thinking 

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman presents the results of his research into decision-making. Kahneman presents two distinct processes in the brain that, although apparently designed to work together, often conflict with one another. The first, which he refers to as System 1, is the fast thinking process that runs on autopilot. The obvious purpose of the fast brain is to protect us from danger - i.e., we don't have to take the time to think about getting out of the street when a car is coming - and to keep us from having to relearn simple tasks each time we perform them. The fast brain is guided by intuition and habits, and takes virtually no effort to use. 
System 2 is the slow brain, and is used for issues that require deep-thinking logic and focus. It takes time and effort to use the slow brain, but it is the part of thinking that deals with complex issues and enables innovation and creativity to occur.   
The issue with all this, however, is that that the more the fast brain is used, the more it tends to dominate the slow brain and could, in fact, shut it down in most situations.  When applied to the workplace, the fast brain always wants to jump to countermeasures immediately.  
For a variety of reasons, many organizations tend to reward fast-brained people through promotions and bonuses because companies that want quick answers and immediate results do not value deep, careful thinking. Because of this, organizations that have not identified their few highly critical priorities will have cultures that lean toward fast thinking. 

Thinking, Reflecting, and Learning 

Kaizen requires slow thinking and reflecting in order to identify and challenge assumptions that are preventing effective and innovative countermeasures. This may be what Taiichi Ohno meant in the above quote when he wrote that TPS requires you to "change the way you think," since lean requires much more engagement of the slow brain. 
I believe that this is the reason kaizen is not natural for most people. Since most of us are overloaded in our professional and personal lives, we are dominated by our fast brains. As a result, we probably get more done by operating in this way - it's the quality of our work that we have to question. Getting people to understand kaizen requires making them realize this and to learn how to access their slow brains when approaching a problem. 
I spend a lot of time these days getting people to slow down when they're addressing problems.  If it's a small, one-time issue, I only try to get those involved to do a basic 5-why exercise to help them start to appreciate slower thinking without shutting them down completely. When dealing with the larger and more critical problems, however, I continually coach them to slow down and think about the steps in problem-solving before jumping to any conclusions.  It requires a lot more time and coaching to get a person or team to clearly understand a problem and think deeply about each step in the process. When people can start to understand the value of accessing their slow brains, the transformation (or "thinking differently" as Ohno stated) starts to occur. 
When you think about it, Toyota's 8-step problem-solving process is designed to encourage slow thinking. Clearly identifying the gap frames the process, and breaking it down requires looking at data and going to gemba to understand the issue from various perspectives before wasting time attempting to think about causes or countermeasures. Anyone who thinks an A3 can be completed in one sitting is being guided by their fast brain. And for people who do this, their fast brains will get a lot of exercise as they continue to address the same issues over and over again. 

The Big Gains 

Slow thinking is what leads to the big gains that lean thinking drives.  Organizations that approach lean without changing the way people think will likely end up disappointed and abandon the process as not applicable to their business.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why Questioning is Critical to Lean Leadership

One of the most critical but underappreciated skills required to successfully transform an organization toward lean thinking is the ability of leaders to use questioning to coach and develop team members. As important as coaching is to leadership, however, it is also one of the most challenging for people to understand and apply in their daily interactions with others. Like much of lean thinking, using questions to develop people is simple and logical but difficult to put into practice.

Learning to use questioning usually requires understanding why it works and how it helps the leader and the person being coached. It is not an attempt to portray the leader as a wise or deep-thinking philosopher who has all the answers. It is a way to help understand what a person is thinking and how to tailor the conversation toward helping them see a situation in a different way. When a leader begins to understand why questioning is important, he or she starts to see how to apply it to a variety of interactions throughout the day.

Why We Question 

There are some basic reasons why questioning is an effective way to teach and learn. Understanding and applying questioning effectively requires considering these reasons during conversations with team members and reflecting afterwards to continually improve your ability to coach and develop others.

The most basic reasons to question rather than tell in conversations with people includes the following:
  1. To know what the person is thinking.  You can't help correct incorrect assumptions if you don't know what those assumptions are and why the person is making them. Use questions to better understand the assumptions behind actions and where they are coming from. 
  2. To help the person see things the way you do.  When you see a situation differently than the person you are coaching, you want to help the person to see the situation from your perspective. He or she is likely missing something, so you need to question to find out what it is and to help them understand. 
  3. To help you understand the facts.  It is possible that the person you are coaching knows more about what's going on at gemba than you do. If you believe in lean thinking, you must respect this and be open to the idea that you could be wrong and can learn something from the person you are coaching. Questioning is the only way to help you understand what you may be missing. 
  4. To help the person understand the value of thinking slowly and deeply.  I have found that one of the most beneficial ways to help someone develop is to get them to slow down and deeply think through a situation before acting. Most people feel overloaded, and when faced with a problem, just want to get it off their desks as quickly as possible and move on. Especially for the big problems, though, jumping to countermeasures without thinking deeply about the situation rarely eliminates the cause of the problem and, even when it does, does not tend to make life easier. It often ends up creating extra work or just buries the problem until the next time it comes around. Using creativity and innovation to address root causes and truly make things easier generally requires reflection and deep thinking to understand which pieces of information are fact and which are assumptions. 
  5. To get the person actively involved in the learning process.  Studies show that passive listening – sitting and listening to someone lecture – is a far less effective way to learn than active participation. Active participation involves engaging the mind when attempting to learn, and answering questions about a situation provides a good way to engage a person's mind. On the other hand, listening to someone lecture does not require engagement and allows the listener's mind to wander to other things going on at the time. 
Although it depends on the circumstances and the person being coached, some questions that can help provide clarity about the process and help develop the ability to coach include:  What do/did you expect to happen? What do you think is causing the problem? Did you learn anything that you didn't know when you started investigating the problem? I have also found that asking why is the most effective way to get someone to clarify their thinking and start to see what they may be missing.

Mixed Messages 

One of the reasons that people have difficulty with coaching is that those of us who teach and write about lean are likely sending mixed messages regarding the why and how of the process. On the one hand, we tell leaders that they don't need to be experts in everything and that it is okay to admit that they don't have all the answers. On the other hand, we talk about people like Taiichi Ohno and Hajime Oba and the ability these people had to see problems quickly and clearly, and coach others to the answers.  I believe that this turns people off of the process because most will never measure up to these legendary leaders. In actuality, these two and other legendary lean figures didn't know the answers but they did know how to use questioning to gather facts (or identify when the facts are not yet gathered) and help the person being coached to arrive at an answer.

Start Small

When I work with leaders to develop coaching skills, I recommend starting small with a few key conversations each day or week.  Teaching the ability to question – which, by the way, also requires questioning – is easier when connected to the overall philosophy of lean thinking. Decisions should never be made without understanding the facts, and understanding the facts often requires going to gemba and asking questions to those who are closer than you are to the processes involved. When people understand and believe this, questioning starts to become a normal part of leading teams. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lean Leadership: A Direction . . . Not a Destination

One of the problems with some of the books and articles on lean leadership is the tendency to oversimplify the concept in terms of a dictator versus coach.  It is too easy for people to read about the characteristics of a traditional manager and, because they aren't that bad, surmise that they are therefore a lean leader.  What many do not understand, though, is that the difference between a traditional manager and a lean leader is not binary . . . it's a continuum and very few, if any, are completely at one end or the other. 

There are many characteristics that separate a traditional leader from a coach and most of us tend to drift to one side or another under any given circumstance.  Moving toward a lean leader, however, requires the application of the PDSA cycle guided by regular and honest personal reflection, along with a sincere desire to help others develop. 

The key to becoming more of a lean leader on a consistent basis is to understand the characteristics that separate the two ends of the spectrum and work to improve the areas where one shows the biggest gaps.  Although it is a humbling and sometimes painful exercise, it is one that can reap huge rewards if done consistently and effectively. 

The Dictator-Coach Spectrum 

Some of the characteristics that separate a controlling manager from a lean leader are included in the questions below.  Understanding how often and effectively you apply these characteristics can be a good starting point for reflection and eventual movement toward the positive side of the spectrum.   
  • Do you stop and reflect regularly on your performance as a leader?   Effective leaders take time to reflect on the performance of their teams and how their own performance could have improved results.  Sincere reflection can help determine where to focus development efforts for the team as well as well as yourself. 
  • During conversations with team members, do you listen more than you talk?   Perhaps the most common behavior that drives leaders toward the traditional side of the continuum is the propensity to talk too much.  Besides the fact that development does not generally occur when people are lectured to or talked at, they tend to turn off when they do not feel listened to.  If, after a conversation, you can't clearly understand the other person's opinion by recalling specific examples of what they said, you most likely did too much talking. 
  • How often do you realize that you don't know something?   One characteristic of great leaders is that they continually develop themselves.  One way to effectively self-develop is to have the courage to regularly question your own knowledge and performance.  Kaizen thinking is personal and happens when someone deals with a situation by questioning the status quo and challenging what they and others believe to be true.  
  • Do you spend more time worrying about your own image than developing your team?   A clear red flag that someone leans toward the traditional side of the spectrum is spending more time with those above him or her in the organization than team members.  It is an unfortunate but it is common for leaders all the way up the organization to be disconnected with those on the team. Performance reviews, promotion systems, and overflowing in-boxes are just a few things that distract leaders from their main responsibility to support and develop people on their teams, and although these things can explain the reasons for becoming self-centered, they do not excuse one from ignoring one of the most important responsibilities of leading a team. 
  • Do you continually develop your own skills?   An important trait of successful leaders is that they never stop developing themselves.  When it comes down to it, it is not possible to continue to develop others unless you continually develop yourself.  I have known many leaders over the years who stagnated and stopped learning and developing.  Whether resulting from too much to do or thinking they already know everything they need to, stagnation really means atrophy.  When it comes to development, you either go forward or backward . . . there is no standing still. 
  • Do you go see your team or make them come to see you?   Although a basic element of lean thinking, going to gemba to see and learn firsthand is something that still has not made it into everyday leadership.  Leaders who refer to an "open door policy," do not understand how intimidating it is for some people to walk into their office.  By making team members come to them instead of going to the team members, they also do not understand the importance and value of seeing for themselves. Relying on spreadsheets, meetings, and the opinions of others to know what is happening in the workplace misses a critical dimension in truly understanding the facts. 
  • Do you help your team understand how they contribute to the purpose of the larger organization?  To become engaged in their work, people need to understand how it fits into the bigger picture for the organization.  Through regular conversations, coaching, and effective dashboards, the team can gain a much better idea about how important their work is, and why it is critical to continue to improve.  Leaders can also become more effective when they gain a better understanding the larger system.  Handoffs between teams improve and more attention is focused on improving the value stream rather than attempting to optimize individual team performance.  
Moving toward lean leadership involves a system approach that requires attention to and development of numerous factors.  There are obviously more than the seven listed above, but these are the issues I see most often.  The key is to understand how you, as a leader, fit into the performance equation of the team and to continually improve the areas where you can positively affect the outcome. 

One of the most common reasons organizations fail with lean is that they attempt to deploy it in the operation without changing the system of leadership.  Lean is about shifting the way people throughout the organization think and approach work and if leaders expect it to happen without transforming themselves, the probability of sustaining improvements is pretty much zero. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Motivation and Helping People Learn, Make a Difference, and Have Fun

"Why are we here?  To learn, to make a difference, and to have fun.- W. Edwards Deming 

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough on a couple occasions to attend W. Edward Deming's 4-day seminar.  Early in both seminars, Dr. Deming asked attendees, "Why are we here?" After waiting in silence and repeating the question, he would offer up the notion that we are here "to learn, to make a difference, and to have fun." 

Of all that I learned from Dr. Demingthis statement stuck with me the most.  When I searched the internet to make sure I remembered the quote correctly, I found that it seemed to have also made an impact on many other people. 

I've had a variety of jobs throughout my career, in both management and advisory positions and thought about these words many times.  It is such a simple and logical statement that one would think is a normal part of leading people - unfortunately, this is not the case.  After being promoted into leadership positions, many organizations leave people to their own devices to figure out how to do it well.  So rather than learning, making a difference, and having fun, team members end up stressed, overworked, and looking for their next job. 

What does it mean to help people learn, make a difference, and have fun?  It's something I've thought about for many years and have figured out at least what it means to me.  

Learn 
Besides the fact that many people want to grow in their careers, there is an innate drive in most of us to learn.  Recent studies have concluded that learning has physical effects on the brain which can influence motivation, energy, and confidence. 

Studies also show, though, that the desire to learn can be buried by poor teaching and coaching experiences.  To prevent this and help team members learn requires that leaders have the interest and ability to coach in real situations using problems that people face every day.  They must be able to make coaching a normal part of their job and ensure people are continually improving existing skills while developing new ones.  This can only happen when leaders understand that they must also continue to develop their own skills and abilities. 

Make a Difference 
There have been numerous examples and studies on motivation that point to things like engagement and purpose as critical factors in driving motivation.  When a person understands how the work he or she does contributes to the achievement of a worthwhile purpose, energy level increases as does the motivation to make it happen.  On the other hand, a purpose that is nonexistent or unclear can lead people to disconnect and focus on work as little more than a way to receive a paycheck. 

Enabling a true connection to the purpose requires that leaders establish a clear and logical purpose – often referred to in lean terms as True North – and that they continually drive the organization toward its achievement.  The company's leaders must define the organization's true north and never waver in steering toward it.  It should go without saying but, to be effective, true north should not change as the organization changes its leaders. 

This is one of the things Deming meant when referring to constancy of purpose.  When the reason for an organization's existence is clear and unchanging, people will better understand how the work they do contributes to its achievement and work hard to make it happen.  As much as people want to believe in a true north and be a part of its journeythey will always be looking for examples that demonstrate a lack of commitment or constancy.  This is a defense mechanism people have developed over the years to protect themselves from the disappointment that results from believing in something that turns out to be false. 

Have Fun 
Although there are a number of studies available, it should not take extensive research to understand the benefits of creating a work environment where people have fun.  The positive effects that happiness has on stress, motivation, productivity, teamwork, and employee turnover are well known.   

Learning and making a difference are two factors that can lead to having fun at work, but relying on these things alone will not assure continued success or prevent burnout.  I tend to think of learning and making a difference as having positive effects on performance, and having fun as something that prevents negative effects.  The human brain cannot continually perform at high levels without regular downtime and preventive maintenance.  Having fun is one way to ensure the maintenance is happening.  

Putting it Together 

Learning, making difference, and having fun is something that should be critical parts of any leadership systemIt is a clear way to demonstrate the respect for people that is so important to continually improving results for an organization.  Like much of leadership and lean thinking, though, it is much more difficult to apply than it appears on the surface.  There are often cultural and systemic barriers that need to be overcome to ensure its continued success. 

I have to say that I cringe whenever I hear a leader say that he or she doesn't want people to have "too much fun" because of a fear that they will forget about work.  This is a clear sign that the leader lacks the understanding that having fun is part of a system that includes learning and making a difference, and that all three must be present to work effectively. 

The more I've reflected on these three simple drivers of motivation, the more I realized that they apply to my own personal life as much as they do to organizational success.  They are three factors that truly connect the work-life balance that virtually everyone wants to achieve.