Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why People Don't Develop

“If we do not give people accurate feedback based on real behavior they are not growing and we are not respecting them. The job of a leader is not to put them in positions to fail, but to put them in challenging positions where they must work hard to succeed and still see how they could have been even better. “ – Akio Toyoda
If you are a production manager and one of your machines develops a problem that is resulting in increased costs or poor quality, would you let the problem continue until the next time maintenance is due?  For most of us, the answer would be, “no.”  We would shut down the machine and fix it to stop the problem from continuing.
If you are a manager and one of your team members is having a behavioral or capability problem that is resulting in increased costs, poor quality, or missing commitments, what would you do?  Experience tells me that many would wait until the next performance review to point out the problems and work for improvement (oh, and assign a poor rating in the process).
One of the biggest problems facing organizations today in the drive to improve is the inability of many managers to provide regular and relevant feedback to team members and work with them to improve.  There are a variety of reasons for this but, unless we start to dig into the causes and address them, the problem will continue and our ability to drive and sustain improvements in safety, quality, production, and cost will be severely limited.
The Causes
Over the years, I’ve found many reasons for the lack of ability to provide effective feedback for team member development that occurs in many organizations.  Although most of the reasons are fairly simple to recognize, they are system-level issues and can be difficult to address.  Like any problem facing an organization, however, a focused effort with clear objectives can result in significant improvements.
The reasons many organizations are poor at developing people include the following:
  • Leaders Don’t Know How: Coaching and developing people is not something that comes naturally to most people.  When we promote someone into a supervisory position, we need to develop his or her skills in coaching and leading a team.  We must help leaders understand the types of conversations to have with people and how to recognize when improvement is needed and occurring.  They also need to understand how to approach these conversations with respect and utilize questioning, rather than telling, to guide development.
  • Inconsistent Leadership Styles: Variation in leadership styles is one of the most unrecognized and destructive problems in business.  Unless we have a clear idea of the competencies we want in the organization’s leaders, the resulting inconsistency will confuse people and lead to demotivation, high turnover, and poor performance.
  • It’s Not Valued: Leaders are often not held accountable for development because it is not valued by the organization.  Organizations that take a cream to rises to the top approach to identifying leaders often follow a hands off approach to development creating an environment of competition and silos rather than teamwork and problem-solving.
  • Poor Hiring Practices: If we continue to hire people who don’t fit into the organization’s culture, the problem will be overwhelming to those managers who truly want to develop those on their team.  Hiring a new employee is a much more important decision than many people recognize, and unless candidates are carefully screened for fit before they enter the organization, they can do significant damage before we realize we have a problem.
  • Overemphasis on the Performance Review: Organizations that do not value development tend to put more pressure on completing performance review on schedule than worrying about whether or not it actually results in improvement.  In this type of environment, managers often feel they are fulfilling their responsibility as a leader by having one or two conversations per year related to development.
It’s a Daily Thing
Avoiding conversations with people related to areas to improvement need to happen every day in real situations.  Besides the effect this can have on the performance of the team and the organization, orienting these conversations toward truly helping someone develop and improve shows a level of respect that people will remember for years afterwards.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

5 Characteristics of a Good Boss

The greatness in people comes out only when they are led by great leaders. We are all growing and learning, and we all need teachers and coaches to help guide us. We say at Toyota that every leader is a teacher developing the next generation of leaders. This is their most important job.” – Akio Toyoda 
There are numerous articles available on the subject of bad bosses. Besides the fact that these articles tend to be entertaining, talking and writing about a bad boss can be a form of therapy to deal with the stress caused by poor leadership.  
But what about good bosses?  Most people, at one time or another, worked for someone they would consider a good boss, but what is it about their style or approach that made them a "good."  Below is a list of the characteristics I have experienced throughout my career that I would consider make someone a good boss. I'm sure there are many others that can be added to the list, but these are the things that stand out when I think of the good bosses I've had over the years. 
  1. Provides Regular Feedback and Coaching:  The bosses who provide continual feedback based on real behaviors and actions demonstrate a true interest in the development and improvement of those on his or her team.  On the other hand, waiting for the annual performance review to provide feedback on areas to improve is ineffective and turns it into more of a check the box activity or justification for a specific rating. 
  2. Connects to the Workplace:  Good bosses go to the workplace regularly to understand what team members face on a daily basis.  The focus of the visits is how barriers can be removed, processes improved, and culture changed.  Bad bosses have "open door policies," which really means they are too busy to go to the workplace - and make team members come to his or her office to talk.  Rather than serving team members, the focus of a bad boss is much more on pleasing his or her boss.
  3. Always Strives for Excellence:  A good boss continually drives team members to improve.  This drive for excellence applies to the boss as well as team members.  Bad bosses focus on cost-cutting rather than improvement to meet objectives. 
  4. Question vs Tell:  Good bosses question team members to better understand issues and to help the team solve problems.  Bad bosses always have the answers and provide "solutions" to problems even when they don't completely understand the situation. 
  5. Inspires: Good bosses continually help team members connect the work they do to higher-level objectives and the organization's purpose.  This gives meaning to the work performed and helps inspire people to continually improve.  Bad bosses don't understand or care about higher-level objectives and focus only on getting things done quickly and cheaply so they look good. 
The most telling sign of a good boss is that his or her power comes from something other than position.  When I think of the good bosses I've had over the years, it was always a win-win relationship I had with them.  They provided me with opportunities to develop and improve, and I worked hard to help make them successful.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What's Your Culture?

The culture of a company to me defines how excellent it will be, how helpful it will be, how ambitious it will be, how innovative it will be . . . And in my mind, [Apple] wouldn’t nearly be where it is today without [its] strong culture.  It would not.” – Tim Cook, CEO, Apple, Inc.*

How would you describe your company’s culture?  Would others describe it in the same way?  Is it the type of culture you want the organization to have?  How do you know?

Most leaders today appreciate the strong connection between culture and performance.  Understanding the importance and actually doing something about it, however, are two different things.  Culture is generally considered one of those softer issues that is difficult to change.  Because of this, many leaders either ignore it or attempt to drive small, less formal adjustments hoping that things will change for the better.

It’s Still About Closing Gaps

One of the characteristics of lean thinking is that it is deliberate about identifying and closing gaps.  It does not matter whether a gap is related to hard or soft issues - if it is something that interferes with the ability to achieve long-term objectives and, ultimately the vision, it needs to be addressed.

The first step to changing the culture is to clearly describe what you want the culture to be.  This means defining the organization’s personality, and includes elements like values, practices, teamwork, leadership style, etc.  It is important to be clear about what these elements look like – i.e., how you will know when you have them.  As an example, if you want the culture to be one where people continually identify and solve problems, you may be looking for an environment where people have an investigative mindset, are trainable, and are able to work together to drive improvement.  You may also want an environment where people are comfortable making problems visible.

Once the ideal culture is clearly defined, you will need to assess the current culture in terms of the ideal.  In other words, determining the gap that needs to be addressed.  It should be obvious that this step requires an open and honest look at the organization’s current culture.  If the organization is not open about potential problems with its culture, there is little chance of driving sustained improvement.

After the cultural gaps are identified, the job becomes prioritizing and closing – or more realistically, shrinking – them.  In the problem-solving example above, you may determine that the hiring process is lacking the ability to identify candidates with the right mindset before hiring, and that the people doing the screening and interviewing need to be trained to identify whether a candidate has problem-solving traits.


There is likely nothing more critical to the organization’s long-term success than its culture.  Without a strong and focused culture that supports the company’s defined purpose, any success due to an innovative product, financial maneuver, or being in an industry with strong demand will not last.  Strengthening and focusing the company’s culture is the only sure way to assure that the its success results from a deliberate and sustained effort rather than luck.

*From Apple’s Tim Cook Leads Different, Fortune Magazine, March 26, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Many Benefits of Going to Gemba

You can observe a lot by watching.” – Yogi Berra
One of the basics of lean thinking is connecting to gemba.  Attempting to create a lean culture without establishing a habit of Go and See – at least at the leadership level – will likely result in poor results and disappointment.
What is not always understood, though, it that effectively instilling a culture of go and see requires much more than just visiting gemba.  The real benefits of the effort occur when leaders truly connect with the workplace in such a way to gain an understanding of what is really going on.
Why it’s Important
The reasons and benefits of building and continually strengthening a connection with the workplace include the following:
  • Showing Respect: Respecting people is one of the fundamental elements of lean thinking, and visiting the shop floor to talk with people, understand their issues, listen to their ideas, and help them succeed is one of the best ways to show respect;
  • Seeing the Problems: Leaders need to know what is really going on in the workplace, and regular visits to gemba is an excellent way to do this. Whether visiting the shop floor, a service center, or customer sites, connecting with gemba is necessary to overcome the natural tendency of people to hide problems from leaders;
  • Improving Catchball: The catchball process is critical to focusing efforts and continually improving toward the company’s vision. When leaders are closely connected to the workplace, the catchball conversations can begin at a higher level and be much more effective;
  • Understanding What Help is Needed: The job of a leader is to enable the teams he or she leads to succeed.  Doing this requires a clear understanding of the barriers and frustrations of team members – something that can only occur through regular visits to gemba;
  • More Effective Support: Those who are tasked with supporting the shop floor will do a much better job when they connect with the people they support and understand firsthand the problems and issues they face;
  • Coaching & Developing People: Effectively coaching and developing people requires regular contact in real situations. Regular visits to the workplace to engage team members in conversations around problems can help develop the ability to address the problems on a daily basis.
Creating the Culture
Creating the habit of go and see requires understanding the cultural barriers to open and honest communication around the problems people face.  If leaders rarely show up in the workplace or do it only when major problems occur, people will tend to hide problems and avoid interactions, setting the organization up for sub-optimization or much more significant problems in the future.
Coaching through the initial visits is critical to assure that the right conversations are taking place during the visits.  It is also important to get people to understand that a “gemba walk” (a term I’ve never liked) is much more than a walk, and actually includes observation and learning.
Establishing a connection between the company’s leaders and gemba will break down a significant barrier to transformation that, although difficult to recognize, is necessary to drive improvement.  Lean is a great way to make the vision a reality but, without a connection to gemba, will result in little more than frustration, disappointment, and unsustainable gains.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Is Management a Liberal Art?

"[Management is] an integrating discipline of human values and conduct, of social order and intellectual inquiry, [a discipline that] feeds off economics, psychology, mathematics, political theory, history, and philosophy. In short, management is a liberal art..." - Peter Drucker
It is not new or earth-shattering to say that businesses need specialists in order to be successful.  Having people with specialized knowledge in areas related to the company's products, services, processes, network infrastructure, etc. enable the ability to serve customers and meet objectives on a continuing basis.  What is not often recognized, however, is the idea that generalists – especially in leadership positions – are just as critical to the organization’s success.
What is a Generalist?
A generalist is someone who has broad knowledge and skills, and understands the organization's high level system, including the hand-offs and interactions between people and processes.  A generalist is not usually interested in working and developing his or her skills within a single area but, being more of a systems thinker, is more motivated to learn about the big picture.
An organization can have the most talented specialists in the industry but be completely ineffective if these people are not able to agree on what's important and work together to turn their combined talents into commercial success.  By understanding the system, the generalist can bring value to the organization by focusing on overall company performance rather than attempting to optimize any single function or area.  For this reason, generalists often excel in leadership positions and cross-functional roles like project management and planning.
Why Generalists Are Necessary
By clearly understanding the company's high level value stream, the generalist is able to continually align the objectives of an area to those of the organization.  Creating the line of sight from the work performed to high-level objectives is a critical, but often missing, element of leadership in many companies.
No matter how talented a company’s specialists are; without a common direction and continual effort to improve the way people interact and work together, there is no "organization" - there are only individuals working on what each feels is most important.
Peter Drucker wrote that management is a liberal art in that it requires skill from many different disciplines including psychology, sociology, history, and others.  W. Edwards Deming included psychology, learning, variation, and systems thinking as components of leadership in his System of Profound Knowledge, connecting them to successfully motivating, aligning, and developing people toward the organization’s purpose. 
Harnessing the Company's Talent
The obsession many companies have had with specialists over the years has created a shortage of generalists that is hampering growth and success.  As a result, many companies are full of great ideas, new technologies, and brilliant technical minds but aren't able to transform them into consistent commercial success.  A company may be staffed with highly skilled scientists, engineers, and chemists, but if it is not turning its knowledge into viable products or services, it is compromising its future.
Whenever hiring or promoting someone into a leadership position, a person with a varied background tends to be more effective than someone whose experience and training is completely focused on the function the person is expected to lead.  For example, a candidate for a quality management position who has experience in procurement and/or operations in addition to quality is often more effective than one who only has quality control or quality assurance experience .
It's in the Mix
Success in business requires having and leading people to consistently achieve stretch objectives that are aligned with the organization’s vision.  To do this successfully requires respecting the different talents people have and understanding how best to position and organizing everyone to serve the customer effectively.  A critical element of this involves having the right mix of generalists and specialists to assure success.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lean Leadership: From Doing to Coaching

One of the most difficult aspects of transforming an organization toward a lean mindset is getting leaders to understand the importance of using questioning to develop team members.  It is difficult for someone who has been rewarded many years for being a problem-solver to suddenly shift behavior from solving problems to teaching others how to solve problems.  It can be a difficult habit to break that requires patience, perseverance, and a method to help leaders do it.
The Method
The best method I’ve found to teach leaders how to question is to begin with providing a clear and consistent process for problem-solving to be used throughout the organization.  When the steps for problem-solving are clear, leaders can question people about the process to understand how they are thinking and if they are approaching the problem in a way that will lead to improvement.
If, for example, the organization employs the Toyota 8-Step Business Practice for addressing problems, it is important for leaders to clearly understand the process, and commit to following the steps one-by-one to address problems.
Once the process is clearly understood, the leader can help team members approach problems by questioning them through the steps.  The leader should not do any of the problem-solving him- or herself, but learn to use open ended questions to guide the person’s thinking about the issue to be addressed.
Examples of some of the types of questions to use include the following:
  • Why did you define the problem in this way?
  • What data did you use to break down the problem in this way?
  • What is the data telling you?
  • Have you gone to where the problem occurs to see it for yourself?
  • Have you talked to the people who are affected by the problem?
  • Why do you think the countermeasure will actually solve the problem?
  • How will you make sure that the improvement will be sustained?
Questioning a team member through the process will take longer than the leader solving the problem but in the long-run, the benefits to the organization of improving team problem-solving abilities is exponential.  In addition to improving the problem-solving skills of team members, the process also improves technical knowledge of the company’s processes, the value of which is immeasurable. 
It should be noted that effectively coaching someone through a problem sometimes requires that you let the person pursue a countermeasure that you feel is incorrect.  Besides improving process knowledge, failed countermeasures can do more to teach effective problem-solving than always being right.
Leaders Need Coaching, Too
Improving the ability to question rather than tell often requires coaching of leaders to help them understand how to do it and to break old habits.  This requires spending a significant amount of time with the leader to help them see when they could have used questioning rather than telling.  Breaking a habit that has been gone on for decades can take a long time, but with consistent coaching can be done.
It is difficult for some leaders to grasp the concept that they need to become teachers rather than doers.  In many instances, they will know what needs to be done to address a problem, and convincing them to do something that will take days or weeks rather than minutes to complete can be difficult.  When done well, though, the benefits to the organization of unleashing the problem-solving abilities of team members can be immense.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Which Matters More? Process or Results?

If the room is too cold, do you work on the thermometer or the heater?

Which is more important . . . process or results? It's a question that spurs debate on bulletin boards and in blog posts. The problem with the question is that it approaches the two as disconnected rather than one-in-the same. Obviously, results are what really matters, processes exist to produce results, and when results are not at the levels desired, the processes need to change. On the other hand, whatever results are at any given time, it is impossible to sustain them successfully without effective and stable processes.
Results Drive Process . . . Which Drives Results
A manager who emphasizes results over process will drive team members to deliver "at all costs." The range of possible outcomes from this type of a culture include continual quality and safety problems, regular cost overruns, and high employee turnover.
On the other hand, a manager who understands the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle drives and supports team members to improve processes based on the results they are getting. The outcome from this type of focus is continually improving processes and a much better chance of sustaining results.
Those who argue against a process focus often cite examples of long, complicated instructions that are difficult to follow and cause more problems than they prevent. This type of process documentation is not, however, aligned with a process-focused mindset. The instructions are often written by people who are not doing the work and do not exemplify PDSA thinking. When problems arise, the instructions are either not changed quickly to address the root causes or the changes are additive – resulting in longer and more complicated documents.
The essence of PDSA thinking is assuring processes are achieving desired results on a continuing basis and, when they are not, improving them. The key word being improve. Changes to processes should include making the process easier and simpler to meet standards and produce desired results. Changing a process by making instructions more complicated and difficult to follow does not constitute improvement. A new or revised instruction that is difficult to follow should identify a problem that drives further change – and the change should be to simplify the instruction.
When an organization without a process focus misses its targets, improvement will be futile because there is nothing with which to maintain the improvement. When a person or team finds a better way to perform the process, there is nothing to assure that a different person or team will follow the new way.
Letting a process run without standardization is damaging to the culture, teamwork, and customer. Letting people do things their own way also goes beyond the shop floor and bleeds into hiring, leadership, and a host of other aspects of the organization.
Leading and Lagging Indicators
Lagging indicators are the measures of the results of a process. Leading indicators are the upstream measures that enable problems in to be seen before results are affected. The key to developing effective leading metrics is to make them activity based, meaning that they measure an activity the team performs that can be quickly adjusted when a problem arises. Along this line of thinking, effective leading metrics often measure adherence to critical parts of the process. When a process focus is absent, however, this type of measure will identify a lack of standardization and stability but, without a change to the company’s culture, will not prevent problems or drive improvement. Lagging measures – or the results – will continue to be highly variable, putting further pressure on results.
Revising the Question
Results always matter. When one understands the PDSA cycle, however, it is not a question or process versus results; it is more a question of whether processes matter or not. In other words, working on the thermometer will not warm up the room but focusing on the heater, insulation, etc. will.