Break out a six pack to find your next LSS project!

800w-cans-fuzzy-drinks-largeThe perfect organization does not exists anywhere in the world.  This is a good and bad thing.  It is good because people like you and I who are passionate about making organizations work better have no shortage of problems to solve.  However, the problems create frustrating environments to work in that leads to disengagement and turnover in addition to dissatisfied customers who, given an option, will find what they want somewhere else.

Knowing this, and after coaching several hundred process improvement experts over the past few years, I still run into a recurring problem in which the people I coach (freshly trained LSS green and black belts) struggle to find projects to apply their newly trained skills to.  You would think that with all the problems most organizations face they would have piles of project opportunities to get after, but that just isn’t the case in most businesses.

Nobody likes piling up their problems, especially out in the open where everyone can see them.  They tend to be hidden deep in the organization, but the good news is that I have uncovered a few “secret” places to look that almost always turn up golden nuggets to make processes run more efficient with higher quality that lead to lower costs and higher profit margins.

I call these hidden locations the “six pack of opportunities”.  Let’s break open this six pack and look at each area, but first a few words of advice on how to approach finding your next opportunity.

Keep it simple.  Serve instead of being served.

Whatever you do never walk into a manager’s office and say something like, “I just went to training and need to find a lean Six Sigma project.  Can you help me with that?”

There are two big problems with this approach.  First and foremost is that your perspective has to be one of a servant.  Your goal is to serve someone else who is in need; not to be served by someone who can simply hand you a project.  Process improvement is never about you or what you will get from the effort.  Process improvement is completely about how you can use your passion to help others.

If you have an attitude of “what’s in it for me” you will not succeed in this profession that is all about serving others.  If you want to be served go to a Denny’s and order a Grand Slam.  If you want to help others get better at what they love to do and make a real difference, focus on the needs of others, and not on what you will get from the situation.

Second, you should never bring up the words lean, Six Sigma, process improvement, kaizen, or any other confusing Japanese or statistical terms or worse yet, acronyms like DOE, SPC, LSS, etc.  This will immediately turn on a filter, a faulty filter in most cases, that whoever you are talking with will use to run their problems and project ideas through that will lead to nowhere.  You are there to simply understand the challenges, frustrations, head aches, etc. the person you are talking with is currently experiencing.  Using simple language to get all these problems out is where you should start.  Business leaders could care less about specific process improvement methodologies like lean Six Sigma.  What they care about and get measured on is business performance.  Focus on the what (i.e. problems, issues, challenges, etc.) not the how (i.e. LSS).

Break open a six pack and get busy looking for opportunities.

Nearly all great LSS projects come from one of six areas.  Each of the following represent opportunities to apply the LSS methodology to help organizational leaders succeed.  The key is finding an opportunity that they have passion for that leads to improved performance.

Six places to look for projects include:

  1. Business Plans / Strategic Goals
  2. Team Goals
  3. Budget
  4. Metrics
  5. Personal goals / performance plans
  6. Pain points

Focus on the heart.

I find that starting with number six in this list is where you will find opportunities closest to the heart of the leader.  The further up the list you move the farther from their heart you get, and the less passionate they are about the issue.  Have you ever met a leader that got excited about strategic plans?  I’ve never met one, but I have met several leaders who could tell me about their pain points for hours on end!

The top five focus areas are pretty straightforward in finding project opportunities.  One simple tip I will give you is to look for some keywords such as “minimize”, “reduce”, “maximize”, “increase”, and “streamline”.  Each of these words typically points to an existing process that can be measured, two key elements to a good LSS project.

Where I suggest starting is with the pain points of a leader instead of the other five areas.  In some ways when you are just getting started with LSS you are also doing some promotion and marketing for the LSS process.  If you pay attention to any type of advertisement these days you will notice most selling is based on tapping into emotions and not on the data making a solid case to buy whatever is being promoted.

In some ways it is the same with LSS.  You need to tap into the emotions of a leader to find their pain points, and once you do and help them eliminate them you will begin to build their trust and open doors to projects in the other five areas.

To find a person’s pain points is no different than going to the doctor.  You need to first ask “What’s hurting you?” in order to make a diagnosis and take the first step in reducing / eliminating the pain.  You could simply begin with this exact questions, but some better ways to ask it are:

  1. What’s keeping you up at night?
  2. What work-related things do you think about when you’re not at work?
  3. In the last month what problem just doesn’t seem to go away that you wish would?

These are all simple starter questions that begin to develop a conversation that will lead to making a diagnosis on what is causing their pain. From their answers to these questions you will be able to start determining how or if LSS can help alleviate the pain. When you find a pain LSS can help with and reduce it you will begin to build a bridge of trust between the leader and yourself that will lead to bigger and more impactful projects. Be patient and focus on serving, and the reward for doing so will come in time.

Don’t waste the power of your tongue!

power-of-the-tongue-cIn the world we process improvement experts live in, specifically when our focus is on “leaning” processes, we spend a large portion of our time helping people remove waste to achieve the goals of doing what they do better and faster.  When we do so the costs typically decrease and the profits go up.  In a way it’s how we justify our existence, and why we are worth the money we get paid to do what we do.

Taking a look at our personal lives from a lean perspective, there is a lot of waste that, when removed, leads to a better life.  Most of this waste comes from what we say.  The tongue has the power to provide value and / or waste to yourself and others.  The great thing is you can decide to control your tongue if you want to.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  Proverbs 18:21

I recently read a book called The Forty-Day Word Fast by Tim Cameron that takes readers on a 40 day journey to remove toxic words from your vocabulary.  In a way this 40 day word fast is an exercise in leaning the waste coming from our tongues.  Similar to removing the eight forms of waste from a process, Cameron identifies six forms of verbal waste he guides readers through to remove from their lives.  The six forms of verbal waste include:

  1. Judgement
  2. Criticism
  3. Sarcasm
  4. Negativity
  5. Complaining
  6. Gossip

I took the 40 day journey and it was incredibly difficult to eliminate these six wastes from coming out of my mouth, but what may have been more important to this first of many “fasts” to come is that for the first time in my life I realized just how much these six wastes consume my verbiage both orally and written.

In some ways the 40 day journey was a starting point, or baseline if you want to look at it from a process improvement perspective, to measure future progress against.  The bad news is I have a lot of work to do to improve; the good news is I can only go up from the low point I’m currently at!

What I realized is that when I spent a lot of time speaking the six wastes my view of the world and those around me plummeted.  I was in a foul mood; always focused on the negative; and just ticked off at the world for being so messed up.  I was a hard person, and still am on occasion, to be around when these words and thoughts were consuming me.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
Proverbs 21:23

My point in writing this post is that in the world we live and work in it is easy to find yourself being consumed by these six wastes that lead to nowhere, but a depressed state of mind.  What would this world be like if there were no judgement, criticism, sarcasm, negativity, complaining, or gossip.  Think about that for a minute.

My challenge to you is to help create that world one tongue at a time.  Instead of working on all six wastes at the same time, which is incredibly difficult to do as I found out, pick one each of the next six months and focus on reducing that verbal waste, and hopefully over the course of six months you’ll see, and probably more important, those around you will see and hear, a change in what you speak.

Are you a 14 decimal place person?

math problemHave you ever been in a meeting, training class, webinar, etc. and noticed a bullet point out of place?  How about when you’ve been reading an email and noticed a change in font size from 12 to 10 that probably wasn’t intended by the author.   Now the big question….did either of these bother you?  If so, you might be what I call a 14 decimal place person – someone who really loves details, complexity, and strives for perfection in everything they do.

I admit I’m one of these people, and chances are if you work in the field of process improvement like me you’re probably one too.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; paying attention to details is a good thing to some degree.  Where being a 14 decimal place person, I would argue, creates a challenge is helping others see the value in process improvement, specifically in using lean Six Sigma (LSS), to solve tough business problems that matter to achieving key organizational objectives.

A question I ask quite frequently is why LSS, or just process improvement in general, has not become a central focus for most organizations?  Think about it-every organization of all types in all industries all around the world have processes, and none of them is perfect; they all need some improvement.

So what is keeping business leaders in these organizations from engaging in getting better at what they do each and every day?  One of the reasons, I believe, are the people pimping approaches, philosophies, methods, however you want to classify LSS; the 14 decimal place perfectionist like myself-we are the problem!

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is the kind of people who are naturally attracted to LSS.  We like the complexity and detailed focus that comes with LSS.  However, I would argue, we are in the minority in most organizations.  To say it more candidly – we’re a bit “odd”, not quite “normal”, maybe even “awkward” to some degree, and certainly “outliers” if you look at it from a people data perspective.

Maybe the reason most people in many organizations have yet to embrace process improvement is because of the people leading these efforts, or in my world of consulting, trying to convince business leaders they need to hire people like myself to help them get better at what they do.  So what can we do about it?  What are we 14 decimal place type people to do in order to get others, specifically senior leaders, more interested in process improvement?

Rounding off.

When working a math problem sometimes we need to be precise, but most of the time in business we have little use for 14 decimal places, and can simply round off to get close enough.  This is probably the first challenge 14 decimal place people need to get over-striving for perfection in everything we do.

I’m not saying we have to give up on seeking perfection; that’s still the ultimate goal.  What I am saying is that we have to shift our focus from perfection, or 14 decimal places, to just getting better than we were yesterday.  I believe it’s really that simple.  We just need to focus on getting better, not perfect.

I know this is incredibly hard to do.  You see that “bullet point” out of place and it just bothers you, but does it really matter?  I often have to stop myself when I encounter these types of situations and ask questions such as, will this help who I’m working with get better at what they do?  Do they really need to know about this in order to take one step forward and / or accomplish the goal they have set?  Will NOT knowing this cause them harm?

The answer to most of these questions most of the time is no, but keeping my mouth shut can be an incredible challenge.  I see an opportunity that I think will help, but in the end it may just lead to over complicating the process and push people further away from process improvement methodologies like LSS.  I find that if I ask myself to THINK before I speak often I find keeping my mouth shut is easier.

Before speaking ask yourself is what I’m about to say:

  1. True?
  2. Helpful?
  3. Inspiring?
  4. Something they Need to know?
  5. Kind?

If the answer is “no” then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.  You won’t be helping if you don’t THINK before you speak.  You also have to slow down for this to work because our mouth tends to get ahead of our brain much of the time.  I’ll leave you with some wise words from Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  Your tongue has power so use it wisely!

Finding the money piles hidden in your business.

0622_money_630x420You may not know this, but there are piles of money hidden all over your business.  One of my favorite parts of doing what I do with business owners and leaders is helping them find the hidden money piles scattered all around their organizations.  Every business has them.

The challenge is finding where they’re hidden, and then doing something about it.  In this post I’ll share some insight into where to look for the piles.

Let the hunt begin!

Half the battle in getting better is determining where to focus.  If you don’t know where to look it’s hard to improve.  Fortunately, the money piles are not all that hard to uncover once you know where to search for them.

The first place to find the money is your budget.  Where you spend the most is often where you have the most opportunity to save.  If your organization is like most, your top budget item is people.  My advice is to stay away from that line item (getting better is not usually about laying people off) and move on to other line items that will typically focus on operating expenses.  What do you spend the most on?  Who do you spend the most with?  These are a few questions to use as you begin to uncover opportunities to save.

A second pile of money can be found in your metrics, you know, those numbers you use to measure the performance of your business’ key processes.  A simple way of finding the cash here is to focus on where you have gaps between where you want to be and where you currently are.  Those gaps tend to be filled with cash.

A third stack is about as close to your desk as you can get, which is documented in your team’s goals and your own personal goals.  These dollars are the ones closest to your heart so they will most likely bring out a passion for improvement unlike the other stacks of cash.  What are you and your team working on that is important to the overall goals of the business?  What are you most passionate about fixing?  What tugs at your heart and mind when you’re not at work?  These are all questions that may lead to some of the most meaningful opportunities to get better at what you do.

A final stack of cash that may not be the biggest, but is certainly the most annoying (assuming piles of cash could annoy anyone:-)) are those nagging issues that seem to come up every day that may not be the biggest challenges, but just don’t go away, and have to be dealt with just to keep the business operating.  These “pain points” can be small stacks of cash that could be viewed as those getting in the way of the bigger stacks you’d like to scoop up, but don’t have the time to get after.  These could be quality issues with incoming product, invoicing problems with customers, vendor on-time deliveries, paperwork issues (i.e. forms), etc.  They’re small issues that can’t be ignored, and they take time away from the important stuff you’d like to be working on.

Get in attack mode today!

One quick way to start attacking these potential stacks of cash is to spend the next four weeks sniffing out each of the stacks.  This is a good Friday kind of thing that my clients like to use to finish off their weeks on a high note by finding a stack of cash to get after.

Fridays in most organizations tend to be a little laid back so this is a great “casual” exercise you can spend Friday afternoons hunting and then sorting through the opportunities to determine what to attack starting Monday.  Focus on one stack each Friday and by the end of the four weeks you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get after, and in no time you’ll be counting the money that was once hidden.

Quit wasting your time helping people who don’t want your help!

crying at workOne of the greatest frustrations when leading a lean Six Sigma (LSS) project team is working with people who just don’t care much about the problem.  I see this challenge with my clients all the time.

They setup a meeting with a potential champion to discuss a problem that could be an impactful LSS project only to have the meeting request denied, rescheduled, or with no response at all.  Weeks go by as they try to find time on the champion’s calendar, but nothing happens.  They wonder, “Why won’t this person I’m trying to help take my offer to help them?!?!”

Then, after multiple attempts, they finally “push” the champion into starting the project.  This only leads to a frustrating number of months working the DMAIC process and finding the champion does little to sustain the effort.  In the end the process goes right back where it started!  Ugh!

In this post I’d like to share some advice on how to make sure you don’t end up in this situation on your next project.  Determining the potential success of a project comes down to three P’s that include:

  1. The “right” People…
  2. with a Passion…
  3. to solve a Problem worth fixing.

After close to two decades working in various organizations I’ve never found long term success where any of the 3P’s was missing.  You need all three to be successful over the long term.

Lean Six Sigma would be easy if it didn’t require people!

Let’s start with the first P – People.  This is somewhat of a no-brainer in that it takes people to make a project successful, but what / who are the right people?  There are the obvious people you need, for example, the subject matter experts in the area you are working and those with the technical skills that will be required to use the LSS process, but more importantly you need people with the second P – Passion!

These people, from my experience, are rare jewels in most organizations.  The employee engagement numbers Gallup reports are evidence that most people don’t care much about their jobs.  They tend to have an attitude of doing the minimum and simply work for the weekend.  However, there are those few individuals that always seem to have a positive attitude and are always looking for a better way; a way to provide greater value to the organization.

This can be a challenge in some organizations, but I’d suggest instead of starting with a problem and then finding people to work with you to solve the problem, focus on finding people with passion for improvement and they will have plenty of problems to work on.

You’ll know you’ve found them because they won’t refer to their problems as “problems”, but instead they’ll call them opportunities.  You’ll also recognize them because they will be smiling when they talk about the opportunities, and they’ll likely reach out to you to get started instead of you pushing them to do so.

Finding a problem worth messing with.

What is a problem that’s worth fixing?  The simple answer is that a business case can be made if we fix the problem it will lead to a positive financial impact (i.e. revenue increase, cost reduction, etc.).  I would argue when answering this question we need to dig a little deeper than simply ensuring the problem will have a financial impact, but will also have a positive effect on achieving the goals of the business (i.e. strategic plan, tactical plan, departmental goals, gaps in KPI’s, etc.).

Not every problem is worth messing with.  Ask the question, “How will fixing this problem help the organization take one step forward in achieving the key goals identified by our leadership team?”  Your answer will determine if the problem is worth fixing.

I often tell my clients the most important aspect of a successful LSS initiative in any organization starts with working on the right stuff; the stuff leadership cares about; the stuff leadership gets measured on; the stuff leadership gets rewarded on.  Work on that stuff and succeed, and your leadership team will be asking for more!

There’s no question this process is a huge challenge, and from my experience most don’t succeed at it.  They start the process, usually with the wrong elements like training everyone.  Training is important, but has almost nothing to do with LSS success.  What is important is what you’re working on and the people doing the work.  Pick the right people with a passion to get better, and the problems worth messing with will come to the surface.

The simple infographic below is a great checklist to get started with any LSS project.  You’ll notice that people are the “bookends” that hold your project together in the middle.  Nail down these six things BEFORE you start your next project and you’re more likely to succeed!

This type of work is one of the things I’m most passionate about helping clients with.  Could you use some help?  I’m here for you along with 30+ VRI lean Six Sigma experts located all around the world.  Contact us to help you succeed!

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

I’m what you could call a “political junkie”.  I love watching and reading the latest political news, especially around election time when things get heated up between the contenders.  While I typically look at politicians more as entertainers these days, they do offer up some things that we as lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals can learn from to actually get things done, something they can’t seem to do.  One concept is what I call “shaking hands and kissing babies”.

Less talking more doing.

A few years ago I spent several months coaching a black belt who had a passion for LSS, well, sort of.  For months we spent hours each day talking about LSS.  We explored our thoughts and experiences on deployment, training, software, statistics, etc., but after months of talk he had progressed no further with taking action to turn his knowledge and passion for improvement into results (he would make a great politician).

Then, on my last week working with him, in walked a new black belt just hired and starting her first day on the job.  After some brief introductions, she left us and didn’t return until the end of the day.  I wondered what she’d been up to all day, and when I asked her she said she had been out walking around the offices and talking with people.  She talked with them about their problems, how she could serve them in getting better at what they do, and where LSS might add value to solving some of their big challenges.

Much like a politician seeking your vote, she was mingling with her constituents trying to understand their problems, and how she might help to alleviate some of the challenges they faced each day.  From this my political mind shaped the “shaking hands and kissing babies” analogy to finding people to help through LSS.

What follows is how we can learn from this black belt, and to some degree, politicians working to get your vote.

1. Seek to serve instead of being served.

Way too often we focus on what we’re getting out of the process.  We typically have our sights set on a promotion, job title, more money, corner office, etc., but I would argue that if your primary focus is on how you will benefit from helping others you won’t succeed over the long term.  If you truly want to help others they become priority one and you come second.

You can accomplish anything in life as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.
-Harry Truman

2. Listen more talk less.

Think about someone you know who truly cares about you.  Do they spend all the time you’re together talking to you?  Do you have a hard time getting in a word during your conversations with them?  I doubt it.

People who care about you spend more time listening to you than talking to you.  The same can be said for those you are trying to help with LSS.  Like the black belt I mentioned earlier, spend more time listening to people and they will begin to see that your focus is on helping them not yourself.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
-Epictetus

3. Focus on what matters most.

This is where politicians could use some help!  If you try to fix all the problems you’re not likely to fix any of the problems, and not every problem is worth solving.  You have a finite amount of time in your work day, and what I’ve found is the best people I’ve worked with (those who get the right things done effectively) are those who manage their time well.

To manage your time well you need to have crystal clear focus on the vital few things that matter most to success (i.e. Pareto Principle).  This starts with defining what “success” means to those you are trying to help.  Why do they exists?  How do they add value to the business?  What is keeping them from doing what they do best?  These are all questions to ask in determining what matters most to their success and how LSS may help.

…if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.
-Greg McKeown

4. Know that you can’t do it all.

This is a lesson most politicians will never get, but you as a LSS professional can make a lot of progress by starting with the basis that you can’t do everything for everyone.  Principle number three feeds into this one in that if you focus on what matters most you will take a big step forward in working on the important stuff, but sometimes what matters most is an overwhelming amount of work that you will need some help in accomplishing.

Where there is passion for improvement you will succeed, so I suggest finding those who want to improve first because they will take part in driving the success and not simply come along for the ride.  To some degree process improvement is about finding people with a passion to get better first, and then determining where and how to get better.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.
-Steve Jobs

Get out of your office!

Not long ago I heard from the two black belts I wrote about earlier.  The guy who never left his office no longer works for the company, and the black belt who was out shaking hands and kissing babies was promoted.  To succeed you have to get out and find the opportunities to use your talent as a LSS professional to help others.

It’s a rare organization in which people will come to you with their problems, but as you begin to show others you are there to serve them and not yourself, spend time to listen to their problems and challenges, focus on what matters most to success, and tap into the passion of others who want to get better at what they do you will succeed!

3 ways for making LSS go viral in your organization!

viral2Imagine this scenario…your lean Six Sigma (LSS) team has just finished implementing an improvement that saves your organization $5M.  Your team celebrates and shares a video on LinkedIn explaining the project and how your team achieved the results, and the next morning you check on the video stat’s to find out 3 million people have viewed the video!

This scenario is commonly described as something that’s “gone viral”.  While the example I provide here might be a Utopian LSS dream, what I want to share in this post is learning from things that go viral online, and how we as LSS professionals can use these viral lessons to help our efforts go viral in our own organization.

Viral ingredients.

So what makes something go viral?  Typically, there are three ingredients to creating a viral scenario:

1. Simplicity – easy to understand and quickly apply.

2. Relatable – something that can be shared by many.

3. Location – positioned somewhere it will be seen by the masses.

Keep it simple.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson we as LSS professionals need to learn.  The process of LSS is in general quite complicated.  I find that this is one of the reasons that draws many of us to the profession and methodology.  We MBB’s and BB’s love technical stuff, numbers, lots of decimal places, complicated software, etc.   We can usually spot a bullet point out of place on a PowerPoint slide from a mile away and tell the difference between 11 and 12 font!

Unfortunately, what attracts many of us to LSS is exactly what deters the masses from embracing it.  Never have I come across a client who has told me that LSS is a perfect fit for the complexity they have been looking to add to their already complex work life – nobody is looking for more complexity, so quit trying to over complicate LSS!

If our goal is to spread the LSS “gospel” and get more people using the methodology to solve tough business problems we have to make it easier to use.  One simple way to do this is by starting with the goal I share with all my clients at the start of a project, which is to use as few LSS tools as possible in the shortest amount of time that leads to achieving the project goal.

Where we tend to go sideways is by introducing too many tools when more tools almost never leads to more results.  What more tools usually leads to is more complexity, more project cycle time, more frustrated team members, and more of a chance LSS will have a no chance of spreading throughout your organization so keep it simple.

Keep it real.

When something goes viral it’s because it’s relatable to you and those you associate with.  When we encounter something we can relate to we’re more likely to explore it further.

How we can keep LSS real is by using stories and having a greater understanding of the challenges and frustrations often encountered by those we work with.  To really understand the challenges other people in your organization are facing you need to get out and do what I refer to as shaking hands and kissing babies.  You won’t gain much in understanding the problems of the people you want to help until you get out of your office and connect with the people in your organization.

What will surprise you is that most people face similar problems throughout an organization such as having too much to do and not enough time; reducing costs; increasing efficiency; improving quality; increasing customer satisfaction; getting more out of the people they manage, etc.  In essence, every person in an organization has one common goal – to get better at what they do each and every day.  LSS is a great way to help others improve regardless of what they do or where they do it.

Make it visible.

If you can’t see it no one will know it exists.  This is probably the easiest of the three viral ingredients to implement.  Start with where people hang out and make LSS visible in those areas.

Consider sharing project stories in the conference rooms where people meet.  Use pictures and very few words to tell a project story or an application of a simple tool.  Use bright colors that cause people to take notice.

Other areas to think about are where people spend time waiting for something like documents at a printer, food in a microwave in an employee lunch area, and maybe even in the bathroom.  Anywhere people meet or wait is a good opportunity to catch their attention.

Spreading the LSS “gospel”.

I often tell my clients that LSS projects really have two key goals.  The obvious goal is to improve a process by fixing a specific problem, but this is really a secondary goal.  The primary goal of LSS is to spread the LSS gospel (also known as the “good” news) throughout an organization so that every day people solve tough problems instead of stepping over them.

When people start to understand LSS doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and they can relate to how LSS may help them fix a problem that’s been nagging at them for a long time they will begin to embrace it.

So get started planting a LSS virus in your organization by keeping it simple, relatable, and making it visible.  In time the virus will become contagious and positive change will begin to take hold.

One final thought I’ll leave you with is to start with your leadership team.  They are the most contagious group in your organization and will infect faster than any single person can.  As goes a leadership team so goes an organization!

Play better “chess” with your people to get results!

chessWe’ve all been there before.  Whether it’s working on a process improvement project, giving direction to those we manage, telling our kids what to do, etc.  People don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.  So what can you do about it?

In this post I’ll share with you an overview of a short presentation I use with my clients to quickly explain how using positive reinforcement after a desired behavior takes place can lead to sustainable behavior change.

People behave based on two things.  First, what happens before a behavior (i.e., training, coaching, giving direction), and second, what happens after the behavior takes place (i.e. rewards, punishment).

The biggest problem I observe with my clients who are trying to change behavior of others is that they focus far too much on what happens before the behavior.  They spend hours in training, coaching, writing SOP’s, and telling people what to do, which is a necessary component of behavior change, but far too often they miss the more impactful aspect of behavior change, which is what takes place after the behavior.

Think about when you were a child and had to do “chores”.  Mom or dad told you to clean your room, which may or may not have led to doing it, but if you did complete the task the reward you received (i.e. allowance, ice cream, etc.) was more likely to get you to repeat the behavior than just simple direction on what and how to do it.

I would argue, and the behavior science research supports my argument, it’s no different in the world of business.  Your chores now are the job duties you are hired to complete, and one of the rewards is the paycheck you receive for doing the work.  What I’m getting at here is that what happens after the behavior takes place has a much higher effect on the person repeating the behavior than what happens before the behavior.

Let’s put this into more practical terms of how to drive behavior change.  Before focusing on the rewards component of behavior change let’s make sure you have the necessary elements to set the stage for the desired behavior by asking three simple questions.

1. Do they know what to do?  This might seem like a no-brainer, but just asking the question ensures the expectation has been set.  You wouldn’t believe how many times this one step is all that is needed to change behavior.  Have you ever told someone they were doing something incorrectly to which they replied, “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.”?

2. Do they know how to do it?  You can’t tell someone to do something and then just miraculously expect it to happen.  This is where training and education play a big part in setting the stage for behavior change.  Show them how to do it before asking them to do it.

3. Can they do it?  Not everyone has the ability to do all things.  Have you ever watched American Idol?  Some of those contestants actually think they can sing, but not everyone has a voice for singing!  It’s no different in business.  Some of us are gifted speakers, others are great at analyzing data-we all have talents to use in helping achieve our personal and organizational goals.  The best test here is to have them demonstrate they can do it.

Assuming those you are helping change know what to do, how to do it, and can do it, now it’s simply a matter of providing some reinforcement that fuels their want to do it, which leads to a fourth question.

4. Do they want to do it?  This is where positive reinforcement (rewards) comes into play when changing behavior.  I suggest checking off “yes” to the previous three questions (they are usually the easiest issues to address) before addressing the motivation issue.  No amount of positive reinforcement will make you into an American Idol if you have the voice of a broken chainsaw!

Not everyone views positive reinforcement the same.  For example, many of the hourly workers I have had as team members hate being recognized in public, but when I was a welder many years ago and working on the production line I loved public praise.  The problem with not understanding each individual’s preferred way of being recognized is that when you praise them in the wrong way you are likely to get just the opposite of what you desire.  Praising those hourly workers the way I like to be praised will almost guarantee they will never demonstrate the behavior that led to that praise again just to avoid being called out in front of their peers.

This is something all great leaders know about their people.  In other words, they play chess with their people instead of checkers.  If you compare the two games you’ll see that all the pieces in the game of checkers are the same, whereas in the game of chess each piece plays a unique role.  People are no different.  There are not two of us that are identical in most organizations.

One of the simplest tools I’ve used to play better “chess” with those I’m helping change behavior is a 3 x 5 card as shown below.  All you need to do is write your name on the card and list the ways in which you like to be recognized and praised when you do something good.  This card can then be copied and shared with everyone you work with so that everyone knows the best way to keep you doing great work.  You could also share this with your family as a way to sustain desired behaviors.

One final suggestion I’ll leave you with is that the timeliness and certainty of the reinforcement happening after the positive behavior are critical to repeating it.  Think of how likely you are to repeat a behavior your boss compliments you on months after the behavior took place.  This is one of the best cases for why performance reviews on an annual basis have little impact on changing behavior.  The second you see someone doing something great provide the reinforcement instantly!

In summary, if the people you want to drive behavior change in know what to do, how to do it, can do it, and want to do it, followed by you reinforcing the behavior in a way they find positive that happens immediately while the behavior is taking place or shortly after it, and the person performing the behavior knows for certain the reinforcement is coming, sustainable behavior change is possible – give it a try!

You Need a LSS Coach!

coachGetting better at something is a lot easier when you have guidance on how to get better from someone who’s “been-there-done-that”.  We’ve all experienced being coached beginning with our parents.  There probably isn’t one person in this world who learned to brush their teeth on their own or tie their shoes without some type of “parental” coaching.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

In business it’s no different, especially when it comes to lean Six Sigma (LSS).  I can remember my first project and how much I struggled because I didn’t have anyone to help me succeed.  Looking back now I see that I did have people I could have reached out to for help, but just didn’t have the courage to do so.  It frustrates me now to think how much quicker I could have found success if only I had asked for help!

This is one of the most common reasons why I see a lot of people, especially men, applying LSS for the first time fail.  We men like to figure things out on our own even if it takes us twice as long to do it!  In the end we might finish, but often the struggle to get there is so painful we never want to do it again, which is absolutely the worst outcome we could end up with regarding LSS in an organization.  We want more, not less, LSS!

Lean coaching.

Looking at a LSS project as a process (i.e. DMAIC) and analyzing it for waste using the 8 classic forms of waste it’s easy to make a case for using a coach to reduce project waste.  As a quick reminder the types of waste found in most processes can be summarized using the acronym DOWNTIME.

D-defects / rework

O-overproduction

W-waiting

N-not using people well

T-transportation

I-inventory

M-motion

E-excess processing

As with any process you won’t always find every form of waste to remove, but if you look hard enough you’ll find many of them.  turning our analysis to a typical first LSS project, the forms of waste I see most often when a coach is not brought into the process are defects / rework, not using people well, and excess processing.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The most common form of waste in most processes, LSS included, are defects and rework.  Doing something wrong or having to do it again are probably the most common mistakes we all make when doing something for the first time.  In a complicated process like LSS I have never seen anyone, myself included, go from Define to Control, without making a number of mistakes that lead to having to re-do something or start over.

Defects and rework lead to not using people well, another form of waste, because nearly all LSS projects involve other people whose time is wasted when the project leader makes a mistake.  From a culture change perspective nothing is more impactful in a negative way than wasting people’s time.  When you waste people’s time with LSS they will invariably perceive LSS as a waste of their time!

Arguably, one of the biggest forms of waste I’ve encountered by those not using a coach is excessive processing.  This is always one of the toughest forms of waste for many new practitioners to grasp, but it’s essentially going far beyond what the customer of the process expects-something commonly referred to as “gold-plating”.

For example, I used to frequent a Starbuck’s drivethrough near my house, and almost every time I placed my order for a Grande (medium) Blonde with no room and one Raw Sugar they would give me a Venti (large).  I didn’t really care, but I ordered a Grande because I don’t drink the coffee fast enough, so a lot of what’s at the bottom of my Venti cup goes cold and gets thrown out.

The worst part of this is that they don’t charge me any more for the Venti (it was their mistake), but they still have the higher cost for the larger coffee and make less profit (I paid for a Grande not a Venti).  Now one coffee isn’t going to break Starbucks, but if they’re doing this at even a small percentage of their thousands of locations around the world it could add up quickly!

From a LSS project perspective the way excess processing comes into play is by using far too many tools, statistics, templates, etc. when completing a project.  All this does is add complexity that isn’t needed, and once again this drives people away from LSS, not towards it!  When it comes to a LSS project JIT and using only what is necessary to achieve the project goals will go a long way in creating an “I want to do that again” attitude, which is the ultimate goal of every project.  A coach will be able to help you decipher which of the 658 LSS tools available to you make the most sense to achieve your project goals (i.e. less is more!).

Using a LSS coach opens up a S.E.A. of success.

There are three reasons why everyone needs a LSS coach when they get started on their first few projects.  The first reason is Support.

No one is an expert the first time they do anything.  We all need support from someone who has been successful doing what we are attempting to do.  In the world of LSS these are usually those who have master black belt certification from a reputable organization and have completed many projects successfully.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

A second reason to find a coach is for Encouragement.  If you haven’t been frustrated yet with LSS you haven’t done much of it!  Getting people to change what they do; follow a structured problem solving methodology like LSS; complete action items; even show up for an occasional working session can be extremely frustrating work.  Sometimes you just need someone to talk to who’s dealt with and pushed through those frustrating times to give you some encouragement.

A final reason, the top reason my clients find value in what I do for them, is provide Accountability.  In some ways it’s not surprising, but when I ask my clients what they value most about the time we spend together it’s always that I provide them with an accountability partner-someone to hold them accountable for what they have simply agreed to do.  My general approach to coaching is to meet with my clients every two weeks for an hour, and knowing that our session is coming up is usually enough of a motivator for them to come prepared to discuss their project.

Back when I should have been looking for a coach the resources that are available now didn’t exist, but with technological advances like Google, LinkedIn, Skype, FaceTime, etc., finding a coach isn’t all that difficult.  The most important criteria, aside from being qualified (i.e. MBB, project experience, etc.), is finding someone you trust, which can take some time, but it’s time well spent that will lead to years of future results and less frustration in the process.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Variance Reduction International, Inc. if you need help finding a high performance coach.  We have 30+ LSS Experts located around the world ready to help you succeed!

Selecting Lean Six Sigma Thoroughbreds

galloping-thoroughbred-horse-the-irish-image-collection-Over the course of 10+ years of working with organizations striving to improve what they do using lean Six Sigma (LSS) I’ve come to the realization that success lies in three key elements.

  1. Working on what matters to leadership
  2. Picking the right people
  3. Providing coaching support

First and foremost is picking the right stuff to work on.  There isn’t anything that’s even a close second in my opinion.  You’ll often read that the number one reason for LSS failure is a lack of leadership support, but I would argue if you dig a little deeper as to why the support isn’t there it has to do with what is being worked on.  Work on the stuff that matters to leadership and you won’t have anything lacking!

Work horses, donkeys, and thoroughbreds.

A second area that leads to success is what I want to focus on in this post-picking high performance project facilitators.  The analogy I like to use relates to the types of people that work in most organizations.

From a statistical perspective you can view this as a normal distribution in that most people tend to fall into the “work horse” category.  These are the individuals who come to work each day and do what they are told to do, but never seem to live up to their true potential. Essentially, they do the minimum to not get punished, but hardly ever give any discretionary effort.

Another group, thankfully much smaller but in some organizations are very disruptive, are the “donkeys”.  They kick at everything that comes their way and are generally pessimists about not only work, but life in general.  They find a $10 bill and complain it wasn’t a $100 bill!  The sad thing about this group is that despite their small size they tend to get a lot of attention!

The final group, the group you want to be selecting your future LSS facilitators from are the thoroughbreds.   They seek to win every race they get into.  They put in the effort to succeed and strive to achieve maximum performance every time they line up to take on a challenge.  The problem is there are not many of them in most organizations.  They are a rare breed and have no shortage of requests to help coming their way, and in some cases, they have the ability to perform, but no time to do it.

Gallup research on workplace engagement suggests similar numbers to what I’ve seen with organizations I’ve worked with over the past decade when selecting thoroughbred LSS facilitators.  The latest data suggests the following:

32% engaged (thoroughbreds)

51% not engaged (work horses)

17% disengaged (donkeys)

Think of it this way.  In your last LSS class 2 students were the pessimists of the group cracking off the sarcastic comments, saying this won’t work here, etc.  Five of the students didn’t care one way or the other.  They spent much of the time checking instant messages, email, and their Facebook page.  Then there were the three who really got into it.  They asked a lot of questions, came prepared, were on-time coming back from breaks and lunch, and they left with more energy than they came with.  Sound familiar?

Finding more thoroughbreds and fewer donkeys.

The challenge is finding more thoroughbreds than donkeys in your organization, but how do you find them?  I would argue that your search begins by identifying who are the future leaders of your organization.  These are the rock stars of the future you want leading your LSS efforts.

Think of it this way…They are the future “seeds” being planted today that will eventually “sprout” into leaders who will then “pollinate” the organization with the process improvement philosophy, mindset, etc.

We talk about process improvement being more about culture change than anything else, and how do you change culture?  I would argue it starts with your people.  People create culture.

Picture five years from now when those who are individual contributors start entering the leadership ranks and by that time have led a number of process improvement projects and have seen the value of focused process improvement.  Now, in the position of a leader, they will begin to cultivate the same attitude in their direct reports, and as leadership goes so goes the organization.  This is when real culture change related to process improvement starts to happen.

You could ask a hundred questions to identify potential thoroughbreds, but overall you want to feel secure that they are going to be a future leader which starts with some simple questions to the candidate, their supervisor, and their peers.  Consider these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Does the business view this person as having “leadership potential”?
  • Where does their current supervisor see them in 5 years?
  • Where do their peers see them in 5 years?

The other two key elements that lead to success initially that are worth inquiring about are how the individual manages their time, and how their supervisor views and feels about process improvement.  The two biggest short-term failure modes I experience with my coaching clients is that despite their passion for improvement and leadership potential what often sinks them is their inability to manage their time well and / or a supervisor who doesn’t see the value of LSS.

Finding thoroughbreds isn’t easy, but if you ask the right questions the top performers emerge, and the donkeys will get left behind in the stable.  Eventually they will move into the leadership ranks and that’s when real positive change begins to take place.