Monthly Archives: August 2013

Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 2

eq_icebergIn my last post on becoming an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional I wrote about the foundation of improving your emotional intelligence, which centers on being aware of your own emotions and those around you.  In this installment we move on to the next level of increasing emotional intelligence that focuses on using emotions.  Whether or not you want to admit it, we all use emotions to some degree as we make decisions in our personal and work lives, and knowing how to tap into those emotions will help you make more effective decisions.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Iowa, had an interesting discovery while working with a patient who was a lawyer that had a tumor removed from his prefrontal lobes.  The lawyer was successful by all accounts before the surgery in that he had a good marriage, a promising career practicing law, and essentially was living the American Dream.  Unfortunately, the surgeon removing his tumor accidentally cut the circuit connecting his amygdala (emotional center of the brain) to his prefrontal lobes.  Over a period of time after the surgery the man lost his house, wife, and his job.  As he struggled with his losses he began seeing Dr. Damasio, and during one of their meetings the doctor made a discovery when his patient could not for the life of him make a decision about when their next meeting should take place.

The lawyer was able to make a list of the pros and cons of each of the available dates and times, but simply could not make a decision on which to choose.  Damasio concluded that our minds are not logical like computers, but work with both logic and emotion to make decisions.  With the emotional element missing from the lawyer’s brain he was not able to make decisions with only the logical element that remained after the botched surgery.

This leads to the argument that we need both logic and emotion to make good decisions.  This not only applies to all aspects of our personal lives, but also the the daily activities we encounter as Lean Six Sigma professionals.  The challenge then lies in matching the right emotions to the thinking we want to stimulate.  The emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional will be able to identify both (emotions and thinking) to create an effective outcome.

Some examples that come to mind are brainstorming for root causes and selecting solutions to drive improvements.  The first step in this process begins with making an assessment of the current mood and / or emotions of the team.  One method you can use for making this evaluation is the mood meter I wrote about in a previous post.  Research suggests we tend to come up with good ideas and are more creative when we are in positive moods.

To test this theory think back on a time that you were really frustrated, angry, or depressed and came up with a great idea to solve a problem.  If you’re like most people I’ve asked this question to you probably can’t think of a single time when this situation happened!  Very rarely, if ever, do we come up with great ideas when we want to punch someone or jump off a bridge!

The challenge comes when your team is not full of positive energy, but you need to begin working on a solution or brainstorming root causes-so what can be done to change the emotions of the team?  There are a number of techniques I use to help influence positive energy and thoughts, but what I find works best is visualization of a past experience.  The following is a process you can use to tap into your personal positive energy.

  1. Relax by closing your eyes and laying down if possible.
  2. Imagine a time when you have felt happy and energized.
  3. Play out the scenario like a movie scene in your mind to relive the moment.
  4. Try to feel the emotions you were feeling at that time.
  5. Link the feelings to sounds, smells, tastes, etc. to that time.
  6. Finish on a positive note by coming back to the task and visualizing a positive outcome.

To facilitate18628350_The Benefits Of Meditation At Work this process have each team member follow these six steps before you get into brainstorming and / or solution development.  Spending 5-10 minutes is all that it usually takes to “get in the mood”.  For longer sessions, such as those you might encounter at a Kaizen event over several days, repeat this exercise a few times throughout the session to keep the energy level high.  I tend to find the more I repeat the process with the same scenario the stronger my visualizations become.

Another method I use is positive self-talk.  It’s another way we’ve all used at one time or another to “psych” ourselves up for a big event such as a public speaking engagement or a big exam.  Some phrases I use include:

  • I’ve practiced and am prepared-nothing will go wrong!
  • This is a great day to be alive!
  • Others would kill for the opportunity I’ve been given!
  • I am here because I deserve this-my hard work is paying off today!

Trying to ignore emotions is a battle you can’t win, and knowing how to tap into your emotions and the emotions of others can only lead to greater results than purely focusing on logic.  This can seem counter intuitive to some Lean Six Sigma folks because we live and die by what the numbers tell us in many cases.  There’s no question data is critical to success, but data does not come in only numbers in a spreadsheet, it also comes from emotions deep within us.  Those who can learn to leverage both will be more likely to make better decisions that lead to effective results.

Lean Six Sigma would be easy if it weren’t for having to deal with “people” issues!

ResistanceSomeone once said to me that Lean Six Sigma would be easy if it weren’t for having to get people involved in the solutions.  To some degree I’ve seen this throughout my career in that projects I’ve worked on that have required little change in the behaviors of people seem to have solutions that are “stickier”.  In other words, they don’t seem to revert back to the prior condition before the Lean Six Sigma project solutions were implemented.  Unfortunately, most projects involve people to some degree, so this begs to answer the question-why don’t people do what they’re supposed to do?

Ferdinand Fournies writes about this problem and argues people don’t do what they’re supposed to do for a variety of reasons that many Lean Six Sigma teams may encounter when implementing solutions.  Here’s a few of the reasons and some thoughts on how to address each one.

1. They don’t know why they should do it.

2. They don’t know how to do it.

3. They don’t know what they are supposed to do.

These first three reasons are at the heart of most Lean Six Sigma control plans (i.e. what and how).  The why comes from ensuring people understand how the change will positively impact things such as customer satisfaction, safety, productivity, quality, cost, and revenue.  Project teams also need to consider the “what’s in it for me” or WIIFM factor when implementing changes.  Ask the question of what’s in it for the person changing, and you may end up with a much different perspective on why you may not be seeing the changes you expected.

4. They think your way will never work.

5. They think their way is better.

Reasons four and five fit nicely into the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC process because project teams should have data to confirm or deny these reasons for not doing what should be done.  Perhaps in some cases the resistors are correct in that their way is better, but they need to have data to back up their claims.  Likewise, the Lean Six Sigma team should have data from the Measure phase to compare to the Improve phase to validate the new way is truly better.  In either case, this is a great opportunity to teach those impacted by the project the power of having data to make decisions.

6. They think something else is more important.

7. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it.

8. They think they are doing it.

9. They are rewarded for not doing it.

10. They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do.

11. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it.

12. There is no negative consequence to them for poor performance.

Reason’s six through twelve illustrate just how important the champion’s role is in the Lean Six Sigma process.  Each of these reasons are in their hands, and how they prepare for and react to resistance to change ultimately determines the likelihood of success with the project.  As a champion your role is to provide consequences to make the changes stick.  I wrote about consequences in a previous post, and quite frequently from my experience champions and teams tend to focus on the antecedents (i.e. action plans, SOP’s, etc.) instead of the consequences (i.e. positive reinforcement) when implementing solutions.  The research in behavioral science clearly argues that antecedents are far less effective in changing behavior when compared to consequences.  Champions need to have a plan in place to deal with behavior changes that will be required to make the improvement stick, and having a heavy focus on consequences, specifically positively reinforcing the desired behavior, will minimize the chances that people will revert back to old behaviors.

There’s no guarantee that people will do what they are supposed to do, but knowing some of the reasons why they may resist change is critical in many Lean Six Sigma projects where people will be asked to do something different than what they currently do.  Ideally, these people need to be part of the Lean Six Sigma team, but this doesn’t always guarantee success.  As your team approaches implementation of improvement solutions keep these twelve reasons in mind and use them as a checklist to ensure those reasons that may apply have been addressed.


Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 1

girl-looking-in-mirrorThis is the first in a series of postings I’m going to share related to what I’ve been teaching my clients in relation to increasing their emotional intelligence to become a better Lean Six Sigma professional.  Much has been written on the impact emotional intelligence has on performance in general, but little has been discussed related directly to Lean Six Sigma performance.  I would argue that success in the area of process improvement is 80-90% related to an individual’s “people” skills, and only 10-20% related to technical abilities.

To test my theory think about someone you’ve worked with on a process improvement project, who, if you could replicate throughout your business, would lead your organization to becoming a leader in how to use process improvement methods, such as Lean Six Sigma; that others in the industry would look to as a case study, perhaps even a prestigious award such as the Baldrige or Shingo.

Now, with that person in mind, write down characteristics, abilities, etc. that you believe make that person successful.

With your list complete, label each item you wrote down as falling into one of two skills / abilities categories of either people (P) or technical (T).  Count the total number of items you have for each and determine a percentage of P and T.

If you’re like most people I’ve done this exercise with you likely have a greater percentage P than T.  What I’m getting at here is that it’s usually not someone’s ability to master conducting a DOE or using Minitab or Excel that makes them successful in Lean Six Sigma, rather it’s their ability to work well with others, tap into the power of their team member’s abilities, and being able to sense when a team can be pushed harder or needs to be backed off from.

Emotional Intelligence and Lean Six Sigma

One component of working well with others in Lean Six Sigma is your emotional intelligence.  There are a number of practitioners and academicians who have proposed models of emotional intelligence, each differing to some degree, but what most have in common is that emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness and the ability to perceive the emotions of others.

As Lean Six Sigma professionals we know the importance of having data to measure performance and improvement.  Without data we have no basis to understand the current state nor the improvements that have been implemented.  I like to use the analogy of a sporting event and relate data to a scoreboard we use to answer the question-are we winning or losing?  Without data we can’t answer the question.

It’s no different with emotional intelligence.  Emotions are simply data related to people.  Without data we can’t make good decisions.  Research suggests that good decisions are based in not only logic, but also in emotion.  We need both to be effective with Lean Six Sigma!  So then where do we start to become emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professionals?  The answer is we start with understanding our own emotions and the emotions of those around us.

Whether we want to or not we use emotions every day.  Think about the first thing you do when you wake up each day such as eating breakfast.  Is the decision you make on what to eat based purely in logic?  If you’re like me you look at your options and make a decision on what’s available and what you “feel” like eating; in other words, we base the decision on logic (what’s available) and emotions (what you feel like eating).  Throughout a typical day we make hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of similar decisions using both logic and emotion.

Improving Emotional Awareness

To begin the process of improving your ability to be aware of your emotions we need a baseline to start from.  In a sense we can use the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC framework for this process to make it relevant to what most of us already know and apply to our work space.  In Define we have established the problem as not being and / or improving our ability to become more aware of our emotions and those around us.  The Measure phase begins with establishing a baseline to improve upon, which can be done using a myriad of tools such as taking an EI assessment (i.e. MSCEIT, EQ-i) or something less complex such as an emotional journal.

I like to use both tools as the assessment gives you a quantifiable measure, whereas the journal gives you qualitative data that is easier to act upon.  When creating an emotions journal I find it’s easier to collect information if you consistently start with a standard set of questions such as:

1. How am I feeling both physically (where the emotion is located in my body) and emotionally?
2. Has anything happened to make me feel this way?
3. When I feel this way, what do I need?
4. When have I felt this way in the past?
5. When is the first time I remember feeling this way?

To start the process of improving your self-awareness I suggest setting a reminder on your phone or computer to spend 5 – 10 minutes a few times each day adding an entry into your emotional journal.  Complete this process for a few weeks and you’re bound to discover some answers to help you become more aware of your emotions and why you feel the way you do.  An additional suggestion is to comjournal-writing-meplete your journal after each Lean Six Sigma team meeting to capture your feelings right after working with your team to better tap into your ability to become aware of your emotions in relation to project activities.

Another element to increasing emotional awareness is improving your ability to be aware of other people’s emotions.  The quickest and most accurate way to assess someone’s emotional state is through their facial expressions.  While engaged with someone in a conversation make sure to pay special attention to their facial expressions to gauge their emotional state.  I find this is an incredibly valuable method to finding out how people feel about certain things that come up in Lean Six Sigma project activities such as action items and solution ideas.  When you assign action items or suggest an improvement idea watch for the facial expressions of those you are talking to.  You can usually tell how likely they are to engage in completing the action item or are bought into the solution just through their facial expressions.

Another simple way to assess the emotional state of another person is to simply ask them how they are feeling.  To test your ability to gauge the emotions of others make an assessment about how you believe someone else is feeling, then ask them how they are feeling to validate your assessment.  As you become better at assessing the emotions of others you will see your correct percentage increase.

Improving your ability to become aware of your emotions and the emotions of others takes time and practice.  The benefit of better understanding your own and others emotions is that with this knowledge you will be better equipped to tap into those emotions to work toward positive outcomes related to your Lean Six Sigma activities.

In my next installment we’ll dig deeper into how to utilize this knowledge, but until then go to work on improving your ability to assess your emotions and the emotions of those around you for the next few weeks and see what it feels like to get to know your own feelings and the feelings of those you work with each day.  I promise it will be an eye-opening experience when you start to ask yourself why you feel the way you do and you begin the process of self-discovery.


Use Your ABC’s to Drive Lean Six Sigma Performance

abc in postWhile Lean Six Sigma started in the manufacturing industry it has migrated into the transactional business world where much of the project work has shifted from changing machinery, technology, tooling, etc., to changing what people do-in other words, transactional Lean Six Sigma is mostly about changing human behavior.  In some respects this has increased the complexity of successfully completing a project because instead of just implementing things that do what they are supposed to do each and every time (i.e. new machines, tooling, etc.) we now have to implement new behaviors to make the improvements work.

Unfortunately, what drives human behavior is not part of the “normal” Lean Six Sigma training in most organizations, which is, arguably, why many companies struggle to succeed with their deployments.  In this first of a series of postings related to human behavior, I share one of the foundational concepts in behavioral science-the ABC’s.

The science behind why we do what we do has been around for decades (Google B.F. Skinner and behavior modification to find the foundational research), but I would argue not much has been done to make it a part of the education and training found in business schools and professional training courses such as Lean Six Sigma.  Because of this lack of education, training, and understanding, much of what we focus on to change behavior leads to ineffective results.


The ABC’s of Behavior

All behavior can be associated to what happens before and / or after the behavior.  What happens before behavior takes place is called an antecedent.  Some examples of Lean Six Sigma antecedents include:

  • Training
  • Setting goals (# of projects, financial savings, etc.)
  • Leadership support
  • Identifying projects
  • Getting selected to go to training

Most of what we do in the Lean Six Sigma world is focused on antecedents, but unfortunately only around 20 percent of behavior is driven by what happens before it occurs.  What drives most of behavior are what is known as consequences.  Consequences can be classified into one of four types that include:

  • Positive reinforcement (R+)
  • Negative reinforcement (R-)
  • Punishment (P+)
  • Penalty (P-)

Positive reinforcement is different for everyone, but essentially it is anything that leads to the behavior recurring.  For some this might be public recognition, hand written notes, or an email from your manager saying you did a great job.  Negative reinforcement are things you want to escape or avoid.  Examples of negative reinforcement include the fear of losing your job or getting “chewed out” for something you’ve done.  Punishment happens when you get something you don’t want, for example, a speeding ticket when you are driving too fast.  Finally, penalties are those things you lose that you actually want.  The most common example that may come to mind if you are a parent is when you take a toy away from your child when they are misbehaving.

Both positive and negative reinforcement can be used to increase behaviors, whereas punishment and penalties are used to decrease behavior.  Each of these consequences is not equal in their ability to change behavior.  Research suggests positive reinforcement is by far the most effective way to change what people do.  Unfortunately, in most organizations the prevalent form of consequences are negative reinforcement.  This generally leads to doing just enough to not get in trouble.  Sadly, what we are left with are individuals working at a minimal level of performance when they could be working to their full potential, something Maslow referred to a self-actualization.

In modern terms self-actualization is similar to being fully engaged in your work.  From a behavioral aspect, this is commonly referred to as discretionary effort-in other words, going far above what is expected, and maximizing one’s true capabilities.  Think about this for a second-are you working to your full potential every day?  I’m guessing most of you are not.  How big an impact could you make in your organization if you were working to your full potential each and every day?  Now multiply that times the number of people in your company and think about how significant an impact it could have on your organization’s results!


team_meetingUsing the ABC’s to Improve Lean Six Sigma Performance

The first step in identifying opportunities for improvement using the ABC’s with Lean Six Sigma projects is to identify the behavior you want more of.  For example, if you want projects to be completed in a certain amount of time, identifying the behaviors that need to take place to meet those objectives is a logical first step.  One of the activities I’ve discovered that is linked to project cycle time is routine team meetings.  My experience has led me to believe that teams that meet infrequently or use a haphazard approach to scheduling meetings tend to be less successful, and even if they do succeed they usually take months longer than those teams who meet on a regular basis (i.e. same day, time, location, weekly or bi-weekly).  A common goal for all Lean Six Sigma programs is short project cycle time, so how can we drive the behavior that leads to having routine team meetings, ultimately reducing project cycle time?

1. Determine the Desired Behavior

In this analysis I’ve identified routine team meetings as the behavior I want.  This alone is not enough to start the ABC analysis because what does “routine team meetings” mean?  We need to be able to quantify the behavior we want to see or hear.  In this case I’ve defined routine meetings as those that happen at least bi-weekly with 85% team participation that include a written agenda and last at least two hours.

2. Identify Antecedents Leading to Behavior

The antecedents for the behavior I want include a number of actions such as scheduling the meeting, sending out invitations, creating an agenda, and reserving a room.  Keep in mind that antecedents, while important, only drive around 20% of behaviors.  Just because we’ve planned and prepared for a meeting doesn’t mean the behavior of having meetings bi-weekly will continue to occur.

3. Determine Consequences That Drive Desired Behavior and Provide Timely R+

Consequences are different for everyone.  The best place to start with understanding what is positively reinforcing for someone is to simply ask them.  Some people like public recognition, others may like hand written notes or emails, I personally like it when I am recognized in front of those I work with and for.  We’re all different, so making sure you have the right positive reinforcement is critical to making the behavior continue.  Also, remember there are different types of reinforcement, but positive reinforcement is what will lead to sustained desired behaviors, so that is where your focus should be.

Another important consideration is the timing of the reinforcement.  Research suggests that when we receive positive reinforcement while we are actually doing the desired behavior it has a greater impact and will more likely lead to continuing the behavior.  Knowing for certain that we will receive positive reinforcement if we demonstrate the desired behavior also increases the chances we will continue to exhibit the behavior as well.  Summarizing this step in the process then comes down to 1) making the reinforcement positive, 2) delivering it in a timely manner, ideally, as the behavior is taking place, and 3) ensuring the individual knows that with a high degree of certainty they will receive positive reinforcement if they demonstrate the behavior.

4. Monitor Results and Modify Consequences as Needed

The proof will be in the results you see after implementing your plan.  Before monitoring the results you will want to determine how you will track performance.  In this case I simply used a spreadsheet to monitor the meeting schedule of the individual I was working with.  I attended the meetings so that provided an opportunity to give instant positive reinforcement, which for her was public recognition in front of her team and champion.  Sometimes, however, you may not see a change or sustainment of the behavior, which suggests you may not be using the right positive reinforcement.  In this case I would recommend using another method of positive reinforcement from the list you developed with the person you are reinforcing.  Even though we think we know what positively reinforces us sometimes we can be wrong, and the proof is in the behavior you see after trying the reinforcement.

Click here to see my ABC example and find a template you can use to do your own.

As you can see, this isn’t rocket science.  A PhD in psychology isn’t required to change behavior, you just need to understand the levers that must be pulled (i.e. positive reinforcement) to create and sustain the desired behavior.  Once you identify the right reinforcement, then the challenge becomes delivering the reinforcement as planned.  To change behavior it takes work from both the person doing the behavior and the one reinforcing it so remember to reinforce, reinforce, reinforce when you see the desired behavior!