Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dale Carnegie on Coaching Lean Six Sigma Professionals

Leaders-Helping-OthersAs many books as I’ve read in recent years (around 30 so far this year alone) I haven’t read one of what most would consider an essential for anyone working with people, which pretty much covers all of us unless you work in a zoo!  The book I’m referring to is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

When you consider what we do as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals, especially people like myself who are Master Black Belts (MBB) coaching belts and champions through projects and deployments, we spend most of our time interfacing with people, and in many cases try to convince them to do things to benefit their programs and projects.  In a way, we spend most of our time trying to get people to do things for their benefit, which sometimes they don’t readily see.

With that in mind, how do we get people to do what we think they should do to get to a desired result?  Carnegie writes in his book about this exact topic, starting with three fundamental techniques for “handling” people.  The book was written in 1936, and perhaps back then the term handling was appropriate, but a more contemporary way of describing this technique is perhaps effectively “working with” people.  In a sense, some of what Carnegie describes is similar to the concepts found in emotional intelligence, specifically having empathy for others.

The three principles Carnegie prescribes are:

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Avoiding Criticism

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as an MBB is avoiding criticism.  I often find it challenging to look at the work of belts I’m working with from the perspective of where their knowledge and experience level is.  From my MBB perspective the work of most belts is almost always lacking, but the point is not to bring them to my level of experience and expectations as if I were working the project, but instead to view the work from their level.  This can be challenging and often leads to criticism that does little except create potential conflict between myself and the other person.

Ultimately, if our goal in coaching another person is to change their behavior to achieve a desired result we do little in accomplishing this with criticism.  Carnegie suggests, “Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them.  Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do.  That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.”  From an emotional intelligence perspective what Carnegie is describing is empathy.  We need to see things from the other person’s perspective in order to understand and help.

Feedback and Recognition-The Holy Grail of Changing Behavior

Carnegie describes this principle as the “big secret” of dealing with people.  In a previous post I discussed the concept of positive reinforcement, and how research suggests that 80% of behavior is driven by what we do after a behavior happens, more specifically, by positively reinforcing desired behavior rather than punishing what we don’t want we are more likely to get others to demonstrate the behavior again.

Giving honest and sincere appreciation is one of the best ways I’ve found in getting those I coach to repeat the behavior I’m focused on helping them develop.  Instead of focusing on what they have done wrong, spend your effort on the positive side.  The old adage of “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar” holds true for people as well.

What’s in it for Me?  Tapping into the WIIFM Factor

When it comes right down to it we really are focused on what’s in it for ourselves most of the time.  Sure, from time to time we do want to help others succeed, but ultimately we believe we have to take care of ourselves first before we can help others.  Carnegie argues that to influence others we need to talk about and understand what they want, and show them how to get it.  This again points back to emotional intelligence and having empathy for others by looking at a situation from their point of view.

Carnegie quotes Henry Ford on his advice for mastering the art of human relationships.  Ford stated, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”  To truly understand another person’s perspective we have to get inside their thoughts, ambitions, and desires and view them as the goal we strive in helping them achieve.  Carnegie argued back in 1936 that the world was full of grabbing and self-seeking individuals who are focused on only themselves, and anyone who truly strives to serve others has a great advantage.

From my perspective, the world hasn’t changed much since the 1930s-most of us are still self-seeking and centered on only what we want, and anyone who focuses on serving the needs of others will no doubt be surrounded by many people who will help you achieve your greatest ambitions and goals.

Coaching With Compassion

The challenge of coaching is that we are dealing with people who are not creatures of logic, but instead are creatures of emotions.  If we were purely a logical being we would just execute instructions that lead to the desired results, but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective, we work in both a logical and emotional realm.

My advice is simple, yet I know from my own perspective it can be difficult to execute in every interaction we have with others.  Start by focusing on the positive.  If our goal is to help others develop into great belts and champions we are unlikely to do so by spending energy on what they have done wrong.  Capitalize on every win you encounter each day by giving praise as often as possible.

Second, ask those you are coaching what they desire from the situation you are coaching them through.  Is there desire to achieve certification?  Gain recognition for saving the organization a lot of money?  Challenge their analytical abilities?  To truly understand the situation from the other person’s perspective we need to understand that perspective, which can be as simple as asking a few questions.

Finally, never lose sight on the perspective that it’s not about you-it’s about them!  I often times can get hung up on the WIIFM factor myself looking at the situation from how I will gain from this project, program, etc.  Those things will take care of themselves in the long run if we always focus on helping others get what they want.

5 Ways to Find Your Next Lean Six Sigma Project

SearchI spend most of my time mentoring Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals, and one of the most common challenges I run into is finding great projects.  Arguably, projects are the “life-blood” of a great LSS program.  Without great projects it is unlikely that senior leaders will continue to support LSS activities; and we all know that senior leadership support is critical to sustainment.

Defining “Great” Projects

What is a “great” project?  I would argue that a great project starts with a clearly defined problem statement.  We need to have clarity around what we are trying to improve.  Second, a great problem statement has to be linked to a key performance indicator that will tell us whether or not we have improved.  This leads to one of my mantras working with belts; “one problem-one number”.  One of the most common failure modes I run into working with new belts is that they try to work on too many problems and measure too many metrics in a single project.  Taking on too much leads to projects lasting months, if not years, and the best way to combat this is with a singular focus.

Third, we need to be able to make a business case for why we should be working on the problem.  In a sense, the business case should answer the question of why should we dedicate resources, capital, etc. to fix this problem-why is it worth pursuing?  The test I propose to belts is that if you were to run into your senior leader in the parking lot after work and he/she asked you about your LSS project, in one or two sentences you could state the problem and why it is important to the business.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is having an engaged champion who is excited and passionate about attacking the problem.  I find there is a misconception regarding who actually “owns” projects.  Most tend to believe the belts are the owners because they are the ones we see doing all the activities (i.e. meetings, tools, documentation, etc.).  The belts is no more than a technical expert supporting the process, which is owned by the champion.  When the project is completed the belt will move on to the next opportunity and the champion will make or break the long term success of the improvement.

Searching for Projects 

With criteria established for defining a great project, where should we begin our search?  Part of the problem is seeing the opportunity that lies all around us each day in our work environment.  Our role as LSS professionals is to help others see the opportunities.  In a way we can act as facilitators of uncovering opportunities that are linked to a number of areas within our organizations.

1. Strategic and Tactical Plans

This is one of my favorite places to begin the search because senior leaders are already committed to executing these plans.  A simple approach is to review strategic plans and tactical initiatives (i.e. individual performance plans, departmental/team performance plans) and look for key words such as “improve”, “increase”, “reduce”, “minimize”, “maximize”, “decrease”, etc.  These often lead to existing processes that can be or are currently being measured.  There’s also no question a business case can usually be made, and a champion identified to lead the effort.

2. Projects flow from where money goes!

Follow the money trail!  Taking a look at where the money is being spent is another great source of projects.  What line item in your budget has the most zeros?  Where is most of the money being spent?  This often leads to the greatest savings opportunities.  The other great thing about searching here is that it’s in a language senior leaders understand and get excited about!

3. Metrics

It’s hard to find any business these days that doesn’t have some type of performance “dashboard” or list of key performance indicators.  What gets measured in most businesses is generally what is most important to the organization and its leaders.  Look for metrics where the biggest gaps exists between actual and desired performance.  The great thing about finding projects in this space is that the data already exists and going from kick-off meeting and straight through to the Analyze phase of DMAIC can be done in a matter of days.

4. Listen to The Voices

There are voices all around us each day at work.  Voices of our customers both internal and external to the business; voices of employees; voices of the business (i.e. senior leaders, market conditions, etc.); and voices of the processes we use to deliver product and services.  The voices tell us where opportunity exists if we listen to them.  By simply keeping your ears open to the voices project opportunities will start to materialize.

5. Time = $$$$

A final place I like to look for projects is more individually based, but can also be raised to a departmental/team level.  Start with the question of what do I/we spend most of our time doing each day?  If you want to get more quantitative answers to the question create a checklist for yourself or your team to use for capturing this data for a week and then Pareto the data.  Where you spend most of your time is likely to result in where the best opportunities exists.

Creating a successful LSS program starts with great projects, but finding them can be a challenge.  Use these five methods to begin your search and I guarantee you won’t have any shortage of project material to work with.  These are my top five places to look, but I’d love to hear from you where you’ve been successful in finding great projects.  Leave a comment or email me with your top 5.