I’m in the process of developing a class on the fundamentals of management and was looking through a series of articles trying to find the best choices for this course, which is only four weeks long (a challenge in itself), when I came across one of my favorite Harvard Business Review articles by management guru Peter Drucker titled Managing Oneself.
Rereading the article I began to see connections between many issues plaguing not only Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals, but business in general, primarily the problem of low engagement.
Lack of Engagement = Lack of LSS Results
There are a series of negative effects low engagement can lead to such as long project cycle times, poor project results, lack of sustainability in a LSS program, and ultimately, failure of a LSS initiative.
Gallup, arguably the leading research organization on engagement, has been compiling data on engagement for years, and as the illustration below suggests, a lack of engagement can be what separates the low and high performing organizations. I would argue that engagement levels are also a differentiator between low and high performing LSS teams and programs as well.
Keys to Managing Oneself
In Drucker’s article on managing oneself he argues that each of us needs to be our own CEO and take control of our own destiny by cultivating a deep self-understanding. He suggests that to do this is a simple formula for success, which I’ve modified slightly for LSS.
True and Lasting LSS Excellence = LSS Strengths + Self-Knowledge
The process of managing oneself begins with five simple questions some of which I’ve modified to fit the LSS perspective:
- What is / are my LSS strengths? What do I excel at doing?
- How do I work and learn?
- What are my values?
- Where do I belong? In which type of environment do I thrive?
- What can I contribute that adds value to a LSS project / program?
These questions bring me back to the problem of engagement that, from Gallup’s perspective, center on 12 key elements illustrated below. In some ways the 12 elements map nicely on top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that lead to self-actualization. In essence, I would argue, and believe Gallup’s researchers would agree, that we need to have the basic needs met before we can progress up the ladder to the top engagement drivers.
Looking at the 12 elements from a LSS perspective is the first step in understanding how to increase engagement in the projects we work on and the programs supporting LSS activities.
Q1-2 are basic needs such as training, software, text books, computers, etc. Q3-6 are driven primarily by champions and sponsors. Q7-10 are obviously focused on team dynamics. Finally, Q11 and 12 are a combination of leadership feedback and individual growth opportunities.
My goal here is not to address all of the elements, but I believe it’s important as a LSS professional who is striving for success to have a complete understanding of all that may lead to increasing engagement, whether it be in a macro sense of achieving organizational objectives or on a more micro perspective such as a LSS project.
Managing Oneself = Increased LSS Engagement
My own dissertation research suggest we can control our engagement to some degree, and looking deeper into Drucker’s views on managing oneself I’ve developed some ways you can consider when taking control of your own level of engagement.
Tip #1 Capitalize on Your LSS Strengths and Avoid Your Weaknesses
Knowing what you do well will go a long way in driving your engagement levels higher, but sometimes what we think is a strength is not always the case. One simple way of identifying strengths is to conduct a feedback analysis with those you work and live with.
Ask those you’ve worked with recently on a LSS project questions such as, “what did I really do well on project xyz?”, or “If I was to be your “go-to-guy / gal” on something LSS related what would it be?”.
These questions will start to develop themes in the answers that will lead to identifying your strength areas such as facilitating brainstorming sessions, telling the LSS project story to senior leaders, or taking complex concepts such as hypothesis testing and putting it into simple terms non-LSS professionals can understand.
You can also do your own strengths assessment by looking back over the last several projects and determining when you were in a state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. We’ve all been in a state of flow at some point in our lives when time seems to go by quickly and we get completely absorbed in an activity.
Finding flow usually comes when we are challenged to a degree that pushes us to our maximum ability level. Something we can easily do is not likely to produce flow, but something challenging that we don’t fail at is primed for flow.
The opposite is also true when it comes to weaknesses. Think about it this way, what’s something you really suck at doing? Is it likely you will find flow and engagement doing this? Highly doubtful. Knowing what you don’t do well is just as important as knowing what you do do well. Avoid doing what you suck at and you’re sure to get a quick boost in engagement!
“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
Tip #2 Understand How You Best Work and Learn
Knowing whether you are best working individually or in a team will help you in your pursuit of engagement in addition to understanding how you best learn and process information.
Working well with others is a key element to LSS success, and knowing if you perform best as a team leader or member can be helpful in your pursuit of higher engagement. Not all of us like to lead, and knowing this can lead to better results and higher engagement.
The roles we play in LSS are also crucial to driving engagement. Some of us are best suited to coach and mentor while others are terrible and doing so. Drucker also argues that knowing whether you produce the best results as a decision maker or adviser is important. Some of us, myself include, don’t care or thrive at making decisions, and prefer the role of adviser.
Another important question is understanding how well you perform under stress. Do you perform well under stress or do you prefer a structured and predictable environment in which to work?
How you process information and learn are also key factors to consider. Are you a reader or a listener? What medium do you best process information with? How you learn is also important. Are you a reader? Writer?
As an example, I am far more successful when I’m working alone or with one or two people; mentoring or coaching; advising on what and how to do; working in a structured environment with low stress.
I also know that I learn mostly by reading, then writing about what I’ve read, and finally teaching about what I’ve read and written about. For example, when I know I’m going to teach about a topic (i.e. fundamentals of management) I start by picking up an article or book (Drucker’s article), then I write about it (this blog post), and finally it’s time to teach!
“The better you know yourself, the better your relationship with the world.”
Tip #3 Know Where, What, and How You Add Value
Taking a lean view of everything you do in a typical workday from a value-added and non-value-added perspective of those around you (your customers and stakeholders) can be one simple way of determining how what you are currently doing adds or doesn’t add value. This can also be a depressing proposition so be careful when taking it on!
Knowing where you add value is a critical element to engagement in that it leads to meaningful work. Even though you may be performing some type of LSS task you thrive at if it doesn’t add value the work will have little meaning and decrease engagement.
Case in point, I once worked with a black belt who was a pro at using Minitab to complete statistical analysis and on one particular project he spent days analyzing data and generating dozens of graphs and statistical summaries, but when it all came down to what the team found value in all that was needed was a histogram and control chart.
All that extra work had no value to the team and he felt his work was all for nothing. Needless to say, getting him involved on another project team was quite a challenge after this episode.
To begin the process of adding value I suggest starting with the objectives of your LSS team and / or program. In analyzing the objectives which of them will require you to stretch to achieve the goal? Which of the goals do you find meaningful? Finally, which of the goals is visible and measurable?
In combination with tip #1 and #2 if you work at a task in which you are adding value, engagement is sure to follow!
“Do not try to change yourself-you are unlikely to succeed. Work to improve the way you perform.”
Finding Joyful Work
There’s no better feeling in the world doing what you’re good at, and knowing what you’re doing is making a difference. We as LSS professionals are blessed to have this opportunity each day as we strive to make improvements in processes that matter to our organizations.
Success doesn’t come without taking control of our careers and asking the right questions to determine where we are most likely to thrive, but by using the aforementioned tips my hope is that you will begin to understand how to become CEO of your situation and make changes as needed to find the engaging work environment you deserve! W. Edwards Deming sums it up best stating:
“Why are we here? We are here to come alive, to have fun, to have joy in work.”