Monthly Archives: July 2014

Tapping into the Power of Emotions: 5 Tactics for Driving Performance Using Emotions

Captain_cavemanPart one of this four part series focused on four tactics in using emotional intelligence, specifically identifying emotions, to deal with difficult people (aka CAVE Dwellers).  In this second post I shift from identifying emotions to using emotions to tap into the power of emotions that can be used to drive Lean Six Sigma (LSS) performance.

The scenario often encountered by LSS champions and belts is that of having someone on your team who falls into the classification of a “difficult” person to work with.  Often these are the subject matter experts who have been doing a particular job for years and can feel threatened when a LSS team starts to question the performance of their process.

If they are open minded and believe all processes have the potential for improvement you can stop reading here and just get about the work of following the DMAIC approach to improving the situation, but if the opposite is true read on for some suggestions that have worked for me over the past decade of working with individuals who are what I call “process improvement mindset challenged”.  In other words, these are people who fail to see the opportunity to improve in much of what they do at work, and in many cases at home as well.

The premise for all that follows is that emotions are people data that, if understood correctly, can be an untapped opportunity you can use to drive project results.  The challenge then lies in how to tap into these emotions.

Gather baseline data.

To begin the process, just like working a project, we need to gather some baseline “emotional” data.  One tool I use to gather such data is called a Mood Meter.  This tool will provide a starting point for tapping into the power of emotions.  Below is an illustration of the meter which I often sketch out on a white board before meeting with an individual or team.

mood meter







Ask each participant to think about their current mood and rate on a scale of 1-10 how they currently feel and their level of energy.  To keep others from influencing their numbers I have each participant write down their numbers and then I plot the results.

This data provides a basis to work from for any activity the team has planned for the session.  Where I find this is extremely helpful is in brainstorming sessions when we are looking for problem causes and solutions.








With a baseline established, you may or may not need to do any work to get your team into the mood for LSS if you find yourselves in the upper right quadrant, but if you need a shift in the mood consider a few simple tactics such as sharing an inspiring video, listening to a short music clip, sharing an inspiring project success story, or a short period of personal meditation / positive visualization.

The power of emotions.

The aforementioned tactics are more relevant for specific team activities such as brainstorming.  What follows are more basic emotional tactics you can use on a daily basis to tap into the power of emotions.

Tactic #1: Always have a smile on your face.

Emotions are contagious!  Hang around with happy people and you’re likely to be happy yourself.  Hang around grumpy people and watch out because before long you’ll be complaining about everything as well!  One simple tactic is to always have a smile on your face because it’s hard to be negative with someone who’s always smiling at you.

Tactic #2: Use the other person’s name frequently.

Using another person’s name frequently is another tactic for connecting with them on a more personal level.  The goal of using emotional intelligence with difficult people working on LSS projects is to break down the barrier between what is holding them back from making  a positive contribution.  One simple way of doing this is getting to a more personal relationship with one another, and a very simple tactic to do this is by using their name over and over again as you speak with them.

Tactic #3: Start with a question.

We all have questions that we seek answers for in both work and personal life, and I often find that if you can tap into the questions related to a project people want to find answers for it becomes an untapped source of energy and passion for a project.  To begin this process I typically start by asking probing questions such as, “have you ever wondered why we do something a certain way or what causes x or y to happen all the time?”.

Tactic #4: Identify their WIIFM factor.

The “what’s in it for me” or WIIFM factor is another great source to tap into when dealing with challenging people.  I try to use tactic #3 to help determine the WIIFM factor by starting with a series of question to help uncover what’s important to them.  Some additional questions to consider include:

  • What would make this project a success from your perspective?
  • How do you feel you can best contribute to this project?

Tactic #5: Get them saying “yes” quickly.

Gaining agreement that there is opportunity to improve is a great tactic to get someone who has a negative perspective into a positive atmosphere that can lead to action.  One simple way of getting to “yes” is using data instead of people, personalities, and opinions.

I will typically start with a question such as, “what is the goal of this process?”.  Using this as a basis to measure against, the next question is, “are we meeting this goal?”, which always leads to a “no” answer, but then here’s where I get them saying yes by asking, “do you feel you can help us achieve this goal?”.  I’ve yet to have anyone say “no, I can’t help you with that”, because that would be admitting defeat and / or an inability that none of us (especially CAVE dwellers) will admit in most cases even if it’s true!

Putting it all together.

Working the tactics in combination with one another is where the real power of using emotions comes into play.  Picture this scenario….

Walk in with a smile and keep it on your face throughout the session.  Constantly use the other person’s name as you converse.  Tap into their curiosity by asking what questions they would like to pursue related to the process.  Dig deeper by asking probing questions as to why it matters to them, and finish off with getting them to say “yes” that they have the ability to make things better.

By no means is it quite this simple, but using these tactics you are more likely to tap into the power of positive emotions and bring a negative person who stands in the way of progress into a position where they can help drive results.

Simplifying LSS: The Power of Analogy

Close-up of weights balancing scales of justice with gavel beside itOne of the discoveries I’ve made over the last few years working with a variety of clients is that even in technical fields such as IT and engineering, where I quite frequently work, very few individuals like complexity.

Starting my career as an engineer I loved complexity, but I’m definitely an outlier in comparison with the rest of the world from what I’ve experienced.  What I find my clients want is simplification, and in a way that’s in alignment with the basic lean principle focused on reducing waste (i.e. complexity).

In this post I’ll share one analogy I use when entering the analyze phase of DMAIC.  So what exactly is an analogy?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines analogy as:

A comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way.

The act of comparing two things that are alike in some way.

Tapping into existing neural networks using analogies.

I’ve found that using analogies can be a powerful method in explaining a variety of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) concepts, tools, techniques, etc.  One of the reasons why this may be is based in neuroscience.  The adult brain has over 100 billion neurons, and the junction where signals pass from one neuron to another is called a synapse.

Brain research suggests that most learning takes place in the brain through a process of strengthening and weakening synaptic connections.  When we learn something new this connection gets stronger.


One method for improving learning in adults is to tap into these existing connections, sometimes referred to as mental models, that help relate new learning to existing knowledge.  In other words, finding out what someone already knows about a subject or something similar, and then tapping into that knowledge to help them learn something new, has the potential to increase knowledge and understanding of a complex subject such as LSS; hence the use of analogy as one way to achieve this.

We’re wired for success, but with the connections in the wrong locations sometimes.

One of the make-or-break points in a LSS project comes in the analyze phase when a team focuses on identifying root causes to the problem.  The process I prescribe in this phase is relatively straightforward consisting of the following four steps:

  1. Brainstorm causes of the problem.
  2. Narrow the list of causes to high probable root causes.
  3. Validate the root causes.
  4. Finalize a list of high impact root causes for solution development.

Get this right and chances for success are high, but get it wrong and you’ll end up no better than where you started, or perhaps even worse off-ending up with a frustrated team seeing no value in the LSS process.

In general, the process is fairly simple, but what I find happens frequently is team members are already thinking about solutions; in fact, if your team isn’t talking about solutions in the first team meeting I’d classify them as abnormal!

I’m convinced we’re wired to jump straight to solutions, and it’s just part of our DNA to want to get on with it and be done with the project.  I love this spirit of wanting to “get ‘r done” and move on, but what usually ends up happening is implementation of some good ideas that have no impact on the cause of the problem, which, as you can imagine and have probably experienced, leads to little progress in solving the problem.

If the cause doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

This is where the power of analogy can provide some guidance and clarity to the process of identifying what I call high impact root causes.  High impact root causes are essentially the top 2-5 causes that are responsible for the majority (70-90%) of the problem.  In essence, it’s taking a Pareto Principle approach to solving the problem.

Another reason I prescribe focusing on just a few root causes is that it leads to a simplified improvement plan in that few causes should result in few solutions, which should result in fewer action items to manage.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but one common failure mode I encounter with my clients over and over again are action plans that are a mile long and only an inch deep.  These types of action plans are a nightmare to manage because team members don’t ever seem to get their action items completed, and ultimately don’t lead to big results.  Taking a simplified approach should lead to a shorter plan with greater depth that is easier to manage that leads to achieving the project vision of success with less effort and frustration.

With this as our basis moving forward, a simple analogy I like to use is that of a courtroom in which the cause(s) your team is trying to validate (convict) is the defendant in a trial.  The root cause analysis process is part of the analyze phase that consists of gathering the evidence to convict the cause(s) of the crime (problem).

One tool that I use quite frequently is the cause-effect diagram.  To make this tool more effective I start by inserting “Why does” in front of the problem statement at the head of the diagram.

Next, I write the word “Because…” on the other end of the diagram to help begin the brainstorming process in which the causes are put into the center of the diagram.  To help stimulate ideas I will also create categories relevant to the problem based on the 6M’s.


What I’ve found is that taking this approach helps participants come up with ideas by simply talking out the words, “Why does <the problem> happen?  Because a, b, c, etc.”  It’s interesting to see what happens when we talk about the problem and cause(s) in this fashion because what normally happens is when it just doesn’t sound right we begin the question the validity of the cause, and just the opposite when it does sound right.  Let’s look at a simple problem example many Americans face at the end of each month.


Here you can see the cause-effect diagram has a number of causes to the problem that you can talk out to begin the validation process.  For example, “Why are we broke at the end of every month?  Because we don’t know where our money goes every month.”  This “sounds” like a valid cause to the problem, which leads to the next step in validating or “convicting” this cause of the crime (problem) of being broke at the end of each month.  By the way, if you really do want to get out of debt I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s plan-it worked for my wife and I and it can work for you as well!

To convict we need to have evidence, but not all evidence is equally valid.  Similar to a court case, a LSS project will have evidence sources that can be used to convict or acquit causes.  The quality of the evidence will correlate to how likely the cause is guilty in creating the problem.

Slide3 At the least reliable end of the spectrum is gut instinct, and at the most reliable end of the spectrum is data-based evidence.  One simple tactic I use is after narrowing the top potential high impact causes I assign one to each team member to go out and do “detective” work on in gathering evidence to convict or acquit the cause.

This tactic gets everyone on the team involved in the process, and also sets up nicely the next phase (Improve) when a cause is convicted because that same team member can then take the lead in implementing the solution(s) to eliminate and / or reduce the chances of the cause from happening.

Analogies help clarify the complex-tap into existing mental models to drive results!

While this example is a really simple analogy comparing a court of law to that of root cause analysis, I’m amazed at how well it’s worked for my clients in helping them understand not only the process of getting to the cause of the problem, but also why it’s important.  Nobody wants to send the innocent to prison, and likewise no one wants to waste their time, something we can never get back, on actions that don’t lead to results.

There are countless opportunities to use analogies in LSS projects, especially with the tools we use to solve problems that can sometimes be quite challenging to understand, especially for the quantitatively challenged folks!

My challenge to you is to look for concepts, ideas, etc. that are already part of the “mental models” we have in our brains that can be linked to LSS concepts through the use of analogies stored within these models.  Tapping into these models and the neural connections in the minds of our team members will lead to better understanding, and ultimately, better results!






4 Tactics for Using Emotional Intelligence to Deal With CAVE Dwellers Part 1

Captain_cavemanWe’ve all encountered them at some point in our careers-pessimists, skeptics, naysayers, or as I like to call them, CAVE dwellers; otherwise known as Citizens Against Virtually Everything.  These are the kind of people who can find a $50 bill and complain that it wasn’t a $100 bill!

As Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals we often find ourselves in a position of deploying a new way of improving processes (i.e. DMAIC), which in almost all organizations leads to encounters with CAVE dwellers.  When this encounter happens we have a few options.  We can either ignore them or take the challenge of getting them out of the darkness of their cave and into the sunshine we often find at the end of a LSS project.

In general, I suggest focusing less on CAVE dwellers since they are usually in the minority (i.e. Pareto Principle), but what I’ve found is that quite frequently they are individuals who are subject matter experts who can be critical to LSS project success, especially when it comes to identifying root causes and sustainable solutions.

What I believe is most important to dealing with CAVE dwellers is how we react, or don’t react, to them.  I would argue that it’s not them we should focus on-it’s us who should be the focus.  In this first of a four part series I’ll offer some advice on how to tap into your emotional intelligence to deal with CAVE dwellers that ultimately leads to successful project outcomes.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Viktor E. Frankl

Emotions are “people” data.

Caruso and Salovey argue, “emotions are primarily signals about people, social situations, and interactions.”  These signals are data that can be used to improve your emotional intelligence.  We can try to ignore emotions, but this never works.  We can also try to hide emotions, but we are not all that good at doing so (try watching a sitcom without laughing).

Caruso and Salovey also suggest decisions need to utilize emotions to be effective, and emotions follow a logical pattern (i.e. apprehension leads to fear, which leads to terror). The challenge becomes how to use people data effectively in a LSS deployment and / or project.  This starts with an understanding in what emotional intelligence is and how to tap into your emotions when encountering a CAVE dweller who will be critical to success.

Tapping into your emotional intelligence.

There’s a lot of definitions as to what constitutes emotional intelligence, but in general it relates to how we identify, use, understand, and manage our emotions and the emotions of others.  In this post I’ll focus on identifying emotions.

A person who is great at identifying emotions will talk about their feelings and can recognize their feelings and the feelings of others.  A good example that I use in a seminar I teach is Oprah Winfrey.  Although I’m not a regular watcher of Oprah, what I believe has made her so successful is her ability to connect with her guests in the interviews she conducts with them.  Watch her interviewing someone and you’ll see how she connects with them by having empathy to their story that translates into a rich conversation filled with emotion.

Tactic #1: Turn on your emotional GPS.

There’s two aspects to identifying emotions.  First, is to identify your own emotions, and second is the identification of emotions in others (CAVE dwellers).  One simple tactic for doing so is similar to using a GPS system to understand where you are.

The inputs to identifying emotions are things we demonstrate through facial expressions, body language, and speech.  By using these inputs to assess our own emotions and those of others we begin to capture data points that can be used to determine our current emotional “location”.

An emotional diary or mood journal, self-recorded video, and / or simply looking in the mirror can all be ways to assess your own emotions.  Some of these, especially the self-recorded video, may seem a bit strange at first.  I teach a number of online classes at UC Irvine, and part of the courses are video narrated PowerPoint lectures that show a video of myself in the corner of the slide where I’m lecturing students through the presentation.  The first time I did this and watched myself it was a real eye-opener to see my facial and body expressions along with my voice fluctuations, or lack thereof.

While I felt upbeat and excited to be teaching the materials, I didn’t appear to come off that way.  Using the camera to see myself and identify my emotions I was putting off allowed me to edit the video and become more aware of my emotions.

In a similar perspective, being able to identify the emotions of CAVE dwellers can also be done using a GPS analogy.  Instead of video taping them and analyzing what you think are their emotions a much simpler tactic works well-ask them how they are feeling!

After analyzing the inputs (facial, body, and speech) make a determination as to what you believe are the emotions of the person, and then confirm it with a question such as, “I sense you are feeling <insert emotion here>.  Is my assumption correct?”  When you start to get more right answers than wrong answers you know your ability to identify emotions is improving.  Don’t worry if you have a high failure rate at first.  I’d estimate that after several years of experience I still only have about a 50% FPY!

The good thing is that most dwellers have no problem showing their emotions because they explode with negativity on a frequent basis by saying things such as, “That’ll never work here.”, “We’ve done this before and failed.”, “It’s always been done this way.”  What is critical to success is how you react to their negativity.  You can either feed their negativity or starve it.  The choice is yours!

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

-Dale Carnegie 

The initial goal to aim for after identifying a CAVE dweller is to take them from their negative location and shift them to a neutral position that ultimately leads to a positive location and outcome.  This is not a single time event, but will take continued work over several interactions and / or team meetings.  Some simple tactics to begin the journey include:

  1. Always start in a friendly way by smiling and using their name frequently.
  2. Respect their opinion by never telling them they are wrong.
  3. Strive to get them saying “yes” as quickly as possible.
  4. Let them do most of the talking.

Ever tried to stay negative when someone is standing in front of you with a big smile on their face?  It’s hard to do!  Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, and in most cases doing so doesn’t get you any closer to where you want to be so avoid it at all costs.

Getting another person to say “yes” begins the process of shifting the dweller to a neutral location, and begins the process to see there is a need for change and / or improvement.  One simple tactic for doing so is sharing process data that shows in hard numbers the current state is not the ideal state.

A final tactic is simply keeping your mouth shut and ears and eyes open.  Sometimes the best way to get a dweller out of their cave is to let them talk themselves out!  On occasion just talking  about a problem can make it feel more realistic something can be done to improve the situation.

Leaving the cave one step at a time.

Getting out of the cave is a process that starts with a single step, and by improving your ability to identify emotions the path out of the cave becomes easier to see.  In the next post I’ll discuss how using emotions can begin to solidify a neutral position, and begin to bring a positive location into sight.

10 Ways to Say “Yes” or “No” to a LSS Project

say_yes1One of the most common failure modes I encounter when coaching Lean Six Sigma (LSS) belts and champions is taking on a project that isn’t a good “fit” for LSS and the DMAIC process.  Often times it’s a champion who is pushing the project proposal to the belt, and, in what is usually a subordinate role, the belt feels obligated to do the project even when they know it’s not a good candidate for the LSS methodology.

What this ends up leading to is force-fitting a project into the DMAIC process, which, in some cases, uncovers unknown root causes and great solutions, but more often it leads to a frustrated team that feels like they have taken a simple “just-do-it” project and turned it into an overly complex LSS project that drags on for months.

In the end the team will see no value added to the project due to LSS.  The worst part about this scenario is that over those months the team is likely to be complaining about LSS to others, which further hinders the culture change we strive for when deploying LSS.

So then how can a belt be assertive in their position and learn to say “no” when the fit just isn’t there?  In this post I’ll offer some guidance for how to gracefully and objectively say “no” to such projects without looking like you’re trying to get out of doing work that needs to be done.

The process of getting to “yes” or “no”.

I’ve found that facilitating this process works best when you follow a three step approach.  Step one is simply brainstorming a list of ideas, opportunities, problems, etc..  I generally do this by using post-it notes, a whiteboard, or an Excel sheet.  Next, each item is filtered through the yes / no criteria listed below.

Yes / No #1: What’s the problem / opportunity?

We all know the pitfalls of not having a clear problem statement.  Without knowing what, when , where, who, and how big the issue is we’re likely not to have the clear focus we need for a successful project.

The opportunity is something that is often overlooked.  Even though a problem may exist the reason to solve it may not.  Why is this problem important to the business?  Without a solid answer to this question we may be working on something that doesn’t have much impact.

Yes / No #2: Does the problem / opportunity reside within an existing process?

LSS works best when we are working with an existing process, and I find myself helping clients who want to create something new, which we can certainly use the LSS tools with, but it’s not what LSS was created to do.  Typically there are key words that jump out at me when talking with a client about what they want to do such as “design”, “implement”, and / or “create”.  A better set of words that fit the LSS methodology are words such as “improve”, “reduce”, “minimize”, “maximize”, and “streamline”.

Yes / No #3: Does the problem / opportunity reside within your influence and / or control?

Even though a great opportunity may exist, we are not likely to be successful in implementing change if the process we’re working within is outside of our control and / or influence.  This doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be a good LSS project, but it does mean you may not be talking to the the true champion.  If you get to “no” here stop and revisit the questions with who is truly the process owner before making any decision about whether to pursue the idea as a LSS project.

Yes / No #4: Can the problem / opportunity be measured?

We’ve all heard the adage, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure”, which is true to some degree.  This is especially true for a LSS project.  Without a clear metric to measure the size of the problem how will we know where we’re starting from and whether or not we’ve made an impact?

Yes / No #5: Does data exists or can it be collected?

What data exists?  If we don’t have data can it be collected, and how easily can it be collected?  Sometimes we have no data, but the potential to gather it exists.  This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how much work it will be to gather the data.  If we have to spend months collecting data and depend on someone to do this task there is greater likelihood of failure.

Yes / No #6: Is a solution already available that just needs to be implemented?

Why overcomplicate the process by introducing LSS if we already know what to do?  Just get it done and move on is what I suggest with one caveat; how confident are you that the solution will work?  If the confidence is high and the cost and time to implement are reasonable then I suggest moving forward without LSS.

On the other hand, if there is some doubt I suggest “parking” the solution in the Improve phase and working the DMA phases and seeing if the solution addresses the root causes identified in the Analyze phase.  Often what I encounter is the solution we started with is a “good” idea, but it doesn’t truly address the causes of the problem the team has defined.

Yes / No #7: Are people available who have the time and want to work on the problem / opportunity?

This seems like a simple question, but without people nothing happens, well, almost nothing but frustration when people don’t show up to meetings, complete action items on-time, etc.  Who is needed to make the project successful?  What is on their current list of “to-do’s”?  Will their supervisor provide them with the necessary time needed to properly contribute to the project?  Do they want to contribute?  These are all questions that need to be addressed in order to get to “yes” on the project.

Yes / No #8: Is it reasonable to assume the problem / opportunity can be solved / improved in less than 4-6 months?

This question addresses what I see as the most common failure mode of LSS projects.  Champions think at the 30,000 foot level, but unfortunately LSS is not very functional thinking at that altitude.  For a project to be successful we need to be working at ground level.

An example of this came up a few weeks ago when working with one of my clients who wanted to take on a project to reduce overtime for a workforce that numbers in the hundreds and is scattered between multiple departments.  There are likely different problems, root causes, solutions, etc. that would need to be implemented to address all of the groups.

This always translates into longer project cycle times, and the longer a project takes the less energy and engagement a team will have as you enter the most critical phases of Improve and Control.

Yes / No #9: What is the business case for taking on the problem / opportunity?

How much money is the project worth could be the most important question.  At the end of the day most businesses need to be profitable to continue to exist, and understanding how the money will be counted for a project is a critical factor in determining whether to move forward.

How will the savings, increased revenue, etc. be calculated?  Too often I find clients answering this question after implementing solutions and taking months of people’s time only to find out the money didn’t stack up to much more than a few dollars.  This almost always leads to the opposite of what we want in that when the next LSS project opportunity comes along people run, not walk, in the other direction!

Yes / No #10: Does the champion want to take on the project?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the question of how engaged the champion is in the project idea.  One of, if not the most, critical-to-success factor for a LSS project is how “fired up” the champion is about solving the problem.  Overall, I would argue, the champion is the most important individual in a LSS project from a long term perspective.  Sure, the belt plays a key role initially, but LSS is not about short term performance; LSS is about sustainable results!

This can be the hardest question to get an objective yes or no answer.  Some questions I like to use to evaluate the champion’s level of passion for the project include:

  • Why do you want to take on this project?  Why does it matter to you?
  • What would this project mean to you and your team?
  • How would this project make your work easier, more productive, more rewarding, etc.?

How a champion responds to these questions brings one of the emotional intelligence skills I’ve talked about in the past to light-perceiving emotions.  One element of being effective at perceiving emotions in others is being able to “read” facial expressions.  When a champion’s face “lights up” you know they are passionate about the potential of a project.

Passion can also come through in how a champion talks about the project.  Does their voice get louder?  Do they talk for a long time about the project or is it just in short blurbs?  When I’m passionate about something I can talk about it all day long, and the same is usually true for champions who are really excited about a project!

Now what?

The final step is selecting the best ideas that make it all the way through each of the criteria.  This is usually where the “fun” begins.  My advice is that the champion really needs to make this decision not the belt.  The typical sorting criteria tends to focus on the dollars, but my advice is if you want to be successful in the long term focus on passion first and dollars second.