Monthly Archives: August 2014

King Solomon’s Tips on Becoming a Successful LSS Professional: 4 Steps to Creating Diligence

250px-King_Solomon_Stained_GlassFor the past year I’ve been working my way through the Bible with a goal of finishing by the end of this year, and one of the books I’ve come to really enjoy reading is Proverbs.  Over this past year I’ve read and reread the book a few times and now make it a daily habit to read one chapter each day.

Helpful suggestion: there are 31 chapters in Proverbs making it an easy book to link with each day of the month.

I recently started reading a book that outlines some of the secrets to success we can learn from King Solomon who wrote most of Proverbs.  For those of you not familiar with King Solomon, he was arguably the richest and wisest man to ever live.  When God asked Solomon what he wanted he didn’t ask for wealth, but instead asked for wisdom and knowledge (1 Kings 3:9, 2 Chronicles 1:10).  Because he didn’t ask for riches, God not only gave Solomon great wisdom and knowledge, but also incredible wealth.

As I began to read the Proverbs of Solomon it became clear that the tips are quite universal and could be of value in becoming a successful Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professional.  In this post I’ll share a few ideas on how you can learn from Solomon and work towards becoming more successful.

Do you see a man diligent in his business?  He shall stand before kings.

Proverbs 22:29 

If you are “diligent” people (kings) will want what you are diligent at doing.  Solomon further defined diligent as being “pure” and “right”.  

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure and whether it be right.

Proverbs 20:11

Determining what is “pure” comes down to spending your time well on those things that have a high return on investment (ROI), while “right” centers on doing those things to the highest level of quality and effectiveness.

Why is diligence important to success?  There are a number of reasons.  First, diligence leads to gain.

The plans of the diligent will surely lead to advantage.

Proverbs 21:5

Second, , having control of the situations we are in rather than the situations controlling us leads to advantage.

The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor.

Proverbs 12:24

A third reason diligence is critical to success is that those who are diligent will have success and wealth that continually grows.

Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished but he that gathers by labor shall increase.

Proverbs 13:11

A final reason for diligence is that it will lead to becoming “profitable” as a LSS professional.

In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Proverbs 14:23

What Solomon is describing is that if you are not doing well in an area of your life (lack of profitability) it’s probably because you haven’t spent enough time working on that area, in other words you are not diligent enough to become profitable.

Root causes to lack of diligence.

As LSS professionals you can guess what the next step in this process is-getting down to root causes for a lack of diligence.  To better illustrate some of the causes, below you will see a cause-effect diagram outlining some of the major reasons for a lack of diligence.


Another word to describe diligence is laziness.  We are all lazy to some degree, and recognizing the reasons for our laziness is the first step to becoming diligent.  Self-centeredness is one reason we lack diligence.  We lack focus on others and center only on ourselves, which leads to no surprise when others (the kings Solomon referred to in Proverbs 22:29) don’t seek us out to help them.

Arrogance is another cause to a lack of diligence because we think we know it all and need no help or advice from others.  Ignorance and irresponsibility round out the top causes to a lack of diligence.  We’re ignorant in that we don’t always understand the long term consequences of our actions and / or inactions.  It’s much easier to be lazy than diligent!  There’s also no question we often times are irresponsible in that we usually know what to do, but choose not to do it any way.

4 steps to increase diligence.

How can we eliminate and / or reduce the causes leading to a lack of diligence?

Step 1-stop procrastinating.  We all have a tendency to procrastinate and put off what we know we should do.  Exercise, eating right, balancing work and family time; we know what we should do, but we often fail to do it.  There’s no simple formula or pill to eliminate procrastination, but what can provide the stimulus we need to minimize procrastination is setting a vision for success.

Step 2-create a vision for success.  There’s no better fuel to minimize procrastination than a solid vision of success.  Vision leads to action!  I’m always amazed at how few people I encounter have a vision of success for their life.  If you aim at nothing you’re bound to hit it!

Without a vision, the people perish.

Proverbs 28:19

Creating a vision is a process that begins with a dream.  A dream can seem overwhelming at first, but once you start the process of breaking it down into a series of activities it begins to transform into doable steps.  Dreams can be broken down into goals, which lead to steps to achieve the goals, and tasks that feed into the steps.  With the steps outlined that lead to the goals all that is left is putting dates to complete them by.



Step 3-find an accountability partner / mentor.  No plan is complete until you have someone to hold you accountable and help you become successful.  None of us are smart enough to do it on our own (root cause arrogance).  We need help from others in all that we do, and having someone to hold you accountable and guide you in the process will surely lead to greater diligence.

Step 4-continuously seek wisdom and knowledge.  I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one, but it’s worth mentioning because so many LSS professionals I know fail to do this step.  When was the last time you picked up a book to improve what you do or read a journal article or wrote about something you wanted to improve in doing?  For many of us this doesn’t happen often enough, but without wisdom and knowledge how can we expect to improve?

Getting started.

So what to do next?  Don’t procrastinate!  Start by taking action today!  Begin with building your vision of success and keep working it down into tasks you can start completing.  What do you want to accomplish in the next year, three years from now, or even five years out.  What can you do starting today to make your vision into a reality?  Who can help you make your vision into a reality?  Finally, what can you do to increase your wisdom and knowledge that will lead to greater diligence?

Managing Emotions: Controlling Emotions to Drive LSS Project Engagement

Captain_cavemanIn this final installment (read parts one, two, and three) I will discuss the fourth element of emotional intelligence, managing emotions, and how learning to manage your own and the emotions of others, specifically individuals who challenge the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) process (aka CAVE dwellers), can be used to increase project engagement that leads to results.


What is engagement?

The term “engagement” has been a popular buzz word over the last few years, but despite the popularity of the concept there is little agreement on a standard definition of what it means to be engaged.  Even my own research has highlighted, primarily from an academic perspective, that those who spend most of their working lives studying engagement cannot agree on a definition.

Despite the challenge of agreeing on a single definition of engagement, there are some similarities in the various definitions that do exists, which point to a number of key elements that lead to creating and sustaining an engaged workforce.  Those elements include the following:

  • High energy levels
  • Willingness to invest in work
  • Ability to deal persistently with difficult situations
  • Meaningful, challenging, and inspiring work
  • Sense of significance in work
  • High immersion into work where time passes by quickly
  • Work that consumes thoughts

One simple test I give clients I work with to determine their level of work engagement is to keep a post-it next to their bed as illustrated below.

Slide1 Each day I ask that they check one side of the post-it depending on their current emotional state.  Over the course of a week or two they begin to develop a baseline for their current level of work engagement.

Why is any of this important?  From a business performance perspective, levels of work engagement have been shown to drive organizational outcomes related to productivity, quality, profitability, safety, and absenteeism (read more about it here).  Gallup has even gone so far as to suggest the lack of engagement in the US alone is worth hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity!  I would also make the argument (something I’d like to quantitatively study some day) that LSS teams that are composed of engaged team members are more likely to outperform those with less engaged team members.

Managing emotions to drive engagement.

There are a number of factors that play into increasing engagement, one of which is learning to manage your emotions and the emotions of those you work with.  My research with over 5,000 participants suggests that those who are effective in managing emotions have higher levels of work engagement, and what specifically stood out in the research was that individuals who have the ability to manage emotions scored the highest in work engagement.

Think about it for a second.  We all know people who blow up because of the smallest issue, those people who are slaves to their emotions and make a crisis out of every little challenge.  Are those the people who seem to be engaged in their work?  Not from my experience.  Those individuals tend to be the first ones out the door when quitting time comes around and are rarely on the fast track to the top!

In addition to being a slave to their emotions these people tend to be the ones no one wants to be around.  Who wants to work with people who are constantly complaining about whatever challenge they are facing, and are constantly losing control of their emotions and blowing up on other people when things don’t seem to go their way?  This, however, doesn’t mean we need to rid our organizations of these people-what we need to do is tap into the power of emotions to drive engagement.

Emotions are a powerful source of energy for action!angry-man

Are you one of the aforementioned people who is a slave to emotions?  Some questions to consider include:


  • Do you have the ability to psych yourself and others up?
  • Can you tap into positive emotions from a previous evnt and use those positive emotions to get through challenging situations you’re currently facing?
  • Can you make positive emotions last for long periods of time?

These are all great questions to ask yourself in evaluating whether or not you can manage emotions well, which for many suggests we need help to improve our ability to manage emotions.

How can you increase your ability to manage emotions?  Four techniques I use and prescribe to my clients for improving their ability to manage emotions include writing an emotional journal or blog, routine exercise, emotional mind mapping, and taking routine emotional clarity breaks.

Emotional Journal / blog.

Writing about your emotions is a simple way to get a better understanding of why we feel the way we do.  David Caruso and Peter Salovey, authors of The Emotionally Intelligent Manager, suggest the act of writing is not what is important.  What is important is the element within the writing.  Caruso and Salovey offer several suggestions for what they call “emotionally healthful writing”.  The elements include:

  • Using positive words frequently
  • Moderate use of negative words
  • Using causal words and phrases such as “led me” or “caused me to”
  • Using insightful words and phrases such as “realize” and “understand”

Routine exercise.

Exercise is another tactic for improving your ability to manage emotions.  Research suggests those who are active tend to be in positive moods more frequently than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.  This exercise doesn’t have to be anything extreme like running marathons; simply taking a walk once a day for 30 minutes is enough to get the blood flowing and help free your mind from the challenges of the day.

Emotional mind map.

As LSS professionals some of you may be familiar with the mind map tool for brainstorming.  This is another great way to understand who, what, when, why, where, etc. around an emotional loss of control.  For example, you can start in the middle of the map with a situation in which you lost control of your emotions.  Next, expand the map out to who you were with, what were you talking about or doing, when did it happen, etc.

In many cases we lose control of our emotions because of a “surprise attack” that we didn’t see coming.  For example, I was once in a series of budgeting meetings and when we would get to the line item for training that I was responsible for the CFO would started to question the dollars for LSS training, and I would start to lose control of my emotions.  After I mind mapped the situation an discovered it was an emotional “hot spot” for me it became easier to control my emotions in future meetings.  I would sense the line of questioning by the CFO coming as we worked down the line items in the budget, but knowing it was coming made it much easier to control my emotions.

Routine emotional clarity break.

We all need to take a break once in a while.  Personally, I like to schedule these for Friday mornings and use the time to write, read, and just think about life in general.  The challenge we face in the busy lives we’ve built for ourselves is finding the time to do this.  I highly suggest scheduling a meeting like you normally would in your calendar only this meeting is just with yourself and no one else!  This technique also allows you to utilize the previously discussed tactics in that you could walk to where you take an emotional clarity break and then use the time to write in your journal.

smile-happy-yellow-faceManaging the emotions of CAVE dwellers.

All of the aforementioned techniques are great at managing your emotions, but what about those difficult people (aka CAVE dwellers) on your LSS teams that have a hard time controlling their emotions?  How can you best help them manage their emotions when dealing with a “touchy” topic such as working on improvements in areas in which they work?

This scenario (LSS project) is often a challenging proposition when you and your team come into a new project focused on improving in an area in which you don’t normally work, which is often the case with LSS projects.  How can you effectively deal with attitudes and charged up emotions of those you are going to impact with your project?

The first tactic I recommend is simply being aware that you are about to enter what could be an emotionally charged atmosphere, and adding any additional fuel to the “emotional fire” that you may be igniting won’t get you any closer to success, so first be aware of your own emotions, and second be prepared to have to calm the emotions of others down to a level that leads to moving on to actually dealing with the problem at hand.

A simple tactic is to just close your mouth and let the other person “vent” for a few minutes.  In many cases I’ve found that what the CAVE dweller is looking for more than anything is someone to challenge them so that they can continue to vent their frustrations-don’t feed their frustration fire!

Instead, focus on putting out their fire of frustration by listening and using phrases like, “I can see your passion for this situation, tell me more about your thoughts and feelings on what we are proposing (LSS project, kaizen, etc.)”.  Avoid using words such as “angry” and “frustrated” because very few of us like to be told we seem to be angry or frustrated (in general I believe we like to think we are in control of our emotions even though we are not).

Another tactic that works almost 100% of the time is to smile and tell the other person you understand their frustration with the situation and just want to help.  It’s hard to be angry with someone who is smiling at you and wants to make your life better!

A final technique I use is another simple way of getting to a more personal connection with the other person, which is using their name frequently along with confirming back to them what you believe they are telling you and / or feeling.  This does a few things in that we all like to hear our name, and when someone can relate to the frustration I’m feeling it helps me believe they truly do care about my concerns.

Being aware of the emotionally charged atmosphere, listening, smiling, relating to them by using their name and phases such as “Scott, I can see your passion or the situation, and sense that you feel <insert their feelings here>”.  Combine all of these tactics and you will become great at helping others manage their out of control emotions.

This is probably one of the hardest elements of becoming an emotionally intelligent LSS professional, because most of us are incredibly passionate about what we do, and when faced with a challenging individual they will have a tendency to spread the emotional fire in their belly to ours, which leads nowhere except two charged up people yelling at one another-don’t fall into that trap!

By practicing these techniques not only will you improve your emotional intelligence, you’re also likely to drive the engagement levels of your project team higher that will lead to a greater likelihood of success.

Picking Winners: A Simplified Approach to Identifying Winning LSS Project Opportunities

lotteryI’m often asked, “what is the most important element to succeeding with Lean Six Sigma (LSS)?”  What most people will respond with is usually something to do with leadership, which I agree is vitally important in any major initiative such as LSS, but what I believe is most critical are the projects that lead to results.

We can debate whether or not projects are more important than leadership, but that’s not my point in this post-I agree both are very important, and I do believe an effective LSS initiative starts with leadership, but without projects there can be no results, and with no results there will be no LSS!

Organizational performance ultimately gets measured on results not on the attitudes and beliefs of leadership, which leads to the question-how can we be assured of results when deploying and managing a LSS program / initiative?  Like any effort within an organization or your personal life, if we go in with a haphazard approach we’ll likely come out with less than stellar results.

Over the course of the past several years much of my work with clients has focused on taking this first step in a LSS effort to identify projects worth pursuing, but what I’ve discovered is the process by doing so can be frustrating for those facilitating the activity.  There are a few reasons I believe this happens.  First, LSS project ideas / opportunities tend to be viewed as “something else I need to do”, and every time I’ve asked clients if they are looking for more work to do you can guess what their answer is!

Second, LSS projects tend to focus on issues that are not directly tied to key business objectives, which leads to another problem in which time, a necessary ingredient to LSS success, is not adequately dedicated to effectively executing a project.  Without the time available no LSS initiative and / or project will succeed-it doesn’t just happen on it’s own!

Over this past year I’ve been tweaking, testing, and polishing a process for identifying LSS project opportunities.  In this post I’ll share what I’ve learned and how you can use this process in your organization to identify what I call “winning” LSS opportunities.

Know your audience.

One of the mistakes I made early in this process was believing that I could come into a room of leaders, who in LSS terms would be considered project sponsors and champions, and work my “magic”, and leave with a list of projects to start the next day-wrong!  What I’ve come to learn is that these individuals just don’t think at that level.

The analogy I picture is one illustrated below showing the view of a typical sponsor / champion.  They spend most of their day at “cruising altitude” at 30,000 feet, but unfortunately LSS doesn’t work very well at that level.  We need to be squarely planted on the ground to effectively use the DMAIC approach-what I call a “1 problem: 1 metric” perspective.


This is where it becomes extremely frustrating if you’re facilitating one of these sessions in which you “force” these individuals to go from 30,000 feet to ground level with their ideas-it just doesn’t happen!  What I’ve come to learn is that forcing them to this level is not all that important to getting winning opportunities to build project ideas from.

Instead, I’ve compromised and work to get somewhere to the 10,000 foot level, and in the process of getting them to start the “descent” there are things you can do to aid in a more rapid descent and into a legitimate project opportunity after the session.

One simple tactic is to prime their opportunity thoughts with keywords that will lead to a higher probability of finding ideas that are a good fit for the DMAIC methodology.  Words such as, increase, decrease, improve, reduce, minimize, maximize, and streamline are good potential candidates for LSS projects.

To aid in this process I instruct the participants to begin their opportunity with one of these keywords.  This approach also aids later in the LSS process in that just about anything that fits this criteria can be measured.  Starting with one of these keywords also aids in understanding what the goal for the project might be.

You can also prime the process by asking what they are already trying to increase, decrease, streamline, etc.  This pulls away from the problem of turning LSS into “one more thing I need to do”, and instead focuses on helping them accomplish what they already have to do.

Getting to “1 problem: 1 metric”.

The process of preparing and facilitating an opportunity session should begin at least a few weeks in advance of the event.  Ideally, when an organization is mature in this process it will be highly integrated into the business planning cycle as illustrated below.


There are four key inputs to the process that will help your participants begin thinking about potential opportunities.  These include strategic and tactical objectives, metrics and scorecards, budgets and cash flow, and team and individual plans.  Each of these are ripe with the aforementioned keywords.  I often work with leaders before the event, and all I need are these documents and a highlighter to find potential opportunities to get started with.


During the session have participants start with individual brainstorming.  Last year I did a number of these sessions, and my experience shows that when I began with individual brainstorming and then moved on to group brainstorming the number of total ideas was over 10 times more than when only group brainstorming was done.

The process then moves on to “filtering” the opportunities that have the best chance of becoming winning projects.  I’ve previously written about
questions that you can use to filter the opportunities, but in this session some of those questions are not as important and can be considered optional, however, they will be critical questions (the most important questions in my opinion) when a potential champion has been identified and a project is under serious consideration.



With a short list of “winners” it’s now time to get down to putting the key pieces to the LSS puzzle together.  The four key elements that I believe lead to walking out of these sessions and into serious consideration as a project include a) problem / opportunity statement, b) how the opportunity will be measured before and after the team works on the issue, c) the business case and / or how it could be calculated, and d) who the process owner / champion would be.


What you will end up with is a list of opportunities that can now be investigated further for developing projects.

Facilitating the session.

A typical session will last from 2 to 4 hours depending on the size of your group.  Below are some illustrations that will help you to work through this process.

I find these sessions to be some of the most rewarding work I do because in many cases I get to see the idea form in this session and then the results materialize as I work with the individuals completing the projects.

What I also find is that this process can be overwhelming for people like you who may be in a role of leading and / or facilitating a LSS program, so if you need help don’t hesitate to ask for it by emailing or calling me at 661.204.9448.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.  My fellow Variance Reduction International, Inc. associates and I are here to help you succeed!




Understanding Emotions: Break Down Resistance to LSS Using Emphatic Listening and Questioning

Captain_cavemanIn parts one and two of this series I discussed the first two elements of emotional intelligence, identifying and using emotions, and how to apply knowledge of emotions in working with “difficult” people (aka CAVE dwellers).  In this post I’ll discuss the third aspect of emotional intelligence, understanding emotions, and how developing an understanding of your own and other people’s emotions can help overcome resistance to the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) process.

Seek understanding in order to connect with others.

Having the ability to understand emotions is critical in “connecting” with other people, especially the difficult individuals who may not feel that LSS is something that will help them improve the processes they work with.  This is perhaps one of the most impactful elements of becoming an effective LSS professional in dealing with pessimistic people fighting the improvement process.

From my experience, the clients I work with who have the ability to “feel” (i.e. empathy) what others feel tend to be more successful with their projects.  When you can feel the pain, concern, doubt, etc. that others feel it begins to help you understand the problem from their perspective, which also adds to understanding how best to improve the situation using LSS and emotional intelligence techniques and tools.

Ironically, this past week I encountered a situation with a client who is forming a team working on a project that will result in a 2 day Kaizen event next month.  The situation my client (green belt leading the project) faces is a classic example of dealing with someone who believes there is little room for improvement in the existing process.

One of his team members “runs” the process that is the focal point of the project, and has been doing it for over 20 years.  There’s no question she understands the process, but in some respects she is blind to the opportunities for improvement having worked in the process for so long.

What is becoming evident is that if she doesn’t want to work with the team on improving the process there is little chance the team will be successful.  I believe a key to being successful in moving this project forward will be determined based on how well my client can identify the emotional challenges the hesitant team member has, and learn how to effectively deal with them to achieve the goals set by the champion and other team members.

How well do you understand the emotions of others?

People who are great at understanding the emotions of others know the right thing to say in most situations and make correct assumptions about others.  These people tend to be those whom we share our deepest problems with because they have the ability to put themselves in our situation and feel our pain.  They also make us feel better after we have confided in them.

So how do you stack up against these measures?  Do people come to you with their problems?  Do you have the ability to feel the pain others feel, and make them feel better after talking with you?  If so, these are great indicators that you understand emotions well.

Erin-BrockovichOne of my favorite examples of someone who is great at understanding emotions is actress Julia Roberts in the movie Erin Brockovich.  Roberts plays the role of a law firm employee who becomes obsessed with a case file she uncovers related to pollutants in the groundwater of a small California desert town.

Eventually, she builds enough evidence to bring a lawsuit against the alleged California power company responsible for the toxins, but to make the case worth pursuing she needs to convince citizens of the town to sign on to the lawsuit.  She does this by visiting residents one-by-one and showing an unbelievable amount of empathy for what they are going through in the way of health issues allegedly caused by the contaminated ground water.

She has an unbelievable ability to feel their pain and relate to what they are going through.  The clip in this video shows a great contrast between her boss Ed, who has a low ability to understand emotions, and Erin who is a master of understanding those whom they are talking with.

Understanding Emotions and dealing with CAVE dwellers begins with questions.

How can understanding emotions help in dealing with difficult people?  I would argue that to become an emotionally intelligent LSS professional you need to be empathetic and have the ability to feel the pain of those you are striving to help through the tools and techniques used in the DMAIC process.  If you are not genuine in convincing others you truly want to help them it will be a challenge to build a trusting relationship with those who will be critical to successfully implementing the solutions developed by your team.

With this in mind,how can you become better at understanding emotions?  Two simple ways to improve include 1) listen more and talk less, and 2) focus on asking “great” questions and less on having “great” answers.

For many of us it can be difficult to keep our mouths shut when getting started on a new project.  We’re excited to get started, we want to quickly move through the DMAIC process and start seeing the results of our efforts, not to mention begin counting the financial benefits to the business.

With all this energy built up it can be hard to keep quiet and instead listen to those who may be “challenged” to see how LSS will lead to a positive outcome, but we know it is vital to the success of the project to fully understand the problem from all of the stakeholder’s perspectives whether they agree LSS is the right approach or not.

To battle this challenge we need to shift our focus to asking “great” questions; forcing us to listen for answers instead of providing them.  What I consider great questions also center on creating empathy for those we seek to help through our knowledge of LSS and the power of the DMAIC process.

Back to the story of my client I mentioned earlier, here is the guidance I provided to move forward with the project in dealing with his pessimistic team member.  Much of the time when we are confronted with people who challenge the LSS process it’s not because they believe the process they work in is perfect and has no room for improvement (most people are not that ignorant), it’s usually more to do with the fear of failure and / or of having someone come in and uncover all their “dirty laundry” (i.e. problems).

In some ways the challengers of the process feel that they have failed (especially when a big problem is uncovered), and the LSS team is here to step in and take over what they couldn’t do on their own.  Their (pessimists) natural defense mechanisms will kick in if we as LSS leaders take this approach, which often happens inadvertently if we’re not careful.

To minimize the chances of this happening a simple tactic I suggested to my client is to begin by asking some questions to build an understanding of the emotions of those resisting the process.  In this case I suggested my client ask the team why might this project fail to achieve the goal set before them?

With the reasons listed for why they feel the project could fail, the next step is working to gain an understanding why team members feel this way.  What evidence do they have that suggests the failure mode is legitimate?  When was the last time the failure mode actually happened?

Like many fears we have in life, when you start to look for credible evidence in many cases it fails to materialize.  So often what we fear is just in our minds.  We tend to think of worse case scenarios when the likelihood of the worse case actually happening is 1 in a million.

All of this leads to the one lesson I’m hoping to get across in this post related to understanding the emotions of others…it all starts with increasing empathy, a not so easy task, especially for process driven professionals like us who tend to check their feelings at the front door of the office!

Increase empathy to improve understanding. 

Increasing your empathy is key to better understanding emotions, and asking questions that show another person you actually care about their pain and frustrations is a starting point for getting them to share their feelings with you.

Some other suggestions for increasing empathy is to always maintain eye contact with the person who is talking with you, and occasionally ask affirming questions such as “are you saying that…?”  It’s also important to pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and the tone of their voice-all of which are giveaways to their current emotional state.

One final tip is to keep score on how well you understand the emotions of others.  For example, after you ask someone how they feel about a certain topic you’ve been discussing (i.e. a recent news story, LSS project, company policy change, etc.) take note of whether you were correct in your assumptions about how they felt.  Over time you should see an increase in your percentage of correctly assessing the emotions of others.

The ability to understand emotions will pay dividends in your LSS activity in a number of ways.  First, you will show those you are helping that you truly care about their situation, and that authenticity will drive a greater engagement by everyone you encounter who can help make the projects you work on more successful.

Second, showing empathy for the problems of others will open their minds to opportunities to use the DMAIC process and help build project ideas and resistance to proposed projects that lead to an increase in organizational performance and more likelihood that LSS will become part of your culture and the way you naturally solve challenging process problems.

Stephen Covey stated, “When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.”  Understanding emotions is the start to providing the air to breath life into LSS opportunities and overcoming challengers by listening to others and providing an empathetic ear to listen to their need for help.

5 Questions to Drive Project Engagement Using a Personal Charter

Buttons-to-Vote-on-SurveyRecently I was reading Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report that summarizes their research on employee engagement, and, although I wasn’t surprised, I was saddened to see how low the numbers continue to be for engagement in the workplace.  For those of you unfamiliar with Gallup and their work on employee engagement, they have been compiling data using their Q12 survey for over a decade, and the data since 2000 hasn’t changed much.

Gallup categorizes individuals into one of three groups that include actively disengaged, not engaged, and engaged.  You no doubt work with people who fall into each of these categories.  The actively disengaged are the CAVE dwellers I’ve been writing about recently who can’t find positive in anything, and are actually in many cases working against the goals of the organization.


The people who are not engaged just go-with-the-flow and do just enough to get by without being punished, and those who are engaged are people like you and I who love what they do, read and write about it, and constantly look for opportunities to improve.

Why does any of this matter?  If the work is getting done does it really matter?  I would argue it does matter, especially on a personal level.  I’ve found myself in each of the three groups at some point in my career and know when I was either disengaged or not engaged it had a dramatic effect on my life not only at work, but also at home.

From a business performance perspective, a lack of engagement is a huge drain on the potential for an organization and society in general.  Imagine a workplace where everyone was working to their full God-given abilities!  How different would that place look and feel?  What would our society be like?  Customers would be raving about the services and products provided by the company, which could then lead to improved revenues and profitability.

Gallup estimates there are 100 million workers in the U.S., and if 70% (50% not engaged + 20% disengaged) are not truly performing to their ability, a huge opportunity to improve exists.  They also estimate this lack of engagement costs businesses $450-500 billion each year-talk about a COPQ!

Using process improvement projects to drive engagement.

So what can we as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals do to drive engagement in our workplaces?  We can start by examining what actually contributes to workplace engagement.  I spent several years studying engagement, and what leads to higher levels of involvement isn’t all that surprising, but it is obviously lacking in most organizations based on the data Gallup has reported and my own research.  A few of the elements that lead to higher levels of engagement include:

  • Knowing what is expected
  • Having the resources to be successful
  • Opportunity to leverage strengths
  • Learning and growth opportunities
  • Recognition and praise

With these five elements as input to the LSS project process we can start to develop ideas and activities to tap into each of these items.  One tool I’ve been brainstorming is what I call a personal charter.    Similar to a project charter, in which we document the problem, metric, goals, business case, timeframe, etc., a personal charter is a tool that can be used to document individual engagement elements for each team member.

The process is actually quite simple in that each potential team member answers five questions from their perspective once the project charter has been completed.  The questions are:

  1. What expectations do I have for myself in contributing to the success of this project?
  2. What resources do I need to meet the expectations?
  3. What am I passionate about and good at doing that will contribute to the success of this project?
  4. What do I want to learn during the course of this project?
  5. How do I want to be recognized and praised when I succeed at helping the team meet the objectives of the project?

Asking these questions will also help in understanding one additional, and arguably most important element to project success-getting the “right” people on the team.  Most of my clients pick team members based on good intentions such as identifying subject matter experts and process participants who are no doubt critical to success, but even if they fall into one of these two groups and don’t see how they can contribute to the overall success of the project it’s highly unlikely they will be engaged, which can lead to failing to achieve the project objectives.

After answering the questions it will become apparent who is a good fit and who is not.  The process will also help those who are not a good fit understand why they are not, and you as a facilitator or champion will have less of a confrontational situation when they are asked not to be part of the team; in fact, in many cases they will self-select themselves off the team roster.

With the answers to these questions you will have the data needed to drive the project engagement needle to the max!  Gallup’s research argues, leaders are one of the most critical elements to creating engagement, but to be effective you as a project leader need to know individually how to drive engagement in each of your team members, hence the answers to the questions.

The power to drive engagement is in your hands.

As LSS professionals we possess the power to drive engagement in the leadership positions we hold in organizations and with project teams, but we need the “ammo” to do it, which is where the personal charter comes into play.  Imagine that you’ve formed a team and have determined what your objectives are (i.e. project charter) and now all that is left is to execute on the DMAIC process.  In a traditional approach you would simply begin by working through the phases with little thought to your team, but, now armed with the personal charter of each team member, you have the inputs needed to drive engagement that will lead to a higher probability of success.

I like to use stories and analogies to help others understand the often times confusing aspects that come with LSS and DMAIC, and one of the common tools I teach is the input-process-output (IPO) diagram that is a core tool used in the early stages of a project.  The analogy I often use is one of a machine (process) that has several knobs, levers, and buttons (inputs) that when turned, pulled, or pushed lead to some type of result (output).  The same analogy can be used with a LSS project as illustrated by the IPO diagram shown below.


The inputs to the process are the people and the engagement drivers.  If you don’t know how to to tap into these inputs you’re not likely to achieve the desired output, but with the personal charter in your hands, acting as a guide to the right combination of “turns”, “pulls”, and “pushes”, you can uncover for each individual what is most likely to get them engaged in the project.

There is still the challenge of determining who are the “right” people, which I’ll address in a future post, but for now the right people are those who have the right set of strengths and learning desires that are in alignment with the project objectives.

To help you get started on using the personal charter for your next project, I’ve linked below a simple template to begin with.  Feel free to modify, add, delete, as you see fit.  the format is not important to success.  What is important is understanding and using the engagement drivers found within your team members and capitalizing on them to drive performance.

Project-Personal LSS Charter Template

Perhaps the best thing about understanding what gets team members engaged and how to use it to best meet the objectives of your project is that once the project is complete you will have some fired up people who will naturally want to tell others about their experience, which will lead to the culture change we continually strive for when deploying process improvement initiatives such as LSS!