Monthly Archives: November 2014

10 Ways to Become a “Great” LSS Leader

followershipOne of the best leadership books I’ve read recently is Measure of a Leader by Aubrey and James Daniels.  Aubrey Daniels is, in my opinion, one of the best authors of leadership material, specifically, material focused on understanding human behavior.  In their book the authors write from a unique perspective on leadership, which they argue should be measured by not what a leader does, but instead by what their followers do.

In this post I want to share some of their thoughts on how you can take action to increase your leadership impact in not only the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) projects you may be working on, but also from a general leadership position you may have in your work, home, school, church, etc. environment.

To some degree we are all leaders.  We lead in our organizations, at home, and in our communities, and how well we lead is not a measure of what we do, but is instead a measure of what those who are following us do.  The authors define a “great” leader by three factors:

  1. Magnitude of impact.
  2. Duration of impact.
  3. Number of followers.

Great leaders have a big impact on their followers.  The impact of a leader can be seen in the results of their followers.  A great leader is also someone who has the ability to make a significant impact that lasts.  This is especially critical in LSS projects where there can be a tendency to lose sustainability after a project ends.  Great leaders achieve great results that keep on delivering long after the Control phase ends.

A final element of great leaders is the number of their followers.  No one can claim to be a leader without followers, and having more followers is one indicator of the effectiveness of a leader.

10 ways to increase your leadership impact.

So what are some simple ways you can become a more effective leader?  The authors offer 50 things to do to increase your leadership impact.  Listed below are my 10 favorite ideas from the list.

1. Find your followers’ positive reinforcers.

In a previous post I introduced you to a tool I call the personal charter.  The main focus of the charter is to get a better understanding of each individual team member and what they want from a project and what drives their behaviors.  One of the questions centers on what they find to be positively reinforcing, in other words, what do they like to have happen after they do something good?

Research suggests that 80% of behavior is based on what happens to the performer after the behavior is done, and knowing how to positively reinforce the behavior increases the chances of it happening again.  By simply asking people how they like to be reinforced (i.e public praise, hand written notes, etc.) you can tap into the discretionary effort available within each of us.

2. Reinforce every behavior until the performers reach a high-and-steady rate.

This is simply suggesting that through audits, performance evaluations, giving feedback, etc. you need to consistently and frequently reinforce behaviors until you reach what is known as a high-and-steady rate (i.e. new habit is formed).  Keep reinforcing the behavior and at some point you won’t have to do as much reinforcing because a new “normal” will start to take place.

3. Develop a system for discovering people who are giving discretionary effort.

This is a great way to identify who is putting in the extra effort to succeed.  Simple ideas here include online systems to nominate people when they observe others going above and beyond expectation and random email reminders to be on the lookout for catching someone doing something good.  You should also reinforce those who are doing the nominating to drive more of this behavior.

4. Build reinforcement into processes and procedures.

This is a great suggestion that applies to LSS projects where often we develop / revise procedures to implement and sustain improvements.  We almost always document what to do, but when’s the last time you created or modified an SOP that described how to reward and reinforce those who are doing what they are supposed to do?

5. Create the opportunity for multiple sources of social reinforcement for followers by managers, suppliers, peers, and customers.

Reinforcement doesn’t need to come just from leaders; it can come from multiple sources.  By sharing how to give reinforcement with these other sources, and also what the performer finds to be reinforcing, you create an environment where it’s more likely to happen, and when this happens you are more likely to continue to get more of the behavior you desire!

6. Track percentage of commitments met.

How many times have you worked on a LSS project and had to chase after individual team members to get them to complete their action items?  This is one of the most common frustrations my clients face in managing projects.  Keeping “score” is one way to provide reinforcement fuel, both positive and negative, to get more (completed actions) or less (no action) of the behavior you want.

7. Make smaller commitments.

This is one that goes against the idea of “stretch” goals so many leaders use in today’s business environment.  The problem with stretch goals is that they provide less opportunity to give positive reinforcement, exactly the opposite of what we are striving for!  We need more, not less, opportunities to give positive reinforcement, which is easier to do with smaller goals.

8. Recognize those who meet their commitments.

Big or small, every commitment that is recognized will increase the likelihood of future commitments being met.  By recognizing someone for doing something “small” you increase the probability of them doing something “big” in the future.

9. Reinforce all improvements, no matter how small they are.

We all know the power of Kaizen in that making small improvements and stacking them on one another leads to big impact over the long term.  The same applies to the behaviors that are linked with smaller improvements.

10. Make suggesting improvements easy.

This can be difficult in that we seem to be wired to immediately critique every thing we hear, read, and see.  Not every idea needs to be critiqued immediately, so work to make it a habit of asking why a person believes their idea is one that will help accomplish a goal instead of telling them why it won’t work.

Focus on your followers to measure “greatness”.

Becoming a great leader takes time and focused effort, but the rewards of seeing the results in the actions of your followers is some of the most satisfying work you’ll ever do.  There’s not one single silver bullet that will lead to becoming a great leader, but what is evident is that if you focus on yourself and what you do instead of what your followers are doing or not doing it’s unlikely you’ll ever find greatness.

Sowing the Seeds of Lean Six Sigma

sowing_seedsOne of the parables told by Jesus described in Luke 8:4-15 entitled The Parable of the Sower describes a farmer planting seeds in four types of soil.  The biblical meaning of the parable relates to different types of believers, but what can also be taken from this parable relates to some similarities we as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals encounter frequently.

A farmer went out to sow his seed.

We are in a sense “farmers” sowing the seeds of LSS.  Unfortunately, it takes more than just seeds to grow into something as impactful as LSS.  What is equally, perhaps even more important, is the soil in which the seeds are planted.  The soil in this case represents the culture of an organization where the planting is being done.

As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.

The parable describes four types of soil.  The first type of soil is one in which seed is scattered, but the devil swoops in and takes away the seed before it can blossom.  Here the devil represents the second aspect of sowing seeds that leads to results, which are the people found along the path on which the seeds are sown.

Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

This first group of people on the path are the ones who just don’t get it when it comes to process improvement.  These are the pessimists I’ve written about before, who just don’t understand why improvement is a necessary and a vital component to keeping an organization alive.

Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.

A second type of soil or culture we often sow seeds into is one in which people are initially excited about LSS.  The first few projects create a buzz throughout the organization, and things seem to be going well, but after a few months, sometimes years, the excitement dies off and results are not sustained.

Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.

This second group of people are the impulsive ones who get excited about new initiatives such as LSS, but over time they lose interest.  In some cases this happens when tough times arise, perhaps a challenging project that didn’t yield the expected results or failing to meet program objectives related to financial goals.  We’ve all met people like this-the ones who give up at the first sign of failure.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

A third type of soil is one in which both plants (LSS projects, program, etc.) and thorns (low impact distractions) grow side-by-side.  This is the type of culture where leadership is focused on too many high level “priorities”, perhaps one of which is LSS.  As LSS professionals we know how focusing on more doesn’t always lead to more (i.e. Pareto Principle).

The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

All too often leadership get super excited when we launch a LSS initiative, but revisit the organization a few years later and what we see is nothing that resembles the initial excitement.  This is one of the biggest challenges we face as LSS professionals-keeping leadership focused on a few core initiatives, one of which should always be improving existing processes, and not getting distracted by the other 246 high level strategic objectives.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.

The final type of soil is that which we desire to find when deploying LSS.  As this verse states, a crop was yielded a hundred times more than was planted!  How I love to plant the LSS seeds and see this type of harvest!

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The leadership in this final type, the desired type, of organizational culture have the same characteristics as those described in the last verse.  They have a noble and good heart; in other words they have passion for getting better.  They hear the “word”, which in this case is the LSS approach to improvement.  They also retain it (i.e. sustain the effort), and ultimately, through perseverance, produce a spectacular result!




LSS Success: 4 Vital Behaviors Leading to Results

picking a teamAccording to ASTD $164 billion was spent on training in the U.S. in 2012.  Reading that statistic got me thinking this week as I finished teaching a class on lean tools.  In our discussion forum I posed the question to my students related to what they were going to do with the training they had just received over the past five weeks.

Our discussion led to a variety of ways in which they could apply the learning by using some of the tools they have learned to solve problems in their work environment (i.e. value stream mapping, 7 basic quality tools, Kaizen, 5S, etc.).  As I was crafting my response to the students what I came away with are four vital behaviors that I believe are keys to success.

Before we get into the vital behaviors (read this book if you want to learn more about vital behaviors) it’s important that we define success.  My definition of success in relation to process improvement begins with identifying high impact opportunities, picking high quality people to seize the opportunities, and finally, turning opportunities into financial results.  The four vital behaviors I prescribed to the class are as follows:

1. Keep it simple.

If our goal as advocates of process improvement is to change the culture of the organizations we work in, it’s unlikely this will happen if we try and add more complexity to anyone’s work life.  Think about it-how many people do you work with who are looking to make their life more complicated?

It seems silly to think we would want to create more complexity, but that’s exactly what we do in many cases when rolling out some type of process improvement initiative such as Lean Six Sigma.  It’s all too easy to over-complicate what you’ve been learning in this class by using all the Japanese jargon (i.e. gemba, jidoka, kaizen, etc.).  While it’s important to understand these concepts and be able to identify them as a practitioner, it’s not as important to those we are trying to influence for change.

I would challenge you to use language everyone can understand when leading any initiative in process improvement.  Some of the ways I’ve done this are by suggesting we go to where the work actually takes place (gemba); finding ways to error-proof (poka-yoke) processes; and using working sessions (kaizen) to rapidly implement improvements.  When you talk in language everyone understands you’re far more likely to make change happen and sustain itself.

2. Stay focused on the $$$$!

At the end of the day all that matters, well, mostly what matters, is the money we’re making for our organizations.  Whether you work for a profit or not-for-profit entity it still comes down to financial results.  As process improvement advocates we need to always be focused on how the changes we are proposing will have a financial impact on the organization.  This is what gets leadership excited and engaged in the process, and long-term creating this excitement and engagement is what leads to sustaining a Lean Six Sigma effort.

Without the dollars management begins to question why we are doing this process improvement stuff, and honestly they should question it if the results are not being translated into financial improvements.  Always be thinking in terms of the business case when taking on any improvement activity!

3. Constantly be looking for opportunities to “plant” Lean Six Sigma “seeds”.

We can’t do it alone!  It takes the effort of many people working together to move an organization to world class levels of performance.  Always be looking for opportunities to “plant seeds” in your organization to help “grow” the Lean Six Sigma efforts.  These opportunities often materialize as people come to you or you uncover opportunities to improve processes in your organization.  I’m always looking for a chance to help others learn a tool or technique that will help them achieve a goal.

Start with the 7 basic quality tools the next time you have an opportunity to help someone take on a problem.  You’ll plant the seed by showing them how to use the tool, and when their problem goes away what will “blossom” is another disciple preaching the Lean Six Sigma gospel to others in the organization.  More disciples means more converts, which ultimately leads to greater results!

4. Be patient and persistent.

Comedian Steven Wright stated, “Hard work pays off in the future.  Laziness pays off now.”  The work you’re doing takes time to develop, and in this microwave world we often want crock pot results without putting in the time it takes to get the rich flavor we’re after.

I won’t attempt to tell you change will happen overnight, but if you’re persistent and focus on helping others by understanding their needs; put all this technical Lean Six Sigma jargon into a language they can understand; link what you’re doing to business results that have a bottom line financial impact; and constantly look for opportunities to plant seeds throughout your organization to help spread the power of Lean Six Sigma, good things will happen, but they will take time to happen.  Be persistent, but also be patient because your hard work, if it’s done in a proper manner, will pay off!