Monthly Archives: February 2016

Play better “chess” with your people to get results!

chessWe’ve all been there before.  Whether it’s working on a process improvement project, giving direction to those we manage, telling our kids what to do, etc.  People don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.  So what can you do about it?

In this post I’ll share with you an overview of a short presentation I use with my clients to quickly explain how using positive reinforcement after a desired behavior takes place can lead to sustainable behavior change.

People behave based on two things.  First, what happens before a behavior (i.e., training, coaching, giving direction), and second, what happens after the behavior takes place (i.e. rewards, punishment).

The biggest problem I observe with my clients who are trying to change behavior of others is that they focus far too much on what happens before the behavior.  They spend hours in training, coaching, writing SOP’s, and telling people what to do, which is a necessary component of behavior change, but far too often they miss the more impactful aspect of behavior change, which is what takes place after the behavior.

Think about when you were a child and had to do “chores”.  Mom or dad told you to clean your room, which may or may not have led to doing it, but if you did complete the task the reward you received (i.e. allowance, ice cream, etc.) was more likely to get you to repeat the behavior than just simple direction on what and how to do it.

I would argue, and the behavior science research supports my argument, it’s no different in the world of business.  Your chores now are the job duties you are hired to complete, and one of the rewards is the paycheck you receive for doing the work.  What I’m getting at here is that what happens after the behavior takes place has a much higher effect on the person repeating the behavior than what happens before the behavior.

Let’s put this into more practical terms of how to drive behavior change.  Before focusing on the rewards component of behavior change let’s make sure you have the necessary elements to set the stage for the desired behavior by asking three simple questions.

1. Do they know what to do?  This might seem like a no-brainer, but just asking the question ensures the expectation has been set.  You wouldn’t believe how many times this one step is all that is needed to change behavior.  Have you ever told someone they were doing something incorrectly to which they replied, “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.”?

2. Do they know how to do it?  You can’t tell someone to do something and then just miraculously expect it to happen.  This is where training and education play a big part in setting the stage for behavior change.  Show them how to do it before asking them to do it.

3. Can they do it?  Not everyone has the ability to do all things.  Have you ever watched American Idol?  Some of those contestants actually think they can sing, but not everyone has a voice for singing!  It’s no different in business.  Some of us are gifted speakers, others are great at analyzing data-we all have talents to use in helping achieve our personal and organizational goals.  The best test here is to have them demonstrate they can do it.

Assuming those you are helping change know what to do, how to do it, and can do it, now it’s simply a matter of providing some reinforcement that fuels their want to do it, which leads to a fourth question.

4. Do they want to do it?  This is where positive reinforcement (rewards) comes into play when changing behavior.  I suggest checking off “yes” to the previous three questions (they are usually the easiest issues to address) before addressing the motivation issue.  No amount of positive reinforcement will make you into an American Idol if you have the voice of a broken chainsaw!

Not everyone views positive reinforcement the same.  For example, many of the hourly workers I have had as team members hate being recognized in public, but when I was a welder many years ago and working on the production line I loved public praise.  The problem with not understanding each individual’s preferred way of being recognized is that when you praise them in the wrong way you are likely to get just the opposite of what you desire.  Praising those hourly workers the way I like to be praised will almost guarantee they will never demonstrate the behavior that led to that praise again just to avoid being called out in front of their peers.

This is something all great leaders know about their people.  In other words, they play chess with their people instead of checkers.  If you compare the two games you’ll see that all the pieces in the game of checkers are the same, whereas in the game of chess each piece plays a unique role.  People are no different.  There are not two of us that are identical in most organizations.

One of the simplest tools I’ve used to play better “chess” with those I’m helping change behavior is a 3 x 5 card as shown below.  All you need to do is write your name on the card and list the ways in which you like to be recognized and praised when you do something good.  This card can then be copied and shared with everyone you work with so that everyone knows the best way to keep you doing great work.  You could also share this with your family as a way to sustain desired behaviors.

One final suggestion I’ll leave you with is that the timeliness and certainty of the reinforcement happening after the positive behavior are critical to repeating it.  Think of how likely you are to repeat a behavior your boss compliments you on months after the behavior took place.  This is one of the best cases for why performance reviews on an annual basis have little impact on changing behavior.  The second you see someone doing something great provide the reinforcement instantly!

In summary, if the people you want to drive behavior change in know what to do, how to do it, can do it, and want to do it, followed by you reinforcing the behavior in a way they find positive that happens immediately while the behavior is taking place or shortly after it, and the person performing the behavior knows for certain the reinforcement is coming, sustainable behavior change is possible – give it a try!

You Need a LSS Coach!

coachGetting better at something is a lot easier when you have guidance on how to get better from someone who’s “been-there-done-that”.  We’ve all experienced being coached beginning with our parents.  There probably isn’t one person in this world who learned to brush their teeth on their own or tie their shoes without some type of “parental” coaching.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

In business it’s no different, especially when it comes to lean Six Sigma (LSS).  I can remember my first project and how much I struggled because I didn’t have anyone to help me succeed.  Looking back now I see that I did have people I could have reached out to for help, but just didn’t have the courage to do so.  It frustrates me now to think how much quicker I could have found success if only I had asked for help!

This is one of the most common reasons why I see a lot of people, especially men, applying LSS for the first time fail.  We men like to figure things out on our own even if it takes us twice as long to do it!  In the end we might finish, but often the struggle to get there is so painful we never want to do it again, which is absolutely the worst outcome we could end up with regarding LSS in an organization.  We want more, not less, LSS!

Lean coaching.

Looking at a LSS project as a process (i.e. DMAIC) and analyzing it for waste using the 8 classic forms of waste it’s easy to make a case for using a coach to reduce project waste.  As a quick reminder the types of waste found in most processes can be summarized using the acronym DOWNTIME.

D-defects / rework



N-not using people well




E-excess processing

As with any process you won’t always find every form of waste to remove, but if you look hard enough you’ll find many of them.  turning our analysis to a typical first LSS project, the forms of waste I see most often when a coach is not brought into the process are defects / rework, not using people well, and excess processing.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The most common form of waste in most processes, LSS included, are defects and rework.  Doing something wrong or having to do it again are probably the most common mistakes we all make when doing something for the first time.  In a complicated process like LSS I have never seen anyone, myself included, go from Define to Control, without making a number of mistakes that lead to having to re-do something or start over.

Defects and rework lead to not using people well, another form of waste, because nearly all LSS projects involve other people whose time is wasted when the project leader makes a mistake.  From a culture change perspective nothing is more impactful in a negative way than wasting people’s time.  When you waste people’s time with LSS they will invariably perceive LSS as a waste of their time!

Arguably, one of the biggest forms of waste I’ve encountered by those not using a coach is excessive processing.  This is always one of the toughest forms of waste for many new practitioners to grasp, but it’s essentially going far beyond what the customer of the process expects-something commonly referred to as “gold-plating”.

For example, I used to frequent a Starbuck’s drivethrough near my house, and almost every time I placed my order for a Grande (medium) Blonde with no room and one Raw Sugar they would give me a Venti (large).  I didn’t really care, but I ordered a Grande because I don’t drink the coffee fast enough, so a lot of what’s at the bottom of my Venti cup goes cold and gets thrown out.

The worst part of this is that they don’t charge me any more for the Venti (it was their mistake), but they still have the higher cost for the larger coffee and make less profit (I paid for a Grande not a Venti).  Now one coffee isn’t going to break Starbucks, but if they’re doing this at even a small percentage of their thousands of locations around the world it could add up quickly!

From a LSS project perspective the way excess processing comes into play is by using far too many tools, statistics, templates, etc. when completing a project.  All this does is add complexity that isn’t needed, and once again this drives people away from LSS, not towards it!  When it comes to a LSS project JIT and using only what is necessary to achieve the project goals will go a long way in creating an “I want to do that again” attitude, which is the ultimate goal of every project.  A coach will be able to help you decipher which of the 658 LSS tools available to you make the most sense to achieve your project goals (i.e. less is more!).

Using a LSS coach opens up a S.E.A. of success.

There are three reasons why everyone needs a LSS coach when they get started on their first few projects.  The first reason is Support.

No one is an expert the first time they do anything.  We all need support from someone who has been successful doing what we are attempting to do.  In the world of LSS these are usually those who have master black belt certification from a reputable organization and have completed many projects successfully.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

A second reason to find a coach is for Encouragement.  If you haven’t been frustrated yet with LSS you haven’t done much of it!  Getting people to change what they do; follow a structured problem solving methodology like LSS; complete action items; even show up for an occasional working session can be extremely frustrating work.  Sometimes you just need someone to talk to who’s dealt with and pushed through those frustrating times to give you some encouragement.

A final reason, the top reason my clients find value in what I do for them, is provide Accountability.  In some ways it’s not surprising, but when I ask my clients what they value most about the time we spend together it’s always that I provide them with an accountability partner-someone to hold them accountable for what they have simply agreed to do.  My general approach to coaching is to meet with my clients every two weeks for an hour, and knowing that our session is coming up is usually enough of a motivator for them to come prepared to discuss their project.

Back when I should have been looking for a coach the resources that are available now didn’t exist, but with technological advances like Google, LinkedIn, Skype, FaceTime, etc., finding a coach isn’t all that difficult.  The most important criteria, aside from being qualified (i.e. MBB, project experience, etc.), is finding someone you trust, which can take some time, but it’s time well spent that will lead to years of future results and less frustration in the process.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Variance Reduction International, Inc. if you need help finding a high performance coach.  We have 30+ LSS Experts located around the world ready to help you succeed!

Selecting Lean Six Sigma Thoroughbreds

galloping-thoroughbred-horse-the-irish-image-collection-Over the course of 10+ years of working with organizations striving to improve what they do using lean Six Sigma (LSS) I’ve come to the realization that success lies in three key elements.

  1. Working on what matters to leadership
  2. Picking the right people
  3. Providing coaching support

First and foremost is picking the right stuff to work on.  There isn’t anything that’s even a close second in my opinion.  You’ll often read that the number one reason for LSS failure is a lack of leadership support, but I would argue if you dig a little deeper as to why the support isn’t there it has to do with what is being worked on.  Work on the stuff that matters to leadership and you won’t have anything lacking!

Work horses, donkeys, and thoroughbreds.

A second area that leads to success is what I want to focus on in this post-picking high performance project facilitators.  The analogy I like to use relates to the types of people that work in most organizations.

From a statistical perspective you can view this as a normal distribution in that most people tend to fall into the “work horse” category.  These are the individuals who come to work each day and do what they are told to do, but never seem to live up to their true potential. Essentially, they do the minimum to not get punished, but hardly ever give any discretionary effort.

Another group, thankfully much smaller but in some organizations are very disruptive, are the “donkeys”.  They kick at everything that comes their way and are generally pessimists about not only work, but life in general.  They find a $10 bill and complain it wasn’t a $100 bill!  The sad thing about this group is that despite their small size they tend to get a lot of attention!

The final group, the group you want to be selecting your future LSS facilitators from are the thoroughbreds.   They seek to win every race they get into.  They put in the effort to succeed and strive to achieve maximum performance every time they line up to take on a challenge.  The problem is there are not many of them in most organizations.  They are a rare breed and have no shortage of requests to help coming their way, and in some cases, they have the ability to perform, but no time to do it.

Gallup research on workplace engagement suggests similar numbers to what I’ve seen with organizations I’ve worked with over the past decade when selecting thoroughbred LSS facilitators.  The latest data suggests the following:

32% engaged (thoroughbreds)

51% not engaged (work horses)

17% disengaged (donkeys)

Think of it this way.  In your last LSS class 2 students were the pessimists of the group cracking off the sarcastic comments, saying this won’t work here, etc.  Five of the students didn’t care one way or the other.  They spent much of the time checking instant messages, email, and their Facebook page.  Then there were the three who really got into it.  They asked a lot of questions, came prepared, were on-time coming back from breaks and lunch, and they left with more energy than they came with.  Sound familiar?

Finding more thoroughbreds and fewer donkeys.

The challenge is finding more thoroughbreds than donkeys in your organization, but how do you find them?  I would argue that your search begins by identifying who are the future leaders of your organization.  These are the rock stars of the future you want leading your LSS efforts.

Think of it this way…They are the future “seeds” being planted today that will eventually “sprout” into leaders who will then “pollinate” the organization with the process improvement philosophy, mindset, etc.

We talk about process improvement being more about culture change than anything else, and how do you change culture?  I would argue it starts with your people.  People create culture.

Picture five years from now when those who are individual contributors start entering the leadership ranks and by that time have led a number of process improvement projects and have seen the value of focused process improvement.  Now, in the position of a leader, they will begin to cultivate the same attitude in their direct reports, and as leadership goes so goes the organization.  This is when real culture change related to process improvement starts to happen.

You could ask a hundred questions to identify potential thoroughbreds, but overall you want to feel secure that they are going to be a future leader which starts with some simple questions to the candidate, their supervisor, and their peers.  Consider these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Does the business view this person as having “leadership potential”?
  • Where does their current supervisor see them in 5 years?
  • Where do their peers see them in 5 years?

The other two key elements that lead to success initially that are worth inquiring about are how the individual manages their time, and how their supervisor views and feels about process improvement.  The two biggest short-term failure modes I experience with my coaching clients is that despite their passion for improvement and leadership potential what often sinks them is their inability to manage their time well and / or a supervisor who doesn’t see the value of LSS.

Finding thoroughbreds isn’t easy, but if you ask the right questions the top performers emerge, and the donkeys will get left behind in the stable.  Eventually they will move into the leadership ranks and that’s when real positive change begins to take place.