Monthly Archives: March 2016

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

I’m what you could call a “political junkie”.  I love watching and reading the latest political news, especially around election time when things get heated up between the contenders.  While I typically look at politicians more as entertainers these days, they do offer up some things that we as lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals can learn from to actually get things done, something they can’t seem to do.  One concept is what I call “shaking hands and kissing babies”.

Less talking more doing.

A few years ago I spent several months coaching a black belt who had a passion for LSS, well, sort of.  For months we spent hours each day talking about LSS.  We explored our thoughts and experiences on deployment, training, software, statistics, etc., but after months of talk he had progressed no further with taking action to turn his knowledge and passion for improvement into results (he would make a great politician).

Then, on my last week working with him, in walked a new black belt just hired and starting her first day on the job.  After some brief introductions, she left us and didn’t return until the end of the day.  I wondered what she’d been up to all day, and when I asked her she said she had been out walking around the offices and talking with people.  She talked with them about their problems, how she could serve them in getting better at what they do, and where LSS might add value to solving some of their big challenges.

Much like a politician seeking your vote, she was mingling with her constituents trying to understand their problems, and how she might help to alleviate some of the challenges they faced each day.  From this my political mind shaped the “shaking hands and kissing babies” analogy to finding people to help through LSS.

What follows is how we can learn from this black belt, and to some degree, politicians working to get your vote.

1. Seek to serve instead of being served.

Way too often we focus on what we’re getting out of the process.  We typically have our sights set on a promotion, job title, more money, corner office, etc., but I would argue that if your primary focus is on how you will benefit from helping others you won’t succeed over the long term.  If you truly want to help others they become priority one and you come second.

You can accomplish anything in life as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.
-Harry Truman

2. Listen more talk less.

Think about someone you know who truly cares about you.  Do they spend all the time you’re together talking to you?  Do you have a hard time getting in a word during your conversations with them?  I doubt it.

People who care about you spend more time listening to you than talking to you.  The same can be said for those you are trying to help with LSS.  Like the black belt I mentioned earlier, spend more time listening to people and they will begin to see that your focus is on helping them not yourself.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
-Epictetus

3. Focus on what matters most.

This is where politicians could use some help!  If you try to fix all the problems you’re not likely to fix any of the problems, and not every problem is worth solving.  You have a finite amount of time in your work day, and what I’ve found is the best people I’ve worked with (those who get the right things done effectively) are those who manage their time well.

To manage your time well you need to have crystal clear focus on the vital few things that matter most to success (i.e. Pareto Principle).  This starts with defining what “success” means to those you are trying to help.  Why do they exists?  How do they add value to the business?  What is keeping them from doing what they do best?  These are all questions to ask in determining what matters most to their success and how LSS may help.

…if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.
-Greg McKeown

4. Know that you can’t do it all.

This is a lesson most politicians will never get, but you as a LSS professional can make a lot of progress by starting with the basis that you can’t do everything for everyone.  Principle number three feeds into this one in that if you focus on what matters most you will take a big step forward in working on the important stuff, but sometimes what matters most is an overwhelming amount of work that you will need some help in accomplishing.

Where there is passion for improvement you will succeed, so I suggest finding those who want to improve first because they will take part in driving the success and not simply come along for the ride.  To some degree process improvement is about finding people with a passion to get better first, and then determining where and how to get better.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.
-Steve Jobs

Get out of your office!

Not long ago I heard from the two black belts I wrote about earlier.  The guy who never left his office no longer works for the company, and the black belt who was out shaking hands and kissing babies was promoted.  To succeed you have to get out and find the opportunities to use your talent as a LSS professional to help others.

It’s a rare organization in which people will come to you with their problems, but as you begin to show others you are there to serve them and not yourself, spend time to listen to their problems and challenges, focus on what matters most to success, and tap into the passion of others who want to get better at what they do you will succeed!

3 ways for making LSS go viral in your organization!

viral2Imagine this scenario…your lean Six Sigma (LSS) team has just finished implementing an improvement that saves your organization $5M.  Your team celebrates and shares a video on LinkedIn explaining the project and how your team achieved the results, and the next morning you check on the video stat’s to find out 3 million people have viewed the video!

This scenario is commonly described as something that’s “gone viral”.  While the example I provide here might be a Utopian LSS dream, what I want to share in this post is learning from things that go viral online, and how we as LSS professionals can use these viral lessons to help our efforts go viral in our own organization.

Viral ingredients.

So what makes something go viral?  Typically, there are three ingredients to creating a viral scenario:

1. Simplicity – easy to understand and quickly apply.

2. Relatable – something that can be shared by many.

3. Location – positioned somewhere it will be seen by the masses.

Keep it simple.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson we as LSS professionals need to learn.  The process of LSS is in general quite complicated.  I find that this is one of the reasons that draws many of us to the profession and methodology.  We MBB’s and BB’s love technical stuff, numbers, lots of decimal places, complicated software, etc.   We can usually spot a bullet point out of place on a PowerPoint slide from a mile away and tell the difference between 11 and 12 font!

Unfortunately, what attracts many of us to LSS is exactly what deters the masses from embracing it.  Never have I come across a client who has told me that LSS is a perfect fit for the complexity they have been looking to add to their already complex work life – nobody is looking for more complexity, so quit trying to over complicate LSS!

If our goal is to spread the LSS “gospel” and get more people using the methodology to solve tough business problems we have to make it easier to use.  One simple way to do this is by starting with the goal I share with all my clients at the start of a project, which is to use as few LSS tools as possible in the shortest amount of time that leads to achieving the project goal.

Where we tend to go sideways is by introducing too many tools when more tools almost never leads to more results.  What more tools usually leads to is more complexity, more project cycle time, more frustrated team members, and more of a chance LSS will have a no chance of spreading throughout your organization so keep it simple.

Keep it real.

When something goes viral it’s because it’s relatable to you and those you associate with.  When we encounter something we can relate to we’re more likely to explore it further.

How we can keep LSS real is by using stories and having a greater understanding of the challenges and frustrations often encountered by those we work with.  To really understand the challenges other people in your organization are facing you need to get out and do what I refer to as shaking hands and kissing babies.  You won’t gain much in understanding the problems of the people you want to help until you get out of your office and connect with the people in your organization.

What will surprise you is that most people face similar problems throughout an organization such as having too much to do and not enough time; reducing costs; increasing efficiency; improving quality; increasing customer satisfaction; getting more out of the people they manage, etc.  In essence, every person in an organization has one common goal – to get better at what they do each and every day.  LSS is a great way to help others improve regardless of what they do or where they do it.

Make it visible.

If you can’t see it no one will know it exists.  This is probably the easiest of the three viral ingredients to implement.  Start with where people hang out and make LSS visible in those areas.

Consider sharing project stories in the conference rooms where people meet.  Use pictures and very few words to tell a project story or an application of a simple tool.  Use bright colors that cause people to take notice.

Other areas to think about are where people spend time waiting for something like documents at a printer, food in a microwave in an employee lunch area, and maybe even in the bathroom.  Anywhere people meet or wait is a good opportunity to catch their attention.

Spreading the LSS “gospel”.

I often tell my clients that LSS projects really have two key goals.  The obvious goal is to improve a process by fixing a specific problem, but this is really a secondary goal.  The primary goal of LSS is to spread the LSS gospel (also known as the “good” news) throughout an organization so that every day people solve tough problems instead of stepping over them.

When people start to understand LSS doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and they can relate to how LSS may help them fix a problem that’s been nagging at them for a long time they will begin to embrace it.

So get started planting a LSS virus in your organization by keeping it simple, relatable, and making it visible.  In time the virus will become contagious and positive change will begin to take hold.

One final thought I’ll leave you with is to start with your leadership team.  They are the most contagious group in your organization and will infect faster than any single person can.  As goes a leadership team so goes an organization!