Category Archives: Opinion

Finding joy at work with lean Six Sigma.

sunriseWhat if working together we could solve the toughest, most challenging, nastiest, annoying, painful, complicated problems that would lead to creating a workplace full of passion, joy, excitement, energy, reward, and lifelong friendships; where what you do each day actually made a difference in the lives around you.

Would you want to work there? 

Would you be excited to get up every morning to come to work?

I’ll bet you would! Unfortunately, many people I come in contact with tell me this is the opposite of the work environment they have to drag themselves into each day. This doesn’t surprise me one bit since Gallup’s research and my own research on employee engagement suggest only 30% of people are truly engaged in their work.

Why are so many people, essentially 7 out of 10, so uninterested in their work? For many I have talked with much of the reason for being so disengaged is that they don’t see the value in their work in how it impacts anything but the bottom line, of which they feel left out of when looking at their paychecks on payday.

It’s no wonder why so many are disengaged if they feel what they do each day makes no difference. Think about it just from a numbers perspective – if you work a typical week of 40 hours and have a lifetime career that spans 40 years that’s over 80,000 hours or 10,000 plus workdays that lead to no meaningful impact. Talk about a total waste of time and energy! Who wants to put in this kind of time and have it result in nothing?!?!

What does this have to do with lean Six Sigma? The opening paragraph to this post is part of the introduction for a book I’m finishing, and as I was writing the book one day a thought came to me regarding why we, or more specifically, why I do lean Six Sigma? What is it about lean Six Sigma, or process improvement in general, that has kept me wanting to get up every day for nearly two decades, well, most days, charged up and full of energy to teach and coach people to find a faster and better ways to do processes?

As I sought to find an answer to this question I discovered something about myself and the successful people I have helped. The discovery was that we do lean Six Sigma not for ourselves, but instead we do it for others. We do it to help others find joy in their work. We do it in love for others.

“We do lean Six Sigma to solve the toughest, most challenging, nastiest, annoying, painful, complicated problems that lead to creating a workplace full of passion, joy, excitement, energy, reward, and lifelong friendships; where what we do each day actually makes a difference in the lives around us.”

Again, we do lean Six Sigma to serve the needs of others. Our reward is in the impact using process improvement methods such as lean Six Sigma creates in helping others succeed. It’s not about us; it’s about those we help!

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

The ironic thing about putting others first is that you too will reap a reward for what you sow in them when they blossom into something far greater than they could have on their own. If you are a lean Six Sigma professional or maybe considering a career change and pursuing a role in process improvement know the potential to do truly amazing transformational work awaits you when you put the needs of others first. If you are currently a lean Six Sigma professional and don’t have the joy I write about here maybe it’s time to shift your focus from yourself and what you’re getting to those you are helping and what they are receiving.

Don’t waste the power of your tongue!

power-of-the-tongue-cIn the world we process improvement experts live in, specifically when our focus is on “leaning” processes, we spend a large portion of our time helping people remove waste to achieve the goals of doing what they do better and faster.  When we do so the costs typically decrease and the profits go up.  In a way it’s how we justify our existence, and why we are worth the money we get paid to do what we do.

Taking a look at our personal lives from a lean perspective, there is a lot of waste that, when removed, leads to a better life.  Most of this waste comes from what we say.  The tongue has the power to provide value and / or waste to yourself and others.  The great thing is you can decide to control your tongue if you want to.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  Proverbs 18:21

I recently read a book called The Forty-Day Word Fast by Tim Cameron that takes readers on a 40 day journey to remove toxic words from your vocabulary.  In a way this 40 day word fast is an exercise in leaning the waste coming from our tongues.  Similar to removing the eight forms of waste from a process, Cameron identifies six forms of verbal waste he guides readers through to remove from their lives.  The six forms of verbal waste include:

  1. Judgement
  2. Criticism
  3. Sarcasm
  4. Negativity
  5. Complaining
  6. Gossip

I took the 40 day journey and it was incredibly difficult to eliminate these six wastes from coming out of my mouth, but what may have been more important to this first of many “fasts” to come is that for the first time in my life I realized just how much these six wastes consume my verbiage both orally and written.

In some ways the 40 day journey was a starting point, or baseline if you want to look at it from a process improvement perspective, to measure future progress against.  The bad news is I have a lot of work to do to improve; the good news is I can only go up from the low point I’m currently at!

What I realized is that when I spent a lot of time speaking the six wastes my view of the world and those around me plummeted.  I was in a foul mood; always focused on the negative; and just ticked off at the world for being so messed up.  I was a hard person, and still am on occasion, to be around when these words and thoughts were consuming me.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
Proverbs 21:23

My point in writing this post is that in the world we live and work in it is easy to find yourself being consumed by these six wastes that lead to nowhere, but a depressed state of mind.  What would this world be like if there were no judgement, criticism, sarcasm, negativity, complaining, or gossip.  Think about that for a minute.

My challenge to you is to help create that world one tongue at a time.  Instead of working on all six wastes at the same time, which is incredibly difficult to do as I found out, pick one each of the next six months and focus on reducing that verbal waste, and hopefully over the course of six months you’ll see, and probably more important, those around you will see and hear, a change in what you speak.

Are you a 14 decimal place person?

math problemHave you ever been in a meeting, training class, webinar, etc. and noticed a bullet point out of place?  How about when you’ve been reading an email and noticed a change in font size from 12 to 10 that probably wasn’t intended by the author.   Now the big question….did either of these bother you?  If so, you might be what I call a 14 decimal place person – someone who really loves details, complexity, and strives for perfection in everything they do.

I admit I’m one of these people, and chances are if you work in the field of process improvement like me you’re probably one too.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; paying attention to details is a good thing to some degree.  Where being a 14 decimal place person, I would argue, creates a challenge is helping others see the value in process improvement, specifically in using lean Six Sigma (LSS), to solve tough business problems that matter to achieving key organizational objectives.

A question I ask quite frequently is why LSS, or just process improvement in general, has not become a central focus for most organizations?  Think about it-every organization of all types in all industries all around the world have processes, and none of them is perfect; they all need some improvement.

So what is keeping business leaders in these organizations from engaging in getting better at what they do each and every day?  One of the reasons, I believe, are the people pimping approaches, philosophies, methods, however you want to classify LSS; the 14 decimal place perfectionist like myself-we are the problem!

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is the kind of people who are naturally attracted to LSS.  We like the complexity and detailed focus that comes with LSS.  However, I would argue, we are in the minority in most organizations.  To say it more candidly – we’re a bit “odd”, not quite “normal”, maybe even “awkward” to some degree, and certainly “outliers” if you look at it from a people data perspective.

Maybe the reason most people in many organizations have yet to embrace process improvement is because of the people leading these efforts, or in my world of consulting, trying to convince business leaders they need to hire people like myself to help them get better at what they do.  So what can we do about it?  What are we 14 decimal place type people to do in order to get others, specifically senior leaders, more interested in process improvement?

Rounding off.

When working a math problem sometimes we need to be precise, but most of the time in business we have little use for 14 decimal places, and can simply round off to get close enough.  This is probably the first challenge 14 decimal place people need to get over-striving for perfection in everything we do.

I’m not saying we have to give up on seeking perfection; that’s still the ultimate goal.  What I am saying is that we have to shift our focus from perfection, or 14 decimal places, to just getting better than we were yesterday.  I believe it’s really that simple.  We just need to focus on getting better, not perfect.

I know this is incredibly hard to do.  You see that “bullet point” out of place and it just bothers you, but does it really matter?  I often have to stop myself when I encounter these types of situations and ask questions such as, will this help who I’m working with get better at what they do?  Do they really need to know about this in order to take one step forward and / or accomplish the goal they have set?  Will NOT knowing this cause them harm?

The answer to most of these questions most of the time is no, but keeping my mouth shut can be an incredible challenge.  I see an opportunity that I think will help, but in the end it may just lead to over complicating the process and push people further away from process improvement methodologies like LSS.  I find that if I ask myself to THINK before I speak often I find keeping my mouth shut is easier.

Before speaking ask yourself is what I’m about to say:

  1. True?
  2. Helpful?
  3. Inspiring?
  4. Something they Need to know?
  5. Kind?

If the answer is “no” then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.  You won’t be helping if you don’t THINK before you speak.  You also have to slow down for this to work because our mouth tends to get ahead of our brain much of the time.  I’ll leave you with some wise words from Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  Your tongue has power so use it wisely!

Where’s your focus?

focusA number of years ago I worked for a mid-sized family owned business that had been around for over 60 years.  They had grown from a small “pop-and-son” manufacturing company to an organization with close to 300 employees and Fortune 5 clients.  They were a model of small business success.

Then, almost as quickly as the company grew it began to shrink.  The Great Recession hit and one-by-one customers began scaling back orders, and in short order we had a cash flow crisis every two weeks as we struggled to make payroll and keep suppliers paid.

From a career standpoint this was one of the greatest learning opportunities of my life.  I learned all aspects of the business management process, primarily that cash is king when an organization falls on hard times.  In fact, if you look at small business failure statistics you’ll find that the reason most small businesses fail, at least why they end up having to shut the doors, is because they run out of cash.

What I also learned during this process is where you focus will dictate where you go, to which you’re probably saying, “no duh!”.  Let me expand on what I mean by this.

Where’s your focus?

We have only three places to put our focus.  The past, present, or the future.  I knew the end was closing in on the business when the president of the company began spending time on the production line with a welding hood on standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his employees working to ship product so we could get paid and meet customer, payroll, and supplier commitments.

His intentions were genuine, and I could see he wanted to show the employees working beside him he was dedicated to meeting shipment deadlines crucial to the short-term success of the business, but is this where a company president should have been focusing his efforts solely on today’s needs to get work done?  I would argue it’s absolutely the wrong place for the president of a company to focus and here’s why-the higher up the organizational ladder you sit, the more you should be focused on the future, not the present or past.

If you’re a senior leader and you spend most of your day focused on today and little time on tomorrow, you haven’t hired the right people, and / or you have a trust issue to deal with if you want to take the business to the next level.

If you don’t spend time today doing something to get better at what you’re going to do tomorrow, you won’t exist tomorrow.

Evaluating your current focus.

The purpose in writing this post is to help you evaluate where your focus is today.  Are you focusing on what matters most to winning tomorrow?  One simple exercise to evaluate your focus is to examine where you are spending your time over the course of a typical week.

This doesn’t have to be overly complex.  Simply track what you’re doing in 1-2 hour increments throughout the day.  Then evaluate what you were doing by categorizing it in one of three categories that include 1) past, 2) present, or 3) future.  After you have a few days of data you will be able to see what percent of your time is spent in each category.

Now what?

With your data collection complete, the next question becomes should I do something different?  Am I spending too much time focusing where I shouldn’t?  There is no perfect formula that will provide this answer, but the further up the organizational chain you are the more time you should be focused on the future.  Your job isn’t about getting today’s work done (that’s what you have direct reports for), it’s about determining where today’s work should be focused to help you win tomorrow.

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Peter Drucker

4 ways to make Lean Six Sigma stick!

istock_000012003650smallThis week I finished teaching a 6 week class focused on applying some of the basic lean tools, and in our discussion forum I challenged the students to find ways of how they will take what they have learned in the course and use this knowledge to get better at what they do.

My “last words” to them were the following, that even if you’re not taking my class and are simply a practitioner trying to make the world a better place through process improvement, may help you navigate this long and challenging journey.

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 money!

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 can 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!

150 Million Lean Six Sigma Projects

crowd_people_Shot_webA few years ago I read one of Jack Welch’s (former CEO and Chairman of GE for those of you living under a rock the past few decades:-) books in which he told a story about how he frequently traveled to all the GE facilities around the world, and on occasion he would attend retirement celebrations during his visits.  At one of those visits he met an employee who had worked for GE nearly his entire life.  Jack congratulated the man for his dedication to the company to which the man replied,

All these years you paid for my hands when you could have had my brain for free.

This exchange hit Jack hard realizing GE wasn’t doing a great job, like many companies I would argue, capitalizing on the ideas people who business leaders see as those who deliver value through the use of their hands and not their minds.  What Jack realized is just how many minds he had missed the opportunity to tap into to make GE a better company.

150 million opportunities to improve.

As of 2015 there were nearly 150 million people in the U.S. workforce.  Each one of these people could be viewed for their hands as Jack did, or viewed as 150 million minds to tap into to create a better way.

One of my passions is finding ways to get more people to embrace the lean Six Sigma (LSS) process improvement methodology for solving tough business problems.  The challenge I see on a routine basis with my clients as to why more people don’t embrace LSS is because it’s too complicated, and who’s looking to add more complication to their work life?!?!

I point the finger at myself as to why LSS is so complicated.  People like me, those I like to call “4 decimal place people”, thrive on the complexity of LSS.  We love the numbers and the challenging tools and methods that come with the numbers (i.e. DOE, multiple regression, p-values, etc.).   We can spot a bullet point out of alignment a mile away, tell the difference between 11 and 12 font, and, sadly, this stuff can take our focus away from what really matters-getting better at what we do!

The problem is that if our four decimal place focus is on the numbers and not the people who can impact the numbers we’ve missed the point of process improvement.  It’s not about us and what we get from the process, tools, statistics, etc., it’s about the people who work in the processes and have the ability to make them better.

Simplify to multiply.

Imagine if we could get 150 million people, or half that many as a good starting point, improving what they do at work each day.  What impact would this have on our society?

Imagine millions of people in healthcare, education, manufacturing, sales, finance, food preparation, housekeeping, hotel service, the <gulp> DMV…what would the result be?

Living in a defect free, well, mostly defect free if we strive for 6 sigma where it makes sense, world would be an incredible experience!  Much of the stress in our lives, I would argue, comes from defects.

Imagine a federal government running at 6 sigma!?!?  I’d settle for a congress at 3 sigma!

It starts with leadership’s attitude.

So where do you start?  Arguably, those who have the most impact and ability to make 150 million LSS projects a reality are those of you leading organizations.

As goes the leadership of an organization so goes the organization! 

Having a leadership team who truly believes everyone in the organization needs to spend some of their day getting better at what they do is a great place to begin.  If your focus is solely on getting today’s work done and not spending some time on doing the work better tomorrow you’ll never get better.

The higher you are on the org chart the higher percentage of your time that should be spent finding ways to get better tomorrow what you’re doing today.  Now I’m not talking exactly about tomorrow here, but simply suggesting your focus should be more future oriented than on the present state.  Imagine a CEO working on putting out today’s fires all-day-every-day.  How successful do you think that company will be in the long term?

Shift your focus.

One simple way to analyze where your focus is begins by looking at your personal plan, performance evaluation, etc.  Divide your objectives into two categories of either short (fire fighting) or long term (fire prevention).  What percent of your focus in on long term?

There’s no magic ratio for what is the proper percentage of time to dedicate to short and long term, but I’d recommend if you’re the CEO it needs to be at least 80% long term; if you’re an individual contributor a good starting point might be 25%; and if you’re a middle manager an even 50-50 split could be a good goal to begin with.

Another simple tactic is challenging your team to identify one area for improvement each year.  Imagine if every employee in your organization made just one improvement a year how big an impact it could have!  This simple tactic goes a long way in helping spread the attitude that getting better is part of your job.  It’s also a great way to help those wanting more compensation make an argument for it.

Just because you come to work every day doesn’t mean you deserve a raise.  When you add more value to the business is when you deserve more reward!

A final way to begin shifting attitudes in your organization towards a focus on improvement to make the organization better in the future is to instill an attitude of fixing problems when they appear.  In many organizations we tend to push problems off to the side and say, “I’ll come back to that later when I have time.”

We put our time where we place our priorities, and any leader who says I need to focus on getting today’s work done before I can focus on doing today’s work better is not leading the way to organizational success.

Make it easy and there’s a better chance they will do it.  These three tactics are an easy way to begin the journey toward creating the attitude of “a new day, a better way” throughout your organization.  Start with these simple tactics to get the focus right, then begin the process of equipping your people with the tools (i.e. LSS) to make it a reality.

Far too many organizations I’ve seen try and fail started with the tools by training everybody in the organization.  Why would you buy your tools before you know what you’re building?!?!

This is simple, but it’s not easy.  A final thought I’ll leave you with is that rarely can you do anything worth doing all on your own.  Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  I’m here, along with a team of experts at VRI to help you succeed.  When you’re ready, reach out to us and we’ll help you find a new day and a better way.

From Success to Significance

halftimeAs I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I begin to look back on the first part of my life (I’m 45 as I write this in 2015) and begin to assess how well I’ve done.

This time of reflection is something author Bob Buford refers to as Halftime.  Bob writes that the first part of our lives are mostly spent seeking success from a selfish (what’s in it for me) perspective.  This is usually measured by material things such as possessions, power, money, position, degrees; stuff that generally matters only to us.

Then it happens, usually in our 40s and 50s we begin to think about our second half, where, as Bob writes, the game is won or lost.  Like any game, activity, challenge…

It’s not how you start that counts, it’s how you finish that matters!

Start with the end in mind.

As you approach your halftime one key question you should consider answering is, “What do I want to be remembered for?”  This might seem a little morbid, but consider writing your obituary before they torch your remains or plant you six feet under.

Writing your obituary can be viewed as taking a “start with the end in mind” perspective that you can use to analyze your life up to this point to determine how far your current reality is from where you want to end up.  Think of your obituary as the dash between your birth and death year.  What you did with your dash is your obituary!

Halftime planning.

In addition to considering what you want to be remembered for, many of us, myself included, may struggle with developing a halftime plan.  How do you determine what your second half should be spent doing?  The following are five questions Buford suggest will help develop your halftime plan.

  1. What am I passionate about?
  2. What do I value?
  3. What do I want to be doing in 10-20 years?
  4. What gifts has God given to me that have been perfected over time?
  5. What steps do I need to make my second half better than the first?

Getting older doesn’t have to mean doing less.  I believe that as we age we should think less of ourselves and what we’re getting from life, and instead focus on others and how we can help them succeed.  Think of your age as a percentage of time to be thinking and doing for others.  I would argue as a 25 year old I didn’t have nearly as much to contribute to others as I now do at 45.  I hope to have even more to contribute when I’m 80!

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.           

Start now even if you’re not old, gray, bald, and taking 20 pills a day.

We all have gifts that can be used to help others.  The choice is ours to determine whether or not we “sow” those gifts to help others “reap” the benefits of our knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

The fruit of your labor grows on the trees of those you help. 

Finally, keep in mind that just because you may not be at your halftime doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer.  Having the foresight to prepare yourself for halftime and begin the process of helping others when you’re younger will help in your transition to the second half of your life.  So what are you going to do with your second half?

I want to do that again!

excited-kid-clipart-excited-kids-clip-artOne of the easiest and quickest ways I use to determine if a lean Six Sigma (LSS) project was successful is to ask one simple question, “Do you want to do it again?”.

Sure, there are other measures of success we can use such as process data and financial performance, but the ultimate goal with any process improvement initiative is to build a culture that wants to continually improve, and without a want / desire to get better, achieving that goal is nearly impossible.

So why would someone want to do another LSS project?  The reasons I’ve heard are no different than any other activity that brings enjoyment, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment.  Some of the reasons I have heard include:

It was fun!

I learned something new.

We made a positive impact.

We helped someone who needed help.

I felt a sense of accomplishment.

On the opposite side of the spectrum when I’ve heard people say “no” that they don’t want to do it again the reasons were:

It was painful.

The process was too complicated.

It took too long.

I didn’t feel appreciated.

The effort wasn’t worth the reward.

It was a waste of my time!

If, as LSS professionals, our goal is not simply to execute projects that deliver financial results, but instead is more about helping individuals, teams, and ultimately the entire organization, flourish and thrive at what they do we need to be focused on creating the attitude of “I want to do that again!” after every project, but how do we do that?

Creating an “I want to do that again!” attitude.

I believe creating an “I want to do that again” attitude begins with stripping away all the complexity that traditionally comes with LSS.  There’s no question we (LSS professionals) like complexity, which in a sense is a good thing because LSS thrives when we focus the methodology on solving tough problems, but when you ask people if they are looking for more complexity in their work lives…well, you know the answer.

So how do we stay true to the methodology, but yet keep it simple and not overly complicated?  I often begin projects by telling a team my personal goal is to do as little as possible to achieve the goal we have stated on the project charter; in other words, I begin with the end in mind, and focus on how we can find our way to success with the least amount of energy, complexity, etc.

Part of this “lean” mindset is also looking at everything we do during the course of a project and asking, “Is this value-added?”.  One of the most common forms of waste I find in projects is excess processing; in other words, going above and beyond what is really needed (aka gold-plating).  Just because you do more doesn’t mean you’ll get more!

A single focus is also helpful in creating the attitude.  I’m fond of stating, “One problem; one number” as a way of keeping a single focus as a project gets kicked off.  There’s something magical that happens when you focus on one problem at a time and use one number to measure that problem.

Another way of reducing complexity is to take a critical look at which tools you pull out of your LSS toolbox.  We often like to strut our stuff by showing our capabilities, especially when it comes to data analysis, but many times when I ask whether or not I really need to do the analysis to get to the goal line the answer is no.

There’s nothing wrong with using complex tools when they’re needed, but often I find that they’re not needed, but we still pull them out and use them just because we find them exciting and challenging.  More than likely your team members will not have the same excitement you do for such things as ANOVA, multiple regression, capability analysis, etc.  More tools don’t always lead to more results!

Focus on serving instead of being served.

A final, and perhaps the most important, way to create an “I want to do this again!” attitude is shifting your focus from what you want to what your team wants.  We often teach about identifying the what’s in in for me or WIIFM factor when working on projects, but in reality we should be more focused on the what’s in it for them or WIIFT factor.  Having a servant perspective goes a long way in creating a want to do it again attitude.

Our “selfie” society is shifting to a me centered perspective where it’s all about me and what I can get.  This viewpoint is found in many LSS professionals as well, focusing on what they are going to get from the project.  The attitude is often about getting my certification, getting my promotion, getting my raise, getting my recognition, getting my etc.

I don’t have any quick fixes to how to shift your focus from being served to serving others, but I can tell you that when you do shift your focus to truly helping others they (those you are helping) will see your sincerity that will lead to creating an I want to do it again attitude.  The ironic thing is when you focus on serving, you too will get served, and in the end you will get much of what you want as well, in fact I often get far more than I expected when I go in with a servant’s attitude.

Going forward my challenge to you is to ask your team one simple question, “Do you want to do this again?”, but be prepared to take action if their answer is “no”.  By asking the question you are taking the first step in creating a servant’s attitude in yourself that will begin the process of showing others what your ultimate goal is-helping them thrive and flourish at what they do.




4 Q’s to help get people doing what they’re supposed to do!

Aaaarg!One of the biggest challenges many of us face at some point in our lives, whether it be at home, work, school, church, etc.; essentially, anywhere people exist, is the frustration we experience when people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. Why is it people don’t do what seems so obvious they should be doing?

To better understand the causes to why people don’t do what they’re supposed to do there are four questions I ask my clients that always lead to identifying areas to improve.

Question 1: Do they know what to do?

I always start with this question, and it never ceases to amaze me, how, by simply telling people what to do, and setting the expectation in objective terms, the problem goes away. This happened to me on my first job years ago when I thought I was doing a great job only to find out my boss thought otherwise. Once I knew what was expected, in this case the number of orders to be completed in a shift, I became a star performer.

Question 2: Do they know how to do it?

If they know what to do the next question focuses on what has been done to instruct them in how to do a task. What education, training, coaching, mentoring, work instructions, videos, pictures, visual aids, technology, etc. has been used to supply ample instruction in how to do the work? You can’t do what you don’t know how to do!

Question 3: Can they do it?

Even if someone knows what to do and how to do something it doesn’t mean they can do it. I look at each task, assignment, objective, etc. from three perspectives that include physical, intellectual, and emotional abilities.

Some jobs, such as those in the construction industry, require physical abilities such as lifting heavy materials. Some jobs also require a certain degree of intellectual ability such as those as an engineer or architect. Emotional abilities can also be a critical element of success, for example, a hospice nurse who experiences death on a routine basis. We’re not all cut out to do every job under the sun. Some of us have “it” and some of us don’t, but the good news is that most of us do have the ability to get it if we want it bad enough.

Question 4: Do they want to do it?

The last question is last for a reason because the first three questions are the “easy” ones to fix. This final question gets at how motivated a person is to do the work. I’m a firm believer that you can’t force someone to do anything they don’t want to do even with the right incentives. Short term incentives may work, but long term the incentives lose power, and the people go back to their old levels of performance. However, despite the challenge of motivating others, there is plenty you can do to help motivate and reinforce what they do when they do what you want them to do (wow, that’s a tongue twister:-).

The best approach, based on years of behavioral science, is to positively reinforce a person when they do what is expected. Everyone has different things that reinforce them in a positive way. For example, I like public recognition in front of my peers when I do a good job, while others may prefer to be recognized privately. The best thing to do is ask before you reinforce so that what you do is truly reinforcing to that person! You’ll know the reinforcement is working when you get more of the behavior you’ve reinforced.

My challenge to you is the next time you’re faced with someone not doing what you believe they should be doing (it’s probably happening in front of you right now:-), ask these four questions and you’ll no doubt find a gap to fill that, with a little bit of effort, will lead to higher performance and less frustration.

ASQ Six Sigma Forum: 6 Questions on Six Sigma

questionsI was recently asked to contribute to the Six Sigma Forum journal published by ASQ by answering 6 questions related to Six Sigma.  These are some great questions to get you thinking about Six Sigma, company culture, implementation, challenges, lessons learned, and what the future may look like.


  1. What effect does company culture have on a Six Sigma implementation? How must culture change to enable a successful program?

Having the right culture is a critical input to the success of Six Sigma. Culture is often described as “how we do things around here”, and if how things are done is not always with an eye toward getting better, Six Sigma will make little impact on the performance of an organization. A successful program will only result if an organization’s culture shifts from a short term focus on daily firefighting to one of long term focus on fire prevention.

  1. How do you know a Six Sigma implementation has been successful?

The best way to know if a Six Sigma implementation is successful is when you reach a “tipping point”. This is the point at which people in your organization, specifically senior leaders, depend on the program to deliver results that help them achieve their goals. Another way of describing a tipping point is when you have crossed the point you’ll clearly know it because instead of those leading the Six Sigma charge going out and looking for projects senior leaders will be coming to them with projects.

  1. What has been the greatest challenge to Six Sigma and how did you overcome it?

The greatest challenge to Six Sigma is how complicated it can become. No one I’ve ever worked with has told me they are looking for more complexity in their work, and unfortunately, often times Six Sigma creates more complexity than clarity. What I’ve done to combat this problem is look at the process from an essentialist perspective, and focus on what matters most to achieving the results you’re seeking. More doesn’t always mean better, especially in the world of Six Sigma.

  1. Is there one thing you’ve learned from your Six Sigma experience you can share with readers that might contribute to their success?

There are two key things I’ve learned over the past decade that I believe are vital to success. The first is picking the right projects. Without the right projects leadership becomes disengaged, and that leads to a high probability Six Sigma will not be sustainable, and in all reality it shouldn’t be sustained if you’re working on things that don’t matter to the organization. Coaching is also an often overlooked element of success. Without proper guidance leading the inexperienced they are unlikely to find success.

  1. When should you not apply Six Sigma?

There are the obvious reasons when you shouldn’t apply Six Sigma. Some of those reasons include when the solution is obvious, the problem resembles world hunger, there’s no way to measure the problem, etc., but the best reason not to apply Six Sigma is when your organization’s culture is not ready for it. You shouldn’t start with Six Sigma and then work toward a culture of continual improvement. Instead you should start with a culture that’s ready, and then use Six Sigma as an enabler to drive it forward.

  1. What is Six Sigma’s future?

I believe the future of Six Sigma is a shifting in focus from processes to people. The current approach has focused primarily on the tools of Six Sigma, which back in the day when Six Sigma was primarily used in manufacturing, worked well. Since Six Sigma has now moved into the transactional world where the majority of us work, the tools are still important, but not as important as the people doing the work. The future of Six Sigma will focus more on understanding people (i.e. habits, behaviors, etc.) first and process second.