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!

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