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Sunday, September 25, 2016

New Leadership Lessons from Coach Belichick

Many of you may have read a blog I wrote a couple of years ago that was titled "We're On to Cinncinati", which was really about how important it is for leadership to continuously deliver energy and optimism, and demonstrate daily your belief that the people you have hired are smart, capable, and have the team's best interest at heart.

 Well, I think Coach Belichick gave us a few more leadership lessons last week. For you non-football-aholics, maybe you didn't hear that a very successful company (the Patriots) learned in the Spring that they would have to operate without one of their key employees (Quarterback Tom Brady) due to the fact that a few pieces of equipment (some footballs) were found to have less air in them due to the temperature on the field on one particular night two years ago. Arguably this employee is considered one of the best employees at his position in the history of this company, as well as the entire history of the marketplace. 

 Coach Belichick and his managers (the assistant coaches) developed one of Tom Brady's understudies (Jimmy Garapolo) to the point where his job performance was indistinguishable from that of the absent star employee. His performance was so good that over the first two weeks of the busy season, the Patriots beat 2 other companies that market insiders considered superior. 

 But, lo and behold, the understudy sustained an on the job injury, and it was determined that said understudy would not be able to report for work for a couple of weeks at least. Luckily, the company had hired a kid right out of college back in April, and he had been learning and working with the employee-of-the century and the understudy. Unfortunately, the company was faced with a pretty tall order, because another very good company (The Houston Texans, Inc.) were due to come to town and were intent on eating their lunch.

 Conventional wisdom, common sense, rules-of-thumb, best practices all dictated that this challenge was too big for the recent college graduate, and it might be a good idea to go out into the marketplace and find a more seasoned, experienced employee, put them on the payroll, just in case the challenge proved to be too big for the kid. Industry insiders (the media) peppered the head coach with questions about various potential employees that the company could bring in....just in case. 

 Not only did Coach Belichick not answer any of these questions or concerns, but at the same time he delivered an extremely strong message to his company. The message to the industry insiders was that the kid was being prepared to fend off the hostile takeover by the Texans, Inc. the message to his team was that the kid was on the company payroll because he believed that the kid, with everyone else in the company's help, would not only defeat the hostile takeover, but sort of.....embarrass them.

 The defense department pitched in by making sure the kid and the offensive department didn't have to score many points. The final score was 27-0, so the kid never really had to do anything stupendous, just be himself (no firefighting). The special teams department made sure that the Texans Inc. were constantly firefighting by creating turnovers and poor field position. 

 You don't need to be Vince Lombardi to coach a Bart Starr. Management greatness is determined by how well you develop the 53rd person on your roster. Coach Belichick demonstrated again that he has rock solid belief in his employees, and he really doesn't care at all what everyone else thinks. What message would he have been sending his employees if he went out onto the street and brought in an "insurance policy"?

 Every employee KNEW exactly how much they were valued and they worked to not disappoint their leader or their peers.

 Another leadership lesson from Bill Belichick.......

Sunday, September 18, 2016

LEAN Strategy: Get the Boss Involved

A boss
Let's face it. All people want to know is what is important to the boss so they can get caught doing it.

For example, whenever the boss comes around, she seems very concerned if everyone isn't "busy". It won't take very long before everyone gets the message and makes sure that they stay busy. Probably overproducing. Maybe producing defects. As long as we stay busy. Who has time to improve? We're crazy busy!

Or, maybe people have been taught that the way to get recognized is to be really good at fire fighting. Saving the day. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Rescuing Timmy from the well. Getting the cat down out of the tree. Forget the fact that there are some process defects that put us in peril in the first place!

Another lesson people will learn very quickly is that they are NOT being paid to think. "just do your job, let me do the thinking!" Or, and just as educational, is when an employee comes up with a suggestion they think will really help, and it falls on deaf ears. Why bother? "They don't listen" or "I tried to tell THEM that 3 years ago and THEY don't listen." 

What if we can change the lessons people learn from their boss?
1. Stop promoting and  rewarding "crazy busy". If the company has been around for 10 years or more, can we make it look easy? Like we're not new at this and we're really good at it?
2. Can we demonstrate respect for people by not only actively listening to people's ideas, but make it our standard work to help them implement improvements? Can we work as leaders to create a culture where people know it is important to DO and IMPROVE their jobs....every single solitary day?
3. Can we make firefighting rare and seldom? When we recognize required hero-ism, can we help people work to root cause and implement countermeasures to prevent it from ever happening again?

If you consider yourself a lean company, keep in mind that what you tolerate, you teach. Are your bosses (leaders): teaching the right lessons? If not, are you tolerating it. Every single person in the organization needs to be involved, from the CEO to the new person just hired on 3rd shift. Just don't make the mistake of fixing other people's jobs.

Go to GEMBA. Demonstrate respect. And make sure all of your coaching staff is doing the same thing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rapid Kaizen: Time to Spare

I get it. So many of the concepts of a lean strategy are counterintuitive. They go against common sense! A successful lean strategy requires us to suspend assumptions that most businesses hold near and dear.

For example, if we go ahead and commit to spending time every single day to make improvements, then how will we possibly have time to make and ship our orders? We are crazy busy now, we can't afford to do that lean stuff now. We'll do that when we have time.

Sad news. You will never have time. As an organization, we need to make time. Please don't wait for the day when you are all caught up, you've worked through your backlog, and you have nothing to do. Ain't happening.  As a matter of fact most (90+%) of the things we do that create this busy-ness is non value-added work, things our customers have no intention of paying for, that if we took the time to do some kaizen, we could eliminate.

Multiple day kaizen events several times per year as my primary lean strategy just didn't cut it for me. If you recognize waste, why wait to eliminate it? Go after it right now! What if you could get every single person in the entire business to commit to working ON their business (vs. IN) for 20 minutes every day? Think about it, if there are 75 employees, that means your company would be doing 360,000 minutes or 6000 hours of improvement activity over the course of the year! Even if everyone agrees to 10 minutes every single day, that would still be 3000 hours of just getting better.

In my own company, we were able to grow from $20M in sales to $32M in 3.5 years without adding even one extra person! People went from working 45-60 hours per week to having more time to spend with their families. This was all done by convincing everyone to spend 20 minutes every day eliminating the things that got in their way. I called this Rapid Kaizen, and A3 was the way it was executed via temporary self-directed work teams.  Contrary to popular belief, the more committed we were to Rapid Kaizen, the more time we seemed to have to do.....well more Rapid Kaizen. Literally thousands of hours of frustration in the form of the 8 wastes were eliminated by the people who actually do the work.

Go ahead and bite the bullet. Start today, what do you have to lose? Just go ask people what frustrates them about their job, what slows them down, and what they'd change right now if they could. Spend 20 minutes daily yourself helping them and then watch a spark turn into a blaze. People want to do what they think is important to their leaders. Show them that frustration elimination is important to you.

Suddenly, one day, you will wake up, go to work, be chaos-free, and have time to spare to delight (not satisfy) your customers. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Continuously Developing Your People: Glossophobia (Stage Fright)

Ralph Kramden with stage fright:
"hemina, hemina, hemina"
As a very quick review, the 4 basic principles of the Toyota Production System (P4):
  1. Understand & communicate your PURPOSE (not money) or PHILOSOPHY;
  2. Continuously develop your PEOPLE & Partners (build leaders);
  3. The right PROCESS will produce the right result;
  4. Make PROBLEMS visible and the curriculum of your learning organization.
Let's focus on the PEOPLE one, and specifically the one big fear that turns men into mice, the kryptonite that weakens knees. That is, of course, speaking in front of a large group of people. The laundry list of things fear most usually includes, death, snakes, clowns and gulp!! Public Speaking!! Several surveys have actually shown that some people prefer the Grim Reaper to public speaking.

One of the most common conversations I have every single week in my lean consulting life goes something like this:
Me: "That's a great idea Fred! Let me help you pull a team together, and we can start by bringing some definition to the current condition. I bet you and your team will eliminate 70 or 80 hours per year of walking alone in making dooflickers!"
Fred: "Do I have to talk at the end?"
Me: "So who do you think you might need on your A3 team to help you make this suggestion come to life? Maybe someone from the sales team? Maintenance? IT? Anyone else from the dooflicker cell? Purchasing?"
Fred: "I don't have to talk at the end, do I?"
Me: Here's the A3 form, let me help you get started. Let's go over to the A3 board so I can add this beauty."
Fred: "I won't have to talk, right?"
Me: "Fred, you're a perfect example of how the people who do the job every single day are best qualified to make improvements, and this A3 is a grand slam!!"
Fred: "If I have to talk, I'd rather find out if Randolph will do it. He's been making dooflickers even longer than me. I'll be on his team, but I don't wanna talk "

As Fred's manager, it is my job to constantly work to develop Fred and everyone else I am responsible to help grow. As Taiichi Ohno said, "we build leaders, then cars." As Fred's manager, my ONLY task in life, in fact is to develop people. I don't make the dooflickers, or test them, or ship them. As a football coach, my job is to develop my players (I won't actually be making any tackles or throwing any passes come Sunday).

For Fred's first A3, I will explain to him that I will help him do a good job on his A3 form, because it will ultimately end up being his "script" for the closing. I usually tell him to picture everyone in their underwear (just kidding). But I will tell him that everyone who is listening will be rooting for you and will want you to be successful. I will ask his team leader or supervisor to go through a dry run the day before with him, and to stand next to Fred at the actual closing to get him started. Just state the problem, who was on your team, and what the countermeasure was.

An interesting dynamic is when Fred gets through it and his peers clap. Pictures are taken, and one of his leaders comes over to express gratitude, shake his hand, sometimes a quick hug. Phew! I survived! Fred will be a little less anxious the next A3. After leading 6 or 8 closings, Fred will feel like he can talk in front of anyone.

Hint: One of the things leaders have to do is communicate in front of people, whether it's their team, customers or making a proposal.

Continuously Develop Your People and Partners. Glossophobia is as good a start as any. Imagine the competitive advantage of having a whole population of people who act like they own the place? It's the exact opposite of "I just work here, is it Friday yet?"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Coaching Morale

Have you ever had the opportunity to work in an environment where everyone is miserable all the time? Here are some of the things you might see in such a company where (pardon my Latin) morale "sucks".

  1. Lots of whispered conversations being conducted by people off to the side. When you come upon this phenomenon, talking ceases.
  2. There seems to be a phantom group of people with lots of powered known as the THEY, and it seems the whispering people spend many non value-added hours talking about THEY. For example you might overhear the whisperers saying, "I told them that 5 years ago, but THEY don't listen." Or, Mary-Lou told me THEY were going to have layoffs" or "Fred was talking to Gertrude and she said THEY are going to freeze our pay."
  3. Not much in the way of smiling faces. Whatever it is people do, it must be really freakin serious business. Always a furrowed brow by everyone, no time for chit-chat. Bosses rushing around late for another meeting, heads down, fingering their cellphones. No laughter, zero joy. No "how bout them Mets" or "particularly hot weather we're having"....nada.
  4. Nobody feels safe. Turnover is high, and it seems HR is a revolving door. If people aren't leaving, they're getting let go. If they aren't leaving, they're thinking about it or working on it.
  5. If you stick around for any period of time, you will actually hear people come right out and say "morale around here sucks". Before we were named one of the best companies to work in CT (5 times), I actually heard those words uttered in a shipping meeting. Gulp! How do we fix that? Bring in clowns? Beer? Card tricks? What?!? 
Luckily, shortly after I overheard those 4 fateful words,  I embarked on the beginning of my lean voyage (aka Green Mile/Trip to Hell). Morale didn't stop sucking when we first started doing lean. It stopped sucking when we stopped thinking of the lean tools as the answer and started studying the Toyota Production System as an organization. (Respect for People and Continuous Improvement (kaizen) are the pillars of the TPS House). The morale really stopped sucking when we started doing A3, which is really kaizen being led by the true experts, the people who do the work. 

Along with A3, I spent a lot of time coaching my assistant coaches. In TPS, they are called Group Leaders and Team Leaders, in many companies they are called Managers and Supervisors. In football they are called Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers Coach, Special Teams Coordinator, etc. I created 3 rules that can never be broken:
  1. Coaches are required to bring optimism and energy with them to work every single day. Imagine if an NFL coach addressed his team by telling them things are hopeless and we don't have a prayer next Sunday?!? It is perfectly OK for someone on the line making $18/hour to have a bad day once in a while. But coaches? There is NOTHING MORE DESTRUCTIVE THAN A DISGRUNTLED LEADER. As Head Coach, I will hold assistant coaches hands to the fire if they don't demonstrate that they want to be here every day. Disgruntled coaches need to be relieved of their disgruntlement. If your coaches are glum, your players will be glum, and morale around here will suck.
  2. Coaches are required to show up at GEMBA. Imagine football coaches who coach from their offices or cubicles, or are always on the phone and never go to the practice field? When my coaches and I show up at GEMBA every day, we demonstrate respect by asking questions and figuring out how to help. Help with A3s by helping A3 leaders get their teams together, help them with their forms, rehearse closing presentations, etc. Go over results for their area. If leaders don't show up and ask questions and figure out how to help, people will assume continuous improvement is not important and will stop. By showing up, people will do more kaizen, and more kaizen leads to people being together more often, which leads to trust, which leads to smiles and laughs.
  3. Coaches are expected to please THEIR customer. Their customers are the people who do the value-added work. No customer pays extra because your people are well supervised. Fans don't fill stadiums to watch Matt Patricia coach the Patriot's defense. Keep in mind that in the strictest sense, all leaders are non value-added!!
The least we can do is bring optimism and energy, show up and demonstrate respect and please our customers. If all of my coaches do that daily, bye-bye sucky morale!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A3 X's and O's

Many of you know I have been officiating college football for a long time. This upcoming season is actually my 30th year. Like many Americans, I am counting down the days for the first opening kick-offs of the 2016 high school, college and NFL seasons. As I was mowing my lawn today in 100F heat, I was thinking about how much preparation actually goes into a 12 or 13 game season for officials at the Division 1 level.

I began preparing for the 2016 season a day or two after the 2015 season ended. The easiest way to be physically prepared (code for not fat) is to never find yourself out of shape in the first place! College football players are getting bigger and faster, and I happen to be getting older and grayer! 30 minutes of jumping rope, 360 pushups, 360 sit ups, all outside first thing in the morning, every other day. For over 35 years. The 2016 season really kicks off in February, when our first set of written exams are sent. The rule book gets picked up in February, and we spend some time every single day in it, preparing for open & closed book exams. Groups of officials get together for study sessions. March, April & May brings college spring games and scrimmages for us to officiate. The summer brings passing leagues and 3 day mandatory officiating conference clinics to attend.  When we get to August, we work college scrimmages to get ready for our season opener...mine is Labor Day weekend. By that time, we are fully prepared for almost anything that comes our way on the field.

I was thinking about how similar this routine is to my vocation....lean consultant. I was also thinking about how beneficial our clinics and study sessions are in making us better officials. When you go to these sessions, you are sitting in a room talking about football with people who love it as much as you do! We help each other, pick each other's brains and help develop the newer officials, who some day will take our jobs.

Which brings me to the P4 A3 X's & O's Boot Camp. Lean, like football officiating, is way too hard to go at alone. There's nothing like finding out that others have the same questions and concerns you have. My trips to international lean events (as well as benchmarking visits to other companies) re-charge me and give me new approaches to apply at the companies that I work hard for. Without these soujourns, it would feel like I couldn't see the forest for the trees. It is essential if you practice lean to re-charge and re-energize at least quarterly, preferably monthly. Running a business isn't 12 or 13's game day every single day of the year.

The P4 Boot Camp is about having some fun, spending a day with other people in the same boat, and coming away with ideas you can try immediately. The focus will be about how to use A3 to slowly and steadily (every single day) work at the 2 main pillars of the TPS (Toyota Production System) House.....continuous continuous improvement and respect for people. You'll learn from people from companies where everyone does improvements every single day.

In the words of the great Paul "Bear" Bryant, legendary coach at the University of Alabama, "it's not the will to win that matters, everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that is most important." Come join us on 9/27 in Hartford, CT, enjoy the foliage and prepare to win!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A3 is More than Just a Tool!!

I had been on my lean journey (green mile) for quite some time before I stumbled across the book, "Managing to Learn" and the concept of "A3". Before that, I think our lean implementation was similar to what most companies do. We learned about lean tools. We did some periodic kaizen events. We worked to get "buy-in" from everyone from the senior leaders to the sales people to the maintenance crew. We had some good results within the first six months. Inventory dropped, cash flow improved. We actually had money in the bank, we could pay our bills, and pay people bonuses at Christmas time. Most of the available possible improvement time, however was spent being busy or firefighting.

But what, exactly, was in it for our customers? They still saw late orders sometimes, or shipping mistakes. It still seemed like we are solving the same problems over and over. But we were now lean?

Then it hit me. There are no magic bullets. There's no magic recipe or just a handful of things (processes) that needed improvement. If that was the case, we were smart people, we would have figured out what they were and we would have fixed it!! We didn't need to make dozens of improvements, we needed to make hundreds! One has to be pretty naive to think one could hit on what those things are in a 3 day kaizen event, right? Instead, how could I introduce the concept of level loading (heijunka) to continuous improvement? What if we had a process in our company where people were making improvements every single solitary day? What if the process was so simple that even the newest employee could participate? What if we had a process where people could learn lean concepts as they were improving their work? What kind of improvements would be possible if people could call on whatever resources they needed in the entire company to help them make improvements? If an employee in your business came up with an idea that would benefit the company how would that idea go from concept to launch, and how long would it take?

Our A3 process resulted in a scary increase in productivity: $20M in sales to $32M in 3.5 years.....without adding one additional employee! (Just think about how much more money they took home). Thousands of improvements were made.....some small and some huge. Problems were being solved once, because A3 teams were solving root causes not symptoms. Customer satisfaction sky-rocketed because they knew we would always get it right the first time. Our company wasn't merely getting better at making and shipping flooring materials, they were getting better at...getting better!!! And our little 90 person company was ranked one of the best companies to work in Connecticut....4 times. Our A3 process had improved people's sense of ownership in their work life.

I've heard people refer to "A3 reports" or A3 problem solving". A3 is not a report, and it is not a tool. It is the process to develop teamwork and future leaders, to do continuous continuous improvement, and to engage every single brain in your organization to work ON as well as IN the business.