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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.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Make Your Lean Journey a Real Short Trip

I've come to the conclusion that there is one sure fire way to kill all momentum on your continuous improvement journey. And, if you do this one thing right from the beginning, your continuous improvement journey will end up being one very short trip. From here to the end of the driveway and back. Liken the training and preparation to start a lean journey to packing for a week's vacation at the shore. Bikes, umbrellas, clothes, kids, bathing suits, coolers, mother-in-law, books, towels, etc. (Wears me out just thinking about it). Get everything and everyone loaded up, drive to the bottom of the driveway, do a u-ey, drive back home. 

So we've made the decision to be an organization that is determined to do continuous improvement. Probably some training is required. Sometimes you might send someone off to get "certified". There is usually a lot of energy and effort to get everyone engaged and excited and willing to participate. People may have been through something like this before, so they might not go "all in" right away. 

Most often, I like to start the journey off by asking the people who do the value added work for suggestions of things that make them feel frustrated about their jobs. Trust me, if you REALLY want to know, they will tell you. These suggestions are a really good way to get the continuous improvement ball rolling. Just ask people, "if you owned the company, what is the one change you would make to make your job better right now? Be prepared for some really cool ideas you would have never thought of. Things that slow them down, make them wait, get in their way, make them do things twice....etc. When companies I work for use A3 to implement constant improvements, these suggestions really get the trip off to a good start, right out of the driveway and onto the entrance ramp to the highway.

Now the stubbing of the toe part. If you like broken toes, all you need to do is take all these suggestions as they come in and put them into one of two buckets. Good. Or no good. Screen them! Screen them based on ROI or degree of difficulty or any criteria that pops into your head. Create a committee whose job is to screen them!

Before you know it, the station wagon just did a U-ey and is headed for home. Journey over. Once you start screening suggestions, they will come to a screeching stop. When you tell someone thanks but no thanks, don't expect people to be too willing to submit other improvement ideas. Don't expect their friends and peers to either. Word travels fast. 

To avoid this stubbing of toes, figure out a way to turn every suggestion into an opportunity. Sometimes the scope might be too big for A3. Work with the person who gave you the idea to narrow the scope. Bite off a smaller piece. Even if someone's idea is to "improve morale around here", ask them to give you an example of what they see as poor morale and at least an idea or two to fix it. (Most times it has something to do with poor communication ("they don't tell me anything around here")

The point is, never judge whether an employee's idea is worth your time. You wouldn't do that if a customer called with an idea to improve, right? Once people know you're listening and open and receptive, the flood gates will open and your journey will be fun and fulfilling. 

Better than stubbing your toe or telling your mother-in-law the vacation is over.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Star is Born!

Let's talk about some of the things we humans fear most. Heights, death, snakes, clowns intimacy, flying, the dark, and spiders. Take a look at almost any list of the things we fear most, and without exception, public speaking always seems to be in the top 3 or 5. Nothing makes people's arm hair stand on end like the thought of having to stand up in front of others, and talk. All eyes are on them. Often people aren't used to the spotlight being on them. Most of the time, the managers do the talking and they "just work here".

Now let's talk about the 4 main principles (the 4Ps) of the Toyota Production System:
  1. Make decisions based on a long term PHILOSOPHY;
  2. Continuously develop your PEOPLE (& partners);
  3. The right PROCESS will produce the right result;
  4. Make PROBLEMS visible and the core of your learning
As coaches (leaders), we are responsible to continuously help develop the people whom we've hired and come to work every day, sometimes for months, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. The process of A3 is a really good way to continuously develop leaders. Employees who lead an A3 are asked to select a 3 to 5 person team. They're asked to lead multiple meetings to solve a problem using the scientific method (define-measure-analyze-improve-control). They're asked to lead their team through some root cause analysis, implement countermeasures, and finally.......gulp!!!!!!.....present what they've learned to their peers.
Now, I've been involved in thousands of improvements using the A3 process. I've also heard hundreds of potential A3 leaders say....."I'll do it, but I don't have to talk, do I?!?! I have always been able to convince people to move forward. Usually I tell them I will be standing right next to them, or I will help get them started.

Long story short. The first time they "close" an A3, beads of sweat form across their brow, and sometimes they develop a case of the chills. They stammer and stutter. The skin color changes to blush or magenta. They speak softly and often very quickly. But they survive.

Push the clock forward about 10 A3s into the future. Suddenly, they are calm, cool, and collected. They answer questions from the audience calmly. They find themselves helping other nervous first timers. Just imagine the competitive advantage of having an entire company of people capable of problem solving and teaching!

Want good team players? Make sure people work on lots of teams. Good root cause analysts? Do 5 why a lot. Good communicators? Work to get people communicating a lot. These are all life skills that can't be accomplished by watching PowerPoints. Learn by doing. Taking the leap. As a leader, I'm here to catch you, or pick you up.

Continuously develop your people. THAT is the real work of good leaders and the best coaches on the planet.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

LEAN is REALLY about PEOPLE Learning Together!!

When you break it right down, LEAN is REALLY about PEOPLE learning together!! It really doesn't have to be much more complicated than that.

I also think the most important word in that sentence is together. I get it. Nobody has time for organizational learning. People have never been busier. Multi-tasking, wearing lots of hats, working all kinds of hours.

Lean isn't about tools. Lean isn't about events once in a while. Lean isn't about a department. Lean isn't trying to be just like Toyota.

People Learning Together. Let's take a look at each word and what it means.
  1. PEPOPLE-how do you engage every single brain cell in the entire organization in making improvements every day? Not just the certified black belts or the lean department. Every single person, including temps (a few of my clients do this to learn which might be great permanent players). Some may worry that not everyone is "certified" or trained in lean yet. Lean is about learn by doing. Let's solve some problems together, and we'll teach you some tools along the way. The point is, include everyone. if everyone isn't quite "bought in" yet, keep working to convince them. Nobody said it was easy!
  2. LEARNING-the 2nd of thee 4Ps is "continuously develop your people and partners". What if you had an entire population of people capable of really good problem solving? An entire population of people capable of root cause analysis? An entire population of people capable of working seamlessly on cross-functional teams, both as members and leaders? What if you could create an entire population of people capable of standing up and presenting what they've learned to everyone else? These are all of the outcomes of a lean strategy using A3 (& self directed work teams). People are constantly slowly and steadily learning about your product offering, about your technology. People are learning about customer complaints (and what is important to your customers). People are learning just how valuable and incredibly smart their peers are. And they are learning that they themselves are pretty darn smart too. Lean is about everyone learning to truly appreciate the special talents and wisdom the entire team brings and how limitless we are when we truly work together.
  3. Which brings us to.....TOGETHER. How often are people from different "departments" together? How often are the people from the office and the people from the factory together? One thing I learned in my own business is that when people are together a lot, respect for people goes up. People learn to that people they thought "don't care" or "don't get it" actually care deeply and "get it" as well as they do. When people are together, communication improves immensely. One of the biggest complaints employees have is "nobody tells me anything". When A3 "closings" are a weekly routine, leaders have a great opportunity to keep their #1 asset in the loop. Morale improves. The other cool thing about people being together is that humans always seem to figure out how to bring fun to the get-togethers.

Show me a company where every single person is engaged to solve problems (vs. I just work here), where people learn (and teach) from the day they are hired till the day they retire, and where people are together a lot, and I'll show you a company with a very scary competitive advantage.   

If you have a minute, check out the P4 Lean Strategy Facebook page at the link below. I have posted pictures (and will continue to do so) from various companies of PEOPLE LEARNING TOGETHER at A3 closings......and smiling. If you like it, would you "like" my page?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

LEAN Fun: Take Kanban Home!! (NOT)

Everybody knows Lean Rule #1. It is the first rule we learn as young kids working on our white belts in kindergarten. If we ever waiver and break Rule #1, we lean zealots fully understand the consequences. The friends will go. The marriage will probably go. You get the picture.


Leave it at work. Things you find exciting, stimulating and challenging at work will serve to peeve people off at home. Dinner time conversations about flow quickly seem to be a signal to put your dishes in the sink. Family members don't seem to care if there are eight wastes or 1000. When I say heijunka, they say God bless you.

Then I got an idea!! What if I not only bring lean home, but apply it like some companies do? Stealth lean!! Can you imagine my face when, after 6 months or a year, I call together a family meeting and let everyone in on the fact that we have been practicing full-blown LEAN and they didn't even know it!?!

So here's the plan. How about if I begin to use Kanban for a few items around the house to show how cool it is to never run out of stuff you don't want to run out of? I started with a couple of items only I use just to practice. (slow and steady wins the lean race, right?)

I start with underarm deodorant. Instead of buying a six-pack at Walmart, we'll start with 2 underarm deodorants. Use one. Use, use, use, use. When it is gone, start the other one. But KEEP the empty one as a signal to pick up another one next time we're out shopping. (You could put the empty one on the dashboard of your car to help you remember). That implementation when strikingly well. nobody seemed to notice other than the questions about why do I have an underarm deodorant on my car dashboard. No harm, no foul, went seamlessly.

Next I did the oil filter for my tractor. Same idea. Use one, buy one. Same ho-hum response. Nobody in my family seemed to care. More stupid questions about why do I have an oil filter on my dashboard.

Ever run out of propane in the middle of a picnic? Propane tanks were next. Use one. Use, use, use it. Then when it is empty, simply install the full one and now the empty one is our signal to re-fill at our next shopping opportunity. People actually liked this one! "That is really smart Dad! Thanks to you, we'll never find ourselves short of propane!"

Similar positive feedback and accolades about printer ink cartridges. Use one. Use it, use it use it. When empty, pop in the second one, go on-line and buy the replacement. No more searching through drawers or having 6 Magentas on hand but no black.

Toilet paper was my Waterloo. Not sure if this is the case at your house, but my wife likes to go to Sam's Club and buy the 500 pack. All of you lean people know that the more you keep of something, the more likely you will run out. The less you keep, the less likely (this is called respect for materials). I was doing good, my wife was nodding her head when I told her we would keep go out and buy 2 rolls for each bathroom. One on the holder, and one in the vanity. Use, use, use. When the roll on the holder was empty, replace it with the one in the vanity, and immediately go buy 1 roll. In fact, I explained, since the lead time for the replacement roll is only 10 minutes, we should never keep more than 10 minutes worth of toilet paper on hand. (Ever say something when you're really, really excited but as soon as you say it you want to grab the words and put them back into your own mouth?)

Well, that is where everything blew up in may face and the s%$t hit the fan. "You and your stupid lean", "that's why people never invite us over", etc. etc.