Sunday, February 15, 2015

3 Simple Ways to Listen!

I believe from the bottom of my heart that the single biggest difference between organizations that "do" fake lean and are true learning organization lies in the leader's ability to......listen.

There are really only 2 things you need to do to maximize the benefits of a lean business strategy. Respect for People and Continuous Improvement. I have stated in previous blogs that you can literally spend the rest of your life in pursuit of those two things. Coincidentally, those are the two pillars of the Toyota Production System. The latter means exactly what it says....continuous continuous improvement. Not when we have time, or after the holidays or over. It means a culture where the people who do the value added work (what your customers pay for) are making improvements every day. The other pillar is about truly understanding that the people MOST QUALIFIED to fix their work are the people who DO the work.

Now the listening part. Respect for people has to be continuously demonstrated, not talked about. It is demonstrate by showing up, listening, and asking questions. It is about removing every barrier to making improvements. This requires, in many cases, scrapping all of the habits you have developed over the years that have led to you being appointed a....leader! True lean leadership is about servitude, not being the "boss".  To make this transition, you need to work hard to master the skill of listening.

Do a quick study and collect some "data". When people are discussing a process or a problem, do they suddenly stop talking when you speak? Do they ultimately end up doing almost exactly what YOU prescribed?  Do you sometimes find yourself bombarded with questions that make you think, "they know what to do, why are they asking me?" Do you ever find yourself patiently waiting for someone else's lips to stop moving so you can jump in with the "real smart" answer? When you tell a joke that is marginally funny, do people fall off their chair, slapping their knees and patting you on the back?

OK. This is a new week. Here are a few things that have helped me become a better aggressive listener: 
1. Start answering all questions with questions-this is called "humble inquiry", and it is a skill that needs to be practiced to master. Simply put, answer all questions that come your way with open-ended (not yes/no (these are designed to get the answer you want)) questions.
2. Just stop talking so much-I always think of Charlie Brown's teacher: Especially if you find yourself, as a leader, sitting in an A3 team meeting. When I would talk in my company, you can almost hear all of the creative brains clicking off! Even if you try hard to portray yourself as "just another opinion", rest assured your words are perceived to carry more weight, and you will throw off the "leverage diversity" piece of A3 thinking.
3. Don't be defensive and develop yourself a thick skin. As the boss, you probably invented many of the processes that are under a microscope for improvement. Stop defending the indefensible! When you are turning over the responsibility for improving processes to the people who do the process, and you really want this to prepared when you hear things that hurt your feelings. Sleep good in knowing that what got us to here probably won't get us to there.

This is national "Learn to Listen Month" (hey why not, there's a month for everything else...June is National Accordion Month). Try it out and let me know how it went. I promise I will listen.