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Making Respect Part of the Culture

The word respect is so common in company core values that I wonder if it’s become ubiquitous.  How do we define respect? Is it treating people kindly, helping those in need, and recognizing the contributions of others? Most certainly. But the challenge is, these are surface level behaviors and don’t create lasting impact for the organization or individuals. If something is a core value, I would expect to find it deeply embedded in the thinking, behaviors, and expectations for a company.

Giving respect to others is a key component for molding the culture of an organization. It requires more than periodic displays of kindness. Respect is way harder than that, but so much more powerful. Respect requires a willingness to change an opinion. It requires admitting others may have more knowledge about a situation. It requires collaboration.  Respect is sustained actions and involvement of employees in continuous improvement and problem solving.

Listen with an open mind

Employees on the front-line of work notice weaknesses in product and solution delivery. Why do we so often discredit them because of their position or because their thoughts don’t fit the corporate narrative? Listening to others with an open mind and not having predetermined answers shows respect because it creates meaningful dialogue. When we seek to understand the viewpoint of others, we risk opening our minds to alternate solutions. But we also show the other person that we care about understanding their view point. Respect is two-way communication.

I’ve have ongoing dialogue with employees about the work-from-home policy. I can tell you I have a different opinion than they do about the right balance of office and home days. But I’m trying to be open to dialogue that centers more around work output and uninterrupted flow. I know we’ll reach a better solution with common understanding and approach.

Participate together in problem solving

An ultimate sign of respect is to involve employees in solving problems. Jim Womack describes it this way in an article respect for people:

“Over time I’ve come to realize that this problem solving process is actually the highest form of respect. The manager is saying to the employees that the manager can’t solve the problem alone, because the manager isn’t close enough to the problem to know the facts. He or she truly respects the employees’ knowledge and their dedication to finding the best answer. But the employees can’t solve the problem alone either because they are often too close to the problem to see its context and they may refrain from asking tough questions about their own work. Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other’s role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to an ever higher level. “

This is a great example of driving respect into the culture through sustained actions rather than kind gestures. It shows respect for employee’s insights and skills. It creates a framework for employees to directly impact their work cells and production output. When an employee and team are part of creating a solution they feel more pride and accomplishment.  

Accepting constructive feedback

What we do with feedback from others is an indicator for how we respect them. If we dismiss feedback we could be overlooking an opportunity for improvement. If we take feedback personally we are telling employees not to be honest. If we retaliate against feedback by taking actions against an employee, then we create distrust in the organization.

In my career, I’ve had a manager question my ability to make a decision after I told them I thought they were showing signs of micromanaging. I’ve had a manager tell me I wasn’t onboard with the corporate strategy after I cautioned about moving too fast without understanding risks to business disruption. In both cases, trust was broken between the manager and I and I believe a lack of respect was present. They chose not to engage in dialogue, but to dismiss my feedback as insubordinate.

Learn together  

True learning involves sharing results with employees and guiding them in processes to problem solve for additional improvements. Learning is completing a cycle of plan-do-check-act and acting upon the results. When a group of people realize that continuous improvement is really about becoming a learning organization, then a cultural transformation is underway.

On my team, one way we’ve been learning together is by establishing visual metrics that align to our mission. We review the metrics weekly and discuss impact to our service delivery. Over time, we’ve adjusted the metric or even created a new metric as we’ve learn more by examining results. Growing together creates strong culture. Everyone sees progress and everyone feels setbacks.

In summary I would say respect is more than this –

Rather it’s best characterized by this –


Onward and upward!

Creating culture with remote teams

“What are ways you are building a ‘lean culture’ with remote team members?”

I posted this question on Twitter and a LinkedIn group because during the 25 years of my professional career, I’ve seen working from home (telecommuting as we used to call it) go from a special once-per-week privilege to a common status of working from home multiple times a week.  A growing number of workers are also now considered full-time remote. Some factors contributing to this change:

1)The technology for connecting employees to the company network is ubiquitous.

2) Companies realized they can recruit workers regardless of location and expand their talent pool.

3) Commute time is a factor affecting employment decisions.

Weaving together disparate blocks is like building culture with remote workers

In our knowledge economy and bit-driven world, location is irrelevant for completing work and contributing to mission of the team for many of us. But how do we create and maintain a group/company culture when workers are not co-located? How do we build a new culture when we see each other through conference calls?  My group is in the early stages of a ‘lean’ culture transformation and geographically dispersed. So I’ve been wrestling with this question and concept.

I read some online posts about others’ experience with building a culture and it’s quickly apparent the answer depends on the environment, value, and people in the company. There is no magic elixir or secret equation. Each company has a set of beliefs they strive to follow and a set of tools they use to connect their daily operations fit their desired company culture. It’s apparent, culture isn’t based on tools, ping pong tables, free lunches, etc. Culture is built from a shared set of beliefs and practices for how to deliver products and services to a customer.

In my own journey to answer this question, I’m focusing on a few fundamental building blocks to promote and build ‘lean’ into our team culture:

Explain the why.

When people understand the root of ‘lean’ is to add value for the customer, it’s easier to gain momentum as compared with getting momentum from cost reduction and cycle improvement tasks. Reducing costs is important, but will come as the result of adding value to products and services the customer wants. Lean doesn’t come by osmosis. There should be training involved to reinforce the daily operations of the team.

Build leaders that focus on creating flow and reducing waste.

It’s unusual for anything to survive in a company setting if there is no support from executive management. For ‘lean’ to survive, the team needs to see more than verbal affirmations from executives. They should see a leader who engages with local and remote workers in the tasks they are assigned (Go to the gemba). They should see a leader that actively promotes and discusses the benefits of completing recurring root-cause-analysis events for problem solving. They should see a leader that examines metrics and assigns actions to improve performance through counter measures.

Attribute action and results to the mission of the organization/group.

The mission of the organization states why it exists. The mission is a connecting statement between organizational actions and providing value to the customer. To develop culture with remote employees, they should understand how their daily activities map to the mission. Strong leaders frequently remind employees of the mission so it becomes a source of motivation and a common bond.

Promote team over individual efforts.

This last building block requires additional focus from remote employees or it can become a stumbling block to results. Include the voice of remote team members by making sure there is adequate participation and polling for their input. It’s through actions like these, the bond between remote workers will develop as strong as two co-located workers. It promotes helping co-workers when they have a question or need some extra man-power. It promotes the cultural feeling that we succeed together and we fail together. It promotes clearer understanding of team roles and boundaries.

Lastly, I realize I must have patience because this isn’t a sprint. Culture is built over time and through actions. Culture isn’t built on hanging platitudes, rah-rah speeches, and lofty goals. Rather it’s built-on working together, investing in each other, coaching, gemba walks, and shared experiences.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/oFffVN – Porch Weave by Kay Hayden on Creative Commons

Root Cause Analysis Playbook

One of the staples of our Lean journey is a monthly root cause analysis (RCA) effort. The results of the team standard have surpassed my expectations, and I anticipate more potential positive results as we mature our approach. Our playbook is simple to execute, but requires disciplined execution and adherence to standard to recognize benefit and produce long term benefits.

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Prerequisite Activities

  1. Train team members on the fundamentals and business reason to use RCA.
  2. Create team standards for documentation and frequency of RCA events.
  3. Establish place on visual management board to post active, completed, and future RCA documents.

Execution

  1. In the frequency designated by the team standard, determine the process,procedure, or result as the subject for the RCA.
  2. Decide who the point person is to manage the current RCA effort.
  3. Analyze and document
    1. Define the problem
    2. Determine why the problem happened.
    3. Determine a solution to prevent the problem from happening again.
  4. Post results to management board

Organizational Adhesive

  1. Review progress of active RCAs and results of completed RCAs during weekly team meetings.
  2. Use managers as both participants and assignment owners.
  3. Audit adherence to department standards and post results on team audit board.
  4. Use the management board to put placeholders for RCAs that will happen in the future.

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A monthly cadence works well for our environment. It is frequent enough to keep problem solving active, but not so frequent to disrupt operational activities. We have found that RCAs which require more than a month of work to resolve should be classified as a project so we can keep the monthly cadence of RCA events.

The best part is living with the results and preventing problems from repeating. So far, we’ve not had any of the problem repeat that we’ve solved for in a RCA. I guess that’s the whole point.

Onward and Upward!

Bearing Fruit

During summer I turn into a recreational gardener hoping to grow a few vegetables for some delightful dinners. The first couple of summers I learned plants need plenty of sunlight and soil that drains well. This year I witnessed firsthand the effect of overcrowding in a garden plot. In my exuberance to increase my vegetable harvest, I overcrowded my plot at the community garden. A bell pepper plant was quickly overshadowed by squash, zucchini, and tomato plants. It stayed green, but did produce a single pepper from May through July. After an insect infestation killed the squash and zucchini I removed all the surrounding plants to leave the bell pepper plant alone with nothing else to compete for sunlight. The result from this single plant was over 35 peppers during August and September.

Like a gardener, I want to know how to get more fruit from my labor at work. I’m passionate about working smarter, finding efficiencies, and eliminating wasted outputs. My experience with the pepper plant this summer reminds me of load leveling work in our groups through prioritization. Too many plants competing for sunlight is analogous to an overload of active projects that force our people and equipment into constant context switching.  The resulting work output is delayed and often suffers more quality problems due to the lack of focus.

Our appetites for the amount of work we want to produce (collecting fruit) typically far exceed our ability to produce work (bearing fruit). Managers have to protect the capacity of people and equipment by releasing work when it can flow uninterrupted. Sometimes expanding capacity is an option, but other times, we need to work within the capacity boundaries that exist to produce work in a controlled and focused cadence.

Protect people and equipment so they can deliver more fruit.

Onward and upward!

Getting rid of the compliance mindset

To follow, or not to follow the rules.

Have you noticed following established rules is a paradox of behavior? In some situations, we admonish employees when they don’t follow procedures and rules. We create manuals of standard procedures for consistent experiences and output. But when someone doesn’t follow the standard procedure and the outcome is wrong, they are reminded of the procedure and possibly disciplined for it. Yet in other settings, we applaud and recognize those who think beyond the rules to discover and create new things. Apple’s Think Different campaign, Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard, and Michael Dell dropping out the University of Texas are examples of people who didn’t follow the prescribed rules of society, but were later recognized a genius path makers.

In the modern office, there are entire departments for compliance to enforce rules, regulations, and requirements. This translates into mounds of extra paperwork and procedures, much of which is non-value add for the customer. Being honest, I’ve always taken a deep breath when the word compliance was mentioned. Wait for it…….

The biggest problem with compliance is when we treat it as a box to check. If we stop to think about the rule or compliance control, we might just see possibilities to improve our service or organizational stability. But it’s tough to get beyond the mask of compliance rules.

Checking a box.

In our most recent employee survey results, there were many write-in responses that questioned the value of visual management boards. The employee was frustrated because they found the process of keeping information up-to-date on the board a waste of time. They saw the entire process as mere compliance. Someone was checking a box.

In another example, my department didn’t follow procedures to keep ticket history updated so the customer stayed informed. It’s an expected standard to update tickets in a timely manner. But when the act is seen as compliance and not understood as a value-add communication vehicle, team members don’t complete it. When a standard is interpreted as “checking a box” rather than understanding the ‘why’ then the activity is rarely done.  

Ask the right questions.

I find myself falling into the compliance trap when I audit our visual management board for department adherence to standards. It’s easy to get into the mindset of completing the task so I can mark the audit complete. I generate a score, publish it, and forget about it until the next week.

But that mindset misses the opportunity to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business. Reality is, if the team standards are set with a meaningful purpose to help eliminate waste and add value to the team then the compliance audit of the standards is the ‘check’ in a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. A proper audit (check) also creates countermeasures for action. A proper audit digs past the standard/compliance control. It seeks to understand the flow of work through the department. It identifies opportunities to improve.

I think of all this as a battle between compliance and engagement. If I want mere compliance then I’ll find limited value in the time spent auditing and continue to be consumed with non-compliant behaviors. If I ask ‘why’ and seek to understand the behaviors behind the compliance requirements then I may just find myself called a rule-breaker. If breaking the rules leads to continuous improvement then sign me-up.

Onward and Upward!