Those Who Facilitate Improvement Workshops... and the Mistakes They Make.

During this past May, Sheilah O'Brien published a very useful and practical book entitled Facilitating Rapid Process Improvement Workshops: The Self-Study Guide for Lean Leaders. The intent of the book is to help professionals who feel they are not truly gaining the full results of improvement initiatives and kaizen events. In the book, Sheilah speaks to the facilitator through coaching notes and actual workshop documents and techniques so the reader can fully understand how greater results are achieved. 

When I spoke with Sheilah last week about her book, I asked her: "What are the common mistakes facilitators make when overseeing rapid process improvement (RPI) workshops?" Here is her complete answer:

The common mistakes of facilitators of RPI workshops are:

1. Not understanding the facilitator role before you start. The RPI team is made up of workers who know about the problem to be analyzed.  They are dedicated. Facilitate with respect and inclusion. By passing on lessons and what you know to the team, you are working your way out of a job. 

“Team, please look at this flipchart. Do any of you want to change or add to them? Does everyone agree?” 

The facilitator's role should be to get the exercise started. Once it gets going, the volunteer facilitator (from the team) can carry it to its fruition. 

The facilitator lets the RPI team have their lead. The team knew what to do next.  

2. Not assuring that there is a monitoring system in place after the RPI ends: 

The end of the RPI means a shift in roles.  You, as the facilitator, no longer facilitate the workshop. Now you take on an advisory role to the process sponsor and responsible managers on how to track the implementation of improvements.

3. Not knowing that you need to keep two steps ahead of the team:

The facilitator, proud of the development of an improved process with all its steps, forgets about all the process supports (to those steps) that need to be improved too, such as forms, materials for the job, etc. 

The facilitator gets midway into the workshop and realizes he/she does not have a mechanism “to pull it all together”-- the risk is the team’s good work can go missing.

4. The facilitator hasn’t considered the “what if’s?”:

What if the organization doesn’t have data available? 

What if no one is available to take the team through the workplace (i.e., GEMBA)? 

What if you discover there is a backlog?  

What if there are many "products" that come out of the process?  There isn’t time to flowchart them all. 

What do you think about Sheilah's perspective on common mistakes facilitators make? Do you see these same mistakes in your organization? Are there others that are not listed here that you feel are common?


Startups and the Problems They Face

Just this month, Orly Zeewy, published a very practical book entitled Ready, Launch, Brand: The Lean Marketing Guide for Startups that shows you how to close the marketing gaps that can slow down sales and make it harder to scale your business. When I spoke with Orly this past week, I asked her:  "What are the greatest obstacles that startups face when trying to scale their businesses?" Here is her response:

To quote author Seth Godin, "In a crowded marketing place, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”

Startups typically think of scaling as something that will happen magically if only they work hard enough and do great work. But scaling your business has less to do with magic and more to do with following the three pillars of brand building.

1.       Who Are You? If you can’t answer this question, no one else can. Founders have a unique opportunity at the start of their company to get clear on their brand’s value proposition—the one thing they offer that no one else can. But when asked about their company, they typically talk about what they do but almost never about why they do it. According to author Simon Sinek, customers buy based on the why, not the what. It’s the reason that Apple is still a leader in computer sales. Think different is not just a tagline, it’s the reason they exist.

2.       Do You Have The Right Team? Building a team is key to scaling because no founder can scale on their own. If you don’t have a clear vision, building your team becomes a game of chance that you’ll find “the right people.” A clear vision helps you identify people who not only “get it” but who are passionate about your startup. They believe what you believe and that’s a powerful incentive to join. It also turns out that having the wrong team is the #3 reason that startups fail.

3.       Are You Attracting The Right Customers? This critical pillar of brand building is a hard one for many founders to commit to. In the early days of their startup, they are focused on keeping the lights on so any customer is the right one. So, instead of scaling with ideal customers who will refer other ideal customers, you’re trying to build brand loyalty with customers who are not invested in what you offer. It’s hard to scale when you’re not clear on who your ideal customer is and why you matter to them.

What do you think of Orly's perspective on brand building? Have you tried scaling a small business? What were the main problems that you experienced? 


The Import and Export of Services -- Their Role in Driving a Significant Portion of International Trade

Just this month, Sarita Jackson published a book -- entitled International Trade in Services: Effective Practice and Policy -- that provides a simple, yet thorough, introduction on how to export a service to an overseas market and guides its audience with a step-by-step process on exporting a service from research to strategy to implementation. 

When I spoke with Sarita recently, I asked her, "Although export and import of services drive a significant portion of international trade, why is attention to this area so minimal?" Here is her complete answer: 

As someone whose first practical encounter in international trade entailed exporting consulting services throughout Southern Africa and the Eastern Caribbean, this is a question that served as the impetus for the book.

Economists paid less attention to the services sector because they did not consider services, which are intangible, as tradable commodities.

Furthermore, policymakers have focused less on the services sector because its trade surplus does not create a sense of concern and urgency, especially among voters during an election cycle. On the other hand, the high trade deficit in the manufacturing sector, along with the loss of jobs partly due to the significant increase in less expensive imports from overseas, explains why there is a greater focus on increasing manufacturing exports.

For example, United States trade policy discussions during the 2016 presidential election cycle focused on the $800 billion dollar trade deficit in the manufacturing sector in which goods purchased from overseas far outweigh those sold to consumers in other countries.

At the same time, the United States had close to a $300 billion trade surplus in which its exports surpassed its imports thus creating additional job opportunities.

Due to the lower levels of attention to the services sector, my workshops and business courses have provided research and practical tips pertaining to the import and export of a service. The request for in-depth, practical information from workshop attendees and students with a services-based business or an interest in providing a service overseas demonstrated that this part of the international trade community continues to expand.

My book International Trade in Services: Effective Practiceand Policy now provides insight and answers regarding a continuously growing and important sector in international trade. 

What do you think of Sarita's perspective? What has your experience been exporting a service to an overseas market?


The Shingo Model -- Will it Work in Your Organization?

In February, Gerhard Plenert published a book entitled Driving the Enterprise to Sustainable Excellence:  A Shingo Process Overview. Essentially, his book presents a big-picture overview of the entire Shingo improvement process. It fully discusses the needs and benefits of the Shingo process, and what is required if you seek to execute the Shingo Model in your enterprise and focuses on creating an enduring organization-wide continuous improvement process. 

When I spoke with Gerhard this month, I asked him: "What does your book provide that readers cannot get from the Shingo-Model course materials?" Here is his complete answer:

Countless organizations have, at one time or another, began a “Lean jour­ney” or they have implemented a continuous improvement initiative of some sort. At the foundation of these initiatives is a plethora of tools that seem to promise exciting new results. While many organizations may initially see significant improvements, far too many of these initiatives meet disap­pointing ends. Leaders quickly find that Lean tools such as Six Sigma, judoka, SMED, 5S, JIT, quality circles, etc. are not independently capable of effecting lasting change. There is an integrated synergy that occurs between these various tools built upon a set of eternal principles, that creates an environment of lasting change. That is the topic of this book -- How to create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement.

Years ago, the Shingo Institute set out on an extended study to deter­mine the difference between short-lived successes and sustainable results. Over time, the Institute noticed a common theme: the difference between successful and unsuccessful effort is centered on the ability of an orga­nization to ingrain into its culture timeless and universal principles rather than rely on the superficial implementation of tools and programs. These findings are confirmed time and again by nearly three decades of assessing organizational culture and performance as part of the Shingo Prize process. Since 1988, Shingo examiners have witnessed first-hand how quickly tool-based organizations decline in their ability to sustain results. On the other hand, organizations that anchor their improvement initiatives to principles experience significantly different results. This is because principles help people understand the “why” behind the “how” and the “what.”

To best illustrate these findings, the Shingo Institute developed the Shingo Model™ (see Chart 0.1), the accompanying Shingo Guiding Principles, and the Three Insights of Enterprise Excellence™. The Shingo Institute offers a series of six workshops designed to help participants understand these principles and insights and to help them strive for excellence within their respective organizations.

My book is not a detailed review or a replacement of any of the Shingo workshops that teach in-depth the Shingo methodology far beyond what this book is capable of doing. This book is an overview of the entire Shingo process, starting with a discussion of the challenges that many of today’s enterprises are experiencing. I, in my role as a Ph.D. in economics, have studied industries and has worked closely with many of them, attempting to understand their weaknesses. I has found that this is the only methodology that encompasses the Toyota Production System (TPS) principles at a depth and level that just studying the TPS tools can never accomplish.

Next, this book builds upon an understanding of these weaknesses. The book discusses how the overall Shingo methodology fits into these organizations and highlights the benefits. The next step is then to discuss what requirements are necessary for an organization to get ready for a Shingo transformation. What are the steps that the organization needs to go through, and when will it know that it is ready to begin?

This book briefly reviews the Shingo Insights and Principles and explains how the Shingo courses should be best utilized to facilitate the desired transformation. It suggests some alternative plans for over-all implementation based on the current state of the enterprise. It explains why there is no “one way” for successful implementation and how the implementation sequence needs to be customized to fit the requirements of each enterprise. It also discusses the length of time needed for success and how this differs depending on the current enterprise environment.

Lastly, the book explains how the implementation of a continuous improvement methodology and Shingo training for any enterprise is never finished. It is an on-going process and success is defined by internal improvements, not by some arbitrary external benchmark.

The book is intended to be educational, thought-provoking, entertaining in its stories and examples, and a guideline towards the development of a plan for continuous improvement. This book is filled with stories and examples, showing successful and not-so-successful implementations. The stories are used to highlight many of the pitfalls that have arisen and may arise for you and which can be avoided if the reader is aware of them and knows how to watch for them.

The Shingo methodology, which is recognized as the world standard for developing enterprise excellence, offers access to a large volume of specialized information on how to achieve a sustainable environment of continuous improvement. However, before this book, there wasn't a high-level overview of the entire Shingo methodology. That is what this book offers. It offers a high-level review of all the elements of the Shingo methodology and is an excellent introduction for anyone looking for an overall vision of what a Shingo implementation means to themselves and to their organization.

This book is filled with ideas intended to help the perspective Shingo implementor achieve success. Let’s make you, the reader, successful.

What is your experience with the Shingo Model? Have you used it in your organization? Do you feel Gerhard's book is an asset to those organizations seeking to build a sustainable culture of organizational excellence?


Are Evolving Stakeholder Expectations Affecting Your Business, Its Products, and Its Leadership?

In January, Raj Aseervatham published a thought-provoking book entitled Leading Tomorrow: How Effective Leaders Change Paradigms, Build Responsible Brands, and Transform Employees, which addresses the evolving expectations of the stakeholders -- such as, customers, investors, society, governments, and employees -- regarding businesses and their products and how leadership must respond.  These stakeholders are increasingly making choices about if or how they support businesses – through the purchase of their products and services, shareholdings and financing, regulatory approvals, and even experiences working for them – based on not just what a business does, but how it does it.

Raj's book considers how the emerging generation of leaders must change paradigms and transform their employees to do more than just operate a business. It examines how to effect culture shifts that are necessary to innovate businesses so that they simultaneously meet market needs while meeting stakeholder expectations on concerns as varied as ethical business conduct, labor practices, climate change, responsible use of diminishing natural resources, and contribution to socio-economic challenges in their market catchments.

When I spoke with Raj this month, I asked him: "How are stakeholder expectations changing regarding supporting businesses? What paradigms must leaders change to meet these new expectations?" 

Here is his complete answer:

The three most significant support groups for successful businesses are customers, investors, and employees. These stakeholder groups are part of a larger ecosystem; our increasingly interconnected, increasingly knowledgeable society, and the communities of which we are a part. 

Societal awareness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) problems that society faces grows daily. As the world’s population increases, these problems grow and exacerbate each other. Climate change, ecological breakdown, water contamination, air pollution, pandemics, corruption, infractions of human rights in the supply chain, gender and cultural discrimination, and many others take a compounding toll on society. 

Unsurprisingly, an increasing proportion of stakeholders demand to know what businesses are doing to diminish these problems. They disassociate from those businesses that worsen the problems and migrate to better-performing competitors. Their insights improve continually. Greenwashing and PR are more easily seen through. 

As this awareness extends across and deepens within society, customers, investors and employees are making more informed choices about who they will buy from, who they will invest in, and who they will purposefully work for. These trends amplify as older generations give way to younger generations and new values supersede old ones. Commodity markets, money markets, and human resource markets adapt to these inexorable trends. 

Business leaders are seeing these ESG issues as the new frontier of strategic management. Responsible businesses are more likely to sustainably prosper. 

Leaders must now understand the myriad issues and own the most important ones in the context of their business stakeholders and business strategy. Then they must authentically lead their employees to meet or exceed rapidly changing stakeholder expectations of responsible business practice. Growing and harnessing such societally attuned business cultures will increasingly define successful business leaders. 

Like any journey of authentic and transformative leadership, the first steps are taken within the leader. This book provides illumination to guide those first critical steps to leading tomorrow.

What do you think of Raj's perspective? Have you seen a shift in your customers' and stakeholders' expectations? What steps are you taking to address these new expectations? 


Does Your Organization Suffer from Leadership Without Leaders?

In December, John Varney published an important book entitled Leadership as Meaning-Making Take the Hero's Journey to Transformation, which takes a fresh look at leadership as a systemic shared phenomenon. It is one aspect of the evolutionary principle of bringing people to maturity as human beings – transforming the immature through purposeful adventure. 

I spoke with John this month and asked him: “What are the most common misconceptions about leadership and its meaning?” Here is his complete answer:

Leadership without leaders. 

We are conditioned to think of leadership as what leaders do – and hence to look around for leaders to help solve the great issues of the day.  But this is leadership only as it manifests through control and command hierarchies of power. Such leadership consigns the rest of us to be followers – subservient and powerless. Followers are there only to do the work and sustain the status of those who presume to lead. Followership is disempowering and often demeaning. As a follower, you do what is expected of you (your so-called "duty") and take the blame for any shortfall. 

This kind of leadership sustains a whole industry of leadership training and development. This, we might cynically observe, teaches managers the manipulative techniques that get the followers to do their bidding, willingly and unquestioningly. Leaders are sometimes popular because they do our thinking for us and absolve us of feelings of responsibility. 

A very different kind of leadership is latent in the relationships between us and comes to the fore when we come together in common cause. This is leadership as a flow of energy and resources directed by our sense of purpose. It engages all of us and all our talents and potential. It is leadership in which all participate, stepping into and out of the flow of energy and resources (the value-adding stream) as we intuitively respond to our calling. 

Both modes of leadership have their place and their value but only one leads to freedom and wholeness. In self-organising communities of practice, individuals grow inwardly as they realise their potential in service to their elective mission. Nobody is pulling their strings as they discover and pursue their freely chosen purpose in life. This is leadership as meaning-making. As I say in the book, “Perhaps the hiatus of the pandemic will enable us to show that a more organic and holistic way of being is not only possible but is more wholesome and fulfilling."

How do you define "leadership" in your organization? How has it affected workplace culture? Has it evolved past "command and control"? 


Why Do Most Companies Fail When They Strive to Become More Efficient and Resilient?

At the beginning of this month, Brian Strobel published an intriguing new book entitled Pursuing Excellence: A Values-Based, Systems Approach to Help Companies Become More Resilient, which interestingly posits that a company doesn’t implement Operational Excellence as a methodology, model, or tool. Instead, a company realizes Operational Excellence. It does so by integrating effective leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, systems thinking, and continuous improvement. It achieves this by aligning strategies, empowering employees, optimizing business processes, and improving the customer experience.

When I spoke with Brian recently, I asked him: “Why do most companies fail when they strive to become more efficient and resilient?” Here is his full answer:

I think the fact that people are starting to ask questions like this proves there’s a growing recognition our previous ways of doing things aren’t working.

The way that we’ve managed our companies has remained largely unchanged since the 18th century. Since then, different philosophies have come and gone, but the central ideas for what it takes to manage our companies have remained fairly consistent.

And our approach to achieve continuous improvement must also change.

I believe that our legacy approaches to continuous improvement, to include Lean and Six Sigma, are failing to consider the whole system and account for the leadership principles necessary for success. These previous methods placed too much emphasis on the specific improvement methodology, without proper consideration for the entire system and surrounding culture, systems and structures, values and beliefs, and the particulars of our marketspace..

As I write in my latest book Pursuing Excellence, “our companies are struggling with ways to become more competitive, to reduce costs, and the chase unobtanium in their never-ending pursuit to do more with less. But to survive, this focus on efficiency must not come at the expense of innovation, agility, and moving fast."

The world is now a new place, with new rules. Succeeding will require new ways of looking at our problems. And the lens of operational excellence can help us view these things from a different perspective.

A lens is something that bends and refracts light to alter our vision. It allows us to see things differently. The right kind of lens takes what’s already there, and through convergence and divergence, provides a different perspective to view the subject. It focuses our vision on those things we need to see with more clarity.

These ideas that make up the lens of operational excellence, as shown here, provide us the context for what must be considered as we move towards driving change with a fundamental understanding that we must have everyone aware of why we need to change. In this regard, the lens helps guide the vision for our companies to become more resilient and move closer to achieving excellence.

What do you think of Brian's thoughts? How have continuous-improvement initiatives affected your company? 


Implementing Change through Projects -- What are the Common Mistakes?

An impressive new book by Jeremy Nicholls, entitled The Everyday Project Manager: A Primer for Learning the Principles of Successful Project Management, explores the key attributes and skills of successful project management and describes the practical skills that will enhance project delivery regardless of your level of experience. In addition, Jeremy posits that success and survival in business relies on change and the way that business implements change is through projects.

At the beginning of the month, I spoke to Jeremy about his book and asked him: "What are the common mistakes made when trying to implement change through projects?" Here is his full answer:

Understanding the Context for Change

In the enthusiasm to get going and DO SOMETHING, organizations frequently fail to set a project within the wider business and strategic context.  Change via projects is easiest to implement, and more effective when it aligns with the overall background of change.  By considering the broader organizational goals and – importantly – how your project aligns to those goals, you will be better able to articulate the drivers for change.  This increases buy-in and significantly improves your change implementation.  When you think about it, this applies to personal projects too – your project to decorate the bedroom might be a great idea, but if your partner’s plan is to sell the house next year, they won’t support your change.

Identifying Champions

For change to be implemented most effectively, you require support up and down the organization. It seems to be stating the obvious to say that the more people who are championing your project, the more likely it is to succeed, but it is frequently overlooked. When people deliver projects, they tend to get very caught up in the nuts and bolts of the delivery itself.  It’s a different skill set, but one that the best project managers have, to get out there and engage with stakeholders and bring people along for the journey.  Your project sponsor is the key here; if they are not excited about the project outcome then there’s no reason anyone else should be.  But the main point is don’t just be a project manager – be a project cheerleader!

Get the Basics Right

There will be certain points during a change project where things get exciting.  This can be for a good, expected reason (the much-anticipated go-live), or a not-so-good, unexpected reason (an issue that threatens to derail the project).  In either case, when the temperature of the project gets to fever pitch, the first things to get side-lined are often the good (but not quite as exciting) practices that keep a project on track.  Stay focused on the objectives; remember the reasons for doing the project in the first place.  Avoid the tendency, to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the project hits a bump.  Go back to first principles, take a breath, and keep going.

What are your thoughts on Jeremy's perspective? Has your company been successful implementing change through projects? What attributes do you think compose a successful project manager?


Developing Your Employees While Achieving Business Results -- Is it Possible?

Just this month, Lisa J. Koss published an engaging book entitled Leading for Learning: How Managers Can Get Business Results through Developmental Coaching and Inspire Deep Employee Commitment, which addresses a universal problem for many managers -- With so much "real work" to do every day, how can they also carve out time to learn, engage, build relationships, tap motivation, encourage development, and inspire?

When I spoke with Lisa a few weeks ago, I asked her: "What causes the barriers that block the concurrent development of employees and business results?" Here is her complete answer:

I personally don’t know of any manager who doesn’t want to get results – both in business and in leading others.  Managers care about both.  No one wants to feel unsuccessful in either realm.  Making a difference is the stuff of positive self-regard and feelings of self-worth, whether regarding the work product itself, or developing more capable leaders. 

What gets in the way of people managers doing both -- getting business results while developing people?  In my view, with 25 years in the field of leadership development, there are numerous reasons.  Here are three: 

First, people managers often don’t want to be.  Often promoted for their technical or business acumen, people managers often know little about people management.  They think they can gain status but ultimately stay committed to getting their own work done, emphasizing management of the business versus leading people.  Despite accepting a position with the word “people” embedded, most managers I’ve known don’t seem to contemplate the implications.  “People management” simply becomes another task, or set of problems to solve, instead of considering the role as an entirely different way to impact the business.  Consider, for example, that workplaces are actually schools… for everyone.  People managers have the great opportunity -- and responsibility -- to support others to stay relevant, to innovate, and to maximize their potential.  Whether the manager’s people learn slowly or quickly will depend, in large part, on the manager’s orientation to her role. 

Second, some people managers assume that spending time to develop others really doesn’t pay off.  The research in the social sciences say otherwise.  What’s lost in the discussion is the focus on what really matters – engagement.  Engagement is important because it can be measured with the phenomenon called “discretionary effort”.  Discretionary effort is the 15-25% more effort that employees (including you) devote to their work when feeling engaged.  These gifts to the workplace often come in difficult-to-quantify packages – like arriving to work 10 minutes earlier, reviewing one’s work again, or taking the time to recognize a colleague – but constitute a substantial increase of value and productivity in the business. 

Finally, people managers might think achieving business results and people development are incompatible has nothing to do with mindset but relates to skills.  Humans are messy…and results can be hard to measure.  The thought of “developing others” can evoke unpleasant thoughts such as:  risk-taking, the lowering of standards, or wading into unpredictable, emotional conversations. Managers can, however, can learn the skills which release these kinds of anxieties. 

When life gets overly busy and complex, embracing a more holistic approach to leadership may seem counterintuitive.  Instead of managers thinking “either-or,” people managers can do both at the same time and experience double the success.

What do you think of Lisa's perspective? Are these the types of problems and mindsets held by many mangers in your organization? Lisa clearly and directly addresses these issues in her new book


Strategic Planning -- Why Does it Often Fail?

In August, Sean Ryan published his first book entitled Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results, which helps business leaders convert business strategy to measurable results. When I spoke with Sean this month, I asked him: “Why do organizations rarely get it right when it comes to achieving the expected results from their strategic planning?” Here is his complete answer:

It’s well documented that 75% to 90% of organizations fall short of achieving the results they expect from their strategies. Sometimes, it really is just a matter of a bad strategy regardless of how well it’s executed. Maybe it’s a bad acquisition. Maybe it’s a poorly thought out effort into new markets or with new products or services. Maybe it’s New Coke! Most of the time, though, it’s a matter of a good plan poorly executed. Execution failures often occur because: 

  • the organization doesn’t have the right people in the right roles with the right capabilities to execute, or
  • the organization’s architecture (systems, structures, processes, and culture) isn’t aligned to the strategy, or
  • the daily efforts of their team members are disconnected from the strategy. 

In Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results, we outline some of the failure points and how organization’s can better align the seven gears to the results that matter. 

Here’s a really common one: We ask people to outline their top five goals. Then, we ask their leaders to outline what they think the top five goals are. On average, only two out of five match. That means that 60% of the time people are working on the wrong priorities. It’s hard to achieve great results when people are working on the wrong stuff! 

You don’t have to fix all seven gears at once. You can pick the one or two that create the most friction and fix them. You’ll likely get at least somewhat better results. Then, you can work on another to get even better results. 

Over time, individuals and organizations can bring all the gears into much better alignment and achieve dramatically better results for both themselves and the broader organization.

What is your experience with strategic planning? What do you think of Sean's take on the failure points and how to rectify them?