Category Archives: Problem Solving

How Do You Know If You’ve Created a Meaningful Challenge?

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Have you ever issued what you thought was an inspiring challenge for your team, only to discover they were underwhelmed and far from motivated? Many organizations that have mission statements displayed in their lobby, company values laminated on the back of employee badges, and team banners hung from rafters proclaiming lofty goals – but it may not be surprising that when their people are asked, “What do you do here and why is your work important to you?” most look puzzled and perplexed as they attempt to articulate an answer. This response is global: from the U.S. to Europe to Asia to South America – over 75 percent of people I speak with seem to lack a meaningful challenge which serves as a source of motivation, caring and commitment.

In Lead with Respect, one of the core practices is to create a meaningful challenge. How does creating a meaningful challenge demonstrate respect for people? Why is it so important that the people on your team perceive the challenge as meaningful on an individual and personal level? When people understand goals and objectives, acknowledge them as having relevance, and feel they can trust co-workers and leaders, profound levels of engagement and self-initiated involvement emerge.

The challenge must be clear 

Often challenges are vague aspirations which mean different things to different people. For example, “To delight our customers by delivering outstanding value” may sound like a worthy goal, but most people find it difficult to translate into specific behaviors which can be modeled, coached and measured. People need to understand the why of their work and identify with its importance in order to deeply care about outcomes. In other words, people need to clearly understand the why before they will genuinely care about the how and the what! (See Simon Sinek’s TED talk classic Start with Why). When the reasons why are distorted, vague or left undefined, there is little personal commitment to performance and even less motivation for improvement.

Clarity is not enough 

Clarifying the reason why the work is important is a good start but it may still lack the motivational power to engage people at a visceral, deep-seated level. How do you know if your people understand the challenge and find it meaningful enough to be inspired to take action?

One approach is to simply ask them, “Do you feel our team has a meaningful challenge?” They will most likely say, “Yes.” Be sure to follow it up by asking, “Why?” and “Can you give me a specific example of how our challenge was meaningful and motivated you?” These conversations show respect for people through honest dialogue. Focus more on listening than on speaking during these encounters. Look for examples of behavior (physical acts) that are tied to the challenge. If the challenge truly is meaningful and clearly understood, people have no difficulty describing it and drawing a recent example of how they were guided to take action because of it.

How does this fit in with go & see?

The next time you are at the gemba, watch and listen for evidence that a meaningful challenge is part of the discussion. Is the challenge understood and shared? How frequently does it come up in conversation and how is it used? Are people inspired by the challenge or discouraged, intimidated, or detached as a result of it? Can you connect people’s actions back to the challenge? How does the team know they are winning or losing (reaching their goals)? Do they care and if so, why do they care?

Take a look, reflect, and experiment

Leading with Respect is all about engaging hearts and minds and moving beyond people simply giving the minimum effort, going through the motions, or only doing what they are told to. When a meaningful challenge is present, people care at a personal level and join together as a team to find the energy, creativity and commitment needed to meet the challenge. It’s a beautiful thing to see! Take an honest assessment of your challenge and its effectiveness at creating motivational impact on behavior. Ask these questions to yourself and to your team and reflect on your current condition. If your need to improve the effectiveness of your challenge, develop a countermeasure and run an experiment to learn more deeply about the impact of a meaningful challenge on your team’s level of engagement, commitment and self-assumed accountability.

This post was also published by the Lean Enterprise Institute here.

The Importance of Work Systems, Sequence, & Adaptive Lean IT Systems – Part 4

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This is Part 4 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

In the previous blog entry, team huddles and a visual management system were mentioned. These are both examples of work systems designed to encourage the specific behaviors we want to cultivate. There are many work systems that comprise a lean management system including problem solving, daily huddles, leader standard work, training, recognition, visual management, strategy deployment, measurement, and monthly performance reviews, just to name a few.

It is these work systems that impact people’s behavior most significantly by emphasizing and reinforcing those actions we want to see everyday from everyone. Where many organizations get into trouble is in the sequence and timing of how and when to introduce these systems.

SEQUENCE IS CRITICAL

Over the past twenty-four years, I have tried many approaches and witnessed what works and what doesn’t. Here’s the bottom line: each organization has its own culture, history, and work environment, so one size does not fit all. There is no standard deployment sequence or collection of work systems that apply universally. That said; there are some fundamental concepts applicable to all organizations.

1) Start by establishing a clear purpose throughout the organization. This is a prerequisite for success.

2) Acknowledge that the bedrock of lean is learning and that problem solving capability is the skill to cultivate if you are serious about transformation.

3) Strive to balance the two pillars of lean: continuous improvement and respect for people. Don’t make the common mistake of falling in love with tools of continuous improvement and ignoring respect for people.

4) Create a culture of accountability by building work systems that position your people to succeed, to learn, and to grow. This is true respect for people and promotes high levels of teamwork, engagement, accountability, and ultimately performance.

5) Work systems must be designed, built, maintained, and improved by the people doing the actual work. Outside support is fine, but the frontline people must do the work.

ADAPTIVE LEAN IT SYSTEMS

Whether you are considering bringing lean IT to your organization, currently applying it to IT operations, or determined to build a lasting transformation, awareness of the lean IT diamond and the importance of behavior, work systems, and sequence will significantly increase your odds of success.

At the end of the day, Lean IT is all about effectively responding to change by continuously improving adaptive systems. In order to be effective, IT must change its behavior and functional capabilities in response to its environment and the needs of the Business. When IT reshapes systems and technology, the adaptive change is directly relevant to achieving the goals and objectives of the organization.

SUMMARY

For IT organizations to evolve and become more responsive to the changing needs of the Business while simultaneously maintaining the stability and security they are held responsible for, IT professionals need to understand and embrace the behaviors, as well as the thinking, of Lean IT.

For additional information on how to mobilize a Lean IT transformation, see The Lean IT Field Guide – A Roadmap for Your Transformation.

 

The Importance Of Behavior – Part 3

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This is Part 3 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

At the end of the day, all change comes down to altering our established patterns of behavior. Anyone who has attempted to make a lifestyle change (such as quitting smoking or eating healthier) can attest to how difficult this is.

It is interesting to note that most transformations tend to focus on training people in the new ways of doing things. We assume that if people know about a new (presumable better) way of doing something, they will automatically adopt it as their regular way of acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. If knowing about a better behavior caused people to change their actions and develop new habits, no one would be overweight, use tobacco products, or run on less than 6 hours of sleep!

We are all creatures of habit and become very comfortable with the way we’ve always done it, even when our routines become outdated, broken, and painfully frustrating. Why? Because it is really difficult to change the behavior of others or even ourselves. This resistance to change is a universal condition that, unless addressed directly and openly, puts all transformation efforts at serious risk.

MAKE/BREAK, CADENCE, & PREDICTABILITY

There are three factors you need to know about to effectively address this issue: make/break, cadence, and predictability. So what does it take to make or break a habit? I have confirmed it requires 40 days of practicing a new behavior before we can even begin to change old habits. At 90 days we have confirmed and strengthened the routine. At 120 days the new habit becomes deeply engrained as a part of our identity (how we see ourselves). At 1,000 days we have mastered the new behavior. Here’s the secret: the days must be consecutive! That’s right – if you miss a day, any day, the next day is Day One and you start counting from the beginning. I have personally used this approach to successfully affect change at both organizational and personal levels and it works.

Why is this approach so effective? People like routine and predictability – we are hard-wired to repeat what has worked before and to be skeptical of anything outside the conventional pattern. Most people drive to work using the same route, walk through a grocery store selecting the same items, watch the same TV programs, and go to bed at the same time – you get the picture. By enforcing a new routine and deliberately changing our behavior, we gradually provide the predictability and structure our human nature innately desires. When the changes make our work better, faster, less stressful, and prove to be more rewarding, that further reinforces the value of the routine and new habits begin to take deeper root.

As new work processes yield better results including more consistent quality, less rework, variability, and overburden, predictability of outcomes increases and we receive yet another dose of reinforcement – increased customer satisfaction!

THE KEY SYSTEM – PROBLEM SOLVING

An example may serve to clarify this approach to creating new habits. Let’s assume you have introduced lean problem solving to your IT group as part of your transformation. People have received training in basic lean concepts including PDCA, A3, and root cause analysis. The assumption is that once people understand lean problem solving, they will use it in their daily work. This rarely happens. In most cases about 10% of your people will be self-starters and try to apply lean practices on their own. The vast majority of people attend the training and think, “That’s interesting…” and then go back to work using their normal ways of getting things done. They quickly fall back to their comfort zone, which excludes the ideas and tools shared in the training workshop.

Applying the make/break, cadence, and predictability concepts, we would include problem solving as an essential element of our daily team huddles and visual management system. On a daily basis, the team would be coached by responding to questions of inquiry designed to foster new ways of applying what was learned during the training on problem solving. The only way people learn lean is by doing lean!

In the final post of this series, we’ll explore the importance of work systems and sequencing to build adaptive Lean IT systems.