Superhero Process Improvement? The Five Essential Qualities of Leadership Whether newly trained in a continuous improvement methodology or a seasoned professional the success of your team depends on how you approach your leadership role, writes contributor Dennis Narlock. It’s important to remember that continuous improvement is something that you do WITH people,not something that you do TO them. Here are the five qualities you need.Process improvement has been around for a long time; the name and methodologieshave changed either through assimilation or reinvention. However, whatever banner yourprocess improvement program fliesunder, you can expect one constant:the challenge of delivering your results.There are many different reasons whyan improvement team might fail todeliver expected results, but thedetermining factor, in my opinion, isthe approach used by the personleading the team. The leader of animprovement team has manyresponsibilities including keeping theteam motivated, on task and ultimatelydelivering positive results. What the leader is not responsible for is accomplishing all thatthey have been charged with by themselves.Think that your role as leader of process improvement involves being a superhero? Think again!Whether newly trained in a continuous improvement methodology or a seasonedprofessional the success of your team depends on how you approach your leadershiprole. While there have been countless books, seminars, webinars etc. on teamleadership, success depends on the leader’s ability to create an environment where theirteam can flourish and achieve success. From my personal experience there are fivethings to remember when leading teams focused on delivering operational excellence.They are: Perspective, Respect, Humility, Active Listening, and avoiding the “Last Place”syndrome.Quality #1: PerspectiveAs an improvement team leader it is imperative to identify the ideas and facts behindyour perspective at the onset of an event or project – these are the ideas and factsknown to you regarding a specific location, situation, process, person or team. Whencoalesced these ideas and facts will form the viewpoint that you adopt prior to, duringand following the completion of an improvement event or project. It is possible for your
perspective to change based on new facts or ideas which were unavailable orunrecognized when the earlier perspective was formed.Then take it a step further and ask yourself “Does my team have the same perspective?”If you cannot honestly answer that question with a resounding “Yes”; then you aremissing some key facts and ideas around the task that has been assigned your team.Here are a few tips to ensure that you maintain the proper perspective as a Green, Blackor Master Black belt leading an improvement team. Remember that it is a team effort and requires collaboration. Continuous improvement is something that you do WITH people, not something that you do TO people. Maintain an open mind about the process being evaluated, the people operating in the process and your team members. Ask questions, more specifically ask open ended questions that lead to a sharing of knowledge. This will sow the seeds for successful brainstorming sessions down the road. A second goal of asking questions is to gather additional facts and ideas which you will use to validate and/or adjust your perspective. Facilitate and guide your team towards achieving the objective. Leadership is not about doing the tasks for them; it is about developing their process knowledge and leadership skills.Quality #2: RespectAs an outsider to the process you will see opportunity for improvement that has beenmissed by those working within the current process. What will not be as readily apparentto you will be all of the improvements that have already been made to an existingprocess. Those people that have been with the organization have a vested interest inthat organization and its continued success. In some cases they were part of the groupwho initially founded the organization and have helped it grow into its current structureand market position. While the processes they created may not be the most efficient inyour eyes, remember all of the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into creating them.They will be understandably proud of their accomplishments and appearing on scene asa superhero to save them from their wasteful process will establish a barrier betweenyourself and those who live and operate in the process every day. When you look in themirror you will see yourself as a hero, they will see you as the villain. This reputation willbecome more and more engrained in your colleagues eyes the longer you operate in thismanner, ensuring that you will be fighting an uphill battle with each subsequent processthat you try to improve.Some of the negative consequences of this approach to continuous improvementare: Information Quality Information Quantity Data Integrity Improvement Implementation Improvement Sustainment Continuous Improvement Program Viability Personal Growth and Advancement
Quality #3: HumilityWhile many would prefer a leader who is humble enough to recognize the potential intheir colleagues, peers and subordinates; there is also as desire to have a leader who isconfident and strong and conveys an ability to truly ‘lead’ an organization to success. Inthe case of a person who is leading an improvement team, the humility that is importantis in reference to terminology, tools and skills.As an improvement team leader your approach should be such that when youcommunicate with your team you are utilizing terminology, tools, and explanations insuch a manner that they can clearly understand what is being stated. Terminology – Every profession has its own unique language that sets it apart from other professions. Continuous improvement is no different. The words and phrases used in Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, TRIZ, etc. have means that are unique to the process improvement environment. Every Green and Black belt knows this to be true based on the number of times that they have been required to explain that their ‘belt’ referred to a level of process improvement training and not to a new martial arts program that was being started by the organization.An example from my personal experiences occurred while I was learning to use Minitabfor statistical analysis. I was having some difficulty in transferring the data from MicrosoftExcel into Minitab when my Master Black belt showed me how to concatenate the dataso that it would be easier and much faster to load the data into Minitab. I was veryexcited by what I had learned and was quick to begin using “Concatenate” while talkingwith my team regarding the project that we were working on. I was also a littledumbfounded the next day when only half my team members showed up again for ourmeeting. I learned a lesson that day not just in communication, but in humility as Iworked to recruit additional team members for the vacancies that I had created. Beconfident and knowledgeable enough to lead your team without alienating them by actinglike you are above them based on your personal knowledge, terminology and skills.Quality #4: Active ListeningLearning to interpret and understand non-verbal communications, seeking and achievingclarification of what you heard and engaging in an exchange of information are thefoundation of active listening. It means you hear more than what another person or groupof people is saying verbally.While you may feel that your training and/or experience with process improvementestablishes you as the expert, it does not mean that you are a subject matter expert inthe process that is being evaluated and improved. Those people who live and operatewithin that process on a daily basis, along with the managers who have supervised theprocess are the SME’s. If you do not hear what is being communicated and seek toensure that you understand the implications of what is being said and not said you arelikely to make a mistake in evaluating the process. This means that any improvementwhich is made will not have been built on a solid foundation and could ultimately lead toan improved process that is worse than the one you started with on day one of yourevent/project.When your situation is such that you are a new hire or an external consultant workingwith an organization for the first time it is imperative that you engage in active listening.The people that you will be working with not only have more in-depth knowledgeregarding the process or processes being evaluated, they also possess a lot of valuable
information regarding the organization. Their experience and longevity will be extremelyvaluable and in most cases they are willing to share all that they know with you, providedthat you take the time to listen to what they have to say.The following is a partial list of some methods that you can use to engage inactive listening with your team members. Repeat back what you hear in a conversation. It is important to remember that you do not need to repeat what was said to you word for word. Instead look to summarize it in terms that you are comfortable with in conversation. Pay attention to the non-verbal as well as the verbal communication. Studies have shown that the greatest percentage of information is communicated using non-verbal means. Start each meeting with a short review of the team charter and goals, what has been accomplished to date and what the objectives are for the meeting. This gets everyone on the same page with a solid baseline moving forward. Understand cultural differences. Whether the differences derive from a specific industry or they are based on geographic location, it is essential to understand the nuances of communicating in different cultural environments. Do the research using any number of websites available.In addition I would encourage you to evaluate your listening style; one method availablefor this is “Learning to Listen” from the HRDQ Research & Development Team.(www.hrdq.com). Take the time to evaluate your listening skills, develop a plan toimprove on them, as needed, to ensure that you are maximizing your communications asa process improvement team leader.Quality #5: “Last Place”Each of us has been somewhere else before starting our current role. It may have beenanother position within the same organization; or it could be the same position withadditional responsibilities that are a result of recent training (i.e. Lean Six Sigma GreenBelt). We may be changing from one region of the world to another, changingorganizations, career paths or simply starting our careers following school. As you beginto lead your process improvement team it is imperative that your references to your “LastPlace” are limited to those instances when they will truly add value to the subject matterbeing discussed/applied. Continual references to how your last place operated will havea negative effect on your relationship with your colleagues and with your team members.No one that I have ever meet enjoys continually hearing about how your last organizationaccomplished value stream mapping, 5S, barrier removal, presentations, training, etc.They want to have the discussion focused on the organization of which they are allmembers. The focus needs to be on the here and now with a smattering of historicalexperiences used for emphasis, benchmarking, case studies, etc. Again, the key is asmattering such that when you refer to a previous experience, everyone you’re acommunicating with continues to listen vice tuning you out.Working in an office of professionals it was interesting to watch as a new mid-levelmanager began work with the organization. In less than a week, this person’s continualreference to their last organization had resulted in significant change within the office. Subordinates began to complete this person’s sentence when they would start out with “When I was at__________ we would do…..”
Some members of the office would keep tic marks on a white board tracking how often their new manager made a “Last Place” reference. Members of the office would get up to leave for a meeting or appointment that may or may not exist.Information flow upstream to the manager decreased on a daily basis as more often thannot a subordinate would avoid speaking with them simply to avoid another story aboutthe managers “last place.”For many of us we have had great experiences in other positions and organizations; holdon to them for what they are and what they represent. However, remember as you moveforward that you are in your current position and/or current organization for a reason, usereferences to your “last place” sparingly as a means of emphasis or to covey clarity on adifficult subject. Always conclude the reference by bringing it back to the current situationand as time moves on develop new experiences from your current position/organizationto replace those from the “last place.”Process Improvement is an exciting time for many people within an organization; wehave new knowledge and are energized to tackle the challenges facing our organization.We want to demonstrate our abilities and reward the leadership decision that resulted inour training. However, for others within the organization the process of changing will bedifficult, their workplace will be going through upheaval and they may experiencefrustration in their day-to-day efforts. The process improvement experts are an easytarget for these frustrations and need to be mindful of how their approach to theirsupervisors, peers and colleagues will affect the organizations overall goals.Remembering to maintain perspective, respect those whom you are interacting with,demonstrating humility, engaging in active listening and limiting “Last Place” referenceswill go along way to a successful outcome from leading your first improvement team as anewly trained Green or Black Belt.About Dennis Narlock: Dennis Narlock is the Continuous Improvement Leader for Catalent Pharma Solutions in Middleton, Wisconsin. He is an ASQ certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Theory of Constraints Jonah with more than six years of experience in continuous process improvement. He has held positions as a Black Belt and Deployment director within the U.S. Navy where he served for 24 years prior to transitioning to the private sector.He earned a Master of Science degree in Global Leadership from the University of SanDiego. His work with the Process Excellence group at IQPC has been recognized withproject awards in the Best New Start-up and Innovation categories; in addition he hasbeen a conference presenter and judge. Dennis can be reached email@example.comI invite you to join as a member of the PEX Network Group http://tinyurl.com/3hwakem,you will have access to Key Leaders Globally, Events, Webinars, Presentations, Articles,Case Studies, Blog Discussions, White Papers, and Tools and Templates. To accessthis free content please take 2 minutes for a 1 time FREE registration athttp://tiny.cc/tpkd0PEX Network, a division of IQPC, facilitates access to a wealth of relevant content forProcess Excellence, Lean, and Six Sigma practitioners. Further enhanced with an onlinecommunity of your peers, we will provide you with the tools and resources to help youperform more effective and efficiently, while enhancing the quality operations within your
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