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The best bit of advice my mum gave me
When I was young I was forever making mistakes, getting into trouble in and out of
school, doing things wrong at home, the usual things kids do. My mother very rarely
told me off, instead she just said to me “you’ll have to learn from your own mistakes”.
I’m sure many of you reading this have had the same message given to you or given
the same message to your children, and hopefully you’ll agree this advice has worked
well for you.
My question to you is, if our parents can give us such great advice, in such a simple
and clear to understand manner, and this helped us make the mistakes we made today
less likely to occur the following day, why do we forget this advice as we get older
(and wiser ?) and instead of learning from our mistakes, we make it a habit to cover
up our mistakes or find workarounds. This simply results in us placing an additional
task (the workaround) into the process we were carrying out, potentially making a
process more difficult, more prone to errors, and usually taking longer.
Luckily for me I listened to (most) of my mothers advice, not only did I try to learn
from my mistakes, but I also learnt to keep things simple. I may not have gone to
University, I may not have the professional qualifications, and I definitely was not
given a helping hand as a progressed in my career, but this has not prohibited me from
being a success in most things I have done, and I owe a lot of this to my mother.
What do I feel are my key success factors which I try to pass onto others? Keeping
things simple means my messages to my teams and colleagues are clear and easy to
understand. No ambiguous messages mean little chance for misinterpretation and
therefore less chance to make mistakes. I also pass on the message about learning
from your mistakes,. It’s pretty much impossible not to make mistakes, the world
changes at such speed nowadays, which makes yesterdays processes not always fit for
purpose today. You have to expect yourself, your team, and your customers, to make
the occasional mistake. The key is to gaining trust with others that making mistakes
and admitting them is good, it gives the team an opportunity to improve, whereas
hiding your mistakes is bad.
Why do some managers find these theories difficult? It goes back to the start of this
paragraph, they see themselves as managers, command and control is their preferred
style, which means the team just carry out commands and do as they are told. I prefer
to word leader instead of manager, which leads to a totally different style which mean
empowering your staff, trusting them, and having mutual respect. Why do I prefer the
leadership style? As already mentioned, I am definitely not the most technically
minded person in the office, but I have run many successful teams in a variety of
companies and departments. The first message I give to my teams is that they are the
experts at the job they do, I will never be able to do the work as that is not my role,
and by not doing their job day to day I will never be close enough to keep up with all
the changes. I want to understand the work, as in a high level understanding of the
process, but my role is the leader of the team, the person who enables them to do their
work in the best way, delivering as good a service as possible to our customers. In
my opinion, letting go of the control is hard for many managers, especially when
promoted from within, but ask yourself this – if the world changes so quickly, new
technologies, products, laws, etc, mean a change in procedures, and if you don’t
actually do the job daily, are you the best person to identify blockages and issues, and
to make suggestions on how best to do the work ?
How can you demonstrate commitment to these ideas? If the world changes daily,
therefore mistakes/risks/issues appear just as regularly. As the team are ‘at the coal
face’, they must encounter these issues just as regularly, and will therefore know
about them long before the weekly or, worse still, monthly MI reports are produced,
there is only one way to demonstrate this. Speak to the team daily, as a group, as
early as possible, so that the problems do not get left un-noticed any longer than
necessary. Ensure they are comfortable to discuss problems (as opposed to hiding
them), and use the people who discover the problems (i.e. your team) to help find
solutions. Several things can happen as a result of a more open, trusting relationship
between staff and leader. Happier staff due to being involved more, learning new
skills (problem solving), and not being punished for doing things wrong (within
reason). Happier customers as the improvements are giving them a better service.
Happier shareholders/stakeholders, as better processes + happier customers = more
business = more profits.
These communication cells are quick, no longer than 10-15 minutes. The content is
around how do we perform yesterday against what was planned, what went wrong or
were there opportunities to deliver an even better service, and what can we do to
resolve the issues from yesterday and mitigate risks for today? These occur at the
start of the shift, and they occur in the place the team work - why is this, well finding
a room takes time, getting everyone into the room takes time, and we want the
meeting to be quick. As the leader, you’ll need to make several commitments to the
team to make these meetings a success
1. Talking about problems is good, hiding them is bad. The way you can
convince them of this is to reward staff (objectives, incentives) for identifying
and making improvements, so the more problems they uncover the more
opportunity they will have to demonstrate this good behaviour and share the
2. Make sure the team understand the “What’s in it for me?” question. Often
they see efficiency savings as an opportunity to cut headcount. This is totally
natural as based on past experiences this is often what happens. The message
to give is that any free capacity gained from these savings will enable us to
firstly clear backlogs, secondly enable more problem solving to occur, and
thirdly, when the lower backlogs and improved procedures make the service
more attractive to customers, will enable us to take on more work without
3. Blame the process not the people for the mistakes. Studies show that 95% of
mistakes are the fault of the process, however I bet 95% of the time we blame
the staff, demonstrating this in 1:1’s, appraisals, capability and disciplinary
procedures. We place so much emphasis on blaming staff, and have
procedures and HR advice to back this up, but has your company got a
procedure to blame and correct a process – I bet it hasn’t.
Daily meetings may appear a waste of time, and if the world were perfect, and people,
process, and purpose remained unchanged day to day, but at least one of these will
change each day. If you perservered with monthly meeting, and a problem occurred
on the first of the month, are the chances of it being discussed and addressed greater
or less with an end of month meeting? Monthly would be too late as the process
would have been broken all month, workarounds put in place, and time wasted.
Monthly also means the important issues staff want to talk about are often forgotten,
or worse still, they are cancelled as work pressures are so high.
One final word around helping the team find these problems. Some are easy, for
example the machine breaks down, the copier doesn’t work, suppliers don’t deliver on
time. However I do hear many people say they have no issues or problems, their
process is perfect – this is usually because they are used to using the workarounds and
see them as part of the process rather than a non value adding task. To prove a
process is not working it is not necessary to use complex statistics or flow charts. As
I said, keep it simple, get the team to understand some basic Lean and System
Thinking tools, value stream mapping, the 7 (or 8) Lean wastes, value and non-value
adding work, failure demand. These are all really simple to explain, and help open
peoples minds up more to looking for improvement opportunities. To find out more
about these tools, look them up on the internet, read a book on them or go on a course,
or contact me.
Good luck if you decide to follow this advice, making things simple does not make
you look stupid, it increases the chance of success. For those who chose not to
follow, remember it was your choice the next time a member of your team says they
didn’t understand what you meant.