How Trust Helps Solve Problems

April 18, 2015

Leadership SolutionsThe level of trust in a group has a profound impact on the ease with which they solve problems.

I sit on several Boards of Directors, and one of them is a pretty low trust group. When a problem comes up, it seems the team is always tiptoeing around the interpersonal issues.

Low trust groups often fail to solve the real problem and frequently have to deal with a lot of acrimony, often unrelated to the problem.

This low trust group can discuss things for an hour and not even get close to the real problem at hand. We quite often end up putting “BandAids” on the symptoms hoping the problem will resolve itself. We all know the world does not work that way.

It is very frustrating because we waste a lot of time and energy with low output.

Another BOD I sit on is a particularly high trust group. They solve problems quickly and efficiently because they get to the heart of the issue fast without people playing games with each other. One hallmark of high trust groups is that they solve problems quickly and with high quality solutions while having fun.

The quality of solutions is higher because people are not afraid to voice creative ideas. They don’t need to protect themselves from ridicule. Brainstorming possible actions is spontaneous, light, and often comical.

It is important to assess the level of trust on every team. There are numerous surveys available online if you just do a quick search. As an alternative, I have developed a quick survey that can be very helpful at understanding the level of trust on your team. It is available at the following link

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZZGQVD3 .

Take the time today to do an assessment of the trust level on your team. This is especially important if your team seems to struggle at times. Make sure all members of the team take the instrument and share the data.

If trust is lacking, then get a commitment to do something about it. Here is a link to several articles about trust on my Leadergrow Website

http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/17-trust

Putting up with interpersonal issues that result from low trust is a sign of mediocrity. You can move to excellence simply by investing some time and energy into raising the trust level. It is not impossible, and your team will become much more efficient.


Value Stream Maps

April 11, 2015

Navigation map with pin pointerThe technique of Value Stream Mapping is a part of the “Lean Thinking” tool kit. Lean Thinking is a methodology that grew out of the Toyota Production System, where we make sure the customer is serviced perfectly and then work to reduce costs by driving out all forms of organizational waste.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a highly refined way to depict what is exactly going on in a process so we can visualize the sources of waste.

My favorite book on the topic is “Learning to See” by Womack and Jones. It is a short, well-illustrated book on the science of drawing Value Stream Maps.

The book title is a really good one, because what VSM provides is a much different perspective of any operation than managers are used to seeing. The maps are like cartoon strips of the various parts of the operation and how they interrelate.

The charts also show the dwell times between operations and the inventory levels.
As you physically walk through an operation, whether it is manufacturing, a law office, a clinic, a winery, or a garbage collection company, you see little parts of the system in operation, but most of what matters is hidden from view.

In fact, there are vital parts of the process that take place in what I call the “white spaces” in between the operations that we can see. VSM brings these aspects to visibility as if you were holding a heat lamp next to a document written in invisible ink.

I was describing this uncanny ability to one of my MBA classes recently and came up with an even better analogy. It is as if we knew there was a ship full of treasure at the bottom of a lake, but we had no idea where the ship sank.

The VSM technique would be like draining the lake so we can easily identify the location of the treasure. Once we can see the treasure, it becomes a much easier task to go and get it.

In any kind of operation, there is ample treasure to be gained by eliminating the waste. In lean language, waste is called “muda,” which is the Japanese word for waste.

We think of waste as rejects from production, but it is much more than that. There are actually seven different categories of waste that are present in most operations.

They are as follows:

1. Rejects – When we think of waste, we normally are thinking about the scrap that we throw out that cannot be sold to customers. Defective quality, also called rejects, is clearly one form of organizational waste, but there are six more types that we deal with in lean thinking.

2. Waiting for work – This is probably the most pervasive type of waste, yet it is often hidden from direct view. Whenever a person is waiting to perform his or her function, for whatever reason, that is a cause of waste that must be eliminated.

3. Over Production – If we are selling 10 widgets today, then anything more than 10 units manufactured is wasted effort. We tied up resources making product that the customer did not want to buy.

4. Transportation – Any time the product or any subassemblies are being moved from one location to another in order to cue up for the next part of the process, that is wasted time and effort. If you are a customer buying a wrench, you do not want to pay extra for the steel wrench to be moved to the plating department to have the chrome layer applied.

5. Motion – when the product is being raised up or lowered to get it to a position where the next hole can be drilled, that is waste. Reduce or eliminate the need for any motion in and between processes.

6. Inventory – Customers do not want to pay for things not yet built to be sitting on shelves waiting to become a finished product. All inventory is considered waste. All in-process and finished goods inventory is useless. The only inventory that is not waste is the one unit that the customer wants to buy right now.

7. Over processing – This is where we take three steps to sand down a part for painting rather than doing the entire job in one step. Whenever there are multiple steps, there is waste going on. The idea is to combine steps to reduce the waste.

Lean Thinking along with Value Stream Mapping aim to totally satisfy customer needs at every point in time while working to reduce all seven kinds of waste to the minimum.

These tools are extremely powerful, but they should only be used by people who are fully trained in how to use them properly. The reason is that significant problems can arise if untrained people try to use the tools.

If you are interested in using Value Stream Mapping and do not have a fully trained resource internally, check with your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Development Group to identify local resources who can help you get the proper mileage out of these important tools.

Alternatively, you can locate experts on the Lean Enterprise Institute, http://www.lean.org.


Use Your RAS

April 4, 2015

X-ray brain pathologyThe human brain is a remarkable organ. It has many fascinating properties that can give us insights on how to live a better and more effective life. One of these phenomena occurs at the base of the brain: the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

RAS is an incredible filtering system that allows human beings to sort out and pay attention to things that are important to us while disregarding the bombardment of other things that are not critical. It is the mechanism that allows us to focus attention on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.

I will leave how the RAS works to the brain experts, but the impact of it is a wonder to behold. In this article, I want to explore RAS along with how you can use it to improve your life.

The best way to appreciate the power of RAS is through examples.

Imagine you are in a theater during intermission. The crowded lobby is abuzz with the cacophony of voices, and it is impossible to hear any conversation except the one closest to you. In the crowd, within earshot, someone mentions your name.

All of a sudden you are able to laser focus on that conversation, ignoring all the rest, and actually hear what that person is saying about you. If the person had not uttered your name, there would be no way you would hear what she was saying. That is RAS in action.

Let’s look at another typical example. You just came out of a car dealership after having ordered a red Ford truck. On the way home, you start to notice red Ford trucks everywhere. Driving into the dealership, you paid no attention and did not notice any trucks at all.

Once the RAS is activated, it allows all kinds of miraculous things to happen. RAS is a very powerful tool, but we need to be continuously aware of that power if we are to harness it for use in our lives.

Try this little exercise. Try to identify 5-10 times in each day where you are applying the understanding of RAS to improve how you manage your life.

For example, you might be sitting in a cafeteria with hundreds of people. In the distance, you spot an old friend you had been thinking about recently and realize you have not spoken to him in over a year.

You resolve to call him that afternoon. Immediately you recognize that RAS helped you find that person and renew the acquaintance. That counts as one of the 10 opportunities to use RAS.

That evening, while scanning a magazine, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an ad for a boat and immediately remember that you had intended to buy a new fishing reel this week.

The association was made possible by RAS. That would be number two example. Try to find 5-10 examples a day.

By focusing your energy on understanding how you can use RAS to filter your thinking as opposed to following random thoughts, you will actually be doing a kind of “meta RAS” where the technique is helping you identify opportunities to use its power for you daily. It sounds complex, but it is really pretty basic.

Do not overlook the power of RAS to improve your life. The more you practice identifying the phenomenon within you and using it, the more creative ways you will find of having it guide you to a better life.


Focus on Trust Level

March 28, 2015

VisionI claim to be able to accurately determine the level of trust in a group by just observing the interactions of people in the group for about 10-30 seconds. It is not hard at all. You just have to pay attention to what people are saying.

If you observe a team, and people are talking about the vision they are trying to accomplish or the new product they are launching, then you are likely observing a high trust group. That is because their focus is outward on what they are trying to accomplish.

Instead, if you observe people at work and they are talking about each other, usually in negative or defensive terms, chances are good that team is a low trust group. If people are myopic and focus their energy inward defensively rather than outward with a positive attitude, it shows a lack of interpersonal trust.

Let’s take the exact same condition going on within a manufacturing unit and evesdrop on a short break room conversation:

Low Trust Group – No wonder we are falling behind, Fred and Margaret are more interested in their love affair than in doing their part of the work. We will never get there if they don’t pull their load, but management is so clueless they don’t see the problem.

High Trust Group – I think we are going to make the aggressive target for customer service this month. This will make three months in a row we have met their needs. Even though Fred and Margaret get starry-eyed sometimes, they are making a good contribution to production.

You don’t need to be a PhD to accurately identify the level of trust in a group. Simply pay attention to the words being used on a daily basis. It is a dead giveaway that can be applied very quickly. You will find it to be remarkably accurate.

Try keeping track for a day by making hash marks on a 3X5 inch card. When you hear constructive comments about satisfying customers or pursuing the vision, put a mark on the right side of the card.

If you hear griping conversations about the other team members slacking off, or managers messing up, put the mark on the left side.

At the end of the day, simply count up the marks, and you will have a good approximation of the trust level in that area.

It is not just the words but also the body language that shows the attitudes of people toward their fellow workers. It is very easy to detect supportive and positive feelings and even easier to see hatred or lack of care.

People working together day to day project their level of interpersonal comfort and trust, but most people ignore the signal. Now that you know the secret, pay attention to what people are saying and you will have better insights.


Perks Help: Culture Helps More

March 21, 2015

Carrot vegetable group on white backgroundAs I interface with MBA students, I am astonished with the number of organizations that use perks, contests, quotas, and other methods in an attempt to improve productivity and raise employee morale.

I believe that all of these things can and do provide some temporary increase in morale and performance, and yet I think their use is often overdone and their effectiveness is way overrated.

Having a constant stream of gimmicks as a means to obtain higher engagement of the employees shows that the leaders do not understand the nature of motivation.

Over 60 years ago, Frederick Herzberg demonstrated that trying to pump up the workforce using what he called “Hygiene Factors” is like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver. It may be possible to get the nail partly into the wood using the handle of the screwdriver, but the job would go much better if you used a hammer.

Herzberg’s experiments led to his “Two Factor Theory” about the nature of motivation. It states that to eliminate job dissatisfaction workers need a sufficient level of hygiene factors, but that alone will not create motivation. To create an environment where workers really want to engage in the work, you must add adequate motivating factors.

Perks and other mechanical means of focusing on productivity will cause people to pay more attention to the work, so some effect will be noted, but if you want to use the proper tool, try working on the culture instead.

A better culture would include greater autonomy, where people are not micromanaged and are allowed to do things their way. It would include specific feedback, so people have a sense of progress and mastery against the goals that they helped to set.

It would also include the realization that we are citizens in a world that needs our collective help.

Most of all, it would include an environment of trust where there is low fear and people are allowed to voice their ideas or gripes without the threat of dire consequences.

In his book “Drive,” Dan Pink presented the idea that if we treat people like people rather than smaller and better-smelling horses who respond to carrots and sticks, we are going to produce higher engagement. He suggests that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are three prime ways people get really engaged in the work.

Herzberg would agree with Pink and call all three of those conditions “Motivating Factors” rather than Hygiene Factors. After over half a century of knowing that using carrots (perks) or beating on people mentally (sticks) produce only minor and temporary results, along with a lot of cynicism and trying to beat the system, why do leaders fail to heed the advice to work on building a culture of high trust?

I think the reason is that the mechanical approach is far easier to visualize and orchestrate than actually getting down to creating a better culture. It is easier to find a better sales incentive plan than to figure out what behaviors leaders need to change in order to build real and lasting trust.

You can put out a new work quota in 15 minutes without batting an eye, but you are missing the steps required to reach the hearts of the people at work.

So, the games go on, year after year, in numerous organizations, and the results remain tepid at best. Still, leaders are allowed to remain in place to crack the whip or peel the carrots.

What is not known by higher up decision makers is how much amazing potential of the organization keeps falling off the table, year after year. Studies indicate that only about a third of the workforce in an average organization is engaged in the work. The remaining group is either not engaged or actively not engaged, meaning they are consciously working against what needs to be done.

I have written dozens of articles on how leaders can generate more trust in their organizations. It is all about getting leaders to change their behaviors.

One of the most powerful ways leaders build trust is by creating a culture of low fear where people know it is safe to voice their opinions and not have to worry about being punished.

To accomplish that, leaders need to encourage people to voice their concerns and then praise them for doing it. I call that skill “reinforcing candor.”

The productivity improvements in most organizations are available, but only when leaders learn to use the correct tools for the job. Focus on creating a culture of higher trust rather than trying to incent the workers to be more engaged and motivated.


Merging Cultures

March 14, 2015

Hand Mixer with Eggs in a Glass Bowl on a Reflective White Background.When there is a merger, acquisition or other major organizational change, the different cultures must be blended into a coherent new culture. Managers often assume this will happen naturally over time, so they do not focus on this aspect when planning the merger.

WRONG! Achieving a stable culture where people are at least supportive if not enthusiastically driving a singular mindset is the most significant challenge for most change efforts. Do not assume things will work out; instead, take a highly proactive approach to defining a new culture.

In every case, even when the action is described as a merger of equals, one group will feel they have been “taken over” by the other. Curiously, in many instances, both groups feel they have been taken over because employees in each former group will need to modify procedures to accomplish the union.

Usually, one of the parties is assumed to be in the driver’s seat, so it is the other party that needs to endure the bulk of changing systems. Lack of trust and genuine animosity lead to resistance when it comes to blending the two groups into one.

It is common to have the conflict occur as passive resistive behavior. People will have the appearance of agreeing, but subversively undermine the other group however possible. This kind of “we – they” thinking can go on for years if allowed. So what actions can management take to mitigate the schism and promote unity? Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

1. Start early – Do not let the inevitable seeds of doubt and suspicion grow in the dark. Work quickly after the merger is announced to have teambuilding activities.

Openly promote good team spirit and put some money into developing a mutually supportive culture. Good teamwork is not rocket science, but it does not occur naturally. There must be investments to accomplish unity.

2. Have zero tolerance for silo thinking – This is hard to accomplish because human beings will polarize if given the opportunity. Set the expectation that people will at least try at all times to get along.

Monitor the wording in notes and conversations carefully and call people out when they put down the other group. This monitoring needs to include body language. Often rolling eyes or other expressions give away underlying mistrust.

3. Blend the populations as much as possible – Transplant key individuals from Group A with counterparts from Group B. If this is done with care, it will not take long for the individual cultures to be hard to tell apart. Sometimes the transplanting process is unpopular, but it is an important part of the integration process.

4. Use the Strategic Process – It is important to have a common set of goals and a common vision. If the former groups have goals that are not perfectly aligned, then behaviors are going to support parochial thinking. When conflicts arise, check to see if the goals are really common or if there is just lip service on this point.

5. Reward good teamwork – Seek out examples of selfless behavior from one group toward the other and promote these as bellwether activities. Verbal and written reinforcement from the top will help a lot. You might consider some kind of  award for outstanding integration behavior.

6. Model integrated behavior at the top – Often we see animosity and lack of trust at the highest levels, so it is only natural for the lower echelon to be bickering. People have the ability to pick up on the tiny clues in wording and body language. The leaders need to walk the talk on mutual respect.

7. Co-locate groups where possible – Remote geography always tends to build polarization in any organization. If merged groups can be at least partially located under one roof, it will help to reduce suspicion by lack of contact. If cohabitation is cost prohibitive, it is helpful to have frequent joint meetings, especially at the start of the integration process.

8. Benchmark other organizations – Select one or two companies who have done a great job of blending cultures and send a fact finding team made up of representatives from each group to identify best practices. This team can be the nucleus of cooperation attitudes that can allow unity to spread through the entire population.

9. Make celebrations include both groups – Avoid letting one group celebrate milestones along the way while the other group is struggling. Make sure the celebrations are for progress toward the ultimate culture instead of sub-unit performance.

10. Align measures with joint behavior – Make sure the measures are not contributing to silo thinking. If the goals are aligned for joint performance, have the measures reinforce behaviors toward those goals. Often, well intentioned measures actually drive activity that is directly opposite to the intended result.

One way to test for this potential is to ask, “what if someone pushes this measure to the extreme – will that still produce the result we want”?

11. Weed out people who cannot adjust – A certain percentage of the population in either group are going to find it difficult to get over the grieving process. Identify these individuals and help them find roles in some other organization. It will help both the merger process and the individual.

On the flip side, identify the champions of integration early and reward them with more exposure and more span of control.

12. Create incentives for the desired behavior – People should be encouraged in every way to act and think in an integrated way. This can be encouraged by having the incentive plans pay out only if the joined entity performs seamlessly.

The road to a fully functioning integrated culture can be long and frustrating. By following the ideas given above, an organization can hasten the day when there are few vestiges of the old cultures, and people feel a sense of belonging to a single new order.


Two Views of Change

March 7, 2015

Surprised baby boy using a laptop computerAt the start of a new year, many people make resolutions of how they would like to change for the future. A couple months later, most of the resolutions have been set aside. How is change working in your professional and personal life?

When we were babies, change was always a welcome event that made us more comfortable. As we grew older, change became more of a threat that often made us feel more uncomfortable, at least for a while.

We are all aware that change is all around us, and it takes many forms. In this article I want to put two kinds of change under the microscope and discuss why both are important for our lives.

Incremental Change

You have heard the saying, “In every day in every way I am getting better and better.” That statement is describing incremental change because it bases our improvement on what we already know how to do. Moving from our present state of knowledge and making creative tweaks to the formula propels us forward.

There is comfort with incremental change, because the new technique is close to what we already know. There is risk in these steps, but the risk is small, and we can always revert to the prior method if we fail. That is why so many New Year’s Resolutions do not produce permanent change.

The power of incremental change relies on the relentless application to it. If we seek to improve our current process just a little bit every day, then before long we have made fantastic strides toward efficiency and productivity.

One downside of incremental change is that we can always make modifications that turn out to be in the wrong direction. Often we cannot tell until weeks down the road that the change we make today is really a tiny bit worse than what we were doing yesterday. It is often difficult to tell at the moment if the small changes we are making are in the right or the wrong direction.

Revolutionary Change

This kind of change happens when we keep the same objective but throw out the old process entirely and begin a whole new paradigm. The obvious downside with revolutionary change is that the risk of failure is high, but so is the payoff if it succeeds.

A good example of revolutionary change occurred in 1965 in the sport of high jumping. Throughout history, jumpers used a kind of “belly down” approach to getting maximum height over the bar. It was called “The Western Roll.” Jumpers would flatten out with stomach to the ground and kick out at just the right time to get over the bar.

Along came Dick Fosbury, who decided to go over the bar backward with his back to the ground. The technique was called the “Fosbury Flop,” and Dick won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City using his technique. To this day, the Fosbury Flop is the most popular method for high jumping.

We often see examples of revolutionary change in common products. For example, in olden days, people had to tie thin straps around their clothes or fumble with buttons or zippers in winter to keep out the wind.

That was before George De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955. It seems like a simple invention 60 years later, but then it was revolutionary.

The challenge with revolutionary change is that it is so radical we often reject it as being absurd. Even when a proposed revolutionary change fails, there are often parts of it that can be used in a slightly different way.

It is this combination of revolutionary ideas in conjunction with incremental changes that has the most power for organizations.

Whether it be in the products they make or the processes they use, there should be both a constant drive for incremental change as well as the investment and alertness for revolutionary change to maximize forward progress.


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