Successful Supervisor 48 Tips to Employ Six Sigma

October 15, 2017

The “Six Sigma” movement grew out of the Total Quality Revolution of the 1990s. It is a mindset to minimize variation in manufacturing or business processes.

The objective is to achieve processes that are nearly perfect, with a statistical approach that achieves less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

Having worked in the era of the Total Quality Revolution myself and studied personally with some of the great names such as W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Brian Joiner, and others, I built a strong foundation of knowledge that supports a six-sigma mindset.

Trying to employ this “profound knowledge” (a Deming phrase) in a real manufacturing environment allowed me to see some precautions or areas where significant care is needed to obtain the full benefits.

This article is written to help supervisors trying to implement a six sigma philosophy in a manufacturing operation. To be successful, one must begin by learning a new way of communicating information about the process.

Learn the jargon, but do not be a slave to it

The whole area of lean six sigma is rife with a special language that practitioners use to communicate with each other but which often confuses people who are less informed.

The processes are really pretty simple and logical, so try to educate people to avoid hiding behind a lexicon of acronyms or mathematical calculations that can confuse mere mortals.

Focus more energy on putting the ball in the hoop than figuring out how many standard deviations the hoop is from the foul line.

1. Understand the Six Sigma issue

The meaning of six sigma is that the process you are running is so close to perfection that it will produce less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. I am not going to go into the derivation of why that last statement is true (although I do know why).

If you are interested, go look it up. My struggle is that trying to measure either the numerator or the denominator of the equation is nearly impossible.

Just trying to define what a defect is can suck the life out of a technically oriented person. There are numerous different interpretations and lots of papers written trying to identify what a defect is.

If trying to pin down a “defect” is difficult, understanding how to measure what an “opportunity” is can keep you occupied forever.

You not only have to contend with the opportunities you can see and count, but you also need to conceptualize the missed opportunities that did not happen. Trying to understand the true level of opportunities is like trying to find the edge of the earth.

Since the real number of opportunities is infinite, an equation that puts this number in the denominator might drive mathematics graduate students to the local beer garden.

A much better way to think about six sigma is to focus on something other than defects per opportunity. Rather, picture a process so perfect that we just don’t have to think about it ever producing a defect.

We do not need to inspect the part because the process is so robust we never find any problems. As Joe Juran used to say, “You cannot inspect quality into a product.”

2. Support the “Black Belt” Program

The “Black Belt” program is a series of educational milestones that designate the knowledge and experience level of an individual.

A brown belt is better equipped than a yellow or green belt, and a black belt shows mastery level. The benefit of a black belt program is not that we have visible signs of the education level of a person.

What the program produces is a support system for educating people to become proficient with the tools. The stepwise program ensures that you continually invest in educating your people, which is a great way to improve engagement and reduce turnover.

3. Know what you are getting into

Get educated yourself on the philosophy and tools of Total Quality Management. I saw problems crop up when the supervisor was trying to direct traffic but did not understand the tools personally.

Continuous improvement toward process perfection is not a program for amateurs. You can create chaos and confusion if you seek to implement a program that has a lot of bells and whistles but is not grounded in “profound knowledge.”

4. Get real top level support

Make sure top management is truly engaged in the program. If they understand the incredible payback for a six sigma program, they should be easy to convince.

Unfortunately I have seen several instances where top managers give lip service to the program but starve the training or the resources. When that happens, the whole effort becomes a kind of sham where people go through the motions but do not make the gains.

Honor the experts and become a mentor

Most of the gurus of the Total Quality Revolution died in the 1990s. Their work revolutionized the world for the last half of the last century, but the gains can be easily diluted and lost. Implementing a successful six-sigma program takes strong leadership on the part of the supervisor.

There is a significant challenge here for all supervisors.

I once heard Deming express his personal concern that there are not enough leaders coming along to carry on his work. Here is a brief story of that event from my third book, “Leading With Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.”

By 1990, Deming was 89 years old and in failing health. You had to admire this old man with his trademark silver crew cut for keeping up a rigorous teaching schedule, even though he could no longer walk and could barely talk.

A nurse would roll his wheelchair up to the platform, and he would bend over a microphone and speak in a gravelly voice, just above a whisper.

The most poignant part came when he reflected on the gains made by manufacturing over his lifetime and attempted to project them into the future. Deming’s outlook for the last decade of the 20th century was grim. Unfortunately, it was grim for Deming since he died in 1993, but in 1990 the great man had a profound message to the audience of about 400 managers and engineers crammed into the huge ballroom.

At one point, he sat up straight; his voice rose up, becoming strong and clear as he asked, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” He paused and repeated himself, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” Then he said it again and again, gaining in volume and strength with each statement. I remember vividly his fist in the air almost yelling now, “Where are the leaders going to come from?”

People in the room became uncomfortable and started looking at each other. Was the old man insane? Did he need medical attention? What was this all about? His question was crystal clear, but what did it mean? I felt like yelling back, “from over here,” but I held my tongue. Finally, the old man stopped and kind of slumped down again. He muttered some additional points that nobody seemed to hear.

Why was this great man so interested in having the audience think about his question? He obviously knew he was dying soon and was desperately trying to send out a message with all the passion and urgency his feeble body allowed. With all the technology he taught the world for over 50 years, why was he dwelling on this point?

There was a good reason: he was right. Without enlightened leadership, his technology would atrophy and eventually amount to very little. Obviously he was doing everything in his power to get the audience to realize this.

The technological advances brought about by the Quality Revolution were no less dramatic than those of the Industrial Revolution 70 years earlier. For the first time, workers and managers really focused on their processes to identify which ones were in control and which were not.

People started paying attention to data in ways that were robust. Instead of chasing after a trend based on two points of data, control charts helped to identify situations that required explanation versus those that were basically in control.

Deming called this “profound knowledge,” and it transformed manufacturing worldwide for several decades.

As a leader, embracing leadership knowledge and passing it on to the next generation is not an onerous task, but an uplifting way of doing business.

When Deming asks, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” we all need to shout out, “right here!” Unfortunately, none of us in his class in 1990 got that message, and many leaders still don’t today.

Embrace the profound knowledge and pass it on to the next generation with urgency.

The Supervisor’s Role

The supervisor has a key role to play in any six sigma effort. In some organizations, the effort is spearheaded by staff people from a “quality” group.

I think it is fine to use staff people to help with some of the administration, but the passion to drive for process perfection needs to be owned by the line organization actually running the process.

Supervisors need to assume the leadership role in support of the six sigma thrust. When Deming asks “Where are the leaders going to come from,” say “right here!”

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 21 – The Importance of Trust

April 8, 2017

In my seminars on trust, I always do an exercise that illustrates the pivotal importance of trust in any organization.

In this experiential exercise I split the group up into small discussion groups and give each group a different dimension to work on by answering the following question: for your dimension, can you contrast what it is like to try to accomplish it if you are working with a high trust group versus a low trust group?

I could think up dozens of dimensions to explore, but to keep the exercise bounded in terms of time, I use only nine dimensions with groups. Here is a list of the nine dimensions along with my comments on the contrast of trying to do them in a high versus low trust group.

1. Solving Problems

In organizations of high trust, problems are dealt with easily and efficiently. In low trust organizations, problems become huge obstacles as leaders work to unscramble the mess to find out who said what or who caused the problem to spiral out of control.

Often feelings are hurt or long term damage in relationships occurs. While problems exist in any environment, they take many times longer to resolve if there is low trust.

In addition, the creative ideas of people are more readily accessible to the group when people aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Sometimes a lack of trust can cause small problems to bloom into first class disasters.

A good example of this progression is the Challenger Disaster in 1986. The Rogers Commission (1987) found that NASA’s organizational culture and decision making process were key contributing factors of the accident. Technicians who were aware of a problem did not feel it was safe to bring it up due to low trust levels.

2. Focused Energy

People in organizations with high trust do not need to be defensive. They focus energy on accomplishing the Vision and Mission of the organization. Their energy is directed toward the customer and against the competition.

In low trust organizations, people are myopic and waste energy due to infighting and politics. Their focus is on internal squabbles and destructive turf battles.

Bad blood between people creates a litany of issues that distract supervision from the pursuit of excellence. Instead, they play referee to a bunch of adult workers who often act like children.

Trust leads to constancy of purpose as well as focus. In Managing People is Like Herding Cats (1999), Warren Bennis wrote: “A recent study showed people would rather follow individuals they can count on, even when they disagree with their viewpoint, than people they agree with but who shift positions frequently. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of constancy and focus.” (p.85)

3. Efficient Communication

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy.

In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy.

High trust organizations rely on solid, believable communication, while the atmosphere in low trust groups is usually one of damage control and minimizing employee unrest.

Since people’s reality is what they believe rather than what is objectively happening, the need for damage control in low trust groups is often a huge burden. Not only is verbal communication enhanced by trust, all forms of communication including e-mail, body language, and listening are improved by trust.

In A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven B. Sample (2002) discusses the concept of Artful Listening which enables a leader to “…see things through the eyes of his followers while at the same time seeing things from his own perspective” (p.22). He calls this skill “seeing double.” Sample stresses that Artful Listening is enabled by trust.

4. Retaining Customers

Workers in high trust organizations have a passion for their work that is obvious to customers. When trust is lacking, workers often display apathy toward the company that is transparent to customers.

Most of us have experienced this apathy while sitting in a restaurant where the service is poor. If there is a low trust environment, we feel an uncomfortable tension that discourages our future return to that establishment.

All it takes is the roll of eyes or some shoddy body language to send valuable customers looking for alternatives.

5. A “Real” Environment

People who work in high trust environments describe the atmosphere as being “real.” They are not playing games with one another in a futile attempt to outdo or embarrass the other person.

Rather, they are focused toward a common goal that permeates all activities. When something is real, people know it and respond positively.

When trust is high, people might not always like each other, but they have great respect for each other. That means, they work to support and reinforce the good deeds done by fellow workers rather than try to find sarcastic or belittling remarks to make about them.

The reduction of infighting creates hours of extra time spent achieving business results.

6. Saving Time and Reducing Costs

High trust organizations get things done more quickly because there are fewer distractions. There is no need to double check everything because people generally do things right.

In areas of low trust, there is a constant need to spin things to be acceptable and then to explain what the spin means. This takes time, which drives costs up.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey relates that when trust is low, organizations pay a kind of “tax.” This tax increases costs and reduces speed (Covey, 2006).

7. Perfection not Required

A culture of high trust relieves leaders from the need to be perfect. Where trust is high, people will understand the intent of a communication even if the words were phrased poorly.

In low trust groups, the leader must be perfect because people are poised to spring on every misstep or misstatement to prove the leader is not trustworthy. Without trust, speaking to groups of people is like walking on egg shells.

The irony is that leaders should be glad when people are vocal about apparent inconsistencies between actions and values. People will not do so unless the leader has created an environment of trust.

This phenomenon was described by Noel Tichy (1997) in The Cycle of Leadership as follows: “The truth is that the leader gets nailed to the wall for failing to live the values only if he or she has created an open and honest shop. More often, people simply become demoralized and ignore the values just as the leader does” (p. 43).

8. More Development and Growth

In low trust organizations, people stagnate because there is little emphasis placed on growth. All of the energy is spent jousting between individuals and groups.

High trust groups emphasize development, so there is a constant focus on personal and organizational growth, as described in Treat People Right (Edward Lawler, 2003).

 

9. Better Reinforcement

When trust is high, positive reinforcement works because it is sincere and well executed.

In low trust organizations, reinforcement is often considered phony, manipulative, or duplicitous, which lowers morale. Without trust, attempts to improve motivation through reinforcement programs often backfire.

The trick is to get people to want to do the right thing through reinforcement.

Ken Blanchard (2002) in Whale Done wrote “Instead of building dependency on others for a reward, you want people to do the right thing because they themselves enjoy it” (p. 56).

Once groups wrestle with these nine dimensions and contrast what it is like to operate as part of a high trust group versus a low trust one, they understand the immense impact that trust has on every aspect of how an organization operates.

Simply put, if you have high trust, all aspects of the organization work well, but with low trust, nothing works as expected.

Seek to build trust at every level all of the time. If trust becomes compromised for any reason, move swiftly to repair it (the subject of a future article).

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Leadership Essentials

August 8, 2016

Despite the thousands of articles and books about leadership, some myths remain that are very stubborn. One myth that bothers me is that really good leadership is remarkably difficult. Hogwash: really good leadership is simple.

Let’s examine a short list of the things that are not needed to be a great leader, and contrast them with another list of things that are essential.

Things not needed to be a great leader

1. You do not need to be brilliant. Sure, you do need a functioning brain and the ability to conceptualize options, but there are plenty of thinkers in every organization. The leader does not need to be super intelligent; in fact if you push it to the extreme, a leader with genius IQ will have a difficult time relating to people in the organization and end up grossly misunderstood.

2. You do not have to be perfect. Leaders who concentrate on doing everything correctly miss big opportunities because they have a low tolerance for risk. Making foolish blunders is not the mark of a great leader, but a person who has a good batting average and is willing to take calculated risks generally makes a better leader. The ability to make an honest mistake and admit it to people shows the leader is vulnerable, which is an endearing characteristic that builds trust in most circumstances.

3. You do not need to look the part. Having studied successful and struggling leaders in organizations of all types, I can tell you that the top echelon of leaders in most cases are indistinguishable from their underlings that have more “normal” physical appearance (whatever that means). Some of the best leaders I have ever met wear a polo shirt to work.

4. You do not need to be a workaholic. Successful leaders do work hard, but the best ones recognize that to be exceptional, they need to have balance in their lives. They take the time to refresh and enjoy an active family and social life. When I see a leader who is married to the job and thinks only about work related issues, I see a person who is near burnout and does not realize that a little rejuvenation would improve rather than diminish the overall performance.

Things you must have to be a great leader

1. You must have a set of positive values. Not only must a leader have values, but he or she must adhere to them at all times. When I see a set of values and ask the CEO if he always follows his values, I often hear weasel words like, “Well… we try to always follow our values, but sometimes it is very difficult to do so.” Rubbish! When things are most difficult is when following your values is most important.

2. You must have high Emotional Intelligence. According to Bradberry and Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the definition of EQ is, “Your ability to understand emotions, and your skill at being able to use that awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.” Leaders with low EQ have significant blind spots, as noted by Daniel Goleman; they cannot see their own inconsistencies.

3. You must have passion and humility. The rare combination of leadership traits was highlighted in Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The passion for the vision allows a leader to have the stamina and tenacity to pursue challenging work. The humility keeps the leader from being too aloof with people.

4. You must have great people skills. You need to be able to work well with people at all levels consistently over time. All of the people skills are important with special emphasis on communication skills.

Of course, we could name hundreds of other things that leaders either need or do not need to be great, but these eight factors are important things that I often see being confused by incumbent leaders. If you spend most of your energy pursuing the traits that are not needed and not enough emphasis on the essential traits, you are going to come up short as a leader.

Exercise for you

Try to expand on my lists of the things that are not needed and the things that are essential to be a great leader. It will clarify your thinking about what is important, which will lead to growth for you.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online,  Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust In Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

 


Trust and the Need to be Perfect

August 15, 2015

MistakeWhile writing my third book, I studied the personalities of numerous CEOs to determine their characteristics. I found an interesting trend that has an important lesson about trust.

The most highly successful leaders seemed to be having more fun while the leaders who were not doing well were really miserable.

I noticed that the top CEOs had created high trust organizations, and they were allowed to be human beings. They could make occasional mistakes and the people would still respect them.

The CEOs who were doing poorly were bundles of nerves trying to figure out how to be perfect, because there was low trust in their organizations.

If they did not spin every statement the right way, people would jump all over them. These CEOs of low trust groups were staying up all night trying to outsmart the workers, while their effective counterparts were sleeping soundly knowing the employees were truly on their side.

Leaders who know how to build high trust consistently enjoy a better life for themselves. That also translates into a more relaxed work environment for everyone, which further enhances the level of trust, and the cycle continues.

These leaders are allowed the luxury of being fallible human beings because their employees know they are sincere. Even if something occasionally comes out with the wrong slant, the employees will cut these leaders some slack.

In environments of low trust, employees are poised and waiting to pounce on any misstep or misstatement the leader might make.

Exercise for you: If you operate in an environment of low trust, observe today how stressed the leaders are. Notice the amount of energy they have to put into every communication simply because employees are skeptical to begin with.

Think about what it would look and feel like if the environment could be transformed into one of higher trust.

When a work environment has high trust, it is a better life for everyone. In that culture, the organization will thrive, even if there are some tough challenges.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Trust and Delegation

May 31, 2014

keysI work with MBA students every day, and most of them wish they were better at delegating. The problem is not confined to students; I have yet to meet a person who believes delegating is a bad thing to do.

Granted, it is possible overdo the technique and get into trouble, just as one can overdo any good thing, but for most of us, we would be far more effective if we did more delegation rather than less.

The reason for not delegating stems from each person’s desire to have things done well. We want things to be done the way we would do them, and are afraid that some other person will not live up to the standards we have for ourselves.

The excuse often given is “it is much easier to just do it myself than to try to get the other person to understand how I want it done and make sure he does it that way.” That thinking sounds like just being honest, but it is not a helpful way to think.

The fear is not just about getting the work done the “right” way. It is also a sociological fear that if we need to have the work redone, then we have made an enemy or at least have to do some coaching to calm the other person down.

The dread of having to deal with the consequences of a failed attempt and the rework involved is very real and makes us feel like the time is better spent just doing the job ourselves. That approach will also prevent the time pressure if there is an urgency to the task.

You cannot use the “Law of Leverage” to multiply your good influence in the world until you let go of the idea of perfection and grab onto the concept of “excellence by influence.”

By trusting other people to figure out the best way to do something and leaving them alone to do it “their way,” you unleash the power of creative thinking and initiative in other people. They will often surprise you by delivering work and solutions that are far better and arrive sooner than you would have expected.

To have subordinates perform as you wish, it is first important to ensure you have defined the desired outcome. Make sure they can recite the objective back to you before they go off to accomplish the task.

This is also a great time to verify they have the resources needed to accomplish the work. Many managers fail to provide the time, money, or other resources that will be needed to do the job and then become frustrated when an employee tries to improvise a suboptimal solution.

A typical problem is that we have a preconceived idea of what the ideal solution will resemble. When we see the result of the work done by a creative and turned-on individual, it just does not look like the solution we envisioned, so the “not invented here” syndrome takes over, and we send signals that the work is not good enough.

It is hard to admit that the solution we are presented with is, in many cases, a superior one. Here are some ideas that can help you lower this rejection reaction and be more accepting of the solutions others present.

1. Does it do the job?

In every task there are countless ways to achieve a result that actually does the job intended. When you see the work of another person, try to imagine that the solution you see is one of hundreds of alternatives, including the one you had in mind.

2. Did it help the other person grow? –

Our job as managers and leaders is not only to get everything done according to some standard. Our primary purpose is to help people grow into their powerful best, which means putting higher value on what the person is learning than on the particular solution to a specific task.

Even if the solution turns out to be flawed, it still is a success in terms of helping the person learn and grow.

3. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? –

We often get so intense about how things are being perceived by our own superiors that we lose sight of the bigger picture. By showing high trust and enabling more people to leverage their skills, you are going to be perceived very well, even if there is an occasional slip.

4. Who is the judge for which is the best solution? –

Clearly if you have a preconceived idea of what the solution looks like, you are not in a position to be objective. You are already biased in the direction of your vision.

5. What kind of culture do you want? –

To have an engaged group, you need to empower people by giving them tasks and trusting them to use their initiative and creativity to find their own solutions. If you want everything done “your way,” you will end up getting what most organizations typically do, which is roughly 30% of the discretionary effort that is available in the workforce.

6. What are you really risking? –

When you stop and think about it, the risks involved are really quite small. Even if something does not work out, it will be of little consequence in a week or two. The risk is even lower if people are becoming more engaged in the work and more skilled over time through trial and error.

7. What is the best for you? –

Realizing that you have a choice to micromanage or not and choosing to be an empowering rather than stifling manager lets you sleep a lot better at night. That is a huge advantage and well worth having to endure a serviceable solution that is not exactly what you had in mind.

The benefits of good delegation are well documented. Few people would vote for less delegation by any manager, so why not learn to set good objectives and trust people to come up with good solutions?

You will find it is not as hard as you imagine, and your overall performance will go up dramatically as you leverage resources better.