Are You A Know-It-All?

Somewhere back in grade school, each of us became conditioned that we should always know the right answer.   We were tested on our knowledge of the facts, and how well we could regurgitate them.  15X15 always equaled 225, and the symbol for water was always H2O (I think).  Those of us with excessive drive who were destined to become future leaders learned a lesson: we were rewarded for knowing the “right answer.”

Fast forward.  You have now been in the workforce for 20+ years.  You have an important title and lead a lot of employees.   Do you still think you have to know all the answers?   Think again.  The world you move in today is not a fact-based place… it is an arena of gray, where decisions are based on a combination of the best available info, plus a healthy dose of judgment.

If you are still acting like you have to know all the answers, here’s what you are telling your team:
> None of you are as smart as me.  I know more than all of you.  You could never do my job because I know everything…  Yes, I have all the answers.
> Don’t try too hard because I’m just going to shoot you down if you come up with an opinion I don’t agree with…  Because I have all the answers.
> If there’s a really difficult problem at hand, I will always be your fallback so don’t worry too much about it yourself.   Don’t stretch yourself to find new and different solutions… Because I have all the answers.

This is a silly game that your team doesn’t really believe anyway.   Why don’t you ask them to solve some really difficult problems, and then hold them accountable for the results?  This will polarize your team: the stars will embrace this accountability and rise to the top, while your lower-performing leaders will also become more obvious.

Bottom line: everyone knows you don’t have all the answers, so stop acting like it.  Let your team get in the game and you’ll optimize results while developing your people.

PE Skills for Leaders (Pt 2)

Part two of my thoughts on critical PE skills a leader must have to be effective.  Realize that I’m staying at “100,000 feet” here and that each of these can be dissected into great detail.  To be an effective process owner, here are additional skills I believe you need to develop:

Use a systematic approach to attack improvement opportunities:
> Make sure we are solving the right problem
> If the problem was important enough to fix it is important enough to ensure it stays fixed
> Focus on prevention vs. fixing

Execute well:
> Clearly identify a single owner for each process, and task them to measure & improve that process
> Allocate full-time dedicated improvement resources to avoid day job, night job resource drain
> Have a clear method to actively manage the portfolio of improvement projects being run in your organization.

Continually Improve!
> Know how to get to true root cause before taking corrective action.  (Example: use techniques like “The 5 Whys”)
> Use tools to anticipate the likely failure modes before they happen.  Don’t wait for the failures to occur before you put preventative measures in place. Establish contingency plans!
> Look for ways to error-proof your processes to avoid inadvertent mistakes.  Make it easy for your team to do stuff the right way, and hard for them to do it the wrong way.

Coming up next: Mindset

PE Skills for Leaders (Pt 1)

Last post about Process Excellence (PE) mentioned that processes can usually be expressed by the formula:

Y=f(x1, x2, x3…)

where Y is a discrete output & the x’s represent the major (critical few) inputs & process steps. With this in mind, here are some key skills & I look for & teach my leaders:

Be Clear on the Output:
> Consistently identify & communicate the correct “Y” (the output).
> Transfer customer needs into measurable, actionable targets (“customer specs” in PE lingo).
> You must also be clear on how you measure your outputs
> And finally be clear on the specific target for that measurement.

Understand Process:
> Apply “input->process->output” logic to all situations
> Be clear on which input+process combinations drive which specific outputs (understand cause & effect). This allows you to focus your improvement efforts on the right levers.
> Apply the whole “Y=f(x)” thing situationally. For example a specific project-level “x” probably has a statistical/linear relationship to a given “Y”. But as you move away from data-rich situations, this becomes less of a math equation and more of a judgment call.
> Map entire processes end to end, from the customer back to you.

Use Baseline Measures, & Think Statistically:
> Establish visible measures of key Input->Process->Output variables, and utilize this data to run your function. Again, don’t measure everything, just the important stuff.
> Display performance data for the process over time, compared against customer specs, wherever possible
> Take appropriate action based on data… Figure out if specific outlier data points are signals v. noise
> Do not be content to just manage your metrics by the averages…know that variation matters…push to understand and reduce the variation in your process

Are you clear on the outputs & targets for your processes?  Do you understand relationship between the inputs, process steps, & outputs for the processes you own?  Are you using data to understand how your process is performing?

More “PE skills for leaders” coming in part 2…

Leading with Process Excellence

I think that any organization hoping to grow rapidly must develop its ability to lead with process excellence (PE). These concepts when applied properly can create organizations with fantastic operational rigor & relentless improvement.

There are some stone-simple concepts that underlie all PE tools, approaches, etc. These ideas can be applied very literally in a data-rich environment… but can also be applied conceptually in situations where there isn’t a rich amount of measureable data.

1. “Process” = a series of repeatable, sustainable steps that consistently produce a desired outcome.
2. Everything is a process (Well, almost everything).
3. Process can usually be expressed by the formula Y=f(x1, x2, x3…), where Y is a discrete output & the x’s represent the major (critical few) inputs & process steps.
4. Every process should have a single owner: the person who has authority to approve improvements to the process.

Which leads me to my next point. To be an effective process owner, you need to develop some specific skills… I will chunk these up into a few blog entries, coming soon.