Mindset for Leaders

(Warning: I will camp on this topic because of its importance!)

I want to suggest that the most critical input leaders have is our own mindset.  Recently I asked a group of emerging leaders what they thought mindset was.  Their answers: “attitude, beliefs, values, viewpoints, inclination, disposition, habits.” That’s a pretty good definition.

I will suggest that your mindset will pre-determine your response to & interpretation of every situation.  Only you can decide what mindset you should have… But I’ll share with you the mindset aspirations that I’ve developed over time based on observation of other successful leaders:

> Believe you have significant impact on your success… don’t be a victim
> Go for “gold” results… don’t settle for bronze or silver
> Help the bigger team win… not just your own area
> Have confidence… get comfortable being vulnerable to the unknown
> Relish learning, don’t fear it… that’s how we get better
> Never get set in your ways or “hard-wired”… must remain open to growth
> Have courage to make qualitative judgment calls – you’re never going to have perfect info!

More to come on mindset…


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.

Improve your Say:Do ratio

Do you need to improve your say/do ratio?  Initially you might think you can only work on the denominator to raise your average, but actually you should work on improving both your ‘say’ and your ‘do’…

How to improve your “SAY”:
> Write the plan down, share the plan.
> When you change the plan, tell your team about it, and explain why!!

How to improve your “DO”:
> Consider whether you are focused on the critical few or whether you are trying to boil the ocean.
> Re-evaluate your overall leadership process.  Yes, leadership is a process – meaning that you can practice it in a consistent, repeatable, sustainable fashion.  More to come on that.

The application is the same in both business and personal:
> Identify your key stakeholders… Who are the people that you regularly make commitments to… your team members?  Your family?  Your friends?  Yourself?
> Explain the concept of say/do ratio to these stakeholders and ask them to help you get better… By making your goal public, you will hold yourself to a higher standard & you will be inviting others to do the same for you!

What is your “Say:Do” ratio?

In a previous entry I underscored the importance of putting your plan in writing and clearly communicating it to the team. Here’s another important step to effectively engage employees: you need to actually do what you said you’d do. Let me introduce a conceptual “metric” that helps me think about this… it is called the “Say/Do Ratio” and is derived as follows:


The goal, of course, is to have a say/do ratio of 100%. Don’t bother trying to track hard data and come up with a precise calculation for yourself… instead you should simply evaluate every decision you make in light of a 100% goal for say/do.

Coming next: How to improve your Say:Do ratio.

Are you boiling the ocean?

When I first started leading teams, I would ask them to work on dozens of different priorities at the same time… And guess what: they didn’t know which priority was really a priority!  This is because we weren’t focused on the critical few… Instead, we were trying to “boil the ocean.” Eventually I learned that “if everything’s important… then nothing is important.”

The problems with trying to boil the ocean are endless, but to name a few: 1) It is impossible… and therefore leads to a sense of futility & frustration… 2) You will sub-optimize execution due to insufficient resources being applied to each activity… 3) You & your team will continually be distracted and interrupt-driven.

On the other hand, if you can successfully apply “critical few thinking” you & your team will optimize the allocation of resources to the most important ‘stuff’… and therefore you will dramatically increase your odds of successful execution.  As you start to put wins on the board, you will increase your team’s confidence and your own confidence as a leader.

…So What Should You Do?
Identify the critical few for your area… If you’re not sure, ask the people closest to the work.  They know & will be glad to tell you.  Next, you should explicitly de-focus on the trivial many.  Please apply wisely! I am not suggesting complete abandonment, but perhaps a downshift of resources is appropriate.  Or maybe there are some projects that can be deferred?   Stop trying to boil the ocean.

Also: if you feel like you never have enough time in your personal life, you might be boiling the ocean.  Is there anything you can de-focus to make room for your “personal critical few…?”  As above, be thoughtful, don’t make rash decisions… but this stuff is important to figure out so you can have a successful personal life too.

Good luck from a former ocean-boiler!