Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Leading and Learning"

I can vividly remember the moment I was promoted into Management (Salary) at Toyota (TMMK- Toyota Motor Manufacturing KY), when my Japanese trainer came up to me and shook my hand and asked - “Tracey san, do you realize the expectation as a leader?”  I had quickly considered this may be a trick question but with my experience on the production floor observing other leaders I answered, “Yes!”  He gazed back at me and said, “Please understand that now as a leader you must spent 50% of your time developing your people!”  I will have to admit I was a little perplexed as to how I was going to allot half my time to develop others; if this was the expectation then it was going to be a challenging task.  My mind began to race with thoughts like:

·        How would I make time for staff meetings?

·        How would I answer calls?

·        Take care of issues regarding Human Resources?

·        How would I keep up with evaluations or performance expectations?

·        Maintain my key performance indicators for my group?

·        Maintain budgets?

·        Keep up with my visual management system.   So on and so on!

Had I taken on more than I could handle?  These were my thoughts as I tried to imbibe everything as a new member of management with high expectations.  I think many leaders in various organizations have many similar responsibilities and often find themselves in that reactive (fire hose) mode of doing business.   Unfortunately, some companies promote based on how many fires are put out the quickest.  This management process is short-term gains at best and slowly eats at your culture/morale like a virus.  It also tends to tell the ones you are managing the wrong message and terrible habits are formed that we often label as “tribal knowledge”, or assumptions.   How do you remedy this?  This is a reality for many!  

I can remember when I took on the responsibility I felt the urgent need to always have the answers; if I didn’t, wouldn’t I come across as an inadequate leader? Isn’t the leader supposed to know everything? What would my people think if I didn’t?  How do you gain knowledge or experience and train others to do the same simultaneously? 

I remember my trainer calming me by saying, “it’s ok not to have all the answers or even have failures along the way”.  His biggest concern was that mistakes were learned from and they weren’t repeated.   He told me regardless of my level or role I was in for the organization, there was one thing that never stopped; that was “leading and learning”. No matter how much time a person invests in a role or gains experience there will always be a level of “leading and learning” that simultaneously happens  with any individual in a leadership role.  The key point he told me which I believe is the essence of how they do business- that is as a leader, “you must always study harder than your subordinates”!   As a current instructor in corporate America, I still find myself practicing this type of thinking.  As consultant do I always have the right answers?  As a consultant will I make a mistake?  Of course, but my goal is to study harder, learn, listen and engage others.  By doing this I’m practicing continuous improvement for myself so I can then share that new wisdom immediately!  For me this could happen week to week.  I could learn something from client A and share with client B the very next week.   I may develop a new “cheat-sheet” or handout that helps explain a theory by bringing it to life.  This is my constant challenge of “studying harder”.  As a leader we must constantly find ways to teach/lead by our actions.  Actions should be lead with a PDCA-mindset that supports our Business plan/True North.  With that as our guiding beacon and our willingness to engage it’s a recipe for a culture where people are your most important asset.  Hence the 50% rule! 

I think in the beginning start up phases at TMMK we were ALL leading and learning at the same time whether we realized it or not.   The Japanese were trying to teach us a new way to think in a different language, set up systems, lines and standards while newly promoted leaders were learning their role, yet at the same time teaching others, if you didn’t study harder then you may be passed by.   There was no room for complacency when the discipline is “everyday-everybody-engage people in problem solving”

When it was explained in this way, it took a little pressure off of me because I realized quickly that being present on the floor (at the gemba), involving, engaging, challenging my people pushed me to be better at asking the right questions and developing their thinking.  It was really a continuous improvement cycle as a person, and believe it or not the people start to mimic your actions as you mimic the actions of your leader.  This is how you “grow” your own leaders! 

I often tell folks that are trying to embed a Lean Culture in their organization that as a leader if you are “comfortable” in your role then you probably aren’t challenging yourself or others.  In all my different roles at Toyota they always challenged me, personally, to be better and I had to challenge others, my goal was to just be one step ahead at all times.   My leader was doing the same thing with me; this was cascaded downward throughout the organization from the President down as I’ve stated.  One thing to remember it was an expectation of our job not a choice.  This is where I feel there is such a disconnection with companies trying to embed lean; it comes across as this “add-on choice” not an expectation/discipline, or a way to do business.  When we try to label it and something special I truly believe it loses its importance.  In the late 80’s we didn’t call it anything we just lead by actions which supported the business.  Does that really need a label other than our job? Think about that! 

So my message to you if you are a leader out there and “work for” your people , you must do this at the gemba real time, asking questions and understanding current situation.  This mentality must be passed down to your leaders and the people below them.   My goal as a consultant/trainer is to always be uncomfortable in my role- that is to say challenge yourself to be better each day through self-development by engaging others in what they do.  This is the key to success not only for you as the leader and your people, but the organization as a whole which creates long-term sustainability and continuous improvement.  “Lead and Learn” give it a try!
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Friday, February 10, 2012

What are some the KEY "take-aways" from participants during my training sessions?

Hello folks,
The subject for this blog post is about key learning points that were "take aways" from my Key Concepts of Lean class at the LEI conference in Los Angeles, CA.  There were 25 participants which is 1 above capacity for this class and they shared their "ah Ha's" with me so I felt I would share them with you.
  I believe I have written about key learning's before in a previous blog post, so I felt it was time to revisit this type of post to share with my readers what other participants are learning from my sessions, either through LEI (lean.org) or my own business Teaching Lean Inc.   These key points help me become a better trainer by understanding what my customers want and need during their lean implementation journey as well as encouraging me to write subject matter here on my site.  I have linked some of the key learning's below to previous blog posts Ive created in the past on the subject if you would like to read more on the concept.  

The Key Concepts of Lean class is structured to give participants a variety of concepts around the entire aspect of Lean.   It's a "jammed-packed full of information" type of class that has exercises, discussions, PowerPoint, and a manufacturing simulation to bring many points "to life" as we learn them throughout each day in class.
It is a common practice during my sessions to share my stories from Toyota and my experiences as a team member, team leader, and first level management as a group leader during the 10 years I was there in Production Plastics department.   Those experiences are priceless to me and my ability to translate them in a 16 hour session is my goal!  I like to hear from my participants to get a "finger on the pulse" (grasping the situation) of what they are getting from class so at the end of each day so we do a key point exercise.  This helps me understand how to be a better translator of Lean.  Continuous Improvement right?! :)   So everyone shares their key learning or a "light bulb or Aha" moment from the day and I capture them on a flip chart so they can collectively visualize what the entire class learned. 

So I will summarize them from each day.

Day 1 Key Learning's:
Day 2 Key Learning's:
Lots of good stuff shared over these 2 days, I hope it is helpful to see what others are learning.  I call it "planting seeds" :)
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What do the 4P's have to do with Lean?

As I continue to share my thoughts on successful Lean Implementation across the U.S as a trainer, I often get a response that is common in various industries that aren't manufacturing related.    When I share my wisdom with folks within my sessions, its based on how I was taught at Toyota by the Japanese trainers and my 10 years experience on the production floor at in various roles.   So of course my learning is manufacturing based but it can be translated.    The response I get often  during a session is "Ah! this is great stuff, but I don't work in manufacturing so I don't think it will work for me unfortunately".   As a trainer is my responsibility to eliminate this question and translate the "thinking" to any organization.

If you think back when Taichii Ohno developed the Toyota Production System(TPS) it was basically a set of "tools" or "countermeasures" to help them be more effective, efficient and develop people.   I chuckle inside when I tell folks that not ALL the tools worked even within the walls of Toyota.   It's not the tool that is the important part really, its the "thinking" behind the tool that I try and translate.

What I have found there are several essential elements to Lean and how to translate it to any organization regardless of the product or service.   I call these the 4P's.   Similar to Jim Womack's 3P's but I'm adding one more.

So when people say to me, "this is just for manufacturing", I look at them and ask a few questions.

1.  Do you have a purpose to your organization?
2.  Do you have people in your organization?
3.  Do you have processes that create some type of output or service in your organization?
4.  Do you have problems within your organization?

So when they answer "YES" to all these questions above, I tell them they can implement the "thinking processes" to this thing we all call LEAN.  See sometimes the labeling of what we are doing often skews the thinking behind the tools and we tell ourselves "it wont work in our environment".  My thoughts are, "you can't think"?  What do you mean it wont work?   I begin to differentiate the tools from the process or thinking behind it.   Then the light bulbs often turn on.

Let's look at each one briefly!  You will have to come to my classes to dig deeper! :)

When I think about purpose, I think about True North.   What is True North?  For me its a guiding beacon that continues to give me direction as a company and leads the company to successful thinking that fosters good leadership.   An example that guided us at Toyota was - Customer First thinking, making the highest quality product, at the lowest cost, with the shortest lead time, in the safest manner, all while respecting people.  This cut across all our key performance indicators as a company and it was an evolutionary statement.   We never got there because if we did we raised the bar and improved.   Purpose to me is why you are doing business!

When I think about people I think about the most important asset in your organization!  It goes on to say in the Toyota Way Values book that they (your people) can determine the rise and fall of your business.   If we don't invest in our people then we are missing out on the extraordinary brainpower they have to make a difference.  It is our job as leaders to develop their thinking everyday at the gemba by asking the right questions.  People are the heart and soul of lean thinking and without their buy-in, engagement, involvement, and understanding of how it ties to purpose and alignment of their work; then it will be short term gains at best.   As we all know the infamous "flavor of the month" sets in.  I remember when I was promoted into management at Toyota my trainer said to me, "Tracey san, do you realize that 50% of your job now is to develop your people"!  I'm here to tell you this is KEY!

Do you realize as human beings that our lives our centered around processes or routines?  When you get down to it everything we do has some type of process to it.  We are creatures of habit.  Just to get to my blog there was a process for you to follow.  To get up everyday and get ready for work you have a process.   If there is an output created then there is a process involved.   It is our role as a leader to document these processes and standardize them so your people understand the expectations.   As Taichii Ohno says, "without a standard there can be no kaizen!".   So standards are just the processes we do.   I agree we may not have the same way to do them, but as a leader you must create the best known method in order to gain consensus and buy-in (as discussed above).  Then if there is a better way we improve.   You do not have to manufacture anything to have processes.   I can value stream for you going to the grocery store and all the waste involved. :).   Please understand that with a solid purpose, engaged people, and documented processes sets up beautifully to recognize the abnormality; which takes us to the last P.

When we have the ability to recognize abnormality at a glance we are light years ahead of most organizations.   I often ask the question:  How do you know you have a problem?  I often hear, "well it happens a lot".   I can remember once saying that to my Japanese trainer.   He replied, "Oh, a lot I do not understand, please explain".   This was his way of saying please do NOT make assumptions if you don't have the facts.  What is a lot?   If we don't have documented standards where we can see abnormality the it leaves us to guess guessing leads to symptom fighting.  It also tends to remove the ability to hold our people accountable for their actions.   Once the abnormality is discovered then we apply PDCA (plan do check act) thinking in the form of the 8 step problem solving process to eliminate the gaps.  To me, problem solving is the glue that makes it all stick together!  Without the 4P's you probably have a fire hose on your back.  Just a guess! :)

So if you have any doubts that lean is just a manufacturing based methodology, then I would like to challenge you to think differently about the thinking behind lean and that it can be translated into ANY organization.  I promise!  
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson