Category Archives: Continuous Improvement

Your Business “R” Factor II: Words from the Wise

As noted in our previous post, it is becoming increasingly evident that now, more than ever, relationships, and the quality of relationships in the workplace, do matter.

For example, Mike Morrison, VP and Dean of Toyota University in a recent interview went so far as to boldly say, “My message to leaders is actually quite simple:  It’s the relationship…. stupid!” 

He went on to suggest that human capital is useless without relationships—particularly in our fast-paced, global economy—and that leaders can be best measured by their ability to create social capital or the sum total of all their relationships.

“It is through this network of relationships that their work is conducted,” Morrison stated.

“As leaders, we need to be relentless relationship-builders and be 100 times more deliberate about relating to people. Work is much more relational than it was twenty years ago… today we get work done through others. In today’s world we achieve results primarily through relationships.”

Morrison concluded that relationships are truly the most effective pathway to the highest levels of commitment, creativity, and performance within organizations. The reason is that positive relationships have a transformational impact on the individual. They draw out the best in each of us.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker has also commented on the need to focus on workplace relationships.

“Increasingly, command and control is being replaced by or intermixed with all kinds of relationships,” he said.

“Alliances, joint ventures, minority participations, partnerships, know-how, and marketing agreements… these are all relationships in which no one controls and no one commands. These relationships have to be based on a common understanding of objectives, policies, and strategies; on teamwork; and on persuasion—or they don’t work at all.”

Your Business “R” Factor?

rfactorHow would you describe the relationships that exist within your organization’s

Hopefully words like trusting, respectful, team-oriented and cooperative are among the first that come to mind because,  the quality of those professional relationships has a greater impact on the bottom line than you might expect.
Somehow along the evolutionary path of business and commerce, it appears some of us have become increasingly enamored with the efficiency that a mechanistic and impersonal focus could bring us, and have concentrated on using the “hands” of employees at the neglect of employing their hearts and minds.

But for many the pendulum is swinging back, as more and more people are finding that the old attitude about separating business from personal issues no longer
serves us well.

In fact, there is increasing belief that becoming personal in the workplace might actually work to the advantage of organizations; and topics such as trust, interpersonal relationships, engagement, coaching, mentoring, and values-based leadership are becoming extremely popular in an increasing number of businesses.

We’ll take a closer look at this subject over the next few posts, sharing examples and the results of various studies that indicate the “R” factor is a big factor in our pursuit of continuous improvement and long-term success.

10 Benefits of Visual Management

As a final thought on visual management (see previous article), whether using it as a management tool or an action aid, it has been effective in improving results in organizations of all types and sizes.

Here’s a “top 10” list of benefits:

  1. Faster response time
  2. Fewer mistakes in production, materials management or maintenance
  3. Fewer errors in office operations
  4. Increased safety
  5. Reduced number of OSHA-reportable accidents
  6. Speed of execution and higher productivity/throughput
  7. Fewer errors in production, materials management, maintenance, and office operations
  8. Faster process analysis and improvements
  9. Reduced inventory and fewer stock-outs
  10. Better team-work and more engaged employees

Possibly you have some examples of how visual management has benefited your organization?

Visual Management: Management Aids

Continuing with the theme of our previous post, visual management also helps teams of people manage their own processes in real-time by making performance information more visible.

When the process is going according to the standard, everyone knows to stay-the-course.

But the visual management system also quickly communicates when there is a variation to the standard, such as defects, mistakes or an excessive backlog. The work team sees the results, owns the results, and knows how to adjust accordingly.

It is in this fashion that visual management facilitates tremendous improvements in human performance. It reduces human error by over 80% while increasing throughput; and since people can see what must be done themselves, they can act without a supervisor’s involvement, speeding action and freeing up supervisory time to work on improving the system.

Here are a few examples of visual management from a managerial-aid perspective:

  • One organization uses color coded letters that instantly show people how the group is doing on important metrics. A poster with a large letter ‘P’ is colored green, yellow, or red each day of the month, depending on how production volume met the standard. Similarly, a letter ‘Q’ is used to communicate how well the team is meeting the quality standard
  • Visibility to the number of calls waiting helps a call center moderate talk time to reduce the number of abandoned calls.
  • Several organizations use stop lights — red, yellow, or green — to indicate whether the performance is on target, merits caution, or needs urgent attention.

Read the full article…

Visual Management: Action Aids

Continuing with the theme of “Visual Management” from our previous post, a widely-used and very effective form of visual management involves “Action Aids,” which quickly show status at a glance. In other words, they communicate the right action at the right time.

Action aids are very powerful for reducing errors or defects. The power of each of these visual management tools is that the person who needs to take action can see instantly exactly what action to take. The information is in the right place at the right time. No direct supervisory instructions are required.

Some examples:

  • One company uses color-coded grease (color of the grease container must match the color painted onto the machine) to make sure that only the correct grease is used on a machine. This greatly reduces the chance of an expensive maintenance error.
  • A grocery store improved compliance with the placement of aisle displays by using premeasured floor markings at the right places. Previously, store personnel had to measure every time they set up a new aisle display to ensure it was placed with proper clearance.
  • A nuclear power plant reduced by 83% the time required to push the 48 non-sequential buttons in the sequence required in emergency situations to shut down the reactor by color coding the buttons to flag the sequence.
  • Shadow boards are used by nearly everyone. Shadow boards, a common ‘5-S’ tool, have outlines that indicate exactly what must be on the board and where it must be. Shadow boards have drastically reduced the frequency with which items are missing as well as the time that is consumed looking for the item.
  • The office equivalent of shadow boards is also in use. ‘Conditional formatting’ is used on forms so that if key data is missing it stands out with a highlighted ‘fill.’ When the field is completed, the highlighting disappears. Everyone knows not to hand in a form with any spaces still highlighted.
  • A manufacturer reduced safety incidents by using neon colored gloves and changing the colors at regular intervals.
  • A company uses wall markings to ensure pallets are not stacked over a safe height.
  • Color coded tags on products make it easy to identify which are passed expiration date and should be picked up for returns.

When Words are Not Enough… Visual Management

Sometimes words are, in fact, not enough!

In business environments, the solution often involves the use of Visual Management, which is a powerful communication tool that lets people know quickly and effectively exactly the right thing to do in each situation by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

Because Visual Management highlights the critical information in ways that can’t be ignored, it enables a person to assess the status of the situation at a glance. Consequently, people can get far more done, more quickly, with fewer errors and without the need of additional instruction.

This can be significant — faster response time, fewer mistakes, increased safety, higher productivity!

There are two primary types of visual management, each saving organizations countless amounts of time and money:

  1. Tools that indicate quickly and reliably what actions to take and not to take in order to maintain process control
  2. Teamwork tools that communicate how a process is performing compared to an agreed upon standard or goal, so the people doing the work easily spot and implement the needed adjustments or improvements

We will take a closer look at each form of visual management in upcoming posts, and welcome any examples you might like to share.


Continuous Improvement & Trust: Cut Costs in Half?

Revisiting the theme of trust from earlier posts, one speaking to the fact that trust is driving factor of continuous improvement, and another sharing how different people might define the concept of trust in this context, we came across a thought-provoking article about how we might go about developing trust within our organization.

The article suggests that everything takes longer when you don’t trust those around you, and references work done by Professor John Whitney at Columbia Business School that indicates “mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”

The 5 steps to building trust are presented as follows:

  1. Transparency – tell people what’s going on. Insecurity inspires protective barriers
  2. Relationship – tell people where they stand
  3. Understanding – communicate with context
  4. Shared success – demonstrate how we win together
  5. Tell the truth at all times – hard truths are the most important; don’t make situations look better than they are

Read the full article

Taking A Closer Look at Employee Opinion Surveys

In an earlier post, it was noted that gathering critical knowledge about what our employees and customers really think and feel about our organization and the way we do things can help us identify the true status-quo as well as the best areas on which to focus our improvement efforts. Along with customer satisfaction surveys, 360°Leadership Development Surveys and Employee Opinion Surveys were listed as effective tools.

Taking a closer look at Employee Opinion Surveys, there are a few additional thoughts and best-practices that can make a big difference in outcome.

For example, a number of organizations we’ve spoken with suggest that a once-per-year employee survey is not as effective as more frequent, more concise surveys. The contention is that the annual surveys are, by design, comprehensive and lengthy; by significantly reducing the number of questions and increasing the frequency (possibly from annual to quarterly or, as some suggested, monthly), leaders can focus-in on specific areas or opportunities for improvement and more easily measure and communicate results.

Many people also said the shorter surveys promote more participation among employees.

A recent article lists a number of additional best practices that can help us increase the effectiveness of employee surveys, which include:

  • Express the intention of each survey—employees can often be suspicious of surveys
  • Ensure anonymity—employees can often fear reprisals
  • Communicate honestly—especially as to improvements initiated as a result of the survey


Unleashing Innovation & Creativity

A recent article shares some great insight from Disney about innovation, and about a belief that is aligned with points made in several of our posts: innovation is the product of intentional leadership.

The article notes that innovation requires “a deliberate, intentional, and ongoing focus on the part of leadership to create an organizational culture where creativity can flourish on a daily basis, at every level, and within every function.”

“The way we face these challenges is to ensure that creativity and innovation are not just “the CEO’s thing,” says Jeff James, Vice President and General Manager of Disney Institute. “In our case, Bob Iger has said that our company’s strategic platform is based on three pillars: creativity, globalization, and technology. Since we believe that everyone is inherently creative, the role of the leader is to develop the environment in which that creativity is unleashed.”

Leading Innovation & Continuous Improvement

As most people agree, organizations that continually change, improve and innovate are more likely to successfully meet the challenges of an ever-changing competitive environment. Further, those organizations that can successfully develop a culture of innovation and continuous improvement are more likely to achieve success in less time.

In addition, to both develop and sustain this culture, 
leaders at all levels must understand the principles, concepts, methodology and tools of continuous improvement as well as their roles in providing the necessary support to:

  • Drive improvement efforts
  • Unleash the organization’s creative talent

Leadership’s primary goal is to build individual and collective enthusiasm and understanding that encourages people to question the status-quo, comfortably share new or innovative ideas without fear of reprisal, apply their knowledge to continually study, change, improve and innovate their work.