Do you kaizen?

Kaizen: A new religion? Speed dating?  An extreme sport? No. Kaizen is a Japanese word that means ‘continuous, incremental improvement’. It’s about doing lots of things just that little bit better. This is smart, because it’s a lot cheaper, easier and faster (and still very effective) to do 100 things one per cent better than one thing 100 per cent better.

Here are four ways you can kaizen:

  • Regularly review your performance. Whenever you do something, especially something you do a lot or something that’s important to do well, get in the habit of reviewing what you’ve done and how you’ve done it to see what you can learn from it. Whether you’ve done it well, poorly or in between, think it through. What exactly did you do? What were the results – How well did it work? What can you conclude from that? How can you use that information to do it even better the next time?
  • Take responsibility for making the changes in yourself or your surroundings that will help you do things better, cheaper, faster or smarter, or more easily, reliably or safely.
  • Watch how others do things to see what you can learn or adapt from them.
  • Think creatively and innovatively.  There is probably a better way and a different way to get the same result or a better result. But you need to search for it.

Here are some great questions to ask to help you kaizen:

  • How can I do this BETTER?
  • How can I do this EASIER?
  • How can I do this FASTER?
  • How can I do this MORE ECONOMICALLY?
  • How can I do this MORE SUSTAINABLY?
  • How can I do this MORE SAFELY?
  • How can I do this MORE RELIABLY?
  • HOW ELSE can I do this?

Give people ‘the finger’

We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.

Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.

Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.

And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.

On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.

And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.

Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.

And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.

The gender pay gap that doesn’t go away

For every dollar Australian men earn, Australian women earn a whopping 83 cents – more than 20 per cent less than men. Why is that? Gee, could it be because men mostly set the salaries, do you think? And because it’s been that way for so long, it seems normal? Hmmm.
Of course, there is still extensive occupational segregation, with women clustered in lower-paid ‘women’s work’ jobs but that ‘reason’ doesn’t hold water. When we stack ‘women’s work’ up against ‘men’s work’ that requires similar education, experience, knowledge etc. etc. levels, the pay gap remains. We’re just paying women less than men for doing equivalent work.
Here’s a short (under 3 minutes) and very cute video that shows how capuchin monkeys feel about inequality of rewards for equal work. You will probably laugh out loud, so take care where and when you watch it!
Have you watched it? Good. Hands up if you would feel like rattling your cage if the person in the next cubicle earned more for doing the exact same or an equivalent job as you. Is that why a lot of organisations aren’t transparent about salaries and instruct staff not to discuss what they earn? Hmmm.
But it would pay Australian organisations, as well as the Australian economy, to divy up.
Business Insider examined the gender pay gap in relation to productivity over a 27-year period and found that the effect is negative; unequal pay, lower productivity. Organisations may save a bit of money but they lose more in terms of productivity. Halving the gender pay gap could increase productivity by 3% and eliminating the gap altogether would increase productivity by 5.7%.
It’s a no-brainer, really. When you pay fairly, it’s easier to attract and retain the people you need.
The arguments for social justice and pay equality have failed over nearly five decades. Maybe the argument for productivity and greater profits will do the trick.

THE LITTLE VOICE INSIDE

Have you ever noticed how life keeps giving you little ‘reminders’ until you’ve learned the lesson?

The other day, I was polishing my toenails and managed to spill nail polish on my carpet. And what colour was it? Bright red of course. And was the bottle full bottle or nearly empty? Naturally, it was full, full, full because it was brand new. So in a flash, the carpet soaked up an impressive amount. Ah yes.

And just before it happened, a little voice inside my head said ‘Careful, Kris, you could spill that. Better put your feet and the bottle of polish on a magazine or put the polish on the table.’ But did I? No, Instead, I told my little voice that I’d be careful and it would be okay. And the little voice replied to the effect, ‘Oh, dear, when are you going to learn to listen to me?’ I then proceeded to knock the full bottle of bright red nail polish over.

We’ve all got little voices inside our heads and the more we listen to them, the more accurate they become and the better off we are. Sometimes, of course, that little voice is just a sudden ‘knowing’ or a feeling, or it might be a thought or an idea that just pops into your head. Or it might speak to you in a dream. But however it arrives, your inner voice is usually worth listening to because it has access to information that you know but don’t know you know. (If you know what I mean.)

So how do you go about first of all hearing, and then listening to, that little voice? You can’t even begin to hear it if you’re always on the go, never stopping, never resting. You need stillness, both physically and, equally important, mentally, which means turning off your internal chatter so the real message can come through.

Archimedes inner voice spoke to him while he was vegging out in the bath, wondering how to determine the volume of an object with an irregular shape. The answer suddenly came to him, to which he replied ‘Eureka!’. He was so excited that he ran through town having forgotten to put his clothes on. Newton’s inner voice came as an apple landing on his head as he dozed under an apple tree, explaining that gravity works the same way on little objects like apples as it does on big objects, like planets.

So give your inner voice a chance by taking a little mental and physical rest. Your voice inside may whisper at first, but the more you tune into it, the clearer it becomes. Just remember to put your clothes on.

Tips for all leaders

We’ve been looking at some ideas to keep you afloat while you find your feet if you’re a new leader. I thought we’d look at tips for all leader-managers in this post. Since a huge part of your job no doubt entails communication, the tips are in the form of eight positive principles for cooperative communication. And here they are.

  1. Soften the ‘you’s’ or turn them into ‘I’s’ to avoid sounding pushy and dictatorial. So instead of saying ‘You’ll have to …’ say ‘Could you …’ or ‘Would you be able to …’ or ‘What I need is …’.
  2. Turn your cant’s into cans. Instead of ‘We can’t do that until next week’ say ‘We’ll be able to do that next week’.
  3. Take responsibility. It’s tempting to push blame onto someone else or to an unfortunate turn of events or an unexpected situation. But we’re not kids anymore, are we? When something goes wrong, saying ‘Here’s what I can do to fix that’ is much better.
  4. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Rather than ‘Don’t race through this and make mistakes’ try ‘Think this through – take it one step at a time.’
  5. Offer improvement suggestions. When you’re tempted to say ‘That was OK but …’ or ‘That works except …’ try ‘If you do X, that will make it perfect!’
  6. Turn complaints into requests. ‘You never …’ becomes ‘How about…?’
  7. Share information. Rather than argue or accuse, you can offer your point of view and explain how you see a situation.
  8. Leave doors open. That way, a flat out ‘No’ can become a ‘Yes, as soon as …’.

These principles not only strengthen your working relationships, they also make you a great role model for your team and set the tone for a positive working climate.

Tips for new leaders Part II

Now that you’re no longer ‘one of the gang’, you may want to make a few verbal contracts with your former workmates to identify potential problems and how to avoid them. The goal is to agree ground rules for working together. Lead the conversation to cement your new relationship. If a team member/friend asks for special treatment, consider whether you’d provide it to other team members. When the answer is No, the answer is No. You will face difficult decisions and doing what is needed sometimes makes you unpopular.

Find a mentor to talk through difficulties with. Build support networks and ask for help when you need it (and offering plenty of help in return). Learn to work well with your new boss and agree your measures of success so you can spend your time working to priorities. That means you may not always be available to your team and sometimes you need to say ‘Sorry, I don’t have five minutes now. Can we catch up at 4 o’clock?’.

Maintain a ‘tidy’ workplace, one that operates safely at all times and respects people as individuals, for the contributions they make and for what makes them special. Not everyone has to love everyone but each team member should understand what the others do, value their contributions and treat each other with professional respect and common courtesy.

Make time to step back and reflect on how you’re going. Do this every day, perhaps as you sit on the train or have your morning cuppa. What are you doing that’s working well? What isn’t working so well? What can you do better? Should the ‘imposter syndrome’ strike, remember that you got the job because you deserve it.

Robert Frost wrote: Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on’. The same might be said of leadership. Build your own leadership model and add to it as you grow into the role and develop your skills in your own way. Adapt effective behaviours of other leaders but don’t copy them because it won’t look authentic; something that is perfectly natural for one leader can easily look fake and forced when copied by another leader. Your actions need to be true to yourself and in harmony with your own personal style.

Here are some concepts to apply in your own unique way:

  • Build employee engagement and motivation to drive productivity and customer loyalty.
  • Build pride in good performance and achievements.
  • Build a solid risk awareness and safety culture.
  • Lead by conversation, not dictation.
  • Make clear and role model the behaviours and attitudes you expect from your team.
  • Show that you appreciate people’s efforts.
  • Show that you expect members to learn and share what they’ve learned.

Leadership begins inside, with your mindsets and world views. More than anything, you need to think like a leader.

Leadership is a lifelong journey. So hang in there and you’ll catch on!

Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.