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?
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Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.

How to be a peak performer

When I was heavily into designing and leading management training programs for lots of organisations around Australia and New Zealand, I got to know thousands of managers. It became pretty clear that the star performers all shared similar attitudes and mindsets towards their jobs and life in general. And I developed a theory about the ways their minds worked.

I took my theory to a cross section of these organisations who agreed to identify their peak performers objectively, based on their results, and I interviewed them individually and in small groups to pick their brains about how they thought. The goal was to train other managers to think and behave like the peak performers so that they, too, could become ‘stars’.

As expected, we found that the peak performers all shared remarkably similar ways of looking at the world. Here are the highlights, in no particular order because they’re all inter-linked.

  • Peak performers have high standards and expect the best for themselves, from themselves and from those around them. That attitude reminds me of a sign that hung in every classroom of my high school: Mediocrity is a choice — so is excellence. Peak performers opt for excellence and don’t settle for second best. Why should they?
  • Those high standards mean they set challenging goals and keep moving towards them.
  • Their high standards also mean that they constantly strive to improve themselves, the way they work and the results they’re getting. Peak performers are always looking for different and better ways. One way they do that is by reviewing the day’s events and selecting one to pick apart — what went well, what could have gone better, how can I do even better next time? Then, when they come across a similar situation, they can put their improvement plan into practice. (Find out more about that here.)
  • This leads to another characteristic of peak performers: they take responsibility. They work out what they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They don’t sit back and wait for the magic to happen; they get out there and do something in a proactive way. And when things don’t go as well as they’d hoped, they don’t blame circumstances, the economy, the weather, other people or anything else. They take a look at what happened and figure out what they can do to make things better.
  • Peak performers deal with mistakes differently than ‘also-rans’, too. When peak performers make a mistake, they don’t deny they’ve made a mistake, bury it, blame someone else or make excuses. Nothing changes when you do that. Peak performers see the mistake as a practice shot, move on and try something different. Soichera Honda famously said that success is 99% failure, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes a good point.
  • Peak performers focus their efforts where they’ll count. No one can fix the weather or the economy but when an El Ninio is predicted, peak performing farmers might plant crops that don’t need as much water, put in a more efficient watering system or build a grey water irrigation facility. When the economy goes south, peak performing sales people might figure out ways to sell more to existing customers, pick up new customers or help develop new and improved offerings.
  • Linked with that is focusing not on their difficulties and the obstacles in their path but on what they can do to circumvent them jump over them or work their way through them. They can do this because they keep their eyes on the goal, not what’s getting in their way.
  • Finally, peak performers communicate and work effectively with others. The world of work is changing dramatically and important as this ability has always been, it is becoming ever-more important as work is becoming increasingly team-based and temporary. This means managers (and team members) need to be able to work well with a wide range of people in different situations and work out quickly what specifically they need to do in order to add value.

How many of those mindsets do you share? What about your team members? What can you do to help them adopt those ways of thinking and acting so that you have an entire team of peak performers?

What is your ideal working style?

Last week, we considered the plight of the humble bee. Bee colonies are dying out worldwide due to overwork, putting our food supplies in jeopardy since we depend on bees to pollinate so many of our food crops. Future food supplies aside, working too hard doesn’t do people much good, either.

At a lecture at the University of South Australia, Professor Ellen Kossoki from Michigan State University’s School of Law and Industrial Relations shed some light, based on her research, on how we can prevent our bodies and our productivity from collapsing from overwork. There are three physical and psychological ways we can manage the boundaries between work and family, pay most attention to what we most value, and our relationships. She calls them integrator, separator and volleyer.

But first, three questions. On a scale of one to five:

  • Do you attend to personal and family issues at work often, rarely or somewhere in between?
  • How often do you think about work at home?
  • Do you take work home by, for example, making work-related phone calls or attending to emails during the evenings, weekends and holidays?

Integrators mix their work and personal lives. Separators isolate work and personal tasks and commitments. Volleyers switch back and forth between integrating and separating; for example, they’re separators when travelling and integrators when at home. Academics, tax accountants and others whose work is cyclical are often volleyers.

To work optimally and achieve satisfaction, you need to work in the way that makes you most comfortable. Separators, for instance, need to guard against allowing technology to force them to integrate work and personal time.

Professor Kossoki also suggests keeping a time log tallying the time you spend on yourself, resting, working, exercising and so on. Turn it into a pie chart. Then make another pie chart showing how ideally you would divide your time between these activities. Then compare your two pie charts to see how well you align your values with how you spend your 168 hours a week and make any changes you need to so that you, not technology, careerism or anything else, prevents you from being the architect of your life.

Remember that your team members may not work the same way you do or as each other, either.

Two all-important three-letter words

There is a three-letter word that creates arguments and another that creates cooperation. The first is ‘but’ and the second is ‘and’. Who would think one small, simple word has the power to damage relationships and spoil conversations, and the other to make them more satisfying and effective?

‘That’s a good effort, but …’                                 ‘That looks fine, but …’
‘You did a good job, but …’                                  ‘I can tell you tried, but …’
‘I take your point, but …’                                       ‘We’ve received your order, but …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, but …’               ‘That’s one option, but …’

Do you see? When you hear the word ‘but’, you know bad news is coming. The ‘but’ butts away the positive information preceding it. It’s a verbal hammer that signals disagreement.

Are you thinking of substituting ‘but’ with ‘however’? Forget it. ‘However’ is just a three-syllable version of ‘but’ and sends the same signals.

Substitute ‘but’ with ‘and’.

‘That’s a good effort, and …’                                 ‘That looks fine, and …’
‘You did a good job, and …’                                  ‘I can tell you tried, and …’
‘I take your point, and …’                                       ‘We’ve received your order, and …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, and …’               ‘That’s one option, and …’

Hear the difference? ‘But’ blocks.  ‘And’ builds. With ‘and’, you’re working with people, not pushing against them. ‘And’ allows you to offer an improvement suggestion while acknowledging the good job that has been done.

‘That’s a good effort, and something else you could try is …’
‘That looks fine, and one way to enhance it might be to …’
‘You did a good job, and it would be fantastic if you could also …’
‘I can tell you tried, and you’ve made good progress. One thing for next time is …’

‘And’ also shows you’ve listened and heard.  It helps prevent arguments because it allows two points of view to stand and acknowledges and extends what the other person has said.

‘I take your point, and another thing we could consider is …’
‘We’ve received your order, and in order to process it, I just need …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, and here’s another way to look at it.’
‘That’s one option, and another might be …’

 

Substituting ‘but’ with ‘and’ can be a hard habit to break, at least it was for me, but it was well worth it. Communication becomes much more cooperative. It also becomes much more clear without muddying the waters with the mixed message ‘but’ sends.

One more thing: Much of the time, you can simply substitute ‘and’ for ‘but’. But (yes, here’s some slightly bad news) sometimes, you need to reconstruct the sentence and make your point differently. When that happens, the reworded statement is invariably stronger, more cooperative and more effective than the original version. And it’s definitely worth the effort when you want more agreements than arguments.

Sometimes it’s just about us

Picture this: You’re participating in a two-stage program on performance management. In Part one, you learn about and practice skills such as how to give positive feedback, how to give constructive feedback, and a step-by-step method for dealing with under-performance.

You’re all working on the performance management issues you brought with you (Chatham House Rules, of course), explaining to the others a bit about the under-performing team member, the specific performance gap(s), the background to the circumstances, what you’ve tried, what has helped and what hasn’t helped, and so on. Other participants ask questions in order to build a complete picture of the situation.

Now it’s Joe’s turn, who runs a busy retail store. ‘Well’, he says, ‘my problem is my 2IC. He always takes his morning break, no matter how busy we are. He just ups and heads for the kitchen at 10 o’clock on the dot. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, and sometimes it does. You just don’t walk out on a shop full of customers. He’s so selfish, it drives me nuts.’

‘How is the rest of his performance?’ asks one of the other participants.

‘Fantastic!’ says Joe. ‘I taught him all he knows! It’s just this morning break business that really gets up my nose. It’s just plain selfish.

‘So he’s good at his job’, summarises another participant. ‘What about things like timekeeping in general? Is he a “clock watcher”?’

‘No, he isn’t at all. In fact’, says Joe, ‘he’s always first in in the mornings, puts the coffee on, and has a quick tidy-up where it’s needed. He’s very dependable like that’.

‘And his other breaks? Lunch and so on?’ asks someone else.

‘He generally works through lunch when we’re busy and waits for a lull to eat. Same with the afternoon break — he takes it when we aren’t busy. It’s just this morning break that’s such a problem. I really need to bring it under control.’

At this point, you notice the other participants are exchanging glances. Bottom line: We’re faced with an assistant manager who seems to be perfect in every way, except that he always takes his morning break.

Part one of the program carries on, with you and the other participants developing your approach to your under-performing team member(s) and considering what you plan to say. You then role play it with another participant, get feedback from the other role player and other participants who are observing, and polish and refine your approach until you’re comfortable with it.

Joe takes his turn. Despite considerate feedback from the others, he remains adamant that he needs to deal with the assistant manager’s selfish insistence on taking his morning break at the appointed time.

At the end of Part one, you return to your various jobs around the country to put your performance management plans into action. Eight weeks later, you all reconvene for Part two. You begin by going around the table and hearing how everyone got on. When Joe’s turn comes, here’s what he says:

‘You know, it was funny. I got us a coffee and called him in. I knew exactly what I was going to say and opened my mouth to say it, just like we practiced. And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t my 2IC who was selfish — it was me who was selfish! Blessed with a great 2IC who gets in early every morning to make coffee, carries out his duties to perfection, takes all his breaks except for that morning break as and when it suits the rest of us and our customers, and I’m complaining about that one little thing!

‘So I asked him how he was going and brought the conversation around to the morning break. Turns out, he’s absolutely starving by 10 am, having got up early, got the kids dressed, fed and ready for school, rushes off to the store with nothing but a bit of toast, if that. I have to admit it — it was me who was selfish. I thanked him for his stellar work and that was the end of that.’

You and the others let out a big sigh of relief. Disaster averted.

Here’s my take on what’s going on. When, like Joe, something irritates you (but not others) to distraction and when you put a label on it (‘selfish’), it’s a sign you’re looking in your ‘psychic mirror’. Psychologists call this projection. We do it whenever we attach a characteristic to another person that really belongs to us. It might be qualities we don’t want to own up to (being selfish, or inconsiderate, or rude or whatever) and, rather than acknowledge we have this unwanted quality ourselves, it’s easier on the ego to point the finger at someone else.

Fortunately for Joe and for his 2IC, Joe realised he was looking in his psychic mirror and that he was the one being selfish in resenting his assistant manager taking his morning break, especially in light of his excellent performance in other areas. Not an easy admission to yourself or to a group of colleagues. Like they say: The truth will set you free. But first it may piss you off.