Let’s talk a bit about important talking points for leaders. This is a big deal! Sometimes leaders are not sure what they should be talking about within different levels of the business or with different people in the business, so I’d like to give you a bit of an insight into what I would consider to be the important talking points.
Those awkward conversations…
I think one of the things that is really important to note, is how you deal with the awkward discussion around something not being right. Such as when a target condition is not being met, or a KPI is not going well. There is nothing worse than seeing a KPI that’s red, and just walking past it! It becomes the elephant in the room. What we need to do is recognise that it’s there. The whole point of looking at a KPI that’s not going well is managing by exception. We’re interested in what’s not going well because if the focus is there, we can work on fixing it.
The conversation you want to have with people is “Okay, so we’re missing a target condition…?” Maybe they haven’t hit their cycle time for a few hours in their process, however, you’re only there momentarily and you don’t know the full story. But if you have a bit of a discussion with them, and they’re trying to fix it, or they haven’t really had time to fix it yet, then the best comment to make is “Well, I’m going to come back tomorrow. So let’s see how you’re going then.” Whomever you’re talking to will realise that- “Oh, my or a leader is coming back tomorrow, we’re going to have the same discussion again, and it was awkward this time! It’s probably going to be more awkward next time” -providing them with the motivation to take prompt action.
Sweeping statements discourage creativity!
It’s really important as well, particularly in the initial stages of addressing an issue, that you don’t make big sweeping statements or decisions at a high level. As a leader in a business, your large sweeping statements or comments have a big impact. You might be surprised how quickly they become considered truth in the minds of your people. The comments or statements you make, as a result of maybe using your own gut feel or your own previous experience about a particular situation that you’re viewing, will reduce the ability of your people to be creative in their thinking. The creativity of your team is something we need to be careful to maintain.
So what can I talk about?
Remember who’s in charge of the KPIs and making sure we meet KPIs? It’s the managers! So talk KPIs with managers. Give compliments to your team leaders for things you can see that are positive and things they’re doing well. It’s important as well to talk about standard work and practice of standard work, commonly called ‘Kata’ with teams. But how can you really connect with a team member, who you, as a leader maybe don’t know that well and are quite disconnected from day-to-day? Talk about their standard work, discuss the standard work with them, ask them about their practice, ask them what they’re doing, ask why? Be humble, stay curious.
How do I further my understanding?
It’s really important for a leader as well, to make sense of what is going on, make sense of the thinking of the teams. Perhaps you have come from the environment where that team is now working, so you might know quite well what they’re doing. But maybe you don’t? Actually, it’s very likely that you don’t know exactly what they’re up to or how they’re doing it. Be curious and just have a talk with them. Ask if you can stand back and observe them doing the work so you can try to make sense of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. If you can observe and ask questions, it will put you in good stead to having a better understanding. It’s also going to lead you to make a sense of the balance in the workflow, such as how they are or are not balancing it.
Take time to observe. Again, refrain from making sweeping statements such as “I see your inventory is building up there, what’s going on with that?” As we know, these types of comments will not only become the centre of their attention, and reduce their creativity, but perhaps the inventory build-up is strategic and meant to be there- you never know. It might be better to talk in private with a manager rather than with the team leader for clarification and ask what the reasons are for it. Making sweeping statements like, “Inventory is bad! Why have we got inventory?!” are not going to help. Take a step back and try to make sense of the balance in the workflow.
Promote Lean with Kaizen
The other thing is, make sense of the weak points. Remember that so much about Lean and Kaizen is about identifying the problems that are occurring, highlighting them and focusing on them. So you should understand what the weak points are in a process. If you make an effort to put yourself in the shoes of the team and of the team leader, when you consider these weak points in order to make sense of them, it helps you to be a much better leader when it comes to asking the right kind of questions- questions that don’t become sweeping statements or damaging decisions.
You want the team to come up with ideas and improvements. You want your team leader to be involved in facilitating Kaizen. You want your manager to keep pursuing projects and KPIs. The promotion of talking points is a key element to being a good leader. Do this well. Don’t lead a discussion down a certain path or to a certain end as determined by your own experience of that field. Give your teams and managers a better opportunity of conducting Kaizen by themselves. This is very powerful.