Continuous Improvement, Workplace

Do your work environment and company culture a match?

Recently I have a conversation with a former colleague regarding how well he fits into the culture of his current company, he loves his job. Unfortunately, that is not true for many people, they are not happy at work. The Gallup organization has reported that nearly 70% of employees are actively disengaged. Seventy percent of employees drag themselves to work every day, they work for the weekend and the check of course.
Have you heard the saying:  “People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses”.  I have seen this way too many times, managers and supervisors managing people just like commodities, not caring about human beings, only about the numbers.  This can happen regardless of the company culture.
Even if the company presented itself as people-centric if the leader’s behavior does not support the company values the employees will not feel the love. The company culture becomes then, a nice statement hanging on the wall. Top leaders behavior have to match company values, they have to show medium and entry-level leaders how is done. A very important part of the company culture is the work environment. For me, the work environment, how the employees are treated is the real culture. Let me present you, three examples.
On a meeting, the HR manager is all smiles and bubbly while explaining the Wellness Plan and activities for the year, a wonderful way to show how much the company cares about the employee’s health. Then, how is it possible that there are so many people overweight and with critical health conditions? If people do not have time to participate because they cannot refuse to work overtime, then we are not caring about their wellness.
We have an employee appreciation day, we want all employees to participate and bring their family because family is the most important thing but we have production that day. We cannot stop for a day, even not for a shift so that our people can enjoy and really feels how much we appreciate their job and sacrifices.
You cannot say that you value your employees when you allow managers to get away with making their employees miserable just because they hit their numbers.  If you value your employees, show respect and compassion, become a teacher for your team, develop them, do whatever is at your reach to improve their lives.  Doing anything else would be sending a message about what is important to you.
Now, what is the real culture? The nice words on the company values statement or the reality of how employees are treated day in and day out? I vote for the latter, unfortunately, that is what happens in many places, that is why there are so many bad bosses and that is why people are disengaged. Until we change these behaviors, there is no environment for a real lean manufacturing culture.
Continuous Improvement, Workplace

Everything will be ok

As leaders, there are countless ways we influence our teams. As human beings, there are countless ways we can influence our teams. Leadership is a key element in continuous improvement initiatives. Those who can manage their emotions are likely to be more engaged in their work.

Our mood is different every day; and affects our energy level, positivism, and focus. As leaders, we cannot let our emotions control our actions. The workplace is full of opportunities to derail our continuous improvement efforts. Some of them are different levels of engagement, not believers, management lack of support and toxic work environment. How we manage those challenges will determine the success of our efforts. The way we manage our emotions is even more important.

People are watching our reaction every time something arise. Positive reactions will influence positive behavior in our team. The ability to react positively is a learned behavior, requires practice. The more we learn how to identify and understand our emotions the more we learn about how those emotions influence our behavior. The goal is to learn how we can control and use those emotions in our favor. Those who understand their emotions can capitalize on them to overcome obstacles. Also, is a way to keep a good mood and model positive behaviors.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. EI is a very important trait for leadership success. People with a high degree of EI know what they are feeling, what it means, and how can affect other people. Every day will come with different challenges, sometimes the same over and over. Emotional intelligence is what helps us to work with them. Keeping your cool when things go different from expected is not an easy task. If you can manage to do it, your team will learn how to do it too. A good leader is also honest, there are times on which expecting a good outcome is impossible. When we hit those, it is ok to accept it, regroup, make a new plan and keep going.

How to keep yourself calm in difficult situations is a huge challenge. In my humble opinion (by no means an expert opinion) is that everything comes down to how well you know yourself. The critical step is to know your emotions, identify how you feel and learn how to control your feelings. When I recognize that I need time to control myself, I take a walk. Walking through the plant, talking with people almost always make me feel better. It helps me to calm down and gain a different perspective. Sometimes I even talk about the situation with them. More often than not, the conclusion is that everything will be alright. Train the mind to use positive words and stay clear from negative ones. This simple trick is a way to keep you and your team moving in the right direction.

Continuous Improvement, Work Standards

What is Standard Work?

We need standards in our work areas to provide a guide for our employees to do their job.  Standard work is a simple written description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way known to perform a particular task.  Once a standard is established it becomes the only acceptable way to do the process it describes.   Standards are not written in stone, the expectation is to improve them continuously.

When creating standard work is important to focus on the employee and not the equipment or materials.  We are looking to ensure effective consistent work.  Involve a group of your employees to help on building the standard, this will minimize the resistance and increase the chances of identifying the best process.

A famous quote attributed to Taiichi Ohno says “Without standards, there can be no kaizen”.   If you don’t know how you are doing something or if you are not consistent on the way you are doing it there is no way you can do it better.  Standard work is the foundation of continuous improvement, yet it is the piece of the improvement that many organizations fail to implement.  In companies where the average employee have five years or more of experience and the turn over rate is very low, managers feel that standards are not necessary because everybody knows their jobs and they do not hire new employees very often.

But, is everybody doing things in the same way?  What is going to happen when that very talented and very experienced team retire?  How you make sure you retain their knowledge?  That is where standard procedures came very handy, they document the best way to do the work and provide an excellent tool for new hires and to ensure there is only one way to do things.


Continuous Improvement

Is digital clutter preventive you from being productive?

I talked before about the digital clutter created by the existence of multiple programs or applications to record information or do things in the office.  There is not much that we can do to change the applications that corporate wants us to use but there are many things that we can do to fix the clutter that we create on our own.  This clutter causes loss of productivity and focus, it constitutes a colossal waste of time and a good way to practice continuous improvement.

1.  Desktop icons

The desktop of some of my colleagues looks like a view of NY city from twenty thousand feet, a tiles collection so tight that there is almost no space.  The reason is the need to access the applications or the critical documents as fast as possible.  Filling the desktop with shortcuts defeats the purpose because now you have so many icons there that you waste time looking for the right one.  Start deleting the shortcuts of obsolete applications, then those of programs that you use once in a blue moon.  Same with the critical documents, delete what you do not need anymore.  I bet that from it left not all are critical; maybe you just use them pretty often.  The solution for this will be to create folders, I will mention this on my number 3 below.

2.  Emails

We don’t want to miss a piece of information, therefore the solution is to ask everybody to copy you on their emails.  The problem is that then you receive the email you want plus a lot more that you do not, most of the people replying to all just to say thank you.  Also, you receive emails that honestly you don’t need anymore, maybe because your role changed.  You spend time just browsing through them, deleting and filing.  It is better to just ask politely to be removed from those distribution lists where you don’t need to be anymore.

Another thing I do is to follow the one-touch rule.  Once I open an email, I read it and decide what to do with it; can I delete it?  Should I file it?  Do I need to keep a reminder to do something later?  Whatever it is, I will do it at that moment; that way I touch that email only once, do what I have to do with it and then I delete it from the inbox.    There are a couple more tricks that I used when it comes to emails but that will be the subject of a future post.

3.  Documents

There are two things about documents:  necessity and organization.  Like with emails, you don’t need everything that landed on your hands or your email.  Somethings are to be read and then deleted.  There are recurrent or daily reports that you receive which contain all the information year or month to-day, saving every single one of them is unnecessary and will create clutter.

If you prefer to save all of them, then you need to work with the organization.  I know people who create folders to save their documents, but there is no logic whatsoever on the names of the folders.  Or maybe there is some logic, but then there are a couple of folders with the same name or worst, there are folders inside folders.  You would need a map to be able to find where your document is.  I have folders by themes, let’s say: daily reports, CI projects, training materials, and others.  Then your sub-folders name can be the name of the reports, projects or training.  You have to create your own organization system based on your needs, once you have it, use it consistently.

Finally, even when you follow these rules every once in a while you will have to take some time to browse your emails, folders, and desktop and do some maintenance.  Reorganize, delete, improve your system.  Keeping clutter out of your computer will help you to be more productive and focus, spend your energy creating not looking for lost information.