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Superhero Process Improvement - The Five Essential Qualities of Leadership

Superhero Process Improvement - The Five Essential Qualities of Leadership

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Published by Steven Bonacorsi

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Published by: Steven Bonacorsi on Jan 10, 2012
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Superhero Process Improvement?The Five Essential Qualities of Leadership
Whether newly trained in a continuous improvement methodology or a seasoned professional the success of your team depends on how you approach your leadership role, writes 
contributor Dennis Narlock. It’s important to remember that 
continuous improvement is something that you do WITH people,not something that you do TO them. Here are the five qualities you need.
Process improvement has been around for a long time; the name and methodologieshave changed either through assimilation or reinvention. However, whatever banner yourprocess improvement program fliesunder, you can expect one constant:the challenge of delivering your results.There are many different reasons whyan improvement team might fail todeliver expected results, but thedetermining factor, in my opinion, isthe approach used by the personleading the team. The leader of animprovement team has manyresponsibilities including keeping theteam motivated, on task and ultimatelydelivering positive results. What the leader is not responsible for is accomplishing all thatthey have been charged with by themselves.
Think that your role as leader of process improvement involves being a superhero? Think again!
Whether newly trained in a continuous improvement methodology or a seasonedprofessional the success of your team depends on how you approach your leadershiprole. While there have been countless books, seminars, webinars etc. on team
leadership, success depends on the leader’s ability to create an environment where their 
team can flourish and achieve success. From my personal experience there are fivethings to remember when leading teams focused on delivering operational excellence.
They are: Perspective, Respect, Humility, Active Listening, and avoiding the “Last Place”
Quality #1: Perspective
As an improvement team leader it is imperative to identify the ideas and facts behindyour perspective at the onset of an event or project
these are the ideas and factsknown to you regarding a specific location, situation, process, person or team. Whencoalesced these ideas and facts will form the viewpoint that you adopt prior to, duringand following the completion of an improvement event or project. It is possible for your
perspective to change based on new facts or ideas which were unavailable orunrecognized when the earlier perspective was formed.
Then take it a step further and ask yourself “Does my team have the same perspective?”If you cannot honestly answer that question with a resounding “Yes”; then you are
missing some key facts and ideas around the task that has been assigned your team.Here are a few tips to ensure that you maintain the proper perspective as a Green, Blackor Master Black belt leading an improvement team.
Remember that it is a team effort and requires collaboration. Continuous improvement issomething that you do WITH people, not something that you do TO people.
Maintain an open mind about the process being evaluated, the people operating in theprocess and your team members.
Ask questions, more specifically ask open ended questions that lead to a sharing ofknowledge. This will sow the seeds for successful brainstorming sessions down the road. Asecond goal of asking questions is to gather additional facts and ideas which you will use tovalidate and/or adjust your perspective.
Facilitate and guide your team towards achieving the objective. Leadership is not about doingthe tasks for them; it is about developing their process knowledge and leadership skills.
Quality #2: Respect
As an outsider to the process you will see opportunity for improvement that has beenmissed by those working within the current process. What will not be as readily apparentto you will be all of the improvements that have already been made to an existingprocess. Those people that have been with the organization have a vested interest inthat organization and its continued success. In some cases they were part of the groupwho initially founded the organization and have helped it grow into its current structureand market position. While the processes they created may not be the most efficient inyour eyes, remember all of the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into creating them.They will be understandably proud of their accomplishments and appearing on scene asa superhero to save them from their wasteful process will establish a barrier betweenyourself and those who live and operate in the process every day. When you look in themirror you will see yourself as a hero, they will see you as the villain. This reputation willbecome more and more engrained in your colleagues eyes the longer you operate in thismanner, ensuring that you will be fighting an uphill battle with each subsequent processthat you try to improve.
Some of the negative consequences of this approach to continuous improvementare:
Information Quality
Information Quantity
Data Integrity
Improvement Implementation
Improvement Sustainment
Continuous Improvement Program Viability
Personal Growth and Advancement
Quality #3: Humility
While many would prefer a leader who is humble enough to recognize the potential intheir colleagues, peers and subordinates; there is also as desire to have a leader who is
confident and strong and conveys an ability to truly ‘lead’ an organization to success. In
the case of a person who is leading an improvement team, the humility that is importantis in reference to terminology, tools and skills.As an improvement team leader your approach should be such that when youcommunicate with your team you are utilizing terminology, tools, and explanations insuch a manner that they can clearly understand what is being stated.
Every profession has its own unique language that sets it apart from otherprofessions. Continuous improvement is no different. The words and phrases used inLean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, TRIZ, etc. have means that are unique to theprocess improvement environment. Every Green and Black belt knows this to be true
based on the number of times that they have been required to explain that their ‘belt’
referred to a level of process improvement training and not to a new martial arts programthat was being started by the organization.
An example from my personal experiences occurred while I was learning to use Minitabfor statistical analysis. I was having some difficulty in transferring the data from MicrosoftExcel into Minitab when my Master Black belt showed me how to concatenate the dataso that it would be easier and much faster to load the data into Minitab. I was very
excited by what I had learned and was quick to begin using “Concatenate” while talking
with my team regarding the project that we were working on. I was also a littledumbfounded the next day when only half my team members showed up again for ourmeeting. I learned a lesson that day not just in communication, but in humility as Iworked to recruit additional team members for the vacancies that I had created. Beconfident and knowledgeable enough to lead your
team without alienating them by actinglike you are above them based on your personal knowledge, terminology and skills.
Quality #4: Active Listening
Learning to interpret and understand non-verbal communications, seeking and achievingclarification of what you heard and engaging in an exchange of information are thefoundation of active listening. It means you hear more than what another person or groupof people is saying verbally.While you may feel that your training and/or experience with process improvementestablishes you as the expert, it does not mean that you are a subject matter expert inthe process that is being evaluated and improved. Those people who live and operatewithin that process on a daily basis, along with the managers who have supervised the
process are the SME’s. If you do not hear what is being communicated and seek to
ensure that you understand the implications of what is being said and not said you arelikely to make a mistake in evaluating the process. This means that any improvementwhich is made will not have been built on a solid foundation and could ultimately lead toan improved process that is worse than the one you started with on day one of yourevent/project.When your situation is such that you are a new hire or an external consultant workingwith an organization for the first time it is imperative that you engage in active listening.The people that you will be working with not only have more in-depth knowledgeregarding the process or processes being evaluated, they also possess a lot of valuable

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