How You Can Avoid Continuous Appearance

How You Can Avoid Continuous Appearance

by Patrick Adams | Mar 29, 2022

Today on the podcast, I’m sharing a presentation I did for the Cincinnati ASQ, a professional association representing Quality professionals in the Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky area, about avoiding the continuous appearance trap. 


In this episode, I talk about my book and how you and your team can avoid the continuous appearance trap by asking certain questions and changes that will affect your overall organization.  


What You’ll Learn This Episode:


  • Why leaders need to enable action 
  • Why your organization needs a true north and a long term vision
  • Why leaders should be spending time where value-added work is being done
  • How the little things in an organization add up to the big things
  • Why it’s important that an organization’s problems be visible 


About the Guest:

Patrick Adams is the author of the best selling book “Avoiding the Continuous Appearance Trap.” He is an international speaker, coach, and consultant. Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profits, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion dollar corporations. Patrick is a proven leader and highly experienced consultant with specific niche focus on organizational strategy and leadership development which brings a unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.


Important Links:


Full Episode Transcript: 

Patrick Adams  

Welcome to the Lean solutions podcast where we discuss business solutions to help listeners develop and implement action plans for true Lean process improvement. I am your host, Patrick Adams.


Patrick has been delivering bottom line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private nonprofit government, and manufacturing, ranging from small business to billion dollar corporations. He’s an author of the best selling book avoiding the continuous appearance trap. It is my honor to welcome Patrick Adams to ASQ Cincinnati’s meeting. Thank you so much, Patrick.

Patrick Adams  

Oh, thank you, thank you for having me, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with all of you. And Deb, thank you for what you do. And just the ASQ community and what you guys are doing in the Cincinnati area, very much appreciate the continued just engagement across the entire Lean and Six Sigma community, from everyone. And obviously, for all of us, we see this as a community and an opportunity to share and just build each other up and support each other. So thank you for what you guys are doing to continue to grow and support Lean and Six Sigma across, not just the Cincinnati area, but even outside of Cincinnati. So thank you for that one, I appreciate you having me today, I’m going to be talking to you today about the continuous appearance trap. What that is and give you some really, really great take off, some really, really good opportunities to do some of your own scientific thinking and learning even through today. And hopefully walk away from today with some value add that you can apply right away. So I’m looking forward to this. So with that, let’s let’s dive in together here. So, so the continuous appearance trap, what is the continuous appearance trap? Earlier in my career, I worked for two companies. And if you were to walk into either of these two companies, they would look very similar at the surface. Both had visual management, they had similar KPIs safety, cost, quality delivery, right very, very popular, very much well known to most people as far as those KPIs in the Lean world. But both had very similar org structures as well. And if you were to walk into either of these companies, as I said, at the surface level, it would be very difficult for you to tell them apart, they were very similar in their approach to business solutions. But one of these companies had a true culture of continuous improvement, while the other one had what I like to call a culture of continuous appearance. So a culture of continuous appearance underneath all of the floor tape, underneath all of the lean posters on the walls, the pretty scorecards, the the placards, the lean placards, in the lunchroom, you know, underneath all of that was a very toxic culture where people hated to work, the company had had very high turnover, they didn’t have any stability, and very much flavor of the month activities. If you know what I’m talking about, some of you are shaking your heads because you’re like, Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Because I either worked in an environment like that, or I’m currently working in an environment like that. There’s so many out there right now, so many organizations that are struggling with this culture of continuous appearance. So that’s why I wrote the book. And that’s why that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. So within these two companies, I learned quite a bit working in these two companies, I learned quite a bit about what I should be doing. And as I deploy lean, and six sigma into organizations, I also learned a lot about what I should not be doing in organizations. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So based on my time spent in these two organizations, I learned some pretty important lessons, right. So I want to show you a very simple diagram to help kind of kick us off today and give you an understanding of maybe more of a summary of what I learned. So in order to create and promote a culture of continuous improvement, leaders have to begin by setting very clear expectations. And again, this is an area that sometimes gets missed. Very simple, right? set clear expectations and make sure that your team understands what they’re supposed to do, the direction that we’re heading, what the mission is, how my work ties to the mission and the purpose of the organization. set clear expectations. Now, there’s a lot of details under each one of these different sections. But at the simplest point, we need to set those clear expectations for the team. Okay, so next leaders need to enable action, enable actions. So once they’ve set these expectations, and they’re very clear, they need to enable some type of action, the right type of action, right, not just some type of action, but really the right type of action. And then finally, leaders need to sustain the results that are achieved by those actions in all three of these areas are necessary in order to promote and establish a true culture of continuous improvement. A true culture of continuous improvement, not appearance, right? So if leaders were to set expectations, and then they don’t, they set the expectations and they enable action, but they don’t put any kind of sustainment plans in place, then the change is not going to be sustained. Okay, pretty simple, right? If leaders enable action, and they put sustainment plans in place, but they didn’t set expectations up front, clearly, they’re going to have this lack of organizational alignment. And then finally, if they set expectations, and they establish good plans for sustainment, but they never really enable action, then they’re going to get mediocre results. So this is important to understand, because what we need is to find the center of all three of these, all three of these areas are very important, set the expectation, and they will take action and sustain results. Again, it’s a very simple diagram. And it seems like a very simple concept. But it’s very difficult for organizations to actually implement and maintain. So in my book, avoiding the continuous appearance trap, I identified 12 very strategic questions that anyone can ask to understand what’s truly underneath their culture. And these 12 questions really should give anyone the ability to assess their operations and begin taking action right away. But why questions? Right? Some of you are probably wondering, why would you establish 12 questions? What, why questions at all? Why not simply just give us a roadmap for success based on your experience at this company that had this true culture of continuous improvement? Right? I mean, I’m sure that you learn things along the way that you could just give me a 10 step or a five step, you know, to five steps to developing a true culture of continuous improvement. So true, true, maybe I could give you some some steps. However, it would not be sustainable. And in fact, it probably would be detrimental to your organization. So this is John Shook, and John Shook. If you’re not familiar with John, he was the first American employee at Toyota’s world headquarters, starting in 1983. And he helped Toyota transmission or transfer their production, engineering and their management systems from Japan to new me. But John said, Lean management is very much about asking questions, and trying things, or encouraging others to try things. And this is the key: Lean management itself is not much about providing the right answers. But it is very much about asking the right questions. So if I was to give you a roadmap of my answers, then your first inclination would be to, to go implement it, right? I mean, if I gave you 10 steps, and I said these 10 steps will help you to develop a true culture of continuous improvement, you would go and you would try to implement those solutions. The problem with that is that it would be detrimental. And this is why because trying to implement a roadmap of success from another organization is not going to work for your organization. Right. So again, many of us know Toyota and Toyota obviously laid the groundwork for some really amazing transformation for organizations. And sure, some of the things that some of the tools and techniques that they applied would work for an organization that was in the automotive industry, that maybe had a similar culture that they had. But for most organizations that, you know, have a different team, it’s a different time, they’re in a different industry, the same roadmap is not going to work. So rather, you have to ask yourself, your organization, the right questions, right. And by asking the right questions, it becomes more of an evolutionary process of learning, versus an implementation process of correcting. If you’re trying to implement what someone else did, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time correcting and adjusting your culture to your industry. What we want is we want an evolutionary process of learning. We want to try something, reflect, adjust, act, do something different, reflect, adjust, act, right? We want those PDCA cycles to help us to learn. And really this becomes the beginning of scientific thinking for, for your organization. So, you know, what is the value then of me telling you about these two companies that I work for, you know, one being successful and one being not successful? Well, under scientific thinking, the goal is for you to to think about where you are in your current situation, set a vision, develop a challenge, and then break that challenge down into smaller targets, and go after them one by one experimenting, like I said, PDS PDCA cycles to overcome each obstacle that you come across. And some of you probably are hearing Toyota kata there, right, because that’s exactly what that is. Understanding where you are today, establishing a vision, establishing your target, and then overcoming obstacles as you move closer. So, again, the questions become this introduction to scientific thinking for you. So what I want to do is, I want to introduce you to a few of the questions that I lay out in the book and walk through those questions in detail. And again, in hopes that, you know, you can try to answer those questions as we’re talking through them right now. And again, maybe this will begin helping you to establish some level of roadmap for yourself or for your organization. So the first question that I have under establishing those clear expectations, right, which we talked about in the diagram, is are you content? Are you content? So I want to tell you just a real quick story about a plant that I worked at in northern Michigan. I had a lady say to me that we don’t need to change. Why are you even here? She’s like, we make a lot of money here. And things are fine the way that they are, we’ve always done it this way. And it’s always worked for us. So why do we need to change? And you’re seeing a quote here on the screen from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, the most dangerous phrase in our languages, we’ve always done it this way. So the question is, Are you content? Obviously, this lady that I was talking to was very content in her job? Right. So she felt very comfortable in what she was doing. And while I don’t, by no means am I promoting change for the sake of change, right. But what I am saying is that we need to take a healthy, look at everything that we’re doing, and look for opportunities to get better and look for opportunities to improve, right? So maybe the way that you’re doing things isn’t working. Right. And that’s really where the true value is. But if in the case of this lady, where she says to me, you know, that those things have always worked for us? You know, my question to her would be, well, what’s your defect rate? Okay, do you have zero defects? My guess is probably not. Do you have 100% on time delivery? Zero safety incidents? Probably not right? Because that would be perfection. So unless you’ve achieved that perfection, you probably have opportunities to get better. And why would we be content? If we’re, you know, delivering at an 80% delivery rate? Yeah, it’s okay. But could we be better? Can things improve? Right? So again, those are the types of questions that I would ask. But for organizations creating this, this kind of dissatisfaction with the current state, you know, might be easy. Maybe they’re in a tough place, maybe they don’t feel that things need to change. So they’re in a tough place. So if you’re, if your business isn’t performing well, and you’re losing sales, or maybe you’re not, if you’re not in the for profit world, or in the nonprofit world, maybe you’re not fulfilling your mission, right? In these cases, it would be really easy for us to communicate and create alignment on why you need to change but the situation is never really that clear cut, right? It always takes some change management to get there. But let you know, just for the sake of this conversation, let’s imagine that your current output is top notch and that things are amazing in your organization. They know that you are delivering at a 99% delivery rate and your quality incidents are really low. Is that enough for you to stop innovating? Is it enough for you to stop reaching for more? And my answer to that would be no. Because other companies, your competition, they’re improving. The world is changing, technology is changing, right? So if you decide that you’re content with the status quo You’re going to be left behind inevitably, you’re really moving backwards because everyone else is moving forward. So I want to throw that out there. And I want you to ask yourselves if you’re listening in today, I want you to ask yourself, are you content? Do you feel like you’re content in your role in your job? Do you feel that your organization is content as a whole? With where they’re at? Or, you know, are you putting out new innovative products or services? Is your team continually discussing improvement opportunities? Is someone assessing the competition on some kind of regular basis to look for opportunities to improve? Again, these are just a few questions under this one that I think are key and asking ourselves, How content are we? Right, let’s go to another question. Another question is, are you pursuing perfection? are you pursuing perfection. So this particular picture is a picture of a spot on my favorite hiking trail on the North Country trail along the Manistee River up here in northern Michigan, this particular hiking loop is approximately 20 miles long. And it’s amazing, it’s beautiful. And the first time that I ever went on this trail with my daughter, my daughter is now 20 years old, she’s getting married in June. So I’m super excited about that. But she’s, and she’s moving out west to Missouri. So anyways, she’s going to be moving out. And anyways, get back to my story about the North Country trail, the Manistee river loop, so I brought her out here for our first trip. And I printed out a map, I knew the trail. I’ve been on this trail many, many times, I knew the trail personally. But this was her first time on the trail. And I wanted her to kind of know where we were going and what we were going to be looking at. So I put the map in front of her. This was the map that I laid out in front of her of the Manistee River Trail. And I said, Okay, Taylor, where do you want to go on the map, the, where we were, this was our starting point, we were at what’s called Red Ridge access. So this is where you start the loop. And you can go either way on either side of the Manistee river. And I said, So Taylor, where do you want to go from here, and she looked at the map, and she was like, Dad, I don’t care where we go. And as a dad, I gave her the best response that I could come up with. I said, Taylor, if you don’t care where we’re going, then it really doesn’t matter what direction we go. Right? And why I said that was because we really need to know where we’re heading. So we have direction, right? And direction gives us purpose. And so obviously, I explained that to where and I said, we can’t just start walking in any direction, or will never arrive where we want to be right. So we need direction, we have to have some kind of purpose in where we’re heading. Now, this is the same thing for organizations, right. So while we were standing next to the car with our backpacks on, I didn’t get too far into detail with her. But I did explain the importance of charting, and communicating our course prior to setting out, right, if we don’t first set a course, we’re going to be walking with no end in mind. Right? And, you know, who knows, if we have other people in our group, or whatever it might be, you know, if they don’t know where we’re heading, you know, are they going to get there? Right? And how will we ever know if when we’ve arrived? Right? If we don’t know where we’re going, there’s potential that we could miss things along the way, right? Important things. So in the Lean world, many of you may have heard the term true north, right. So when you’re reading a compass, you can always determine which way is north by looking at a compass. And by knowing that you determine whether you’re on path or off path. So we may not know what’s between us and our destination, right? There may be lots of different things between us, I have no idea what that you know, ups and downs and across creeks and rivers, what that might look like. But at least we have a sense of direction, at least we have a sense of direction. So she pointed out the map. And she said I want to go to the suspension bridge. And now for my daughter Taylor and I, we had our true north, right, the suspension bridge, that was our true north, and that would give us direction. Now, if we didn’t set our course prior to setting out, we probably would have never been able to take this amazing picture of us at the suspension bridge. And while most organizations you know, when you hear the term True North most organizations may never reach their true north, right, because their true north is really perfection. You know, zero defects 100% on time delivery, you know, zero safety incidents, whatever it might be so maybe we’ll never actually reach percent perfection. But pursuing perfection gives us the opportunity to learn. You know, as we’re pointed and traveling in the right direction, so we may lose our way at times, we may get off the trail. But as long as we’re able to refocus our eyes back on that true north, then we can get ourselves back on path. Right? So again, please ask yourself, are you pursuing perfection? Does your organization have a TrueNorth? Have they established a long term vision? Are your roles and responsibilities aligned to that vision? And for that purpose? Are you pursuing perfection? So ask yourself and your organization? All right, next question. How are your leaders behaving? How are your leaders behaving? This is a big one, a huge contributor to the Appearance trap is leadership. We’re going to talk about a couple questions here that pertain to leadership. It’s not the sole contributor. But understandably, leaders play a huge part, right? Especially when we look at where leaders spend their time. So how do we change the behavior of an organization? How do we change the behavior of an organization? We have to start by changing the behavior of its leaders. We’re looking for true leaders who are servant leaders that put people before themselves. We’re going to talk a little bit more about this, as we go through here. But there was a recent Gallup study that found that 50% of people who leave their job do so to get away from bad leaders. Now, I don’t know about you, but most companies right now cannot afford people to leave their companies. I mean, we can’t even get people to get to come to work, right. So, you know, having people leave because of bad leaders is a pretty significant problem. 70% of those employees that were in the study, said that they were not engaged at work. And then when they studied managers, they found that 51% were not engaged and 14% of those managers were actively disengaged. And that means that they were intentionally sabotaging the organization 14% of managers were intentionally sabotaging organizations with that type of leadership in an organization, how can you ever expect to develop an in and sustain a true culture of continuous improvement, poor leadership can seriously affect employees morale, and really can have a huge effect on a company’s bottom line? If so, this is a huge issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, right? Not all leaders are bad. And most leaders are not intentionally contributing to the Appearance trap, some think that they’re doing the right thing, while others don’t, they simply just don’t know what to do, right? A lot of leaders are promoted into leadership positions, because they were really good at running a machine or they were really good at whatever job they were doing. So they were promoted into leadership, but they’ve never been given leadership training, they never been taught, you know, how to be a leader, or how to be a good manager. So you have to ask yourself, if you want a true culture of continuous improvement in an organization, then what needs to change in order to make that happen? What needs to change? You guys have probably all seen this quote, right? The definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. So how many companies think that they can manage in the exact same way, doing the same thing over and over again, but expect a different result? It’s complete insanity, you know, so another one of the 12 questions is, where are your leaders spending their time, one of the greatest barriers to establishing a true culture of continuous improvement is that leaders avoid spending time in the place where value-added work is being done. I was with a plant manager at one time who would not leave his office. And, you know, I kept trying to encourage him to get out on the production floor. And he would say to me, I can’t go out on the production floor. Because when I get out there, and I’m bombarded with questions, and I just don’t have time, one five minute walk turns into, you know, two hours of being out on the production floor. I mean, to me, and I’m shaking my head because I’m thinking to myself, this is a huge problem. It’s a huge problem that you’re not you know, there’s a reason why so many people are coming to you with questions that should create a red flag for you. Right? If, if you have so many people coming to you, that means that they feel that they’re in the dark, right? They have questions, and without you being out there to help answer questions or someone out there being able to answer questions. You know, that causes problems for people. So you have to change your behavior, no matter how hard it is. You can’t continue managing in the same way. You always have to expect something, expect something different to happen, you have to be intentional to change your habits, especially anyone who’s in a leadership position. That’s, that’s on the call tonight. So have you ever wondered why, you know, sometimes an organization’s lean, or you know, improvements tend to come and go, you know, those flavor of the month type of activities? Well, in order to support a new business system, we have to have a different leadership system, a different management system. And if you don’t do this, then it’s going to fall apart, right? If you manage in the same way, with the same meetings, the same metrics, that you know, you’re going to get the same beliefs, the same behaviors, the same results. So unless we change the way that we manage, we’re going to fall into the continuous appearance trap. If you want to succeed and achieve a true culture of continuous improvement, then you have to change the way that you manage. This is another way to look at your culture as an output of what goes in. So everyone here has a culture, you work in some type of culture, and that culture has been created because of the actions, the beliefs, the behaviors of the people that work in your organization. Most cultures are just created by happenstance, but they just happen because of the people that were hired there. Well, if we know that culture is an output of some type of inputs, well, what if we could control the inputs and create the culture that we want in the end? What if we could have some say in what the result is? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can, you can do that. The leadership, the values, the leadership actions, the attitudes, the behaviors, those are all the inputs. And if you can control the inputs, if you can, if you can teach and, and help your leaders, and you as leaders that are listening in today, if you can display the right behaviors, the right actions, the right values, then you’re going to control the output, which is the culture. So we can either we can wish, we can hope that we get the right culture and we can, you know, hope that it happens and hope that we get the right one, by accident, or you can manage it right, the way that we want the output to happen is by managing it by controlling it. And we can do that. So the way that we do that is by starting with the little things, the little things, that’s what matters. It’s not big six month projects, it’s the little things. Let me, let me show you what I mean. Here’s another great one, this was in 2014, at the University of Texas, Admiral William McRaven gave this speech. And this is a really great speech about the little things and how the little things matter. So let’s listen to this. 

Speaker: Admiral William McRaven

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day, it will give you a small sense of pride. And it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed, will have turned into many tasks completed. making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made. But making a bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

Patrick Adams  

So he said the little things add up to the big things right. And that’s such such an important point. Such great advice to think about. And I know it may sound silly, that the example that he gave about making your bed. But I want this to be just a point of reflection for all of us to think about what are the little things in your organization, the behaviors, the habits, the actions of leaders, the little things that can add up to the big things right for that’s what we have to ask ourselves. So some of you are familiar with Leader Standard Work. And I mentioned this question where are your leaders spending their time Leader Standard Work is is a way that we can help leaders to understand the importance of the daily incremental actions and behaviors and how they can impact and make a change within the organizations, simple tasks that you complete every single day that eventually lead to massive change in an organization. So, you know, again, many of you may have heard of Leader Standard Work. Or maybe you’ve heard of standard work in general standard work, you know, is one of the most powerful Lean tools because it creates stability in an organization. All right. So now let’s tie that into leadership. And let’s say, Okay, how do we create stability? That’s a jumping off point for continuous improvements around our leadership actions and behaviors. Right? So, Leader Standard Work is a set of daily weekly actions, tools, behaviors that leaders apply to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement. So if you ask your workforce to follow standard work as a leader, right, many of us understand we know standard work, we know the value of it, and we ask our team members to follow standard work, why would we not be doing the same thing as leaders? Right? If you don’t have and follow some type of Leader Standard Work, then you give the impression that you don’t believe in the value of standard work, right. And worse yet, it could give the impression that somehow you as a leader are above needing Leader Standard Work. So one of the examples I like to always give is airline pilots, right, I took a visit a trip out to Alaska this last year, and I, I literally got into a bush plane, this little plane, we were taken off on a dirt runway, and he literally pulled out a laminated Leader Standard Work checklist for him to go through and make sure that he hit all of his checks before we took off. Do you think I felt safe? Yes, I did feel safe. surgeons do the same thing. Astronauts do the same thing. You know, so why would you know, why would we as leaders of an organization not have some type of checklist, some type of Leader Standard Work to help guide us into the right behaviors, the right actions that we know are going to give us the right results. So once you’ve established those daily, weekly actions and behaviors, all leaders have to ask themselves about the small, simple improvements. So those behaviors, those actions, should be generating small, simple improvements. And you know, like you see in this chart, it’s incremental, it should happen little by little every day, right? Just like making your bed every single day. So the next question that I have is, are you generating small, simple improvements? This last year, I had to actually have spent two years now, two years that I was able to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time. And if you haven’t been there, obviously, I would completely recommend it. But you know, when you look at the Grand Canyon, you see that through the middle of the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River. And over time with persistence, the Colorado River has, you know, slowly cut through rock and helped form what we now know today as the Grand Canyon, I have to ask you, and I asked myself this all the time, what if we use that same persistence within our organizations? Can you imagine the results that we could experience with an unwavering, persistent, passionate consistency, right. And when I talk about small, simple improvements, I can’t help but reflect on Paul Akers at FastCap. If you’re not familiar with Paul, you can go out and search for him on YouTube. He’s got a ton of really great videos out there. But Paul does an amazing job at communicating the simplicity of lean. And however, if you know anything about Paul, you know that he has this unwavering persistence and passion for small improvements. In fact, the book that he wrote was second lean. But it is simple, very simple, but simple does not mean easy. Right? Simple does not mean easy. So these are small, simple improvements. Now with Paul as the CEO of FastCap, he arrives to work early every day. And he goes out onto his production floor at FastCap with his camera in hand, and he goes around to different people in his company, and he videos, there are two second improvements, simple improvement and any challenges that have one, two second improvement every day. So he talks to everyone, and asks him about their improvements. They make these videos and he puts them out on WhatsApp to the entire organization. And you know, he’s celebrating these improvements with his team members with his entire company, no matter how small they are every single day. And if you’re, you know, if you don’t, I mean again, not easy for a CEO to do that every single day. But the value of that is just like the Colorado cutting through the rock and creating what we now know today as the Grand Canyon. Paul is using these small simple improvements to cut away at Waste little by little Creating dramatic results for his organization. So another really, really simple question that you can ask yourself, right? are you generating small simple improvements? Is your organization generating small simple improvements? And are you celebrating? Are you seeing the results of that on a daily basis? Okay. Another question that I have for you, we’re running through these really quick. Another question, are your problems visible? Are your problems visible? So in order to actually take care of problems, in order to actually create solutions, in order to drive to the root cause, you actually have to see the problems, you have to know that they’re there, right? So are your problems visible? This is a tough one for many organizations, because they, you know, people don’t want to, you know, air their dirty laundry, they don’t want to show that they have issues or show that they have problems. In fact, a lot of employees are worried they, you know, they’re scared that if I do identify a problem, that somehow I’m going to get blamed for it, right. So they’re there, they hold back, and they don’t necessarily share all of their problems. This is a huge issue for organizations. Because if we don’t know that there are problems there, then how are we ever going to solve them? Right? So are your problems visible? Does anybody know what this says? What about this one? Nope. Oh, somebody? Somebody may know this one. They all say the same thing. They all say the same thing here. Anybody know what these say? What was that? Smoking? No smoking? Someone got it. All right. No smoking? Yes. That’s what they say. The problem though, with this, is that when we’re making things visible in any organization, we need to also consider the fact that not everybody can see or understand the same things, right. So sometimes, things need to be very easily understood when we make problems visible. And we need to consider that I had actually, let me flip the next one here. So what would be better? Does everybody know what this is? Absolutely, right. Very easy, very visual, right, I had an organization where we were putting in a Kanban. And we used red green for the cards. And it wasn’t until after we put the Kanban in place, where the warehouse ran out of parts on one of the Kanban parts. And when we went to talk to the operator, he informed us that he was colorblind, and that he couldn’t see red and green, he couldn’t see the differences. So he didn’t know where the trigger point was. So it’s always interesting to me, you know, whenever you’re working with organizations that not only do you want to make problems visible, but you also when you when you’re talking about visual management, and, you know, we need to consider everyone’s diversity differences. You know, language differences, colors, pictures work great for people making things visual, it you know, as far as colors and pictures go is definitely the way to go. Taiichi Ohno, sometimes referred to as the father of the Toyota Production System, many of you probably heard the word before. But he said that having no problems is the biggest problem of all. And what do you think that he actually meant by this? You know, I’ve worked with many military and executive leaders who like to think that everything is completely perfect. Right? There’s no problem here, right? Well, that’s wrong there. There are always problems. There’s always problems in organizations, and who’s familiar with the iceberg of ignorance, right? This ties right into this, organizations miss this, this really great opportunity, when they fail to ask employees, for their ideas in solving issues? Right? Instead of a lot of organizations, they rely solely on one person to solve problems. They know they have one, you know, operational excellence manager, or they have, you know, one supervisor who’s the go to that that solves the problems. You know, executives and supervisors may not have that up close perspective, or inside knowledge like most employees have. And so employees, they may know how to fix the problem. They even know they may even know how to offer a cheaper solution to a problem if only they’re consulted, right. So this becomes a win win approach when leaders are going out and asking their team members what they think, right, it also helps team members to feel valued. And the problem is solved at the root, which is how we want it. Right. So we don’t want to expect managers, this top 13%, to have to solve all of the team’s actions, right? They’re only making when we when we do that we’re basically relying on 13% knowledge, right? This is a serious problem. We need to have 100% knowledge. So understanding the importance of making problems visible by engaging teaching team members at all levels of the organization, I want to show you a quick example of one of the tools that we use when we go into a new organization. We do an assessment and for the assessment that we do we use visuals. So this is what we use, we use three boat visual boards, where we ask three questions of every employee we meet with every single employee of an organization, those people that are closest to value, I’d work with the leaders, the maintenance team, the you know, the the warehouse team, anybody, right? We meet with all of them, we ask them the same three questions. We ask them what’s really, really good in your organization? What’s something that you really like about working in your role or working for this company? Another question that we ask is, on the flip side of that, what’s something that’s really bad? What’s a problem, a headache, an issue that you have that needs to be solved? Something that when you wake up in the morning, you dread when you go to work, right? Something that you just think needs to be fixed? And then the last question that we ask is, what do you do and what opportunities do you have for improvement? What ideas do you have to fix? Maybe one of the problems that you identified when we, when we put the bat in the the nice thing about this is that when we ask the same questions to multiple people in an organization, a lot of times we start to get these, these clusters, right? These clusters are what give us our go to work areas, right. So in this one that you’re looking at here, this one said that they had old machines, no consistency and training. And there was a personal preference, lack of agreement on best practices. In this one, this is actually a small nonprofit organization. This was another. This was actually a manufacturing plant that we did. And the cool thing about this was that as we continue to ask questions, this particular organization, we would leave for the day, and then we would come back and there would be posted notes, you can see on the bottom there, the yellow post it notes, and even a piece of paper with a drawing that people that would sneak in the office and put new post it notes up or drawings. Now again, this could mean a couple things. One, there’s a fear based culture, and they’re afraid to say anything, right? So they’re sneaking in, or they’re just really excited to throw up some ideas and opportunities. So, you know, again, that the results of this were pretty amazing. Let me show you what the clusters looked like for this organization, again, that we’re talking about making problems visible, right, making problems visible. So we’re making problems visible here, this, this was the good, they said that they trusted each other within shifts, that they trusted each other on that they the problem was they didn’t have the same level of trust between shifts. There was a really good safety program here, everybody felt safe coming to work. So those were two of the really big clusters in the good and the bad. This was an interesting, interesting item, because the the team had some significant struggles with leadership and leadership when they heard this, you know, miscommunication, distrust, slow decision making favoritism, need better communication, inconsistency, lots of really negative comments about leadership, the leadership team could have responded in two different ways. One, they could have accepted this and made a change or two, they could have got upset and went out and lash back at their employees. Right? Well, luckily, this leadership team decided that they were going to accept this as the change that needs to happen in the organization. And they actually pulled the entire company together, put this up in front of everybody and apologized, that entire leadership team stood up in front of this, you know, 200-200 people company, and apologized. And they said we need to make changes. And then the next slide after this was their plan on how they were going to make change to this. So they said, Yes, we hear you. There’s problems, we’re going to fix them. And here’s our plan to do it. Pretty amazing. And you know, this company saw some significant gains after this as well. Let me show you one of the other things that we do to make problems visible. This is an empowerment continuum. On the left hand side is where management’s in full control and then the farther you go to the right is where management there’s more shared control between management and employees. So in column one, it’s where management decides and then informs employees about decisions. And column two is where management’s getting employee input before making decisions, they’re going out and talking to them. Number three is where employees are the ones that are actually making the decisions and then they’re recommending or they’re asking for approval to move ahead with decisions. And then number four is where, you know, team members have been given some kind of boundaries and they can make decisions without having to talk to management. So the questions that we asked here are where were we five to seven years ago? Where are we today? And where would you like to be? Those are the three questions. So we have them actually put a pasty note up on the board. And this is what this is what they end up looking like. So this is where we were five to seven years ago. And you can see we are separated also by shifts. And there’s a reason for that. I’ll show you that here in just a minute as well as by leadership in color. But you can see that this organization five to seven years ago was very much in the manager’s direction, telling management’s accountable, there’s not a whole lot of employee input being given when decisions are being made. And then we asked him, Where are we today? So this is where we are today. Pretty nice to see the grouping move, right. So again, we make decisions based on data. So every decision, again, the other one that I showed you was clusters, right here, we’re looking at clusters as well, you can see where they were five to seven years ago versus today. Pretty significant move. And again, these are people that are asked individually, this isn’t the group being asked together. And they’re putting their data wherever they think they are. And you can see there’s some really nice clusters as this, this moves into a more shared control versus management control. But then we asked them, Where would you like to be? Where would you like to be? And this is where they said, so they want to move to more shared control. And this is really significant, you can see how the cluster moves, and to where they want to be today. They want to be more involved, they want to participate, they’d like for the accounts to be shared. And this is a really great visual for leadership and for the employees to understand where we’re heading as an organization, allowing team members to be more involved in decision making and have them be more accountable for some of the decisions that are made. Now here’s a really interesting point, we pulled out just the third shift. And we asked, we looked at the third shift group here. And you can see where the where third shift fell was more around management making a lot of decisions and management being more in control, you can see where the manager himself thought he was, he was way over there in in column number three, you can see the comparison to his entire shift, which was more to the left. Now we put this in front of that supervisor. And this was very surprising to him. Right? He really felt like he was sharing accountabilities and allowing his team to be more engaged in decisions, but the team didn’t feel that way. So this particular leader, you know, had to take account of that and make some significant changes in how he was managing his team. So pretty interesting way to again, just make a problem visible. And now we can take action on it because we see it. So pretty significant, really great way to engage the team. And again, just make problems visible. All right, so I have reviewed with you multiple questions that again, are just my hope is to help you to start this process of scientific thinking for yourself and for your own organization. I hope that throughout the day today you were able to start answering some of those questions. But just in summary of what I’ve talked about, before I open up for questions, the first thing that we talked about was that very simple diagram that I laid out. In that diagram, I mentioned the power of three circles, right? The first one is setting clear expectations. The second one is enabling action. And the third one is sustaining the results. Right. So those are important to all go together in creating a true culture of continuous improvement. If you’re only doing two of them, or one of them, you’re not going to create a true culture of continuous improvement, you have to have all three, you have to set the expectations up front, you have to enable action within your organization. And you have to have some type of plan to sustain the results. Very simple, but very powerful. The next thing that we talked about is the power of asking questions, right? I’m not going to give you a roadmap, because for every organization, it’s going to be completely different. I want to give you a set of questions so that you can ask yourself the right questions. Ask your organization the right questions to develop your own roadmap for success. Right? I want you to answer the questions truthfully. So that you can create a roadmap for yourself. The 10 steps should be specific to your organization, the five steps, whatever it might be, should be specific to your team, your culture, your organization. They shouldn’t be something that you take from another organization and try to apply it to your organization. So just as a reminder, these are the steps that we covered. Are you content? Are you pursuing perfection? How are your leaders behaving? Where are your leaders spending? Time, are you generating small simple improvements? And are your problems visible? A couple of very simple questions. But if you can answer them truthfully, and look for opportunities to learn from the answers and and create some action for yourself, you’re going to develop a really nice roadmap to get started, just so everyone knows that there is there are five questions underneath each of those questions in my book, and this assessment as an Excel file, I believe it’s an accelerator it’s a fillable PDF can be downloaded at avoid continuous for completely free. You can get all 12 questions along with the five sub questions that come underneath each of the questions. And then it’s an actual assessment that you fill out. It’ll give you some results as far as where the numbers fall and what action you should take.

Patrick Adams  

Thanks so much for tuning into this episode of the Lean solutions podcast. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to subscribe. This way you’ll get updates as new episodes become available. If you feel so inclined. Please give us a review. Thank you so much.

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Meet Patrick

Patrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.

Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.


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